Available now: When First I Met My King

wfimmk_cover_finalI’m happy to say that When First I Met My King, the first book in my Arthur trilogy, is now available to buy. Here are the links for Amazon, Amazon UK and Smashwords:

http://bit.ly/WhenFirstCom

http://bit.ly/WhenFirstUK

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751088

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I’d rather have published the Arthur stories in one volume: I know how frustrating it can be for readers to have to wait for subsequent instalments! But although I did it this way primarily for economic reasons, when I look at my storyboarding for books two and three, the narrative has a kind of inbuilt triptych quality, and I hope you’ll find a satisfying reward for your wait, which I don’t intend to be a long one anyway: volume two will be my festive offering for this year, and volume three should be with you in March 2018.

I am sorry for the lack of fun and fan-fa-rah attending this New Book Day! My friends in the community (and I count myself so very fortunate in having so many of you to call my friends) will know that I finished and released My King in tough circumstances. Still, my read on what you lovely folk want is less about giveaways and competitions and more about the story itself, so I reckon none of you will mind too much if I save my energies for cracking on with book two, The Dragon’s Tale.

Now, for those of you who like excerpts, here is an excerpt!

***

 

 

When Art met him in the courtyard of the praetor’s house, he knew at once that something had changed. But Lance looked too lost and sick for interrogation. Instead, Art fell into step at his side. “That leg must be hurting.”

It was an excuse, kindly offered. Lance nodded, his gratitude plain. “A little now, yes.”

“You shouldn’t be on your feet. I tell you what—I’ll help you upstairs, and you can have a rest before supper.”

First Lance had to manage the steps up to the main door. They were majestic in the Roman style, broad and shallow, their crumbling marble patched by moss. Deftly Art relieved him of his broomstick crutch. He ducked beneath his arm, got a grip around his waist. “There. That’s better, isn’t it?”

“Where have you been all this time?”

“With Sir Ector, getting hauled over the coals for conduct unbecoming to a soldier. Wasting resources, risking valuable lives, that kind of thing.”

“I tried to tell him it wasn’t your fault.”

“I know, and thank you. I don’t really mind it, though.” Art tightened his grip and began to hoist Lance up the steps. The fire had been lit in the praetor’s great hall, and dancing shades of crimson met the last of the sunset in the cooling air. “To tell you the truth, I’m more afraid of the day when he stops doing it. He’ll feel he doesn’t have the right anymore. And that means…”

“That means you’ll be king.”

Art came to a halt. They’d reached the footworn passage beneath the portico. “That’s right.” Just for a while, I’d thought I wouldn’t have to do it alone. “More importantly, supper smells good. Who’s coming?”

“Oh, who isn’t? Everyone’s still ravenous after the winter. If the word of free food goes out, we’ll have everyone from shepherd boys to squires. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker—and their women and children. It’ll be chaos.”

“It sounds like you’ve done this before.”

“Many times, in Ban’s better days. He was generous, and would feed people when he could. He was a good master, a good father.”

Nobody had denied these things. Arthur examined the pale, set profile studiously avoiding his gaze. “Of course,” he said gently. In the kitchen beyond the hall, men and women were bustling about: Lance’s housekeeper Edern and his family, who had continued their faithful service, it seemed, through famine and long winter. Arthur doubted that Lance could have afforded to keep paying them after the catastrophic raid. All kinds of things about this lonely, far-flung household were good. “In that case, you can help solve a domestic problem of Sir Ector’s. A future one of mine, at that.”

“I doubt it, but go on.”

“Come indoors where it’s warmer. All these squires, farmers, shopkeepers… I suppose they have their own ideas about their importance, just as the knights and landowners do who come to visit us in the Forest Wild?”

Lance smiled reluctantly. They’d entered the friendly dining hall with its long trestle table, where he, Tomas and the Roman visitors had taken their evening meals for the last fortnight. “You’ve no idea. The miller would come to blows with our blacksmith over whose wife had more of a right to sit nearest the head of the board.”

“And whose wife does?”

“Neither of them, of course. We shan’t be eating in here tonight—come with me.” He detached himself from Arthur’s grasp, took back his makeshift crutch and set off across the hall. He pushed open a door Art hadn’t noticed before. “There,” he said. “My mother solved the problem long ago.”

Rushlight torches had been set in cressets all around the walls. Arthur stepped into the flame-lit space, and burst into laughter. Occupying the centre of the room, skilfully crafted from peg-tied sections of brightly polished oak, was a perfectly round table, nobly set out for dining. “Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “I shall have one like this made for my fortress at Cam, only five times the size. If I have nothing else, I’ll have this, even if they have to build the place around it.”

“It does help. You do know they’ll still squabble for the privilege of a place at your right hand?”

That place ought to have been filled. Arthur bit back the words fiercely. If he didn’t push, he didn’t have to know—not yet, not yet. “Perhaps I’ll fashion mine with a hole at the centre,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll put my throne there, with some kind of wheel and mechanism to turn it. Then I’ll sit in splendour, command myself to be rotated, and shed my kingly beneficence upon each of them in turn.”

Lance was laughing now too. “Please don’t do that. You’ll look like the sack of grain they put up on a pole at the fair, for the lads to shy down with stones and clods of mud.”

“Thank you very much. Maybe not that, then. Your mother was a clever woman, though.”

“She was. She died fighting, I’m told.”

Art turned to him, suddenly as serious as he. “Oh, Lance. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t. It’s better that way, isn’t it—to go down with honour and pride?”

“Far better, I’m sure. But fearful too, and far from easy. I hope it won’t ever be asked of me—or you either, my friend. How long do we have before these guests of yours arrive?”

“None at all. I can hear cart wheels on the cobbles right now.”

“And here come Ector and Guy, all dressed for feasting.” Art pressed a hand into Lance’s back and began to steer him out of sight of the handsomely turned-out pair striding through the main hall. “They can take care of things for a while.”

“Arthur, no. I have to do the honours of the house.”

“Come and do them with me. My blood’s warm, and so is yours. How can we get out of here without being seen?”

“We can’t. But Edern’s too busy to notice us, so… Quick, through the kitchens. There’s a flight of wooden steps from the yard at the back to the bedchambers. It’s more like a ladder, though—you’ll have to help me up.”

Art beamed. “If I have to carry you. Come on!”

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What a difference an “A” made…

erotica - not romance

This is the screen that now greets authors on Smashwords when they follow the instruction to certify the adult content in my books. “Erotic”, not “Erotica”.

I am happy with this and will go ahead and certify. Debates about the rights and wrongs of classification of adult content generally will have to wait until another day. Essentially, Smashwords listened and responded, and I would personally like to thank my contact there for his patience as we emailed back and forth about this matter.

I have to make clear once more that this was not about any objection whatsoever in my mind to the genre of erotica itself. Me, I love it. A combination of Anaïs Nin’s Little Birds and Macho Sluts by Pat Califia, read much too young in both cases, probably helped turn me into the dodgy, broad-bottomed, unafraid character I am today. (The comments from “Shocked of Alabama” and her ilk on the Smashwords blog actually made me want to run off and write the most blazingly wicked one I possibly could, and one day I will, so brace yourselves.)

But the books I currently list on Smashwords are M/M romance, gay romance, gay fiction, erotic gay romance, any combination of the above. Not one of them could possibly be listed within any kind of “erotica” category, and I wanted to fix that, and I have.

A small victory, but I’m pleased by it. I think I mentioned in one of my FB posts that there are far too many people within the New Right, both in the States and all over the world, who are ready to look at LGBTQIA+ people, their literature, their culture, label it “porn”, and trample it all, and us, underfoot.

Not that I have a problem with porn, either. But, like our straight, CIS contemporaries, we have a right, when selling or purchasing literature, to careful, thoughtful, and accurate categorisation.

Thanks again to Smashwords for listening to this point of view, and taking action.

Problems with Smashwords

Hi, everyone. I’m having more than a bit of a problem with Smashwords, and wondering if/how other authors have been dealing with it. A small glitch in the grand scheme of things, but I’m actually feeling pretty unhappy with the situation.

I’m being asked to certify that my books do or don’t contain taboo content; content prohibited by the Smashwords terms of service.

I don’t actually have a problem with doing that. (In fact, I’m fairly sure that Last Line does contain such content in the form of dubcon. Oh, that Mikey.) I do have a problem with the fact that this certification process is being carried out under the umbrella term, “erotica”.

Have a look at the screen grab. There’s just no getting away from the fact that Smashwords is trying to persuade me that I write erotica.

erotica certification

Now, for the record, I think well-written erotica (ie stories, films, artwork, etc, which exist mainly for the portrayal of sex) is great, and a considerable art form. But, unless I’m going completely mad here, “erotic romance” (ie fully plotted romantic storylines which don’t “fade to black” on the sex scenes) is something completely different.

And, more worryingly than anything else, Smashwords is telling me that I, the author, am the person who has categorised my work as “erotica”. This is being done with such insistence that I actually went to have a look. Nope – every single one of them is “romance, gay, erotic” or some variation on that. Nowhere in any of my categorisations does the word “erotica” occur.

Mountain out of a molehill? Maybe. But I still don’t want to go through with this process. The more I think about it, the more I object. I’ve spent seven years now building up a brand. My readers know what to expect, and erotica isn’t it.

I’d welcome advice. Part of me is thinking, especially given current stressful life events, “Ah, just agree and be done.” But I feel there’s a bit more at stake here than the listing of taboo content. I don’t think writers of erotic romance *should* be shovelled into a poorly understood erotica category by Smashwords and their retailers. Writers of gay fiction and romance are coming under enough pressure from a reactionary establishment as it is.

Am I misunderstanding some crucial aspect of this? I don’t make a fortune out of Smashwords, and I doubt anyone there would grieve if I took my books down. However – and this is very important to me – I feel that my readers should have the choice to purchase elsewhere than on Amazon.

I’ve been emailing back and forth with Smashwords,and while the person handling the matter is doing his best to explain, the fundamental problem we have is that neither he, nor Smashwords, nor Smashwords’ retailers, seem to accept that there is any distinction between fiction with erotic elements and erotica.

Any words of wisdom, fellow Smashwords authors? Did you think, “Ah, just agree and be done”, or are you too questioning the process? I’d be really grateful to hear from you.

Available to pre-order – When First I Met My King

wfimmk_cover_finalWell, I am officially the world’s worst at marketing. I’m sure the author shouldn’t be more or less the last to know her book is available for pre-order, releasing on 30th September. 😀 How I make a living in this business is a mystery to me, but I’m very grateful to all my wonderful readers who keep me in the game despite myself. Here are the buy links for Amazon UK and .com. (I will be releasing the book via Smashwords too, but not on pre-order.)

http://bit.ly/WhenFirstUK

http://bit.ly/WhenFirstCom

I’ll be honest – publishing my Arthur story as a trilogy was a business decision, and not my first choice. I’d have loved to be able to take the time to release all three books in one volume, or at least to have very short gaps between volumes. As things stand, we’re looking at Book 2 around the end of the year, and Book 3 in March of next. I need around three releases a year to stay viable, and so far this year I’m not doing terribly well to keep with that programme!

I’m aware that a lot of you aren’t fans of cliffhangers, and I understand that, especially when there’s then a long wait for the next book. The books in the Arthur trilogy won’t leave you dangling too badly, I promise – but I will say that the volumes aren’t standalone. It’s a big, luxuriant tale, with mystery, dragons, and a slowly unfolding romance which I trust will break and remake your hearts as thoroughly as it has done mine.

 

Scrap Metal available again

arran ferryHappy to say that the grand old Arran ferry can set sail again – I’ve finally got round to publishing Scrap Metal through FoxTales. That means that all of my former Samhain Publishing books – Driftwood, Scrap Metal, The Salisbury Key, Brothers of the Wild North Sea and Cold Fusion – are now once more unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. 😀 Although perhaps I should say “suspecting public”, because apart from the cover material, I must make clear that these editions are the same as those previously released by Samhain. I wish I could have found time to add some extra material , but really I just wanted to make the books available again.

Although I still miss Samhain, converting the books for FoxTales has been a good experience. They’ve had their main sales run, so keeping overheads low was important, and I had fun of a weird sort, reformatting and tinkering around with chapter heads and suchlike. Of course re-wording the blurbs boiled down to five little slices of hell, but that was offset by the very enjoyable process of creating the cover art (with the exception of Scrap Metal‘s, which I bought from Samhain because I think it lovely). My cover-art creations are by no means perfect. However, overall I’m very pleased with them, and I’ve gained some useful skills.

Here are the buy links for Scrap Metal. Nichol and Cameron did so well for me, and now those good lads can continue to send their wages home. ;-D

Smashwords

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/744142

 

Amazon UK

http://bit.ly/ScrapMetalUK

 

Amazon com

http://bit.ly/ScrapMetalCom

 

When First I Met My King

WFIMMK_cropI thought I’d better let you know what I’m up to! It’s been a while, but I’m burning my way through a touch of burnout and my latest, When First I Met My King, a stripped-back-and-tribal retelling of our endlessly fertile Arthur myth, will be available for pre-order on Amazon very soon. Here’s a taster – I hope you enjoy.

***

It was Bear who had spotted the water. His guardian, a straight-spined old soldier of Roman descent named Ectorius, nodded in approval. The boy must learn to be aware of the needs of horses and troops, and become adept in meeting them. Their journey had been long, and the animals were thirsty. Ectorius nodded, giving permission for him to lead off toward the glittering burn.

They had almost reached the ruined turret when Bear reined in his horse and stood listening. Ectorius exchanged a glance with his own son, Gaius. Neither of them could hear anything but skylarks, and the long-billed water birds called curlew that sang so joyously up on these moors when the sun came out.

It was shining brilliantly now. The locals all the way from Pons Aelius in the east had complained of an endless winter, and although Ectorius had seen signs of it – barely the beginnings of growth in the fields, the people thin and weary, lambs few – all around them, this spring day was perfect. The good weather seemed to be following them. Gaius, a big, raw-boned lad, with a face as kind and ugly as his father’s own, had teased Bear that the sun had started to shine from his regal backside, and the boy had begun to take such nonsense good-naturedly, instead of trying to engage his stepbrother in mortal combat every time they quarrelled. Now, as often, Bear had seen or heard something imperceptible to other senses, and Ectorius learned to take him seriously. “What is it?” he softly asked.

“I’m not sure. Someone coming, I think. But he moves like a cat, or the wind.”

Ectorius drew his sword. He motioned to the three armed grooms travelling with them to take up defensive positions. Their journey had been safe so far, but up here in the borders, so the tales said, little Pictish hunters could emerge from the very hills to seek their prey. Their reputation was uncanny. Blue ghosts who sailed in on the wind and snatched up lambs and babies from cradles…  It was nonsense, of course, Celtic twilight, but nevertheless he made ready.

Yes. He could hear it now, too. Light, running footsteps. Bear had trotted his horse forward to meet them, almost into the shadow of the turret’s arch. Ectorius didn’t think there was much to worry about, and he knew that from now on he had to let the boy fight his own battles. Reining back his horse, gesturing to the others to do the same, he kept a discreet watch.

It was just another lad, and a skinny one at that. But he leapt with such force from the reeds behind the arch that Bear did not stand a chance:  in an instant he was dragged from his mount and down into the stream. His thin, dirty assailant crashed into the water with him. “Saxon!” the newcomer bellowed, shoving Bear under the surface, sending rainbows flying. “Saxon pig!  This land will never be yours. I defy you!”

Bear was startled into passivity. He was winded, too, and shocked by the water’s cold sting. It was an instant only. Ectorius watched in approval as he twisted out from under and sprang to his feet. His sword had never left his hand. “Saxon?” he demanded in his turn. “How dare you, you savage?  I am prince of Cerniw, and my father was the son of the Dragon of the South, as good a Briton as ever lived!” 

The blade flashed. The dark-haired lad staggered up out of the water and jumped back, but only far enough to draw his own weapon.

Ectorius leaned forward in his saddle. This stranger bore a sword such as the old Roman had never seen, and he wielded it well. Too well for his protégé?  Ectorius tensed. If the boy fell, all was lost…

Then, suddenly, the very air changed. The flaring rage between Bear and his opponent seemed to fall out of it like scales. Bear had been schooled in the rules of combat, and apparently so had the Celtic lad, although God alone knew where. Engagement with a worthy opponent must be fair. Soldiers on the battlefield could hack at one another like butchers, but this boy had offered himself one-on-one. Bear found his balance, waited till the other was firm on his feet too, and made his move.

Blade hit blade, and sparks flew.

Ectorius watched the fight progress. Bear was putting into practice all he had been taught, and keeping his head, too, which could not always be counted on. The other, after his initial burst of rage, had settled into a combat stance that was almost cool, and heaven only knew where he had got that magnificent sword. Bear was actually smiling – had breath and poise to ask, between parries, “Well, what are you, moorland warrior?  A long-legged Pict?”

Pict?” the other demanded, accurately mimicking Bear’s outraged echo of Saxon. “I am Lance, son of King Ban of Vindolanda…”  He paused, long enough to spring up the stream bank, obliging Bear to move after him, fighting uphill. “As good a Roman as ever drew breath.”

“Oh?  I am Roman, too, by upbringing.”

The boy called Lance seemed to consider this, although he didn’t ease the ferocity of his attack. “In that case we probably have no fight.”

“Probably not,” Bear admitted. He was getting the worst of it. Childishly he added, “But you started it!”, and lunged in with an uncontrolled thrust whose force Lance effortlessly caught and turned against him, dumping him backover into the water once more.

The splash was considerable. Gaius roared with laughter. Lance put up his sword at once and waded in, one hand extended to help.

And Cerniw’s heir lost his temper. He scrambled to his feet, evading the other boy’s grasp. His hair swung round his face like a wet lion’s mane and he seemed from somewhere to gain a foot in height. “Peasant!” he snarled. “You have no idea who I am!  How dare you block my way, here or anywhere in this land?”

Ectorius frowned in an effort to keep his face straight. It felt like only yesterday he had watched the child being chased by its nurse around his courtyard for a change of undergarments, but he held his tongue:  like the fighting, within certain bounds he must let the budding regality have sway. Lance only looked disgusted. What a change came over that handsome face, when his smile was replaced by disdain!  He turned his back and began to walk away.

A mistake. In this state of mind, Bear would not be ignored. And he was a good boy, Pendragon’s heir, but he had the hot Celtic blood of both his parents – the warrior king, and the bride he had stolen, starting a war in the process, and she just as much of a spitting tiger as her new lord could handle – running through his veins. He could only take so much, Ectorius knew, for all the lessons in courteous defeat he had tried so patiently to learn. He might have been gracious, had Gaius not laughed. Instead, he grabbed Lance by the shoulder, spun him round and knocked him down with a flying punch.

Ectorius jumped off his horse. “Arthur!” he barked. “Stop that at once. How dare you treat a worthy opponent so shabbily?”  He strode across the stream. A time would soon come when he would not be able to clout his ward over the head to restore his manners, but until then, Ectorius retained full parental privilege. Bear took the blow without flinching, as he had been taught, his eyes wide and fearless on his guardian’s.

Then Ectorius glanced down. The young Celt lay motionless and pale on the turf. His eyes were closed. “By Our Lady, Art. What have you done?”

Arthur’s mouth fell open. His face suffused with shame and horror. “He was defending his father’s land, as you would have done yours,” Ectorius said sternly. “And he has not the benefit of all your training, you spoiled child.”

Arthur tore out of his grip. He crouched down beside Lance. He shook him, then collected himself and began to search for the injury. It didn’t take long: tenderly he raised his head, reached beneath it and sat back with bloodstained fingers. “He fell onto a rock. I have killed him. Oh, Father Ector – the shame to me, that I should have served a noble enemy thus!”

Once more Ectorius repressed a smile. Round and rough-tongued enough in his daily speech, the boy did tend to poetry when he was upset. Somehow it sat well on him. Taking pity, Ectorius knelt down stiffly on the turf himself. He felt for the fallen lad’s pulse beneath his jaw. “Well,” he said. “Perhaps we need not bury him just yet. Don”t sit there gawping, child!  Fetch me some water from the stream.”

Tyack & Frayne Book 7 is live!

pbb_coverAnd this has to be my most pitiful effort at any kind of release-day hoop-la ever. I’m so sorry! Life hit me from six different directions at once, and it’s only now, at quarter to one in the morning after release day, that I’m getting anywhere near my computer. I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the wonderful people who have made Preacher, Prophet, Beast a success in spite of me. Thank you for the lovely big pile of pre-orders! I’m really pleased, and grateful to all. Here are the buy links for Smashwords and Amazon.

 

 

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/719617

Amazon UK

http://bit.ly/PreacherPBuk

Amazon. com

http://bit.ly/PreacherPBcom