Monday, 22 December 2014

Happy Holidays!



I hope you had a Stunning Solstice Day


now wishing you all 

A Wonderful Midwinter

A Merry Yule

A Happy Christmas

 and a peaceful 2015.

Mistletoe growing on a rowan in our previous garden.
We'd brought it on from a berry seed.
May the shortest days be the best days; a crackling log fire, a glittering tree, a rib-sticking plum pudding. May the longest nights be the best nights; party hats, music, laughter, games and mistletoe kisses.

May Santa leave you what you most desired (be sure to leave out the sherry and a carrot)

May all your wishes be realized in the coming year (although you might have to work at that one!)

May those of you who write take a few days out to celebrate. But may you all get curled up with a good book. You really can't beat In the Moors or Unraveled Visions. Both  great books to devour with the mince pies!

See you all in 2015 with more hints and writerly tips, more book reviews, more crime fiction updates and more news on my own writing life. Have a great holiday!

Nina Milton

Friday, 19 December 2014

How Am I Doing? Every writer wants an answer to that one


How am I doing? Almost all my students ask me that. Some ask me very regularly, some only at the beginning or end of their time with me. In fact, I think every writer wants an answer to that question, but not every writer has a tutor, or mentor who can help them. 

And in fact, you don't need someone to tell you the answer – you can easily find it out for yourself. In fact you can keep an eye on your progress as a writer as much as you like.

Jean Burnette, author of Who Needs Mr Darcy and
A Brazilian Affair, ready at her writing desk
I recommend that my students and writing buddies buy a notebook. Actually, I recommend they buy several – loads of notebooks – but just one of these will become the key to monitoring your own writing progress. I suggest that you call this your 'Progress Notebook'. (Open College of the Arts students have a different name for it, which they already know, of course.) This notebook will be where you actually write about your own writing. I recommend that you do this at least once a week - more frequently if you write every day or most days. This sort of analysis is very like the 'reflective practice' you may be asked to undergo in your paid employment, but it shouldn't be such an onerous task! 

Reflecting on the progress of your ‘writing life’ in this way will increase your ‘learning curve’ considerably – amazingly.  Even though it’s possible you may think you have no ‘progress’ to record at the moment – even though you're hardly writing more than a shopping list – thinking about your own writing in this way can be massively beneficial.

Your Progress Notebook can help you talk through your writing. It’s important to help yourself to make sense how it works for you – how your thought processes relate to your growing battery of skills and understanding. When you put all this down in words it begins to be understood on an intellectual level…whereas, when writing, you may be learning more on an intuitive level. It’s like ‘synergy’ in medicine – the idea that two separate things work okay separately, but together they work really well – more than twice as well. 

This is writing about the writing process, that is, the mental and practical activities that make the most logical progression towards a completed piece of work. It is the full process that takes the writer from nothing – not even the glimmer of an idea – to the completed manuscript, ready for printing. 

Even a small project or exercise has its writing process, shunting it steadily from conception to final proof-read. Your Progress Notebook can be of enormous help, recording how, why and when you…think about what you’ll write; draft it out; read and polish until you’re happy with it. 


You don't have to write realms. A hundred words or less can help you clarify problems and address them. Even so, at first, even bearing in mind all the above, you might find it hard to know what to put down in a Progress Notebook. Sectionalizing your analysis may help your understanding. Try writing about:
  • What works for you as a writer, and what you find difficult
  • Why you’re choosing certain genres and ways of writing…or thinking of doing so 
  • What you think about your abilities – track their improvement
  • Commentaries on the books you have read and how they inspired your writing
  • The pitfalls and joys of the writer’s life
If you can't think how to begin, try commenting on some specific piece, such as some writing exercises. You can find these all over the internet, including sites which offer a 'trigger' on a daily basis. I've included one below, so that you can start straight away. Complete the exercise, read it through, think about it and write down those thoughts, whatever they may be. 

As the first weeks of owning and using a Progress Notebook move on, you'll be able to be a bit more specific about the things you're noting. You'll be able to talk to yourself about  ‘parts’ of your writing, for instance; your thoughts and your preferences on:
      • Reporting actions
      • Voicing opinions
      • Creating dialogue 
      • Description
      • Narrative lines and 'arcs'
      • Characterization
      • Structure and plot
      • Your understanding and clarification of concepts such as Show, don’t Tell
      • Problems of drafting, redrafting, tightening 
It has been said that writers are ‘born not made’, but they don’t come fully-formed from an egg – they have to practise their skills to hone them. Like musicians, writers do have to practise ‘over and over’, and it really does get better as you do that. Recording the slow improvements you make will help you see real progress. 

However, we’re all different, and will want to record our thoughts on progress and the writing process individually. You might prefer A4 sheets of lined paper rather than a small notebook. Or you might not get on with writing by hand at all, and prefer store your thoughts in an electronic file, reading them on the screen or printing them out to clip into a plastic file. Some writers find it better  to keep reflections in a ‘mind file’, where the cogitation on the writing process started in the first place. However, I do recommend physically making these notes and keeping them for reference – if only to aid any reflective summary you might be asked to submit to a tutor or mentor. And don't forget that a separate notebook helps will get your thoughts down in a more ‘private’ environment. 

Here is a writing exercise that will get you going.

Chose any one of the autobiographical subjects from the list below.

THE WARMTH OF A  KISS
TOO DIRTY FOR A BATH
A FOOL AND HIS MONEY
BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE
ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM
A FRESH START
DRUNK AND DISORDERLY
BLAST FROM THE PAST
A TRAGEDY FULL OF JOY 
DARE TO CONFRONT YOUR FEARS
LAZY HAZY DAYS
THROW AWAY THOSE L PLATES 
DON’T SEND IT TO THE CHARITY SHOP

Now write a short account of a memory from your past life within the context of one of these titles. Remember…this is a fun exercise …try not to let it get on top of you don’t worry about the standard of the writing – you needn’t show anyone. 

Make a few notes below, then start in earnest on the next page.

Now record your thoughts and reflections – the opening entry in your new Progress Notebook. 

Just play with this…how you feel about enjoying your writing. Write freely, putting your thoughts down one paper as they come into your mind. Try to express why you want to write, and in what way(s) you enjoy the process


Monday, 8 December 2014

Coming Soon, the Title and Cover of the Third Shaman Mystery - be the first to see it!

Even I haven't seen the cover of my third book yet! And the title on that cover is a closely guarded secret. But all will be revealed in the New Year.


It's clear that even I'm scared
by the content of my novels.
They are known to keep people
awake for most of the night as
they cannot put them down.
If you haven't yet discovered
Sabbie Dare, Shaman Therapist,
you're in for a treat.
Available on Amazon, Waterstones and
all good US bookstores
 or direct from Midnight Ink Books.
So what can I tell you about book#3 to whet your appetite? I can hint that this one is set in Glastonbury, the hub of paganism and all things strange and wonderful in the UK. Sabbie Dare is yet again confronted with death and needs the help of her shamanic guardians to reach the kernel of the mystery. The story is filled with Sabbie's shamanic friends in all their colourful glory, and we're going to be introduced to a member of the Dare family that even Sabbie has never met before...and will never wish to meet again. 

Be the first to hear the exciting news, almost as I do, by subscribing to Kitchen Table Writers. The news will break here first. If you want to get the Shaman Mystery gossip just click on subscribe to my blog on Google or via your email.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths – the Kitchen Table Crime Review


Elly Griffiths’ books are always steeped in the past. Her husband is an archeologist…as is her wonderful protagonist, Ruth Galloway. Her landscape is the evocative and edgy coastline of Norfolk, where the early Bronze Age timber circle known as Seahenge – which I wrote about in an earlier blog; http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/home-and-seahenge-by-francis-pryor.html – was discovered during a receding tide. Griffiths uses the wonderful flatness of this land the almost sinister fen country, the looming mists and intricate waterways – to marvellous effect.

Ruth Galloway is a fascinating study of a professional woman trying to make sense of today’s world. The Independent describes her as…[not] a sexless zombie in a starched white coat; she is really, messily, female. And she doesn't always get things right… 

I understand exactly what they mean. Ruth's life never quite goes to plan. She’s too quick to call a politically correct digging impliment a spade. She’d like to lose weight. She like a lot more regular love, please. She has parents who seem to think that she’s still their little girl, even though she’s head of a forensic archaeology department. And in this novel, she has a secret which creates a warm and touchingly humorous sub-plot throughout the novel. 

Despite the persistent frustrations and exasperations of her busy life, Ruth is physical yet academic, open-minded, and sensitive to people’s feelings. I’m sure that’s why the crime-reading public love her.
  
In The Janus Stone, (Mariner Books), Ruth is investigating some Roman remains when she’s asked to visit a building site where a child’s headless skeleton has been unearthed. An old mansion is being demolished, and this was, in the past, an orphanage. These bones are much more recent that the Roman remains, and the two histories unravel slowly and dramatically as we reach the thrilling crescendo of the story. 

Because I use portals and transitions so much in my Shaman Mystery Series, I particularly loved the links to Janus, the old Roman god of doorways, beginnings and endings.

This is my first Elly Griffiths book. I wish I’d discovered her before, but I wouldn’t know about her now if I hadn’t been compared to Griffiths, as a writer of edgy crime novels. 

US review publication, LIbrary Journal, said of my first book, In the Moorsthe visceral suspense Milton creates is commendable, not to mention terrifying. I like pairing her work with Elly Griffiths’s atmospheric English mysteries…

That was enough to send me scrabbling for one of her books and I have not been disappointed with The Janus Stone.

Kitchen Table Writers: Nina Milton reads from her book Unraveled Visions

Kitchen Table Writers: Nina Milton reads from her book Unraveled Visions

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Questions, Questions, the life of an Author in Soundbites.


Do other writers feel hemmed in by questions? 

When I was starting out, I didn't like telling people I was writing, because they would almost instantly start asking, "are you published yet?", and as I wasn't, it freaked me out. But then I got my very first story published in a magazine and naturally, I wanted to shout that from the rooftops. I soon wished I hadn't, because the question quickly changed to "have you had any more things published yet?" I didn't like to point out – even to myself – that first of all, one has to write new things, or the chances of publication dwindle. 


Attempting to see into the future and
guess the next question
hasn't got me anywhere yet. 
But I did write new things. Stories, articles and books for children. Yet again, the questions changed. "How's the writing career going?" became the main query. I shrank away from answering because we all have our dry periods and I have had many in my writing life. "Are you still getting published?" was the question in narrow second place and that was even harder to answer. Or rather, it was easy, but painful to answer. "No, I'd have to say. No, I'm not."

Finally, however, I landed a contract for a trilogy of thrillers entitled The Shaman Mysteries. All of a sudden, I couldn't wait for the questions, because I was proud and ready with the answers. Yes, I’m writing number two. Yes, it's going well. Yes, number three is in the pipeline. 

The questions have become more interesting, too. People ask all sorts of things, now. "Where do your ideas come from?" (the Muses, I think...)"Is Nina Milton your real name?" (yes, it's my married name. If you share a name with a great poet, what's not to like?) "Are you Sabbie Dare?" (Nope. I wish. She's thinner, younger, more outgoing and far, far more courageous than me.)

Now, anyone can ask me a question by going to Goodreads. People can pose questions by clicking  on https://www.goodreads.com/author/1386905.Nina_Milton/questions 

Already I've been asked some interesting things; "What's the best thing about being a writer?" and "what advice can you give aspiring writers?" among them. 

Today, I was asked:  "I'm a bit in love with your central character in the Shaman Mystery Series. Can you tell me anything about the 3rd book? Are you writing one? Will it be out soon? I can't wait!"

Sadly, I couldn't do anything about his romantic dilemma, but I was able to tell him that the third book is now firmly in the pipeline and will be coming out in September (US) and October (UK) 2015. The title is really enticing, and the cover design has been chosen. 

Oh, yes, that's the other question I often get asked. Do I design or choose the book cover? Do I choose the title? It's a disappointing answer, I'm afraid. Most publishers don't allow their authors to pick titles or go anywhere near book covers. But this time, the title is the one I gave the book from early on in the writing process, so perhaps Midnight Ink are beginnning to be a little more trusting that other publishers. And, although even I haven't seen the cover picture yet, I do know that it ties in fantastically with the title and the overarching theme of the book.
As soon as I'm able, I'll be revealing the title and the book cover. I'm at least as excited as my readers, and I wouldn't want to keep them in suspense for a second longer than necessary. 
So watch this space for all the Shaman Mystery gossip and please don't be afraid to pose me a question on my Author Page at Goodreads...I'm certainly not afraid to answer them any more.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Writers and Other Animals Features In the Moors

The US author, Sheila Boneham is talking about the first Shaman Mystery Novel featuring the inimitable Sabbie Dare on her blogsite this month. 
Nina Milton, author of the Shaman Mystery Series
out from Midnight Ink Books.


This book is making waves in the US and the UK. 
Professor Ronald Hutton (author of author of The Triumph of the Moon, also seen on Tudor Monastry Farm) said; "In the Moors has a cracking pace, evocative landscapes and a shocking twist at the end; I’ve rarely read depictions of shamanic journeying that have felt so authentic."
Mara Freeman (author of Grail Alchemy) said;  “A real page-turner, In the Moors cost me several hours of sleep because it was so un-put-downable! An engaging heroine, a landscape at once so real and so menacing, and an intriguing mystery had me enthralled into the wee hours!” 
Library Journal's five star review said; "Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year, and Milton’s tale is riveting…the visceral suspense Milton creates is commendable, not to mention terrifying. I like pairing her work with Elly Griffiths’s atmospheric English mysteries.

If you still don't know about this book, you can find out by clicking on the link to Sheila's Blogsite;

http://writersandotheranimals.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/excerpt-in-moors-by-nina-minton.html?showComment=1416819502758



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Home and Seahenge by Francis Pryor, Book of the Month

http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Research/Collections/Archaeology_Collections/Seahenge/index.htm
Frances Pryor has a new book out   (Home: a Time Traveller’s Tales from Britain’s Prehistory), which I can't wait to read. He's written many books on his specialsit subject of the archeology of the east coast of Britain, and I particularly loved Seahenge, as it was so close to my own heart.
Francis Prior became an archaeologist in the early seventies, and is married to archeologist Maisie Taylor. He's best known for his marvellous work on Flag Fen, Flag Fen, a Bronze Age site developed about 3500 years ago, which has a wooden causeway about 1/2 a mile long  built  across the wet fenland. I created a similar Neolithic walkway for my first Shaman Mystery, In the Moors, as they are also found in Sabbie  Dare's neck of the woods, the Somerset Levels. Part way across the fenland structure is a semi-man-made a small island waswhich was most likely a site of religious ceremonies and significance. Prior reconstructed a lot of the site including a typical Iron Age roundhouse dwelling, and created a visitors' centre. The fens are redolent with Bronze Age workings,  the perfect high point being the discovery in 1998 of a spectacular timber sacred circle on the coast of the Norfolk coast – a strange phenomenon which suddenly seemed to be growing out of the Norfolk coastline. A dark circle with a central core; like an atom, like a cell.
The first people to see it emerging from the sea thought at first it was the rotting carcass of an old boat. But it soon became clear that this was a magical thing. It brooded like an eye, suddenly open and clear-sighted; a spectacular timber sacred circle.

This henge manifested itself from the coastal waters as they retreated, generation on generation. Constructed from wood blackened with two millennia of submersion, it had an upturned oak-bole in its very middle, the tapering fingers of the old roots pointing at the sea, the sky, the land. It emerged, from what might be considered its grave, like a benign vampire; mysterious and ancient.


I can imagine the excitement Francis Prior, a local archaeologist, felt as he came upon the henge... We walked for hours – or so it seemed – across tracts of sand, blasted from time to time by penetrating winds. At last we reached the circle. Three archaeologists from the Norfolk County Unit were clearing washed-in sand and debris from the gales of the previous day. As we arrived the sun came up, and I rapidly clicked off half a roll of film. The site was much smaller than I had imagined, but extraordinary, nonetheless. I was struck by its simplicity. It consisted of a rough circle or oval of oak posts, with what looked an upside-down oak in the middle. I can only guess at what this inverted tree meant, but I felt it had something special to tell...(Francis Prior, Seahenge, HarperCollins 2001)


Since hearing about Seahenge and subsequently reading Pryor's account, I had longed to visit the place and see the wood circle. When it first emerged, druids and ‘new agers’ clustered around it as if it was a rare flower and they were bees; they sat upon it, protesting the plan to uproot the entire henge and remove it from the place it had been built thousands of years ago. I had deep empathy for the protesters, who wanted this sacred monument to be left in peace, but I also had some sympathy for the case of the experts. As soon as the old wood emerged from the salt water, it was at risk – the air would rot it away to nothing. If it was left where it was, it would eventually be lost. Pulling it out felt rather like pulling teeth; like moving old bones from cemeteries; brutal and tactless. Even so, the druidical ‘sit in’ on the upturned tree roots also felt naive and insensitive in its way. The only way to preserve this amazing creation was to move it, and finally...inevitably...the archaeologists had their wicked way. Seahenge was taken south, so that the curators of the Lynn museum could learn how to care for it from the experts...the people who had worked on the Mary Rose after it had been dragged up from the sea bed.

Now, I have seen the Mary Rose, and I can remember my reaction to it clearly. It made my spine tingle. It stands – a hulking wreck of a ship – inside a perpetual shower. Water drains and runs and drips over it every second of its life. I seemed to me something between a form of torture and a form of giving life. I have never forgotten it, and since Seahenge erupted, I’ve longed to see that too.

Francis Prior set up the Fenland Archaeological Trust in 1987, allowing visitors to see the long history – natural and man’s history –of the area. I’d always wanted to see Flag Fen in the same way as I longed to see Seahenge. So when I had the opportunity to go to Norfolk to refresh my knowledge on keeping chickens, I decided to combine business with pleasure.
The dark history that separates the origins of Seahenge with the present day cannot be exaggerated. Thousands of years have passed. And to this day we don’t know what the henge was built to do. Sacrifice, is always people’s first thought; it’s always my last. I prefer to believe that it was used for sacred rituals more benign...the connection of man with the old gods. Nevertheless, there seems to be a black hole that stretches between me and the henge.
When we finally took a break in Norfolk we set out to King’s Lyn from Norwich quite early from our hote It looked a long way on the map – that proved the only correct assumption of the day. It was almost lunch time before we reached the city, so we ate first, and wandered around a bit, then went to the museum.
It was shut. Until future notice. No reason given.
I visualized the henge, locked up inside, perhaps happy to be alone again, and in the dark, beneath its constant torrent of water.
The plan had been to drive on to Francis Pryor's home and Flag Fen, but that wasn’t exactly around the corner either, so I phoned from the car.
I spoke directly to Francis Prior.
‘No,’he said, ‘we open at the end of the month.’
‘But it said on your website you opened on the 1st?’
‘Sorry,’ he said.
‘Lynn museum is shut too.’
‘Really? Why ever is that?’
‘I was hoping you’d tell me.’
I might, at that point, have asked...’would it be sensible of us to drive to Holmes-by-the-sea, just a short drive from Lynn, to see if we can spot the second henge that’s come up out of the sea? The one that has been left there to do its own thing? After the troubles of uprooting the first? The one you can see if you’re there at low tide?’
I didn’t ask any of that, of course. I didn’t even ask when low tide was. We just drove off, following the road to the east coast. We passed through the prettiest villages imaginable. Behind this was the sea, separated from us by low lying marshes of grass, creeks and dunes. A place of wild salt water birds and wild winds.
‘Even if we don’t find the second henge,’ I said, ‘we could have a lovely walk.’
‘I’ll park here, then, shall I?’
Even as we came to a halt, we knew we were stuck. Two wheels were deep in mud, skidding round, going nowhere.
We got out. My husband examined the mired tyres. I stared out to sea. High tide at Holmes- by-the-sea. A gull wheeled.
We stuck everything we had under the wheel; even the blanket from the boot. The tyre squealed and whizzed on its axel.
A lady came by. ‘Oh dear, your stuck,’ she said. ‘I’d help you if I could...’
‘Gosh, no you’re to do no such thing,’ I said.
‘Well, I am nearly ninety,’ she said. ‘But I go for this walk each day. I don’t believe one should just give up, do you?’
‘No,’ I said, staring at the tyre and the ripped, sodden muddy blanket.
She walked on. I kicked myself. I’d forgotten to ask her if she knew what directions I should give the RAC.
A family came a little later. Young couple, pushing a buggy; older man and wife. I stopped them to ask where exactly we were.
The men took charge immediately. They went home, collected their 4X4 plus a tow rope and we were out of the mire in minutes.
As we drove away, I contemplated on our wasted day. It was as if the henge had not wanted us to have any success. It had not wanted to be seen...twice over.
Maybe sacrifices were made, after all.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Yoga...and murder from Tracy Weber


Tracy Weber, a fellow Midnight Inker writes about Yoga...and murder!

Mystery Lovers:  My first yoga mystery, Murder Strikes a Pose is available for purchase from booksellers everywhere!  My second  yoga mystery, A Killer Retreat, will be out January, 2015 and is available for preorder now!


Tracy is owner/Founder of Whole Life Yoga and Author of the Downward Dog Mysteries
Writing about yoga, dogs, and murder. What could be more fun?

Whole Life Yoga Studio Page: http://www.WholeLifeYoga.com

__._,_.___
Meanwhile a lot of use murderous authors, including me, have been quitely baking cakes (it's all an alibi, of course...)


BAKE, LOVE, WRITE

When USA Today best selling author, Lois Winston, came up with a brilliant idea for a different kind of collaboration I jumped at the chance to take part.
Her idea – to bring together a bunch of authors, have us share one of our favourite dessert recipes, along with some sage advice on both love and writing… and then put it all in a book.
I can't wait to try the recipies and hope you like mine...it's very Welsh and rather tipsy!
When will this book be available? I hear you ask. Soon, I’m pleased to say. Very soon.
In the meantime,  I’ll whet your appetite with a sneak peak at the book cover.

Isn’t it gorgeous?
So if, like many booklovers, you have a sweet tooth… wonder what our recipes for that lasting, loving relationship would be… and/or are interested in writing, then watch this space!
Or you can join in the fun of Bake, Love, Write’s road to publication by visiting its very own Facebook page.