Saturday, 31 March 2012

Heart Electric

          Just a quick reminder of Jason Hunt's appeal for Birmingham Children's Hospital's new cardio-unit.

          Jason is holding auctions and events throughout this year to raise money for the hospital, and we at Authors Electric have given books to be raffled.

          Jason's 'Just Give' page is here: - http://www.justgiving.com/BCH2012   So far Jason has raised £257 - a bit short of a cardio-unit.

          Donating through JustGiving is totally secure. Your details are safe - JustGiving will never sell them on or send you unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate.

          Birmingham Childrens’ Hospital see over 225 thousand sick children, from all over the UK, every year, and 10,000 children a year in their cardiac unit alone.  One in every hundred children is born with a congenital heart problem, and the hospital needs to replace worn and outdated equipment and – as their reputation grows and demand for their service rises – they need to build a second cardiac theatre.

You can find their site by following this link - (www.bch.org.uk). 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Guest Post: Lee Lowe - Confessions of a Compleat Non-Professional

I've been instructed not to include any X-rated content in this post, and since I love to swear, especially when talking about writing, I'm going to make a deal with you. Every time you see the word 'the', preface it with your favourite four-letter word and we're good to go.

The publishing world—now, don't forget those four-letter words—has not welcomed me with open arms,1 but neither has the reading public. I can't boast hundreds of ebook sales and certainly not 1.5m like Amanda Hocking or similar feats by other members of the Kindle Million Club. My last royalty payment from Amazon KDP yielded the august sum of US$24.96. Combined with an outstanding check for a short story, soon to appear in an American literary journal, my current earnings from writing, excluding the translation work I do, just about cover this year's hosting for my website.

In my self-delusional mode, I like to claim it's because my fiction is available for free in most places—and admittedly, my downloads have numbered in the thousands. But millions? Nope, not even when one my novels is on offer for £0 from Amazon, as is Mortal Ghost at the moment.

Downloads, of course, do not necessarily translate into readers. And I'm not likely ever to have hordes of those. If you want to know why, check out the reviews at Barnes & Noble—plenty of unhappy readers!2

So what am I doing here? And why am I bothering?

To begin with, as many of you have already gathered, I don't define 'professional' in terms of income. But nor do I see it in terms of reader satisfaction—at least not readers other than myself. I am my own first reader. My only reader. No one else matters.

Yes, I hear those four-letter words. How can she be so contemptuous of readers? What is a book if not a means of communicating to those very readers? How self-obsessed. How onanistic. How unprofessional.

Quick, delete her post before someone thinks she represents self-published writers. (And why is she even publishing then?)

The answer, I suppose, is that writing is how I define myself. It's what I do, and have always done, even when I wasn't writing; when I didn't have the self-discipline to shut the door on my five kids and concentrate, when I didn't scribble long into the night or well before dawn. (I'm terribly admiring of writers who manage that!) I'm dreadful at plotting but love sentences—beautiful, intoxicating sentences. In my next life, if I respect my work, maybe I'll be reincarnated as a much better writer—though it will take rather a lot of reincarnations to become a writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Marilynne Robinson, Alan Hollinghurst or Hilary Mantel. In the meantime, all I can do is keep struggling for the words that, far too often, just won't come. This morning, as every morning, I may get to write one good sentence. And then, if I'm lucky, another.

Aha, you'll say. No wonder people find her stuff so awful, so unreadable, so . . . unprofessional.3 Doesn't she know that a novel depends on far more than good sentences? Well, I do, and yet I don't: tell a story badly, with the wrong words in the wrong place,4 or not enough of the right ones, and it's another story—or none at all. And when I'm trying to tell it, there's no one else there, sitting by my side, whispering or stuttering, typing or deleting, facing the difficult, the impossible, the [four-letter word] self-punishment of writing.

But then there are the moments when it all comes right, perhaps only for a single metaphor or a brief run of sentences. For some indefinable reason the gate of horn swings open,5 letting the perfect words through. It's a feeling like no other. You are alive. You are fulfilled. You are validated—true validation, which is not in the eyes of the world, but your own. Tonight, at least, you can sleep.6

Next morning, you may decide those words aren't quite right after all. It's no coincidence that I used to obsess over my children's practising (sax, piano, violin, cello) or my temperamental heritage tomatoes. If you've got that sort of personality (disorder?), then you either medicate . . . or you rewrite. I like to proclaim it takes courage and stamina not to be satisfied with 'good enough'. But the fact is, you can't help yourself—you'll go back and fix it. Because you know. Because no matter how much praise you may get, or how many awards, or how much money, you know.

So while there is nothing wrong with readers, or with earning enough to bid on those rare tomato seeds you've just spotted on eBay, the essence of professionalism lies in self-respect.


1Cliché alert, but you should see the stuff conpubs—conventional publishers—approve.
2Somebody out there is going to assume I wrote this review myself. I didn't. Mine would have been much harsher.
3Why won't I cough up for an editor? Stubbornness, undoubtedly, as well as a hard-won lesson from my mothering days: the best learning is self-learning.
4To paraphrase Coleridge, since good fiction means the way poetry does.
5The gatekeepers must be snoring.
6Insomniacs may well mutter, 'Get real.'
~~~


You can find Lee's fiction and blog at her website.
Lee recommends the audio version of Corvus, narrated by
Welsh actor Ioan Hefin.
Read an excerpt from her current work in progress.
For occasional tweets: @LLeeLowe
And just because, the trailer for her filmmaker daughter's latest film!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

RULES - should they ever be broken? by Hywela Lyn

Once upon a time I naively believed that one just wrote a book, revised it to within an inch of its life until it was as good as one could get it, and submitted it to an agent or publisher.  


So I did exactly that, and eventually, after several tries,  received the email that made my entire year - an acceptance with the coveted Publishing Contract. 


Then I waited for my edits, joined groups and loops talked with other writers on the internet, and came to realise that there were a great many rules which were supposed to be followed by a writer which I didn't even know existed.  By luck rather than judgement or even talent, I seemed to have instinctively complied with a lot of them but as I went through the suggestions I received from my editor I learnt all about the importance of 'deep point of view',  'showing not telling'  avoidance of 'head hopping' and adverbs, and the 'pluperfect tense',


This last one was brought to my attention lately, when a dear friend of mine submitted her second novel and received it back with a request for a rewrite, for there to be more P.O.Vs  from other characters, and with instructions to use the 'pluperfect' tense. This phased her rather a lot since she'd been trying hard to stay in her two main characters' 'deep POV' and nearly every piece of advice to authors includes stern warnings to avoid the 'pluperfect' as much as possible.  Rules it seems, mean different things to different people. 


Of course this is not such a problem if you're an 'Indie' author.  I don't  mean I think you should immediately throw the 'rulebook' out of the window, and I do believe that  in order to break the rules, or judge their worth, you first have to know them. However, being an 'Indie' gives you a lot more control over your book and if you think it works fine without adhering to a certain rule, then no-one is going to try to stop you.


For my own part, I write the first draft without worrying too much about rules or structure, or even punctuation, this is when I'm being the 'creator'. I then  go through and revise,  and while doing so try to check that I have applied those of the 'rules' I think will make it a better book. If I don't think a rule works in a particular area though, I'll ignore it and write the passage the way I think it should be.  I usually have to make several revisions and rewrites before I'm happy that the MS is fit to send to my editor - and  I  would always use an editor.  While I do rely a lot on my crit partners and Beta readers, I don't expect them to catch everything and I know I'm far too close to my own work to spot the potential problems. Heck, to my embarrassment, I've written more the occasional  blog post which had a glaring typo or badly constructed sentence, which I only spotted when it was too late to change it, so I've no chance of  turning out a perfect MS!


I do feel there is a danger  of losing ones  'voice'  by following rules too slavishly though, and thereby squeezing the very life out of ones work, leaving it flat and colourless. What do you think?  Do you feel that rules make everyone's work too 'formulaic' and are meant to be broken, or do you think they're a necessary evil and should be adhered to as much as possible?
Hywela Lyn


You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST
and is on TWITTER and FACEBOOK

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

APPS, DOGS, COLOUR AND E-BOOKS, by Enid Richemont


This week, I had a second picture book app - MORE - published by utales. It's a re-telling of the traditional story about a magic bowl which must be properly used, and the misfortunes of the greedy
person who steals it. I've set my story in India, with a hungry small boy, a beggar woman who turns into a goddess, and a fat and greedy maharajah (it occurs to me that one could do a similar re-telling using a contemporary setting and a greedy banker). Setting it in India is the excuse for using all those wonderful Indian colours and patterns, and my illustrator, Claudia Fehr-Levin, has really gone to town on these. If you'd like to take a look at a sample, you can find it here. 
Speaking of colour and all its delights, we went to the David Hockney exhibition yesterday, and I was gobsmacked - no, eye-smacked. The opening paintings didn't impress me so much (I've always preferred his drawings) but when we went further into the show and found ourselves drowning in his celebration of everything around him, it became sheer joy, marred only slightly by the crowd.

For any child who's ever passionately wanted a dog, THE DREAM DOG is now available as an e-book (cover illustration by Jennifer Eachus). It was first published by Walker Books, and then sold to Japan. I have the Japanese edition, with its spare and beautiful pencil illustrations, which I treasure. And coming very soon (to use a much-hated TV cliche), DRAGONCAT will be my first never-before-published book, so I'll be holding my breath.

Yesterday a copy of MsLexia came throuh my door. Years ago, I subscribed to it, and through sheer inertia have never cancelled - and it does have some interesting articles - BUT... I'm beginning to feel that if ever I see the word 'creative' attached to the word 'writing' again, I'll explode - BANG! ('Creative Plumbing', now, or, 'Creative Brick laying' - that might be stimulating.  I'll pass on, 'Creative Dentistry', although 'Creative Brain Surgery' might produce some interesting results). But why do so many squillions of people want to be seen as writers? It's not a fast route to riches or celebrity (let's forget J K Rowling for a moment) and for most professional writers, it's a demanding, isolating, and extremely underpaid (but when it goes well, totally wonderful) job.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Are we on our way to Utopia, or plunging back into the Dark Ages - Andrew Crofts








          My recent book, “James Martin: The Change Agent”, is now available on Kindle as an e-book – a highly suitable format for a text which provides a dramatic view of what the future holds for all of us.

          The story started when I received an urgent invitation to a mysterious private island in Bermuda from an old friend who had recently donated more than £100-million to Oxford University.
          The island gradually revealed its labyrinthine secrets as the host, futurist James Martin, explained the choice that faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely.
          At the same time he explained how a shy boy from a poor family in Ashby-de-la-Zouche had come to be Oxford University’s biggest ever donor, (bigger even than Sir Thomas Bodley), and the founder of the extraordinary Oxford Martin 21st Century School. He is basically investing in ideas. The School’s many interdisciplinary institutes, and more than a hundred fellows across the collegiate university, are studying potential global catastrophes like climate change, bio-engineering, pandemics, mass migration and the possibility of human extinction before the end of the 21st Century. At the same time they are trying to harvest the incredible opportunities arising from new technologies and innovations, as well as studying social change and striving to improve our understanding of how to deal with systemic risk.
          Along the way Jim has encountered people as varied as Bertrand Russell, and David Bowie, Bill Gates and Lee Kuan Yew. From prime ministers and presidents to cold war spies and business leaders, he has been called in to advise them all and his books have been read by millions.
          "The Change Agent" also reveals the extraordinary secret history of Agar’s Island that he uncovered beneath the rocks and rampant vegetation and tells the story of how he has restored the underground labyrinth to its former glory and turned the entire island into his own eccentric, ecological, private paradise. Above all, however, it is a gripping conversation about the man’s ideas, which are the reason so many millions of people read his books and attend his lectures.

          Find this book here, on Amazon UK.

          And here on Amazon US.  










Monday, 26 March 2012

Poised to e-Publish - so what's stopping me? By Rosalie Warren


Cover Design by Rob Tysall
 Fear. Fear. A fanatical devotion to the.... no, fear again.


I'm not a complete e-publishing newbie. Last November, the Coventry Writers' group, to which I belong, ventured into e-publishing with our Coventry Tales. It was a rewarding and educational experience and the sales, while not amazing, have not been bad.


Nor am I a stranger to conventional publishing (or whatever it's OK to call it now... I can never remember). I've had two books for adults and one for YA published that way and I have another series commissioned, this time for younger readers. So I'm not a complete beginner, though I'm relatively inexperienced in comparison with many of  my esteemed co-contributors on this blog (I'm learning lots from them).


And I now have a book ready for e-release. Well, almost ready. It's been revised to within a jot and tittle of its life. It's been edited and proofed. I've hired a professional designer and photographer to create a cover for me and I absolutely love the result (thank you, Rob Tysall).


I've listened to several fellow authors on the subject of e-publishing. Their enthusiasm has inspired me. I've had several generous offers of help from colleagues and friends. I'm part of a knowledgable and supportive group (this one). So, er... what's stopping me?


As I confessed above, fear. Sheer terror. I've never felt like this with a book before. Have always been in a hurry, once something's been accepted by a publisher, to see my work in print. Have always felt as though it's other people holding up the process.


I suppose one difference is, this time, it's all down to me. Part of my fear is tech-related: will my book fall irretrievably into a mass of unfathomable computer code (I've done computer programming, so my fear is not entirely irrational, perhaps)? Am I afraid of not managing to get to grips with the techie stuff and having to admit defeat when, I tell myself, this is the kind of thing I should be able to do?


Yes, certainly. But mainly, of course, it's reluctance to put my baby, Charity's Child, out there. Because out there lies the possibility of failure. And failure is - what? Failing to achieve spectacular sales? Well, yes. But my expectations are modest, at least for this first attempt. Failure to achieve any sales at all? Perhaps! But, as we all know, one of the joys of e-publishing is that sales can start very slowly and then grow. I have other books to come. And there's no fear of going out of print, of being remaindered and used to support a motorway. 

Do other people feel like this before e-publishing or am I just being ridiculously cautious and protective of my precious 'child', which, let's face it, is just a bundle of words?


Get on with it, Rosalie!

Best wishes,
Rosalie Warren


Website
Blog: Rosalie Reviews
Facebook author page
Twitter: @Ros_Warren

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Ferocious Cheese, Ale, and Authors - Susan Price


Susan Price
          Once, in Switzerland, we went to a farmers’ market where Davy bought a lump of local cheese.  It was wrapped in a bag, inside another bag, inside a plastic bag, and locked into the car-boot.  Returning later, we were almost felled, at several metres, by the smell of the cheese, penetrating not only its wrappings, but the car’s steel.
          Now that was a cheese you could call a cheese.  It reminded me of Pratchett’s Horace, the ferocious, kilt-wearing Lancre Blue which fights alongside the Feegles.
          A cheese like that has a small, specialist market.  A market that became even smaller when we opened the boot, and released the full, pent-up bouquet. stripping paint from a nearby wall.
          Still, the cheese had its fans.  Business was brisk.  There was no supermarket executive, saying, “We’ll cease production because it’s too – individual. It’s not economically viable for us.”
          Lovers of the ferocious cheese were kept supplied, because the dairy was small enough to respond to its customers – who it met face to face across the market-trestles – and small enough to think every customer important.
'Head and Tales' by Susan Price
          Once, all breweries were small, local breweries, producing beer from local produce and to local taste.  Light ales, heavy ales, stouts, porters…  But, in the 1970s, this variety and individuality was disappearing.  Large breweries bought up the small local ones and imposed economies of scale.  Small, odd pubs vanished, and were replaced by uniform pubs selling, beer lovers claimed, uniform, gassy, tasteless beer.
          The Campaign for Real Ale formed in 1971, to oppose the ‘mass production of beer and the homogenisation of the British brewing industry.’  The campaign has had enormous success, not only in keeping small breweries open, but in encouraging the opening of new ones, and forcing large brewers to rethink their attitude to their customers.  It’s usual now, as in my local, to find several ‘independent’ beers on sale, even in a pub owned by a large franchise.
          What’s this got to do with books?
          Well, recently, the publishing industry, just like the big supermarkets and breweries, has become more focussed on what produces big, fast profits for them, and less interested in what’s wanted by their core market – people who genuinely love reading.
         As with the breweries, huge conglomerations bought up smaller, more responsive firms.  Already piffling authors’ advances were cut (thus killing the goose that lays the golden eggs), and mid-list authors with very good sales were dropped because they didn’t make spectacular sales.
          We’ve seen – often to the dismay of editors - the rise and rise of Accounts and Marketing, which isn’t interested in nurturing talent for the future, or quality, or originality, or in anything except the spreadsheet and the marketing angle.
          So bookshops are full of books-of-the-tv-show, and biographies of 22 year-old reality TV stars – while Linda Gillard, erstwhile of these pages, was dropped by her publishers because she insisted on writing intelligent, original, lively, funny romances with heroines in their 40s.  She had – and has – legions of readers but her publishers said her books weren’t ‘marketable’ because they had no clear genre.  Most of us on this blog have had similar experiences regardless of what kind of books we write.
'Christopher Uptake' by Susan Price.
          So here we are.  AuthorsElectric, the Writers’ Market.  The Campaign for Real Authors.
          This is our Writers’ Craft Fair.  This is our stall and here, spread out, are our wares.
          If you like Farmers’ Markets because the profit goes directly to the small-holder, little bakery or dairy and supports their enterprise – if you buy handmade or vintage clothing because it’s different from what’s in all the conventional, high-street shops – if you buy from Farmers' Markets because you appreciate the greater flavour of cheese or bread made with higher quality ingredients and greater care – then welcome! Please take a look around our stalls.
          Please browse the pages – click on the links.  Jump to the writers’ websites.  Visit their blogs – leave a comment and have a chat. Drop by our Facebook page.
          If you love reading, if you want to directly support the writers who invent, shape and hone the books you love to read – then be assured, a much larger percentage of the selling price of our books goes directly to the writers than with any conventional publishing deal.  Even though our e-books are generally much cheaper, we still earn more per book than we would with a publisher.
          And we’re so pleased to see you here – we hope you enjoy our books - please do come again!

          Find out more about all of Susan Price's e-books here. 

          Check out readers' reviews of my books at Good Reads, here.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

E-Publishing Weekend Conference - Avril Joy

          Several years ago now, myself and two colleagues: Wendy Robertson professional author of something like 26 or 27 published novels (it’s hard to keep track!) the latest being An English Woman In France and GillianWales co-author of three well received (and now quite valuable) books on mining art, the latest being The Quintessential Cornish,  founded the RoomToWrite organisation. Our aim was to work with serious writers towards publication.
          Our writers have had agents, they’ve had submissions come close to being accepted, they've had success in competitions, and I am quite sure, had the world of publishing been the place it was even five or six years ago, would have made it into the mainstream. I sympathise enormously. I consider myself fortunate to have made it into print before the tide turned. They are serious writers, serious about their craft and not just about the writing but about the editing of their work to the highest, professional level.
          With all of this in mind we decided it was time to launch our Beyond The Page  E-publishing Conference, empowering our writers towards building a platform in the e-publishing world. This was not about money – nobody thinks they are going to get rich quick. It was about ditching the depressing and negative take on publishing that has become the norm. It was about fighting back and refusing to be labelled as unworthy. It was about making the decision that no more time would  be wasted on submissions that disappeared into black holes or agents who despite their best efforts got nowhere and took eons to get back to you; communication having been quicker in the days of coach and horse.

Our weekend took place in the beautiful country house hotel, Whitworth Hall in County Durham. Whitworth is set in the heart of a 73-acre park, home to red and fallow deer, and is the former home of 'Bonnie Bobbie Shafto.’ The surroundings were luxurious, just what was needed for a weekend of hard work, as were the lunches of tartlets, cheeses and fresh fruit and the mouth -watering cream teas. And much to mine and Wendy’s relief Darren was always on hand just when you needed him to help with the technology.
           In her conference report Wendy says ‘Our ambition was to demystify  - for keen and talented writers - the disciplines and processes of producing high quality Kindle and hard copy versions of our novels and short stories…The challenge for Avril, Gillian and I is that we didn't just want to tell people how to do it, we wanted to show them.’
          And show them we did, with a programme that on Saturday included: preparing your work for Kindle publication, structural editing, copy edit, compiling the front pages and the live birth of a Kindle novel – LIZZA one of Wendy’s early children’s stories which was out of print. On Sunday we discussed and demonstrated the making of Kindle covers from bought or owned photographs or paintings, using Paint.net (A great free graphics programme for those of you who don’t have Photoshop).
           We also demonstrated the uploading of a novel onto Amazon Create Space including cover, for those also wishing to invest in a hard P.O.D. copy. We finished up with blogging for writers and for those not already blogging - how to set up your own blog . I have to say by the end we were all exhausted! But the feedback made it all worthwhile...

          Here's what some of our writers said:

          'It just gets better and better – nothing could have bettered the weekend. Thanks entirely to you Wendy and Avril and Gillian. Generous is the word to describe you with your time your know-how, your friendship – and we happy few are the lucky ones and we know how lucky we are. Rest of the week cancelled to get down to the nitty-gritty!'

          'To be in at the birth of a Kindle book was amazing. Wendy Robertson’s LIZZA emerged red-faced yet beautiful into the Kindle World. Thanks to Avril for passing on her wealth of knowledge and expertise on creating a hard copy of our Kindled books and Gillian saw to everything else. The usual wonderful food, company and ambience at Whitworth. Fantastic Weekend, Thanks for everything.'

          'Many thanks for the exceptional weekend. It was the best yet. My thanks to you and Avril and Gillian, you worked so hard and now I'm hoping to go ahead with Kindle and also create a blog.'

          'We learned so much about how to put our novels onto Kindle… it was fascinating to discover how you can produce your own cover and how to set up a blog. By the end of the weekend, I was inspired to set up my own blog and work hard to finish my first novel. Then I can put into practice what I have learned this weekend.'

          'Suddenly the world is simultaneously bigger and smaller! I have learned so much about e-books and am very enthused. I am keen to put my Scottish novel, ’A Breeze from the Storm to Come’ onto Kindle so people can read it. Print on Demand may also be a way forward. When I have a little more time I would like to explore the possibility of publishing some of my poetry on Kindle. Many thanks to Wendy, Gillian and Avril for an inspiring weekend.'

          'What an inspiring weekend! I have the confidence now to upload my work to Kindle and create my own hard copy book on http://www.createspace.com. As ever Wendy, Avril and Gillian have put the hard work in to save the rest of us time and money when learning and applying new skills. Many thanks to Room To Write.'


          'The presentations and handouts were excellent, and both yourself and Wendy gave unstintingly of your knowledge and expertise. Your demonstration of how to publish a book on Amazon and {the chance to} see Wendy undertake the process of  publishing a book on Kindle were fantastic. I can’t help but think how fortunate I was to be able to be with you.'

          It felt like democracy ruled and that was fine by me! So far we have one new blog and two new Kindle books and more, much more on the way.
          It was also very exciting to hear two of our group, both former librarians, seriously discussing the setting up of an e-book festival here in the North East next year - watch this space!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Jane Adams: Technobunny!

This post has been published in Sparks, A Year In E-Publishing - An Authors Electric Anthology 2011-2012. It has therefore been temporarily reverted to draft status to comply with amazon KDP Select's requirements.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Pauline Fisk Lobbying for Libraries [It Helps to Remember your MP's Name]


I’m so impressed by libraries and the people who run them. They’re adapting, changing, continually detecting trends and meeting new needs. When children needed homework clubs, they set them up. When they wanted to hire DVDs or access the internet, they set that up as well.
It’s the same, too, now that people want to borrow e-books to read on their kindles and other devices [click HERE to read a Guardian article about downloading digitally from your local library, and HERE for a list of some of the libraries who have made this service available - bearing in mind that this list is not up-to-date, but it's the best I could find].
Doris Lessing once remarked on the democracy of libraries, where nobody could tell you what to read. President Obama talks about them changing children’s lives. The American Pulitzer prize-winning author, Studs Terkel wrote that ‘All you need is truth and beauty, and you can find both in the local library.’ How many rallies march to slogans like that?
The public libraries in our country are amongst the best in the world. [And my local library, pictured above, is amongst the best of the best.] We need to use them. We need to cherish them. And sometimes too, we need to speak out on their behalf.

Last week I went down to London to attend a rally about library closures and lobby my MP. On the way on the train, I read an article about Iain Duncan-Smith’s plans for an Early Intervention Foundation, which he reckons will sort out the causes of social breakdown. It seemed strange to me that the government would go to all that trouble to steer vulnerable people away from drugs/family breakdown and crime, when it had just withdrawn funding from other projects - library service homework clubs, for example - which in my home county at least are to be closed at the end of this month.

That was one of many reasons I was on that train. But behind them all was the memory of an eight year-old girl waiting on her little yellow scooter for the town’s first library to open its doors. That girl was me. I didn’t come from a bookish family and wasn’t there because my parents had encouraged me. I was there because I’d watched the library being built and couldn’t wait to get my hands on books.

Would I be a writer today without that library all those years ago? I’ll never know, but it became my second home. I know my life was changed by it. And I want my children and grandchildren to have what it gave me.
There’s a requirement in law for the government to provide library services that are 'comprehensive' and 'efficient'. As I entered Westminster Central Hall, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, was live on screen from a parliamentary sub-committee, debating the meaning of those words. Later the children’s author Alan Gibbons raised a laugh by reading out his End of Term report. Maths – ‘weak’; English – ‘this man has a problem with the meaning of words’. You can imagine the rest.
There wasn’t much else to laugh about. Kate Mosse spoke movingly and with clarity about why libraries matter, not just to readers but authors too, and she was speaking for me. I wanted to hug her. Thank you, Kate Mosse. Philip Ardagh said that libraries were communities. Dave Prentis of Unison said that one in three children doesn’t possess a book. John Dolan of CILIP said that so far this year 2,000 staff have been lost and 3,000 hours cut. Dan Jarvis MP, Shadow Culture Minister, likened Beeching’s lack of vision in the 60s, closing down the railways, to what’s happening now.
‘We’ve always needed libraries, now they need us’. That’s what someone else said - I can’t remember who. Another speaker said that the UK Library Service was being systematically hollowed out from the inside. Another wondered, given the government’s objective for every child to read vast numbers of books a year, where they’re going to get them from once the libraries are all closed. We even had a song - a man in cloth cap, shades and beard, with a distinct Castro-in-his-middle-period look, giving us thrashmetal for the library generation.
Finally, extolled by Alan Gibbons [quoting Dylan Thomas, obviously] to ‘not go gently into that good night,’ we gathered our coats and banners, took back our teacups and headed off to Westminster do a bit of lobbying.
A chance encounter with a group of fellow children’s authors, however, meant that my lobbying was briefly put on hold. Fiona Dunbar was amongst them, and Lucy Coates, and Alan Gibbons of course, who was everywhere, and Philip Ardagh. How it happened, I don’t quite know, but somewhere round the back of the main hall, we ended up vox-boxing our opinions live to camera.
Tell a group of authors to do one thing, and they'll do another. The interviewer wanted us to hold up our banners and proclaim in unison an agreed statement in support of libraries. You’d think this would be simple, but oh no. Some of us were ‘authors’ but others were ‘all authors’. Some were here to support ‘libraries’ but others were supporting ‘public libraries’. Some held up our banners, others didn’t. ‘Anarchists,’ said the interviewer. ‘No, authors,’ we replied with pride. [If you want to see this interview in action - and some of the rest of the rally too - click HERE.]

Finally I made it to the Palace of Westminster, queuing down a long ramp out of sunshine into shade, which took me from the world of mortals to the place where laws are made. In the security area, I’d never seen so many police in one tiny place. Here I was stripped of my banners [God alone knows what they thought I was going to do with them] and allowed through into a collection of halls and staircases that precede the central lobby. Here the more organized of our group already had their MP interviews lined up, but others - like me - had to fill in green tickets and hope for the best.

I started filling out my ticket, but hit a problem straight away. My MP’s not only the tallest man in Parliament but of Polish extraction, which means his secondary feature of distinction is that his name’s not easy to spell. I’d checked it on my phone before entering the building, but now I’d forgotten it and my reception had gone. I had a crack at writing it anyway, but knew I’d got it wrong. I put in brackets that he was the MP for Shrewsbury, but my green card was beginning to look a mess and when I scribbled a bracketed apology it looked even worse.

After handing it in to an imposing-looking man behind an imposing desk, I sat and waited for whatever would happen next, imagining my MP taking one look at my card and saying, ‘She calls herself an author? She must joking - she can’t even spell a simple name!’ Tidal surges of people rushed by; urgent-looking men; school kids; gangs of oldies on some sort of jaunt; a tidal swamp of Americans; another of military men in uniform, medals lined up straight, golden sashes and tassels around their waists.
This was the place to be if you were great and glorious. Alabaster statues stood in noble poses on either side of me, and stained-glass windows looked down, depicting all our national saints [except for Patrick, whom I couldn’t see]. Then that young Tory prince, Zac Goldsmith, strode by. You could tell from his jaw-line that he knew he'd been recognized. In the flesh he looked incredibly smooth. I remember him speaking at the anti-Iraq war march, which was the last time I’d tramped London’s streets for a cause. Where was that fiery young campaigner now?
Every now and then the grand man behind the desk called ‘Will the constituents for Mr So-and-So please go the desk,’ or ‘Mrs Susan Blogs for Mr Joe Brown.’ There was never a Daniel Kawcynski sending down for me - but then who could blame him after mashing up his name?
I waited an hour, but finally gave up. Trailing back through those halls, I had an incredible sense of leaving behind the place where things happened. Did I feel crestfallen to have come all this way without managing to ram my opinions down the longest throat in Westminster? Well, a little, yes.
Reluctant to return to ordinary life, I took myself off to the Palace of Westminster’s very own Jubilee Coffee Shop where I drank coffee from a cup decorated with a black-and-white checkered police-style motif and watched the House’s current debate on a silent screen. Jack Straw’s mouth went up and down, and Ming Campbell’s did the same. Weird that their speeches - whatever they were about - were happening such a short distance away.
By twilight, I was homeward bound, having walked from Westminster to Euston Station, which was further than I’d thought. Cyclists waited at the traffic lights, their headlamps twinkling like stars. I crossed in front of them and had a strange sense of a thing well done. Even though I’d missed my MP, it still felt worth having made the trip.



Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The long, dark Word document of the soul - Simon Cheshire

Don't you flash your
close-ups at me, matey
      I wasn't sure what to blog about this month.
      After a quick and slightly upsetting look at my sales, I thought I might talk about the unpredictable nature of bookselling. After all, hits always, always come out of the blue. Aside from exhaustive efforts to boost word-of-mouth, and/or saturation media coverage, there's nothing anyone can do, for certain, to sell a title. If there was, the nation's publishers would never have printed an unsuccessful word... [insert raised eyebrow here]...
      No, that's a total downer.
      I thought maybe I should talk about the way the new Kindle, the little 'un, seems to be taking the mickey with its screensavers. All those close-ups of pens and typewriter keys and printing blocks. It's as if the cheeky whatsit is sitting there saying "ha ha, look at all this old tech, you don't need them any more, they're just good for arty screensavers now, tee hee."
      No, that's a bit smug.
      And then I realised that all this indecision was just a way of procrastinating, stalling, delaying, hesitating, dawdling...
Great thinker, Orwell.
Bad moustache.
George Orwell once said that "writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness” and the more books I write, the more true that seems.
      I've always admired the kind of writer who can simply sit down at 8am and start typing. The Stephen Kings and Enid Blytons of this world, whose minds just pour forth prose. Not always brilliant prose, I grant you, but at least they're getting the work done.
      I'm struggling to get a book finished. I badly need to get it out of the way, because I want to get on with the seven-years-in-the-making project I mentioned on this blog last month and which, quite frankly, is rather more important to me. I'm making slow progress. I think I'm once again suffering from the emotional tug-of-war which drags me left, right, left, through the mental mud of doubt and anxiety, every time I get to that point in a book when you've gone too far to abandon it, but not far enough to mark an end-date on the calendar that you know isn't laughable optimism.
      Aaaand, drag to the LEFT: If this book of yours was any good, I think to myself, the words would be flowing like wine, instead of trickling like Grandad's battered prostate. You dare not even read it back to yourself for fear of realising what a ghastly puddle of word-poo it really is, correct?
      Aaaand, to the RIGHT: You always think that. Oh yes, you do. And it normally turns out fine in the end. You're an experienced professional. Have faith in your abilities. You know what you're doing.
      Aaaand, to the LEFT: Abilities? Hang on a mo while I gather my innards and sew up my sides. Listen, mush, if you had any real talent you wouldn't have spent the last twenty years on the mid-list. You'd have won an award by now. Or been on one of those table things in Waterstones. Everybody's got an award. Except you. You're better off as a shelf-stacker in Tesco, mate.
      Aaaand, to the RIGHT: This book is different. This book is the breakthrough. You'll be on the Amazon wishlist of every reader in the land, and picking your favourites for Desert Island Discs, before you know what hit you. Remember, you follow your muse for reasons loftier than mere financial gain. This is art you're dealing with, not Wheetie Puffs. Craftsmanship takes time, and care, and inspiration.
      Aaaand, to the LEFT: Well, you're not going to find inspiration filling the washing machine, are you? Or making another cup of instant. Or checking your email. Or doing any of the thousand other things you do to put off having to sit down and compose a few sentences. You weed! If you spent more time writing and less time fiddling with your website and fretting about how many Twitter followers you've got, you'd have been finished six weeks ago and been down the pub by now. You don't deserve a hit.
      Aaaand, to the RIGHT: I do! Gosh, you're so cruel! Look, OK, I've not been going at full speed recently, I admit. But, from now on, it's two thousand words a day. Every day. Without fail. Ian Fleming could do it, so I can do it. Booker shortlist, here we come! (Cue Rocky theme tune).
      Right, I'm going to finish up this blog post now. I only started it so I wouldn't go back to the kitchen and eat something. I'm going to complete Chapter 9 today, and nothing will stop me. Nothing. I'm switching to Word... now!
      Just as soon as I've been to the post office.
      Was it E.M.Forster who said every word had to be dragged out of him kicking and screaming? Well, if it wasn't him, it sounds like the sort of thing he'd have said. Miserable old duffer.

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at http://www.simoncheshire.co.uk/ 
And his blog about literary history is at http://bookhistorystudies.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

My Dreamy New Electric Book.... by Mark Chisnell

I thought I’d open my account here at Author’s Electric by saying thank you - it’s great to be invited to join the roster – and by giving you a little background on how I came to be dreaming of electric books... 

I left home after college with a rucksack, an old SLR camera and a notebook, along with a vague plan to write a book about hitch-hiking around the world. I spent three years on the road but somehow (it’s a long story) got waylaid into a professional sailing career, and all those carefully kept notes and travel diaries quickly fell into the awkward limbo of not being recent enough to be contemporary, while being too recent to be social history.

So I started to think about a novel instead... and I had an idea. Action thriller The Defector grew out of that idea - a game of the Prisoner's Dilemma played for life and death. In 1996 it was finished and first published in the UK by Random House.

In the meantime, I'd published the first three of five technical sailing books and was starting to carve out a career as a freelance journalist with (mostly sailing) material appearing in magazines and newspapers worldwide. Then came the internet - which for me started with the 1997-98 Whitbread Race and an offer from the official website to write a daily commentary.

The National Geographic photographer, Rick Tomlinson also asked me to write the accompanying text for his book about Team EF's two competing boats – Risk to Gain. The immediacy of the internet was a revelation, and when EF Language went on to win the race it didn't do the book sales any harm either.

All of this was a massive distraction from the second novel, and by the time I finished The Wrecking Crew in late-1998 any momentum gained from the debut was gone. And since it was a sequel, that wasn't good - the publisher rejected it. But the internet was still gathering steam and by the next year there were four or five sailing websites in various stages of gestation in the UK, and they all needed writers and editors.

Some of these were proper jobs, the kind I'd never had - salary, benefits, share options. It seemed like a good time to give that life a go, pack up the travelling and the uncertainty of freelancing. So I took a job to launch and edit madforsailing.com. We'd been going for five months and were nudging towards fifty thousand users when an email arrived from an America's Cup team with the kind of offer that you can't refuse. I handed in my notice, pulled the bags back out, packed up and moved to Auckland for two years of sailing as a navigator.

I also saw an opportunity to inject some life back into my career as a novelist. I contacted HarperCollins in New Zealand to see if they'd be interested in republishing my first novel during the America's Cup - when it might have more chance of gaining that crucial media and public interest that can make or break books from new authors.

They were and it did - The Defector was much more commercially successful second time around. And I had the follow-up book ready to go. The Wrecking Crew came out eighteen months later and sold more than three times as many as the debut – in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, beautiful and diverse as it is, NZ isn’t a very populous place. Back home in England, as I started on a new book, I knew that I had to find a publisher in London to make it worthwhile. To cut a long story short – and despite getting a book optioned by Working Title Films – I could never close that deal.

Fortunately, while I was trying, there was a revolution in publishing.

The Kindle and other eBook readers have transformed opportunities for writers, particularly ones like me who have been dropped by their publishers – often for no better reason than the economics of big London businesses with massive overheads and an accountancy driven publishing model (more on that here).

The Defector and The Wrecking Crew have found success in the new eReader formats and so, finally, there is a brand new spy thriller out – The Fulcrum Files, my latest (very dreamy) electric book. I hope you have a moment to take a look...


You can find Mark Chisnell online at...

Twitter: @markchisnell