Dungeons & Dragons and My Local Games Cafe

At the risk of looking like I am just jumping on a bandwagon, I want to do a blog post about D&D 5e and maybe touch on other TTRPGs while I am at it. But in particular, I want to big up my local games cafe here in sunny Ilfracombe, because it’s where I play D&D as a DM and player.

D&D – TTRPG – Games Cafe – Ilfracombe – North Devon – Dice and a Slice

There, that’s chucked in the most important keywords on an H2 tag, now let’s talk about DnD.

A  Vague, Personal, History of D&D

Dungeons and Dragons has a very long history of which I am largely ignorant and I am not going to do any research to check my facts here so PLEASE don’t cite this article in an argument. I believe it started in the 70s. When I went to school there was a D&D club but I wasn’t allowed to join because … well, the reason given was that, I didn’t have a mini figure to play with, or any dice, etc. I was poor and couldn’t afford £5* for a mini in the local model shop. The real reason was probably because, even among nerds, I was an annoying twat and nobody liked me.

إشارة الجنيه - ويكيبيديا، الموسوعة الحرة

*£5 was still enough for a large round in the pub back then – not that I was going to pubs in the 1970s

Wizards of the Coast

[Dungeons & Dragons: Players Handbook (Hardcover) (Product Image)]

D&D is now owned and run by Wizards of the Coast and much has changed about the game. As far as I can ascertain, it has gone through several major rules overhauls through the years and some of those have been less popular than others. The most recent version is 5e (5th edition) and this is the first and only version of the game I have learned to play. (Thanks to my local games cafe)

D&D is Cool Now

D&D 5e has enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity worlwide and this is not even because of the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic made playing the game a lot more difficult since it is very much more fun when played face-to-face around a large table with plenty of snacks and drinks. In fact, that’s how I was introduced to the game by a brand new games cafe opening up in my home town of Ilfracombe. Once seen as the preserve of nerds and geeks it has now become the cool game to play, although perhaps this merely reflects the new-found popularity of nerds and geeks. Having a few billionaires can do that to a demographic.

Games Cafes

As high streets struggle to keep up with the enormous popularity of online shopping (thanks to those nerds and geeks) traditional retail establishments are closing down and being replace by businesses offering things that cannot be mailed out. That’s why there are more hairdressers, nail salons, and tanning parlours.

No photo description available.It is also why there are more places offering experiences.

Among these are games cafes. A games cafe is like a regular cafe, in as far as, they offer tea, coffee soft drinks and a selection of cakes and snacks. But they also have a huge array of board games from the ubiquitous (although dreadful) Monopoly, to less well-known and vastly superior games like Catan, Azul, Peruke, and Ticket-To-Ride. Customers can just have coffe and cake, or they can pay a small fee to play a board game. You can also buy monthly membership for reduced prices. Worth it if you are a regular visitor like me.

What about D&D?

I was coming to that.  As well as board games, you can play a range of TTRPGs including the most famous, D&D, and others such as Call of Cthulu, or Pathfinder, and related games like Magic the Gathering.

Call of Cthulhu - Online Play

Dice and a Slice in Ilfracombe High Street is one such games cafe. At the moment, our games are conducted at a specially built table with booths separated by perspex screens. Temperatures are taken on entry, masks worn when moving about the cafe but not when seated, and there are wipes and hand gels at every table.

As the danger recedes, we will be able to take the perspex screens down and then we will, once again, have a huge table on which to place battle maps and minis (Ha! I still can’t afford them but D&D has got a lot more inclusive lately)

Inclusivity in D&D

This part is so important to me. The game as a whole has been developing in recent years to be more inclusive. There are still players who are old-fashioned, but Wizards of the Coast has been tireless in making D&D a welcoming place for people of colour, for women, for people with disabilities, and for all genders and sexualities.

Dice and a Slice have also matched that effort to ensure that nobody is excluded or made to feel unwelcome (except perhaps bigots). We have had several people with diagnosed and undiagnosed disabilities in sessions and one of our regular players came out at the start of a game as transgender. We had all seen it coming and I had even prepared a session in which they met a young transgender giant who was being bullied by the other giants. They rescued the young giant and made a long-lasting and useful friendship.

Dice and a Slice

May be an image of dessertIf you are planning a holiday in North Devon this summer, or at any time really, and you fancy playing some D&D, or you just want a good old-fashioned game of Cluedo or Snakes-and-Ladders, then you will need to include Dice and a Slice on your itinerary. Even if you don’t want to play games, they make a dang fine cup of coffee and some seriously scrummy cakes. Tea drinkers will not be disappointed either. Oh, and the hot chocloate is a tour-de-force. If you are the sort of person who hates getting anything in the saucer you will have to ask them to ease up on the extras because the marshmallows, and the squirty cream, and the various chocolates they chuck in, can make it look a bit bonkers.

https://diceandasliceilfracombe.co.uk/

Immersive D&D Weekend Breaks

This is a budding business idea for now but one which I expect will become very popular. During the off-season, particularly during school term-time, why not make a weekend visit to stay at the luxurious Carlton Hotel in Ilfracombe with full board and a whole weekend of intense D&D playing a once-shot campaign specifically tailored to be wrapped up in a weekend.

Because this is a brand new venture the organisers, who also run Dice and a Slice, are firstly asking people to register their interest in this offer. Assuming there is a large enough take-up then dates and exact prices will be finalised and bookings taken from November onwards.

You can attend as a complete party, or in ones and twos and we will ensure there is always a game for everyone who wants one.

If players have partners who don’t want to join in there is a reduced rate for them, and there is still plenty to do in Ilfracombe and North Devon, even in winter.

For full details check out this info page here.

 

 

 

Second Suns Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Travelling Man

“You got that address, George?”

“Yeah mum. Don’t fuss. ‘Hidden Studios’ it’s in the middle of nowhere. He’s sent me the GPS co-ordinates and a load of directions. But apparently it’s well signposted.”

He headed for the door leaving himself plenty of time for the journey.

“Good luck!”

“Yeah right.”

The journey was alright to begin with but then he had to take a turning off the A-road onto a minor one. The directions mentioned a tight left. This turned out not to be an exaggeration and George had to reverse twice before he could get the back end of the van to follow the nose without dragging a hundred-year-old hawthorn with it. The scraping on the battered old red paintwork sounded like the screaming of a thousand boiling kittens. The previous road had benefitted from such luxuries as a dotted white line down the middle, and tarmac across its entire width. This road, that George was now on, was scarcely wider than the van. It was what George thought of as a ‘dual cabbage-way’ – two narrow strips of tarmac with a luxuriant growth of greenery down the broken-up centre. George decided he would be better off using satellite navigation. At least he would have a better idea of how long the remainder of the journey would take. After a few minutes of swearing and screaming, he accepted that he had about as much chance of getting a signal here as he did of meeting Marylin Monroe in the local minimart. He resorted to reading the written directions again.

Past the green gate, about half a mile, left onto track. Obscured by trees.

“Obscured by trees? How am I supposed to see the bloody thing if it’s obscured by bloody trees?” he shouted at the piece of paper in an exercise in complete futility.

“Ah!” George said to himself in triumph as he spotted the turning. OK, he had missed it, but now he did at least know where it was and, astonishingly, it was indeed well signposted. Yes, it’s true that the beautifully hand painted sign saying ‘HIDDEN STUDIOS’ with a large arrow pointing down the dirt track was also obscured by trees and was only really visible properly once you had turned into the track itself, but hey-ho! All he had to do was find somewhere to turn around and he would be home and dry. George gunned the engine and sped off down the dual cabbage-way at a breakneck thirty miles-per-hour, pondering as he did so the amusing fact that the national speed limit applied here which meant that, in theory at least, he could legally reach sixty. He tried to imagine doing sixty, and wondered how long it would take emergency services to find his body and cut it from the wreckage. He passed a layby and dismissed the idea of trying to turn here.

Mimicking his old driving instructor he said, “Now Mr Pearce, I want you to make a turn in the road, using forward and reverse gears, without touching the kerb.”

“That last bit shouldn’t be a problem then,” he replied out loud to himself, “There’s no kerb within several miles of this bit of roa…” he slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt as a BMW came around the blind corner and did likewise.

“Bollocks!” George slammed the old wreck into reverse and, with careful consideration of the wing mirrors, went backwards at almost the same speed as he went forwards, sliding his van neatly into the layby he had just passed.

As the BMW drove through the enormous gap he had left it, going slower than a laden donkey under a burning Mexican sky, the driver wound down his window just enough to shout, “Why don’t you bloody well look where you’re going?”

George, for his part, did the only thing he could do and shout “Fuck you; wanker!” at the retreating arse of the immaculate 5 series. Personalised number plate too. ‘MU51CAL, what a fucking knob-end’ George thought to himself as he resumed his search for a turning place.

Eventually, he came to a crossroads and after a simple, ‘Now Mr Pearce, I’d like you to reverse around that corner safely with due consideration for other road users’, he was heading in the right direction at last. Even without the luxury of sat-nav he realised he was going to be late. The clue was that he was still driving, and the clock showed it was already after the time he was meant to be there. ‘Ten minutes late isn’t really late’, he told himself; ‘It’s well within the acceptable window, unless you’re trying to catch a train, or something.’ That didn’t mean that George wasn’t stressed and angry though.

The music studio was a farm with a series of barns and other outbuildings that had been converted into studios. George wondered if perhaps the farmer was a closet rocker, or whether it was purely a practical decision driven by foot-and-mouth or whatever.

“You alroight boy?” George presumed this was the owner.

“This isn’t the easiest place to find!”

“It’s well signposted.” The farmer pointed out calmly.

“Only after you turn off the road, and you can already see it!

“Oi can’t very well put signs on other people’s land now can Oi?”

“Well at least one on the actual road would be helpful. Or cut back the trees maybe?”

“Nobody else ‘as any bother findin’ uz.”

“How would you know? There could be lost adventurers, gone feral on the moors still seeking the elusive treasures of the Hidden Studio, living in a house built from straw bales and snatching sheep in the night.”

“They’d get in trouble for that.” He was still speaking in the same infuriatingly calm monotone as though ordering groceries.

George stared at the farmer. George’s emotions were a roller coaster. He could be incandescent with rage one minute, and laughing until it hurt, the next. If George was on a roller coaster, this farmer was on a boating lake for under-fives with the oars shipped and swans drifting past.

“Everyone who comes here ‘as found it alright.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t include all the people who haven’t come here does it?

“You found it.”

“After nearly dying in the attempt.”

“Which studio d’you want anyway?

George was momentarily phased by being asked an actually useful question. “Five, it says here.”

“Over there, on the right. Park up next to that five series.”

Self Publishing Book Covers

A few thoughts on designing a book cover

I won’t pretend to be an expert on this but I have been involved in the process of designing book covers for quite a lot of books now, and I think it’s a subject that I am qualified to discuss and one which is worth discussing since the cover is the single most important part of your book.

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

YES YOU CAN! In fact, if you can’t judge a book by its cover, then you need a new cover design. As a metaphor for assessing human beings this phrase is quite correct, but when it comes to books you really should be able to work out what genre the book is at the first glance.

What are the rules for Book Cover Design?

Aah, now we hit a stumbling block. There are not so much rules, as guidelines, and even these are fluid and mutable. Every rule can be broken if there is a good enough design reason to break it. But here are a few rules that you would be advised to consider when working on your cover art.

  • Do not use copyright images unless you own the rights
    • I’ve put this first because it’s often the last thing people think about and it is the one that could cost you the most money. There are a number of ways you can avoid copyright infringeent. The first is to draw or photograph something yourself. Or you can pay someone to use their copyright work. And lastly you can use an image that is free for commercial use. (This last route has hidden risks but it will take a whole article to address them).
  • Title and Author name should be legible including when viewed in thumbnail
    • Making the text legible means thinking very carefully about your choice of typeface. Especially when using cursive and decorative fonts it is easy to end up with words that can be misread at first glance, sometimes in hilarious or embarrassing ways. It may also mean you need to add a drop shadow, or an outer glow, or blur the background or any number of other tricks, to get it to stand out.
  • Keep cover text to a minimum.
    • Title & author name are essential. Anything else needs to work hard to justify inclusion. If your book has just been made into a blockbuster movie, then fine. If you have a quote from the New York Times, or the Guardian, by all means. If there is a sub-title, fair enough. Other than that; I suggest you don’t. “A Novel” is frankly, pathetic. If the potential reader can’t work out that this is a novel, I suggest you get a new cover design.
  • The text should not obscure important features of the cover art
    • Ideally, if you can get cover art that includes a lot of sky, or grass, or sea, or just a blank wall… any area of fairly nondescript space where the text can go is ideal. If you are comissioning an artist you can tell them exactly what size you want and where to include blank features, but from past experience that does not guarantee anything.
  • Cover art should be eyecatching
    • Not much to add here. It should be fairly obvious if the overall look is dull or it leaps out at you.
  • Cover art should be genre appropriate
    • The usual advice here is to look at as many other books as possibel in your genre and get a feel for the common features. Try to focus on current big name authors, and not Agatha Christie, or your friend who self-published their book last month. Neither of these is going to be representative. You could publish a classic book in a white cover with black Comic Sans and people would buy it. And your friend, much as you love them, is no more qualified than you are
  • Important elements should not be closer than 5mm to the edge of the book
    • Or 10mm is sometimes the advice. Suffice to say, do not place the title right on the edge. (unless this is a brilliant avant guarde design trick and you can pull it off. Printers do cut surprisingly accurately, but nevertheless, a mm off either way could totally ruin your clever and cunning placement.
  • Design elements should be centred on the page
    • This is simple common sense, but when laying out your cover (if you are doing it yourself) you need to remember that the bleed (that bit that will be cut off) is not part of your cover.
  • The spine text should read from top to bottom (horizontal when the book is face up)
    • Yeah, I did this wrong the first time, but caught it before I went to print. I’ve seen it done plenty of times since and corrected it because of my onw mistake. unless your book is really thick, the spine text will be vertical. As you are laying it out, it should read down the page, not up. Centred on the spine with 2-5mm to spare either side. (don’t put text on any spine less than about 8mm)
  • The blurb on the back should be easily legible and not too long
    • Blurb is a topic in its own right, but when designing a cover warp for a physical book you need to be able to fit in on the page, with enough room for logos, and barcodes. The font should be large enough to read comfortably and not confused with the background image (if using one). There are several ways to make the writign clearer on the back but they also require another article.
    • Another mistake I made was to repeat the title on the back. I never thought about it before, but nobody actually does that.

O.K. if yo know me, you will know I am a bit haphazard about things like this, so I’ve probably missed off some important stuff.

Comment if you want me to add anything.

More articles on this to come.

Second Suns – Chapter 2

Continued from Second Suns – Novel

In Limbo

George slammed the door of the van shut, stomped into the house, slammed the front door, then stomped up the stairs towards his room.  

“You’re back early.”

George stopped and stared angrily at his mum. 

“Coffee?”

He grunted unintelligibly but stopped stomping up the stairs.

“Coffee with a drop of something in it?”

George exhaled like a stabbed bagpipe.

His mum disappeared and came back waving a nearly full bottle of whiskey. “Or you could forget about the coffee and just have the drop of something?”

She poured out two generous shots and handed one to her grown-up son. He downed it in one, and emitted a frustrated sound like a cross between a groan and a roar.

“I take it the gig didn’t go as well as you might have hoped?” She poured another large shot.

“They kicked me out of the band.” He took a more leisurely sip.

“Oh. Well… You’re still in Cthulu though?” She was one of those supportive mums that people who don’t have supportive mums would wade through burning napalm, and throw puppies into a shredder, to have. But when you’ve grown up with constant positivity and encouragement it can get astonishingly annoying.  

“Cthulu haven’t played a gig in months. Not having a drummer will do that to a band.” He paused to savour the single malt, briefly. “That bitch Sandra!”

“George, I would prefer you moderate your language at home please?”

“Sorry mum. But she is. She’s got her feet under the table and Mike wrapped around her little finger. She said, ‘If you love Surrogate Suns so much why don’t you start a tribute to them?’ ”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“I don’t love them that much. Anyway, I’ve had it with bands. Too much grief.”

“Last time you said that you spent six months getting more and more depressed until you joined three bands in one week. I’d sooner you focussed on your job, made some money, and bought a place of your own. How many twenty-year-olds still live with their mum?”

“Price of houses these days, I’d say nearly all of them.”

“Well whenever you’re not in a band, you turn into the most insufferable moron. Would it kill you at least to put an ad on that band-maker website?

“Oh blooming heck mum. Don’t go on… Alright, I’ll stick an ad on, for all the good it will do me.”

* * * * *

“Any joy with the website?” his mum asked a few days later.

“Had some loony call me saying he’s been planning on putting together a tribute just to play the ‘Ra’ album in its entirety.”

George’s mum looked both shocked and sad at once. ‘Ra’ was almost universally acclaimed as Surrogate Suns worst album, although there were a small minority of fans who believed it was the greatest work of recorded art ever produced.

She said, “Care in the community has got a lot to answer for. My dad had that album, but I only ever listened to it once. He played it to us as a warning about what would happen if we ever started using drugs. Scared the willies out of me and your uncle. I think it ended up being melted down in the oven to make a plant pot holder.”

“Mum! An original vinyl of that is worth a fortune now!”

“Not to me it isn’t. Now, anyone touches my copy of ‘Sol Invictus’ they had better like hospital food.” She opened her laptop. “What did you put in the ad anyway?”

“Can’t remember.” He flipped open his laptop and sipped his whisky while waiting for the site to open. “Here it is. I wrote ‘Anyone up for putting together a Surrogate Suns tribute? Singer with own PA and van seeks band.’ ”

“Well, no wonder you just got one loony. Who’s going to jump at that awful effort? You got to make it enticing. Like this one. ‘Singer wanted for Surrogate Suns tribute. Must have own van and P.A. Paid gigs waiting. Only serious applicants. Professional attitude required.’ ”

“Yeah right, that’s on the band builder site right now is it?”

She turned her screen around. “See for yourself.”

“Oh.”

“So? You gonna apply then?”

“I dunno. What if I don’t get it?”

“Oh for pity’s sake! Show me a man who’s never been turned down and I’ll show you a man who’s never gone for anything.”

George uttered a non-committal grunt. Having a helpful mum was a right pain in the bum.

“George! At least give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“It says professional, paid gigs waiting. They’ll have a queue of blokes round the block with the right hair and top-quality gear and a van that isn’t falling to bits.

George’s mum stood up. All five feet of her. “Now you listen here. I’ve put up with you and your bloody music because I believe in supporting my kids in achieving their dreams. But there’s only so much a mum can do and if you won’t at least call the bloody number on here then I’ll wash my hands of you, I really will.” And with that, she handed George the phone.

“Arrgh!” Cornered, George dialled the number.

Hello?

“I’m phoning about the ad for the Surrogate Suns tribute band on Band-Maker?”

“Yeah man, great stuff, you a big fan of the Suns?”

“Yeah love ‘em. Apart from maybe Ra? Not the greatest album. But Sol Invicta, and Seventh Son?”

“By far the best album is Supernova in my opinion. Massively underrated. That and Second Sun are the best two.”

“Really? I haven’t listened to them that much but yeah. I mean ‘Wild About Love’ I do that in my current band.”

“Cool well what are you up to next weekend? I can book the rehearsal studios and we can get together and play some stuff. Email me on that address on the advert, and I’ll email you over the details and a list of songs to have ready.”

“OK.” George ended the call and smiled weakly at his mum.

“There that wasn’t so difficult was it?” She topped up both glasses and lifted hers ready for a toast.

“To Surrogate Suns!”

George added, “Tribute.” And the glasses clinked.

CHAPTER THREE

Second Suns – Novel

I’ve started writing a new novel. It is the completely true story about a fictional tribute to a fictional band.

I’ve decided to post chapters here and ask for feedback. Maybe if enough people comment, they may talk me out of it.

I will start with a brief history of the band “Surrogate Suns” (this is incidentally the real name of a band that I formed but which never got to do a gig, but in my story it is the name of a famous 70s rock band)

A Brief History of Surrogate Suns

The ‘Suns’ as their devoted fans call them were first formed in 1969 after the break-up of experimental underground band ‘Fruit Loop Explosion’. This had been a bizarre mixture of psychedlic rock and cabaret act. The singer performed with a live python down his trousers, while the guitarist wore nothing but skin-tight patent leather lederhosen and performed an ascapology routine during a keyboard solo. At one gig, the python attacked the singer, and the guitarist electrocuted himself. They were both unable to resume their roles and the remaining musicians quit leaving the drummer, Derreck Pilton, to fulfil a string of contracted gigs.

Pilton’s first recruit was the guitarist from sixties one-hit-wonders The Sugartones, Jerome ‘Jerry’ Morcock, who was wasted in that band. Nervous at joining the Fruit Loops, Pilton assured him he wanted to take a more serious direction. Morcock then suggested a singer, Andy Shyner, who was currently performing with a pub rock band called ‘Secret Salami’. Pilton and Morcock went to a gig in Bournemouth and both agreed that the band were terrible but the singer had a certain something that grabbed your attention as soon as you saw him. He also had a decent voice. Andy was keen to join the Fruit Loops but insisted on bringing his bass player with him. Michael “Ratty” Ratcliff turned out to be a solid rhythm man with a touch of flair when it was needed.

They completed a tour as a four piece. Although dedicated Loop fans were disappointed with the lack of stage antics and some people complained they were too loud there was definite promise. At a gig at The Gazebo Club in London they were watched by a shady man, in a sharp suit, sitting in a corner booth. At the end of the gig, he had the venue management bring the band over and he made them a proposition they couldn’t refuse. He signed them to his new record label, ironically named Cut-Throat Records. Their new manager had said in an interview, “The music business is a cut-throat business, so we decided to name the record company accordingly.” Few journalists wanted to ask many more questions after he looked them squarely in the eye.

The band began to organise a new tour approaching previous venues that had played host to Fruit Loop Explosion, but not getting a warm reception. A change of name seemed to be needed, although how the name Surrogate Suns came about nobody really remembers clearly. All that is known is that the manager locked them in a room with large amounts of alcohol and the name came from that meeting.

Surrogate Suns first gig was in Liverpool on 5th Jan 1970 and the band were paid £3-7s-6d They then criss-crossed the UK playing 3 – 4 gigs per week for the first three months of the year before continuing without a break to play a series of small theatres and concert halls in Europe.

Initially they played a mix of blues and rock and roll covers, plus one or two of Fruit Loop Explosion’s songs but rocked up to the max. At first audiences didn’t know what to make of them but there was a chemistry and the time was right for a really loud band. Led Zeppelin had led the way and Surrogate Suns followed closely in their footsteps. The first album “Supernova” (1970) was recorded in six weeks at a studio in London and was already selling in America ahead of their tour.

It was a raw collection of the regular stuff from the live set but it just blasted away the cobwebs and became a favourite with bikers and rockers in general.

The American tour began in September and they played a staggering 46 gigs in two months. Back in the UK the album had sold steadily but not spectacularly. It was enough to get them a headline gig in Bristol with a local support act. The support band were a strange fusion of jazz and prog and they didn’t really enthuse the audience, but the keyboard player was a bit special. He made sounds come out of the Hammond organ that nobody had ever heard before. He played with his back to the instrument, he climbed on top of it and even took his shoes and socks off and played with his toes. Backstage it was clear that this other band was falling apart arguing and bickering about everything. So Surrogate Suns felt no pang of guilt when they lured the keyboard player away.

His input was the making of the second album which bore the name “Second Sun” (1971) and contained one of their best known songs. “Wild About Love” was a crazy musical roller coaster ride featuring a lengthy solo with all sorts of strange noises made by using and abusing the instruments in bizarre ways.

“Sol Three” (1971) came next with a descent into uncharted waters of jazz/prog and Indian music influenced by the Beatles experiments with Ravi Shankar a few years earlier. Also included two acoustic tracks featuring an obscure blues guitarist from Scotland, Blind Willy MacTavish.

“Centaur Eye” (1972) took the prog ideas still further with the title track at nearly 15 minutes; and yet this was still hard rock too; much heavier than anything produced by Pink Floyd up to that time.

The first four albums appeared at six month intervals and, the whole time, the band were touring relentlessly, playing over four hundred gigs in the first three years. Eventually the heavy schedule caught up with them. They were selling out large venues and their albums were selling by the shed load. The money they were making was being spent on drugs and loose women, and soon it all came crashing to a halt as Andy Shyner was taken seriously ill and admitted to hospital. It looked like the end of the road for the Suns. However, by the end of 1972 the singer was pronounced fit to be sent home, although he immediately flew out to California and spent six months convalescing. The guitarist and keyboard player flew out as well and they spent the time relaxing round a pool and writing songs.

When the fifth album “Ra” finally came out in 1974 it was either the greatest work ever or an unholy mess, depending on which critics you read. They had spent almost a year in the studio and it was by far the most expensive album they ever made, but there wasn’t a single track on it that grabbed you at first hearing. One or two were quite jazzy but not in a good way. It was overproduced and inaccessible and yet it sold by the bucket-load to fans who played it once and then put it away for ever.

The tour was not well attended, and newspapers talked of the amusing sight of ticket touts offering tickets for the price of a bus fare home.

1975 saw the band take a hiatus while two of them went to an Indian retreat. Here they gradually got off an addiction to cocaine although they did experiment with a variety of other drugs.

On their return the band spent the first part of 1976 in a Scottish castle cut off from the rest of the world and honed what was to become, arguably, their best album ever.

The aptly titled “Sol Invictus” (the unconquered Sun) was released on Midsummer night at midnight. Loyal fans queued at record shops which were persuaded to remain open and the first run sold out before sunrise. The album was received warmly by critics many of whom had panned “Ra” Even as Punk was set to storm the British music scene, these old has-been rockers could pull something special out of the bag.

It contained eleven tracks ranging from the short and punchy opener “I’m Back” with wailing vocal over a fast and furious guitar riff that was a match for any punk song, to the amazingly ethereal progressive title track.  The Suns were indeed back and their next tour was the biggest ever; playing stadium venues in Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan, and South America.

Then at the end of 1977 Jerry Morcock died in mysterious circumstances. They were on top of the world musically and planning their eighth studio album when he died peacefully in his sleep.

The rest of the band refused to consider continuing under the name Surrogate Suns and they disbanded forthwith.

Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun was released posthumously

Discography

  • Supernova
  • Second Sun
  • Sol Three
  • Centaur Eye
  • Ra
  • Sol Invictus
  • Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun

Fast forward to the 21st century.

Tributes to Surrogate Suns (incomplete list)
  • Wild About Suns
  • The Surrogate Suns Experience
  • Surrogate Sons
  • Son of Suns
  • Surrogate Daughters (an all-female tribute)
  • Sol Invictus
  • Surrogate Surrogates
  • Surrogate Supernova
  • Surrogate Stars
  • Substitut Soleils (A French tribute)
  • Balls to Plasma (a bizarre punk tribute)
  • Ra Ra Superstar (an even more bizarre disco tribute!)
  • Second Suns

Second Suns – a Tribute to Surrogate Suns

  • Singer – George Pearce
  • Drums – John Briggs
  • Guitar – Steve Rowe
  • Bass – Barry Hodges
  • Keys – Carl Smith

Chapter 1 – Busted Clocks

Music was playing loudly, some sort of prog rock. A phone rang. George looked around for a flat surface on which to place his beer, failing to find anywhere, he scrabbled around one handed among the various items of clothing, books, papers, and empty packaging on his bed, searching for the cordless house phone.

“Hello?”

Where are you?” it was John, the guitarist from Busted Clocks, his band.

“Eh?”

Gig tonight? Are you still at home?

George looked at the landline through which he was speaking to the guitarist and pulled a face indicative of the ridiculousness of the question; the gesture, of course, was lost on John. He glanced at the clock. “Shit!” he muttered to himself, then to the phone he said, “I’ll be there is half an hour!”

For fuck’s sake!

George flung the phone down glanced at himself in the mirror, and headed out the door, beer still in hand. Back inside a few seconds later.

“Mum? Have you seen my gig back?”

A dislocated voice called back, “On the floor under the stairs where you dumped it last week!”

George looked down and realised he was practically standing on the handle.

“Thanks mum!”

He downed the last of the beer and dumped the can on the sideboard on his way out.

* * * * *

George pulled up outside the venue. Dave, Mike, and Sandra berated him over his timekeeping.

“You cock!” Dave began.

“Sorry guys, I lost track of time.”

“Pathetic!” Sandra added.

“I said I’m sorry!”

“You’re always saying you’re sorry George.” Mike retorted.

“Well I am sorry, alright? Where’s John?

“Getting a kebab.” Mike told him.

“He’ll turn into a kebab one of these days.”

“You mean he isn’t already?” Mike joked.

“Can we cut the chat and get this van unloaded?” Dave complained. “There’s people already here. We’ll have to sound check with ’em watching now.”

George grabbed a big speaker and lugged it inside followed by Dave, carrying a mic stand, Mike, who took a bag of leads, and Sandra, who brought her smile.

“You lazy buggers!” George said. “You could’ve brought the other speaker!”

“I’ve already brought my bass rig in.” Dave pointed out. “John’s brought his cab and head in.”

“Yeah,” Mike added, “you think these drums set themselves up do you? It’s about time you pulled your weight and stopped dicking us around.”

“Frankly, George,” Sandra smiled nastily, “we’ve been talking about stuff while we’ve been… waiting for you.”

“Oh really? And what have you been … saying then?” George mimicked her emphasis.

“Leave it Saan, let’s get set up and do the gig eh?”

“No! Shut up, Mike. Come on, Saan. Out with it.”

“Guys come on,” Dave tried. “We’re mates right? Been together with this line-up for, what is it? Six months now? Starting to come together; gigs lined up; people already here; be full up by nine o’clock.”

“Well he has to know some time,” Sandra sneered. “You’re not wanted in the band any more. This is the last gig with you.”

“Oh. So that’s how it is, is it? Dave? It’s Mike and Sandra’s band now is it? They make all the decisions? As I recall, you and John put this band together and it was all going fine until Mike brought Sandra in.”

Dave looked only a little apologetic. “Mate, it would help if you turned up on time occasionally.”

“Oh right, so now arriving on time is the criteria for a rock singer is it? Axl bloody Rose sometimes didn’t arrive until AFTER the audience had all gone home!”

“You’re NOT Axl Bloody Rose though are you?” cut in Sandra. “You’re George useless-moron Pearce. Pub singer and all-round prat. You’ld be late for your own bloody funeral and, by the way, nobody in the band likes Surrogate Suns, and nor do the audiences.

“What the fuck’s that got to do with anything?”

“You constantly going on about doing Surrogate Suns covers,” Mike cut in. “We already do ‘Wild About Love’, fair enough. That’s a classic, everybody knows it and can sing along. But what’s that shit you played at rehearsal last week?”

“’Sol Invictus. Its bloody genius is what it is. Not that you lot would ever be able to play it. Takes a drummer who can handle something other than four/four the whole night.”

“From the bloke who has to stop playing tambourine if he starts singing.”

“I don’t have to be a musician to know you’re a shit drummer!”

Mike threw a drumstick at George which bounced off his head. This amused Mike, at least.

“Ow! Twat!”

Dave attempted to calm the situation. “Chill, guys. Come on there’s people looking at us. Anyway, whoever said a drummer was a musician, right?” he laughed weakly. “Let’s get set up and do this gig eh?” This speech was about as much use as a kazoo solo at the Albert Hall.

“No. Fuck that. If you’re so keen to dump me, then let’s get on with it. Why wait until after the gig? I’ll fuck off now and leave Sandra in charge. I’m sure she’s more than capable of taking over all the songs I do.”

“Damn right I am. I’ll do a damn sight better as well.”

George hadn’t expected her to be so keen. “Yeah right! You got your lyrics written out then? You can’t even remember your own songs, you slag.”

“Oy you…” Mike began.

“Ignore him Mike,” Sandra said, turning her back on George. “It’s all sorted. some people come prepared. I knew you would flake out on us one day and I’d have to cover for you.”

Dave made another attempt to defuse the situation. “George man, come on, we’re mates, we don’t need all this aggro. Let’s get set up have a few beers smash the gig and talk about this at the next rehearsal eh?”

But George was already shoving his heavy speaker back into the van and coming back for the mic stand and cables.

“Bollocks Dave,” Sandra said. “He’s a dick and the sooner he’s out of our hair the better. What’s the deal for this gig? Hundred quid tonight? You can’t even divide that by five can you? Anyway, whatever it is, split four ways we get more each.”

Dave and George exchanged a look of despair at Sandra’s lack of basic arithmetic, and even Mike was a bit non-plussed as to how anyone could think you can’t split a hundred pounds five ways.

“Sorry Dave. This isn’t your fault, but I’m not hanging around if I’m not wanted. Good luck with this mental bitch and her boyfriend!” George glared at Mike as he loaded the remaining bits into his van and slammed the door.

Sandra couldn’t resist a parting shot. “If you love Surrogate Suns so much, why don’t you start up a tribute band to them? You could call it ‘Test Tube Babies’.”

George was in the driving seat by now, but he paused, almost lost for words. “What are you on about? That sounds more like a tribute to ‘Peter and the Test Tube Babies’.”

“The Who?” Sandra replied.  

Dave couldn’t resist. “Nah, not The Who; Peter and the Test Tube Babies.”

Sandra’s blank stare was a revelation She was younger than the others, but still…  

“Punk band,” Dave tried by way of explanation. “Zombie Creeping Flesh?”

Sandra continued to look blank.

“Rotting in the Fart Sack”?

Still nothing. George started his van and drove off, with a spin of rubber on tarmac. No mean feat in a twelve-year-old LDV convoy.

“You’re not familiar with their work then, I take it?” Dave continued.

It was at this moment that the guitarist, John, returned and said, “Alright Dave? Was that George?”

“Yeah.”

“Why’s he driven off?”

“He’s quit.”

“What? Why?”

Sandra interrupted, “Because he’s a dick. Don’t worry, I know all his songs, and got the lyrics written out… Some of us can manage to come prepared.” She flashed a brief, smug, grin and headed into the venue.

“Brilliant,” John said. “Well that’s all sorted then.” And then, because Sandra was moving away he raised his voice to add, “…and you’ve got a P.A. as well?”

Dave, Mike and Sandra all looked at each other as realisation dawned.

“Oh, fuuuuuuck!”

Want to read more? Second Suns – Chapter 2 Please leve a comment if you want more as I feed off the energy of people who don’t hate me.

Bethany Askew and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I appreciate that the headline looks rather like I am about to reveal news of a salacious affair between modern day author Bethany Askew, and early nineteenth century poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, in a very real sense, perhaps that is quite close to the truth. Because Bethany has spent an enormous amount of time in the company of the great man while researching for her twin novels about his life. Three Extraordinary Years, set largely in Somerset, and The Two Saras, set predominantly in Cumbria.

You wait ages for a novel about Samuel Taylor Coleridge and then two come along at once.

Deep Down Research

Bethany Askew has spent many hours entertaining visitors at the National Trust Coleridge Cottage (Still closed at time of writing 29th Aug 2020) in Nether Stowey. Here, before lockdown commenced, she could be found helping visitors understand more about the life of Coleridge and those three extraordinary years that he spent in the small drafty cottage with his new wife Sara, and their young family; a period in which he wrote some of his most famous works, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. She also read copiously about the poet, as the long bibliography at the back of the book will attest, so you can be sure that while the books are written as fiction, they are deeply rooted in solid facts.

Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey

Lockdown Launch

Her books were already well on the way to launch before the COVID situation developed and so we launched the books anyway. Despite not being able to have a proper physical launch when the time came, we did in fact see a very healthy flurry of sales, and now that bookshops are reopening we are seeing a continuation of sales that is respectable and solid.

The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria

If you haven’t already got a copy of Three Extraordinary Years, and The Two Saras I would urge you to order them from your local bricks and mortar bookshop (in the UK). Alternatively ask your local library to order a copy for you to borrow.

If you can’t get to a bookshop or library (I feel very sorry for you) or you are not in the UK, then you can buy online from us (a flat rate P&P charge is applied so it’s worth buying a few books at once).

Sins as Red as Scarlet – by Janet Few

C17th Historic fiction from the author of Barefoot on the Cobbles

August sees the launch of the second novel from respected historian and genealogist, Janet Few. With a slew of acclaimed non-fiction books in her back catalogue, Janet sat down to write “Barefoot on the Cobbles” a novel based very closely on real events that took place in Clovelly around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Meticulously researched and beautifully written it has sold solidly since publication. We are now looking forward to another bestseller from Janet.

Sins as Red as Scarlet

Sins as Red as Scarlet is a time-slip historical fiction set in 17th century Devon and the present day. Janet Few knows more than most about the century of the English civil war and the Mayflower sailing since she spent many years as a historical reenactor at the Torrington 1646 living history exhibition (now sadly just a cafe) and she still forms an integral part of the Swords and Spindles living history group which came from that exhibition. She also maintains an excellent blog covering aspects of historical research, genealogy, and her writing including her other books on her History Interpreter blog.

2020 and the pandemic

While most of the story takes place in the 17th century, this also interweaves with the life of a modern day student, Martha, who is studying history and meanwhile having problems of her own in 2020 Devon.
Now, as Janet was putting the finishing touches to the story, events of 2020 overtook her, leaving her with a serious dilemma. The writing had to be finished back in May, to give sufficient time to go through two stages of editing, as well as formatting the book ready for printing, followed by proof reading the printed block, and then for the print run to be completed in time to be able to send out ARCs to key reviewers.
All this for a story set partly in the middle of the worst global pandemic in living memory. For consistency reasons, it was not practical to change the modern-day setting to 2019, therefore, a decision was made to largely ignore SARS-CoV2/COVID-19, and to state that the setting is an AU (alternative universe) 2020 in which the disease does not have the impact it does. We hope this small alteration is acceptable and can only apologise that we could not realise it in the real world.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book.

The true story of a Devon town in turmoil

It is 1682. Across the land, the Age of Reason has begun; scientific thought is ousting superstitious belief. The menacing days of the witchfinder have all but gone. Nevertheless, in Devon’s county town, three impoverished women from Byddeforde are condemned to death for the crime of witchcraft. In Byddeforde we find the rich merchants, the flourishing tobacco warehouses and the bustle of ships setting sail for the Newfoundland cod-banks. Yet, barely hidden, are layers of intolerance and antagonism that have built up over decades. Sins as Red as Scarlet is the unfolding of the lives of those whose prejudices and fears were shaped by the turmoil of plague, of war and of religious dissent.
In an alternative 2020, sixteen-year-old Martha, herself a bullies’ target, undertakes a school local history project. Probing the motivations and beliefs of Bideford’s seventeenth century residents, Martha comes to understand how past events might lead ordinary people to become the victims, the accusers, or the accused.

Cover Design by the Branch Line

Janet had a very clear idea how she wanted the cover to look and she engaged local artist Robin Paul a.k.a. The Branch Line to create it. The dark and forbidding image in black, white, and red is striking and beguilingly simple. We chose a font called “Hamlet or Not” to give a suitably C17th feel and this was pillow embossed and bordered with a black stroke and a white outer glow to make it stand out. The result is appropriately sanguine.

Small section of a larger poster of bird pictures by Robin Paul. See The Branch Line for more.

In terms of art style, this cover is a big change from most of Robin’s work which is more obviously suited to children’s books etc. Things like birds and furry animals being common features, like this puffin for example.

Preorder special offer

Now, for those who love their history, both fiction and non-fiction, you may wish to head over to Janet’s blog and pre-order direct from her because she has a brilliant offer available. Here’s what she says.

The first 500 people who pre-order Sins as Red as Scarlet (RRP £9.99), to be sent to a UK address, by 28 August 2020, will receive a copy of my social history of the seventeenth century Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs (RRP £12.95) absolutely free. These will be signed copies. They will also have the opportunity to purchase the accompanying CD for £3 (RRP £4). There will be no charge for UK postage. So if you are interested in this, you need to go to her site here and contact her directly.

West Yorkshire History – Venturing From Our Comfort Zone

Blue Poppy Publishing Goes Beyond Devon

Just a Small North Devon Publisher

When I started Blue Poppy Publishing in 2016, I simply imagined it would add an air of respectability to my self-published fantasy novel, “Children of the Wise Oak“. I had seen the lovely imprint that Liz Shakespeare uses, for her Letterbox Books, and I wanted something like that.

However, once I had gone through the tortuous process of buying ISBNs (which are MUCH cheaper by the hundred and even cheaper still by the thousand) and setting up distribution through Nielsen, I realised that many self-publishing authors would want help with the process, and so the idea was born to publish other local North Devon authors if they wanted it.

Beyond Devon’s Borders

Fast forward almost four years to the present day, spring 2020 (in the middle of a global pandemic and lockdown) and we are publishing more authors and books than I can hold in my little head. And by no means all of them are from Devon any more. In fairness, one of the first authors I had the privilege to help publish was Joni Dee, who lives and works in London. His gripping contemporary political espionage thriller “And the Wolf Shall Dwell” is largely set in that great city with a vivid and harrowing depiction of terrorism which is written so well it walks a tightrope of conflicting emotions… well, read it you’ll see.

But apart from Joni, we kept it pretty much exclusively North Devon/Devon for a few years. But this year, we are pushing the boundaries and I am scared! Scared bcause it is MUCH harder to sell a book in Devon if the customer cannot relate to it. We do really well with “Barefoot on the Cobbles” set in Clovelly, or “A Breat of Moonscent” a memoir of growing up in wartime Dolton. But we don’t do half as well with my own books, set in iron-age Europe, or with something like “Ethereal Tenant” a tense speculative fiction novel about a child who develops an alter ego which begins to take over his life, but is set largely in Leicestershire and London.

So here I am now with books that are not only set outside Devon, but also written by people from outside Devon as well. So let’s do a quick rundown of what we have on offer.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Somerset and Cumbria

Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey by Bethany Askew
The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria by Bethany Askew

Not only are these two books both set entirely outside Devon, but the author, Bethany Askew, is from Somerset! Shock horror!

The first, “Three Extraordinary Years” is set in Nether Stowey, Somerset, at the cottage now known as Coleridge Cottage and run by the National Trust. The second, “The Two Saras” takes place in Cumbria when Coleridge lived at Blake Hall, Keswick. We have already enjoyed god success selling these books which I can only attribute to the combination of Bethany’s already well established author credentials and the broad interest in anything to do with STC and the Lakeland Poets.

Children’s Book from the Land of Jam-First

A Clattering Beneath the Woods by Sally Hubbard

Cornwall, or Kernow as I habitually call it, is the setting for “A Clattering Beneath the Woods”. This is a delightful children’s chapter book which is set on the banks of the Tamar River, the ancient boundary between Devon (cream first) and Kernow (jam first). The story is written in the style of the classics of children’s literature. I’m not saying it is in the same league as Winnie the Pooh, Swallows and Amazons, Wind in the Willows, or the Secret Garden. I am happy and confident to leave that comparison to you. I’m just saying that you won’t find a fart joke anywhere in the book and we didn’t go through the text and remove any words that a child might not have learned yet. (Because if you never read a new word, you will never learn a new word).

We are also working on another book for Children which is set even further into Kernow, but more of that later.

Portugal – Yoga – Rescue Dogs

A Dog Called Buddha by Steve Jamison.

We also have a book which, although written by Steve Jamison from North Devon, he now lives at least half the time in a place called Cha in Portugal. “A Dog Called Buddha” is the story of him escaping the Iberian wildfires of OCtober 2017 in an old Landrover with four rescue dogs. If I were to try and think of a book that was further from what we have previously done then I would struggle to come up with anything better than this, but I am pleased to say it is selling well. I must again presume that this is Steve’s reputation among those who know him, but I perhaps the appeal of dogs and true life stories is also driving sales. I do know that our editor, Sarah Dawes was sufficiently impressed to preorder a copy, and that’s always a good sign since she has of course, already read it several times.

Did I Mention Yorkshire?

Yorkshire Rebel by Ron Riley

So now we come to the book that inspired the title of this post. “Yorkshire Rebel – The Life and Times of John Lindley 1770 – 1850” (coming soon) is a straight up history book. Not historical fiction, not a memoir, but a proper well researched well writen history of the West Yorkshire revolt of 1820. The book was written by Ron Riley, a very meticulous amateur historian, who had some copies printed previously but just as ring bound A4 books. This edition is a 200th anniversary hardcover with brand new artowkr specially painted for the book.

The subject matter is the events leading up to and following the West Yorkshire Revolt, including covering the Luddite, and Chartist movements, with attention paid to social conditios in the industrial revolution, and of course covering the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).

Yorkshire Rebel is now available to order in hardcover for £19.99 with Free P&P to UK addresses (£4 to EU and £8 to the rest of the world) ORDER PAGE

You can also buy a paperback version. I’m sorry, it is not as nice, but it is a little cheaper if all you want is to read the book. It is on Amazon UK for £15.99 and on all other Amazon sites for a (hopefully) similar price in the local currency.

Announcing the Birth of Twins During Lockdown

Blue Poppy Publishing is thrilled to be able to announce that author Bethany Askew has delivered twins. To be specific, we are talking here of non-identical twin novels.

In the early hours of 28th April we welcomed the arrival of Three Extraordinary Years: The Coleridges at Stowey, and The Two Saras: Coleridge in Cumbria. Both weighed in at a healthy nine pounds each (£8.99 to be exact) and will be available from all good bookshops just as soon as all good bookshops are able to reopen and Gardners wholesale distribution returns to normal.

In the meantime, you can still buy both books on our website through our fully secure shop and best of all, there is no extra charge for postage and packing.

Ignore Stephen King and His “Silly” Rules for Writing.

I’m actually not going to say very much on this subject because I have actually seen another blog post which sums up everything I want to say already, so I am just going to make a few points and then shsre a link.

Why you should ignore writing rules, especially when given out by famous successful authors.

Constantly, on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, I am bombarded with well meaning but useless advice about how to write well, or rather how NOT to write BADLY. Often these “rules for writing” are attributed to Stephen King. But you should ignore him and all the rules. (Up to a point).

Who am I to criticise the great Stephen King?

Good question, I am an unsuccessful author. Sorry, correction, I am a yet-to-be-successful author. Mr King is a giant of literature. So where do I get off dissing him? Wel I’ll tell you where, I don’t try to tell you how to write because how you write is YOUR STYLE. If you follow Stephen King’s rules then you might end up writing more like Stephen King but you will never BE Stephen King and you won’t sell a many books as him. Meanwhile you will have abandonned YOUR style.

There’s nothing wrong with Mr King’s muse. I’m not a fan of horror myself, but that doesn’t mean he is not good, just not my cup of tea. but regardless of anything else, there are 7 billion people on the planet and we don’t all want the same thing. If we did, it would be a funny old world as my mum used to say.

Write the Book You Want to Read.

This is a phrase which I believe I coined. I mean sure, plenty of people have said it before, but I didn’t hear it anywhere else. I just worked it out myself.

Write the book YOU would like to read, and then go and find people who are like YOU.

How to Become a Multi-Million selling Author.

So one last thing before I post this link fr the much better blog than mine. LOL

I saw a tweet about how you could sell X-million books just like Stephen King and I just shook my head in despair.

I mean what a crock. You can remove every adverb in your MS, use short words, and all the other twaddle he talks about, you can use every marketing trick in the book but the reason Stephen Kings sells millions of books is PARTLY because he is an objectively good writer and PARTLY because he sells millions of books.

If you or I wrote The Institute we would sell a few dozen copies. That’s because we didn’t write Carrie, or The Shining or any of the others. Also because we don’t have a million dollar marketing budget.

So, quit trying to be like Stephen King and concentrate on being like YOU.

Still not convinced, here’s that better blog item for you. https://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2013/07/on-writing-why-i-dont-listen-to-stephen.html