RIGHT, I’ve just completed my read-through of Shun House, tweaked and adjusted until it seems about right to me, but now I really need some independent comment from insightful readers. Could that be you? Here’s the blurb and a synopsis to help you decide.
Benediction House: set high on a promontory, dominating an estate that stretched from the highland border in the north, and south to where a languid river dribbled into the sea. An edifice in Gothic stone; an old, grim building with wings and towers, built with the rewards of a King’s service by a rich and devout nobleman.
Plague swept the land. The nobleman succumbed, his surviving family was displaced, and his demesne fell into disrepair, languishing for years until acquired by a secretive visitor from a distant land who restored the buildings and returned order to the estate. Others of his kin joined him from the Iron Gate region of the Carpathian Mountains. Vaskapu, they called themselves, a name that came to haunt the north lands down the centuries that followed.
Anxious tales found root in the fens and the rugged coast that touched the Vaskapu estates, dark stories whispered on cold nights by a frightened and superstitious population. Benediction House became Shun House, a home to secrets, a place of death, an abode of monsters. And from this domicile the family Vaskapu exercised lordship over the lives of all the little people who cowered in their hovels beneath the brooding gaze of Shun House…
Shun House is a romance of sorts. It is the tale of Marquis Raphael Vaskapu: last of an ancient and warped dynasty, searching for a way to ensure the future of his bloodline; and Joseph Harrow: butler, valet, factotum to the family, and a monster in his own right.
The Vaskapu dynasty is a half-breed race whose blood is said to be mixed with that of dragons from mythic prehistory. The local populace fears the them, believing they hunt and prey on the people of the region.
The time period is a very loose amalgam of (mainly) 17th and 18th centuries. Geographically, the setting is a fictionalised north of England. Shun House – bastardised from Benediction House, the property’s original name – is an edifice in stone, a mansion built on top of cliffs overlooking the fishing village of Hook.
Much of the story is told from Harrow’s perspective. He is a complicated man, intensely loyal to the Vaskapu but plagued by a vengeful conscience – which manifests in the ‘haunt’. Harrow is a fatalist, believing himself destined – owing to his predilection for cruel and perverse gratification – for an eternity of torment.
Marquis Rafael receives a communiqué from an Iberian count introducing Rafael to Contessa Adelina Cantabria. The marquis sends for her in the hope they might wed, and so secure the family line. The contessa arrives by ship at the start of the year. She is 18 years old, beautiful, haughty and petulant. She is accompanied by her guardian, Señorita Constanza, who has cared for Adelina since birth. Constanza is tall and aristocratic – although she has no blood relationship with Adelina – and classically beautiful.
In due course the Adelina and Rafael fall in love and marry. Meantime, Constanza falls equally in love with Harrow. He, however, is more reticent with his affections, but eventually he falls under her spell – or is he, in truth, merely using her to escape the torment of his guilt?
Shun House lies within the duchy of Umberland. The present duke, Percival, is in debt to the Vaskapu, a burden he wants desperately to be rid of. The duke sends for aid from a clan living on the continent (think Romania) who have a reputation for confronting and defeating ‘monsters’ like the Vaskapu.
The clan, family name Kárpáti, arrive and assail the marquis’s home. Harrow is charged with the safety of Adelina, and guides her, together with Constanza and others away from Shun House. They journey to the castle of Duke Umberland where Adelina – now pregnant – not only receives the attentions of the duke, who proposes marriage to her, but is also brought face-to-fact with the Kárpáti. Adelina will have none of this, and determines to exact retribution from both the duke and the Kárpáti. In the end… well, you must read that for yourself.
Shun House is a strong story that some will not find easy to read. It deals with death and cruelty, though I hope I’ve dealt with these topics sensitively. The key characters are well rounded – but I can’t help wondering with which, if any, the reader will fully empathise. All the protagonists have feet of clay.
The book is sprinkled with Spanish/Romanian/Hungarian words and phrases but these are languages I do not speak, and so would appreciate any expert views.
SO, Are you interested? If you are then I will send you an electronic copy (Word or Word PDF) to review. What I’d appreciate back is your honest, constructive opinion, which I will use to hone the story. When the book is published (CreateSpace/Amazon) I will give you full credit in the book for your contribution (or you can remain anonymous if you wish), plus a copy of the finished book.
Let me know.
Best Wishes to All,
The latest in the Human Legion series, written (joint effort) by my good chums Tim Taylor and Ian Whates, is out on sale (available in all good South American rivers). If you haven’t already started reading this series of SF books, you’re missing the boat! Great space opera adventure in the best of traditions.
ALSO, don’t miss out on this wonderful SF by Ian Whates (solo effort), super writing by a master of the craft, absolutely recommended.
And if you have kids aged 11, give or take a couple of years, don’t forget
Good old-fashioned Fantasy-Adventure. Best wishes to all. :)
Unless Penguin/Random House (or equivalent) decide that my work is worthy of their commitment (which I suspect is entirely unlikely unless I am suddenly transported to a parallel dimension where birds swim and fish fly) then I whole-heartedly concur with Tim’s thrust, which is that the indie publishing business would be hammered in the event that the Big 5 one more became dominant!
There’s been a big fuss in the small world of publishing news recently because a letter has been written by somebody called Douglas Preston, and signed by some very important people who wish to return the publishing industry to the good old days when it was largely controlled by six big corporations (or maybe five now that Penguin and Random House have merged). It’s a big deal for me because this letter represents a direct threat to my livelihood. The text is long and boring and with lots of details that won’t make sense to publishing outsiders (or insiders for that matter). So I’ve taken the liberty of cutting out 99% of the words and rewriting it in metaphor. The essence of this very important letter remains unchanged. Indeed, I think it shines with more clarity in my version than in the original.
Dear Department of Justice,
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Interesting article in the Guardian. (Now don’t all start going on about their historically atrocious record on spollings! They’re a lot better now.)
Anyway, here’s the opening paras with a link to the full article at the bottom.
The novelist Kamila Shamsie measures out her life as an author in chapters, punctuated by a familiar ritual.
“Usually at the end of writing every chapter I’ll print out and read aloud,” she says. It’s something she’s been doing since university, she continues, citing the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, who told her “there are things the ears pick up which the eyes don’t”. As she sits on the lookout for repeated words, unexpected clunks or unwanted dissonances, it “feels like listening”.
“I don’t know how to say that any better. It’s about the sound of the sentences.” After years of “developing your ear for the sounds of language” she doesn’t have to think about “why a particular clump of syllables sounds wrong to my ear. I just know that it does.”
I heard on the radio today that there’s a move a-foot for authors to be paid by the number of pages that readers actually read, rather than by the book – I didn’t catch the whole article but I suspect a certain South American river may be the source of the story.
It’s certainly an interesting idea. In theory it would root out all those writers who (and I’m prepared for someone to say I ought to be included in this) really and truly shouldn’t be writing in the first place. I’m sure we’ve all picked up books that have a great cover, an intriguing title, excellent blurb on the back and so forth, but when we actually turn the pages (physical or electronic) and begin to absorb the content we find that the quality of the writing leaves something to be desired. Even ignoring the punctuation and spelling and just looking at the execution, we suddenly come face to face with paragraphs a bit like this:
The king had a princess he was going to mary off to the first guy who could rid his kingdom of the deadly menace that had been stalking his kingdom for many years in the form of a hideous monster. He made a proclamateon that anyone that could kill the beast would get his daughters hand in marriage as a reward for killing the beast.
“Let it be known that I will give my daughters hand in marrage as a reward for killing the monster that has been molesting my kingdom for many years.”
Hmm. No, I won’t reveal the book or writer because that would be poor sport, but the above exemplifies the quality of all too many works currently being offered to the public and marketed (okay, self-marketed in this case) as being ‘a great read’. (Alright, maybe there aren’t too many quite as dire as the above, but a fair few get awfully close!)
So maybe being paid for what the reader reads isn’t a bad idea. But there may be a problem.
Following that particular marketing strategy would, I think, result in a plethora of short stories and potentially hammer a nail into the coffin of full-length novels. It could become more economical for a writer to focus on tales of a score of pages rather than invest their time in producing anything more substantial. (If that’s where the money is, you can’t blame the author; they need to eat too, you know.)
That’s not to say established writers, the ones with great agents and funded by wealthy publishing houses (yes, admitting to a smidgeon of jealousy there!) wouldn’t still write epic tomes of adventure and daring-do. I’m sure they will. But for newbies it will mean there is less incentive to write ‘big’.
Writing a long piece is a great way to hone your burgeoning skills as an author. A single plot line doesn’t always suffice for a full-sized book so you will need to master the art of keeping track of multiple plots and sub-plots. You will have to learn how to develop your characters in a way that makes the reader (hopefully) empathise with (if not necessarily like) them. You have to come to grips with pace and tempo, as well as expanding your vocabulary so your reader doesn’t get fed up seeing the same word repeated over and over. And learn grammar rules so you avoid the sin of starting sentences with ‘And’!
And(!) what of the future? Will we become so accustomed to being spoon-fed with short-bursts of instant storylines that we lose the ability to concentrate on anything longer than a few pages? Where will the next Tom Clancy come from? The next Jane Austen? Terry Pratchett? (Hugely missed.)
So what I’m saying is, don’t forsake the big book in favour of the little book (and I confess to having written several shorts myself.) By all means read short stories, especially those written by newcomers, but also browse the catalogues and pick up the next Dune, the next Lord of the Rings, the next Dracula. If you don’t, our literary world might easily become a far less diverse and interesting place to be.
I thought you might all like to know that The Scrapdragon (the full novel) will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD from Kindle for 5 days beginning Monday 1st June. Enjoy!
The Scrapdragon, my first childrens/young persons fantasy-adventure book, previously only available on Kindle in 4 parts, is finally available as a complete novel, both in paperback form and as an eBook! Both the paperback and the e-book are now available through Amazon.co.UK and Amazon.com, and the paperback should soon start appearing in other on-line stores – let me know if you spot it anywhere!
Here’s an extract from the back cover:
On his 12th birthday, Tom Burrow (Tom-Tom to his friends) visited a fairground with his two best friends, Tinker and Tariq. Unfortunately, they were spotted by some bullies from their school and had to run for it! A November mist aided their escape and they found themselves at a shooting gallery, where Tom-Tom spotted a prize on a shelf and made his mind up he was going to win it. He paid his money to the man behind the counter, picked up the air riffle and…
In addition to the story itself, the novel also features a map and a spell-book: The Beginners Book of 30 Best Spells and Potions. Remember to use those spells responsibly!