Recent Reviews on Amazon

 

Very happy to have received another couple of four and five star reviews on Amazon.

I am extremely grateful to those of you who have taken the time to write a review, which as well as providing valuable feedback also helps to improve The Solstice Blade’s ranking in the Amazon charts.

Amazon Customer awarded four stars and said:
“I read this book twice, not because I didn’t quite understand the storyline first time but because it was in all honesty, an excellent read. Although aimed at the young adult readership, Solstice Blade has a quality and writing style which very easily crosses over to an adult market. I liked it very much and look forward to Roberts next outing as an author”

Mr G. M. Watson awarded five stars and said:
“I really enjoyed reading this book. Easy to read with great detail which made me feel immersed in fairy land. I personally felt it could of been longer but this is my only criticism as I really enjoyed the content.”

See all of the The Solstice Blade’s reviews at Amazon here

The Holyer an Gof Awards Evening in Truro

The Solstice Blade was nominated for the Holyer an Gof awards and we were invited to attend the awards ceremony at Waterstone’s bookshop in Truro, Cornwall on Tuesday 11th July 2017.

A very enjoyable evening began with a short drinks reception held upstairs at the bookshop before the announcements and presentation got underway. It was a curiously exciting  experience to be sitting around chatting and drinking wine in a bookshop after it had closed to the public!

All of the nominated books were on display on a dedicated bookshelf within the shop for purchase during the evening and will remain on sale there for a couple of weeks.

The Holyer an Gof award nominees on display at Waterstones bookshop in Truro.
The Holyer an Gof award nominees on display at Waterstones bookshop in Truro.
The Holyer an Gof award nominees on display at Waterstones bookshop in Truro.
The Holyer an Gof award nominees on display at Waterstones bookshop in Truro.

The special guest master of ceremonies for the awards was Edward Rowe, better known in Cornwall as the comedian “Kernow King”,  and it was a special treat to have the opportunity to have a few words with him briefly after the ceremony.

Robert Beck with "Kernow King" Edward Rowe.
Robert Beck with “Kernow King” Edward Rowe.

During the announcements themselves, on a category by category basis, the nominations were individually introduced, with a summary of each entry. The young adults category was combined with the children’s section, with all of the nominations in young adults being described as “outstanding”.

Then, the winners of each category were announced and presented with their certificates. Although The Solstice Blade did not win the combined Children and YA section, it was a very pleasant surprise to be called up and presented with a certificate from the Grand Bard (Bardh Meur) of the Cornish Gorsedh, Merv Davey.

Robert Beck is presented with his certificate for The Solstice Blade by the Grand Bard - Merv Davey.
Robert Beck is presented with his certificate for The Solstice Blade by the Grand Bard – Merv Davey.

Further information about Gorsedh Kernow can be found here.

Further information about Holyer an Gof can be found here.

Carnglaze Caverns

Statue of a fairy located in the woodlands at Carnglaze Caverns.

On the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of July 2017, The Solstice Blade was at Carnglaze Caverns near Liskeard in Cornwall for their Crystal and Crafts Show.

Carnglaze Caverns is a disused slate mine located in the Loveny Valley on the way to the village of St. Neot, and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Once at Carnglaze, the entrance to the cavern itself is to be found along a short footpath, tucked away around a bend. It is always a delight to round the corner and encounter the lights and sounds of activity emanating from the entrance cut into the hillside.

The entrance to the slate cavern.
The entrance to the slate cavern.

Early on the Saturday morning, before the show opened to the public, there was time for a walk in the woodland surrounding the caverns, which is populated with many enchanting statues of mythological creatures.

A statue in the woodlands surrounding Carnglaze Caverns.
Statue in the woodlands surrounding Carnglaze Caverns.
Statue of a fairy located in the woodlands at Carnglaze Caverns.
Statue located in the woodlands at Carnglaze Caverns.

The Solstice Blade stall was set up underground in the upper part of the cavern system known as The Rum Store, which is often used as a concert venue. The temperature in the caves remains constant throughout the year, and whilst this was probably a comfortable temperature for the slate miners to perform their physical work in, it can feel rather chilly when one is sitting down manning a stall! I certainly felt rather overdressed as I wandered out squinting into the soaring temperatures of a July weekend wrapped up in a jumper, coat and scarf!

The solstice blade books and posters on the stall
The Solstice Blade stall in the Rum Store at Carnglaze Caverns.

It was very enjoyable to meet people who were interested in reading The Solstice Blade and even one or two who were reading it at the time. Several people were curious about  my experiences of self-publishing, and I hope I was able to offer them some useful information and hopefully inspire them to give it a go themselves. In addition to the public attending the event, many of the other stall holders and even the organiser of the event picked up a copy and I look forward to hearing their thoughts and comments about the story.

Close up of The Solstice Blade book with fairy lights and candle.
Close up of a copy of The Solstice Blade on the stall.
A view from the entrance of the Rum Store towards the stage, showing stalls set up for the show.
View from the entrance of the Rum Store towards the stage, showing stalls set up for the show.

The otherworldly ambience of Carnglaze Caverns perfectly complemented the atmosphere that I tried to create in The Solstice Blade, and I hope to return again in the winter for their “Alternative Christmas Present Show.” Which, in early December, is getting perilously close to the winter solstice!

If you are planning a visit to Carnglaze, you can find more information about site and directions on their website here.

The Solstice Blade will be on the road again on Saturday the 8th of July 2017 at the Liskeard Show. I’d love it if you were to pop over and say “hello”.

The Solstice Blade Nominated for Holyer an Gof Award

Very excited to report that The Solstice Blade has been nominated for an award in the Holyer an Gof competition in the combined “children and young adults” category!

Gorsedh Kernow (The Cornish Gorsedh) runs the annual Holyer an Gof awards which recognises publications about Cornwall or which are written in the Cornish language. 

The winners will be announced on Tuesday 11th July at Waterstones bookshop in Truro.

Follow this link for more information about this year’s nominees.

More information about Holyer an Gof can be found by following this link.

Liskeard Town in Chapter 1: Rain

A view from Webb's House to the fountain across The Parade in Liskeard.

Follow Liam, Evan and Travis’s journey into Liskeard on their initial Christmas shopping visit in Chapter 1: Rain.

Looking west across the Cattle Market car park in Liskeard.
Looking west across the Cattle Market car park in Liskeard.

We first meet Liam, Evan, and Travis, as they make their way across the cattle market car park in chapter 1: Rain. When they next cross the car park things are very different!

The Fountain in Liskeard Town Centre
The Fountain in Liskeard Town Centre

The town’s Christmas Tree which is mentioned in Rain, is positioned to the left of the fountain in the Parade, the main road through Liskeard town centre. The fountain was given to the town by Michael Loam, the son of the man credited with inventing the ‘man engine’

Stone arches at the base of Liskeard Guild Hall.
Stone arches at the base of Liskeard Guild Hall at the junction of Fore Street and Pike Street.

The small arcade of shops beneath the Guildhall arches. The is where Travis thinks he hears footsteps following them along a deserted Fore Street as they double-back on themselves for a final attempt to buy presents before heading home.

Looking up at the Guildhall clock tower in Liskeard.
The Guildhall Clock Tower.

The Guildhall clock tower is a major landmark in Liskeard, visible from most parts of the town. The stone arches are at its base. The Guildhall was built in 1859 at around the height of the copper mining boom.

A view along Fore Street towards the Guildhall clock tower.
A view along Fore Street towards the Guildhall clock tower.

Fore Street, the location of the junk shop where Travis purchases the paper knife that he intends to give to his mother as a Christmas present. The view in the photograph is along Fore Street from the junction with Pondbridge Hill.

Bodmin Moor

The landscape that Chastity Trewartha worked in, and which she was pursued through by the Wild Hunt,  in the 1850s at the height of the copper mining boom, was a very different place from the one we see today. Then it was essentially an industrial landscape, albeit a remote and exposed one.

The following photographs show the landscape around Caradon Hill and Minions as it today. This was the general area that Chastity was traversing when she encountered the Wild Hunt. The following two images are from Caradon Hill.

Ruined Mine Engine with Gorse Bush in the Foreground - Caradon Hill
Ruined Mine Engine – Caradon Hill
Ruined Mine Engine - Caradon Hill
Ruined Mine Engine – Caradon Hill

To the west of Caradon Hill is the village of Minions, the highest village in Cornwall, right on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

The following images are from the moor close to Minions.

Looking East from Minions Moor Toward Dartmoor - Prince of Wales Engine House Visible in the Mid-ground
Looking East from Minions Moor Toward Dartmoor

This image is a view from above the path leading to Cheesewring quarry on Bodmin moor out towards Dartmoor in the distance. The Prince of Wales engine house with its distinctive red brick chimney can be seen in the mid-ground. The Prince of Wales engine house is more recent than a lot of the other mine buildings here, dating from 1910.

Stunted Windblown Trees on Bodmin Moor Near Minions
Stunted Windblown Trees on Bodmin Moor Near Minions
Looking towards Sharp Tor with a stunted tree and granite boulder in the foreground
Looking Towards Sharp Tor
Granite Boulders and Stunted Trees on Bodmin Moor
Granite Boulders and Stunted Trees on Bodmin Moor

Chastity Trewartha

Chastity is a surface worker at one of the local copper mines and is introduced in the prologue as the quarry of the Wild Hunt. Although the prologue is set in the 1850s this is not specifically mentioned anywhere, other than a passing reference to the copper mining boom of the 1800s in “Rain”. I felt that stating the date specifically would have interrupted the flow of the story, so I had to come up with another way to establish the time period in which Chastity lived. One possibility would have been to include the date in the chapter heading, but I wanted to keep to single word titles for the majority chapters and using a date didn’t seem to fit with that approach. To get around this, I decided that the character should have a name that would give her a distinct location in both time and place. Trewartha, as an obviously Cornish name, fixes her location and Chastity was chosen as a name that resonates well with the Victorian era. Women of that time were often named after religious virtues. Other potential names included Temperance and Prudence. I chose not to go with Temperance because the name had recently been used in a high profile TV and book series and Prudence didn’t seem to fit her character very well.

Chastity is described as a ‘bal maiden’, which was the name for a female mine worker, bal being derived from the Cornish word for mine. Her occupation and traditional dress are also used to help establish the time in which the prologue is set. The ‘gook’ that is described in the prologue was the name of the traditional headdress that extended over the shoulders to protect the bal maiden from weather, noise and debris.

King Herla and the Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt in The Solstice Blade was always going to be led by King Herla, as it is strongly based on the British variation of the European folk tale of the Wild Hunt which has many versions but generally features a legion of faeries, demons, or the dead, riding through the skies. In the Germanic versions of the Wild Hunt legends the leader is often assumed to be Woden, in the British version the leader is King Herla.

Several versions of The Wild Hunt occur in English folklore, especially in the South West, where the events of The Solstice Blade are set. In Somerset, the hunt was said to be led by King Arthur,  in other versions the hounds are said to be Gabriel Ratchet’s dogs, and in Northern England they are Gabriel’s Hounds. In Devon in the legend of the Wisht hounds is associated with Wistman’s Wood high on Dartmoor (‘wisht’ in the Devonshire dialect is variously attributed to mean eerie or uncanny, or else pixie-led or haunted). In Cornwall, where The Solstice Blade is set, reference to the hunt are found in the story of Dando and his dogs or the devil and his dandy dogs, or sometimes as Jan Tregeagle who escaped from hell, trying to outrun the devil’s hounds.

In the Solstice Blade, I tried to make the character of King Herla someone who had been in the hunt for so long that he had lost all sense of himself and has became the personification of the hunt. This why he enjoys the sensation of being struck by lightning in the prologue, and why he and all the other members of the hunt are frozen in ecstasy when the lightning flash renders them visible for the first time to Liam, Evan and Travis in ‘Snow’. To arrive at a description of Herla, I envisioned how someone who had spent centuries riding through the storm would appear. This led to the description of the burnt and blackened crown and sword, the jagged corrosion of the sword making it all the more fearsome as the group imagines in ‘Pursued’. Herla’s clothes are burned and tattered rags, the inspiration of these being the appearance of old flags that have been ruined by a relentless wind.

The image Åsgårdsreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo that is shown with this post was also a source of inspiration for the Wild Hunt in The Solstice Blade.

References to the hunt being frozen in place in a lightning flash are deliberate and are an indication of things to come later in the story!

If you enjoyed reading about King Herla and the Wild Hunt, don’t forget to check out my book The Solstice Blade!

The Lord of Misrule

Although I had always intended for the The Lord of Misrule to feature in The Solstice Blade, at the start of the writing process I was not really sure of what his role would be. Further research led on to him becoming a central character of the story.

I encountered the Lord of Misrule again when researching ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, particularly the Roman festival of Saturnalia, for use in the dialogue between Travis, Liam and Evan and the owner of the junk shop when they discuss the origins of Christmas. As soon as I heard of the Lord of Misrule’s role as a kind of prince of fools, I immediately envisaged him in a battered paper Christmas cracker crown. The wooden sword also aids the image of a ceremonial role rather than a real one, as was giving him childlike habits like twisting his foot against the ground when thinking or embarrassed. This is good example of how the act of writing and researching can spark inspiration and cause the story to develop in unexpected ways.

Also and completely coincidentally the Lord of Misrule, in a number of guises, pops up around South West England quite a lot – a fact I was unaware of when writing The Solstice Blade even though it is set in Cornwall. In October 2016, the town of Penryn in Cornwall reinstated their Mock Mayor celebration for the town’s 800th anniversary. The Mock Mayor is another incarnation of The Lord of Misrule.  In addition to the Mock Mayor himself Penryn’s parade, also known as The Mayor of Mylor, features two mace bearers who carry cabbages instead of maces. Traditionally the Mock Mayor assumed control of the town for one day and was carried in a chair on the shoulders of four strong men. He made a speech in front of the town hall before visiting various local public houses that were expected to provide him with ale.

These Mock Mayors were especially common in Cornwall in Penzance, Penryn, Helston, Polperro and St Germans, but were also found in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Writing YA Fantasy: Interview with Robert Beck

Printer T J Ink interviewed Robert Beck about The Solstice Blade as a case study. Read the transcript or see the original article here:

Fantasy novels are a hugely popular genre, but what does it take to actually write one? We interview Robert Beck about writing YA Fantasy and finally getting the book published. 

Writing YA Fantasy

Author, Robert Beck talks to us about writing YA Fantasy stories.

Tell us about The Solstice Blade, what is it about?

The Solstice Blade follows the adventures of three brothers: Travis, Evan and Liam. Forces from an alternate version of our world disrupt their lives by manipulating them into invoking an ancient ritual.

As a result, the town of Liskeard is subjected to a series of increasingly bizarre events as aspects of the Otherworld bleed through. If the brothers can’t reverse the effects of the ritual before the winter solstice, their lives will never be the same.

It’s often said that writing YA Fantasy is completely different from other types of fiction. Are you aware of writing for a specific audience and do you include any particular YA tropes?

I was very aware of the age group I was writing for. Initially I was cautious that the story shouldn’t be too frightening, although I did learn as I went on that teenagers do seem to like their subject matter a little darker than I had assumed. I didn’t deliberately include any particular tropes, but it is entirely possible that some genre specific themes crept in. Confession: I had to look up what a trope was!

Why did you decide to set the book in Liskeard, Cornwall, and what was it that you found were your main sources of inspiration?

The Solstice Blade was actually the last in a series of stories that I wrote for my children each Christmas as they were growing up in Liskeard. Each story would interact with the local environment in one way or another.

For example, one year a storm blew away the final three pages and we travelled to the south east of Cornwall to locate them in order to finish the story. We all know that a story must finish, otherwise who knows what might happen?

Another year, when my sons were much younger, pirates had sabotaged the North Pole’s “Sant-Nav” system, which releases Christmas scents in the upper atmosphere. They were polluting the air with Brussels sprout odour. We had to reseed the air currents over Cornwall with cinnamon and pine smells launched from fireworks to allow the reindeer to find their way.

So, my sons were my inspiration. As for Liskeard, well, the high levels of background magic here made it an obvious choice.

How long did it take you to write the novel and what did you do to stay motivated?

The original Christmas deadline meant that the basic story was ready in about four months. However, when I decided to convert it into a full novel, it probably took me another two years to embellish it and patch over the plot holes. Motivation was not really an issue as I enjoyed making up the story so much.

On your website you mention the juxtaposition of your day job as a software engineer and your passion for writing YA Fantasy. How do you find the balance between the two?

I have to travel to work on the train and I use the time to work on my stories. It’s the perfect antidote to a day of writing software code! Although, just occasionally, a piece of code can sometimes throw up an unexpected twist in a similar way to a novel.

Are you happy with the end book and how have you found the self-publishing process as a whole?

Writing YA Fantasy

The finished book

I am very happy with the end result. The entire process from conception to holding the printed paperback in my hands has been very enjoyable. I think I was fortunate to have chosen TJ INK for the printing. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, and professional. What could have been a daunting first foray into self-publishing was actually an absolute pleasure. I would definitely recommend this route for anyone who has a story to tell.

Many authors find the marketing and promotion of their book the biggest struggle. How do you tackle this and what advice can you give?

I’m still early to the process, but so far I have certainly found this to be the most difficult part. I don’t think that self-promotion comes easily to many people and there are so many aspects to it that professionals in the field probably train for a long time to master. These days, however, with tools like social media it’s easier than it ever has been to promote a book.

I do think that the inherently creative nature of a lot of writers will benefit them in approaching marketing from new and unexpected angles. My personal advice is to start early because it’s harder and more time consuming that you expect.

With so many forms of entertainment competing for readers’ attention, what, in your opinion, makes a good engaging story?

It’s hard to say what makes a good story, but I know one when I find it. If a formula for a great story could be identified then every book would be a bestseller! Personally, I love unexpected plot twists and a fantasy element that takes the reader away from their everyday life into somewhere wholly different. It’s even better when you write it, as you create those worlds yourself.

Writing YA Fantasy

Do you plan on writing any more books and what can we expect for the future?

I have a couple of ideas for new stories, a follow up to The Solstice Blade that’s also set in Liskeard, and another story for adults that I am quite excited about.

And finally… what would be your ‘desert island’ book?

Difficult to say because my tastes are quite eclectic and I try not to re-read books. So it would probably be something I hadn’t read before. I particularly like Ian McDonald’s novels. If he were to write something along the lines of his novels Brasyl or River of Gods that would be a good candidate.

 ***

Visit Robert’s website to find out more about The Solstice Blade.