Launching an author web widget

Firstly, there are a number of birthday giveaway free tokens still available for In a Milk and Honeyed Land – but less than last week so if you would like one of these please contact me at books@kephrath.com. This is for the electronic version (epub or kindle mobi), sadly not for physical copies. I also had time to write a review of Britannia’s Wolf by Antoine Vanner, a piece of naval fiction set near the end of the 19th century.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about today was that, wearing one of my IT development hats, I have now finished work on a web (or blog) widget for authors. This screenshot shows the appearance, but for ‘live’ operation please look at the Matteh Publications site at http://mattehpublications.datascenesdev.com/AuthorWidgets.aspx or http://mattehpublications.datascenesdev.com/AuthorWidgetRegister.aspx.
Screenshot of author web widget

What does the Author Web Widget do? Well, you can have a single widget which combines information from a whole multitude of different sources. It can be placed on your web site or blog – so long as the blog supports JavaScript, which is typically in the sidebars or banners rather than the main area. You can give the code – just a few simple lines to copy and paste, which connect to the Matteh Publications site for all the hard stuff – to your friends and supporters who can embed it on their own site in order to promote you.

The widget will link to your web site, blog, main social media sites and email. It will also allow you to combine a whole list of different vendor links – Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and so on. You may well have reviews of the book scattered here and there – maybe Goodreads, Shelfari, and a whole lot of separate blogs. Same for extracts that you have contributed to various locations over the months. Since this widget is independent of each of these separate sites, you can connect to all of them in one place.

All of the details can be edited from a single page on the Matteh Publications web site – colour, size, text and link entries, vendors and so on. This page becomes accessible to you after registration. The edit process is pretty much automated and should be easy to manage, but if you run into problems I am just at the other end of an email – matteh@datascenesdev.com. At the moment the widget only lists a single book, but you can always have more than one and I can walk you through the simple process of hosting multiple widgets on a single web page if you like. From your page on the Matteh Publications site you can also see how much use your widget has had – how many page views, how many times someone has clicked through to one or other site, and so on.
Screenshot of configuring the author web widget

How much does the widget cost? Well, the normal price would be £20 for a year’s subscription, to include unlimited edits and unlimited use on as many different sites or blogs as you wish. I am running an introductory offer of £10 for the first year for a limited time, probably a couple of months as the system is proved in action. The money transaction is handled by PayPal so your financial details wil be held securely at the PayPal site and not by me. All I need is the transaction ID to confirm payment.

If you’re interested in one of these web widgets for yourself, drop me an email at matteh@datascenesdev.com and we can talk about it.

More updates – and the birthday giveaway has not yet ended!

First and foremost, it was my very great pleasure to read a review this morning on Goodreads – an extract follows

Flowing, eloquent descriptions of the region, traditions, music, and writings of the people of those times immerse the reader. I felt as if I were there, standing at “the high place” with the world spread out before me, walking in an ancient olive grove, hearing the soothing notes of a lyre. I wanted to be there, to be part of the exhilarating festivals, to share in the people’s sorrows, to face their challenges with them. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, yet I hated to see the book end.

Considering the depths of emotion explored, the lessons conveyed, and the story told, “In a Milk and Honeyed Land” is an astonishingly easy read. More than that, it’s utterly beautiful.

For the full review, check out Goodreads. As you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled to find this! Meanwhile, here are some (modern) olive trees in the region of the four towns…

Olive grove in the region of the four towns

The birthday giveaway continues – some of the free download tokens have gone but others still remain, so if you want to receive a download token and instructions how to use it please contact me at books@kephrath.com soonish. Electronic copies only, I’m afraid, as the physical soft- or hard-back versions are not included in this.

So meanwhile… updates continue over at the Kephrath site. Some of them are just geeky things to bring the web technologies used up to date – the shiny new rotating news feed on the home page is one such, and the book review filter at http://www.kephrath.com/BookReviews.aspx is another. But as well as that I finally got the timeline page out at http://www.kephrath.com/Timeline.aspx. It’s fairly basic at the moment but from this point on I can enhance it as time permits.

Keep watching for more changes…

Birthday giveaway!

'In a Milk and Honeyed Land' cover
In a Milk and Honeyed Land is a year old shortly! The exact date depends a little whether you mean the physical or electronic version, and I’m not fussy about the details, so May 31st is as good a date as any. Many thanks to all those who have read the book this last year, especially if you have given some feedback. Over the last year I have had contact with a lot of great people and new friends, and feel enriched because of it.

To celebrate the event, I have organised a giveaway with the publishers Trafford. I have a limited number of tokens which will allow people to download an electronic version (epub or kindle) from the Trafford site. If you are interested, please contact me with your email address and I can supply details of how to download. Numbers are limited, so please don’t delay too long. This could be a great opportunity to get a copy for a friend. It applies to the electronic version only, not physical copies.

Other news – I have written a couple of book reviews. The first is for Of Battles Past, by Bryn Hammond. As usual, a quick summary may be found on the Kephrath web site (see http://www.kephrath.com/BookReviews.aspx), and the full review is at Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari.

As for the second, it is my great pleasure to be contributing again to Erin Eymard’s Bookworm’s Fancy blog (http://bookwormsfancy.wordpress.com/), with a review of A Swarming of Bees by Teresa Tomlinson. I loved this book, as you can read shortly. This review will appear on Erin’s blog in a few days time so keep a look out.

Also, The Man in the Cistern is now available on the iTunes book site at https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-man-in-the-cistern/id648034238?ls=1 (US), https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-man-in-the-cistern/id648034238?ls=1 (UK), or other regional iTunes stores. Price varies a little per region but should be around the £1 / $1 etc mark.

Finally, I have been overhauling the Kephrath web site a little to take advantage of some new web technologies. There are no really dramatic changes but I have changed the way some of the navigation works. and the way my book reviews are displayed on the page http://www.kephrath.com/BookReviews.aspx. Currently there are a few problems with old web browsers such as Internet Explorer 7, but any modern browser should be fine. I hope to iron out the last issues shortly. Enjoy!

Reminders of Kephrath near to home…

I thought this week I would post up some images taken over the weekend from in and around home, which have some sort of loose connection with the world of Kephrath. The first is a bee-and-flower picture – nowhere near as sharp as the real book cover, but this one was just at the back of the garden with our own bee!

Bee and Flower

The second is our fig tree, which is now (after a slow cold start) coming into leaf. Back in Southampton our fig tree there produced some fruit each year, the amount varying considerably with the season. This little one is only last year’s planting and so is some way away from fruiting yet… but great to see the leaves emerging.

Fig leaves

Qetirah poured them each a little red wine from a stoppered jar. They drank it very solemnly, eyes fixed on one another. She took one of the figs and pulled it in two, giving half to Damariel. He held the fruit in his hand briefly, caught by the dark flesh speckled with seeds. When they had finished he took another fig and did the same, this time keeping hold of it for her to eat, feeling her lips against his fingers.

Finally here is a view of a corner nearby. The connection here is quite tenuous but made through the name Gilgal – the name of the first encampment of the Israelites across the Jordan.

Garden corner

The camp itself was roughly square, insofar as the arc of the River and a few encroaching outcrops of rock allowed, and was divided into unequal regions of tents by interior paths. Nepheret supposed that, like islands in the inundation that she remembered from childhood, the tent groups were occupied by different families. The people she could see wore a range of brightly coloured kefs, and for a moment she was reminded of the flower fields that filled the hill country in the spring time.

Other news – it’s nearly a year since In a Milk and Honeyed Land reached the market, and to mark the anniversary I am planning some sort of promotion for the end of this month. More details next week…

Flowering plants around the doors

I thought today I’d talk a bit about one of my prevailing images of Kephrath – the women’s plants beside the doors of their households. Back in September last year I dwelt on the matrilineal nature of the society there – inheritance of the house passes down the line of daughters rather than sons.

Syros - in the Cyclades, Greece

Today I want to remember one of the major sources of inspiration for the household plants – a trip we took around the Greek Cyclades Islands several years ago now. The streets in most of these islands are extremely striking – bright white walls, pale stone… and vividly coloured plants growing up the walls and stretching overhead. Now, I don’t think they carry the same symbolic value as the household plants do in Kephrath, but they are certainly a spectacular sight that has stayed with me. So when I was looking for something that would neatly represent the beauty and fertility of a household, these Greek island plants came to mind.

Antiparos - in the Cyclades, Greece

Other news this week – I finally got around to writing up my review of Iain M Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata, which can be found on Amazon and Goodreads now. I actually read this over the Easter holiday but the sad news of his terminal illness broke just after I had finished it, and it seemed appropriate to hold off for a while. The review manages to get a quick mention of a Star Trek TNG episode (Night Terrors, for keen and curious fans) as well as a few other bits and pieces…

Naxos - in the Cyclades, Greece

Spring things and a celebration of geeks

Spring has finally well and truly sprung here in north London, and leaf and blossom are everywhere. Quite a spectacular change. Not only that, but the public holiday yesterday featured bright sunshine and heat all day. Here’s the vine by (and above) our front door celebrating Spring…

The household vine coming into leaf

So what with that and lots of work on a web programming project I have been working away at, there is no book review this week! I have, however, been finally making good progress on the last remaining chapter of Scenes from a Life. In terms of the plotline this fits about 3/4 of the way through, and is a flashback scene to an event that took place some ten years or so before the main sequence. So far I’m happy with progress, though it’s some way away from finishing yet. More news later in the summer…

Also, over the weekend, my faith in geeks was confirmed. For reasons unknown, large numbers of my bookmarks / favourites disappeared from Chrome – not sure when, or how, since I only realised when I went to pick one and it wasn’t there! The normally wonderful feature of Chrome that it synchronises across several devices happened, in this case, to work against me… the missing bookmarks were cheerfully missing from all the different gadgets I tried, since Chrome could synch much quicker than I could stop it… A swift internet search showed me that I was far from being alone in this, and happily there are several geek sites which tell you how to recover them… provided you realise soon enough and don’t panic…

It did occur to me that this was a blind spot for me – and obviously a lot of other people – I happily backup in one way or another my writing, computer code, accounts etc, but it never occurred to me to back up bookmarks. A happy end, on this occasion, though having read other accounts it is clear that some people have not had such good fortune. A triumph for the determination of geekly characters to document such things.

Review – ‘Let us not live in ignorance’ – Anastasia Abboud

Let us not live in ignorance is a quite fascinating book for anyone wanting to get a sense for the cultural diversity and conflicts which arise out of today’s Middle East in other countries, in particular the USA. In this book, those conflicts are explored not through violence and terror, but the more everyday and lasting areas of friendship and love. The two central relationships in the book cross different kinds of social and personal boundaries – one in a much harder and more profoundly radical way than the other – and Anastasia does not avoid the difficulties that arise from all that.
Cover - 'Let us not live in ignorance'
My own knowledge of the Middle East is largely rooted in the ancient world, but issues of cultural difference have always been important there. So when I came across Anastasia’s book, and realised what the subject matter was, it was a must-read. However, contemporary romance books are not my normal fare, so I had to get myself used to the conventions of the genre. The central characters are described as total paragons of physical perfection, with intellect and ethics to match. It took me a little while to realise that these descriptions are simply part of the literary style of this form, and that I didn’t have to feel inadequate or out of place myself! Nor that Anastasia was necessarily describing real Americans, Lebanese, etc – from my albeit slightly distant knowledge of the US I am pretty sure she is not! She is thinking about what might happen when idealised representatives of these cultures encounter one another, with a sincere desire to meet on a deep and intimate, rather than superficial and prejudicial level. Seen in that way, the profound difficulties in both of the relationships stand out all the more, since they are placed in a context of being open to relationship rather than closed to it.

It is clear that Anastasia is writing out of direct experience, especially in passages where people react in ignorance, naively clumping together quite different groups of people and ideas. She has a passionate desire that her readers would understand the diversity of culture within any one of the countries she speaks of, wanting to move away from simplistic stereotypes which tend to dominate the media. We like to think that here in the UK we are a little more aware of this, and most likely the average Briton has more personal interaction with this diversity than the average American. But it is, I think, a line of thought that is well worth revisiting, and there are plenty of people and families in this country and others, who grapple with cross-cultural issues on a daily basis.

For my part, this book has helped renew the sense that the diversity issues I like to explore in the ancient world are still active and vivid today. I shall return to my own writing with a renewed sense that these things are well worth exploring in any era, and that many of the same situations recur over and over again.

The book kept me reading eagerly right to the end, especially as it was unclear how – or even if – one particular situation was going to be resolved. I don’t have the experience to say whether it is a good book purely as a contemporary romance, and I don’t think that that genre is one which I am especially drawn to. All things considered, I prefer to read and write about other times than our own. So on those grounds I am giving Let us not live in ignorance four stars rather than five, but the lack might well be in me rather than the book. If the exploration of friendship and love across cultural and religious divides interests you, or if you enjoy contemporary romances, then this is a book to be read.

I’ll be posting the review as usual to Amazon, Goodreads etc before too long…

epub and Leanpub

As I have mentioned before, I have been delving into epub format for the last month or two, so as to extend the number of places where I can offer some of my writing. Kindle is great, and has been a very good place to start, but a little while ago I decided it was time to branch out.

The Man in the Cistern epub cover

So following a recommendation from the Finnish author Petteri Hannila, I went to the Leanpub site and got to grips with that. They accept a variety of original formats, of which the most interesting to me was html, since I already had that!

Leanpub was originally geared up to present books on computer languages and coding. So parts of their site were not relevant to my project, but the level of help and support is excellent. Whatever input format you choose, it is internally converted to a text layout they call “markdown” (by way of a rather geeky joke on the computer term “markup”, I think). It looks a bit like Wiki formatting for those who have met that. From markdown it goes straight into an epub file. Kindle and pdf versions are thrown in for good measure, though I did not in fact need them.

The Man in the Cistern ended up at https://leanpub.com/TheManInTheCistern. This is the first place this story is available in epub format, though I’m sure I will add more places in time.

You have a whole bunch of settings to grapple with, some of which go into the book file itself and some into the web site listing. Along the way you even get to specify a section as a short sample preview. The link for this goes onto your page listing. I must admit that this bit caught me out slightly, as I had expected it to be optional. As a result, my first attempt ended up with the default sample, which has standard text having nothing to do with your own book. But one of the very cool features of Leanpub came to my rescue – you can upload a revised version whenever you like. Previous buyers are notified and get the update for free, just like an update to a mobile phone app. So last night I hastily put together a quick sample version – if it turns out I don’t like it I can just rework the sample and leave the main content as is.

All very handy, and once you get your head around their terminology it is easy to use. I’m happy to recommend this site as an alternative point of sale. They are totally non-exclusive in their approach so don’t mind where else you sell your books – though other arrangements you might have made like Kindle Select might interfere with this. The terms and conditions are very straightforward and not at all hard to find. Great stuff.

After the Historical Novelist Book Fair is over…

First, a big thank you to Francine for arranging last weekend’s historical fiction online book fair. In the end nearly 60 authors participated, and it is clear from comments left at the various sites that people were “making the rounds” of the different sites concerned. I certainly visited all of the blogs I could find, read the articles, left comments, and signed up for regular updates from a few of them.

Historical novelists book fair logo

One of the fascinating features was to see the huge diversity of time periods and styles represented. So far as I recall, noone was writing longer ago in the past than me, but there was a very wide spread onwards from then.

Great work, and thanks again to Francine.

Then today I wrote a review of Automaton, by Cheryl Davies. I first came across this book via the excellent Bookworm’s Fancy blog (https://bookwormsfancy.wordpress.com/). The review there caught my attention, so out I went and downloaded a kindle copy, and then read it over a few days commuting on the Northern Line.

Automaton book cover

The review itself can be found on Amazon and Goodreads – suffice it to say here that I felt it was good, and definitely worth four stars, but there were a few things that weakened the book as a whole for me. To find it more, follow the links…

Historical Novelists Spring Book Fair

Here’s a fine idea I came across overnight – Francine Howarth (http://francinehowarth.blogspot.co.uk/) is organising an online Historical Novelists Spring Book Fair at http://tgunwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/on-line-spring-book-fair-historical.html.

So I have signed on with In a Milk and Honeyed Land to join all the other folk there (at the time of writing, there are 40 other people listed). The book fair badge looks like this:
Historical Novelists Spring Book Fair badge

So, for all new readers… In a Milk and Honeyed Land is a full-length novel which explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. It follows the life, loves, and struggles of a priest Damariel in the small hill town of Kephrath. The large-scale actions and military campaigns of the Egyptian pharaoh and other great kings are nowhere in sight; this is a story of the resources and people available within four small allied communities.

it is available as physical or ebook formats from online retailers and some bookshops. Amazon links for the kindle edition are
http://www.amazon.co.uk/In-Milk-Honeyed-Land-ebook/dp/B008T8HGRA/
and
http://www.amazon.com/In-Milk-Honeyed-Land-ebook/dp/B008T8HGRA/

Damariel is apprenticed as a young man by the village priest, whose reckless actions lead to his disgrace. Damariel manages to avoid becoming implicated in the matter and carries on his training, marrying his childhood friend Qetirah shortly before they begin their shared ministry in the town. Feeling ashamed of their continuing inability to have children, Qetirah becomes pregnant by the chief of the four towns, but the pregnancy is difficult. Damariel’s anger and outrage spills over into the marriage. He holds the chief responsible for the situation but cannot see how to get either justice or revenge…

Here’s an extract from the middle of the book, at an emotionally charged central point where Damariel has just got back from a pilgrimage to the northerly city of Hatsor and its temple. On his return, his friend Kothar has to tell him that Qetirah has died while he was away.

Damariel felt icy blood pound in his head and leaned back against the doorframe. He shook his head.

“No, no, don’t say things like that. Just tell me where she is. Is she alright?”

Kothar took a step towards him and gripped his shoulders.

“Damariel, listen. She’s not alright, not at all. She’s not with me, nor Kinreth, nor your mother, nor Saniyahu. No-one. Not at Giybon. She’s—”. He stopped as Damariel put a hand over his lips to stop him. He was shaking his head again and again.

“Kothar, what are you saying? This can’t be. No, surely not. Where is she?”

Kothar closed his eyes for a second, then gripped Damariel’s hand to take it away from his mouth and looked directly into his eyes.

“Where is she? Damariel, she’s in the tomb of her ancestors. She’s not with us any more, brother. She’s gone across to the other side. Damariel, forgive me, and may all the gods forgive me for saying it, but, Damariel, she is dead.” He gripped Damariel’s arms as he staggered away from the doorway. The chill in Damariel’s body had spread out, and he felt a cold pain in his heart, in his throat. He was still shaking his head. “Look, Damariel, I’d cut my own heart out if it would help, but nothing will help. I wasn’t there when she died, but I saw her afterwards.”

Damari knocked the stool over as he stood up abruptly and ranged around the room from end to end. He suddenly turned on Kothar and shouted.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?”

Kothar was silent for a few moments, facing towards him.

“Why did you put her down into the earth, Kothar? With the others. I didn’t see her as she went across to the other side. Now I’ll never see her. Not in this life.”

Kothar stepped close to him and looked very directly at him.

“Look, Damari, this was four days ago. We didn’t know when you were back, and we couldn’t just keep her body out. Not right, not fair on anyone, least of all Ketty herself. Saniyahu and Halith came down that same day as soon as they heard, laid her in Kinreth’s family tomb the next morning. Even if we’d known where you were we could not have waited four days. You know how it is.”

Damariel nodded, and, at a whisper, replied, “Yes, I know.”

There was a long silence.

“I’m so sorry, Damari.”

Damariel nodded, setting the stool on its feet again and sitting on it. He leaned back against the wall, pulled his kef off and tore it in half. Then he took the collars of his tunic and ripped that in half down from neck to waist. A single tear ran down one cheek, and he wiped it absently with one half of the kef.

“I wasn’t here, Kothar. Why did I go away?”

Very much later, after Kothar had gone, Damariel sat in the porch under his vine for a long time, looking across the stones of the high place, before gathering the torn halves of his kef and walking the slow path to the tomb of Kinreth’s family. Sitting in front of her resting place he took the knife he used for sacrifices and cut two long gashes down his arms and another across his chest.

He stayed by the great stone that sealed up the tomb most of the night, lying full-length with his face down on the flat stony space in front of it. The night went very slowly, and the chill in his heart swallowed up the chill from the cold, damp ground below as the blood from his arms soaked into the soil. At one point, when the stars had wheeled above him for some hours, he found himself so racked with uncontrollable shivers that his own life seemed to be clinging only by a thread to the world on this side. For a little while it seemed best just to give in to the desire to let himself slip across the boundary. It was only a little step: how well he knew that. Ketty would be waiting just the other side. It was not far to go.

He wondered, in the slow, heavy way his icy thoughts allowed, if she would be angry about the extra time in Hatsor.

I hope you have enjoyed the extract and might want to follow the rest of the book!

In a Milk and Honeye Land cover

Writing, ancient and modern