James Calbraith is a Poland-born Scottish writer, foodie, coffee-drinker and traveler.
For most of the last half-year I’ve been mostly working on patiently carving out the main draft of the Crown of the Iutes – which has already grown into the longest and most complex book I’ve ever written, as befits the conclusion of Ash and Octa’s long stories. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have other important news coming up.
1. I HAVE AN AUDIOBOOK OUT!
This is the first time ever I released a professional audio version of any of my books, thanks to ACX and British actor/comedian/voice over artist David Lane Pusey. It’s super exciting, and a little bit eerie, to hear my characters actually speak, and he’s done such a great job on the book! (wait till you hear Eirik!)
The audiobook is for the Saxon Spears only for now. Obviously, it’s a lot of work and effort on everyone’s part, so I will probably be releasing these not more often than once a year, assuming the first one pays off, that is. The entire first book is over 13 hours long!
I have some promo codes for free downloads, if anyone wants to review it – just send me a note.
Also, here are the affiliated links to Audible versions if you want to buy/download/use a credit on my and David’s audiobook:
2. HARDCOVERS ARE COMING!
Amazon KDP now allows indie publishers to produce hardcovers! And it’s fairly easy if you’ve already done a paerback. For now, you can buy a hardcover version of the Saxon Spears, but more will be coming over the next few week, and by the time the Crown comes out, all six books should have hardcover versions for your library. I haven’t seen the hardcover copy myself yet – it’s in the post – hope it’s as well printed as the paperback!
Incidentally, this means the Saxon Spears is now my first ever book to be released in all four formats!
3. IN OTHER NEWS…
- “The Shadow of Black Wings” has been translated into Spanish by Sebastian Esparza. For now it’s available on Nook, Kobo and iTunes, Kindle version is coming soon, I’m told. I’ll keep you posted. EDIT: It’s on Amazon NOW.
- “The Crown of the Iutes” is chugging along nicely, but it’s grown so big I may not manage to release it in time. At worst, it will be delayed by a month, though I’ll try my best to avoid it!
- Have you seen the cool new graphics on Amazon pages for Song of Britain? That’s another new promo tool available to writers that I’ve taken full advantage of. Looks very professional now, don’t you think?
That’s all for now – time for me to go back to the word mines!
(no, this isn’t about the politics 🙂 )
There’s Sussex, Essex, Wessex and Middlesex. There’s East Angles, split into Northern Folk and Southern Folk – and, once, there were even Middle Angles. There are counties and kingdoms with such undoubtedly English names as Surrey and Mercia. Why, then, in the middle of all this Germanic toponymy, is Kent not called something like “Jutland” or “East Jutia”?
Etymology will tell us that the name “Kent” comes from the Briton word for “edge” or “corner”, which in turn gave the name to the Iron Age tribe of Cantii. In Latin, it was variously rendered as Cantia, Cantium or Cantiacum. The Germanic settlers called it Centrige and Kentland. But etymology is not the same as explanation. After all, Sussex is not called “Reginland”. Essex is not “Trinovantia”. Norfolk is not “Ikenware”.
Something happened in Cantium that was different from everywhere else. The myths and what little history we have written about the beginnings of “Anglo-Saxon” settlement in Britannia tell us that it all started there – with Hengist and Horsa, and his Jutes landing on the Isle of Thanet. It’s a convenient legend, but we know there is some truth in it. More, probably, than in the legends of Aella and his son Cissa conquering the southern provinces with his three ceol-fuls of Saxon warriors, or in the muddled origins of the Western Saxons, jumping about from the Welsh marches to Winchester and Salisbury with little regard to geography and chronology.
My books are a fiction, based on guesswork. Until we find some ancient copy of the lost Chronicles of the Kingdom of Kent, all we have to go on are those less precise tools of a Dark Age historian: myths, archaeology, toponymies and etymologies. After all, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written in Wessex, hundreds of miles away and centuries after whatever events in Kent made it keep its Briton name when all the land around it took new names from the Saxons. It is a wonder that any rumour of what happened made it to the chronicle, even if only in form of a brief snippet of a legend of Wortigern and the two brothers.
That there was no “invasion” we know from archeological record. No great battles as described by the chroniclers, and no brutal conquest, wiping out entire native population. But I’d like to think there was something more to Kent’s good fortune. I’d like to think – and it is what I propose in my books – that Kent was a unique experiment in the early history of England. That in Kent, the Germanic settlers and the Briton natives not only lived side by side in peace, but dealt with the difficulties of that age of chaos together, that they shared the burden of the time of upheaval that ravaged the rest of Britannia, and the Empire beyond. That the reason why Christianity was welcomed first, and with such ease, in Kent – while other Anglian and Saxon kingdoms resisted and sometimes reverted to paganry – was because the Romano-Britons of Kent, the native Christian population, were not subdued and quashed by their new rulers, and did not turn to imitate them with the same eagerness as those under the Saxon rule. That they were allowed to live and rule in their towns even as the Jutes settled the countryside around them, allowed to keep their Latin names, with only small modifications to accomodate the Jute tongue: Dover for Dubris, Lympne for Leman, Rochester for (Du)Robrivae Castrum – and their capital, a Burgh of the Cants. Compare that with what little remained of the old names in the land of Saxons: gone is Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester), no trace remains of Anderitum (Pevensey) – and we can barely guess whether their main harbour of Novus Portus was at Brighton or Shoreham. And, most importantly, unlike any other tribal pagus in southern Britannia, they were allowed to keep their ancient name: the Land of Cant.
It is, I repeat, only a guess; a neat setting for a work of fiction. But I feel like it’s as decent explanation as any for why, to this day, the most south-easterly county of England is called Kent, rather than, say, Jutrey. And at the very least, it makes for a good story.
A simple map this time, for a simple, short story – this is Armorica – today’s Brittany – at the end of the 5th century, just as the old, classic Imperial city names from Tabula Peutingeriana change to common tongue ones, as used in Notitia Dignitatum and later texts.
The Song of the Tides – a Song of Octa novella – is out on pre-order, to be released on August the 1st.
Today’s the day of another release in the Song of Britain saga – Book 5, “The Wrath of the Iutes” !
The long way back just got longer….
They were supposed to return home as heroes, basking in the glory and plunder of the victory at Trever… But fate decided otherwise for Octa and his band of Iutes. Chasing after Ursula’s captor, the renegade Haesta, they venture deep into the unfamiliar land of Armorica, where they unexpectedly discover an old ally seeking their help against a threat of invasion…
On their quest to help defend Britannia Prima, a province still ruled by the remnants of the old Roman power, Octa and his warriors will meet new friends, face new enemies and discover ancient mysteries, in this long-awaited second chapter of the Song of Octa: The Wrath of the Iutes.
“The Wrath…” takes place in Armorica, Isles of Scilly and what is now known as Wales. It’s in Wales that most military action happens, with armies moving from fort to fort and ships going from port to port, so the one new map drawn for this book is one of Wales – or Western Britannia Prima.
Incidentally, this is my second novel that is partly set in Wales – so did my first book, the Shadow of Black Wings, and even the map was somewhat similar, if a fantasy version. I can’t tell myself if it’s just a curious coincidence or is there something special about Wales that makes me go back to it time and time again?
It’s time for another of the “locations” post – I like to think of my books as much as a travelogue as action novels, and the travels of my characters in Book 5 take them to the very north-western edges of the Empire: from Armorica to Northern Wales.
“The Wrath of the Iutes” is released on July 1st – pre-order now!
ROTOMAG – Rotomagus, Rouen
A major harbour on the River Seine, once the second most important city in Gallia Lugdunensis, now capital of Normandy.
REDONES – Condate Redonum, Roazhon, Rennes
Worgium – Vorgium, Karaez, Carhaix
Cair Wortigern – Craig Gwrtheyrn
The Forks – Tre’r Ceiri
An enormous, spectacular hill fort on Llyn Peninsula, used up to 5th century. The valley below, Nant Gwrtheyrn, is another place associated with Vortigern, who is said to have been buried somewhere in the area.
Hrodha’s Fort – Caer Gybi, Holyhead
A small Roman fortlet at the very end of the Mona road – the last harbour before Hibernia, the Edge of the Empire.
Silurian Isca – Isca Augusta, Caerleon
It’s an unusual publishing move, so I decided instead of the usual press blurb, I’ll do a short FAQ post explaining why you should preorder this if you’ve also preordered The Wrath of the Iutes – or read (and enjoyed) any of my books in the series.
Is it a standalone novella?
- Not really – it’s best read after the Wrath, as it concerns the fates of characters we first meet in this volume. I tried my best to make it a standalone if somebody insists on reading it out of order, but at best you’ll have spoilers for the previous book – and at worst, you won’t have a clue what’s going on.
Why novella, rather than part of the novel?
- Because it’s not quite a part of Octa’s story, at least not as I want to tell it. Though told through Octa’s eyes, and though he and Ursula play active parts in the plot, it’s the conclusion of the stories of the characters he meets in the Wrath, and attaching it at either the end of Book 2 or the beginning of Book 3 would feel out of place. It also serves as a chronological stepping stone between the two volumes – the gap between the Wrath and the Crown is almost eight years, and there’s a story within that gap that needed to be told.
Isn’t it just a money-grabbing ploy?
- Quite the opposite. The novella is 40,000 words long – a third of my usual novel length. Editing, proofreading and formatting of a text this long costs money. Adding it to one of the other books would increase their price accordingly. But because I don’t feel this is an essential part of Octa’s story, I wouldn’t feel right forcing the reader to pay for it. This way, everyone gets a choice.
What’s it really about?
- At the most basic level, it’s a retelling of the ancient Breton legend of the Sunken City of Ys – though it’s as distant from that tale as the Song of Ash was from the real legends of Vortigern, Hengist and Horsa. It’s set in the years 461-462 AD, takes place almost entirely in Armorica, and introduces the new enemy who will become a much greater threat in “The Crown of Iutes” – the Goths of Tolosa. That’s as much as I can say without spoilers.
- Should I buy it?
Yes! Not only is it as fun and exciting as my full length novels, it also features a certain important event in Octa’s and Ursula’s lives – you may want to read it just for this. And it’s only 99p!
As I delve into the editing stage of the draft manuscript of “The Wrath of the Iutes“, I thought I’ll reveal a little bit of the draft writing and editing steps I take to create one of my novels. It took me nearly a decade to hone the method, from the early days when “The Shadow of Black Wings” took 14 drafts and two years to write, to now, when an average novel in the “Song of Britain” series takes me little less than six months from plot outline to publishing.
Step 1: Plot Outline and chapter structure
I start with writing down the general plot; for convenience and speed, already at this step I will have the plot divided roughly into chapters, though most of them will not have titles. I tend to make this outline vague enough so that I can keep to it throughout the entire manuscript without changing too much. The biggest change that may occur between this step and the finished manuscript is splitting the novel into more parts than originally envisioned, as the story grows.
Step 2: Draft_0 – rough draft
What others call “First Draft” I keep in the file named Draft_0. This is the first version of the complete story, from start to finish, but with gaps in between. These are scenes, or sometimes whole chapters, that would bog me down too much if I tried to write them down at this stage, or that I haven’t yet fully invented. I leave brief comments in the outline, in places where I intend to go back in future drafts and fill the gaps out.
For a novel of about 100,000 words, it takes me about 3 months to outline the plot and finish this first draft. At this point I also have a rough estimate of the wordcount and chapter titles.
Step 3: Draft_0.5 to Draft_1 – fleshing out
By the time I reach Draft_1 – sometimes with a preliminary stage of Draft_0.5 – all the gaps are filled in. The new set of comments refers to things I picked up during the first re-write of Draft_0: scenes that need buffing up, plot points that need expanding upon, characters that need fleshing out, and plot holes and mistakes that need fixing. The end of Draft_1 is the stage at which nothing else needs to be added to the plot and character development.
This stage takes about 4-6 weeks, and is probably the slowest in terms of value added for time taken – but then, this is the bit where the rough stone turns into something resembling a diamond!
Step 4: Draft_2 to Draft_4 – text-to-speech rewrites
For the final couple of rewrites, I use a neat little free Word add-on called WordTalk. It uses Windows text-to-speech library to read the text in Word, using a selected voice – I prefer Hazel. In essence, it turns manuscript into an audiobook, which I find the best way to spot any roughness, errors and typoes in the text. I usually do two run-throughs like this, unless I feel things are still looking harsh enough to warrant a third one.
This stage shouldn’t take me more than a month, if I properly sit down to it.
Step 5: Draft_5 – Spellcheck, grammar check and PerfectIt
The very final stage of drafting is running the manuscript through Word’s checks and another plugin called PerfectIt – I had this one recommended by my copy editor, and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s not free, and not very cheap, though if your editor charges by the hour, it will pay for itself in no time, since it saves a lot of mundane work in checking things like spelling consistency, punctuation, and house style.
This stage takes less than a week – shouldn’t take more than a good weekend, really.
Draft_5 is the one I sent to my copy editor for the final read-through, and Draft_6 – with all of the editor’s corrections applied – is the one used to generate the actual ebook file for Kindle.
So there you have it – six months from start to finish, which means that “The Wrath of the Iutes” will be on your Kindles in the summer, and should be followed in winter by “The Crown of the Iutes”, the last part of Song of Octa trilogy.
With everything that’s been going on in the world – and personal life – it’s hard to believe I managed to keep to the 2020 publishing schedule I set for myself a couple of years ago. It helped that I had to quit my previous day job just in time for the pandemic, and after a short while I finally resolved to stick to writing full-time.
It’s going to be a bit less crazy next year. The schedule for 2021 includes only two books in the Song of Britain: The Wrath of Iutes and The Crown of Iutes – and a short novella set between them.