Friday, 23 March 2012

A cold-eyed review of my own books

Life as an author is simple when you have only one published book to your name. It finds your ideal readers (quickly or slowly depending how it has been marketed), and if they like your book then they'll look out for your next one. So you publish a second book, and your ideal readers can now compare it to your first. Hopefully they will like the second book too, and look out eagerly for your third, meanwhile spreading the word about the first two. At this stage, the unicorn would count that reader a fan.... am I right?

For writers of adult fiction, this works well enough no matter how long the author takes (within reason) to write and publish their next book. A gap of a few years might even create greater desire among the fanbase for the next one. But for a children's author, things are rather harder.

Young readers grow up faster than an author can write. So if a children's author has a publishing gap of several years, like my five-year gap between publication of "I am the Great Horse" (2007) and publication of "Sword of Light" (2012), most of those original fans will have grown up and moved on. This means it is surprisingly difficult for a children's author to build a fan base and keep it, unless they write the sort of books that still appeal to their original young fans after they have grown up, i.e. young adult/crossover titles.

Since I am still experimenting with my writing to find my ideal readership, here's a quick review of my published books in suggested reading age order that might help if you are coming to them fresh, or have read some of my older titles and are wondering if you'll enjoy my new one.

very young readers start here...
MAGICAL HORSES (Carlton, out of print.)
An illustrated interactive pop-up book of short stories. I guess you'll outgrow this one at around age 7, unless you're like me and still giggle when you open the cover and a winged Pegasus pops out to say hello! It's got a sparkly cover, so perfect for little girls.

"Merlin" fans should enjoy my new Arthurian series...
PENDRAGON LEGACY: SWORD OF LIGHT (Templar hardcover, £9-99)
My new one!!! If by any chance you haven't heard about this book, it's the first in a new series of four books about King Arthur's daughter Rhianna Pendragon and her friends Prince Elphin, Cai and Arianrhod. There are battles, knights, dragons, and a sword or two - though you won't find yourself sliding about in gore on every page. There's also a telepathic horse called Alba, a talking merlin, and quite a bit of magic.
You could probably ask someone to read this to you as a bedtime story from about age 6, and tackle it alone aged 8 or 9. It's a bit difficult to put an upper reading age on a book that's only just come out, but you might outgrow it at around 13... unless you enjoy fantasy books and/or are an Arthurian fan, of course.
Don't be put off by its thickness. It looks like a long book, but that's because the print is spaced out to make the pages easier to read. It's only about 50,000 words.

a series for young historians who like a bit of magic...
SEVEN FABULOUS WONDERS (HarperCollins, now available as ebooks £1-99 / $2-99)
There are seven of these, each a separate story with different characters set around one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You can read them in any order. There's a bit of gore and magic, and the historical adventure plots give these titles boy appeal - but don't dismiss them if you're a girl, since some have heroines. These books are around 60,000 words each and have fairly complex plots, so probably best for readers 10 and over who can cope with the historical settings.
Best for Olympic atmosphere: THE OLYMPIC CONSPIRACY

a fantasy book with a real world connection...
SPELLFALL (Chicken House, now an ebook £1-99 / $2-99)

This is a stand-alone thriller that spans two worlds, beginning in a supermarket carpark and ending in Earthaven, a parallel world where unicorns live... yay! Since it's got unicorns in its pages, I'd recommend it for anyone aged 10 or over who likes fantasy. But it's got a real world connection, including alcohol abuse and boy gangs and a kidnapping, so it also appeals to an older readership. Going by past reviews, I don't think you'd be too old for this one at 14 or 15. It's quite a long book at nearly 80,000 words.

award-winning genre fantasy...
THE ECHORIUM SEQUENCE (Chicken House, out of print):
SONG QUEST (Catnip reissue, paperback £6-99), CRYSTAL MASK, DARK QUETZAL.
This fantasy trilogy was originally published on the same shelf as the others, but has been enjoyed by an older readership, average age 14... perhaps not surprising when you consider the original version of "Song Quest" was written for adult fantasy fans, and not too much was taken out to make it suitable for a children's publisher. They are longer books at around 70,000 words each title.

Greek edition
and something different for all generations...
I AM THE GREAT HORSE (Chicken House, out of print, ebook coming soon.)
Last, but by no means least... since I'll probably get trampled if I dare say anything bad about this book! This is the epic story of Alexander the Great told through the eyes of his warhorse Bucephalas, a big, black, bold stallion with attitude. This book is the longest of the lot at 150,000 words. It too went on the 9-11 shelf in bookshops, but the unicorn can report it has crossed over in the horse world, so some adults have read it for their own enjoyment. I think you'd start enjoying this at around age 12 if you're keen, but there isn't really an upper age limit, especially if you are interested in Alexander the Great. Boys, don't be put off by the horse on the cover! This book is of the same genre as Michael Morpurgo's "Warhorse" and should appeal to the same readership.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you would recommend reading these books in a different order... the unicorn is not always right.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A Week in Wales

If you're wondering why the unicorn has been silent all week, that's because I have a new book out. (In case you haven't heard me shouting about it online all last month, it's over there on the right.) That means I need to tell people. And the best people to tell are those readers who might enjoy it, so I've been visiting Welsh schools to meet some of them.

Wales, a favourite Arthurian location.
My tour started in Monmouth last Tuesday with a day at the lovely Haberdashers School for Girls, where I spoke to two groups of Year 7 and signed copies of "Sword of Light" in the library at lunchtime. The unicorn thought this school very impressive with its large building on the hill and cool walkway over the main road.

book signing in the library at Haberdashers School

From Monmouth we travelled to Barry (Y Barri), and after a small detour following a satnav that took us into the middle of a housing estate (Muse: never trust a satnav!) we arrived at Bro Morgannwg school, where I spoke to a large group of Year 7 in their hall and also a reporter from the local paper. I was very impressed that the children at this school have all their lessons in Welsh... though thankfully, after introducing me in Welsh, their teacher let me do my talk in English.

I stayed that night at the lovely Holm House hotel in Penarth...

view from my hotel room looking out over Cardiff bay
...which had the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. (Muse: that's 49 years of uncomfortable beds for my poor author!)

Refreshed by a good night's sleep and chocolate truffles delivered to my room on a pretty plate at bedtime, our next school was Stanwell School just around the corner in Penarth, where I spoke to two groups of Year 7 and a group of Year 12 creative writing students in their very impressive new lecture theatre.

showing the picture of Prince Elphin... can you spot his six fingers?
Since we were there all day, Stanwell School kindly provided us with lunch in the 6th form cafeteria. Following the afternoon session, I had to leave sunny Penarth and return to Monmouth, where I checked back into the less-said-the-better Riverside to prepare for my final day.

On Friday we drove to Caerleon in an atmospheric mist, where I spoke to Year 7 and Year 9 in the lovely library at Caerleon Comprehensive, and also met several of their keen readers over breaktime.

Don't panic, that's not a real sword!

To wind down on Friday afternoon I went sightseeing in Caerleon, one of the possible locations of Camelot, and found this statue of King Arthur fighting Prince Mordred in the Ffwrwm (which means forum, or meeting place, Caerleon being full of Roman remains).

Author "research" at the Battle of Camlann
 Finally, with thoughts of the M5 on a Friday afternoon awaiting me, I bought myself a publication treat, which is something I have done for all of my books so far. It has to be something that will remind me of the book forever. This time it was a picture I discovered in a Celtic giftshop, which to me perfectly sums up the mood of the Dark Ages behind my Pendragon Legacy series... in fact, that could almost be Rhianna riding her white mare Alba!

image copyright Steve Roberts
Many thanks to all the dedicated librarians and English teachers who were involved in organising my visits, and special thanks to my publisher's PR freelance Nic Wilkinson who, despite being baby-challenged, valiantly hauled around boxes of "Sword of Light" all week... fortunately, no ambulances were required!

Nic Wilkinson holding two Swords of Light.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


If you live in the UK, you still have 15 chances to win a free hardback copy of "Sword of Light", which will be posted direct to you by my publisher Templar.

Here's how you can win:

TEN copies are going... going... almost gone at Feeling Fictional. You just need to enter your email to win, but the closing date is one minute past midnight on 3rd March so you'd better find your enchanted skates!

FIVE copies are on offer in the February competition over at The History Girls. You'll need to work a bit harder for these by naming a fairy horse, but that'll be good practice for the Name the Muse competition coming very soon to give me, the unicorn, a name!

While you're over at the History Girls, you can also win a copy of Marie-Louise Jensen's new book "The Girl in the Mask" by naming a highwayman. The closing date for this competition is 7th March.

So what are you waiting for? We won't be giving away free books for ever. Sooner or later some of you will actually have to buy one, or my author's publisher will go out of business and my author will starve and not be able to finish writing the Pendragon Legacy series. Which would be a very sad thing for me, her muse, who still hasn't got a name...


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