Tuesday, 25 October 2016

PriceClan Ventures into the Woods... by Susan Price

Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear go for a walk in the woods. Possibly for a picnic.
The picture is from PriceClan's latest picturebook, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I originally published the text with Cambridge University Press as part of their early reading series, but the illustrations are new, by my brother Adam.

When I commented that Papa Bear and Mama Bear reminded me very much of Papa Price and Mama Price, Adam said, "Well, yeah. Obviously."
     But soft! Who comes here, into this woodland glade?

Goldilocks discovers the bears' house.

       These images are by PriceClan's younger brother, by the way. Adam, not Andrew. Concentrate.

Three Billy Goats Gruff

               Andrew is the older brother , and illustrated my Three Billy Goats Gruff.

The Runaway Chapatti

   Adam is the younger, and illustrated my Runaway Chapati.

Tinku Tries To Help


    Oh, and his own Tinku Tries To Help.

     When we were kids, the house was littered with drawings by all of us. We were always baffled by our mother never being able to tell which one of us had drawn any particular sketch. She'd pick up a drawing of a spitfire and say, "Oh, your Dad was always good at aeroplanes."
     "That's by Andrew, Mum."
     Finding a picture of an ancient Greek in full armour she'd take a guess. "Adam's getting very good."
     "I did that, Mum. Adam did this shark." The different styles were as recognisable to us as our faces and we could never understand why Mama Bear couldn't instantly see that this spitfire was by Dad but that one was by Andrew.
     And to be honest, I still couldn't tell you what it was we recognised. I mean, how different can one line drawn in pencil be from another?
 Now Adam has published Goldilocks and the Three Bears. His pictures. My words.

From 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears.'

Not that my words were needed all that much.
      If we don't kill each other first, in constant squabbles over - well, everything, but then, the Price household has always rung to the echo with dispute - we intend to publish many more.
      #PoweredByIndie, as Amazon have been tweeting all this month.

     Here's an upcoming attraction.

     This is what older brother Andrew and I - oooh, get the grammar - are working on. It's the moment in The Bremen Musicians when the abandoned, miserable donkey gets the idea of going to Bremen, where they love musicians, and his wonderful singing voice will win him fame.
     A sort of X-Factor moment for animals. Though I think things turn out rather better for Donkey, Dog, Cat and Cockerel than they do for most X-Factor contestants. Definately a happy ending.

Andrew showed me the latest sketches the other night and we played around with the text and speech-bubbles. I'm quite excited about the book. There are going to be little doors opening in the corners, and howls and screeches weaving through the pictures. The animals sing opera. As this video proves donkeys do.

This video of Eddy the donkey was also inspirational when it came to thinking about our singing donkey.

You can find out more about all the PriceClan picture books here.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Changing genres - brave or foolish? Jo Carroll

So, I now knew a bit about life in nineteenth century New Zealand. But I also knew that Barbara Weldon came from Ireland, so it was time to find out about where she came from and why she might have left.

I knew she was born in Ireland in the 1830s ... and in the 1840s Ireland suffered three years of potato famine. So - that gave ma a context. And it wasn't difficult to find out plenty of details about the famine - from the stink of rotten potatoes to the mass migration of starving people.

But ... it was the Catholics, as tenant farmers, who were hit hardest by the famine, and I knew that Weldon was a Protestant name. As landowners, they farmed huge estates, growing a variety of crops and thus protected from the ravages of the famine. What's more, many grew grain, which they exported to England and America - while their tenants starved. (Imagine that happening today:  rich people with tables taken with food while people are starving on their doorsteps ...)

Not all, of course, were quite so hard-hearted. There were Poor Houses (often over full, with people banging on the doors waiting for people inside to die so that they could come in. I can think of a nursing home like that.). There were soup kitchens, with bowls of broth for those who would give up their Catholicism and pray to a Protestant God. (Imagine that happening now ... When I was in Nepal I heard of missionaries giving rice to starving Buddhists on condition they prayed to Jesus).

And in the middle of all this was a mass migration, hundreds of thousands of hungry people looking for work and safety and enough food for their families. The more I read about this migration the more familiar the difficulties seemed - and the more I learned about the commonality of migrations. Many of the challenge faced by the Irish in the nineteenth century are mirrored by those leaving war-torn zones in the Middle East and Africa today.

But what of the welcome awaiting them? Have we learned anything from the mass migrations of the nineteenth century that might help us provide for those in need with compassion or generosity? (Maybe you know the answer to that.)

Those Irishmen and women with enough funds went to America. But many could only make it as far as Liverpool. Which was my next stop.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Our Last Political Hope by Lucky Butts

Author's Note: As you may have noticed, I am not your usual blogger for the 23rd. Lev's birthday is this weekend, so I told him I'd be glad to give him a month off. I am currently unemployed (in order to devote time to my political pursuits), so I figured I had time enough to devote to one post.

My name is Lucky Butts, and I am Lev's dog (or rather he is my person).

I am an eight-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, but more importantly, I am your last, great hope for our political future.

I am currently running as the Liberterrier candidate in the current elections. However, I am sure that you have not heard of me since the debate commisions and the mass media have all conspired to keep me from the public eye.

In other words, the duck is right:
The election is rigged, just not how he thinks.
 Since I have been denied my moment to shine in the debates, and since I don't have the funding for a cross-countries stump tour, I have chosen instead to hi-jack Lev's post make my case here and allow Lev a much-needed vacation.

So without further ado, I give you the top five reasons to vote for me in your local election:

5. I am also running for British Prime Minister

If you are like me, you are really tired of having to follow two separate elections each cycle. I understand a lot of you are from across the pond, and while it's true, that our two countries started off on the worng foot, we have come a long way since then. In fact, our national elections not only affect our own countries, but each others as well. We are often teamed up as if it were a special crossover issue of DC comics.
Like that time Iron Lady and Gipper teamed up to defeat Gorbearchev
We can have those times again, only streamlined. As both the president and the prime minister, our countries can totally be BFF's again. We can be on the same page and never have to worry about the dangers of a complete tosser being elected in either country and screwing it up for both of us.

4. I am perfectly able to listen to commands, yet still make up my own mind whether to bark at my enemies or not.

You don't have to worry about a leader who relies too much on their advisors and is incapable of making up their own mind (I have even heard some prefer to consult their kitchen storage if you can believe. Clearly deranged, but we elect them time after time!).

By the same token, you need not fear the politicain who is so self-involved that he listens only to himself without recourse to others.

As your commander-in-chief, I promise to listen to all my handlers advisors, and only then, after hearing what they have to say, will I run off on my own (especially if the door is left open).

3. I'm cute as a button and would make a fine image should we decide to update our currency.

Need I say more?
2. I am physically incapable of sexual assault, so no White (dog)House shenanigans.

I still don't understand why grabbing cats is such a big deal, but apparently it is linked to frisky tomfoolery, so let me assure you that my people have made sure that that cannot be an issue once I am in office.

Although I still reserve the right to wrestle with the cat if he comes with us to DC. When we are in London, even that will not be a problem since the Brits have the good sense to ban foreign cats from entering their borders.

And the number one reason:

1. If you don't like my presidency, my four year term is only like seven months for you. 

It's slightly longer for the UK, just over eight months, but regardless, you can both get somebody new before the year's out.

These are only the best five reasons to vote for me. The list is by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other reasons to vote for me. For example:
  • I have a good jobs plan: my six-walkies-a-day program will necessitate the hiring of record numbers of dogwalkers, for instance.
  • I also want to hire more service dogs.
  • I have no intention of cutting taxis. I think for-profit public trnasportation is hugely important, and our taxis are fine the size they are.
  • I want to appoint justices who are friendly to all people, even canines (and even a few cats maybe).
  •  Finally, I support free obedience school for everyone.
So when you go to the polls in November (and whenever you UK folks vote), remember the Liberterrier Party and vote for me.

Thank you,

Lucky Butts

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Will the real Mr Darcy please stand up? Ali Bacon mourns the end of an era

I’ve just been to see Bridget Jones’ Baby, which was never going to be as good as the original film(s) but was still good fun and had updated pretty well, even if  some current cultural references were possibly lost on older members of the Monday tea-time audience. (Unlike my companion I at least recognised Ed Sheeran!)
However, this film has also marked the end of an era, that era being the one in which I have lusted and/or romanticised at varying times and in varying degrees over Colin Firth: the original Fitzwilliam Darcy of the wet shirt, Mark in the original Bridget and of course Jamie in Love Actually. 

Photo by Geroges Biard*
Because he is a fine actor and can turn that kind of charm off and on at will, I didn’t romanticise over Mr Firth in The King’s Speech or other roles, but it did come as a shock to discover that, as far as I’m concerned, as Mark Darcy he has entirely lost his je ne sais quoi. In fact if I had been Bridget choosing between him and Patrick Dempsey, it wouldn’t have taken me less than two minutes to make up my mind.
For this I consider myself a weak and faithless woman, but then all good things must come to an end and at least we now have Aidan (Poldark) Turner to fall back for the odd romantic fantasy. But for me MD’s lack of charisma did detract from the new Bridget and it reminded me of how this just doesn’t happen on paper, in a novel I mean.

BJB has never actually been a book (unlike Mad About the Boy) but if Helen Fielding had written this one, there would have been no problem: however stuffily MD behaved, she could have imbued him with whatever it is that Bridget (and the rest of us) need. But on screen, the pictures (and maybe the actor’s lack of self belief – did he really want to do this?) just got in the way.

Of course we know that’s why books are better than films. Apart from the damage to glorious original texts inflicted by editors and producers, nothing can replace the people and stories that already exist in our own imagination (which I touched on in another way in my St Andrews presentation) can they? My writing teacher, who was an actress in a previous life, considered writing to be the only medium that gives us a character’s inner thoughts. Now you could say that the first person voice-over in the Bridget Jones films takes us into her head. But when Mark Darcy is on the screen we can’t see him exclusively through her eyes as we could in a book, only through our own, and there was nowhere to hide for a not very romantic hero.

Is this really a post about character and point of view? I’m not sure. Even as I write it I’m remembering Colin Firth’s hottest moment - by the lake at Pemberley - was never in any book at all.

(Exceptions, rules anyone?)

*Image credits: Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ali Bacon writes contemporary and historical fiction and performs her work at live events in and around Bristol.

You can find her and her books at http://alibacon.com and on Amazon.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Publish or Die! - Katherine Roberts

I came across this book in my local charity shop last week, with a title I could not resist - Publish or Die. The bargain price of 20p is well within my current book-buying budget, so I picked it up, took it home and read it over second breakfast.

It turned out to be a teen title written by Alan Durant and published on Scholastic's Point Crime list in the 1990's, a few years before my first book was published. Scholastic did several of these lists as I remember... Point Horror, Point Fantasy, etc... bringing together well-respected YA authors to create what seems to have been a successful publisher-led brand.

Publish or Die is set in the offices of a small publishing house, where the heroine Calico has just started as an editorial assistant - for which read coffee-maker, slush pile reader, photocopier of manuscripts, and general gofer. Still starry-eyed with her love of books, she walks straight into a cut-throat office dispute between two of the senior editors, who disagree about the sort of books they should be publishing. She is rather disenchanted after seeing one of her author heroes in the flesh, and the first unsolicited manuscript that arrives on her desk comes with a threatening letter from a mysterious author called "Nemesis" instructing Calico's boss - one of the warring editors - to publish the enclosed ms, or die. With nothing better to do, Calico begins reading it.

The manuscript turns out to be the story of an author who was promised a lucrative publishing deal that the publisher apparently reneged upon (legally enough, because no formal contract had been signed). The disgruntled author embarks on a trail of revenge, sending the publisher letter bombs, sabotaging their freight lift, and setting fire to the books in their basement... fictional events that are uncannily mirrored by real-life events in Calico's place of work.

How real this book might be from a publisher's point of view I'm not sure, but it certainly seems believable enough from my experience of being an author published in the late 1990's... i.e. in the days of the slush pile, before email submissions, when editors still had the final say in who or what got published and everything went back and forth by snail-mail - or, in some cases, dinosaur-mail. In particular, this conversation from Publish or Die between two of the junior editors after the fire burns all their newly-published books will probably strike a chord with many in the business:

"All those books, all those words," she said sombrely.
"There's plenty more where they came from," Dan remarked drily. "There's too many novels in the world, anyway."

So true - and that was in the 1990's. Nielsen's statistics show that the total number of titles published in the UK in 1998 (when Publish or Die came out) was just over 100,000. By 2015, this had grown to almost 1.5 million - and that's only counting books with ISBNs. Kindle books published using amazon's ASINs are not registered anywhere except at amazon. None of my own indie-published ebooks would show up on Nielsen's stats, and I suspect many other authors working today with similar small-scale indie projects must also be operating under the traditional radar.

After hearing some of the horror stories my author friends and colleagues have told me over the years, I'm surprised authors don't feel tempted to use Nemesis tactics more often. Fortunately, most authors also have the gift of empathy, and are level-headed enough to remain businesslike in their dealings with publishers - or at least to leave it to their agent to send the Nemesis-style letters on their behalf. After the initial disappointment/screaming fit/throwing the manuscript into the bin and vowing never to write another word as long as we live, we begin to see the publisher's view and realize it is not the editors' fault, the new assistant's fault, or even the accountancy department's fault, but merely a case of over-supply coupled with the wrong book by the wrong author at the wrong time.

To quote Dan from the Publish or Die:
"There are plenty more where they came from."

Meaning, of course, that the over-suppliers (the authors) are not needed enough by the business as a whole to merit treating us any better as individuals. If ALL authors went on strike, including the JK Rowlings and Stephen Kings of this world who make their publishers and everyone else in the business decent profits, maybe things would be different... but how likely is that? One thing I learned early on in my career is that there is no such thing as "standard terms" when it comes to a publishing contract. And even if all the authors in the entire world went on strike today, and no new authors started writing books to fill the hungry gap, what about those 1.5 million-plus books published last year? Nobody's read all of them yet, surely? Or the million or so titles published the year before that? Provided the author did not revert rights, those older books are fair game for a bit of repackaging and promotion to keep their publishers afloat until at least some of those disgruntled authors come to their senses - just one or two of the bigger sellers, maybe? The rest could crawl off into their hovels to moan at one another and never write another word, and the world would hardly notice they'd given up writing. (Or would it? The subject for another blog post, I suspect!)

Another interesting thing about my throwback title, besides sparking off this post about the way publishing has changed during even my few short years in the business, is the long list of respected authors who were writing for Point Crime and Point Horror in the 1990s, none of whom appear to have gone on strike or given up writing:

Celia Rees - author of Witch Child.
Graham Masterton - now a master of adult horror.
David Belbin - we've brushed shoulders in science fiction magazines.
Philip Gross - poet and children's author.
Dennis Hamley - currently blogging with us here at Authors Electric!
Anne Cassidy - author of Looking for JJ who, together with colleagues Malcolm Rose and Peter Beere, set up the Scattered Authors' Society that has now grown to over 200 members.
Jean Ure - we shared an agent in the brilliant Maggie Noach.
And if you look at the Point Fantasy list, you'll find more names you might recognize there, such as Authors Electric's Susan Price - Carnegie Medal winning author of The Sterkarm Handshake.
Sorry if I missed anyone... out of interest, did anybody else here write for the Point list?

In a way, I feel like an author caught in the middle: too young to belong to the hard-working Scholastic author group, yet too old for the YA writing courses/degrees that have proliferated in recent years. I did a BSc in maths instead... it's come in useful for checking my royalty statements.

It used to be that children's authors wrote a lot of books, did their apprenticeship on lists like Scholastic's Point list, and then if they were lucky wrote a book that caught the public's imagination. The business kept them in print long enough for this to happen. Then, for a few years, everyone was starry-eyed after Harry Potter's unexpected success and looking for the "next JK Rowling" - my first novel Song Quest (1999) benefited a bit from that, I think, with 100 hardback copies arranged around the foyer of Waterstones Piccadilly in London before its original publisher Element died a cruel receiver's death (i.e. no money left to pay their authors... just one of those horror stories I mention above!) Then, after a few years of that kind of headline had proved that nobody ever would be the next JK Rowling - no real surprise, since she'd already taken that spot - agents and publishers moved on to press-ready debut novels critiqued and written as part of a degree course, and published rather like lottery tickets... if they flop, then at least they have not spent costly years nurturing the author in the hope of persuading them to lay a golden egg. That kind of nurturing these days is left to agents and places like the Golden Egg Academy, where new authors can learn the business prior to publication.

So what's next? And where do experienced-but-not-yet-household-name authors fit into this unpredictable business, if at all, when publishers these days can seem so indifferent to their work?

The answer for me in recent years has been indie publishing - the DIY sort that means I do most of the work and keep most of the profits. It's long hours for little financial return so far, but it's satisfying to turn my creative energies into producing new work and making it available myself, rather than contemplating Nemesis-style tactics to get it published, and then possibly further Nemesis-letters a few years down the line to get the royalties into my bank account, or at least a statement telling me how many negative books I've sold that period.

I have found the learning curve in itself to be a creative process, and my reverted-rights backlist titles have so far earned me over £4,000 as ebooks published on amazon's KDP platform for Kindle and via Draft2Digital for the epub stores. These ebooks continue to bring in a small but steady number of dollars each month (not a terrible a way to be paid with the post-Brexit exchange rate, as it turns out), so I am slowly making these titles available as print-on-demand paperbacks for readers who prefer a physical book.

I have also this year published my first genuinely indie title Spell Spring, the long-awaited sequel to my second book Spellfall.

And with Christmas in mind, you can now get the matching paperback edition of Spellfall hot off the press, making the perfect pair for young teen readers who enjoy a bit of magic with their evil Spell Lords:

If you'd like to check out the Earthaven series before you buy, the Spellfall ebook is currently on Halloween promotion at only 99c/99p until October 31st (offer also available at Nook, Apple and Kobo - links above).

Find out more about Katherine Roberts and her books at www.katherineroberts.co.uk

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Elegaic autumn thoughts by Sandra Horn

October 8th and we are heading north. It’s that time of year; the annual gathering of a group of friends brought together by Di, no longer with us and much mourned. We come from Southampton, York, Alnwick, Berwick-on-Tweed, drawn by powerful associations and the beauty of the Cumbrian lakes and fells. On a cloudy, moonlit evening we visit Di’s grave in Dacre churchyard. It overlooks fells where the larches are always standing out against the other trees, as if marching to their own individual beat of time. Her Lakeland slate headstone is dwarfed by the Norwegian maple now. Fourteen years ago it was a spindly sapling. We toast Di in Bollinger and pour a libation. It disappears rapidly into the earth. 

Usually, at this time of year, we meet autumn as we drive northwards. This year, the colours in the trees are hardly changed. It hasn’t been cold enough yet to work the magic of turning green to gold, russet, scarlet. When we’re there, on the shore of Ullswater, green is still predominant, although touched with gold here and there. Then we round a corner in the path and are met by a massive tree in a blaze of red. The leaves look almost hot. I think it might be a field maple, but I’m not sure. 
Later, we take the round trip on a lake steamer and at intervals other blazing beacons light up the shore. The lake begins as still as glass, mirroring the clouds and the fells. ‘The mountain’s shadow bruises the lake (Kathleen Jones). The wind shifts. The weather is ‘mending worse’ (Norman Nicholson). It rains. We don’t care. We are not about to duck into the fuggy saloon and miss the spectacle of weather sweeping across the sky, the fell-tops disappearing into the clouds, then coming back into view, flooded with sunlight. We are in ‘a watercolour landscape: pale, runny, luminous, where cloud and rain confuse sea, land and sky, smudging the boundaries.’ (Tess Cosslett).

 This year has seen unhappy changes for some of us. John K is battling with early signs of Parkinson’s. John M is recovering from a stroke. My back is crocky. Last time, we all took the steamer to Howtown and walked all round Hollin Fell. Some of us were stragglers, but we all ended up in the pub together, eventually. This time, only one intrepid walker did the Hollin Fell round walk and a couple of people tackled Aira Force. We all walked the relatively flat top end of the lake shore.

 Back at our shared cottage we ate, drank and were merry and watched the robin gorge on rowan berries, just outside the window. We’ll be back next year in whatever shape, to celebrate long years of friendship and pay tribute to our beloved dead. And no doubt I’ll still be wishing I were a poet, rather than a person who writes poetry – and still revelling in the words of the true poets. Thank you all.

Winter Light by Kathleen Jones, in Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21, Templar Poetry 2011
Old Man at a Cricket Match by Norman Nicholson, in A Local Habitation, Faber and Faber 1972
By Train to Eskdale by Tess Cosslett, in Angels of the North, Angels, 2000.

 Photographs by Niall Horn

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Musing on Muses by Jan Edwards

Muses are tricksy creatures.

They come and go at the slightest hint of change and occasionally desert you entirely for no apparent reason. People refer to those arid spells as writer's block, but would probably be more precise to call it writer’s mind-is-elsewhere.

There are many causes for a haitus in the force, and asking around brought me as many suggestions for bringing it to an end.

Here are just ten of the most popular suggestions:

1.      Take some exercise. Yoga and tai chi seem to be favourites for this one, though a walk can be as good or better. As a meditational healer I can't stress the benefits that walking meditation can bring whether you are a writer or not.
2.      Free writing. Sit at your keyboard or notebook and write whatever comes into your head, however trite or non-sensical and keep writing for a set period, at which time you down tools and turn to something else. Some people find this incredibly useful though it has never worked for yours truly.
3.      Create a writing routine. Start at your desk at the same time every day in the same place so that familiarity allows the creativity to flow without distraction.
4.      Change of place. A direct opposite of #3 which might seem counter intuitive but it works for a lot of people for much the same reasons. It can be as simple as moving to another room, or taking your preferred writing tools to a different location. Several writers of my acquaintance have rented office space so that 'going to work' has a more structured feel. Of course this won't do much for writer’s block if the block it begins at the office. Other writers like to take their laptop or notebook to a cafe or even park bench when they feel the need for a change of scene. Not one I have tried as yet but I’ve been tempted. If nothing else it would bring in another recommended cure...
5.      Turn off your internet. Not something that would seem logical given that I am writing this for an online blog, but there is no getting away from the fact that social media can be a huge distraction to the creative mind. Insatiable curiosity is a given in any writer and social media feeds our innate nosey-parker tendencies like nothing else!
6.      Do something else. Writers frequently have multiple creative interests: music, painting, sewing, crafts etc. Taking time out for an hour of something equally stimulating as writing can sometimes jog you into action.
7.      Writing at a different time of day.  Specifically I have been advised to write in the early morning. I tried it and as a card-carrying night owl I can tell you that five or even six a.m. simply does not exist in my world; theta waves not withstanding.
8.      Cleaning. There is a theory that mundane activity will free the brain up for creative juices. It may bear some similarity to walking meditation and could work well for some. But if you really, really, dislike housework it runs the risk of becoming classic displacement activity - that old 'cleaning behind the toilet' thing.
9.      Brainstorming. Call a fellow writer and meet up for a brainstorming session. This can and does work well provided you have someone with the time to spare and an understanding of what you want to achieve.
10.  Play music. Useful but many will say that lyrics can be distracting, and it needs to be something very familiar for similar reasons to #8.

And the causes of writer's block?

Again I asked a collection of scribblers and their reasons given were many and various.
Since April of this year I have been writing at the pace of an arthritic millipede after a family issues drove my muse into hiding. I kept it hopping for a while by editing several novels for other people and editing and rewriting two of my own, but new words have been scarce; in some weeks non-existent.

In the past adversity has always spurred me on and I came to regard writing as both a refuge and a source of strength in a times of need, but not this time around. This time the muse took flight completely and I have missed it.

Then, last night, I wrote 3,000 words!

Not exactly an opus but it is a start. Okay, the issues that prompted the hiatus still have a way to go, but after being side tracked by the more pressing (and frankly more important) aspects of life I am truly hoping my muse is making a tentative return.

Onward and upward! I only have a novella, two short stories and a follow-up novel to write before new year...

Jan Edwards can be found on:
Blog: https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Titles in print – all available in print and dig formats
As author: Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties