Announcing QUEER COMPANY 3

New titles for 1 August announced today!

The days when we get to announce our upcoming titles are some of the most thrilling in the whole of our publishing calendar; it’s just like planning a surprise party for somebody and then anxiously watching their face as they walk in all unknowing…

In this spirit of excitement, therefore, we’re very pleased to be announcing details of the new books we’ll be publishing on 1 August 2017.

First, there’s a welcome return for Morgan Cheshire; her lovingly-crafted historical novels have always been popular, and we’re sure this will also be the case with A TIME TO KEEP.  It tells of the tribulations experienced by Matthew and Ben, two lads who leave the workhouse in 1909 and start a life together.  But this isn’t the best period of history for happy-ever-afters, and when War descends Matthew is left to try to make some kind of sense of his future…

Alongside this, we have another new title from our good friend Elin Gregory – this time the tale of small-town museum curator Malcolm, who becomes entangled with contractor ‘Dirty’ Rob (a man who makes his earth move!), a significant archaeological discovery on a building site, and the machinations of unscrupulous treasure-seekers; really, what more could any reader want?

As an added bonus this time, we also have the return of R.A. Padmos’s ‘Espresso Shot’ LIKE PEOPLE, which originally debuted last year.  For technical reasons we had to remove it from sale immediately – but now it’s back, and is available to purchase again from today.  As World War Two draws to a close, Karl meets Nathaniel – but is this any time to be starting something new?

These three books represent a perfect snapshot of our broader output, and we’re very proud of them all; they two new ones will be available to pre-order shortly, and will be on general sale through our usual outlets as from 1 August 2017 – enjoy!

Honourable mentions for TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR, COINS NOT ACCEPTED

Rainbow Awards season seems to be well under way now – let’s just pause a moment to consider what a massive logistical feat it must all be to organise and co-ordinate, shall we? – and there’s more good news for Manifold Press.

 

Writing about Michelle Peart’s TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR, one anonymous reviewer began with these words:  This book was AWESOME. I was captured by the characters and story from the first page and was held captive until the last.   That’s exactly the sort of thing we like to hear!

 

The comments on Chris Quinton’s COINS NOT ACCEPTED were briefer but no less heartfelt:  Great book, great worldbuilding, a tad too much info dump. But I loved it.  It’s reassuring that anyone can love a book without considering it 100% perfect; like people, they all have their little quirks!

 

Congratulations to both Michelle and Chris for impressing the reviewers, and good luck to you both in the next round of judging!

Honourable mentions for A CERTAIN PERSUASION, HARBINGER ISLAND

To our great delight, two of our books have recently received Honourable Mentions in the 2017 Rainbow Awards!

Commenting on our Jane Austen-inspired anthology A CERTAIN PERSUASION, one reviewer wrote this:  “While I enjoyed almost all of the stories, I think my favorite was by editor Julie Bozza. Most of the other stories were relatively straightforward romances, but Bozza’s contained the convoluted conflicts of Austen’s works and seemed to me the most successful of all the stories. The book was well-edited and proofed, always welcome features. I highly recommend the book to any Jane Austen fans, and really, to Dear Readers in general.

The reviewers who assessed Dorian Dawes’s wonderfully strange HARBINGER ISLAND were also enthusiastic, with one commenting: “Delightfully creepy tale that could well have been part of  the Twilight Zone series, complete with menacing townsfolk and rotting buildings A different twist is given in part by the main characters who are mostly transgender. Interesting and spooky plot.

We’d like to congratulate Dorian and all our anthology authors, and also to thank the reviewers for their time and comments:  Rainbow Awards season is always an exciting time, and these two Honourable Mentions have got the 2017 Awards off to a flying start for Manifold Press!

I blame it on the cats!

An author guest blog by Chris Quinton.

GAME ON, GAME OVER happened because of cats. And Avebury, but mostly cats. Many years previously, the fur balls were a ‘thing’ in the fan fiction I was reading at the time. All of them were cutesy, fluffy, adorable, and they charmed the heroes with their irresistible appeal – well, you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for the feline kind, canids and equines as well, but I wanted something more than the saccharine sweetness of those stories, and none were to be found. So I decided to write my own.

My cat wasn’t cute. Wasn’t fluffy, either, regardless of what some poor deluded human had named him way back when he was a kitten. Though in all honesty, he probably had been appealing back then, the way all kittens are, no matter what they grow into. This one grew into an autocratic, battle-scarred and cynical tom, based on a rather large ginger and white individual I saw in the courtyard of the Red Lion, Avebury’s pub. The humans he interacted with were fleshed around two characters from a TV series. Yes, I wrote fanfiction and I make no apologies for it: fanfic got me through some difficult times in my life.

I didn’t use the characters’ screen names in the original story, as Aidan was very good at creating new identities, had gone into solitary ‘retirement’ in the sleepy little village in the heart of Wiltshire, and was determined to stay there. Scott was as determined to forge a relationship with him. And TBC, aka That Bloody Cat,  merely wanted to live in his old home again.

The setting of Avebury reflected my love and fascination with the place, and its unique archaeological history. Then there are its ghost stories: the barber-surgeon, Florrie the Barmaid, the ghostly coach to name but a few.

Some time later, when I’d had a few titles published, I remembered that decades-old fanfic. Other than a few mentions of their shared past and their physical appearances, there was nothing at all to show its original inspiration, not even their names. So I began to put together a new backstory for them. To misquote a soccer commentator, it would be a tale of two halves, and the new title was a natural choice: Game On (where and how they met and parted), Game Over (where and how they got together again and reached their HEA).

I’d recently read a fascinating article on the Silk Road, and anyone who knows me, knows how I am addicted to archaeology. Add in the political situation of the area, plus a hint of Kipling’s Great Game, and I had the first part nailed. Aidan Whittaker would be an MI6 agent, undercover at an archaeological dig in Tajikistan, near the border with Pakistan. Scott Landon was a photographer tagging along behind a journalist, and we all know how much trouble a determined newshound can get into without really trying.

The second part would be entirely different in pace and setting from Part One, and its setting was Avebury. Thanks to family and friends prepared to drive me to one of my favourite places in England, I already had a large folder full of photos, but I wanted more of specific areas. This time, though, no one with a car was available, so I resorted to the buses. Getting to Avebury by public transport wasn’t easy, involved changes, and took forever. I had only a limited time before the return trip. So I chose the field where the pair of fictional cottages would sit, took many photos up and down the street, and had just enough time for a sandwich and a cuppa at the Red Lion before I caught the only bus back to where I could pick up the return bus to Salisbury.

Incidentally, the weather was glorious. Few things can beat summer sunshine in a tiny English village with thatched cottages and an excellent pub.

Above, I said I was addicted to archaeology – that isn’t an understatement. In Game On, Game Over, when Scott asks Archaeologist Aidan, ‘Why?’ his answer is as much from my heart as Aidan’s.

“… But you, these kids, you’re out here in a strange land, living in tents with basic amenities, no real freedom to come and go, watched over every now and then by the army. Just to dig holes in the ground. Why? What’s the point of it?”

Why?” John rounded on him ferociously, taking Scott’s breath away. “Do you think we live in a vacuum? That present and future are the be-all and end-all of two-dimensional lives? The point is, Mr Landon, you, me, those postgraduates, the lecturers, the cooks and drivers, are linked to the past as surely as we are to the present. We are no different to the people who travelled the Roads and stayed in the caravanserai. We are no different from the Roman soldier on Hadrian’s Wall who wrote home to his mother asking her to send him more socks. And yes, before you ask, he’s genuine. Every minute fragment of the past found in excavations enriches the present. Every translation of newly discovered writing expands our knowledge and strengthens the links to our past. Human nature has changed very little in the millennia we’ve walked upright, and we’re faced with the same choices today as our ancestors were. The only differences now are our enhanced abilities to create and destroy.”

So, yeah, that’s my one and only ‘Mary-Sue’ time (apart from that one I wrote when I was fourteen, starring me and Elvis…). Come on, I was fourteen, for the gods’ sake…

 

A message for NO HOLDS BARD authors

At the risk of ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’, we feel we should pass on news of an exciting opportunity for those who write Shakespeare fiction.  Our good friend Lou Faulkner has drawn our attention to a competition for new plays which ‘vibe off’ the Bard’s oeuvre, and which this article thinks (and we agree) could access some previously untapped talent in the fanfiction genre.  The mention of “massive works queering the reign of Henry the Fifth” caused a certain amount of nonchalant whistling and staring into space, both here at Megaheadquarters and elsewhere in the Manifold Press diaspora…

AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT FROM MANIFOLD PRESS

Dear Friends,

After eight successful years of independent publishing, MANIFOLD PRESS will be scaling back its operations in May 2018. Our regular publishing schedule will continue until then, with the last set of books being published on 1 May 2018, but most of our titles will still be available to buy at least until May 2019 – and some very possibly longer than that. Our two charity anthologies, A PRIDE OF POPPIES and CALL TO ARMS, will be for sale as long as there is demand for them and money to be channeled to the causes they support.

We intend to maintain the same conscientious service we have always provided to our authors and readers; our newsletter will still be circulated, and in particular all royalties will continue to paid in full and on time. Rights reversions will be managed on an individual basis; we’re very happy to work with our authors towards a timetable that suits them.

This decision has not been an easy one to reach, and is largely the result of changing family circumstances. The Press requires a massive commitment of time and energy which would be impossible to sustain indefinitely, and rather than allow the quality of our product to suffer we feel the sensible option is to retire in good order while we can.

Our plan is to keep everybody fully informed throughout the winding-down process, but we’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have about it; please feel free to get in touch with us either on Facebook or via e-mail.

We’re more grateful than we can adequately express for all the support and encouragement we’ve received throughout our adventure in independent publishing. Our experience in this community has been wholly positive and – although incredibly hard work – thoroughly enjoyable, and we wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world!

We’re actively planning QUEER COMPANY 3, and an announcement about that will be made later this summer. Please keep an eye on our website and our Facebook page for further details.

Thank you for everything, and we’ll miss you terribly!

Julie, Morgan and Fiona

New reviews of BREAK OF ANOTHER DAY, WHILE YOU SEE A CHANCE

We love it when our new books are reviewed out there in the big, wide world – but sometimes we don’t get to hear about it right away, which is why occasionally we have to start one of these posts with an apology to both the author and the reviewer!

So, slightly delayed but nonetheless welcome for that, we’re delighted to report that Jay Lewis Taylor’s BREAK OF ANOTHER DAY has been warmly received in a review dated 17 April 2017 on the blog Padme’s Library:

[T]he journey these characters take is complex but very heartwarming and truth is, they made me appreciate my journey in life even more.

More recently, at Dog-Eared Daydreams, Alexa Milne’s WHILE YOU SEE A CHANCE received five stars from their reviewer in a post dated 5 May 2017:

This was my first ever Alexa Milne read, and I was impressed with her writing and how everything played out and wove together.

It looks as if both books have made big impressions on the writers of these two unsigned reviews, and on behalf of the authors we’d like to thank them both for their time and their wonderful comments – and we also congratulate Jay and Alexa for winning such golden opinions for their work!

A sense of place

An author guest blog by Morgan Cheshire

When writing historical fiction set in an urban environment, with both gentlemen still living with their families, it can be quite difficult to find a suitable location to forward their romance.

ALWAYS WITH US is set in Victorian Liverpool, with its many hotels, but that meant there was always the risk of being recognised. I needed somewhere away from the city, that Harrison had legitimate reason to visit, which had suitable accommodation, and could provide a reason for not returning home. Enter the village of Eastham, across the river Mersey.

Eastham is one of the oldest villages on the Wirral and has been inhabited since Anglo Saxon times. The oldest part of the modern village is to the east of the A41 and is centred on St Mary’s church, the scene of the funeral of one of Harrison’s clients. There has been a ferry service between Liverpool and Eastham since the Middle Ages, originally operated by monks from the Abbey of St Werburgh.

A large increase in traffic in the 1700s led to a new pier being built and there could be forty coaches a day, both passenger and goods, arriving to cross the river to Liverpool. In 1816 paddle steamers replaced sailing boats, but it was less than thirty years before demand for the ferry service declined after the opening of a rail link between Chester and Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead.

The village had now spread to the west, on the other side of the main road, and to get to the ferry itself you had to drive down through farmland. To increase his profits the owner of the ferry, Thomas Stanley – the Stanleys are an old Cheshire family – built a hotel adjacent to the pier at Eastham Ferry. To attract more visitors to the hotel he also decided to build an adjoining Pleasure Garden and charge admittance. It was a big undertaking and must have required quite an investment of time and money. The landscaped gardens included ornamental trees and fountains, and in the spring Azaleas and Rhododendrons made a colourful display.

The gardens became a popular choice for a day out, especially attracting visitors from the city who came to enjoy the fresh air strolling among the flower beds. There was, however, more to see and do than admire the intricate planting. There were tea rooms to rest and enjoy cakes and sandwiches while listening to music from the performers on the band-stand; theatrical productions also appeared on the open-air stage – presumably ‘weather permitting’, although I have attended an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where it rained solidly and there were some very sodden fairies – but luckily the audience was under cover.

For the energetic there was a ballroom to enjoy, a boating-lake, and a water-chute. One of the major attractions was the zoo; lions could be seen in wheeled cages that were drawn around the park, monkeys and an antelope had their admirers, and then there was the bear-pit with its two occupants.

As a child wandering around the overgrown woodland and finding uneven stone steps, slippery with moss, that led down to a strange stone-lined pit felt like finding a place out of a fairy tale – especially as the sun never seemed to penetrate the leaves of the Rhododendron trees. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it had originally been a bear-pit, and given that the original occupants would not have had a very good life perhaps the gloom was a fitting memorial. In its day the bear-pit was a highly popular place, though, and an iron-work dome meant that people could stare at the bears in complete safety.

In the summer entertainers performed in the gardens; these included Blondin, a famous tightrope-walker, who once wheeled a local boy across a high wire in a wheelbarrow. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say if he tried that today?

Another visitor, in 1854, was the United States Consul in Liverpool, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote admiringly in his journal about the antique houses and picturesque aspect of the village itself.

As the Gardens prospered so did Thomas Stanley. The Manchester Ship Canal was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894, just before the events of ALWAYS WITH US, and in 1897 an archway was built at the entrance to the Gardens to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.

The popularity of the Pleasure Gardens was not to last, however.  Eighty years after it was opened it was in decline, and the last paddle-steamer made the river crossing in 1929. The following decade saw the gardens neglected and falling into disrepair; the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were dismantled, and except for local dog-walkers the place was forgotten.

In 1970 it was designated a Woodland and Country Park and visitors returned to stand on the truncated pier and look out across the river to Liverpool, to watch tankers going past before they entered the Ship Canal which would take them to the oil refinery at Ellesmere Port and the docks at Manchester.

Thankfully the hotel remains, and it is possible to have a meal in the restaurant. There are no flower beds but the bluebells can be admired in the spring, and a bird-hide attracts both people and birds. A lot of the rhododendron growth has now been removed and it is possible to wander the paths and find hidden steps, including those that lead to the bear-pit.  However I doubt if many people realise what a thriving centre the Pleasure Gardens once were; indeed I would not have known myself if I had not been searching for the ideal place for Harrison and Daniel to further their relationship!

How I made do and mended

An author guest blog by Adam Fitzroy

The book that eventually became MAKE DO AND MEND started out very differently. It was originally going to be about four brothers, living on a not-entirely-successful family farm in Wales, fighting off a land-grab from a consortium that wanted to build a golf-course – and it was emphatically going to be taking place in the ‘present day’. However some elements of the story were in place even then; there would be conflict between the two elder brothers because Two was a nasty resentful piece of work and would undermine everything One was attempting to do, but Three and Four would turn out to be – perhaps to their own astonishment – good and sensible men who could be relied on in a crisis. There would also be a mysterious stranger to the village, a quiet, dignified older man, who would draw the attention of the hitherto flighty One and with whom he would eventually form a romantic relationship. Two and Three would be firmly heterosexual; Four’s preferences were still unknown.

I hadn’t written any of this before the plan changed dramatically. I’d been thinking about it and discussing it with friends for some considerable time, but there was something about it that just wasn’t gelling in my head. I don’t know, now, precisely what it was that prompted the change of direction, but one day it suddenly occurred to me that setting it during the Second World War would make it a more interesting project and radically change the dynamics of the situation. For one thing, there was huge pressure to produce food and other necessities for the war effort (flax, wood, etc.) so that even a farm that was struggling beforehand would enjoy a period of relative prosperity. For another, it would enable One to have a perspective on life and love that didn’t just revolve around the narrow confines of his familiar Welsh valley.

The valley itself was one of the constants. Being a regular traveller on trains between Newport and Chester, I’d always been intrigued by a village north of Abergavenny. There ought to be a station there, I thought, so that I could get out and explore – but there wasn’t. So I did my initial exploring online and on the OS map, and eventually managed to tour the area by car as well. I found the perfect site for the house, which ended up being called Hendra, but what was there was less prepossessing than I had in mind. Therefore, in a move I’m sure English Heritage would deplore, I picked up Stokesay Castle, made some alterations to its layout, and transported it a little matter of fifty miles down the road. I tacked on a somewhat rickety Home Farm a short distance away, and a couple of quarrymen’s cottages higher up the hill, and that was that – I had my location!

The joy of writing something like this is the research. Wanting a box-bed for Jim’s cottage I found just the thing online, which turned out to be in a rural museum on Orkney. Years later I got to meet it in person … and that was the trip which ended up inspiring IN DEEP. I also managed to fit in a visit to Western Approaches Command and chose one of its mysterious closed doors to be Harry’s decoding office. (I have no idea what was really behind it; it could have been a store-room or a doorway into Hades for all I know!) When I decided to make Jim a conscientious objector – because I’ve never forgotten the Dad’s Army episode in which Godfrey is revealed to be a conscientious objector – I researched the Peace Pledge Union, their white poppies, and the advocacy work they did. I hope that if I was ever in the position of being ordered to fight (unlikely now, given my age!) I would have the courage not simply to do as I was told but to say that I thought it was wrong and find another way of serving instead.

I could go on. The hotel in Liverpool exists, and has been the scene of numerous fannish conventions. The pub where Harry lodges sort-of exists; there is a pub there, but I transported a building in from another location because I liked it better. The road over Sermon Pass is a real road now, but at the time the book is set it was little more than a track. And as for Birkenhead Park … it’s a jewel, and was reputedly the model for Central Park in New York.

There are, of course, loose ends in MAKE DO AND MEND. Jack (Three) will stay at Hendra, married to Kitty, and their children will farm there in their turn. Thomas (Two) is likely to move away after the War, to some place where his predictable lack of success will be less visible to his family and he can be the person of importance he so clearly thinks he is. Harry (One) will emigrate, Jim at his side, to a country where nobody will care who they were before – possibly Canada. Jim will write books and teach; Harry will no doubt go into broadcasting in some capacity. They won’t be rich, but they’ll be happy. As for Freddie (Four), his future is more opaque; there is, somewhere in the back of my mind, a whole new set of adventures for him – one of which I’m hoping will coalesce into a short story for Manifold Press’s World War Two anthology CALL TO ARMS. In fact it would be fair to say that I have no idea, at the moment, precisely what happens to Freddie, but I’m very much looking forward to finding out!

[Oh, and the land-grabby golf-course-builders may well make an appearance at some point, too… ]