Category Archives: The Arcadian Chronicles

Authoring Annals 4 – Tweaking the Outline – Mantivore Warrior – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles #AuthoringAnnals #Brainfluffwritingblog #MantivoreWarrior #AmWriting

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I’m on the final lap of editing Mantivore Prey, the second book in The Arcadian Chronicles, which will be released on 30th November, barring any major catastrophes. This is the cover for Mantivore Prey, which as ever was designed by the marvellous Mhairi Simpson and I’m really pleased with it.

I made a strong start on Mantivore Warrior while in Bexhill on a wonderful writing retreat with my sister-in-law last month, but once I hit Chapter Three, it all slowed down a bit. Chapter Three provides the first major plotpoint which changes everything up. I’ve flung everything, including the kitchen sink into this pivotal scene, which is ambitious as there hasn’t been all that much time for readers to bond or care about the characters. Initially, I had one of the antagonists killing a relation in the outline, which worked well enough. But when I actually came to write the scene, it turned into something a lot more visceral and violent – and I began to feel uncomfortable about writing the death. Granted, we hadn’t known the character all that well beforehand, so there wasn’t going to be a major shock to the reader. But it seemed a rather bleak beginning to have a character that the protagonist really cares about felled at a time when he’s hoping to turn everything around. What had seemed reasonable in the outline, suddenly was far more of a big deal, given the emotional heft I’d added in the writing of it.

I’ve tweaked events, so said elderly relative is now in a coma and fighting for her life. I’m leaning towards sparing her life, as things stand. But I do reserve the right to have her die after all, if I think it will better serve the story. I’ve rewritten the outline so that both outcomes can serve the story, though it will affect the overall tone if young Jessob is mourning the loss of this character and vowing vengeance. It was what I’d originally intended.

But once I finished Chapter Three, that plotline felt less effective than the alternative, where he’s fighting to help her recover. So I’m looking forward to getting further along so that I can discover which plotline will be the one that prevails…

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MANTIVORE DREAMS Cover Reveal and available ARCS #MantivoreDreams #GriffinwingPublishingbooks

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I am delighted to announce that I am about to release the first book in a new series, Mantivore Dreams. The Arcadian Chronicles follows the fortunes of a forgotten human colony and what happens to the aliens already living there.

Again, the cover has been designed by my awesome buddy Mhairi Simpson and I think she’s done a fabulous job. While continuing the branded look she has created for me, this design also gives a clear idea of the story with Vrox’s mantivore eyes lurking behind young Kyrillia.

I am also offering review copies for anyone who would like to read and review this book – there are currently 15 arcs available and here is the link where you can download a copy:
https://booksprout.co/arc/19092/mantivore-dreams

As I am offering it through Booksprout, there is a final date by which the review has to be posted, which is 10th September on Amazon – it doesn’t have to be more than a few lines.

I know many of my readers have fallen in love with Lizzy, so I am hoping that some of you will also find a place in your heart for Kyrillia and grumpy old Vrox, who I personally care about far too much. I’ve included the blurb and the opening scene to give you some idea of whether this one will tick your box…

BLURB: Seventeen-year-old Kyrillia Brarian has an imaginary friend, a kindly mantivore called Vrox. She can’t recall a time when he wasn’t there. And over the years, Vrox has been her main source of comfort and strength as she drudged for her mother and nursed her brain-damaged uncle, so she’s never given much thought as to how he got there. Of course, he can’t be real. But when only three or four other people in her dusty village even smile at her, Kyrillia isn’t about to turn her back on the happy, warm images crowding her mind.

Until a family quarrel spirals into something darker – and Kyrillia is forced to wonder if Vrox is imaginary, or even friendly…

CHAPTER ONE

I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“You braced?”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.
Onice stood up. “Got to get back. Just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
She’s worried I might follow that poor girl into the river. So she dropped all her chores and came after me. I let go of the reed and hugged her. Hard. “Thanks for coming.” I struggled for a solid way to show my gratitude. “If you’re working late, I’ll come by and lend a hand.”
She shook her head, laughing. “Well if I’m working late, you’ll be slogging even later, you crip-wit!”
“S’pose so.” I shakily joined in the laughter, before she left to face certain punishment from her parents, who didn’t like me.

Shoot for the Moon 2018 Challenge – How Did I Do? #Brainfluffblog #AuthorAnnals4

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This is now an annual event – in the dying days of the year, my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson and I sit down together and set ourselves targets for the coming year. The theory is that in aiming for the insanely unrealistic, we’ll achieve more than if we were more cautious in our goalsetting – did this work for me during 2018?
• Rewrite Miranda’s Tempest and submit it to the agent who expressed an interest in it
Well, I did the rewrite, submitted the manuscript to an editor in June and got the feedback. By then, I was in the throes of rewriting The Arcadian Chronicles, which I thought wouldn’t take all that long. However, it has. It is still doing so. Which means that Miranda’s Tempest is still waiting to be sorted out. I am hoping to get to it during the summer, However, during the long break from it, I have had a major epiphany regarding the beginning. A – duh! moment where I can’t believe I didn’t take this approach before. It should improve the pacing, make the reader immediately aware of what’s at stake and start the story with a bang.

• Organise new covers for Running Out of Space and Dying for Space
It helps when your best writing buddy also happens to be an awesome cover designer – I was so grateful when Mhairi agreed to help me out and the general response has been nothing but positive since I released the books with the new covers.

• Rewrite, edit and publish Breathing Space
Yes – this was all achieved, so that Breathing Space now completes The Sunblinded Trilogy, after being published on 18th July. I have also set up the story so that Lizzy is poised to start a new chapter in her life, once I start writing the crime series featuring her next series of adventures.

• Rewrite, edit and publish Mantivore Preys and Mantivore Freed
This is another casualty of my poor writing performance during the latter end of the year. I’m now nearly halfway through Mantivore Preys, which I more or less started on schedule – and then started wading through glue as the story graunched from one dead-end to another. At last my writing is gathering momentum again, so I’m hoping to complete the book by the end of February. With luck and a following wind, I’ll also have the first draft of Mantivore Freed finished by the end of the summer. Fingers crossed… I have the covers ready for these books and am really looking forward to getting them completed and published.

• Release paperback editions for Running Out of Space, Dying for Space and Breathing Space
I have released Running Out of Space as a paperback and had hoped to have Dying for Space done before the end of the year. However, it didn’t happen – again due to my illness. Hopefully, I’ll have Dying for Space and Breathing Space both available in paperback format by the end of February.

• Write the first draft of Bloodless
No, I didn’t get close. My health became a real issue from the time I returned from my lovely writing retreat. Even before then, I wasn’t happy with the quality of my writing which had lost its bounce and energy. It turns out I was the one without any bounce and only now, since my diagnosis of hypertension, am I starting to feel like my old self as the medication is starting to take effect.

• Learn to market my books
Himself and I attended a marketing conference at the early part of the year and came away a tad overwhelmed, but enthusiastic. With Mhairi’s help, I plunged into the rarefied world of Amazon ads and felt quite pleased with my progress for a few months – before the algorithm abruptly changed and nothing was working any more. It takes a lot of time and energy I simply don’t have to keep on top of these developments, so I’ve decided to put the Marketing aspect on the back-burner until I have more books available to make it more economically viable.

• Read and review at least 100 books on my blog
I read 162 books during the year and published 124 reviews on the blog, although I have a few more written that will now have to wait until the coming year to see the light of day. I always love blogging and discussing books, but during the year I had to cut back from posting daily to about four times a week once my energy diminished as I became unwell. I’m not rushing to resume my daily posts, as I think one of my issues has been overwork.

• Continue teaching Creative Writing at Northbrook
Since Northbrook merged with Brighton Metropolitan, the Adult and Community Learning Department has had a new lease of life and during 2018, I was delighted to be able to run an extra session every week. The start of the new academic year in September saw my 10th anniversary teaching Creative Writing, which I still can’t quite believe.

• Continue teaching Tim
I will be continuing to teach Tim for the rest of the year, while he also attends college three days a week and still needs ongoing support. I cannot quite believe how far he’s come – it’s marvellous to see how well he is coping in a course for neuro-typical students, as he’s busy making new friends and extending his musical skills.

• Continue getting fitter
This was an epic fail. I was enjoying my Pilates and Fitstep classes, but as the year wore on I found it increasingly difficult to keep my attendance regular and finally, regretfully, I gave up first the Fitstep class and then the Pilates class as my energy drained away. I am hoping to resume my Pilates classes next week. Wish me luck!

As you can see, it’s been a mixed year. Overall, I’m reasonably happy with the results, given how my illness impacted my productivity and I’m hoping to put in place some lifestyle changes to help me stay healthy during the coming year. I have already set my targets for my Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2019 – I will be sharing them on the blog at the end of January. In the meantime, have a peaceful, healthy year, everyone – hopefully with lots of wonderful books to get lost in. Thank you all for your kind comments, likes and visits – even during the dark times when I couldn’t summon up the energy to post, I always found the kindness and good will evident within our blogging community a continual source of encouragement.

#Authoring Annals – Writing in Heaven and Plunging into Uncertainty Hell… #BrainfluffblogAuthoringAnnals-1 #SJHigbeeWritinginHeaven

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I’m conscious that over the last year, I’ve been writing a lot of reviews and not much else other than my weekly roundups. As you’ll see from the subtitle of the blog, the original intention was to provide more variety – and as I am not only a keen reader and reviewer, but also a writer of science fiction and fantasy as well as a Creative Writing tutor at Brighton Metropolitan College, I think it’s high time I wrote a bit more about my other activities.

At the end of last month, my sister-in-law booked a seaside flat as a writing getaway and invited me to join her, as there was a spare bedroom. I’d never been to Bexhill-on-Sea before, despite it being not all that far along the coast. I joined her on Bank Holiday Monday, expecting the town to be heaving with holidaymakers keen to catch the last of the glorious summer by the sea. However, it wasn’t all that busy. While there were certainly tourists around, overall this town had a peaceful serenity that seemed more in keeping with the early half of the last century, to the extent that the two of us felt perfectly safe wandering around the streets on our own late at night.

As for the flat, it was fabulous. The highlight was the room we ended up writing in – a hexagonal room with views on every wall, so that as we wrote, we had panoramic views of the sea. It was magical – it’s always been on my bucket list to write in a room overlooking the sea. And here I was! I managed to get 16,000 words written on the second book of my trilogy featuring my telepathic alien, Vrox. I rewrote and edited the first book, Mantivore Dreams, earlier in the year and was delighted at how smoothly it went.

When I started the second book, Mantivore Prey, I was confident that it, too, would give me no trouble. I was wrong… I love my main character, Felina Keeper. She is in charge of keeping the village’s produce safe from hungry pests, thieving individuals and selling on anything left over from the quota set by The Council for much-needed cash. The village is perched on the edge of The Arids, where rainfall is scarce and the heat of the two suns is fierce. Trouble is, Felina, who is loud, bossy and very overbearing has marched in and taken over the novel. The plotting and pacing have been stomped flat under those hobnailed sandals of hers and I need to nip in quick when she isn’t looking and wrest control back.

Kyrillia, who is the main protagonist in the first book, needs to get a look in, I think. So, I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start this one again… I’d love to be one of those indie authors who can happily write two books plus a year, but right now it seems a distant dream. I’m hoping that I can use some of those words I wrote while staying at Bexhill – it was such a happy, creative time. But if not, then I’ll chalk this one up to experience. Favourite characters need to kept on a very short leash!