Another #SampleSunday, another extract from my forthcoming ‘Total Immersion: Ten Years in France’. We’re in March 2009, and we get to meet our first home-born baby llama and Chris has a very close encounter with a fox.

We’d moved Gabby, the mother llama, into a stable so she’d be warm and cosy when delivery time came and we checked on her frequently. We coated the stable floor with hay, and counted the days. We were starting to give up. She seemed intent on exploding rather than giving birth, just to spite us.

This cria is actually Sir Winter, born Jan 27 2017. My photos of baby Lulin are on another computer. But he’s equally as cute as she was!

It was a fine, sunny morning during the kids’ winter holiday fortnight so we decided to go for a walk. We did one of our local strolls, the Chambon shuffle we call it (ch = sh in French, so it’s a nice alliterative name). Coming back along the green lane between fields, we spotted a fox in the hedgerow, but it didn’t run away. We peered close and saw that it had a metal snare around its stomach, getting tighter and tighter every time the animal moved. It was probably stupid of us, but we couldn’t leave it like that. Chris had gloves on and tried to free the fox but it bit him, not surprisingly really, and we were forced to abandon the rescue mission for the time being. When we got back, Chris went to put Germolene on his bite and then find thick gloves and wire cutters for a second attempt. I went to look in on Gabby. And there, in a hideous, spindly heap, was a llama cria. Gabby had chosen the darkest, dirtiest corner of the stable to deliver in, studiously avoiding the birth-friendly hay carpet we’d put down.  The baby was cold and grubby. Caiti and I got busy with towels drying the little female down while the boys went off to deal with the fox.

Both missions proved successful. Caiti and I soon transformed the baby into a clean, dry, fluffy cria. She was mainly white with some pretty brown splotches on her face and back. At the time Comet Lulin was visible, and we thought that Lulin was the perfect name for a little llama. Again with the alliteration. Benj and Chris came back, fortunately with no more bites, thanks to the thick gloves. But we still had the one bite to worry about. And worry a lot about, as France was then still officially a rabid country.

We hopped in the car to go to the doctor’s. We explained what had happened, and he asked us if we had the fox’s head. I stared at him blankly. No, he can’t have said that. I must have misunderstood something there. I asked him to repeat the question at a non-Francophone-friendly speed, and the same words came out. Chris and I shot other a ‘what the heck’ look. I warily replied that we didn’t have the head. We’d left it on the fox as it clearly had need of it. There didn’t seem a lot of point in freeing a fox from a snare only to immediately decapitate it, not the thought of doing so would ever have occurred to us.

The doctor sighed and told us, in a long-suffering tone, that if you get bitten by a fox, or any other possibly rabid animal, you’re meant to kill it and bring its head with you for testing. As with so many things in France, you’re meant to instinctively know this. Well, we didn’t, and we hadn’t got a vulpine head with us, so what next? The doctor quickly cheered up and said that Chris would need to go to Guéret hospital for rabies-neutralising shots. These would start at the rate of several a week, then one a week, then one a fortnight and so on at increasingly long intervals for at least the next six months. He might have said years, I was too shocked to listen properly. This really was a blow. We’d been expecting Chris would need a few injections, but not that many or for so long.

Lulin today

The doctor phoned the nearest Department of Information about Rabies and we watched as the smile dropped from his face. Our hearts were in our boots. He must have underestimated the treatment process. But it turned out that Boussac was a rabies-free zone. There hadn’t been any cases reported here for some officially sanctioned period of time, so we didn’t need the injections after all. The doctor was clearly very disappointed about this. I think he’d been quite looking forward to having a case of rabies to tell all his medical chums about. Or maybe, odd as this may sound, he liked seeing English people suffer. All that needed doing was to give Chris some antibiotics. Our anti-tetanus shots were up to date, so no more jabs were necessary. Talk about relief. The incident has, however, left Chris with an intense dislike of foxes. He also vowed he would never try and free another animal from a snare, a vow he steadfastly kept until Christmas when we came across our next case of a snared animal, a deer this time, which, of course, we set free.

Snaring  is legal in France, under certain conditions, and also trapping. Our local friendly farm supply shop, run by incredibly nice people, has a whole rack of gruesome looking devices for these very purposes and obviously they don’t give it a second thought. It’s still a way of life for some country dwellers. We haven’t come across any trapped animals for a long while now, it has to be said. However, I don’t suppose the practice has died out, just that whoever’s setting the snares is keeping them off our usual stamping grounds. The snarer has possibly worked out that the proximity of our farm to the cut-through snares they’d laid was more than coincidental. Because they were quite close to us, the only inhabitants in a sizeable chunk of very many square kilometres. Mine were the only local chickens, or in fact livestock of any kind, that a fox might have helped itself to, so I can’t see the need for anyone to have set a snare in that location. OK, deer eat crops which must be annoying if you’re a farmer, but this snare was on a bit of fencing (erected by the gas board) bordered by scrub land. Unnecessary and unpleasant.

I’m delighted to be playing host today for the first book tour to visit Books Are Cool this year. What a great way to start 2017. I’ll be presenting my review of the book, and then there’s an extract for you to enjoy. Finally, don’t forget to enter the giveaway, which you’ll find at the end of this post.

Review

The Elusive Elixir is the third book in Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist Mystery series. The two previous books are The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician. However, like I did, you can jump into the series here and still thoroughly enjoy the book. The author gives enough background details along the way, without ever info-dumping, for the reader to get up to speed with current events. I shall be reading the first two books now. I might be doing things backward, but with these books in which backward alchemy has such a part to play, then I feel justified!

The action takes place in Paris and Portland as Zoe Faust, our alchemist heroine who is somewhere around 300 years old having discovered the Elixir of Life, tries to find a cure to help her dear gargoyle friend Dorian from turning back into stone. She has to foray into the dark world of backwards alchemy, and places herself into considerable danger. Events and people from the past come back into her life to cause her rather a lot of trouble.

This is a fabulously original book, and series, combining those formidable looking gargoyles of Notre Dame cathedral with alchemy. The author lends her own twist to the magic with her idea of backward alchemy, and the mysterious books of alchemy that Zoe is so eager to get her hands on. Zoe is a lively, interesting character, full of courage and initiative. Dorian is a wonderful counterpoint to her, with his, dare I say it, stereotypically slightly grumpy Frenchness and love of food! He’s irrepressible, even when facing such an uncertain future. Luckily he’s as resourceful as Zoe, as things don’t quite go the way she planned.

There’s a fascinating cast of rounded characters all bringing their own action and interest to the story too, including Max, her calm, understanding boyfriend, and Brixton, her typical-teenager friend. There are secondary strands to the story making for a very rewarding, rich experience. It really is an absolutely delightful novel to read.

Here’s the first chapter so you can see for yourselves:

Chapter 1 of The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian

The woman was still behind me.

She was so close to me on the winding, irregular stone steps inside Notre Dame Cathedral that I could smell her breath. Sourdough bread and honey.

I could have sworn I’d seen her at the boulangerie near my apartment earlier that morning. Now her unwavering gaze bore into me. She must have been at least eighty and wasn’t more than five feet tall. She didn’t fit the profile of someone worth being afraid of. Most people would have dismissed it as a coincidence.

Unless you’re someone like me, who always has to be careful.

We emerged from the cramped corridor onto the narrow Gallery of Gargoyles, high above Paris. I shielded my eyes from the sun. A warm wind swept my hair around my face as I looked out through the mesh fencing that covered the once-open balcony.

The gargoyle known as Le Penseur, “The Thinker,” sat regally with his stone head turned toward the City of Lights, as he had for over 150 years. Unlike my friend Dorian, this gargoyle of Notre Dame wouldn’t be stepping off his stone mount.

For a few brief seconds, the stunning details Eugène Viollet-le-Duc had added to his chimeras all those years ago made me forget about the woman. The grandeur even made me lose sight of the real reason I was at Notre Dame that day. My quest was never far from my thoughts, but for those fleeting moments, I allowed myself the space to appreciate the splendor of the craftsmanship of generations of artists and laborers.

A girl around eight years old squealed in delight as she noticed a set of smaller gargoyles perched overhead, grinning maniacally at us. Her younger brother began to cry. His father explained in a thick Welsh accent that gargoyles weren’t to be feared. They weren’t even real, for Heaven’s sake! His father was right—in this particular case.

If I didn’t get rid of my shadow and get what I needed here at Notre Dame, the Welshman’s words would be true for all gargoyles, including my best friend. I followed the tight walkway for a few steps until I saw it. An unfinished slab of limestone where a gargoyle might have perched.

This was the spot.

I glanced behind me. The woman stood a few paces away. In stylish sunglasses with a perfectly knotted silk scarf around her spindly neck, she was simultaneously frail and glamorous. Unlike the crowd of tourists excitedly scurrying past each other on the balcony that was never meant for this volume of visitors, the woman stood stock still. She held no camera. Her gaze didn’t linger on the dramatic cityscape or on the unique stone monsters that surrounded us.

She looked directly at me, not bothering to conceal her curiosity.

“May I help you?” I asked, speaking in French. Though the woman hadn’t spoken, the style and care of her clothing, hair, and makeup suggested she was Parisian.

She pulled her sunglasses off and clenched them in boney hands. “I knew it,” she replied in English. “I knew it was you.” Her voice was strong, with the hint of a rattle in her throat. The forcefulness of her words seemed to surprise her nearly as much as it surprised me.

My throat constricted, and I instinctively reached for my purse. Empty except for my phone, notebook, wallet, and homemade granola bars packed in parchment paper. I was thankful I’d had the sense to leave Dorian’s alchemy book safely hidden far from me. I willed myself to relax. Things were different now. This wasn’t a witch hunt. Being recognized wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’d flown from Portland to Paris earlier that week. Because of the urgency of the situation, while I was recovering from an illness and too sick to climb the steps of Notre Dame, I’d stayed busy with people I thought might be able to help me, several of whom blurred together in my mind. Librarians, academics, amateur historians, Notre Dame docents, rare book dealers. Still, I found it surprising that I’d completely forgotten this woman. No, that wasn’t entirely true. Now that she’d removed her sunglasses, there was something vaguely familiar about her?…?And if she was one of the people who worked at the cathedral, that would explain how she was fit enough to keep pace with me on the hundreds of stairs.

“Please forgive me,” I said, switching to English, as she had done. “I seem to have forgotten where we met.”

She shook her head and laughed. “So polite! We have not met. You’re Zoe Faust’s granddaughter, aren’t you?”

I let out the breath I’d been holding and smiled. “You knew Grandmere?”

The woman gave me a curious look, her eyes narrowing momentarily, but the action was so quickly replaced with a smile that I might have imagined it.

“During the Occupation in 1942,” she said. “My name is Blanche Leblanc.”

“Zoe Faust,” I said automatically.

The quizzical look on her face returned.

“Named after my grandmother,” I added hastily, stumbling over the words. I’m a terrible liar. Personally, I think it’s one of my more endearing qualities—who wants to be friends with someone if you never know if they’re being honest?—but in my life it’s also a most inconvenient trait. “It’s lovely to meet you, Madame Leblanc.” That was a lie too. I’m sure she was a nice person, but I didn’t need this complication.

Three out-of-breath tourists, the stragglers of our group, burst through the top of the winding stairway. While they caught their breath, I led Madame Leblanc away from the crowded section of walkway next to the gargoyles. There wasn’t much space on the gallery, but by stepping back a few feet, at least we wouldn’t be jostled.

“You look so much like her,” Madame Leblanc said, speaking more softly now. “When I was a young girl, my mother once brought me to her shop. What was the name?”

“Elixir.”

“Yes. Elixir. Many foreigners left Paris, but your grandmother stayed and helped people during the war. Her healing remedies saved many lives. But then she left. After the fire?…?”

I returned her sad smile. These days, people think of me as an herbalist. In the past, people thought of me as an apothecary. Not many people have ever known the truth, that I’m an alchemist.

I’ve never gotten the hang of turning lead into gold, but ever since I was a small child I’ve been able to extract the healing properties of plants. My ability to heal people was one of the things that made me think my accidental discovery of the Elixir of Life wasn’t entirely a curse. But the dangers of living a secret life created a heavy burden. My “grandmother” Zoe Faust is me.

Since I’ve always been good with herbal remedies, I’ve been able to help both sick and injured people. And war often leads to far too many of both.

“Yes,” I said, “Grandmere finally left Paris to help a family that was fleeing with a child too sick to travel.”

Madame Leblanc’s painted lips quivered. “My first thought was the right one, n’est pas?” Her silk scarf swirled in the wind.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, twisting away from me. “My mother was right. You are a witch.”

The Gallery of Gargoyles was loud with the excited voices of tourists of all ages, but suddenly I couldn’t hear anything except the beating of my heart. The multilingual voices of the tourists around us dissipated as if sucked into a vortex. It felt like the only two people left on the Gallery of Gargoyles were me and Madame Leblanc. My stomach clenched. I wished I hadn’t eaten a hearty breakfast from that boulangerie. “You’re confused, madame.”

“You were in your late twenties then. You have not aged a day. There is no anti-aging cream that good. I know. I have tried them all. You stand before me through witchcraft or some other deal with the devil.”

I choked. “I’m told my grandmother and I look very much alike,” I said, trying to keep my breathing even. “These things happen—”

“I am eighty-two years old,” Madame Leblanc cut in. “My eyesight is not what it once was, but my hearing is perfect. Even with the cacophony around us, I would know your voice anywhere.”

“I’m told that I sound like her, too—”

“I remember the voice of the soldier who told me that my father was dead.” Her words were slow. Crisp. “I remember the voice of the nurse who handed me my healthy baby girl. And I remember the voice of the apothecary named Zoe who saved many lives in Paris—but not that of my mother.”

Momentarily stunned by the heartfelt speech, I was at a loss for words. I looked from the woman to the gargoyles surrounding us then out at the Eiffel Tower stretching into the blue sky, Sacre Cour’s man-made grandeur, the flowing river Seine, and wisps of smoke from chimneys. Air, earth, water, fire. Elements I worked with and craved.

“I don’t know what sort of bargain you made with evil forces to be here today,” Madame Leblanc said, her voice nearly a whisper, “but that woman was not your grandmother. She was you. I know it is you, Zoe Faust. And I will find out what you are. You cannot hide any longer.”

 

Gigi Pandian

on Tour

January 9-20

with

the-elusive-elixir-cover

The Elusive Elixir

(mystery / paranormal mystery)

Release date: January 8, 2017
at Midnight Ink

ISBN: 978-0738742366
336 pages

 

SYNOPSIS

Dorian Robert-Houdin, the three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle chef who fancies himself a modern-day Poirot, is slowly turning into stone, and it’s up to Zoe Faust to unravel the alchemical secrets that can save him. When they discover that a long-lost stone gargoyle with a connection to Dorian has reappeared in Europe, the stakes are even higher.

From Portland to Paris, Zoe searches for the hidden knowledge she needs, but a cold case that harkens back to 1942 throws her off course. With an ailing friend desperately trying to discover his own elixir of life and a new romantic interest offering the first chance at love she’s had in nearly a century, Zoe is torn between a dangerous form of alchemy and her desire for a safer life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gigi Pandian

USA Today bestselling author
Gigi Pandian
spent her childhood
being dragged around the world
by her cultural anthropologist parents,
and now lives outside San Francisco
with her husband
and a gargoyle who watches over the garden.
Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries,
Accidental Alchemist mysteries,
and locked-room mystery short stories.
Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant
and Lefty Awards,
and been nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to her newsletter

Visit her Gargoyle photography blog: http://www.gargoylegirl.com

Pre-order the book: Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Midnight Ink

***

You can enter the global giveaway here
or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook,
they are listed in the entry form below
.

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday
of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway open to all:
1 winner of a Grand prize:
the first two books in the series
(The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician)
plus a set of gorgeous 7 book-themed recipe cards

***

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ REVIEWS AND EXCERPTS

the-elusive-elixir-banner

 

The New Year is a time for making resolutions and setting yourself challenges. For book lovers then a reading challenge is the ideal sort to go for. And there are plenty to choose from – I’d never realised quite how many! Girlxoxo gives a comprehensive listing here.

I’m going for two.

The first of these is the 2017 European Reading Challenge. I’m signing up for the Five Star Deluxe Entourage and will be aiming to read five qualifying books from or set in different countries of Europe. And, to make the challenge a bit more demanding, I’ve decided that my France book will be in French. There are four I shall be choosing from. I’ve had them all for quite a while but not got round to even starting them. Oops!

The other reading challenge I’m going to take on is 2017 Cruisin’ Through The Cozies. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy reading cozies, but I’m about to finish writing my first one – Hens, Haircuts and Homicide – so this is the ideal challenge for me. I’m going in at level one, and will be reading ten cozies, one in each of the categories listed in the rules and regs of the challenge. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on during the year.

So, will you going for a reading challenge too?

 

 

 

I’m chuffed to welcome indie author Nicholas A. Rose to Books Are Cool for a friendly interrogation. Nicholas writes fantasy and is two-thirds of the way through his second trilogy. Markan Throne, Markan Empire and Markan Sword make up the first, and Gifted Apprentice is being followed by Gifted Hunter in the second. I discovered Nicholas through the very enjoyable Gifted Apprentice so that’s the starting point for my questions to him.

 

1. Tell us briefly about Gifted Avenger

This novella continues Sallis ti Ath’s story. Sallis is a bounty-hunter with a strong belief in justice. He is also blessed with the Gift, which means he can “see” where a criminal he’s pursuing has passed. But murder sets Sallis on a path of vengeance and he’s forced to challenge his beliefs concerning justice and the Gift.

 

2. Who’s your favorite character?

In the novellas – Sallis ti Ath.

 

nick photo3. Which character is most like you?

In the Markan Empire Trilogy, there is a sylph scout named Neptarik. People who know me and have read these books assure me that he displays a lot of my own character traits. Basking in sunshine and a weakness for chocolate, to give two examples.

 

4. What makes Gifted Avenger stand out from the crowd?

That it is part of a trilogy linked to all the other trilogies that are, or will be, written by me. In many ways, the Gifted Trilogy is a prequel to the Markan Empire Trilogy, but is also completely independent from it.

 

5. Why did you choose to write fantasy, or did it choose you?

Probably because I read so much fantasy as a youngster. I loved being able to escape this world, and wonder what if? I suppose writing fantasy is just a natural progression from that.

 

gifted apprentice6. How did you come up with the cover design?

Joleene Naylor does all my covers. I just give her the rough outline of what I’m looking for and leave the rest up to her. I said I wanted Sallis on Glyder riding through a forest, pretty much what I’ve got. I leave the detail up to Joleene and she often surprises me with what she comes out with.

 

7. What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?

When people contact me about characters, the two they mention most are Sallis ti Ath and the ship’s sylph Cloudy. The next trilogy covers the ship Flying Cloud in her early days, how Cloudy came to be the ship’s sylph and some of her early adventures. I’m halfway through the first draft of The Ship And Her Sylph and finished the plotting and set pieces for the second in the trilogy, The Ship and Her Dolphin.

Fingers crossed, I’m hoping to have these two out in 2014.

I’m also (slowly) working on the next Markan Trilogy, following on from where the first left off. There may also be more Gifted books, if more plots present themselves.

 

8. What are you reading at the moment?

Factual books. The Ship (Landstrom), Seamanship (Harland), and The Age of the Galley (many contributors, published by Conway’s).

All dry stuff, all bought for research, but also fascinating (to me).

 

9. Do you write every day? Is it hard to find the time?

Every day, though I sometimes miss the odd day here and there. It can be hard to find the time, but more a matter of self-discipline and sacrificing other things I perhaps ought to be doing. One must keep the creative thoughts flowing!

 

10. What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

Keep going, never give up. Learn from your mistakes. OK, that’s two.

 

11. What ereading device do you have? And why did you choose that one?

The ubiquitous Kindle. I bought that one because it was the only one available in the UK at the time. I also have an ipad.

 

12. Do you dress up or dress down to write? Or maybe you don’t dress at all?

I write in whatever I’m wearing at the time. Though I always am wearing something at the time. Jeans and t-shirt usually and often barefoot.

 

13. Where can we find your website? And other social media?

My website is at: http://www.ilvenworld.com/

My blog: http://ilvenworld.blogspot.com

On Twitter I’m Nicholas A. Rose

And I’m nickandyrose on Facebook

 

14. Anything else we need to know about you?

Happiest outdoors, where I’m free to think. Love mountains, the sea, good company and real ale.

 

15. Your favorite “knock knock” joke?

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Me.

Me who?

Seriously, me, I’m just telling a knock-knock joke!

 

Thomas Ryan is one of the reasons I love my job so much. I’m a freelance editor working exclusively with indie authors these days and relishing every moment of it. There is so much talent out there and Thomas is one of these incredibly gifted writers whose work deserves a huge audience. There are a lot of generalisations made about the quality of self-published writing by people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about. I’m there on the pit face, and have been for 25 years now, and I can tell you that while there is undeniably some poor work produced by indies, there is far, far more of an impressively high quality. Like this book.

thomas ryanThe Field of Blackbirds begins in New Zealand where ex-Special Forces soldier Jeff Bradley has taken over the Boundary Fence, a vineyard he inherited from his Croatian grandparents. (His soon-to-be ex-wife has her eye on this as the divorce settlement between them is thrashed through.) Jeff has hired a Kosovon Arben Shala, an experienced winemake, to be his manager and advisor. He soon becomes his friend. Bad weather has meant a bad yield this year so Jeff sends Arben to Kosovo to source bulk wine. Arben falls foul of corrupt officials and ends up in prison. Jeff and Arben’s family don’t know where he is, only that something is wrong, so Jeff sets off to find his friend.

Once he gets so Kosovo, which is under UN administation, he begins his detective work. He runs into an American aid worker, Morgan Delaney, and UN worker Barry Briggs and his Kiwi girlfriend Bethany and they become a tight team. But Jeff is making as many enemies as he makes friends. as he gradually discovers that a huge property scam is being perpetrated with links to international terrorism. Throw in the Kosovon Liberation Army and a mysterious private security agent, plenty of suspense, action and an intriguing plot, and you have a breathless read that provides a sharp insight into post-civil-war Kosovo and introduces us to some memorable characters.

It’s brutal in places, but also moving and inspiring since although difficult political and economic circumstances can bring out the worst  in people, time and again they bring out the best. This is as much a story about loyalty and self-respect as it is about corruption.

I asked Thomas some questions about his powerful novel.

1.     What’s the story behind the Field of Blackbirds? Why did you write the story?

I spent many years in Eastern Europe, mostly the Balkans. Made many friends amongst the locals and monitored their trials and hardships experienced by all peoples who live in developing nations. Distrust, dishonest politicians and ineffective, corrupted, and hated legal systems.  Money ruled. Those who ended up on the wrong side of the law were guilty until proven innocent, and that came down to bribes – an absolutely brilliant environment for a storyteller looking to create a good yarn. Then, throw in the UN, NATO and organised crime and along came ‘The Field of Blackbirds’.

2.    What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I wanted to weave a fast paced yet complex story with lots of interesting characters and still be easy for the reader to follow. I wanted the baddies as well rounded as the goodies but a clear line between the two groups. I believe in heroes conquering all and getting the girl. The story should be fun and an enjoyable read. I believe I achieved this.

3.    Who’s your favourite character and why?
This is a hard question. It took five years to write this book and I rewrote it more than fourteen times. I came to know all the characters so well. They’re like family. All have quirky endearing traits. In the end if I have to show favouritism then it must be for my main protagonist Jeff Bradley. It took a long time to develop Jeff. As a character he changed many times. For so long I never really had a clear picture of him. When it finally came I think I created a man I would be proud to call my friend. I think he is best summed up by the words of a reader ‘Not too macho and not too new age, a good mix of masculinity and sensitivity, loyal to his friends. A male character most women would love to meet.’

4.    Do you prefer creating villains or good guys?
There is no doubt you can have more fun with the bad guys. Within reason, almost anything you have your bad guy character do is acceptable to the reader. Also, when it comes to killing them off the writer can be hugely imaginative in fact readers expect ‘spectacular’ when it comes baddies end. Writing goodies is a tortuous journey. Each word is carefully measured as is the sentence as is the paragraph. For the reader it is the main protagonist taking them on the journey and expectations are high. Early on an image is imagined and any deviation from perceived characteristics will not be tolerated. Any sloppiness with this character and the book is closed and tossed back onto a shelf or sent off to the second hand bookshop. No doubt about it. Baddies are much more fun.

5.    What are some of the references you used while researching this book?
Every location scene in this book is for real and I have visited. In Kosovo I met many members of the UN and still have friends who served there. I spent many nights in the Kukri Bar in Prishtina and walked through the streets and Bazaars. I learned of the legal systems from police friends and as an ex-soldier with combat experience I have an understanding of the nature of violence and how the military works. I have two SAS officers I lunch with on a regular basis and they helped me shape Jeff’s character and personality.

6.    What was the hardest part of writing The Field of Blackbirds?
For any book of this type continuity, planting seeds, and ensuring all data is correct is key. A wrong line, an expectation not met, a storyline or subplot not explained, a key message left out and the mystery falls apart and the reader is let down. The reader needs to be kept on the edge of their seat as the tale unravels. Not able to guess the likely outcome. Obviously the reader knows the hero will come out on top but not how. This is the where the writer needs to be so careful not to reveal too much. Padding, accepted in many forms of literature has no place in a thriller. I overcame many of these problems by constantly sending the manuscript out to readers for feedback. Each rewrite tightened the narration. And finally all the threads of the story must be tied off to satisfy the reader. I believe I achieved this.

ryan blackbirds7.    The book has a very striking cover. Did you design this yourself?
The cover was designed by a company called BookBaby in the USA. I gave them a free hand. The final editorial and formatting of the back page for the print copy I worked on myself with the aid of a formatter.

8.    When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?
I think from a very early age 7yrs maybe 8yrs old I was writing stories. Decades later when I finally had a short story accepted for radio production and was asked for more I looked at the payment cheque and decided it wasn’t worth it. Now years later I’ve decided it’s time.

9.    You’re a member of a writing group. How has this helped you with your writing in general and this book in particular?
I have been a member of a writers critique group for years. All emerging writers need one. If nothing else they keep you focused on producing work. This book would never have been finished without the support of my group.

10.    What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Self-publishing pretty much means you have to do everything yourself. The marketing and the writing. My observations to date are that when it comes to the self- marketing of eBooks it is new to everyone. As yet no perfect rules of action have been established and there are many supposed experts ready to tell writers how to succeed. Some good, some not so good. What everyone agrees on however is that just putting your book up on a reseller like Amazon is not enough. Readers need to know it is there. The social media and blogs are a first and reasonably productive step. But writers need to adopt a business mind set and establish long term realistic goals. Unlike print books, eBooks stay in the system forever a writer has time to build a platform. Gain reviews. Write the best book you can. There is a theory the more books on site the more sales and whilst this is true this only occurs in the long term if the writing is of reasonable standard. And most importantly, find a good editor. Without one, you have no chance.

11.    How do you feel about eBooks vs print books and self vs conventional publishing?
I think in reality this question is no longer relevant. EBooks are here and are not going away. The next generation of children are already using iphones and tablets daily. Print books will always be about but in what form remains to be seen. I think print book for self-publishers will be restricted. To successfully distribute a print book the writer would need access to a distribution network. An alternative option is to use a print on demand company like create space and they will make it available on Amazon. The decision on whether or not to self-publish or use a traditional publisher is nowadays a choice not available in the past. Most writers try for an agent or traditional publisher first and then go the self-publishing route. It is great there is the choice. Long may it continue. In New Zealand there was little choice. There are no literary agents.

chardonnay12.    Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
I think the man occupational hazard is fitness. Nowadays not only do we write on computers but they are the first step in research. No more walking to a library.  I have a daily exercise routine, two big walks per week and a round of golf. Healthy body, healthy mind.

13.    And finally what’s the ideal wine to accompany your novel?
Boundary Fence wines are not on the market as yet so I like to relax with a competitor’s vintage from a neighbour’s winery. I’m a Chardonnay man from way back. So a glass of chilled Soljans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay would do nicely. On colder nights, one of their cabernets.

I’m always interested when I come across novel approaches by authors to, well, novel writing! I’ve been very impressed by Stu Noss and Misty Provencher and their blovels (novels presented chapter by chapter on blogs), and by Aden Moss’s Twitter fiction. A Tweet alerted me to another interesting project underway. It read: “Pledge as little as $1 to help an awesome indie horror author publish his next book & get an advance e-copy! http://kck.st/vCp5Ed #RT”

I had to check this out. The website link takes you here.

Gabriel Beyers is planning to self-publish a collection of short stories entitled Contemplations of Dinner and a paranormal thriller novel Predatory Animals. He reckons he’ll need $3,500 to fund this, and needs to get this amount by 17 December. Gabriel has put a lot of thought into this. There is a list of what benefits you’ll get according to how much you pledge. For example, if you pledge $5 then you get an advance digital copy of Predatory Animals and Gabriel’s very sincere thanks. Pledge $100 and you’ll receive a hard cover copy of the book, as well the advance digital copy, a digital copy of another of Gabriel’s books, a signed poster featuring the book’s cover art, a signed printout of the first draft of the book and a mention in the book’s dedications. If you pledge $250 then you also get the chance to name a character in the story! All very innovative and plucky. I offered to contribute to the project by doing the editing for Gabriel, since I’m so impressed with this venture and I’m keen to get ebook-ed.it properly up and running, but he has someone already lined up. Maybe next time.

What do you think of this idea? Will it work? Will it catch on? It’s ingenious so I really hope it proves to be a winner for Gabriel.

I’ve done it. Best of Blog in France is up for free on Smashwords here. It took a lot of time and effort, but I’m pleased with the results and I hope it will prove to be good advertising for my upcoming Heads Above Water, the account of our first couple of years on France.

So, what gave me the idea to do a blog book? And what can I call it? We have blovels as a term for novels presented on blogs and ficlogs for fictional blogs. I’m going to call my non-fiction blog-based book a nofiblok. I expect to see it all the dictionaries soon!

Right, well, Blog in France is proving to be a very popular blog, with its mixture of expat experiences, practical advice, small delves into local and national history, occasional rants but mostly a light hearted look at all things French. I’ve written 318 posts now. Taking up the WordPress ‘blog post a day’ challenge last February really was a turning point. Viewership soared as a result of having fresh content every day, so I’d advise anyone to go that route.

So I had plenty of material to choose from, and I was keen to get a non-fiction book out there. Up to now I’ve only had children’s fiction published, both traditionally and independently in ebook form. It’s a good way to test the waters. People enjoy reading about the experience of folk like us who have taken the plunge to ‘live the dream’, however nightmarish it turns out to be occasionally! There’s an audience out there. Let’s give them something to read.

I’ve taken my pick of entries from the first couple of years of my blog. There weren’t very many to choose from at first. I was a very slack blogger in those early days! Actually, it was more like too exhausted to write since we were up to our necks in renovations at the time. I’ve included photos, generally one per two blogs. I use a lot of photos in Blog in France so I had a lovely selection to choose from. They really add that human interest element.

But how to organise the entries. Consecutively by date would have been too bitty in my opinion. By subject? I began doing that but there was a danger that I’d have two many different categories as my posts are very wide ranging. In the end I plumped for January to December, incorporating the two years together. I don’t think that’s confusing, and it gives a very good sense of the seasons. Life in rural France is governed totally by the weather. We have our summer way of life, and our winter one. We spend so much time outside round and about on our 75 acres that we’re totally in touch with the elements and weather. A calendar year layout for the blog brings this into focus. You live the year with us, from the bleak frozenness of January, to the blossoming of life in April, to the heavy heat of July and August, the colours and freshness of October, and back to the deep depths of winter.

Finally, the cover. I spent an hour or so with a glass of wine and a croissant and a camera. There was some cheese too but that didn’t look right with the others. I’m pleased with the end result. It says France, I think, without resorting to the Eiffel Tower, as happens so often with French related books.

Anyway, you know what they say about the proof of the pudding … so please have a read and see what you think! Please let me know. And remember, Heads Above Water is coming soon!

 

I mentioned blovels in a previous post. These are novels that are being serialised on people’s blogs. Stu Noss’s was the first I came across, and I’ve since discovered another great one here. Misty Provencher is presenting her blovel Cornerstone on her website a chapter at a time.

I love Misty’s attitude. She explains she decided to become a blovellist after losing her literary agent, failing to find another one who had the same vision as she did, and generally becoming frustrated at not being read. She says:  “But I have a million books in me and I’m tired of having so many barriers between us. I’m just looking for those folks who are my people and who will get into the book and find some joy in it. I hope it brings you that. If it does, please let me know. Tell others I’m here.”

It’s all about the writing for Misty and I totally agree with her point of view. I’ve hit my head against brick walls enough times during my authoring career and I just want my books to be read too. That’s partly why I’m putting so many up for free on Smashwords at the moment. And Misty, my house is never clean either!

A third blovel, very new, is here. I shall be following this one too. And am I tempted to do a blovel? Yes, I am, so watch this space.

Almost blovels are ficlogs, or fictional blogs. I’ve heard about these but haven’t found a good example of one. Whenever I do a search on the Net, the search engine is convinced I want clogs and isn’t terribly helpful!

Now, as well as novels on blogs, there are novels on Twitter. Seriously. Here’s a nice article about it. Writing such a story is really a lesson in learning what to leave out. It would certainly be a very valuable exercise in writing concisely to produce such a novel – Twovel, perhaps? A Twovelist writing in this way is Aden Moss. And there’s a book out there called The History of Rock and Roll in 99 tweets  Ebook By Andy Szpuk  but isn’t in Kindle format at the moment. I’m ignoring epub for a while since Barnes and Noble wouldn’t sell me a Nook Book the other day because I don’t live in the US. Crazy.

Books are serialised on Kindle too. The most famous example is Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone. As Platt says, “serialized fiction has been around since Dickens. It just means taking a single storyline and breaking it into several parts to fuel anticipation between episodes.” Other authors are doing this too, notably Roz Morris. But there are pros and cons. We’re the instant gratification generation and don’t want to be kept waiting. A lot of readers want all the content at the same time and don’t want to have to wait a week or a month till the next episode. However, there are plenty of fans of serialised works out there too.

So, the modern inventions of blogs and Twitter might be leading to a return of serialisation in fiction. It will be interesting to see how this all develops.

 

 

Oh Santa!, my latest kids’ ebook, is up on Smashwords here. I’ve also published it on Kindle Direct Publishing, so you can get it from Amazon.com here, from Amazon.co.uk here, and from Amazon.fr here. It’s on Amazon.de too. It’s priced very reasonably so go on, treat yourselves!

I actually priced it at 99 cents on the French site, but I see it’s selling for €1,14 which is puzzling. I’m assuming some kind of tax has been shoved on. This brings me on to my pet grumble about Kindle book pricing. I switched my Kindle account from .com to .fr with Amazon, as they recommended I should since it would be better for me, bla bla, but all that’s happened is that I now have to pay more for my ebooks. Ones that are advertised at 99 US cents on the Net are priced for me at more than two euros. They don’t cost me that since I don’t buy them from Amazon – I track them down on Smashwords (the vast majority are there), buy them for the 99 cents there and then email the file to my Kindle from my computer. And books advertised as free on Kindle end up costing money too.

I’ve downloaded the Barnes and Noble Nook app as another way of getting free and 99 cents books for the proper price. There was one freebie in particular that I wanted, intriguingly entiled The Wee Christmas Homicide. However, I got a bit muddled up with the app and ended up lending that book – I have no idea where it’s gone or if I’ll ever get it back!  I then tried to buy a book but was told my credit card was invalid, which is nonsense, so maybe I won’t be doing that much business with B&N after all!

On the bright side I’ve won three ebooks this week. I’m still waiting for two of them to come, and have been for several days, but The Grimoire Lichgates by S M Boyce is sitting on my Kindle awaiting my attention.

So it’s not all bad in the Kindle kingdom.

I’m delighted to host my first ever guest post. Jo Parfitt, expat author, has just released her latest book, Sunshine Soup which I’ll be reviewing in a few days’ time.

Jo has some inspiring advice for all would-be authors:

Inspired by La Grande Rue

Many years ago I lived in France. I studied French at university and spent my year abroad as an assistante in a school in Normandy. I don’t know whether you know Neufchatel-en-Bray, but it’s pretty small. I was the only English girl of my age living there and I found it rather lonely. I love to eat and so that was how I whiled away the hours. I would wander up and down the high street, looking in the shop windows.   I particularly liked the patisserie.

One day, as I gazed at the tartes aux myrtilles and tartelettes au citron, the words French Tarts popped into my head. That would make a great book title, I thought.

Now, as I had told you, I was a bit bored and I loved to eat, so I hatched a plan. I would ask the people in the town to invite me to dinner and make me a tart and, in exchange, I would put their recipes in a book I was writing. I really believed this would happen, and so, it appeared, did my potential hosts. I got my recipes and solved my social life problem in one go.

Back in my dingy flat above the school boiler, I had no kitchen, in fact I could not even cook, but I was determined to write that book. After graduation, I did a little research and sent a synopsis to a publisher called Octopus. They accepted my proposal and about 18 months later, French Tarts was published in French and in English. I had never written anything before but this lucky break led me to believe that I could follow my dream and become a writer. Today, 25 years on, I have written 28 books, hundreds of articles, teach writing and am a publisher in my own right. I specialize in publishing books by and for people who live overseas.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I believe that if you have a good idea, lots of passion and some self-belief, you too can achieve your dreams, even against the odds and even in a foreign country. My book succeeded because it was a good idea, with a catchy title, that came at the right time.

Without French Tarts I doubt I would have become the writer and publisher I am today. Neither would I be a decent cook. Living in France back then I would never have believed that I would go on to live abroad for the rest of my life. I have lived in Dubai, Oman, Norway and am now in the Netherlands.  I have become a pretty decent cook too, and wrote a second cookbook when I lived in Oman, called Dates.

This month I launch my first foray into fiction. Sunshine Soup is a novel about expats and expat life. Its protagonist is a cook and there are 20 recipes at the back of the book. French Tarts is no longer in print, though you can buy second hand copies on Amazon.

If you have a dream, however crazy, I urge you to go for it. You never know what may happen.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt  – author of Sunshine Soup, nourishing the global soul. Out now. Price £8.47 and available on Amazon. Find out more at www.joparfitt.com, www.summertimepublishing.com and www.expatbookshop.com