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How to prepare for writing lots in one month (or NaNoWriMo)

Yup, it’s almost that time of year again when a large chunk of the world wide writerly community goes crazy in the attempt to cram as many story telling words into one month as possible in the aim of having actually got their ideas out onto paper so they have something to work with and polish up, no matter how crap those original words are.

Now I’ve managed to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge the last three years running somehow (typically 50k words in one month) and I’m of course up for doing it again as it tends to be my most productive month of the year even if I’ve come close a few other times. I have found the best NaNoWriMo’s though are the ones where I actually put some planning in and knew what I wanted to write in advance.

I’m not much of a planner, in fact I come much closer to the pantser type of writer, but for November I’m much more of a planner than normal. Instead of having a few scribbled plot notes of scenes in my ideas notebook to go on and mostly ignore, for NaNo I usually spend the last couple of weeks in October mulling over plot details. Important character decisions and the main scenes where important matters happen or dialogue is said are the things I focus on.

This usually leads me to the plot points I’m not sure on yet. By thinking over the scenes and what might link them it forces me to decide on stuff that needs to happen that I normally leave until I’m writing the book. This can be minor details like what someone is doing in a scene while a conversation is happening or it can be a big detail like the motive for an action or even the entire plotline for a less major character who needs to be given more detail. It can even lead to me realising I need another POV character or something as fundamental to the writing as that. I also find it helps me do my research in advance. Knowing the science, history or forensics before the scene is written usually helps me imagine it that much quicker.

As a pantser I often don’t plan too much because I don’t want to take the fun out of writing, and I know other pantsers say the same thing about why they don’t do detailed plans, but whatever your method and whatever your reasons, to get the wordcount at the end, it definitely helps to have thought through enough that there’s no stopping to work out important details that could have already been fixed.

The final thing I try and do to get me off to a good start is harness the part of the book I write best. I know from my own writing habits that the first 25% of any story and the last 10% go the quickest for me. I love delving into a new plot and I love getting close to the end, so I harness this for NaNoWriMo, especially if I’m stuck. I almost always start something new for NaNo (the rules say you’re meant to anyway, but plenty of people cheat) and push myself to get ahead while writing that 25% because I know I’ll find it easier and it will provide me with some grace if I get stuck after.

I’ve also been known to give up on the story I started for NaNo and write a complete shorter work to give me a boost. I did this last year and wrote the first 39k of Sherdan’s Country before switching to write the entire 21k of my novella in the Kiss anthology, which I penned down in only 6 days towards the end. With the little bits I did in the few final days I entirely rescued my NaNo target and smashed it by over 10k, hitting almost 62k by the end of the month. Technically I cheated. I didn’t quite get to over 50k in one story, but I had a completed novella and was over half way through the novel I originally wanted to write and that’s a success for me.

This year I’m going to start with my Mycroft Holmes Adventures 2 novella and then when I’ve got that done, if I’ve had time to plan 3 I’ll try and write 3 as well, if not continue on with finishing Hearts of the Seas 2, Victorious Ruin. Whatever I write though I’m aiming for at least 60k. I’ll be blogging about my progress each tuesday through November for those who want to see if it goes according to plan or not.

Sherdan’s Country Pre-order

There’s only 2 and a bit weeks to go until Sherdan’s Country is available in ebook format.

The book is available to pre-order and you can pick up the first one free here if you’ve not got started on the series yet. If you haven’t read the previous two and don’t mind some spoilerness here’s the blurb:

With Utopia established but no longer under his control Sherdan finds himself with no where to go. Wanted dead by the British government and the new leader of Utopia, he must find a way to take back what’s rightfully his, but even his normal allies are wary of getting involved in this fight.

Can Anya keep him alive while convincing those who hate him to help? And even if they do, will the cost be worth it?

Sherdan’s Country is the third instalment in the Sherdan series and continues the roller-coaster ride of emotions and suspense as the super-humans Sherdan has created fight for independence and freedom.

The book will go live on October 24th at 1 minute past 12 in the morning PST which is just after 8am in the UK. If you’d like to pre-order the book and get it sent straight to your kindle, you can do so here. At the moment that’s the only type you can pre-order on but it should be evailable eventually on Apple, Nook and Kobo.

Guest Post: Character Spotlight

Today’s blog is a guest post by Doug Solter, the author of Skid (which is free here) and the just released Skid 2: Rivals as part of his new release blog tour. So here’s a spotlight with a twist on his main character, Samantha Sutton.

Excerpt from the magazine article A Girl and Her Race Car by Emma Hobbs, assistant editor, Look Smashing Magazine.

The Berlin traffic rolled along the Friedrichstrasse, past a small cafe named the Little Elephant. The early afternoon sun casted a shadow across my wood table, courtesy of the large awning in front of the cafe itself. A gentle breeze played with the leafs of the flowers that add color to my table as a place setting.

I’m here to meet Samantha Sutton, a young woman of only eighteen years who races cars in that macho-infused sport known as Formula One, a glamorous world of men and their expensive toys traveling the world to race cars in between the party-like atmosphere of the international jet-set. The sport draws royalty, the ultra-rich, and Hollywood celebrities like moths to bright light. But inside this testosterone-laced world Samantha Sutton is quite unique. No, it’s not the obvious fact that she’s the only girl racing in Formula One. It’s the surprising fact that she’s beating all the boys in Formula One. With six race wins on her record, all within her rookie year, Samantha Sutton proved that not only can woman compete equally in the sport. They can win.

Samantha arrived late to our appointment wearing a short white skirt and matching shirt which listed all the racing team’s sponsors. Her short dark hair appeared slightly damp, as if still drying from a quick trip to the shower.

“Jeez. I’m so sorry. My other thing ran late and I was rushing to get ready for this. Huge apologies, Emma, seriously.” Samantha glanced over to her assistant, a girl who appeared just as young as her. “Do you want anything?”

Samantha ordered two coffees and a piece of cake in German, flavored with a slight Bavarian accent. We talked while waiting for their coffee. Samantha remarked about how busy her life has become since her first season in Formula One.

“Last season everyone ignored me until half-way through when I began winning races. Now it’s like, non-stop. It’s completely crazy with all the parties, fan events, sponsor events, racing the car, my love life—” The girl stopped herself abruptly. What about her love life? It caused me to wonder if a teen girl who is forced to grow up so fast can find time for boys.

Maybe not.

When Samantha received her coffee, we began the official interview.

“Why auto racing?” I asked. “What excites you about the sport, Samantha?

“It’s the rush of adrenaline I get from being on the circuit. Making the car dance around the turns and do what I want. It’s like standing on a mountain cliff and holding your foot over the drop, knowing that you could die if you took that last step. But for some reason, you know that you can hold it there on that edge and somehow not fall.”

“Is it safe to say you love taking risks?”

“Not on purpose,” she said. “Not if it means someone else might get hurt. But I can be impulsive sometimes and that’s where I get into trouble.”

“The pressure to win and be successful must be enormous,” I said. “How do you cope?”

“I eat tons of chocolate ice cream,” she grinned. “Just kidding. Um—I try to push all the negative thoughts away and focus on what I can do in the race car. Everything else I don’t have control over and I have to keep telling myself that. But I’d be lying if I said there were days the pressure didn’t get to me.” Samantha hesitated and took a sip of her coffee. Her thoughts lingered on the last portion of her answer.

“Does your family travel with you during the season?” I asked.

“Well, my sister Paige is here this season.” Samantha referenced her assistant. “But the rest of my family are still in Oklahoma. They have their own lives.”

I swirled what was left of my cup of tea and drank, the strong, tangy flavor a reminder of the girl sitting across the table. Even in this relaxed atmosphere there was a burning determination in her eyes. A fire or relentless energy percolated behind them. “Tell me about your normal day,” I said. “What’s your normal routine on a race day, for instance?”

Samantha swallowed her coffee and thought about it. “I get up early in the morning and do some light exercise, most of the time running on a treadmill. I eat a light breakfast and then I paint my nails.” She balks at my reaction. “One of my racing day rituals is painting my nails the color of my race car.”

“A good luck charm?” I asked.

“Exactly. So far it’s worked. I then go to the circuit and have a car briefing with my crew and we go over our strategy for the race. After that I will do a few interviews with the press. Before the race itself I’ll have a protein-rich lunch. Lot of carbs like pasta and roasted chicken. Plus I drink gallons and gallons of water all morning so my body is well hydrated. Also we do a driver’s parade around the track, waving at all the fans around the circuit. Eventually I climb into the race car and put myself into the zone and focus on the race.”

“Samantha, when did you first know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?”

“My dad got me started racing karts when I was ten. He already loved racing and I think he was disappointed that he had three daughters. Not to say that my dad didn’t absolutely love us, because he always did. But growing up, none of us were particularity interested in racing.” Samantha’s face brightened, as if reliving that moment in her life again. “Then one day my dad was watching one of his favorite racing movies called, Grand Prix. That day I was so bored I jumped on the couch and watched it with him. Something about that movie attracted me to racing and from then on, I would spend more and more time with dad in his make-shift garage he had in the barn.”

Samantha hesitated again, her eyes danced a bit in her head, as if the memories of her father were flashing vividly through the girl’s head. “Dad built me a racing kart and encouraged me to try it. I was extremely shy back then and I didn’t have any confidence in myself at all. But when I drove that kart, I felt alive and free. And I picked up on racing fast. Dad taught me how to drive and eventually he entered me in races. And I started to win a lot of them. Seriously, the boys would hate it when I showed up at the track. They didn’t want to race against me. I loved it. I knew that I wanted to do this forever because I loved how racing made me feel. I didn’t feel like that shy girl no one would pay attention to. Behind the wheel of a race car, I was someone special. People couldn’t ignore me. Plus I could feel good about myself.” She glanced up. “Am I rambling too much? I have a tendency to do that when I’m nervous.”

I asked Samantha a few more questions about her father. Samantha fidgeted in her chair and acted uncomfortable around the subject which I found odd since she talked about her father so fondly before. There was something about him she was hiding and I didn’t quite know what it was.

A young man walked off the street and into the Little Elephant cafe. Samantha’s sister Paige greeted the boy warmly and sat with him at the table adjacent to us. He wore his blond hair long and had a handsomely meek way about him. The young man smiled at Samantha.

The girl I was interviewing brightened like a fire doused with petrol. Her body language changed immediately. She gave the boy a wave and couldn’t take her eyes off of him. When I asked Samantha a question about dealing with her fans, she gave me a less than satisfactory answer. So I decided to confront the disturbance to our interview.

I held out my hand to the young man. “Emma Hobbs. Look Smashing Magazine. What is your name?”

The boy shakes my hand. “Manfred. Pleasure to meet you.”

A hunch entered my mind and I decided to follow it. “Please excuse my forwardness, but are you Samantha’s boyfriend by chance?”

Manny blushed like a rose and became unable to answer me with words.

Samantha emulated her bashful friend. The girl flashed a smile reserved for close friends sharing an inside joke or thought. “Well? Are you my boyfriend?”

Manfred smiled. “I don’t know. Are you my girlfriend?”

The girl and the boy stared at each other. Obviously having a conversation in their own silent language that no one else was invited to join.
Paige, the third wheel in this relationship, rolled her eyes. “Oh my God. Stop being such dorks. This reporter isn’t stupid. Yes, of course they’re together. Can’t you see my sister panting like a dog when he’s around?”

Samantha leaned over and whacked her sister across the arm. No doubt a leftover response from when they were children. “I don’t pant like a dog.” Samantha sat up in her chair and went back into professional mode. “I’m sorry, Emma. Let’s get back to the interview. Manfred—let’s say that he’s an important part of my racing life.” She flicked her eyes toward the young man. “I wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for him.”

I tried digging deeper into that statement. But Samantha refused to reveal anything more.

As I concluded our interview with a few questions about how she saw her future, Samantha relaxed as she sensed the end of our interview was soon at hand. She’s a pleasant young lady, but giving interviews to reporters wasn’t on her list of favorite activities to do on a warm Saturday afternoon in Berlin. I couldn’t blame her. I was eighteen once. Even though the race car driver who faced me treated our interview like a professional, the girl underneath the helmet and racing suit still wanted to be with her boy. Still wanted a taste of being young and in love on the warm streets of Berlin. She still longed to be a normal teenager.

But the one question I didn’t get answered was… after all she’s been through, could the racing star Samantha Sutton ever be a normal girl again?

If you enjoyed reading about Samantha and want to know more about the books and author, you can find Skid free at all sorts of ebook stores, including amazon.com and .co.uk and you can check Doug out on facebook and twitter or his own website.

And finally there’s a lovely rafflecopter giveaway for all sort sof goodies below

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Branching Plot Novels: How-to

Otherwise known as a Choose Your Own Adventure, although that title for them is trademarked so sometimes they’re also known as a Decide Your Own Adventure, but they’re all forms of Branching Plot Story.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been writing my very own Branching plot novel and blogging it (see all the Angel of the Sands episodes if not) and I have been putting together the parts not chosen in the background as we’ve gone along. It’s not the first time I’ve written a story like this and allowed readers to decide what they’d like to happen next, but it is the first time I’ve tried to put together all the different possibilities into one file to potentially publish.

When I looked into how to go about making a branching plot novel I didn’t find that much information. I found quite a few blogs and websites that talked about the flow of the different branches and how they’ve evolved in the book that were published through the years, but little that went through how to design one from scratch, so I thought I’d blog about how I did it.

Left and up a little is a snapshot of the way I mapped it out so I could see all the branches on one piece of paper. According to the pictures of the others I saw this is a lot more complicated than most are, but hey, I like complicated. One thing I noticed early on was that I had way too much plot and far too many options. It really helps to have an idea of the end point and try to keep it so the branches come back to those points.

To keep the plot straight in my head as I built the tree diagram of the options I also created a word document with the corresponding numbers at the top of each page and an outline of what it needed to cover as well as the options and which number they led to. I essentially wrote out a detailed outline of the plot as I was mapping it, which is something new for me. Normally I have a basic outline not a detailed one, but I found I really needed it.

I also marked the sections on the tree where the same event happens but with variations, so I knew that all the branches had to eventually pass through these. Like a particular attack that happens regardless of everything that’s come before. Despite all my branches there are only 4 different versions of the attack and somehow all the branches come together at those 4 points and feed through. Likewise with a ceremony. All these are circles on the map and I’ve labeled them. In the picture you can see a few marked C, these are ceremony points.

The boxes are where it goes to another number in the tree but it’s too far away so I’m not drawing an arrow and making it messier and then finally the triangles are my endings. I have 11 of them if you count the two deaths. It was a few more than I wanted but I found I had to stop my plot sooner, so there’s lots of endings of various degrees of awesome.

So my advice on making a branching plot novel. Keep the plot fairly short. No more than a 10k story if you only went through one set of branches, keep your options to smaller numbers and keep bringing them back in towards pivotal moments so your branches are regularly trimmed down and don’t overload you. And come up with some sort of system so you know where the branches lead, like the tree I drew or your own equivalent. Also, if you don’t particularly like the idea of doing it all yourself, there does seem to be this handy software. I’ve not tried it but I have heard good things about it.

Lots of New

I’ve got quite a few new things to tell you all today. All of them very exciting.

As the third Sherdan book is about to be released the first two are also moving into their second editions and as such the covers have been re-done. So here’s the very lovely set of all three!

For now the 1st edition print books will still be available, but I’ll make an announcement when the second edition is available. This does also mean it really won’t be long until sherdan’s Country is available in both ebook and print form. The book should go live on Amazon in the next week or two and then be available to pre-order as an ebook.

On top of that exciting news, I also have the awesome announcement that I’m working on a collaboration with the best-selling sci-fi author Tom Harris. We’ve begun writing and I love what we have so far. It’s going to blend his fast-paced action style with my typical adventure with a hint of romance sort of feel to deliver an action packed emotional ride. It’s more urban fantasy than sci-fi, and has a vampire twist, but I’m sure you’ll all love it.

I’m also sure you’ll totally love Tom’s work. I’ve been munching my way through his novels in the Human Chronicles series and he’s just released the first novel in a new series, that you can find on amazon.com or .co.uk and pictured to the left. For today and tomorrow it’s discounted 40% so snap a copy up quickly. I’ve got mine!

I’m sure we’ll announce the title and all sorts of other exciting details about our collaboration soon, so look out for more info on that and Sherdan’s Country over the next few weeks.

Angel of the Sands: Part 8

You hesitate over your reply, allowing your mind time to think over the offer. So far he has been kind to you and he did save your life. Alone in the desert you would have died.

When you turn back to him, he’s still gazing at you, studying your face, looking for your reaction. After a moment you nod.

“Yes, I’ll marry you,” you say and suck in your breath. You’ve said it now, and as a smile breaks over his face and he gets to his feet you know you are unlikely to be able to take it back.

He yells a short sentence to his people and cheering erupts. Now the tribe knows of your decision as well. A moment later he shouts it again. Another round of whooping and delight comes back from the tribe, this time more join in.

Before you can react to the noise and decide if you want the attention he turns to you and pulls you to your feet. With another yell he lifts you up into the air and sits you on his shoulder like you weigh nothing. Your face flushes as more and more cheering joins his cries of the same phrase, until you can’t hear anything but the constant roaring of the tribe.

Unable to get off from your perch you have no choice but to let him walk you towards his horse, while you cling to one of his hands and his opposite shoulder to help keep your balance. A procession of people follow you and watch as he places you on the horse and gets up behind. After snaking his hands around your waist and gripping the reigns he encourages his horse into a slow walk. You shiver, despite the heat and his arms wrap a little tighter around you, holding your torso against his.

“Do not be afraid, Angel. You’ve made a wise decision. As a member of my tribe and my Khaadel the other Khaad will be forced to respect you.”

“I only know you a little better than others.”

“True, but we will have many years to get to know each other after our wedding. I look forward to it.” He settles one arm against your stomach, gripping the reigns in the other hand and you lapse into silence. As it has seemed since you found yourself in the desert there is little choice but to go along with events and now Temullgei, and his plans for you.

As the tribe gather around you to move towards the Khaadain once more you notice all the riders who rested in the shade with Temullgei position their horses in a circle around him and now you. Between them, they keep watch from all directions and converse with Temullgei in their language.

The sun shines brightly down and the afternoon feels as if it is growing hotter, making you grateful that you’re travelling away from it and his body shields you from the worst of the sweltering sun.

You fidget a little as time goes by, finding the constant movement of the saddle beneath you making you sore. Each time you do the arm across your stomach tenses, but he says nothing and doesn’t slow his horse.

“I’m getting tired,” you say after a few hours.

“We still have time to go before we can stop. It is not good to camp here.” He motions around you and brings the terrain to your attention. Little grows here, just sand and more sand. “We need to reach those trees.”

He lifts an arm and points ahead to the smudge on the horizon. You sigh and fix your eyes on it, hoping to will it closer, but they barely seem to move. Silence fills the air as the rest of the tribe struggles under the same heat, but eventually you find yourself right at the edge of the large expanse of trees.

As soon as Temullgei stops his horse you try to get off but he tightens both hands around your torso.

“Not yet,” he whispers in your ear before getting down and helping you off the horse as well. No one else gets off their horses until he nods and you realise that you almost went against some form of cultural norm.

“You have to dismount first?” you ask in a low tone as he guides you to the shade of the nearest tree.

“Yes, it is our way. The Khaad first, then his Khaadel, then the Dempair, my riders,” he explains. When your servants run up to attend to you and fan you some more he gives them several orders that you don’t understand and they hurry off again. You begin to suspect that in agreeing to be his wife you have lost some of the command you held over the rest of his people. He is now above you, despite his insistence that you are an Angel.

“I would like to take a bath this evening,” you say a moment later when it appears that you are going to stand and wait for your tent to be erected. He raises his eyebrows and stares at you.

“It would help me feel less sore,” you explain when he says nothing in response, feeling a little like you are justifying your actions when you shouldn’t have to.

“As you wish.” He finally shifts his focus from you and says something to the next servant as she comes past. You can only assume that he has passed on your request for you. Unsure what else to do you go to sit but he grabs your hands and stops you before you can fully perch.

“Ooguair,” he snaps. It sounds like he said no, but you can’t be sure. As you frown at him he points to a spot less than a foot from where you were trying to sit. A small scorpion squats in the sunlight on a leaf. You shiver and take a step away from it and towards him. You don’t take your eyes off the creature until Temullgei laughs.

“Our Gerd will be ready soon, my Angel. Until then, stay close.” As if to emphasise his point he puts his arm around you and almost pins you to his side. Awkwardly you tuck your arms around his waist as well and find yourself pressed closer to his bare chest than you’d have liked, but he smiles his satisfaction at the arrangement.

You find your cheeks flushing read again and eagerly follow your servants when they come to let you know the tent is ready for you. Temullgei follows, your hand ensnared in his so you can’t get too far ahead.

The first thing you notice when you enter is a large metal tub sitting near the fire. It’s empty but one of the younger girls brings in a pitcher of water and pours it in while you wait beside. The water steams and brings the first real smile to your face all day.

“We will arrive at the Khaadain tomorrow,” he says as he walks past you. You nod, grateful for the information.

A small screen is erected beside the tub, but it only covers one side and you notice Temullgei lingers where he would be able to see you before sitting down on the cushions nearby. When the girls finish filling your bath with water you also see them checking the height with Temullgei. He nods and sends them away with a flick of his hand. Immediately your main serving girl comes up and holds out her hands to suggest she should start undressing you. Your eyes widen and you take a small step back, glancing between her and the Khaad. They exchange a few sentences that you don’t understand and he chuckles several times, before getting up.

“I will check on my tribe and be back when the food is ready,” he says and walks out. You exhale with relief. For a moment you thought he was going to watch you bathe and his actions all afternoon have kept you similarly on edge. You wonder if you’ve made the right choice, but you’re not sure if you could change your mind now, even if you wanted to. And tomorrow you will be presented to the Khaadain.

This story is entirely free to the reader and will continue to be throughout, but as you might have gathered from the website around this I make my living from writing fiction. This post is over 1000 words long and took me a few hours to write and polish. Although it’s definitely not a must, if you enjoyed this and want to say thank you in a monetary fashion please consider becoming a patron of mine at Patreon (a lot like kickstarter but more of a pledge per episode/installment sort of thing). You can also say thank you by sharing this with friends who might enjoy it or dropping me a message here or through my email address.

Three For All, And All For Free

Yup, that’s right there’s three freebies you can pick up that I want to tell you about (actually there’s four but End of the Road has been free for a while now).

The first is only free for a few days. Sherdan’s Prophecy in kindle format is available free on all good Amazon sites until close of day Sunday. If you’ve not yet tried my sci-fi, it’s a good start to the genre and quite different to my historical novels, although there’s plenty of action still.

Also free of mine and in need of some help making it free on amazon is Wandering to Belong on Smashwords, Apple, Nook and many other places. If people would like to see it free on Amazon they should report the Apple link to them under there report a lower price section. This is another great introduction to my fantasy genre and all the tales I’ve got written in the same world.

Finally, my most recent release is a sci-fi story set in space and is one of the stories featured in the Kiss anthology, also currently going through the process of being price-matched, but you can grab a free copy on Smashwords. My story is the last one in the anthology but don’t just skip to the end. There’s a lot of great stories in there from some authors I love.

Mycroft and Sherlock: Chapter 1

So I’ve been writing something I totally didn’t plan to write lately. I got bitten by the Sherlock bug but in a new way, so here’s a chapter from some fan fiction, written from Mycroft’s POV.

The rain pattered on the windows as Mycroft was driven through the dreary streets of London. He frowned at the typical English weather. He’d been in his house, working, for ten straight days and it annoyed him to find it raining the minute he needed to leave and see his brother. On top of splotching his tailored suit it made the traffic worse.

As the car pulled up outside Sherlock’s flat he turned his nose up at the familiar sight. The number on the door was loose and it was almost never straight. No matter how many times he neatened it by his next visit it was crooked again. Today was no different.

His driver rushed around to the side of the door with a large black umbrella and Mycroft stepped out into the cold, narrowly missing the puddle at the side of the road. An almost identical umbrella with a silver plated handle dangled from Mycroft’s left hand and he realised he’d never used it to keep the rain off himself. After raising and lowering his eyebrow he strode through the flat door, knowing it wouldn’t be locked. He paused for the briefest second to shuffle his feet on the doormat while his chauffeur shut the door behind him and went back to the shining black vehicle to wait.

Sherlock’s housekeeper and landlady, the widowed Mrs Wintern, peered around the edge of the living room door. When she noticed it was him she retreated back inside. Knowing she’d be scurrying off to make tea, whether he would be there long enough to drink it or not, he climbed the wooden steps up to the familiar flat. None of them creaked but he’d had plenty of years practice at putting his feet in the right places to ensure his arrival was unnoticed.

Three steps from the top Mycroft paused. Mixed in with the usual scent of dust, damp and body odour was the faint traces of perfume. He knew it could only mean Sherlock had a visitor, probably a client. It only took a few seconds for Mycroft to weigh up his options in light of this discovery. He needed Sherlock to begin investigating at once and couldn’t let a client stop him. As he took the last few steps he searched his memory for the name his brother used now. By the time he rapped his knuckles on the door, Sebastian was floating across the back of his mind. Whoever was with his brother would know him as Sebastian Holmes.

Without waiting for an answer he twisted the door knob and strode into the room. Both occupants turned to face him and he scanned the extra person for information. She wore a black corset, styled to look like a waistcoat from the front but laced down the back, over the top of a deep red blouse. The red skirt almost touched the floor but a slit up one side revealed size seven black boots with a small chain running behind the two inch heels. The corset took her waist in from what would have been twenty five inches to twenty three and her mid-brown hair was up in a netted bun on the back of her head. As she turned he also noticed she deftly held a fountain pen in her right hand. Both hands had fingerless gloves that were made of the same material as a jacket over the arm of a nearby chair.

She smiled and the corners of her eyes wrinkled to match the upturn of her lips. Whoever she was she spent a lot of time writing; there were no ink marks on her despite the style of pen, and she was comfortable and relaxed in the odd mix of old fashioned and modern clothing.

“Myron! To what do I owe this pleasure?” Sherlock said in his usual sarcastic manner, although he knew the woman wouldn’t have picked up on the disdain laced in every word. It took him a fraction of a second longer to respond as he took in the pictures of people and places on the board beside them. She had to be a client with all the information presented, although not directly involved, an observer with a vested interest.

“Let me introduce my guest, Amelia Jones.” Sherlock motioned to her. “She’s a writer. Amelia, this is my brother, Myron Holmes.”

She swapped the pen over to her other hand and took a few steps towards him, her right outstretched to shake his. He glanced at her offering but kept his right hand in his trouser pocket and his left gripping the umbrella. Whoever she was, Sherlock had used her first name, something he’d not done since his days with John Watson. Mycroft frowned and the woman returned to her position by the board, giving no indication that she was bothered by the snub.

“I need to talk to you, brother of mine,” Mycroft said when he realised the case on the board still held both their attention.

“In a moment, you’ll be interested in this. This man is an undercover agent, working a case to find a stolen diamond.” Sherlock pointed to the man’s picture and then to the woman’s, “She’s unmarried, no kids, parents are dead and no one else in her life and we’re trying to figure out how she was blackmailed and how he finds out before he has her arrested.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes but took a look at the information anyway. He wanted to know how this Mrs Jones was involved. If the diamond had been hers it wasn’t something she was attached to, perhaps a family heirloom she didn’t care for.

“How was the diamond taken?” he asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve not written that part yet,” she said, fixing her blue eyes on him. “I was thinking she might seduce the security guard or get him drunk. She’s an amateur under pressure so it can’t be too difficult.”

Mycroft raised his eyebrows before he noticed Sherlock grinning at him. He sneered in response. When Mrs Jones went to continue talking he put his hand up, cutting her off.

“This is a fictional scenario?” he asked, his voice dripping with disdain at the very concept.

“Yes. It’s what I do for a living. Sebastian helps me get all the facts straight.”

“He does, does he?”

She nodded and waited for him to continue but he had no desire to make her feel more comfortable. She glanced at his brother.

“So… Why are you here, brother. You don’t visit unless you need something,” Sherlock said, taking the focus back off his guest.

“I think we ought to discuss that in private.” Mycroft looked pointedly at Sherlock’s client, hoping she’d get the hint and hurry from the building but she didn’t move.

“Nonsense, if it’s a case, Amelia can help. She’s been proving most useful in my own work, and besides, she helped with the last case you gave me.”

“She did?” Mycroft’s annoyance grew. Somehow he’d missed Mrs Jones being a regular in Sherlock’s life and he shouldn’t have done.

“I did?” She raised an eyebrow and her own surprise made him feel a little better. Sherlock laughed and nodded.

“Come on, out with it brother. What do we need to investigate?” While Sherlock spoke Mrs Jones lifted the board from the two hooks it hung on, revealing a second blank white board underneath. Mycroft coughed and then pulled the printout of the intercepted email from his inside jacket pocket.

“I received this coded message from a suspected terrorist account.” Before Mycroft could begin reading it Sherlock took the paper out of his hands and wandered off with it, leaving both him and Mrs Jones standing and waiting as Sherlock read it.

“It’s not a skip code…”

“It’s nothing logical, I assure you,” Mycroft said before Sherlock could list everything he already knew it wasn’t.

“Read it aloud.” Mrs Jones said. Mycroft frowned as Sherlock did just that. He would have done one anyway but now he was sure a background check on her would be needed.

Hiya,

Totally failed today – My ringtone went off at the funeral – I’ve got it set to Staying Alive. :AwkwardFace: I suppose I’d already made it hard on myself, the deceased had bought me one of those ugly Christmas jumpers and I wore it to the funeral. My mother told me to take it off and I don’t think she was very impressed when I told her I’d rather cry in a BMW. Then to top my day off I got rick rolled.

Thankfully my kids were cute when I got home – when I asked the eldest what she wanted for dinner she said, ‘I can has cheeseburger?’ and grinned. Later when I was playing a board game with the twins and I lost they came out with, ‘All your counters are belong to us’, their English is getting better each day. When I was a kid my dad used to swear and say ‘pardon my French – I still remember when my school teacher asked if anyone spoke a foreign language and I put my hand up. :SmileyFace:

It might be a while before I communicate again, I’m staying with relatives and they don’t know their own wi-fi password. FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU. The kids are excited, they said they can get their pink unicorn back, I didn’t even know they had one.

Geoff

By the time Sherlock had finished, Mrs Jones was curled up on the chair, clutching her sides and crying as she tried to stop her almost silent laughter.

What’s so amusing?” Mycroft demanded when she didn’t stop as soon as the letter was over. She wiped her eyes and sat up straight again.

It’s internet memes. For example, all your counters are belong to us, is a miss-quote of all your base are belong to us from a badly translated game. I can has cheeseburger is a phrase on a lolcat, and I think there was a confession kid in there, as well as the mention of being rick rolled.” She picked up the pen and wrote out the entire letter. Once she’d finished she circled phrases in the text and linked them to the names of the internet memes. Mycroft watched and waited, wanting to see where she was going with it. If it solved the email he could get back to his house and away from her.

She stood back and put both her hands on her hips, staring at the letter now in her neat but ornamented hand-writing.

The punctuation is strange, and not right in the slightest,” she said a moment later, when no one else did anything.

Each full stop marks the end of a coded section, that much is easy to work out,” Mycroft said. His brother nodded and stole the pen from Mrs Jones, their fingers brushing past each other as he did. Mycroft sneered again, although both had their backs to him and wouldn’t have noticed. He almost wished they had.

Sherlock put a line in where each sentence ended to break the message up and then she pulled the pen from his hand and wrote in another meme at the end of the letter. After a minute of browsing something on her phone she wrote in two more, completing the final paragraph with:

First World Problems
Rage comic
Invisible Pink Unicorn

Mycroft saw the message and smiled. It pleasantly surprised him that she was on the right track.

The first letters from the first part of Friday,” he said, knowing his brother wasn’t paying attention and should be. He stepped closer so the whole thing was easier for him to read.

It looks like each paragraph is a word,” she said and smiled at him. He ignored her. She was right but that didn’t mean he had to like her or praise her for it.

The second word has an A and C in the middle and has four letters,” Sherlock said.

Four?” She turned to him, a puzzled look on her face.

Yes, there’s a fourth sentence.” Mycroft pointed to the smiley face reference in between two colons. She shrugged.

That’s an emoticon gone wrong, but I suppose it might be part of the message.” She put the word in brackets in the list in the two places the references appeared and then turned to his brother. “Search for I’d rather cry in a BMW online and see what comes up.”

Immediately Sherlock obeyed and grabbed his laptop. Mycroft found himself sneering again. This woman was telling them what to do when she was evidently of inferior intelligence and even worse, his brother wasn’t even slightly put out. He’d thought Sherlock over this sort of sentimentality after losing Watson, but it appeared he was even softer than ever.

Twenty minutes later they had one more letter and Mycroft continued to stand and do nothing but stare at the letter. The entire time he’d been running through five letter words that fit with the E and N they’d already had for the first word. With the I Mrs Jones now wrote in he knew what it said. BEGIN LACE FRI was the full message, but he wasn’t about to say so and be pressed to explain further. Even if Mrs Jones expressed no further interest, his brother would and with his deductive reasoning might work out more than Mycroft wanted either of them to know.

As he was trying to think of some way to get rid of Mrs Jones she pulled a pocket watch out, checked the time and gasped.

I’ve got to go. I’m meant to be signing books in less than half an hour.” She grabbed her jacket and shrugged into it. “Sorry to run before we’re done, but I hate being late for anything.”

I’m sure we can solve this without you,” Mycroft said and gave her a smile which didn’t reach his eyes.

See you tomorrow, Sebastian, and it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr holmes.” She gave him a half smile, meaning it far more than he would have and hurried from the room. As the sound of her rapid footsteps receded down the stairs Mycroft relaxed.

So, you’ve found a new John Watson.” He looked intently at his brother but Sherlock remained impassive.

She’s brighter than John ever was, but she won’t be around for long. She will go write her next book in a few days. Mostly she’s a recluse, like you, especially when in the middle of a book.”

You’re trying to intrigue me by making me think she’s similar to me, but it won’t work. She’s not as intelligent as you even so I have no interest in her.” Mycroft walked towards the door, now wanting to continue this conversation.

She would have been as clever as me had she grown up with you as an elder brother. She’s keen to learn from us and pleasant enough.”

Mrs Jones won’t live long enough to ever get close.”

Miss Jones,” Sherlock said, looking smug. Mycroft shook his head at what his younger brother had overlooked.

There was a wedding ring.”

Yes, but she’s not married, not anymore anyway.”

Widow,” Mycroft nodded. He should have seen it in her manner with Sherlock. No woman in a relationship would spend time coming to London for book signings and spend so much time alone with another man. He walked out, and called back, “Don’t get involved, brother of mine.”

I’ll let you know when I’ve solved this,” Sherlock yelled after him.

No need!” Mycroft pulled the door shut. Miss Jones perfume lingered in the stairwell even stronger than before and Mycroft found himself thinking that as far as perfumes went it could have been a lot worse. At the least it smelt better than Sherlock’s flat usually did.

As he walked back to his car he messaged his assistant.

Project lace will begin on friday. Deploy operation clean-up. Also find all information on the author Amelia Jones.

As soon as the message was delivered he put his phone back in the inside pocket of his jacket and stepped outside. The rain had stopped and Mycroft smiled as he was driven back to his home, his mind already focused on other matters.

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Your Book Reviewed

I review rather a lot of books and I’ve had quite a number of requests from people over the years in differing places and ways. I’ve also sent quite a number to other bloggers and readers in various locations, so I admit this is a bit of a rant about all things book review.

Most authors know that book reviews that are favourable help them sell books, sometimes even unfavourable reviews will help sell some copies but I’ll get to that in the second half of this blog. Most reviewers also know this and are reviewing to either try and help authors or because they think they’re opinions are something the world wants to hear through varying degrees of arrogance (The vast majority of reviewers aren’t arrogant about this but there are some, again I’ll get to that later).

So authors, you can help yourselves in various ways.

1 – Treat Reviewers With Respect At All Times

Most reviewers, including me, get far too many book requests than we could physically ever do even if we read constantly for the rest of our lives. As such, we sometimes have to say no. When we do, please be respectful. It just means we didn’t choose your book. Often it’s because your book isn’t one we think we’ll like.

If we do review your book and say something negative about it, don’t go on a hate fest, you only make yourself look bad and make the reviewer wish they’d not bothered. Putting reivwers off reviewing hurts everyone.

2 – Follow Review Guidelines

Almost every reviewer will post some basic guidelines for what they want and how they want it. Follow this to the letter. I reject 95% of my review requests because they don’t follow the guidelines I’ve laid out in the places I accept requests. That’s 95% of authors who can’t read! In these cases, I don’t even bother to read the email to see whether I like the book or not, I just flat out reject and I send a copied and pasted form response which lists the reasons I might have rejected the request.

My msot common reason is the lack of personalisation. I reject a request if the author has copied and pasted whatever they sent the last person without bothering to try and find my name. I usually make my name really obvious so I consider being unable to find it no excuse.

The three other big reasons I reject books are all down to not meeting the guidelines, most notably, the wrong subject line. I like the subject line to include two phrases to make them easy to find and keep track of. Review Request and the Book Title. I need Review Request for my organisation of the emails and the book title helps me find the email again with a quick phrase search to let you know when I’ve reviewed the book.

Also the book being in a genre I don’t except. This happens way more than it ought to. If I say I accept a list of genres and only those genres I’m not likely to read anything else. I’ve got to cut the list of possible books down somehow, so sending me a book from another genre is a waste of everyone’s time.

Finally I reject a lot of requests because they’ve not included the rest of the information I want. I like to have a sample, the blurb and the cover. The cover so I can upload to goodreads if I need to and put it in the review blog when done, and the sample and blurb so I can get a better feel for the book. Sometimes I get the blurb and no sample and have to go hunting for the book to find out if it’s in third person or first person present or a myriad of different possibilities. There are a few styles I don’t like so I won’t ever accept a book without reading the sample first. even worse is when there’s no blurb and no sample, just a title.

3 – Make it Easy for the Reviewer

There are several ways you can help your reviewer and free up their time to help more people. Making sure they have every link they might need to make up their minds in the first place is a good idea. Some reviewers like it if you send them the book in the first email so they don’t have to go back and forth but I don’t. A whole book is bulky and I find it a little presumptious, but I like to have links to the book on Amazon, especially if there’s some reviews already there. Some good reviews might sway me. Lots of bad reviews that seem mean often make me pick up a book and so does no reviews. I like helping people.

Also, if you must send someone a pdf rather than mobi or epub version of your book, try to do an A5 pdf rather than A4 pdf. Nothing annoys me more than trying to read an A4 sized page on my kindle screen. It slows me down and makes me annoyed at the book, which isn’t good for the review.

4 – Be prepared for a Long Wait

Unfortunately, we get inundated with books and find it difficult to get through them all in a timely fashion. Sometimes real life crops up etc. I keep all my books on a list over on goodreads and many other reviewers do similar so people can keep track of me without needing to constantly bug me for due dates. I also don’t email out when the review is done. I expect you to keep track of that yourselves, especially seeing as I provide a link to my lists where you can see when the book has been read by me and whether it’s gone off my to-review list or not. If you can be proactive about finding the review yourself and keeping track of where you are in the queue, we don’t have to use up time telling you.

5 – Be grateful

I actually find it easier to pick up the next review book and start the process all over again when I’ve had a thank you or an equally nice conversation with someone I’ve reviewed. When someone thanks me for my time, and is eager to let other people know about the review I get hits, tweets and facebook posts which give me more of a platform to help more authors in the future. I like helping people so you can help me do that more.

Hopefully with the above points noted the auuthor and reviewer relationship can be streamlined and productive for both parties and at this point I did intend to address the things reviewers can do to help their authors more but I’ve already written loads so I’m going to stop here for today. I’ll write a chunk on how Reviewers can make things easier on authors in my next how-to blog

New Stuff in the Sherdan World

The anthology I was part of recently has finally been made free on Amazon.co.uk, so all those kindle readers out there can grab a copy and check out the 30+ authors contained therein.

In this collection I’ve got a short story about Sherdan and some of the people close to him, called Sherdan’s Road. It’s not long but it gives a bit of a glimpse at his future and the people in it at that time.

The rest of the collection is also pretty awesome and they are all themed around the title. That does mean quite a few of them are sad but they are well written and there’s more than a few that have happy moments and other awesome things in them.

It also gives a great overview of the sort of stuff all the authors write so it’s a great way to find more authors in different genres without risking any money.

The other piece of news in the Sherdan world is book 2! It’s being launched this Saturday via facebook as usual. There’s going to be the normal party with some quiz type stuff and prizes. The full list will be posted in the event when it’s finalised.

Here’s the blurb for anyone interested, although you don’t want to read it if you don’t want some of the first book’s plot spoiled:

Now that Utopia is established Sherdan has a full time job as a diplomatist. Everyone wants to know how his country is protected and whether they can persuade him to part with his secrets, but he has other things on his mind. Has Utopia come at too high a price?

When Anya left Utopia she expected to fit back into her old life, but too much has changed and God is not finished with her. Did she make the right choice in leaving, and will Sherdan let her return, even if she wanted to?

The second book in the Sherdan series continues the journey Sherdan’s Prophecy started, bringing the world closer to the end and whatever might follow.

So there’s the two new Sherdan things and Saturday is the big launch day. Do come join the fun!