Wednesday, 19 December 2012

King John Research

My new book on the Lords of Gower and King John needs a chapter on John, so I'm deep in research. Here's the first interesting thing I found:

king john[Talking about all the film depictions of Richard the Lionheart and King John] Since all these screen depictions showed Richard as the good guy and John as a creature of the night, I assumed that this was a stereotype that could quickly be dispatched after some serious historical research. Imagine, then, my surprise, when my own sleuthing in ancient documents turned up what is in effect a reinforcement of the stereotype. But the honest historian must perforce go where the evidence leads him.
(Introduction to Lionheart and Lackland by Frank McLynn)

I did find some good things about John:

He was well-read, was assiduous as a judge, personally supervised the work of the exchequer, oversaw the creation of a national customs system based upon standardised weights and measures, improved the 'pipe rolls' system of accounting and helped found the English Navy.
(The Movers & Shakers of Medieval England by Susannah Jowitt, p.15/16)

And some ideas in mitigation:

John's three older brothers, Henry, Geoffrey and Richard, had spent much time in childhood with both their parents, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, but for some reason John was packed off to Fontevraud Abbey at the age of three for five years, leading historians to suggest he was maladjusted. Recent speculation is that he was somewhat autistic, which would go some way to explaining his later bad behaviour.

Who thought King John would be so interesting!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Blog Hop - The Next Big Thing

What's a Blog Hop and how does it work? You first mention the person who tagged you to post “The Next Best Thing,” then you answer questions in your post about your Work-in-Progress (WIP). At the end, you list up to five blogs that you are “tagging” to do the next post.

I was tagged by Nancy LaRonda Johnson who is working on the second book about the relative of a serial killer, trying to make amends, and his gay friend, trying to find his place as a Christian. Sounds like a fascinating book. She also writes Christian stories and offers writing prompts on her blog. See her Blog Hop post here. So here are my answers about my Work in Progress:

1. What is the working title of your book?
The Lords of Gower and King John

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
The research for my first book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Local history (non fiction).

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
King John: Michael Sheen
Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Wales: Ioan Gruffydd
William de Breos, Lord of Gower: Liam Neeson
Reginald de Breos, William's brother: James Macavoy

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The changing fortunes of the de Breos barons are tracked through the little Lordship of Gower in South Wales, as it repeatedly changes hands between King John, the barons and the Welsh.

6. If you plan to publish, will your book be self-published or published traditionally?
I am expecting to have to self-publish, as I did with my first book, but if a publisher would like to take it on it would be great. On the strength of the sales of my first book, I may approach some publishers.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Still in progress, but I would like to finish in a couple of months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I haven't found anything to compare with this. My first book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, is the only book on the subject. If you Google Alina de Breos, you get me. I believe I've found a gap in the market.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was standing in front of Swansea Castle one day and wondered what it was like when it was in use. I went home and Googled it, like you do, and my interest was piqued. As I did more research, went to the library and talked to people, I found out about the Lords of Gower in medieval times, stories that have been largely forgotten. There was a de Breos involved in just about every major event of English history for 3 centuries after William the Conqueror, yet history hardly mentions them. This will be my second history book about them.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
William de Breos was a close friend of King John. His support for John's claim to the English throne when Richard the Lionheart died brought him such rewards as to make him one of the richest barons in England. Yet a few years later he fell out of favour and lost everything. His brothers then sided with the Welsh in their fight against Norman rule, but that didn't go well either. As with my first book, this book will have an easy, readable style but with full endnotes and bibliography for use by academics. I hope to have line drawings by the same artist as the first book.

Thank you Nancy for the tag!

I expected to have a lot of people from my writing group wanting to be tagged, and was very surprised to find that none of them have a blog. I'm giving a talk about self-promotion on the internet, in February, but that's too late for my blog hop. So sadly I only have one tag for the next post of The Next Big Thing on Wednesday 19th December:

* R Clint Peters runs the Book Reviewers Club blog on which he does author interviews as well as book reviews. He has two series of books: Pegasus Rising and The Alberta Connection, and is also running a collaborative novel-writing venture. Busy man! His site is well worth a visit for lots of reasons.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Lords of Gower and King John


My book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth began with an interest in Swansea Castle and developed into a fascination for the medieval period in the history of Gower, in South Wales. The events surrounding Alina de Breos were the ones which captured my interest, and the resulting book luckily coincided with the refurbishment of Oystermouth Castle and extensive work on the chapel which Alina built there. So far I have sold about 250 print copies and a few ebooks, actually going well into profit – unusual for this type of book.

But there are more fascinating events in Alina's family tree, and I've finally decided to take the plunge and write another book. I won't have the 'hook' of Alina's chapel this time, but I hope the people who enjoyed the first book will come back and buy the second, and I'm hoping many more people will have their curiosity piqued enough to buy too.

king john
As before, it will be written in an accessible style, but with full bibliography and endnotes to satisfy the academics. This time it's further back, a whole century earlier – King John reigned from 1199 to 1216, whereas Alina lived from 1291 to 1331. So far I have the basic story and I'm doing detailed research on each stage, starting with King John.

I'll report my progress in my Writing Wednesday posts, and I hope you'll leave suggestions and encouragements in the comments.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Historical Research Advice from Catrin Collier

You may not be writing historical fiction, but your novel has a time and place setting which may well be in the past, however recent. Here's some good advice by author Catrin Collier about research:

THINK OUT what you want to say: - fact or fiction characters – plot – time –place - background - era - the society - and the place (even if it's fictitious).

READ -  Old newspapers for the 'feel of the era' (found in library archives). Relevant biographies. Any family diaries or other diaries you can legally lay your hands on.

VISIT - Museums, historical centres, and libraries, particularly ones with 'living history' e.g. tapes made by people relating momentous events in people's lives e.g. a twelve year old boy's first day in the pit, a child brought up in the 1930's as illegitimate.

WATCH - Films from the period. Any period pieces on television or in the cinema. (If possible, British. The Americans are notoriously inaccurate about minor details like facts, costumes etc).

USE - Ordnance survey maps as close to the period as you can get, if setting your book around an actual place. They can save hours of research.  Walk the area, take photographs of buildings that existed at the time – note the gaps - check what was there.
If setting your book in a fictitious place draw a map to avoid inaccuracies in the book.

BEG OR BORROW - A song book from the period, and if possible get hold of old records.

RESEARCH - Living conditions. e.g. Don't have people in Depression ridden UK calling out Doctors, going down the dole. If writing about the aristocracy read social etiquette books. The working classes - check out contracts, conditions of employment, wages and the exact buying power of those wages. The leisure activities of the social class of your characters through contemporary newspaper advertisements, parish news magazines, contemporary novels etc.

WORK with your characters until you know their tastes in food, clothes, music, films, sex, etc and exactly how they will react in any situation.

WARNING - this may take the plot down unexpected roads.  Go with it - this is creativity working at its best - with luck it may even improve on your original idea.

SPEAK to eye witnesses if possible but treat everything they tell you with caution. Some people have accurate recall and perfect memories, other may remember what never happened.

DON'T write about an existing organisation without doing your research, especially the army, terrorist, Mafia or government organisations.  Publishers and agents always send books with a factual background out to an expert reader.  Many well-written, well-plotted, publishable books have bitten the dust over lack of research.

 DO make an effort to get your facts right, especially concerning weapons, ammunition, cars, computers etc.  If you're not sure, don't guess.  Consult your local librarian, or an expert.

DON'T write about a scenario that is unfamiliar to you, but will be known to others.  E.g. setting a book in the States when you've never been there.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

News Update

Today there is good news and bad news. First the bad news:

I was unable to take part in NaNoWriMo after all. Although I had done a lot of planning, personal problems made me realise I could not commit the time required to write 1667 words a day. I'm very sad, but it's not all bad news. I have a novel outlined ready to go, whether I save it for next year's NaNoWriMo or use it in between.

Now the good news:

I'm definitely going to write another local history book. The working title is The de Breos Lords of Gower and King John. Not very elegant, but it says what it's about. John made William de Breos one of the richest barons in England, and then he lost it all.

There was a de Breos involved in nearly every significant event in English history for 300 years after the Norman Conquest, but they are never mentioned. My book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth tells the story of how a rebellion by the heir to the Lordship of Gower led to the toppling of Edward II from the English throne.

My new book will tell of how the de Breoses won and lost Gower from King John, then won and lost Gower from Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Welsh Prince of Wales, then regained it from the king, all in the space of 17 years. I think it's well worth telling.

A lot of my original research covered this period, and I have continued to gather information on the family, so I'm not sure how much more research I need to do. I'm planning to write the basic story first and then see what I need to fill it out. Watch this space for updates on my progress!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Swansea Castle Tour

Swansea Castle isn't open to the public. There's limited access, the floors are uneven, and years of misuse and grime need cleaning up. The Council says they are going to do it, after finally waking up to this great piece on heritage right in the middle of town, but we don't know when. But occasionally they organise tours, and provide metal staircases up to the upper levels. I managed to go on one just a couple of weeks ago. Having written about the de Breos Lords of Gower, when Swansea Castle was the capital of the Lordship of Gower, it was lovely to be able to see inside.

The most important room in a castle is the great hall. This  was where business was carried on during the day and where the meals were served for the lord, his family, guests and leading members of his household. The main meal was at about 11am, and another in the evening when work was done.

Door to food preparation room
The small room at one end of the hall (through the little doorway) was probably for the final food preparation after it came up from the kitchen, preparing to carry it in to the lord and his guests.

At the other end of the hall is the solar, or withdrawing room. Thiswas a private room for the lord and his family, and probably also the lord's bedroom. There is a fireplace, a window seat and a private latrine.

In the 14th century, arcading was built on top of the castle walls, probably by John de Mowbray, Alina's son. St David's hospital was being built (now the Cross Keys pub) by the bishop and it is thought that John borrowed his masons, because the arcading resembles that on the bishop's palace at St Davids.

Below these rooms are five undercrofts or cellars, used for storage. The river was right below the castle, with wharves for the ships to be unloaded and goods could be brought directly into the castle, as well as into the market in the castle grounds.

Cell in the North-East Tower
The only other remaining part of the castle is the North-East Tower. It's hard to know what this was originally used for, as the main floor was converted to a debtor's prison in the late 18th century. The four rooms were three debtor's cells and the jailer's room. Underneath was another undercroft, with a sealed passage beyond.

I don't know when the castle will be open again, but I hope it won't be too long before the Council does the work and opens it to the public.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


As you may know, the Kidwell-e Festival was a disaster, and a big disappointment for me. I imagine that established authors are happy to earn a fee for participating, but newbies like me, prepared to speak for nothing, depend on the opportunity to publicise ourselves.

I spent many hours preparing my talk, especially because the organisers asked me to talk about Kidwelly, which is mentioned once in the book, so I had to do a lot of research. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, is about Gower, a few miles down the coast, so they wanted my talk to link to something more local (I should have refused, I know). I worried over how many books to take and prepared publicity materials. And, of course, I got very nervous. All for nothing.

There has been a lot of traffic on my other blog, where I wrote about it here and here, and I even got interviewed by BBC Wales News. But the fuss is all about the non-festival, not about my book. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Festival That Wasn't

Today my husband took me to the Kidwell-e Festival - advertised as the first ebook festival in the UK. I was booked to speak tomorrow, so I wanted to find my way around and enjoy some of the speakers today. I came home and looked up the word festival on

Festival: a period or programme of festive activities, cultural events or entertainment; gaiety; revelry; merrymaking.

On that basis, it definitely wasn't a festival.

The expected 20,000 people didn't turn up.

In the afternoon, even the author didn't turn up.

As you can see, the audience didn't turn up either. Actually, there were four of us. The other two, who had come 200 miles for the day, gave up and went home. We went looking for the missing author, and found the organiser, who didn't know the author was missing. He told us he had signed in on arrival and been left to get on with it.

It had apparently not occurred to him that, having organised the thing, he should have people at both the speaking venues to ensure things went smoothly.

Oh, and to top everything, the festival was open today from 11am to 10pm and the only food available was a burger van.

There was a concert tonight, so I don't know how many turned up for that. The traders complained about the lack of customers and were told to wait for this evening, but I doubt if the concert-goers will want to buy craftwork. And the traders didn't expect to stay open until 10pm either.

So we left early, and I'm not going to speak tomorrow. They weren't paying me, and it's not worth the effort to talk to an empty room.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Oystermouth Castle Reopening

Well, today was the day we've all been waiting for - the Council, the re-enactors, the stallholders, the musicians, the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, and me. It was all arranged. And it rained. It poured. All week.

Today started with a few light showers and dry in between. Until the event got going. Then it poured again.

Having said that, the Friends at the castle entrance reported over 500 visitors, and everyone made sure the visitors that did come had a good time. Typical British people, we were all sheltering in the food tent when a band came on, so we all came out and stood in the rain, and joined in the songs!

I was there to promote my book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, which is about the woman who built the chapel on Oystermouth Castle. I handed out my postcards advertising the book to everyone I could intercept for about 2 hours. Everyone was happy to take the postcards and several expressed an interest.

I left before the end, so I don't know how many books were sold. To hedge my bets, the postcard lists all the outlets where the book is available. So hopefully there might be increased sales in other places. I'll ring the Friends tomorrow to find out. But, although it would have been so much better if it was sunny and crowded, I feel good about today.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Selling 'Alina' at the Castle

I have now met with the chairman of The Friends of Oystermouth Castle and made arrangements for Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth to be sold at Oystermouth Castle.

I am dropping off my entire stock (currently 85 books) with the treasurer the night before the grand re-opening, so it can be taken to the castle in the morning and laid out with all their other stock on a table in the castle gateway. I am going to be there within an hour of the opening, and walk round the grounds wearing my Alina t-shirt and handing out postcards advertising the book.

I can't sell the book myself, as I don't have permission from the council, who are running the day. But I can point people to the table where the Friends are selling it. My daughter Aggi and her boyfriend Al are taking me down, and she has offered to help too.

I'm actually concerned that I might not have enough books! Wouldn't that be great! And then it will be sold by the Friends every day until the castle closes at the end of September. And then again next year, I hope. Who knows, by then, there might be a second book!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Planning for the Re-opening of Oystermouth Castle

As the Council's event announcement says, on 16th June:

Celebrate the castle’s official re-opening with our spectacular medieval tournament and re-enactments. Let the children explore the castle and its grounds, complete with medieval sports, live music, fire juggling, storytelling and arts and crafts. Guided tours of the castle available.

The castle has had a £3.1 million conservation project, which has seen the Visitor's Centre put inside the chapel, and a glass bridge constructed so that visitors can access the chapel top floor, but still have a clear view from below. Much restoration and conservation work has been done, including improvements to the grounds, and better access.

The chapel has been named 'Alina's chapel', but until now there was no detailed information about who Alina was. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth fills that need, and will be sold inside the castle. I have produced a poster linking the book to the re-opening, which will be distributed in the next week to all local outlets selling the book.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

News and Reviews

I am shocked to find that I haven't posted here for a month - my apologies if you're following. It doesn't mean nothing has been happening, but I have taken the opportunity to return to my sci-fi writing, before the next push.

The great news is that my initial print run of 200 has sold out! There are still books out in the shops, but I have only a couple of copies at home, so I have to work out how many to print on the second run. The major factor in this is the re-opening of Oystermouth Castle.

As reported on the council web site, Oystermouth Castle has had a major refurbishment, and will have a grand re-opening on 16th June, with a medieval tournament and re-enactment. I plan to be there and advertise the book to the public, and either sell copies, or point customers to the stall where they can buy it. Final details will be worked out in a meeting with the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, Roger Parmiter, on 1st June.

I'm producing a poster to tie my book in with the re-opening, which I'll distribute to the shops in the next week or two. I've also ordered postcards to hand out.

As for reviews: there aren't any. I haven't sold many ebooks, where people are likely to be prompted to review it, and the people who buy print books, aren't necessarily ones who are web-savvy. So a plea to all my friends and followers - please review the book. I'm not asking for falsely good reviews - please be honest - but I hope you genuinely liked it, and it would be great to tell the world.

You can review the ebook on Smashwords.

You can review the ebook and the print book on Amazon.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Writers Day

You have to be careful with language. What you say is not always what others hear, and words may not mean the same for them as they do for you.

On Thursday I went to a Writers Day organised by Swansea and Trinity Carmarthen Universities' Creative Writing departments. I grabbed a free ticket when I saw it, and expected a programme to follow. I also expected something different to what I got. As I said to my friend, "The writers didn't get to do any writing."

With no advance programme, I had no idea what to expect. It was a day of interviews with writers, agents, editors and poets. Once I got over the initial disappointment that there would be no workshops, I actually enjoyed it very much. Here are a few snippets:

Jon Gower: Oblique Strategies is a set of cards developed to give writers a random idea to help when they get stuck. See Wikipedia for full explanation. They are now on a website here.

Gwen Davies, editor of the New Welsh Review, described editing as 'extreme reading' - that description appealed to me.

Philip Gross the poet: "The world is full of people trying to give us answers. We need writers to explore and expand on the questions."

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Coming Down

Well, after all the excitement, capped by the book launch, I'm finally coming down to earth. I'm actually finding it hard to get my head together.

Since the book launch I have had so many people ask how it went and other people tell them how great it was. There was a piece in the Evening Post with a photo, and I have been contacted by Swansea Life Magazine for them to do a piece. And the Gower News online magazine is devoting a whole page to me next month.

This is so unreal! But I have worked so hard for it, and there is more to come. Oystermouth Castle re-opens with a medieval fair on 16th June, and Alina built the chapel there, so it's a big opportunity. Kidwell-e Festival is a new ebook festival at the end of July, and I am speaking there, which is another new experience. Wow! Maybe I'm not coming down yet!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Book Launch Night

Sorry I haven't posted for a week, but it's been all go. The book launch was on Wednesday night (day before yesterday) and it went better than I could have hoped.

My daughters made gorgeous cup cakes and cookies, and Carrie (the illustrator)'s mum made punch and brought some other nibbles. The shop was so packed that we ran out of chairs and there were people standing at the back.

Carrie's family came down en masse, my family were there, my housegroup from church were well represented, and there were friends from my writers circle and a few others. David, the lecturer who put Carrie and I together, came, and so did Colin from the Historical Association, Swansea.

I was wearing my new T shirt with a picture of the book and 'Ask me about Alina de Breos' on the front and back, which went down well. I welcomed everyone and spoke about how I came to write the book and the beginning of the story, then Carrie spoke very well about the illustrations. Then it was everyone queueing to buy the book and have it signed by both of us, and Carrie sold lots of prints of the illustrations. She presented me with a print of the White Lady and we bought one of Queen Isabella on a horse, which seems to be quite a favourite.

I had my photo taken by the Evening Post the day before, as the photographer wasn't free on the night, but I didn't see the reporter on the night, and it's not appeared in the paper yet. We're keeping watch.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Retail Outlets for Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth

The book is now available at the following outlets in Swansea and Gower:

Swansea Museum
National Waterfront Museum
Town Centre Tourist Information Centre
Uplands Bookshop
Mumbles Tourist Information Centre
Cover to Cover Bookshop
Shepherds at Parkmill
Gower Heritage Centre
Gower Kite and Surf Centre, Pitton Cross Caravan Park, Rhossili
Reynoldston Post Office
Crofty Post Office

I am also talking to these outlets, with a view to them carrying the book:
W H Smith

When Oystermouth Castle re-opens on 16th June, the book will be on sale in the Visitors Centre, in Alina's Chapel.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


The book came from the printer and we have delivered it to some outlets, the rest tomorrow. So the book is out there, finally. And two friends have already bought a copy from me. Doesn't sound like much, but most people want to buy them at the launch event.

And the icing on the cake is that I was interviewed live on local radio today.  It was my first time, but I wasn't very nervous and it went really well.

Once the books are out there, I can concentrate on my talks, which I have the material for, I just have to organise it. The next big thing is the book launch on 18th April.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nearly There!

Publishing my book is soooo close now.

The last illustrations arrived overnight and I put them in the print book file straight away Monday morning. The files were delivered to the printer on Monday, and I was so excited that I forgot to take the disc with the cover files, and my husband had to go back with them. Then I had to wait until Thursday for the proof copy, but it was perfect.

Since then I have been round to many of the shops which agreed to sell the book, and showed them the proof copy and delivered a poster and flyers. The two museums in Swansea both wanted to see the book before deciding whether to take it. I saw them today, and they both came on board. In fact, the Waterfront Museum want ten copies on sale or return, and the Swansea Museum want five TO BUY. The only outlet willing to pay up front.

Meanwhile, I put the illustrations in the ebook and uploaded it to Smashwords to give it a try. The Smashwords guide warned that the conversion could take some time and throw up errors, and I had been warned that illustrations in ebooks were tricky. I decided to try them and take them out if they didn't work. The book loaded in ten minutes with no errors, illustrations and all!

Right now it's only available on Smashwords here, but in the next week they will be sending it out to all the ereader platforms, except Kindle. Smashwords don't send books to Amazon for Kindle until they sell $1000 worth, and at $3.99 (£2.51) it is not likely to reach that, so I'm going to upload it to Amazon myself.

The print books will be ready by Thursday, and delivered to the shops on Good Friday. And we'll be live!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Book Launch Planning

I now have a date for my book launch at the Oxfam Bookshop in Swansea - Wednesday 18th April at 7pm. The arrangements are coming along well. My daughters are going to make cookies, and maybe mini cupcakes. My illustrator's mum is going to make non-alcoholic punch. And the shop will provide teas and coffees.

I'm going to talk about how I came to write the book and some of the fascinating stories I found, and my illustrator Carrie is going to talk about the illustrations. The shop have also offered a week-long exhibition of her drawings, which will be great for her and good publicity.

And I hope I will be signing lots of copies of the book bought on the night.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


I have been screwing up my courage and phoning various local shops and asking them to sell my book. So far I have ten, plus a few that want to see the book first, once it is printed. The shops so far are:

Visitors Centre, Oystermouth Castle
Cover to Cover - bookshop near the castle
Mumbles Tourist Information Centre
Swansea Town Centre Tourist Information Centre
Uplands Bookshop
Gower Heritage Centre - which is at the de Breos's hunting lodge
Reynoldston Post Office
Gower Kite Centre and Surf Supplies
Shepherds of Parkmill
Crofty Post Office

In addition, these want to see the book before making a decision:

National Waterfront Museum
Swansea Museum
Lewis News, Mumbles
The National Trust Shop, Rhossili
The Gower Society are having free copies as a gift, but hopefully will want more if they sell.

I have others where I have left messages or emailed, but I have decided not to chase them. I suddenly realised that, since all the shops want the book on sale or return, I have to buy all the books first. It already looks as if I will have to have 200 printed, which doubles my budget. Still, not a bad position to be in, is it?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

March 1st, 1327

I meant to post this on March 1st, but this will have to do.

When Edward III came to the throne, the barons who had rebelled against his father were forgiven, and their titles and lands returned to them. Unfortunately, the charter which originally conveyed the Lordship of Gower to John de Mowbray and Alina, was not valid. In typical form, William de Breos was negligent in obtaining the licence of the king, so Alina did not qualify.

But although the act of parliament did not operate in favour of Alina, the magnanimity of the king was graciously extended to her. Gower was returned to her, and the gift was legalised by charter, dated 1st March 1327.

Alina returned to live out her days in Oystermouth Castle, where she built a chapel. Local legend has it that her ghost has been seen in the castle, and she is known as the White Lady of Oystermouth.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Book Launch Venue!

This week I have again been blessed (or very lucky, if you prefer). I have started contacting places who might either publicise my book or sell it. The Evening Post (our local newspaper) told me that they do not promote new books or do book reviews, but if I had a book launch, they would cover it.

My immediate reaction was to wonder where on earth I could have a book launch and how would I go about arranging one?

Two hours later, the Oxfam charity second-hand bookshop (in Castle Street, Swansea - right by the castle) replied to my email, explaining that they could not sell my book as they only sell second-hand, but they could offer me a book launch. They had a 'Create Night' that evening and invited me down to chat about my book, and everyone agreed that I should give a talk at my book launch and tell some of the fascinating stories I had discovered.

So, I am going to have a book launch, probably sometime in April. How great is that?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The King's Anger

John de Mowbray started the barons rebellion in 1320. From the small incident of John seizing control of Swansea Castle, the barons' growing impatience with Edward II grew into direct action.

They didn't like the king's favourite, Hugh le Despenser the Younger, having such control over the king and getting away with his land grabbing. And they didn't like the king trying to assert his authority over the Welsh Marches, where the barons had had free reign ever since William the Conqueror. The king's interference in Hugh's dispute with John was the last straw.

At first, the barons were successful, and the king was forced to send Hugh and his father into exile. But the king wanted his favourite back and launched a fresh campaign, which ended with the king defeating the barons at Boroughbridge. Many of the rebels were executed, including the king's own cousin, Thomas of Lancaster and John de Mowbray. Because he started it all, the king was so angry with John that he refused to allow John's body to be taken down from the gibbet for years! It hung in chains in York until local friars eventually persuaded the king to let them bury it.

For more details, see my book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth, coming out in print and ebook at Easter.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


I have an illustrator at last! Her name is Carrie Francis. I will get information from her so I can tell you about her - she deserves promoting.

The three art students who were competing to draw my illustrations all produced some great work, and all produced at least one sketch I could use in the book, but in the end, I liked Carrie's style, and she had the best ideas. There was one drawing in particular which was of Alina's ghost at Oystermouth Castle, which I really love and am determined to give prominence in the book. Maybe I'll give you a sneak peek when it's ready.

So now we have to discuss details and Carrie has to get to work. I need the finished drawings in only a month's time, as the printer needs at least a week lead time, and Easter is at the beginning of April.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

First Illustrations

I met yesterday with Derek Bainton, the lecturer, and two of the three students who are competing to draw the illustrations for my book. The third one, unfortunately, is in hospital. I sent her my best wishes and a promise to wait for her preliminary sketches before making a decision.

I was very pleased with the sketches from Lee and Carrie. It is going to be hard to choose one person to do the job, but as there will only be a small number, it would not work to have multiple illustrators. Carrie produced a sketch of the ghost of Alina which would have made a lovely cover, if that was not already in progress. But I would definitely like to include it in the book, if she gets the job. I was also particularly impressed with Lee's drawing of Oystermouth castle.

It's a good job I will have Derek's help to choose, because it is going to be hard. Not just because the sketches so far have been so good, but because I have to disappoint two people by turning them down. But, life is like that, and if they hope to earn a living from their art, they are going to have to get used to it.

As soon as I have seen Lucy's work and we have made the decision, I will let you know. I'm really excited.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Formatting and Publicity

I am pleased to announce that I have finished formatting my ebook! I will be uploading to Smashwords, who give very detailed instructions for formatting, and will convert the file to virtually every ebook format and send it to Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. They also offer books for sale on their site, and in PDF and Plain Text, so they can be read on any computer with no special software.

The same as for the print book, I am waiting for the cover art and the illustrations. More news about that on Monday. Meanwhile I am starting to plan my publicity. This has two major problems. I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm not used to bragging.

I have to write stuff that says this is an exciting book by a wonderful author. I am making lists of who to ask: to sell the book, advertise the book, let me give a talk, and anything else I can think of. And preparing the same sort of thing online. I have already moved my blogs from Blogger to Wordpress (here) and tidied them up, and started a Twitter account, with lists of things to tweet about Alina and writing. There will also be a Facebook page, but I'm still gathering material for it.


Saturday, 28 January 2012


Most books have an International Standard Book Number - an ISBN. You will find it on the back cover with a barcode, and on one of the front pages, along with the publisher's details and the copyright notice. It used to be 10 digits until 2007 when it increased to 13. The digits are in groups separated by dashes, like this: 978-1-84694-282-2. If you self-publish you will have to decide whether you want your book to have an ISBN, because they're not cheap as you have to buy 10 at a time.

The ISBN is simply a product number, but it identifies your book uniquely, including the version and edition. It is used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control. Without it, your book cannot be ordered except direct from you, if they know about it and how to contact you. Many bookshops will not sell your book without an ISBN because they can't add it to their stock list.

All ISBNs are entered into bibliographic databases, like BookData Online, which are used to provide information to customers. They also notify bookshops and libraries of new books. So it provides an additional set of marketing tools to help your sales.

The different sections of the ISBN indicate the national, geographic or language group, the publisher, and the version or edition (like print, ebook, hardback, paperback, or when you update it). When you buy a block of ISBNs from Nielsen, the agency for the UK and Ireland, the publisher is registered on their database as well as the details of the first book. This means that although people say that you can sell on your spare numbers, the books they are used on will have you listed as the publisher.

The publisher is defined as the person or business who takes the financial risk in publishing the book. If you self-publish, that's you, but if you want your book to look more professional, make up a business name and use that. It doesn't have to be registered as a company, just make sure there isn't a publisher with the same name. So for my book Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth, my publisher is Alina Publishing. If I end up self-publishing my science fiction (although I hope a publisher will buy it), I can use my other ISBNs and Alina Publishing for them too.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Printer

Another major stage has been accomplished. Yesterday I went to see my chosen printer, Brynymor Digital Press. Richard Harper himself spent time with me discussing my requirements and answering my questions.

The good news is that the way I have formatted the book is exactly what he needs for printing, so there is no need for any changes, and no need to pay them to design the layout. I just have to save it as a PDF file. He will also convert my ISBN to a barcode and put it on the back. The cover should also be a PDF, and the price for colour is the same as for black and white, so I can tell that to the graphic artist and set him to work on it.

The other good news is the today I received the printer's revised quote for the job, and it is well within my budget. So it's full steam ahead.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Llewelyn Bren

Llewelyn Bren, or Llewelyn ap Gruffudd ap Rhys, was a Welsh nobleman of Senghenydd who led a revolt in Wales against King Edward II, in 1316. This was one of the last serious revolts of the Welsh against their English (Norman) rulers. His seven sons took part in the revolt too.

When Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, died at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, it left a power vacuum. The various people who took over treated the Welsh very badly, at a time when they were already suffering with a famine. Llewelyn appealed to the king, but the king accused him of treason, and he rose in revolt, attacking Caerphilly Castle.

Unable to capture the castle, Llewelyn and his men started a seige. They burned the town and slaughtered some of the inhabitants. As the revolt spread, Kenfig and Llantrisant castles were sacked and many other castles attacked. Towns like Cardiff were raided and buildings burned throughout Glamorgan and Gwent. The king called on Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Lord of Brecon, to put down the uprising. He gathered troops from a wide area, and the support of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer. (These three figure large in the story of Alina and the rebellion of her husband in 1320 in my book Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth).

The forces were so overwhelming that Llewelyn surrendered to Hereford and begged that his followers not be punished, taking all the blame on himself. This earned the respect of Hereford and Mortimer, who pleaded his case with the king. Most of his followers were indeed pardoned, and Hereford and Mortimer promised to intercede with the king on his behalf.

He was sent with his family to the Tower of London, but then became a prisoner of Hugh le Despenser the Younger, the king's favourite and rapacious land-grabber. In 1317 he had become the Lord of Glamorgan and the largest land owner in the Welsh Marches. Without consulting the king, Despenser moved Llewelyn to Cardiff Castle and had him hung, drawn and quartered without trial. He also imprisoned Llewelyn's wife Lleucu and some of her sons in Cardiff Castle.

Despenser's treatment of Llewelyn enraged both the Welsh and Marcher Lords, who joined together to petition the king against Despenser. When the heir to the Lordship of Gower rebelled against the king, the other Lords joined him. The rebellion which followed managed to free Llewelyn's family and get Despenser and his father exiled, until the king was able to raise a large enough force to counter-attack and put the rebellion down.

However, when the queen and Roger Mortimer landed in 1326 with an army of mercenaries the king, unable to command the loyalty of the barons, fled to Despenser's lands in Wales. There they were understandably unable to raise any forces and were captured. Despenser suffered the same fate he had inflicted on Llewelyn and was hung, drawn and quartered. One of the charges against him at his trial was the murder of Llewelyn Bren. Lleucu and her sons had their estates restored to them.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Late last year I went to a Local History Fair held in Swansea Museum. The Gower Society had a stall, and they were selling note cards with drawings on. The drawings of Gower were done by a husband and wife in the 1950s, and printed in the Gower Journal. When the artists died, their children gave permission for the Gower Society to use the drawings to raise funds.

One of the drawings was of Oystermouth Castle, and I immediately knew it would be great for my cover, so I asked if I could use it. The copyright for the drawing still rests with the children of the artist, so I asked them for permission. The result was even better than I hoped.

They are delighted with the idea of my book and happy for me to use the drawing, but to ensure the quality of the cover, they insist that it is designed by the son, who is a graphic designer. Not only do I have a drawing for the cover, but I have a graphic designer to design it for free!

Saturday, 14 January 2012


If you don't want to pay someone, probably your printer, to format your book, you have to do it yourself. Luckily I bought an ebook on how to be an independent publisher, which, among lots of good, detailed advice, told me what to do. I still have to check the final details with my printer, but I've done as much as I can to keep costs down.

The ebook I mentioned is called Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters. She is American, but very little is different here in Britain. I plan to post a detailed review later, but you can link to the Amazon page for it from its title above.

I didn't know what size the pages should be - it is now formatted to standard paperback size. I hadn't thought about what they call 'front matter' - the pages containing the title, author, copyright notice etc., and the Contents page. Until I had done that I had no idea how many pages it would be and thus how thick the book will be. At the moment, it looks to be about forty pages, but I have allowed half a page for each illustration and that is subject to negotiation with the artist, also how many illustrations.

Thanks to Zoe Winters, I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


When I met with the men from the Historical Association, one of the things they suggested was that the book would be more attractive to tourists if it had illustrations. I started thinking out loud about photographs and such, and they said that because the book would be a small format, reducing photos made the detail difficult to see. They suggested getting an artist to do line drawings as illustrations.

It seemed a great idea, and they volunteered to speak to their contacts, one of which is Swansea Metropolitan University, which has art students. It would be an opportunity for an art student to add to their portfolio and get a published credit, so they would be willing to do illustrations for free. I knew 'people who knew people' who were into art in some way, so we all agreed to go and ask everyone and see what we could get.

The trouble is that when you ask people to do something for free, you have no means of enforcing deadlines. Also, my book is not as important to them as it is to me. The result is that after asking everyone I knew, I got two people to agree to look at illustrations. Everyone else never got around to asking their friends, or never got back to me, including the men from HA.

The result is the the book is ready to go, but I still have no illustrations. One of my artists finally said she couldn't do it, and I do understand. I am waiting for the other one to reply to my latest email. When I bemoaned my situation to my husband, he pointed out that the book wasn't going to have illustrations in the first place, so why was I worrying?

Maybe I should stop asking for advice.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Writing Wednesday: Publishing Preparation

I am astonished to see that my last post was in June. A lot has happened since, but maybe I haven't blogged because there was nothing conclusive. Two men from the Historical Association Swansea Branch promised support and help, but then disappeared. A publisher offered help, and then wanted to charge me £3000. And I have two artists looking at producing illustrations, but they are frustratingly slow at getting back to me.

I had no idea publishing a book would be so complicated. But I think I'm getting on top of it. The great find has been an ebook that told me all about it, and more. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking publishing their own book, either in print or ebook. Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters is available on Kindle here. Zoe is American and talks about publishing in America, but there is very little difference.

I have now designed a cover and formatted the book ready for the printer. I have a rough quote for printing, but have to wait for the illustrations before the book is complete. Once I know the final number of pages, I can talk seriously to the printer. In the mean time, I will be posting news, the story of my attempts to turn Alina's story into a historical novel, and more of the history that I found out during my research.