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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Consulting Sprint Education by Susan Price

I've been too busy this month to come up with a blog, so here's
The badge of the RLF
some notes on what I've been up to.


I've mentioned before how I trained with the Royal Literary Fund to become one of their accredited consultants.

Well, I decided that I'd better do something with the accreditation. Long ago, when I first started earning a living as a writer, I made more money by going into schools and talking about what I did, than I did from actually selling my writing.

I've continued to make part of my income from school visits ever since, but gradually the writing income overtook the school income... but since the recession both have fallen off sharply. As, I think, almost everyone posting here has found too.

I decided to do something about this. I needed income but, obviously, it was no longer sufficient to wait for schools to seek me out. I had to go out and grab them by the lapels, even if only metaphorically.

Sprint Education
So I gritted the teeth and paid a hefty sum (£500 plus VAT) to Sprint Education, a marketing company specialising in marketing to schools. I reasoned that I only had to get two bookings to break even, and I reckoned I could manage that.

If you check out the Sprint Ed link, you'll see that they give away, for free, an awful lot of information about the best way to approach schools and get their attention.

Using this advice, I crafted my email, sent it to Sprint Ed - and they advised me on how to improve it before sending it off to 8,400 teachers in the UK. The email goes directly to a teacher, not to an office, and Sprint Ed use coding so that each email is personalised.

The advert went out at 9am on September 11. At 12-10 I had my first phonecall. After that, the emails and phone-calls continued to come.

I broke even by the second day. My bookings now take me well into profit. I'm on course to earn, once again, as much or more from school visits as I do from writing.

The downside is that I spent over a week doing almost nothing but answer emails, providing quotes, and more details about what I could do in schools. (Susan Price in Schools)

I'm glad of the work and income, but I can't remember the last time I did any of my own writing. I spend my days devising workshops - which is interesting work, and will pay bills. But I have a book to finish.

I'm also trying to get my Ghost World books published as paperbacks in time for Christmas, which means a lot of finicky revisions.

We're never happy, are we? 

____________________________________________________

Hallowe'en soon - and if you're looking for some suitably ghostly reading...
 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Overheard-Graveyard-Haunting-Stories-Prices-ebook/dp/B005NHG5XG/http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hauntings-Eerie-Stories-Haunting-Susan-ebook/dp/B0060VNGKE/http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nightcomers-Eight-Stories-Prices-Haunting-ebook/dp/B0060VH4HU/

Overheard In A            Hauntings                 Nightcomers
Graveyard

Friday, 24 October 2014

On Not Being Paid - Jo Carroll

My first degree is in history and politics - and I dreamed of
Authors Electric Jo Carroll
becoming a journalist. That would be me, I thought, rubbing shoulders with the great and the greedy in the House of Commons and sitting in a garret writing about them.


Except I failed the interview. This was in the early 1970s, when there was no training for interviews, and no post mortem, so I've no idea why. I was certainly a bit shaken - there was almost full employment for graduates at the time and it was hard to turn my attention elsewhere. But events took over, as they do, and I drifted into social work and child protection - and am proud of everything I achieved so cannot suggest those years were anything other than satisfying.

But now our local online newspaper has asked me to be a columnist!

Oh what fun it is! All that adolescent enthusiasm is still there. I know, it's the council and not the MPs I'm having a pop at. And I've got a real house and not a garret. But the feelers for stories are out. No longer can I simply whinge over coffee about the infantile behaviour of our town councillors - I can write about them. No more will I grumble about the lack of opportunity for young people in the town (dominated, as it is, by perms and cardigans) - I can write about it. I know it won't change the world, but it might just tweak a corner of it.

Does it feel like turning the clock back? I suppose so, just a little. More than that, it feels like coming full circle. Because now I draw on my determination to make life better for young people, and my research skills - once used for ferreting out the truth about abuse. 

And no, I'm not paid. 

That's where I hear a collective intake of breath. Writing for free - surely that's against our mutual understanding about valuing our writing. We matter. Our writing matters. We should be paid for it.

Before you gang up and beat me with birch twigs, I'll tell you why I've agreed to do it.

Nobody working on the newspaper is paid. Not the editor, not the news reporters, not the sports reporters, not the columnists. It's a community project, undertaken for the benefit of the town. We make money from advertisers, which pays for the upkeep of the site; any that is left over goes into local projects such as the food bank and support for young families. 

I'm retired. I have a pension - enough to live on. And I'm healthy. I am in a position to 'give back.' But I can't face working in a charity shop or helping with meals-on-wheels. I felt I was underpaid for my skills when I was working and am not going to give them away for free now. But this - I can do this; it is my small contribution to the town that has contained me and my family for so long.

So - in my shoes, would you have agreed to write a column, or would you stick to your writerly guns and refused to work for free?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Lev Butts' Top Ten (Part II)

Last month I started to count down my top ten books or series that have "stayed" with me (whatever that means) throughout my life.

I may have bitten off more than I could reasonably swallow.
It was a bit of an undertaking, and I only got through the first two.

These books aren't going to read themselves, so let's cut the introductory fluff and get right to it then:

8. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien


As far as I'm concerned, these are the best covers ever bound.
As a kid, I loved the Rankin/Bass cartoon version of The Hobbit. I watched it every time it came on television. This was so long before DVD's, mind you, that we didn't even have VHS yet.

This is how we DVR'ed back when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth.
This meant that I could only watch it once a year if I were lucky, so for the weeks before it aired, I was the best behaved kid you ever saw. I'd eat all my vegetables and possibly even liver to avoid running the risk of being restricted or sent to bed early on broadcast night.

I'd sing the songs along with the television. I'd climb over the furniture while the dwarves were in the lonely mountain. I didn't miss a minute of it.

Except for this guy; I hid behind the couch for him.
And this is why I'm arachnophobic to this day.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out there was a book, too!

And a sequel!

Three of'em!

And they all came in one convenient box!
It was the only thing I asked for that Christmas. I finished the entire series in a month.

And that's when Tolkien ripped out my still beating heart and stomped on it.

In short, The Hobbit tells the story of a little guy who goes off with some dwarves to regain their treasure. On the way, the little guy finds a magic ring that makes you invisible. The Lord of the Rings tells about the little guy's nephew who has to go on a journey to destroy the ring in a volcano. Amid all the walking to and from treasure, the little guys learn that they can affect the great events of the world, but even if they win, they will be forever changed and not all for the best.

The Lord of the Rings wasn't the first time I encountered a story with a sad ending (The Empire Strikes Back did that for me), but it was the first time I encountered a story where the heroes win and are so depressed in spite of this victory that they can't live in the world anymore.

Spoiler alert
It may be the first adult life lesson I ever learned:

Sometimes you can get exactly what you want and still be miserable, and there's very little you can do about that.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


My high school English teacher told us there
was a naked woman on this cover in order to
encourage us to read it. When I found it,
I wanted to punch her.
If The Lord of the Rings taught me my first adult life lesson, The Great Gatsby taught me the first immediately applicable one.

Fitzgerald's book is a searing indictment of the roaring '20's and the decadence of the Jazz Age. It is such a successful and scathing critique, in fact, that anyone who reads the book cannot help but want to go back to the 1920's, and sneer at everyone reprovingly while guzzling bathtub gin and seducing flappers.

On top of all of this, it tells the story of a gangster who's in love with an air-headed rich girl who's married to an asshole of a rich guy who's sleeping with a poor idiot who's married to a loser who kills the gangster in a swimming pool.

Spoiler alert
What makes this story better than your average pulp fiction gangster story is that you kinda feel sorry for the gangster, Jay Gatsby, who really turns out to be a sad (and more realistic) version of a Horatio Alger hero: he's a poor kid from the midwest who impresses a rich con-man and eventually rises through the ranks of his benefactor's organization in a vain attempt to make enough money to deserve the rich girl from old money he's in love with. Sure he makes money and rises through his own efforts and hard work, but unlike Alger's boys, he will always fail to fit in because his money is not the right money. It's new. He will always be outdone by the people with old money.

In fact, Daisy (the poor little rich girl) and her jerk of a husband, Tom, both sit idly by and let Gatsby die because at the end of the day, they don't see his death as their problem (even though they are both to varying degrees responsible for the events leading to it).

Which brings us to my favorite quote form the novel, and the most important life lesson I ever learned in high school:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
After reading that line, I knew with a certainty bordering on the religious, that I did not ever want to be that kind of careless.  I never wanted anyone to think of me the way Nick Carraway, the narrator, thinks of Tom and Daisy. I didn't want to be Nick Carraway either, the poor sod who has to clean up everybody else's mess, and I certainly didn't want to be Gatsby, who is eaten up and spit out by other people's carelessness.

Though, he does manage to look suave and debonair while he's being digested.
I just knew I didn't want to be the kind of guy who left messes for others. I wanted to be the character who isn't in The Great Gatsby: the guy who is responsible enough to clean up his own messes without letting others get hurt in the process.

Though I certainly wouldn't've said no to some swinging jazz, bathtub gin, and a flapper or two.

Next Month: We creep ever nearer the end with numbers 6 &5.



In the meanwhile, I'll be in my bunk.



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Everything has its limitations - even e-books? by Ali Bacon

e-book or printed?
During a recent weekend spent with writers old and young, I was in the company of a well-known novelist (no namedropping) and mentioned I was enjoying reading Gone Girl. (I was about half way through at the time).  She said she had like it too and like me had read the e-book. She also happened to say that it was ‘the kind of book that was good for Kindle’. This perplexed me but I let it ride until later in the weekend by which time I had finished the book and  we talked about it again. I wanted to know which novels she considered good for Kindle. I might have misunderstood, but I gathered that she considered the e-format better for quick reads, genre fiction or page-turning thrillers.
I was surprised that she felt this need to differentiate in this way. She has, by the way, been published in both formats and is working now on something that will go straight to e-book, so we are not talking Luddite or literary snob.

I went off to think about my own Kindle reading and consider if in any instance the e-format had detracted from my enjoyment or understanding. With my hand on my heart I can say that my answer is a resounding ‘no’. I have read all kinds of things on Kindle and with the exception of some practical handbooks (which I was just too mean to buy in print!) I had no problem with any of them, including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is a whopper of a book, and an illustrated non-fiction monograph which I intended to buy in print but ordered on Kindle by mistake and to my own surprise did not regret it.

The whole idea of e-books being somehow less worthy comes up in research suggesting that e-reading impacts less deeply on our understanding and emotions than reading a print book, i.e. you would not e-read a book that you want to stay with you or that demands particular concentration. Well it’s hard to say if this applies to me, but what I can say is that I don’t retain the detail of books for as long as I would like or expect to but that this applies equally to all books whether in print or on an e-reader. And tell it to my fellow students on the Bath Spa MA who look very attached to their e-readers and presumably hope to retain their reading for quite some time.

When the conversation with the novelist moved into a wider circle there were the usual comments about the difficulties of ‘flicking back’ in an e-book. To some extent I agree with this, but then I’m not much of a flicker-backer. If I can’t understand what’s going on as it happens on the page, I’m likely to get frustrated and give up anyway. Nor do I like a book that assumes I’m going to refer regularly to a family tree, a map or whatever. But actually, a decent e-book (publishers please note!) should have a hyperlinked contents page and is always searchable, so I would have thought that the process of looking stuff up, although different, is perfectly possible. And in non-fiction, dealing with footnotes is actually much slicker in an e-book where they are hyperlinked. (No flicking or marking of pages required!)

Every format has advantage and disadvantages. I never buy fiction in hardback but I prefer hardback cookery books. I love the portability of e-books but will occasionally buy a hard copy of a book I particularly love simply to be able to hold it in my hand. A printed book, as someone has observed, is a souvenir of itself. So the last thing I’m suggesting is that e-books should take over the world. But it’s about choice. The e-format has extended that choice and brought more books to more people and has very little to prove. There are some minor snags, but for me they have been less significant than I expected and are far outweighed by the flexibility and portability of the medium. I don’t see any reason for e-books to be the second class citizens of the literary world. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pauline Chandler asks "Who Needs Stories?"


It still amazes me that many adults don’t read fiction. I used to take it for granted that everyone did, until a chance comment from a friend, an artist, shocked me to the core.  ‘No, I don’t read stories’, she said, ‘in fact I don't read much at all. I don't have time'. She might as well have said ‘I don’t breathe.’


Sadly, I’ve since discovered that ‘not reading stories’ is quite common, even among teachers. Perhaps it’s all that paperwork. No time to read anything other than the latest advice about improving their performance and meeting the agreed ‘learning outcomes'. Pah.

Fiction didn’t feature much on the curriculum in my own school days, during the 50s and 60s, and there was certainly no discussion about what we read in our spare time. We were allowed to read a book, carefully censored, at playtime, as aimless running about was frowned on. In class we read the Greek Myths, Arthur Grimble’s ‘A Pattern of Islands’ (non-fiction) and CS Forester’s ‘The Ship’, which I can’t now recall. Then, because I took Latin, I was not able to take English Literature for O Level, so it was something of an eye-opener when I came to study fiction for A Level. Suddenly, there was a world of commentary on the human condition, from such authors as CS Lewis, Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, Conrad, Lawrence, Hemingway and the ‘moderns’, contemporary writers, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney,Alan Paton, Arnold Wesker, James Baldwin, all wonderful authors who spoke about relationships, love, sex, race and  gender, without prejudice. And my cramped wings spread as I started to understand important lessons, under the gentle persuasion of their stories. 
Someone once said to me, ’You can’t learn about life from books, you know’. Pah. You can, you know. 


All the stories we share with our children teach them the real stuff they need to live well. About friends and kindness, respect for the earth and living things, about war and peace, famine and plenty, justice and injustice. About families and how to make things right after a falling out, about serious illness and disability and what life is like when you lose someone you love, about heroism and sacrifice and survival. How to judge what’s worth aiming for, and what’s not, what will stand through time, and what will fade away like mist.  

This magic doesn’t stop when you grow up. The stories just get better, richer, more challenging.

Do you know anyone who doesn't read stories? I wonder what would make them start. Is it too late when you're grown up? 

Pauline Chandler 
www.paulinechandler.com



Coming soon! A new edition of 'Warrior Girl'.
A story set in the time of Joan of Arc.    

Published by Cybermouse Books.       

Monday, 20 October 2014

Nine years on by Sandra Horn

You know those LinkedIn messages telling you to congratulate someone on their job anniversary? 'Ten years at Blithering and Snodgrass'? I usually ignore them because I never know whether the person targetted wakes up every morning with a song in her/his heart and can't wait to rush off to work, or has to mutter 'mortgage, mortgage, utility bills, shoes,' in order to get out of the house at all. Yesterday, I had one: a 'congrats' message, that is. A delightful ex-student congratulated me on nine years at Clucket Press. Really? Nine years since we launched The Mud Maid into the world with but the single thought: we know what we can afford to lose without ending up on the streets, so here goes? Cor, strike me pink. It worked out rather better than we could have dreamed, so we went on to produce The Giant and The Furzey Oak. We've also brought some OOP books back into publication and ventured into e-books and most lately an audiobook. We didn't anticipate any of this - the plan was one book, finish. The very least-anticipated venture was publishing books for other people, but this too has been good. More than good. We make nothing in terms of money, but seeing friends' books through to life has been amazing. We've done it for two members of the writing group, on a they-pay-printing-costs-we-produce-the-book-for-love basis. The latest two are ready to go: a paperback to be launched on Wednesday and an e-book when the cover has been approved. The e-book is the second volume of Vera Forster's autobiography. The first, A Daughter of Her Century, tells of her early years in Hungary and the persecution (Vera was Jewish) of the Nazi years, followed by the false dawn of the Stalinist regime. It concludes with her escape across the border into Austria after the Hungarian revolution. It's a wonderful, witty, compassionate book. Unusually, and  the oft-repeated reason for its rejection by conventional publishers, the factual writing is interspersed with short stories which further illuminate those dark times. That's how she wanted to write it, and the fact that it didn't then quite fit one genre or another was irrelevant.



She died before she could complete volume two, The Free West, and it is this book that we've just put together. It is, as the first one, a mixture of autobiography and stories, but in this case we've put the stories together at the end of the factual writing. Vera arrived here in 1957, speaking not a word of English. A trained  psychotherapist, she could only work as a domestic servant at first because that was the terms of her visa. It is, among other things, a funny take on the English and their incomprehensible ways, and her own struggles to establish herself here. It also contains echoes of the dark past, so again it is impossible to categorise - but so what? That's not a particularly intelligent way to think about a book, to my mind. I've just finished The Cat Who Came in off the Roof - hugely enjoyable, very funny, and (apparently) a children's book. Huh.
After Vera's first book, we went on to publish Jayne Woodhouse's story 'The Stephensons' Rocket'. It's about a retired greyhound and the troubled family who take him in. It is narrated by Anna, a grumpy pre-teenage girl and again, although it could be called a children's book, we know from feedback that people of all ages read and enjoy it. It was followed by 'And Rocky Too, and then the one we are about to launch, 'Rocky's Home Run'. They are the most satisfying and engaging account of a family's ups and downs and Anna's sometimes painful stages of development. They touch on family breakdown, bullying, friendship, mental illness, but with a light, skillful hand.



What next? Who knows? We didn't intend to produce nine of our own books, let alone other people's. so I'm not going to try to predict anything. Let's see what comes along.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bloody Scotland Could Have Been Bloodier, by Chris Longmuir


It was the day after the Scottish referendum when half of Scotland had been sorely disappointed, while the other half rejoiced, and I was off to Bloody Scotland at Stirling. I’ve been there before, but I wondered if this year it would be bloodier than ever.

Bloody Scotland in case you’ve never heard of it is a crime writing convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. It’s a fabulous event attended by many of the better known, and a smattering of the lesser known, crime writers, and a massive choice of events with over fifty authors giving talks and interviews. The convention is spread over three days, and this year it was from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st September (the voting on the referendum was on the 18th September).

As well as the speakers there was a masterclass on crime writing, a cinema presentation aptly named, Bloody Cinema, in the Old Town Jail, a courtroom drama in Stirling Sheriff Court, Medieval Murder in Stirling Castle, and a gala dinner where the Deanston Crime Book of the Year Award was made to the winning author.

A lively event with Christopher Brookmyre and Denise Mina
The weekend started off with a blast. The first two events had the audience engaged as soon as they started. While waiting for Denise Mina who, we were told, was probably going to arrive on her bicycle, Christopher Brookmyre opened the first one by reading a short story that was, by turns, fantastic, horrific, and extremely funny. This was followed by a conversation with Denise Mina which turned into a humorous and informative pairing.


Stuart Macbride turned Mark Billingham and the audience into zombies
It did make me wonder how the next event would fare following on from this one. I needn’t have worried. The double act that was Stuart Macbride and Mark Billingham provided more hilarity as insults were thrown at each other, and at one point Stuart convinced Mark, as well as most of the audience, that they were zombies, while he read his children’s story Skeleton Bob. Stuart also had Mark mystified by his use of the Doric, particularly when he described his recent award as the world’s stovies champion. His attempt to describe stovies, combined with Mark’s misinterpretations, was hilarious. (Stovies is a Scottish dish comprising onions, meat and potatoes, cooked in beef dripping)

Saturday was packed with events. Three choices for every time slot, so it was difficult to choose. I am highly involved in the digital revolution, so I started off with Digital Detectives, a panel with Allan Guthrie and Ed James, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. Allan and Ed described the career choices which led them into digital publishing with both of them approaching it from a different angle. Allan started out traditionally while Ed was entering traditional publishing following his success in the ebook market. Likewise, Alexandra had come to ebooks following a Hollywood script writing career followed by success in traditional publishing.

I took a break after that despite a full programme of events to choose from. This gave me a chance to wander round Albert Halls where I met up with some friends and after lunch and a gossip with them, I headed for an event I had been looking forward to, Alex Gray and Caro Ramsay, ably chaired by Gordon Brown - the writer not the politician. The readings and subsequent panel conversation were so fascinating I made a mental note to shuffle both writers’ books to the top of my ‘to be read’ mountain.

Alanna Knight interviewing Peter May
The next event was chaired by a writer much loved by all, Alanna Knight, and in the hot seat was Peter May, a crime writer with a long list of books to his credit. I remember being hooked on his Chinese crime novels quite a few years ago. They talked about his new book Entry Island, and another mental note was made. That ‘to be read mountain’ was increasing at an alarming rate.

On my exit from the Albert Halls I was astonished at the length of the queue for the next event. But why that should have surprised me I don’t know, because the event was Kathy Reichs in conversation with Ian Rankin, both of them top writers in their genre. The talk was about books and forensics, and was fascinating.

Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs in conversation

A packed Saturday finished off with the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award dinner in the Colessio Hotel. There were ten short listed authors and the winner was Peter May with Entry Island. I was on a table that included Alex Gray and Dirk Robertson as well as readers and it was a good mix. The meal was good, the drink was flowing, and the chat was great. The evening came to an end all too soon, and I left the hotel clutching my gifted copy of Peter May’s, Entry Island, and the new Alex Gray book, The Bird that did not Sing, which she presented to everyone on her table.

Volunteer dusting for fingerprints
The final event I attended was Lin Anderson and Return to the Scene (RS2) – Forensic Fact Meets Forensic Fiction. This was an information packed session as well as an audience interactive one. Volunteers from the audience donned the white forensic suits and tested for fingerprints. Meanwhile the panel discussion ranged between fingerprints and DNA, with input from a forensic examiner, and a fingerprint expert who had previously served in the police force as a crime scene officer. The forensic examiner, Laura Fairley of Return to the Scene (RS2 – innovative crime scene recreation technology) displayed how this computer software worked to allow various professionals to examine crime scenes without the need to be present. Not only was the software able to scan crime scenes, it also had a body map element which produced a 3D model of a human body on the computer screen which could examine for internal damage as well as external. It was fascinating to see the body go through various layers of transparency right down to the bare skeleton. The body mapping was particularly useful in court cases in order to present injuries a victim has received to the jury. Fascinating stuff.

Bloody Scotland was a brilliant weekend, and the only blood in evidence was the fictional stuff – thank goodness. I sampled various panels, but also missed quite a few, and my biggest difficulty was in choosing which event to attend with a choice of three for every time slot. But that’s a good excuse to return next year, although no doubt I’ll still have the same problem.

If you want to check out Bloody Scotland, you’ll find it here http://www.bloodyscotland.com/

Chris Longmuir