When standing out just isn’t enough

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore shares her latest experience with a literary agent.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am happy to be publishing independently, and have largely enjoyed my experience with publishing direct to Kindle. But when I came across Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Firebird (which I reviewed recently) and realised that there were some elements in common with my own novels, I thought I would approach Kearsley’s literary agent, Felicity Blunt, to see if she thought the same. After the usual seemingly endless waiting period (in fact, a modest 4 weeks, which is short by many standards), I received this week a reply.

The Salt Factory by Evie WoolmoreWe enjoyed reading these sample chapters, which stood out from the many we
receive. Ultimately, though, we didn’t feel strongly enough to take the
project further, and therefore I’m afraid we are not able to offer you
representation. This is of course an entirely subjective response, and I
encourage you to continue with this project, and wish you every success with
your writing.

I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made so plain in my covering letter that I was writing out of curiosity as much as desire for representation. But what struck me was the same question that always arises: what exactly are they looking for? A book they love, or a book that stands out? Everyone wants to feel strongly about books they read: therein lies the pleasure. But doesn’t pleasure belong to the reader? Surely from a commercial point of view, as the seller of books (agent) to another seller of books (publisher), you would rather represent a book that stands out, something original or different, something that isn’t like all the rest. But apparently that still isn’t the case. For if the book market has not moved on then nor has the same reply I have heard so many times before, from agents and editors alike: “I just didn’t feel strongly enough.”

And yet I do. I do feel strongly enough about writing original fiction to publish it myself.

Evie Woolmore’s novels The Salt Factory, Rising Up and Equilibrium are available from all Amazon sites, including UK and US

 

Read Different: quality fiction at allonymbooks

In this literary awards season, why not read different and try a high quality novel by a less well-known writer? From mystery to masculine satire, and historical fiction for adults and YA, there’s something for everyone. All allonymbooks books are available for Kindle at all Amazon sites.

Firstly, if you like historical fiction or magical realismEvie Woolmore‘s haunting and imaginative novels will draw you in from the first page. Find out why Read Dream Relax say that Evie is “one indie author worth reading”.

THE SALT FACTORY by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US) was described in a recent review as “a well-written page-lingerer”.

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‘I never shoot a man unless there is no other choice.’

The motto of Thelonia Jones, deputy Marshall, makes perfect sense in the silver-mining mountains of Colorado. But back in Victorian England, hoping to settle the debts of her half-brother Cadell, Thelonia finds much that bewilders her. Why has her wealthy stepfather abandoned his mansion to die alone in a rundown cottage by the sea? Who is the strange little girl who brings seagulls and sick people back to life? And why has the owner of the Greatest Freakshow on Earth followed her halfway around the world? For all her ease around matters of life and death, even Thelonia will be surprised by just how high the stakes are about to get. They say the past always catches up with you. For Thelonia Jones, that means literally.

~

EQUILIBRIUM by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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“…original, poignant, illuminating…”  “a “fine yarn” where spirits, mystery and love waver …”  “…evocative writing…highly recommended…”

Epiphany and Martha are sisters with a stage mediumship act in Edwardian London. When they are asked to give a private reading at the home of Lady Adelia Lyward to find out the truth about her brother’s death, Martha must face up to her past. For two years ago, her affair with Lord Rafe Lyward ended in pregnant disgrace, and her attempted suicide in the River Thames. But there is more at stake than Martha’s anonymous return, for Epiphany bears the burden of restoring the equilibrium, not just to the Lywards but to her sister and ultimately to herself.

The Historical Novel Society review says “the story is rich in complex characters … I recommend “Equilibrium” to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences.” Equilibrium is also Awesome Indies Approved.

~

RISING UP by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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“…simple and beautiful, human and poignant…”   “…mystery, history and a bit of mysticism…” “….it’s one of the best books on the subject I’ve ever read…”

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

*****

If you’re a fan of mystery, try EJ Knight‘s new novel, Broadway Murder of 1928. (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US).

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Introducing Lucille Landau,  this is the first in a series of four novels set in New York in the Roaring Twenties. Lucille, an East End piano player with dreams of being the next Lil Hardin, has killed a man in London and marries another to escape on a boat to America. She seems to fall on her feet, finding somewhere to stay and the perfect job – playing piano for a new show by rising Broadway stars Tommy Anzonetti and Manny Wolfe. But surely Lucille can’t escape the past forever, and when actor Alfred Duff sees through her story, she’s relieved when he is murdered in his dressing room. But the police aren’t far behind, and they’ve got plans for Lucille. It couldn’t get much worse, could it? Except that Lucille is falling in love with Tommy Anzonetti and her husband keeps showing up…

****

If you yearn to be a teenager again – or are one still – try Flora Chase‘s luxurious young adult historical saga:

THE STRATTONS by Flora Chase (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

The Strattons vol 1 cover

The Strattons, the first volume of The Strattons young adult historical saga, is set against the backdrop of the luxurious late Edwardian era, on the eve of the First World War. Four young people, aristocrats and servant, are about to find their safe, comfortable world changed forever. Each must come to terms with the expectations of their class, their gender, and their destiny, and decide whether to embrace them or find the courage to fight against them.

When their diplomat father, the 4th Marquess of Stratton, is killed in Germany, Freddie, Julia and Blanche Matchingham, and their housemaid Dinah, find their world changed forever. Freddie must abandon dreams of university to become the 5th Marquess. Julia is wrenched from the contented obscurity of her books to face the nosy aristocracy keen to marry off her brother. Shallow, sociable Blanche finds her ambitions to take London by storm thwarted by mourning and social restriction. And why is Dinah, the first housemaid, suddenly being sent away from Stratton? The arrival of a German prince and a factory worker will turn all their worlds upside down and each of them must decide what their future holds, and whether they have the courage to face it.

****

Finally, if you like a contemporary satire with a dark side, look no further than CRASH COLE IN ‘THE RAKE SPARED’ by Cadell Blackstock (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' cover

This is a scandalous tale with a supernatural twist. If you like your heroes to be decent honourable men, then look away now.

Crash Cole’s fans love him enough to literally keep him alive. But who hated him enough to want him dead? Just like Don Juan before him, celebrity TV biker Crash Cole finds himself at the gates of hell as a consequence of his dissolute and promiscuous lifestyle. Except this hell is of his own making. Hauled back from the brink of death by the unfettered love of his fans, Crash can now hear every one of their voices inside his head, a chaotic din that obscures his memory of how he nearly died in the first place. Learning to live with it proves more than Crash can bear, and with his body mending at a phenomenal rate due to the healing love of his fans, he goes on the run, aided by Julia, a nurse with a bit of a crush on Crash.

Virtually unrecognisable due to terrible scars on his face, Crash revisits his life and the accident, a voyage of discovery constantly overshadowed by the thoughts of those who wished him live and the silence of those who didn’t. But will he learn the truth before his fate catches up with him?

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him.

Indie Book Reviews (12): British Indie Authors (3)

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore reviews Alan Williams’ novel The Blackheath Seance Parlour (available from Amazon)

My own interest as a writer in the spiritualist world of the Victorian and Edwardian eras drew me to this novel, but if you are looking for a good historical novel with plenty of authentic detail then there is much to appeal here. Middle-aged sisters Judy and Maggie Cloak have inherited a shop in the windswept, weather-beaten village of Blackheath on the outskirts of east London, but it is doing badly in its current incarnation as a sweetshop and the Cloak sisters are getting desperate. Judy has ambitions to escape both literally and metaphorically through a gothic novel she is writing, while Maggie seeks solace in drink from her sense of abandonment as a daughter and a prospective wife. Their lives change with the arrival of the rather mysterious Mrs Walters, a woman of some spiritual ability, who soon helps the sisters transform the shop into a focal point for many contrasting things: gossip, hope, faith, belief, mystery, and all the trappings of the occult. But the initial success of tea leaf reading is not enough for Maggie, Judy or Mrs Walters, and the story explores how the paths of each woman diverge as they seek their own resolutions with the past and the future. The novel is also intercut with long extracts from Judy’s novel, through which she explores certain aspects of her own reality and the society to which she imagines belonging.

The other main character in this book is the village of Blackheath, and Williams notes at the end of the book that he wanted to do justice to the community and its history as part of his aim in writing the novel. He captures very effectively the bleakness of the heath as it must have been in the Victorian era, and with a subplot around the murder of two girls, he infuses a certain chill in the already atmospheric spiritualist action. He has also done great justice to what must have been substantial research of spiritualism in the Victorian era. In the scenes where the sisters and Mrs Walters are reading tea leaves and the glass ball, and later the seances themselves, he has drawn very authentically on reports of the time, both of the fake and the genuine, and that level of accuracy will please readers of historical fiction and those interested in spiritualism.

It’s interesting too that he has essentially focussed on three middle-aged women, and he explores the social confinement these women must have felt in being unmarried while also seeking to be independent. Each woman is seeking something different as a consequence, and while their stories are interesting I wasn’t always as convinced by the historical authenticity of their actions and particularly some of their dialogue. Without giving too much away about how the story develops, some more spiritually-inclined readers might think it a shame that the most talented character spiritually was also the least attractive personality. It also might be seen by some readers as not doing much for a feminist agenda: the social emancipation and independence each of these women is seeking is in a way undermined by the lengths they go to to achieve what they want, and in some ways none of the women comes out of it very well. I was also a bit disappointed by the way Mrs Walters’ storyline resolved itself and not entirely satisfied with what happens to Maggie. But to discuss that at any length would be to spoil it for those who haven’t read the book.

As in my own spiritualist novels (search for Evie Woolmore), there is some discussion about the science vs religious faith vs spirituality conundrum, and this appears in the last part of the book only. It would have been interesting to do more with this much earlier in Maggie’s arguments with Father Legge, although it makes a very fitting climax dramatically in other respects. The book – though quite long – is generally well-paced, although I personally didn’t engage as much with the extracts of Judy’s novel. I think there could have been fewer of them and shorter ones too, without detracting from the part they played in reflecting some of the real-life action and the issues that arise for Judy as a consequence of writing the book.

This is a historically detailed novel, which I’m sure residents and those familiar with Blackheath will much enjoy for its local portrait, and which will provide a good escape on a wintry evening or two.

*****

Evie Woolmore is the author of historical novels with a spiritual twist. If you enjoyed The Blackheath Seance Parlour, you will probably enjoy her novel Equilibrium too, available at Amazon.

Indie Book Review (11)

This week, allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore reviews The Written by Ben Galley, founder of Libiro.

I’ll say up front that I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I loved the idea of what is written being such an important part of this story, and that was what attracted me to it – that, and the stunning cover design. So I’m delighted to say that this is a well-crafted, imaginatively constructed story that is very readable, regardless of whether you read a lot of fantasy or this is your first foray into the genre. It’s also the first in a series, which seems almost essential when writing fantasy, but will also please readers who have been quickly swept off their feet by this story.

A valuable item has been stolen, and its theft has brought a realm to the brink of war. Old enmities are being revived, and trust must be rebuilt between enemies if a far greater threat is to be overcome. But will time run out, and will the power of our hero be enough? This might seem like the plot to many a fantasy novel at the most general level, but Ben Galley has done a nice job of finessing the story with some lovely, well-imagined details. Farden, our hero (though not an enormously likeable one, perhaps) is a complicated fellow, driven yet a little lost, isolated and feared, yet inspiring fondness in his closest confidantes and strangers alike. He is also torn on the inside by a weakness that could literally render him powerless. His well-drawn vampyre adviser Durnus is very strongly characterised, as are the wonderful dragons Farden meets with their Siren riders, who are also beautifully described. I have the faint sense that Galley likes some of his characters more than others – I was less convinced by the drawing of a couple of them who I won’t name because I don’t want to hint at a spoiler – but the world of Emaneska, the towns, the huge buildings in which the most important action happens are all inspiringly drawn and will not disappoint any reader.

There’s a lot of action in this book – the fighting at which Farden is so proficient, and the use of magick (though less than I was expecting actually) – and also a lot of politics too, for this is at some levels a very political novel. It is about allegiances and loyalty, corruption and manipulation, weakness and strength. The first key revelation about two thirds of the way through was perhaps not as surprising as it could have been though, and I felt for a moment as if I was watching an episode of a US crime drama, because I was running out of possible candidates for the villain. However, this is a series, not an episode, and it is always a challenge to keep the momentum going well enough not only through this book but through those that follow. I agree with other reviewers who have pointed out Galley’s potential as a novelist, and what I think is admirable (perhaps because I don’t read a lot of fantasy) is that he has not created an over-complicated world, littered by its own creative profusion. There are not so many characters, races, languages, mythologies and so on that one cannot keep them all to mind if you put the book down for a day or two, and I don’t intend it as a weakness when I say that at its heart this is quite a straightforward tale.

If I have one particular criticism it is that the narrative writing can be very dense at times. Having a solitary hero, and seeing so much of the world through his eyes, means that narrative writing outweighs the quantity of dialogue by quite a bit and it can make the novel feel rather one-paced in places. To some extent this is a feature of the genre, but for this reader, a bit more variety of pacing and more dialogue in general would have elevated this novel beyond being what is already a very good book.

Broadway Murder of 1928 by EJ Knight: Exclusive Extract

Read an exclusive extract from the beginning of the latest allonymbooks book: Broadway Murder of 1928 by EJ Knight. Historical crime fiction at its best.

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Mutti is standing at the end of the alley, ankle deep in blood. Old Mr Goldblum and his son Itai are standing either side of her, their hands resting on her shoulders, their beards glistenin’ in the yellowish light from the back door of the pub, their long black coats flutterin’ like crows’ wings. Someone’s playing ‘Potato Head Blues’ on the piano inside. It sounds like me playing, making the same mistake over’n’over before the stop-time section, before Louis Armstrong starts his solo, but when I look down I’m still standing out back and there’s a broken bottle in my blood-soaked hands.

‘Come now,’ they’re saying to her in Yiddish. ‘Come back to the factory.’

‘But who will mend my Lucille’s dress?’ Mutti’s saying in German, pointing at me.

‘It’s her own fault her clothes got torn,’ Itai says. He looks sadly at me as though he’s lost something very dear to him. ‘Someone has to sew on all our buttons now you are gone,’ he says to me in broken English. ‘Do not worry. She is not one of us, but we will still take care of her.’

Mutti starts crying. Mr Goldblum shakes his handkerchief out of the pocket of his coat and banknotes fall from it, dirty scraps of paper fluttering into the blood that swells in a pool towards him. I lurch to catch ‘em before they soak into the darkness but trip over something at my feet.

The man’s lying there, the man from the pub, the one who leered and drank and leered some more before he grabbed at me with his greasy fingers. He’s trying to sing his dirty songs at me again, but the dark gash at his throat bubbles and glitters as the air pops through. His trousers are round his ankles, but that swollen bit of flesh he tried to shove into me has shriveled back in on itself, into the shadows.

‘You ‘ad it comin’ to you, you little sow! You play the Devil’s music, you end up in hell—’ His mouth is moving but the voice is coming from behind me and I turn to find his friend standin’ there, his tankard still full and dripping.

‘We didn’t win the bloody war so you could come over ‘ere—’

He yanks me close, singin’ hard and loud in my face, his breath hot and beery, his spit pocking my cheeks, but the tune is wrong for his brutal words, it’s Brahms, like I used to play at Miss Worthington’s Music School on a Sunday afternoon, and someone’s whistling, shrill, like a copper’s whistle—

I’m trying to run, but my feet are stuck in that bastard’s blood, I can hear the clank of handcuffs at the end of the alley, Mutti’s crying for me as the handcuffs close over my finger, gold and hard, but I’m trying to shake them off so I can get to the end of ‘Potato Head Blues’—

It ain’t the first time I’ve woken up screaming.

My arms flail, throwin’ off the heavy hands that grasp mine so tight. I glance wildly around me. The unfamiliar ceiling, dirty white and edged with rust. The round window behind the sofa, nudging in its hinge as the gale batters it from outside. The whole tiny room is spinning round me and I feel sick. I struggle to sit up, shudderin’, grabbin’ on to anything that’ll steady me, but my eyes are still darting round, tryin’ to remember where I am. This is no jail cell, but I feel trapped right enough.

‘Lucille? Liebchen?’

I’m slow to remember someone was holdin’ me. I drag my eyes back to a young man kneeling beside the sofa. I frown at ‘im and he frowns back, deep creases in a pale forehead beneath a neat side-parting of fine blond hair, his eyes saucer-wide and black with longing behind his wire-framed spectacles.

Nur ein Albtraum—

‘A nightmare,’ I say, correctin’ him to the language I want to speak.

‘It is me,’ he answers, this time in heavily accented English. ‘You remember? I am Gregor?’ His eyes flicker to my hands, and I stare down at them. There is a thin gold band around my ring finger, a little too big even for my long fingers and strong knuckles.

I gulp down air and try to think, try to remember what happened last time I woke up screamin’. But it don’t get any easier.

The Victrola is cranking out a Brahms Étude, but the boat is rolling and the needle’s jumpin’, squawkin’ out the same unfinished bars again and again. I struggle off the sofa and go to it, putting the stylus back in its cradle. Without the music there’s nothing to hide the dreadful wrenchin’ of the trawler against the waves, the grunt of the steam engine beneath our feet or the drip-drip of water from the ceiling into a tin bowl in the corner. Glass bottles rattle in a cabinet on the wall. The cabin reeks of antiseptic and oil burnin’ in the lamps.

‘Lucille?’

I hear Gregor stand up behind me. As his hands settle on my shoulders the memories settle with ‘em, the endless blood drains away from the darkness of my imagination, and I remember. I can’t help lookin’ down at my finger again.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say, bright as I can. ‘It ain’t fair on you.’

I turn to face him and his hands drift gently down my arms, his thumb snaggin’ on a hole in the sleeve of the thin jumper I’m wearing. None of these clothes are mine. I stole some of ‘em, and borrowed the rest. When we dock in New Jersey I’ll probably go ashore in a blouse, combis and a pair of boots. Everyone on this boat needs all they can get if they’re going to survive.

‘I will buy you the new clothes,’ says Gregor. ‘It is just for now you must wear these.’

‘What kind of bride am I?’ I say, forcin’ a light laugh. ‘I steal your bed, stop you from sleepin’, and dress like a man.’

I glance at the tangle of blankets on the floor next to the sofa. This cabin is for a doctor workin’ and livin’ alone. There ain’t no married couples or families on this boat. The captain won’t have ‘em, no matter how desperate they are, no matter how much they’ll pay. It’s hard enough to dock a boat that shouldn’t be there. And people who are scared of being separated only draw attention to themselves.

I think of Mutti. When I told her what’d happened to me, when she realised there was no other way, she let me go quietly. She was only screamin’ in my dream. But I can hear her even now.

The marriage bed can wait, Gregor had said, time for that when we get home to Port Republic. But no amount of decency ain’t stopped him imaginin’ what I might be hidin’ beneath these shabby things, and his hands often linger when they draw a strand of hair from my cheek or pass me something I’ve dropped. I’d never believed in love at first sight, never even seen it before Gregor found me hopelessly wanderin’ the docks in Bristol. Oh yes, it was tinged with pity, I’m not daft enough to pretend it weren’t. But I felt the breath catch in his throat as he looked at me. And I was so desperate to get out of England I never considered I couldn’t learn to feel the same way.

I look round the room again. It’s his room alright. I barely know ‘im, but everything there is to know about my week-old husband is here in this room. The neatness of his surgical instruments cleaned and wrapped in their leather cases. A book of Shakespeare’s poetry abandoned on the blankets, pencil markings and underlinings the only sign that if he feels every word he don’t quite understand ‘em. The diplomas from medical school in New Jersey that hang above the clock. It swings on its chain against the wall, its hands dividin’ the face at something past two in the morning. Is that something past two in London or New Jersey, I wonder.

Suddenly my eyes sting with tears and I sag back against the Victrola. Gregor grabs at me and pulls me to him, his thin arms feelin’ uncertainly round my back, the sweet musty smell of cedar seepin’ out his clothes as he holds me. I cling on ‘cause I have no-one else, but my hands are balled into fists and I try not to feel the ring as it digs into my fingers.

‘Every person who takes this boat awakes like you do,’ he murmurs in my ear. ‘The dark. The smell. The wide sea everywhere. Ist eine Reise in die Vergangenheit.

Something in the crossing reminds us of the very thing we’s runnin’ away from.

Prison is what I dreaded for what I did back home.

But prison is where I am.

The next afternoon, Gregor brings me a present. He’s been down in the hold, the gloomy pit mockingly called Steerage by the others who journey in the decks beneath my feet, seein’ to a fellow with a bad wound in his leg. It’s a bullet wound. I knew that the minute I saw ‘im on the dock, the captain watchin’ while Gregor decided if the feller was fit to travel. But it seems his money was good, doubly good if you get my meanin’, and the captain let him board on condition that Gregor fixed ‘im up good enough to walk before we reached New Jersey. The boat only docks in New Jersey if the captain can guarantee the harbourmaster that his stowaways would pass the medical inspection if the boat was forced to dock proper at Ellis Island. He don’t give a damn about who we are or what we done that brings us beggin’ to his boat. But he don’t want no-one dyin’ or goin’ out their minds on the way over. And to be sure of that he needs a doctor, a good ‘un. A doctor with a good heart. Who offered to work for free this crossing if the captain would carry an extra passenger who didn’t have the forty quid to make her way, and marry them as soon as the anchor was hauled up.

Gregor comes back into the cabin sheepish-like, holdin’ the present out to me. I try to smile at him, kind, caring — I want to be kind, I do, even though my heart is dead because I killed a man. In the daylight I think of the Lucille who defended herself as some friend of a friend of a friend, another girl at the factory, a barmaid in one of the pubs I used to play piano in. It’s only at night she threatens to smother me from inside.

The present, flat and square, is wrapped in a bit of newspaper, the print smudged, the paper damp from days at sea. I try not to think of home when I unwrap it. Gregor’s fingers are twitchin’ as I peel off the paper, and I pretend not to notice when he lifts the lid on the Victrola. I can’t bear another afternoon of listenin’ to Brahms while Gregor begs me to explain to ‘im how the tunes weave in and out—

But the centre of the record is reddish-brown, rimmed with a ring of gold.

Gold indeed. The classy cream signature of the OKeh label. I run my fingers over the lettering.

‘Where d’you get this?’ I mumble, unable to lift my eyes from the words in front of me.

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.

Skid-Dat-De-Dat (Hardin).

Lil Hardin. Armstrong’s wife. Armstrong’s piano player.

My own fingers twitch.

‘Es gibt eine grosse automatische Musikbox—’

‘In English. Please.’

His expression is awkward and I feel guilty. But I can’t be a dutiful German wife.

‘They call it Selectaphone. It was in the cargo für London,’ I pretend not to notice the smuggled word, ‘special order, but the buyer never collect, so she goes back to Atlantic City, where she came from. If they take her.’ He hesitates, equally guilty now about his pronouns, and glances away from me. ‘She— It is a little broken now.’

‘You broke into it to get this out?’

‘The sea, last night,’ he says curtly. ‘Every other record is kaputt.’

I caress the wax disc with my thumb as though I might hear the music seep through my skin, then reluctantly I hold the record out to him. I want to be grateful— I am grateful. Lil Hardin heard me screamin’ and she came to me like an angel.

Gregor takes the record and I stretch my fingers in my lap. The ring rolls loosely against my knuckles. My heart is beatin’ fast, ‘cause I ain’t never heard this number before, even though I can tell you every disc Armstrong cut in 1926, and who played with ‘im on it.

‘I have not heard this jazz before, but I am sure I will like it,’ he says uneasily, setting the record carefully on the turntable. He cranks the machine then lifts the needle and sets it down. The Victrola crackles as though it’s taking a breath of dirty air, then it belches forth a few glorious notes from Armstrong’s cornet that bend and strain to hold their pitch. It is dirty, wide and deep and dirty like the River Thames.

Gregor’s eyes widen. There ain’t none of the purity of his beloved Brahms. Johnny Dodds makes that clarinet stretch and sigh ‘til the notes are almost broke. You can’t hardly hear Lil Hardin’s pounding piano beat ‘cept for one beautiful little moment when she floats and falls through a gap left by the others. I can almost see Armstrong lookin’ over his shoulder and smilin’ at her. And then his voice breaks into a mouthful of scattin’ nonsense, as raw and meaningless and brassy as Kid Ory’s trombone.

Gregor shudders.

I get up quickly and go to the Victrola to lift the needle off, spare his agony, but he snatches at my hand and moves between me and the machine. His fingers writhe hard against mine but he’s noddin’ his head in time with the beat, he’s tryin’ to understand. And then Armstrong answers his own falling cornet call with a wail of agony and longin’ that twists my heart and the song ends.

My palms are sweatin’ and Gregor’s fingers slide across ‘em, trying to get a grip on me. He swallows hard, his Adam’s Apple bobbin’ beneath the thin pale skin of his throat, his eyes as black as I’ve ever seen ‘em, so drunk is he on shock and desire. He licks his lips nervously, then he releases one of my hands and without breakin’ my gaze, he sets the disc to play again. Then he slides his hand across the small of my back, his short nervous breaths drownin’ in Armstrong’s blue horn. He draws me closer, his narrow hips pressing against mine, his clean shaven cheek unfamiliar against my forehead, then his mouth lowers, his breath brushin’ my eyelashes, my nose, finally my lips. He is as gentle as Armstrong and his band are not, and I am torn between them. For the craving I feel is for the music not the man, and though I let him kiss me, let his tongue dart between my lips, do not flinch when I feel him grow stiff against me, it is to the darkened clubs of Chicago that Armstrong takes me in my head and my heart.

So when Gregor locks the door and leads me to the sofa, gently unbuttonin’ his shirt and then mine, I close my eyes and though I’ve never done this before, I try to do what’s asked of me without fear or too much hatred for myself.

For I’m going to America. I’m really going to America.

*****

If you want to find out what happens to Lucille, visit Amazon and buy the book! Available through all Amazon sites including UK, US, Canada and Australia.

Interview with Ben Galley, author and founder of Libiro

This week, British indie author Ben Galley talks to allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore about his writing and his brand new e-book distribution website, Libiro.IMG_1824s

Ben, you’ve had a busy year, releasing two books and launching an e-book store among your galaxy of other activities. We’ll talk about Libiro in a minute, but I’m interested in how and why you settled your first published novels in epic fantasy, a very strong genre in indie publishing.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Fantasy in general is seeing a huge surge in popularity, and publishers are responding in kind. Both indies and traditionals are churning out great fantasy books like there’s no tomorrow, and the readers are inhaling them at an equal rate. It’s an exciting time, especially now that we can all chat to each other and share great reads so easily via Twitter and Facebook.

Another reason I chose to write and publish fantasy is that I’ve always loved it as a genre. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had my nose buried in a book, drinking in mythology and the wildest dreams of Tolkien, CS Lewis, Gaiman, or of Robin Hobb. It is fantasy’s limitless nature, that I admire – how each author can spill their imagination onto a page, and experiment without worrying whether they’re thinking too far outside the box. That’s why I like it, and why I like writing it too. It’s gives you a wonderful sense of satisfaction, when you realise you can get away with writing about minotaurs, and goblins, or shadows and magic. The stuff we all pretend is real when we’re young.

Promo 2013 BannerSo what do you think indie publishing offers fantasy writers that perhaps traditional publishing doesn’t? As an author of magical realism myself, I like indie publishing because I don’t have an editor or a marketing team saying ‘I can’t pigeonhole that, it’s too original to be sellable.’ To what extent does that argument apply for fantasy genres?

I think pigeon-holing happens across all genres, and all publishers are somewhat guilty of it. It’s a natural thing to do, after all, when you’re funding a debut book with your own money – you want to make sure it sits nicely inside a genre, so that it sells, and sells well. If it’s a little too out there, and has even the slimmest chance of taking a commercial nosedive, then there’s a risk you might lose the money you’ve put it into it. But indies don’t have this problem! Our publishing costs are much, much lower than that of a publishing house. Also, thanks to the big reading boom, there are a lot more readers exploring the niches of popular fiction. Fantasy fans are doing this en masse. There’s just something about fantasy and sci-fi fans. They put the fan in fanatical. All this is great news for us indies – we can publish books that push the boundaries, and actually sell them too.

What have been the best and worst bits for you about indie publishing your own work?

 That’s a good question! There are so many good bits. Taking the reins with both hands gives you an enormous sense of accomplishment when progress is made. After all, it’s all down to you, and so you deserve to be pleased and proud when a great review comes in, or when a bit of fan mail pops into your inbox, or when you glimpse the last months’ sales figures.

One of my proudest moments will always be walking into a Waterstones, and spying my book sandwiched between the likes of Neil Gaiman and David Gemmell. And I didn’t even put it there! The store had taken a chance, based on its cover, and I later learnt they were selling very well. It’s at those moments that you can’t help but grin like a halfwit. You suddenly realise it’s all been worth the hard work.

There are down-sides, of course, as there are to most things. Self-publishing can be difficult at times, primarily because there are days when it feels like you’re not going anywhere, but trying everything. It can be hard when you’re faced with doing everything yourself, and in those times, all you have to do is remember what you’ve achieved already, and the pros of the self-publishing path. Keeping those at the forefront of your mind will always help.

Logo_f_LargeSo, given that you have had success in bookshops with printed versions of your books, what led you to set up Libiro? What are you offering the indie writer – and the reader – that other e-book distributors don’t?

What led me to set up Libiro was my own experience in the digital world. I’ve had success in both the print world and the eBook world, but each has their downsides for us indie authors. For instance, in the print world it can be difficult to get major bookstore chains to take your book. With eBooks, however, getting your book into a store isn’t difficult but standing out amongst the crowd can be, especially at vast stores like Amazon and Kobo. They’re great providers and very author-centric, but it can still be tricky. Another thing we indies face is the self-publishing stigma – the belief that just because a book is self-published it is automatically of a lower quality than a traditionally published book. These are the issues my co-founder Teague Fullick and I wanted to tackle.

By making Libiro exclusive to indies, we can help fellow authors stand out, as well as showcase their talents to the world. We also offer a great 80% royalty to all authors, regardless of price, genre, or book! For readers, Libiro offers an exciting store where you can find the newest and most exciting indie fiction. If readers have never tried an indie book before, then Libiro gives you the chance to do so!
Ben, thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk to me. I wish you the very best with Libiroallonymbooks author Flora Chase has already put her YA historical novel The Strattons on the site and it will be fun to see how it goes.
You can find out more about Ben Galley at his website.

Indie Book Reviews (9)

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore reviews a YA contemporary fantasy.

Her Unwelcome Inheritance by J. Aleksandr Wootton (Amazon UK, Amazon US)

YA fantasy is such a rapidly expanding genre, that it can be difficult to create a story that stands out amid the usual themes of growing up, emotions, relationships and new responsibilities, even though fantasy gives an author enormous potential to create a really original context for exploring these ideas. For Her Unwelcome Inheritance, the first volume in the Fayborn series, Wootton has borrowed some very old, well-known foundations for his fantasy world in the characters many of us know from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and re-imagined them for us, immortal and brought bang up to date.

Petra Goodfellow is a descendant of a former advisor to Oberon, the Fairy King, but she is now at the heart of a power struggle as Oberon seeks to restore power to his kingdom. Petra’s mother has done her best to protect her daughter from the impact of her bloodline, but the past is catching up with Petra now, as James Oberon seeks to track her down by any means possible. But Petra wants to get on with her life, she doesn’t want to take on the responsibilities of her past and her ancestors. She just wants to enjoy her first year at college and make new friends, and no matter often she sees glimpses of the fairy world, she is determined that they just don’t exist. As a YA character, she is going to be unruly and refuse to make the journey the genre demands of her.

Wootton has spared no expense imaginatively in constructing and peopling his fairy world, and both the environment and the characters are richly and engagingly drawn. Petra herself is a strong and sparky character, a typical teenager with an un-self-conscious voice which Wootton writes well. Sometimes a third person narrator can seem too knowing for a YA character, but Petra’s internal thoughts are believable and unforced. That narrator is kept busy too, leaping about between the different factions of the fairies in exile: Oberon and his loyal supporters and family, including the utterly devious Wormsworth, the fast fading Fairy Queen and her devoted Cat, Petra, her godfather Tod, and also an unusual character, a Professor Jack Wootton, an expert in all matters fairy. Like the fourth wall in cinema, it takes a certain amount of authorial nerve to blur the boundaries the writer establishes between fact and fiction, narrator and characters, reader and writer, and – without giving anything away – Professor Wootton’s part in the story is not a Hitchockian cliché or a moment of vanity.

For this reviewer, the book’s authentic and beautifully researched world is perhaps the source of its weakness: there are so many characters, so much fairy lore, that it can be hard for the casual reader or one who reads in short bursts to keep up with what is going on. A glossary and a family tree would not go amiss in the appendix, just to help the easily confused, though for those who like a complex genealogy and lore, the book will be a comfortable and enjoyable place to lose a few hours. It also suffers slightly from ‘first in the series’ syndrome: there is a huge amount of exposition, and there are lots of storylines and narrative threads to be set in motion, and so in action terms the book is pretty slow to get going and results in quite a cliffhanger, which some readers may find frustrating. Fortunately for them, Wootton is just about to release the second in the series, The Eighth Square.

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To find out more about Evie Woolmore and her novels, visit her page. Evie is a reviewer for Awesome Indies, and  you can find out more about her reviewing activities and read her other reviews of indie published books.