Saturday, 23 April 2016

Five stars for Dark Interlude

It started out as one of those days. Good intentions, lousy internet connection, distractions galore.

Then suddenly, up it popped on a Google Alert.

A Goodreads five-star review for Dark Interlude, an adventure set in Scotland in the aftermath of WW1 when revolutions was in the air.

The icing on the cake for me is that it was by Lexie Conyngham, the author of the Murray of Letho series.

If you haven’t read any of these, you are in for a veritable feast of murder and mayhem by one of my favourite authors. You’ll find her books here – and her blog is a delight.

Meanwhile, here’s the full review on Goodreads:


'I'm delighted to have been able to read this at last after it had been withdrawn for a bit.

'As usual, the author's language and scene-setting are terrific, atmospheric, touching and expressive. The plot centres around an archivist cataloguing a dead academic's collection, then finding that her death is not as straightforward as she has been led to believe. We are led into the Glasgow riots just post First World War, with a pretty even-handed and vivid account of strikers' demands, the authorities caught on the hop, fear of the Bolsheviks and the aftermath of the horrors of the war. The excitement was building from around 50% and I didn't think it could be realistically sustained, but it was - a page turner right to the end.

'I really enjoyed this and I'm very much looking forward to the other one I've got my mitts on!'

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

A good day

Just love the Borders on a dazzling day. Hardly anyone around, just a mad RAF guy making a romantic statement, a pair of elegant swans and a distant buzzard cruising the thermals.

Follow this with a hot pie eaten on a bench in Kelso square, washed down by a cold beverage ... as the hilariously discordant bells of the town hall mark the quarter hours.

A good day.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Blog jam

When I was starting out in writing, I read Mark Coker’s excellent guide, Secrets to Ebook PublishingSuccess, and realised it was time to stumble out of the darkness and into social media. Put simply, I needed a blog.

Correction. I needed several blogs, as I decided to do one per book. I knew it would mean more work, but as the titles were for different ages, it made sense. I also needed an author blog to present an overview.

So, over the months, I busied myself creating the different blogs and filling them with what I hoped was ‘good content’. Eight titles later, I had a blog per book, an author blog, an author website, Facebook pages, an Amazon author profile, ditto Goodreads and Smashwords. I feel exhausted just thinking about them all.

Articles, blog swaps, photos, quizzes, interviews. I did the lot for three years – and then stopped. Partly because I’d just had enough and partly because we were moving house. Well, it seemed a good excuse.

As part of my New Year’s Resolution this year, I wrested back four book contracts for titles that were languishing on a Canadian e-publishing site that really wasn’t working for me. The Grand Plan was to re-edit, design new covers, then republish independently. Of course, I then needed to update all the relevant blogs to reflect the new links.

But, oh Lord. Months of neglect had taken their toll. Every single blog was badly out of date, inconsistent, had missing links ... Quite frankly, they were a mess.

So, I took a deep breath and jumped right back in and began the long process of updating. (The frozen jetty from my main blog profile picture was never more relevant.) Weeks of editing turned into months, but now that April is here, I think I can finally say that I’m winning.

It’s been a slog, but hopefully it’ll be worth it. And I’ve learned a few hard lessons along the way.

The first and most important is that, if you have a blog, don’t neglect it. Little and often is the only way.

You lose speed at editing and formatting, and you can waste hours trying to recall how to do a simple process such as getting rid of a dateline. Worse, dashboards can change and you have to learn how to use the site from scratch. Sometimes, the template gets muddled and hyperlinks appear in horrible colours or vanish altogether. Once, the template was completely corrupted, so I had to start again.

And don’t forget that you’ve probably lost your ‘audience’ – and any kindred spirits you’ve encountered along the way have probably forgotten you exist.

Then, of course, you can’t remember where you filed your own stuff – photographs and/or text. I then realised that my housekeeping in general was, well, rubbish, so I had to reorganise all my files and folders across the board. That took a while.

I started with a list of what to do. For the first two months, it just got longer and longer, as added ‘notes to self’, such as ‘update all links to Dark Interlude’, or ‘re-do pages on The Lost Orchid’, or ‘re-design banner on Half Life inc new cover design’. Pretty damned daunting, but I persevered. By the end of March, the list began to get shorter. It’s now down to one page. Huzzah.

Of course, there’ll always be something to do, à la Forth Road Bridge, but I feel I’m now back in control.

More or less.

And who knows? Blogging might become fun again.

PS Here’s my personal ‘blog roll’ – not including this one!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Who says the war is over?

Dark Interlude is a post-WW1 adventure set in Glasgow against the backdrop of ‘Black Friday’. I've decided to publish this independently, so my first step was to devise a new cover. So, what is it all about?

It was a difficult time for many. Troops were returning to civilian life after the war and despite the so-called victory, life was harder than ever and spirits were low. In the dockyards, there weren’t enough jobs to go round, so the unions decided on a drastic solution – agree to a shorter week to give everyone a chance. Less money was better than no job at all. The employers disagreed and the unions mobilised themselves into a massive protest, with thousands of people filling George Square. The authorities panicked at the sight of the red flags – and Churchill called in the troops. Soon, tanks were rolling in the city streets.

After some running battles, the soldiers finally took control and a full-scale revolution was narrowly averted.

Photographs taken at the time are shocking, all the more so when one reads more about the disillusion from mid-way through the ‘Great War’ and beyond. Cities the world over were brought to a standstill by desperate workers, resulting in quickfire riots and ruthless retaliations. This global dissent went on for years. I compiled a timeline of such events on the Dark Interlude blog.

In Dark Interlude, the events of that fateful winter are seen through the eyes of a young archivist, Alexandra Milton, a specialist in 17th-century Spanish, who is ousted from her job by the return of the senior archivist from the war.

Thousands of women were similarly dismissed, and we follow her adjustment to being sent to a small market town where she is obliged to carry out the cataloguing of a legacy. It soon becomes apparent that the benefactress did not meet her end by natural causes, and there is intrigue afoot, ending up with Alexandra being caught up with conniving revolutionaries in the heart of Glasgow’s tinderbox docklands.
How much of this can one convey in a single image? The previous cover was a blend of a 17th-century document, a Victorian city skyline and the profile of a young, determined woman gazing over the scene. All well and good, but I’m not such a fan of stock photos of people, so I went back to the beginning.

The original story was inspired by a visit to Loch Lomond some years ago, so a Scottish-looking loch, shrouded in mist, became the background. I inserted cranes as a counterpart to the trees to suggest the clash of city-life versus country life, then turned my attention to the jetty, bridging the two. After some twiddling, it struck me that the boards reminded me of leather-bound books, so in keeping with Alexandra’s expertise, I reworked a photo of my own, skewing the image to fit.

The khaki colour scheme suggests, I hope, a tired, military connection along with the drab, post-war weariness.

Fonts were the next consideration and I had some fun browsing posters and billboards from the period, some of which were still distinctly ‘art nouveau’, with plump, curling fonts more suited to Paris of the 1890s, to stark ‘sans’ fonts of political placards.

So it evolved. The final step was some basic formatting – and after a mini-skirmish with auto-vetters, it’s now out on Amazon and Smashwords.

Piece of cake.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Striking parallels ...

Browsing the headlines on my tablet, a headline made me jump.

‘Teachers and doctors should invoke the spirit of 1919 and strike together,’ claimed Ellie Mae O’Hagan in a recent opinion piece for The Guardian.

She argues that: ‘Teachers and doctors are now considering tapping into this collective power, not because they want to bring about a Bolshevik revolution but because they have been driven to an extreme act by a government that is utterly intransigent.’ 

Fighting talk.

But, then it struck me ...

I’ve been immersed in republishing Dark Interlude, a story set against the backdrop of ‘Bloody Friday’ in January of 1919. By the time the Armistice was signed, and thousands of demobbed soldiers poured into the city in search of work, the trades unions were ready to confront the bosses over working hours – and the resulting conflict landed the city on the brink of open rebellion for a few mad days, as the demobbed men fell in with the workers in a show of strength.

I’d come up with an alternative version of what might have exacerbated events at the time – and Bolsheviks are most definitely involved. However, I’d been so obsessed with getting all my facts straight, especially for the blog where I was putting together a timeline of events in 1918-1919, that it had never crossed my mind that the UK is in similar state of disillusion. It’s not just the police or the nurses, the fire service or the civil service. Dissent and despair has seeped through into every walk of life.

As for Port Talbot, words fail me. 

So, if folks want to strike, I support them. After all, what other option have they got?

I know what it’s like to be on strike, too. In the chilly months of the late 1970s, and again in the late 1980s, I found myself on a picket line with other NUJ members. The bosses lurked indoors, bringing out the papers anyway, while we froze outside, standing on flattened cardboard boxes to keep our feet warm. The phrase ‘personal contracts’ still makes me shiver.

It was pretty damned desperate. We didn’t win, of course, but I'm rather proud that we tried to do something.

And as for recent events, clearly, I’m not the only quiet little person that’s horrified. I don't normally discuss politics, but I feel that the government needs to realise that they’ve got it wrong. Very, very wrong.

Images: Strikes in Europe and Scandinavia throughout the winter of 1918-1919.