Sunday, 31 July 2011

GUEST AUTHOR - Xavier Leret

Today's guest is Xavier Leret who is of Hispanic, Cuban, French and also, apparently, Jewish and Arabic stock, although looks-wise he has inherited everything from his mother’s Irish/North-of-England roots. His family on his father’s side were all taken out on the first day of the Spanish Civil War and shot. His grandfather survived the firing squad three times, only to die of a smoking related illness in 1977. After fleeing a monastery, his father (pursued by the Vatican) landed on the protestant shores of England, where he met Xavier's mother. Before each of them gave it a second thought they got married, and it was not long after that Xavier Leret was born.

Here he talks about his first e-book HEAVEN SENT and finding a publisher...

I was half way through sending my novel, Heaven Sent, to agents and publishers. Some copies made it into envelopes and one or two got as far as the post office. But I stopped. It was just after Christmas and I thought, what am I doing? Why not join the self pub band wagon. There is no better time than now. Why wait for somebody in an office to reject me when I could join kindle interactive show, get instant comments from normal people and begin the process of building an audience for my work. It seemed simple. Everyday the news was full of writers striking it big and revolutionising the publishing world in the process. What better time than hit that literary treadmill? And anyway, I'm broke. I don't have time for the publishing machine to pick me up and lift me up the hill. I need bucks, and lots of them right now! So before the rejection letters started to arrive I set about copy editing the book.

This final editing process took a lot longer than I thought it would. I thought I had edited tons when I was writing the piece. I might write 1200 words a day but there were a few times when I would cut 20, 000 words without blinking – ok, it would take me days to build up the courage to cut like that – it was a bit like pulling a scab. I must have cut at 120,000 words to produce Heaven Sent. Narrative threads thrown on the pyre, multiple point of views – so much. Then, when I sat down to copy edit I would discover little mistakes here and there – actually some of them were huge – once a paragraph just cut off (never cut whilst drinking wine). Daizee's dialect was all over the place too. Tidying her up took weeks because Bristolian is like another language and the more I began to play with it the more I shaped her character and her use of vocal poetry. Carlo also took a lot of time. There were moments where I had rushed over psychological motivations. He goes on quite a journey and to make it work each moment needs to be given its time. It was imperative to make his internal logic work, as he is the character that the reader is inside, it is his feelings and observations that provoke empathy and emotional contact. These are the elements that I think are so important in a novel. As a reader I want to feel. I want to be touched by the work. I want to examine the world and have the world presented in such away that I am forced to question what I see. Of course I also want to be entertained, books films and TV are essentially forms of entertainment. You don't want to set out and bore people with long rants, you need to entertain them into listening to what you have to say. Novels are powerful because, unlike the other art forms where you watch and observe action, as a writer you are mainlining the story and the experiences of your characters into the readers mind – that makes it extraordinary.

My days became extremely long as I was writing during the day and designing a book cover at night, and also trying to figure out how to sell the thing once it was out. I had absolutely no idea about what to do. I had not heard of blog tours, had no idea about bookblogs.Ning or Kindleboards. I wrote a press release, sent it out to bloggers, joined networks.

I didn't really have a launch day, the book sort of came out at the same time that I was sending it to bloggers. I had the road running blind, my eyes were shut in the hope that it would all come good. To my great relief the reviews I got back were amazing, the sort you wish for as a writer.

For the first couple of months my sales were diabolical. There was hardly any movement. I panicked dropped the price – which I really do believe de-values the work. It makes no sense to me that a novel that takes such work to create can go for 99cents. It also means unless you are one of those lucky few, you make no money. Anyway in July I saw a change - not a ridiculous change of fortune but enough to give me hope - I'm not under any illusions. I don't write about warlocks, chicks with guns, vampires hitting on virgins, brawn with banter - none of that genre material that seems to shift units by the bucket load. No my material is dark literary fiction - it's a hard sell, so a sudden increase in sales was a real boost to my plummeting self esteem. And then the strangest thing happened. I got an email from a publisher. I had forgotten I had written to them. They had read the full manuscript and had some crit if I was interested. Of course I was! And boy, did they crit it! To the extent that if I was to work with them they would want to see some serious changes.

I was torn. To go down the trad publishing route meant pulling my novel and ditching the hours of work that I had spent marketing, and to make matters worse I also received another blinder of a review. Ultimately it boiled down to whether I agreed with what the crit said. And to be honest - yes, I did. Its not about being offered loads of cash to make changes because that really is not on the cards. There is no money. Dedalus is small press that focuses on producing literary fiction. I am still broke and can't see any money mountain on the horizon. What it means is that I will be working with an editor who will ask the questions that push my work to another level. Having worked with editors on other projects I know that this process is important, it can transform the literary potential of my work and ultimately make me a better novelist. That for me, is what it's all about. Sometimes I do wish I wasn't so idealistic. It would make life a little easier.

Thank you, Xavier! Many congratulations on the publishing deal. Sometimes it does seem like a long and winding road, with many holes and traps and wrong turns and dead ends along the way, but the good books will find readers in the end - as you have proved with "Heaven Sent"!

Xavier's website is
"Heaven Sent" is currently unavailable while it is being republished. Meanwhile, you can read a free extract HERE

Friday, 29 July 2011

My first Post. Stuart Hill

This post has been published in Sparks, A Year In E-Publishing - An Authors Electric Anthology 2011-2012. It has therefore been temporarily reverted to draft status to comply with amazon KDP Select's requirements.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Monsoons and thrillers - Enid Richemont

I've almost finished updating and re-publishing my late 90s thriller for 9-12 year old girls: TWICE TIMES DANGER. Most of the updating involved technology. Feisty young girls, complex families, greedy, silly adults and Mafiosa-style villains have always been with us, but our ability (and desire) to communicate wherever and whenever does affect both me, and the characters in my stories. I've just finished reading Hilary Mantel's WOLF HALL, with all its political complexities, but no other means of communication apart from the spoken and written word. How profoundly has email, mobiles and social networking changed us, and is changing us as human beings? I really want to explore this.
It's been Monsoon season here in London. Some of my green things are loving it, but some are not. I love the visual drama of rainstorms, the building-up of clouds and that special smell you get when it rains after a long drought (not applicable this time in our strange non-summer).
At the weekend I went to an exhibition of picture book illustrations - amazing stuff, and am tempted to buy one. I've always loved picture books, but I have a special interest in them at present, because my first picture book, ONE COOL MOUSE, will be coming out later next year with Little Tiger Press (the illustrator, so far, has not been chosen). And so many people have said this, but I'll say it again - writing a picture book text that works is challenging, almost on a Haiku level.
And talking pictures, I really enjoyed the recent ABBAlitFest, but was disappointed not to receive a single picture entry for my under-sevens competition (and I'd reserved a special place on my website for the two winners). If the litFest happens next year, I hope that will change.

Monday, 25 July 2011


'Overheard In A Graveyard' - £1-71 kindle download
                Susan Price has been a professional writer for 40 years, and has published 60 books, for every age from nursery to adult.
 Her first e-book,  Overheard In A Graveyard (£1-71p) is available for download here.
Below, she talks about how she came to write some of the stories in the collection.

          I remember the exact moment that the title story, Overheard In A Graveyard, arrived.  I was watching ‘Silent Tongue’, starring River Phoenix as a simple boy whose Native American wife has died.  Grief-stricken, the boy stands guard over her body, scaring away birds.
          The woman’s ghost appears to him: and the film handles the ghost very simply, but effectively.  She appears from the edge of the frame, or dashes across it – and as what appears within in the frame is ‘reality’ to us while we watch, she is, in effect suddenly appearing and vanishing.  She screams that her body must be destroyed before she can go to the next world.
          My head is stuffed with folklore, and I was reminded of the many stories about grief for the dead keeping them from peace – Who lies weeping on my grave and will not let me sleep?’  I immediately wanted to write my own version of this theme – in fact, I started writing then and there.  I wanted to make it as simple and bare as a ballad, or the ghost in the film.
        I didn’t want to pin it to any period or country, and cut all description.  What you cut out is more important than what you leave in.  I reduced it to a dialogue.  The title, ‘Overheard In A Graveyard,’ did the work of scene setting.
         Even ‘he said,’ and ‘she said’ went.  Which was male and which female, anyway – the living or the dead?  Maybe the voices were both male or both female?  I let the reader decide.
The Gokstad ship
         Having started with an ‘overheard’ story, I decided to end with another – ‘Overheard In A Museum.’  C. S. Lewis’ observed that we write from ‘the habitual furniture of our minds,’ and  when I was 11, I collided with the Norse Myths.  I’ve never been the same since.  They left me with a fixed interest, not only in myths, but the Viking Age.  As a teenager, I read everything I could find about the Vikings, including the Gokstad ship burial (and I'm still learning).  One day, I decided, I would go to Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum and see it – and so I did.  I spent hours in there.  The guards, impatient for home, eventually lured me out by laying a trail of chocolate. 'Overheard In A Museum’ was inspired by that visit, though written two decades later.
        Inanna was originally written for an educational publisher, as an early reader.  It was the publisher’s choice, and not one I was familiar with.  I was a little surprised when I found out what a goer Inanna was – but, hey, I’m just the hack.  I writes what I’m asked to write.
      I worked from several versions of the myth, but was most charmed by a close translation of the original (one of the world’s oldest written stories) which I found – where else? – on the internet.   I particularly liked the Great God Enki fussing like an old mother hen:  Oh, what has Inanna done now?  She has Me worried.  What has the Queen of Heaven done?  Oh, that Girl worries Me.  What is the Mistress of All Lands up to now?  She worries Me, She does…'
      That Girl worried my publishers too, when they read the finished story.   She was too sexy, her tale too horrific… Honestly, what were they expecting from a Goddess of Desire and War?  I decided to kindle it, instead of wasting it, because I like it – it’s a very ancient explanation of summer and winter, a forerunner of the Persephone myth.
        Cruel Mother is another story that came in a flash.  I was on the treadmill in the gym, listening to the old ballad through headphones.  It leaped into my head that I should off-set the old ballad’s verses with scenes from the same story, set today.  The result isn’t a barrel of laughs, but it does achieve something of the effect I was aiming for.
        Finally, Mow Top, which I owe to my friend and fellow-writer, Katherine Roberts.  We both belong to the Scattered Authors’ Society (SAS), and I was at the SAS ‘retreat’ one summer when Kath ran a ‘collage workshop.’  First we had to concentrate on the kind of story we wanted to write.  I wanted a ghost story.
Then we riffled through old magazines, ripping out images or words that caught our eye, without stopping to think.
From our rippings, we made a collage.  I had a moorland scene, the phrase ‘buried in an unmarked grave’, and a flight of steps going down into the dark cellar of a ruined building, which I associated with the phrase ‘descending to the Underworld.’
When we had to speak about our collages, I could think of nothing to say, though I felt mine had some significance for me.  But the point of the exercise is that, often, our best ideas come from that part of the brain which has no words.
Anyway, it was lunchtime and I forgot all about my collage.  Hours later I happened to see it again – and instantly had the story, Mow Top, complete in my head.
As I struggle on with the third Sterkarm book, I wish my longer, book length work came as complete!

Overheard In A Graveyard (£1-71p) is available for download here.
And Susan Price blogs at

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Kids, Get The Crayons! - Simon Cheshire

From the minute I started on this DIY publishing thingummy, I've broken Rule No.1. Well, Rule No.1 according to every self-publishing website I've ever come across, namely: never, ever get your kids to design your covers - if you can't do it yourself, pay a professional.

I ignored that advice for two reasons: 1) I'm OK at designs, but I can't do artwork (unless it's stick people, and there are only so many books that'll suit having stick people on the front); 2) I can't possibly afford to hire an artist.

No, actually, three reasons: 3) I genuinely worried about doing the jackets, but then I took a walk around Waterstones. Now, I know this is going to sound harsh, but I thought to myself "half these book covers are just identical to other book covers, a lot of them tell me nothing whatsoever about the book, many of them look like the work of five minutes, and if I can't reach a similar standard myself I have no business calling myself a creative genius."

When I got home, I shouted "Kids! Get the crayons!" It struck me that one thing you don't see on children's books is children's artwork, and children love seeing other kids' artwork on things. Postage stamps, logos, company brochures, whatever. So my two have done ten covers for me now, and whenever I visit schools and literary events and the subject of jackets comes up (as it usually does), the presence of my own children's work not only creates extra interest in the books, it creates extra sales. I've regularly had kids suddenly delve into books just because they've discovered how the jackets were done.

I'm pretty sure my DIY covers don't appeal to adults, and I'm certain that any professional jacket designer wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry at the very sight of them. But they're definitely liked by 8-12 year olds. And that's who they're for, after all.

(By the way, my kids' latest work can be seen on Amazon here).

Friday, 22 July 2011

Now on a Screen Near You - Joan Lennon

It's happened! My collection of YA sci-fi stories has been e-booked!

There have been interesting posts here and elsewhere about the challenge of making our own covers - especially when it's for a collection. Do you choose one story to illustrate or something that, um, covers them all? We went for the second option. So, all we needed to do was come up with something that represented a story about a diary discovered in a deserted space station, one about a forgotten waterworld, another that was a re-telling of Macbeth on a gigantic spaceship - something that would be attractive without giving away any plot twists.

And then there were the problems specific to e-book covers - how they needed to look good in colour, in greyscale, as a thumbnail, mid-size, paperback book size. I love this cover best when it's REALLY BIG. You can see all the detail of the city on the back of the spaceship then. The rip in space started life as a piece of scrap paper with a hole punched in it with a pen and then the leaves folded back to show the writing on the other side. (Most of our scrap paper has drafts of novels on the back.) But that didn't translate so well onto the computer. At one point we experimented with making the rip against a black background and have the stars on the folded-back petal bits. Not so good. The spaceship was tilted nose down for a while, and also looked a lot like a whale at one stage. There were MANY discussions about colours ...

I like what we ended up with best. I like that e-booking will never be as daunting as it was the first time. And I like that my artist and technician are already saying, in the words of West Wing,

"What's next?"

Cheers, Joan.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What Next? - Karen King

Do you remember typing on a machine that looked like this?

It was so annoying having to feed through two sheets of paper with carbon paper between so that you could save a copy for yourself. I often put the carbon paper the wrong way round which meant that the carbon copy was printed on the back of the top copy so I had to start all over again. Every mistake I made had to be carefully tip-pexed out then typed over, every revision meant at least a whole page of retyping. So frustrating!
I was so excited when I bought my very first computer.

The screen was green, the dot matrix printout wasn't great and if I hit the wrong key I got alarming messages that I'd committed a fatal operation and would be closed down. Scary! But the delight of being able to delete errors and save copies of my work onto floppy disks was worth it. Computers have improved a lot since then as technology advances at an alarming speed. Not that long ago mobile phones were like this:

Now they are tiny, all-singing, all-dancing devices that allow you to read and write emails, surf the net, talk to your friends the other side of the world, take photos and play music.

And then along comes the Kindle, the electronic device that holds hundreds of books.

So what next? What do you think will be the next electronic marvel?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

We Like to Live in Groups by Dan Holloway

(I hope it's OK to sneak in an invitation. On July 28th I will be at Blackwell's in Oxford as part of a panel called "Rising Literary Stars" with Naomi Wood [The Godless Boys], Lee Rourke [The Canal], and Stuart Evers [Ten Stories About Smoking]. It would be lovely to say hello in person!)

My wife keeps rats. Well, I absolutely adore them but they live in her study to keep them out of harm’s way of our 5 cats. When we were first looking around and doing our research, we went into a pet shop and there was a label on the massive rat cage saying “we like to live in groups.” I was sitting babysitting our two boys this morning whilst my wife cleaned out their cage, and thinking how this site is feeling more and more like a homely community, and how I have a rather long (as I’ll explain but not at length, don’t worry) history of writers’ groups , and how the very most exciting work seems to come from movements not individuals locked away in their turrets – Bloomsbury, The Chelsea Hotel, Arts and Crafts, 90s Seattle, Fin de Si├Ęcle Paris, Dada, YBA, the list goes on. So I thought I’d ask, with some personal anecdotes – is it good for writers to live in groups?

As I said last time, I live to perform live. And nothing makes such a good show as a group (just don’t mention Priestley, OK – think more the vampire theatres of Anne Rice’s books). This year I’ve put together a show called The New Libertines, with twelve or fifteen writers and two or three bands. We’re touring festivals, fringes, bookstores and cafes all year. And it’s amazing fun. We all do different things, but we are pulled together by an ethos, a very simple manifesto – that art is about portraying life in its glorious, complex fullness.

It, and this wonderful place, is the last in a long line of writing “groups” I’ve been part of. They’ve encompassed online critique sites Youwriteon and Authonomy, the collective Year Zero Writers, and the literary project eight cuts gallery.

Last week I wrote on my blog about the personal issues I've faced working with others. This is more about the general issues.

It started, as it does for lots pf writers, with online critique groups. It was 2006 when I first decided I wanted to write for other people. By the end of 2007 I had finished – and discarded – one book, and had something I thought was ready to take to The Next Stage. Which, after seeing a note in the back of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, turned out to be the critique site Youwriteon. 9 months later I joined Harper Collins’ Authonomy. Both sites have attracted both love and criticism in equal measure. All I can really say is that my initial hopes of getting a publisher were wildly unrealistic. That’s not what these sites do. But within afew months I was no longer interested in attracting a publisher. I wanted to set out on my own with like-minded individuals and do “Something.” And both sites were absolutely perfect for meeting people like me.

(l-r Marc Nash, Christi Warner, Anne Lykken-Garner, me and Penny Goring at 2010's Year Zero show Open-armed and Outcast at Oxford's OVADA Gallery)

“Something” turned out to be Year Zero Writers. Which started with a long, angry myspace manifesto on January 1st 2009 and soon morphed into a Facebook secret strategy group, and then into a collective of writers putting out articles and short fiction and poetry on a daily basis. We were all sick of the lack of mainstream space for our literary fiction, had no interest in changing the focus of what we wrote, and through three anthologies, a live tour, some A-bomb level fights, write-ups in the likes of Writers’ Digest and style bible Nylon, suicide attempts, and more than two years pushed each other to levels we would never have reached on our own. At times our themes seemed to converge and the conversations between the pieces we wrote got so intense it felt like we were in some heady 21st Century virtual Chelsea Hotel. And what started as 22 writers from 8 countries who’d never met anywhere but online has spawned some of the closest “real life” friendships I have.

Collectives have their weak points as well, and are most definitely not for everyone. And I’d most certainly not recommend anyone *only* be part of a single collective. Aside from the inevitable personal squabbles in a group that size and that close (the closer you are the more and more bitter the fights, because you really care), the need for consensus is very alien to most if not all writers and can feel incredibly stifling (that was the reason I started eight cuts gallery, a place where I was in creative control), and once you hit a certain size and age it’s inevitable you’ll have differences over the existential biggie – Where You’re Going. That’s what happened with Year Zero. We’d reached a stage where we were getting 300-500 hits a day on the site, some of the bigger literary ezines were talking about and writing to us, and some people only naturally wanted to use that following as a way of selling books. Others of us didn’t. I have a feeling that will always be the biggest source of tension amongst indie-minded writers. The commercial success of many indie Kindle authors in recent months only emphasises more clearly that indie means different things to different people. To some it’s about the punk spirit, to others it’s about entrepreneurial freedom, and there’s a whole spectrum between. My strongest advice if you’re joining, or starting, a collective, especially a creative rather than a marketing one, is make clear exactly where everyone stands on that spectrum.

(l-r me, Lucy Ayrton, Sophia Satchell-Baeza and Anna Hobson at a New Libertines event last month)

eight cuts gallery is a different kind of joint venture. I established a very clear general manifesto about “overgrounding” – at its most basic taking the most incredible underground art, literature, music, ideas and presenting them as unapologetically mainstream, making the “mainstream” justify its place and practice whilst we took ours for granted) and artistic manifesto (life is complicated, messy, and glorious and it is the duty of the artist to reflect every facet of that with unflinching honesty), and built one-off collaborative projects around them. The one-offness of each project (be it a live tour like The New Libertines or our hyper-linked online exhibitions like Once Upon a Time in a Gallery) allow, rather like working on an anthology, everyone to maintain the focus and intensity and energy of the collective whilst keeping a horizon that makes it easier to accept differences.

Even so there are difficulties. And as always they increase the longer you’re around and the more you get known. People want to work with you. Often they’re people you really admire, whose work you love – but it’s just not quite a fit for what you’re doing. Venues are keen to host you. Sometimes they say lovely things like “what you’re doing is really exciting” and you say “great let’s do a show” and then they say “fantastic, can you just keep it suitable for our audience.” And you’re stuck in that “if I do it, it’s great publicity but the bit they want us to leave out is actually the bit that makes us exciting and if we don’t do it we’ll just be another literary evening” dilemma. I find myself consciously repositioning our work back towards its roots at least once every two months.

(Katelan and I with two of the guys we'd met during the afternoon's photoshoot for Lilith Burning)

So, are writers like rats? Well, yes, in many ways. But do we like to live in groups? That’s probably the wrong question. Do we flourish in groups? That’s the right one. All I can answer is that being in the wrong group, or in the right group for too long or the wrong reason could be the most heartbreaking and flattening experience. But I would recommend everyone at least consider it, and consider what kind of a group, from an anthology team to a local critiquing circle.

(and this was when we met them earlier that afternoon)
The most extraordinary creative experience of my life was a day I spent in Oxford with the New York-based writer/artist/model/photographer/publisher Katelan Foisy (she dressed as the mythological figure Lilith and we went round Oxford taking pictures of people’s reaction before making art from them and inviting everyone we’d met for an evening of readings about Lilith and viewing the art). Working with her that intensively, even just for a day, seeing how she worked, getting not just to hear about her philosophy and approach but to see her live it, has changed everything I’ve done since. Avoiding groups will keep you away from the heartache but, for me at least, it will also keep you from making your art the very best it can be.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Let the (virtual) champagne corks pop! By Ann Evans

This time last week the wine was flowing, celebration cakes were baked, friends, family, and strangers alike were all invited to come along and join in the excitement...

The occasion?

The launch of my latest book, A Children’s History of Coventry. In fact it was a double celebration because fellow Sassie, Rosalie Warren was launching her first children’s book, Coping with Chloe so we joined forces for a double whammy!

It was exciting and it was fun. We’d both previously done book signings in Waterstones, but we thought why not keep those champagne corks popping and celebrate with a launch at the central library with wine, food and all the trimmings.

We’d enlisted some young ‘actors’ from a local school to read sections of our books, we had an audience, talks, questions and book signings. The whole thing was a joyous celebration – and quite rightly so. Getting a book published has to be the highlight in any writer’s life

At the same time – or to be precise about three weeks earlier, I’d managed to get four of my out of print mystery stories up onto Amazon as ebooks. Fishing for Clues, Stealing the Show and Pushing his Luck had all been published ten years ago by Scholastic. The fourth mystery Pointing the Finger didn’t quite make publication. Proof and cover stage, yes, but it never actually got to the printing presses.

So a brand new story that had never seen the light of day and three old favourites. I’d often read extracts from my dwindling stocks of these mysteries when doing school visits – the problem was the kids got a taster but they weren’t able to buy these particular books.

So, with the coming of Amazon’s Kindle it was the logical solution to put them out as ebooks. So I set to, learning how to make one, re-formatting the four stories to bring them back to life. In a couple of cases it was a matter of re-typing the whole book as the original computer files were long gone.

Then came the editing, the checking and double checking, plus of course the new series needed a new name and logo and new cover designs. Lots of hard work and lots of blood, sweat and tears (okay, no actual blood) but lots of sweat and tears, until finally the books were all ready to actually go live.

The moment came, after numerous attempts at getting the books to look right, ebook number one, Fishing for Clues could finally go live. Drum roll…

I pressed the ‘Publish’ button.

Not a champagne cork in sight. Just a message to say it would be live in about 24 hours. Mmm! Okay. Slight anti-climax.

Then a day or so later, there was an email from Amazon – a nice congratulation email true enough, and when I went to Amazon, there was my lovely ebook, sitting there, published! Finally my story which hadn’t been available for anyone to read for umpteen years was back on the shelves – the virtual shelves.

But I couldn’t touch it, couldn’t hug or handle it, couldn’t sniff or feel the shiny pages, couldn’t sign it for a friend. There would be no book launch, no book signings, and popping the champagne corks sitting around my computer just didn’t feel quite right.

Books two, three and four followed, again with a huge sense of relief and some trepidation – but no fizz!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the ebook – I love ebooks! Authors finally have some power to their elbows, we aren’t reliant on agents and editors, we’re our own bosses, and it’s brilliant.

Maybe we just need to learn how to celebrate the success of producing an ebook, to recognise it as an achievement and acknowledge it as so. Probably making bookmarks, postcards and leaflets would help – just something to sign and give away to people.

I’d love to know how other ebook writers have celebrated the launch of their ebooks. Have those virtual champagne corks been popping? Or has it been the real bubbly stuff?


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Cover story - Karen Bush

I love this cartoon; it's a rough prepared by my friend Claire for a little joint project we hope to get under way at some point in the not-too-distant future. I've known Claire for over twenty years now: she used to illustrate a lot of my stuff when I was writing for PONY magazine, and when a publisher accepted a book I'd written and asked me to suggest a suitable illustrator for it, I immediately thought of Claire. She has a slightly dark, sometimes rather edgy humour that appeals to me - although she does also produce work in other styles. Since that first book she's gone on to illustrate several other books for me, as well as for others, putting that range of styles into good practice. Naturally, when it came to producing a cover for my Kindle book, I asked Claire to do it: I simply don't have the time or technical know-how, let alone the artistic bent for it. Knowing what you do and don't like is one thing, but producing something suitable from scratch is far more difficult. And although I'm excited to be able to be in complete control of the writing side of things for once, I've found from long experience that some things are best left to others more competent and better qualified for the task.

Claire had a think about it, and came back with a cover which was totally different from what I had expected - not a drawing for a start - but which I think is absolutely perfect: I not only really like it but for some reason I'm far more excited about it than when I've seen any of the covers on previous books I've written (some of which I didn't get any say in at all). She's even had interest expressed in the book as a result of people visiting her website and seeing the cover which is exciting - and a good reminder of just how important a cover is, whether it's for a paper book or ebook.

I'd have liked to have been able to announce that my ebook is now finally available, but although it's now finished, I've had to put it on hold for a little while as I've got a fairly pressing deadline coming up for a commissioned book which has to take precedence. Once it's sorted I'll have time to turn my attention to the matter of Kindling ... but meanwhile I just can't wait to show off my lovely cover, so here's a sneak preview ...

And if you're interested, you can view more of Claire's work at

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Awfully Big Online Litfest!

Awfully Big Blog Adventure

At 4.30pm today, Katherine Roberts and Susan Price talk about e-books and Kindle over at the Awfully Big Blog Adventure's first ever online literary festival.

The festival runs all this weekend and includes a great line up of professional children's authors, plus competitions, book giveaways and a chance to ask questions, all for FREE without the mud or the traffic jams. So what are you waiting for? Tell your friends and enjoy!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Outside My Comfort Zone by Lynne Garner

Before I begin I'll admit I feel a bit of a fraud as I've still not managed to publish a book on Kindle. This time last month I was all set to launch my new book. However things never go to plan and I am in the process of totally re-structuring the book before it goes to my proofreader. In the middle of restructuring the book I remembered I had two magazines features to write, some one-to-one coaching to do and a front cover to design.

Obviously when having a book traditionally published the publisher or packagers take care of cover design. I may get a chance to see a few mock-ups, perhaps ever say which cover I prefer but I've never had to design one. I have taught kitchen and produce design but with cover design I was working outside of my comfort zone. I therefore started where I would suggest my student's start, by researching covers with similar titles. I'll be honest that wasn't much help. They either looked dated, I knew there was no way I could achieve a similar result or I just didn't like them. Noticing some covers featured picture book characters I had a go at drawing my own. The following is one of the results of this experiment. The problem was as soon as I'd pressed save I knew I wouldn't be using them.

I researched further and noticed a few covers comprised just of words, so I gave this a try. The sample below is perhaps the best of a bad bunch:

I then remembered some photographs I'd taken years ago for another project, which never came to fruition. So I searched my archived files and there they were, photographs of a pad and pencil. In Photoshop I started to add text and a thin black border (as suggested on the Kindle forum). I began to like what I saw, but it wasn't quite there. Although I'm getting to grips with Photoshop everything I know has come from reading 'The Missing Manual' or by accident. It was by accident I discovered how to twist the text. I was getting:

But I decided I needed to take some new shots, this time with different coloured backgrounds and a small rubber duck (something that features in the book). Soon I was uploading a new set of images and 'playing' with fonts and layout. I ended up with four slightly different layouts . The sample below I think is the possible cover for my new book:

I'm more than aware that by the time my book is published on Kindle I could have had a complete change of heart and spent another day trying to create a front cover. However I now feel I'm one step nearer to my goal of becoming a published Kindle author and actually found I have enjoyed the experience of working outside my comfort zone. And you never know by the time it comes for me to blog here again my book will be up and with fingers crossed selling.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Dawn of Twilight - Debbie Bennett

I’ve just finished reading Twilight and its sequels New Moon and Eclipse. For the first time. If you haven’t heard of Twilight, you’re probably that person who got left behind on Mars when the tour bus left.

You’d have to have been on another planet to miss the uprising of the vampires in fiction, television, film and just about every other media outlet. Vampires aren’t new – Bram Stoker created Dracula (it’s free on kindle) and even then it’s alleged that his vampire was based on Eastern European mythology – don’t shoot me: I’ve done no research for this blog post. But Dracula was dark, the spin-off films were dark (think all the old Christopher Lee films and the more modern Van Helsing) and this breed of vampire is a dangerous beast. Then came Stephen King with Salems Lot (James Mason has the sexiest voice in the film version), Anne Rice and her Interview With The Vampire (the film version lost credibility for me - Tom Cruise? Really?) and the occasional other vampire film or novel, but nothing to really consider give up the vegetables for.

Along comes Stephenie Meyer and suddenly vampires are pink and fluffy. They sparkle in sunlight (bit of a giveaway, that – evolution has not been kind, has it?), they are drop-dead gorgeous and they no longer need to feed on humans. I have to admit I don’t get Edward Cullen. I mean he’s cold to the touch, doesn’t sleep and he’s dead, for heaven’s sake (or is heaven not appropriate here?). He may be every girl’s dream date, but would you really want to spend the rest of your life with a cold dead body? I guess I’m probably at least 30 years too old for the market at which this is aimed. But poor old Bella – she doesn’t have many options, does she? Cold dead vampire, hot smelly werewolf or the ultra-boring Mike-who-works-in-the-store. Is this not encouraging teenagers to go for the bad boy over the safe option? The modern equivalent of going out with the biker? Parents of teenagers – do you know who your daughter is dating tonight?

Personally, I’d go for the werewolf. Jacob sounds much sexier to me and you’d never need a hot-water bottle at night. And it’s a bit less of a commitment too – Bella has to become a vampire herself to spend eternity with Edward, so there’s no changing her mind later when she fancies a good curry instead of wild-animal blood. Whereas with Jake, she could share a rabbit or two, save on the fuel bills and then change her mind a few years later and go have babies with Mike-who-works-at-the-store.

At the younger end of the scale, there’s Young Dracula, and younger still is the cartoon Mona the Vampire, both depicting vampires as funny, cute and not at all dangerous. The main character in Young Dracula is not remotely interested in being vampiric, while his best (human) friend is desperate to be a part of it all. And the delightful Mona uses her talents to help other people – a vampire for Brownies.

The adult equivalent of Twilight must be Being Human. Vampires and werewolves living together, with a ghost thrown in for good measure. Vampire Mitchell is utterly gorgeous and even werewolf George is cute in his own way. But the flipside is while they are all striving to “be human” to the outside world, they can’t deny their true natures – this really is the struggle between good and evil played out against a 21st century background. Powerful stuff.

Long live the vampire doesn’t sound right really. Especially since the zombies are coming anyway.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The City - by EJ Barnes

Almost half my life ago, I started writing a book. I only had scraps of time to write it, and I did so on a flimsy desk squeezed into a corner of my small bedroom in London. Over the next few years I continued writing it, wherever I happened to be. In London there were sometimes cats fighting in the adjacent car park. In Cambridge, I camped out illicitly in the grandeur of a college residence, looking straight onto a Tudor gateway and a statue of Henry VIII. In the American West there were squirrels playing on the cables that criss-crossed the front of my apartment. Back in Britain, I found myself briefly in a bed-sit over a Thai restaurant.

My book – my epic, as my family came to call it - had begun with three persistent ideas and images. A girl abandoned on a lonely island with an old man, whose own history was mysterious to her. A Walled City under threat. And some fleeting, tenuous ideas about the nature of freedom, and whether it can ever be reconciled with communal safety.

I finished my book – books, it turned out – in an attic in Yorkshire. Two weeks later I nearly died – but that is another story. It did bring home the point that my epic was most of my life’s work, so far, and perhaps that is why I have struggled so hard since. I found I did not want to hawk it round publishers. I did not want to chop it up and restructure it into something completely different, but more in keeping with current publishing desires and dictates. I tried – but I could not do it.

Then I realised that there was an alternative. Soon I will release The City as an e-book. Here is how it begins.


They had been travelling in the thickest fog, but now, suddenly, it lifted. The moon was the palest disc in a sombre sky, casting its bars of light upon the sea. But it could not calm the waves, where they beat against the shore, their white spray swallowed by the shadow of the rocks. Nor could it light the looming walls and towers that rose, darker than night, out of the rock and into the winter sky.

Between the ramparts and the sea, the shore sent out its spiny fingers. Spurs of rock sliced the water as it crashed towards the land. In places, the eternal beating of the sea had created perforations, so that the rock resembled lace, in others it had moulded great elongated arches, whose centres had been worn away, and which would themselves eventually snap and crumble into the deeps. Yet still the vast bulk of the crags loured over the water, unbroken and indomitable.

The tall man seated in the front of the boat hunched his shoulders and shielded his face from the spray. Then he turned towards the other: a small, squat figure, wielding the oars.

"I do not see any way through this mess of rock."

"Still, I will find it."

"We will both be dashed to our deaths."

No reply.

"There can be no landing place."

"Yet I will take you there."

The tall man did not find this satisfactory. He seemed about to speak, then shrugged his shoulders and let it go. He sat, gazing into the night, as the other drove the boat onwards through the water.

At that hour and place, the shoreline did indeed appear a jagged mass of outcrops that no craft could survive. But now he seemed to forget that. His eyes were no longer on the rocks. They had risen to the vast black walls above.

"Not this way," he murmured to himself. "I would not have come this way."

His eyes were searching for something. At last, as their boat passed around yet another promontory, he found it. His eyes fixed on the blackness far above him. There was a notch there, high in the wall, where it met the sky. It was as if a vast chunk of stone had been bitten away: a gap, like a tooth pulled from a face. It was a small paleness in a dark mass that seemed to suck away all light.

A shiver passed through his body.

"I can hear him screaming," he said quietly. "Yes, I hear his screams again. They weep as they climb, but they scream as they fall. It will never leave me."

Silence, but for the waves.

"It has always been that way."

The tall man started, as if he had forgotten the rower's presence, that the boat did not move by itself through the water. Then he nodded, as if in acknowledgement. "Yes. It has always been that way. But I have preferred to forget it. And now I cannot forget." He gripped the side of the boat, so that his knuckles showed white. Then, deliberately, he turned his face towards the sea. Beads of sweat glittered on his forehead. Yet, as he watched the moonlight on the water, his face grew calm again.

With the sound of the waves they passed, weaving their way through the crinkles of the shore. Wisps of cloud passed across the moon. The boat moved more quickly now, moving with the tide, and the wind from the sea. At length, two spikes of rock reared up, like the watch towers on either side of a gate. The boat passed between and into a narrow channel, which grew shallower, until finally the boat grounded, with a dull grate, on the rough shingle of the cove.

A shadow detached itself from the sheltering cliffs and moved towards them.


It was a woman's voice, just audible against the waves.

He climbed from the boat and together they crossed the thin pebble strip into the shelter of the rocks. He studied her face in the moonlight. She was pale but calm, her expression unreadable. Her eyes were grey as the sea itself.

"So you found a way down."

"There are many ways.... more than you or I could imagine. I had a guide."

"Were you followed?"

She shrugged. "I do not know. We crept like rats through dark places. If we were followed, it no longer matters."

"And the decree? It still stands?"

"Oh yes. In all its provisions. How otherwise? For the greatest crime, the greatest penalty." Her voice was filled with bitterness.

In the moments that followed there was no sound but the waves, breaking more angrily now against the shore. Down by the water, the boatman shifted the craft, pulling it round in the sea.

"So. What is it you want of me?" he asked, at last. “Will you leave?”

"No. I have not been sent away. And I find there is nowhere else I want to go."

"Then why -"

“I have something for you. A trust, a gift.”

There was a flurry of cloth, and the small bundle that had been clasped invisible beneath her cloak was exposed to the air. It looked like a flour bag, heavy and shapeless; but suddenly there was a bleat, and a motion, as of something kicking out angrily within.

“It is…a child…” He was utterly bewildered.

“Yes. Take it.” She paused, then added, “I told you. The decree still stands.”

“But what shall I do with it?” he asked. She said nothing, only held it out to him. He took it, and stood holding it awkwardly. She was already turning to go. He stopped her.

"Remember. You have not seen me. You do not know my name."

"Indeed, you are nobody," she replied. "I do not know you. I do not know your name."

Friday, 1 July 2011

“Short stories do not sell...” – Katherine Roberts

This is one of those gems of publishing wisdom that rarely gets tested. Short story collections are believed not to sell, so they don't get published, which means they cannot sell (since readers obviously can't buy something that does not exist in book form). A self-fulfilling prophecy, in other words. But with a new way of bringing short stories to readers as e-books, maybe it's time to think again?

In theory, readers will enjoy any story that obeys this simple rule discovered in our local library:

Despite the popular concept of an "overnight success", authors seldom emerge on the publishing scene with a best-selling novel. It takes time to write something other people might want to read. It takes even more time to write a book a million others might want to read. In fact, it takes a surprising amount of time to write a novel nobody wants to read. That is why many writers cut their teeth on short fiction. Not that it’s easier to write a short story than a novel… far from it. You still need "a good beginning and a good end and a good bit in the middle", yet you've got less words to play with, so it can actually be harder to write. But it probably won’t take a year out of your life if you feel like trying. Many of these early short pieces will be learning experiences, but some will be publishable, and provided they obey the rule above those stories will sell.

A confession: when I started writing for publication, short stories were the ONLY thing I could sell. I was sending my early novels to publishers and agents at the same time, but managed to place around 50 short stories before I sold my first novel. Granted some of those short story “sales” were only free copies of the magazine in which they appeared. Others were token payments of around £10 or so. A few were competition winners (I think my biggest win netted me £500 – that story was published in a paperback anthology called Raconteur alongside stories by James Herriot and William Boyd... my early claim to fame!) I also sold a few non-genre stories to women’s magazines for three figure sums. Not too bad, really, considering the advance for my first novel was in the (very) low four figures. As far as I was concerned in those days, short stories did sell.

So “sales” from an author’s point of view is clearly something different from a publisher’s “sales”, which seems to mean number of copies sold regardless of how much actual profit is made from each book. But your publisher’s sales are the important figures once you sign a publishing contract, since these define your income in the long run (assuming you have a royalty agreement and are not working for a flat fee). So we should probably define "sell" in the above statement as “copies sold”, rather than a cash sum from the sale of first serial rights to a magazine, or prize money in a competition.

Of course, what publishers really mean by the above statement is “short stories do not sell as well as a novel by the same author.” I’ve read collections of short fiction by writers such as David Almond and Ursula Le Guin, so obviously they must sell in some sort of numbers. But a short story and a novel are not the same animal. A best-selling novelist is rarely an award-winning short story writer, and vice versa, so I can believe the figures for short stories and novels might differ. Since short story collections by authors with smaller novel sales are not usually published at all, might our saying really mean: “A collection of short stories by a best-selling novelist does not sell as many copies as a new novel by the same author?” Very likely true!

From an author's viewpoint, I would naturally prefer to publish a book that has a chance of selling more copies than the last one, not one saddled from the start with such a doom-laden prophecy as “short stories do not sell”. That’s why my own collection of short fiction has sat dormant in my files for several years. I briefly considered a print-on-demand edition for my fans, but shelved that idea because the price of each book would have been too high for all but the most dedicated collectors of my work. But with e-books I now have an affordable way of bringing my short fiction collection to readers. This also gives us a perfect opportunity to test this perceived gem of publishing wisdom. I have already published one of my novels as an e-book. If I now publish my short story collection and make it available at the same price on the same virtual shelf with the same amount of (tiny) publicity, I should be able to conduct an interesting experiment. Here it is...

I'll monitor the e-sales of my novel and the e-sales of my short story collection over the next few months and supply you with some figures. Yes, I realize this will just be me, a sample of one, not even "8 out of 10 authors". I might be the writer who breaks all the rules and proves to be the exception (one way or another). But other writers on this blog also have short story collections published alongside their novels, so maybe they will be able to supply some relative figures, too? I suspect publishers are absolutely correct, and my short story sales will turn out to be smaller than my novel sales. How much smaller, though? Time will tell.

Short story collection: Death Singer and other fantasy tales
Novel: Spellfall