The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is Here!

There is always something satisfying in announcing the release of a new novel. The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is my sixth book and it still gives me a thrill. There was a time when I thought it would never see the light of day, but then everything just came together. I very happy with the end result.

I have a special announcement to make, but first, a little preamble.

The Queen of the Mountain is, as I have posted previously, a fantasy novel. I have tried, however, to avoid most of the clichés associated with that genre. The setting is inspired by the Napoleonic periods rather than the usual medieval Europe. Yes, my characters use swords, but they also fire muskets. There is magick as well, but a very different kind. No spells, wands or other artefact. This magick is of a more elemental nature.

Going by my previous work strong women are a bit of a staple in my writing. I have a preference for them. Mildryth did not run to Coenred to hide behind him when the going got tough in the Sorrow Song Trilogy, she fought her own battles. I would like to think that her strength of character is one of her attractions for Coenred. Grace Fielding has only one leg and one arm, but she proved more than able of dealing with an entire government ministry in Eugenica. As for Mesozoic, well all the main female characters displayed various strengths in several different situations. I could not see how else the majority of them would have survived dinosaurs, a murderer, and a traitor! In many respects The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is no different.

The Kingdom of Oroson is a patriarchy, just like much of the Napoleonic society was. Women are oppressed. Young Princess Saran, the last of her dynasty, is very much aware of the restrictions placed on her sex. All she has is a rank, which brings little in the way of authority, and a determination to continue her father’s legacy even as he lies on his deathbed. Her closest friend, Madam Julen Tutami, is unique in that she is a rich and independent widow, but her independence is at risk when the new king takes the throne. Together, they have to find a way of making Saran the first Queen of the Mountain Kingdom despite 500 years of male domination a church that decrees it holy law that a woman cannot hold a position of authority over a man.

Not that this is Princess Saran’s only challenge. The Old People, the original settlers of the Holy Mountain of Oroson some 5,000 years ago, are returning to the world and they want their kingdom back. Something has changed with them. They are using their magick to drive the New People, Princess Saran’s people, from Oroson. They have let loose a murdering monster to terrify the populace and are working more nefarious schemes to achieve their goal of returning to be the rulers of the Mountain Kingdom once more.

The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is an epic fantasy. One of the longest books that I have written to date. It was tremendous fun to create. I believe that it will also be tremendous fun to read. With that in mind it is now time for the special announcement I mentioned earlier.

From Friday until Sunday only The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom will be FREE to download from Amazon!

Get your weekend off to a good start. Download The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom onto your Kindle and let me take you to another world where warrior priestesses fight, adventurers dare, soldiers battle, sorceresses enact world changing magick, and readers get to live another life!

Peter C Whitaker

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Getting Ready for the Big Launch

I am in the process of trying to market The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom. To be honest, and as I have previously mentioned, I am not a fan of this particular aspect of being an independent author. As I am still waiting to make it big, however, then there seems to be no real alternative. Over the next week or two I am going to be working on promotional material for the book, so no ‘real’ writing for me then.

As part of the push to get this book out there I am going to offer it for free in eBook format to anyone who undertakes to give me an honest review within 28 days of receiving it. Now, I would like to make this point very clear, we are entering into a deal. I give you a very long epic fantasy novel for free. You give me an honest review after you have finished reading it in the stipulated time frame. That is the deal as unambiguous as I can make it.

I do not particularly like having to state the matter in that way, but past experience has made me cautious. If you are not interested in helping an author to get his work recognised by a wider audience, then please do not bother responding. If, on the other hand, you would like to both read a good book and lend a helping hand then I would be glad to hear from you.

The process is simple.

  • Email me at petecwhit@gmail.com.
  • I will confirm receipt and contact you with the details of when to download the book for free from Amazon.
  • You have a great time reading the book.
  • Within 28 days I have a great time (hopefully) reading your review.
  • We become friends for life!

There is one thing that I would like you to keep in mind, this book is the result of a lot of time and effort on my part. I am giving it away for free. In return I am asking for nothing more than a star rating and a brief review of what you liked about The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom. From my point of view that does not seem like a lot to ask for, but I have often found that for readers of free books it is more than they are willing to do. Please, do not be one of those people.

Many thanks in anticipation.

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If the World were like Dubrovnik!

I did not get to make a blog post last week as I was in Dubrovnik on a family holiday. It was my second visit to the city, the first being about 3 years ago when our cruise ship called at the port. This time we got spend a little longer and very much appreciated it.

Our accommodation was in Nova Mokosica, which is to the north of Dubrovnik. This might have been a problem except that our apartment was on the route of the 1A and 1B buses that go direct to Pile Gate, the main entrance to the walled city. The bus fares were very cheap, and the service proved both reliable and frequent. Okay, the busses were also well used and often packed, but that was one of those things that you just have to accept.

The weather proved to be excellent for the first part of the week, often reaching 30C. Unfortunately, thunderstorms arrived at the end of the week. They proved pretty dramatic. Personally, I like experiencing thunderstorms. Practically, they can spoil things, especially on your last day when you are kicking your heels until it is time to go to the airport.

We stumbled upon a jazz band playing outside a bar one evening. They were very good musicians. Being fortunate to find a table we ordered drinks and enjoyed listening to the excellent music. Of course, we were not alone. Indeed, as I sat there and looked around I saw many different types of people. There were people of different colours and faiths and nationalities, all wandering through this historic city quite amiably. Quite a few stopped to listen and watch the Jazz band. The atmosphere was very friendly, and that made me think; where does all the conflict come from?

Okay, I am not that naïve. I know that there are people out there who live to peddle hate. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the human world being in any other state. Except in a city like Dubrovnik. I am an egalitarian. I believe in the equality of treatment for everyone. I do not care about race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or any other human difference. To be honest, I think that most of them are so minimal in comparison to what we all have in common that it seems ludicrous to base decision or behaviour on them. I think that in Dubrovnik it became patently clear that we can live together if we choose to. I suppose that is the point, too often people choose not to. I do not understand the attraction of hate, it only leads to violence and destruction. Hate never built anything worthwhile.
Dubrovnik is a city that was probably built for the same reasons as any other human city. It has high walls and was clearly intended to be a display of martial strength. Whatever its history Dubrovnik seems to me to have become a very cosmopolitan place. It had a very positive feel to it. I do not remember meeting any objectionable people there. Sitting at the table listening to the Jazz and watching other visitors wander by felt right. I liked being there and I liked other people being there also. Now, if only we could turn the whole world into a place like Dubrovnik.

Me, my hat, and Dubrovnik

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The Frustrations of the Large Book Writer

At some 170,000 words The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is a long book. I can remember when writing a 10,000-word essay at college was considered a massive undertaking; they gave us a whole year to write it! I did not set out with that intention. In fact, the only target I have when I start writing a book is completing a logical beginning, middle, and end. I do have the figure of 70,000 words at the back of my mind, however. This is the average length of a modern novel. It is not my target but my guide. If I have started writing the conclusion to the book at the 50,000 word point then something might have gone wrong, or I have written a novella by mistake!

The word count is just a useful tool. I have known writers who seem to use it an absolute sense. They have read some research somewhere that suggests that 60,000 words, for example, is the optimum number for a successful book and so constrain themselves accordingly. Maybe it works for them? I know that it does not work for me. My style of writing just does not seem to work with a closely delineated process. It works with a blank Word document and my hands poised above a keyboard.

Mesozoic is the shortest novel that I have written to date, which made it the easiest to edit. QMK is up there with Eugenica for being the longest and the editing is a much more frustrating process. I carried out a thorough re-read of the manuscript. Going from line to line I spotted many of the typographical errors that crept into the prose. I also took this opportunity to improve the grammar. When I had finished I did it again and found some more sneaky little typos that had evaded me the first time. I know, hiring an editor would be a good idea, and I agree, but I just do not have the money available to me at the moment. After the second bout of editing I felt ready to publish and so I did. The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is now available to read on Amazon.

One of the other things I like to do is turn my Word manuscript into a PDF file, send it to my tablet, and then listen to it using a text to speech application. I have done this with all of my novels to date. I have found that hearing even a robot voice speak the words that I have written gives me another insight into my books. It has helped me consider rephrasing certain passage or doing some further editing. Occasionally, it has alerted me to an as yet undiscovered typo! When I played QMK this week I discovered an awful lot of typos! I have to admit that I found it a little disheartening. Fortunately, the text to speech engine that I was using highlights the text that it is currently reading so it is relatively easy to find the little typo-buggers in the manuscript and put them right. Of course, then I have to upload an amended version of the manuscript to Kindle Direct Publishing again.

Very often, when a reader does write a review of a book, they criticise the discovery of typographic errors. I understand why they do this. They bought the book and it is not 100% perfect. The amount of work that went into the book is not always obvious. This includes limitations like not being able to afford an editor even though you would very much like to as an author serious about writing. I also think that readers forget what reading actually involves. Reading is a very complex activity. It involves the decoding of symbols to understand their meaning. It utilises both the brain and the eyes to process information at an impressive rate. This is often done without relying on a complete recognition of all the words that are written. Our brains intuitively know what each word that has been read previously means, so it can process the information very quickly by presuming the word to be what it looks like and move onto the next one. I have seen it referred to as a kind of ‘muscle memory’. For a reader this is a wonderful thing, but for an author or editor it is not so great. Most typographical errors go undiscovered not because a writer like me is lazy, it is because while editing the manuscript the brain goes into reader mode and automatically renders even misspelt words into what they are supposed to be.

Here is an example of what I mean:

“He wore a suit of amour that, to Hak’s professional eye, appeared entirely impractical for the battlefield, but then it was intended to impart the man’s regal stature and ability to defend his people.”

Now, I had read this sentence many times, but it was only when I heard the text spoken that I picked up on the misspelt word. In my mind I knew that I had written armour, so every time I read the passage that this sentence is from my mind had already decided on what the word should be before my eyes got to it. Again, another good reason foe employing an editor. The spell-checker never picked it up because it was not actually misspelt, which illust\nrates the danger to a writer of two words that are almost identical, except in meaning.

That sentence constitutes just 34 words from the total of some 170,000. Percentage wise, the majority of them were spelt correctly and arranged in a grammatically correct manner. Although that should be considered an impressive achievement, at least I think so, the fact is that it is the mistakes that most other people recognise and remember. In the past I have actually used editors and some errors still appeared in the manuscript. I noticed this with Eugenica, which I have recently revised, and that was read by two editors before it was finished. I sometimes wonder if typos breed while no one is reading?

I still have some time before I do a big release day for The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom, so if I discover any more errors then I can correct them before the first reader rips my book to shreds for discovering one misspelt word out of the 170,000 written. In truth, although it may sound like I am complaining about others I am really just disappointed that I wrote those errors into the text myself. I know how they got in there, I type fast and rely on picking up any such errors later. I always feel like I have let myself down when someone else does though.

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This Fantasy Thing

Well, The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom (hereafter known as QMK) is almost finished. I expect to have the book published to Kindle this weekend. I will not be advertising the fact, however. My attention is going to be centred elsewhere for at least a week, other things are happening in my life, good things though. I do not see this as an obstacle. I am going to use the time to plan a release event for QMK. It is going to be a different kind of fantasy!

I used that description recently on social media and it got me thinking; what is fantasy? I do not mean that as a deep question. I suspect that most people have an idea of what fantasy is, but then maybe that is the point, does the common supposition meet with the actual genre definition?

As usual, there are more than one definition for this genre, so I will be using a general understanding of what fantasy means, as set out here:

Speculative fiction set in an imaginary world, often involving magic, mythology, and elements of folktales.

The reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief is a prerequisite for enjoying all forms of fantasy, be that Charlotte’s Web, Gulliver’s Travels, or The Lord of the Rings. I believe that this is something that those of us who had indulgent parents acquire at a very early age. Certainly, my mother taught me and my brothers to learn to read before we started to school. Talking animals, magical people, and strange worlds were already a staple for me before my first teacher read us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The very things that are common elements in the fantasy genre.

QMK falls into what might be called heroic fantasy, or high fantasy as it is also known. This is the area where The Lord of the Rings (LoTR) and Game of Thrones (GoT) reign supreme. Indeed, it was the basis of medieval Europe that is common in both these two imaginary worlds that proved to be the root cause of my being inspired to write a fantasy novel. My son is fan of both LoTR and GoT, but I expressed a growing boredom for stories set in medieval Europe; he told me to go and write something different then! So, I did.

The world of QMK is entirely imaginary, but it takes its inspiration from 19th century Europe. The armies are similar to those of the Napoleonic Period. The society is also similar, but not exactly the same, as that part of real history. There is only one race of beings, humans. There are no Orcs or Elves to be had. Talking animals are also absent. Magic, or rather magick, is very much present, however. Indeed, it is magick that has prompted one group of people to develop a power that threatens the fantasy world of QMK, which is the cause of a developing plot element that extends beyond the first book. Yes, I have at least one more tale developing following on from this one. The Mountain Kingdom of Oroson introduces a different type of geography for the main continent it is found on. Mt. Oroson is the larges mountain in the (fantasy) world and totally dominate the continent. Commerce is dependent on trade and communication passing either through or over the spurs of Mt. Oroson. This is facilitated by the creation of gates that allow traffic to flow from one area to another and so bypassing lengthy alternative routes that might prove more perilous. The gates were of course constructed by the use of magick. Large plateaus, or spurs as they are called in the book, extend out across the continent from the base of Mt. Oroson, the lowest of which is some 200 feet high, the tallest over 2000 feet. They would be impassable obstacles if it were not for the gates. Of course, the Mountain Kingdom levies a charge on those who want to use the gates and that is how it has become the preeminent state in its world.

Obviously, there is nothing really like Mt. Oroson in our world. We have plenty of mountains, but they can all be climbed, travelled over or through or around. Mt. Oroson can only exist in a fantasy world. There are some elements and themes in the story that can exist in ours, however. The oppression of women on the basis of their sex is one. It has been well documented historically and it continues to exist today. One of my central characters, Princess Saran, wants to continue her father’s work after he dies without a male heir, but she has no legal claim to the throne because she is a woman. Her determination to defy a law legislated by men to protect male privilege is one of the driving plot elements. It could take place, with a little modification, in our modern world just as easily.

I suppose that this is one of the reasons why fantasy has remained such a vibrant part of our literary culture. Although fantasy worlds can seem well beyond our reality the best ones still retain elements that are important to our human experience of existence. Love, fear, courage, indifference, pride, envy, compassion, empathy, everything that we value and dislike about ourselves is there in a good fantasy. I hope readers discover that I have captured those elements in my fantasy.

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Cover by Design

As well as writing my books I also like to design the covers. I am not a trained artist, just an enthusiast. I also like messing around with photograph manipulation in a digital format. I do draw and paint as well, but I find digital to be a both quicker and less messy in the respect that mistakes are very easy to put right, and I do not have to pack everything away when my session has finished, just close the computer down.
When I was writing ‘The War Wolf’ the image for the cover came to me very quickly. The same was true in respect of ‘For Rapture of Ravens’ and ‘The Blade’s Fell Blow’. I did eventually change the original covers, however. Having completed the trilogy I felt that a more uniform look would work better, but the themes remained very much the same. There is a wolf, a raven, and an image of Mildryth just like in the earlier versions.


‘Eugenica’ originally had a cover that was heavily influenced by Art Deco, a style I really admire. This book has always struggled to find a readership, even though I do not why. I decided to change the cover to something altogether different. I think the current image is very dramatic and even provocative. The idea of putting an image of Grace, complete with her false leg and missing hand, before a Union Flag struck me as quite powerful. I still think that it is.

Eugenica
For ‘Mesozoic’ I originally tried to draw a scene where members of the Palaeontological Field Time Unit encountered a dinosaur in a dramatic way. To be honest, although I enjoyed drawing the dinosaurs, I could never get the tension right. There was always something about the images that just did not work for me. The idea for the arm with the rip in the sleeve came about quite by accident. I was actually working on the PFTU badge on the top of the sleeve. It worked very well and looked quite atmospheric. The garment is supposed to be an encounter suit, a closed system that separates the scientists from the environment that they are studying, but I took a little artistic licence and added the hand without the glove. It just seemed to work much better, especially with the rip further up the arm. The only addition to this image has been the ribbon of dinosaur silhouettes on the left, which I added a few weeks ago.

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When I started work on ‘The Queen of the Mountain’ I actually had a very clear image that I wanted to capture, but it never worked. I tried all kinds of approaches. Getting the elements together was relatively easy. I knew that I wanted an image of the mountain, one of Princess Saran, another main character, and soldiers at the bottom. I appear to have been heavily influenced by movie posters, particularly from the adventure genre like Indiana Jones. Despite this clarity of vision, the finished article just refused to be realised. Last weekend I finished revising ‘Eugenica’ and decided to give QMK another go; this was the end result:
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From plugging in my graphics tablet to exporting the image into a jpeg file I worked continuously for about four hours. Everything just seemed to come together to work. I modified a photograph of a mountain peak, getting it to look dramatic and a bit thinner than it is in real life. The image of Saran is a tock photograph that I worked on to make her look somewhat ethereal. The young woman’s face is very close to what I imagined Saran to look like, actually. The officer is Risdun Hak, a mercenary returned home to the Mountain Kingdom after many years spent away. He is pivotal to Saran’s plans to take the crown and defy five hundred years of history that insists a woman cannot hold a position of authority over men. Finally, the soldiers are at the bottom work well to suggest that this fantasy novel is set in a different period to the usual medieval one favoured by most other writers. I think it works quite well. I might make some subtle changes to the image before the book is published, but it will not be anything major.

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When Your Book is more than One Book

The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom should be finished by now, but I am still struggling to complete it. I think that I have realised the problem; it is not just one book. I do not know exactly how many books it is, to be honest, possibly three. Maybe four. I do not know. I do know that the first book will not be the last and this seems to be the problem. When I started the Sorrow Song Trilogy I did not have a series of books in mind. I was just going to write one novel about the greatest victory that the Saxons ever won over their ancient enemy, the Vikings. It was during the research that I discovered that there were three key battles in 1066. Obviously, the idea of making it a trilogy followed very quickly. With writing historical fiction, however, the plot is motivated by historical events as well as by any devices I come up with. In fantasy, everything comes from the imagination.

At some point in writing up the first draft I decided to extend the story over at least three volumes. I think that the world it is set in will happily allow for that. I have an overarching plot, not in extensive detail but it covers all the main points. The first book is very much setting the scene and introducing some, but not all, of the key characters. The plot is well defined, logical, and, in my opinion, leads to a lot of excitement; so why is it not finished yet?

Well, I think that I have fallen guilty to trying to do too much too soon. While I was working on preparing Mesozoic for audiobook production it occurred to me that I was trying to set things up in book one that will not be dealt with until book two at the earliest. It was not that I was hinting at things that might happen, I was actually trying to lay the groundwork. The problem with that approach is that it can and does take your eye off the ball. I stopped focussing on what was supposed to be happening. Too many ideas began to appear too late in the story. They all needed extra work to develop properly and, I realised, that I had given myself a huge list of writing chores to do. It was time to play the editor. I asked myself what was necessary? In answering this question, I decided to be quite ruthless and extracted over 4,000 words from the manuscript. Okay, 4,000 in a book of over 160,000 words is not that great, but it is not in the count really, it is in what this text would have forced me to do to make sense to the reader. I do not need to develop or spend any more time on the ideas that those 4,000 words contained.

In the wake of this decision I returned to the text and worked at improving the account of a large battle in which two magical beings fight. I knew that it needed work. The flow of action was not woven together as closely as I would like it to be. Also, the end of the book needs a lot of work. I know how I want it to end, it just has not gotten there yet. I suppose this just illustrates the fact that I have learnt while writing. If this had been one of my earlier books then I might not have had the courage to edit it down like this, or to make the decision regarding some of the ideas that I have had. Those ideas have not been dispensed with, they have just been put on hold until later in the series. Hopefully, this means that Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is a step closer to completion.

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