Thursday, 28 July 2011


I wrote this morning about how I became interested in transitions following my move from London to the English Midlands when I was almost nine years of age. (Don't worry, I didn't go on my own; I went with my family.)

This story captures the sense of transition I felt at the time.


The fields were piled with snow. The narrow trees stood stark against the sky; hideous witches whispering dreadful spells. David hated living in the country and longed to be back in the familiarLondonstreets. Yet he was drawn to tramp out here to watch the boundless landscape and shudder.

He pulled his coat closer. The light was failing and the trees looked more threatening by the minute. He decided it was time to go home.

He turned. Three boys were silently watching him. One was large and thick-set. The second was tall and wore a woollen hat. The third was much smaller than the others. Even under his coat he looked thin and cold. They stood unmoving for almost a minute and then the largest boy slouched towards him. 'What you looking at?' he asked.

'Nothing,' David answered.

The boy eyed him narrowly. 'You're the new kid aren't you? The one fromLondon?'

David nodded.

'I expect you want to be in my gang,' the boy said.

David thought for a moment, wondering how best to answer. 'Okay,' he said.

'Not so fast,' said the boy. 'You have to pass a test first. Come on.'

He led the way towards a line of trees and plunged beneath an overhanging bough. They came out onto a rough green above a noisy, splashing stream. The banks leading down to the water were steep and high; more than twice the height of David.

'That's our den,' said the boy, gesturing to the far bank. 'And this is our bridge.'

A large tree had toppled over and completely straddled the stream. Its huge roots reared up in front of him like the heads of a hundred serpents. Its boughs rested on the far bank, a tongue of land gouged out by the stream, its narrowest point guarded by a hedge of impassable bramble. It was very nearly an island, the perfect den. David grinned at the sight of it.

'The bridge is the only way to get to our den,' said the boy. 'You can join our gang if you dare walk across it.'

David looked at the tree and then down at the stream rushing below. He dreaded heights. He wasn't certain that he even wanted to join the gang. But when he looked at the den he made up his mind. He put his foot on the tree trunk. It was wet and slippery. He had never even climbed a tree before; still less done anything like this.

He had taken only four or five steps when his foot slid. His heart lurched. If he had been further out he might have plunged down the bank. Cautiously he clambered down from the tree.

'He's chicken,' said the boy with the hat.

David felt the blood drain from his face.

The large boy looked at him with contempt and then nimbly led the others swaggering across the bridge. They never looked back. David watched them in bitter silence before turning and racing blindly away.

The snow thawed at last but then a savage wind began to blow. Day and night it never ceased. Occasionally it would drop to a growl but most of the time it bellowed like a wounded beast. Every day David went to stare at the bridge and wonder what it would be like to explore the den on the other side. If he saw the gang he would quickly find a place to hide.

One morning David trudged across the fields in his usual journey to the bridge. The gang were dangled in the roots of the tree and were watching him.

'I tell you what,' called the boy with the woollen hat. 'Why don't you have another go at trying to cross our bridge?'

David licked his lips. He heard a thudding in his ears; he was not sure if it was the wind or his own blood. He nodded mutely and climbed up onto the trunk.

He was relieved to find that the trunk was no longer slippery. He stuck his foot out tentatively, like a climber searching for a tiny toehold. Cautiously he placed his weight down and stepped out. He could see clearly every detail of the tree-trunk. Its wrinkled surface was like the hide of a crocodile. The beating in his ears began to roar louder than the wind.

His next step brought him out over the bank. There was no longer earth below him now, merely air. If he slipped this time he would plummet down to the tumbling stream below. His heart began to falter. He took one more step and then froze.

He was stuck. He dare not go forward and could not go back.

He heard the boys laughing. The large boy called out, 'You Londoners are cowards. Don't bother trying to join our gang again. We don’t want you.'

He heard them leave. Terror gripped him. He would be left here for ever.

Then a voice called out. 'You're only just over the stream. Step back and you can jump down.'

David glanced down. The boy was right. He stepped back and slipped to the ground. He bent down, dizzy and shaking. He had never felt such shame.

For the next three weeks he kept away from the bridge, dreading to meet the boys or see his place of failure. Yet every day he felt drawn towards it. He was lonely, he longed to see the den and he yearned to find the courage to dare the long walk across the air.

One Sunday afternoon he put on his coat and headed for the country. He looked around with a puzzled glance. There was something different in the air. Then he realised. The wind had stopped. He took his coat off and draped it over his shoulder. The sun was warm on his back. He could hear birds calling in the air.

He took a deep breath and started to run towards the bridge.

The gang were strolling some way from it but when they saw him they raced back to try to cut him off. He crashed through the branches and clambered onto the tree just ahead of them.

'What you doing on our bridge?' cried the large boy.

'I want to try again,' said David.

'You can't. I've told you. You're a coward.'

'Let him,' said the thin boy.

The large boy looked at his friend in astonishment. The thin boy stood with fists clenched and seemed to be bristling with anger.

'You can't stop him from trying,' he continued. 'You don't make up all the rules.'

David watched for a moment then turned away and started across the bridge. He realised he still had his coat upon his shoulder; impatiently he flung it to the ground. He reached the brink between earth and air and stopped. He glanced down at the stream then dragged his eyes away.

Some way in front of him a large meadow climbed to a line of trees upon the skyline. Half way up this meadow was a mass of daffodils. It looked like a piece of the sun had dripped onto the earth. He focused his eyes upon this and began to pace carefully along the bridge.

He never took his eyes from the daffodils. He felt the slight bounce in the tree and heard the gush of the stream below. He kept his eyes on the daffodils. He sensed that he was getting close to the far bank and risked a quick look down. The sudden movement disorientated him. With a jerk he snapped his head upright. He felt his head swim. His arms seemed to grow to an extraordinary length and flapped around like ungainly wings. He teetered, he felt his balance go, he scrabbled to maintain a foothold.

He fell.

The fall was both slow and swift. Time seemed to pause as the bank flew towards him. Then time shattered and he landed with a thud. The breath smashed out of his body and a pain like a spike rammed through his leg. He blacked out.

A voice sounded dimly in his head. It was the large boy. 'You're a bloody failure. You've had your chance. Just get lost.'

He forced his eyes open. He could barely see. The spike in his leg seemed to be exploding in size. Hot tears filled his eyes.

The thin boy called. 'Are you alright? Do you want a hand?'

A terrible shame gripped David and whipped him into fury. 'No,' he cried. 'Not from you lot. Get lost yourselves.'

The boys threw a few stones at him, jeered and left.

David sobbed and glanced down. He was almost at the bottom of the bank, just above the stream. He stared at his leg. It was bent at an impossible angle. Then he saw a point of greyish white peering through his flesh. It was a jagged edge of bone.

He gasped in horror. He was truly stuck now and nobody knew where he was.

He lay like that for a long while, numb and with no idea what to do. The sun slipped down towards the horizon and he began to shiver. In an hour or two it would be dark. He began to cry. He would be out here all night. Perhaps he would die.

Then he had an idea. He glanced up at the bank above him. If he could only climb up to the den he could crawl into the brambles and get some shelter for the night. He wiped his nose and began to haul himself up. He retched with pain. He reached up again and hauled. Again the dizzying pain sliced through him. He bit his lip and reached up once again. This will take hours, he thought dully. But he knew now that he could do it.

The light began to fail. He was getting desperate even though he had almost reached the top. He took a deep breath and prepared himself for another haul.

A noise sounded from above. He forced his head up. Standing on the tree in the gloom was the thin boy, his eyes darting round in search.

'Bloody hell,' he cried, then pounded along the tree and scrambled down to David. 'What you done?' he asked.

'I've broken my leg.'

The thin boy glanced down and gasped. 'Have you crawled all the way up?' he asked.

David nodded.

'I'll get help,' said the boy. He climbed onto the bridge but then came back. He leaned over and looked at David. His eyes were shining.

'My name's Mick,' he said. 'You can join our gang, right enough.'

'But he said I couldn't. I haven't passed the test.'

'Oh yes you have,' Mick said. 'Even Jim will say so now. You've definitely passed. You can join our gang.'

David’s head swam. ‘But I might not want to now,’ he said.

This story can be found in my collection, Pick and Mix. During the months of July and August all proceeds from the sale of the collection will go to Alzheimer's charities.

Borders, margins, transitions

I’ve finally decided what I want this blog to be about. Borders, margins and transitions.

Why these three concepts?

I’ve always liked the ideas of borders, where one people and one culture bump up against one another, for good or ill. My favourite place in the world is Menton, on the French/Italian border. It is a rich mixture of the two cultures, plus many other, more transient ones. You can walk from the classic calm of Menton to the noise and exuberance of Ventimiglia. And, if you like, you can even travel west to the other world of Monaco.

Menton, looking towards the Italian border

I also like the idea of margins and the people who live on them. TheRoman Empirein the west was not destroyed by the Huns from the distant steppe but by the Germanic people who lived on the margins of the Empire and knew its ways. The British were expelled fromIndianot by the Rajahs or by the ordinary people but by Indians such as Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, men who had been educated by the British system and were typical of neither the British nor the Indian population.

And I love the idea of transition. I think this is because, at the age of nine, my family moved from London to Chesterfield in the English midlands. It was only 150 miles away but if felt like emigrating. And it felt like going back in time, 100 years in some cases, 800 years in others. I’ll post a story later today which captures this.

I also think that in the strange frontier land where any two disciplines connect with each other is often where the most creative and original ideas come from.

I have come to realise that my novels are also about these themes. In ‘The Lost King: Resistance’, Edgar, the legitimate heir to the throne is marginalised by William the Conqueror and theNormans. The country begins a time of massive upheaval and transition. Edgar flees north toScotland. Much of The Wasteland is set in the borders between the south and north ofEngland. In this novel, Edgar also goes through a period of transition, coming of age in troubled times.

I will finish now because I am writing the last chapter of my novel which is set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last years of the twelfth century. Not surprisingly, as I write it, I discover that this is also a novel of borders, margins and transition.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Where do fictional characters come from?

I'm re-reading Joseph Conrad's Nostromo and in the prologue he tells how the idea for the protagonist first came to him. In 1875 he heard about a man who had stolen a boat full of silver during the course of a revolution. Conrad then completely forgot about the story for twenty six or twenty seven years.

Then he chanced to pick up a shabby book; the autobiography of an American sailor. The sailor said that he worked for this man who was now captain of a small boat he had bought with some of the proceeds of his theft. The sailor said that the man had been able to steal the silver only because his employers had trusted him implicitly. Yet the American sailor considered his captain to be a rascal, a small cheat, stupidly ferocious, morose and altogether unworthy of the greatness which this opportunity had thrust upon him.

Conrad wondered whether this would make the basis of a good story but eventually decided that his talents did not run to writing about a rascal who committed a robbery.

'It was only when it dawned upon me,' Conrad writes, 'that the purloiner of the treasure need not necessarily be a confirmed rogue, that he could be even a man of character, an actor and possibly a victim in the changing scenes of a revolution, it was only then that I had the first vision of a twilight country and events flowing from the passions of men short-sighted in good and evil.'

I love this story of how one of the great figures of literature was born. It sent a shiver down my spine.

I began to consider how my characters appear and are changed, the genesis and evolution of them. So many of my favourite characters seem to appear from nowhere, tapping on my keyboard and yelling, 'Write about me, write about me.'

Does this happen to you? I'd love to hear how the characters you write about came into life.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Book giveaway

To celebrate my first three months as an indie writer I am giving away free copies of my books. Any resultant reviews and tags will be most gratefully received.

5 copies of each of my titles are available. To get a free copy please email me on:

saying which title you would like.

I am keeping this offer open for 24 hours and will email everybody after 12 noon GMT on Monday.

Here are the titles.

The Lost King: Resistance. The long suppressed story of how Edgar, the legitimate heir to the English throne led the resistance to William the Conqueror.

Wasteland: Book 2 of The Lost King series. Edgar enters into an alliance with the Danes. The combined armies experience swift victory against the Normans. William, however, plans his revenge.

Nuggets: Fast fiction for busy readers. These stories are phone-friendly.

Mr Toad's Wedding: The prize winning story of the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story in the style of 'The Wind in the Willows.'

My collection of short stories Pick and Mix is not included in this giveaway as I am giving proceeds from these sales in July and August to Alzheimer's Charities.

Thanks very much for your interest,

Martin Lake

Saturday, 23 July 2011

'Let's Get Digital' Part 2 of the Interview with David Gaugran

In yesterday's post I interviewed David Gaughran about how and why he wrote his book, 'Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should.' Today, I'm posting the second part of his interview. The book is great, full of useful information and with an entertaining and engaging style. If you don't know how to bookmark on your reader, learn how to do so before you read; I've never book-marked so much before. It also includes success stories from 32 indie writers, including, (I'm counting every half dozen in the list here to be impartial) Cheryl Shireman, Bob Mayer, Mel Comley, N Gemini Sasson, Kenneth Rosenberg, J Carson Black. You'll be encouraged by all of them.

Here's the second part of the interview.
Martin Lake: Is this in any way different to your approach to your fiction titles?

David Gaughran: So far. I charge for my two short story e-books, and I plan to charge for my next, a novel. I will have free stories in the future, but I’m not sure if I would adopt this approach for a novel. I can see the logic in some people doing that when they have written a series, hoping to hook the reader into the rest, but I’m less confident that would be effective for standalone novels (which is what I write).

Martin: I've mentioned steep learning curves. Could you tell us which people have been most useful to you in getting published?

David: Guido Henkel’s free formatting guide is superb, and I point everyone to that. But there is so much great, free information out there. Moses Siregar does wonderful podcasts. And, as well as the blogs mentioned above, Mike Shatzkin, Scott Nicholson, Bob Mayer, and Robin Sullivan all have great blogs. I find new ones every week.

Martin: What has been the most frustrating thing about self-publishing for you?

David: Formatting is my least favourite aspect. I think I can do it quite well, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the ass – especially with something a little trickier like non-fiction.

Martin: If you were to suggest 3 must-know tips for self-publishers, what would they be?

David: #1 Make sure your work is ready before you self-publish – use beta readers, learn how to self-edit, get a second a opinion. #2 Remember that you are not just competing against other self-publishers, you are up against every book that comes out of New York and London too, and that’s the standard you will be measured against. #3 The one thing that is guaranteed not to increase your sales is checking your sales. The one thing that is guaranteed to increase your sales is new work. Writing new stuff must come first. Always.

Martin: What do you think the future holds for indie writers and how can we best position ourselves to take advantage of it?

David: So much is unknowable, but right now, the conditions are favourable for indie writers, and the signs for the immediate future are very good. Amazon will probably open Kindle Stores in Spain and France next. A whole load of new e-readers will come on the market in the next few months. Lots of people will buy them and switch to e-books. Things are only going one way in that regard. But there are challenges too. Publishers are racing to get those backlists online. There will be a surge of people self-publishing for the first time. Publishers will drop their prices. Competition will increase. The best thing a writer can do is to keep producing top quality work. Readers never get enough of that.

Martin: I write historical novels so I'm looking forward to your forthcoming novel. Could you tell us something about it?

David: When I was travelling across South Americain 2005, I came across the story of José de San Martín – the Argentine general who freed half the continent in a bloody twelve-year war. He took on the might of the Spanish Empire with an army created from scratch out of vagabonds, rogues, ex-cons, runaways, and mercenaries. But the fascinating part, to me, was that at the peak of his powers, just before the final battle, he resigned and handed his armies over to a rival. Nobody knows why he did it. He went into exile and never spoke of it. So I tried to find out why. Before I knew it, I was writing a novel.

Martin: Finally, your book is called 'Let's Get Digital.' How big an influence has Olivia Newton-John been in your life?

David: I watched Xanadu at a very young age. It had a profound effect on me.

Thank you, David. I wish you continued good luck with all of your books.

Tomorrow. I am giving away copies of my books. Because half of the world is asleep at the moment, I thought it only fair to leave the details until tomorrow so come back to the blog to see how to get a free copy.

Friday, 22 July 2011

An interview with David Gaughran about 'Let's Get Digital'

Before I start the interview, a little background to give a sense of how fast things are moving. I published my first collection of short stories on Kindle on April 15 2011 and a historical novel a few days later. The months since then have been the steepest learning curve of my life. You might think that learning curves are arduous and frustrating. Not a bit of it. This one has been amazing and exhilarating. What has made it less arduous and less frustrating is finding people who are not only extremely knowledgeable but generous-spirited enough to share their knowledge and experience.

For me, foremost of these is David Gaughran. I don't know how I found him, (presumably across a crowded internet) but I'm grateful that I did. I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview him for my blog.

Martin Lake: You've just published 'Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should’, on Kindle and other e-readers, primarily from Smashwords. When I read it yesterday I realised that you decided to self- publish your books as recently as April 3 2011. You began to share your experiences immediately on your blog.

What made you decide to do this?

David Gaughran: The short answer is Barry Eisler & Amanda Hocking. Even though their moves were – on the surface – in opposition to each other, I saw both as a validation of self-publishing. I was stuck in bed with a rotten flu for a week, and read everything I could. Then I decided to self-publish some shorts to see if I enjoyed the experience, and blog about it along the way. Of course, like a lot of self-publishers, I had been trying to crack the system for quite some time without any success. So, while it was quite a sudden epiphany in some ways, my mind was already reaching around for another solution.

Martin: You've collected together all of your blog posts (and more) in your book 'Let's Get Digital.'

How do you find the information? How do you keep informed of what is current?

Dave: I read widely. I’ve been reading Joe Konrath’s blog and Dean Wesley Smith’s blog for quite some time. I recommend every writer to read the last three or four years of their blogs. It’s an education. But there are so many other great blogs out there: Michael Hicks, Passive Guy, and Michael Stackpole are among the first ones I check. On top of that, I read all the trade publishing stuff: Publisher’s Weekly, Ebook Newser, GalleyCat, The Bookseller, as well as some agents’ and editors’ blogs.

Martin: Were you surprised by the quick success of your blog and to what do you attribute this?

Dave: Very much so. In my first month (April), I got 3,500 views, which I thought would take a few months to build. But a few months later, I’m getting 20,000 a month (and still growing very fast). I think there were a few key things leading to the rapid growth.

I was talking about a very hot topic – self-publishing really broke out into the mainstream in the last few months – e-books (briefly) became the #1 format, there were lots of bookstore closures, John Locke sold a million e-books, and JK Rowling decided to self-publish the Harry Potter e-books. It seemed like there was a bigger story each week, and I just had to ride that wave.

If anyone is looking for tips I would say: #1 Blog as often as you can. The more you blog, the more traffic you get. #2 Pick something you are really, truly passionate about. #3 Don’t speak at your readers – they can switch on the TV for that – speak with them. Pose questions. Invite comments. Get a discussion going.

Martin: What made you decide to offer 'Let's Get Digital’ as a free copy as well as charging for it?

Dave: Initially, I was just posting the steps as I went through them (editing, design, pricing etc.). I had the idea from the start of just collating them into a free PDF for anyone to download after – simply as a reference. All the information was out there, it was just scattered across lots of different sites. I wanted to make it easier for the next guy. That’s all.

However, I also started posting about the revolutionary change that was taking place in publishing. It became very clear to me very quickly that e-book dominance was inevitable, and that anyone who thought that publishers and bookstores were just going through a bad patch, or that e-books were a passing fad, were ignoring the change that was unfolding in front of them.

If you break it down to the essentials, the main reason you give a trade publisher such a huge percentage of your royalties is for distribution. They can get you in bookstores all across the country. That’s next-to-impossible on your own. But now their stranglehold on distribution has been broken.

People aren’t shopping in bookstores as much. They’re shopping online, they’re switching to e-books. And self-publishers can match the distributive reach of publishers in those two areas simply by publishing with a handful of companies.

I started blogging about all that stuff, and people really responded to it. The next logical step was to take all of that and put it into one coherent argument. Explaining why people should self-publish, as well as how.

As such, it became a much bigger project. I wanted to stay true to the original idea, but I also wanted to cover my costs. Charging for the e-reader version and giving the PDF away for free was a nice balance.

Some people were worried that the free version would cannibalize the sales of the paid version. But I wasn’t that worried, and in any event, I knew there would be promotional benefits to having a free book out there, which could circulate widely.

Tomorrow: I continue with my interview with David. We discuss his approach to pricing fiction, the people who have helped him, the frustrations of self-publishing, his top 3 hints for indie writers and a look at his future novel.

My favourite place to write

I forgot to mention that I'd love to hear about your favourite writing place. Please leave a comment on my blog. I'll give a free copy of one of my books to the three that I most enjoy.

Later today, I feature the first part of my interview with David Gaughran about his latest book, 'Let's Get Digital.'

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My favourite place to write

I live in the West Country of England, in a Victorian Terrace with views of other houses closely opposite and a garden so small that my when a visiting toddler started to run in it he was brought up with a start and stared in amazement at the size.

I am fortunate that I have a study at the back of the house. It looks out upon a brick wall with plants struggling to survive in the acid soil but determinedly climbing up the wall nonetheless. The study has everything I need for writing. A small desk with space for lap-top; a sturdy book-case containing books on writing, historical tomes, atlases and dictionaries; a printer; jars crammed with pens and pencils; boxes holding drafts of short-stories and completed novels; a litter of note-books going back to the 80’s with entries leaping across the years like a time-machine; little gifts and presents including a kingly Toad who holds upon his tray my favourite propelling pencil, given by my wife in lieu of an engagement ring.

What the study does not have within it is me.

It is too untidy, too cluttered, too lacking in natural light. So, instead, I sit in the dining-room, a conservatory with the grey, unseasonal light doing its best to look cheerful but not, in truth, succeeding.

I have a sense of space here and can play out my scenes against the backdrop of the walls of my garden. I often sit chin in hand and visualise my characters’ thoughts and conversations. If I struggle to see their actions I can spring up and act them out, gesturing again and again until I get the movement right. I can spread out my maps and reference books upon the table, strew it with a more confined agglomeration of papers, refuse to be disheartened by the study accusing me that I am untidy. I shall try to take on the good advice and endeavour to organise my study. Honest.

And with my cup of tea beside me I can imagine that I am in one of my other favourite writing-places, a café somewhere, preferably with a lovely view and loud-voiced customers. In cafes I get my best ideas and here, if it is my favourite café, I can sit and think and imagine ancient Greek triremes sailing along the Mediterranean coast.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Who is the best-loved writer in the solar system?

Yesterday I saw a café which claimed to be 'Britain's favourite coffee-place.' There was no sign of the advertising agency complaining. It got me thinking.

I am a writer. My wife really loves me. My goldfish loves me. So what's to stop me claiming to be the best-loved writer in the country?

Why stop there? Like a little child who cites his address in ever grander terms, I speedily concluded that I am the best-loved writer in Europe. I'm selling in the USA through Amazon and the rest of the world through Smashwords. So I am the best-loved writer in the world.

Hold your horses, Martin. NASA and Patrick Moore reckon there is no sentient life-form in the rest of the solar system capable of understanding the QWERTY keyboard. So I seem to be on safe ground in claiming to be 'MartinLake. The Best-Loved Writer in the Solar System.' Or MartinLake BLWITSS

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I've just read a brilliant post from Dean Wesley Smith. It's called, The New World of Publishing: The Death of an Indie Writer’s Career.

As usual with Smith's posts it is a mixture of the realistic, the hard-headed and the magnificently optimistic.

Everyone who is an indie writer should read this post and the whole of the blog.

By the way, Wasteland, my new novel is now available for Kindle from Amazon and on

Don't forget that you can sample the book before you buy, just like in a traditional bookshop. Just click on the picture to the left.

Hope you like it.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Catching what in the what?

On this day in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger was published.

It was arguably one of the first novels to feature a teenager and one of the first to deal with adolescent angst.

When I first read it I was about the same age as Holden Caulfield, the hero of the novel and immediately identified with him. He disliked phony people, despised his teachers and felt alienated from his family. A real rebel, although he probably thought he had cause.

The title, which is great, concerns Holden’s fantasy of helping protect children who were playing in a field of rye near to a cliff.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Interview with Camilla Brown

Camilla Brown - Why did you chose to write it in the 1st person? To make it more personal?

Martin Lake - I started writing in the third person and in many ways this would have suited the sweep of the novel with its multitude of settings and characters. Yet, somehow, it didn't work. As soon as I started to write in the 1st person, using the protagonist rather than another character, I realised that I had an immediacy which would work well for the story.

C - Does writing as 1st person help you feel what it would be like to be King of England? How did you get into character?

M - I was often surprised by Edgar's reactions to events, and continue to be. I felt him develop his own personality and view-point which was great fun. I learnt to see things through his eyes. Whenever I'm stuck I often act out the part, waving my arms around and pulling faces. Luckily I don't often write in public.

C - What is your writing process? Do you wait for inspiration to come to you or do you set yourself up for a day of writing with a good breakfast and a coffee?

M - I used to wait for inspiration. The muse was rather fickle, however, and the novel crawled along. After I had an accident which meant I couldn't drive or focus as much on my business I knuckled down to writing. Now, I start work early in the morning, sometimes very early. I use a series of storyboards which I use on Powerpoint. This keeps me on track but is still very flexible. I use a writing log which shows how many words I have written each day. It's a great motivator as long as you don't get too obsessed by it. I find that time flies like it never has before.

C - The Battle of Hastings was a time of massive change in British history, what is it about this time which interests you?

M - I am fascinated by times of change in general. I once read that a Roman nobleman the year 500 AD said, 'We used to be Romans but we are all Italians now.' (I'd love to find this quote by the way.) This got me thinking about times of transition, especially massive, dislocating transition. I have always been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon and Viking times, partly because of reading the Viking books of Henry Treece as a child and an interest in Alfred the Great. I have a more complex relationship with the Normans. I have always been suspicious of the old view that they were more civilised than the Anglo-Saxons who they brought kicking and screaming into the eleventh century. There was plenty of kicking and screaming, of course, but not because the Normans were more advanced or superior, far from it. English history did not start in 1066.

C - Did you need to research much to write this book, or is it an area which you already knew?

M - My fascination with the period gave me good background knowledge. I have read widely in the field over the years. Latterly I have use the internet a lot for original documents, commentaries and maps.. In particular I have made great use of the PASE Domesday site ( which gives masses of information about land ownership and wealth. I discovered this after I had written Resistance but was able to use it in Wasteland, the second novel in the series. Some of the characters in this novel are derived from obscure land-owners listed in Domesday.

C - How accurate have you tried to be? Have you strayed much from 'fact'? Did you use your artistic license to describe their appearance and mannerisms?

M - There is heated debate about this. I believe that it is the responsibility of the historical novelist to be as accurate as possible. I learned a lot of my history from such writers as G..A. Henty, Henry Treece, Rosemary Sutcliff and Frans Gunnar Bengtsson and I see no reason why novelists should tamper with historical facts. Altering history for dramatic effect is misguided and unnecessary.

The great thing about Edgar Atheling is that he was at the centre of historical events but his part in them was white-washed by the Normans. This left me with a large canvas to invent story within the overall framework, which I kept scrupulously accurate. The only time I have had to make a choice about events is in Wasteland where there are conflicting accounts of his sortie to Lincolnshire, one saying he went by land, the other by ship. I chose to send him by land as this gave me more opportunity for story.
It is the same with characters. The overwhelming majority in my novels are real historical figures. I have invented a few others but I hope that I have kept to the character of people who would have played such roles at this time.
Because the story is set so long in the past, almost a thousand years, there is little hard evidence of physical appearance or mannerisms. I realised part way through that William was very tall and strong and had to alter that and I have kept to the description of his family. For the rest, there is deafening silence. Apart from maybe this picture:

C - What inspired you to write this book? And what are your inspirations?

M - It is said that history is written by the victors and this is nowhere more true than with the Norman invasion. In terms of greed the Normans were like their Viking ancestors but they had a veneer of sophistication and far more ruthlessness. It has been calculated that the lands of ten native Anglo-Saxons were taken and given to one Norman. This huge concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny, foreign elite has repercussions to this day, a thousand years later. In effect, the Norman Conquest started a period of apartheid which lasted for two or three hundred years.
I wanted to tell the story of the courageous men and women who resisted the Normans. In particular, I was fascinated by Edgar. He was a young man who spent most of his life fighting against the Norman kings yet somehow managing to survive. The later part of his life is, if anything, even more surprising than the earlier part. It is astonishing that such a vigorous, intelligent man, the great survivor of the period, has been forgotten.

My inspirations are the authors I have already listed and two more. Tom Holland makes history as exciting as the best novel and George MacDonald Fraser shows how to write historically accurate novels with verve, humour and consummate skill.

C - Favourite books/authors?

The Flashman Books.
The Lord of the Rings.
Issac Asimov.
James Joyce.
Tom Holland, especially Rubicon.
Sebastian Faulkes.

I have lately read Simon Scarrow who I greatly enjoy and have just started a novel by Ben Kane which I am enjoying.

C - Who is the book aimed at?

M - Anyone who loves historical fiction, action and adventure. I also think it would be of interest to young adults as, in some ways, this is a coming of age novel.

C - Why did you choose Amazon Kindle?

It was the first platform I heard of which would offer direct publishing on e-books. I have recently also begun to use Smashwords which allows my books to be sold on a wider series of e-readers such as Sony, Kobo, Nook and on your computer or phone.

I am still waiting to hear from a number of agents. I must admit, however, that I am hugely enjoying being the master of my own destiny with my books and getting readers from all around the world.

M - You talk of a sequel...will there be more?

M - Oh yes. Wasteland is due out in July. I think there could be two or three novels about Edgar after this.

Currently, I am writing a novel set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem before the Third Crusade. I also have plans for a First World War novel and the tale of a Victorian adventurer.

You can see Camilla Brown's blog at

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wasteland. Book 2 of The Lost King Series

I had such trouble when I tried to publish Nuggets, my collection of ultra-short fiction that I was expecting the worst when I started to publish the new novel.

However, to my astonishment and joy, I only aged five years today in publishing this book. I had a real problem with the cover because the new crop I did made the picture too small. Fortunately, I had another copy of the photograph and this crop was the right size. How had that happened? I don't know.

Putting the novel up on Amazon was comparatively simple after this. Putting it up on Smashwords even more simple.

What a delight. I was able to download the book onto my Sony reader within minutes. I'll have to wait 24 hours for Amazon. So if you want to read it today, and I hope you do, go to and buy the book today.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The agonies of book covers and pricing

One of the steepest learning curves I have had while e-publishing is in the field of covers. I have tried a number of approaches. My favourite is to use Picasa software which enables me to manipulate pictures in a relatively simple way.

I have also tried Microsoft's Publisher although I have yet to upload any of these covers.

Following Dean Wesley Smith's advice I have even used Powerpoint although I found this rather blocky and I was not able to get the look I wanted.

I have learned a couple of things which make a difference.

Keep the image simple. Keep the text large and try to place it in the same part of the image wherever possible in order to give a coherent look to all of your books. Use a tag line.

You can see my covers on this blog.

When it came to pricing I adopted Amanda Hocking and Stephen Leather's practice. I started at the minimum price of $1.00 (70p) as a loss leader, knowing that this would be a limited offer and that these and later books would be priced more realistically.

Amazon pay royalties of 35% at books between $1.00 and $2.99. So it soon became clear that a book priced at $1.00 gave far less rewards than one priced at $2.99. Here are the figures in dollars and sterling.

I sold 80 books at $1.00. This earned me $25.60 or £16.80. If I had sold them at $2.99 I would have earned $164.80 or £101.60. A big difference, I think you'll agree.

The higher price also enables me to give discounts and take part in sales such as the one offered by Smashwords.

Tomorrow - a short post on my progress in publishing Wasteland, book 2 of The Lost King series.

Sarah Waters' The Night Watch

I watched the dramatisation of The Night Watch last night. The play was based on the novel by Sarah Waters.

It was superb. A great story, wonderful script with compelling characters brought to life with fine, economical skill. If television can produce such gems why don't they at least endeavour to do so more often?

The novel has been on my reading list for five or six months. Now, because of the TV play, it has moved to the top of my list.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

How I chose what to publish and my first big mistake

I have written a number of novels and short stories over the years. The one which I have written most recently concerns the forgotten story of Edgar, who was proclaimed King of England immediately after the Battle of Hastings. Soon after he was forced to submit to William the Conqueror. The Normans wrote him out of history; for good reason. He led a series of rebellions against them. Despite his continual resistance William kept pardoning him. Obviously, he was a fascinating young man.

I had written 140,000 words of it and knew that there was at least as much again and that I would, inevitably, have to segment it into different novels. Then I saw that Macmillan were looking for novels of less than 90,000 words. I looked at the novel very carefully. There were a number of points when I could break the novel and I made my choice.

I sent it off to Macmillan. Then I heard about publishing on Kindle.

Now, one of my weaknesses is acting like a bull at the gate. I immediately read all the detail of how to publish on Kindle and prepared my novel. At this point I read some advice from an experienced writer. He said that it would be best to publish a draft to experiment with the process before 'going live' with the real thing. I would be able to preview it and iron out any mistakes and generally get a good feel for the process.

I immediately thought of a collection of short stories which I had written over the years. I dug them out, threw out a few and added a few more and decided to publish the draft.

I called it Pick and Mix and started the process of publishing. At this point, I experienced a big mistake. As it was being uploaded a message said that, while it was in the process I could click on a button and proceed to the next page. I did so and set out the price, $1.00, added all my details and waited to hear that I could look at the draft. Instead I read that my book had been published. I immediately felt sick.

'What's happened to the chance to preview?' I wailed to myself. With eyes half shut, I found my way back to the preview page (belatedly tempting me) and had a look. Sure enough, the formatting was not perfect. However, I would have a chance to rectify the errors when the book went live.

But, because of my impetuousness, and Amazon's invitation to go on to the next page without a preview, I was published. Hip hip hooray.

Tomorrow. The agonies of book covers and pricing.

Monday, 11 July 2011

E-publishing. Tales of frustration and delight

There are a number of excellent blogs and web-sites which will give you a great insight into how to self-publish on Kindle and other e-readers. Here are two just for a start. The first is by the ever-informative David Gaughran.

The second is the website of Dean Wesley Smith

The series of blogs that I am about to write aims to serve a different function. This is to tell how I went about getting published, the mistakes I made and how I overcame them, the frustration, (there was and continues to be plenty) and the joy and delight at seeing my books on the internet and being bought.

So, first, a little back-story. Since the age of twelve I always had two ambitions. One was to be a teacher (all those holidays) and the second was to be a writer. I taught for twenty years. More importantly, I have written continually since the age of eleven.

I had minor success. Lots of encouraging rejection letters, a competition winner, a story on radio. In 2008 I won first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society competition to write a story in the style of The Wind in the Willows. As well as winning, and getting a certificate, I had the pleasure of seeing my story in print and the cover of the anthology featuring a scene from my story. I also sent submissions off to agents and publishers without being taken up.

When I had a serious accident three things happened. The first was that I lost focus on my business. The second was that my injuries meant it was difficult for me to turn over even a paperback book without dropping it on the floor. So, the third thing that my accident caused was my purchase of an e-reader. I couldn't get a Kindle for a month so I bought a Sony reader instead. I fell in love with the thing.

My life continued to change. I enrolled on a creative writing course with my old university, UEA. I wrote much more than I had ever done before.

And then I heard about Stephen Leather.

Stephen Leather does not write the sort of book I normally read. However, I was intrigued by his novella, The Basement. I enjoyed it and began to read more about him by looking on his website.

I was struck by his generosity in talking about his writing. Most of all I was fascinated by his arguments for why he published e-books. I thought, if such a successful author as Stephen Leather writes e-books then there was no shame in me doing so. Then he mentioned Amanda Hocking.

All residual thoughts of the perils of self-publishing and vanity publishing flew out of the window. I started on my journey.

Tomorrow, How I chose what to publish and my first big mistake

Friday, 8 July 2011

What happened in July?

Lots of things.

Here are a few.

4 July 1774 US Declaration of Independence signed
6 July 1954 Elvis Presley made his first record
8 July 1822 Shelly drowned
10 July 1873 Paul Verlaine shot his lover Arthur Rimbuad and injured him
13 July 1798 Wordsworth wrote Tintern Abbey
14 July 1789 Fall of the Bastille in Paris
18 July 1817 Jane Austen dies
20 July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the Moon
21 July 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial ended
22 July 1376 Pied Piper of Hamelin strutted his stuff
23 July 1829 Typewriter patented
28 July 1914 World War 1 began
30 July 1966 England won the World Cup

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Reading your books on other technologies

I've just read an interesting discussion on David Gaughran's excellent blog (click on the list to the right to access it).

His blog is talking about people reading books on smartphones. I collected together my short fiction in a collection called Nuggets with this audience in mind.

Now the thought has occurred that some people stream their computers through their television sets. Does anyone have any experience of reading books on their TV?


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Invisible Threads

They say that invisible threads are the strongest. After my experience today I believe they are.

My mother is 90 and has Alzheimer's disease. For the last four years she has lived in a lovely Care Home.

Her mood changes over time as does her memory. Sometimes she knows me, sometimes she doesn't. Every time I visit I wonder how she will be on this occasion. She has not often recognised me recently.

This morning, as I walked into the Home, I found myself humming a First World War song to myself, for no reason whatsoever. I dismissed the song from my mind, walked towards Mum's room and waited outside while she was given her medication. I sat down and Mum recognised me immediately.

Then she started singing George M. Cohan's First World War song, 'Over There.' I was flabbergasted.

In my youth I often said that Mum could read my mind. Now, even though her own mind is so fragile, she was doing it once again.

We had a lovely time. I showed her a photo of when I was about three years old. 'Look,' she said. 'You've got the same smile now as you had then.'

Invisible threads are the strongest.

As I left the Home I suddenly thought of a way I could honour Mum and thank all of the people who care for her and for others who suffer from Dementia. I have written a short story about my relationship with my mum since she has developed Alzheimer's. It's called 'The Stranger' and can be found in my collection 'Pick and Mix.'

I will donate all of the royalties from 'Pick and Mix' in July to one the Alzheimer's Charities.

Please buy the book and help support these charities in this way. Please click on the picture to the left and you will be able to buy it.

Thank you.