Camp NaNoWriMo is here!

It’s that time of year again! July 2019 Camp NaNoWriMo has officially begun as of Monday. Once again, I am taking part. Join me — it’s not too late!

Clicky to view my stats:

Camp NaNoWriMo July 2019 logo - a sun with sunglasses on overlooks a mountain range, tent and two fir trees, with a large pencil beneath with '2019 writer' etched onto it

Camp NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t know, is NaNoWriMo‘s less stressful little sibling where you set yourself a custom goal for the month — words, minutes, hours, lines or pages — and work towards it to ‘win’. It’s a lot less restrictive than the more well-known NaNoWriMo (50,000 words only).

This month I’ve set myself a goal of 1,500 minutes which equates to 25 hours. It’s my intention not only to meet this goal, but smash it! So, wish me luck.

My goal for Camp is to complete 10,000 words of my rewrite, a 400 word synopsis of my book, and then polish both up for submission to the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize. Lofty goals indeed — people on Twitter keep banging on about a Mercury Retrograde? — but I know I can do it!

Are you guys participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month? What are y’all’s projects and goals?

S.E. Berrow


#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Question 34

Quick blog post for y’all today! Thought I’d tackle the next question in the #AcresofInk challenge. Obviously quite a lot of time has passed since I answered the previous question in this challenge; you can find that post here and the full list of challenge questions here.

34. Your thoughts on… Self-publishing or Traditional publishing?

Thinking about writing

I presume this means what I’d prefer to do with The Mayor once its done. Personally, I’d rather be traditionally published than take my book to market on my own. Why? A couple of reasons:

1) Traditional publishing does a lot of the leg work necessary to get the book to market for you.

So, that includes later-stage editing, copy editing, jacket design, advertising, production and distribution. If you opt to self-publish, you’d have to look for, run due-diligence on and — perhaps most importantly — pay for all that stuff yourself! Of course, if you self-published successfully and did really well, you’d make more money than you would if you’d traditionally published. Plus publishers’ input into all of the above aspects varies from author to author, book to book, meaning you could get published only for your book to perform poorly and you get dropped. So there is that to consider…

Nevertheless, I scarcely have the time and energy to write and edit my book to a submittable state as it is, so I’d really appreciate the team effort!

2) There’s something more validating to me about being picked up by a publisher than me “caving” and opting to publish the book by myself.

Getting picked up means that someone — an agent initially, and then a publisher — felt my book was good enough to want to invest in and sell. Now, objectively speaking, this is ridiculous. Publishing is a business first and foremost, and businesses sniff out what sells, not necessarily what is good. There are tons of incredible self-published books out there (the WOOL omnibus by Hugh Howey, for example — one of my faves, go read it!). Likewise there are also some truly awful books out there that are traditionally published (I shan’t name and shame, just check out my Goodreads for what I like and dislike).

Despite my knowing all this however, I can’t help but hold up being traditionally publication as The Dream. I think it’s a valid dream. Would I self-publish The Mayor if it never got accepted? Maybe. It’d be hard not to feel like a bit of a failure in that instance though. I think I’d be more likely to go away, write another book and try again. Each to their own! I have nothing but admiration for those who self-publish; they’re a lot less lazy than I am.

I fully reserve to change my mind on everything I’ve written above in the future XD

S.E. Berrow


S.E. Berrow On Hiatus

I’m sorry to announce that due to various life stresses such as house-buying, work and social commitments, I am now officially On Hiatus.

By this, I mean I can no longer fool myself that I have the time, will, or inclination to create. My mind is a hideous, carnival-like hellscape — a carousel of anxiety and despair, going round and round in my head; a house of horrors from which I cannot escape, where the worst possible scenario threatens to jump out at me around every corner.

My mind is so occupied with things that are not writing, that I cannot effectively edit The Mayor: Part One. I cannot churn out even a paragraph for my John novella. I can’t even maintain this blog, missing week after week of the #AcresofInk blog challenge — it’s not acceptable. I fall at every hurdle. I fail at every task and goal I set myself. All I succeed in doing is sitting down at a desk and staring at a computer screen. I type out maybe… 4 words over the course of half an hour? Then I cry. And cry. And cry.

Not being able to write is making my anxiety worse. As such, this is me accepting that it’s just not going to happen until I am in a better place, both physically, and mentally. Thus… hiatus.

It’s not all doom and gloom. I fully intend to pick everything up again — #AcresofInk challenge included — as soon as this dark cloud passes. Also my writing partner, K.F. Goodacre, is drip-feeding me her own edits of The Mayor: Part One for me to read and absorb, and we have our writing retreat to look forward to in late November. Until then, I can still research. I can still world-build. I find these sorts of things are less taxing than editing or writing — they are true escapism. When I’m having an OK day, I can also stretch to adding to my outline of The Mayor: Part Two, which is definitely productive.

I’ve also commissioned some artworks from my illustrator Brettarts of some of my favourite scenes and characters from The Mayor to inspire me and bring me pleasure. Below is one such example of these depicting my characters, Melora and John. I can’t wait to have this incredible image printed, framed, and put on display in the office of my new house (when things eventually start moving on that front). I hope you like it ♥


I’m sorry to my friends and Beta readers I’m letting down with this news, but please know that it is absolutely necessary if I am to make it to next year at all.

Take care,

S.E. Berrow

#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 38: Question 32 & 33

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

32. What is your protagonist’s biggest weakness?

Melora’s biggest weakness is definitely her naïvety. She’s also incredibly spoiled, which goes hand in hand with her naïvety, because it means she has a rather idealised view of the world. Her inability to recognise when she’s being manipulated lands her in a lot of trouble in The Mayor, which is ironic really, because she’s pretty manipulative herself.

I feel like these traits are quite well-demonstrated in my answer to the question below.

33. Your favourite scene

OK, so I made a list of favourite scenes vying for my top spot, and all six of them are spoilerific. Thus, I’m actually answering the question, “What scene do you have a soft spot for that doesn’t give anything away?” as opposed to which is my favourite

Disclaimer: this passage is very much in the draft stages. Please forgive the horrible syntax and my chronic verbosity.

Melora was in a far lighter mood for having seen Mr Kale again. She even saw fit to compliment Jaspher later that afternoon on his shiny new cravat pin — a silver oval with a garnet embedded at his centre — which suited his appearance very well.

“Thank you, Miss Winship,” Jaspher blushed, his expression lighting up at the compliment.

“Ahem,” Craven cleared his throat. The two hastily resumed their work, but as an unfazed Melora hummed quietly to herself, Jaspher kept his head down, furiously scribbling with his quill, neck prickling as he felt Craven’s cool, penetrating gaze upon him.

He wore the pin again to work next day. Then the next day. And the next. Although Melora extended no further compliments, he couldn’t help but squirm each time Craven looked his way, subtly covering his throat as the man sized him up like a specimen pinned beneath glass.


In the weeks that followed, Melora saw Mr Kale only thrice more, and each time, much to her bitter disappointment, he completely ignored her.

The first time, he seemed to be in a hurry, walking in the opposite direction with little time for small talk. The second, he dropped by to speak with Jaspher, not deigning to acknowledge her at all before the two of them departed for the shipping yard.

The third was just before her father bumped into him in the corridor, dumping her unceremoniously in her office before dashing off with Mr Kale, who scarcely spared her a glance. She fought the urge to cry as she flounced into her chair, rubbing her eyes and sniffing with the effort it took to restrain her tears.

“Miss Winship?” Jaspher’s voice jarred enough to make her grit her teeth. “Are you quite alright?”

“I’m fine, Jaspher,” she snapped, mood instantly souring as he hastened to his feet. Swords, why did he have to be so saint’s damned attuned to her distress? Could he not just leave her the hell alone for once?

She glared at him as he approached, temper flaring as her eyes were drawn to the pin nestled at his throat.

“Have you no grasp on the concept of fashion, Jaspher? You’ve been wearing that self-same cravat pin every day for the last month.”

Immediately she felt a stab of self-reproach — Jaspher’s face fell faster than cannon shot. Recoiling, he shuffled his way back to his desk, and Melora bit back the overwhelming urge to apologise, guilt only serving to stoke her anger.

Why should she apologise? She’d only spoken the truth. Why could he not change his attire every day like Mr Kale? The man paid her more attention than anyone she had ever known. Why could he not take more pride in his appearance? Be a little more sure of himself? Be a bit more interesting? Why could he not–

Why could he not be more like Mr Kale?

Copyright © S.E. Berrow 2018

S.E. Berrow

#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 37: Question 31

I suppose I’m behind in all other aspects of my life, so it only makes sense I be behind in my blog posts too…

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

31. Book recommendations | Fans of your book might also enjoy…?

If you like the age of sail and/or pirates…

The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb

Ship_Of_magic The_Mad_Ship Ship_Of_destiny

These books are probably the closest in tone, style and setting to The Mayor— both being fantasy books with an 18th century colonial feel and strong focus on characterisation. The Liveship Traders was of great inspiration to me when I was first conceiving of The Mayor. The premise may sound a bit bonkers — living ships and whatnot — but I promise you, the execution is stunning. These are my favourite books of all time.

I’m also recommending Kingston by Starlight here by Christopher John Farley.

Kingston By Starlight

Told from the perspective of Anne Bonny, one of two women — the other being Mary Read — who sailed with the infamous pirate, Captain Jack Rackham, Kingston by Starlight is a beautifully written, if very short book. I read it around the same time as The Liveship Traders and it contributed greatly to the development of The Mayor as a result. How exactly? Well… read both and you might find out!

If you like grimdark…

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

The_Blade_itself Before_They_Are_Hanged Last_Argument_of_Kings

Tighter, leaner and more tongue-in-cheek than the works of George R.R. Martin (i.e. the poster boy of grimdark), The First Law brilliantly subverts a number of tried and tested fantasy tropes. The trilogy’s greatest strengths lie in its characters however.

Also, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (Book 1 in the Gentleman Bastards series — I’ve only read book 1 so can’t comment on the others).

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Again, like The Liveship Traders, I think The Lies of Locke Lamora is quite similar to The Mayor in terms of its tone, style and setting. The city of Camorr is based on late-medieval Venice, but it is situated within an unnamed fantasy world (not unlike New Hardway, which I ground very firmly in the 18th century). Thus they’re both historically accurate to a point, but just different enough to merit a fantasy label.

If you like a bit of rough and tumble…

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (also known as Cross Stitch here in the UK)


Genre-bending, time-travelling hijinks ensue when 1940s combat nurse Claire Randall accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and winds up married to an honourable highlander with a glutton for punishment. Packed with steamy sex, fascinating examinations of politics and buckets full of blood, don’t let the sexist marketing fool you; Outlander is about as far from an air-headed historical romance as one could possibly get. It’s well-written, well-researched and the characters are glorious. Expect trauma at the hands of a paperback. This is another one of my favourites.

If you like claustrophobic family dramas…

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist cover

Secrets and lies threaten to tear a family apart amidst corruption and greed in 17th century Amsterdam. You can read my review of this wonderful book here.

If you like villains you love to hate…

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett


This book was actually recommended to me after someone read a really early draft of The Mayor, and asked me to develop my villain, William Kale, a bit more. The villain in this book — also called William, funnily enough — …oh boy, is he a piece of work! In the words of Follett himself:

Of all the villains I have created, William Hamleigh is the one readers most love to hate. Critics sometimes say that a villain should not be all black, but should have a streak of gray, some redeeming trait, to be realistic. The heck with that, say I, and William proves my point. He’s realistic because he’s driven by believable psychological demons.

~Ken Follett, Notes & Highlights from The Pillars of the Earth

Judging from some of the reactions I’ve received from my readers (see here), I’d like to think the same now applies to William Kale, too!

Villain aside, The Pillars of the Earth is also a ripping good yarn that you’ll absolutely tear through despite its enormous size. Love it.

Diana Gabaldon’s villain Black Jack Randall from the Outlander series (mentioned above) also fulfils this criteria as well, so even more reasons for you to read Outlander!

S.E. Berrow

#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 33: Question 30

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

30. Describe (or show) your book’s ideal cover

My understanding of the publishing industry is that the author has little to no influence over the cover of their book, so this is something I prefer not to dwell on too much — not least because my graphic design skills leave a lot to be desired!

That being said, I did design my own placeholder cover — not only to fit in with the theme of my website, but also to put on the front cover when I print off copies for myself and my friends (I’d still like to own a physical copy of my book, regardless of what happens after queries).

The cover on the left is the one I currently have displayed on my project page (click here). There is also an alternative cover — on the right — that’s very similar:

Why sugar, you ask? Well, in The Mayor, there is a bit of a wonder substance called Taronese Sugar which is very important to the overall plot. I got the idea for Taronese Sugar whilst researching 18th century pirates’ most sought after treasures; sugar was one of these!

You can read more about sugar and why it was so valuable on one of my favourite piratey blogs here ~*~ CONTENT WARNING: slave trade ~*~

I actually like the “alternative” cover much better than  than the current one, because of the reflection; it fills the space better. In the end however, I decided the sugar cubes were less representative of my book than the pile, which makes me think of sand, poison, gunpowder… Details, details.

As for my ideal cover…

Like my friend Oran aka. The Singing Lights, I’m in love with the original UK covers for Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books and the latest iterations of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings. I’d say my book has a fair amount in common with the works of these two authors, so it would make sense for my cover to be similar:

Another kind of cover I’m fond of the idea of is a silhouetted figure (probably either Kale or Melora) walking down a lamplit darkened street, with the sails of ships and the sea in the background. This is a style of cover typically associated with the crime genre, but I have seen it in historical fantasy too!

For example, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch features a silhouetted figure against the Venice-like city of Camorr, and I’m also forever thinking about the foggy cover of Ragboy, Rats and the Surging Sea by Alan Temperley, which I read and loved as a child.


S.E. Berrow

#AcresOfInk Writing Challenge ~ Week 32: Question 29

It’s been a truly hellish last couple of months. Projects at work, house-buying, mortgage applications and my general day-to-day existence have all sought to unravel me. At last — touch wood — I feel like I can actually see the light at the end of this very long, very dismal tunnel. I still have a great many things on my To Do list, but fortunately typing out a blog post this week was not one of them… Hooray!

I asked my very good friends K.F. Goodacre and Oran aka. The Singing Lights to talk about The Mayor for you this week. I have to say, they are alarmingly enthusiastic about my book, and reading back through their answers makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and contented inside.

Part of the 52 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

29. Guest post: Get a friend who is familiar with your novel to speak about it

K.F. Goodacre

K.F. GoodacreI’ve known S.E. Berrow for about 12 years now and, as a fellow writer, I’ve been envious of many things about her writing — her style, her vocabulary, her dedication — but none more so than her ability to craft characters that leap off the page. This has been the case for every story of hers I’ve ever read — whether it be a top-hat-wearing English vampire or a Dutch professor sipping coffee in a New Orleans café — and it is especially true of the characters in her current historical fantasy novel, The Mayor.

Small town socialite Melora Winship longs to break free of her patriarchal restraints and sail on the open seas with her best childhood friend, Jonathan Carson. The only trouble is that her father has already planned her entire life for her — a dull office job within the family shipbuilding business, and eventually a marriage to Jonathan’s kind but equally dull older brother, Jaspher Carson. Her wish for something exciting to happen comes true in the form of the handsome William Kale, but it isn’t long before she realises that he’s not the breath of fresh air she longs for. He’s more of a deadly squall, devastating the port of New Hardway and everything she holds dear.

One of the benefits of having known S.E.Berrow for so long is that I’m privileged to have seen The Mayor grow from conception to execution. It has been an undeniable labour of love, spanning a decade of researching, plotting, honing and drafting — and it’s well worth the effort she put in. The plot itself follows Melora Winship and Jaspher Carson as they navigate their individual, unexpected trials of small town life, against a backdrop of what can only be described as a tense political fantasy-thriller.

The plot is fantastic and multi-layered, weaving its characters together and setting them off towards their journey’s inevitable end but, as I’ve said before, it’s Berrow’s characters that really bring this book to life — and it’s the characters who will stay with you until you turn the last page. Berrow’s particular strength as a writer is the ability to connect emotionally with her readers and so I give you all fair warning: The Mayor will make you fall in love and then yank your heartstrings off one by one, as painfully as possible.

I would place bets on every reader finding a ‘Mayor character to love — whether it be the sheltered, headstrong Melora Winship, the rakishly mischievous Jonathan Carson, or the eminently punchable Bellamy. If it’s the latter, I will want to have words with you. Personally, I’m head over heels for Jaspher Carson, a well-meaning, socially inept academic, and there’s simply nothing I can do about it. Yet, as passionately invested as I am for Jaspher’s story to end happily, there is one other character, one man for whom I burn with such intense hatred, I often find myself fantasising about setting him on fire.

S.E. Berrow’s villain, the mysterious and manipulative William Kale, is one of her best creations to date. His enigmatic motives keep you guessing until it’s too late and his ability to get other characters to trust him is such that you’ll end up screaming aloud at the page. For me, there is no greater testimony to a story’s worth than complete reader immersion and investment, and The Mayor has it all. I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves.

Oran aka. The Singing Lights

The Singing LightsSo You Want To Read The Mayor, huh?

I’ve known Sally (or S.E. Berrow to you mortals) for the better part of a decade. A friendship that has bloomed to the point where I am trusted to read her WIP is an honour I don’t take lightly!

The Mayor is a deceptively simple tale. Plot-wise it certainly might appear to be: an insular community has a violent shake-up from a new arrival, but that is where the simplicity dies. What you’ll be exposed to is some very complex characterisation.

I’ve said to her many times that she has a way of inhabiting her characters’ state of minds to a near-uncomfortable clarity — you really get a sense of the emotional and physical state of them, feeling the “lived-in” experience, almost as if you are there. Every ache and blemish is computed. I love the melodrama, the witty (and sometimes crude) dialogue, and how easily this could sit on the screen. Honestly, I can see actors in wigs and 18th century-finery charting the slow and dramatic collapse of the relationships in the tale. BBC drama, wherefore art thou?

The characters are satisfying to observe. By far my favourite is Jonathon “J-dizzle” (my addition) Carson, the wayward younger son of Jeremiah Carson, a rake who wishes for freedom and experience unlike his more fastidious brother Jaspher. Between them is the manipulative and bored Melora Winship, best friend of J-dizzle and subject of deep infatuation to Jaspher. All of the characters are pitiable as their stories unfold, all except for one swaggering monstrosity: William Goddamn Kale, aka. Bill, aka. Distasteful Creature, aka. Fuck That Guy.

I have created a holiday to help temper my searing hot rage: International Fuck Kale Day, a daily holiday where humans all around the world come together to express their intense hatred of him. Such is the skill of Berrow’s writing to create a character so distasteful but not to feel like he is a caricature. Cold, ruthless, calculating, competent, he is all you want in a villain. And, loathe as I am to say, he is one you love to hate (I’m never going to hear the end of this). His machinations pave the way for the wider story and he will be the linchpin to their unveiling. I usually can predict where stories can go, which isn’t a problem for me, but I really lean in when I can’t easily guess. The wider story is a mystery to me and I can’t wait to explore its depths.

From the coastal colony setting, with pirates and magic surrounding it all, there’s a very Robin Hobb flavour to it all. This is something to her credit: many years prior, I read Hobb’s The Liveship Traders upon Berrow’s suggestion and the influence from Hobb is unmistakable. The setting, and focus of character… The Mayor is also much leaner.

I’ve read the draft so it’s very much unfinished even with The End being written down on the story. When she pares down the wordiness, smooths the edges on some of the characterisation, and polishes it up, we will have a very good book become a brilliant book. Did I mention the characterisation? Damn her characterisation.

Thank you so much for such beautiful encouraging words, guys! It means so much to me, especially during stressful times such as these ♥


S.E. Berrow