One thing I enjoy very much is listening to people talk about the things they love. Seeing that gleam in their eye and how their entire being lights up as they enthuse. That's one of the reasons why I especially enjoy listening to other authors and why the monthly meetings of the Exeter Authors Association are so inspirational for me.
We have two meetings each month - a members-only "business" meeting where we plan our various events and The Devon Authors Group, a social meeting, which is open to anyone interested in writing. We chat, share advice and suggestions and, if we are so inclined, bring along some of our work to read. I have just submitted a social history column for a local publication, so for today's meeting, I left The Septillion of Hheserakh behind and took the column along instead. I've just got home and, once again, I find myself enthused and inspired by what I have heard from the other attendees.
There were a couple of new faces today, which is always brilliant, so after the introductions and chat, some of the group shared the work they had brought along. And what an eclectic mix we had! There was rogue fungus (yes, really - it was intriguing), adventurous children, elegant stags, life-saving disguises, earthworms (that was mine - long story) and how looking at a cockerel can influence your chances in the marriage stakes.
As everyone took turns to share a little about their writing, I kept thinking what an absolute joy it is to be able to do what I do - to be able to sit down with some incredibly talented people and listen to them talking about their inspiration and how they work. There is always a new tip, a new suggestion, a new idea to pick up. Everyone does things differently and because writing is, for the most part, a solitary job, it's easy to become slightly blinkered and entrenched in your own methods. That's one of the reasons I love listening to other authors. Regardless of what you are going through - writer's block, the euphoria of seeing your new book in the flesh for the first time or the satisfaction of writing yourself out of the plot hole that has been bugging you for days - there will always be someone who has been there and done that - or who is going through the same thing. The groups I am in are full of people who not only have a wealth of experience, but are also more than happy to share that experience with others.
That's why I love listening to other authors. Not only will I undoubtedly learn something new, but I also have the pleasure of seeing them in their element, fired up and enthusiastic - and that joy and inspiration is infectious.
Shortly before Christmas, I gathered up WITCH, Sammy's Saturday Job and The Septillion of Hheserakh and joined about two dozen author colleagues from North Devon at a brand new event. Literary Fusion’s “Meet North Devon Authors” saw us take over one of the function rooms at The Pier House in Bideford for three hours of all things book-related. The event was designed to connect readers and authors and showcase the talent North Devon has to offer, and there was also a raffle raising money for Action Medical Research for Children.
We were an eclectic bunch, covering pretty much every genre. Devon is a real magnet for writers - the county’s varied landscapes, beaches, modern cities and beautiful villages offer limitless inspiration. Personally, I’ve always been hugely inspired by Dartmoor, although recently, I’ve been studying forests in order to ensure that The Great North Forest of the Hheserakhian Empire is as realistic as possible (in the context of a fantasy novel, anyway!)
I spent a while people-watching during the course of the event and found that attendees and authors alike were moving from table to table, engaging in conversation and networking. Obviously, it helped that this was an event targeted at book lovers, but it made a refreshing change from seeing browsers’ eyes slide over authors, which often happens at events. We had been allocated tables randomly rather than in genres, which encouraged browsers to move to every table, rather than homing in on a particular area and ignoring the rest.
There really is no better way for a reader to find a new voice than to spend a while chatting with an author about what they do. As I reader, I think the love and enthusiasm authors display when talking about their work is a joy to see. As a writer, there is nothing better than having someone show genuine interest in how and what I write.
During the course of the evening, eight of us participated in two author panels hosted by James D Mortain (find out about his books HERE). We chatted about how and where we work, where we get our ideas, how to get published and audiobooks, amongst other things, and there were some great questions from the audience. I had initially wondered how many people would turn out on a dark Sunday evening, especially as the weather on the day was absolutely foul, but I have to say that the attendees were a genuinely interested, engaged crowd, not about to be put off by a bit of bad weather!
The panels were very informative for readers and authors alike. There is always something new to discover at events like this, whether it’s a new author to read, or how to avoid a pitfall when submitting a manuscript to an agent, or a time management tip. If you are a writer and have reservations about taking part in author events because you aren’t sure if it’s really for you, I would urge you to give it a go. At the very least, you will make some new contacts and at best, you will hook up with new readers and make some sales.
Many congratulations to organiser Nickie Baglow for creating such a fantastic event, which I greatly enjoyed. I’m very much looking forward to the next one!
I am delighted to be guesting today on the Indie Showcase, a fantastic blog run by prolific Brixham-based indie author Richard Dee. Like Jenny Kane's Opening Lines blog, it's a fantastic way for authors to share their work with a wider audience and for readers to discover new books to read. Check out my blog post here!
On the Indie Showcase, I am sharing a short extract from The Musician and The Candle-Maker and chatting about some of the folkloric creatures which I have interwoven into the magical world of Koreswen and the Hheserakhian Empire itself.
I am delighted to have featured recently on my lovely author friend Jenny Kane's fantastic blog, sharing the first 500 words of my Lovecraftian short story Dark Words in her series "Opening Lines". This is a series where authors can share the first 500 words of one of their works - no more, no less, even if it means stopping mid-sentence! It's a brilliant way to find new authors to read. It gives you just enough to get into the story and then stops, leaving you wanting more (hopefully!). There is so much on this blog - it will keep you reading away for hours, so I highly recommend getting comfy and having a coffee to hand before you get going!
If you haven't read any of my other work before, you can enjoy the beginning of Dark Words here and find out how the story came to be written and what inspired it.
Dark Words originally appeared in Secret Invasion, a charity anthology raising money for MIND which will appeal to fans of horror and Lovecraft. It has since been published in Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined, so if horror is not your thing, you can enjoy Dark Words in a different way!
This is a picture I took last year of the medieval pack bridge at Fernworthy on Dartmoor, England. This is one of the artefacts generally submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir, some of which feature in Dark Words. This was the first time I had ever seen the bridge with my own eyes - and it was wonderful to be able to actually walk across it, too. I had never seen the water levels so low. In the past, all I had glimpsed was the very top of the bridge just breaking through the surface, because the reservoir is a lot deeper than you realise. It's always fascinating when you discover something like this is hidden away, just waiting for the conditions to be right so that it can be revealed. It makes me wonder what other incredible things might be right beneath your feet, waiting for someone to find them.
However, some things are best left undiscovered, as the characters in Dark Words find out....
I am delighted to announce that I have received the first copies of The Septillion of Hheserakh, a collection of legends from the Hheserakhian Empire. The Septillion is a companion book to the main series and features some of the Empire's creation myths. These are stories that Aamena Hinnorwen would have heard in her childhood, such as The Musician and the Candle-maker, which tells how the Elves got their pointed ears. I'll be sharing some of the legends at this year's Chilcompton Fringe Festival on Sunday 26th August 2018 - check out the Dates for Your Diary page for more details.
As well as pointed ears, there is a cursed artefact, a standing stone, a strange encounter in the forest, thwarted love, an over-eager suitor, dragons, a mother's love, a father's folly, and the most beautiful love ever to bless the universe.
I took much of my inspiration for the stories from folklore from around the world. The Great Forest of the North, Aamena's home, has strong Norse influences, so there's a little Norse mythology, a Swedish folk figure and a touch of Dartmoor (south-west England) woven in amongst the dragons, elves, goblins and trolls....
At the moment, the books are available exclusively from me - they are not yet in ebook format, although they will be in due course. The paperbacks will be available to buy from Sunday 26th August, so if you can get to Chilcompton that day, head over to the Dates for Your Diary page and check out the festival details so you can pick up a copy!
For today's food and frivolity post, I'm chatting to Mike from CornishMikey Painting. I met him at last year's Armadacon, a brilliant by-fans-for-fans volunteer-run con in Plymouth. I have always been a fan of minis, so I was drawn to Mikey's stall like a bee to honey and came away with a Predalien and Hogswatch Death, which now grace the fireplace in my living room. You can check out the CornishMikey website here and Mike's Facebook page here to see other photos of his work apart from the awesome images in this post!
Mike does commissions, so I quickly arranged for him to paint a custom mini of Aamena which had been gifted to me a while ago, but which I hadn't dared touch. I have painted minis in the past (mostly skeletons, actually) but I knew that my skills were not equal to the task of making this particular figure look as awesome as she should. So...over to Mike and his magic brushes!
TN - Thanks for agreeing to be part of the Fire-Eyes blog, Mike! First, can you tell me how you got into painting miniatures? What was the first figure you ever painted?
Mike - Blimey, that's going back a few years....I was in my third year of secondary school reading Judge Dredd 2000AD when a classmate said, "Oh, you know you can get figures for that." I didn't have a clue. He brought in a leaflet the next day and we posted off the order form with a cheque written by his mum. I had Judge Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis...can't remember what he ordered, though. Judge Death was my first painted mini - poster paints and a hideous nylon brush that looked more like a chimney sweep's brush than anything useful. Interesting fact - I'm still friends with the classmate over 30 years later.
TN - How long have you been doing this?
Mike - On and off, thirty years. From school through college, a few years when I was a chef. Gave it all up - and sold all my classic metal minis, now worth a small fortune! - to try and take over the world through music. The world still isn't ready for Cornish thrash punk...
After I came to my senses, the aforementioned classmate got me back into gaming and painting. I turned professional painter just over ten years ago.
Dark Judges Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - Do you have any particular favourites that you really enjoy working on?
Mike - Yep, female figures. As the majority of wargaming figures are male, it makes a nice change to paint up some women. There's a lot more female minis now than there was a few years back - and the quality of the sculpting has improved hugely. I can remember when a female mini was identical to a male mini, except for two improbably large footballs on her chest.
The kids from the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 80s, by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - What are your must-haves in terms of paints and brushes?
Mike - Vallejo paints mainly. I have got some odds and sods from other companies (freebies, tester pots and what have you), but I keep coming back to Vallejo. Rosemary and Co brushes are the best I've found, Series 33 pure kolinsky sable. For large scenery pieces, B&Q tester pots are fab and cheap brushes from B&M/Aldi/Lidl are very cost effective...you know the thing, ten brushes for £3.
Chief Judge McGruder, Judge Dredd and insane Judge Cal with Judge Fish (2000AD) by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - Soooooo....what has been your worst/most amusing painting disaster?
Mike - For me, the worst thing was painting an Ancient Roman army of 6mm high minis. Normally, not a problem. Painting them when I was suffering from hayfever? Yeah. On the next to last strip of figures - as they're so small, they're cast in strips of four figures, about a centimetre and a half long - I could feel a sneeze brewing. Now, a normal person would have put the minis down, sneezed, cleaned themselves up and carried on. I sneezed, heard a 'ting' as they were blasted out of my fingers, hitting the lamp, knocking over a figure of Arwen that was on my shelves, before disappearing completely. I searched for an hour and haven't seen them since. In a bit of a grump, I started on another strip, felt a sneeze coming again...and inhaled and swallowed them. Hospital trip and x-ray...they showed up beautifully! Lesson learnt there.
Mad Donna from Games Workshop's Necromunda game by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
Rosie the archer from Wargamers Hot and Dangerous series by CornishMikey Painting (image copyright M Rothery)
TN - And what's the best compliment/experience you've ever had?
Mike - A while ago, I painted a Games Workshop Space Marine on a Thunderwolf. Bashed it out in half an hour and stuck it on ebay. I had around twenty messages from all over the world saying the paint job was so much better than the official Games Workshop pics. I took them all with a hefty pinch of salt, but it did get me thinking, "Hey, I could do something with this..."
TN - What advice would you give someone who is interested in taking up miniature painting?
Mike - Good paints, good brushes, decent lighting - if you're right-handed, paint with the light coming in on your left, so your hand's shadow won't get in the way. Start selling on ebay, as you're pretty much guaranteed a sale, and have fun!
TN - And what's next for CornishMikey Painting?
Mike - A holiday! Or a day off, at least...Hell, I'll take a lie-in....
Thanks so much for chatting to me, Mike, it's been a real pleasure - and thanks for sharing these fantastic images of your work. I wish you every success for the future - and I expect I'll see you at Armadacon 2018!
And finally, the big reveal - here is the superb paint job Mike has done on my mini of Aamena! I'm absolutely delighted with it and can't wait to put her in pride of place with my other CornishMikey figures.
Today's Food and Frivolity comes from beautiful Belstone on Dartmoor. A village surrounded by Dartmoor's familiar wind-sculpted trees, Belstone has recently entered into my folklore research rather by accident. There was an intriguing anecdote in one of my books which I really wanted to follow up and, as I hadn't been to Belstone for some time, I thought I'd see what foody treats the village has to offer.
In the centre of the village, not far from the old stocks, you will find the Old School Tearoom, tucked away behind the Methodist chapel. Look out for the advertising board or you might miss it! Marion has been running the tea room for just over two years now - and it has a fascinating history.
The Old School was actually the local Sunday School - the only Sunday School in the village. Marion told me that when the new vicar arrived in Belstone, the Methodist minister made it clear that he wasn't keen on a new Sunday School being started, as all the children already attended his!
Over a warming pot of tea and a fantastic vegan/dairy free/gluten free flapjack, while sitting on a comfy sofa next to a woodburning stove, Marion told me that when she initially took on the premises, it was not in a good way and needed a full renovation. And it's a wonderful space - a high ceiling making it feel light and airy, yet incredibly cosy due to the stove's flue being internal and acting as a giant radiator. The Old School was built onto the back of the chapel in 1928 (the chapel itself dates from 1891) and the adjoining wall between them has been exposed after the crumbling plaster was removed in the renovation, making a great feature wall!
All of Marion's delicious-looking cakes are home-made, so if you have any allergies, you can be 100% confident that you're eating something that is safe for you. Marion finds that her customers like familiar favourites, with one or two new varieties to try.
The flapjack was every bit as moist, flavoursome and delicious as it looked and, even though it did not contain honey, there was a real honey taste to it - slightly floral, slightly spicy - which complemented the various seeds and the oats. It was light and went down beautifully with a cup of tea. In a china cup, too.
The Old School Tearoom has a lot more on offer, however. There is a range of handmade tea cosies for sale (with or without teapot! - the little guy below was my favourite), soap, books, periodicals, cards, local art, home-made chutney, jam and marmalade, knitted accessories - and if you have just come in from the moor with wet, muddy boots, you can leave them in the porch and pop on a pair of slippers while you warm up by the fire with your tea and cake. There's also treats and towels on hand for your muddy four-legged friends, too. Sounds like home from home, doesn't it? So what are you waiting for? The Bank Holiday weekend beckons, so get yourself over to Belstone and try the Old School Tearoom's delights for yourself!
Follow the Tearoom on Twitter here
(top photo is an open source image from pixabay, the rest are my copyright.)
A couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to be a guest on North Manchester Radio's show Hannah's Bookshelf, chatting with Hannah about all things book-related. We talked about my historical research, dragons, Dartmoor and human origins, amongst other things, before I fangirled shamelessly over the fantastic Shardlake novels by CJ Sansom and shared the three books I would save for the Library at the End of Days. Trying to choose only three was almost impossible and I actually made my final selection once we had started the recording, as I had, with great difficulty, just about managed to whittle it down to four. If you had to choose three books to save for a post-apocalyptic world, what would you save?
In the end, my choices comprised one of my all-times favourites, a timeless classic that I could re-read a hundred times and still not tire of, and a book which impacted greatly on me and influenced much of what I do today.
You can listen to the interview here.
If you haven't caught the show before, why not follow Hannah on Mixcloud here?
Curious to see what other guests have selected for the Library at the End of Days? Check out the full list on Hannah's website here.
It can be the bane of your life, can't it? I did a History degree via the OU, so I know what a nightmare it can be. Yet I love it and seek out any opportunity to learn something new and cool which I can use in my writing. If any of you have seen my play WITCH, you'll know just how much I love uncovering new information and finding fascinating snippets to share with people.
For a while now, I have been focussed almost entirely on Dhussena's little clan of survivors as they trek through the Great Forest of the North seeking sanctuary. Their story is about to hit a significant point - which I'm really looking forward to writing - and after that, I will need to turn my attention not only to Aamena's people, the wood elves who are the custodians of Dragonheart, but also to the wider Hheserakhian Empire.
Both Dhussena's and Aamena's clans have their roots in Norse mythology and use a lot of Old Norse terminology. However, the Empire itself has a very strong Japanese flavour, particularly around the Imperial Palace. Japan has always fascinated me, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there is an okiya - a geisha house - not far from where I live in England and that it is possible to go there for events.
So my research for May is essentially fieldwork and will involve being shown how to wear a kimono properly, talking to geisha about their training and (hopefully) finding out just how difficult it is to play a shamisen, the three-stringed, fretless Japanese instrument with its distinctive snappy twang. I have a couple of characters in my head and I need to know how they would move in kimono before I start writing them.
Hopefully, I will be able to take photos to share with you all - I'll keep you posted!
I've just been updating the Dates for your Diary page with details of my next author event (check it out - FREE event, Exeter Central Library's Rougemont Room 10am-4pm Saturday 31st March 2018) and it started me thinking about how much I am enjoying bringing Aamena's story to life and how many opportunities I'm going to have to meet some of you in person and chat to you about it. The Exeter Authors Association has a brilliant programme of FREE events lined up for 2018, which you can find out about here - there are far too many to list! So if you'd like to pick up one of Aamena's monogrammed notes, which are only available direct from me at events, make sure you get yourself and book-loving friends and family along to see me at one of these events. Keep checking back and follow me on Twitter, because other events will be added in the coming months. It's shaping up to be an incredibly busy - and fun - year!
Who is Blogging Today?
Sometimes it will be me. At other times, you may well be treated to one of Dhussena Lorafiel's herbal remedies, or perhaps Zilyana Yllayra's etiquette tips. Aamena Hinnorwen may pop in to talk about a new skill she has learned. There is always a chance that we may be graced by the presence of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, who likes nothing better than to discuss the many benefits of the land he rules. There will be maps, sketches, photos, news, character information, guest blogs from other authors... all sorts of different ways for you to delve into the world of the Chronicles.