Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Why Female? Guest Post by Eric Tomlinson

Why do female heroes intrigue me?

Like many Lord of the Rings aficionados, I think Peter Jackson’s greatest travesty was swapping Glorfindel’s role in Frodo’s rescue to Arwen??? (Yes indeed, a full three question marks of horrification.) I’m not sure if the offence was downgrading the greatest living elven warrior to a mincing monosyllabic snob, or the clumsy attempt to hammer character into the vaguely drawn princess.

As a fantasy-reading British male, raised on a diet of dragons, elves and dwarves (Tolkien spelling,) I should only consider women as the romantic interest to hang on the arm of the real hero. The fact is that for me, strong women make great central characters. 

It’s a long time since the first female hero slapped me into paying attention - Cirocco Jones from John Varley’s Titan, Wizard, Demon series. Bi-sexual, Rocky staggered from substance abuse to demi-godhood. Starting life as the child of a rape victim, she’s described as hawk-nosed, wiry haired and standing over six feet tall. I found her powerful both physically and mentally, always teetering on the edge of magnificence or failure. 

Although not a lead, William Gibson’s fabulous Molly Millions cropped up in many of his stories. Paying for her physical enhancements by prostitution, she is portrayed as an emotionally cold, efficient killer. Rarely exposing vulnerability, her history hints at a trail of abuse. When she loves, it is cautious, expecting to be let down.

As a secondary character, we initially meet Molly as a leather clad street-ninja. Off-screen she ages. The last sight of her is slightly more ‘matronly,’ but still with the physical enhancements - a middle-aged ninja with razors claws retracted under her fingernails. Maybe because I grew older, I still adore her.

These examples are now over thirty years old. Fast forward along my bookshelf, David Weber - Honor Harrington, Trudi Canavan – Sonea, all the way up to Suzanne Collins - Caitlin of the Hunger Games. These are female leads I can (and do) read over. None of them decided to be magnificent, but circumstance thrust it upon them.

Studying what works for me as a reader, it isn’t the physical prowess, or dominance that brings the character to life. It is the flaws. Of course, I enjoy the physical descriptions of action, adventure and love, but it’s the breath taking anticipation of whether they can they overcome their inner struggle that keeps me coming back.

As a writer, my first female hero was Amara, the Ultimate Warrior. She hacked through my parody of high fantasy like a female Conan. When I reviewed her as a role model, her daughter struck me as much more interesting. Most people can identify with the fears of adolescence. Our body isn’t as developed as our friends, our weight is wrong. Height, hair colour and suspicions regarding our intelligence all eat into our self-esteem. Add on top of this a high-achieving parent to finish the ego-battering. 

When the ultimate warrior’s daughter can’t hold a sword, we have the start of a flawed person.

Where my first-loves, Rocky and Molly arrive on stage fully created, I wanted to take Amara’s Daughter, Maryan, through the forging process. The intended audience dictated this decision. From the first word hitting the page, Amara’s Daughter was aimed at a 16-20 year old female. She was going to demonstrate her growth from adolescent uncertainty into a powerful maturity. 

The core theme for Amara’s Daughter was that good and evil are not dictated by gender, skin colour, or orientation. These are important principles for me. That said, I didn’t want a ‘moral-fest’ it had to be wrapped in a fast-moving, single volume of good, old-fashioned sword swinging fantasy. 

Each of the planned volumes stays true to the theme and each presents a different female character, possibly capable of facing what life is throwing at her.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Authors Electric How To Day – DropBox – How to load books and documents on your Kindle fire using DropBox – Chris Longmuir

DropBox for Android Devices

Normally to sideload a book or document to your Kindle Fire it would be done by connecting the Fire to your computer and copying the appropriate file into your Kindle Fire. I am going to show you an easier way to do it using DropBox.
It's easy to install DropBox


Installing DropBox
First you have to install DropBox onto your Kindle Fire, and this is quite easy to do.

1. From the Kindle Fire’s main screen place your finger at the top of the screen and swipe downwards. This will reveal your settings.
2. Tap “More” and from the list of settings tap “Device”.
3. Where it says “Allow Installation of Applications” toggle it to “On” – the default is “Off”. When it is “On” it allows you to download Apps other than Amazon ones.
4. After you have done this go back to the “Home” page and click on “Web”. This will open your browser.
5. In the search box type http://www.dropbox.com/android. This will open the download page for “Dropbox for Android”.
6. Once it’s downloaded you will see a box with “Dropbox for Android” at the top left of the page. Beside it is the menu box, the one with 4 lines in it.
7. Click on the menu box and in the list of actions on the left, choose “Downloads”.
8. A window will open with your Dropbox App (Dropbox.apk). Click on that and in the next window click on “Install”.
9. When the installation is complete it will give you the option to “Open”, and you can then log in.
10. After you come out of DropBox you will find it among your Apps.

Hopefully you will have succeeded in this. If DropBox is not among your Apps, this may mean you downloaded it but did not install. At my first effort this was what I did, so each time I went to DropBox it was on the web. However, if you follow my instructions you should have successfully installed DropBox onto the Kindle Fire’s hard drive.

Add files to your mobile devices using DropBox


Using DropBox to sideload books and documents.
1. On your computer copy the file to DropBox. You can close your computer after this if you want.
2. Open DropBox on your Kindle Fire.
3. Navigate to the file you want eg book or document.
4. The names of your files will be listed on the left, and on the right you will see a downward pointing arrow.
5. Click on the arrow and you will get a drop down menu with various options on it. Click on “Export”.
6. In the window that opens choose “Save to SD card” this will take you to the internal storage space.
7. Choose “Books” for .mobi files, or “Documents” for .doc. .pdf, or .txt, and other files.
8. Tap “Export”.

Once you’ve done all this your book or document should appear in the appropriate place. However, I often find that books land up in the “Documents” folder. So, if you can’t find your book under “Books” try “Documents”. If you still can’t find your document, switch your Kindle Fire off and then on again.

I hope that this information is helpful for you, and here are some websites you might want to look at.



Chris Longmuir




Monday, 28 April 2014

SPIDERS (and books) by Enid Richemont

I've recently been sent the first cover image of my newest little book with Franklin Watts. ARABELLA'S WEB is the story of a spider trying to build a web in all kinds of unsuitable places, and who finally gets it right. The inspiration for this came, as always, from things observed - late September spiders in my garden starting their webs in places where they'd inevitably be destroyed, and then, suddenly, one morning, I was looking at bushes draped in silver - like frost or a Christmas tree - and there they all were (not much fun for passing flies, though). I'm not sure about the Hollywood eyelashes, but the composition's nice.

At present, I've been re-reading Jeanette Winterson's 'WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?' As with all good writing, there's always more to discover, and what an amazing question posed by Jeanette's extraordinary and terrifying adoptive mother. On the surface, the question's almost a joke - of course we would opt for happiness, why not? - but it wouldn't have been once. Until relatively recently, gay people would have been ostracised and severely punished (it was a criminal offence for men). Queen Victoria may not have recognised lesbians, but gay men were criminalised in the early Twentieth Century.

And - to digress totally!  - would Jeanette Winterson have become a writer if she hadn't been exposed to the totalitarian Biblical views of Mrs Winterson, who read aloud the King James Bible daily? I think not. Words brand people. They're powerful. And what richness of language she was exposed to, despite the ghastly shortcomings and cruelty of Mrs Winterson.

Recently I was sent a brief for a new series aimed at boy readers. It needed adventures, swords, gore, mystery - quite a challenge, because it's not the way I usually write. By chance I picked up a book by Diana Wyn Jones - 'Castle in the Air' - an event per line (I exaggerate, but only a little), and perfect for this kind of brief. This kind of complex, event-filled plotting, comes close, in my mind, to mathematics - a subject I always found challenging. I've always written slowly, allowing plot to develop with my characters (and often run away with me). I wish I could write 'plot first', as some people can. I usually start with an idea and a vague notion of where it's going to take me.

To complete a very booky blog, I must mention  'My Innocent Absence'.
First published by Arcadia, these are the memoirs of Miriam Frank, whose early childhood was spent fleeing, with her mother, Kate, across Europe from the Nazis, and who ended up first in Mexico and then in New Zealand, where she studied to become a doctor. She, along with her husband, painter Rudolf Kortokraks, and their two children, became our next door neighbours a very long time ago, and since then, Miriam and I have forged a deep friendship. She was very new to writing and publishing when she started this memoir, and worked for many years to get her book published. This is the e-book version, currently available for 99p. She is a hugely talented writer, and this very well-reviewed book is fascinating. Do take a look.



Sunday, 27 April 2014

Ghostwriter as Birthday Gift - Andrew Crofts


“Are you doing anything next weekend?”

I’d pulled the car over to take the call and was having trouble hearing my client’s voice above the rushing traffic.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

“It’s my father’s seventieth birthday and my mother’s throwing him a party in Dubai. He’s always saying one day he’ll write a book and we thought we would give him a ghostwriter as a surprise birthday present.”

“Jumping out of the cake you mean, like Marilyn Monroe in front of President Kennedy?” I joked.

“We can work out the details once you are there,” he replied, obviously not ruling out the cake-jumping possibility. “I’ll email you with the arrangements.”

The email was already waiting in my in-box by the time I got home. My client was a wealthy businessman in his own right, based in London. His family was one of the richest and most powerful in Asia and his father was now the head of the large, extended dynasty. I guess it was a bit of a challenge to think what to give a man like that for his birthday. My flights were booked and a room was arranged in the seven star hotel which had been totally commandeered by the family for the weekend. No one was to know why I was there until the presentation.

“What do I say if someone asks me who I am and why I’m at the party?” I asked when he phoned again to check everything was okay.

“Just say you’re a friend of mine,” he said, “no one will question it. And can you get a cover of the book mocked up to take with you, so we have something to show him?”

Photos of the great man arrived and I dashed off some copy for the back cover and inside flaps of the dust jacket, sending the package quickly to a friendly local publisher whose designers put the whole thing together in a remarkably convincing facsimile of a book that might actually exist. I headed for the airport a few days later.

There was a greeter from the organisers of the party waiting for me at the airport and she ferried me straight to the hotel where several hundred of the family’s closest friends, relatives and business contacts were already ensconced. The entire hotel had been turned over to a carefully orchestrated private carnival. Guests had the run of the place and everything was provided at the expense of the hosts. I had always assumed that the parties depicted in “The Great Gatsby” were entirely imagined by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I think he too must have been entertained in exactly this manner. Unless of course it was the other way round and modern billionaires are modelling their styles of entertaining on Jay Gatsby’s, even those who would never have read the original book.

I have to confess that it is a glorious feeling to be given permission to suspend your social conscience for a few days and allow yourself to be transported to a world where costs and prices are simply not a factor in anyone’s plans. International stars are hired to entertain, banquets are spread out for guests to pick and choose from as and when they are troubled by the slightest pangs of hunger, and barmen constantly stand waiting to prepare whatever cocktail you ask for. All the guests had to worry about was what they would do next and what they should wear to do it. No doubt some of the seemingly social groupings of men in the various bars, restaurants and lounges were busily networking and setting up future deals, but most were simply there to catch up with people they hadn’t seen since the last family gathering, (which had involved a similar hotel arrangement in Penang a few months before), or meeting new people. The wives and children of the wealthy men passed the long hours playing cards or visiting the discreet jewellery shops that can always be found in such places.

There was indeed a cake, but thankfully it was constructed around a famous Asian supermodel and I was only required to stand demurely beside her as I was presented to the surprised, and initially puzzled, birthday boy.  





Saturday, 26 April 2014

Foundations of a Millennium by Ruby Barnes

St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny


The other weekend we (my ten-year-old son and I) climbed up the round tower of St Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny, Ireland. We had different objectives in mind. His was to view the city streets from above and check out the accuracy of the maps he has been drawing since last summer. Mine was to collect a periodical reminder that I don't like heights and climbing ancient towers.

Here's the mandatory tourist stuff - estimated mid-9th century construction, 100 feet 30 metres high, built as a place of refuge during Viking raids, one of only two round towers in the country open to the public to climb.

Rapunzel springs to mind when I think of this tower and the nearby one at the Rock of Cashel (which Rapunzel may still live in, who knows, it isn't accessible to the public).

Rock of Cashel

When we returned home we read the photocopied leaflet from St Canice's. The foundations of that 100 foot tower are ... two feet deep. Originally built on top of fresh graves, the tower has stood for a millennium with foundations shallower than my house.

It set me thinking. The tower only leans two feet off true vertical. That might not be due to subsidence in the shallow foundation - it might be a limitation in 9th century building technology. Its walls are a couple of feet thick. Solid granite blocks set on top of each other. There's little or no sign of renovation. This isn't a structure plastered together on the inside with modern concrete. The tower is built with a durable integrity.

As authors we believe in our writing. Building blocks are required to reach the sky, to stretch up above the street and gain a view of the city. We worry about our foundations - the validity of our concepts, our ideas. We hone our materials - the skills which are our mortar, the plot which is our granite. Social media is our scaffolding (presumably those Dark Ages Viking-avoiders used scaffolding). Those who have confidence raise themselves up and charge for entry. Here endeth the metaphor.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Tracking the Wolf's Footprint by Susan Price

          The other day the Mighty Zon delivered the proof copy of the first actual, physical, self-published paper book of mine that I've done. Here it is: The Wolf's Footprint.

 

          It's already been published, by Hodder, and is available on Kindle, but it was quite a thrill to open the parcel and see my own publication, under the PriceClan imprint.
          Somehow - much as I love my Kindle and even prefer reading on it - a paper book that you can stand a coffee cup on, wedge under a wobbly table or force into an overcrowded bookcase, seems more of an achievement than successfully publishing an e-book.
         Perhaps I felt this way simply because I've mostly forgotten how difficult I found e-publishing at first, and the struggles with Createspace are fresher in my mind. Indeed, I'm still struggling, and the proof copy showed up some problems.
          I loved the cover design, by Andrew Price. It was me who suggested changing the lettering to bright red and when, with a few clicks of keys, he made it so, I bounced up and down and said, "Yes! Go with that!"
          On the computer screen, it looks wonderful. The letters go Zing! against the background and stand out.
          But when you hold the paper book in your hand, the lettering says something more like, 'Meh.'
          The paper book isn't back-lit and luminous.On paper, the red is too close in tone to the background and merges into it. The lettering also seems more squashed than it does on screen. So that will have to be changed.
          The book's interior is fine - except for two places where the book's title appears at the top of the page, when it appears nowhere else. (I would prefer indented paragraphs too, but I used a ready-made CreateSpace template, and wasn't prepared to fight the programming to get my indents.)
          I chose grey-scale for the pictures, and both Andrew and I are pleased with them. Andrew says he actually prefers the grey-scale. I don't, although I think they look very good, and, of course make the book cheaper. Still, I'm thinking of going back through the process and seeing what the price of a full colour book would be. In fact, I might make two available, one in grey-scale and one in colour.

 Illustrations copyright Andrew Price
 

           I asked advice from Authors Electric's own, our very own, Chris Longmuir, because she's been publishing paper books for a while, and on her advice, I paid £126 for a block of ISBN numbers, so that I could get copies printed locally. The ISBNs are supplied by Neilsens, who asked when the book was to be published. This was back in February, and I blithely said, "April," thinking that would give me plenty of time.
          Of course, come April, I'm nowhere near publication. What I hadn't foreseen is that I would be embroiled in trying to qualify as a Royal Literary Fund consultant. I'd thought this would mean a bit of polishing up of my lecturering skills - but since the RLF don't do things by halves, it turned out to be more like a teacher-training course condensed into six days, plus the creating and giving of an observed, three-hour work-shop. It's bin doin' me 'ed in.
          My CreateSpace project was pushed aside, and April came with nary a paper book in sight. What did arrive, though, were several orders from booksellers, passed on from Neilsen. This took me aback. I hadn't really expected to get any.
          I asked Chris Longmuir for more advice. Could I rush the book onto Amazon, and supply the booksellers via Mighty Zon? - Chris advised against it. The booksellers have their own order procedure and aren't geared up to accepting books from Amazon. So there was a danger the order would go astray.
         And if I had Amazon deliver books to me, and then sent them on to the booksellers, I'd be paying hefty postage twice. She also warned me about the discount booksellers expect. As she'd told me before, a much better idea would be to get a local printer to publish some, and supply them to booksellers.
          But I haven't even managed to get the book proofed and on sale on Amazon yet - though I will, I will. I had to contact the book-sellers and say that I couldn't supply their orders.
          Meanwhile I'm being told by local printers that 'perfect bind' - that is, the squared spine that you see on most professional paperback books - is 'very specialist, and even if you can find a local printer who can do it, it will be very expensive for small runs.' Yet Amazon's CreateSpace did it, using print-on-demand.



Stitch Binding
 So I'm offered stitch-binding. Maybe I'm snobbish, but I really don't want my books to look like superior parish magazines. I want them to look like a book. Like the CreateSpace one does.
          So I'm beginning to think that maybe I should stick to selling through Amazon, at least for now. What do others think?

          Meanwhile, I've just caught up with some of the reviews from Amazon, for which I am very grateful.

          Annelyse says, 'I am a 10 year old girl and my absouloute fav animal is a wolf. Oh and also they are the coolest things in the world, like me.' - Which is not exactly a review of my book, but I enjoyed it. Her declaration that wolves are not carnivores made me think. Has she let the wolves know? - But I agree about them being cool and fav, also fab. But Annelyse, I am the coolest wolf fan in the world, no question.
          Kelliot says, 'What a great little story. It's a bit creepy but my class loved this book and were very curious about when the children might turn back into humans.'
          Class 4DH, of Rosendale Primary School, say, "This dark tale is set in medieval times. The two main characters are Elka and Daw, poor children who are starving to death. Left in the woods to die by their desperate parents, they are saved by wolves. In an exciting and cool way, the children turn into the animals that saved them. This book is unpredictable, gory, and fantastic. You won't be able to put it down!"
          I like to be called 'cool', me. Thank you, all!

Susan Price is a Carnegie Medal winning author for children and young adults.
Her website is here - http://www.susanpriceauthor.com/
All her e-books are to be found here.