Jodi Taylor: A Bit of a Blog

A Bit of a Blog

 I’m continuing with Lisa’s questions which I should have done weeks ago, but I hit a bit of a purple patch with Book 7 and then got caught up in a possible sequel to The Nothing Girl. Sorry!

Do I have a day job?

Yes, I do – writing. And it’s a night job as well. I’d like to be able to say I write 24 hours a day because I fear nothing less will satisfy some of my readers, but it comes in peaks and troughs.

I write first thing in the morning – anytime from 5.00am onwards. I usually pause around mid-morning to contemplate the possibility of housework, reject the whole idea, and write until lunchtime.

I laze around for a while, watching TV or painting, thinking out plots and dialogue, blogging (doing it now!), and answering emails. Chocolate is usually involved. I tut at the state of the house, wonder why the fridge is always empty, and pick up my writing again around 6ish.

The most important part of the day is bathtime – especially now that a friend has given me a waterproof notebook – because I can sit up to my ears in bubbles – not an attractive picture, I know, but you did ask – and let my mind drift wherever it wants to go. I’ve had some amazing ideas in the bath. Is it me or does that sentence sound slightly improper?

I do try and switch it off when I go to bed, curling up with a good book, but I’m often woken up by Max or Markham yammering away about something or other and I have to rummage amongst Kindles, laptops, sundry notebooks, bent biros (I keep sleeping on them), tissues, research notes and other writing paraphernalia to get it all written down before I forget it.

I mention all this only so everyone is aware that I don’t really spend all my time lolling around and watching TV and consuming the product of the cocoa bean.

How much of Max is in me?

This is not easy to answer. I say not much – Max is brave, organised, likeable and so on. I’m grumpy, argumentative and don’t have red hair.

Other people say quite a lot – they can hear my voice in the things she says. I should point out her language is worse than mine.

We’re both short because they say you should write what you know and I have no idea what it’s like to be tall.

Do I love tea as much as St Mary’s?

Yes.

Why did I publish A Bachelor Establishment as Isabella Barclay?

A very good question!

9781783759705_FCThere was a bit of a discussion when I submitted the manuscript, but basically it came aboutbecause ABE was so different to anything I’d written before, that it was felt some readers might be disappointed. Especially male readers. I was instructed to think up a new name, and believe me, it’s not easy. I wandered around the house, seriously depleting the world’s supply of Jaffa Cakes and then emailed my editor for help.

‘Something soft and romantic-sounding,’ she said, helpfully, so that was Dirk Thrust kicked into touch.

I had a bit of a think and sat down to make two lists. Forenames and surnames, and then I started to put them together. I have to say I was rather taken with Clare Alexander but she turned out to be someone famous in the publishing world so that was out. Second choice was Gianna Rossi because I saw myself, dark and mysterious, penning deathless literature, but somehow it wasn’t quite right.

The name Isabella was on my list and I thought, ‘Well, why not Isabella Barclay?’ I honestly never thought I’d get away with it, but I did. And yes, I do have some ideas for a couple of Regency Romances, but they have to wait their turn.

That’s the end of Lisa’s questions – thank you very much, Lisa – and before anyone asks – yes, I’ll be straight on with Book 7 as soon as I send this off. It’s coming on quite nicely, and I’ve even made a bit of a start with Book 8.

Happy Weekend everyone!

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The new St Mary’s Audible prequel launches at Cardiff Comic Con this weekend!

…and special Christmas present for lovers of St Mary’s.

A little while ago, I had a thought. Not something that happens too often. I left my smoking laptop, wandered around, made some tea, wandered around a bit more, looked in the fridge, averted my eyes, and finally gave in. I sat back at my desk, pushed aside all the stuff about the Pleistocene Park, Bosworth, and Thurii, and started with a completely clean slate.

The result was a short – no, actually quite long – story about the origins of St Mary’s. How Dr Bairstow assembled his team. Where the money came from. They’re all there – Markham, Guthrie and his security team, Dr Foster, Professor Rapson and Dr Dowson, even Mrs Mack. There’s even a very quick appearance at Waterloo by some old friends. As you can imagine, it was enormous fun to write – there are all sorts of little jokes in there that mean something to me, even if they’re completely incomprehensible to normal people.

Anyway, I sent it off, not completely sure the geniuses at Accent Press would like it, but they did. They liked it so much they arranged for me to go to London to record the story myself – sorry if anyone is expecting another immaculate performance from Zara Ramm – you’ve got a chipmunk with a Bristol accent for this one.

“Sorry if anyone is expecting another immaculate performance from Zara Ramm – you’ve got a chipmunk with a Bristol accent for this one.”

I have to say, it was tremendously enjoyable – the studios are incredible and all the lovely people at Audible made me very welcome. Recording was very much easier than I thought it would be. Note to self: watch what you write in future. Phrases like ‘the unfamiliarly familiar’ should be avoided at all costs. What was I thinking?

As I said, it’s a long short story – about twenty thousand words – and it took a couple of hours to read through. Sadly, there were photos afterwards and I was offered yet another opportunity to display my total unphotogenicness. And yes, I made up that word, partly because I’m a writer and I can and partly because, as yet, the English language contains no word to describe my complete unphotogenicness. A deficiency now rectified.

If you’re wondering about the good news, here it is. The audio version is being released on the 24th October, to coincide with the Cardiff Comic Con – and it will be free.AudibleJodiT updated

The Kindle version will come out on Christmas Day. A special Christmas Present from me and my publishers, Accent Press, to all my lovely readers out there. To say thank you for all your support and encouragement.

Click here  to order the Kindle edition for only 99p!

So there you go folks. Christmas afternoon – find a quiet corner away from everything (and I’m laughing as I type that!), a glass of something good in one hand, your Kindle in the other and enjoy …

For the free Audible copy click on the image above.

 

Did I grow up writing stories?

I wrote a few stories as a child. Mostly they dealt with grand themes such as giant robots taking over the earth. Everyone always died horribly at the end. At the age of ten, I wrote a story for a competition in ‘The Pony’ magazine, which was supposed to be about the future of the horse. In my story, the earth had suffered a nuclear apocalypse and everything had perished. I painted a moving picture of the last horse dying in the icy wind, guarding the body of her dead foal. It ended:

       Earth’s last horse was dead.     

       Earth was dead.

It didn’t win.

I entered a poetry competition at school – no, that’s not true. I was given to understand that failure to enter the poetry competition was not an option. The subjects were typically girlie – Clouds, Magic, Kittens – that sort of thing.

After not very much thought and even less interest, I came up with the following, thus doing for cannibalism what Hannibal Lechter did for flower arranging.

In the jungle dark and deep

A cannibal village lies asleep.

But there among the cooking pots

A man’s dead body hangs and rots.

With bones and blood all strewn around

The village sleeps without a sound.

And then, next morning, they awoke

And took the body down to soak

In blood, for over half an hour.

Then coated it in self-raising flour.

Then the women sat and licked it

But the rival village came and nicked it,

So that was the end of that.

 

A definite improvement in style over Earth Apocalypse, I think everyone will agree. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had Kubla Khan and I had The Cannibal Village. You can see how people would easily confuse the two.

I’d changed schools by this time so a completely different teacher was able to put a red line through my one and only poem and write  ‘See me’ at the bottom. I sometimes think the teaching profession was never grateful for the opportunities I offered them.

Most of my school essays were returned with ‘See me’ written at the bottom. Or occasionally at the top if they were particularly exasperated. I do remember having an entire story rubbed out by my form teacher – we wrote in pencil in those days – because, she said, it was full of slang and inappropriate language. It was my second year at junior school and I would have been seven or eight so I’m not sure entirely sure how inappropriate my language could have been. The story concerned a group of children forming a gang to rescue a donkey and she objected to ‘gangs’.

Out of a desire to be as irritating as possible, I put together a little something in which seven year old children spoke to each other in beautifully phrased, well-rounded and grammatically correct sentences (or as close as I could get at the age of eight) and with the vocabulary of the Poet Laureate.

She didn’t like that, either. I saw her again.

Mostly, however, it all went on inside my head – which I think we have already established is not a tremendously healthy place to foster ideas. I was far too impatient to sit down and physically write anything, so in my head it all stayed. And then I had to go to work. And then I had to work some more and it all just got buried.

It wasn’t until I painted that wall in Harrogate – and I really feel there should be some sort of plaque erected. Or a small statue, perhaps – that it all became too much to hold in any longer and I started to write, the results of which you see before you today.

So while it’s not true to say I’ve always written, I have always dreamed.

Jodi Taylor answers her fan question: Fact or Fiction?

You tend to pick some things out and describe them in detail – smells, weather, etc. Do you specifically try to base these on theories or do you make them up?

Yes and yes.

There – I think that answers that question!

Seriously, if I know the event I’m writing about takes place on a rainy day then I have to say so obviously, but from that moment on, a lot of it comes out of my head. Actually, that sounds quite unpleasant, but you know what I mean. When I wrote about the Great Library at Alexandria burning, I was actually there. How hot would it be? What would I smell? How easy would it be to see? To move? What hazards would there be? What could go wrong? What might go right – because, believe or not, sometimes that does happen. What are Max’s reactions to what is going on around her. What will she do next?

So yes, I was there when the roof came down and she was on fire. I was there when she was slowly roasting in her fire suit, unable to breathe properly, sweat stinging her eyes, panicking because her gloved hands couldn’t unfasten her smouldering suit. I was there.

Sorry – I do get carried away – be warned!

At the moment I’m writing about an event in which the weather conditions were the cause of the historical event, so at the moment, I’m looking at storm surges, flood defences, that sort of thing. Again, pages of notes will probably result in half a sentence, but that’s the way it goes. I will go on to try and establish some sort of framework. I’ll draw up a timeline, what happens to whom, when, and where they were when it happened. I’ll make a plan or map and work out how the characters move around. I’ll make sure, as best I can, that what I propose to do is feasible. Having then established a framework, I close my eyes and imagine the terror, confusion, devastation, the cold dirty water …

“The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet.”

1783758392This actually sums up what I’m trying to do for (and occasionally to) History. As I said in What Could Possibly Go Wrong, yes, we read about Joan of Arc in History books. The story always ends with – and she was burned at the stake in 1431, but that’s just a statement of fact. Dull, dry and boring. Close your eyes. What would it actually be like? How long does it take to burn a body? How did the people present react, always bearing in mind, of course, that our present day values and principles are not those of 1431. Events that would cause shock and horror today were treated much more casually then. Alternatively, of course, a throwaway joke that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow today could win you a fun weekend for one with the Inquisition and end in having your tongue cut out. A town under siege by William the Bastard (or Conqueror as he probably preferred to be known) thought it would be hilarious to poke fun at his less than noble origins. When the town eventually fell, he continued the joke by having their hands and feet cut off.

Back to Joan – sorry, I do wander. Doesn’t your heart go out to my editor? – I researched the event, dates, times, places, etc., drew up my timeline, built my framework, and then inserted Max and the other historians into the picture. From that moment on, my control over events tends to evaporate because, if I’ve done my job properly, everything should unfold in my head, one scene after another as I frantically scribble or type (depending on where I am) trying to get it all down before it dissolves like so much smoke in the wind. And it does. It only takes the telephone to ring, or a voice in the street and it’s gone. That happens heartbreakingly often.

The non-historical events that occur at St Mary’s, of course, are completely fictitious. Mostly. Although yes, I do know someone who did actually run into a horse’s bottom and it’s going to cost him a great deal of money to keep me quiet. The ideas usually shoot into my head while I’m having a bath. No, I don’t know why, either. Interesting material for someone with psychological qualifications, I should think. I keep a pad and pen on the toilet for these little moments and twenty minutes later, I’m sitting in cold, scummy water scribbling away, damp and wrinkled. And that’s just the notebook. My idea to keep a whiteboard in the bathroom was subject to serious mockery.

Does anyone know if there’s such a thing as waterproof paper?

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Questions, questions, questions: How I Research My Books

One of my lovely readers has sent me a whole raft of questions about how I write my books which I’m going to try to answer to the best of my ability. There are five or six of them and since she was kind enough to write, I’d like to do justice to them. I’m going to post the replies here . I hope you find them useful. And interesting, too.

The first question was about research. How extensively I do I research the events in my books and what resources do I use.

I do a lot of research. I generally have an idea of where I want to send my historians, and what will happen to them when they get there. From that starting point, I read around the subject, looking for info that will support the story. Sometimes, I find something that directly contradicts what I want to do and with a huge sigh and a quick curse, I have to abandon that particular storyline.

I use only a fraction of my notes, otherwise it’s too easy too sound like a history book, which I really don’t want to do at all. I want people to find History interesting. I know my treatment of events and people is very superficial, but I want to engage people’s interest, and if someone is keen enough to go on to read more after they’ve finished the book then that’s wonderful. From there, they may go to study further and, with luck, will find History as interesting as I do.

Unfortunately, the best resource of all, public libraries, are not available to me. No, I’ve not been banned – just to be clear. Most of my research is done online as I pursue various threads, wandering down interesting but irrelevant paths (I have no self discipline whatsoever), sometimes modifying my story as ideas occur. My sources range from published papers to Wikipedia and everything in between. I consult professional organisations where I can – the Richard III visitor centre were very helpful. I emailed a gas company about the best way to kill someone with an electric fire and once I’d reassured them I had no intention of doing any such thing, they were great. My technical advisor, Phillip Dawson, advises me on police and military procedures and the safety mechanisms of 9mm Glocks. The writer, Tom Williams was of huge assistance with The Stirrup Charge at Waterloo, in my new prequel The Very First Damned Thing. Even the House of Commons got in on the act when I contacted them to check whether women were allowed in public areas in the 19th century.

“I emailed a gas company about the best way to kill someone with an electric fire and once I’d reassured them I had no intention of doing any such thing, they were great.”

Research permeates every aspect of the St Mary’s stories. I can’t just say, ‘We ran up the staircase and opened the door at the top.’ because the century will define whether the staircase is of wood or stone. Is it a spiral? Which was does it spiral? Is the door at the top made of wood? Studded? Arched? What size? Must they duck to get through? The door latch – what style? Can it just be lifted or must they turn it as well?

The sad thing is that after all that, I hardly use any of it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of material I had on the War of Jenkins’ Ear and at the end of the day it was just a throwaway line somewhere and I never used any of it.

And9781783759705_FC it’s not just St Mary’s. When I wrote The Nothing Girl, I knew nothing of donkeys or LandRovers or how to get married in a Register Office or forensic accounting. And for A Bachelor Establishment, I spent days checking out Regency menus.
Really, when you think about it, my ignorance is boundless.

Anyway, I hope that answers the question about research and no one’s eyes are bleeding. I know I go on a bit. The next question is about the detail in my stories. Give me a day or so to put something together and thank you for sticking with me so far.

St Mary’s prequel The Very First Damned Thing is out next month on Audible.

TV or not TV?

I don’t suppose this will come as a surprise to those with a more balanced lifestyle than I enjoy, but blowing up your TV is not necessarily a Bad Thing. Indeed, the last Big Bang, some six months ago led to an instantaneous improvement both in sound and picture quality, so when, a couple of nights ago, there was a brief crackle, a bang and the smell of hot electrics (ring any bells?) I wasn’t that alarmed and waited for it to switch itself on and continue, better and brighter than ever.

Alas.

Far from being better and brighter, close inspection revealed to be – respectful pause – as dead as a doornail. I poked and prodded a couple of times but to no avail. I checked the fuse because I’ve been caught like that before. I switched it off and then back on again, thus utilising my entire technical repertoire. It remained obstinately dead.

A catastrophe, I thought, unable to imagine my days without Dr Who, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and Project Runway (don’t ask), but it wasn’t. Not by a long chalk.

Normally, I start writing around six in the morning and carry on until noon, have some lunch, watch a bit of TV and (shamefully) fall fast asleep, so that’s most of the afternoon gone.

Now – without a TV, lunch is over so much more quickly. I’m bright eyed and alert (like a Labrador in a dog food commercial). With nothing else to do, ideas are bubbling and I’m scribbling away – I’ve had an idea for a series of short stories – I’m putting together a sequel to The Nothing Girl – I’m cracking on with Lies, Damned Lies and History – I’ve done some work on my latest painting. I damned near got the vacuum cleaner out, but let’s not go mad.

Today, however, a charming young man appeared, clutching my now fully functioning TV. We’d had some small communication issues because it’s not a flat screen and initially, he hadn’t realised it was a TV, but all was happily resolved and I can, apparently, look forward to several more months happy viewing.

But do I want to? Do I revert to my old ways, waking around four in the afternoon, slightly chocolate smeared and staggering groggily around the house in search of tea? Or do I cover my TV with a tablecloth, stand a vase of flowers on it and continue with my new, productive, TV-free regime?

Actually, I think we all know the answer to that one.

 

Jodi Taylor gets blogging!

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I’m a writer. You can tell by my vacant expression, the mountain of discarded chocolate wrappers, and my lack of social life.

However, these days, I’m an author, too. Let me go further – I’m an embossed author. Before anyone faints with admiration – although feel free if you wish – this only means that my name is embossed on the cover of my books. But – IN GOLD!

Anyway, last week as I was happily cursing my laptop for failing to remember my default font is Times New Roman, an email from my publishers, Accent Press – All Hail Accent Press! – thudded into my inbox. They’d had the happy thought that I might like to write a blog.

I have to say, I stared in perturbation for quite some time. I know I have a blog page somewhere, but it’s been years and I’d completely forgotten about it. I mean – why? I have a facebook page full of lovely people telling me how to get rid of ants, discussing who should play whom in the cracking film that Stephen Spielberg would undoubtedly make were he even slightly aware of my existence, and sending in photos of themselves at Comic Con.

Apparently, however, that’s not enough. I have to blog.

Self: I can’t remember how.

Accent: We’ll help.

Self: Aha! I don’t know my user name.

Accent: Here it is.

Self: I don’t know my passw-

Accent: Voila!

Self: But what would I blog about?

Accent: Anything.

Self: But nothing ever happens to me.

Accent: Um … you just went on a gulet cruise.

Self: But I was horribly seasick, fell down a flight of stairs, was eaten by a mosquito the size of a Cessna light aircraft and my shoulder is covered in suppurating blisters.

Accent: Exactly.

Self: Oh.

At this point, I should say that the gulet was beautiful, the food superb, the crew excellent and the scenery wonderful. It’s just that I don’t operate well when separated from my laptop and I’m not sure it would do my public image any good if that were widely known.

At this point, there was another Accent Intervention. Think Moses on Mt Sinai but slightly more impressive.

Accent: Here’s a list of appropriate subjects.

  1. How I was published.
  2. Where do I get my ideas from?
  3. How do I research?
  4. My writing process.

I’m still not convinced that making any of this information available to a breathless world is a good idea but I don’t want to upset Accent, because, according to the Accent Authors’ Dungeon Rota, I’m entitled to a thirty-second look out of the window the week after next and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I shall, therefore, put the kettle on, sit down with a Twix and consider the series of unfortunate events, mistakes, drunken lunches and serendipitous accidents that clutter ‘My Path to Publication,’ which will appear next week. Possibly in Times New Roman but more probably not. I don’t like to push my relationship with my laptop too far. I cursed it one time too many and it maliciously deleted the very nearly completed No Time Like The Past – all 75 thousand words of it. So I tread carefully…

Just as a matter of interest, does anyone remember Barbara Woodhouse and her choke chain? Is there anyone out there who could do the same for my laptop?

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