Books, I am learning, have a life of their own. Long after the story has left my pen, I watch it dip and rise on the tides. It amazes me – the power of a book to go on its own journey, as if the author is but a distant spot on the horizon.
Such has been the experience with my debut novel, The Heirloom (which is conveniently 99p at the moment on Kindle!) When I first published this timeslip story, I just couldn’t get any traction with it. I was a first-time, self-publishing author and no-one knew I even existed. I hadn’t a clue how to reach readers or where to promote my book.
Fast forward a few years and The Heirloom has now become my most popular selling title! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me, to know that people are not only discovering this story, but really enjoying it!
I spent waaaaay too long researching this novel, but judging from the reviews, it seems to have paid off. It all started when two completely different ideas collided. I love history and was interested in the Spanish Armada ships that crashed into Irish shores during one of the worst storms in history. Miraculously, a letter from one of the knights who survived, has outlived its author and gives a harrowing account of his time in Ireland. In Galway (where the book is set) there is still a monument to the 300 Spanish sailors who were massacred by the English on Fort Hill cemetery. Through the kindness of strangers, Captain Francisco de Cuéllar was given shelter and managed to return home to Spain (after many adventures!) Here is a trailer for a short film based on his time here, which is kind of amazing because I like to pretend this is a trailer for my book!
Armada 1588 : Shipwreck & Survival (Film Trailer – English) from Omedia on Vimeo.
But of course, that’s not the end of my story. Given my love for timeslip novels (it began with Kate Mosse, blame her!) I wanted to write the story in a format that brought the reader into the present day. I feel so strong that our past is the answer to all of the mysteries we face in our lives and I love exploring those links in fiction. So, when I discovered a book called Many Lives, Many Masters written by the American psychotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss, I knew I’d found my key. It tells how one of his patients began recalling past-life traumas and through the use of therapy and hypnosis, they resolved to cure her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.
Well, I’ve always had an over-active imagination and the idea of remembering past lives really intrigued me. I wonder where I lived, or who I was, in previous lives? Books like Cloud Atlas ignite my passion for this idea and the beauty of it is, no-one can really say for sure whether or not it’s possible… In more recent times, there have been increasing studies into inherited trauma and whether transgenerational inheritance can really affect a person’s biology. But that’s for another story.
For now, I’m just delighted to see my story about past and present lives colliding on the wild shores of the west coast of Ireland finally charting a steady course to a whole new readership. These reader reviews have made my heart soar and reminded me that stories can go on forever and heirlooms are made to be passed on.
“I loved this book! Following the history of Miguel and Annora was fascinating.”
“It almost seemed like two books in one, which is great for avid readers. Skillfully the author links the life stories of four well-developed characters across centuries.”
“Once I started this book I found it difficult to put down. I like the way it slips easily from modern Ireland to the time of the Spanish Armada.”
“A beautiful story of love, loss and courage . This beautiful story wraps history and a great love into one. Good read!”
“Anyone who likes a mystery that takes you to another country plus searching for family tree i could not put this down. 3 o’clock in the morning is not a good time to go to sleep!! loved it.”
What started out as a hypnotherapy session with the ‘dreadlocks guy’ from the local five-a-side football team, quickly turned into so much more…
It’s not your typical ‘meet cute’, but this is how my debut novel, The Heirloom, starts out. Set in my hometown of Galway, it follows the story of Amanda, a young woman whose cynical outlook on life has her stuck in a job she is neither qualified for nor interested in and in a relationship which is entirely conducted in hotel rooms. With a married man. With two kids.
Xavier, an unemployed philologist (yes, philologist), finds himself literally drifting on the ocean as an impromptu member of a global yacht race. Destiny brings him ashore on the West Coast of Ireland and straight into the path of Amanda, whose dreams of drowning are becoming unnervingly real.
What ensues is a story of contemporary love, historical mysteries and the struggle to find one’s true path in life.
The Heirloom opens with lines from a poem by Lucian Blaga:-
They say that ancestors, dead before their time,
with young blood still in their veins,
with great passion in their blood,
with the sun still burning in their blood
come to continue to live
their unfinished lives.
These lines hold the seed of the entire novel… is it possible that we carry within us, a soul from another time? I’ve often wondered why I have such an affinity with things or places, even languages I’ve never spoken. Where does that desire come from? Or that feeling of arriving home when you visit a place you’ve never been? Are we holding onto fears and maybe even love, from another life? And what if those memories could be accessed through a talisman, or an heirloom…
I loved telling this story. Juxtaposing the historical aspects alongside a contemporary narrative was a challenge I relished and I loved exploring the idea of finding tangible connections with the past. If you like authors like Kate Mosse, Rachel Hore, Diana Gabaldon or Kate Morton, with a healthy portion of Irish wit thrown in, this book is for you!
I feel so fortunate that this book is having something of a second wind in the Amazon charts and just goes to show, people can discover your book at any time. The Heirloom might just achieve immortality yet!
‘Tis almost the season to start thinking about giving and to celebrate the launch of the new paperback version of The Heirloom, I am giving away 3 signed copies over on Goodreads. This is open to residents in Ireland only this time, just so I can make the Christmas post!
But the giving doesn’t stop there. If you like your books a little more on the electronic side, I’m also running a Kindle Countdown Sale for the princely sum of 99p. I’ve even gone to the trouble of creating this lovely graphic with all the deets!
Haunted in her dreams by a past she cannot remember, Amanda Morrison avoids close relationships, sentimentalism and above all, any notion of fate or destiny. That is, until she receives a strange heirloom from a long lost aunt that sets her on a journey to find her true self… in another life.
“Overall, this book has a little bit of everything; an epic romance, adventure, great locations, well researched historical fiction… The mixture of the two stories leads to a snappy, well paced story that kept me excited and invested in the plot.”
I enjoy a challenge. And if I can do it sitting down, all the better. Cue my obsession with reading and writing dual timelines. The marmite of the literary world, dual timelines can either thrill or annoy a reader and as a writer of the genre, I’ve found myself oscillating between both emotions on more than one occasion! (Often at the same time, but that’s duality for you).
First things first: What is the difference between dual timelines, time-slip and time travelling? Like branches on a family tree, they all bear a close resemblance, but have their own individualistic quirks that mean Sunday dinner will always be a tricky affair. Dual timelines do exactly what they say on the tin; there is a story with roots in the past that affect the present, so both stories are told side by side. A good example is Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, where a famous writer tells her life-story to a biographer. Time-slip tends to involve a twist of the paranormal, where a character has flashes of a past life or in the case of Susanna Kearsley’s novel, The Firebird, the protagonist has a kind of psychic ability that means she can sense stories from the past merely by touching an object. Time-travelling hardly requires any explanation, but I’ll just say Outlander and leave it at that!
My first introduction to this genre was when I read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (who, it turns out, is not a supermodel but a highly successful author). Instantly, I knew that this was my kind of book. It had mystery, intrigue and… shut the front door – two parallel stories in different time periods! It felt like I was getting two books for the price of one – a bargain. As a writer, ‘time-slip’ opened up a whole new world of story-telling to me. It’s such a dynamic genre, allowing you to trace the influence of the past on the future, creating layers to draw the reader in. But how do you go about writing what are essentially two separate stories and deftly weaving them together?
The most obvious feature of a dual timeline novel is the parallel narrative that runs throughout the book. It’s vital that the narrative is equally engaging for both the contemporary and historical sections of the book, otherwise you risk losing the reader’s interest for large portions of the book. While both stories are connected, they must have enough appeal in their own right to engage the reader. When writing my debut novel The Heirloom, the most important aspect for me was providing each section with its own unique ‘voice’ in order to convince the reader that they are really moving from one time period to another. The whole atmosphere of the story changes – the dialogue used in 16thCentury Ireland is very different to that of the present day, so it can be a challenge, almost like writing two completely different novels at once.
The next feature of time-slip writing is research. Historical fiction is a genre that requires meticulous researching and the dual timeline genre is no different. The setting for my first novel was medieval Ireland, 1588 to be precise, when the Spanish Armada wrecked upon our rocky shores in one of the deadliest storms ever recorded. I probably spent the best part of a year researching 16th Century Europe and the battle of the Armada against the Royal Navy. I also had to research life in Ireland at that time, which was under foreign rule but, especially in the West, remained quite independent in their laws and culture. Everything from what they ate, what they wore and what they believed in (Brehon Law still existed at that time) was crucial to create a realistic picture. I didn’t just stick to books and websites; I watched movies set in and around that time, documentaries and visited museums. You simply cannot know enough about your setting, which brings me nicely on to my next point.
Try not to force-feed the facts to your reader – they will not appreciate it! It can be so tempting, after months of researching your subject, to thrill (or bore!) your readers with every minute detail you picked up along the way. But you have to know when enough is enough. It’s important for you to know the background to the story, but the reader doesn’t need a history lecture, so you have to find a way to weave the facts into the story and keep the reader entertained as well as informed. The time-slip genre does tend to have some paranormal plot devices which require the reader to suspend belief to a certain degree, so when you’re writing fiction, make sure you get your facts straight! A good piece of advice is to know more than you put on the page.
Now the trickiest and most enjoyable part of writing dual timelines is connecting your stories, so that each has a bearing on the other. The pacing of both stories is paramount to the genre’s success, so you have to carefully develop the plots from both timelines at an even pace. The switching needs to be seamless so the reader can keep up and transition easily from one timeline to the next. That’s really where your characters and settings come into play, because you want your reader to anticipate each narrative as it unfolds. In my current novel, the sections from the past are told in the first person, while the present day parts are told in the third person. This automatically changes the tone and offers the reader a different perspective on each timeline. As I said, both timelines should be strong enough to stand on their own, yet contain all of the thematic links that bind the stories into one. It’s a delicate balancing act, but if done successfully, it’s a genre that can be a thrilling ride, for reader and writer alike.
Every author has their own approach to writing dual timelines and this can vary with each book. The Heirloom was written in sequence, but my new novel (which is also dual timeline) was written in separate blocks. I wrote the present day first and then focused entirely on the past. I found that really allowed me to immerse myself completely in that era (which happens to be the early 1900’s, just before the war). However, either approach has its challenges so you need to do whatever you can to get yourself into the zone. One of the most powerful tools I have for getting into that head-space is music, and I listened to lots of traditional Irish music and folk songs written at that time. Music has a timeless, ethereal quality that really helped me to let my mind drift back through the ages and channel the past. Again I read biographies and other works written at that time in Ireland and hopefully I’ve achieved an authentic setting for my novel. The real fun began when I had to try and weave the stories together! But like I said, I enjoy a challenge.
The dual timeline genre is such an intriguing idea and in fact it was a book I read about past life regression that gave me the inspiration for my first novel. It offers endless possibilities for writers and there are no rules as such. But my one piece of advice is this: Write about a time period you are passionate about. I was fascinated by the Armada landing in Ireland and how the locals tried to help them hide from the authorities. I rented a cottage that overlooked the bay where the ship I was writing about sank. I visited the graveyard in Galway City where a plaque erected by the Spanish Marine Corps remembers the Spanish Soldiers who were executed by the English army. I don’t think I could have written this story if I wasn’t so passionate about the human story behind historical facts.
So while dual timelines might seem like a niche genre, I have seen its popularity grow over the years. Writers like Kate Morton and (ahem) myself are bringing these kinds of stories to a wider audience of readers who like their history with a dash of contemporary on the side 😉
Read my dual timeline novel The Heirloom on Amazon
A recent trend of wrapping books in unassuming brown paper and jotting down the merest of hints as to what lies underneath is sweeping the nation’s bookshops and book-clubs. I love this idea, because covers can often be misleading, distracting or ill-fitting. The old adage of judging books by their covers exists precisely because this is what we do. How much simpler it would be if all books could be wrapped in plain paper, but then we would miss out on the one opportunity to create a visual representation of what lies between the covers.
Being a self-publisher, one has the blessing/curse of choosing one’s own cover (not sure why I’ve slipped into the third person, but there we are). It can actually be a really exciting, creative process, but when budget is a concern, there are limitations. This usually means hiring a graphic designer who will give your cover the professional edge, but being on the poor man’s plan means doing a lot of the work yourself. Nothing new there then. So for my debut novel, I had eleventy-thousand ideas for the cover and bombarded my designer with images, patterns, frames, fonts… the list was endless. In a bid to give me what I wanted instead of what I needed, she tried to incorporate as many of my ideas as possible and did a great job of blending them. However, in hindsight, I realise that she should have said STOP! In capitals! Book covers are meant to be clear – telling the reader, at a glance, what to expect. While I do like my cover, after a few years in this industry, I can see that I made some newbie mistakes.
So it’s time for change and a re-branding of my first novel, The Cross Of Santiago. Similar to Outlander, this novel has two timelines with characters’ lives intertwining throughout. And like Diana Gabaldon, I also struggle to come up with a condensed description of what this book is about. As she herself said: “I’m still trying to figure out what the heck you call books that nobody can describe.” It covers so many genres from historical fiction, to romance, fantasy, mystery and general fiction. So instead I’m going to leave it up to one of my readers, The Bearded Bookworm, to describe it!
The Cross of Santiago is a historical fiction / romance novel set mainly in Galway, Ireland. It follows the stories of several characters from 2010 as well as slipping back further in time to the 16th century.
In 2010 we follow the stories of Amanda, a young women who was orphaned as a child and longs to know more about her biological family and Xavier, a Spanish man who has by chance become involved in an around the world yacht race which will finish in Galway.
After having no contact with her biological family following her parents deaths at a young age Amanda out of the blue receives contact from a law firm informing her that her aunt has died and left her a medal in her will. After experiencing flashbacks during a hypnotherapy session it becomes clear that this medal may be even more important than simply being the only remaining connection to her biological family.
Why does she keep having dreams of drowning? What exactly is the medal and how did her aunt come to have it in her possession? Are her visions representative of her inner emotions or are they memories of a previous life? And more importantly, what does the mysterious Spaniard Xavier have to do with it all?
Again, with time and experience, I have come to realise that the title, ‘The Cross Of Santiago’ doesn’t really mean very much to people. I imagine most people have heard of the Camino de Santiago – a pilgrimage across northern Spain – and perhaps that association is a bit misleading. I had thought of changing it before, but I assumed that once you published a book, you couldn’t change it. Currently I am of the mind that you can do whatever the hell you want! And what I want is for my novel to reach the audience it was meant for, and it’s my job to make sure that happens. Besides, most novels have entirely different covers for different markets and various editions and I think that after three years, my novel deserves a new jacket too. So after much thought and consultation, I am giving my novel a new title, THE HEIRLOOM. It’s evocative, intriguing and after all, the entire plot revolves around the mysterious heirloom itself.
The changes haven’t been finalised yet, but having all the patience of a gnat, I just had to share it with you! It all began with this beautiful shot – as soon as I saw it I knew that it was my new cover.
Ta-dah! Do let me know what you think 🙂 As I said, the kerning has to be finished and a few other bits and bobs, but hopefully this new cover and title will be live very soon. I was chatting about this with fellow Indie Author Heather Wardell and she pointed out that the only concern would be readers buying the same book twice! However, the clever people at Amazon have already thought of this and there is an option to publish my new cover as a second edition, which I think sounds rather fancy. So it’s a win-win 🙂
You can now buy The Heirloom in paperback or eBook