An Ideal Place to Write

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IMG_8277.JPGEvery writer needs a café. I’ve said it before. Mine is a particularly nice one in a fabulous setting – the Taste Café at the Chesil Beach. It does exactly what it says on the packaging, and I can enjoy my coffee with huge views over the Chesil and the Fleet Lagoon, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. How lucky am I, eh? At this time of year it’s full of brent geese, waders and gulls, clearly visible through the café window. The building also houses a wildlife centre, so as you can imagine, I’m a regular visitor.

Last winter I came here to write my novel Whales and Strange Stars, and this year I have its ink-and-paper version clutched in my hand, here to have its picture taken in the place where so much of it was created. Although the book is set in the marshlands of Kent, it is also infused with essence of Dorset saltmarsh from writing in this setting.

IMG_8275The word ‘inspirational’ is bandied about a little too freely these days, but being able to sit in perfect comfort (the words ‘Kathy, would you like another coffee?’ have just been said in my ear) in such a beautiful place is surely as genuinely inspirational as it gets.

So here I am, a nice hot coffee at my elbow – and a band of redshanks trotting about and squabbling in the salty shallows as the tide ebbs just yards away on the other side of the window. Sheer bliss for the comfort-loving, nature-loving writer. I am truly blessed with the ideal place to write.

 

A beautiful novel created in a beautiful place: ebook available for pre-order, paperback available now myBook.to/WhalesAndStrangeStars

A sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry, and whiles away an hour relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden. He tells her that the stars are different, if you sail far enough, that the horizon isn’t quite real, not when you get there; he speaks of sea serpents and whales, and mysterious islands. To an impressionable girl who has never left her home, the whales and strange stars of his stories come to symbolise the great outside world she longs to see. The sea captain moves on, unaware of the dramatic events he has set in action as Rosamund’s search for adventure leads her into a world of dangerous secrets in the marshlands of eighteenth century Kent. Torn between loyalty to her uncles, and her desire to discover what lies beyond the marshes, Rosamund seeks help from an unexpected source. But who can she really trust?

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

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‘Whales and Strange Stars’: review

A beautifully written review for my new book Whales and Strange Stars

Judi Moore

Whales and Strange Stars: An Adventure by [Sharp, Kathy]

Kathy Sharp is a novelist well known for her three charming fantasy books set on an historical, fictionalised Isle of Portland: the Larus trilogy.

This, her latest novel, is also set in a simpler time than our own – but in a quite different place (although in it, too, water plays an important part).

Whales and Strange Stars begins with the quiet elegance of an otter slipping into the water. The story quickly gains breadth and depth and momentum as it swims downstream, urged on by deliciousness such as this ‘an empty gape draped in drab’ and this ‘The infant New Year lumbered forward unsteadily, burdened with ice and nearly knocked off its feet by strong winds’.

The book’s time is the eighteenth century and, as an historical novel, is unusual in that it does not deal with specific historical events, except for a passing reference to the king raising…

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Worth a Thousand Words?

IMG_8249Once upon a time novels used to be illustrated. My copy of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which belonged to my late mother-in-law, is a dull little book at a glance – until you open it and find the illustrations. Your feeling for the story – your curiosity – is awakened immediately. Who are these people, and what is their tragic entanglement? It’s an inducement to read on.

I remembered this recently when someone asked me where I saw the future for my writing. I thought long and hard about this. Would I like to sell lots of books? Of course. Win critical praise? Who wouldn’t? But what I’d really like to do is write beautiful stories and have them enhanced by beautiful illustrations.

I’m not talking about graphic novels here – I’m talking about a book containing occasional illustrations to surprise and delight the reader as they turn the pages.

These days, sadly, such books are a rare thing. Children’s books and non-fiction might be lavishly and imaginatively illustrated, but adult fiction is generally left to muddle along as best it can. This affects the modern writer’s style: you must grip the reader in the first few paragraphs if you want them to read on. A set of illustrations might make all the difference in capturing the reader’s attention – and allow a more leisurely start to the book. Just a thought. The best most authors can hope for these days is an eye-catching cover design.

But do readers still cherish books in this read-it, forget-it, buy-another world? I do, which is why I still have my Ma-in-law’s Wuthering Heights. Would people be prepared to pay a little more for an intriguingly-illustrated novel? It’s probably a pipe dream on my part, but it’s the kind of book I’d love to produce. Retro? At the very least. Old-fashioned? Certainly. But a picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. I wonder…

 

No illustrations, sadly, but a beautiful cover for a beautiful story: my new novel is available now for pre-order

Whales and Strange Stars

A sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry, and whiles away an hour relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden. He tells her that the stars are different, if you sail far enough, that the horizon isn’t quite real, not when you get there; he speaks of sea serpents and whales, and mysterious islands. To an impressionable girl who has never left her home, the whales and strange stars of his stories come to symbolise the great outside world she longs to see. The sea captain moves on, unaware of the dramatic events he has set in action as Rosamund’s search for adventure leads her into a world of dangerous secrets in the marshlands of eighteenth century Kent. Torn between loyalty to her uncles, and her desire to discover what lies beyond the marshes, Rosamund seeks help from an unexpected source. But who can she really trust?

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

It’s a Book’s Life

IMG_8246Books, of the paper and ink variety, often have interesting lives once they leave the publisher and go out into the world. They have stories to tell far beyond the stories they tell, so to speak.

This was brought home to me recently when I took up a new study and ordered some second-hand books to begin my reading. I didn’t buy e-books because the subject – the history of plants and gardens – warrants a great deal of illustration, and I wanted to see it all properly.

When my books began to arrive, in various states of repair, I was reminded of the sheer delight of handling the physical book – the quality and weight of paper, the gloss of illustrations – and began to wonder what their previous lives might have been.

My copy of The Plant Hunters, by Toby Musgrave et al (published 1998) was pristine. An unloved Christmas gift, perhaps? The remains of a label suggested it had passed through a charity shop, still unloved, and elsewhere before it fell into my eager hands. I may well have been the first person to read it.

Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners (published 2008) had clearly had a career as a library book at the other end of the country in Newcastle. The bookplate inside shows it was last borrowed in 2015 before being withdrawn from the library and sold on.

My rather manky copy of Linnaeus: the Compleat Naturalist by Wilfred Blunt (first published way back in 1971, but this edition from 2004) smelt as if it had spent much of its life in a cellar. The damp waft of its pages is unmistakable – but it’s a well-thumbed volume, perhaps much enjoyed in its day. As a writer this book intrigues me: who owned and loved it, and how did it become so neglected? A very good place to begin a story, I think, and I shall keep it in mind.

I am now awaiting the arrival of a copy of Patrick O’Brian’s masterly biography of Sir Joseph Banks. I shall be as interested in the history of the book itself as in the history of Sir Joseph. I can’t wait, and I’m sure many more of these waifs and strays of the book world will be finding an appreciative home with me soon.

For those who like a ‘real’ book my new novel is available for pre-order now in paperback as well as e-book format…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, secrets and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

The Mature Adult’s Reading List?

My post on books for older readers – Mature Adults – a New Genre – attracted a good deal of attention. The next question, then, is what sort of books should we include in such a genre?PhotoFunia-1509451558

When I think of the Young Adults genre, the books that come to mind straight away are the Twilight series and The Hunger Games. There are many more, of course, and they are not all vampire or sci-fi stories, although those have been immensely popular.

So what do Mature Adults prefer to read? I must admit my first thought is of rather sweet, unthreatening romances set in the past. Is that out of date? Well, no – books of that type are still around. I was asked to review one last year, and I was staggered at the author’s vast and loyal following, and equally vast sales. Very well – so plucky World War II heroines holding the fort until their chaps come home is one aspect of the Mature Adults genre.

But I think, too, that the wider historical novel genre goes down well with older readers. And not just fiction, either – historical biographies also seem to be popular. I have just finished reading Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. It’s the sort of book you need to take your time over, and I doubt I would have had the leisure to deal with it when I was younger.

These are just the examples that come to mind from my own experience – and you can probably think of many others.

Should there be more books aimed at the older reader? Do we need our own genre? It would be naïve to think that publishers (certainly the larger ones) don’t consider this demographic – there are an awful lot of us, after all, and increasing by the day. What do publishers think Mature Adults want to read? And do the Mature Adults themselves agree with them? What books should be on every Mature Adult’s reading list? I’d love to know.

 

Ready soon for discerning readers of all ages…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, secrets and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

Mature Adults – A New Genre?

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The wisdom of maturity is a rather unfashionable concept these days. When I was young I wanted to be a writer – but quite honestly I didn’t feel I knew enough about any subject to write about it credibly. That, I thought, takes experience, so off I went to acquire a bit of wisdom.PhotoFunia-1509018996

By the time I got down to some serious writing, then, I was well past the dreaded 50+ mark, and had sailed happily into the over-60s bracket by the time my first book was published. You might feel this is taking it a little too far – but the backward view down the years brought all kinds of insights to my writing that I couldn’t possibly have imagined as a young person. Getting older has its practical disadvantages, for sure – but it brings the gifts of experience and a wider viewpoint toiling in its wake.

If you’d like an example of fine, thoughtful, insightful, mature writing, may I suggest you consider the wonderful stories of my friend and contemporary Jim Bates in his blog The View from Long Lake? There are plenty of other examples, published or not, of people who in their later years have found themselves with both the leisure and, yes, the maturity (there’s that word again) to write well. Let’s not neglect them.

And what of the mature reader, you ask? What indeed. Young adults are well catered-for; they have their own genre – and it’s read by everyone, not just the young. So where is the Mature Adults genre?

This train of thought has been triggered by the efforts of a lady called Claire Baldry. She is in the process of setting up a website called Books for Older Readers. It’s a work in progress, but do go and investigate. I elbowed my way into the queue to have my own books featured on this site, not because I wrote them with older readers in mind, but because I think my contemporaries will enjoy them.

Claire has also set up a Facebook group Books for Older Readers, where those of us who admit to being over 50 can, readers and authors both, discuss this (hopefully) emerging genre. I reckon it can be just as exciting, varied and vital as the Young Adult genre.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Can there be a Mature Adult genre? How would we define it? What would we include in it? Over to you!

Ready soon for discerning readers of all ages…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, secrets and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

Voice and Volubility

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when two or more writers are placed in a confined space the volume of chatter will threaten to blow the roof off. I suppose it’s the solitary and silent nature of most writing that makes us all so voluble when we meet.

It was certainly the case at the Dorset Writers Network Writers’ Open House at Dorchester last weekend, where I had volunteered to help answer visitors’ questions. And what a range of questions! How can I publish my poetry? What do I say when I’m asked to critique other people’s work at my writing group? How do I pitch my non-fiction book to a publisher? How do I tighten up the dialogue in my TV script? On and on it went –they all certainly found their voices, and I was hoarse when I got home. Many of the questions were tough to answer, especially in a hurry, but I did my best to help. And this was in between diving back to answer questions about my own books. No wonder I lost my voice.

I am always surprised at these events in finding I know rather more about writing and publishing than I thought I did, at least compared to the average member of the public. I have been immersed in the arcane world of the writer for nearly five years now – it’s a hotbed of emotional highs and lows uncomfortably blended with the very practical needs of sales and marketing – so I suppose I’m bound to have learned a thing or two along the way. The top lesson is that it’s a fast-changing, cut-throat business where anything you learn is outdated as soon as you take it on board.

For all that, I hope I managed to point the people I spoke to in the right direction, and I certainly hope I sprinkled a little encouragement about.

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Visitors at the Open House event

From my own perspective, I learned a great deal by listening to the concerns, ideas and thoughts of others, and I met a lot of charming and interesting people. I even sold a few books!

We had requests for more events of this type, as well as specific workshops for neglected subjects such as grammar. Dorset has a wonderful resource in its creative writers, and the Dorset Writers Network will do its best to bring this out into the sunlight. It was a pleasure to take part. So I say carry on talking, writers!

 

Ready to read soon…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, secrets and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

Boats in the Air

IMG_8190Back in 2012 during the London Olympics, I stood in a crowd at Newton’s Cove, Weymouth, watching the sailing events. Ben Ainslie won his gold medal for GB, and we all jumped up and down and cheered like mad. It was a special moment. Five years later I stood with my hands on the gunwale of the boat he sailed that day. That was a special moment, too.

This was one of the wonderful exhibits at the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall) at Falmouth, which I visited a few weeks ago. It’s a striking building, perched right on the water’s edge, and includes a tower with a panoramic view from the top and a glass-walled room at the base under the waterline, so visitors can see estuarine fish and sea creatures swimming right in front of their noses.

IMG_8191I loved that, but it was the huge display of boats that really caught my attention. They don’t just exhibit them, either – they build them, too. A recently-completed reconstruction of the ship’s boat used by Captain Bligh following the Bounty mutiny was the basis of one exhibit, and loud hammering from the rear of the building announced the next project – a reconstruction of one of the lifeboats of the Titanic.

The main hall was full of boats from floor to ceiling, many of them suspended by wires and flying magically so the whole beautiful space was used. Small boats of every kind from all over the world were on show, designed to be propelled by steam, diesel, wind or sheer arm-power, and built for speed, fishing or fun. This cosmopolitan display is matched by side galleries celebrating Cornwall’s (and Falmouth’s) own extensive maritime history from packet-boats to pilchard fishing.IMG_8200

I enjoyed it all, but my particular favourite was a huge glass case containing exquisite models of boats through the ages, also apparently flying through the air. This was so beautifully presented and lit that the little boats looked like jewels in a casket. Stunning.IMG_8202

 

 

 

 

 

There’s plenty for children, too, including boats to climb into and radio-controlled sailing. If you’re visiting Cornwall do go and see this fabulous museum (full details here). I insist!

 

 

And for more boats…Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018

The Last Plantagenet?

My guest today is fellow-writer Jennifer C Wilson, author of The Last Plantagenet, released today. Welcome to the Quirky Genre, Jennifer!

JenniferWilsonPortraitHi Kathy, and thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog today, on launch day for my new release, The Last Plantagenet? This is a debut in a couple of ways for me – my first timeslip historical fiction, and my first attempt at self-publishing. Happily, I’ve learned a lot through the release of the Kindred Spirits series through Crooked Cat, so it isn’t quite as scary as it could otherwise have been.

The Last Plantagenet? follows history-lover Kate as she’s transported in a heartbeat from July 2011 back to the same month in 1485, just weeks before a certain battle, and most of us know how that ended for Richard III… Here’s an extract, just as Kate, now transported, but still unsure where (or when) she is, encounters the King of England for the very first time:

The room they entered was exactly as Kate had always imagined a medieval great hall should be. They never seemed quite right when recreated in the twenty-first centuries, but this, this was glorious. Candles flickered on every surface, catching the hints of gold, silver and jewels on the well-dressed courtiers, or picking out the vibrant hues of the draft-excluding tapestries. Somebody had put plenty of effort into the décor and costumes yet, there was nobody around to see it. The whole walk from kitchen to hall, Kate had seen only costumed participants, not one member of the public. Why would you go to all this effort, and do such a great job of recreating the period, if you didn’t let the public in to see it? It seemed a waste to her.

Then she noticed him. 

Kate had always hated the phrase ‘skipped a beat’, but that’s exactly what she was certain her heart did, as she saw who was literally holding court in the centre of the room.

Richard.

King Richard.

King Richard III of England.

And definitely not the actor who had been playing him with such great aplomb earlier. This man’s hair, dark, shoulder length, was real, no wig, and he carried himself with a charisma that was hard to fake, how ever good an actor you were. Kate caught snippets of conversation as she walked through the room; either these actors were keeping far more in-character than any other re-enactment she had encountered before, or, more worryingly, she had somehow been transported back in time, and this truly was 1485. Her mind whirled at the notion, but whatever had happened, and however it had come to happen, she had to deal with the here-and-now first, and get this platter of bread safely onto the table the servant was moving towards.

TheLastPlantagenetCoverFollowing in his wake, Kate was suddenly painfully aware of the length of her dress, and the uneven nature of the floor; even the kitten-height heeled clogs, feeling suddenly like stilettos, were too much for her at that moment. She felt dozens of eyes burning into her, half-hoping, half-fearing that they might just include Richard. Risking a glance at the king, Kate almost dropped her tray. His piercing eyes had indeed found hers, forcing her to meet his gaze, even as she felt herself trembling with, what, desire, terror? She couldn’t quite tell. The liveried servant nudged her forwards with the jug he was carrying, and she reluctantly tore her eyes away from the king to place her tray on the table in the centre of the room.

Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite! If you’d like to join in today’s online launch, you can find it over on Facebook here, or dive in and get the ebook itself here. If you do either, then I hope you enjoy!

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website. Her timeslip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? is available for pre-order now.

How the Book got its Name…

So here it is, the cover for my new book, finally revealed. Whales and Strange Stars. Now then, people say to me, that’s an intriguing title. What on earth does it mean? Is it about whales? Or, Heaven forfend, whaling? The short answer is no. Allow me to explain: the story begins with a sea captain passing through a sleepy riverside ferry crossing. While he waits to continue his journey, he fills the time by telling his traveller’s tales to the young girl who lives there. He tells her that the stars are different, if you sail far enough; he tells her about great oceans and the creatures that live in them, and many other wonders, too. For the girl, who has never travelled away from home, or even seen the sea, the whales and stars come to symbolise adventure – the wide world she longs to explore. And that is how the book got its name. So you see, absolutely no whales were harmed, or stars displaced, in the writing of this story.WASSCover

For all that, it isn’t an easy title to illustrate, being a metaphor.  We have taken the literal approach, as you see, with actual whale and stars in a woodcut style that suits the 18th century setting of the story. It’s a tale of secrets and betrayal, and the stark contrast of colours suits that, too.

My thanks go to Crooked Cat Books for such original and striking artwork. I hope readers like it as much as we do.

 

 

 

 

Ready to read soon…

Whales and Strange Stars

A stunning mystery in the tradition of Jamaica Inn. When a sea captain passes through the forgotten port of Wych Ferry and whiles away an hour at the Tradewinds Inn relating his traveller’s tales to young Rosamund Euden, he has no idea of the dramatic events he has set in action. Adventure, dark magic and betrayal in the marshlands of 18th century Kent.

To be published by Crooked Cat Books, 16 January, 2018