Author on vacation

Author on vacation

Even when an author is on vacation, they’re rarely actually on vacation. They may be physically at the beach, but mentally most of them will still be happily playing with their latest book.

However, a semi-reliable antidote is to go somewhere, like Iceland, where the scenery is so amazing it’s very difficult to concentrate on anything else.

…actually, I’m going to Iceland. Again. Because, well, wow.

Last time I went was in 2016, and I explored in and around Reykjavik, which was spectacular and I bombarded everyone with photos of waterfalls, geysers, and sulphuric mud.

This time, there’ll be a few days based out of Reykjavik, with a couple of day-trips to Jökulsárlón Lagoon and Reynisfjara beach, as well as spending a day exploring one of the biggest lava caves in the world near Langjökull glacier. There’s rumours of a whale-watching trip, too, and no visit to Reykjavik is complete without a trip to Café Loki. (No, I’m not feeling masochistic enough to try hakerl…I have a personal philosophy to never try ‘local delicacies’ that all the actual locals apologise for.)

After that, it’ll be time to head West into the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and spend four days there exploring on horseback (because Icelandic horses are ridiculously cute, and a lot of fun). I’m pretty sure by the morning of day 2 I’ll be regretting my life choices and walking funny, but hey, that’s what Advil’s for, right?

After that, I’ll be taking a 4X4 (SUV for my North American friends) North into the Westfjords, which should be a spectacular drive along the West coast, and spending a couple of days there hiking and making ‘oooh’ noises at the views. It’ll be too late for a trip into Hornstrandir, but there’s always next time.

After that, the plan is to drive along the North coast of Iceland to Akureyri, and base there for a few days while exploring; currently, Askja, Myvatn, and Dettifoss (biggest waterfall in Europe) are up on the docket.

I’m looking forwards to it. Also, in the spirit of fair warning, there will be a lot of photos going up on Facebook and Instagram.

Websites 101

Websites 101

Websites 101

Unless you live under a rock somewhere, you’ve accessed a website. They’re almost impossible to avoid. If you’re an indie anything, in my case author, having one of your own is almost a requirement if you expect to channel readers to your work without relying on the altruism (sorry, bug in my throat) of Facebook or Amazon.

  • The good: You can build a website without having a clue about what happens behind the pretty pictures and clicky things that take you to more shiny, interesting places.
  • The bad: Ignorance, say of something like the lovely new European data privacy laws (GDPR), is not a defence.
  • The ugly: If you don’t know what’s going on with your own site, you can’t fix it when it goes wrong.

Website building is one of the instances where more knowledge can mean saving money. For example, my two domains hosted with Jollyleaf, plus basic SSL and all the webmail addresses I can eat, costs me $3.99 US / month (2018). The equivalent plan from Wix would set me back $10 to $14 per month, and that doesn’t discuss email.

So here’s the basics that I found out that I wish I’d known when I started setting up my website.

The magic words – key things to know

…’please’ and ‘thank you’. Seriously, I thought I was kidding about growing up under the rock.

Domain name: You need one of these. An IP address is a string of confusing numbers and decimal points, and, like Vulcan planet names, no-one can remember that shit easily. A domain name is like a custom licence plate for your car – at the most basic level, it’s a custom name that humans can remember, linked in a database to the actual IP address where your website can be found.Pro tip – make it easy to remember, and make it logical. I’m an author writing as J C Steel, and my domain is Simple, right?

Domain registration: This is how your domain name gets linked to your IP address. Generally, your hosting provider (keep reading, grasshopper) will handle this part for you, acting as a domain name registrar. ICANN is the Men In Black-style organisation behind domain name registration that you may want to read up on if you want to know more.

Web hosting provider: You need one of these, too. They’re the people who rent you a certain amount of space on a physical server to actually store the images and information that make up your website. I use Jollyleaf, but I recommend that you do some pricing and feature comparisons online (PCMag often has handy ‘top ten’ lists), and figure out what you need and how much you’re willing to pay for it.

Website creation tool, aka website builder: Unless you’re a whizz with HTML (in which case, why the hell are you here??), you’re going to need one of these, too. Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Wix, Weebly – again, I recommend going and doing some hunting and figuring out your ideal features-to-competency comfort level.

Internet connectivity: …yeah, if you’re reading this, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you know about this one. You need it to build your masterpiece and access other peoples’.

If you have all of the above, you’re ready to get started with your new website. If you’re only in need of one site, and you aren’t building a newsletter, doing any direct selling, and really just want an online presence you can put on your business card, you can go from there.

If you want to delve into the arcane and macabre, keep reading.

The arcane and macabre for websites 101 and beyond

CMS: CMS stands for content management system, and it governs, usually via a template (see ‘theme’), how your website looks and behaves. WordPress will try and jam their favourite themes down your craw – don’t feel obliged, there’s a multitude to choose from out there. I use Divi, which lets me do (almost) anything I want, and leaves me swearing helplessly the rest of the time.

HTML: Yeah, unless you know exactly what you’re doing and have hours to spend debugging lines, this is the ‘oh-ha-ha-no’ difficulty level. HTML is one of the basic programming languages underlying much of what you see online. Unless you happen to be an HTML expert, trying to code your own site from scratch will leave you with one of those lovely yellow text on deep blue background sites that screams ‘someone tried to party like it was 1999’. More detail on HTML versus CMS can be found here.

Child Theme: Don’t try to create one of these without backing up your site first. Really. A child theme will batten off your principal theme, and update with it, but maintain your custom elements (a custom copyright footer notice is a common use-case) through each update.

Custom email address: Not a must-have, but a nice way to brand your business communication. A lot of people will rely on Outlook 365 for this – personally I don’t recommend it, it’s expensive as hell and you can’t download emails from there to storage or elsewhere in bulk. A lot of hosting providers will offer webmail on the side, and often for free. It’s worth checking out, because it will save you money that you can then throw at something else, and you can still have your branded email address.

SEO: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and at the simplest level, it’s key words – the terms people are likely to type into a search bar to find you, your website, or your work. You want to make sure that when a search engine crawls your page, the key things you want to appear high in search results for are basically sending up flares and generally making themselves obvious. As I’m shite making progress on my learning curve with SEO, I’m going to suggest you type ‘SEO’ into a search engine and learn from people who actually know what they’re talking about.

phpMyAdmin: Up top, I mentioned web hosting in terms of someone renting you space on a server for the files that actually make up your site. phpMyAdmin is one of the common database frontends (see also SQL) that stores and organises those files so that you can access the files when you need to. The function of the database itself is the internal referencing of your files so that when you click ‘contact’, you get the contact form of your site, and not a page advertising mail-order brides.

SSL: Means Secure Socket Layer, and short-form it’s security that lets people clicking on your site have reasonable certainty that it’s you. It’s part of what governs the ‘s’ in ‘https’, and the behaviour of that padlock symbol at the beginning of the website address. An SSL certificate is nice-to-have on a basic site like a blog, and becomes a must-have if you’re planning something like direct sales, where you’re handling financial information.

Add on domain: Now we’re getting kinky. Basically, a domain works very much like a folder structure (you’ve set these up on your computer, or in your email client, yes?). For example, your root domain (dear Aussies and Kiwis, please don’t get too excited here) would be your ‘Documents’ folder, and then when you open up ‘Documents’ you’ll have ‘Letters’, ‘Legal’, ‘Renos’, which would be sub- or add-on domains depending on set-up. An add on domain can be accessed completely separately from the root domain from the perspective of the end-user. I have a root domain, accessed with, and an add on domain,, both of which have a separate file structure and are accessed separately by users. Courtesy of Bluehost: An add on domain is a domain name which points to its own folder within public_html and appears as a separate website.

Site back-ups: I really recommend doing these. Your hosting provider may do them automatically, but ‘doing’ and ‘giving easy access to’ are two entirely different animals. I use Updraft Plus for my WordPress sites – it gives me complete control over how often I back-up, where the back-ups are stored, and best of all, hassle-free file re-install as soon as I install the plugin. Oh, and the basic version is free.

Images: I use Pixabay, Pexels, and UnSplash for free images (donations optional). It’s not a good idea to simply nick shit from Google Images – it may be tempting, but first, you’re very likely trampling someone else’s copyright, and also the images are likely to be crappy resolution, which will make you look like an amateur. If you don’t mind shelling out some cash, Shutterstock and 123rf have a wide range.of images.

That’s all, folks

Well, no, of course it isn’t. But if you’ve read this, and looked at a few of the linked articles, you should have at least a basic understanding of what you need and why in your website, and where you can go to learn more. Depending on your hosting provider, you may be able to drag and drop elements – Wix is good for this – or you may need to know everything from how to set up an add on domain to setting a POP3 email account.

In general, I support knowing what you’re doing. It reduces the chances of you getting screwed on price, and it helps you understand what you can do, what you can’t do, and what you really shouldn’t do without making a full back-up first.

Happy webbing.

New Release – My Dream Woman, by C H Clepitt

New Release – My Dream Woman, by C H Clepitt

My Dream Woman releases 8th July 2018!

Do I sound a bit excited? Well, book releases are always exciting, and when they’re written by friends, even better.

My Dream Woman is the latest release from author C. H. Clepitt, genre-bender and netball defender extraordinaire, who I had the pleasure of interviewing a little while ago.

My Dream Woman jacket text:

When your dreams are real, there’s no-where to escape!

Andi is just holding it together. Working two jobs means she doesn’t need to rely on anyone, but doesn’t have much of a life. In her dreams, however, she is a hero: battling monsters and saving innocents. When her dream woman turns out to be very real, Andi’s life begins to spiral out of control.

Step into an exciting urban fantasy that will have you on the edge of your seat. Think The Book of Abisan, only sexier!

Currently available to pre-order on Amazon, or get in touch if you would like to order paper.

Read on for an excerpt!

As soon as this happens I am in complete control.  Every time. It’s like my brain senses the danger and everything becomes lucid.  I have swords. Two swords. Don’t judge me, swords rock! Way cooler than guns, and I’m a martial arts expert.  I twirl them theatrically, turning to wink at the boy.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “This won’t take long.” It’s the sort of cool thing heroes say, and he grins at me.  He can see how cool I am right now. But that’s where this one changes. Two loud shots ring out from behind the monster.  It starts, and turns, advancing on the noise. Two more shots and it staggers backwards towards me. When it’s close enough I decapitate it.

“Swords? Really?” The woman standing over the body, pointing two smoking guns, looks disapprovingly at me.  Not only does she have a face, but it is an incredibly attractive face. Amazing, sparkling brown eyes, full lips… way out of my league.  Normally. But not here, this is my place, I can control it.

“Swords are way cooler than guns,” I say firmly as I resheath them, crossed across my back.  “Takes no skill to pull a trigger. I’m like a frickin’ ninja.”

“Yeah, OK,” she rolls her eyes and puts her guns back in their holsters.  “Hey,” she looks beyond me to the boy. “Let’s find you somewhere more fun to be, shall we?  Pubs suck.”

He looks at her, and stands up, but he slips his hand into mine.  “Will you come?” He asks.

“Sure,” I grin at him.  “See,” I look triumphantly at the woman. “Swords are cool.”

“If you say so,” she turns and heads out of the pub.  We follow. I’m still not sure why, it just seems natural.

“So,” she says chattily to the boy.  By this point I’d have found him a unicorn or something and dumped him, but we’re walking through a field.  “What do you want to do now the monster’s gone?”

“Eat ice-cream,” he says decidedly, as though she shouldn’t have needed to ask.

“Good call,” she says, and an ice-cream van appears at the edge of the field.

He releases my hand and runs to it, disappearing into a  blur of distance. She turns to me smiling.

“Reckon we have a couple of hours to kill,” she smiles. “Wanna help me fill them?”

I smile.  I know what’s coming next, it’s inevitable, somehow.  I take her hands and pull her in, kissing her. It feels so real, her touch, her scent, she’s solid.  I can smell and taste her. That’s when I wake up.

C. H. Clepitt has a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of the West of England. As her Bachelor’s Degree was in Drama, and her Master’s Dissertation focused on little known 18th Century playwright Susannah Centlivre, Clepitt’s novels are extremely dialogue driven, and it has often been observed that they would translate well to the screen.

Since graduating in 2007, she gained experience in community and music journalism, before establishing satirical news website, Newsnibbles, in 2010. In 2011 she published her book, A Reason to Stay, which follows the adventures of disillusioned retail manager, Stephen, as he is thrust into village life and the world of AmDram. Clepitt’s feminist fantasy, The Book of Abisan, not only crosses worlds, but confuses genres, and has been described as a crime drama with magic. She has often said that she doesn’t like the way that choosing a genre forces you to put your book into a specific little box, and instead she prefers to distort the readers’ expectations and keep them guessing. Her 2016 work, I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse, does just that, as just like the characters, the readers won’t know what’s going on in this laugh out loud satirical sci-fi.

Jacqueline Church Simonds, Galaxy of Authors

Jacqueline Church Simonds, Galaxy of Authors

Jacqueline Church Simonds

‘If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.’ ~ Henry David Thoreau

Buy the books!

Tell me about your book.

THE MIDSUMMER WIFE, Book One of the Heirs to Camelot: The reincarnated souls of King Arthur, Merlin, and an anxiety-ridden priestess return to save Britain after a devastating nuclear attack, only to find an old foe: Morgaine.

After a nuclear attack on London that heralds The Time Foretold, Ava Cerdwin, the anxiety-ridden high priestess in charge of fulfilling a 1500 year old prophecy, must assist the heirs of King Arthur and Merlin in healing the devastated country. The descendants of Britain’s great men of legend have kept the myths and relics for 61 generations, but no one is quite clear on what they must do next. Nothing goes as planned: Ava falls for the wrong heir, the panic attacks are getting worse, the complex obligations of reincarnation are straining old relationships, and Morgaine and her henchwomen are trying to kill them. Somehow, some way, Ava has to make the Healing happen, or Britain is finished. THE MIDSUMMER WIFE, Book One of the Heirs to Camelot is an Urban Fantasy that combines Arthurian lore, love, and a race to a breathtaking finish.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

The ones coming out are:

THE PRIESTESS OF CAMELOT is the prequel of the series. It will be out in August

THE SOLSTICE BRIDE (Book 2) should be out in early 2019

MISTRESS OF THE ROSE MOON (Book 3) should be out next Midsummer Day 2019

What do I have in my drawer? A very serious social justice novel I wrote for my college final thesis, 2 sci-fi humor starts, one semi-plotted very serious very weird sci-fi book, and a book about a dog that I’ve started twice and abandoned.

What’s your opinion on the practice of ‘banning’ books?

Only idiots ban books. Period. If you don’t want to read a book, don’t. If you don’t want family members to read a book, tell them to their faces. If you think it is your business to stop people in your community from  reading a book – you need a hobby and should not be left alone with children and small animals.

When I was a little girl (I was 11 I think), a babysitter snatched TO KILL A MOCKEYBIRD out of my hands and told me it was a filthy book. She said she was going to tell my parents. She never returned, and my mother bought me 6 more books on social justice the next day.

(My parents and I are on opposite sides on the political spectrum, but your right to read what you want, and to vote for whom you want, are principles we hold strongly to.)

Tell me about a principal character in your book. What makes them memorable?

Ava Cerdwen, my MC, has an anxiety disorder that gives her panic attacks and causes her to suffer from agoraphobia (fear of being outdoors). She has a fairly serious agoraphobic attack in the book. Writing a character with an anxiety disorder caused me to have several anxiety attacks of my own—which I have experienced since I was 5 or 6.

Ava is doing the best she can, despite her anxiety issues. And that’s how it is for those of us who have anxiety. We do the best we can, one day at a time.

Indie, or traditionally published – and why?

I self-published my first book, CAPTAIN MARY, BUCCANEER, back in 1999. Then I became an independent publisher (we put out 12 titles under our Beagle Bay Books imprint). So I’ve done the self-pub thing.

With THE MUDUSMMER WIFE, I decided I wanted to see how traditional publishing worked. I was rejected by about 60 different literary agencies. So I can’t really tell you yet how “traditional” publishing works. Outside of the fact I knew that it takes at least 2 years for the book to come out, you get little input into the cover, and marketing depends on what’s left over after the marquee authors in that line have all used up their marketing dollars.

I ended up going with independent publisher Vagabondage Press with their imprint Strange Fictions Press. The turn-around was quicker than the usual, they were far more receptive to my input on the cover, and are in general easier to work with.

It’s said that to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

I’ve met people (authors, journalists, and poets) who state that reading “pollutes” their work. This is twaddle. You MUST read—and read widely—to write well. You should certainly read a lot of books/poems in your preferred genre to see what the trends are. But you should also read a lot of stuff outside your story’s setting. You live in the world. Live it, read it!

Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

Is there such a thing as a plotter/pantser? A Plonter? That would be me.

Each book I’ve written to date has taken its own course. THE MIDSUMMER WIFE started out as a frame tale (a narrative that has something to do with the main story and opens and closes (and sometimes appears in the middle of) a bigger narrative). The action of THE MIDSUMMER WIFE opened, appeared in the middle of, and at the end of, what has become the prequel to the series, THE PRIESTESS OF CAMELOT (out in August). So I had a narrative arc. I just wrote from Point A to Point Z (the end?). (Because of the way MIDSUMMER ends, I HAD to write a series!)

Book 2, THE SOLSTICE BRIDE, I started and immediately wrote 8 fully-realized scenes that happened throughout the book. I don’t mind telling you I had a hell of a time coming up with a story and arcs that connected all of them.

Book 3, MISTRESS OF THE ROSE MOON, I wrote an outline because it is a quest and you need to map out where you are going and where key events are happening. I just barely got the bare outline set down when the characters demanded I start writing them THAT MINUTE. Bossy little things!

I guess I like to lightly outline, and then pants-it from there.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

There are definitely secrets you will only find out if you read all the books in the series – and have a really good memory.

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

I do cross stitch. It keeps me from running in the streets. The biggest piece I’ve done was 3 feet by 3 feet.

What are you writing at the moment?

I am trying to decide if I should write a series based on the end of the prequel, or if I should do my sci-fi woman’s humor book. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do at this point. Right now I am marketing THE MIDSUMMER WIFE and writing a lot of guest posts and interview responses.

What’s your opinion on the belief that indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I’ve been in publishing for 18 years, mostly assisting self-publishers in getting their work to print. The two biggest faults I see in self-publishers are impatience and cheapness.

I always hear authors say “I just want to get it out there!” like it’s a bad gall bladder or something. Nothing great was ever slapped together and thrown out into the world. A good book, like any other great piece of art, needs time to shape and perfect. In the case of books (or short stories, etc), you need an editor to help you achieve your voice, your direction, and to save you from grammar and typo whoopsies. It’s worth the time involved to work with an editor.

Editors are not in it to make your book sound like THEM. They are in it to make your book sound the most like YOU. Their job is to refine what you have (mostly) achieved. There’s only so far you can go with self-editing.

And yes, editing (and professional typesetting/formatting and a professional-looking cover) will cost money. Would you launch a store without spending any money? No. Few authors understand that the minute you stop writing, you are engaged in a $3 trillion a year global business. My advice: if you don’t have the money right away, save up until you can afford it.

Traditional publishing does put authors through editing (and professional typesetting and cover design and marketing). But they are doing less proofing, so you will still catch typos. And the more famous the author, the more often l feel they should have had a developmental editor cut back the book. But those authors are getting millions in royalties and—and oh hey! You just got a check for $20 from Amazon for 6 months of sales.

[Disclosure: I am an editor, and my company provides publishing services that have produced award-winning books.]

Do you listen to music when you write, and if so, what do you like?

That’s an interesting question for me, since it turns out different musical styles seem to affect my approach to writing certain material.

For instance, as I was writing THE PRIESTESS OF CAMELOT, I really couldn’t listen to anything other than Celtic-based music. I use Pandora, so I set it on Enya and things went from there. THE MIDSUMMER WIFE I listened to 1960s-ish folk-based music, so I created a Simon and Garfunkel station. For THE SOLSTICE BRIDE and MISTRESS OF THE ROSE MOON, I had stuff from the 1980s and 90s (I’m old, so…). I sometimes switch out to a Miles Davis station.

Jacqueline, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

Father’s Day memory: Daddy will eat the ones that wriggle

Father’s Day memory: Daddy will eat the ones that wriggle

Well, it seems to be Father’s Day.

I thought I’d share a memory that still makes me grin, because poor Dad always got the shitty end of the stick when it came to dealing with things that wriggled; whether those were edible things, things found in the shower, or things no one else wanted to scrape off the bottom of the boat.

I was a couple of days short of my second birthday, and we’d just completed the second Atlantic crossing of my short life aboard the Gub-Gub. We’d had, by all accounts, a particularly evil crossing,with lousy weather and headwinds, and I’m therefore quite happy that I don’t remember it.

My memories start the morning after we’d limped into harbour at Flores, in the Azores. Because of the aforementioned lousy weather across the Atlantic, we were very short on supplies, and a fishing boat took pity on us and dropped off a bucket of their catch with us.

Despite being only two, I wasn’t a particularly fussy eater. I was willing to try most things once, so when I was told to grab a shellfish and get stuck in, I did.

It grabbed back, or at least wiggled slimy appendages at me. I dropped it back in the bucket. I probably shed a few tears for the look of the thing, I can’t remember.

What I do remember is Mum saying that I shouldn’t worry, everything was fine – Dad would eat the ones that wriggled.

Those fishermen had just come in from a very successful trip. Those shellfish were fresher than Febreze, and each and every one of them wriggled.

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