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Reviews make an authors day

Starting the week with a five star review is wonderful and I am sure every writer can identify with that. But, what keeps our readers from posting their reviews? Especially after they have told you how much they enjoyed reading the book via email or social media.

Why readers don’t review isn’t a new debate so, don’t worry, I’m not going to go on about this. Except to say:

  • Your words to an author are just as important as the words in their books are to you.
  • What you say about a book you’ve read can make a huge difference to the success of an author. Especially to those who aren’t yet getting their books reviewed in the mainstream press.
  • Leaving a review is kind and the world definitely needs more of that.
  • Reviews encourage others to read the book

 

There’s no need to write a lengthy work of art. You could simply say,

‘Beyond The Pyre was a great story, I loved the characters and will look out for more from this author.’

Once done, you can copy and paste to Amazon, Goodreads and any other review platforms you are aware of.

If you would like to write something more detailed, you might want to consider the following template. You don’t have to answer every question; they’re suggestions!

Points to Ponder:

  • What was the story about?
  • Who were the main characters?
  • Were the characters credible?
  • What did the main characters do in the story?
  • Did the main characters run into any problems? Adventures?
  • Who was your favourite character? Why

 

Your personal experiences

  • Did you relate to any of the characters in the story?
  • Have you ever done or felt some of the things the book raises?

 

Your opinion

  • Did you like the book?
  • What was your favourite part?
  • Did you have a least favourite part?
  • If you could change something, what would it be? (If you wish you could change the ending, but don’t reveal it on a public forum! Authors eyes only.)

 

Your recommendation

  • Would you recommend this book to another person?
  • What type of person might like this book?

 

I love to engage with readers and other authors. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I will always respond.

Now on to the review that launched my Monday. A big thank you to Remmy Meggs in The USA for this.

Title: Beyond the Pyre
Author: Steve Costello
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Austin
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Format: Paperback, Kindle, hardback
Pages: 366
Source: Amazon.com

When I read a book about a country that I am not familiar with, I always open a map, so I can follow along with the story line. In this case it was France. As a child a few years ago I went to France, however I do not remember much of the trip. I do remember the boys wearing shorts and of all things either long sleeve shirts or sweaters. Since it was warm out, that didn’t make sense to an eight year old American boy.

I do the same with history, not to prove the author wrong, but to follow his lead. So in this case I looked up the word Cathar, and found as much detail as I could on the subject. To me dates are important in history, not that I memorize them, but there is a difference between Pope Innocent and Pope Alexander.  These are important details for me.

Now about the book Beyond the Pyre by Steve Costello (June 2017) I was told I was pronouncing Pyre wrong by one of my Anglo Saxon friends in Northern England, (South of Scottish England). That is because of the English spelling, the same English that type tyre instead of tire. Confusing.

Now that is out of the way, I found this book a lot different than any other book I have read the last five years. Yes, it is that different. True it only has one goal, and I do not think it is supposed to be scary story, however several times the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and a few times chills went down my spine.

The history of almost any church, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, is full of atrocities, including current events.  However as I read this book, I found so many fascinating things. First of all the characterizations. They were three dimensional, similar to how I write, I do not find three dimensional characters in books very often, so that is a plus. Just about every character was true to life.

The protagonist, actually I was not sure who the main character was because it seemed to me that each person was a main character. Yes it starts out with Ben and Catharine, but it quickly develops into something much more monumental.

American readers will see a difference in dialog, but only because it seems the English use single quotations instead of double quotations, and other minor differences. The subject matter is a matter of opinion, but one thing that grabbed my attention in chapter three I believe, was:

Elionor didn’t believe in the devil despite her Catholic upbringing: human beings created evil and could not lay blame elsewhere. – Steve Costello, Beyond the Pyre

Although I believe that to be true, by the end of the book, you will be in wonder. This is a good versus evil book, just remember that everyone has some good in them, no matter how evil they are.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, not many can write something like this unless they have lived close to it. – Remmy Meggs Nov 2017

Buy From Amazon

French Connection ii

Reserach for Beyond The Pyre took me deep into the pyrenees where it must be said that the lifestyle is far from typically French. I’m not going to analyse that now, suffice to say, it is very different up there. When I visit, I can feel it, it is a wonderfully spiritual feeling and life there is certainly not a breeze for many.

Like many places, there are myths and legends. Who knows, some of them might be true. If not the entire story, there might well be messages within.

Jean de l’Ours or John Bear is an old French legend that originated from a village in the French Pyrenees. Traditionally told by word of mouth and passed down through the generations. I have read and reread this story; there are so many possibilities of meanings and interpretations. What do you think?

Once upon a time, a woman meets a large bear in a forest. The bear takes the woman into a cavern and prevents her from getting out by putting a large boulder in front of the entrance.

The woman and the bear have a child named Jean de l’Ours, and he becomes very strong. One day, Jean pushes the boulder away from the entrance, and he and his mother leave the bear’s cavern.

Then, Jean works for a blacksmith, but the blacksmith doesn’t pay him well. So, with some pieces of iron, Jean makes himself a cane and leaves on a journey.

Jean eventually meets three strong men: Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne. The four men travel together and find a castle in the middle of a forest. They enter the castle, and on the next day, they decide that three of them will hunt for food while one will stay home and prepare dinner. Once dinner is ready, the person will ring a bell to tell the huntrs to come back and eat. They will alternate who will stay home at the castle every night.

Roue de Moulin is the first one to stay at the castle, and he is preparing soup for dinner. He hears a noise coming from the chimney. Then, a hand, an arm, an ear, and a head fall down the chimney like hail, and they form together to become a man. This man is the devil, and he asks Roue de Moulin to light his pipe. However, Roue refuses, so the devil beats him up and prevents Roue from finishing the dinner or ringing the bell. The others come back to the castle without hearing the bell, but Roue fabricates an excuse and doesn’t reveal what really happened.

Coupe Chêne and Porte Montagne have the same experience as Roue de Moulin when it is their turn to prepare the meal.

A few days later, Roue, Coupe, and Porte are out hunting, and Jean stays at the castle to prepare dinner. When the devil comes down the chimney and asks Jean to light his pipe, Jean hits him and puts a large boulder on top of him. Jean prepares dinner, and he rings the bell to call everyone back to the castle. Before they get back, the devil escapes from under the boulder and goes down the water well next to the stove.

Jean de l’Ours tells his friends the story about the devil and that he has escaped, and the four men look around the castle. Eventually, they see the water well next to the stove and the rope that the devil used to escape. With the rope and the bell, Roue, Coupe and Porte follow, but they get scared and ring the bell to signal they want to get back to the kitchen.

Then, Jean takes his turn, and finds a castle at the bottom. An old woman there tells him she is the devil’s wife who introduces him to the devil. He gives Jean three treasure chests and three princesses. Jean rings the bell, and he and his friends use the cord to lift the chests and princesses to the surface. When they get the chests and princesses to the top, Jean’s friends run off with them and leave Jean at the bottom of the well.

Jean talks with the devil again, and the devil gives him a white eagle that’s locked up in a cage. The devil tells Jean that if he gives the eagle raw meat, it will fly. So, Jean gets on the eagle’s back, gives it some raw meat, and they begin to fly back up the well. However, Jean runs out of meat before the eagle brings him all the way up. So, he cuts off a piece of his thigh, gives it to the eagle, and they continue until they reach the top.

Then, Jean goes to the city with his cane in search of his former friends. When Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne see Jean, they jump out of a window, run away, and Jean never sees them again.

Jean de l’Ours marries the youngest princess out of the three given to him. He uses some of the money from the chests to buy his mother a horse-drawn carriage. Jean, his wife, and his mother live happily ever after in the castle in the forest.

Reaching Out

I’m surrounded by conundrums. I close my eyes and they float around in their little boxes with tags floating on the breeze of my mind. I dismissed a few during this mornings meditation because they are not important enough for action just yet. Some of those remaining are vexing. Challenges are fun but sometimes I hold up my hands and say, ‘I am not defeated but I could do with a few pointers.’

I will return to my need for pointers soon, one thing I find very exciting about writing is that I often find the answers to my questions as I write. The universe responds; it’s beautiful.

My publisher will not like this but I walk through a sticky mire in the dark and they don’t seem able, or willing to offer a helping hand. So, my philosophy is to reach out, discover where to go, and plot the course. Thanks to many wonderful people I’ve met on my journey as an author, I know where I need to go with some and the routes are planned. I use friend maps and they don’t lead me into any one-way streets.

Back to the conundrums . . . I must get my work out there and have identified several ways. Perhaps you can help?

  • I live in France but originate from the north west of England. Should I try to organise signing events in that part of the world or, go elsewhere? I’ve not lived in the north wet since 2003.
  • Waterstones and WH Smith say, ‘don’t contact store managers,’ true / false?
  • Does anybody want to talk to an unknown author?

 

Enough about my challenges, let’s move on to this weeks dusty file from an unknown author who I would love to reconnect with. I was a founding member of a writers group called, ‘Phoenix Writers’ in Blackburn, Lancashire in 2002/03. I’ve no idea how this file ended up on one of my hard drives but it’s a positive example of creativity with the potential of something great. All I can tell you about the author is her name was Pippa although I am sorry to say I don’t remember a Pippa back in 2003.

Anno Domini: 640

‘I never wanted to come here!’ He rubbed his stiffened hands, knuckles swollen by the  ‘Elves’ Curse’.   Now I’ m going to die here, Ithamar.’

Outside the wind whipped the rain against the wooden walls.  No hangings kept out the draughts, not even the vestige of a fire in the brazier warmed the bare cell.  I struggled to conceal my shivering. The hem of my sodden tunic dripped little puddles among the rushes and my leather boots squelched with every step.   On a peg by the door I hung the cloak I had clutched around me as I dashed from the nave where I was trying to teach some of the younger monks to achieve harmony in the alleluia magnus dominus.  I wiped my nose   on my sleeve, wincing as the rough fabric rasped across the flaked skin.  But it was always this way at Winterfylleth, getting soaked between church, refectory and cells, when even the pent roof around the cloister gave scant protection.

‘You’ll go back to the Holy City soon, Bishop.’  But I knew my words sounded hollow.  The old man looked frail.  The grey hair around his tonsure was sparse   and his long face was haggard making the big hooked nose more prominent than ever.  He breathed with a harsh rattle.   He’d never be able to withstand the rigours of the journey at this time of year.  The roads would be too clogged with mud for the ox carts to make much headway and even if he could reach the coast, no boat from the estuary would dare to set out in such rough seas.  It would be the same at Sheppey. Thanet and Dover.  The gulls had moved inland and stayed on the ground facing into the wind, a sure a sign of storms.    Even from Canterbury only a score of miles away there had been no messenger for a sennight.

‘And what’s worse I’ll never get my work finished. It’s too cold to write and too dark to see except for a few hours at midday.’  He gestured despairingly to the heaps of vellum strewn across the wooden trestle and underneath at the two iron-banded chests with large locks filled with even more.  For a man who denied himself every comfort, he was extravagant when it came to his books.  He trained a score of young monks every year to keep the craft alive and he had made me learn it a long time ago.   His love for learning was stronger than any of the Romans I’d known.   He’d brought the gospels of John and Mark for our church of Saint Andrew, but here in his cell he had all kinds of manuscripts, histories of his people, works of their philosophers and more and knew them all by heart; better than any scop with his lyre telling battle tales in the King’s hall.

Then there were all the ones he’d written himself, a record of all the doings of The Mission.  And of course The Book; he was the one who persuaded old Ethelburt to have his law-code written.

‘To be a truly Christian King you must have your laws codified.’   But it was the thought of having something no other king in these islands had that appealed to the old trickster.  It was hard work because he agreed to write it in the folk tongue.  He could write the script of the Book language so fast that that his hands flew across the page like the wind blowing across a cornfield but he had to find ways of putting our sounds down.  ‘Yours isn’t a civilised tongue, it’s a pain in the throat, he used to joke! He even used some of our runic shapes but I don’t think he knew about their magic.

‘I must finish my history.  I promised….’ A bout of coughing interrupted him.

‘I’ll get the women to prepare you a draught elderberry and horehound and put in some juniper to ease the pain of the elf arrows that slice into your joints.’

‘As you wish, but first you must help me, Ithamar.’

‘Father Paulinus, what can I do?’

I’d known this man for nigh on forty years, almost from the day he first came to our land.  If it hadn’t been for him I’d still be scratching a living in some woodland clearing, or dead of starvation these many years.

‘You can write the Book language almost as well as I can.  I can’t use these wretched fingers but at least I can tell you what to put down. ‘He clutched at the strangely carved cross hanging round his neck.  Where it came from I knew not but it was precious to him.

I thought of all the tasks that awaited me.   As second in command of all the monks in our little settlement of Rochester, most of the organisation fell on me, reading the Offices, preparing for the services, attempting to convert more of the locals and the administration, seeing that there was enough food, dealing with the messengers of the King    I had precious little spare time.  What he was asking of me was no small task.  Obedience Ithamar!  I reminded myself again of the Rule of Benedict, acceptance without complaint.

And as always curiosity got the better of me.

‘The facts are all recorded in the chronicles on the Easter Tables in Canterbury.’ I began.

‘Facts, yes!  But those are the bare bones of what has happened like the branches of winter trees.  If you just see those, you do not understand what the trees look like in the full splendour of summer, decked with the thousands of leaves that dance with the wind.  So it is with the lives of men.  Facts don’t tell of the feelings, the motives of men.    He taught me that.  He could tell a tale that could make you catch your breath with wonder.  I swore to him I’d set it down and the people we knew deserve that.  We can’t let the memory of what they dreamed, fade.’  His voice trailed off.

I was a plain man, never one to miss an opportunity if it would help me to be the first Jute to become a bishop.

‘If I will scribe for you then I’ll need more light and some warmth to keep my fingers from stiffening.   I’m not as young as I was.  We need a room with plenty of wall sconces and hanging bowls – and a decent fire.’

‘So be it.  Whatever you need.  The great darkness is coming.  The Lombards still threaten the Holy City of Peter and the Huns push ever westward. The lands where Our Saviour walked seized by the follower of a new prophet from the sands of the desert.  We must tell our story.  Why else are we here?  To show the good deeds of men as an example and to the wicked as a warning.’

He looked at me with a desperate expression.

‘Besides I must finish it and give it to her.  I must see her once more before I die.’

And I did not have to ask whom he meant.

Powerful Female Characters

After receiving a wonderful review from (Elionor Jones), I was particularly encouraged by her remarks about some of the female characters in Beyond The Pyre.

More on that later because according to the Readers Digest and I guess a sizable list of readers, the following female fictional characters are said to be among the best of all time. That’s quite a claim to make when I think of many others I have loved as I read their stories. Not to mention (well I will at the end of this article) a few of my own.

Elizabeth (aka Lizzie or Eliza) Bennett

Elizabeth Bennett is the witty protagonist from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The second oldest of five daughters and, like the rest of her sisters, she’s not expected to marry for love, rather status and money. True to herself, she would rather stay single; a concept that was not generally acceptable at the time.

Nancy Drew

Her debut was in the 1930s but she remains one of the most iconic female characters. Conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy Drew’s character was ground-breaking because she wasn’t simply a pretty sidekick to a leading male counterpart. Instead, the bold, physically strong, and fiercely intelligent Nancy used her superior intellect to solve mysteries.

Josephine (Jo) March

Jo is a second eldest daughter and a central focus in the novel Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.  At 15, she is strong-willed, confident, and literary. Unlike her sisters, she is outspoken and uninterested in marriage. Jo struggles with and defies society’s expectations of how women in the 19th century should carry themselves, making her one of literature’s most daring female characters.

Lisbeth Salander

My favourite on this particular list! She’s provocative, intense, and probably bi-polar but, most people she meets simply label her crazy. Lisbeth has become one of the most intriguing female characters in literature. As a lead character in Stieg Larrson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, she is a world-leading computer hacker with a photographic memory who fights to overcome a traumatic childhood and helps solve a complicated series of mysteries. Her uncompromising moral code can be shocking but, devastating to those who find themselves on her radar.

Hermione Granger

Frequently collects ten points for Gryffindor, but Hermione is much more than a very intelligent young woman. As the lead female character in the Harry Potter stories and in my humble opinion was superbly cast in the films.  Her keen intellect and powerful memory are consistently evident, sometimes to the dismay of her friends, who often think she’s bossy and annoying. The Muggle-born Hermione transforms from an eager, know-it-all 11-year-old to a confident, loyal, and brave heroine.

Celie

Celie is both the narrator and protagonist of the outstanding novel, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. At the hands of her father and then, later, by her husband, Celie is a lonely, dejected, emotionally and physically mistreated victim. Through the power of love and forgiveness, Celie finds her own strength and transforms into a confident, independent, and compassionate woman.

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss Everdeen is a contemporary icon. Strong, determined, and fiercely loyal, she is a highly skilled archer and hunter who becomes a leader in the rebellion against the tyranny of the Capitol. By the end of The Hunger Games 3, Katniss becomes a reluctant hero. A girl who was never ordinary who found courage and compassion under constant life-threatening circumstances.

Arya Stark

One of the lead females in George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, Arya is a small, fiery force to be reckoned with. Tough with a capital T, the fiercely independent Arya outwardly scorns “noble” female hobbies like sewing and dancing in favour of sword fighting and horseback riding.

I think Martin must have met my youngest daughter. However, adding more of Arya’s stories might result in spoilers for some so I will be kind and stop here.

Now on to a few of my own superwomen in Beyond The Pyre. . .

“I also loved the female characters in the book! I love strong female characters, and this book was full of them. The main female characters were Catharine, from modern-day Britain, Sophie, a French Catholic supporter, and Elionor, a Catholic who supported peace between the faiths. Personally, my favourite of these characters was Elionor, and I loved the banter that went on between Elionor and her husband with regards to women’s position.

Catharine was also a strong female lead, and I liked again how Ben saw her as his equal, and the links between the two couples throughout were interesting and, often, adorable. I thought the fact that the 13th and 21st century couples mirrored each other was also a great element.

‘He knew that ventures into the spirit world could be draining, and Catharine never did things by halves.’”

Ask any writer about the value of reviews and they will tell you something on the lines of, ‘they are like gold.’ Of course they give the ego a pat on the back but they also inform us and help us to improve. Especially if the reviewers are honest about our work, which is exactly what Eleanor Jones gave me when she reviewed Beyond The Pyre; plenty to think about.

What she also gave me was a wonderful reminder relating to the personal side of me.

I was a child of the sixties brought up in a loving family with traditional values. Not much changed until I went to work at British Aerospace where I saw and worked with many women in positions of authority. Some were exceptionally independent; others accepted and bowed to the male dominated higher management. I began to challenge the status quo and found myself in frequent deep-water for doing so.

Moving on to university in the early 80’s and possibly influenced by Thatcher there was a huge increase in ‘feminism’ and sadly some of it was so extreme it turned away some men who were potential supporters. The debate on my course alone was often fiery and led to feelings of us and them.

Looking back, a little change has occurred and realistically, the 80’s explosion has settled and it at least started better recognition of women. There is still a very long way to go before real equality is achieved and I believe it needs to be approached from all aspects of life. Here’s one reason why I like to have strong female characters in my novels.

From a spiritual point of view I believe we are all equal and none are more equal than others (Sorry Mr Orwell), hence the balance between Elionor and Louis who spent much time in a Cathar community where the prevailing belief was equality. Catharine and Ben in the 21st Century practiced their own equality, or, did they carry it with them through the ages?

I’ve only mentioned two female characters but there are others for another day and some in my children’s novel Horando.

What do you think? Who is your number one female character?

I will leave you to consider the featured image that could well be Serdica from Beyond The Pyre.

 

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