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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Archived work, Aristotle and Adult novels by Enid Richemont



I'm juggling between two books at present. I found Jostein Gaarder's 'SOPHIE'S WORLD' in a charity shop. Originally written (in Norwegian), as a Young Adult book in 1991, and hugely successful in translation, I didn't read it at the time because my kids were grown up. It's a potted history of philosophy framed by an intriguing mystery - fifteen year old Sophie begins receiving  lectures delivered by a dog, from an anonymous philosopher. It's fascinating, and not in the least bit dated (unless you feel that Aristotle's no longer in your area of cool).

The second book I rescued in a rainsoaked condition from a neighbour's front garden wall. It's Eimear McBride's 'A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing', and very 'now'. I had to wrap it in kitchen roll and then straighten it beneath a heavy RHS encyclopaedia of plants. It's a debut novel which seems to be doing very well, so that's a treat in store.

Mentioning debut novels made me go back to one of mine. Most people know me as a children's author, but I have written two adult novels, so I thought I'd paste in a small extract from 'COUNTERPOINT' - its opening paragraphs. A woman in a medically inexplicable coma has been brought into hospital...  

In the ward, the fondant smell of spring flowers is spiked with antiseptic. Daffodils of course predominate, their green stems stiff as sticks of angelica in the heavy, funnel-shaped vases, but there are anenomes, too, and freesias, delicate as dancers inside their ribbonned cellophane shrouds.

At the window a young nurse looks down at the black slush the cars have made of the snow; the trees are still lacy, though, and the car park is rimmed with white. She has been up since half-past five, her feet are aching and she is longing for a cup of tea. She wonders how cold it is out there; inside the hospital the temperature is always the same. Across the face of her watch the seconds flicker restlessly: one twenty-six and twenty-three seconds, flick-flick, twenty-four, but time itself is interminable. Behind the glass doors she sees staff nurse, bent over a pile of papers, sucking the end of her pen. If it's a report on that emergency, she thinks, it doesn't surprise me that she's having problems.

Mentioning archived work, I'd be interested to learn how other writers deal with theirs. I have things dating from the days of typewriters right up to the print outs I do from the computer, because I always need to see my work in hard copy, but cataloguing this stuff is a nightmare. I need a totally dedicated secretary. Recently I produced half a dozen little stories each, in response to two briefs I received from Franklin Watts. One story for each brief flew, so what happens to the other ten? Oh for more publishers' briefs....

I finally made it to the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, but my visit was such a catalogue of disasters that you might be amused by it. I set off on the Northern Line to King's Cross, meaning to take the Overground to Blackfriars, but got on the Tube instead, so came out on the wrong side of the bridge in the middle of a massive thunderstorm, walked across the bridge (I had brought an umbrella), and promptly got lost. When I found my way again, and into the gallery, dripping and exhausted, I had to queue for a ticket. Then - at last! - the Matisse, which was amazing, except that, when I was about a third of the way through, a fire alarm sounded, so everyone had to be herded out via the TM's bowels which, I assure you, are neither a pretty sight nor easy to negotiate.

No relevant images to post this time, but  a stunningly irrelevant one - a medieval woodcarving from Poland, from where my family has just returned. Those faces are real faces - they were neighbours, family, friends and lovers, so it's a journey back in time. Amazing.









Wednesday, 27 August 2014

An Interesting Month - Andrew Crofts

Well, that was an interesting month.

A wise old agent once said to me, “some projects, Andrew, just seem to travel on oiled wheels”, and that seems a perfect description for the birth of my memoir, “Confessions of a Ghostwriter”, this month.

The project began to show promise when the editors at Friday Project suggested almost no changes to the first draft of the manuscript. It picked up speed when their excellent public relations company, The Light Brigade, told me that Robert McCrum at the Observer had read the proofs and wanted to come to see me, followed shortly afterwards with the news that Nick Higham wanted to interview me on BBC News’s “Meet the Author” spot.

Within days of publication the Observer article was up on the Guardian website, had been picked up by another Guardian journalist, Hadley Freeman, and was being widely tweeted and commented on.

Even before “Meet the Author” had hit the screens favourable reviews had appeared close to home in the Telegraph, the Times and  the New Statesman, and as far afield as the South China Morning Post, not to mention a host of blogs and websites. Requests for radio interviews followed, plus a couple of speaking engagements and an interview for Italy’s La Repubblica. The Sunday Express followed up on one of the stories in the book.

So, the billion dollar questions are;

(a) Will all this exposure make people actually buy the book?
(b) Why did this launch go so smoothly?
(c) How can I replicate the experience with every book I write in the future?


The answer in all cases; not a clue.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mortal Steps Amongst Leviathans by Ruby Barnes

Just before the start of my three weeks of summer leave from the day job, my leviathan employer decided to reorganize. Again. This is the third time in the seven and a half years I've been with them. 100,000 employees in a giant game of musical chairs, some running for the exit and picking up an envelope on the way, others looking to get a softer cushion and a nicer office. I've left my mobile phone switched on so I can see the e-mail indications of frantic energy expended by all involved without having to engage personally. These are decisive reconfigurations that result in us all singing a different theme tune and not daring to utter the unmentionable jargon of the previous regime. It seems like an Orwellian opera on a three year cycle. I quite like it and wonder what project-type job I'll do for the next 24 - 36 months until the next time. Here in my little house, on the sidelines, I can't whisper in the ears of the corporate architects or try to influence the senior stakeholders. If I could then that would be dangerously close to the hub of top bods who tend to be the first night of the long knives victims of cyclical change. No, I shall go with the flow. What will be will be. I look for the shadow of the leviathan's feet and make sure not to get flattened as they stamp the ground.

I take the same view of developments in the publishing world (described in entertaining fashion by Lev in his AE post of 23rd August below). As the Amazonian outlet wrestles with the big name publishers my faint voice will not affect the outcome. The publisher rallies its cavalry and they follow the beat of drum into battle. The outlet attempts to outflank the attack with large numbers of foot soldiers. The air is thick with propaganda. Amazon isn't very nice to its employees is one clarion call, an article originating from a book that is actually for sale on the Zon (although not doing very well in hardback, Kindle or audio formats!) From a safe distance I watch these monsters throw brickbats and I dart in for any crumbs that fall from their jaws. What interests me is that Amazon has opened up its pre-order facility to indie authors and micro-publishers using KDP. Also that the Zon has been beta-testing paid advertising for authors. Also that there is more to Amazon than books. A chap who lives across the road sells costumes. He took a consignment of several thousand lace gloves from a US supplier last year but the timing was wrong and they sat in his warehouse for months. Then he managed to get them on Amazon UK in time for Halloween and they flew off the shelves. A lot of small companies are leveraging Amazon's reach to achieve product exposure for everything from morphsuits to martial arts equipment.

Product exposure is the Holy Grail for micro-publishers and indie authors. For those with the cash flow to support an advertising campaign the challenge is to secure effective advertising placements. This currently means placing a title in a mailout to a large database of ebook customers. The big boys in this business are BookBub - an ad with them to sell a thriller at 99c will cost a cool $500. But it’s not easy to get a placement with them. Another reliable advertising platform is Ereader News Today (ENT). They used to charge a percentage of sales resulting from clicks through their link but have recently moved to a pay-up-front model. Kindle Books and Tips are another. Booksends is also in the running. The buzz on the grapevine is that these advertisers may be losing traction – some recent ads placed by indie authors have failed to break into profit. If Amazon does come up with an effective paid front-of-store advertising model then might that be the answer to the exposure micro-publishers and indie authors crave?

Monday, 25 August 2014

Your Books Are Cooked! - by Susan Price

          Earlier this year, we, the Authors Electric, produced a
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cooking-Books-Anthology-Authors-Electric-ebook/dp/B00J5RQ7OM
Cooking the Books by Authors Electric
collection of pieces called 'Cooking the Books.'

Tasty treats and unusual eats from Authors Electric blogging collective!...Here’s a chance to cook from our books with e-readable recipes, or just get the not-so-skinny on what keeps authors stoked while they scribble: some of it yummy, some of it funny. An ebook to binge or snack on, where the calories are certified virtual. Dig in!
          
          As it was my suggestion, I did most of the production work - compiling the pieces sent to me by the others, formatting it, uploading. Though I should mention the help provided by other Electrics, especially Ruby Barnes, when the formatting all went pear-shaped. The title was supplied by Julia Jones, and the blurb above by Valerie Laws.
          As editor for an indie ebook, it fell to me to design the cover. I started out with an idea of having a cooking pot filled with various e-readers. However, I found the task of turning this idea into a useable image quite a struggle.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Collector-Stories-Told-Retold-ebook/dp/B00C3LLXDW
Andrew's work...
          I have to admit that usually, when doing anything arty on a computer, I rely heavily on help from my brother, Andrew Price, an artist who hardly ever touches a brush these days, using a computer instead. But Andrew, though long-suffering, was busy with his own projects and couldn't spare the time to pull my chestnuts (so to speak) out of the fire. I was also training to be a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund, which was head-nipping, so I'm afraid patience was thin.
           I tried taking straight photos of the only e-reader I own, a Kindle Fire, in a saucepan. Didn't really work.
        I tried downloading photos from the internet, and making a collage which (I thought) I could then photograph. Didn't work.
         Also, my stove is gas. Doesn't work for 'Authors Electric.'
         Andrew took pity and said that if I could get some good, high quality photos of an electric hob (ie: not from the web), some pots, and some e-readers, he would merge them in a graphic programme, and produce a final image.
         So I appealed to the others for photos. Cally Phillips sent photos of her electric hob (even though she isn't in the anthology - she was too busy republishing the entire catalogue of S R Crockett and running the on-line Edinburgh ebook festival.) Others sent photos of their e-readers. We were all set to produce a image of a pot full of e-readers on a stove.
         But Andrew asked me to look at a first 'sketch,' to check the placing of the titles - and what I saw was the cover at the top of the blog. White background, glowing orange rings describing part of a circle, and the title and 'Authors Electric.' My reaction was, 'Wow!' I thought it was a simple, uncluttered, powerful image, which would stand out because of its strength and clarity.. The electric rings tied in with 'electric' and with 'cooking.' I called a halt. I said, never mind about pots and e-readers - we'll go with that one.
          Because I was pressed for time, I was autocratic about it. I said, this is what I've decided on: this is the cover the book is getting.
         So the ebook was published, and all was quiet for a while.
         And then, this week, Kathleen Jones was forced to unclench
http://electricauthors.jimdo.com/authors/kathleen-jones/
Kathleen Jones
the gritted teeth at last, and admit that she hated those electric rings. They reminded her, she said, of years of domesticity, of the slog of preparing meals every day. One or two of the others then piped up and said that they felt the same.

         Now this took me by surprise, I admit. Not by the fact that some people didn't like the cover - you're never going to please everybody, all the time, no matter how hard you try, and for 28 people to all feel the same degree of liking for something would be a miracle.
         No, what surprised me was how the image was interpreted: domesticity, drudge, slog, frustration, boredom...
         Whereas my interpretation (and the reason I chose the image) is: electricity, power, heat, simplicity, directness...
          Neither of these interpretations is wrong. The difference lies in the experiences of the mind making the connections. I'm very undomesticated. It's never been my lot to produce meals, day after day, year after year - so I don't make that reaction to the image. If I cook, it's usually for myself. If I don't want to cook, I don't.
          So the point of this blog is that, when coming up with your ebook cover, there's a lot to think about besides whether you not you, personally, like it. Quite without your knowing it, the cover image may be sending out a message that you didn't intend at all.
          This, of course, is why publishers and product manufacturers, spend a lot of time and money on testing covers and packaging. Cleaning products, for instance, tend to be packaged in bright, 'clean' colours because darker colours - though they would stand out among all the others on the shelf - suggest 'grubbiness.'
         Anyhow, comes the hour, comes the woman. Chris Longmuir, crime-writer and techie, stepped up and said she would design a new cover, along the lines first suggested. Here's her first, trial run, which I think is great stuff, considering that she was having to teach herself new skills as she went along.


          Some tweaks have been suggested. Some people don't like 'Authors Electric' being staggered - they want it centred. Someone suggested that the wooden spoon be removed.
          I'm lobbying for a light background, as I know designers are mad about 'white space,' and I think many people may, at first glance, assume something sinister is going on in this book.



          Any thoughts? - On this cover, or on covers generally?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Summertime, and the writing is ...

Some years ago I did a significant research project into therapeutic work with traumatised children - so not a topic to be taken lightly. Before setting the whole thing up I needed to do a thorough literature review and familiarise myself with research methods.

It was work to take seriously. I had a proper study, all the trappings of an academic. I had to give lectures.

And then my supervisor asked me how much work I was likely to get done over the summer.

'That depends on the weather,' I said.

I knew from the look on his face it was the wrong answer. He'd expected me to utilise all those days with less official work to knuckle down and get the reading done. After all, it wasn't as if I wasn't interested in it. Well, I can't admit to being interested in research methods. I've learned a lot, but goodness, how tedious most of those books are! But the rest of it was fascinating.

But it was work. It belonged in the study. And when the sun shone - how could I sit in there being studious when the birds were singing, the bees buzzing, and the garden was heady with the scent of roses? It felt a bit rebellious, but one hint of sunshine and off I went, outside, with a novel or short story and sometimes a glass of cold white wine.

Now, here I am again, writing beckoning me from the computer and the lure of the garden. This time I've only myself to please. So - outside I go. The summer is too short, and my love of sunshine too strong, to spend warm days closeted.

It's got me thinking. I've read (and I'm sure you have) countless blogs and snippets of writing advice, suggesting you find your most productive time of day to write. Climb from your bed at sparrowfart if early morning is your time, or keep the candles burning if you are a night owl. I nod and know I'll carry on, fitting it in as best I can.

But seasonal writing - that has had little attention. It's taken a long time, but now I can hold up my head and say I'm a seasonal writer. Spring and autumn are my most productive times. Why not the winter - when the days are cold and the nights long? Because that's when I go walkabout, to hot and sunny places, and spend a month or so pretending it is still summer.

I was chatting to an artist friend of mine about this, and was interested that she, too, is less productive in the summer.

'When the days are long I want to be outside, in the garden,' she said, 'and thinking about outside things. But when it's cold and dark, then I am more interesting in my internal world and am able to access unconscious processes which I need to inform my painting.'

I'd not thought of it like that - though it makes complete sense to me now. Does it resonate for you? Or are you linked to more daily rhythms?

(There's the remnants of a hurricane raging as I write this. With a few more wet days, I'll manage to edit it!)

(Want to know what happened last winter? I went to Cuba - and the story is here. Or drop by the website, http://www.jocarroll.co.uk to see what else I've been up to.)

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Big River Has a Little Axe to Grind: Making Sense of the Amazon / Hatchette Dust-Up by Lev Butts

I have always wondered about people who fight viciously over things in which they have absolutely no control or even stake in. I have seen families and towns torn apart by football rivalries (and while sports rivalries in the American South can be pretty intense, they apparently have nothing on the fanaticism of the United Kingdom sports fans: hell, you all even have your own Wikipedia page for your riots).

"What happened, officer? Terrorist attack?"
"No, sir. Manchester lost."
I have seen grown-ass adults brought to blows at pop culture conventions over everything from the ending of Battlestar Galactica to whether or not Batman can beat Superman in a fight. As the kid of a cop, I have heard all too often of normally kind, loving people spilling each others' blood over which political party has the most assholes (off-hand, I'd say they're about even).

In my naivete, I have always held myself and people of like mind above such frays. None of us would ever stoop to that kind of insanity. Sure, we may disagree, us writers and scholars, but we have the solid foundations of reason and critical thinking to keep things in perspective. We can rise above petty bickering, see both sides of any issue, and argue reasonably and calmly about....

Shut up. 
OK, sure. We all have our hot button issues, but in my defense, I don't really hate John Green. As I've said before, I'm sure he's a great writer. My kid seems to think so. He also does a helluva lot to promote literacy for kids and adolescents, and that's always to the good. I do take exception to his views on independent publishing, but at least that is something I have a stake in. 

Recently, I discovered the one an issue that has brought many of my fellow writers to levels of vitriol that rival that of the worst soccer fan or sci-fi fanboy. 

Epic
 I am referring, of course, to the ongoing dispute between Amazon.com and Hachette Book Group. Apparently, all through spring and summer, the two companies have been involved in pricing negotiations for e-books. This is the fallout from a class action lawsuit a few years ago in which publishers had made illegal deals with Apple to raise e-book prices. So now, according to the very in-depth research I have been able to do in the last twenty minutes, in accordance with the judgment, Amazon is involved in pricing negotiations with Hachette (as well as the Bonnier Group, a Swedish publishing conglomerate), the first of the five major U. S. publishers involved in the lawsuit having to do so.

"What happened, officer? Sports riot?"
"No, sir. Someone told a Hachette employee that e-books should be cheaper."
In short, Amazon wants cheaper e-book prices ($9.99 or less), and Hachette claims that such low prices cannot pay the costs of producing the book. 

Riveting stuff, I know, but here's where it gets weird.

Amazon, in a move worthy of Vito Corleone, decided to hold Hachette's books hostage.

"Make'em an offer they can't refuse.
You know, cut off the book covers
and put them in the bed while they sleep."
They have refused to add pre-order buttons to upcoming Hachette books, slowed the delivery of others, referred customers to other, non-Hachette books, and decided against discounting Hachette books (an admittedly odd choice given that their desire is to ultimately discount Hachette books, kind of like suspending a kid from school from truancy).

We'll fix they're asses. If they won't come, we won't let 'em!
So far, so good, though. Sounds like aggressive negotiation tactics, but nobody's really hurt. 

Except for, you know, the authors of the books Amazon has targeted. In early August, a group of 900 authors signed an open letter published in a two-page ad in the New York Times decrying Amazon's tactics. Amazon responded a few days later by posting its own open letter implying that Hachette orchestrated the authors' letter and accusing them of using their authors as "human shields." 

And then the rhetoric gets really surreal, with one critic even comparing (with a straight face, mind you) Amazon's tactics to "Vladimir Putin mobilizing his troops along the Ukrainian border."

I vill drop prices if I haff to kill every author Hachette prints.
As a more direct response to the Hachette letter, a group of writers and readers posted their own open letter/petition supporting Amazon on change.org. I urge you all to read all three letters. They all make valid points and do an excellent job of boiling this very complex issue down to its bare essentials.

Did somevun say bear?
The gist is this: Lines have been drawn. Not surprisingly, they have been drawn between traditionally published writers (who predominantly support Hachette) and independently published writers (weighing in for Amazon). Yes there is some overlap, but this is the most prevalent breakdown.

And both sides have shown a tendency to behave towards each other with all the grace and charm of a Klansman discussing genetics. I have even heard of writers (traditional and indie) who have been threatened by their opposition for having the unmitigated gall to disagree. 

Threatened. By other writers. For having other ideas. 

We may all cry tears of irony.
So here's where I decide to step in and add my two-cents-worth:

Everybody is right.

Amazon is right: Traditional publishing is afraid of new technology. The whole dispute reeks of the paperback dispute in the 1940's: 
With [paperbacks] being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution — places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if "publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them." Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.
Yep, that's Amazon playing the Orwell card (literature's own version of Godwin's law), but ham-fisted rhetoric aside, they are correct: e-books are simply the paperbacks of today, and their struggle for legitimacy is exactly the same.

However, the 900 authors are also right: Amazon has indeed
directly targeted Hachette's authors in an effort to force their publisher to agree to its terms [by]
  • Boycotting Hachette authors, by refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors' books and eBooks, claiming they are "unavailable." 
  • Refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors' books.
  • Slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors' books to Amazon customers, indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on most titles.
  • Suggesting on some Hachette authors' pages that readers might prefer a book from a non-Hachette author instead.
Given that Amazon instigated these tactics to hurt Hachette through its authors, accusing the publisher of using its writers as "human shields" seems a bit disingenuous. Sort of like shooting a rival's kids and then accusing the rival of using the children as shields because they happened to be standing behind them at the time.

And the change.org petition is also right on several counts:
  • You may remember a story from a few years back about the five major publishers breaking the law and colluding to raise the prices you pay for your e-books. These publishers were ordered by the Department of Justice to pay millions in a settlement. Their intent was to price digital books high, stifle innovation, and limit your freedom to read as you see fit. The pressure for this change came from bookstores, from major publishers, and from other online retailers. [...] Fortunately, prosecutors rescued us from this price-fixing scheme, and digital books went back to a reasonable price. 
  •  You may have heard that Amazon is making books unavailable. This simply isn’t true. Amazon has turned off pre-order buttons for Hachette’s books, as negotiations have broken down to the point that Amazon may not be able to fulfill those orders once the books in question are released. The books that are supposedly being made unavailable aren’t available for sale anywhere else because they aren’t out yet. 
  • Amazon pays writers nearly six times what publishers pay us. Amazon allows us to retain ownership of our works. Amazon provides us the freedom to express ourselves in more creative ways, adding to the diversity of literature. Unlike the New York “Big Five,” Amazon allows every writer access to their platform. 
  • Negotiations between publishers and retailers happen all the time. Recently, Simon & Schuster found itself in a similar deadlock with Barnes & Noble. Many authors were affected, but not by missing pre-order buttons or delayed shipments; their books simply weren’t carried at all. They were shut out completely.
This last point is particularly apt as it underscores, not only that these kinds of tactics are not unique to Amazon, but that they are fairly common and often far worse than Amazon's actions. (Yes, I know that a murderer can't be excused because someone else is a cannibal, but the petition's point is still valid).

Dammit, foiled again.
However, Amazon and Hachette are both wrong:

Hatchette is wrong to demand such prohibitively high prices for e-books. They cost next to nothing to produce (other than design and layout) since there is no physical material needed: no paper, no glue, no ink, etc. Unfortunately, most e-books cost as much if not more than the paperback of the same title. Hell, even Amazon's proposed $9.99 is too much to pay for a book that costs nothing to produce and that you don't really own anyway.

To which I will add, just as paperbacks ultimately prevailed without destroying hardbacks, it is fairly unlikely that e-books are going to destroy hardcopy books (of whatever back). In fact, cheaper e-books may possibly increase sales of hardcopy editions. I buy hardbacks even if I own the paperback if I really like the book. And if e-books were cheaper, I'd buy them so I could continue reading my books away from home without lugging them with me (I tend to read two to four books at a time).

However, Amazon is wrong to punish the authors for having the misfortune of being published by Hachette. While the author of the change.org petition presents a very good explanation for Amazon's "failure" to offer timely shipping of Hachette's books, there are problems with it. The petition claims that Amazon is not stocking Hatchette books in case negotiations completely break down and they are no longer able to sell them. They do not want to have an unsellable overstock of books, so current Hatchette orders have to be filled by the publisher, not Amazon, a process that often takes weeks. My admittedly limited understanding of book selling, though, is that the books are bought from the publisher before hitting the shelves (virtual or otherwise). If negotiations break down, those books are still owned by Amazon and can be sold even if they do not purchase future Hachette books.

The petition cannot explain away Amazon's refusal to discount Hatchette books other than to state the obvious: Amazon is under no obligation to discount any book, and the high price is the one set by the publisher.

As for suggesting buyers purchase non-Hatchette books instead, that's kind of a prick move. That is, undeniably, an attempt to hurt Hatchette by hurting its authors, and that's wrong.

The long and short of it is publishers have set absurdly high prices for e-books, and I support Amazon's desire to bring those prices down, but not by punishing the authors.

Honestly, though, we are all armchair-refereeing a fight between two businesses who are both trying to paint themselves as the aggrieved party in a dispute that ultimately boils down to one company wanting to make itself more money and another wanting to save itself more money.

At the end of the day, neither of them really cares whether I save money, despite their rhetoric. At the end of the same day, if there's an e-book I want badly enough, I'm probably going to buy it regardless of the price, though I may complain about it like a fanboy critiquing the new Star Trek film while in line for his third ticket.

It sucks worse each time I see it. 

And both parties know this.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

How I Write #blog hop by Pauline Chandler

For this post, I've been tagged by Valerie Laws to explain my writing process. We all tackle the job differently, don't we? There are one or two things we agree on, such as editing a lot and reading work aloud to spot the clunky bits, but there's no right and wrong way. It took me a while to find that out!

Valerie Laws (www.valerielaws.com) is a crime novelist, poet, playwright and sci-art installation specialist.

Of her thirteen published books, 4 are currently available as ebooks. A mathematics/physics graduate, she devises new poetic forms and science-themed poetry installations and commissions including the infamous Arts Council–funded Quantum Sheep, spray-painting haiku onto live sheep to celebrate quantum theory. Much of her recent work arises from funded residencies with pathologists, neuroscientists, human specimens and dissections. Another quantum haiku on inflated beachballs in Hackney Lido featured in BBC2’s Why Poetry Matters with Griff Rhys Jones, and live at Royal Festival Hall, London, and her installations have toured all over Europe. She performs worldwide live and in the media.  Her many prizes and awards include a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and two Northern Writers’ Awards.  She is disabled and lives on the North East coast of England.

For #bloghop there are four questions to answer. 



1) What am I writing?  

My current work in progress is a coming-of-age story for YA readers, set in the 1415, the year of the Battle of Agincourt, which features in the novel.

14 year-old Elinor, abandoned as a baby by her mother at the local abbey, is tracked down by her father and taken home to act as nursemaid to her half-sister, an albino child. When Alys is kidnapped, Elinor sets out to find her. Both girls have a burden to bear in life: Alys her albinism and Elinor her illegitimacy. The story deals with families, identity, the role of women in a medieval society at a time of war, superstition and faith.     



 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

Mm, that’s an interesting question. Perhaps the answer is best left to readers to decide. I try to make my characters real and fully rounded with a backstory and a future, so that if you were to meet them today you would recognise them and have plenty to talk about! And I try very hard to get the history right, after plenty of research.  

3) Why do I write what I do?

My stories ‘come’ to me and I usually know when I’m dealing with one that will turn into a book. Most have been historical fiction, because I love history and researching past lives, especially the medieval period. I’m just nosy about people and feel a strong connection with the places they’ve lived in or the things they leave behind. I like to stand in old houses and let them ‘speak’ to me, imagining who lived there and what happened there. 
Joan of Arc's family home in Domremy. 

4) How does my writing process work?

Once I have the idea for a story, I try to find my main characters. Everything depends on my readers being intrigued by them, and interested in finding out what happens to them.   
When I’m committed to a story, my brain seems to work on it by itself and throw up thoughts randomly day or night, so I carry a small notebook about, in which to jot these thoughts down. The next stage is to start writing the book in an A4 notebook, on one side of the page only, because it just feels nicer and allows me space to add things later. Meanwhile, I research the history, noting down details of clothing, food, customs, buildings, language, and so on, in other notebooks. When I run out of steam and I’m not sure where to go next, I transfer what I’ve written to the computer. That process often gives me ideas for the next section. When the first draft is on the screen, it’s then a long process of editing and re-drafting.

How do you write? 
Pauline Chandler                                   www.paulinechandler.com