Dedications (they’re what you need)

This is a post about book dedications. Which is why it seems appropriate to title it in a way that will only be meaningful to a select group of readers (Brits of a certain age who will now be cursing me for the earworm. Sorry!).

For many authors, dedications are often a private message publicly spoken. To S, or To Philip will be meaningful to S/Philip, one hopes, but it’s still a private word, one to one, the reader excluded.

Then there are the personal dedications that are a bit more public facing. An explicit thanks, a message of love. Sometimes more. This is what John Steinbeck put in East of Eden:

Dear Pat,
You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?”
I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”
“What for?”
“To put things in.”
“What kind of things?”
“Whatever you have,” you said.
Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts – the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.
And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.
And still the box is not full.

John Steinbeck, doing more in the dedication than most writers can manage in an entire novel.

Sometimes dedications are a quite blatant extension of the performance of writing. PG Wodehouse is the acknowledged master here, as almost everywhere else:

To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.

but I have a soft spot for Lemony Snicket, who runs a brilliantly macabre series of dedications to his inevitably deceased love through A Series of Unfortunate Events. I like The Penultimate Peril:

For Beatrice –
No one could extinguish my love,
or your house

And of course you can use a dedication to settle a score as Alfie Kohn does in No Contest: The Case against Competition:

Let me note, finally, that most of the research for this book was done in the libraries of Harvard University, the size of whose holdings is matched only by the school’s determination to restrict access to them. I am delighted to have been able to use these resources, and it hardly matters that I was afforded this privilege only because the school thought I was someone else.

Then there is the game-changer than leaves everyone else standing, particularly the typesetter:




(Of the firm of Simon and Schuster)


I have rather gone off dedications these last forty years or so. To hell with them about sums up my attitude. Today, when I write a book, it’s just a book, with no trimmings.

It was not always so. Back at the turn of the century I and the rest of the boys would as soon have gone out without our spats as allowed a novel of ours to go out practically naked, as you might say. The dedication was the thing on which we spread ourselves. I once planned a book which was to consist entirely of dedications, but abandoned the idea because I could not think of a dedication for it.

We went in for variety in those days. When you opened a novel, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be the curt take-it-or-leave-it dedication:




the somewhat warmer


To My Friend



or one of those cryptic dedications with a bit of poetry shoved in underneath in italics, like



Stark winds 

And sunset over the moors. 




And the sound of distant drums…


Lower-Smattering-on-the-Wissel, 1912


or possibly, if we were feeling a bit livery, the nasty dedication:





It was all great fun and kept our pores open and brought the roses to our cheeks, but most authors have given it up. Inevitably a time came when there crept into their minds the question “What is there in this for me?”  I know it was so in my case. “What is Wodehouse getting out of this?”  I asked myself, and the answer, as far as I could see, was, “Not a ruddy thing.”

When the eighteenth-century writer inserted on Page One something like








My Lord.

It is with inexpressible admiration for your lordship’s transcendent gifts that the poor slob who now addresses your lordship presents to your lordship this trifling work, so unworthy of your lordship’s distinguished consideration

he expected to clean up. Lord Knubble was his patron and could be relied on, if given the old oil in liberal doses, to come through with at least a couple of guineas. But where does the modern author get off? He plucks—let us say—P. B. Biffen from the unsung millions and makes him immortal, and what does Biffen do in return? He does nothing. He just stands there. If he is like all the Biffens I know, the author won’t get so much as a lunch out of it.

Nevertheless, partly because I know I shall get a very good lunch out of you but principally because you told Jack Goodman that you thought Bertie Wooster Sees It Through was better than War and Peace I inscribe this book





Half a league 

Half a league 

Half a league 


With a hey-nonny-nonny 

And a hot cha-cha


Colney Hatch, 1954


Not just a genius dedication (for Bertie Wooster Sees It Through) but sums up the history of the blasted things, thus saving me doing so.

I’m thinking about this as I move into edits on Flight of Magpies – mostly because the dedication bit is generally easier than actual work, and blogging is easier than both.

Dedications aren’t compulsory. Some people never do them. Others do a few and then stop. I like to dedicate, and when I think of the people I love, everyone I owe, I fear it will take an entire publishing career to work my way through them all.

But it’s important to me that each dedication should be meaningful, matching the person to the book. My friend and invaluable crit partner/life guru had to wait till my fourth book, Think of England, for her dedication because that was the right book for her. I want to dedicate one to my in-laws but one without seriously filthy sex in it, so they can share it with their friends without cringing. Sadly, I have a dearth of books without seriously filthy sex (specifically, one, and I already dedicated it to my own parents) so I fear the in-laws will be waiting for a while.

I didn’t have to think hard about the dedication for Flight of Magpies as it will fulfil another dedication function not listed above: the apology. Whereby hangs a tale.  The thing is, right, I sort of accidentally, you know, not really thinking and all that, totally not on purpose, but I kind of borrowed my friend’s surname (a bit) for, not to put too fine a point on it, one of my heroes. Note: it’s really embarrassing going round to a couple’s house for dinner and having to admit that you’ve used one of their surnames for a romance hero. Responses may include, ‘Hang on, did you write a romance novel about my boyfriend?’, ‘What’s wrong with my surname?’ and ‘So, about the sex scenes…’ You may also find your so-called friends referring to your lovingly crafted imaginative work of total fiction as ‘the book about Mark.’ (IT IS NOT ABOUT MARK.) Generally, I would advise against doing this at all, and you can spare yourself the trouble of a dedication. Sadly, it’s too late for me.

So the next one will be dedicated to my friends

For your own HEA

and the unauthorised loan of a surname. (It was an *accident*, goddammit.)

I think that covers everything.

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.


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…


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.

Self promo, bribery and free stuff (a post about me)

I hate self-promo. So do you. Therefore, be warned that this post is an update on me and what I’m writing/doing, rather than writing advice or publishing snark, and feel free to run away. (Although there’s a free story, if you make it that far.)

Big award nomination news

The Magpie Lord is a 2014 DABWAHA (Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors) Finalist. This is totally the best possible name for an award and I am delighted and honoured. Even better is that it’s up there with Joanna Chambers’ wonderful Provoked, which is one of my top three of last year. DABWAHA is run by Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, two of the best blogs, so this is a big deal and I am very thrilled.

There are several rounds of voting starting 18 March, and apparently it’s kosher for me to offer bribes. Cool! So stay tuned for shameless offers of…something. Feel free to suggest what in the comments. Not money, or my children, otherwise I’m game. I’m thinking a free short story, open to suggestions as to what you’d like to see, or I’ll come up with something next week.

Remnant (free story!)

I’m a big fan of Jordan L Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin series, occult mystery/romances set in 1890s America. As it goes, I’ve written a couple of stories in that time period myself, featuring Simon Feximal, a British occult detective, and his lover/narrator Robert Caldwell. Therefore, once Jordan’s characters decided to head to Egypt via London for W&G book 4, it all came together like peaches and cream. Or, more accurately, like the Titanic and the iceberg.

Remnant (cover once again designed by ubertalented Susan Lee) is a mystery starring all four occult investigators: Simon, Robert, Whyborne and Griffin. Jordan and I wrote it in alternate chapters, with a lot of transatlantic evil cackling, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It’s available on Smashwords and ARe right now, and it’s free, so dig in.

Non-Stop Till Tokyo

And now for something completely different: I have a contemporary romantic suspense thriller coming out in April. Kerry is a hostess in a Tokyo bar, drifting along in a sea of generous tips, until she is framed for the murder of a yakuza boss. She’s soon trapped in rural Japan, running for her life – and the one man who’s got her back may be poised to stab it.


Non-Stop Till Tokyo is a bigger book than my published stuff to date, and my first contemporary, and my first het romance, and and and. Very different from what I’ve published to date, but what the heck, it’s nice to try something new! I’m happy with it, and I dearly love the cover by Angela Waters.

Think of England

My next m/m offering, Think of England is an Edwardian pulp adventure with derring-do, stiff upper lips, country-house parties, shameless homage to Victorian and Edwardian adventure fiction, and a bit of social subversion going on. More on this one nearer the time.


Again, the cover is gorgeous, this one Erin Dameron-Hill.

Flight of Magpies (A Charm of Magpies 3)

I’m delighted to say that I’ve signed the third book in the sequence that started with The Magpie Lord. Flight of Magpies, to be published by Samhain 28 October, brings back Stephen and Lucien. This time they’re in trouble with old enemies, new enemies, and unsuspected enemies. Which is a nuisance, because they’re having quite enough problems with their friends…


Current projects include: A historical story for a charity anthology. More Simon Feximal stories. Think of England 2. But first, another story set in Magpie-world, starring a secondary character from Flight of Magpies who pretty much demanded his own book as the price for not stealing that one. This book is writing itself so far, having elbowed its way to the front of the queue rather than waiting its allotted turn. This is typical of the character in question. Watch your pockets.

Oh, and I should have a proper website very soon. Woop!

Normal unpromo service will be resumed next time. I’ve saved up plenty of sarcasm.

Anne Rice Vs Amazon: more on reviews (with flowchart)

Anne Rice, among others, is calling for Amazon reviewers to be forced to give their real identities. ‘The Interview with the Vampire author is a signatory to a new petition calling on Amazon to remove anonymity from its reviewers in order to prevent the “bullying and harassment” it says is rife on the site,’ says The Guardian.

There’s no point going into the stupidity of this because it won’t happen. It would cause the number of Amazon reviews to drop like a rock (silencing not just those who don’t want to be harassed, but also anyone who doesn’t want their parents, partner or potential employer to see what they’re reading), and if there’s one thing Amazon likes other than gouging for gigantic discounts and exploiting workers, it’s onsite reviews. So that’s not what I want to talk about here. What I’m baffled by is…

Anne Rice reads her Amazon reviews and gets upset by them.

Think about that for a moment. Anne Rice, who bestrode 1980s fiction like a colossus, with estimated global sales of 100 million copies, a movie with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater, a career spanning over 35 years – Anne Rice reads her Amazon reviews and gets upset by them.

I can’t italicize this enough. Anne Rice, who presumably has enough in the bank to spend the rest of her life on holiday, instead hunches over her computer and reads Amazon reviews. And gets upset. And encourages her own fans to attack negative reviews, because she cares that someone called HissingSid32 says stuff like:

I didn’t like this book because it was boring. That’s all that needs to be said. It was very very very very very very very very very very very boring. If you have to read this book shoot yourself first.

Oh, sorry, that’s not an Amazon review of Anne Rice, it’s of Anne Frank. That was what someone posted about Diary of a Young Girl.

Here are some other Amazon reviews:

I actually found it impossible to like or even dislike any character in this story. Everyone is quite boring, 1-dimensional, and stale. The result: an 800 page “masterpiece” about characters that are impossible to care about. (Anna Karenina)


I hated having reasonably high expectations for a so-called classic, only to have to suffer through a drab chain of non sequitur events, thoroughly lacking any explanations at all. (1984)


A great read if you suffer from attention deficit disorder, as the author must. That, or you’re a crackhead. Skips from one scene to another with no transitions, and no unity in plot. A disaster. (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)


Amazon reviews for the best books you can think of all include this sort of genius. Go on, try it yourself, find me one single acknowledged masterpiece on without a one-star review. And it’s worth noting that these books have managed to struggle on, somehow, despite HissingSid32’s opinion. Anne Rice evidently feels her position is less secure.

Of course Ms Rice says she doesn’t want to stifle negative reviews or critical comment. She only want to silence the “gangster bullies” who the petition’s creator acknowledges are a “tiny minority” of Amazon users. But even if we take this at face value, she wants everyone to have to identify themselves publicly if they are to comment on a book, because of a handful of trolls who – and I can’t stress this enough – she chooses to read and to engage with in the first place.

The very definition of using a sledgehammer to crack some nuts.


In the hope of resolving this problem, I present a handy flowchart.

How Authors Should Deal with Negative Amazon Reviews



KJ Charles doesn’t read Amazon/Goodreads reviews or harass reviewers, so say what you like about Remnant, a free story written with Jordan L Hawk and coming out 11 March!

World Book Day: I’ll show you my books…

It’s World Book Day today. This means different things to different people. If you work in marketing for a publisher it means a ton of work for little measurable result. If you are a parent, it may well mean dressing your daughter as Hermione Granger again, and explaining to your son that ‘Angry Birds’ is neither a character from a book nor an achievable costume. If you are a heavy reader and general book person, it’s kind of like ‘International Keep Breathing Day’. If you aren’t a heavy reader and book person, you’re probably unaware that it’s World Book Day, and you may well be wondering what you’re doing on this blog. (You’re looking for Lord Magpie the folk band, or KJ Charles the rapper. No problem, mind how you go.)

Anyway, for those still here: It’s World Book Day, and here are some of my books.

Good Night Little ABC. I am 4, already a fluent reader. My mother gives me this book, a tiny alphabet hardback. Each animal has its adorable self-teddy.


I am charmed. Until I reach J.


I cry and cry. Poor Jasper Jabber Jay, forever alone, without his teddy. My mother tells me it’s alright. She assures me that his mummy is just outside the page, that she will come in and give him his teddy and everything will be fine again. I believe her. I realise the characters have life outside the page. I learn that I can add to the story.

Thirty-six years later I give my battered copy of this book to my four-year-old son. He leafs through the pages, delighted. Half way through, at J, he starts to cry, and I tell him what my mother told me, and he believes me too.

Roger Lancelyn Green’s Greek myths. I read them all, abridged, then unabridged. People mutate and change, murder, rape. I am maybe eight. I read them ragged, then I read his Robin Hood stories. Robin dies – not like Arthur or Achilles, not with a heroic death and some numinous sense that there will be resurrection: he dies alone, wounded, abandoned, without Marion. I cry. My mother tells me, ‘They’d all be dead by now anyway.’ This is quite remarkably unhelpful. I realise that sometimes stories don’t end the way you want them to. Sometimes they can’t be changed. I realise that I’m going to have to tackle some of this stuff myself. I’m growing up.

Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Georgette Heyer. Everything, every word, over and over, taking apart the plotting, immersing myself in the perfectly crafted sentences. Setting the flame to what becomes a burning conviction that ‘genre’ fiction can outclass ‘literary’ fiction, and what matters is not the genre, not the classification into boxes because there’s magic or a happy ending, but the writing, the spirit, the style.

The Master and Margarita. I first read Mikhail Bulgakov’s anti-Stalinist masterpiece aged maybe 10. This is not because I am precocious. It is because I am desperate, having read close to everything in my small town library’s children’s book section. I am already devouring my parents’ shelves of Desmond Bagley and Alistair Maclean, so it seems perfectly natural to nip down to the adult section of the library. I pick up The Master and Margarita because it has a big black cat on the front. I read it bewildered and amazed and uncomprehending. I read it again. I read it maybe thirty times. I own three different translations. I go off boyfriends who refuse to read it. My mother calls it ‘The M&M test’. I learn about flaws and judgement and redemption from this book. I believe, with a teenage fire, that manuscripts don’t burn. I still believe that.

The Secret History. We are 21. We all read it with wild, disturbing enthusiasm. My friend says we will have a bacchanale. My boyfriend takes this a little too literally. The party does not go well. I do not speak to my friend for five years.

Bleak House. Immersing myself in Dickens, a whole term at Oxford with nothing else. Grotesquerie and sentiment, aspiration to kindness teamed with relentless, callous cruelty. I see Prunella Scales and Sam West at the National Theatre reading from Dickens, and I realise I should listen to him on audiobook forever because these are words that need to be read aloud. One day, I will.

There are others, thousands more. Single moments. My office passing round Behind the Scenes at the Museum like samizdat, sharing knowing nods when someone burst into tears: ‘we know what bit you’ve got to’. Marabou Stork Nightmares, the only book I have ever thrown in the bin. The Dark is Rising, a brilliantly pagan novel that I read every Christmas. ‘This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining…’ Reading A Fine Balance, in India on my honeymoon. (That could have used more thinking through.) And Bridge of Birds, where I turn for comfort. If you can read Miser Shen’s speech to his daughter in this marvellous, magical, life-enhancing book without tears, you probably need to have yourself reclassified as dead, or possibly concrete.

Those are some of my books. Feel free to tell me yours.

(I have just noticed that on the swear-to-God randomly selected spread of Good Night Little ABC, the animals’ names include ‘Crane’ and ‘Daniel’. Crane is the hero of my first published book. Daniel is the hero of Think Of England, coming in July. I am going to chalk that up to slightly disturbing coincidence, and not look further.)