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Friday 29 March 2019

A Novel Conversation with Richard Abbott's character Brendan mab Emrys,

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...
Brendan mab Emrys


Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. 
Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Richard Abbott’s novel Half Sick of Shadows. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: I am Brendan mab Emrys, singer to my king and his court, and I am seventh in the line of singers from my great ancestor Caradoc of the silver voice. You would call me a bard, I think, and I am an important supporting character. It was I to whom The Lady first revealed herself, when she wearied of her solitude. I do not know any of the drinks you name, but I should be glad of an ale. Or some mead, perhaps? Your chocolates look unappealing – forgive me – but your fruit bowl is excellent, and brings back happy memories of The Lady’s visit.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: I think of the book as sober history. It faithfully records that precious time when The Lady of the Tower – she who we also call The Lady of Flowers – made her one and only visit to us in her true bodily form. But in your age, I think many would call it fantasy. It tells the story of The Lady from when she first awoke, long ages ago, through to the time when she left us in order to fulfil her destiny. She told me how she had lived in this my land from when it was all covered with ice. She came to know the land where she lived, but she did not know herself at first, and had to strive through all those years with a device she called The Mirror. Her triumph was our gain, and she gave us gifts as she left her tower for the last time.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: I am most certainly a ‘goodie’: what else should a man of character be? But I think when people sing their own songs of my time, people might not remember my name. Rather they will sing of my king, or of his companions in arms. And if they notice me at all, it will be as one who stays in the background.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: I shall speak of my queen, Queen Gwynwi. She is fair and honourable, but there are some who think ill of her because she has never quickened with child. My king speaks nothing bad of her, but he longs for an heir and grows impatient. And lately, Llawen y Luh, the leader of the king’s companions, has been seen too often in her company. They should be more cautious about this. Like me, though, she was deeply touched by the Lady as she passed through our land, and perhaps her life will change now. She implored the Lady to grant her the gift of children, but the Lady would offer no reassurance, and said only that she could no longer do that.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: This is the only one so far, and I do not expect there to be others about me. But being mortal and somewhat proud of my ability, I entertain hopes that one day I may return out of the shadows again.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: Surely that must be as the Lady was leaving us. Her face had become dry and wrinkled, her voice weary, and it was as though she was fading before our eyes. And I had only known her such a short time! Mere fleeting days since I first spoke with her at her tower, and now she was going. She looked into my eyes as she climbed into her boat, her limbs stiff and weary, and I knew in that moment that she wished that there had been more time. It was a dagger in my soul.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Oh! That would surely be when the king asked me to sing for him at the feast, and The Lady knew of it and visited us in her unseen shape. This was before she made her true visit on that last day. I did not see her in visible form, but I knew beyond doubt that she stood before me and approved of my song. Few indeed of us saw her like that – Queen Gwynwi, Llawen y Luh, a handful of others – but most could not. The king could not. But she looked on me with favour that day, and I shall never forget it.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has he written any other books?
A: Oh yes, he has. Some of them take place long before my time, in the hot lands near the great empire of Egypt which has now passed into dust. Others are set in my future. Once when I asked him how long it will be before these future things happen, he told me that it was nearly a hundred great cycles of the moon as it dances to and fro in the skies. I laughed at that, and told him that the stone circles of our forefathers would count that as only a little while, and that I could be patient.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: He is working on another book in the far future. He tells me that try as I might, gazing at the night sky as I often do, I will never see the little world Charon on which it is set. I know that that is the name of the boatkeeper who carries the dead, and so at first I wondered if it was a grim place. But this is not so. The same sun that warms us also gives that world its light, and he tells me that I would recognise some of the people of that place. Surely though, he must mean that I would acknowledge them as distant kindred, though clad in other forms? Some of them, look you, are not even flesh and blood, not born of a woman as are we all. Instead, they are clever things, fashioned to speak and think like a person, though to look at they are no more than pieces of metal or stone. He tells me that I would particularly like the one who calls himself Ynys Enlli. That is a holy place north and west of here, and I do like it that some future being has chosen to honour its name once again.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for him personally?
A: He finds the fellowship of other readers and writers to be a very great help. Many of his friends live so far away from his home that he is not likely to ever meet them in person, but he can talk and share thoughts and feelings with them through devices and instruments. He has a few particular friends who provide encouragement and challenge to his writing, and a wider circle of friends in groups who one book after another, and then talk about them. He cannot often attend great gatherings of the bards in the way that I do, and so these other ways of connecting with friends and colleagues are very important to him.

Q: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else he would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: Yes, I think he finds it helpful, though he does sometimes wonder how many people in the wider world understand what it means. He is a great enthusiast of connecting with other people, and appreciates that IndieBRAG strives to link together readers and writers, listeners and narrators.

Helen : Thank you Brendan, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? 

Brendon : Indeed he would: it is my favourite scene that he has chosen.

Helen : While he is doing that, chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill of that ale?
Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!

The king signalled to the minstrel and sat again. The room hushed in anticipation.

His singing was beautiful, she realised. The assistant kept the rhythm steady and flowing on the longer strings, as the master sang out the tale, plucking out higher riffs and ornaments here and there. She watched with admiration as his lay unfolded, not knowing the words but appreciating the patterns. And her own voice lifted up and joined him, even though her body lay on the couch within her chamber.

The lady moved between the guests, less than a shadow among them, step by step up to the musicians. She stood in front of them, basking in the melody. The singer’s words never faltered, but his gaze followed her as she came up to him. She had no idea what he saw of her – perhaps some extra brightness against the firelight, or a flicker of movement like a hidden bird within a thicket – but something in him knew that she was there.

The people heard his song, though not hers, and they were wild with delight as he finished, stilling the strings with the flat of his hand. The king took a ring from his own hands to give to the minstrel, but he shook his head. Instead, he stood and bowed very low before the lady. The room was silent now, waiting to see what happened. She wanted to lift him up: this adulation was altogether too much. But she knew that the desire was fruitless, and that she could not touch him.

The king spoke, a note of puzzlement in his voice, and the minstrel stood upright again. His answer was quiet, respectful, and he gestured to where the lady stood. The king, eyes narrowed, glanced here and there, but could not see her. She looked beyond him to the queen, whose face was alive with interest. She was aware, and so was the king’s right-hand man, who had moved across behind the queen to protect her.

There was a growing noise in the room, a tumult of speculation, and suddenly the focused attention became too much. The lady fled the room in haste, pulled herself from the couch and its loom, and pattered about in the courtyard, slowly being soothed by the sights and scents of her garden.

CONNECT WITH Richard Abbott

Twitter: @IndieBrag

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Twitter: @HelenHollick

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Tuesday Talk: A Story Inspired by a Song

following on from the December series I ran on Discovering Diamonds...
this story was originally sent as an exclusive to my Newsletter Subscribers.

Read the story. Guess the song.

Wine, Champagne, Alcohol, Glasses, Bar

“You look good,” I said with a smile, but my hands were shaking, my knees were knocking. I wasn’t a kid anymore, but I felt that this was a first date, that awkward one where you’d waited weeks to pluck up the courage to speak to the girl you really liked in your class. And when she said yes, you’d spent the next day scared because you didn’t know whether to kiss her or not. And if you did, how did you kiss. [laugh] Cripes, do you remember thinking ‘where d’you put my nose?’

OK, that was a l.o.n.g time ago. Even so, as I sat down at the table in the bar I felt nervous.
“You look good too,” she said. “I bought you a beer, I assume you still like beer?”
I did. Three years had passed, but some things, like a liking for a pint of beer didn’t change.
“And you’re still hooked on red wine, I notice,” I said pointing at her large glass. I grinned. “No one converted you to white wine then?”
“I do occasionally have a gin and tonic as a tipple.”
“Want one now?” I asked, half-rising from my chair.
She shook her head, raised her glass of red in the gesture of a toast. “No ta, I’ve got this."

An awkward silence. Now, what did we talk about? The weather? There was a band playing in the next room, not too badly as it happened.
“Want to dance?” I offered.
She laughed. “We both know that you have three left feet. I’ve still got the bruises!”
I didn’t answer, I just sort of side-nodded my head.

I looked around, it was a normal Friday night in the Bull and Bear, not packed out, but not empty. A couple of guys were laughing with the barman. Two girls, OK, young women, went off to the ladies. Why do females always go to the loo in pairs?

There was a couple sitting in the corner, about our age, the wrong-side of mid-twenties. He was frowning as he downed yet another whisky. She was crying into her wine. I know how that feels, pal. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. 

“So what are you doing now?” my girl asked. She didn’t say ‘are you still working for your dad’. I wondered if she knew that he’d passed away last year. 
“I run the company now,” I answered, with a bit of swaggering pride. “Took over from Dad when he died.”
She bit her lip, looked sad. “I heard about that. I’m so sorry.”
I shrugged. He’d had the Big C. It was a relief all round, for him and me and Mum, that he hadn’t suffered for long.
“What about you?” I said. “Did you get to the US?”
Her face lit up. She had. Toured all over by Greyhound bus. I was happy to let her talk about it, the sights she’d seen, the people she’d met. Her hopes to use what she’d seen and learnt for the new job she’d taken on.

That’s why we were meeting up. She was back in town, here to stay because she’d landed one of those Ace dream-of-a-lifetime jobs. 

I ordered more drinks. Another pint for me. Wine for her. A couple of bags of crisps each. 
I ordered another round a short while later.

She was as beautiful as she was back then. Back when I so stupidly messed up. I was ashamed of what I’d done. How could I have been so utterly, utterly, idiotic? I’d hurt her so much. She’d dumped me of course. I didn’t blame her. I could have explained, made excuses, but how can you say sorry for something that saying sorry just wasn’t enough?

We didn’t talk about the past. I ordered food, chips and a burger each. They served good food here at the Bull. And a refill. I was already over my limit, but the drink was helping to keep the awkward words away. The regrets, the past. It was the future we talked and laughed about. 
I didn’t tell her that I still loved her. That I’d never stopped loving her. Didn’t tell her because I was scared that she didn’t feel the same.

Our last round. The pub would be closing soon and that would be that.

I went to the bar. The place was quieter now, the band had packed up and gone home ages ago. The girl crying in the corner had left. On her own. He’d followed, the worse the wear for drink. Mind you, I could talk!
“Bartender,” I said with a faint smile and a lot of longing as I gave him our empty glasses, “fill these up one last time and add a generous pinch of devoted love will you?”

It was chucking it down outside. I got my phone out. “I’ll get a cab for you,” I said. Did she hear the regret in my voice?
“I'm not far," she pointed left, "easier to walk. A bit of rain never hurt no one. What about you?” she answered.
I pointed to the right. “I’m only round the corner.” Well, about a five-minute jog. “I’ve still got the same flat above the business on the High Street. I kissed her cheek. This was it then. Goodbye. 

She looked at me, her head cocked on one side, her eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, sparkling.
“You were an idiot,” she said. She took my hand. “And if you are ever an idiot again I’ll…” She kissed my cheek. 
“I’ve had far too much to drink,” she said. “I’ll need black coffee and an aspirin in the morning. But I guess you will too. Your place or mine?”

© Helen Hollick

Can you guess the song?

James Blunt: Bartender

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Index of previous stories click here
© exists for lyrics, but not for an ‘idea’

Friday 22 March 2019

A Novel Conversation with Bronwyn Elsmore’s Gina

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...
Gina dressed as Arwen
from Lord of the Rings

© Anna Kulisz

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Bronwyn Elsmore’s novel Every Five Minutes. Would you like to introduce yourself? You use just the one name, is that right? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?  
A: Ah, yes, I’m Gina. I guess most people would say I’m the lead, but I’d always say that’s Mark. And as for supporting, he’s that as well, because of the way he’s supported me. Do you mind if I pour two cups of coffee? Long black for me, white for him. Yes, I know he’s not with us, but I often do that and drink them both.

Q: Of course. Go ahead. I’m glad you agreed to come – I know it wasn’t an easy decision for you.
A: No. I’m not used to talking about myself.

Q: Well, let’s start with the novel. What genre is it, and what is it about?
A: Bronwyn always says it’s literary fiction and a love story. She insists it’s not a romance and I agree with that.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: I’ve already mentioned Mark. Electra’s the other main supporting character, and that describes her well. People think I look after her, but it’s as much the other way around. Which is funny when I think about it because I’ve always been very wary of dogs and never thought I’d live with one, let alone feel about one the way I’ve come to do with Electra. Let’s say we need each other.

Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: Gee no, just this one. A reader wrote and asked Bronwyn if they could hope for a sequel, but both of us agree my story’s best left this way.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: I don’t like to think back about that. It was the time in the park before I accepted that I could trust Mark completely, and I misinterpreted what he was doing and reacted on instinct. He should have given up on me then, knowing the baggage that came with me. I’ll never forget that he didn’t.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Which shall I pick? There are so many lovely moments about times Mark and I shared – such as when we were away on our trip and played at being Rick and Ilsa, then Aragorn and Arwen, and Heathcliff and Cathy. The quiet times in the library we created together. But, no, I think I’d have to go for that day on the beach – the twenty-seventh of February, I’ll never forget that date – when I blew away my past, because that was when I really realised I could move on.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: Yes, Bronwyn has written many genres and her books include non-fiction very informative works, children’s books, creative non-fiction and novels. She’s just published her eleventh book, a collection of short stories called These Islands Here – Short Stories of the South Pacific.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: I believe so. She says it’s another novel but other than that she’s not giving away any clues.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: Look, I’ve seen the work Bronwyn puts in when she’s writing – hundreds, thousands of hours – writing, rewriting, checking facts. Then when it’s published there’s all the time and effort it takes to let people know about it, the marketing – that’s the side she dislikes most. Writers need to know that they’ve touched readers in some way, and they see this through sales and good reviews. They’re pathetically grateful when they get them.

Q: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: The main thing the award gives is the acknowledgement that all the work I talked about was time well spent. For the author, it’s due recognition of their sweat and, sometimes, tears. But it’s helpful for the reader too, because when they see the gold medallion on the cover they can be assured the book is worthy of the time they invest in reading it.

Helen: Thank you, Gina, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt?

Gina : Yes, thank you too, Helen. She’s left it to me to pick one. Once again, which to choose?
Okay, here’s an extract from the early part of my story, where I meet Electra – the first time the three of us are together.

Helen : Great  - would you like a refill of that drink…?
Gina : Thanks, Helen, but I think those two cups of coffee are enough.


You told me you had a dog. I didn’t ask what sort, but afterwards I imagined you with something large, brown, a sporting breed probably. I fancied I could even see you in a tweed coat with a rifle resting on your shoulder. Heaven only knows why, because I’d only ever seen you in a business suit and polished black shoes. Perhaps it was because the image I constructed seemed right outside my scope. Deliberately.
     “I’m a cat person,” I said.
     It was true, in that I admire the self-assuredness of a cat, the independence, the idea of the cat that walks by itself. I thought of the tabby in the flat next door that permits me to scratch behind her ears when it suits her but, when it doesn’t, jumps onto the top of the stone wall out of reach. I appreciate her right to choose.
     At the time, however, the statement was a defensive reaction – a sort of ‘you say tomarto, I say tomayto’ shield I placed between us. Then, to your subsequent question, came my follow-up admission that no, I didn’t have one myself, not at that time. A cat is not something that can be thrown into a suitcase and moved at a moment’s notice when the need is there.

CONNECT WITH Bronwyn Elsmore




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Tuesday 19 March 2019

Tuesday Talk: I have so much news to tell...

Yesterday,  my newsletter subscribers were ‘forewarned’ of this post. (See, it pays to subscribe to newsletters… heavy hint…)

Sea Witch
Buy The Book
Let’s start by rewinding time a little and head back to the Newsletter Archive on my website…

"April 2006
I have so much news to tell.
The publishing industry, understandably, tends to concentrate on books that will sell in their thousands. Sadly that usually means an author's backlist tends to become forgotten. Publishing Houses are only interested in their latest releases - particularly in the scoop of the newest passing-phase celebrity superstar. Because they are not making oodles of money from my books my publisher (Random House UK) has decided not to reprint the Pendragon Banner Trilogy and Harold the King...but …Fear not, a solution is upon us!

I have taken the enormous step of deciding to indie-publish. It will be either the wisest or the stupidest thing I have ever done, but it will mean my books will remain in print for as long as I want them to be. However, the excitement does not end there. I have also decided to indie/self-publish my pirate historical fantasy adventure Sea Witch novel. I am busy doing a final proofread and she will, if all goes to plan, be setting sail in early May 2006…"

Zip back to present day: 19th March 2019...

I simply cannot believe that the above was 2006 THIRTEEN years ago!

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, some of it calm and sedate, but a good bit of it somewhat turbulent. The first indie publishing assistant company that I went to turned out to be owned by a crooked con-man, and looking at those early print runs… well, let’s just say they are how NOT to produce books. When the company went bankrupt, I high-tailed it over to Helen Hart’s SilverWood Books – been with the company, most satisfactorily, ever since.

Sourcebooks Inc picked up Harold, Queen Emma and Arthur for traditional/mainstream publication in the US and Canada, with The Forever Queen (retitled from the UK’s A Hollow Crown) making the USA Today bestseller list. (And I’ve just looked, it is still ranked in the Amazon.Com bestseller lists – and there are 99 reviews. Come on someone, make it a round 100 for me!) Then Turkey took it for translation… so I was now in the ranks of authors known as ‘hybrid’ – traditional and indie.

I think most of my followers know the story behind Sea Witch? (If not, click HERE) My ex-agent let me down big-time. She hated it. Sent the draft copy back with red lines and sarky comments scribbled over it… I was gutted. I had put my heart and soul into writing that book, I was thrilled with it – talk about someone chucking a bucket of water over your parade! Fortunately, I had (have!) more faith in my rogue of a pirate (“ex-pirate” … he’s just whispered that in my ear. There’s a distinct whiff or rum in my office… and the fact that he needs a bath…That’s the trouble with fictional characters, they have a habit of becoming very real.)

Anyway… I knew the idea was a good one.

I went on to turn that first Voyage into a series. And I have worked hard at being an indie writer, with all that being an indie entails. Which means doing your own, hands-on, every day 24/7 12 months marketing. I’ve, mostly, enjoyed it.

I set out, back then in 2006, when ‘Indie’ was a relatively new concept – and it bore the mark of being ‘second-class vanity’ publishing. These years later indie authors are far more respected because the good, serious, authors have made a point of producing quality, high standard work. (In point of fact, often better than mainstream!) And we, as authors, have, on the whole, become accepted in the literary world as respected authors – again, because we produce our books with care (and a lot of love!) After all, we invest our own money into it! Being indie is often expensive: there’s professional editing to pay for, professional cover design… professional marketing services if you chose to use them… To produce an indie novel that matches quality mainstream standard takes time and money.

And it is hard slog work to keep yourself and your books going. And after thirteen years of trumpet tootling, I’m getting tired. I want to get back to making writing my priority but needed a boost for my flagging lack of self-confidence and enthusiasm. That little whisper of nagging self-doubt when you are an indie writer is always present. We are on our own and – well, it’s draining to the point of ‘why am I doing this?’  The only thing that keeps us indies going is knowing that our readers out there - you -  enjoy our books.

The big drawback with being Indie, apart from everything I’ve said above, is the limitation of how wide you can ‘spread the word’. All indie writers would like to be the whale in a pond, but the truth is, most of us are tadpoles in the vast ocean of other books and other authors. Although the same is true for the majority of mainstream authors, the difference is, they don’t have to fork out good money for the privilege.

Because of marketing, getting books into stores, translation (or even film/TV) opportunities, mainstream publishers also have the advantage over indies: they have a louder voice, a larger presence. This is so even for the smaller Independent Publishing Houses (not to be confused with ‘Indie’ writers. Think of these publishing houses as the local Community Shop, as opposed to the huge Tesco. Whereas the indie author is the chap with his own barrow in the street market.)

All of which is why even the most prolific and supportive indie writer would still prefer to be with a Mainstream Publisher.

And I am delighted and excited to announce, that after thirteen years of ‘going it alone’, I have just signed a contract with Independent Publisher, Penmore Press, based in Arizona, for the Sea Witch Voyages! Jesamiah is to sail in consort with a new fleet to explore New Horizons!

We are to keep the covers designed by Cathy Helms ( and we hope to get these new editions ready to set sail as soon as possible – although they will be out of print for a short while.

In which case, please do celebrate with me – I’m delighted that my Captain Acorne is to sail along with good hands, and that at last, despite the pleasure that being indie can bring, he has the potential to reach the much wider audience that he deserves. Jesamiah really should reach whale status, he isn’t the tadpole type.

However,  if you need to complete your set of e-books or paperback Voyages, and you don’t want to have to wait for them – I’d advise you to plunder them from Amazon now.

Meanwhile, I’ll be getting on, with renewed enthusiasm, with the writing of Voyage Six, Gallows Wake

 Please join me (and that Sparrer Feller) in a toast: 

To Jesamiah – and Penmore Press!