Friday, 21 July 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 4 - World-building

By Alison Morton
Images by JD Lewis 

Setting is vital to a story whether it’s in the background or an integral part of the narrative. But I want to take you further and deeper than mere location into building a whole world for your story – 3D instead of 2D. And it applies whether you are writing supermarket romances, terrifying thrillers or intense historicals.

If you set your story in a different country, you can visit the places the characters live in, smell the sea, touch the plants, walk under the hot blue sky or freeze in a biting wind. If nearer home, you will be familiar with much of your book’s world.

If you invent a country or a past or future time, you have to get your imagination going hand in hand with research. We’re creative beings, we’ve imagined alternative realities since we were children and that’s what will drive your world building.

But you have to be practical as well, and believe me, fans will expect you to know everything from costume, social philosophy and weapons to food, transport and childcare provision. (Yes, I was asked that at the launch of my second book.)

No country can survive without a functioning government, an economic, social and political system, food, law and order and income. You don’t need to mention any of these, unless it impacts on the plot, but you should have it all worked out in your head, notebook, file on your hard disk or in the cloud. 

Some questions to ask yourself

How do people make their living? How are they educated? What kind of industry is there? What is the food like? Are there markets, little shops, big chains? What does the money look like? Is the government representative? Are laws authoritarian or permissive? Who holds the power?

Consider what your book’s world looks like. If it’s a country we already know, has transport developed beyond the horse and cart to steam trains, electric trains or crammed motorways in your story’s time? Is it safe to travel from one town to another? And remember landscapes familiar in the 21st century looked a great deal different in the eleventh.

If it’s an imaginary country, are there mountains, seas and rivers? What’s growing in the fields, does the countryside consist of plains, valleys or desert?

You may like to draw a map, however crude, just to keep track of where you’re sending your characters. And spare a few moments for the climate. You can’t have grapes and thus wine without some rain and a lot of sunshine…

Practical tips to engage readers

· Anchors and links to ‘normal’ e.g. a cop is always a cop wearing a uniform and an attitude, a tired working mother is exhausted whether she’s on Mars, in Ancient Rome or Tunbridge Wells

· Juxtaposition: reinforce a setting or details of your world through a character’s eyes when she sees and reacts to something that diverges from ordinary life in your potential reader’s location and time

· Drip-drip: local colour or period detail is essential, but only where necessary and when relevant. 90% of your research does not belong in your narrative.

· Names, everyday words and slang: Make them appropriate to the setting but keep them simple, so they don’t jolt the reader out of the story.

Characters in setting

Character-based stories are popular and readers are intrigued by what happens to individual people living in different environments. Three key points that apply to building a book’s world:

· Characters have to act, think and feel like real people whatever language they speak or however they’re dressed

· Characters should live naturally within their world in their ‘now’, i.e. consistently reflecting their unique environment and the prevailing social attitudes.

· The permissions and constraints of their world should make additional trouble and conflict for them.

Go visible

Build a file of images of real environments similar to your book’s world. It’s an immensely useful way of re-immersing yourself into I when stuck. Obviously, an imagined country is hard to photograph. If you can draw, then you have the tools at your fingertips, but if like me your artistic skills are limited to turning out sketches of pin-men, then it’s back to the camera.

An imagination exercise

Close your eyes and walk your character through a street in your book’s world. What do they see, touch and smell? Is the place crowded, noisy? Are there stalls or shops, are people on foot, horseback or in cars? Is it deserted, eerie or threatening? What is your character feeling as they walk along? Anticipation, fear, excitement, cynicism, pleasure?

Happy writing!

Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. 
She puts this down to her deep love of Roman history, six years’ military service, an MA in history and an over-vivid imagination. 
 She blogs, tweets, reads, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Next week: Sensory storytelling with Bernice Rocque

Friday, 14 July 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 3 - The Invisible Spider

By Rohan Quine
Images by JD Lewis  

It’s easy to find sensible, responsible advice about writing, but there’s a shortage of irresponsible advice.


The former addresses structure, characterisation, editing etc. Much of it recommends good things, which may be enough to create something well-built and polished that chimes sweetly with the expectations of its readers, in any category (including literary fiction). And that’s the goal, for many writers and readers, which is fine – mission accomplished.

There are additional games in town, however. Many of these are complementary with the above, in that they generate their electricity not through chiming with expectations, but through challenging and expanding the expectations of their author and of readers who love to buckle up and take such a ride. To be entertained by consuming or creating a brilliant thing that fulfils expectations, or to be challenged by consuming or creating a brilliant thing that plays subversively with any expectations: these are not simple alternatives at opposite ends of a spectrum, in any category of fiction. But many novels can be identified as facing more in the direction of one or other of that spectrum’s ends (both directions being of equal value in themselves). It’s in this sense, to the extent any novel faces the expectation-subverting end of the spectrum, that I refer to a shortage of irresponsible advice.

The shortage is understandable, because this concerns something central yet elusive to define, for which there’s no recipe. When present, the something is often hidden in plain view, like a large invisible spider crouching at the centre of a visible spider’s-web. And for this spider, all that sensible advice about structure etc. is secondary.

The spider represents more than just the passion that has driven the author – though passion is capable of trampling with primitive glee over responsible considerations, so as to conjure up perhaps three or four of the creature’s legs. But to conjure up all eight legs, with eight fat thighs emanating from a muscular central spider-body, the passion in question has to be the passion of a killer. By which I mean destroying as much as possible of what would have been expected in a given paragraph, while still maximising what will most seduce and reward. (It’s an intricate set of negotiations between these two imperatives, down to individual words and syllables.) Among its other missions, this passion is a ruthless destroyer of received tropes, with a view to discovering new ones. This passion’s charm, in clothing its destruction in beguiling language, would have ensured it a successful career as a criminal if it had been destined to be a person in real life instead.

In general, one has to destroy to create, as in the old-school example of a sculptor hacking away the stone that isn’t the statue, or a writer’s rejections of a myriad words on the way to the best ones. But if a writer pursues such micro-level destruction/creation with an intensity that feels like a joyous criminality – if the abstract impulses in the writing process feel ferocious enough to have resulted in an arrest if they’d been somehow embodied in meat-space instead – then my instinct is that this writer is more likely to create something whose electrification is as irresponsible as many of the classics were regarded when they were first published.

I can feel my invisible spider turning her eyes in my direction, when I identify her as embodying the desire to create something whose core reason-for-being is to be explosively and irreducibly itself to the max, with such force and beauty and rightness that it had to be what it is, and that serves up a gigantic and celebratory fuck-you to the world, expressing both the darkness and the brightness of its creator’s unique experience of being alive.

I’m told each instalment of “Creative Pulse” should suggest a specific exercise … but I just can’t quite picture this kind of beast consenting to be activated by an exercise. So maybe the closest thing would be for a writer to create or re-visit a brief manifesto for themselves only, and ensure their spider animates it. Mine comprises the following questions, but such a manifesto can take whatever form feels right.

(1) How can I illuminate the world, to the best of my finite abilities, using language in new and old ways, and thereby leave the world infinitesimally better than it was beforehand?

(2) How can I aim and attune my ears as clearly as possible to whatever the highest artistic potential may be, then bring down the richest results from that place, then give those results the truest and most beautiful form I can create?

(3) How can what I write take an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world, while at the same time being a vote for life (maybe even an absolute blast of fun along the way)?

I suspect an invisible spider can’t be magicked into being, if she isn’t already there; though she may need to be coaxed out of hiding. If she is present, however, then she deserves to be allowed to walk in grand freedom through every paragraph of every novel she helped inspire.

Rohan Quine is an author of literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror, celebrating the beauty, darkness and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time.

The Imagination Thief (novel); The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong (four novellas); and the upcoming The Beasts of Electra Drive (novel), a prequel to the others.

Reviews are here and here. Lists of retailers, latest info, video-books, films and other fun are at | @RohanQuine  

Next week: World-building with Alison Morton

Friday, 7 July 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 2 - The Dreaded Saggy Plot

– and How to Avoid It
by Lorna Fergusson

Images by JD Lewis 
So you’ve written that whizzy, grabby, punchy opening. You know your readers will be hooked and you’re saving an equally amazing ending for them. You can’t wait to see their reaction. Scene follows scene, chapter follows chapter, you’re keeping to your schedule of a thousand words a day or week … then something happens. Something bad.


The momentum slows, the story flags, your belief in it starts to evaporate. You were always aware of the risk of your plot flatlining, but it seems to be doing something even worse. It’s sagging. Your story started like the construction of a suspension bridge with sturdy towers at either side of the chasm – but the bridge itself is drooping into the canyon.

What can you do to save it? Here are 10 tips, plus an exercise to try out:

1 Think visually. Keep a grip on your plot with charts or colour-coding. This helps you to maintain a sense of its overall shape and of the interweaving of its elements.

2 Variety is the spice of plot: if you keep writing the same type of scene with the same kind of structure, you’ll weary your reader. Use dialogue, description, revelation, twists, changes of point of view. Intersperse the high-octane with the meditative. Open chapters in different ways. Have the calm before the storm, the false hope before destruction, the despair before redemption. Mix it up.

3 Nothing is set in stone. Maybe you wrote a route-map for this story but the road is heading straight to the Land of Boredom. Be prepared to retrace your steps to where you made a significant plot-choice, ready to take the road you didn’t travel first time round.

4 Complicate it. You have a main plot with main characters but they are not the be-all and end-all. They don’t exist in a vacuum. Who are the people around them and what are their stories? Don’t wheel on characters to do something in connection with the main character, then wheel them straight off again – give them their own wants, deeds and outcomes. Sub-plots, that’s the thing. Or dual narratives. Or multi-stranded thriller plots. Or multi-generational saga plots.

5 Raise the stakes. When your character has overcome a crisis, give them a bigger one. Unloose your inner sadist. Give them hell. Throw unexpected challenges at them or make the consequences of their choices turn bad on them. Give them trepidation, guilt and angst. Make them responsible. Give them, at all times, opposition, whether externally or internally.

6 Be unexpected. This is trickier than you might think – a twist in the plot that the writer chuckles complacently over, thinking they’ve outsmarted their reader, is often glaringly obvious to said reader. That said, when it works, it really works.

7 Create connectivity. Use flashbacks, repeated motifs, contrasts and counterpoints between plot and sub-plot, irony and foreshadowing. Be subtle with all that. Foreshadowing badly handled is telegraphing and as clunky as can be. Jump between groups or narrators or focal characters – spin those plates and keep them spinning.

8 Timing is everything. Seed information and revelations carefully so that the reader never thinks ‘deus ex machina’. That little breadcrumb trail will lead them inexorably into the heart of the forest.

9 Create mini-hooks. Every scene, chapter or section ending should have something in it that will encourage the reader to keep reading. The hook is usually an unanswered question. Keep your reader asking what will happen next. As soon as you answer one question, ask another.

10 Rev up. As the story progresses, give the reader a sense that it is going somewhere. Factor in highs and lows but make sure the overall effect is cumulative not sequential – you are building towards that superb ending you can’t wait to write, remember.



Here’s your plot scenario: a new boss joins the firm where your MC, a woman, works. Within a week the boss is telling her she will have to transfer to another town.

1 How does your MC react? Say yes or no? Is there a deadline for the decision?

2 What are the consequences of that choice likely to be? Jot the possibilities down.

3 If ‘No’, what are the reasons? Fear of moving? Commitments at home? What are those commitments? Children? An elderly parent?

4 If the MC says ‘Yes’ and moves, how does that play out? Regret? Whole new start? Does she rent her original house out? How does that go?

5 What might complicate that scenario? What if the elderly parent, for instance, has a fall and needs care?

6 If so, here’s your chance to thicken the plot. What if your MC has a sibling who has never carried his/her weight in terms of taking care of said relative? What now? Does MC ask for help? Does the sibling refuse? If so, a chance to complicate things further – what are the sibling’s reasons for refusing? Start inventing their life-situation.

7 What if the MC has no sibling and chooses instead to move the relative to the new town?
How does the parent feel about that? Grateful? Dislocated? Who are the friends/connections the parent is leaving? Is there a history there?

8 Review all this – maybe a plot has emerged as you mapped out these possibilities. There are a whole lot more, believe me! Start imagining where you could introduce the unexpected or where you could make the MC’s situation even more challenging. Before you know it, that narrative rope will be taut again.

Lorna Fergusson runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy. She is a novelist and prize-winning short story writer, who has taught on various Oxford University writing programmes since 2002. She has republished her novel, The Chase, originally published by Bloomsbury, and contributed to Studying Creative Writing for the Creative Writing Studies imprint. Her ebook collection of historical short stories, An Oxford Vengeance, includes Salt, which won the Historical Novel Society’s London 2014 Short Story Award.


Twitter: @LornaFergusson

The Chase: Paperback via my website

An Oxford Vengeance:

Next week: The Invisible Spider with Rohan Quine

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Creative Pulse - Week 1 - Story Structure

Welcome to Creative Pulse!

Last year, we ran a ten-week summer course of creative writing exercises from respected experts in the field.

Did you miss it?
Here you go.

It was a great way to take time out and work on our skills, revisit the basics and focus on one area at a time. So much so, we're doing it again.

Stand by to tackle Saggy Plots, World-building, Imaginative Irresponsibility, Sensual Storytelling, Self-Editing and much more.

This course is FREE. No cash, no sign-up, just check into the blog on a Friday and join in.

Thanks to all our generous contributors and a special thanks to Julie Lewis for providing her beautiful photographs throughout.

Here comes Week One, by your hosts...

Story Structure: 3x3 = 10

Even if you’ve not heard of the three-act structure, you instinctively understand it.
You listened to nursery rhymes, heard songs, watched films, cartoons or TV series.
You understand how stories work.

Let’s start with three questions for each of the three acts.

Follow these instructions. Trust us.
  • Take a pencil and scribble down answers to the nine questions below.
  • Answer one at a time without looking at the next.
  • Answer all questions as Marty McFly from Back to the Future.

Act I

Opening: What is normal here?

Trigger: What happens to change normal?

Decision: What can I do to put things back to normal?

Act II

Attack: How do I deal with this new situation?

Obstacle(s): Why didn’t that work?

Disaster: What is the worst that could happen?


Regroup: How can I change my tactics or find help?

Climax: How do I use all my strengths to defeat disaster?

Coda: How have I changed? 

Regardless of genre, this works across the board as a sharp focus on storytelling structure.

Now take those questions and apply them to the protagonist of your WIP.

Answer in his/her/its words and voice.

If any one of these questions gives you pause, you've found your problem.

Tip: you can always add a skateboard.

Next week – Lorna Fergusson and The Dreaded Saggy Plot

Images by Julie Lewis

Friday, 23 June 2017

BOOK CLUB: The Humans by Matt Haig

By Gillian Hamer

This month on Triskele Book Club we discuss The Humans by Matt Haig.

About the book: After an 'incident' one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he's a dog.

About the author: Matt Haig is a British author for children and adults. His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive was a number one bestseller, staying in the British top ten for 46 weeks. His children's book A Boy Called Christmas was a runaway hit and is translated in over 25 languages. It is being made into a film by Studio Canal and The Guardian called it an 'instant classic'. His novels for adults include the award-winning The Radleys and The Humans. The Guardian summed up his writing as 'funny, clever and quite, quite lovely' by The Times and the New York Times called him 'a writer of great talent'.

Here, Triskele collegues Gill Hamer, Jill Marsh, Liza Perrat and Catriona Troth discuss. 

Did you have any preconceptions about book before you read it?

(GH) Possibly I thought it was more super-natural and so had chosen not to read it earlier because I'm not a huge fan of that genre. Whereas in fact, there is very little about space travel or aliens in the book. Quite a lot about mathematics though!

(JJ) I've read other books by Haig, so expected a mixture of insights, humour and philosophical ponderings. I wasn't disappointed.

(CT) Hard to remember now what my preconceptions were, as it is almost four years since I read it. But I do remember a feeling that the book took me by surprise.

(LP) I didn't really fancy it as I thought it would be too paranormal and fantasy for my tastes. How wrong I was; this book couldn't be more grounded in reality.

The author relies on a wide range of emotions here, added with a light touch, and some parts were moving. How do you think the author handled this?

(GH) One thing I found particularly clever was the gradual 'humanising' of Andrew Martin and his first taste of the human emotion 'love' - which was completely unknown to him. As a being whose only knowledge of humanity came from a back issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, I did think it very believable how the small, almost unseen, steps led him on a totally unexpected journey. Also, seeing the world through eyes of a stranger was quite satisfying - the good things and bad.

(JJ) The light touch leaves room for the reader to fill the gaps with their own experiences. Just as any outsider enters a culture and makes observations on what is different, it focuses attention on habits and behaviours that we take for granted and don't even think about analysing. The touch may be light, but it goes deep when we start to think about how we treat 'aliens' in our environment.

(CT) I've described before it as a concerto in three movements, with each movement having a very different feel. In the first movement, we have advanced-alien-adapting-to-being-in-a-human-body, making foolish mistakes (what is the point of wearing clothes, anyway?) and seeing us at our worst. It has the slightly sniggery, adolescent tone of a Simon Pegg / Nick Frost movie. That light-hearted tone nevertheless allows Haig to sneak in a few serious comments about the human condition. The second movement hits a deeper note. ‘Andrew’ begins to discover some of the more worthwhile things about human beings (like Emily Dickinson). This section is tender, almost lyrical in tone. The third movement, when ‘Andrew’ has to make choices between the interests of his own people and the interests of humans, is shockingly different, sometimes violent. And then there is a coda, which I won’t spoil by saying anything except that it strikes a different note yet again.

(LP) I think it was his light and humorous touch that was so successful in exploring such a wide range of emotions. Issues were never pushed down your throat, or in your face. In fact, you barely knew what he was getting at, until after the event. Then there was the "ah ha" moment, so to speak.

Other than ET, I can't think of too many aliens who have got me emotional! It can't have been an easy task to write an alien character but the author made it look easy. How did you feel about the use of characterisation?

(GH) I'll be honest, I thought the 'wooden' style of the alien character's dialogue might annoy me early on in the book, but I think I must have mellowed just as the character did, because after a while, it seemed perfectly natural. I did relate to Andrew and empathised with him as he faced the conflict of interest that led to the big decision he made. The supporting cast were great, solid and real, especially Gulliver as the confused teenager, and of course, Newton the dog.

(JJ) I'd agree with the term 'mellowed'. The changes the characters undergo are gradual and incremental, and the reader adjusts alongside them. It's something I recognise in people who've lived in other countries for a while. The adaptation changes one's personality, sometimes to the extent that returning 'home' is as much of a shock as leaving in the first place.

(CT) I can think of quite a few aliens that have made me emotional over the years [Alien Nation, District 9, Defiance...] But yes, certainly, the middle section of the book was very moving. Imagine encountering the idea of love for the first time, not as a hormone-fuelled teenager, but as a mature adult. Having all the intensity and freshness of adolescent experience, while still being able to appreciate the subtleties of grown-up, married love.

(LP) I too, cannot get emotional over aliens, but I did start empathising with Andrew as soon as the author "humanised" him, with the human emotion of love. I felt the author created very real people in the other characters too, especially the dog!

There were some laugh aloud moments. What sticks in your mind as the funniest section?

(GH) I thought the opening scenes, with the Cambridge professor wandering the streets naked were particularly funny. And at the opposite end of the scale, when Andrew admitted his adultery, totally unaware of the impact his words were having, were also humorous - but not for him!

(JJ) Yes, that was entertaining, especially in his attempts to respond in kind to outraged motorists. I also found his realisation about Martin's various relationships very funny, as he tried to work out exactly what was going on from interpreting human behaviour.

(CT) I loved innocence of the narrator when he first arrived on Earth, with absolutely no idea why he was utterly failing in his mission objective to ‘just blend in.’ It reminded me of the Petit Nicolas books by René Goscinny (better known for Asterix).

(LP) Yes, I agree, a particularly humorous moment was when Andrew admitted his adultery in all innocence, to his wife and could not understand her terrible reaction.

One thing I found appealing, was how the author cleverly used a stranger (or alien) to point out the negatives about what it is to be human. I thought this was very smart. What insights did you find the cleverest?

(GH) I think Gulliver finding the strength to face down his bullies was a very strong storyline. I like how the author showed that you didn't need super powers to make a difference.

(JJ) Probably the essence of how much time we waste on the insignificant and how little we spend on appreciating the truly valuable.

(CT) I think the overall sense that we humans could be better versions of ourselves if we would just let the scales fall from our eyes and see things with fresh vision was what made the deepest impression.

(LP) That most of us never take the time to "really smell the flowers"; that we don't live for the moment. 

Overall, what most appealed to you about the book?

(GH) Probably the clever insights into humanity that as humans we fail to notice. Much of the time it was as much to do with what the author didn't say, as what he did. To see the world through the eyes of a stranger has a way of putting things into perspective, and I think the author used this approach really well. I certainly came away from the book with lots of ideas.

(JJ) The biggest impact for me was applying the same light-hearted points about acceptance, repulsion and confusion regarding social codes to real situations, such as the refugee crisis. It makes us ask ourselves, what does it mean to be human?

(CT) That change of key from the crudely funny to the tenderly lyrical was so well handled and crept up so unexpectedly.

(LP) The author's excellent insight into the human race: the good, the bad and the ugly. All seen through the eyes of an alien and thus, objective and totally believable.

Despite the humour of the story, the author also uses the book to put across the importance of a range of issues from climate change to bullying. Do you think this was an important part of the book?

(GH) I felt this was the author's main purpose in writing the book, but it wasn't done in a patronising way, and it certainly wasn't rammed down the reader's throats either. It was more of an explanation of where we're heading and the changes we need to make now if we want to make a difference. I take my hat off to the author for being brave enough to write the book for that reason - and for keeping the book so entertaining too.

(JJ) Very much so. It would have been easy to skirt such issues and keep this full of laughs. I admire Haig's willingness to tackle tough subjects and point out the responsibilities of the individual. It's a thoughtful story which doesn't patronise, as Gilly says, but does insist you think.

(CT) I think the book was trying to get a handle on what it means to be human in the 21st Century, and that also means getting to grips with the problems humans have created in the last two million years, and how we might go about solving them. That sounds ambitious, but humour is an excellent way of making us stop and think about these things.

(LP) Like Gillian, I feel this was the author's point of writing this story. However, he did it in such a quirky and clever way, we don't reallly notice it.  

Have you read any other Matt Haig books? If so, how did this compare?

(GH)  I've read The Radleys a few years back and I have Reasons To Stay Alive on my Kindle. I really like the competent fluidity of his writing, and the fact he's never afraid to push boundaries or write about controversial issues. I like authors that break rules, and I think Matt Haig is a rule breaker!

(JJ) Yes, several. As a writer, Haig has a very vulnerable style, an honesty and openness which doesn't hide behind cynicism or sarcasm. This, perversely, is powerful and affecting. I like his writing and share many of his concerns, so always enjoy his books.

(CT) No, I haven’t. (So many books to read – so little time!)

(LP) No. As Kat says above, so many good books, so little time!

Who should read this book? What readers would it appeal too?

(GH)  Anyone! I think from YA readers to contemporary readers, those who like humour to those who appreciate reading about humanity would enjoy this book. If you don't think you would - why not break the rules and give it a try!

(JJ) The Humans would appeal to anyone from eight upwards. I also think more disaffected readers would enjoy this. It isn't preachy, it breaks a few taboos, it's funny and it's accessible. I'd give it to anyone, confident they'd come away from it with a smile on their face.

(CT) If you’ve enjoyed books like André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs that use a non-human perspective to make us think about what it means to be human, then this is for you. And if you haven’t read anything like that before, then this is a damn good place to start.

(LP) Anyone with an open mind, willing to look at themselves, and hummankind, realistically.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Post Launch Showcase: JD Smith, The Rebel Queen

What is it?

The Rebel Queen is the fourth book in the Overlord series, chronicling the life of the 3rd century Queen of Palmyra, Zenobia.

Who will enjoy it?

Fans of Bernard Cornwell, Michelle Moran and Maurice Druon. The Overlord series has also be likened to a 'real life Game of Thrones'.

When and where is it set?
The main action is based in Roman Syria at a time when the Empire was close to collapse. The Palmyrene army was the only thing standing in the face of Persian invasion.

Where should I read it?

By the fireside with a glass of smooth red.

Why should I read the fourth in the series first?

Although they do flow in a chronological timeline, you can read the books in any order, each one with its own beginning, middle and end.

How will I feel at the end?

Probably sad. This volume is effectively the beginning of the end. After all, by the time you've finished this book you'll be 2/3rds of the way to finishing Zenobia's tale.

Extract from The Rebel Queen

Beside me, Zenobia parried and sliced with the rest of us. I saw now how hard she had trained in the years of peace. I knew her to practice with the men, I spent hours with her myself going over and over the best positions to attack and defend, but never before had I seen the bloodthirst take hold and watch her face a true enemy in battle instead of our training arena. The muscles on her arms gleamed with sweat, her face hard in concentration, and she wielded her sword as well as any man. She had been in battle before, but this was the first time I witnessed her clash, one on one with the enemy, instead of standing back from the front line, her position a political one, a child in her belly and no wish to risk the life of an unborn heir to Palmyra’s thrown.

Something had changed.

Her position was still a political one, I acknowledged as I parried again and again, watching over Zenobia as much as myself. She fought with the men because she claimed to be one of them. They exulted in seeing her in their lines, unafraid of death. An equal. She had the strength of youth but also the muscle only age rather than training can build. Twenty-five years old and there was no stopping her.

She killed.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, the slice that shed a man of his life, ripping through muscle and cracking against bone.

Order your copy here

To the world of all things design and literary I'm JD Smith, to everyone else I'm just plain Jane. I'd like to think I'm not too plain - I love books and stories after all.

I am the author of several historical fiction novels, a member of the Triskele Books collective, editor of the writers' ezine Words with JAM, and the readers' review site Bookmuse.

I am also an award-winning book cover designer. I love books, both the physical and the words contained within. I'd like to think it was no surprise that I ended up immersing myself in the world of book design rather than marketing materials for corporate companies, but in many ways it was.

My office door is always open if you wish to join me for a cup of tea.

I love cake. Just in case you were wondering.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Highlights from the Launch Party

On Saturday 3 June, Triskele Books returned to The English Restaurant in Spitalfields for our third book launch at this venue. This time, we brought some friends.

L-R: Catriona Troth, JD Smith, Gillian Hamer, JJ Marsh, Jessica Bell, Alison Morton

The celebrations were for six books: Sacred Lake by Gillian Hamer, Bad Apples by JJ Marsh, The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat and The Rebel Queen by JD Smith (Triskele Books) with Dear Reflection by Jessica Bell and Retalio by Alison Morton, two of our favourite friends and ALLies.

Readings, interviews, photographs, chats, fizz and food, it was all a good book launch should be and we want to do it all over again. Here are a few shots of the event:
The guests

The authors

The party

Guests were challenged to match the ideal accompaniments to each book. How would you do?
  • Ice cold Gin & Tonic with a twist of lime service with vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet.
  • Ale, red wine and ginger cake sat around a fire pit on a summer's night.
  • A Virgin Mary, while listening to PJ Harvey in a cafe in Santorini.
  • Wiener Schnitzel followed by strong coffee with French brandy, to the sounds of Bach's Toccata.
  • Grilled sardines, coffee with a shot of aguardente and the theme from La Lettre. 

  • Retalio
  • Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel
  • Sacred Lake
  • The Rebel Queen
  • Bad Apples

The Winner - Roz Morris with prize and goody bag

And we finally got to meet our Big 5 Competition winner in person! Sophie Wellstood came along to celebrate with us. If all goes to plan, she'll soon be having a launch party of her own.

Triskele Books with Sophie Wellstood

Thank you to all our guests for coming along to support us and roll on next time!

Photos courtesy of Erika Bach, Jane Davis, Ellen Durkin and Roz Morris 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Book Launch Preview #4 - Alison Morton and Retalio

What is it about? 

RETALIO is a classic tale of resistance and resilience. An exiled Aurelia Mitela leads an army of the dispossessed to liberate their beloved Roma Nova from the brutal tyranny of usurper Caius Tellus, her personal nemesis.

Who would enjoy it?

Anybody who likes adventure, a political and military thriller with a dollop of feminism, a tough heroine who melts in the arms of her lover but leads a nation of exiles against an amoral power-grabber, feats of high courage and low betrayals, and the odd bit of banter.

When is it set?

Early 1980s, in an alternative timeline

Where do you want to take us?

To Central Europe, to a 20th century remnant of the Roman Empire where values, beliefs and principles are tied to a resolute and determined response to threats to survival.

Why should we read this, the last in a trilogy, first?

Each story is a complete and standalone adventure. It won’t spoil your enjoyment of RETALIO if you haven’t read AURELIA and INSURRECTIO, the first and second books in this second trilogy, but if you do read them you’ll discover how Caius has damaged Aurelia and why he hates her so much.

How did you get the idea and will there be more?

A bad film, triggering an idea from a book read fifteen years previously and fuelled by a proto-feminist question from an eleven year old crouched over a Roman mosaic.

Yes, a novella is half written, then comes a collection of short stories. Still in the thought pipeline is the story set at the end of the 4th century – the foundation of Roma Nova.


‘Surely you don’t want to go on this routine exercise now?’

Volusenia was trying to sound reasonable. It didn’t suit her. We walked on towards the back garden wall. The sun was warm for October with not even a light breeze to dilute it. The parkland was green and lush again, having recovered from the hot summer. Its softness was a complete contrast with the brutal place we were planning to go.

‘It makes no difference,’ I said. ‘If it’s as routine as you say, then how can it be risky?’

‘I’m so fed up of trying to explain to you that I’m almost ready to let you go and Mercury take the consequences!’

‘Look, this is an important intelligence gathering mission with specific targets. You say you can get me into the palace. Well, who better to find the evidence we want on Caius? I’ve handled more government paperwork than you’ve been on exercises.’ Volusenia went to speak, but I continued. ‘Yes, I have. I’m uniquely placed to identify exactly what we need to show the international community and tighten the rather pathetic sanctions currently existing against Caius.’

She was silent for a few moments then glanced up at me. ‘Your daughter’s baby is only a few weeks old. Don’t you want to go to the EUS and see her?’

‘I’ve already spoken to Marina and her husband. They completely support my decision to remain here.’ I tilted my chin up at Volusenia. My heart had been wrenched at that decision but, strangely, it was Marina who had been most insistent during our last telephone call.

‘I am only one daughter, Mama. You must stay for all daughters of Roma Nova, including the imperatrix. Silvia needs you more than ever.’ She’d gulped, then said, ‘I have some friends here now and William is taking the best care of me. I want my child to be able to come back to a free Roma Nova, not be condemned to be an exile.’

I could hardly reply, my throat had tightened so much; then transatlantic static had ended our call.

Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.

Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site:
Twitter: @alison_morton

Buying link for RETALIO (multiple retailers/formats):

RETALIO book trailer: