Sunday, 27 December 2015

It's a strange world.

It's all over now. (Wasn't that  a Rolling Stones hit once upon a time?)
Christmas is a very strange time of year when the days are short, dark and dismal so we fill the place with bright, twinkling lights almost as if we're afraid of the dark. Sunrise is around 8.30  and sunset about 3.30 thanks to Summer Time fiddling with the clocks. We need the surge of energy that Christmas brings - the rush to buy presents, to fill the fridge, freezer and store cupboard so we can eat and survive the freezing weather, to keep ourselves busy doing energetic, happy things. It's an instinct to come together, to herd together instead of trying to survive on our own. In ancient days, it would have been vital for survival. Today, with electricity and abundant food, it is a psychological need for bright lights and companionship. The urge that strikes people to rush out and buy "bargains" in the post-Christmas sales - which used to be "January sales" - could be considered as relief and affirmation that we're still alive.

The shortest day has crept by, almost submerged in the floods that afflict the north of England. Those who live on flood plains must now be counting the cost as rivers, delightful in summer, now metamorphose into raging torrents of brown, muddy water. Trees that soak up gallons of water a day have been ruthlessly felled to provide grazing. Streams clog up with debris, branches and leaf litter and no one clears them. Water has soaked into the land all through autumn, and now runs straight off the hills and into the river systems. The river Tyne was rising again yesterday for the third or fourth time this month. So much rain has fallen in so short a time there is little anyone can do. News bulletins tell me the same is happening in South America, while Australia suffers bush fires. It's a strange world we have today.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Saga

Image result for the bridge actress sagaHave you been following the Bridge III? I have and found it riveting. It's one of the Scandi noir tv productions with a heroine who is "different" - her words, not mine. She has troubled understanding jokes, and tells the absolute truth, seems unable to lie. This makes it difficult for her to socialise and she is regarded by many of her colleagues as an oddball.

A workaholic, she is the best Malmo police station can offer in the way of detectives and by that I mean she is brilliant. The other important factor in the series is the Oresund Bridge which links Sweden and Denmark, Malmo and Copenhagen. I depend on the English subtitles, but it may be that the language changes as the locations switch between Sweden and Denmark. I was also unaware that the two countries did not always get on, for want of a better word. Culturally they claim to be world's apart.

The Bridge has its own Facebook page, and the actress who plays the part of Saga is a fragile looking blonde who wears a khaki coloured coat, waistcoat, sweater  and leather trousers. Even her vintage Porsche is khaki. Fragile she is not, in a gun-toting, catch the crim way. But in personal relationship, yes, very. As troubles she does not know how to deal with crowd in on her, we fear that she will follow her sister and throw herself under a train. A colleague haunted by the disappearance of his wife and two daughters is the only one who can possibly save her.

It really is magnificent acting and thought the criminal acts are best viewed through hands over the eyes, I recommend this series to you as essential viewing. Check out BBC4 The Bridge III.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Write like Reacher

I've recently become a Lee Child fan and read half a dozen of his books, so when I saw this article (in the Independent newspaper, on Monday, 5th January, 2015,) I copied it here so I can re-read it for my own pleasure any time I want. Plus which anyone who missed it can also have the pleasure.
Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/hlal8ss

·        Andy Martin is the author of the article and his link will show you others he has written - including one about Stephen King and Lee Child.
      
      Novel approach: Andy Martin observes quietly in the background while Lee Child works on his latest book Jené LeBlanc
"This isn’t the first draft, you know." He’d only written two words. "CHAPTER ONE."
"Oh," I said. "What is it then?"
"It’s the only draft!"

Right then, he sounded more like Jack Reacher than Lee Child. More Reacher than writer. "I don’t want to improve it. When I’ve written something, that is the way it has to stay. It’s like one of those old photos you come across. From the 1970s. And you have this terrible Seventies haircut and giant lapels on your jacket. It’s ridiculous – but it’s there. It is what it is. Leave it alone."

We were in the back office of his apartment on Central Park West, New York, a few blocks north of where John Lennon used to live. Lee Child was sitting at his huge riveted metal desk, his long fingers poised over the keyboard, gazing into a 27in screen. Which was practically blank. It was 2.26 in the afternoon, 1 September 2014.

He had to start on 1 September – 20 years to the day since, having been fired from his job in television, he went out and bought the paper and pencil (and a pencil sharpener) with which he would write Killing Floor, his first Jack Reacher novel. Every year, ever since then, he has started a new one on the very same day. It’s a ritual with him. Now, it’s Reacher 20.

"The first day is always the best," Child, now 60, said. "Because you haven’t screwed anything up yet. It’s a gorgeous feeling." I was about to be witness to the genesis of a new work, the Big Bang moment. I had no idea what was coming next. Nor did he.

Because this is the key thing about the way that Lee Child writes, the thing that drew me to write to him and ask whether he would mind my watching him at work. He really didn’t know what was going to happen next. He had nothing planned. "I have no title and no plot," he said. But I could come anyway. He didn’t think I would put him off too much. He relied on inspiration to guide him. Like a muse. Something very basic and mythical, without too much forethought. He likes his writing to be organic and spontaneous and authentic. But he had a glimmering of what was coming. "I can feel it. The rhythm. It’s got to be stumbly. It’s tough guys talking. I have to get their vernacular. But, at the same time, it has to trip ahead. A tripping rhythm. Forward momentum."

I was sitting on a kind of sofa a couple of yards behind him. Just perched on the edge of it, not really lying down or anything.

"It’s reverse Freudian," Child said. "You’re on the couch and you’re analysing me."

The title had popped into his head the night before. "Make Me… I don’t know, it’s not definite. But I like it. It’s got something. Sounds like Reacher, all right. Playground machismo. And then there’s that meaning to do with being under surveillance, making someone, identifying them, tailing them. And maybe a little bit erotic or romantic, too."

I could see over his shoulder. "And remember, I’m not making this up. Reacher is real. He exists. This is what he is up to, right now. That’s why I can’t change anything – this is just the way it is."

He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag and blew out a lot of smoke, then put the cigarette in the ashtray. "I was thinking: you have a high risk of dying from secondary smoke inhalation here."

I was thinking: the smoke is all part of it. Like a magic show. Smoke and mirrors. Lee Child was a magician, for once tweaking aside the curtain and saying: "OK, come on through and let me show you exactly how it’s done." Revealing his secrets.

He tapped a few keys. "Do not check spelling. Or grammar. I am going to let Microsoft tell me what grammar is?!"

Anyone who doesn’t want to know how the next Reacher book begins, look away now. The first line came out as follows:

"Moving a guy as big as Keever wasn’t easy."

I was hooked. He had me on "Moving". Participle form, verb of action. We begin with a burial. The novel hasn’t even started yet and one man is already dead.

According to Forbes magazine, Lee Child has the "strongest brand" in all fiction. More readers want to get to know this author than any other. And they clamour for more Reachers. It always takes him the best part of a year to write one. Partly because he spends a lot of time "goofing off", as he puts it: publicising the previous one; Madrid in October to pick up a literary award; Long Beach, California, in November, for Bouchercon, the annual jamboree of thriller and mystery writers from around the world; party at the United Nations in December.

Harold Pinter once said: "I cannot understand the mentality of one who is awaiting the next Lee Child." Child is denounced as the anti-Proust. But literary snobs may be surprised to learn that he is not some kind of lucky idiot savant in possession of a magic formula. He is serious about his writing. He is a poet, in the ancient Greek sense of poiesis, a maker, a craftsman, dedicated to his art, who harks back to the artisan metalworkers of his youth in Birmingham and Sheffield. (Hence Make Me.)

For example, on the night of 1 September, he explained why he was putting in a comma. He felt the need for a comma, in a sentence about some bad guys burying poor old Keever. It would make it more "rueful and contemplative", he said. Something to do with Flaubertian point of view. He was preoccupied by "voice". Later, he spent considerable time worrying about the word “onto” (he thought it was ugly). Shortly before Christmas, he announced: "I’ve just written this four-word sentence. I’m pretty pleased with it." Classic degree-zero minimalism à la Camus’ The Outsider. Meursault with muscles.

Child has made a fortune out of his brand of mythical realism. Just as Reacher is half-Rimbaud, half-Rambo, Child is both art-for-art’s-sake Parnassian and ruthless businessman. And he sees no contradiction between the two. He had a formative insight at around the age of seven or eight, when Ford came up with the Cortina. "It was supposed to be the first ‘modern car’. It was said that they had redesigned the steering wheel over and over again – to shave a single penny off the cost. We were divided about it. In Birmingham [where he grew up], I mean. Assuming it was true. The steering wheel was such an important part of the whole thing. The most intimate part of the car, really. And some people were annoyed that commerce was trumping art. The art people hated the commerce. The engineers hated the art people. But I realised even then that art was commerce. They’re one and the same thing. It’s not either/or."

In September 2014, when Personal came out, it was not only No 1 in the best-seller lists but was also outselling the next 10 or 15 books down the line, combined. Including, for example, Martin Amis’s Holocaust novel. When I mentioned this to another writer, he paused, reflected, and then uttered his considered judgement: "FUCK YOU, LEE CHILD!" He took the view that Child was basically annihilating the competition. Child took it on the chin. "We’re all trying our best," Child said. “I don’t have a problem with them if they don’t have a problem with me."

Broadly sympathetic to wannabe writers, admiring of Amis and tolerant of Julian Barnes and Edward Docx, Lee Child has a slight issue with David Baldacci. Jack Reacher is an ex-military cop. He is very big. He head-butts people. John ("Johnny come lately") Puller – Baldacci’s more recent recurring hero – is a military cop. He is very big. He head-butts people. "Puller," Child snarled, "is a total bloody rip-off of Reacher!"

In one novel, he has a character called Baldacci. Reacher breaks both his arms. In another, he has someone called Puller who is a total idiot. Reacher says: "Did someone drop you on your head when you were young?" In Personal, Baldacci becomes Archi-bald. Reacher shoots him in the head. "What I can’t understand is why someone didn’t take him to one side and just have a quiet word in his ear. ‘Listen, David, you realise that everyone is going to think this is pure plagiarism, don’t you? Reacher was there before Puller – and he’s better!’"

Perching on Lee Child’s shoulder, like a pirate’s parrot, while he writes his next book is an education and a privilege. I sometimes wonder why he lets me do it. Perhaps like an ageing boxer (who smokes a pack of Camels a day and once drank a record 30 cups of coffee) he wants a spectator for his last big fight. “I write on the verge of a stroke,” he says. But I begin to suspect that he likes having somebody around to take note of the occasional brilliant four-word sentence. He once wrote a short hymn to democracy, which was an acrostic: the five sentences began O-B-A-M-A. "And nobody noticed!" he lamented.

Sometimes I have the impression that, as per quantum theory, the observer changes (ever so slightly) the thing observed by virtue of the act of observation. Recently, Child’s American publishers questioned the Make Me title. He remained immovable. "I couldn’t back down. I’d told you the title. You’d only take the piss."




Sunday, 13 December 2015

Ovingham bridge

Water is an amazing thing. It comes out of our taps and showers under our control and at whatever temperature we want. It changes form - from liquid to ice to snow, fog and mist. In our summer streams it trickles over stones and forms golden pools and sometimes, if the weather is very warm for an extended period, the supply dries up and disappears. But too much of it is devastating. Click on the pics to the right and see the devastation the flood leaves behind in its wake once it has roared by.

We are lucky that we live in an area with a Tyne Catchment

3,000 square mile catchment area so we have never yet experienced the drought conditions that so regularly affect the south of England. The water takes five hours to travel from Alston to Newcastle, which is not a great deal of time to prepare for flood conditions. Usually it is a swift rise in levels, lasts for perhaps half a day and then subsides. But by then it has done its terrible work.

On the right you see the Victorian bridge between Ovingham and Prudhoe. Built in 1883, it is one carriage width wide and causes traffic queues even when it is open. It has been closed for refurbishment since June 2014 so that the iron structure can be repaired if necessary.

Eighteen months of work completed, coupled with eighteen months of frustration and lost business for the residents on either side of the river, it opened briefly on 3rd December and then closed again because the floods knocked the hell out of the scaffolding. They're waiting for normal river levels before they'll check for damage/safety.  £3 million has been spent on the bridge - so far. I expect the bridge itself is OK. At the peak of past floods, traffic has been forbidden, but when the waters recede the bridge has been ready for business again. The workmen now have a dismal job of removing the scaffolding, boards around the struts and all the accumulated rubbish. Twigs, branches, tree trunks, doors, plastic buckets and probably a dead sheep or two.

Whose to say it won't happen again if it keeps on raining? We had snow for three or four hours yesterday....

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Floods

Over the weekend we had floods. On the national news Carlisle, Appleby and Keswick got all the attention, and of course they were badly hit again. But the river flooded at Prudhoe and the Old Station House and the house opposite must have been in five feet of water on Saturday night, and they too were hit
five years ago. Locations on the industrial estate were flooded and the Tyne was eighteen feet higher than normal. Perhaps not the highest ever, but certainly the highest since records have been kept.
The path I often walk with Tim is littered with rubbish which indicates the water would have been well over my head. People were evacuated in Ovingham, on the other side of the Tyne where the Whittle Burn comes down to the river. A horse was trapped in a field and died just after it was eventually rescued. At Corbridge, six miles away, the flood banks were overwhelmed and the new defence wall overtopped.  50 or more people were evacuated from the area around the Dyvels public House. They too suffered the same thing five years ago. Bellingham, Haydon Bridge and other small places suffered too. The suffering is the same, but the numbers are smaller so the tv cameras go where the numbers are highest. But don't think everywhere else got off Scot-free, because they did not.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A puzzle or not?


"Scientists have settled one of the great puzzles of pre-Gutenberg commercial publishing." 
This is how the article opens in the Guardian, so I sat down to read it. 

"Pocket Bibles, painstakingly inscribed by hand in their tens of thousands in the universities of Paris, Oxford and Padua, were made of vellum taken mostly from the hides of calf, sheep and goats, and then made ultra-thin by a process still unknown."

The article goes on for several paragraphs, but right at the end I discovered that the researchers had "found evidence for the equivalent of a set of 13th-century Europe-wide industry standards, defining the raw material for a labour-intensive copying system that published at least 20,000 Latin pocket Bibles for an eager market. But the technology remains elusive."

So they haven't solved the puzzle at all.  Surely we already knew it was mainly calf skin, with a some sheep and goat skins? The article goes on:

 “It was a craft industry where the skills have been handed down from father to son, and stay within families, and we don’t know how they did it anymore,” Experiments with descriptions found in medieval literature proved unhelpful.

“Clearly the people writing about them weren’t the people doing them: they heard at second hand. As a consequence they write things down which aren’t genuine recipes for parchment production.”

I might be forgiven for thinking the journalist who reported this in the Guardian is guilty of the same thing. The puzzle has not been solved.


Se the article here: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/23/scientists-get-under-skin-13th-century-mystery-vellum-vulgate-bible

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Promotion

New month, new targets.
Rule no 1: I must remember to promote my books.
It's difficult. There's no natural talent for promotion in any bone of my body and every tweet seems like a plea rather than a promotion. The fact that the way to do it seems to change every few months. Once yahoo groups seemed to be the answer but now they seem to be fading fast. Then it was Facebook and Twitter - much to the horror of certain people who thought promoting one's books on Twitter was beyond the pale. Didn't they realise Twitter was all about promotion, even if it was promotion of self? Funny how they rush to tell everyone how much they've drunk, eaten, spent and then condemn authors for promoting a good book.

So I shall have to do a little investigating and find out where the best people promote these days. If only I had Aidan Turner to promote for me, I'd be certain of success!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Say nothing at all

Memories of summer
A  friend is upset because of a poor review. I sympathise. I've had some myself. We have to accept that not everyone has the same taste, in books, reading or in anything else, but some people seem so sure that the fault lies with the author and not with their own poor attention span or the fact that they chose the wrong book for their reading tastes?

These so-called reviews often consist of one star and one line, perhaps two, and  make no effort to describe the setting, the writing style or the story. They are not reviews at all, and Amazon ought not to publish them. The author probably took a year to write the book, and a one line bad-tempered comment is hardly a fair reward for that effort.

 Such people fail to find even one good point, but instead claim the book is boring, boring, boring, dismal rubbish, or words to that effect. All this in spite of the fact that the author has several good reviews from people who enjoyed the book and gave it five stars. Perhaps they don't read reviews before they buy? Perhaps they should. Or perhaps they just like writing miserable comments because it makes them feel better?
It's become a joke that there's always someone on the Trip Advisor website who rates the hotel or venue as one star with a catalogue of faults listed. I assume they were hoping to get their money back - and I hope they did not!

In these days of instant access to the world, it is so easy to rush into print if the slightest thing has niggled  your day. If causing pain and misery is your aim, then go ahead and write negative one-liners. The sensible ones among the reading public will take no notice of them, but simply sigh and say oh s/he must have had a rotten day to write something like that.

My mum always said "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all." That's good advice for all of us.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Books galore!

On the right - a pile of books - my selection and how I spent almost all of my Amazon gift card! Missing from this is a dvd of the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and a couple of titles that are yet to arrive from a subsidiary company. One Ian Rankin title I bought for a penny!

That's my Christmas reading sewn up and possibly for some weeks to come! I received the first Christmas Card today and attended a Christmas wreath making demonstration plus lunch at http://www.bradley-gardens.co.uk/ today. A very good lunch it was too, with Chicken in pastry with a glass of white wine, followed by vanilla brulee.  The demonstration was very good but I'm not sure how much decoration I shall do. Perhaps a wreath for the front door - but it won't be as grand as the one made today - white roses and orchids went into the table centrepiece. I forgot to check and see if I still have some holly with its berries - the blackbirds may have nicked them all. Not that I begrudge them a few berries. I'll track some down while I'm out with Tim if necessary.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Trumpet blowing

If this is blowing one's own trumpet, the so be it! I was happy to receive this review this morning, so here it is in all its glory!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars 23 Nov. 2015
By Viviane Crystal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition

Daisy is an 18 year-old woman who lives in the aristocratic world of Victorian England. She dreams of entering art school and developing her already adept skills, but this is a dream clearly frowned upon by almost everyone in her society. It’s one thing to dabble in painting and drawing, quite another for a woman to have a career outside of being a wife, mother, teacher or governess. Her dream is challenged by the appearance of Adam Grey, a successful mine owner, who has scrabbled his way upward after being desperately poor as a result of the failed family business. Initially, he seems like a cold, calculating, even brash young man but he is almost immediately smitten by this out-spoken yet sensitive woman, Daisy.
Into the mix a series of art and money thefts occurs. The thief is not evident because so many members of the upper class are always visiting each other for days on end. When Daisy is invited to paint an entire wall at the home of one of these aristocrats, danger explodes. An accident in a newfangled elevator, a fall, and more are added to the intense stress. Adam has taken on the job of detective, as he has nothing to do at the moment, to discover the thief and then the attacker of Daisy.
Adam and Daisy, however, are definitely attracted to each other and yet their meetings socially and privately crackle with misunderstanding and snapping conversations. Daisy, however, in spite of being cast in a manner far from her real personality, holds firm to her dream for the future and her dignity when insulted by many. Her strength is challenged further when a powerful man, Maitland, accosts Daisy several times with clear intentions of sexually possessing her while in his disgustingly perpetually alcoholic state.
This reviewer posted a review of Jen Black’s first novel many years ago and is happy to say that the writing style and plot complexity have significantly grown in this latest novel. Readers will relish the evolving love affair and the mystery radiating through every page of this pleasing Victorian novel. Very nicely crafted, Jen Black!



Friday, 20 November 2015

That wonderful thing

The format of that wonderful thing, the book, is just great and doesn't, in my view, need further changes. The Bookseller this week is claiming otherwise : article

There's so much already that comes via a small screen as well as a large one these days that I find it a relief to turn to a lovely old-fashioned book and read steadily without flicking a screen change every few seconds. Having music with it would be an intrusion, adverts even worse and surely if it has moving pictures it is encroaching on the film world?

Audio-books are OK. Not that I use them, as I need to sit down and concentrate and I'd rather do that with a printed page. I dare not listen while I'm driving, as my concentration would deviate from the road to the scenes in my head - with possible dreadful consequences!

The pic on the right is courtesy of Chris Appleby - he took this while on the Dally Rally. Tim was no longer the pristine white he was when he set off that Sunday morning - but once he was dry it all brushed off. He's been ravenous ever since! This morning dh brought in the remains of a leather purse I bought years ago on the Isle of Skye. It survived several adventures including being left under the bed in a Conall B&B and kindly posted back to me - only to be eaten by Tim. Half of the leather purse is gone, missing, absent, lost, and without doubt now resides in Tim's tummy. He left behind some soggy leather, the two first class stamps that were inside, the 2p coins and a small key. Obviously no taste in those!




Monday, 16 November 2015

Dally Rally

Did something new on Sunday - attended a Dally Rally. For those not in the know, this is a Dalmatian Rally where Dalmatian owners congregate on a nice open space and walk their dogs. Sounds simple enough. Exciting for the first time Dalmatian!
 The Rally was at Weetslade Country Park near Cramlington and about 23 Dalmatians and their owners turned up at 11am.  It was quite a sight.
I had wondered if I would be able to recognise Tim when he was in among all the other spotty dogs, but there is such variation in the size of the dogs and their individual pattern of spots that it wasn't a problem at all.

It was a dull, cloudy day and the ground was waterlogged after so much rain. That wasn't a problem. Wherever we walked, the problem would have been the same, and Dalmatians need their daily exercise. Everyone was equipped with waterfproofs and wellies and prepared to give their dogs a bath when they got home.  The fact that quite a few had become grey or even black dogs just seemed funny, because others stayed spotlessly (sorry!) white. 
Tim was raring to go while on the lead so I let him loose so he could run with the others, who were haring off in all directions. He ran a little way and then hesitated, not knowing which way to go or which dog to follow. Then he turned round and couldn't see me in all the confusion. Panic! He set off at top speed back to the car which all things considered was a sensible move on his part, except that I was only ten feet away in the opposite direction! Lots of calls and whistles brought him back. Every time he lost sight of me there was a moment of panic, but eventually he got the idea and began to run with the others. He and a young lady called Nova seemed to take a fancy to each other. It was such fun for him, and next time he'll be more confident. The added plus was that he slept for the rest of the day!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Free promos

Free promos on Kindle have certainly changed in four or five years. The first time I got one organised was back in March 2011, and nearly 18,000 downloads went out on one historical romance. The numbers changed on the screen as I watched it, which was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen. Even Germany downloaded 93 copies, and France, Italy and Spain all participated. A contemporary story proved much less popular, but compared to the figures today, did very well.

Now, from my perspective at least, downloading free books is much less popular. Perhaps, like me, people have kindles full of free titles they haven't yet read. Perhaps readers have discovered how much dross there is out there. Maybe they think my stories are part of it! Whatever the reason, free promos have changed. Maybe the pendulum has swung and we're all going back to print books.

We've had rain and wind for days which means most of the leaves have disappeared now. They clog up the streams which are roaring down the valleys, scouring them clean after being dry for a good part of the summer.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How do you Write 3

My problem with old maps and gateways continued after I'd sent in the post. Found another map, this time drawn from the English perspective. A tad disconcerting in that the artist had obviously been sitting on a ladder at Leith and drew everything the other way around to the previous maps I'd seen. But it was dated 1544 and was drawn by the attacking English as they arrived to raze Edinburgh to the ground - exactly the time of my story! The map is in the British Library rather than the National Library of Scotland. It showed men attacking the gate - the Water Gate - yippee. I rushed off and re-wrote bits of the chapter to fit the new information.

Unfortunately it did not show the mysterious vanishing gate on the south side of the town. Even if it was there when the English artist arrived, it would not have shown on the drawing, since it was drawn from the northern side. So, I've sent my hero  another way - possibly using a bit of poetic licence, but I'm writing fiction after all. I almost started another hunt but decided to leave well alone. The pieces I found declared that no one quite knew the extent of the Nor Loch nor how long it had been there. They knew when it vanished (or drained away) but according to some it appeared rather suddenly in the 1400s, as a defence against raiders from the sea. Other reports said there had been a lake in much earlier times. So my hero got his feet wet.

Amazingly  my car reported an outside temperature of 17 degrees today when I was out for a walk, and it was gorgeous in the woods. The sun slanted down through the branches and the pathways are covered in gold because the wind had brought down all the yellow pine needles at once. (Actually they may be larch or spruce, but they look wonderful.)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How do you write - 2


spiders work overnight
 Yesterday I didn't think I was going to write very much on how  my writing was done. Today I am thinking differently, hence the figure 2 in the subject line.

Today I was editing a chapter in my wip in which the hero attempts to escape Edinburgh when it is attacked by the English in 1544. There is possibly an irony in that he is English, but the love of life is Scots, and he wants to take her back to England. First of all, they have to get out of Edinburgh, but the gates have been closed - to keep the English out. Then I wondered why I was telling my characters to ride for the West Port (gate) when they wanted, indeed needed, to ride south. Got out the atlas, checked the city of Edinburgh map and made sure it was on the west-east axis that I'd remembered. (Well, of course it was - but these things suddenly sound doubtful when you are in the middle of writing a scene!)
But, I thought, shouldn't they have been heading for the South Port?

That meant searching for the map  of Edinburgh in the 1540s that I remembered using. I couldn't find it in my "research" collection files. Lots of maps of Dublin, past and present, west coast of Scotland, but none of Edinburgh. Grrr. Maybe I hadn't kept a photocopy of the map after all. Back online, I found the required map and hastily checked for gates. Hampered a trifle by the fact that the names were in Latin, which I never did at school, and that the map was very small, I successfully enlarged it so I could see it fantastic detail, but then couldn't figure out a way to print at such a huge size. I found that the key in the corner of the screen had the names in Latin, certainly, but when I looked at all the listings, they were in Scots as well. Since that's English as near as damnit, I was flying.

Then I realised the map was for 1580. Hastily moved back to the one for 1540 and discovered there was a south gate that by 1580  had disappeared - therefore I didn't have a name for it. The wretched gate was there in 1540, I could send my characters through it, but I didn't know what to call it. There are four other gates, all named, present in 1540 and still there in 1580 - but not the one I want. Still, if it has disappeared that long ago, who will know what it was called? At least it was there. I'll say it is the gate at the end of  x street. And that little bit of research has taken the best part of an hour and half.

Friday, 6 November 2015

How do you write?

Most authors write the same way. They write, they edit, (again and again) and finally publish. Seems so simple. But there are so many divergent pathways on the simple route map. Some authors plan the whole thing by doing a synopsis or a chapter outline and some stick to it and some don’t. Others claim to sit down each day with no clear idea of what is going to come, but just write. The thought of a lot of dead ends and judicious weeding, if not downright chaos at the editing stage, puts me off this method.

My efforts usually begin with a rough plan centred around a character, sometimes male ie Matho in Abduction and my current wip and sometimes female, ie Daisy in The Craigsmuir Affair. I start off knowing what they want, but not always how they’re going to achieve their goal. If the character “lives” the plot usually moves in spurts as I think of a good idea and weave it in. If the character is more dead than alive, the plot fails to develop and I let it go or change my character.

I belong to a critique group and usually wait until I’m doing a second draft before sending each chapter off to them. I’ve tried doing it as I go through the first draft, but that puts pressure on thinking the thing up and often gets messy with plot twists. Few chapters return without requiring changes, but I feel I’ve achieved something if the worst they can do is indicate where I’ve missed a comma!

My last chapter came back with several critiquers saying that I’d set up problems and I saw at once what they meant, and hastily made appropriate changes. Once I get to the end of the critiques, it’s back to the beginning again to read through to see if the whole plot hangs together. Then there’s another check for mistakes and typos. Then a final check to make sure it’s as good as I can make it. That’s about five edits in all, and that might not be the end of it. Somewhere around the end of the second edit I’ll start thinking of publication and covers, whether it is worth sending out to agents or not.
All in all, it’s a lot of work. Sometimes taking the dog out for a long walk seems so much easier!




Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Facebook groups

The Writers' Group on Facebook looked interesting but with hindsight I should have taken more notice of the sub-heading : Bring your inner monsters and let them run amok.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/memberswritersgroup/

At least they'd got the apostrophe in the right place in the group name and there were lots of members listed so I decided to give it a go. Wow. I posted the cover for Magican's Bride - the one I did - and what a reception I got! So bad I went out and bought a cover, the first paid cover I've ever had. Now that too is getting a drubbing! If anyone is feeling brave, take a look and see what's going on. Some days it is poetry that gets the rotten tomatoes, sometimes its other things. I'm hoping they're as keen to express liking as they are to be nasty so I keep on glancing at the site. There's a lot of traffic and things whizz through pretty fast. I suspect, though I haven't been around long enough to find out, that it is a small few who contribute so energetically. It is usually that way.

I should say that I am part of several other groups, all of which are quieter, more sedate and generally nicer in tone. Sometimes groups can be cliquey and some just run out of steam after a few months. They're always interesting, and as someone once said, you get out what you put in. Or was it the other around? Anyway, contributing is the key, so I'll keep on with my little comments and see what happens.

Friday, 30 October 2015

A new cover reveal

Had a great birthday yesterday - lunch out at Bradley Hall Gardens (http://www.bradley-gardens.co.uk/) followed by an afternoon walk with Tim where he met a new friend called Lucca and ran himself silly with her in the sunshine. Then dh and I went out for the evening and had a meal at the Black Bull in Corbridge. 1755 is inscribed in wobbly hand carving over a window lintle, and it certainly looks old inside - in a good way!
Our meal was good. Not fancy haute cuisine, but satisfying in a homely way.

One way and another I had a fair amount of  sauvignon blanc over the day, but felt wonderful  on it, both last night and this morning.  It's a good thing I felt OK this morning because I've already been out for a walk in the rain with Tim and it is only 9.30. Its a grey, grey day and fit only for doing lots of work inside. The washing machine is already purring away as I write.

Loaded a new cover onto Magician's Bride yesterday.  I paid money for this one ! so we'll see if it has any effect on sales.  I have two versions; one has no rose petals to signify the romance element. There's also a little less colour throughout, but I went with the more colourful cover. It is growing on me. I like it more and more each time I look at it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Puzzling PR

Like a book, I suppose the first words of a blog post need to catch the attention of passing readers. Is it the words, or the picture that grabs attention?  Who knows? Different things for different folks.

Today I decided I need to be more professional in my approach to promoting books. So I'm exploring the dizzy world of graphic artists, with a view to (gulp!) purchasing a cover picture. When I have time I intend to do a few courses on learning more about doing covers, but for now I'll see what a bought cover can do for me.

Promotion has not been high on my agenda for ages, and though it might not be the only one, it is probably one reason why sales are going down. (Personally I blame Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, but that's something I cannot prove!) When I went back and visited a lot of my old haunts, I found that the state of yahoo groups has changed while I haven't been looking. Some have changed their slant and no longer take selling posts, others just seem to have dropped way down in popularity, others have vanished or gone into limbo. Some are still there, but I get the feeling that they're struggling.

It's a puzzle. Something must have taken their place, but I don't know what it might be. Paid advertising? Possibly. Other social media have sprung up recently and though I recognise the names, I've never joined or even looked to see what they offer. Perhaps it is time I rectified that. Some research is required.

While I do this research, my work on the second draft of Matho's Story is coming along nicely. I have a working title at last - The QUEEN'S COURIER, and only fifty pages to go before I reach the end for the second time. I've taken out a chunk of the middle section, diverted the story line to a better trail, and wrote one whole new chapter as well as cutting and pasting three others, juggling placements and characters as necessary. The result is pleasing - definitely a job worth doing. I finished a chapter this morning, and these were the last lines I wrote today:

When her shoulders rounded in dejection, Matho saw something inexpressibly tender and youthful in the gentle curve of her spine.

‘No,’ she said in a tired voice. ‘She wouldna want to be moved.’ She left his knee and bent over the cauldron. Dipping a wooden ladle, she filled a bowl and brought it to him. ‘Eat. Ah didna make it to waste it.’


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Bebbenburg


Judging by the Twitter feed #The Last Kingdom, the show is a hit.

So this is what the audience of today likes to watch - people stabbed through the back of the neck, nailed to a tree, a young lad blinded. I spent a good deal of the show flinching and closing my eyes, not because I didn't know what was coming  but because there's a huge difference in reading about violence and watching it. At least, I think there is.

The ingredients of the stories can all be found in the sagas out of Scandinavia and Iceland. Reading them, I'm safe in the knowledge that it all happened a thousand years ago. The same applies to the Cornwell books which I read because Bamburgh is local for me. (Though I think I never got round to the last in the series.) Maybe it applies to a bit of psychology I heard on television the other night - that we all love to be scared (via films) to prove that we're alive and safe. Maybe like everything else it is a stage we go through, for I can remember paying to go to cinemas in my youth and watching all manner of frightening films from Dracula to Omen and the Exorcist - and loving it. Now I find I don't feel the same. I doubt audiences today would find those films particularly frightening. Which in a way is  sad. Does it mean their perceptions of the world are less secure than mine were, or are they just more hardened to violemce than I was?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The truth about covers

It is a good thing that Amazon Kindle allows changes of information such as price and book cover because I need to change the cover for The Magician's Bride. I ventured into an American group online recently and received the news that my cover was - well nobody actually said it, but I gather the operative word would have been one beginning with an S and ending with a T. They weren't unpleasant, just honest - brutally honest! To be fair, once I asked why, I received answers and saw my mistakes -  they were glaringly obvious - once someone pointed them out! I also received help in the guise of names and websites, of people who could help, which was good.

In a way it is sad, because I enjoy using Photoshop, have spent hours on a potential cover only to have it shot down. What it really means is if I want to do it, then I have to take some courses and progress what skills I have. I know there are graphic artists out there ready, willing and a lot more able than I am to do a good cover for a reasonable price. It isn't the price - I simply enjoy doing it! It makes a welcomes relaxation from struggling with words and commas.

I don't think I'm arrogant to try. If we never do anything new, we get nowhere, do we? To be honest, I didn't think Kindle covers, which many people see as a thumbnail, were so vitally important. I have learned a lesson. Anyone got the humble pie and a knife handy?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Second drafts

Has anyone else discovered what an odd feeling it is to check the Kindle stats  and see how many pages (of your book) people have read overnight?
I get a little kick of pleasure every time I see a good number up there. OTOH, there was the time someone  grabbed Abduction while it was free for a day and read one page and never went back to it! Odd insights we get these days from Amazon's technology.

I feel as if I'm really getting to grips with Matho's sequel, but wish I could think of a decent title for it. I'm up to chapter twenty-two in my run through and enjoying the chance to enhance the tale by all sorts of things: taking out redundancies, combining two separate sentences into one more interesting one and generally adding stronger verbs and more interesting descriptions. (Some were pretty mundane, I have to admit!) I've tweaked the plot-line around chapter 15, too. I suppose that would be the sagging middle everyone talks about. I decided what was happening was too similar to what had happened before, so I took Matho off in a new direction and the story works much better for it.

The good thing about doing this a couple of years after I did the first draft is that I know the ending and I know my characters so much better - and of course, as we all know, practice makes perfect. My writing has improved - not that I'm perfect yet, but I'm better than I was!

Monday, 12 October 2015

What shall I call this?



Northumberland 1544

   ‘You haven’t heard the news?’ Harry Wharton lounged against the fence post, one ankle crossed over the other and regarded Matho with mock surprise. ‘The King of France was clapping his heels so loud you could hear it from the cliffs of Dover on a windy day.’

‘There’s nowt new about siring bairns.’ Matho’s long muscles moved easily as he continued the rhythmic grooming of his horse. ‘Hereabouts folk manage it wi’ nae trouble.’

‘It’s taken Dauphin Henri and Catherine de Medici ten years. People say witchcraft is involved.’

‘Aye, a new French prince will put everything on a different footing. There’ll be new plans hatching.’ Matho hooked one arm across his horse’s back and regarded his well-born friend. ‘The Dowager Queen of Scots will marry her daughter back into France. That will send King Henry into a rage because he wants her to marry his son. Arran wanted the bairn for his own son, so he’ll be annoyed. Cardinal Beton hates the idea of being under French control, so he’ll be stamping and spitting around the Scots court.’

‘You appear to know her well, this Dowager Queen.’


Matho looked down at the brush in his hand and pulled a few tufts of hair from the bristles. ‘Aye, well. Ye tend to remember a woman when she gives orders to take yer head off next morning.’

These are the opening words of my as yet untitled sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Title-less but going well

Autumn colours are strengthening fast and it is not yet too cold in the daytime though early mornings are a tad on the chilly side.  Long may it last.
This is just the weather for writing a sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen and I'm deep into it now. I have a first draft, which is a help and around chapter fourteen I decided to remove a couple of chapters and change the direction of travel, so to speak. It should enhance the plot, particularly where Marie de Guise is concerned, and more original that the content I had.

Maybe I'll add a paragraph here on a regular basis as a sort of PR exercise. Nothing is set in stone as yet, and there will definitely be changes before publication. I might even send a submission off to an agent to see what response I get. That means thinking of a title, which I never find easy.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Book v Kindle and Lewis

No one seems able to make up their minds about The Book v Kindle. First I read the book is declining, almost gone, and then I read Kindle book sales are dwindling fast and real book sales are rising.
This may be attributed to regional variation, or personal bias. (I always view statistics with caution after reading a little book called How to Lie with Statistics) But I wish we knew the true story. Perhaps it just means that if television is good that month then no one reads much - and vice versa!
There seems a lot that is good on  the box at the moment so no doubt sales of books will plummet whatever the format.

There's even a new series of Lewis to watch in these chilly autumn nights. Last night's first episode is safely recorded on video to watch later (I hope it recorded safely! Doc Martin didn't on Monday). I never quite empathised with Morse, found the series interesting in that Morse always went off after rabbits and hares while poor Lewis often had the right idea but got little credit. I find I don't want to watch Endeavour again though I enjoyed watching the episodes once. But the Lewis/Hathaway combo is brilliant and I do watch them again - for the combo development as much as anything. Plus the back chat with Laura, of course.






Saturday, 3 October 2015

Book marketing for SPA

Here's a new name - Squarespace 7 - which I will forget the moment I closed the page on screen....

The self-publishing landscape is shifting and, as ever, authors struggle with marketing.

You'e probably noticed, like me, that Facebook has been overtaken by marketing people, which explains why Fb is using more and more sophisticated algorithms to filter out what they call “less-relevant content.”

FB’s advertising options now are easier, cheaper, and often more effective for authors. An author can “boost” a post for a few dollars which helps, though does not guarantee a popular post will go viral.

Social media is a much more visual medium now. Authors may find Pinterest, Instagram, and even Snapchat can help them. Instagram is great for author visibility, but does not lead to sales the same way Pinterest does.

There are many New Marketing Tools. Email newsletters, paid advertising, a compelling author website are all very well, but an author can build on this foundation.

There are opportunities for cross-pollination between marketing platforms and tools. “For example, Squarespace 7, launched last fall, offers enhanced social media integration for cross-posting blog posts and book news, as well as an Amazon Block for authors to more easily add a link from Amazon to their site. It also offers authors new Cover Pages that allow for a splash page to promote a particular new book or offer.”

There is a move toward a “less is more” approach: basic pages on social media, viewed on a mobile device, promoting the book and its key offerings—but little else.

NewMedia keeps the message basic in order to stick out in a crowded market. It is just a “four-screen site” for the book, with a home page to capture attention, the next screen with more info about the book, a third screen about the author, and a final screen with reviews and testimonials.

Integrate SumoMe into a WordPress site and it offers plug-ins like List Builder (which promises to increase daily email list signups) and Heat Maps (which help an author see where their site visitors are clicking. BookGrabbr offers an easy way for authors to share selections from their books through social media accounts, making it easier for followers on LinkedIn and Facebook to learn more about the title. The tool also offers in-depth analytics, such as how many impressions (friends of friends or followers of followers) the book received, how many people clicked the “Buy Now” button, and the demographic and geographic information of the readers.

Email marketing gives you a direct conduit into your readers. Entice readers to your list by offering a free novella or novel, and then get as much traffic onto the page where you’re making the offer as possible.
Read the longer piece:
Marketing self-published books requires leveraging both new tools and tried-and-true strategies
By Alex Palmer |
Sep 25, 2015

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Glorious autumn

video
I love autumn. I think I love it more than summer because it's cooler and the flies have gone, the leaves are starting to turn glorious colours and a walk is so pleasant. If I think of the summer I remember batting flies away and sweating when I walked Tim - even if I went at a snail's pace.

A couple of days ago we went to walk at Allen Banks so early we were nearly the first ones there. Near Ridley Hall and Bardon Mill, its a National Trust property with glorious wooded banks following the River Allen, a tributary of the South Tyne. We scrambled up the hill away from the river, because most people amble along beside the water towards Plankey Mill and the old bridge that got washed away in last winter's floods. It is beautiful, but we have a more peaceful walk if we meet fewer dogs, so we opt for the high road.

 The video clip is of me  playing with Tim, and if you think I'm very delicate with my throwing of a stick for him, it is because the banks suddenly drop off like a cliff and I didn't want him suddenly disappearing over the edge! We plan to return in a week or so when the leaves have more colour and I finally have a fully charged up camera. DH chides me for not charging it, and I insist I have been; but the last few times I've taken the wretched thing out, it has calmly informed me its battery is low and then it refuses to work. when we got home we found the instruction book and discovered I hadn't been doing it with the right bits of wire and plugs. Duh!  How complicated life is these days!




Saturday, 26 September 2015

Free speech and PC

The week has flown by and I'm overdue with a blog post!  

There's an interesting discussion going on one of the yahoo groups (it may be over now) about whether or not to use certain words in historical novels. I am surprised that anyone would think about re-naming Guy Gibson's dog in order to be politically correct, because surely that is changing history. I use that example because it is fairly straightforward: the dog, a black Labrador, was called Nigger. Gibson's dog, his choice of name and surely a reflection on his character and an interesting sidelight on the man and his culture of almost eighty years ago. Change the dog's name and you "sanitise" the story.

How far does this censorship go? For that is what it amounts to. We used to have a nice little word that described happy people but now it is never used except to describe people of a certain sexual persuasion. The allowable words to describe those with physical or mental problems, people of colour and/or a particular religious habits change almost every week, making it nearly impossible to keep up and be correct - if you subscribe to the idea that you should. It is even hard to describe some of these situations without getting the language in knots. PC-ness is tied up with gender and sexism, too; I notice more and more actresses don't want to be anything but actors, as if the word itself conveyed something special on them. Waitresses are in danger of becoming terribly Americanised "servers," which I think is a rather more demeaning concept than being a waitress. But there you go. what do I know? But I have to ask, before this all goes silly:

What happened to free speech?

Some thoughts that bear thinking about, discovered while researching the topic;




We recognise bullying as the most unpleasant form of physical abuse by someone who wants to wield power of some sort over someone else. Political correctness is the most insidious form of bullying where the bullies attack the psychology and thinking of another for their own satisfaction, even though something is said in complete innocence (and ignorance) of its origins. We should recognise the politically correct brigade as nothing but bullies in another form, trying to twist the minds of others to satisfy their own inadequacies.


Political Correctness: Only saying what one is allowed to say - by whom? Didn't the Nazis practise something like it, or the Soviet Union especially under Stalin. Double talk, double think results in lies and deception. Sweep away PC once and for all.


These kinds of regulations are completely insane, and yet they exist. Has anyone asked just why it is that in Britain today, faceless bureaucrats, whose names aren't even known, apparently have the power to impose legal restrains on the speech of other citizens. And they can apparently do this with any law being passed through Parliament, and in complete defiance of the will of the vast majority, without any form of accountability.


I don't want a sanitised language, and I really don't want history sanitised. History was often brutal and unkind, but that is part of the reason it is endlessly fascinating. Trying to whitewash the language is like trying to say that no wars ever took place and Henry VIII never executed two of his wives, that so-called heretics were never burned at the stake. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Autumn masterclass



 Joyce Maynard seems pleased with the James Patterson MasterClass in writing fiction. You know - the one I've received adverts for - and I'm sure you have - over the last three weeks.

Patterson covers where he gets his ideas, designs his characters—and what makes a character compelling. Villains. Creating tension. Writing Dialogue that doesn’t sound like real life—which would be tedious. He writes dialogue that’s wittier, tighter, more filled with dramatic tension and suspense, than anything ever said around the dinner table.

He believes in the importance of a great outline which is the thing he actually writes before he turns it over to his "stable of co-authors." (The guys who actually write the books.)

He believes in research, surprises, action, and claims that if a story isn’t galloping along, it’s sinking. Fast. The first sentence must be a killer, every page needs to contain some drama and intrigue; suspense and excitement that keeps the reader in the chair.

“I’m not that concerned with style," Patterson says. "Don’t think about the sentences. Just keep that train roaring along.

Write in such a way that words “turn on the movie projector” in a reader’s head,”

Can James Patterson’s MasterClass turn out an accomplished author? Not if a person doesn’t have some natural instincts. The MasterClass has not been created—nor will it be—that can impart talent, or originality, or simply a good ear. For the three hours it takes to listen to all 22 segments of his MasterClass, students may actually get to feel like writers. And that in itself is a bonus.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Third time lucky

Finally, on the third attempt, Createspace has accepted my covers. Now all I have to do is proof and publish. Was it all worth it? That's doubtful, since as far as I can tell I've sold very few paperback copies of Abduction, and I doubt the sales will suddenly streak up the charts now. It was certainly an interesting exercise getting to know Createspace, and it was a thrill to hold my paperback copy - the sort of thrill I didn't get with the Kindle books I've published. The cover is slightly different; I decided to do away with the "archaic" font on the cover and went for a plain, bolder style and colour in what some will call a sickly greenish-yellow. I may follow suit with the Kindle cover.

I'm also toying with experimenting with a bought cover and using it on Dark Whisky Road, but it is hard to find anything that will suit a Victorian story. Maybe the dark winter days will seduce me into trying to do one of my own - who knows?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Createspace ~ Unexpected trouble

I have just got myself into a lot of trouble. Deciding I wanted to carry out two corrections to the Createspace copy of Abduction as well as the Kindle copy, I went ahead and made the changes to the interior file. Then a message pops up telling me I have to reload the cover art as well. Duh. I hadn't expected that, and a terrific hunt ensued among the many versions of the cover to locate the correct cover pic. Finally found it, uploaded it and breathed a sigh of relief. Then this morning I find a post that had gone into my spam box telling me that I had failed to upload the back cover, so now my book would be available with a plain white back cover.  Just what I didn't want!

I'm beginning to think that though doing corrections on the Kindle version was easy-peasy, I wish I hadn't bothered with the Createspace paperback copy. The two correction were minor - a surplus "and" and a surplus "her" which would be a hangover from when I changed the structure of a sentence, and if anyone noticed them, the sense would have been clear. Or perhaps Amazon should put a warning note on the website so that authors are prepared to reload the entire cover as well as making changes to the interior text. Now you must excuse me while on go on a further hunt to find out exactly how I get the entire cover uploaded.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Writing sequels

Guess what I saw on my bird feeder yesterday?
I know the picture is fuzzy and that's because
I took it through double-glazing. The last time I tried to open the window the mouse was gone in a flash! He lives under the sink-pond and no doubt shares accommodation with the resident frogs who inhabit said pond every spring, have orgies and produce hundreds of tadpoles. The level of nuts goes down very quickly, but it is not just the mouse; we have flocks of young sparrows and bluetits who have taken up residence in the garden this year - or if not our garden, then one very close by. The fly in in squadrons; one day they were closely followed by a sparrow hawk which crashed into the Virginia creeper never to be seen again. It survived, but I bet it got a fright.

Busy with the sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen and trying not to get tangled in the politics of the time, or to fall in the trap of assuming that every reader will have read Abduction and have net the basic characters like Lennox and Meg Douglas. Tricky to get it down on paper without giving info dumps or confusing the reader. I'm also looking into the best ways of PR, which I abandoned at the beginning of the year. Now things seem to have changed. The online groups are not so busy as they used to be and don't seem to be where the promotion is taking place, whereas Twitter seems to be full of it. I'm re-visiting old links hoping not all of them are now defunct. Owners and moderators all have lives outside the group, of course, and "life" may well have got in the way of running it for a while.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Rebecca Tope

I've discovered a new author - Rebecca Tope.

http://www.rebeccatope.com/

She writes about Thea Osborne who house-sits in the Cotswolds and usually manages to get involved in a murder investigation. I suppose they are the same genre as the Euphemia Martin mysteries except that the Cotswold stories are contemporary and the Martin mysteries are Victorian. Sometimes the Tope mysteries leave me with questions (such as what happened to Jimmy, and what did the owners say when they came back from Hong King and found their dogs had been shot?) and often the murderer comes out of left field at the end of the book, but I'm reading number nine in the series at the moment, and have only missed the very first and number five, so you could say  there is something about the stories I like. 

There is an element of peering into lighted windows as darkness falls to see how other people live. Each book has a new setting, a new set of characters plus some we've met before and of course there are the animals that Thea must care for until their owners return. The dialogue is entertaining because Thea is nosy and sometimes people dislike her; the topics briefly cover all sorts of modern issues such as the right to suicide and often I find myself in agreement - and that's always nice! My local library has a raft of Tope paperback sitting on the shelf, so my reading is assured for a few weeks to come.

Monday, 7 September 2015

MacGuffin and Open analytics



Autumn is on its way
James Bridle reports that Manchester’s Comma Press, which specialises in short stories, has launched something called MacGuffin. It is a self-publishing platform that gives detailed analytics showing when readers get bored.

Read the whole article: here

“The clean, minimalist interface echoes popular blogging platforms, and visitors are encouraged to search for something to read by theme and length: trending tags at time of writing included #crime, #humour and #10minuteread. Currently in beta on the web and launching mobile apps in the next couple of months, the site already contains plenty of stories from Comma’s own authors.
Alongside every story published are its open analytics, visible to both author and readers. Mercilessly, these detail the exact number of people who have opened a story, and the number of people who actually finish it. They even display a chart of exactly when each reader stopped reading: which, while painful, does give writers the chance to test their narrative structure. Whether this will prove a digital innovation too far for more sensitive writers remains to be seen, but if MacGuffin does take off, mining this data for insights into human attention might be one of the smartest things any publisher has done in some time.”


I’m half-tempted to try it.... except that I might not like what I see!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Self-publishing



Self-publishing still attracts hostility and an assumption that any self-published work is sub-standard.

Alison Baverstock, writing in the Guardian recently, did some research and discovered that 65% of self-publishers are women. Nearly two-thirds were aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half were in full-time employment, 32% had a degree and 44% a higher degree. Self-publishers tend to be educated and busy.

It cannot be denied that there is much dross out there. Baverstock cites three main reasons for so much tosh – and also a "case for a cultural value that is less easy to quantify."

1. The author has not thought about what self-publishing means 
2. Making content available is not the same as making it readable 
3. Success is not defined by the number of books downloaded or sold 

Baverstock's definition of self-publishing is “the process of taking personal responsibility for the management and production of content”. I agree with that, but beg to remind her that Marketing and selling have to be self-published author's concern too. No agent or a traditional publisher to hold her hand and wave a magic wand as she says We'll do the cover and sell it for you while you write the next book.

"Material made available without sufficient thought damages not only the writer’s reputation but that of self-published work in general. Typing is not the same thing as writing. "I can't disagree with that.

"Most of the material  from traditional publishers is so well handled that it’s only when we see badly-presented content it strikes us that publishing is more difficult than it looks. For some, the penny never drops.'

The other thing she does not consider is that many readers today actually want what Baverstock would call tosh. The short story of 40k words or sometimes less, with a vague storyline and two long chapters of sexual encounters, often race up the bestseller lists on Amazon.  Somebody out there wants to read that sort of stuff. 

"Publishing is a different skill from writing, and laying out content to ensure it is easy to read takes research and practice. Effective publishing is not just pressing a button." That's true also, but it doesn't mean self-published authors don't strive to publish well.


Self-publishingauthors tend not to get in included in surveys of authors’ earnings, but Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, says: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”
 Amazon does not make its results public. If they did we would have a better idea of how things are going. There are signs now that self-publishing is being seen as part of publishing in general. "At its best it offers the traditional industry a new source of writing talent and a chance to take on material with readerships already established. In the process, it cultivates the kind of author proactivity that publishers need if they are to reach markets that are no longer predictable, due both to the proliferation of new media and the challenge to reading of so many other alternative leisure activities."

"But it also allows people to create products that bring huge personal pride, even if they include a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. As a process, the value of self-publishing to communities who want to share or preserve material is huge. But for its reputation to be assured as a medium for reading pleasure, the desire to go public straight away must be resisted. Just because you can share immediately does not mean you should. There is a world of difference between attention and approval."

• Dr Alison Baverstock is Associate Professor of Publishing at Kingston University and author of The Naked Author, a guide to self-publishing (Bloomsbury).