Friday, 24 May 2013

It's Friday!

Another week gone by and a week closer to THE LAST KNIGHT hitting the virtual bookshelves.

The nerves are mounting, as is the feeling that I’m never going to be ready in time, but so is the excitement. In 37 days I will be a published author – even if I am self-published. Strangely enough though I am feeling less and less concerned with the ‘self-published’ part. Sure there is a certain amount stigma still attached to the self-publishing route, and I am taking a big gamble, but I’m also making myself responsible for my own success, and that feels pretty good!

I promised a teaser or taster every week between now and the release date, so here is the next one. This is the opening scene to the book – a scene I wrote over three years ago now. So much has changed about the novel, the plot and the characters since then, and this scene itself has probably been re-written and edited a dozen times, but it is still where it all began, when I first put down on paper the idea of a modern character tortured by images, visions and dreams of a past that was not her own.

I walked slowly, my fingers trailing along the white wall as though the physical connection could keep me grounded. My free hand clutched a little shrub sprouting red flowers. It was a gift I knew wouldn’t be appreciated, but I would deliver it anyway. My trainers squeaked on the tiled floor as security cameras clicked and whirled in the corners, tracking my progress along the corridor. The astringent smell of bleach scratched at the back of my throat, but I fought back a cough.

Snedham Mental Hospital. God, how I hated the place.

A distant babble of raised voices shattered the silence and my feet faltered. I froze, trying to make out the words. Only one voice, pleading and begging for help, stood out, but the pitiful sound made my heart ache. Only a moment later the voices died away and silence crept back, somehow louder than the shouting.

“Miss Page?” The orderly escorting me stopped a few feet ahead and looked back.

Shaking myself, I started forward again, feet dragging as we drew towards door at the end of the hall. My stomach churned, making bile rise in my mouth. Wrestling a crocodile was a more enticing prospect than taking those last few steps.

“Here you are, Miss Page.” The orderly stopped outside the door. “You can go straight in.”

I hesitated, staring at the plain white wood. There was no lock, but a small, square observation window sat at eye level. I didn’t look through it as I took ten deep breaths before pushing open the door. A blast of warmth hit me, bringing a stale, musty smell with it, the smell of old sweat and dust.

“Who is it? Who’s there?”

A stranger sat in the armchair beside the window. Blonde hair hung lank and greasy around her face, and even though her blue eyes were wide open I knew she wasn’t really seeing me. Another deep breath steadied the trembling in my legs, and I was able to take a few more steps into the room.

“It’s me, Mum. It’s Cara.”

My voice cracked, but I refused to cry. The one and only time I’d given in to the tears she had looked at me so blankly it broke my heart. The fact my own mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t, comfort me was too much for me to cope with. I’d been twelve years old at the time.

“Cara?” She frowned. “I know that name.”

Two steps took me across the tiny room, with its narrow, single bed, and I sank to my knees beside her chair, my fingers stroking her forearm. I couldn’t hug her, not when she would sit there as still and immobile as a statue.

“Yes, Mum, it’s me. Your daughter.”

I knew it wouldn’t help. It didn’t matter how many times I told her who I was; she still looked at me like she’d never seen me before. That was the hardest part; this woman, who’d given birth to me, didn’t even recognise me.

She blinked and looked away. “It’s cold. Why is it always so cold?”

The room was swelteringly hot, and she sat right beside the radiator. At least, her body was by the radiator, her mind was somewhere else entirely. She’d been somewhere else for the last five years. I sometimes wondered what she saw. What had that small, sterile room become for her? I privately hoped it was somewhere beautiful, somewhere she could see the sky.

“I brought you a new plant,” I told her, placing the little green shrub in its yellow pot on the window ledge. “You need to remember to water it – or it’ll die like all the others.”

“I think I’d like the roast pheasant for supper tonight,” she ordered, not even glancing at the plant. “Please instruct the kitchens.”

“Sure, Mum, I’ll tell them.” Of course, I wouldn’t. She would get the same food as the rest of the residents at Snedham, but it was easier to go along with her fantasies. Why pheasant I didn’t know, she’d always been a vegetarian.

“I can’t stay long, Mum.” A ball of guilt felt like a lead weight in my stomach. I hadn’t even been there ten minutes. Was that really all the time I could spare my own mother? I shook it off; I couldn’t stay, it was too hard. “I’ve got homework and things to do. But I’ll come see you next week.”

She didn’t seem to hear me. Her face was turned towards the window, but I knew that she was seeing something completely different. I reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. It had once been long and honey blonde like my own, now it hung limp and flat around her face.

“It’s my birthday, Mum,” I whispered, tears burning my eyes. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but the words slipped out. “I’m seventeen today. Can’t you at least say ‘Happy Birthday’?”

Nothing. She didn’t even look my way. Sobs clawed at my throat and I pushed back to my feet, rocking on my heels. Looking down at the stranger in my mother’s body, I wanted to scream and rage. I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled; anything to get a reaction out of her. It wasn’t fair. I remembered the vibrant, beautiful woman she’d been once, and for her own sake, as much as mine, I wanted that woman back.

Instead, closing my eyes, I bent down and pressed my lips against the top of her head.

“I’ll see you soon,” I mumbled against her hair.

When the white door closed behind me I pressed my back against the wall. Sinking down till my butt hit the floor, I drew my knees up to my chin. Iron bands wrapped around my chest and hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I hated it. Hated how visiting made me feel, but the guilt that ate away at me when I didn’t was far worse. I dreamt sometimes of her coming home, normal and sane, but the doctors told me that was never going to happen. Mental illness wasn’t something they could cure, and the meds never seemed to work.

My mother would never kiss me goodnight again. She’d never ask me how my day was. She’d never giggle with my dad about some inane thing that only made sense to them, or sing along to the 80’s pop music she used to love so much. My mother was a ghost, a phantom, barely even real.

With my face pressed into my knees, I let the tears fall.


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Friday, 17 May 2013

Teasers and Tasters and Trailers Oh My!

With release day creeping ever closer it is about time I started getting The Last Knight out there. After all, a little advertising never hurt anyone – right?

So every Friday between now and the 30th June I am going to be posting some kind of teaser or taster here on my blog – be it extracts from the book, a sneak peek at the ‘cover blurb’ or most exciting of all, the reveal of the actual cover art.

So today let’s start with a little snippet from the book – and because I never do things the way most people expect it’s not going to be the first chapter.

The stench of rotting flesh grew stronger as the shadow stepped towards us. A shaft of moonlight lanced down through the trees and I saw what had been stalking us for the first time.

Ancient, coal black armour shrouded a form even bigger than Lance. There was no shine to the metal, it was matte black, dented and pitted with rust. Yet it was the eyeholes in the helmet that drew my gaze; there were no eyes, just empty pits, burning with dark fire.

“What the hell is it?” I screamed at Lance as the creature straight out of my nightmare strode towards us, booted feet crushing the undergrowth.

“A Wraith,” he muttered.

The thing unsheathed its sword and swung at Lance. Ducking under the blow he lashed out with his foot, catching it on the knee and its leg buckled.

“Come on.” He grabbed my arm, pulling me away through the trees.

It was impossible to run with the undergrowth catching at our feet but we stumbled along, Lance in front of me and Percy on my heels.

“What exactly is a Wraith?” I gasped when we seemed to have put some distance between us and it.

For a moment it didn’t look like Lance was going to reply, but then his shoulders sagged.

“A wraith is a creature of old magic. They’re not alive. They’re spirits of long dead knights drawn back into this world. You can’t kill them. You can’t fight them. They won’t stop until they finish the job they’ve been summoned back to complete.”

I screamed as another wraith stepped from the trees to our left. Lance spun, but Percy was already there. He charged under its outstretched sword and slammed his shoulder into its chest. They tumbled out of sight into the undergrowth.


“Leave it, Cara. He’ll be fine. Come on.” Lance dragged me onwards, but I stared back over my shoulder, praying for Percy to re-emerge from the trees.

A root caught at my foot and I fell, almost pulling Lance down with me. He dragged me back upright and we staggered on.

“You said they don’t stop till they complete a job,” I said, trying to stop myself thinking about what might be happening to Percy. “So what are they doing here?”

Again Lance hesitated. “You really want to know?”

He stopped so suddenly I slammed into the back of him. He caught me as he turned, his eyes gleaming in the moonlight. I threw up my hands to steady myself, palms pressed against Lance’s chest.

“They’re here to kill you, Cara. They’ve been sent to kill the only threat to their master, the one who raised them from the dead.”

His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away. My vision blurred at the edges. I felt sick, I couldn’t seem to breathe. My fingers clutched at the fabric of his shirt.

“Kill me?” The words came out as a strangled gasp.

“This is why I didn’t tell you,” Lance said, grabbing my face between his hands. “I need you to be strong.”

“I’m scared,” I admitted in a whisper.

“No one is immune to fear. It’s how you deal with it that matters.”

I nodded just as there was a rustle behind us. Lance shoved me backwards, but it was Percy who staggered out of the trees. He was covered in blood again, but he seemed relatively unscathed.

“What are you two standing around chatting for?” He grinned like a schoolboy and shoved us both towards the trees.

Only seconds later we stumbled across a small ditch and onto the tarmac of a road. With a firm surface under our feet we could really run, pounding down the road. All I could hear was the pumping of my own blood.

Tyres screeched ahead of us and a car cornered at high speed. The full headlights illuminated one of the wraiths waiting in the middle of the road for us. It turned too late and the car hit it full on, sending it flying into the ditch.

The car fishtailed as it braked and came to a halt side on to us. The driver’s door flung open and Wyn looked out at us, eyes bright with adrenaline.

“Well, get the hell in.”

Chapter Nine, THE LAST KNIGHT.

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Friday, 10 May 2013

The Countdown Begins

In 51 days and approximately 12 hours my first novel will be going on sale on Kindle.

Even typing the words almost gives me heart palpitations. It’s possibly the scariest thing I’ll ever do. For most people it might be sky diving, or bungee jumping – for me taking the plunge will be the mouse click that will submit my manuscript to Amazon.

In the weeks since I made the decision to do this I’ve swung between thinking this is the greatest thing I could, and the most stupid mistake I could make.  And I think I’ll still be oscillating between the two on the day I hit the button.

But I’m still going through with it.


Because I have nothing to lose – or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

 Firstly I tell myself that self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it once did. After all, it used to be that self-publishing was synonymous with vanity publishing. It was something people did when they couldn’t do it the traditional way, and they just wanted to see their names in print.

I think there might still be an element of that involved, but it’s evolved. The publishing industry has changed. It’s a different beast.

The editors and Literary agents are no longer the gatekeepers. They don’t have the same power as they once did to tell us what we should, or shouldn’t read. The power has shifted into the hands of the reader. And with digital publishing making it easier than ever to get your book out there, more and more authors are taking the risk of letting the reader decide.

I’m taking that risk. After all, as I said, I have nothing to lose. I could spend the next ten years fighting to get my manuscript seen by an agent or an editor, fighting because it’s always just going to be stuck in that slush pile. Fighting because the people reading it have almost made their decision before they’ve even read the first line. And I don’t blame them – not really. They are a business, an industry that’s struggling, why take a risk, and risk money, on an untried and unknown author? With as much industry knowledge as they have, even they can’t be 100% sure of what will be the next big thing. So I could spend years of my life desperately trying, and getting nowhere. Not necessarily because I’m not good, but because I’m not exactly what they’re looking for, or because, quite frankly, I suck at writing queries.

Or I can take the plunge, take the risk and let the reader decide. I can let the people out there with their Kindles decide if my book is something they want to read or not.  It’s not going to cost me anything, so if I sell ten books, or I sell ten thousand (though even in my wildest dreams I know that’s unlikely to happen) it doesn’t matter financially. I haven’t spent a penny.

But I don’t need to sell ten thousand books (though it would be nice). I don’t even need to sell ten books. I just need to sell one. I just need one person to read this book and enjoy it. For it to make them laugh, or cry. For it to touch them in some tiny, but significant, way. I am not a writer of great literature, I know that, I am a writer of stories, good ones I hope. But the only way I can ever know that is if people read them.

I may not be the next big thing, but I don’t need to be. I just need to take this risk – for me, so that I know that at least I tried. Even if I fail.

And if I fail, it’s not like I’ll stop writing. I can’t. I have to write. It’s in my blood.

So the countdown begins. Succeed or fail at least I can say I tried. And that is all I can ever do.