Follow by Email

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The genial logical detective returns - interview with Steve Robinson

RELEASED TODAY 'The Lost Empress'

No 1 Bestseller in Historical Thrillers

amazon link
Meet Steve Robinson – bestselling author and a man who has confessed here that he shoots from the hip (see interview below). He has also finally appeared in public wearing the infamous 'writer's hat' mentioned in his first appearance on my blog, and again when I last interviewed him. 

Steve Robinson drew upon his own family history for inspiration when he imagined the life and quest of his genealogist-hero, Jefferson Tayte. The talented London-based crime writer, who was first published at age 16, always wondered about his own maternal grandfather - "He was an American GI billeted in England during the Second World War," Robinson says. "A few years after the war ended he went back to America, leaving a young family behind and, to my knowledge, no further contact was made. I traced him to Los Angeles through his 1943 enlistment record and discovered that he was born in Arkansas . . ." Robinson cites crime writing and genealogy as ardent hobbies--a passion that is readily apparent in his work. He can be contacted via his website or his blog 

Welcome back, Steve. I see you're wearing your writer's hat. It's very you :)

The truth about the hat and more photos on Steve's blog
It's a bit embarrassing really. After Kindle Direct Publishing made a mini-documentary about me, a photo of me in the hat appeared on twitter so the hat is really out of the bag.

Since you last visited, you’ve written another two books in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery series and, after being a huge self-publishing success, you’ve signed with amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, bringing out new editions of your backlist alongside matching audio-books. What made you jump ship from self-publishing? 

The short answer is a four book deal with Amazon Publishing’s mystery thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer, but I don’t really like to think of it in terms of having jumped ship. I still feel ‘indie’, and that will always be a big part of my journey as an author. Signing with Amazon seemed to offer the best of both worlds. I’m still very much involved in the process, from book cover designs and blurbs, and I even got to pick the narrator for the audiobook editions from several samples that were sent to me. Signing with Amazon Publishing has helped me to focus more on my books, and of course it’s great to have editors waiting to help me shape them up for publication. I also felt that Amazon was better placed to help my books reach a wider audience.

Are the amazon waters as infested with sharks as the headlines suggest? 

Not as far as this author is concerned. From my own experience during the year since I signed with Amazon Publishing, I believe they treat their authors very well. 

Sorry about the shipwreck metaphors but I was influenced by your latest book :) The tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914 is key to the story that JT is uncovering. How did you discover this event and what made you decide to write about it?

When I set out to find the story for my fourth Jefferson Tayte mystery, I knew it would be released in 2014, and I wanted to find something that tied in with the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. When I came across the tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in May that year, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before, and the need to make more people aware of it became very important to me. So many stories are told of the Titanic and the Lusitania, but here was a disaster that had all but been forgotten, and yet, excluding crew members, more passengers lost their lives when the Empress of Ireland sank than on either the Titanic or the Lusitania. I wanted to weave a story around this event, and because it happened before the war broke out, I decided that the backdrop would be the build up to war, rather than the war itself.

As always in your books, there’s a lot of research underlying the historical parts of the narrative and another thread in the novel is the WW1 network of spies. How much of your detail about spies is based on fact?

It’s all based on facts from my research – at least, it’s based on reported facts at the time. There’s a lot of speculation about the scale of spying before WW1. Britain was in a state of paranoia about the threat of a German invasion, with satirical cartoons in the press and on posters showing German spies everywhere. A number of spies were arrested and executed at the outbreak of war, although I think there were far fewer than had been anticipated. Those spies mentioned during JT’s research in the book are real, as are the details of their spying activity and their punishment. I try to keep everything as real as possible.

As a fellow-photographer, I was fascinated by the detail of spy photography in 2014 – very clumsy compared to today’s micro-cameras or even mobile phones. How did you research the details, which I assume are accurate? 

I thought I’d run into a problem when I came to the particular plot hurdle in question, for which I needed a camera that existed in 1914, which would be small enough to conceal. I had no idea whether such a camera was in use then, but was very happy to find the Ur-Leica—a 35mm film camera, built in 1913 by Oscar Barnack at the Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar. It was still in prototype form at the time my story is set, but having been designed and built in Germany made it ideal, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine such a prototype camera in the possession of a German spy. Necessity being the mother of invention, it was also not difficult to imagine that such a small camera for the time was  designed for this very purpose.

Once again, you interweave a woman’s viewpoint from the past, with JT’s, and I certainly found Alice’s perspective and dilemma very convincing. Do you have any tips for writing from the viewpoint of someone in another historical period? Any special considerations regarding gender?

Someone wrote to me a short while ago and asked that very question. It was about the character, Mena, in my second book, To the Grave. How do you get inside the head of teenage girl from 1944 enough to understand her mannerisms and expectations? It’s a tough question to answer because I don’t really know. I don’t even have any children of my own to draw inspiration from. I suppose it must partly come down to the research, and I think when you come to fully understand a character, to the point where they seem quite real to you, then you can better understand how they would feel and how they might react to certain situations, irrespective of gender or the times they live in. 

Your plots must be complicated to write, with 3 different storylines interwoven (the present genealogical case for JT, the past as it happened and JT’s own personal family history and relationships). How do you keep track of it all? Any tips?

The software application, Scrivener, has been invaluable in helping me to keep track of the various plotlines in my stories. I highly recommend it. When I’m faced with two interwoven timelines, I typically write the entire past narrative before I write Jefferson Tayte’s character in the present. This helps to keep me in character and I can focus wholly on one part of the story at a time. I then look at how JT is going to unlock the key elements of the past narrative and I structure what’s going on in the present day around those links to the past. The elements of JT’s own, larger story are usually written into the appropriate places as I go. The key there is not to let them get in the way of the main story. The hard part really comes down to making the often complex mechanics of the story appear transparent to the reader so that the entire narrative as a whole makes sense and it easy to follow. I love it when I see reviews that describe my work as an ‘easy read’. The writing is usually far from easy, but if I’ve managed to make a reader feel it was an easy book to read, then I consider that I’ve done my job as a storyteller well.

Is JT going to make progress with tracing his own ancestry in the next book? Can you give us a teaser for the next JT novel?

Yes he is! I’ve plotted the book and I’ve started writing it. I hope to deliver the first draft to my publisher next summer. As for a teaser, all I’ll say at this point is that Jefferson Tayte is in for quite a shock.

JT’s professional expertise reflects your own in tracking family trees. It seems very sophisticated nowadays, so what tips do you have for readers who want to play sleuth to discover their own ancestors? 

JT faces many genealogical brick walls on his various assignments in my books, and each one has to be worked through to reach a solution that often seems impossible to find. Everyone working on their family history comes across these brick walls from time to time, and typically the answers are difficult to reach because we’re looking in all the tried and tested places, following our regular pattern of research, and sometimes you need a fresh approach. There’s usually more than one way to find what you’re looking for, however wild or unlikely it might seem. You don’t always have to climb that wall, sometimes you can find your way around it.

Do you sometimes feel the urge to abandon JT and write something different?

No, we’ve become good friends over the years, and I want to find our how his life turns out myself. I couldn’t abandon him part way through his own story. It’s a partnership, and he’s relying on me to help him find out who he is. When you create a series character, I think you owe it to that character, and of course to your readers, to see the story through.

What are you doing photography-wise at the moment? 

I recently took a backpack full of photographic equipment to the Dolomites and came back with some mountain photography I’m very pleased with. I’ve posted a blog about it with some of the images I particularly like here

Here are some other images I really like, which I’ve not shared before. 

I shoot with a Canon 5D mk3, and I like to take it into London with my 35mm f1.4L for street photography. I prefer to shoot candid images for street shots as I feel they best capture the realism, which for me is what street photography is all about.

I was walking past this lady, shooting from my hip as I passed so as not to draw attention to myself. Studying the image later on, I became very interested in her story. Her attire and the backpack she’s sitting on don’t appear typical of someone on the street. It makes me wonder about her story. It makes me want to know how this older lady wound up here. Judging from the number of roll-up cigarette ends on the ground in front of her she’s been sitting there a while.

With Coutts bank in the background, I like the juxtaposition it represents. 

I think wet pavements can add interest to a shot, and I like how the image of this man in the doorway turned out. Rainy days are great for shooting London street photography, and are well suited to black and white images.

For obvious reasons, I call this last image ‘The laughing cloud’. I was in Cornwall, having a coffee outside a hotel that overlooks the sea when I took it. It appeared for a moment and was gone again, but I had my camera with me and managed to get the shot.

Thanks, Steve! Your happy cloud looks more like a scared leopard to me but I like the street shots. All the best with the new book. Party time!

You can contact Steve via  his website  on twitter and on Google + 


My Review of ‘The Lost Empress’

The genial logical detective returns in another page-turner

Fans of this bestselling series, like me, will find much to enjoy and even surprise them in the latest adventure of genealogical detective J.T. As always, it is the unfolding of the story set in the past that I like best. In this case, I discovered the prelude to WW1, with credible spies and a real-life shipwreck. More passengers died when the Empress of Ireland sank than in the Titanic disaster and yet most of us know nothing about it because war news overwhelmed all else. Who was it that pointed out how to bury bad news by timing its release? Caught up in these events is the subject of JT’s investigation, Alice. I found it easy to empathise with Alice and her dilemma as she struggles against threats to her family and pressure to betray her country.

The modern day antics, with murder and chases, are entertaining, well-structured to leave the past narative at cliff-hanger moments, and I believe in J.T. as a character. His sloppy shyness with women is endearing, as is his failure to discover his own family history (so far). It goes with the genre that there are twists and revelations and the reader has to be willing to accept some unlikely behaviour in the interest of plot entertainment. Given the complexity of the three-strand plot (past and present of ‘the case’, plus J.T.’s own life) I think Steve Robinson pulls it off well. 

Until three-quarters of the way through the book, I was completely gripped by Alice’s story; after that, the pace grew faster but the characterisation weaker, in my eyes. Of course, I still wanted to know what happened but I'm always going to prefer it when the writing reaches a higher level. Having said that, the sinking of the Empress is an emotional roller-dipper of a scene and I love the historical detail in the whole book. I trust Steve Robinson's portrayal of clothes, manners and machinery to set the scene. I now know what camera spy might have used in 1914 – fascinating!

Looking for your family history?

You'll also find really helpful advice in this book by author Karen Charlton on how she shook her family tree and a criminal fell out.

amazon link

Goodreads Book Giveaway

One Sixth of a Gill by Jean Gill

One Sixth of a Gill

by Jean Gill

Giveaway ends November 01, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Don't call me Shirley

I suppose it was inevitable that within minutes of us renaming our adopted dog 'Sherlock', my husband (a big 'Airplane' fan) said, 'Of course, we'll call him Shirley.' Sherlock/ Sherl/ Sherley/ G'boy seems very happy with his new names and life. He has a tail like a cat's and it's usually waving that little white hook at the end high in the air. His hind-quarters have completely regained muscle tone and a bum doubled in size suits him better than it does me; ditto the extra 5kg he gained gradually after he came to us. Read Part 1 of Sherlock's story

A Happy Tale

Sherlock is a griffon bleu de Gascogne, a Gascony Griffon, bred for hunting, abandoned with no ID. My suspicions that he was thrown out by his hunter-owner have been backed up by his behaviour. When we opened a bottle of Clairette (the local sparkling wine), the cork popping sent Sherlock into nervous running round. Purely in the interests of dog-training, we made sure he heard the sound frequently and he has grown used to it over the last eight months but this is not a dog who will cope with gunshots. He's scared when the hunters go past in their SUVs, hounds barking and trailers clattering. Nose glued to the ground as always and ears trailing, he didn't even see the pheasant that pottered into the woods on one of our forest walks. I suspect that he has the nose but not the temperament; or that a hunting accident traumatised him.

I do know that he was treated badly. He no longer flinches when I stroke him unexpectedly and he's no longer afraid if I'm cross (usually with Blanche and he worries on her behalf). He knows there's no hitting here and his confidence grows all the time. Yesterday was a big day; he looked me in the eyes and, for the first time, licked my nose. He seeks caresses now without fearing reprisals. In fact, he'll push Blanche aside to get his share and she's so sure of herself (and of me) that she doesn't mind. It wasn't safe for him to show his feelings and he is a reserved dog, who is taking the risk of expressing himself more and more. 

He is also deeply stubborn. He might have been beaten but he wasn't broken. I see it when Blanche plays dominance games. She is so much bigger that he can't avoid being jumped on but he doesn't buckle and he doesn't give in. He endures it. I suspect his previous training involved commands, stubborn refusal and then him being hit. The shelter reinforced recall as a bad thing (back into the cage if you came when called). That has changed completely with positive training but he still wavers sometimes at the final moment in recall. There's a lot of harm to unlearn. And he has no idea what play means. So motivation has to be praise, cuddles, need to be with me or occasional cheese cubes.

Sherlock sleuthing

I get funny looks when Sherlock is with me. One man waiting with me at the vet's told me he used to have a bleu de Gascogne. The dog got nicknamed 'Inox' the French name for a metallic pan-scraper, because the wire-haired coat is so harsh. The breed website shows a photo of owners; rows of men with guns and Sherlock-dogs.

Everyone knows that it is a bad idea to adopt a hunting dog. Why, I wondered, having adopted a hunting dog. A French friend told me, 'They escape. They run away all the time.' This was not good news. Escaping dogs die. The very next day, I found Sherlock outside the garden fence, running around the terrain that is open to a busy road. A lump in my throat, I called him back in. Blanche hadn't followed him - that time. John and I checked the fence, argued, blocked the hole that hadn't been there before, feared the worst. 

It happened again. I watched where Sherlock went when he was back on the inside, found the new hole. Heavy-hearted, I told John. It was a bad day. We both know from bitter experience what a determined escaper can be like and how dangerous it is. Gritting his teeth, John looked at the fence again. And then looked around inside the big garden. And saw what Sherlock had been trying to tell us all along, looking through the fence, pointing gun-dog style. Wild boar excrement. The holes had been made by wild boar coming down from the woods into the garden. All Sherlock had done was go through the hole and check out his outer territory - and then come home.

When strimming the grass outside the fence, someone had cut through the tension wire at the bottom and that was all it took to allow piggy diggings and a break-in. Acorns and worms in damp soil all attract the boar. Luckily a strand of barbed wire along the bottom of the fence outside stopped the nocturnal invasions - big thanks to the Welsh friend who gave me that tip.

Sherlock has made NO escape attempts so another myth can be exploded; hunting dogs don't all want to run away.

Sherlock on his holidays by Lac St Croix

Apart from the nose-lick, yesterday was a big day for another reason; vaccinations and health check. It's good news. The way I'm treating Sherlock's ears is working so although they are dirty and need wiped regularly, the regime of a week's Zymox, then a break, has prevented any return of infection and can be carried on forever. No talk of operations, nor even of antibiotics. One healthy, shiny, happy dog.  My vet has remained impassive in the past while I've sobbed all over her consulting-room but this time she cracked completely, in a good way. Yesterday, she stroked Sherlock and we agreed that he wasn't the sort of dog who'd attract potential owners but that he was beautiful, 'well-proportioned'. She told me, 'I love this dog. There is something peaceful about him.' The word she used was 'reposant', which carries the sense of 'makes me feel peaceful.' Yes, 'reposant' is a good word.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Moment of Time - Jilaine Tarisa

Welcome to Jilaine Tarisa, author of A Moment of Time and congratulations on publication. How do you feel about seeing the book in print at last?

Thanks for inviting me, Jean! It’s been a long journey so I’m thrilled to hold a copy of the paperback in my hands.

A Moment of Time is about the paradigm shift that occurs when belief is replaced by understanding.
barnes & noble
amazon link

Contact Jilaine on twitterfacebook, googleplus
and via her web log

Jilaine Tarisa is a licensed attorney and certified mediator; she also completed a Master of Arts degree in psychology and has studied personality and relationship dynamics as well as social issues concerning the care and treatment of the mentally ill. 

You’ve written a lot of non-fiction material in your professional career. When did you start writing fiction?

When I was twelve, I wanted to write a screenplay about teenagers on a cruise ship. (I had gone to some bon voyage parties in New York City and imagined all the fun—and trouble—teens could have on a cruise without parents!) Before that, my best friend and I wanted to write for Dark Shadows, our favorite television show. (Said friend became a literary agent specializing in horror—and I became an attorney.)
After years of writing about factual matters, I was surprised I wanted to write fiction, but I saw the power of a story well told. I started writing a novel and drafted quite a few chapters. The characters were well developed and I was clear about the themes—but I didn’t know where the story was going or how it would end. Then I started writing lyrics for songs, and the idea for a screenplay came into my head. This time I knew the ending, as well as the main characters and themes, at the outset. So I abandoned the novel and learned about screenwriting.

Did you ever complete the screenplay?

Yes, and I still hope a film will be produced someday. The first half of the story is told in A Moment of Time. (I’m working on the sequel.) I’m calling the series The Red Rose Way.
I also wrote lyrics for the songs that would be featured in a film version, which would be a musical. 

Are your song lyrics featured in the book?  

The story’s heroine, Caitlin Rose, always has pop songs running through her head—foreshadowing her later attempts at writing her own songs. I had wanted to include fragments of familiar songs that she might be singing, but permissions are expensive and copyright law has a lot of gray areas. So instead of having her sing the jingle of an old television commercial, for example, I made one up—for a fictitious product.
When Caitlin’s creativity starts to flow, she writes a poem, and that’s included in the book. The circumstances that surround her earliest lyrics are introduced, along with a line or two of the songs in progress, to show her development as a songwriter. I’m not a musician (I don’t play any instruments) but I’ve studied with sound healers and I love to sing. The healing power of music is one of the themes of the book as well as the screenplay.

How is screenwriting different from novel writing, and why did you decide to write A Moment of Time as a novel?

A novel is a finished product. It may be edited before publication, but the writer’s work is presented directly to readers. A script is read by agents and producers and actors; other professionals take the writer’s words and ideas and turn them into a finished product. A motion picture reflects the vision of the director, and significant changes to the script are sometimes made over the course of production. A screenplay must follow a specific format to comply with industry standards. It’s written in the present tense and is divided into scenes rather than chapters. Each scene includes a brief description of setting (location) and action. What’s happening? What are the actors saying and doing? How do they respond to what’s happening? Lengthy descriptions are unnecessary—and are discouraged.
A novel is a better vehicle for exploring a character’s inner reality. Instead of writing a self-help book about spiritual principles or forgiveness or recovery, I wanted to show what the transformation process looks like.

Is what you are calling the ‘transformation process’ related to what you’ve told me psychologists call  self-actualisation?

Yes, that’s a topic that has interested me since I was a teenager. It just means realizing your potential and being true to your own nature—which is not the same thing as pursuing self-interest and gratification of the senses. A self-actualized person naturally gravitates toward a concern for others and seeks what’s best for the whole, recognizing that each of us is a part of the whole. Self-realization is another term that is often used. The self is not the personality, the socialized self; you have to strip away the labels and limitations that others have used to define you and that you’ve accepted as true. As you move away from a focus on self-image and superficial qualities, you are free to embrace your innate gifts and talents, honor your heart’s desires, and live in accordance with your core values. When you are honest with yourself about what you really want and need, you may look for opportunities to get involved with your community, choose relationships that nourish your soul, and adopt a lifestyle that supports your growth and well-being.
Being self-actualized doesn’t mean you’re perfect; it means you are comfortable in your own skin, free to express your uniqueness, and striving toward greater awareness and fulfillment of your destiny. You may not always see the truth, but seeing what’s false becomes easier—if you are open and receptive. When you are convinced you know the truth about something, you dismiss evidence to the contrary—and may overlook important information as a result.

One of the issues in A Moment of Time concerns a vaccine preservative and the health hazards it might present to children; is that controversy part of the screenplay as well?

Yes, I realized early in the process that if my main character (who is an attorney for the US Department of Justice) was going to confront her boss and take a stand for something she believed in (and risk ruining her career in the process), she needed to be working on a matter that was important enough for her to feel strongly about ‘doing the right thing.’ I researched the thimerosal-vaccine controversy—which hadn’t made headlines yet—for the screenplay.
When I wrote the novel, I added a new layer concerning religion and myth and the early history of Christianity.

Why did you feel this extra layer was important to the book?
It wasn’t planned. When I sat down to write the novel, I thought it would take me a month! I was very familiar with the characters and the story, and I’d spent a lot of time working on that earlier novel, so I expected writing the book to be straightforward and simple. The creative process will take you on a journey, if you’re willing to allow the story to unfold (and are not working under any time constraints).
When I finally completed A Moment of Time, I realized that when someone’s life is transformed, every aspect is affected: choices, relationships, lifestyle, goals and aspirations. Our beliefs shape our experience. You can’t grow if you aren’t willing to examine your beliefs and test their validity—and let them go if you find they are no longer true for you. A Moment of Time is about the paradigm shift that occurs when belief is replaced by understanding. If you stop believing what the people around you believe, you may find yourself an outsider for a time. But heroes (and heroines) don’t follow the crowd; they lead the way. Sometimes unwittingly, but they attract attention and influence others.

You raise important questions and I'm sure each of us will have different answers. For me, it's the debate itself that connects people; there is no need to agree on the answers - or even find answers at all.

My aim is not to supply answers but to inspire people to take their own journeys. I introduce ideas that may be new to some people. I hope readers will explore in greater depth the topics that interest them, whether that means reading about mythology or the Gnostic Gospels or participating in a meditation retreat—or taking the first steps to living the life they’ve always dreamed about.

Thank you for celebrating your launch on my blog. Let's open that wine now! And I wish you all the success in the world with A Moment of Time.


A Moment of Time by Jilaine Tarisa published September 19, 2014 by Inspired Creations, LLC.
Chapter One can be read on Jilaine's web site 

The Story...

A Moment of Time
When Justice Department attorney Caitlin Rose investigates claims that a vaccine preservative is causing adverse effects in children, her boss, Neil Morton, fears that his behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry might be discovered. A reporter's daughter, Caitlin is determined to expose the truth—and Neil is determined to protect his interests. They can't both win, but they might both lose. 

Neil pressures Caitlin to take time off while he seeks an overhaul of the laws governing vaccines. Caitlin travels to Ireland, where she meets up with her unconventional friend Kimo, a former client who is studying to be a naturopathic doctor. After an inexplicable encounter with an enigmatic figure causes her to question her assumptions about life and her understanding of religion, Caitlin's paradigm shift begins. But before she can act upon her newfound principles, Neil summons Sam Burns—and disaster is sure to follow. 

A story about finding your voice, speaking your truth, and following your dreams, A Moment of Timeportrays one woman's quest for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

My review for A Moment of Time

Exceptional and thought-provoking

Let’s get the criticism out of the way first because I loved so much of this ambitious book and would rather talk about all that I liked. The first section had enough narrative interest to hook me into reading on, but much of it was a sermon on world religions barely disguised as dialogue. Other readers might enjoy the information for its own sake but for me it fell between two genres, spoiling the narrative and yet delivering nothing factual that was new to me.

From then on, I was immersed completely in the story and, perhaps more importantly, in the questions it raised about ‘right’ and healthy ways to live. I found it easy to empathise with Caitin. Her journey from the competitive rat race of top level legal work to other ways of living, took me with her through every experience, and made me reflect on my own life choices.

When Jilaine Tarisa wants to write realistic and moving dialogue, she certainly can. I found the mother-daughter relationship heart-wrenching, each of them wanting to show that she cares, but caught up in their history of antagonism and misunderstandings. Both viewpoints are extremely well written. I love the fact that Caitlin still can’t deal with her mother, however enlightened she becomes – how true to life!

Caitlin’s relationships with men echo her professional journey from the conventional to choices that are different, even dangerous and abusive. When Kimo, the naturotherapist, re-appears in Caitlin’s life I am prepared for another theological lecture – and I get it – but I no longer mind as I’m so caught up in the lives of the characters. Caitlin makes her own very real choices and is not a mere puppet for the author’s theories.

This novel made me think about my life, my values, my choices and the changes along the way. There is wisdom here and some quotations resonate with me, especially the sharp observations on society’s values, such as The Declaration of Independence could have listed rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of money,” he’d once said while toasting a success at the Club. Despite my reservations about being lectured, the broad view of a spiritual dimension is an honest journey across world religions and mythologies, and the conclusions are attractive.

A book to read and re-read, if only to fully appreciate the kitten.

Friday, August 15, 2014

One Sixth of a Gill goes live!

Publication Date 1st November 2014 

On pre-release order now.

For once, amazon is waving its magic wand to get Jean Gill's new book to the ball, all dressed up and ready to dance. With previous books, I felt like I was relegated to the kitchen half the time, eating the scraps left by the big publishers - and grateful for the crumbs. As a non-US citizen, I could never get to the ball on time and had to press my face against the window,watching, until the tickets - kindle publishing - came to Europe.

The opportunity to pre-release books is so important that amazon has withheld this in what I think of as their Axe-Murder Attempt, also known as the Hachette War. Not only is amazon denying pre-publication to a big publisher but it's giving it for the first time to thousands of small and self-publishers. All right, amazon - you have 90 days to show me what you can do for One Sixth of a Gill with KDP, your exclusive programme.

I will let all my blog-readers know how this new adventure in publishing goes. And - fanfare - here's the belle of the ball. One Sixth of a Gill, my book of shorts. Publication Date 1st November. I'm hoping everyone will get into my shorts for Christmas. Did I really just say that?

Order your copy here and let's see if we can get my 17th book showing up in the charts and staying there. The first reviews and book details are below...

Pre-Release reviews so far

‘It is like having a conversation with a group of friends over dinner, where the topics wander and morph quite organically as occasions and images are recalled by the guests. The result is an eclectic mix which is quite unputdownable.

More than anything I liked the way it was put together in a way which allowed for grazing or an all-out feast. I expect folk will keep returning to the table for a while after the final course.’
B.A. Morton, author of prize-winning crime novel ‘Mrs Jones’

A rare treat.
'I dipped into your One Sixth of a Gill at the breakfast table, during siesta and sometimes before night-time sleep, which is how I think many readers will ‘use’ your book. And I do think it is a book to be ‘used’ – for its thought-provoking content, for some of its images that require scrutiny and interpretation. Some days I opted for a more superficial reading because daily life had its own measure of minor stresses and I needed no extra. On those days I loved the photographs, the dog tales, the knowing sub-text about marriage and parenthood.'
J.G. Harlond, author of ‘The Empress Emerald’

A superb collection – so much variation in style and all equally brilliant. Thank you.
'What leapt out at me was the strong sense of colour in all your writing, especially the poems and stories. I wonder if that is because you are a photographer; you are very aware of it, pick up the nuances and you use this to brilliant effect in shading the writing with feeling. Your collection reminded me of a box of scarves we had in ballet class when I was young, all different shades and hues. I loved hunting through them and I guess that's what I'm trying to say about your collection. There is something for whatever mood you find yourself in.'
Karen Maitland, author of ‘The Vanishing Witch’

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sherlock - another dumped dog

By popular request, the story of Sherlock. His ears already have a fan club so it's time I let you meet him properly.

We wanted to motivate Blanche's recovery from her operation (stomach torsion) so we decided in February to get her a new friend. I had promised Lou that his successor (not replacement) would be, like him, a sweet-natured shelter dog that no-one else would want but who could cope with the somewhat brutal friendship of a Great Pyrenees. Hunting dogs are not popular for adoption because hunters assume they were useless at hunting and their background gives them the reputation of being unsuitable as family dogs and liable to run away. So we chose Rudy, who'd been found wandering the countryside in August 2013, with no ID. He was probably thrown out before the new season.

Rudy's prison mug-shot
Here in France, some hunting-dogs are loved all the year round, all their lives. Many, however, live in packs, in cages, exercised only during the hunting season and with no experience of homes and families. We were told that Rudy hadn't known what a caress was but was starting to enjoy them. That he was quiet but showed enthusiasm for outings, in his own way. We already knew what 'outings' meant from our adoption of Lou: a five-minute toilet break on waste ground, 3 to 4 times a week. The surprise with Rudy was that he didn't pull on the lead but he'd been trained (unintentionally) not to come when called. He'd be let off the lead for his five minutes, called, grabbed and taken back to the cage. Obviously, he preferred not to come when called. So we filled in the paperwork and changed his name to Sherlock.

When I went to his cage to spring him from the hellhole, he didn't even get up he was so depressed, and he barked just once, a big hound bay, fit for a Baskerville. I swear he knew I'd come for him and he didn't think he could go on much longer if I hadn't. The breed was new to me and I didn't realise till I got him home that the muscles of his hind-quarters were wasted from lack of exercise and he was far too thin. I thought back to the dish in his cage, piled high with pizza (restaurant left-overs) and untouched. The first night, he cried from the pain in his ears - yes, once again, and worse than with Lou, another floppy-eared dog with the most horrific, untreated ear infection. Dogs are so stoical and they put up with ear infections during the day when there are distractions but they can't sleep at night and the pain drives them crazy.

The vet fell in love with Sherlock and her good work, combined with a healthy diet and daily exercise, has restored his health. His bum is double the size it was and, in his case, that's great news. He's gained 5kg - a big percentage of his 35kg. Thanks to a Blog reader who emailed me, I had a new treatment to try for long-term ear maintenance and we seem to be managing the ear problems by using Zymox regularly (products you can order from the USA and that work miracles).

Sherlock at home
I'm sure from his behaviour that Sherlock had never been in a house before and the stairs up to the front door were a giant step for dogkind. It took a couple of tries the first time but he followed us and the big blonde into the house and into the living-room. He even fell asleep for a while until the T.V. was switched on and then he was completely panic-stricken, ran outside and wouldn't come back in. We left the T.V. off. It took a couple of days with gentle sound and his strong desire to be with us as motivation, and then he was watching Premier League football with everyone else. He still fled from Metallica videos for a while but, now, his favourite place to sleep is right in front of the television.

This is my third dog adoption, I have read hundreds of first-hand accounts from other people, and I have a theory about what I've experienced with all three, very different dogs. They have all been traumatised for the first few weeks and as the effects have worn off, their underlying personalities and experiences have started to show, in some unexpected ways. Sherlock was so numb that anyone could do anything with him for weeks; when he showed dislike and even fear of strangers, I think this was a sign that life mattered to him again and that he wasn't just accepting whatever happened. I know that I have not encouraged his fears in any way (my training is good enough to know that) and yet he is now nervous about situations he didn't care about at first.

Sometimes, trainers make the mistake of assuming that the adoptant is creating fears in the dog. Often, the debutante dog-owner does create fears in the dog! Reassuring and stroking a scared dog is classic reinforcement behaviour. But what I'm suggesting is that awakening from trauma can bring with it all those fears a dog has, based on past experience - or ignorance - and show its own personality, regardless of whether the owner does everything 'right'. Sherlock got over how scary the T.V. was and he has the intelligence and trust in us to learn confidence in other situations he hasn't met before - we are working on it.

We discover new things about him all the time. Training with treats hasn't been possible until now. I thought he'd probably been trained not to take treats and yet he would take little bits of chicken or soft cheese from my hand, and he will eat soaked dog kibble but not dry biscuits. Yesterday, I looked properly at his teeth, which the vet had declared to be good. They do look good when his mouth is closed, but the four middle bottom teeth are eroded, filed away? damaged? ground down on cage bars? I shall ask my vet next time I see her. But I'm now sure that he can't eat hard treats - not won't - and he's been happily accepting little soft cheese cubes today. I know there are other ways of training but I think this is going to help with communication. There are four of us in this marriage :)

After two months with Sherlock, we felt confident enough to take him on holiday for a week and I am very proud of how he behaved: he has been perfectly house-trained (despite never being in a house!) not destructive in any way and he copes with the princess. They are unquestionably one pack although he is not willing to play with her - yet. You will laugh at his one irritating habit. He is a bit of a whiner, especially if we leave the room and he wants us there. Especially first thing in the morning, at first light. Yes, I now have a dog who insists on giving 'A Song at Dawn' outside my bedroom window!!

John, Sherlock and Blanche, the princess, on holiday in Provence

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jacket make-overs

Many of my books were published three years ago and the jacket designs are showing their age so it's definitely time for a re-vamp. Also, the books are gaining ever more readers so my own knowledge about how the books fit into the marketplace has grown, and that changes what I want the jackets to look like.

I know the designer won't mind me canvassing for comments and opinions on the new look so I'd appreciate any reactions to 'Faithful through Hard Times'. Fellow-writers might be interested in some of the choices I'm making and why, before you comment, but I know some of you just like the pictures, so here they are.

One practical point about the text on book jackets is that amazon will only let you use words in a title which actually appear on the jacket, and all the title words show up in amazon searches, giving you some freebie extra search words. That's why I added 'a WW2 true story' to the ebook cover. If you want to know more about the book itself and whether the new cover represents it effectively, in genre and appeal to likely readers, check it out here




It is widely agreed that writers will be more successful by sticking to one genre, building a readership and having 'a look' to all of their books. Publishers have always done this; self-published authors are well-advised to follow suit. But I'm not going to.

Call me mad or call me multi-faceted but I write in many genres and I think the 'genre look' of the jacket is more important than the 'Jean Gill' look. Quite honestly, I married the only person who's ever going to read all my books because they are just so diverse

Which fonts?

I plead guilty to underestimating the artistry of fonts - never again. Thanks to sites like the Book Designer and its recommended link Fontsquirrel I know what's trending and why it matters. The fonts suck on my 3 year old book jackets. But then they also suck on my books which were conventionally published over the last twenty years. Things change. But thanks to designer input, I'm looking at fonts, and the way they're mixed, as a way of keeping a 'Jean Gill' look, despite the range of genres. 

Which art-work?

As a photographer, as well as an author, I have strong opinions on this. There is, however, nothing to stop me giving the designer instructions and then looking at options on layout, background, textures,colours.. detail and fancy-work. I wasn't happy when I found exactly the same jacket as one of my books, just a different colour - the publisher (yes, a 'proper' publisher) had used one stock photo, straight. Stock photos of all qualities exist and my own don't always meet my requirements but I want enough of a twist to the design to keep it different from someone else's in more than author name and title.

I know that one of my many failings is that I love complexity and clutter - too clever by half, as my mother always said. Jackets need room for


Part of my lack of respect for fonts was due to the old-fashioned thinking that blurb is on the back of a book. In today's one-click or forget-it world, the front jacket wins or loses readers. Even though amazon now allows readers to view the back jacket, (for those publishers smart enough to figure out how), that is still one more click. I want commitment after the first kiss. 

I've always agonised over the right title but now I want pointers to go with it; an indication of genre (to double as search words on amazon), a killer quote. One advantage of becoming established as an author is that I have wonderful quotes to choose from. In fact, I'm starting to worry about offending someone by not using his/her great quote - the problems of success!


Oh, yes. Every time. I want a jacket that I love, passionately. Even if I want a better one after three years... We are talking about books here, right?

Over to you...

Any thoughts on my new jacket? On book covers in general? What decisions do you make? How often will you spend precious time on improving the books already written - instead of writing new ones?