In ancient Britain, a Lady is living in a stone-walled house on an island in the middle of a river. So far as the people know, she
has always been there. They sense her power, they hear her singing, but they never meet her.
At first her life is idyllic. She wakes, she watches, she wanders in her garden, she weaves a complex web of what she sees, and she
sleeps again. But as she grows, this pattern becomes narrow and frustrating. She longs to meet those who cherish her, but she cannot.
The scenes beyond the walls of her home are different every time she wakes, and everyone she encounters is lost,
swallowed up by the past.
But when she finds the courage to break the cycle, there is no going back. Can she bear the cost of finding freedom? And what will
her people do, when they finally come face to face with a lady of legend who is not at all what they have imagined?
A retelling – and metamorphosis – of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.
And to celebrate the release, I am running an Amazon reduced price offer on all my previous books, science fiction and historical fiction alike, timed to start on May 1st and run until May 8th. So you can stock up for the reduced cot of 99p / 99c for all of these. Links are:
There have been some great pictures of Mars coming out recently from the Indian Mars Orbiter spacecraft so I thought I’d include a few here, together with an ESA video of a simulated flyby of one of the great valleys on Mars, the Mawrth Vallis.
So here is Phobos, tiny against the curve of Mars and very close in its orbit. Most of chapter 2 of Timing takes place on this moon, partly at Asaph, a (hypothetical) settlement facing away from the planet. and partly at a sort of industrial estate in the Stickney crater facing inwards.
And here is a three-d representation of Olympus Mons, the second highest mountain in the solar system. In the book, there’s a financial training college on the lower slopes of the mountain, roughly in the foreground as you are looking at the picture.
To celebrate all this I am running a science fiction Kindle Countdown offer right now – prices start at £0.99 / $0.99 and slowly increase to the normal price by next Monday. So don’t delay… Links are:
Finally, here’s the ESA video flyby of Mawrth Vallis. It’s one of the various places where – long ago – liquid water most likely ran and shaped the terrain we see. Now it is of course dry, but it’s a place that will be the focus of science at some point in the international effort to explore the red planet.
I was nearly set up to start a series of blogs on Kindle formatting, having been reading a lot about that recently. But those aren’t quite ready yet, so instead I am just advertising that a Kindle Countdown offer is now running on my historical fiction series.
So all this week, up until Monday 12th, you will find the following books at reduced price on the Amazon UK and US stores;
The giveaway for Timing has started today and runs until November 21st.
Just drop along to https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/211275-timing and click the Enter Giveaway button to be in with a chance of winning a free copy.
When quick wits and loyalty are put to the test
Mitnash and his AI companion Slate, coders and investigators of interplanetary fraud, are at work again in Timing, the sequel to Far from the Spaceports.
This time their travels take them from Jupiter to Mars, chasing a small-scale scam which seems a waste of their time. Then the case escalates dramatically into threats and extortion. Robin’s Rebels, a new player in the game, is determined to bring down the financial world, and Slate’s fellow AIs are the targets. Will Slate be the next victim?
The clues lead them back to the asteroid belt, and to their friends on the Scilly Isles. The next attack will be here, and Mitnash and Slate must put themselves in the line of fire. To solve the case, they need to team up with an old adversary – the only person this far from Earth who has the necessary skills to help them. But can they trust somebody who keeps their own agenda so well hidden?
I have had major broadband problems this week as BT have struggled to get their equipment working properly. So today is just a short post, mainly to say that Far from the Spaceports is on Kindle countdown offer for the next few days.
Meanwhile, I am preparing the sequel Timing for release later this year, probably in the early autumn, and here is a short extract to be going on with.
Rydal opened her door just as we turned into the little access corridor down to her door. Slate had signalled Capstone, presumably. Like a lot of the entrances I had already passed since the dock, the approach was decorated with murals. She had chosen a butterfly theme, and I touched the delicate blue wings of one as I passed.
My greeting was awkward, and whatever words I chose didn’t sound at all fluent, but she didn’t appear to notice. It finally occurred to me that her anxiety about the coming crisis was back in the ascendant, and she didn’t have much emotional space left to be attuned to my problems. She hugged me in a sisterly way, and turned back inside.
“You’re a bit earlier than I thought, Mitnash. Come in for a few minutes while I finish getting ready.”
We went in. She had suspended gauze in loops and strands from the ceiling to soften the bluntness of the original drilling. For some reason it gave the sense of being in woodland. She gestured towards the back wall.
“You go and talk to my pets for a while. I won’t be long.”
The idea of pets intrigued me. I thought of the parakeets that flocked around the St Mary’s market area, and wondered if she had a couple of those somewhere.
There was a clear panel, floor to ceiling, separating the living room from a separate, much narrower chamber. At first all I could see was vegetation, lots of leafy stems with exotic flowers. It was all too small and cluttered for parakeets, and I was perplexed.
Then something moved. I had thought it was a flower, but it had wings, and with an abrupt internal shift I realised that it was a butterfly. Now that I knew what to look for, I could see more in there, a couple of dozen, of several different varieties. Most were resting, others were eating some sort of syrup. All at once, with no signal that I could see, two of them took flight, wings alight with colour as they danced around the chamber for a while before settling again.
“So how do you like my little friends?”
Rydal had come back while I had been fascinated by the pair. I kept watching, hoping to see another one in flight.
“I have never seen anything like it. They are quite extraordinary.”
I caught my breath as another pair took to the wing and circled each other for a while.
“It must be difficult keeping the environment just right for them.”
I didn’t know much about butterflies, but I had heard that ones this large needed a lot of heat and moisture. She moved close to the glass, watching the pair flit about. I looked at her reflected face, peaceful in contemplation of flight.
“Not very different to us humans, when you compare it to what’s outside of here.”
She gestured towards the ceiling. The first time I had been on the Scilly Isles, I had been disturbed by the thought of airlessness so close. It had seemed different to the experience on board a ship, in some visceral way I could not explain. That had changed, and I was now unphased by the thinness of the skin which kept me safe here. Instead, I was captivated by her words, and was imagining us as human butterflies, straying out of our inner system home, moving away from the sun which had overseen our birth.
She turned suddenly, to catch me looking at her, and the spell was broken. Her anxiety and my shame resurfaced.
Before I begin, I should mention that Far from the Spaceports is on special Kindle offer for the week starting June 29th. Prices start at £0.99 UK, or $0.99 US, and increase over the course of the week – get in early for the best deal.
OK… now for smuggling.
Smuggling is one of those human activities which spring up with great regularity. The high profile cases are usually those with the most reprehensible of moral dimensions, such as drugs, weapons, or people. But all kinds of very ordinary commodities get smuggled wherever the potential reward outweighs the risk. I recently visited Robin Hood’s Bay, in North Yorkshire, which was a major centre of smuggling during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Smuggling arises when rulers and governments artificially inflate the price of a good by means of tariffs. Sometimes this is done for reasons of security or national health, where the people at large may well have some level of acceptance of the tax. Alcohol or cigarettes are today’s health examples, and taxes on petrol can be justified by environmental protection. But historically, tariffs have also been applied to quite ordinary products, as a way to boost government revenues.
Popular sympathy soon drains away when the motives appear to be purely acquisitive. People begin to find creative ways to avoid the tax, and smuggling begins. At its simplest, smuggling is just an equation – getting some item into the country, past the revenue officers, and into the hands of a customer has a certain level of cost. If the customer is willing to pay enough to meet that cost, with a dollop extra to cover the risk, it’s worth it. Meanwhile, the customer wants the savings made by avoiding the taxes to be big enough to cover their own anxiety about being found out. If the equation works, everybody’s happy. Except for the revenue officers. It all depends on the relative costs, compared with the likelihood of detection. It has often been big business. In the late 18th century, one moralising pamphlet lamented about the thousands of men turning from respectable trades to smuggling, presumably finding it more lucrative.
Now I had known from years ago about smuggling which went on through the counties along the south coast, from Cornwall to Kent, taking advantage of the short Channel crossing. Kipling’s poem “brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk” comes from there – Kipling had strong associations with Sussex. The poem highlights not only the trade itself but also the way people from all levels of society took part in it. But I had never heard that there was a thriving trade going through Yorkshire!
But yes, it seems that Robin Hood’s Bay was a real centre for smuggling, across the North Sea, especially from Holland. It was sufficiently serious that the government stationed a unit of dragoons there up until the 1830s, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to control it. My guess is that judicious backhanders helped the soldiers to look the other way sometimes.
The trade through Robin Hood’s Bay consisted of silk, tobacco, various strong drinks, and above all tea! Duty on tea was hiked several times during the 18th century, to finance the war effort of the British government. Tea could be bought for about 7d per pound in Holland (that’s 7 old pence, or about £0.03 after the currency change in 1971), but after taxes, and depending on quality, you could easily pay 50 times that. That’s a lot of margin to play with. Revenue efforts to control the trade were definitely an uphill struggle. It has been said that three quarters of all tea drunk in England during those years came into the country via smuggling. So when you drink a cup of Yorkshire Tea, spare a thought about this piece of history.
Why Robin Hood’s Bay? Well, it was useful in several ways. There was good access from the sea, but the nearest major ports were some distance away. Once landed, the goods could be hidden or moved out on any of several routes across the North York Moors, where local knowledge was at a premium. Finally, the village itself is built on a steep bank coming up from the sea, with the houses packed tightly in to narrow twisting streets. It was said that a bolt of silk could be passed from house to house, using windows, tunnels or hidden hatches, without setting foot outdoors, from the shore all the way to the ridge above. All in all, an ideal place to shift contraband!
The heyday of Robin Hood’s Bay smuggling was over by the 1850s. But tea smuggling had declined rather earlier, when the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger passed a bill slashing the tea tax from 119% to 12.5%. Overnight, the risk-reward equation changed. He recouped his government’s money via a window tax, leading to countless house windows up and down the country being bricked up – unpopular, to be sure, but not likely to lead to smuggling.
So far, I haven’t used smuggling in the plots of either my historical or science fiction. Something to explore in the future, perhaps. Since it happens so very often throughout history, I’m sure a smuggling plot could fit in either place.
Over the last few weeks I have been working to get all my books into a place where free sample downloads are available in a variety of formats. So for downloads of all different kinds you can check out the downloads area of the Kephrath site, or Goodreads, or Leanpub, or Kobo books – everything on Kobo is at 50% off until Jan 31st, so long as you use the discount code JAN1650, which in my case includes In a Milk and Honeyed Land and The Flame Before Us – or Google Play, or the iBook store. To read online check out my Issuu listings – also there are links to the individual publications from several of the pages on this blog or the Kephrath web site. All in all, I have put out sample material in a lot of different places and formats!
Along with that, I have widened the distribution of The Flame Before Us to include several ebook stores as well as just Amazon, and for simplicity am in the process of making the Kindle and ePub price of all of my historical fiction books the same. That is not quite finished yet, but will be before too long.
Finally, I have released In a Milk and Honeyed Land under the Matteh Publications banner now, so after a suitable pause you can expect to see the listings change slightly at various online bookshops.
Now, among other things I noticed a fragment on display from the Cairo Genizah. This is regarded as the world’s most important and comprehensive store of historical Jewish documents, and consists of around 300,000 fragments. It is a vast and perplexing mix of overtly religious material, together with secular works and everyday documents, and so has illuminated many different aspects of Jewish middle eastern life.
Now, some of the fragments – and in particular the one I saw – were written by a Jewish poet called Yannai. He is variously said to have lived in the 5th, 6th or 7th centuries CE (AD) and was a highly creative innovator in the field of piyyut – Hebrew or Aramaic poetry composed either in place of or as adornments to Jewish statutory prayers. His innovations include:
He was the first Hebrew poet to sign his works (albeit with an acrostic rather than direct name)
He was one of the first to write for regular weekly services rather than specific religious events
He took the practice of payyetan from a very broad-based set of loose constraints into a tightly structure art-form in several innovative ways, and
– the thing I found most immediately interesting –
he was the first to use end-rhyme as a poetic device.
So he not only used traditional devices like alliteration, parallel word pairs, and the like, but also introduced end-rhyme to help structure the poem as a whole. His rhymes were frequently not just the final syllable, but extended over complete words at line ends, and added the possibility of word-play in addition to the rhyme. Laura S. Lieber, one of the major authorities on Yannai, says “As literary works, his poems are as dazzling as they are complex, rich with sound and play, allusion and linguistic beauty.”
Unsurprisingly, his work influenced Hebrew poetry for generations after his death, starting in the Middle East but eventually shaping the way Hebrew poets in Spain created their work as well. So it was very pleasing to see this fragment of his writing on display!
Also back in the world of ancient writing, it’s the time of Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us to have Goodreads giveaways. At the time of writing they are pending approval by the Goodreads team, but check out the page links above to find out more, or navigate to the Goodreads listings at Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us to enter, once they go live on January 11th.
Covers – Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us
Next week – back to the theme of elements necessary for life, and the subject of Air.
I thought for today I would post a couple of reviews, not of books I have just encountered, but of ones which have been firm favourites for many years.
Before getting to that, though, it is worth mentioning the Goodreads giveaway at https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/166293-far-from-the-spaceports. At the time of writing there is about a day and a half left for this (it runs out on December 23, 2015 at 11:59PM) and there has been a very positive response. If you want to enter, navigate there and complete the online form.
So, reviews. First is a childhood favourite, which I still dip into from time to time – Heather Hill. by Elleston Trevor. I have the privilege of having supplied the first review of this book – published in 1946 – on both Amazon UK and Goodreads. The review reads, in part,
The language is deliberately archaic, foregrounding the sense that this place has been left behind by the outside world. In many ways, Elleston Trevor portrays his animals in the same way that Tolkein does his elves – they are little by little falling silent and becoming separate, progressively disconnecting from humanity. There is the same sense of self-sufficiency, and the same sense of loss…
like all good children’s literature, there are potent adult themes here. For me at least, the haunting narrative style, and the unashamed foregrounding of personal loss and difficulty, make this a truly memorable work. The verbal imagery, the absorbing world, and the quirky personalities described have stayed with me for years, and I am sure I will revisit Heather Hill many times in the future.
The second book I discovered a little later in life – Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes. Happily, this one has been found by others too, who for the most part also appreciate its mix of up-front science and fascinating fiction. My review is again on Amazon UK and Goodreads, and reads in part
Inevitably some of the dates have been and gone without humanity achieving the technological targets Aldrin and Barnes set out. Of itself, that no more detracts from the story than the absence of hover boards and flying cars does in 2015!…
Ultimately, Encounter with Tiber is a hopeful book, and one which affirms a positive view of life. Realism is present – things go wrong, people (and aliens) make mistakes and do bad things – but these are presented against an optimistic view of history rather than a pessimistic one. Courage, self-sacrifice and loyalty are universal virtues – they do not guarantee success, but they mitigate the worst effects of failure, and enrich the journey regardless of the outcome.
It has indeed been a busy time, with all kinds of things going on. Monday evening saw a lively Facebook event celebrating the launch of Far from the Spaceports, with a lot of people joining in, and a lot of questions, comments, and general good humour. The paperback giveaway is still up for grabs as nobody has yet answered the challenge! There’s still time, so if anyone wants to have a go, here are the questions. All answers can be found in the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature, or in the slightly larger free sample downloads available at the Kephrath site.
What is the name of the main computer at Mitnash’s workplace on earth?
What London underground station did Mitnash use after being recalled to the office?
What did Mitnash assume that the duty porter meant when he talked about parakeets?
What snack did Mitnash treat himself to on arriving at St Mary’s
What did Slate mean when she talked about Plan B?
Name 4 of the 5 main asteroids/islands in the Scilly Isles
Talking of giveaways, I am experimenting with one on Goodreads next week, so if interested pop over to the Goodreads site and add your name., on or after December 15th .
I am still following up on contacts arising from that, and hopefully will be for some time to come.
Over in the world of ancient history, the countdown special offers are still going for Scenes from a Life and The Flame Before Us. They run out after the weekend so don’t miss the opportunity. Navigate to Amazon and search by name…
One of the questions that Radio Scilly asked me was what features of the real Islands had proved difficult or impossible to incorporate into the asteroid version. I thought about it, and decided that it had to be the effect of running water. This has been – still is – a hugely critical factor in the real islands, but has never been an influence out in that part of space. To be sure, ice has turned up in all sorts of places in our solar system, but hardly ever in liquid form. So that has prompted me to think of a series of articles on the influence of the elements through history – water, air, light, heat, and so on, in the past, present and future. More of that next week.