Day and Night – a Review

Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery (Dottie Manderson mysteries Book 1)Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do love a good crime fiction novel – and particularly when it’s historical crime fiction. That gives you added bonuses. You get the time period of the Golden Age of crime fiction, but with modern considerations, such as detailed characterisation and stories that aren’t just plot-driven.

I enjoyed Night and Day a great deal. There are plenty of likeable characters that you feel you want to read more about, a plot that moves along well and lots of enjoyable period detail. (I, for one, love reading about what people ate and long to live in a time where the servants leave me out cocoa and sandwiches when I come in from a night out…)

Dottie Manderson is a gorgeous character – sassy, bright and modern (for the 1930s, that is) and very relatable. She’s partnered with a detective and you just know this is going to play out satisfyingly in a ‘will they/won’t they’ way. There’s a Cluedo feel to the whole story, and I love it for that.

A great read and I’m looking forward to catching up with more of Dottie, Flora et al.

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The Girl Who Swapped

Coming Soon – The Girl Who Swapped

The Girl Who Swapped

Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

As you might have gathered from the title, I have a book that I’m about to inflict on the public and hope that they like it. The book is called The Girl Who Swapped (a shameless attempt to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Girl’ in book and film titles), and here’s the blurb for it…

What do you do when you find yourself in a strange body and a different life?

Lottie and Charlotte are not having a good morning. They’ve woken up in unfamiliar beds. Not to mention, unfamiliar bodies. What is going on?

At least Lottie’s boyfriend, Josh, is by her side. If only Lottie didn’t have this nagging feeling that something important happened last night, but she blew it…

Charlotte feels terrible. She’s woken up with a hangover of gargantuan proportions. And where the hell are her husband and children?

The two heroines must work out what is going on. Along the way, there will be tempting encounters, full-on flirtations, Hollywood stars, riotous parties, blackmail and far too much champagne.

Come along and enjoy the adventure!

My keywords are summer reads, Sophie Kinsella, holiday reading, life switches, chick lit, Bridget Jones and Shopaholic – hopefully that gives you a rough idea of what the contents are like.

Fingers crossed the public could, y’know, think it’s worth buying. Having done that, they might enjoy it enough to consider penning a quick review for it.

Sufficient numbers of them buying it might mean I make a profit – oh, heavenly day if they do. In my head, I’ve spent that profit already on face cream, Prosecco and premium cat food, donating some of my yet-to-be-realised profit to charity to feel better about my shallow spending. I idled away half an hour* working out how many copies I’d need to sell to put me in the black. It’s roughly six hundred copies. Well-established authors will scoff at this, but it seems like an insurmountable number to me.

Are there many writers who enjoy self-promotion? I hate it, but it’s a necessary evil. It’s all very well writing, but if you don’t tell people about it, how are they going to know? So, if you WOULD like to buy it, it’s now available on Amazon for pre-order, here (US) and here (UK).

Thank you!

 

 

*Maybe it was closer to an hour. I’m s**t at maths.

Rip it Up and Start Again

One of things I struggle with as a writer is revising and rewriting. When I finish something, I want to move on to another project or idea. The thought of going back to a manuscript, reading through it and working out what’s wrong never appeals.

I decided to try something different with one of my finished/unfinished projects – Two Slices of Carrot Cake. Writers tend to get wedded to their own words. It’s difficult to detach. I’m editing a book at the moment for someone else and it’s easy for me to strike that red line through unnecessary text, or see what needs to be rewritten.

Some years ago, I read an interview with the writer, Elizabeth Buchan. In it, she said when she writes a book, she writes it three times. Her first attempt gives her the ‘bones’ and from there she starts again and improves the original story. I’ve decided to try this, albeit I’ll just be writing the whole thing one more time, and not two…

The Creative Stuff

Although it seems daunting, writing the story again appeals because it’s about doing the enjoyable, creative stuff again. I know the plot, I know the characters and what they are like, how they speak and I know what happens to them afterwards, seeing as I wrote another book that featured them.

I wanted to change the angle of the story slightly too. After I wrote my first book, Katie and the Deelans, I sent it to agents. It was rejected by all of them, but I was contacted by one after I’d published it through Comely Bank Publishing, who said that he liked my ‘voice’ and was I working on anything else?

When I told him I was working on Two Slices of Carrot Cake, he said I could send it to him when I’d finished it. I did, and he rejected it, saying the ‘issues’ thing in it (eating disorders) didn’t work for him, but he did like the ‘voice’ and he thought a better idea would be to concentrate on the teenage girl using multiple personalities online and the trouble that results. Keep the eating disorder, but don’t make it the main focus.

The Flow Trap

When you try to shift the focus of a story by going back to the existing document, it’s hard. Sentences, paragraphs and chapters flow in a certain way. You get caught up in that flow – if I change this, then that won’t work, etc. If you start writing again, the existing flow isn’t an issue.

I’ve started it. I’m excited about it. I’m feeling creative once more. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

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And That Includes You, Fatty

Image result for vampire teeth

Picture thanks to Rikard Elofsson

A sample chapter from something I’m working on… (Slight adult content, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of thing.)

Her life with Cordelia had been straightforward so far – straightforwardly bloody, the satisfaction of three different, ferocious appetites. Once upon a time, Eve had been meek and mild. Thin and apologetic, her speech was littered with modifiers and qualifiers.

“Do you think… I don’t mind if you’d rather… only if you feel that’s the best idea… well, it’s only a suggestion, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to comment…”

She’d loved those first few months of vampirism. It was all take, take, take. She grabbed people and sucked the life from them, she broke off great slabs of cake and stuffed them into a greedy, gaping mouth, she held the back of her lover’s head in her hands and shoved it between her legs.

Life was very good indeed.

Now? Now it seemed more complicated. Vampires that saw her as different and thus didn’t like her. The mysterious Firm hard on their heels. Some mysterious prophecy she could only guess at. No doubt, it would be your typical prophecy, predicting doom and gloom but worded in an ambiguous way so that believers couldn’t be too disappointed when it didn’t come true.

“I’m Mathilde,” the woman stepped out of the doorway. “Let me look at you, you magnificent creature.”

Aldric and Arnaud frowned at her enthusiasm, Eve noted. Mathilde was an age somewhere between the old man and the young one. She shared Arnaud’s dark hair and swarthy complexion, and his large, almost-black coloured eyes. She was very small, but then Eve remembered reading that the average height of people hundreds of years ago was much shorter than the average height now.

She got to her feet. Again, the clothes were another aspect of vampire life she loved. As a human, Eve stuck to the recommendations for a capsule wardrobe – crisp white shirts, tailored trouser suits, cashmere twin sets and that kind of thing.

Eve the vampire was much more theatrical. “Be a goth!” Cordelia said when they’d both gone shopping for her new, larger body. “You will look incredible!”

Today, she was wearing some of those purchases – a dark-purple velvet Gothic jacket with lace in-sleeves over a calf-length fishtail skirt in the same colour, laced up with ribbons at the back over her bottom, and suede skin-tight boots.

Mathilde made her twirl in a circle before her, touching her lightly. Light touch, nonetheless, she felt the strength and power in those finger tips. Proof once more of the strength vampires gained the longer they stayed alive.

“I love fashion!” She plucked at the in-sleeves and smiled at Eve. “…though this confuses me. It’s not modern, surely? I think you’re a very young vampire, aren’t you? Why are you wearing this old stuff?”

Cordelia sighed. “Mathilde. Nowadays, people like to ape the fashion of yesteryears. Eve is wearing steampunk Gothic. People love that look these days.”

Mathilde nodded slowly. “Good to know. I don’t like to make a fool of myself when I visit couturiers.”

Mathilde had been visiting couturiers for two centuries now. Aldric allowed it as being thin, pale-skinned and aloof, Mathilde didn’t stick out in the high fashion world. And she only bit designers who weren’t destined for greatness. They weren’t missed.

“I don’t believe that prophecy for a second,” Cordelia had risen from her chair

“Don’t you?” Mathilde turned to face her, her expression suddenly hostile. “You keep coming back to the west country, though don’t you? Interesting that this is the first time in years you’ve chosen to come and see us.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty years of kindness and hospitality!” Mathilde was on a roll. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

With a sudden movement, she flicked out a hand, the gesture enough to send Cordelia flying across the room.

Aldric gave a sigh, but didn’t recriminate her.

“Hey!” Sensing that this wasn’t a fight she would win, Eve backed off Mathilde and the instinct to thump her, hurrying instead to Cordelia’s side and helping her to her feet.

Cordelia grasped her hand. “No matter.” She waved aside Eve’s concern.

“Mathilde refers to something a woman once said before we killed her.”

Arnaud produced another bottle of the fine red wine they’d been drinking and topped up all the glasses. “Yes, I think she was the last victim we despatched together, wasn’t she Cordelia?”

For the first time, Eve began to feel jealous. Arnaud had kept his eyes on Cordelia almost all the time they’d been together in the room. At first, Cordelia had seemed to resolutely keep her gaze averted from his but Eve noticed that now she kept darting looks at him.

Vampire sexuality was fluid, Cordelia often told her. She’d never talked about vampire fidelity, though. The discomfort Eve felt was all too human, reminding Eve of her last boyfriend and the unease she’d experienced whenever he went on a night out with his friends. Carl loved women so much he couldn’t help himself. That was the excuse he gave Eve and expected her to sympathise.

Disturbed by her feelings, Eve concentrated on the present. “What did she say, this woman? That prophecy?”

“Oh, some nonsense –”

“Unlike horoscopes or the rubbish peddled by so-called mediums,” Mathilde broke in, “this lady was precise in her prediction. She gave a date when Cordelia and ‘all her kind’ would be wiped out and by whom.”

Mathilde moved forward so she was standing in front of Eve once more. She cradled Eve’s cheek in her palm. “That means you too, fatty.”

With that, Cordelia exploded. “Do not dare insult Eve!”

She vaulted in front of Eve, pushing her out of the way and grabbed Mathilde by the shoulders, shaking her so hard Eve could hear rattling. Maybe it was her brain. Maybe it was her teeth clashing against each other in her jaws.

Eve didn’t care. Watching someone punish another for insulting you insulated you from finer feelings that might object to physical harm.

Mathilde put up with Cordelia’s ministrations for a while, before growling – a long, deep noise that came from her throat and raised the hairs on the back of Eve’s neck. Aldric and Arnaud, she noticed, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the fight.

“Leave me alone,” Mathilde’s words hissed out, the French accent much stronger.

Aldric stood up, his hands held palms up. “Enough, Cordelia. We have established that my daughter and grandson have no manners.” He dismissed their glares with a wave of the hand. “They concentrate on the minutiae when we have bigger issues to discuss – do we not?”

Again, those hands went out to the side in supplication. Eve could not decide if she was terrified of him or if he was an ally. He turned his head slightly to smile at her and she started. Was mind-reading a trick of old vampires too? She concentrated on clearing her head.

Aldric had taken hold of Cordelia’s hand, taking it between his. Eve blinked. Depending on the light, those hands looked quite different. For a second, she’d been given an X-ray view, skeleton hands overlaid with what looked like lizard skin. Then, they changed instantly, back to ordinary, old man’s hands, large and pink-skinned.

The hands moved and he held up one finger in front of Cordelia’s face. “First, we discuss what you did to create dear lovely Eve, here.” He turned slightly and nodded at Eve, who suddenly found herself overcome with curiosity. She hadn’t questioned her vampire existence until this point and now there seemed to be a mystery, or at least something out of the ordinary about it.

“And then we talk about Gregor and the prophecy.”

He dropped Cordelia’s hands and looked hard at her.

“Do you agree, my dear?”

Gentle words aside, Eve recognised a command when she heard it. It was no surprise when Cordelia nodded her head.

“Eve, can you sit down?” she looked apologetic. “I need to explain something.”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

Amazon Ads: An Update

I set up an Amazon ad for a book of mine recently as an experiment. I’d listened to a webinar on the subject, hosted by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn, and Mark Dawson of the Self-Publishing Formula.

As it’s relatively cheap—you only pay for the ads that get clicked on—I thought I’d give it a go. My Book Katie and the Deelans has not sold well on Amazon. There are millions of books out there, and the competition is fierce. I wanted to give the book a chance to stand out a little more.

I opted for the ads that appear when you type in certain search terms, such as ‘harry potter’ and JK Rowling, as my book is similar. I paid for fifteen keywords in total, $0.50 per keyword.

I let the advert run for ten days. In that time, it made 134,212 impressions (i.e. the number of times it was seen), resulted in 49 clicks, and cost me $12.97. No sales, though!

I did learn from my experience. Not that many people clicked on the ad in the first place, suggesting it wasn’t that appealing. Was the wording wrong, or as I suspect, the cover not attractive enough?

Those who did click didn’t buy. I did re-write the blurb half way through the campaign, but that didn’t make any difference. I also got rid of the book’s prologue, as it didn’t relate entirely to the whole book so anyone sampling the contents might not have got the right feel for the book.

What about social proof? The book has five-star reviews, but not enough reviews in general. Reviews are what most buyers want these days, especially if you’re an unknown quantity.

I’ve known for a long time the book needs sorting. It needs rewriting, and it needs copy editing. It could do with a new cover and a different blurb. The Amazon campaign reinforced all these points.

Would I use Amazon ads again? Absolutely. I certainly plan to use it for the next book. I did find out what were the most useful keywords from my list of fifteen (JK Rowling, harry potter and Rick Riordan). The campaign didn’t cost me a lot of money, and it was worth finding out about.

*Pic thanks to the Blue Diamond Gallery