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:
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…
Now that we’re properly into the spooky season, read on for an update on my latest ghost story as well as for details of my Halloween sale.
What I’m writing now
I’ve started writing the third Ghosts of Alice story, with a working title of Alice and the Devil. What’s interesting about this story is that I normally start with an outline plot but this time I’m writing as a pantser, as it’s informally known in the trade. Most writers are plotters, but there are a few (including some pretty significant ones) who just start off with a premise and see where it takes them. Stephen King is possibly the most famous of these.
Normally, I work out a clear path from start to finish involving some major ‘set’ scenes. My plot it usually fairly skeletal and I do regularly change things as I progress – but I always have that overarching sense of direction. But this time I’ve got the premise and the scenes but couldn’t fully grasp the ending, so I’ve started writing and am seeing where it leads me. The worry is that I end up in a dead end that takes a huge amount of rewriting. But I have to say it’s going well so far and I’m almost halfway through (I think!). Let’s see what happens…
Ghost of Alice Halloween sale
Both The Boy in the Burgundy Hood and The Girl in the Ivory Dress are reduced from £3.99 / $4.99 to 99p / 99c on Kindle from now until Halloween – over a 75% reduction! Scroll to the end of this post for the link straight to the Amazon page.
Plus… advance warning of The Secret of the Tirthas promo campaign
And another heads up – I’m running a major Kindle promotion of The Secret of the Tirthas around November 11th. The first book in the series, The City of Light, will be free and there will be discounts on one or two of the next books!
I wish you a suitably creepy Halloween – and as ever, thank you for reading!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a poetry video for my blog so, with Easter and spring and a smidgen of hope in the air, here’s a new one – Charlie Comes to the Mountain. I wrote it last year when we went to the Brecon Beacons in South Wales and took a family hike up Hay Bluff. It was a gorgeous day, baking hot, and there was a boy racing up the mountain, leaving his anxious siblings behind. I’d had the last line of the poem in my head for a long time, but it found its home in Charlie. Have a good Easter.
This is a new poem, so not in any collection yet – but click below if you want to find out more about my previous poetry books:
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’m currently working on the final draft of my second poetry book, “The Things We Thought Were Beautiful”. Like “Up in the Air”, I’ve divided this one up into sections, the first of which is called “Another World”. The poems in this section focus on the natural world and our desire to see more deeply into it.
One of my favourite poems is Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”, in which he talks of what the eye and ear ‘half create, and what perceive.’ I’ve always loved that line. It’s as if there really is a transcendent value in nature that we can grasp, or “perceive”.
But when Wordsworth talks about us “creating” it, is that in the sense of making it real – or just us making it up? And how do we know which bits are our own creation, and which bits are real? The true reality behind reality – if there is such a thing – can only ever be understood, or felt, in glimpses. Poetry is one of the best ways of having those glimpses.
To read more about why I love Wordsworth, check out this post.