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.

Next steps

Draca’s cover, including some humbling cover quotes from ‘names’, should be finalised next week. I look forward to sharing that.

Stay well

In these worrying times let me wish you and your families good health, and for all of us a speedy return to normality.

 

 

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.

Cover image for Draca, the novel by Geoffrey Gudgion

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.

Logo: in support of 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.

 

Viking longship dragonhead

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

Draft cover for Draca

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.

Happy Christmas.

Geoff

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.

[For a synopsis of Draca, click here. For extracts, go here or here.]

Geoff

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 geoffreygudgion@icloud.com 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.

It’s easier to write qualitative statements about Bone Lines (‘brilliant’ and ‘beautiful’ come to mind) than it is to define it. Yes, it’s a time-slip, weaving the stories of two strong women; the courageous survivor of an extreme natural disaster, and the scientist who analyses her newly-discovered bones more than 70,000 years later. Yet there are several other labels I could add, such as literary, since it is beautifully written, even lyrical at times. I struggled for a while with the question ‘what’s it all about?’ before I realised that in some ways, that question was the answer. Eloise, the introspective, present-day scientist, has a search for meaning running through her mind like a philosophical playlist, and her self-reflection is an intriguing thread that drew me forwards. 

The other protagonist, that the present day calls ‘Sarah’, is a true heroine; resourceful, courageous, indomitable in the face of seemingly impossible situations. The reader wills her to succeed and I for one would like to have read more of her. The way in which Bretherton has imagined and written the mindset of a woman from the archaeological past is stunning. Sarah is at one with nature and respectful of it; a hungry woman who would spare an antelope for the sake of its unweaned faun, yet rip the throat from a human aggressor to protect her own infant.

Eloise is complex, fascinating, and perhaps too given to introspection; the kind of person I’d love to find across the table at a dinner party. Both women yearn for company; Sarah as the sole survivor of disaster in an almost empty world, nurturing the baby that is born on her epic journey, and Eloise who is alone, sometimes by choice, in our crowded modern world.

Bone Lines is a very intelligent book, straying at times into the science of genetics but remaining readable to the layman. It is also thoughtful, perhaps a bit philosophical, yet repaying any effort and earning its five stars for the quality of the writing and the appeal of the main characters. If my bookshelves had labels it would go on one called ‘Undiscovered Gems’. Recommended.

Stephanie Bretherton’s web site is here. You can find Bone Lines on Amazon here, or here on Hive (as of today, the lowest price), or at Waterstones here.

I recently reviewed Obsidian by Suzie Wilde, which is pitched as ‘A gripping Viking tale of one woman’s courage, fighting old and new gods amid the savage beauty of Ice Island’. I love historical fantasy novels and especially books with a strong female protagonist, and was intrigued enough ask Suzie some questions. Here’s what she said.

GG: Suzie, you write very believable characters; they are all flawed, and all have some redeeming aspect. Your protagonist Bera is complex; powerful yet insecure, tender yet sometimes spiteful. What was your inspiration for her? 

SW: All characters are a mix of an author’s experience, personality and imagination. You begin with a short acquaintance with the first sketchy drafts, then get to know them better as the plot develops and then in later drafts they make decisions and do stuff. I love the ‘Oh there you are’ moment when, as Kate Mosse puts it, the characters pass from behind to walk in front of you. They can be guided of course but can clearly be seen, like real people, and that’s often when the author gets out of the way so the reader can see them clearly too.

GG: You write beautifully about the landscape of Iceland, or Ice Island as it becomes in Obsidian, and the climactic scenes during a volcanic eruption are masterful. Have you ever seen an eruption, up close and personal? 

SW: That’s why we have YouTube! I was a maritime researcher and read many accounts written by people who have experienced these events. There are a few groups I follow on Twitter and Instagram, who post stunning images (#volcano or #iceland will pull up loads).

GG: Bera’s world seems very Viking at first, yet it rapidly diverges from Norse culture, particularly in their belief system; Bera is a seeress rather like a Nordic Völva, yet there is little mention of the Norse pantheon of gods. The dead don’t go to Hel or Niflheim but might lurk as ‘drorghers’ to plague the living. Did you set out to create a whole new world view, or did it evolve as you wrote? 

SW: I wanted readers to feel they had fallen through a trapdoor into a world only slightly strange. It’s a carefully researched Norse world, as far as it goes, except I’m not keen on having gods involved. They don’t infest the everyday now, so perhaps they didn’t then. The book is written in English, dialogue included, so I didn’t want sudden Old Norse words. Instead I’ve based these fantasy elements on what we know of their beliefs, so drorgher comes from draugr, the walking dead. By a similar process, as you note, Iceland becomes Ice Island. It’s to suggest to readers a slight ‘otherness’.

Anyone who likes Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis might enjoy spotting a similar ‘Norseness’ with their daemons, the Valar and Eldila, respectively. Tolkien  was famously a professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford. I studied it at UCL, where I fell in love with Beowulf, as so many others have over the years. I envy W.H. Auden, who wrote, years later, to his former professor, ‘I don’t think that I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf.’ 

GG: You write very evocatively about boatbuilding and the sea. Is that drawn from personal experience? 

SW: I grew up beside the sea and my father built boats as a hobby. I love the smell of marine ply. I used to play among the rotting hulks while he worked on converting an old lifeboat. Named the Freya, she went out with the ice after only one summer afloat, when I was nine. Loss is a powerful theme in the trilogy.

GG: Sea Paths and Obsidian are stand-alone books, but they are the first two parts of a trilogy. That’s a huge sweep of a story and an impressive undertaking. Did you have the whole series in your mind when you started? 

SE: Bera stormed into my life while I was trying to write a crime thriller. Book 1 was intended to be the whole story – but once I had finished it Bera wouldn’t let go. I was even dreaming about her, and other characters too, even the dog! Luckily, enough readers kept asking me what happens next that I had an excuse to work that out. Each book explores what ‘Home’ means and where do you belong if you always keep moving? I don’t like narrative weighed down with backstory: Sea Paths starts on Day One and always moves forward – why Lee Child loved it  – so if you read Obsidian it’s the same, except readers of the first will know more backstory. If you’re someone who wants more detail about a character’s past, then you might like to read them in order. At their most basic, Sea Paths is a revenge thriller and Obsidian a quest, though both have a thriller structure.

GG: Any sneak previews of Book 3?

SW: My editor is the brilliant Liz Garner, whose father Alan has been a hero of mine for years. They both hug a story while it’s forming, as if its magic will vanish if spoken. I’m staying silent about Book 3 until it’s done, except to say that the themes of Home and Belonging are resolved, and that this will be the last in the series. It’s quite a challenge to satisfyingly have new story and characters each time, but not leave anything unresolved across the whole series.

GG: I share your respect for Alan Garner. I learned a lot from ‘The Voice That Thunders’. Suzie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I’m looking forward to the next, and last instalment of Bera’s adventures.

Obsidian is published by Unbound. Click here for my review on Amazon.

Research and inspiration behind the book

Draca, the novel, is now sailing towards its pre-orders target with publisher Unbound. The eponymous Draca is a classic sailing boat, central to the plot. Those who know me well have asked how a landlubber like me could write the maritime passages. After all, ten years ago the only thing I could remember about sailing was a bushy-bearded instructor bellowing at me. I think he was saying “when you see the seagulls walking, it’s time to go about.”

Confession time. In a previous post I described how the idea for the book was born, anchored in a natural harbour on England’s South coast. The next time I sailed, with the same friend, the concepts for the book had formed to the point where we’d divert our course, on entering a harbour, to take a closer look at any classic sailing boats nearby. Old boats seem to have more personality, and I needed to find a type that was probably pre-war, and of a size that could just about be sailed single-handed if the skipper was fit and knew his stuff. Yet it was online research led me to Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, the model for Draca. 

Pilot Cutters – hard working, classic sailing boats

Pilot cutters were built to wait for ships to arrive off a port; pilots earned good money guiding vessels into harbour. With the pilot there’d be a mate, a seaman, and perhaps a boy. Cutters were robust enough to wait offshore in all weathers, perhaps for weeks. They had neither the belly of a fisherman nor the sleek lines of a racing yacht, but they needed speed. The first cutter to hail and offer their services would get the job. The cutter would follow the ship into harbour, recover their pilot, and go back to sea until the next ship. Sailing cutters fell out of use after telegraphy meant a ship could signal ahead. By then a steam powered launch could rendezvous faster, and against the wind.

A Yachtsman’s Log

Then I discovered ‘A Yachtsman’s Log’, written by Frank Carr for a readership with salt water in their veins. It’s a fascinating insight into sailing his cutter, the Cariad, in a technologically simpler time. No radar, no echo sounders, not even simple mechanical tools like winches to hoist sails. It was a time when fog at sea meant true blindness, navigating by dead reckoning among the tides and rocks, with the unseen bells of buoys to guide you if you were lucky. There are passages that are quaint by today’s standards; picture four men, after a sailing trip, taking the cutter’s dinghy up the Thames to work in the City, all shielding their starched collars from the wilting spray with their bowler hats.

But one of those men also wrote about life-threatening crises at sea with self-deprecating charm. Frank Carr was very much a certain type of Englishman from that age of sea power and Empire.

So if anyone questions how a pilot cutter handles in a storm, I have it, chapter and verse. And if anyone says it’s impossible for a boat to even survive a particular situation, then I beg to differ. A plucky chap called Frank Carr left me his log. And he’s certainly not one to boast.

Links and further reading

A Yachtsman’s Log by Frank G G Carr was published by Lovat Dickins and Thompson in 1935. You can see his boat the Cariad, now restored, at http://www.cariad.org 

Draca is a novel about a war-damaged Royal Marine who rebuilds his life by restoring an old sailing boat. For a synopsis, click here and for an extract, click here . It will be published by Unbound when the level of pre-orders passes their threshold. We’re already over 70% there. After publication, half the royalties will go to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.

Please support Draca here. Pre-orders are £10 for an ebook and from £15 for a paperback, and all supporters’ names appear in every edition.

Thank you. You’ll be helping me to help those whose wounds are more than physical.

The response to the launch of DRACA’s crowdfunding with publishers Unbound has been brilliant. Humbling, in fact. Sponsors range from old friends, to enthusiastic readers of Saxon’s Bane, to those who simply want to help our veterans. Half the royalties, after all, will go to the charity Combat Stress. Together, these sponsors have given DRACA a great start; Unbound say projects which reach 30% of target in the first month tend to succeed. DRACA reached 38% in two weeks.

We’re missing a character

But looking over DRACA’s project pages at Unbound, someone is missing. Jack is there, in quite a long extract. And here. Jack’s the book’s flawed hero who’s haunted by his past. But there’s not a glimpse of George, the pint-sized yachtswoman who’s made her own way from foster homes to be manager of the local boatyard. It’s George who comes to believe that there’s something more sinister even than post-traumatic stress shaping Jack; to her, his obsession with the old sailing boat, the DRACA, becomes possession; the boat owns the man.

Here’s George

So to redress the balance, I’ve posted another extract from the book. Here’s George, getting her first glimpse of Jack’s family at his grandfather’s funeral, and showing the feisty attitude that defines her character.

You can help

Please support DRACA at Unbound now. Think of it as a pre-order. Pledges range from a single ebook to a book group bundle, and every sponsor’s name will appear in every edition of the book. Help me to help those, like Jack, whose wounds are more than physical.

Thank you for making a difference.