Out and about

Last night I had the opportunity to talk to a gathering of writers about Self-Publishing, both the good and the bad of it. It was only then that I realised just how much work you have to commit to make anything of it. For me, I’ve struggled, mostly its been a battle with depression which now thankfully has passed. So, I’m going to push a bit more from now on and try to fit in a bit more of the marketing side which I know nothing about.

I would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to Lesley Hart at Colleyer’s School in Horsham for the invitation and for hosting the event, which was her first. The evening was a great success with a lively group of budding writers all keen to learn about what comes after the writing bit. To be honest, marketing comes before the book is finished, especially if you are going to self-publish.

I can see that there is a huge market for people needing help with self-publishing. If you have no technical knowhow then preparing your manuscript and cover art is going to be difficult. So, if any of you reading this would like some pointer or help drop me email and I’ll see what I do.


On 26 June, Collyer’s Adult Education Creative Writing course invited its past and current students, together with their friends and families, to a published authors and publisher event.
Initially, ticket sales, at £5pp, were steady. But, a mad flurry of interest from the weekend onwards saw ticket sales almost double in numbers. Many of the, adult education, creative writing students have been on the course for the entire academic year and had asked if a publisher might come in and speak to them about the process. After a lot of investigation, I managed to book three different published authors, of different genres, and local hybrid publisher RedDoor.
Our authors were generously happy to speak about any aspect of publishing, which enabled us to build an evening around their different areas of expertise – with no overlaps! The evening began with a presentation from Anna Burrt (https://reddoorpublishing.com/), from RedDoor publishers about, the different routes into publishing and how to pitch your story. Local writer Mathew Bridle (https://theonesagacouk.wordpress.com/) enlightened us on the different methods of self-publishing. He spoke authoritatively about writing software, using knowledge from his thirty years of self-publishing for his own benefit, in addition to guiding other’s careers. Sam Leeves, is an ex-student of Collyer’s and has popularly spoken previously about his work to our full time students. He was able to offer advice about how to complete a story and the seemingly impossible hurdle of knowing when you have reached the point of a final edit. Our final speaker was Andrew Crofts, a published author of non fiction; ghost writer and more recently fiction whose, more than 80, books have been published by the ‘big five’, garnering him more than a dozen places for best sellers on the Times number one best seller lists. More recently, Andrew has chosen to publish through RedDoorand the beautiful coverwork on his books is testament to their investment in their authors. Andrew regaled us with hilarious tales of agent auctions and the importance of self promotion for any author.
Some members of our audience hadn’t met previously. Nevertheless, they all came with a positive attitude, which made for a lively and engaged evening. Our question and answer panel, at the end of the evening, overran, as everyone was keen to learn more about their individual field of writing.
There has been a huge learning curve in planning this first event, but its enormous success has meant that it will definitely be something we will be considering as an annual event. I am happy for anyone interested in future author events, to email me: admin@collyers.ac.uk with the subject: Published Author Event. This will ensure that emails reach me through our central inbox.

The Stolen Sea

“Yer don’t say,” the old pirate lifted his eyepatch to inspect the map. “Treasure you say?”

“Treasure a’ plenty. A hoard fit for a king,” the Gold Hoarder rubbed his golden chin with a gnarled finger. “A small price for such a princely reward, is it not?” a wry smile played upon his lips as he pushed himself back into his chair.

“30 pieces?” the old pirate peered over the map at the hoarder.


“Alright,” the coins rattled on the table as the old pirate counted them out.

“Return with the chest, and the reward is yours. Steal it, and sea will steal it back,” the Gold Hoarder cautioned.

“Anything else?” The old pirate folded the map and tucked it inside his jacket.

“Aye, they do tell of a beast that darkens the sea just before it feasts,” the Hoarder laughed manically.

“Come on men, we’ve treasure to find,” the old pirate drained his grog and belched aloud. “To the ship and the sea beyond.”

An ill wind whipped the crest of the waves across the deck as The Stolen Sea rode the swell skirting the broiling storm. Captain Bloodbeard stared at the map sliding his hand over the dotted islands searching for the one pictured on the Gold Hoarder’s map.

“Any sign Cap’n?” Bo’sun lumbered across to the map table his immense frame blocking out most of the lamplight. “Sorry sir,” he unhooked the lantern holding over the table. “There she is south-by-southwest.”

“So, it is,” Bloodbeard tapped the map with his cutlass. “Tell the helm to set a course for Kraken’s Fall.” Bo’sun half-ran toward the stairs at the center of the deck, his peg-leg thumping on the boards. Bloodbeard adjusted his patch and smiled to himself before following Bo’sun to the main deck.

The wind scourged the sea lashing the crew with a sting of salt and the occasional fish. The roar of the ocean against the hull was broken by the smash of waves across the deck soaking everyone and everything in its dark embrace. The day was soon lost to the night and the storm nothing more than a memory. The sea rolled and fell with the comforting ease of an ample bosom. “Put out the lamps; we’re not the only ship in this sea of thieves.” Bloodbeard lifted the glass of the nearest lamp and blew it out through the gap in his teeth. All was dark on board the ship; its black sails punched holes in the white of the moon as it sailed ever southward to Kraken’s Fall.

The morning sun extracted itself from the dark morass of the and sea rose into the sky. Ribbons of orange and yellow rippled over the waters bringing the hope of fair weather to the Mariners.

“Ship ahoy!” came the cry from the crow’s nest. “Dead ahead.”

Captain Bloodbeard ran to the prow raising a spyglass to his eye, “The gulls are circling something. Aye, there she is, just a sloop. ‘Tis my guess the crew is down in a wreck.” The Captain passed the spyglass to Bo’sun.

“But she be many leagues away Cap’n, not worth our bother,” Bo’sun squinted through the scope.

“Yer blithering land lubber, yer looking through the wrong end,” Bloodbeard snatched the spyglass from Bo’sun. “Raise the mid and foresails. Take us in slow.”

The sails ascended the masts creaking and groaning like an old sailor climbing the stairs. The Stolen Sea eased alongside the sloop until there were just a few scant feet between them. Deep scratches scored the hull of the sloop some deep enough to glimpse the lamp burning on the table inside. A cutlass lay on the deck still held in the severed hand. A low groan carried up from the depths of the sea scattering the circling sharks. “There’s nothing to salvage here,” Bo’sun dropped the mainsail in a bid to be gone from the bloody wreck.

“We be no more than half a day’s sail from Kraken’s Fall. They’ll be plenty of rich pickings to be had there,” Bloodbeard shuddered involuntarily. “The more distance between that sloop and us the better.”

A fresh breath of wind blew out the sails driving The Stolen Sea across the ocean like a skimming stone. None of the crew witnessed the demise of the sloop as the dark tendril coiled around its hull dragging it to the depths.

They skirted around a small island bristling with defensive forts and palisades. A solitary canon belched out its charge. A smoky trail scored the sky as the fireball surged toward them. The flaming ball crossed their prow hissing out in the cool blue of the ocean. A second missile was already on its way from the fort though it would fall deep in the wake of The Stole Sea. Further barrages chased the vessel out into safer waters beneath the heat of the afternoon sun.

“Land ahoy,” Black Corvus cawed from the crow’s nest. “Kraken’s Fall approaches to the port side.”

“Raise the fore and mainsails, look lively, yer bilge rats,” Bloodbeard barked. “There’s booty waiting to be plucked.”

“Ooh, ‘ark at her,” Bo’son giggled. “Who’s the lucky lass?” he said with a wink and a nudge.

“What are you blabbering about man! Booty is treasure, not some whore’s knickers.” The Captain left Bo’sun scratching his head and eating the lice he found. “Drop the anchor.”

“Ow! I’ve never known such pain,” Bo’sun hopped around on his peg leg clutching his good foot.

“Drop it in the bloody water, man,” Bloodbeard peered over the rail, “ Come on lads, time for a dip.” The Captain leaped the rail landing with a splash. Bo’sun followed close behind together with Spotted Dick, a man with more holes in his face than a sea sponge.
They all arrived on the beach together, the soft white sand yielding beneath their boots. The island was a tropical paradise. Lush green and red ferns hung with bowed heads in the shade of palm trees. Long grasses tugged by the wind, edged worn pathways deep into the interior of the island.

“The map says the treasure is under the gaze of a beast at the sun rock on the far side that lagoon,” Bo’sun and Spotted Dick followed the Captain’s pointing finger. “Let’s be goin’.” The three men drew their swords and set off at a trot, keen to find the hidden gold. They skirted around the giant bones and driftwood littering the shoreline. Climbing over hulls half buried in the sand they worked their way along the shore until at last; they stood before the remains of what appeared to be giant cobra fixed to a rock. A crudely painted sun had been daubed in crimson on the face of the stone beneath which was an engraved message. ‘Dance a merry ditty, and the reward shall be pretty. But, should it be a dirge then from the sand they surge.’

“If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown,” Spotted Dick lamented.

The eyes of the cobra glowed red. The sand around them hissed with smoked as skeletal hands reached for the sky. “Have at them,” Captain Bloodbeard swung his cutlass at the first skeleton striking its head with a fierce blow. The skeleton reached up and felt its shattered skull. It looked at the captain then surged forward whirling its sword above its head. Bloodbeard swept the clumsy lunge aside and struck again, this time shattering the skeleton into a pile of bones. Two more skeletons advanced on pirates. “Cut them down,” Bloodbeard bellowed at his quaking crew. The captain sang as he fought, “Friggin ‘ in the riggin’, friggin’ in the riggin’.”

“on a sunny afternoon,” his crewmates sang along.

The eyes of the cobra glowed green. The ground rumbled beneath their feet. Bo’sun punched a skeleton in the face spinning its head from north to south. The skeleton staggered off in the opposite direction. Spotted Dick leaped forward missing his skeleton completely. Bloodbeard swung his blade upward smashing through the skeleton’s ribcage; it vanished in a puff of dust.

The ground stopped quaking and there in their midst sat a golden chest bound by black chains. “It’s our boys. Get over here Dick and help carry this back to the ship while I send that last rattling bag of bones back to the grave.

Dick and Bo’sun hefted chest and scuttled back along the shore to the ship while the captain happily dispatched the final skeleton, “And stay dead,” he spat on the rattling heap of bones. By the time they reached the ship the light was already fading. “Weigh the anchor,” the Captain called.

“Nine stone six, sir,” Bo’sun replied heaving on the anchor chain. Bloodbeard took the chest into his quarters.

With the wind at their backs, The Stolen Sea cut through the waves. The sky darkened to an inky black peppered with stars. A pale green light followed in their foaming wake keeping pace with ease. Night became day beneath a blood red sky. The leagues passed swiftly beneath the hull until at last the outpost came up on the horizon.

“Prepare the sails,” Bloodbeard strolled around the poop deck kicking dried turds into the water. “Oh, crap!” he yelped ducking a flailing tentacle. The water around the ship turned an inky black. “Kraken!”

Two more tentacles slithered around the deck. Bo’sun made a dash for the cabin but became stuck when his peg leg caught in a knothole in the deck. “Cap’n,” he cried as a tentacle plucked him from the deck and swung him around in the air.

Spotted Dick slid on slime right beneath another groping tentacle. There was a dull clang as his head collided with a canon. Bloodbeard lashed out at a tentacle severing it in two; he ran down the stairs to the main deck. The sanctuary of the outpost drew ever nearer.
A huge eyeball on a stalk burst from the ocean followed by a vast gaping maw filled with more teeth than a whole shoal of sharks. Bloodbeard ducked again, “’Scuse me Cap’n,” Bo’sun said as he swung by narrowly missing the captain. Bo’sun was tossed up into the air, tumbling slowly toward the gaping mouth of the Kraken. The beach was in sight now.

Bloodbeard ran into his cabin reappearing with the treasure strapped to his back. He climbed up the rigging to the top of the main mast where a fetched up a rope and ran along the main spar as the ship swept alongside the dock. Out he sailed over the shallow waters, graceful as a gull until the rope went taught and the Captain spiraled toward the beach landing with a heavy groan.

The eye of the Kraken turned toward the shore.

Bloodbeard pulled himself up out of the sand and ran toward the Hoarder’s golden tent. Gasping for breath and spitting sand the Captain cut the cord around his back dropping the chest to the ground.

“Here’s yer chest, now pay.” The Captain turned toward the sound of crashing timbers; The Stolen Sea had run aground.

“Hold on,” the Gold Hoarder slid a token from his pocket and put it on the chest. The chains fell off, and chest popped open. “All yours,” the Hoarder held out a large sack of coins.

A long black tendril snaked its way toward the rear of the tent. Bloodbeard took the money and ran. The Hoarder lifted a single shimmering egg from the chest. He kissed it laughing gleefully. He gulped as a something slid up his trouser leg and seized his jewels. “Oh bugger!” he whimpered as he was yanked out of the tent never to be seen again.


Inspired by the game: Sea of Thieves by Rare.

Carrot and Coriander

Shopping done. Veg hacked, skin still on and boiled to death.

The broken extractor coughed in apology to the switch. It was too cold out to open the window. Steam filled the kitchen. Claustrophobic and close, too close to feel anything but heat. 

Simmering; the saucepan rattles with the bubbling condensate. White knuckles gripped the handle testing the weight. He raises the heat. The blue flame licks around the base of the pan. The rattle intensifies.

‘You listening?’ Love gone? She smiles at the illuminated phone.

‘How is he?’ He lifts the lid bathing in the swirl of carrot and coriander; just a hint of liquified salt.

‘Is it done?’

‘I think so.’ The insidious rattle returns.

‘Good.’ Her finger traces the name on the phone.

‘Bowls.’ He waits as she stretches across the to the cupboard. He strangles the handle and lifts the pan from the stove. Lid shielding his heart. He turns ready to serve.

Shadows Rising – Review

Shadows Rising – Madeleine Roux

This one is for the fans, by the fans. Does it matter? Not in this case. As a life-long gamer, I’ve played World of Warcraft since its launch; this book is written for me. It’s not like a normal fantasy saga, though it is over sixteen years old, you need to know who everyone is to get the best out of this novel.

There is none of the expected character building, there is some, but they do not live long enough for it to come to fruition. The story takes place between the current Battle for Azeroth and game expansion and the forthcoming Shadowlands (mine’s on pre-order). Whilst I enjoyed the book, I knew nothing was going to be fully resolved, more of a positioning of pieces on the board waiting for the dice to roll. The story centres around Queen Talanji and the fight to protect the loa of death, Bwonsamdi, from the plans os Sylvanas Windrunner.

The story is simple enough, if not predictable. I only say this because, as a player, I know what is coming and therefore what must happen. In some ways this makes the storytelling follow a predetermined path. Much like following a questline in the game.

The book is enjoyable, in-keeping with the lore tied to its characters and previous events. If you are not familiar with this, you will struggle to get the most out of it. I would have preferred something deeper and soul searching. Something exploring the heart of the characters as every great fantasy does. The close ties to World of Warcraft limit this. After all, it is essentially fan fiction, and there are moments of this, which I enjoyed. Because of this, I am unable to recommend the book to anyone who does not play the game. It is not a standard novel, but still a good one, with the aforementioned caveats.

It’s a short solid read, sadly. But as I said at the start, for fans only.

Who is She?

This piece is the opening of a new novel concept. It is written from a fixed point of view in a room, not from a person’s view.

After the acid, his vision was no more than silhouettes through net curtains. 

‘Does anyone know anything?’ Voices, whispering secrets, discoveries.

‘Have we any witnesses? It happened in broad daylight right in the centre of town,’ the sound carried on weighted breath, muted by the thick glass of the window. Its owner was just out of sight down the corridor.

‘None, sir. I knew him; from school. He helped everyone.’ A sigh of tears.

‘Well, no one is helping him today.’ The measured steps of authority faded away, the voices just a memory on the air.

They know nothing. 

 Curtain rings jangled, snatched open with a hiss of nylon. The bedside lamp painted the sheets with sick shadows. Hands: one balled in bandages, the other, rose-pink, gripped the air with intensity. A soft whir heralded the release of morphine. The rose unfurled, setting the victim adrift toward oblivion.

A jug of water stood next to an upturned glass, neither usable to the occupant. A burst of pollen brightened the dust on the bedside cabinet, a tear from the weeping lilies suffering in the gloom. A dressing gown hung from a wardrobe on a stained wooden coat hanger, its hook fingering the lip of the door.

In measured silence she steps around the bed to investigate the soft tapping at the window. She huffs out a sharp breath at the sight of the robin fixated by the red mites negotiating the dust boulders in their path. The bird hops the length of one foot and pecks another inch of the sill clean before vanishing in a blur of wings into the privet bailey protecting this infirmary from the paparazzi braying at the kerbside.

It’s a wonder anyone in the unit can get any rest. Never has the hospital been so exciting. Exciting to everyone but the occupants in room seven. To one, it is a refuge of pain. To the other, it is the pain of guilt. Guilt that brings her to his bedside. Guilt clawing at her breast to escape. Guilt that would drive a saint to pray. But she is no saint. Already she is plotting her escape. 

‘Did anyone see you arrive my dear? Do take a look at the photo by the bedside. Do you recognise the children playing in the pool?’ She shook the thoughts from her head.

Her heart pounds to the point of pain. She closes her eyes, tight, she bites her lip, turning the cherry white then red. ‘Why?’ She asks of the closing stillness. He lay there oblivious to the world: to her rage at him. ‘You brought this on yourself.’ She leans over him, her soft bosom close to his chest. ‘I hope you die for what you’ve done. You took everything from me. Everyone will see this as a result of how you lived. You’re lucky it’s only your face I got melted.’ Spittle dripped from her lips to his. She stood, ran her tongue over her lips, tasting the iron. ‘Is there no end to what you can do?’

She stood there, watching the slowness of his breathing. Was he unaware of her? Filthy bruises surrounded the site of the tracheostomy poking out of his throat like a robotic implant. The ventilator gasped into life. ‘Why don’t you just die!’ She kicked the bed, catching the pedal with her foot. A caterwaul of alarms screamed for attention. ‘Bastard’ she hissed slithering from the room beneath the crimson strobe of emergency light. She could hear footfalls hitting the floor with a clop and slap as they homed in on the alarm. She dared a final look through the glass. He was going nowhere, was telling no-one anything, he did not need a name. He had all he deserved burned into his precious face. She walked away, unfastened the white coat allowing it to flap around as she increased her gait and ran.

Self Edit Tips

Editing – you either love it or hate it. As a freelance editor who’s now clocked up twenty-five years in the publishing profession, clearly I love it. However, I know a lot of authors dread the E word.

For our purposes editing is the preparation of written materials for publication or presentation by correcting, revising or adapting. When you do this yourself, it’s self-editing. Whether you can ever self-edit adequately is a matter for debate. Generally you can’t. You are too familiar with your own work and the human eye is a devious thing. It will swear blind to your brain that you’ve written what you were trying to say and not notice a missing word or a spelling mistake.

How much editing should you do before you either hand your project over to a professional editor for a final polish or launch it directly into the market yourself? You should read your work through at least twice and tidy up as you do so. But not much more than that. I cringe when I come across authors saying they are on their sixth or seventh revision. That’s way too many. By that stage you’re only tinkering and obsessing. Stop. Let your baby go.

Stepahie Jane Dagg

 It can be hard to let your baby go!

So, to help with the editing process and make it as efficient as possible, here are a few tips on self-editing.

1. Spot your overused words and weed them out: we all have some that become our default words and we shove them in without really thinking. The usual culprits I’ve found over the years are these: just, a bit, however, though, a little, of course, in fact, said, stood, walked, nevertheless, nonetheless, seeing as, almost, really, surely, certainly, some, could only, suddenly, nice, lovely, immediately, rather, well, very, decided.

But how can you discover your own foibles? Select a passage of a current piece of your writing, say at least 1,000 words. Copy it and paste it to create a new document. Starting with the list of words above, now do a ‘find’ for each one of them, and note down how often it appears. Add other words that you know you’re prone to employing. Any of these words or phrases that are cropping up more than 5 times definitely need your attention, and any with 3 or 4 appearances could do with thinking about too. Replace them with a synonym or get rid of them altogether. Now critically read the new version and I’m sure you’ll see an improvement.

2. Names: keep a list of character names. And keep them as varied as you can. There are thousands upon thousands of names to choose from but it’s astonishing how many authors duplicate names or end up with a selection that are all very similar to each other – for example Jane, Joan, Jean, Joanne, Janet all appearing in one book. (There’s a definite bias towards names beginning with J I’ve noticed too!) There’s a very handy character name generator on my website here http://edit-my-book.com/name-generator.html to help you come up with a name if you’re stuck. Hugely successful indie author Kristen Ashley has quite a line in making up unusual names for her characters. If it works for her, then why not give it a shot too. Be inventive.

3. Style sheet: as with the list of names, you should keep one of these. A style sheet is where you jot down how you present your work. Will you use double quotation marks around speech (recommended) or single ones? Where will you use hyphenation? Will you capitalise certain nouns that aren’t proper nouns to give them extra emphasis in your story? And so on. The idea of the style sheet is to ensure consistency in your work. It’s not too late to compile one during your last read through.

4. Back to front and a different format: on your final proofread, work from the back, a page at a time. This gives you a whole new perspective on your story from seeing it in a very different way. This will make it easier to spot typos. You should also read your story through either printed out or on an ereader. Again, the different appearance of your MS from how you’ve usually seen it on the computer screen will help you spot mistakes more easily.

5. Don’t rush: take some time over your self-editing. Take plenty of breaks and even put the work aside for a few days before a final proofread. Mark Coker of Smashwords has said that one of the main mistakes indie authors make is being too impatient to publish. This will mean grumpy reviews that stick if there are silly grammatical or spelling mistakes, or a plot that was too hastily cobbled together and not thought through.

Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar. Fools rush in. More haste, less speed. There are plenty of age-old sayings advising against impetuosity and they hold true in this era of epublishing where the temptation is to throw ourselves into the digital stream as quickly as possible. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your writing, so don’t let yourself down by skimping on the last stages of production. Spend time on self-editing and editing and produce something that’s as professional as you can make it. Your writing is worth it.

Stepanie Jane Dagg

Current Work – Masterplayer

Three years ago I was asked to write a novel set in the Elizabethan era. I was interested in the challenge so I got stuck in. The amount of research required to bring any depth to such a work is demanding, but worth it.

Below is the opening passage, the year is 1588 and we are on the Royal barge.

“Majesty.” The Lord Mayor of London doffed his hat and bowed as Elizabeth strode past.
“Sir Martin.” The Queen gestured for the Mayor to follow on behind. “My barge is ready?”
“It is, your Majesty, all of the entourage and consort are in place awaiting departure.”
“Good.” Elizabeth walked down the ramp onto the barge through the corridor of oarsmen in their brilliant white jackets and bright red trousers, holding their oars at arms. Snatching up a cushion from her seat she turned around and flung it at Leicester, the Earl caught it in one hand, plumped it and promptly sat beside his queen. “What has your goat now, my goodly Majesty?”

The queen’s eyes narrowed for a breath which she released in a huff of impatience. “As if you have no idea.” She forced a smile.

The oarsmen took up their seats, nine to port and nine to starboard. The starboard contingent kept their oars high while the port side men pushed the barge out into the muddy waters of the River Thames. Two Yeoman Warders stood at the entrance to the royal enclosure ensuring Her Majesty and the Earl of Leicester would not be disturbed by anyone, not even the Lord Mayor of London. A string quartet of Black Moors began to play at the prow, filling the barge with their soft melodies. The gold work roses on their red velvet jackets glittered in the sun, sending light dancing across the deck.

“It pleasures me much.” Elizabeth waved a hand at the musicians who continued with their eyes lowered so as not to displease their monarch.

“Elizabeth, why do you tease?” Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, stroked his greying beard. “I have been as loyal as a man could ever choose to be. And yet and I was not to be yours,” he soughed.

“Perhaps, were it not for your scurrilous Commonwealth,” Elizabeth leaned across Leicester gesticulating wildly at the southern bank of the river. “Such magnificent animals.” She clasped her gloved hands to her mouth. “Who would keep such fine stock on the Marsh?”

“Are we going to discuss that matter at hand or are we just going to ignore it?” The Earl tugged his hat straight again.

Elizabeth slid her hands down her dress, resting them on her knees. She tapped her fingers twice, inspected the delicate stitching of her purple gloves, then snapped her head toward her good friend.
“I… never… wanted… this,” the Queen enunciated every word with a tilt of her head. “I wanted Dover.” She pushed herself back into her seat and folded her hands in her lap with her nose toward the sky.

“God’s strength,” the Earl muttered to the swirling eddies of the oars.
“Bridge approaching!” the Mayor cried out.

Shadows played upon the water, masking the excrement flowing on the tide. Bobbing corpses of cats and dogs made edible rafts for the sleek furred rats that feasted upon them. The ebbing tide could not drag the foul stench of yesterday’s London out of the city no matter how hard it tried. Buckets of filth poured from the triple-storied shops and tenements bordering the two lanes of traffic across the spans of London Bridge. Carts piled with goods from every city of the known world vied for carriageway alongside the dung-carts of the street cleaners. Two hundred thousand beating hearts fought for space on the overcrowded streets as England reveled in its triumphal glory.

“Gloriana, Gloriana,” the cheers of the peasantry hailed Queen and country as the Royal barge slipped beneath the bridge eastward toward Tilbury below the death gaze of the severed heads atop crude pikes.

“I shall be glad when we pass beyond the city limits with the Tower to our back and the green fields of England unroll before us.” Leicester winced as he adjusted the pillows in his ornately carved chair. “Was this seat meant to be sat on by noble blood?”

“Are you going to gripe all the way or must I issue a decree of silence?” Elizabeth scowled at her companion. Her eye was drawn to the plight of three men hanging from chains along the Southwark shore. “Clearly, the Liberties come at a cost.”

The Queen turned her attention to the opposite bank where the grey towers thrust up at the sky warded by the dark stone bailey, a challenge and threat to all would be invaders.
The Thames River meandered through the English countryside pulling the royal barge toward the sea. The number of traders and ferries dwindled as the city faded behind them. The sun slipped across the August sky, heading into the afternoon wastes as the royal party dined on hampers of provisions. Queen Elizabeth sipped wine from a golden goblet while the Earl of Leicester, her long-time consort, and suitor, regaled her with tales of heroism and conquest and of the young Lord Essex who even now was readying her troops at Tilbury.

“Tell me.” Elizabeth peered into the distance where small barges were aligning across the half-mile width of the Thames. “What are they doing? Why are so many assembled?”
The Queen reclined in her seat as the barge angled toward the northern shore and the sight of Tilbury Fort sitting amongst its spike palisade.

“Before I left here to collect you in person, I had them set a boom across the Thames. Should the vile Spanish make passage up the river, they will strike the anchored masts.”
“Will it work?” Elizabeth smiled.

“I hope not to find out.” The Earl of Leicester rose to his feet as the barge nested against the jetty. “Take care, my Queen, the moorings are not fastened, and the lands here are soft underfoot.”

“I would like to inspect the troops before traveling to Saffron House,” Elizabeth strode from the barge toward the main gate.

“Essex will have everything ready for the morrow, Majesty, will it not wait until then?”
Elizabeth spun around, “It may.” Glaring at Leicester, she snapped, “I will not.”

“As you wish,” Leicester lowered his head, allowing Elizabeth to continue on foot to the Blockhouse.

I hope to be finishing Masterplayer over the next couple of months so that I can return to my fantasy saga, the Dark Mistress will not wait forever.

Guest Author Cyci Cade

10 Tips to improve productivity

CC Do you believe you are a productive person? Do you think you can be more productive in your work and personal life?
Productivity is the rate at which goods are produced or work is completed. Sometimes it seems a hard task due to interruptions and unforeseen extra work. Are you satisfied with your productivity at the end of the day or do you have the feeling that you should have done more? Do you work extra hours to accomplish your tasks?
Here are ten tips that will help you improve your productivity and have more time to enjoy your life.
1- Have a balanced life
You need time to work, sleep, eat, be with your family, do exercise, and relax. If it doesn´t happen, you have an unbalanced life and sooner or later you´ll notice the effects. Stress is a common problem that affects a great part of the population.
2- Have your meals (eat every 3 or 4 hours)
Glucose is one of the final products of digestion and the fuel of the brain. Without energy, the brain will work inefficiently. It´ll be more difficult to execute even the easiest tasks. The brain is the organ that needs more energy.
3- Keep a schedule
Some people believe that they will be more productive if they work extra hours. It is a myth.
Are you a multitask person? Well, multitasking makes you less productive because when you are focused on many things you don´t accomplish them perfectly. Keep your focus on what you are good and delegate the other tasks.
4- Create a to do list
Think of what you have to do and create a list, then, observe what are less important and eliminate these items from your list. Start to work on the most important item. Remember, in the morning, our ability to recall exact details, like names, places, dates… is bigger, it´s working the declarative memory. In the afternoon, predominates the semantic memory and we have more ability for tasks like to integrate new information with what we already know.
5- Relax
Anxiety drives you to imperfection. Don´t become an obsessive person. Keeping an organized agenda will help you to accomplish your work on time without stress.
6- Keep your desk organized and clean
It will help you think clearly, find things easily, and relax. Messy spaces give the impression that there are a lot to do and it isn´t necessarily true.
7- Limit the access to yourself
How many people have access to you? Do you use to talk with all of them? Do you answer all the calls? These interruptions slow you down. Every time you stop your work, you waste many minutes to restart it.
8- Take an hour or two to answer messages and make calls
Have a schedule to make calls and answer e-mails or messages that come from social media. Save an hour or two to do it, so you won´t be interrupted every time.
9- Avoid distractions
Unless you depend on social media and messengers to do your work, keep them turned off while you are executing a project. The brain takes twenty-five minutes to restart a work.
10- Sleep well

Don´t try to convince your body that you can sleep just a few hours and keep a rushed rhythm because it is a myth that will make you less productive. The amount of sleep needed can vary but it is around seven to ten hours per night. A tired brain is a slow brain.

DQKINDLEIf you think that you can improve your productivity, try to follow these tips. Make the changes and adaptations you think that will be necessary to adjust your lifestyle. Soon you will see the results.

Cyci Cade is writer, blogger, and designer. She is the author of Dragon´s Quest as well short stories as Son of Egypt, Perhaps Love, and The Princes. Find out more at www.cycicadebooks.com

Read the interview with Cyci Cade here.

Caitlin – A short story



The translucent sun shone through the candyfloss clouds lifting the morose from the sea.  Caitlin stood on the edge of the surf allowing the sea to foam between her toes, she giggled her laughter a melody of life. Her long copper curls flounced around her shoulders as she hopped from one foot to another while waiting for her footprints to be erased from memory.

It was a strange kind of day, the sun was bright but cool, the sand held no heat either, and there was no wind, not the slightest breath. Caitlin didn’t mind, she was content to run up and down the water’s edge kicking at the surf. She would stoop to grab handfuls of sand and throw them in the air in the vain hope of knocking a gull from the sky. She squealed and laughed, her delight as full as the ocean and its gently rocking tide.

Caitlin ran in and out of the sea as she ran and skipped her way along the beach toward the white-face cliffs and the lure of crabs and rockpools. Somewhere, she remembered, was her lunch. She had left it to splash in the warm pools. She smiled at the memory of food and warmth, and something else: family. She had not come by herself but the beach was deserted, there was only her in her pink and yellow dress and red jelly sandals.  Caitlin looked down at her feet, she could see her toes wiggling through the glittering plastic. Her smile broadened into a grin, she had never been so happy.

Once more time, she told herself, mustn’t get too wet or go out in the water. The ocean glittered invitingly. Caitlin ran, really ran, with all her might splashing as hard as she could at the water lapping her ankles and shins. The water hung in the air, Caitlin was sure she could see her green eyes smiling back at her from the droplets, briefly, before gravity spoiled the lustre of her diamond crown.

The urge to reach the cliffs was undeniable, mummy was there daddy too, he had taken the weekend off work to come along. The memory of her parents was swiftly swallowed by one of ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate sauce. It must be getting late, she couldn’t tell. Had she eaten? She was not hungry or thirsty despite all the running and sea spray.

It was not far now the cliffs were getting taller. A blue light flickered beyond the rise leading up to the coastal path, the carousel was open she loved the golden horses with their red leather reins and dipping run. The bright lights and spinning mirrors made the whole world brighter, happier. She would investigate later, daddy would lift her onto one of the horses and take her photo as she went around and around.

There were more lights as she walked along. Fragments of sound intruded on her silent world. A hiss of sea on a cluster of pebbles, the caw of a crow fixing her with its beady eye as she passed the deck chair abandoned to the elements, its tattered nylon seat a shred of its former glory. Caitlin shuddered. Putting her hand to her brow to shield her eyes from the sun she watched the clouds pull a shroud across the blue sky. It was then she noticed how the light glowed around her fingers making them appear see through at the edges. She pulled her hair over her face to see if that too went transparent in the sun, to her wonder, it too was filled with light.

Caitlin slowed, she had lost the excitement of running. Lost the wonder of the day, suddenly the whole world seemed a little darker. The cliffs no longer shone, she could see dark patches among the white chalk. Grasses hung tight to the cliff face inviting birds to come nest and create life. Caitlin gazed up as she walked along the beach. She saw a policeman talking to someone at the base of the cliff, his bright yellow jacket an eyesore against nature’s canvas. She wanted to go and speak to him but her feet were drawn elsewhere as though she was no longer in charge of her shoes and where they went. More people were up ahead, pointing at the rockpools and looking out to sea. The tide was going out now. She remembered it coming in, she was sure of it.

With her head crooked to one side, she watched the people on the rocks. A man held a woman tight against him, her body shuddered with every breath she took. She wore the same outfit as mummy, though she had never heard her mother much such a hollow cry. The man was daddy, she could see him clearly now as she climbed up on the rock beside them. Daddy’s eyes were as red as the streaks painted down his face by the rivulets of tears. They were both crying.

Caitlin climbed down into the rock pool. The plastic carrier bag her lunch was in wrapped around something sticking out of the rock. She remembered trying to use it as welly boot, she had put both feet in it at once stirring up clouds of sand as she shuffled about in search of hidden creatures.  That was when the sea came. A huge wet hand slapping her down into the pool. The water swirling around her as she struggled to get up, the bag shackled her feet. She wanted to scream but only bubbles came. She remembered the taste of salt, her head hurting, and then … the sun.

Now as Caitlin sat on the rock staring at the little girl in the yellow and pink dress with crabs crawling among her copper coloured hair she remembered it all. She remembered the water splashing over the rocks, how it ran down into the pool. How pretty it looked, tiny glittering streams running down the dark rocks filling the pool. She could hear the ocean roar as circled around her closing in. She was wet, very wet, mummy would be angry as the dress was new. Then it came, the hungry lion roaring as it swatted her with its immense paw. If she tried she could picture it, see it all, the sea, the sand floating in it blurring her vision.

Mummy was watching her now, she had never seen her so sad. Caitlin stood up and tried to speak but she had no words to say, she made no sound at all, the world was once again – silent. Mummy was looking right at her, not the girl in the pool but at her. She waved. Mummy blinked and sniffed, her chest stopped heaving, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Daddy was watching too; the policeman was looking the other way talking into his radio. Caitlin smiled. They smiled back. Caitlin waved. Looking nervously around them, her parents gave a tentative wave.

Caitlin took a step and jumped. The pool was wide but she made it without stumbling. They all stood there just staring at each other. A shaft of sunlight cut through a chink in the clouds illuminating them. Then Caitlin smiled, her green eyes dazzling. She waved a happy, vigorous wave. The sun reflected off the wet rocks in an effulgence of halos. Caitlin’s hair turned transparent in the brilliant wash of light. In the twinkling of an eye, she was gone. Her parents turned away leaving the little girl in the pink and yellow dress to rest.

The last thing they remembered was love

The Evolution of a writer

When I first began writing novels I was driven by story. I just had to keep on writing. Before one story ended my mind was whirring away on the next, and the next. I will be the first to admit that my early work is badly written, I even had a website called badlywritennovels.com (the single ‘t’ was deliberate). I have left them, The Rising, 3 Phaze and Lagoon, in their original state. Why? Because I no longer write like that. To edit them now would require a complete re-write which I am not going to do as I have other things I want to do. I see them as a reference point, the writing swamp where I began the long journey to the writer I am today.

Later books have been lost: A world lies bleeding and a King of Kings have both disappeared into the ether. Characters from King of Kings however have surfaced in Emun of Mor, which was published by Vamplit Publishing until the publisher ceased trading. Emun is another book which I now give away.

Emun of Mor was the first of my works to pass through editorial hands. Later, it was read by a writer friend who made suggestions to help improve the story, some of these I implemented though not all as the story was becoming to linear. This process did lead to do something unthinkable before: I cut the story into pieces. Instead of being 150 000 words I cut it down to 80 000. Then I took a knife to it and began to prune the story further. Then I wrote in all of the story which I had left out to meet the original word count.

Now I had a story which I felt to be what I wanted so I invested in grammarly.com as a pair of digital eyes to help me weed out more errors. I must have gone crazy at some point as I put a sample on Createspace.com in the hope of some feedback. What I got was the most constructive comment that I have ever had on the internet. I have no idea who the person was but their advice was absolutely bang on. After making the required adjustments I ran the text, now sitting at around 95 000 words back through Grammarly and fixed as much as I could.

Then, more madness. I went in search of an editor. A real editor. I scoured the internet, searched site after site, blog after blog until I got a single reply. I have never been any good at blowing my own trumpet, I just do not know how to do it with open honesty. I had sent out simple emails to a number of potential editor who all replied with ‘read my site’. I had, that’s why I sent the email! What I was really looking for was a real down to earth person who understood fantasy and what makes it tick. That and a price I could afford.

Several months went by while I finished getting the text to my best when I got the reply from Stephanie Jane Dagg. She like the sample which she had read and wanted to work with me. I stared at the screen in utter disbelief, somebody liked what I had written (and wanted more). We negotiated a price which the good lady cut to the bone and then let me pay in instalments! Wow! And Wow again!  Three months later it was all done. Edited, tweaked, edited again and then given a last once-over. There may still be the oddity that got through but I know that this time I need not feel ashamed about the final condition of my novel.

A couple of things remained to be done: the cover blurb, the cover and a synopsis.

For all of my other titles I did my own cover art but not this time. Having put so much effort into the text I was not about to throw it all away on the cover. It was then I discovered a hidden talent in the family. My niece, Sarah, is one talented girl. I sent Sarah a chapter from the novel from which I felt I could make a cover. When Sarah sent me the pencil sketch I was stunned. It was so different to what I had envisioned. So much better than I could have hoped. The next step was the ink over which highlighted some of the details lost in the scan of the pencil sketch. When Sarah sent over the final art I knew I had that ‘something’ different I needed. A cover which screamed ‘Young adult’ more than anything I could have ever scrape together.

The next item on the list was the cover blurb.

This is when you discover just how much knowledge your editor has about your story. Stephanie gave a set of guidelines: bullet points (she got to know my abilities real quick) to help point me in the right direction. It took me a couple of goes to get close before Stephanie stepped in and rejigged it all. I cannot thank the lady enough for all of her help. Now, all that remained was to write the synopsis. And it still remains to be done until this day. So I will not be approaching any traditional publishers just yet.

At the end of it all, what you end up with a better tool set with which to work. I no longer make the same mistakes I used to make (I make others instead). I have slowed down, become more thoughtful in my writing and walk through fights scenes and other events in my mind. I am more aware of what every character is doing in each scene and what impact simple things might have upon their futures. I savour the victories and consider the pain. I share in every success and thrill in the chase of dragons.

To all those who are setting out on the path to writing I cannot emphasise enough the importance of giving it your best. Never settle for ‘that’ll do’ when your best is what the readers deserve. Giving it your best is what is best for you as writer. You will grow faster as a writer the more respect your readers. At the end of the day it’s the readers who matter. We as indie writers will only do harm to our industry if we do not give it our best at all times.