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The Changeling Tree: The Time Before

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When I finished my first re-run through the second book in the Changeling Tree series, I thought it was finished but I knew it wasn't satisfactory and at that stage I made a lot of changes to it. For example, I changed the title from The New Girl.

Additions at that stage included all of the Faerie story-line. Previously, there was only the one scene with Carrick near the end. The new Faerie scenes provided more depth to their world and show that, even though Annis failed in her attempt on Carrick's challenge, she's still trying to ensure he doesn't succeed. According to the terms of the game, it's only necessary for him to fail for victory to be hers.

I also fleshed out Agnes's story quite a lot. The bare bones were there, but I added more about her friendship with Florence and about her brothers. Her three wishes were a new addition and I made the parallels between herself and Mrs Somerbird more clear.

One thing I realised when I got to the bit where Robin le…

Dog-whistles, clairvoyants and frothing extremists

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I don't generally write about political issues and I don't pretend to be unusually well-informed, but I followed links to an opinion column in The Daily Mailtoday and it's stayed with me. I'm not aiming to fact-check every detail of the article, but I felt moved to explore the dishonesty of its language.
The piece is headed 'From the lockdown to the destruction of statues, these febrile weeks show the pillars of our freedom and civilization are rotten. As the Left now controls every lever of power, we face nothing less than regime change.' The piece is written by Peter Hitchens.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, The Daily Mail is rated as a questionable source by MediaBiasFactCheck, with a right wing bias and low reliability with regard to fact-checking. On this occasion, though I don't make a habit of it, I've read it so you don't have to. If we're ever going to achieve rational dialogue on national issues, we have to address the perspectives of tho…

Writing in the time of Coronavirus

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You might have noticed a lack of noise from my direction lately. The previous post was pre-scheduled, and I can't remember the last time I wrote a new one. I've released The Time Before, the sequel and prequel to The Changeling Tree, but I've barely put any effort into promoting it.To be honest, it hasn't seemed all that important.

When all of this started, my first concern was about my mum and how we were going to keep her safe. In the end, she began self-isolating about a week before the lockdown began, because it was the only way we could protect her from a virus that she couldn't risk contracting. The next obvious concern was how she was going to cope with being on her own all day, every day. Fortunately, she's a resourceful woman who's comfortable in her own company and has lots of grandchildren who adore her and are more than happy to ring for a chat. So far, she's coping with it remarkably well.

But that got me thinking about how an older person…

Apostrophes and how to use them

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I've been reading self-published books for free on KindleUnlimited recently and some of them are great, with really compelling plots and strong characters in unusual settings. But some of the writers could use a bit more help with technical aspects of their writing. Given my background as a professor of English language, I figured that's something I could help with.

So this is an experiment. I'm going to put out a quiz and an explanation of a commonly mis-used feature of English and see whether anyone finds it useful. If no-one seems interested, I won't bother doing any more, but if there's a decent uptake for this, I'll put together some more materials and I'm happy to take requests in the comments.

I've started with apostrophes because no writer is going to be able to avoid them altogether and many readers and reviewers will notice and comment on their mis-use. They're one of those features of written English whose function is to enable those who…

What's in a name?

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Fictional characters sometimes have names I've never come across in real life. That's fair enough in sci-fi or historical fiction or where characters belong to a particular ethnic or social group where those names are commonly used, but it sets me on edge to read a novel set in real life in the present day where people's names are unrealistic.

It may seem boring, but I like my characters to have real-sounding names without reminding readers of any specific individual. The more frequent a name is, the less likely it is to have fixed connotations for readers. For example, if I choose to call one of my characters Elvis or Elton, readers' perceptions are inevitably going to be coloured by their knowledge of the famous holder of that name, but if I call someone David or Sarah, the name is going to have less baggage because readers are used to coming across multiple individuals with the same name. Even the most frequently used names will have strong connotations for some re…

How do you think without an inner voice?

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Several months after realising that the inner eye isn't figurative, I also learnt that the inner voice isn't either. Most of the people I've spoken to about this have told me that they have an inner monologue. Some people hear it as a voice, others just know the words that are there.

I don't have an inner monologue. I can think in words if I need to, but I generally don't. It's hard to explain, but the best I can do is to say that I think in thoughts. I can put those thoughts into words, by speaking them out loud or saying them silently inside my head, and I can represent them in pictures, by drawing, though not well, but again, I usually don't. These thoughts aren't the same as feelings, though obviously they can be associated with feelings. Maybe my thoughts are like binary code, while other people are working with Windows, though I don't think my thoughts are less sophisticated in process or outcome.

When I first learnt that other people had an …

What I've learnt, part three

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I need to stop kidding myself that this is going to be a finite process. There isn't going to be a point when I stop learning new things about indie authorship and publishing, and if I do stop learning, that'll be a bad thing, because things are going to keep changing.

So here are some things I've learnt recently:

 Although Amazon allows you to put a book in two categories when you set it up to publish, you can ask them to add up to eight more categories. It's a bit of a faff to find the right page, so I'll include it here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/contact-us. The categories have to be included in this format:
Books>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Fantasy>Fairy Tales
It's probably good that it's time-consuming, because it focuses the mind on getting it right first time.The category structure for books and e-books is completely different, so you need to think through the categories separately for each. I found this easier to do on the amazon website…