Thursday, 19 November 2015

Eyes open into world

Every writer is familiar with the advice to ‘write what you know’. We all approach it differently. Some take it literally, basing their stories on personal experiences and nothing else; we all remember how Anne Shirley became a published author once she started writing about everyday life in her beloved Avonlea. Some completely ignore it. How many of us are international spies, really – and how much would we miss if we didn’t have books that have no bearing in the author’s reality.

But most choose an approach that has a little of both. We may not have personal experience of what it feels like to run for our lives, but we have most likely been scared and frightened, and can use the emotions to describe how a spy would feel in a life-threatening situation. Or we write about being a parent without having children ourselves, basing it on observations and emotions similar to parents’ love – or frustration.

The rest is research. How exhaustive it is and how much of it actually ends in the book, is up to each author. I’ve spent hours researching details of period dresses, only to end up describing them as ‘green muslin’ or something equally vague. I’ve read books where the author’s love for details transports me to another world like I were there – or ruin the reading experience with the excess of them.

Either way, the research part of writing can take up a lot of time, and if much of it isn’t used, it may feel like a waste of time. It seldom is.

I have another approach too. I keep my eyes open for interesting details, titbits and news. Internet is full of wonderful things and as I follow all kinds of people on social media, they come to my way without any effort on my part. Much of what I end up using in my books comes from news sources and long-reads. In The Croaking Raven, I used what I had read about human trafficking over the years; that’s what gave me the idea for the book in the first place. I ended up doing very little research for the sake of research. Everything I needed was sent my way.

The same happened with A Warrior For a Wolf. A paranormal romance isn’t the kind of book that necessary needs extensive background work, but I had learned all sorts of little details that came in handy. I’ve read many articles about building the Crossrail tunnel in central London, mostly from archaeological news that have nothing to do with my book. So when a scene happened to take place in a park that is currently closed because of the tunnel – which I also learned from a news article – I used it in my book. It’ll be old news in a couple of years, but for now, I found it an interesting detail to add. I also used tiny details of what it’s like to be a female surgeon in a British hospital that I learned by chance from an opinion piece.

Keeping my eyes open broadens my horizons, helps me to come up with writing ideas, and cuts the time I use on research. It can help you too. The world is full of people who want to share their experiences. All you have to do is to listen.

* * *

In a piece of my own news: A Warrior For a Wolf is now out. You can get it on Amazon.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

End to an experiment

A while back, I published To Catch a Billionaire Dragon, a short contemporary romance. As I blogged at the time, I wrote and published it in three parts, each with its own story arc and cliff-hangers at the ends of parts one and two. I set the first book free – on all retailers other than Amazon, which refused to make it permafree.

The first part was downloaded really well from the start. And at first, parts two and three got some attention too, although not nearly in proportion to how much the first part was downloaded. In recent month, however, even the free downloads have dwindled to one a day and almost no one buys the rest of the book.

The experiment was useful though. I’ve learned that people like to download books for free. I’ve learned that readers liked the first part, some enough to buy the rest. But I also learned that nothing enrages some readers as much as having to pay for something when they have got something else for free first – even when they really liked what they had got. I also learned that having a book permanently free doesn’t lead to great sales for the rest of the books. However, it might have worked better if Amazon had made the first part free.

Because the book in three parts doesn’t move as much as it used to, some changes are required. So I’ve published it as a complete set, all three parts together. It’s only available on Amazon for now, and the separate parts are still on sale too. I will unpublish the separate parts later, so that the readers won’t be confused by them. Currently, the book is only $0.99/£0.99, so if you like quick romantic reads, this is a chance for you. And the first part is still available on my website for free too. Take a look!

Store links: Amazon US and Amazon UK, and on all other Amazon stores too.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Learning a new skill: 3D book covers

I’ve long wanted to make 3D covers for my Two-natured London boxed sets, but I haven’t had the skill and haven’t found an automatic cover maker for them. So I finally searched for instructions on how to make them with the GIMP software, and found a number of tutorials. I checked a few of them and ended up following these instructions by Lynne Cantwell on Indies Unlimited blog.

It’s a trial and error learning a new skill, but since I’ve created all my covers with GIMP, I at least have the basic skills. But it turns out there is a lot you can do with it that I had no idea about, and a box shape is one of them.

The instructions on the blog are simple enough to follow, at least if you’ve used GIMP before. I made a couple of practise boxes until I had the basics clear, and then set out to design special covers for the boxed sets. I used the existing covers for my Two-natured London books as the basis and designed the ‘spines’ for them that make one side of the box, the side that shows how many books there are in the set. Mine has only two per set, so it wasn’t a difficult task.

The only details that required extra tweaking were a couple of horizontal stripes running through the design that wouldn’t align when I generated the box, but in the end even those came out well enough. And now I have brilliant new boxed set covers that I’m very happy with.

Having successfully followed Ms Cantwell’s instructions, I can recommend them, if you want to create your own 3D boxed set covers. I have one note regarding them though. The instructions tell to generate the box with the .xcf files, which is the GIMP format that keeps all the layers intact. However, they are huge files and it takes a great deal of processing power to generate the boxes. So instead using .xcf files, save (export) your finished images as .jpg files, open them with GIMP and use them to generate your boxes. That way you:
  1. don’t have to merge the layers before generating the boxes. When your .xcf files don’t have merged layers, it’s easier to make changes to them, if the box doesn’t come out the way you want it to. Then you can simply save the changes to a new .jpg file and try again.
  2. save a lot of time generating the box. With the .xcf files, it takes several minutes, whereas it takes about 30 seconds with the .jpg files.
Keeping this little detail in mind, you can easily make your own 3D covers with the same instructions I used too. Happy creating!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Stranger at the station – a short story

Despite my best intentions, I haven’t blogged here in ages. To remedy that, here’s a short story to entertain you.

Stranger at the station

I stalked a stranger today. At the Paddington station on my way to work this morning. It’s not a pastime I indulge in often, and never in this intensity, but he was different.

I noticed him instantly when I walked into my usual café at the station for my morning latte and took a place in the line. He was so out of place here I couldn’t help but see him. He was sitting at the far table by the low railing that marked the border of the café, reading a paper, a cup of coffee in front of him, ignoring the people around him like he was inside his own bubble.

A man waiting. With purpose.

I was instantly intrigued. Who was he? Why was he here? Who or what was he waiting for? I could barely tear my eyes off him, almost forgetting to move forward in the line. I wasn’t the only one, mind you. Everyone watched him.

He was definitely the kind of man you notice. A bespoke suit that fit his lean body like a glove, and handmade Oxfords. Mother of pearl cufflinks and silk socks. Hair cut neatly and recently by an expert. In his mid-forties, which when you’ve entered your fifth decade yourself, is just the perfect age for a man. Especially if the man wears his age with such self-confidence as he did. Not classically handsome as such, but he had an assertive face of a person accustomed to being in command.

A businessman, definitely. One with hundreds of employees and dozens of underlings ready to fulfil his every command. He would never be unreasonable with his requests and always graceful when they were met, causing his people to want to please him even more. I could see it all in my mind’s eye: a secretary blushing faintly every time he praised her, her heart picking up speed. Her nights would be filled with impossible dreams of the two of them together.

He wouldn’t even notice. The bastard.

You didn’t often see men like him at train stations. They belonged to first class lounges at airports – if they travelled commercially. He looked like he could afford his own jet.

Perhaps he was waiting for someone. He sat so calmly there, leaning his side against the backrest of his chair, long legs stretched before him, one ankle crossing the other, occasionally glancing at people walking past the café – never those inside it. He never checked his watch, a timepiece so understated in its elegance it had to be expensive. He wasn’t in a hurry to catch a train.

I was so preoccupied with him I almost missed my turn to order and then fumbled with the change. Who was he waiting for? Not a business partner, obviously. They would see him in a glass-walled office at the top of a high-rise, or in an expensive restaurant. Or in a gentlemen’s club. But not at a train station. He would never meet anyone at a train station.

Unless… He was a spy meeting a contact!

That idea appealed to me instantly. The newspaper he was reading was a sign from which the contact would recognise him. The contact would then ask for a time, and he would glance at his expensive watch and give it, only it wouldn’t be the correct time, but a code.

My name was called to get my coffee, which interrupted my musings of international espionage. I didn’t really believe he was a spy anyway. He was too noticeable to be one.

With my coffee ready, I didn’t have a reason to stay anymore, but I didn’t want to leave yet. He was still here, waiting. So I paused on my way out, daringly quite near him, and began to dig my phone out from my bag. I would pretend to have a call so people wouldn’t wonder why I was standing there.

But before I could find my mobile – the bag is insanely large, I don’t know why I keep it when I can never find anything in it – the man checked his watch and then finished his coffee in one. He was about to leave. And I still hadn’t figured out who he was waiting for.

What if it was his wife?

That idea stung. I don’t know why. He was miles beyond my league – even if I had been blessed with self-confidence that stated no man was beyond it, which I wasn’t.  Men like him didn’t go for forty-one-year-old librarians. Not the dowdy-ones anyway. He hadn’t even glanced at me and I had stood almost in front of him for a good while now.

But that’s imagination for you. I could picture him as a spy, easily, and I was perfectly willing to entertain an idea of a passionate affair with him, even though I knew there was no chance for it – but only if he was free. I couldn’t imagine a wife away.

Belatedly, I checked his ring finger and found it empty. The relief I felt was disproportional. If he had been here to meet his wife, he would surely have worn his ring.

Just then, the loudspeakers announced an arriving train. I couldn’t hear from where, but the man immediately folded his paper, got up and headed out without a glance back. I followed.

I didn’t mean to. I was already going to be late for work, having dawdled in the café, but I didn’t care. I had to see who he was meeting with.

His mother? That I could believe. He had the air of duty about him that stated he would fetch his mother from the station should she so request. But I would imagine, too, that he would feel impatient if he was forced to abandon his empire for it. Instead, he had sat there so calmly, not annoyed at all that he had to wait. So not the mother, then.

He walked towards the correct platform in such long strides I had trouble keeping up with my short legs and high heels. Was that excitement I detected in his step? Who could cause such an assured man to suddenly hurry up so as not to miss the arrival?

A mistress, of course. No, a fiancée.

My heart fell. But I couldn’t give up now. I had to see for myself.

He reached the platform and I hurried to catch up. He paused and I did too, standing so close to him I could smell his divine aftershave. I pretended to be waiting for someone too, though why I bothered, I don’t know. He didn’t glance around; he had eyes only for the train that glided to halt just then, and the first class car – naturally. He looked almost impatient now. Considering how calm he had been until then, I found this to be quite out of character.

The door to the first class car opened and a gorgeous woman in her early twenties peeked out, tall and slender with a dark red hair that reached the small of her back in luscious waves. I’d always wanted a hair like that instead of the thin strawberry blond that was fizzy no matter what I did. I was instantly consumed by envy.

The man smiled, a wondrous sight that took my breath away, and lifted his hand to catch her attention. Of course he would have a beautiful fiancée, but a woman that young? I was dismayed.

The woman spotted him and her face lit. “Dad!” she yelled, jumping down on the platform and starting towards him.


All my fantasies came crashing down with one word. Not in one of them had he been a father, let alone to a grown woman he was now hugging warmly like they hadnt seen in ages. International businessmen slash spies did not have children. I felt cheated. Then angry. I had wasted my morning on him and now I would be late and my boss would yell at me.

Well, she wouldn’t yell. She was a very nice lady. But still. With a huff, I turned around and headed to the nearest exit.

Outside the station, a Bentley with a driver. Waiting. I didn’t give it a glance.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Summer is here – and so am I

This is a post to tell that I’m still here, even if I haven’t posted anything in months. I haven’t abandoned my blog. I just haven’t had anything to blog about. I’ve started to write a post a couple of times, only to abandon it when it turned out I had nothing to say after all.

One of the reasons I haven’t written anything here is that I want to change the direction of this blog. I’ve mostly written about my journey as an author-publisher, and while I’m sure my fellow indie authors have been interested in such posts, other readers probably haven’t. But it isn’t that easy to step outside my comfort zone and write about new things. I’ll try, though most of the posts probably will be related to books in some way.

As a proof that I’ve paid attention to this blog in my absence, I’ve changed the theme – again. Actually, I did it already last month, I just didn’t tell anyone about it. This new theme is green, as was, if I recall correctly, the first theme too, when I started this blog. Or was it red...

In the meanwhile, I’ll continue writing books. I started writing the next book in the Two-Natured London series, but then I put it on hold to write something completely different. We’ll see which one I’ll finish first.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


As I wrote in my last post, I’m attempting a new way of publishing a book. New to me, anyway: serialised publishing.

I wrote a short contemporary romance, To Catch a Billionaire Dragon, in three parts rather than dividing it afterwards to equal sized books, each with its own narrative arch and cliff-hanger. I wanted each part to, if not stand entirely alone, at least offer the readers a pleasurable reading experience, no matter which part they pick up, and maybe be tempted to read the other parts too. To entice them further, the first part is free.

Or it’s supposed to be.

I published the first part a week ago on Amazon and Smashwords. The latter allows books to be priced free, so no problems there, but the former doesn’t, and the book is $/£/€ 0.99 there. However, Amazon has a policy of price matching books, so that they can offer the cheapest price. It was this I counted on – in vain.

Despite my efforts – and those of some helpful people that I enlisted on social media – Amazon hasn’t matched the price of the first book to that on Smashwords and other retailers. Which puts a serious strain on the experiment.

All isn’t lost, though. The first book is moving well on Smashwords, Nook and iBooks, and I’m hoping that the other two parts will eventually too. The last part was published today, so it’s early days yet. However, as Amazon is by far the largest ebook retailer, I’m missing out on a huge number of readers who might want to download the first part free, and – maybe – buy the other two parts as well.

I still hope that Amazon manages to match the price. But I can’t do it alone. So, this in mind, I’m asking if you could help. If you have time, could you go to this page and use thetell us about lower price’ link there to inform Amazon that the book is free here or here? Thank you in advance. I’ll let you know if it works.

Until then, I’m letting the book live its own life and concentrate on other things. Like the next Two-Natured London book that I’ve started writing. Coming up, Zach’s story. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

New book and a spring sale!

Happy spring to everyone, and happy Easter to all those who follow! I have been neglecting this blog lately after promising to blog more diligently. Maybe with increased light I'll be more active here too.

I haven’t been completely idle. I’ve written a new short romance, To Catch a Billionaire Dragon, which despite its name doesn’t have actual dragons in it. It’s a story of Laurel, a fantasy author, who after a chance meeting with Logan, a New York businessman, decides to base a character of a dragon on him. He isn’t entirely happy about it, and he most definitely doesn’t like how she seems unable to see him and her dragon apart.

I’m trying a new model of publishing with this book. I’ve written it in three short parts, each about a ten thousand words, and I will publish it in three parts too. It’ll be interesting to see how that will work.

I have a cover for it too. I’m toying with the idea of having a slightly different cover for each three parts, so that readers won’t accidentally download the same part twice. What do you think?

Here is the first chapter for you. The first part will come out next week.

The elevator cage descended slowly towards the lobby with no regard to the sentiments of its sole passenger. It had served the residents of the Upper West Side high-rise with dignity and decorum since the 1930s and it wasn’t about to start speeding now. Sixteen floors took exactly the same time to descend as it always had, despite the modern engine powering the art deco cage.
To Laurel Maynard, the ride felt eternal. She was ravenous, having lost track of time and working past a few meals—again. She wasn’t sure of the time now, but this was New York. Surely she could find something to eat at any time of day. And preferably fast. She needed to get back to her book.
The cage finally came to a halt and the brass-plated doors opened to a small lobby. As always, the golden marble floors and columns, inlaid wood decorations, and gleaming brass detailing made her blink a few times in wonder. She sure wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Or Brooklyn, as it was.
She hurried across the lobby, past the old doorman in a red uniform. She nodded at him and saw his eyebrows shoot up. She was wearing clothes, wasn’t she? That wasn’t always a given when she was distracted with writing.
She glanced down as she went through the revolving doors. She was decent, wearing her comfiest sweats, a T-shirt that had seen its best days a decade ago, and slippers with teddy bears on them. It wasn’t exactly high fashion, but she was only headed for takeout. No one cared what she looked like.
At least, no one in Brooklyn did. But as she turned the corner to Amsterdam Avenue she noticed a few puzzled looks shot her way. Ignoring them, she walked to the nearest café.
The place was packed full and she stared at the crowd in dismay. She would starve to death before she reached the counter. A glance at the large clock behind it revealed that it was the worst peak of the evening rush hour. No wonder she was hungry, she hadn’t had anything since breakfast. Maybe she should find a place that sold something more substantial than bagels and salads.
But by then the line behind her was blocking the door and pushing her forward, and she resigned to her fate. Eventually it was her turn and she got a salad, and a large bagel filled with lox too. She gritted her teeth paying for them. She might be living for free in her agent’s apartment, but she was paying a king’s ransom in food.
The moment she was back on the street she bit into the bagel and closed her eyes in bliss. Hungry or not, she would savor the first bite.
Someone bumped into her from behind and the food shot out of her mouth, only barely missing the person walking in front of her. “Hey!” But whoever it had been had already disappeared in the crowd. Annoyed, she guarded her food and hurried back to her building. She would eat the rest in the safety of four walls and a roof.
The doorman shook his head when he saw her, but she didn’t pay attention to him as she ran across the lobby. A man had just entered the elevator and the doors were already closing. “Hold it!” She could not wait for the damned contraption to ride all the way up and back down again.
It seemed the man had not heard her; the doors were almost closed. But just as she was about to grudgingly resign to her fate, a hand shot through the gap, blocking the door sensor. The doors opened again and she got in.
And came face to face with the sexiest man she had ever laid eyes on.
The scent of food filled the cage, making Logan Avery’s stomach rumble quietly. The day he’d had, it was a wonder he had managed a long enough break to eat a sandwich, despite his secretary’s best efforts to keep him properly fed. He had better eat something before he headed out to his dinner date or he would embarrass himself.
Immediately at the heels of the mouthwatering scent came another, more delicate and pure, which made an altogether different part of his body take interest. The woman it belonged to suited exactly the wood nymph mental image the scent conjured—albeit an eccentric one. He stared at her, baffled.
Average height, which meant she reached to his chest instead of his chin, slender and small-breasted. Dressed in sweats and a tee so worn his cleaning lady wouldn’t wear them to work, let alone in public, and slippers of all things. Were those teddy bears?
A mass of hazel curls was pulled into a haphazard ponytail, and on her forehead she wore not one but two pairs of glasses. And was that a pen in there too?
What on earth was she doing here?
“You know, servants use the back entrance.”
She turned to him and he realized she wasn’t fully aware he was there. Her gaze focused on him only slowly, and the reaction wasn’t the usual interested flash of eyes followed by a slow, inviting smile he would then answer with his own. He wasn’t used to being ignored by women and didn’t know whether to feel amused or miffed.
“I said, the servants use the back entrance.”
“Do they?” She blinked, as if trying to figure out the reason for the remark. “Fascinating.” And she actually sounded like she did find it fascinating.
Logan suppressed an exasperated smile and soldiered on. “Are you delivering food?”
She glanced at the paper bag she was carrying and smiled, delighted, as if she had forgotten all about it. She had a beautiful smile, the kind that lit her whole face and eyes too. It mesmerized him. Too many women in his acquaintance only pretended to smile, their eyes as cold as their hearts.
Her eyes were light blue, with a hint of hazel in the middle. Her brows were slightly arching and darker than her hair. Her nose was straight and lightly dusted with freckles. And her mouth…
He swallowed as he watched her bite into the bagel she had fished out of her bag. The look of bliss on her face was as unaffected as everything else about her. She savored the bite before swallowing it. Then she licked her lips—and his erection shot to life.
The sensation was staggering with its suddenness. He leaned against the wall of the cage to gain his balance. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, trying to gain control of his body. But it didn’t help. All he saw in his mind’s eye was her pink tongue sliding around her sensuous lips. He had to get out of here before he did something stupid.
Just then, the lights flickered and the cage came to an abrupt halt, pushing them both out of balance. Alarmed, they glanced at each other, and for once the woman was fully focused on him.
“Please tell me we’re not stuck.”

I hope you liked the sample.

And I believe I mentioned a book sale. It’s actually a free book! The Croaking Raven, my suspense/crime novel is free on Amazon until April 5th 2015. You can find it on Amazon US, UK and all the other Amazon marketplaces. If you like the genre, give it a try.

Monday, 2 February 2015

New year, new ventures: e-book formatting and pre-made covers

I’ve been neglecting my blog recently. First I was busy getting The Croaking Raven out, and then I didn’t have anything worthwhile to write about, it seemed. Here’s to mending my ways.

An erratic blogging schedule seems to have been the theme of the entire 2014 with me. I wrote twelve posts less than the year before, although to compensate that, I wrote a second blog too – which I ended up neglecting even worse than this one. Maybe I’ll pick up with that later.

I published two books last year, Her Warrior for Eternity and It Happened on a Lie, and wrote a third, The Croaking Raven, that I published the first thing this year. So all in all, a fairly good year. Income-wise, however, the year was worse than the previous. I try not to blame the Kindle Unlimited, but it’s difficult.

To counter the declining sales on Amazon, I finally put those of my books not on KU on sale through Smashwords – the first new venture of this new year. It took a few trials and errors, but now that I know how it’s done, I’m ready to share my skills with others.

Which brings me to the second new venture:

Starting from this day, I’m offering e-book formatting services. I’m sure not everyone wants to tackle with all the annoying details and differences that go into formatting files so that they convert to e-books the best possible way. I’m here to help. You can check my services here.

I’m also selling pre-made book covers. I love to create book covers and I have more ideas than I have use for myself – often in genres I don’t write myself. You might have a need for exactly the kinds of covers I have ready. Take a look at my selection here. And here’s a little taste of what you can find there:

Pre-made book covers
So that’s how I’ve started my year. On top of this all, I’ve begun to write the next Two-Natured London novel to be published this spring. I’ll keep you posted. Until next time – a little belatedly – happy new year!