Wednesday, 30 April 2014

More US fiction Titles?

Amazon Publishing plans to increase activity in the UK. President Jeff Belle says the company plans to release 500 titles in 2014. Included will be US-acquired titles as well UK-acquired titles.

Cynic I may be but I fear this may mean more and more of our bookshop shelves will be taken over by US authors. They want us to buy their books, of course they do, just as we want them to buy ours. I look along my library shelves and even there, more and more books are set in US locations, about US people and written in the US style. Bookshops are the same. It's the numbers that worry me. Even Facebook and Twitter sound American because there are so many more of them than us. We get drowned out by sheer volume. all the strange rules about avoiding -ing endings and not using was and were - I'm convinced they originated in the US. 

There is a difference in style. Not so much in the literary end of fiction, perhaps, but in the mid-range romances and historicals it is easy to spot the feisty heroine who behaves like a 21st century girl and say Ah! Here we go. A transatlantic version of history, spiced up and usually sexed up. Heroes don't speak, they grit, they swipe, they swoosh.... It's the small things. Remember the film Prince of Thieves where Kevin Costner landed by the white cliffs of Dover and next day arrived at Hadrian's Wall?  I read a romance where the heroine was stranded in the middle of Scotland, escaped through a dungeon and came out on the sea coast. Is that possible? It is not.

I like the more sober, more accurate versions of history (well, most of them) produced by UK authors. I want to read more of them, not have them drowned out or overlooked. I think I can say I'm not altogether happy about Amazon Publishing. Do they plan to publish UK authors in the US? Does anyone know? That might make it a more palatable prospect, but somehow, you know, I doubt that it will happen. 

It's obviously my day for a rant today. Tomorrow I shall be sunny and smiling - but I won't be blogging!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Titles and covers again

I have my new cover to match the new title on my upcoming release. For better or worse, this is it!

The worst of the double edit is behind me now. There are about six chapters printed out and waiting my attention. I've edited them on screen, but tomorrow I shall edit the print-out and make necessary adjustments. (There always are!) I think by tomorrow night I shall be finished. What a relief!

One thing I've discovered with covers is to get the size right for Amazon Kindle first of all. They recommend 1563x2071, and getting that right after you've worked on illustration can be soul destroying. To get the right size you sometimes need to be able to free up proportion constraints and that, as you can imagine, sends your illustration through the wringer. Dragons come out looking like swans and vice versa.

Colours are important. I want the cover to stand out among all the others, and somehow Black and Red just didn't do it for me this time. It looks fine close up, but viewed among many others, it just faded away, whereas the orange cover still drew the eye.
Well, OK, it drew my eye. 

I hope the dragon head says Viking to everyone who looks at it. The story is a romance, but I didn't want to put a bare-chested man in a fur tunic on the cover. Tell me I'm wrong or old-fashioned if you must, but that sort of cover says to me that there is only romance in the story. My stories have romance, sure, but they also have adventure, death and disaster. The villain certainly gets what he deserves in this one! The hero is Oli, a sixteen-year-old who falls head-over-heels in love with a girl who has rather a lot of problems to solve. Oli was nine years old in my book Far After Gold and his life with Flane and Emer has been fairy easy up until this point. If he wants to win the girl,he has to rise to the challenge and Karli Olafsson is no normal Viking.....
Look out for Viking Magic on Amazon Kindle in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Snippets and Jamaica Inn

Today I'm thinking Viking Magic  might be a good title, but I haven't checked to see how many books - if any - have already used it. I thought of it just before I fell asleep and it has stayed with me overnight. Most good ideas disappear into thin air while you sleep. Viking Magic can refer to so many things in the story, not least the plain old magic practiced by Karli Olafsson.

Today is a good day for getting on with some work as the clouds are so  low they're just about sitting on the lawn and Tim and I made trails in the dew as we walked across the field. We met Dan the lurcher this morning, and he seems to accept us now. Initially he chased poor Tim and wouldn't come to me in greeting. He was a rescue dog and no one knew his history, but he was scared of other dogs. We first met him at puppy school last year when no other dog could get near him. So, great strides are being made there.

DH is busy making sourdough bread. Paul told us about it when he came at Christmas, and since then we have been eating it instead of "ordinary" bread. The big Kilner starter jar stands on the bench above the radiator, and every couple of days dh takes some of the yeastless dough and makes bread with it. Then he feeds the dough left in the jar and it grows and expands until there's enough to make another loaf. Suits us perfectly. Tastes good, and is so much more filling than bought bread. He's also promised to make some Florentines. We both adore those. Yum.

I am one of those people who sat down ready to watch Jamaica Inn, episode 1, and gave up 3/4 of the way through. I'm not surprised it attracted 2,182 complaints about mumbled dialogue by the end of the third episode. I'm amazed that 4.1 million people tuned in to watch the third and final episode.Two million decided they had something better to do.

The sound engineers came in for some stick, but really, there was nothing wrong with the sound levels. I could even hear the wind blowing around the house. Perhaps they relied on microphones within cameras? Perhaps actors think that turning aside and speaking into someone's pocket is real life - it may be so, but in real life we get the chance to  say What Did you Say?? In drama, actors should speak to be heard. The actors mumbled - that was the problem. Especially the vile uncle Joss.

Ben Stephenson of the BBC, later said the problem was partly down to the actors.
"Actors not being clear is obviously one part of it but my understanding about the complaints about Jamaica Inn was more complex than that," he said. "I think it's probably not right to just single out that, but clearly we want actors to speak clearly. Of course we want them to give brilliant performances and you've got to respect that but if no-one can understand what they're saying then there is a problem."

The pic? The Hebridean Princess turning up outside the Crinan Hotel. Possibly the ship the Queen hired for her 80th birthday trip.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Titles and squirrels

Since Monday I've discovered there are at least two other books with the title Blood Feud, so maybe I'd better think of another title. I own one of them. It's non fiction by Richard Fletcher - murder and revenge in Anglo-Saxon England. He spells it as one word. The one I saw on Amazon yesterday is a crime thriller, Mafia style feuding. So. along with the hunt for a better cover, I'll hunt for a better title!

Went out for an early morning twenty minutes on the field behind the house and discovered how warm it is in the sun now. The grass is lush and green, everything is growing like crazy and it's a pleasure to be out walking. A squirrel darted along the fringe of the woods. Tim bounded after it. I wasn't sure what he would do - he hasn't actually caught anything yet, though he has finally begun to see and chase rabbits. The squirrel chose the wrong tree - one with a smooth bark - and couldn't climb. Tim chased it round the tree, snacking at it. I feared the worst when it lay on its back, quite still, little paws, with those long claws, limp on its chest.

Tim sniffed at it, but didn't volunteer to eat it. I grabbed his collar and pulled him of it. The squirrel picked itself up and stumbled away, went to another tree and vanished. I think it went up into the tree, but Tim was yelping and struggling to get after it and I didn't actually see what it did. I hope it got away. Such a little beauty. I fear we managed, between the three of us, to squash a few bluebells that have sprung up and into flower this week. I hate squashing growing things. Must be a Buddhist at heart.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Blood Feud

Happy to report that Blood Feud is well on in the editing stakes. Chapter Nine is currently getting the treatment! This is after it has been through a sharp-eyed critique group, and first read through by me, a rest of several weeks and then a second read through. Now I'm printing out a chapter at a time, reading it, making corrections....Maybe then I'll consider it OK to self-publish. OTOH, I'll need to check chapter headings are all the same, that the font doesn't vary, all those sort of technical little things that catch you out. Well, they catch me out, especially when I put something on Facebook.

I'm working on a cover, too. Not entirely happy with what I have. May start again.

The story is set in 1046  AD and these are the opening lines:

‘Thor’s teeth!’ Flane hammered his fist on the mast and gazed at the sky. Above the thatched roofs and smoking fires of Dyflin’s thousand-strong Viking community, the sky was so blue it hurt the eyes. Good sailing weather going to waste. If Oli didn’t move faster than a sick snail, they’d have to wait half a day for the next high tide to take them safely over the sand bars in the estuary. That meant yet another night in Dyflin, and more opportunity for the crew to get into trouble.

A blur of colour and movement caught his eye. Curious, he squinted through the tracery of masts and ropes that blocked his view. A small figure ran heedlessly fast along the wharf. Her fists hiked her skirt out from beneath her feet as she dodged loaded carts and leapt over creels and coils of rope in her path. Long hair, glinting gold in the sunlight, streamed out behind her. She darted towards a ship, veered away and ran toward the end of the wharf where he stood on the Sea Bird.

‘Oh, Christ, no!’ Flane swore under his breath. He was not mistaken; the girl headed straight for him.

The first cover is maybe not clear enough, though I like it. I have just this minute realised that the second cover reminds me of that iconic photo of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster done around 1933, so maybe that would work against it. What do you think?   

Friday, 18 April 2014

Self-publisher alert

The Guardian has joined forces with publisher Legend Times to award a prize every month to the best self-published novels in any genre. Alison Flood's article explains: new figures show selfies (my word for self-published!) accounted for 1 in 5 of the 80m ebooks bought in 2013. The mainstream publishing industry cannot ignore what people choose to read any longer.
Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, Steven Berkoff and David Mamet are among the successful ebook authors.

The Guardian and Legend's new prize is open to self-published novels written in the English language – translations are also welcome – and submissions will be read by a Legend's readers' panel. They will draw up a shortlist of up to 10 titles a month that will then be read by expert judges, with the winning entry to be reviewed in the Guardian, online or in the paper.

Claire Armitstead, literary editor of the Guardian, said the paper had decided to launch the prize because "the phenomenon of self-publishing over the last couple of years has become too big for any of us to ignore". 

The prize aims to find the "brilliant" self-published books, to "bring these gems to the forefront". Tom Chalmers, MD of Legend Times thinks  "People in the publishing industry and literary awards in general are often too quick to disregard the work of self-published authors, missing the wealth of creativity and innovative writing there is out there." 
He added,  "We are hoping to be a magnet to find the needle in the haystack. Everyone has a computer these days, and everyone is writing, which is brilliant, but it also means the market is completely flooded. That makes it quite hard if you don't have a natural social media presence to get your work to the top, and to get noticed."

Submissions for the Guardian Legend Times Self-Published Novel of the Month will be open for the first fortnight of each calendar month, with the exception of this month's submission period, which will run from April 8-18. Authors can submit one novel a month, in any fictional genre. The book must have been self-published after 31 December 2011.

Once the readers have winnowed submissions down to a shortlist, a panel of experts, featuring the literary agent Andrew Lownie, Legend Press's commissioning editor Lauren Parsons, traditionally published author Stuart Evers and HarperCollins-author-turned-DIY-poster-girl Polly Courtney, will choose each month's winner.

Armitstead added: "It's all too easy to dismiss the self-publishing sector as a wilderness of elves, sex and high-school romcoms, but we know from the emergence of novels such as Sergio de la Pava's A Naked Singularity – a book we'd love to have discovered – that 'there's gold in them thar hills'. So we're embracing the frontier spirit and setting off to pan for it."

• Entries for April should be sent to by April 18, with "Self-Published Book of the Month Submission" in the subject line. You can find more details of eligibility, terms and conditions here.

• How to enter the Guardian Legend self published book of the month competition


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Men and Reading

Caroline Carpenter reports in  the Bookseller that 63% of men rarely read. I wanted to cheer when I saw the headline, because the man I live with finds reading a chore. He'll be delighted to hear he is not alone!

 The Reading Agency commissioned the survey of 2,000 UK men and women which discovered - if surveys can be believed, of course - that men prefer to watch film instead. The reasons (excuses!) given were - too busy, did not enjoy reading, preferred doing the internet. One in five men admitted to pretending to have read a specific title in order to appear more intelligent. It also emerged that 30%  have not picked up a book since their school days. Men read more slowly, read fewer books and  are less likely to finish them than women. If all this is true, I am left wondering why so many literary critics are male. Why not more females writing up the reviews in the press since we do more reading?

World Book Night, where volunteers hand out thousands of free books to reluctant readers in their communities, is coming up on April 23rd. The focus this year is on men who aren’t reading enough.
The list of books was selected with young men in mind:-

Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo (Quick Read) (Penguin General)
Four Warned by Jeffrey Archer (Quick Read) (Macmillan)
A Perfect Murder by Peter James (Quick Read) (Macmillan)
Today Everything Changes by Andy McNab (Quick Read)(Transworld)
Short Stories by Roald Dahl (Michael Joseph)
CHERUB: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore (Hachette Children’s)
Theodore Boone by John Grisham (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Humans by Matt Haig (Canongate)
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (Vintage)
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon & Schuster)
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin (Transworld)
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Orion)
After the Funeral by Agatha Christie (HarperCollins)
Whatever it Takes by Adele Parks (Headline)
Geezer Girls by Dreda Say Mitchell (Hodder & Stoughton)
Black Hills by Nora Roberts (Little, Brown)
Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon (Michael Joseph)
The Boy With the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera (Penguin General)
59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman (Macmillan)
Confessions of a GP by Dr Benjamin Daniels (The Friday Project).

Once again, women lose out. Next year, why not celebrate women who read?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Indie wars and statistics

The BBC published a lengthy article last autumn on current publishing in the UK, with some comparison statistics showing US and UK differences. Figures vary - as statistics always do! - depending who is writing, what the angle is and which figures they decide to quote. But the general trend is always the same - e-books are expanding their market share. The graphics are clear.

There's also a wonderful argument going on at :

Basically there are several groups in the US who think there is, and should be, a distinction between self-published authors and traditionally-published authors. In order to join such organisations, you have to earn say, $1,000 over a calendar year.

"The Published Authors Network has strict requirements on who can join their organization. You have to earn $1,000 in the form of an advance on a single Eligible Novel. Or you have to earn $1,000 in the form of royalties or a combination of advance plus royalties on a single published Eligible Novel. Finally, you have to pull in $5,000 in the form of earnings for a Self-Published novel."

The "author" of the article goes on at length, and the comments section that follows is a hoot. But seriously, if this goes through, UK authors are going to struggle to gain a foothold in the US. Our much smaller market place makes it very difficult to earn such an amount in such a time. With a new book from an unknown author, it strikes me as virtually impossible. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Scottish break

We sneaked away for a quiet, two-night break in a wonderful hotel right on the sea at Crinan. We went last November, and took Tim. We thought we could slide in without too much upheaval before Easter and the summer hordes crowded the place out. (It doesn't take many, because the place is so small!)  There were a lot more craft in the basin than we saw in the last week of October, so I guess yachtsmen are waking up and stretching their muscles for the coming season.

The weather was mild, breezy and prone to rain showers. On the second day, the clouds were low and grey, covering everything, but I still took lots of pictures. I see beauty in the damp grey misty hillsides, and calendar pictures and the like rarely show these. On the other hand, it can look drear and plain depressing.

We gave Tim a good walk before setting off and another beside Loch Lomond, and he travelled well. As long as we didn't stop, he slept, so a lot of my pictures are taken from the car as we drove along. Means we didn't always get the best viewpoint, but at least the pics are interesting.

We arrived about 2.30pm. It's a 5 hour drive, so we bundled straight out onto the towpath beside the canal for a long walk. We needed some fresh air, and Tim certainly needed the exercise. Primroses peeped out all along the verges, and now and then we saw a daffodil clump. Hedgerow birds sang and seashore birds  warbled. Two swans sailed sedately on the seaward side of the towpath and the canal was dark and still with no traffic. The sun ducked in and out of cloud, and on the way back we sheltered under some trees as a rain squall went over.

Back to a hot bath, a seafood dinner in the bar trying to keep Tim quiet under the table, and then out for another walk. Slept like a log after all that.

Remember you can click on the pic to enlarge it. This quaint little bridge is in Glen Kinglas, between Cairndow and Arrochar.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Breaking the Union

Some of the questions concerning the Scottish vote for independence are catching my interest. We've had holidays of varying lengths in Scotland ever since I started driving a car many years ago. But now Dh swears if they go independent he will never cross the border again. I'm not altogether sure if he really means it, but the idea of a border control on the top of Carter Bar, or customs barriers across the A74 strike me as fairly ridiculous. But if they vote Yes, then Scotland will no longer be part of the UK, and nor will they be part of the EU. They will have to apply for membership. Since the UK is part of the EU, then Scotland will become "a foreign country" and barriers will be required.

Will they start producing passports? Minting their own money? In the sixteenth century the Scottish pound was worth a lot less than the English pound. Maybe that didn't matter so much back then, but if it happens now, people south of the border will be refusing Scottish currency as too difficult to handle. Holidaymakers still prepared, unlike my Dh, to go north, will be scratching their heads over how to pay the bills.

They'll have to issue Driving licences, too. Will they continue to drive on the left, or opt to be contrary and drive on the right? I can see confusion ahead on the A1 as you leave Berwick. What about the Pennine Way which crosses the border into Scotland? Barriers there too? Do they have barriers on railway lines? I don't know. Will Scottish lorries have to pay to drive on English roads as they thunder down to the ferry terminals?

I read somewhere recently that 83% of the population of the UK lives in England. If that is true, it means 17%  covers Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. People here in England are beginning to ask why they don't have a vote on whether Scotland stays or goes. I think I can guess what they would say! Scots living in England, and there are lots of them, are asking why they don't have a vote. I'm asking why 16 year-olds in Scotland have a vote when the usual voting age is 18. Does Mr Salmond think he needs them to bolster the Yes vote? I wonder.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Cooking, Burial Rites and daffodils

Today is a day when hiding away in my study is preferable to being in the kitchen. We have guests coming to morrow for a meal, and preparing for six over three or four courses is not something that happens easily in this house. I have friends who cater for ten or more without turning a hair because they've grown up with large families - or they love cooking - but my culinary skills have been for a max of two most of the time. Therefore knowing how many potatoes or carrots six people will eat is a nightmare of guesswork for me. Quite often tempers flare....

On another subject I listened to Hannah Kent  talk about her book Burial Rites last night at the Forum Bookshop in Corbridge. I first heard about this from Helen in Australia, last year, I think, (Hi Helen!) but I still haven't read it. The subject matter intrigues me, but I pull away from depressing subjects, and the story of a woman who is beheaded for murder can't be other than depressing. The reading last night was short, but full of misery, which confirmed my feelings! There is enough misery in the world without giving myself bad dreams by reading about it.

However, it was a joy to listen to Hannah, who is 28 - young, personable and super articulate. Her stories of her time in Iceland and subsequently writing the book were full of fun even though the events didn't sound as if they were much fun at the time. I did wonder if writing such a depressing story had any sort of effect upon Hannah herself, but didn't ask the question. I should have done. She "lived with" the story for eleven years from first hearing about it to finishing the book. As with many stories of debut publishers and bestsellers, she admits to a lot of luck in finally reaching the goal of publication.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Digital Revolution

An article by Gaby Wood begins with the statement that Sir Tim Waterstone, who once owned a chain of bookshops, thinks ebooks will go into decline. They've suffered a decline in the USA, and so he thinks it inevitable that the UK will follow a similar trend.

At a guess, booksellers probably dream wistfully of the digital book's demise. But what about the other groups who have a more than passing interest? I don't think any of the other three  - Writers, Publishers or Readers - would want such a thing.

 Ms Wood thinks it depends on whether ebooks give us what we want. "Do they inspire us, and open our minds to new ways of thinking, as they certainly could? For the most part, no. Early on in the life of the Kindle, digital versions of commercial fiction replaced sales of paperbacks, and publishers had to adapt quickly. As a result, they now tend to think of digital books and printed books as different versions of the same thing. If they really saw the possibilities of the ebook and the virtues of the printed book for what they are, publishers would know the two forms are only very vaguely related."

I agree she has a point. But do I want gimmicky  enhancements locked into a book I'm reading? Call me an old throwback, but no, I certainly do not. For me a book is something with which I commune in silence and as I read, the characters live and breathe in my imagination. I don't want my interpretation of a character to be totalled because the publisher decided some Hollywood or Pop culture icon should speed onto the screen every time the hero is mentioned. I want to visualise my own hero, thank you very much.

People under 25 may clamour for such enhancements. If they do, I shall fear that their imaginations have atrophied under the barrage of  tv, film and media games, if not under the barrage of sound they receive these days. I'm surprised cinemas don't crumble away under the almost constant rumble of what I call "ultrasound" - that low rumble that accompanies every key moment, or the sudden bombardment that presages a moment of high drama. It's enough to make you think the Fire Drummers of Japan have got locked in the cinema basement. It's on so many tvs now, so there's no escape. Go upstairs to get some peace and you can still hear the ultrasound reverberating through the house even thought the dialogue is silent.

Ms Wood claims "There is so much material – visual, historical, musical, vocal – that can bring a text to life digitally," and I shudder to think what she has in mind. Her closing sentence is worrying -
"Thinking of ebooks and printed books as comparable is like assuming that anything conveyed by means of the written word is a poem.... Publishers have got to stop thinking of their digital products as “books”, and start imagining more expansive ways of communicating information. Until then, the digital revolution hasn’t even begun." 

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...