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Book Review: Vampsov 1938: A Spectre haunting Europe by Daniel Ribot

Project Nemesis

vampsov Vampsov 1938: A Spectre haunting Europe by Daniel Ribot

“Ludmilla Vatinashkaya already struggles to balance the challenges of marriage and family with her promising career as a captain in Stalin’s army when she is ordered to direct Vampsov, a covert unit created to fight the most implacable enemies of the Soviet Union: vampires. Astonished and initially skeptical, Ludmilla takes her unit on a thrilling and violent trail of destruction as Vampsov hunts down the blood sucking enemies of Socialism. With the help of Vassily, a dark and brooding creature who denies his very nature for his love of the fledgling Soviet state, they confront the most notorious monster of all in his Transylvanian lair.

Vampsov 1938, brings to life in luscious detail the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Daniel Ribot has beautifully navigated this turbulent page of history to create an an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that’s hard to put down and impossible…

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Vampsov the Toddler

vampsov full cover

It has been a about three months since my first published novel, Vampsov 1938, made it out of the pre-publication darkness and into the light (OK, the Amazon warehouse, if you can call that light). This period  has been a rather hectic one for me, seeing as I had been moving around quite a bit and have ended up working in Germany. Germany? I’m sure Ludmilla my main character, would not approve. But hey, different times and places and all that.

 

So I sits here, nursing my Franziskaner Weissbier and twiddling a pretzel between my fingers as Oktoberfest goes on all around me and I reflect on what has been happening to my infant book during its first months out in public. Hasn’t won a  Booker yet or outsold Stephen King even. But hey, early days and all that.

Franziskaner_Hefe-Weissbier_Hell_with_glass[1]

In all seriousness, I have been told that it takes time for the gears to crank up and sales and critical opinion to begin to make their mark. Perhaps I am to blame for this neglect in some way because I feel that Vampsov is a bit of an orphan at the minute. The book was launched far away in the US, I wrote it in the UK, yet am now living in a non-English speaking market so I can’t very well promote the book other than through the web and all. Poor ickle thing must feel abandoned. Keep promising it a big launch party, press releases, bookshop signings, events etc. And I can’t do any of that here. Still, the money for all that has to come from somewhere and how else am I going to earn it?

 

Despite all this disruption I am still very much a happy camper. For a start here is the (perhaps childish) thrill of knowing I’ve done it. I’ve got a book out! Woohooheehaaaa! On a more balanced note, I have had a lot of feedback that has given me reason to smile. A lot of the people who have read my book get it: the drama at the heart of the story, the family struggle mirrored in the political savagery. The dark humour borne of hopelessness. The vampire and the Stalinist toe to toe… a real monster facing an imaginary one. I’ve even given a snazzy interview to the force of nature that is the amazing Johnny Worthen.

 

Vampsov unwrapped!

Vampsov unwrapped!

And even the criticisms so far have been fair, given me pause for thought, pointed towards things I can improve on. Because I want to improve, grow, become better at this fascinating and exasperating craft. Dammit, next time you will find it harder to find fault, any fault!

 

So here is what I’m going to do to help out my little orphan Vampsov. A UK launch event will happen sometime next year, I’m thinking of a launch and birthday party combo with Borscht and balloons. My little orphan will be getting a little brother or sister too. I am writing the sequel to this volume (Vampsov 1940), and I hope to have a polished draft sorted soon.

 

Hooray!

 

Finally, I will try not to think out loud when surrounded by chaps in lederhosen. Some of them are giving me funny looks, I tell you. Nothing to see here guys, just sippin ma beer and twiddlin me pretzel… Blimey, I must be the  only person wearing proper trousers this side of Holland.

 

 

 

The Wait Is Almost Over

It’s been a long time coming, my debut novel. Finished my first draft in late 2009 and believed it was all fine and dandy.  I even had it spellchecked! In my grubby mitts I held a copy of a Vampire novel set in the Soviet Union of the 1930s with Stalin in it and everything. What more could any editor want?  Lots, as it happened. Early the next year I submitted three chapters to an editor at a conference in Loughborough. He panned it. Not the idea, mind, just the execution. Told me to change it around to his specification and come back to him the next year. Head bowed, a tear in my eye, I swallowed my pride and knuckled down.

After a year I asked about submitting, but the agent concerned seemed less than keen. So, back to the drawing board, I began submitting to small presses with my updated version. Again, no luck.

My last batch of rejections included a good one. Kate Jonez the guru of Omnium Gatherum Press in far off Los Angeles, sent me a letter telling me she rejected the manuscript as it stood. She liked the strong female character at the centre of the novel, but the manuscript needed another thorough revision. Again, I went away and did as I was told.  This time (it was getting on for 2011 by now) success. Kate gave me the OK to send the full manuscript and in time, gave me a contract to sign. Success!

Well, sort of. Another rewrite was necessary. Again, I did it. By now 2012 had danced its way across the world until the beast had finally been tamed. Only minor corrections and proofreading remained. The beast of Vampsov had been conquered.

VampsovFrontWS

And so here it is, five years later, a lean, mean 80,000 word book with my name on it. Prould of the little fella, as it happens. Like all five year-olds its bursting with energy, ideas, imagination and thought-provoking questions –but it doesn’t start having tantrums in the supermarket when you don’t buy it sweets. I think you should own one. I’ll sign it for you too, if you like. You can buy them at Amazon or the good folks at Omnium Gatherum. Available to you from June 7th 2013.

It Was Not A Happy Patrol

 Fantastic news from the Floppybootstomp word mine. I have just signed a contract with the American publisher Omnium Gatherum to publish my dark fantasy novel, Vampsov 38.

 

Obviously signing the contract is just the first step in a process that could take many months. Still have to make adjustments to the manuscript before the final draft is approved, then a decision has to be made as to when to publish. All this could take a while. Still, I do hope it will be worth the wait.

 

The principal editor (and boss) of Onmnium Gatherum, Kate Jonez, has already helped me to improve the manuscript through the submission process. One of the issues she highlighted was the use of the passive voice, particularly in the opening sentence of a novel (which is why the title of this post is what it is – and has been expunged from the novel!).

 

Preparing a manuscript – particularly this one – has involved a lot of people who have helped me get it to the stage it is now. To give you some idea, I finished the first draft towards the end of 2009. I submitted it to an agent for comment at the Writing Industries Conference early in 2010 and gave it to my initial set of readers (Keith Morley, Keith Large and Maria Smith) in the same year. Their comments really helped the book come together. Later, I submitted the new version of the manuscript to my fellow writers in The Speculators writers group. Thanks to all of them, particularly Jim Worrad and Damien Walter for their efforts. The old canard of needing a village to raise a child is certainly true of Vampsov. I’m particularly grateful to Writing East Midlands, The Phoenix Writers and The Speculators writers group for their help. Without you guys, I’d never have got this far. I owe you big time.

 

So let me wish all my readers a happy festive season. I hope that one year soon you find a copy of a novel in your Xmas stocking that tells of the adventures of Soviet vampire hunters on the eve of WWII. The two V’s of the one-word title, creepily elongated into fangs… I’ll be working my *&^$ off to make that scenario a possibility rather than just a dream.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

The Tip Jar

 Writing, bloody hell. Wish I could give you more insight than an Alex Ferguson misquote, but I know people who can. So here’s a few tips to pass on to whomsoever is interested. Hence the title of this post: Tip – because I’ll pass on some tips for my 2 ½ readers, Jar – because you can buy me pint if anything that follows is of use.

1) Bead Roberts (former tutor at Leicester Writing School) released this tip into the wild during her visit to the Phoenix writers. To whit: If you are trying to portray loneliness in a character, you can infer it through gaps and spaces in their discourse. Incomplete sentences, ramblings, sudden digressions all these are the characteristics of a mind suffering from lack of human contact. The lonely can be truculent, overeager, too loud, awkward around people (i.e. Edmund Dantes in The Man in the Iron Mask, Ben Gunn in Treasure Island).

2) Kate Jonez, editor in chief of the new Omnium Gatherum publishing house rejected my novel while being kind enough to ask me to resubmit if I did three things to the text: a) Cut right down on the use of the passive voice b) Made sure each scene had one Point Of View or that if more than one, changes in POV were kept to a minimum. c) Balance dialogue and action. Much better to have characters doing something than talking heads. Scenes should involve characters doing stuff, not just talking. Obviously this is said in the context of the slab of writing I submitted and the specific requirements of Omnium Gatherum, but using those three criteria has really helped.

 

3) Bead Roberts again. If you are stuck in a scene, or you want to shake things up, set the place on fire. Then sit back and chuckle as your characters try and put the fire out and/or escape. Ha! Instant jeopardy.

4) Find cupboard, look for skeleton. (BBC’s Get Writing interweb site helped out here) To create a character, imagine you are visiting their house. What is the bathroom like? How many books do they own and what are they about? What’s in the fridge? Leave subtle clues about their lives. Try and write this up as a scene with lots of suspense: the PoV of a burglar breaking in or a detective investigating a crime or a guest that suddenly realizes something is wrong…

  Enough for now, I think.

ian sneath

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