Walk a Mile in their Shoes

“You can never truly judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Less Than EqualsWhen I started researching my family history, I wanted to do more than just collect names, dates and places. I know that’s where you have to start, but that was never going to be enough. I’ve written before about how a family rumour, suggesting we had once been wealthy, had been a starting point for me. As I discovered more information, however, I found more questions that needed answering. Some surrounded the life of my great, great, grandmother, Harriet.

Until I started my research, I had no idea who she was or even her name. Of all the ancestors I’ve discovered, however, I believe she had one of the most intriguing lives.

She was the twelfth of thirteen children, but for some reason, out of all her siblings, she was the one ‘adopted’ by her father’s brother and his wife.

She died way back in the 1880s and so I have no knowledge of her character, but from several incidents that occurred during her life, I have pieced together details of the sort of person I think she could have been.

Initially, life seemed routine. She married and had two children in quick succession, something that would have been expected at the time. Then things took a turn. In 1871 she was admitted to a lunatic asylum, reportedly for depression, and stayed there for two months. When she came out, on paper at least, life appeared to return to normal. However, fourteen years later, she was admitted to the same asylum, again for another two months.

With no recent history of mental illness in the family, this made me wonder whether the ‘depression’ was a real event, triggered by her genetic make-up. Or did her admission to the asylum have a more sinister side?

Although depression was a reason for patients to be admitted into lunatic asylums, many were sent there for much more spurious reasons. As the image shows, being a woman was certainly high on the list of possible offences, especially if you dared to behave differently to the expectations of society.

Other parts of my research have led me to believe that Harriet was probably an intelligent woman. She could certainly read and write. In the 19th century, however, the idea that women could be intelligent or that they should be educated went against perceived medical opinion. Doctors argued that the physical demands of menstruation and the intellectual demands of studying were incompatible and that educating women would lead to mothers of puny, weakened and sickly children.

Building up a picture of Harriet, layer by layer, I wondered if maybe she was ahead of her time. Perhaps she was an intelligent woman who wanted to break free of the traditional role society planned for her. If this were the case, it was likely to have caused her untold trouble.

Taking this train of thought one step further, I came up with two scenario’s that could have seen her sent to the asylum:

  1. She was treated badly / repressed because she refused to conform. If so, this could have led to her depression.
  2. Because she was outspoken, those ‘responsible for her’, sent her to the asylum for ‘corrective’ therapy. Depression was just a convenient label to attach to her.

It’s quite possible that neither of these options applied to Harriet. The sad fact is, however, they were real for too many women of the time. As I was writing Harriet into my novel, I couldn’t help but give her a storyline to fit with the character I think she may have been. Even if it’s not true, it highlights the hurdles women faced and serves as a salient reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is a five-part series set in Victorian Era England. Harriet’s story starts in Part 2, Less Than Equals, which will be published on July 17th 2017.

In addition, Condemned by Fate and Hooks & Eyes, a short story prequel and Part 1 of the series, are currently available from Amazon.

If you like heroines who are ahead of their time, and epic sagas set in Victorian Era England, click here to start the journey today … and walk a mile in Harriet’s shoes.

 

Further details of Women’s Rights in Victorian Era England and the early Suffrage movement can be found on my website: vlmcbeath.com.

The Ambition & Destiny Series

 

 

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Less Than Equals by VL McBeath

A post I’ve recently written for another site.

Jennifer Macaire

VL McBeth Book coverLess Than Equals

“Even though they make up half the population, women and girls have endured discrimination in most societies for thousands of years. In the past, women were treated as property of their husbands or fathers – they couldn’t own land, they couldn’t vote or go to school, and were subject to beatings and abuse and could do nothing about it. Over the last hundred years, much progress has been made to gain equal rights for women around the world, but many still live without the rights to which all people are entitled.”
— Robert Alan Silverstein

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” 
― Marie Shear

Researching my family history is something that has taken up a considerable part of my time since about 2008. At first, it was collecting the names and dates of people I had never heard of, but before long I needed to…

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Three Tips for​ Writing a Series

Being in the middle of writing and publishing a series, I feel confident in saying that it adds a layer of complexity compared with writing a standalone book.

But what do I mean by a series?

My series is essentially one story split into six parts, where reading book four would make no sense without reading the earlier books. Similar series would include Lord of the Rings or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (or books two and three at least). The same tips would also be relevant where two or more books have either the same protagonist or cast of characters, even though each is a standalone story (e.g., The Jack Reacher Series).

So, when writing a series, things to consider:

1) Have Foresight

This is just another way to say ‘do your planning’. I know planning is important when you are writing a single book, but when you’re dealing with a series, it is doubly important to get it right.

To start with, do you know where you are going with the series? It’s important to understand the storyline and subplots that you intend to deal with so that you can start off with the right characters and setting.

For example, is your character fit for purpose? Will they be interesting enough to last the course? Do they have the right build and attitude? When you get to book three, and they need certain knowledge or power to deal with a situation, can you realistically call upon this information from the story line in the earlier books?

If you understand what you need upfront, it will help further down the line when your character(s) is facing new challenges.

2) Consistency and Continuity

I accidentally slipped into this but think it is vital. If you’re writing a series, write it as a series, and not as one book after the other. I would also suggest that you don’t publish one book before the next book in the series is at an advanced stage.

At the outset, because I thought I was writing a single book, I just wrote … and wrote. Before long, I realised I would need to turn it into a series, but that didn’t matter, I just kept writing. I ended up (at the time) with a trilogy.

Once I came to editing, I was so glad I hadn’t stopped at the end of Book 1. I constantly needed to align the text of Book 1 and Book 2, tweaking the storyline, making sure the foreshadowing was consistent with what came next, making sure the backstory supported where I wanted to go, adding in scenes to make sure the books worked well together.

If I’d published Book 1 before I’d written Book 2, it would have seriously impacted the storyline for later books. Although it is possible to change a book once it’s published, I would suggest it is less than ideal both to yourself as a writer, but also to your readers.

3) Don’t keep your Readers Waiting

Another benefit of writing several books at once is that you should be able to publish them much more quickly than if you write/publish, write/publish. Nowadays, readers want things instantly, and if you have a series, they don’t want to wait too long for the next book.

If you have a gap of one to two years between books, the chances are your readers will have moved on and you’ll lose any momentum you may have built up with your first launch. Sadly, we’re not all JK Rowling or the like, with readers eagerly anticipating our next instalment.

My series is now in five parts, with a short story prequel. The prequel and Part 1 of the series were published in November 2016 and March 2017, respectively. Part 2 should be ready for July 2017.

Although Parts 3 and 4 are written, they still need thorough editing. I know the overall story won’t change, but I still want to go through another round of edits to Part 3 before Part 2 is published, to make sure everything flows. I then need to start writing book 5!

It does mean you don’t get much time to take a break, as you always seem to be writing or editing, but hopefully, at the end of the day, you’ll end up with a piece of work you’re proud of.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is a compelling family saga of love, loss and betrayal, set in Victorian Era England.

Falling in Love Shouldn’t                       To Start Again, Mary must 
           be a Crime…                                       Leave the Past Behind…

          CondemnedByFate_FINAL_small        HooksandEyes FINAL small

Available from Online Retailers                      Available from Amazon
Free with Newsletter Sign Up                        Free on Kindle Unlimited

Part 2: Less Than Equals, will be available for pre-order on Amazon in June 2017.

 

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Why I wrote a book

I didn’t set out to be an author. The fact is, when the idea of writing a novel kept nudging itself into my mind, I did everything I could to resist it. I am a scientist by training, and creative writing was something I had only done, very badly, at school.

The whole idea came about while I was researching my family history. I was intrigued to know if there was any truth to the rumour that our family had once been very wealthy. Based on our circumstances during the 20th century, it seemed highly improbable, but this begged the question. If my ancestors were wealthy, where did the money go? Did it pass out of the family as a result of a death and re-marriage as we had been lead to believe?

As I picked my way through an assortment of historical records, it appeared that, yes, the family had once been very wealthy, but no, the money did not leave the family as a result of a re-marriage. It was much more complicated than that. As I delved deeper, the story I uncovered astounded me. The more I learned, the more I needed to know, and within a couple of years the idea of turning it into a book started to build.

With no clue about where to start, I pushed the idea to the back of my mind. Eventually, however, when the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, I started to write. Initially, didn’t expect to produce more than about a hundred pages, but now, six years later, I have a five-part family saga entitled The Ambition & Destiny Series. Part 1, Hooks & Eyes was published on March 9th, 2017.

Part 1CondemnedByFate_FINAL_smallThe story takes place in and around Birmingham, England. It was triggered by an event in 1839 that is now the basis of a short story prequel to the series, Condemned by Fate. Condemned by Fate was inspired by three months in the life of my 3x great grandfather and recounts the time he met my 3x great grandmother and the turbulent months they encountered before they married.

The main series (Hooks & Eyes) starts in 1846 with the family moving to the town of Birmingham. At first, they struggle to survive among the back-to-back houses, but eventually, they leave their working-class origins and become part of the affluent middle classes. Unfortunately, the good life didn’t last and with one fateful event in 1882, followed by a second in 1885, everything changed.

As the story started almost two hundred years ago, there are no living relatives who have any knowledge of the people involved. That means I have no idea how close to the truth the story comes. All births, deaths and marriages are correct, and most of the major storylines are based on fact. I will never know, however, the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ that drove the actions of my ancestors. To deal with this I took what I knew, and where I wanted to go and tried to create a plausible storyline that linked the events. Many of the sub-plots and all characterisations are fictitious. I have also changed the names and places of those involved to protect the identity of the real individuals.

Initially, one of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t find out what happened in time to tell my grandfather. He spurred my interest in the whole story because he said there was money in the family and yet he lived with the shame of being made homeless as a child when his father couldn’t pay the rent. Knowing what I know now, however, I think it’s perhaps as well he didn’t know the truth.

Hooks & EyesPart 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series is available on Amazon and is free as part of Kindle Unlimited. The paperback is due in April 2017.

Condemned by Fate is available on Amazon and is also available as a free download via my website.

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It’s Read Self Published Month!

Read Self Published is a time to celebrate self-published and indie published authors and to break the stereotypes that still surround the self-pub community.

To get the word out about self-published books, the team at Read Self Published have arranged a variety of events to run throughout April. These include a Read Self Published WebPage and daily Facebook takeovers. So far there have been giveaways, news and members reading chapters of their work. I’m sure there’ll be much more as the month goes on. In addition to that, there is also a blog tour involving around thirty authors. I am delighted to be involved, and today is my day to host the blog tour. I would like to share a little bit with you about myself and my writing.

For those new to this blog, in many ways I am an accidental author. It was never my intention to write, I just started researching my family history and found a story that just had to be told.

That was back in 2009/2010, but it was November 2016 before I released my first short story, Condemned by Fate.  I then had to wait until March of this year to publish my first full-length novel, Hooks & Eyes. The delays were partly because I had no idea what I was doing, partly because there was a lot of research that went into each book and partly because I wanted them properly edited and proofread. Fortunately, I found some marvellous editors and I was delighted earlier this month to get a GOLD Quality Mark from the Books Go Social team for Hooks and Eyes.

Both books form part of The Ambition & Destiny Series. Condemned by Fate is a prequel and ultimately the main series will have five parts, each one leading on to the next.

The series is set in Victorian England. The main story starts in 1846 when the lead character, Mary Jackson, moves to the town of Birmingham with her two small children. The story that follows is a mixture of love, loss and betrayal that sees the fortunes of the family rise as well as fall. Sadly for my ancestors, it also shows the darker side of Victorian life.

I will be giving more details about the inspiration to write the series in the post later today, but for now, I’ll leave you with links to the books should you be interested in taking a look at them.

Hooks & Eyes is available on Amazon and is free as part of Kindle Unlimited. The paperback is due in April 2017.

Condemned by Fate is also on Amazon, but you can also download a free electronic copy from my website.

HooksandEyes FINAL small   CondemnedByFate_FINAL_small

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I Can Write a Book!

Can I write a book? That was the question I asked three years ago when I put my first post on this site. It had taken me three years to write the post in the first place as I was pretty sure that the answer would be NO. But I’m nothing if not tenacious, and when I set my mind on something, there is not a lot can stop me following through!

Not having any idea of what I was doing, I’ve taken a lot of tiny steps over the last six years, but finally, the first part of my family saga, Hooks & Eyes, is available on Amazon!  😃

To say it is a feeling of accomplishment is an understatement as any of you who have published a book will understand. But now, with the book done, I have a strange feeling of what next? Not that I’m short of things to do. I have numerous emails to write and promotions to set up to tell the world that my ‘baby’ is out there. Not to mention the fact that I have another four books in the series that need either editing or writing. Yet somehow, for now, they can wait. I need a little time take stock and reflect on what I’ve achieved.

In doing so, I can’t help but wonder if I asked the right question all those years ago. Rather than ‘Can I write a book?’ perhaps I should have asked, ‘Can I write a good book?’ A book that people will want to read and will remember.

I guess I’ll have to be patient for a while longer before I find the answer to that. For now, it’s time to be happy and hope other people like what I’ve written.

Hooks & Eyes will be available on Amazon for 99p / 99c (or equivalent) until end March 2017 and is FREE as part of Kindle Unlimited.

Why not get your copy today?

Part 1

Hooks & Eyes

To start again, Mary must leave the past behind… 
When young widow Mary Jackson moves to the nearby town of Birmingham, she hopes to put her troubled past behind her. But with two small children to take care of, she fears for the future.

Living with an elderly aunt, she takes a job making Hooks & Eyes for the ambitious Mr Wetherby. The work is tedious and conditions poor, but for the sake of the children, she perseveres. Until Mr Wetherby makes known his feelings for her.

Frightened and confused, Mary flees. But when Mr Wetherby tracks her down, she needs to make a choice. Will her decision give the family the future she hopes for? Or will she destroy the very thing she’s determined to protect?

Hooks & Eyes is the first instalment of The Ambition & Destiny Series. A captivating story of love, loss and betrayal.

 

 

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Twelve Things to do Prior to Launching a Book

Part 1

Hooks & Eyes

If I’d known then, what I know now, would I have ever written a book?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself repeatedly over recent weeks and if I’m being perfectly honest, I think the answer would be no! That’s not to say I regret my move into writing. For the most part, I’ve loved it. It’s just that there is so much to do that if I’d known about everything, it probably would have scared me away.

I only started writing as a hobby, but even then, the hobby was more about my family history than being an author. The original intention was to give writing a go and if it was terrible, it would never see the light of day. I was about four years into the project before I made the decision to publish.

Now that I’m coming up to the launch of Hooks & Eyes, the first main book in the series, it has taken over my life. My day job is firmly in the background (fortunately, I’m self-employed and can afford the time) and I’m deeply immersed in the world of publishing.

So, things I’ve done:

  1. Finalised the book … or nearly anyway. It’s been edited twice and is now with a proofreader. It has a professionally designed cover and it’s own ISBN number.
  1. Written a blurb for Amazon / the back of the book / the website. Seriously, one of the hardest things I’ve had to do! I’ve read numerous self-help sites and books, but I think I’m almost there.
  1. Set up my Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest sites. It’s relatively easy to set them up, but if you’re not careful they can take over your life – literally!
  1. Got myself a website, and this blog. It can be a hard slog adding the content, but most importantly, they have the appropriate links for people to sign up to my email list if they’re interested.
  1. Asked my cover designer to make banners for the top of all web based sites.
  1. Developed an email List. This took a long time to get going, but gradually, as my websites improved, and I released my short story (Condemned by Fate), it started to build. I currently have about 1300 subscribers, which given where I was six months ago, I’m pretty pleased with.
  1. Set up a number of cross-author promotions for the time of the book launch. These typically involve offering a free book to generate interest.
  1. Started to play with Amazon advertising. I’ve also dabbled with Twitter and Facebook post boosts, but not ventured into their advertising yet.
  1. img_1959Had some business cards made (opposite). Even with just Condemned by Fate published, there have been a number of times I’ve wanted to give people something to remind them of the name of the book, but haven’t had anything. Not anymore.
  1. Used my email list to find about a dozen people who are interested in reading and reviewing my book prior to launch.
  1. Set up an Amazon account and author page. This was probably one of the best things about publishing the short story. It took me hours, one Sunday afternoon to initially set up the account with all the tax information they needed. I’m so glad it’s done now and hopefully loading the next book onto the site should be easy (fingers crossed). I also now have accounts with other major eBook outlets.
  1. Started to take my writing career seriously. This is such an important point. If you make writing and publishing your book a priority, you’ll have a head start over so many other writers.

There are still things I know I need to do, such as figuring out what I’m doing with the paperback version, preparing some press material, working on book 2, etc etc, but for now, they’ll have to wait. There are only so many hours in the day!

As I alluded to before, the list of things that needs doing can be overwhelming and could put you off starting. Because I had no idea what was involved, I took one step at a time and suddenly I feel as if I’m about to reach the top of the hill. Whether sales will keep me at the top or have me tumbling back down the other side, remains to be seen.

My one thought of encouragement for anyone else taking this journey is to take it slowly. Listen and learn from everyone you can and focus on the things that need doing now. Don’t worry about what’s to come. Honestly, if I can do it, anyone can!

Do you think I’ve missed anything? Let me know what preparations you make for launch.

Hooks & Eyes is Part 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series. A compelling saga of love, loss and betrayal set against the backdrop of Victorian England. Expected publication date: March 2017.

To receive a FREE copy of the short story prequel Condemned by Fate click here.

 

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5 Reasons I Chose to Self-Publish

publish

How to Publish?

There’s a lot written on the relative merits of traditional vs self-publishing. There is a view that many authors only self-publish after failing to secure an agent or traditional publishing deal. While this may be the case for some, more and more are now making the strategic decision to publish their own work without ever attempting the traditional route.

As a brand new writer, with no knowledge of the publishing industry, I needed to understand the pros and cons of each approach. This meant reading a lot of blogs and other articles. As I did, the same themes struck me over and over, and it didn’t take long to decide I was going to self-publish. As a result, I have never written a query letter, nor do I plan to any time soon.

The reasons I chose to go it alone are:

1) Time: I want to be able to publish my books when I am ready, not when someone tells me to.

This covers several aspects of the publishing journey:

a) Numerous articles from aspiring authors describe the querying process. Most send out query letter after query letter, only to get the dreaded rejection months later. Rejection letters are often seen as badges of honour and it can take years before a person finds representation.

b) Once you have an agent it is only the beginning of the process. The agent still needs to find someone who will publish the book. Even once your manuscript is in the hands of a publishing company, it can take another two years to actually see it in print.

2) Control: My books are my work, not someone else’s to change at will.

Yes, I’m a control freak! The idea of handing over my manuscripts and letting someone else to change them, with little agreement from me, is too much. When you self-publish, and work with an editor, they will suggest how to improve the text. None of their suggestions are mandatory, however. The author gets the final say on whether the to make the changes and how they will implement them.

The same is true with covers. I know I am not a visually creative person, but I don’t need to be. There are many websites selling pre-made covers or you can use a professional cover designer. I did the latter, which meant that I had a lot of input into the them. I also got to say yes or no to the final versions. It seems that publishing companies often take control of the design, leaving the author with very limited input. 

3) Genre: I’m in a niche genre. Would a traditional publisher have any interest in my manuscripts anyway?

For those of us in specialised areas, the chances are high that the market wouldn’t be big enough for traditional publishers to take a chance on us. That’s fine. As a self-published author, I don’t have their overheads and am likely to be happier to accept lower sales than they would.

It also highlights an area where self-publishing can help broaden book availability. By enabling self-published works, Amazon (and others) are encouraging diversity in the book pool. Books in niche genres are now readily available. If they prove popular, they may help to shape the birth of new segments in the market.

4) Marketing: Don’t be under the illusion that the publishing houses will do this for debut authors.

Before I started researching, I assumed an advantage of traditional publishing was that the marketing would be taken care of. It now appears that this is only the case for celebrities and best-selling authors. It tends not to apply to first time authors. I read many articles stating that you need an established email list and social media presence before they even consider you. If you are going to go to the trouble of building a platform yourself, why would you then pass it on to somebody else?

5) Royalties: Why should I give up over half my royalties?

I understand that publishing houses need to make money. They couldn’t support authors if they didn’t. I know they provide editing, cover design and other services. Authors may also get an advance before their books are complete, (although these are unlikely to be the eye-watering sums some might hope for).

The thing is, there’s a huge difference between the 70% royalties you get from Amazon (or 35% for books less than £2.99) and the approximate 10% you might get from a publisher. Particularly when the help they give to new authors is diminishing as time goes on.

With everything an author has to do to even raise the eyebrow of a traditional publisher, why not self-publish? Yes, it’s hard work, but that way you keep control and the vast majority of your earnings.

Will I ever use the traditional publishing route?

Who knows! I’m old enough to know, never say never. Traditional publishing still has a role. As an outsider it appears to me that they have a place for extended distribution. It could also be useful if there is a chance of getting a movie or TV deal. I’m sure there are also be other benefits I haven’t come across. With the publishing industry being in such a state of flux at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess what it will look like in ten years time.

First I’ve got to get my books out there and get some sales … after that, we’ll see!

Do you have any thoughts on the debate? Let me know in the comments below.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is a compelling saga of love, loss and betrayal set against the backdrop of Victorian England.

To receive a FREE copy of the short story prequel Condemned by Fate click here.

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Suffer the little children

Writer's Lot

As people’s interest in family history continues to grow, many people will be shocked to see the high infant mortality rate in the United Kingdom in the 1800s.

Causes of death you may come across include typhus, whooping cough, smallpox and a condition described as Phthisis (pronounced thigh-sis) or Consumption, which is more commonly known now as tuberculosis. In the 1860s, two-fifths of all deaths in Glasgow were due to respiratory diseases and tuberculosis.

In cities, living conditions were far from healthy with overcrowding in poorly-kept tenements. In the mining communities of Scotland, the conditions were exacerbated by the ever-present dampness in the two-room dwellings that often housed ten children, and the coal dust that hung in the air and on clothes.

Families were decimated as adults and children of all ages succumbed to the highly infectious disease of tuberculosis which was characterised by the wasting away or atrophy of…

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10 Things I’ve Learned From Self-Publishing

A Writer's Path

learn-letters

by J.U. Scribe

It’s been three years since I self published my first book. It’s definitely been a learning experience marked by relative successes and failures. As I mark the 3rd anniversary since I self-published Before the Legend , here are the top ten things I’ve learned over the course of three years in no particular order.

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