Friday, 11 December 2015

Launching a signature list with Genghis Khan

Not with the warrior himself, since he's been dead for almost eight hundred years. But if the great Khan's spirit is still around, then I'm hoping he'll approve of my new series of novellas The Legend Of Genghis Khan.

These books are being launched under my middle initial 'Katherine A Roberts' because they're intended for a slightly older readership than my middle grade and teen titles. They're also my first venture into independent publishing - hence the 'signature' list. (Well, supermarkets have one, so why not authors?) In this case, it simply means the kind of book that came from my heart, as opposed to the sort of book preferred by publishers that's easy to market and might sell a million copies if they're lucky and the wind is in the right direction. It also means I have to do everything myself, which is why this one has been so long in coming! I started writing the story back in 2006, but in those days there was no way to get the book into readers' hands without a publishing contract, and nobody I knew possessed an e-reader.

All that has changed. The first title Prince of Wolves is available now as an ebook for Kindle, with epub and print on demand versions to follow.

A yurt (or ger) on the Mongolian steppe
Picture credit: Adagio at English Wikipedia (Original text: en:User:Adagio) Wikimedia Commons

The legend is based on a fascinating 13th century prose-poem known as The Secret History of the Mongols, in which spirits walk the steppe alongside the human characters, and shamans play violins fashioned from the skulls of stallions. Horses don't feature as prominently in these books as they do in my historical novel about Alexander the Great I am the Great Horse, since Genghis Khan lived a lot longer than Alexander did, built a larger empire, and would have ridden many of the tough little steppe horses in his time. But his people measured their wealth in horses, so even when his family is exiled after his father's murder they are allowed to keep their small herd of silver-bay geldings... until raiders steal them and the boy Temujin rides out alone to get them back, on the way recruiting the first of his loyal warriors who will help him avenge his father's death and set him on the path to become the leader of all the 'people who live in felt tents'.

Each book in the series is told from the viewpoint of a different character, starting in Prince of Wolves with the young Genghis Khan himself, then known by his childhood name of Temujin. The series continues in book two from the point of view of the Khan's young wife Borta, and finishes with his blood brother Jamukha's version of events. I was going to publish this project as one long book, but early readers found the three interwoven first-person viewpoints confusing, especially when the wolf spirit starts to appear! So I have decided to return to my original concept and publish it as three novellas each covering the same 12 year period, which means these books can be read alone from the viewpoint of your favourite character, or read together as part of a trilogy to add depth to the story.

Book 1: Prince of Wolves (Temujin's story)
Book 2: Bride of Wolves (Borta's story)
Book 3: Blood of Wolves (Jamukha's story) - coming soon!

You can download these ebooks from amazon UK for £1.99 or from amazon US for $2.99. They are also available from the other amazon stores in the English language.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2 review

Readers of this blog will know I am a secret fan of the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I've read all three books, and now I've seen all four - yes, four - films. So how do the films stand against the books?

These films (unlike many adaptations for the screen) follow the books faithfully. I loved the first one. The original Hunger Games was always going to translate brilliantly to the big screen with its reality TV concept of the Arena and all the fabulous costumes and showmanship. I thought the second film Catching Fire was even better than the first and looked forward to seeing the third, only to discover (frustratingly) that the third book Mockingjay had been split into two.

The first part of Mockingjay on screen didn't really work for me. The trouble with splitting a book into two films is that the viewer doesn't experience the full story arc or the satisfaction of the ending. The second part was a long time coming, and I was rather hoping that there would be some flashback or reminder of the first part... but there isn't. We plunge straight into a scene where Katniss is recovering her voice (from being strangled by Peeta, if I remember right) and, while this cleverly reintroduces Katniss as a character, I found myself wishing I'd re-read the third book beforehand or at least opted for the double bill running parts 1 and 2 back to back. It took me a while to identify all the characters and recall the plot.

So was the decision to split the third book in the trilogy a cynical marketing exercise, or stroke of artistic genius? Spreading the final book over two films certainly allowed more room for dramatic scenes such as when Katniss and her unit are infiltrating the Capitol, but much of the third book deals with a quite realistic civil war and I did not really enjoy that aspect of the films as much as I enjoyed reading about it in the book. There is little of the original Hunger Games glamour in Mockingjay, and while the war scenes were done well, if I want to watch war scenes I'll watch the news. This, of course, is part of the power of the trilogy, but whether it translates as well into film I'm not so sure. The ending is rather bleak and didn't feel quite right for such a strong character as Katniss, but that might follow the book faithfully too... to be honest, I can't remember exactly how the final book ends after the main plot resolution.

I enjoyed revisiting the characters, especially Katniss' old mentor Haymitch and her boyfriend Gale. In this film, Katniss lives up to the 'kat' part of her name and proves to have nine lives, which had me cheering her on. There were one or two places - wise comments made by the characters - that made me smile, providing light relief from the more intense scenes. So why didn't I enjoy the final part of the trilogy on screen as much as I enjoyed the book? I'm not sure. I only know I didn't come away from Mockingjay with the same feeling that I took away from the first two films.

Maybe the third book would have been better done as a single film with the war scenes shortened to allow more focus on the plot twists? Perhaps there will be a director's cut version released eventually? In the meantime, the unicorn recommends stocking up on popcorn and either watching the boxed set of the first three films on DVD beforehand, or going to see the Mockingjay double bill!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

An interview with David Wailing

Today I am over at Authors Electric interviewing David Wailing about his Auto series of books set in 2022, when everyone has a digital personal assistant app called an auto:

You know you want one!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Girls of Troy

The unicorn has just spent a few years in ancient Greece with three of the girls who survived the Trojan War: Queen Helen's daughter Hermione; Princess Cassandra's slave Eirene; and eldest daughter of King Agamemnon Electra. In Frances Thomas' delightful Girls of Troy trilogy, these three young narrators bring the myths to life, giving an overview of the whole story from the moment Queen Helen elopes to Troy with Prince Paris, through the long years of war, to the violent fall of Troy and its aftermath back in Greece when the victors return with their captives.

In Book 1 Helen's Daughter, Hermione has been thrown out of her father's house after her mother elopes to Troy, and tells us in her own words how the Greek kings use her mother's 'abduction' as an excuse to raise an army of a thousand ships to sail across the sea and attack the city. This is actually a relief for Hermione who, having emerged from her mother's shadow, meets Achilles' handsome golden-haired son in the most romantic of the three books. Under the protection of centaurs and Achilles' faithful Myrmidons, the two young people seem to be heading for a happy ending, until Hermione's cousin Iphigenia is summoned to take part in what is maybe one of the most tragic scenes of the whole war. As a reader with a fairly good knowledge of the Greek myths, I found knowing what is coming actually made this story more compelling. Hermione gets a fairly happy ending, but by then the men are fighting at Troy and the story is far from finished.

In Book 2 The Burning Towers, we move across the Aegean Sea to Troy and find out what it's like to be a slave in the royal household as the faithful Eirene (who herself has the Sight) tries to look after her mistress Princess Cassandra, who screams her prophecies of doom as the Greeks attack the city. Not knowing what happened to the slaves makes Eirene's story one of the most interesting of the trilogy, and although there is not as much romance in this book as in the first title Eirene does eventually get a happy ending too.

Book 3 The Silver Handled Knife deals with what happened after the victorious warriors sailed home to Greece with their captives. But the Greeks have been gone a long time, and the women they left behind have not all been sitting weaving in their rooms waiting patently for their husbands' return. Electra's mother Queen Clytemnestra, understandably upset with her husband King Agamemnon for the terrible thing he did to their daughter Iphigenia at the start of the war, has taken a lover, and neither of them are too pleased when King Agamemnon turns up again bringing his share of the spoils from Troy. So they murder him, which starts a trail of revenge told in Electra's words. This is perhaps the toughest of the three stories, as it deals with members of a family killing each other, but the author makes a good attempt at showing the reasons why they act as they do. Electra's final words "I am a survivor" bring the trilogy to a satisfying end.

Part romance, part tragedy, part historical adventure, the three books are tightly written with delightful details of the period. The author has clearly done her research and does not flinch from the more tragic aspects of the original tales by Homer, which means these books should appeal to adult readers and older teens looking for rich storytelling and depth of character. If you enjoy the Greek myths, you won't want to miss these!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Happy Halloween!

The unicorn told me to write this post now, so that by the time you discover it my book SPELLFALL should still be at its bewitching Halloween offer price of 99p (or the equivalent in your currency if you live outside the UK).

The good news is I have just finished writing a sequel to this book, which is currently awaiting publishing decisions... so if you know someone who hasn't read the first one yet, then spread the magic word!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Searching for books in a series?

As a fan of the fantasy/SF genre, one of the most annoying things used to be reading a great book set in an exciting new fantasy world, only to find it is volume two of a series, part one has already gone out of print, part three is difficult to find and needs to be ordered specially... and then discovering the author added another volume five years later which you didn't even hear about! The good news is ebooks and print-on-demand have taken care of disappearing series by keeping the earlier volumes available until readers have a chance to discover these new worlds.

Recently, I took advantage of this new technology to republish my out-of-print Echorium Trilogy and the Seven Fabulous Wonders series as ebooks, and now Amazon has made it even easier to find the missing parts of a beloved series by neatly listing the books together on one page of their site. If you're missing any of mine you can complete your collection here:

(I can't find a neat Amazon page yet for my Pendragon Legacy series, but when I do I'll add that here.)

Meanwhile, I am eager to complete my collection of a brilliant Anne McCaffrey series about sparky heroine Killashandra Ree, which began with The Crystal Singer - a book I first read years ago and often turn to when I need a comfort read, which means my battered old paperback copy is now falling apart at the seams...

Which much-loved series are YOU keen to complete?

Friday, 25 September 2015

Why the rules for success don't work for authors

As promised, the unicorn has graced us with a reply to those rules for success I posted earlier this month. This is what my beautiful and spiritual muse has to say about writing fiction...

1. There are no rules.
If you look at the career paths of the authors in the top ten lists, you'll see many different paths all leading to the same place. Following a set rules is not too hard (unless you're a unicorn, anyway), and the thousands of authors who never appear in the top ten lists didn't one day suddenly decide to break every single writing rule and ruin their careers. The truth is there is no best-selling career formula, just as there is no best-selling book formula. So stop worrying!

2. Whose success are we talking about, anyway?
Those top ten lists are almost always about book sales: higher sales figures equals more successful. The unicorn understands that this is the way the human world works, and the only real measure of a book's success in the marketplace is how many copies it sells. But what we're really talking about here is the bookseller's success, and (to a lesser extent) the publisher's success. Higher sales should mean more profits for the bookseller, publisher and their shareholders - though not necessarily for the author. Watch those contracts!

3. Luck
This is about the only writing rule that makes any sense to a unicorn. We call it magic. You could try praying to the deity of your choice, or casting the runes, or writing only in purple ink on Wednesdays when it's raining, or (if you must) obeying a random set of rules some blogger tells you is the only way to be successful because that's the way they did it. All of these things will have an equal effect on your author career... i.e. none at all (unless you're lucky).

4. Ambition... but for what?
We've mentioned ambition, ego, drive, determination and other such admirable traits that will eventually get you to the top in any other career. The assumption here is that all authors want to be popular and appear in the top ten lists. Maybe some (many?) do, but aside from the fact you probably won't have to worry about paying the bills if you have a big hit, being very popular can actually hold back a creative career because you can be sure publishers will want "more of the same, only different" and be very reluctant to let you try anything else. Even if you are not a household name, you might be afraid to try something else in case it ruins your career.

Aside from sales figures, there are as many ways for an author to measure success as there are individual authors. Writing the perfect story, hearing from a reader saying your book has changed their life. continuing to write over a long career even if you never make a top ten list or win a prize, paying the bills, making a living, publishing a book you've spent your entire life writing... whatever your current ambition, it is an equally valid creative ambition as to be a number one best-selling author. Ask yourself why you really write books.

5. The numbers don't add up!
Even if your measure of success is purely financial, impressive sales do not automatically mean impressive royalties. For example, my royalty on a high-volume book club sale made via. a publisher has been as little as 2p per copy. You need to sell an awful lot of books at 2p royalty to pay a mortgage... at the other extreme, the 70% royalty from an indie-published ebook selling at the same price as a discounted book can bring in £2 or more for the author. Do the math: 100 sales at a 2p royalty brings in just £2 for the author, whereas a single sale at a £2 royalty will do the same, making it just as good financially for the author to sell a modest 100 copies of an ebook, as it is to sell 10,000 high discount copies of a print book via. a publisher (£200 profit in each case). Neither of these will pay the average mortgage either, but it shows how misleading sales figures are as a measure of a book's success. The unicorn wonders why, after the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, publishers don't treat books like movies and calculate the gross? Then those top ten lists might make more sense for everyone.

So the unicorn's advice is to stop worrying about other people's rules and concentrate on the writing. If you must have rules, make your own. If all else fails, find yourself a unicorn. Then you can always escape in the enchanted mists when things get crazy out there...

Friday, 18 September 2015

Rules for success as an author - the cynical version

You didn't think the unicorn would leave you with the party line, did you? Now that I've had a chance to read through all the literature I picked up at the CWIG conference, here is a cynical version of the rules in my last post. Brace yourselves, male authors...

1. Be born a boy - or use initials so nobody knows you're a girl.
According to an independent study on what kids are reading in British schools in 2015, seven of the top ten most popular children's authors are men, with only three women on the list:
Jeff Kinney
Roald Dahl
Roderick Hunt
David Walliams
Francesca Simon
Suzanne Collins
Julia Donaldson
Michael Morpurgo
Martin Waddell
with John Boyne, Michael Rosen, David McKee, Eric Carle, John Green and Dr Seuss all tying for last place at the top table (which sounds like a fun game of musical chairs!)
Interestingly, J K Rowling is not in the overall top ten list, although she featured on it in 2013 and 2014. Also, all three of the women on the 2015 list are writing under their full names so maybe the initials trick is not necessary any more?

2. Write about a boy hero - or if you must have a heroine, give her a decent weapon and fighting skills so she could be a boy in disguise.

my young heroine
Rhianna Pendragon
Well, it's a fact. Girls will happily read books about boys, but boys are less likely to want to be seen reading books about girls. So if you are looking for big-time sales, then why cut out half your readership by alienating the boys? I haven't read all the male authors' books, but out of the female authors on the above list Francesca Simon is there because of Horrid Henry, Julia Donaldson with the Gruffalo, and only Suzanne Collins with a heroine - Katniss Everdeen, a modern day gladiator fighting to the death in the Hunger Games. (Clearly though this trick does not always work, since the sword-wielding heroine of my Pendragon Legacy series failed to catapult me into the top ten.)

3. Luck
Can't get away from this one! Obviously there are many excellent male authors who write about boy heroes and still do not make the best-seller lists... or maybe they just don't know the secret handshake?

4. Ego
I'm probably on dangerous ground here, but part of ambition is having the self confidence and self belief that you have the required talent and hard work will get you there in the end. Do male authors naturally have more of this? There must be some reason that they feature so prominently on best-seller lists and prize lists, when as far as I am aware the vast majority of children's authors are women. I am not sure this is confined to publishing, though, and suggests the measurements we are using for success tend to favour men over women.

5. A wife
This links back to the time issue in my last post. All those irritating and frankly boring domestic duties can seriously interfere with a creative career, and any major disaster can stop you writing stone dead if you haven't got a wife to remember to buy the food, pay the bills, do the laundry, take the children to school... yes, I know some men can do all these things and are brilliant at them, but it's a rare man who will let their dedicated female writer disappear into her shed to write, keep the children out of her way, deal with all the distractions and have a meal on the table when she's hungry. Or maybe it's a rare woman who can disappear into her shed and leave all this stuff to her man without feeling guilty?

Thankfully, unicorns don't have to worry about such things. Next time (if I can persuade him to reply after being so cynical on his blog) the unicorn will give you his third alternative to these rules.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Rules for success as an author

Some tips from the 2015 Society of Authors Children's Writers and Illustrators Group conference.

1. Talent
You need to be able to write. Obviously. Many people have the basic talent to write a book.

2. Work
You need to work at your writing to make it even better. Fewer people are willing to put in the necessary amount of work.

3. Luck
You (and your book) need luck. I think this means during the publishing process rather than the writing process, although life can interrupt your writing. Luck is something the writer cannot control, so even fewer people have this one. Or maybe you just need to avoid the bad luck? I've heard people say "you create your own luck", which I actually think means working on the other rules (see 1 and 2 above) so you're in the right place at the right time when the luck comes along... if you don't write the book, then how can you possibly be lucky?

4. Ambition
You need to be hungry for success. Most authors are hungry (some are starving) to publish their first book, but how many authors keep that initial drive to succeed through the decades and countless books? Early success can take the edge off hunger (you have achieved your original goal so what next?), as can repeated failure (you've worked at 1 and 2 until you are blue all over and 3 just never seems to happen for you so what's the use?) I believe even fewer people retain long-term ambition than have short-term luck.

5. Time
Writing takes time, and it takes a lot of it. If you have a demanding family or a second job or a glamorous jet-setting lifestyle, you probably don't have enough time for all of the above. Very few authors are in a position to give 100% of their time to their writing career.

6. Success
You need ALL of these things to succeed as an author in the long term.

With thanks to:
Philip Pullman, author (rules 1, 2, 3 and 6)
Caroline Walsh, literary agent (rule 4)
The unicorn (rule 5).
All comments are the unicorn's own.

Do you have any personal rules for success as an author?

Monday, 10 August 2015

La Fille du Roi Arthur - King Arthur's daughter arrives in France

Rhianna Pendragon and her friends have been exploring again - this time across the English Channel, and are proud to appear in their very own French edition of "Sword of Light" published by Hachette.

Here's the lovely cover:
King Arthur's Daughter - Book 1

That magical looking white horse in the bottom left corner is a mist horse of Avalon, which are closely related to unicorns even though they do not have horns. They're difficult to ride, since they have a habit of misting from beneath you when they are alarmed and appearing somewhere else entirely - which happens quite often in this book, since Rhianna is being hunted by the dark knight Mordred.

It's interesting to see this edition since French is the only foreign language I learned at school so I can (sort of!) understand some of the words. If you want to test yourself, here's the poem about the four magical Lights translated by Blandine Longre.

Quatre Lumieres se dressent contre les tenebres:
L'epee Excalibur, forgee en Avalon,
la Lance de Verite, fabriquee de main d'homme,
la Couronne des Reves, qui dissimule le joyau d'Annwn,
et le Graal qui contient, dit-on, toutes les etoiles du ciel.

(missing the French accents, because my keyboard is English - if anyone knows an easy way of adding these, please let the unicorn know!)

So how did you do? Here's the English version to remind you:

Four Lights stand against the dark:
The Sword Excalibur that was forged in Avalon,
the Lance of Truth made by the hands of men,
the Crown of Dreams, which hides the jewel of Annwn,
and the Grail said to hold all the stars in Heaven.

Click here to find out more about the French edition

UPDATE February 2016
Sadly, I have just heard via my English publisher that Hachette have put this series on hold and will not be publishing Books 2, 3 and 4 until King Arthur becomes a bit more popular in France. So if you have read Book 1 in French and are waiting for the others, I can only suggest you write to the publisher and let them know you would like to read the rest of the series in French, too.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

King Arthur's daughter gives a rare interview

That famous red-haired recluse, Rhianna Pendragon - daughter of King Arthur and heiress of Camelot, speaks to Olga Godim about her childhood on the enchanted isle of Avalon, her work as a Warrior Princess, and her secret love:

Click here to read the interview!

All four of Rhianna's adventures are now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook from Templar Books, and you can download a free short story about Rhianna's childhood in Avalon for Kindle - see the sidebar of this blog or click HERE.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Dark Horizons and the Summer Solstice

Question: What do these two have in common?
Answer: A flash in the pen.

If you missed the sunrise at Stonehenge today, don't worry. The unicorn would like to invite you to the launch of Authors Electric's fiction anthology "A Flash in the Pen", which involves a unicorn and possibly some naked dancing around a virtual standing stone (optional).

Katherine's story is called The Last Maiden (because of the old wives' tale that only maidens can lure unicorns out of the enchanted forest) and was first published in the British Fantasy Society magazine "Dark Horizons" back in 1995. That was before ebooks, and before many online magazines too. It had black-and-white artwork printed on real paper and looked like this:

cover illustration (c) Alan Casey

The story even had its own full-page illustration in the magazine:

illustration (c) Bob Covington

As you can probably tell from the picture, this is not your typical sweet sparkly pink unicorn story (she just sat him on the desk in the first picture to mislead you all). It's more of a horror story really... although that depends on what you believe when you reach the end. If you believe in horror, you'll get horror. If you prefer pink and sparkly, then maybe you'll get sparkly (if not pink... it was a black and white magazine, and there's a limit to a unicorn's power).

There are many other stories in this collection from many different writers - historical, crime, literary, fantasy, romance - most of them aimed at adults, so please don't give this one to younger readers. But if you're a YA reader (or, ahem, a bit older) and want to sample some different authors, then this collection could be a good taster.

currently 99p for the launch

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Mermaid Mania!

The unicorn is delighted to invite you to Mermaid Mania, a feast of books about mermaids over at Serendipity Reviews all this week!

There, you'll meet a host of wonderful authors introducing their special brand of mermaids, and also find Katherine talking about the 'merlee' (that's mermaids to you) in her Echorium trilogy. I suppose she can't always be talking about unicorns, so I'll forgive her just this once.

Human or Fish? - Katherine lets us into the secret of how mermaids breed, and wonders if it's ever right to hunt them and eat their unborn children. (No, the unicorn's answer is NO! Mermaids are NOT fish... but humans have been known to hunt unicorns, so you might have a different view? Click the link to swim on over and vote.)

Favourite Mermaid Films/TV - Vivienne of Serendipity Reviews lists some of her favourite mermaids from the silver screen. What are yours?

Why Mermaids? - Laura Dockrill says she doesn't have a sparkly tail, but she knows what it feels like to be an outsider. Check out her new book Lorali.

How Emily Windsnap came to be - Liz Kessler tells how she came to write her best-selling series of books about a girl who turns into a mermaid whenever her legs get wet. (Swimming lessons could work out rather embarrassing...)

Cerulean Blue - illustrator Thea Baker introduces some beautiful mermaid illustrations in shades of blue.

A mermaid in a wheelchair - CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell talks about her mermaid picture book, reviewed here and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson.

Enjoy this gossip of mermaids with KM Lockwood.

And if your fins have been well and truly tickled, click here to find more great mermaid fiction in this round up of mermaid books from Goodreads.

Special Offer!
To celebrate Mermaid Mania week, you can download the Kindle edition of Song Quest for only 99p (or 99c if you live on the other side of the mermaid-infested ocean) until 14th June, when it returns to its normal price.

Song Quest - Kindle UK
Song Quest - Kindle US 

(If you prefer print, and have a bit more cash to spend, the last few gilded paperbacks are still available from Catnip Books.)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Covering an Omnibus - where do you put all the words?

No, I don't mean covering the side of a double decker bus with an advert for my book... although the book in question might well turn out to be the size of a small bus if it were printed and bound in the traditional way. I mean my Seven Fabulous Wonders omnibus collection of all seven titles in the series, which is available as an ebook only (being kinder to trees and buses).

In America, such collections are called boxed sets and come with the kind of e-cover that looks like a shelf full of books. But my Seven Fabulous Wonders series was never published in America, so I decided to call mine "Seven Fabulous Wonders: the omnibus collection" and go down the single cover route.

My first attempt looked like this:

This cover followed the design of the seven individual ebook covers, so I kept the series title small across the central black band and used "the Omnibus Collection" as the larger main title. I didn't even consider if this might be confusing for someone who came across the omnibus before seeing any of the single titles, although I did feel it necessary to add "all seven books" as a subtitle, which should have rung a few alarm bells at the time.

Then, recently, I was looking at this cover and realised "Seven Fabulous Wonders" would work quite well as a title on its own. It wouldn't need the clumsy subtitle "all seven books", and there suddenly seemed no good reason why "the Omnibus Collection" should feature so large on the cover. So I swapped the text around:

I didn't have to change the title of my omnibus, only the text sizes on the cover. But I couldn't resist a font change as I did so. (The more observant among you will notice that the main title font now doesn't match the title font on the individual covers, but I am considering a redesign of those books so will change the fonts to match when I do that.)

So did you spot the difference? Which version do you like best? Do they look like the same book at first glance? What do you think of the new font? (Friendly warning from the unicorn: anyone who says "change it all back again" will be transformed into an evil monster and slain in a suitably gruesome manner by the hero of Katherine's next book.)



You can buy the Seven Fabulous Wonders omnibus from the following stores:
amazon uk / amazon us
Page Foundry (Inktera)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Three books for International Women's Day (with no shades of grey).

The radio tells me this is International Women's Day so, in defiance of the current blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey", here are three books every woman should read before she's fifty.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I still think this is one of Margaret Atwood's best books. Possibly belonging under the label "dystopia" if it were published today, the story tells of a near-future religious society in America where the birth rate is falling and those women still able to bear children are a national resource. The chilling way that these women are controlled, and in particular the simple and scarily believable way their power was taken away and handed over to the men in their lives, forms the real message of this book. Read it today, and tell me you're not afraid.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Anything by Sheri S. Tepper is well worth reading, and this is one of her best known books. It's science fiction, but not your male-dominated spaceships firing on all cylinders type. Sometimes called "soft" science fiction, it deals with far-future society where men are separated from women at an early age and raised in different communities. The men train for battles they will never be allowed to fight, whereas the women concentrate on arts and science. So what happens when a woman and a man fall in forbidden love? There's nothing soft about this story.

The Change by Germaine Greer
Not really fiction, I first came across this book a few years ago and read it with fascination and some alarm. Now, several years on and deep into the "change" myself, I think I can see what Germaine Greer means. The Change is important because it frees a woman from child-rearing and the need to attract men, and brings her face to face with the person she really might be. Dare you become her?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Half Term Competition: What's your Song of Power?

Music can change your mood. Experiments have shown that it can help people recover faster from an operation or injury, and even improve IQ, as well as cheer you up when you're feeling low. Of course, it has to be the right sort of music for you... which might not be the same music that works for someone else.

My first novel Song Quest sprang to life after I'd been reading a book on music therapy. I started thinking 'what if'? What if there was a magical song that could heal everyone? What if young singers could be trained to sing this powerful Song? And, if there was a Song that could heal, why not also a Song that could kill?

So I invented the Echorium, where children could be taught to sing these Songs, and ended up with five Songs of Power: Challa for healing, Kashe for laughter, Shi for sadness, Aushan for fear, and Yehn for death. The names of these Songs were plucked out of my head as I was writing the Echorium Anthem - they just seemed right the way I imagined them pronounced, and I added the colours because that seemed right, too. (Muse: don't blame me!)

The Echorium Anthem
For healing sleep of lavender dreams,
For laughter, golden and gay,
For tears shed in turquoise streams,
For fear, pain and scarlet screams,
For death of deepest midnight shade.
For these the Songs, five in one:
Challa, Kashe, Shi, Aushan, Yehn.

Song Quest won the Branford Boase Award, and eventually grew into a trilogy with the addition of Crystal Mask and Dark Quetzal.

This spring, to celebrate 15 years since Song Quest's first publication, you have a chance to win your very own gold-foiled, signed paperback edition of this award-winning book. Just tell the unicorn which song (from the real world) is special for you, and why.

See the competition page of my website for more details. Closing date 31st March 2015.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Theory of Everything - where art meets science

How do you make a life-affirming film about a brilliant mind trapped in a body that does not work the way it should? You make it into a romance with a brave young heroine, add a few mind-blowing theories about black holes, and invite God to the party - then give everything a good spin, preferably reversing time as you go.

I enjoyed this biopic the same way I enjoyed the film Titanic - knowing what lies ahead for the characters just makes the early part of the story more poignant. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease while he was a 21 year old student at Cambridge, and given two years to live. Now 73, he has defied medical science and continues to amaze the world with his theories of the universe.

The film begins as a fairytale romance between Stephen, the slightly nerdy Science student, and his sweetheart Jane, a church-going Arts student who becomes his wife. It does not shy away from the tragedy of Stephen's condition, and I found myself looking away from the screen a few times during the medical procedures. The first time he falls down, I think the whole cinema winced. It's a powerful story, and also a clever one with the use of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time to give the film an extra dimension. (No, the unicorn is not telling you how - you'll have to go and see it yourself!)

There is much to be learned from films like this that do not rely upon special effects and huge budgets to attract audiences, yet somehow still do. It has that extra dimension that transforms the basic story from a tragedy/romance into something bigger than we are. Whether you call that something God or the Big Bang, whether Stephen Hawking is right about the universe or not, does not matter. It brings art and science together, and has reminded me about a novel I was trying to write a few years ago about a famous mathematician that contains the same themes. But you don't need to be a mathematician to enjoy this film. The Theory of Everything leaves you thinking about... well... everything.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Long Live Libraries!

No. 1 title in UK libraries

It's that time of the year again, when PLR (Public Lending Right) payments are made for loans of books from UK libraries. These payments refer to loans made between June 2013 and June 2014, and the unicorn always finds it interesting to see how the loan figures compare to sales of those books over the same period.

I did a blog post here on my best-selling and top-earning (not always this same thing!) ebook titles.

Here are the unicorn's Top Ten loaned titles:

1. Sword of Light (Pendragon Legacy) - 3293 loans
2. Crown of Dreams (Pendragon Legacy) - 1013
3. Lance of Truth (Pendragon Legacy) - 558
4. Grail of Stars (Pendragon Legacy) - 525
5. The Cleopatra Curse (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 488
6. Song Quest (Echorium Sequence) - 429
7. The Mausoleum Murder (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 309
8. The Great Pyramid Robbery (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 306
9. The Amazon Temple Quest (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 294
10. The Olympic Conspiracy (Seven Fabulous Wonders) - 207

It's good to see my recent Pendragon Legacy series about King Arthur's daughter at the top of this list, with both the hardcovers and paperbacks loaning well in UK libraries. "Sword of Light" was in the Summer Reading Challenge when it was first published in 2012, which might account for the greater number of loans for that title... more copies stocked means more possible loans?

Surprisingly, the Seven Fabulous Wonders are still loaning solidly, if unspectacularly, more than ten years after their publication. Since these were paperback originals, I just hope the library copies are not getting too grubby! Song Quest is in there too, but is cheating slightly since it has had five different paper editions since its first publication in 1999. It also won the Branford Boase Award.

"I am the Great Horse" has been knocked back to 12th place in the UK library stakes this year, yet remains my current top selling (and top earning) ebook worldwide. Does this suggest Alexander the Great's horse might be more popular in America? Or that ebooks might be replacing library loans for titles read by adults as well as younger readers?

Two of my books had zero loans - Dark Quetzal (Echorium Sequence #3) and Magical Horses (my pop-up illustrated title). But the library figures are sampled so it's possible you have read one of these books in a library that did not take part in the sampling this year.

Seeing my PLR statement always makes the unicorn eager to write more children's books, whereas catching a glimpse of my royalty statements usually makes him want to gallop off into the enchanted forest to bury his glittery horn in a dark hole... not sure why, since the rate per loan is (usually) quite a bit less than the author's royalty share per book sold. But writing books is not just about the money, is it? If it were, there would be no unicorns left in this world. It's about the readers out there, still enjoying these books so long after publication. And it's about the libraries, who are clearly still providing a valuable service for those young readers who might not be able to buy the books or download the ebooks.

Long live libraries!


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