Archive for January, 2017

It’s thirteen years since the House of the Most Holy and Chivalric Order of the Star was burned to the ground in the Great Sack of Reolt. Lady Oglive narrowly escaped the conflagration, but now wishes she could retrace her steps and prevent the disaster. The Prince of Death’s Castle is only too happy to suggest a means of doing this: her friend Adelheide just has to read out one of the books she has spent the last few months copying. At first the book tells the familiar story of Oglive’s childhood in the House, but suddenly the story changes and runs down unfamiliar pathways …
The ‘stepping back’ or ‘retrogradus’ focusses on Oglive, her friends Brothers Jan, Berthol and Karlot and their colleagues in the House, but then widens to draw in Adelheide and her unborn child, Oglive’s cousin Baas, and people whom none of them have ever met: the long-dead Princess Raisa and the mysterious warrior Arval. As new love affairs develop and old relationships are broken Oglive and Adelheide heartily wish that they had never started the Retrogradus, but it’s too late! Whether or not they can bring the story to a successful conclusion, one thing is certain: their circle of friendship will never be the same again.


‘Will it do?’ asks Adelheide. ‘I think it’s much better than the first one.’

‘It’s not bad,’ I say grudgingly. ‘Amazon says we have 2779 characters left.’

Adelheide snorts. ‘Stuff that! No one will ever read a long blurb. You need to keep it short and sweet.’

I’m not sure I would apply the word ‘sweet’ to the stories of The Star, but I agree short is best. As someone wrote, if you can’t summarise the story in a paragraph then you clearly don’t know what it’s about.


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Which author doesn’t love having their book illustrated? Yes, it’s exciting to see another person bring your words to life — but only if their interpretation matches your own! Since I started writing my own stories — dictated to my parents at some horribly early age (four?) — I’ve enjoyed producing my own illustrations. OK, so I can’t draw very well — but at least they are my interpretation. Other people may have their own.

So, my teenaged scribbles were illustrated. But for many years I’ve done very little drawing because I ran out of drawing pad. So for last Christmas I asked my son for some water colour paints, and brushes, and a pad.

I am still finding my way around the modern materials he generously bought me — the canvas pad is a new adventure for me, and I think I’ll try the watercolour pad next time. But the results of the first attempt could have been a lost worse — although they could have been a lot better.

Two illustrations: one of the Great House of the Most Holy and Chivalric Order of the Star at Reolt, taken from the fields on the other side of the outer defensive ditch; and one of the scouting party in the Retrogradus. The two knights in the foreground are Jan and Berthol — the two figures on one horse are Oglive and Karlot. That symbol on their shields is the eight-pointed star and a sword.


The Great House from outside the ditch


The Scouting Party

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retrogradus-draft-cover…now I’ve added some subheadings to give it some structure,’ I say.

‘This isn’t one of your chronicles,’ says Adelheide huffily. ‘I don’t do subheadings.’

‘Or arrows in the margins? Or pointing fingers?’ I tease her.

‘None of that stuff! Just the story, and the name of whoever is speaking. Oh — I did put in those pictures of the statue of Our Lady and Our Lord, from the chapel. But that’s all.’

‘I think it would be better with some more pictures,’ I say, ‘but meanwhile the main thing it needs is a good cover.’

We both look at the cover that Helen L. has done for us — she used the Kindle book cover designer, which is all right but not up to our normal standard.

‘I liked the roses she did for your story, Karlot,’ says Adelheide. ‘It’s a picture of roses from her garden, did you know?’

‘Yes,’ I say, irritated at being told something I already know, ‘it was my idea.’ I look again at the picture, and sigh. ‘I know we asked for footprints in the snow, but that orange and blue colouring doesn’t look right.’

‘It should be red and black,’ says Adelheide. ‘I’ll get on to it.’

So I leave her to it and go back to checking through the text. So far I’ve found two misplaced words that she missed, and no doubt I’ll find more minor mistakes as I go through — but so far there’s nothing major. Suddenly I remember something.

‘We need a new blurb, too,’ I call to Adelheide.

‘I’ve done it,’ she retorts. ‘You can read it in the next blog post.’ So I shall.

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… said Adelheide. ‘In fact, it’s a bit of a mess.’

‘You’ve been working on it for weeks,’ I said. ‘Haven’t you got it sorted out yet?’

‘Weeks? You can hardly talk! You left me with a pile of notes and — and ramblings — all full of romantic meanderings and sexual fantasy — and Jan was  worse. Honestly, Karlot!  Be reasonable.’

‘All right, all right,’ I said. ‘I admit it. It was a mess. But you’re so good at sorting out messes.’

‘Well! Now I have a baby to look after. So I don’t have so much time to sort out other people.’ She gave me a very Adelheide-ish grin. ‘You can have a go.’

So I shall have a ‘go’. She’s passed me the files, and told me to get on with it. I’ll let you know how I get on!

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Star 1

Oglive controls Adal …

In the books of A Sword, a Star, A Flame (six so far), most of the voices are male: Brothers Jan, Berthol, Adal, sometimes Hellmuth, Karl, and even Prince Gayel. The female voices are far fewer (Oglive, Karlot, Adelheide). But the overall narrative is framed and controlled by the women: Oglive’s story starts us off, Karlot’s journal and chronicle keep the story running along, and Adelheide has edited the whole of The Star and put the final narrative together, evicting in the process a lot of material written by the men that she deems Unsuitable. (She is not exaggerating when she says she has cut a lot of material out, and if anyone reading this would like to read some of the parts she removed, drop me a comment and I’ll rescue them from her discard pile and copy them out for you. You may then agree with her than they needed cutting out.) But as a result, although the voices in The Star appear to be mostly male, in fact they are overridden by the female voice of Adelheide.

What prompted this dominance of the female voice? Well: a few years ago a girlfriend asked whether one of my professional books could be made available as an audio book, so she could listen to it while she’s out jogging. I asked the publisher, who agreed to consider it, and in due course the audio book came out. Very nice: but when I listened to the sample, I realised that they had got a man to read it for the audio book. My words, originally created by a female, had been transferred to a male voice.

It was a very odd feeling. I felt I’d been supplanted in the book I’d created.

This is a problem with releasing one’s creations to the world: what the world does with them may alienate them from their creator. It’s difficult seeing your work taken away and changed into something else, or given to someone else, so that it’s no longer yours … But that’s what happens to creations.

So in The Star, the male voice is spoken over by the female voice. Just getting my own back.

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template-cover-dbfosa-with-shape2 My beta reader likes The Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy. (Hoorah!) She has some comments to pass on, and when I receive them there may be some spelling corrections to put through. I’ve also noticed one surplus paragraph, which  I’ll remove (currently, two consecutive paragraphs contain the same information). I love positive feedback!

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Adelheide is getting very frustrated with the Retrogradus. There are so many different directions in which events could have gone, and the story is now fragmenting in different directions. Berthol and Jan have come up with at least three different endings, none of which look particularly attractive.

Oh, and did I mention? Adelheide is now a proud mum. Young Jurgis is taking up all her time, of course, so deciding how to finish off the Retrogradus is the least of her worries. But she’s determined to get it tidied up and finished, before it drives her and everyone else mad.

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