Wednesday, 26 June 2019

This may be my last AE post | Dipika Mukherjee

I will be writing a fortnightly column for The Edge, Malaysia, from July 2019 is onwards. Loosely structured as literary postcards from everywhere, this opportunity will allow me to address my readers in a country I write about most frequently, and I couldn't be more thrilled. 

The Edge published two of my articles earlier this year, including one about a residency at Rimbun Dahan which became a cover story. So I have tested the waters ... and it feels warm and welcoming! This is a Malaysian newspaper that I have a lot of respect for as it stood up to government bullying during a politically fraught time; it is the newspaper that appeared with a black cover page to protest censorship, and features in my short story, Doppelgänger, in 2015.

I have been writing for Authors Electric since October 2016... almost three years! I was invited to join by Umberto Tosi, and my first article was about my brother's accident. This post felt cathartic and vulnerable in a way I hadn't felt with my fiction or poetry. I would go on to write more posts about my brother, his books, as well as our mutual love for everything literary. 

When I had no energy to speak and the world seemed endlessly bleak, writing seemed my only control over a wanton universe.

I would read other writers on Authors Electric write about caring for loved ones, or about bereavement, and learn about healing through words. I would read about successes and failures, the rants and the jubilation...always in crafted sentences which were a joy to read. More than anything else, this group gave me a safe space where I tried out a form of literary ventriloquism, throwing my voice further and further, bouncing off so many others, and watching it echo right back. 

An article on how slogans during the Women's March in Chicago were literary micro stories was widely shared, as was the post about a small literary festival in Malaysia winning accolades around the world. My post on misogyny in Bengali children's rhymes was reprinted in the Indian media. I wrote about Malaysia and India and Myanmar and Brazil and Wales and the Netherlands and the US ... I wrote the world as I read it through books and sometimes stray poetry.

Always -- always-- I wrote with the conviction that my core group of readers at Authors Electric would treat my words with respect, and even compassion. I could be sure of this, and it was SO liberating, to write whatever I wanted. 

Writing for the news media is a different beast, and with the pay, comes the pressure of delivering something that consumers find worthy of purchase.

I am grateful to the Authors Electric group for helping me find and develop a voice in the lyrical essay. My last two essays published in The Edge were republished by World Literature Today, and I am excited about this new global audience. I am not a fast writer, so I am unlikely to be able to sustain a fortnightly column at The Edge as well as a monthly Authors Electric post along with my two books-in-progress and teaching, so as soon as I find a substitute writer to take over this spot, I'll take a bow. 

But I'll always come back, with a Guest Blog or two, if you can still make space for me.

 Dipika Mukherjee’s work, focusing on the politics of modern Asian societies, includes the novels Shambala Junction (which won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction), and Ode to Broken Things (longlisted for the Man Asia Literary Prize as Thunder Demons). She has been mentoring Southeast Asian writers for over two decades and has edited five anthologies of Southeast Asian fiction. She is Contributing Editor for Jaggery and frequently writes for World Literature Today, Asia Literary Review and Chicago Quarterly Review as well as for the media in Malaysia and India. She is core faculty at StoryStudio Chicago, teaches for the Graham School at University of Chicago, and is affiliated to the Buffet Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University.  More at

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock -- a Review by Susan Price

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
I was reading our sister blog, The History Girls, when I saw this book recommended. So I downloaded a free sample.

At the time I was reading another book, an e-book anthology of ghost stories by a rather famous Victorian writer who I shall leave nameless. He did write one or two gems but, unfortunately, the anthology made it clear that his gems were outnumbered by long, tedious, rambling tales featuring popular Victorian fads that hold little interest today. I soon tired of endless discussions of the nature of the spirit world and of characters who insisted on introducing each other's souls to one another.

So I gave up on Victorian ghosts and thought I'd take a dip into my free sample instead -- and Oh, the relief! From the very first sentences, it was like tasting something light and fresh after days and days of rather stale, cloying stodge.

Hermes Gowar's prose dances. Reader, as soon as I reached the end of the sample, I bought the rest -- and coming from me, stingy by nature and nurture and hard-up to boot, that's 5 stars.

I expected an historical fantasy story and there is a touch of fantasy, but it's more a straight historical novel and a very good, lively one, set in the late eighteenth century. Mr Hancock is a merchant-venturer anxiously waiting for his ship to come in and horrified when its captain arrives at his door  to tell him, triumphantly, that he has sold the ship and bought a mermaid with the money.

Mr. Hancock has investors to pay but is stuck with a dried mermaid. It's an ugly thing but seems to be a genuine example of that rare species. In need of ready money, he makes an attempt to raise some by exhibiting the creature in the upper room of a pub and is surprised at how much he makes -- several shillings.

One of his visitors is -- unknown to him -- the owner of a select, high-class whore-house. She offers him a sizeable chunk of cash to hire the mermaid from him as a conversation piece for one of her salons.

Mr H, respectable and strait-laced, attends and is surprised to find a very beautiful young woman,  Angelika, paying him great attention -- he doesn't know she's been appointed by the Madame to keep him sweet and is too shy to respond to her. Soon after, an orgy breaks out and reveals to him the true nature of his hostess' business. Outraged, he demands the immediate return of his mermaid.

'Fiji Mermaid', wikipedia
But, later, he regrets his rejection of Angelika and visits her. By then Angelika is caught up in a passionate and unhappy love affair and prepared to see him only as a friend -- but she finds him a good, loyal one.

The growth of friendship and appreciation between the respectable merchant and the courtesan is delicately and believably done. Mr Hancock comes to love the native intelligence that is as much a part of Angelika as her beauty (when she's not befuddled by Lu-u-urve.)  She grows to love Hancock's kindness, good sense and reliability. Many people disapprove when Angelika becomes the Mrs. Hancock of the title, seeing her as a gold-digger taking advantage of an old fool but Hermes Gowar shows us the marriage from the inside and it really isn't like that at all.

And Mrs Hancock does have a mermaid, a real mermaid, but not an obvious one.

The novel is crowded with well-drawn, likeable characters -- and even when characters aren't likeable, they're understandable. It isn't at all cosy either:-- the scenes range from the peaceful fireside of the merchant to squalid, scary backstreets and the characters come from the lowest circles as well as the highest.

Altogether, a highly readable, rollicking, charming barrel-full of the eighteenth century.

can be found here.

Monday, 24 June 2019

When truth matters - Jo Carroll

Do writers grow from societies? Or do they shape them? Going right back to Chaucer, writers notice and comment on the lives of those around them. Shakespeare, between the lines, tells us much about social mores in Elizabethan England; Dickens shines a brutal light on Victorian poverty.

It is now no secret that politicians tell lies, nor that newspapers nitpick at truths until their stories have only a flimsy relationship with any objective experience. The stories that News Programmes choose to tell succeed in silencing opposing points of view. Clips that float around the internet rarely explore an on-the-one-hand ... on-the-other construct.

We write in challenging times. I've never known British society more divided. A friend told me of a sister she can no longer speak to as they disagree so strongly over Brexit. The UN lambastes the levels of poverty; the British Government simply denies the impact of austerity. Some forecasts for the impact of climate change are apocalyptic; yet the President of the US insists it's fake news.

Do we, as writers, have a responsibility here?

It is possibly more straightforward for those who write non-fiction. It is surely impossible to write about anything based on lived experience without taking account of the political or social context.

It is more complex for those writing fiction. It is reasonable for readers, especially in times like these, to want nothing but entertainment from their reading. And maybe writers, too, find joy in escaping from everyday realities by creating fictional worlds in which good and bad are clearly defined, and where the loved and loving (and the truthful) always win out in the end.

Here I can only speak for myself. I watch the news with increasing disquiet, yet cannot turn it off. I am repelled by the lies, and the fantasy solutions. I cannot bear the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the ageism, the dismissal of the needs of those who are differently-abled.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to write a historical novel. Surely the current mayhem is irrelevant. And yet it's not. For what I find most depressing is how little has changed in the last hundred years or so. Those with money and power continue to ignore the needs and feelings of those without money and power. Poverty is relative: we rarely see children (in the UK at least) without shoes, but we know that some children go to school without breakfast. Where once the old and frail might pass away, now we shove them into corners and invest so little in their care it could be argued that we hope they will simply die from deprivation.

All of which makes me angry, and helpless. Yet a conviction that nothing will change is not a good enough reason for a writer to ignore it. At the moment my historical novel is possibly overflowing with angry women - I know I might need to tone that down. But neither will I shrink from writing about how I understood life a hundred years ago to be. That may say more about me than it does about writing. So be it.

I'd love to hear from those who are able to park the whole political shenanigans and write in a lovely, entertaining bubble.

(My novel The Planter's Daughter tells the story of a woman who left Ireland during the famine in the  mid nineteenth century and ended her days in New Zealand. At its core is a true story.)

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Lev Butts Lists the Best of Self Publishing X (and Final)

Well, we've made it my last entry on this list of laudable self-published novels. Unlike my previous countdowns, these books were not ranked in any particular order: They were each a book that that was, for my money, just as good as, and in many cases better than, most of the other traditionally published novels on the shelves at any local or chain bookstore.

Since the list has been going for over a year now, here's a rundown of the books I covered:

Murder Creek by Matthew Boedy

Dancer in the Dark by Thomas E. Fuller and Brad Strickland

Rooted- Idabell Allen

The Confederate - Scott Thompson

The Swithen by Scott Telek

Again, these books range in genre from literary to historical fiction, from fantasy to horror, but each of them is one of the most enjoyable reads I have experienced in its particular genre. Which brings us to our last entry:

Wracked (The Saga of Ukumog series) by Louis Puster

The story revolves around Wrack, a seemingly undead being who awakes in a shallow, mossy grave with no memory of how he got there or who he is. Shards of his former life return in brief flashes of color, as Wrack and his two companions, the warrior Brin, who seeks vengeance for the murder of her father, and the clever Avar, who has sworn his life to fighting evil in all its manifestations (and who is unsure of where Wrack fits in that category), traverse a bleak world, where seemingly immortal creatures with godlike power—the Doomed—wage war on each other and the living alike. A power awakens within Wrack, and with it, a dark hunger as the three companions find their fates are inextricably bound by prophecy.

Wracked was originally described to me as "Tolkien's Middle Earth if Sauron had won," and that's not a bad description. However, after reading the first installment of this series (which now includes two other novels, Desecrated and Flayed, as well as a spin-off novella, Shadow of the Pyramid), I have to adjust that description: Imagine Tolkien's Middle Earth if Sauron had won and Robert E. Howard was writing it.This book perfectly treads the line between high epic fantasy (a la Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) and swashbuckling sword and sorcery (such as Robert E. Howard's Conan series).

It is a relatively short novel, just over 200 pages, but Puster packs it full of moral philosophy, existential questions, heart-pounding action, and just enough wry humor to keep the story interesting without becoming comedy. However, the story never feels bloated or overstuffed. It is the first story in an as yet unfinished series, but it ends like a good pilot episode of a television series: the main plot is resolved with just enough closure for satisfaction while enough questions are left unanswered to bring you back for the next books.

I will be reading the rest of the series. In fact, I intend to read the rest of other four series in this list as well, so I should be full up on reading material until I retire.


And that's my list. I hope I've persuaded some of you to check out some or all of these self-published masterpieces, and if you do, I strongly recommend you leave a review for them. Even if you don't appreciate them as much as I did, a bad review is still very helpful to an author, especially a self-published one.

And if you have checked any of these books out, drop a comment below and let us know what you thought of them.

Be sure to join me next month to see what nuggets of wisdom I can throw your way. I know I'm looking forward to seeing what they are as well.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Social Media (2): Ali Bacon explains how some miracles take a little longer

Back in March, I posted about how social media can bring very quick rewards. Today I'll explain how I got together with Linen Press - which happened at a rather different pace. 

High Quality Fiction
Years ago, when I was just starting out in both writing and blogging, I followed a blog called The Elephant in the Writing Room ( no longer alive but you can follow the same author here) for its no-nonsense approach and the writer's honesty in dealing with the ups and downs of her own career. In one particular post she had a bit of a rant about the publishing industry/book-buying public, explaining the dire situation for small presses and one in particular called Linen Press, purveyors of  beautifully written and produced literary fiction. So, partly from curiosity, I ordered The Missing by Juliet Bates. Around the same time Linen Press cropped up on Twitter. I followed. I  read their bits about ethos etc and sent them A Kettle of Fish. I got no joy there but if they ignored me as an author they noticed my reviewing efforts and some time afterwards a copy of Maureen Freely's Sailing through Byzantium arrived in the post.

Much later again, I received the wonderful Sometimes a River Song by Avril Joy. I raved about this book on my blog and elsewhere. It went on to win the People's Book Prize 'Achievement' Award and is still IMO that year's  most underrated novel.

From Twittersphere to real world

Avril Joy with Lynn Michell of Linen Press
By this time I had had a fair bit of (mostly) Twitter contact with Linen Press and MD Lynn Michell (also a novelist and memoir writer) who has family in Bristol, suggested we meet for a writerly chat. Although I was gratified she had clocked my writing efforts, I had no book to offer her at that time. Maybe that was a good thing. With no axes to grind on either side we had an excellent chinwag and shared various writing and publishing woes.  She did take away a few fragments of what later became Blink and got back to me to say she admired the writing but couldn't quite see what was going on - a perfectly fair comment when I had less than 20000 words and no clear idea of what the overall shape of the book would be.

 Full circle

It wasn't until several months later that I had the flash of inspiration which allowed me to  bring In the Blink of an Eye  together and finish it off. As soon as I had, and without any extensive editing or polishing, I sent it to Lynn. With no historical fiction on her list I didn't think it was her kind of book, so it wasn't a formal submission, just a request for her opinion. She read an extract and said she liked it. Before she read more, she wanted to know if I was asking her to publish it. I decided I was. Because I admired Linen Press's values, because I liked the look and feel of their books enough to  trust mine would turn out the same, because we already had a connection.
To cut to the chase, she accepted it. Gratifyingly when the cover was 'revealed' and shared, it was 'liked' by the the original blogger who unwittingly started the whole thing off!

Published by Linen Press 2018

Keep social media sociable

This roundabout story is nothing like the instant gratification we've come to expect from social media and maybe it wouldn't happen today. Back then I kept in close contact with the handful of bloggers I followed regularly.  Now I catch blog posts via Facebook or Twitter links, only clicking through if they look particularly intriguing. But I still think the story has something to teach us.

  • social media works but it may take a while
  • cementing online connections with real world talking helps (The corollary also holds. It's good to bolster F2F meetings with online contact where it applies.)
  • focus on the interaction, not the outcome you are looking for (I may have set out with a subconscious goal of bagging a publisher but it only happened when I was, in a sense, not looking for one.)
In short, social media is - or was - for being sociable. Trying to bend it to your will rarely works - or not at my level of expertise!

Post previously published on, March 2nd 2018

In the Blink of an Eye, Ali Bacon's historical novel, is available in paperback and e-book from Linen Press, online stores, and all good bookshops. 

A Kettle of Fish is a contemporary coming of age novel set in Scotland available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

The Summer Solstice of Publishing - Katherine Roberts

It's midsummer, although you wouldn't know it from the weather as I write this (Spain is apparently sending us storms). So rather than yet another summer solstice blog post, I've been thinking about where we might be if you view the publishing industry as a single year. It goes something like this:

JANUARY: Stone Age ~ 40,000 - 10,000 BC
We live in caves. People tell stories around the campfire at night. Nobody writes them down but somebody might illustrate the most exciting ones on the cave walls. (January is a long, dark month.)

telling stories around the campfire
(Emeldil, CC*)

FEBRUARY: Pyramid Age ~ 4,000 - 2,500 BC
Europeans are still living in caves, but in Egypt they are building pyramids. Priests decorate the walls of their temples with religious texts in hieroglyphs, while further east in Mesopotamia people are writing similar texts on clay tablets using a clever pen-press language called cuneiform. Bestseller: The Book of Coming Forth by Day (Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead) - a collection of spells to help you survive the afterlife. Hang on to it. You might need it later in the year.

early Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs
(Gunter Dreyer, Public Domain)

MARCH: The Greek Poets ~ 500BC
Papyrus scrolls (the vegetarian option) and parchment (animal skins) replace clay tablets and stone, enabling the literate to carry their words to the masses. Poets flourish in the city states of Ancient Greece. Bestseller: Homer's Iliad and Odyssey about the Trojan War and its aftermath.

(William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Public Domain)

APRIL: The Christian Era ~ AD 100 - 1500
Over in China, they are already printing in Chinese using wooden blocks. The Diamond Sutra (868) is possibly the first ever printed 'book' (it's a scroll).

Diamond Sutra
"Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong" i.e. 11th May 868, Public Domain

Meanwhile, back in Europe, the Roman-style codex (a book with pages as we know it) replaces scrolls. The Vulgate Bible, translated into Latin from the original Hebrew, becomes the Catholic Church's official copy, from which translations into hundreds of other languages are made. In monasteries, teams of monks make copies of the Bible for wealthy patrons, beautifully illuminated by hand on vellum. Bestseller: The Bible.

Gutenberg Bible
by NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) originally posted to Flickr, CC*

MAY: Look out, here comes the Printing Press! ~ 1500
Gutenberg invents a hand-operated printing press using movable type. Within a few decades, the first printing presses spread across Europe, making mass distribution of the Bible and many other books possible.

portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam
(Hans Holbein - Web Gallery of Art, Public Domain) 
A Dutch scholar Erasmus (formerly a Catholic priest) becomes the world's first surprise bestselling author, selling 750,000 copies of his works in his lifetime.

JUNE: The Golden Age of Publishing ~ 1800 - 2000
It does not stop there. As the Industrial Revolution gets underway, Koenig and Bauer mechanise the printing process using steam power, greatly increasing the number of books printed per day. This speeds up even further with the invention of the rotary press in the US, using cheaper paper from the new paper mills. By the 20th century, ease of printing and falling costs mean large scale distribution of books to the masses is a reality. As a result, adult literacy increases, which in turn creates more diverse writers. The first copyright laws are passed, and it becomes possible for the first time for an author to make a living from selling their work, given some help to print and distribute the books. Publishers take these authors out to lunch and treat them in a gentlemanly manner. They can afford to do this, since the industry is protected by the Net Book Agreement, which came into effect on 1st January 1900. Publishers, agents, and several authors get rich. It's the summer solstice of publishing.
Bestsellers: too many to count, from Jane Austen to J K Rowling.

JULY: High Discounts and the rise of Amazon ~ 2000 - 2050
The Net Book Agreement was finally abolished in 1997 by the Restrictive Practices Court, removing price protection on books and making discounting legal (before this, books had to be 'damaged' before they could be sold cheaply). With ever higher discounts, publishing becomes an increasingly commercial business. At the same time, digital publishing makes the printing and distribution of books much easier and cheaper. These two developments change the industry swiftly and irreversibly. In less than two decades, independent bookshops close, bestsellers are piled high in the bookselling chains and sold for less than the price of a postage stamp, the midlist disappears, celebrity authors abound, and Amazon opens its free digital text platform to authors who cannot get (or no longer want) publishing deals in the new, cut-throat world of publishing... this, folks, is where we are today. Love it or hate it, the KDP is part of 21st century publishing - and if Amazon hadn't done it, I'm fairly sure someone else would have.

Note: Since this video was made, Createspace has merged with the KDP. There are also other ebook platforms (the main ones being Apple, Kobo and Nook), and alternative paperback platforms such as IngramSpark that charge a fee.
Bestsellers: Celebrity authors, marketable debuts, and social media stars.

AUGUST Digital Smart Age ~ 2050 - 2200
We are getting into science fiction territory now, but I am a science fiction/fantasy author, so deep breath...
Publishing goes entirely digital, despite the 'Amazon Tax' raised by certain governments in an effort to hold back the tide. Large print runs are a thing of the past. Physical books are printed on demand by the zippy new book-printing machines you find almost everywhere - descendants of the pioneering Espresso machine seen here:

Espresso print-on-demand book machine
by ActuaLitté, Xerox PUF, impression à la demande, Salon du Livre de Paris 2015, CC *
Eventually, people might have smaller personal book machines in their own smarthomes, linked to a personal recycling machine. Publicly funded libraries are gone forever, but charity-run libraries, antique bookshops, and charming book cafes fill the hole. Literary festivals still happen, too, but there is far more digital interaction with readers online using the new virtual reality, and many festivals have gone entirely digital too. It is now normal to be an indie author or micro-publisher, and countless millions more books are 'published', but consequently a much lower percentage of authors make a living from publishing their work. Word of mouth is more important than ever before, and some books go viral while others sell just a single copy to the author's mum. Amazon and the other tech giants - many of which are startups you won't have heard of yet - get rich as they exploit this ever-lengthening publishing tail.

SEPTEMBER: The Big Crash ~ 2200 (though actually I think it might come a lot sooner than this).
Everyone is reliant on the internet for everything, and we have become complacent. One day it is simply no longer there. This might be the result of overload from the many billions more users, massive power failure, a teenage hacker, digital world war, or sabotage by activist groups after scientists prove the new 7G communications necessary to keep up with increased demand is killing us all. (If you think this is unlikely, see the EU 5G Appeal and 5G Exposed site, among others - if they're right, we might not even survive to get 7G!) Billions of books, which are only stored digitally, are lost forever. Businesses and governments collapse overnight. There is panic and rapid breakdown of global civilization. Publishing books is the least of our worries, but people still need stories, now more than ever. We return to the world of dial-up modems and dog-eared paperbacks printed in the 1900s, while authors tell horror stories like this one around their reclaimed woodburners at night. It is a dark age for digital communications and publishing, or a new dawn for community and storytelling, depending how you look at it (and if you survived the 5G).

OCTOBER: Space Age ~ 3000
The world has recovered, a bit saner than before, a lot less populated and with the survivors determined to learn from past mistakes. A new planetary government has realised that our dying Earth is no longer enough for what remains of the human race. Colonisation of other planets has begun in earnest. Publishers set up on each new planet to distribute nostalgic books by Earthborn authors to a whole new market, and authors (and their publishers) can make a living again, using a safer communications technology that will be invented along with faster-than-light space travel and planet-wide teleportation.

Mars - before colonisation.
ESA European Space Agency & Max-Planck Institute
for Solar System Research for OSIRIS (CC *).
NOVEMBER: Universal Age ~ 5000
Earthborn authors are out of fashion. The only people who live on Earth now are off-grid fanatics and descendants of 5Generation mutants, who have cut off communication with the rest of the universe. Meanwhile, Authors Electric is continually inventing new ways to distribute their books across the universe using new digital tools provided by Amazon Mars (which relocated just in time to avoid the Big Crash of 2200). People won't read these futuristic books, however - they'll more likely experience them in full colour via a direct brain link, so you won't have to worry about grammar or translation to Mars-speak, you'll simply link your brain into one of the new Dream Machines so they can be downloaded on demand. In fact, single authors will be increasingly rare... more likely, you'll be part of a collaborative team, which includes the reader.

DECEMBER: Return of the Dark Ages ~ AD 10,000
Earth has forgotten the rest of the universe, and the rest of the universe has forgotten Earth. We have gone back to living in caves surrounded by ancient plastic artefacts, and ahead of us lies another long, dark month of January...

...or am I getting a bit too carried away? Perhaps digital publishing is merely a blip; 5G (and 6G and 7G) technology will prove to be as safe as house prices; and none of this matters very much anyway, since an as-yet-unidentified asteroid will hit the Earth and wipe out all human life at the end of August? I'd be interested to hear where you think the publishing industry is heading as the days shorten and the nights get longer again. Meanwhile, enjoy the summer solstice of publishing while you still can... and it's not too late to pack a Faraday cage along with your wellies if you're heading to Glastonbury this year!

(* with thanks to wikipedia for the Creative Commons images used above).

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers.
Her award-winning debut 'Song Quest' was published in 1999, and her bestselling digital title to date is an epic novel of Alexander the Great from the horse's mouth, currently available as ebook and print-on-demand paperback.

*** US special paperback offer just $4 today! ***

I am the Great Horse
(first published in 2006 by Chicken House/Scholastic).