Thursday, 25 August 2011

Why I Love Books So Much.

In times of stress or worry, or if I need some comfort, I often find myself thinking back to one of my earliest childhood memories. I have lots of very early memories – I can remember being in my baby carriage (long before those neat three-wheeled baby buggies were invented!) and crying because my mother had lowered the clear plastic cover to keep me dry in the rain. Even then, I hated being closed in! I can also clearly remember the red plaid rug that she used to sit me on out in the garden, when the weather was good. But neither of those are the one I’m talking about here.
Our family was, and is, a close one and when me and my older brother (how I always wished I was the oldest, not him!) were growing up, Mom was at home looking after us. She didn’t get a job until we were old enough to go to school. Finding things to keep us occupied never seemed hard work for her, we didn’t have much spare money but there were always plenty of toys around.

There were also books. Both parents read to us children and my brother, at a very young age, too young to read, knew the story “Dabbity Duck” off by heart and could recite it as if reading from the book my father held at bedtime. I have no particular memories of being read to at bedtime but I do remember coming round from an emergency peritonitis operation when I was eleven, and asking my mother to read to me. I doubt I was awake more than ten minutes that first time, the sound of her voice reading to me soothed me back to healing sleep.

But my most comforting memory, the one that always returns if I feel I need time to myself, to de-stress, is of a dark, cold and rainy English winter’s day. My mother and I had just returned from a walk to the local library and I had borrowed a New Book. I was so excited! There was a warm and cheery fire in the hearth, I had a small bag of chocolate buttons, and I curled up in a soft armchair with these and my New Book, and read the winter day away.

Now, maybe forty-seven years later, my best way to relax is still to do exactly the same thing. Ok, the chocolate buttons play a big part in this, but even they wouldn’t taste so good without an exciting book to read. I am very grateful to my parents for ensuring that reading and books played an important role in my life. I’m pleased when I see my grown-up stepchildren reading to their kids, and the way the kids also love books. Maybe one day, they will enjoy curling up in a big old soft armchair with a bag of chocolate buttons and one of their Nanny Cas’s fantasy books. That would surely bring a huge big smile to my face!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review of Legends Reborn: Light of Epertase Book One, by Douglas Brown.

By virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, skilled warrior Rasi finds himself accused of crimes he didn’t commit. It soon becomes clear that he can remain neither in Thasula, nor in the service of its King, Elijah. Personal tragedy overwhelms him and as his life is now forfeit, he is forced to retreat high into the mountains with only his loyal steed, Salient, for company. Yet even when faced with seemingly insurmountable foes, even when hunted by his former comrades, Rasi remains committed to the country of his birth. Against all the odds he finds companionship where he least expected it, and even a fledgling love, yet such things must remain unresolved while enemies threaten Epertasian lives. Suddenly, the people need his skills once again and so, aided by mercenaries and with the backing of Epertase’s new Queen, Alina, Rasi finds himself at the head of an army, once more pitted against a terrible foe.

Legends Reborn is an action-driven novel, full of gritty conflict and hard-fought battles. The characters are varied and well-drawn; their relationships complex. The setting is an unconventional mix of fantasy and reality, magical powers and technology, while the dialogue is forthright. The author pulls no punches – this novel grabs you by the arm. And while there is closure of a kind at the end, there is plenty of potential for the next two novels in the series. I await Book Two with great interest.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review of An Empire Lost by Kori Valley.

In An Empire Lost, author Kori Valley sets the scene for an epic struggle between the races of the Seven Lands and the hordes from Mishrak Cu Ra. The Golden Age has ended and it is time for the legendary Shelter Lord to reappear. He must travel the lands searching for the mysterious Eminanti – the Son of the Gods – while raising the races of Druids, Elves and Men to stand united against the Destiant Lord and his forces, called the Black Company.

To help him, the Shelter Lord takes Abasa Snerich, once King of the Druids; a man looking to validate the futility of his former life and find meaning for his future. Also Visara, the Witch Queen of Itsmalle, childhood sweetheart of Abasa. There’s also Bobolli, a once powerful wizard who is now a little too addicted to drink, and Brodderick, Seeker of Tast, the man who brings confirmed news that the Black Company are indeed on the move. Once the City of the Tyrene begins to fail – guided now by a King who does not have her interests at heart – the company leave. Along the way they gather other companions and thus form a company of their own. But before they can begin their appointed task, they must rid the city of South Oprem of the goblins that threaten to overwhelm it. This terrifying battle cements their shared goal and strengthens the ties that bind them.

The book gathers momentum as it progresses. This is understandable, given the scope of the author’s intentions. It also contains many errors, which is a shame, and would have benefitted from a thorough editing, but it is to the author’s credit that he informed me of this before I began reading. My 3-star rating would have been higher but I felt it had to reflect the book as a whole. The errors aside, An Empire Lost shows promise. The characters have the potential for further development and the Seven Lands themselves are a fitting backdrop for the scale of the premise. Given the almost visceral descriptions of the battle for South Oprem, the inevitable final battle ought to be well worth a read.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Day I Became A... Business!

I’ve read quite a few blog posts recently on similar subjects, such as when do you think of yourself as a writer, things authors don’t hear about what it’s really like to get their book published, and how to protect yourself against the demands, disappointments and uncertainties of the publishing world. They have all been fascinating and enlightening, and I’ve learned many interesting things. Some of the posts were more relevant to my own experience than others, and some were eye-opening – mainly those concerning the personal feelings of the post’s author. I do admire people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and who can lay their deepest emotions so open to the scrutiny of anyone who happened to read their post. I don’t think it’s something I could ever do.
All these different yet similar posts naturally got me thinking about how I feel on the subject of finally being published after nine or so years of trying. Excited, elated, vindicated; nervous, unsure, apprehensive. All of these things. Yet I never doubted right from the start that I was a writer. Today, however, I realized something else. Today, I realized just how real this all is. Why? Because today I opened a business bank account. Today, I am a sole-trader, a self-employed person. Today the business that is “Cas Peace” became official.
I actually registered as self-employed a few weeks ago. It was necessary for tax reasons, and British National Insurance payments. But the fact that I’d done so didn’t really mean very much at the time. It was all mixed up with other legal stuff, such as visiting a tax consultant and applying to the IRS for a Temporary Tax Number. Don’t get me started on this ITIN thing though – it’s a minefield! Still, I’ve got one now, so that’s ok.
My husband has been self-employed for years and owns three consulting companies. I help him with each company’s VAT returns, which is extremely funny when you learn that I’m someone who can’t do math. So I’m very used to seeing business accounts with the name “Peace” on them. But I never imagined I’d see one with “Cas” in front of it! Just that simple act of opening a new account (all right, it wasn’t simple and it took far longer than it should!) suddenly brought the whole thing home to me. My name is now a brand – albeit an unknown one yet – and I own my own business! I came home from that meeting with a big cheesy grin on my face. My meeting with the Small Business Advisor also ended on a good note when I offered him a signed copy of King’s Envoy. His face lit up and he said I’d made his day. Well, he’d made mine, so it was smiles all round!
All I need now are some royalties to offset the start-up costs I’ve had to pay out. Anyone like to help a starving author?

Good Friends... (originally posted at Rhemalda in May 2011)

Everyone knows what a rare treasure a really good friend is. You know the kind – the ones who tell you, with love, the painful truths you REALLY don’t want to hear. The ones who love you no matter your failings. The ones who help you improve by showing you the faults you can’t see for yourself. The ones who seem to know what you need before you ask. Such friends are difficult enough to find in person, but when one arrives via the Internet, someone you never actually meet or even see via Skype, yet who still manages to connect instantly with your soul, that person is the rarest and most valuable of finds.
Well sadly, this weekend I lost such a friend. Gerry Dailey, who lived with her husband and family in Chicago, was the most loving, trusted and loyal friend despite the fact I never met her in person. We shared many loves, amongst which was a love of books and writing, and although she didn’t write herself (at least, not as far as I know) yet she has had a hand in the writing success of many authors; among them, I believe, Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.
I first came into contact with Gerry two years ago via Authonomy, the HarperCollins peer-critique website. Her Authonomy profile-name was Ancient Reader. She read King’s Envoy when it was still being edited and despite loving it, gave me many insights, pointers and suggestions. When she learned that there were eight other books in the series, she was overjoyed, and enthusiastically read every single one. I made some important changes due to Gerry’s loving criticisms, and one of my major characters, Rienne, even owes her lovely name to Gerry. She also gave me permission to use an endorsement of hers on the book’s cover, for which I am very grateful.
I know there will be many, many people right now grieving for the loss of a true friend they never met. This post of mine is partly in tribute to Gerry and partly to say, if you have a friend like her, not only are you extremely privileged, but always make sure you tell them how deeply they are valued. Friendship is a precious thing and not to be taken lightly. The gift of someone else’s heart is the strongest, and yet the most fragile gift you could ever receive. If I can touch just one other person’s spirit with my writing as deeply as I touched Gerry’s, I will feel very special indeed.
God bless you, Gerry Dailey, rest peacefully in His arms.

What is an Artesan? (originally posted at Rhemalda in April 2011)

When I first began writing my fantasy series Artesans of Albia, it had a very different title. The premise is that a section of my world’s populace, drawn from five separate races, would be born with a certain talent. One manifestation of this talent is the ability to learn how to control one’s inner life force; an energy I call ‘metaforce’. Once this was decided, I found I needed a vehicle through which this metaforce would be channelled; something possessed by every living thing but which was unique in each case. I experimented with various terms until I hit on the word ‘matrix’. The matrix would be akin to the psyche, and it would be a thing of ephemeral, mystical beauty. It can only be seen by another practitioner of the craft and is an intricate, four-dimensional ‘pattern’, consisting of whorls, spirals, helixes, colors and emotions. The more skilled the practitioner, the more complex their matrix would be.
Having decided these things, the series’ title became obvious. It just had to be ‘Masters of the Matrix’. Brilliant title, I thought – I love it! (Can you see where this is going?)
I wrote happily on, oblivious to the slap in the face that was coming my way. Sometimes I just hate the film industry… Ok, of course you know, it was the release of the Matrix films. I spat feathers when the first one came out – how dare they ruin all my careful planning – not to mention a perfectly good series title? Not fair! For a while I toyed with the idea of keeping my masterpiece – maybe I could capitalize on the connection? Thankfully I thought better of it; can you imagine how mad someone would be if they bought one of my books by mistake, thinking it was related to the films? And I could just imagine what agents or publishers would say…
Anyway, now I had a problem. The people who exhibit this talent are not magicians or wizards in any sense of the word. Their ‘powers’ owe more to Druidical beliefs, or that of Wicca, than to such creations as Gandalf or Merlin. I had to find a unique name for them, a term that reflected their knowledge; their artistry.
One of the best-loved books in my writer’s arsenal is my Roget’s Thesaurus. It was a 21st birthday present from two great-aunts. (Actually my parents bought it, but the money came from my great-aunts.) They are both gone now – my 21st birthday was a long, LONG, time ago – but I still frequent my Thesaurus. When I’d exhausted all the obvious and immediate terms I could think of for my talented people, I dug through its many permutations and suggestions until I whittled all the possibilities down to two words. Artist and artisan.
Both these words carried elements (pun intended) of the skills my people possess, but both were too ordinary. I rejected them, but it wasn’t long until I realized there was nothing else. I’d already decided against coining a brand new word; I wanted potential readers to at least have an inkling of what the term might mean. Eventually, in desperation, I tried altering the word ‘artisan’ by exchanging the ‘i’ for an ‘e’. Bingo! The rest, as the old cliché goes, is history.

If Music be the Food of... Writing? (originally posted at Rhemalda in April 2011)

Music is terribly important to me; its strainsrun right through my life. From the nursery songs I learned as a toddler to the silly songs I used to sing in the back of the car on long journeys; tuneless ditties which no doubt irritated my parents no end! Music helped me to learn, from singing the Alphabet song to using rhythm to make my math times tables stick in my head. (There it failed – we’ll gloss over that!)
Later, as a teen, music often helped me cope with teenage angst. Belting out modern pop songs in the security of one’s bedroom– pop songs hated by one’s parents of course – was a mild form of rebellion, one they could do nothing about. Not that I really wanted to rebel against my parents, but adopting some form of individualism was required at age thirteen.
Then came serious singing, with school and church choirs. That was quickly joined by a passion for folk music when, through eavesdropping on what my older brother and his friends were playing in his bedroom, I discovered bands and singers such as Fairport Convention, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez. I was hooked.
Folk music became the theme to my life and I honed my vocal chords by emulating Sandy Denny – long live the memory of her haunting voice. Recently I sang some songs during our village variety show and afterwards, one member of the audience made my day when she said my singing reminded her of Sandy. I couldn’t wish for a better epitaph – “Her singing sounded just like Sandy Denny’s.” Very soon now, you may get to compare for yourselves and I hope you will be kind!
Music also played a vital part in my writing. I find it essential to immerse myself in the world I’m creating as I write, and because Albia and Andaryon are in effect medieval worlds, listening to music from that era helped drown out the seriously un-medieval Chinook helicopters that regularly blat-blat their way across our rooftops.
It wasn’t medieval music, however, that had the greatest effect on me when writing my Artesans series. On a trip to the US in 2003 or 2004, we had the great opportunity to tour some of the National Parks. The Grand Canyon was also on the list and here, in one of the visitor centres, I picked up a cd of music inspired by the Canyon itself. It was called ‘Spirit of the Canyon’ and was by Ah*Nee*Mah (Diane Arkenstone, Seth Osburn, Delia Park, John Wakefield and David Arkenstone). As soon as the first track (Light from the East) began to play, I knew I would love it forever. There is a strong Native American influence to these tracks and my created world has no connection whatsoever to Native American culture or peoples. Yet that hauntingly beautiful track captures intimately the spirit of Major Sullyan, one of my main characters. I can see the magnificent horse the Major rides, Drum, galloping powerfully across the Albian hills. I can see and hear battles raging. I can see the Major’s Artesan powers, and watch the sun rise over the Manor. It has a very special place in my heart, that track, and I just had to credit its creators in the front pages of King’s Envoy. I wonder what they’d make of the book?

What's in a Theme? (originally posted at Rhemalda in March 2011).

It wasn’t until long after I’d finished writing the Artesans of Albia series that I realized there were several themes running throughout each book. I didn’t set out to explore these topics – they just appeared naturally as part of the characters’ lives. I guess there are themes in every fiction novel, otherwise there would be no plot, but I confess that mine snuck up on me.
Having realized this, and taken a good look at my writing with the aim spotting these themes, it became clear that the main subjects are personal development, and humility in power. At the start of King’s Envoy, Taran Elijah is a desperate man, struggling with a deep yet unfulfilled desire to learn the control of his power. Taran’s yearning has been frustrated by the death of his mentor (who also happened to be his father), and the fact that the Artesan power is in serious decline in Albia.
This concept of “what lengths might a person go to in order to achieve their potential” was the catalyst that kick-started my Artesan series, as I mentioned in my I DIDN’T WANT TO BE AN AUTHOR blog post. What I didn’t realize was how fundamental to the entire series this seemingly insignificant idea had become.
“Artesans” follows Taran through several stages of his life. In many ways he alters beyond all comprehension, yet in one major factor, his nature remains unchanged. I didn’t plan this, and it fascinates me. With no conscious help from me, Taran took control of his destiny and his nature developed at its own pace.
Taran Elijah is not the only character to have his nature exposed and tested to extremes in “Artesans”. Humility in power is another strong premise running throughout the series, and two other characters demonstrate completely different sides to this fundamental topic. As I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll just have to read the books to find out who they are and what effect this conflict has on the plot.