In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Monday, 31 March 2014

An Attack of the Nerves

  Have to start with some sad news today. The owner of Dorian Literary Agency, Dorothy Lumley, passed away late last year. I only found out when I submitted Black Lord of Eagles to Dorian earlier this month, and received a letter in reply from the solicitors winding up her estate. So it looks as though Dorian will close, which is a loss to the industry. Ms Lumley herself always responded to my submissions with a hand-written note, something few agents or publishers take time to do, and her advice was always helpful and encouraging. She'll be missed.

  Right, onward then.

  This month I've spent a small fortune on my own books. I now have boxes of them teetering on top of a chest of drawers, among other places, because I need stock for upcoming events. In barely a month I have my author meet-and-greet and Barnstaple Library, on May 2nd, where I'll be signing copies (hint hint, turn up if you're about. I might even manage a smile for you). Then Waterstone's bookshop has agreed to take copies as well, and sell them in store as a local author kind of thing, just in Barnstaple. I don't know how many copies this will mean but I'd rather have too many than not enough, hence the stacks of boxes I have to sidle around.

  I'm trying to put together a short talk as well, just a couple of minutes of chat about why I write what I do. Someone might ask at the Library event, after all, so I ought to sound at least slightly sensible. The trouble is, even practicing on my own my speechifying voice goes like this, "I started writing when I was er. I was always interested um. The story is um er who goes and eek."

  I begin to suspect nerves may be playing a part. The last time I had to stand up and talk in public I was in school and my tongue got a bit tangled, possibly because I fancied one of the girls listening. Characters in my books don't fold their arms and stare at me when I hesitate, you see. It's terribly distracting when real people do.

  I'm going camping on Exmoor next weekend, if the weather is even halfway decent. All that quiet will be a good opportunity to sort this out. I enjoy camping on my own, all the pressures of life just fall away until there's nothing but the sky and whatever animals happen to be about. Wild ponies, buzzards, trout in the streams, maybe deer if I'm lucky. I haven't been out since last summer so I really need this, it's going to be great. Then it'll be back home and time to get ready for a big month.

  I want to say thanks to C J Brightley, who invited me to do a guest spot on her blog on the 25th March. I enjoyed it, though it feels a bit weird to be writing on someone else's blog. But anyway, thanks C J, it was fun.

  Finally, two of my books will be free from Kindle on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th of April. They're Blood and Gold and TROY: A Brand of Fire. Tell your friends about it, pass the word, and feel free (hehe) to pick one up. I hope you enjoy reading them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Hitting the Right Keys

  I've just finished reading "Ruso and the River of Darkness", by Ruth Downie. It's part of a series of books following Ruso, a doctor or Medicus in Roman Britain, as he finds himself investigating various crimes. I haven't read the others, and only picked this up because I went to a talk by the author at the library. But you know, it was rather good. I read it in 3 days and enjoyed it right to the end.

  I think I can guess how much research went into this book. I do the same sort of thing, in that I use ancient cultures in my work, and research takes as much time as writing. You end up following a trail on the internet, tracking links from one page to another until you realise you have 8 windows open and are reading about the mating patterns of Anatolian frogs (which is not information you need, by the way). After a while you'll have sheafs of notes, page after page of them, and you know that only 1 detail in 20 - if that - will make it into the final draft.

  But those little pieces of flavour are what gives a book its feeling, its colour. When I write about a pseudo-Celtic world I need it to feel Celtic, and in the same way Ms Downie needs to make we readers feel immersed in Romano-British culture. Which she does very well indeed. Ruso of course has no forensics, no blood tests or fingerprinting; he has to find his answers by asking a lot of questions, and in doing so he travels through the Britannia of his day and so shows it to us.

  Ms Downie is in the authors' group which meets at Barnstaple Library once a month, as I am. Another member is Rebecca Alexander, author of "The Secrets of Life and Death", which is on my "To Read" list. It's great to have such writers there, it helps me (and I'm sure it helps the group) to spend time talking with people who understand, because they've had the same experiences.

  You know... days when the words won't come, or you're tired and keep writing words like 'wonberful' because you hit the wrong keys. When concentration won't come and you spend your writing time staring absently out of the window.

  Or the days when we realise we're hungry, look at the clock and find it's 2 in the morning and we've been writing for hours (and by some malign rule of inconvenience, usually have work tomorrow). Times when the words spill out all by themselves, pouring onto the page in a flood so rapid we can't check grammar, can't editorialise, we just get it written down and worry about the details later. Days when we check our progress and find we've done 10,000 words in a week, and aren't entirely sure how that happened.

  Other writers understand that because they've done the same things, nearly always. Sometimes I think the best definition of an author is someone who spends a lot of time humming idly while gazing into the middle distance, and sometimes scribbles a bit. But someone like that couldn't possibly manage all the research that we do. There's a perseverance in us as well; we know that writing a book is much more about perspiration than inspiration.

  Contradictory, we writers, aren't we?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Year in the Life

  A year ago today I moved house, leaving Pontypridd in Wales and heading to Barnstaple, in England. There were a number of reasons, not least that I was healthy again after my back operation - the first time I'd been OK for four years. I also wanted to find work, and thought I had no chance in Ponty. It's not exactly a hot bed for jobs.

  So here I am, and the calendar pages have turned the way they always do. Things haven't turned out quite as I'd hoped they might, in some ways. I'm working as a volunteer for Cancer Research UK, but I don't have a paid job yet; and I had a relapse of my back injury last autumn that landed me in physiotherapy for two months. Still, I am working, and at least my time at CRUK shows employers that I'm capable and reliable again (well, as much as I ever was, anyway).

  But my writing has begun to progress. I've published three novels since I moved, the Songs of Sorrow duology and now also TROY: A Brand of Fire, which opens a trilogy. Sales have been slow, to be honest, but the reviews have been very good indeed, much better than I'd even hoped for. Now I've made a few contacts in this new town, other things are now starting to happen as well. I'll be hosting a semi-formal meet-and-greet at Barnstaple Library on May 2nd, which will be covered by the local paper and at which I'll hopefully sell a few copies, and hand out some publicity cards. I'm also due to meet the manager of the local Waterstone's store, with a view to my books being sold there under a "Local Author" initiative. (Yes, my books would be in a proper bookshop!) I'll be speaking to people at other libraries too, and at Appledore Book Festival, to spread this effort a little wider if I can.

  And when you enter Ben Blake Author into Google, there's a raft of references to me in the first page, from Amazon and Smashwords to Facebook. That feels a little bit eerie in truth, as though the bloke on the search engines isn't the same as me - he might look the same, and talk the way I do, but gosh-darn it he's an imposter! That's not me. I'm just minding my beeswax while I write out another chapter of my latest - oh, yeah. Now it makes sense.

  It's a funny thing. Social media takes a lot of my time now, and publicity is shaping up to take a chunk more. It can be vexing sometimes but it's also necessary, and I meet fun people and we all have a chuckle, so it's not so bad... and yet I still sometimes nearly shriek with frustration because I'm updating a profile or tinkering with my website when I want to be writing. But of course the writing is still there, it still takes more time than the rest even if it doesn't always feel that way, and writing is the beating heart of everything I'm trying to do. Of everything I want to do, and what I want to be.

  Do I want to be rich? Famous, like the reality TV bone-heads who cram the airwaves? No, I want to write. Give me that and I stay sane. Give me that and my health, which is what I now have.... and Barnstaple is right where I want to be.