Monday, April 18, 2016

Those Jeffries Boys - preamble, blurb, excerpt

Cover Design by
Decorous Anarchy Studios
I'm writing! Woot! And as 'The End' of the novel is tantalisingly nigh, I decided it was about time for an excerpt from Those Jeffries Boys - the next instalment of Hiding Behind The Couch.

Those Jeffries Boys is a 'character special', and it follows chronologically from Two By Two (Season Six), but as always, I'm trying to write in enough back story for the novel to stand alone (as far as is possible with a series), whilst at the same time not including so much back story as to set existing readers' eyes rolling.


Who are Those Jeffries Boys?

Readers of HBTC will already know Andy and Dan Jeffries very well. Tall, dark and handsome (of course), they're the younger two of three brothers. Prior to Season Six, their older brother Mike only appears occasionally - usually not on page, and rarely in a good light, because, as his brothers would tell you, he is a knob.

A what?

OK, so here's the deal.

I write 'British' stories with 'British' characters (or 'painfully British', as a recent reviewer put it). Let me clarify this - again. I am English. That's different to British, and, in fact, most of what is touted as 'Britishness' makes me feel ashamed of the cultural heritage you wrongly attempt to impose, so if you're trying to cause offence, keep on calling me 'British'. I guarantee it's far more painful to me than the presence of radio plays and other cultural artefacts in my writing appear to be to some readers. If you want to show some respect for my identity, then get it right. I'm English. Specifically, Northern English. Does that matter? By heck, it does.
Fish and Chips by George Hodan

That said, I do write about characters from other parts of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and no, thank you, I don't wish to get into a debate about the (un)happiness of that union. (See previous concerns regarding 'Britishness'.)

The Jeffries brothers are Northern English, too, hence, Mike is...a knob. See 'UK - offensive' on this page if you don't know what that means: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/knob

Now, the thing is, one might read the story of these three men and see elements of that 'Britishness' I maligned above and think I've been and gone and contradicted myself. No doubt at times, Mike, Andy and Dan portray aspects of our culture that I utterly despise (well, perhaps, not Andy...). They are, when all is said and done, white, English, upper-working-class, heterosexual men who enjoy a game of footy and a pint with the lads. They're materialistic and not the kind to take offence at being (wrongly) referred to as British. They may even be proud of it. They may also, at times, say or do things that would be considered -ist (sexist being the most notable), and it would be unrealistic for me to write them in any other way.

English Soccer by Dawn Hudson
But they're all right, really. Nice lads, you might say.

Any road...

That's enough preamble.

Blurb:

Three brothers: doting dads, dealing with the everyday challenges of fatherhood.

Following the imprisonment of his ex-girlfriend, Mike Jeffries has one priority: his six-month-old daughter, Bethan. Between caring for her and being a self-employed painter and decorator, he's already got enough on his plate, without his sisters-in-law insisting he's ready to date again. Now Bethan's grandmother intends to fight him for custody, and Mike's not sure he can rise to it.

Always up for an adventure, Andy Jeffries has finally found the perfect challenge: keeping the woman he loves satisfied and raising their twin daughters, Rosie and Sorsha. The problem is everyone else thinks he needs more, and dealing with his brothers' trials and tribulations means he's getting it, whether he wants it or not.

Dan Jeffries is about to become a father for the second time, and he's terrified, not that he's the kind of man to admit it. But after the premature birth of his daughter, Shu, he's taking no chances until his son is safely delivered into this world, which means putting a hold on his hunt for the perfect family home. However, the house he wants comes with a very big price tag, and not of the monetary kind.

Those Jeffries Boys is a novel-length character special. Part of Hiding Behind The Couch series.

Excerpt(s):

Bethan was three days old when Rachel walked out on them, and Mike had panicked. He could barely look after himself, never mind a newborn baby. He'd focused on what he could do - get them both away from the flat, to somewhere safe - but he'd caused so much trouble that Len - his mum's fourth husband - had threatened to do him over if he came anywhere near them again. In desperation, he'd turned up on his brother's doorstep - not Dan's, but Andy's. He'd begged for asylum, and Andy had granted it without question.

Even now, Mike was amazed - and profoundly grateful - that Andy had taken them in. They'd never got on. Back when they were kids, their mum used to say 'two's company, three's a crowd' to explain why one of them was always left out, and the one that was left out was usually Mike. But then, there was only a year between Andy and Dan; they were more than brothers, they were friends, whereas Mike was just the loser who couldn't keep a job or a relationship. He might've been the eldest, but it didn't guarantee their respect, because respect was earned. He knew that now. And he'd done nothing to earn theirs.

*

With Rosie on one hip and Sorsha lying on the changing mat and kicking her legs in the air, Andy attempted to keep his phone gripped between his chin and shoulder. Nappyless Sorsha gurgled and started to pee. Andy grabbed a wad of tissues to soak it up. His phone slipped and fell with a thunk and a splash, right into the puddle.

"Crap," he said, hoping his cursing wasn't a prediction of what was coming next. He retrieved his phone and set it to one side. "Dropped my phone," he said loudly by way of explaining to Shaunna on the other end of the line. "Give me a sec."

Andy grabbed a cushion off the couch, put it on the floor next to the changing mat and laid Rosie on it. Both sisters turned to look at each other and made cooing noises. Andy sighed contentedly - being a real dad had well and truly done for his pretentions of wanting to be free and independent forever - and gave his phone a quick once-over with a baby wipe. He put it to his ear again and felt a dribble run down his cheek. Could be pee, could be baby-wipe juice, he didn't care.

*

If Dan had one great regret, it was letting Tom go through with the wedding, because he'd honestly thought Adele would back out of it before the big day. As was to be expected, Adele's dad had paid for everything, and she'd handed over the planning to Eleanor, so Dan had successfully avoided contact with Adele for months. But as the day drew closer, their paths had crossed more and more frequently, and there was still such animosity between them that Adele had suggested they go out for dinner together, or whatever would give them an opportunity to escape everyone else for an evening so they could clear the air. The result of that evening was sitting in the back seat.

It was all in the past, and they were happy. They had a healthy almost-four-year-old daughter; in four days' time, they'd have a son, and it sounded as if Tom was finally moving on, too. But for all of that, Dan wished he'd stopped the wedding. If he had, then Adele might just have considered marrying him.

***

Those Jeffries Boys will be out at some point this year. I'll keep you posted!

Thanks for reading.
Deb x

N.B. This post is intentionally brought to you in Northern English dialect. Why? Horses for courses, and all that. Be assured, however, that as a first-class social science graduate with a sound command of the English language, I can also write in Standard English, should the occasion suit.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hiding Behind The Couch series - some stuff you might like to know

A while back, Hans Hirschi sent me a set of questions about my ongoing series, Hiding Behind The Couch. He used snippets from it in his review of A Midnight Clear, but, of course, I write long. I thought I’d share the rest of my responses, as they offer insight into where the series came from, my favourite character(s), the best order to read, and so on.
So, without further ado…

What is Hiding Behind The Couch?
Hiding Behind The Couch is the ongoing story of nine friends from high school/university and the important people in their lives. The stories are about life, so there’s love and romance, births, deaths, marriages, murder, industrial espionage, accidents, affairs, successes, failures – it’s a fictional micro-social study, and it’s inclusive. People are people, and I don’t distinguish by superficial differences, but to clarify, there are LGBTQ and heterosexual characters, as well as characters from some of the different ethnic groups that make up the rich culture of the UK.

Why did you write Hiding Behind The Couch?
Why I started writing it? Therapy.
November 2007: I was a month into a period of depression that lasted six months in all. I hadn’t written anything since finishing Champagne in 2002 (which was not the reason for my depression – depression doesn’t need a reason), and I was beginning to think it was the only book I had in me. Then I saw a blog post about NaNoWriMo, and I decided to have a go – nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But what to write? I had no idea. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want any of the characters to be based on real people in any way, shape or form. So, I just started writing and decided to see where it took me.
It began with Josh’s dream…a recurring dream…he was recounting it to a friend (Eleanor) at another friend’s (Adele’s) wedding. Dan was best man; Andy was in hospital following a near-fatal car crash, Shaunna and Kris were smooching at the table in front, Jess was mocking the bride, George arrived late… Nine characters? Utter madness.
But I wasn’t planning to publish it. I just needed to write.
108k later… I realised something. What I’d actually needed was a therapist, but us social scientists are a cynical bunch, so I was loathe to talk to one. I did see a psychologist back in 2007, who referred me to the women’s refuge (WTF?). How utterly pointless. I’ve seen one since (in early 2015, about my weight) who dismissed my critical appraisal of CBT which is based on teaching undergraduate psychology for 15 years as ‘she is resistant to cognitive therapies because she’s writing a novel about a psychologist’.
So if you ever wonder why Josh and Sean are a pair of arrogant, cynical buggers, it goes with the territory. Maybe it’s part of the job spec for psychologist: must be a condescending git. ;)
Ultimately, I wrote my own psychologist, but –
This is the bit where either you’ll decide I am completely insane, or…well…
Here’s the thing. In between writing HBTC #2 and #3, I wrote a short science fiction novel called And The Walls Came Tumbling Down. I say it’s science fiction; it’s posited in superstring theory, or my understanding of it, but I’m a social scientist, not a theoretical physicist.
So I suppose And The Walls... is theoretical contemporary fiction. The story is about a young man whose dead-beat existence gets turned upside down by a chance meeting with an anthropologist from another dimension. It needs a good edit, which I’ll get around to doing one of these days, but the indie-published edition is still online.
In the process of researching for And The Walls..., it dawned on me that potentially, these worlds we authors ‘create’ are not actually creations at all, but inter-dimensional incursions. Now, as I say, I’m not a scholar of whichever kind of science this is – quantum mechanics? Theoretical physics?  – but this is my interpretation/understanding.
Within superstring theory (the 10-dimensional version), the first 4 dimensions are our understanding of space-time; the 5th dimension is a world that is slightly different to ours; the 6th dimension is a plane of worlds that have the same starting point as ours – I’ll leave it there, because it’s the 5th dimension that is relevant here (this page offers a good layperson’s explanation: http://www.universetoday.com/48619/a-universe-of-10-dimensions/).
We can’t readily perceive beyond three dimensions – we struggle to comprehend the 4th (time) in anything but linear form, and our limited 3D perception effectively renders the other dimensions invisible (see Carl Sagan’s explanation of Flatland for how this works  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0WjV6MmCyM).
As I say, we can’t readily perceive those other dimensions, but there are theoretical models that support the idea that at least some of the experiences purported to be ‘ghost sightings’ or ‘channelling spirit’ may be moments of inter-dimensional perception: surplus gravity (potential evidence for a multiverse), ‘ghost’ sightings and other supernatural occurrences are theorised to be the consequence of an inter-dimensional incursion – a momentary connection between the fifth dimension and ours.
Those experiences are not dissimilar to the way in which many authors produce stories. It certainly describes my experience of writing Hiding Behind The Couch. I know the characters like I know people in the world around me. They have distinct personalities, preferences, daily routines. I have no control over the events in their lives.
At any given time, I can ‘tune in’ to their realm. I can tell you, for instance, that as I write…
  • Josh has just decided to have another cup of coffee – even for him, it’s too early to leave for work.
  • Sean is ready for work, sitting on his sofa, drinking tea and watching news on TV and talking to himself in low-level amusement/horror at world events.
  • George is already at the farm, and it’s raining. He’s taking his time, opening the animals’ stalls and giving them their morning feed.
  • Shaunna is sitting at her kitchen table, mug of tea in one hand, phone in the other, while she scrolls through her Facebook feed and slowly comes around to the day.
  • Andy is…
I’ll stop there, because of spoilers (and I could go on and on), but I’m sure you get the gist.

How many books and words (approx) are there now?
Approximately? LOL.
To be honest, if you’d asked me the same question this time last year, I would have had to take a wild guess, but with readers’ preferences shifting towards shorter stories, plus the few requests I’ve had about reading/writing order, I put the info into a spreadsheet.
To date, the series consists of 21 stories, of which:
  • 5 are works in progress
  • 7 are ‘seasons’ - think TV series with seasons consisting of run-on episodes, plus seasonal specials / character specials
  • 4 are stand-alone novels focusing on specific characters (e.g. Ruminations is Josh and Sean, Crying in the Rain is Ade and Kris)
  • 6 are novellas
  • 1 is Deb self-indulgence and irrelevant (when I crossed from our dimension into theirs)
Word count (including WIP): 1,447,820
At the end of this post, I’ve included the full list of stories, listed in both the order they were written, and in chronological order. They can be read in either of those and remain spoiler-free.

Who urged you to turn HBTC into a series, and why?
Andrea, my very good friend and editor, although she was neither of those things when she ‘urged’ me to turn HBTC into a series. Originally, we met through what was then my main job: teaching in a high school sixth-form college; Andrea was one of my students, and she’s always been an avid reader. She’d left sixth form before I started writing again, so at that stage I’d only written Champagne. She read the original edition and (thankfully) can’t remember it. First novels, man…they should be consigned to some kind of reverent cemetery of fiction, where we can leave flowers and appreciate their contribution to the world without actually looking inside the casket.
Andrea read HBTC #1 after she’d graduated uni, and I wasn’t going to publish it, or HBTC #2, but she persuaded me to publish HBTC #1, and then she read HBTC #2. Her review ended with:
All I can hope is for the possibility that Debbie McGowan might like to make this into a trilogy, or even a series that I can keep indulging in for either the rest of my own or the characters' lives!!
And I thought…I can do a trilogy. I had NO intention of going beyond that. I wrote HBTC #3, called it a day. My depression returned. The characters wouldn’t leave me be.
That was the point when the series became ongoing. Until then, I’d tried to ignore the constant bombardment of my mind with stories and events – a lot of the time, it’s only interludes, moments in the characters’ lives. My job seems to be to put it all in the right order and find an overarching plot to link it together.

Will you ever stop writing for that series?
I don’t know. I don’t plan to, but I have no conscious control over it.

Your favourite character? (I had to ask)
Hm. My favourite character changes all the time, depending on whose story I’m telling.
For the most part, it’s Sean, because he’s a bit broken but functional. He’s got ‘the Irish charm’, he’s intelligent, compassionate and imperfect. I always adore George. He’s one of the genuine nice guys – such a big heart.  Josh… Sometimes I could strangle him. He’s a pain in the arse, but I try to be patient, because George is a good role model. ;)
Jess – she’s difficult to describe. I don’t dislike her, but she’s never been a favourite. She’s not the kind of person I’m drawn to – too driven and ambitious, and a bit ruthless with it. Dan and Adele, I’m kind of ambivalent about, too; they’re very materialistic and all about the ‘body beautiful’. Eleanor – I forget about her a lot of the time, because she puts herself on the outside of the group.
I’m very fond of Shaunna. She’s sensual, fun, independent, funny. I love her optimism and strength. Kris, I like, but our similar life experiences seem to divide us (that, along with the many ideas my husband has for how Kris meets an untimely end – very entertaining, I might yet publish them as a collection!). Ade is fun. I’m slowly getting to know him better.
Andy…I have a king–sized crush on, which is surely definitive evidence that I am in fact quite, quite mad. ;)

The series, in writing order:
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Beginnings (prequel 1)
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Crying in the Rain
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Chain of Secrets
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)
The series, in chronological order:
Beginnings (prequel 1)
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Crying in the Rain
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
Chain of Secrets
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)

For more about the series, including links to buy/download*, visit:
*Season One is available for free on my website.
Beginnings and Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium are also both free on all platforms.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

F*** you and your one star

If I didn't run a publishing company, and if I wasn't an author, today would be the day I'd leave GR. It's not that I've been naïve until now about how many spiteful, full-of-their-own-self-importance trolls reside there. Nor have I ever thought GR could or should do something about it. Freedom of speech and all that...

But actually, no.

Freedom of speech is not a licence to verbally bully others, particularly when those others are banned from defending themselves.

Freedom of speech is the right to speak up for your beliefs, to be free to say whatever you want to say, but the freedom of one should not come at the cost of another.

And herein lies the problem with GR (or any other site that allows posting of reviews, for that matter).

Readers can say what they like about books. They can justify reviews that are attacks on the author by claiming they are offended by the author's views, as expressed in that one particular book.

Authors have NO freedom of speech. We can't defend ourselves against negative reviews. We can't explain misunderstandings. We're not supposed to thank readers who leave positive reviews, or even thank readers at all, simply for taking the time to read and review our books.

I suppose one could argue that our freedom as authors resides in that we can write those books in the first place.

It's a system that pits people against each other, by discouraging interaction. So, let's say I write something that offends some people. They give it one star, rant about what an ignorant, privileged bitch I am, while I sit back, taking the blows.

What I want to do is ask questions.

Why? How did I hurt you?

I want the right to reply, to say sorry perhaps, to know how I can make sure I never do it again.

Because, you see, I'm an intelligent, sensitive person, who strives never to cause offence, to treat all people equally and with due respect. if I incite your hatred, and you want me to learn from this, then educate me.

All of this? It's not because I offended someone and they wrote a scathing review, and it has nothing to do with reviews of anyone else's books, either.

It's because someone gave me one star. No review. Just one measly star on one story.

So here's the deal: if you, as a reader, like my stories, read them. If you want to tell me you read and like my stories, I'd be delighted to hear from you. I do get the occasional message from a reader, and it's worth a thousand publicly posted five-star ratings just to know that somebody, somewhere, was moved enough by my work that they took the time to tell me.

But if you don't like my stories, then don't read them. I obviously didn't write them for you.

My next book will only be published on my website, and I'd like very much for it to not be listed on GR. In fact, I'm going to try to find a way of publishing it that makes it NOT a book so it has no place on GR or anywhere else. Because all I want to do is write stories and share them with people who want to read them.

And if you don't want to read them, then take your one star and, well, I think you can probably figure it out for yourself.

Thanks for reading (I really do mean it...most of the time),

Deb x

Monday, March 14, 2016

Every word is sacred

One surefire shortcut to understanding the poverty of language is to become a writer or an editor. Better still, become an editor of people who write in your native language even though it is not their first language, because no matter how gifted the linguist, they will, sooner or later, come up short.

This particular issue recently arose when I was editing a story by an author whose grasp of English is superior to some of the students I have had the dubious pleasure of teaching during the past seventeen years, and I'm not necessarily referring to those for whom, like this author, English is a second or additional language.

Fluency is not the same as competence, not even for a native English speaker, and competence is sorely overrated. I consider myself very competent in both my understanding and use of English. I would even go as far as to say I have a gift with words, inasmuch as I'm able to successfully bend them to my will, and in so doing create stories narrated in the character's voice, rather than my own, whether that character is a working-class engineer (Sol in Checking Him Out) or a middle-class, stay-at-home mother (Shaunna in Hiding Behind The Couch). I love language. It is my hobby, my livelihood, my obsession, and I never stop learning. Language evolves, and so, too, must we who depend on it in order to be understood, or, indeed, to entertain. Right now I'd settle simply for being understood.

To return to the issue I mentioned previously, it was due to a misinterpretation of what was said and the underlying intention of what was said, and it's no surprise. Language is mediated by many factors: the mode of communication, the presence or absence of non-verbal cues, the demographic uniqueness of those involved in the transaction, a common vocabulary, and so on, all serve to help or hinder understanding. Add in to the mix that on this occasion, one of us was a native English speaker and the other was not, one has to wonder how we ever manage to communicate at all.

In part, it's because translation is far more than swapping one word for its equivalent other. Nor is this problem restricted to translation between two entirely different languages. I work with quite a few authors from the US, whereas I'm from UK (England, specifically), and there are significant differences between the two versions of English, in both their 'standard' form, and in the regional variations. For instance, I often use the word 'graft' in my stories, taking either the formal UK English meaning of 'to add something new' or the informal meaning 'to work hard'. Thus, in UK English, a tough job might be described as 'hard graft', yet in US English, 'graft' is 'the act of getting money dishonestly'.

Suffice to say, if I write in a story 'he was grafting away', it's going to be subject to very different interpretations, and that one word has the potential to ruin the reader's understanding and enjoyment of the story. Likewise, at the heart of the miscommunication between the aforementioned author and me, as their editor, was one word in a 60,000-word novel. The word was not contentious, or offensive, or difficult to understand, but by virtue of what it was, it drew attention to itself. I've recently been through exactly the same experience with one of my own stories - Chain of Secrets.

I was fortunate enough to have two very accomplished proofreaders who had not read the Hiding Behind The Couch series, of which this story is a part, although I'd asked them to read the story to ensure it worked as a stand-alone. What I didn't anticipate was running the gauntlet with them over a single word.

Anyone who's read any of the series knows the character George, and they also know that George is gay. It's part of the storyline in both the prequel and book one, so really, there is no way of reading any of the series without knowing it. But what about people who haven't read any of it?

The scene in question takes place at the end of the characters' last day of primary school (age 10-11):

"Bye, Josh!" Shaunna called, as he and George passed by. Josh smiled quickly and kept his head down. George started giggling.
"Shush," Josh whispered.
"Why? Do you fancy Shaunna?"
"No."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes! Why did you nudge me at lunchtime?"
"Did I?"
"When she said she hated Dan."
"Oh, yeah. Because Dan won't let her play footy."
"Because she's a girl?"
"Yep. She's amazing at football."
"Amazing," Josh repeated. "Are you sure you don't fancy her?" Now both of them were giggling. "Plus, Dan is Adele's boyfriend," Josh added.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Why Shaunna hates him, I mean."
"Oh. So, like, she's jealous?"
"I don't know." Josh glanced sideways at George, and watched him for a while. He was frowning, deep in thought. "You like him?"
"Dan?" George asked. Josh nodded. "We're not even friends, really."
They continued to walk, both in thoughtful silence, until they reached the road where Josh lived. George paused at Josh's gate. He was still frowning.
"What's the matter?" Josh asked.
"Just thinking. I don't think I'm ever going to have a boyfriend. It's too complicated."

So what happened? Both proofreaders stated in their margin notes next to the last line: 'should be girlfriend'. Note, they didn't ask or suggest - they were confident they were right, because George is a boy, and they assumed, not that George is straight, but that readers will assume he is straight.

My dilemma: should I leave it as it is without explanation, which then draws attention to what could, potentially, be judged an error? Or do I add in something earlier to make it clear that George is gay?

It is a fault of the reader if they assume George's heterosexuality, and if this one word draws attention to their own, more than likely inadvertent, heterosexism, then my work here is done.

The word 'boyfriend' stayed, and without qualification or apology. I know the risk I'm taking as an author, and it is mine to take. It is more important to me to take a stand against heterosexism than it is to keep a (heterosexist) reader rapt in my story.

However, it is NOT my risk to take as an editor, and whilst I know that raising an issue like this with an author is likely to cause uproar (because that is how I reacted in the same situation), I have to.

Throw in that language difference, and one can easily see how the minor outrage caused by being called to question can multiply exponentially when I say 'this is not what readers are expecting and it therefore draws attention to itself' and the author hears 'this will offend readers'.

In writing and editing, every word matters. If one word is chosen over another, or a sentence is phrased in a particular way, we direct the reader's expectations, which is why it's so important for us authors to work with an editor who knows what they're doing, and who is natively fluent in the language in which we are writing.

If we trust our editors and proofreaders, then we can at least take solace in the fact that when they point these things out to us, they don't do it to piss us off, even if that's the unintended consequence. Editors steer us clear of road blocks and make sure we don't veer off into a canyon while we drive blinded by the wonder of our words.

A good editor is an author's best friend and worst enemy rolled into one. Our work is their work, and they have our best interests at heart - if they don't, then it's time to get a new editor.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

When Skies Have Fallen - Lammy Finalist!

Typically, I was out of the house when the email came with a link to the announcement of the 28th Lambda Literary Award Finalists.

 I am delighted and a tiny bit gobsmacked that my novel, When Skies Have Fallen, is a finalist in the Gay Romance category.

Congratulations to all! And thank you to the Don't Read in the Closet team - this book was made possible because of you.

Beyond that, I'm speechless, so I'm going to post an excerpt and leave it at that!

(p.s. the ebook is free - paperback also available: Purchase/Download Links on Beaten Track)

* * * * *

“Good evening to you, Corporal.”
His voice, a slow, deep rumble, startled Arty from his remembering. His breath caught in his throat as he fought to reply. “A good evening to you also, Sergeant…Johnson, isn’t it?”
“Sure is.” The man held out his hand for Arty to shake. “Technical Sergeant Jim Johnson, at your service.”
Arty reciprocated: “Corporal Robert Clarke.” The palm against his was big, rough and cool to the touch.
“Robert, Bobby, or Bob?”
“None, actually. Arty is what they call me, on account of my initials. My middle name is Thomas.”
“Arty,” the American airman repeated with a wide smile displaying straight, white teeth that made Arty hide his own behind tight lips. “Great name, Arty. Has a good ring to it. They call me Jimmy, but I prefer Jim myself. You’ll be wooing us again this evening, I take it?”
“Wooing?” Arty’s vocabulary had abandoned him, along with his propensity to take in air.
“You and Sergeant McDowell.”
“Oh, yes. The waltz.” What an absolute fool he must seem.
“Looking forward to it,” Jim said. The smile remained in place, as did the firm yet gentle grip of his cool fingers on Arty’s own. “Well,” he drawled, bringing the other hand up to sandwich Arty’s, momentarily increasing the pressure and then releasing, “let’s talk later.” He looked Arty in the eye, capturing him with a piercing blue gaze.
Jim departed, and Arty quickly turned away, fearful that someone had seen their exchange. It was, to all purposes, an innocent introduction, but the look Jim had given him offered much more than words. Arty’s heart was thumping hard and he was panting like a dog on a hot day. He closed his mouth and drew air through his nose, slowly, deeply.

Love is the soul’s respiration.

When you love, your soul breathes in. If you don’t breathe in, you suffocate.

“Are you feeling unwell, Arty?” Jean asked.
“No, no. I’m quite well.” He attempted a smile of reassurance.
She pursed her lips, her finely pencilled brows arched high. “We are to commence the dancing in five minutes,” she said.
“I’ll go and get, er, a…a drink.” Arty nodded to confirm that’s what he’d do. “Yes. A drink. Would you like…” He stopped and took another deep breath, releasing it slowly. “Oh, Jean.”
“Get your drink. You can tell me while we dance.”
Arty nodded again and did as she suggested, blinkering his vision against Jim and his friends standing together at the end of the bar.
“Arty,” Charlie greeted him with a clap on the back and a cheery smile. “Here.” He handed him a pint of beer. “I thought you were on your way over, until I saw you talking with Sergeant Johnson.”
“Ah, yes. He was…wishing Jean and me luck.”
“Luck?” Charlie laughed too loudly. “That was decent of him.”
There was a gleam in Charlie’s eye that betrayed his true feelings, and whilst Arty wanted to placate his friend, he was relieved to sense envy coming from Charlie, rather than suspicion. But could he be certain Jim wasn’t interested in Jean? That was the problem: how did one communicate about such dangerous matters?
Keep mum, she’s not so dumb.
Arty glanced over to where the poster hung on the wall of the mess hall; it was a mildly amusing premise, that the one person apart from his sister he had confided in looked like the attractive woman in the poster cautioning against careless talk. An RAF mess hall was a place where it felt safe to speak with a little more candour. Yet for almost all of these people, and he estimated there were eighty or more present, there was only one enemy. Tonight men and women would dance together, perhaps drink a little too much, share a moment of affection, a kiss, even. Where usually this state of affairs did little more than sadden Arty, he was feeling something far more powerful than sadness this evening. They did not face imprisonment simply for following their heart, so why should he?

* * * * *

http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/news/03/08/28th-annual-lambda-literary-award-finalists-announced/

Monday, March 07, 2016

No Place Like It #amreading #amwriting #amediting

So, I'm home, I've had some sleep, and damn, it was good! I hadn't slept properly for at least a week (probably months), and my brain, not entirely convinced it was exhausted, had to give it one last hurrah at bedtime. I snuggled under the duvet, light off, Kindle in hand - I managed to read about four lines before I somehow fumbled my Kindle onto the bedside table and zzzz.

Seven hours later...

It's a glorious spring morning in North-West England. Blue sky, leaf buds, a crisp frost glistening in the pale yet radiant sun.

My mission for today: to keep my thoughts clutter-free.

See, I've been having some problems with that. Since Christmas, I've been writing on various instalments of Hiding Behind The Couch, alongside my other work of teaching social science, editing and publishing. There's nothing new there; I operate in a state of constant mental activity, bordering on hypomanic, and I'm happy that way. If I ever watch TV or movies, they need to have some intellectual substance (and be well written/produced/directed/enacted) to fully hold my attention.

In my normal mode of operation, I can write several different stories in parallel, grade essays for two different undergraduate courses, and work on at least half a dozen publishing projects without ever dropping the mental ball. Like a spider's web (visual similes are my thing), I can see all the threads, both as separate strands with distinct end points, and the intricate connections between.

If you've met Josh - the main(ish) character from the Hiding Behind The Couch series, you may already have noted that he and I share a few traits in this respect.

...always watching, listening, putting it all together, like there’s a constant stream of thought running through his mind, picking up the shingle of theories and evidence, sifting it, depositing what he doesn’t need and forging on...

Josh does it all to a greater extreme, of course. To avoid spoilers for anyone new to reading the series, I'll just say that for the most part, Josh's thoughts are highly organised, governed by logic and mediated by intelligence, but there are times when they're a scrambled mess. He can't separate the intellectual from the emotional; he struggles to reach the end of one thought process without veering off into another. It is overwhelming, impossible.

That's what I've been experiencing, I realised, this morning, after a week away from my normal environment, followed by a good night's sleep.

It was something of a revelation, which seems daft to say. I knew at Christmas I'd burnt out, and I took some steps to address it. However, the world keeps spinning regardless of our cries of 'Stop! I want to get off!'

I owe huge thanks to Hans Hirschi and my mother-in-law, for hitting the pause button on my behalf.

Confession time: I love being at home, and given the choice I'd probably never go anywhere, or so I thought until this past week. That's not the confession, by the way. Anyone who knows me is aware of my hermit-like ways. What I'm now prepared to admit is that going away for a while can be (and has been on this occasion) precisely what I need in order to reboot my brain.

Bless Hans - I was so far behind with work that I was still editing his upcoming release, Jonathan's Promise, while I was his guest in Gothenburg last week, and he kept saying, "I didn't invite you here to work." But the thing is, even though I was working, it was without the rest of the mental noise, the constant interference of other thoughts, reminders of things I must not forget, fretful realisations that I would have to forego sleep, or writing, or some other necessity, like visiting family, in order to hit deadlines.

So yes, I did work while I was in Gothenburg, but not all the time. In fact, last Wednesday, Hans and I spent at least as much time chatting as we did working, and it was jolly good fun! We really do interact in a continued state of 'agree to disagree', because we're both strong-minded and hold firm opinions on a lot of social/political points. We do actually agree on quite a few things, but there's little conversation to be had once Person A says 'I think such-and-such' and Person B says 'I agree absolutely'.

Hans is fluent in I-have-no-idea-how-many languages, and I am constantly in awe of his linguistic abilities. Listening to him switch between Swedish, English and Alemannic(?) (his son does it, too) was both fascinating and humbling. I'm something of a dunce when it comes to learning other languages, although I love (obsess, study) accents and dialects, and even when conversations around me are in a language or dialect I don't understand, I am enthralled by the sounds and rhythms. I'm intrigued by their origins, their development, and I love incorporating dialect into my writing, although there's a skill to doing it well and not losing readers with too many contractions and dropped letters.

English language and culture is perhaps the only real bone of contention I have with Hans, and I'm pretty sure much of the time he only harps on because he knows it winds me up. Hans doesn't seem to think much of England, which I can understand up to a point. It's difficult for us English folk to hold on to any sense of pride and love for our country without being branded a nationalist, blind to the violent imperial history of 'Great Britain'. It's why many of us choose to identify as 'English' rather than 'British', although, historically, we don't do much better in that regard (consider the demise of 'Kernow', for instance).

Last year, when Hans reviewed my novel, Taking Him On, he had this to say: "...the love with which she describes her English motherland, the culture, the food, the people, even a stinking, old pub, is permeated with so much love."

It's a lovely, albeit back-handed, compliment, and his views are shared by many. English food is bland and greasy; the English climate is wet and rainy; English conversation consists of talking about the weather (therefore rain?)... I'll come back to this in a moment.

Anyway, I had a great time in Sweden, not least because it was a much-needed break. Hans makes delicious fondue (I was not the only one delighted by this welcoming family dinner), he's intelligent company, and he's an incredible tour guide. Visiting Sweden had been on my list of things to do since my adolescence, when the Lerum School of Music came to Southport on the first leg of an exchange trip that sadly didn't get as far as the second leg.

Indeed, my fascination with Sweden is what led to the inclusion of a Swedish character in Hiding Behind The Couch (Kris Johansson), which ultimately is why Hans and I connected in the first place. My trip to Sweden (which included a flying visit to Lerum) was enriching, therapeutic, educational - plus I made a friend in Albin the cat! I also gave silent thanks many times over that the Swedes are bloody brilliant at speaking English, or there would have been no coffee at Göteborg airport for me!

From Sweden to home briefly, and then to Norfolk, for my mother-in-law's eightieth birthday. I was once again immersed in the culture I love and know. This is the home county of Taking Him On (mentioned above - part of my other series - Checking Him Out). Norfolk is the northern county on the East Anglian peninsula (the bump on the right side of England), and it's fairly flat terrain, with lots of farmland.

© Adrian Cable - Creative Commons Licence
http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4405382
We stayed in The Swan, Harleston - an inn with a history extending back almost as far as Henry VIII, and with floors and staircases that offer excellent insight into what it's like to live with vertigo! I got up in the night to use the bathroom and wondered if I'd been drunker than I'd thought, but no. There was easily a ten-degree incline in the floor of our room. The Swan Inn is a stunning building, with thick oak beams and ancient gable ends cutting through (modern) walls. The staff are friendly, the breakfast was awesome, the company - my in-laws - was out of this world.

Real ale, a traditional English roast beef dinner, and it did rain, typically, when I'm trying to make an entirely different point, but still... On the way home, I pondered over the potential utility of old windmills with their derelict sails, and revelled in the changes in light, the weather and the fauna, as we ventured further north-west, back home to West Lancashire. I do love England, I'm not ashamed to say. It is a beautiful country with a rich history, so many different cultures, dialects, regional food and drink - how can anyone claim English food is bland when we invented Marmite? ;)

In conclusion, I'm glad to be home. There really is no place like it. But I'm also glad I went away for a few days. My thoughts had become like the spider's web we accidentally walk through, unanchored and dishevelled. Now I'm ready to spin anew.





Saturday, February 13, 2016

Love Unlocked - Chain of Secrets - Video Blog - Giveaway

A video blog in which I talk about Love Unlocked, Chain of Secrets and The Love Hearts Game!




GIVEAWAY!

To win an ebook of Love Unlocked, post a comment with your answer to the following question:

How old were Josh and George when they first met?
a) seven
b) eight
c) ten
d) eleven


Available February 14th, 2016...