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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Guest Author - Mary Nichols

When I began writing many moons ago, it was done by hand and then laboriously copied onto a typewriter with a carbon copy. If I made a mistake it was out with the tippex or rip the page out and start again. With my first royalties I bought a golf ball typewriter, huge and heavy, but it dealt with mistakes more easily. The next step was an Amstrad word processor, then a PC and learning  to use Word, but even so, manuscripts had to be printed out and posted. Then came the internet and email and life became a whole lot easier. I now submit my books and correct proofs by email.
And now we have ebooks.

After having over fifty novels published in the traditional way, I have put my toe in the water of e-book publishing on my own account. It was a steep learning curve, but with considerable help from my daughter-in-law and loads of advice from my friends in the Romantic Novelists Association who have taken the plunge before me, I now have three books to go alongside those my publishers have put up; A Line Through Chevington (originally entitled The Stubble Field), Promises And Pie Crusts and The Poacher’s Daughter. 

The Stubble Field did well when it first came out but has long been out of print. It is set against the mania of railway building in the mid-nineteenth century and conditions in the workhouses at the time. Families were separated in these institutions, husbands from wives, parents from children, brothers from sisters. Orphaned brother and sister, Sarah Jane and Billie Winterday are forced to go to the dreaded workhouse when their parents die. They are separated and from then on their lives follow completely different courses, although every now and again, they are within a whisker of being reunited. Sarah Jane becomes involved with the navvies but she is ambitious and hers is a rags-to-riches story. Billie is a street urchin whose path is equally rocky, but he too grows in stature and ultimately finds success. I wrote the book through both points of view but it became impossibly long and so I decided to concentrate on Sarah Jane’s story, writing Billie’s as a sequel, but by the time I had prepared the sequel, the publisher’s policy on historicals had changed and it was never published. So many people who read and enjoyed the first book have asked me ‘But what happened to Billie?’ that the opportunity to e-publish on my own account was heaven-sent. The Stubble Field has become A Line Through Chevington and Billie’s story is now available as an ebook with the title: Promises And Pie Crusts

Having learned the ropes, my daughter-in-law and I, we went on to another out-of-print title: The Poacher’s Daughter. Brought up as the daughter of the local poacher, Kate Brough is not the simple country girl she appears to be. It is a time of agricultural unrest in the1830s and Kate, in involving herself with the labourers’ cause, earns the love of three very different men, a young labourer, the Squire’s nephew and a mysterious stranger who arrives in the village to lead the men. But he is not all he seems and neither is Kate. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery of her birth.

Publishing ebooks is a wonderful way to give out of print books a second airing and I shall probably do more between my regular work for my current publishers. To keep abreast of developments, please have a look at my website.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Guest Author - Marianne Wheelaghan

Throwim Way Leg

Literally translated the New Guinea pidgin expression throwim way leg means 'to throw away your leg'. Slightly less literally, it means to thrust out your leg and take the first step of what could be a long march (ie: to go on a journey!). I lived in the Pacific area for nearly ten years and three were spent in Papua New Guinea. At first glance the language seems naïve and downright silly – I can't help but chuckle when I hear it – but for all its apparent simplicity, New Guinea pidgin can be very subtle.

Papua New Guinea is  – after Greenland – the world's largest island and home to 1000 languages, one-sixth of the world's total. The topography is so rugged that until the arrival of aircraft, tribes in adjacent valleys were often completely isolated. Until a few generations ago, some of the  peoples in the highlands mounted well planned raids on villages, kidnapping children and killing (and even eating) their  parents. Under such conditions, to leave the confines of your village and 'go on a journey' was a fearful, perilous thing, rarely done. It meant abandoning the safety of your village, putting yourself at risk of your enemies, without knowing where the journey would take you or if you would ever return to the safety of your village. The phrase throwim way leg hints at that fearful sense of abandonment a tribe's person must have felt when 'going on a journey'.

So what has this New Guinea pidgin phrase to do with being a writer? Well, in the middle of writing my first (crime) novel, my mother very sadly died. While clearing her things, I discovered a bundle of diary entries and letters and documents which related to Mum's earlier life in Germany (Mum never talked about her early life, so the family  knew very little about it.). Now I had a dilemma: did I translate the diaries and letters  (I'd studied German) and reveal all to the family, or did I ignore them and carry on writing my novel? In the end I opted to translate the letters, not least because my dad was driving me nuts asking me to do so. I imagined it wouldn't take me too long. The first thing I discovered about Mum was that she was one of five million Germans to have been forcibly expelled from their homes in Lower Silesia, at the end of the second World War (when Lower Silesia was handed to Poland). I was shocked – I had never thought of Mum as a refugee. I carried on translating and reading. I was horrified. So much so I put the writing of my debut (crime) novel to one side (and everything else I was doing) and carried on until I had translated absolutely everything. Then I began to carry out research.  In fact I didn't return to my crime novel for over four years, not until after the publication of the The Blue Suitcase, a historic fiction, based not just on my mum's life, but on  the lives of all the mums and families of Lower Silesia, Germany, living in the Third Reich.

Why did I suspend one writing project in favour of embarking on another? Because I had to. I think that being a writer is a bit like to throwim way leg every day. More often or not we have no idea where we are going, the trip is full of pot holes, distractions, disappointments and frustrations. There is a good chance we will never, ever return to the warm and cosy comfort of the life we had before becoming a writer and absolutely no guarantee we will ever get to the promised land of  “making it big” (which is what a lot of my writing friends and acquaintances  talk about, despite being  accomplished writers with a number of books under their belt!). But once an idea grips us, we throwim way leg (often along with our sanity) and follow it to wherever it leads us. We are driven, as the King says in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, to “Begin at the beginning and go on till we come to the end; then stop.”  If we are lucky, we will create a story that others will find worth reading and then we'll start all over again.

On the plus side, when we throwim way leg there is very little chance we will ever get eaten :o)

Were you ever so gripped by an idea that you had to stop everything else you were doing/working on to develop it? Are you, like me, looking forward to finishing a writing project in 2012 which began in 2007?





The Blue Suitcase is available on Kindle in both the UK and US  and in paperback in branches of Blackwell's and Waterstone's throughout the UK and in many Independent bookshops in Edinburgh.

BTW:  The Blue Suitcase is a recommended staff Christmas Read at Waterstone's West End branch in Edinburgh. 

(My debut crime/thriller, set in the Republic of Kiribati, is due out in the late summer of 2012 – the working title of which is Murder on Tarawa, but that will most likely change!)



Thursday, 29 December 2011

A New Year - and some resolutions - by Hywela Lyn



I hope you all had a very Happy Christmas and that 2012 will be good to you!

zwani.com myspace graphic commentsAnother year over and I have a confession to make.  I've had so much going on since Christmas, what with making arrangements to visit my family in Wales, which includes arranging for someone to feed my two horses , and making a last minute cake to take with us, and purchasing and wrapping gifts for my sister's Birthday on the 2nd -  not to mention trying to get two on-line interviews finished (I know, excuses, excuses) I almost forgot that it's my turn to post today.

So - I need to make some New Year Resolutions:

1.  To be more organised, to structure my day and not leave things until the last  minute!

2.  To not check email or Facebook until I've written or revised at least 2,000 words per day.

3.  To finish the third book in my trilogy by February and to start work on my NaNo with a view to self publishing it.

Only three, I hope I can keep them but No2 is going to be very difficult.  I'm always afraid I'll miss an important email, especially since I have a dear  on-line author friend in the States, who is in hospital at the moment and I'm relying on her sister's emails to keep me informed on how she is. 

How about you?  Are you making any New Year's resolutions?  If so, what are your chances of keeping them do you think?   (I hope your chances are better than mine!)

www.hywelalyn.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A Gift in Bangkok, by Andrew Crofts



I was sent to Bangkok as a gift this month. I was to be presented at a party to the host, who had long said he wanted to write a book and whose family thought he would welcome the help of a ghost. The family did not ask me to go to the Orient gift-wrapped, but they did ask me to take with me a mock-up of a possible cover of the book, so that there would be something tangible to be handed over, something that would show instantly what the gift was.




That got me thinking about the place for printed books now that we are all concentrating so hard on understanding the dynamic of the electronic versions. This imaginative idea of the book as a prestigious gift would not have worked so well if presented in e-book form. It would have lacked the cultural resonance of the print version. The recipient of the gift would not have been able to pick it up, turn it over in his hands and pass it round the guests who had assembled for the presentation beneath the hotel’s palm trees.



E-books are undoubtedly the way forward when it comes to getting writers’ work out there, showcasing it, distributing it more economically and ecologically, but when it comes to creating a product with special meaning, and for limited editions that are to be displayed as well as read, print will no doubt live on for a long time. Books that might be read by millions on screens, can still be produced in special editions for hundreds or thousands of collectors and enthusiasts.




The hotel in Bangkok where the four day party was being thrown, was next to a mighty new shopping mall, which had a whole floor dedicated to information and communication. Wandering past the bustling, beautiful stores belonging to brands like Apple, Blackberry and Nokia, I found in the middle of the concourse the most elegantly presented book shop. Half of it was dedicated to English language books and there were hundreds of well displayed, well designed, tempting books. The aisles were full of browsers and there was steady business at the tills. I know very little about the Thai book market. It may well be that retail rents are much lower than in Europe, but whatever the reason it was a wonderful experience to find books so integrated into this very modern shopping experience, seeing them finding their place amongst the Smart phones and tablets. It seemed like a glimpse into an harmonious future, bringing the works of writers to readers in an attractive way that we are still only stumbling towards in Britain.









Monday, 26 December 2011

Bad Backs and New Year Dreams - by Rosalie Warren



As I write this, just before Christmas, I'm feeling rather sorry for myself. I have a sore throat and a cough, which get much worse if I lie flat. I also have a painful back, which complains unless I spend every alternate hour or so lying flat on it! Sitting at a desk, even on my new super-dooper-bad-back-chair, is impossible for more than five minutes at a stretch. I have shopping, baking and cleaning to do, guests arriving for Christmas, a father up in Yorkshire who needs lots of help from me, his only daughter, and - urrgghhh, I won't go on...

(Btw, I know, really, that I have many things to be thankful for and am much, much better off than some. But if you remind me of that, some nasty primitive reflex might be triggered and I might try to kick you, so please beware...)

A kind Twitter friend just recommended that I try lying on my tummy in order to type on my laptop, placed on a stool at the end of my bed. It works, at least for a short time, and I'm very grateful for her suggestion. At least, if I can get on with some work, I don't feel such a useless lump.

And now, having got those moans out of the way, I'm going to tell you about one of my plans for 2012. A couple of years ago I wrote a short novel, of about 42000 words, about an elderly woman called Marguerite, who has Alzheimer's. In spite of her condition, she retains her sense of humour (note to self: take note!) and develops a deep friendship with her great-granddaughter, who is going through tough times at home and school.




I thoroughly enjoyed becoming Marguerite for a while. I did some research, of course, but have no idea, really, whether her character will convince my readership. I've done my best and now I can only hope. What I can do is put the book out there and make sure some readers notice it and give it a go.

From what I gather, no publisher will look at a novel of this length; not unless you are Ian McEwan or someone like him. So, having had some useful criticism from fellow writers and readers, I'm hoping to publish Mondays with Marguerite as an eBook, sometime in 2012. I've got a fair bit to learn first, both about the mechanics of the process and how to publicise it, but I'm very happy to be hitching a lift alongside the many experienced authors on this blog who have already ventured into the world of ePublishing, some with considerable success.

I hope, too, to continue to be 'traditionally' published in 2012. I'm in talks with an editor about a new series for 7-9s, which I can't wait to begin. Charity's Child, first published by the indie publisher Circaidy Gregory Press in 2008, is to be reissued as an eBook with the same publisher in March 2012, this time marketed at age 14+. And my science fiction novel for adults, which I'm currently redrafting on my tummy, will be under submission, I hope, by the middle of next year.

So I may be hobbling around and coughing like crazy (as so many of us currently are), but my eyes are firmly set on 2012, hoping it will be a better year for readers, writers, independent booksellers, libraries - indeed for everyone who truly cares about books.


Sunday, 25 December 2011

A CHRISTMAS STORY - Susan Price

          All of us Electric Authors here at Authors Dreaming Central wish our readers a very happy Christmas.

          It's Christmas Day, so I don't suppose many people are going to read this - apart from the odd one taking a breather from the festivities.  But for those who do, here's a short and rather sweet Christmas story, inspired by my own family's Christmas memories....

THE CHRISTMAS TREES

          'Oh look! Look! The chimney sweep! Oh, I used to love him!' Jennifer held up a small glass globe which tapered, at the top and bottom, into delicate glass spikes. It was a perfect, pale lavender in colour, neither too red nor too blue. The translucent glass sphere attracted light and held it, like a bubble.
 
          Painted round it was a dark-blue silhouette of a chimney sweep carrying a long ladder on his shoulder, and another silhouette of an old-fashioned lamp-post. White blobs of snow fell around the sweep, and there was a suggestion of snow-covered ground at his feet.

          'This was one of the globes I had when I was a little girl,' Jennifer said, holding the delicate bauble above the heads of her own two daughters, Anna and Catherine. Anna reached up for it.

          'No, let Catherine hold it, and you can look at it. Be careful, Cath, it's very fragile. I'm amazed it's still in one piece.'

          Read more... 

         This story comes from my collection NIGHTCOMERS, which is available for download from Amazon here.
         My collections HAUNTINGS, and OVERHEARD IN A GRAVEYARD are also available.
          The title story, Overheard In A Graveyard, can be read on my website, here.
          Another story, Caisho Burroughs, can be read here.


Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Poem For Christmas Eve - Avril Joy

Any soldier in the trenches  in 1915 who happened to read a copy of The Times for 24th December might have seen Thomas Hardy's poem  The Oxen. It was first published in this edition and printed alongside news of the devastating conflict that was ravaging Europe. It appeared alongside an advertisement for Bovril -which claimed to give strength to the men in the trenches!

When I was seventeen I was given this poem by my English teacher to read aloud at the Christmas Carol Service. I learned it by heart and every Christmas Eve without fail it comes back to me. I didn't know, until recently, when and where it was first published, or that 'in these years' referred to the years of the Great War. I hadn't fully grasped its context. But I instinctively felt its poignancy, its air of regret and I understood the folk traditions from which it came and which meant so much to Hardy. I loved its language too: the comfort of words like 'combe' which were a part of my West Country heritage. I understood the desire for something magical, something to believe in.

Now it seems as poignant to me as it did then at seventeen, perhaps even more so. After all we are still at war and the spiritual messages of Christmas are easily forgotten.

So I offer you this beautiful poem as a Christmas gift and I hope you come to remember and enjoy it as much as I do and I hope you have a wonderful - happy and peaceful - Christmas wherever you are and whatever you do. 

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.


Thomas Hardy 

Thomas Hardy's Study


Friday, 23 December 2011

The glitzy showbiz life of a writer... - Simon Cheshire


Here's a true story. A couple of years ago, it had been arranged for me to do a talk and a signing session at a bookshop situated in the middle of a very large and very busy shopping mall (I can tell this story now 'cos the shop - and indeed the mall - are no longer there). A pretty big deal for me - I'd never done a bookshop signing before. Some classes from nearby schools were going to be bussed in, and the local press would be there.

The day of the event dawned after a night in which I was sleepless with excitement. To cut a very long story short, I arrived at the bookshop with seconds to spare (the train was late, and my station-to-shop map was rubbish), and dripping wet (the rain had started belting down seconds after I left home). Holy moley, I thought, what a journey, at least I got here in one piece, and I am at least on time. Phew.

I went into the bookshop. Hello, I'm Simon Cheshire. The staff gave me a funny look. Who? Umm... I'm Simon Cheshire? The author?... Err, the signing, today?... Nope, no author expected. No schoolkids, no local press. What was your name again, mate?

I was a little miffed. It turned out that the shopping mall's managers, who'd arranged everything, had forgotten to tell the shop I was coming. And also to tell the schools. And also the press. Hmm, I thought to myself, standing there dripping quietly, I believe it may possibly be time for me to go and have a word with the managers. It took me about half an hour to find the mall's office, tucked away behind a pizza stand and up six floors in a tiny lift. By the time I got to the Reception Desk, I wasn't in the best of moods.

"Hello, I'm Simon Cheshire," I said, to the very, very pretty Receptionist. She was so extraordinarily pretty, in fact, that my bad temper instantly went away, and all I could do was be vastly polite to her. "Is Mrs X in?" I said. [Mrs X - not her real name, you understand - was the woman who'd 'organised' my visit]

"I'll just find out for you," said the very, very pretty Receptionist, flashing an absolutely devastating smile at me. My heart skipped a beat.

She picked up the phone. Tap tap tap. Ring ring. While it was ringing, she whispered to me "Sorry, what was the name again?"

"Simon Cheshire."

Her call was answered. I don't know if the Receptionist had the phone's sound turned right up, or if my hearing was oddly acute that day, but I could hear every word that was said at the other end. And the Receptionist obviously didn't realise this. She asked for Mrs X. She was told Mrs X was on holiday for two weeks.

"I'm terribly sorry," said the very, very pretty Receptionist to me. "She not in her office at the moment."

"Ah," I said. "Umm, is there someone else I could talk to? There's been a bit of a mix-up somewhere along the line, and I was hoping I could maybe sort something out for another day?"

"Of course. One moment." She smiled again. My heart melted.

Phone. Tap tap tap. "Hello? Stacey? I've got a Simon Chester in Reception. He wanted to speak to Mrs X."

On the other end: "Oh God. Why? Is this a moan?"

The Receptionist, still unaware I could hear Stacey, said "Yes, I think so."

Stacey huffed and puffed and tutted a bit. "Ummm...." Long pause. "Is he fit?"

Without a moment's hesitation, without so much as a glance up at me: "No way, man," snorted the Receptionist. My heart shattered. To be brutally honest, nobody has ever mistaken me for Brad Pitt, but I couldn't help feeling a little wounded. I want to go home now, I thought.

"I'm sorry, Mr Chessman, her assistant isn't available either. Would you like to make an appointment for tomorrow?"

"Err, no, that's fine, thank you. I'll leave it. No problem. Thanks for your help."

"Not at all. Have a good day." Beautiful, beautiful smile.

I walked away, rain still dripping off my trousers. I think I may have whimpered slightly on the train home. So you see, dear readers, the moral of this story is: the life of a writer isn't all glamour and excitement.

Happy Christmas!

-----------------

(By the way, I've got a new Selection Box ebook featuring sample chapters from some of my books for 8-12 year-olds, which is available free from my website. A-hem, you don't expect me to go a whole month without a blantant plug, do you?)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Help! My NCX file is missing.- Diana Kimpton

Self publishing for the Kindle is easy – you just follow the instructions in Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing guide and let the Mobi Pocket Creator do the work for you. Trouble is, if you download the Amazon Kindle previewer and test your ebook on it you'll find that clicking one of the buttons gives the worrying result:

Missing NCX file

Judging by many of the ebooks I read, not all publishers and indie authors realise what this is or that their book would be better if it had one.

NCX stands for Navigational Control for XML application and the NCX file creates the little marks called 'nav points' that you sometimes see on the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. If they are there, you can skip backwards and forwards along the bar between nav points using the 5 way controller. Without them, readers can only navigate through the book using the page forward and back keys, the search facility or, if the publisher has provided one, with the interactive table of contents.

In most books each nav point is the start of a new chapter, but you can make the marks appear anywhere you like. For example, at subdivisions within a chapter or at diagrams that you know the user might often want to skip back to. The nav points will often exactly duplicate your table of contents but they're much easier to use and anything you do to make reading your book easier must be a good thing.

Luckily, real Kindles don't have the NCX button so ordinary users will never see the error message. So can you ignore the problem? Well, lots of Kindle e books don't have an NCX file so, if you do, you'd be in good company. With a novel, readers may not even realise what they’re missing. But a non-fiction book or an anthology definitely gains from having nav points.

The bad news is that, to include an NCX file, you need to abandon Amazon's Mobi Pocket Creator and start using their command line utility,' kindlegen.exe' instead. Kindlegen just takes all the components (including the NCX file) that constitute an ebook and binds them together. Unfortunately, this means that you have to know what these components are and how to create them individually.

You can probably guess that you'll need at least the text of the book in HTML format, any pictures that are included, the stuff about the author/publisher, a table of contents and of course the NCX file.

You list all these files and other information in a master file called an OPF (Open Packaging Format) and then tell Kindlegen to get to work. That’s not as scary as it sounds – the command can be as simple as 'kindlegen mybook.opf'.

Before you get that far, you'll need to find out exactly what to do by looking on the internet. computerhope.com tells you how to start up a command line session, and easy-as-pie.com is an excellent resource to lead you through the construction of the necessary files. The Kindle publishing download includes a Sample folder (actually the files that make up the Kindle User Guide) that you can use as a model for your own files.

It's all a bit horrible to start with, but constant Googling will eventually pay off and you’ll be able to look at your new NCX enabled ebook with pride.

My latest ebook, Perfectly Pony, is in the Amazon Kindle store,
complete with an NCX file.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

ON BEING A VIRTUAL AUTHOR - Pauline Fisk


A month ago, after twenty years in publishing, I launched my first e-book. Now it's feedback time. Three words spring to mind when I ask myself how it went. Panic. Exhilaration. Exhaustion. In that order.

Even the most careful planning can go awry. Everything was lined up to happen at the push of a button. Book launched on Kindle, click. New look Pauline Fisk website launched with fabulous new ‘Midnight Blue’ artwork, click. Authors Electric posting launched entitled ‘Why Now, Why an E-Book and Why Kindle’, click. Mailshot launched to two hundred and fifty addresses, click.

But you can’t launch anything without the internet. At five in the morning [yes, so keen was I to get launching that I was up at five] I was to be found on the phone to a BT engineer trying to figure out what had gone wrong. After an hour of phone calls back and forth, involving crawling under my desk, pulling out plugs and reinstating them and being sent to obscure corners of my computer to click the ‘this’ and ‘that’ options, the engineer discovered that the problem lay at their end, not mine. Twenty seconds later, internet connection was reinstalled, followed by my first click and Midnight Blue was officially launched.

So far so good, I told myself. Problem dealt with, now enjoy the rest of the day. But then I made a fatal mistake. Before doing any more clicking, I decided to take my dog for a walk. Not only that but, because it was still early with no cars on the road, I decided to take him without his lead. Mistake Number Two.

The walk was good. No problems there. The River Severn is great for walks at any time of the year. Afterwards, I dropped in at my daughter’s house, and sense of celebration filled the air as we clinked our coffee cups to my success as a published e-book author. Then I returned home to bring the rest of my carefully planned launch to life. And found I was locked out.

I had my key. I hadn’t forgotten it or anything like that. But I didn’t have a front door that would open, or the office that lay behind it, or my computer, or the precious passwords that would enable me to click my clicks. They were all inside the house, and I was on the doorstep watching my key going round and round refusing to engage.

To make matters worse, traffic was beginning to fill up on the road, and Biffo, my small, brown, hairy joke of a dog [minus his lead], was racing up and down eying it with enthusiasm. Then an email arrived on my phone informing me that my Authors Electric posting hadn’t appeared as scheduled, followed by another asking where was the fancy new-look website that I’d been going on about?

The next few hours passed in a blur. I won’t bore you with the details of phone calls to husband [the guilty DIY ‘expert’ who’d been playing with the lock the night before to make it work better – his words, not mine], bank, building society and finally [when I’d tracked them down] insurers. Then there was the long, boring wait outside my house for the locksmith to arrive. But by midday, [yes, midday] I was back inside. And by some miracle I’d remembered my Authors Electric password and launched my post via my phone, and the Mailchimp mailshot went off only ten minutes later than I’d planned, and the pillars of civilisation didn’t crumble just because my website artwork happened a bit late.

So, there you have it. My book launch. The way it really happened in the real world beyond my computer screen. The e-book revolution might be cutting edge, but there are still frazzled authors behind those fabulous new e-books, locking themselves outside their houses, losing their dogs [yes, that too], forgetting their passwords, cursing at their computers and generally [I’m speaking for myself here, chaps] holding their lives together with paperclips, sellotape and rubber bands.

And it’s those real live authors, frazzled or not, that I want to celebrate. I may have entered a virtual world with my first e-book, but the people I’m meeting in it aren’t virtual - they’re very real, and their support is real too. From the age of nine onwards I’ve been a solitary writer, too busy on the next project/book/poem/whatever, to do anything else. When I went to the Smarties Award ceremony, I found a vast gang of chattering publishing people in the centre of the hall and a sprinkling of lone souls around the edge, whom I quickly discovered were ‘the writers’. In other words, other solitary people like me.

Well, not since going online, meeting other authors and joining Authors Electric. During the launching of ‘Midnight Blue’, the kindness of other authors, their encouragement and generosity of spirit has been overwhelming. And the online book tour that a group of reviewers and authors helped me put together has proved every bit as stimulating and exciting as any real one I’ve ever done, asking questions which have challenged me, made me think and drawn out of me some of the fundamental aspects of what - and why - I write.

So, perhaps it’s not such a virtual world after all. Certainly Authors Electric isn’t just virtual. As a community of authors, it’s very real. And the people I’m writing for aren’t virtual. They’re real readers, and their tweets, thumbs-up on Facebook and words of encouragement are real. And ‘Midnight Blue’ is real, with real dilemmas and characters, all breathed to life by the power of imagination.

But then being real is what it’s all about. That’s what we writers are trying to do. When I go into schools, children are amazed to meet a real author, as if books were written by beings from another planet. Well, my desk may resemble another planet, but every day this real and very fallible writer gets up, plonks her aching limbs in front of her computer, starts typing with her freezing fingers [my office is the one room in the house without central heating] and makes stories happen, makes them grow, brings the characters to life, hears inside her head what they want to say and tries to get it down the way they’d want it. That’s largely what my life’s about.

For one of my birthdays, instead of a badge with some terrible number on it, somebody gave me one saying ‘I’m a Successful Writer’. I took it as a joke, but nevertheless stuck it on my computer where it remains to this day, reminding me that a successful writer’s only as good as their latest book.

And that book, currently, is ‘Midnight Blue’. So go on Amazon. Buy the book. Buy it for your friends for Christmas using Kindle Gift Certificates. I hope you enjoy it.
A few days ago I found the original short story that lies behind ‘Midnight Blue’. ‘Ben the Balloon Man’ it’s called, and I wrote it getting on for forty years ago. It’s going to be my website for the week between Christmas and New Year, posted as a Christmas entertainment for my readers. So do look out for it. And have a Happy Christmas.

And may the year to come be full of good stories for us all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The accidental blogger: more than just a platform - by Roz Morris

Most writers are advised to start blogging as a career move. But in 2009 I’d never heard of ‘platform’. I started a writing blog because I felt like it.

Like many writers with a traditional publishing background, I networked one to one - meetings, parties and email discussions. My writer friends had websites, but I didn’t because I had no books out under my name. Even though my agent was out crusading with my first novel as me (My Memories of a Future Life) we never discussed ‘platform’.

One day a web-savvy friend in the games industry was telling me about blogging, and set me up with a Wordpress ID. I wrote a few posts. It was fun; my own writers’ observatory - looking at real life with a storyteller’s eye.

Writerly friends enjoyed my posts. Non-writerlies were spared a lot of abstruse conversations. When I didn’t post for two weeks, the teenage son of some friends - who I thought would have cooler pastimes - told me I was overdue for a post. Since that day, I have taken my schedule seriously.

I went googling and found a writers’ blogoverse. Then a Twitterverse and a Facebookverse. Each portal I fell through, I discovered new constellations of likeminded souls. I wrote a writing book, Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, which I intended for my agent to sell, but it thrived as an electric indie because of the friends I was making through my blog.

But blogging didn’t feel like a publicity duty; it felt like play - and something I had always done. When I was a teenager, I had shoals of penfriends. Homework finished, my greatest pleasure was pouring ideas onto paper. If you made friends with me you were in for a lot of reading. You still are.

On the advice of those who know, I put up a second blog of static pages in case people searched for Roz Morris rather than Nail Your Novel. People do subscribe there, but nothing ever happens so they probably think I haven’t anything to say.

I started a third blog to release My Memories of a Future Life. That was also intended to be static pages. Then, to help out a friend, I posted a piece about using music as a creative spark for writing and called it The Undercover Soundtrack. It fitted well on that blog as my novel’s narrator is a musician. I realised I’d love to read a series like this - a literary Desert Island Discs where writers talk about the music that helped them create their characters, stories and settings.

Now the Future Life blog is no longer about promoting that novel, it’s a creative magazine of its own. Every week I host a new Undercover Soundtrack guest, among them other Authors Electric - Dan Holloway and Catherine Czerkawska (coming in 2012) and distinguished AE alumnus Nicola Morgan.

I love having my blogs. I love the feedback of discovering another comment out of the far-spread ether, or a question from a reader that provokes me to examine a wrinkle of the writer’s craft. Blogging turned out to be a useful move in the grand scheme of serendipity, but really it’s what I always liked doing - where at heart I’m still a teenager awhirl with curiosity, writing to friends.

Find Roz Morris on Twitter at @DirtyWhiteCandy and @ByLinkRozMorris

Monday, 19 December 2011

Electric Memories - Karen King


I read this article in the Daily Mail not long ago about the skills that are being lost forever because of modern technology, everyday things such as writing a letter, printing photos and sending postcard as well as skills like reading a map.
It made me think about what information we are leaving our ancestors about life in the 21st Century. Many of the things we've learnt from the past have come from written letters, diaries and records. We know lots of information about the Great Fire of London, the Great Plague, the Coronation of Charles 11 and other events from the 1660's from the diaries of Samuel Pepys:


 We know about the early Saxons and life in the middle ages from written records such as the writings of Bebe or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
Letters, records and photographs tell us about the World Wars and other historical events. Even in our own families, letters, diaries and photographs help us learn about our ancestors and are invaluable when we're tracing our family tree. But I have to admit that it's a long time since I wrote a letter, filled in a diary or printed out family photographs to put in an album. My photographs are on line, many on Facebook to share with other family members, I email instead of write letters.

However, computers are constantly upgraded and old software doesn't always work on them. I have many manuscript files that have corrupted on discs or are in a format I can no longer read. So when my descendants want to trace their family history what will they find out about me and my family? If only electrical evidence is left will they be able to access it? On an even wider scale, many records are now on line whilst paper records are increasingly destroyed or lost. Will historians of the future be able to access them? If all our memories are electrical will they at some point be lost? What memories are we leaving for future generations?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Traditional Polish Christmas - Catherine Czerkawska

My dad.

My late father came to Yorkshire from Poland, at the end of the war, with one of the Polish regiments attached to the British army. He came via Italy and Monte Cassino, so he was lucky to survive. In Yorkshire, still a young man, he worked in a textile mill for a while - it was compulsory for 'refugee aliens' -  met and married my English-Irish mother, Kathleen, and went to night school, cycling home through smoky Leeds on wintry nights while I was a baby.



By the time he retired, he was a distinguished scientist, working as a visiting expert for UNIDO, with a double doctorate: a DSc as well as a PhD in biochemistry. He died in 1995 and I still miss him, but I think I miss him and my mother most at Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve, because we always managed to have a Polish celebration meal, reserving the turkey and plum pudding for Christmas Day.

My dad, my grandfather and grandmother, in Galicia, Eastern Poland
It can't have been quite the same as his childhood home in Eastern Poland for my dear dad but my mum did her best. He always lent a hand with the cooking, helping to make 'pierogi', a kind of hand made ravioli filled with a cheese and potatoes, beetroot soup and a fish course. We always had a real tree. We always had candles and put straw under the tablecloth and shared blessed wafers when we could get them. We played and sang Polish Christmas carols, and I do believe that my dad, who never once seemed to regret the past, but was always the most cheerful and positive of parents, shed the occasional tear. 
Little Lord Fauntleroy!

Before he died - because I knew that I would want to write about my impossibly romantic Polish family history one day - I spent many hours with him, questioning him about the past. He made wonderful notebooks and drawings for me, full of detail. Later, I used some of this material in two radio plays and drafted out a novel. I was planning a trilogy, but I was distracted by theatre and did very little with it. Then, a handful of years ago, I did a lot more research and rewrote it completely as a longer novel called The Amber Heart. 

My last agent tried to sell it but although he declared that it was a 'wonderful' story there was very little interest from publishers who - all too predictably - thought it was beautifully written, but couldn't see how to market it. Which is why I'll be publishing it to Kindle, around Easter 2012, all being well - although in slightly modified form. At some point, a less than sympathetic editor got his paws on it and at his suggestion, I took several chapters and incidents out of it. He - young, intellectual, over-confident -  wanted me to skip over much of the story and 'get to the end.' Later, I realised that if I were to think about my target readers, he would be the very last person on earth I would consider.

My handsome grandfather- Max de Winter lives.
To be fair, some of his suggestions were helpful, but I was always wary of many of them. Now that I look at the novel again, with the benefit of hindsight, (and a little more self confidence) I think I need to restore the lost chapters, split the whole thing into two novels - which is what it wants to be - and go back to my original idea of a trilogy. There's plenty of material. The Amber Heart will be followed by the Winged Hussar. Later, there will be a third, but I don't have a name for that yet, although I certainly have a story!
Dad in the snow.
Meanwhile, because we're so close to Christmas, here's a short extract from The Amber Heart, about a  nineteenth century Polish Christmas. The novel is set in the 1800s, in that part of Eastern Poland called Galicia, which was part of the Austro Hungarian empire. (Now it's in the Ukraine). Young Ukrainian, Piotro - having risked his own life to save the heroine, Maryanna, in a violent uprising - is wandering alone through the countryside, unable to return home for fear of reprisals, not quite sure where to go or what to do - and sick at heart for the woman he has loved and lost.

Inspiration from a picture by a great great great uncle.

Almost without realising it, he was heading very slowly north west, going gradually in the direction of Maryanna’s old home at Lisko. He was lucky enough to spend Christmas Eve with a family of Polish smallholders, who had been dismayed to discover that sickness in the family had left them with an odd number of guests at their table for their festive supper. Since this meant that one of their number would die, for sure, during the ensuing year, the head of the household had rushed into the lane outside his house, looking for somebody, anybody, to make up the numbers.

Piotro had been lurking outside, sniffing hungrily at the savoury smells coming from the house. He could hardly believe his good fortune. He washed as best he could in the butt of icy water at the back of the house and the farmer’s wife found him a well-worn but clean linen shirt in honour of the occasion. His eyes were dazzled by the unaccustomed light and the heat of the room bemused him, making his head swim. He swayed and clutched at the back of a wooden settle to steady himself and tried to mind his manners.

In each corner of the room stood sheaves of rye, wheat, barley and oats, to ensure a plentiful harvest for the coming year. There was straw on the floor and a thin layer of hay on the table-top, covered with white linen. The company sat down to eat and the farmer broke the blessed wafer, spread with honey, and handed it to each guest in turn, including Piotro in this ritual with a smile.

‘Welcome, stranger! Welcome in God’s name, and eat!’

The supper was traditionally meatless but very plentiful – the family had been saving for this all year - and Piotro ate his fill of beetroot soup, pike in jelly, fried carp, smoked eels and pierogi, dumplings shaped like little ears filled with potato, onions and cabbage. There was dense, creamy cheese cake, spicy honey cake, luscious poppy seed roll and the traditional dish of kutia. At the less decorous end of the meal, the young boys of the family vied with each other in tossing spoonfuls of the grain and poppy seed mixture up to the ceiling which, when it stuck there, signified luck and a good harvest for the following year. The family were scrupulously polite to Piotro, attending to his needs but worrying him with few questions. Afterwards he was allowed to sleep beside the kitchen fire and in the morning he went on his way, laden with a good supply of food.
If you want to know what happened before - and what happens next - and I warn you, it's all impossibly romantic, all very Dr Zhivago, but also based on truth - you'll have to wait for me to get the book out there - by Easter 2012, I hope!

You can read a little more about all this and a few other things on my new website at www.wordarts.co.uk , beautifully designed (I think!) by a company called Paligap, in Ayr.

Julian Wladyslaw Czerkawski

Friday, 16 December 2011

News Flash! (and less salubrious puns) by Dan Holloway

For me, being an electric author has always been about more than having my work available on one or more proprietory ebook reader. I joined the online writing world via variouos writing communities back in the hazy days of 2007/8 (OK, hardly those long lost days of youth, but that was basically the time I decided to write "for serious" at all), but it was in 2009 thatI really became an electric author, poking and prodding at digital possibilities, when I started writing The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes as an interactive piece of literary fiction on Facebook.

It was that book through which I met many of the people I still work with most closely and started to get invited to blog across the web on all topics digital. Most of all, it made me realise how exciting it could be exploring for different ways to write.

The most exciting form I've discovered has been flash fiction which may not necessarily a digital form of writing (there's even a flash fiction category in the Bridport now) but both lends itself to appearing on blogs and has taken off in popularity thanks to online initiatives like #fridayflash (every Friday hundreds of writers post flash fiction on their blogs, then put a link on twitter as well as the #flashfriday hashtag. By searching that hashtag people find, read, and comment on, hundreds of stories a week. It's a fabulous community and has already spawned several superb anthologies).

Flash fiction could be describe in all kinds of ways, from word count (under 1000, under 500, under 400, various others) to structure, but it's an incredibly versatile form (and new) that eludes such labels in the main. Suffice to say it's not a short story (I personally treat flash's relation to shorts as I do novellas to novels - the capturing and layering of a single strand rather than the weaving of several, but I know that's an idiosyncratic way to look at both flash and novellas), and is most definitely not a practice ground.

The closest I've come to a description was in a piece I wrote for James Everington's excellent series "In Defence of Short Stories" which, typically for someone obtuse like me, took the form of a piece of flash rather than an argument. I've put it at the end of this post, along with a new piece.


Anyway, next year sees the very first National Flash Fiction Day, held on May 16th. All kinds of things will be happening all over the country and online, and the event has already attracted some fabulous supporters like Tania Hershman. To support the day, I'm running a Flash Slam in Oxford. Do click the link to sign up! Basically this will take the same format as a poetry slam - lots of people get to read for no more than 4 minutes each, before audience members randomly/affectionately assign marks, and everyone has chaotic fun and learns to appreciate just how fabulous flash fiction is. And if you're not sure if you'd like to read (Oxford audiences really are warm and lovely) or would just like to be part of a warm and lovely audience, do come along to listen! And if you change your minLinkd about reading once things get going you can always sign up to read on the spot. We even have a headline act and superstar panelist, the utterly brilliant Tania Hershman who'll be offering friendly comments on allr eaders as well as reading her own award-winning flashes

So, here are my pieces. They're sort of similar in subject - most of what I write is, in some way or other, connected with the art world. The first, Flash, is in a conversational/anecdotal style I often use. The second, After She Stopped, is more like my longer fiction and will almost certainly remind you of Murakami (albeit many times paler).



Flash


I've been reading James’ defences of short stories for some time now, and I’ve sat at my desk thinking about putting something together, wondering what I could say. It should be easy. I write short stories. Lots of them. And not just short stories but flash fiction too.

That’s it, I thought, before I asked James if I could put something together. Flash fiction. After all, I haven’t seen too many people defend it. It’s still looked upon as a bit of a novelty, a parvenu, not at all the place where an author would have the space to attribute three whole adjectival clauses to a single noun.

The problem is I’ve never really been an apologist. Do. That’s my motto. Don’t think it, live it. And live it again, and keep on living. Just like Katelan said that night when we sat around in button back chairs telling the audience about Lilith, and embracing life so close you choke on it, and her friend Holly, who died in her early twenties but lived more than you or I ever will.

Katelan.

Of course.

It was mid morning. Goodness knows what time o’clock in New York but I called her anyway.

Hey you, she said with all the energy I remembered, and I didn’t feel so bad.
Hey.

So?

So I’m doing this piece about flash fiction.

Yeah?

Yeah, about how cool it is. No, not just that. A defence of it.

A defence of it? she said and I could hear the frown lines. What’s to defend?

Exactly, I said, it seems so obvious.

So obvious you can’t think how to put it, she said, and I just laughed, and there we were laughing down the phone together at how ridiculous it was.

So how come you’re up? I asked.

She told me she’d been on a shoot and I asked her what they’d been shooting and she said she’d spent all day riding the IRT sharing homemade cupcakes with strangers while a friend filmed the thing on his phone and I said that sounded pretty cool and she said yeah it was cool, and then she spent an hour telling me about this guy who was going to propose to his partner only he wasn’t sure and he and Katelan talked it over for so many stops as they ate and her friend filmed and they ate some more and talked some more that he missed his stop and his partner called him and he picked up his phone in the middle of a mouthful and Katelan heard her say screw you, loser and the guy laughed and ate more cupcakes and felt so free he rode another ten stops with her while her friend filmed.

I asked her what she was going to do with the shoot and she said her friend was just finishing the film as we spoke and was going to upload it the moment he was done. I asked her if she could send me a link and she said not to worry I was first on the guy’s list when it was ready so I said thanks and she said you still don’t know what to write, do you?

No, I said, and she laughed and I asked her why and she said I’d always been slow on the uptake but not to worry, when I got the point I was always the right one to follow it through. I shrugged and asked her what the piece was called so I could tell people about it. I heard another voice, not hers, a man’s voice and it said, I’m not the one who lived. I’m not the one who lived, I repeated and Katelan’s voice and the man’s voice were laughing at the end of the line and then they weren’t. They weren’t anything. I held the phone to my ear waiting for her to say yeah, or awesome, or goodbye or something but she didn’t, and the next noise was the ping of an incoming e-mail and I held the phone close and mouthed thank you down the line.

Thank you, that’s exactly what I needed to say.




After She Stopped


“You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?”

It was my first visit to the Hilbert Gallery. I’m not sure why I was there. Maybe it was raining outside. Maybe there a meeting I needed to miss.

Looking at the screen, I thought the words were part of the exhibition.

I stood there staring at images that seemed to change every ten seconds or so, wondering how much of my life would be too much to spend with a piece of art.

It was minutes before I noticed the girl standing next to me. She had a Mary Quant bob and she was wearing a long woollen coat although it was summer. I wondered how long she’d been there.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s a kiss.” She didn’t look at me. It was like a cord ran between her eye and the screen.

“I can’t see any lips.” Between the clothes and the stillness, she had this kind of Beatnik authority about her, and I felt like a klutz as soon as I said it.

“Yeah, weird, isn’t it?” she said.

We stood in silence after that. I kept watching the screen, trying to figure whether the film was on a loop, whether anyone was going to kiss at any point. I’d forgotten whatever it was I’d come in to avoid doing.

I wondered if there was some kind of etiquette for who leaves first in situations like this.

“Come back tomorrow,” she said, like she was reading my thoughts off an autocue on the screen.

“I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow.”

“You’re coming here.”

It was like that for months. I have no recollection of the hours I wasn’t at the gallery. I’d turn up at the Hilbert. “You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?” she’d say, and we’d stand in front of the screen like we were playing a game of dare.

The day she stopped coming, I had this cramping, seasick feeling. I felt her absence next to me like it was thumping my kidneys.

For weeks I went back every day. I stared harder and harder at the screen, as though she might be in there. She never was.

One day I was standing in front of the screen and the emptiness next to me was missing. A woman stood next to me. She had a sharp suit and her blonde hair was tangled like she was on her way somewhere.

I said, “You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?”

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A message from Scrooge By Jan Needle

One of the strangest things about being a published, or accepted, or arrived author is the possibility of earning a living. I guess most of us discovered early on in our 'careers' that there is often more money to be got from talking about it than actually doing it, and lots of schools (for instance) would far rather spend a fews tens, or even hundreds, of pounds on getting an author in than they would in buying his or her books. I have actually visited educational establishments (God spare the mark) that happily admitted they didn't have any of my books on the premises, and didn't know if any of their victims had ever read one. I've mentioned before how many of them don't even bother to check my gender.

What's the idea, then? Usually the answer is something on the lines of 'encouraging the children to write.' I did go to a school in Sheffield once where an extremely chippy (on the shouldery) young teacher told me that it was an easy way of making a living, so the kids should be set on the path as soon as possible. When I said mildly that I didn't think it was that easy, especially in the 'making a living' sense, he got really indignant. I was getting thirty odd quid for an afternoon's burbling (it was a long time ago), while he had to actually work for a living - and teaching was bloody hard work, too.

Fairly obviously, he wanted to be a writer himself, and had so far found it impossible for anyone to recognise his genius. He wasn't even mollified when I agreed with him about the hardness of a teacher's lot, and really got quite offensive. He told me finally that if I was as 'socialist' as my books appeared to suggest, I ought to give my fee to the school funds. I tried to humour him. My first book got an advance of £200, I said, and I bought myself a bar billiards table with the money - except that it cost me £350. Wrong answer. He dreamed of having a bar billiards table, he said, but on his wage, etc, etc. I just hope to God he didn't become a careers adviser. He might actually have told the children it was a route they ought to follow.

More recently, I've been asked quite frequently to help older people with their writing, rather than going into schools and talking about my own. I did an Arvon week once, which is a deep-end experience in more ways than one, I found. One of the things that most fascinates me about this blogspot is the robusticity (there can't be such a word, but it sounds better than robustness) of spirit and of niceness that everybody shows. People talk about helping others to become writers as if this is not only a duty and a service, which I probably agree with, but also a good thing. For whom, a good thing? For why? Let's break it down a bit.

In classes I have been running recently, the participants were all extremely high on natural talent. It was honestly a pleasure and a privilege to listen to their work, to talk it through with them, to offer ways I thought they might like to think about to move it on. I had been dubious about taking the gig, and did so only on a trial basis, but it worked. Except, except. One day there was a new arrival, young, dyslexic, troubled, directed to the group by a well meaning person who thought, like my Sheffield teacher maybe, that...that what? I and all my regulars were completely thrown. Had he turned up for his second session, disruption would have been complete. Fortunately, he was extremely bright. He joined a music group instead. That was his good thing. Why writing, though? Why had that been suggested? To make a living? To enhance his self-esteem? Because it helps to pass the time?

Back to Arvon. There were perhaps a dozen of us. This time they had paid, and I guess quite a lot of money. For the majority, excellent. A week in a lovely place, like-minded people, feedback, fun. For a couple, it was torture. For the tutors, that was torture also. One woman asked me, halfway into it, if I would tell her, honestly, if she was wasting her time. Her eyes were deep and frighteningly vulnerable. Was she challenging me to tell the truth? Did she know the truth? Did I know the truth? I talked it over with other Arvon tutors later. It worried me for years. I took comfort from one of my favourite Brecht tropes: 'Truth is a black cat in a windowless room at midnight.' It was not that great a comfort.

Let's break it down a bit more. Here we all are, taking people's money to teach them how to write. Or to tell them what we know about the subject, or what we think we know. And what's the end result? A billiard table they can't afford to buy, a life as a writer who has to scratch a few quid helping other people to not be able to afford to buy a billiard table. Or - for the favoured few - an even worse fate. To be Jeffrey Archer, maybe, or to write The Da Vinci Code, to end up ridiculously rich. The Brecht quote ends: 'And justice a blind bat.'

But now I'm being silly. There have been times in my writing life when the money's come rolling in, and others when I've fought the mice for the cheese off the trap (not literally, you understand) - and to me it was all exactly equal. Because the fact is I write because I have to, not because I want to, I write because it's embedded in my genes (or something), I can't just give it up. I told the Arvon lady that she was doing fine, to keep on going, that Scott Fitzgerald papered his bedroom wall with rejection slips before he sold a word, and he would have gone on writing even if the knock-backs hadn't stopped. My mum always used to ask me if I was ever going to give up writing and get a proper job, but I don't think she meant it, much. She certainly knew the answer, anyway. If you're going to write you write, period.

Which means money is irrelevant, as is fame and acceptance - and probably 'being taught.' So when people ask me now if I can help them, I think of Bertolt Brecht, and tell them that I probably can't, but I'm prepared to have a look and chat about it. At the very least it seems to make them feel better about their affliction.

So I do it out of altruism.

And for money, naturally. Merry Christmas!


http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/86957

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/86960 (Albeson) (Both under a quid)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The past is another country: by Dennis Hamley

There have been a few blogs recently about our early reading adventures. I was especially interested to read of Ann's encounters with Alice and Lewis Carroll. Such musings always lead me to pondering on my own formative literary influences and I keep coming back to a fateful Christmas in 1944.

1944. Yes, a very fraught year indeed. People kept telling me we were going to win the war. I hardly listened to them; I was nine, I'd never doubted it and thought that anyone who didn't agree with me must be a bit stupid. I'd learnt to read - admittedly after a bit of a struggle - two years before but apart from stories of two characters (whether human or animal I really can't remember) called Ponder and Plod and 'that silly little rabbit/Who had a naughty habit/of eating and eating all day/ Little bits of greenery /he found upon the scenery' until he had a very unpleasant experience indeed, I can't really remember any hugely emblematic figure in my literary development. Well, Rose Fyleman and Alison Uttley and copies of Enid Blyton's 'Sunny Stories' which belonged to my cousins and which I would tear up with contempt if I ever got the chance, do all hang somewhere in my memory and I just about remember an absolutely terrifying Blyton-invented monster called the Snoogle which had once scared the wits out of me and nearly stopped me reading altogether. Potter, Pooh, Wind in the Willows: they passed me by completely. I only discovered them when I had children of my own.

But Christmas 1944 came and I woke up at 3 in the morning to see what was in my pillow-case at the end of the bed (not much usually) and I found a book. It was a strange-looking thing. It had green binding and a dust jacket with lots of little black and white drawings with blotches of yellow between them and on it was written:

SWALLOWDALE

BY ARTHUR RANSOME

Author of 'Swallows and Amazons'

Actually, I wasn't very impressed. But there wasn't a great deal in the pillowcase to detain me so, for want of something better to do, I started reading.

And reading.

And reading.

I finally emerged at gone midday for my Christmas dinner. I had nearly finished the book's 453 pages. I was aware even then that I'd just had a very significant experience. Posh kids home from boarding schools sailing boats on lakes: what did they have to do with me? But the magic had worked. I was hooked. I found myself identifying with them, wondering how, in my desperately inadequate way, I could emulate their adventures, how I could somehow turn my world into a semblance of theirs.

I have that very book beside me now. Its cover is long gone (I remember that, with Indian ink and my paintbox, I did my own version when it finally disintegrated, but that's gone too). It smells slightly musty, the green binding is shabby, the cheap paper is yellowing. Strangely, it doesn't have the proud badge worn by most of the other Ransomes I possess: a tiny lion sitting on top of an open book which bears the words BOOK PRODUCTION WAR ECONOMY STANDARD, which, I may say, has lasted much better than many books published since. It's the November 1944 reprinting, the seventeenth (I repeat, the SEVENTEENTH) reprinting since first publication in November 1931.

From that moment I was a reader. First, I wouldn't rest until I possessed all the Ransomes. Slowly they arrived, some new, some secondhand. Christmas 1947 arrived and with it the last in my collection, Great Northern? I didn't realise then that that would be the last not just for me but for everybody else. For some years, no matter what else I was doing, no matter what other concerns I had in life, I was reading through the whole series, Swallows and Amazons to Great Northern?, again and again and again. I know that we can't use the 'painting the Forth Bridge' metaphor any more but that's what it was like. All right, other books came as well - Just William , Biggles (we had a next door neighbour once who told me that his uncle had written books for kids and when I asked who, answered 'My Uncle Bill. Johns was his surname. He wrote about some airman or other. Name began with "B". Never read them myself.') and from them I gained not only the pleasure of the reading but also, because they were all series, the urge to collect them.

And others, less famous. David Severn. M Pardoe (I used to love Bunkle). Then at last to more conventional fare. Treasure Island. And the far superior (I think) Moonfleet by J Meade Faulkner, most underrated of writers. And even John Buchan.

And at the same time my comics : Wizard, Rover, Hotspur, Adventure. The football stories. I so remember one in The Hotspur. The Team that Died. The 1958 Munich disaster was uncannily forecast in this 1948 story. As Manchester United, so Radwick Rangers. In 1995 Scholastic published my football murder mystery in Point Crime, Death Penalty, and, out of homage to such a wonderful story - and indeed to all my reading history - I just had to call the club at the story's heart Radwick Rangers. The main difference between the story in The Hotspur and real life was that while United, after battling through to Wembley with a team of reserves, lost in the Cup Final after the crash, Radwick won the Cup. Well, they would, wouldn't they! And my Radwick were promoted to the Premiership. They probably came down again next season but I don't want to know. For me, their world was over. Though one day I might revisit it.

So what effect did all these influences have on me? They gave me such pleasure, such huge, huge pleasure that, quite calmly, almost coldly, as a firm resolve I was in honour bound to carry out, I said to myself one day, 'When I grow up I want to give the same pleasure back.' And many years later, I found myself able at least to try to do it.

Now here's a confession. Everything I've written above is an absolutely true record. But it's also been a piece of displacement strategy. You see, I had not just hoped but assumed that today would at last see my first e-book up and running. Colonel Mustard in the Library. And I was going to talk about the four stories, to whet your appetites so you'd all rush to the Kindle Store to buy it at once. I was going to thrill you about how the head of geography was murdered on the field trip to the Lake District, of how the doughty band with the elusive Wizard Wendaloft who were trying to save Median Earth suddenly irrupt into Bradley's persecuted life at school, how poor old Morley Cartwright finds himself carted off to a nightmare hospital by a doctor the Health Centre insist doesn't exist and how Norbert, the worst referee in the entire Universe, meets a little man called Mr Beelibub and is offered an intriguing bargain he can't resist.

Well, there's yet another delay so I apologise, especially as I must be the only one left on the blog without an e-book to my name, and hope that my particular impasse is soon sorted. And you'll just have to wait. Sorry.