17 August 2017

A TRIBUTE TO HELEN HOLLICK

from Helen: 
I had no idea about this article, it was drafted by four incredible people while I was away on vacation and done as a complete surprise. I am very touched and extremely honoured.


by ANNIE WHITEHEAD
    Anyone who’s read my other blog posts for this site, or knows my story, will know that I have a long-standing and abiding love of history, and of historical novels.

    No surprise, then, that on my shelf of ‘keepers’ are several tomes by Helen Hollick. I must have read the first of those books shortly after I had discovered the works of Sharon Penman, and I was impressed to see that Sharon was a friend, and great inspiration to, and supporter of, this new writer.
    I was a fan of Penman’s work; massive slabs of historical fiction that kept me in another world for a long time.

    The original paperback and book club cover -
    which Helen hates!
    Here, in Helen’s The Kingmaking, was another chunky novel, over 600 pages of Arthurian history. Notice I don’t say myth, or legend, because despite the obvious problem of Arthur’s identity or existence, Helen’s skill as a writer meant that never once did this feel like anything other than an historical novel. I loved it. Yes, it was, in a way, the natural follow-on to the Penman books, but this was no carbon copy, or light-weight shadow. Helen had a voice all her own. I was in a hurry to read the next two volumes, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King.

    Again, if you know my story, you will know that my desire to write historical fiction was born during my student days. Not long after I graduated and was living in Cumbria, I was on the phone to my erstwhile tutor, asking where I could research the life of Queen Emma, for it was she who was to be my first subject.

    Life got in the way a bit. I married, had three kids … and meanwhile Ms Hollick wrote A Hollow Crown, the story of Queen Emma. (Titled The Forever Queen in the US). Now, let’s leave aside all the obvious ‘snooze, lose’ proverbs. Because here was a story that needed expert handling, and it was much safer in Helen’s capable hands than in my novice, fumbling fingers. It was a masterful telling of a complex woman, put in a unique situation. I then read Helen’s portrayal of the last pre-conquest English king, Harold Godwineson, Harold the King. (Titled I Am the Chosen King in the US).

    I was a fan. So far, this is a story of a reader, and a famous author.

    The stories change.

    Helen, having had tremendous worldwide success with her medieval stories, was let down badly by her agent and publisher. Her idea for a series of pirate novels, for some reason, didn’t excite them.

    Helen became a self-published author and her tales of Jesamiah Acorne, the main protagonist of the Sea Witch novels, has become familiar to a vast army of readers who have lapped up his adventures.

    Sea Witch on Amazon
    This author had nothing to prove, but she’s proven something anyway: indie, and/or self-published books can be as worthy, valid, and frankly as good, as mainstream, traditionally published books. Helen didn’t stop there though. Her involvement with the Historical Novel Society, where she was instrumental in expanding and organising the HNS Indie Reviews and Awards, meant that other indie and self-published authors had the chance to have their books reviewed, and thus reach a wider audience.

    And here is where our stories merge. While Helen was busy writing her Sea Witch adventures, I was beginning my writing career. Emma, of course, was lost to me, but I found a new heroine – Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great, a woman who ruled an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in all but name. An agent signed me up, and another showed interest. But, for a number of reasons, I decided to self-publish. I’d begun moving in the same social media circles as Helen, and I approached her with regard to having my book reviewed.

    She read my book. And where others might have sent me away with a flea in my ear, she kindly explained that it was not formatted to industry standards. I revised the formatting, submitted it for review, and it was nominated for HNS Indie Book of the Year. This simply would not have happened without Helen’s help and advice.

    We worked together (I still pinch myself – how did I go from fan to co-author?!) on the 1066 Turned Upside Down project. Helen took a leap of faith with me, trusting me to deliver my piece to standard, and on time.

    available as an e-book on Amazon
    Then came what I will describe as a ruckus. The HNS decided to rewrite its policy on indie books and whilst I know the details of what was said, and what happened, all I will say is that Helen acted with extreme dignity and professionalism throughout a difficult, upsetting time.

    Again, she had nothing to prove. After all, she was a successful trad-published author with global sales, a successful indie author with global sales, and by now was working on a non-fiction book about Pirates, for Amberley Publishing.

    But Helen did not walk away, leaving indie/self-published authors with no outlet, no ‘gate-keeper’ to ensure quality. She set up Discovering Diamonds, a free-to-submit review service for mainly, although not exclusively, indie and self-published historical novels. She assembled a team of admins and reviewers, many of whom came with her from HNS, (which indicates her popularity and esteem within the industry) and continued her tireless and generous support of up and coming authors.

    Recently, I blogged about Arthurian novels, and Helen noted that I had a copy of one of her books with a cover which she disliked. A few days later a parcel arrived, from Helen, which contained new, signed versions of her Arthur books, in one of which she had written: “To a good friend and respected author.” The truth is, that without her friendship, support, generosity, and skill as an inspiring author, I couldn’t have done any of it.

    UK covers designed by Avalon Graphics
    Here’s what some other award-winning authors have to say about Helen:

    Alison Morton: “Helen is a force of nature. She was the one who gave me the confidence and support to go indie. I was in deep awe of her then, but now we are friends! Passionate that everybody should have a chance, yet fierce (in a good way) about quality, especially editing and a good cover, Helen is the indies’ champion. Under all that energy lies a very kind heart and a genuine willingness to help. But she’s no soft touch and asks that you are professional and polite to her and other people – a good basis for collaboration.”

    Anna Belfrage: “I first met Helen in 2012. I was very much a newbie, she definitely wasn't, sitting by a table showcasing her many books. Was I nervous when I approached her? Yes. But I quickly learnt this lady in a hat was generous with her advice, supportive to the extreme - and rather demanding when it came to what she considered quality in writing. Plus she made me laugh. Since then, Helen has become what we in Swedish call a hjärtevän, a friend of the heart. I can count on Helen to tell me the truth about my work - and help me improve it. I know for a fact many indie authors (and others) have been the recipients of her support, thereby daring to set out on the daunting path of self-publishing."

    [Ah yes, the hats...]

    Reviewer Richard Tearle: "I was somewhat in awe of Helen when I first began reviewing. She was an established author and I was a complete novice to any part of the industry. At first it seemed to me that I plagued her with inane questions, but she explained things patiently and I never felt that I was 'bothering' her. Since then we have exchanged many e-mails on a number of matters and I am very proud and privileged to count her as a true friend."

    Author, friend, inspiration. Thanks, Helen, for all your words – be they on the printed page, or in an encouraging email, or simply on one of your caption competitions that make us all chuckle!
for Helen Hollick
From Helen
Well I'm having a bit of a blub here, reading this for the first time - see what happens when you go off on a brief vacation? You come back and figuratively 'gird the loins' (whatever does that expression actually imply? *laugh*,)  to face the mountain of emails in the inbox, and then take a deep breath to catch up with an even bigger mountain of work - only to find this incredible article sitting there (grinning to itself) in the drafts folder! 

I am truly stunned and speechless - thank you, Annie, Alison, Anna and Richard, but honestly I have received far more support, encouragement and friendship over the years from wonderful people, like yourselves, than I could ever give in return.

The best thing about being an author is having the great good fortune - and honour - to meet such a variety of genuine, lovely people. Thank you to you all.
HMH.

LINKS:

Annie Whitehead: Website   Facebook   Twitter  @ALWhitehead63 
Alison Morton:     Website   Facebook   Twitter @alison-morton
Anna Belfrage:      Website   Facebook  Twitter @Anna_Belfrage   

Richard Tearle does not have a website, but read his article about reviewing here



DID YOU MISS.... ?

    14 August 2017

    I Did It MY WAY

    (with apologies to Mr Sinatra! )


    or a woman of course!
    here's the tune if you wish to sing along
    (it sort of fits, you might have to lah lah lah a bit) 




    And now, the end is near;
    And so I face that final edit.
    My friend, I'll say it clear,
    I'll state my case, for which I must take credit. 

    Rejects, I've had a few;
    But then again, too many here to mention.
    I did what I had to do
    And saw it through without exemption.

    I planned each chaptered course;
    Each careful step along the writing pathway,
    And more, much more than this,
    I did it my way.

    Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
    When I bit off more than I could chew.
    But through it all, when there was doubt,
    I ate rejection up and spat it out.
    I chose the font, and wrote the prose...
    And did it ....my way!

    I wrote, I laughed and cried.
    I had my fill; my share of losing.
    And now, as plots subside,
    I find it all so amusing.

    To think I did all that;
    And may I say - not in a shy way,
    Oh no, oh no not me,
    I wrote it... my way!

    For what is a book, what has it got?
    If not mainstream, then it has not
    To be set aside and be forgot!
    Don’t lose the words … you have a choice
    Find and use your indie voice. 


    And write it your way! 






    12 August 2017

    August Break

    I'm sad to say  that Discovering Diamonds will be hibernating - but pleased to say - only for August!
    I'm off on a short holiday....


    but I have scheduled some articles, some 'did you miss' items of interest and a few other odds and ends, so do keep calling in from time to time. (Why not subscribe so you never miss out on a good read? Fill in the form - top left on the side bar!)

    * * *
    Looking Ahead

    * * * 
    There are going to be a few changes to Discovering Diamonds from the 1st of September (when normal service will be resumed!), mainly because running the site is taking up rather a lot of my time, but we will still be reviewing lots of fantastic books so don't worry on that score!

    The changes will be:
    • No reviews or posts at the weekend.
    • Providing I have the articles, our Guest Spot and Reader's Voice will now be posted Mid-Month on the 15th of each month
    • Book of the Month will be posted on the last day of each month
    • Cover of the Month  will be posted on the first day of the month (starting again on 1st October for the September Reviews
    Apart from that, things stay the same for now!


    See you in September!


    click here to return to the top of this 'Bookshelf'  - and browse the top menu bar where you will find several interesting articles. 

    Or why not go back to our first review and then scroll through some of the wonderful books

    (why not subscribe so you never miss out on a good read? Fill in the form - top left on the side bar!)

    7 August 2017

    Through a Reviewer's Eyes


    Reviewer Richard Tearle talks about....



    Reviewing

    Purely on a whim, I applied, via Social Media, to a plea for reviewers of  books of historical fiction. Having always enjoyed reading about characters of history, I thought, well, why not? I soon found myself caught up not only in the stories that others had created, but the hoary problem facing all Independent (Indie) writers. Like many, I had assumed that Indie Publishing was either something akin to Vanity Publishing or books that weren't good enough for mainstream publishers. 


    How wrong I was!

    True, many such authors have had the humiliation of rejection, but publishers are busy people with schedules months, if not years, in advance. They can't take everything, no matter how good it may prove later to be.

    Thanks to Helen Hollick (author of two books about late Anglo Saxon England, an Arthurian trilogy and the wonderful Sea Witch Voyages) who is the founder of the Indie section of this review blog, Discovering Diamonds, I was given some basic guidelines on how to judge a book – with or without a decent cover.  Back then, Helen managed a different indie review section, but came up with the idea for her own site when she parted company with the group. I plagued her quite relentlessly when I was unsure about a style, a story or other points of order. So, I was learning how to read a book at the ripe old age of, well, retired, shall we say. Because of this status, I had plenty of time on my hands.


    From the beginning it was a learning curve – I enjoyed the book, but was it a great one? I likened it to Nadia Comenici, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 – if you give a perfect score, how do you score something later which turns out to be better? So I read – or rather – wrote – between the (guide)lines and added my own rules.


    I would always consider that the author had spent blood, sweat and tears in producing their baby – often financing and publicising it themselves. Therefore every effort should be made by me to honour that commitment from the author by being fair. If a book simply wasn't good enough – in my judgement – then I should state why but in a constructive manner. If, on the other hand, a book was really well written, with a good story and strong characters, should I rush into things and automatically recommend it for 'Book of the Month' (with the possibility of also becoming Book of the Year) or stop it just short of that declaring it as 'thoroughly recommended'? 

    To distinguish, I try to find anything that might be wrong – an uninteresting cover (or one that obscures any blurb or other information), were there any typos, grammatical errors, basic formatting (any of the above in excess would be an automatic rejection – them's the rules) or any plot lines that simply did not add up. If it meets all the criteria so far, then I try and visualise it on the shelves of W.H.Smith or Waterstones: would it stand well in the company of established and more famous authors?


    Impartiality is a vital watchword. Just because I happen to love tales of Vikings, Anglo Saxons or the later Plantagenets doesn't give me licence to give an automatic 'rave review'. Similarly, the Georgian period, Hanovarians generally as well as many other periods of history, whether British or other, which hold no interest for me mean that I cannot simply dismiss the book as 'boring'. I am reviewing the standard of writing, presentation and storytelling, not my personal preferences.

    It can be hard sometimes. Nothing wrong with it, but just not captivating. The writer hasn't found his or her voice. And if I have to give it a poor review, it is not me who might get it in the neck from an outraged author, but Helen. [HH: note - all rude e-mails are automatically deleted!] Having said that, I have read some terrific books and, over the several years that I have been doing this, the standard is definitely improving. Out of some 150 books I have received for review, I think I have failed to finish only a few– and all for legitimate reasons.


    There are good things, though. Through reviewing I have made many friends who are authors and whose books I have reviewed favourably. And though it is unpaid, what better way to spend one's time than reading?

    Richard Tearle
    DDRevs Senior Reviewer



    If anyone is able to accept e-books (e-pub or mobi)
     and would like to become an #DDRevs Reviewer
    please contact me HERE
    (I am on vacation for a few weeks but your email will be answered asap)




    4 August 2017

    Holiday Break

    Discovering Diamonds is 'on vacation' through August (well I am going on holiday, and I'm not taking my laptop or any social media etc - time for some R & R while taking a cruise down the River Rhine.)


    I have scheduled some posts, however, so do pop back a few times a week - or why not SUBSCRIBE (top left on the sidebar) to receive alerts when a new post is added?

    See you on September 1st!
    Helen