The Villainous Viscount Or the Cure of the Venns has won a BRAG medallion.

VillainousViscount_800 Cover reveal and Promo

After confessing to my less than uplifting news a short while ago – that I had to jettison 40,000 words of the novel I’m working on at the moment  – due originally, no doubt, to my usual disorganised habit of not writing a plan – I am happy to give some good news.

That is that ‘The Villainous Viscount’ has won one of the coveted a BRAG medallion.

To celebrate, I am reducing it in price to 0.99 for a few days and it is available from Amazon.com here  and from Amazon.co.uk here .

Thinking of it, and the pleasure I got out of writing it, has reminded me of one all important thing about writing which writers should never forget.

It is too easy as a writer to get so drawn into concentrating on concerns about honing one’s writing skills, comparing forms of promotion and debating how how far to use ‘social media’,  fretting over sales figures, the increasing difficulties of obtaining reviews,  the need for research and so on, that you forget something that you  never should forget: that joy in writing.

I loved writing that story about the Curse of the Venns, and the  memodramatic haunting of all the main perpetrators of a crime in the France of the Ancien Regime,  and the appearances of the Hooded Spectre (complete with clap of thunder and flash of lightning):

‘“Clarinda, you remember that you were the only respectable young lady who spoke kindly about poor Foyle’s death. You were not cold and implacable, then.”

Her lips thinned. “I am only so now in refusing your offer of marriage.” He dropped her hands.

“So be it, Ma’am.” Too outraged to make the normal civilities, he turned away.

A flash of lightning outlined the window, where a hooded, cloaked figure appeared, suspended on the air. It extended one skeletal hand as if reaching towards them and vanished even as the thunderclap came.’

I enjoyed writing about those highly contrasting characters, the down-to-earth, kind hearted Clarinda Greendale. It was great fun to write about the eponymous Villainous Viscount Harley Venn, wholly disreputable, given to every sort of wildness and excess, but  good humoured in his own clareless way, as is shown by allowing his manservant’s impossible small children to live with them, wreaking havoc:

“There’ll be no fire in your study… Your Honour,” drawled the man, who never called Venn either ‘My Lord’ or ‘Lord Venn’, almost as if he suspected him of being an impostor, while he often paused before saying ‘Your Honour’. “My lad followed the girl in there when she was banking it up, and was after hurling a jug of water over it before she could stop him. Practising for them bloody duns, he was.” A look of pride softened his face.

“Curse you, I’ve told you to keep the little brutes out of there,” Venn sounded resigned.’

I borrowed Harley Venn’s  habits of routine drunkeness, love of pugilism and brawling  of dressing as a costermonger from  the fascinatingly melodramtic 1894 novel The Outcast of the Family Or A Battle Between Love and Pride by the Victorian writer of best sellers, Charles Garvice, laughing as I did.

There is in fact a serious core at the heart of the story – the tale of the forced abduction, twenty years earlier, of the young country girl  Rose by Harley Venn’s uncle, egged on by  his debauched friends. I loved writing that part as well.

Thinking of this makes me all the more determined to shrug off my frustration about the difficulties I am having in resolving the problems with the plot with my latest. I had these same delays and difficulties with The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns, and sorted them out eventually.

With any luck I will do the same with this one, and meanwhile, I should make the most of the pleasure of writing it.

For those readers of this blog who write, and are interested in submitting their novels to the BRAG website, the link is here

brag-medallion-sticker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Unearthed After Sunset’ by Lauryn April: A Gripping Tale of Vampire and Human Turf Wars in Modern Day Phoenix

I’ve been looking forward to Lauryn April’s new series and’ Unearthed After Sunset’ the first of ‘The Cereus Vampire Chronicles’, was anything but a disappointment.

In fact, I the writing is better than ever. There is increasing and impressive strength and flow to the style. One of the things I like about some YA writing is that you will find more maturity in approach than you can in many books intended for so-called adults. That is certainly true here.

We first met the male lead, Greg Erikson, aged twenty-three and something of a drifter, in a bar where he has headed after a series of bathetic misfortunes:

 

Unearthed After Sunset (Cereus Vampire Chronicles Book 1) by [April, Lauryn]

I’d failed the summer class I needed to graduate, lost my internship at Douglass and Smith Publishing, got fired from the terrible landscaping job I picked up to cover the bills, and to top it off, my girlfriend dumped me because I’d kept all of that a secret.’

I had to warm to this anti hero – he’s so believable, and sympathetic in his character defects – that drifting, his urge to belong –as he is in his strengths – his unsparing self honesty, his self deprecating humour, and his capacity for loyalty and courage.

Events move quickly.  Greg meets a pretty girl, Caroline, and dismayed as he is over the break up with his former girlfriend, he is nevertheless drawn to her; t he takes her number, and suddenly finds himself kissing her.

Then he sets of to the friend with whom he plans to stay – taking a short cut, it still being light – through a cemetery.

Here he sees Caroline set on by a couple of men. As he runs to her aid, she stabs them with a stake and they turn to dust. She urges Greg to leave and to forget what he has seen.

Instead, he hides and spies on her from a crypt as she is joined by her father. More vampires appear, the fighting recommences,  and Greg realises that incredibly, they are modern day vampire hunters.

But then he is set on himself – by the siren Lila. He wakes up in his coffin, scrabbles his way out, and finds her waiting for her new recruit to the gang of vampires run by the merciless predator Santo. He leads his gang in a doubled edged power struggle against a rival group of vampires, known as the Nosferatu, whilst simultaneously waging war against the vampire hunters.

During this time, Caroline is continuing with her day-to-day life in destroying vampires.

Twenty-year-old Caroline is as appealing a female lead as Greg is a male lead. Though she might be a member of the hereditary Order of Iowa, sworn in because her older brother Michael was killed a year ago by vampires, she retains much of her old personality,  the fun loving girl student with two inseparable best friends who loves to go out and who finds her parents’ protectiveness irksome.  Her insouciant description of the governing body of the Order of Iona is typical:

‘The Committee that governed us was made up of wrinkly old hunters who didn’t die on the job, and they spent their retirement years like nosy neighbors keeping tabs on the rest of us.’

Meanwhile, as part of Santo’s group, Greg – now renamed Archer for his prowess with a hunter’s bow  and arrows –is soon happy to discard as much of his lingering humanity as he can. He never fitted in before, wherever he went. Now he has a life outside society’s rules, where he feels that instead of being a dead monster, he is all powerful, at the top of the food chain, invulnerable to anything but sunlight and Transylvannian Sage. Now he can live without remorse or regret, seeing humans much as most meat eating humans see farm animals.

His new life is one of daily brutality where he attacks people and lets them live, or attacks them as kills, without compunction.

Meanwhile, Santo is eager to extend his power base, and his group have a hideous recruitment drive.

Greg is puzzled by this obsession of the group leader to stay in that particular part of Phoenix, constantly in conflict with the Nosferatau, when as vampires they can travel to and live anywhere in the world, but Santo has good reasons;  it is rumoured that the vampire hunters may have access to a cure for sunlight being fatal for vampires…

…Or is this cure something else?

Yet, Greg cannot entirely throw off his feelings of regret about Caroline, and what might have been. He was human when he met and kissed her; he is a dead and a monster when he starts his relationship with the enticing but merciless Lila.  All that he has lost is bound up with those budding feeling for Caroline.

When they met Greg cannot regard Caroline entirely as an enemy. This is true for Caroline too: for she has learnt something that makes her hope that all vampires are not evil.

There is a good deal of horror in this story, but it is never gratuitously violent. The hideous turf wars between the vampires is vividly depicted and the sheer horror of Greg’s transformation to the monstrous Archer is unsparingly portrayed, but there is a great deal of contrasting human (or part human) feeling, and there are wonderful touches of light relief.

I have always enjoyed the humour in Lauryn April’s books, and this one is no exception. For instance:

‘Rival vampire gang sounded like the name of a terrible punk rock band.’

‘I also didn’t understand why we were fighting so hard to stay here. It seemed there were probably better places we could be.’

‘He wasn’t the most pleasant company. Vera told me he threw a lamp at her.’

“You stay on the couch. If you so much as knock on my bedroom door, I’ll stake you.”

“Yes ma ‘am.”

Caroline rolled her eyes and walked to her bedroom.’

And here are some of my other favourite quotes; they vary from the stirring to the horrific, to the touching to the tragic:

‘Our blows fell into a rhythm after that. I’d swing, she’d duck. She’d kick, I’d block. Our movements felt whimsical, as if we’d created some kind of combat-waltz and I was intoxicated by our dance. Every hit left me feeling alive. Then Caroline landed a solid kick to my chest, and lifted her stake, readying to drive it through my chest. I stumbled back, and finally realized this wasn’t a dance.’

‘A slurping noise filled the air as Marcus released the blood bag.’

‘Fingers emerged like fat white worms slithering up through the dirt. His hands came next, grasping at the grass. Moments later his arms were free and soon his dirt-smeared face emerged.’

‘The girls are getting dinner ready.” (No sexism in this arrangement; something even worse!)

‘The amber glow caressed him like a lover’s embrace.’

‘A metal trash bin caught my eye. I suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of it standing there, watching her. I knocked it over with such force that the can dented, the lid flew off, and garbage spilled out. She didn’t deserve this.’

‘“So, what? You’re like, a good vampire? I thought you said this wasn’t like TV?”

I stormed forward until I stood only inches from her. She leaned back in her chair, holding her breath. “I’m choosing to be different. If you don’t believe me, then kill me. That’s your job, hunter. But I’m hoping maybe you’re more than your label too.”’

“The thirst for blood. The excitement of violence. The thrill of taking what you want with no regard to the consequences. Being bad can be a lot of fun.”

‘I’d never spent this much time looking at a vampire before and my hair stood on end as I neared. I’d never been able to be this close without having to fight for my life. Really, there wasn’t anything different about him and yet somehow, he looked – wrong. I realized how incredibly still he was, like a living photograph. His chest didn’t rise or fall. He didn’t breathe. Of course, he’s not breathing, he’s a vampire. Things were different when he was awake. He was so animated then. Now he lay completely motionless. Ice ran through my veins and I jumped back a step. Archer didn’t just look motionless, he looked dead. Despite knowing he would wake, an eerie sensation overcame me with the realization that I stared at a corpse.;

‘”I’m not the good guy. I know that. I’ll never be the hero of the story, not even if I try. That’s just not the way things are, and that’s okay.”’

The pace is fast, the characters vivid, the moral approach never simplistic, the conflicted reluctant tenderness between Greg and Caroline sensitively and believably portrayed, and generally I am eager to read the next in the series.

You can buy this book on Amazon.com here 

and here for Amazon.co.uk

Engrossing YA -Jo Danilo’s ‘The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook’

 

I have always admired this author’s writing, and I am really pleased that this novel is now available on Amazon. I only occasionally read YA, but I really enjoyed this one.

Excellent! I was really impressed.

This novel combines lively action, humour, vivid descriptions and characterisation in an expertly woven creepy supernatural adventure alternated with prosaic high school life in a small Yorkshire town.

There is a curse on a house by Tinker’s Wood, and it must begin and end with a death.
When new neighbours move next door to the protagonist Daisy May and her mother, something re-activates it from its decades long sleep.

This is a spine chilling story, and a funny and a sad one. It’s full of action and vivid descriptions, tersely recounted. I was hooked from the moment I read of foul Mr Braithwate, and his habitual saluation to all – with two fingers.

The protagonist Daisy is a delight; unlike so many heroines,who leave all the wise cracking to the boys, she even retains her wicked sense of humour after she falls in love (I don’t think it’s writing a spoiler to say that she does that ) and retains her sense of identity, too. She’s tender and tough if a bit diffident. She comes from a one parent family, and they’re hard up, and she has to work to help out, but she doesn’t whinge.

Daisy has normal teenage concerns – whether or not to agree to her boyfriend, the school’s prize athlete Fred, taking things further: after all, she’s sixteen now and, they’ve been going out for a couple of years…

But she is dismayed to find herself unaccountably attracted to the new boy in town, Will Mckenzie, soon to become an object of fascination among her friend group. Daisy, who blames him for allowing her dog to be run over, is in a quandary about her mixed feelings over him.

This male lead, Will, is as lovable a hero as Daisy is a heroine – even when he turns Daisy’s life upside down,you have to love him. Daisy is puzzled as to how she comes to attract two of the most desired boys in the school; the reader sees it as evidence of her attractive personality.

The pace is quick, the characters real, the humour perfectly balances the grim happenings, and I found it – here’s a cliche – ‘A real page turner’.

The story begins with the body of the unpleasant Mr Braithwaite being taken from the house next door, where he has lived alone since the mysterious disappearance of his wife many years ago. This sets Daisy off on a new activity for her – ‘curtain twitching’.

She has never spied on him before, as: ‘He had nothing to show me except for his slow crawl into urine-scented senility. There was more entertainment to be had watching bananas slowly rotting in a fruit bowl.’

But then the McKenzies move in and Daisy becomes fascinated by what is going on in the house. What makes Will act so oddly when he is in his room, and why does he feel the need to avoid going home? How does all this tie in with the story her Grandfather tells her, of the disappearance of an encampment of gypsies from Tinker’s Wood at about the same time of Mrs Braithwaite’s disappearance?

Try it yourself. You won’t want to put it down (I didn’t, and sadly I’m no YA).

Finally, here are a few of my favourite quotes.

“Death to begin it.” The whisper tore my eyelids open and made me spin round with a gasp. It was so close I could have sworn I’d felt the whisperer’s breath tickle my ear. I stared hard into the blackness but there was nobody there. Nobody at all. I heard the fear in my own uneven breathing. The Braithwaite light surged again, flooding the lane with a brief light and sending the same shooting pain into my temple. “Death to end it.’

‘A gentle breeze made the trees whisper and sway, and patches of sunlight danced across the floor. Everything was tinged with spring green, even the sound nearby fields, the soothing song of the wood pigeon. And through the tree trunks were glimpses of the patchwork hills and chocolate-brown moors beyond the wood, stretching on and on.’

“I wish I had half of what you have,” Will continued. “My grandparents never bothered with me and my parents aren’t interested in anything I do.”

‘He’s a little bit hunched over, as if he has a heavy pack on his back that weighs him down. But all this new vulnerability only enhances his charm. Everyone wants to look after him and take away his hurt.’

‘I twisted round frantically, to see whose dreadful claws were clutching my waist, adrenaline using my veins as a Grand Prix circuit.’

‘He looked awful, the whites of his eyes shot through with red and his skin so pale. Like a dead boy.’

You can buy this book here https://www.amazon.com/Curtain-Twitchers-Handbook-Jo-Danilo-ebook/dp/B07124DZYL/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1497616892

Indie Authors: Don’t Give Up On Your Original Voice When Sales Are Bad

https://www.amazon.com/Longbourn-Jo-Baker-ebook/dp/B00CQ1D3BYFive years ago, when I started writing online, I was lucky enough to meet some outstanding writers on Goodreads (I’ve met others since, on Authonomy before it packed up and elsewhere, but here I’m talking about that original base of writer friends).

They were mostly women, varying in age. Some came from my native England, some from the US, and a couple from the Antipodes. Their genre varied, but they all had one thing in common….

They didn’t write formulaic, predictable stories. They broke rules; they used humour; they featured strong female leads (otherwise, I wouldn’t have enjoyed their stories). They were often a bit cross genre, and this was probably one of the reasons why they hadn’t got that elusive contract with an agent or publisher.

They wanted to achieve something original. Yes, they wanted success and sales – who doesn’t? – but above that, they wanted to write with an individual voice and to get readers for the novels that they had loved creating.

In those days, things were a lot easier from the sales point of view. My goodness, back then Amazon hadn’t introduced Amazon Select and Pages Read, both of which have led to a catastrophic fall in sales.

Why, in 2014 my spoof Regency (technically, late Georgian) Romance ‘Ravensdale’ sold thousands – enough for me to take my daughter on holiday to Paris.

It also attracted a good many resentful reviews from readers who disliked their favourite tropes being satirized, however gently, but that is the price of notoriety, and I think most writers, like me, would rather attract sales and public notice than have no controversy, obscurity, and dismal sales.

Incidentally, since the introduction of Amazon’s new sales policies, sales of ‘Ravensdale’ have plummeted. Because it is sinking into obscurity, I have made it free on Smashwords. I have tried to make it free on Amazon, but they ignore me. Here is the Smashwords link for that:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721130

My own view is, that while it is nice to make money out of writing, that isn’t why I went into it; in fact, that is only the icing on the cake. The reason I went into it, is because I wanted people to read my stuff.

If I – as someone (I hope) at least partially sane – had gone into writing to make a profit out of it, then I’d be writing: ‘The Duke Gets His Breeches Down: Dastardly Duke Series 101’.

That is the way to make high sales and money out of writing.

Most of those writer friends haven’t sold as much as they deserve. But then, if they got their just deserts, they’d be best selling authors.

Sadly, the market doesn’t work like that; the market recognises the price of everything, and the value of nothing, as someone once said.  As often as not, it’s not the talented and original authors who are among the most successful.

Sadly, I think some of them have become discouraged about writing. Some are taking a long break from the whole business of writing and the weary slog of publicity, and finding it a relief. Of course, many of them are very busy; some of them still have children, and a job…The wonder is anyone in that situation produces good work at all.  But I suspect some have been discouraged by mediocre sales, and the lack of a breakthrough.

I personally, think it would be a great loss if they gave up altogether. Rather, I think that if an author is making a pittance from her writing and it has no visibility on the sales ranks on Amazon, she might as well make her books free.

Smashwords will do it happily enough. The problem is Amazon, who seem to turn a deaf ear when it suits them.

However, they have made my first book, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ free. For anyone interested, the new edition, complete with a faster start, is available here https://www.amazon.com/That-Scoundrel-Émile-Dubois-Light-ebook/dp/B00AOA4FN4

and here

By the way, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that all wonderfully original works are doomed to poor sales and lack of public recognition.  Many receive the recognition they deserve (though sometimes it happens after the author is dead).

There is Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’, for instance. What a brilliant work!

I found it such a refreshing change to read a book set in the UK of the Regency era which is about ordinary people – not the aristocracy (the families of approximately 700 men) or the gentry (approximately 1.5 per cent of the population).

But I will be writing a post about that soon. For now, I would like to say that I wish that all of my original writer friends were back to writing again. I miss them.