Spreading the Word

Whilst all writers have their own hopes, dreams and aspirations, I think it is fairly safe to say that there are a few things which appear on all of our wishlists. Whether we are writing our first book or our fourth, we toil night and day, agonising over our creative efforts before eventually summoning the courage (after seemingly endless rounds of editing and proofing) to put our work out into the world. At that point, I think there are four things we all wish for:

  1. That readers buy the book.
  2. That readers read the book and enjoy it.
  3. That readers rate/review the book on Amazon, Goodreads etc.
  4. That readers tell a friend, family member, colleague or other acquaintance about the book.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that these four wishes are important to any author writing in any genre, whether they are traditionally published, crowdfunded, or self-publishing. For the indie author, those last two wishes are particularly vital. Most indies, myself included, don’t have vast marketing machines behind them, or enormous budgets with which to procure such resources. Most indies rely on the internet, on social media, on reviews, on shares and ratings and that great old-fashioned thing, word of mouth, to maintain their book’s profile far beyond that initial burst of sales which comes with release day.

Why am I talking about this? Well, today I decided that I would write a post which plays my part in this. I am a writer but I am also a reader too, and over the past few years I have read some truly wonderful books by independent authors. Today I thought I would turn the spotlight on to them, tell you a little about their work and where you can find it. It’s all part of spreading the word!

K.J Farnham

K.J Farnham writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Her work includes her Click Date Repeat series and her most recent release, A Case of Serendipity. K.J has also written a YA novel, Don’t Call Me Kit Kat. I’m an avid reader of K.J’s work and have reviewed a number of her books on my blog (see here, here and here). If you like light, funny and enjoyable reads which will make you smile and lift your spirits, K.J’s romance novels are probably for you.

Find out more about K.J here.

 

Hillary DeVisser

Hillary DeVisser writes women’s fiction and romance. Her Coal Country series, which includes the books Fishing Hole, Copper Creek and Poets Pass, follows the fortunes of family and friends in a small mining town in Southern Illinois, where lives are not simple and there is always a good dose of suspense to be found. I read these books consecutively and just couldn’t put them down. If you like heartfelt, romantic reads which will have you clutching your chest at times, DeVisser’s books are probably for you.

Find out more about Hillary here.

 

Fiona MacBain

Fiona MacBain writes in the thriller, suspense and crime genres. Her books are one of my more recent discoveries, in fact it was only last week that I reviewed her second novel, Glasdrum, a crime thriller set in the Scottish Highlands (you can read my review here). In the past couple of days I finished reading Fiona’s first novel, the pacy women in jeopardy thriller Daughter, Disappeared set in Tunisia (review for this one is still to come). Both novels are gripping, exciting reads with unpredictable plots, and intriguing, challenging and at times downright grisly characters. If you like absorbing thrillers which you can’t put down, Fiona’s books could well be for you.

Find out more about Fiona here.

 

Campbell Hart

Campbell Hart writes crime fiction and noir, and has more recently released collections of ghost stories. His Arbogast trilogy, comprised of the novels Wilderness, The Nationalist and Referendum are crime novels set in central Scotland all featuring his gritty and completely unforgettable protagonist, DI John Arbogast. Campbell’s Arbogast books were one of my first forays into reading crime fiction and discovering that I did indeed enjoy the genre. The plots were framed within the context of recent memorable events in Scotland, from the freezing winter of 2010 through to the eve of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, making them immediately relevant and relatable. If you like well-constructed and engaging crime fiction, Campbell’s books might well be for you.

Find out more about Campbell here.

 

Marissa Campbell

Marissa Campbell writes historical fiction and contemporary romance. Her first novel Avelynn was published by St Martin’s Griffin and she has since gone on to self-publish a second novel in the series, Avelynn: The Edge of Faith, as well as a contemporary romance novel. The Avelynn books are epic adventures of magic, faith and survival in the dangerous and superstitious world of ninth century England and Wales. This wasn’t a period I was particularly familiar with before picking up these books, but Marissa’s spell-binding prose and memorable characters really brought it to life for me. If you like gripping historical fiction with a touch of the otherworldly, Marissa’s books are probably for you.

Find out more about Marissa here.

So, over to you! Tell me and your friends about your favourite indies by commenting here, or sharing this post and commenting on your own social media channels with the hashtag #SpreadTheWord

 

The Pendle Witch Girl: Cover & Blurb Reveal!

Today I am delighted to reveal the cover and blurb for my forthcoming novella, The Pendle Witch Girl. This third installment of the Witches of Pendle series revisits the infamous trials of 1612, focusing on the childhood story of Jennet Device, an impoverished and impressionable young girl who finds herself at the very centre of Pendle’s first witch hunt, with tragic consequences.

The Pendle Witch Girl will be released in ebook and paperback format on 18th August 2018 – the 406th anniversary of the start of the trials in Lancaster.

What should you do when you discover that you’re the child of witches?

This is the predicament which faces Jennet Device. An illegitimate and lonely child, Jennet can only look on in horror while her family engage in the dark side of the folk magic learned from her grandmother, the notorious cunning woman known as Old Demdike. As terrifying tales of bewitchment and murder sweep through the Forest of Pendle, Jennet is forced to realise the power of their vengeance, and her powerlessness to stop it.

When her family’s practices come to the attention of the local sheriff, Jennet suddenly finds herself at the centre of a witch trial which could destroy them all. The little girl from Pendle is now the court’s star witness, and she has a terrible choice to make: can she bring herself to lie to protect them, or find the courage to tell their stories to the world even if it could cost them their lives?

Book Review: Glasdrum by Fiona MacBain

One town. Five women. Dark events. 

Life is not easy for the women of Glasdrum… 

A skeleton is unearthed, too many walkers are falling to their deaths off mountain cliffs, and the local pub doesn’t know how to make a decent raspberry daiquiri. 

Single mother Megan is a hill runner and cannabis dealer, an unlikely friend of well-to-do Finella, whose confident appearance hides struggles with her unpleasant husband and unruly children. 

Vicky is Finella’s child-minder, and when Finella’s husband starts digging about in her past, he discovers she has a secret. How far will she go to protect it? 

Glasdrum is a culture shock to Londoner Sarah, but she finds friendship with local journalist Catriona, recently returned to her home town but haunted by memories from her past. 

The women battle through daily life while the spectre of death looms over the town. Could one of them be living with a killer? 

I read a few books on holiday this year, but Glasdrum was by far my favourite. Set in a fictional town in the Scottish highlands,  Glasdrum makes for a masterpiece of pathetic fallacy – the backdrop is gloomy and grey, the rain is lashing down and summer is stubbornly refusing to arrive. I found the setting in particular to be very powerful and on more than one occasion found myself shuddering as MacBain’s prose made Scotland’s beautiful west coast seem suddenly so forbidding.

Glasdrum is a third person narrative pieced together from the points of view of several women as they grapple with tricky personal lives which are not made any easier by recent unnerving events, the deaths of hikers in the mountains nearby, and the literal skeletons found in the back garden. I found MacBain’s characters to be well-drawn, realistic and easy to relate to. I particularly liked Megan, a rough-round-the-edges single mum, whose unlikely friendship with well-to-do-but-falling-apart Finella injected just the right amount of humour into the story.

In addition to the heroines there are, of course, a number of villains in Glasdrum. I don’t want to say too much about them as I wouldn’t like to spoil the story, but suffice to say that for me there were one or two who I really loved to loathe. Whether they’re the murderers…well, you’ll have to read it to find out. Certainly, if you’re anything like me you won’t easily manage to guess ‘whodunnit’ – MacBain’s plot is a fairly complex one which takes the reader through a good number of twists and turns and keeps you wondering until the very end.

A gripping read, perfect for enjoying from the comfort of your sun lounger. Five stars.

Book Announcement: The Pendle Witch Girl is coming soon!

It’s that time of year when summer has finally arrived and everyone gets ready to jet off on their summer holidays. In Scotland we have been enjoying something of a heatwave recently, basking in sunshine and unusually high temperatures. After a seemingly endless freezing and snowy winter it has been mostly welcome, although I have heard a few people whispering that it’s too hot but not daring to say it too loud, presumably for fear that the dreaded snow might return.

So, whilst Scotland hasn’t quite looked like the photo above, it’s certainly been a welcome change. I will be taking a break from writing for a couple of weeks, as the arrival of summer also means that it’s time to take a break and spend some quality time with my family, especially my kids who are now on summer break from school.

However, before I sign off for some much-needed rest and relaxation, I would like to share some book-related news with you all. I’m very excited to announce that The Pendle Witch Girl, the third book in my Witches of Pendle series, is set for publication mid-August. At the end of July I will be announcing the exact release date and revealing the blurb and cover. In the meantime, however, The Pendle Witch Girl now has its own page on Goodreads, so please do head over there and add it to your ‘to be read’ list.

I wish you all a pleasant and enjoyable summer, with lots of sunshine wherever you are!!

Book Review: The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1892, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

I came across the Wages of Sin some time ago and, intrigued by its setting and subject matter, put it on my long ‘to be read’ list. Then, a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to hear author Kaite Welsh read from her book at a Noir at the Bar event in Edinburgh. I loved what I heard so much that I went home and started reading this book straight away – a decision I’m glad I made, since I absolutely adored this story.

The tale is a first person narrative, told from the point of view of Sarah Gilchrist, a young woman with a difficult past who is determined to become a doctor, despite the barriers and social stigmas of the late Victorian society she inhabits. Welsh’s Sarah is well-drawn; she is brave, resilient and just the right amount of vulnerable. As a reader it was very easy to get inside Sarah’s head and to see her world as she saw it – as frustrating as that was, at times! There are some great supporting characters too, from the brooding Professor Merchiston to the catty and snooty Julia Latymer. Welsh does an excellent job of making even the most unlikable character a touch sympathetic, whilst ensuring that in terms of the mystery, the reader remains as blind to their worst flaws and darkest secrets as Sarah is, until that crucial moment when the truth and the killer is revealed…

The setting for the story is 1890s Edinburgh, and Welsh does a masterful job of evoking the sights and smells of the ancient city, thick with slums, and contrasting this with the orderly and more privileged (but no less debauched) new town. As a piece of historical fiction this novel is superb, with Welsh firmly setting Sarah’s sleuthing tale in the context of the time, tackling issues from poverty and deprivation, to the social conflict surrounding female emancipation and sexuality with impressive sympathy and accuracy. At times it was hard not to feel as though I had been transported back to 1892!

A highly enjoyable read – I am looking forward to the next installment in the series already. Five stars.

The Safe Space

Ethersay is now six months old. To mark its half year anniversary, today I’d like to share some words I wrote which explain how my own experiences during the Scottish independence campaign eventually moved me to write this novel. 

For me, the day after the independence referendum was a blur of tiredness and disbelief. Everything was done on autopilot: taking the kids to school, picking them up, heading to the shops for some retail distraction. Everyone else seemed to be the same, too. I remember walking around Livingston shopping centre and noticing how quiet it was – the place itself was busy, but the people there were muted, sombre, reflective. Disappointment hung in the air like rain on a dreich winter’s day: disappointment in ourselves, disappointment in Scotland. Disappointment that the vision we had for our country would not, at that moment in time at least, be realised. And perhaps above all, an aching disappointment at the realisation that dependence had won.

Much of that disappointment, of course, would have belonged to those who voted Yes. But I always wonder how many of those who voted No woke up that day and realised that they felt disappointed, too.

Prior to the referendum, I had started writing my first historical novel, having set myself the bucket-list style challenge of publishing a book before my thirtieth birthday. In that final, crucial six months of campaigning I had put my project on hold, throwing myself entirely into political activism in a way that I had never done before. Sure, I had campaigned for my party’s candidates in various elections, but this was different, somehow – it felt so vital, so momentous, so all-consuming. For six months, I lived and breathed the independence referendum. I walked miles; I chapped doors, delivered leaflets, worked on street stalls. I did everything I possibly could. If I give this my all, I remember thinking, then perhaps it will be enough. Perhaps we will win.

And then we lost. I still struggle to describe what it felt like once it was over, once I knew we hadn’t won. Emptiness, numbness, grief – none of those words seem to quite fit.  All I know is that at that point, all I wanted to do was throw myself back into writing, and I did. Thank goodness I had my book to focus on, to distract me, to give me something to think about other than politics during those long, dark autumn days.

During 2015 and 2016, I published my first book then wrote and published its sequel – two historical fiction novels, set hundreds of years ago in my native Lancashire. They were a welcome escape, intellectually and emotionally. They were somewhere I could go and not think about how absolutely gutted I still was and for a long time, that was great.

Gradually, however, I found my gaze shifting back towards the independence referendum. By this point almost two years had passed and so much had changed at a pace which is still astonishing. Creatively, it felt like the right time to look back, to take those experiences and those feelings and weave them into fiction. Then I had a dream (yes, really) about a woman who finds herself stranded on a remote island with no memory of how she got there. I remember waking up and immediately jotting down the idea, spinning its threads, developing it through questions: who is she? How did she get there? What is it that she can’t remember?

What if she was a Yes campaigner?

What if the referendum had irrevocably changed her life?

An idea was born; an idea which over the subsequent weeks and months became my third novel, Ethersay.

Of course, it is important to say that the woman in the book isn’t me, that she is a work of fiction, as is every other character in the book. But as the saying goes, you should write what you know. I also feel, to paraphrase another saying, that if you’re ever going to have a clear idea of where you’re going, then you must understand where you’ve been. Stories can help us to do that; they can resemble real life but be remote enough from it to provide a safe space in which to explore the emotional and psychological impacts of our experiences. Stories can help us to reflect, to digest, and to engage. Perhaps above all, stories can help us to come to a better understanding of ourselves.

And in my view, if Scotland is going to move forward as a nation, if we’re going to realise our massive potential as we navigate the murky, brexiting waters of present times, we need to do exactly that. I hope Ethersay contributes to that but if not, well, it was damn cathartic writing it.

Ethersay is available at Amazon / iTunes / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Kobo

Book Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

This book was a rare experience for me for two reasons. One: it is a young adult novel, which is not a genre I tend to read. Two: I loved it so much that I read it in less than twenty-four hours. Vivian, a sixteen year old high school student from a small town in Texas, decides to start a Riot Grrrl-inspired zine called Moxie to vent about the sexism and harassment which is commonplace in her school. Vivian’s small act of defiance quickly grows into a movement, empowering young women (and men) across the school to challenge the behaviours and indeed the wider school environment which are both so patently unacceptable.

I am loathe to use the term ‘girl power’ but effectively, that is what this story is all about. The homage to the Riot Grrrl movement of the early 1990s is heart-warming and (for those of us of a certain age) a little nostalgic. Mathieu does a really good job of crafting an engaging, entertaining plot filled with interesting, complex characters. The protagonist, Vivian, is drawn very realistically; a typical sixteen year old girl who just wants to get on with her studies and keep herself out of trouble. However, she also cannot help but see the unfairness and discrimination going on all around her and ultimately rebels, and rightly so! She is joined by her friends and classmates, an interesting supporting cast who are all different but ultimately come together in mutual support and recognition that they are more powerful together than apart.

In terms of the plot Mathieu deals well with a range of issues which confront young women, from sexist jokes in the classroom, to the institutional sexism of targeting female students over their appearance, to the most sensitive and serious issues like sexual assault. I also liked that the story was not framed as boys versus girls; indeed, not all the young women in the story were keen feminists (at first, anyway) and not all of the boys were participating in the sexist behaviour, with some actually joining in with the Moxie revolution. The result is a realistic story about growing a movement, taking back control, and realising that we are all more similar than we are different. It is also a story about feminism and what it means to be a feminist in an age when people often talk about feminism as though it’s no longer relevant. I’m not normally one to quote at length from books but these few lines, when Vivian realises the power of what she’s started, really struck a chord with me:

“This is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.” 

In short, this was a highly entertaining, relevant and powerful read. Five stars.

Book Review: Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Grungy and queer, Michelle is a grrrl hung up on a city in riot. It’s San Francisco and it’s 1999. Determined to quell her addictions to heroin, catastrophic romance, and the city itself, she heads south for LA, just as the news hits: in one year the world is Officially Over. The suicides have begun. And it’s here that Black Wave breaks itself open, splitting into every possible story, questioning who has the right to write about whom. People begin to dream the lovers they will never have, while Michelle takes haven in a bookshop, where she contemplates writing about her past (sort of), dating Matt Dillon (kind of), and riding out the end of the world (maybe). 

New from Michelle Tea, novelist, essayist, and queer counter-culture icon, Black Wave is a punk feminist masterpiece and a raucously funny read for everyone … except, perhaps, for Scientologists.

Black Wave is a story which dances on the blurred lines between fiction and memoir in order to examine the crux of a very pertinent question: who has the right to tell a story, and about whom? The narrative through which this examination takes place is undoubtedly entertaining, following the fortunes of Michelle, a twenty-something gay writer living a fairly drugged-up and alcohol-enabled existence against the backdrop of a late-nineties San Francisco on the verge of environmental collapse. When Michelle makes a clean break and heads to LA, it also coincides with the pronouncement that the end of the world is nigh. From there, things get very weird, very quickly.

To be truthful with you, reader, I’m still grappling with how I feel about this book. Structurally it almost operates as two shorter novels, with part one set in San Francisco and part two in LA and there is a sense of detachment from the first part as the reader moves to the second. This was perhaps intentional but as a reader I felt bereft of some of the characters I’d got to know in part one, who were barely mentioned again. It is also written as a third person narrative, which again fed into the overall sense of detachment. Given that Tea was clearly wishing to play around with the memoir concept, this would have worked better for me written as a first person narrative. I think this would have made it easier to read, as well as allowing the reader exclusive access to Michelle’s mind which, from a third person perspective, was sometimes pretty unfathomable.

And yet, despite my difficulties with these aspects of how the book was written, I kept reading. There is no doubt that the plot is compelling: the journey of this individual through the end times is not one which can simply be abandoned halfway through. In addition, Tea’s creation of a sense of place and time is outstanding: I could almost see the toxic waste, the rotten trees crawling with infestation; I could feel the dirt and smoke of the polluted air on my skin.

Despite my frustration at trying to understand Michelle at times, I found her to be well-drawn, realistic and complex. Some of her decisions and development sometimes felt a little abrupt; for example, in one brief chapter later on in the book we are suddenly informed that she has now stopped drinking. Given the apocalyptic backdrop sudden changes were mostly forgivable but as aforementioned a different narrative choice might have served to smooth the reader’s path a little.

Finally, there is no doubt that this book has its funny moments, and the celebrity cameos are second to none – well, it is LA and Tea is playing around with the ‘who can write about whom’ question.

If you like stories which mess with your mind a little and leave you with a sense that you don’t quite know how to feel about them, then Black Wave could well be for you. It’s a slightly baffled 3 stars from me.

Over the Sea to Skye…

Phew, it’s the end of another quick and busy week! Thank you to everyone who shared, liked or otherwise supported spreading the word about the Ethersay sale this week. And of course, thank you to those who picked up a copy of the book! The sale went really well, with Ethersay peaking at number 2 in the ‘Religious and Inspirational Mystery’ category on Amazon UK. I admit after seeing that I did become a temporary rankings obsessive – it may take me most of the weekend to calm down after all the excitement!

The topic of today’s post is not strictly book-related as I thought I’d share some reflections and photos from my recent travels. Two weeks ago, I finally went a place that I’ve wanted to visit for years. After much wistful thinking and hint-dropping on my part, my family and I spent a week on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland. Alert readers might have already guessed about my love of rugged Scottish islands – much of the imagery and landscape in Ethersay, for example, is inspired by Scotland’s western isles, some I’ve visited, others I haven’t. I also might have hinted at my enthusiasm in a previous post about my short visit to the Isle of Bute in February!

In my mind, the Isle of Skye has always been the epitome of wild, magical beauty and I have to say, after a week on the island, the reality did not disappoint. Today I thought I’d share a few of my favourite photos with you, taken all over the island during a week of walking, generally great weather and otherworldly scenery.

So, I have now returned home, feeling refreshed and ready to get on with some writing. I still have a novella to finish and a few new projects which I am keen to get underway. And of course, I have the Words and Deeds Anthology which I plan to put together, for which I am still seeking submissions until 30th April.  I think it’s safe to say that the Spring break is almost over, and it’s going to be a busy time ahead!