My brain hurts - win a book! by Jan Needle

So picture this, sensation seekers. At a specified time on Monday, I will be hunched over my laptop fielding a million calls from slavering punters desperate to know the nuts and bolts of historical fiction-writing.

In actual fact, I am due to take part in an online forum organised by my e-book publishers Endeavour Press. Historical books are a substantial part of their trade, and a substantial part of my output.

My first book when I moved from children to adults was called A Fine Boy for Killing, set in the British Navy in the second half of the eighteenth century. My latest effort, which I am only halfway through, is the third in my series of novellas based on the life of Nelson.

In between, there have been further delvings into times past (should that be passed, I wonder?), one of which, Death Order, uses the mystery flight of Rudolf Hess as its basis. I'm not a great believer in conspiracy theories, but some of them are just too enticing. My last novella, Napoleon: The Escape, posits the possibility that an attempt was made to spring him from St Helena in a submarine. Crazy? Some of the evidence is extraordinarily strong!

And Death Order, being a historical novel, is a prize to be won in the aforementioned festival/forum. It will be a paperback, naturally. A virtual novel as a prize would probably be a step too far even for a proud electric author. Although I bet somebody's done it. The future, dear boy. The future is NOW!
The Jan that Goodreads thinks is a lady

I do have problems as an electric author, however, and the big one, the elephant in the room to use the latest cliche, is getting my old single cylinder diesel engine brain to even begin to understand the new technology.

I suspect I'm driving Caoimhe O’Brien, Endeavour's  marketing manager, spare with my questions on such simple matters as how to link my own website to a ‘widget’ on Goodreads, for example. And how, indeed, to make the Goodreads site do what it needs to do to connect me to my avid questioners. What, indeed, a bleeding widget might even be.

Further to these problems at the cutting-edge of the virtual world, is the fact that I've never come to grips with the publicity revolution we’re all meant to be a part of. I'm on Facebook, and I'm on Twitter, but I didn't even find out, except by accident, that Electric Authors were bringing out a second book of stories, which left me only about three weeks to dredge one from my skull. I enjoy Facebook for the daft and lovely things I find there, but Twitter baffles me.

What is it for? What does it do? Apart from trolling, it appears to have no function of any interest to a normally sentient human being. Please don't tell Caoimhe, though. I've probably caused her enough existential pain already.

And further to that problem is another of this brave new world. When it was suggested I might take part in the upcoming festival, I was exhorted to open a Goodreads account. I dutifully did so, only to find that I already had one. I'd been on it for some years apparently, and despite the fact it had a picture of me clearly with a beard, it referred to me throughout as 'she.'

What's more it listed versions of some of my books that I have since revisited, often in a very big way, even up to giving them new titles. As I've said before here, one of the glories of the e-book is that it can be treated as a living thing. I found to my mild horror (mild horror; good eh?) that some of my sea books – written consciously as genre busters – had been reviewed by the good denizens of Goodreads as bog-standard members of that genre. A Fine Boy, for example, was complained about as having ‘no pleasant characters of any sort.’ Which, as well as being inaccurate, was why I wrote the damned thing, wasn't it?

Now I imagine there are ways to amend this list of books, but I know for sure that I am not the man to do it. I can feel my brain begin to hurt even contemplating logging in, digging about, and finding where and how to have a conversation with a site that thinks I am a bearded lady.

I wonder what it does to my reputation (!) and my sales; of course I do. But I also wonder if publicity of any sort, and books, have a lot to do with each other. On Amazon, for instance, there are many many books with many many stars and many many reviews. Are they genuine? No idea. Does it keep a good book down? Ditto.

By publicity I mean virtual publicity, of course. We all know that if publishers throw bucketloads of cash at a novel there is a good chance that it will sell, and if it wins one of the prizes it will do much better. If it is taken up by the media for any reason, even better. Truly there is no such thing as bad publicity. But virtual publicity? I haven't got a clue.

As for myself, I just keep writing. And if you want to ask me questions – virtual questions, naturally – tune in on Tuesday, April 18 at the Endeavour Festival. Everybody welcome, trolls included. If the idea of getting off with a lady with a beard excites you, then I'm your man.

But don't tell Caoimhe!

The Giveaway (including Death Order) is live here till the 25th:

Blogs about the festival books and authors here:

Author page



 William Bentley books:
A Fine Boy for Killing
The Spithead Nymph
The Wicked Trade
Undertakers Wind

Napoleon - The Escape

Nelson: The Poisoned River
Nelson: the Dreadful havoc

Charlie Raven books:
The Devil's Luck


Bill Kirton said…
If I didn't know I was born in Plymouth rather than Portsmouth and if I wasn't sure I've never been a bearded lady, I'd swear we were the same person, Jan. You articulate precisely my own bafflement before Twitter and attitudes toward merchandising, PR, and all things promotional. Your output, however, does suggest that you can't match me for indolence.

An email yesterday told me that I hadn't registered an interest in your festival appearance early enough and that the invitation had therefore been withdrawn. I shall nonetheless try to sneak in and ask embarrassing questions about your private life.

And if any others are reading this comment, I recommend that you buy and read Death Order immediately. It's a great read and provokes lots of thoughts.
Jan Needle said…
I can't even read emails, Bill. I see my 'slot' is on Monday the eighteenth, which is, I'm told, not a Tuesday. But who am I to judge?
As to being disbarred due to a withdrawn invite, well, what can I say? At least I can spell Caoimhe. There are few questions about my private life left to embarrass me, but I'd be interested to see you try. Please feel free to gatecrash.

A bit like the comedians (gatecrash, that is) who put up the comment ahead of yours. I don't even know what SEO means, let alone expert. And isn't Grabbit one of Private Eye's libel lawyers?

Thanks for the comment about Death Order. If I wasn't such a modest girl, I'd say you were dead right!
madwippitt said…
Dunno about the bearded lady look ... unless you could manage a waxed 'tache?
glitter noir said…
Well done, Jan. We're the lone two bearded dinosaurs--and I don't even have a 'stache--attempting to keep up with Electric Cowboys as Bill and Dennis.
Dennis Hamley said…
A lot of chords struck thee, Jan. I really have to begin to try to understand Goodreads. Just read Bonus Boys. I eschewed your free offer and bought it properly. Loved it. Riveting. Will review it.
Jan Needle said…
thanks everyone. but as for buying, dennis! well...beyond the call of duty. thanks again.
I'm on Goodreads in the sense that the books are on there, but I must admit I don't go there much. It's one of those sites I keep thinking I ought to engage with but don't. The few times I did, it seemed to have a lot of rules and regulations and I felt I was treading on eggshells! Besides, with Twitter (which I like because it's undemanding) and Facebook and Pinterest and my own blog, I'm doing as much as I can if I want time to - you know - write. (And I do!) Lots of readers love it though so it would be good for one off events.

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