A Journey Through Ambeth, Part II

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the real landscapes that had inspired Oak and Mist, my first Ambeth book. With the release of Hills And Valleys, the third book in the series, that landscape has now expanded somewhat. So, with the past week being what it was, I thought I might take a wander through my fantasy world, and share it with you 🙂

I hope this isn’t too much like Toto pulling back the wizard’s curtain in Oz – I just wanted to share the landscapes I had in mind when I wrote the Chronicles. For Alma’s adventures in the human world, I used real locations – places I’d lived in or visited many times that had left an impression on me. However, when I created Ambeth, I didn’t have specific places in mind, wanting instead to write the world I could see in my mind’s eye. Later, when I looked back, I could see where the influences had come from.


Hearst Castle, California

‘From out of an immense structure of white stone came towers topped with tiles that gleamed like mother of pearl… It shone so brightly in the sun that Alma blinked, shading her eyes.’  Oak and Mist


Criccieth Castle, Wales

‘My heart rejoices at the thought that our old castle will guard my secret, high on its mound behind its twin-towered gate.’ Hills and Valleys

Notre Dame Doors

Doors to Notre Dame, Paris

‘The large wooden doors… were wondrously crafted, with hinges made from intricately shaped and figured metal that curved across the… wood like living things.’ Oak and Mist

Criccieth, Wales

Criccieth, Wales

‘Alma sat with Merewyn on a low wall near the jetty, looking along the curving beach to the mountains beyond.’ Hills And Valleys

Inspiration comes to us from many places. I recently walked past a grove of trees in my neighbourhood and immediately had another book idea. An unusual outside light on a neighbour’s house inspired a short story. So how about my fellow writers out there? Do you write from the real world, or gather influences to shape a new landscape? And where have you been that has inspired you?

#WritePhoto – A Glimpse of Ambeth

Sue's Tower Prompt

The ground began to rise beneath them, their horses’ hooves thundering as they entered the pass leading towards Etras’ stronghold, a castle set high among the crags. Pointed towers of grey stone rose above a solid keep, black flecks swirling around one of the towers. The faint shrieking of winged Watchers could be heard, growing louder as they drew near.

‘Are you ready?’ asked Denoris, pitching his voice to carry above the sound of their approach. Gwenene glanced at him briefly, a flick of dark hair and sapphire eyes, but did not slow her pace.

‘I am.’

When I saw Sue’s #writephoto prompt for this week, I couldn’t believe how well it tied into a scene from book four of my Ambeth Chronicles, when Dark Elders Denoris and Gwenene are headed for the mountains, hoping for help from an old friend. And so I thought I’d share it as part of the photo prompt – just a small glimpse of Ambeth, as I’ve yet to publish this instalment.

If you’ve read the first two books, you might have an idea of who Etras is, and why the Elders might want to visit him. And if you haven’t – well, what are you waiting for? 🙂 Click the links and start the journey.

In Praise Of Libraries

Oak And Mist final cover

So today something kind of cool happened. My daughter was using my phone and decided to Google Oak and Mist. She then became very excited.

‘Mummy, someone’s drawn your book!’

I had a look and, sure enough, it was my first piece of fan art. I can’t share it here as it’s not mine to share, but the artist, a teenage girl, had drawn her own representation of the sword image from the cover and written a short post to go along with it. On looking further, I could see it was done through a site designed by young people for young people and working in conjunction with area libraries – the idea was that readers 11-18 could post reviews and artwork about books they enjoyed, something that seemed to me to be a great initiative.

At a time in the UK where a recent BBC report uncovered increasing library closures, a drop in paid library jobs and an almost 100% rise in the number of library volunteers, it was nice thing to see evidence of libraries being used within their communities. In these days of free books and easy downloads, I suppose going to the local library and browsing the shelves might seem a bit old hat. However, free internet, e-book downloads, classes and book group initiatives such as the website described here are just some of the services offered by local libraries. As an independent author, I’ve also received a fair bit of support from area libraries, being invited to speak with reading groups on several occasions and having my very own book signing, as well as the pleasure of seeing my books available to borrow on their shelves.

The BBC report generated a fair amount of interest so I hope it’s been a wake-up call and that local libraries will start to thrive, rather than gradually fade away, as the services they offer to the community in terms of opportunities to learn and grow are, in my opinion, invaluable. After all, it’s a sad thing when a flagship library such as the one in Birmingham are so short of funds that they have to put out a call for people to donate books.

Today it was a thrill seeing my first piece of fan art, which wouldn’t have happened without the library supporting my work and making it available to borrow. So I left a comment saying how much I liked the image and the interpretation of my book. And I think next week it might be time to visit my local library again…

An Experiment with Facebook Promotion*


*Before we begin, I’d like to clarify that this promotion was not by using paid ads through Facebook, but rather by contacting community pages on Facebook for promotion.

I recently ran a five-day free promotion for Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series. I’d run one before, back in September last year, and had rather good results, with around 4500 copies downloaded, several paperbacks sold, a few good reviews and a large increase in my KENP numbers. I’d supported that promotion with three days of paid advertising, as well as blog posts, which were picked up and shared via many lovely bloggers.

I wasn’t expecting lightning to strike in the same place twice, but, as the third Ambeth book is due to come out soon, I thought I’d give it another go and hopefully attract some new readers to the series. This time I decided to supplement the promotion via Facebook. This was for a couple of reasons – first, my budget wasn’t huge, so searching out free or low-cost options suited me. Second, I kind of stuffed up in terms of booking any paid advertising, so ended up with only the first day of the promotion advertised through Booksends. However, I’d read a recent blog where the author had used Facebook as part of his promotion and had garnered an astonishing number of downloads, so thought it worth trying.

And here’s what happened:

I approached three different pages, Free Kindle Books UK, Free Kindle Books and Free Kindle Books – Community. I sent them each a universal link to Oak and Mist, plus some information about the book and the dates of the promotion, and did so a few days before my promo was due to start.

Free Kindle Books UK were great – they ran a promotion on the first day, which was then picked up and shared. I also had some lovely blogging friends share the promo through their own blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter – thank you all so much for the support. This, coupled with the paid ad through Booksends, meant I had a fairly respectable first day of downloads, about 500 in total.

When I approached Free Kindle Books – Community, their page directed me to their website, Free Kindle Books 4u dot com. I went there and checked their submission requirement, which stated that, due to high demand, they could only guarantee me a spot if I made a ‘donation.’ This donation would, however, make my book a featured title for the duration of my promotion and, as the recommended amount started at $5, it seemed a pretty good deal. The page was updated daily and there were plenty of titles on offer, as well as a ‘Featured’ column where, I presumed, my book would be. So I paid $10, submitted my link and that was that.


On the 23rd of February, halfway through my promotion, I checked their site. My book was not featured, nor had it been posted at all. When I did a title search it did eventually show up, but the listing was from my original promotion in the previous September. I had not submitted my book to them at that time, so I can only presume they pull offers from the web and post them, hoping to entice authors such as myself into making ‘donations’, with the impression that we would get promotion as promised in return. I emailed them to enquire, but to date have had no response. So, definitely not recommended.

And finally, Free Kindle Books. They have about 50,000 followers, so I thought they would be a good bet. Once again I was directed to an external website, where a number of packages were available for advertising there. I messaged them, saying I only wanted a Facebook promotion and could they let me know if it was possible. I didn’t receive a reply until the last day of my promotion – it stated that they would be happy to run a post for me on that day, but could I please do them a favour in return.

Visions of all sorts running through my head, I cautiously messaged back, What sort of favour? It turned out that the favour was to purchase a book for 99c, then leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. I messaged back saying I was always happy to support fellow indies, but couldn’t guarantee I would leave a review. I don’t review every book I read, and won’t leave negative reviews for books as I feel it’s unfair to the author – opinions can be very subjective and just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it. Anyway. I also asked her if this was a standard part of promotion for their page.

She replied that it was, and that she understood I may not be able to leave her a review, however, she hoped I would enjoy the books (my 99c bought me a five-book set). In the end we had a very civil exchange of messages, and, as I felt that 99c was cheap to reach a potential 50,000 readers, I went ahead and did notice a small surge in download numbers on the last day.

So there you have it. In the end I gave away about 800 books, not a huge amount compared to my previous promotion, but still not bad. I also sold a few more copies of No Quarter, received some great feedback comments from readers, and my KENP numbers have surged again. I’m not sure whether I’ll offer Oak and Mist free again – perhaps I might consider it when the last book comes out and there is a full set – but feel both promotions have been a success as I’ve definitely increased my readership. As for using the Facebook community for promotion? I’m still of two minds about it.

How about you? Have you used Facebook to promote your books? And did you get positive results? Look forward to hearing your comments.





On The Path Once More


It’s Monday, and the gorgeous child is back at school. Half term is over – this year is flying by already – and I’m now back to my regular schedule.

A Thousand Rooms is now starting to go out to agents and publishers. I have a carefully crafted cover letter, a sweated-over synopsis, and have had the first three chapters professionally critiqued (thanks, Esther!). I’m also getting very strong feedback on the finished manuscript from my lovely, lovely beta readers – thank you to each and every one of you for your time and honest words.

I managed to get it out the door to three agents last week. One has already got back to me, with a rejection. Ouch. But that is the game I am in, the ring I have now entered, and so I must duck and weave and armour myself against the slings and arrows of rejection, for I doubt it will be the last. I read somewhere that if you get rejected more than ten times, it’s your manuscript that’s the problem. Honestly, I think ten is far too low a number – The Help was rejected something like sixty times, to cite just one example. I think Harry Potter was knocked back at least a dozen times, to cite another. So I have a list of agents and publishers to approach before I decide to go it alone. I believe in the story and, with the feedback I’m getting, hope that it will get somewhere.

Hills and Valleys remains in the editing stage, but I’m still hoping to publish next month. There is a cover design to finalise, then the whole formatting thing to go through again.

And finally, I’ve decided to take advantage of my free KDP Days and am offering Oak and Mist free to download until February 25th. I’ve offered it for free once before with positive results and, while I’m not a fan of giving work away, I do believe these short promotions have their benefits. In fact, I blogged about it here and here.

Wishing you all a Happy Monday x

Oak and Mist – Download Free For a Limited Time!

Oak And Mist final cover

Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, is free on Amazon from now until February 25th (e-book version only).

‘The end of everything? Great, no pressure then.’

Alma Bevan didn’t mean to go on a quest. But when she disappears between two trees at her local park and reappears in Ambeth, she finds they’ve been expecting her.

So now she has to find a lost sword or the consequences for humanity will be dire. With no idea where to look, despite help from her new friend Caleb, things become even more complicated when a handsome Prince of the Dark takes an interest in her.

All this plus homework too?

Well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon, Oak and Mist is the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles. So go on, download a copy today! myBook.to/oakandmist




Time To Edit


I haven’t been as ‘present’ as usual in blogland this past week or so. That’s because I’m deep in the pre-edit on my third Ambeth book, Hills and Valleys. My pre-edit basically consists of a full read through, tidying up the prose and making sure the structure works before sending it to Lucy, my editor. I’ve compared it before to cleaning the house before the cleaner comes over, but I do think there’s more to it than that. I’m paying Lucy for her time, and I don’t want to waste it by sending her a document that still needs work.

As I worked through the edit, it occurred to me that it has been just about a year since I sent my first book, Oak and Mist, to Lucy for editing. At the time it felt like a leap of faith – even though Lucy was highly recommended and had lots of experience in my genre, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard people describe having a professional edit done as being like a kick in the guts, their work being ripped apart. What if Lucy wanted me to get rid of a favourite character? Or, even worse, if she thought the whole story didn’t work and I needed to start again.

Then the edit came back. It was thorough, professional and included a page of notes about the structure. And, even though it was hard to take, Lucy was spot on. I was very lucky in that she ‘got’ the story right away, and her suggestions made it even better. I wrote a blog post about the experience at the time, and thought it might be fun to revisit my thoughts, one year on…

I’m currently working with an editor on the first book in my Ambeth series, Oak and Mist, getting it ready for publication. It’s the first book I’m going to publish so I want it to be as strong as possible, which is why I’ve chosen to invest in a professional edit. And I’m so pleased with the result – her suggestions are spot on and she’s also picking up on the extra spaces and commas and quotation marks throughout my work.


No. There is no but. This edit is just what I needed. The editor has also given me a page of editorial notes about the structure of the story and, well, I’ve had to suck it up and agree. Because she’s absolutely right about the points she makes, and has actually cleared up a few niggling issues I hadn’t been able to resolve.


It’s just how you feel, as a writer, when someone critiques your work. Your automatic response to someone not agreeing with everything you’ve written is ‘But….’ Said in sort of a whiny tone. (I think the great Stephen King touches on this in his book, On Writing). Because your book is so personal, so precious, it’s hard to take at first when it feels like someone just doesn’t get it.


I’ve thought about it and the changes she’s suggesting will make for an even better story, an even stronger book. She does get it. And that’s why you work with an editor – to get a fresh, professional viewpoint of your work, from someone who does it for a living.

And you can’t ask for more than that.

So, as I get ready to send my third book out for editing, I remind myself why. I’m looking forward to the process because it means I can offer you, the reader, the best possible book I can write. And hopefully I won’t have to kill off any characters in the process…

A Cautionary Tale – My Encounter With A Vanity Publisher


This was a post I ran a little over a year ago, and it’s been on my mind of late. I’ve seen several other bloggers writing about scams targeting authors, plus The Society Of Authors recently published an article about how the publishing industry is so heavily weighted towards publishers making a profit, rather than writers. I know Amazon isn’t perfect, but as a platform that’s allowed me to share my work with people all around the world, and, most importantly, keep writing, I think it can’t be beat.

So a cautionary tale for a Friday – have any of you out there had similar experiences?

I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while, unsure whether or not to share it, but then decided I had to. The spirit of this blog is that it’s my journey to publication, lessons learned, paths taken, decisions made. And so here it is…

A little while ago I was offered a publishing contract for Oak and Mist.

Woo hoo, right? Champagne for everyone!

Well, not so much. I had seen this publisher mentioned on a few blogs and websites as one who took unsolicited submissions (and, more importantly, took fantasy submissions, for which there is a much smaller market in publishers and agents). So I sent my book to them and, about a month later, received a request for a full manuscript. So far, so good. About a month after that something, I don’t know what, spurred me to do a little more online research into the publisher. And what I found was a shock. They were a vanity publisher (you know I hate that term but for the purposes of this post it will have to do) who approached first time authors with what they called a ‘contribution scheme’ contract. So, they would publish my book, but I would have to contribute up front to the costs of doing so. Red flag number one. I was pretty gutted, but worked through it and in some ways they did me a favour, for it cemented my decision to self publish instead of waiting any longer.

About a week later a big fat envelope from the publisher plopped through onto my doormat. I picked it up, then went to the kitchen and made myself a big greasy sandwich and a cup of tea (comfort food), before taking the lot up to my office (spare room) and sitting down to read. Luckily I was prepared, for on the surface this was a very exciting envelope to receive. ‘Publishing Contract’ said the black letters on the glossy covers of two official looking documents. A nice cover letter cited their ‘excitement to be working with me’ and their ‘faith in my ability as an author.’ A second insert listed a whole bunch of different ways in which a book could be marketed, but then ended by stating this wasn’t necessarily what they were going to do with my book. Red flag number two.

So I took my glossy gleaming contract and flipped it open, taking a bite of my sandwich to fortify me as I read on. Interesting. According to the contract:

  • The Publisher could amend or edit my book whenever they wanted and how they saw fit
  • They had the final decision on the look of the book
  • Other than ten author copies for me and five sent to university libraries, there was no mention of how many other copies they planned to print in the first run
  • They could decide at any time that my book ‘no longer warranted publication’ and could then cease to print or market it (so after the first fifteen copies, if they wanted to)
  • They would market the book by any means at their disposal (very vague) but could not be held responsible if no bookstores wanted to order it
  • If they failed to pay me my royalties on time I ‘had the right’ to notify them of this in writing – no other penalty was mentioned
  • They wanted first refusal on my next two books

Ding ding ding! Red flags everywhere! It was like a Communist Party parade at this point, but the kicker, the real icing on the cake of this contract, was that I could receive all this jammy goodness for the princely sum of £2500, my so called ‘contribution’ to the scheme.

Um, no thanks.

If I’m going to spend £2500 to publish my book, then I’ll spend it myself, designing a cover I like, editing the book to my satisfaction and marketing it the way I want to, while retaining the rights and a much healthier slice of the royalties. And I’m sure I could do all that for a lot less than £2500, to be honest. But I can see how for some people this offer would be very enticing, the language of the contract and accompanying letter written in such a way that on first glance it hides the fact that the deal is so heavily weighted in favour of the publisher.

A few months ago I attended an agent workshop at Bloomsbury. It was a great day, I learnt a great deal and met some wonderful people. One thing I do remember is sitting next to a well known agent as she told the room that, often, publishers don’t make back their advances. They make their money on the bestsellers, the books that do well, then offset these other losses against that. But they do what they do because they believe in the book, they believe in the writer and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is in a speculative business. And that’s the sort of publisher I’d like to work with. One who’s willing to back me and my work all the way. And at the moment that’s me, though I live in hope.

So the lesson for me was to dig deeper, do more research. My problem is not with their offer, it is in the way it was presented, their website making no mention of the fact that this was how they operated, so I wasted time and energy submitting and waiting for a response. I’m not bitter about it, nor am I angry. It is what it is and the choice was with me as to whether I chose to sign with these people who, after all, are in the business of making money. I chose not to, because I want better for myself and better for my book. So I sent them an email, politely declining their offer and they sent me one back, very nice, wishing me every success with my publishing. So I will take their good wishes and move forward, a little bit wiser (I hope) about it all.


Up And Down


Keep Looking Up…

On Monday, I received an amazing five-star review for Oak and Mist. The reviewer took the time to write a detailed analysis of why they enjoyed the book, and I was (and still am) completely thrilled.

Today, when I logged into my Goodreads account, I noticed someone had given Oak and Mist a two-star rating. No written review, just a star rating (which is fairly common on Goodreads).

So, two days, two vastly different perceptions of the same book.

Writers can be very hard on themselves. Like most artists, I suppose – self doubt and criticism certainly isn’t limited to the writing field. I’ve heard fellow writers whom I know to be talented, who’ve written wonderful work, wondering whether they should keep going, that their work will never be published, that it’s not worth the stress. It’s a very tough business, one in which we have to deal with rejection almost every day. Whether it’s yet another agent rejecting your submission, another contest where you didn’t place, another not-so-positive review or simply a day where no books sell, we need a thick skin to deal with it all.

Yet to write is to have a thin skin. To be open to emotions and vibrations and stories as they happen around us, so we can transfer them to the page. If we shut ourselves away from the world, we shut ourselves away from the potential for new ideas. If we lose the sensitivity that leads us to create in the first place, then creating becomes more difficult. An impossible dilemma.

Or is it? The other week, I wrote about the spider outside my window, who every day creates a new web. The lesson I took from this is that each day is a new opportunity. A chance to get up, dust yourself off, and get on with things. And once my work goes out there in the world, I have to accept that it is open to whatever might come along, good or bad. Art in itself is subjective – what one person might love, another might absolutely hate.

While I was on Goodreads I added another book to my ‘Read’ list. This is a book that was raved about, that had a huge display at my local Waterstones and loads of write-ups in the media. I thought it was a great story – well-written, suspenseful, and with a nice twist at the end. For me, it was a four-star read. And yet, when I checked, it had over 1200 one-star ratings.

So I guess what I need to remind myself of is this:  If you’re writing, keep writing. Do it for you. Do it for those who want to read. Be brave, and get it out there. The important thing is that you are creating something. Focus on the positives, rather than the not-so-positives.

And if your web breaks, spin yourself another one.

(Oh, and this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post – I’ve had lots of lovely comments on here about my writing, and I know I’m very fortunate. It’s just part of my journey through writing, and I think most of us have experienced days like this).




Another Marketing Foray


The other week, I wrote a post about a free promotion I ran for a limited time on my first book, Oak and Mist. It was a pretty successful promotion, increasing my readership and leading to further sales, so I was happy with the result.

I decided to test out another marketing option by placing an ad on Goodreads. It’s a pay-per-click ad, where you set a price to pay each time someone clicks on your ad (I bid $0.60 per click, a little above the average of $0.50) . There were three things I liked about the set-up:

  1. Control. I wrote the ad, set the price-per-click and the maximum number of clicks I was willing to pay for each day.
  2. Budget. The ad is pre-paid, so will run until my maximum number of clicks is reached, and I won’t be charged any more. There is an option to automatically renew once your credit runs out, but I opted out of that.
  3. Flexibility. You can change the copy or appearance of your ad whenever you choose, or change the cost-per-click or maximum number of clicks per day. When you do this the ad needs to be approved again, but this happens fairly quickly.

So far, I’m going to be honest and say that it hasn’t set the world on fire. I’ve only had a few clicks so far, and garnered a lot more interest when I ran my Goodreads giveaway. However, it’s been a great opportunity to test different taglines for my book and see which ones gather the most attention. Goodreads sends me a daily report listing how often the ad was viewed, how many clicks for that day, whether any one added my book as a result of the ad, plus my remaining credit, so it’s easy to see patterns when you change any aspect of the campaign. This is invaluable information that will be very useful when putting together future campaigns, as I’m essentially testing my ideas on a huge live audience and getting immediate feedback.

When you self-publish, it’s important to choose your promotional avenues wisely, as they are all part of the brand you are building in order to sell your books. There’s also an enormous amount of learning on-the-job, and I’ve been extremely grateful to the many writers out there who share information about their experiences.

And how about you? Has anyone else out there had experience advertising on Goodreads? And how successful was it?