Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Winter Solstice!

sunrise at Stonehenge
Here in the northern hemisphere today is the winter solstice... midwinter, the shortest day of the year... and it’s time to celebrate! For this is the darkest hour. From now until midsummer, the days will get longer and the nights shorter, which means you’ll soon have more sunshine (well, daylight anyway) to frolic with your loved ones, which can only be good thing.

The solstice actually happens at a set time that varies slightly according to your human calendar. This year it happened at 5.30am this morning, but I had to poke my author with my horn to get her out of bed to post this for me... and you know how long it takes authors to wake up and smell the coffee, let alone write anything half decent… but she's up now, so here are a few interesting solstice-y things the unicorn has unearthed.

Newgrange, Ireland

If you’re in Ireland, you might be celebrating the solstice at Newgrange, which is an ancient celtic tomb that my author has been inside (she had to duck, and there wasn’t any room for me because they said my horn would be dangerous to the other tourists!) It’s a large burial mound with spirals engraved into the large stone at the entrance, and its narrow passage and chamber are illuminated by the winter sunrise for seventeen minutes each year between 19th and 23rd December. Quite spooky.

In the Druidic tradition, the winter solstice festival is called Alban Arthan, which translates as "Light of Winter" or "Light of Arthur"… when the Holly King (representing winter) dies at the hands of his son and successor the Oak King (representing the summer to come). Also at this time of year the Druids would gather by the oldest oak tree in the forest to cut mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in a white sheet. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with the Druids, but then stole the solstice celebration and many of its traditions for Christ's Mass or Christmas, when we traditionally hang mistletoe in the hope of getting a kiss!

There are many other festivals celebrated around the world at this time of year, but the unicorn thinks it doesn’t matter what you call your midwinter celebration. At this darkest time of the year, it's good to be with your friends and family to keep the lights burning brightly until the sun returns. So I am trotting off now to be with my author, and will be back in the new year...


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Books... the last chapter? No, it’s the sequel!

I was just about to turn off the TV and curl up in my warm unicorn stable last night, when an Imagine programme called “Books - The Last Chapter?” came on, which you can watch on the BBC's iplayer HERE. That title made half the glitter fall off my horn, I can tell you! I immediately started worrying for my poor author, and what she’s going to do for the next 20 years of her working life if books are truly about to close and never open again.

my author rescuing old books at Hay-on-Wye
In keeping with the doom-laden title, there were depressing pictures of large, boarded-up bookshops, followed by three representatives of the publishing industry gloomily discussing their roles in the digital age. You can look up their names, but let’s call them Bigwig Publisher, Bigwig Agent, and Bigwig Author. All three looked worried, even when the author declared that authors would still need publishers in the digital age (“and agents!” shot Bigwig Agent in a telling moment of sheer terror). “And agents”, Bigwig Author added, though it wasn’t clear exactly what kind of agent he was talking about.

Bigwig Publisher agreed, and seemed to see her role mainly as selection, i.e. bringing the best books by the best authors to readers - or maybe she meant the most profitable books? Strangely, there was little discussion of promotion, which (in the unicorn’s humble opinion) is the main thing authors will need from publishers in the digital age... the original definition of “to publish” being “to make public or generally known”. Of course, publishing budgets are limited and not every publishable book can have a big promotion, so maybe what Bigwig Publisher really meant by her statement was promotion for the selected few? Those selected few authors will quite obviously still need publishers.

So let's examine the less glamorous side of publishing. My author’s ancient dictionary lists a second definition of “to publish” as “to issue copies of a book for sale to the public”. This might have been the case when print runs were hugely expensive, but that definition went out of date with the arrival of print-on-demand years ago, and with ebooks it’s possible to publish in this sense of the word without actually printing a single copy. So if, in future, all a publisher offers an author is issuing copies of her book for sale to the public, then in theory that author does not really need that publisher any more. Authors still need editors, of course, but there are other ways of getting your work edited than under contract to a publisher – hiring a freelance, for example - so these authors are free to choose.

And what about readers? There followed an interesting history of books, starting with Homer’s "Iliad", hand written on scrolls and carried by Alexander the Great on his epic journey to India in a large box, which he'd have read by scrolling – i.e. rolling one end while unrolling the other. The history quickly moved on to the printing press and the bound paper book we know and love, with physical pages that you turn by hand. And finally to the screen, where we read by er… scrolling… and then on to the Kindle, which has electronic pages turned by pressing a button. These days, we don’t need a box and a mule (or a unicorn) to carry our favourite book on our travels. We can carry our whole library in our pocket... from a reader’s point of view, what’s not to like?

But do not panic! Judging by those interviewed on the Imagine programme and the poll on the right of this blog, there's still a healthy market for paper books. The unicorn sees books becoming works of art in their own right, sold in the equivalent of antique shops for big prices to collectors, or auctioned off to Russian oligarchs to display on their coffee tables between the caviar and the samovar. Authors who are selected by publishers to provide the content for these beautiful books will still make a living, selling less books at higher prices maybe. For those authors, the book itself will be an important part of their product, even more so than today. So Bigwig Author need not be scared. And Bigwig Publisher of these new works of art need not be scared. Nor should Bigwig Agent, who will bring author and publisher together in the old way.

The mass market, previously served by paperbacks, will probably move the other way. There will be ever cheaper paperback editions produced for supermarkets and book clubs, the emphasis being on affordability and personal choice… if a chain can provide these paperbacks at competitive prices to the public, then maybe there will even be a new type of discount bookstore, perhaps with POD machines, springing up in out-of-town shopping centres? But the unicorn thinks that once e-readers become more affordable and are given away in cereal packets, much of this mass market reading will be in eformat.

This is both scary and exciting for authors, whose stories and words will be able to shine - or not shine - without the distractions of beautiful typesetting or an artistic cover. When a book is stripped bare by an e-reader, those authors who write what readers want to read need not be scared at all, because their words and stories will still be in demand. The best sellers of the digital age will not necessarily be the “selected” best sellers you see piled in the front of WH Smith that sell because, like a mountain to be climbed, they are there and you trip over them. They'll be the books that sell because people talk about them and can easily order their choices from a POD machine or online, without having to wait for the publisher, distributor and bookseller to get their act together.

Again, publishers need not be scared, because all these authors will still need publishers to make their work public. Agents at this end of the business model might have reason to be a little bit scared since margins are tighter and authors might just decide it’s more profitable to do it for themselves than wait around for a contract that might never come – but not too scared, since they are in a position to hire editors and handle promotions on behalf of their uncontracted authors.

my author's brand new local library

So books - the last chapter? The unicorn says no! This is the first chapter in an exciting publishing sequel, where readers will have more choice and better access to affordable content than ever before, where collectors and physical book lovers will have more beautiful editions to choose from than before, and where authors should be dancing with joy because now they have another way to reach readers that does not depend upon the “promotion for the select few” model that relied heavily upon control of the printing presses, warehousing, bookstore promotions, and sale-or-return (what is THAT all about in the modern age, anyway?!) It’ll mean thinking about new ways to promote those books that are not in the physical bookstores and libraries, and it’ll mean new types of contracts between authors and their publishers and agents. But it’s certainly not a reason for anyone in the business to be gloomy.

As I keep telling my author… write a book people want to read, and it won’t matter if that’s read on a scroll, paper, screen, or plugged straight into your reader’s brain cells. Good stories will always be in demand, and readers will always be hungry for more of them. To my mind, authors and readers are in the strongest position of all. But then I’m only a unicorn, so maybe I'm dazzled by glitter? Please leave a comment and let everyone know what you think!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Warrior Princesses

What is a unicorn to do? I just can't seem to stop my author writing on other people's blogs these days!

Remember Xena? Well, my author used to be glued to the TV when this series came on, which might be why she wanted to be a warrior princess... meet some more girls with swords, including a very special heroine for 2012 over on The History Girls.

And don't forget to vote for paper or ebooks on the right of this blog... voting closes 31st December!

Friday, 2 December 2011

RIP Anne McCaffrey

At the start of this year, I signed up for the Anne McCaffrey reading challenge proposed by Caroline at Portrait of a Woman to bring some wonderful fantasy books to a new readership. Little did any of us know then that the great author would no longer be with us by the end of the challenge... the great Anne McCaffrey died at her home in Ireland last week, aged 85.

I was reading one of the collaborative novels she published ("Acorna", written with Margaret Ball), but not enjoying it as much as her earlier books. So rather than review that one for the final quarter of this challenge, I’d like to highlight again some of the Anne McCaffrey originals I fell in love with as a teenager.

Upon hearing the sad news, I immediately cast down my current bedtime read ("Eclipse" where Bella gets seriously irritating trying to choose between her vampire and werewolf boyfriends), and ran to my bookshelf for some nostalgia. I straight away grabbed “The Crystal Singer”, which I reviewed for the reading challenge HERE. This is the cover of my battered paperback edition:

Just 50 pages in, and I’m relieved to be back with the refreshingly non-whiney heroine Killashandra Ree, who has rather more ambition in life than simply finding a boy - vampire, werewolf or otherwise - to take care of her. This ambition takes her from her home planet to the world of Ballybran, where crystal literally gets into the blood, and no matter how many times I read this book it always speaks to me.

In fact, I can see distinct parallels between crystal singing and writing fiction. Here’s an extract from the first chapter, when Killashandra meets a crystal singer on holiday and asks how she can apply to join the guild:

Carrick smiled sadly. “You don’t want to be a crystal singer…. you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for. Singing crystal is a terrible, lonely life. You can’t always find someone to sing with you, the tones don’t always strike the right vibes for the crystal faces… of course you can make terrific cuts singing duo.”
   “How do you find out?”
    He gave an amused snort. “The hard way, of course. But once you sing crystal, you don’t stop, That’s why I’m telling you, don’t even think about it.”

And later, Killashandra asks about finances:

“You don’t get off-world with every trip into the ranges?”
     He shook his head, frowning irritably at her interruption. “You don’t always clear the costs of the trip, or past damages. Or you might not have cut the right shape or tone. Sometimes tone is more important than shape.”
     “And you have to remember what’ll be needed.”

This is apparently as difficult for a crystal singer as for an author, who can both forget the real world when they get caught up in the enchantment of their own work.

Other Anne McCaffrey books I’ve loved are the Dragonriders of Pern series, which are really independent books set on the same planet. The ones that shine in my memory are Dragonsinger, which tells the story of the bullied girl Menolly, who travels to the Harper Hall on a dragon’s back and becomes one of the most important harpers on Pern, and The White Dragon, which I reviewed here.

Other Anne McCaffrey books I’ve enjoyed include "Restoree", "Decision at Doona", "The Ship Who Sang", and some great short story collections "To Ride Pegasus" and "Get off the Unicorn". (Muse: I should think so, too!)

The author named her house in Ireland “Dragonhold” after her Pern books, and I hope that whoever lives there in the future keeps the name. Rest in peace, Anne McCaffrey, and thank you for all the wonderful worlds and characters you created. My teenage years would have been so much emptier without your books. I was your number one fan!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Unicorn's First Blog Award!

Sometimes it seems blogs are all hard work and no play, but occasionally something happens that reminds you why you do it, and the lovely Jenny Alexander who writes in the House of Dreams has sent me a blog award!

Liebster is a German word meaning "dearest", and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers, which means the unicorn qualifies unless 161 people suddenly follow him before he's finished this blog post.

According to Jenny, these are the things you should do if you receive the award:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you (tick).
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog (the unicorn might bend this rule slightly... see below!).
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog (tick).
4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers (the unicorn is going to modify this rule and suggest UP TO five since he's already bent the rule himself.)

So here are the unicorn's Leibster picks:

Katherine Langrish at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, who blogs tirelessly and beautifully about myths and legends, as well as interviewing many famous (and infamous) fantasy authors, but just scrapes in because she still has a handful of followers to go to reach 200... so if you are not already doing so, then FOLLOW HER NOW and make it 200!

Dragontongue, a group blog of Welsh authors who are obviously closely related to the unicorn. I am not sure how many followers they have, but you should FOLLOW THEM ANYWAY!

Susan Price's Nennius Blog, which has already been awarded a Leibster by Jenny, so the unicorn would just like to point his glittery horn that way and award a Special Leibster to BLOT, Nennius' charming cartoon cat... FOLLOW HIM FOR FELINE LAUGHS!

Sarwat Chadda's Blog which also still needs a few more followers to make 200... FOLLOW HIM NOW, because his wonderful heroine Billi SanGreal, last of the Knights Templar, is about to get her very own TV series... so if you haven't read the books yet, now's the time to do so!

And miaou!... I've just discovered Catdownunder's lovely blog still has less than 200 followers... she rescues old books "down under" so definitely deserves my fifth Leibster Award! FOLLOW HER FOR MIAOUS DOWNUNDER.  

The unicorn is sending Jenny Alexander a Glitter Award in return, no strings attached... coming your way, Jenny.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


Today the unicorn welcomes author Pauline Fisk, who tells us how she came to write her Smarties Prize winning novel MIDNIGHT BLUE, now relaunched just in time for Christmas as an e-book for Kindle... over to you, Pauline!

The house stood on the hilltop above my village. In the morning when the sun came up, its windows turned to gold and you could see them shining for miles around. When I first knew it, the house was lived in. But even after its tenants moved out, the farmer who owned it insisting on not replacing them, leaving it to fall down, I always reckoned it was the best house in the county. It wasn’t just its stooping old beams and quarry-tiled floors that made it special, or its inglenook fireplaces and jumble of never-ending rooms, corridors and staircases. It was the view.

Hampton Haze stood above Rea Valley, with the hills of Shropshire in front of it - including the rocky Stiperstones - and Wales at its back door. It caught all weathers, which was why, left to its own devices, it so easily fell into disrepair. But built on the sunrise flanks of the Long Mountain, it also caught all the good views. In the morning, more likely than not, you’d find the valley full of mist but Hampton Haze alive with sunlight, an island in a sea of white. And there’d be sunrises to die for, the sky turned orange and magenta in zebra stripes. The house stood so high above the valley that planes and helicopters would fly beneath it, and there would be days when you could see so far that you’d have been forgiven for thinking you were flying yourself.

In my novel, ‘Midnight Blue’, Hampton Haze became Highholly House - the magical place beyond the sky to which my heroine, Bonnie, escaped the drabness of her city life and the domination of the cruel Grandbag. But it wasn’t only the features I’ve just described that inspired me write it into the book. There was something else - a quality to Hampton Haze that went beyond words. Once you’d found it, Hampton Haze was a place you’d never forget:

   ‘Mum said this wasn’t a place like anywhere else I’d been,’ Bonnie said. ‘She was right, but I’m still not sure that I know what kind of place it is.’
   ‘I don’t think any of us know what kind of place this is,’ Dad said. ‘Sometimes it seems just like anywhere. Sometimes it’s quite, quite different from the rest of the world.’

I can write all this with confidence, because I’ve lived in Hampton Haze. One unforgettable autumn when the builders moved into my own house in the valley, my family and I moved into what, for many years now, had been an empty farmhouse quietly falling down. We swept away cobwebs, attempted first aid on draughts, roof tiles and cracks in masonry, filled the bedrooms with children and the corridors with laughter, lit the Aga, set the pipes clattering and hissing and brought the tumbledown old farmhouse back to life.

This may sound idyllic, but it wasn’t all the time. One of the least attractive aspects of living at Hampton Haze was that the older children had to walk down a long, muddy, rutted track to pick up their school lift in the valley, and return the same way at night. And on playgroup days I had to do the same with a toddler at my side and a baby on my back.

Here’s Arabella, on that subject, Bonnie’s newfound friend in ‘Midnight Blue’, trying to explain why she’s taught at home instead of school:

‘Look. You can see why.’ Arabella pointed out the long snake of a track that started at the farm hate and wound its way down between the fields and hedges towards a distant cluster of roofs and a church spire. ‘It’s terribly steep,’ she said. ‘And so long. It goes down into the Dingle. Do you see? It’s very rough down there. And then it goes over Hope Brook, up the other side and all the way down there.’
   Above them a skylark sang. ‘This is the quietest place I’ve ever been,’ Bonnie said. ‘I’ve never been on a farm before. I’ve never been anywhere so… empty.’
   'Sometimes you can hear the hill humming,’ Arabella said, ‘if you listen carefully.’

Hampton Haze might have been a challenge, but it was a joy as well. Some days smoke blew down the chimneys forcing us to open all the windows. And there was no central heating, which meant we sometimes nearly froze. And rain insisted on coming through the roof, no matter how we tried to stop it. But the house was like a singer with a special song, sometimes hummed, sometimes crooned, sometimes belted out. It had been empty all that time, and now it had an audience and it was happy to be alive. And whatever the weather, whatever our mood, however many challenges we had to face, we couldn’t help but sing along.

But not for ever, I’m afraid. When the builders finished working on our own house, Hampton Haze fell silent as if it knew what was coming next. We packed up and left, then it was empty again. Every morning I’d look up at its golden windows from our house in the village and feel its reproof. It had given us everything, and we’d abandoned it like a lover who was of no more use.

Perhaps that’s why I wrote it into ‘Midnight Blue’. Perhaps I did it out of guilt. Or perhaps, seeing it still standing empty a couple of years later, I wanted to give it something to sing about again.

I’ve been writing about places all my life. A sense of place has always been my means of working my way into stories. It’s the hook which always draws me in. In my childhood I remember my mother taking my brother and I on picnics along the River Thames, passing houseboats on the water, and houses with long, grand gardens with half-hidden swimming pools. I’d return home and start writing about them, my imagination fired by what it must be like to be a child growing up on a boat, or in a house with mullioned windows and a swimming pool. And when I came to write ‘Midnight Blue’, I found myself doing the same with Hampton Haze. What was it like to be Arabella, growing up on a lonely hill, with little contact with the outside world? And what was it like to be Bonnie, carried through the sky to Highholly Hill by a magic, smoke-filled hot air balloon?

There was another hill once, and another ruined house, from which I date my interest not only in lonely hilltops but the mysterious subject of balloon flight. I was a city girl who had gone to get away from it all in a tiny cottage overlooking Worcestershire’s Teme Valley. Much of what Bonnie felt about her strange new world I felt about this place. No road ran within at least a mile of my cottage, and nobody had lived in it for many years. It was a two-up-two-down, with a pig pen out the back, water up the field in a tap next to a cattle trough and no electricity, which meant I cooked on an old range fuelled by logs collected from a nearby wood.  My days were ruled by the sun. When it rose I did as well; when it went down it was time for bed. But that was fine by me because I wasn’t there for domestic ease, I was there to write. Every day I’d sit out in the damson orchard in front of my cobbled-together, packing-case desk and clatter away happily on my aged Adler typewriter. I never saw another soul, except for my husband who was there to paint, and the only transport I ever saw was a tractor on a distant field and a hot air balloon which one day flew overhead.

For years I thought about that hot air balloon. To begin with I wrote it into a story about sky-gypsies in painted balloons, but slowly that idea petered out [though not for good, I’d like to think] and a new one came in its place. In between while, I moved to Shropshire, had my family and spent that autumn up at Hampton Haze.

Now that little cottage where it all began isn’t so little any more. An extension has been built, completely dwarfing the original four rooms, and there’s even a track to it instead of an empty hilltop interrupted only by fields and woods. And Hampton Haze has changed as well. What once was a track is now a private road without a single ridge in sight. And Hampton Haze never did fall down. I thought it would and we’d be its last inhabitants after hundreds of years. But it was bought instead, and became what it was always meant to be – somebody’s home.

   ‘They began to climb. As the track wound and the hedges bowed beneath the weight of snow, Bonnie caught glimpses of Highholly House below the brow of the hill, with a light in a window that beckoned to her like an advent star. Her legs began to ache. She pulled them out of the deep snow, one after another. There was a wonderful stillness everywhere. They both climbed quietly. The only sound was the crunch of their feet.
   ‘Look at it,’ said Michael. The sky was that magic midnight blue again. The moon was up and shining on the snow. There was a glittering, pale-blue sheen over everything. ‘It’s special, isn’t it? Do you know what I mean?’

It sounds a very special place, Pauline! Just the kind of place a unicorn would love.
You can find out more about Midnight Blue on Pauline's blog tour:

Friday 18th November – The Bookbag

Saturday November 19th - Book Angel Booktopia

Sunday November 20 – Reclusive Muse (THAT'S ME!)

Monday November 21 – Authors Electric

Monday November 21st – Pauline Fisk website - Book Launch and Launch of new look web

Tuesday November 22 – Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Friday, 18 November 2011

Coming on Sunday...

This Sunday the unicorn will bring you an exclusive guest post by Smarties Prize winning author Pauline Fisk, talking about the magical house she lived in while she was writing her book "Midnight Blue".

Curious? Then be sure to visit again next week and leave Pauline a comment!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Winter Warmers

I know, I know... nothing new posted here for two weeks! What has the unicorn been up to? Well, I do have an excuse. I'm helping my author write her third Pendragon book about King Arthur's daughter, and my poor little unicorn brain can only think about creating one piece of writing at any one time. Bowed horn.

But since it's now officially winter, and you humans have been messing around with the clocks so that it gets dark at 5pm, I thought you might like to revisit these lovely posts guaranteed to make you feel warmer:

There. Don't you feel warmer already?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tricks and Treats in Unicorn Wood

As Katherine’s muse, I naturally have a lot of influence over her work. This week I’d like to point my glittery horn towards her second novel Spellfall, which features a whole herd of unicorns as well as a haunted wood, an old lodge, a mysterious standing stone, an evil Spell Lord, and – since it's set at Halloween – plenty of tricks and treats!

This is the only one of Katherine’s books that starts in a supermarket car park in the rain, but strange things are happening the week before Halloween and it’s not long before our heroine Natalie is drawn into a sinister magical plot:

Natalie saw the first spell in the supermarket car park. It was floating in a puddle near the recycling bins, glimmering bronze and green in the October drizzle. At first she thought it was a leaf, but as she drew closer it began to look more like a crumpled sweet wrapper – a very interesting sweet wrapper. Pick me up, it seemed to say. Surely I’m worth a closer look?

Not everyone sees spells in supermarket car parks, of course, and Natalie is not just a normal girl. Her mother was a Spell Lady of Earthaven, which gives her the power to cross the boundary between worlds and makes her a target for the evil Lord Hawk, an exiled Spellmage who is planning to destroy the giant tree that is home to the spirit of Natalie’s dead mother. The magical gateways are barred to him. But at Halloween, between midnight and dawn, the boundary between worlds opens allowing creatures from both worlds to cross.

Here, Natalie and Lord Hawk’s son have fled into Earthaven and need some swift transport:

As soon as she saw the unicorns, Natalie realized her mistake. Horses with horns didn’t even come close. The herd was grazing on the riverbank upwind of the village. A thin mist drifted off the water, curling around their fetlocks. In the half light, their coats glimmered liquid silver. Their tails floated on the air as lightly as dandelion seeds, their manes were clouds, and their horns flashed rainbow haloes around their finely chiselled heads. Long-legged foals rippled among the adults, the tiny horn stubs on their foreheads still covered in silver fur. Natalie tried to count them, but it was impossible to focus on the creatures. As soon as she thought she had an animal fixed in one place, it would shimmer – and the next time she looked, it would be grazing on the far side of the herd.

Ahhh... I can remember when I was still a sweet little foal! Yet (much as I hate to admit it) this book is not all about spells and unicorns. When Lord Hawk kidnaps Natalie, her family and friends left behind in the real world are frantic with worry. Since her father is still drowning his sorrows in drink, it is up to Natalie’s best friend Jo and sulky stepbrother Tim to rescue her. They enlist the help of the Death Head gang by daring them to go trick-and-treating, but what will they find when they venture into Unicorn Wood at Halloween?

Follow @reclusivemuse on Twitter for more tricks and treats from the book this week.

“Spellfall” is available as an e-book for Kindle (and Kindle apps) at the special Halloween price of
£1-99 from
$2-99 from

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Mystery of Unicorns

It didn’t take Katherine’s new publisher Templar very long to find out about me. I suppose an author’s muse is quite important, since without muses where would our poor human authors be? They would just be writing their old stories over and over again… which is only good if their last story happens to be something like Harry Potter.

Anyway, Templar wanted a biography of Katherine to go on the last page of her new book – you know, the sort of thing that makes authors appear to lead incredibly exciting lives jumping out of aeroplanes and saving the rainforest etc., accompanied by a photo that makes them look like a beautiful princess or (if they’re men) moody and interesting?

The Muse suspects half this stuff is as inventive as the words in their novels, since an author actually leads a very boring life hunched over their computer writing about people jumping out of aeroplanes and saving the rainforest - because if they were doing all of that themselves, they wouldn't have time to write about it! And, although cameras can't lie, the photo might be the result of five hours in a professional studio with added airbrushing, or taken twenty years ago when the author was still a beautiful young princess… or be of someone else entirely who didn't write the book. So rather than dig around for interesting stuff from Katherine's past and spend hours with my glittery horn airbrushing her photograph, I suggested that her publishers put in a picture of ME instead. Having seen Katherine’s (unairbrushed) photo, they were only too happy to agree.

Small problem... unicorns are much too shy to have their photographs taken – the best you’re likely to get is a fuzzy snap of our tails as we disappear into the enchanted mist. Professional photography studios and five hours of hair and make-up are obviously out. Anyway, I am a muse and take many forms, depending on the kind of book Katherine is writing at the time. (She’s blogged about me HERE if you want to see some of those forms), but none seemed quite right for my first appearance as a muse in a real book.

In their search for a suitable image, Templar sent Katherine this lovely little book they published earlier this year.

illustrated by Ian Andrew, Petra Brown and Beverlie Manson.

A whole book about me! It’s based on a file of notes found in the office of Professor Miriam Carter after her mysterious disappearance at her final lecture in 1939, when apparently she took a small sliver of unicorn horn and ground it into a fine powder using secret ingredients to make a potion. She drank the frothing potion, and… well, you'll have to get hold of the book to find out what happened next.

Let’s just say it contains many beautiful pictures of me, in many guises, from the romantic kind of unicorn on the front cover that charms maidens, to a fearsome Persian breed called the karkadann that fights to the death. I have to say there are some very unflattering pictures, too, including one of an ancient beast called an “elasmotherium”, a shaggy and fearsomely ugly ancestor of your modern rhinoceros (I ask you!)

The book also contains maps, flaps, miniature booklets, and sparkly samples of things like qilin scales - in case you're wondering, the qilin (or kirin) is a Chinese unicorn! It charts the history of the unicorn from the Garden of Eden through to Elizabethan times, when "unicorn horns" like these narwhal tusks were the prized possessions of kings and queens.

narwhals (arctic whales) with their "horns"

Professor Miriam says Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan also met unicorns (no, it wasn’t me... I wouldn’t have anything to do with bloodthirsty men like those). And did you know that, in some translations of the Bible, the unicorn was the first beast to be named by Adam? Well, naturally Eve put him up to it.

So I wonder if you can guess which picture I chose for the biography page of my author's new book? Katherine says I should put it here, but I can’t because of copyright, so you’ll have to wait until February when "Sword of Light" is published to find out!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Unicorn’s Great Dream

What do authors do on their days off? I followed mine when she sneaked away from her computer last weekend and tracked her down at Interrogate! the UK’s first ever festival of social justice, held at the lovely Dartington Hall.

This festival used a mixture of debate, dance, and drawing (the artistic kind, not the “hung, drawn and quartered” kind) to interrogate income inequality, which is something Katherine has blogged about, but occurs in all sections of society and not just among authors. Wherever there’s income inequality, they tell us, there’s unhappiness… things got quite heated, and bankers were mentioned a few times (in “hung, drawn and quartered” terms, I have to admit).

At this point, judging the audience to be a rather miserable crowd and not noticing my glittery horn at the back, the new Minister for Happiness told us all the secret of being happy… apparently, all you need is a GREAT DREAM.

Janet Street-Porter (famous on TV for being a Grumpy Old Woman) has already tried it with mixed success, so the unicorn thought he’d give it a go, too:

G is for giving. I give unicorn glitter to people on Twitter (follow me @reclusivemuse and you might get some, too!)
R is for relating. I relate online, since that’s the best place to find a unicorn these days.
E is for exercising. My author diligently exercises me every day.
A is for appreciating. I do appreciate a nice review.
T is for trying out. Authors are always trying new things - it’s called research and is tax-deductible… assuming your author earns enough to pay tax in the first place, of course.

Not bad so far. What about the dream part?

D is for direction. I have plenty of goals (write a best-seller, net a 7-figure advance for my author, get a Hollywood film deal and retire in enchanted clover, that sort of thing), but have trouble is finding the right road to take me there.
R is for resilience. I have to admit my author doesn’t bounce quite so well these days if she falls off me.
E is for emotion. As you know, I’m a very emo-unicorn.
A is for acceptance. I accept I only have one horn (a shame, because you’d get double glitter if I had two!)
M is for meaning. My author’s got me on a quest for the Grail while she’s writing her new Pendragon series… does that count?

Of course, Katherine did not take a complete day off in the end, because I found her sitting in the sunny Dartington gardens at lunchtime writing this poem:

Let’s interrogate society
in the great Dartington Hall
with its fireplace big enough for a banker
and an audience held in thrall.
The nice lady from the Guardian
wants schools open to all
and the man in charge of happiness
is setting himself up for a fall.
The second speaker bored us
with statistics upon the wall
and everyone ran over time
so the last man caught the ball.
Questions from the audience
raised transport issues for the poor,
asked where transition happens most,
and why generations shut the door.
But our allocated hour was up
so answers never reached the floor,
and a hundred people headed home
wishing there had been time for more.

So how happy are you? And how do you score on the Great Dream?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Song Quest cover winner!

One for Shi
Two for Kashe
Three for Rialle
Four for Kherron
Five for the Silver Shore
Six for a golden cover…

...and seven for a secret now revealed!

Here is the winning Song Quest cover as chosen by YOU (with 54% of the vote, so it was very close).

It was designed by Mandy Norman  and drawn by Johanna Basford, and will be published by Catnip in February 2012, when you’ll be able to read the book and decode the unicorn's changes to the magpie rhyme above (if you haven't already guessed them).

And why did a magpie rhyme pop into the unicorn's head today? Well, as every muse knows, magpies like to collect shiny things that take their eye. This might be just a bit of silver foil, but they have been known to whisk away really valuable items to their nests. "Song Quest" caught Catnip’s eye as being the pick of Katherine's backlist titles (because it won an award), so it gets the golden treatment in paperback, while the rest of her backlist is coming out as cheaper but less pretty e-books in a moment of summer glitter madness.

The choice is yours. Would you prefer to read Katherine's back list (i.e. books that have gone out of print at their original publisher) as paper books or e-books? Let the unicorn know by voting on right of this blog!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Song Quest cover vote!

A first novel is always exciting, and the unicorn was kicking up his heels in joy twelve years ago when “Song Quest” first got published in hardback by Element Books. Here’s the original 1999 cover.

Katherine was kicking up her heels in joy, too, when she walked into Waterstone’s in Piccadilly and saw 150 copies of her book displayed around the top shelf of the foyer… though I can’t show you a picture to prove it, because that was back in the days before authors could afford digital cameras. In fact Katherine got lost on her way to the book signing after getting off the train at the wrong tube station, and had to run across half of London in her posh boots, which wore a hole in the soles so she had to spend her advance on a new pair... but I digress.

The following summer, Song Quest won the very first Branford Boase Award, awarded to the best debut novel for children published that year, and shared between the author and her editor. Here’s my author and Song Quest's editor Barry Cunningham joyfully kicking up their heels at the award party in London. (Obviously, Katherine is the one with the flowers, and my nose is just off the right of the picture, chewing a tasty lily...)

And here’s the award itself, a hand-crafted wooden box in the shape of a miniature book with a silver butterfly inlaid in the lid, which opens to reveal a silver plaque.

Shortly after that, Element Books got into trouble with the bank, so Barry Cunningham set up The Chicken House to rescue "Song Quest" (and me) from the pulping machine and oblivion. Here’s the Chicken House cover for the book, published in 2001:

Song Quest eventually went out of print with the Chicken House, but thanks to a tireless campaign by the lovely Becky Scott over at The Bookette, it has been rescued by Catnip Books, who are bringing Katherine's award-winning book back in a lovely new edition next February to accompany her new Pendragon Legacy series about King Arthur’s daughter.


Now for the really exciting bit. Catnip have designed a beautiful new cover for Song Quest, which Katherine and her editor love, but now we need your help to choose the colours!

There are two choices, gold or black...

Song Quest - Gold

Song Quest - Black

You can offically vote for your favourite cover over on Catnip’s Facebook page – but don’t delay! Gallop over there right now before you forget, because voting closes at 6pm on Friday 16th September. After that Catnip will print the cover that gets the most votes.

Also see this post over at The Bookette, (who has a lot more blog followers than me because she is a real person).

We are looking forward to finding out your favourite!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Seven Fabulous Wonders Competition Update

Hello, it’s the unicorn again! I apologise for my long absence from my own blog, but slave driver Katherine Roberts has had me chained to her desk finishing Book 2 of the Pendragon Legacy for delivery to her editor, who will be the first person in the entire world to read it apart from me. Meanwhile Mati the Tygrine cat has been here holding the enchanted mists open for me, and he’s told me you are all wondering what I’ve been up to...

Well, apart from working on the new book, I’ve been talking to my author about the reviewing competition she is running for her Seven Fabulous Wonders e-books. As you will know if you’ve been following this blog, the paperbacks are now out of print, but she is re-launching the whole series as e-books between now and February - details here. (If you are VERY quick, you might still be able to get the first book The Cleopatra Curse for the bargain price of 86p… this price will rise on 1st September.)

So far there has been one brilliant review posted on and although it has not been officially entered for the competition I can tell you that it is a definite WINNER (So "Alexandra P", if you would like your prize please email the unicorn to select your book from the list below and tell me where you'd like me to send it).

However, my author has been wondering why there were not more entries… she says surely not everyone has been spending their entire summer holiday chained to a desk like the poor unicorn? Well, I could have told her! Obviously if someone has already read the book in order to give it a review, they might not want that exact same book as a prize... duh. So I’ve given her a prod with my sparkly horn, and she has agreed to extend the competition to make it a bit more appealing.

Now you can post a review of either The Cleopatra Curse or The Colossus Crisis (both of which are currently available as low-priced e-books), and if your review wins you can choose as your prize a signed paperback copy of any one of the following books by Katherine Roberts:

signed copy of  "The Cleopatra Curse"
signed copy of  "The Colossus Crisis"
signed copy of  "Spellfall"

This obviously means you can choose a different book as your prize from the one you chose to review.

As before, there will be one prize for the best review on, and one for the best review on And to give you a chance to read the book of your choice and post your review, the closing date of the competition will be extended until 31st October 2011, giving you two months to get your horn (I mean your head) around it.

How fair is that?

Remember, to enter your review for a prize you must email the unicorn (unicorn AT and tell him which one is yours. Good luck.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Exclusive interview with the Tygrine Cat!

The unicorn would like to introduce you to Mati, the Tygrine Cat, who has come over to this blog today to give his first ever interview… that’s him on the cover of his book, glowing a little (he does that sometimes).

As you can probably tell, Mati is no ordinary cat. He is of an ancient bloodline that dates back to a legendary Egyptian queen who gave birth to two magical kittens. The spotted Sa and the red-coated Abyssinian Tygrine have been at each other’s throats ever since, and Mati is the last of his kind. Sent across the sea to England by his mother as a young catling for his own safety, he finds a home of sorts at Cressida Lock market with a gang of feral cats and wise old Sparrow. He also makes a friend of nervous stray Jess, who used to live with a human (called a ‘hind’) but cannot find her way home.

The feral cats are wary of any cat who is different from them, and when the marketplace is flooded they blame Mati, even though it was the work of the Sa assassin sent to kill him. Only by entering the cat-version of the enchanted mists, a place called Fiåney (Muse: the little circle over the ‘a’ is VERY important – don’t ask me why, I think it’s a cat thing) can Mati hope to defeat his ancient enemy.

The unicorn caught up with Mati as he was returning to the world, and is delighted to bring you this exclusive interview:

Muse: What was it like growing up a prince among kittens?

Mati: When I arrived at Cressida Lock I could recall very little of my previous life, but shards of memory have returned to me. I remember a long winding river where I used to watch water birds gather noisily, the scent of pine needles and the call of nightjars piercing the silence of the desert. I can hardly remember how the other cats treated me, but I was always happy and well-fed. Most of all, I remember my amma, the Queen of the Tygrine Cats. I miss her... It hurts to remember.

Muse: Does it hurt when you glow?

Mati: It causes me no pain - I am scarcely aware of it happening, it's as though some greater force takes hold of me. I hear voices of spirits, feel the heat of Fiåney, and an incredible light glows inside me, tingles my fur, coursing through my whiskers.

Muse: Are you rich?

Mati: I do not really understand what this means. I know, from Jess, that hinds like to accumulate possessions. This means nothing in the world of cats. If I have a warm, safe bed in the catacombs, and my friends around me, I am rich in spirit.

Muse: Is Jess your girlfriend?

Mati: Jess... Oh... Miaow! Jess is a friend, a good, dear friend... [My agent promised that no one would ask this question!]

Muse: Would you like to have kittens of your own one day?

Mati: It seems unreal but yes, I suppose I would like kittens. But such thoughts are far from my mind. I'm still not entirely sure where kittens come from. I'll ask Sparrow.

Muse: How do you get to Fiåney?

Mati: Every cat passes through Fiåney as they close their eyes and sink from wakefulness - it is the passage that weaves between dreams. As a Tygrine, I have the ability to enter the spirit world at a time of my choosing, though learning how to do this took me some time. I must empty my mind of my worries and enter a trance. It sometimes helps to repeat a chant. I have become quite good at entering Fiåney. It is escaping that is proving more difficult...

Ah yes, the unicorn understands that! The enchanted mists are very similar. Thank you very much, Mati.

The excellent and exciting book words in The Tygrine Cat were written by Mati's author Inbali Iserles (cats are far too busy with other things to write their own book words). So if you always wondered where cats disappear to when they’re not rubbing themselves around your ankles in the hope of another meal, then get hold of this book to find out more! Mati’s adventures continue with The Tygrine Cat on the Run.

Watch the official trailer HERE 

Please leave a comment for Mati!

Monday, 8 August 2011

MUSE MONDAY - Italy "the leg-shaped country" by Mary Hoffman

This Monday the unicorn is delighted to welcome Mary Hoffman, prize-winning author of over 90 books - that's a LOT of writing! Here she talks about her muse and the inspiration for her latest novel David. Over to you,  Mary...

I never thought of myself as having a Muse at all until Katherine's unicorn gave me the opportunity to visit his blog on a Monday. And I was asked to talk to Mariella Frostrup on Radio 4's Open Book recently, with another writer, about the muses of Renaissance artists. That got me thinking.

My muse is not an animal, real or mythical, nor yet is it a human source of inspiration like those 19th century women that were were models for the Pre-Raphaelite painters, like Elizabeth Siddall.

My muse is a country.

"The leg-shaped country"

It began as a youthful crush when I was fourteen and met my Muse for the first time, matured into a full-blown love affair when I was twenty, and has been going strong for decades since.

Il Bel Paese (penalty points if your first thoughts were of cheese!) means "the beautiful country" and is what Italians call Italy. In our family it is known as "the leg-shaped country" (TLSC) and referred to a great deal because everyone knows how much I would like to have a place to live there. It's not an affordable reality, just a dream - but what a beautiful dream.

And it was a place of great attraction for all educated and wealthy travellers in the 19th century, part of The Grand Tour. For its art, its music, its literature, the language, the charms of its many different landscapes, its climate and its cuisine and wine. All the things that charm me, in fact. I don't recall anyone ever saying they wanted to go to Italy for the ease of driving and parking, the bureaucracy, the carabinieri or the efficiency of its airport systems.

spice shop in Venice

The job of a muse is to inspire and Italy does that for me in spades. I find it impossible to be in TLSC and NOT have ideas for books.

My first ever published book was a long teenage novel called White Magic (published by Rex Collings in 1975) and it was set in an imaginary place on the Adriatic coast. Coincidentally it featured a unicorn. I'm sorry, RM, but it was THE unicorn! Does that mean it was you? (Muse: well of course... that was before my author needed me, so I was still a single and fancy-free unicorn).

Anyway, here I am 35 years and nearly a hundred books later, with my most recent novel David firmly set in Florence, one of my favourite places in TLSC, just published by Bloomsbury. The one I've just finished writing (Stravaganza: City of Swords) is set in a place based on Lucca and I'm going to Venice this month to revise an adult novel set in - well, let's just say it's not Wigan.

walls of Lucca
So how many books have been inspired by TLSC? I reckon ten YA plus one adult, so that's more than 10% of my output. And there are signs that the percentage will rise in the coming years.

Let me tell you about David, which is in its way all about different kinds of inspiration. The David concerned is the statue commissioned from Michelangelo in 1501 to stand in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (The one there now is a copy; the original was put in the Accademia in the 19th century).

No-one knows anything about the model for this iconic work of art or even if there WAS a model for it. It was a gift of an idea for a novel: a gift made to me by my Muse, if you like, because I had all the information I could find about the business of sculpting it from the flawed block of marble that had been tripping people up in the Opera del Duomo for forty years, but at the heart of the story was a gap that I could fill.

So, into the city walked Gabriele del Lauro, a handsome eighteen-year-old stonecutter from Settignano. He was the son of Michelangelo's wet nurse and regards the great artist as his older brother - his "milk-brother" as he calls him.

Everything else in David arose from that simple central idea. Gabriele learns a lot about the complicated politics of the city and about love and sex in the three and a half years he spends there. But he also learns about art and meets a lot of artists. One of them is Leonardo da Vinci and Gabriele watches while he paints a rather well known portrait of a gently smiling woman. Not that it was well known then, of course, although its fame quickly spread through the city.

So, models and muses, inspiration and perspiration, the sheer physical slog of wresting a beautiful male figure out of a block of marble, which reminds me of creating a novel from the raw material of the idea. Thank you RM and Katherine for showing me what my muse is.

And thank you, Mary, for visiting the unicorn's humble blog!

David is just back from a mammoth Blog Tour that has lasted over a month. You can read more about the inspiration for the book at any of the 32 spots on the Tour, listed here:

For more about Mary and her books, check out these sites:

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Summer Glitter Madness – 7 books for the price of 1!

Yes, I thought the sun had gone to my author’s head, too… but it seems she’s just being nice for the summer holidays. She’s making her Seven Fabulous Wonders series re-available as e-books and would like you, loyal unicorn fans and friends, to have the chance to buy them at summer glitter prices.

So here’s how it works.

On the 1st of each month, from now until January 2012, one of these titles will be published as an e-book for Kindle at the very special price of 86p in the UK (99 cents in the US). And as a special Xmas gift you'll get the final two books together at the offer price until the end of January. That’s quite a bit less than you’d pay for a birthday card, and you’ll be getting your hands on a professionally edited book that took several years to research and write.

Of course my author will be on starvation rations while her books are selling at this price. So for each title this special offer will run for one month only, after which the price of that title will increase as the next one in the series is published at the low friendship price. This should give you plenty of time to download the sample chapters, decide if you like it, and buy the book before the price increase. And if you have any friends who enjoy stories of adventure and magic with historical settings, be sure to let them know too... the unicorn doesn’t want the whole world to know, but friends are special.

Here’s the schedule:
The Cleopatra Curse – published 1st August (now £1-99)
The Colossus Crisis – published 1st Sept (86p until Sept 30th)
The Olympic Conspiracy – publishes 1st Oct (86p until Oct 31st)
The Mausoleum Murder – publishes 1st Nov (86p until Nov 30th)
The Amazon Temple Quest – publishes 1st Dec (86p until Dec 31st)
The Babylon Game – publishes mid-Dec (86p until Jan 31st)
The Great Pyramid Robbery – publishes 1st Jan (86p until Jan 31st)

The Muse is aware not many of you have Kindles yet, but don’t let that stop you! There is a way you can still get your hands on these books at the low offer price and keep them for reading later. Here’s how to do it:

1. Download amazon’s free “Kindle for PC” software HERE (If you have an i-phone or i-pad, you might like to get the free Kindle app for that instead, but it’s a bit harder to buy books from amazon on an Apple device now they have changed the apps.)
2. Go to the Kindle store and click on the free sample – e.g. you can get The Cleopatra Curse HERE.
3. Choose “deliver to my computer”.
4. Open your Kindle for PC program and read the sample on that.
5. If you like what you read, click the link at the end of the sample to return to amazon’s Kindle Store and  download the whole book. (You'll need an amazon account for this bit... or someone else's amazon account, if you don't have your own.)
6. Put a Kindle on your Christmas/birthday/wedding/other-excuse-for-expensive-gifts list.
7. Meanwhile, you can start reading the Seven Fabulous Wonders series using the Kindle software on your computer, or save them for later…
8. When you get your Kindle, go to the“Manage my Kindle” page on amazon and transfer your books from your computer so you can read them at your leisure. You will not have to buy them again.

The unicorn hopes you (and your friends) will take advantage of this special one-time only “7 books for the price of 1” offer, because the first book in Katherine's new Pendragon Legacy series Sword of Light  publishes in February, and it is going to be a beautiful hardcover book, which means it will cost considerably more than 86p. So depending on what my publisher says, the prices of my e-books may have to rise again in February 2012 more in line with the price of my new series. But don’t worry – the Muse will always keep you, the unicorn's friends, informed of any price increases so you’ll have a chance to grab them at the lower rate if you are quick.

If you are one of the many people who prefer paper books, there is also a fabulous review contest to win signed copies of the original paperbacks - more details on Katherine's website.

So is my author suffering from too much sun? Tell the muse what you think.

Summer Glitter to all from the unicorn!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

We all need a bit of kindness and care...

Being a unicorn, I naturally enjoy days out with my author to places where you can find creatures with four hooves. Unicorns are a bit thin on the ground in your world, but last week we discovered these sweet ponies at our local mare and foal sanctuary.

Anybody brought up on the Follyfoot books like Katherine was will know exactly what a mare and foal sanctuary is. It’s a place where horses and ponies with problems, who would normally be sold for meat or put down, get a second chance at life. Either they are rehabilitated and eventually rehomed, or they are given kindness and care in their old (and not so old) age.

Being close to Dartmoor, this particular sanctuary gets a lot of wild ponies from the moor - orphaned foals whose mothers have been hit by cars, mares in distress, etc. They also take in horses. This is Baboushka, a lovely TB-cross mare only 6 years old who has a problem with her hind legs that mean she cannot be ridden or carry a foal, since her legs won’t support the extra weight. As a broodmare, she is useless. As a riding horse, she is useless. But she has a lovely nature and is lucky enough to have a place at the sanctuary for life.

Of course none of these ponies or horses are serious business prospects in the way of a racehorse or an event horse, or even a general riding horse that repays its keep by giving its owner joy. Many of them need expensive vet treatment when they arrive, and some need on-going care. They rely upon charity and the goodwill of volunteers and sponsors for their very lives. But does this mean they are in any way less of a horse, or have less right to kindness and care, than a Grand National winner?

The horses and ponies at this sanctuary reminded me a bit of authors. A few win high-profile prizes and make their publishers millions. Those authors are the Grand National winners of the literary world, and naturally they get the very best of care – at least until they become too old to write books and win prizes, and are put out to grass. But many others are like the little moorland ponies, surviving on scraps of grass and in danger every day from thoughtlessly speeding cars. Some are like the foals who need dedicated hand-rearing, but if cared for properly will one day be rehomed and bring happiness to a child. And there is every sort of author in-between, from the second string who run in minor races all over the country but seldom win, to the riding horse who barely pays for its keep but brings joy to a small number of readers.

Horses, being dumb animals (Muse: let’s not go there…!), tend to get more sympathy than authors. But sanctuaries exist even for us. The Royal Literary Fund awards grants to writers in need, and also places authors in Universities all over the UK under their excellent Fellowship scheme. So if you know an author who is suffering, point them in the right direction. A bit of kindness and care can go a long way.


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