Monday, 31 August 2015

The Great Gorino - by Richard Rapaport

"Hello, this is Gore Vidal," the sardonic East Egg baritone from the receiver rendering identification redundant, "is Richard there?" I stammered a return greeting and his voice continued, "I read your story," and then halted.

That previous Sunday in June 1982, a story of mine about Gore Vidal's campaign for the California Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, had indeed run. The early '80s boom in newspaper classifieds at least partially explained the luxuriant length of my "perspective" piece entitled The Plight of the Writer in Politics which keyed off the upcoming Democratic primary pitting Vidal against soon-to-be-ex-Governor-and-later-to-be-Governor-again, Jerry Brown.

For most of an hour the novelist, screenplay-writer, wit, social critic, television personality, movie actor and, what few seemed to recognize, very much the politician, held forth. We talked about his Senate campaign and the primary election several weeks hence; Jerry Brown, the eventual party nominee and ultimate loser in November to Republican Pete Wilson, was leading. Polls, however, showed Vidal running a noble second. We talked about the premise of my story that in 20th Century America writers seemed institutionally disqualified from serious consideration for political office.

In the piece, I referenced Vidal alongside writer/politicians like Benjamin Disraeli, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle. The bulk of the story was dedicated to a comparison between Vidal and Upton Sinclair, the famed socialist, writer and "muckraker's muckraker", who had terrified California's establishment by nearly winning the Governorship in the deep depression year of 1930.

Tinkling all the right xenophobic keys, the Republican right ran one of history's muckiest campaigns, complete with Hollywood-produced newsreels seemingly featuring every extra in Los Angeles portraying grimy, wild-eyed, boxcar-riding Reds on their way to pillage California and not coincidentally to vote for Upton Sinclair. I tried to make the point that, sixty years later, Vidal was fighting the same prejudice that marred Sinclair's run: "Upton was beaten," one of his opponents famously remarked, "because he wrote books."

Through the course of our phone conversation, Vidal never did expand on his cryptic remark, "I read your story". I decided, however, that this must be writerly shorthand for approval. Bearing the interpretation out, Vidal made what to him might have been simply a pleasantry but to me a grand invite indeed. "Oh yes," he said with the polite diffidence once characteristic of the American ruling class, "if you happen to be in Europe this summer, why not come visit us in Ravello?" La Rondinaia, Vidal's cliff-top aerie on the Amalfi Drive near the ancient city of Paestum. La Rondiaia was also where the “A List” gathered, figures like Princess Margaret, Nureyev, and Tennessee Williams and others of this meeting place for America's shrinking pool of literates and other celebrities. I quickly made up my mind that the coming summer I certainly would "happen" to be in Europe.

During the campaign, I had achieved a certain hanger-on status. Ever the freelancer, I deemed it unnecessary to mime the reductio skepticism of the "real" reporters. Vidal would thus occasionally communicate to me his disappointment at the varying degrees to which other political writers would sup at his brainy banquet and then question his electoral bonafides. Inevitably, a news-desk-pleasing campaign appearance would be chilled by the stopper, "but really Mr. Vidal, are you serious?"

Serious, Mr. Vidal really was. Over the course of the campaign, he repeatedly proved so by devouring Jerry Brown's political lunch at a series of joint appearances and debates. Vidal would convulse the brighter bulbs, and genuinely perplex poor Jerry when he cited the Governor's seven major campaigns in little over a decade as example of what he considered a major shortcoming of American electoral politics; that, as Vidal would retort, "you never get a chance to think."

According to Vidal, "if you sat Jerry Brown down and asked him why are you running, are you mad?" Vidal quizzed this queried one evening that summer in Ravello, "I bet he would go absolutely blank." The proposition seemed to me true enough, because, as Vidal maintained, "you're not supposed to ask them why they run. They run because it's a compulsion."

Fast-forward a quarter century. So many things circa 2012 have changed beyond recognition. Include among these was Gore Vidal's departure from the world he loved so to hate at the exorbitant age of 86. No more will the roaring lion-of-the-left grumpily survey the acrid fruits of American political life about which he has so long and so exquisitely complained. Among that bitter harvest certainly count the latest turn in the career of the now once-again California Governor, the-one-and-the-same Jerry Brown, against whose campaign mania Vidal so long ago counseled. From his now heavenly haunt, Vidal must surely be amused but only just the slightest bit.

How different are today's campaigns, including Jerry Brown's latest successful races for California governor from Vidal's 1982 Senatorial run. Now there was a campaign that lived at a level of rollicking thoughtfulness as dodo-dead as it was leagues beyond the expected campaign yuck and yack. Vidal's was one of those gaudy, effervescently liberal crusades, reminiscent of Adlai Stevenson's runs for the Presidency, Gene McCarthy's 1968 "flower-power" campaign and indeed Vidal's own unsuccessful 1960 run for Congress from Duchess County, New York. In that race, the titular head of the campaign was Vidal’s friend and mentor, the sublime Eleanor Roosevelt. It was Mrs. R. who instilled in Vidal the upper-crusty, good-government notion that "one speaks to the people to educate them."

Twenty-two years and a dozen books, screenplays and collected essays later, Vidal was once again testing that goo-goo proposition, although few actually understood how precisely Vidal fit the founding fathers' model for a United States Senator. Raised in Washington D.C., the grandson of the sightless Democratic Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas P. Vidal, Gore Vidal – he changed his name in Prep school to the more literary Eugene Luther Gore Vidal- he had literally led the nation's most noteworthy blind politician on and off the Senate floor. Through that familial, familiar lens, Vidal viewed the upper Federal Chamber as had the founders had, as a forum where the nations wisest, most accomplished and secure could serve their Republic, impart lifetime lessons and then, damn it, just go home.

Semi-stepbrother of Jacqueline Kennedy, a Camelot intimate (at least until an-entirely-unclear-on-the-sexual-identity-concept Robert F. Kennedy assaulted the Gay Vidal paying too much attention to Jackie), Vidal had spent the intervening years thinking deeply and writing well about the American polity. In 1982, however, it was once again impossible to ignore that harping inner voice instructing him to do what he was seemingly born to do, run for office.

For Vidal, the campaign compulsion grew more onerous as it rolled along. "It's terrible for the character," he told interviewers about the toll of campaigning. He would then wait that famously precise quarter note beat before adding puckishly, "My own is deteriorating right before your very eyes."

I didn't happen to think so, but someone who did was a writer from the San Francisco Chronicle named Randy Shilts. Randy billed himself as the nation's first openly Gay mainstream newspaper reporter, and would soon gain fame as the author of "The Mayor of Castro Street," as well as "And the Band Played On." The latter, a 1987 deconstruction of the ravening AIDs plague would ironically and tragically precurs Randy's own demise from the disease.

Somewhat blinded -- I felt - by the light of his coming-out-hood, Randy had confronted Vidal over his refusal to declare himself, as Randy insisted he should, as America's first openly gay Senatorial candidate. Vidal had asked me to remain on several occasions as he took Randy aside and patiently explained that “although it’s no secret,” my sexuality was not a thing gentlemen of my generation comfortably advertised and his own Goddamned business.” About his Gayness, and everyone else’s for that matter. All Vidal would puckishly add was that 1) There was no homosexuality only homosexual acts and 2) you should take every advantage of every chances to get laid and to appear on television.”

Randy took it all badly, and then took it upon himself to pillory Vidal with some unnecessarily nasty reportage. I made it my own brief to explain to Randy that his behavior and critique were neither fair nor particularly professional. Between us, several noisy confrontations occurred, though to little effect. His Chronicle reporting continued to damage Vidal's campaign and ultimately helped, I felt, diminish any small chance he might have had to win the nomination. I was again reminded of that confrontation when, last year, Vidal included a piece of mine as a chapter, attributed of course, in his then-latest memoir the well-named "Point to Point Navigation."

It thus happened, however, that on a quiet, torrid Sunday afternoon in July 1982, I "happened" to be standing on the Piazza Garibaldi outside Naples' Centrale train station looking for a car to drive me up to Ravello. As we climbed the stony, scary Amalfi Drive switchbacks, my cab driver ascertained my destination as La Rondinaia. This knowledge caused him to shout out in great mirth "ah ha, you go to see Il Gorino!"

I learned that Ravellans liked to refer to the man they thought of as their very own celebrity American writer as what roughly translated into "the Great Gorino." The following year, in fact, Ravello made Vidal an honorary citizen. That week in July, I discovered a different Vidal from the glossy, self-consciously measured Senatorial candidate I had covered.

Staying at the house that week were two guests, Kathleen Tynan, widow of the recently deceased theater critic, Kenneth Tynan, and New York Review of Books co-founder, Barbara Epstein. In the evening, Howard Auster, Vidal's long-time companion, filled our glasses in La Rondinaia's vaulted book-lined study, while Vidal asked us to fill him in on happenings in the "States". Unsurprisingly perhaps, one of the world's great talkers turned out to be a highly accomplished listener.

Rather than hold forth, Vidal would sit quietly on a couch in the study, and insisted “we entertain him". This could be daunting. The library opened onto a deck beyond which was a heartbreaking view down the Amalfi coast. It was a stretch to keep your logical train on track while the smoldering Neapolitan sun extinguished itself behind Capri.

One afternoon, Vidal hired an ancient vaporetto and its nearly as-ancient skipper to transport us up the coast. The little yellow-canvas-canopied craft languidly putt-putted along, we swam, and dined on fruite de mer at a restaurant carved into a cliff on the Gulf of Salerno. Vidal, who as a candidate hid his physique inside of exquisitely cut suits, was a good swimmer and led us into a fantastical, cobalt-dappled grotto etched out by the sea. When we returned, Vidal noticed that Barbara Epstein was having trouble debarking and literally cradled her in his arms as he carried her ashore.

The nights were devoted to outdoor bistros on the plaza in Ravello, where the tomatoes were luscious and the local green wine viciously unfiltered. Seated at the table's head, Vidal played every bit the seigneur, greeting the townspeople, dozens of whom would come by to pay their respects. It was hard not to reference his acting in the final scene of Federico Fellini's 1972 film, "Roma," which catches an effusive, younger Vidal seated in a cafe along the Via Veneto. "What are you doing in Rome?" the off-camera voice of the filmmaker queries in English. To which Vidal shouts back, "If the world is coming to an end, what better place than Roma?" The mornings in Ravello just felt like the end of the world, lost as they were to the hot-poker-to-the-forehead result of matching Il Gorino glass for glass of the deadly local brew.

Irrespective of hangover, Vidal would descend the steps down the Ravello hillside for his daily sea swim. On the final day in Ravello, Vidal walked me down to the sun-drenched piazza in front of the Positano cathedral. As I waited for my taxi, Vidal spoke about his now-completed California campaign, my nascent career as a pundit, the fate of California and the ongoing wages of empire. About to depart, I posed a question that stilled puzzled me about the campaign. As an author, I asked him, did he mind that his writings had been fair game for the opposition. Il Gorino smiled a tight, regretful smile, and responded just a little dreamily, "wouldn't that have been wonderful."

As a veteran investigative journalist who loves biography, RICHARD RAPAPORT inhabits a realm in which poetry, culture and politics not only coexist, but inform and strengthen one another. His latest book, California Moderne and the Mid-Century Dream: the Architecture of Edward H.Fickett, was published earlier this year. He is currently at work on Joe’s Boys, about the friends and enemies of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s Red Scare, due out in 2016. He has written extensively for national magazines, including in-depth stories about high-tech and culture in Ireland, China, Israel and Bosnia for Forbes Magazine.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Newfoundland Vampire - Charles O'Keefe

While I’m not usually the most profound person (and I don’t think the Material Girl is either) there is a line from a Madonna song that goes an unexamined life is not worth living and I have to agree with her. I think one of the best parts about being a creative person is the ability to look at your own life and imagine how it could have been different. What if you had gone out with that woman from residence instead of meeting someone online? What if you had taken that job out of town instead of playing it safe with one close by? What if vampires were real? What if you met one, would you want to be turned?

Obviously some questions can go more into fantasy that just what ifs but my point is that for me writing The Newfoundland Vampire wasn’t just an exploration of the vampire nature (along with some geeky fun, sex and plenty of action of course), it was also a journey down memory lane, with a twist. If you had the chance to make different choices, would you? For me I think my life could have turned out very different with different choices made and while in reality I can’t change the past, in a fantasy setting like my novel, I could do whatever I wanted.

I’m not saying I’m unhappy with my life but like most people I wonder, think about the road not taken. I think if a certain sexy redheaded vampire was real, I would have followed her anywhere. Aside from all this introspection, I also wanted to produce something using my imagination and be recognized for it, have people appreciate it and even make a little money.

Letting your imagination take off and bringing a story to life is a great thrill, one that couldn’t have happened without Kathy (my editor at Distinguished Press), friends, family and my own determination. Putting out a novel isn’t easy, it’s a labour of love but one for me that was well worth it in the end. Joseph, my alter ego and main character of the book, gets to do things I never will (as well as things I would never want to do). I wanted to express my feelings and ideas on topics both fun and serious, my love of Dungeons and Dragons, board games and Star Trek. The importance of helping others, helping the environment, being a vegetarian and caring for your family and friends is all in there too.

Writing this book was the best way I could think of to express my thoughts, feelings and my imaginary world. I hope you’ll spend some time there, it’s something I want to share with everyone and it’s a place where I hope you’ll have as much fun learning about as I did creating.

Oh and don’t worry, there’s more stories to come, book two should be out in November and book 3 is already written. Thanks for stopping by and I hope to hear from you sometime in the future.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Avoiding the scaffolds: N M Browne

Image from BBC News Plymouth web page
So, I have an apology to make: the last time I blogged I lied. 
 I thought that once my submission draft of the book-of-strange-directions was finished I’d have lots of useful tips to share on becoming a best seller, breaking the internet and tweeting up a twitter storm. As you, dear reader, have yet to hear from me, you may safely assume that none of the above has actually happened. Maybe next month.
 In lieu of sharing the secrets of my yet-to-be-achieved success, I can confess that I am clearing the decks for an academic project.  I won’t bore you with the details of that except to point out that the prospect of academic writing has made me realise how much I adore making things up all day. So, as I tidy my desk and try to refigure my brain, I am drawn inevitably to pretty well  anything that isn't study. Obviously it would be stupid to start something new when I’ve a lot of clever intellectual stuff to be doing, but refining something old, slightly rejigging the odd character, surely there’s time for that?
  As all writers know, that way madness lies. If I haven’t time to write something new, I definitely don’t have time for something old.
  Something old and unpublished inevitably needs the literary equivalent of a wrecking ball.
 I am a fan of ‘Grand Designs’, the TV show, which documents, in humiliating detail, the tribulations of would-be homeowners overseeing their own building project.  If you’ve ever watched it, you will know that rebuilding and preserving an existing building takes twice as long and costs three times as much as starting from scratch. We long time viewers, observe with shameful schadenfreude  as the bright eyed, optimistic enthusiasts of the opening sequence, with their plans and their budgets and their intact marriages, are reduced to gibbering near-ruin. They camp in leaking caravans in the rain when some technological key stone gets stuck in Germany for months, foundations sink and the bespoke glass imported from one small factory in Iceland is three centimetres too small. Let me tell you: rewriting is worse than that.
At least in rebuilding you are unlikely to end up with a one bedroom bungalow when you hoped for a four bedroom semi. Not so with rewriting: if you are suitably critical of your own prose it is not un likely that a hefty 600,000 word trilogy could be radically repurposed into  a 2,000 word short.
I have a couple of books that need that kind of overhaul: a nice little third person chick lit romance in need of a much funnier first person voice, a ghost and maybe a new love interest and don’t get me started on my menopausal demon novel, which is funny in all the wrong places and plotwise several sandwiches short of a picnic.
However, because I am an experienced writer and an avid viewer of 'Grand Designs' I am not going to mess with either of them. I’m going to step away from my keyboard, pick up my new student’s back pack and walk very deliberately to the library.  Honest.

Friday, 28 August 2015


I've just been reading Wendy Jones's blog on this site. For a best-seller, and also someone so positive about publicity, I found it disconcerting that she omitted to name herself as the blog's author - I had to scroll through the date column on the right to find it.

Otherwise, I was impressed, but at the same time, somewhat questioning. Does Wendy enjoy other people's publicity? Like most people, I find advertising generally irritating, and for that reason, I've installed an ad blocker on my computer, but... if we don't tell people about our work,  and if it isn't mentioned in the media, how is anyone going to find it? I've recently been singing out about my two picture books which are finally on sale in my local Sainsbury's, albeit in the DVD section and at a ridiculously low price (but hey! I've got my advance and the royalties are trickling in).

Recently I've managed to re-publish as an e-book "KACHUNKA!" - my much-loved junior novel from the Nineties, published by Walker Books. The result isn't perfect, and I clearly have much to learn - I may well un-publish and edit (what a wonderfully flexible system e-publishing is). I naively assumed that Mrs Kachunka would live for ever, and was only informed of her decease when I was going to the Northern Children's Book Festival in Newcastle to publicise my Y/A novel, "FOR MARITSA WITH LOVE", and I wanted to take some "KACHUNKA!" s to sell. It was a shock.

 But working my way through the text again, I was suddenly struck by the presence of recurring archetypes in my writing (any shrinks out there?) notably a down-to-earth, powerful old (or ageless) woman. In "MY MOTHER'S DAUGHTER", she has a form of dementia which makes her commune with angels - explicable because she's a simple, devout Welsh chapel-goer a bit like my mum was. My 'Mrs Kachunka' is a powerful female/cat alien wearing charity-shop clothes, and convincing the most unlikely people that they are 'everything'  ( this book has always appealed to Buddhists, but my contact with Buddhism has been minimal). And the smelly ancient female  'clochard'  on the Paris Metro in MARITSA - she's yet another one. Where do these characters come from? I look back at my own life, and can't really find them. Do you discover disconcerting archetypes in your own writing? Interestingly, in my two unpublished adult novels they're totally absent.

Now to bad, wicked, despicable women. I've been developing one in a junior novel I'm working on. She's a demon, several millenia old and very glam and glitzy - I think, at present, we rather like our villainesses to be sexy, although the stepmother in Sally Gardner's "I, CORIANDER" is far from that - she is simply ugly and evil, and one of the nastiest bad stepmothers I have ever encountered. This book, of which I'd never heard, was described somewhere as a classic of children's literature, so I thought I should read it, and it's well worth it. Sally's an illustrator, too, like Chris Riddell - it must be wonderful to be able to do the two things simultaneously.

Are novels a form of Virtual Reality? Yes, I think they are. Do writers suffer (or not suffer, but enjoy) a mild, but creative, form of Multiple Personality Disorder? Yes, I think we do. We give birth to characters, but then they often take over. I have a very close friend whose daughter suffers from schizophrenia, which, in her case, takes the form of loathesome voices inside her head. She is about to take part in a psychological experiment in which avatars will mimic these voices, and she will respond. The results should be very interesting, and at the very least maybe tell us more about ourselves and what it means to be human. Joan of Arc heard voices, and what she, a peasant girl, did in response has gone down in history.

And still on the subject of the human condition, if you're in Edinburgh right now, do try to make it to "SPILLIKIN" at the Pleasance ( This unique production features a real, working robot, and it's a love story about a guy suffering from a terminal illness who programs a robot to take care of his wife in her old age. It's already attracted five star reviews, and it's both thought-provoking and unmissable. My daughter's company's latest production - go see.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Do Reviews Sell Books? – Andrew Crofts

Following Sandra’s Horn’s post last week, “That Selling Thing”, I thought it might be useful to consider whether good reviews actually sell books.

A few months ago I blogged here about producing a hardback of my novella, Secrets of the Italian Gardener through Red Door Publishing, and hiring Midas PR to send copies out to the traditional book reviewing marketplace in the same way they would send a new book from one of the traditional publishers – a copy of the book plus a press release.

The book had received plenty of reviews on Amazon but I know that it needs to get “out there” more.

Midas, who are probably the biggest and most successful PR consultancy in the publishing business, did exactly as they were asked and then there was the sort of silence that you would expect to happen while the reviewers read the book, wrote their reviews and their editors considered whether to run them.

A couple of months later a nice review appeared in the Daily Mail Literary Fiction section – huge international circulation because of the whole “Mail On-line” phenomenon. Then a good, short review in The Lady magazine. These were then joined by an absolutely brilliant piece on the excellent Vulpes Libris literary blog, I truly could not have asked for a better review.

It’s still early days and there may well be more coverage in the pipeline, but if not then I have to consider how valuable these have been. There has been no immediate impact on sales that I can discern, but I still think the exercise was worth doing. I now have some cracking quotes to add to the Amazon reviews on my website and anywhere else where the book is being promoted. They add credibility to the project if not actual sales. The Vulpes Libris piece has also been taken up by other blogs, meaning that it is reaching yet more “eyeballs”.

I guess creating a reputation for a book is like building a wall, one brick at a time, and each good review is one more brick in that wall, until eventually you reach a critical mass and the wall becomes visible to the naked eye.

There is also the bonus of having one’s morale lifted, if only temporarily, with this evidence that there are other people out there who do not think I have completely wasted my time in writing this story.

The most obvious lesson, however, is that reviews alone are not going to bring a book to the necessary “tipping point” of bestsellerdom, no matter how glowing they may be, and authors have to be continually thinking of new ways to spread the word.

I’m thinking now about Bookbub. Does anyone out there have experiences of that service, either good or bad?  

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Gorey has an E in it - by Ruby Barnes

I remember many summer holidays from my childhood. While my school friends were off burning their fair skin on the Costa del Sol, us lot stuck to the delights of the British Isles. My father was afraid of flying and my mother had a Scottish complexion that couldn't take bright sunlight or temperatures above a warm English summer's day. That was the reason given for our reluctance to leave the island. Or maybe we just didn't have the money.

Pinewoods at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England
English holidays, old-style

Our first family holidays involved camping in tents. Later we progressed to a caravan towed by whatever monster of a banger my father had recently purchased from a dodgy dealer. Then we upgraded to renting a mobile home (yes, old-fashioned British people go to trailer parks for their holidays!) on a large serviced site next to the sea in Norfolk, bringing kayaks on the roof rack of another dilapidated car and paddling around the salt marshes behind the dunes when weather permitted. Other times sitting on the harbour wall and fishing for crabs with whelks for bait. Of course it rained - a lot. Bad weather entertainment consisted mainly of reading. Fortunately we were all bookworms.

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England
Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England

Fast forward to today and the current Ruby generation decided to stay on our island for this year's holidays. The island of Ireland, as we've fled the UK following various incidents with axes and tomato ketchup (or maybe that was just in one of my novels, I do get confused between fiction and reality). The realities of supporting Marble City Publishing and managing cashflow did influence our decision not to return to Switzerland again this summer, or Tenerife or some other mosquito-infested destination. Mrs R's Auntie Minnie provided us with a fast-track springboard to the advanced domestic holiday experience of her mobile home on a private seaside site. (Yes, trailer park holidays are a sought-after venue in Ireland as well!)
Three bedrooms, power shower, all mod cons. Okay, the mobile home was the same one Mrs R had stayed in as a child but it had charm. And the local shop had wine. After a few days of huddling behind the windbreak on the beach, listening to the pouring rain on the roof, reading all the books we had brought and separating the feuding ninjas as they fought over board games, we decided to head into the nearest metropolis.
'Is that how you spell gory?' Eoin asked me as we drove into the Wexford town of Gorey.
'No,' I said. 'This Gorey has an E in it.'
'But doesn't gory mean blood and guts?' Eoin responded.
'Yeah, like ninjas cutting the heads off zombies with their samurai swords?' Alannah added.
'Let's find out,' Mrs R said and we parked up.
After a nice lunch in a bistro we wandered the rain-lashed streets, looking for a bookshop to fuel our reading requirements. Both the kids had latched onto a couple of authors and were looking for more titles by them.
'Here,' said Mrs R. 'The Book Café.'

Zozimus at the Book Cafe, Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland
Zozimus at The Book Café, Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland

It was the kind of place Mrs R has always dreamed of owning and running. A quaint café attached to a bookshop. In we walked, past the cakes and buns, through to a higgledy piggledy display of books.
'Ugh,' I said. 'It's a secondhand bookshop.'
As an author, I'm perversely disinterested in bookshops. I can never lay my hand on something interesting, my memory goes almost blank, any title that springs to mind is out of print and the piles of promoted titles leave me cold. Secondhand bookshops, in my limited experience, are worse still with mouldering piles of unwanted paperbacks that people have discarded as not worth reading again.
Reluctantly I followed Mrs R in. As I was pretending to browse the shelves I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation between a man sat at a desk (presumably the bookshop owner) and a couple who were buying something.
'I choose all of them individually,' the owner said. 'Each title is hand-selected by me.'
'Where do you find them?' the woman asked.
'All kinds of places. Car boot sales. Charity shops are a great source of good books. I only pick the ones I know will be interesting to my customers.'
My pretense at browsing became a little more serious. I noticed that the mismatched books on the shelves, looking like an untidy home bookcase, were meticulously ordered, alphabetically by author surname. Then I noticed the genre was strongly managed. I moves to another area of the bookshop and found several thrillers that I remembered reading. Sifting through my memories, I recalled author after author whose books I had enjoyed and soon tracked down the titles I had read. Opening the covers, the price was written inside in pencil. Some were €3, some were €4. A gathering and hoarding urge came over me. I would buy every book I had ever read. After picking up and putting down book after book I came to my senses and just enjoyed the experience.
It was only when we returned to internet land that I discovered exactly what this Aladdin's Cave was. Zozimus is the name of the shop behind the café. It has an inventory of over 30,000 books across a wide range of genres, with everything from bestsellers of yesteryear to first edition rarities. The owner's name is John Wyse Jackson and he has an interesting pedigree in bookselling, as well as having written and edited several books himself.
We left the bookshop with one title each. I found a hard to come by copy of The Fallen & other stories by John McKenna. John was one of my writing tutors at NUI and had won the Irish Literature Prize for First Book with this publication in 1993. As I paid the €4, I asked the owner if he ever wanted to keep any of the books he found.
'Oh yes,' he said. 'I just take them home.'
He handed me my McKenna book and I hoped he would mention what a great talent the author was and I could share a few stories of John's wit, ride on his coat tails and become new best friends with the bookshop owner. But he didn't.
Anyhow, in other news there is a new thriller coming out soon. Kill Them Twice, co-authored by eveleigh & turner. If Kill Them Twice should ever make it onto John Wyse Jackson's shelves then I wonder would he place it under E or T? By the way, that turner chap seems to bear a remarkable resemblance to someone I know ...

Kill Them Twice by eveleigh and turner
Release date 4th September 2015

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Adventures in CreateSpace by Susan Price

We seem to be blogging a lot about CreateSpace just recently.
A Flash In The Pen

     I have a CreateSpace confession. It was my job to turn Authors Electric's first anthology of short stories, A Flash In The Pen, into a CreateSpace paperback. I said I'd do it - I thought I could do it - and I made a right pig's ear of it.

When you log on to C/S, you download a template, into which you paste your book. They give you a choice of a 'blank' template which has little except the formatting for page lengths - and the formatted template, which has formatting for front and back matter, page-numbers, and headers for title and author name at the top of the page.
     For my very first C/S venture, years ago, I used the formatted template, and got hopelessly confused and frustrated by it.
     So I ditched it, and used the blank template, with which I got on okay. You simply paste your whole book into the template and off you go. There may be a bit of fiddling with chapter headings, but that's about it.
     But there are no page numbers with the blank template - unless you're a good enough programmer to add them yourself. Which I am not.
     A collection of short stories really needs page numbers because if most readers are anything like me, they don't read a book of stories in consecutive order. They look at the contents page, pick one they like the sound of, read that, and then return to the contents page to choose another.
      I asked the other Electrics what to do and was advised me to try the formatted template again. Since their advice has always been good, I followed it.
ACreateSpace Template
      The formatted template has pre-set pages for title-page, copyright page, acknowledgements and contents. Then it has ten chapters, with pre-set chapter titles, followed by 'Insert chapter one text here.  Insert chapter one text here. Insert chapter one text here...' Or chapter two text, or chapter nine, as it may be.
       You have to copy in each chapter title individually, overwriting what's already there. Then you paste in each chapter or story, in place of 'insert chapter... text here...' Afterwards, of course, you delete 'insert chapter X text here...'
     CreateSpace automatically justifies, adjusts page lengths and adds page numbers.

     But only ten pre-formatted chapters are supplied. Everything went well up until chapter ten - but I had 29 stories to paste in.
     At first, I copied one of the previous stories in at the end, then overwrote it with the next story. This worked well for a while - until, at some point, I accidentally picked up a bit of formatting from the 'back matter' of the book, and it all went skew-whiff, not to mention pear-shaped. Pages starting appearing with three lines on them, or with everything centred.
     Debbie and Chris - always the first Electrics to turn to with technical problems - advised me to download another template, and this time copy extra chapters from the middle of the book. In this way, I would avoid picking up code for the front or back matter.
     Chris advised doing this as your first task, before you do anything else - copy chapters from the middle of the template until you have enough for the book you intend to make, plus a few spares.
      I felt a right numpty for not thinking of this for myself. But it's advice I won't forget. Thank you, Chris.
     After some repetitive copying in of C/S chapters seven and eight, I had enough chapters - and succeeded in getting all 29 short stories in place, complete with page-numbers.

Karen, with sub-editor
     But there were still more problems - which made our editor, Karen, tear her hair when she saw them. One story alone, out of the 29, was unjustified. And there were fonts of different sizes and styles scattered randomly throughout the book.
     A little directed concentration mostly solved the stray and wandering fonts and sizes. The other Electrics spotted them straight away, so I suppose it was a case of familiarity having blinded me to it.
Looking closely, to check that all the headings were also the same  style/size  just never occurred to me. I had assumed that the formating took care of that. Obviously, I'm not editor material, and should put down my mouse, raise my hands and step away from the screen.

     The single unjustified story came about in this way - this one story just would not behave. It would appear with half a page of print on one page and three lines in the middle on the next. Sentences stopped mid-way across the page, or were centred.
      A bit of stray code had found its way in somewhere, and I could not track it down. It wasn't the case, this time, that I had scooped up code from the CreateSpace formatting of 'back-matter' - it was in the story itself. It didn't seem to be causing any trouble in the e-book version, but for some reason, burst into action in the CreateSpace one. (Or maybe Karen is just better at wrangling code than I am.)
          In the end, I went nuclear - that is, I cut that one story out of the anthology, copied it into Notepad, which strips out all the formatting code, and then copied it back into Word. I pasted it back into the CreateSpace book, and went through adding all the paragraph indents, italics, centering etc, by hand.
     But I forgot to justify. That's my justification.
     At least, it was a simple things to fix. I just went into the CreateSpace document, highlighted that story, and clicked 'justify.' Instant justification. O, the wonder of computers. - Of course, that altered the page numbers...
     Which brings me to the problem with the contents page.

     The 'contents' page is preformatted, with a table. In one column you put chapter title - or story and author. In the other column you put the page number. I haven't tangled with tables much, and failed to wrangle this one.
     One very long title pushed the column of numbers over, resulting in a sort of bent contents page - the numbers of the lower stories being much further over than those of the higher stories. I tried to correct this, but couldn't make those numbers jump through the hoops I wanted them to. I have never got on with numbers.

      While I was changing the page numbers after justifying the unjustified story, I had another go at the bent columns and found, by chance, that if I clicked on the number column, I could pull it over towards the right. This straightened the whole column, from top to bottom of the page. Well, who knew?

        CreateSpace has a useful, on-line previewer, where you can look at your book as a book, with turnable pages - or as a gallery of pages. It gives you the page numbers. It was while I was playing with this, and checking it against the Word file on my computer, that I fell over the next problem.
          The page numbers went: 81,82, 1, 2, 3... Aargh! This had been caused by my copying in extra chapters. Somewhere I'd picked up a 'new section' marker, which made the numbers start at '1' again.
          CreateSpace's advice told me 'to fix this in the native programme.' After some pondering on what this might mean, I went back to Word - which, after all, is a desktop publishing programme. Picking up a heavy hammer, I entered the cave where the numbering goes on.
          It took a bit of tinkering, but eventually I discovered that the 'page-numbering' can be instructed to 'continue from previous section.' I so instructed it, while idly swinging the hammer, and it did as it was told and put the numbering straight.
          I dispatched the latest version to Karen, on a usb, by
snail-mail - since we've discovered that Dropbox seems to add typos. I then went 'Scotlanding', as Karen put it. Well, someone has to venture up there, to check if the natives have all been blown away, melted in the rain or washed into the sea. (I can report that many are still clinging to the storm-blown rocks - and seemingly quite cheerful about it.)
          I returned, to find the usb had also, with a note from Karen to say I was almost there. There are a few stray underlinings and other typos to fix.
          I will get on to it - and it will be coming back to you, in paperback, soon. Apologies to all for the mistakes and the delay.
          But let's hear it for our star editor, our patient, eagle-eyed, whippet-loving editor Karen Bush, with the highest of standards, who will not be having with the much lower muddling-along of the Prices. (Habitually expressed by my grandmother as, 'Well, a blind mon on a galloping hoss woe notice - if it's a dark night.')
          And let's hear it for Lynne Garner, who designed the cover -  and for all the other Electrics, who not only put up a blog each day, but supply stories for anthologies, and advice, help and support on a regular basis.

Short, sharp shocks can be fun - and here's the proof in the form of a new anthology from the Authors Electric blogging collective.

Gathered here are 29 electrifying short stories covering a wide range of genres - whether it's action, murder, romance, comedy, satire, fantasy or the supernatural that turns you on, A Flash in the Pen has something for everyone and is guaranteed to give you a buzz.
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