This month has been devoted almost entirely to preparing for a new venture. I am going to publish a novel independently, as an e-book. It has presented a steep learning curve, partly because fellow writers tell me that marketing is as important as writing the book and social media are the channels to use. So, as some of you already know, I am now on Facebook and also trying to make sense of Goodreads and find sites which might let me do a guest blog. I have also had to find someone to design the cover. The difference in the prices I have been given is incredible, but I have now found someone whose charges are reasonable and who has produced what I think will be a very effective cover. All this has been taken care of by my publishers previously. Actually uploading the book seems to be the easiest bit – I hope!
Let me tell you about the book. It has a long history, which will explain why I have decided to go it alone.
It is called THE LAST HERO and is set in Bronze Age Greece, around 1200 b.c. Many years ago I read THE KING MUST DIE by Mary Renault and was immediately fascinated by her idea that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur might have had a foundation in fact. This led me along two complimentary research paths. One took me to Robert Graves’s two volumes of interpretations of the whole cannon of Greek mythology, where he suggests that all the stories are based on misunderstandings of ancient religious rituals. The other led me to the facts uncovered by archaeological digs at Troy and Mycenae and other Greek sites of that period. I knew, sort of, that these digs had proved that the story of the Trojan War probably had some foundation in fact but my researches revealed an amazing civilisation, centred on Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon, but extending all through Greece. It was so rich that its rulers were buried with masks of beaten gold on their faces and so powerful that its cities and palaces were surrounded by massive walls. Yet two generations after the victory at Troy those cities began to be destroyed. Pylos, on the west coast, the city of King Nestor of Iliad fame, was the first to go and soon after, the archaeologist’s digs revealed, Mycenae underwent extensive rebuilding to improve the defences. Yet within a hundred years it, too, had been razed to the ground. All that remained visible was the Lion Gate which had led into the city and for two thousand years Mycenae and all those who lived in it were consigned to the realm of myth. How did this happen?
My research into this question eventually inspired a long novel, the first I ever wrote. I was lucky enough to be given an introduction to an agent, who loved the book. For more than a year he touted round every publisher in London, but always with the same result. ‘We love it. It’s very well written. But we can’t see a market for it at the moment.’ Disillusioned, I put it aside and got on with my life. Years passed. I had three slight thrillers published, which sank with scarcely a ripple. More time passed and I almost gave up writing. Then one day I read a small item in the Writers’ News. The Historical Novel Society was offering a prize for a short story. The title was to be ‘The Conquerors’ and the prize was two weeks on the Greek island of Kythira on a writing course, and the tutors would be Helen Carey, the author of the Lavender Hill quartet, which some of you may have read, and Louis de Berniere, then at the height of his fame after ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ . I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to win, but I couldn’t think of a story. The deadline was Jan. 1st and about a week before Christmas I forced myself to sit down and think. The Greek venue gave me the clue and I remembered my old interest in the myths, so I wrote a story which retells the myth of Odysseus and Circe, using Renault’s technique of interpreting it as a real event. I got it in the post just in time for the deadline and sat back to wait. Months later, when I had given up hope, I got a letter to say I had won!
Since the Greek idea had been a success, I got my novel out and started a rewrite. I took it with me to Kythira and Louis fell in love with it and encouraged me to finish it. It is, he maintains, as good as anything by Mary Renault. I finished the rewrite and began the soul destroying business of sending it round to agents. Eventually, it as taken by Vivien Green of the Sheil Land agency, who remains my agent to this day. History couldn’t repeat it itself, could it? It could! The MS did the rounds, with the same results as before ‘love the book, but can’t see a market’. I put it away in the cupboard again.
Eventually, as you know, I found success with WE’LL MEET AGAIN, which led on to the FOLLIES quartet and then the Leonora stories. I had almost forgotten THE LAST HERO, until Richard Lee the chairman of the Historical Novel Society remembered it and suggested the possibility of e-publishing. So that is what I am going to do, and I hope and pray that all you folks out there will prove the publishers wrong and show that there is a readership for it. Please don’t be put off by the distant era. It may be far away in time, but I think you will find the book has all the qualities you love about the others. It is still Love and War, after all. And I think you will find the heroes, Alkmaion and Alectryon, as real and sympathetic as Merry and Felix, or Tom and Ralph.
The book will appear on Kindle initially and then, I hope, in other digital formats. I apologise to those of you who still love the feel of a ‘real’ book and don’t read digitally; but I do plan to have a short run printed for anyone who wants one. Perhaps if you could let me know if you would be one of those it would help me to know how many to print.
So what else have I been doing? Well, there is always the garden. The azaleas are over, but now the roses are coming into bloom and the herbaceous borders are beginning to look good. If only we could have some warm weather! I’ve read Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ – if you want to read my review go to my blog on the website. I am currently in the middle of ‘The Emperor’s Spy – Rome 1’ by M.C.Scott. Manda Scott is one of my favourite writers. Her Boudicaa quartet had me in an iron grip from start to finish.
That’s about it for this month. I’ll let you know when THE LAST HERO is published.
All the best