Hey Presto - sez who? By Jan Needle

          When I decided to throw myself into the ebook world, I thought it would be easy. I got the impression you just got your book up into some sort of document, and pressed a few buttons, and hey presto. In fact, when I set out on this path, in October or November, I thought I’d be up and away in days.
KICKING OFF by Jan Needle
          Well – finally I’ve made it. Today my big new thriller – Kicking Off – hits the Kindle at last. It’s published simultaneously with Killing Time at Catterick, which means, sensation seekers, you can get two whole books, and nearly two hundred thousands words, for less than two quid the pair! Indeed a brave new world.
          My plan was, though, that these books would sit alongside two children’s titles, My Mate Shofiq and Albeson and the Germans, which have already had a bit of advance publicity thanks to a Radio 4 programme they were featured on. A multiple launch - and nothing, surely, could go wrong?
          Oh no? Well, a couple of nights ago, my techno-wizard son Matti Gardner forwarded an email from Kindle. Wanting, of all things, proof that I wrote Shofiq and Albeson. And it had to be documentary proof, no less!
          But what can one do in the electronic age? Even if I wrote out a document myself and signed it, how would I get it to them through the ether (or whatever medium emails zoom through)? How would they know I was me, in any case? Nobody exists, any more. Disembodiment is complete. Likewise, if I cited my appearance (appearance!) on the radio…well, what would that prove?
          To put the tin lid on it, I banged off a quick email response asking for clarification and help – and the computer sent it back. No such address. No such number. I wilted, then did it again. And off it went, with only a faint electronic laugh to show the computer had been enjoying a little modernistic joke. At my expense.
          The response was immediate. We’ll look at your email when we have time. You’re in a queue. But we should – we should – be able to respond, in a matter of days. So much for my big launch date. Both books are already up on Smashwords, but the evidence that British buyers use Smashwords seems a wee bit thin, at present. It’s back to patience, and the perennial wonder authors live with – is there somebody out there who absolutely hates me? And if so – WHY?
          However, Kicking Off, the biggest book, the enormous, racy thriller that is waiting to garner billions of 99pences (at 115,000 words not a bad price, I think), is now available. Cally Phillips has already done a review in indiebookreview@btinternet.com, and as you will see, her new site is very much geared to our electronic age. She writes:
          “Pages are small on ereaders. It’s a fact. Kicking Off is such a fast paced novel that it will keep your thumbs occupied as if you’re on a game console. That’s as much as to say it’s a real or virtual page-turner. Jan Needle’s new novel offers a unique perspective on the social ills of our country and an uncomfortable insight into the powderkeg that is our prison system, all delivered at break neck speed with an uncompromising hardness that reflects the seriousness of the subject matter.”
          My other book out on Kindle today, Killing Time at Catterick, is also very much a product of the new technology, and makes use of similar possibilities for revisiting difficult material. It was previously published under a pseudonym as The Skinback Fusiliers, and serialized on Open Democracy, an international forum for debate about international politics and culture, who have since submitted it for the Orwell Prize. That book had a rather personal foreword that I’ve chosen to expunge, and was highly praised by novelists and playwrights as diverse as Michael Rosen, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Laurence Boswell and Melvin Burgess. Like Kicking Off, Killing Time at Catterick is 99p. It seems to me that pricing ebooks is very much a matter for experiment. Love it!
          The other element of the brave new world I like is the possibility of learning and collaborating. Matti has done the tech for me and other people very cheaply (you can contact him at matti@gramatticus.com), but he’s also done the covers for Kicking Off, Killing Time at Catterick, Skinback Fusiliers, Albeson and Shofiq. Two other writer friends have joined the little venture, and we publish under the umbrella Skinback Books.
          Already up are Grass Roots and Summertime Blues, by double Bafta award winning TV playwright Barry Purchese (covers and tech by Matti), which will be followed very shortly by ‘J,’ by a highly successful northern artist who is using the pseudonym Margaret McCann. Barry’s books are short, and swift and funny, while ‘J’ is beyond categorization. It tells the story of a young art student who finds herself enmeshed in the darker sides of power games and exploitative sexuality.
          All these books are also going up at 99p. We hope it will be a Skinback Books ‘usp.’ All in all, we’re testing the waters – and living in hope!
          On a sadder note, Dennis Hamley wrote in his blog yesterday that author, Russian professor and Pompey fanatic Jim Riordan died on Saturday from a brain tumour, and I need to add a few words of my own because he was a huge man, in every way, and like everyone who knew him, I quite simply loved him.
I met him aeons ago by happy accident when I was doing a gig up in the Durham area. I heard this big voice behind me - rare for a learned professor to have such an unrestructured Portsmouth accent - saying 'You're from Pompey, aren't you, boy?' Big, beaming face, great hand thrust out. I confessed I was from Pompey, but had never even watched the team play, and he forgave me on the spot. We drank together until five the next morning.
When Dennis and I made a trip to Portsmouth to see Jim before Christmas he still outdrank me (Dennis was driving; a cast iron excuse), despite the fact he clearly did not have long left. And he was still cheerful, and funny, and beautiful. Commiserations to all of us, and particularly his family and wonderful Russian widow, Elena. He will be missed indeed.
          Here are the links to all the books I've mentioned. Did I say they were all at 99p????

Kicking off:

Killing Time at Catterick:

By Barry Purchese:
Grass Roots:
Summertime Blues:

On Smashwords:
My Mate Shofiq
Albeson and the Germans


Kathleen Jones said…
Good luck with the books Jan!
Linda Newbery said…
Congratulations, Jan. That is a great cover for KILLING TIME AT CATTERICK.
Dennis Hamley said…
Great blog, Jan. And thanks for the account of when you first met Jim.

Albeson and the Germans. I remember when it came out: about the same time as my Pageants. I remember hoping that Pam Royds really did have the talent to pick winners. Well, she did, though I'm not going to say who. Albeson had a theme which fascinated me - and always has. I've been tackling it in different ways all my writing life: how to effect reconciliation and friendship with people I like and admire even though they were such a baneful influence on my childhood, who ruled entirely my consciousness up to the age of nine as our implacable enemy. I don't want to sound like some old git living in the past, even though I am, but I think that only our generation can really understand that. Albeson is a great book.

And I'll tell Amazon myself if you want me to: of course you wrote it. Who else could? Can't they read?
CallyPhillips said…
Ah ha... proof that the world, even the cyber one is very small. Barry Purchese (unwittingly) gave me my first TV screenwriting credit. In 1999 I was flung into BBC by my agent without any clue what was going on to be told I was to step in for Barry Purchese who was having a hip op or somesuch (they could have been lying and now I may find out!) and subsequently wrote Don't Let Go (very quick turnaround which was VERY nice) He was my double hero then because of course I was of the Grange Hill generation. So now that he's got an indie ebook out you can be sure I'm about to click and add it to my review pile. Say thanks to Barry when you see him - and find out if the story 'I was nearly touched by greatness' is true.
AND don't worry the epub thing does get a bit easier the more experience you get, but it's still a lot harder than it should be....
madwippitt said…
Good luck with the books - that's a great review you've had already!
julia jones said…
Great that you've got there - and many congrats to Matti. Where would we be without him? Am looking forward to reading both books though fear I may need one hand to clutch a whisky if the true and necessary details threaten to overwhelm the gently-nutured country dweller.
Jan Needle said…
julia, you mun close yore oys and think of country matters, me deario. and i've just received another lesson in the mysteries of the net. son matti emails me to say kindle have lifted the ban, now believing me is really me, apparently, but they didn't tell me, altho it was me who emailed them and bleated. all got to go through a third party, it would seem. so two new links for anyone who's feeling flush:my mate shofiq is http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0078W05XU
cally, i've told barry you've mentioned him. watch this space...

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