Ducie’s Diary: July 2020
It’s hard to believe we are already into the second half of the year. One minute we were in mid-March, waiting for spring to begin, and suddenly we’re already well into summer. Where has the time gone? At my weekly virtual choir session this afternoon, one of the numbers we sang was Bing Crosby’s Busy Doing Nothing. Someone said it was appropriate for the way we are all marking time at the moment. And in some ways I agreed. Yet, when I look back on the past four weeks, there’s actually been quite a lot going on.
Writing In June
I’m delighted to report I seem to have got my novel-writing mojo back again. I’ve just finished writing the third version of the first in my Coombesford Chronicles series. I’ve thrown out all the back story chapters; incorporated some of this material into the main chapters; changed the nationality of at least two of the suspects; renamed several of the characters; moved the site of the murder; and changed the title! There’s still a way to go, and I’m struggling with this one more than I expected, but I believe Murder at Mountjoy Manor (final title – I hope) is getting there. I may not quite be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but at least I now know where the tunnel is! And I’ve started planning the cover design with Berni Stevens, which is always an exciting process.
The weekly editions of Chudleigh Phoenix continue to take up a chunk of time, but I’ve now got it streamlined to one full day a week, which is better than the two and a half days that it was previously taking.
Sales and Marketing
I’ve now got over my somewhat irrational belief that it was wrong to advertise during lockdown, and have developed a series of adverts to go in Chudleigh Phoenix. I even remembered to remind library users – finally able to use the services again from this week – that all my books are available to borrow at the local branch.
Ebook sales continue to be a trickle rather than a flood, but following my move from ‘wide’ distribution to Amazon exclusivity, the number of page reads is growing. Don’t forget that ALL my books: novels, short story collections; and The Business of Writing series of textbooks are free to download for members of Kindle Unlimited, while still being available to all other readers as ebooks or Print On Demand paperbacks from Amazon. And of course, if you want a signed paperback, just give me a shout…
Out and About
As mentioned last month, I was the guest on 5th June of Katie Griffin from Sawdye & Harris, who is interviewing local business people about their Lockdown Lessons. It was a very interview to do; Katie is a great host. If you fancy taking a look, you will find it by clicking here .
Hats off to the organisers of Crediton Literary Festival, for a well-run day on 6th June, and especially to Mark Norman who hosted every session and fielded all the questions. I sat in on several of the sessions as a member of the audience and enjoyed all of them, especially the crime panel. And I was the speaker in a session on 40 years an Indie, looking at how the publishing industry has changed since the 1970s when I published my first book (well, my Ph.D thesis, anyway). All the sessions are available on You Tube. You can find mine by clicking here.
Having successfully negotiated my first live performance on Zoom via Credition LitFest, I then decided to have a go at putting on something myself. So on 13th June, I presented a webinar on Independent Publishing. There were a few hiccups: I forgot to hit the record button; so did my co-host; and my back up plan failed when my sister found she didn’t have permission to record from her device. And plugging my laptop in but forgetting to switch on the power wasn’t too clever either. Lessons to be learned for the future, I think. But otherwise, I think it went well, and the audience was most appreciative. I recorded the whole presentation the following day, and made it available to all attendees. At some point, I may put it up on You-Tube, but for the moment, if you would like the link to that webinar, just drop me an email.
Other Literary News
The launch of Exeter Writers’ anthology, Flashlight: Flash Fiction Stories To Brighten Your Day went very well. The ebook came out on 6th June – National Flash Fiction Day – and the paperback arrived just a few days later. It is also available to download for free to Kindle Unlimited members.
For some years now, I have been using blog tours as part of my promotional activities, usually around launch time. I used to arrange them myself, begging favours of friends and colleagues with their own blogs. More recently, I’ve used Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources to organise them for me. A few weeks ago, I thought I’d have a go at being on the other side of the fence and took part in tours for three books during June. I mentionned one of them last month: Val Penny’s Let’s Get Published. I also reviewed Whatever It Takes by Tadhg Coakley and Temple of Dreams by Carolyn Mathews. You can read my reviews by clicking on the individual links. Taking part in blog tours in this way is not something I want to do too much of; it’s quite time consuming and if, like me, you book too many within a short space of time, you are in danger of running out of reading time. But it’s also a good way to ‘give back’ to others in the industry, so I’ll probably carry on doing them periodically.
Finally, a reminder that the Exeter Literary Festival short story competition is running at the moment. With prizes of £200, £100 and £50; and a word limit of 750, it’s worth having a go. You have until 31st July to get your entries in. Check out all the details on the website.
Cancer Lifeline South West
The highlight of the month for supporters of CLSW was the live magic show presented by 8 year old Tegan Lea-Weston on 20th June. Her original target was to raise £200. She broke this barrier in just a day; increased her target to £500 – and went on to raise over £1000 (including Gift Aid). Everyone was delighted with her – and really proud to have such an enthusiastic and skilled young supporter. You can see her show by clicking here. In addition, we’ve been raising money through selling hand-made face masks; and I’ve had a table of cuttings and seedlings outside my garage, which seems to be quite popular. We’re hoping to arrange an online quiz at some point in the next few weeks, so watch this space.
Writers are Readers Too
I’m not really a history buff. I gave it up to follow a science-based curriculum when I was 14; and I’ve never caught up. But I have to admit to being fascinated by Tudor history at the moment. And that’s all down to one author: C J Sansom.
It was back in 2007 that I read Dissolution, the first of the Shardlake series. Here’s the review I wrote at the time, giving it 5 stars: “Medieval history mixed up with murder and investigation. What’s not to like? The first of the Shardlake books takes us out of London as the lawyer visits a monastery cut off by winter weather and helps solve a brutal murder.”
But for some reason, I didn’t continue with the rest of the series, although we have gradually accumulated the full set on our book shelves. Then last month, I picked up book 2 in the series, Dark Fire, and that was it; I was hooked. Here’s what I wrote when I finished that one: “It’s years since I read the first book in this series, so I had forgotten what a good writer C J Sansom is. In Dark Fire, Matthew Shardlake is pulled reluctantly into the dangers of Tudor politics once more by his patron, Thomas Cromwell, when he tries to find the source of the dangerous, but missing, Dark Fire which Henry VIII is expecting to see demonstrated. Along the way, he investigates a murder case which threatens the liberty and the life of a young girl he believes to be innocent. And he meets a new associate. Great fun, and a most enjoyable read.”
Since then, I’ve read Sovereign, which takes Shardlake to York at the time of the Great Progress of 1541; Revelation, set in London a couple of years later as religious traditionalists and radicals fight for supremacy and a serial killer enacts scenes from the last book of the bible; Heartstone where the action moves to Sussex and Hampshire as Henry prepares for French invasion; and Lamentation, based in London during the dying years of Henry’s reign, where a stolen book threatens the safety of the Queen. There’s one more book to read, Tombland and I have no doubt I’m going to enjoy it as much as the previous six.
Sansom’s research is detailed yet dealt to the reader subtly. He takes us into the slums of London, and the Palaces; into controversy, dreadful punishments, and extreme political shenanigans. But at the same time, he gives us murder mysteries to solve; and great characters to cheer on or hiss at. I’m really enjoying this series and am sorry it’s coming to an end. If you’ve not tried them so far, I would highly recommend the Shardlake books.