Meet M T and A F E at the Darkhaven Facebook Launch Party.

Blog_tour_banner_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Just a quick update, this Thursday, 2nd, as ever is, I am taking part in the ongoing celebrations to launch the book, Darkhaven by my cyber buddy A.F.E. Smith. See my previous post. The giveaway and scavenger hunt are still on and she will be letting me loose at her facebook event where we will be shooting the breeze together, for an hour, at 10.00 am, BST. Anyone who’s up by then is welcome to join me, along with any insomniacs in the States and Australasia.

You can join in the fun by clicking this link: A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook Event

You can also find out more about the tour and Darkhaven here:

Tour homepage
A.F.E. Smith’s Rafflecopter giveaway
Where to find A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook Event on 2nd July

 

 

 

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Turning the kaleidoscope

Blog_tour_banner_DARKHAVEN_AFE_Smith

Scavenger_day04.

orning all.

Today I bring you a guest post from my cyber buddy, A.F.E. Smith, fellow member of the Guild of Writers Who go By Mysterious Initials, who is dropping in to say hello to you part of a blog tour to launch her first book. Darkhaven is out soon with Harper Voyager (Yeh, I know big few trad pubbed! She is my ritziest guest ever). In fact, it will be released in ebook format on 2nd July for £1.99 or $US3.99.  As well as the blog tour there’s a giveaway and a scavinger hunt and a big launch event on Facebook today, Thursday 2nd July! Oh yes, it’s all go. More on that story … later.

But first, without more ado, let’s welcome A.F.E. Smith…

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” – Mark Twain

People often want to know where writers get their ideas from. The answer is, of course, that inspiration can come from anywhere. But given that most writers are also compulsive readers, I’d guess many of their ideas actually come from other books.

I’d better add at this point that I’m very definitely not talking about plagiarism. Taking an entire storyline, unique concept or specific wording from someone else’s work is stealing, not inspiration (though even here the line is blurred; think of fairytale retellings or modernisations of Austen, neither of which are forms of plagiarism). My point is that writers are sponges, absorbing everything they come across. And as a result, when they create a book, there are often echoes of other books to be found alongside the rest of the influences.

Take Darkhaven. As it happens, I can actually figure out the literary inspirations for some of its ideas. When I started writing it, I’d recently reread I Am David by Anne Holm and so I wanted to write something that also began with that atmospheric kind of escape (indeed, Ayla’s flight from her home is still the very first scene in the book). The structure of Arkannen, the city in which the novel is set, may well have drawn on both Tolkien’s Minas Tirith and the game from Albion’s Dream by Roger Norman. And the idea of the Nightshade family and their ability to change into different creatures owes more than a little to Stephen Donaldson’s short story Daughter of Regals.

It’s not that Darkhaven as a whole has anything significant in common with these works, or they with each other. I don’t think a reader would have identified any of these influences without me pointing them out. It’s simply that bits and pieces of other books have added their flavour, just as bits and pieces of the real world have (the British industrial revolution, Western and Chinese ‘elements’, a little bit of steampunk, a little bit of murder). Reading is, after all, as much of a genuine experience as anything that happens in the physical world – so it’s hardly surprising that the books I read combine with everything else in my head.

Of course, there are also plenty of ideas in Darkhaven that belong to me alone. I’m not aware of any other city, fictional or otherwise, where the streets are paved with stripes of different colours – like a life-size underground map – to help you find your way to the right place. And I’m pretty sure the actual plot holds a few surprises. But in reality, the only difference between those aspects and the ones I mentioned above is that it’s harder to trace back through the thought process to the seed of the idea. Because sometimes, that seed can be as simple as I don’t want to do it that way. Consciously seeking to be different puts more distance between yourself and the original, but it still leaves you with a debt to another book.

And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are so many books in the world now that it’s impossible to be completely new. People have been around too long for that. We have entire websites dedicated to tropes. Our creative process is always going to be one of synthesis rather than wholesale creation: selecting and rejecting the experiences we’ve already had in an attempt to build something new. And that’s fine. Because old bits of glass arranged in a new configuration can become something different enough to be interesting. The key is to keep turning the kaleidoscope until you find it.


 

Wise and true words. Thank you very much A.F.E. Smith, it’s been an honour to have you with us. Now, I promised to give you some more information about Darkhaven, A.F.E. Smith, the blog tour and the facebook event so here is some more info.

Cover_image_DARKHAVEN_AFE_SmithDarkhaven

Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

.

Buy links

HarperCollins
Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play
iBooks
Kobo

Author biography

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links

Website
Facebook
Twitter
DARKHAVEN on Goodreads

The main points again:

Tour homepage
A.F.E. Smith’s Rafflecopter giveaway
Where to find A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook Event on 2nd July

 

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Politics: MTM’s post election rantathon.

You’re probably wondering whether or not I’m still alive so I thought I’d better put your mind at rest. To be honest, there are three reasons for my absence, first a sudden and abrupt cessation of all free downloads for my books had me scurrying to tweak key words, check categories etc on all the major book retail sites – I’m still none the wiser and thinking I’ll probably have to chalk it up to experience… ‘kismet Hardy’ and all that.

Second, I’ve had to learn to do some stuff and it took a while… more on that story next post.

Third, the election. For those who don’t know, there’s been an election here in the UK and even for politics, this one has left a really bad taste in the mouth. Perhaps I spend too much time on the internet but the whole thing seems to have been fought on the politics of hate: them and us, rich and poor, north and south.  I wanted to post something but I was so annoyed that I couldn’t make it articulate or un ranty enough. At the same time, I couldn’t  manage to post anything else until I’d written about the election. I’m still having difficulty being articulate and it’s still a bit of a rantathon. But it’s been a whole month now and this will have to do.

The aftermath of the election was also grim. There was a lot of silly, shitty ‘people who voted for … are the devil’s spawn’ style generalisations on Facebook. One person even asked that anyone who’d voted for one party to unfriend her because she didn’t want to know them. Like uh? For real?

That seems a little extreme. Perhaps there’s a very real need in all of us for a religion, or something like it. But I wonder how it is that people who are staunch rationalists or atheists are sometimes able to turn to politics with the exact same zeal and blind belief that they mock in those of religion. Maybe the human psyche has to believe ‘passionately’ in something. But believing in a political party? I have strong beliefs on what is right and wrong but the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ of politics seems quite murky. A party which has some great ideas in its manifesto is guaranteed to have some that, to my mind anyway, are complete pants at best, at worst, wrong or possibly even unwittingly evil. So it’s a case of compromise there’s no perfect absolute. Not for me. I’m drifting from the point though. Back to the them and us.

Doubtless all this categorising of other humans rallies the troops and makes it easier to produce catchy sound bites but unfortunately, it tends to do so at the expense of a huge uplift in pointless, ignorance-based, alienation and hatred. Perhaps I’m sensitive about this, because in the eyes of a sizeable chunk of the population my geographical origins render me unspeakable, so I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of it over the years.

That’s also why I, personally, can no more think it’s ‘the right thing to do’ to vote blindly for one political party without thought than I could cut my own arm off. Would we put such unthinking trust in a group of fallible humans if they were running a multinational? Should we blindly obey people who want us to vote for their right to wield power and run a whole country? Probably not. Let’s face it, power is guaranteed to bring out the bad side of the strongest among us. So my view is that we need to mix the ruling parties up as regularly as possible so they don’t get too used to it and remember who put them where they are.

However, despite not liking politics, or politicians, very much I think standing with your fingers in your ears going, ‘la la la la I’m not going to play’ and refusing to vote is probably worse. Yes, I’m sure if nobody voted they’d have to change but I doubt that would be with the revolution some folks want. Most likely they’d simply take even less notice of those they are supposed to govern than they do now. Or we’d really have a revolution. Like Syria. There are few things more uncivil than a civil war.

As a child, I grew up in a situation where the people around me came from all walks of life, all social backgrounds and all levels of income, and they were friends. I’ve never quite got the hang of ‘them and us’ because the people in my life have always been too eclectic a mix so support the concept. Everyone was a ‘them’ of some sort. As a result of this, when I vote, I vote for the people I think will do the least damage to the country at the time. I have voted Green, Liberal, Labour and Conservative.

That’s why I found it profoundly depressing: the way that this election seemed to be fought on the politics of hate, with (otherwise) intelligent rational individuals urging us to vote for their respective political parties – on the internet at any rate –  on the grounds that it was ‘the right thing to do': as if their manifesto was some infallible dictat laid down by God, while at the same time happily mouthing poisonous platitudes from the mother ship decrying the moral turpitude of anyone who voted for a different bunch.

Do we really fall for this ‘everyone in party x is a knob’ style shit?

The fact is this.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE WANKERS IN THE WORLD. I know! Drop down dead in shock! But yes it’s true. A small minority of the human race are just total tossers. Nothing will change this and it isn’t anyone’s fault. But, contrary to popular belief, their monthly income, accent, occupation, the identity of their antecedents, whether or not they’re vegetarian are allergy sufferers or drive a certain type of car, or drive at all, their birth place, current home, school they went to, parents’ occupation, gender, social standing, social background, stance on animal rights, religion, colour or political affiliation has absolutely NO bearing on whether or not a person will be a twat. In short you cannot just pick a random aspect or experience about their life and say that everyone else who shares it is a tosser, well… I suppose you can, but only if you’re a tosser of epic proportions yourself.

So there we go peps, when you next read a statement that runs along the lines of ‘everyone who voted labour is a twat,’ or conversely, ‘anyone who voted conservative is a knob,’ made by someone pitching it as actual truth, we can all have a quiet chuckle at who the real dick head is.

On the up side, my faith in the British public has been boosted enormously by the fact that UKIP didn’t get in.

For a light hearted take on the way we in the, laughingly named, ‘united’ Kingdom all hate each other, just spool to 2.45 on this vid and watch Andy Parsons sum it up.

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Marathon Man and Team GB: A Personal Appeal from Me.

As you know, I don’t normally talk about my family, mainly because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to know about them and that they, in turn, would be absolutely horrified if I did. However, today, I’m going to make an exception. This is a personal post, about my brother, and at the end of it, I’m going to ask for your help. I aim to beg in an amusing way, without putting anyone under pressure, but if you think you’ll be uncomfortable with that feel free to make a swift exit!

Right, if anyone’s still here, on we go.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a very important event which my brother, Giles Bell: A prime examples of er,  middle aged athleticism if ever there was one; a man in the peak of physical fitness – see photo – is going to undertake with a team of other brave sporting gentlemen: Simon Sowdon, Will Hughes, Paul Vicars and Andy Weston.

Giles Bell, the apogee of sporting prowess is the one on the right. As you can see, he's very tall which is why he's having to concentrate extremely hard on not smacking his head on the speaker mounted at a height that is well above danger level for most of us. I apologise to the lady in the middle for not knowing who he is. The lady on the left is his wife. ;-)

Giles Bell, the apogee of sporting prowess, is the one on the right. As you can see, he’s very tall which is why he’s having to concentrate extremely hard on not smacking his head on the speaker mounted at a height that wouldn’t normally bother most of us. He is holding a special, yeast and hops based vitamin drink he uses to run faster. I apologise to the lady in the middle for not knowing who she is – or at least not remembering, I’m sure I do know. The lady on the left is his wife, Emily. ;-)

The five brave souls of the Famous Five, or Team Giles Bell – or Team GB unless I am unable to call them that for legal reasons – are going to be taking part in the Shrewsbury half marathon to raise money for the Scleroderma Society. They’re going to try to make it look really difficult by completing it in under two hours.

“God made me for a purpose but he also made me FAST and when I run I feel his pleasure!”*

Being such  fine athletes it will be difficult for them to run that slowly, so they will be making it look hard with as much sporting hamminess as possible. To this end they are studying videos of premier league football players showing pain and undertaking a heavy schedule of grimacing practise in readiness. Speaking as someone who can’t run or walk more than a mile and would have to be dragged round, or perhaps pushed, St-Cuthbert’s-Mum-style, in a wheelbarrow I can only stand in awe and admire (phnark).

Why the Scleroderma Society?

Well, because Giles has just discovered that his youngest son, Reggie has scleroderma. It’s an auto immune problem which can cause painful joints, tightening and stiffness of the joints and skin, fatigue and in unlucky cases, it can affect the internal organs. There is no cure, it’s just something you have to take on the chin and learn to live with, rather than suffer from.

Reggie, for added cuteness. ;-)

Reggie – for added cuteness ;-) – looking very serious while holding an owl.

There are two types of scleroderma:

  •     localised scleroderma, which affects just the skin
  •    systemic sclerosis, which may affect blood circulation and internal organs, as well as the skin.

Reggie definitely has the first and it looks as if he may have both, which is a pretty harsh deal for a six year old: think Lupus, rhumatoid arthritis, chrones disease or the like. The effects are treated with physiotherapy and immuno-suppresants. Reggie will have to have treatment to stabilise the condition to start with. Over a 2 year period he will have to ingest some fairly hefty chemicals: suff that’s usually used in chemotherapy – although in much lower doses. He’ll have to have weekly blood tests and he will probably feel pretty knocked out for most of that time.

Currently, there is no cure for scleroderma and very little funding to find one but the Scleroderma Society is fighting to achieve it. So if you have any funds spare that you’d like to give to a good cause feel free to sponsor Giles who is raising funds for them, by clicking the ‘sponsor Giles’ just there, or using the link below. I’ve added two links about the disease, too, to give you a feel for what Reggie is up against.

  • If you want to know more about Giles’ bid for sporting prowess (his post is much funnier than mine) or would like to sponsor him, his VirginMoneyGiving page is here.
  • If you want to know more about Scleroderma, there’s an excellent explanation on the NHS website here.
  • If you want to know more about the Scleroderma Society, you can visit their website here .

* only Giles will get this joke.

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MTM Talks… and talks… and talks…

The lovely peps at Authors Talk About bravely interviewed me this morning. I suspect they didn’t realise just how well I can go on, and on, and on. It is an unfortunate reality that there are many donkeys around my neck of the woods with no hind legs. That’s right, I’ve talked them all off. It was great fun though and they have done some really cracking interviews on there so, as usual, it’s well worth checking out the other authors on the show even if you would prefer to skip mine!

Lovely links are here:

Find my interview: http://authorstalkaboutit.com/parallel-universe/

It can also be found (and downloaded from) here:  authorstalkaboutit.podbean.com
It is on iTunes here:

US:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2

OZ: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2

UK: https://itunes.apple.com/gn/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2you click

You can also follow Authors Talk About It at twitter here:

https://twitter.com/AuthorsTalk

And on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/authorstalkaboutit

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Dipping my toe into the world of #Sci-fi #Romance

Back cover, Looking for Trouble.

Back cover, Looking for Trouble.

Like many of the laideeeees I like a bit of romance: no squelchy bits, I prefer to imagine the squelching for myself. I’m interested in the way love affects people and that’s probably why my characters get it on from time to time. That said, I’ve never dared pitch my books as full on romance because… well… there’s the odd snog, and a bit of enthusiastic grinding, no actual sex. Even so, I have got to know many romance writers as cyber buddies over the years and as well as being ruthlessly well organised and efficient they are an incredibly friendly bunch, and generous about sharing their knowledge with dumb schmucks like myself. A lot of the stuff I know about selling books on the internet is information I’ve gathered from romance  writers.

And guess what? There are many, many flavours of romance and they are not all spicy, some are what’s referred to as ‘clean’. So that makes my books ‘clean romance’ which is cool because it’s yet another genre I can add to my ever expanding book description. Imagine my delight when I happened up on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Yes, there is a niche for sci-fi with romance in it. So obviously, I joined up straight away!

They are a lovely bunch with many and varied books to their names, some spicy, some clean and some between and they have kindly allowed me to witter on on their blog, so if you liked the romantic aspect of the K’Barthan Series it’s worth a visit. Forget reading my drivvel, there are give aways, book recommendations and all sorts of new authors for you to try while for authors there is expertise, camaraderie and general interest from other people who write science fiction with romance in it.

You can find the Brigade’s blog, and my post, here. And you can interact with them on their facebook site here,

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Goodnight and God Bless.

A story broke, today, about a new cure for alzheimer’s. It seems the damage can be reversed using ultrasound. It makes the loss Sir Terry Pratchett yesterday, to the same disease, all the more poignant. Yet I suspect he, of all people, would have appreciated the tragic irony in it.

Terry Pratchett is probably the reason I write. His books – and the outlook in his books – have been a huge influence on me, personally, because he puts the moderate, intelligent viewpoint – especially in his early works – with so much subtle sympathy. To me, the attitude and political viewpoint of his books sums up everything that is good about that moderate, live-and-let-live British view of the world. And if you’re foreign reading this and you want to know what pukka British is well, one aspect is that.

I bought my first Pratchett book when I was about 19 and at university. I think he’d written four disc world books at that point. Even then, I wrote a fair bit of stuff, myself, all of it funny fantasy. I’d never seen a funny fantasy book in a shop and I couldn’t see myself persuading anyone to buy it. In fact, I had resigned myself to writing reams of words which no-one would ever see.

And then I read The Colour of Magic.

And it was a revelation. Because it was exactly what I was trying to do, except it was done properly, down to the last detail.

I remember hoovering it up and just thinking, “I want to write like this.” Except that it’s really, really hard to write like Sir Terry.

Within a couple of months, I’d decided that he was probably going to write all my books for me and I’d never write like that anyway. I put my efforts at novel writing aside and started writing  stand up. But I continued to love the books and admire the man. I loved reading the books as they came out, seeing his style grow and evolve. He had the common touch, too. Remember the book about vampires? I can’t remember which one it is but it’s early – in the first 10. The vampires are complaining that there’s nothing to eat and not even a tampax for a nice cup of tea. I laughed like a drain at that because it’s the kind of joke I’d have with myself but deem to tasteless for the ‘normals’. And he’s put it in a book. I liked that he pricked the hide of the pompous and poked fun at the self important.

It made me feel an affinity with him as someone who, perhaps, might not quite fit. Here was a mind like my own a person like me. Doing well. And that’s the thing about Sir Terry, almost anyone who read and loved his books felt like that about him. He had this way of touching on the unmentioned humour of … well … pretty much everything and for pretty much anyone in a way that made you feel as if he would be a complete gas to go to the pub with.

The late, great, Sir Terry Pratchett

The one time I met him was at a book signing, and he was every bit as lovely as you’d expect, from reading the books. He must have been there about four hours and signed literally hundreds of books. I got there early and queued up the street for that brief few second meeting. He was affable, friendly and chatty. He kept the queue moving without making anyone feel rushed. It was impressive.

18 months or so after meeting the great man in the flesh, I was invited to apply for a job which I then managed to actually not get. I thought someone up there was trying to tell me something: ie that Real Life and Real Work are for the Normals and not for me. So I started writing funny novels again. With a vengeance. Because even if Terry Pratchett had written them all for me, no two people will write the same book right?

Trouble was, I was churning out pages and pages of shockingly piss poor writing that I sincerely wished someone else had written. And I didn’t know how to make it right.

And then a friend found Sir Terry’s e-mail address and I sent him an e-mail. Naturally, writing to the god, whose work I just loved, and I sent a joke, ‘are you the real Terry or a fake terry like terrylene?’ I asked him. And I got a reply saying. ‘I’m the real Terry’ so I sent him another one, which basically said, ‘bloody hell! can I ask you some questions?’ and he sent one back along the lines of ‘now look, it’s all very well but questions only take a minute to ask and a long time to answer, so you can ask me three things.’

So I asked him the first question: if he had to work hard to sell his book or ‘did you just send it in to the first publisher you could think of and they wrote back and said yes please?’ his answer, ‘That’s pretty much the size of it.’

There is no doubt that – after a pause to marvel how anyone could be that good at something  – I asked him a second question. But since a computer crash has long since dispensed with my transcript of the correspondence I can’t remember what I asked or what he said. Clearly I wasted the opportunity but at least, true to M T list making form, it means there is NO THING TWO. Moving on.

The third question I asked was if he had any general advice for myself and a writer friend who were both struggling to make our stuff work. At the time I was doing a creative writing course. The teacher wrote literary fiction and she thought my writing was ‘just stupid’. But Sir Terry, bless him, he bothered to write back. And he this is what he told me.

‘If you want to write, and write well, you have to practise. Write. Write every day…’ he said.

And I can’t remember the exact working of the rest of it – which seems strangely apposite and is entirely typical –  but the gist of it is this.

Write. Write as much as you can. And when you can’t think of anything to write, write about how irritated you are that you can’t think of a bloody thing to write about. Write something. Anything and do whatever it takes to spend some time, every day doing it. Practise and you will gain such an  instinctive grasp of words that expressing your thoughts is effortless, and more to the point, accurate. And when you learn that… that’s when you will learn how to say the difficult things and your words will have power.

That doesn’t read very well because the hard disk crash ate the words Sir Terry wrote, which I no longer remember and my words lack the power of his – although I’m working on that – but the essence is burned into my soul*.

His advice came at a time when I was on the brink of giving up, on writing on work on everything. When I’d resigned myself to a dead end life and a succession of dead end jobs working for a university that paid most of its workers an annual salary equating to less than the average town rent. When, I had been told I was worthless for so long by so many people that, despite the best efforts of those who thought different, I’d begun to believe it. It was tough advice – he didn’t pull any punches – but it made me feel that perhaps there was something I could do, possibly even do well, if I tried really, really hard. And I set out to do it. There are a lot of other factors which turned my life around and switched on my self confidence, but the small ember of resolve I felt after that e-mail was part of the small beginnings.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for making the world lighter and better and wiser for all of us, thank you for 70 books, and thank you for the advice. The world is a quieter, duller place for your passing.

 

* that’s a little melodramatic isn’t it? Never mind.#

# this is a post about Terry Pratchett, people. Footnotes are obligatory.

Since Sir Terry was one of the people who advocated leaving your comfort zone regularly, I scared myself in his honour today by eating two chocolate toffees I found in my drawers (obviously not the drawers I’m wearing but the ones in my desk) which are best before 2008. I am also still wearing my comic relief drawn on face, which should do.

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