A is for Alphabet, Author, and Alpaca.

The alpaca is a glamorous member of the camel family and anything with a triple A in it has to be good at something. And I happened to meet a fellow author within days of coming across the alpaca, but I’ll start with the alphabet.

I’ve been in a shady place with all 26 letters for a good while. It all stems from that nonsense called Publishing One’s Book and entrusting it to an actual publisher. Well, that didn’t work, did it? Neither did the two name-worthy agents back in the old traditional days. Both agents said those immortal words: I’d love to represent you.

And the publisher said those other immortal words: I want to publish you.

11256845_1010782965672680_7187820645503081881_oIt’s been a week of lows for a few of my author pals too. The reasons are all valid and as writers we’ve all been there at some point. Sometimes a random, scathing comment can be the straw that broke the alpaca’s back. Unjust reviews, reviews of the editing or formatting of the book rather than the story, editors who’ve charged a lot of money and not completed the job, paying out for marketing and not selling a single copy, people who expect books for free… no sales. It’s a tough industry and sometimes those who should be supporting independent authors, let them down in ways we find hard to swallow on a permanent basis.

Someone told me that the only technically perfect book she’d ever read was edited and proofread by someone who charged £2,000 for the job. When royalties come in at 35p per 99p Kindle book and maybe a quid for a paperback which has cost several hundreds of pounds to produce to a readable standard, then I think we can all work out an appropriate response to that! 

thought-catalog-214785-unsplashThis is not misguided moaning, an excuse for sloppy work or a mass wringing of hands. It may be more serious: I may have reached a stage of indifference. I started this venture for fun. Now, I’m unsure if I want to write novels anymore, and not only because sales and visibility are phenomenally difficult – with or without a publisher – but because funding the process is exhaustive, and not just in monetary terms, but emotionally and mentally too. Maybe – and this is the killer of all things creative – I’m just plain bored with it all?

I used to write for pleasure. Is it right to write for pain? Not for me. I publish myself through choice and this is perhaps the epitome of freedom for an author or any artist, but it’s a double-edged sword because I now know that none of the routes are golden. So many authors still presume the interest of an agent or a publisher is the mark of excellence or the end goal. It may work out for some, but there is still a hard line of prejudice in the commercial world as to what will sell or what is currently trending. The sad part about this is that the quality of writing seems to be the least important ingredient.

I write complex, multi-layered character family-drama. I write my stories because they are the kind of books I like to read myself. There’s a piece of me in each and every one, and I think this is what makes the process so enjoyable. 

DSC_0005I guess I’ve hit rock bottom a few times over the previous six years and I managed it again in spectacular form a few days ago when I managed to propel myself down a full flight of iron steps. The close proximity of the Llangollen canal and the fear of breaking bones was especially unpleasant. My backpack, stuffed with miscellaneous rubbish, saved me from serious injury. Apparently, I’m not the first person to pitch down those steps and I guess as a metaphor we’re on the right track here because I did manage to walk away mostly unscathed, apart from a large bruising around the saddle area. I hobbled on, fortified by the lure of meeting Shani Struthers in a wine bar…

Sometimes, when the chips are down a curveball comes rushing in and we have to listen to what the universe is trying to say to us as individuals. There was something whispering in my ear that day. Could something as simple as removing the pressure to perform, bring its own reward? I used to really, really love writing. This was before I began the process of commercial publishing, sales, marketing and all that jazz that seems to be expected of us. If we remove these stumbling blocks is it enough to engage with a smattering of genuine readers who deeply connect to your material? If you can honestly answer yes, then I think I can promise amazing results and instant satisfaction by writing exactly what you want to write whilst spending the majority of your money on food and drink!

Alphabetti Spaghetti might be the answer… Bottoms up!

My Musical Muse

Music and books; possibly the best combination for legitimate daydreaming…

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Loosely speaking I’m in the ‘romantic genre’. I always balk at this description, it is so restricting and has been my downfall in the past when submitting to agents and so on. ‘It’s… not quite romance is it? And why are you writing it from the male point of view half the time?’ Well, like my musical muse, I like to mix it up a little. From the emotional scenes, from the windswept Celtic landscapes (Enigma, Clannad, Craig Armstrong, Brightman); to the drama of arson, relationship conflict and fast cars, (Morrissey, Kings of Leon).

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 I think I began using headphones as a buffer to block out those bloodcurdling screams of children playing nicely, or of husband making a noisy clatter in the kitchen (all devised to make me feel guilty for sitting at the typewriter). Of course, as this process developed, I began to get choosy as to the exact soundtrack. When I began to write Wild Water I used Roxy Music as a shameless buffer to domestic chaos. Don’t laugh, this was twenty-five years ago and it was the only cassette that worked in the machine. I’d like to make a point here that Bryan Ferry has nothing to do with my fiction, and in no way has he influenced the story but his crooning voice and the sheer volume was a combination which worked for me at the time, and in fact led to a whole new area of inspiration.

Now of course, I am so much more sophisticated, with my tiny earpieces and my subscription to Spotify.

I can drift into a trance merely by selecting the required track and outside noise does not penetrate my concentration. I am distracted instead now by the internet. I received an email once from my husband, who was apparently, standing on the doorstep holding his finger on the doorbell and clearly very cross indeed as he had forgotten his keys, and was I DEAF?

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I find music a rich source of inspiration. I can listen to the same track and get back into a scene, almost like hypnosis. If I had to pick one single artist it would have to be Enigma. My story settings are Celtic, not that I write in a historical genre but all my settings are rooted in Snowdonia – someone once described my backgrounds as separate characters in their own right – and I find Enigma dovetails very nicely into this concept with their spiritual chanting and long instrumental pieces which, although described as ‘new-age’, crosses frequently into other genres, much like my writing!

I live in the perfect landscape for love. The endless complications of relationships form the basis of my stories and I think the challenge as a writer is to bring a fresh perspective to what can only be described as the well-worked themes of romance; although I do like to throw in the odd spot of domestic violence and arson, so maybe not your average visit to North Wales. 

Are lyrics distracting? I tend to prefer instrumental pieces but then Sarah Brightman’s Gothic album ‘Symphony’ has been a rich source of visualisation for me too; dramatic and haunting, her vocals are awe inspiring. Midnight Sky was very influenced by this album. The dark track ‘Sanvean’ fitted the bereaved mood of the main male protagonist perfectly. I think I listened to it more than 200 times, and I still get goosebumps from the intro.

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Her mix doesn’t suit all scenarios though, and if I’m writing from a male viewpoint I am frequently drawn to The Kings of Leon – who isn’t? A rock buzz can be very helpful for fight scenes or maybe driving fast cars in an agitated state. The problem with this one is that frequently, it is me who is driving a not-very-fast-car, in an agitated state. Playing my ‘writing music’ in the car brings heaps of trouble; as soon as I step away from the keyboard and drive begrudgingly to the supermarket, I am besieged with ideas and snippets of astounding dialogue, all of which I try to remember or scribble down on the shopping list as I browse the shelves and yes, I usually end up scowling at the top ten paperbacks in there too.

My work in progress is about a fifty year old clown of a man with a fixation for Morrissey. In the book, his fixation adds to the downfall of his marriage.

…For less than a minute she’d glared at his carefully guarded face, then suddenly made a lunge for his old guitar and slung it through the open bedroom window. Some of his Morrissey records followed, shimmering like black Frisbees down the garden. 

That was the last straw, and she knew it. 

  My husband loathes Morrissey too… 

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Originally posted on The Roz Morris Undercover Soundtrack http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/tag/jan-ruth

Centaur Romance: 50 Shades of Dappled Grey?

Lake Crafnant, White Horizon and the latest trends in romantic fiction.

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When does a romance become something else? When I first started writing and submitting manuscripts in the traditional way, it was either a romance or it wasn’t. The definitions were very clear, but incredibly restrictive. Although I think it’s a huge step forward to have the freedom of being a cross-genre writer, I must admit I am sometimes baffled by the many sub-divisions in the romance slot and it seems they are constantly evolving. Just for fun, I had a look at the top five most er… unusual genres in romance.

 At number five then, Amish Romance. This one speaks for itself, but who, other than the Amish community, would read them? Number four was interesting, Nascar Romance. This is where the hero is a driver and all the action is car related, nothing too odd about that, but number three had me cringing… The Personification of Death. As the title may suggest, these novels feature a romantic interlude with the Grim Reaper.

Number two was plain old Romantic Suspense, but number one on the list… Centaur Romance! Okay I like horses, but really? The piece said it was nothing to do with My Little Pony, but you’ll love it if you are a horse lover and like sex with hairy men

centaur_by_amnakin-d8febcuMaybe my work is more conventional than I thought! But I did get to wondering if White Horizon could allude to any of these trends.   Now, the Nascar thing I can understand a little, since my male character did the first thing that any working class hero coming into a lot of money might do – buy a fast car; and the Romantic Suspense speaks for itself and is extremely relevant to White Horizon. The Grim Reaper does indeed show himself to one of the characters but you may or may not be relieved to learn there is no sex scene. No, I’m sticking with dramatic romance. Or is it romantic drama?

The location re White Horizon is certainly both romantic, and dramatic. Crafnant, is far more accessible than it looks in the pictures. I say accessible, but to be fair the single track road is not built for the modern car, and if someone needs to pass, don’t look down. Llyn Crafnant is a ¾ mile-long lake (well, reservoir actually) that lies in a beautiful valley where the northern edge of Gwydyr Forest meets the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains and, more specifically, the ridge of Cefn Cyfarwydd. The head of the lake offers what could be regarded as one of the finest views, across the lake to the mountains above, in North Wales. Crafnant takes its name from “craf”, an old Welsh word for garlic, and “nant”, a stream or valley. Even today the valley of Afon Crafnant smells of wild garlic when it flowers.

It’s a popular location for a Sunday stroll, a family walk on mostly level paths and the whole circuit only takes 40-60 minutes depending on your pace. There’s a tea shop selling Welsh ice cream on the left bank and in bad weather the mountain ponies come down to graze, often with young at foot. On one such amble, I said to husband, wouldn’t this make a great location for a hotel? Maybe with a huge decked area jutting over the head of the lake. What a wonderful vista to have a restaurant overlooking the water, imagine the sunsets! Oh, the romance of it all.

‘Why don’t you use it for a book location? Then you can build a hotel in your head,’ he said. Our imagination ran riot, well, mostly mine, although we soon became bored with just the hotel and began to spice it up, adding a character hell-bent on destruction, manslaughter, domestic violence and eventually, running out of sensible plans, we set it all on fire! What a story… we turned a pleasant picnic area into a scene of death and devastation! (I’ll have to keep my eye on that idea of his though, the one about building things in my imagination. I can see how it might become used and abused beyond its original motive)

And I haven’t forgotten the sexy centaur. Is it relevant to White Horizon? Well, yes, he gallops in somewhere towards the end… Oh, and I kept the fire, the manslaughter and the domestic violence. But it is romantic as well, trust me.


WHITE HORIZON by Jan Ruth

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A dramatic story of forgiveness, family and friendship; set in the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia. 

Three couples in crisis, multiple friendships under pressure. On-off-on lovers Daniel and Tina return to their childhood town near Snowdonia. After twenty-five years together, they marry in typically chaotic fashion, witnessed by old friends, Victoria and Linda who become entangled in the drama, their own lives changing beyond recognition. However, as all their marriages begin to splinter, and damaged Victoria begins an affair with Daniel, the secret illness that Tina has been hiding emerges. Victoria’s crazed and violent ex-husband attempts to kill Daniel and nearly succeeds, in a fire that devastates the community. On the eve of their first wedding anniversary, Tina returns to face her husband, but is it to say goodbye forever, or to stay?

awoman’swisdom.wordpress: ‘There are a lot of emotions in this book; lives are entangled and decisions made which threaten the happiness of all. The heroine for me was Tina who showed them all what true love really is. This book is filled with characters who shine and slot in to place beautifully and it has an absorbing plot.’
Jaffareadstoo (top 500 Amazon reviewer) ‘What I loved most about the story is the way in which the author gets right into the heart and soul of what makes people tick. If you like well constructed stories within a contemporary setting, then I am sure you will love this author’s work as much as I do.’