THINGS I SHOULD HAVE SAID AND DONE wasn’t started as a result of a death but the fact that I got my backside in gear and actually made it into a book that someone (Accent Press) would want to publish came about after a brush with the Grim Reaper. My brush.
Twice in the space of 14 days he almost came for me and one day after the first near miss, I can clearly remember laying in a hospital bed looking out of the window and thinking, ‘If I get out of this, I’m going to get that book published.’ I didn’t want to die knowing that I didn’t give what I had dreamed of since I was a teenager my best shot.
I never wanted a high flying career, in fact I was saying to someone the other day that all I wanted to do was to get married, have children and have someone other than me read a book that I had written. What can I say? I don’t ask much from life. I’d got married at 19 and become a mum at 20 so what had I been doing for the next 30 years? I’d been living my simple life that’s what. Always assuming that there would be a tomorrow.
But what my brushes with death (there have been five in total so far) have taught me it’s that life can’t be taken for granted. There will be a day when there is no tomorrow. Well, to be fair it was the third time that taught me that, the first two just sort of passed me by. As one of the catch lines for my book says – one minute life’s good and the next it’s over.
I try not to put things off now. If there’s something I should do I try to do it and if there’s something that needs to be said I say it. In fact I find that these days my mouth has a life of it’s own. I’ve given up biting my tongue and that can make for interesting debate I don’t mind telling you.
There are still things that I wish I had or wish I hadn’t said or done. Right this second I wish that I hadn’t overindulged on the roast beef and Yorkshire puddings.
Things I Should Have Said and Done is now available on kindle published by The Pink Pen.
Please feel free to tell me what you might wish that you had said or done.
Colette, thanks so much for allowing Ms. Birdsong to grace your wonderful blog telling us about her life and work within MI5 – the British Security Services.
Ms. Birdsong Investigates Murder in Ampney Parva: Operation Matryoshka, is with publishers now and is the first in a series featuring the former MI5 Intelligence Officer.
I hope your readers enjoy her interview with an Oxford Newspaper.
Interviewer: Tell us about yourself.
Ms. Birdsong: As a member of MI5, I’ve held a variety of posts since joining 20 years ago from University. I speak five languages and am proficient in martial arts and use of a variety of firearms and weapons. I’ve worked my way up through the service until I was forced into ‘voluntary’ retirement; we won’t go there! I had my eye on the post of Director General — only two women have been DG in the past — and I shall get back into the service, make no mistake.
Interviewer: Can you tell us about some of your operations as an Intelligence Officer?
Ms. B: Not really, I’m subject to the Official Secrets Act.
Interviewer: But the Security Service has been incredibly open in recent years — we know more about their work now, surely you can tell us something…
Ms. B: Our work is varied, protecting the UK from threats from terrorism, espionage, and outside forces who would do our country harm. My roles were within this remit.
Interviewer: You have had several roles? Care to elaborate?
Ms. B: That would be difficult, but I can answer generally. I’ve had wide experience within MI5. I’ve worked on counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, organised crime — before 2006 when we handed that over to the National Crime Agency — I was seconded to the Metropolitan Police. I’ve been an Agent Runner in Northern Ireland and Moscow, and most recently I’d been seconded to MI6 before my ‘retirement.’
Interviewer: An amazing career you’ve enjoyed, I’m sure you miss it. Can you tell us why you were ‘retired?’
M.B: No, but I can tell you this, I’m working on getting back into MI5, and nothing will stop me.
Interviewer: How do you intend doing that? Does the missing woman from Ampney Parva hold any clues? I gather you are helping her son to find her.
Ms. B: I have my ways. And yes, I’m helping her son. I have skills I’m able to use to investigate her disappearance. Of course, I’m not interfering with the police investigation, they have their own methods.
Interviewer: Does the missing woman, Ali Yelling, have MI5 connections? Is that why you are involved? Is she a suspected terrorist?
Ms. B: Absolutely not! She’s an ordinary young mother who has disappeared, and her son needed my help. Nothing more. I’ve time on my hands, it’s the least I can do.
Interviewer: Why come to rural Oxfordshire? Is there another reason for you being here? Something we don’t know about, yet? Are there terrorism connections? Are there spies here?
Ms. B: You ask a lot of questions and my answer is the same, no. I like the area, it’s quiet, it suits me. I want to write a novel at some stage, it gives me space. Nothing more. I shall try to get back into MI5, of course, it has been my life, but I assure you Ali Yelling has nothing to do with spies or terrorists — that is ridiculous.
Interviewer: They trained you well at MI5, you avoid answering by muddying the water with talk of helping find a missing woman and writing a book. It strikes me that is a great cover story for someone who has lived her life in the shadows. I’ve been told you usually have an alias – is that true? Who are you really? Ms. Birdsong, or someone else?
Ms. B: This interview is over; it’s been a pleasure talking with you but now you are becoming ridiculous. I’m who I say I am, and I’m here for the reasons given. Now I must go and help find Ali Yelling. Thanks, so much.
Jane Risdon is the co-author of ‘Only One Woman,’ with Christina Jones (Headline Accent) and ‘Undercover: Crime Shorts,’ (Plaisted Publishing), as well as having many short stories published in numerous anthologies and writing for several online and print magazines such as Writing Magazine and The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine.
Undercover: Crime Shorts was the February 2020 Free Book of the Month on the virtual library and festival site, MYVLF.com, and her live video interview features in their theatre. She is a regular guest on international internet radio shows such as theauthorsshow.com, chatandspinradio.com and The Brian Hammer Jackson Radio Show.
Before turning her hand to writing Jane worked in the International Music Business alongside her musician husband, working with musicians, singer/songwriters, and record producers. They also facilitated the placement of music in movies and television series.
Huge congratulations to Jane because in 2020 she signed with Langton’s International Literary Agency in New York and here’s the moment that she signed the contract.
Good luck placing the book Jane and thanks to Ms Birdsong for stopping by.
The traditional publishing route didn’t work out for me and it made me question why.
Did I write a terrible book?
I have to say no and not just because I wrote it. It scores a solid 4.9 stars on Amazon and while I know that there are only 11 ratings, that’s at least a dozen of us that think it’s good.
And that’s why I decided to try and get my rights back (thank you very much Headline) and give it another go. I could have left it with them and told the world that I was published by Headline/Accent (and at least one part of that duo is a top publisher so there has to be some kudos with that) but if they aren’t promoting it or backing you as a writer what’s the point? I was at a fork in my road (just so happens to be the working title of my current WIP btw) and I had to choose a road to take and make the first step.
Make the request. That was quite a big step because once you get those rights back you are no longer under their mantle and like I said the ‘Headline’ name is a biggie in the publishing world. Clearly they thought so too because four times I was asked if I was sure. I won’t lie, the day that I actually received the reversion letter I was sad because it was like I had tried but I had failed and I allowed myself half a day to wallow in self pity. The following day though I had to throw that aside and decide what to do next. I’d requested them back, I’d put myself in this position so what was I going to do about it?
Work out if you are going to try the traditional route again or go it alone. I was already disillusioned by my experience of the first option and I was daunted by the idea of the second.
Finding another publisher or agent is a time consuming business and most of the time soul destroying. I don’t think there’s a writer out there that doesn’t have a stack of rejection letters to their name. I couldn’t face that, not so much the rejection because I have a thick skin when it comes to that sort of thing but more the limbo state that you are left in while you wait for at least one of the many people that you have submitted to to get back to you.
I chose the self-publishing road. How bad could it be? Thanks to Amazon it’s much easier than it used to be when you had to fork out a wedge of cash up front to a vanity publisher.
Going it alone v traditional publisher also has one huge advantage. You are in charge of everything from the way the book looks to how much it costs and everything in between.
Get to grips with kdp (Kindle Direct Publishing) which is easier said than done. It actually isn’t too bad once you get the hang of it but until you do it’s a horror show. The biggest problem I had was uploading the actual content. I know. Why? I can hear you asking the question. The answer is I have no idea. I loaded what I thought was a ‘clean copy’ only to find that when I previewed it, the chapters didn’t start where they should or the editors marks were still showing even thought everything looked fine on the document I was working on. That was really frustrating and I swear I almost started to think that it wasn’t worth the effort. However we got there in the end and I’ll be honest I did a little ‘happy dance’ when it was right.
Find a cover. You can make your own but I’m not that way inclined and I wasn’t happy with anything that I came up with. Luckily for me I have a friend who is much more talented than me and they created this beautiful cover.
Upload the cover and thank goodness that is a very straight forward process.
Choose the price. My last book which was published by Headline/Accent was £5.99 on Kindle when it came out. Yes it’s not a typo £5.99. When I pointed out that made it more expensive than Dan Brown’s latest it was reduced but it took a couple of months and the book never really took off. I wonder if price was part of the reason. Obviously you have to not undervalue your work but you also need to be realistic and not price yourself out of the market.
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE SAID AND DONE is out on 20/5/2021
All in all I am happy with the road that I have chosen because I feel more in control this time. Before I had input on things like covers but not the final say and I had no say (apart from the time that I complained) about price. As for promotion, I had to do that anyway so the fact that I have to do it myself now is no worse.
I don’t know what step nine is but I’m looking forward to finding out.
Originally published in 2016 by Accent Press, Things I Should Have Said and Done (TISHSaD) was my debut novel and how naïve was I about the way the world of publishing worked.
I didn’t think that there’d be TV interviews or middle-page- spreads in the Sunday supplements but I did think that there would be something from my publisher to help promote sales. Turns out I am wrong and unless you are a celebrity author or one of the publishers top writers any publicising is pretty much down to you. You might have a better chance if you are with one of the ‘Big 5’ publishers but Accent didn’t fall into that category I’m afraid. But even with the ‘Big 5’ budgets are limited and are not evenly spread. Sadly self promotion has never been my strong point so little ole TISHSaD went pretty much un-noticed.
In 2019 TISHSaD, along with my other books, came under the wing of Headline/Accent after the former bought out the latter. Note the former, one of the ‘Big 5’, I was published by one of the big boys. You’d have thought that I’d have lost my naivety by then but apparently not because I thought that they would get behind my books at least a little bit. But remember what I said about budgets not being evenly spread? Well, only one of my books (not this one) merited a single tweet from the PR people at Headline and that was only because it had happened to be published just after they bought Accent. I’m not going to lie, that hurt. I wondered why they would not bother to push all of their books.
And that’s when the truth hit me. TISHSaD wasn’t their book just like it hadn’t been Accent’s. It had always been mine. Personally I love it. When I was editing it before it ever went to a single publisher or agent I thought that it was the sort of book that I would enjoy reading it and clearly other people have thought so too because although it hasn’t received a lot of reviews they have always been positive.
So, I decided to take the bull by the horns (being careful with the pointy end) and get the rights to my books back. When I first mentioned it to my ever supportive other half he questioned whether they would just give them to me but it turns out they did and I now have the rights to my back catalogue (all 4 of them).
I will tell all about the process another time but for now let me introduce you to this new incarnation of TISHSaD which will be published by The Pink Pen on May 20th 2021.
Tom Williams has a new Burke book out and he’s here to give us some background on the subject matter.
Ask English people about our country’s uncomfortable relationship with Ireland and they’ll talk about the Troubles. Ask them about the history and they might mention Partition and the potato famine. There’s a vague feeling that the English weren’t too popular with many of the locals when William of Orange was on the throne. Overall, it’s fair to say that the English think that the Irish are notable for being able to hold a grudge for a very long time and probably for not being grateful enough for the substantial flow of subsidies westward across the Irish Sea.
In fact the grudge goes back much further than William of Orange – at least as far as the Civil War where Oliver Cromwell is believed to have been responsible for fighting that led to the deaths of 20% of the population. (The figure is disputed but not unrealistic.)
Having chosen to back the Royalist cause in the Civil War, the Irish went on to back the Jacobites after the Glorious Revolution. This led to War with William of Orange, another dramatic defeat (notably at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690) and over two centuries in which the majority Catholic population of Ireland was subordinated to Protestant rule, backed by England.
But can the Troubles really be explained by events over 200 years earlier? Sadly, British military activity did not end with William of Orange. Which brings us to my latest book about James Burke, Burke in Ireland.
Burke in Ireland came about because I was looking for a plot and a writer friend said that she had started researching Ireland in the late 18th century and decided not to write about it, but she felt there was material there I could use. So I looked at some of the stuff she had come up with and decided that Ireland at the time was a hotbed of plotting and spying and James Burke would fit right in. (The real James Burke was Irish but there is no evidence that he ever did any undercover work there. In fact, when this story starts, the real Burke was still in the West Indies, though he was to return to England very soon.)
The trouble was that the more I researched English policy and the way it was enforced, the more uncomfortable I became. The English used brutality and torture to suppress the local Catholic population. Trials were a sham, held by blatantly biased judges and carefully picked juries. Taxes bore down unfairly on Catholics and, although there were the beginnings of improved political rights, they were still excluded from power. English rule in Ireland was cruel and corrupt. The result was to be an armed uprising in 1798.
This is not to say that the Irish Catholics were saints. There were elements in the Catholic population plotting to support a French invasion which would have put French armies in a position to land anywhere along the west coast of Britain. Irish Nationalists would strike against Protestant landowners in the countryside where the English Army was spread thinly.
The country was in state of what we would nowadays call insurgency, and as with modern insurgencies this was not pretty.
James Burke’s mission to Ireland is his first excursion into espionage and he doesn’t like it. He finds himself destroying the lives of innocent (or relatively innocent) people to support a policy that he has little sympathy for. He can justify his actions to himself on the grounds that he is defending Britain against a French invasion via Ireland and that, vicious as the English methods are, those of the Nationalists can be just as violent.
I generally like to keep the Burke books quite light-hearted. There is violence and sometimes a political sub-plot hidden away, but they are intended primarily as entertaining adventure stories. And Burke in Ireland is certainly an adventure story and, I hope, entertaining. But it is notably less light-hearted. Researching the book, I learned a lot more about the history that underlay the Troubles. As Ireland, and the consequences of Partition, look set to once again become an important political issue, it’s worth having some idea of what was going on on the island of Ireland back at the end of the 18th century. Burke in Ireland is, first and foremost, a spy thriller. But if it gives some idea of the history of the time that, as far as I am concerned, is a definite bonus.
Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes historical novels and contemporary fantasy, which are generally more grounded in reality than the business books. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.
Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.
Today it is my absolute pleasure to welcome Tom Williams to my blog to tell us about the link between tango and vampires and their connection to his new book Something Wicked. So, without further ado, here’s Tom
“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”
Bram Stoker fans will recognise the quote but tango aficionados might reasonably think that it applies to them more than to Dracula’s wolves.
You can dance tango by the Seine on a weekend afternoon but it is more often associated with midnight tango joints. The Golden Age of tango ran from around the mid-Thirties to the early Fifties and many of the best places to dance date from then or even earlier. Inevitably, a lot of the buildings have seen better days. So, for me, tango is associated with darkness and fading grandeur.
Despite the flaking plaster and the worn fabric on the chairs, an old tango salon comes to glamourous life as the dancers arrive, the women in their elegant dresses, the men at least (more or less) eschewing chinos and jeans and a surprising number in suits.
I have danced a lot in Buenos Aires, famous not only for its tango halls but for its cemeteries – vast necropolises where the dead can enjoy many of the comforts of the living. Streets full of miniature houses (and some not so miniature) provide a comfortable place to spend eternity .
But what if the dead are only resting, ready to leave their mausoleums as evening falls and join the whirling throng dancing through the night?
That idea lay behind Something Wicked, my second urban fantasy novel featuring tango dancers and vampires.
The story is set in London around a splendidly decaying ballroom (now sadly no longer with us) and Brompton cemetery, which may not be as splendid as some of the famous Buenos Aires cemeteries but which has its fair share of mausoleums and (importantly for the story) a substantial crypt.
My vampires have the traditional dislike of sunlight but are otherwise more like you and me than most of the legends that have grown up around them. “What are they all up to anyway?” asks one of the human characters in Something Wicked. “Why do you and your kind travel to and fro?” replies the vampire. “Business to do, friends to see, ceremonies to attend. We aren’t so very different to you.”
There is the little business of drinking blood, though. Generally the vampires try to keep their hematophagy discreet, taking a little now and then where it will hardly be noticed. As one of the vampires explains:
“There are people who will sell their blood quite cheerfully. Some are happy to let us have it freely. They seem to get some sort of sexual thrill from it.” His lips curled in distaste. “Then, at a pinch, there is animal blood.”
Every now and then, though, something goes wrong. People die very publicly and then the vampires have their own ways of tidying away the mess.
When the mess includes a peer of the realm, though, the police can’t be kept out of things entirely. The public must be reassured. But how reassuring will it be to discover that we are living alongside a substantial vampire sub-culture? Is this a crime that is better left unsolved?
Welcome to the most unusual police procedural novel of 2021.
Something Wicked: not your usual stake out.
Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century and books about vampires that are generally described as fiction but which are often more realistic than the business books. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.
Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.
As I look back on the year just gone – and thank God we’ve seen the back of it – this thing that always reminds me of a badly made pompom will be my abiding memory. The words ‘2020’ and ‘Coronovirus’ will forever be linked and not in a good way.
However, when I reflect on the year just passed, it has taught me a valuable lesson. You’d think that with my past (I won’t bore you with the details again) I would know the importance of ‘living in the moment’ or ‘being present.’ I usually want to strangle anyone who uses those phrases but they are right. Surely 2020 has taught us that we can’t take anything for granted. Who in their right minds would have ever said that there would be a time when we couldn’t hug those that we love for fear of killing them? Not me. I just took it for granted.
The lesson of 2020 for me is that you can’t take anything for granted.
With that in mind in 2021 I am going to try to be more present and live in the moment and more importantly not put off doing the things that are important to me because life is precious, it is short and if you delay, there might not be time to do the things that you always meant to do.
Watch this space for the cookery book that I have always wanted to write. I feel a ‘to do’ list coming on.
We can’t change the past, we can only manage the future so here’s hoping for a happy and prosperous 2021 to us all.
I’m delighted to be here on Colette McCormick’s blog to introduce James Burke, whose latest adventure, ‘Burke in the Peninsula’ has just been published. She suggested I allow him to introduce himself but that would be a seriously bad idea. One of the reasons Burke is such a good spy is that he is a chameleon: a Catholic when with those of the Romish persuasion, a Protestant when that is more politic. He fought for the French king until his regiment was defeated by the British and then he became a loyal servant of King George. He can convince a Spaniard he is Spanish, a Frenchman that he is French or a Prussian that he was born and bred in Prussia. He can be a loyal friend to a man and yet seduce his wife. He is not to be trusted in love.
What do we know of the real James Burke? He was, indeed an Irish Catholic and like many Irish Catholics he joined an Irish regiment that fought under the French flag when this was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Then, when England and France went to war, his regiment was defeated in 1793 and changed its allegiance to the British. Burke spoke fluent French and Spanish and moved naturally into intelligence work. His mission preparing the way for a British attack on Buenos Aires is described in Burke in the Land of Silver, which is closely based on fact.
He was a womaniser. In Land of Silver he has affairs with a queen, a princess and the wife of the local viceroy. Like the rest of the story, that is probably true. There is no record that he ever married.
He was a snob, at one stage changing his name to something that sounded more prestigious than Burke. He was a social climber, ingratiating himself with the rich and powerful. It cannot have been mere chance that all three of the women we think he had affairs with in Land of Silver were in positions of power or influence.
Why then, make him a hero?
I like the fact that he is flawed: quite deeply flawed. He’s not a knight in shining armour, but he is someone you can rely on in a crisis. He may be having sex with your wife, but he will have your back in a fight. He is physically brave. He is clever. He rides well, shoots well and can handle a sword. More importantly he will, in the end and however reluctantly, do the right thing. He will put his life on the line for a comrade. He will defend the weak against the strong. He is an unreliable lover, but not an unkind one. He hates the dishonesty and dirtiness of his work as a spy, but in the end he owes it to his king to do the job and he does it well. He is ruthless and can be cruel when his work requires it, but he is not malicious and will avoid causing unnecessary suffering, even in the midst of a particularly bloody and cruel war. He is, above all, loyal to his friends.
He is, in many ways, not a nice man, but if I met him, I’d probably like him, because he can charm when he wants to. (He cheats at cards, but he often loses on purpose because friends can be worth more than money.) More importantly, given that he is living through a particularly violent and bloody war, if I were ever to find myself marooned in his world, he is the man I would want beside me.
Burke in the Peninsula is published on 25 September and is available on pre-order. It is available on Amazon at £3.99 on Kindle and £6.99 in paperback.
Today, Tom Williams tells us about the his hero James Burke.
That difficult second book …
I’ve written five books now about James Burke.
Once I’d discovered the story of the real-life spy in Napoleonic-era South America, plotting the first novel, Burke in the Land of Silver, was easy. Most of the story is true. My main problem was making sure that the timelines were right which meant a lot of time working out how quickly you can ride over the Andes or how long a message took to travel from South America to England by ship.
Burke was far too good a hero for me to abandon him after just one book, though. But where to take him next?
The ‘James Burke’ series was always supposed to be fun, with a brave English hero defeating the dastardly French. (If you want a more thoughtful look at history, try my John Williamson trilogy.) That means that I had to set my story round historical events where the French had lost and it turns out there aren’t that many of those. There’s Waterloo, of course, and I did write Burke at Waterloo as the third in the series, but I felt that having the second book set at the end of the Napoleonic Wars would leave me without anywhere to go. And there was the Peninsular War, a perennial favourite of British authors writing about the wars with France. Where would Richard Sharpe be without the Peninsular War to demonstrate his heroism in? Unfortunately, back then I didn’t really know much about the Peninsular War and what I did know seemed to be seen rather too much through Sharpe’s eyes. Since then I’ve grown increasingly fascinated by the war in Spain and Portugal, I’ve visited some of the battlefields and I’ve written a book that sees Burke firmly ensconced in Sharpe territory. Burke in the Peninsula will appear later this year. Back then, though, I wanted something different; something new.
When I was a student, I spent part of my gap year in Israel, living near Akko. I was intrigued by the town walls of ancient Acre. They had, I read, resisted attack by Napoleon. What, I wondered, had Napoleon been doing in the Middle East? It turned out he had been trying to fight his way out of Egypt, his campaign there having been one of the few abject failures of his life before, 14 years later, he invaded Russia and the myth of French invincibility crumbled.
So there was the background for my second book: Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.
There’s very little known about Burke’s life after South America. We know he remained in the army, with a pattern of moving between ranks and regiments that suggests continuing involvement in intelligence work. Beyond that, there is a convenient void that I can fill with my own imagination.
So I sent Burke to Egypt, where he tangles with the French, whose landing is described in writer-friendly detail in some contemporary accounts. After that I’m left to my own imagination until close to the climax of the novel. One of the great military mysteries of the period is why the French fleet hung around at the Bay of Abu Qir until Nelson arrived to sink most of them in one of his greatest victories. Some people say that they were waiting for orders that never arrived. What could have happened to them? Two centuries later, you can read the book and find one possible explanation.
Burke and the Bedouin isn’t the Great British Novel. There’s no deep sub-text to explore. But it’s huge fun, with pyramids, and Egyptian treasure, and a beautiful woman, and midnight rides across the desert. Despite little support from publishers in the past, royalty statements suggest it has been surprisingly popular, and I’m hoping that more people will discover it as the Burke books are re-launched. (Burke and the Bedouin is due out in July.) And, for those who need to justify their reading as self-improvement, it has a surprising amount of detail about a campaign you probably never heard of and a naval engagement that was once celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest victories but which has, in the past fifty years, been more or less forgotten.