About robjtriggs

Currently based in Cambridgeshire but with links to Belfast, Bradford and Norwich, I'm a writer of speculative fiction and a dreamer of dreams. Including that one which starts out nice and then turns on you like a twisty-turny thing

My writing week

The plan, this week, is to present you with my diary and explain how I make time for writing and important things like that. It is somewhat of a gamble. So much of this human interest stuff I imagine many of you find deadly boring. I also worry it’ll come across as a bit of a sneak-grumble when that’s really not the intention.

See, I really only have time for writing two, maybe two and a bit, days a week. The rest of the time is taken up with the dust and detritus of modern life. But before I get ahead of myself, here’s my guide to burgling my house how my typical week works:

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Monday

Chiildcare. Until recently the grandparents took the little one in the mornings so I had that as writing time too. I’ve lost that recently, and so it’s off to Mucky Pups and singing with the folk in the care home with me of a morning and watching Monsters Inc in the afternoon.

Tuesday

A writing day! The little one is in nursery, so after dropping her off I get to sit down, purge my emails and draft my blog (I write these words at Tuesday 09:22). Unfortunately, I have a regular medical appointment that takes two hours out of my day. I also have to do household jobs like the laundry, making dinner and taking the rubbish out, so it’s not just free and easy time for me.

Then it’s time to collect the monster from nursery, and one weekend in two I have Paid Employment in the evening.

Wednesday

I have Sproutface in the morning; it’s off to Busytots with us, then the playground. My wife works from home in the afternoons so sometimes I manage to squeeze in another hour or so of writing before it’s off to Paid Employment.

Thursday

Another writing day, this time free of interruptions… sometimes. As I have commitments on other days, Thursday is my Random Appointment Day, so my time is often thieved by the magpies of modern life. C’est, as they say, la vie.

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It’s worth saying that my ‘writing days’ (typically around 09:00 to 15:30) are also when I spend time on social media. I live a fairly isolated life, so Twitter especially is a way of keeping in touch with my interfriends. I’ve some strong attachments to people I’ve met only virtually and this connection is important to me.

It’s also important to point out that a writing day is not merely about getting words down and creating new stories. It’s also editing time, both on my work and other people’s. I work as a proofreader and copy-editor and in truth could use more gigs – but when I do get a job the deadlines are usually tight. It has to slide right in to whatever time I have and so my own work is set to the back-burner. This can be frustrating but I do enjoy editing. It’s a different discipline to writing and is, frankly, easier than first-drafting.

Friday

Another Sprout-filled day with Shake, Rattle and Roll, then swimming, then more Monsters Inc before I pick up the wife and she takes over the childcare whilst I do Paid Employment.

Saturday and Sunday

Saturday mornings I work one in two; otherwise the weekend is Family Time for doing Family Things like going to National Trust places, looking at houses (we’re trying to move) or going to garden centres. Time away from the computer and with the ones I love, in other words.

Not that I don’t love you too. You’re fantastic in your own special way.

 

And that’s it. That’s how my week works – and it’s a reminder to myself that I’m really lucky. I don’t have a full-time job; I’m supported by an amazing wife who works so I don’t have to (not entirely true; she enjoys her work and has a career of her own. But I know she’d like to spend more time with the little one). We can afford to send Sproutface to nursery so I have a few days a week to do my thing. I am really very lucky indeed.

But I also work hard. I’m determined to make the most of the little free time I have – though I find it difficult, sometimes, to not procrastinate and difficult, sometimes, to keep a proper focus on what I should be doing – still I sit at my desk whenever I can and try and get through whatever I’m working on.

Could I do more? Well, maybe I could set aside time at night, when the rest of the family is in bed, to scribble a few more words. Maybe I could get up early and join the Stupid O’Clock Writers’ Group and try and get some words down that way.

But I need free time, rest time, too. I’ve never claimed to be the most motivated person in the world. I’m just trying my best after my own fashion.

 

I hope this has given you some insight into my life and the way I work and it hasn’t been too self-absorbed or just plain dull. I’m always shy of writing too much about me personally as I’m sceptical as to how much anyone actually cares. Who am I? I’m no-one.

But if there’s anything you’d like me to talk about then please do let me know, either via Twitter or in the comments below. Requests always welcome.

Peace out.

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Post-hiatus blues

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January was a funny ol’ month. Work on my novel-in-progress was on hold for pretty much all of it, due to having an couple of paying edits to do. I guess, in the future, I need a way of managing my time to work on two projects at the same time; of protecting my creative time. But at the moment I am fully monoprojectile. One thing at a time is enough for me, especially since the paying gig was for a structural edit, and thus required me to get deep into someone else’s work.

It’s done now, and my calendar is free, so I’m back to Claws, or Our Kind of Bastard, or whatever the hell I’m calling it today. But there are, I’m sure you’ll be totally unsurprised to hear, difficulties when you park a project for five weeks.

I left a scene half-written, which was good because I could get straight back into the action. But after that… If I ever had a plan I’ve totally forgotten it.

Luckily, I’ve kept pretty good notes. Mostly these take the form of what’s already happened (but also when in the manuscript it happened, which is useful) but I’ve also a list of questions that still need to be answered. So I’m not operating in a total void.

What I don’t have is an outline, which I’m increasingly thinking is a strategy I should adopt; that I should finally shed my pantser clothing and fully integrate into the society of planners.

I say this in the full knowledge that I will probably never be organised enough for that.

But I have decided that I need to pause my headlong charge into the mire of adventure to try and catch my breath, and my bearings. ‘How are you doing this?’ I hear you ask: well, through spreadsheets, of course. Simply creating a grid with all my characters/groups at the top and time/scenes down the side and filling in the gaps in the middle.

plan hiatus

It’s rough and ready and not really something I’d recommend – there must be a better way. But it works for me. Or at least it’s working at the moment. Planning needn’t be over-complicated. A note is often as good as an essay. And a spreadsheet strikes me as more manageable than index cards or whiteboards or whatever.

So I struggle onwards, limping back into the teeth of my manuscript and desperately searching for word upon word. But maybe this time I’ll know where I’m trying to get to. And any further interruptions won’t derail me too much because this time I’m coming prepared.

That’s the idea, at least. As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Delay of game

Delay of game

Important news: Human Resources has been postponed. It will now be released in November, not July as originally advertised.

First off, I need to apologise to all you who have already pre-ordered it. What’s that, you say? You haven’t done that yet? Well, it’s still orderable from Flame Tree Press’ website and, presumably, all good bookshops. What are you hanging about here for?

Human Resources cover USE THIS

The delay, I hasten to say, is nothing to do with me. My copy-edits were in on time and the editor was happy with my work. It was instead a business decision. I’m not allowed to give any details beyond that a new deal has led to Flame Tree’s release schedule being rejiggered and my book is amongst those affected.

I can also say that it should work out to be a positive move both for me and the company; this isn’t one of those ‘oh my god it’s all gone to shit’ moments; it’s a good thing, I’m assured (I know very little about the actual business of publishing, though I’m learning).

Good thing or not, it’s a disappointment to me personally. I was hoping for some sort of launch event at Edge-Lit and maybe take in one or two more cons as an author with something to talk about. Now I have nothing to declare but my incompetence.

It’s also a short-term blow financially. Like most authors, the advance I will/have received for Human Resources is split into three payments: one upon signing of the contract, one on receiving of the finished text (though I’m not entirely sure when that arrives; I’ve done my copy-edit but not received this payment yet) and the last upon publication. Obviously I won’t now be receiving this last part until November. Not that it’s a great deal of money, you understand. But it’s money I won’t now be getting when I thought.

Long-term it may well be better for me to wait. Depends how this deal pans out, though in any case it’ll be very hard to judge cause-and-effect. We shall see.

Of more concern to me, however, is that it now feels like my career’s on hold until November.

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Normally I’d advise people to try and fill their downtime with either writing their next novel or trying to get other material published and that’s what I’m going to be doing myself. I’m somewhat limited, however. I’m not a writer of short fiction, which is bread-and-butter to a lot of writers, and I’m contractually unable to pitch my other big novel-hope out to publishers at the moment. I don’t have an agent (my perpetual refrain; sorry to go on about it) and so don’t have the benefit of their advice on how to take my career forwards.

So, although I will be continuing to write and my endless search for an agent goes on, I feel like I’ve nothing really to do until November. My career hangs in limbo, and has done ever since the release of Night Shift – a gap of two years between publications. Two years’ wasted time.

(It’s not wasted, of course it isn’t. I’ve been busy writing; I’ve edited two novels and a have a third on the way. But that’s how it feels. Like I’ve been twiddling my thumbs all this time.)

So what do I do? I fill my downtime with writing, of course. And trying to find an agent. And making more friends amongst the writing community. And getting better at what I do.

I just wish I had something to sell, something to get my name out there. Tiny steps; no miracle-hunter I.

Something to make me feel like I was making progress.

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Loanless

Trenton library

Trenton library’s automatic book dispenser

There are bad times in a writer’s life. Like the times you realise that less than 11 people in the UK have borrowed your books from libraries.

Like many sensible authors, I’ve signed up for the PLR scheme, by which means I get 9p per book borrowed in the UK. Sadly, they don’t pay out amounts of less than £1. You already know where this is going. I’m receiving nothing this year.

I love libraries. I believe in them – I’m employed in one and have had roles in a number of different libraries through my not-very-varied and not-at-all-illustrious working life – from security guard to cataloguer, I’ve seen a variety of libraries and loved them all. So it’s a personal thing that I should be falling down in the public arena.

There are good reasons for not being borrowed, of course. My book probably isn’t in most libraries – that’s the most obvious thing. I’m not prestige. I’m not the sort of author the casual reader will have heard of, certainly not to ask for. And this must be true of the majority of authors, especially those who have self-published.

All of which leads me to ask: what’s the point? Why do we put all this effort in if the rewards are so slight?

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It’s worth emphasising that this isn’t about money, though that would have been a nice bonus. It’s about the feeling of being read and appreciated. The heartbreak is accentuated by seeing all the more successful authors on Twitter with what I know to be more readers and more acclaim (and don’t get me started on Awards Season).

I know, I know, it’s wrong to compare – and I know that there are people looking up to me as if I’ve got it made; people who see me as occupying the next rung on the ladder. I’m not unsuccessful. I have a novel published and another on the way. What do I want, a medal?

I guess I’d like to be read. I’d like to be appreciated. I’d like to think my career is moving forwards.

[Note on the forthcoming novel: it’s a sequel, and sequels never sell as well as the first novel. True fact. So I’m not placing that much hope in it for career-development purposes.]

So the news about my lack of library issues has hit me pretty hard. Just… what’s the point of being a bottom-of-the-barrel author? No money, no respect, no sunlit uplands for me.

But I will keep going. I will keep writing and keep struggling to make a career as a writer. It’s still what I dream of. I still believe in my abilities in writing and in storytelling. I will go on. I must endure.

Besides, lack of library loans just means that everyone has already bought my book, right?

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How to save a novel

editing

Arrogance alert: I am about to lecture you on ways to make a bad novel better. This is done based on the feedback received from one person (albeit a fairly important person; to whit, my editor) about one novel. He was very positive about the work I’ve previously referred to in these pages as my problem child (see also here).

Based on this slimmest of evidence I therefore feel it appropriate to share a few of the techniques I’ve used to lick my red-headed stepchild into shape. All of the below are things that I’ve done in the chasm between first and finished drafts.

  • Take your time. I was working on the Problem Child for over six years before it was signed off with the editor. Of course it always feels like you’re in a rush but, unless you have specific deadlines, you have the rest of your life to get it right
  • Believe in it. Yes, there are times when it’s right to give up on a project but often you have to believe in your baby, and…
  • Be stubborn. You took the time to write a whole draft; something inside you is telling you it’s worth getting right, so you might as well…
  • Do the work. Editing is hard but it can also be hugely rewarding. You have to be prepared to sit in that chair and frown at your work until it comes into focus
  • Get criticism. Whether on individual scenes or on the story as a whole – preferably both – it pays – hell, it’s essential – to get feedback. Find beta-readers. Find a writing group. Don’t go solo
  • Listen to criticism. If someone, or preferably someones, are telling you something doesn’t work then it probably won’t work for any agents or commissioning editors either
  • Act on criticism. It’s a lot easier to tinker with grammar and character than it is to get to the root of a problem. Remember, though, you don’t have to rush to action. Take your time. But you will have to tackle the issues raised

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  • Edit someone else’s work… and keep reading. Thinking about a novel in a different way can help you frame just what’s wrong with your own work – and can give you a fresh perspective on how to fix it. You never know when the answers might strike you
  • Be humble… but believe in yourself. You can do it. Go you!
  • Draft, redraft, redraft again. I’ve lost track of the number of rewrites I’ve done for Human Resources, partly because of my idiosyncratic numbering system and partly because it received a new name, and thus a new folder, towards the end of its pre-acceptance life. But I know it took at least nine drafts. Some were major rewrites, others mere tinkerings around the edges. Every one went to make it better. I say again: do the work
  • Add characters. My early drafts always seem to be underwritten (with the exception of those that aren’t and need characters removed, which I have also done) and need added layers of complexity. Specifically, I seem to omit a vital level of antagonism which can only be solved by redrafting with a new character woven throughout
  • Re-write the opening. Because the opening is disproportionately important, and it’s not as easy as it should be to find the right moment to come in. I set the opening at three different points before settling on a fourth, changing my mind, then changing my mind back
  • Arrange a panicky second beta-reading. Because self-belief is fragile
  • Worry endlessly whether it’s good enough. Ego never survives contact with the enemy, which in this case are your readers

What have you done to reinvigorate your work? Please do add your comments below. And remember, kids, that whilst this may look like advice, it is coming from an idiot. Caveat scriptor, y’all. Caveat all the way.

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Checking in

Check in

Today’s blog is a short one, I’m afraid, and more of a check-in than a fully-fledged post. This is because I have managed to simultaneously contract a proofread, a copy-edit and a structural edit. I am thus plagued by deadlines and have had no time for real writing.

Two of those three things are for other people – paid work, in other words, and thus a priority. The other – the copy-edit – is for my own work and thus a priority priority. I’ve been sent a manuscript full of corrections to my own half-baked scrawl and instructed to ‘sort it aht, geezer.’

Just because it’s for my own work doesn’t mean it’s deadline-free. This is from the publisher and publishers work to a schedule. I have to prove my dependability by not only making half-decent corrections but by getting them in on time.

It’s done now and sent off to the Great and Wonderful Editor of Oz – or, rather, New York. And it’s straight on to the next deadline.

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All of which means that the novel I was working on has been temporarily parked. The realities of life and business get in the way sometimes and, with only finite time available, the novel has to be the one to go to the kerb. But that’s okay. It just means it’s had extra time to percolate around my brain so that when I return to it – and I will – it’ll be with a vengeance.

Whatever happens, the holidays seem a long way in the rear-view mirror. Hope you all had good ones. I’ll catch up with you again next week.

Books of the year 2019

trophyIt’s that time again. Not quite awards time – I’m not even going to pretend I’m wearing a specially rented tuxedo and have just stepped from a Limousine to deliver this preamble (and charged myself an astronomical fee for the privilege) – but time to celebrate some of the wonderful books that have crossed my path this year.

Here’s a list of my favourite books of the past twelve months. I’m not limiting myself to 2019 publications but happily freewheeling through the years; I don’t see enough current releases to focus solely on the most recent publications. I’ve never met a loop I wasn’t out of.

Here we go, then – fourteen books that have uplifted me this year:

The Imaginary Corpse – Tyler Hayes (2019)

Imaginary corpse

This is beautiful. An impossible, ridiculous concept – a stuffed triceratops detective; a noir mystery in a cartoon world of forgotten ideas – that brings out the heights and depths of the emotions.

Tippy lives in the Stillreal, a world where ideas go when they’re not needed anymore. There he solves mysteries and battles his own trauma – until he runs into The Man In The Coat, a creature who can do the impossible: he can kill an Idea permanently. Now Tippy must solve the case before there is nothing left but imaginary corpses.

A mad idea written with such beauty and delicacy that it utterly convinces. Were I awarding a Book of the Year this would be a strong candidate.

The Breach – MT Hill (2020)

BreachI crammed my way through this in two days, thanks to deadlines. But I feel like it’s still unfolding in my brain, even a month after finishing it. Intense, lyrical and creepy as hell.

Shep is a steeplejack with a second life as an urban explorer, breaking in to abandoned structures to document their existence and for the sheer thrill of it. But when he discovers a mysterious nest on one such foray, his life will be forever altered – and maybe much, much shorter.

Meanwhile a down-on-her-luck journalist, Freya, is investigating the death of another urbex adventurer. She meets Shep and follows him across the world to try and get to the bottom of just what is making people act so strangely.

Just what is out there? And what is trying to get in?

Dark River – Rym Kechacha (2019)

Dark RiverTwo mothers, with 8 millennia between them, struggle to save their children in this brooding, suspenseful novel of climate change.

In Doggerland Shaye makes an epic journey to perform a ritual that will secure a future for her son. In London in 2156, Shante waits for a visa that will allow her to extract her family from an angry Thames and make her way to the safer north. On the way both women will face trials and tests that will push them to the limit.

Written without speech-marks, Dark River is a flowing, liquid read that sweeps you along relentlessly right up to its devastating conclusion.

The Outside – Ada Hoffman (2019)

OutsideA lot’s been written about this already, with its autistic main character and its great AI Gods and semi-human Angels. It’s worth the hype.

After Yasira’s prototype energy drive malfunctions and destroys the space station its mounted on, her work is deemed heretical and Yasira is abducted by angels. Her mission becomes one of tracking down her old, vanished mentor, who has been committing atrocities not only against people but against the known laws of the physical universe.

With her own home planet infested by impossible monsters, Yasira must choose who to trust: the AIs and their harsh angels or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics can open doors to impossible space.

An elegantly put together story that manages to bring something new to the table, and introduces mind-twisting concepts in a way that doesn’t twist your mind!

Angelmaker – Nick Harkaway (2012)

AngelmakerThis is great fun. Gangster noir meets James Bond meets absurdist comedy in this book of clockwork, of secret doomsday weapons, mad museums, dictators and octogenarian secret agents.

Joe Spork is a clockmaker and son of a famous mob figure. He is drawn into a conspiracy by the seemingly normal pensioner Edie Banister, who, sick of a life of fighting the nations foes, plots to activate a secret 1950s doomsday machine. Joe now has to fight not only the government but Edie’s arch-nemesis – a mad Asian dictator with a cult of mysterious monks at his behest.

A sprawling, thrilling adventure that always leaves a smile on your face, this is a big, fun thrill-ride that never bores despite its considerable bulk.

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City – KJ Parker (2019)

Sixteen waysThis was an unexpected delight. A colonel of engineers is, thanks to a series of unfortunate events, left in charge of a Classical city just as it’s invested by a vicious enemy who’s promised to kill all of the inhabitants. To save the city would be a miracle, but Orhan – a cheat, a liar, a man with a serious problem with authority – might just be the perfect person to pull off the impossible.

Witty throughout and with characters you really come to love, the beauty of this really is in the telling; the style is light and irreverent and simply a pleasure to read.

The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams (2017)

Ninth RainA cut above the normal fantasy epic, this is the first in a trilogy set in the world of Sarn: the ancient protectors of the planet, the Eborans, are all but dead from disease, their ancient god powerless and dormant. The planet is littered with the remnants of past wars.

Tormalin the Oathless, one of the last Eborans, leaves his home to wander and live a dissolute life. That is until he meets scholar and antiquarian Vintage de Grazon and the escaped fell-witch Noon. They find themselves hunting old relics in warped and mutated ruins whilst fleeing Noon’s old foes from the Winnowry. And, should they survive that, there is the prospect of the waking of the foes of all – the ruthless and totally alien Jure’lia. They are coming. And the ninth rain will fall…

The Ninth Rain is a wonderful book, the dark mood totally lightened by Williams’ wonderful touch with characters. The central players are all wonderfully drawn, their sarcasms and dry wit brightening a fairly dark world to produce a truly compelling trilogy.

This Dreaming Isle – Various (Dan Coxon ed) (2018)

Dreaming IsleA short story collection of dark and twisted folk tales from the British Isles. Fifteen stories, all depicting something unsettling about this land. Some explore myth and legend, others root themselves very much in the here and now. All are fascinating and it’s a real credit to editor Dan Coxon that he’s produced such a coherent body of work from a disparate and high-powered cast of authors.

 

 

The Outlaw and the Upstart King – Rod Duncan (2019)

Outlaw UKDisclaimer – I call Rod a friend so you can feel free to disregard my opinion. Nevertheless, this is great. Rod blasts his Elizabeth Barnabus series into the New World with this explosive novel set on the frigid isle of Newfoundland where tattoos bear witness to laws and oaths.

Elias is an outlaw, a man who was cheated out of his place in society – and his thumbs. He wants revenge. Is the mysterious woman who landed unwontedly on the island’s rocky sure, a way for him to reclaim his honour? Or will she just lead them to their deaths?

A fantastic adventure filled with great characters and a real feel for the cold, hostile landscape, this is definitely worth a pace in my favourite books of 2019. Indeed, my next read will be the last book in the trilogy, The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man.

Fleet of Knives – Gareth L Powell (2019)

Fleet of KnivesAnother second-in-trilogy book here, and another cracker from this Golden Age of British SFF that we’re living through.

The story concerns the former warship Trouble Dog – one of the best AIs I’ve ever come across – and its crew answering a distress call from the crew of Lucy’s Ghost, who have taken refuge aboard an enormous alien generation ship. Meanwhile the Marble Armada have decided to enact peace at any cost – including the destruction of many human ships.

Can Trouble Dog and her crew survive being trapped between chaotic alien monsters on one side and the Marble Armada on the other?

The Winter Road – Adrian Selby (2018)

Winter RoadThe Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .

A very fine work filled with characters you really feel and care for. A little different to the run-of-the-mill fantasy works it’s competing with, its plant-based ‘magic’ a tonic after the years of wizards. Highly recommended.

Embedded – Dan Abnett (2011)

EmbeddedThe role of journalists in war is the premise in this intriguing SF tale of warring factions.

Lex Falk is recently arrived on planet Eighty-Six, a dull place without much more than minor military skirmishes to cover. But when Lex gets the runaround from the military, his interest is piqued. He gets himself chipped to share the consciousness of a front-line soldier. But when that soldier is killed, Falk must use all his resourcefulness to get back to his own body – and maybe, on the way, he’ll find out what on earth the fighting is really all about.

Lovely writing, an interesting premise and believability are all strong plusses here. There are also strong echoes of contemporary conflicts and the role of journalists within war-zones. Is access to the frontline worth being channelled to give what is essentially military propaganda?

An excellent novel.

Darksoul – Anna Stephens (2018)

DarksoulAnother second of three; Darksoul is the sequel to Godblind and, though it manages not to be quite as nasty as the first book, Darksoul is still pretty grimdark.

The veil that kept the red gods from walking the earth has been torn down. The Mireces army controls the fields of Rilpor. All that stands in the way is the city of Rilporin – and the mind of a soldier with the eyes of a fox.

Bloody, action-packed and thrilling from start to finish, this is a fine book. I really must get around to reading book three.

The Tiger and the Wolf – Adrian Tchaikovsky (2018)

Tiger and WolfAll people have two shapes: human and the animal to whose tribe they belong. This is the simple and fascinating concept behind The Tiger and The Wolf. And it works brilliantly.

Maniye’s father is the Wolf clan’s chieftain, but she’s an outcast. Her mother was queen of the Tiger and these tribes have been enemies for generations. Maniye can take on tiger and wolf shapes. She refuses to disown half her soul so she escapes and the killer Broken Axe is set on her trail.

Beautifully written and with a real feel for landscape and character, this is a fantastic novel.

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And that’s that for another year! I’m going to take a break, now, until 2020, unless something thrilling and dramatic happens inbetweentimes that I just have to share. Otherwise, I wish you a wonderful holiday season and much, much, happy reading.