Thursday, November 14, 2013

Last book in the Witchstruck series

Yesterday I hit Send and emailed the third book in my Tudor Witch Trilogy for young Adults to my editor at Random House Children's Books.

Today I am starting a new book.

That's the way I'm writing at the moment. One in, one out. It's high pressure fiction, but there's a rhythm to it which I rather enjoy. Certainly no time to stop and worry about a book's reception. Which can be pleasant or frightening, depending on your perspective.

The manuscript I sent is called WITCHRISE. It concludes the story of Meg Lytton, teen Tudor witch, and her battle against the evil witchfinder. (Are there ever fictional witchfinders who are NOT evil, I wonder?)

Here's WITCHSTRUCK, book one in the series, which is out NOW in the States and the UK. To stick it in a genre box, it's Tudor paranormal romance for all ages.


Monday, November 04, 2013


Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, England
Today, another short extract from my long poem ON WARWICK CASTLE, originally published by Nine Arches Press in whenever-it-was, now out of print but still available on Kindle as an ebook.

This poem was written during my year-long stint as Warwick Poet Laureate and is about the past and present Warwick Castle.

It was described by David Morley, poet and Director of the Creative Writing Programme at Warwick University, as 'a Modernist piece de resistance' - he also wrote the Foreword - and by David Floyd, writing in Sphinx, as 'one of the more ambitious works of public poetry generated through a local laureateship.'

So you have been warned ...

The old man sits behind them
on the grass, clay pipe stuck to his lip:

         ‘It was a day like this
         we rode against the King. Fifty years back.
         I was a boy then.’

A black mist, first thing,
and out of that mist,
the hiss of an arrow-storm, burning.
Those that survived
were sent down into the dark for it.
So, with the concealed blade
from a pocket knife, Master John Smith
etches out his name, and date
of his imprisonment:

Master John Smythe, Guner to his Majestye Highness
was a prisner in this place and lay here
from 1642 - tell the

Here, he's interrupted by the blade breaking
or a tour guide, descending.
There are rules even in darkness.
For a really serious breach,
the guide book tells him,
such as plagiarism or pastiche,
a man might be hung alive in chains
near the scene of his crime.
'Tell them,' he was to have finished,
         'I am a traveller in time,
         a master smith
         forged here in the shadows. I fall.
         I stop. My flesh decays.
         Yet here my name remains until
         the very end of days
         when there may be time
         for the courtyard gift shop, after all.
         Follow the signs.'

Up here in the light, every movement
                  is blinding.

         Stone light, grey
as a pigeon’s feather, cold on the rise
to Blacklow Hill
where Piers Gaveston fell: a moment’s struggle
in wet grass,
then the surprised head of the king’s lover
         rolls free, his lips drawn back,
still twitching.

Down in the village, a boy
armed with a spade
washes his face; trudges to work.

This rough mound, the sign says, was fortified
on the orders of William the Conqueror.
So, while Mercians dug, Normans sat,
pining for the wheat fields of France.
         Hony soyt quy mal pence.
1066 and All That.

         'No matter the right or wrong of it,
         we had to follow Warwick.
         Sheer black mist, first thing,
         and out of that mist,
         the hiss of an arrow-storm, burning.
         My father fell there in the confusion,
         a few miles shy of London.
         He died at Waterloo.
         Took a bullet in the Crimean.
         Fell at Ypres. Was listed
         among the missing.'

The boy stopped speaking ...

Read the rest of ON WARWICK CASTLE as a Kindle ebook. Currently only 77p!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Proud, proud, proud

Dylan at Wroxeter (Roman town) last year.
I'm very proud of my son Dylan, who is not only incredibly clever but a chip off the old block when it comes to blogging and reviewing. (In other words, he doesn't blog often, but when he does, it's with some panache ... !)

Dylan is eleven years old. He is obsessed with science and technology, and that is not an exaggeration.

His most recent obsession within those fields is astrophysics.

And I would like to share his review of Stephen Hawking's classic, A Brief History of Time, with you. It's on his book review site, The Book Mangle.

His writing style is not perfect - there are a few errors here! - but for an eleven year old reading a book by Hawking, and attempting to explain some of the contents in an easy-to-follow way, it's really pretty impressive.

Proud, proud, proud ... 

Here's an excerpt from his review:

I warn you, this is not a children's book. I sometimes personally had to read each paragraph several times to get the information in my head, and it felt like I had forgotten the English language ...

Read more on The Book Mangle.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

EXTRACT from THE CELL (fiction)

OVERHEARD: an anthology of short stories edited by Jonathan Taylor

Last November, I had a short story called THE CELL published in OVERHEARD, an anthology of fiction intended to be read aloud. The anthology is edited by Jonathan Taylor and was published by Salt. It is available on Amazon UK and direct from Salt Publishing, and can also be ordered from bookshops.

It's a brilliant collection of stories, and I can thoroughly recommend it to everyone who likes short fiction. Other contributors include: Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Louis De Bernières, Adele Parks, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Michelene Wandor, Vanessa Gebbie, Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, David Belbin, Panos Karnezis, Gemma Seltzer, Ailsa Cox and Will Buckingham.

I enjoyed writing this short story so much - which is about the interior life of a female Egyptian hermit of the third century - that I'm considering expanding it into a novel. Considering. These things are never certain ...

Here's a short extract from THE CELL, where my female hermit, after 17 years living alone in the desert, dwells on the rare visits from her spiritual father, Macarius, who is the hermits' new Abba after the old one died.

I am never sure if these visits help or hinder my progress. I am glad of them, for sure; my soul leaps for joy at the sound of a human voice, and my foolish vanity enjoys Abba Macarius’ flattering attentions, however fleeting. But afterwards, in the long stillnesses of the night, I recall each word spoken and regret them all. My pride asserts itself after these visits. It presses vicious thorns deep into my flesh, making me imagine, dream, recast each meeting until it shows me to best advantage, the least worldly of our order, the most pious, the Abba’s favourite. Mostly though, peace falls from my mind and I begin to remember how it feels to be alive in the world. My desire increases and pains me. The struggle to cage it becomes harder, almost impossible to bear. Some days the lure of the shimmering, heat-haze horizon burns my eyes like the desert burns my feet through my sandals. It can take weeks for equilibrium to return, for will to exert itself over my dizzying desire. Yet even will can corrupt the unwary. For it is the individual will, not the will of God, to which the body bows.

By speaking I weaken myself. Silence is the narrow way.

The days stretch out in this manner, my conscience knocked this way and that. Following a visit, I keep the cell door closed during the cooler hours when walking outside would be possible, afraid of my own weakness. Gradually, the stirred air of my cell settles. The humble stone walls and floor are my own again. Soon I find myself able to pray without distraction, and begin to follow the prayer cycles and meditations Abba Macarius has recommended for such trials. I sit cross-legged for days on end, examining one solitary word of the Lord’s teaching until it becomes as vast and complex in my understanding as creation itself. At such miraculous times, I feel His presence so near to me, it seems incredible that almost three hundred years have passed since He gave His life for mankind.

Read more of this story in OVERHEARD.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Alzheimer's Poem: Forgetting To Remember

In 1997, my artist grandmother died while suffering from Alzheimer's. I wrote this poem about her quite soon after her death, and can never read it now without tearing up.

I may have posted this poem on Raw Light before - it was published in my first poetry collection with Bloodaxe, THE BRIEF HISTORY OF A DISREPUTABLE WOMAN - but a conversation at dinner last night with fellow novelists Judy Astley and Katie Fforde made me think of it again.

I read this poem at my mother-in-law's funeral a few years ago, who also died from a complication while suffering from Alzheimer's.

(for my artist grandmother, Christiana Evelyn Beatrice Holland, 1903 - 1997)
by Jane Holland
You turned your face to the wall a year ago,
waiting for this. Not a word, not a whisper
passed your lips. In your eyes, not a flicker
when they came and went, those ghosts
dressed like your children, but unknown, older.
And your son was not your husband, though
you must have thought so, trying his name.
The nurse came by, with something
to help you sleep, but you didn't. Sat there
as though for a portrait, erasing the canvas
with cataracts, your glasses deep bottle-green.
A few years shy of the century, you were still
in that sunny front room at Maison Dieu,
preparing to paint, though they'd sold it
to pay the home fees ten years before.
I was almost as tall as you at eleven,
sunlight glinting off that shade you wore,
one eye patched like a pirate's.
And after the guns at Arromanches,
he could never hear the racing results
so you had to repeat, repeat yourself
until he too was gone; memory
evaporating too swiftly then,
like turps you'd left in the sun.

The whole poetry collection is available on Kindle.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Girl Who Cried "Publication!"

As I commented to fellow writer Carol McGrath on Twitter today, the only drawback to being a prolific author is that nobody pays any attention to your publications. New books come and go in a cricket-chirping wave of silence, where other less speedy novelists receive dozens of congratulatory messages and support with launching as soon as a new book hits the shelves.

As author problems go, it's a good one to have. And I fully understand this phenomenon. I too would hesitate to congratulate or support some Other Writer who appeared to have a new book out every five minutes, if only on the grounds that such prolificity is unfair and an affront to nature.

So I'm resigned to being ignored now on social media whenever a new book comes out, and entirely accept that I have become the girl Matilda in the apocryphal story, the tease who cried "Publication!" so often that, in the end, nobody bestirred themselves to click the link or even comment.

But a book is still a book is still a book.

And this one is WOLF BRIDE.

Debauchery and decadence at the court of Henry VIII form the backdrop to this arranged marriage between soldier Lord Wolf and Eloise Tyrell, lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

"Fifty Shades of Tudor Sex!" - The Sunday Times

Hilary Mantel meets Sylvia Day

Twitter hashtags: #WolfBride #feelupthebodies

Published August 29th 2013 by Hodder and Stoughton. Available in ebook edition now in the UK and Amazon US, paperback to follow in November.

First in the new Tudor series LUST IN THE TUDOR COURT.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Poetry Bazaar

Just a quick summertime reminder of my three self-published poetry titles on Kindle, as I like to make at least one poetry sale per year!

The revised Kindle version of my first collection: DISREPUTABLE (UK Amazon store and US Amazon Store): youthful poems of love, dreams, optimism, and loss.

Includes poems for which I won an Eric Gregory Award in 1996.

Then there's my controversial female narrator version of the Anglo-Saxon poem THE WANDERER (UK Amazon store and US Amazon store): 'Most days I wake/like a stone in the stillness ...'

Anglo-Saxon loner with depression ...

Finally, there's my long modernist poem ON WARWICK CASTLE, written during my tenure as Warwick Poet Laureate (UK Amazon store and US Amazon store) which is currently on sale at only 77p!

I'm only 77p!!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What is the Point of Poetry?

I'm talking about How To Write Young Adult Fiction on a panel at the Penzance Literary Festival today as Victoria Lamb. My fellow panellists are Ian Thomas and Helen Douglas.

That event is at 3pm in the Open Shed, Champion's Yard, Penzance TR18 2TA.

At 6.15pm today, I will donning a different hat and asking 'What is the Point in Poetry?' at a discussion with Angela France and other poets and readers. That event is at the same venue as the YA panel.

You can book tickets for these and other Penzance Festival events here. Or follow the individual links above.

Fascinating stuff, though I can ill afford the break from writing today. My summer is packed with book deadlines, promotion and festival events. And I have still not decided what the point of poetry is.

Perhaps it will come to me on the long drive to Penzance ...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Labels, and why I like them

Yesterday we had an epic - but also minor - family adventure. Epic because on the face of it something very important happened. Minor because it does not affect our family life in any meaningful way. Life will carry on at home much as it did before. But a new label has come into our lives, and we are very pleased to welcome it onboard.

What happened was that my ten year old son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

As a family, we have known for the past three years that Dylan has Tourette's. You can't live with someone with this syndrome and NOT KNOW.

"It would be hard to imagine a less likely troublemaker."

But although he already had a diagnosis of autism and ADHD, like his twin brother, the only concession to this further condition was a side note on his file that Dylan has 'tics'. Tic Disorder is a milder and more general condition than Tourette's, and usually of shorter duration - though medical opinions vary. In particular, Tic Disorder is fairly common in schools, with as many as 1 in 100 children showing possible symptoms.

So yesterday we took our son to yet another consultant at yet another hospital for yet another opinion, and FINALLY, after speaking to him for fifteen minutes, this new consultant pronounced it Tourette Syndrome.

But why is this a good thing?

Isn't Tourette Syndrome just another problematic life-long label, like ADHD and autism, to be hanging about our son's neck at the tender age of 10?

In some ways, yes. But the truly vital thing is the timing of this diagnosis, rather than its significance in general. Because a diagnosis makes no difference to his condition. There is no cure for Tourette's. There is no particular treatment, though some doctors believe in medication to alleviate symptoms. (We are not keen on medication, having already gone down that route in the past and disliking the side effects.) It may last his whole life, it may go away on its own, it may make his teen years a living hell.

"There's a word for what he does, and that word means he is not to blame."

But when he starts secondary school this September, his new teachers will be handed a file detailing his special needs, and now the tag Tourette Syndrome will feature on it. And when he tosses his head violently twenty-five times in a lesson, or makes a repeated high-pitched noise like dry windowscreen-wipers throughout his school assembly, he will not be singled out for punishment. Or if he is, we will be able to object on the grounds of this official diagnosis.

And when you have a child who, from the age of five, was humiliated and made to sit apart from the rest of the class for 'wilful disobedience', for an inability to sit still or work quietly, for making funny faces or noises when the teacher was in full flow, to be able to point to a diagnosis that completely explains his behaviour is a miracle.

Let's be clear about this. My son has moments of naughtiness, like every child, but on the whole he is well-behaved. We will not be treating this label as an excuse for genuinely rude or disruptive behaviour. Though it would be hard to imagine a less likely 'troublemaker'. My son is excruciatingly polite to adults, a favourite with the teachers at his new (more relaxed) village school, and marvellously intelligent, enquiring and eloquent. People remark on it everywhere we go, often with amazed expressions at his responses.

But Dylan also has these other difficult conditions that mean he sometimes misreads non-verbal signals, or prefers his own company to playing with peers, or can't sit still for longer than thirty seconds and will rock violently if forced to do so, or can't help repeatedly making odd squeaking and sniffing noises - often at the most embarrassing moments for him.

So that is why I like labels. Because this particular label will save my son from being labelled a troublemaker at his new secondary school, and help him to concentrate on his school work without worrying about being excluded for 'disobedience'.

I know many people hate labels - especially for long-term issues like this - and would prefer not to be stuck with them. But labels that save our children from being discriminated against are nothing short of fantastic.

And Dylan himself, having seen other kids with Tourette's on Youtube and knowing - absolutely knowing - that he has the condition too, is very pleased with his diagnosis. There's a word for what he does, and that word means he is not to blame. When you're a born people-pleaser, and you've been consistently blamed for things you can't control since you were old enough to sense the irritation and disapproval of your teachers, the sense of liberation and relief that accompany such a realisation cannot be overstated.

So thank you, Monsieur de la Tourette.

For those interested in knowing more about the syndrome, here is an extreme case of Tourette's on the This Morning show.

Friday, May 31, 2013

OVERHEARD wins its category at the Saboteur Awards

My contribution to OVERHEARD is a short story called THE CELL.
A while back I wrote a short story exploring the tortured mindscape of an Egyptian female hermit from the third century. It's called THE CELL and is published in a short story anthology from Salt Publishing entitled Overheard: Stories To Be Read Aloud edited by Jonathan Taylor (De Montfort University).

Overheard was nominated for a Saboteur Award this year, and I've just heard that it's won its category. So major congratulations to everyone involved!

What the Saboteur reviewer said about my story:
"Religious devotion is taken to a more disturbing extreme by the narrator in Jane Holland‘s ‘The Cell’, which beautifully evokes the isolation of a nun’s cell and her gradual descent into either madness or anther spiritual plane. Rather beautifully, Holland lets the reader see this as both a loss of health and also an outcome to be desired and welcomed."
 Review by Richard T. Watson

Contributors include: Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Ian McEwan, Blake Morrison, Louis De Bernières, Adele Parks, Kate Pullinger, Adam Roberts, Michelene Wandor, Vanessa Gebbie, Judith Allnatt, Jo Baker, David Belbin, Panos Karnezis, Jane Holland, Gemma Seltzer, Ailsa Cox and Will Buckingham.

You can read more about OVERHEARD here on Amazon UK. 

The book is also available to buy from the Salt Publishing website.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Writing Rollercoaster

So I've finished another novel, the 90,000 word book I was working on for a new publisher, and have to start work on another next week, probably the third book in my Tudor Witch trilogy with Corgi. Though there is another project in the wings, waiting for a green light. If the light comes, that one will take precedence, as the Tudor Witch finale is not due until the autumn.

There's such an emotional and mental high about finishing a novel, a real burst of energy towards the end to get you over that final bump in the road. It's addictive, makes you want to start a new one immediately. Well, that's the effect it has on me. The issue is that you suddenly hit a wall a few days after the book is done, a wall of total exhaustion that forces you into a coma-like rest from writing. So it's important to wait a beat, and not let the high fool you into thinking it was easy.

Of course, finishing a book is not the same as it being ready to send. I have to fiddle with it first. My spelling is superlative, so that's never been an issue for me. However, beyond the inevitable typos, there will be continuity errors, forgotten plot threads, character screw-ups, and possibly a gaping hole at the centre of the book.

Well, the gaping hole theory is unlikely in this case, as it's a fairly straightforward love story, no aliens or quantum physics or mysterious locked room murder to account for. But the rest? Definitely possible.

So over the next week I will be administering mouth-to-mouth to my finished manuscript so that when it appears, as if by magic, on the editor's computer screen next week, it will be as clean and watertight as I can get it.

Then she will smile, point out all the issues I missed, and make me fix them.

By then, of course, I shall be up to my waist in my next novel. And hopefully loving it as much as I loved this one, which almost seemed to write itself. Let's hope it knew what it was doing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Witchstruck wins YA category at the RoNAs 2013!

This is just to let you know that my novel Witchstruck won the Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year Award tonight in London's Piccadilly.

Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley (pictured here) handed out the awards.

If I stuttered and blubbed a bit at the podium, I should probably be forgiven. I hadn't expected to win and couldn't quite believe it. It was a truly overwhelming moment.

Here's the winning book: Witchstruck.

Read more about Witchstruck on Amazon.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New Poems at Epicentre Magazine

Random poetic image: Aldeburgh
For those of you who are interested in poetry and the like, there are three new poetry entries at Epicentre Magazine this week.

I have two poems in the online magazine myself this time, though they cannot technically be termed 'new'. They are part of a tentative poem sequence I wrote in about 1999, set on the Isle of Man during the last throes of the English Civil War. The poems are written in the narrative voice of Illiam Dhone, who is believed to have surrendered the Island to Cromwell's forces - most probably to avoid major bloodshed among his native Manxmen.

Old they may be - and indeed they were 'lost' for many years, and only regained when Neil Astley at Bloodaxe very kindly emailed them back to me after a decade in a filing cabinet (the poems were in a filing cabinet, not Neil Astley) - but they are still - as far as I know - unpublished. I suppose it's possible one or two of them were published in one of the UK's poetry magazines twelve years ago. But if so, I have no memory of it. And I'm pretty certain no one else will have, either.

Anyway, a few things for those interested in poetry. A moment snatched in the middle of prose to look back at the lyric impulse.

Here's the page at Epicentre.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On Warwick Castle: new digital edition

Browse on Amazon UK

Back in 2008, my poems from the Warwick Laureateship were published in pamphlet form by Nine Arches Press. Since that pamphlet 'On Warwick' is now out of print, there is a new digital version available on Kindle only.

Priced at only 77p, this new edition contains the long title poem 'On Warwick Castle', and two other poems commissioned during my stint as Warwick Poet Laureate, 'On the Renovations at Leamington Spa Station 2008' and 'Leamophants', on the history of elephants in Leamington Spa.

'On Warwick Castle': "On Warwick is the product of Jane Holland’s year as Warwick’s Poet Laureate. It’s not unusual for local laureates to write poems about major landmarks of the area, but the main poem in the collection, ‘On Warwick Castle’—described in David Morley’s foreword as Holland’s “modernist piece de resistance”—is probably one of the more ambitious works of public poetry generated through a local laureateship." David Floyd, writing in Sphinx.

High praise indeed!

If looking at this ebook on Amazon, do please click LIKE there if you feel able to. This apparently helps the book's visibility to browsing punters. Thanks!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Award Shortlisting for Witchstruck

From £2.84 on Amazon
My Tudor novel WITCHSTRUCK, written as Victoria Lamb and published by Corgi for Young Adult readers, has been shortlisted for an award administered by the Romantic Novelists' Association.

The award is Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year, and the winner will be announced, along with winners in other RoNA Awards categories, on February 26th in London. Awards will be handed out by Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley.

As you can imagine, I'm very pleased about this shortlisting. The shortlist is extremely strong and it's an honour to be in such brilliant company.

Witchstruck is the first in the Tudor Witch series. The second book is out in July 2013, entitled Witchfall.

The Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist:
 Jo Cotterill, Sweet Hearts: Model Behaviour, Red Fox (RHCP)
Laura Jarratt, Skin Deep, Electric Monkey/Egmont
Marie-Louise Jensen, The Girl in the Mask, OUP
Victoria Lamb, Witchstruck, Corgi (RHCP)
Sarra Manning, Adorkable, Atom (Little, Brown)
Susan Waggoner, Neptune's Tears, Piccadilly Press 

"Twilight meets The Other Boleyn Girl in this gripping and passionate tale of Meg, a spirited young witch learning her craft amidst the danger and intrigue of sixteenth-century England." 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Christmas Chez Nous

It's a big family ... and still growing!

Not quite sure about Grandma's Santa hat.

Christmas can be a bit of a strain for my husband.

But empty packaging has many uses!

Vegetable peeling is always a potential flashpoint area.

Best to steer clear of the kitchen and figure out how the mechanical kitten works instead.

Looks tasty, doesn't it?

Time to unwind with some chocolates.

And even the animals got a Santa hat and treat bag each!

Hope your celebrations were happy and peaceful too.