Sticky, but not in a bad way
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin UK, on the future of publishing Building a Community by Dan Holloway
Staging Shakespeare’s World at the British Museum Catriona Troth takes a look behind the scenes
WWJ First Page Competition 2012 - the results!
August | September 2012
for Mac OS X and Windows
Windo w versions out no w!
Scrivener is an award-winning word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write - it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application. Scrivener provides powerful utilities for getting your words onto the page and finding the structure that suits the needs of your project. Outline and organise, take notes, view research as you write; dynamically combine multiple scenes into a single text just to see how they fit. Scrivener has already been enthusiastically adopted by best-selling novelists and novices alike - whatever you write, grow your ideas in style.
“Finally a true word processor for authors has arrived.” - David Hewson, author of the best-selling Nic Costa series of novels
“As a writer’s application, Scrivener is near perfect.” - Neil Cross, best-selling author of Burial and screenwriter for Luther
“The biggest software advance for writers since the word processor.” - Michael Marshall Smith, best-selling author of Spares and The Straw Men
20% discount coupon code: ‘WORDSWITHJAM’ Free 30 day trial available for download on both Windows and Mac OS X
http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php 2 | Random Stuff
Contents PRINT ISSUE EXCLUSIVES 28
Centrefold Poster: Tomorrow is Just Another Page - perfect for your office wall
Modus Operandi - a short story by Trish Nicholson
Random stuff 5
Staging Shakespeare’s World at the British Museum by Catriona Troth, The Library Cat
Why Kill Your Darlings? by Gillian Hamer
50 Shades of Being Split up the Shitter by Derek Duggan
Publishing: Revolution to Evolution by Anne Stormont
Book v Television: One Day by David Nicholls, reviewed by Gillian Hamer
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin UK, on the future of publishing. An interview with JJ Marsh
19 Chad Post, Open Letter, on the future of publishing 21
A Winter’s Tale Retold: Community Theatre in Toronto, with Catriona Troth
60 Second Interviews with Naomi Alderman and Janet Skeslien Charles
A Bit of Wee Came Out - Procrastinating with Perry Iles
Quite Short Stories 30
EXCLUSIVE PRINT ISSUE CONTENT:Modus Operandi - a short story by Trish Nicholson
Saturday Superbus by Lee Williams
Flash 500 - the RESULTS!
First Page Competition 2012 WINNERS!
Comp Corner - be in with a chance to win a WWJ Mug!
Sarah Bower is the author of two historical novels, THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and THE BOOK OF LOVE (published as SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA in the US). She has also published short stories in QWF, The Yellow Room, and Spiked among others. She has a creative writing MA from the University of East Anglia where she now teaches. She also teaches creative writing for the Open University. Sarah was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Suffolk. Sheila Bugler won a place on the 2008 Apprenticeships in Fiction programme. Whilst publishers debate her first novel, she is working on her second novel and spending way too much time indulging her unhealthy interest in synopsiswriting. Helen Corner founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and co-author of Write a Blockbuster. Derek Duggan is a graduate of The Samuel Beckett Centre for Theatre Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He lives in Spain with his wife and children and is not a tobogganist. Danny Gillan’s award-winning Will You Love Me Tomorrow was described as one of the best debut novels of 2008. Now, for entirely cash related reasons, Danny’s novel Scratch is available for Kindle readers (‘users’ sounds a bit druggy). It’s so funny it’s made people accidentally wee, apparently. Really, actually wee in their pants. True story..www.dannygillan.co.uk Gillian Hamer is a full time company director and part time novelist. She divides her time between the industrial Midlands and the wilds of Anglesey, where she spends far too much time dreaming about becoming the next Agatha Christie. http://gillian.wordpress.com/ Dan Holloway’s thriller The Company of Fellows was voted Blackwell’s “favourite Oxford novel” and was one of their “best books of 2011”. He runs the spoken word event The New Libertines and is a regular performer across the UK, winning Literary Death Match in 2010, and was listed as one of social media bible mashable’s top 100 writers on twitter. Perry Iles is an old man from Scotland. If he was a dwarf, he’d be grumpy. He lives in a state of semi-permanent apoplectic biliousness, and hates children, puppies, kittens, and periods of unseemly emotion such as Christmas. He pours out vinegary invective via a small writing machine, and thinks it’s a bit like throwing liver at the wall. He tells anyone who’ll listen that this gives him a modicum of gratification. Andrew Lownie is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents and Society of Authors and was until recently the literary agent to the international writers’ organisation PEN. In 1998 he founded The Biographers Club, a monthly dining society for biographers and those involved in promoting biography, and The Biographers’ Club Prize which supports first-time biographers.
The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Nathan Bransford
Cornerstones Mini Masterclass - with Kathryn Price
The Beginning of the End: Looking at Submitting with Sarah Bower
Scripts: The future of film - by Ola Zaltin
Building a Community by Dan Holloway
Copy, Paste, Post: Mugging myself by Ola Zaltin
JJ Marsh - writer, teacher, newt. www.beatrice-stubbs.com
Question Corner - Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing
Matt Shaw - author, cartoonist, photographer, hermit, Billy-No-Mates. www. mattshawpublications.co.uk
Some other stuff 50
What We Think of Some Books
The Rumour Mill - sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
Guess the Book
Dear Ed - Letters of the satirical variety
Horoscopes - by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith
Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, has had her work published in five countries. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market and is a writing competition judge. www.lorrainemace.com
Anne Stormont - as well as being a writer, is a wife, mother and teacher. She is also a hopeless romantic, who likes happy endings. Kat Troth grew up in two countries, uses two names, and has had two different careers. One career she has spent writing technical reports for a non-technical audience. In the other, she attempts to write fiction. She tries always to remember who she is at any one time, but usually finds she has at least two opinions about everything. Ola Zaltin is a Swedish screenwriter working out of Copenhagen, Denmark. He has written for both the big screen and the small, including episodes for the Swedish Wallander series. Together with Susanne O’Leary he is the co-author of the novel Virtual Strangers, (available as eBook).
Contents | 3
The Dreaming Spires Literary Consultancy www.inspiredwriters.co.uk We offer a full range of editorial services: proof reading, copy editing, manuscript assessment and help for any writer who wants their work to shine. Even the best writers need great editors and critical feedback – those who have the
informed observations about the narrative, the characters, the pace, etc. – and looking at the strength or weakness of the smallest details. We are an Oxford based team comprised of experienced and talented people who provide a written report listing the positive features, alongside the constructive ideas; and they all help. Ah yes, the details … As Hemingway once wrote to John Dos Passos: “Remember to get the weather in your god damned book – weather is very important.”
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org 82 Oxford Rd, Oxford, OX3 0RD
Follow our Blog
Editor’s Desk Everyone is talking about 50 Shades of Grey. And I’m not just referring to writers here, but to what appears to be everyone. Sitting at the dinner table with friends (all girls) the other night, it quickly became the centre of conversation. Those who had read it, loved it. Those who have since read it as a result of the conversation, loved it. Are they readers? Yes. Are they writers? Funnily enough, no they’re not. If they were writers I’m sure they wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enthusiastic. It would seem that to say you enjoyed 50 Shades of Grey, you’d be selling your writery soul to the devil and awarded with being cast out of any writing circle you happen to be in.
JD Smith lives and works in the English Lake District. She uses her publishing house Quinn Publications as a source of procrastination to avoid actually writing.
Copyright © 2012 Quinn Publications
Yes, that’s right. Writers don’t appear to like 50 Shades of Grey. Why? So far I’ve heard it’s shit, badly written and an unrealistic portrayal of a BDSM relationship (hmm, though it was meant to be fiction) to name but a few complaints. That it’s popular, so there must be something wrong with it, is something of an unspoken complaint. What I’m touching on here is the same subject I brought up in my last editor’s note: the snobbery of writers. The fact is, 50 Shades of Grey is selling faster than Harry Potter and THE GENERAL READING PUBLIC (and a few who probably haven’t picked up a book since school) LOVE IT. I can understand any writer not wanting to simply step on the treadmill and write what is currently popular; I don’t after all. Of course it’s more enjoyable for most of us to write the fiction we like to read. But in the last week I’ve seen comments on Facebook and messageboards from writers such as ‘How fucking stupid do you need to be to read this? As a writer, the criticism of a large portion of the reading audience for what they choose to read, probably won’t help your writing career in the long run. That said, we’ve not only given an evenly weighed review of the Fifty series, we have a rather kinky column including a heated-up extract of Harry Potter, a complete piss-take in this issue’s Dear Ed, and a promotion for Fifteen Shades for Grey, which contains animal stories ... eh ... stories about animals ... umm, it’s for charity, please download a copy.
The contributors assert the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work. All Rights reserved.
You might now think this issue is all about erotic fiction, but I assure you it’s not. This is, in fact, our first ‘The Future of Publishing’ themed issue, and to celebrate our very own JJ Marsh interviewed Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin UK.
All opinions expressed in Words with JAM are the sole opinion of the contributor and not that of Quinn Publications or Words with JAM as a whole.
For anyone who believes publishing to be all about coin-counting and pen-pushing, I’d ask only that you read the interview. Are these not the type of people we want heading up our publishing industry, whether those unpublished amongst us like it or not:
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the individual contributor and/or Quinn Publications, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Distributed from the UK. Not to be resold. Editor: JD Smith email@example.com Deputy Editors: Lorraine Mace firstname.lastname@example.org Danny Gillan email@example.com Library and Podcast enquiries: Catriona Troth firstname.lastname@example.org 60 Second Interview enquiries: JJ Marsh email@example.com Book V Film Interview enquiries: Gillian Hamer firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve worked in publishing for 26 years. I was a trainee at Macmillan and I come from an editorial background, which is unusual as most CEOs come from finance or sales. I also worked at William Heinemann, and now Penguin for the last fifteen years. I’ve been CEO for two years. From my very first moment, I loved publishing. It takes you to so many different worlds through authors and I find that absolutely fascinating. I’m a gambler. In my private life, I’m mad keen on horse-racing, I love casinos. In a way, I think you have to have a gambling instinct in publishing, but you’re betting on something rather more important than horses or cards. What could be more important than books and authors? - Tom Weldon, WWJ, August 2012 The beauty of books is the diversity, the learning and indulgence they provide, that there is something for everyone, and that even in an age of rapidly advancing media, the future for books is exciting. Perhaps it’s time to moan a little less and enjoy a little more.
Random Stuff | 5
Staging Shakespeare’s World at the British Museum by Catriona Troth, The Library Cat This summer, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the World Shakespeare Festival, the British Museum is hosting an ambitious and wholly original Shakespeare exhibition, Shakespeare: staging the world. This exhibition, as Museum Director Neil MacGregor explains in his introduction to the accompanying book, “brings together an astonishing array of objects… and examines them through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays.” A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting curators Dora Thornton and Becky Allen, just as the set for the exhibition was starting to be built. Thornton credits Professor Jonathan Bate of Oxford University with the original concept for the exhibition – the idea of using Shakespeare’s imagined places as a spine for a journey that takes you around the world while remaining all the time within the ‘Wooden O’ of the theatre. “This is not Rome or Venice as they really were, but as they were imagined by Shakespeare and his audiences. My job as curator was to work out how to use objects to articulate those places and ideas. I read a lot of Shakespeare – not much criticism, because I didn’t think that would help, but the original texts. And a lot of history. Apart from that, I drew on all my experience as Curator for Renaissance Europe here at the British Museum. ” What came first – the texts or the objects? “It’s very hard to say. It was more an imaginative feeling one’s way between text and object. “There were certain objects I knew from the start that we must have. The First Folio, of course. But then there were the relics from Stonyhurst, which I had seen at a small exhibition in Liverpool. The funerary achievements of Henry V. And the Robben Island Bible. Once I had those key pins, lots of other things fell into place.” The Stonyhurst relics are a collection of items that testify to the precarious exisitence of Catholics – and Catholic priests in particular – in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. They include the eye of a Jesuit priest, publicly executed in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. It is set in a small silver case, engraved with eye lashes and eyebrows around the eye-shaped window that reveals the dessicated eye itself. “To hold it in your hand is quite an explosive experience,” Thornton says. “I think it’s very disturbing.” It evokes, very clearly, the moment in King Lear when Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out and shows that Shakespeare’s audiences would have been only too familiar with such acts of torture. “When an actor was killed on stage, they would specify the exact amount of sheep’s blood and guts that would be needed to make it seem real. These audiences knew about ‘the frailty of flesh and corruption of the body’ in a way that we don’t.” The second set of objects that Thornton knew she must have for the exhibition were the funerary achievements of Henry V. “In James Shapiro’s, ‘1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare,’ he describes the funeral of the poet Edmund Spenser, which Shakespeare may well have attended. At that time, wherever you stood in Westminster Abbey, you
6 | Random Stuff
could see the Funerary Achievements hanging over Henry V’s chantry. ‘His bruisèd helmet and his bended sword,’ as Shakespeare describes them in Henry V. They represent the making of a hero, the making of Englishness – and about the survival of a nation, at a time when it was very much in doubt.” The last of Thornton’s key items is the ‘Robben Island Bible.’ When the leaders of the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, were imprisoned on Robben Island in South Africa, a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare was kept in secret in the gaol. It was circulated among the prisoners and each in turn signed in the margin beside the passages that meant the most to them. Sisulu marked Shylock’s, “Still I have borne it with a patient shrug, For suff ’rance is the badge of all our tribe.” Mandela chose a passage from Julius Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once.” As Thornton says, together with the First Folio, this volume shows how Shakespeare has “gone global and become everyone’s property.” Assembling the exhibition and writing the accompanying book called
on the work of archivists and curators around the world, from Tokyo to Vicenza. Many of the objects in the exhibition have never been on display before. Some objects were found quite haphazardly. The beautifully knitted “statute cap,” worn by apprentices, was found among the textiles collection in the corridors just outside Thornton’s office. “When the curator said to me, ‘I don’t know if they are anything that special, but you might be interested,’ I practically fainted with delight.” These woollen caps were fashionable in London during the reign of Henry VIII, but when they fell out of fashion and at the same time the English woollen industry came under threat from competition, a law was passed making it compulsory for men and boys over the age of six to wear them on Sundays and holidays. Since the gentry wore hats, not caps, these ‘statute caps’ became clear class markers. In certain situations, as Neil MacGregor points out in his Radio 4 programme Shakespeare’s Restless World, cap-wearing mobs could also become “symbols of rebellious menace, a bit like hoodies today.” There are things in the exhibition, too, that “remind you of the strangeness of your own culture.” The witch’s cursing bone, for instance – a deer bone through which hen’s blood was poured in order to lay a
The Arundel First Folio - Engraving of William Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. By permission of the Governors of Stonyhurst College
curse – was in use in Argyll right up to the 1940s. Some of the unpicking of text and objects has been so complex and so interesting, and has involved so much new thinking, that Thornton is hoping to write it up in collaboration with other experts and curators. “But there is never enough time. Things move on. There is always another exhibition.”
someone guilty of war crimes. The play can be about the making of the great leader, or the danger of creating such a leader.” This refusal to provide his audience with easy answers goes a long way to explain why, four hundred years later, people all over the world claim Shakespeare as their own. In evidence of this universal appeal, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World Shakespeare Festival earlier this year presented Globe to Globe. Every day for six weeks from April to June, theatre Shakespeare: staging the world opens on companies from around the world 19th July and runs until 25th November came to the Globe Theatre in London to perform Shakespeare in their own in the Round Reading Room at the British language – a total of 37 plays in 37 Museum. Tickets can be booked online at languages, from All’s Well that Ends http://www.britishmuseumshoponline.org/ Well in Gujarati to A Winter’s Tale in Yoruba. (You can read a great blog, invt/mexshake#book-now. about a production of Two Gentlemen of Verona in Shona, one of the The podcasts of Neil MacGregor’s languages of Zimbabwe, here: http:// wonderful radio programme, Shakespeare’s www.freedomfromtorture.org/newsRestless World, which focuses on twenty blogs/6311)
Again and again, Thornton emphasises how this was a world in the throes of dramatic change. “The old familiar Catholic world has gone. People are looking at the flotsam and jetsam of a broken up culture. For a long time, under Elizabeth, the survival of England as a nation was in doubt. The succession was a forbidden subject. Then, in early years of James I, you have the beginnings of the formation of ‘Great Britain,’ the founding of our first successful American colony, peace with Spain of the objects from the exhibition, can be after twenty years of war, the new At the time of this interview, the design downloaded here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ translation of the Bible. of the exhibition is complete and the podcasts/series/r4shakespeare “At the same time, you have a construction of the set has begun in the tremendous explosion of creativity. Round Reading Room. Thornton and The founding of the playhouse Allen are being cagey about the finished represents the first means of secular result will look like, but they drop some mass communication. There is a concentration of resources on the tantalising hints. They talk about “a journey through the playhouse” South Bank, a competitiveness, and a chance to cultivate an audience and of “visiting all of Shakespeare’s worlds, but always from within the which is very mixed – the perfect conditions, as Jonah Lehrer pointed Wooden O.” out in his book, Imagine, for creativity to flourish.” “It’s very theatrical, very creative. And there’s quite a bit of As today, with the Internet, that explosion had its tawdry side. irreverence.” Trinculo, in The Tempest, declares with disgust that, ‘when they will not RSC stage designer, Tom Piper, consulted with the exhibition give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead designer Alan Farlie of RFK Architects as to how the concept might be Indian.’ The reference is to native North Americans who were brought realised. The final design has remained true to the original idea, says back to Britain by explorers such as Martin Frobisher, many of whom Thornton. died while in England. Their bodies may have been put on display and As part of the collaboration with the RSC, the exhibition will include ten doits was considered a specially commissioned digital performances of passages of Shakepeare’s reasonable entrance fee. The text, demonstrating again the creative link between object and text. doit, a low value Dutch coin, “This exhibition is more multilayered than anything we’ve done was, as Allen puts it, “the before, bringing together a huge range of experience. It’s going to currency of cheap celebrity.” take a lot of orchestration and fine tuning to integrate all the different How was such creativity elements,” Thornton says. possible in an environment In my head, I am picturing a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe that was also rife with within the round space of the Reading Room, the spaces within it spies and censorship? One recreating those imagined worlds, allowing us to move, as Thornton says, answer may lie in the use “from place to place, play to play, time to time.” of Shakespeare’s imagined worlds. Just as, today, the This edition of magazine will have gone to print before best science fiction writers the exhibition opens, but I will be attending the Press use imaginary landscapes Day on 18th July and reporting on it on the Words to explore otherwise uncomfortable themes, with Jam BLOG, so do check that out to see how close Shakespeare used Venice the real thing came to my imaginings. as a mirror for London to explore ideas of sexuality and morality – and ancient Rome to explore explosive political issues. “Shakespeare is very clever about approaching issues of contemporary concern without being too inflammatory, or too direct. He uses remote locations to address topics that are too hot to handle.” Not all his contemporaries managed so well. Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd were arrested for libel. Ben Johnson was jailed and threatened with having his nose and ears cut off for including antiScottish sentiments in Eastward Ho. “Shakespeare is skilled at keeping his hands clean. He sets up a track for thinking about something, poses questions without supplying answers. That is why you can play Henry V as a great war hero, or as
8 | Random Stuff
Proofreading novels, novellas, short stories, articles, academic papers and all things abstruse, recondite, arcane or obscure. No length limits – anything from haikus to Russian novels considered. For rates and general enquiries, call Perry on
01683 221200 or 07565 912750, or email email@example.com
Agent Submission Pack Offer Most writers have agent submission packs; introductory letter, synopsis, blurb, author biography, CV and the first three chapters or the first few thousand words. I’ll look at your agent submission pack for a flat fee of £29.95, checking it for typos, spelling, grammatical errors, content, layout and presentation. If this helps you get one of those magical “send me the rest” letters, I’ll be happy to look at the rest of your book on a priority basis at normal rates before you send it off. Chamber Proof Chambers House, High Street, Moffat DG10 9ED
“Hudspith has the imagination and the style to keep his characters three-dimensional and his story interesting and eventful in a setting that’s well-realised and colourful. In the end, the tale is brought to a very satisfying conclusion, a clever reworking of the start of the story that’s intelligent, professional, creative and worthy of a great deal of praise.” Perry Iles. Read the full review at http:// kimissecret.wordpress.com/ reviews/review-by-words-with-jamcolumnist-and-reviewer-perry-iles/
Available on Amazon Kindle:
Words with JAM is FREE to subscribers, and currently has over 12,000 readers. If you would like to advertise, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an advertising pack.
Why Kill Your Darlings? by Gillian Hamer
In the course of researching articles for WWJ and interviewing established authors, one point has long intrigued me – how, when and why does a successful crime writer make the decision to kill off an equally successful character? Surely it takes a lot of b**** ... er… bottle to wipe out with a speeding bullet or a single knife wound, a character you know as intimately as you know your better half. Especially when that character is established and may be earning you (and ergo the publishing industry that supports you) a nice income from their very existence. One reason seems to be the most usual reason in any relationship breakdown – incompatibility. From as far back as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his brilliant creation, Sherlock Holmes, authors have lived with a very powerful love/hate relationship with their protégées. Conan Doyle was reported to hate Holmes by the time he wrote of his demise at the hands of Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. He felt trapped by his famous creation, unable to move on with his career and write about topics and new types of characters that interested him. However, following the publication of Sherlock’s death, the public were outraged (with some even going into mourning) and even his own mother begged him not to finish off Sherlock Holmes. And so, a decade later following a brief respite into new territory (none of which received anywhere near the same success) he relented to public demand and brought Holmes back in arguably his most famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Another of this century’s most successful crime writers, Agatha Christie, had a similar issue with her most famous creation, Hercule Poirot – despite having him feature in a mindboggling eighty-seven of her detective novels. Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard, revealed his grandmother had similar issues about her character limiting her style and choice of material. She had many ideas for new crimes that would not suit Poirot’s character, and wanted to spread her wings. However, her publishers were less keen, preferring her to stick to what they knew would sell and guarantee future financial security. And while they allowed her some scope, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence for example, they rigidly determined that Hercule must stay. In the end Christie got her way, when
10 | Random Stuff
Poirot faced his final challenge in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case which was eventually published in 1975. However, interestingly it was revealed after publication of the novel, that Christie wrote Curtain in 1940 but wisely kept Hercule’s exit a closely guarded secret for thirty-five years. Clearly, though, the demise of Poirot was in the forefront of her mind for a very long time! A similar decision was made by Colin Dexter, author of the hugely popular Morse novels. In 1999 Dexter brought Morse’s career, and his life, to an end in the novel, The Remorseful Day. Colin Dexter always cited he shared a close similarity with his leading man – from their passion for Wagner to their love of real ale and Glenfiddich. It comes as no surprise then that Morse’s death, from diabetes-related complications, comes close to the reason for Dexter’s decision to cut down Inspector Morse in his prime. Dexter has been quoted as saying that he didn’t kill off Morse. That Morse simply died from too much alcohol, too many cigarettes and too little exercise. But if pushed, Dexter will admit he feared his creation was becoming stale and clichéd, and he feared if Morse was kept alive publishers would continue to push him to produce a book a year, and, as his health began to trouble him, he felt unable to offer that commitment. Drawing a line under Morse’s life seemed the only solution. I thought it would be interesting to ask some of today’s most successful crime writers the same question ….
Who or what would persuade you to draw a line under the career of your leading character? And could you ever see that day coming in the future?
MARK BILLINGHAM The only person who could persuade me that Thorne had come to the end of the road is me. Quite simply, when I no longer find him interesting, when he becomes predictable and there are no more layers of the onion to peel away, I will stop writing about him. The trick of course is knowing when that moment has come and all writers of series live in fear of writing one – or more than one – book too many. I hope the voice in my head tells me when it’s time to stop. All I can say is that right
now, there is plenty more I want to do with him. He enters a very interesting phase of his career at the end of the forthcoming book, in fact. Whether or not I would actually kill him off is another matter. Perhaps I’ll simply retire him to some peaceful village in the Cotswolds where he can annoy the neighbours by playing country music at all hours... The next novel, Rush Of Blood is published on August 2nd. It’s a standalone thriller, but with a rather shocking cameo from Tom Thorne.
SUSAN HILL I have enough trouble because I killed off a principal character in one of them, so I would never dare kill off Simon. And so many people love him. He will continue in the next book A QUESTION OF IDENTITY and I’m planning his career through the next three books now. So, yes, Simon Serailler is here to stay.
ANN CLEEVES That’s quite easy. I’d stop writing about Vera if I stopped enjoying her company. I wouldn’t kill her off though, because I might change my mind...
Trapped in a nightmare society, a reluctant dictator struggles to overcome the legacy of his past in order to save the future from a madman’s twisted dream
�rite a story �or bedtime
Many people relax into sleep by reading in bed and a short story is the perfect way to do it. Entries, in English, should be between 1500 and 3000 words. Any subject matter except erotica. Full competition rules and details on how to enter can be found at www.avogel.co.uk/story (closing date 31st October 2012)
1st Prize £500 2nd Prize £300 3rd Prize £100
‘Compelling and intense’ Liz Williams, award winning scifi/fantasy author
‘You will fall in love with the story and not want to ever put it down’ Teresa Aguilar for The Compulsive Reader ‘Dynamic, intelligent and terrifying, A Child of the Blood blends fantastic elements of the past and a menacing view of the future to create one hell of a present …’ Words with Jam
Also available A Child of the Blood
When a psychopath with inhuman power steps out of the past to forge a twisted empire in the present, one man will risk his life, and anyone else’s, to stop him
Sponsors of write a story for bedtime Competition Dormeasan® Sleep Valerian-Hops oral drops - a traditional herbal medicinal product for use in the temporary relief of sleep disturbances caused by the symptoms of mild anxiety, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy. Always read the leaﬂet.
Available from all good bookshops, Amazon or direct from http://www.wildwolfpublishing.com
Wild Wolf Publishing Fiction with Teeth
50 Shades of Being Split up the Shitter By Derek Duggan
In a twist that no one could ever have seen coming (on their tits) it turns out that pornography is popular. There you were, carefully crafting your novel sentence by sentence, worrying over every single plot point and the interaction of all your meticulously crafted characters, researching all the relative scientific principles that may be happening off stage in your tome and it turns out what the public wants is a story about a couple of people who have a contract to fuck each other sideways. Make no mistake – this particular porn is selling faster than Harry Potter did at its height and there isn’t even a fucking stupid sub plot about house elves. The figures are quite literally staggering. It has already sold more than 30,000,000 copies. That’s thirty ass-spankingcome-dripping million. How can this be? I hear you scream. How come (up your arse) women all over the world are falling over themselves to get their hands on this book? Well, the answer is simple – it turns out that, despite what many would have you believe, men aren’t the only ones who are into wanking. But this isn’t porn – it’s an erotic novel, which means it’s completely different. So what exactly is Erotic Fiction? The answer is fairly straight forward - It’s what marketing people call porn when they want to sell it to women. Don’t worry - no one is judging any of you dirty wankers out there. But wait just an ass rimming second there – erotic fiction has been around forever so what does this particular book have that all the other erotic titles don’t? Why is this particular one flying off the shelves faster than a teenager can knock one out? Well, something weird is definitely going on here because I don’t think anyone in their right mind is going to argue that this is well written; or that it has nicely developed (knockers) characters; or that it has a brilliant plot. Nobody’s even going to propose (anal – just joking, darling) that it’s original – let’s not forget it began its life as fan fiction of the
12 | Random Stuff
teenage stalker’s handbook Twilight. And this Twilight connection seems to be the key – this is what sparked all the interest in the first place. So maybe that’s the ticket – start with fan fiction! Give the audience something familiar, change the names, and then spice it up a little – or a lottle. It sounds difficult, but let’s have a go.
Don was in a panic. The battle had ended and his best friend Gary had managed to vanquish the evil Lord Doldemort in a tremendous magic battle. Many of the buildings in Flogwarts still burned and magicians everywhere rushed to quell the flames or tend to the wounded. He knew he should probably help, but he’d been unable to find eighteen year old raven beauty Jermione anywhere. He spotted Bevel among the ruins. “Bev,” he shouted, “have you seen Jermione anywhere?” His voice sounded edgy, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t rest until he found her. “Um, yeah,” said Bevel. “She just went down to the lake a minute ago.” “Thanks, Bev,” he said and shot off towards the water, calling her name at the top of his voice as he ran. Brambles tugged at his cloak, ripping it from his back, leaving him in just his white linen shirt and still he surged forward. He broke into a clearing and there she was, standing by the waters edge. “Jermione,” he called, his voice hoarse with emotion as he stumbled to a halt a few paces behind her. “I thought you were lost.” She turned to face him, a coy smile lingering on the corner of her
sculpted lips and she held a bar of soap out to him. “What’s this?” he stammered. “I thought you might like a soapy tit wank, Don,” she said. “Expelliunderpants-amus!” His trousers melted away exposing his impressive wand… And you get the idea with that. Surely people would lose their minds if you posted something like that on a fan fiction site, though, wouldn’t they? That’s OK – once people start complaining about it simply take it down and announce that you’re moving it to your own website where people can drop in for a read and an intimate self-fiddle anytime they want. And if you write it, they will come (all over themselves). But all of this is OK because once you get people reading they’ll come (in your mouth) back to buy all of Dickens’s books and the world will be full of well read people again. It’s just like how men who start off reading Readers Wives often move on to appreciate fine art. So, what can aspiring writers learn from all this? What is the one necessary ingredient that your book needs to have to be a hit? It comes down to the most basic rule of all – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Forget what you thought you knew about who the target audience is – you’re wrong. As it turns out most people don’t want a cleverly turned phrase that encapsulates the human condition and brings them to a new and full understanding of humanity. Nor do they want stunning prose which exposes the beauty of the world that surrounds us. When it comes down to it they don’t even want to read a cleverly constructed joke. No; at the end of the day people want to read about a lady being spanked by a man in a linen shirt while they pull themselves asunder. Glad I could help.
Publishing: Revolution to Evolution
by Anne Stormont
There was a pop song in the charts in 1979 called ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. Video was new. Video was exciting. For the first time television programmes could be recorded at home to be watched later. Television viewers would no longer have to stick to the broadcasters’ viewing schedules. Cinema films could be bought as videos to view at home. Amateur moviemakers now had a much simpler way of filming and playing back their own footage. But although video technology was highly successful and video tapes and recorders were soon in most homes, it did not kill the radio star. Chris Moyles, Chris Evans, Sir Terry, John Humphries, the cast of the Archers, the team behind Woman’s Hour – to name only a few of the UK’s BBC radio ‘stars’ – are evidence of that. Neither was video the death of television or cinema - as was also predicted at the time. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the various communication and entertainment media all evolved to co-exist and in some instances complement each other (as radio had already done after the advent of television). And now we can watch and listen on our phones, i-pads and PCs. We can make and upload our own film footage to YouTube and we can make and record our own music in mp3 format and upload that too. We can all be radio and or video stars albeit to a very select group of followers. But this has not proved to be a threat to the traditional and commercial media companies. Publishing on the other hand has, until recently, changed very little. It has remained the same almost since the invention of the printing press. Of course the technology of the actual process of putting ink on paper has
developed over the intervening five hundred or so years. And availability of the printed word and levels of literacy have also increased dramatically. But the mechanism for authors getting their words into print and distributed to their potential readership has remained traditional and tightly controlled. Agents and editors have long acted as gatekeepers to the publishing houses. Yes, it is no longer only religious texts that are published – the range of traditionally published material is eclectic and, my word, even women were (eventually) able to get their work published. However not everyone who writes, hoping to be published and read, is successful in getting a traditional book deal. And that used to be that for authors. Rejected manuscripts languished in desk drawers. Recently, though, the role of the traditional publisher has been challenged in two ways. New technology has meant that readers can by-pass the bookshop and the paperback. And self- publishing, also facilitated by new technology, has mutated from being tagged
my opinion the answer to both questions is a definite no. Just as TV and video didn’t bring about the demise of radio, I believe e-books will find their place alongside the real versions. At the moment sales of e-readers and e-books are, perhaps, more buoyant than paper publishers would like, but that will be largely down to the novelty factor. Once people have their e-readers and have downloaded their e-version of the ‘to-be-read’ pile, I suspect things will settle back. I must come clean here and say that I was an early adopter of the e-book and I love my Kindle. I find it easier on the eye when reading, I love its portability and I like the relatively low price of e-books. So in view of this bias I decided to ask for the opinions of others. A (unscientific) poll of my family and friends indicated that of those who have e-readers, all love the format – but, like me, nobody has formed an exclusive reading relationship with the e-book. Everyone said that they still buy some ‘real’ books. Several reported that if they particularly liked a book in e-format, they would then buy the real thing to have on the shelf. My local library also lends out books in e-format and reports that this facility has increased their number of clients. It also occurs to me that publishers could be catering more to their future customers – i.e. children and young people. Children are the supreme early adopters of new technology. So come on publishers – move into the twenty-first century. You need to be producing far more children’s books in e-format. In my day job as a primary school teacher, I know the power of the tablet, the e-reader and the mobile phone in getting reluctant readers engaging with the written word. And once they are reading, then the whole world of books – e and paper – is open to them. And what of the selfpublishing, indie threat to the future of traditional publishing? Again, I reckon this need not be a threat. The growth of the indie author is a healthy move and encourages diversity. It is becoming an increasingly respectable and acceptable
Publishing on the other hand has, until recently, changed very little. It has remained the same almost since the invention of the printing press. Of course the technology of the actual process of putting ink on paper has developed over the intervening five hundred or so years. And availability of the printed word and levels of literacy have also increased dramatically. as’ vanity’ to having the much cooler and more respectable tag of ‘indie’. And it is these changes that have led to the two main questions about the future of publishing: Will e-readers kill off the ‘real’ book? And will selfpublishing kill off the publishing house? In
Random Stuff | 13
way to get books into print – both real and virtual. Some established and successful, traditionally published authors are choosing to go it alone as the royalties are significantly better. Some are staying with their traditionally-minded publisher for the real book format but going indie for the e-book. Of course not all indie-published books are good quality. It is true that there are some very poorly edited and badly designed – to say nothing of badly written – self-published novels out there. But these will sink and are no threat to the publishing industry. As for the well written, professionally edited and designed indie books – they deserve their place in the market. There is only a tiny amount of such books that have ever come close to competing with the sales of traditionally published work. And there is nothing to stop an agent picking up a successful indie author and suggesting to a publisher that they offer a good, old-fashioned book deal. After all, the publisher is not going to be speculating on an unknown quantity and will be signing up a committed and hard-working author. And of course, for many self-published authors it is still their dream to be traditionally published. The publishing deal gives them real credibility, some marketing support and wider distribution. It is also, relatively, more financially secure. So self-publishing a half decent book could be seen as a sort of apprenticeship for the full blown professional. I do recognise that there are writers who prefer to remain independent, but it is unlikely that in doing so they will bring down the publishing industry. It is to be hoped that such writers might do publishing some good by shaking up the complacency and narrowminded views within the industry about what readers want.
I think what I’m saying is that the future of publishing could be, and should be, bright. The industry can choose to embrace the new technologies and ways of thinking about writers and readers – it can evolve, it can join in the revolution. It can sometimes choose to be experimental, to be daring, to trust the intelligence of book readers. As the indie writers have shown readers will take chances on unproven authors. Or, publishers can continue to publish the biographies of twentyyear-old footballers, to ignore the tastes of women readers – especially those women readers who spend the most on books and who also happen to be over fifty – and to favour celebrity over talent. In other words they can continue to play it safe in the short term and preside over their own demise in the longer term. The future of publishing could be amazing. It could be revitalised by innovation. The future of publishing is in its own hands.
Saturday 27th & Sunday 28th October 2012, Zürich Yep, it's that time of year again... Attend workshops, network, receive critiques, improve your skills, talk to publishing experts, meet other writers, take away tips and give yourself a creative workout.
Fiction Masterclass with Emma Darwin Saturday 27th October
For experienced fiction writers. You’ve learned a lot. Now you want to take your work to the next level. This is for you.
Writers' Boot Camp Saturday 27th October
For writers who want to master the essentials. You might be a blogger, storyteller, fictioneer, journalist or penning your memoir. There are some things we all need to know.
Q&A Panel Sunday 28th October
An opportunity to ask the experts about writers' platforms, self-publishing, agents, social media, and more. Panel: Joanna Penn, Andrew Lownie, Emma Darwin, Susan Jane Gilman www.nuancewords.com/projects/writecon-2012 Image courtesy: Cushing Memorial Archive & Library, Texas
Book v Television:
One Day by David Nicholls Reviewed by Gillian Hamer
I’ll start this piece with a confession - this film made me cry. Now, for those who know me, and know I spend most of my time with murderers and psychos (reading and writing time that is not Sunday lunch) that for me to settle down with a weepy movie or a ‘feel good’ book, and find myself getting ‘all teary’ ... well, let’s just say it’s something of a rarity. In fact, the chances of my ever by choice reading anything even loosely labeled as ‘Romantic Fiction’ is as rare as the sight of glorious sunshine in a UK summer. But I like stories with a twist, and whilst this might be a ‘boy-meetsgirl’ tale from the outside, it certainly packs its own unique punch. I saw the film version first - a friend’s turn to choose on our monthly cinema trip. But I came out with a desperate urge to read the book. Author, David Nicholls, also wrote the film screenplay, and this is probably why I find myself unable to write two separate reviews. Whilst there were changes, they were subtly handled, so nothing felt omitted or wrong. Nicholls did a fabulous job, particularly with his strength characterisation. The characters carry both the book and film with sublime ease. Dexter and Emma - played on screen by Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway respectively - were brilliantly written. I agree with a pertinent cover quote by Jonathon Coe: ‘You really do put this book down with the hallucinatory feeling that they’ve [Dexter and Emma] become as well known to you as your closest friends.’ The synopsis is very simple. After spending the night after their college graduation together, we follow the two lead characters through each of the next twenty years, on the anniversary of the date of their first meeting - July 15th (St Swithins Day). Sometimes they are together, often apart. Sometimes experiencing highs, often coping with lows. And what film director Lone Scherfig does brilliantly well is to keep the audience guessing. Will they finally get together? Will they get the happy ending both characters crave and deserve? Well ... I’m not going to tell you, but this is David Nicholls ... so perhaps you can guess! Looking to the novel, I actually fell in love with the book before I even got to page one. It opens with a wonderful quote from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations that I feel compelled to repeat here: ‘That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it and think how different its course would have been. Pause, you who read this, and think for a long moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on that memorable day.’ Whether this quote was the initial inspiration for the novel or not, it certainly works to set up the tone of what is to come. The opening section of both book and film concentrates of the character’s early twenties, and starts with the fateful chaste night they first spent together in Dexter’s student flat in Rankeillor Street in Edinburgh. The novel opens with a typical Emma quote. ‘I suppose the important thing is to make some sort of difference. You know, actually change something.’ And in that one simple line of dialogue we learn so much about the character of Emma Morley. Emma is smart, and although she
would deny it, very savvy. She is a hard worker, but a person for whom luck and success are hard to come by. Dexter Mayhew on the other hand, is a lot less smart, but equally savvy, using what assets he possesses. Success and women fall into his lap in equal measures, and it’s not long before we see, predictably, Dexter becoming a victim of both his success and his own weaknesses. More so in the book than the film, I connected with the characters. I saw aspects of my own personality in Emma, and I experienced the same pull she felt towards Dexter. I loved his one-liners. Like ‘If I could give you just one gift, Em, do you know what it would be? Confidence. That or a scented candle.’ It’s not hard to see why, not only Emma, but every female who comes within a mile of his ‘kill zone’ becomes addicted. I think Jim Sturgess portrayed the role perfectly. As the story progresses and Emma and Dexter mature, (well, maybe just Emma) their lives lead them off in very different directions. This is where I would score the book higher then the film. The format of each new chapter for each new July 15th gave a lot more scope to getting a real insight into their lives at these moments. I felt I learned much more about the characters from the book than the film. One running theme of both formats is how the reader/viewer feels torn by so many different emotions - frustration that they don’t just quit stalling and get it together; female support for Emma’s willpower and her refusal to be just another notch on Dexter’s well-worn bedpost, and finally, that niggling rumble of unease that if they did actually do the deed, it would be a hell of a let down to both after so many years of anticipation (particular Emma with her vivid writer’s imagination - and we all know how that feels, right?). Where, in my opinion, the film outweighs the novel is the ending. Personally, I didn’t like the catch up chapters in the book, where missing years were squeezed in to fill gaps in the story. It felt awkward and changed the dynamic of the book climax, and for me, it was handled much better in the film portrayal. When David Nicholls was asked if he’d been nervous about One Day being made into a film and had any reservations about writing the screen play, he admitted he found the whole experience nerve-racking, especially with such a personal and heartfelt book. Nicholls admits that while they tried to stay true to the spirit and story of the book, he accepts that 110 pages of screenplay can never be the same as 130,000 words of prose. Yes, I would agree. But I think Nicholls’ talent shines through in both formats, enough to make this contest a straight tie. Both the book and the film give this story their own unique qualities, both formats in some ways improve the story, and both are oozing with humour and the feel good factor. I am not a fan of this genre, but I already know I’ll read the book again one day soon. Whether you choose to read the book or settle down on a rainy Tuesday and watch the DVD you will laugh, cry and live through every emotion inbetween and be glad you had chance to saviour the moment.
Book v Film. One Day by Daid Nicholls - DRAW/ DEUCE/TIE!
Random Stuff | 15
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin UK, on the future of publishing An interview with JJ Marsh
At Penguin’s Head Office on the Strand in London, with a glorious view over the Thames, CEO Tom Weldon took time out of his hectic schedule to talk to JJ Marsh. Can you start by telling us how you got here? What are the qualities you think propelled you to such a position? I’ve worked in publishing for 26 years. I was a trainee at Macmillan and I come from an editorial background, which is unusual as most CEOs come from finance or sales. I also worked at William Heinemann, and now Penguin for the last fifteen years. I’ve been CEO for two
What do you see as the chief impact of the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement in 1997? It’s brought books to a wider range of people. It opened up the distribution of books, particularly in supermarkets. Of course, there have been some dangers, but overall, it has helped to democratise books.
Recently, you said: ‘Our industry is going through more changes now than it has for the past 300 years.’ As a trade publisher, is that exciting or intimidating? (Laughs). Definitely both. I think we’re going through massive structural changes, above all with the growth of
I’m a gambler. In my private life, I’m mad keen on horse-racing, I love casinos. In a way, I think you have to have a gambling instinct in publishing, but you’re betting on something rather more important than horses or cards. What could be more important than books and authors? years. From my very first moment, I loved publishing. It takes you to so many different worlds through authors and I find that absolutely fascinating. I’m a gambler. In my private life, I’m mad keen on horseracing, I love casinos. In a way, I think you have to have a gambling instinct in publishing, but you’re betting on something rather more important than horses or cards. What could be more important than books and authors? As for whether I’ve been successful, I’d say that as well as a gambling instinct, I’m also very curious. I care passionately about books; everybody at Penguin does. I’ve also been very lucky. I’ve only ever had two bosses in my career and they’ve both been remarkable women. Philippa Harrison, and in particular, Helen Fraser who taught me not only how to publish, but how to manage people.
16 | Random Stuff
online retail and the growth of e-books. That’s putting enormous pressure on bricks-and-mortar bookshops. And also the whole transition from physical to digital. Geographically, we’re becoming more and more one global market. We use this term ‘frenemies’, where our customers can both be our friends and our enemies. We’re increasingly faced by disintermediation; it’s not just other publishers who are our competitors. It could be, for example, gaming companies in the children’s area. So there are many threats. But it’s also incredibly exciting. There are positive benefits from this. I think the appetite for reading will never, ever go away. It’s incredibly resilient. What’s exciting is that we can bring great writers to a wider audience. There are constraints, but storytellers can now use different media to tell their stories. Flexible, adaptive channels can and will be hugely successful.
About Penguin Penguin paperbacks were the brainchild of Allen Lane, then a director of The Bodley Head. After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, he found himself on a platform at Exeter station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London, but discovered only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels. Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops, but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores. He also wanted a ‘dignified but flippant’ symbol for his new business. His secretary suggested a Penguin and another employee was sent to London Zoo to make some sketches. Seventy-five years later Penguin is still one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The first Penguin paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935 and included works by Ernest Hemingway, André Maurois and Agatha Christie. They were colour coded (orange for fiction, blue for biography, green for crime) and cost just sixpence, the same price as a packet of cigarettes. The way the public thought about books changed forever - the paperback revolution had begun. http://www.penguin.co.uk/
Random Stuff | 17
So that’s the situation now. This issue of Words with JAM looks at the future. Management Today quoted you as saying, ‘There are obvious icebergs ahead’. Which are the biggest? The pressure on paper books. There’s a perception in publishing, or paranoia even, that physical books will disappear. I don’t think that’s the case because books are objects people want to own. They are beautiful, and I’m not just talking about coffee table accessories. However, margins on physical books are incredibly thin. 25% of the UK market is now e-books and that could tilt the balance. Worldwide, ten million square feet of bookseller space has been lost in the last year. The downward pressure on pricing is bad news for everyone, and worst of all for authors.
This is the Genesis project? Will you expand on that? Of course. It’s about authors. Authors are the heart of what we do. Let’s be realistic; they pay our wages. Especially as authors are marginalised in today’s market. We’ve created an incubator – a small team of creatives – in the children’s area to generate stories, brands, identities and interactive websites. It’s still early days, but we’re enthusiastic about the potential.
How do you feel about the expression ‘dead tree books’? What does that mean?
And how’s Penguin responding? Regarding the digital transition, 15% of Penguin UK’s market is e-books. The production department can produce both e-book and paper, enhanced e-books and apps. We’re developing new skill-sets. We have a data insight hub to share with our authors. We’re publishing our authors on multiple platforms. We’re a consumer-facing brand and want to move our marketing model from display to discovery. Working with venturethree, we’re finding ways of helping consumers discover our books. Just a few examples, through pop-up shops, branding of e-books, the use of idents and using Penguin’s own social media, which has 2.5 million users, as channels of communication. Our brand is a crucial tool, as is our ambition and imagination.
So surely that must change the staff profile. Anthony Forbes Watson (Pan Macmillan) said, ‘Publishing will migrate from an industry for arts graduates who can count into science graduates who can write a paragraph’. I gather you have another view. (Laughs). There’s always been this misperception of publishing, you know, it’s full of arts graduates. That’s not so. We’ve always needed marketers, sales specialists and so on. New skills we’re trying to cultivate include data management and online communication, children’s specialists, and looking beyond books to consumer products. We’re recruiting diverse individuals to reflect our community.
Do you see a greater likelihood of partnerships, such as your collaboration with Mind Candy to bring out the Moshi Monsters books and apps? Or the Razorbill/beActive event? We’re very proud of these collaborations, as we’re always hunting for great creative talent. In fact, in our search for digital storytellers, we’re interested in developing our own IP.
Paper as opposed to digital. Oh, I hate that!
Me too. And apparently it’s a misnomer anyway. It is. I’ve never heard that description before, but I hate it. Penguin, like most big publishers have a strict policy on green issues. For instance, we have a long relationship with The Woodland Trust with whom we’ve planted a Penguin Wood. Besides, that’s such a pejorative way to refer to a book. I believe production values are vital in creating something to be admired. That’s where a paper book can excel. Something we want to touch, to own. Look at these. (Indicates one of the shelves behind his head which holds reissued Penguin classics.)
Yes, I’m so covetous of those. You said you’re a gambler. Regarding publishing and the future, where would you place your bets? On authors and books. On storytelling in all its various forms. Publishers who embrace change are the ones who will thrive. Tastemakers and curators need to be dynamic, flexible and fearless, and to listen to readers. I’m always open to new ideas, but with every kind of book, I’m betting on the very best writers. The format may change but it’s still the content that counts.
Last question: Pearson (Penguin’s parent company) has just acquired Author Solutions Inc. What does this mean for self-published authors? In terms of the acquisition of ASI, I think this is a very good deal for self-published authors. Although the two companies will be kept separate, ASI will stand to benefit from Penguin’s design, editorial and sales skills, as well as our strong international presence as it looks to expand outside America. It will also potentially be a source of great new writers for Penguin.
From The Bookseller/Future Book Pearson has acquired self-publishing company Author Solutions Inc for $116m (£74m) There is a clear win for Penguin here, as Penguin Chairman John Makinson says in the press release: "This acquisition will allow Penguin to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy and gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future.” He also said: "Self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry over the past three years. It has provided new outlets for professional writers, a huge increase in the range of books available to readers and an exciting source of content for publishers such as Penguin. No-one has captured this opportunity as successfully as Author Solutions, which has rapidly built a position of world leadership on a platform of outstanding customer support and tailor-made publishing services."
18 | Random Stuff
Publisher of Open Letter Books, Chad Post, on The Future of Publishing In a recent speech presented at the 29th International Publishers Association Congress, I listed a bunch of statements about the “paradoxes” of the publishing field, including this one: We also hate Amazon because they’re good at the thing we turned our back on: relating to readers. Unless they’ve worked at a bookstore or are really socially engaged, most everyone loves buying books from Amazon. They cater to a reader’s desires—recommendations and low prices — and invite the reader to participate directly with book culture via reviews and self-publishing. These are things at which traditional publishers typically fail. (http://publishingperspectives.com/2012/06/forpublishers-the-long-term-is-the-only-race-worth-winning/) I then went on to make a bunch of statements about what publishers, authors, agents, translators should do in the future, mostly focused around the core concept of treating the publishing ecosystem like one huge network. Which is markedly different from the more classic model in which authors are in one sphere, editors in another, and the marketing folks, booksellers, and readers in their separate spaces. (And this doesn’t even include the reviewers, which can be subdivided into bloggers and standard print reviewers.) On its surface, this may not seem like much. Over the past few decades, we’ve come to acknowledge that the network model—which is reflected in global capitalism, the Internet, the brain—is a structure that a lot of social ecosystems tend to mirror. Publishing—which is traditionally slow to adapt to cultural changes, while paradoxically tends to spark them through thoughtful long-form works that blister the minds of many at a relatively cheap cost—is still coming into line with this model, and that’s causing all sorts of anxiety and upheaval and questions about the future. The key to any and all networks are node-to-node dispersed modes of communication and influence. In a traditional publishing model (and by traditional, I mean as recent as the 1980s and 90s), publishers get books from agents and authors and target two groups that impact the masses/their sales: reviewers at mainstream outlets and booksellers. It’s like a pyramid structure: one small powerful top (the publishers), who talk to a slightly larger group (reviewers, bookstores), who influence the masses (readers). Self-publishing—either in terms of Lulu or Amazon—which was once looked down upon as if it consisted of leper pirates or something worse, is now a serious force upon literary culture. This may still sound ridiculous to some, but look at John Locke (sold a million ebooks on Amazon, signed with a commercial publisher) and Amanda Hocking (self-published vampire books to MacMillan). Sure, those are two
examples, but consider this extended vision: there’s a guy who works a mid-level office job in New Brighton, MN, and wants to write crime novels. He could a) write a novel alone, send it to a bunch of agents, wait 24+ months for all of those agents to get around to rejecting it, before finally finding a willing representative, who then sends it to 42 publishers over a 12 month period before saying, “hey, these people will publish it! It’s a press you’ve never heard of with next to no advance, but you’ll be a published author!” or b) work on his book as part of an online community of crime writers—published and unpublished—who provide feedback, recommend other readers, talk him up on their blog, and introduce him to the concept of self-publishing, which leads him to publishing an ebook version of his procedural for $1.99 and selling to everyone in his network, which may be 75 or 50,000, but it’s an experience that he enjoyed start to finish and which brought joy to the reading lives of some people. Let’s pick up another thread here for a moment: what makes a book a quality book? We’ve all been to high school and probably read a poem by T.S. Eliot or a book by James Joyce. We’ve been told these are “great” works, works that “mean” things, works that are inspirational and Real Literature. But what if you’re a kid born 16 years ago in 1998. Do you connect with these texts? And how? This might sound a bit flippant, but seriously, it’s a massive problem at universities around the country. Over the past 30 years, the number of English majors on college campus has plummeted from 7.6% to 3.9%. (http://theamericanscholar.org/the-decline-of-the-english-department/) That is what one refers to as “serious shit.” English Departments that are aware and willing to self-critique realize that they’re in deep trouble—a situation N. Katherine Hayles describes accurately in her latest book, How We Think. Students are aware of the pressures of the “real” world and go into Engineering, or Business, or Computer Science. Personally, I think this is a bad thing, but I’m not sure I can justify the why of it: because “close reading” of texts helps you better understand the world? And not make enough money to live? That the only way to read is to read like your grandparents read in the “New Criticism 60s”? Or that by understanding deconstruction and inequalities you, as an English major, will be able to adequately fight injustice? This is part of the reason why Digital Humanities has become such a huge trend in academia. Some of the research coming out of the field is interesting, but of equal importance is the fact that students and young faculty find it intriguing—it provides a new way in which educators can engage the future generations of readers. I have a really good friend who has pontificated—at length—about an idea of his on how to teach literature to college students. His basic premise is that forcing students to start with Beowulf and move through Chaucer to Milton and Shakespeare and arriving at Pynchon when you’re a month from graduation creates a sense that literature is out-ofdate and has little to do with one’s contemporary life. For the majority of college students, you’ve just killed their reading drive. Entirely. Like Book-TV, but with an $8,000 price tag. The crux of this friend’s argument is that if you instead started by teaching college kids contemporary literature and then traced your way back through influences, you would hook them at the beginning, and turn them on to books as a whole. Which is the most important thing for publishers operating in the 21st century: that we have readers to read our products. But why do people read? Why would the friends of our imaginary New Brightonian read that probably mediocre crime procedural instead of T.S. Eliot? Because one is more entertaining, no? In which case, why, in this age of Netflix and Spotify and all entertainment all the time, why would anyone spend a week deciphering Faulkner? One possible answer harkens back to our New Brightonian: Reading is a pastime that, for a huge percentage of our population, is something you do when you’re not watching the Twins game, or rocking Rock Star, or trolling Facebook. It’s entertainment and is sparked by your network, your friends. For ages, publishers talked about “word of mouth” being the number one selling method for books, but I’m not convinced they really knew
Random Stuff | 19
what this meant. As a bookseller in the 1990s, I got the impression that publishers truly believed that people walked into bookstores, bought the title the publishers had paid to have on the front table, and then read it and told all their friends. All of them. And all of these friends rushed out to buy the book. But that’s not really how this works. My informal studies have shown that most people “trust” three to five friends total. It’s not like you can have a reader post a glowing review on Facebook and suddenly all their 2,000+ friends rush to Amazon to order the book. It’s more subtle. Publishers need to pay attention how networks work. This is a massive pain in the metaphysical ass. That original model? In which you dealt with a genius and an agent and then a few tastemakers and sold all your copies? That isn’t as effective as it used to be. Nowadays there are millions of New Brightonians (metaphorically speaking) publishing all the books they want and selling to all of your potential readers. The situation we’ve ended up with—for reasons I’ve explained in more detail in other articles—is a bit of a mess: we have readers who read primarily as a form of (lesser) entertainment, readers who read four books a year, publishers trying to maximize old-school profit margins from selling to a group of readers turned off by what they perceive as literature based on how it’s taught to them, and insane amounts of writers flooding the marketplace with books that their friends will buy because their cheap and, well, friends. How can traditional publishers succeed in this situation? Looking toward the future, Amazon and similar ventures control nearly all the sales and the greatest competition to traditional/legacy publishers are the hoards of self-published writers who are able to more easily reach the same readers the commercial publishers are trying to get to. This is a bit terrifying. As a result, the number one concern of publishers is to figure out how to better connect with readers. This is why “Vooks” came into existence (“hey look, it’s like reading while watching a video!”) and why viral marketing and trailers are the new go to ideas. Meanwhile, selfpublished folks like E.L. James (of Fifty Shades fame) are doing exactly this but in ways that are more organic, natural, reader-centric.
There are tools available to publishers though. There’s Small Demons, which breaks apart books into components, linking up components so that readers interested in books featuring Yo La Tengo can read all the books featuring Yo La Tengo. Small Demons is the database mode of discovery: Since we structure the world like a database, a database of terms in books will appeal. On the other end of things is GoodReads, which, instead of emphasizing database details, plays off of a reader’s desire to be social. The sharing and recommending and befriending is something very in line with what we think of when we thing of networks in this day and age. Content is secondary to who it is that tells you about something. Both of these approaches is valid, yet completely different. But what’s interesting to watch unfold is the way in which publishers are shit at utilizing these, whereas the self-published—those disillusioned with the publishing process as is, except when it comes to money and advertisements—already function smoothly in this environment. So what does the future hold, aside from tons of self-published books and ebooks? Some postulate a total fragmenting of the marketplace, with different outlets having access to different books, each writer finding her/ his niche and milking that, a forest of $.99 ebooks that shadow out all the “real” literature. On the other side, there’s a steady but stable group of people who like what books can do, and feel that everything above is sort of bullshit . . . That books aren’t just entertainment but a way to understand the world of life and ideas that differs from all other artistic mediums. (Tennessee Williams is not equal to The Dark Night Rises.) And these people will find out about these books through special relationships with publishers—through iPhone apps, special one-on-one initiatives, and things we can’t even quite dream of. Point being, publishers will shift away from focusing solely on reviewers and booksellers and start thinking about the individual and how to get her/him the exact right book at the exact right time—a task that was seemingly impossible five years ago, but seems totally possible projecting five years into the future.
A Winter’s Tale Retold:
Community Theatre in Toronto Earlier this summer, I interviewed Ruth Howard, founder and artistic director of Jumblies, a community theatre group which has recently completed a three and half year residency in the east Toronto district of Scarborough. Howard founded Jumblies in 2001, having worked as a designer in community theatre groups in both Britain and Canada for ten years before that. She has just won Canada’s 2012 Urban Leadership ‘City Soul’ Award for “inspiring creative community-building and fostering social connections through Jumblies’ distinctive blend of art and community development.” So what exactly is community theatre? “If you look it up on the web, you’ll find lists of criteria that you have to meet to be considered community theatre,” says Howard. “Jumblies
20 | Random Stuff
doesn’t always meet those. But I guess I’d say it’s a collaboration between professional artists and a community (usually place-based but could be a community of ideas or a community of values). It has a multi-year timeframe and involves the creation of a script, which might be original or an adaptation. It has a large cast of, say, a hundred or more people, with non-competitive casting. We never say, ‘it’s too late,’ or ‘we have too many people,’ or ‘you’re not good enough,’ or ‘you’re too good.’ Anyone who wants to take part can take part. We aim for high arts production values. And the way I do it, it’s very important that we have a legacy phase – that we think about what is going to happen next in the community.” Certain things tend to characterise community theatre performances – a mixture of artistic virtuosity with community inclusion, having audience and performers mingling in the same space, mixing different scales of performance, from a shoebox theatre to large scale elements – and above all, doing things that you could only do with amateurs.
“It’s exciting,” Howard says. “Once you’ve worked on something like this, it’s hard to go back to doing it any other way.” Scarborough is a district that encompasses an extraordinary social disparity, from the wealthy ‘Anglo’ area of the Bluffs, to Kingston/Galloway, indentified as one of Toronto’s most ‘at risk’ neighbourhoods. It includes high-rise social housing and a strip of fourteen old motels on the Kingston Road, now home to prostitutes, drug dealers, coke addicts and families from overflowing homeless and refugee shelters. It houses Toronto’s largest and most concentrated First Nation community, and the world’s largest Tamil diaspora. Scarborough is home to the Guild Inn Sculpture Garden, “a stunning, strange place” that houses surreal fragments of old Toronto architecture – marble columns and stone lions, assembled by an early 20th Century philanthropist. And it also has the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre, a craft centre and art gallery in an old mansion, whose gardener’s cottage became Jumblies’ home for three years. “The mixture of all those things was irresistible,” says Howard. In the Jumblies way of doing community theatre, a project takes place in four phases – research and development, creation, production and then legacy. “We moved into the cottage in February 2008. We let people know that if they invited us, we’d come and do a workshop. So one of the first invitations came from the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities, who wanted us to work with a group of Tamil Seniors. “The important thing in this first stage is to get to know different sections of the community as well as possible. One of the exercises we used early on we called ‘nesting’. It was something to spark people’s interest, and something that was easy to replicate with different groups. “You start with four concentric circles. In the centre is the indvidual. The first circle represents the people they live with – the people who are close both physically and emotionally. The second represents people who are emotionally close but physically distant. The third is the people who used to live where you live now. And the fourth are people in your neighbourhood whom you don’t know. “Once someone had completed these circles, they would pick one person from each circle and draw a picture or write a story about them. We cut out paper shapes that could be curled up so that they looked like Russian nesting dolls. The biggest doll was always the
stranger in your neighbourhood. People would write about the bus driver, or the people they saw from their window. “When we had done this with several different groups, we put them on display in the Art Gallery. Then we carried out more activities in the gallery with people who came to see them, so the display was evolving all the time. We ended up with hundreds of the little dolls, which we could then use to tell stories or for little puppet shows.” These activities took them to the end of their first year. And this point, they had met a lot of people and made some strong connections, particularly with some schools and with the Tamil seniors. But they had yet to make more than a tenuous connection with the First Nation groups or with motel dwellers, so those became their number one outreach priorities for the second year.
Giving a Spine to the Story It was now, at the start of the second year, that Howard introduced the idea of using Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a backbone for the work going forward. “I had had it in mind all along that that was what I wanted to do. It’s a play I have always loved. But I needed to find a way to make it relevant and accessible. “The first step was to distill it into a story. ‘Once upon a time, there were two princes who were the best of friends…’ That sort of thing. Then we trained people as storytellers. “Once a group had heard the story, we would ask them to choose an image that stood out for them and draw a picture. We’d put those on squares of paper, colour coded for the different seasons in which the story takes place – black for the winter segment, yellow for spring and so on. We’d arrange them in a big square, with the story line going one way and pictures
A Winter’s Tale: synopsis A Winter’s Tale tells the story of two childhood friends, King Leontes of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia. Polixenes is persuaded by Leontes’ pregnant wife Hermione to extend a long stay in Sicilia. But Leontes becomes convinced that the two are lovers. Possessed by jealousy, he first tries to poison Polixenes, who flees, and then throws Hermione in gaol, declaring his unborn child illegitimate. Leontes sends to the Oracle at Delphi for confirmation of his suspicions, while Hermione gives birth in her prison cell to a daughter, Perdita. Leontes orders that the child should be taken away and abandoned. Too late, the Oracle sends word that Hermione is innocent and the Leontes shall have no heir until his daughter is found. Hermione falls into a swoon and Leontes, wracked with remorse, is told that she is dead. Perdita has been left on the shores of Bohemia and brought up by shepherds. Sixteen years pass and Polixenes’ son, Florizel falls in love with her, not knowing who she is. Forbidden by Polixenes to see each other, the two flee to Sicily. When Leontes hears Perdita’s story, he realises she must be his daughter. As they celebrate, a ‘statue’ of Hermione is restored to life.
Random Stuff | 21
Spinning the Yarn
of the same scene going the other. By the time thirty people had done that, we’d have a huge, organic story board. “The next step was to ask people to pick one of these images and think about an episode from their own life that it reminded them of, then draw a picture or write a story about that. When we’d built up a whole inventory of stories, we began to organise them into twentyfour themes from The Winter’s Tale – two lands, childhood friends, persuasion, jealousy, betrayal, women standing up to authority, new birth, reversal, revival, reconciliation… and so on. “We had a box for each theme, with the stories we’d gathered inside. And we used those for the next activity. One of the areas we had found hard to reach were the community housing tower blocks, where there were no public spaces we could use. So we invented what we called Lobby Art. Teams would take one of our story boxes and a folding table, set up in the lobby of one of the tower blocks for a few hours, and just invite people to join in and tell their stories.”
22 | Random Stuff
At the end of the second year of their residency, Jumblies made their first tentative steps into performance. “By now we had the overarching story, and we had the twenty-four themes. At this point we brought in some professional artists and had them each work with one of the groups on a particular theme. Their brief was to develop a performance or presentation about five minutes long that expressed either a part of The Winter’s Tale or a parallel story on the same theme.” The group moved back into the Gallery for two weeks, this time performing the story of The Winter’s Tale once each day. Each time they told the story, two of the groups that had been working on scenes would take over presenting that segment of the story; thus the way the story unfolded was different every time. “We had dance and performance art and people actually acting out short scenes of the Shakespeare text. A community choir commissioned a composer to turn the notorious stage direction ‘Exeunt pursued by a bear’ into a song.” Over the winter and spring of 2011, the work split into two strands. Groups continued to develop activities within the commmunity – in particular, the ‘Three Lands of Scarborough,’ where groups were invited to imagine ‘the good land, the bad land and the dream land’. The resulting drawings and models from this exercise had a big influence on set design for the upcoming production. In the meantime, the professional team were working together, developing the script and score for the final performance, and deciding what – from all the wealth of material they had developed – they could include and what would have to be discarded. Then, with the basic structure of the show agreed, they began their final push towards performance.
‘Like an Old Tale’: Professionals v Amateurs
The resulting performance of ‘Like an Old Tale’ produced some extraordinary collaborations between professionals and amateurs, with the professionals very much taking a back seat. “For the most part, the professionals had been part of the team right from the start,” Howard explains. “You could describe them as ‘facilitators with performance skills.’ They provided support and leadership – for instance, like the choreographer who danced in amongst the dancers from the community. But they were emphatically not the stars of the show.” One element of the show Howard was particularly keen on made use of larger-than-life puppets which required two puppeteers to manipulate. Each team of two would include one professional performer and one non-professional. In another segment of the performance, a professional painter would create a painting, live, on the screen of an overhead projector, while two non-professionals working alongside him on two other screens. One of the non-professional actors was a fabulous performer, but had trouble remembering her lines. In performance, a professional actor would stand behind her and whisper the lines for her to echo. “The result was quite beautiful. It gave it an eery quality.” At times the audience would be divided between a number of small, localised performances. In ‘The Twelve Realms of Scarborough’, twelve story-tellers worked with little puppets to tell stories based on the different places where the group had worked. At other times the whole space was used to create spectacle. In different parts of the performance, the character of Leontes was played by an opera singer, an amateur actor, a puppet…
Jumblies at Camp Naivelt: As a culmination of a project over three summers, 27 teens and children spent a week living life as it was experienced in a 1920s Russian work commune for orphaned or dislocated children. Drawing inspiration from an original diary in Yiddish, they confronted the question such as: what is it like not to have enough food or bedding and only one set of clothes, to collect food rations each day from the local village supply depot, to have no running water or overhead lights, only four cups to go around and no parents on hand to tell you what to do? The children turned their experiences into an interactive performance, given as part of the 2009 Mayworks Festival of Workers’ Arts.
‘Like an Old Tale’ is just one of a series of transformational projects undertaken by Jumblies in the course of the last decade. You can read about others (including Camp Naivelt) on their website: http://www.jumbliestheatre.org All Photographs: copyright Katherine Fleitas
What Next for the Community? The final performance of ‘Like an Old Tale’ took place in December 2011 at Toronto’s Commercial Studios, so the group is now well into its Legacy Phase. The Scarborough residency has led to the creation of the Community Arts Guild which has been working on two projects under the leadership of Beth Helmers, one of the original Jumblies team. The ‘Lost & Found Triptych’ expresses three stories from the Tamil Seniors, one as an audio drama, one as a puppet show and one as a film. ‘Recipe For Theatre’ is a youth project connecting theatre and culinary arts, and ending with a performed feast for the Tamil seniors and other community members. Finally, the Community Arts Guild held a weeklong exhibition at Cedar Ridge Community Arts Centre in mid-May featuring props and costumes from ‘Like An Old Tale.’ This follows a well-worn path for Jumblies. Previous residencies have spawned MABELLEarts and Arts4All – organisations loosely under the Jumblies umbrella which continue to function independently years after the original project is completed. It is this combination of inspired creativity, genuine inclusiveness and long-lasting community involvement that makes Jumblies exceptional.
Random Stuff | 23
60 Second Interviews with JJ Marsh
Each month, we persuade, tempt and coerce (or bully, harass and blackmail) two writers into spilling the contents of their shelves. Twelve questions on books and writing. Plus the Joker – a wild thirteenth card which can reveal so much. Be honest, what do you put on YOUR chips? Your intrepid reporter, Jill
Naomi Alderman Which book affected you most when growing up? The Bible. But not always in a good way...
Where do you write? Mostly in bed. When I’m actually managing to look after myself: the library.
Who was the biggest influence on your writing life? My mum, who always reads for pleasure, taught me to read when I was three, and read to me every night until I got tired of waiting for her to have a drink and tore the book from her hands and started to read myself.
Do you read critiques of your work? Yes, but not all of them. I get my friends to read my reviews first and say “you should read this one” or “you don’t need to read that one”.
Which book should every child read?
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin About Naomi Naomi Alderman grew up in London and attended Oxford University and UEA. Her first novel, Disobedience, was published in ten languages; like her second novel, The Lessons, it was read on BBC radio’s Book at Bedtime. In 2006 she won the Orange Award for New Writers. In 2007, she was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, and one of Waterstones’ 25 Writers for the Future. Her prize-winning short fiction has appeared in Prospect, on BBC Radio 4 and in a number of anthologies. In 2009 she was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award. From 2004 to 2007 Naomi was lead writer on the BAFTAshortlisted alternate reality game Perplex City. She’s written online games for Penguin, the BBC, and other clients. In 2011 she wrote the Doctor Who tie-in novel Borrowed Time. In 2012, she co-created the top-selling fitness game and audio adventure Zombies, Run! Naomi broadcasts regularly, has guest-presented Front Row on BBC Radio 4 and writes regularly for Prospect and the Guardian. Penguin will publish her third novel, The Liars’ Gospel, in August 2012. http://www.naomialderman.com/
24 | Random Stuff
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? I asked my colleagues. They say I say “the thing is” a lot.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or a book you thought you’d hate and were pleasantly surprised? I thought The Count of Monte Cristo would be boring. I thought I knew what it was, from movies and so on. I was totally wrong, it’s one of my favourite books now, it’s got *everything*.
How did you get into writing for games? It’s a long story, which boils down to “I mentioned the right thing to the right person at the right time”. A friend had heard about a game that was going to be “the modernday Masquerade”. I mentioned to this friend that I was obsessed with the book Masquerade. He put us in touch, it all came from there.
I enjoyed your Front Row programme on video games. Why do you think interactive games receive so little media coverage, unless it’s negative? I think we suffer from neophobia, the fear of the new. When videogames are older, we’ll all feel less frightened of them and more understanding of their place in culture.
How does your approach to a novel differ when writing historical fiction, such as
The Liars’ Gospel? It doesn’t change that much really - I like to start off with the truth and build on it, play with it, elaborate on it. The Liars’ Gospel involved a year of reading before I got started, but I just needed to get to the place where I was able to know enough truth to play with it.
Do you work better alone, or in collaboration? I love both. Collaboration is more fun, less lonely but also more frustrating. This to me is like the question: are you more yourself when you’re alone or talking to a friend? You’re always yourself, but different kinds of self at different moments? I’m always working, but differently, not better or worse.
What are you writing at the moment? A new novel. And a new season of Zombies, Run! And a collaborative novella. And some short stories. And a nonfiction book. And an idea for a TV drama. And a column. When you start off with The Bible as your most influential literary work, you get ambitious.
Which TV series would you take to your desert island? Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No hesitation.
Janet Skeslien Charles Which book most influenced you when growing up? I loved everything by Judy Blume and also Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why?
About Janet I grew up on the plains of Montana, in a town of two thousand people. I have always been a writer, with a journal for observations, prose, and poetry, though for me, writing is a very private activity. At the University of Montana, I studied English, French, and Russian. I also spent a year on a university exchange at the University of Maryland. After graduation, I went to Odessa, Ukraine as a Soros Fellow. After two years in Odessa, I returned to the States and started writing stories almost immediately, but it took several years before I truly understood what my time in Odessa meant. I found a job in France and intended to stay for a year. On my first day in France, I met the man who became my husband, and I’ve been in Paris for over ten years. After teaching in the French public school system for six years, I started to concentrate on my writing and created a writing workshop at Shakespeare & Company to meet like-minded people. Working towards the publication of Moonlight in Odessa has been a humbling and eye-opening experience. I had no idea so many passionate people came together to work on a book. I feel very lucky that the editors at Bloomsbury love the book. In the New York and London offices, everyone has been incredibly supportive. This is truly an international effort. The novel is set in Odessa, Ukraine. My agent is English. My editor’s assistant is Japanese-Danish, my copy editor is from New Zealand. I’m American. The book was written in France and typeset in Scotland. My first fan letter came from a Swede. Rights have been sold in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, Sweden, Iceland, Serbia, Romania, Taiwan, and Denmark. http://www.jskesliencharles.com/
Currently, I write in the Bibliothèque Nationale, which means that there are hundreds of other people reading and writing in the same space. In theory, I go to the National Library for the quiet, though with cell phones constantly ringing and vibrating, it is never really calm. The librarians are very kind and helpful and the reading rooms are comfortable. You have to reserve a spot and can only reserve five in a 30-day period. The outside of the BN is made up of four glass-faced towers (L-shaped to evoke open books). This is where the books are stored. The reading rooms are below them, and the entry of the research library is made up of concrete and steel chain-mail. To get in, you have to take escalators into the belly of the basement. Basically, if Darth Vader decided to be an interior decorator, this would be the kind of space I imagine he would design.
Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life? James Grady, also from Shelby, Montana, wrote Six Days of the Condor, which was made into a movie starring Faye Dunaway and Robert Redford. Jim went to school with my mother, and his mother was a librarian. Knowing that someone from my small hometown had written a novel made seem like writing a book and having it published was possible.
Moonlight in Odessa contains a lot of cultural detail. How long do you research before writing? While writing, I researched for two years and did dozens of interviews. Before that, I lived in Odessa, Ukraine for two years. Researching is fun and interesting, but it is probably just best to dive in and write.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? In reading my first drafts, I find adjectives such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘nice’, which don’t tell the reader much. In later drafts, I try to be more precise with my descriptions.
How do you view the seismic shifts in publishing today? The huge shifts are both exciting and daunting. Amazon. com has changed so much. I recently got an e-reader, but balance books I download with books I buy in my local bookshop because this is where we can gather. Writers in particular must support their local bookstores. Perhaps this is not a seismic shift, but I notice that so many people (friends, students, family, etc.) read the same ten books each year. We readers are all victims of marketing, table placement in chain bookstores, and television book clubs. As writers and readers, we have to make an effort to seek out new authors, not just the ones put under our noses. Likewise, you may remember that when Publishers Weekly chose the top ten novels of 2009, they did not have one female author on their list. VIDA, a non-profit group, since did The Count, which highlighted how many magazines and newspapers run reviews of male authors
versus female authors, as well as how many critics are male versus female. The statistics were pretty appalling. On my blog, I interview mainly female authors because it is important to try to create more of a balance.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or one you expected to hate and fell for? The book that surprised me the most was A Year in the Merde. I thought it was a wonderful pastiche of A Year in Provence and loved how the author used humour to talk about serious social issues in France. I was put off by the title but when a student recommended it I gave the novel a try. It was a firm reminder not to judge a book by its title.
How do you find giving readings and interviews about your work in another language? I have really enjoyed being interviewed in French and feel lucky to have so many positive reviews and invitations to speak. I am especially looking forward to Festival America in September. This spring, I was invited to the Salon du Livre in Alençon and it was one of the best experiences I have had because the organizers had all read and loved the book and because the other authors there were so kind and generous. Spending time with the bookseller and his family was wonderful.
How does the French literary scene differ to that of the US? Bookstores here in Paris fare much better than the bookstores in the UK and the US because in France, booksellers cannot sell books for more than a five per cent discount. Every time I go to my local French bookstore there is a line at the register. I think there are more television programs and radio programs that feature authors and booksellers, so perhaps it is easier to get the word out about books. Most French authors don’t have agents, which is another big difference.
What advice would you give someone with a manuscript ready to go? Send it out to agents or editors and be patient! Quite a few strong writers I know send out only ten query letters and give up. Don’t give up!
Which modern author impresses you most? Authors who work to create a sense of community where they live impress me. Writing is a tough, lonely business, and I appreciate authors who donate their time and share their wisdom with others. In Paris, Jake Lamar and Laurel Zuckerman are two established authors who try to help other writers and that really impresses me.
What are you working on at the moment? I am working on a few projects at the moment, including a few personal essays about living in France.
What is the best thing about living in Paris? It is a great city to walk in, a great city if you love cinema. It is a city that loves literature. But it can be challenging to write in Paris because there are so many glorious distractions.
Random Stuff | 25
A Bit of Wee Came Out Procrastinating with Perry Iles
What do you get when you cross incontinence with a highly-strung disposition? The publishing industry. Like most artistic endeavours, the literati’s upper strata are populated by more than their fair share of overwrought Cassandras. Handbags clutched to their chests, pre-programmed for profound over-sensitivity, they scream out for Tena-pads whenever a door slams in the distance. Their attitudes, of course, are quite silly but also rather shrewd. Why are they silly? Because art, by its very nature, is an adventure. It’s a stone-age kid daubing pretty colours on the wall of a cave, multiplied by several degrees of sophistication until it becomes a refuge from reality, a haven for the intellect and a brief escape-hatch in the stage upon which we strut our stuff. It’s dynamic and ever-changing. But art needs funding, and is therefore run by capitalists, so the business side of all art-forms is by nature profoundly conservative. Those who make money from art strive to either prevent it from changing in case it nudges their secure little world off its well-greased gimbals or to guide the process of change so that they can stay a couple of paces in front of it, pocketing the money that falls from the pockets of the gullible. Is there a great deal of difference between Charles Saatchi and Simon Cowell? This is where the shrewdness comes in. Cowell tells us what to like, then makes sure he’s got the copyright on it first. Saatchi pays a quarter of a million quid for the unmade bed of some indolent, libertine piss-artist, thus not only enshrining the value of the bed itself, but more importantly elevating the value of other artefacts from that genre, most of which he just happens to own. Shrewd, this art business. Those who set the boundaries for our tastes are in control, not only of the populism of fools but of the intellectual cognoscenti who think they’re immune from suggestibility. From One Direction to Glyndebourne, the carrot’s there and it’s just a matter of sophistication and brain cells, because art is there to be followed, and the capitalists are the seagulls pulling the worms out of the tilled earth behind
26 | Random Stuff
the tractor. Or donkey. Taxi! Follow that metaphor… Anyway, where does that leave the artists themselves? The tiny, tiny minority of real creators – those who attempt to push the envelope? It leaves them desperately searching for patrons or living breadline existences in garrets while the world ignores their genius until they can be sensationally discovered overnight after years of putting in their time for no reward. Sensationally discovered by Saatchi or Cowell, or whoever’s pulling the strings and sees a gap in the market that can be widened by the blunt chisel of marketing. This will make sure that art might appear to lead the way whilst rooting itself firmly into the time it lives in. Think about Mozart, that flamboyant genius of musical creativity. If he’d been born three hundred years later he’d have been Prince, in a powdered wig, playing a squiggle-shaped guitar, funded by a record company and just as much a slave to it as Bach was to the court of whichever dukedom he was indentured to. Bach would have been Philip Glass or Terry Riley writing rainbows in curved air, or some math-rock twiddle-merchant. In another field, someone once said of Salvador Dali that he was a cosmic genius who just happened to be good at painting pictures. Actually, it was probably Dali himself who said it, it’s got his hallmark all over it. But that’s the point. Genius lies in the head and in the heart, not in the ability. The ability comes second to the mental state which is shaped by the varying contemporary factors. Shakespeare could have daubed on canvas, Michelangelo could have scribbled verse. And of course, had the wonders of technology and the internet been available to them, the geniuses of the past would have created some virtual wall to daub and scribble on. Bach would have been a programmer using a ticking musical self-create program on an iMac, Mozart the sort of butterfly that would have been broken on the wheel of his own legend – like Cobain or Hendrix – if he hadn’t been smashing up harpsichords at Wembley Stadium or showing readers of OK magazine around his beautiful new Vienna home in the company of some supermodel or other. Because of marketing, popularity and credit cards, the internet is available to everybody now, so everybody’s using it. And the literary industry is reacting predictably by getting incontinent with worry that its safe little world will be overrun by middle-aged fools of limited intellect and blinkered outlook who always thought they had a book in them
and cousin Darren said they should write it down before they got old and their brains started leaking out of their ears while their Daily Mails started to pile up unread below the letterbox. Relax, literati, your bastions are safe from the ungodly. Stephen Fry is right. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators, and self-publishing poses about the same degree of threat to literature as Stephen Hawking does to the course record on Total Wipeout. The vast majority of us are going to carry on liking the stuff we’re told to like and the minority that doesn’t is so small that it will have to be satisfied as always by the crumbs that fall from the tables of the major players. There will of course be occasional bursts of altruism, but there’s nothing new in that. What is new is that the Smartie-crunching masses don’t need it any more. They can write their own book! They can even do it legibly thanks to Microsoft Word, and they can get most of it spelled right too – except for those mistakes that the spell-checker doesn’t pick up – if for of, form for from, this kind of thing. And they can publish their book too, in ghastly covers that cousin Darren designed, printed on paper in Times New Roman that makes each page look like a reduced A4 sheet. And these books can be read by strangers, theoretically. They do what real books do, they’re like cars in that respect, but a pig in lipstick is still a pig, and a Lada will never win a Grand Prix. But the people who created that Lada will look at it and think “why not? It’s got four wheels, it steers, it can get round the course. What’s wrong with it?” It’s shit, that’s what’s wrong with it. Publishing houses and agents spend millions on design and layout and editing and believe me, if there wasn’t a reason for that, they wouldn’t do it. There is no glass ceiling. If you can write like a post-edit, design like a professional and market like a coke-fuelled sales executive with a target to meet, there might be some hope for you, but only if the stuff you’re writing, the story, is any good. The bubble is already deflating. From personal experience, I remember a few years ago discovering online writing sites and self-publishing houses. I used writing sites extensively to hone my abilities to their best, but I’m becoming aware that my best is not adequate and my mindset is too abstract. Believe me when I say that this is not a meiotic cry for some pats on the back here, the one thing I did learn is to subsume the ego, which
for me was one of the harder aspects. I wrote a book and self-published it and people I know bought it. I’ll send them free copies when I write it properly, I promise. A good editor would have told me to get rid of this, accentuate that, rewrite this bit, and cut, and cut, and cut. I might be slightly above average in my ability to put words onto paper in the right order, but I can’t edit for shit. Nor can I design covers. Nor can I walk into a bookshop with two dozen copies of my book under my arm and ask them to sell it for me. It’s someone else’s job to do that, because I find it embarrassing. In that respect, I’m exactly the same as 99.9% of online writers. So we’ll fade, we’ll turn into a blip in the history books. We’ll look back
planning to sell alcohol to Scottish people in it, in really crowded communal drinking buildings. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? On this same planet, the publishing industry is charging ahead, going from strength to strength, working as individual members of a cartel to fix the price of books, lying about royalty rates, laughing all the way to Barclays, when along comes someone and invents libraries… “I’ve had this idea” he says, “lets get lots of books together in a really big room and lend them to people.” “What, like a bookshop? We’ve got those already.” “No, for poor people. We give them the books for nothing.”
expand their minds.” “So where’s the money?” “Oh for fuck’s sake…” “Hey! We could use all the shit people write themselves and give people governmentfunded e-readers instead, couldn’t we? Then we wouldn’t need to worry about all the shit that’s happening.” “Well, we could, but then what happens to Shakespeare and Dickens and Orwell?” “Who? Are they a bit like Stephenie Meyer or that Shades of Grey woman? Do we still get money from those guys?” What I’m trying to say, if you hadn’t guessed a few lines back, is how would the publishing industry react to the invention of libraries if they hadn’t been invented already?
And they can publish their book too, in ghastly covers that cousin Darren designed, printed on paper in Times New Roman that makes each page look like a reduced A4 sheet. And these books can be read by strangers, theoretically. They do what real books do, they’re like cars in that respect, but a pig in lipstick is still a pig, and a Lada will never win a Grand Prix. But the people who created that Lada will look at it and think “why not? It’s got four wheels, it steers, it can get round the course. What’s wrong with it?” when we’re old and remember that time when the book world was swamped by a landfill of low-quality bollocks. We aren’t going to rock any boats. We aren’t going to rock any worlds. The publishing industry knows this, yet they shriek and yell about us. Know why? Because it raises their profile whilst holding us up for the crap that we are. They’re effectively buying Tracey Emin’s bed to up the value of their Picassos. Pretending to be scared gets you noticed, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But we only get scared about new things. Really stupid ideas are quite close to groundbreaking territory, but if they’ve been around forever people just accept them without question. Let’s imagine there’s a planet far, far away in a parallel universe where they’ve just invented glass. It’s invisible, fragile, sharp when broken and lethally dangerous, and they’re
“Okaaa-aay. What’s the catch?” “No catch. They can keep the books until they’ve finished reading them, then give them back.” “Then they pay for them, right?” “No, they just give them back so we can lend them to someone else.” “Ah right, then they pay for them, yeah?” “No. Nobody pays for them. We give them away and people give them back.” “Yeah but they won’t. They’ll just steal them and open bookshops of their own and sell them themselves.” “No they won’t. Stop being such a cynical bastard. We give people books, they read them and then give them back. End of.” “So the place that gives out the books pays for them, yes?” “No. Nobody pays for them. We do it for love and to encourage people to read and
Utter hysteria is how. More than a bit of wee would have come out. But because they exist, they’re taken for granted as a facet of literature until the government starts closing them in order to keep bankers in Lear Jets. Any new concept within any artistic endeavour will in short order be co-opted into the inherent control-mechanism of that very endeavour by those who run it, and “revolutionary” changes in the publishing industry will be no exception. Publishers have leapt onto the bandwagon of self-publishing in order to give them the opportunity of letting the tea-lady shift through the landfill for the occasional pearl to throw before the swine. And we’ll gobble it down and then break wind. Like we always do.
Random Stuff | 27
PRINT ISSUE S
Lots of people have asked us for a p And we said, why not? So now, not o with jam and cream, but you print s EXCLUSIVE material. The digital ver also have a printed copy, available deadline in order to have a copy of a 14th of the month before: i.e. for a to subscribe before the 14th July. UK Subscription for 1 year (6 issue EU Subscription for 1 year (6 issues Rest of the World Subscription for 1 The easiest way to order is online a www.wordswithjam.co.uk/paperiss
printed version of the magazine. only can you can have your cake subscribers also receive extra rsion will remain FREE, but you can worldwide. Please note that the a particular month's issue is the copy of the August issue you need
es) £33 including p&p s) £39 including p&p 1 year (6 issues) £46 including p&p at suesubscription
Even at night we didn’t talk, just l silent comfort to each other. I’d w started. If Father had known he w both, but he always shut himself i once did Gary start doing things t when I told him, and never did it and quiet in my company. That’s w terrible agitation a few months lat despite the cold. He’d come back l I asked what was wrong, eventual right,” – it made no sense, then, b
lay there until we fell asleep, wake him if one of his nightmares would probably have killed us in his room after supper. Only to me I didn’t like. He stopped again. He was always gentle why it scared me so much – that ter – grinding his teeth, sweating, later than usual from his fishing. lly he muttered, “It didn’t happen but it preyed on my mind. An extract from Modus Operandi by Trish Nicholson - a print issue exclusive
Quite Small Stories
Saturday Superbus by Lee Williams [The CAMERA awakes slowly from a dream of angry static, tightens its wayward focus onto a puddle of drool, lifts its nose to take in the surroundings. The interior of a school bus, in a state of some disrepair. In the centre of shot, where the driver’s seat should be, are the brothers GOG and MAGOG, sitting either side of an ancient TV, combing one another’s beards.] GOG (to CAMERA): Well come.
Cardinal! FIRST GUARD (hysterically): En garde, bitches! ATHOS (addressing the other musketeers sotto voce): I don’t like these odds. Should we… you know? ARAMIS: Let’s do it!
[He places his comb on top of the TV.
[The three musketeers raise their swords and touch the tips together. As they do so, their blades are suffused with a bluish light.]
MAGOG (to CAMERA): Well come.
THREE MUSKETEERS: All for one and one for all!!!
[He places his comb on top of GOG’s comb] MAGOG: Here in the fun bus.
[A sudden flash paints everything white. When it recedes, the THREE MUSKETEERS have been replaced by one giant SUPERTEER. He towers above the CARDINAL’S GUARDS with his fists on his hips, laughing raucously.]
GOG: I wonder what it’s like where you kids are.
MAGOG: What’s it like with you little fuckers?
SECOND GUARD: I knew they’d pull this shit again. Come on, let’s give them a taste of their own physic!
GOG: It’s another Saturday here in the bus.
GOG: We’re going to have a lot of fun this Saturday, that’s for certain. [The CAMERA coasts in and settles on MAGOG’s lap, gazing upwards at his face. He shoos it back to the middle of the bus.] GOG: We’re going to have a whole heap of fun, that’s for utter certain. MAGOG: Let’s roll the first cartoon. *** [The TV clears its throat and cackles into life. The words ‘THE NEW MUSKETEERS’ swim to the surface then fade as a cartoon PARIS appears, neatly besteepled and crawling with tiny movements. The CAMERA zooms into the cartoon, halting above a courtyard in which sit ATHOS, PORTHOS and ARAMIS. The only exit from the courtyard is a large door set into a stone archway. ATHOS and PORTHOS are sharpening their rapiers. ARAMIS is writing in a book.] ATHOS: I love the noise this makes. PORTHOS: Me too. It makes me feel all tingly in my pizzle. ATHOS: That’s fine. What are you doing, Aramis? ARAMIS: Hang on a minute. I’m really deep into this metaphor right now. Don’t talk to me for a moment, okay? I’m writing a metaphor about Paris and I’m riding this one really deep. I think it might even turn into a whole analogy. Just give me a second, will you? The metaphor is comparing Paris to a really hot lady. A really rocking maid. Just be still for a moment, please… [The door crashes open and fourteen of the CARDINAL’S GUARDS rush in, dressed in red tabards, swords at the ready, moustaches twitching and testing the air like antennae.) FIRST GUARD: Hold, musketeers! ARAMIS (throwing down journal): Fie on this shit! You have wrecked my metaphor, sir! ATHOS (drawing sword): State your aims! SECOND GUARD: We are here to arrest you on the orders of the
32 | Quite Short Stories
[The CARDINAL’S GUARDS gather in a circle and touch their swords together. Bluish light again.] CARDINAL’S GUARDS: All for one and one for all!!! [Just as the last word is pronounced, the SUPERTEER leaps forward and brings his sword down into the circle of blades, hoping to disrupt the ritual. There is another blinding flash. When it recedes there is no sign of the CARDINAL’S GUARDS or the SUPERTEER. Now the whole courtyard is filled with a giant purple-clad SUPERMUSKEGUARD. He looks confused and conflicted, riddled with self-loathing and doubt.] SUPERMUSKEGUARD: AaAarggh! [The SUPERMUSKEGUARD staggers around the courtyard, slamming into the walls. Windows fall and shatter on the cobblestones. In a fury he smashes through the archway and blunders out into the streets of Paris. Crowds of hapless PEASANTS run away screaming in terror. The CAMERA loses interest and drifts upwards into the painted sky. Gradually, everything breaks apart into static and the CAMERA is pushed backwards, out of the cartoon and back into the BUS.] *** GOG (staring at TV): Well, that was some heavier shit than anticipated. MAGOG (reading from a crumpled sheet of paper): Tune in again next week to see what happens when all Paris is absorbed into the… I can’t read this word. GOG (taking the sheet of paper): That’s not a word, that’s a sigil. We’re not supposed to read those out. [There is a violent slam from the starboard side of the bus as if something has thrown itself against one of the windows. The CAMERA quakes and cowers under a seat. GOG and MAGOG leap to their feet.] GOG: Load the blunderbuss! MAGOG: With what? We’ve fired everything. Nuts, screws, loose change... We don’t have anything left.
Quite Small Stories
GOG (running his hands over his shirt): Buttons, buttons, buttons… Not even any buttons left… MAGOG (to camera): Please, kids, send us some buttons. Or something we can put in the blunderbuss! GOG (to camera, holding up a crayon picture of himself): Don’t send us any more of this shit, please! Send us stuff we can fire! [From off-camera, outside the bus, there is a noise like the rustling of thousands of wings. It grows to a crescendo then dwindles to silence.] MAGOG: Listen!
carnivorous plant we had on the ship? KARIM: That thing freaked me out! LEILA: That was him too. It had his nose. He returns in seeds, in eggs, through the wombs of lesser beasts. He will not be satisfied until I am dead. KARIM: Or until you are his. LEILA: What did you say? KARIM: Didn’t he want to marry you? LEILA (pointing at the remains of the VIZIER): Like I’m going to marry that!
GOG: Gone? MAGOG: I think so… GOG: Good enough. [They sit down again and the CAMERA slopes back into its original position] GOG: I think we’d better have another cartoon. *** [MAGOG thumps the TV and it bursts into life, displaying the words ‘DAUGHTER OF SINBAD’ floating in cloud letters over a cartoon BAGHDAD. The camera zooms into the screen and the city dissolves to show LEILA and her first-mate KARIM standing on a beach looking at a giant egg. The ship’s monkey, BOBO, capers half-heartedly in the background.)
[LEILA, KARIM and BOBO burst into laughter. They slap their thighs and throw their heads back, howling with laughter. BOBO begins to dance, paddling joyfully in the VIZIER’s remains. A shrinking circle tightens over the screen, lingering for a moment on BOBO before closing entirely. Static again. The CAMERA is forced back out into the bus.] *** MAGOG: Hahaha. I love Bobo. I feel much better now. GOG: Me too. (Turning to CAMERA) Well, that’s all we have time for today. MAGOG (Turning to CAMERA): Yep, it certainly is. Thanks for joining us here on the bus.
KARIM: That is a really big egg, mistress.
GOG: Here on the fun bus. We hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have.
LEILA: It’s a roc’s egg, Karim.
MAGOG: But we’re all out of time.
KARIM: Your father would have known what it was.
GOG: We’re at the living end of time.
[LEILA rolls her eyes. The egg fidgets on its axis and a crack appears, zigzagging gradually from the apex downwards.]
MAGOG: The living end. Today’s theme, should you care, was identity, and the hidden animal has yet to be found.
BOBO: Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!
GOG: Probably just as well.
LEILA (drawing scimitar): I have a bad feeling about this.
MAGOG (picking up a comb): Fare you well.
[The egg splits in two and discharges a great rush of albumen. In amongst the fluid is a vaguely humanoid creature which slips heavily from the egg then clambers to its feet, limp feathers glistening slickly. It opens its warped beak as if to scream. A flaccid comb waggles atop its head and a feathery goatee juts from its chin. The features are almost like those of a man. It lunges awkwardly towards Leila.]
GOG (picking up a comb): Fare you well.
KARIM: It’s the vizier! LEILA: Put him down!
[They turn and begin to comb one another’s beards again. With a clunk, the doors to the BUS concertina open, revealing a dark portal through which a stale wind blows. The CAMERA drifts nervously towards it then accelerates suddenly, diving outwards into the dark exterior. CUT.] Lee Williams is a writer and failed bon viveur from the Isle of Wight. He blogs occasionally at http://williamslee.blogspot.co.uk.
[KARIM steps forward and brings his scimitar down with precision onto the creature’s spine. It collapses in a heap. Breathing through his nose, he chops thrice into the twitching mass with a wet thwacking noise. LEILA approaches and finishes the job by striking off the creature’s head.] KARIM: Man, I wasn’t expecting that! That was the vizier, right? LEILA: Yes, Karim. He has never forgiven me for killing him. Every day he is reaching back into the world to get at me. Remember that crazy
Quite Short Stories | 33
Flash 500 - The Results We are pleased to publish here the winning entries of the first quarter of the Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition 2012, Crememento Morium by Lynn Roberts, and the Flash 500 competition first quarter 2012, Dandelion Breeze by Justin N Davies. The competitions were judged by Lorraine Mace and Margaret James respectively. Although winning entries of Flash 500 competitions are published in Words with JAM, the competitions are independent, so please make sure you visit www.flash500.com for details on upcoming competitions and closing dates.
Crememento Morium By Lynn Roberts Poor grandma died on Sunday – a circumstance we rue: now we’re learning things of grandma that we never ever knew... she lies in state upon the slab, and everything sinks in, but unexpected promontories rear up below her chin. Now we have a little problem – when she meets her fiery end, should her implants go in with her? should we give them to a friend? should we stand them on the mantel with a melancholy plaque? should we think about recycling, or inter them in the park? Of the many moral problems when a grandma bites the dust, perhaps the most incendiary’s disposing of her bust; for when aunty met the furnace in her most revealing gown, her décolleté exploded and it brought the chimney down...
34 | Random Stuff
Dandelion Breeze By Justin N Davies From here I can see a single dandelion clinging to the edge of the grave’s wall; it seems lost amidst the no-man’s land of freshlyturned clods, as if it knows it doesn’t have long left to shine. Yellow was her favourite colour; she’d have noticed it too. I’d brought her flowers the day before; her favourite lilies. According to the police report they were knocked over in the struggle, a piece of broken vase entering her neck as she fell. The liaison officer told us she must have fought back; well-intentioned words, meant to comfort. Has anyone else seen the dandelion? Or are they staring at me? I daren’t look up again. Eyes are like cameras: they rarely lie. Already they’re saying that the attacker must have been known to Alison. The evidence, apparently, points to her letting him in willingly. And they are assuming it was a man: the strangle marks and bruised windpipe suggest male strength. They found the open bottle of wine on the kitchen table; one glass, with a lipstick mark. Red. Her favourite. Someone’s weeping, quietly. Not her mother, or Fran; both stoic in the face of tragedy. Is it me? I think it might be me. They say he must have removed the second glass; there were two glasses missing from the bottle and only one found in Alison’s stomach. Pinot Noir. A good one. Our favourite. They took a swab, (such an ugly word, surgical and invasive), to discount me from their investigations. Of course, there’ll be bits of me all over the house; I’m family, it would be normal. It’s the bits of me they might have found inside her that make me nervous. If they looked. They must have looked. Routine, probably. The vicar’s speaking, no, praying: ashes and dust. ‘Amen.’ The only word I’m expected to utter. Did I? I think my lips moved. Now we’re stepping forward, the family, reaching down for a fistful of soil. Fran clutches my hand; I hold my wife as she sends a shower of earth down on to her sister’s coffin. It dislodges the dandelion, which tumbles into the trench and vanishes. Finally, I look up. David’s staring at the tears falling from my cheeks. He knows. Slowly, deliberately, he rests his hand on our mother-in-law’s shoulder and leads her away from the graveside. Despite the late-spring warmth, he’s wearing a scarf, and as he turns to leave a long auburn hair falls from it and drifts across the headstones chased by a dandelion seed, caught together on a breeze. And I close my eyes and see her, as I last saw her, in the kitchen, auburn hair glowing in the candlelight; she’s washing my glass before I leave. ‘In case he comes home early,’ she says, before we kiss for the last time.
PAGE Competition ST
1st Prize £500 2nd Prize £100 3rd Prize £50
THE RESULTS Winners 1st Morning Prayer by Rebecca Johnson Bista 2nd Disco by Mark Wagstaff 3rd Dead Surprised by Alex Schofield
Shortlist Longlist Elena’s Notes by Maroula Blades Lips That Touch Mine by Amy Monteil The Apocalypse In Little Worthington by Julian Green The Secret Creature Sanctuary by Dennis Zaslona Saints Preserve Us by Susan Coppola All The Rivers by Mark Robberts Viva by JW Hicks The Missing by J A Vennall Double-Bind by Andrew Fuller Captive by Ngarie Parks Reboot by Pat Black The Online Adventures Of Poj And Nilfisk by Richard Gibney Missing Grace by Vanessa Savage Messiah by Duncan Darbishire Home Rock by Susan Oke Message From Panama by Britt Vasarhelyi Motorcycle Redemption by Sian Williams Robbie’s Story by Julia Anderson Itch by Gina Parsons The Way Of No Return by Jonathan Gurling Jelly by Mark Wagstaff Cherry Picker by Beverley Sims The Dormouse Disciples by Tracy Fells The Magma Raja by Eve Power Islanders by Rebecca Johnson Bista
Judge’s Report by Amanda Hodgkinson
Amanda Hodgkinson is a British writer and journalist who grew up in a small Essex fishing village before moving to Suffolk, and attending the University of East Anglia. She now lives and works in south west France with her husband Guy and their two daughters. 22 Britannia Road is Amanda Hodgkinson’s first novel. Debuting its first week on the New York Times bestseller list and earning comparisons to Sophie’s Choice and Sarah’s Key, 22 Britannia Road is an astonishing first novel that powerfully chronicles one family’s struggle to create a home in the aftermath of war. Waterstones Best Debut Novels Of 2011. Amazon.com Best Books Of 2011. Oprah Magazine Irresistible Reads. Library Journal Best Of 2011. Indiebound Best Summer Reads. Nominated Goodreads Choice Awards. http://www.amandahodgkinson.com/ It was a real pleasure to read so many first pages of novels and I hope that many of the entries are indeed the first page of finished novels. Certainly there were many that I wanted to read more of. We all know a first page must capture the reader’s interest. The first page creates voice, genre, pace and style. It is a promise of what is to come. By the end of that page the reader should feel they cannot put the book down. Not yet anyway… I was looking for first pages that took me within just a few words, into another world. I didn’t want to be tripping up over the written word or find myself puzzling over what the writer might be trying to say. I wanted, within a few words,
1st: Morning Prayer by Rebecca Johnson Bista Allah wa Akhbar! Allah wa Akhbar! Allaaaaahhhh w’ Akhbar! begins the music of the morning, winding its muffled note into the fog and darkness of Asifa’s sleep. Hamid throws the felted blanket off his body in the same movement as his broad, bare feet swing out from the bed and hit the floor. Allah w’ Akhbar! Another muezzin cries from a more distant mosque. Lower this time, softer, haunting; more seductively melodic, rising and falling in her consciousness like her own breath. God is Great. Still sleeping, Asifa hears Hamid’s feet connect with wood, then his footsteps as he pads across the room and pulls back the shutter bolts with two metallic clicks, followed by the slight scrape and soft clack of wood meeting peeling wall. Another dull metallic noise as he throws open the street windows, and then a great wave of sound, the cacophony from the web of streets below, swirls into her mind, blotting out her dreams. A dozen other calls to prayer take up the cry, each pitching in a different key, threading over, under and between each other; dogs barking hoarsely; road diggers finishing their night’s work with a final exuberant frenzy of drilling; the shouts of the shay-boys bringing silver trays of steaming tea to the workmen; the vibrant hum and surge of traffic all across the city, weaving its fraying streets together, braying horns in an impatient call and response as insistent and pervasive as the muezzin’s cries. A giant lorry bellows one long, mournful wail that splits
36 | Pencil Box
to be transported seamlessly into the world of the novel. I wanted to forget I was reading, and find myself in a world where I could see images, hear voices and lose myself within a story. Most importantly, I also wanted to be quick to trust the voice within the novel. The reader should feel confident that the writer will be able to sustain and develop their story with the same verve and power the opening page has promised. I chose the winner because I was instantly transported into the novel’s world. I was confident that the writer had a wonderful story to tell and also the writing skills to tell it well. The pace is perfect and I particularly liked the idea of a novel beginning with a character in a state of sleepy awakening. I imagined holding the novel in my hands and feeling that the first page was the novel itself waking to tell its story, the ‘music of the morning’ ringing in my ears as I opened the book and began to read...The scenes and characters from that page have stayed with me. A wonderful beginning... In second place was a novel that utterly delighted me with its voice. From the very first lines, I was struck by the power of imagery and the strength of the character. We hit the ground running and the writing was exciting and compelling. It was evocative, full of imagery, smells, mood and intrigue. Again, I really wanted to read on and the voice and the world described in the novel have stayed with me. In third place was a novel entirely different in tone but also very quick to set the scene and introduce its characters. This beginning was a delight to read and had me wanting to turn the page to read on further! It was amusing and promised a witty black comedy. Again, the voice was very strong and the writing was confident and intimate. It opened up another world to me immediately and I was sad not to be able to read on further. Huge congratulations to all the winners and good luck for their novels.
the darkness like the keening of a monstrous metal cow for its lost tin calf. In with the noise drifts a miasma of smells that jangle Asifa’s senses into wakefulness and hunger. Slow-dawning, tensile awareness of Hamid’s impending departure seeps into her consciousness as a flavour of burnt coffee grounds with cardamom, as sweet mimosa mingled with the sourness of wet wool from next-door’s laundered blankets. As the spiced warmth of the morning’s fresh-baked sweet dough fingers stuffed with pistachio and almond paste. As traffic fumes, tobacco and the dusty haze of city heat combined with fragrant steam from the big ironing presses in the basement opposite and as the musky smell of his skin that clings to the still-warm pillow. These scents and sounds will come to haunt her dreams. In memory, love will taste of this.
2nd: Disco by Mark Wagstaff So I’m in this second hand town, smells of fish and bird shit. Out the car, wind whipping my hair. A slick of smalltime hustle: seafront arcades, candy cane shops; beach balls and sombreros. Stink of little deals under the counter, grafting a few sly quid to piss down the pub. Beep in my pocket constant as hospital machines. Ignore it. Goes to message - the Secretary picks up. Anger pushes me moment to moment, a sense I can’t shake since them bastards gave me the news; for a second - just that second - all their hate for me suspended; left me powerless at
their words. Like stopping a fight halfway to swap fags and snaps of your kids. Lot of kids here: blondes, college badges round their necks. A town of blonde futures doing sport science, hospitality management, arts administration. So they don’t have to be their parents. She told me: “I don’t want to be you.” Get the feel of the place: through a subway, some bloke picking bad blues out his guitar, dodging sprogs and fucking wheelchairs creaking off to get breath of the sea. Always took her abroad: Seychelles, Crete, them Caribbean islands upwind of the crack pipes. Proper sand - white, expensive. Not this stones and rubbish. Ain’t even a pier. Just some wreck burned black as a grass’s arm. Insurance? Carelessness. Whole place smells careless. Dying shops, wrecked houses rubbishing down on a stony beach; sea that touches land reluctant. Why here? Pub - draped in seagull shit - daycare for scroungers and retards. Selection of watery life forms comes-to when I walk in, wary like I’ve sprung down off the sky. No I ain’t from the holiday camp. No I don’t want fish and chips. “Scotch. Treble.” “Got nothing smaller?” “I don’t carry change.” Pair of greasers in the corner - studded metal and bumfluff. Only wet they get is having a slash. “Alright lads.” They flinch a bit. “Local are ya? Know this Shangri-La on sea?” “What you want?” “Tourist information. Know a club called The Slice?” They make this raggy pishing noise, tell me it’s all for the ravers. These lads are rockers, don’t have no housey-housey. They say it’s gay. I ask what exactly they mean by that. “Where is it?” “Shut. Since the fire.” I was coming to that. Bad business, fires in nightclubs.
Olive was still leaning forwards with her legs bent, like a surfer. She raised her eyes and fixed them on the sagging wooden shed. “No wonder they sold the place. Had to get a specialist firm in, they did, to clean up after he buggered off.” Mrs Prosser snorted. “We was that surprised when someone like you bought it, mind, after all that time. Here, are you all right, lovey?” Olive straightened, her knees creaking. Her hands let go of the fork handle. She heard the thud of it on the ground. “I wonder,” she said, “I wonder if you would be so kind as to ring the police. I appear to have unearthed part of a corpse.” Olive hadn’t taken to her nosy neighbour, but to her credit Mrs Prosser shot off like a dog called in for its dinner. Some minutes passed, during which Olive backed away from the horrible thing she had dug up, concentrating on breathing through her mouth: then Mrs Prosser could be heard thudding back down the path. “On their way. Well, fancy finding bits of a dead person in your veg patch. Puts you right off your greens, don’t it?”
Congratulations to all of our winners and shortlisted entrants. We will be in touch soon.
3rd: Dead Surprised by Alex Schofield Olive had been hard at work for almost an hour, digging over the rough area behind the shed. Pressing her foot down on the fork to push the tines into the ground, her mind full of early potatoes and late summer raspberries, she tilted the handle back, waiting for the soil to break and crumble. But it didn’t. Olive twisted and lifted the fork a few inches then rammed it back in, stooped slightly and bent the handle back again. Something gave with a spurt of earth, releasing a sweet rotting smell. She stared down at a scrap of muddy tweed, a length of dirty white bone with a dull metal band round it. A wrist watch. Olive’s heart lurched as Mrs Prosser’s large face appeared over the fence. “Fancy a cuppa? Ooh, what’s that you’ve found?” “Found?” Olive’s mouth felt dry, her tongue thick. For although half her mind found it inconceivable, the other half knew it for sure. Someone’s arm was buried in her garden. “Pooh, what an awful stink! Even worse than usual.” Mrs Prosser said. “Mr Samson left you a house-warming present? Always filling the place with junk he was, the nutter.”
Pencil Box | 37
Fifteen Shades for Grey is a collection of short stories about animals, kindness and charity. Every penny goes to Wooffles Animal Shelter. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and most of all, you’ll be glad you spent your money on something that warms the cockles of your heart as opposed to … ahem … was that the doorbell?
Now Available for Amazon Kindle
Fifteen Shades for Grey
A collection of heart-warming storie s money for rescued anto raise imals
Comp Corner Corralled by Danny Gillan
Last issue’s call for bizarre biographies certainly allowed some of our more imaginative readers full rein to prove their, eh, weirdness. It left us feeling very sorry for your characters, it really did. They’ve fair gone through the wringer, and that’s before the books have even started! Picking winners was even harder than usual this time round, with dozens of excellent (weird) entries and only three precious WWJ Mugs up for grabs. But pick them we did. In no particular order (of weirdness), the winners are: Having been raised by his wealthy parent’s pack of hunting hounds, due to bearing an uncanny resemblance to a passing gypsy, Neil’s early years lacked schooling ; compensated by his speed & agility over rough terrain, wasting no time for toilet visits, his athletic prowess was soon noticed & tragically put to criminal use. Kate Faulkner
Worthy winners all, I’m sure you’ll agree.
For the next competition we’re giving away another three mugs! How good is that? To be in with a slim to middling chance of winning all you need do is tell us, in exactly 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) why you hate TWITTER. Simple as that. Entries to email@example.com before September 5th. Remember to put your entry is the body of the email as attachments will, as ever, be sent to Gitmo.
Wilmelmina Witt is an award-winning lavatory designer and weekend warlock. Born in central Transylvania, she emigrated to Canvey Island aged ten and later attended the Prunella Piggenheim Academy of Witchcraft in Walthamstow. Her ceramics are displayed in public conveniences throughout the Basingstoke area, and her acclaimed treatise on comparative devil-worship, Bamboozling Beelzebub, stands as a seminal text. Penelope Jane Randall Born Swansea, 1961. Founding member of Free Wales Army, expelled for helping English girlfriend buy a holiday home in Carmarthenshire. Studied Law at Treforest, graduated with an Asbo from the local constabularly. Travelled Croatia with goat called Quentin. Worked as a bailiff for two years before beating himself up. Currently has three daughters, mostly his own, lives in a tree-house. Dean Scurlock
Competitions | 39
The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Nathan Bransford
Andrew answers YOUR questions ...
Andrew Lownie was born in 1961 and was educated in Britain and America. He read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was President of the Union. He went on to gain an MSc at Edinburgh University and spend a year at the College of Law in London. After a period as a bookseller and journalist, he began his publishing career as the graduate trainee at Hodder & Stoughton. In 1985 became an agent at John Farquharson, now part of Curtis Brown, and the following year became the then youngest director in British publishing when he was appointed a director. Since 1984 he has written and reviewed for a range of newspapers and magazines, including The Times, Spectator and Guardian, which has given him good journalistic contacts. As an author himself, most notably of a biography of John Buchan and a literary companion to Edinburgh, he has an understanding of the issues and problems affecting writers. He is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents and Society of Authors and was until recently the literary agent to the international writers’ organisation PEN. In 1998 he founded The Biographers Club, a monthly dining society for biographers and those involved in promoting biography, and The Biographers’ Club Prize which supports first-time biographers.
I just want to know, how you can get 5 minutes with an agent? Just enough to convince you, that my book is like John Wayne and has “True Grit”. It has great reviews from some real writers, but can’t get a few minutes with a real agent. 5 minutes, maybe 3. Kenneth Sibbett, Author of A Killer of Angels http://open.salon.com/blog/ scanner Commissioning books is now a collegiate business and long gone are the days of deals being done over lunch. An editor needs to be persuaded of the merits of a book, then their editorial colleagues and finally sales, marketing, rights etc. The decision is made on the basis of the written proposal/ sample material which is why the proposal is so important and why I - and I suspect most agents - make my decision to take on an author on the basis of what is submitted on paper and not with a 5 minute pitch.
I understand agents receive thousands of submissions a year from hopeful writers. What’s the key to getting your manuscript to stand out from the crowd? I’ve actually received a couple of personalised e-mails from agents rather than usual standard rejection who went into some detail about my work and said they admired my writing style, liked the story premise but, to quote, they didn’t know where they would put it on their list. What does this mean? Where am I going wrong? Please help! Many thanks for your time, Heather Atkinson North Ayrshire Scotland I receive over 20,000 submissions a year but may take on 10 new authors a year so something really needs to be special and different. The ‘slush pile’ is my life blood and I treat submissions very seriously and spend large amounts of time and money paying readers to assess them. What makes a proposal stand out is the professionalism of the approach, the quality of the writing, the originality of the material - so that whilst fitting a category it stands out as fresh and distinctive
40 | Pencilbox
- and the commercial potential of the book. Every agent’s criteria for taking on a new client will be different and their taste may vary. All I can say is to keep going learning from the feedback you receive.
Dear Andrew, in keeping with the theme of this issue, what changes do you envisage for agents, publishers, authors and booksellers in the next few years? Jill (Words with JAM) It’s impossible to predict the future and the pace of change but the roles of agents, publishers, authors and booksellers will certainly change and be less demarcated. There will be a role for agents and publishers in terms of curating and gatekeeping but it will be less important. Agents will increasingly act as editorial consultants and have to handle a greater range of activities, publishers will increasingly sell direct to the public through their own websites, the vast majority of authors will self-publish and all will have to be more active at self-promotion whilst booksellers will largely disappear. With most books sold through supermarkets or online, publishers will concentrate on very commercial titles. Advances will drop, meaning books which take time and money to research are less likely to be commissioned. The price of books will decrease, which will be good news for the consumer but again make life difficult for the writer as income will now depend on large volume, low margin sales. Platform, such as television, will be increasingly important and the market will continue to polarise between the very successful and also-rans.
Nathan Bransford Traditional publishing is undergoing a series of rapid and dramatic changes. Which elements make you optimistic and which pessimistic?
Nathan Bransford is the author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, May 2011), Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Dial, April 2012) and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp (Dial, March 2013). He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. He lives in San Francisco. His blog, offering advice on every aspect of writing and publishing, has earned him a devoted following of over 100,000 Twitter followers. http://nathanbransford.com/
I’m extremely optimistic about the new world for authors and readers. All authors will have a chance at being read, and readers will have nearly infinite choice. I do worry a bit about what the future will look like for publishers and booksellers, and there will certainly be challenges along the way. It’s not going to benefit everyone uniformly, but on the whole I’m very excited about the future.
How will the role of agents change, do you think? I think agents will continue to have a role, but my hunch is that the traditional agents will mainly focus on bestsellers and “big” authors, and other agents will move toward consulting roles to help authors facilitate self-publishing. It’s hard to say though, the landscape is changing very quickly.
Are you concerned for the future of independent bookshops? A bit, but much as independent record stores have persevered even in the age of the MP3, I think independent bookstores will still have a place. It won’t be easy, but the ones that are fixtures in their communities and make themselves indispensable will survive.
Has the standard of editing declined? No, I don’t believe so. I think there’s a bit of mythology surrounding past golden eras of books, that look shinier in retrospect because all the duds are out of print. Editors still edit.
What do you see as the most common mistakes made by self-published writers? I think it’s a shame that some authors rush into it out of frustration or impatience. I wasn’t able to sell my first novel to a publisher, and I could have self-published, but I chose to put my novel in the drawer and write another one. I’m very glad I did because my next novel was better, and I’m glad that was the first book I had out there. I believe it’s very important to make sure you’re giving yourself time to mature as a writer.
What’s your view on the multimedia opportunities offered by e-books? Unlike some purists, I’m really excited about it. I’d love to have an animated cover. People added illustrations to books way back when because it added to the experience of reading the book. If done right, I don’t see why multimedia can’t add to, rather than detract from, the experience.
If you had three wishes for 2013, what would they be? Health for bookstores, success for writers, and serendipity for readers.
A Mini Masterclass with Kathryn Price Lexi Cole and the Bracelet of Souls by Nurgish Watkins Then Lexi gazed at the back of her Mum’s head, where her curly hair touched the collar of her jacket. She was nodding to a song playing through the car speaker and she tried to get Lexi to join in at the chorus. Lexi would have if the journey had been longer, she liked singing with her mum, but Lexi could see they were nearly home and she didn’t want to go home just yet. The car seat next to her, where her twin brother usually sat, was empty. Bradley was at home with the chicken-pox. He’d spent the last few days griping and moaning and trying not to scratch the heads off his scabs, so it was kind of nice without him. Lexi clutched the hard board book she was holding and felt a rage bubble through her body up to boiling point and she hurled the book at her mum’s head. Years later when she tried to find reasons, the only explanation that made any sense was that she was only five back then and about to go down with chicken pox herself. Anyway the book missed and Lexi screamed and kicked the back of her mother’s car seat. Lexi’s sturdy legs gave a satisfying thump. She kicked out again. Her mum grabbed her foot. ‘Oh Lexi, what shall I do with you?’ She gave Lexi’s foot a squeeze. ‘How about a quick go on the swings?’ Lexi never replied, for suddenly the car skidded off the road, headlong into a tree and she was left to wonder whether she would have said, ‘Yes,’ to the swings, or ‘No, don’t want to.’ She often relived the scene in the hope that something else happened between the unanswered question and the crash. She searched and sifted until her head hurt. There had to be another reason, but the only picture that flickered before her was her foot kicking into the car seat, over and over again. The car ended up at an odd angle, resting against the tree. The front was higher than the back and Lexi could see how mashed the bonnet was. Her passenger door had sprung open, but her mum’s door was squashed in. Her mum’s head was tilted back and she was staring at the roof of the car. Lexi looked up to try and see what her mum was seeing, but it was the only bit of car that was intact and Lexi didn’t understand her mother’s interest. Lexi could hear her own breathing. Its loudness frightened her and she gulped and held it, and in the silence she couldn’t hear her mother’s. ‘Mummy?’ Her voice was a whisper. Did I do this? She unclipped her seat belt and somehow tumbled out onto the soft wooden chipping that covered the woodland floor... Lexi had one other memory of that afternoon, the nonsense, no sense part. She was running away from the car, clutching a short thick stick so hard it was almost part of her hand, and the words ‘you’re okay, just get away,’ spilled from her lips like a prayer. She still had the stick, had it for seven years now and it amazed her that she hadn’t lost it. It was now attached to her key ring. It had a woody bark that was smooth to touch. It fitted in her palm and if she clenched her fist she couldn’t see it. A few years back she went to the woods to try and find another. She looked and looked but didn’t see anything like it, not even half way similar. And stupidly, she didn’t find that strange at all.
This opening attempts a delicate balance between omniscient authorial voice and intimate third person. We have both the young Lexi’s viewpoint, reflected in child-like phrases and observations – she didn’t want to go home just yet and it was kind of nice without him – and a more distanced view, still basically rooted in Lexi’s experience but with the benefit of hindsight, looking back on the scene from some point in the future: years later. This later viewpoint naturally has a more sophisticated lexicon and take on events: the only explanation that made any sense… she searched and sifted… like a prayer. This is a tricky effect to aim for – a bit like having your cake and eating it as an author. You want the reader to have an immediate insight into this dramatic, horrifying moment; at the same time, with a passage like this (presumably a prologue) which precedes the main action of the book, you’re keen to give some hints about what’s to come, and to show how the young Lexi’s understanding of events will be changed and skewed by the passage of the years. The danger is that by striving to cover both bases, neither is quite as arresting or convincing as it could be. Some simple restructuring could potentially solve this problem. If, for the main body of this excerpt, the narrative was to remain with what Lexi sees and feels in that moment, the reader should be more involved, should experience the reality of the situation more than if that immediacy is interrupted part way through to whisk us forward in time. So initially, really aim to build on that close 3rd person POV that’s established in the first paragraph. What are Lexi’s direct thoughts at this moment? And are they in keeping with a child’s-eye view? It’s not clear why she wouldn’t want to join in with her mum’s singing (note the lower case ‘m’ for mum when it’s not being used as a name replacement). If she’s five, young enough to be reading board books, wouldn’t she be living in the moment, not thinking about how long or short the car journey is going to be? Mightn’t she even think that by joining in the singing she’s prolonging her connection with her mum? Perhaps we could see some dialogue here, to bring her mum’s voice to life. Maybe a snatch of the song her mum’s singing (this could be really poignant)? Lexi’s about to lose everything, and that would be all the more impactful if we witness for ourselves exactly what it is that’s being snatched away: “Love, love me do, you know I love you. Come on, Lexi, you know the words!” Her mum’s brown eyes crinkled at her in the mirror over the front windscreen. Lexi couldn’t remember which bit of the song came next, but she joined in anyway, lah-ing along with her mum’s voice. She loved car journeys, especially when it was just the two of them. Bradley was at home with chicken pox, his round face covered in red scabs. Poor Bradley. But it was nice to have Mum to herself. Of course, the phrasing here will be the author’s choice. The crucial point is that we’re right in-scene, seeing Lexi and her mum interacting, sticking with what Lexi would naturally be thinking and doing at this juncture, and in language that reflects her voice. The moment where Lexi snaps and throws the book at her mum currently seems to happen so suddenly as to be inexplicable. Partly this is a pacing issue – there’s no build up and the emotional transition feels too sudden. It’s also told, rather than shown, in slightly clichéd language (‘boiling point’) and is therefore less easy to identify with. At the moment, this event is explained – or at least, accounted for – by the fact that Lexi herself never figures out why she did it (one of the moments when we shift forward in time). This suggests that the author’s aware that it risks feeling incongruous and out of character. However, the reader is likely to feel the same; it seems contrived to give Lexi responsibility for the crash and, presumably, guilt to deal with, setting up an emotional arc for the book. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to have such a dramatic incident precipitating the crash. Even if Lexi were to do something fairly innocuous at this stage to take her mum’s mind off her driving, this might give her just as much emotional baggage as if she’d done something truly naughty and destructive. Guilt in fiction (and life) doesn’t necessarily need to be attached to actual responsibility; indeed, the reader’s emotional connection with the character can be stronger if the character believes themselves to be more guilty than they really are. The character arc then ends up being about them coming to terms with something over which they, in fact, had no control; this also feels psychologically true to our experience of death in real life. If we’re sticking with Lexi’s POV at this stage, there are a few other things that can be done to root us more securely in her experience of events. Avoid descriptions that feel external – Lexi’s sturdy legs, for instance, or words like griping and moaning that don’t sit comfortably in her vocabulary – and stick as closely as possible to her view.
At times this is a question of pace, as touched on above. In the paragraph beginning Lexi never replied the use of the word ‘suddenly’ is a telling indicator that something dramatic is about to be glossed over. This word is often used as a shortcut – if something happens ‘suddenly’ then, it’s reasonable to assume, the reader will appreciate that it’s quick, shocking, and surprising. But bringing those qualities to life needs more than just an adverb; suddenly is one of those words that a reader sees so often that they’ve become almost immune to its real implications. When something is dramatic or sudden, it’s conversely helpful to slow down, take in more visual and sensory details, play the moment out in greater detail so that the reader feels as though they’re right there. Stephen King is great at this, and in his short story, The Gingerbread Girl, there’s a moment that in real time probably takes just a few minutes, played out over several pages – the tension is unbearable. Whilst this moment doesn’t need several pages, it would benefit from more than the brief sentence it’s given here. What does Lexi see as they come off the road? Can she smell the sour scent of burning rubber? Does she hear her mum’s voice, the melody of the song cracking into a scream? In fact, once the moment has passed (and we’ve stepped forward into the future to hear how Lexi will examine this event in years to come) we do get more of this kind of detail, and it’s excellent – the sound of her own breathing, the fact that her mum is staring at the roof of the car (why? what does it mean? It’s so beautifully true to a child’s way of seeing things!) – but because the actual event is now over, and we’ve already explored it in retrospect, the opportunity to make the reader experience it first-hand has passed by. Once this climax is over, we could cut to Lexi running away from the car, clutching the stick, though she has no idea where it came from. Then, this is probably the point to reclaim the authorial perspective and allow us a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come. The authorial voice lends itself to weighty, portentous statements so it’s perfect for asking questions about what might have been – but for that exact reason it’s best if it doesn’t intrude mid-scene, because it can undermine the sense of immersive reality that the narrative is striving to create. Saving the interjection of an external voice for the end of the passage is also structurally sound – it’s being used as a framing device, rather than as a contrasting viewpoint throughout. The prologue could therefore close with a brief paragraph or two, along the lines of the material that has been cut from earlier in the passage. However, rather than focusing on Lexi going back to the woods to see if she can find another stick (why would she?) we could, here, see more about the impact of her mum’s death, since this is such a major life event that it seems trivialising to end the passage with anything else: Would she have said ‘yes’ to the swings or ‘no’? Lexi wondered about this for years afterwards. Whether, if she’d just answered more quickly, her mum would have done something else, turned the car in a different direction, or not switched the radio off. Anything that would have meant she’d seen the lorry hurtling towards them. She searched and sifted until her head hurt. But the only picture that flickered before her was her foot kicking into the car seat, over and over again. In fact, by dividing the scene in this way the necessity for authorial voice has essentially been removed. The voice used in these closing paragraphs would be an intimate third person, as in the example above – but one belonging to a future version of Lexi. Maintaining this integrity of POV should give the scene internal cohesion whilst doing exactly what it needs to in terms of making the reader experience the horror of the present - and setting up the mysteries of the future.
If you would like to participate in the Cornerstones Opening Page Mini Masterclass, send your opening page to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Cornerstones Masterclass’.
Pencilbox | 43
The Beginning of the End Looking at submitting with Sarah Bower
My first agent had a charmingly disreputable office above a seedy Greek restaurant in Covent Garden. Behind her chair, and thus unavoidable to the wetbehind-the-ears client sitting in front of her, was a mountain of manuscripts, quite literally wall to wall and floor to ceiling. They were covered in dust. They obviously hadn’t been disturbed for some time. Although I am no longer with that agent, the image of that wall of manuscripts has stayed with me, reminding me just how difficult it is to get an agent to actually read your work and choose to represent you. As the theme of this edition is the future of publishing, this article will look at the future of your finished manuscript. What comes after ‘The End’? Of course, what we all hope comes next is publication, but there are steps that have to be taken in between if you want to give yourself the best chance of making it into print. The most obvious of these is to make sure your manuscript is presentable, that it has – metaphorically speaking – combed its hair and put a clean hankie in its pocket, and I will come on to this, but first, you have to make certain your novel is actually finished. If I were to take a straw poll of writers I know, I’m guessing the average number of drafts most of their work goes through is around three. A handful of rare creatures can produce a finished first draft, and there are others, among whom I number myself, who are nowhere near until drafts four or five. Or more. Everyone is different, but everyone seems to know intuitively when ‘The End’ really means the end. Initially, the rush of elation as you write those two little words will be replaced by resignation. Of course your first draft is full of holes, inconsistencies, clunky sentences and spelling mistakes. It’s a first draft; you have to be free to write rubbish in first drafts or you would never get started. So off you go, back to the beginning, to plug the gaps, smooth out the illogicalities and impossibilities and generally make sure, at the most basic level, that your story makes sense. Your next edit will, most likely, still find out improbable plot developments, characters whose names change inexplicably between chapters five and seven, and sentences that don’t mean quite what you intended them to. At this stage, however, you are beginning to polish the manuscript. You will be seeking out words and phrases of a higher order than the merely functional language with which you began. You will be teasing out themes in the novel that you may not have been aware were there when you began, and these may lead you to restructure parts of your work – very often, in my experience, the novel’s opening. You may go through this refining process once, or many times, until the point comes where you know the novel is finally finished. So how do you know when you have reached this point? There is no easy answer to that question. It is an arcane knowledge, ultimately, part of the magical paraphernalia of the creative process. You may show your work to a trusted first reader, and he may read the work as finished, but something still nags at you, somewhere there are loose ends or jagged edges, however tiny, however deeply buried in the text. If you have this instinct, trust it rather than your reader. Just as you must be painstaking in preparing your manuscript for submission, you must be equally thorough in the way you respond to your own writerly instinct as to
44 | Pencilbox
when the manuscript is finally complete. There is an adage in the trade that says a novel is finished when you can’t stand the sight of it anymore, and there is some truth in this. It is not so much that you are sick of your work (though you may be, of course!) than that you have arrived at a sense of its inherent completeness. You no longer want to disturb it. You have the feeling that any more re-writing might unbalance it. Of course, there is no rule as to when and how this feeling arrives. It just does. It arises more from your writerly intuition than from any technique you might learn from a tutor, which is why it is difficult to write about. Perhaps the feeling is akin to that experienced by a potter when a pot is ready to be lifted from the wheel, or a baker when a loaf is perfectly risen. So, before you arrive at the stage of readying your work for publication, you must go through this altogether more mysterious process of discovering the point at which your novel is cooked, finished, all grown up and ready to go out into the world and engage with its readership. Although this process includes the technical – correcting basic errors and inconsistencies – it is fundamentally intuitive, and learned through practice. It is a matter of knowing when your characters are finally acting true to themselves, and when your narrative has come into line with this. Your thematic concerns are clear, linking the acts and scenes of your story together like a golden chain. Your beginning has been tailored to foreshadow your ending, giving the novel sense and cohesion. Once you reach this stage (and can’t bear to look at it anymore!), you are ready to start planning for publication. If you are submitting chapters to an agent or publisher in the conventional way, it is important to make sure you send them exactly what they ask for. This will usually be three chapters, double spaced, plus a synopsis and a brief covering letter. In many cases, you will also still have to send your submission as a hard copy, in which case, if, like most of us, you only have an ordinary domestic printer, it will be worthwhile to take your work to your high street copy shop and have it printed on more professional equipment. There is nothing like poor quality print to put off readers who have mountains of manuscripts to work through. Before preparing your submission, however, do check your target agent’s or publisher’s website because some will accept electronic submissions and some have specific requirements which vary from the standard three chapters plus synopsis. Sending the wrong package is easily avoidable, and it is a tragic waste of effort to prepare a submission which stands no chance of being read. Before doing any of the above, however, it is essential to proof read your work thoroughly. The nature of this responsibility is changing as more writers are choosing to bring their work direct to the marketplace themselves via self-publishing or schemes such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct. In the ‘good old days’, publishers employed professional copy editors to clean up their authors’ spelling errors, wayward grammar and inability to lay out speech correctly. (I mention the latter because it’s my own personal bugbear). In the slightly less good old days, the author and her editor would collaborate to establish the meaning of the text and the best way to convey this accurately and clearly to readers. Nowadays, however, the main focus of publishers is on marketing, and the onus is very much on the author to ensure her manuscript says what she intends it to say in comprehensible English, and that where grammatical or spelling rules are broken this has been done deliberately and for sound artistic reasons. This is clearly even more the case when an author decides to selfpublish and must take on all the tasks involved in bringing her book
to market. I am all in favour of this democratisation of publishing and the potential it has to loosen the stranglehold of the big publishing conglomerates which, whatever they may say to the contrary, are hidebound by conservatism in their choice of new books and driven by a questionable economic model that does little to encourage new fiction writers. A regrettable side effect, however, has been a falling off in standards of presentation. Many readers are uncritical of this because recent fashions in English language education have been somewhat light on parsing and punctuation. As long as the book’s plot and subject matter grip – and let’s mention Fifty Shades of Grey here, why not? – they tend not to notice if it falls short in style and presentation. As writers we should not be complacent about this. We write because we have stories to tell, but also because we choose to use language to tell
between ‘there’ and ‘their’ – and let that be a lesson to anyone who thinks running their manuscript through a spell check is a reliable substitute for actually reading it. If you recognise yourself here, and either do not want or cannot afford to employ a professional proof reader, don’t be embarrassed to make use of books and websites which offer guidance. Lynn Truss’ (or should that be Lynn Truss’s?) Eats, Shoots and Leaves is among the best known self-help books. I would also recommend Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, which does what it says on the tin, complete with cartoons. Websites devoted to English grammar, and online dictionaries, are too numerous to mention, but entering your particular problem into a search engine can offer a quicker route to the solution than going through a book. Beware, however, of taking a solution out of context.
There is an adage in the trade that says a novel is finished when you can’t stand the sight of it anymore, and there is some truth in this. It is not so much that you are sick of your work (though you may be, of course!) than that you have arrived at a sense of its inherent completeness. You no longer want to disturb it. You have the feeling that any more re-writing might unbalance it. Of course, there is no rule as to when and how this feeling arrives. It just does. It arises more from your writerly intuition than from any technique you might learn from a tutor, which is why it is difficult to write about. them, as opposed to any other medium. Whether we like it or not, we are custodians of the English language and we have a responsibility to use it well and to push it to its creative boundaries. This doesn’t mean every sentence we construct would have to pass muster with an old fashioned teacher of grammar, but it does mean we should aim to tell our stories and convey our meanings in prose of the highest quality of which we are capable, whether we are writing chicklit or ghost stories, airport lounge blockbusters or literary novellas. Fiction is a form of communication; if it is not well written, it will fail in its task of communicating the writer’s meaning to the reader. So, whether you plan to go down the traditional route to publication or do it yourself, do make sure your manuscript is thoroughly and sympathetically proof read, if not by yourself, by a professional colleague who understands your style and what it is you are trying to say. Employing professional proof readers can be expensive, but why not engage in a bit of barter with a fellow novelist? I’ll read yours if you’ll read mine. Of course, not all writers are as confident in their spelling, grammar and punctuation as they would like. I have already admitted my Achilles’ heel in laying out dialogue. A fellow writer of my acquaintance has had to wean himself off computer spell checkers and learn the difference
In fiction, which often requires the author to depart from conventional spelling or sentence structure for artistic reasons, context is almost everything. This is why I would urge every writer to read her work out loud as part of the editing process. Not only is this the best way I know of spotting errors and omissions, it can also be a good rule of thumb guide to punctuating. Roughly speaking, you put a comma where you need to take a breath and a full stop where you need a bit of pause and a regroup. If you find yourself stumbling over a sentence or the attribution of a line of dialogue, the chances are the layout on the page is misleading and needs to be redone. I am quite certain the redoubtable Miss Bailey, who taught me English, would frown on this rather unorthodox method, but I have found it works pretty well in practice. And in writing fiction, which is transgressive and hard to categorise, practice is all we have.
Pencilbox | 45
Scripts: The future of film by Ola Zaltin
“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” - Peter Drucker. Okay, so I’ve set up the title and then immediately told you I can’t deliver upon it. Clever, aren’t I? That said and done, I am now free to meander about at will. Bear with me. Glancing back down that old country road, it’s evident that the immediate demise of cinema-as-we- know-it has been foretold more times than Rihanna changes hairstyle. Well, okay, maybe not. It was exclaimed in horror (with a gesture - the pre-cursor to the wide-eyed goldfish-mouthed Home Alone palms on cheeks expression - not a spoken line, mind) when the talkies arrived. It was shouted out in dismay when colour wiped away the ambiguity of greyscale and film-aswe-loved-it was sorrowfully said good-bye to at the advent of the blockbuster (famously, when weekend box-office tallies started being printed in newspapers, that was the end of it for film critic Pauline Kael), and more recently, with the 3D spectacle in triple bass mega-whoosh Dolby hyperdrive with vibrating seats that’s the latest fad - once again, the end of Cinema has been dolefully written on the wall with much handwringing and sighing. The one constant throughout all these developments are the scripts. Whatever format you use, you’ll still have to capture the audience with a good yarn. And no matter if it’s a detective story made in early 1930’s Germany (‘M - eine stadt sucht einen mörder’) or a live-action/CGI 3D extravaganza (‘Avatar’) you still need a good guy, a bad guy, surprising turns and twists, suspense, surprise, evil, goodness, and goodness overcoming evil, (or in the case of M: evil killing evil). Naturally, the shorthand of film storytelling has evolved drastically. In the fifties, depicting a man flying to Paris would involve, at least: the man packing his suitcase; hailing a cab for the airport; smiling at the stewardesses on his way to the gate; the plane taking off; the man enjoying a drink (and a smoke, ah, those were the days) mid-flight, and then disembarking with the Eiffel tower on the horizon. Today, the same sequence is shortened down to perhaps a line about going to Frogland and then cut to close-up of Boeing wheels touching tarmac and voilá: Paree. We are so image - and story saturated these days that we are almost unconsciously fed information at a rate that a fiftiesviewer would find overwhelming, if not incomprehensible. Technology today, as opposed to only seven or ten years ago, puts the possibility of making a fully screenable HD movie with adequate sound in every man’s hand. When the first handycams arrived on the market some 20 years ago, it was prophesized that movie-making would be revolutionized as anyone could go out and make their own film. Well, today, anyone can. From shooting with your HD cam, to editing on your laptop and burning the DVD’s, movie-making is now truly possible for us all. The only thing is; no one does. Of course we make a film of the kids in the pool and put silly music on the soundtrack, film mum’s 50th and Uncle Larry slipping on the dance-floor. But no one (yes, there are exceptions, but they are so rare it’s not even worth mentioning here) writes a script, engages some friends with actorly ambitions and goes out and shoots a feature-length drama. Why don’t we? If you omit valid excuses like ‘I’ve got a job’, ‘me mates won’t leave the pub’ or ‘me bird doesn’t look like Malin Akerman’
46 | Pencilbox
- there’s really no excuse for the arm-chair Bergman not to go out there and astound us. You don’t need a film-school diploma or having worked at the Beeb. You just have to have something between your ears and a passion. My theory of why this doesn’t happen, is the first step of the above mentioned process. The script. Just as M für Mörder and Avatar needs scripts; stories that will hook, keep, tantalize and satisfy an audience, so does the home-made feature film. (Perhaps even more so, as it won’t have 50 million dollars-worth of actors and CGI effects.) Because there has always been, and will always be, one constant in movie/TV: scripts. Stories that draw the audience in. So with the general countenance of someone about to grab the third rail, I’ll now grip the steering-wheel and try to peer down that country road, head-lights blinding me from reflected fog.
Two predictions: 1. The wave of CGI animated films will continue, with more 3D and more spectacle. Although the stories in films like Toy Story, UP and Monsters Inc. follow classical storyline trajectories described already by Aristotle, the sheer scope of possibilities that lies in this story-telling universe beggars belief. (I remember the first time I saw Monsters Inc. and thinking “what drugs are these guys ON?”) 2. The line between movies and computer-games will continue to blur. With the technology that’s emerging now: 3D holograms, voice-input, Wii-like motion-capturing technology and computer/ TV/game consoles - so-called Smart TV - rolled into one, it’s just a breath away from multi-plotlined stories where the viewer plays an active part in making choices, actually playing the main-character and thus influencing the story. (Imagine playing SIMS, not on your screen, but actually having them in your living-room, rendered as 3D holograms, the avatars played by other gamers across the globe.) There are however two main objections to this prediction. One is that movie/TV watching is passive. Probably the most passive activity we humans engage in on a daily basis. The whole idea of movie/TV is to forget that mess called life, putting our paws up and disappearing into Criminal Minds for an hour of vegetative bliss. The second objection is simple: who’s going to “play” the main character? Imagine the whole family in the sofa, screaming at mom to go left when she turns right. Still, I’m convinced that the boys & girls in Silicon Valley will work this out, long before the cure for AIDS, draught in Africa or the global recession is solved.
Aw shucks, I dunno. Yogi Berra said it best: “The future, it ain’t what it used to be.”
Building a Community by Dan Holloway
In early 2009 when I first took the decision to self-publish my novels as ebooks the internet was full of exciting ideas about where publishing might be heading and how best to forge a path in this virtual Wild West. These days the advice tends to be more concrete, more about which forums to use to market your book and so on. Which is all well and good, but for all writers it’s well worth revisiting some of those early topics. This month I want to look at something essential for any writer, community building, and I want to do so through the lens of Kevin Kelly’s theory of 1000 true fans. Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of the seminal magazine Wired, believed that the very best way for all creative (and many others) businesses and business people to earn a living wage from their work was to build a small, dedicated community of “fans” who would all be keen to put anything they produce at the top of their to buy list. This is a very different model from what most of us are used to in the world of social media (although it’s one that social media is perfect for). We hear a lot about having our twitter followers or Facebook fans buy our books as a result of our tweets and posts, or of people seeing a forum post or an ad on an ereader site and clicking through. The percentages involved in these are tiny, single figures of people in percentage terms who see these things will actually buy what you are selling. The 1000 true fans model essentially tackles two aspects of those rather bleak figures. First, that’s a lot of work for little return. Second, and more important, selling shouldn’t be about “selling”, foisting your stuff on people. It should be about giving, about creating something wonderful and engaging with a community of people who love it and can’t wait to get their hands on more. The theory behind 1000 true fans is simple. How much do you need for a comfortable living? Kevin Kelly offers the
figure of $100,000. That seems like more than comfortable to me. I’d settle for £25,000. That amounts to £25 each from 1000 people. In other words if you have1000 true fans, people who can’t wait to get their hands on anything you write, you need to come up with products with a combined profit of £25 in a year. OK, that is considerably harder for a writer to achieve than an artist or a musician, though I don’t think it’s impossible. Though for the sake of argument let’s call it 2000 true fans (obviously you can modify according to how much you aim to earn, your productivity, and which of the ideas here you think would work for you). So what would this mean for you as a writer? Essentially, it affects two things about your creative life – the things you do and the things you sell. OK, put together, that’s just about everything. But in short it means this: • Know what it is you want to do • Do it the very best you can • Know for whom you are doing it and what it is they are looking for • Find as many ways as you can to find them, make them fall in love with your work, and make the love affair last by giving them what they want whilst never compromising number 2. The key point here is the fourth of those. It’s all about building your own community, something that will carry your own “voice” as distinctively as your writing does. After all, this is all about what is distinctive about you and your creativity, and letting that shine through. Suggestions here are simply offering means for that shining-throughness.
Building your community I recently interviewed the artist Trevor Barton. One of the things he noted was that in the new economy markets will be both local and global. That’s a very astute observation, and it’s based, I think, on the fact that markets will increasingly be based around communities. Communities are built through direct contact, either online or in real life. It’s something I’ve noticed in my own life over the past few years – the two communities are building at the same time but also overlapping and feeding into one another with great results – but they are only able to do
that when you are yourself both online and in person – it’s that shining-throughness again – if you’re always you then no one will have any nasty surprises when they meet you in the flesh – or when they see you trolling in a chatroom! The other thing I would recommend is having a base, somewhere people can catch up with everything you’re doing. This may be your Facebook page, a website, a tumblr, or a twitter account, but whichever it is, it needs to be somewhere from where people can find out everything you’re doing, where you can link to things, whence you can send out messages that reach everyone, and that’s easy to navigate - don’t make people hunt high and low to find stuff out. They may want to. If they’re fans they probably do. But don’t make them.
Giving to your community This is really the key to building a community – what is it that you can give to people? 1000 true fans is essentially about giving because you want to give. Your community gives back because it wants to give to you. Transactionally it may look the same as regular marketing but what is going on at a deeper level is very different. But what do you give, and how? Towering colossus-like over everything else, of course, is your writing. So you write books, right? Not really. At least, you almost certainly write books, but that’s not the alpha and omega of it. You will be looking to find any way you can to get your work to people. Which may mean blogging, it may mean giveaways, it may mean making pamphlets and leaving them in your local pubs and cafes, it may be going into the pub, asking the landlord, and reading something on a Tuesday afternoon. The key is to give regularly. It should be clear that writing on a fairly regular basis is essential – not everyone is suited to the 1000 true fans model. You need to be comfortable with a certain degree of publicfacingness. And you need to write regularly – though not all of it the same kind of writing. The following might all be part of what you do (I’ll look at some of these in more detail in future pieces): • Newsletters (these are a really good idea but should be beautiful, engaging things and you must know your data protection law) • Blogging – but make sure your blog is of interest to your fans
Pencil Box | 47
• Reading live – be it at your local open mic, a reading at a bookstore, or setting up a group with other like-minded writers and producing your own show. • Merchandise – yes, this does all sound like the music industry, but it’s just not true that as a writer you can’t do live performance and you can’t sell things that aren’t books. The rule for merchandise is the same as for everything – make sure people who love your books will love it, and make it reflect you in some way. Clothing is an obvious one, as is stationery, and if you have a crafty skill, why not use it? You can sell through an online store (bigcartel is the best I’ve found) but you will also sell face to face – so customised filing cabinets are probably not as practical as postcards. • Business cards – I’m sure we all have cards of some kind or other – but why not make this another way to give away your work – it could be a haiku on the card, or a QR code (see www.quickqr.com) that links to
a poem or story. • Find other things your fans will love and tell them about them – this is a great thing to do with twitter. Be a source of things that people will love. Remember, it’s not about you, you, you, it’s about them, them, them.
What your community can give to you If you do it right and build the right community, that community will want to give back to you. Some can afford more than others and it’s good to ensure that no one is excluded from your work or from your community, so offering a range of ways of doing things is good: • Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are great – if you want to put on an event or produce a run of your latest book, this is a way to fund everything in advance to produce something great for everyone whilst letting people pay different amounts in return for different extras .
Copy, Paste, Post: Mugging myself By Ola Zaltin
Miles and miles have been written about copyright theft and online piracy. It’s bad. What’s the world coming to? Would you shoplift in your local store? On and on. It’s theft, no more, no less. But I will say this: if you’ve got a product people want to steal, you’re doing at least something right. Creators of games, music, movies and TV-shows lose billions of dollars per annum from online piracy. As a copyright holder myself, (having written episodes for Wallander and other Scandinavian TVseries’), naturally, I’m strongly against online piracy. The fact remains however that all that copyrighted material is sought after; it is coveted by a public that no longer wants (and probably never wanted to in the first place) to pay for stuff. Contrast this with the self-publish eBook market, where we are literally giving away our texts for free, just to get into the game. As far as I know, eBooks aren’t widely pirated, or illegally copied and distributed amongst friends. My guess is that this is because, well, people read less than they listen to music, watch TV and movies and play computer games. In addition, it takes time to read a book. It involves an active pursuit, as opposed to the passive couch-potato viewing of filmed material. Also, most often we read a great novel once, whereas we see our favourite film or episodes of Friends multiple times (which in itself is a conundrum, as a great novel has heaps more to reveal upon repeated readings, as opposed to a film). All this being said, I am just as much guilty at the download smorgasbord of nick-what-you-like as the next man. Just the other week I posted the “Fuck you” monologue by Edward Norton in The 25th hour on that Social Network. This winter I had the tremendous - but guilty pleasure of watching Game of Thrones season one on pirated DVDs, and I often post favourite music videos on FB. Mea Culpa. What bothers me is of course that I am in a sense mugging myself. Not that I’ve pirated any Wallander episodes (really, who would?) but I do view, spread and share other people’s copyrighted material, so what’s the difference in the end? In a broader context, what I really don’t understand (but reluctantly accept, given the grim nature of the capitalist system) is how Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo etc get away with what they do. Because the
• Allow people to donate on your website – whether it’s Paypal or Google Checkout, having a donate button is a way to let people who want to give back do so. I particularly like the idea of combining this with giving your work away for free in some way or other – those who want to pay can. And if you build a warm community you will be surprised how often they do. • Tips – if you do readings, consider doing them for free (remember, though, that the venue needs to make a living too – always speak to them, work out how you can help each other) and collecting tips as well as/ instead of selling things. This needn’t be a pushy passing round of the cap – “if you enjoyed that and want to help, anything you are able to give is welcome” is enough. • Emails – newsletters are important, so one of the most important things people can give you is their email address – and don’t forget to treat it with due respect – spam isn’t cool.
young men who started these social networks, search engines, internet portals and whatnot, have never created original content - copyrighted material - as such. Only a way to spread OTHER people’s copyrighted material. To boil it down, they became billionaires by selling ads on sites that spread other people’s stuff without paying the originators a nickle. As the ad revenue is now clearly seen to be coming mostly from the internet, (leading to the demise of real journalism and newspapers, thank you very much), advert buyers are turning away from printed media and towards the internet. TV in America as it was first invented - and still operates today - is to fill space between adverts. Not the other way around. When a show reached a big audience, the biggest brands then bought the most expensive ads on that show, (the “prime-time” slot: between eight and eleven in the evening, when the family has come home, eaten dinner and done the dishes - at eight - and settled in the sofa: that’s prime time) to reach the largest possible audience. Hence, great TV came from extremely commercial interests. Buy Brillo, Eat Corn Flakes, Smoke Lucky Strikes. It wasn’t some highbrow experiment in spreading Mozart to the masses, as with state-run broadcasters in Europe. TV was invented to sell stuff. Today, as Nielsen ratings clearly tell us, the internet is bigger than TV, per hours per week we spend on it. It so follows that global brands will now rather buy ads on Google than on TV. Google that owns YouTube which is the biggest website in the world spreading pirated TVshow material. See where I’m going with this? You don’t have to be Paul Krugman to grasp that this is going to go sideways, and fast. Because if mom-and-pop stores pull their ads from the local newspaper and buy rankings on Google, and global brands don’t put money into buying ads on TV and film (i.e. paying the salaries of original material creators)... yeah, there’s going to be trouble on Madison Avenue, and soon. (Nota bene: originators, the “creatives” might be a small group if you look at the big picture. However, around every creative there is an army of people depending on his work, from actors and editors to accountants and producers all the way to TV-station janitors.) Milton Friedman, sitting in his laissez-faire heaven, would say all this will sort itself out on its own and find a new business model that works for everyone (incidentally, Zuckerberg and the Google lads concur), while Paul Krugman is out there picketing readers - and governments to step in, and sharpish. What goes around doesn’t always come around anymore, and having created something worth stealing is cool up until the minute someone actually makes away with it.
Question Corner Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ...
Julia sent in a question which I know many writers agonise over. She says: I think I’ve more or less got the knack of when to use a character’s name and when to substitute for “he” or “she” within a paragraph. However, is there a grammatical rule about new paragraphs? If the story is continuing - and no other characters’ names are mentioned - is it okay to continue using she/her and he/ him, or should you refer to the character by name again? There isn’t a grammatical rule. The only thing to bear in mind is clarity for the reader. If it is obvious from context that you are still referring to the same character, then there is no need to name him or her again. However, if there is the slightest possibility of confusion or ambiguity, then use the character’s name. Just because another character’s name hasn’t been mentioned doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else in the room. The last thing you want is to cause your readers to come out of the story while they try to work out to whom the pronoun refers.
Trish from New Zealand had an unfortunate experience when her prize-winning story was published and wants to know what, if anything, she can do to put matters right. She writes: One of my stories, Modus Operandi (1500) won first prize in the Winchester Conference 2011 competition, shorter short story category, and is in the anthology Best of 2011 just published after a number of delays. The story is structured on a dual narrative, italics differentiating inner dialogue/concealed information from what is told to a journalist. I was horrified to find that the printers of the anthology have left out the italics. What remains appears as a poor piece of linear narrative. I have asked the anthology director to print and send out corrected versions, but have yet to see if they do. To retrieve my reputation, I want to expose the correct version of the story as widely as possible (I have confirmed that I have rights to publish anywhere any time), and wonder if Words with Jam would accept it for their Quite a
Short Story slot. As you will see from our story page, we were delighted to publish the correctly formatted version, but to deal Trish’s main point, unfortunately there is very little she can do about getting the publication recalled and reprinted. To do so would cost the competition organisers a great deal of money, which would probably mean they would end up out of pocket on the competition. Secondly, as the anthology has already been sent to all who subscribed, it’s too late for Trish’s story – it has probably been read by too many people for a revised version to make a difference. Fortunately, Trish retained the rights and so was able to offer it to us. She has also published it on her blog, so at least our readers and her followers will have the benefit of reading the story formatted as intended. Not that it will be much consolation, but Trish is by no means alone in this situation. I am quite sure there are hundreds (possibly thousands) of writers who will empathise with her plight, having suffered themselves at the hands of careless publishers and/or editors.
Virgoan Scribe writes with a plea for help: I often see submission guidelines that say all pages must be numbered, starting with the first paragraph (first scene, first chapter and so on), but not the title page. How on earth is that done? If it’s postal submission I am fine because I simply make the title page a separate document, but when it’s an online submission I am stuffed. Please advise. In order to start numbering from the first page of the story or novel, rather than the first page of the document, you need to insert a section break. In Word 2007 you do this by going to Page Layout>Breaks>Next Page (other programmes may have other routes). Note that this is not the same as a page break. When you have inserted the section break you then go to Headers/ Footers and uncheck the box marked Link to Previous. You can now number each section independently by choosing to start at one (or any other number) in each section, or simply set the numbering to follow sequentially throughout the document beginning with the page following the title page.
There is advice on every possible question you might ask. --Writing Magazine Regardless of the writer's level or ability, there is something extremely daunting about putting together a submission. It doesn't matter if it is for an article for a magazine, or short story for a competition, a humorous anecdote, a play or TV script, a novel or non-fiction book, "The Writer's ABC Checklist" will provide answers to questions you didn't even know you should ask. With its A-Z format, references can be found quickly and effortlessly. Unfamiliar terms are explained and bullet points at the end of most sections provide a quick reminder of the main items covered. This unique book is packed with writing tips and is something no aspiring writer can afford to be without. Available from Amazon
Do you have layout issues, problematic characters, or struggle to get to grips with your grammar? Email email@example.com
Pencil Box | 49
What we think of some books Floccinaucinihilipilification: the estimation of something as valueless Tacenda: things better left unsaid 5’9”: The average height of a British adult male Deipnosophist: someone skilled in making dinner-table conversation
Fifty Shades essentially tells those who were
traditional text of the Passover Haggadah, its
too embarrassed to admit it before that it’s okay to
wine-stained pages suggesting it was used at many
fancy something a bit more than ‘plain vanilla’ sex.
It makes a healthy distinction between consensual
The story opens in the spring of 1996 after
and non-consensual acts, and suggests a few, not
the Bosnia hostilities have ceased, leaving the city
too scary, ideas to try out.
of Sarajevo shattered. Australian conservator of
And it also – despite some of the things that
mediaeval scripts, Hanna Heath, is summoned
have been said – draws a very clear line between
to the National Museum of Bosnia to restore the
playing games of submission and domination in
one who is cunning in the use of words
the bedroom, and submitting for real in everyday
Fifty Shades of What, Exactly? The Fifty Shades Trilogy by E. L. James Reviewed by Catriona Troth Rating: 5’9”
As Hanna works on the Haggadah, she
life. Anastasia spends most of the three books
discovers a butterfly wing, a wine stain, sea salt
refusing pointblank to allow Christian to control
crystals and a fine white hair. Through these
her and persuading him that life is more interesting
minute clues, the author transports the reader
when she stands up to him.
back to five historical epochs – Sarajevo in 1940,
Christian’s sexual tastes don’t change. At the end of the trilogy, he and Ana are still enjoying
Vienna in 1894, Venice in 1609 and Spain in 1492 and 1480 – in which the existence of this priceless
Warning – Contains
plenty of ‘kinky fuckery’
– but now it’s on Ana’s
The stories that encompass each of these
terms. As a highly self-
eras are all so rich in period detail and fascinating
rationally about the
aware young man under
that Brooks could have easily dedicated an entire
Fifty Shades trilogy,
the care of a psychiatrist,
book to each individual time period. In fact, I found
you have to begin by
Christian has made a
each one too short, and it was a little frustrating to
saying what it is not.
choice to give up some
become immersed in one story then, abruptly, be
of the trappings of a
taken to a different place in history and introduced
not, as some who have
dominant in order to be
to new characters. I felt there wasn’t enough time
read the hype (and
to get to know each intriguing cast of characters
To talk halfway
To start with, it is
And if there is one
some others who have
mediaeval prayer book is threatened.
who feature in the precarious journey of the
got to ‘that’ incident
thing that worries me
Haggadah, and I yearned to linger longer in each
at the end of the first
about this disguised self-
book and read the
help manual, it’s that. God
title of the next) have
help any woman who looks
written and of great interest, I did not find the
assumed, the story of
at a man who stalks her,
same level of engagement, or writing, in the
the abject debasement
tries to control her and
contemporary, Hanna Heath sections. She comes
of a woman. Fifty
wants her submissive 24/7
across as a bit cold and calculating, and, to
Shades is not The Story
and – instead of running
me, unsympathetic. The subplot involving the
of O, or the Marquis de
for the hills – imagines her
strained relationship between Hanna and her
love will change him.
Nor, as some
That apart, Fifty
others have assumed,
Shades is harmless fun –
is it the story of the
amusing if you happen to
‘redemption’ of a
be turned on by that sort of thing, mindlessly boring
sadistic male through the power of a woman’s love and his conversion to the pleasures of wholesome normality. Perhaps a fairer comparison would be with
if you’re not. *Actually, my husband says it’s Sex and the City with a kinky Big, but there we are.
films like He’s Just Not That Into You, or What to Expect When You’re Expecting – self-help books given plots to make them more palatable and entertaining.*
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
an original story. The beginning, in particular, is
Review by Liza Perrat Rating: Deipnosophist
thick with the most predictable of sexual cliches.
As an Australian reader, I am always interested
(He’s ridiculously rich, she’s ridiculously innocent;
in books by Aussie authors, so it was with great
when he takes her virginity, the sex is amazing
anticipation that I bought a copy of People of the
and she, naturally, turns out to be an adept at oral
Book, in which Geraldine Brooks spins a fascinating
sex.) But when you get past all that, Fifty Shades
tale of the miraculous survival of the 15th century
is essentially a beginner’s guide to what Christian
No, Fifty Shades is not great literature – or even
calls ‘kinky fuckery.’ The fact that it’s dressed up in
Handwritten on bleached calfskin and
the garments of a love story simply makes it a bit
illuminated in copper and gold, the Sarajevo
more fun to read.
Haggadah manuscript contains the illustrated
50 | Reviews
Whilst I found the historical sections brilliantly
What we think of some books mother Sarah, from whom Hanna ultimately
Where Matterhorn is a blow-by-blow account
heat of elitist descriptions of what we can reach”
learns a jealously-guarded family secret, as well
of the real deal for a young soldier in combat,
as Hanna’s relationship with the Bosnia librarian
What it is Like to Go to War is the mature man’s
through the cultural canon whilst never losing its
who protected the Haggadah at the outset of the
masterpiece of reflected pain, gained wisdom and
biting contemporary edge, from the brutal Cannibal
Bosnian hostilities, came across as a little contrived.
philosophy earned by hard knocks. Marlantes not
Kids to the brilliant dissection of modern working
I don’t believe this powerful account of individual
only expands on the virtues
resistance to intolerance, and the precious value of
(and the sadness) of war
history, needed any such extraneous padding.
but leads the reader into a
a bubble, it’s tunnel
The whole collection moves this effortlessly
life, Bubble Muzzle: “life goes on in
Apart from these minor reservations with
deeper understanding of
vision all week and the
the modern sections and the main character, the
what going to war means
weekend’s for seeing
narrative entranced me as a thought-provoking
to the common man,
double…we’re like a
insight into the persistence of religious persecution
his perceived enemy and
dog wagging its tail,
and issues of religious and individual identity.
the consequences. The
expecting a treat coz
The beauty of the Sarajevo Haggadah seduced
author has spent a life-time
it learnt how to put on
Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – a symbol of
pondering his actions in
its own muzzle”
human unity in an age where religious and cultural
war, and it comes out in
divisions still run deep.
the text. The book is not
is the final poem,
pro - nor con - war. It is
Renegade, with its
simply a statement of
facts; what leads up to
message “I care about
war, how it is to be in war,
genius I don’t care
Reviewed by Ola Zaltin
and how to deal with the
about celebrity” but it’s
Ratings: Matterhorn – Logodaedalus
aftermath of war. No more,
a message Tempest
What it is Like to Go to War - Deipnosophist
no less. It is written with a
weaves brilliantly as
big heart, sharp mind and
she leads us through a
a humanistic world view.
long, dark night of the
This is the painful beauty
Matterhorn and What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
What makes men go to war and what is it like are two questions posed, and answered, by author Karl Marlantes in his two books Matterhorn and What it is Like to Go to War. He should know: he served as a young man
of What it is Like to Go to War.
in the jungles of Vietnam. He has spent a lifetime pondering his actions and the consequences thereof. This would be heavy reading, but Marlantes manages to make his opus on the Vietnam war (Matterhorn) and his philosophical query about why men go to war (What it Is Like to Go to War) immensely readable pieces of text. These books (most of all What it is Like to Go to War) should not only be read by young soldiers during basic training, but by everyone that partakes in the public discourse known as democracy. To start chronologically, Matterhorn is Marlantes hide-nothing account of his time spent as a young marine responsible for some 30 boys in the jungles of Vietnam. Where Hasford’s The Short-timers and Ninh’s The Sorrows of War end, Marlantes begins. In Matterhorn (the title derived from a moniker given by top-brass to a meaningless hilltop/ firebase in the jungles of Vietnam) Marlantes details the everyday chores, feelings, and thoughts of a grunt going into, as it were, the shit, back in the late1960s. The text is honest, but, in the end, not unsentimental. The author knows how to make a narrative plant and get his pay-off. It works. The level of detail is shocking, the day-to-day travails of the common soldier beyond grasp. Anyone even considering the notion that we are at “war” right now in the Stan should seriously re-consider their notions of what war is really like, after reading Marlantes account.
“I’m writing tonight, I got a jam jar
Everything Speaks in its Own Way by Kate Tempest (Zingaro books) Reviewed by Dan Holloway Kate Tempest’s Everything Speaks in its Own Way is one of the most beautiful things I own. But to
of wine, I’m rolling smokes spitting bars to myself with a swollen throat…if you wanna talk, just come find me – I’ll be on Lewisham way watching the dawn melt away” through her personal epiphany “I learnt about patience, I learnt about stamina,
focus too long on the beauty of this book, CD and
and every little moment stacked up and it all added
DVD set with its unctuous thick matte papers, and
to the present”
tiny yet hefty format, would be an injustice. The debut collection from the UK’s most celebrated performance poet is both a brilliant, and an important book. It is no surprise to me that Kate Tempest’s words are just as precious on the page as they are
to the new, angry and frustrated, eyes through which she saw the world “it’s all so physical here, the alcoholic in the offie, filling up his trolley till the world disappears” before returning to Shakespeare “why must we starve while they banquet and
on the stage. Tempest may be a hip hop MC as well
feast? But Banquo will rise, he has a message for
as a poet but she weaves Blake and Shakespeare
effortlessly with the patois of the street. What We Came After, for example, is a meditation on the
as she builds to her climax “meet me at the bar we’ll raise a drink to
loneliness of Prospero and Caliban that builds itself
the sky – and I will show you that you’re fucking
around imagery from the Tempest, riffing on the
line “you know that Hell is empty coz all the devils
We’re not flesh, we’re all energy.”
are here”, effortlessly and intelligently glossing on the play in language both achingly beautiful and rhyming as delicately as filigree: “So, call me Caliban” she says, adding “they gave me language so I could rain down my curses in verses” though back in the day “this island was mine for a home. I was free to rhyme as I roamed now my mind is alone as I writhe and I moan – I’m the captive of consonants” before bringing the significance right to the present: “we’re needing a breeze through the stifling
Reviews | 51
The Rumour Mill
sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
Heard a rumour but you’re not sure if it’s a bag of truth or just a big bag of shite? Send it to us and we’ll get our top investigative journalist Kris Dangle to look into it for you. Someone told me recently while I was having a slash in the toilets at a pub that the girl out of the Ting Tings is called Mary Jo Lisa. Is this true? No. That’s not her name. That’s not her name. That’s not her name. That’s not her… name. I heard somewhere, I can’t remember exactly where, but I
Guess the Book
Try to guess the classic novel from these genuine one-star reviews. All spelling and grammar maladies remain the copyright of the reviewers. 1.
I feel stupid for reading this book and wish I had spent that ten bucks on socks.
Weak and confused narrative extinguishes the vital assortment of characters that are marginally ‘Russian’ in this excessive work. I would suggest reading “Crime and Punishment” for a more magnificent creating of writing.
This book sucks. I dont care if [AUTHOR] was blind or not this book is like 900 pages too long. I could tell this story in about 10 pages. [AUTHOR] taking all long to say stupid stuff. Teens if you are reading this all I have to say is CLIFF NOTES CLIFF NOTES you will pass the test, unless you are in AP classes. The teachers expect kids to read cliff notes trust me my moms a teacher. P.S this book SUCKS.
This was the book that ushered in the angstridden teenager as anti-hero that survives to this day in the form of tone-deaf Emo and Nu-Metal bands. How the reader is supposed to have any empathy for a trust fund baby with a chip on his should escapes me. Maybe it’s becuase I was not rich and angst-ridden as a teen.
If [AUTHOR]’s ideas are so vital, original, and important, why couldn’t he at least have hired a ghostwriter to come in and clean up his abysmal mess of a manuscript? The ideas themselves are a salad-bar mishmash of various New-Age and pseudo-Eastern sputterings, all of which I’ve seen before. My six-year-old niece has made finger puppets out of construction paper that have more depth of character than Redfield’s stick-figures. It’s simply horrid. “New-Age Half-Baked Rampantly-Eclectic Spirituality for Dummies”, it should be called--or, better yet, “Watery Gruel for the Soul”!
definitely didn’t make this up so someone must have told this to me, that it is very definitely true that you didn’t think this question about a rumour would be so rambling and in the end so utterly pointless when you began to read it. Is there any truth at all in this? This is not strictly true – But it sort of is. I’ve heard from a friend of mine who is very religious that apart from going to Hell anyone who reads the 50 Shades books will go blind. Is this really the case? No. There is no truth in this rumour. However, there is a high chance that readers could end up running out of tissues and having to change their sheets. After recently seeing the A-Team and Clash of the Titans 2, I saw on the internet that Liam Neeson is having a bet with Adam Sandler to see who can make the most shit movie while earning the most money. This can’t possibly be true, can it? After extensive research it turns out that Stephanie Meyer was in on this bet and was way in the lead until E L James joined the fray and put the rest of them to shame with her ability to make money out of pure shite. A woman from the end of our road knows a guy who saw some secret documents in Downing Street and she told me that David Cameron actually left his eight year old daughter in the pub in an attempt to cut his own personal household budget. This couldn’t possibly be true, could it? There is absolutely no truth to this rumour at all. Prime Minister Cameron only does budget cuts that mess with other people’s lives.
No. I actually do it in the nip.
52 | Other Stuff
Answers: 1 - Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James; 2 - The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; 3 - The Odyssey by Homer; 4 - The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; 5 - The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield
Is it true that you write this column in your pants?
Crossword created by Szeredai and Mad Cow 1 2
Vivian Darkbloom who both wrote and featured in Lolita. (8,7)
A certain Welsh singer or a Henry Fielding protagonist? (3,5)
If On A Winter’s Night A ...what? (9)
Date Joan? What a mix up for Michael. (8)
Which book relates many conflicting Judean recollections of Yehoshua? (3,5,6)
13 Laughter and Forgetting, Lightness of Being, is he some kind of Joke? (5,7)
16 Florence Williams wrote A Natural and Unnatural History of what? (7) 17 Whose atmospheric thriller uses the Russian winter as a backdrop to Snowdrops? (1,1,6) 19 Whose body did the famous HeLa cells come from? (9,5)
22 Your train had crashed into campaigning writer (9,3) 23 Portuguese writer: Girl previously following a thousand (8)
24 The ground beneath whose feet? (4,6) 25 What Anthony Powell danced to? (3,5,2,4)
June 2012 Answers
Godliness, sir, cleansed by Southern African novelist (5,7)
Sold actual rewrite of nested novel (5,5)
Remarque remarked how quiet it was here. (7,5)
Male tranny confused as author (4,6)
B O U L 7
C H O C O L
D U R
B O O K S
A W R
N N I
N C E
E Y E
B U T
W O M A N
C H R
A V O N E
O O H
M O N S
21 Under the Net writer flips up horrid music. (4,7) 22 Initially alienation follows Takahashi’s erotic ride - dreams and reality knit (5,4)
H E U
12 A suitable author? - American clamp holds grade back on Thursday (6,4)
19 Spring term above the fireplace for historical novelist (6,6)
11 The prompt for Marcel’s Remembrances. (9)
15 Which US author won the 2012 Frank O’Connor Prize for his collection of short stories? (6,9)
10 His Name actually isn’t Red, it’s this. (5,5)
14 History of a tart, we hear, is Booker prize winner (4,2,2)
F W E
Random Stuff | 53
Dear Ed Letters of the satirical variety
Dear media people in the media world, I’ve noticed that Gok Wan is now doing some bloody cookery programme on the telly. What’s up with that? I don’t know how to get in touch with him, but you’re all working in the media so you’ll probably bump into him at one of your parties. Please let him know that I went to a nude beach on my holidays and he has a fucking lot to answer for. There were heaps of people there who did not look good naked. Tell him to get his finger out. It ruined my holiday. Yours truly, D Onger Dear Editor, I’m writing because I feel people need to be warned about the dangers of reading the 50 Shades books. My husband was reading it the other night – he fell out of the bed and broke his pyjamas. When will the madness end? Yours sincerely, Mrs Hannah Jobb Dear Words With Jam, It was with great interest that I read a letter you recently published (this issue) concerning Gok Wan and his culpability for populating the nude beaches of the world with massive wobbling messes (I may be paraphrasing there, but I believe it’s in the spirit of the original). I think the answer is obvious – the programme he originally hosted was, of course, called How to Look Good Naked. Now in this program they never said – You can look good naked if you exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and work hard in the gym. No, indeed the implication was that to look good naked you had to be fat and a bit shy. People are easily influenced and this is why we now have an obesity epidemic. Hang your head in shame, Mr Wan, hang your head in shame. Your sadly, Ms I M Trim Dear Words, I think I may have something of interest to some of your previous letter writers, namely D Onger and Ms I M Trim. I used to be a giant elephant of a person after stuffing my fat face for years while sitting on my big fat arse, but I recently discovered the 50 Shades exercise plan and lost an amazing fourteen stone in two weeks. It’s a simple plan – you just read the books and wank yourself silly and Hey Presto! The weight falls off as if by magic. It’s almost as if the weight was contained entirely in my seminal fluids. The only downside is that I am much more blind than when I started off. Anyway, must dash as I’m off to a nude beach. Yours in fitness, Mr X Blubber Dear Sir, As an aspiring authour I am delighted by the success of the books
54 | Some Other Stuff
in the 50 Shades series. It shows beyond question how well written quality work will always rise to the top and that people don’t just buy poorly written drivel. It captures the mood so effortlessly, and draws us into the world of the characters. It makes us question the relationship between power, money, and academics. And most of all it’s great for fiddling with yourself. I mean, it literally has everything. Yours truly, Mrs Flick d’Bean Dear Words with Jam, In a letter you recently published (this edition) Mr X Blubber suggested that he thought perhaps all the weight he lost while on the 50 Shades exercise plan must have been contained in his seminal fluid. As I am a scientist I found myself intrigued and so I have conducted a series of very detailed experiments. I first gave a copy of the book to several people and asked them to put their ejaculate into a little specimen jar I provided. The average weight of a single shot was 10 g. Mr Blubber says he lost something in the order of 98 kg. This means he would have had to ejaculate 9,800 times in order to reduce his weight sufficiently. This seems highly unlikely, I think you’ll agree. Yours scientifically, Dr Brian Box Dear Words, A letter was published on your page earlier which tested a theory I had proposed that I’d lost fourteen stone simply through my seminal fluids while reading the 50 Shades books. He says that I would have had to shoot my muck 9,800 times in order to account for this weight loss through spunk volume alone. Theory proved, I’d say. Anyway, I have to go as I’ve got a shocking cramp in my hand. Yours in smugness, Mr X Blubber Dear Words with Jam Editor, I am absolutely appalled at the apparent lack of interest you have in the eternal souls of your readers. As Jesus himself said – No man shall play with his mickey nor woman fiddle with her foo-foo who wants to pass through the gates and enter into eternal life with Him. As we all know, anyone who enjoys reading the 50 Shades books is going directly to Hell where they will be punished, and punished, and punished, oh my, until they are shattered. Yours sincerely, Mrs Ho Lee Sweet baby Jesus on a bike, make it fucking stop, Ed
Horoscopes by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith There are many people out there who say that you make your own luck. Of course, those who say this are generally lucky. People who lose their shirt on what seemed like a safe investment in the same week their partner runs off and who then go on to be hit by a bit of falling debris from a satellite tend not to agree with this tenet. These things happen because luck is, of course, random. However, there are ways in which you can make yourself more attractive to luck. Different star signs innately attract different types of luck – which type is yours? Read on, star children…
LEO One of the most important weapons in the Leonianinst luck arsenal is the humble potato. This is especially potent in the love department. Simply take a potato, wash, peel and halve it and then vigorously rub your genitals with it for two hours and forty five minutes precisely twice a day every day and luck will flow into your love life. Also, if you have any digestion problems merely pop a raw King Edward of no less than three inches in diameter up your back passage and leave it there for a week to see how you get on – if you do this there’s a good chance you could be lucky enough to meet dreamy Doctor Christian off Embarrassing Bodies on the telly.
VIRGO Although you Virgonianists usually let your heart rule your head your luck is always bound numerically, with a colour, and with a place. Once these three things align you can’t lose. This month your lucky colour is pink, the number is 286, and the place is the Town Hall. So go, Virgonianists, go win the fuck out of that raffle.
LIBRA As Libranianists always seek a balance you will be aware that for every ying, there’s a yang – for every lucky glimpse you catch through people’s windows of them getting undressed, there’s an unlucky court case. Repel bad luck from you easily by having the words ‘I am not a pervert’ tattooed on your forehead and watch your luck change.
SCORPIO This month is a tricky one for attracting good luck to you Scorpionianists as bad luck seems to be clustering around your words. But there is a way to ward off this bad luck. Simply hawk and
spit after every sentence you speak and you’ll be fine. Remember, the more important the person you’re talking to, the bigger and greener it will be necessary for the hocker to be, otherwise the bad luck will overtake you.
lucky bits in no time at all and remember – the harder you rub, the luckier you’ll be.
Luck for Saggitarianists is always bound up in talismans and some of these have become quite famous. In order for you to be lucky at work simply get yourself a lucky rabbit’s foot. However, remember the foot has to be fresh so why not keep a few rabbits at home and just hack off one of their legs before you go out to do any business, as people who run pet shops can be real sticklers about calling the Police if you try and hack one off in the car park outside their shop.
All Ariesianists are logically minded and you’ll find the secret of attracting luck to you is in complex numerical patterns – for example, when you are playing Roulette all you have to do to be assured of victory every time is time how quickly the ball spins on the outer circle and then merely use it’s decaying orbit to calculate its vector and inward velocity (not forgetting to take into account the rolling resistance of the surface) while also considering the opposite velocity of the spinning inner circle where the numbers are while allowing for the radial irregularities and Bob’s your factorial Uncle – everyone will marvel at your luck!
A lot of you Capricornianists go through your entire lives without ever being aware that you are incredibly lucky when it comes to long odds gambling. Of course, what many of you don’t realise is that in order for the luck to be attracted to you there is one thing you need to do – bet everything! That’s right, as soon as you put your house and your car and your business on the line luck will be attracted to you like silicon salesman is to Essex. But a word of caution – make sure you stand to lose absolutely everything or luck may look the other way and you’ll look like a twat.
While you Taurusianists will find it difficult to attract the kind of luck that will bring you love or money, you are born with the ability to attract the kind of luck that always guarantees lucky escapes – if you don’t believe this why not put on a blindfold and then jog across your local motorway. You’ll see for yourself just how lucky you can be most of the time. And if you get hurt it will only be because you don’t believe enough.
AQUARIUS Aquaiusianists are unique in the Zodiac because you are able to call luck to you vocally in important situations. Once you know the ancient incantation your luck will be boundless. Simply stand tall, holding your arms out parallel to the ground and shout as loudly as you can the Sumarian words – Leek-a-mi-tee-dees – six times and just watch how impressed that job interview panel will be.
PISCES All you Piscesianists carry your luck within yourselves, inside your very bodies. The only minor drawback is that the release point is not always in the same place and so some experimentation may be necessary. Begin with the most common places that act as luck magnets – the groin and the chest areas. Why not go into a betting shop and make a wager on a race and then try rubbing your lucky parts while the event is being run – you’ll find your
GEMINI The type of luck that you Geminianists have is more subtle – you always seem to have a jacket with you when it suddenly gets cold on a Spring afternoon and you are never without an umbrella when it suddenly chucks it down contrary to all forecasts. It’s not going to make you millions, but them’s the breaks.
CANCER Traditionally the unluckiest of all the star children, you may feel that as a Cancerianist you have been dealt the short end of the stick in the luck department. But that’s not true – you are lucky without even having to try. The innate luck attractor that lives in you is the very thing that stops the top biscuit in a pack being broken, and always ensures there’s an extra roll of toilet paper in easy reach when you suddenly shit your brains out unexpectedly while on a day trip to a museum. So that’s something, isn’t it?
Some Other Stuff | 55
Overall Prize Pot £1500
1st prize in each category - £300 2nd prize in each category - £100 3rd prize in each category - £50 Our Annual Short Story Competition just got BIGGER. Not only do we have our usual 2500 word Short Story Category, but now we have a Shorter Story Category for stories up to 1000 words and a Shortest Story Category for stories up to 250 words. 5 runners up in each category will be published in the first volume of our Short Story Anthology (of which they will receive a copy), and awarded £10. Closing Date: 31st October 2012 Entry Fee: £6 and £4 per entry thereafter Results: All winning entries will be published in the February 2013 issue of Words with JAM.
Judges: Short Story Judge (up to 2500 words): Jane Fallon www.janefallon.co.uk
Shorter Story Judge (up to 1000 words): Benjamin Myers www.benmyers.com
Shortest Story Judge (max 250 words): Zoë Fairbairns www.zoefairbairns.co.uk
For more information visit: www.wordswithjam.co.uk/ shortstorycompetition2012
Published on Jul 31, 2012
Yep, no mention of empty seats or dodgy Paul McCartney performances here. We focus on far loftier pursuits at WWJ Towers, like Derek trying...