When the characters keep talking

When the characters keep talking

A week and a half on and its weird to think that all around the world there are people reading Mr Tumnal. A year ago the story was resting before I embarked on the editing, but that didn’t stop the characters talking to me. On a weekend away on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border I started writing a companion piece involving some old and some new characters from my second novel.

This particular story will never be a full-length novel, but I like it that my characters have continued to talk to me, and that their lives have continued. I guess its a bit like fan fiction isn’t it. Is it fan fiction if the author themselves writes new stories with old characters?


Mr Tumnal is available as both a paperback and an eBook for Kindle.

Mr Tumnal

Shepherd, T E (Cover illustration by Silviu Sadoschi)
Publication date: May 2012
Ebook ISBN 978 0 9571756 6 2 (£2.99) Amazon UK | Amazon.com
Paperback ISBN 978 0 9571756 7 9 (£8.99) Amazon UK | Amazon.com

Stepping Through The Wardrobe

Stepping Through The Wardrobe

1045149The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’ve been meaning to re-read the C.S. Lewis classic for a ages, and climbing through the wardrobe into Narnia at The Story Museum a few week’s ago was the final impetus to doing just that!

I’m probably not alone in having a slightly awkward relationship with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Having adored it as a child, I remember reading it’s prequel with enthusiasm and then finding my interest waning over the successive sequels as the books dwelled more on religious allorgry and the children changed. But much in the story, the ideas and the feel of the original can not be unloved once loved. It was always going to be a book I would come back to.

The first thing I noticed in this retelling – partly because having written a book with a central character called Mr Tumnal – is that the C.S. Lewis character is only ever referred to as Mr Tumnus by Lucy or by Lewis by way of Lucy. When Lucy asks for his name the faun quite simply says Tumnus, and it is Lucy to presume a mister. We don’t if Tumnus is his first or his second name, or even that fauns have two names! Not an important discovery this, but interestingly curious.

C.S. Lewis apparently called his book a fairytale – something that Marina Warner in a recent talk I attended on fairytale dismisses – partly because it is too long to be a fairytale, but it does read very like one nonetheless with little bits of the story standing for and representing something we are too understand.

I remember being chilled as a child by those immortal words that the Witch – herself a Snow Queen like character – cast the spell to make it always winter and never Christmas. I have always felt the presence of Father Christmas in the story as an awkward plotpoint that I never could get on with.

Thankfully, the Christian allegory is not an obvious and important part of this book though, as it deals more with the creatures of myth, fairytale, and fantasy. Where I do find the book lacking is in C.S. Lewis very obvious omniscient narrator who not only knows everything about the story but steps out of the adventure to remind us things we ought to know and thus breaks the flow of the story.

The book still remains a favourite read of mine, and thus the 5 stars.

Mr Tumnal: a publication day book reading

Mr Tumnal: a publication day book reading

Mr Tumnal is my second book, but it is a standalone adventure to that of my debut novel published in May 2012. Fans of The End Of All Worlds though, might recognise a couple of characters from that story taking little cameo roles in this new story.

Of course I hope that if you’ve got as far as reading my blog, and following my social media channels then you will already have decided you just have to read the book. But if you haven’t, maybe I could tempt you by reading a bit from it.

I’ve chosen a scene that comes towards the end of Part Two, when things have reached a climax in the Louis/Lewis relationship with Kathryn. It’s tense and dramatic, although for the bit that actually made me break down in tears as I was writing it you have to wait until Part Four!

Publication Day: a short introduction to Mr Tumnal

Publication Day: a short introduction to Mr Tumnal

So, after the years of writing, the revising, the editing, and the anticipation, the day has finally come when my second novel, Mr Tumnal, is published. Go buy it, now, but before you do (or if you want to find out more about it), see me say in brief what it is all about.

Mr Tumnal is available as both a paperback and an eBook for Kindle.

Mr Tumnal

Shepherd, T E (Cover illustration by Silviu Sadoschi)
Publication date: May 2012
Ebook ISBN 978 0 9571756 6 2 (£2.99) Amazon UK | Amazon.com
Paperback ISBN 978 0 9571756 7 9 (£8.99) Amazon UK | Amazon.com

Don’t own a Kindle but still want to read this book? You can download a FREE Kindle App for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android.

Mr Tumnal: music as an inspiration

Mr Tumnal: music as an inspiration

Mr Tumnal has an eclectic taste in music. His music collection is entirely vinyl and (mostly) cassette, with some recent additions on CD, thus, Kathryn buys him an iPod which she has engraved for him:

For your music collection and mine, love Kathryn xxx

For whatever reason, the iPod is never given, but the engraving is perfect to go alongside the playlist of the book. I feel sad when people have a narrow view of what their taste in music is. The very best music collections should be eclectic and contain examples from every genre, even if it was because that one track reminded you of one happy, sad, or otherwise memorable event.

The actual playlist that I used to write Mr Tumnal comprised some 86 tracks and that’s not counting the 251 song wedding playlist, or the general ‘Writing and Inspiration’ playlist. From that I’ve whittled it down to the ones that fit best with Mr Tumnal’s story.

There’s a dedicated page which explains each song choice, but please, even though I’ve been careful in the writing of it, be cautious of spoilers. Some songs are directly relevant to particular characters or scenes in the stories, but others just reflect the inspiration for the story. Others are linked to how I was writing it, like the time, as I approached those immortal words, The End, when writing in the heat of summer under an umbrella for shade I was so caught up in the story I failed to realise that I was now in the middle of a thunderstorm! Hey, it happens!

Mr Tumnal is published on Thursday 27 November 2014 as for Kindle and Paperback and is available for pre-order now on Amazon UK and Amazon.com (also available on other local territories).

Mr Tumnal’s Theme

Mr Tumnal's Theme

From the very first page of Mr Tumnal, you know that music is very important to Lewis/Louis and to his lives. How important you will have to wait to fully discover. With such importance you might expect me to know from the very beginning what piece of music has been haunting his head his whole life. But there’s the thing, I never knew, not exactly. It could be played on a flute I knew that, but that didn’t mean it had to be flute music. What I did know is that it had to be infectious and haunting. I went through the whole book writing and editing with only that knowledge in my head and it worked.

That though, is not the weird thing that I have to tell you. On the very night that I finished revising what was to be the final draft before sending it off to the editor, I was literally just finishing off the last bit the book, and my wife Emma was in the kitchen doing the washing up (I cooked the dinner just so you know), and she thought she heard an oboe or a clarinet playing and came through to see what I was doing. I had no music on; just my laptop and my novel. Anyway she obsessed over this snatch of music for a bit and then grabbed a free keyboard app on her tablet and tried to play the tune that she heard that evening. I knew straight away, even though Emma had not at tha time read the book, that it was Mr Tumnal’s Theme that I was hearing.

I recorded what Emma played and later attempted at a rough transcription of the main tune. It’s kind of vaguely Swan Lake-ish I think, but its not. What I do find it is haunting and spooky and awesomely unsettling.

I am luckily enough to have many friends musical than I am, and Neil Brownless, my conductor at the wind band that I go to kindly offered to try and work the original theme up into something bigger. It’s still very much a work-in-progress, but his variation too, is as unsettling as you will find Miss Leroy to be in the book…

Mr Tumnal is published on Thursday 27 November 2014 as for Kindle and Paperback and is available for pre-order now on Amazon UK and Amazon.com (also available on other local territories).

A delicious story set in a far-away world just above our heads

A delicious story set in a far-away world just above our heads

21378592Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

I first found about this book when I saw a it in a window display from the bus and I added it to my To Read list straight away. However it was not until I visited the 26 Characters exhibition at The Story Museum in Oxford, and I was looking at the Where The Wild Things Are installation that I found out that Katherine Rundell was an Oxford writer, and I found out more about this book.

I am so glad I delved into this story straight away now. It’s a deliciously simple idea: that of an orphan found floating adrift in a cello case after the ship goes down, and Sophie’s lifelong quest to find her mother whom she believes in her heart is still alive.

It’s told through a refreshingly small cast of characters and its quotable at every turn for just about any eventuality. So often did I want to tweet a favourite line that I soon realised that if I did I would soon find myself plagurising the entire story!

The setting is beautiful too. It’s mostly set in Paris, but in a Paris that could just as easily be any other city with rooftops to clamber around on, for most of the story is set high above street level in a second, hidden city, that most of us forget is even there. And who hasn’t found themselves looking up, past the gaudy shopfronts and distractions down on the ground and found the higgledy-piggledy rooftops the more interesting?

From the start, you are reminded to the very end, to always pursue you dreams and never ignor the ‘possible’. And that is a very good moral to remember and live by.

The Seeds of a Story

The Seeds of a Story

Stories can come to the writer through deep consideration or through random chance. Mr Tumnal came to existence from the latter. As the acknowledgements in the front of the first edition, to be be published in just over two days time, states, it was my friend and former-work colleague Caroline who helped the story into existence through mishearing my poor diction on just another car share to the office…

I remember panicking a few years later that Louis Tumnal’s name had already been taken when I heard of the existence of the children’s entertainer/television presenter Mr Tumble (who coincidentally used to be at school with my cousin – not that I knew this until recently or that it has any relevance to anything else…), but then breathing an audible sigh of relief when I realised the names are different. I like though, when I tell people about the story and that its set in an Oxford-like city, that people think he’s called Louis Tumnus. The loose palay on words with the classic C.S.Lewis character is one that I enjoy along with a whole host of other literary and pop-culture references that are laced throughout the pages.

I think that on those two car journeys, Caroline and I only pieced together the character of Lewis Tumnal, ie. what would later become the imaginary world of Louis Tumnal. What I subsequently did with that very detailed character sketch is entirely the product of my very weird brain.

As we approach publication day, I’m sure that nerves and abject terror will take over again in the next day or so, but right now I am full of excitement. The proof copies of my book arrived today and there is something truly magical about receiving the actual, physical books to handle, and turn over and feel the weight of all those years work in my hands.

Oh yes, right now, I’m full of excitement for it. I just hope that you all feel the same way…

Mr Tumnal is published on Thursday 27 November 2014 as for Kindle and Paperback and is available for pre-order now on Amazon UK and Amazon.com (also available on other local territories).

A half-term break

A half-term break

So, I’m back to work tomorrow after a nice, if tiring, seven days off. Tiring maybe, but its been a good mid-term break between Summer and Christmas. And productive too! Emma and I are now living in a transformed house, with the new-floor having been fitted by possibly the grumpiest of floor-fitters known to man. He’s done a good job though, and it feels so clean and spacious and ‘different’.

It’s been a busy old time though. Last week I did more decorating in the lead-up to The Floor. On Saturday I played in my band’s Rememberance Day concert which was brilliant. The sound of 6 tubas and 8 trombones reverberating across the stage was just amazing.

Sunday was less amazing, and spent cleaning out the animals (small job), and ripping up laminate flooring and old carpet ready for Monday.

Monday and Tuesday were mostly spent hiding in a coccoon of sanity upstairs in the bedroom on my bed (the only place left for me to go), reading, writing, internetting, and watching West Wing dvds to a percussion of banging from downstairs.

Today, with Emma being off too, was a much more leisurely sort of day pottering in the house putting it back to rights and going on an expedition to find a new rug to grace the new floor.

4259 / 80000 words. 5% done!

A dark and gothic fairytale

A dark and gothic fairytale

18298890Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

This is a dark and gothic tale, with a brother lost in the war, and a family torn apart through grieving for him. There is sibling rivally and a father with a dark secret. There are moments thoughout this book that are genuninely chilling, like when the china doll follows you with its gaze and turns in the corner. Dolls are always scary!

It’s very hard to describe this book without giving away the story in spoilers, but it involves fairy folk and changelings and creatures that live on the edge of our existence. But it is a book about so much more than that. Grief, obviously. Acceptance and understanding of others, too.

This is the first of Frances Hardinge’s books that I have read, and it will not be the last. From the very beginning the story was gripping, and the writing, immediate.

Countdown to publication: cover story

Countdown to publication: cover story

Book_Cover_final_Front_SmallIn a little over three week’s time my curious little tale of Mr Tumnal will be published. It’s been quite a journey for me over the years and as I write this I am filled with a mixture of excitement that finally anyone (and everyone) will have the chance to read what has been occupying my head for so many years, and also terror that… well, pretty much precisely the same reason! Will people like it?

Even today I have read a book that makes me think, oh, that would would have been interesting if Louis had done this, or you didn’t find out about Lewis until that… The truth is we will all think that, all the time, every time. The story is now what it is, and I’m pretty bloomin’ pleased with it.

When I was preparing my debut novel, The End Of All Worlds, for publication, the choice of a cover to front it was an easy one. I had a clear idea of the look I was looking for and it was something that I knew I had the artistic skills to deliver. Even then, in the end there were two versions, the current version and the earlier much more loved but not as saleale pen and ink one.

However, for Mr Tumnal, I always new that this was going to be different. My debut was a book all about the climate and folklore, whereas this is a people story. It’s a story about one man:

Everyone has an imaginary friend. Rarely do they marry their imaginary friend. Only one has ever had their imaginary family become real.

I always thought that a professional cover would be prohibively expensive. However in talking to John Scotcher, an old university friend, and author of the forthcoming The Boy in Winter’s Grasp, I was put in contact with Romanian artist Silviu Sadoschi. I entered the process nervously and tentatively, unsure of how exactly to brief a cover artist. But I sent the briefest of brief synopses, a few character notes, major themes, and a Pinterest board

A few days later Silviu sent me a prelimary sketch of his ideas. I was blown away by what he had sent me. For someone who hadn’t read the book and didn’t know my writing style he had completely captured the feel of the book. I signed him up, and you can see the finished cover image here – it even wraps around the spine onto the back cover of the paperback edition.

It was such a pleasure dealing with Silviu over the back-and-forth of the design process that I wanted to find out a little bit more about the way he works and his interests and background, and I thought that the readers of Mr Tumnal might also be interested. So that’s what I’ve done…

How did you get started in book cover design?
This is actually my second book cover. I do all sorts of artwork for different projects but book covers is something new to me.

How long have you been designing book covers and graphics?
I’ve been doing this since I can remember, but I took it really seriously a couple of years ago when I decided that I wanted to make a career out of it.

Tell us about your process? How do you get started? Are you inspired by the synopsis, or do you rely more on what the author wants?
For this one I was inspired by what the author wanted but also by the synopsis. Regarding the whole process, I usually start from a rough sketch and then I go over it again and clean it to make the whole drawing more readable. After that I just start rendering the sketch until both me and the person for which I’m doing the artwork think it looks finished.

Are there any genres you prefer? What about genres you prefer not to work with?
I usually prefer fantasy, but I like to approach all kind of different genres, I don’t really have a problem with any of them.

How long does it usually take you to get a cover complete?
An illustration, it usually takes from a couple of days, to a week or more, depending on the complexity of it.

Do you have any tips for authors who decide to design their own ebook covers?
I don’t think I have any tips, maybe just keep it simple and don’t go overboard with all kind of different colors. But seriously, I may be wrong as I’m still learning about illustration.

Tell us a little about yourself? Your background, hobbies, anything we’d like to know.
Well, I’m a 22 year old guy from Romania, I’ve been passionate about art since I was a kid and I have been working as a freelance artist for about 3 years now. For hobbies I don’t really have one, I guess I’m trying to bring this hobby of drawing to a career point as I don’t see myself doing anything else in life. Besides that, I like nature, but also the city, as I find it inspiring.

Is there an all-time favorite book you have?
Recently I haven’t been reading too much, as I’m too busy doing artwork for different projects and trying to learn different things about painting. But from the books that I read in the past I guess the one that I really liked was a novel named Shōgun written by James Clavell. I always found the Japanese culture inspiring so this book seemed like an interesting read.

And finally, how does it feel to know your art and designs are sitting in book stores today?
It feels great to know that all that hard work is going to maybe make someone feel something when looking at it. And even if it’s exposed on a shelf somewhere around the world, it gives me a great feeling.

Mr Tumnal is published on Thursday 27 November 2014 as for Kindle and Paperback and is available for pre-order now on Amazon UK and Amazon.com (also available on other local territories).

300 days and counting

300 days and counting

300 days ago in the dark days of winter, Eleanor at work pointed me towards this fun looking challenge to post a picture of something that makes me happy every day for 100 days. Apparently 71% of people fail this challenge. It seemed like a fun kind of idea and so, as you know, I accepted this challenge.

100 days later I completed this challenge, but I immediately set about setting myself a new one; that of continuing the challenge for one whole happy year.

Looking back on my year to date it seems that most of the pictures are about books, reading, writing, food (cheese), nature, and Emma… there’s a definite themes as to what makes me happy.

The second in a series, but the beginning of something bigger

The second in a series, but the beginning of something bigger

23425295Alexandra Fry Private Eye Tutankhamun’s Gift by Angella Graff

This is the sequel to Angella Graff’s wonderful adventure-thriller, Alexandra Fry: the Curse of the Lion’s Heart, a story that introduced us to our teenage heroine who can see ghosts, battles villains in Indiana Jones-style, and solves crimes like a private eye.

There’s a twist, as all good books in this genre have, but whereas the first book was what I would call a ‘little book’ – one that is self-contained, and a rollercoaster of adventure that invites you to read it all in one day – this is longer and more leisurely both in actual, physical length and in story with a quest that is by our lead character’s own admission important but not urgent.

The relationship that built in the first book between Alexandra and her new friends Penelope and Jack are developed and tested as she she herself matures.

Where this book possibly lacks something is rather than being a self-contained story, this story is going somewhere. It’s no bad thing though: the first two Harry Potter books were pretty much self-contained stories, but then wham, from book three we end up on a longer, more deadly story arc. I suspect that something similar might be going to happen to Alexandra Fry, Private Eye.

And I, for one, am going going to enjoy finding out what that story might be…

26 books (and more) to read

26 books (and more) to read

7309_TSM_26CPoster_PS_v00426 Characters: celebrating childhood story heroes by Cambridge Jones (Photographer)
Alice Rochester (Editor), Andy Stanton (Forword)

The only problem with this book – the accompanying guide to the inspiring exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum of the same name – is that you can’t read this book and not add more books to your To Read pile. And not just books to your to read pile, but a host more to your To Re-Read pile.

For each of the 26 Children’s authors who have contributed to this book and exhibition there is, a short introduction as to who they are, and a longer interview with the photographer, Cambridge Jones, as to why they chose character that they have, a short piece about the character and its author, and an extract from the story which best features the character.One of the questions that I found myself watching out for with each was how they became storytellers, and so many of them ring true with my own ideas and thoughts, and childhood that have made myself a writer.

Already, I have added a Frances Hardinge book to my TBR list (next on the list), and Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers will be following that soon after. And I still want to re-read The Wind of the Willows – that has to be the re-read book of the year.

If you love stories, and storytellers, this book, like the exhition is for you.

The New Inklings

The New Inklings

Last Saturday we visited the brilliant 26 Characters exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum. This morning I was reading some of the accompanying book, and by chance I got to the bit where children’s author Frances Hardinge talks about why she chose The Scarlet Pimpernel as her favourite. In reading this I discovered that she was childhood friends of Rhiannon Lassiter.

Now I am friends/colleagues/fellow-author to Rhiannon, who also knows Michelle Harrison of 13 Treasures  fame and who worked at OUP at the same time as myself, and they both know Luisa Plaja, who I first met when we were both critiquing each other’s work on the WriteWords website.

Frances Hardinge’s books sounded interesting so, whilst in Bicester buying the meat and veg, I made use of our local independent bookseller, and picked up a copy of Frances’ Cuckoo Song, which sounds good albeit possibly scary as hell (I’m a wuss!).

63954_10152750891960630_8282827009920638743_nI love how, in some small way (and I do still feel a bit like I’m not a proper author because of my Indie status – I know, rediculous…), I am possibly part of, or on the cusp of some small group of writers that no each other.

It does just go to show what a small world this writing/author world is!

Oxwater: the Oxford you know so well like you’ve never seen it before

Oxwater: the Oxford you know so well like you've never seen it before

You probably can’t guess how how much fun I’m having with my new story. Peter is turning out to be something of an anti-hero, I think, as I wait for Lucy to make an appearance again. Already there are a some slight, knowing (and therefore unrelated but just nice) references to Mr Tumnal – all my novels are linked in some way however obscurely even across different worlds.

And In Your Own Words is set in a very different world, where I can describe Oxford just as I know and love it but where it exists on the water like in Venice. It’s fun imagining the great St Giles Lake at the centre of the city, and coming up with names for streets that are now canals…


3449 / 80000 words. 4% done!

The Constant Read

The Constant Read

large_e210ba4cc87b32c70b39d6c5b4dc1d9bThe Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Whilst I enjoy historical fiction, I always approach the genre with a certain amount of trepidation, because of a fear that the characters and the settings are going to confuse me. I therefore was pleased that when I started to read this book I had an opportunity of a couple of long car journeys to get stuck into it. In the end though, I had nothing to fear.

This book is from the very start, immediate and attention grabbing. It doesn’t feel ‘wrong’, as so many historical novels can do, of being written with a 21st-century language, but it also doesn’t fall into the trap of distancing the reader through slavishly observing the language and tone of the period. This is just a well told, if fictional, account of the life of Henry VII’s first wife.

I say fictional, but that is only because in her afterword, Philippa Gregory stresses the fictional parts of the story. This is a well-researched and exceptionally-told history of that part of British history. Certainly, I have always been a bit confused over events and timelines, and reading this has made me understand more, just from this one book. I’ll certainly be reading on further into the series, as well as reading the Cousin’s War series too!

Climbing through the wardrobe

Climbing through the wardrobe

Today I have had the best afternoon out in Oxford, ever! Emma and I headed into the city this afternoon to go to the excellent and inspiring home of The Story Museum – I think that maybe this place, the old telephone exchange – is my cathedral. We went to see the amazing 26 Characters exhibition before it closes on 2 November (if you haven’t been to see it, go soon, you won’t regret it!).

From the moment you enter the courtyard that sits at the heart of the three loosely interconnected buildings that make up the Story Museum, you can feel the sense of fun at work here, from the curiouser and curiouser messages up the doors to the cafe and shop with the furniture on the walls and the ceilings and the tables for drawing on.

For the 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer Cambridge Jones found 26 authors to each name their favourite storybook character to have inspired them. He then photographed dressed as those characters, and the exhibiton is a series of installations based on this. You work your way round the crumbling old building exploring the different rooms to feel, touch, and smell the world of the story book characters, and in many there are readings from the stories.

On one floor you go from standing on the pirate ship listening to an excerpt from Treasure Island (Philip Pullman’s favourite), to entering the dark forest of Mirkwood for a passage from the Lord of the Rings. In the corner of this room, inconspicuous is an old wardrobe…


Now who hasn’t, ever since reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, wanted to investigate inside of an innocent wardrobe. And this one actually did lead to a secret wood, with a lamp post and snow, a carriage, and… the white witch!

In another room there was a story making wheel where you were given three ingrediants of a story – and then a whole wall behind you of stories written by children and pinned to it.

But another favourite was when we entered the room that once once the old General Post Office kitchens. As soon as you entered you could hear the tiny, tiny voices of… The Borrowers! They were living behind the grill at the bottom of the stainless steel units and you could actually see Pod’s and Arietty’s home! Into another room and you didn’t see anything unless you followed out the instructions to walk into the room and clap twice if you believed in fairies. And then you were in the world of Peter Pan and Wendy and Tinkerbell.

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

So tonight sees me finding the first of a regular series of evenings which I can devote squarely to my writing. Thursdays have been, for the last 14 years(!!) band night, and since I’ve been with Emma Thursday’s have thus been Emma-time. Tonight Emma went off into Oxford after an early dinner to go to a taster session of Rock Choir.

Having never been to a choir before, it seems to have been a success for her, and so it seems that I will be getting an equivalent evening of Thomas-time to devote to writing my next novel, In Your Own Words (working title). My first novel, all in all, took about 9 years to be finished, and Mr Tumnal, five… I’m determined that my third novel will be nowhere near that. Tonight, I’m heading on the way with another 700 words in the bag. :-)


2669 / 80000 words. 3% done!