Why I Wrote: In a Mental Institution, by Erin Jensen

Why I Wrote: In a Mental Institution

A Guest Post by Erin Jensen

I think the concept for any story begins with a why or a what if.  We writers are constantly looking at the world around us and asking, what if?  As a pharmacist, I’ve spent a fair share of time around mentally ill individuals.  In college, I did a hospital rotation on a psychiatric floor where the elevator could only be accessed by key, and I’ve worked in the community pharmacy setting for years.  Throughout my career, I’ve conversed with mentally ill individuals at various points along the spectrum of sanity—from the properly medicated high functioning mental patient, to the unmedicated schizophrenic who has lost much of their grasp on reality—and in every conversation, no matter how coherent, I’ve looked into their eyes and seen a soul struggling to connect with the world around them.  I’ve witnessed the devastating effects that a traumatic brain injury or a stroke or temporary deprivation of oxygen can have on an individual’s personality and their ability to function in the world.  I’ve been moved to tears during conversations with the spouses of Alzheimer’s patients who watch the love of their life slip away from them and become a stranger on a daily basis.  And I’ve found myself wondering why it has to be this way.  What happens to the person trapped inside that malfunctioning mind, and where is that soul when their own brain fails them?  My story is a work of fantasy, but it stems from my own desire to understand why some souls are forced to endure so much suffering, trapped within the prisons of their own faulty minds.

DREAM WATERS is the result my what if questions.  What if we only lived half of our life in this world?  What if the reason we were all so fascinated by stories of magic and fairytales and mythical creatures was that some part of us recognized them for what they truly were—not fantasy, but reality from a forgotten part of our life?  I imagine the Dream World as a place where the souls who are lost to us in this world still exist, where these tortured individuals can still love their soul mates and act and speak as they were always meant to.  My what if fictional concept for DREAM WATERS supposes that when we sleep, the Waters come and carry us to another world where we take another form and live another life.  Charlie Oliver has spent years of his life within the walls of mental institutions because he remembers the world that the rest of us forget and he sees the people around him morph to their dream forms in this world.  In essence, DREAM WATERS is my fictional explanation for mental illness.  It tackles the question, what if mentally ill individuals possessed a special ability—Dream Sight—that the rest of us were just incapable of understanding?

I believe all life is precious and every soul has a purpose and at its heart, DREAM WATERS is my fictional tribute to the struggles that many souls face everyday.

 About Dream Waters

All his life, Charlie Oliver has watched the people around him morph into creatures that no one else sees. Unlike the rest of the world, Charlie remembers the Waters that transport him to the Dream World each night. And he sees glimpses of people’s Dream forms in the waking world. Condemned to spend his waking hours in a psychiatric facility because of his Dream Sight, Charlie doesn’t expect anything to change. But everything starts changing the day Emma Talbot walks through the door in the middle of a group therapy session.

Haunted by memories of the events that led to her admission, Emma plans to end her life the first chance she gets. But something about Charlie stops her. From the moment they shake hands, his friendship feels safe and familiar. As Emma begins to let down her guard, Charlie catches a glimpse of the fiery-eyed dragon that lurks behind her Dream form. Each night, as Emma dreams of the man who’s been banned from visiting, Charlie searches the Dream World for the monster that shadows her. But when Emma’s suppressed memories begin to surface, Charlie finds more monsters than he bargained for.

About Erin Jensen

Erin Jensen is a part-time pharmacist and a full-time creator of imaginary worlds. She lives in upstate New York with her ridiculously supportive husband, two amazing sons that she couldn’t be prouder of and a Yorkshire terrier who thinks he’s the family bodyguard.  She’s an unapologetic coffee addict, and her happy place is anywhere that she can sink her toes into sand and listen to waves crash onto shore with a good book in hand.

To learn more about Erin or her books, visit her website: erinajensen.com.  You can also follow her on Twitter.

To purchase her books, click on the photos below.  Dream Waters is only 99¢ on Kindle, and Dream World is $2.99.

Why I Wrote: A Series, by Anna Belfrage

Why I Wrote: A Series

A Guest Post by Anna Belfrage

I might as well come clean right from the start and admit I never had an intention of writing more than one book about my time travelling Alexandra Lind and her 17th century man, Matthew Graham. Truth be told, I found the idea of one book quite daunting. After years of writing little bits and pieces there, of deleting 30 000 words and starting anew multiple times, I had almost given up on ever completing the dratted book. It was mostly Matthew’s fault.

“My fault?” He scowls. “Is it my fault you chose to depict me as it fitted your preconceived notions of what a Calvinist Scot should be? Is it my fault…” Whatever. Best block him out. Let’s just say that Matthew’s character arc developed in a totally different direction than originally intended, and… “Thank heavens for that,” Alex breaks in. “Imagine shackling me to some dour Knox-like type.” No, that would have been difficult. I share a quick smile with my protagonists, watching with some sort of maternal pride as they wander off, hand in hand.

So, where was I? Oh, right: I was struggling with book one. Now, I am one of those writers who often has an idea as to how things will end long before I’ve worked out the how or the why. In this case, the last chapter was so heart wrenching I cried myself to sleep on multiple occasions, and as Alex and Matthew grew into “real” people my intended end was not only inappropriate—it was cruel. Very, very cruel, and how was I to live with their silent reproaches echoing through my head for the rest of my life? Besides, if I go by my own reading preferences, I seriously dislike unhappy endings.

I did some tweaking, readjusted several crucial scenes, and the consequence of all this was that Matthew and Alex were still alive at the end of book one. Phew. Except, of course, that now I started wondering about what would happen next. It was emotionally impossible for me to leave them to their own lives. I had bonded so hard with my invented characters that living without them whispering in my head was the equivalent of sitting in the middle of a frozen tundra with nothing but emptiness surrounding me. Not a nice place to be in, let me tell you. Plus, I kept on catching snippets of their conversations, and realised Alex and Matthew were destined for a very adventurous life. Too adventurous, Alex would say.

So instead of going crazy out there on my mental tundra, I decided to write a second book about Alex and Matthew. And a third. And a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. There: I sat back and felt very satisfied. I was done, I had seen my Alex and her Matthew into some sort of safe harbour (very sort of, given the losses and adventures they’d experienced along the way) and I could leave them to enjoy the remainder of their lives in peace on their beloved homestead in 17th century Maryland.

Writing a series comes with its own challenges. Somehow, I have to ensure each installment has its own unique beginning and end while making it fit into the overall story arc. My characters must be consistent while developing as a consequence of what happens to them. I can’t introduce a surprising twist in book five without having laid the groundwork earlier. I must keep track of names and birthdates and peculiarities. As a writer of a series set in the 17th century, I must also bring the historic setting alive in each book without repeating myself – and keep tabs on what was happening in the world at large while Matthew and Alex were struggling with their own misadventures in Virginia or Scotland or Maryland.

The benefits of writing a series lie principally in the opportunities to develop the characters. I have the luxury of exploring just how affected one of my characters might be by his disruptive childhood, or of having a serious boy grow into a narrow-minded bigot. I can subject my characters to tribulations but be there to guide them through some sort of recovery. I can watch Alex and Matthew grow older and wiser.

“Wiser?” Matthew tugs gently at a lock of Alex’s hair. “Alex? I think not.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” she retorts, “of course I’m wiser now!” Except, dear reader, that I am prone to agreeing with Matthew. Alex retains a propensity for rashness that somehow cancels out any wisdom she may have collected along the way. But that is what makes Alex Alex. That’s why both Matthew and I love her to bits.

Since completing The Graham Saga I have gone on to write other things. Yet again, I have started out with the ambition to write one book and ended up with…taa-daa…a series. Clearly, I become too dependent on my characters, humming “every time we say goodbye” softly under my breath as I type that final THE END. And sometimes, it turns out THE END isn’t the end. How else to explain I have an almost finished ninth book of The Graham Saga?

About Anna

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

To learn more about Anna, visit her website at www.annabelfrage.com, her blog, or her Amazon author page .  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Interested in purchasing her books?  Click on the covers below!

Why I Wrote: The Lake Garda Trilogy, by Jennifer Young

Why I Wrote: The Lake Garda Trilogy

A Guest Post by Jennifer Young


It was the wine that did it. Not on its own, you understand, but as part of a wonderfully relaxing holiday during a particularly stressful time. I think I remember the exact moment when it came to me, if there is an exact moment. I was sitting on the terrace of the hotel after dinner, watching the sun set over Lake Garda and sipping a glass of local rosé, and all the cares slipped off my shoulders. And I thought: I know. And A Portrait of my Love was born.

The book was the first in the Lake Garda trilogy, and it isn’t the kind of thing I normally write. I’m too often tempted to include danger of some kind — and I suppose the Lake Garda books aren’t exactly trouble-free, but most of the characters in them are well-meaning, even if they are often thoughtless and capable of getting themselves into trouble. (Aren’t we all?)

I did wonder if I wasn’t a little old to be writing new adult romance, which is the genre I stumbled on. But many of the staff at the hotel we were staying in seemed so young and carefree that I found myself wondering about them. Of course the idea evolved from there — they always do — and in the end it became a story of the guests, not the staff, but it remained rooted in the week I spent there.

One story led to another. The first two developed together; the third came a little later — but all three are set in the picturesque lakeside town of Sirmione, and many of the locations are real (although the hotel itself is fictitious).

A Portrait of my Love is about Skye Ashton, a student who comes to the hotel in the company of her spoilt and very rich best friend, Leona. Skye has just split up with artist boyfriend Zack, and when he appears in Italy as well, things get complicated. Neither of them wants to take too many risks in their budding relationship — but it’s Leona who causes havoc.

Skye and Zack’s romance is a gentle one, reflecting both their natures. Leona is much more stormy in character, and her relationship with hotel manager Nico (picked up in the second book, Going Back) reflects that. And in the third book, Running Man, Nico’s little sister Giorgia, very much a Cinderella figure, struggles with the dark secrets of an unsuitable Prince Charming.

I don’t know if I’ll write new adult romance again. The Lake Garda trilogy was born of a place, of a time, of a particular set of circumstances, and a combination of people who each had stories to tell. But I loved writing it — and who’s to say I won’t, in some future time, repeat the experience?

About Jennifer Young

Jennifer Young

I live in Edinburgh and I write romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve been writing all my life and my first book was published in February 2014, though I’ve had short stories published before then. The thing that runs through all my writing is an interest in the world around me. I love travel and geography and the locations of my stories is always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.

To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website, or you can find her on Facebook or Twitter.  To purchase A Portrait of My Love or any of her Lake Garda series, visit Amazon or your favorite online e-book retailer.

Why I Wrote: To Murder a King, by James Holdstock

Why I Wrote: To Murder a King

A Guest Blog by James Holdstock

Whilst teaching some basic broadsword techniques to a bunch of young teenage scouts, I asked them if they knew when the medieval period was. They really had no idea, apart from one of them who nailed the latter part. I was actually surprised and asked him how he knew. Video Games. Well they are good for something then. The old adage from the publishing industry is ‘girls read, boys play video games’. I have never been one to accept convention so I decided to share my love of history (especially medieval) by writing an adventure story featuring real characters and events. That was the aim, but it turned into so much more.

I got the idea of learning history through historical fiction by funnily enough reading historical fiction! I was inspired by writers like Edward Rutherford, Ken Follett and Elizabeth Chadwick. In fact Elizabeth Chadwick’s books on William Marshal started a huge boulder (see Raiders of the lost Ark) rolling in my head that would not stop until I had got something out on paper. The first thing that came out was a tabletop roleplay game. One thing I have discovered I can enjoy as much or more than reading a story, is being a part of it! I was blessed to become involved with a group of borderline insane miscreants of debatable character (I call them ‘friends’) that had a couple of hobbies, one of which was Dungeons and Dragons. For anyone not familiar, this involves creating a character with certain qualities (often quirky or hilarious), strengths and weaknesses and an objective. Then you are put in a challenging scenario and you have to resolve the issues to work toward your personal and sometimes shared goal. It is phenomenal escapism. It also allows you to put yourself in someone else shoes, boots or winged slippers and means you develop social skills, problem solving skills and your imagination can run free! In some worlds there are literally no limits! It’s an incredibly creative experience and I’m actually shocked it’s not part of our educational system.

I needed to run one of these games for myself and since I had already fallen in love with William Marshal (Thanks Liz – I have not cleared the use of this nickname with her but it’s probably preferable to Chadders), I simply had to have him in the game. In fact scratch that, it had to be me that played him. I was going to write and run the game so I was going to be able to play my hero. How do you create a roleplay game then? Hmmm, this (I found out) is much like the beginnings of writing a book or simple story. Get together a bunch of characters and give them a problem to solve. The beauty of roleplay is that your players come up with their own characters, the back stories and also their allegiances that will define how (if they are playing their character well) they would act. Thus was born a murder mystery based at the Tower of London. Naturally there had to be a murder and a reason to keep the players there to solve the murder. In this case they were all loyal to William Marshal who is framed for murder and incarcerated with the threat of execution the next morning. From there, the players literally write the story for you but you also get to play it out. I got to play a long list of wonderful characters, The Marshal, King John, all of his councillors and of course the extras who became more caricatured as the ale was drained from the jug.

Every time I have played a roleplay game that has gone particularly well, I have wanted to write it into a story. This one however, was based on factual people and provided an ideal opportunity for young (and old) people to learn about Medieval ways and history. Little did I know that it wasn’t just about that. During the writing process a lot more came out. My creativity, my experience, even my own worries, fears and hopes. My lead character (Tom, a Saxon boy of ten) it turns out is a little anxious. He doesn’t have a very good relationship with his father and feels subconsciously a loss from this and an eagerness to please and use his mental talents for this end.

Tom is the chief character and was a common Saxon boy until he saved the life of William Marshal’s son. William being grateful and generally awesome and handsome (spoiler alert – William comes off quite well in the book) asks Tom to be his son’s Page. Their first adventure occurs when they travel to the Tower of London at the beginning of King John’s reign in 1199. I don’t want to give too much away but true to the name of the book a murder takes place! The Marshal is framed and put in gaol immediately. So it’s down to Williams’s squire, his hunter, William Marshal junior and of course Tom to try and find out what happened and clear the Marshal’s name.

One challenge I had was trying to weave in the historical facts (which was one of my main aims) but keep the story and adventure going. I relied on Tom’s age and naivety in this respect as the whole book is told from his point of view. I was able to explain how Tom had recently learned things, like heraldry and how it works, or the reader learns at the same time as Tom such as witnessing the Grand Melee. I certainly achieved what I wanted but am aware that I am no Wordsworth.

For me the hard part of the process was the rules and conventions you reach when you want to publish. Who to ask? How to ask? What to send? How to self publish? What rights will I have? How to design a cover? How to get the cover to match up to the print guidelines?! Funnily enough, when I played the original game, the creative one where there were no rules and any of the players could have decided to turn on their own, run away or just spend the game in the tavern, there was enough clarity. Whereas it was the publishing game, the one where there should be guidelines and help in order to encourage literature, helpful guides, creativity and education amongst young and older people, that I found hard.

I persevered, I did it. I published a book. This made me very happy. If you want to write, have written something and need that final push to get it out there. Do it. It’s well worth it, for your own personal achievement. Even if no one else reads it, even if your mum doesn’t buy a copy though she is really into history… The important thing is that you’ve done it for yourself. It certainly gave me a sense that I was spending some time on myself and my own mental well-being.

From anyone that has read my book, I have had good reviews. The hard part is getting it out there. I started with a frenzied campaign of social media, writing to people and all sorts. I am still really gutted that National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces have not shown any interest yet as there is a big empty shelf in their shops begging to be filled with books that appeal to teens that have just visited a medieval castle perhaps and would benefit from letting their imaginations fly with a bit of context to the kind of people that lived in them (and a juicy murder or two).

I have certainly rambled on enough here so if you’d like to learn more about ‘To Murder a King: A Squire’s tale’, upcoming books and other projects I am involved in to try and get kids into history, please check out my Facebook author page which is mainly full of links. If you want to know more about roleplay as a way of story writing then feel free to contact me, I’m open to the experience! Finally, if this is the first time you have heard the name William Marshal then immediately read my blog post about him as a very brief introduction.

Happy writing, happy reading and make history!


James Holdstock

James Holdstock is a Medieval history enthusiast. He loves running around dressed up as a knight, squire or page, visiting castles and learning the martial arts of the Norman lords. He also loves a good murder mystery so has combined these elements in the Squire’s Tale series, starting with ‘To Murder a King’.

To learn more about James, visit his Facebook page.  You can find his blog about William Marshall here.

You can purchase To Murder a King on Amazon.

Book Review: 1066 What Fates Impose, by G.K. Holloway

England is in crisis. King Edward has no heir and promises never to produce one. There are no obvious successors available to replace him, but quite a few claimants are eager to take the crown. While power struggles break out between the various factions at court, enemies abroad plot to make England their own. There are raids across the borders with Wales and Scotland. Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, is seen by many as the one man who can bring stability to the kingdom. He has powerful friends and two women who love him, but he has enemies who will stop at nothing to gain power. As 1066 begins, England heads for an uncertain future. It seems even the heavens are against Harold. Intelligent and courageous, can Harold forge his own destiny – or does he have to bow to what fates impose?

I have recently been adding to my knowledge base about Early Middle Ages (c. 5th–10th century) Britain, the period ranging from the time the Romans left the island until the Norman Conquest.  There is a growing body of fiction set in this time period.  Readers who are looking to enhance their knowledge of this remarkable period have never had so many works of historical fiction to choose from.  Despite the progress I have made in my own education of this time, I had yet to read any books specifically describing the end of this period: the arrival of Duke William of Normandy (also known as William the Conqueror and William the Bastard) and the resulting Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Imagine my delight when I was approached by author G.K. Holloway to read then review his book.  I admit that I didn’t have to think very long or hard over whether or not to agree.  His book has been well reviewed already, and I now understand why.

Much of the story focuses on the Godwinson family, primarily Harold Godwinson.  Before reading this book, I knew Harold primarily as the loser at the Battle of Hastings.  I knew that the Bayeux Tapestry depicted his death, adding the text ‘Hic Harold rex interfectus est‘ meaning ‘Here King Harold has been killed’, but beyond that I knew nothing of the man.  This book gives a very good broad history, with a few selected pinpoints of the most important days of Harold’s life in the years 1045-66.

Harold proclaimed King of England

Because the novel covers 21 years of history in 440 pages, there are many events that are fairly glossed over, or better, abbreviated, by necessity.  Holloway does a very good job condensing the things the reader needs to know and making the complicated politics of the time accessible and understandable.  I thought at first that this style of narrative might bother me.  While not everyone does, I love details and richly painted description.  However, the longer I read, the more I came to appreciate and accept a simpler approach.  While Holloway could have easily chosen to turn this single novel into two or three novels, the part of me that enjoys a bit more instant gratification was happy he did not.

That being said, I didn’t feel shorted in the character development department in any way.  The places Holloway chose to focus his scenes gave a brilliant picture of Harold, but also of the other players on the political scene of England in that day.  There are some classic, bumbling and shifty characters (I’m thinking of Morcar, Earl of Northumbria and Edwin, Earl of Mercia for example), some entitled-turned-enemy characters (Tostig, Harold’s brother and Earl of Northumbria).  There is also a lovely development of Harold’s love interests, first with his hand-fasted wife Edyth and the growth of their family as a result, and the later addition of his “political marriage” to Aldytha, daughter of Alfgar.

Holloway’s dialogue is straightforward and approachable, sometimes being so straightforward it took on a deadpan humor in places.  I don’t know if this was what the author intended, but I rather enjoyed it, finding myself reacting out loud with delight as the characters interacted.  His descriptions are present without loading down the prose, always giving me a good picture of the scene in my head without slowing down the narrative.

The only downside to this book, and this is no critique against the author or the book itself, is the ending.  Holloway was true to the very sad history, and in this he did a wonderful job.  Saying that though, doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the history itself.  If the author could have gotten away with changing the history (and I wouldn’t have forgiven him if he had), I would have had an easier time finishing.  As it was, I found that my pace of reading slowed considerably as I approached the last sixth of the book.  I knew what was coming.  It was like seeing the light of an oncoming train, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I welcome this book to my bookshelves, recommending it to readers interested in learning more about the Early Middle Ages and the history of Britain.


Author G.K. Holloway

G.K. Holloway has always been interested in history, politics and literature. A biography on King Harold II inspired him to write a novel based on the events of the time. Now he’s done it, he is proud of his achievement – especially as he is dyslexic.

You can purchase 1066: What Fates Impose on Amazon, and be sure to follow him on Twitter.