OK, this post is a bit indulgent, but have any of you writers out there ever thought about which of your own books you like most? I spent half an hour the other night thinking about just that. I ended up rating them for ‘Best Beginning’, ‘Best Ending’ and ‘Overall Favourite’. And here’s what came out tops:
Best Beginning: The Girl in the Ivory Dress – after the relatively slow build of the mystery in The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, I wanted to hit the ground running in the second book. In the opening scenes, Alice finds herself having to deal with a woman on fire, rescue a priceless heritage collection, and handle not one but two ghosts!
Best Ending: The Unknown Realms – the conclusion to my 5-book Secret of the Tirthas series gets pretty high stakes at the end, with a final battle involving demons, Lizzie and her friends and – yep, an elephant! If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye – well, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.
Overall Favourite: Black Beacon – close to my heart because of its inspiration from my family history – but still I reckon a neat plotline and taut supernatural thriller.
This was a difficult selection and even now I find I’m changing my mind – but you have to stop somewhere!
If you’ve read my books, do you agree with my selection? And if you’re a writer, which of your own books do you like most and why?
Click here to find out more about these books on Amazon.
My new novella, Swift – The Story of a Witch, heads back in time to tell the tale of the mysterious origins of the Tirthas and of the even more mysterious woman who finds them…
So, for the first time in 4 years, there’s a new chapter in my fantasy adventure series, The Secret of the Tirthas! Here’s more on how I came to write it:
Creating a world…
Building a world with a supernatural element that can sustain a whole series of books is a complex process. This is true even when that world is mostly the same as ours, and involves only a few differences – in my case, the Astral Realm and Tirthas, or portals, with all the strange beings they contain. Before I began writing The City of Light, I wrote an intricate explanation of how the Tirthas were created, involving an ‘umbilical’ cord from the original landmass, Pangaia, to the Astral Realm, tectonic shift, and more ‘modern’ ideas such as ley lines.
I created a backstory going back centuries to how the demons and other supernatural characters were created in the mythical plane of the Astral Realm. From here, they could come down on to earth via the Tirthas and wreak havoc (or whatever else they felt like doing!) On top of this, there was the obscure ‘summons’ of the place known only as the Unknown Realms, which exerted its strange pull on these beings. (The Unknown Realms seemed a good metaphor at the time for the fading away of a more mysterious, religious view of the world – although I’m not sure that’s fading at all now!)
It all necessitated a long timeline involving the main characters and their ancestors, and explaining which had magical natures, and what it meant for them.
A mysterious woman appears…
One of the most interesting of these characters was Hattie Swift, a distant relative of Lizzie’s, who plays a small but vital role in the series. Hattie turns up out of nowhere at the village pub one night in a summer storm . She’s derided as a witch by the locals – but thanks to one man, a Quaker, she finds the safety and space to explore the magical woodland glade through which she entered the world. And soon Hattie discovers the fantastic portals that exist there, in what will become the garden of rooms Lizzie explores a century later. But alongside wonders, her discovery leads her into great – and potentially mortal – peril…
So grab your copy on Amazon now to read Hattie’s story and discover the origins of the tirthas…
I’m excited to announce that my latest book, Swift – The Story of a Witch, is out now!
It’s a double first for me – my first novella, and my first prequel. It’s the story of the mysterious woman who created the garden of portals that Lizzie explores in The Secret of the Tirthas. Here’s what it’s about:
When she materialises in a woodland glade, Hattie Swift knows she’s special, a witch from beyond this world. But why is she here?
A chance encounter with an honest man leads to marriage and a new life in the cottage by the magical glade where she entered the world. She begins to create a garden and uncover the mysterious portals hidden there.
But soon she finds the terrifying creatures that exist through the portals, including the fearsome Jiangshi and worse. Will she live long enough to discover her fate? And at what cost to her husband and family?
Swift – The Story of a Witch is an action-packed prequel to The Secret of the Tirthasfantasy-adventure series, in which the origins of the magical garden of portals is revealed…
Today I’m revealing the cover of my forthcoming book, Swift – The Story of a Witch. It’s a prequel novella to The Secret of the Tirthas fantasy-adventure series and it’s… pretty different to most of what I’ve written so far.
Here’s a few facts about it:
– at just over 100 pages, it’s my shortest book yet – but that doesn’t mean it won’t pack a powerful punch!
– it takes place 130 years before Lizzie moves to Rowan Cottage with her mum in The City of Light (Book 1 of The Secret of the Tirthas)
– it’s told in the first person, from the point of view of a witch who materialises in a woodland glade – a place that is to become the magical garden of portals in the series
– it’s got some scary, non-human villains, a couple of whom you’ll have already met if you’ve read The Secret of the Tirthas
– it’s got a higher ‘magic setting’ than the rest of the series – this witch can throw a lightning bolt out of her fingertip!
– whilst it’s a prequel to The Secret of the Tirthas, it’s quite different in tone – the main character is a young woman, so it should appeal to older readers too (‘New Adult’ as well as ‘Young Adult’ and, in fact, pretty much any old ‘Adult’!) To draw a cheeky comparison, it’s a bit like the difference between the The Secret Commonwealth and His Dark Materials by one of my heroes, Philip Pullman
– it’s at heart a story about how fate can trick and doom love – and everyone loves a storyline like that, right?
Swift – The Story of a Witch is in final draft and will be out just as soon as I’ve received and checked the proof. Anything between 2-3 weeks!
If you want to catch up on The Secret of the Tirthas in the meantime, the whole series is now available as Box Set on Kindle! Check it out here:
At the heart of my adventure mystery series, The Secret of the Tirthas, is a magical ‘garden of hedged rooms’, buried deep in the English countryside. What a lot of people don’t know is that the garden was inspired by a real garden in Herefordshire, owned for a while by my wife’s parents.
Designed and built by a former resident, the one-acre plot had 26 hedged and bordered rooms, filled with fountains and sculptures and themed around special places on the planet – as well as more obscure references such as ‘Miss Day’s Garden’ and ‘Akademia’.
My wife and I spent many happy weeks staying there in the little two-bed cottage, exploring the garden and the fabulous countryside around it. It didn’t take long before the idea for a cluster of portals in the gardens, connecting to the places they represented, came to mind. I copied a few – Easter Island Garden, Gothic Garden, Miss Day’s Garden – and added more of my own (Indian Garden, Rainbow Serpent Garden, Master-of-Nets Garden). And soon overlayered it all with a young girl’s voyage of discovery – of the world, its evil, tortured choices, her father’s true nature – and of herself.
Enjoy all five novels of The Secret of the Tirthas at a bargain price in a new Boxed Set on Kindle (click link below).
Plus… coming soon… a surprise prequel novella to the series, about a witch and the mysterious origins of the garden of rooms… Watch this space!
I’ve just released a Box Set of The Secret of the Tirthas, my adventure mystery series for ages 11+. Over the next week or two I’m planning a few posts about the people and places that inspired me to write it. Today, I want to focus on Kashi, or Varanasi, the first portal that Lizzie discovers in her garden.
Of all the things that impressed me most about Kashi, it was the ordinary people going down to the river each day and dropping off the final step, or ghat, into the broad, flowing river Ganges. There was a practical reason for it – they would wash and some would even brush their teeth in the water. But then many would finish by cupping their hands in the river and lifting the water up above their shoulders, facing towards the rising sun.
I found out that this was their morning puja, or worship, and the aim was to catch a glimpse of blue and shining Shiva, whose city Kashi is. I found this astonishing, inspiring, the way the religious, the sacred, was woven into day-to-day life.
And what an idea. Poetry to me is an attempt to catch a glimpse of deeper meanings, attune to a resonance that is in us but seldom heard, rarely understood. It’s a way of surprising ourselves, of using words to sneak a peek at something that is both nebulous and more solid and important than anything else we think about in the midst of our normal, everyday lives. And here were these people, making that transcendent shiver a part of their daily routine. This was an integral part of the City of Light, and I was awed.
You can get a copy of The Secret of the Tirthas Box Set here:
FOR THE FIRST TIME – TOGETHER IN ONE BOX SET – ALL 5 BOOKS OF THE SECRET OF THE TIRTHAS!
What would you do if you inherited a garden full of magical portals – only to find a killer was using them?
NOW – TOGETHER IN ONE BOX SET – ALL 5 BOOKS OF THE SECRET OF THE TIRTHAS!
The Secret of the Tirthas follows the thrilling adventures of Lizzie Jones as she explores a garden in a remote corner of England that hides mysterious portals, or tirthas, to exotic places all over the world. The tirthas take Lizzie to Kashi, the Indian City of Light, the eerie swamplands of Louisiana, and the treacherous jungle of Cameroon – and many more amazing places.
But soon she finds the power of the tirthas is being exploited by hideous demons and their servants, trying to prevent their summons to the shadowy Unknown Realms. Can Lizzie and her new friends – the elephant rider, Pandu, and police inspector, Raj Faruwallah – stop them before they achieve their evil ends?
The ultimate binge read, The Secret of the Tirthas is a breath-taking adventure mystery series, perfect for lovers of His Dark Material and Harry Potter.
What readers say about The Secret of the Tirthas:
“An entertaining and exciting book… I can’t wait to read the next adventure!” The Guardian on Book 1, The City of Light
“I started reading this book last week and could not put it down”
“A thrilling, fast paced and wild ride… filled with portals, secrets, mystical creatures, demons, magic, Wicca, and a mongrel of a dog named Mr. Tubs”
“The plot was original and unpredictable and I loved the characters, especially Lizzie”
“I was enthralled by the fluidity of the writing and the vivid descriptions of Kashi”
“A great read for children and adults alike and very reminiscent of books I loved as a child such as The Secret Garden, Tom’s Midnight Garden, the books of Alan Garner and, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia”
“The writing is pacy, precise and evocative… a wonderful mystery book for anyone, not just kids, who likes to read about history, myths, legends and paranormal creatures”
“By far the best middle grade series I have read in a long time”
“The best book I’ve read this year.”
“A fantastic finale that really gripped us to the end!”
THE COMPLETE SERIES INCLUDES ALL 5 BOOKS IN THE SERIES:
The City of Light
The Book of Life
The Dreamer Falls
The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask
The Unknown Realms
Get your copy for HALF the price of the individual books here:
I was asked by the people at new book recommendation site Shepherd to share my favourite books on things I’m passionate and write about. As many of you will know, The Secret of the Tirthas is about Lizzie Jones, a teenager who inherits a magical ‘garden of rooms’ deep in the Herefordshire countryside and then discovers each of the rooms has a portal to a special place on the planet.
I always thought it would be great if you could step outside your back door and travel instantaneously to somewhere on the other side of the planet. And, of course, portals are a neat analogy for the power of the imagination.
So my first selection of books for Shepherd is my five favourite books with portals for children and young adults. They include books by Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman and you can check them out here.
Do you like portals in books? If so, which are your favourites?
Photos have a big impact on my writing. Often, they can inspire a scene that inspires a whole book. This picture of my son looking across a landscape has morphed into the opening scene of my current work in progress, Alice and the Devil, the third book inThe Ghosts of Alice series.
Shortly after I took it, I set it as my wallpaper on my laptop. It was a few weeks before it began working its magic on me. Initially I had an idea for a wholly different book, a piece of speculative fiction, but then I realised it could fit with a ghost story. Who is the boy? Why is he on his own? What’s with the sheep in his backpack? And that barn to the right – doesn’t it look a bit like a pair of eyes, the dark, disembodied eyes of the farm? Just add a torrential rainstorm and the whole Alice and the Devil story came to life…
Here’s a few more photos that have worked their way deep into my imagination for other books:
#picsthatinspiredbooks – The Boy in The Burgundy Hood
This is the fabulous Ightham Mote, the fourteenth-century house that inspired Bramley Manor in the first Ghosts of Alice novel, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood.
As soon as I saw it, I knew that this medieval house was the perfect setting for my ghost story. I’d already been inspired by the strange story of a job interview that my wife had gone to at another old house (see here). It wasn’t long before I overlaid the two elements and started to evolve my plot.
Pics that inspired The Secret of the Tirthas
Now here’s some photos of the amazing garden of hedged ‘rooms’ in Herefordshire that inspired my young adult adventure mystery series, The Secret of the Tirthas.
Many of the rooms had sculptures or statues, often from different religions. I thought it would be great if they were all secret portals to related sites across the world. Imagine just having to step outside your back door to go to all these fabulous places!
The discovery of these new places through the portals by Lizzie Jones became a ‘fantasy’ element in itself. That, plus the demonic killer also using the portals to prey on street children in the first place Lizzie discovers, Kashi, the Indian City of Light…?
Photos that inspired The City of Light
Finally, here’s the incredible city of Varanasi, or Kashi, in India, which inspired the first novel in The Secret of the Tirthas, The City of Light. I went backpacking in my twenties and came down into India from Nepal. This was the second place I stayed and I was stunned.
I kind of knew straight away that this would inspire my writing. But it was only many years later, after discovering the hidden gem of a garden in Herefordshire, that I had the idea for The Secret of the Tirthas. And I decided on Kashi as the first place our hero Lizzie Jones would come after discovering the garden’s magical portals.
Here’s a taster from The City of Light, when Lizzie emerges from the portal:
“[She] stopped, stunned, finding herself looking at the most extraordinary sight she’d ever seen.
An ancient sun-bleached city sprawled before her, stretched along the bank of an enormous river. The city’s buildings were a bright, exotic mix of colours – red, ochre, sand, and white – and many had domes or intricate beehive towers. Some sat at the top of broad flights of steps that ran down into the water, whilst others were perched on the river’s edge. A few tilted forward precariously, appearing as if they were about to collapse into the swirling waters and be lost forever. And everywhere, on the steps and in the buildings and out in small boats, the city’s inhabitants went about their business in the soft, hazy sunlight.
Lizzie stood in awe, absorbing the view. If only all her dreams were as impressive as this…”
So where am I at with the writing, you ask? (You didn’t? Click away now, no one will notice.)
2021 has been a big year for my writing. It was the first year I had a bestseller and the first year I sold over 2,000 copies of one book (nearing 2,500 now). The average book sells 250 copies according to my Gurus, Prophets and Market Analysts (Google), so I’m very happy.
So what was the book? It was the first in my Ghosts of Alice series, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood. It’s been a strong seller since November 2019 when I published it. But it really took off in February 2021 after a promotion on Bookbub, which led to the #1 spot in Amazon’s Ghost Story categories in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. (If you’re a keen ebook reader and like good deals, I recommend signing up for Bookbub.) The reviews that followed were good so the sales continued. When you’ve been writing for a few years, getting that level of reader response is a real joy!
My next writing achievement in 2021 was publishing the second book in the Ghosts of Alice series, The Girl in the Ivory Dress. It follows on from the first, developing the relationship between Alice and one of her old school friends. The reviews have been almost all good so far (there’s always one…), with some saying they like it even more than the first. It reminded me of how enjoyable it was to write the second book in my young adult series, The Secret of the Tirthas. Whilst the first, The City of Life, was mostly fun, learning how to plot and integrate storylines, as well as setting up a whole new fantasy scenario, was challenging. There were many rewrites. It felt so much easier when the groundwork was done, when everything was already established. The Book of Life flew from the keyboard.
My third writing milestone just missed the end of the year. I finished a draft of the latest Ghosts of Alice book on the 3rd January. It’s working title is Alice and the Devil. It has a distinctive atmosphere and setting and I’m pleased with it. However, it’s going to need a few stiff edits because I wrote it without a plot, with only a few key scenes and characters in my head. It was my first time writing like this but it seems to have turned out well. I’ll probably find a lot of holes when I reread it, but for now I’m just pleased to have completed it.
2022 Writing Goals
My main writing goal for 2022 is to publish this third Ghosts of Alice book. I’m aiming for it to be out in the spring.
I’m also finalising a novella prequel to The Secret of the Tirthas. It focuses on the discovery of the tirthas and the creation of the magical garden of rooms at the turn of the 19th century. It’s called Swift: The Story of a Witch (I’m fairly sure that one’s going to stick). It might become a freebie to my email subscribers.
And finally, I’m going to start and – hopefully – complete another book! I’ve got a few ideas bubbling away already…