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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How I Was Published

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary Book 1)

Some time ago, I sat down and wrote a book. I’d always wanted to and suddenly finding myself with the time to do so, I thought I’d give it a go. I’d like to talk about my writing process on another occasion. Today’s blog is about how Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary Book 1) was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public.

Actually, writing the book was the easiest part because now I had to find an agent.

I was under no illusions that it would be snapped up immediately, but after a while, it became very apparent that it wasn’t going to be snapped up at all. Every Monday morning I would sit down, select the next three agents on my list, and send them the appropriate files. The thing is – it takes forever. Some agents want three chapters, some two, some one. One wanted six! Some want a one-page synopsis, some two pages. Some want an author biography – some don’t. Every Monday I would assemble the appropriate files, tweak them appropriately, and send them off.

Time passed, I wasn’t getting any younger, and it seemed if I were ever to be published at all then it would be posthumously.

Then, one sunny day, I was tempted forth by friends who invited me out. Emerging, blinking, into the daylight, I allowed myself to be tempted to what turned out to be the luckiest lunch of my life.

These friends urged me to bypass the traditional agent/publisher route and try self-publishing. By this time, I was nearly half-way down my first glass of wine, and frankly, at this point, I would have agreed to anything, but in a fit of alcohol-induced recklessness I agreed to give it a go and could I have a top up, please.

It’s actually quite a simple process and I would urge anyone who thinks they may have a book in them to give it a go. I made the decision on the Wednesday, sent the files off to Smashwords and Amazon on the Tuesday, and was a published author by the following Friday.

I can’t tell you how it felt to see details of my book – MY BOOK – on Amazon. There was a picture of the cover, my name as author, a blurb – all of it just like a proper book.

At this point, I should say I never expected it would be a success. I honestly thought that it would disappear into some kind of Amazon Black Hole somewhere and that would be it, but I’d written the book I’d always wanted to write, and that was the important thing.

I’d contacted friends and family and estimated that if everyone bought a copy there was every chance my sales would reach double figures and every morning I monitored my Amazon spreadsheet, which was how I came to notice the discrepancy. According to their figures, I’d sold about three copies, but there were an awful lot of reviews on Amazon and they all said ‘Amazon verified purchase.’

In the end, I plucked up the courage and emailed Amazon, querying this discrepancy. If, at this point, they’d said, ‘Oh, we’re awfully sorry, your reviews belong to another Jodi Taylor,’ then I would have been upset but not particularly surprised. But they didn’t. A very nice lady gently pointed out I was looking at the wrong column and I actually had about 25,000 sales.

I had to have a serious lie-down.

I’m convinced it was because the book was free and I’m embarrassed to admit it was free only because I was too stupid to work out how to charge for it. I’m really not bright. And who knows – if I had charged the 99p per copy then maybe it really would have disappeared into the Amazon Black Hole. Anyway, the book went to Number One in the free charts and I opened my email one morning to find a message from Accent Press offering me a three-book contract.

At this point, I really should take a moment to thank them publicly. I know I maunder on about them, but they’ve never been anything other than supportive and brilliant, so thank you Accent Press.

I’m often asked if I have any advice for would-be authors and yes, I do.

Firstly, write your book. You’re not going anywhere until you do.

Secondly, if you’re going to select a pen name, don’t do it at a long, boozy lunch with friends when everyone knows you’re incapable of coherent thought after half a glass of wine. My first choice – Dirk Thrust – was unanimously rejected. Even by the waiter. When you have selected your pen name, GOOGLE IT FIRST so you don’t find yourself with the same name as the famous porn star.

And thirdly, if you do neglect this simple precaution, get someone to warn your mother so she doesn’t bring up the wrong website to impress her friends. No one was happy that day, believe me.