Tuesday, 31 October 2017

In Which Debbie Young Breaks the Habit of a Lifetime

Seasonal reads by Debbie Young - some novels, some short stories, but all good fun

One of the many reasons I love writing contemporary fiction is that it means I don't have to bother much with research.

In this respect, I'm in good company, because as my friend T E Shepherd, who writes compelling magical realism novels, told me over the weekend, Philip Pullman says:

One of the pleasures of writing fiction is that you can sit at your desk and just make up what you are too lazy to go and find out.
This is especially true for me because my current series of cosy mystery novels is set in a little Cotswold village much like the one I've lived in for over a quarter of a century. During that time, I've been a member of countless clubs, served on various committees, founded an annual fun run and a literary festival, and volunteered in the village community shop. There's not much about daily life in Cotswold villages that has passed me by.

Having fun in Hawkesbury Upton
Being able to write from my imagination without needing to seek out corroborative facts means I can write much faster. 

Productivity Bonus

Set at Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night
For example, I'm just about to publish my third of my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series of 2017. Best Murder in Show was published in April, Trick or Murder? (set around Halloween and Guy Fawkes' Night) in August, and Murder in the Manger, the Christmas special, will be out on November 6th.

Tomorrow, as NaNoWriMo kicks off (the global community that challenges each member to write 50k words in a month),   I'll be starting on the fourth, Murder by the Book. (If you're a writer and you've never tried NaNo, I recommend you give it a go - it can transform your productivity, as my novelist friend Kate Frost explains here.)

Respect for Researchers - and Historical Novelists

I've always considered myself lucky that I don't have to wade through tons of research material before I can start writing, and I am full of admiration for those who do, such as historical novelists - especially when they carry their research lightly rather than info-dumping and turning the stories into history lessons. Award-winning indie novelist and historican Lucienne Boyce gives top advice here on how to do it well, echoing (but more eruditely) my constant admonishment to my teenage daughter that no matter how many teachers tell you to Google something for homework, looking something up on Wikipedia does not constitute authoritative research.

So I've been surprised to find myself volunteering to get stuck into some serious research for spin-off to my Sophie Sayers series that leapt out of my unconscious one day: the back story of one of the characters, Sophie's beloved Great Auntie May, a bestselling travel writer.

At the start of the series, Auntie May has already died, leaving her cottage to twenty-five-year-old Sophie, who moves to the village to start a new life,  and Sophie, an aspiring writer herself, still feels her presence and her influence very strongly.

Travels with Sophie's Aunt

Although May loves her home village, she's spent most of her adult life abroad, with Wendlebury Barrow a bolt-hole to anchor her peripatetic life.

Having killed May off before the first story opens, there's a limit to how much I can write about her, but I've found myself growing to love her and being drawn into her back story. I keep asking myself questions:

  • Why did she leave Wendlebury? 
  • Does constant travel ever allow you to escape your inner self? 
  • What made her return? 
  • Has whatever made her keep running been resolved?

Keeping Company with Classic Travellers

Although I'm relatively well travelled, and am planning a non-fiction book about travelling by camper van drawing on my family's experience, I've never been a travel writer. Therefore my research is to read lots of travel books, from the classics (Dr Johnson, Daniel Defoe) to the modern greats (Jan Morris, Paul Theroux). I need to get inside the head of the travel writer as a genre before I can really work out May's motivation. And what a journey I am having! Armchair travel - at this time of year, it's my very favourite kind.

Christmas special out 6th November
In the meantime, in my own little Cotswold cottage, I'm putting the finishing touches to Sophie's latest distinctly English adventure, Murder in the Manger, to be published on 6th November, and feeling more festive by the minute as I hone this gentle comedy/mystery about a village Christmas. Like Sophie's Great Auntie May, perhaps I've got the best of both worlds.


For More Information

For more information about my books and writing life, check out my website:

To pre-order Murder in the Manger, click here:

And if you fancy something seasonal but shorter to read, you might enjoy my stand-alone short story Lighting Up Time, set at the winter solstice, or my Christmas collection of short stories, Stocking Fillers - both these and my other short story collections are currently on offer on Amazon for just 99p each

Monday, 30 October 2017

Books That Go Bump in the Night

Ghosts Electric

Ghosts, ghouls and other supernatural entities can appear in many shapes and guises but they never come just for fun ...

They usually appear at this time of year, though...

Ghost stories have been firm favourites ever since humans first gathered around a fire to listen to the storyteller weave his magic: the supernatural world which lies just beyond ours was a very real and ever-present part of the lives of our ancestors -- and who is to say things have changed since then? 

Welcome to the world of the weird and wonderful: here you will find tales to thrill and to terrify, to bemuse, bewitch and mystify and above all to make you wonder 'What if...? Could it be ...?' Twenty one offerings from the top writers of Authors Electric.

But if ghost stories aren't your thing...

With a flash of the pen we introduce One More Flash in the Pen, a collection of short stories by the
Authors Electric Collective.

One More Flash in the Pen
     Available as a paperback or an e-book, here are twenty very different short stories: thoughtful, spooky, nostalgic, scary...

     Murder mysteries, romance, satire, fantasy... Ideal for putting some pizzazz into a boring daily commute.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

First thoughts on editing: N M Browne

I want to write about editing but I don’t know where to start - no I mean, really. I make a start and then I decide that I have begun in the
wrong tense and in the wrong place and I quietly delete the line. Again. And this is the problem with editing - once you really get into it. Unless you have written a perfect sentence, rejigging is kind of de rigueur: all writing is re writing. And thank you Mr Hemingway.

 I was happier before I knew that. In pre computer days I only ever wrote anything once - in long-hand with a limited number of crossings out. It never occurred to me to do anything else. The first time someone suggested I edit my initial perfectly adequate words I was nonplussed: whatever for? Now, well  everything is up for grabs all the time. Every word, sentence, paragraph, chapter is up for reconsideration and re envisioning, reworking and revising. It is exhausting.
I hate editing - there I’ve said it. I hate having to rethink. Thinking once is bad enough, thinking again is too much.
  I love the exciting tight rope walk of the first draft. A new novel is a three ring circus in which the ring master is not entirely sure of the cast let alone the programme. I love the rabbit from the hat moment when I realise that the strong man is really a bearded lady and the elephant, the star of the high wire. Ok sometimes the first draft might suffer from some small logical incosistencies and the odd imaginative leap, but it it often has a mad kind of energy, an urgency that makes the writing fun.
 Editing is all about the boring stuff: the obligation to write coherent sentence with full stops and everything, plotting that makes sense, consistent characters - all that nonsense. I reluctantly accept that it is necessary, it’s just that I liked the certainty of my own past when first thoughts were only thoughts and editing meant checking for spelling mistakes and the (many) misplaced commas. Back then things just were the way I first wrote them, fixed and immutable as fact. I miss that. 
However much I like to pretend that my first idea is often my best , experience suggests that this is a self decieving, ego deluding, fabrication. My first draft is often rubbish, it has just taken me many years to admit it.
So, yes editing. If you want to be a writer you have to do it - a lot. Who knew?

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Haydn Middleton, Dickens, Deathdays and cats, by Enid Richemont.

The Finnish edition of my book - "THE NIGHT OF THE WERE BOY" came out earlier this year, but I've only just received the physical copy. It's a very funny story, based on a cat who's affected by the full moon to change into something else - in this case, a boy, than which nothing, in the moggie's interpretation, coud be lower. I mean, no TAIL? No WHISKERS? No FUR? Also a creature which pees INDOORS (disgusting!) and which has to put on scratchy and uncomfortable CLOTHES before it can present itself to the world. I mean, UGH!
I knew that my publisher had sold the Finnish rights to the book much earlier this year, but I didn't receive a copy, so I agitated, because Finnish is such an extraordinary language. I finally discovered this edition via Goodreads, where it showed up, unexpectedly as "KISSAPOJAN YO" which I initially thought might be pornographic (these things can, and do, happen) but no, it was, indeed my book. I'm still struggling to get in touch with the translator, though - Terhi Leskinen. She has a Facebook page, but doesn't respond when I contact her. I've arranged for her to be included in my ALCS statements, but there's still no response, so if any of you out there know her, please give her a nudge on my behalf.

For the last few weeks, I've been working on a new book aimed at 7- 10 year olds. Its underlying theme is a very ancient one - the battle between good and evil, played out by an eight year old boy who's distressed both by a family move, but also his own conflicting feelings about having a younger sibling. I've now reached the point of completion - I have to let go - which means no longer being an intimate part of these fictional people's lives, and I'm already grieving because I shall miss them. The novel now goes to my agent, and eventually, if I'm lucky, a publisher who will almost certainly dismiss it as I am not a celebrity, and the book will be deemed 'too quiet', which means it has no actual violence, sexual or otherwise, and no obvious jokes relating to 'underpants' etc. However, there is an active element of the supernatural, and a very real sense of evil. Please wish it well.

The 28th of the month has always been the date on which I've chosen to publish my blog, for it's the very easy-to-remember date of my birthday, which happens to be in October, thus making me a stinging scorpion and a few other dodgy things. So today is my birthday, and my age? Aeons! I believe I originally set it up on Facebook to be well over a century.

Birthdays at present make me consider their natural opposites - Deathdays. I remember an occasion when, with a friend, both of us pre-teens, we suddenly realised that there was actually a time before, when we two didn't exist, and for some reason I can't recall, the thought of that really freaked us both out.

Being dead, simply ceasing to exist, must be similar, but the concept no longer horrifies me. What does horrify me, however, is the actual process of dying, especially when it's lengthy and involves both physical and mental suffering. I love Terry Pratchett's personification of death - DEATH ALWAYS SPOKE IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND WAS ALWAYS KINDLY, BUT LOGICAL - which was how, I like to think, he took Terry gently by the hand one day, and led him quietly into the infinity of non-being.

The 19th century American poet, Emily Dickinson, expressed one perfect Deathday so perfectly:
 Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality.

Deathdays could be the gentlest, least painful, and most loving of days - a day when the dying person, in full dignity and in full control, could be able say goodbye to the people and the things they most loved, at their own chosen moment, with their chosen music and words - in a sense, a pre-funeral to celebrate the life of the person about to leave it - a farewell party. This is why I actively support Assisted Dying. A civilised society ought to be able to offer this precious gift to the terminally suffering in the same way as pet animals are taken to the vet when their suffering becomes intolerable both to them and their owners.  Suffering is not noble - it is painful and destructive.

A few days ago, while sorting out one my bookshelves to see if there was anything using up space which might be taken to a charity shop - a project almost certainly doomed to failure the minute I start reading - when I discovered a novel I didn't know I'd ever possessed, and the cover of which was totally unfamiliar, so, of course, I opened it. It begins with what must be one of the briefest first chapters I've ever encountered, taking up less than one third of a page, but it totally grabbed me. The book is called: "THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE", by Haydn Middleton, an author of whom I'd never heard - and I'm now totally caught up in its web to the point of enchantment, and an actual mild unease, a sense that the words and the story are speaking to me on a very deep personal level - not a comfortable feeling. I'd be happy to hear from with anyone who's familiar with this author, or even read the book.

Finally - did you know that Charles Dickens wrote several curious stories for children? This one is about a place - clearly England turned upside-down - where children behave as adults, and adults behave as children. This one - the story of Mrs Orange and Mrs Lemon - is such a curiosity, and I've always loved the illustration, but only now have I googled the illustrator and read his obituary. He was an author-illustrator, better known for one single book: MR CRABTREE GOES FISHING, which apparently became a best-seller in angling circles. The Dickens story is a microcosm of posh middle-class Victorian life, with nurseries, nannies and tea.


Friday, 27 October 2017

A Love Letter to London - Andrew Crofts

I never really wanted to leave London once I got there, but I guess everyone has to grow up and buy a house and a washing machine some time. I’d been living in the city for more than a dozen years and had ended up renting a flat beside the river in Chiswick, the waters at high tide lapping just metres from the window where I stationed myself and my typewriter every day.

Chiswick Mall Flooded Thirds-L.jpg (800×533)

The flat was in the home of an elderly widow whose husband had been curator of antiques at the Victoria and Albert Museum and one of whose sons was a Cabinet Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. Our flat had once been the family’s “nursery wing” and the surrounding house was a wonderland of cobwebs and curiosities. I would quite happily have sat there, watching the waters flow by, for the rest of my life.

Our landlady, however, turned out to be mortal and passed away after we had been there five years. The family needed to sell the elegant old house to someone who would then brush away the cobwebs and make it worth millions,

48913_CIS050131_IMG_00_0000_max_656x437.JPG (656×437)

(I saw it on Rightmove recently for £5.5-million), and there was little chance that we would ever find somewhere comparable in London for the money we had been paying. (I suspect the family had deliberately and discreetly allowed our rent to remain low in exchange for the peace of mind of knowing that there were sympathetic young people around the house as their mother grew increasingly frail).  The thought of moving back into the world of damp basements in run-down areas was now less appealing than it had been during the earlier stages of my adult adventure.

It was time to get serious, move to the country, become a property owner, start a family and worry about things like the roof blowing off on windy nights or passing herds of deer stripping the shrubberies.

There are huge compensations to bringing up a family in the country but I have to admit I still feel a sort of peace descending on me when the train back to London crosses over the waters that I used to watch flowing past my window, and releases me into the familiar streets of my youth. New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, St Petersburg, Venice; they all have their different charms and excitements but it is London, the city that I first read about and dreamed about and visited on steam trains with my mother, that eventually draws me back.

Despite all the developments to the East of the city, the West End and its surrounding areas stay remarkably unchanged. The influx of the global rich, initially from the oil rich states of the Middle East, followed by oligarchs from Russia and the rest of the world, has cleaned up streets that were once mean, turned mews houses into property goldmines and breathed life into mansions that had become shabby office spaces. The great spending booms have revived some shops, while the internet has crushed others, and the growth of twenty four hour café culture has given many of the streets a continental feel, even on chilly English evenings.

My parents set up their first married home in the city at the end of the forties, in the aftermath of the Blitz. By the time I arrived there from school in 1970 there were still bombsites in evidence and Covent Garden was still the Dickensian fruit and veg market that George Bernard Shaw had depicted in Pygmalion, and which the film version, “My Fair Lady” had just started to glamorise and sanitize. The dark, abandoned warehouses that loomed over the river from its southern banks had become the haunt of squatting artists and would not start to be converted into multi-million pound apartments for at least another ten years.

As a freelance journalist I wrote a newspaper for St. Katherine’s Dock, the first of these docks to be gentrified by property speculators, and chronicled the changes as one of the greatest historical cities in the world adapted and regenerated from its sea-trading, bomb-battered past, moving towards its digital-trading future. From the squalor of Dickens’s East End to the grandeur of Byron’s Piccadilly, from Bertie Wooster’s Mayfair, Peter Pan’s Kensington and Paddington Bear’s Notting Hill to today’s city as depicted by authors as various as Jake Arnott, John Lanchester, Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan, London’s magic continues to haunt the pages of books and my children are now able live comfortably in areas of the city which were virtually derelict in the seventies, while the areas where I lived have become too expensive for most young people to even contemplate. I still love it.    

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Barefoot Poetry at a Balinese Monastery ~ Dipika Mukherjee

By the time I reached Bali on October 22nd, I was mentally and physically drained. 

I had been travelling and been out of my home in Chicago for over two months, and although I was to deliver a keynote at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Annual Conference in two days, I hadn’t written anything at all in months. My keynote, titled Contests and Prizes: The Advantage of the (Global) Asian Writer, was becoming impossible to write.

I felt the imposter syndrome growing toxic in my brain.

Despite being surrounded by the beauty of Bali, I was unable to relax. There were a Ganesha at every turn – the APWT conference was hosted by the  Ganesha University of Education and there was a beautiful Ganesha right outside my hotel door – but it seemed clear that the God of Scribes and Beginnings was concerned with weightier matters than my silly writerly angst.

The Asia Pacific Writers and Translators community has been in existence for 10 years now, and this was my third APWT conference. What I especially love about APWT is that there is a genuine effort to be a Pan-AsiaPacific group that welcomes both writers and translators. The choice of conference venue is frequently dictated by how easy it would be for Asian writers, especially from under-represented countries, to travel to the venue keeping costs and visa requirements in mind. 

A good number of APWT writers have become my good friends; this is a very collegial, cosy group, with none of the literary casteism that festivals with more star power inevitably attract. We hang out over meals and tea-breaks and dinner and the networking seems unforced with kind and kindred spirits.

So when I saw that that a writer I have known and admired for years -- Tim Tomlinson of the New York Writers Workshop -- was running a poetry workshop at the BrahmaVihara Arama Buddhist Monastery,  I had to sign up. The workshop was being held the day before my keynote (which I still hadn't written) but it seemed like a really good idea.

Which it was.

The Monastery turned out to be a wonderful meditative space, situated on a hilltop with gorgeous views. At every turn there seems to be a hidden wonder: a buddha deep in meditation, a detailed statue rising from the stairway, or just the glorious profusion of jacaranda, hibiscus and frangipani in bloom. 

 Storm clouds started to gather as Tim distributed the handouts on writing about place and family. We got to work, even as a stray puppy frolicked and tugged at someone's sarong and lines of ants marched resolutely on their paths despite our presence. The rain started to fall. We continued to write in the silence of that place, the years of meditative practice seemingly unleashing something in my lost creativity. 

I wrote for pages, and when I stopped to edit, I wrote some more. The rain continued to fall like a benediction.

I continued to write after I came back to my hotel room. There is something about meditation and writing that is deeply powerful, which I need to harness more often.

And my keynote, you ask? I not only finished it to my satisfaction, I had a great time delivering the talk! 

Check out the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators here and the New York Writers Workshop here.

Dipika Mukherjee's second novel, Shambala Junction, won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016). Her debut novel was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016). She is a Juror on the the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2018 and founded the D.K Dutt Award for Literary Excellence in Malaysia. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Come With Us to Bremen! - Susan Price

PriceClan has been quiet for a while. But we've been working. Above is the first page of our 'Bremen Town Musicians.' It's not quite true to say I wrote the text and Andrew did the pictures. Andrew wrote some of the text and although I didn't actually pick up the e-brush, (I wouldn't have been allowed) I had a lot of influence over the illustrations.

Below is one of my favourite panels. It's where the (almost) always cheerful donkey first gets the idea of going to Bremen.

So off he goes to Bremen. On the way he meets three more abandoned, homeless animals: a dog, a cat and a cockerel. All are lamenting their sad fates but Donkey cheers them up by persuading them all to go to Bremen with him and form a band: "We'll be a duo! - We'll be a trio! - We can be a quartet!" With new purpose and full of hope, off they all go to Bremen.

Andrew came up with the idea of the little shuttered windows at the corners of the pages - "To make it more interesting," he said. Each little window may be open or closed. If open, it may give a glimpse of some object or you may see someone peering through and reacting to the action taking place in the main panel.

Long before we finished the book he was kicking himself for having the idea. They required tiny drawings with hair-thin lines.

It was also Andrew's idea to make all the howling and miaowing, cock-a-doodling and ee-awing into a visual cacophony. The best illustration of it is, I think, the scene where the robbers are panicked by the sound of the animals 'each singing a different aria from The Barber of Seville at the same time.'

The animals never make it to Bremen, of course, but they do find a happy life together. The whole story is about travelling hopefully in good company. It doesn't really matter whether you ever reach Bremen or not.

In the process of making the book, Andrew and I learned to use Adobe's InDesign programme to set up the book and 'export' it as a PDF. It's an excellent programme (as I'm sure other AEs already know) and can be used to design non-illustrated books too. Gob-smackingly expensive to buy but you can rent it by the month, with lots of on-line tutorials.

The other PriceClan brother, Adam, keeps himself busy. When he's not dispatching ambulances to pick up and deliver patients, he's making silver jewellery in his shed, or cardboard machinery, or he's illustrating and writing his own picture books.

The Teeny-Tiny Tiger Tot

The teeny tiger is based, he tells me, on Billy Goats Gruff. Constantly warned that he shouldn't go off to play in the jungle because a hunter is about, the teeny tiger tot goes anyway and... Well, it all turns out happy in the end. Except for the hunter. But who cares about him?

For more about PriceClan's picture books, visit our website here.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The #metoo phenomenon, and how do we begin to write about it? - Jo Carroll

I don’t have an answer. But anyone glancing at social media during this past few weeks can’t have missed the sheer numbers posting under the #metoo hashtag - each one disclosing how she, too, has experienced sexual harassment or assault.

I don’t know any women who are surprised by the numbers. It’s just something we’ve lived with for decades and felt ashamed to speak about. 

But no longer. So what are the implications for us as writers? This experience is clearly ubiquitous and yet I can’t think of any novel that includes an acknowledgement that everyday harassment is just something we’ve learned to live with.

There are, of course, films and novels that look at rape. I have a problem with rape being seen as a subject for entertainment - I recall seeing Sleeping with the Enemy, many years ago, and cringing when the assault lasted for hours and then the woman spent most of the rest of the film terrified that the man would find her, and all that happened to him was a quick gunshot. The implication being that terrifying women brings in the punters while shooting a man doesn’t pack the same punch. 

While most women’s real lives aren’t terrifying in the same way, many do include a level of ongoing  harassment that is deeply degrading. But I know of no one who has tackled this in fiction in such a way that women readers can nod and say, yes, that’s just how it is for me. 

And yet many of us look to fiction to find validation of the choices we’ve made in our lives. And maybe to find the courage to deal with it in a constructive and life-affirming way.

I write this hoping someone is going to drop by and tell me I’m wrong, and point to novels that raise this very issue. And if no one points me to such a wonderful novel I hope that someone else will be sufficiently troubled by the revelations of the past few weeks to knuckle down and tackle the subject in fiction.

Me - I’ve written some historical fiction. My main character has a difficult time, and finds an original way to fight back. She fails. But this is set in the nineteenth century. I’d like to think her story might be different today.

You can find her here

Monday, 23 October 2017

Things to Understand on Being Accepted for Publication by Lev Butts

Almost three years ago, I wrote a post on when self-publishing might be inappropriate. In it, I discussed a recent project, a critical edition of H. P. Lovecraft's work, that had been passed over for publication by a university press and my reasons for not self-publishing it.

Since that post, two of my fiction works, Guns of the Waste Land I & II, have been picked up by traditional (though small and independent) publishers and been released professionally. My collection of short stories remains self-published but continues to receive good reviews. But for the longest time, my Lovecraft book has remained in acceptance limbo.

That is, until last year, when McFarland accepted my manuscript for publication. Yesterday, as I was surfing the digital aisles of Amazon, I stumbled across this offering. It was the first I have heard of an actual publication date and a nice start to my birthday weekend.

It's been a long journey to get this book to publication, but I have learned three things that may be of use to others who are being traditionally published for the first time:

You probably won't get to keep everything in your book.

Books are expensive to produce. If you've ever self-published a book through sites like Createspace or Lulu, you know that the biggest cost sink is the number of pages your book has. As a self-publishing writer, though, you get to decide if the high cost is worth keeping all the material in the book or if it might be better to trim some fat and save your audience money. After all, these platforms are print on demand; you don't have to dish out your own money to put books on the shelves.

Traditional publishers, though, have to physically print copies to send out to marketing venues. They have to, then, decide for you whether or not the cost of printing is outweighed by the value of the material. If they determine your book is too long, be prepared to attack it with a paring knife.

While Guns made it safely through this editorial gauntlet, the Lovecraft book was not so fortunate. I was, though, able to keep all of the Lovecraft selections, except for one. All of the short stories and poems were fine. However, I had to drastically abridge his monograph Supernatural Horror in Literature (which actually made the essay more user friendly for undergraduate students I think), but his novella, At the Mountains of Madness, proved far too long to make the manuscript cost effective for the publishers and thus had to be excised in its entirety.

You may have little say over the title of your book.

Publishers spend a lot of money on market research. This is a good thing: Understanding what is selling in a given market helps you to decide the best way to advertise your product in such a way as to appeal to the most people.

Surprisingly enough, the title of a work is considered one of the most important advertisements a book (or film or album or television series) has. When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Imagine Catch-22 with the title The Bombardier Who Doesn't Want to Fly Anymore or To Kill A Mockingbird as Racists Always Win.

Oddly enough, though, for an academic book, a more descriptive title will often draw more people than a more creative one. Thus my working title for the book, Fear of the Unknown: An H.P. Lovecraft Critical Edition became H.P. Lovecraft: Selected Works, Critical Perspectives and Interviews on His Influence.

You have very little control over the cover of your book.

This is perhaps the best part of traditional publishing at least to me. Despite the old adage about books and our judgment of covers, your cover art is perhaps the most important advertising for your book, more so even than the title.

I hate designing my own covers. It's one of the reasons I like Createspace's and Lulu's cover templates. In addition to marketing departments, traditional publishers also tend to have art departments whose sole job is to design covers that adequately convey the plot and/or tone of your book to the public. If you're lucky, you may get the opportunity to suggest elements of the cover, you may even be given a choice of covers to select from, but more than likely, that decision is going to be made by people who have devoted their art degrees to getting paid good money to trick people into thinking they cannot live without your book.

And they do a good job, too. Consider the following covers for Guns of the Waste Land. Can you guess which one was done by a professional?

I was immensely proud of that first cover when I made it. After making the second cover, however, I realized how juvenile it looked. And while the second cover is clearly an improvement, it has all the markings of a stock-cover (which it kind of is: stock template and a googled image of a Joshua tree). The third one, however, created by Venture Press' art department is clearly the superior. It has depth, the title literally seems to fly off the page, and the colors draw your eye in. In short, it looks like a cover created by someone who knows how.

If I had been in charge of designing the Lovecraft book, it probably would have looked something like this:

Instead, McFarland's art department came up with this:

So that's what I have learned from working with traditional publishers. Hopefully, it is helpful to you. Either way, my Lovecraft book is out in 2018, probably February.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

How long is a novel? Ali Bacon looks at the changing shape - and size - of some favourite reads

How long does a novel have to be to be worthy of the name? With In the Blink of an Eye currently coming in at around 60,000 words, i.e. somewhere short of the regulation 70 – 90,000, I’m developing an awareness of the size of books I’m picking up to read.

Compact but totally satisfying
On my recent trip to Fife, bereft of a car and encumbered with hand-luggage I became doubly aware of the volume of my volumes. In Toppings of St Andrews, I turned down the new Arundhati Roy precisely because it was massive and looked around for something more compact. Elizabeth Strout's  My Name is Lucy Barton with its 190 pages of well-spaced type and lots of good reviews, fitted the bill exactly. Later (yes, bit of a book-buying spree) I added Ali Smith’s Autumnchunkier but still nicely manageable. Come to think of it, I had really enjoyed her Hotel World, and although I read it as an e-book, that one struck me as a fairly slim volume too. Back home and picking something at random from my everlasting TBR pile, my eagle eye spotted straight away the modest proportions of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan– yes, 156 pretty wonderful pages.

Short, sweet, forgettable?
I liked some of these books more than others, but none of them felt in anyway less than a novel. But wait a minute – what about the infamously short On Chesil Beach? I’m a McEwan fan but remember feeling slightly cheated: a  story beautifully told that didn’t quite seem to measure up.  Was it different in quality to those mentioned above or would I feel differently if I reread it now? I suspect not. The Spinning Heart may be relatively short, but with its multiple viewpoints it has a narrative and social complexity lacking in On Chesil Beach.

Re the particular issue of size or length, I think this is only one of the ways way in which we as readers are looking for a different approach to the traditional extended narrative. Of the books I’ve discussed above, Hotel World and The Spinning Heart conform more closely to the idea of linked short stories than to a conventional novel. They have episodes in the voices of different characters which combine to reveal the over-arching narrative. The televisual equivalent is something like the bleak but riveting Broken – a series in which a priest’s personal struggles were revealed through the stories of his parishioners’ problems and how he deals with them.

Maybe what surprised me most in this interlude was a bookish discussion with a friend, in which she said she had given up on an acclaimed novel (I have forgotten which one but it was something I’d liked a lot) because it was too big, referring not just to its physical size but to the bulk, as I understood it, of the narrative; the emergence of characters and sub-plots which made her feel bogged down. This lady had a traditional education and reads widely in more than one language, but I sensed an impatience with the accepted novel form which I remember also seeing some years ago in a column by Andrew Marr which questioned how much longer the novel had to live. At the time I was shocked but now I have an inkling of what he means. I can still loose myself in a conventional novel of any length, but I’m happy to take on something a bit different. If it’s not going to take me weeks to read, so much the better.  

Ali with some of the early photos that inspired her next book
Wait, I hear you say, isn't the size of a book irrelevant in a blog that champions e-publishing? Certainly the length of an e-book is maybe less significant when it isn't weighed in the hand. But in the case of Blink I'm hoping to make significant 'hand sales' at book events and talks like the one I did last week in Dunfermline. My audience will be expecting tree-books,tree-books that meet their expectations in terms of appearance and value for money. 

Still, it looks like it’s not just me with my hand-luggage  who's in search of  a less bulky read. Which gives me heart that In the Blink of an Eye (multiple viewpoints, not quite as long as a novel) might actually catch the wave.

In the Blink of an Eye
is a re-imagining of the life of Edinburgh artist and photographer David Octavius Hill.
It will be published in spring 2018 by Linen Press. 
(Tree-book and e-book!)
Click here for full information.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

NOT a celebrity author - Katherine Roberts

There has been much media attention lately devoted to celebrities publishing children's books. In many cases they're writing them, too - after all, children's books are short and simple and therefore quick to write, aren't they? (Children's authors: don't answer that!) Many of these celebrity titles are, of course, perfectly decent books loved by their young readers and, more importantly for their publishers, they sell in squillions... at least compared to a perfectly decent book by your average non-celebrity author. In fact, ever since Madonna successfully published English Roses, publishing a children's book with your name on the cover seems to have become an important addition to the celebrity bucket list, along with camping out in a jungle on TV so you can scream "Get me outta here!" or appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.

No problem, you might think. Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you're banned from writing a book or two, or even a whole series, if that's what you want to do and you can find the time or a good ghostwriter to write it for you. As far as the publishing business is concerned, a celebrity author is always going to have a head start in the publicity stakes, which means their books will probably sell, unless they miss their market completely and bomb (it has been known to happen... er, anyone remember Black Swan?) Publishers who make a profit are good news for authors in general, since they can commission more books and afford to pay their authors royalties. The trouble occurs when the growing number of celebrity titles hog shelf space, air time, dwindling review column inches, and the lion's share of advances at the expense of books written by less famous authors, who actually need these things in order to survive.

So where does that leave your typical non-celebrity author? Well, you'll find some of us lurking here at Authors Electric. (We don't have many celebrities blogging on this site, but we're not exclusive... any celebrity reading this is most welcome to contact our guest email: guest @ authorselectric.co.uk and sprinkle a bit of celebrity magic on our blog. We promise we won't make you wade through any crocodile-infested rivers in return!) Others are busy writing books for their publishers in the hope of generating a bit of Harry Potter style magic and attaining celebrity author status the JK Rowling way. It can happen - like winning the lottery, "it could be you!" Still others are working without a publishing contract, shoehorning their writing between mortgage-paying jobs. Then there are those authors on creative writing courses studying the craft, and authors not on courses who are simply writing their first book and learning as they go along... everyone these days, it seems, is writing something somewhere.

Which brings me to one of those small but important events that keep authors like me going through the dark times. Without the benefit of being a ready-made celebrity, and before the days of creative writing courses, I was one of those authors who just wrote and submitted my stories until publishers stopped saying "not for us, I'm afraid" and started saying "yes". During what I think of as my apprenticeship years back in the 1990s, two of my dark fantasy tales 'The Sin Taker' and 'Rubies' were accepted by a little magazine called Visionary Tongue, edited by some of the most popular dark fantasy authors of that time, among them Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington.

Visionary Tongue in the 1990s (issues 3 and 6)

Roll on twenty years. By this time, my first children's book Song Quest had been plucked off the slush pile by the editor who discovered Harry Potter and gone on to win the inaugural Branford Boase Award, on the strength of which I landed an agent and a seven-book deal with HarperCollins pretty much on the same head-spinning day in London, when I made the journey to the city for the award party. All of those books have now been published, plus a few more, and I have readers all across the world. I suppose that means I'm slightly more of a celebrity now than I was before I'd published a book, even if you might not have heard of me (is there such a thing as the Z-list?), but I will always be grateful to those first publishers who said "yes". So when an email pops into my inbox from Storm, saying she is editing a collection of stories from the Visionary Tongue magazine, and would I allow her to use mine in return for a free copy of the book, it brings a glow of fond memories. This time, it's my turn to say "yes."

The delightfully gothic Visionary Tongue anthology is published by NewCon Press in both paperback and collector's edition hardback, and was launched last month at Fantasycon - the British Fantasy Society's annual celebration of the genre. I'm proud to appear in this collection beside celebrated (as opposed to celebrity) authors such as Tim Lebbon and Justina Robson, among many others. Our writing careers might have taken different paths, but one thing I think we all had in common back in the days of the cardboard-and-stapled magazine was a passion that keeps us creating stories, even when Strictly doesn't call.

In the increasingly commercial world of publishing, writing is a business not personal. I understand that a lot better now than I did at the start of my career. But for authors, writing is always personal, because true creativity comes from the heart and any commercial success follows on from that. That's why I think so many of us here at Authors Electric and elsewhere are making the choice to indie-publish some of our projects that might otherwise never see the light of day amidst all the celebrity glitter.

I've some exciting news regarding my Genghis Khan historical romance for YA readers, which will be the subject of another blog post. In the meantime, since Halloween is on its way, you can read the Kindle editions of my popular witchy title SPELLFALL (originally published in the early 2000s by Chicken House/Scholastic) and its sequel SPELL SPRING (quietly indie published by me last year) for only 99p/99c each until October 31st. Both of these books are also available in paperback, in case anyone is thinking Christmas gifts for teenagers... and don't forget that if you buy the paperback version, you can pick up the ebooks for free via Amazon's matchbook scheme.


Kindle UK / Kindle US



Kindle UK Kindle US


Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award for her debut novel Song Quest. She writes fantasy and historical fiction with a focus on legend and myth for young (and older) readers, and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Penryn in Cornwall. More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk

Friday, 20 October 2017

Movers and Shakers by Sandra Horn

‘We are the music-makers,
We are the dreamers of dreams,
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.’

O’Shaughnessy  didn’t explicitly mention writers, but they are here by implication in his Ode. Of course they are. I’m not sure how many of us forsake the world to go wandering under the pale moon and sit by desolate streams, but we do our share of moving and shaking, especially when we get together. There are many fine examples of books with the theme of wanting to make a difference; to change things for the better. Here are two I know well.

In 2003, as an angry and horrified response to the Iraq war, Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter contacted every writer and illustrator of children’s books they could reach to invite them to contribute to a book of poems and stories. Contributions poured in from all over the world. The anthology is called Lines in the Sand. All profits and royalties were for UNICEF ‘s emergency appeal for the children of Iraq. The powerful introduction was addressed to the children and was about the realities of war. It ended: ‘The writers and artists who have contributed to this book want you to know what has been going on in the world for the last fifty years or so. But they don’t want to make you despair about the future of the human race. You, the children of today, are the ones with the power to make it stop. Tomorrow, when you are the grown-ups, you can make the world a more peaceful place.
Advances for the book and an American co-edition, together with sales from an auction of the artwork, raised a substantial sum of money for UNICEF, but perhaps the messages in it were equally if not more important. A review in The Sunday Times described it as ‘an uplifting and impassioned collection that goes beyond ephemeral politics to broaden children’s understanding ... to encourage them to aspire to a better world.’

I was reminded of Lines in the Sand again recently, when the call went out from Jacci Bulman, Nicola Jackson and Kathleen Jones, for poems for an anthology to be called Write to Be Counted: an anthology of poetry to uphold human rights. All profits to go to PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organisation, which ‘aims to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views.’ The editors’ introductions speak of hope, light, love and fellowship and it is another terrific anthology. It was launched to a standing-room-only crowd on October 4th at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden and at the Old Fire Station in Penrith on October 14th. 

At this point, I should say that I have poems in both anthologies – that I am privileged and humbled and delighted (and amazed) to have poems in both – but this is not a puff for me, I just wanted to ‘declare my interest’ if that’s the term. Rather, it is about the power of words to transform, to uplift, to guide, and about the power of writers (dreamers of dreams, movers and shakers!) for good in the world, especially when they act together. 

Lines in the Sand, edited by Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter, Frances Lincoln 2003
Write to be Counted edited by Jacci Bulman, Nicola Jackson and Kathleen Jones, The Book Mill 2017