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B is for Blogging …


I almost came unstuck this week. Whose bright idea was it to begin a ‘writing A to Z’ when there aren’t many interesting topics beginning with B?

Oh, yes. Mine.

Right then. Rather than give up or miss a letter, I’m going to take a more holistic approach and look at the end product. In this case, the blog. Whether you’re in business, a creator, or simply want to write about a favourite hobby, blogging is a great way to make contact with like-minded people.

But where do you begin?

There are several questions you’ll need to answer before you start writing:

  • Why – What’s the purpose of your blog? What are you hoping to achieve?
  • Where – What blogging site/platform are you going to use?
  • Who – Your audience.
  • What – Subject matter. (not quite the same as the purpose).


A simple question but one that you need to answer before you start. Why are you blogging? Are you so enthusiastic about your favourite hobby that you want to share it with the world? Or are you a business guru with a lifetime of knowledge to share with colleagues in your field? Or maybe you make something amazing and need a platform to tell the world how great it is so that you can sell more?  Whatever the reason, you’re going to need a place to call ‘home.’


There are several good blogging sites out there, with prices that range from ‘free’ to ‘premium’.


With a variety of ready-made themes to choose from and customise, WordPress is the most popular blogging site on the Internet. An impressive 60% of the world’s blogs are hosted on WordPress and you can even, for a price of course, link a WordPress site to your own domain. WordPress does have a high learning curve but is rewarding in the amount of customisation possible. If you want the most professional-looking blog and you’re willing to put in the time to get it just right, WordPress is your platform.


Medium is a great site if you simply want to concentrate on sharing your writing with others without the bother of customisation. You can choose to monetise your page for members only, where you are paid for your contribution based on the amount of engagement your stories generate and ‘claps’ you receive.


Blogger has been around since 1999 and is now owned by Google. The customisation tools are far more basic than WordPress but they’re easy enough for a beginner to use and with a Google ID you can log in and be blogging in a relatively short time. A good place for hobbyists and people who want to reach out to others with similar interests.

wix-logo          weebly-logo-300x121

Wix and Weebly are quite similar and both have easy customisation that allows anyone to make a professional-looking blog in a short time. Both are great platforms for beginners because the tools are so easy to use. Wix has an AI that will help you to build your site based on the questions you answer and Weebly allows you to drag and drop elements right on to your page and build as you go.


Okay, so you know why you want to blog and you’ve settled on a site and made it your own. Before you sit down and start writing, you need to decide whose attention you want to capture. There’s no use in putting all those lovely words and images out into the void without having somewhere to aim them.

You need an audience.

What’s the point in putting all your time and energy into telling people how to make the world’s best cottage pie, complete with pictures and a ‘how to’ video, if you’re going to then go and target a vegan community? Unless you’re aiming to have the most short-lived food blog in the history of the Internet, you need to find the right audience.

As a writer, I share links to my blog in online writers’ communities, Twitter and  Linkedin.

Use a little ‘Google-Fu’ before you start work, and look for online communities you can join to find people who share your interests. And once you get their attention, make sure you hold it by adding a ‘subscribe’ button to your home page. Of course, to keep their attention you’re going to have to decide what you’re going to write about.


Choose a topic that you love to talk about. Passion for your subject matter will come through in your writing, so blog about what you love. Make sure you know your subject well. There’s nothing worse than looking for advice on something, only to find a blog that gives vague or incorrect information.

And that’s it. You’re ready to go off and create. If you write it, they will come. If you write it well, they will stay.

Leave me a comment with your blog address and I’ll come and say hello.



Apostrophe Abuse


I was going to write a B post today (since it’s an A-Z and I wrote about Allusion last week) but I decided to stick on A for another week. Why?

Apostrophe abuse. It’s the one grammatical horror that makes my eye twitch, and I see it everywhere. Many people have difficulty knowing when and when not to use one, so – as a public service and for the good of my twitchy eye – I’m going to explain when to use an apostrophe.

An apostrophe is used for two reasons:

  • Contractions
  • To show possession

It is never used to mark a plural. It may occasionally be used with a plural, but even then, only to show possession.








No, not that kind of contraction.

A contraction happens when we ‘contract’ two words into one.

Some widely-used examples are:

  • It is = it’s
  • You are = you’re
  • They are = they’re
  • We are = we’re
  • Who is = who’s
  • I have = I’ve

As you can see, we use the apostrophe to replace the missing letter or letters.



Now you’re just being silly. I mean the kind of possession that means something belonging to someone. Something that we own.

We use an apostrophe to denote possession for nouns but not pronouns.


  • Cheryl’s cat
  • Bill’s bicycle
  • Annie’s fudge
  • Scotland’s border
  • Humanity’s conscience


  • My cat
  • His bicycle
  • Her fudge
  • Its border
  • Their conscience

The easy way to remember this is if the object is owned by someone or something with a name, then we use an apostrophe. If not and a more generic pronoun is used, then there is no need for apostrophe.

Plural Possession

On the rare occasion that we use an apostrophe with a plural, we use it to show the possession and not the plural.

We went to the Holdsworths’ house for tea.

Note how the apostrophe in this case comes after the ‘s’ for the plural? That’s because the apostrophe shows possession (the house belongs to the Holdsworths) and not the plural.

The Holdsworths came to my house for tea.

Note how, since the possession in this case is singular (my house), the plural in this case (the Holdsworths) has no apostrophe.

We went to Mr. Holdsworth’s house for tea.

Note how the apostrophe in this case comes before the ‘s’? This is because there is possession but we’re only talking about one person – in this case, Mr. Holdsworth.

I think that explains when we should or shouldn’t use an apostrophe but just in case, here’s an example of where we often get it wrong.

There, they’re and their

There = a place:  The book is over there.

Since there is no possession or contraction, there is no apostrophe.

They’re = they are: They’re coming over for tea.

Since it’s a contraction, the apostrophe is used in place of the missing letter ‘a’.

Their = something belongs to them: We gave them back their keys.

Since this is possession but no name is given, no apostrophe is necessary.

So, when trying to decide which is correct, look at the sentence you’re writing and ask yourself whether it’s a place, a contraction or possession (and if it’s possession, whether or not a noun (name) or pronoun is used).

I know, there’s a lot to remember! But I hope this helps a little.



Let me know in the comments if there are any instances where you’re still not sure whether to use an apostrophe, and I’ll explain from your example.

Hi Honey, I’m home!

here's johnny


*Pulls light switch*


“Oh hi! Is this still here?”

“I wonder if it still works?”

*Blows dust off the chair*

*coughs and splutters*

“Oh my, look at that spider’s web.”

*pulls spider web down*

*Spider comes running out with her front legs up in the air, ready to fight*




It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m sorry for staying away so long. I’ve been so busy. Where to start?  I’ll tell you what, while I try to decide what I want to blog about, I’ll do a weekly, writing-related A-Z. How does that sound?

Right then, starting with A.


We use allusion in our everyday conversation, often without realising, and it’s quite an easy tool to use in writing, as long as it’s not over-done.

So, what is it?

Have you ever known someone who tells a lot of lies, and told them that their nose ought to be a foot long with all the lies they tell?

That’s allusion.

You’re referring to the story of Pinocchio, whose nose grew an inch every time he told a lie. Instead of having to tell the whole story of Pinocchio, you can conjure up an image in their mind with just a few words, because they already know what happens.


When is it useful?

Allusion can be useful when you don’t want to go into a lengthy description of a cameo character. You can write, ‘Jenny’s husband  was a bit of a David Brent,’ and most people will get an immediate picture of the character and his personality.


Here are a couple more:

“She did a Cathy Earnshaw onto the bed and began sobbing.”








“She gave him a look that said, ‘bovvered?”







So, over to you. Give me an allusion you’re fond of using, or one that you can’t stand.

Author Interview — Elizabeth Kelley Buzbee

After a long break, in which I moved continents, became acclimated to a full time job and ploughed on with the business of working to bring my husband back to England (the hoops we had to go through are a topic for another blog post, however), I’m finally at a point where I have time to step back into the blog world.










My first post back is an interview I conducted a while ago, before all the upheaval, and so at long last I’m delighted to introduce Elizabeth Kelley Buzbee, one of the first writers I made friends with on-line. We met through the writers critique group Critters in the late 1990s and have kept in touch.

Elizabeth Kelley Buzbee A.A.S., R.R.T.-N.P.S., R.C.P. has been writing for several years. In 2001, she self-published a science fiction novel, Little Claw of Azuni through Booksurge Publishing.

After waiting decades for just one novel or TV story to include just one respiratory therapist, she finally grew tired of waiting, and completed Phantom Therapist in 2003.  Due to the fact that she is a registered respiratory therapist, the novel is written with first-hand knowledge of not only the mechanics of the job, but the emotional costs and rewards of that life. She currently teaches respiratory care in East Texas at a community college just north of Houston.

In 2007, Cengage Learning published her textbook, Respiratory Care Clinical Manual on CD Rom. For the last few years, she has served as editor-in-chief of LSC: Kingwood Journal of Undergraduate Research in Respiratory Care, which serves as a vehicle for her research class’ findings. The e-zine is available here.

Last year, Eizabeth launched two books on on Kindle: a child’s story about the first Palm Sunday (Davy the Wild Little Donkey and the Wonderful Thing He Did) which did brisk sales in both USA and UK during Easter season; and a historical novel Indigo Colony. Both of these are through Parrothead Publishing.

indigo colonyCJ: It’s Indigo Colony that I wanted to talk with you about, Elizabeth after reading and enjoying the novel so much. I know this was a labour of love for you; what made you want to write this particular story?

EKB: Basically, this novel is loosely based on my father’s family chronicle; a history of one of America’s oldest and smallest minorities, the San Augustine Minorcans, who came to East British Florida in 1768 to work off indenture-ship contracts to earn a plot of land, as did many other Europeans. Within the first decade, more than 60% of these Greek, Italians, Minorcans and ethnic Greeks from Turkey were dead of starvation, malaria, gross mismanagement and by outright abuse. Then when the first indenture-ship contract times ran out, their employer, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish investor, refused to free anyone.

It’s a story with as much drama and pathos as anything that happened on the Oregon Trail, or during the early days of the Kentucky settlements, yet, few outside of northern Florida even know the Minorcans lived and died. Some say that “history is written by the victors”, but I say that history is written by the literate.

Don’t laugh. I mean that the servants, slaves and Native Americans in colonial history don’t get much attention, if any, because we only know them as side characters, almost props. Their stories are barely there. Seen only in short details in legal documents, or quick glances in a diary written by an educated upper class person who has only a dim idea of the realities of their stories, we can only image what their lives were like.

CJ: I know you did a great deal of research to make sure the historical details of the story were correct. What did you find the most surprising?

EKB: In about the middle of the book, I included in a scene with a stand of pine trees that stood next to the Castillo de San Marcos. It was an awkward move on my part, because I knew that the Spanish builders of the only castle on the American mainland kept the grounds free of brush that could hide an enemy. This grove of pine trees was important to Antonio Ortagus’ state of mind as he arrived in San Augustine to join the British army, so I included it anyway. A few months later, I came across an old photograph of San Augustine in the mid-1800s. My grove of trees stood right where I’d placed it … even if it was about 100 years late. It sounds silly, but it resonated with me somehow.

Apparently, the major villain of this story,  Dr. Turnbull, has come down in Charleston history as the benign, beloved family doctor of their leading families; a patriot who suffered greatly at the hands of the dastardly English governor of East British Florida, Patrick Tonyn. In fact, we can still find this watered-down version in one of the American medical history books, which talks of his contributions to his community and says nothing of his involvement in what one Floridian historian referred to  as the “killing fields” of New Smyrna, Florida. I read through first-hand legal depositions collected by the East British Florida courts during Turnbull’s trial  and I am dumbfounded by the fact that in his own time, his peers did not believe Turnbull did anything wrong, that 91 sworn witnesses lied. Then, I remember that Tory or Colonial, his southern peers were all slave-owners, people who saw life through what I can only call strange-coloured glasses, that see only the plantation houses, the balls and galas, but not the slave cabins, the field hands nor the butlers and cooks working all night to perfect the afternoon’s amusement.

Another fact that struck me long after I write about them in a sympathetic manner, was that the Turnbull daughters had become godmothers to at least two Ortagus babies, so there was a connection between the actors in my novel and the real people.

CJ: How long did it take you to write Indigo Colony?

EKB: Gosh! A couple of years at least. I’d research and then write a few chapters, then research more and write more. I actually travelled to San Augustine Florida to walk the cobbled streets and see the houses in the Spanish quarter.

CJ: Did you encounter any problems in forming the details just right? If so, what was the most difficult for you?

EKB: Well, you probably remember me begging everyone to tell me how to hang someone on a ship. Then there was the time I went on-line to find out how to fight with a tomahawk. I looked at dozens of books on carriages, clothing and day-to-day details of life in colonial America.

CJ: I enjoyed the story, as heart-rending as it was at times, and was completely invested in the characters. Besides Antonio and Catalina, both of whom I adored, who did you enjoy writing most and why?

EKB: I loved writing about the governors’ wife, Anne Tonyn, because there is so little known about her that I could make up her personality and her actions. That was fun. At the time of this book’s creation, the historians I spoke to didn’t even have a name for her. I called her Anne.

All we know is that she was pregnant when she arrived with Patrick Tonyn and that she was looked down on by the local gentry because she was not “one of us,” she was “common,” and Patrick Tonyn who obviously married beneath himself was looked on with amused distaste for doing so.

She was notorious in San Augustine for running up bills that she didn’t pay, so I decided that Anne would become the governor’s secret supplier for his militia. All made up; no historical foundation, but it fit the storyline.

I also enjoyed developing Drew’s character. I started off with only the vague idea that Turnbull’s teenage nephew would befriend little Antonio Ortagus, his body servant and that the class differences between them as they grow would become a major problem, but I never expected Drew’s personality to grow in complexity as it did. Drew ended up being a character who almost wrote himself. I love that when it happens, you know?

CJ: Oh I do know! Reaper, one of the characters in The Lost Weaver took on a life of his own, after starting out as a minor antagonist for Kestrel. By the end of that novel, he had become a very complex anti-hero and he even has plans to be a POV character in the third book of the trilogy.

Elizabeth, what, if anything, would you like readers of Indigo Colony to take away from the novel?

EKB: I want people to know that the American-Minorcan story is similar in many ways to the Native Americans’ and the African Americans’ experience. After a decade of exploitation by a sophisticated and ruthless gentry who operated openly without government intervention; their contracts voided and threatened with actual slavery, what happened to my ancestors two hundred years ago cries out to be shared. At the very least, I would like to see Andrew Turnbull’s official biography corrected.

Also … without being too melodramatic, I have to say that the hand of God moved sometimes with only a single finger nudging someone in a tiny direction, another in a different direction. I believe God worked His miracle by using other people’s motivations and actions to deliver my ancestors from certain slavery. Illiterate Catholic peasants were saved by the unilateral actions of an Irish Protestant governor after unsuccessfully petitioning him twice before. Why? Why the third time? It’s like a fairy tale.

What were the chances that the historical Dr. Turnbull would make such as powerful enemy of the new governor? Why did his wife snub the governor’s lady? Why did Turnbull decide he had to personally petition the colonial office in London to get Tonyn fired, leaving his property to his nephew and lawyers to defend a few months later?

Who would have guessed that Tory spies would send a warning that South Carolina patriots were looking to arm the Turnbull peasants for an uprising? Is that what made the governor realize that he had — right at his fingertips — a couple of hundred potential Tory solders, if only he listened to the peasants’ complaints about Turnbull’s brutality?

Then, when all was said and done, instead of sending them to war as he seemed to intend when he freed them, the governor realized that the Minorcans were most important to him as fishers, and farmers to keep his city fed. Everything fell into place.

CJ: What are you working on at the moment?

EKB: I released Phantom Therapist on Kindle. I have an idea about a story about dog-medium who solves crimes, but in spite of the help of the dogs who tend to pay attention to the wrong things. It will be a humorous murder mystery set in Houston. She will be next-door neighbour of the protagonist from my novel, Phantom Therapist.

CJ: Elizabeth, you’ve been writing for years. What advice would you give to a writer just beginning that journey?

EKB: Write. Write and write. Paraphrasing Ray Bradbury, one must get those millions of crappy words down on paper, so that you finally reach the good stuff shoved way back into your brain’s attic. Oh! Then burn the crappy words; better yet, go back and rewrite them if the plot still worked in spite of the words.

Rewriting is critical. I never serve up raw words. That’s why I hate instant messaging. I write a chapter, read and rewrite and finally go back and (in the case of Indigo Colony) re-read the whole novel to purge about 20%-25% of excess. So much of what fledgling writers compose is self-indulgent verbage (verbatim garbage) … and that’s okay, if you are willing to leave it on the cutting room floor before showing it to someone else. When what you purged whimpers out and refuses to die, then keep it on file for another story, or if it’s compelling enough, go ahead enlarge it to build another tale around it.

There’s a game I play to give a troublesome character all those little details of movement or stance so necessary for fleshing out. I decide what actor will play this part in the movie. Not all my characters have been cast yet, but I will say that Russell Crowe would make an outstanding governor Tonyn.

To write dialogue that is to the point and stays on track, I compose the words first for both parties. Finally, I go back to insert the action.

CJ: Oh! I write the dialogue without tags or beats first too; writing the conversation as it happens helps me so much. Do you have a writing routine? If so, what does that involve?

EKB: I compose on the computer. When the creative juices are flowing, I wake up an hour early, read what I put down the day before and fix the problems. I tend to write individual scenes. Unlike a lot of my friends, I never make maps, and rarely written outlines. I write sequentially; starting at chapter one and end with the last chapter. When I get stuck, I walk the dog.

As a dyslexic, I have found that if I enlarge the print and even change the font from time to time, I find errors.

CJ: Thank you so much for talking to me, Elizabeth. I’ve enjoyed learning more about you and about Indigo Colony. I would not hesitate to recommend the novel to anyone reading this blog. It has everything: drama, action, heartbreak, redemption, as well as being a historically accurate, mostly true story.

Author Interview – Aderyn Wood

AderynWood (2)In my continuing series of author interviews, I’m excited to introduce Australian writer and fellow cat-lover, Aderyn Wood. After reading and thoroughly enjoying her novella, The Viscount’s Son, when I learned that she had a new book coming out—a novel this time—my interest was piqued. I asked Aderyn to chat with me about her new release.



The Borderlands - E-Book Cover[CJ] Aderyn, The Borderlands (gorgeous cover, by the way) is very different from The Viscount’s Son. Apart from being a novel length work, it’s also a different genre. I don’t often foray into YA, but I do enjoy a good read, and this is definitely a good read. In your own words, what’s the most important thing you’d like readers to know about The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ. I love the cover too! The artist Taire Morrigan worked hard to create a visual representation of a key thread in which Dale undertakes a journey to find the mystical Borderlands – on her little sailboat called ‘Joy’.

This is a tough question. I think I’d like readers to know that The Borderlands is probably more of a coming of age story than a typical YA fantasy. It’s also an adventure story. YA fantasies tend to focus on a secret magical talent of the protagonist; and romance. Of course Borderlands has these elements but I wanted to add a sense of adventure to this story too. So Dale goes through a number of challenges, physically, emotionally and mentally, as she embarks on an adventurous journey, all of which enables her to learn about who she truly is and develop as a character.

[CJ] The artist definitely did a great job of bringing that thread to life. I did love following Dale’s adventures in Borderlands, as well as getting to know her. At the beginning of the story, she is a loner who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, even at home. She’s also very easy to invest in because she has such a great voice. Of course, there’s a reason for her not fitting in, which goes beyond the usual teenage angst (which I won’t go into for fear of giving out spoilers) but I loved her independent spirit and wit right from the start. What do you like most about her?

[Aderyn] I love how smart she is and how she can see through to the core of a person’s identity. In the story she befriended a couple of other misfits in the form of two old homeless people – Gareth and Joan. Gareth and Joan live in an abandoned old hospital by the river Clyde (set in Scotland), and Dale spends much of her time with Old Man Gareth – her only real friend. Through them, Dale shows us how she sees people for who they truly are inside; she doesn’t judge according to appearance or social status. She values people for who they are. But this also means that she can spot cruelty and pretention easily, and she has little tolerance for people like that. Unfortunately for Dale, most of the students at the exclusive international school she attends (St Nino’s) are bullies or snobs.

[CJ] Her relationship with Gareth definitely shows us the depth of Dale’s character. Many teenage female characters are written as weak/needing help, only interested in fashion and boys (one of the main reasons I don’t tend to read a lot of YA). Did you deliberately set out to overturn that stereotype?

[Aderyn] I didn’t set out to challenge any stereotype, and if I’m going to be honest, I don’t read a lot of YA myself. I simply wrote this story as truthfully as I could, about a girl who felt so different from her family that it caused great tension, especially as she is not able to fit in with peers at school. I set out to show how someone like that would cope in such a situation. Her mother, a fervent social climber, doesn’t understand Dale and would prefer that she did something more fashionable with her hair, or went shopping, rather than reading or painting. Dale drew on the strengths she did have, particularly her intelligence, curiosity and sense of adventure, to overcome the challenges that came her way.

[CJ] You convey all those things about Dale very well. More than anything, The Borderlands struck me as a rite-of-passage story. Along with the reader, Dale learns a lot about herself and her strengths as well as who she is. Is that the kind of story you set out to write when you began, or did it develop as you wrote?

[Aderyn] I agree, that’s how I see this story. While I didn’t set out to write this initially, it very quickly became apparent that the story was all about Dale and how she comes of age. The second book in the series begins a year after the events at the end of Book One, and readers will see a different, more mature Dale, but will understand how she grew to be that person through the trials she experienced in this first book of the trilogy.

[CJ] Great! I will look forward to seeing the more mature Dale, and how her character develops from here. I’m sure readers will love seeing her development in The Borderlands, which is available now on Amazon. I know you’re an indie publisher, Aderyn. There’s a rather steep learning curve in indie publishing—which I found out through releasing my own book of short stories. What did you find the most useful thing to learn through publishing The Viscount’s Son that helped you with The Borderlands?

[Aderyn] The most useful thing I’ve learnt so far is to just keep writing. Yes, it’s wonderful when readers buy your book and even better when they review it or email you with messages saying how much they enjoyed it – that truly is wonderful! But the reality is that indies are mostly unknown authors and they are not going to sell millions or attract a lot of attention initially. According to my reading, most indie authors only start receiving a regular income (and not even one they can necessarily live on) after they have released 5-15 books. So I just keep writing.

[CJ] That feeling is great, isn’t it? I love hearing from people who read my writing. But you’re so right—we have to keep writing. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to a writer poised to take the plunge into indie publishing?

[Aderyn] I think it’s important to be positive. l have seen a few authors complaining about sales or the whole publishing industry in blog posts and forums. While constructive criticism of publishing certainly has its place, I think being too negative can make authors come across as bitter. I can feel doubtful and deflated at times, but a positive outlook gives a better impression to potential readers. I really believe in the saying ‘Nothing succeeds like success’. So look at every sale, every review and every new reader as a success and celebrate it.

[CJ] That’s so true, Aderyn. I think people respond better to a positive attitude. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I wish you all the best with your novel, and I’m more than pleased to recommend it to anyone who loves a good story and great characters. I can’t to see what’s in store for Dale next.

[Aderyn] Thanks CJ! I always enjoy reading your author interviews, you ask great questions. I’m also looking forward to seeing what will happen with Dale next! I hope to release the second book in the series next year.

[CJ] I’ll be watching out for it. Well that’s it for this interview. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Aderyn and The Borderlands as much as I did.

Aderyn Wood enjoys reading and writing fantasy fiction most. Her debut publication, ‘The Viscount’s Son’ is a paranormal novella and has earned many five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. ‘The Borderlands: Journey’ is her second publication and she hopes to release another stand-alone fantasy book later in the year. Aside from fiction, Aderyn loves gardening, cooking and drinking the odd glass of pinot noir. Like most fantasy authors, Aderyn enjoys the company of her cat, who stays by her side during the long and lonely hours of writing.

Where’s the fatted calf?

Or whatever is supposed to get roasted when the prodigal returns?

I spent a while blogging over at Weebly, and while I loved being able to customise my blog with a much friendlier interface than WordPress, I found connecting with readers and other bloggers more difficult.

So, I came crawling back with my tail between my legs. Or something.

I’ll be writing my third #WriteMotivation update later in the week, and hopefully next weekend I’ll have an author interview to post.

Meanwhile, please enjoy a reposting of an author interview with my good friend, Ashley Capes:

In another of my author interviews, I am delighted to be able to introduce one of my favourite writers and good friend, Ashley Capes. When he’s not writing, Ashley teaches Media and English in Victoria, Australia, where he also runs an editing service with his wife, Brooke:

Picture Ashley’s debut novel, City of Masks, was published in June 2014 by Snapping Turtle Books.

CJ: Ashley, how excited are you right now?

Ashley: Through the roof! It’s hard not to be excited each time I think of it. After working toward the goal of having a novel published for the last thirteen or so years, it’s a (wonderful) shock to be talking about having a book out!

CJ: I can imagine! I’m excited for you, who knows how giddy I’d be if it was my own novel. I know you’re no stranger to publication, though. You have several poetry books out in the world, so how different was the process for City of Masks?

Ashley: Vastly – and yet similar too. Both required me to really put the nose (or was it the whole face?) to the grindstone and really think about the choices I make as an author. Loosely, for poetry it often comes down to word choices, whereas for City of Masks, I had to think on a larger, story scale. That’s a bit of a generalisation, of course, but it’s fairly apt.

The other difference was for poetry, I’ve built up a small catalogue. My next poetry collection will be my fifth and so it feels like familiar ground, whereas in fiction, everything feels newer. More daunting perhaps. And so I worry extra, about how the novel will be received, or whether I truly nailed a particular scene. After couple of years working on a project, your objectivity is quite hampered.

CJ: I think many of us can identify with that, as writers—objectivity is hard to keep hold of when you’ve worked on something for so long. However, having had the honour of beta-reading City of Masks, I can say quite objectively that it is an excellent read, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone. I don’t want to give spoilers, so please tell us a little about City of Masks.

Ashley: Thank you, Cheryl!

In brief, it’s an epic fantasy which follows a mercenary, falsely accused of a murder that draws him into a struggle for a bone mask of great power, set in an ancient city perched on an unforgiving coast. There’s what I hope are some interesting magic systems in there too and a question of conflicting loyalties that many of the main characters face.

CJ: Great summary. If I didn’t already know what the novel was about, that would definitely make me want to read it. That said, even though I do know, I’m still looking forward to reading the finished product. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?

Ashley: I think it’s easiest for me to answer in regards to the setting, which is directly inspired by the city of Amalfi. Both the idea of the historic one and modern day Amalfi, which my wife and I were lucky enough to visit in 2011. The lemon groves in the mountains and the sea, so close to the town, really captured my eye.

Elsewhere, I suspect I’ve been inspired by the struggles of people who try to do what’s right in the face of rough odds.

CJ: Your description of Amalfi makes me want to go there! And everyone loves to read about people trying to do what’s right, so I think you have a winning combination there. Who’s your favourite character? I have to say, I have a soft spot for Notch. Although, they are all very well rounded and interesting.

Ashley: Tough question! (And thank you again – awesome to hear that about my characters 🙂 )

I’m having a hard time – can I pick two? I thought I knew the answer to this question the moment I read it, but I’ve been thinking about a bit and I’ve changed my mind. One definite name now comes to mind – Lupo is one of my favourites. He’s one of the antagonists and it’s something about his drive and the fact that he’s difficult to ruffle that makes him a favourite.

I think I could add about five more names, but I Notch probably scrapes ahead. He’s not one to tolerate inactivity and he’s quite an open fellow beneath his stern exterior, which made him great to write.

CJ: Lupo is definitely an interesting character, I found him intriguing, even though he is an antagonist, which is always a mark of good characterization. I know that City of Masks is the first in a trilogy, how far ahead are you in writing terms?

Ashley: I’ve recently finished the first draft of Book Two, The Lost Mask and have my outline all set for Book Three (Greatmask). So not too bad I feel. There’s still a lot of work to go, but I’ve found Lost Mask a lot smoother to write, so I don’t anticipate it taking as long to whip into shape as City of Masks.

CJ: I’m glad to hear that! I can’t wait to read the next part of the story. And it’s great to see that you are finding the work going smoother as you continue with the story. I’m thinking that you’re putting into practice what you learned from writing City of Masks, is that correct?

Ashley: Absolutely, especially storytelling aspects like pacing or controlling the flow of information to the reader. So, when to hold back, and when to reveal. I think that balance is tough to strike and hopefully I’ve handled it well in City of Masks, but I feel I’m handling it better (or at least, with less revision needed) in The Lost Mask. In fact, having an awesome writing group for help and support really helped me with those things 🙂

 CJ: With that in mind, what advice do you have for writers who are working on that first novel?

Ashley: To explore the writing process until you settle on a method that works for you.

Read widely about the way writers work, then try their methods. Adapt. Twist things around until it works for you – it took me a fair while to figure that out. There isn’t any one single ‘correct’ way to write. Only what works for you. Not to say adjustments to your process cannot be made, but perhaps don’t buy into one method wholesale. As an example, I’ve found that the percentage of my process that could be called ‘pantsing’ vs the percentage of ‘plotting’ has changed over the years. I’m now close to 60-40 with pantsing still being the dominant side. But I used to be a complete panster. Now, my current process allows for a comfortable level of output and discovery, so I’m pretty happy with it.

 CJ: That’s great advice ‘only what works for you’ is an adage we all need to remember when reading writing advice. Well, Ashley, I’ve enjoyed our chat. Thank you for taking time to answer all my questions. Once you have a release date and purchase information, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. Meanwhile, if anyone would like to check out Ashley’s poetry, you can find it at the following links: