The Moth’s Kiss goes live!

The Moth’s Kiss goes live

Yesterday, with my usual trepidation and anxiety, I pressed ‘publish’ for my new collection of short stories, The Moth’s Kiss. Some of the stories have appeared here, but with over 700 posts to wander through, they’re not easy to find. Some are completely new, unseen to all human eyes (except for a few kind friends who have read them for me to make sure they come up to snuff).

As a collection, the stories are united in being creepy, scary, ghostly or paranormal in theme, but a deeper theme runs through most if not all: consequences. Nothing we do is without ramifications, no choice we make is locked in a vacuum. Karma, if you like. Things come back to bite us on the bum.

The stories delve into some of my own deepest fears, and I suspect they may make most readers shiver a little at least. Some may not want to read them alone in the house at night…

The collection is available from Amazon, here for the UK and here for the US.  . (There’s a party over at Facebook this evening too if you fancy dropping by for a few virtual drinks so pop over, say hi and nibble some snacks)

Moth's Kiss cover

Bringing Dead Men To Life ~ a guest post by Richard Pierce

Bringing Dead Men To Life

( I  met Richard via Twitter and we got talking about all sorts of things, and when I heard about his new book Dead Men I was totally hooked. I’m a bit of a Boys’ Own sort of girl and any tale of heroism gets me interested. But the tragic tale of Captain Scott’s last days has always moved me to tears so I am looking forward to reading Richard’s take on the story when the book is released. I’m always fascinated too by what brings a book to the light of day and I asked Richard to explain this one. This is the result. Over to Richard. )

And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing; if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have the need to prove their bravery.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World

All that we experience we are. No biographer, no researcher, no novelist, painter or poet can or should be divorced from his or her experience, his or her life. It is what makes us, and we cannot stand in isolation from that which has shaped us. It informs our view of others, and others’ views of us. Biographers and historians especially should have to share their motives for covering their subjects. It might explain a lot. Interpretation doesn’t just creep up on us; we make it.

When I was a boy, an English boy in Germany, the text book I had to read to relearn English had a chapter in it about Captain Scott. It focused not only on Oates leaving the tent on the way back from the South Pole with the immortal quote I’m just going outside; I may be some time. It reprinted in whole Scott’s last, desperate scrawl, We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more. For God’s sake look after our people. For a boy struggling against his peers’ insistence that Messerschmitts were better than Spitfires, this seemingly magnificent act of heroism was an ideal way of standing up for a country he couldn’t even remember, to show how Englishmen had to be better than Germans, and that, anyway, we’d beaten them in two wars. How odd our childish defences are.

Almost forty years later, I was back to Scott, and Wilson, and Bowers, and Oates, and Evans. They had got under my skin, then, in the early Seventies, in a throwaway schoolboy fascination type of way, and burrowed their way into the core of me, but just sat there, unmoving, with no effect on my life, with no recollection of them on my part, even, because I never dreamed of following them, never thought of the Antarctic as a place I might go. And there were so many other things to distract me, growing up being only one of them.

We moved back to England when I was fourteen, and I made, at my father’s expense, very occasional trips to London. On one of those trips, I did find my way to the British Museum, and, by then fascinated by beauty and mystery, made sure I stared at Nefertiti’s bust for longer than I stared at the final page of Scott’s diary, though I bought postcards of both. And then I fell in love more often than I should care to recount, and forgot all about Scott and his men, all about Amundsen and his men, all about the imagined race for the South Pole that took place just two years after my father was born.

But I kept travelling, kept moving from one place to the other, not because of my parents any more, who, by now, were settled, but because some sort of restlessness drove me, in search of money and love, from England to Germany, to France, to the US, and back to my parents when my heart was broken too often for me to bear. On all those travels, there was one constant: the Olivetti portable typewriter my father had bought me when I was seven, because I’d always wanted to be a writer.

Fast forward twenty years, and I fell in love with a Norwegian, married her, had four children, and a year after the fourth was born, decided to move to Norway. Neither Scott nor Amundsen resurfaced, even then. Nor did they fight their way into my waking conscience when I drove past the Fram Museum on my way to fencing training in Bygdø. I was more interested in working my way up the Norwegian epee rankings than in history I’d forgotten. Shortly after that, my Norwegian wife decided she didn’t, after all, like Norway very much, and that we should move back to England. I, by then, was in love with Norway, and tried many subterfuges, none of which included Amundsen or Scott, to stay in our gorgeous wooden house near Fredrikstad. We left in April 2006, over a metre of snow still on the ground.

Settling back into England was heavy going, and the Antarctic was further from my mind than ever in my homesickness for the -28C of my first Christmas in Norway, my missing of the mountains and the sea I used to pass on my almost-daily run, my longing to roll the Norwegian words round my mouth again and talk to my friends in their farm garages, surrounded by half-built tractors and oily work benches. And then Sir Edmund Hillary hit the headlines, with his criticism of the lack of British support for the preservation of Captain Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans on Ross Island, and the rest is history, history that means the world to me. Because I was lucky enough to be asked to spend some time in the Antarctic, and to help with the work on Scott’s Hut.

That’s when the reading started. Anything I could get my hands on. The first book on Antarctica I read wasn’t even about Scott’s expedition; it was Kelly Tyler-Lewis’s The Lost Men, sent to me by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, all about Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party who were supposed to lay depots for Shackleton’s Imperial Transantarctic Expedition in 1914, the ten men left stranded on Ross Island after the Aurora broke free of her moorings in a gale and was carried back out into the pack ice. Three men of the party were lost (contrary to the popular misbelief that Shackleton lost none of his men on that expedition), and the other seven lived what they afterwards called the “life of troglodytes”, mainly in Scott’s 1901-1904 expedition hut in McMurdo Sound. It opened my eyes to the sufferings of all those who ventured south during what is now so easily called the Heroic Age of Exploration, to the unsung heroism of those whose names all but a few polar historians had forgotten.

I inhaled the Antarctic, through research on the net, through the accumulation of what became a considerable Antarctic library. I have always been more of a fiction man than one who easily reads biographies and non-fiction narrative, but my heart and my mind were captured by these books, by these men (and their women at home), by the incredible bravery of facing the dangers not just of sea and mountain, but of tooth-breakingly cold temperatures, of crevasses and the madness of cabin fever.

And then I bought a copy of The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and lost my heart to it. It is written in such achingly perfect prose, with such soul and compassion, with such blinding clarity, that it must be the greatest travel book ever written. When I was a child, I always wondered how people could read books which had no pictures in them, and, even as an adult, I marvel at the strength of our human imagination, to be able to see pictures in books with nothing but words from cover to cover. And here was the perfect example. Cherry’s descriptions of his inner life and the outer scenery and dramas are nothing less than addictive, wondrously elegant and eloquent. The lines of his quoted at the beginning of this piece, lines I copied into the front of journal I started to keep for the whole of my Antarctic journey, made me cry, left an indelible mark, because he put his finger on a universal truth, that, deep down, we cowards can all be heroes. Just as he was.

In November 2007, I flew down to Christchurch, New Zealand, with great expectations and not a little trepidation. I left an envelope with a friend, with a letter in it for my wife, just in case something happened to me. For, even if I was to be not much more than a glorified tourist, the Antarctic was, and remains, a dangerous place, a part of the world not to be trifled with, one which will kill you off as soon as welcome you. I saw some wonderful things in Christchurch, including Canterbury Museum’s Antarctic Collection (which includes Frank Worsley’s logbook from the Endurance and that trip from Elephant Island to South Georgia, and Frederick Hooper’s diary which contains the harrowing description of the discovery of the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers). I went to Lyttelton Museum and sat on a saloon bench from Terra Nova, Scott’s ship which came back without him, and which was scuttled years after the ill-fated South Pole expedition. I stood on the hill that Lyttelton sits on and looked across Lyttelton Harbour to Quail Island in its centre, where Scott is said to have trained his dogs and ponies. Much of the countryside and buildings I saw here was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake, which makes me miss it even more keenly.

And so the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his men began to unfold in front of me before I’d even set foot on the Antarctic. I learned more about him, his comrades, and their quests than I could have if I’d done no more than read the books. But this unfurling of the tapestry of history was borne also from great frustration; day after day after day we were what they call “bumped”, our flight south put off by bad weather, including extremely poor visibility and wind gusting at well over 60 knots. Night after night I’d look at the forecasts and the webcam images from Ross Island, crossing my fingers and everything else that it would improve and we’d get out there. It wasn’t to be, and after a week we had to admit defeat and return to England.

Other things I saw in that week in Christchurch were the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust’s store rooms, including the freezers in which they keep those artefacts that have been found in the Ross Sea huts and around them, and which are too fragile to defrost, but too valuable to leave to the vagaries of the weather out there, influenced more and more by global warming, a weather of extremes with warmer summers and colder winters, a signalling to the rest of the world that the abuse of the world cannot go on, that it must stop soon, for it threatens not only the blue planet’s heritage, it threatens its future, too. In one of those freezers there’s a reindeer sleeping bag, which may or may not be Cherry’s. I hope it is.

It was in that November that the mystery of Scott’s last ten days first scraped at my consciousness. It was not something I’d ever been aware of. How much do we learn at school of real history? That’s another question, because we can only ever scratch the surface of events we’ve not lived, and of their implications and outcomes. But it was only then I learned that science has shown that Antarctic blizzards can last no longer than about three days, that they normally raise the temperature, and that they are normally followed by a period of calm. My poet’s mind latched on to this, but even more so the tragedy of men dying far away from their wives in a time when there was no instant communication, when news took months to travel from remote regions to the populated reaches of the Earth, when wireless transmission was in its infancy. Scott could not, as he lay dying, make a satellite phone call to his wife to tell her one last time he loved her, before the last of his life was snatched from him by the cold. Such calls have been made in recent times, from the summit of Everest and elsewhere, and who knows what comfort they have given, and who knows what mysteries they have solved. If Scott had had a satellite phone, there would be no mystery, and hundreds of books would have remained unwritten.

But there’s more to this story than just that. On the second day of January 2008, I was on my way again. Because the trains from Suffolk to London had suffered yet another irretrievable breakdown, I drove across to Cambridge, caught the train down to London from there, and made my plane with a few minutes to spare. That was the only hiccough. From there, I arrived in Christchurch, to be met by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage folks, ready with the bags I’d packed in November 2007, and walked from International Arrivals straight into a USAF briefing about flying to Antarctica. I listened while getting changed, and, before I knew it (and after having managed one cigarette after a 36-hour trip), was on a bus headed for one of the far-flung corners of Christchurch Airport, on course to board a C-17 Globemaster for the very first time. Six hours later, I landed on McMurdo Sound, on a few feet of sea ice, was driven from there to Scott Base, a modern man retracing the story of the Heroic Age of Exploration.


The Wild Hunt and Other Tales

Today is Candlemas or Imbolc, as well as the 1st of February. It’s the day when people celebrated the very first signs of spring. Imbolc or Oilmelc means sheep’s milk and it is indeed at this time of year that the first lambs are born (some are already born!) and the flow of milk really starts. It’s also the time when we start to notice the return of the light; indeed Alfred the Great decreed that after this day no candles were to be used at milking either morning or evening. In theory there is now light enough for this twice daily task.

It’s one of those new beginning kind of days. About five years ago I went to a ceremony where one was supposed to set one’s intent for the year ahead and while I giggled through a lot of it, I in my turn marched to the centre with my lit candle and declared my intent for the year to be invincible. This provoked much comment later at coffee after the ceremony, but I’ve never changed from that intent and I’d like to reaffirm my decision to let nothing permanently discourage me!

So over the last few days, in preparation for today I wondered what to do. I’d had a thought for releasing some short stories and I decided to just go for it. All my other ebooks I have had my beloved at hand helping me get something sorted, and this time I decided I shall do it without assistance and maintain my invincible stance.

It turned out not to be as hard as I feared.

There are six stories in this little collection, some familar to long term readers of this blog and one completely new. All the tales are spun around a theme of ancient beings, whether deities, demi-gods, archetypes or others, somehow still interacting with the modern world, and with modern people.

I’ve had to classify it in fantasy and fairytales because I couldn’t think of anywhere better to list it! I’ve also priced it as low as it is possible to price it.

I should mention that if you don’t own an e-reader, you can download a Kindle app for free and then can read a Kindle book on any pc, tablet or even on your phone.

Anyway this is my wish for this Spring for myself: to be invincible still.

(If you are in another country that has Amazon, put my name into the search and you ought to find the book there. I don’t really expect to sell any in non-English speaking countries, though!)

Setting Sail For New Seas ~ Exploring The Uncharted Territories

Setting sails for new seas ~ exploring the uncharted territories

In my Twitter bio I set out to sum myself up in as few words as possible and managed to get it down to only four: Writer, Poet, Explorer, Mystic. To some degree all of these are slightly tongue in cheek but the one that needs most explanation is Explorer.

The word conjures up an image of a man in a pith helmet, wielding a machete and followed by native(of where ever) guides bearing parcels on their heads or on poles. Or possibly Ray Mears. It certainly
doesn’t conjure up a slightly overweight, forty-something English
teacher with slight tendencies to agoraphobia and a big problem with
depression and anxiety. To be an explorer requires courage, curiosity
and a fair measure of recklessness. People in real life would say the
only one of the three I have in abundance is curiosity. I’m one of
life’s natural wimps. I don’t even like travelling. But as fate(ha!)
would have it, I’ve ended up in not one but two jobs that require me
to travel. For the non teaching job I often travel to places I’ve
never been before, and show other people around. I discovered (to my surprise) I have a good sense of direction, and if you drop me in a foreign town I can usually find my way round quite quickly.

That’s not to say that going somewhere totally new doesn’t fill me with sudden and almost paralysing dread; it does. But I get through that. Preparation is the key, not to mention dear old Google.

But that’s just one aspect of exploration. These days, exploration of the physical world is a tame thing, filled with Rough Guides and blogs.
There aren’t many people who hack through unknown jungles to get to lost tribes; the lost tribes are usually wearing Reboks by the time
you get there. The physical world has shrunk; exploration is not the
same. Good job I was never aiming to be a real explorer; I’d be
weeping for more worlds to conquer by now.

Research has shown that our tastes in music, food, experiences have fossilised before the age of around thirty. It explains why parents seldom like their children’s music. We stick to what we know, what we’ve already tried, in so many things. But me, I’d got bored of books. Really, really bored.

Anyone who has ever visited my home will be shocked at that because apart from dust and cat fluff, books is what I have the very most of. Every available wall is covered with bookshelves, often double parked. The only rooms without permanent books are the bathroom and kitchen and then only for obvious practical reasons. I love books. I love everything about them (but the need to dust occasionally). So people were a bit surprised when I asked for a Kindle for my birthday. I was a bit surprised by it myself, to be honest. After three months, I am convinced it was an excellent move.

Let me tell you why.

I’d stopped buying books.

Yes, this book lover had been walking into bookshops that ten years ago I’d have come out of laden with books. For the last few years, it had become a rare event that I bought books. Or even borrowed them. Don’t get me wrong, I bought a few. And was almost universally disappointed.

Books had stopped thrilling me, surprising and delighting me. They gave me a sense of ennui beyond mere boredom. I was actually sick of them.The Kindle has changed all that.

One of the things I noticed quickly was that the books by my previously favourite authors were still often almost as expensive as the hard copies. There is no reason why this should be so. An e-book costs virtually nothing to distribute. As an independent author myself I have opinions about the whole sea-change in the publishing world, but basically the e-book means that authors can now reach readers without the intervening publisher getting in the way. They’re not subject to anyone saying “You can’t do that,” or “That doesn’t sell” or
“That’s not what readers want.” I had a novel rejected almost at
the last stage because the editor felt that there needed to be
payback for the baddies(I simplify) for what they did to the heroine.
I disagreed. Real life  rarely provides neat solutions and
resolutions; closure is seldom forthcoming.  Mark Twain once said
that truth is stranger than fiction and he was so right. Real life is
so strange and unpredictable and the fiction I’d been reading was
just that: predictable. It had become formulaic, to the point that
even if I didn’t guess the ending, I knew all the stages. It followed
the fads and fashions of the literary world to such an extent that
even reading the blurb was making me nauseous.

Where oh where was originality and daring? Where was risk-taking and being controversial? I’m not talking about the now-endless books about child abuse and rape. I’m talking about simply letting a story take you where it wants to go, not where the dictates of literary mores would have it go. I’m talking about Story as a living, breathing
symbiont of the writer, where templates, character outlines plot
conventions and other cookie cutters are instruments of vivisection
and torture.

Welcome to the world of the independents. Welcome to a whole new universe of possibilities. Sure, some will be rubbish. But so is James Patterson.

I’m going to be reviewing books I discover, and sharing my favourites. By and large they won’t be about already famous authors (except in a few cases) even though in terms of blog hits, those would bring me many. My post about Susan Howatch is my highest hitting post of all time. No, that’s not what this blog is about. I want to showcase those brilliant and brave authors who don’t have a Juggernaut of a publishing house behind them, or a phalanx of marketing experts whispering advice at every turn.

So coming soon(in no particular order of merit) will be:

Anomaly” by Thea Atkinson (the very first book on Kindle I actually paid for, having got hooked by the sample.)

The Butchered Man” by Harriet Smart

The Company of Fellows” by Dan Holloway

Those are just my starters. If you have an suggestions for must-read
indies, please let me know. Being semi-fossilised already, I really
REALLY dislike romance, not keen on fantasy(though I have
enjoyed some) and classic chick-lit (of the shopping, shoes and sex
variety) generally has me reaching for the razor blades.

Anyway, I hope you will set sail for new seas and start exploring a strange new world of literature that didn’t exist even a few years ago. This kind of exploring doesn’t involve insect repellent, native guides or
Montezuma’s revenge (or Delhi belly even) but it has a risk all of
its own that you might not like:

It may open your mind.        

Strangers and Pilgrims now available on Kindle and at the iStore

It’s been a long delay but I have finally managed to get Strangers and Pilgrims up on Kindle.

So for those who have been delaying till this deed was done, the wait is now over.

It’s available from Amazon US  and also from Amazon UK  and I guess also Amazon Germany but I haven’t checked that one out yet.

I am quietly chuffed to bits about this, and now I’ve figured this one out, it’ll be a shorter wait till the next ones come out.

Thank you.

And also now at the iStore:

A new review of Strangers and Pilgrims

I was deeply touched to read the following review by Fibi:

Thank you so very much!

A book review

I just had a lovely review over at :

I am really rather chuffed!

My New Book

As the observant among my readers have already noticed, and some of you already knew, I’ve just launched my first novel. First to be published, that is; I’ve been writing a long time.

I confess I feel a bit awkward about this post because I’m someone who finds the process of self-promotion excruiatingly uncomfortable. I wasn’t brought up to “blow my own trumpet”, to sound my own praises. I’m old-fashioned British, if you like. But the world moves on, and uncomfortable as it is, the author needs to do some book promotion, even when she’d rather just shove it at you all and squeak, “There it is. Enjoy!” and run away, crimson with blushes.

I’m glad you can’t see me now, for that reason. Beetroot meets tomato, if you like.

The central premise of this book is that even strong, able people break down beyond the power of their own recuperation, due to the hand Life can deal them. I’ve been there. You probably have too. But have you ever sat at the computer, in the small hours of the morning, thinking, you really can’t go on, that “My heart is broken and I am dying inside”? Each of the six protagonists in the book come to this point, and in this space of despair, type those words into an internet search engine, and start the strangest and most powerful journey of their lives.

This is a book for a seeker, a book for those who wonder “What if?”. It’s a book that draws you into the world of each of the six characters and keeps you there. J said he wanted those six as his friends, and didn’t want the book to end because then that time with them would be over.

It’s not chicklit, it’s not murder mystery, it’s not vampires, it’s not spies or cops and robbers and it’s not romance. In fact, it’s quite hard to categorise because it doesn’t fit into any easy genre slot. It is itself and that’s probably the best way any book should be. If you’ve been through or are going through major life challenges, this is the book for you. It might be fiction, or it might not; there’s an ambiguity about the events that you need to make up your own mind about. But fiction or not, it’s also true in ways that go beyond literature.

The book is available as a paperback from Amazon, but it’s also available as a download, if you prefer that:

I’d appreciate feedback if and when people read it; and if you like it, add a review at Amazon. Every little helps!