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Forest Brothers – the novel is coming very soon! Estonia, midges and all…

Last leg of the final edit of the story and there is a quiet delight at how far I have progressed with it. The mission now is to complete the latest edit and watch out for the many things you assume are there – punctuation marks are so easily missed over. Also, in Estonian speech, I have elected to omit the use of the words ‘a’ and ‘the’, to reflect the different structure of the language. Trying to get my brain to recognise this and not add them is quite tricky at times!

After this, I need to read it again from start to finish to ensure it is flowing, there are no continuity breaks and that the characters personalities are showing and not schizophrenic!

More soon! Possibly another interview!

Update – Forest Brothers novel, a new novel and short story

It’s been a busy week! After a long period of inactivity on the Forest Brothers project, I received back the start of the final edit for the manuscript. It’s now looking nice! A bit more detail following my latest trip to Estonia and the Metsavennad part of the story feels much better to me now.

The cover is completed, so we are still on for an e-book release by Christmas and a paperback by Easter, via Circaidy Gregory Press under the very able editing of Kay Green. Thanks Kay, for keeping me on track and treating me like a human!!

In the meantime, I won a few prizes at the Aber Valley Arts Festival. Third prize in the short story competition with ‘Senghenydd’. It follows the thoughts of one of the rescue team as they search through the coal mine following the blast in 1913 that killed 439 people. The event took place a mile away from the festival and the organisers asked if they could use the work in the memorial service last Monday and for next year’s centenary. I was more than happy to say yes, it was written in memoriam and it is so much in the right place. I have also offered to dramatise it in a short play, which is my work cut out after Forest Brothers and the news below.

Which is, that I also won a prize in the Welsh novel competition,  which is publication as an e-novel with a noted Welsh small-press publisher. The novel is called ‘The Promise’ and is based in the Aberystwyth area in the early 1900s. It follows the fortunes of a young man, running away from his lead mining home to try and forge a new life. He finds out what happens when life forces you to go back on a promise?. It’s a bit of a rights of passage, romance with the background of the railway construction at the time, without any trainspotters or general nerdy folk! It is actually book 4 of 5 of a family saga set in the lead mining part of Ceredigion. I will have to start another thread for news on this one.

The thought of working on two novels at the same time is daunting and yet very very appetising! Watch this space.

Forest Brothers – interviewing the author

Q) What is the book about?

A) In a sentence – One man’s struggle to fulfil his destiny. It’s a combination of action, adventure and a flavour of romance

Q) Where is it set?

A) It is set in war-torn Estonia in 1944. The German Army is in retreat and the Red army is advancing to fill the void.

Q) Why Forest brothers?

A) It is the name given to those who escaped to the forest to avoid capture by either side. Some of them were escaping being forced to join a foreign army. Some were avoiding deportation to places like Siberia. Some wanted to fight to retain their independence. Many groups  formed in various parts of the country, with various successes. The term originated from the revolution in Russia in 1905.

Q) So, only men allowed?

A) No, but the name seems to stick as Forest Brothers. Women were deported also.

Q) Were they partisans?

A) There were acts of rebellion reported – 773 between 1944 and 1947, but  many i think just wanted to hide and escape. To be honest, these people were on their own. Nobody supplied them with means to fight or communicate, so it was not an effective network of cells in terms of a resistance movement. But then resistance doesn’t have to be violent.

Q) How long did they last?

A) It was estimated anything up to 15,000 were active up to 1953, although the KGB were successful in infiltrating many cells leading to arrests and deportations. Following an amnesty most left the forest, but some remained. The last Metsavend was found in 1978, August Sabbe drowned himself to avoid capture by the KGB.

Q) Why choose this historical setting?

A) My wife and daughter are Estonian and I quickly became interested in their history. I find many similarities in psyche between Estonia and Wales even if they have led very different  lives. My main character, Huw, is Welsh, rediscovering a land he once knew.

Q) How did that happen?

A) At the end of the first world war, Estonia declared its independence from Russia. By  1919,  Russia had regrouped and began to look to reclaim land it had lost.  Also, a German army was still in Latvia and South Estonia, where its commander was looking to set up a new Reich. The UK elected to send a squadron of Navy ships to Estonia and Latvia to assist the fledgling republics.

Q) To protect them?

A) To watch their backs. Estonia and its people earned their own independence, but the Royal Navy kept the Soviet Navy away.

Q) So why does this man come back?

A) In 1944 British intelligence send Huw to go to ground and feed back information to London.  In 1919, he had jumped ship to stay with a woman in Estonia, only to be captured many years later and returned to prison in the UK. His soul is seeking closure.

Q) And?

A) It’s in the book 😉

Q) So there is a love interest?

A) Yes, Maarja, a strong-willed Estonian girl. From my experience, there isn’t any other type!

Q) Any other major characters?

A) Yes. There are 2 Forest Brothers. Märt was the baker in Huw’s Estonian village.  He went to Finland to fight and returned to the forest. He is hiding  a secret that affects everyone.

Juhan is a happy-go-lucky young man who seems to fall on his feet, even in such desperate times.

There is also a Russian officer, Oleg. He is chasing Huw, but there is more going on there than just duty.

Q) So, how much is true?

A)  I have researched the  historical background for the story, individual actions however are fiction.  I have tried not to use real characters in direct dialogue. Where characters needed to be traceable eg officers of a Navy ship, they have not been named and are not  based on real personalities. The fictional characters supplant the real ones. All the characters are fictional and any resemblance with real people either past or present is purely coincidental.

Q) What does the novel give you the chance to do?

A) It gives me  the chance to bring to life a period and a history that is little known in the UK. There is limited knowledge of what our Navy did and there is a lot of ignorance about what Estonia went through in its turbulent first republic. In 1944, Soviet Russia was an ally, Germany was the enemy. All the Baltic states got swallowed up in the black hole the conflict created and the West stood by and watched.

Over here, we seem to be ignorant of anything that happened in Eastern Europe outside of larger countries. It would be nice to change that a tiny bit.

Also, it is the story of a man’s chance to redeem himself – that’s worth writing about!


Q) When do you expect it to be released?

A) Circaidy Gregory press and myself  are looking to Christmas for the e-book and next year for the paperback.



Softly, softly

My lovely editor-to-be passed me back the manuscript of Forest Brothers last week, corrected, amended and with suggestions. I spent a hard week reworking it and spent some time correcting the piece, taking the opportunity to correct some Estonian spellings and a few character name tweaks.

One of the main issues has been working with characters whose mother tongue does not use the words ‘the’ and ‘a’. I have omitted them from dialogue to add to the Baltic flavour of it all. However, as I have spent my whole life using the words, it is so hard to train the brain to get rid of them!

I have added a few suggestions for changes. Some are necessary. For example, one early scene sees the protagonist be dropped off by a submarine. Having now personally clambered just about all over the said beast in the Tallinn Lennusadam, I can definitely confirm there is no deck gun. Thus a rewrite beckons…

It is all part of a journey that I am still enjoying, but I need to start thinking of marketing soon! That will be interesting. Haven’t done much in the past, but I do have many people around me who have. I’ll be buying a few beers in the near future!!

Forest Brothers still on track for end November as an e-book and April possibly as a paperback. Yay!

Feeling the land

It’s been a busy time these last six weeks, unfortunately a lot of which focused on the death of my father aged 82.

One thing I have managed to do though is visit Estonia in its beautiful summer glory. It gave me an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere and think about aspects of the story. I also had a great opportunity to visit places I know and some I don’t, all of which contribute to my impending novel ‘Forest Brothers’.

Before I left, my prospective editor suggested I should go to the land ‘and see what messages it holds for you’. It was great advice! I have made lots of notes about tweaks to the manuscript. They range from spellings, to emotional reactions to situations and even correcting some inaccuracies after seeing places for the first time or in a new light.

All novels  should have a good feel for their location. Little observations can add colour to the scene, but you also have to be careful. What is there today may not have been there before. The land could have changed, the culture also. Historical novels are in effect retrospective pieces written with 21st century eyes. You have to really try and pull yourself away from the here and now to get a feeling for the then.

I tried to visit everything I possibly could. Where this is not possible, I am reliant on history books and old pictures. The publisher’s comment was so right, though. The land does speak to you.

We hope to release the e-book by end November and a paperback by end April 2013. Before that, there are the many correspondences over tweaking and suggestions for enhancing the journey that my characters undertake.

All was quiet…

The most recent draft of Forest Brothers went to the publisher and I am hoping for an update next week. I’m sure more tweaks are on the way, but that is part of the process.  The art work is progressing nicely and I am working on getting this blog automatically linked to facebook and twitter, so it’s one click rather than the current cut and paste.

The waiting for editorial feedback has created a lull, which I have tried to backfill with a few things:

  • I have been asked to do some paid blog-writing work.
  • I have a new project based in the Edwardian slate mining industry in Wales.
  • I am trying to shine some of my previous works for submitting to a competition in September.

I am always asked why  I write and I have to admit to an over active imagination! At least  one that conjurs up scenes and stories in my mind like a TV show. I always have. I find the process of creating a story through to completion is very therapeutic and allows me to escape from the stresses and strains of the here and now.

The problem is, i get emotionally involved. I cry at the sad bits and I’m down with the dark bits. Mind you, I smile at the lighter sections too. It does help to keep everything on the level!

The perils of many edits

Well, I have finished the run through of the editorial comments made by my prospective publisher for Forest Brothers and – yup, she was right in 99% of cases! There is a serious problem when you edit your own work. You know the story. The action and dialogue has come from your mind, and it is to your mind you return to check it for errors.

After a while you can get blind to some mistakes. Technology can help you with spellcheck and some structure, but not always. Even now, some wayward commas and quotation marks were found in the returned manuscript. God knows what version this one is.

The secret is to do many edits using different methods. I always start by hand-writing my stories. The typing up is the first edit. the read-through is the second. There then should follow a reading out loud to yourself. Don’t be shy! It shows up how breathless your prose may or may not be for one thing.

I found transferring the prose to an e-reader helped also, the presentation on the screen seemed to make it slightly different.

Finally, if you belong to a forum or a Writers club that is healthy enough to give out constructive crit, use it. (and repay the complement to others) Third party feedback is essential.

Onwards and upwards

A Forest of Biro Marks

To give you an idea of what producing a novel entails, I thought I would try and update my blog every so often. Then you get an idea of the journey that the story ‘Forest Brothers’ has gone through. It will be like walking through a deep Estonian forest but with less midge bites.

I received back my manuscript from the publisher. She put a sheet of lined A4 paper at the front, where she had written in big letters ‘This is going to be a superb novel.’ Well, I’ll attach the photo so you can see. It’s very informal and a wonderful boost to morale. I have it as a screen saver,for when I need inspiration.

So what to do first? Nothing, of course. I felt knackered after so many years of  trying to make the break-through. More time hoping than trying, I suppose. Those rejection letters were flowery and complimentary, but still a no. Of course, JK Rowling was rejected 35 times before Harry Potter made print, so that’s all ok then…

The manuscript that was returned was full of biro notes, done in a very artistic and pleasing manner. Seriously though, my initial emotion was amusement. I immediately saw why she said ‘will be’. You can look through a story a hundred times and it won’t have the same effect as a critical opinion from a third party. You’ll even miss spelling mistakes. Your eyes become lazy. Your mind tells you the story it knows, rather than you reading the page. You can lose perspective. It’s hard to stand back.

Also, colloquial speech, social networking, e-mails and texts makes me incredibly lazy with the English language. Read my blog further, and I’m sure it will stick out like a sore thumb. English wot she is wrote.

I am busy working through the manuscript (Mss) and have sent the first 20 pages back for a sanity check. The response was positive. Exactly what was required – only can we do these extra changes, followed by more biro. It seems to me, that when you edit sometimes it gives you a clearer picture of what needs to be done, so you can tweak the tale even further. It’s like clearing a box room and believe me… I have an untidy mind. Should I feel frustrated? I actually feel happy. The fact is the tale is getting honed and it’s a step closer to the end goal. Even if it feels like baby steps on occasions.

On another point, I had a quiet chat with a local independent bookshop. ‘Do you do book launches?’

‘Oh yes, we love promoting local authors. Here’s our number, let us know when it’s out.’



Forest Brothers

Forest Brothers is the name of my new novel, due out hopefully Q4 or early next year.

I may subtitle it Metsavennad, as that is the Estonian word for the bands of fugitives that lived hand to mouth in wartime Estonia.

The story is set in 1944, as Germany retreats and the Soviet Union is poised to retake the small nation. This is the current blurb although it may change to reflect the change in title:

December 1919 – The Royal Navy send a squadron of ships to the fledgling Estonian nation to aid their fight for independence. Huw Lloyd, a young navy officer jumps ship, sacrificing his career for the love of a woman. In time he is recaptured and made to suffer for his actions, as the Navy reclaims its own.
September 1944 – Huw is selected for covert operations in an Estonia ravaged by two armies and living in misery fuelled by pain and fear. Though helped by friends, his mission is compromised. In  his flight, he is forced to make a choice as he is  faced once more with the ghosts of his past and the realisation that nothing remains the same.
As I say, it may change to reflect the title, but it gives you an idea of where we’re going!.
I will be posting progress reports as I go. At present, I am editing it with a lovely small press publisher. We have started once more at the beginning and I reacquaint myself with my characters in a great edit with spit, polish and a dab of Brasso where needed.I have been searching for a good cover pic and have found one  to form the basis of a painting.

So now all of a sudden, I’m thrust into some delightful dilemmas that I have never even thought of before.

How and where to market?
Where to personally push?
What online and what not?
Market paper and e-versions separately?
Who to send promotional copies to?
Who to send freebies to in thanks?
Distribution of books
Even what name do I put on the title?I can think of worse decisions to make!


Stuck in a limbo and desperate to do something meaningful, what to do? That is where writing began for me. A creative way of expressing myself and a chance to harness my wondering imagination. I close my eyes and I’m there. Wish I’d picked ‘there’ as a warm sunny day on a sandy beach, with the waves gently lapping on the shore…but I have to let the story load in my mind, then watch it unfold, wherever it may be. Currently I’m in an Estonian forest being bitten by midges