Writing Matters #8: from puppy dogs to angels

My fundraising book ‘Born to be a Life Changer’ is patiently waiting for the cover and the e-versions to be done, but this is no time to relax. As the title of this blog says, I need to move on from puppy dogs to angels!

My next novel is a new edition of my humorous fantasy ‘Orders From Above’, first published in 2012. It received terrific reviews, but the publisher wasn’t doing much with it so I took back the rights in 2018 to bring it under my own imprint, just as I’ve done with ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ and ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design, who designed the gorgeous covers for my previously mentioned books, has created yet another fabulous work of art.

Publication date is 1st June, by which time the paperbacks will be available to order from Amazon and all retail outlets, and e-versions will be available from Amazon and Smashwords to cover all e-readers. LiterallyPR, who did such wonderful things for the first edition of ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’, will once again be doing wonderful things with ‘Orders From Above’.

I spent most of the lockdown time last year editing and publishing the new editions of work already written, which is relatively easy because the hard work is done, but now it’s time to turn to a brand new work, the sequel to ‘Orders From Above’ which is called ‘Trouble From Below’. I very much admire all the prolific authors out there, and wonder how they manage to write so many books, because at this stage, when I’m embarking on a new story, I always think I’ll never be able to do it. Write another 100,000 words with coherent plot lines that flow and weave together to their conclusion, believable characters who use realistic dialogue, then go through interminable revisions and edits, while throughout the process my mood flips between pleased-with-myself and doubting-myself. Impossible! But not impossible, of course.

So there will be another book about mischievous angels Gabe and Nick wreaking havoc by the end of this year, and there will be a third paranormal drama featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn after that. But ‘Trouble From Below’ is first in the queue, because having delved so deeply into the story lines and characters of ‘Orders From Above’ in the past few weeks, it’s all fresh in my mind. Added to that, the characters are furiously nagging me to carry on telling their stories in this sequel! As of today, I know the beginning, I know the end. I know bits of the filling in the middle. And I know that the rest will come to me over the coming weeks during long dog walks with my dog, frantic typing at my laptop, and frequent sleepless nights. The sleepless nights have already started, in fact, for last night I just could not shut my mind down and get to sleep – the characters were having a party in my head! Not only that, when I did eventually fall asleep around 4am, I dreamt they were partying on my driveway and I came wide awake again at 4.30am knowing I had to get up and fetch my notebook to scribble everything down. Deciphering my scrawl is going to be challenging.

I look forward to being able to tell you about the PR campaign for ‘Orders From Above’ as it rolls out, about how the fundraiser ‘Born to be a Life Changer’ is doing once it’s released for sale, and my progress with ‘Orders From Below’.

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Writing Matters #6: a change of genre

In ‘Writing Matters #1: Starting Over’ I wrote about how two of my previously published novels ‘Flight of the Kingfisher’ and ‘Walk in the Afterlight’ were given new life by a thorough edit, new covers and, in the case of ‘Walk in the Afterlight, a new title (it was originally called ‘The Waiting Gate’ but the story underwent enough changes to warrant a change of name). These two books have family dramas at their hearts, encompassing the topics of bereavement, near death experience, dementia, afterlife, ghosts, and psychic mediumship and are classified as supernatural fiction.

My next novel, ‘Orders From Above’ also has supernatural elements, but the genre this time is humorous fantasy. This is the back cover blurb:

I had such fun working on this book as part of my Masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and I was over the moon when it was published in 2012 by an imprint that’s part of a large publishing house. However, as I was very naïve about the publishing world back then, and despite getting fabulous reviews, it didn’t make much of an impact. After seeking advice I decided to take back the rights and put it on the back burner while I worked on my other projects.

Now the story has been professionally edited and proof-read and I’m working with talented cover designer Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs to give it a whole new look, as she did for Kingfisher and Afterlight (that’s one wonderful aspect of being an independent author, I can choose my own covers!). I’ve also teamed up once more with LiterallyPR to run a marketing campaign, which I’m very much looking forward to.

I shall be excited to show you the cover when it’s done, and a little while after that to tell you when the book is available (I’m hoping early-mid March). In the meantime here are a few of those early reviews:

“This novel is full of warm, traditional humour, depicting a cast of colourful characters with fondness and affectionate criticism. One of the central concepts – the bestowal of a virtue and a vice on a village’s least and most popular characters respectively is a great one, as is the idea that Nick and Gabe previously made an agreement to share the pain of running Hell. They were, after all, both Archangels once and it seems only fair that Nick isn’t banished to the hot place forever.”
Cornerstones Literary Agency

“Author J M Forrest has had a lot of fun writing this book. You can just tell from reading it. The whole cast of characters are delightful, but I adore Nigel and his wife Amelia, particularly Amelia… sweet, but tough and smart too. However my favourite characters have to be the di Angelo brothers Gabe and Nick. Think about that for a minute… The story is so much fun it reads like a breeze… Definitely give it a read.”                                                                                                                               Geekygodmother.ca

“A lovely story full of well-defined characters and a very original take on the archangel hierarchy. I found myself wanting to spend as much time as possible in Ham-under-Lymfold, the quaint little village in which Gabriel and Lucifer set about renovating a mill into a restaurant while they decide who to temp into a range of virtues and sins, all to a mysterious and quite innovative end. I would recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone with a taste for angelic figures turned on their heads. J M Forrest writes crisp and wonderful dialogue, carving clearly distinct characters throughout her story. A delightful read!”  
Nicolas Forzy, Producer/Director/Writer

“Brilliant… I actually cracked up at parts of it. The characterisations are so good you can almost see them – and as I read it I thought it would make a brilliant film. The angels are a riot.”
J A (5* Amazon review)

“Orders From Above is a book that will keep you entertained from the first to the last page! It is impossible not to become involved with the characters in this strange, but beautiful village of Ham-Under-Lymfold. I desperately wanted to help Lorelei on the one hand, at the same time as give the mean-hearted Violet Cattermole a good talking to on the other! I also loved the sibling rivalry between Gabe and Nick, who stole the show for me. J M Forrest writes with a great wit and insightfulness of human behaviour – you just want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.”
PJ (5* Amazon review)

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jmerrillforrest.com

Walk in the Afterlight: extract

“Your mum is a patient here?” asked Beth with sympathy. “Gosh, she must be young.”

Kallie smiled. “She’s not far off seventy. She was nearly forty when she had me. But dementia can strike at any age, even in children, so I understand. Mum’s in great health physically, so she could be here for a long time.”

Beth asked where Kallie’s mother was now and she explained again about the safe room.

“I won’t see her again today, because she’ll walk herself to exhaustion and they’ll put her straight to bed. She was only here a matter of weeks before her memory became severely affected and it wasn’t long before she didn’t recognise me any more.” Kallie looked rueful. “Sorry, you don’t want to hear all that when you’re probably going through the same thing. It was nice to meet you, though I’m sure we all wish it was under better circumstances.”

Kallie gathered up her coat and bag and left the lounge, giving Alex, Beth and Anna a small smile and a wave of her fingers. Alex followed her with his eyes.

“I know that look,” said Beth. “Does she have someone with her?”

“Two people,” he replied. “Her grandparents, I think. I could sense them when she and I were talking, but either they weren’t aware of me or just didn’t want to communicate. I think they’re just watching out for her.”

“Maybe Kallie’s mum is their daughter and that’s why they’re here, watching over both of them?” Beth squeezed his hand. “Why don’t you go outside for a bit, Alex?”

He set off to find his favourite bench, the one hidden from the lounge windows but with a good view of the striking water sculpture.

Once past the area that had been laid out as a giant checkerboard, Alex was pleased to find there was no-one else around. He sat down and contemplated what he’d just witnessed inside, allowing the gentle, musical sound of running water and the little tinkling bells to soothe him. He decided he didn’t know nearly enough about dementia in general and Simon’s condition in particular, and needed to do some research. If only he had the time! He shouldn’t even be here now, but he’d come for Beth’s sake and he was glad that he had.

“Would you mind if I sit here?” a friendly voice asked, bringing him out of his reverie. “It’s my favourite place as it can’t be seen from the house and I can get a precious few minutes uninterrupted.”

Alex looked up at the slender figure in front of him, delighted to see that it was Erin, and invited her to join him.

She sat down beside him, her knees audibly clicking. “Sorry about that.” She laughed. “My knees have always clicked and the years of bending and lifting takes a terrible toll on the joints, even when you’ve been trained to do it right. Shame Simon had to go into one of his strops just as you and Beth were walking in. Is Anna okay?”

“She’s fine and you were marvellous, as always. It amazes me how you stay so calm. Would you like to be alone? I’d say you deserve some peace and quiet after what you’ve just had to deal with, but I suppose it’s all part and parcel of the working day for you, isn’t it?”

He made to rise but Erin placed her hand on his arm and gently but firmly prevented him from leaving.

“Actually, Alex Kelburn, I’ve been stalking you!” She laughed, making her face look years younger. “I’ve seen every episode of your TV show, I’ve read your book, and whenever you’ve come to the hospice to give one of your inspirational talks I’ve been sure to be there. Everything about you is absolutely fascinating to me and since your wife’s grandfather came in I’ve been waiting for an opportunity just to talk to you! Can I ask you a question?”

She bit her bottom lip and a slow blush rose from her neck upwards as she waited for his response. He assumed she was going to ask if he could give her a message from a late member of her family or a friend, so he nodded, more than willing to help someone who worked as hard and as compassionately as she did.

Everyone noticed how kind, how gentle she always was with the residents, and the dementia lounge seemed a much duller place when she wasn’t on shift. She asked her question but it wasn’t at all what he expected.

“Where do they go, the patients who no longer seem to be aware of themselves or their surroundings? I mean, take Simon. One moment he’s angry and shouting, the next it’s as if he’s simply left his body behind and gone somewhere else. Some of the patients are like that all the time, never having lucid moments at all, and I’ve always wondered… where do they go?”

Alex smiled at the question, glad that it was one he could answer. It might even help her.

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Want to know more? ‘Walk in the Afterlight’ is available in paperback and kindle formats from Amazon, for all e-readers from Smashwords.com, and to order from all bookshops.

(This is a revised and re-edited version of ‘The Waiting Gate’, published 2017)

Writing Matters #3: the hospice patient

Real life events inspire my writing, and here is an example from ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rainstones House in the novel is a fictional place where one wing is a hospice and the other a residential dementia care home. The hospice scenes in the story are from my experiences being a volunteer at a local hospice a few years ago. I occasionally assisted in the Day Patient Unit, but my main role entailed visiting a patient with a life-limiting illness at their own home. I was assigned to a delightful elderly lady, many years a widow, whose life expectancy was about one year due to stomach cancer. When I started visiting her she was a lively person. Always beautifully dressed, with her nails painted, her hair immaculate, she would sit on the sofa and tell me stories about her life and give her opinions on current events. I so enjoyed our conversations and debates on all sorts of topics. Of course she was frail and the physical changes in her in the time I visited were all too apparent, but after a couple of months I began to notice mental changes too. These were so rapid it seemed that one week she was the lady who looked forward to my visits and the next she seemed not to know me at all. She kept asking who I was and if she owed me money. I had been advised to answer her questions each time as if it was the first time she’d asked me, so I would tell her my name, explain that I came every week, and she didn’t owe me any money. She would accept what I said for a short while and then ask me again. And again. And again.

All too soon she was bed-bound, not knowing who and where she was. Clearly she had dementia, and this could have been the result of the cancer reaching her brain. Whatever caused it, the vibrant lady I had known had completely disappeared and I found myself wondering: ‘where has she gone’?

I was not sad when she died for she had told me early on in our acquaintance that she knew her husband was waiting for her to join him, and she was looking forward to dancing with him again. When the hospice contacted me to tell me of her passing, this is how I chose to think of her.

I never forgot her and as the idea for this novel began to take shape in my mind, the experience with her was the trigger-point. Through extensive research I learned of some intriguing and wonderful theories about what might happen to us when the mind no longer functions but the body goes on living, and this is what the story is about.

ISBN 9780956795441

(Previously published as ‘The Waiting Gate’)

Jane, 28th October 2020

Writing Matters #2: the leaf

In my first Writing Matters blog I wrote about how I had taken back the rights to my novel ‘The Waiting Gate’, thoroughly revised it and published under my own imprint with a gorgeous new cover and a new title: ‘Walk in the Afterlight’.

Although I felt I had done the right thing, there was always a little niggle at the back of my mind that maybe I hadn’t. I belong to a fantastic support group, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and when I posted on the forum about changing the title of a published book I had mixed responses. Some said go for it, some had actually done it and considered it the right thing to do, others said it was a risk. As you know, I decided to go ahead and I’m very proud of the result. But still… that niggle wouldn’t go away. Until I got a little message that convinced me I had done the right thing.

At the beginning of this month I was fortunate enough to visit our Greek home for two weeks, a place of tranquility and beauty where I always find it easy to write. Every morning I set my laptop up on the marble-topped table on the patio, work on and off throughout the day, then pack up for the evening and watch the sun go down (yes, lucky, lucky me!).

On this particular morning, I’d gone into the house to make coffee, and when I came out I noticed a leaf. It is a large patio, but there was just the one leaf. A couple of feet from my chair.

Study that for moment and then look at the cover:

It literally sent shivers up and down my spine.

Jane, 19 October 2020

Writing Matters #1: starting over

It’s a hard decision to rebrand a novel and republish it under a different ISBN, perhaps even rename it, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do for both author and reader. I have so far written and published two novels featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn, covering life, death, afterlife and in-between: Flight of the Kingfisher and its sequel The Waiting Gate. The first was self-published, the second was not, and the paperbacks were a different size and printed with different fonts. I hadn’t thought about this before signing up with the publisher (yes, I know I should have!), and I just wasn’t happy every time I saw images of the books side by side on social media. I also wasn’t satisfied with one of the plot lines in The Waiting Gate, feeling I could truly improve it and, in fact, refine the whole story if given the chance. As the third novel in the series is now underway, I decided I had to bite the bullet, and get to work making the Alex Kelburn books the best that they could be.

Firstly I took back the rights to The Waiting Gate and engaged talented cover artist Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs to create two themed covers immediately, and a third in due course, and also a new logo for my imprint, The Moon Tiger. I gave Flight of the Kingfisher a thorough edit, then I rewrote that troublesome plot line of The Waiting Gate, thoroughly revised the whole story and retitled it Walk in the Afterlight.

For more information go to author website https://jmerrillforrest.com/

At the time of writing, Flight of the Kingfisher is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and will be on wider release from 10th October. Walk in the Afterlight is available on kindle and will also be on wider release around mid-October. The third novel, as yet untitled, is in the initial writing stages and I hope to have it ready for publication by January 2021.

Jane, 28 September 2020