If your MP were a werewolf, would you really notice?

If your MP were a werewolf, would you really notice?

Eat the Poor got its first Amazon review this week, which made me very happy. Sue Bavey enjoys the idea of a werewolf who is a Conservative MP:

“I particularly liked how odious the Conservative MP Christopher Garold was. Anyone following  British politics lately will not find the idea of a murderous werewolf that far-fetched when it comes to the dirty little secrets of those in power.”

I feel she is being a little harsh on Christopher Garold. He is, by his lights, a good MP, albeit one who disapproves of those he thinks of as “the undeserving poor”. He works hard for his constituents, takes no bribes, and campaigns on environmental issues. As one of his voters says, “He may be a Tory, but his heart’s in the right place.” And he can hardly help being a werewolf.

I had wanted to write a story about a werewolf since people started asking me for a sequel to Something Wicked. That book had started from the idea that if vampires lived among us, they would probably dance tango. I know so many tango dancers I have never seen in daylight that it seemed entirely credible and from that point the whole story just sort of took off. But where would you find a werewolf? What sort of person could turn into a creature that rips open the throats of innocent people who are foolish enough to be out on the night of a full moon?

The honest answer, of course, is that it could be anybody. But that wasn’t really satisfying. I wanted a job where a ruthless killer instinct and an unerring conviction of your own superiority to others made the idea of being a werewolf a natural match with your personality – and I came up with a Conservative MP.

The political edge was just a way of making the story work. Eat the Poor is an entertainment, not a searing bit of political satire. But while I was writing it, I watched our traditional political system falling apart. The ‘Good Chaps’ theory of government, which underlies our unwritten constitution, has given way to an approach to political power which is much better summed up as the Werewolf theory of government: the powerful take what they want and convince themselves that they are making society a better place while they do it. So there are points where the anger slips through. If you haven’t felt angry about Parliament in the past couple of years, you haven’t been paying attention.

Much more important than any political elements is the growing relationship between the all-too-human Chief Inspector Galbraith, very aware of growing older, and his vampire partner, Pole. Both essentially rather lonely individuals, they grow closer through their rather old-fashioned shared values. They believe in decency and protecting society. And, increasingly, they believe in each other.

More important than either the satire or the relationship, though, is the sheer fun of a hunt for the supernatural in the everyday (or everynight) world of today’s London. Wouldn’t you, deep down, enjoy seeing a werewolf in Parliament? Well now you can.

Eat the Poor is available on Kindle, in paperback or on Kindle Unlimited. You can link to it here: mybook.to/EatThePoor.

Galbraith & Pole are back!

I published my second Urban Fantasy book just over a year ago. It was called Something Wicked. It introduced Chief Inspector Pole, who worked for Section S, a secretive police department hidden away in Counter Terrorism.

Pole is a vampire and he investigates crimes that involve a supernatural element. When a peer of the realm is found drained of blood in his own apartment, Pole is the obvious man (or reasonable approximation) to look into it. Unfortunately for him, old-school detective Chief Inspector Galbraith is already on the case and reluctant to hand over responsibility.

The two police officers investigate the crime together and Galbraith has to reassess his ideas about vampires, while Pole comes to the conclusion that humans may make better colleagues than he had expected.

The whole book was really just an excuse for me to write about a world where vampires live among us and dance tango. I got the idea in Buenos Aires with its frantic night-life populated by people that you simply never see by daylight. The elaborate graveyards filled with ‘streets’ of mausolea meant the idea that the tango sub-culture was mainly made up of vampires was an easy step to take.

Buenos Aires cemetery

I love tango, so it seemed natural to me that if you had eternity to perfect a skill, tango would be the obvious thing to go for.

Something Wicked isn’t a book that takes itself too seriously. I had enormous fun writing it. Slightly to my surprise, it seems that a lot of people had fun reading it (it’s had some lovely reviews) and there were suggestions that I should write another book featuring Galbraith and Pole. So I have.

Eat the Poor features a werewolf and Members of Parliament. After all, if vampires would naturally be attracted to tango, what could be a more obvious line of business for a werewolf than politics? It will be published in May.

All my books are written to stand alone, but there’s no doubt that Eat the Poor is more fun if you have already met Chief Inspector Pole and Section S. So next week (from Thursday) I’ll be selling Something Wicked at just 99p for a week. I do hope you enjoy it and will be tempted to buy Eat the Poor once it is released.

A look ahead at 2022

With the end of January only days away, it’s a bit late to be talking about plans for 2022, but the first weeks of the new year have been busy. Indeed, I’ve already passed my first landmark of 2022 with the publication of the latest James Burke book: Burke and the Pimpernel Affair. 2021 was a fairly grim year and Burke’s last adventure (Burke in Ireland) reflected the mood of the times, being very dark indeed. It seemed time to have something that was more light hearted and fun and Burke and the Pimpernel Affair definitely fits that description. It finds James Burke in Paris where (with a definite nod to Baroness Orczy’s books) he is trying to free British agents from a French gaol. He’s helped by William Brown, of course, and there are several historical figures who have roles to play, including the Empress Josephine. (The real James Burke probably met Josephine, though not in the circumstances of this story.)

I’m editing another Contemporary Urban Fantasy about Galbraith and Pole. A lot of people said they would like to see a sequel to Something Wicked, so I’ve obliged. It’s a story that’s been at the back of my mind for a while and I started writing it last year, but if I tell you that it features a werewolf and the House of Commons, you may see why I’m in a hurry to get it finished. It’s got the same sardonic humour as Something Wicked but there’s a definite satirical edge and I feel that for once I may be riding the zeitgeist.

Of course, if The Bookseller is right and 2022 is going to be all about historical novels, I may be riding that zeitgeist as well. Can you ride two zeitgeists or is it like trying to ride two horses and unwise to make the attempt?

I’m also involved in a short book of short stories. Four of us with stories set in the 19th century are putting them out together for 99p in the hope of reaching new audiences. It should be out in March. I’ll keep you all informed.

Here on the blog I’m going to try something different from February. My beloved is a big Jane Austen fan and keeps a regular journal. With all the fuss lately about exactly how many parties you were allowed to have and when, we realised that the details of two years of on-again, off-again restrictions had faded. She began looking back at the journal entries about lockdown and we realised that here was a record of an extraordinary period of English social history. (The Scots and the Welsh have their own, slightly different, stories.) So we’re going to take a look at what was going on two years ago. I’ll keep going until you all demand I stop – though I’ll probably run it alongside my regular blog rather than instead of.

Beyond March, I’m not sure where I’m going. I’m finding it difficult to promote existing books properly and write new ones at the same time. (Hence the gap in output while the John Williamson books were being published.) The temptation is to say that I write for fun and just concentrate on that but the fact is that it is only fun if people read them, and with thousands more books being published all the time, people only read them if you jump up and down and talk about them. So what to do?

I know I’m not alone in worrying about this. The sad fact is that writers will write only as long they think people are reading what they produce. (That goes for the blog too.) It’s one reason why reviews are so important, but any sort of feedback is appreciated: comments on this blog; contact on Twitter (I’m @TomCW99); anything really. (One fan of The White Rajah gave me a miniature kris in pewter, which was amazing, but you don’t need to get carried away.)

My nicest fan letter

If (and it’s a big ‘if’) I don’t write another novel, there’s a possible non-fiction about Waterloo. Or maybe I’ll just concentrate on improving my tango. (I can offer lessons if you want them.) Whatever happens – recession, lockdown, the collapse of capitalism, global warming, or the end of civilisation as we know it – I’ll still be writing or dancing or something. Stick with the blog and help me enjoy the ride – and a Happy New(ish) Year to you all.

Meeting other writers

Meeting other writers

I haven’t done a post about the writing life for a while and I know some people like that sort of thing. (Hey, I don’t judge: I just go with things that people respond to.)

So, for any would-be writers wondering how to meet other writers (or even if they want to bother) here are some thoughts.

Writers’ groups online or in real life

Even before I was published I was a member of the writers’ forum – Absolute Write. Absolute Write allows you to share your work and other writers in your genre will critique it. When I was active in it, the Historical writers were a lively bunch. Their critiques were often brutal but I learned a lot. Find a group like that and they will be a really valuable resource.

I know people who have joined ‘real life’ writing groups but listening to their experiences I’m not impressed. There seems a danger that groups can attract people who write occasionally as a hobby and the group can just become a place to pass a pleasantly social hour or two while telling each other how great your work is. If that’s what you want, then fine. On the other hand, if you want to improve your writing, the occasional brutality of the Internet can be your friend – it’s easier to tell somebody that their precious words aren’t really very good if you don’t have to look at them over tea and cake while you do it. And, of course, it’s easier to slip away and digest criticism in private. Real-life writing groups work for some people but I would look seriously at online support.

Online support for writers

Online support for writers goes well beyond critique groups. There are groups on Facebook for people writing in particular genres or for the more commercially minded who want to chat about cover design or marketing strategies.  (See, for example SPF Community or 20booksTo50K.)

Twitter fans might be more comfortable limited to 240 characters. There are thousands (I guess) of writers on Twitter and one advantage is that it’s very democratic. You could find yourself talking to Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat), me (@TomCW99) or someone whose first novel is still an exciting gleam in their eye.

Twitter is a peculiar place and there are, indeed, many deeply unpleasant people on it but you really don’t have to see them. There is a ‘block’ function to remove horrible folk (you can use it to block horrible subjects too) and what’s left can be fun. If you’re like me it will be anonymous and pointless fun for a while and then gradually you will make friends there. I’ve even met one or two in real life. Stick at it. As when you first arrived at a new school, don’t expect to make great friends overnight.

Real-life genre specific groups

There are also real-life groups for various genres of writing. These will usually have an on-line presence as well, but once you feel you know them, you might want to venture out of your writing room/shepherd’s hut/cave and see them in the flesh. As I mainly write historical fiction I’m a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and I’ve found them amazingly friendly and supportive. The same is probably true of other genre-specific groups.

But what do I know?

It’s important to remember that all these thousands of writers will have hundreds of different opinions on how to write (and how to sell your books once you’ve written them). Inevitably (do the maths) most of them will be wrong – or, more accurately, wrong for you. Find other writers: use them for support; use them for critiques; use them to get you home when you’ve drunk yourself to a stupor. But don’t, whatever you do, let them tell you how to write. That one’s down to you.

John Williamson’s time to shine

John Williamson’s time to shine

Today, assuming you’re reading this the day it came out (Friday), is the last day you can buy The White Rajah at its offer price of 99p/99c.

I’ve put The White Rajah on offer to kick-start sales of ‘The John Williamson Papers’ ahead of the release of the second volume, Cawnpore, on Friday 10 September. (That’s on Kindle: a paperback will follow soon.)

Why am I republishing all three of the John Williamson Papers years after they first came out? Partly it’s that my experience with the James Burke stories shows that my books sell much better when I’m marketing them (albeit quite badly) than when I leave the job to a publisher. The White Rajah and Cawnpore were first published by a tiny US outfit (JMS Books) who did an astonishingly good job. The moved to substantially bigger publishers in the UK proved to be a mistake and sales of the trilogy never matched the positive reviews they got. I’m hoping to do better this time around.

More importantly, I think (hope) that these are books whose time has come. There has been a lot of talk in the media (mainstream media and social media) about how we need to look more critically at our colonial past or, alternatively, how we need to celebrate the days of Empire. What these books tried to do was to look at the moral ambiguity of ‘the Empire Project’, which was neither the selfless act of a beneficent Britain that it used to be presented as, nor the unalloyed evil that it is often regarded as today.

If you are interested in getting some idea of the realities of colonial rule, the John Williamson Papers are perhaps a good place to start. And if you just want adventure and battles and a different sort of love story, then you can just enjoy them for that.

The John Williamson Papers

I’ve now got a draft of the next Burke book in a fit condition for it to get its first beta read. That’s always my wife and she can be harsh, so if it survives that it will go out to a couple more beta readers and then we’ll start the move towards publication. One of the joys of being self-published is that I can move at my own pace rather than having my schedule dictated by publishers

While Burke marinates quietly, I can finally get on with republishing Cawnpore. People on social media often make quite a song and dance out of showing the covers of their new books but I really can’t work up that much artificial excitement: so, without more ado, here it is.

Cawnpore is the second book in the John Williamson trilogy. Unlike The White Rajah it has been little changed since it was published by the US small press, JMS Books, ten years ago. Why publish it again?

Well, ten years is a long time – long enough for me to have been through two UK publishers who took the book on but didn’t offer much in the way of marketing support. It did well on its first US publication and sold a few more when it moved to a UK publisher but sales in the past few years have been negligible. I have learned, though, since I took back control of the James Burke books that there is an untapped market for my writing and that people will buy the books if they are promoted. I’m better known, too, with five James Burke books already published. So I’m hopeful that there will be more interest in Cawnpore now than there was a few years ago.

The John Williamson Papers are a very different series from the James Burke books. They are set in the mid-19th century and are rather more serious in tone. They are first person accounts, written in the style of the period, so they demand a little more of the reader, but I think they offer more back. They do have adventure and battles but there is rather more politics and Burke’s doubts about the morality and worth of a lot of the killing he is involved in are much stronger with John Williamson.

Each of the books in the trilogy stands alone, but they are written as a cycle, starting with John Williamson in England signing on for a voyage to Borneo and ending in the third book with his return to England. If you want to start the trilogy at the beginning, The White Rajah will be on offer at just 99p from Saturday 28th of August to Friday 3 September. 99p is the Kindle version, of course. The White Rajah is alsoavailable in paperback for £6.99. Because I think The White Rajah is a serious book deserving serious presentation, it is also available in hardback for £14.99: it does look rather nice.

I won’t go on about why you should read The White Rajah – mainly because I’ve talked a lot about that in recent months. (If you’ve missed it, have a look HERE.) I hope you’ll give The White Rajah a go and enjoy reading it.

I’ll be talking about Cawnpore next week. Meanwhile, because I really don’t want to make a song and dance about cover reveals, here is a poster with the covers for the whole trilogy.