Chess, and Some Very Special Pieces

So, you know that Checkmate just came out, right? Of course you do, and you’ve already downloaded your ebook copy. And because you have, you know that it prominently features a chess game.

Oh, you mean you hadn’t got that far in reading the book yet? Sorry, didn’t mean to give any spoilers! But honestly, I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. I’m sure that even without getting to the part  about the game, you’ve figured out that the story has something to do with chess – because you’re brilliant like that, and put 2 and 2 together, i.e. deduced that the title Checkmate and the chess piece on the cover picture mean there’s some significance to chess here.

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However, the chess knight on the cover is actually a tiny bit misleading – it’s the wrong style. If I’d had my druthers, the image that would have been on the cover is that of the Lewis Chessmen, a 12th-century ivory chess set that was discovered on the Isle of Lewis somewhere around 1831 and is on display in the British Museum now. The chess set in the book is modelled on them. But I couldn’t find any royalty-free images of the Lewis Chessmen, so we just went with a vaguely antique-looking ordinary chess piece for the cover.

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The Lewis Chessmen © Trustees of the British Museum

One cool & nerdy thing about the Lewis Chessmen is that they were used as the model for the chess set that Harry and Ron play at Christmas in the first Harry Potter movie, where the pieces clobber each other over the head instead of being tamely taken off the game board. I’d like to get me one of those sets…

But it would only be for display. You see, the funny thing about me writing about a chess game is that I don’t really know much about chess, myself – I know how the pieces move, and that’s about it. But fortunately, I’m married to someone who makes up for my deficiency, and so my Man alpha-read Checkmate and then set about fixing all my chess-related bloopers. He sat down and designed a chunk of game that worked with the plot as I had it, step by step. Here’s one of the configurations of the model game:

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You can see his notations in the background. This is from where I rebuilt the game while I was editing, so I could get an actual image in my head of what was going on. And yes, I learned to read chess notations – who says writing fantasy fiction isn’t educational?

So that’s a little background piece on Checkmate, how it came to be written, and some of its imagery.

Life, the Universe, and – Checkmate! Have you got your copy yet?

Oak and Mist – Download Free For a Limited Time!

Shout-out of a new writer friend’s book freebie! I just read Oak and Mist, and it’s great. Go get yourself a copy!

Helen Glynn Jones

Oak And Mist final cover

Oak and Mist, the first book in my Ambeth series, is free on Amazon from now until February 25th (e-book version only).

‘The end of everything? Great, no pressure then.’

Alma Bevan didn’t mean to go on a quest. But when she disappears between two trees at her local park and reappears in Ambeth, she finds they’ve been expecting her.

So now she has to find a lost sword or the consequences for humanity will be dire. With no idea where to look, despite help from her new friend Caleb, things become even more complicated when a handsome Prince of the Dark takes an interest in her.

All this plus homework too?

Well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon, Oak and Mist is the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles. So go on, download a copy today! myBook.to/oakandmist

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CHECKMATE!

Aaaaaand – HERE IT IS!! Please welcome:

CHECKMATE!!

Toddle on over to the page, where you can choose from a profusion of links from which to get your very own e- or p-(paper)copy of the newest instalment of the Septimus Series.

Here’s what you’ll find under the snazzy cover:

Rhitha’s life is miserable – but then she meets Bina.

Rhitha’s sister has been bullying her all her life, for no reason that Rhitha can see. But when they move to Ruph, there is a new friend in Rhitha’s life: with the help of Bina and her unique powers Rhitha begins to see that there might be more going on in her family than meets the eye. There is a secret nobody suspected…
Things come to a head between Rhitha and her sister in a clash that draws in everyone around them. Are the peculiar forces at play in Ruph responsible for fanning their conflict? Who is the mysterious stranger that appears at Grandmother’s door in the middle of the storm? And can Bina help Rhitha find the strength to stand up to the bullies and become who she is meant to be?

Read it, and then leave a review! Or just let me know what you think (good or bad) – I want to know!

Life, the Universe, and a New Book Baby. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Changing the Label

Covers1-4CompositeI’ve been re-reading Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse, the print copies, no less. It’s been long enough that I can look at them with fresh eyes and a little bit of distance. (In the case of Checkmate, I’ve gone over it so many times in the last months that I have it practically memorised, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that these characters, whom I’ve lived with for more than a year now, are still total strangers to you – you haven’t even met Rhitha yet, when she’s been a reality to me for so long… Well, just another four days, and you’ll get to know her!)

So, in re-reading the books, I’m seeing them a little bit differently. I’m spotting the odd tiny inconsistencies here and there that had escaped me before (and I’m not telling you what they are; you’ll have to find them for yourself. If you don’t, so much the better). And one of the things I’m rethinking about this series is its designation.

I’ve previously loudly protested that Seventh Son is not a YA novel. Cat (the main character) is 28 years old; she’s an adult, not a “young adult” (aka “teenager”, which is what YA translates to in book business parlance). However, when I first published the book, readers kept thinking it was a YA. One friend said it sounded like the books his daughters brought home from the high school library; several real-life teens read it and said they liked it; and I repeatedly got the label “sweet” for it. I was starting to react a bit (okay, a lot) to that epithet – “sweet” can have an undertone of “nauseating” (although, to be fair, none of the people who used that label for my books meant it in that way at all – that’s purely my own reaction to it). But I’m starting to come around to accepting that word, and, furthermore, changing my mind about the label that would fit the Septimus Series best.

It’s not only that Seventh Son is a “sweet romance” without “adult content”. The further along I get in the series, the more young characters keep popping up. Seventh Son is about adults in their late 20’s (and a small child). But Cat and Mouse prominently features a couple of young teen boys. Checkmate‘s main protagonist is an 11-year-old girl. And Star Bright, which is in the works, is centred around an 18-year-old guy fresh out of high school. Kids proliferate, and the more the series grows, the more we get inside their heads. Cat is still always one of the point-of-view characters, but we get to hear more and more from young people. I can’t help it, they’re asking to be written!

I figure I might as well admit to it: the Septimus Series is a YA series. I wrote (am writing) these books to suit myself – they’re books I would enjoy reading (actually, at the risk of sounding conceited, I am enjoying reading them. It’s a very satisfying thing when you like your own work. Much as I like my own cooking, which my waistline can attest to). I’m not a “young adult” by any stretch of the imagination; all the grey on my head would prove the contrary, were I inclined to argue the point. But I love books about kids (small or big), or traditionally classified as being for kids – many of my favourites come from the YA and JF (Junior Fiction) shelves of the library. In fact, I practically never browse the “General Fiction” shelves; it’s either YA, JF, MYS (Mystery) or SF&F (Science Fiction & Fantasy). So I suppose it’s no accident my own writing falls into these categories.

So, I’m changing the label. If you’re going to suggest the Septimus Series for purchase at your local library (please do!), mark it as a YA, so it comes to the attention of the right librarian and lands on the right shelf. And then forget about the sticker on it, and just read the books for enjoyment. What’s in a name? A series, by any other name, reads just as well…

Life, the Universe, and a new label. Just four more days to Checkmate!

Pictures and Pears and Other Randomness

Helen Jones, of Journey to Ambeth, just posted some lovely pictures for her “Thursday Doors” series, of the church in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire. Take a look, here. I love the way Helen’s pictures can grab me and just, for a few minutes, toss me into another place, right across the other side of the globe. And then, bing, I’m back in my Canadian existence, just a little richer for my tiny little armchair travel experience. (Check out this crazy lapis-lazuli-and-gold swimming pool she posted pictures of the other day. I mean, doesn’t that make you feel like your mind has expanded just a tiny bit, knowing this ludicrously, gloriously extravagant piece of achitectural razzle-dazzle exists in the world?)

One of the things that caught my attention in today’s post, though, was the name of that one and only English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear (who apparently came from Abbots Langley, hence his inclusion in the post). I’d never heard of him before. Now, frivolously-minded person that I am, it didn’t make me think deep thoughts about history – it just set me to wondering if he’s any relation to The Bard. You know, 12th-century Breakspear to 16th-century Shakespeare… Maybe in the intervening 400 years, the family figured out how to wave about their weaponry without cracking it – from Nick “break spear” to Will “shake spear”… [Yeah, I know, it’s bad. I just couldn’t resist.]

Nicholas Breakspear would have been Pope right around the time Brother Cadfael did his sleuthing in Shrewsbury Abbey, and Catherine LeVendeur hers in Paris. As far as I know, those two never did cross paths, although I’m sure they would have got along swimmingly. Neither did Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Roderick Alleyn, although by rights they should have – both attended Oxford right around the same time, were younger sons of the peerage, had mothers who read almost like identical twins, and married women involved in the arts/writing scene. And that’s not even taking into account the Scotland Yard connection. Lord Peter’s brother-in-law, Charles Parker, in fact occupies Inspector Alleyn’s chair as Chief Inspector, right around the same time. We must be dealing with parallel universes here; I’m sure Scotland Yard Chief Inspectors aren’t as thickly strewn on the ground as all that. (While we’re at it, Carola Dunn’s Alec Fletcher, the Hon. Daisy Dalrymple‘s husband, is another contender for that Chief Inspector’s chair. That seat must have been one hotly contested piece of furniture in the 1920s.) IMG_20160211_125146

Anyway. To wrap up today’s silliness, here’s a picture of Steve on a laundry basket. Just because you, I’m sure, needed to see a photo of a bear sitting on a household implement today. You’re welcome.

Life, the Universe, Fictional Sleuths, Pictures and Pears. And bears, of course, as well.

PS: Have you put in a pre-order for Checkmate yet? Just eight more days…

PPS: Now that I think of it, none of this has anything to do with pears, just spears. But I like the alliteration.

CHECKMATE has a Due Date!

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We have a due date! One for the newest book baby. No, it’s not a due-back-at-the-library date, it’s the day Checkmate is going to be officially released: February 19th!

That’s not much more than a week away. Are you excited? Yes, you are, very excited indeed. Because you can’t wait to read about the further adventures of Cat, Guy, and Bibby (who’s now called Bina, seeing as she’s no longer a little kid – if you haven’t yet read “Lavender’s Blue”, go over here to find out about it). And there’s this new kid, Rhitha – what’s going on with her and her family? Why is her sister being so mean to her? You’ll find out soon…

So mark it on your calendar: next week Friday you can go online and get your very own copy of Checkmate. Or, even better, you could hop over to Amazon or Smashwords right now and pre-order the ebook, then you’ll get it delivered the moment it’s released!

Just nine more days!

Check It Out: Author Interview with Zach Chopchinski

Some of you might remember that for the first time last April, I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, hanging out in a virtual “cabin” with a bunch of other crazy Wrimos and having wild pillow fights supporting each other in our writing efforts, in the process making some neat new friends. One of the friends in question is ZachChop, aka Zachary Paul Chopchinski.LLP_5958

Zach’s written a novel called The Curious Tale of Gabrielle, and he is re-launching it in a new & improved version (it’s always good to make a good thing better, no?). To this end, he’s doing a blog tour, suitcase full of novels in hand, to promote his book, and he asked if our little corner of the web could be one of the stops on the tour. Now, we love having friends over to stay, so of course I said yes.

So here we are, sitting at the kitchen table with cups of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or double-malt whiskey in front of us, embarking on amo vitam‘s first ever author interview (ta-dah!). Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cuppa, and have a listen-in.Gabrielle_Final_525x8_BW_290_Front_PROOF

  1. So, Zach, seeing as I’ve not yet read your book, I don’t really know anything about it. What’s it about? What happens?

 The Curious Tale of Gabrielle is about the journey of a young girl named Gabrielle who receives a mysterious bracelet from a stranger. The bracelet allows her to go back in time and re-live the lives of those who previously owned it. In this book, Gabrielle finds herself 500 years in the past, in English-ruled Scotland. Here, she finds herself in a battle between the town and the lord who wishes to take Gabrielle’s friend, Heather, as his bride against her will. Suddenly, Gabrielle finds herself in an adventure to end all adventures as she tries to save Heather and figure out why she is having this journey.

  1. That sounds really cool. What inspired you to write it?

One day, I was checking out an old antique shop near where I worked in Portland, Maine, when I came across a really cool silver bracelet. The shop owner told me that the bracelet was 500 years old and I remember thinking to myself WOW, imagine if this was a human, what stories it would tell!

  1. Wow, I’d love to see that! By a weird coincidence, I just wrote a story that prominently features a mysterious silver bracelet, myself – silver-bracelet inspiration must have been in the air. So, why the re-launch of Gabrielle?

I decided to re-launch TCTG because I felt like I didn’t do it justice the first time. I was really just excited to publish my first novel and there was a lot of things I rushed through. Once I was published and I actually sat back and thought about it, I realized there was more of the story to tell. Through many, many long discussions with my wife about plot twists and story lines, I decided to introduce another main character, Morrigan, in the first book rather than wait.

  1. As I said, making a good thing better is excellent work. Tell me about your life as a writer. What gets your creative juices flowing? Where and when do you do your best writing?

I generally do my best writing at night. I also have to be secluded in my office with incense and my writing play list. Having ADHD, routine is really important to me. It is equally—if not more so—important in my writer life. If the conditions aren’t perfect, I just don’t get any writing done, no matter how much I want to. So, when I do find myself in the perfect conditions, I have to take advantage of it.

  1. I hear you – writing conditions matter a lot to me, too. What’s the hardest thing about writing for you? The best thing?

I find that the hardest thing about writing, is actually sitting down and creating. When you’re still in the conception phase and everything is in your head, it remains perfect and without flaws. Once you start drawing it out, imperfections emerge, difficulties arise and the work becomes staggering, and can become quite discouraging at times. With that in mind, I would have to say that the best thing about writing, as despicable as it sounds, is just driving through it and accomplishing your goal.

  1. Yes, getting a story finished is hugely rewarding! Now, if you could only achieve one thing with your writing, what would it be?

For my writing to remain loved and cherished after I’m gone. I want to create something thats beautiful that many people from different walks of life appreciate and come together on. This may seem like a tall order to fill, but it’s all I really want out of my writing.

  1. What’s next on your drawing board (or plot pile, as it were)? Is there something?

Presently I am working on the second book in the Gabrielle series, but more excitingly, I am now developing a more in depth plot line that will span the remainder of the books. Without revealing too much information, lets just say that Gabrielle doesn’t yet know what she’s gotten herself into. Developing Gabrielle into the song character that she is destined to become, there needs to be an equally powerful force in direct opposition that compels her to rise to that challenge. I have a feeling that Gabrielle will be meeting with this character sooner than she thinks.

Something else that I have been working on—well lets say toying with—is something called Webley and The World Machine. I don’t have much down on it yet but the idea that I have floating around in my head is something along the lines of steampunk fantasy meets Dungeons and Dragons meets The Chronicles of Narnia (without the religious undertones).

  1. Ooh, that sounds really interesting! But now for something completely different: What was your favorite treat when you were a kid? You know, the kind of thing you’d blow your allowance on (if you got any)? And when’s the last time you had some?

WOW, this made me think. I would have to say that my favorite childhood treat was Rice Crispy Treats. I remember every Friday afternoon my grandmother would pick me up from school and we would start the drive to the ferry boat that would take us to Kelley’s Island. I remember jumping in the back seat of the van and there would always be a baggy of Rice Crispy Treats for me to nibble on for the drive. I would have to say the last time I had one was when my wife worked at Starbucks…so probably last December.

  1. What about Gabrielle – what’s her favorite treat? Does she get to have any in the book?

Gabrielle’s favorite snack is Chamomile tea with honey and ginger cookies. Yes, she gets some when she first meets Alexandria who mysteriously knows that these are her favorites. This scene sets an ominous tone for the book and probes Gabrielle’s curiosity. 

 I must say, I like chamomile tea myself. I’ll have to go hang out with Gabrielle and find out if we share more than those preferences.

Well, thank you very much, Zach, for stopping by here on amo vitam and sharing your book with us!

And that, folks, was Zachary Paul Chopchinski. He can be found at his website, zachchop.com, where you can find links to get The Curious Tale of Gabrielle in any format you’d like.

Life, the Universe, an Author Interview and a Book Re-launch. Go check it out!

Lavender’s Blue, the Song

“Lavender’s Blue”, the Septimus Series Short Story that I posted the other day (if you haven’t read it yet, go here, or here and download yourself a copy to keep), started with a song – well, actually, with a movie. That’s right, the Cinderella movie that I love so much.

The lullabye “Lavender’s Blue” features quite prominently in the film, and so afterwards, I had the song stuck in my head. And as I kept singing it, and thinking about Cat and Guy and the world they live in, a story started taking shape in my head. Voilà, “Lavender’s Blue”.

And here is the song (well, one version of it – it’s a folk song, so there are lots of different versions. The one Cat sings has a slightly different last line).

Life, the Universe, and a Lullabye. Enjoy!