17 April 2018

My Tuesday Talk Guest: Anna Belfrage and Losing the history and sticking with romance

 – sort of ...

I’m going to come right out and admit it: the reason I write is because it allows me to indulge the huge romantic streak within, the one that has me sighing happily whenever true love overcomes whatever obstacles crosses its path. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily write 100% pure romances – you see, I get distracted by the historical setting, by the political scene of whatever time I am writing about. It is called context, and it is massively fun and elucidating to research and write. It is also essential when writing historical fiction as people read historical fiction to be transported back in time. Ergo, if you’re writing a love story set in the 14th century then you need not only to get the love and kisses right, you also need to do so without dressing Mr Hero in anachronistic clothes or allowing Ms Heroine to walk about with her hair uncovered and a revealing décolletage—unless Ms Heroine is a lady of the night, of course, in which case I’d suggest you dress her in yellow. 

I love history. I love well-written historical fiction. I cringe at historical novels that have people peeling potatoes in 11th century Ireland or lounging on a sofa in the 13th. That beautifully written historical romance, with the beautifully depicted protagonists, loses some of its glow if the context is incorrect. I suppose that may just be me, but incorrect historical facts yank me out of the story so fast I end up gasping like a landed trout. Not a pleasant experience…

So far, I have mostly stuck with combining my romantic streak with my passion for history. Yes, I’ve added a titillating angle in my first series, The Graham Saga, by making one of the protagonists a most reluctant time traveller. Well, she is until she meets Matthew Graham, the man destined to be her other half no matter that they were born three centuries apart.  


However: while writing books set in the 17th century, books set in the 14th century, polishing a Work in Progress set in the 13th century, I have all the time been working on a different project. One where romance and suspense takes over from romance and history. All told, I’ve invested twelve years in this particular story, so obviously I must feel it is very good—or important (to me).

It all began with lions.
I can hear you going “Qué?” 


It did. It began with these vague images of a young girl with the most amazing set of blonde curls running barefoot somewhere very hot. Red dust rose in her wake, the shapeless linen garment billowed around her as she ran and ran, accompanied by three half-grown lionesses. Very strange. Even stranger was that when I saw that same girl as an adult, that head of curls was tamed in a short edgy haircut, her toned legs encased in black trousers. Plus she was in London and to judge from her attire and the laptop she was carrying, she was busy at something in a financial environment. 

Obviously, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. How was I to marry those images of the running child in old-fashioned clothes with this high-flying professional? How to create a plausible context in which lions ran with the girl without snacking on her?

“Plausible context?” Helle Madsen looks at me over her laptop and grins. “Good luck with that one.”
I actually think I have found a good backstory. Helle can’t express an opinion. You see, she doesn’t remember. Nope, she has no memories of her first and very distant life in which her only friends were those three lions—until the day Jason made his first appearance in her life.

“Ah, yes.” Jason smiles, those copper-coloured eyes of his lighting up. “She was for once silent and neat—not as much as a smudge on her garments, not a single wayward curl escaping her heavy braid—standing some feet behind her father. Such a pretty little girl. Such a lonely little girl.”
“I was?” Helle asked, sounding intrigued. “And how would you know?”
Jason just smiles and winks at me. You see, Jason does remember—all of it. And I can tell you that while he is more than happy at having found his Helle again after spending sixty lives or so looking for her, he sincerely hopes his presence won’t nudge all her dormant memories to life. After all, there’s a reason he’s been tumbling through time looking for her and hoping to make amends…

Things are further spiced up by my third reincarnated character, gorgeous but dangerous Sam Woolf. Jason would tell you everything that happened in that first life was Woolf’s fault. So would Helle—if she remembered. So would Woolf. Thing is, he doesn’t care: he set out to destroy them last time round and hopes to finalise that particular task this time round.

 So, peeps, how does that sound as a premise? Whatever your opinion, I think we can all agree on the fact that this does not qualify as historical fiction, and this in itself leaves me somewhat out of breath. I like staying in my comfort zone. I enjoy the structure recreating a historical setting gives to my stories. But now I feel a bit like Dorothy, setting a foot on the yellow brick road. Will it carry me all the way to Oz? I hope so!

Not only am I taking on a new genre. I have also decided to try to secure a publishing deal with Kindle Press by submitting this book to their Kindle Scout programme. Not that many days left on my campaign which ends on April 21st and of course I need all the nominations I can get. I am therefore VERY grateful to Helen for having given me some air-space on her blog and hope you will all pop over to https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/ICMPHQBF30CN and do some nominating.


About Anna
Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. 
Anna has just released the fourth instalment of The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. 


When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna’s books have won multiple awards among which feature numerous Historical Novel Society’s Editor’ Choice. She has also contributed to several short-story collections and aims to release a contemporary trilogy in 2018 – a mixture of time-slip, suspense and burning passion.

Find out more about Anna on her website, Amazon, on FB or follow her on Twitter. Or pop by her blog and submerge yourself in historical posts about everything from golden camels to abducted nuns.  


The King’s Greatest Enemy: https://myBook.to/TKGE
The Graham Saga: http://amzn.to/2sVzZsZ

Please support Anna by clicking HERE 
and nominating her new project
thank you,
Helen
my previous article: 25 years 'in the business'  







10 April 2018

Twenty-Five Years ‘in the business’



website
Twenty-five years ago this month I celebrated my fortieth birthday during the Easter Weekend while on holiday in the Lake District. (I'll do the maths for you ... I'm sixty-five this year). We (that’s me, husband Ron and daughter Kathy, then aged 11) were camping on the shore of Coniston Water. For the actual day we went for a walk up Coniston Old Man. I seem to recall that it was a bright and sunny morning, but somewhat chilly. We had our wonderful dog, Nesta, back then. She was a Lakeland Collie (same as a Border Collie but with short hair) and bred from one of the Mountain Rescue dogs. And a sweeter, nicer nature I have never met, before or since. She inherited her mother’s sense of ‘search’ so was wonderful for playing hide-and-seek with. We had her from when she was weaned at a couple of months old to when she passed away at the age of thirteen. I’ll have to write a post about Nesta one of these days.

We had a lovely holiday, but I was on edge throughout because just before leaving home I had spoken with my (now ex) literary agent about The Kingmaking. William Heinemann, an imprint of Random House UK, had expressed an interest and I would know their decision after the Easter break. That meant I had to wait until we returned home to North-east London.


The Kingmaking, is the first part of my Arthurian Trilogy – although when I submitted it to the Marsh Agency I had no idea it was to become a trilogy. The agent liked it, but said it needed a lot of work and, ‘you do realise this will make a trilogy, don’t you?’

Er, no… I didn’t.

It had taken me ten years to write that ‘final’ draft. Not continuously, there were huge breaks and often I would only write a few sentences once a week, but in between writing I was researching and visiting places with a post-Roman connection. You see, my novel about King Arthur was to be set in the mid-to-late 400s. The vast machine that was Rome had abandoned Britain, leaving behind a void of chaos where groups of people vied against each other for supremacy. It was a power-grab period, and may the best man (or men) win.

This was the time when Caledonia, and the land of the Picts, became Scotland – when the Scotti tribes came over and settled from Ireland. When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes upped-sticks from across the Channel (the Narrow Sea – the English Channel) and made their homes and life here, eventually creating ‘Englalond’.

This was the time, IF he had existed, that ‘King’ Arthur would have been around. (Whether he was or not is a subject many Arthurianites heatedly debate, with never a definite conclusion being reached – except we argue like mad and insist that we are right.)

MY Arthur was going to be a warlord. Rough round the edges, a military man, not the later Medieval-tale chivalric knight in armour chap who turned a blind eye to being cuckolded. Ah no, had there been a Lancelot in my story he’d have been gutted and got-rid-of by my Arthur without hesitation.

Nor was MY Guinevere – I call her Gwenhwyfar – going to be the eye-lash batting, bosom-heaving nit-wit who fell for a posturing vain and proud Lancelot. MY Gwen was every bit as equal in rough toughness as was Arthur, and no way would she be daft enough to give up her position for someone like Lancelot. You might have guessed by now that I can’t stand Lancelot. In fact, I dislike the traditional Arthurian tales, the knights in armour, holy grail, nampy-pampyism. So there is no Lancelot in my story. No grail, no chivalry, no Merlin …. Instead we have two strong people who love each other but fight like mad. My Gwen has a sword and knows how to use it. My Arthur fights hard to gain his kingdom, and even harder to keep it.

Back in the '90s - outside the British Museum with a few friends...
Charles Evans Gunther on the left, with the late Kathleen Herbert
standing next to me (I'm in the red!)
No idea, now, alas, who the other guys are
So, there we were back in 1990. (ex) agent told me to go away and re-write what I had as the first part of a trilogy. It took me until late 1992 to do this. I re-submitted what had now become The Kingmaking as it is now, and half of what is now Pendragon’s Banner, book two. The (ex) agent liked what she saw, and sent it to Heinemann.

As it happened they were after the wonderful Sharon Kay Penman, but she was contracted elsewhere… she had assisted me with tidying up that first (final) draft (there had been countless other writes and re-writes before I even considered contacting an agent.) Sharon had encouraged me and suggested me to this agent, so Sharon will always be in my heart as the world’s best because she not only helped me on to the ladder, she gave me a hefty push a good way up it. And incidentally, this is why I try as much as I can to help new and novice authors now: I know full well how much that little bit of assistance can mean!

So there I was, submission submitted…. Waiting. Hoping. Fingers crossed…

We came home. Holiday over. Exactly one week after my fortieth birthday I received the news that yes, Heinemann wanted the entire Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy – what I had already written and  Part Three, which was still in my head. I was  offered a contract, and paid a nice advance. That I was over the moon is an understatement. I was, after many years of boring people with, ‘One day I am going to be a proper author’ was going to come true!

To get a scoop, the London Evening Standard took me, Ron and Kathy out for the day to Colchester (don’t ask… no idea why Colchester!) When we came home the street was crawling with reporters all wanting a story. The post-six o’clock  local news on ITV spent the day with us filming, and we had a good long spot on the show.

My official promotion photo
(don't I look young!)
Launch day was so exciting. A bookshop in Walthamstow High Street hosted it, we had wine and canapes and loads of people turned up. I had radio interviews (who remembers Derek Jameson on Radio Two? I spent a happy hour with him in his studio chatting about this and that – and my novel. And as it was a late night show the BBC even provided a car to take me home.) The Kingmaking should have become a bestseller. I was nominated for a couple of awards, but from there the rose-coloured glasses proved to be more tinted than I had thought.

Launch day at Walthamstow High Street
The marketing for Kingmaking lasted a few short months, and the marketing for other two books in the trilogy when they came out did not materialise. The reality was, historical fiction was suddenly not as popular as it had been, Heinemann had been sold, and a lot of money had been paid out to supposed best sellers which turned out to be dreadful. Let’s face it, sorry, but models and footballers are not novelists! Heinemann undertook very little follow-up marketing. This was the nineties. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, were still things of the future, even websites were a new concept and very basic. Authors were entirely in the hands of agents and publishers, and if either did not back you, you sank. To this day I do not understand how a publishing house can pay out a generous advance and then not bother to promote the books they have taken on. Eventually, said agent also let me down, well, her loss, frankly.  

The original cover
designed by artist Chris Collingwood Historic Art
My Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, twenty-five years after the first part was accepted for publication is STILL going strong – published traditionally by Sourcebooks Inc in the US, Indie published here in the UK, and are being translated into German with Part One now published.


buy book on Amazon Germany

So, Happy Silver Anniversary to me, from me. It’s been a rough road with lots of ups and downs, but I’m still here, writing and I’ve met some wonderful people – authors and readers – along the way. (Met a few ratbags as well, but we’ll skip that fact.)  

This is where the champagne cork pops, and someone enthusiastically shouts ‘Hooray!’

If you want to wish me some sort of ‘best wishes’ please do so by:
1)     Buying The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King
2)     If you’ve already read them, please, please, please, leave a review on Amazon
3)     Tell twenty-five people to buy the Kingmaking! Well, I can but try to encourage sales *laugh*

Seriously, thank you to everyone reading this (and sharing and retweeting etc.) Without you, I wouldn’t be sitting here sipping my glass of celebration bubbly!


 UK covers designed by www.avalongraphics.org

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 Website: www.helenhollick.net
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Twitter: @HelenHollick



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3 April 2018

Tuesday Talk: One writer’s experience with traditional publishing by Susan Appleyard

Susan Appleyard
 A long, long time ago, in the days of yore, even before the internet and all its offshoots were anything more than a gleam in a mad scientist’s eye, I was traditionally published. Furthermore, the publishing company actually paid me for the right to publish my book. It’s called an advance. Come what may afterwards, my book had earned money and people would read it. So far so good.

The book was about the favourite mistress of King Edward IV, and I called it The Merry Harlot because… well, that’s what she was. That’s what the King called her. My editor didn’t like the title because she was afraid my readers wouldn’t know what a harlot was! She suggested The King’s White Rose. Who was I, a young housewife with three rambunctious kids, to argue with someone of such vast experience? So I agreed to the name change. After all, I consoled myself, a king figured prominently in the story and one of his heraldic symbols was the white rose.  So there was some relevance.

As an aside, in creating a certain scene I mentioned a pincushion. The copy editor discovered that this object hadn’t been invented until the 16th century and as my book was set in the 15th, the pincushion had to go. The point of this, in case you missed it, is that my readers were viewed as so stupid they wouldn’t know what a harlot was, yet so smart they would know that the pincushion hadn’t been invented until in the 16th century!

I was nervous that the cover (chosen by the publishers) would feature a half-naked man and a half-naked woman in an erotic embrace because it was a historical novel, not romance, so I was partially relieved to see only a half-naked woman. I was asked my opinion of the cover, but given my vain protests about the title I reckoned it would be an exercise in futility.

Fast forward to my second book, which I didn’t have a title for. It was set in the Holy Land during the second crusade. My editor suggested The Sultan’s Red Rose.
“But,” I sputtered, “there isn’t a sultan in the story!” There wasn’t a red rose either, but that didn’t seem quite so important.
“What about this fellow, Zengi?” said she.
“He’s an atabeg,” I retorted, “which is like a military governor.”
She thought about this for a while and finally came up with a stunning solution.
“Why not have Zengi compare your heroine to a rose growing in the sultan’s garden?”

I know you would like to hear that I stuck to my ideals, that I didn’t prostitute my art for the almighty dollar; that I told her if she persisted in this tacky, tasteless design she could take a long jump off a short pier. Of course, I didn’t.

Very soon after that book came out, my burgeoning career went down the toilet. My agent went into furniture sales and my publishers sold out to another company. My contract was sold as part of the package, but they were not interested in me. It was back to square one. I was dismayed, disheartened and discouraged. (I can’t resist alliteration.)

A sad story, isn’t it? But put the tissues away; it has a happy ending.

The next time I was published I did it myself as an ebook and, rightly or wrongly, chose my own titles.

Would I want to be traditionally published again? 
Don’t think so.

About Susan

Susan was born in England, which is where she learned to love English history, and now lives in Canada in the summer. In winter she and her husband flee the cold for their second home in Mexico. Susan divides her time between writing and her hobby, oil painting, although writing will always be her first love. Since joining the ebook crowd, she has published seven books, some of which have won various awards. Presently, she is working on a historical romance series set during the War of the Roses.

Some of Susan's books - the ones with sensible titles and covers! 

Reviewed on Discovering Diamonds

Reviewed on Discovering Diamonds
Reviewed on Discovering Diamonds
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