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Monday, May 21, 2018

Seeing Every Tree - Anita Kovacevic


Today's blog guest is Anita Kovacevic, a remarkable author whose tireless work on behalf of other authors makes her an unsung hero -so let's do some singing. 

Tell me a bit about yourself - where do you live and what do you do when you’re not writing?
My family and I live in Croatia, where we are all from. I teach English in a private school for foreign languages to groups of various ages; this is a full-time job. Writing sneaks in whenever possible, usually on breaks and holidays, but when a story is particularly active in my head, it will worm its way even into my dreams at night. Writing makes time for itself, but, for now, it tries to understand my main priority – family. 




Can you give me a brief picture of your personal journey as a writer?
Another author friend recently celebrated his anniversary and, as I congratulated him on his success, I checked my own publishing dates. It all still seems so fresh, especially knowing how much I have yet to learn about the craft, but it was only at that moment, when I checked the date, that I realized my books have been in the publishing world for over three years now. There are four of my children’s books out there and, in the world of adult fiction, there’s a novella, two novels, two poetry collections, and finally my stories and poems in six anthologies. If I am doing my math well, that sums up to fifteen titles available online to my own name. It still seems totally surreal at times. 

There are two wonderful charity projects which came even before my own books and sort of started the whole business of books for me – an educational story book published traditionally a long time ago, Teaching Children from the Heart (currently unavailable) and the international anti-bullying anthology Inner Giant (available on Amazon). I was invited to both by Mr. Letras, an author and teacher, as a member of an online teachers group. These two collections are, in a way, why I dared publish at all. They are linked to my work in education and I am very proud of participating in them. 

Most of my books are self-published, because I too have had my share of encounters with vanity publishers, which are way too costly for all of my resources, financially, time-wise and emotionally.
When I think back to my childhood, I was always writing something, and then it continued throughout my education, as well as my teaching. I often write lesson materials, stories, riddles and limericks for my learners and theatre plays which they perform. This is actually how all of my children’s books started. 

As for my current position as a writer, I would say I am still exploring my possibilities and learning as much as I can. Teaching is my primary occupation and it takes up a lot of my time, especially now that the school year is ending, but it also provides a lot of inspiration. 

I have not distilled my writing into one single genre, nor do I plan to. There are still too many stories in different genres which I feel should see the light of the publishing world. They are waiting in my laptop and notebooks (yes, old-fashioned hand-writing has its advantages) for their time to come and for me to give them proper attention.

Let’s talk about The Forest of Trees, a book which left a huge impression on me because of the questions it raises and because it is so unusual!

You know that the title put me off reading the book and that it was only after starting the book and reading your explanation, that I thought about it differently. Why do you like a title that repeats the obvious?
First of all, thank you very much for reading the book. It means a lot to me, because I admire your work tremendously. 

Yes, The Forest of Trees is very unusual and difficult to sum up. Trust me – the blurb was the most difficult thing to write. I suppose when you’ve spent seven years writing something, it is only right that it should be difficult to sum up.

But let’s start from the title. I had tried changing it many times during the writing and revision process. It would not be changed. Whatever I tried to do, I’d go back to it. Anything else caused havoc in my mind and a severe stomachache. This book wanted to be called The Forest of Trees from the very moment it clicked in my head, and it feels right to me. The marketability of the title is something I am not yet worried about in my writing career. The obviousness of the message, seeing or not being able to see a forest for the trees, doesn’t bother me at all, knowing that nothing else functioned for me. To be honest, nowadays the obvious needs to be stressed – you might be amazed how many people I’ve talked to who know of this saying, and think it refers to weeds in a garden or forest, without any idea of its metaphorical strength. (Sometimes I wonder if people really don’t see or simply choose not to.) I admire the people who are able to see the big picture still respecting each individual tree, and you know, of course, that I am not only talking about plant life here. I have been privileged to know and work with some of such people. The novel abounds in characters, and their stories are so different, and yet all connected, even when we don’t want them to be. Kind of like life.

The Forest of Trees deals with a family who move out of a big city, drained from illnesses, unemployment and their son being bullied, and they set off in search of a better life in a small town. Their lives change tremendously, as the children start a new school, the mother starts working and the father is temporarily not the bread-winner of the family. Opportunities abound, and unusual new friendships are formed, but, naturally, nothing is ever perfect. Small towns have their own secrets, some wonderful, some less. It’s how we deal with them that matters, on our own but also together.

What makes the story different and special are The Forest and all the characters. The Forest is an infamous wood right next to their new residence, with sort of an urban legend behind it, which turns out to be partly true. In a way, the nature and the magical parts of the story are a reflection of what happens in human reality – nothing is ever totally good or bad, and communication and empathy are the keys to handling things and connecting all the trees in the forest. And again, I am not only talking about plant life here. Speck and Tallulah, the link between the magical and human world, are both tiny, which is how much magic humans allow into this world.

I never expected everyone to like the title, cover or the story. I am a writer and teacher, which automatically makes me crazy, but I am not so crazy as to think any book could please everyone. Being at peace with this may be the result of my joining several truly positive author communities, where other authors helped me put things into perspective. It may also be the result of having children and working with them – they teach you very early on that ego is a ridiculous thing and you can never please everybody. The trick is to live with yourself as you are, or else you are living a lie.

I felt that the fantasy creatures of the forest highlighted the same problems experienced by the human characters: bullying, peer pressure, violence, and losing touch with nature (in all its senses). Did you write the fantasy thread with this in mind?
Absolutely, they do highlight them. Thank you for interpreting it in this way. I did not write them with this in mind though. They had me write them. From the very beginning of the story, they were part of it. They grew with the characters and developed the relationships naturally. I am pleased they revealed themselves in true form too, not all of them as good or bad, just like humans. I have always believed we are just parts of the intricate tapestry of the universe, and that there is far more to this world, call it magic or nature or whatever you want, than we allow ourselves to see. 

As my characters, the fantasy ones and the ‘real’ ones, connected and formed their relationships, it made me feel more complete, more connected, happier. There are several scenes in the book which made me cry happy tears. The initial scene of the boy, Jeremy, whistling in the middle of the forest the very first day they arrive from the city, waking up the slumbering trees and his own soul… this one was so lovely to write, but grew more and more powerful every time I reread it during revisions. Now that I’ve had some time to cool my head from the story, it still evokes strong emotions within me. And that’s just chapter one. 

There are some hard-hitting scenes, showing abusive family relationships and how these affect the wider community, in school, or in the neighbourhood. Were these hard to write?
Horribly difficult to write. I tried not to write some. I avoided them.

Old Jackson, the malicious ‘pig’ king, was a special torment for me. The scene where he bullies his youngest grandson and then suffers a just punishment (which should bring some gratification, but doesn’t make you feel good), haunted me as a nightmare for 2 weeks. I would wake up in cold sweat with him whispering in my ear. It is the writer’s horror – the scene repeats itself, word for word, with even more detail every single time. Finally, I gave in, got up one night at about 2 a.m. and wrote it down. I slept like a log the rest of that morning. 

A similar thing happened with the French teacher, Gabrielle, waking up in the motel room, beaten and half-conscious, trying to decide if she wants to try to remember or to forget what exactly happened during the night. This one woke me up after I’d dreamt it, and the entire chapter was dreamed almost exactly as it appears in the book.

Philip, the little boy who uses his talent in computer sciences for his unbelievably malicious plans, was a shock. I’d known from the start he’d be worse than Angel, who is merely a physical bully with learned behavior who needed some love. But the extent of Philip’s wickedness gave me that feeling of defeat. Having almost twenty-five years of teaching experience, I have seen children grow into people I’d hoped they wouldn’t, but this happened really rarely. I love children and their potential, which needs only be unlocked, nourished and inspired by positivity. All the children at Tillsworth seemed to be my learners, so seeing one of them perform such devious acts actually hurt. I remember writing out his final scenes in the book constantly thinking ‘You’re not really going to do that, are you, Philip? Please, don’t. You can do so much better, be so much more…’ It didn’t help. He is very savvy on computers, but uses his power for evil, with total disregard for others or any responsibility. What he did in the end started an avalanche of events which crumbled the town to pieces and tested all relationships. Some might say his deed was eventually productive, but I’d always rather have people water the trees than shake them.

These difficult characters and scenes still have that effect on me which you might call 'writer’s PTSP'. Some might know what I mean. I was not just writing those scenes. I was actually there witnessing them and could do nothing about them. It’s a terrible feeling to wake up with the taste of blood in your mouth which is virtual, and yet not.

One layer of the story follows a teacher and her family to a new job and environment. How far did this story draw on your own life, as a teacher, and as a mother?
Well, I am happy to report none of the abuse scenes come from my own life, which is probably why they were so difficult for me to witness and then write. Somehow, putting them on paper makes them real, as if I am admitting these situations exist. They do, but I wish they didn’t. 

Whatever we may think, that we are not guided by our own life when we write, that we are not divulging our own thoughts and details in our writing… I believe it is impossible to separate the two completely. There are some scenes related to lessons which probably stem from my own experiences, even some methods Emma uses in class. Emma’s feelings of inadequacy as a mother during her days at home with her firstborn are something I can completely relate to. There are some tiny details in the Stone family life which sneaked into the story with love and honesty, such as Emma not being much of a cook, Dot’s dislike of wearing proper skirts, Jeremy’s art, which must have been inspired by some situations from my own life. Some characters were inspired by the people I know, but never entirely, just in some mannerisms, clothing style, etc.

Fantasy often presents Good versus Evil in grand battles and in this book you show that battle in both fantasy-style action and in metaphorical human struggles. I loved the section offering youngsters a way to deal with bullying. But you don’t offer easy solutions. One youngster is portrayed as being beyond redemption. I was reminded of Kevin, in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin,’ and of real teenage murderers. Do you think containment is sometimes all that’s possible?
You are talking about Philip, but also some other children. Bullying is often copied, learned behavior. There is a difference between kids who bully others physically and those who abuse them mentally. Philip’s is the worst kind, I think. He operates from the shadows. I’d hate to see what he grows up to be. 

Interesting you should mention containment. I believe it depends on timing. Forgive my bluntness, but it’s like a serious illness – if discovered early, things can be done about it. Philip’s mother Gloria is not a bad person; she herself has obviously been taught that her beauty is her only value, and as it fades, she gets more scared. She knows no better. She never even sees what he is growing into. I’d always felt that at one point she realized his intelligence had surpassed hers and she simply escaped into herself. She may have felt he was not taking the path of positivity, but being lost herself, she was no guide. I have seen this happen – people who are unable to follow their children’s talents or mental development, who are either too weak to ask for help or even too ashamed to ask for help. 

This is why I cannot stress communication enough. Solutions to problems are never easy, because the problems are not easy.



I believe for Philip it was too late to do anything. Regrettably, there are situations like that. I remember seeing this in some children. It is a frightening feeling in the pit of your stomach as you gaze into that child’s eyes and you realize they do know the difference between right and wrong, but it doesn’t interest them – all they care about is what they want. It is one of the scariest feelings in the world, seeing future in that light. You hope you are wrong. And then you meet the source – the parents, and the feeling in your stomach sinks in – irredeemable. Frightful feeling. I am glad it is rare. 

But overall, bullying and abuse in children can be handled and steered in the right direction. All my other children characters are proof. The project they work on at school is one I feel so privileged to have witnesses in my mind. It has nothing to do with bullying, and yet demands all the positive things I believe in education – creativity, team work, individuality, respect, problem solving, collaboration with adults… even things getting literally messy in water colours. It is my firm belief that by focusing on positivity and creativity is the way to go.

As for Jeremy’s method to handle bullying by finding his own inner strength, I’d thought a lot about it. For a moment I was even a bit disappointed that he’d chosen such stereotypes (talking to his own angel and demon), until I realized it was normal – children use images we provide them with, so having his own angel and demon was his brain simplifying things for him to a level he was able to handle. The Ready Room is one of my favourite places in the book, but people need to read the book to see why. And it is not even a physical place.

Who is your ideal reader and what would you like him/her to take away from reading your book?
Oh this may be the most difficult question of all. I don’t know what kind of person it would take to like The Forest of Trees, but perhaps that’s part of the magic of writing. I would certainly recommend it to educators, parents, family people, even young adults with interest in human psyche. Anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of magic now and then. The fantasy creatures certainly helped me handle some of the ghastly people in the book. 

I hope readers feel good after reading the novel and it makes them think about themselves and others. I hope they realize how much respect some people, for instance the Bosworths (the school principal and his wife), deserve – the modest, non-conflicting people who never steal the show but facilitate life to all around them, despite their own personal tragedy. 

Everyone has a story. I hope my readers admit that children, and some adults, need to believe in magic, need their own inner world which makes them better people. Tallulah, Speck and the trees, the fantasy elements I mentioned in this interview, they are the links in the book, with the help of the children, of course. They keep the balance. I love my tree characters. I cried over some, and I’d love to meet them in person. I hope my readers will too.

How do you feed your creative engine? Where do you look, or what do you do, to keep the inspiration flowing?
With everything else still taking precedence in my life, inspiration flows too often to fit my timetable. I never have to look for it – it finds me. The people at the bus stop, a scent, an image, music, somebody’s laughter, doing the dishes, chatting with my husband or my kids… everything has a story. Everyone has a story.

What comes first –location, plot, characters?
An entire scene plays out in my head, or even a dream. With sounds, scents and all. When that happens, I know I’m in for a story. Some stories continue right away, playing out scene by scene on a daily basis, some don’t. Those take their time, simmer down and lurk. When their time comes, they simply continue themselves. If they don’t, they just weren’t meant to be.

Tell me about your writing day. Do you work to a routine? Do you have a dedicated space to write in? Endless cups of coffee or tea?
Oh that would be something – a writing day! Well, that notion certainly gives me something to hope for :) . I had a spot dedicated to writing, but now it’s my daughter’s school desk. Luckily, I am not a slave to a place. All I need is that spark and then I can write on napkins. For instance, a part of The Forest of Trees was written on the back of my old lesson plans. What does happen when I’m in the writing zone is that lack of sleep becomes a routine. I usually eat more and gain less while I write. The perfect diet, huh? And I am generally in a really good mood. Writing makes me a better person to the people around me – must be because I release those demons from my head. 

Who or what has been the greatest help to you as a writer?
As far as my children’s books are concerned, I’d say my own children and my little learners. They don’t know I write books, by the way (my learners, I mean), so when I tell a story they react as kids do – honestly and brutally. If they lose interest, I know I am doing it wrong. Some of my colleagues have offered lots of support and even use my stories in my lessons. Those people are in my dedications.

My friends and family try to be supportive, each in their own way. My husband has learned to understand my insomniac phases and persuaded me to get myself a very small and very silent laptop, so I could write during the night and not wake him up. I also have been blessed with good friends who tell me my mistakes to my face, not behind my back.
I have been privileged to meet some wonderful authors, yourself included, who help with advice, reviews, promoting, even proofreading and editing. Forgive me for not naming them, but I’d hate anyone to feel left out, and then again some people hate feeling tagged. 
Reading helps me a lot. I often remember my English teachers and writing instructors from my university days when I write. They must have done something right, right? 

What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome in becoming an author?
Lots of things really. Realizing you can write whatever you want, but once it is in publishing stages, it becomes a business like everything else. I am not much of a business person, so investments, marketing and strategizing are not my forte. 

The moment you realize it will take a long time and perseverance is a difficult one. However, it is not as frustrating as I imagined it would be. One has to be at peace with the fact that things need time to happen. Of course, if you give up, you are not allowing yourself that time, so have no expectations.

One thing I am still trying to overcome… well, not overcome but balance and come to terms with is life’s reality – responsibilities and priorities. Let’s say it’s a good thing – it means I am still learning, and that keeps me young.

If you could pick one of your own characters to spend some time with, who would it be and why?
Oh I couldn’t. Just one? Can I cheat a bit? I’d love to take a walk through The Forest with my family and see who we bumped into. That would be a treat.

What are you working on now - or next?
Oddly enough, or not, I’ve just finished the first version of a non-fiction manuscript. It’s a book about a method I apply when I teach – something I’ve come up with that works for not only my subject, sort of a strategy of learning and teaching which is pretty simple and most effective. I also have several children’s books and adult short story collections in editing stages, and an unusual psychological thriller in ‘lurking’ stage – it wants to be written but knows it requires lots of research.

Tell me about your latest book and why we should all buy it?
The latest one is The Forest of Trees, which I talked about a lot during this interview, and thank you immensely for this opportunity. Why should you buy it? Because it is really good, ha-ha. Told you I am no marketing expert. I can recommend you tons of books by other authors though, and be spectacularly creative about it. 

I can vouch for that and it's been impossible for me to interview Anita at a time when she's not reviewing and promoting my books! This has made it harder for me to interview her and to review The Forest of Trees but as she would say, 'Finally I gave in to my gut and I slept better.' My respect for her grows every time we exchange views and, as we've both been teachers for a long time, we share the knowledge of how hard it is to be in the front line of a battle that seems to grow ever more dangerous.

Thank you, Anita!

Where can we find you?



Buy The Forest of Trees on amazon
on B & N on Kobo on Apple itunes



My review of The Forest of Trees

What are we doing for and to our kids? This gripping novel makes you wonder!

This is not a children's story although some youngsters would relate to many parts of it. Through a gripping story, the author faces us with some of those big questions behind the news every day, and helps us understand people better. How can we protect our children, sometimes from each other? What drives some adults, and some children to commit horrific crimes? How does our relationship with nature affect our nature, as a human society?

The Forest of Trees
is unusual in the way it links a fantasy storyline that seems almost childish, with a realistic depiction of bullying and abuse, in a small town location. Every detail of school life is convincing, both from teachers' viewpoints and students'. The youngsters and their relationships below the radar of adult intervention are heart-breaking in their potential for both good and evil. I was rooting for Jeremy! I also appreciated the quiet goodness of many of the adults, which I found more moving than any one superhero could have been.

Bad things happen, in the book and in life, and the Ready Room is something we all need. You'll have to read the book to understand what it is and why!

This book annoyed me because it didn't make its mind up which sort of book it was. The title annoyed me until I read the author's explanation for it (which you don't read unless you get past the title). The fairy annoyed me - maybe it was just the word 'fairy' that seemed childish - and yet, the faery folk of legend aren't childish at all. All my criticisms disappeared against the inescapable fact that I keep thinking about this book. It's as important as We Need To Talk About Kevin and Micka in showing us something about youngsters today. We need to talk about Philip.



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

'Nobody sees how young you are!' Meet Voice Actor Jake Urry


Jake Urry 
is a British actor, voice artist and narrator of audiobooks, who already has an impressive list of 30+ audiobooks, and testimonials to make any author hope he'll accept a book for narration. When Jake said 'Yes' to me, I fastened my seatbelt, ready for a new way of living my own novel. I was not disappointed! How could I be when Jake attracts comments like, 'I have listened to thousands of audio books through the years, and rarely have I heard such a versatile talent as Jake Urry.' John D Mimms 

I really appreciate Jake taking the time to visit my blog and record this interview as I know he's a very private person when not being somebody else.

Photo: Tom Barker Photography
Welcome to my blog, Jake! 

Tell me a bit about yourself - what do you do when you’re not recording a book?
I co-run Just Some Theatre, a theatre company, and spend most of my time working. I share a studio with Tom Barker Photography so have access to this lovely screen, space and lighting. In my spare time, I like peaceful things like walking, the countryside, and eating salmon.

You can watch Jake's interview live, with more detail than on the blog post, here
Watch Jake's interview on youtube

Tell me about your journey as a Voice Actor
I did a couple of commercial voice-overs but wasn't inspired by reading phone messages for big companies and such-like. Then audiobooks came along and I've had a real passion for them since I started listening about twelve years ago. So, in 2016, my own narrating journey started.

You produce a lot of thrillers and suspense books. Do you see yourself branching out into other genres in the future?
I have worked on thriller, suspense, mystery, horror - dark themes. I was drawn to them because I like the narration voice I use, which is nothing like my natural speaking voice. I love the 'Vincent Price' way of creating suspense, building on it and keeping that energy going. I love that atmosphere.

Recently I have started doing other genres, fantasy and sc-fi, doing things in a completely different accent. I did a book called The Tesla Gate, by John D Mimms, in a sort of American drawl. I really enjoyed it and it's doing very well! 

I do feel like branching out more. This is the first book I've done with as much romance in it. It's not all romance as a story but Song at Dawn has more romantic elements than anything I've done before. I would certainly consider doing more in that vein in the future.

How do you prepare for recording an audiobook?
When I get the script, I look for moments of tension, big changes in the script, how that should push the story along and what the narrative voice should be like. Then, I'll go through looking for main characters, deciding their voices, before recording anything. Then I start reading and see how it evolves.

For what reasons do you turn books down?
If the story doesn't grab me or if I'm not right person for the book. I have to personally want to do it. Financially I can't do it if it won't sell. For instance, if the cover is bad, it won't pay off.

How can an author help the Voice Actor/ Producer of his/her book?
I've been lucky and worked with some great authors. On the whole, they tend to give me free rein. Some specify how they want a particular character to sound, which is fine. I usually ask for a list of main characters, and if the author can tell me anything to help me find a voice, that's helpful. Authors can give me any ideas they have but if they're happy for me to interpret for them, that's fine too.

Are there ways in which an author can hinder or even spoil the Voice Actor’s recording of a book?
What would be annoying would be an author not giving me anything at the beginning, saying, 'Do what you want,' and then came back to me after I'd recorded the whole thing with criticisms such as 'I thought the character would sound more like....' If you've got ideas, let me know at the beginning.

If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your career what would it be?
I'd make more time or get a robot to do my editing, which takes up so much time that i'd rather be recording.

Tell me about your working day. Do you work to a routine? Do you use a recording studio? Endless cups of coffee or tea?
My days starts with computer stuff. I need time for my voice to warm up so I do editing or paperwork or theatre company work first. I do some warm-ups, then go into my booth. I do drink a lot of coffee, and water as well. I try to relax as that's important. The worst thing is a deadline. You can't rush narrating.

Who or what has been the greatest help to you as a Voice Actor?
It's hard to choose. The person who put the spark in me to do narrating was Samuel West, when I heard him doing 1984 by George Orwell. I was on an acting degree and I thought, 'I want to do that!' I always thought I would have to wait until I was older, more seasoned, but the great thing about audiobooks is that they can't see how young you are. I sound about seventy-two when I'm recording but when people see me, they say, 'That's not the guy who read that!' I started doing it a lot sooner than I thought I could, and that's all down to Samuel West.


Jean: Jake made me laugh when we working on Song at Dawn because he enjoyed himself most when portraying old, male villains! NOT what I'd expected!


Jake on stage. Photo: Tom Barker Photography
What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome in becoming a Voice Actor?
Technical difficulties. I've had so many problems with microphones and software, spent so much time fixing them. Asking online for help would have saved me a lot of problems but I didn't know that was an option at the time!

If you could pick one character in one of your audiobooks, to spend some time with, who would it be and why?
I would love to spend some time with Harlan Ulrich, who is the P.I. in the The Ulrich Files by Ambrose Ibson because he spends so much time around abandoned buildings, trying to use his phone torch, and I think if he had someone there to shine a light, it would all be less scary. I could keep him company. He loves good coffee so I could learn coffee-brewing skills from him. I think he'd be pretty chilled to hang out with.

Jean: Now I've checked out The Ulrich Files, I think 'chilling' is a better description than 'chilled'!

Tell me about your latest audiobook and why we should all buy it?
My latest audiobook is of course Song at Dawn by Jean Gill. It's wonderful! I had such a blast narrating it. It has so many different layers, so many spectacular scenes. You can really imagine yourself being in those places. So much historical research has gone into it. I used to think historical fiction might not be as engaging but Song at Dawn shattered that illusion for me. It wasn't difficult to come up with different voices for the different characters because they are so detailed. the whole thing was a joy to narrate - and even to edit, which I don't usually say!

Jean: I had a blast too, Jake, and even enjoyed editing :) I don't usually like that either! Congratulations on a wonderful first review! 
5* review on audible from Melanie Preston Lewis
'Jake Urry provides exquisite narration, and what a task he had, providing voices for female singers as well as the troubadours, French aristocracy and the Jewish and Muslim characters. What an enormous and overwhelming challenge this must have been. Mr Urry rose to the occasion and must be congratulated on his success with so many difficult roles. '
Where can we find you? 
I want to add to my youtube channel so if you have any audiobook-related ideas for videos, anything you'd like to hear about, please post below or get in touch, through any of these links.

Contact Jake via his website
Twitter 
Facebook 
Youtube 

Thank you, Jake, for letting us behind the scenes and for bringing my book to life! 


The ebook of Song at Dawn is FREE from 7th-31st May 2018 - get it here!  
If you own the kindle version of Song at Dawn, you can get a BIG discount on amazon for your copy of Jake Urry reading Song at Dawn  from
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
Or join audible and get a FREE copy of Song at Dawn audiobook here.

Listen to Jake reading Chapter 1 of Song at Dawn




Discover the award-winning Troubadours Quartet FREE! 


Get Book 1 FREE



Saturday, March 31, 2018

Finding your Voice: Ian M. Walker


Have you ever wondered about narrating an audiobook? 
If you read my 2012 blog about my experience as an author-narrator you already know why authors can be the worst narrators of our own books! And why choosing the right narrator is so important. The moment I heard Ian's submission for Someone To Look Up To, I knew I'd found the voice of Sirius and, since publication three weeks ago, listeners are agreeing with me. So who is the man behind Walker's Words? And what's the inside story on being a Voice?

Ian M. Walker is a Brit living in Los Angeles who broke the shackles of many years in the corporate I.T. world to follow a more creative dream. He is known for 5* audiobook narration in his 'deep, gravelly voice'. He has an upcoming part in a stop-motion film, upcoming animation narration, completed Orcish feast voices and ambience for an upcoming role-playing game by World Tree Studios. 

As Ian is a Voice, he decided to answer my questions live for you, on video, so you could see him working and so he could expand on his answers. You can enjoy the full version of Ian's interview here and I can only say that I was moved to tears by the end of it - good tears.


 Welcome to my blog, Ian! 

Tell me a bit about yourself - where do you live and what do you do when you’re not recording a book?
Originally from England, I live in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve actually now been over here for longer than I lived in the country of my birth! When not recording I’m usually playing with my dog, Bailey, reading, swimming, playing a computer game or visiting friends.

Ian and his Catahoula Leopard Dog (with that beautiful coat!) x pitbull, Bailey in McArthur park
Can you give me a brief picture of your personal journey as a Voice Actor?
After a long career in I.T. and one too many lay-offs, I started to put serious thought into what I actually wanted to do when I grow up. I.T. had been good to me but it never fulfilled me. I did some traveling and during that time, I came across an ad for a voice assessment. I went along, heard myself recorded in a professional booth for the first time and a fire was lit in my belly. I just completed my fourth complete audiobook and I’m working on the fifth. I may also be voicing Einstein the English Elephant in an independent stop-motion film. Since elephants have always been my favourite animal, that would be fun. I definitely intend to do some voice work for gaming.

How do you prepare for recording an audiobook?
Initially, I read the book. I try to just enjoy it as a reader would but, of course, I’m already starting to think of the voices. I’ll speak with the author in case they have input or I need to clarify anything such as words, accents, etc. When it comes time to record, it varies. Sometimes, the voice(s) will just come to me. With others, I may try a few out and see which I prefer. If there are a great many voices I’ll usually record snippets which I may refer back to.

Do you network with other Voice Actors? Are there any sites you’d recommend?
Absolutely! I have quite a few peers I’m connected with via social media. There are a great many voice groups out there so I’d rather not favour any single one. One thing I would mention, though, is that I’ve always found these groups and my peers to be very helpful. I heard early on that, unlike other areas of the entertainment industry, voice is less cut-throat and more about lifting one another up. So far, I’ve found this to be the case.

How can an author help the Voice Actor/ Producer of his/her book?
Hmm, an interesting question. Though I don’t have a great deal of personal experience yet, from what I’ve read some authors can be quite hands-on whilst others leave it to the Narrator. Usually, though, this IS a partnership so there ought to be some discussion. Steering clear of too much description of tone/flavor would be helpful as it isn’t always easy to understand exactly what the author was going for. One thing which would be nice, though it is likely not feasible, is if the author could consider, when writing, just how long a sentence they are writing (without any pauses) and how that might affect the poor narrator as they attempt to voice it without expiring. 😉
Hahaha. Guilty as charged!

 Are there ways in which authors can hinder or even spoil the Voice Actor’s recording of a book?
Micro-management. Changing their minds causing many re-records.
If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your career what would it be?
I’d be a little further along. More established. More known. Because, hopefully, such a position lessens the bane of all creative types – the weakening of self-confidence/belief in oneself.
That is exactly how I feel! You say more about this in the video and I can identify with all of it!

Tell me about your working day. Do you work to a routine? Do you use a recording studio? Endless cups of coffee or tea?
I have an audio booth I created out of a large (5' x 5' x 8') closet. It has walls treated with Auralex acoustic tiles, thick carpet, etc. Despite being from England, I never had the endless cups of tea habit and now, I rarely drink it or coffee. I’m always drinking water. I always have, thankfully. 

I always warm up. First, I’ll do some singing along to music as I’m checking emails and what not, then I’ll follow the routine of a friend and peer, Amy Walker (no relation) immediately prior to any recording session. Try the routine yourself!

Who or what has been the greatest help to you as a Voice Actor?The helpful people of the forum for the free software I mainly use (Audacity) and of the ACX Facebook group.
What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome in becoming a Voice Actor?
Lack of self-confidence. This hit me hard over the past year or so due to some personal challenges/events which had nothing to do with my voice work.

If you could pick one character in one of your audiobooks, to spend some time with, who would it be and why?
I can’t give just one, it has to be two. 😊 First of all, Sirius from Someone To Look Up To by an author you may know because I love dogs and I feel I got to know him so well so I’d love to meet him. Secondly, Gon from The Oldest Living Vampire series by Joseph Duncan because - come on! - he is 30,000 years old! How fascinating that would be.

Tell me about your latest audiobook and why we should all buy it?
My first three books are all of a supernatural bent. This is fine for me as my favourite genres are sci-fi and horror. Of course, this isn’t a realm all readers enjoy. Due to this, plus having to overcome the aforementioned challenges to finish this book, Someone To Look Up To is something I’m going to cherish dearly. It is a book which appeals universally and one which became a crucible of sorts for me. 

Beyond my very personal reasons, it truly is wonderfully written. There were times I would come out of the booth, interact with my own dog, Bailey and I’d find myself looking at her differently, even asking her if she was doing what I had just read about. I had to keep on reminding myself that this was a book of fiction, not fact! It takes one into the psyche and thoughts of a dog so well. 😊

Bailey in her famous pink raincoat (to misquote Leonard Cohen). Ian was fed up of people assuming that Bailey was male so she always wears pink.

Thank you, Ian. Your narration brought my book alive for me and I loved every moment. Readers can listen to Ian reading Chapter 2 of the audiobook here and judge for themselves how Ian 'became the voice of Sirius, and made Sirius and the others feel so real'. (5* review)


What are you working on next?I have already started on the next in the Oldest Living Vampire series. After that, though, I’m going to try to spread my wings a little. I’d like to go for some computer game or commercial work and perhaps one or two non-fiction audiobooks.

Where can we find you?
The easiest way is via my website,  as it has links to all of my social media. 

You can buy Someone To Look Up To audiobook FREE to new audible members from
Amazon (US) Amazon (UK) iTunes: The book is available from bookstores

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

NEW Books! GOODREADS Giveaways for US Readers


100 COPIES to be won AHEAD of Publication Day!

The antidote to Valentine's Day if you like your reading sharp, not sickly sweet. 


Goodreads Book Giveaway


With Double Blade by Jean Gill

With Double Blade

by Jean Gill


Giveaway ends February 12, 2018.

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at Goodreads.


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Goodreads kindle giveaways are US only but if you live elsewhere - or if you're not lucky in the giveaway there's a **SPECIAL PRE-ORDER 0.99** (Publication price 3.99)

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'Jean Gill’s spiky humour makes you feel as if she’s caught you on barbed wire and yet makes you smile about it'– Mike Sharpe, Haverfordwest Journalist 
Strong, fresh, vivid poems from award-winning author Jean Gill, on an astounding range of subjects including adultery, AIDS and the Mexican Earthquake. If you crossed Wendy Cope’s work with Sylvia Plath’s, Jean Gill’s poetry might be the result.

‘You’re starting to smother me, darling,
 you’re faded and boring, my dear.
 It’s my turn to play with another
 and your turn alone with your fear.’ 
Divided into two parts, this new edition includes the stories behind the poetry, some personal and some about world events; always surprising.
'Moving and varied '– Dorothy Tutin
'Jean Gill brings off the rare feat of looking life squarely in the eye without descending into dreary cynicism.' – HS Milford Haven, Journalist
'The author is particularly gifted with poetry.' The Wishing Shelf Award



                                    With Double Blade
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Your chance to win a copy of the historical novel everybody's talking about. Like #GOT with real history! 100 copies!

Goodreads Book Giveaway


Song Hereafter by Jean Gill

Song Hereafter

by Jean Gill


Giveaway ends February 17, 2018.

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Thrilling conclusion to an award-winning epic series. Can be read as a stand-alone.



Song Hereafter: 1153: Hispania and the Isles of Albion (The Troubadours Quartet Book 4)
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Amazon 5* review 
Perfect!
"I looked forward to this publication knowing it was the last book in a wonderful series and then put off actually reading it. I so loved the characters that I couldn't bear for it to end. And then I realized that enough time had passed and I could start over with the first book to live it all again. I've never been so pleased with the final chapter in any series as this. The story is so engaging, one almost doesn’t realize the lessons in history, poetry, music and medicine are being taught. The relationships between characters are enchanting, intriguing, and sometimes frightening. And the dog! You will recognize your own special dog in this hero, no matter the size or breed. Bravo!"

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Monday, November 6, 2017

El Rey Lobo, the Wolf King of 12thC Murcia

During the 12th Century, there were two crusades which pitted Christian armies against Muslims and Jews in 'the Holy Land' and in continental Europe. However, it would be as naive to think that these faith communities were 'enemies' throughout the 12th Century as to think that Germany was an enemy to  the U.K. or to France throughout the 20th Century. Wars and political alliances have never been simple, and the true story of El Rey Lobo, the Wolf King, sheds light on real politics in 1153.  


Romantic 19th C painting of a Caliph and his escort, often used to depict El Rey Lobo but NOT of him
Not a fantasy invention but a real historical figure, the man nicknamed 'El Rey Lobo' in Spanish ('The Wolf King'), ruled the kingdom of Murcia from 1147, when he was twenty-three years old, until his death in 1172. He was crucial in the defence of the Christian kingdoms in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, against the Almohad Muslims in the south - and he was a Muslim. 

Typical of the complications in real history, his ancestors had converted to the Muslim faith, so he was described as 'muwallad', an Arabic term for 'of mixed background'. Some say his nickname came from the family name Lope, which was abandoned when his Christian forebears converted to Islam.

The Spanish Kingdoms in 1210
In 1153, Abu ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Mardanīš (to give the Wolf King his full name) was the King of Valencia and Murcia. For the more romantically inclined, his wolf nickname could have arisen from stories such as his treatment of a relative, Yūsuf, who challenged his authority. Having won a battle against Yūsuf, El Rey Lobo threatened to gouge out his eyes unless he gave the order to surrender. Yūsuf refused and lost his right eye. El Rey Lobo then ordered Yūsuf's wife to surrender the castle or else watch her husband blinded. She refused and Yūsuf's other eye was removed. He was then imprisoned. Such was the mercy of the Wolf King. 

His kingdoms were sandwiched between the Christian realms of Barcelona and Aragon (both ruled by the Count of Barcelona, thanks to the marriage coup of the century) and the southern taifas of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). Relationships were amicable between El Rey Lobo and his Christian neighbours, with trade links and tolerance of mixed-faith communities. 

Tolerance did not mean equality and the laws favoured the faith group in power, whether in Muslim Murcia or Christian Aragon. Jews held positions of high status in both Muslim and Christian kingdoms but were expected to keep to their own community for accommodation, social occasions and - a big cultural division - eating.

The medieval arms of Aragon showing a moor's head in the lower left quadrant
One example of a Christian ruler's laws: 'I likewise grant to all settlers this prerogative... whether Christian, Moor or Jew, free or servile, [they] should come in safety' 

[In a court case] the Christian should swear on the cross and the Jew on the Torah. And if the Jew or Christian does not want to swear, he should lose the case. 
(from The Code of Cuença, late 12th Century)

Relationships were not amicable between El Rey Lobo and his fanatical southern neighbours, the Almohad Muslims. These invaders brought extremist views with them from North Africa and, even more than they hated Christians, they hated their fellow-Muslims. They hated the Almoravids, Muslims who'd been lords of Al-Andalus for centuries until the Almohads arrived. And they hated those like El Rey Lobo, of 'mixed' background.

In short, Muslims who'd been settled a long time on the Iberian Peninsula, and who now governed peaceful mixed-faith communities, betrayed their own faith, from the Almohad point of view, and were worse than Christians. 

There was no doubt that the Almohads' conquest of southern Spain and advance northwards was El Rey Lobo's biggest threat. An alliance with his northern, Christian neighbours was in both their interests. How was that alliance secured? Did Ramon Berengeur IV of Barcelona and Aragon perhaps take a party of his men to El Rey Lobo's stronghold of Monteagudo? What did Berengeur offer to gain Murcia's defence of his southern border? 

El Rey Lobo's Castle of Monteagudo with the more modern addition of a statue of Christ
That meeting is the starting-point for my historical novel 'Song Hereafter', in the court of El Rey Lobo, where Ramon Berengeur and his two commanders seek an alliance with Murcia. One of those commanders is Malik, the Muslim from Zaragoza, and one is his friend, the Christian warrior and troubadour, Dragonetz los Pros, fictional hero of The Troubadours Quartet.


Song Hereafter
1153 in Hispania and the Isles of Albion
Chapter 1

'Usually when El Rey Lobo bared his teeth, everyone in his line of sight wondered whether to do likewise and call it smiling, or to wait and pray for invisibility. Men had been killed for doing either. He had earned his nickname ‘the Wolf King’. The men in front of the king today were not, however, his courtiers but his Christian neighbours of Barcelone: Ramon Berenguer and two of his commanders. They were not currying favour but seeking an alliance.
Ramon was sombre. ‘Without the King of Murcia, we would have the Almohads in our gardens. I hear they make a virtue of killing.’
‘And of dying, too. In order to ‘purge’ this land.’ the king replied. At the mention of the Almohads, El Rey Lobo’s face darkened beneath his turban, and his mouth pursed as if accustomed to spit at the name. His swarthy features, oiled beard and flowing robes gave no sign of his Christian ancestry and it had been many generations since his family had converted to the Muslim faith of their overlords.
 He continued, ‘They will not rest until all our people are dead. All of our faith who have made this country our home for generations. We have ‘sinned’, we are ‘unbelievers’ and the penalty is death for me, for our wives, for our children, for men like your commander Malik. They will make slaves of Jews and Christians but us, they will kill.
They are superstitious barbarians from the hills of Africa! They shave their heads before battle. What pious man would do such a thing? And their black slaves thump on great drums the size of cartwheels. When you hear the beat of their war-drums, you hear your own death. This is what my men must face! Their own hearts beating in fear!’
Dragonetz listened intently to his Liege and the Wolf King, sifting courtesies from nuggets of information. They were all waiting for the king’s terms.
El Rey Lobo dismissed the Almohads with a defiant gesture and began the bargaining. ‘The Almohads are not causing me a problem today. If you want to solve the problems I have today, go and find me a mintmaster and an expert in siege warfare.’ He paused for thought, then held up a third finger. ‘And somebody who will repair a paper mill. These are the problems that take up a king’s time! When you take away these headaches, we can talk about protecting boundaries and Almohads!’

To continue reading, for more details and buy links for Song Hereafter (the last book in the award-winning Troubadours Quartet) please visit my website . Book 1 Song at Dawn is on promotion at 99c / 99p if you wish to start this epic saga at the beginning but Song Hereafter can be read as a standalone.

Further Reading
Medieval Iberia, Readings from Christian, Jewish and Muslim sources, edited by Olivia Remie Constable
Photo credits
Map of the Spanish Kingdoms, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin. Castle of Monteagudo By SergioHC (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 es (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Arms of Aragon, the Aljaferia, Zaragoza - Jean Gill
Song Hereafter - cover design Jessica Bell
Painting by Theodore Chaserieu of Caliph Ali Ben-Hamet, public domain