Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: novel

Free copies of my novels

books1I am offering a few free copies of my three published (so far!) novels. The copies will be made available, in pdf or ePub form, to anyone who would like to read any or all of them, and who is prepared to write and publish a review. The review may be posted on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere else where the book is available on-line and where readers can offer reviews. Alternatively, if you have a lively blog with a decent number of followers/readers, I’ve no objection to your posting it there. Just let me know where and when. The novels are:

Lupa. This was my first novel. Someone suggested I should write a novel about a female gladiator. I sat down to do just that, and out came two parallel stories about young women in Imperial and 20c Rome. It has attracted a fair amount of interest since it was. One of my beta-readers said “I don’t do ‘Roman’, but I couldn’t put it down!” Find out more about it here.

The Everywhen Angels. This was my first novel for younger readers, and it was written in response to a challenge to set a fantasy story in a school or stop passing remarks about a certain fellow Scottish author. So I came up with this. There’s no D*mbled*re as a presiding deus ex machina, no Sn*pe or V*ldem*rt to hiss at, just a bunch of teenagers trying to make sense of the weird powers they have been given. This is the teenagers’ world, and adult interference is largely irrelevant to them. Read more about it here.

From My Cold, Undead Hand. Just when I thought I had time to work on a projected novel I had notes for, my publisher upped and asked me if I could write a teen-vampire novel. So I did just that. Someone told me it was ‘INSANELY good’ – think Buffy meets the Coen Brothers – but what will you make of it? Find out more about it here.

To get your fee copy, send an email to the email address below. Put Review: [title of your chosen book] as the subject of your email, and mention in the body of the email whether you would prefer a pdf or ePub version.


Thanks, and enjoy!


Marie Marshall – the brand!

Mèrodack-Jeanneau Danseuse_jaune 3Everyone these days has to have an ‘author brand’. Or so it seems.

In particular, when an on-line presence – a web site, a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an author’s page at Amazon – seems to be essential, it is no longer enough to be a good writer. I believe I have that covered anyway, and if I hadn’t, there are a thousand-and-one sites out there offering advice on how to structure a novel, how to allocate time, the necessity of beta-readers, the advisability of professional editors, and on, and on. Now, however, if you want to sell your writing, you need to have something on line that instantly identifies you.

It’s not easy for someone like myself. I freely confess I am a very private person, a virtual recluse. I have always put forward my writing as the milieu and medium in which I express my strength, and have left the rest as a matter of mystique. Often, when asked for a bio, I borrow and adapt from the telegram sent by the artist Balthus when asked for a summary of his biographic details


which is the way I like it.

Mèrodack-Jeanneau Danseuse_jaune 4An ‘author brand’ is so much more than a logo, or a slogan, or a web site layout; but all these contribute to it and, apparently, they tend to make an author as well-known as the famous ‘golden arches’, a true ‘persona’. Do I have one? I don’t know. I have the mystique, I have a web site that I try to keep ‘clean’ of clutter (I love a minimalist approach), I have that description of myself that someone gave me – ‘The Queen of Wow!’ – I have a lot of yellow. Whether this amounts to a brand, well, only you can tell me if my ‘touch’ is instantly recognisable.

You see, the recluse is truly who I am. The person who relies on the strength of her writing and her facility with language – that’s me! I’m a person, not a persona. La Danseuse Jaune and ‘The Queen of Wow!’ are only signs I hang on my door. What if all I had was a brand? No writing, no me, just a brand?

All front and no substance…

What’s that? Oh yes, thank you for asking, the new novel is coming along slowly but surely.

So, what’s happening?

The problem with keeping web site content turning over is that, for a writer like myself, there are long periods where nothing much appears to be happening. That’s not the case, of course, but on the other hand, much of what is actually happening is ongoing stuff, or issues regarding which I’m waiting for someone else’s action.

vic1I could say, I suppose, “I’m still writing my next novel,” but how many times can I repeat that before ‘no news is good news’ becomes simply ‘no news is no news’? As it happens, I am still writing that novel. What’s it about? Well, I’m playing my cards close to my chest on that one, for many reasons, not least of all that it is a dynamic project that has changed course several times already. That’s largely because the leading character has taken over – the novel is not only in her unique voice, but governed by the way her unique mind works – and she is defying the concept of an end-driven story. I can say that it is the novel, or if not the novel then one of the novels, I have always wanted to write. Also that it is set in Victorian London, or is set there as far as can be gauged, given that the leading character’s psychology has telescoped the entire Victorian era into her short life. There will be murders and detection, but also obfuscation and doubt. English folklore characters from the countryside will encroach onto the bustle of the metropolis, there will be both psychic fakery and psychic peril, and a strange, silent figure will stalk through the narrative.

What I actually need to do at this stage is to allocate more time to writing this novel, the main obstacles being sleeping, cooking, eating, washing, and cleaning. Plus ça change. Something needs to give, so if you happen to see me in town wearing yesterday’s blouse…

Other projects currently maturing include:

  • Providing oversight and further ideas to a Scottish screen-writer, who is currently working on a screen adaptation of my short story about girl gangs.
  • vera1Assembling a chapbook-length selection of my poems inspired by the 16th century Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco, to present to a Scottish publishing house during their twice-yearly ‘window’.
  • Various poems and short stories currently with publishers and competition-promoters – I won’t mention what and who, because there is nothing more boring than a blog post that says “Hey guys – I just entered a competition!” only to be followed shortly after by “I didn’t win!”

fmcuh-cover-2001Meanwhile KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, the sequel to my novel From My Cold, Undead Hand, is now with P’kaboo, and is awaiting publication in due course.

So you see, there is a lot going on, just none of it exactly seismic. I have decided, however, to suspend my daily blog of poetry fragments, in order to give myself more breathing space. I know a daily snippet of poetry seems like no big deal, but I actually spend the bulk of my scheduled on-line time dealing with it. I shall continue to write fragments, when I feel the ol’ urge in me, and I might occasionally post one or two, but for now I think standing down from the daily obligation would be a good thing for me. I was one of several poets originally taking part in the daily project, and I think I’m one of the few who is still doing it five years later, so perhaps I deserve a rest. Please feel free, however, to go over there, look through the archives, and leave me some comments if something catches your eye.

I shall, I promise, keep you posted if anything interesting happens.

Silver threading – among the gold

091815_1943_inherownwor1Silver Threading is a web site that has as its theme ‘Authors Supporting Authors’. This support can take the form of interviews, book reviews, articles, and so on. Recently they featured me, in an article mainly drawn from my own words. You can read it here.

Reading ‘Go Set A Watchman’

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdBy now we all know the story of how To Kill A Mockingbird came to be written, and how Go Set A Watchman came to be published fifty-five years later. That half-century-and-a-bit has seen a lot of changes in sensibilities about race, particularly in the USA, the country where both novels are set and where their major readership is. The thesis of To Kill A Mockingbird seems to be that, by and large, people are decent, or strive to be decent, or can be reminded of their decency despite their prejudices, not simply about race but about other fears as well; this decency does not always win out against a tragic result, when such prejudices are deeply ingrained in a community’s culture, but that is life. Man, as the Bible says, is born to suffering, as the sparks fly upward. Nevertheless, keeping an eye to that glint of decency leads, step-by-step, to some kind of progress.

To an extent, we readers found it easy to accept this naivety, given that the first-person voice of the book was that of a child, and that Harper Lee was relaying to us how the world seemed to her, that child, the novel being semi-autobiographical. We excused the ingenuous nature of its basic philosophy – indeed, it seemed ideologically neutral to us, because it expressed how we like to feel about ourselves, that there is hope, progress, and betterment. Most of its first readers came to it during the optimism of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Nowadays, in the era of ‘Check your privilege!’, it seems such an attitude won’t do. Racism is binary, it is either on or off, it is a thing without shade, hue, or nuance, it is a label hung as prominently around the neck of anyone who betrays a slight slip of attitude as it is round the neck of the most dyed-in-the-wool Klansman. I don’t say this is right or wrong. I do say it is as much cultural as was the liberal feelgood attitude that seems to be there in Mockingbird. Without the hardening of attitude since the date of writing and publication, perhaps a book like Mildred D Taylor’s Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry would not have been written fifteen years later. Certainly I could argue that her minor character Mr Jamison, the sympathetic white Rothmc_coverlawyer, would not have been created without the pre-existence of Atticus Finch. But Taylor’s work is much harder-edged, plainly didactic, aiming to show that African-American people must be the prime movers of their own change in circumstance. Thus Mr Jamison is largely ineffectual; whilst a lynching in Mockingbird is prevented by the stoical Atticus and ultimately by the ingenuous Scout, in Roll Of Thunder Jamison can’t swim against the tide, and a lynching is only prevented by a covert act of arson on the part of one of the adult black characters, as a result of which all the characters, irrespective of ethnicity, have to collaborate to save their livelihood. Taylor’s attempt to seize the story of racism in the South and depict it from the point of view of those on the receiving end was understandable. Despite Roll Of Thunder receiving the 1977 Newbery medal, I have always felt it failed as a book, because it never quite managed to give the child characters’ actions any appreciable impact or effect, compared to that of Scout in front of the gaol, and as it was principally a book written for children, that was a not inconsiderable failing.

Go Set A Watchman is already suffering on many counts in the few days since it was published. I almost feel cheated myself – I always wanted to be a writer, and Harper Lee was my idol for the simple reason she had come along out of nowhere, written one book which turned out to be a literary landmark, and then had written nothing else. I would have loved to have written the twenty-first century’s Scottish equivalent and similarly retired. Therefore I had mixed feelings when the coming of Go Set A Watchman was announced. I had long since given up my ambition of being a second Harper Lee – after all, I had had three novels published, and although I am glad to say they are read, I can’t claim that they have achieved the status of Mockingbird. I wondered whether the appearance of Go Set A Watchman would tarnish Lee’s reputation, rather than enhance it. I knew I would buy it, but frankly I would have waited with greater anticipation the appearance of a new Anne Tyler novel, she being acknowledged as prolific and a good story-teller.

How, then, to read Go Set A Watchman? We know that it is a largely unaltered first-draft of a novel that, with substantial revisions consisting of taking a minor passage and expanding it to novel length on its own, became To Kill A Mockingbird. We know that it is set in the 1950s, closer to the time when it was written. We have to be prepared for some major differences. The first and most obvious one is that we do not have Scout’s direct voice. There is no ‘Scout’ as such, no immediate trace of the overall-clad tomboy, except in a handful of flashbacks. The protagonist is Jean Louise Finch, somewhat of a feisty New York sophisticate in slacks, coming back to her to-kill-mockingbird-gregory-peck-and-mary-badham-atticus-finch-21253840Southern birthplace for a visit. The novel is written in ‘free indirect speech’, which means that although we do see things from Jean Louise’s viewpoint, the actual language is third-person. This holds us at a slight distance from the protagonist, it is not as easy to identify with her. The biggest surprise – well, by now it is, of course, no surprise at all – is to find Atticus Finch holding segregationist views. This troubles our binary view of racism. More to the point, it troubles our binary view of liberalism. Atticus Finch, as shown in Mockingbird and in the film adaptation of the novel, has inspired many people to take up the Law as a profession. He has a monument raised to him in Monroeville, Lee’s home town, which is fairly unusual for a fictional character. Good heavens, Gregory Peck, when I saw him in a TV re-run of the film, became my first and only guy-crush!

Yet, having read the book, I realised that his courtroom address in defense of wrongly-accused Tom Robinson, though thoroughly logical, read like a grocery list. It was flat and undramatic, lacking in rhetoric, as though the facts were enough to carry the day. He won the argument, sure, but lost the trial. He was not an advocate for any great social change, he was simply a man who demanded, plainly and without passion, that the law should be properly applied, and that you could not convict a black man contrary to the evidence. This is a major reason why later reviews of Mockingbird criticised both him and his creator for not being anti-racist enough, for not using the Tom Robinson case, Samson-like, to topple the Philistine edifice of Southern racism once and for all. But – for heaven’s sake! – did that happen in real life? Then why should it happen in fiction? Whilst no work of literature is ideologically neutral, Mockingbird is a realist novel, not a sermon.

51+CUXo8aDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If it really shocks you to find that a character who in one novel was, as a matter of principle, sure that a black man ought not to be convicted of a crime he did not commit, is in another novel, sure that the black and white races should develop separately, then do as follows. Do not regard Go Set A Watchman as To Kill A Mockingbird Part Two. It was never conceived as such. Regard it as a stand-alone novel with stand-alone characters that just happen to have the same names as characters in another novel that you have already read. More properly, regard it as you would regard a first draft that turned up in the posthumous papers of a departed novelist, and cherish it as a record of her creative thought processes. I grant that this will be difficult, but judge it without reference to the literary merit of To Kill A Mockingbird. To have that previous merit in mind will mar your reading. This, however, you should bear in mind: Go Set A Watchman is not a twenty-first-century novel. It is a mid-twentieth-century novel. It is a product of its time and of the culture that Harper Lee lived in and took as normative. L P Hartley said that ‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’, and this is something that I, as a person with very sharply defined political and literary principles, have had to learn to come to terms with as I read literature, and as I write creatively myself. I’ll not spoil the plot for you, but that is how to read Go Set A Watchman.

In case you’re wondering…

It must seem to my regular readers that nothing much happens in my literary life. I have no whistle-stop tours of signings and readings, no local radio appearances and so on to report. However, I’m far from inactive, and the notion that nothing happens couldn’t be further from the truth. So what is happening?

writing-clipart-1Well, firstly I am writing a new novel, or rather one that I had had some notes for a while ago but had shelved while I finished From My Cold, Undead Hand and the sequel KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE. It would be difficult to say at this stage what it is ‘about’, because I am trying to walk a tightrope between experimenting with form and style and producing something that is readable. For a while now I have been taking part in discussions, notably with Millie Ho and her blog-followers, about… well… how to write. Millie has some brilliant ideas, and if I take issue with many of them it is merely because they stimulate thought. One topic in particular has been that of working towards an ending, and my concern is that literature has been stuck in a pattern that has lasted for centuries, if not at least a couple of millennia, going back to the concept of ‘catharsis’ in classical Greek drama. What this has meant for fiction is that it has largely resisted major innovation, and that it is alone as an art form in doing so. I have written on this subject before. Fiction, pretending to give us a narrative progression from a beginning to an end, more often than not is driven by that predetermined end in a way that life is not – ‘Destiny does not send us heralds,’ said Oscar Wilde in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and neither should the writer of fiction be obliged to function as some kind of prescient, wiser than the rest of us. As readers we ought to be able to cope with fiction that hands us a slice of life to look at, and the knowledge that life continues after that slice is finished.

In our discussions we have been looking at the problem of how to give a novel ‘closure’ – giving the readers the sense of its completeness – without necessarily having a structural ‘resolution’ driven by the dictated need for catharsis.

For my current novel project (working title The Deptford Bear) therefore, I have a probable direction of narrative travel rather than a definite ending in view. I can see where the narrative may possibly lead, but I am open to the journey of exploration taking a turn and leading instead to somewhere unexpected. For this reason, and because it’s the way I actually enjoy writing, I haven’t been plodding, chapter-by-chapter, from the beginning. I have been writing ‘episodes’ in an almost random order, which I will sew together later. I have been writing from inside the head of the protagonist, hopping from happening to colourful happening in her life. An added challenge is that the whole of her story is being told to a third party – a Scotland Yard detective – and there is probably a lot she is holding back, even from the reader. The story has a strong element of ‘detective mystery’, though whether the mystery will be cleared up when the novel closes is another matter. It has elements of ‘steampunk’, being set in a Victorian London where nineteenth-century history is telescoped or concertinaed in on itself, ‘Montgolfier’ balloons traverse the city from mooring-tower to mooring-tower, and messages are passed between police stations by a vast, steam-driven network of ‘Lampson’ tubes. But how much of this is real, and how much is in the imagination of the protagonist is hard to say. She is, apparently, an amnesiac, and has a strange way of relating to the world, and of expressing herself, learned since she lost her memory as a child; she is a clairvoyant who admits to being a mountebank but who might be genuinely psychic; and she may be something much, much darker than that. Her London is peopled not only with thieves and murderers, toffs and paupers, but with hawkers and buskers, with carnival people and mummers, perhaps with monsters and changelings, and is haunted by one sinister, silent figure – the ‘Deptford Bear’ himself, a creature of deep ritual significance. Or is it she who is haunted rather than the city?

Regular readers of the blog section of this web site will know that I have other novel ideas on my shelf, for which I have written sketches. It’ll be The Deptford Bear I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future, and the others will remain on the shelf. I’m up to about 15,000 words so far.

Secondly, work continues on turning my short story Axe into a film or TV script. I have provided some extra narrative material, and a Scottish screenwriter is currently working on it. I have seen his summary of how he would like to tackle the dramatisation, and the first draft of the opening, and it is developing in quite an exciting way. To go back to the matter of how to end a piece of fiction, those of you who have read the short story will notice that it did not ‘resolve’ in any conventional way; the extra narrative material I have given, along with the creative input of the screenwriter himself, perhaps a little more of a conventional resolution. Nevertheless, this is an exciting project and something totally new for me.

Thirdly, other stuff. You will no doubt remember that my short story Voices was amongst the winners at the Winter Words festival a few months ago. Well, as often happens, that win gave me a boost, and I have already written two further macabre short stories, and sketched out a third, which will fit well as entries for next year’s competition, and the year after that… and the year after that. Also I’m preparing some new poetry for a forthcoming anthology.

So, although my blog section here isn’t full of a mad social whirl, inactive I am not. I’ll keep you all posted.

Parade throws and other lovely stuff

When they speak of ‘Mardi Gras’ in New Orleans they don’t just mean Shrove Tuesday, they mean a whole season when parades and all kinds of other high jinks can take place. It may surprise you to know that the parade season has already started there. Part and parcel of the parade procedure is the ‘throw’. Throws are gew-gaws and souvenirs that the marchers give away – literally throw into the crowd. This means that on Saturday all the throws containing my quick-fire poems about Doctor Who landing the TARDIS in New Orleans have… gone! Not one remains! Well, what does remain is the blog record of the assembly line – check it out here!

Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal

In other news, renowned Shakespearean actor Ben Crystal, who is the son of linguist David Crystal and the brains behind the project to present Wm Shakespeare’s plays in their original pronunciation, declared my ‘A sonnet to explain why Veronica Franco misses the first hint of spring‘ to be “Lovely stuff!” Let me explain something: Ben really understands iambic pentameter, and I’m honoured that he should have even read my little piece of not-so-serious sonnetry.

Anything else been happening this weekend? Well, I have been working on some extra material for the possible TV adaptation of ‘Axe’, and have picked up one of my shelved novel projects, The Deptford Bear, to see if I can get it moving again. So far it stands at a little over 11,000 words and I think it can work.

‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’ sold out at Waterstones

jpegI just heard that all copies of From My Cold, Undead Hand have gone from the shelves of the local branch of Waterstones. Don’t worry though, vampire-fiction fans – you can still order a copy at the counter. Just ask an assistant and they’ll get it for you.

A New Year present

LupaAn overlooked end to 2014 came to my attention due to an early-2015 tweet – someone was about to start reading Lupa, my debut novel, following an unsolicited recommendation. A little detective work led me to a review by author Michal Wojcik.

In his list of favourite reads of 2014, Michal puts my novel alongside Nicola Griffith’s Nebula-nominated Hild, multi-award-winning Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. That’s what I call company! Recommending Lupa, Michal says:

The writing is subdued, sparse, often mesmerizing. It’s a brisk read at only 130 pages, but I found myself thinking about it a long time after I read it. Let’s just say that there’s nary a wasted word here… Lupa is easily overlooked. But it shouldn’t be.

This was such a nice New Year present, and it is very gratifying to hear that a reader -particularly a fellow author – has enjoyed a book of  mine. In a comment in the thread below Michal’s article, someone has written “I’m running out to buy Lupa this very instant.” This kind of word-of-mouth is like gold-dust to an author. Well, I’m just away to read Michal’s short story ‘Mrs. Yaga’ here. I don’t know what to expect but I imagine that huts on chicken-legs will be involved…

I have had a re-think about what writing task to tackle in the spring. I think want to leave aside the element of fantasy – and that means any hint of steampunk, magic realism, or what have you – and engage in something which, though it might not exactly embrace the classical unities of time, place, and action, at least is based very much on ‘real world’ happenings. I am thinking of a setting that is historical, exotic (to me), and a story that is already familiar. However, my ongoing projects change like the direction of the wind. Oh, it can be fun being me!


Looking forward in 2015

Happy New Year!

My previous entry was a review of what had happened during 2014. This one will be what I might expect of 2015. I’m not going to make any resolutions, because one of the first things that happens is I break them! So, no commitment to x hours per day writing, I shall simply write when I can.

Last year, as I reported, I had a story – my fifth success – read aloud at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. This year I am trying for my sixth. So I do need to get busy, as entries have to be submitted this month. I do have a story partly completed, so this is doable.

KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE will need some serious revision after beta reading. After that I will be letting my publisher see it. I am not expecting instant acceptance, but I am hearing murmurs that it will be an exciting year for P’kaboo anyway.

Ideally, I would like a rest from serious writing until the spring. Then I would really like to return to one of my adult/general readership novels, probably my partly-written The Deptford Bear. It seems to be turning into a hybrid work, with elements of detective mystery, psychological exploration, and Steampunk. What I have already is set in a ‘telescoped’ Victorian era in London, with one or two technological oddities, and with a host of folk rituals cropping up on the streets. There will be hints of vampirism – yes, I can’t leave the subject alone! – but these will probably be dismissed. Let’s see if the return of flowers and birdsong to my own city will prompt me to take up that project again.

No promises!

Meanwhile, I came across the image below recently on line. The more I look at it, the more I think there’s a story there. What do you think? What does it suggest to you? And how is your year going to go?