Neil Gaiman is my hero.

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Just found a post i should have published back in September!! Here it is…

Iv been up the field all week clearing dead grass and pruning trees. Whilst doing this i decided, as i didnt have sufficient funds in my bank account to buy any new audiobooks and didnt have time to go to the library, to dig out some old Neil Gaiman audiobooks i had on cd.

I was looking for American Gods, but the only one i found was Anansi Boys. Its been a while since i last listened to it, and i have to say i don’t remember ever being aware it was narrated by Lenny Henry. In fact, i never knew Lenny narrated anything when i probably ought to have noticed his unmistakable voice the first time around.

Anyway. I was pleased as punch to hear Lenny announce his name at the beginning of the recording, which i copied to my pc and converted to m4b format. Iv heard Lenny’s accents before usually on tv and given that most of the cast are either londoners or caribbean, knew it would be a great rendition of one of my favourite Gaiman masterpieces.

And so, whilst grappling dogwood branches, blackthorn and dead hawthorne branches, i lost myself in the world of Anansi. Given the weather which is boiling hot right now and still as a dead dog, it wasn’t difficult to forget the thorns and spikes which tore my poor little legs to shreds and pretend i was on the island of St Andrews with Spider and Fat Charlie.

The point of my post here was initially to pass comment on the fact i’ve spent two days laughing raucously at Fat Charlie’s amazing one liners but if you are familiar with Gaiman’s trademark belly-laugh humour you won’t need me to tell you how funny this book is.

An excerpt from Embers on the Breeze… Enjoy!

At the request of a pal, I decided to post an excerpt from Embers. Let me know what you think! It’s due for release on December 1st, so keep your eyes peeled for it!

Here goes…

I couldn’t tell what time I woke, I only knew that it was dark and the fire still danced brightly at my back, but I woke with a start. It might have been a bad dream, forgotten already, or even a log crackling in the fire but I felt a pang of anxiety as I opened my eyes and a second, amplified jolt of fear as I focused on the long shadow which reached over me.

I struggled to process the information my eyes delivered, willing myself to wake up faster. With limbs stiffened by sleep and fear, my eyes flitted everywhere looking for Vodou. I thought I heard whispers, but they hadn’t come from James; he was breathing loudly in my ear. I tried to move, but something weighed heavy on my ribs, pinning my left arm to my chest, restricting my movement. My heart fluttered again, faster and faster. At first I tried to tell myself I was dreaming, but then I remembered where I was and knew what I saw was real.

James”, I hissed.

“Go back to sleep”, he murmured.

As he shifted his weight a little I realised he’d curled up behind me, his arm draped carelessly over my ribs, thus my inability to move. Then my fear heightened as the shadow shifted abruptly to one side in response to James’ movement.

“Open your eyes”, I insisted. “Look at the shadows”. I pinched his hand as hard as I could. He flinched and groaned irritably, but then I heard his breath catch in his throat as he lifted his head to see the shadow. It stretched almost as far as the nearest tree, making the creature seem taller than it really was. It had the head and torso of a man and the body and legs of a horse.

I lashed out with my legs and pushed away James’ arm, struggling to free myself from the blanket. I was on my feet in seconds, James beside me. Other than the creases in his right cheek, all traces of sleep were gone and his posture was that of someone ready to attack; knees bent, eyes narrowed. One hand held the scabbard at his hip whilst the other gripped the sword hilt.

“Don’t”, I whispered, reaching out a hand and gently pressing my palm to his wrist. His grip loosened but he didn’t let go of the sword.

There’s nothing here that will harm you, except for the bears and the wolves, I reminded myself. On top of that, everything I’d ever been taught about centaurs led me to believe it was unlikely that this one meant us harm. They were quiet creatures, shy and peaceful by nature. I had never met one before, but I knew horses very well. It seemed logical now that I was faced with one that he’d be in touch with his equine instincts.

Slowly, I turned around, careful to keep my eyes low to the ground like I would with a new horse, but the creature was gone. Or at least it seemed for a moment. As I scanned the clearing and the open field beyond, I caught sight of him in the shadows at the tree-line.

Taking care not to face him head on, I studied him from a distance. His coat was deep chestnut, his tail glossy black. His upper body was muscular but lean and covered only by a thin sleeveless jacket that seemed to be made of papery leather. As I allowed my eyes to stray towards his face I realised there was something boyish about him; flawless olive skin untainted by age lines. His almond eyes and high, flushed cheekbones brought to mind a Maori tourist I’d met in the bookshop last summer and the only things inhuman about his face were his ears. Smaller than Vodou’s and broader, they were the same chestnut red as his flanks, but perfectly proportioned and placed exactly where I would expect to find human ears if he’d had any.

As my eyes met his I became aware of two things: The first was that he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and the second was that his kind, dark eyes reflected my own nervous curiosity.

Calling all book bloggers!

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I am currently preparing to launch Embers on the Breeze and am looking for book bloggers to read and review. The paperback version won’t be available until new year, but if you have an e-reader I will be happy to send you a copy in electronic format.

If you’d like to know more, here’s the back cover blurb:

Elsa’s best kept secret is that she wasn’t born of this world.

Raised in rural Shropshire, she lives as normal a life as can be expected of an heir to the throne of a magical land. Even Elsa finds it hard to believe the scale of responsibility, let alone the fact that one day she’ll have to leave everything she’s ever known in this world behind.

That is, until her doubts are quashed by the blue eyed, black haired oddball of a tutor who shows up to teach her a thing or two about how to rule a kingdom.

Years later she and her best friend James are involved in an accident which catapults them back to her own war stricken world. They must journey thousands of miles through perilous snow peaks, faerie forests and the treacherous deadwood marshes in a race to beat her darkest enemy back to Luensa. The only beings they can trust to see them home safely are a centaur, an un-dead knight and a dangerous black unicorn named Vodou.

If it sounds like something you’d enjoy, please message me here or tweet me @thisishelenora. If you’re a writer of YA fiction and would like me to return the favour, I’ll be more than happy to do so.

Thanks again,

Kelly

Nostalgia wins out!

So… The paddock i mentioned in my last post… I made a call to the church and asked if i could rent it and was told if i want it, its mine!! First i cried a bit, then spent a while scratching my head and pondering where to start clearing it up! So far iv pulled up a quarter of an acres worth of nettles and pruned approx 1000 trees (ok thats an exaggeration). Still have half a million trees to prune, two acres to mow, and 950m of fencing to secure but dad’s helped after work and im so happy i get to spend time in a place that means so much to me 🙂

This is the old field shelter… still standing!

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This is all the space we’ve cleared of nettles and thistles. a good 15ft out from the fenceline. Note, we’ve left a lot of it in there to prevent damaging the natural habitat of the little critters!

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You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve found in the grass. So far we’ve got a rusty wheelbarrow, nine milk crates, two rolls of electric fencing tape, twelve electric fencing posts, six wooden fencing stakes, a pair of showjumps, a deckchair, an electric fence energiser, a box of paintbrushes, a chest freezer, a shed I never even knew existed, a mummified fox carcass, a roll of sheep mesh, a twelve foot long boat trailer (?!), two bath tubs, a toilet cistern and 90ft of insulated copper cabling. Yes. Lots of power cables, apparently stolen from the university next door and thrown over the fence so they could strip the copper out to take to the scrap yard.

I called the uni and asked them to come get what was left (which they promptly did) and was told that the cable in my field before it was stripped of copper had been worth upwards of £70k. That’s unbelievable! But, alas, if they can take down the overhead power cables from the lane to dismantle for scrap, they can sure as hell take the not-yet-connected ones off a building site!

Anyway… horses will be moving on at the end of September and I really can’t wait to have them closer to home. I’ll miss the old place, but it’ll be nice to have my ponies living together again.

Walking down memory lane

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If you have read my “About Me” page, you’ll know that my childhood and my teens revolved mostly around a pony called Bluey. We were awesome together. Incase you don’t know, Bluey is a 13.2 grey gelding I had since 1994 when he he was four years old (he’s in his twenties now and still as awesome as ever). The nineties don’t seem long ago, but back then I was thirteen, and now I’m thirty three while he’s twenty two.

Anyway, I was driving back from the farm last week, and found that the road I usually take to get home was closed for roadworks. Therefore I had to take a detour, which took me along the road where I kept Bluey when I first had him on loan. It’s a 2.5 acre paddock at the back of a church, and sits alongside a public bridlepath/private lane. So, having not seen it for maybe fifteen years, I decided to pull in and take a look at the place.

Major flashbacks. A paddock is a paddock is a paddock, right? Well, yes, I guess it is. But no, it isn’t. You see, most of my fondest memories happened right there on that little piece of land, or around it. The first one to hit me was as I walked up the lane, past the church: I’ve only ever fallen off Bluey twice. The first time was at a show when he slipped over but the second time we’d been galloping along the bridlepath, and when we slowed, I took my feet out of the stirrups, let go of the reins and leaned forward to get off so I could loosen his girth and walk beside him. But I sneezed, he shot sideways, and I fell in a heap on the ground. Bluey stood looking down at me as if to say “What happened? What was that noise? Are you okay?” I sat there laughing my ass off, in the middle of the bridlepath with only my pony to hear me. That’s true friendship right there and I’ll never forget the look on his face.

As I approached the paddock last week I walked past the spot where it happened, with goosebumps on my arms and a grin on my face. The latch on the gate was always sticky, and a bit of a nightmare to open. It still is, but I know how to tweak it.

The field has clearly been vacant for a long time. The grass is overgrown, the trees look like they belong in a jungle and there is no lock on the gate, no sign of any horses. So, I let myself in. I know the vicar so he wouldn’t be alarmed to see me there, I don’t think. And if he was, it would be worth the explanation. As I walked into the middle of the paddock, bordered by the bridlepath on two sides, the vicarage on the third and university buildings on the last, I kind of felt like I was home. A few tall, straggly and alien looking hawthorn trees have grown in the middle of it. They weren’t there last time I saw this place which was a little bit strange. And another hawthorn, one I know was always there, has tripled in size. Beyond it, there used to be a little field shelter with a feed room on the side of it. It couldn’t still be there, could it? As I walked across the field I realised a fox was sat in the long grass, staring at me, apparently unfazed by my presence. I gave him a wide berth so as not to frighten him, and walked around the tree, expecting to find a crumpled pile of wood where the field shelter had once been. Even back then it was falling apart, but to my surprise, its still there, looking somewhat smug with a blanket of brambles draped all over it. I swear, if field shelters could talk, this one was saying “ahha, surprise!”

I almost cried. Why? Because that building, as ancient and as crappy as it is, reminds me of the best days of my life. I have brought Bluey into that building a million times, dried him off in there when he was shivering from the rain, spent hour after hour untangling his tail and telling him about my day at school. I’ve sat on the floor sharing plums from a tree in the hedge. That place, as overgrown and abandoned as it is, feels like home to me. It is a place I once belonged, and it is a place I will always love. Maybe one day I’ll get to put my horses back on it, or maybe I won’t. I don’t know. Bluey is an old man now, and I am a grown up. That was a place for he and I. Now I have other horses. Now I’m too sensible to career around the countryside, scattering dog walkers and dodging trees at a flat out gallop. Now my horses won’t fit into that field shelter, and now I appreciate both Bluey and that place more than I did back then. Sometimes its better to let sleeping dogs lie. But it’s nice to know its still there, with a bucketload of memories to remind me of my Blue.

Lucky Seven!

Lucky Seven!

The challenge: Post seven lines from an unpublished work of fiction.

The Golden Rules:

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript Go to line 7 Post on your blog or Facebook page the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating Tag 7 other authors to do the same.

Here are my lines from pg 77 of Embers on the Breeze;

The walls were of a similar smooth brown rock which stretched high over her head to a ceiling that Tom’s strange light did not reach. The earthen floor was bare but for a few dry rocks and strangely, footprints. What grasped her attention more than anything were the drifting microscopic silver particles. They glimmered in the way that dust might as it drifts across a sun lit window, before disappearing into the shadows.

This is definitely not what I expected”, James whispered, breaking the silence. His breath cast plumes of mist into the still air, which dissipated slowly.

Challenged by a Gay Sparkly Vampire Romance novelist…

Today I got into a twitter conversation about how people, often indie writers, slate people who do well with their indie books. As an indie writer myself, that struck a chord because I’ve always had a problem with those who stomp all over Stephanie Meyer.

For me, I believe that as long as you write from the heart and you have fun with it, then nobody should stop you from writing. I’ve worked hard to perfect my own debut novel, and it’s been a long process. I’d kill to have a hard copy in my hands. Not a self published, Lulu printed copy, but a traditionally published copy I bought in a bookstore. I never sat down to write with that as a goal, but now I’ve polished it, I think the ultimate praise would be having a team of people appprove my story. As it happens, I’ve taken the self pub route, but that won’t stop me from send query letters to agents. If it’s ever picked up, massive wowsers. If not, it will always be my biggest achievement to date regardless.

So… going back to the conversation on twitter, my personal view is that while a lot of people might think Stephanie Meyer’s books are crap, I believe that even if that’s the case, it’s HER crap and she has every right to be proud of it. Nobody can hold it against her that she’s one of the world’s most successful writers, or that she was deemed good enough to be published. Good for her, I can only hope to find myself in the shoes she wore the day her agent signed her. Some day.

Anyway, following a thread posted by @Zoe_E_W I said as much. Zoe and I have never spoken until today but we share the same view, that Meyer’s books are cool. It doesn’t mean I liked everything about Twilight. For me, sparkly boy vampires aren’t really my cup of tea. But then, I was always Team Jacob from day one and I don’t like the idea of people watching me while I sleep. Especially if they weren’t invited into my house. Edward, that’s creepy. I think sparkly girl vampires, strangely, are perfectly acceptable, so when Zoe made me question why sparkly boy vampires aren’t, the only thing I could come up with was that it didn’t flow with everything else I knew about him. He’s a bad ass, rock solid dead guy. But why can’t he sparkle? I don’t know. If it were Alice I dont think I’d have batted an eye.

So, I concluded that it’s my sub conscience, not letting my brain accept the differences in other people’s ideas. Effectively, I’m closed minded. But not just closed minded full stop, because I realised if I can convince myself that its okay for a Cullen boy to sparkle, I’ve broadened my horizons a little and I’m willing to accept that challenge! I dont want to try to convince myself its okay for someone to creep into my room at night, for me that will never be okay, but maybe if I read Midnight Sun I’d get Edward’s perspective on that. Thanks Zoe for reminding me that there are two sides to every story.

Turning the tables, I’ve faced a similar kind of issue with my own story. Of four reviews (written by critiquers who also write themselves), two asked me who my target audience was. They both said the book screamed YA, but the inclusion of centaurs and sprites suggested that I’d gain more interest from children. The problem being, the prose and the themes being “contradictory” and better suited to adults. My answer to that was… who ever said centaurs and sprites were not allowed in YA or adult fiction? And who said a grown up wouldn’t pick it up based on the race of its characters?

The reason I wrote this book is because I couldn’t find anything like it on the bookshelf. There aren’t (IMO) enough unicorns in fiction. I’ve never yet found a black unicorn in fiction anywhere! Let alone one who’s a pariah, assigned to act as the sole guardian of a long lost princess, or who overcomes his perception of centaurs being the typically documented day-dreamers of the other world. And he thought sprites were cute, cuddly things. He even believes he’s dangerous, untrustworthy and a bit of a monster. He was wrong on all counts.

So, one of the main underlying themes of my book is not to be afraid of what you don’t understand, and not to be judgemental. To accept others for their differences. And yet, here I am objecting to the presence of sparkly boys with fangs.

At that point, Zoe told me she’d written a parody called “My Gay Sparkly Vampire Romance“. Ha! Kelly Brown, you go download that book, and teach yourself a thing or two about sparkly vampires. Practice what you preach and open your mind!

So, with the book downloaded, that’s exactly what I intend to do!

Zoe, thank you for a new lesson. I’m going to go read it right now.

Oh, where to start?

As per my last post, I paid heed to my Embers beta readers and added in some much needed extra scenes from James’ POV. I also needed to make Elsa’s motives clear. They say to trust your reader but I realised I’d expected mine to understand something I hadn’t even hinted at. I knew what Elsa was thinking, deep down. She wouldn’t admit it even to herself, so on the surface there was something a little bit contrary with no justification. At least not to those who weren’t aware of her motives.

So, I added that in. Everyone said they loved James and wanted to see more from his POV. I couldn’t do that without justifying the scenes, so I twisted the story a little, so it made sense, changed the POV of a few scenes from Elsa’s to James’ (which is how I got her motives down without forcing her to think about things better left forgotten, et voila!

However… that means I’ve got a 147.5k novel now. That might not be so bad, but I didn’t want to put my readers off. YA generally contains 70-90k words. Shite!

So, can I break it down into two books? No, not really. That doesn’t work for me. Can I delete scenes? Well, I could, but everything I had before this edit was relevant. I started to flap, uncontrollably. Like I said… shite! I looked at a lot of websites, ones I had bookmarked already (I love sites dedicated to writing and editing with tips on how to improve). One of them was Maggie Stiefvater’s blog. She gave some great advice. She said when she’s been faced with the same problem before, she’s gone through the whole novel and deleted sentences here and there so as not to lose full scenes. I don’t think I can delete enough to reduce the size by a third.

I believe my opening chapter is enthralling enough to keep the interest of my readers. But, is it critical to the story? Well, yes. But I wonder if I can twist the way it’s written. If I can figure out how to re-word the beginning, so that it starts at a later point, then  it could be a successful edit. I won’t get anywhere near a third of it reduced that way, but if I do that, AND remove the odd line here and there…. hopefully, I’ll be on to a winner!

Watch this space!

Looking for inspiration, I found a clockmaker, a jetty, a Dutchman and a photograph

Yesterday, fed up of the weather, of having very little money to spend on anything other than bills, and having so much time on my hands, I looked on Gumtree for part time jobs. Before you start to wonder why I don’t spend all my time writing, I should explain I’m a closet writer, and I only let my imagination loose when the house is empty or everyone is in bed. If I’m not writing or working I’m usually out with my horses, reading or listening to audiobooks (most often doing more than one of these things at the same time).

Some people think you have to have money if you have horses. Not true. In my case because I have horses I’ve never got any money. And I’m not a jobless Jeremy Kyle fan either, but I do work from home, part time, purely because I enjoy what I do, and don’t have enough work coming in to make it a full time thing (yet). And while I might have hopeless dreams of making millions off my novels, the truth is that writing is rarely a secure, let alone reliable source of income. However, I still have a lot of free time, and holes in my pockets with the weather preventing me from attending the horse shows with my trade stand… so… I am not a pauper, nor am I quite comfortable so I went looking for a job on Gumtree.

One such job (for home help) was advertised by “Wally”, with his mobile number. He said he had a house on Teddington Rd in Stratford, and could I go over the same day. I got in the car and went over, pulled onto the drive and was faced with three doors. All had letterboxes, but only one had a doorbell so I rang it (I trust you see why I feel the need to blog about this encounter?).  A minute later a man with an accent that I presumed to be french answered, said he could chat on the doorstep all day, cracked a joke about “What sort of a name is Wally, anyway?” and then apologetically told me I had the wrong house. Oh. Crap.

My phone battery had died en route and the charger was in my dad’s car but I had Wally’s number in my diary so I drove up the road to the golf club and called him from a public phone. He said I was at the right house, but the wrong door (it’s a big house!). So I drove back, and discovered that Wally is actually the username of the guy who placed the ad, and his name is in fact, Paul. He let me call him “Wally” for probably fifteen minutes before he explained, so I guess he has a sense of humour, and actually, seemed a really nice chap. He explained that he uses the middle section of the house, Rachel uses the apartment on one end, and Garrit, who turned out to be Dutch, lives in the other end. Because it was originally one giant house, the units are all connected via doors and the balconies.

These people all live in close proximity, they all describe one another as awesome (a word that sounds really cool in a dutch accent), and they’re all hard workers who need a housekeeper.  I am no housekeeper, but I can clean like a woman posessed, so, I agreed to do it. On touring the house I realised that it was way bigger than I initially thought. It has three floors rather than just the two you can see from the road, spiral staircases, countless bathrooms and each unit is decorated with the personalities of the three very different tenants.

The back of the house is a little like a beach condo and all the walls are in fact floor to ceiling windows. Paul is a clock maker and has an empty grandfather clock case inside the front door, cream carpets and tile floors on the lowest level. He has glas sfurniture everywhere and a workshop off the bottom deck. Garrit likes books, photography and has a million pictures of his travels and his kids. He’s been everywhere from Holland to the Himalayas and back again, in both directions.

But what struck me the most was the curious things you can find behind the closed doors of a massive, dark grey house on a busy road in a little town and I was so pleased I got to be there because they seem like such great people and there’s so much more to that place than meets the eye. They are all so incredibly different, from each other and from me. I’ve never met a clockmaker before. I’ve never had a dutchman crack jokes about buggery (it was a mispronunciation). He’s an interesting chap, and very funny.

The house backs onto the river avon right in the middle of stratford, literally and it’s so quaint, I had to pinch myself and say “This is what foreign people think England looks like!” It’s very storybook, even for an English girl. So maybe I’ll find some inspiration from my stories whilst cleaning windows on a wednesday afternoon. Maybe about the river, the clocks, the workshop, the vaulted ceilings, the spiral staircases, the photographs, the doors, “Wally” or his pet spaniel… who knows! There are words to be found everywhere, especially in a home as diverse as this one.

It seems I may have been wrong when I said I can’t make use of my imagination when people are home.