Runes of the Blood

So…  I wrote a new book, my third book about runes.  The first, Aegishjalmur: The Book of Dragon Runes, taught a curriculum of the Elder Futhark of 24 runes, tying them in with my Apophis programme of Draconian Magic:  Norse dragon lore, best in the world!  The second of my runic titles was Runes of Mann, which was a catalogue of the runic monuments on the Isle of Man, my home, together with a few brief suggestions for their practical use.  The new book, Runes of the Valiant, is a more thorough account of the theory and practice of the Younger Futhark, the 16 rune row which was used by the Norse settlers on the Isle of Man.

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This is a very personal and meaningful project for me, a chance to take all of the lore and practice I have acquired over the years and apply it to the specific runes used by my own ancestors, because there is actually quite a philosophical and pragmatic leap in the transition from the Elder Futhark to the Younger, which occurred at the dawn of the Viking Age.

Before a rune worker can make the shift from the Elder rune row to the Younger, he / she must address several fundamental questions and deduce satisfactory answers for them, in order to understand the new dynamic behind both the philosophy and the base meanings of the runes:

  • Why was the 24 rune Elder Futhark reduced to the 16 rune Younger Futhark?

  • What became of the ‘missing’ eight runes? Are they to be ignored, or were they combined with other runes?

  • How did the ancient runemasters decide which eight runes to condense?

  • Why sixteen runes specifically? Why not some other number?

  • Have the meanings of the remaining runes changed to accommodate the reduction of the rune row?

These questions are all addressed in the pages of Runes of the Valiant, together with considerations of updated models of cosmology and so forth, based upon the new arrangement.  Specific practical methods of using the Younger rune row are then presented.

The Isle of Man is a place which the Northmen did not simply raid.  Instead, they chose to settle here, establishing themselves as Lords of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, intermarrying with the existing Celtic population and establishing a rich mixed heritage.  Nevertheless, when speaking of Manx heritage, the Celtic is often emphasised at the expense of the Norse, ignoring the richness of the intermingling.  The Norse heritage is still represented in the many carved runic memorial stones; the burial sites; the place names; and of course – most powerfully – in the Manx bloodline itself.

It is my hope that this book will give that heritage a new lease of life, perhaps stimulating some to Seek after the Mysteries their forefathers sought.

For Love of Lulu

As a self-published author, I go where the readers are.  Which means, of course, that my prime medium for sales is Amazon, with their CreateSpace publishing arm for paperback books, and Kindle for ebooks.

Now a lot of authors knock Amazon, but I never have and I’m not going to now.  Certainly, they’re not perfect and some of their policies regarding reviewing and so forth have caused considerable frustration and upset to some friends of mine.  But when it comes to getting books in the hands of readers as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, they really can’t be faulted.  And that’s what it’s all about.  An author should never forget that a good service is a service that’s good to the reader, and readers love Amazon.

Their pricing and royalty rates are pretty good too.  They’re not the best that are available to self-published authors, but they’re plenty good enough.  The quality of their printed books is high also.  Probably 95% of my book sales are made through Amazon and it’s a working relationship I am very happy with.

But if people ask me where they can get hold of my books, I often direct them towards Lulu.  This is because I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Lulu, for the following reasons.

  • They were one of the pioneers of self-publishing, one of the very first companies to say, “Hey, authors should be able to publish and market their own books!”  I admire that pioneering spirit, that visionary zeal, so all my books still have a presence there.  Indeed, Lulu is usually the first place that a new book of mine will appear.
  • Lulu are good to authors.  Their royalty percentage is very good, higher than Amazon’s, so I get a little extra every time someone buys from Lulu.
  • Lulu are good to readers.  There is ALWAYS some sale, discount, free shipping or other special deal going on.  Discounts of 20% – 30% are quite common.  If you’re planning to buy, always check Lulu’s home page for their current deals and grab yourself one.  If there’s not one that meets your needs, come back the week after and there probably will be!  You can save big time if you buy using Lulu’s regular discount codes.
  • This one’s a biggie for me:  Lulu publish hardbacks, but Amazon don’t.  My own shelves creak under the weight of beautiful hardback editions of all my books (and they really are beautiful quality books).  So if you want the best possible quality edition, you can only get it from Lulu.

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The only things I don’t do on Lulu are ebooks.  The advantages offered by Amazon for exclusivity in their Kindle Select programme are too good to be ignored, for myself and readers alike:  all of my Kindle titles are free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

But if you’re looking to buy a print book, take a look at Lulu.  You’ll also find a whole load of titles there that simply aren’t available anywhere else, so take your time and browse.

Lulu’s home page can be found here, where you will find details of their current deals and discounts, with codes.  And my own Lulu author pages can be found here (hint, hint, wink, wink).

A New Way Through the Labyrinth

As readers of my perverted series of comedy fantasy novels, the Rampant Damsels range, will know, I always like to indulge myself by including one chapter which is formatted as a ‘choose your own adventure’ escapade, allowing the reader to steer their own course through a section of the story, using their ingenuity to select a path through the atrocities and depravities secreted within the numbered paragraphs.

So far, readers have plundered a dungeon to battle the Demon Lord at its heart; attempted to rescue a kidnapped Elf-maid (who had no intention of being rescued until she’d succeeded in seducing her hunky kidnapper); tried to get laid in a brothel (considerably more difficult than it sounds, apparently); guided a vicious, foul-tempered old codger through a desert; tried to find a way back to their home reality from a multi-dimensional nightmare.

I am currently writing the sixth book in the series, Starship Damsels, which features the alternate universe sci-fi alter-egos of the usual characters (first introduced in book #5, Damsels and the Dark Arts).  I’m half way through the book, the ship has crashed on an artificial planet made of space junk, the crew are scattered and must find each other and effect repairs and … it seems like a good candidate for this title’s ‘choose your own …’ entry to me!

In the past, I have always painstakingly flowcharted the adventure before beginning, then I’ve numbered all the options, then written the numbered sections, then reallocated the numbers, then gone through and changed all the links to match the new numbers, then playtested thoroughly to make sure I haven’t missed or mistyped a link …  You get the picture.  It’s a lot of work, even for a single chapter length adventure, with less than a hundred options.

But now I’ve discovered The Gamebook Authoring Tool.  It’s a great piece of software that allows me to simply start typing.  Every time the path splits and there are multiple choices, it generates the new locations, allots them numbers, displays them on a detailed flowchart and labels them with the text of the choice that leads there (which is adjustable if desired to provide a better memory prompt).  All I need to do is write the damn story, with all of its meanderings as the whim takes me.  I can see at a glance where everything separates and comes back together, it’s obvious which threads I’ve left hanging and need to go back to.  And best of all, when I’ve finished, it will randomly reassign all the numbers (except those I assign as start and finish, and any other specifically designated as immovable by me) as many times as I want till I’m satisfied, updating all links to match automatically.  It then generates a text file in one of several formats, which I can paste into my manuscript and format to suit.  All of that fiddly nonsense gone and dealt with, all I have to do is write!

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The Gamebook Authoring Tool

This is so amazing, so time-saving, and if your gamebook comes in at less than 100 numbered references, it’s even free!  To date, all of the Damsels  chapters have been less than 100, this one may be too (though maybe not; I notice I’m producing a lot more material since I don’t have to chart and track it all by hand!)  But I’m going to pay for the Pro version with my next pay anyway.  It’s pretty cheap, only £39, and it’s quite simply a piece of software that I’m pleased to pay for and support.

If you write this kind of thing, give it a go.  You won’t be disappointed.

Rekindling Old Fears

Every self-published author knows the importance of editing.  But when publishing ebooks, there’s an additional element to take into account.  No matter how perfect your manuscript may be grammatically, no matter how precisely each word may be spelled, no matter how immaculately each page may be formatted, you may still be thwarted.

When a file is converted to Kindle format, it undergoes all manner of changes.  If you prepare the print version of your book first, preparing a print-ready PDF file, then choose CreateSpace’s default options to create an interior file suitable for Kindle, the resulting ebook will lose much of its formatting.  The simple fact is that although their use is encouraged, the Kindle conversion process does not treat PDFs kindly (pun intended).

My early ebooks were all produced from PDFs in my naive innocence, and I wondered why the page breaks were lost, with one chapter sometimes running into the next; formatting was lost; text justification was scrambled; the fonts I had employed to display runes etc. were stripped away…  despite the painstaking work I had put into my initial document.

With time – and many more books – comes knowledge and experience.  So here are a few tips for those of you who may be preparing your first ebooks:

  1.  Always use a .doc file, not PDF.  This way you will retain the majority of your formatting.
  2. Remember to remove any blank pages at the front or rear of your document, between chapters, etc.  Blank pages on Kindle just look like errors, so tighten up the document and eliminate the blank space.  Also if you are in the habit of starting chapters half way down a printed page, bear in mind that on a Kindle display, this may push the beginning over onto the next display page, so strip away any empty lines at the beginnings of chapters.  Get rid of drop capitals too, they display very weirdly on Kindle.
  3. Remove all headers and footers and page numbers, or there’ll be tears when they pop up right in the middle of random sentences.
  4. If you use specialist fonts, Kindle won’t display them, converting them to a default font instead.  The only way to get around this is to insert any special text in runes or whatever as a graphic, or if their use is extensive, see the paragraph below.

If your book contains many illustrations or a lot of fancy fonts, or if the retention of the precise layout is particularly important, there is now an alternative.  Amazon have now made available ‘Kindle Textbook Creator’ software, which will create a Kindle book which is the exact image of the print volume.  The downside is that the cost of the resultant ebook is increased and that these ebooks will not display on the original Kindle ereader:  they will only be readable on a Kindle Fire, iPad or other tablet, or a PC or Mac.  Nevertheless, for certain titles, this is a godsend.  I could not have produced an ebook edition of my Runes of Mann without this tool.

With all that I have learned of Kindle publishing, I have started revisiting my earlier ebooks and uploading fresh files for them, which will display much cleaner formatting, making them that bit easier to read.  Aegishjalmur has already been done and today I have updated For Fear of Little Men, my collection of dark Celtic folktales.  The other titles will follow suit.

If you have already purchased these ebooks, you will be able to freely download the updated version by going to the ‘My Account’ section on Amazon, choosing to manage your digital content, then instructing to download to the appropriate device.

To celebrate the reinvigorated Kindle edition of For Fear of Little Men, here’s a video of me reading a complete spooky story from the collection:  Moddey Doo

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Keeping Yourself Covered

Back in ye olde days of indie publishing, it used to be the work of moments to tell an indie title apart from a conventionally published one simply by looking at the cover.  The indie books would be the ones with no cover art, amateurish cover art, a hilariously bad CG image, or a photograph which only had a vague relevance to the subject matter.  But it was the story that mattered, right?

But in a saturated market, that simply won’t wash any more.  You need to be noticed and it’s as simple as that.  Simply consider how you purchase books yourself if you’re browsing for something new at Amazon.  You might narrow your search down to a genre you’re interested in and then you scroll down, glancing at the titles and the thumbnail cover images.  So if a book doesn’t have a cover that leaps out and grabs you, you’re not going to buy it.  And what’s more, it’s not enough to have a good cover image; you also have to put some thought into how effective that image is going to be when it’s shrunk down as a thumbnail, because that’s how most people are going to be exposed to it.  If it’s too murky or too busy, it’ll not be effective, no matter how gorgeous it is at full size.

Fortunately, these days it’s easier and more cost effective than ever before to source a really good cover, something that wasn’t the case a few years ago.  I want to give a few samples here from cover artists I have used and the experiences I’ve had with them, giving them a shout out so you may consider your needs for your own next cover art.

Rampant Dames cover finish

Rampant Damsels was the first book I self-published back in 2009 and I knew I wanted something special for it.  I scoured the Net trying to find an artist / cartoonist with the right style for the comedy fantasy image I wanted, who was open for commissions.  I eventually found the portfolio of British cartoonist Ian Baker, who produced the above masterpiece for me, costing me some £220 at the time if I recall correctly.  But it’s a beautiful image that meant I actually sold a few books, encouraging me to continue on instead of shriveling up and dying.  The image is colourful, striking, bold, simply composed so it stands out as a thumbnail, but full of detail at full size, and leaves the viewer in no doubt that the title exudes a kind of raunchy humour.

The next three covers I want to show were all prepared for me by a great guy on Fiverr named Boris.  He is fast, sources a wide selection of images based upon your brief and offers nine or ten alternate covers for you to choose from, he’s VERY cheap and a really great guy to work with, coming up trumps every time.

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‘Vicars and Tarts’ cover by Decovski

The first job I put his way was for erotic comedy novel Vicars and Tarts.  I had a few suggestions for the cover:  if possible, I wanted the colour to be a warm orange tone to suit the holiday theme of the novel; I wanted it to feature a Bible to reference the titular vicar, and a pair of lacy panties for the tarts; I also wanted these latter to be draped over a glass of red wine, as a reference back to the previous book in the series, Water Into Whine.  The above cover contained every single element I had asked for.  There was also an alternative, which in some ways I preferred, it being a photograph of a pair of panties draped over a glass of red wine.  However, it lacked the Bible and the orange tone.  I probably would still have gone for that alternative if I was judging purely by personal preference, but here’s where you have to be canny when selecting a book cover.  The cover chosen above was a much trendier, more modern style of image, and WOW, does it ever stand out as a thumbnail!  And these were the decisive factors.  The book sold relatively well right from launch and continues to do so, so I obviously chose well.

The Waters Of Life

Boris’ next commission for me was a much more sombre one, for the horror novel The Waters of Life.  For this, I specified a stone sarcophagus in a vault, with a sinister hooded figure, and just look at the macabre black and white stock photo Boris discovered for me and adorned with suitable title fonts!  Again, he provided several alternatives, some of which were great and very tempting, but this one is just so full of eerie menace it was a no-brainer.  It also reduces down to a suitably sinister and effective thumbnail.  It did the trick, the book sold instantly and well.

EARTH MOTHER

By now, I was becoming painfully aware of the shortcomings of some of my earlier novels which had never performed well, all of them with half-arsed cover designs.  It was time to start putting my house in order and relaunching some of these old titles with properly designed covers.  I began with a horror novel titled Earth Mother, which had never sold well at all, but which attracted raving reviews from the few people who did read it, so I knew the problem wasn’t with the writing.  Boris produced the above image based upon my description of the book, using the dark green colour tones I requested together with a bright green font and matching eyes for the Elemental horror, which really stand out and make a striking thumbnail image.  The results?  This cover only cost me £15, but in the three weeks since the book was relaunched it has sold more copies than in the previous three years!  Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  Spending just a few quid on a decent cover can make that much difference!

I had been continuing to write new titles in the Damsels series in the meantime, and a couple of the middle titles in the range definitely need new covers now too, a job I’ll be getting round to.  But when I came to write the most recent, Damsels and the Dark Arts, I decided that it really needed a decent cover, something which would do it justice.  So I decided to commission an artist once again.  Some books just need original artwork and can’t be served by stock images and that’s just the way it is.  Once again, I wanted to find an artist who could really capture the look and feel of the characters and the books’ humour.  I scoured hundreds of fantasy artists on Deviantart before commissioning Kelsey Bigelow to produce the cover, pictured below.  She used the original Rampant Damsels cover as reference for the two main characters, but updated their clothing at my request, she included other elements I requested, such as the important skeleton key, she used the Tarot card ‘The Devil’ as a template for the image as suggested and gave the whole image a range of beautiful blue tones as I had specified.  Sheer perfection, probably my very favourite book cover ever!  The cost?  About $200.  Artists (and good ones) can be got for less, of course, but I was very choosy about getting an artist with a specific style.

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Damsels and the Dark Arts, cover art by Kelsey Bigelow

Most recently, I had another old novel recovered, this time my contemporary Celtic fantasy, The Wave Sweeper.  This one was done for me by Rachel McGrath, herself an exceptionally talented author and illustrator, who really succeeded in producing the goods here, as pictured below.  This was the first time I have opted for a cover image which wraps around the whole cover, and it’s extremely effective.  The imagery, fonts and colour tones are all illustrative of the book’s blend of warm melancholy.

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These days, it’s not a struggle to find a highly capable cover artist and you don’t have to pay a fortune for it any more.  But it’s certainly not optional:  your book needs a decent cover if it’s to have any hope of selling.  My own experiences of the jump in sales after upgrading Earth Mother and The Wave Sweeper have proved just what a huge difference it makes.  Make sure it’s what you want, make sure it conveys the mood, and make sure it makes a good thumbnail!

Oo-er, Vicar!

I’ve decided to offer a naughty little promotion for my two sex comedy novels, Water Into Whine and Vicars and Tarts.  Today is the end of one financial year and the beginning of the next, and my finances could certainly benefit with a boost.  So I’m offering a little incentive if enough people purchase these two titles during the next month (ending 6 May).

The two books in question are a little on the smutty side, in fact they’re mind-bogglingly saucy and as explicit as it gets.  But it’s all in good fun, with loads of laughs along the way.  Ultimately, they’re feel-good stories.  In Water Into Whine, the Grace family move to a rural village, where the unorthodox ministry of the local vicar, James Redders, and his wife Miriam raises more than eyebrows as they’re plunged into a wild world of sex and debauchery, but always with the utmost gentility.

In Vicars and Tarts, the Graces visit James and Miriam at his new posting on a Scottish island.  Here they help him to win the favour of the reluctant locals, using their swinging antics to swing opinions as they tackle strict puritans, New Agers and a Satanist landowner.  The results are as hot as they are hilarious.

So … if I can sell just 50 copies of these two books (either title counts as one sale; it’s two sales if you get both), I will have a souvenir photograph of myself taken down beside the sea, masquerading as a naughty vicar, wearing only spectacles, vicar teeth (as in the image below), a clerical collar, a pair of clown shoes and a wholly inadequate posing pouch.  This photo will be posted on this blog for all to see and variously swoon over, drool over, vomit over or laugh at.  Think of the high value:  it should be good for blackmail purposes for years to come!

If I can sell 100 copies between these two titles, I will post half a dozen such photos on this blog in a whole range of most provocative poses.

If I can sell 150 copies you might be able to persuade me to keep my clothes on!

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Just for the record, Kindle Unlimited borrows will count as a purchase, but in order to clock up the necessary number of pages read, the book(s) would need to be read between the qualifying dates (5 April – 6 May).

Also for the record, I don’t normally sell anywhere near 50 copies of my fiction titles in a single month, so if you want to see me all pouched up and pouting, you’ll really need to share the shit out of this post and scream and yell at all your friends to get their acts together and buy these two books so that you can get hot and bothered with my photo (or laugh till your jaw aches – your choice).  So shout it out near and far, on Facebook and elsewhere.  Twist arms and pinch fleshy appendages until your victims submit!

And here’s where you can get them:

Water Into Whine –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

Vicars and Tarts –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

So don’t delay, and in the meantime I’ll go and choose my posing pouch!

Stagnant Waters

I have just published my latest novel, a horror titled The Waters of Life.  I’ve certainly delved into horror before and will do again, but nevertheless this book is extraordinary even by my standards.  I thought a blog was in order to trace my thought processes in the writing of this book.

The Waters Of Life

The actual initial idea for the story was sparked by a comment from a fellow indie author and friend named May J. Panayi (be sure to check her books out too; ‘Malbed Mews‘ is a real stunner if you like your horrors).  In one of her travel blogs, when referencing a trip to Greece, she mentioned “drinking water from the tomb”.  This inspired a raft of grotesque thoughts and scenarios.

So my tale became woven around the tomb of a saintly abbot, from which a spring with alleged healing properties flowed.

From the outset, I decided I wanted to write a real horror, a story which would be utterly doom-laden, downbeat and oppressive, in which not a single character would have a happy ending.  At the end of every horror book or movie, there are generally one or two characters who limp away from the carnage at the end.  I was determined that this would not be the case with The Waters of Life.  There is no sigh of relief for the reader as the final page is turned.  I wanted this book to truly horrify, to be misery incarnate.

So, in order to accomplish this I had to decide upon the nature of the horror.  The only way to write such a bleak novel convincingly would be to write about those things which truly horrify me and which turn my stomach.

This, to me, meant body horror.  I have always felt that there can be nothing more horrible than when your own body turns against you and begins changing or killing you from within, an enemy that you cannot flee, which alters your very identity and sense of self.  A quick look back at the things which had genuinely frightened me as a child confirmed this feeling:  Doctor Who episodes such as ‘The Green Death‘ and ‘The Ark in Space‘, which both featured extreme body horror, and more recent horror writings such as Brian Lumley’s eerie and grotesque ‘Fruiting Bodies‘ and Guy N. Smith’s exquisitely revolting ‘The Festering‘.

The most terrifying and blood curdling examples of body horror, which have often been evoked in horror literature, are deadly, disfiguring diseases, which arouse both pity and revulsion and unreasoning terror in equal measures.  So a hideous contagion became the core threat of my novel, all tied in with themes of gangsters, brutality and torture; long-buried evil and sinister religious orders.

I think I succeeded in capturing what I set out to do.  The Waters of Life is not an easy read, it is uncomfortable, skin crawling (literally!), repellent and heart-rending.  Reading it will not make you feel good.  But it may manage to fulfill the original remit of tragedy:  to prove a catharsis, a purging of your darkest fears and emotions.  There is a human need to vent such emotions, which was why I chose to write such a book.

To make the unrelenting misery and horror easier to bear, the Kindle edition costs a mere 99p / 99c, or is free to read through the Kindle Unlimited service.

I will close with the back cover blurb from the book, and those who wish to sample more will find the entire prologue here at an earlier blog entry.

“Eric Turner, a journalist specialising in accounts of the paranormal, investigates a healing well associated with a saintly abbot in the rural village of Scratchbury. Here he finds evidence of astonishing, miraculous cures: a blind woman who can see; a hunchbacked schoolgirl whose spine has straightened.

“But why is everyone else in the village so deathly ill?

“Why is a gangster so obsessed with shooting a movie in the ruins of the old monastery?

“Who are the ruthless order of monks who will defend their secret at any cost, even murder?

“As Eric investigates. he discovers to his horror that an evil that has been entombed for a thousand years is breaking free at last, and it brings plague and suffering in its wake. A pestilence stalks the land, and all flesh is its plaything.”