Category Archives: books

Cat, a Bowl and Lots of Red-Heads, or: What’s This Septimus Thing, Anyway?

I was just re-arranging this website a little bit – posting the links to the recently published stories in one place, consolidating the books in the sidebar into one link – and it occurred to me that some of you folks who’ve come to reading my blog lately might not be all that familiar with this whole turquoise-coloured “Septimus Series” thing. For example, if you were to come from all those fairy tale stories I’ve posted recently to reading “Lavender’s Blue”, my Septimus short story, you might find yourself a little puzzled – it’s not a fairy tale; but what exactly is it?

So, for those of you new to the Septimus world, here’s a little intro. The nickel tour to Catriona’s life, as it were. For those of you who’ve followed Cat’s adventures all along, you might enjoy this little refresher.

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It all started a number of years ago, when Catriona McMurphy, an ordinary 21st-century librarian, was in a museum in her hometown of Greenward Falls. She looked into a turquoise-coloured pottery bowl, and all of a sudden everything went swirly and blue around her. Next thing she knew, she found herself in a forest, in a whole other world.

This is a world that has no electricity, flush toilets, internet or cell phones – but it does have magic. Subtle, gentle magic; nothing that involves waving wands or throwing around sparkly curses, but that permeates the very existence of the people of this place.

Cat soon found out that she herself has some of that magic – in her case, an ability that is called “The Knowing”, a strong intuition bordering on clairvoyance particularly about the people she loves. One of those people turned out to be a tall, red-headed potter by the name of Guy, who is a member of the Septimus family, the most prominent group of people with special gifts in the town of Ruph, descended from the seventh son of a seventh son.

When Cat first met Guy, literally lying at her feet, he had a small red-headed daughter named Bibby, possessed of a double dose of “The Knowing” and a charm that wormed itself irresistibly into Cat’s heart. A few years down the line, Catriona’s life is, let’s just say, not short on red-heads of various sizes and descriptions, and she has her hands and her heart full keeping them all in order, and getting in some time to read the odd book at the town library of Ruph, too.

And of course there is always something that throws a wrench in the works – ordinary life in Cat’s world is never all that ordinary. A speechless young boy and a plague of mice – a girl bullied by her sister, and a new kind of clay that seems to have special properties – a teenager that has dropped in from Cat’s old world and desperately wants to get home… There is usually some knotty problem that Cat needs to solve in between stoking the hearth fire and keeping Ruph’s library books in order.

If you’re wondering just what Cat’s new world is like, there are descriptions in the books, of course, but roughly speaking, in technology and climate it’s very similar to pre-industrial Europe. Of course with there being some magic, they have options that your 17th-century Englishman didn’t have – for example, closed stoves with attached water heaters, so Cat can still have a nice hot bath without having to lug a cauldron to the fireplace first. They also don’t have antibiotics, but there are wise women who know their way around a herb patch and the odd person with healing power in their hands, which is just as good.

If you want to get a taste for Cat’s world, give “Lavender’s Blue” a read (it’s FREE!). And if you enjoyed that, dip your toe a little deeper (because you taste with your toes, don’t you?) and get a copy of Seventh Son (also FREE!).

If, of course, you’re already a die-hard fan of Cat & All the Red-Heads, there’s only one thing left to tell you: STAR BRIGHT IS COMING SOON! Honestly, Book 4 in the series is written, and is being edited as we speak. No exact release date yet, but it’s coming! As soon as I know when, you’ll get to see the snazzy new cover so you can start drooling in anticipation.

Life, the Universe, Cat and the Red-Heads. Welcome, or Welcome Back, to the Septimus World.

 

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On Character-Driven Stories, or: It’s About the People

“Don’t tell Angelika,” a friend of ours, an engineer, said to my husband, “but I tried to read her book, and didn’t make it past the first few pages. There are way too many feelings in it!” My husband did tell me, because he knew what my reaction would be: I laughed long and hard.

But also, quite contrary to our friend’s expectations, I took his statement as a compliment. For one, he only tried to read the book because it was mine, i.e. it was an expression of friendship, which I appreciate. But the other thing is that the average engineer is not exactly my target audience. So if I managed to turn one off by dint of having too many feelings in my book, I think I may have succeeded in writing for the other kind of person: the one who wants to hear about emotions, about the inner life of characters, about their relationships to one another.

The point was brought home to me again just the other day in my writers’ group. One of the critiques I got on a piece of mine, the beginning of another novel, was, “Do you really need three different points of view to tell the story?” I was a little taken aback (not to say  hurt, which is, alas, the price of getting all-too-necessary critiques). But once I’d mulled it over for a while, I came to a conclusion: the answer is Yes. Yes, I do need three points of view, because what my stories are about is the characters and their interactions.

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One of the Amazon reviews of Seventh Son says: “The character relationships are subtle and involved. In fact, all of the book’s true drama comes from how people relate to each other”. Precisely. I write character-driven stories.

And the reason I write character-driven stories is because that’s what I like to read. Now, I’m fully aware that I’m in somewhat of a minority with that preference. What’s popular, what sells best, are plot-driven stories, stories where things happen, where there is action and external drama. Battles! Kidnappings! Sword-fights! Car chases! Explosions! Murders! Wicked witches poisoning girls with apples and being chased by workaholic dwarves with pickaxes!

Personally, I find action scenes boring. Crash, bang, boom, bash – just tell me who wins already, and get on with the real story, about the people. (Plus, I don’t like the tension and extra adrenaline; I’ve got too much of it coursing through my system already – a side effect of being an HSP; but that’s a post for another day.)

To me, what is interesting in a story is not so much what happens, but what the people make of it, how it affects them. I want to get into their heads. It’s the character of the, well, characters that matters to me, that creates stories. Of course you always need a plot – a beginning, a middle, an end – but to me that plot can be as simple as “girl meets boy, girl has trouble getting together with boy, girl gets boy”.

In fact, the latter is the plot of all six Austen novels; the only thing that changes is the characters. And Austen is still in print after 200 years. It’s also the plot of every romance novel, which are, in fact, as a group the biggest sellers on the fiction market. Character-driven stories roll across the screen in every TV serial like Downton Abbey or Coronation Street which follows a group of people through the years, watching them live their lives and interact with one another; and they shocked movie critics when My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel became sleeper hits.

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Come to think of it, given the popularity of the aforementioned tales, maybe I’m not in such a minority with my preference for character-driven stories, after all. There are a lot of us who prefer people stories, which can be easy to forget when you hear writing gurus go on about “what sells” or castigate the fledgling writer for “not writing tightly enough” or – gasp! – using adverbs, those touchy-feely markers of emotion.

There are a lot of us – but even if there weren’t, I’d still stick with my preference. I like Austen, and L. M. Montgomery, and Georgette Heyer, and even Miss Read. No swords, no car chases, no bad guys and nary a dead body. Just wonderful, fascinating stories about people.

Okay, I’ll grant you that writers of these stories don’t often populate the weekly bestseller lists. But I have a hunch that they are disproportionately represented on the long-sellers list. Which is all to the good, because it means their books are going to be around for a long time for the likes of me to enjoy.

Life, the Universe, and Character-Driven Stories. It’s all about the people.

 

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Free Books, or: Bookworm’s Pleasures on the Internet

img_20161231_102332153I got a new Kobo for my birthday, as the one I’d bought myself six years ago is in the process of giving up its electronic ghost. You can read all about that one here – it’s one of those older (brand-new released at the time) non-touch-screen ones that don’t really do anything but display books. My new one doesn’t do much else either, it just does it faster and with a built-in sidelight. Actually, pardon me – one thing it does do that the old one didn’t is make it possible to borrow ebooks straight from the library, via its wifi connection.

You see, that’s one of the great things about an ebook reader: getting library books at any hour of the day or night you darn well please. Like right now, my local library is closed for the holidays, but I’m still merrily downloading books to my Kobo. (A big reason I chose a Kobo, i.e over a Kindle is that it allows you to get library books, which a Kindle won’t, at least not here.)

But you don’t have to have an ebook reader to do that mad midnight murder mystery acquisition. Any computer, tablet or smartphone has the possibility of downloading free ereader software – the Kindle App, the Kobo App (all of which designed to get you buying from their websites), and – my favourite – Overdrive (which is the program that allows you to borrow books from libraries – both “print” ebooks and audiobooks – but also read books from other sources). Plus, most phones/tablets/computers come with built-in ebook software – Google Play Books is the one I got on my phone, for example, and Apple devices come with iBooks.

Even quite aside from the wonders of library downloads, there are treasure troves of books out there on the internet – for free, and for keeps. I’m not even talking about all the great perma-free indie books you can get; Amazon and Kobo and the other ebook vendors abound with free books (like Seventh Son – you know, just sayin’). No, there are websites out there where you can get more free books than you can read in a lifetime. We’re talking the classics here, books that are in the public domain, and other wonders.

That’s right, free. Austen, Dickens, Brothers Grimm, Brontë, the Oz books, Trollope, Andrew Lang, L.M. Montgomery, Chesterton, Sherlock Holmes – to just mention a few that I loaded up my new Kobo with – all yours for the collecting, with just a few clicks. Pretty awesome, right?

So here, without further ado, are some of my favourites of those sites (click on the names for the links):

Project Gutenberg: over 50,000 free books (!) in the public domain. Extremely easy download for epub, Kindle, plain text, html…

Mobile Read: a community of people who’re into, well, e-reading. They have an ever-growing library of books (again, numbered in the tens of thousands) that members put in the collection for free download. A lot of them are the same as the Gutenberg.org ones, but nicer – better cover images, cleaner formatting, less front matter etc.; they also have languages other than English. In fact, Mobile Read is the first place I look when I want a classic for download to my Kobo. Quite incidentally, this is also the go-to site for any e-reading support. The good people in the discussion boards have been invaluable in helping me learn to drive my ereader.

Librivox: this is audiobooks – crowd-sourced, as it were. Volunteers from all over the internet record themselves reading public domain books, and upload it to the site. Thanks to Librivox, I finally fulfilled my long-held good intention of getting through some of the Victorian writers like Dickens and Trollope. I like getting both the audiobook and ebook of the same title, and listening to it while I do boring housework, then flipping to the print when I have time to sit down. You’ll need to download the Librivox App to listen, but it’s quite painless and works well.

There are other places where you can get books, of course, but as I said, those are my favourites, with the most extensive selections, so I wanted to share it.

Life, the Universe, and Free Ebooks. What’s your favourite ebook site?

 

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Indie Book Review by Kate M. Colby: A Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones

A review by of Helen Jones’ A THOUSAND ROOMS, which I’ve raved about here before. Highly recommended.

Kate M. Colby

a-thousand-roomsA Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie didn’t wake up expecting to die. And yet, that’s exactly how A Thousand Rooms begins. As Katie stands on the street, watching emergency responders attend to her body, she waits for whatever comes next. Nothing comes, and Katie is forced to drift about the earth alone in search of her individual heaven, the meaning of her life, and any other souls who can help her.

I’ve long been a fan of Helen Jones’s Ambeth series, and I really enjoyed seeing her take on a different genre and world in A Thousand Rooms. The novel reads like contemporary fiction but has a lovely touch of fantasy and a good helping of romance (which came as a pleasant surprise after all of Katie’s struggles!). As usual, Jones’s writing is descriptive and detailed, and she beautifully brings to life the various settings (real…

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Why the Death of Roger Ackroyd Matters

And yet another good post on detective fiction, from Christa at Chorister at Home (it must be the day for it). Her musings shed some light on my own preference for British detective stories over American ones.

Chorister at Home

American Murder Mystery detective: I’m going to solve this murder because it’s horrible and dramatic and linked to me through my tragic backstory.

English Murder Mystery detective: I’m going to solve this murder because I don’t want to be late to tea.

A while ago we stumbled across the above quote on the internet. It made us laugh, and then it made us think, because we’re not sure it does justice to either classification of mystery.

The English murder mystery traditionally comes from a place of optimism. In it the world is inherently good, as are the people in it. When the detective is invoked it is because a Wrong has been committed that puts that goodness in jeopardy. It becomes the duty of Poirot, Campion, Wimsey, et al to restore that goodness, to preserve civilization. For that reason we often fail to see the corpse, or if we do…

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In Defense of the Detective Novel

My friend E. L. Bates just wrote this quite excellent piece on the value of detective fiction. I agree with everything she says – and her point about the timeliness of detective novels is an interesting one. Check it out and see what you think.

StarDance Press

This essay came out of some thoughts I had on detective novels and their function in society. I’m not sure any of it is terribly earth-shattering–I’m fairly certain it’s all been said before–but it was important to me, so I wrote it all out, then decided it was worth polishing and sharing. So here it is.

Truth, justice, mercy. All very big, abstract concepts that can be hard to wrap our heads around in concrete terms. What is truth? How do we balance justice and mercy? To whom do we show justice, and when is mercy appropriate? If I were to tell you I was writing a story exploring these concepts, you might reasonably expect some weighty, literary piece of work, with dense prose and a somber tone. What you might not expect would be a detective novel.

Yet it is in mystery stories that I have had some of…

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They’re at the Library!

Look at what my good friend and fellow author Lee Strauss posted this morning on Facebook: She got my books from the library!!! Isn’t that exciting? Now I’m a real author (because, Library!).

Loralee & books

And here they are in the library’s catalogue. Impressive, eh?

books at library

It quite tickles my fancy to see them catalogued like that, with proper Library of Congress subject headings (Magic — Fiction; Fantasy fiction) and call number (F&SF OFF). See?

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Incidentally, it really helps an author out to get their books into libraries. Most libraries have a “Suggestion for Purchase” feature, where you can tell them what books you’d like to see on the shelves (and usually, you’ll be the first one to get a copy to read once it comes in). So if your library hasn’t got the Septimus Books yet – what are you waiting for? Ask for them! 🙂

Life, the Universe, and the Septimus Books at the Library. Cat would heartily approve.

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