Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.
In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!
The Queen’s Almoner
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
Elizabeth Ducie is a full-time writer from Devon. Although she wrote prize-winning fiction at school, she went on to study science and have a career as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal during that time.
Elizabeth also writes and lectures on The Business of Writing, teaching business skills for writers running their own small business, and has published a set of books under that name.
Elizabeth Ducie, writer
Welcome, Elizabeth. You have a fascinating background for a novelist. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Elizabeth: When I wrote Counterfeit!, my sister Sheila challenged me to bring some of the characters from my previous novel into the story. And there are occasionally references to real incidents from my travelling days, although usually heavily fictionalised.
Your secrets are safe with me! How do you feel about reviews?
There are many beliefs about the impact reviews have on the algorithms of Amazon and other platforms, but I’m not convinced. There are too many exceptions out there to allow me to believe in a magic number, a threshold above which exciting things start to happen.
But, as a way of hearing what readers think, they are invaluable. I only wish more people would consider posting them. Even a negative review is better than dead silence.
Yes, the silent echo chamber is unnerving. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?
There was a biology teacher who took me to one side at the start of the upper fifth year (equivalent to year 11) and told me there were girls in the year who were going to do well, but I wasn’t one of them, so I wasn’t to get my hopes up! It still rankles, more than fifty years on. I would love to send her a signed copy of each of my books to make her eat her words.
Yikes! Oh, I hope that was her way of motivating you and not her true opinion! How much research is involved in your writing?
So far, most of my fiction has been set in places I used to work (Former Soviet Union countries, Latin America, Africa) so a lot of the research was done on the hoof. However, my novels tend to have historical flashbacks, for which I do quite a bit of research. But only when I’m editing. I don’t let lack of knowledge interrupt the flow during the first draft.
Gorgito’s ice rink by Elizabeth Ducie
Ironically, my latest book is set in South Devon where I’ve lived for the past thirteen years. I’m doing far more research for that than any of the internationally-based ones.
That’s ironic, but good to know. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
Covers are critical, especially for fiction, where they are a major signpost to the reader on what they can expect from the book. I am independently-published and therefore have absolute say over my covers. When I’m teaching, I always empasise that an indie book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published one in terms of appearance and quality of the finished product. This means having a professionally-designed cover. I use Berni Stevens for all my novels. I developed my own covers for The Business of Writing, but I used a Canvatemplate, which still means the original design is professionally produced.
I completely agree about covers – I believe most readers DO judge a book by its cover. I’m interested in your books aimed at writers, too. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
They say that writing is a solitary occupation, but I find it’s all too easy to meet other writers. There’s a huge writing community here in the South West of England, plus there are any number of online groups.
I am a member of two great writing groups: Chudleigh Writers’ Circle and Exeter Writers. They are very different in approach and I find my membership of each one invaluable. Plus I still meet up with a small group of writers from the MA we completed in 2012. I have a writing buddy with whom I work on each novel at the developmental editing stage. And this year, I’m Director of the Exeter Literary Festival. And that’s before I even think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which are stuffed full of writers.
To be honest, it’s tempting to spend far more time ‘networking’ with other writers than I do writing. But it’s all great fun; and that’s one of the reasons I gave up the day job to write ‘full-time’.
Always. I have an event in our local parish church, the largest space in our small town, with readings, music, cake and fizz. I usually sell quite a few copies on the night, but it’s also about celebrating with my friends and family.
I’ve also been holding online launch parties since 2011. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different formats; and sometimes I don’t have one at all. Lessons I learned along the way included: don’t try running a party for 12 hours; and don’t try running an online party on the same day as the main party. Both occasions were exhausting!
But they do sound like fun. You have an MA, I see. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?
It depends on the individual, their experience and their ambitions, but I’m not convinced creative writing is an academic subject. So I’m slightly skeptical about formal university courses, even though I completed one myself. I do, however, think it’s important to attend classes, webinars, conferences, anything that helps train us in our craft, keep us fresh, and build inspiration. I attend the Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick every August; I go to occasional classes or workshops such as those run by Literature Works in Exeter; and I am a real sucker for a free webinar or online conference. The ones run by ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) are particularly good.
The Business of Writing by Elizabeth Ducie
Great to know. I love the way you approach writing as a craft that can always be honed. Lovely! Thank you for talking with me in this episode of Last Word of the Week.
You can find Elizabeth’s novels and her Business of Writing books here
‘I’d always imagined attending a book launch would be something you’d only do if an opportunity to stick rusty nails into your cornea wasn’t available,” writes author Katy Colins in her blog #notwedordead
Luckily I read Katy’s fabulous piece about book launches before I prepared my speech for the unveiling of The Ruined Land, and laughed myself out of all my nerves. Book launches can be fun, and I have enjoyed every one that I’ve attended. Talking to booksy people about books? What could be better?!
I’m so grateful when people come to my launches. And kind of surprised. They must have run out of rusty nails…
How long should a launch speech be?
I aim for under four minutes, which for me is maximum 400 words.
Then I add a five minute extract (about 600 words), so under ten minutes in all.
Add 4-5 minutes for the lovely person who introduces me, and the official stuff is wrapped up in under 15 minutes. That’s my aim.
Here’s my latest, at 369 words, in case you’re interested.
Launch Speech for The Ruined Land
First up, some words of gratitude.
Thanks so much to Nat for those thoughtful words. I’m very appreciative of the love and support I have from my dear friends. I’m actually very grateful to have worked at UniMelb, because I met some of the world’s best people there.
My friends and family have been endlessly supportive, and I’m so glad many of you can celebrate with me tonight. My publisher, the cover designer, the editor – they’ve all been fab. As has Readings which has now hosted all four of my book launches.
A couple of special mentions – to my niece Kate, who along with Aveline my friend in London, is a fabulous beta reader if anyone wants a recommendation.
And my brother in law Bernard is responsible for the very cool maps which you now find inside all three books of the Chronicles of the Pale. He comes highly recommended too!
So. The book.
Having a book published is definitely a Dream Come True – something I imagined in primary school. But there’s a bit more to the dream than that. The Chronicles began with an actual dream in 2013, a dream of abandoned babies and refugees, people I couldn’t reach to rescue. In the dream, my German shepherd dog Dinny, long since departed, saved the day. The character Mashtuk is based on Dinny
This was back when PM Scott Morrison was the minister for immigration. I feel that now the world is much the same, or maybe even darker.
My dream became a short story, which became a novel, which became a series, which became some sort of fully populated, fully imagined world parallel to the real world. There are now even more stories there because this mirror world we live in hasn’t changed enough.
Dreams can come true, but I’d like some happier dreams.
OK, I’m going to read from the very beginning of Book 3. This is Mashtuk, the canini scout, recovering from the wounds he suffered when the ravine was attacked.
Rosalie Ham is an Australian author most famous for her debut novel The Dressmaker, a black satire about love, payback, and 1950s haute couture, which was made into a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving in 2015.
Recently I was fortunate enough to meet Rosalie at an event where she explained how the movie was made, her part in it, and the challenges of shifting a story from prose to film. Rosalie was so inspiring that, grabbing my courage in both hands and telling myself that being scared every now and then is good for me, I introduced myself and asked if she would consider appearing on the Last Word of the Week blog. And here she is!
Thank you for joining me today, Rosalie. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Rosalie: I tend towards the ironic, and so some readers don’t ‘get’ that sort of tone or my black humour, but I get that not every book is for every reader.
That’s a great way to think about it, very wise. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
I have favourite scenes in all four novels, so I’ll pick a couple. In The Dressmaker it’s at the end when Sergeant Farrat is sitting on top of The Hill. Everything around him is razed, the landscape burned flat to the ground, smouldering and smoking, cinders floating. The District Inspector of Police arrives and asks, ‘What happened?’
The sergeant replies, ‘There’s been a fire.’
At the beginning of Summer at Mount Hope Phoeba, Lilith and Maude are sitting on the narrow bench of the family sulky which is stranded in the middle of a roadside dam. The three 19thcentury ladies are wearing their Sunday best, sheltering from the sun under their vast, ostrich plumed hats. Their skirts are bunched on their laps exposing the lacy trim on their bloomers, their boots are up on the dash, slimy green water swirls just below their bottoms and the tail of the horse supposedly conveying them to Church floats before them. In the quiet of the country lane, they hear a carriage approach. It is the grand Britzka containing the wealthy neighbours from the vast property to the west. Maude speculates, ‘They may not notice us.’
Oooh, yes, these are perfect. From what I have read, I understand that your characters are not completely imaginary, but based on real people. Has anyone recognised themselves in your books?
I suspect most writers create characters using elements of real people. Because characters, basically, carry a theme, creating a plausible vehicle is my main focus. The added personality traits are instilled to make them more memorable and hopefully readers might then find empathy with a character and his or her purpose. Some readers out there might just recognise why a character says and does certain things.
No, I’m not a character in any of my books. Generally, in order to create an effective character for a particular role that character needs to do what you want them to do. Their intention is their narrative drive, if you like, so their intention has to be quite separate to what I might say and do. It’s essential to strive to present a balanced argument, so you need to think about alternate arguments and create characters to present them so they all need to be other than the writer’s personal point of view. The story becomes about the argument rather than how I feel about the point I’m prosecuting.
That makes sense. Take yourself back ten years – what would that Rosalie like to tell you?
Trust your ability. Believe in yourself more, go for it, your stories will reach further than you imagine.
Amazing, yes. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
More writing. I’ve got a few more events to attend this year to promote my last novel, The Year of the Farmer, then there’s a rough first draft of my fifth book that I’m dying to get stuck into. As I see it, there are at least two more novels I could write. And I have a dream that one day I’ll adapt one of my novels to a stage play. And I need to do all of this while teaching part time.
What’s the single most important quality in a writer, in your opinion?
Talent. Some books are written through sheer determination and they’re good. Readers will get much from them, but some writers are different, their stories boil straight from the heart, they burn and shimmer, they’re well-structured and moving, revelatory, unique, life-changing, and above all, memorable. That sort of writing can’t be taught, it comes from the way writers look at the world and convey it to others.
And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I’d be Phoeba Crupp from my second novel, Summer at Mount Hope. I’d grow my own grapes and produce fine wine, raise beautiful sheep with superior wool, cultivate exceptional grain crops and work hard with nature. Because I value friendship above romance, I’d carry sad matters of the heart in my back pocket like a spare hanky. When my father betrays me, I’ll turn that to my advantage and make my life a testament to female strength and the fighting rural spirit.
She sounds divine. Great choice.
Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Rosalie. I was indeed a pleasure and an inspiration to meet you.
If you’d like to book Rosalie to talk at your school, library or book club (or fundraiser, lunch, valedictory…) please get in touch with Booked Out Speakers, Melbourne on (03) 9824 0177. I can highly recommend her as a speaker!
Rosalie is represented by Jenny Darling and Associates (03) 9696 7750
Today I’m so pleased to introduce you to Chris McMaster, who has wonderful news for all of us speculative fiction folk: writers, readers, book lovers that we are.
Here is news of a brand spanking new publishing house, that is not only seeking submissions, but also looking for staff to be involved with a new and more equitable business model.
Now you just HAVE to read on, don’t you?
Welcome to my blog! What project are you talking about today, Chris?
I’m launching a new publishing company—and a new type of publishing.
Southern Skies Publications is a traditional small press indie publisher, established to bring Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction to print, and to work with other writers to bring their novels to life. I wanted to specialise in speculative fiction from down under: especially science fiction in all its many forms (Hard, Soft, Opera, Military, Dystopia, Apocalyptic, Alternate History, Time Travel), fantasy (Dark, Epic, Heroic, High, Low), and more.
I want Southern Skies to be able to help authors get their books to market. Self-publishing can be daunting. Traditional publishers can be closed doors. Southern Skies can offer the label, as well as the freedom to play a significant role in the production and marketing of the product.
We’re now team building, looking for folks who want to apply as well as develop their skills through participating in this exciting opportunity.
Can you tell us more about why you’ve started up?
I was excited to be offered a contract for my first novel, American Dreamer. It plays with time travel, alternate realities, interference by ‘gods’, and fighting back. I am still waiting, after one year, to be assigned an editor. In the meantime, I’ve written the third book in that series (now with beta readers), wrote a science fiction book (I’m almost done with first draft!) AND learned a lot about the publishing business.
I studied the model of my American publisher and saw where it could be improved. I think I’ve done that with Southern Skies, and am seriously contemplating asking to have that first contract torn up. I think we can do a better job.
Oh, that’s quite a story! Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I love analogies, and have applied this one to Southern Skies: The whaling venture. It took me a very long time to finally read Moby Dick. I tried every few years, and eventually succeeded. As well as being a cracker of a yarn, it has an intriguing business model. Everybody on board a whaling ship has a percentage of profits. On those ships, it was whale oil. With a book, it is royalties.
Think back in time to when we didn’t know any better and whale oil was a valued and lucrative commodity. Ships were sent out to hunt whales, and it was only when they returned with the oil that any profit was turned. Somebody fronted the money for the ship (in most cases with Southern Skies that is me, but not always). They got a share of the profit. The captain of the ship got a share—our writers. And everybody who worked on the venture got a percentage. The harpooners, the deckhands, the first mate.
The marketeers are our harpooners, and they always get a fair share. Where writers also market, and develop their platform, their share increases. Editors are indispensable, and they get a fair percentage. Cover design is vital, which is why our graphic artist gets a percentage. Of course, all this is negotiable. We can be more flexible than a Nantucket whaler when it comes to individual arrangements.
I like the analogy of the ship, as each book will have its own crew, ensuring the success of that venture. I have heard the, “I’m way too busy for that!” reaction, but we’re only as busy as we choose to be. We’re in charge of that. You might want to play a part in one book, or two, or even three. You can be as busy as you want to be.
Oh, maybe another analogy: think microbrewery. There are the huge brands, that mostly taste the same. Try to talk to the folks there and see how far you get. Then there are local brews produced by people who care. You go to the counter and order your pint, and you talk to the brewmeister about it. You can meet the team. You could probably even join the team. The beer is special because of that, as well as the individual flavour it offers, and the pride the team put into their product.
Southern Skies is like that.
It’s great to hear how passionate you are about this venture, Chris. Where can we find out more?
It’s a cross-disciplinary book that scrutinises the characteristics of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and considers the potential of literary speculative fiction.
Eugen Bacon Author
That sounds wonderful. As a genre-hopper myself, I’m fascinated by insights into all of these. Is there one aspect of this book that you relate to most?
I really love this book because it is a reader’s paradise. It has vignettes and excerpts and samplers from renowned artists and novice students. It has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers provocative and useful insights on speculative fiction, moving—as one reviewer professed—‘between ideas and stories, between analysis and narrative’. It is a book that celebrates amazing authors like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler, and supreme theorists like Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir in embracing the pleasure of the text, and writing about the ‘other’.
I’m sold! I want my copy asap (but you have to sign it for me). What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’
Like Hecq, I write to… find.
You write with very fluid genre borders yourself, of course.
How do you do it? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline.
What can you say about your process?
My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.
Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.
Eugen, thank you so much for having Something to Say!
Here’s an invitation for us all! Put it in your diary.
Scandinavian bookstores to be exact, some of which are worth the investment of several hours. Although all these shops have sections where English books are stacked and shelved in their dozens, I found myself drawn to the local language books. Here I confirmed that, for better or worse for us authors, potential readers DO judge a book by its cover.
The conventions of genre in imagery help us to distinguish crime from fantasy from romance from historical fiction from military memoirs from poetry, and so on. Classics with new, interesting covers (like those in the header image) live on the strength of their titles and authors. Newer fiction must usually play by the rules, although that doesn’t necessarily mean playing in the same well-worn rut.
For example, I like this new fantasy cover for the prolific (and wonderful) Brandon Sanderson‘s The Final Empire (first published 2006). This cover clearly references the genre but presents a more up to date, fresh, arty take on it. You could think that its first imprint was at least ten years later.
In a watercoloured, simplified way, all the genre markers appear. Fantasy city: check. Mysterious being: check. Spooky question to set up the fantasy premise: check. Weird misty atmosphere: check. Potential to adapt for the later books in the series: check. And is there a suspicion of snow on those towers … Jon Snow? GOT readers say: ‘my kind of book’, as do Harry Potter and LOTR folk. Probably, as do fantasy readers in general.
And here’s a novel clearly set in or around the time of the First World War. Clearly. It also features the poppy on the spine, so you know the genre even when it’s facing the wall.
It’s Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants in Norwegian. Even if we hadn’t noticed the guns and the sepia-tinted photo, that poppy gives it away. Are those soldier-photos and poppies clichéd? I guess yes, but they also act as immediate identifiers for readers who are eager to read something similar to books they have already enjoyed.
Now what about family sagas and romance? Evidently (from my observations), a reader wants to see a woman on the cover, most often with her back to us, contemplating her situation. Her attitude and costume communicate the historical period covered in the novel:
Many crime stories also feature women, usually with their backs turned to us, walking into danger. Women? Of course, I should say ‘girls’ for that genre 🙂
My own WWI novel will be published later this year, and I am agonising over what might make a good cover – to poppy, or not to poppy? – being the main question. Do I need a rising sun to mark it as Australian? And a woman in historical costume to signify that it is a family-based romance as well as a war story? My brains are on the rack.
If you have any brilliant ideas for what I could suggest to my publisher, please leave me a comment below!