“It’s not just that Jocelyn was contrary, she loved a fight, and was a good sparring partner. It’s that she seemed to me the opposite of just about anybody else I ever met.” – John Merivale’s Eulogy for Jocelyn, 23 September 2014
I can’t tell you how stunned I was to receive this piece of treasure in the post the other day:
Jocelyn Merivale, as regular readers of this blog may know, was a painter and friend, whose fabulous work inspired some of my poems in Up in the Air.
I got to know Jocelyn through her husband, John, with whom I worked for several years in Wimbledon and Morden. She died in 2014, tragically young, but carried on working right up until the end.
John set about producing a book to collect all of the paintings, sketches, and sculptures produced by his lifelong partner. He worked with Matthew Hollow, an art photographer, Martin Holman, an art historian, and Brother, a brand design agency. It was a true labour of love, much of it carried out during the enforced solitude of the coronavirus lockdown.
And look at the result:
I had been so looking forward to seeing this book. And the icing on the cake was the use of several of my poems, produced after I visited an Open House exhibition of Jocelyn’s work in Merton.
Scroll down to see my poems and the paintings they relate to, as well as the painting Jocelyn did for my wife and me on our wedding day. (Click on the images of the poems to read them more easily).
And here’s the beautiful painting that Jocelyn produced for our wedding:
To buy a copy of the Jocelyn Merivale book (£45 plus P&P) please contact John Merivale: email@example.com
To purchase a copy of my poetry book Up in the Air, click below:
I’m super excited that The Boy in the Burgundy Hood has become my first #1 International Bestseller!
Thank you so much to everyone who supported me by buying and sharing the book during my recent promotion. The result was the top spot in most of Amazon’s Ghost Story categories in the US, UK, Canada and Australia!
I was over the moon on Monday night watching all those little orange ‘Bestseller’ flags crop up. I’ve been publishing novels since 2014 and sales have been good and steady – but this is the first time I’ve ever made #1. It’s what every writer dreams of – and it can be a long time coming!
So thank you again.
I had to do something bookish to celebrate, so I’ve discounted the entire series of The Secret of the Tirthas to 99p / 99c on Kindle until midnight Friday 5th March! Click here to get the offer.
Read on for a chance to grab The Boy in the Burgundy Hood for 99p/99c in my Bookbub sale…
Well, here we (or at least those of us in the UK) are again in our third national lockdown. To be honest, there are aspects of lockdown that suit me as a writer. It means I lose a long commute to my part-time work in London. Instead of getting on a train in the early morning, I get to take a walk in the local woods, which is good. And of course, being a writer, I enjoy spending time indoors writing books.
But that’s as far as it goes. The homeschooling of two young boys is pushing everyone in my house to the brink. Love ’em as I do, it’s been two months since we all had a break from each other. School may have put everything on Teams – meaning I no longer have to try and explain fronted adverbials – but the technical challenges and juggling of digital resources has added a whole new layer of conflict and frustration.
Anyway *deep breath* that’s enough whingeing from me. I know my challenges are nothing compared to what most people are going through. So over to some lighter stuff…
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood – Bookbub sale!
Need a ‘compelling mystery with a dark twist’ (Amazon, 5⭐) to distract you in lockdown? I landed a ‘Bookbub Deal’ (promotional gold 😀) for The Boy in the Burgundy Hood! That means from 21-24 February you can get a copy for 99p / 99c, reduced from £2.99. Described by US author Sherry Ross as an ‘eerie but beautiful ghost story’, it now has 43 reviews on Amazon UK, averaging 4.4 stars. Click here to grab your copy now:
More Writing News – including my Dad’s memoirs
In other writing news, I’m deep into editing my follow-on ghost story, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, which I plan to have out later in the spring. At the same time I’m writing a prequel novella for The Secret of the Tirthas about Hattie Swift, Lizzie’s witchy ancestor who first discovers the magical garden of portals in Herefordshire.
And finally, in other writing news, my Dad has joined the very small ranks of writers in our family by publishing his fascinating memoirs about the hotel industry. Do check it out by clicking the link below!
I’ve been doing a blog post on my year in writing on and off since 2014. I was going to forget about 2020 as a real humdinger, for obvious reasons. Then I thought, no, let’s go for it. I’ve had some ups and downs, but let’s see if I’ve learnt anything from them.
Let’s start with the good:
The Things We Thought Were Beautiful came out!
I published my second poetry book, The Things We Thought Were Beautiful. Not only was it packed with poems old and new, I designed the cover myself and was reasonably pleased with it. And… it got some great reviews like this one from Amazon.com:
“The poem Sorted brought tears as did Before the Divorce. Poems like The Oak in the Snow and Dandelion… use sensitive observations of nature to bring us a shiver of transcendence. Love Wish is one of the most beautiful love poems I have ever read and the poem Unknown is an astounding tribute to fatherhood. These are important poems. I am delighted to have this book in my collection and will return to it many times.” 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood is doing well!
I know the writers out there will want to know how come, but the truth is for the first half of the year I don’t know. But I do know why more recently: I’ve finally worked out the esoteric process of creating good Amazon Ads. Believe me, it’s taken a while and I won’t bore you with how it works. Because it really is complicated and it changes all the time and it’s very easy to lose a load of money on it. If you’re an author and want to know comment below and I might write another post on it sometime. And that’s as much as I want to say about it for now. Not that I’m superstitious or anything, but I’m worried my formula is collapsing on me right now!
My next book is in draft.
Alongside that, I now have the draft of a follow-on story to The Boy in the Burgundy Hood. It’s got the working title of The Girl in the Ivory Dress and it sees our feisty but vulnerable heroine heading to a haunted seaside guest house after a major tragedy. I’m aiming for it to be out in the spring – watch this space!
So that’s the good. What’s the bad, you ask? Well, let’s not even talk about Covid. Working from home has not been a problem, but teaching two boys who I’m sure are reincarnated gladiators was a challenge. But at least now I know what a Fronted Adverbial is. And needless to say, there’s been all the sadness of not seeing loved ones for vast swathes of the year.
I got my first bad review.
With regard to my writing, I got my first bad review on Amazon. That was a blow. I’ve read a couple of articles on the inevitability of it happening and I’m trying to see it as a kind of badge of honour. But it still hurts.
The articles I’d read did help. You get one bad review and think you’re a lousy writer, why did you ever think your words were good enough to give the public to read? As with many things in life, it’s easy to dwell on the negative. But then you have to remind yourself that you’re never going to please everybody. And the book at time of writing has 28 reviews, with 19 of them being 5🌟 – an average of 4.4 🌟. Lots of you did – do – like my book. You really do have to focus on the positive. So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, THANK YOU so much to all of you who have taken the time to write a review of one of my books. They really do make a difference!
I didn’t get to meet any readers.
Another bad. For the first year since I published The City of Light back in 2014, I’ve not done a single author event, bookshop signing, festival or school visit. I know in the scale of Covid disasters it’s a teeny tiny one, but heck, I’ve missed that personal connection with readers. Social media is great up to a point – but it can’t replace that face-to-face chemistry.
And that also meant that I didn’t get out to promote the poetry book in person (the best way to promote all books but especially poetry which is a niche market anyway). So the sales of that were not as good as I’d hoped. Which is a big shame, because I think it’s every bit as good as Up in the Air, which sold well – but so far only a handful of people know that. So if you like poetry, a small plea this Christmas 👇
So that’s it, my year in writing. Some good, some bad. Remember, if you’d like to support an author this Christmas there’s still time (at posting) to order paperbacks as gifts for friends and family.
I really hope you have weathered this difficult year well. And I wish you a Merry Christmas and a much happier, saner new year!
I’ve been writing stories since the age of seven, but I’ve only been studying the craft of writing for the last ten years or so. Here’s a few top tips for writers that I’ve learnt, many of which I wish I’d learnt sooner. They would have saved me a lot of time.
Read A LOT – your imagination needs fuel and it’ll get a lot from your real life, but much much more from reading thousands of stories. Yes, thousands. (Here’s a few goodies to start with.)
Plotting’s not for everyone but for me a short overview helps me not go down too many dead ends. You can always change your plot as the story develops.
When thinking about plotting, remember that most stories, even non-fiction ones, are about suspense. The writer’s job is to create a character so real that the reader invests their emotions into him or her. And then to put that character through a whole load of difficult scenarios where the reader can’t help but keep reading to see what’s going to happen to them.
Keep your writing precise not flowery and avoid as many adverbs as you can.
Find the angle – if you’re struggling to find an angle that makes your scene and characters spring into life, starting with dialogue is always a good idea.
Keep learning (a mantra for being alive, really).
Only do it if you love it – except for a very small number of people, there’s no fame in it and you’ll make a lot more money in your standard day job. (Although we can all dream that one day, in the not-too-distant future, our name will be writ large on the street…).
For the definitive advice check out the 10 points of Elmore Leonard (and while you’re there, sign up for the fantastic newsletter of Brain Pickings).
Do you believe in ghosts? We’re well into spooky season now and I was asked the perennial question again recently.
On balance, I’d have to say no. The world is a very strange place, with the chances of it and us existing being essentially zero. Parallel universes, action at a distance, the big bang – all of these things are astonishing. So I keep an open mind about ghosts and everything else. But I also weigh up the odds based on my experience, so I live my life as if they don’t exist.
But then, there was one time…
I was living in an old Victorian shared house in Scotland, doing a Masters degree at Stirling University. One night I woke up and was convinced there was a woman sitting on the end of my bed, looking at me. I immediately put it down to my imagination and of course when I peered again into the grey dark she wasn’t there.
The next day I told a friend, one of my flat mates, about the incident. He was a bit shaken up. I asked him why, and he told me that the afternoon before he’d been coming up the stairs and seen someone walking across the top of the landing above him, heading towards my bedroom. He was completely nonplussed and just shouted hello to her, thinking it was one of our flatmates. But of course he soon found there was no one there, nor anyone in the whole house for that matter.
So – do you believe in ghosts? If you have any spooky stories to tell I’d love to hear them below.
If that’s whetted your appetite for spooky stories, why not order a copy of my ghost story, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, in time for Halloween? It’s available now on Amazon. Don’t think I could have hoped for better company on Amazon on the cusp of Halloween…
I was asked recently about which publishing route I took and why. So here’s a potted history of how I became an independently published writer – or ‘indie author’, as we’re increasingly known.
I’m an indie author, published entirely now on Amazon. I gave up my job to concentrate on writing a few years back. It was what I’ve always wanted to do, and besides publishing quite a bit of poetry, I knew I wanted to write novels. I submitted my first book, the young teen novel The City of Light, to agents and publishers. An agent reader’s report said it was a potential Harry Potter (can you imagine how I felt!?). A friend of a friend in the Children’s Rights department of Random House loved it and championed it through editorial teams – only for it to fail at the sales team, who in the post-Harry Potter world had moved on from contemporary fantasy to gritty realism.
To be honest, I gave up for a couple of years until my sister-in-law suggested I go indie. I’ve never looked back. I’m no more of a control freak than the next person, but sending off to agents and publishers was about as dispiriting as it gets. There were lots of long waits and half-promises. Being in control of what and when I write and how and when I publish is great. The downside of course is lower sales – we’d all love distribution in bookshops throughout the world. But of all my colleagues who write and have been traditionally published, none have ended up with rosy sales figures. And most have had a pretty miserable time with their publisher’s demands and processes.
As far as tips are concerned, I did put a lot of time into publishing on multiple platforms – but always for a measly return. When I went exclusive on Amazon and signed up for Kindle Unlimited my sales rocketed. Sad, but true.
Let me know if you’ve had experience of the publishing world. And if you’re a reader, does whether a book is published independently or through traditional publishers affect your choice?
OK, so technically National Poetry Day was yesterday and I missed doing this Poetry Playlist post due to juggling 101 other things!
Whilst I love reading poetry on the page, it’s important to recognise that it developed from oral traditions, a means of passing down the values, wisdom and playfulness of humanity from one generation to the next before writing became common.
So for me poetry exists in two very distinct states. The poem on the page, which emanates its power in a wonderful, still silence (if it’s good!) And then there’s the poem as read by the poet or avid reader, which can take on a wholly different feel. The pacing and the length of the end-of-line pause, the emphasis of certain words, the catching of the poem’s rhythm. All are shaped by the personal interpretation of the out-loud reader.
I’ve done quite a few poetry readings in the past – at festivals, schools, pubs and in such illustrious venues as the basement of the Troubador Cafe in Old Brompton Road, where Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones played (and Ed Sheeran and Laura Marling for you young folk!). But with Covid there’s much fewer chances of doing live readings, so why not take a look at this Poetry Playlist I’ve put together? In it, you’ll find me reading six of my favourite poems from my two collections, Up in the Air and The Things We Thought Were Beautiful.
And if they inspire you to read more, the books are available here:
Today I’m reading a short excerpt from The Unknown Realms, the last book in my mystery adventure series, The Secret of the Tirthas. It’s the moment a Venetian boy, Alessandro, sees the hero, Lizzie Jones, emerge from one of the magical portals, or tirthas, with a very unusual – and frightening – companion. I won’t give any more away for those of you who haven’t read the previous books!
If you enjoyed this reading from The Unknown Realms click below to find out more; or, if you’ve not yet started the series, click on The City of Light.
To learn about the magical garden of rooms that inspired the series go here, and about the real City of Light in India go here.
I was amazed when I heard ‘Negative Capability’ used in a meeting the other day. People were looking at the ways in which society works, and using the term to highlight the skills needed to navigate increasingly complex systems. It’s pretty impressive, considering Negative Capability was a concept invented by the Romantic poet, John Keats, to describe the poet’s seeking after Beauty without becoming bogged down in reasoning.
I’ve always liked this concept. We can easily get distracted from creativity and even living life itself if we try and keep on top of everything. Negative Capability is not really negative at all, it’s about letting go, about wading right into the mystery and seeking out the things most beautiful and important to you. Hold faith with those things you cherish, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty.
Many people are not happy with uncertainty. They prefer to make concrete decisions about the way the world is and isn’t. I think I’m the opposite. As part of the universe, I feel fundamentally ill-equipped to make final pronouncements on it. I just don’t know. Why are we here? Is there an ultimate purpose to life? I tend to think not, but given the inconceivable improbability of our own existence, who knows? There are always gaps, always possibilities.
I think in our modern context, Negative Capability really comes into its own. Society is becoming more complex, mainstream views are being overturned, strong-man populists reign, a pandemic rages, and the climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. In a decade or two’s time, most jobs will require digital literacy, or be taken over by robots. The times, in short, are changing. Sometimes it feels like the only way to survive is to ignore the the big picture and double down on what matters most to us. Whatever that may be. Art, Environment, Politics. We need to function, and thrive, in the midst of all this complexity.
So, hats off to Keats. What an amazing poet, creating words and concepts that are just as significant now as when he invented them.
How’s your tolerance for mystery? Are you happy not knowing things or do you like to find rational explanations for everything?