Friday Favourites: Fables and Fabrications by Jan Edwards

Fables and Fabrications

I love spooky stories, the shiver that slides up my back at any hint of the supernatural, the feeling of unease that lingers long after the film is over, or the book has been closed. Given the popularity of the genre, I know I am not alone, but it sometimes hard to find a good anthology of ghost/weird tales, which is why “Fables and Fabrications” by Jan Edwards, is one my favourite collections.

Jan is a subtle writer. No sudden shock horror in her books, just a gradual built up of tension that leads, inevitably, to an ending that might surprise, but which always feels right. Her stories often have an undertone of myth or legend that add depth to the narrative. Norse, in the case of “Grey Magic for Cat Lovers,” Classical, for “Mayday Come Askew,” and Celtic in “Winter Eve.”

My favourite story in the collection, however, references Eastern Mythology. “Pet Therapy” is truly chilling. It deals with death and sprits who steal souls and is one of those stories that, even having read it a number of times, I still wish, for the sake of the main character, had ended differently.

But then, if it had, it would not have been included in this collection.

If you want a good read for October, “Fables and Fabrications” is on special offer on Amazon. To get it while you can, click here

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Winter Downs: a really good read

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Winter Downs: New Crime Novel by Jan Edwards

On a snowy winter morning Bunch Courtney rides out into the local woods and finds a dead body. Everything points to suicide, but the dead man is Johnny Frampton, a close friend ,and knowing what she does about him, Bunch is convinced that what she is looking at is a murder scene.

This is the opening premise of Winter Downs, a tightly plotted novel set in war time Britain. The 1940 are vividly brought to life and the main character, Bunch, is set to be one of my all time favourite heroines.

I love a strong woman protagonist, but have to admit to a horror of those feisty females in historical novels who transgress every social convention and behave like no woman of their era would have done. Bunch, however, is nothing like them. She is a product of her time and her social class and all the more interesting for that.

“Winter Downs” is a great read and I am looking forward to the next Bunch Courtney mystery.

Following my review I’ve asked the author, Jan Edwards about her take on female protagonists.

Having been asked about my main character of Winter Downs  being a strong female character, and specifically where she came from as a fictional trope..  Exactly who was the inspiration for Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney?

I had to think about it… a lot.

In my mind Bunch came fully formed. Reviewers of my short fiction collections have commented on my strong female protagonists as a theme running through my work. So given that strong women are a given perhaps its more a question of who my inspirations are in general.

Nancy Blackett; Captain of the Amazon in Arthur Ransome’s famous Swallows and Amazons series was my first and abiding heroine. Unlike most females in children’s fiction of that era Nancy never played second fiddle to anyone, and specifically to her male counterpart, John Walker.

Strong fictional females influences, specifically from past eras, have to include Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Austen’s women were always as strong as they were capable of being living as they did within the strictures of Georgian society.

Anything by Daphne Du Maurier is an inspiration in itself, and Rebecca, the quintessential bad girl, was as strong as they come.

Mrs Bradley and Harriet Vane were inspirational female detectives of Golden Age crime. Written as contemporary crime it is easy to see how they fit into their world and in writing Winter Downs it was something I tried to bear in mind. So many ‘historical’ crimes don’t allow for the social restrictions of the time and one of the things I have tried to portray is how Bunch succeeds against that backdrop.

Winter Downs is all about Bunch. Yes it is driven by setting and history and  war is what allowed Bunch to become herself. Many women like her saw their mother and aunts taking similar rolls in the Great War. Despite all that was done to return to the strictures of pre Great War society the ripples begun by the Suffrage movement gathered pace through the twenties and thirties.

With a generation of young men taken out of society young women had no chance of taking up their expected place as wives and mothers. So  they learned to drive, to fly planes, to take up careers – all things that would have been unheard for all but a very privileged few before 1914.

And emancipation was not confined to the upper and middle classes. In Winter Downs we have a reprise of the rise in female power through the work place. Land Army girls from all walks of life working in traditionally male jobs  to keep factories and farms running.

That is the setting and the issues that shape my main protagonist but Winter Downs is not by any means a lecture on the rise of feminism. It is a crime novel first and foremost.

Bunch’s main aim is not to prove her self-worth but to provide vital evidence that her oldest friend had not taken his own life. The setting made for an exciting backdrop and provided just the right set of circumstances to enable her to get involved without the usual restrictions or social niceties.

In the early drafts Bunch’s sister had a far greater role, but once DCI Wright walked into the pages that all changed.  Once she had a foil rather than a sidekick and the story took off once she had someone that she could not dominate the way she could her baby sister.  The added problems of her family home  requisitioned and her parents called away made investigations are as important in shaping Bunch’s character.

Researching Winter Downs was a huge undertaking. All aspects of life on the rural home front had to be picked over. there is a lot written about the towns but far less about the doings of shepherds and poachers.  Hours of reading and note taking were involved but  that is something I love to get involved in. Running down that one line of fact is hugely satisfying.  I hope people enjoy reading Winter Downs as much as I did writing it.

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Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.

Winter Downs is published by Penkhull Press and is available in paperback and kindle editions from Amazon.

Don’t forget to check out the next stops on the Winter Downs blog tour:

The Best Intentions…

The best intentions don’t always come to fruition. Once this would have sent up stress and tension, now I take a more laid back view. There is, after all, something very artificial about making resolutions on a certain date, which you promise yourself you will keep to for the rest of the year, regardless of what life throws at you, good or bad.

So, 2017 no New Year’s Resolutions, just a determination to do more of the same. After all 2016 was not a bad year.

It began with the publication of “Picking up the Pieces.” During which process a great number of lessons, some painful, others not were learned.

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Most important of all being, a thorough proof-read is vital. A good editor even more so. Thank you Peter Coleborn and Jeanne Wood.

What worked really well was the tea party I gave to launch the book. I kept it small and local. Cake was baked and wine chilled, friends and neighbours came and books were sold. Best of all, it was an occasion that everyone enjoyed and out of it came a sense of community that we hadn’t had before. Also, for me, it was another validation of myself as a writer.

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The autobiography project was another boost. Being asked to ghost write the life story of a local person was challenging, although my subject Wilhelmina Slight, couldn’t have been better. Not only was her life story fascinating, but as time went on she recalled more and more, so there was an abundance of material to chose from. And cake. At every interview she produced the most delicious coffee and cake.

 

That was followed by the Hot Air Literary Festival. Where I was on a panel on how to get published, talking about the place of the Indie Press in the publishing world. Thank you Penkhull Press and Tristram Hunt.

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At the end of the summer came the Live Age festival and another panel with fellow local authors. Jan Edwards, Ralph Alcock, Susan Bolton and once again Peter Coleborn, whose live-age16Alchemy Press has won well deserved awards, provided the professional view of small press publishing.

In the autumn, I hosted the annual Reading Cafe at the Gladstone Pottery museum and later on took part in my first public performance, “Our Lives in Art” with the Ages and Stages Theatre Company at Keele University.

Following that came the Christmas show put on the other drama group I go to. It was a condensed reading, thank you Jenni Spangler, of “Christmas is Cancelled” a play I wrote for a cast of thousands, which Jenni reduced very successfully to seven voices.

In the meantime, Jan and I set up 6×6 Reading Cafe at the City Library in Hanley and made regular appearances on 6Towns Radio.

And I wrote 65,000 words of my new novel. Edited the second edition of “Clear Gold” and read and commented on ms from other writers.

To round off the year my story came out in “Weird Ales 2” and was launched at Sledge Lit. 51htiaesyzl-_ac_us218_

 

 

 

Should you be buying your friends’ books?

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It’s almost Christmas  and most of us are in the middle of, or have done,  our shopping for presents. For me much of this is done on Amazon. I scroll down wish lists, or remember books I think would suit the recipient and send off for them. A couple of days later, the doorbell rings and that’s another person ticked off on my list.

The best presents I can give my writer friends is to buy their books. A couple of years ago, this worked really well for me. “Sussex Tales” by Jan Edwards was a perfect choice for my sister, while both my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed Jem Shaw’s novel, “The Larks” about flying in the First World War.

My daughter gave her mother-in-law “House of Shadows” and my sister-in-law got a copy from my mum. Result!

None of my writing friends are, as yet, on the best seller list, but buying each others’ books is a way of spreading the word and most of all of supporting each other.

Writing is a solitary occupation and sometimes on a dreary, dismal December morning, when each sentence is wrung painfully out of your consciousness,  you wonder why on earth you do it. When someone tells you that they’ve read and enjoyed your book, then you know.

 

 

Being on the Radio

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Today I’ve been talking about the Live Age Festival  on Curtain Call on 6Towns Radio. For once I had to manage without my sidekick, Jan Edwards who is at Fantasy Con in Scarborough.

It seemed very odd to be driving to Burslem at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon on my own. Even stranger when nothing went wrong in the studio. Jan has a way with electrical stuff that is nothing short of spooky.

I missed our banter, but Becs and Rob more than made up for my lack of partner. Talking to them is like chatting to friends. It’s all so easy and friendly that I soon forget that there are other people out there listening to what I have to say. So much so that I might just have let a guilty secret slip, but if you want to know what that is you’ll have to catch up with the programme.

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Guest Blog: Jan Edwards: A woman of many genres.

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Today I am lucky enough to have a guest blog from Jan Edwards; a very talented and versatile writer.

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing. I was born in Sussex but now live in Staffs Moorlands with my husband, Peter Coleborn and a small glaring of cats. With my editorial hat on I have a number of anthologies for various imprints. The most notable of those currently available are co-edited with Jenny Barber: The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders; The Alchemy Press Book(s) of Urban Mythic 1 & 2 and Wicked Women.

Some of my forty-plus short stories have been brought together into collections: Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties, is available from Alchemy Press. Fables and Fabrications, which is to be published this spring by Penkhull Press this spring!

Sussex Tales is a main stream novel as was Sex, Lies and Family Ties (now out of print but hopefully due to rise again!), but my latest novel Winter Downs, due out this year, is crime fiction. I also co-wrote on a direct-to-DVD Dr Who project which is currently in production.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started? That old chestnut of having written as long as I can remember doubtless applies to every writer you care to ask and I am no different.

I have a theory that we are all hard wired to communicate through various artistic mediums or some kind at some level. Human society started out recounting tribal history or teaching life skills by way of sagas and songs told when the family or wider tribe gather around an evening fire. The earliest ‘stories’ I can recall telling were recounted for Monday morning ‘News time’ at primary school. In the absence of anything interesting to say I winged it with flagrant mistruths that got wilder and wilder. Oddly nobody ever challenged me on them I got into the habit of storytelling for entertainment. It still took me a long while to make any serious attempts at gaining publication.

What genres do you write? Most of my short fiction is fantasy in the wider sense and covers horror, pulp, supernatural, steam punk and urban fantasy and much of that output is based around folklore, myths and legends, which is my passion. I also write main stream and crime fiction as well as the occasional script.

Why do you write under different genre? I write in different genres for no better reason than saying that fiction, like ice cream, comes in different flavours and I like variety in my life. More often than not there is no deliberate move to cross genres. Stories can come to me in different forms and I write them accordingly, or as has happened more often in recent years, I am asked to write quite specifically for an anthology in one genre or another.

My two latest short stories for came to be written for different reasons and in different genres.

‘The Jamesian Conundrum’ appears in an anthology based on and around that well known nemesis of Sherlock Holmes: Moriarty. It could be viewed as either crime or historical fiction yet can just as equally be slotted into main stream or pulp. This was pitched to the editor in reply to an open submissions window.

‘The Decks Below’ is in a horror anthology, but also crosses several genres and could be seen as pulp fiction; adventure; historical (set in 1930 and based on a real event); steam punk with the impossible inventions at the heroine’s disposal and also as mythological fantasy in that it uses both the ancient folklore myth of the Chesil beach mermaid and the early 20th century Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos.

That all may sound quite confusing, and if I were pitching to an editor I would not own up to quite so many threads, but it does illustrate how my stories often cross genres without any specific choice on my part. Stories arrive as they arrive.

The recent rise of mash-ups has blurred the lines even further on the genre front so anything is possible and possibly even desirable if it breaks down the perceptions of those ‘comfort zone’ readers.

Novels tend to be a more deliberate choice. I usually know that this novel will be Fantasy or that one Crime. The ideas come and we write what we are sent by our imagination, but keeping marketing in mind does require the author to have a reasonable idea of who they are writing for by the end of chapter one.

 

Do you get the same readers for different genres? If not, in what ways do you think they are different? Some readers will devour anything that comes their way, and enjoy it all for varying reasons provided it is well written, but I suspect the majority of people read within their perceived comfort zone and seldom move far from it.

You often hear people voicing their dislike of horror for example and go on to tell you that they do read crime. However, much of the horror published today is deliberately pitched as dark crime or thrillers. It is only when a supernatural element is introduced that it become what most would view as horror.

When it comes to crossing genres it is even harder to avoid in the fantasy-horror arena. Many more sub-genres exist now than twenty, or even ten years ago, and each has their own authors and audience. Often, however, you will see people reading right across the spectrum. .

As we know Women’s Fiction and Historical Fiction often blur, though this is less common with Chicklit. Then again Historical merges with War or Westerns, which are mostly regarded as Male fiction.

So in answer to the question do we get the same readers across different genres? Sometimes, yes. Others read exclusively within their niche.

Why are they different? Because that is people.

 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?

I write a lot, or read, or else go to conventions and writing conferences. So my life does revolve around fiction a great deal. But I also like to garden, go walking, visit historical sites and study folklore (especially local folklore). I like to make quilts, cross stitch, embroider (badly), ceramic sculpturing and make jewellery. I am a Master practitioner in both Usui and Celtic Reiki and have qualifications in various other therapies including Meditational Healing and Bach Remedies. I seldom have time to be bored.

Do these things come in useful for writing? Of course! Everything is grist to the writing mill.

 

What is at the root of your current book/story Sussex Tales is about rural life and social history.

My latest shorts have been released into the wild in The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty and Terror Tales of the Ocean. Plus I have two more publications due in the next month in Tales From the Lake: vol 2 with Crystal Lake Publishing and Winter Tales with Fox Spirit Books anthologies. All of which revolve around folklore in the main.

I have two collections – both of which also draw heavily on my love of folklore, myth and legend.

Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties, The Alchemy Press, is a collection of supernatural short fiction and available on Amazon.

Fables and Fabrications, Penkhull Press, is mainly horror and dark fantasy but has some steam punk, sf and urban fantasy thrown in for good measure.

Also coming soon is Winter Downs, a crime novel set in the Sussex of World War Two.

I have an urban fantasy novel in the pipeline also, which again draws on folklore, so if there is one root that rises up most often then that is the one.

Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried but would like to?

I think I have written in most genres at some point of other so no not really. I should like to write more crime but who knows what will come next. I will go where the ideas take me.

 

Why Don’t Readers Go to Book Fairs?

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On Saturday I was at the Stafford Book Fair with some of the Penkhull  Press team, Jan Edwards, Peter Coleborn and Jem Shaw. We shared our table with the award winning Alchemy Press and we were all there to sell our books.

Our display looked amazing. Nothing to do with me  as it’s not part of my skill set, but years of experience have made Jan and Peter ace at setting out their books in an enticing and eye-catching way. We were also straight in front of one of the  main entrances, so that anyone coming in to the indoor market couldn’t help but see us. Stafford Book Fair5
So far so good, so very good.

Except that we didn’t sell many books.

Why?

Because no one came.

I don’t mean that there was no one there. Shoppers came in and out of the  market, some stopped to browse, others stopped to buy. But there was no one there specifically to look at books.

There were a number of reasons why this might have happened. The publicity wasn’t great for one thing; it was a Saturday in August when a lot of people would have been away; there was another event going on in Stafford etc. etc.

If this lack of interest was a one off then we’d all shrug our shoulders and get on with preparing for the next book fair, but it seems to be fairly universal.

So why don’t readers come?

Is it that we’re all getting out of the habit of physically browsing for books? Or is the very nature of a book fair geared to writers and publishers rather than readers? Should we be offering incentives, freebie books, or competitions to win a walk on role in the next novel? I wish I knew.

All I do know is that there are readers out there who would love “House of Shadows” and “Susssex Tales” and “It Never Was Worthwhile” and “The First Book of Gabriel” and “The Larks”, but we are not reaching them.

Any ideas on how to remedy the situation gratefully received.