New cover!

I feel very lucky to have had the chance to spend some time back at home in Northern Ireland, reconnecting with the people and places of my childhood. It also gave me the chance to take some new pictures that I’ve combined to create a new cover for The Key of Ornoss.

I didn’t hate the original cover but I wasn’t entirely happy with it either. I think this new one looks a little more atmospheric but those are just my thoughts; it’s your opinion that counts, so do please let me know what you think.

Mapping Sanquous

When I started writing The Key of Ornoss it became clear early on that much of the story was set in this amazing other world, Sanquous, the eternal plain. As the tale unfolded and Cal began her journey across this strange and wonderful land, I could picture the scenes and landscapes that she encountered. Picking up a pencil I started to sketch a map for the six kingdoms, their borders and features, and hints of what might lie beyond.

Sanquous is certainly nothing like Earth (or Tarquis as the Sanquouns call it). Apart from it being flat rather than a globe, the energy and life cycles, the ecology and climate are tied up with the vast and mysterious phenomenon known as the Vorshaan.

Providing a fixed point of orientation, the Vorshaan is the basis for all directions across Sanquous, and Cal quickly begins to associate this feature with North on Earth. Not that you can quite tell that from the map itself. It’s a poor copy of Phelia’s precious map in the book, which she in turn copied under to skilful direction of Pogrol.

Printed copies of the map may turn up as a competition prize or giveaway at some point but for now the detail included here will give you some idea of the country Cal travels across in the first part of her journey. If you want to know what happens to her along the way, well, it’s all in the book!

Voila!

Well, for better or for worse, almost two years to the day since I first put pen to paper, The Key of Ornoss is OUT! How do I feel about that? I can’t really decide. Part of me is pleased or even a little elated that I’ve come this far and crossed the finish line. Part of me is holding its breath wondering how readers will react to young adult fantasy with a transgender twist.

I could get some idea by checking my sales figures but as an author friend of mine commented, that’s not really the point. The question is how many people have enjoyed reading it. Perhaps time will tell on that one, I guess sooner or later someone is going to write a comment or review it and let the world know what they think. Will I read the reviews? Maybe the first one or two but probably not all.

My focus, when I finally get it back, needs to shift to book two, The Rod of Xerus. It’s drafted but frankly needs a fair bit of work to get it ready for publication. I was thinking about bringing it out next year but with a tail wind, if things go well I might be able to get it out by Christmas this year. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, if you’ve read The Key of Ornoss and would like to share your thoughts, why not drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you. Better yet, tell the world, write a review, they really do help us newbie authors, you know!

Stories matter

It’s easy to dismiss stories, to think them unimportant, something for casual entertainment or idle amusement but it’s worth remembering, it wasn’t always so. Every time we stretched ourselves across the globe, explored new continents and visited far off lands we came across peoples, vastly different in culture and heritage to ourselves. In learning about them we learned their stories. They, like us, had a history of storytelling stretching back to the furthest memory of time.

These stories played and still play an important role in helping us understand and relate to our cultural and personal identity. Some stories we hold to be true, others are regarded as myth, legend or fable but all of them have a power to tell us something about who we are today. Stories have always helped us to understand where we stand; our relationship to the world around us, to nature, the environment, to each other and to those who have gone before us.

But for this to work, for this essential function to be a healthy and significant part of our lives we need to find ourselves within the story. When we hear a tale of far off ‘when and where’ we should be transported to that place, stand where the viewer stood and feel what they felt.

So what happens if you can’t do that? What happens if you’re not in the story? If your race, your gender, your sexual orientation aren’t represented in the stories that we consider as defining  ‘who we are’? Then the opposite happens. Instead of connected, we feel isolated. Instead of included we become marginalised. We don’t find a place, we feel as though we have no place, that we don’t belong and the deep pain of separation settles into our heart.

So to everyone who feels themselves to be part of a marginalised or under-represented group, let me ask one thing of you. Tell your story. Tell it for you but also tell it for everyone who might feel as you do, who may one day stand where you’re standing so that when that day comes and they read your words they’ll know, ‘It’s not just me’.

Okay, so who are you again?

I always had a sneaking suspicion that when writers were developing characters, they based them on people they know. I’m sure more than one friend or relative of a writer has scanned the pages of their latest work hoping or perhaps dreading to find themselves characterised in text.

It was something of surprise to me therefore that when I started writing The Key of Ornoss that wasn’t the way it happened. Then again I’ve never been taught to write, I didn’t start by sketching out plots and developing story arcs. Maybe others write that way but for me it was a very right-brain process. I’d be minding my own business when all of a sudden the characters would start talking. Having learned to keep a notebook handy I’d begin scribbling it all down, desperate to keep up and only when they’d finished would I get a chance to look at what had emerged and asked questions about who this new person was, where the conversation was taking place and how they got there etc. Filling in those few missing pieces was an exciting process, it wasn’t so much like writing a story as finding a story.

In a less conscious part of my mind the story had grown, developed and written itself. When it came out it was a bit like opening the box and pouring out the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, almost everything I wrote was out of chronological sequence. My job was going back through three and a half notebooks of scribbles and typing it up in order. The only left-brain writing that took place was adding in a few stitching pieces to make sure everything connected up as well as it could.

Somewhere in there, along with a convoluted plot set in an amazing new world these characters were born, like fully formed real people I was meeting for the first time. They weren’t in any way constructed consciously by me and as far as I can tell they don’t resemble anyone I’ve ever met. It’s like they’re their own people, some good, some bad but all extraordinary in their own way.

As mysterious a process as writing was and continues to be for me, part two of this story, The Rod of Xerus, which is already complete as a first draft, was even more of a challenge. The story and the worlds expanded hugely as this part of the tale emerged and at times I wasn’t sure my brain could hold all of it. It was a very large baby to give birth to but so thrilling to see where Cal went next and how her adventures unravelled.

I know somewhere inside, in the hidden bookstore in my mind, part three is in the process of germinating and growing. Hints of it have already begun to show themselves: an image here, a snatch of conversation there. I honestly can’t wait until it’s ready to come out into the world and show itself. Is that weird? I can’t wait to read the book I’m about to write. My only commitment and requirement for this whole process is to enjoy it and have fun along the way. I don’t care if I don’t make a penny from it, which is good because I probably won’t!