What a year!

Work became my focus for almost all of the last year. Back to back contracts requiring most of my energy and leaving little time for writing and almost none for marketing and promotion. I did attend the Dundee book fair (picture below) and also several other fairs in the lead up to Christmas. Some were more successful than others, and overall I was really pleased with the response.

Photo of Mark Anderson Smith at Dundee Book Fair

They say that a blog needs regular updates otherwise people lose interest, well, I wouldn’t blame you if you had stopped checking.

My situation has changed though and I’ll share about that later. For now, I’m conscious that this blog and website needs a fairly major overhaul.

The last few days I’ve missed calls from an unknown number. They eventually got through to me this morning and I had a good chat with a guy from a hosting provider I use. Once we covered the reason for his call (and the other attempts) he pointed out that my website was showing as “Not secure” in the address bar. I had been aware of this, but updating the website had been so far down my list of priorities that I hadn’t even made a note to look into what it meant.

He explained that most web browsers now look for a security certificate on the website that allows the browser and website to communicate securely. I’ve known about the padlock symbol on Firefox for some time, but Chrome in particular is now using plain text which makes it stand out more.

Dragon Lake isn’t yet selling through the website, but my new friend pointed out that users are less likely to use a website that is unsecure, and I certainly do have a sign-up form for my mailing list. So, I’ve decided to bump up securing my website and figured I might at least get some capital from it, so I can share what I find out along the way.

I’ll be sharing some news with those who’ve signed up to my newsletter this week and later on through this blog. If you want to among be the first to hear, sign up to my newsletter now!

Nothing to say?

I’ve avoided blogging over the winter as I’ve felt I’ve had nothing to say.

It is interesting looking back to my experiment last year of writing 100 words a day for 100 days. Often during that period I felt I had nothing to say, but I forced myself to say something, even if it was banal or pointless. My lack of blog posts since then are perhaps statement enough that I’m not sure of the value in posting unless I think I’ve something worth saying.

So, has anything changed? Why am I posting today? Well, yes, something has changed, though I’m not sure if I’m ready to post about it.

If you are looking for news on the Fallen Warriors sequel, I’m still working on the story, still increasing my word count, but I’ve not yet finished the first draft. However, I’m excited by the directions the plot lines are taking and enjoying developing the story.

More news soon…

Killer’s Crew by Wendy H Jones

Just how many ways can one kill their boss? Wendy H Jones makes no secret of her fictional detective’s desire to find ever more gruesome ways to do away with her Chief Inspector.

Killer’s Crew is the fifth book in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries series and the first book I’ve read in the series. I really should have read book one first, but as the sixth book in the series was about to be released (and is now available) and I’m going to be sharing a stage with Wendy at Cumbernauld Library in September, I was keen to get caught up in the story.

Turns out DI Shona McKenzie is as tough as they come, taking no cheek from anyone, but enjoying a fair bit of banter with her team.

Killer’s Crew finds her dealing with the discovery of a corpse found hanging from a ship in Dundee while filming is taking place for a movie. The cast provide ample scope for enquiries until one by one, the body count starts to rise…

As if a suspected serial killer isn’t bad enough, Shona also has to deal with the local Russian Mafia, dastardly solicitors and the boss that she’s secretly planning to dump in the Tay river.

My greatest frustration with all crime fiction is that I never manage to work out who done it! Killer’s Crew was no exception, I was reeling at the end trying to work out what I’d missed.

If you like snappy dialogue, gruesome murders and some tongue-in-cheek humour then I recommend Killer’s Crew.

You can buy all of Wendy’s books direct at her website or from Amazon:

If you’d like to meet Wendy in person, book your free ticket to Murder, Mystery and More on 16th September at Culture NL’s website.

Finally, if like DI Shona McKenzie you occasionally fantasize about killing your boss, you may want to check out Wendy H Jones’ free ebook: DI Shona McKenzie’s Guide to Killing Your Boss

All good clean fun, but remember, don’t try this in the office…

A box of books!

Does a print run count as a first edition when your novel’s been on sale through Print On Demand for the past three years? Probably not.

I received my first proper print run of The Great Scottish Land Grab today – 100 paperback copies. Quite exciting!

I’ve already got some orders, so will be posting them off immediately and will need to crack on, contacting more book shops to see if they will be willing to stock Land Grab.

I only ordered a small quantity of books for both Land Grab and Fallen Warriors. Having heard horror stories from other authors who ordered thousands of copies only to be unable to sell them, I’ve played it safe. I would rather sell these and have to re-order than worry about storage.

If you would like a paperback edition of The Great Scottish Land Grab you can order through your local bookshop quoting ISBN: 978-0-9929883-7-1

If you would like to buy a signed copy, I’ll be joining Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library on the 16th September from 2pm.

We need more trees

I grew up on Shetland, famous, or infamous for it’s lack of trees. It always puzzled me as a child why there weren’t many trees on Shetland. There are some. Small woods have been planted, encouraged by government grant schemes. But most of the islands look like this:

Most of the time, the peat covered landscape copes well with the heavy rains the islands get, allowing the water to drain away. Every now and then the islands get longer spells of dry weather, the peat dries out and if it rains too hard before the peat has had a chance to recover, land slips can occur:

Several landslides occurred in Shetland in 2014. The islands were fortunate that more didn’t occur.

Soil erosion is a major problem affecting humanity around the globe. The loss of soil cannot be easily repaired and areas that lose their soil may never fully recover.

Planting trees is a long term solution to a very real problem. It takes decades and sometimes centuries for trees to build a system of roots that can hold soil in place and prevent landslides and soil erosion. Yet, if we do not start replanting the billions of trees that we have cut down around the world, our children and grandchildren may eventually have no soil left to grow crops on.

Lydia’s Song – a book review

I was in tears by the time I’d finished this novel. Katherine Blessan has written a deeply moving story of a young girl’s experiences of being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.

Lydia’s Song is not a book I’d have normally chosen to read. Neither thriller, nor crime fiction, nor mystery, yet containing elements of each of these that eventually hooked me in to the point where I finished the last half of the book in one sitting, desperate to know how it ended.

The novel starts from Lydia’s point of view, looking back on her time working for a Non Governmental Organisation in Cambodia. I found the beginning slow going initially as it could almost have been a romance as Lydia (the Westerner) develops a relationship with Radha (the Cambodian). I don’t read romance generally, so struggled with the start. Yet even in this, it was fascinating reading about the daily life in Cambodia and I enjoyed that insight. I worked abroad for a time myself, also for an NGO and could relate to some of the struggles and incidents.

Lydia finds a young Cambodian girl in her garden one night – the Song of the title. Song has effectively been orphaned and the story gently shows the developing relationships between Lydia, Song and Radha. Until it all goes wrong…

This for me is where the story really started to come alive as Katherine Blessan manages to create a sense of realism in her descriptions of a child being made into a sex slave, without titillation or eroticising the experience. Harrowing is one word I want to use, yet, because of the way the story is structured, there is a sense of hope throughout.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song. If you would like to try it out, a sample is available below.

Available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Going Physical – Getting a book printed

Getting your novel ready to be printed as a paperback book is a challenge – much more so than publishing an eBook. Formatting is more involved as the template has to fit to certain specifications, but several companies (including CreateSpace and Book Printing UK) offer templates you can start with. (I have to say, CreateSpace offer an excellent range of templates!)

Some in the indie-author community simply won’t bother with having a printed copy made available, but the markets I’m aiming for with both The Great Scottish Land Grab and Fallen Warriors still has a lot of readers who prefer physical books and I would lose out on a lot of sales if I don’t provide a physical version.

So, I’ve been working with Book Printing UK over the past three months to get 100 copies of Fallen Warriors into print.

It’s taken so long as I’ve been fitting the work around my full-time job, my family, and initial attempts at marketing the eBook version of Fallen Warriors.

I had two initial proof copies printed up, one with a gloss cover and the other with a matt cover to see which worked best.

The matt cover looks a lot better, but unfortunately the initial printing of the matt cover was blurry (the gloss was sharp) and also, despite having had several proof-reads, I found some additional typos inside that I decided had to be fixed. Myself and a friend re-read the whole book (I went backwards, a page at a time!) and found some more missing commas etc. so I’ll be updating the eBook version soon as well.

I was expecting the final proof yesterday, but only received a card through the door from our Postie…

Guess I’ll be getting up early tomorrow…

Sharpening my axe

You’ve heard the story of ol’ Abe Lincoln who allegedly said that if you need to cut down a tree quickly, the first thing you should do is spend time sharpening your axe.

All being well, I’m planning to spend tomorrow (my first day of writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors) on the writers equivelant: plotting, gathering my notes, brainstorming, mindmapping and generally trying to set out a structure to guide me as I set out to write two novels in two months.

Maybe I’ll actually spend some time writing, but I’m sure that I’ll get more done over the next weeks if I’ve got a plan to follow than if I’m constantly struggling to work out how to connect everything together. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Better late than never…

Is it better to be late than never?

For your own funeral?

I guess you could argue that both ways…

For your wedding?

In all honesty, it depends…

Every time?

To those who depend on you, the lines may become blurred…

Every now and then?

Yes. Sometimes it might be better late than never. Other times, never may be preferrable.

Today I am late. I could have just left it, I’m taking a weekend away and didn’t manage to pre-schedule a post for today.

It wouldn’t have mattered to take a day off, right?

Except, in my heart I believe – it’s better late than not at all.

God loves a good story

Take the book of Esther. You have a beautiful young woman, sent to work for a rich and powerful man who seduces her and… (Wait a minute, just where did the idea for Fifty Shades come from?)

Anyway, we have a classic villain, Haman, who wants to kill every single Jew everywhere. (Genocidal villian – Ian Fleming could have based a few characters on him…)

We have the wizened old man, Mordecai, acting as mentor and spiritual guide… (A source for George Lucas’ Obi Wan Kenobi?)

The heroine risks her life to save her people, tricking her enemy and eventually leading a revolt that sees the Jews rise up to overpower those who would have slaughtered them.

Without doing too much reading between the lines, you have an orphan story, romance, sex, political intrigue, thriller and violence.

Someone should really make a movie out of that book!