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GUEST AUTHOR TIM STRETTON: and a review of DOG OF THE NORTH

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Monday, March 19, 2012

First things first: The winner of the random drawing for a copy of Treasures of Carmelidrium from the guest author post by Nancy R Williams is . . Susan Kane.

For today's Monday review/and guest author post, let me introduce you to fantasy/historical author Tim Stretton.  Actually, I'm going to let Tim introduce himself, and his author journey, but please read my review for The Dog Of The North at the end of the post . .

In real life, I work in local government as an accountant.  I think that shows up in various ways in my fiction.  Money and labyrinthine bureaucracy feature heavily in most of my books, and status and protocol are jealously guarded.  All of this, ultimately, is drawn from life.  Since my books have never sold well enough for me consider writing full-time, I expect to retain considerable opportunities for observing public sector bureaucracy close-up.

These days I think it's important for writers to be accessible to their readers.  With that in mind, I maintain a blog at Acquired Taste and a website dragonchaser.net.  The former is an evolving insight into whatever might interest people who read my books: what I'm writing at the moment, what I've read, film or TV which is influencing me or I think my readers might enjoy.  The website is more of an archival thing - you can read excerpts from my books, but the content is deliberately fairly static.

Like many writers, perhaps most, I was a voracious reader from an early age; I can't remember a time when books weren't part of my life.  When I started school, it was soon apparent that not only had that given me an unreasonably adult vocabulary, but that I could organise it on the page as well.  (No gifts are given free, and this facility made me an object of suspicion and occasional hostility throughout my school career).

Even at primary school, my teachers were saying that inevitably I would produce a book one day.  They were right, but only after a lengthy apprenticeship that took in an English Literature degree and a wide exposure to both 'high' and 'low' culture.  As a result my literary influences come from a very broad spectrum.  I discovered the science-fiction and fantasy of Jack Vance in my early teens (and he remains my most-loved and re-read author to this day), and later contracted an interest in English 19th century fiction which still persists.  An enduring fascination with medieval history and an addiction to American crime fiction rounds out my A-list of influences.

I reached the point of realizing that I was nearly 30 and still had not made a serious attempt at writing fiction.  That jolt spurred me to write The Zael Inheritance in 1997, a science-fiction mystery strongly influenced by Jack Vance with a dash of Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler.  It was never published commercially, but still found a small readership--some of whom still regard it as their favourite of my books.

Ten or so years later, with a first fantasy novel (Dragonchaser) under my belt, I felt the need for more formal guidance and applied to do a Masters degree at my local university.  Sadly their view of fantasy was not very high, and I was turned down with the observation that they had nothing to teach me, and further association could only lead to frustration on both sides.

Instead I signed up for some creative writing courses at a local college, where I was lucky enough to be tutored by Greg Mosse, husband of the best-selling novelist Kate Mosse.  Greg had just the sort of practical mind that I needed, and I came away with the tools I needed to give The Dog of the North its final polish before its submission--and ultimate publication--by MacmillanNew Writing.

It's hard to remember now how long the whole project took.  It was published by Macmillan New Writing in mid-2008 but I suspect I'd started plotting it a good three years before.  For a fantasy novel I'd reckon three months on research/basic plotting & characters, three months to write (maybe a bit longer) and another three months to revise.  I'm not like Muriel Spark, who claimed never to revise her first draft, but I try to get as much as possible right first time.  I'd normally look at three meaningful drafts, but the final version will be 80-90% similar to the first draft.

I was lucky that Macmillan New Writing accepted unsolicited, unagented submissions.  They were the first publisher I submitted to, on the advice of Kate Mosse.  I figured she should know what she was talking about, and so she did.  I didn't have an agent then, and still don't know--in my experience, it's harder to get an agent than a publisher, particularly if you write science-fiction or fantasy.

The Dog of the North did not meet either my hopes or Macmillan's in sales volumes.  As a result, they chose not to publish The Last Free City, a sequel of sorts.  I returned instead to self-publication.  It meant that The Last Free City became, rather to my regret, the final Mondia novel, since agents and publishers alike were firm that there would be no market.  A fourth Mondia novel, The Fall of the Fireduke, lies half-exposed in the sand, 20,000 words destined never to see the light of day.

All three Mondia novels--Dragonchaser, The Dog of the North, and The Last Free City--grew as much from my interest in history as in fantasy.  The bloody intrigues of Renaissance Italy coloured much of my thinking.  My editor at Macmillan said that The Dog of the North read like a historical novel about somewhere you'd never heard of.

It's perhaps not surprising given my interest in history and the indifferent commercial performance of my fantasy fiction that I was drawn to the idea of writing historical fiction.  At the moment I'm deep into research on the Fourth Crusade, a medieval catalogue of cruelty, conspiracy, incompetence and farce.  It's a novel--indeed a series of novels--waiting to happen.

For historical fiction, I'm finding, everything I've learned about writing so far has to be re-learned. The research phase, inevitably, is much much longer, and I suspect the drafting may be less fluent and more in need of subsequent revision. We shall see.

I'm currently back self-publishing.  Agent feedback for The Last Free City has been consistently positive, but invariably offset by an unwillingness to take on a sequel to a first book which didn't sell.  An agent has to make a living from selling books to publishers, so I can understand them playing the percentages in that way.

Self-publishing is easier than ever, particularly in the ebook age.  But you need to be aware that you can't match the marketing that a commercial publisher will give you, and you won't--unless you're willing to pay for it--have the benefit of working with a professional editor.  My editor at MNW was Will Atkins, and I found this relationship the best part of the whole "being published" thing: having an intelligent and articulate reader enter sympathetically into your imaginary world is astounding.  I thought I'd hate having to share my toys in this way, and I couldn't have been more wrong.  Will made The Dog of the North a tighter, tauter, better book.

At the moment my energies are focused on getting my Fourth Crusade novel, Sons of the Devil, into a place where I can start writing it.  I'd love at some stage to write fantasy again, but the challenge of historical fiction is very appealing.
* * *
Thanks Tim Stretton for guesting for me today.  On the final note, I'd like to share with our readers how "appealing" The Dog Of The North was for me.

I'm going to write this review using a phrase I never thought I'd use – being a writer I like to believe I'm much more eloquent than this. Here it is: Buy this book, read this book when you have a long, leisurely weekend to devote to the the project. Not because this is a novel that is hard to get into. Oh no, you want time to read it because you won't want to put it down.  In fact, I had to write this before I read the end so I don't include any spoilers.

I think this novel will appeal to readers of all genre's. It has the formal language of a historical or Regency romance; except it is not set in historical Earth and does not embody the British nobility (though it does have a certain 'Pirates of the Caribbean' feel). As I read, I was reminded of all the Shakespearean tragedies I've read, but also likened it to a Ray Bradbury mystery for its overall intrigue. It is a fantasy, in as much as the thaumaturgist could be associated as a magician/sorcerer.

But what I think this novel is, ultimately, a mystery; despite the lack of a "body".   A career soldier's life is plagued with dead bodies; and if the protagonist soldier happens to be mercenary – well, you can only imagine the body count. I will admit again that I have only read to 89% of the novel; but my overall feeling is the mystery surrounds – a broken heart.

Now, I know you're thinking "gee that can't constitute an intriguing mystery."   Let me assure you, it does. Because you have to read through a majority of the novel in order to come to that conclusion.

The plot is developed through three separate story concepts. The main story is told through the perspective of Beauceron, mercenary Lord of the Winter Court in Mettingloom.  Beauceron's kidnapping plans have gone awry when he accosts the carriage of Oricien, Lord of Croad and discovers the Ladies Isola and Cosseta instead of the royal sister Siedra.

But that doesn't stop Beauceron from using the ladies to his advantage as bribes for an audience with the summer King Fanrolio to gain support for his campaign for war against the far province of Croad.   Beauceron (literal meaning Dog Of The North) will stop at nothing to obtain his vengence against Lord Oricien, including plotting the death of the Summer King to gain the promised support of the heir apparent.

The secondary story is that of Seignuir Arren; the son of Croad's Lord Thaume's Commander in Chief of the garrison. Lord Thaume approaches Darrien, Arren's father, and requests that he allow Arren to be raised alongside his (Thaume) own son Oricien, as a companion/counselor. This story is told alongside Beauceron's story, and for a while I was intrigued by both stories separately; until I figured out how the two were connected.

And that's when the author Tim Stretton threw in the third story concept; the Red Herring. Not that this concept hasn't been interwoven into the overall story plot thus far; he just masterfully brings it to the reader's attention.   I didn't even have to go back and re-read any passages to know where the author integrated this third story concept. It was there all along, and the ease my brain made the obvious connections proved how masterfully the author had manipulated reader Me.

This third "red herring" concept is why I had to write the review before I finish the novel. I was so tempted to skip to the end to see which story concept was the true red herring. And if I knew, believe me, I could not help but find a way to divulge that info in this review. And that, fellow readers, would spoil the novel.  You just have to read this novel to know how awesome it is.

Put aside whatever genre you normally read in and just enjoy a novel for pure, intriguing, entertainment. Whatever brand of fiction you enjoy – from faith based to whodunnit – you will be captivated by the characters, the setting, the intrigue, and the romance.

Cover Synopsis:  Winter on the lawless plains of the Emmenrule. En route to her wedding in the fortified city of Croad, the beautiful Lady Isola is kidnapped. What is worse, her captor is the infamous Beauceron. But, ruthless as he may be, Beauceron is no ordinary brigand: it is his life's ambition to capture Croad itself – and he will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Mondia, though, is a continent of many stories, and in Croad, a young man named Arren has been taken under the wing of the city's ruler, Lord Thaume. Although of low birth, Arren is destined to become a knight of valour and renown. But as his fortunes rise, so those of his childhood friend Eilla fall.

Beauceron has returned with his human plunder to his home – the exquisite frozen city of Mettingloom.  There, the imperious Isola finds herself reassessing her former loyalties as she struggles to adapt to her new life. Beauceron, meanwhile, is manoeuvring to raise an army. He is determined to defeat his enemies, both inside and outside Mettingloom – and to capture the city he loathes.

But what is the source of Beauceron’s obsession with Croad? Can Arren reconcile his youthful ambitions with his growing feelings for Eilla? And just who is the Dog of the North?

Tim Stretton’s debut novel is a spellbinding tale of loyalty and betrayal, homeland and exile, set in a brilliantly imagined world of political intrigue, sorcery, and warfare on an epic scale.

You can purchase Dragonchaser, The Dog Of The North, and The Last Free City on Kindle in the US by clicking on the title links.  Visit Tim's blog and website for purchasing links in the UK, and for more information about his other published works.

16 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Shame the Masters program didn't take fantasy seriously. Good for you for sticking to your guns on what you like to write though, Tim.

Tim Stretton said...

Alex, with hindsight it probably worked out for the best. My local Masters programme has produced some really good published novelists, but very much at the literary end of the spectrum. I suspect it would have been two years of mutual bafflement if I had been signed up...

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I love a good fantasy and based on Donna's recommendation, this sounds like something that is different and fresh. It sucks that Macmillan didn't want the sequel :/. I have a mid-size publisher and they said when I'm ready, they would always take a sequel. That's kind I suppose given that some publishers are only driven by numbers.

As a side note, I also work in government. They had to paint a white line down the driveway because the people I work with needed guidance so that those leaving wouldn't run into those arriving. O.o

The Golden Eagle said...

It was interesting to read your writing story. It's too bad about the sequel!

Thanks for the review.

M Pax said...

Nice to meet you, Tim. Fantasy is a great genre. Who wants to escape into reality? lol

Thanks for the reminder of NR's book, Donna. I have it on my nook. I need to read it soon. So many books, so little time:)

Donna Hole said...

Alex, perserverance is important.

Thanks Tim for the awesome guest post. I've bought the other two novels and can't wait to get to read them :)

Mike; I think my agency needs that strategy. We have huge entrance and exit signs and people still insist on going the wrong way. I hope you enjoy Tim's book.

Hello Golden.

Mary; I'm sure you'll enjoy Nancy's book. But I know what you mean about books and time :)

.....dhole

Sarah Pearson said...

This sounds like something really different. It's great that self-publishing gives us a chance to switch genres that we might otherwise be nervous to take.

Gossip_Grl said...

I left you a Veritile Blogger gift on my blog if you want it, just pop over : )

Tim Stretton said...

@Michael
If only my agency had such a simple arrangement. We have an approach to our car park with baffling cross-hatching and normal rights of way rules suspended - and we are the highways authority!

@Golden
Yes, a shame about the sequel. I try to cultivate a mindset where my mood is determined by whether I achieved my writing goal (which I can control) rather than publisher validation (which I can't).

@Sarah
I'm a big fan of self-publishing (especially for ebooks). The market isn't yet very good at allowing a reader to separate the wheat from the chaff - but I'm not sure mainstream publishing does a whole lot better on that score.

Julie Dao said...

I've heard about so many writing programs that look down on fantasy. Why is this, I wonder? Glad you found the instruction you needed eventually. I majored in science in college, so I never had the opportunity to take a creative writing class, but I'd love to find one in my community and try to hone my skills a bit.

mooderino said...

A very interesting journey, very much an example of modern publishing with all its up and downs. Thanks for the insight.

cheers,
mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Rachna Chhabria said...

I personally like the genre of fantasy, we can explore different worlds through it.

Pk Hrezo said...

Thanks for all the info, Tim. I'm glad to see you're taking matters into your own hands... but I agree with you, self-pubbing is hard work!

Donna Hole said...

Sarah; yes it does make self publishing appealing.

Thanks Gossip Girl :)


Julie I hope you get to take some creative writing classes, but you already have great writing skills.


Hi Moody.

I agree Rachna; my favorite genre.

Hi Pk. Definitely too much work for me to try.

......dhole

Ann Weisgarber said...

I'm a fan of Tim's work (great interview! great review!) but I have to add that I've met Tim. He's a terrific guy who is generous to other writers. That alone is enough to make me love his novels. Add great story lines and the package is complete.

Tim Stretton said...

Thanks everyone for the kind words. I hope those of you who read the book enjoy it!