Monday, 9 September 2019

Custom Miniature Dogs & Cats; Etsy Shop Revival

   These past few months, I forced myself to set aside some time to work on Etsy. I only plan on keeping Myth of the Wild open for 2.5 more years, and this weekend I gave myself a goal culminating in a very nice Christmas in 2021. Yes, I'm thinking far, far ahead. But it's given me what I need to find some enthusiasm again, which is why I'm also doing more to promote custom pieces.
   I made a batch of dogs and cats - things that should sell a little easier than obscure wild animals like takin or ezo momonga - and while the dogs have been painted and are ready to list, I've already put together a listing for custom miniature dogs. Like the custom made korok listing, customers can choose between a necklace, hanging ornament or standing ornament, and then either tell me what breed/colour they'd like, or send me a series of pictures of their own dog and I'll sculpt and paint that instead. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's only going to be available until mid-November because, even with my shop in decline, it's too much to take on any custom orders once Christmas orders kick off.
   And yes, the cats are now at the top of my list, and once they're done, they'll get the same custom colour/'my cat' treatment that the dogs have.
   Either way, they should make unique Christmas gifts for dog lovers! (SEO is a thing) 
Shown: Border Collie, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, German Shepherd, Labrador, Cocker Spaniel

    I have more wild animals to come, and I'm working on restocking Pepes and even a few more baby murlocs for WoW fans, as well as the usual tiny foxes, kodama, koroks (including a new shape & colour) and Totoros, since those four are my most solid sellers.
   I'm going to try to really do my best this Christmas, and then keep up momentum. I've found ways I can squeeze Etsy work into my week without stepping on writing time, and it would be great for my eyes and my mind to do something that is neither book- nor screen-related more often, too. Custom orders certainly help with that.

   While on the subject of reviving Myth of the Wild, I should also mention something about Etsy and why my own work with it has declined.

   First of all, it's not that I don't enjoy making things - I do. But I loathe what Etsy has become. It doesn't care anymore about smaller sellers - if you're not one of the big sellers that pull in loads of money (for them), they don't care. They continue to advertise the sellers who don't need the help and ignore the rest of us. I've been there for 8 years now and I've seen its decline. Not only that, but they recently increased the fees - it used to be 3.5% taken from the sale of a product, and that was it. Now it's risen to 5%, and they now take 5% from your shipping fees too. Fees we're not supposed to be making a profit off of anyway, which leads many to have to charge more for shipping than they'd like to. Yes, 5% isn't much, but it adds up, and lots of people can be put off by shipping fees as they were before the rise. They also prioritise US sellers and leave the rest of us to muddle through with changes until 6 months have passed and they're rolled out to the rest of them.
   The trouble is, if I try to go elsewhere, I have to start from the ground-up. I already tried on Folksy and it came to nothing. I admit my heart may not have been in it, but aside from spamming my social media, I'm not really sure what I could have done - and I do that enough with my books.

   Secondly, yes, it's true, I would rather be writing, and when I saw my sales begin to decline a few years ago, I threw myself deeper into books rather than trying to keep it afloat. Writing is what I want to do for life. I never planned to open an Etsy shop, that just happened, but writing has been the plan since I was 12. And so, rather than fight to keep my shop alive, I moved deeper into what I really loved doing and began flourishing with that instead. I'm proud of my books, I'm proud of my growth and progress. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay. It doesn't come close to matching Etsy. I'd have to sell 12 copies of The Zi'veyn to make what I would from selling just one necklace, and it's a difficult thing to convince people to part with money for a book by an unknown author they may not enjoy, compared to purchasing a one-off item that they can see they already love by sight alone. And so, with plans for the future - even frivolous Christmas ones - I want to do better.

Friday, 6 September 2019

What it Takes to Successfully Work From Home

   By now, you all know I work from home. I've run a jewellery business for 8 years (8 years?!) that I built myself and have run by myself ever since. And once I started publishing my books, well, that's a business, too. Just like Myth of the Wild, my books require marketing, budgeting and time management - especially when I'm trying to juggle them both.
   Working from home is no easy thing - it sounds it, what with zero commute, comfort, toilet breaks whenever you want them and no one breathing directly down your neck - but that's exactly why it isn't. It's too comfortable, there are so many more distractions, like the washing that could be folded up (even though it'll be fine where it is for a few more hours) or trimming the garden hedge (which could also wait for a few more weeks), and no one around to keep you on task. It's also easy to start late or finish early because there's no clocking in.
   But there are other reasons, too - ones you've probably not considered. So if you're planning to work from home, or have just started, take a look at this guide for how to work from home efficiently.

Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation are two of the most vital aspects of working from home. You need to be on track and aware of what the day ahead is going to hold and how you’re going to push through with the stack of work that needs to be done. When you’re alone and working from home, there’s not going to be someone else there to do that stuff for you.

Avoid Work Creep
Work creep is the name given to the experience of having your work creep into your regular life. It’s a problem that many people experience when they work from home. It’s better for your work and certainly better for your personal and social lives if you keep a clear division between your work life and your personal life. Don’t let that work creep get the better of you. 

The Right Tech
You need to have all the right technology in place if you’re going to work from home. That means a good computer, a keyboard you love and a wireless mouse for Mac, as well as anything else that your job requires. The last thing you want is to be sidetracked and set back by poor or inadequate technology in your home office.

A Solid and Consistent Routine
   Having a good routine in place for your work is really important. You don’t want to get distracted by your phone or that book you’ve been reading. These things are all around you when you’re working from home and there will be no manager breathing down your neck telling you to get back to work. You have to be able to manage your own workload without any outside input. Set yourself work times, and don't forget to factor in your breaks. You might think that you're getting more down without them, but you're not. There's a reason for mandatory breaks in the workplace, and it's not an employer's good will. Productivity and efficiency drop after a while, and workers, whatever they're doing, need a break to breathe and recharge. You'll get just as much work done with a couple of breaks in your day as without, but you'll be a lot happier, too.

Comfortable Furniture
   Finally, you need to think about comfort. It’s important to feel comfortable and at ease in your home office. If you don’t have comfortable furniture that you enjoy using day after day, you’ll eventually start to feel those aches and pains and then you’ll be distracted from your work. That’s exactly what you don’t need, so be sure to pick out comfortable furniture for the home office. Find something with lumbar support. But also remember that too much comfort can drain energy levels and dull your work. An office chair, not a cheeky arm chair!

Working from is certainly no walk in the park, so you shouldn’t underestimate just how tough it can be. If you’re unsure of what it’ll be like for you, give it a trial run for a short period of time before committing to it on a full-time basis. This will give you a better idea of what you should expect and how it’ll be for you.

Monday, 2 September 2019



It counts.

     Before heading into the post: I've set up a monthly author newsletter which includes a free 7-page short story for subscribers, and I wrote a post recently on my author website which summarises my mistakes in self-publishing and what I've learned from them - and, subsequently, what other soon-to-be self-published authors need to keep in mind.
   Now, onwards...

    I spent the first day of autumn at the North Somerset Bird of Prey Centre's open day, outlining my month's book plans. It's nice to get out of the house, into some fresh air and around lots of animals I wouldn't usually get the chance to get so close to. I also admit that, while I hate people - I really hate people - it's a great opportunity to observe lots of different age groups, enthusiasm levels and general behaviour, which is something I seriously miss out on when I'm home all the time as a carer (though that in turn gives me plenty of opportunity to write). I also held a 3-week-old baby rat which made my month already, held a peregrine/aplomado falcon who did a great job in the flying display, and flew a barn owl. It was the best open day of theirs that I've been to. Sadly, also the last of the year, but they'll be open again on the first Sunday of March (I think - check out their facebook page for up to date into and thousands of amazing pictures).

   Otherwise, I admit, I'm struggling. I'm grounded in the trilogy, after a few weeks of doubt and feeling like I'd lost sight of things after 2 long books already, but now it's Salus who is causing problems for me. He's exhausting. And while his circumstances change in book two, they change again in book three and he should be more enjoyable to write, but he just seems to trail exhaustion behind him. Whenever I have to write him, I completely deflate. I love him, I do, but the shadows around him are thick and stifling, and that means I'm a lot slower to get anything done when he comes around. But, better that than plowing through. I want to portray him in the best way I can, and if it's not coming naturally because of all of that, I have to slow down. Sub-par villains are unacceptable and I refuse to do less than my best.

   Other than that, I'm pretty happy with how it's progressing, and I've been reading The Fantasy Fiction Formula ('cause now I'm not ascared of learnin') and discovering a few ways to improve my work, but also that, otherwise, I'm doing a surprising amount right. My confidence in my skill is rising, and even further after a recent talk with an editor. I've started up an author newsletter, my Instagram is surprisingly alive (with bookish things), and my website is updated occasionally, but only with worth-while things (free short stories, writing tips and book promos, all of which are rare as it is, simply because of the work required to do them - it isn't neglect!)

   I have a few other exciting things lined up for this month, and a few things in the pipelines for possible reveal next year, but nothing I want to talk about until I have a solid foundation. As the old duck said: don't tell people your plans, show them your results.

   Also, I am, of course, working on Etsy. I only plan to keep the shop open for two more years, three at most if my other plans are delayed, but I'd like to go out with a bang, and I have Christmas this year to prepare for anyway. But, rather than do what I'd prefer and make animals that appeal to me, I've opted to make some that might actually sell, so I have lots of domestic dogs and cats to paint! And remember: custom orders, including the custom korok listing, are only taken until mid-November due to the amount of general orders. If there's anything you'd like, get in touch in October, because I may have to stop accepting them as soon as November 1st if business is higher than anticipated.

   That's all for now. I will be back.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Turunda & The Devoted Trilogy - World Building Prompts - Presenting Turunda['s maps]

Penultimate installation of my Great Western Woods' #WorldBuildingQuest compilation, bringing together all my prompt question answers from Instagram to one convenient place, introducing the world of The Devoted trilogy.

Read chapters 1-5 of The Zi'veyn, the first book of the trilogy, for free on Kindle, Kindle app or in your browser right here.
Buy The Zi'veyn and book two, The Sah'niir, from all Kindle stores for £2.49 each, and in paperback from select Amazon stores. UK & DE Amazon ship right across Europe.

[#WorldBuildingQuest Week 4]

I originally planned to put the entire presentation on here, but I changed my mind when I realised that that tidy post was better suited to my author website. It doesn't really offer anything I've not already covered in the previous compilation posts, but if you're interested in the full introduction, check it out here ^^
Otherwise, I'm using this post to go over the other creative aspects of The Devoted trilogy.

   Unsurprisingly, in a story that involves a lot of travelling, experimentation and inevitable destruction and upheaval, I needed a map to keep track of things. It started as a rough drawing of the continent (shown below) since multiple countries are mentioned and at war, and then a zoom-in on Turunda itself, on lined paper in ball point pen. The necessary locations were marked - Rathen's home, the capital city and a few forests and rivers, and then a few towns and villages dotted along them or nearby.
   As The Zi'veyn came together, more locations were added and others were named, either through the characters passing through, an off-hand mention, or in one of Salus's reports. These two maps are those of The Zi'veyn.
   The locations grew further during The Sah'niir, and further still during Hlífrún, though the latter was more a point of naming some of the more obscure forests or some location within them, and for obvious reasons, I'm keeping those maps, and those of book three, private until the two books are released.

   To make book-ready maps, I scanned in my paper copies and drew over them in Paint Tool Sai (£20) with my tiny Wacom Intuos Art tablet (£80). I actually used the continental map first, and rather than draw around the original map of Turunda, I blew up the continental map and redrew Turunda from that. At a glance, the two paper maps seemed to fit. I discovered otherwise after scanning and trying to overlay the original on the digital drawing. It took some juggling, but I fit everything in where it should be. It just took a little rotation here and there.
   Drawing the forests and mountains took time and a few references (such as Djekspek/Herwin Wielink's), but I got there, and it came together to look rather good, I think! I'm proud, at any rate.
   As for labels, I originally only named and marked the places relevant to the story, but my husband complained that a few places were mentioned and not labelled, so I added them in once The Sah'niir was completed. It started to look cluttered, so I decided to add even more to off-set it. It sounds stupid, but I think it worked. I named passive locations like Banmar Dells, Sotwolds and so on, and made those labels quite light, then labelled every settlement and separated the dots of cities, towns and villages with different hues and sizes: cities are marked by big, solid dots; towns are marked by big, light dots; villages are marked by small dots. The only settlements labelled for each book are the relevant ones, however, but every single dot has a name and a purpose. They may not all be mentioned, and may never all be labelled, but they're all there.

   Various countries display different cultures - the same is true of our own world, of course, even those who are close neighbours. Skilan, Turunda and Kalokh all embody quite similar things, a mishmash inspired by both England and Scandinavia (ie that which is most familiar to me, and that which appeals to me). The Scandinavian traits, however, are far older than the English ones, and it shows in the wildlings.
   Doana, Qenra and Ithen, however, are of more African influence, and moved north into Arasiin centuries ago near the end of their empire's expansion. Since then, though, they've become a quiet, peaceful people, and Doana are especially watchful.
   Ivaea and Kasire have similar cultures of horsemen on the plains, with the deserts in the south uninhabited but for a few scarce wind and earth tribes. The humans across the world were subjugated by the elves, who equally had their own cultures and ideas which the humans inherited, and they never cared to live in the deserts. The various elemental tribes carry their own cultures and inhabit those places the elves had no wish to, rather than live under their subjugation.
   Which brings me to the creatures. They're all inspired by various folklores and inhabit the appropriate places, such as the crocotta of Ethiopian folklore found mainly in Ithen, while the wildlings are wide-spread wherever there are forests and, in Turunda, are inspired largely by Scandinavian folklore, and a little bit of Cornish. I had great fun researching them and giving them general personalities. I love my huldra, but, if I'm honest, I think it's between the ditchlings/Arkhamas and the askafroa for my favourites. Where magic is used among them, it's of a whole different kind, revolving instead around nature and symbiosis than anything in their blood.

   Creating cultures can be a tricky thing, because it does of course impose itself on day to day life within the world itself. If you go too far with it, it has the potential to become a cumbersome read - some writers can get away with it, but I think it's well beyond my abilities. But, if you put in too little, it can become difficult to distinguish between different peoples and between worlds, be it various worlds you've created, the world another has created, or the one we live in. There has to be something there, and the very least is the variation in spelling, pronunciation, or the formation of names (of both characters and places). The tribes have some of the thickest cultural details, and I've shaped their names around the elements they worship. The wind tribes, for example, I've tried to give airy names with few hard consonants, while earth tribes have much harder and more abrupt names.

   Which also lends itself to the creation of language. The elves are extinct, but given the nature of the story and inclusion of a historian among the main cast, I needed to create them as though they were still wandering the streets. They were generally difficult because I had to show their culture and their language in a more passive way - the reader won't learn about them simply through observation like they would the humans or wildlings - which meant small but relevant tidbits rather than a full history lesson (though I'm sure Anthis could have happily hijacked the book with a history lesson, as he is wont to try to do). Using their ruins as landmarks and reclaimed settlements, and their language in some settlement names and surnames, I think I've managed to get it across without being tedious, alongside the general theme of the story, of course, which involves closer looks at some such places and Anthis's professional studies and...erm...other things...

Here's the complete prompt list. The hosts were building their own world together at the time, and using this very prompts list themselves to outline it. They're a great range of questions to ask yourself while building your own, and I will be referring back to it when I move on to make something new.
I would add economy too, though. It's a good idea to establish the currency within your world, but an even better idea to establish the economy - knowing what costs what helps to establish reasonable rewards for bounties (be they the hunter or the hunted), individual wealth and its social impact.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Turunda & The Devoted Trilogy - World Building Prompts, Part 4

Penultimate installation of my Great Western Woods' #WorldBuildingQuest compilation, bringing together all my prompt question answers from Instagram to one convenient place, introducing the world of The Devoted trilogy.

Read chapters 1-5 of The Zi'veyn, the first book of the trilogy, for free on Kindle, Kindle app or in your browser right here.
Buy The Zi'veyn and book two, The Sah'niir, from all Kindle stores for £2.49 each, and in paperback from select Amazon stores. UK & DE Amazon ship right across Europe.

Day 22: Magic!
   Magic is born in the heart, in a third ventricle which itself is a left-over trait from the elves, and a result of cross-racial breeding. The magic joins the blood in that upper ventricle on its way out of the heart through the aorta and is pumped through the body. One's strength is dependent not upon the magic within their blood, but their resilience - their body's ability to contain, process and utilise it. One with low resilience but high magic will, ultimately, be a mage of lower ability. One with high resilience and lower magic will be either just as powerful or more than the former. One with both high resilience and high magic will be more powerful. One with extremely low resilience may not be accepted into the Order at all, as their magic would be too weak to use.
   Before their extinction, magic was cast effortlessly by the elves. Humans, however, are 'impure' in their magic and create signs with their fingers to help focus their thoughts and the commands to make up spell chains. A spell to create a chair, for example, will consist of multiple signs to determine its size, weight, material, colour, design, and strength. A spell to create fire will consist of signs to cover the size, colour, temperature and liveliness. A practised mage can create signs at the bat of an eye.
I'm using some of these gestures for the front cover of book three. I spent 20 minutes sitting in front of a camera recording my fingers making all kinds of shapes. I do not envy mages. It is hard.

Day 23: Technology
   Technology is basic. They're just discovering the use of fish oils. Magic reigns supreme, but it isn't trusted. It's only a matter of time, now, before someone discovers something that will begin to level the playing field...

Day 24: Medicine & Science
   Medicine consists of salves and basic medicines, but it has all progressed beyond lobotomies. Broken bones can be reset, fevers broken, and many ailments cured. But plagues will still get ahead of them far too fast, cancer will always win, and amputation is a frequent resort. Magic among the Order cannot be used to heal, largely due to its perception. Viewed as a tool, its use is limited. The tribes, however, perceive magic as a living thing, and so rather than force magic to do what they want it to, what few magic-wielders there are among the tribes use their magic *alongside* other knowledge to help the magic do what they want it to. It's often effective - but it's a last resort. If a salve or poultice will do, they will use that instead.

Day 25: Weaponry
   It's a sword and sorcery tale, and a sword and sorcery world. There are swords, arrows and magic abound. War still includes the use of siege engines and war machines. Magic is, by far, the most deadly, but mages of the military wing are usually used to fight opposing mages while the two conflicting non-magic militaries have at eachother. The mages are there on both sides, ultimately, to protect their militaries from the magic of the other. Petra gets special mention here: as a non-mage and a duelist, she carries an arsenal about her person: an arming sword on her hip, daggers at her back, and a bolas that comes in unfortunately handy.

Day 26: Historic Wars
   The Arishan War was a costly and bloody civil war in Turunda centuries ago that came as a result of the Crown keeping heavy secrets from its people. Royal decrees that came out of the blue were the first clue, and as they gradually oppressed certain classes of civilians, those civilians began to fight back.
   The Red Nest War, a dictatorship rising from Dweron in the south almost one hundred years ago, was put to its end by the actions of one man in Turunda, tricking the advancing military into stealing poisoned grain. When it worked, others did the same, and the military was decimated overnight, sending the dictator fleeing.

Day 27: Social Change & Revolution
   The Arishan War leveled the playing field and put the Crown in its place. Without his people behind him, not even the king has any power.

Day 28: Natural Disasters
   Mount Tolendra last erupted a about 150 years ago, casting a cloud of ash over Turunda from the north-west that had a disastrous effect on crops and disease. Floods have occurred, and earthquakes, but nothing in documented human history has been very severe. Yet.

Day 29: Other Historic Events
   The elves had suppressed humans prior to their sudden disappearance, supposedly at the hands of Zikhon due to their waning belief in Vastal, and upon their sudden disappearance seven hundred years ago, humans were elevated overnight. Some elven cities were destroyed, others abandoned, others taken over, and after a number of civil wars among themselves, order was eventually established when people rallied behind the figures who proved they could build them a future. Those individuals eventually became kings.