New Zealand here I come…erm…sometime…maybe

Most people who know me well are fully aware of my fixation with the land of the long white cloud. I’ve joked that my catchphrase should be ‘When I was in New Zealand’, although by now they’ve heard most of my stories, perhaps more than once. I incorporated some of my own experiences into my second novel, The Dream, and now I’m casting about desperately to think of a way that I can get back to NZ this year as it’s been eight years since my visit.Waiau River, Manapouri

It was my dad who first told me about New Zealand, as he had wanted to emigrate there with his friend in 1953 but had been rejected on the £10 scheme due to his asthma. His friend had still emigrated, and I always knew him as ‘Uncle John’ (and have dedicated The Dream to him). For some reason all my dad’s talk about the country really sank in with me, and I always wanted to go there, and even from my teens the part that interested me most was Westland in the South Island. Finally I took a huge leap in 2007 and left my job to take an extended trip, most of which I spent in the South Island.

By that time my dad had lost touch with his old best friend John and couldn’t remember his address. I was determined that when I got there I would track him down for my dad, who by then was in his late seventies and had started to show signs of what we hadn’t yet realized was a form of dementia. I had little to go on except that John lived in a place near the Wairau River in the general vicinity of Blenheim in the South Island. After hours of assiduous searching I’d worked out from a couple of other clues of my dad’s where I thought that might be on Google Earth, and when I finally got to Blenheim shortly after my arrival in the country I went to the library and looked up my uncle’s name on the electoral roll. Having found it easily I discovered that my online detective work had been correct: he did indeed live in the location I had picked out. He wasn’t, however, in the phone book.IMG_0707

I texted my parents in excitement and then set out for the address, which was well off the beaten track. Eventually I came to a literal track that petered out on one side and ended on the other at a gate marked ‘private’. The gate was firmly locked and seemed to have electrified wire across it (readers might notice I have used this in The Dream). I wasn’t even sure that I was in the right place as I clambered up the nearby levee and looked around the deserted landscape. I couldn’t see any house beyond the gate, and the place was silent apart from my frustrated sobs. I had so wanted this, both for my dad and for me, and now I was apparently stymied at the last hurdle. I wiped the tears off my cheeks and sent a text to my parents telling of this disappointment, but I couldn’t bear to just leave so I scoured through my bag for something to write on, and found a piece of scrap paper on which I scrawled who I was, and my phone number, and then I thrust this note into the lock of the gate, imagining that it would never be found anyway, and sloped off into the heat haze in my hire car.

To my surprise and delight, within a couple of hours I had a call on my mobile phone from Uncle John. He was just as keen to see me as I was to see him, and we met that evening for a meal. He drove me around the area that night and the following morning pointing out places of interest, and we never stopped talking! I went back to see him again later in my stay and it was one of those happy but rare experiences where you meet someone and just automatically get on well together, despite the age difference.IMG_1944

I’d love to see him, and of course New Zealand, again this winter. Whether I can find a way or not is still moot!

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Progress report

I haven’t been blogging very frequently lately, so maybe it’s time for a progress report at least.

I’ve just had the best sales yet on a Kindle Countdown Deal, with The Legacy selling over a hundred copies in total. I realize this doesn’t sound like I’m into the megabucks range – I’m a long way from that! – but compared with the way things were before I got back the rights to The Legacy and The Dream, it’s amazing. Back then I would get excited when I had a couple of sales in a month, so a hundred in seven days feels like pretty good going.Cover for The Legacy

Like most writers I want to make a living from doing what I love, and of course so far I am nowhere near that point, but there is improvement, albeit that at times it seems almost imperceptible.

I am currently working on two novels, both of which will have time travel elements. I enjoy writing ‘stranger in a strange land’ stories, where the main character has to put it all together herself (I haven’t yet braved writing from a male perspective!) and keep up appearances, so one of them is in that form. The other one is far more tricky but involves a dystopian near future and the 18th century. I’m still working out all the details with that one due to the complexity of the ideas so watch this space!

I also still have a children’s science fiction story work in progress that I hope to get finished at some point, and ideas for further novels occur far too often for me to keep up!

I’m going to carry on with self-publishing for now. I may submit work to agents at some point but although I would very much like my books to be in libraries and bookshops (as the versions of The Legacy and The Dream published by Snowbooks were, of course) and my paperbacks to sell better (available via CreateSpace) so far my experience of self-publishing has been good and enjoyable, and of course more lucrative, even though still a long way from enough to live on!

Turkey Day – or how a load of trussed-up turkeys voted for Christmas

I’ve tried to avoid politics on this blog, despite being intensely occupied with the state of my country, but today I can’t keep silent. Today I am ashamed to be British, and like many I’m casting about wondering where I might find an exit. The people of Britain have been thoroughly stitched-up, whether they are Scottish, English, Welsh, or from Northern Ireland. Mostly though, it is the English – and I am English – who are the turkeys here.

There are those on the left who are trying to introduce cheer by reminding us of 1992, and how we got through the next five years to end up with Tony Blair’s Pyrrhic victory in 1997. I well remember feeling much the same in 1992 as I do today. I recall telling someone off who had voted Tory and him being astonished that I was so passionate about it. To him it was not of much importance. To me it felt, as today, like the end of the world. Only I can’t be cheered by remembering that because this time it is worse. This time too many policies that can’t be easily reversed are bringing about a dramatic decline in the NHS, in the welfare state, and in the treatment of disabled and jobless people. Not to mention what TTIP, fracking, or scrapping the Human Rights Act will do. Back in 1992 the country still had plenty of heart. Today’s result suggests a lot of English voters have developed such cold hearts that I fear we will never warm them up again.

Although only twenty-four percent of the British population actually voted Conservative, another twelve percent voted for even more hardline and cruel right-wing UKIP. What happened to compassion? Has Mrs Thatcher’s famous phrase ‘there is no such thing as society’ finally taken root in the English consciousness?

We will all pay a price, and those who voted Tory, the turkeys, will not be exempt from the ensuing pain. No one will be able to escape the upcoming cuts. Britain will be a travesty of a country with poor services, police who don’t attend burglaries, a shortage of everything from doctors and nurses to paramedics and teachers, a threadbare so-called ‘safety net’ for people who fall on hard times, with all the time a gang of hecklers on the sidelines, jabbing their fingers at the unfortunate and telling them it’s their own fault.

But any of the turkeys who voted yesterday for the mother of all Christmases could get ill, could become disabled, could lose their jobs. Any of them. So when the turds hit your fan, turkeys, don’t bother gobbling, because it will be too late.

Happy Turkey Day. Gobble gobble.

If only you knew!

The main criticism of my début novel, The Legacy, has always been the ’cause of the events’, and I had a lukewarm review today which mentioned just that. The reviewer even said they believed it was an ‘afterthought’ and better left out.Cover for The Legacy

I decided to blog about this because I wanted to tell the reviewer, ‘If only you knew!’

No, it wasn’t an afterthought. At the time of writing The Legacy I’d never heard of a genre called ‘time travel romance’. I’d read Green Darkness by Anya Seton, and all of Barbara Erskine’s books, but I didn’t set out to write in the same genre; I set out to write science fiction. I’d always meant to write soft science fiction as it’s my favourite genre (Anne McCaffrey is my favourite author). It just didn’t work out that way. I seem to be writing a sort of magical fantasy right now, with all but one of my books and stories being time travel romances. I have no idea why that is, just as I’m unsure why family ideas keep recurring. It took me a while to notice my own themes!

The Legacy wasn’t written to a plan. I’m more likely to use a plan now than I was then. It just grew and changed as I wrote it. Many things in the final version are nothing like my original intentions. For one thing, I fell in love with my male protagonist, Walter, which is how he came to be the main male protagonist in the first place! His initial role was to be much smaller. Huge chunks of the book were written and later discarded, and indeed one part was discarded and then put back in again.

My science fiction soaked brain wanted a science fiction cause of the events, and that’s what I wrote. I’ve learned since that it isn’t necessary in time travel romance, and when I recently re-edited The Legacy after getting the rights back I gave a huge amount of consideration to taking it out, but it just wasn’t possible. The story ties up as written. To take out the cause would be like ripping the heart out of the book.

There’s so much more to The Legacy than the ’cause’. After all, I’ve read books in which a person gazes into a crystal ball and gets drawn into the past. I don’t believe crystal balls can do that, but I still enjoyed the books because the rest was fun and intriguing. I’ve used several different ’causes’ (or indeed not explained it much at all, which I’m not too keen on doing) for the time travel in my other stories, but, honestly, I still prefer the SF one!

A few weeks of cheer

I’m often unsure about my writing, and wonder whether it’s really worth carrying on. Between a lack of feedback, my own self-doubt, and a frequently low sales graph, it’s a struggle to keep typing.

I’m a writer because I love making up stories and putting them into words, and that’s not really something I plan to stop doing! Still, like all writers, I’m desperate to know if people enjoyed my books, and what they liked or didn’t like. For me at least, such feedback is rare, so that brings on the self-doubt again.

I haven’t been doing the free Kindle periods for a while, but as I had my latest short story, Once Upon a Midnight, ready just in time for Christmas, I decided to make it free over the Christmas period. There were 800 downloads, and afterwards there was a nice bump in the sales of the other books, which of course cheered me up.

As my publishers were kind enough to return the rights of The Legacy and The Dream to me and I’ve now self-published them, I decided to put The Legacy on a Kindle Countdown Deal for a week in both the UK and the US this month. This, too, has been a success – mostly in the UK – and as The Legacy is still my favourite of all my books I get a lot of pleasure out of imagining all those people reading about Walter and Fallady. I’ve also had a few new Amazon reviews, and sales of my other books and stories.

Maybe this is my cue to put my self-doubt on hold for a while!

Once Upon a Midnight now available

Here it is at last! Once Upon a Midnight is a Christmas ghost/time travel story with a little romance, a little humour, and one or two twists.

As a Christmas present to my readers I’m going to make it available free from Christmas Eve for five days. This is the only time it will be free.

I hope you enjoy it!

Link to the story on Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Once-Upon-Midnight-Jill-Rowan-ebook/dp/B00RB0ZV88

Link to the story on Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Midnight-Jill-Rowan-ebook/dp/B00RB0ZV88

 

Ancient language doth not work

I’ve just finished my novella/short story, Once Upon a Midnight, which has a section set in Elizabethan times. I wanted, as usual, to be as accurate as possible, and set about researching the exact speech of those times and inserting it into my manuscript. However, on reading it back, it looked ridiculous. ‘Thou art cold.’ ‘He hath no reason…’ ‘Thy disobedience…’ and so on. It was unbearably clunky and laboured, and to be honest it just looked as though the writer (me, of course) was simply trying to be clever. So, after all that effort, I took it back out! I realized that there are limits to historical accuracy. Further back than the 18th century the language becomes increasingly alien. I researched 18th century literature for The Legacy and even that was sometimes hard going!

Look out for Once Upon a Midnight, coming soon to an Amazon near you!

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