Unusually for me its a contemporary fantasy story – I tend to base most of my writing either in the historical past or a fantasy world. I feel its kind of on the edge between fantasy and horror – that’s sort of the theme of the story.
Anyway, here’s the blurb and how to get it. You can read a brief extract from it here.
A creative writing student wonders what the difference is between two genres of fiction: horror and fantasy. Like his new girlfriend says: “Perhaps it’s like the difference between pizza and a grilled cheese sandwich?” But when he asks his tutor the answer he gets leads to a truer definition of “Horror” than he ever expected.
Judge a Book by its Cover is a fantasy/horror short story.
You can buy Judge a Book by its Cover in eBook format from the following retailers and several others to numerous to list!
If you have read and enjoyed my short story Chivalry, then hopefully you’ll be pleased to hear that there is now a sequel available: Bring on the Night.
Bring on the Night tells the story of what happened after the events of Chivalry – what happened to Jake and to the boy, all set against the backdrop of the Hundred Years War and with a dash of horror and paranormal fantasy thrown in.
Out of the steppe came a lone rider. A man of destiny whose prowess would change the world of the Bachyan nomads forever. He was not an enemy come to destroy the Bachyan, but a prodigal son returned to lead them to victory over those who would enslave them.
Taken by Nukush slavers when still a very young man, Jenraey has to learn fast to adapt to the civilisation of his new masters. He finds the ways of the Nukush strange – they worship no gods, but use a magic called science to power their weapons and drive their armies to conquest. Torn between his curiosity in the ways of this great Empire and his desire to return to his own, Jenraey knows that his people can only survive the onslaught of Nukush armies if they can change too.
The time of destiny is at hand and only a leader of legendary powers can prevail.
Sometimes giving stuff away for free can be a good way of getting publicity for something. We see it all around us as a common promotional tool. In the field of publishing its a common ploy – some authors have done well building up a fan base in the past by giving away free content, and free previews of content are a key way for readers to decide if they like something before they buy from an online retailer.
With eBooks, a lot of self-publishers have used Amazon’s Kindle Select programme to promote their books. The strategy being that if you get lots of downloads you’re going to get some reviews and also more “Others also bought/viewed” type related sales after the free promotion has finished. There is evidence out there that this strategy can work, but it seems that it’s getting more difficult.
Amazon only allows you to give 5 days free content for your book over a 3 month period (during which you can’t distribute your eBook with anyone else). In the past you could get a good number of downloads without really having to do anything – I’ve done this in the past and as soon as the free promotion period starts the free downloads start tallying up. However, I tried this with Hell has its Demons recently and hardly anything happened until I started unleashing some pretty serious promotion of my own – blog posts, email campaigns etc. Having read a bit more about this now online it seems that as a bare minimum you have to start using promotional sites like Bookbub and others to get your book out there.
What’s going on? Are Amazon simply trying to hush up free content on their site in order to get people to buy things? Is there such a large micro-market of publicity services available that Amazon feels they don’t need to to it.
In contrast if you want to give away free eBooks you can still do this in fairly good numbers on other retailers and get some stats on how many – such as Barnes & Noble and Sony for instance. I use Smashwords to distribute to these retailers and they provide monthly stats usually. Unfortunately you don’t get starts from Apple’s iBookstore or from Kobo – but your book is still free there as long as you want it to be.
Seems like a lot of things in self-publishing are changing – it’s actually getting harder to promote and get your work out there – and potentially more costly if you need to pay for advertising so that anyone notices. You can’t even give it away unless you pay!
Is self-publishing still a nirvana for the aspiring writer, or a money-making opportunity for the middlemen?
I am currently writing a new novel set in the Hundred Years War called Stonehearted. As the novel is progressing quite well I thought it would be fun to release it in serial format every month or two. There should be four or five parts in total, each ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 words. I will then release the full novel once the last part has been finished.
By The Sword’s Edge is the first part and I have made it free for the moment to introduce new readers to the series. You can currently download it for free from Smashwords.
Here’s a bit more about the book:
By The Sword’s Edge is the first volume of Stonehearted, a serialized novel.
After a decade of peace England is again at war with France. But England’s warrior king, Edward III, is not the man he was. Ageing and turned to a life of pleasure, he will not lead an army into France again. And his eldest son, the famous Black Prince, suffers from a chronic illness while he tries to hold onto his principality of Aquitaine.
Many men in England have grown rich from war and some, like Sir Robert Knolles, have risen from the lowest ranks to lead great armies, and he will now lead a force into northern France to challenge the French to battle. But first he has a visit to make to a Norfolk manor to visit an old friend.
In By The Sword’s Edge two young people are thrust into the harsh realities of war. Richard Stone is a knight in training and son of a rich Norfolk merchant. Their neighbours are the d’Aubrays, who hold Sarbrook castle, but have sold or rent much of their land since falling into poverty. The lord of Sarbrook is missing in France, captured many years ago and not returned despite the payment of ransom. His daughter, Eolande d’Aubray is desperate for her father to return. Only he, it seems, can save her from the prospect of an unwanted marriage.
A while ago I did a couple of posts regarding the pros and cons of Self Publishing, with the intention of doing some more posts at some point. Well this is the next one. It’s on distribution and an area that is bugging me quite a lot at the moment and where I think there is quite a big gap in the market to help self published authors.
On the eBook side self publishers have quite a good choice for distribution. They can get their eBooks published via all the main eBook retailers through a variety of means – either going direct with Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble or Apple or using distributors such as Smashwords and Lulu to do part of it for them. It seems that of the retailers only Amazon demands direct engagement from authors and won’t let a distributor take some of the pain of multiple platforms away – but then Amazon don’t want authors distributing their work via other retailers anyway. Going direct to retailers has its benefits, but self published authors have the choice usually of doing that or using a distributor for their work.
On the traditional publishing side it really depends on what arrangements have been made by your publisher. Some publishers have a difficult relationship with Amazon for a whole host of reasons. And I think some others – more small to medium sized – are still only just getting to grips with eBooks. I was surprised to find that some recent Science Fiction books that I was trying to buy recently from well known authors were not available as eBooks. So it’s possible that to go the traditional route may inhibit eBook distribution if the publisher has a tiff with someone like Amazon, or just is slow in getting its systems together – worth taking into account when selecting a publisher.
Print is not dead – still the majority of the market
This is still true and I think a major problem for the self-published author. The one clear advantage of being published by a traditional publisher is that your book will appear in print and will get some sort of decent distribution to bookshops, book wholesalers and to library suppliers. Maybe even into book cataloguers/book clubs and supermarkets if it is a bestseller. Even if the shelf life is short there will be some exposure and book shop customers can place orders for a book through a book shop and have that order fulfilled.
For a self published author to achieve the same level of distribution is difficult. To get the same face time as a publisher sales rep with book shop chain buyers who decide whether to buy copies of a book is impossible.
On the logistical distribution side it seems that the main options for self publisher are to purchase a more expensive package than the standard ones from Lulu or Createspace – you need something like the Extended Distribution from Createspace or to go with Ingrams’ Lightning Source service to even get in the major bibliographic databases, otherwise online sales via Amazon are probably the only means for customers to purchase print.
For some bright spark there has to be an opportunity here. Either a start-up company or one of the book wholesalers perhaps could step in and offer enhanced sales and distribution for the self published author. They could produce a catalogue and actively sell these titles to bookshops. I think they would have to impose some sort of vetting process – the author would have to somehow justify why their book should get attention from the bookseller – previous eBook sales or direct online print sales history could play a major role here I think.
Interesting times and an area that’s still in development for self published authors.
Mark Lord gives a very intense and painstakingly depiction of the horrors of war. The setting is an unexpected one and the supernatural sparkle intensifies the atmosphere a lot.
The pacing is excellent and Mark Lord does not waste a word too much. The end is a tricky one. It is not an expected one and it delivers not the 100% solution. But it is as satisfying as the story itself.
I hope there will be more Jake Savage stories (a full novel would be great) soon. Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure satisfied my craving for historical fiction with a mystery touch which is taking a greater part within my reading comfort zone of epic fantasy, steampunk and space opera.
I have published my short story Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure as an eBook via Amazon and Smashwords.
The story tells of an incident in the early career of Jake Savage, one of the main characters from Hell has its Demons. For Jake War is Hell and not the chivalric adventure that he thought it would be.
Here’s the blurb for the story and a brief extract to whet your appetite:
Chivalry: A Jake Savage Adventure
Published 30 August 2011, 4698 words, Fantasy (historical) short story
A single silent knight armoured in black plate defends a narrow bridge in the hills of Auvergne, blocking the path of a band of desperate English soldiers. On the bank defended by the knight is a pavilion where sits a French noble-woman, who taunts the English. Cold, wet and hungry, Jake and his comrades have seen a tower high in the hills beyond the bridge, which they hope will provide food, drink and shelter and even a little loot. But the knight and the lady prove more difficult opponents than they imagined.
Magic mingles with the harsh realities of war in this medieval fantasy short story set during the Hundred Years War.
Nothing moved on this side of the densely vegetated ravine, but they could see a strange sight on the far side. Not twenty paces away across the narrow wooden bridge was a colourful pavilion of alternating broad blue and red silk stripes, wet with the rain, but still of fine appearance. Under the pavilion’s entrance canopy sat a lady, also dressed in silks, with a conical headpiece and veil of fine gauze covering the dark hair that flowed down her neck to her shoulders. She was preoccupied with some sort of detail work in her hands, embroidery perhaps.
But in front of her, blocking the far exit of the bridge, and dressed in dull black plate armour, stood a tall man-at-arms, in full jousting helm. He stood motionless with arms crossed in front of him. Behind him was a tethered warhorse, also black, and a rack of weapons: lance, swords, pole-arms, maces and axes. Neither the knight nor the lady gave any indication that they had seen the English soldiers.
‘By the Saints!’ said Burnell. ‘Look at all that kit, worth a fair bit.’
‘Whoever beats him gets his equipment,’ hissed the other man-at-arms, Clifford, peeping over his shield, ‘and I know I can have him.’
‘Just leave some of his wench to the rest of us, your highnesses,’ said Edmund, grinning as he knocked an arrow. ‘I think I could get a bodkin through him from here.’
Sir Robert called the archers round him. ‘Let him have it now before he gets his shield. At this range you should be able to stick him like a pig.’
Jake shook his head, but as ordered readied his great longbow. Six feet of straining yew flexed and in a moment his iron tipped arrow shot across the clearing and over the ravine and hit the black armoured knight in the chest.
All six arrows had hit the knight, yet he stood perfectly still.
But, the lady jumped in surprise as if woken from a deep sleep. She stood up and went to stand beside the motionless knight. She addressed them in French, but her dialect was clear enough for them to all understand. ‘Cowards! Are you English of so low honour that you use the weapons of serfs to fight your battles! My lord offers any who will fight him glory one against one.’
Sir Robert ignored her words and ordered his men to fire another volley. And again there was no effect. Arrows seemed to stick in the mail or bounce of the plate, but Jake could have sworn he saw his arrow go straight through a gap and out the other side.
‘That bastard has good armour,’ said Burnell. ‘You’re going to have to fight for it if you want it, Clifford.’
It was like a tale of Arthur’s knights, thought Jake, where both the hero and his opponent should fight for honour. He wondered if hunger was making him dream what was happening, but the cold, and the pain of his knotted stomach felt real enough.
I have now made “Bird Talk” available as an individual short story ebook if you’re interested in downloading this to whatever e-reading device you might use. The story is also available as part of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #33, but I thought I’d like to give readers of this blog an option to just get “Bird Talk” on its own.
You can get it either via Smashwords, where you get half of it for free (the whole story is $0.99) or via Amazon’s Kindle Store, where I believe part of the story is free, and then again you pay $0.99, or a little more if there are local taxes to add on. It should also be available via Apple’s iBook Store.
Here’s the opening scene to the story. I hope you enjoy it.
Roger followed Constable Will as he pushed his heavy frame through the weeds that choked the muddy alley. The constable turned to whisper to Roger, “The bird-catcher said he delivered to number twelve didn’t he?” An unpleasant smell of stale alcohol and spicy sausage wafted from the constable’s mouth to lay siege to Roger’s nostrils. He tried to ignore the foul smell of the man’s breath. He disliked being in the constable’s company, but any hardship today would be worthwhile if they caught a necromancer.
“Yes. I have been counting the houses, it’s the next one.”
The constable looked worried. “If it’s magic, a witch like, will she know we’re coming? What if we’re set on by devils?”
“I don’t think it works like that,” said Roger.
“It doesn’t?” The constable shrugged. “Well, a priest like you should know.”
Truthfully, Roger worried that he didn’t really know how any of it worked. The books he had read only told part of the story and left him with questions that he couldn’t find an answer to. During his informal studies he had grasped some basic principles, and for a moment he even thought about explaining that they were looking not for a witch but for a necromancer, one who summoned evil spirits, and that not all magic was witchcraft. But looking at the constable’s squat thick skull he decided he would be wasting his breath.
Constable Will pointed up the alley. “There’s a crack in the fence here, let’s see if anything’s going on.” The constable shuffled his ungainly body along the wooden fence and beckoned for Roger to follow. The fence was in need of repair. It had a large crack where a board had fallen away through which they could get a view of the backyard.
They both tried to peer through the fence. The constable elbowed Roger sharply. “Let me look first, I’m an officer of the law.”
“Poop poop,” went something that sounded like a bird.
“What can you see?” asked Roger.
“There’s a woman and she’s got this funny orange bird in her hand, talking to it. Can you hear?” whispered the Constable.
Roger crouched behind him and stretched his neck towards the fence to listen. He heard the soft voice of a woman, speaking solemnly as if reciting a prayer:
“By Mary, mother of God, and all the angels I command you to obey me. Fly and sing your song to the one I love.”
Roger’s pulse leapt. “That’s sorcery alright,” he whispered. “What is she doing now, let me see.”
“No time for that,” said the constable. He shoved Roger aside, raised a heavily-shod foot and kicked down the flimsy fence that hid them.
“By the saints!” said the constable. “It’s Margery Haukwake. The Abbot is just going to love me when I bring you in.” As he laughed, his head rolled on his thick neck with pleasure.
With most of the fence gone, Roger could see the whole of the backyard. The woman had turned round, an expression of disbelief on her pretty soft face. The same face he had been admiring everyday for almost a year since he started as chantry priest at St. Peter’s church. On her hand perched a brightly-coloured orange bird, a fan shaped crest jutting from the top of its head. The bird looked at the newcomers with nervous enquiry.
“Get out of my yard,” shouted Margery. “You have no business here.”
“Your big house on the market square not good enough for you Margery?” said the constable. “Your father would be interested to know about this wouldn’t he? Do you bring men here?” The constable stepped towards Margery and tried to grab her arm. She spun on her heel and moved towards the back door of the house, the bird, still perched on her hand, fluttered its wings slightly but otherwise remained still.
“I’ll forget what I saw and heard though, if you give me a peck on the cheek,” said the constable.
“Get out, you disgusting oaf.” Margery indicated the gap in the fence as the constable’s best exit. As she did so she saw Roger. “Who’s that lurking in the alley? Tell him to piss off too.”
Roger stepped forward into the yard. Margery‘s red lips twisted in anger.
“You! What are you doing here? I thought I paid you to pray for my mother, not spy on me?”
Roger began to stutter an answer, but the constable spoke first and louder.
“You’re a witch this priest says. You’re conjuring that bird to do wickedness. All fits into place now, you dirty wench. No wonder you can’t get a man, and that your family is so rich. And you know what, I’m glad I didn’t have you when I had the chance. I’d have been nothing but a plaything of Satan by now, no doubt.”
Roger gulped down a chunk of vomit at the back of his throat, as he thought about gruesome Constable Will with his beloved Margery. He wanted to lash out at Will, but panic stopped him.
Now Margery turned her anger on him.
“What’s your game Roger Draper? Why have you brought the constable here? Do you think you’re not paid enough for the one mass you sing a day?”
“I made a mistake, I don’t mean to offend. This has all been a terrible mistake,” said Roger.
“Hold on there, priest, that’s not what you said previously,” said Constable Will. “You’ve been plaguing me for days with your funny ideas about witching and sorcery, all sorts of accusations flying around. Then, this morning you tell me you have evidence that’s on firm foundation. So I listened this time, I’m a fair man. You said there was a man selling birds in the market, and that he’d sold a particular type of bird that morning that’s only used by those that hold with the devilish kind. I reckon the bird in question is this here odd orange bird. Am I wrong?”
“Well…” Roger tried to think of what to say. The sale of a special creature like a hoopoe was the evidence that he had been hoping to come across for a long time. He had thought that at last someone in authority would take notice of the evil sorcery happening in St. Dunstan’s.
Then, at that moment, Margery raised her hand and threw the bird into the grey sky above. The bird, surprised at its sudden release, took a moment to open its wings, but then flapped them hard with slow deliberate strokes and propelled itself up into the air. The black and white stripes of its wings were soon high above the three people standing in the backyard of the house.
“What are you doing, that’s evidence!” shouted Constable Will.
“It just took off, I’m not its owner,” said Margery. “The bird must have escaped from somewhere and flown here. I was just feeding it. There’s no crime against that, is there constable?” Margery’s voice was less angry now. She smiled at Constable Will.
“Don’t think you’re getting away with this. We also heard you saying words of witchcraft to the bird, conjuring it like a demon. This priest, Roger Draper of St. Peter’s, confirmed that it was sorcery you were saying.”
Margery’s nostrils flared and she cast a hateful glance at Roger. He felt like his heart had caved in. How could he ever win her love now?
“Well there’s no bird here anymore Will Penny, so where’s your evidence?”
“My own eyes and my own recollections of what I saw and heard, Mistress Haukwake. You are going to hang for this and I’ll be glad to see it.”
“No, no this is all wrong,” said Roger. “What she said could have been a prayer I am sure of it.”
“A prayer to a bird? Is that what they teach new priests now?” Constable Will laughed. He took out the long heavy stick from the loop that hung off his belt. “Now Margery are you going to come quietly or are we going to have to cause you some pain first?”
Roger stepped between the constable and the woman, his arms raised defensively. “Stop, don’t hurt her.”
“You stupid soft puppy,” said the constable. He swung his club above his head hard and fast. Roger ducked to one side, but the hard wood still caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder knocking him sprawling to the ground. He was face down and he couldn’t lift himself up. Through ringing ears he could hear the constable speaking.
“Come along then Margery, you seen what happened to him, you should be a bit more clever. Still time you know, let’s go inside and I’ll show you what a real man’s like, then forget all…”
The constable’s words came to a stop with a dull thud. Roger looked up to see a man holding the constable’s body from behind and gently laying it down. The constable’s eyes flickered for a moment and then, giving up consciousness, shut.