We’re excited to celebrate the first non-fiction release from Ocelot Press today – A Novel Approach, from Jennifer C. Wilson.
Here’s the blurb, to whet your appetite:
Is there a novel in you? Let me help you find out…
Based on my series of workshops held throughout 2019 and into 2020, this book is designed to help writers work through each of the key stages of their story, including: – Idea generation; – Creating characters; – Describing your settings; – Showing vs telling; and – Keeping the words flowing when you find yourself stuck.
As well as the above, I have also added sections on hooking your readers in, leaving them wanting more, and useful resources as a writer, including how to dip a successful toe into the world of social media.
The workshops were fun, helping writers of short stories and novels alike, and I hope these exercises can help you too!
In A Novel Approach, the goal is to get you away from the stalling-point which can be the blank page. We have exercises and prompts to help you start (and keep) the words flowing, create characters your readers will engage with, and put them in deliciously complicated situations people won’t be able to look away from…
We’re thrilled at Ocelot Press that publication day for Doorways to the Past has arrived. It’s come upon us incredibly quickly. It seems like only yesterday that we were discussing and planning our collection of short stories, character interviews and diary entries featuring characters from our novels.
One of the first things you hear, as a writer, is ‘write what you know’. This is at best ambiguous advice, as the great joy of writing comes from exercising the imagination, from learning and writing about things you don’t know. And wouldn’t it be tedious, frankly, to only write about your actual experiences? I’d never be able to write a murder mystery, for instance, due to a lack of personal research that I have no intention of remedying.
However, I find real life experience very useful when it comes to creating scenes. The better I know a place in reality—the better I remember not only how it looks, but how it sounds (is there traffic noise? Or just the wind shushing through the dunes?), how it smells (brine? earth? smoke?), how it feels (the coarse rasp of sand, the smooth slick of oil)—the better I can bring it to life for my readers.
One such place for me is the Isle of Mull, in western Scotland. I’ve lived on the island for twenty years, and my first four novels are at least partly set here. In Walking on Wild Air I describe an unnamed island: its white-sand beaches, green fields and heather-clad hills, its views of distant mountains, and its small towns and single-track roads. All my descriptions, from the opening ferocity of a thunderstorm to the peaceful dance of hilltop grasses in a gentle breeze, come direct from my own experience.
The Calgary Chessman is the first in a trilogy of archaeological romances with a contemporary setting, and it opens with a walk along the sands of beautiful Calgary Bay in spring.
The wind was too cold. I was a fool to have come out without my coat: my calendar said it was spring, but no-one had told the wind off the sea. Sand stung my legs as I plodded down the beach, meandering just above the high tide line. Sparse grasses bound the sand around their roots, but much of the fine, white powder was loose, and the sea breeze blew it around my feet…
…I pushed my hands into my pockets and pulled my cardigan more tightly around myself, but the chill air crept in anyway.
Is it working? Do you feel the chill? Later we visit the bay again, busy with visitors on a summer’s day, and Cas Longmore, our heroine, walks around the headland to gaze out over the sea towards the other islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
I climbed steadily for a few minutes and then, as I turned the headland, the hubbub died away and the still clearness of summer air enveloped me. A slight sea breeze sprang up and I tucked my hair behind my ears, although it blew straight out again. I stopped and gazed northwest across the vast, blue ocean, feeling the heat of the sun strike square between my shoulder blades, as palpable as a physical blow.
Calgary Bay is beautiful in any weather, be it a gale off the sea so strong it dents the eyeballs, or a bitter winter trudge in full wet-weather gear, hunching your head between your shoulders against the icy strike of a hailstorm, though it’s at its loveliest on a calm, warm day, when the white sand and turquoise sea are as inviting as any tropical resort. But watch out:
Sam charged into the sea and straight back out again, hardly more than damp above the knee. “It’s freezing,” he shouted. “I thought it was supposed to be summer.”
…”It’s always cold,” I reminded him. “You’ve been here before.”
His face was rueful. “I never remember,” he muttered. “It looks so shiny and blue, and the sun’s so hot, and I always think it’s going to be warm.”
I’ve seen the Bay in all its weathers and I hope I’ll pay many more visits to add to my memory stock. It’s a very different story when I describe the other touchstone location in The Calgary Chessman: hidden Huna Bay in northern South Island, New Zealand. ‘Huna’ is a Maori word meaning ‘secret’, and the hidden secret of the book is that the location is as hidden from me as it is from you.
I grew up in New Zealand, and had two notable missed opportunities to visit the glories of Abel Tasman National Park, both trips cancelled at the last minute after a great deal of forward planning. To my disappointment, I’ve never made it back. But Cas Longmore’s grandparents run their family farm on the edge of the National Park, and Huna Bay is the sanctuary Cas’s mind goes back to in times of danger or loneliness.
Here I’m using the full power of my imagination, buoyed up by the descriptions of friends or other writers, and many photos and paintings that I’ve seen over the years. This is the polar opposite of ‘write what you know’. One day I hope to go there, and to walk the Abel Tasman track or kayak the shoreline, to see how accurate I’ve been. Here Cas is dreaming of her favourite place in the world.
At first blinded by the sun striking molten silver off the sea, I could see nothing but the shocking turquoise of the water. Ahead, the warm sand edged away into a sparkling sea. The sun stood high in the vault of the sky and bathed me in its beneficent glow.
I turned a full circle, taking in the crescent of beach backed by a small cliff, itself topped with a green tapestry of leaf, fern, and creeper; a verdant brocade spilling over the cliff and weaving itself over every surface. At the foot of the cliff a tiny creek emerged from a green pool, filled by the constant curtain of drops trickling down the cliff face.
If you’re thinking about taking up the pen (or keyboard) of the serious writer, or if you already write and are looking for ways to extend and improve your work (and we are all, always, doing that) it can be both pleasurable and useful to sit down, close your eyes, and imagine a single location in detail. Get all those senses working: really feel yourself to be there. Then, while it’s still fresh in your mind, write it down. It may never end up in a book, but I guarantee it’ll sharpen your sense of the place you’re trying to describe.
I wrote my first description of Huna Bay as part of a mental health exercise, where I developed an imaginary safe place to which I could retreat in my mind if real life became too difficult or threatening. It remains my sanctuary, just as it is for Cas, and I hope its magic never fades.
The Calgary Chessman is available in e-book and paperback, and if you decide to read it I’d be delighted to hear what you think of it. I hope its locations are evocative, and that one day, when all the present troubles and restrictions are over, you have the opportunity to visit it in person, and not just via my imagination.
You’re all invited to my Facebook event 8am-midnight BST on Sunday 26 July 2020. Drop in any time to join the conversation, with music, competitions, and book-related chat.
You can follow me at my Facebook page and friendly group, on Twitter, or my blog, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, and I’m always happy to answer questions on Goodreads.
Tidy Up Time! Some people are compulsively tidy, though others are of the ‘It’ll get done soon’ category. I confess to falling into the latter. When I’m at the work-in-progress writing process, my hand written references and notes tend to be a bit of a muddle. I’ve a habit of scribbling on the nearest bit of paper to hand, if something needs to be noted elsewhere later on, in better detail. That means that a home-made map or diagram might have random bits and pieces added which probably only mean something to me.
I’m presently doing my ‘tidy ups’. My contribution for the Ocelot Blog Anthology – Doorways To The Past – is done and dusted, and I’m eagerly awaiting the publishing date of 30th July for that one. I’ve been learning some new book trailer video skills and have created a little promotional video to share with you and the world. You can view the video on the Ocelot Facebook PageHERE.
I’m also at the final stages of completing the e-book and paperback versions of Beathan The Brigante, Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Saga series (publishing date 20th August 2020). Having finished the manuscript, and having gone through beta reader advice and changes, I really don’t want to find something in my mess of notes that I feel compelled to add to my story, but I always feel duty-bound to re-read the scribbles – just in case.
Very exciting news is that Beathan The Brigante is now available for Kindle Pre- Order from Amazon HERE
I love this stage of the process of getting a story ready for publication. I really enjoy putting together the Historical Context for the book, since not all of my readers are familiar with the complexities of Roman Britain history. I like organising my Glossary sections, adding brief information on things like the gods or goddesses mentioned by my characters – Roman and Celtic. This time around for Book 5, I’ve included a longer section on Roman Army terms that appear in the story, and I’ve added an explanation of the interior of an Ancient Roman fort. Readers who already have some knowledge of Roman Army history will gloss over the sections, but I’ve learned during the process of producing the first four books of the series that some of my readers really appreciate the extra information that helps them understand how my characters operate in their environment.
I particularly like creating the map pages for adding to my historical series. After the first book was published, it was a revelation to find a Canadian reviewer had mistakenly thought that the story had mainly taken place in the Caithness area of Scotland. I had written that Brigantia was the northernmost area of Britannia to be invaded by the Ancient Roman legions in AD 71. The reader had envisaged a current map of Great Britain, and had decided that the northernmost part was Caithness, and thus that was where Brigantia had been. It was then I decided that adding maps to all of my Celtic Fervour novels, even ones created by me, were a necessity rather than an indulgence. I heartily thank that reviewer for pointing out the problem, even if it was done in an inadvertent fashion.
Making final versions of my maps has become a part of my ‘tidy-up’ routine, and any hand drawn maps and plans, like those shown, are scanned before being added to my stored files. Here’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be one of my final maps for Beathan The Brigante!
What aboutyou? Are you a messy worker who eventually does ‘tidy ups’, in your writing…or in daily life?
And, in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the blurb for Beathan The Brigante.
AD 85 Roman Empire
How can young Beathan of Garrigill – held hostage by General Agricola and dragged in chains to Rome – escape and wreak vengeance on his enemies?
Torrin is a strong-minded Brigante warrior-woman who forges her own future. She willingly takes care of him in a time of need, but her own plans are paramount.
Agricola’s career is in tatters. Attempts on his life are plentiful, having lost favour with Emperor Domitian. His gods have abandoned him, though assistance comes from a surprising source.
Will Beathan gain his freedom to return to his kin in Caledonia? Will Torrin be by his side? And how will Agricola survive without the emperor’s benevolence?
Beathan the Brigante is the fifth in the bestselling Celtic Fervour series.
Let me tell you a bit about a time they called The Anarchy.
No, it’s not the 1970s Punk rock era. The Anarchy, as it became known, was a 12th-century time of civil war and unrest. It’s more impactful than the 1970s, and certainly more deadly.
When King Henry I of England died on 1st December 1135, he left the nobles of the kingdom in a predicament. Having lost his only legitimate son and heir, William the Ætheling, when the White Ship sank off the coast of Normandy in November 1120, Henry had made his barons swear allegiance to his daughter, Matilda. Yes, a woman.
That’s the moment when her cousin, Stephen of Blois, pounced and took ‘her’ throne. He was crowned King of England on 22nd December 1135. Stephen’s brother, also named Henry, a cleric, spread word that the late king had changed his mind on his deathbed and pronounced his support for Stephen. Whether that was true or not is anyone’s guess. But for the population of south-east England, and the nobles who considered Stephen as a good leader, it did the trick. He swiftly gathered support.
Matilda, by then 33 years old and pregnant, had been married to the Holy Roman Emperor when she was still a child, and on his death had returned, childless, to her father’s court. Always mindful of his dilemma, Henry married Matilda off to Geoffrey, count of Anjou, 11 years younger than his wife. It wasn’t a love-match, and they lived apart most of the time. But despite their obvious and well-recorded differences, they had three sons.
When Matilda – still in Normandy in December 1135, meeting with her own supporters and considering her position safe – heard of Stephen’s treachery, it was too late. Many English nobles had already sworn their loyalty to her cousin.
The next two to three years were spent building up a following in Anjou and Normandy. Castles were taken, fields scorched, as Geoffrey and Stephen battled for the county. Stephen eventually had to retreat. He also had to focus on rebellions from the Scots, with incursions into northern England, in south Wales and in Cornwall. After a bright start, his luck had begun to turn.
When Matilda’s older half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, rose in support of her claim in 1138, the outcome was clear: civil war. He held Gloucestershire, and many surrounding areas supported him. When he and Matilda arrived in England in 1139, they managed to gain most of their supporters in the West Country. Still, the Pope favoured Stephen, so the Church was equally divided.
But fate favoured neither Matilda nor Stephen. Both won and lost battles. Both gained and lost supporters. The nobles often veered from one to the other, depending on how the wind blew. They became unreliable, their loyalty questionable.
When Stephen was caught during the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, many thought the troubles were over, but they’d only just begun. Stephen’s wife, also called Matilda (or Maud) the rich heiress to the county of Boulogne, rallied his supporters with the help of Flemish mercenaries. The south east was strongly in his favour, and even the Empress Matilda’s attempts to have herself crowned Queen of England failed when Queen Maud’s troops rallied the Londoners, and Matilda was chased out of the city.
When her brother Robert was caught by Queen Maud’s supporters outside Winchester in 1142, he was swapped for the king, and all went back to what it was before. It was a huge blow to Matilda’s cause.
As civil war raged on – both sides attacking castles and strongholds, gaining some and losing others – the population suffered. Crops were burned, towns sacked, and you never knew who was friend or foe. Anarchy reigned supreme.
Robert of Gloucester died in 1147, peacefully, and by 1148, Matilda returned to Normandy, making the county her focus over the coming years. Her eldest son, Henry, however had only just begun to stake his claim in a couple of futile attempts at invading England. When, in 1152, he unexpectedly married Eleanor of Aquitaine, sole heiress of a vast domain that reached south to the Pyrenees (a thorn in the eye of the French king, her divorced husband), many began to take his claims more seriously. His power grew, and his incursions into England grew more and more successful. Eventually, in the Treaty of Winchester in 1153, Stephen agreed to Henry as his successor. However, Stephen would remain king for as long as he lived – which could be years, and even decades – and his surviving son William was rumoured to have Henry assassinated to gain the crown. No one was safe.
King Stephen died in October 1154, and the path was finally clear for Henry. He had himself crowned King of England and asserted his rule immediately. Of course, Henry had his fair share of challenges over the decades, but that’s for another time.
It was around twenty years ago, as a member of an online group called Medieval Enthusiasts, when I first heard about The Anarchy. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the chain of events Henry I’s death unleashed. My favourite character is Robert of Gloucester. Had he been legitimate, or had he been allowed to inherit the throne despite his illegitimacy, he could have been King of England, and none of the strife and warfare would likely have happened. He held huge amounts of respect. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.
In my novel, Dark Deceit, my (fictional) protagonist, Sir Geoffrey de Mortagne, a knight, is undersheriff of Gloucestershire – and a spy for the Empress. He walks in royal circles, takes part in battles before having to save a young heiress from herself, and a man he’d known when he was young as a friend, but who was by now an implacable enemy. Dark Deceit begins in 1141, after the Battle of Lincoln.
Geoffrey de Mortagne and the Empress Matilda also feature in a short story in our new collection, Doorways to the Past, released on 30th July 2020.