Monday, 30 May 2011

From bags to bookshelves in six months: from paper to e-book in twelve

My first memory of Kathleen was when a dog got into the playground and we chased it around as kids do. This young and exotic teacher emerged, scolded us and picked up the puppy. For all I know she adopted it: I seem to remember that she had a dog. Once.

Exotic- well now what is exotic in a teacher? Nowadays they look, act and dress like executives. In my school days, all teachers were ladies and pretty ancient ones at that: they had grey, slightly crinkly hair in a bun, usually worn low on the neck. They wore decorous but dull frocks in summer, and tweed skirts in winter. Stockings were lisle, shoes were sensible. Grey, grey, beige and grey. (Not that their characters were grey- but that's another story)

So a woman who sported green stockings, a blue skirt and delicate glass jewellery in all the colours of the rainbow, burst into our world as a multicoloured oddity. She had beautiful red gold hair in an immaculate bob and as I got to know her, I found her mind matched and overtook the wonderful eccentricity of her person.

Kathleen has always been eccentric, as truly gifted people are eccentric. Eccentric in the best ways.

She taught me Scholarship Level Latin at school when I was in sixth form, she learnt Welsh and Hungarian, she became a writer… and she shared my love of The Beano and The Dandy!

I went back to the school to teach. Kathleen was my head of department, and she became my friend. 

That friendship has lasted, and changed- as friendship does, for over forty years, with gaps, high points and low points.

During the last few years there have been low points indeed, as the stroke that Kathleen had in 1994 started to take its toll, and she became prey to depression and delusion. During those dark years, she frequently referred to her "Furness novel" and asked me if I could help her "sort it out".

Finally, gathering all her strength and all her pages, she managed to bundle the manuscript into two large carrier bags- "bags for life" - a lovely irony. And she gathered enough courage and energy to meet me outside Burnt Oak station with the bags. I hadn't seen her for several years, and she didn't want me to see her: "I want you all to remember me as I was", she said.

She had a week or two of great energy and optimism, when she rode on the wave that had buoyed her up to gather her book together but it was a very brief upturn in what proved to be a rapid decline in her health and spirits. She had been neglecting the physical world of eating, drinking and sleeping until she was found wandering, far from home with a dislocated shoulder, and taken to the nearest hospital. Now, with proper food and warmth and care in sheltered accommodation she is regaining strength and clarity day by day and delighted that people are enjoying Moon in Leo.

The 29th of June this year is the anniversary of the day Kathleen handed me those two carrier bags. I want to celebrate by giving away the e-version of Moon in Leo. Keep checking the blog for the code. When I post it, you will have 24 hours to download Moon in Leo for nothing!

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Question of Alchemy

What was the relationship of alchemy, at that period, to what would eventually become chemistry? Mike answers this query from a reader on the Comments, Notes and FAQs page

Sunday, 22 May 2011

First Public Readings from Moon in Leo

Many people are curious about writers and their stories. Kathleen Herbert is an extraordinary person, whose intellect and imagination has taken her on many a fascinating and perilous journey.

Probably her last, and in many ways her most perilous journey, is the one that started when she had a massive stroke shortly after finishing Moon in Leo. From losing a week of her life, through teaching herself to read and write again, through consequent years of struggle and depression, to the final effort of gathering together over a thousand pages of typescript into two "bags for life", she kept alive the wish to communicate with her readers. Above all, she wanted folks in Cumbria to have this book.

Mike and I feel very privileged to have helped her fulfill her wish. We are going to be telling her story publicly for the first time this Friday, at Wheyrigg Hall Hotel near Wigton. if you live in North Cumbria, please come! If you would like to book a talk, get in touch with us.

Genre- does it matter?

Until I published Moon in Leo, I scarcely noticed the genre of any book I was reading. I certainly didn't notice whether it was set in the past or the present. I did notice how well it was written, and if it had something to say. (I hate getting to the end of a book and saying "So what?" to myself.)

I still think this: after a century or two, does anyone notice that A Tale of Two Cities is a "Historical Novel", but Our Mutual Friend is contemporary? Looking back, I realise that many of my favourite books have been historical novels- Mary Renault- The King Must Die, Rosemary Sutcliff- The Rider of the White Horse, Philippa Gregory- Virgin Earth and Earthly Joys, Kathleen's earlier book- Queen of the Lightning to name a few.

When, a few years back,  I discovered two American novels- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, I didn't think of them as fundamentally different: they each gave me a window onto a different world, moved me to tears and laughter, and as all good books, changed my view of the world. All the above have a permanent place on my shelves, to be read again and again.

What I didn't realise was that there are many people who choose historical novels over contemporary ones. It came as a bit of a shock therefore to find out that Moon in Leo cannot be marketed simply as a literary novel. In my naivety I thought it would be sufficient to post some good reviews and lots of people would like it. Now, Moon in Leo has received some excellent reviews, but it's no use my targeting lovers of Sci Fi Fantasy, or gritty Detective Fiction: it wouldn't hit their buttons.

This, and reading some comments suggesting that Moon in Leo is a Romance (for details, see my last post) led me to revisit an earlier post. Just as I was about to revise and re-post it, I came across this article by Emma Darwin (A Secret Alchemy, The Mathematics of Love) on the Romantic Novelists Association Blog: The Perils and. Pleasures of Crossing Genres

Some while ago, I found an indignant review of Kathleen's first book, Bride of the Spear. The writer berates the book for being too explicit for teenagers! I want to put the record straight with regard to Moon in Leo, so be warned:
It is not a book for teenagers. It is not a bodice ripper. It is not chick-lit. It is not escapist historical froth. It is not crammed with sensational violence or titillating sex. It is not an academic study of the socio-political and religious background to the Restoration of Charles II. If you read historical fiction to escape from what you see is a nasty modern world, you will be disappointed. Kathleen's past is not soft focus and rosy.

It's a book for grown up, intelligent people. You will understand the political, social and religious issues of the time better, when you have read it. You may even return to your history books- it is a fascinating period! You will have a good mental picture of that area of England's North-West. You may even plan a visit, if you are not lucky enough to live there: it is a place of great beauty. Above all, you will have read a cracking good story, with suspense, romance, tragedy, laughter, horror, beauty, violence, tenderness, loss, compassion, hatred, a heroine and hero who will stay with you long after you put down the book, and a sense of having shared a richness and maturity of vision with Kathleen.

Now that Moon in Leo is available on Smashwords, at less than half the price of the print version, and will be available soon for a limited period free- download it and let us know by a comment what genre you think it is!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Free Books! Latest news from Trifolium Books

Moon in Leo is now available as an ebook at Smashwords at half the print price. In a short while, the ebook will be available on and After that happens, I intend to have a Free Download Day - 24 hours during which it will be possible for you to download Moon in Leo for nothing! Keep checking the blog- I'll give you a few days' warning.

In the meantime, if you can't wait for your free book, you can download Farmer Ted's Easy Day right now for your kids.

Is Moon in Leo a Romance? A recent comment on Carla Nayland's review revives the idea first put forward by Nan Hawthorne. What do you think? Moon in Leo has received a lot of praise- does anyone out there dislike it?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Every copy a wanted copy!

Print on Demand is a great way to publish books. As there is no warehousing, and no minimum print run, there is no wastage of space or precious resources, and no trees are pulped unnecessarily.

We now have a mere handful of copies of Moon in Leo left, and are hoping there will be enough to take to our book reading on 27th May. It is evident from the cryptic notes on Amazon (only 2 copies in stock) that they order two or three at a time, as do most bookshops.

The downside to this model of publishing however is that you pay for what you get, and there are no economies of scale. Because of this, Moon in Leo, as a long book, is more expensive than say an even longer Ken Follett: the publisher knows Ken Follett will sell tens of thousands and therefore the old fashioned publishing model works.

This is where the ebook comes in! We have now released Moon in Leo as an ebook in multiple formats on Smashwords. You can buy direct from the site now, or wait a little while to order from Amazon, Sony, the Apple i-store, Barnes and Noble etc. I am pleased to say that the ebook is half the price of the paperback. I hope more folks will now be able to afford it.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Heart of the Story

“My heart is in Cumbria,” said Kathleen sadly, knowing she would never be there again.

“It got me here,” said Gail the hairdresser, putting her hand on her heart. 

Gail is a lovely young woman, a Cumbrian through and through, who loves reading. As I struggled to lift the heavy box left by the desk while I got my hair cut, her curiosity got the better of her, and my pride in my first batch of real books resulted in me digging into the box and showing a sample of what I was about to deliver to the bookshop in Carlisle. The result was that she bought the first copy sold of Moon in Leo.

I was back at the hairdresser’s yesterday, and she told me how much she loved the book: “as a Cumbrian myself, it made me feel like I was part of the land and history the writer is talking about”

We have had some great feedback from a variety of readers, but Gail touched my heart, just as Kathleen touched hers. I expected older, scholarly readers to enjoy it, but this response from a young, fashionable, working girl shows that a really special writer has universal appeal.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

New Book Out in July!

The next Trifolium book to come out is set in Britain's Heroic Age, when the Romans were scarcely a memory, and warring kingdoms tore the north apart. Publication will be late June, or early July.