Thursday, 18 September 2014

Photographs from Italy - the Dolomites

Last week I was in Italy, in lovely Corvara, which is right at the heart of the magnificent Dolomite mountains. My companions were my best friend from my school days called Andy, and a rather heavy backpack full of camera gear as we're both keen amateur photographers - in case you didn't know that already. The decision over what to take on the trip proved a challenge for both of us as space was an issue, as was weight. That's Andy on the right, by the way. We've known each another since we started secondary school, age twelve.

It you're interested in the camera gear I took with me, please read on. If not, you can safely skip this paragraph. For those still reading on, I can highly recommend the F-Stop Tilopa rucksack. It proved tough and comfortable with a fully loaded large slope ICU (Internal Camera Unit). For this trip I loaded the bag with a Canon 5D mk3 camera body and three lenses: 14mm f2.8L, 35mm f1.4L and a 135mm f2L, the latter of which I bought specifically for the trip for some extra (relatively lightweight) reach, especially when coupled with my 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter, giving 189mm and 270mm. The 14mm is quite a specialist lens, and this time around it saw very little use. I love it, though, and just couldn't bear to leave it behind.

What did prove useful was a Canon 500d close-up lens. It screws onto the front of other lenses like a filter, reducing the close focus distance. Coupled with my 135mm f2L, I found it a very impressive travelling option. The combo allowed me to leave my macro lens at home, saving space and weight while letting me get close enough to capture some great detail. Also in my bag was a tripod and ball head, a small flash unit, several filters, a three litre water bladder and, and...

Anyway, onto the mountains, and as with my books, it's great to be able to share my passion like this. Thank you Internet, and most of all thank you for visiting my blog to see some of the shots I came home with. Overall, I took close to 1000 photos during the week, which boiled down to 60 shots that I felt best captured the trip and the majesty of these truly wonderful mountains. It's been difficult to choose which photographs to put on my blog, and which to leave out. These are some my favourites. Click on any image to view  in greater detail. I hope you enjoy them.  

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Look Inside The Lost Empress - Jefferson Tayte Book 4

The 'look inside' feature on Amazon is now live for my new Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery, The Lost Empress, which will be released in all formats worldwide on 21 October - unless you live in Australia, in which case you can get it a day early on the 20th. I'm getting more and more excited about it every day.

Below is an excerpt, which is from the preface to the book. This is the first time I've used a preface in my work, and I've done so now because when I came across the material during my research I felt it set the backdrop for the book very well.

The full sample, which includes the prologue and part of chapter one (where we catch up with Jefferson Tayte again) is viewable via this link.  Alternatively, you can access it via the 'look inside' feature on the Amazon store wherever you are.

On June 20, 1908, Anglo-French journalist and diplomat William Le Queux returned from his travels to Berlin with report of an alleged secret speech delivered by Kaiser Wilhelm II at a Council held at Potsdam Palace on June 2, 1908. Below is a transcript of an article as it was published in The Dominion, volume 8, issue 2558, on September 4, 1915.

The speech took over three hours to deliver, and for five hours afterwards was discussed. The report he brought home was placed before the meeting of the British Cabinet, and discussed. At first some little suspicion was cast upon it—had the speech ever been delivered? So further inquiry was made, and there was no doubt it was perfectly genuine. The gentleman who handed it to him (the lecturer) was a high official, very near to the Kaiser’s person, an official to whom we should all be very deeply grateful, for he had furnished us with much important information. He was friendly disposed towards England, and had no sympathy with the present war. If his name were revealed he would be arrested, and probably shot. In the course of the speech the Kaiser said: ‘We shall strike as soon as I have a sufficiently large fleet of Zeppelins at my disposal. I have given orders for the hurried construction of more airships of the Zeppelin type. When these are ready we shall destroy England’s North Sea Channel, and Atlantic fleets, after which nothing on earth can prevent the landing of our army on British soil and its triumphant march to London.’ He went on to say: ‘You will desire to know how the outbreak of hostilities will be brought about. I can assure you on this point. Certainly we shall not have to go far to find a cause for war. My army of spies scattered over Great Britain and France, as it is over North and South America, as well as all the other parts of the world, will take good care of that. I have issued already secret orders that will at the proper moment accomplish what we desire.’ The concluding sentence was: ‘With Great Britain and France in the dust, with Russia and the United States at my mercy, I shall set a new course to the destinies of the world, a course that will ensure to Germany for all time to come the leading Power among nations of the globe.’

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

Writing hat optional
Last week I was kindly asked to participate in a blog tour about writing process by Kindle User's Forum friend, David Wailing, author of the techno-thriller Auto series. The idea is that each author on the tour answers a set of pre-defined questions about how and why they write, so here's how I do it - although I have to say that of the four books I've written so far, I've not done it the same way twice. I don't know if that's because my stories are all a little different from each other, leading me to adopt a different approach each time, or perhaps it's because by the time I've travelled the often long road to finish a book and am ready to start another, I've forgotten how I did it! I suspect, though, that it's simply due to the inevitable evolution of my journey as an author.

What am I working on?
No prizes for guessing the answer to this one. I'm working on the next (5th) Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery. I've literally just started writing it, having spent the last few months finding the story and loosely plotting it. I had planned to plot this one up front and in great detail so that I could just get on with the writing once I started, but I've decided I can't work that way. I want to be surprised along the way, and while I've certainly planned a few surprises, I think the best stuff often comes from the characters as I get going and the story develops. I have a title already, which is a first for me as they usually come from something within the story, or from the general theme once it's developed. I'm afraid I can't share anything about it just yet. Okay, I could but I don't want to, so there. ;o) I wouldn't say that I'm generally a superstitious person, but when it comes to my books, I like to keep things close to my chest until the story is well under way. All I will say for now is that it's going to be a very big story for Jefferson Tayte.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I think this has been a very important factor in how I managed to make a full-time career from my writing. I'd heard many times that a new author needs to have something new to say, or at least a new way to say it, and that was one of the things I kept in mind when I set about trying to become an author. I had no specific genre in mind when I started out as I wanted to keep all my options open. I just understood that whatever genre my work slotted into, I had to bring something new to it.

Cue my genealogical detective, Jefferson Tayte. He was born out of the historical story I wanted to tell, and the questions it raised. A past murder... Mysteries both past and present, somehow intertwined... How could I get to the past story from the present day in a way I'd not heard of before? I had already become interested in family history through TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? and because of my own intrigue about my American GI grandfather, whom I knew little about at the time. I think it was because of this that the answer, when it eventually came, seemed so obvious to me that I couldn't believe no one (to my knowledge) had done it before. I would tell the story - a whole series of stories - through the exploits of a family historian, digging up the past and often putting himself in danger along the way. You know those moments when something major happens and you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing at the time? Well this was just like that. It was nine years ago, back in 2005, but I can still recall the scene with great clarity, and I remember the tingle that ran through me when Jefferson Tayte stepped forward and presented me with the answer I was looking for.

Why do I write what I do?
I'm drawn to crime fiction, largely because it's what I enjoy reading, so I suppose it's inevitable that that's the genre I now write for. My debut book, In the Blood, sprang entirely from a somewhat damning verse written by a Cornish farmer in 1803. My penchant for crime fiction asked 'what if he was murdered the night he wrote it?' So the story began... I also like a good mystery - questions raised that leave the reader in need of answers so that we keep turning the pages to find out. I really enjoy the historical research for my books, too, and I feel a bit spoilt to be able to incorporate such variety in my work as each new book takes me to a different period in history, as well as keeping my main character's own story going in the present. It keeps things fresh for me as an author, and hopefully for the reader, too. I never know where JT's assignments are going to take me next, and I really want to find out.

How does my writing process work?
I think there are probably as many answers to how an author writes as there are authors writing. There are certainly phases within the process, and my working day during each phase varies. When I set out to write a new book, I'm largely sitting (or pacing) around the house and garden and everywhere else I might go, trying to find that 'thing' that I believe will make for a good story - and it can take a long time. This is the phase when I get a few of the larger outstanding jobs around the house done because while I'm sure it sounds great to be sitting around at home, thinking and pottering about, I get bored very quickly, and I find it the most frustrating part of the process because I really don't like not having a story on the go. I worry that my ideas have run dry, and the longer this part of the process takes, the more frustrated I get. You can't make the ideas come, but eventually they do, and then suddenly I'm off and running, wondering what I was so worried about.

Once I have the story, my spirits usually lift as I set about deciding how to write it. Then I'm in the plotting phase. This typically starts out well, full of excitement and with ideas flowing fast and furious. Then a seemingly endless series of questions arise as I ask myself how such-and-such is going to happen, and how on earth JT is going to work that out! I write on a 17" Macbook Pro, in a software application call Scrivener. I find that it really helps me to keep track of everything, from characters and location information, to research notes and all those questions I have to answer. I write copious, rambling plot notes in there, too, and gradually they take shape and then I start on my plot outline. I write this as a series of bullets for the high level plot, showing only the major points of the story, and then gradually within that I build the scenes to a point where I feel I'm ready to start writing. Making a start is important to me because I only really feel like I'm working when I see my word count increase. Story beginnings are definitely the hardest part of the book to write in my opinion. You have the general setting and the characters to create from the ground up - the framework - and you have very little flow within the story. At the beginning, I don't feel I'm in that other, fictional place enough to feel a part of it. This is the reason I don't worry about word count targets for the first 10,000 words or so. I'm just focussed on getting going. The rest will come - hopefully.

Whatever part of the process I'm in, I start my day at 07:30. You might think that's very disciplined of me, but I have to thank Mrs R. for getting me going each morning as I drive her to the train station for her commute into London. I tidy up my emails before I start writing, then I move on to anything else that might otherwise distract me if I don't deal with it first, unless it's something big, in which case it waits until the evening or the weekend. I'm not very good when it comes to working with distractions. I like to fully immerse myself in my fictional world, and the slightest thing can pull me back and break the flow, so I do what I can to minimise potential distractions, and to clear my head. My writing day finishes when I pick Mrs R. up from the station. Then over dinner we'll often talk about new story developments and questions that have arisen. I find this time invaluable, and my wife's input is something I know I could not do without.

Thanks for reading. I hope I've managed to give you some insight into how I write my books.

Who's next?
Next up is Eva Hudson, author of the Ingrid Skyberg FBI thriller series, and the acclaimed political thriller, The Loyal Servant, which won the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize and was  shortlisted for ITV's People's Novelist Award - you can see Eva face the panel with Alan Titchmarsh in the video on her website.

Here's a link to Eva's blog so you can follow the tour and find out how other writers write.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Speaking at the Thame Arts & Literature Festival

A couple of months ago, I was invited to speak at the Fifth Annual Thame Arts & Literature Festival in Oxfordshire, which this year will be held between Wednesday 15th and Sunday 19th October. The topic I'll be discussing, along with fellow crime writer, Oliver Harris, is 'Detectives with a Difference'., which starts at 12:30 on Saturday 18th. Naturally, I'm going to be talking about my detective with a difference, Jefferson Tayte, and how he uses his genealogical expertise to help solve crimes both past and present. I'm told the format will be a reading, followed by discussion with one of the event organisers and a Q&A session with the audience. Here's a LINK to the festival website for further information.

This will be my first public appearance as an author, and I have to say that the idea of reading to an audience again has rekindled a certain childhood fear. You might have noticed that I just said, 'again'. The first time and only other time I've read anything aloud to a audience was during my secondary education. Each class in my year at school had to put on a play, competing with the other classes, and we were to perform Pinocchio. How prophetic it was that I was to play the part of the storyteller, narrating the play as the other actors performed the various scenes behind me. I can remember how nervous I felt even to this day, but I had learnt my lines well, and so there I stood and narrated the events and all went well, or so I thought at the time. I'm pleased to say that we won, but as every play must have its critics, so did we, and the only negative mentioned by the judging panel was that the narrator spoke too fast. You see my problem? Still, thirty-something years on, I'm determined to make up for almost letting my classmates down. This time around, I'm sure it's going to be fine.

My current three books in the series will be available from the on-site bookseller 'The Book House' throughout the festival, and I'll be signing copies on the day. The festival falls a few days too early for copies of my new Jefferson Tayte book, The Lost Empress, to be available, which is a shame, but it's a great way to start my book launch week.

If you can make it along, it would be great to meet you there. I'm glad to see that the Stables bar will be open during the event as I'm sure I'll need a pint afterwards, although I'm told it will be informal and fun! Hang on a minute... I seem to recall my secondary school teacher saying something like that. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Lost Empress cover image and description

What's it all about, Stevie?

The cover image and description for The Lost Empress went up on Amazon today, and I'm very pleased to be able to share them with you. Once again, it's been great to have had such a high level of involvement with the cover, from the initial design concept, through each composition to the final image. I feel very much a part of it and think it works very well with the existing books. I hope you like it.

I've been staggered by the level of pre-orders on Amazon for The Lost Empress, even before anyone had seen the jacket or knew what the book was about. At one point I saw it at around number 800 in the UK, and it continues to do well, so thanks to everyone who has pre-ordered their copy. Now you can find out what Jefferson Tayte's latest assignment is all about. It takes him back to 1914 this time - to the tragic sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland, which happened 100 years ago last month on 29 May 1914. I'll be putting some more information about it on my website when the book is released, but in the meantime I strongly urge you learn more about this terrible maritime disaster, which I feel deserves an equal place in our hearts and memories alongside the Titanic and the Lusitania. To that end, please also share what you discover with your friends and families. 

I don't have the back cover image yet, but here's the description from the product page on Amazon, which begins with the very kind line: From acclaimed author Steve Robinson comes a bold new Jefferson Tayte mystery...

On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route to England and now lies at the bottom of Canada’s St Lawrence River. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.

When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.

Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.

This is the fourth book in the Jefferson Tayte mystery series but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My holiday in the Lake District with photos

Bottom of Derwentwater looking towards Keswick, with Skiddaw in the distance

I've just been on holiday with Mrs R, walking in the Lake District, and thought I'd share some of my holiday snaps, which I took on my Canon 5D mkIII. Click on an image to open up the larger views. The weather was mostly cloudy, but dry, so it wasn't always great for photos, but it was ideal for walking. I did manage to capture some great-looking skies though. We stayed in a cottage in the village of Threlkeld, which is about four miles from the town of Keswick on Derwentwater. Here's a link if you'd like to look it up on on Google Maps

I hardly used the car all week which was great. We walked into Keswick for further walks around Derwentwater via an old disused railway line which has been turned into a recreational walk. The walk crosses several rivers and streams over old iron railway bridges where one day we saw our first red squirrel. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me that day, which is typical. Here's a photo of a tunnel we passed through, looking at one of the bridges.

One particularly long walk took us through Keswick and across the water by boat to a peak called Catbells, which is quite a steep ascent, but also quite short. This photo was taken about halfway up with my 14mm lens.

And here's Mrs R at the top of Catbells in her new walking boots. Quite a view!

From there we continued down the other side via a steeper descent, heading for lunch at the Ladore Falls hotel. We met a very friendly (and photogenic) cow along the way, who came to the water for a drink as I was setting up for the shot taken at the top of this blog. 

After lunch we walked up from the hotel to the waterfall that the hotel takes its name from. The longest lens I had with me was my 35mm, so I had to scramble across the rocks with my tripod to get close enough.

We had planned to take the last boat back to Keswick, but as there's plenty of daylight this time of year, we decided to walk back instead, and I'm glad we did or I wouldn't have been able to take the photo below. I think we walked about sixteen miles that day, and we slept very well as a result. :o) 

 Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Lost Empress release date

I'm very pleased to announce that the release date for my new Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery has been set. The fourth book in the series The Lost Empress will be available worldwide for the Amazon Kindle, in paperback and audiobook formats from...

21 October, 2014

The product page has been created on Amazon, although there's no jacket image or description yet. You can pre-order it though, and it's encouraging to see that there are already orders being placed. Here's a link to The Lost Empress in the Amazon Kindle store for your country.

I can't wait to see the jacket design and to be able to share it with you, along with the description once it's been finalised. If you're enjoying my Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries, I hope The Lost Empress will engage and entertain you just as much as the previous books in the series have.