Month: October 2013

A chilling tale just in time for Halloween!

It’s taken months of re-writing, editing, proofing and proofing again, but it’s here at last. My novel ‘The Black Hours’ is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Black-Hours-ebook/dp/B00G505UUO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383214676&sr=8-1&keywords=the+black+hours
It’s been a long, sometimes stressful experience but one I have thoroughly enjoyed. And one I will soon be repeating as I am now working on a second novel. Provisionally titled ‘Remember, Remember’ it tells the story of the infamous Gunpowder Plot from a rather mysterious point of view. More details to follow – probably on the 5th of November!

Self-publishing – what I’ve learned (so far!)

This blog is about historical fiction – but as an independent author and very proud to be one, I’d also like to share some experiences of my self-publishing journey as it happens.

‘The Black Hours’ isn’t published quite yet, but it’s getting close. And only two months later than I’d planned. Two months longer than my well-planned, well-detailed, completely OCD schedule said it would happen. And that’s not because I spent loads of time on Facebook, watching Jeremy Kyle and cleaning the oven (although I did spend more time on these things than I should have. Except the oven). It’s not down to procrastination, laziness or tea and biscuit breaks. It’s because self-publishing your first novel is a hell of a lot more complicated than you could ever imagine.

But please don’t let that put you off. Complicated doesn’t necessarily mean difficult. It just means fiddly and frustrating and time-consuming. Don’t believe all those stories you hear about people having no money for rent so they sit down and write a few erotic novels and stick them on Amazon, making a fortune on the way. Take these tales with a hefty pinch of salt. For a start, royalties don’t get paid instantly even if you do sell – CreateSpace pay the month after the royalties are earned, and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) pay 60 days later. So if you want some money for Christmas, and you’re just starting out, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any money until well into the January sales.

Don't assume the money will roll in instantly.

Don’t assume the money will roll in instantly.

Even if your book is ready there are lots of things to take into account. Before we even get to the content, you need to think about the cover. Have a look on Amazon. Look at all those books. Look at all those awful, awful covers. Some of them are really beyond belief. Ok, so I know that not everyone can pay a professional to do the job for them, and writers aren’t necessarily good at the visual side of things, but this is important. You’ve spent time on your book. You care about it. Isn’t it worth a decent cover? Think about it. Your book needs to stand out; your potential readers need to have the right impression of you. If your cover looks shoddy, why should they bother with your book? The one next to it, above it, below it, they look far more enticing. You wrote your book to sell it, didn’t you? Then you have to make it appealing. Consider whether you can afford to hire a professional. There are lots out there and they can be reasonably priced. Have a look at the KDP and CreateSpace forums for recommendations. Or try the Goodreads site: http://www.goodreads.com/

I had edited ‘The Black Hours’ thoroughly. My trusted readers had read it thoroughly. My husband, an experienced journalist, editor and communications specialist, had read it thoroughly. It was ready! Just had to be formatted for KDP and CreateSpace. That wouldn’t take long, would it? Well, it does. Especially if you’re using Word. Word has its own, completely illogical rules that you won’t be able to fathom. Your book will get formatted eventually, but you’ll upload it and check it and check it again and then again and then again (with several more uploads) before all the widows and orphans are gone (you’ll find out what they are), before you find some random post on the CS community explaining about pagination, and before your book looks as professional as it really needs to before you send it out there to compete with the thousands of others available. You may well, by this point, feel like this:

frustration pic

So then you’ll have your KDP version ready, and you’ll upload your CreateSpace version. And then you’ll realise that you need to order a proof copy to make sure it’s all ok. And that these come from the US, cost money and take a while to come (you’ll pay about £15 to make sure you get t as quickly as possible). Only then will you realise that what you should have done is sorted out the paperback version first, ordered the proof and then worked on the Kindle version while you were waiting. Store that away for the next time.

So your proof arrives. You’re so excited; here is your book, at last. You take a photo and put it on Facebook and bask in the congratulations for a while. Then you start reading it. And realise that, despite all that checking and editing, there are loads of commas that shouldn’t be there and there are spelling mistakes. How did you miss them?! Well, it’s because you get used to reading on a screen. If you’ve been working on a novel for a while and you’ve read it through a lot, then it seems that your brain sees what should be there rather than what actually is there. The commas and spellings drift past. And some that your readers have been pointed out get missed. You realise then that your precious book won’t be on sale yet, and that lovely first copy ends up battered and scrawled on with pages turned over. Like this:

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So you order a further proof. And then you wait for it, with your fingers crossed that you found all the gremlins and that it won’t take too long to come and that you’ll make back the postage costs.
So, before you start on your self-publishing adventure bear a few things in mind:
• Don’t think you can publish in a few days, or even weeks, especially if this is your first book. It takes time and if you don’t realise that to begin with, you’re going to be very frustrated (like me!).
• You cannot proof enough. Accept that. Read and re-read and get everyone and his aunt to read for you too. If you don’t have anyone that you trust to pick up mistakes, then consider paying an editor.
• Be prepared for your first proof copy to need alterations. If you have a timescale, factor this delay in.
• Remember that self-publishing isn’t free. Well, technically it is but that’s if, as well as being a writer, you are also a proof-reader, an editor and a graphic designer. And also someone who is confident enough to think you don’t need to see a real proof of your book before you approve it. You will need to invest some money in your book.
• Read all the advice you can find – there’s lots of it out there. Keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. And have faith through all the frustrations and re-drafts and edits and endless uploading. You will get there!

Just who was Matthew Hopkins – and does it really matter?

A cloaked figure in breeches, with a neatly trimmed beard and moustache, knee high boots adorned with spurs, a jaunty hat upon his head and a stick in his hand, chances are when you hear the name Matthew Hopkins you conjure up this image:

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Or perhaps this one:

Matthew_Hopkins

If you search the web for images or articles about the most notorious man in the history of the English witch hunts, these will usually be the illustrations you get. And to prove it – here they are in my very own blog post! The problem is that there is very little actually known and precious little documentations about Hopkins’ early life and his life after he stopped persecuting witches. So just who was this man who was responsible for the execution of between 200 to 300 women in two years and what drove him to become the most prolific of witch hunters?

He is certainly a man shrouded in mystery. No-one knows exactly when he was born, but it is thought to be around 1620, making him only 24 when he began his witch hunting campaign. The evidence that connects Matthew to his father is the registering of Matthew’s own death. An entry in the register held by the Suffolk records office states:

‘1647 Aug 12 Matthew s M: James Hopkings, Minister of Wenham, buried at Mistley’

The‘s’ here means son, and the ‘M’ Mister. So, Matthew, son of James, was buried at Mistley on August 12th 1647, likely a few hours after his death.

This leads us to the history of Matthew’s father. There is precious little about him either, but it is known that he was a puritan clergyman – vicar of St John’s in Great Wenham in Suffolk and that he and his wife had children. One of these is probably the John Hopkins mentioned in parish records in September 1645 as appointed as Minister of South Fambridge in Essex. A subsequent entry states that he neglected his post and was replaced in June of the following year.

There is no information relating to Matthew’s childhood and adolescence, although it has been variously suggested that he attended school, spent his formative years on the continent and that he trained as a lawyer.  His performances in court may give some credence to this claim, but again, there is no evidence to support the assumption.  It is also thought that he purchased an inn in Mistley from which he carried out his investigations – on the site there now stands ‘The Mistley Thorn Hotel’ – which I whole-heartedly recommend, having eaten there during my research trip to Manningtree!

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A plaque on the wall outside ‘The Mistley thorn’ in Mistley, Manningtree.  A wonderful place to eat – but a bit spooky at midnight!

His death is also somewhat of a mystery. Although we have the date and place of burial, and can justifiable say that he died at around the age of 27, it is not known for sure what Matthew died from.  Although the most likely cause is tuberculosis, myths have flourished – including the belief that he died the same death that he inflicted on his victims. Again, this is something we will never know.  And his grave no longer exists – the Church of St Mary’s in Mistley Heath has vanished, along with its graveyard, and any last sign of this man’s existence.

So, for a writer basing a novel on the life of a man so little is known about, at first I found the lack of evidence and fact frustrating.  How could I write a credible story without a full account of the man?  But then, as I became more drawn in to the myths and stories of the time, it became apparent to me that writing a book that was almost a factual biography was not what I wanted to do.  Without hard evidence my imagination could run wild – Matthew could be whoever I wanted him to be and the story could move in whatever direction I chose.  So I don’t pretend that ‘The Black Hours’ should be viewed as a history book.  I would never presume to have the knowledge and expertise to do so.  Rather, I have taken inspiration from events in history, and from a particular historical figure, and imagined how that person would act and talk and think.  I can fabricate incidents to form his opinions and make up events about his father and his childhood that explain the way Matthew behaves in the novel. I am lucky that there is not much known about Matthew– it has allowed me so much more freedom with the novel.  However, all the methods used for interrogation in the book, all the beliefs about witchcraft and imps and curses are all based on actual events, documentation and stories from the period.  I have tried to be as accurate as possible in describing life as it was in the 1640s and hope that, although this is a work of imagination, it is realistic enough to go some way to telling the story of what really happened to the victims of the Witchfinder General.

Resources:

http://www.witchtrials.co.uk/matthew.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/plain/A6358926

http://www.sawneybean.com/horrors/matthew.htm

Researching the Past in the 21st Century

When I first embarked on my novel ‘The Black Hours’ I spent many hours researching  17th century England – it’s civil war, religion, the lives of ordinary people and, of course, Matthew Hopkins and his notorious witch hunts. Lots of the information I used for the book I found online – it is amazing just how much is out there, freely available in a few clicks. How I would have managed without the internet I really don’t know, but I suspect it would have taken me a great deal longer to gather everything I needed. I am so grateful to those who spend their time making all this information available for anyone who cares to look – the masses of history sites and blogs that provide so much intriguing detail, whether professional, scholarly or amateur.  It all helped me to build a picture as close as I could get to the sights, sounds and smells of 17th Century England. I was even able to read extracts from Matthew Hopkins’ own pamphlet ‘The Discovery of Witches’ which gave me a valuable insight into the workings of the mind of this driven individual.

hopkins

Matthew Hopkins’ pamphlet was written to defend his practices and refute allegations that he was in league with the devil himself

Of course, I didn’t rely solely on the internet.  I also read widely, including the infamous ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ or ‘Hammer of the Witches’. This 15th Century treatise details the methods that should be used in the prosecution of witches including how to identify them and how to secure a conviction. It made for a great many disturbing evenings! But it also provided a context for the world of Alice and her grandmother, and indeed the world of Matthew. Although written 150 years before my novel takes place, the beliefs within it were still held to be true and almost certainly had some influence on Hopkins.

malleus

The Malleus Maleficarum was written in 1486. The Latin title translates as ‘The Hammer of the Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword.’

This research fascinated me, and I could willingly have devoted years to it – however, I had a book to write!  And now the book is done I have a whole load of notes and facts and bits and bobs, some of which made it into the book and some of which didn’t. So in these blog posts I’d like to share some of the interesting details I learned along the way, and hope that in doings so, more will be understood about this dark time in history and its victims, those poor souls whose stories are often overlooked and forgotten, reduced to names on a list that does no justice to their suffering. I’d also like to share some of the experiences I had researching and writing the book – it can be a lonely experience and I often read the blogs of other writers when I needed a bit of inspiration and focus. I’d love to hear from other writers and from those interested in history. Please feel free to leave a comment, to visit my Facebook page or to follow me on Twitter. And if you have any interesting stories about the ‘poor buggers’ hidden behind the scenes of the history books, I’d love to hear them!