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And the next book is….

The second book in The River and the Ravages series is well underway, and has progressed from being a nameless, amorphous thing to a book with 1) a title, 2) a description, and best of all, 3) a pre-order arrangement. Yes, pre-order is here. But let’s get to that in a moment. The title of book two is…drum roll, please….

The Tempest and the Turning.

I’m incredibly excited by this one. It’s been going great. But hey, I’m bias. You be the judge! The book blurb goes like this…

You can’t run from who you are…

Aaliya, a woman with blood on her hands and a past to bury, sets off on a journey across the heart of The Reach determined to start a new life.

By her side is her sister, Maddalena, a self-proclaimed sibling rescuer and unabashed political schemer, who’s determined to use her smarts to lead an easy life.

When they come across burnt ruins in a remote corner of the realm, it becomes clear the past is never buried, the present is far from safe, and their brittle plans have just been shattered.

As war looms and threatens to turn The Reach to ash, both must make choices about the power they hold and what’s worth fighting for.

In a world where storms rage and lives turn…where blades are sharp, words are sharper, and alliances the deadliest weapon of all…they are about to discover you can’t run from who you are.

Interested? Intrigued? The book will be available in April 2019…which probably seems like a long time away, but soon it will be Christmas, and then it will be Easter…you get the picture. Order your pre-order at https://www.books2read.com/u/mleXnB. For those of you who prefer a print copy, I’ll include the pre-order details for print soon.

Luck favours the prepared mind.

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The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned as a Writer

In July 2017 I achieved something I never thought I would do. I published a book. I’m 46. For me, it wasn’t a lifelong goal. I haven’t harboured aspirations to be an author since I was 12 years old. It literally happened because I believed I had some good ideas for a story, could write pretty well, and probably most importantly, live my life with a pretty solid armour of perseverance.

Writing a book, like all journeys, involves the stuff you know is going to happen, and the stuff you either know about but are not prepared for, or don’t know about at all. You know it’s going to involve time on your own, putting words to paper, typing it up, revising, editing, making it sound amazing.

What was hard to contemplate from the outset was the magnitude of solitude involved. And how solitude changes you.

When I started writing in 2015, solitude was not something that featured significantly in my life. I live in an urban environment and have access to technology and social media. Like everyone else, I can choose to be connected 24/7, every minute, every second, of every day if I want. This connectedness, so we are lead to believe, is the ultimate ‘cure’ for the loneliness often associated with solitude.

Anyone who has ever tried to spend significant periods alone knows how hard it is. It was something I had to work at. I was fidgety, restless, craved distraction. I was stuck with my own mind and it was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Thoughts came into my head and possessed me. Thoughts like who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-writing-a-book and not-so-gentle reminders that I was nowhere near as good as all the authors I love and admire. I came to the rather sobering reality that being a writer means sitting with your own mind for long periods of time. It was not something I was warned about, but you REALLY get to know yourself when writing a book.

The ability to be alone is an essential condition to write a book. That’s pretty obvious, no surprises there. The same could be said of any undertaking that requires concentration and focus from crocheting a blanket, to tinkering on an old car, or painting a picture, or reading a book. What I’ve come to learn is that the ability to be alone is also an essential condition to love. That’s right, people, love. It’s only through time on your own you truly discover who you are, and it’s only once you truly know who you are that you can give love unconditionally to another. When you build solitude and stillness into your life, you notice things that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. All that matters is the activity you’re immersed in and giving your whole being to it. It really doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is giving it your full attention. And such is the requirement of love.

Paradoxically, all this busyness, all this connectedness which is meant to make us feel less alone is often having the reverse effect. We’re feeling more alone than ever because we’re often not learning who we are and how best to tend to our needs. We’re running away from alone time, repudiating it. We’re hoping other people will just ‘get’ us when we often don’t even know ourselves.

All our gadgets and technology purporting connectedness are here to stay and they certainly have their place. It’s now about how we find a balance between alone time and worldly stimulation, how we quell our fears of aloneness and embrace what’s on offer from a bit of solitude: time to get to know yourself. It’s a practice. It’s not the solution to everything, but it’s likely to yield some beautiful surprises.

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Handmade Renaissance

Most people have an interest in being creative in some way. Our jobs are often just not big enough for us. Not many define themselves by their Monday to Friday jobs, but ask them what their interests are and you start getting to the essence of the person.

In the very early days of writing The River and the Ravages, I knew I wanted the protagonist, Aaliya, to be a saddle maker. This wasn’t just a random selection of a trade relevant during medieval times. I wanted saddle making for its association with practicality and for its incredible range for beauty. Saddles have stories. The people that had owned the saddle, the distances it had covered and the horses it had been on, the battles the saddle had been in, the unique parts of the world the saddle had been taken to. All of this mattered. And it shaped the character, Aaliya: who she was, what she stood for, what she wanted to achieve.

There’s a significant renaissance in the handmade movement at the moment. Etsy.com (Ebay for handmade) is mega-business as people seek out unique products. I’m drawn to handmade the same reasons so many other people are: the ideas, the tactility, and the hands that work upon the matter. You don’t just get a material item with handmade, you get meaning and stories. There’s longevity. Handmade items are rarely thrown out and in our disposable society, that’s BIG. Handmade items are often handed down through generations. They stand the test of time in a world where there is so much change and nothing seems to last. They help to define who we are and our place in the world.

I’m also heartened by the fact that around the world schools of old trades and craft are opening up and are thriving. Schools for blacksmithing, saddle making, woodworking, decorative ironwork and on it goes. Many people have become interested in learning old trades and craft as a way of counterbalancing our busyness and highly distracted modern lives.

More importantly, I think everywhere people are learning there’s a sense of joy to be had from making. There’s also a strong connection with the present moment when you’re making. You’re not thinking about your imperfect body, or the size of your mortgage, or your messy divorce. Loneliness simply drifts away when making and creating. All that matters is the connection of hand and mind and achieving something real and beautiful. Even if it’s just for yourself. No one else need ever see it.

Victor Frankl once wrote: ‘It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.’ Joy is the goal, not happiness. And I’m a firm believer that making is a strong element of joy in life.

Expect that anything worthwhile takes a long time. You won’t go from novice to highly skilled overnight in whatever craft you pursue. But that’s not an excuse not to start. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But you already know that. And it’s more than likely you’ll discover a whole lot about yourself along the way.

And you know what’s the easiest part? Nothing. It’s hard work. But the rewards are plenty.

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Forthcoming attractions (and me!)

Ah, that long, lovely lull at the start of the year. Everyone (certainly me, anyway) dragging themselves out of holiday mode. I’ve made it to mid-February and looking down the barrel of the remaining months in 2018…it looks set to be a biggie.

Book 2 in The River and the Ravages trilogy is now in full swing. I’ve done my all important plans, I’ve pondered, I’ve ruminated…and now I’m writing like a demon. Every which way you look at it, there’s going to be edginess and grandiose struggles, characters are going to find themselves up to their eyeballs in problems, lessons are going to be learned the hard way, and of course there will be love and sex and beauty. Oh, not to mention hilarious banter. Something you’ve come to expect from me are well-developed characters and a conflict driving the main character to seek solutions…and you won’t be disappointed. This is all verging dangerously close to hype but sometimes you’ve got to put faith in your writers. And yes, I have a book title, and no, I’m not telling you what it is. Not yet anyway. Like all good maverick creatives, I must retain some shred of mystery, you know…

Some people have been asking about the audiobook version of The River and the Ravages. The process has been BIG…even I’ve been surprised. There’s so much involved…narration of course, but also sound engineering, rights and privileges, distribution and so on. But it’s so close now folks. Any day now it will be available and I’ll let you all know when and where and how so you can listen and enter your own river and ravage world while you walk the dog, smash those muscles at the gym, cook dinner, commute to work…

As I’m not quite at the stage (okay…not remotely at the stage) of chucking in my day job and being a writer full-time, I also will be endeavouring to transform the business of the South Australian public service agency where I work as a Project Development Officer. Yes, I have a whole other life outside writing which I fulfill like the good taxpayer that I am. But rest assured, writing is my love and I spend every waking moment outside my day job writing for your reading pleasure. Awww.

And for those who may be curious, the lovely artwork in the picture was done by my thirteen year-old-daughter. What a treasure she is. She helps to make my instagram account interesting!

Right, got to go

Books don’t write themselves. Yet, anyway.

JM

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New cover for The River and the Ravages

New year, new book cover. The cover is the most important tool an author has to sell a book. We’ve all heard the dangers of judging a book by its cover, but it’s amazing how many people do. And why not, anyway? A cover is a split second glimpse into what a story is about. It either captures the nuance of the story (and announces the genre and sets the tone), or it doesn’t. It’s that important.

When I first released The River and the Ravages, I thought I’d have a crack at the cover…for a range of reasons (money, schedule, creative impulse…). I had lots of fun working on it, and that was a good reason at the time too. Six months later, embroiled in the complexities of the publishing world, I knew I had to leave the cover in the hands of professionals. So with some spare funds and a new sense of enlightenment on all things book marketing, I approached Damonza requesting to have a new cover designed for The River and the Ravages.

And what a fascinating process it was! Some of the things we discussed (and why) were:

  • Genre has to be addressed in the cover. But the cover also ideally has to go beyond genre. The new cover for The River and the Ravages is a blend of something a little bit fantasy with something a little bit not. Hopefully enough to attract readers of fantasy with a female main character, but at the same time not repelling other potential readers.
  • The importance of colour and font. In other words…branding. Creating a mood, capturing nuance. You get the picture…
  • If the book is part of a trilogy (as is the case with The River and the Ravages), it is essential that the cover of Book 1 is part of a theme that can be adapted and modified, and carried over to books 2 & 3.
  • Somehow the cover needs to promise the reader the main character’s journey is one worth reading about. The style and content of the cover has to reflect the style and content of the book, and the author herself. No easy feat. One image. That’s all you get. The style and content has to be familiar enough so the reader thinks, ‘I’ve read stuff like this before and I quite like it’, but is just a bit more dazzled by the uniqueness of your cover so they think, ‘But this one looks so good I’m going to read it before the fifty other books on my to-read list’.

I’m sure you’re appreciating now what a tricky business this book cover business is.

When I first saw the cover as a draft I was simply blown away. It WAS The River and the Ravages. It captured it all and more, brought it to life. Aaliya (the main character) looks exactly as I envisaged her, the title font is stunning, and the light near the centre of the cover draws you in.

On a final note, from author to reader, I want to say I couldn’t be prouder of the new cover for The River and the Ravages. I think Damonza did a stellar job. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Best regards
J M Lawler
(Jann)

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The Happy Writer

Six months since the launch of The River and the Ravages and I’m starting to get some of those blessed things called reviews. Yes, we authors love ‘em, crave ‘em, scan the internet like crazed narcissists seeking them out and positively feel like bathing a kind and cheery reviewer in hand crushed rose petals when we come across one.

Possibly something most of you readers don’t know is that we writers are strange people. Yes, this might come as quite a shock but we’re a bunch of people whose crippling self doubt is often just slightly outweighed by our monumental fear of failure. We spend way too much time sitting on our own, fingers poised at the keyboard, our brow furrowing and twitching as images are formed in our mind, but never quite sure if what we’re writing is going to be actually liked by anyone. So when we come across someone who has enjoyed our book and has left us a good review (well…any review) we literally do cartwheels. Joy! Joy! Happiness! Joy!

But indeed it stands to reason, different people like different things. Of course, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Thankfully, so far anyway, I’ve had pretty darn wonderful reviews for The River and the Ravages, such as this one on Amazon:

“A brilliant mix of intrigue, lust, love, danger and suspicion.”

And what about what this Goodreads reader had to say:

“Each page took me completely to Aaliya’s world, and for 48 hours I lived with her. Don’t you just love it when a book does that! Hot and steamy, tender and thoughtful. Can’t wait to read more.”

Yes I do love that! Let’s not forget Nina’s review on Goodreads:

“Fifty Shades of Grey pales in comparison.”

Oh my! A Fifty Shades comparison. Now we’re talking!!

But probably my favourite feedback was from a menopausal colleague of mine who just finished reading my book and told me “It got the waters going. Didn’t think that was possible…” Not what you thought the book would be like? Only one way to find out. Buy The River and the Ravages. I’m broke too. It’s dirt cheap on Amazon at the moment (only 75c for Kindle, and $13.99 for print). Give it a go. Then you can be the judge.

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Progress report December 2017

I’m approaching six months since the launch of The River and the Ravages and it’s been an unbelievably wonderful journey. The Goodreads community is a mighty impressive one. It’s a space I always look forward to visiting each day. People who love books have always known it – we’ve got something special in our lives. That ability to be transported to another time and place, experience emotions – pain, hope, love, joy, grief, ecstasy, the whole shebang – through different people in the comfort of our chair is something deeply wonderful.

The next six months look set to go to a whole new level. One of the main things that has got me super excited at the moment is the development of a stunning new cover for The River and the Ravages. The new edition will be launched in January 2018 so watch this space.

For those of you who love audiobooks, an audiobook version of The River and the Ravages is busily in production. Narrator extraordinaire Kate Littrell has been working like a champion transforming the story into a wonderful audiobook. This is another sweet treat to expect early 2018.

And finally, but probably most importantly, the follow-up to The River and the Ravages (only known as book two at this stage) is charging along. The story of Aaliya enters a whole new, unexpected realm. My mind is running a hundred miles an hour, hands struggling to keep up getting her story down. An option to pre-order book two will be launched soon, so again, watch this space.

It can be such an incredibly busy time of year for so many of us. I can’t ease your Christmas chaos, but I will provide a little reminder to make sure to build some joy into your day everyday. Experience nature. Hug loved ones. Dance naked. Sing loudly. And of course, curl up in a comfy spot with a great book. Have a wonderful rest of the year, and best wishes for a fabulous Christmas.

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In Praise of Reassurance

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t crave reassurance. They may not be out there admitting it to the world, but the need is very real and bone-deep. We tend to think of reassurance as a quality required only by children. That the need for someone to come along and quieten those fears and insecurities when faced with challenges or uncertainty is the job of mothers and fathers. Surely as grown adults we just get on with things? Even after years together in a relationship, surely verbal or other acts of reassurance are no longer required? Isn’t simply being together in a relationship the greatest act of needing another person?

Truth is, we don’t ever outgrow our need to feel valued and protected. Regardless of gender, social status, marital status, faith, creed, culture. No one is immune. We’re hard-wired for it. Reassurance is not something only the perceived weak or overly sensitive need. It’s in all of us.

One of the toughest things about being an adult is that we’re tricked into believing we don’t need reassurance anymore. We live lives that are so incredibly “connected” in the cyber sense, but have never felt more isolated and lonely. And we’re often telling ourselves that our social media world is a “good enough” form of connection.

Except that it isn’t. And never will be. We simply do need genuine words of reassurance and we need to help each other navigate a world which is often restless, and at times, brutal. We don’t stop wanting to hear our partners say to us, “everything is going to be okay, you’re doing an incredible job” or for a friend to say “hang in there, things are tough right now but around the corner is something amazing for you.”

We’re not prepared to admit it though. Or ask. Asking feels at best humiliating, at worst downright terrifying. The dread of rejection can leave even the most titanesque among us feel as insubstantial as a beetle.

Life is always just going on. It doesn’t wait for any person. It moves so fast it’s easy to take what you have for granted.

Sometimes you’ve got to stop and pause, and notice what you have in your life. Maybe today, open up your mouth and reassure someone you care for that you need them, and accept them wholly and unconditionally for who they are.

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Why I write what I write and other glorious anecdotes

I read some advice by author Joanna Walsh, “define carefully what makes you uncomfortable, and dwell in that difficulty. Find ways to enjoy it.” It’s hard for me to contemplate the notion of discomfort while I sit outside with the sun on my back on this beautiful spring day, but I know it all the same.

Something I secretly fear (but act like it’s no big deal) is that my book The River and the Ravages simply doesn’t fit easily in a genre. I didn’t follow the rules of outlining my plot and forming my characters based on what is normally done in any single genre. This was pointed out to me quite early into my writing but it felt too darn important to me to keep writing the book that was inside me and not follow the rules. I may pay for that decision one day, but I may, on the other hand, reap the rewards.

Too often we fear to take bold steps and instead follow the safe path. I’m not being critical by any means. I’ve done it plenty in my own life. There are often so many competing priorities in any given decision to be made, I wonder how any decision gets made in the first place. But for the big stuff, the stuff that defines who we are, who we choose to love, how we spend our days, our weeks, our lives, it often requires gutsy decisions and dwelling in some bone-deep difficulty for a while.

What it means to me as a writer, is than I’m going to continue to write what interests me. Sex. Love. Family. Money. Death. And I’m going to continue to write about people on the brink of change and growth. People who sometimes make some great decisions, and who sometimes stuff up quite spectacularly.

And I’m going to have so much fun along the way. What a time to be alive!

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My thorny bed of roses

Someone once said to me “it always works out for you.”

I didn’t have a response at the time. I was kind of in a strange place between thinking was that a joke to realising this person was being utterly serious and finding myself quite confused.

So here’s the thing. It works out for me no more than it works out for others. Life also blows up in my face quite spectacularly at the same rate it does for others. The only thing I have, indeed anyone has, is their attitude and how they’re going to react to any given situation.

I remember thinking at the time what’s going on here? From her viewpoint, I was living a golden life free from despair, loss and pain. I have those things in spades.

I consider myself a fairly creative person. I wrote a novel, tried to find a publisher, was rejected…oh, like twenty times, decided I still really wanted to have a published book so learned InDesign (HELL in a word) and got it out into the world. Achievement! And although the sense of achievement and purpose is wonderful, writing a book also comes with a major caveat: My book isn’t going to be liked by everyone (I know right. CRAZY!) I have very little control over people and future events.

I don’t know how any of this is going to go. Everyday I wake up and take a wander in the great unknown. It’s a place I’ve come to accept as being my bed of roses.

It doesn’t always work out for me, not by any stretch. I’m no luckier than the next person. But no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be grateful.

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