BOOKS ....... FREE STORIES ....... TALES OF TAM YS ....... ARCHIVE ....... EDITING ....... SARAH

Moving on

Dear friends, I received some amazing news today which I'm looking forward to sharing in due time. In the meanwhile, if you're interested in following me along a new pathway, I have a new name, new website (still somewhat under construction!) and new links to twitter, instagram, and pinterest.

It's my dream to bring some light and cheer into these dark days. I know many of us need it. I've always sought escape in fantasy books, but when I go to the shelves lately it's all grimdark and gruesome tales, or heavy stories about sombre issues. I could go to the Young Adult section instead, but I don't have much interest in reading about teenagers. I feel passionately that adults need uplifting fantasy books for adults, full of verve, fun, excitement, magic, and romance. I know many other readers feel the same way. I want to write those books and stories. I want to bring a light.

The writing I've done as Sarah Elwell has brought me much joy, not the least of which has been connecting with my wonderful readership. But I'm ready to move on. Hugs and blessings to you all, may you find what you need in these days.

A Booklist and a Battle with Time

I don't believe in linear time. One day I will write a time travel novel about this (critics will call it "a fun romp through the annals of history, in which two enemies find themselves becoming lovers on the edges of famous battlefields, in secret rooms of power, and behind the scenes of momentous occasions, while also working to stop each other from destroying the very fabric of existence," and it will draw the inevitable comparisons to Connie Willis, who of course did time travel better than I ever could, and I will tick yet another idea off my decades old, exceedingly long, list of dull story ideas ... or, you know, more than likely I actually won't, I'll merely write a blog post about it, or probably just a tweet.)

Linear time, however, believes in me. And lately it has been tormenting me in the most cruel fashion. Look at all these wonderful books ...

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord.

Pepper and Jack find themselves in a twitter war on behalf of their competing family restaurants. Their snarky memes go viral, they start to have more fun than enemies should. Will their online battle move to a real life romance neither of them expected? A YA romcom that sounds absolutely, gorgeously, hilarious.

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle.

Although Naomi and Nicholas are preparing for a lavish wedding that's only three months away, they're sick of each other and miserable in their relationship. But the first one to back out has to pay for the wedding expenses. So they each begin a campaign to annoy the other so much they will call it quits. What follows is a battle of wits employing pranks, sabotage, all-out emotional warfare  ... and a whole lot of fun.

Well Met by Jen de Luca

Two sworn enemies find themselves flirting at a Renaissance Faire. This book sounds smart as well as swoony, and with a combination of enemies to lovers and Shakespeare, it's the perfect book for me. And look at that pretty cover!

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

Completely different from the charming romcoms on this list, Nalini Singh's latest book is a dark murder mystery set on the west coast of New Zealand. What can I say? Put together one of my top ten authors, plus my own homeland, and you get a book that's irresistable to me even though I tend to prefer cheerful reading these days.

To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters.

In this historical romcom, Lady Violet intends to teach her estranged husband James a lesson by feigning to be desperately ill.  James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. When I read the promotional blurb, I felt actually desperate to read this book. It ticks ALL my boxes.

... But not one of these books is available yet! They're all due for publication! I have to wait! Very well, linear time, my wicked nemesis. I surrender grudgingly, and achingly, to your reality.

ps, if you follow me on twitter and instagram you will see I'm making very slow steps towards my complete author rebranding. This has been both a personal and business decision for me, and although I know it will confuse some people, perhaps upset some people, I must follow my spirit. I'll keep you updated with new links as they become ready.

Writing for money

Write what you love. Over and again I see this advice in the writing community, even when it means writing something for which there's no market. The idea is that you're supposed to be motivated solely by love or the creative spirit, rather than anything as vulgar as financial reward.

My personal response, as someone who writes to breathe, who honestly goes a bit nuts if I'm not working on a book or story collection, is that I absolutely am motivated by money.

Why shouldn't a writer create products for the purpose of income? 

We don't ask plumbers to fix sinks for the sheer love of it. We don't ask doctors to study for years, perfecting their skills, and then have no concerns about income. Writing is a craft. The most serious writers combine aptitude with study to become the very best they possibly can be. It takes years to get good at it. Even those "overnight successes" you read about, or the "naturally talented debuts," have years of story-writing behind them, often going all the way back to childhood. Most writers do this unrecognised work because they love it. That doesn't mean they shouldn't also be paid for their products.

It also doesn't mean they must never think about what sort of writing will bring them in money. I myself fell into that myth. For years, I thought penning romance would make me a sell-out, betraying the skills I'd striven for years to develop. Then I started actually reading the genre, and quickly discovered how much skill goes into being a best-selling romance novelist. The style of language may be looser, lighter, than literary fantasy, but that doesn't make it less worthwhile. In fact, since changing my style and putting in the work to develop it over this past year, I've come to see that it's a great deal harder than I ever imagined to write something that reads seamlessly for a broad audience.

Writing for money means being really good at your craft, because only well-written books bring in money.

Writing for money means wanting your job to be doing the thing you love most in the world.

Writing for money means you want your hard work to be worth something. Of course, it's worth it for its own sake, but in the real world you want your hard work to buy you sushi.

Writing for money means taking yourself and your craft seriously and getting other people - agents, publishers, readers - to do the same. This in particular has always been a prime motivator for me. Whenever I feel low, I look at how many people have bought my books - and come back to buy more - and it reminds me that my writing has value.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with writing for the sheer love of it. But those who want to write for money ... or who choose what they write for the sake of money ... are just as much soulful artists, in love with their craft, as anyone else.

The Bridgertons and Other Happy Stories

I have been reading a lot of light-hearted books lately. In fact, the only thing with grit that I've been able to manage has been The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta, who is one of my favourite authors. I sat down with that book one afternoon, intending to browse the first couple of chapters, and finally put it down when I finished it that evening. Melina did it again, drawing me in with her realistic characters and interesting cast, and the texture of Australia she captures that I love.

The book didn't inspire me to read any others of its kind, however. I find I can't breathe within solemnity and weighty words at the moment. I must have light, love, adventure, happiness. Unfortunately, so many books written in this vein are soulless. They are tropes tacked on to a template; their characters and scenes are interchangeable with other such books. It's rare to find any that truly sparkle.

Julia Quinn's books are that rarity. They never fail to make me happy. Granted, some of her scenes read like she has a master paragraph which she uses for every book and simple rewords slightly. And I am a little weary with all her men-seeking-purpose while the heroines almost never long for work or creativity. But Julia is one author whose books I will always excitedly pre-order. So you may be able to imagine my enthusiasm for the upcoming Netflix series based on her Bridgerton saga. I know it's going to ruin the books I love. But it's still something.

Everywhere I look in visual entertainment - tv, movies - I see things made for men and boys. Endless repetitions of comic book stories. Violence even when it's not necessary. Hard fantasy. Cruelty. Crime. If we're lucky we might get an occasional romcom or Jane Austen remake. I don't understand it. Women's literature is the biggest seller in publishing. And yet it is mostly ignored on the screen.

So the Bridgerton series pleases me more than just because I'm a fan of the books. I'm a fan of womanly stories. Of romance and goodness and light. I know the producers will make it as grim as possible, but part of me still hopes. Wouldn't it be lovely if our society considered joy to be entertaining?

Trawling on a wintered shore

Here's one of the stories from Tam Ys for you. I can't remember if I've shared it here before or not.

After the rain, they go down to the long white tide. There, the shore is bruise-coloured and broken, and rocks dwindle away into the ocean like regretted words. Through a cold damp wind, amongst drownings, they search for necessities and dreams.

She has a wooden bucket banded with rope. He has the wicker baskets his grandfather made, still strong after all this time. The children drag sacks behind them as they run. Some seasons, he brings down a barrow, hauling it over stones and driftwood. But the sky is too faint this time, the winter too long. She has said three words to him that morning, after a night untouched. So he takes baskets because that’s how his heart feels: cloistered, old, something that needs to be held close. 

She bashes the bucket against her leg as she walks - not intentionally, probably. And she drags the windswept hair again and again from her face. When she gets halfway down the beach she stops, ankle-deep in sea-debris, and stares out to the horizon, where fog makes an endless silence. Her eyes are darker than the water, but just as eerie. She’s looking like that incase he looks at her. 

Look at me, she thinks. Like a moon at a tide: tugging, tugging. He doesn’t - but she can feel him carefully not looking, and that’s almost the same thing. The sea coils around his ankles as if it would love him, take him, and she hates it for that. But then, hasn’t he always been the one to say, let’s go north, make a shop, or have a farm, and she’s said she couldn’t breathe, away from the ocean? I hate it, she has always told him, but I have to stay.

She wonders some times if he’s thinking the same about her. Winter times, anyway, when they’ve been rattling around like bones in the silence, hungry for food, for light, for running laughing on the dunes and then falling sighing holding as the children go on running, trying to fly, around them. Winter times when they drag their hearts like they drag the sea after storms.

Seems, these past couple of years, every season has been a wintering.

The children have found cockles. They squat down to gouge them from the mud. Half will be empty, he thinks. My fingers will be ravaged, trying to open them, she thinks. They glance towards each other, then away before their eyes meet. He stabs the tide for its little fish. She guts the beach of its seaweed.

They’d married here, eleven years ago. Low tide, sunshine, flowers in their hair. The children had been only lines on her smallest finger when she made a fist. Two, she said, showing him, and he’d laughed. Not a mean laugh, more like the sound of water rustling amongst stones. She’d been the one laughing when the superstition came true. It hadn’t seemed funny, though, the year they dug the little grave for their third baby, and she’d fallen out of enchantment with the lines on her hands, the old magical stories. There were a hundred of them now, lines, scars, little burns. And no more children. She’d become a realist. And he, asking about north over and again since then, dreamed more. He dreamed of apple trees, sheep, fat red roses growing around the door. She did not laugh at him. She was a tide gone out. 

Stars lay under the seaweed - chipped, brownish, edible enough to put in the bucket. We have come to this, she thinks as she gathers them: eating stars. He finds four fish, an empty bottle, a scrap of net with two good hooks in it. He is smiling, she is almost crying, when their eyes finally, accidentally, longingly, connect.

He draws her down wordless, smiling like that. He crooks an arm around her. Sea swarms their feet, sucks the sand away around them. They waver, then held on to each other, like they used to, as if not even the sea could beat them. She can feel the bones beneath his shirt. She has a hundred words clattering like stones in her throat: love, hunger, flowers, apples, stars that made her hands bleed, the cold ocean, winter, wishes, bones, bones. 

Don’t say them, his mouth urges, kissing her silent. 

But when her words have melted and there’s nothing left of value in the sea, so they’re walking up the beach again, he turns to her, and he says what she really had to say, beneath all those stones, but has never been able to put into words: the true reason she can not bear to leave this aching, starving place.

They look away from each other, up the shore past where the children are hauling sacks behind their thin, weathered bodies, laughing, swallowing sea-salted wind. They let their gazes settle finally on what she has never truly looked away from, and what he’s refused to see, these two years passed: that bit of land beyond the house where a third child sleeps.

She drops her bucket of weeds and stars, relinquishes silence finally. He holds her while sound like a winter sea crashes through to his heart. Then they take a deep breath and go home. They eat tiny fish, star hearts, five cockles in seaweed broth. All the frail dreams of the ocean. Still hungry, they chew on words until they get their marrow. And they laugh, and sing their children songs.

Spring comes three weeks later. But they have gone north. They took an old cart piled with furniture, fishing gear, two children, and a box of blessed earth that they buried again three months later on a little farm, beneath a tree that will drop star-hearted apples onto that earth, apples for sheep and children and grandchildren to eat all the years to come.
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Thanks & Blessings.