Launch Week!

Another week has flown by in isolation. Is it just me? Or is anyone else finding that the days are flashing by and you’re beginning to wonder how you ever managed to fit in going to work, what with all the other things you have to do about the house and garden?

What have you all been up to this week? On the home front, I took my dining room apart and gave it a thorough spring clean, including shampooing the carpet and the large rug I have in there. Now, I’ve had this rug for over twenty years, and I don’t think it’s ever been properly shampooed. Needless to say, what came off it was disgusting, and I am properly ashamed of myself.

When I put the room all back together and re-laid the rug, I called Miss F in to take a look. Smugly proud of how bright and clean and sparkling everything was, I waited for the gasps and wows. They didn’t come. Instead she just looked around, grunted, and left. Bit crushed, must admit, that she couldn’t see the difference. But I can see how much better everything looks, even if she can’t, and at least I know how much cleaner it is, so I suppose that’s all that matters.

We continue to stay very close to home. My routine now is to go out just once a week on a Saturday morning, when I scuttle up town avoiding contact with anyone I see, wait to get into my local Tesco Express or Marks & Spencer – I haven’t dared go near one of the bigger stores – and then forage for whatever is available. This week Miss F requested I try and get flour so she can make some cakes. I came back empty handed though because the home baking section had been picked clean – no flour to be had for love nor money.

It makes me a big cross though, when I’m on these brief, necessary excursions, to see elderly and frail looking people tottering about the shops. I even spoke to one lady whilst waiting in the queue for Marks & Spencer – at a safe 2m distance of course – and asked her why she was out. She confirmed what I already knew that there are no delivery slots to be had. Now, I know of several perfectly able people who are still getting their food delivered when they really could go to the shop and leave their slot for someone who really needs it, but I guess their argument would be that even if they did give up their slot there’s no guarantee it would go to the needy. No, some other perfectly able person would probably grab it. It seems a shame that the supermarkets who are delivering still aren’t giving priority to the most vulnerable people, those who really should be at home, not risking their lives tottering up to the shops every day because they can’t carry very much back in one trip.

This crisis has certainly brought out the best and the worst in people.

Although I have been busy all week and have had happy and productive days, Miss F hasn’t. She’s basically completed all the college work she’d been given and is now wallowing about in her PJ’s and watching mindless videos on YouTube. All my suggestions for things she could do are met with eyerolls, so I now leave her alone to get on with it. Although, I have put my foot down and insisted she must go into the garden for at least twenty minutes a day. It’s been almost three weeks since she has set foot outside the house and she’s beginning to look like Wednesday Adams.

One other thing that happened this week was of course the re-launch of my fantasy novel Erinsmore. This happened Thursday and I was initially unsure how it would go. These are strange and difficult times and most authors I know are complaining that book sales are down, not up, which on reflection is not what you would have expected. Forced to stay home with no work or social events to go to, it would seem logical that people would be reading more, not less, yet many of my author friends are finding the opposite to be true.

Beautiful new cover

Bizarrely my sales don’t seem too affected, not yet anyway, so despite being told it might not be a good idea to relaunch now, I went ahead and published the new edition of Erinsmore.

I had prepared as much as I could with some lovely promo posts and ten second teasers. I’d enlisted help from all my friends and followers on social media, and I even had a minute-long amazing video trailer that I hoped would pique people’s interest.

I’m happy to report that launch day went with a bang. I had far more support than I ever expected to get, and even people I’d never really had any interaction with before stepped up to the mark and shared my posts and even bought the book. On the flip side though, there were a few people whom I’ve been close to on social media for many years who sat back and did absolutely nothing to support me, not a like, not a share and not even so much as a congratulation. That did surprise me, but those people will be remembered when they are launching a new book and look to me for support. It may sound harsh, but I’m afraid mutual reciprocal support is really what it’s all about.

It was a long and exhausting day, monitoring posts and shares, trying to respond to each and any gesture of support. As I hopped from Facebook to Instagram and back again, I thought how impossible this would have been ten or even five years ago. I know social media has its faults, but it also has its perks, and it does make it possible for me to be a published author.

I finally stepped back from my tablet at about 6pm, drained and exhausted. Miss F had cooked dinner and I took a five-minute breather to go and sit in the garden – my eyes tend to go a bit buggy if I’ve been looking at a screen for a long time. It’s traditional to have a bottle of something sparkly to celebrate the successful launch of another book, but in the circumstances I didn’t have any, so instead I made myself a gin and tonic and put some frozen berries in it to make up for not having any fresh lemon or ice. I also didn’t have a perfect copy of Erinsmore, only the proof copy, but it didn’t matter. The book was launched and it had been an amazing day.

I’m hopeful that Erinsmore will do well. It’s a fun and engrossing fantasy read which seems to be the most popular genre in these trying times, when people want to lose themselves in a book, but don’t want to read anything too ‘real’.

Since it’s relaunch on Thursday, I’ve had a couple of followers ask me for some background on the story. Where did the idea first come from? What was the inspiration behind the characters?

Well, I guess you could say that Erinsmore has its roots way back in my childhood, when I first discovered the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. To say I was blown away by them is an understatement. I was a lonely child. I didn’t really have any friends and wasn’t one of those children who wanted to wander around outside by myself. Books were my only refuge – don’t forget this is long before the internet was a thing and also way before all day kid’s TV – so books really were the only way to escape life in a small and confining village.

I think I must have read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” first. I’m pretty sure it was, because I remember being so excited when I discovered that there was a book that came before it, explaining the origins of Narnia, and that there were more books that came after it. I must have read those books a dozen times each over the years of my childhood. Each time completely losing myself in the fantastical world within its pages. I dreamed of Narnia, and although I knew it would never happen, couldn’t help wishing that I could find a way to get into it.

As the years passed, I explored other children’s fantasy, especially the books of Alan Garner – “The Owl Service” and “The Weirdstone of Brislingham” – in particular, stick in my mind. I also loved the “Dark is Rising” series by Susan Cooper, and from this gained a love of old British myth and folklore which I’ve never lost and which can be seen in “Erinsmore” and more particularly in “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ also available from Amazon.

In my teens I discovered sci-fi and for a while strayed away from pure fantasy, but then in my twenties I drifted back. Discovering the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, then later the “Shannara Chronicles” by Terry Brooks and then the superb epic fantasy series by Robin Hobb, truly the queen of high fantasy. All these books were busy laying the foundations for what was to come in later life.

In about 2007 I went up to London for the day with my favourite cousin. We both had a deep and abiding love for West End Musicals and once or twice a year would save up our money and buy tickets to travel to London with a local coach excursion company to have a meal and see a show.

This time we’d got tickets to go and see “The Lord of the Rings”. An epic blockbuster show, with a reputed huge budget, it flopped mere months after we’d been to see it, but I honestly don’t know why, we absolutely loved it and thought it was amazing. Anyway, we travelled up early in the morning very excited to be having a day away from our usual humdrum lives.

There was some kind of parade happening in London that day and the whole of the city centre was closed to traffic, so instead of dropping us off outside the theatre as was normal with these coach trips, we were dropped off on the embankment and had to walk to the West End.

It was very strange, walking down the middle of London streets with no traffic, and after getting lost a few times we finally found the theatre, orientated ourselves as to where it was and then went to have a good lunch.

Now, as I said, normally we’d be dropped off right outside the theatre and would always find a wonderful restaurant mere minutes away to have a long and wine-soaked lunch in. Knowing our seats were pre-booked and the theatre was only a couple of minutes away, we would stay in the restaurant for as long as possible, then use their facilities (queues for the ladies in West End theatres being almost as long as a performance of The Lord of the Rings) before rocking up at the theatre with just enough time to place our interval drinks order and fall into our seats.

This was what we were used to doing, but neither of us had a watch on so we hadn’t appreciated just how long we’d taken to walk to the restaurant. Seeing a wonderful three-course lunch option on the menu, we both chose that and settled back with a bottle of wine to have a lovely chat and generally relax and enjoy ourselves.

Our starters were brought to us, and, as we started to eat, I happened to notice the time on the clock on the restaurant wall. There was 25 minutes to curtain up. We had 25 minutes to eat a three-course meal, pay, use the facilities, get out of the restaurant, place our interval drinks order and find our seats.

We looked at each other. Mild hysteria ensued. We calmed down. When the waitress came to collect our starter plates, we explained our dilemma. She promised to get our mains out to us as soon as possible, along with our desserts at the same time. In the meantime, she’d bring us the bill and while my cousin sorted out paying it and leaving a tip, I slipped out of the restaurant and ran to the theatre next door.

Hurtling up the stairs, I think I barged through a few people who’d been more organised than us and allowed plenty of time to get there, I then pushed my way to the front of the queue in the bar – I’m sorry, but this was an emergency – placed our interval drinks orders and paid for them, then charged back out, making a mental note of where we had to go to reach our seats. Downstairs, third row from the stage – result!

Getting back, our mains of steak, fries and all the trimmings had just been delivered, alone with two large bowls of raspberry cheesecake. Normally, over the course of a couple of hours, this would not have been a problem. But, stuffing our faces with three courses in less than thirty minutes, well, I really don’t recommend it. We made it to our seats with seconds to spare, still taking our jackets off as the lights were dimmed and it began.

And it was wonderful. Like I said, this show was critically slated and closed after just one year, I don’t know why. Maybe we weren’t as clever as professional critics, but we loved it. It was wild and extravagant, and the orcs were truly terrifying. They wore those curved stilt things on their feet and jumped onto the arms of of seats and ran along the whole row right over the top of the mesmerised and slightly terrified, audience.

Despite having chronic indigestion caused by eating too much, too fast, we had a wonderful time, and rolled out of the theatre at the end in a blissed-out state of good food, good wine and good entertainment. Luckily by now traffic was once again allowed into the city centre and so our coach was waiting for us right outside. Falling into our seats, we exchanged greetings with the guys sitting in the seats behind us who were so cliché nerdy it was funny.

Heading home, they were chatting to each other and to us about the show, Tolkien and fantasy in general, and my cousin happened to comment what a shame it was that fantasy was so male centric. That it was always the guys who got to go on quests and fulfil prophecies and fight in epic battles, never the girls. Don’t forget, this was long before The Hunger Games, Divergent and all the other books and films with kick ass heroines saving the day.

An idea stirred. A story niggled at my mind in which it was a girl who got to do all the things that the guys usually did. No, make that two girls. A pair of sisters. Both very different, but both normal London teenagers who were completely unprepared for suddenly finding themselves in a strange, fantasy medieval type world. I started to get excited. I imagined their dismay at no indoor sanitation, no internet, no coffee! Yes! And they’d be at the heart of a prophecy and go on a quest or two, oh and there had to be dragons. By the time we got home, I’d borrowed some paper and a pen from the obliging nerds behind us and had written the prophecy, drafted up some character notes, and even thought of the name of both this fantasy world and the novel – Erinsmore.

I then spent the next three months writing it, falling in love with this fantastical world and in my head plotting out the next two books in the series. Yes, it is going to be a series when I eventually get round to it. Then I sat on it for eleven years, occasionally digging it out and reading it. It was read by a few family and friends, who all loved it. I even read it to Miss F when she was ten and she has since read it to herself several times. It’s funny though, I’d always envisaged her as Ruby the younger sister, but in Miss F’s view she was definitely Cassie – the feisty, warrior older sister.

In 2018 I finally published it as an independent author and it was very well received, but I always felt it could be so much more. Over the next two years I developed as an author. I grew and learnt and became more skilled at my craft. I found out what could be done with a book and discovered how to use illustrations and graphics to really make a novel stand out in the readers mind. Finally, I put all my ideas together and went to see one of my best friends, Becky Wright.

An author herself, she had recently started a formatting and promotional company for writers, Platform House Publishing, and I knew I would need her help to make Erinsmore the book I was sure it could be. It took many months. For good measure, I had it professionally edited and changed the book size from 5×8 to 6×9. I was planning on adding a lot of pages of illustrations and I also wanted to enlarge the font to make it more striking and reader friendly. Trying to cram all that into a 5×8 just wouldn’t work. Besides, I wanted the book to have heft. I wanted it to feel special in the readers hands. Once the font was enlarged and all the illustrations were entered, it actually came out to be the same size as “The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~” so it sits nicely beside it on the shelf now.

Becky and her husband James worked tirelessly to make an amazing new cover for the book, a whole range of promotional pictures, three ten second video teasers and a magnificent, minute long video trailer which has stunned all who have seen it, and has been likened to Game of Thrones – but the PG version. She also took all the wonderful drawings I’d found for the book and inserted them in their correct places. I have tried to put the link to the video on YouTube below. I’m not very technically minded, so apologies if it hasn’t worked.

Like I said, a lot of hard work and expense, but it was totally worth it. The book is a thing of beauty and if fantasy is your thing, and even if it’s not, why not give it a try? Suitable for ages 12 and upwards, it is in no way a childish book and many adults have already read and loved it. I think it is what we all need right now, pure escapism. If like me you loved Narnia when you were a child, then this book will call to you in exactly the same way.

Link to book on Amazon UK (I hope)

Then link to Amazon US

And now it’s another Sunday morning and again “A Little Bit of Blake” is late coming your way. Isn’t it funny how now I have so much time in the week to get this written and saved, I’m tending to leave it later and later until it’s too late on a Saturday evening? My gran always used to say, “you fill the time you have” and I think that’s very true.

So, what’s next? Well, book wise I will start working on my romantic suspense short novel “Lost & Found” ready for its re-release. It’s currently with my editor but will be back next week so I can make all her amendments. I will also be busy with Becky Wright working on a new cover and the interior formatting. After that, I will need to do the same with the next book in the series “Fixtures & Fittings” and then the new, as yet unpublished, third book in the series will have to be prepared for publication. I’m planning a big, extravagant publication of all three titles at the same time so a lot of work to do.

Home wise, on Monday morning I’m going to tackle the lounge. It needs a thorough spring clean and the carpet shampooing, so I’m hoping the nice warm weather comes back so I can get sofa covers and curtains dry outside – I daren’t risk them in the tumble drier, I know they’d shrink! The lounge should only take a couple of days and then I’m going to start on the bathroom – and that really does need a deep clean!

As you can see, plenty to keep me occupied next week but I will try to write the blog a little earlier so you’re not waiting for it again.

Hope you have a great Sunday. If anyone is interested, I’ve put the Amazon listing links to Erinsmore below.

Stay safe.

Julia Blake

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