Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I acquired this book from an event in Waterstones, Leeds about six weeks ago. I was lucky enough to hear the author read from the novel and to have my copy signed.
The plot revolves around a librarian named Irene and her pupil, Kai, both of whom work for an inter-dimensional library which exists to preserve books from different realities (referred to as 'alternates'). They are sent on their first mission together to retrieve a book from an alternate London in which supernatural creatures have run amok, causing chaos to permeate the fabric of the world. Needless to say, they are not the only ones seeking the book and their mission is fraught with difficulty.
The setting is wonderful if you like Victorian cobbled streets, musty libraries and Holmesian detectives, with a sprinkling of zepplins, dragons and fairies. I do and absolutely drank in the atmosphere. For most of this book I was thoroughly engaged in the world the author has lovingly created and I was invested in the race to find the book. The writing, especially early on, is good and sparkles at times. I also remained interested in the plot as it was never obvious how aspects of it were going to resolve.
When I attended the event at Waterstones, I asked Genevieve why the book was categorised as adult fantasy, rather than young adult, as the premise sounded suited to a younger audience. I had not read the book at the time. In response I received a rather blank look and a simple answer along the lines that she had never even considered it a young adult read. Now, I am not big on categorisations and am not sure why I really asked the question. I think I was trying to understand how other people categorise books, as I'd heard so much about 'young adult' fiction and here was this book that sounded like it fell squarely within those parameters yet I was being told that it hadn't even been considered as such. Having read the book I am, if anything, more confused. I digress, I suppose. What I am getting at really is that I suspect that the younger me would have enjoyed this book more than the current me. I did really enjoy it but I can imagine absolutely loving it as a 10 to 15 year old and I hope that many people in this age range get to discover and enjoy it regardless of categorisations which seem fairly arbitrary at times.
Meeting the author always makes me look forward to reading a book a little bit more and, if I am being honest, I think it encourages me to view it more favourably than if I had just plucked it off the shelf. I suppose that is the power of a personal connection and is the reason why authors do these events. I think in this case, it certainly made a difference. It was a lovely read and I will read the sequel (it is book 1 of a proposed trilogy). In my opinion you would like it if light fantasy/steampunk is your thing and I also believe that it could do really well in the younger market. If the reviews on Amazon are anything to go by, it is finding its audience and providing a great deal of pleasure along the way. A strong debut.
Creating my Website
The above image is what the screenshot of my editing page in Weebly looks like. It's rather large but I decided not to shrink it down so you can take a good look.
Now, although a few people have asked me about how I went about setting up this website, I know that this post will have a limited audience. So if you are not interested and about to head off - toodle oo and I hope to catch you again soon. But to those of you reading on, I will begin by saying that I am no expert. In fact, the whole idea of a website, a blog and a Twitter account terrified me so I set about it as I do everything to do with my writing: slowly and one step at a time.
I read a few articles in Writing Magazine and Writers' Forum and spoke to those of my friends who have websites already. Then I tried to research on-line how it all worked.
I have to say, I got very confused. Do I use Wordpress, Blogger or Weebly? Do I have a self-hosted website? Do I purchase my own domain name (and, if so, HOW??) I nearly drove myself potty trying to get to the bottom of it all. In the end I went for Weebly simply on the basis that a friend had said she'd started off with Wordpress and found it too difficult so had abandoned it in favour of Weebly. This friend has a similar level of technical know-how as me (ie none) and about as much free time (ie mainly during toddler naps) and I trust her judgement. Weebly offers a free package (as do most of the other providers) so there was nothing to lose in taking a look.
I am aware, however, that this is not necessarily the majority view. Many millions of people use Wordpress and with stunning results. As I did not go down that route, however, I cannot comment on how beginner friendly it is but I did find this guide on the internet: click here .
I know that there are plenty of books and magazine articles dedicated to website design and implementation but I am on a budget and this was an area I decided to try to do as cheaply as possible using free resources available.
The next step I took was to set myself up with my laptop, a notepad and pen and a very large coffee and I watched the beginner's guide to Weebly (available here). It is an hour and four minutes long but I watched it all the way through and took copious notes. It told me pretty much everything I needed to know although there are plenty of additional help sheets available if I have questions (here ). I found the whole thing to be incredibly user friendly and I couldn't wait to get going.
However, it became clear to me while watching the video that I hadn't really thought through what I wanted my website to look and read like. I didn't have a folder of images ready to upload and I hadn't written any of the text.
Now, with the free Weebly package you are allowed to have five pages. I decided to begin there. I would name my five pages and then start writing up each page. You will see that I selected 'About', 'Blog', 'Into Dust', 'Other Things to Read', and 'Contact'. Once I had this in my head, I established my Weebly account and had a look through the different designs on offer. There are dozens of them, even with the free package. Many of them are geared towards more commercial enterprises than writing but after a while I found one with which I was happy. (I should probably say here that you can just have a basic blog. You don't need a static website with multiple pages but I wanted somewhere to post elements of my writing.) I then needed some graphics (cue several hours reading up on graphics for websites).
Sourcing the graphics slowed me down again. I spent some time looking at other websites, those belonging to writers and book bloggers in particular, and was astounded by the quality of the images in use. Many had their own personally designed logo. So I set to work on the 'About a Book' logo and had great fun messing about with it. The floral/gothic image which sits behind the title on my home page is a design which I acquired from Shutterstock. I knew that I was going to need some professional stock photography and graphics for my book cover so I purchased a bundle of five images and allocated one of them to the website. It was at this point that I decided to invest in Photoshop. I was tired of trying to work out how to size images for the web. The last thing I wanted was a page of graphics which were of a file size so large that the pages took ages to load. My reading told me that the standard jpeg format is on the large-ish size and is generally of a resolution far higher than a computer monitor is capable of displaying (basically a large file size would slow down my web page for no end gain). What I needed to do was save my pictures in the GIF format. I managed to do this using some free software but as I wanted to edit my images as well and, ultimately, design my own book cover, I decided that Photoshop was a worthwhile investment and would also be lots of fun. It also has a handy little 'save for web' button that neatly reduces all the file sizes of my images and gets them ready for uploading to my website.
In relation to the book covers and movie posters I have used on my site, I have taken the view that the owners of those images are unlikely to object to them being used in circumstances where the product is being promoted. After all, it is free and effortless advertising for them. Technically, however, it is probably an infringement, at least in the U.K..
Once I had my web pages labelled, had selected my preferred design layout and had my images ready, I was good to go. You will see from the picture at the top of this piece that there are boxes down the left hand side of the page in the Weebly 'editor'. These are 'elements' which you drag and drop across to your web page as you are building it. They are 'text', 'image', 'title' and so forth. The tutorial makes it clear how these are used and I have found it to be very easy on the whole.
When I had finished designing the website and just before I published it, I decided to purchase my own domain name. For a relatively small fee per annum I could take the 'Weebly' out of it (it was www.bmkeeling.weebly.com and now it is just www.bmkeeling.com). I decided that if I was going to put it on my book cover and marketing material I would prefer the shorter version. I then hit 'publish' and it was done.
One last thing I will mention - the box for subscribing to blog updates via email which you see on a number of my pages (go on...fill it in!) is not a Weebly tool. I had to set up a Mail Chip account and copy and paste over a small block of code which Weebly allows you to do easily by dragging the 'embed code' box over to your web page. The only hiccup I experienced here was that I had not realised that Mail Chimp displays your postal address whenever someone signs up. After a call from a helpful Aunty and much panic-reading of internet articles I concluded that it is a legal requirement. I also checked with Mail Chimp who confirmed this. As I have no address other than my home address I had to set up a PO Box number to get around this issue but I managed to do this for free with a company called UKPostbox.com. I use Mail Chimp for emailing out the blog updates.
So, it isn't perfect and I don't know much more technical wizardry than I did before, but I am pleased with the result. It is all mine, from the text to the images and I have had great fun putting it together. I would urge anyone interested in starting a blog or using a website to get their writing out there to give it a go.
In the meantime, the preparations for the launch of Into Dust are going well. The manuscript is getting a copy-edit, the book cover is finished and I've decided to have bookmarks printed. Once the manuscript is ready for uploading to CreateSpace I will post again about how that process is going.
As some of you know, I spent a glorious day in York recently. The sun was shining, the river sparkling and the gardens blooming. It was bliss. After a couple of hours lingering over breakfast and writing in various coffee shops, I popped into Treasurer's House, a National Trust property nestling in the shadow of the Minster. Apart from a fascinating interior, the house boasts an exquisite Wisteria-filled garden with a spectacular view. There is a central lawn around which a number of benches are positioned. I chose one in dappled sunlight beneath a low-hanging tree and sat down.
Whilst gazing between the majestic Minster and the abundant clusters of blue-violet flowers clinging to Wisteria shrubs, I got to thinking about the last time I was in York. It was October and the weather could not have been more different. But that was okay; I wanted it to be dank and grey and wet. Why? Because I had decided to set one of my ghost stories there.
I had never written a story set in a real place before. I mean, I'd had real locations in mind when writing certain scenes but I had never explicitly referred to them in the text. But I'd been reading an Ian Rankin Rebus novel (Saints of the Shadow Bible) and it struck me how much his stories are enhanced by the many references to locations within Edinburgh and its environs. It got me thinking about other books I had read where a real place featured heavily. Ann Cleves' addictive Shetland series, for example. The Miniaturist (reviewed separately here) draws on the atmosphere of Amsterdam. There are many, many others. I have just discovered Mel Sherratt who bases her novels in Stoke-on Trent. Whilst I haven't read any yet, I am very much looking forward to them.
None of this is anything new. Rankin, in particular, is celebrated for his gritty depictions of his home town and much is made of setting and location on writing courses and in articles. In a way I have always tried to pay close attention to it; considering how a place would look, feel, smell; how I could use the environment to emphasize a theme, or reflect a character. But for some reason it had never occurred to me to use a specific place, with references to actual streets, staying (reasonably) faithful to road layouts, the position and appearance of buildings, and any places of interest such as churches and monuments.
I don't know why that was but once the penny had dropped I was really excited. Choosing the location was easy. York is known for its ghost walks and has history and atmosphere pouring from every alleyway, gatehouse and steeple. It is also a fairly easy train journey from where I live and, well, I really wanted to go there.
And so, one Thursday morning, I dropped Matthew at nursery and hopped on a train, armed with a notepad and my phone.
I was inspired from the moment I arrived. The vast arched ceiling of the station is incredible and there is the most unusual Costa Coffee I have ever seen, perched in a small box next to a huge clock. As I strolled across Lendal Bridge, the Minster in the distance, I discreetly (I hope) filmed short bursts of the journey whilst trying to absorb as much detail as possible. I noticed the rumble of traffic, the bouncing of suitcase wheels along the pavement, the colour of the metalwork across the bridge, the birds in the distance. By the time I had reached the centre of York a story was already bubbling in my mind. I grabbed a map and headed to Cafe Rouge to scribble it down over brunch.
I have called the story 'Chasing the Tail' and it is the seventh of the eight stories which comprise 'Into Dust' and I am pleased with it. As I wrote it I referred regularly to the pictures and video footage I'd taken and also to the map (which is now falling apart from overuse). I found that the story became anchored in a way which is difficult to express but which particularly struck me when I returned to York this week. I walked the route my protagonist takes and can actually say that I felt a flush of excitement. I could almost see the characters as I crossed the bridge and entered the Museum Gardens. It was as though I was visiting an old friend.
It was a very positive experience, from start to finish. So much so that I subsequently used a real location for my eighth and final supernatural story. That story ('We All Go The Same Way Home') is set in Leeds City Varieties Music Hall and was inspired by a tour I attended (and by seeing it on Antiques Road Trip!).
It can also make sense from a marketing perspective although this will depend upon what you are writing and who your target audience is. For me, I am hoping that setting a couple of stories in Yorkshire will help. Although the book isn't out yet, I have begun approaching local libraries and it has certainly increased the level of interest.
So if you haven't tried it yet, why not give it a go? Instead of: 'she strolled past the park', why not: 'she strolled along Princes Road, the park dark and empty to her left.' A place has atmosphere, a history, a life and you might just be surprised where it takes you.
Happy hunting x
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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