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Free Society of Gentlemen interlude (with catch)

It’s just a few days till A Gentleman’s Position publishes. This is the third book in my Regency ‘Society of Gentlemen’ trilogy, this one starring the highly principled Lord Richard Vane and his deeply unprincipled valet David Cyprian, and it’s going to tie up all sorts of things. Starting with Lord Richard’s conscience in knots. /evil grin/

We left the story in A Seditious Affair with radical bookseller Silas Mason moved into Lord Richard’s household; we pick things up a few weeks later in A Gentleman’s Position to see that Silas and Cyprian have struck up a friendship. So I wrote a special behind-the-scenes interlude, ‘A Confidential Problem’, about the, uh, challenging beginnings of that friendship, for a bit of insight into what was going on backstairs.facebook CP

‘A Confidential Problem’ is a 4,000 word scene which takes place between chapters 15 and 16 of A Seditious Affair (after Silas has gone down to Arrandene, but before the finale). It’s not standalone, and won’t make any sense if you haven’t read A Seditious Affair, but since that’s still ludicrously cheap at the time of writing, I’d get on that now if I were you.

The catch!

This story is only currently available via my newsletter. If you’re an existing subscriber you’ll get it. If you’re not, please sign up to be sent a download link. (Use that link rather than going to the newsletter page or you might miss it.)

You can, obviously, then unsubscribe at will, but please note, I only email when there’s something worth emailing about, such as new books and free stuff, and your address will never be used by me for any other purpose.

Subscribe to the newsletter here to get ‘A Confidential Problem’, or sit back and wait if you’re already a subscriber. I hope you enjoy it!

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A Gentleman’s Position comes out on 5th April.

A Seditious Affair was voted tied first for Best LGBTQ+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll, and received Honourable Mention for Best Romance and Best Historical Romance set in the UK.

Demon Drink and Another Free Story

So there is another free Charm of Magpies short story available right now. Another! There was one last month!

Here’s what happened. Samhain, my publisher, at that time published print a year after the electronic version. They have a minimum length at which a book can go into print, and A Case of Possession, Charm of Magpies #2, squeaked in a little under that. Now, I really wanted it in print. Because print is fun to have, but also because it’s dedicated to my friend Caroline, and she informed me that if she didn’t get a print copy to show people, I’d be in serious trouble.

I have been friends with Caro for thirty years. I know what trouble means. So I suggested to Samhain that I could write a bonus story to bring the book up to print length. They went for it, to be released electronically at the same time as the print book (hence its appearance out of series order), and even said it would have its own cover by Lou Harper. Now all I had to do was write something.CaseOfSpirits-A300

This was less easy than you might think. I was hopelessly stuck on Magpie 3 at this point, so stuck that I’d actually written an entire and totally different novel that came into my head while I was fretting (Think of England, the world’s longest example of ‘oh look, a squirrel’). So coming up with a story that fitted into a series arc that I wasn’t sure about…whimper.

I had no idea what to write.

I went for a drink with Caro and her bloke Simon, and ventured a quiet murmur of mild complaint (which I may have phrased as ‘your bloody story is doing my head in, you utter moose, now buy me a drink’). Simon asked about what I was writing. I spoke of Victorian London. And Simon, who works in the drinks trade, asked, did I know about the black cat signs they used for bootleg gin?

Tell me more, I said.

Well. It seems that the very many brewers of bathtub gin would identify their product for sale by a black cat, as a universal sign of ‘Get very cheap drink here!’, in the same way that a red and white pole indicated a barber, or three golden balls indicated a pawnbroker. I haven’t been able to find any very serious sources on this, but here’s one version as presented by Hayman’s, gin manufacturer:

dramdrinkerBack in 1736, one Captain Dudley Bradstreet lucked into both a piece of London property and a stock of gin. Bradstreet hung a sign depicting a painted cat in the window and let it be known that doses of sweet mother’s ruin could be had at the address. “Under the cat’s paw sign was a slot and a lead pipe, which was attached to a funnel inside the house,” reads a history put together by Hayman’s. “Customers placed their money in the slot and duly received their gin. Bradstreet’s idea was soon copied all over London. People would stand outside houses, call ‘puss’ and when the voice within said ‘mew,’ they would know that they could buy bootleg gin inside. Very soon Old Tom became an affectionate nickname for gin.”

It is, at the least, a cool story. And it got me thinking. It got me thinking about what drives people to drink, to remember and to forget, about cold dark wet Victorian streets. I started thinking about what my characters had that they might want to forget. A plot came swimming out of the depths, a piece depicting one of Stephen’s justiciary cases that turns personal…

And with it came a revelation about what two of my secondary characters had been up to offstage while I was writing the main story.

I realise that this is the kind of thing that makes non-writers roll their eyes and mutter, “Obviously they aren’t doing things behind your back, they’re made up. By you.” All I can say is: Sorry, that’s how it works. I realised when I wrote this story that two characters had embarked on a relationship. That realisation isn’t pivotal to A Case of Spirits, as such…but it gave me the handle on Magpie 3 that I needed.

Suddenly I could see the shape of Magpie 3. I could see how the stories interlocked and what was driving everyone on, and what was piling strain on the main relationship. The whole book that became Flight of Magpies clicked into place. It worked. Thanks to Caroline (by accident) and to gin.

Story of my life, basically.

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A Case of Spirits is available from Amazon and all the usual places. It’s free (because it’s free with the print book) and comes between A Case of Possession and Flight of Magpies. It’s more a mood piece than anything, and has no series spoilers so feel free to sample if you haven’t read the others. I hope you enjoy it!

A Charm of Magpies reading order:

The Magpie Lord

Interlude with Tattoos (free)

A Case of Possession

A Case of Spirits (free)

Flight of Magpies

Feast of Stephen (free)

Jackdaw (coming in February, and a linked story)

Free Charm of Magpies short story

Ho ho ho and sleighbells on top. This will be my last blog post of the year unless anything interesting happens, so merry Christmas and happy holidays, one and all.

FoSmock7Since it’s the ‘free stuff’ time of year—I mean, the season for giving—I have a little something for you. It’s Feast of Stephen, my long-promised Magpie story, a short coda to Flight of Magpies, in which Crane and Stephen finally make it to their Christmas getaway. There is storytelling, exchange of gifts, and a bit of magical smut (you’re welcome).

There are also a lot of spoilers for / references to Flight, so it’s really not going to be any good to you unless you’ve read the Charm of Magpies series. Sorry. (Call me Scrooge.)

Click here to download from Smashwords in whatever format floats your boat and don’t forget to appreciate the gorgeous cover by Susan Lee.

In other news…

I’m delighted to say Think of England won Best Gay Historical Romance in the 2014 Rainbow Awards and A Case of Possession came equal first in Best Gay Fantasy Romance. Yay I have certificates! I’m really immensely proud of this, and grateful for all the hard work put in, and by the fundraising efforts of the awards themselves, which have raised over $11K for excellent causes.

ATIPfinalTalking of excellent causes, the anthology Another Place in Time, in which I have a story, has now raised $5K for AllOut. So if you feel like doing some good and stuffing your stocking with some excellent historical romance by a range of terrific authors plus me, clicky clicky.

KJ magpieYou may also have seen that I have an exciting new magpie logo, courtesy of the marvellous Catherine Dair, and a full brand site revamp thing is underway so I’ll be integrating this blog into my website in the new year. Watch this space.

And finally, making me very happy, a teaser image for Jackdaw, out in Feb, from the ridiculously talented Lyudmila Tsapaeva.

Jackdaw_ready_1

Right, that’s it, I have fairy lights to untangle. Make sure you don’t accidentally watch Love Actually, beware the sherry, and see you in 2015.

Magpie Lord vs Captive Prince: all done

Edit: Captive Prince triumphed in DABWAHA round 3, and I’ll be voting it all the way to the final. I’m really happy to have got to the last 16, and very grateful for all the support, votes, lovely messages and general niceness. Thanks!

The free story as promised in the first round exists in my head, and will be written after the non-negotiable first edits of Flight of Magpies and completed draft 1 of Jackdaw. I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

The Magpie Lord is through to round 3 of DABWAHA, which means it will be facing up to Captive Prince by CS Pacat. Voting is now on, to 11.59 CST, or 5pm GMT. Vote here .

Let’s face it, this isn’t going to be pretty. Captive Prince has a huge and well-deserved adoring audience – I love the first two books, have fangirled the author myself, and can’t wait for vol 3. It’s a great read that stands a really good chance of winning the whole contest. And it has already beaten Abigail Roux and Joanna Chambers in the first two rounds, which is company I’m proud to get kerbstomped in.

All that said, buggered if I’m going down without a fight.

It’s bribery time!

I have already promised a Lucien and Merrick story from Shanghai days. That is happening. But, my additional bribe to scrabble together votes in round 3…

There is a passage from Magpie Lord that a lot of readers have talked about. Stephen asks Lucien why he has seven magpie tattoos.

“Whim. I was being forced to have a very large and expensive tattoo, and it seemed a change from the usual dragons and carp. I rather liked it, as it turned out, so I added more.”

“…forced to have a tattoo?”

“It’s a long story.”

If I win round 3, I will tell you that long story. It involves mayhem, Merrick, magpies, and a very steep learning curve for a young and stupid Lucien.

That’s what I’ve got. Bring it on, Captive Prince. I can take it.

/winces/

Vote for Magpie Lord here (please?) on 28 March, 00.00 to 11.59 CST, or 5am-5pm GMT. No need to register, it takes 5 seconds, and every vote counts (to me, anyway). Thanks!

Bribery and corruption: will write for votes!

The DABWAHA (Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors) tournament voting begins on 20 March. The Magpie Lord is one of the contestants, and I need your votes as flowers need rain/Justin Bieber needs a good hard look at his life choices.Magpie Lord

Basically this is a tournament of romance novels with six rounds of voting. Books are paired up and you have to vote for one in each pair. (Me! Me!)

To say it’s competitive is understating things. I need your votes. And am allowed/encouraged to offer inducements for them. So, vote for me or I change the ending of Flight of Magpies and kill them all!

No, wait, that’s a terrible idea. OK, here we go, my hostage to fortune:

If I get to round two, I will commit to writing a free story about one of Lucien and Merrick’s adventures in Shanghai, with chaos, adventure, magic and romance.

In the unlikely event I win round two (ie get into the final of the GLBT category) I will raise the stakes…

2014Nominee-DABWAHA

All you have to do is vote for me! And get your friends, colleagues, loved ones and milkman to vote for me. And keep voting for me in lots of rounds. Go on, you know you want to really. (Please?)

If you dropped by for writing talk/publishing snark, and have no idea if you want to grant me your vote (you do!), you could check out the following freebies:

The Smuggler and the Warlord (a short story of Merrick and Crane in China)

Interlude with Tattoos (a story set after the end of Magpie Lord)

Butterflies (a Victorian occult horror story from The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal)

Remnant (another Simon Feximal story written with Jordan L Hawk)

Oh, and if you’re wondering who else to vote for in the other brackets, I suggest Provoked by Joanna Chambers, because a) it’s fabulous and b) she will do a hilarious romance pastiche and you want to read that.

Click here to vote on 20 March!

I promised it would be back to normal service and it’s still all promo. Sorry about that, it’s a bit fraught.

Goodreads Members Choice Award nominations

I’m slightly stunned to have picked up a few nominations in the Goodreads M/M Romance Members Choice Awards 2013. And when I say a few, I mean that The Magpie Lord has been nominated in eight categories, which has left me completely thrilled. Including this:Image

…and this, which may be the best award I have ever been nominated for:

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It’s also been nominated for the fantastic cover by Lou Harper. As well it might be.

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And The Caldwell Ghost and Butterflies have both been nominated for Best Short Story! (You can judge Butterflies for yourself for free.)

Voting is open to anyone, not just group members, so if you fancy voting, either for me (well, duh) or for any of the many terrific books on the list, here’s the link.

Thank you for your patience, we return to our regularly scheduled yattering about books and stuff next time.

‘Interlude with Tattoos’ – free Magpie Lord story

I often wonder what happens to the characters at the end of a big plot climax. The vampires and werewolves eat each other, the alien spaceship is brought down, the centuries-old conspiracy of factions within the Catholic church is foiled (probably not all in the same book, although that does sound pretty cool). Our lovers run into each others’ arms at last… and then what? It’s all very well falling into bed with the rogue slayer/gruff CIA agent/Harvard symbologist, but what happens when you wake up with them?

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Seriously, suppose the book ended and then you woke up with no albino monks trying to kill you, and you really looked at his hair.

My first book The Magpie Lord ends with a newly forged and fairly unlikely relationship, and quite a few unanswered questions. The sequel, A Case of Possession, kicks off four months later, with our heroes established in a relationship, even if it’s not entirely an easy one. So I thought it would be fun to hop back to the end of The Magpie Lord and look at the bit in between when everyone’s wondering what the hell they just got into.

The resulting short story, Interlude with Tattoos, is free on Smashwords and Goodreads as a small Christmas thank-you to all the readers who enjoyed the first book. I hope you like it!

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Cover designed by Susan Lee, and isn’t it lovely.

NB: Interlude with Tattoos probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read The Magpie Lord, so my advice would be a) rush out and buy The Magpie Lord right now, b) check out The Smuggler and the Warlord, a free Magpie prequel, or c) give up and read my standalone free short Butterflies instead.

A Case of Possession is out 28 January.

Get Some Perspective: musing on different points of view

I have a really great idea for a big fantasy novel. It’s got a nice concept, a whole developed magic system, a huge cast including three main characters who are flawed and sexy as all get out and two more decent ones who provide the moral and emotional grounding. It’s had two partial drafts adding up to 80K words so far, and it is stuck as a pig because I can’t find the right point of view to tell the story.

Seriously. I can’t make this story work because I have set about telling it from what turns out to be the completely wrong perspective, and it is killing me.

Let’s think about points of view, and if I don’t have a revelation by the end of this blog, I expect someone to solve it for me in the comments.

First person

Written as ‘I’. I’ve done this a couple of times, in my free ghost/romance short story and in my forthcoming romantic suspense Non-Stop Till Tokyo. It’s immediate and direct, but it’s confining, in that you have to nancy around a lot to convey things the narrator doesn’t see/know, and it can be alienating to the reader if the narrator’s quirks and flaws are too prominent or unappealing.

It’s possible for first person to be distancing. The stylistic device of an ‘I’ telling the story can be very present, reminding you that you’re reading a book. (My narrators always end up addressing the reader and commenting on their own stories. That works in some cases, it wouldn’t for this.) Ditto where the narrator is unreliable or flawed, and the pleasure lies in working out what’s really happening.

Often the viewpoint character isn’t the main character of the story. To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, where Scout is really only a witness to the adult action, narrating an experience that the reader understand more than she does. Again, it works in some cases, not all.

I’m not, generally, a massive fan of first person in romance, even though some of my favourites (Widdershins and Glitterland) are first person.  Mostly, I prefer to watch. And I find it a bit weird to have first person in thrillers, where the question of whether the main character will survive is generally answered by the fact she’s narrating her past adventure, unless you’re reading one of those really tiresome books narrated by a dead person. (You may ask why I wrote a first person romantic suspense, given all that, and I can only answer, Shh.)

Second person

You go to the shops. On the way, you see a kitten die, alone. You are oddly unmoved.

However, you are not a poncy American novelist c.1987, or a Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure author, and you reject this as unnecessary showing off with no obvious benefits. You really can’t imagine how this would work for a romance novel, especially one with sex, though you feel a sudden unholy compulsion to try, which you tread on heavily if you have any sense. You start to feel slightly badgered by the author telling you what you are thinking. You wish she’d get out of your face.

Single viewpoint tight third person

All told from one character’s in-head perspective. I love tight third. You get all the benefits of first person – immediacy, a single perspective leaving the other characters as mysteries – while being able to look around a bit more, and without the stylistic awkwardness of first person. It makes it a lot easier to write characters who aren’t very self aware, to comment and supply backstory. But it has the same problem as first person in a large-scale story: you only get a restricted view of the action.

This can be what you want, of course. I used single tight third for A Case of Possession, the sequel to the alternating-viewpoint The Magpie Lord, because in the first book I needed to track what was going on in both characters’ heads, while in the second, one character was the focus of the emotional development so we needed to stay with him. My forthcoming Think of England uses single viewpoint tight third because much of the story depends on that character not having a clue what’s going on in his love interest’s head, and the reader needs to be on that emotional journey with him rather than ten steps ahead.

Both drafts for my godforsaken Problem Project are in tight third, from the POV of a character who isn’t actually turning out to be the dead centre of the story (as with To Kill a Mockingbird but in third). I did this to handle the worldbuilding – introducing a character to a new world and have people explain stuff to him, and thus to the reader – but I am just now realizing why that was an incredibly dumb thing to do: Tight third has to be a character right at the heart of the action. You can’t have a witness narrator, s/he has to be a key actor. Otherwise you have two layers of distance – the author talking about Bob talking about Florence.

Multiple viewpoint tight third person

Switching from one head to another. This is useful when you need more than one perspective. Benefit: you can get deeper into the characters, from inside and outside, seeing them as they see themselves and as others see them. You get a broader view and can cover a wider story without the need for other characters filling in what’s happened offstage. Risk: head hopping.

Bob smiled. He liked it when Florence got angry and he hoped to make her even angrier in a moment.

Florence glared at Bob, wishing he would stop smirking. ‘Please pass me the paintbrush,’ she said, wondering if she could jam it in his face.

James walked in, thinking about his dog…

Editor, stat!

Omniscient third

Story narrated from a non-character perspective, which can tell us what everyone is thinking and feeling and doing. Probably the easiest way to handle a big fat sprawling multi-character epic. But it can be distancing (you’re not in someone’s head) or revealing (the narrator knows all and thus can tell all) and it can make it hard to find a voice.

Bleak House alternates omniscient third with first person, keeping us engaged with Esther Summerson and puzzled by her mystery, while supplying clues and action and storyline to which she has no access. Plenty of books switch between omniscient and one or multiple tight third viewpoints.

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So where does that leave me with the Problem Project? I have several characters with multiple interweaving relationships, in geographically and socially different locations. Two whose real motivations have to remain a mystery. One who will betray everything and everyone, hopefully including the reader. And a lot of worldbuilding to convey.

It’s starting to sound like I need alternating tight third perspectives (no omniscient narrator knowing everything, because I need to keep secrets, but several different POVs to give the reader the wide view and all the info). I still don’t know exactly who should be telling this story out of the extensive cast (the problem of picking the person to narrate out of a large cast is a post in itself), but now I can start to see a structure that will let them tell it.

You may even get to read this thing some day.

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What’s your point of view preference? First, third, don’t notice? Do you need a viewpoint character in multi-character books? Like unreliable first-person narrators? Think I’m making a terrible mistake and should write this thing in second person, future tense? Thoughts welcome!