Writing Dialogue

Something which people have praised in my main series, ‘Penny White’, is that the dialogue is witty and that the characters have distinctive voices. How does a writer go about doing that? Here are some dos and don’ts that I try to keep in mind:


1       Listen

All the time. Listen to how people talk. Take note of any interesting verbal tics which you could use to differentiate a character. For example, one of my friends uses ‘basically’ regularly in his conversations. Are there regional differences, such as turns of phrase, which you can use?

Morey, the Welsh-speaking cat-sized gryphon in the ‘Penny White’ series, makes his first appearance in this way:

I blurted out, ‘You’re a gryphon.’

‘Oh, she’s a sharp one, she is.’

‘But I thought gryphons were larger.’

‘All this ego in a large package? Duw a’n gwaredo. Doors wouldn’t be big enough to get my head through.’ He swooped across the garden and landed on the wheelie bin resting nearby. ‘Know anything about snail hunting?’

2       Turn on the radio

Audio plays are a great way to pick up tips for dialogue. The lack of visuals means that setting and characterization have to be set by spoken words alone. I love the Big Finish ‘Doctor Who’ audio adventures, and I’m always listening out for ways to use dialogue to set a scene or define a character. Here’s Penny’s brother talking to Morey, the gryphon, in ‘The Cult of Unicorns’: 

James grinned. ‘And I’ve met someone.’

‘Really?’ I took a sip of coffee. ‘What’s her name?’

‘Zarah. Or Sarah.’ He shrugged. ‘It was loud in the nightclub. But I’ve got her phone number. We’re going to meet up for New Year’s. It’s time my luck turned.’

‘What are your intentions towards this unidentified female?’ Morey asked.

‘What do you think?’ James leaned back in his chair. ‘Oh, I forgot. You can’t have it off with Taryn, can you? You’ve taken vows of celibacy, right?’

‘I took a vow of chastity, not celibacy,’ Morey said. ‘There is a difference. Chastity means no sexual relations outside the sanctity of marriage. What did they teach you at school?’

‘My sex education was mostly about putting condoms on bananas,’ James replied. ‘So, how does this chastity thing work, then?’ 

Morey cocked his head. ‘Well, you see, when two bananas really, really love each other, they get married and then there’s no need for condoms.’

3            Say it out loud

Read the dialogue to yourself, or to an obliging friend or family member. If it doesn’t sound natural to you, it won’t sound natural to your readers. Also bear in mind sentence length. Most people do have to stop to breathe from time to time.

4             Find alternative ways of indicating who is speaking

You can use actions rather than always using ‘said’ to indicate who is speaking and how. These actions can also help the reader understand the emotions in the speaker’s voice. An example from ‘The Vexation of Vampires’:

Uncertainty was trickling yellow along the snail’s tentacles. ‘Because you’re you.’ His colour didn’t change. ‘Because you’re Clyde.’ Still no change. ‘Well, because, well, I’m proud of you and, you know, I guess, well, yes, in any way that matters, you’re my son.’

Blue and purple suffused his body, chased by bright pink. ‘Mam,’ he agreed. And I put him down so I could grab some toilet tissue to blow my nose. 

5              Use incorrect grammar in dialogue

In some parts of my country (Great Britain), the local dialect includes people saying ‘Me and my friend’ (versus the grammatically correct ‘My friend and I’). People drop words all the time, for example, ‘Ready to go out?’ rather than ‘Are you ready to go out?’


1              Avoid contractions

Writers seem to think that a lack of contractions indicates greater learning, or helps evoke a time period (if they’ve set their work in the past). It comes over as clunky unless it’s a character point. For example, the forest unicorns in my novels avoid contractions, whereas their urban counterparts don’t.

2               Use strange spellings to reflect accents

This is something I regret doing in my first two novels. If you are altering too many words, readers can struggle to read the dialogue. Maybe pick a couple of words to amend, and use local sayings to highlight the speaker’s origin. Here’s an example from ‘The Vengeance of Snails’: 

James stretched his legs and passed me. ‘By the way, what’re you doing here? I didn’t think we got praying mantises in England.’

‘I hatched in les Etats-Unis, one of the English-speaking parts.’ The triangular head turned to look up at James. ‘I was fixing to tie the knot, but y’all know how it is. Rooster one day, a feather duster the next. So I found me a dragon to take me far away from the wife-to-be.’

3               Pull out the thesaurus

The most useful word for dialogue tags is ‘said’. Trust me. Don't feel that you need to reach for more than that. And, no, people cannot ‘smile’ a sentence.

4                Throw in lots of adverbs

Trust your dialogue to let your reader know the tone in which the character has spoken. As above, ‘said’ is a great word. Don’t add lots of adverbs. ‘She said smugly’, ‘He said sadly’. If your characters says, ‘I would never have made a mistake like that,’ we’ll understand that she’s smug. ‘Gosh, I really miss my mom.’ Surely that’s a sad statement? And if you use an exclamation mark, there’s no need to state ‘he shouted’ never mind ‘he shouted loudly’.

In conclusion, well-handled dialogue can be used to craft characters and to set the scene more quickly than long narrative descriptions. 

‘Raven’s Flight’ - An Excerpt

Raven is the darkly beautiful dragon in my ‘Penny White’ books. He’s fascinated by humans, and in particular Penny herself. But why? What could have happened in a dragon’s life to make him more interested in humans than his own kind?

The answers are to be found in the novella ‘Raven’s Flight, A Dragon Romance.’ This short story tells of his early life, and the human woman who helped to raise him. The opening section is below. Best of all, the novella is FREE on Amazon and Smashwords! The links follow the end of the excerpt. You can also obtain a free copy by joining my newsletter—just click on the button above.

Happy reading!


The round objects which had once shared his warm space were now gone. He floated free in his warm, liquid-filled kingdom, although he had to keep feet and wings tucked close. If he allowed one to scrape across the soft flesh walls, a thick growl shuddered through the body that surrounded him. 

Somehow he knew that he was meant to follow the same route as the earlier occupants of his home. One by one, each had succumbed to the muscles which had convulsed to push them out of their sanctuary. Their departure, he knew, had resulted in an arrival at a different place. Loud voices had trumpeted in joy when the last had left his mother’s body.

The contractions came again. He bunched up his tail, doing his best to brace himself against the movement pushing him towards the exit. No good. The liquid churned past his snout and ears, warning him that he was losing the battle. So he spread out wings and claws, digging desperately into his warm shelter.

The bellow threatened to shake him free. The voice was deep, resonating down through muscle and bone. ‘It’s as I said. A search dragon! I can feel its foul presence rotting my belly!’

‘Then eject the thing,’ said a voice near his left ear. ‘And we can eat it.’

‘I eat my own failures,’ his mother’s voice responded. ‘And I’ll hunt down that useless drake who inflicted this on me. A search dragon! In my longhouse! Wayland will never fly me again.’

‘You have to get it out first,’ growled a voice near his right ear.

‘How? I’ve never been cursed with such a puffling before.’

A moment’s silence. Then another voice said, ‘It’s comfortable. You need to make yourself uncomfortable. Heat will do.’

‘But be quick,’ came a response. ‘You’ll need to catch it before it finds a crossing place. That’s how Hekla’s puffling escaped.’

The space around him compressed. The temperature rose, and he pulled himself into a small ball. The outer edge of his wings curled inwards, and he whimpered. Then, with a determined growl, he extended his tail and hind legs. Ignoring the pain wisping around his toes, he turned until his snout was facing the route taken by the eggs. 

The heat disappeared in a loud roar. At the same moment, the sides of his shelter closed in around him. He allowed his body to be pushed down through the canal. Why he should be denied the welcome given to the eggs was a question to be pondered some other time. For now, he had to prepare himself. Death waited for him outside, and he would have to be quick to avoid it.

With a loud squelch, he slid free from his mother and spilled across the hard floor. His claws scrabbled at the surface as he fought to stand. The world was bright and cold, and air burned into his lungs as he took his first breath. Something long and thin still bound him to his mother. He twisted his head around and reached over his green-black body. A quick slice with his sharp teeth set him free. 

Movement left and right made him hiss, arching his back and wings. ‘Leave it to me,’ someone commanded harshly. It took him a moment to recognise the voice of his mother, which sounded very different now that he was outside her body.

‘Not in the longhouse,’ said one of the large objects, still just a hulking shadow in his birth-smeared eyes. ‘We never kill them in the longhouse.’

There was a sudden increase in brightness to his right. He staggered towards it, attracted by the clean smell. The sound of a deep chuckle, and the liquid rasp of a tongue being drawn across teeth, made him stretch out his wings. His eyes were clearing. Green and grey waited past the opening. And, above that, an aching blue which tugged at some deep place inside of him.

‘Not in the longhouse,’ said his mother behind him. ‘But once it’s outside, then I’ll put an end to this abomination.’

‘But even an abomination is named,’ a low voice told her. ‘Is it a draka or a drake?’

He slowed his pace and glanced behind him. The dark blue dragon who met his gaze was, he realised, the one who had given him birth. The eggs of his siblings were gathered in a circle near her hind claws. She stepped carefully around them, her massive head lowered towards him. ‘It’s a drake. Very well. I name him Hrafn. Hrafn Eydisson, out of Eydis Asgersdottir by Wayland, that worthless drake.’

‘Well named,’ said a smaller red dragon standing near her. ‘It’ll rest easier in your stomach now.’

A name. Hrafn. He felt the last of the birth fluid drying on his scales. His wings trembled as an air current played along the loose skin, the angled struts. On the ground, his mother had the advantage. His body wasn’t even as large as one of her forefeet. But in the blue which stretched up over his head…

Hrafn kicked out with his hind legs. The sudden lurch was too much for his forelegs, which folded underneath him. His snout plunged into the soil just outside the longhouse. Laughter, cruel and bloodthirsty, rang out behind him. He tilted to his left to pull himself free. Then, the breath of his mother hot on his tail, he hopped across the grass. The leaps steadied into a run. His wings unfurled, and spread out on either side. 

Desperation made him flap too soon. The far edges hit the ground, and he snarled at the pain. He stood at the top of a hill, so he took advantage of the slope. His chest expanded, gases filling his flight chamber and giving him the lift he needed to rise into the air. He tucked his legs in close and concentrated on pumping his wings.

Roaring laughter crashed around his head. He looked up as the warmth of the sun was blocked, casting him into shadow. The huge body of his mother glided above him. Her blue head swung down, massive jaws opening to reveal gleaming fangs. Her breath smelled of fresh meat.

Hrafn felt a pang of hunger which nearly folded him in half. But rather than fall from the sky, he forced the pain to add impetus to his wings. If he didn’t manage to outfly her, he would just be another meal for his mother.

Teeth filled his vision. Her mouth widened, and he realised that she planned to snatch him mid-flight. Even as she snapped at his neck, Hrafn folded his wings so that he dropped away.

Something pointed and hard clouted his body. Hrafn found himself spinning wildly, wings and tail tangled. A dark blue forefoot stabbed once more past his eyes, claws outstretched, a cage of black and gold threatening to wrap around him. He roared in frustration, and a small bout of flame burst from his jaws to singe the toes just beyond his head.

Murderous disapproval boomed from his mother’s throat. Hrafn had never heard some of the words before, but the tone told him that she no longer wished to give him a quick death. Somehow he managed pull himself out of his fall and into an unsteady glide.

His mother’s wings pounded, and he felt her rise far above him. Any moment now, she would dive, and the sheer force of her plunge would break his bones long before he hit the ground. Hrafn searched sky and hills, wondering desperately how he could get away. He must find a way to escape. Where was his escape?

A new scent came to his nostrils. Thick with blood, and heavy with a dankness which was distinctly non-dragon. The source was just a few feet below and to his left. He dipped his wing and spiralled towards the source. As he came closer, he could also sense harsh sun, and hear cries of creatures wounded and dying. But all he could see was the scrubland of his birth. 

Sharp claws tore across his right wing. Hrafn screamed. His tail twisted as he flung himself at the thin shimmer just ahead of him. His mother bellowed, and he could feel death coming towards him in bone-crushing certainty.

Then he was falling towards an expanse of shining sand. Strange beasts struggled near objects that smelled of metal and smoke. Blood added streaks of red to their green and brown coverings. His right wing flapped uselessly in the wind. The ground rushing towards him looked hard and unforgiving. He needed to fall into something which wouldn’t break his body upon impact.

There. Just to his right. Hrafn took in a deep breath. The scent of cold earth and fresh water. And silence, in contrast to the chaos below him. He twisted his body, using his good wing to throw himself into a dizzying spiral towards the shimmer that hung in the air.

Change again. He had a brief glimpse of dark clouds and tall mountains. Then he hit a hard surface which gave way beneath him. 

Liquid churned around his body. This was nothing like the warm fluid he had known inside his mother. It was cold, and dark, filling his ears and eyes and forcing its way down his throat. Hrafn fought against the pull, struggled to breathe, felt the last of his strength ebbing away.

Something clamped around his tail. He was torn away from the lake’s grasp. Stones bumped and scraped against his belly. Hrafn opened his mouth, tried to expand his lungs. Water gurgled and sloshed in his throat, and he thrashed, still drowning even though he was now on land.

A voice shouted near his ears. He recognised the tone of command, and also that it held none of his mother’s malice. So he forced himself to lie still, although every muscle was screaming for him to run.

Two hard objects were rammed into his stomach. Hrafn retched. Water flowed around his tongue and teeth. Then he gasped, drawing air into his body. Cough and breathe, cough and breathe. He dimly felt himself lifted to his feet, his snout resting on the damp ground as he continued to exchange water for air.

His legs were too weak to support his weight. Hrafn slumped down onto his haunches, wings straggling loosely on either side of his belly. As his sight cleared, he glanced at the source of the voice. 

The creature was similar to those he had seen in his brief plunge over the desert. Dark blue cloth hid most of its body. It stood on two of its legs, which made it tower over him. The other two limbs ended in short talons, and he blinked at the lack of claws. The head was round, and the pale face was flat. Two green eyes met his gaze, peering through a flop of long blonde fur. 

Sounds came from the small mouth. ‘I don’t understand,’ Hrafn responded.

The creature tilted its head. The skin furrowed. It said, slowly, ‘Fall. Hurt?’

‘Yes.’ Hrafn turned his head to look at his right wing. Red blood was seeping from the tears in the skin. And another deep pain came from his stomach. ‘Hungry.’

The creature left his side. When it returned, silvery things were flopping in its forefeet. These were placed on the dark ground. Hrafn took a quick sniff. Then he opened his jaws and ate. The flesh was watery, and cold, but it slid down his throat and eased his hunger.

‘House,’ said the creature. ‘There. Come.’

Hrafn felt shame burn through his chest. ‘I’m not strong enough.’

The creature came to his left side. It lifted his wing over its shoulders, and then pressed close. ‘With me.’

And, supported by his rescuer, Hrafn turned and left the beach.

Their progress was slow, and he had to fight against the strong desire just to fall down and rest. But the creature was insistent. Step by step, Hrafn was taken over the soft ground and up a small hill. At the top, he momentarily hesitated, alarmed to see a stone building. However, this was too small to be a longhouse, and he could scent no other dragons nearby. So he allowed the creature to take him over the flat stones set outside, and then into the shelter.

He was led to the area near a cracking fire. The creature finally allowed him to lie down. It spoke more words, but he was beyond caring. All that mattered was that he was safe, warm, and fed. He stretched out his head and wings and fell asleep.


Do you want to read further, and for free? You can either subscribe to my newsletter list, or download a copy directly for your Kindle or other eReader device. Just click on one of the buttons below: 


An Interview with a Snail Shark

Cornelius slowed his six-legged stride as he entered the cavern. The soft moss lining the floor informed him that he had arrived. The praying mantis twisted his triangular head as he tried to find Clyde in the darkness. ‘Great Leader?’ he called out.

A shape moved at the far end. ‘Goleuadau!’ Clyde ordered. The glow-worms lining the roof responded. Cold blue light shimmered over the snail shark’s shell and glinted on his eyespots. He slithered from the raised platform and flowed up to the mantis. 

Although they were nearly the same size, Cornelius still felt his antennae twist nervously. ‘Great Leader, sorry to disturb you and all. Did you eat well?’

The snail’s belly split open, revealing jaws lined with jagged teeth. ‘Birds good.’

‘Glad to hear it.’ If Clyde had a full stomach, he was less likely to snack on a thin insect. ‘Great Leader, some of the trainee soldiers have begged an audience. You know what they’re like, these younguns, as curious as a duck in a hen house. And there’s some lemmings too.’

‘Lemmings,’ Clyde repeated thoughtfully, a small trail of drool pooling at his foot. 

Cornelius took a cautious step backwards. ‘These lemmings help to train your army, Great Leader. Please don’t eat them.’

Flashes of red and orange coloured the snail’s grey body. But aloud he said, ‘Okay.’

‘Will you be seeing them?’

‘Yes. Now.’

The mantis left the cave, and gave word to one of the guards. A few minutes later, a half dozen snail pups and an equal number of lemmings crowded into the corridor. As they swirled around Cornelius’ legs, he whispered, ‘Now, y’all remember that the Great Leader’s busier than a one legged cat in a sandbox. Three questions only, right?’

Clyde had returned to his raised platform when Cornelius guided the visitors into the cavern. Peaceful blues and greens pulsed through the snail, and Cornelius breathed more easily. ‘Your citizens, Great Leader. Who has the first question?’

A small snail shark, only six inches high, slid forwards. Colours swirled through her tentacles. Cornelius interpreted her question for the lemmings. ‘She’s asked, “How does the Great Leader spend his day?”’

Clyde reared up, and in a tenor voice sang, ‘“Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve; Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”’

‘Yes, Great Leader, there’s much work to be done all day long,’ Cornelius said quickly. ‘But perhaps you can tell the younguns what you did yesterday.’

Various colours surged through the Clyde’s body. Cornelius explained to the lemmings, ‘He started his morning with eating a couple of birds. Then he met with the General to discuss the army. In the afternoon, he visited the relics of the Eternal Leaders.’

‘Eternal Leaders,’ the lemmings repeated, their voices low and reverential.

‘Later that evening, he met with the guardians of the breeding pens. Egg production is up, but still no snail has hatched who could be a mate for the Great Leader. Only snails with spirals on the right.’

Browns and greys traced down the bodies of all the snails. The lemmings’ whiskers twitched in sympathy. ‘Lonely?’ asked one white furred rodent.

Clyde’s body shimmered with blue and purple as he sang, ‘“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”’

Cornelius clicked his forelegs. Fortunately, none of the others present seemed to realise who this ‘Lord’ was. ‘The Great Leader is comforted by the love of his citizens,’ he said quickly. ‘Last question?’

A lemming rose onto his hind legs. ‘Favourite person?’

‘“Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share?”’ Clyde paused, then added, ‘Penny.’ His body streamed colours so quickly that, despite the many months he had spent with the snail sharks, the praying mantis struggled to keep up.

‘He says that Penny White is his best friend,’ Cornelius said. ‘When the Great Leader’s mother, the Noble Leader, was killed in circumstances which we still don’t understand, Penny took him in. She gave him shelter, and a hunting ground, and has always defended him.’ 

‘Human?’ one of the snails managed to say.

‘Yes,’ Cornelius answered. ‘But from what I’ve seen, she’s as fine as a frog’s hair split four ways. Okay, questions done. Bow to the Eternal Leaders.’

Snails and lemmings lined up, then bent low to honour the images of flying snails which had been carved into the rock walls. As the group filed out, the mantis glanced back at the Great Leader. Clyde’s body was still rainbowed with a final message which Cornelius had not tried to translate. There was no point. No one in the nation ruled by the Great Leader would understand the phrase, ‘I love her.’

Clyde copy

Cultures in Fantasy Worlds

Dragons are people too.

And so are unicorns, gryphons, and snail sharks.

Why do I love fantasy? I enjoy the glimpse well-written fantasy books give into alternative worlds. After a long day at work, organising a conference or patiently answering emails, it’s wonderful to be able to pick up the Kindle and lose myself in a world where women take up swords in battle, the castles are magnificent, and the dragons are--

Oh, dear, the dragons. And the unicorns, gryphons, snail sharks…

But first let’s talk about the humans in fantasy books. Writers often seem to offer us a medieval society, set in a form of England which never existed. Kings and Queens, knights and cooks, stable hands and pig herders, all of which can seem like a quick shorthand so the book can focus on the characters and the action.

But a book which has a well considered social backdrop is all the better for it. How has this kingdom come into existence, and how does that history affect the way its citizens interact with each other and with other communities? Are people fixed into the social strata into which they’re born, or can they move between them? How does this affect the characters and the choices they might make?  

The same cultural considerations can be applied to the non humans which feature in the story. What sort of culture do dragons come from? Do they live in groups, or are they solitary? Were they driven from the nest or did they never know their parents? Or what about unicorns? Do they live in herds, like horses, or do they have a very different social structure? Do gryphons take after eagles or lions?

Snail sharks, by the way, are my own invention, and the group noun is ‘a rabble’. You do not want to encounter a rabble of snail sharks. They have very sharp teeth and they can move very quickly. And they grow to be the size of a large dog.

When I started to write my ‘Penny White’ urban fantasy series, I wanted to offer something new to the genre. The main character, Penny, is a Church of England minister for a village in England which, strangely enough, isn’t that far from my own home. In the first book, ‘The Temptation of Dragons’, she stumbles across a dragon dying at the side of the road. To her amazement, he asks her for the last rites. And so she is made aware of the existence of Daear, a magical world which exists in parallel to our own. Lloegyr is the equivalent of England and Wales in this sister world, and it’s to this country that Penny often travels.

As Penny comes to know the non human characters, their own social structures become clear. And their cultures affect them, even as our own societies affect each one of us. For example, Raven, the dragon who has romantic intentions towards Penny, is a search dragon. Search dragons are rare, and hated by their own families for their abilities to find out treasure and secrets. Raven had to flee from his mother, or she would have eaten him. Perhaps this explains why Raven is a loner, and why he demands independence from others. ‘I’ll fight alongside Penny,’ he states, ‘but I won’t fight for her.’

Lloegyr is undergoing an industrial revolution, which is bringing all the different races (dragons, unicorns, gryphons, harpies) to live side by side in cities and towns. Cultural differences are causing tensions, particularly when cross-species romances develop. A group who are against this mixing, called Cadw ar Wahân, will attack those who dare to marry outside of their own type.

Morey, the cat sized gryphon who becomes Penny’s Associate, was once an ordained priest in Lloegyr’s Christian church. He left the Church, and his gryphon clan, when he insisted on marrying a were-fox. The loss of his two communities, church and clan, helps to explain why he has suffers from sarcasm management issues and always tries to be the cleverest person in the room.

Unicorns are viewed as fair and just, and are trusted to act as judges in the cities and towns. But unicorns derive their power from the land, and it is land which is threatened when cities and towns want to spread roads and buildings across countryside. How far are they willing to go to defend their ancient way of life? Particularly when a corporation from our world stumbles across Lloegyr, and wants to claim the lands for human use?

As for snail sharks, the fourth novel delves into their background. Let’s just say that it’s not only humans who can come up with totalitarian societies.

I gave thought to matters such as transportation (tacsi dragons provide lifts for a price) and communication (flying rats who are sent by their telepathic rat kings, and who deliver their messages in verse). What would the buildings be like, and what sort of religion would citizens of Lloegyr follow? Would they avoid the terrible practices of human industrial development, or would they use children in their factories? And would some of the species, who find it hard to cope with these changes, try to migrate to Earth?

Above all, I like fantasy novels which make me look at my own world in a new way. As one Amazon reviewer of the third Penny White novel stated, ‘The characters deal with serious world issues such as the cost of industrialization, political corruption, inter-racial marriage, homosexuality and growing pains of a religion that either needs to adapt or risk becoming extinct. And it does all of that with DRAGONS AND SNAIL SHARKS!!’

Dragons are people too. Let’s have more fantasy books which explore how culture influences both human and non human characters. 

Two Dragons Meet

Dragons. They’re as individual as their tastes in meat—and women.

Two dragons from very different worlds meet on a windy mountaintop, and the results are fiery.

Setting: A mountain plateau. A green-black dragon landed a few minutes ago, and a thirty-something woman slid down from his neck. She is wearing a black shirt with a dog collar--clearly a Christian minister. Another dragon is coming in to land. He is twice the size of the earlier dragon, and the scales on his back are so black as to seem to absorb light, while his underbelly gleams pearlescent white. 

Penny: Hello both. I’m Penny White, and Raven asked me to come with him for today’s meeting. Perhaps you could both tell me, and each other, a bit more about yourselves?

A’a’shanto: My name is A’a’shanto. I am the master dragon. My function is to protect dragonkind at all costs. I am bonded to the very stones of Dragonheart itself and it is from those stones that I take my power. 

My mate is T’i’asharath and together we uphold draconic law. We are shifters, having both human and dragon form and we are newly mated. Sometimes my mate finds the necessary betrayal of other species in the service of dragonkind hard to take, but every betrayal makes the next a little easier.

Until I was mated I was as much of a sexual predator as any other male dragon. Now I do not dare. T’i’asharath would kill me.

As Raven is a dragon, although not of my world, I will not lie to him. Unless I swear an oath, other species should not trust my words.

The smaller dragon snorts. 

Raven: Well, that’s comfort. A dragon who won’t lie to another dragon. You wouldn't think much of my family, though I don’t think much of them either.

My name is Hrafn Eydisson, I only call myself Raven for those who can’t cope with my name. I have the tendency to flame those who can’t pronounce Welsh properly, which leads to very short conversations. 

I’m an out and out dragon. I have no desire to be a were, which is what we would call a shifter. I am also a search dragon, which means I can find, and find out, anything. Makes us search dragons rather unpopular with our families, which is why our mothers try to eat us upon birth. I managed to escape and joined a colony of other search dragons on a volcanic island.

I’ve had various dalliances during my life. Female dragons eat their mates after several clutches of eggs, which has rather put me off my own kind. Whereas human females, well, there’s something rather alluring about a powerful woman.

But she has to be able to defend herself. I will stand at her side, but I won’t fight her battles for her. 

A’a’shanto laughs and bulks his muscles, showing off his much larger size. 

A’a’shanto: Little dragon. You have courage at least. If you would not shift I can understand that. Though that ability brought me my mate, who is the other half of my soul. But if you have such contempt for us why the interest in the lady priest? Would you discuss theology with her? I myself have often wondered about the followers of the White Christ. Do they really believe they eat and drink the body and blood of their mashiach? Perhaps your lady love will explain.

Raven: Size has little to do with the ability to tear out your enemy’s heart. Grotesque dragon.

Penny: And we’re trying to keep things civil. Raven, please shut off your flame chamber. A’a’shanto, Raven and I are just friends. 

Raven: And I have no interest in her Christ. Although I do respect a religion which has their followers eat their God. At least that gives a deity some purpose.

Penny: It’s symbolic, Raven, and you know that. A’a’shanto, do you follow any kind of spiritual practice? You mentioned something about ‘Dragonheart’? 

A’a’shanto: Dragonheart is a place, and a symbol. In my world all dragons are bonded to Dragonheart but only the master dragon and his mate draw power from the stones. We commune daily with the stones in an attempt to understand the wisdom of being unchanging. The stones have seen and understood more that any mortal creature can comprehend. They saw the One God make all that lives and moves. They spoke with your maschiach and with the prophets of all the other faiths that rule your world. And they sent the dragon to the Mont of Olives to rescue Maryam and the child of Yesua. 

Raven is laughing, and A’a’shanto snaps his jaws shut. Then the larger dragon turns to Penny.

A’a’shanto: But I would know more of the lady priest of the White Christ. How does it come that one so young and so charming is married to your church? Or is it that your priests are no longer celibate?

Penny: That’s all very interesting, A’a’shanto. Thank you for sharing that with us. Your belief that stones saw the creation of everything is fascinating. I don’t quite recognise your story of about the Mount of Olives, but I also know there are many interpretations of stories about Jesus. 

Raven: For one who so fears his wife, you do seem overly interested in another female.

Penny: It’s called flirting, Raven. Don’t worry about it. 

Raven: It’s called something else in my family.

Penny: A’a’shanto, I’m in the Church of England. Our priests don’t have to be celibate. I happen to have a very nice boyfriend. A human boyfriend. Anyway, you said you uphold draconic law. What does that mean? 

Silence for a moment as A’a’shanto looks at Raven for a long moment. It is as if he is weighing something up in his mind.

A’a’shanto: Hrafn Eydisson I wish you would tell me more of being a search dragon. I think in my world we would call you a seeker, and you would be respected for your talent. I have sorrow when you say your mother would have eaten you. That is a great wrong. Draconic law is very clear that the protection of hatchlings is incumbent on all adult dragons. 

A’a’shanto turns his attention back to Penny.

A’a’shanto: This is strange to me. It seems our society is more simple. I will tell you both our laws. The first law is that all dragons are subservient to Dragonheart and to the master dragon and his family. The second law is that golden queens and their hatchlings are sacred and all dragons must protect them. The third law is that no dragon may lie to another dragon. And that is the whole of the law.

Raven is laughing again.

Raven: Protection of all hatchlings? Even the weak? This from a dragon who enjoys looking down at me. Our clans have secrets, and we guard those closely, even from our own kind. We protect those secrets by lying, and sometimes even killing our own. Why should the unworthy be protected? 

Penny: Different cultures, Raven. Their society obviously values individual draconic life. Your laws are interesting, A’a’shanto, as it seems these only apply to dragons? What about other beings? 

A’a’shanto looks at Raven for a long moment.

A’a’shanto: Why do you say I look down at you? Is it because you are a bitter creature? I wonder why that is. Perhaps because your society does not value hatchlings as ours does. You should understand one thing. Protecting dragonets is not a matter of looking out for the unworthy. It is a matter of accepting that every dragon has the right to become what he or she is to become.

A’a’shanto smiles at Penny, but it’s the smile of a cat watching a mouse.

A’a’shanto: Our laws do indeed only apply to dragons. Other species, my dear, must look out for themselves. Dragons look after dragons. And that is something you need to remember.

Raven: Yes, indeed, all creatures must look out for themselves. I value Penny for her courage, but ultimately she must fight for herself. We dragons demand the same of our pufflings. If a young dragon cannot defend himself, why should he join our society? There is no right to a life which cannot be fully lived. Do you allow weaklings to survive? For what reason? Aren’t they a burden on your society? 

A’a’shanto: It isn't that simple, young dragon. When an egg hatches nobody knows what the hatchling has the potential to become. I, myself, was the smallest hatchling from the smallest egg in my clutch. But I grew to be the biggest and the strongest and the most ruthless. Besides which, Dragonets who have no potential fade and die anyway, that is the will of the stones. You speak of what you call pufflings as if there are too many of them to be sustainable in your world. If that is a truth, then Dragonheart dragons differ from you in that way as well, we do not have an unlimited supply of hatchlings. Only golden queens are fertile. And to fly a queen in her mating flight is both difficult and dangerous. Therefore, only the bravest and strongest males may fertilise the eggs. In my generation we have three adult queens. And thus far only one golden hatchling. Does that explain?

Raven: If a youngster with no potential is going to die anyway, much better than someone at least gets a meal out of him. And I have no idea how many dragons live in Lloegyr. Our clans live in longhouses and we keep separate from one another. What happens in another clan is no concern of ours. And it’s not safe to be chosen as a mate by a matriarch. When a matriarch tires of her consort, she hunts and eats him before choosing another. You don’t fear your queens in the same way? Are male dragons safe in your world?

A’a’shanto laughs and stretches.

A’a’shanto: No, Hrafn Eydisson, our queens are not necessarily safe, although actually eating another dragon is frowned on in our society. 

But I grow weary of questions, and I hunger. I will hunt now, I think. Before I go there are two things I would have you ponder. Ask yourself if you only lust after the woman because she will not eat you. And you may also want to reconsider your contempt for shifters if you give some thought to just how many more possibilities for pleasure there are when mating in human form.

A’a’shanto leers at Penny for a moment and gives her a glimpse of his human form. Seven feet of sex on legs. Then he unfurls his wings, which are night black and wholly without the iridescence one thinks of as dragonish. As he is tensing the muscles of his huge hindquarters preparatory to leaping into the sky he turns his head to look into Raven’s eyes.

A’a’shanto: Would you hunt with me, Hrafn Eydisson? I know a place where the meat animals run free on the rich grasslands. and where there is warm sweet water in which to wash the blood from one’s snout and talons. 

A’a’shanto leaps into the sky. Penny turns uncertainly towards the remaining dragon. 

Penny: Raven?

Raven: A hunt with A’a’shanto. That, my dear Penny, is the first of his invitations I plan to consider.

Then Raven launches himself after the larger dragon. They spiral away into the dark blue sky, leaving the human woman to stand on her own. 

To read further about A’a’shanto:

A First Attempt at Marketing

‘I’m a writer, not a marketeer!’

Yes, well, marketing is a fact of life for authors. And not only those of us who are self-published. Many writers who have been picked up by a professional publisher find that the publisher still expects the writer to do a lot of the publicity. 

In the last two years, I’ve worked on getting a website up, establishing myself on social media (even Twitter!), and learning all that I can from successful writers. And I’ve concentrated on writing a book series, as that’s said to be the best way to get people hooked on your writing. 

Now that I have three books published in my ‘Penny White’ urban fantasy series, I felt it was time that focused on helping my books to find new readers. I had followed the advice of getting good covers done, offering an enticing blurb, and obtaining reviews. 

All of the books are enrolled with KDP Select, which allows a digital book to be offered free for five days out of every 90 day enrolment period. I decided to offer the first book, ‘The Temptation of Dragons.’

The first publicity company I booked was Books Go Social, on 23 May. This cost me US$99.00 for a three month enrolment. The company sends out tweets across their subscriber base at regular intervals, and I had to pick a sentence which would draw people to the link for my book. Upon reflection, I should have chosen something other than ‘A gryphon with sarcasm management issues. I need red wine.’ Dragons are probably more of a pull than gryphons, after all. I did see a few sales, but nothing major. 

On 26 May, The Temptation of Dragons’ was featured on the LitRing weekly newsletter, along with two other books, as free for signing up to a newsletter list. I had over 150 people contact me to ask for a free copy. 

On 9 June, I spent a morning recording video of me reading from the book, with inference from my parrot, Tilly. I edited this and released it across social media and YouTube. I had a couple of people join my newsletter list as a result, but couldn’t really see an increase in sales or Kindle pages read on Kindle Unlimited, despite over 1300 views on Facebook. 

The five day free period ran from 12 to 16 June. I booked Books Go Social to include the book in their email on 13 June, and this time I chose the sentence, ‘Giving a dragon the last rites changed my life forever…’ I also paid  US$55.00 to Booksends to access the 26,000 fantasy readers which they claim are on their mailing list. I also put out an advert across my social media, and friends who liked my work shared it across their own sites.

Here are the statistics for each day of that five day period:

Date                                   Free Downloads                      Sold                               KU pages read

12/06                                301                                         0                                      0

13/06                                1033                                       3                                     118

14/06                                245                                         1                                     1533

15/06                                118                                         4                                     697

16/06                                125                                         2                                     1173

Book sales and Kindle Unlimited pages read have continued since the promotion. I have dropped the price of the book to 99p, and people are still buying/reading it. 

The jump on the day the book was included in the two marketing emails is obvious. But it’s also interesting to note the number of downloads on the Monday. Who knows whether Books Go Social, the LitRing email, and/or the video had already whet people’s appetites? In addition, at the height of the downloads, the book went to number 10 in its category and 147 in free Kindle books overall.

Books sold and analysis of Kindle pages read proves that people are going on to the second and third book as hoped. I’ve also had new people join the newsletter list, and a few more reviews have been left on Amazon.

Of course, there’s much more I could have done. Paid for more advertising, picked a better marketing sentence, run the two email promotions on separate days, or let the parrot do the reading whilst I interfered. I’ll think all this through before whatever I decide will be the next marketing push. But I am happy with the results bearing in mind what I’ve spent and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. And Im grateful to all the friends who helped to get the word out!

From Traditional to Self Published

I still have my first short story, written in large letters when I was seven years old. From that moment on, I was always writing, first by hand and later on a manual typewriter. The keys would jam as the machine struggled to keep up with my imagination.

When I was seventeen years old, my short story, ‘Dragons Can Only Rust,’ was one of the winners chosen in a competition run by a science fiction radio programme (‘Hour 25’). I was invited to the studio to hear it read out loud, and one of the judges, an agent, invited me to contact him when I’d expanded this first chapter into a novel.

University and marriage held matters up a bit, but in 1995 the novel was split into two (‘Dragons Can Only Rust’ and ‘Dragon Reforged’) and published by TSR (of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ fame). The initial payment wasn’t huge, but when the paperback copies were delivered to my house, I had high hopes that this would be the start of my professional writing career.

The innocence of youth…

There were all sorts of things I didn’t know about the publishing world. That bookstores stock books on ‘sale or return.’ That publishers can go bankrupt (as TSR did a few months later) and bookstores will ship back the books so they can’t be treated as a debtor. That agents can decide you aren’t worth keeping on as a client if your books only sold 10,000 copies, and they decline to look at any else you’ve written.

I wrote a few more novels during that heady year, and then became so discouraged that I actually stopped. I had a career and a faltering marriage to worry about. My agent did ensure that the rights to my books reverted to me, and I kept that piece of paper safely tucked away in my files.

Fast forward nearly twenty years. Career change and divorce transformed my life. And I found that characters were bouncing around in my head, refusing to leave until I wrote their stories. Initially I thought I’d try to find a new agent, since previous one still didn’t want to renew our relationship. But so many agents warn you ‘If you have not heard from us within a month, assume we’re not interested.’ It’s very discouraging to spend so much time on a query letter and a synopsis, only to hear nothing at all.

Then I discovered the world of self-publishing. No longer do you need to pay a vanity press to print hundreds of copies, which then slowly decay in your garage. Many books are now read on ebook devices. If you do want to also offer a paperback copy, Amazon offer Print on Demand, which does what it says on the tin.

I used Amazon Createspace and Kindle on Demand to reissue my earlier books, and some others I’d written along the way. More recently, I’ve been adding to my urban fantasy series ‘Penny White.’

So, having been both professionally and self published, what are my thoughts?

Being professionally published does lessen the strain on you, the writer. The publisher provides the editor who looks at your overall book and offers suggestions. I still have my notes from ‘Dragons Can Only Rust’, and I made additions as suggested by the editor which improved the book. There was also a copyeditor who spotted those nasty little typos which crawl into any work.

The publisher commissions and pays for the cover art. I found this to be a mixed blessing. I liked the first cover, for ‘Dragons Can Only Rust’, but the second cover, for ‘Dragon Reforged’, shows a scene which simply does not exist in the book.

I was perhaps fortunate that the editor didn’t insist on any major changes to my book. Sometimes writers are put under pressure to make alterations which they don’t agree with.

Self publishing gives both responsibility and freedom. I am responsible for the work which a professional publisher would do on my behalf. There are people who will edit for a fee, but I’m fortunate in that I have several fellow writers who look through my book before I publish (I do the same for them).  Some typos and continuity errors still creep through, which are usually spotted and commented upon by reviewers (opps!).

I also have to spend my own money on cover art. After much research, I found an artist whom I could afford and I like the work she’s doing on my ‘Penny White’ series. It is important to have a good cover, as an amateur one is often a warning sign about the quality of the contents inside.

‘But what about the marketing?’ I can hear someone ask. Yes, it’s down to you to somehow make your book stand out in the sea of published work. But it’s not much different for those who are professionally published. Publishers expect writers to do much of their own marketing these days.

Note that I’ve not said anything about money. If you are professionally published, you do get an advance against royalties. If you’re self published, no such advance, but the royalties are much higher as these go directly to you. Either way, don’t expect to get rich quick. Very few writers do. Remember that my two professionally published books ‘only’ sold 10,000 copies, which wasn’t enough for my agent to keep me on.

One final positive regarding self publishing—the people you meet along the way! I’ve become friends with a number of other indie writers, and I enjoy the interactions we have by email and social media. And that’s the best part of being an indie writer. You get to meet some terrific people along the way.

A Tale of Two Parrots

The story of a second chance at love--and inspiration

If the smoke detector hadn’t gone faulty, Xander would not have died on Christmas Eve.

23 December 2015. A malfunction in my house’s alarm system had meant that every thirty minutes, for around ten minutes, an ear-splitting noise would spiral throughout the building. The alarm company, after trying to talk me through a fix over the phone, finally sent someone out. He cut the wires, advising me that the fault was irreparable and the unit would have to be replaced.

The four hours of aural hell had left me with a splitting headache. I let my green cheek conure out of her cage and started to get ready to cook my dinner. I popped into the next room to collect a magazine, and when I tried to shut the door, it caught on something. 

It only took a moment for me to realise that the ‘something’ had been my bird’s head. Xander flew onto a kitchen cabinet, and made a noise of such distress that the air was sucked from my lungs. I could see that her head pained her. Only the next morning did I notice that the lower mandible of her beak had been shoved sideways. She couldn’t eat, and even drinking was difficult.

Finding a vet open on Christmas Eve was a challenge. The specialist avian practice was shut for the holidays. The general vet sent me home with a syringe and liquid hamster food (!). However, even when I managed to pin Xander down and squirt food into her beak, she coughed and gasped. The physical damage was just too great. So I arranged for a friend to drive me back to the vet. And I held my little bird while the vet gave my beloved bird the injection which would end her life.

Penny-White-and-the-Temptation-of-Dragons 2

Xander had been with me through so much. My divorce, a change in career, more house moves than any creature should have to face. She had given me a reason to smile on the darkest days. And now she was gone. 

This should have been a good time for me. After many years of writing fantasy novels, I had finally come up with a new series which beta readers loved. Xander had been the inspiration behind Morey, the small gryphon who accompanies the main character, Penny White. When I published the book, ‘The Temptation of Dragons’, I dedicated the novel to her. 

My life seemed empty. I was now living totally alone. There seemed no reason to return home from work. I knew that I had to share my life with a new companion, for my own sanity’s sake.

Since there are so many parrots looking for second chances, I started looking for a rescue bird. Through searching the web I found Tilly, a year old green cheek conure looking for a new home, and in March I collected her.

I was very nervous. I felt I had the experience to deal with whatever issues a rescue bird might have, but on the other hand, Xander had been so tame and trusting. And I’d had Xander from the age of three months old. Would this new bird and I be able to form a bond?

Things were a bit rocky to start with. I’d make assumptions which Tilly didn’t share! But I read up and employed clicker and target training, and taught her a number of tricks (including flighted recall). Our relationship grew from strength to strength. 

There were some adjustments to be made. I’d gone from a mature bird to a youngster! I spent a small fortune on toys--Tilly becomes bored far more easily than Xander ever did. I bought a bigger cage and transitioned her to a different type of pellet diet. Unlike Xander, Tilly doesn’t really care for dried chilli pods, but she would sell her grandmother’s egg for a Nutriberry.

My new companion also influenced my next novel, 'The Cult of Unicorns'. Tilly is much cheekier than Xander, and her antics fed into the character of Clyde, the small snail shark who lives with Penny. 

A few days before Christmas, ‘Your memories on Facebook’ offered me a video I’d made of Xander. Watching her dance to my rendition of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ brought tears to my eyes. But then I lifted Tilly to the computer screen, and let her see the video. ‘That’s your sister,’ I told her. ‘And I love you both very much.’

1514978 10153811514244882 7205705548384125870 n14224842 10154445851409882 108599029667467983 n

Character Arc!

One way for a writer to obtain reviews for a book is to agree to do reviews for other writers.  The advice is that you need reviews in order to entice someone to buy your book, and also that very few readers will take the time to leave a review (no matter how nicely you ask!).

I’ve been involved in ‘review rounds’ organised by a group on Goodreads. Ten authors sign up, and the moderator ensures that there are no reciprocal reviews. You agree to read/review four books in return for four other people reading/reviewing yours. 

Some of the review rounds have been in a specific genre. Others have been ‘open.’ So I’ve found myself reading historicals, romances, and even a children’s book along the way. 

What I’ve discovered, now that I’ve been forced to read outside my preferred genres, is I don’t mind what the book is, so long as there is a character arc. Let the setting be in an alternative Japanese history, or an 18th century melodrama, or a small town in the 1970’s. If I find the characters engaging, if I can see (rather than be told) them change during the course of the tale, then I can take pleasure in a wide variety of settings.

Conversely, if the characters remain static for the course of the book, it doesn’t matter if the novel fits into my preferred reading material. I want to go on a (sometimes metaphorical) journey with the person I’m reading about. If I finish the last page and what s/he has been through hasn’t changed her/him in some way, then I find myself wondering why I’d bothered.


When I wrote my first two novels, my inspiration for character change was the singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg. I had many of his CDs, and I was intrigued as to how his voice had changed during his career. My thought was, ‘I want Gonard’s voice to change during the course of his travels.’ Not literally, actually, but in the way he would go from cowering in front of humans to a willingness to challenge them. 

For my next two novels, ‘The Dragon Throne’ and ‘The Unicorn Throne,’ I knew the beginning and the end point for the characters, so writing their arcs seemed to come easily. Forgiveness features across the story of both Fianna and the Prancer. Both of them act in foolish ways, because they’re young. Part of growing up is to realise that your parents make choices which they feel were for the best, even if you didn’t think so at the time. Both of the main characters learn from making their own mistakes that they can forgive their fathers for those mistakes which their fathers had made.

Penny-White-and-the-Temptation-of-Dragons 2

But those novels, and ‘The Judas Disciple’, were written to be more self contained than my new series. The first ‘Penny White’ has been published, I’m reaching finishing line on the second book, ‘The Cult of Unicorns’, and I have ideas for at least another three. So it’s a challenge to both provide some character development in each book, yet leave matters open ended for the next one. That might be why I loaded so much on Penny’s plate! For example, jer parents dying when she was a teenager, her husband drowning just a short while before the first book starts, an annoying younger brother for whom she is and yet is not a mother. And the traditional romantic triangle, although perhaps not entirely traditional as the sexy ‘bad boy’ is a dragon. 

The other challenge is to seed things into earlier novels which can then become important later on. The main idea for the fourth novel, ‘The Vengeance of Snails’, came to me while I was just about to publish ‘The Temptation of Dragons.’ So I was able to add an important point to the description of Clyde’s parent before I released the book. 

Perhaps part of the challenge for me, personally, is that I haven’t read too many book series. The ‘Harry Potter’ books, of course, but those were able to develop the characters because the series followed them growing up. As a teenager I loved ‘The Dragonriders of Pern’ series, but the author’s attitudes towards women and gays now disturb me. I liked the first few books of the ‘Temeraire’ series by Naomi Novik, but these have become less interesting as the series has progressed. 

So I’ve been making notes, and plotting story arcs, and trying to leave clues in earlier books which will make sense later on. But there’s only so much I can think of in advance. Or as my favourite Doctor once said, ‘Even I can’t play this many games at once!’ (Ghostlight, 1989)

Show don’t Tell

I’m still getting used to the life of a self-published author, particularly in this age of Amazon and customer reviews. Authors are advised that books need to have reviews, the more reviews the better, even those which are not entirely positive. 

In order to obtain those reviews, I’ve been involved in various ‘review exchanges.’ I read one writer’s book and post a review, and s/he does the same with one of mine. Better yet are the non-reciprocal reviews set up by groups on Goodreads, in which people sign up for a review round and the moderator ensures that you are not reviewing the work of someone who is reading your book. This is to ensure complete honesty.

So I’ve been reading a lot of self-published work. Some of the books have been real finds, and I’ve enjoyed them. Others... Sadly I’ve had to leave some less than complimentary reviews, for various reasons.

One of the greatest failings of these books, which have not been screened by any professional publishing process, is the emphasis on telling the reader. In great detail. The advice to writers is always, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ But many writers seem to ignore this. There are long paragraphs telling us exactly how the character is feeling, rather than finding some way to show us these emotions by means of what the characters does and says.

There are several levels to telling versus showing. For example, one could write, ‘Sarah glared at John, annoyed at his interruptions.’ There may be no need to state that she’s annoyed, if the dialogue earlier showed his multiple interruptions, and ‘glared’ already indicates this. Better yet might be indication her feelings by dialogue. ‘Sarah glared at John. “Maybe you could let me finish a sentence once in awhile?”’ 

Perhaps writers fear to trust that the reader can fill in the gaps. If a piece of dialogue ends in an exclamation mark, I don’t think there’s any need to add, ‘he shouted’, never mind, ‘he shouted angrily.’ If we have the line of dialogue, ‘Look out!’ I don’t think there’s any need to add, ‘she shouted in warning.’ Again, surely that’s obvious?

It’s made me more aware of showing versus telling in my own writing. In my most recent novel, ‘Penny White and the Temptation of Dragons’ (to be released in April), I was very conscious of trying to show rather than tell emotion. For example, Morey, the small gryphon who has come into Penny’s life, is proving to be very annoying. In a scene in Morey’s room, I originally wrote this:

       We were in the room he had decided to adopt as his own. The guest bedroom, of course, the second largest in the house. He was striding along one of the many bookshelves. ‘I read a lot,’ he said, tail whipping past the leather-bound volumes. ‘I left most back home.’ 

       ‘Even what you’ve brought is more than I own.’

        ‘Only because you fill your shelves with science fiction DVDs.’ 

        His snobbery was beginning to eat away at my patience. ‘They’re easier to lift than your books.’

       ‘Have you read Summa Theologica? Simply magnificent.’

        ‘Don’t tell me. You have the whole set.’

        ‘Back home. I had expected any well read priest to have the Summa in her own library.’ He cocked his head. ‘You didn't offer me any wine.’

I worked with this scene because I felt there was no need to tell the reader that Morey was being a snob. The conversation made this very clear, I felt. Nor did I want to tell the reader that this was annoying Penny, at least not directly. So after some work, this is how the exchange now appears in the book:

        We were in the room he had decided to adopt as his own. The guest bedroom, of course, the second largest in the house. He was striding along one of the many bookshelves. ‘I read a lot,’ he said, tail whipping past the leather-bound volumes. ‘I left most back home.’ 

         ‘Even what you’ve brought is more than I own.’

         ‘Only because you fill your shelves with science fiction DVDs.’ 

         ‘They’re easier to lift than your books,’ I pointed out.

         ‘Have you read Summa Theologica? Simply magnificent.’

         ‘Don’t tell me. You have the whole set.’

         ‘Back home. I had expected any well read priest to have the Summa in her own library.’ 

          I was tempted to find out how many volumes of the Summa it took to squash a small gryphon. ‘I can always look it up on-line.’

          Morey cocked his head. ‘You didn't offer me any wine.’

I like this so much better. Not only have I shown Penny’s annoyance, there’s a reference back to the books in question. And she gets in a retort of her own.

But that doesn’t mean I always get it right.  In ‘The Dragon Throne,’ I tried to give early clues that the setting wasn’t on Earth. There are references to two moons, for example. Above all, the length of the year is different than on Earth. So although the main female character, Fianna, is referred to as being eleven years old at the start of the book, in Earth terms she is actually nearly fourteen. As I tried to indicate in what Fianna’s father says to her outside her mother’s rooms.


       ‘Take one last look.’ Her father’s soft voice startled Fianna. She glanced at him, but Stannard was studying the room. ‘Fourteen months have passed since I placed my seal on wet plaster outside this door. But the seasons turn on, and the year is soon over. This is the last time we will see this place as she left it. Tomorrow, all must change. Will you want these rooms?’

From the summaries given by some reviewers, however, I think I might have been too subtle. People seem to take it for granted that she’s the age stated as in Earth terms, not taking into account that a year on this other world is actually fourteen months long. *sigh* Maybe I needed to find a way to tell that more directly. 

There are times when sensitively handled telling is required. I remember my confusion the first time I read Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ I was a fifteen year old living in California. I had no idea what a ‘zebra crossing’ was or why the name ‘Ford Prefect’ would be a good disguise (there was never a Ford model by that name in the USA). So after a beta reader for ‘The Temptation of Dragons’ asked what a ‘chemist’ was, I went through the book and tried to ensure that there was explanation for English cultural references. For ‘chemist,’ all I needed to add was, ‘to pick up some medicine’ to make that clear. Simple.

I’m continuing my review exchanges, and I’ve decided to smile at the worst instances of telling rather than showing. To date, my ‘winner’ in the telling stakes is probably this line, from a book and writer I shall not identify:

‘The stars were out in the dark sky. He so enjoyed taking his nocturnal strolls every night.’

Well, quite. Wouldn’t work during the daytime, would it?