Sticky, but not in a bad way
Julie Myerson on writing fiction and non-fiction, writing anonymously, dealing with public scrutiny, and warm doughnuts ...
NEW Exclusive Content for Print Subscribers
Mark Billingham, author of the Thorne crime series, in conversation with Gillian Hamer 60 Seconds with the
Guardian’s literary editor Claire Armitstead Just the Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts by Derek Duggan
What Editors Want Twenty-four editors have kindly explained what they are looking for this year, giving a fascinating insight into the commissioning mind
An interview with author of the Peter Pan sequel Peter Pan in Scarlet,
Hello, I’m Here to Help February | March 2012
with Dan Holloway
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Contents PRINT ISSUE EXCLUSIVES 26
A Question of Justice by Jo Reed. A senior detective has been brutally murdered in his hospital bed. For newly promoted DI Philippa Grant, it’s a bad start to the day. As she struggles to earn the respect of her team and work out the identity of the next victim, the killer is closing in. Then, she uncovers information that could end her career, and realises that justice and the law do not always go hand in hand. NEW Centrefold Poster
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Editor’s Desk Find it Here, Buy it Here - Catriona Troth on Indie Bookshops, and JJ Marsh interviews Julia Wieler, the marketing manager of Orell Füssli The Bookshop, Zurich. The Good, The Bad, and The Muddled - Libraries at the start of 2012, with The Library Cat Mary Sue, Is That You? by Danny Gillan Book V Television - A conversation with Thorne crime series author Mark Billingham Julie Myerson - JD Smith interviews author of both fiction and non-fiction, columnist for the Guardian and the centre of a media controversy, Julie Myerson 60 Second Interviews with the Guardian’s literary editor Claire Armitstead and children’s author John Hudspith Less Than Nothing - procrastinating with Perry Iles So, tell me about your book or, how not to get an interesting interview - by Dan Holloway Just the Facts, Ma’am Just the Facts ... by Derek Duggan The Vital and Rich World of Non-Fiction. The personal view of an unwitting aficionado by Anne Stormont Bad Parent, Good Writing? by Patrick Toland The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust including an interview with author of Peter Pan in Scarlet Geraldine McCaughrean Carver’s Couch on Gender-Related Differences in Reading Habits A Cheery Little Tale by Helen Summer
Comp Corner - be in with a chance to win a copy of Julie Myerson’s Then
Quite Short Stories and Poetry 34 26
Poetry by Maroula Blades EXCLUSIVE PRINT ISSUE CONTENT A Question of Justice by Jo Reed
Pencilbox 36 38 42 43 44 46 47 48 49
The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Meg Davis What Editors Want - Twenty-four editors have kindly explained what they are looking for this year, giving a fascinating insight into the commissioning mind Submitting Non-Fiction - by Helen Corner Hello, I’m Here to Help by Dan Holloway Whose Story is this? A look at viewpoint with Sarah Bower Scripts: Stranger than Fiction - by Ola Zaltin Question Corner - Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing Synopsis Doc - with Sheila Bugler What We Think of Some Books
Some other stuff 52 53 54 54 55 55 56
Guess the Book Crossword Dear Ed - Letters of the satirical variety The Rumour Mill - sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite Horoscopes - by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith If in Doubt, Invent Your Own - a new initiative ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’ by Matt Shaw
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. Cli nical psychologist Sue Carver is serving a long apprenticeship in novelwriting. Her aphorism is: it takes as long as it takes. Her first novel is set in the world of psychological therapy and her second takes her far out of her comfort zone. She has published poetry under her maiden surname: Leppard, but she wasn’t made in Sheffield and, although she has wide tastes in music, she much prefers Raymond to Def. 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 In June Dan’s novel The Company of Fellows was voted “favourite Oxford novel” in a poll of readers from Blackwell’s bookstore. On July 28th he took part in Blackwell’s Rising Stars panel alongside authors Naomi Wood, Nikesh Shukla and Stuart Evers, and on October 18th is being handed the use of the Oxford store’s world-famous Norrington Room to host the spoken word event This Is Oxford. 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. 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 JJ Marsh - writer, teacher, newt. www.jjmarsh.wordpress.com Matt Shaw - author, cartoonist, photographer, hermit, Billy-No-Mates. www. mattshawpublications.co.uk 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
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Ed and I did our usual wine-pizza-steak-chips and nachos fuelled weekend at the Wigtown Book Festival. At one of the events Julie chatted to the host about her previous work, her current book, and how she dealt with the explosion of media headlines dubbing her ‘the worst mother in Britain’. Listening to Julie talk not only about her writing but how it has affected
Is it ever too late to say Happy New Year? We’re now at the
her life, the judgement of others, and the people who wrote
end of January/early February, depending on how quick the
telling how much her book and the honesty of it helped
Royal Mail is and how long it takes you to reach my editor’s
them, it seemed to me only fitting that we should ask Julie to
note. The team at WWJ Towers has been busy. 2012 is our
participate in this, our first non-fiction themed issue.
year (they all are, let’s face it) and we’re going to give you even more.
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.
As always, it doesn’t stop there. Crime novelist Mark Billingham is in conversation with Gillian Hamer, we have 60
Not only do print subscribers now get a free and incredibly
Seconds with the Guardian’s literary editor Claire Armitstead
cool WWJ mug, but they also get six pages of exclusive
and children’s author John Hudspith. Plus an interview with
content. And fear not, if you have a free online subscription,
author of Peter Pan in Scarlet Geraldine McCaughrean.
there’s still plenty to be had in the magazine, so much so
Catriona Troth gives us the first library update of 2012. Perry
you’ll notice my editor’s desk has shrunk to just one page in
Iles procrastinates some more and Derek Duggan goes all
order to accommodate the wealth of articles we have lined up
factual. Andrew Lownie has kindly let us reprint his list of what
editors are looking for in 2012 in a special What Editors Want
I first came across our cover author Julie Myerson, not through the media controvery surrounding her book The Lost Child, as
feature. Synopsis Doc is back with Sheila Bugler. And Helen Corner talks about submitting non-fiction.
many of you will have, nor because of her Guardian column
There’s more, but not enough room to list it all here, so check
Living with Teenagers. In October last year the Deputy
out the contents. Enjoy!
Diary of a Small Fish by Pete Morin, read by the author
No, not those kind of mug shots. We posted quite a few mugs in December, both to new print subscribers and those who simply couldn’t wait to get their mitts on one. Some of you were so enthusiastic about your new mug that you posted pictures on our Facebook wall ...
Our first podcast of 2012 is the opening of Pete Morin’s fabulous legal thriller, Diary of a Small Fish, read by the author. When Paul Forte is indicted by a federal grand jury, everyone suspects prosecutor Bernard (don’t call him “Bernie”) Kilroy has more on his mind than justice. Then the FBI agent in charge of Paul’s case gives him a clue to the mystery: Kilroy is bent on settling an old family score, and he’s not above breaking the law to do it. Paul is already dealing with the death of his parents and divorce from a woman he still loves. Now, with the support of an alluring grand juror, Paul must expose the vindictive prosecutor’s own corruption before the jury renders a verdict on his Osso Buco. Diary of a Small Fish is published in paperback and as an ebook.
Santa Never Made It, by Liza Perrat Christmas Day, 1974. Australians woke to the news that tropical cyclone Tracy had devastated the town of Darwin in Northern Territory. 71 people had been killed and over 70% of Darwin’s buildings destroyed. But for 12 year old Wendy, the storm was to have quite different consequences.
Kimi’s Secret by John Hudspith, read by JJ Marsh Wanna hear something really scary? When death comes knocking on your door there is really only one place to hide. Dragged screaming to the paranormal world of Heart, where ghosts are real, big cats prowl, aliens are greylians, monkeys rule, trolls troll, fairies are vermin, the Adepts always know best, magic is mojo and roasted dodo is the dish of the day; Kimi Nichols is handed a secret that must never be revealed. To do so would mean the end of mankind. WARNING: contains imploding toads, gravity-defying clowns, liquefied brains, a sadistic dentist and a deformed taxidermist; great dollops of blood and bogies, half a million crows, and a giant with OCD. Gothic horror meets supernatural sci-fi; Kimi’s Secret will leave you gagging, breathless and sleeping with the light on. Suitable for grinning little monsters aged 10 to 100. To find out more, find Kimi’s Secret on Facebook or you can buy the book from Amazon, as a paperback or for Kindle.
Find it Here, Buy it Here by Catriona Troth
or one day, just before Christmas, Amazon US ran a campaign. Customers were offered a five percent discount off certain items if they scanned the price in a bricks-and mortar-shop and then shared the price and the shop location with Amazon. Though the campaign did not explicitly include books, independent booksellers were outraged. The American Booksellers Association called it “a cheesy marketing move.” Bookshops across the country hit back, offering deeper discounts if customers would buy from them. Back when Amazon was new and shiny and we still had an independent bookshop on our high street, I used to do things the other way round. Amazon’s search engine was so good, I could find the books I wanted with a few clicks of the mouse. But then I would take title, author and ISBN number down the road to the bookshop, and they would order it for me. Then first Ottakers and then Waterstone’s took over. And I began to find that, when I took my ISBN number to the till, the assistants would look at their computers, shake their heads and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have that.’ And thus began my slide into bad habits. Yes, I admit it. I’m an Amazon user. I try to resist. I look for books in my local branch of Waterstone’s. I check the online catalogue for my county library. But if I want a book that’s been published more than a couple of years ago, as often as not, I won’t find it. And Amazon just make it so easy. A couple of clicks and the book can be on its way to me. Obscure books. Books that have been out of print for years. And that’s before I even get started on ebooks. So I am part of the long decline that has resulted in a net closure of more than 380 independent bookshops in the UK in the past five years – 25% of the total – and more than 800 high street bookshops altogether*. Just in the last six months, iconic bookshops such as The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill (made famous by Richard Curtis’s film) and the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth (once owned by Christopher Robin Milne) have closed. According to Experian, by last summer 580 towns in the UK had no bookshop at all – a figure that continues to rise week on week.
*according to figures published by the said, “The frankly insane rental prices in Booksellers Association in August 2011. London may be great for landlords, but are And it’s not just in the UK. Toronto crippling many small businesses, and workers may have partly won its fight against library alike.” closures, but it is about to lose its oldest Thirdly, into this toxic mix, you now throw independent bookshop, The Book Mark. ebooks, which many high street bookshops are According to unable to sell. figures from I wanted to The Portas Review into the future the American find out for myself of the High Street in the UK, Booksellers how some of the Association, 500 remaining 1100 or which reported last December, independent so UK independent recommended reduced rates and bookshops have bookshops are rent to “balance out” the difference closed in the past surviving. decade (more than Janet Stewart between high street and internet one in five). In is the manager retailers, business rate relief for Australia, the loss of the Gerrards small businesses and some provision of both Borders Cross Bookshop in and Angus & Buckinghamshire, for free parking. The report was Robertson has left which featured enthusiastically received by the many areas without on the Sky Arts Booksellers Association, who said a bricks and mortar Book Programme bookshop. last year as Robert there was “no time to waste” in The details Lindsay’s favourite implementing its recommendations. vary from country bookshop. Stewart to country but began in the trade broadly, there are three distinct pressures that eighteen years ago, in the last days of the Net are contributing to the squeeze on booksellers Book Agreement. around the English-speaking globe. “The business has changed massively in Firstly, there is cut-throat competition that time. When I began we sold just books, within the industry itself. In Britain, this nothing else. Now we’ve diversified into selling began around 1995 with the collapse of the gifts and cards. That’s a huge part of our Net Book Agreement, which used to set fixed business.” prices for books. This opened the door for They usually have their cards on display the discounting of books and, to begin with, outside the shop, which draws people in. gave an advantage to book chains, who could “There will always be people who are daunted negotiate deals with publishers for bulk sales. by an independent bookshop, because it’s small Then the chains began to have to compete and they feel as if they are there being judged with supermarkets, who only sold best-sellers (which of course they’re not). But then you but who could discount even more. And then talk to them and they realise they are not going along came Amazon, with a global reach and to have to have a conversation with us about the capacity to out-discount everyone. Proust!” Secondly, bookshops, like other high street One comparatively recent change she has stores, are finding themselves subject to ever seen is the range of customers who are now higher rents and rates/property taxes, while internet shopping. “Everyone from five to out-of-town stores like supermarkets often get eighty-five is going on-line and looking for the better deals. This has been cited as a major best deals, or buying ebooks. This year, for the factor in closures of shops in Britain, the US first time, we saw the impact on our summer and Canada. Writing in the Guardian last reading market. Amazon are every bookshop’s summer, Nick Gorecki of Housman’s Bookshop biggest competitor, without a doubt. You can’t
Indiebound is a campaign started by the American Booksellers Association and now spreading to the UK, Australia and New Zealand, which hopes to reverse that slide. It uses the tag line ‘Find it here. Buy it here. Keep books on the High Street.’ Indiebound brings together booksellers, readers, indie retailers, local business alliances, and anyone else with a passionate belief that healthy local economies help communities thrive. As their bookmark (pictured) shows, by shopping on your local high street, you help keep money in the local economy, help the environment, promote choice – and much, much more. 6 | Random Stuff
beat them. You can’t even begin to compete.” Where they can still compete is through personal service. They know their customers and tailor their stock to match their interests. And they build up personal relationships with them. While I am there, a customer comes in who has recently lost her husband. Both the staff members immediately go and talk to her, and their condolences are clearly heartfelt. Gerrards Cross Bookshop uses both the two main UK book wholesalers, Gardners and Bertrams. I wonder how easy it is for them to supply books published by one of the small independent publishers; so we test a few. Those we look for are not listed on Bertrams at all. Most are listed on Gardners, but shown as out of stock. Stewart explains that they could place a special order with Gardners, which would take about ten days to come, but if she were only ordering one or two copies, the terms would be so poor she would make next to nothing from the sale. Small wonder, then, if – as Boyd Tonkin pointed out in the Independent – some independent bookshops are resorting to sourcing individual books from Amazon or Abebooks, because they can get them more cheaply that way than if they buy directly from publishers or from suppliers like Gardners or Bertrams. Down the road in Chorleywood,
In the UK, Gardners, the books suppliers, launched a website called Hive in June 2011, selling book and ebooks. Hive allows customers to nominate their local independent bookshop, who then get a small percentage of each sale made. “I think we made about £4 out of it last month,” Sheryl Shurville tells me. “And that was probably on ten transactions.” And as Hive are also offering print books at a discount to customers, it is hard to tell if bookshops are not losing as much as they gain. In the US, Indiebound provides an Indiebound Reader app, which allows readers to purchase Google ebooks directly from independent bookstores, via their websites. The revenue share for the booksellers seems to be about 30-40%, which makes this look a significantly better deal – particularly as Google does not compete with booksellers for the sale of print books.
Hertfordshire, Gerrards Cross’s sister bookshop is owned and run by Sheryl Shurville and Morag Watkins. The Chorleywood Bookshop has been open for 40 years and (by chance) always been run by women. Shurville has been at the shop for ten years, and was joined by Watkins (a former librarian) five years ago. One impact they have seen from aggressive discounting is an increasingly narrow focus on bestsellers and bestseller lists. The effect of this is particularly stark in children’s literature. Publishers are now reluctant to sign anyone who isn’t going to produce a blockbuster. “The range is closing in all the time.” Amazon, they admit, is good if you know exactly what you want. “But what if you just want to buy a book for an eight year old?” Without independent bookshops, they say, “there will be no showcase for new writers, or for new books from midlist writers.” Daniel Johns, the owner of University Bookseller in Plymouth, writing in the Guardian, made a similar point: “The number of books being published has increased exponentially and there is no way that the customers will discover all of the books that become available. The media will only cover the limited number that the publishers can convince them the market will go for in a big way.” All of which makes it easy to understand why writers who have failed to make the big time are finding themselves dropped once their initial two book contract is complete. One of the joys of an independent bookshop is the quirky individuality that comes from being free to choose your own stock. “All the books that sold really well for us last year were books that our staff recommended themselves,” Shurville tells me. “If the big chains recommend something, it’s because the publishers have paid them to do so. When we recommend something – it’s because we’ve read it and we like it.” They do a lot to promote new and local authors, in the shop and through Literary Festivals. But when I ask them about selfpublished authors, the look they exchange is telling. “We do take books from self-published authors, on sale and return,” Watkins admits. “And some are very good. But some are awful, just dreadful. You could never promote them. The look of some of the books… We try to be encouraging, but it’s hard.” eBooks are another problem. “We’d love to be able to sell ebooks for download, says Watson. “But the publishers make it very difficult. And nobody’s devised a way to let a customer download an ebook while they’re in the shop.” “Independent bookshops are being squeezed out of all sorts of deals,” Shurville says. “Publishers are offering books for sale on their own websites more cheaply than we can buy them. The same applies to the special editions sold by discount chains like The Book
People.” “We used to sell a lot of books to schools,” adds Watson, “but there again, the publishers now go directly into schools and offer them more discount than they offer us.” Their answer is to fight tooth and nail to remain a vital part of the community. They run author events, including an annual literary festival. They do book promotions in schools and old people’s homes, deliver regularly to disabled customers, and organise and participate in two – soon to be three – book groups. They’ve had authors (and, once, an editor) come to the book groups. Once they organised a Meet the Author event via Skype with a writer in America. “We’re always looking for new ways to reach people and build relationships.” That willingness to reach out to the community doesn’t stop with the bookshop. They were the driving force behind the village’s Christmas late night shopping event, and they’re now trying to organise a French market. “We don’t sleep. We don’t stop. It’s quite tough, really,” Shurville jokes. It sounds like an understatement. There is no doubt that times are hard for independent bookshops. But maybe, just maybe, there is a little change in the wind. According to the Booksellers’ Christmas Trading Survey, many shops reported that customers, influenced by the Portas Report and the Indiebound scheme, were making a point of buying from their high street shops in the run up to Christmas. 2012 will no doubt be another difficult year. But if those of us who can afford it make a point of shopping locally where we can, maybe we can make it just a little less hard.
The Bookseller has announced the search for the best independent bookshop of 2012. Over the next few editions, we’ll be writing about some of our favourites, and we’d like you to let us know about yours. If you submit a short review and we publish it, we’ll give you a £5 national book token – to be spent in your local bookshop, of course.
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JJ Marsh Interviews ...
Julia Wieler, the marketing manager of Orell Füssli The Bookshop, Zurich. The largest English bookshop on the European continent Can you start by describing your job? I’m Marketing Manager. I’m responsible for the four print catalogues we produce each year, for contact with publishers in Britain and America and for the window displays. (The bookshop windows stretch around one of the busiest corners of central Zürich, always attractive and intriguing – think Harrods or Bloomingdales, but books.) The whole management team decide on what themes or books we like and brief the decorators. We sometimes sell window space to publishers we meet at the London or Frankfurt Book Fairs, but we keep the big windows because we like to be free to do what we like in there. I do our online marketing; the newsletter to 7,000 readers and updating our Facebook page with news, competitions to win signed books and gadgets.
How do you decide which books to buy? The book fair, and our distributor here is OLF, based in Fribourg, which is where we order most of our stock. Their sales rep visits and presents all the forthcoming titles. UK publishing reps also visit and we meet those from the US at the fairs. We’re eager to discover debut authors, which is why we have a special window spot – our Pick of the Month – we sell those at a discount because people are taking a risk. We’ve discovered a lot of brilliant books this way.
Which book has excited you most this year? The Night Circus. I usually read crime, but I was really amazed by this. It’s such a magical story, I couldn’t stop reading. I was enchanted by it and sad when I finished. A big discovery for the publishing house and for us. All the staff here are all so different, but everyone liked it.
The publishing world is undergoing some major changes at the moment. Which elements make you optimistic, and which make you depressed? Hmm, the optimistic part is hard. I read so much that depresses me. Amazon is a big threat to bookshops and also to publishers. If authors decide to publish with Amazon, these books will never be available through regular bookshops. That’s sad. Not everyone orders online and people will miss out on great books.
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What’s exciting is the concept of e-books. Although they’re a rival to the regular book, I love the idea of carrying 3000 books in your pocket. Technology is now advancing and we could sell e-books at the shop, advising readers who come in with their device, who can buy it there and then. That way, you still need staff who’ve read the book and have opinions. We have to evolve with the times rather than being scared of new developments.
Do you ever stock self-published books? We do. We get approached by a lot of authors, but there’s rarely a book that excites me. Very often, the covers are just not appealing, no sparkle, no reason to buy it. It’s always difficult for me to say no because I know there’s a lot of work involved, even if it’s not good. And after all, it’s a question of taste. It’s not my place to tell the writer if it has mistakes, if the language is horrible, but I can’t stock it. What we sell reflects on us as a bookshop. But I do have a soft spot for these writers, so I sometimes take a consignment for three months. We don’t guarantee it’s always on display, but it’s available to buy. After that, I contact the author and say I need more, or, I’m sorry, they’re not selling. Some understand, others get angry because they feel we haven’t pushed it enough. I get upset when people don’t realise that we have a small shop, thousands of titles but give someone a chance who’s only sold two copies in three months. Currently, Tasneem Ahmad’s Indian-Pakistani Cuisine Made Easy is selling well. In fact, she’s doing an event here tonight. A success story.
What kind of books do you read for pleasure? I think I have male tastes. I love books by Lee Child, Vince Flynn, John le Carré, Daniel Silva, whenever it’s a spy story or the hero has the touch of the lonesome cowboy the books appeal to me. For me, reading their books is like watching a movie.
Look out for Orell Füssli events on their website http://www.books.ch/ home, or check out the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/ TheBookshopOrellFuessli
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FISH POETRY PRIZE 2012 €1,000 1st Prize Second Prize - a week at Anam Cara Writers & Artists Retreat in West Cork’s Beara Peninsula. Judge: Billy Collins. The ten best poems will be published in the 2012 Fish Anthology. Word limit 200. Opens 1 August 2011. Closes 30 March 2012. Results announced 30 April 2012. Entry €14. Critique €30
FISH FLASH FICTION PRIZE 2012 €1,000 1st Prize Judge: Michael Collins. The ten best stories will be published in the 2012 Fish Anthology. Word limit 300. Opens 1 August 2011. Closes 20 March 2012. Results announced 30 April 2012. Entry €14. Critique €30 Recent Winners: Fish Poetry Contest 2011. Winner Ken Taylor, Poem “string theory”. Rawleigh Durham, N.C. USA Fish One-Page Prize 2011 Winner Seamus Scanlon, story “The Long Wet Grass”. Originally from Galway, Ireland, Seamus lives in New York City. Online Entry, info and writing courses www.fishpublishing.com
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Next closing date 31stJuly 2012
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The Good, The Bad ... and the Muddled Libraries at the start of 2012 by Catriona Troth, the Library Cat
he verdict of the appeal hearing into the planned closure of Brent Libraries must have come as a shock to the Save Our Six Libraries Campaign. For a few days – after the hearing into the closure of Somerset and Gloucester Libraries had supported campaigners and sent those Councils back to the drawing board – they must have scented victory. All the more galling, then, to hear the Appeal Court Judge uphold the original ruling in favour of Brent Council’s closure plans. Campaigners have vowed to fight on, but the signs are not good. On 29th December, police held back a handful of protestors at Preston
Library, as council workers removed the last remaining books and computers from the building. At Kensal Rise, however, the pop-up library they have been running since October is still defiantly operating, outside the locked library building. The wooden frame I saw being constructed is now stocked with boxes of books. Roofed with corrugated plastic and floored with Astroturf, it provides a rudimentary shelter for the dogged band of volunteers who keep it going. For a time, they even had their own library cat, who would curl up on their laps to keep them warm. They have asked leave to appeal again, this time to the Supreme Court. And in the meantime, they have submitted a revised business plan to the council, asking to be allowed to run the library themselves. Sal Yousaf attended the meeting in April when they presented their first business case to the council. “Their response was ‘these plans are unworkable; you will never be able to run this library.’” Brent Council seem to have taken an attitude of ‘if we can’t run the library, then nobody shall.’ Their stance seems surprising when so many other councils are shoehorning communities into taking over. But perhaps it is not so strange when you take into account their political affiliation. As a Labour Council, they can’t be seen to support the Coalition’s ‘Big Society’ Policy and allow volunteers to run their own services. “We don’t want volunteers running services either,” says Margaret Bailey, one of the leaders of the Save Kensal Rise Library Campaign. “But if it’s a choice between that and having no service at all…” There is clearly a feeling among the volunteers that this is a very special community. “Can you imagine anywhere else where you could just leave all this out overnight and find it still here in the morning?” Raymond Glendenning says, arms spread wide to encompass the racks
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of books and DVDs on display. If any community has shown by its efforts that it deserves to hold on to its library, it’s surely this one. A few miles down the road, in Lewisham, a report on the libraries outsourced last summer to non-profit organizations (including Age Concern and Eco Computer Systems) showed that both lending and visits had plummeted in the first three months of operation, in some cases by almost 90%. However, this covered a period where all five libraries were suffering from teething problems with new equipment and when many residents had not yet realised that the libraries had reopened. Results after six months should give a better picture of how the libraries are really faring. Meanwhile, at the end of December, Buckinghamshire County Council and Great Missenden Library Working Group issued a press release announcing that they had “agreed to develop a partnership model to save 50% of the libraries operating costs and also retain a level of Buckinghamshire County Council staff, supported by volunteers.” What is not clear is where this leaves those libraries in Bucks – like Chalfont St Peter and Farnham Common – that have already been handed over entirely to volunteers. Or others like Gerrards Cross and Ivinghoe, that expect to go the same way over the next few months. In the midst of this confused picture, a Select Committee of MPs has been collecting evidence on what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century, the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964, the impact library closures have on local communities, and the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention. The deadline for submitting evidence passed on 12th January, so we’ll be keeping an eye on what happens during the next stage of the inquiry.
Don’t forget. NATIONAL LIBRARIES DAY will take place on 4th February. You can find out more about what is going on in your area by going to http://www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk/ Photographs: Upper Left - carol concert at Kensal Rise Library copyright Roland Glendenning, Lower Right - completed library shelter outside Kensal Rise Library
Mary Sue, Is That You? by Danny Gillan
Are you self-obsessed, vain, overly aware of the flaws of others yet almost pathologically unable to spot the negative aspects of your own personality? Congratulations, you’re fully qualified to be a writer! ‘Write what you know’ is, generally, good advice for writers, but how about ‘write who you know’? It’s a commonly held, and probably accurate, belief that most writers, certainly in their early work, base their main characters at least in part on themselves. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach – it can be a great way to make the character’s thoughts and actions feel natural and believable. After all, who do you know better than yourself? Well, lots of people, actually. Most people, not just writers, don’t know themselves half as well as they might think. We think we’re aware of how the rest of the world sees us, but are we really? Given that pretty much everyone else on the planet regularly act like dicks, it’s likely, inevitable even, that we do, too. Except, in our own heads, we don’t, do we? We’re smart, self-aware and, above all else, good people who do the right thing all the time and are never to blame when the jobbies get lobbed at the Dyson Blade. Someone else is always at fault, not us. It’s just how our brains work. If we were all to acknowledge our dickishness suicide rates would be a lot higher. It’s a survival mechanism. Realistically, I can think of half a dozen instances where I’ve acted like an arse in the last 24 hours, and I’ve spent most of that time at home alone. Having just been honest enough to say that, I shall now go back to convincing myself I haven’t been an arse at all and it was all someone else’s fault. See? Hardwired. And it’s this species-wide character deficit/only-way-we-can-lookat-ourselves-in-the-mirror-of-a-morning that is dangerous territory for writers. If, deep down, we know were writing about ourselves, it’s very tempting to allow that never-a-dick-and-always-right instinct to infect our protagonist. Worse, it can infect all the supporting characters too, so that they never seem to notice when the lead character is being a twat, even when they are clearly being a twat. And this is when we enter Mary Sue land. The term Mary Sue came from the world of Fan-Fiction, specifically Star Trek Fan-Fiction, and was used to describe a ‘new’ character who is a clearly idealised version of the author and who has a massive impact on the lives of the established ‘canon’ characters. They’re highly intelligent, attractive and resourceful and end up saving the day and getting the girl/guy/Wesley Crusher. Their magnificence makes all other characters pale into oblivion and they have no flaws. All the other characters come to love/worship them and every single thing that happens in the story only occurs to show this Mary Sue for the paragon of perfection she/he is. It’s wish-fulfilment posing as fiction. Like all good sci-fi threats, the Mary Sue virus has escaped from its indigenous home and now casts its hideous shadow over the world of original fiction. It doesn’t take very long to spot numerous examples of Mary Sueness in unpublished works on writing sites all over the land of web. The hero or heroine who never deserves the bad luck thrown at them, who is a secret genius, star athlete, catwalk model in waiting or, worst of all, unrecognised but unnervingly talented writer - they’re all out there, and they’re all rubbish. If you’re going to base a character on yourself, you need to embrace your inner arsehole and let it shine! Don’t write them as you wish you were, write them as you actually are – as big a dick as everyone else. That way, readers might just find something about them they like and, deep down, can identify with.
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
‘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 Available from all good bookshops, Amazon or direct from http://www.wildwolfpublishing.com
Wild Wolf Publishing Fiction with Teeth
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Book v Television:
A Conversation with Mark Billingham by Gillian Hamer
This month we gather the views of another acclaimed crime writer and discuss their journey from novel to small screen. Mark Billingham was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. After working as a television writer and stand-up comedian, his first crime novel, Sleepyhead, was published in 2001. It went on to achieve worldwide sales and was published in the US in the summer of 2002. The London-based series of detective novels starring detective Tom Thorne continued with enormous success – the latest, Good as Dead, was published in August 2011. Mark is also the author of a standalone novel, In the Dark, as well as a series of children’s thrillers, Triskellion, written under the pseudonym of Will Peterson. In 2010 Sky One released the first series of Tom Thorne drama serials, with David Morrissey starring as the lead role. The second series is currently in production. So, with all of these different talents under his belt, what are his thoughts about this change of direction in his career.
How were you first approached about the TV adaptation of your Tom Thorne novels and what were your initial thoughts/fears? The books were first optioned about ten years ago, when only two had been written. I remember being excited but having worked for many years in TV as a writer, I was not overly-optimistic about having any role in the project myself. The series was then re-optioned several times and disappeared into development hell. A script was produced, which I hated…and that was about it until I finally got the rights back and then once I teamed up with David Morrissey, we decided to work together with a broadcaster ourselves.
You’re Birmingham born and bred but chose to base your Tom Thorne novels in London. How do you think the sense of place comes across on TV compared to your books? I think the TV series showed a different side of the city to the books (notably east as opposed to north London) but it worked really well, I think. We tried to show old and new London, cheek by jowl. We shot a lot of it around the Olympic site. What I wanted to come across was Thorne’s love/hate relationship with the city and I think we did that.
You’re quoted as saying that you know as little or as much about your central character as does the reader, and that you never describe him physically and strive to make him unpredictable. How do you feel David Morrissey’s portrayal mirrors the character in your head? I think David very much made Thorne his own; drawing on what was in the books and using it to create a character that was as much his as mine. He created a lot of back-story for Thorne which is not there in the books – some of which I may steal for future books!
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How much of yourself did you write into your lead character, and is it therefore odd watching the role on television? I never really believe writers who deny that there is anything of themselves in their characters. There is a lot of me in Thorne, but by the time that was reflected through the prism of the script and David’s performance it did not feel at all like I was seeing aspects of myself. Thorne probably has characteristics that I WISH I had…
During my research, I read that the novel, Scaredy Cat, came about following your own experience as a victim of crime in 1997. How did it then feel to see the novel on television? As it happens, the strand of that novel that was based on what happened to me did not make it into the final version of the TV script. That experience though has coloured a lot of my writing, so perhaps it was in there somewhere…
When you watch the TV adaptations, do you see the evolution of Thorne’s character, and your hopes to keep him constantly changing, in the same way as you achieve in the novels? I certainly hope so. Any character that does not change or grow is in danger of becoming dull and that goes for the books as much as the TV adaptations. I know David is keen to take the character into darker areas, so we’ll see how that goes.
What do you think are the key points needed to create a successful detective character? Well obviously what most crime writers do is to create a “heightened” realism. Murders are rarely investigated in the manner portrayed in fiction, but within that there needs to be a character with whom the reader can empathise to a point. For me, I want characters who are as unpredictable as anybody else. I don’t need my hero to behave heroically. Which of us does the right thing all the time? And I want him to SOUND real. It’s all in the dialogue and if that’s bogus then I’m not interested.
With SKY recently showing the first Tom Thorne series, and a second series underway, how much involvement do you have in the actual TV production? Would your choice be for more or less? I was always of the “keep a wide berth” school, until we made Thorne and having been so closely involved, that is the way I would want to carry on. I enjoyed being involved in casting, seeing scripts at every stage, watching rushes every day and visiting the set. There’s a point at which the writer needs to back off, obviously, but I certainly want to be as involved on any future productions.
You’re quoted as saying there has to be changes in bringing the books to screen. How do you feel TV as a
Photograph by Charlie Hopkinson ©
medium handles complex plots and storylines in crime fiction such as yours, and what do you consider the pluses and minuses in this regard? Where we were lucky with Thorne is that we were given three episodes per novel. That’s more than two hours of screen time to tell the story. I think trying to adapt a crime novel in less time than that inevitably involves an over-condensation of the plot. Sometimes it’s necessary for the central character to make almost superhuman leaps of deduction because there simply isn’t time to show the basic detective work. Obviously there are sub-plots and minor characters that have to go, but I want to see the work that goes into it. I’m not interested in a simple series of set-pieces interspersed with the detective brooding at home and coming up with the solution supernaturally.
How close did you hope the TV adaptation would be to your novel – a mirror image or do you prefer some originality? I don’t see any point at all in a slavish adaptation. We just wanted to make a good piece of television. You CAN’T make a mirror image of a book because there are things you can do on the page that simply will not work on the screen. I spend large parts of each novel inside various characters’ heads. I can be inside a killer’s head without revealing to the reader who that killer is. You have to find another way to do this on screen. A book and a TV show are very different animals and I don’t see a lot of point in comparing one with the other. The book will always be the book and the TV show stands or falls on its own merits.
Do you feel your writing has changed at all since your novels were turned into TV adaptations? i.e. do you write with one eye on the TV format or do you stick to the same writing principles? I genuinely don’t think it has changed at all. I don’t see David Morrissey or Aiden Gillen when I write and I’m not imagining scenes as if they are being shot for television. I’ve ALWAYS written visually, but I’m not sure it’s possible to write any other way. I’m as influenced by TV as I am by books. The opening of a book is always like the pre-titles sequence in a film or TV show.
How has your life changed since your books were adapted for television? Not at all. I’m a little busier, perhaps, but as a full-time writer I can devote some time to TV projects and still manage a book a year. People DO imagine that once your books have been adapted for television that you must be worth a gazillion pounds and I do spend rather more time these days explaining just how little writers make out of TV.
Are there any other books to screen adaptations you particularly rate? And if so, why? I loved the Swedish adaptations of the Wallander books. Actually, the British versions were pretty bloody good too. A very strong central performance without which any script is going to suffer.
You’ve been involved in theatre work, acting and standup comedy before moving into the crime genre, what, if anything, do you think these other careers have added to your writing? Coming from a performance background has helped in a number of ways. A book IS a performance, I think, and stand-up taught me the importance of engaging an audience quickly and trying to keep them engaged. It’s also helped of course in terms of promoting the books. Having done hundreds of shows to a late-night crowd at the Comedy Store, I’m less intimidated by an audience at a book festival than some other writers might be. Writing for TV (though most of the time I hated it) has also proved to be helpful. It’s taught me just how crucial dialogue is. It’s all the TV writer has to work with and it’s become the key to everything for me as a novelist. Crucially, it’s dialogue that should reveal a character…
Finally, as an aside, for any up and coming writers who subscribe to Words with JAM, do you have any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to pass on? Only to read everything you can get hold of and to keep writing. When it comes to WHAT you write, you can’t go very far wrong trying to write the sort of thing you like to read.
And purely because I’m nosey – you’re an ardent Wolves fan, so how come Tom Thorne chooses to support Tottenham Hotspur instead!? When I started the book, Spurs were struggling rather. They were ‘sleeping giants’ so seemed to me to be the London equivalent of my own team. Now Spurs are riding high, so it doesn’t apply any more. If I were starting the series now, Thorne would probably be a West ham fan…
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Julie Myerson an exclusive interview with JD Smith About Julie Julie Myerson is an English author and critic. As well as writing both fiction and nonfiction books, she is also known for having written a long-running column in The Guardian entitled “Living with Teenagers” based on her own family experiences. She has also appeared regularly as a panellist on the arts programme Newsnight Review. Julie found herself at the centre of media controversy when details of her book, The Lost Child, emerged. Her latest fiction book, Then, is out now.
Writing both fiction and non-fiction, how do you choose what subjects to address and in which genre? I think I approach the 2 totally differently. With a novel, I begin with almost nothing – an image perhaps or a feeling, and I write without any idea of how or what is going to take shape. I find this process incredibly exciting, and it forces – for me anyway – a kind of honesty which I find really vital to the discovery process. I know many writers write because they have something to say, but I don’t think I do. I write in order to FIND OUT what I have to say. If I knew before I started then I doubt I’d feel a need to write ... Non-fiction is completely different. I’ve actually never set out to write nonfiction for its own sake. It’s more that an idea has come along from someone or somewhere and I’ve just known that I won’t be able to move on – ie into another piece of fiction – until I’ve explored the non-fiction idea through writing. With HOME, I could not believe no-one had ever written the true ‘biography’ of an ordinary house – so I had to try. NOT A GAMES PERSON was my publisher’s idea (a brilliant idea, I think!) – but again I couldn’t believe no-one had written about such a universal thing as being bad at games. THE LOST CHILD came about because I was shown the watercolour albums which Mary Yelloly had left behind when she died at 21. I couldn’t stop thinking about this girl I would never meet. I never for one moment intended the book to be about my son as well. But that’s where it took me. And I suppose that’s where my non-fiction and fiction methods collide: it’s always, always a process of discovery .....
Your column in The Guardian, Living with Teenagers, was written anonymously. Understandable, given that it drew on your own family life. Did you resent or embrace anonymity? Neither, really. It just seemed absolutely essential if my kids weren’t to be teased at school about these slivers of (mostly very honest, but often partially fictionalised) family life. Before I wrote the first column, my husband and I discussed it very seriously and felt that I could only agree to write for the Guardian on the basis that I wouldn’t be identified. At the time, it was supposed to be a finite thing – about 6 columns at most. I never dreamt it would get the response it did or that it would run for so long. And if I’m honest, that’s when the anonymity began to feel tough. I didn’t like having to make people cover up for me (though The Guardian were absolutely brilliant – even the editor, Alan Rusbridger, had no idea I was the author of the columns). Having said that, it’s been an unexpected pleasure recently to be able to actually own up to the book and sign copies of it. Last summer when I was promoting my new novel Then, I was amazed and touched at how many readers brought me Living with Teenagers to sign, saying it had saved their lives and got them through difficult times etc. That was lovely.
A number of your books feature a ghostly presence of some kind. Does this draw from any real life experiences of the supernatural? I did see a ghost once – a small boy walked into my bedroom on a winter’s night when I was house-sitting for some friends. I can’t prove it wasn’t a dream, but it felt terrifying and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and it inspired the ghostly presence in my first novel SLEEPWALKING. That said, I’m
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not sure I really do believe in ghosts. What I believe in – and am fascinated by – is the power of the human mind to conjure up almost anything if it wants to badly enough. I also think that ‘ghosts’ can be a brilliant way to write about unresolved human psychological issues. I also think the only satisfying ghost stories are the ones with some psychological basis. I suppose I believe that human beings are scarier than ghosts!
Similarly, you describe pregnancy as a kind of trancelike, other-worldly state in ‘Sleepwalking.’ Was this based on your own experiences? Well, I began that novel after I’d just had my second baby, and I became pregnant with our third during the writing of it. So in every possible way, pregnancy was informing my responses to things. I’m not sure about trancelike – I’ve never quite thought of it like that. But the amazing thing about pregnancy is it’s a state you can never quite remember – or summon up – later. I love things that are transient, slippery, hard to pin down and describe, and I think I’d put both ghosts and pregnancy in that category .....
In Not a Games Person you talk about wanting to hide at home, away from the ‘big girls’ world.’ How does being a writer reflect that sense of ‘hiding’? I’m not sure. I do quite like being alone – being shut in a room with my computer is bliss. But I love people too. And I’m not scared of the Big Girls any more! I think I do tend to hide away in my own head. It’s such an interesting place, to me anyway.....so unknowable. There is so much in there for me to write about. Is that hiding though? It might be. I don’t know.
In Home you interweave factual historical accounts with fiction. What inspired you to do this? And to what extent have other ‘faction’ authors influenced your style, if at all? Faction is an awful word! But there’s actually hardly any fiction in HOME – it was very important to me that there shouldn’t be! (It seemed to me that the book would only be interesting if it was ‘real’, since anyone could just write a novel about the history of a house ....). But what I did do – and I always made it scrupulously clear when I was doing it – was now and then bounce off a half-fact and imagine how that might have been, or felt or whatever. But when I did that, I never ever pretended it was reality. I really do hope this is clear in the book, because I don’t think of it as ‘faction’ at all.
You took a brave decision in The Lost Child, by admitting your son disagreed not only with your style but your factual accuracy. What made you take such a risky authorial step? Also, your son implies you write in ‘short, snappy sentences’ in order to shock and provoke. Do you agree? It didn’t feel risky. It just felt honest. I couldn’t possibly have given him the book to read and not have reported his real responses. Anyway I think he was largely right. In fact as it happens Jake and I were talking/arguing about writing and style and narrative over lunch just now(!) and it’s just part of the dialogue we’ve always had. And when he first read the book, I did make a few factual changes that he asked for – I don’t always get things right, nor does anyone. As for the ‘short snappy sentences’, that made me laugh. Kids will always see through their parents! So yes, to a certain extent, he’s right. He sees my ‘style’ – notes its effect - and isn’t impressed. I love that about all my kids. None of them take me at all seriously, but then one of them will say something that is just so touching because you see they’ve been paying a kind of attention all along.
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You’ve experienced a lot of media coverage and public scrutiny over the past few years following the release of The Lost Child. Many believe ‘all publicity is good publicity’. Would you agree? And what advice would you give to other writers who may find themselves and their work at the centre of media controversy?
believe in me - and I’m immensely proud of that.
I ought first to make one thing very clear. Every single moment of the 6 or more weeks of press coverage – and it seemed to go on forever - for THE LOST CHILD felt terrible to us as a family. Some mornings I’d just wake and sob, realising what I’d brought on the people I loved. There was nothing whatsoever good about it and I still even now find it very hard to think about those weeks.
year or next year and the possibilities it seems to throw up – for my own writing
And I’ve only recently been able to speak about the background to it – too risky at the time as it would have kept the whole thing going on even longer – but here it is: When I decided to publish the book, after a lot of thought and discussion with the people whose opinions I rate, I knew I would be criticised. And I like to think I was ready for it. It felt (to me at the time and to a great extent still now) very important to speak out honestly about the (relatively unpublicised) harm skunk was doing to young people and young men in particular. But two things I/we could never have dreamt would happen, happened. First the book was written about – with bile and also with great authority! - almost entirely by people who had NOT read it (the leak happened more than 2 months before it was due to be published and there wasn’t even a proof available). I am still shocked at how many (otherwise) intelligent writers/ novelists/columnists were happy to give their opinion on a book they’d not even SEEN. Second, and far worse, the Daily Mail paid our son – then a drug user – a very large amount of money for his ‘story’. I don’t really blame him for taking it – we had refused to give him cash for some time and a drug user will always take cash. But that ‘story’ from him engendered other headlines, other press coverage and the whole thing just went on and on. By the end of those weeks, the Daily Mail had door stepped almost every member of my family – parents in Suffolk, elderly mother-in-law, even (amazingly) my husband’s (long ago) ex-wife. It was very shocking to me, very traumatic to those other people. I felt a huge sense of responsibility. Meanwhile, Bloomsbury – rightly I think – decided they had to rush the book out, just so people could make up their own minds. But by then – though the reviews were on the whole kind and fair and pretty balanced, even the more critical ones – it was too late. Interestingly, there is definitely such a thing as bad publicity. The book was toxic and it did not sell. But this summer, again a bit like with Living with Teenagers, I’ve had the lovely experience of having people/readers want to talk to me about The Lost Child as well as about my new novel. And I think sales have picked up a bit and people are judging the book itself rather than the press coverage. And that lifts my heart because I’m still very proud of the book itself and stand by every word of it – I even did a reading from it at a festival in Cape Town recently!
What have you learned from writing? An interesting question. I suppose I’ve learned just how much is in my head and how little I understand any of it. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that I learn most from reading other writers. I’ll read an exciting book published this – just seem so exciting and boundless. I suppose that’s what true inspiration is?!
Which books have you reread most? I hardly ever re-read. I think life’s too short – so many books out there I’ll never get the time to read! So in all my life, I’ve only re-read a handful of books and I can tell you right now what they are: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald The Magus by John Fowles I suppose what they have in common is that – for me – they are all magical and mysterious in some way. I read them when I was young and then I re-read them when older (and a published writer myself) to see if I could see what the magic was, and work out how to do that myself. But I couldn’t. They all remain mysterious to me!
What are you working on at the moment? Something! I never talk about my work to anyone until it’s finished. Not because I’m secretive but because I wouldn’t believe in it if I said it aloud. In that sense words – the silence of words when they’re still in your head - have huge power for me. Having said that, I do just occasionally run plot ideas by my daughter Chloë (21). I always have. There’s something about the way she talks to me – she’s very tough – that keeps me on my toes. And she knows that if she spilled the beans to anyone, she’d never borrow clothes from me again!
How do you feel about the Perennial Fairy on the Tree – the Christmas Aspirational Figure? The cover girl who holds down a sparkling career, has three children and still creates a photograph-worthy Christmas living-room with no crying children or cat sick. Truth or airbrush? That’s a funny one. On the one hand, obviously it’s airbrush. We have 3 (adult) kids mostly living at home who still don’t load the dishwasher or seem to understand about wiping down counters, three cats who piss on the carpet whenever they fancy, and a puppy currently undergoing housetraining. But I
It was a while before you got back into writing. What prompted you, and how did it feel to start writing Then? I did keep on writing – I was already writing THEN when THE LOST CHILD came out. But it’s true that I suffered from such bad anxiety that I ground to a kind of a halt and had to seek help for stress. With hindsight, I think I suffered a kind of breakdown. I felt such huge responsibility for what I’d brought on our family. A very kind and insightful GP – our local GP here at Elephant & Castle – sent me off to do a Mindfulness and Meditation course at the Maudsley. I haven’t looked back, and I’ve been meditating daily ever since. More than anything though, it helps that Jake is well and back at home and our family feels whole again.
love my family, I love my life, I love my home. And there are moments – such as just the other night when everyone was in for supper and all 5 of us were sitting round the table, laughing about something stupid that only our family would get – when the house is clean(ish) the kids are all happy and I’ve had a great day working and even managed to go to the gym, when I feel very blessed, very happy and even (at 51) a little bit cover-girlish!
Roughly how many pairs of shoes do you own? Not as many as my husband!! Ok, at a guess, about 10 right now. At least 3 of those pairs are too high to walk down the road to the bus stop in. But they
Has writing and the subsequent release of Then had the impact you’d hoped, both personally and publicly?
look lovely on my shelf.
I’m not sure I never think of novels like that! Yes I suppose it was good to publish another novel, to know that I can keep on doing that. But writing is my life and my work. I can’t imagine not doing it. My current (long-held!) ambition is that I might one day be short listed for a prize. I would give anything to have that and I’ve begun to worry it won’t ever happen. But then again, all 11 books of mine are currently in print – thanks to good publishers and readers who
Are you a starter or a dessert person?
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Neither really. I frequently want or even eat a starter then can’t manage (or enjoy) the next course. And I rarely eat puddings. Having said that we were out on our anniversary dinner the other night and I longed for warm doughnuts with cream! I was stopped. I’m glad. I know I would have regretted it.
Writer’s ABC Checklist Workshops BOOK COVER CREATION AND TYPESETTING
Writing Magazine columnist, Lorraine Mace and co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Maureen Vincent-Northam, will be leading a weekend workshop at the beautiful Baskerville Hall Hotel near the book town of Hay on Wye this spring. Arthur Conan Doyle was a regular visitor to Baskerville Hall and, although the final story was set in Devon, the idea for one of his best-loved works, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was born after hearing of the local legend. Cracking the County Magazine Market covers: analysing your market, finding unique ideas to fit your county, interviewing subjects, quotes and how to use them, the value of photographs, creating an arresting outline and writing a winning query letter. That Elusive Flash of Success covers: the art of condensing a complete story into 500 words, tantalising titles, attention grabbing opening paragraphs, effective use of dialogue, characters to believe in, tiny touches to bring settings to life, satisfying endings and originality — old themes given a unique slant.
The workshops will be held on Saturday 19 May 2012 with an overnight stay for attendees at the historic hotel. Places on the course are limited. The cost is £135 per person, which includes both workshops, hotel accommodation and meals.
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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
Claire Armitstead The Children’s Books section is evidently a success. Which was your favourite childhood book? Probably Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, though that came after my Flora Roberts/ The Ship That Flew phase, which in turn came after Alison Uttley and a serious Little Grey Rabbit obsession.
How did you become Books Editor in one of Britain’s most-respected broadsheets? I joined the Guardian as a theatre critic, moved to be arts editor and just kind of slipped sideways. It was the best move of my professional life because books are the world.
My mother, for insisting that “the pram in the hall” was no obstacle.
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Is there a book you expected to hate but didn’t?
Where do you stand on the genre v. literary fiction debate? I try to look at everything in the light of its own ambitions. We’ve just got rid of the “tag” literary fiction from the Guardian Books website because we’ve decided it isn’t a category.
E-books – nemesis or genesis? Genesis.
How do you find time to read as much as you do?
What do you see as the exciting trends in publishing today?
By excavating the cracks in time.
The as yet unexplored creative potential of digital literature, plus the global reach that it gives successful writers and publishers.
The Guardian is a champion of works written in other languages - are you a fan of translated work? Claire Armitstead is the Guardian’s literary editor. She was previously arts editor, having worked as a theatre critic for the Ham & High, the Financial Times and the Guardian. As a published author,she has contributed essays to New Performance (Macmillan, 1994) and Women: A Cultural Review (Oxford University Press, 1996). She makes regular appearances on radio and television as a cultural commentator on literature and the arts.
Twilight (though I’m not tempted by the sequels).
Who was the biggest influence on your professional life?
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t?
In theory, absolutely. In practice, I wish I read more of it. One of my favourite books of last year was a Mexican novella, Down the Rabbit Hole.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? Oh dear.
How do you feel about literary prizes? Anything that brings books to a wider public is good. The sales figures speak for themselves.
What are you listening to right now? Soweto Kinch and Nitin Sawhney: my kids control the playlist and are continually educating me.
John Hudspith Which childhood book most influenced you?
In the northernmost spire of his black-brick chateau, John Hudspith edits fiction novels by day and scrawls scary stories by night. Kimi’s Secret won a highly coveted youwriteon book of the year award and has had huge acclaim in every room in John’s home. John may look handsomely ancient but he’s really only 30. Five years to write a first novel takes it out of one’s mojo – that and the time-travel. But Kimi is alive now, waiting to suck you in and thrust you onwards. John is now working on the sequel and hopes to see daylight before next Christmas. http://kimissecret.wordpress. com/news/
Had to think about this. Was it the mind-opening telepathic Neanderthals in William Golding’s The Inheritors? Or his Lord of the Flies; the mantra `stick the pig` will surely stay with me until I’m stuck. Or how about early childhood Enid Blyton books? I never could get comfy with the adventurous fours, famous fives or the secret sevens. For me, it was Blyton’s amazing Mr Pink-whistle. Half-man, half brownie, he wore a ridiculous suit, had green eyes, and used magic to make himself invisible. I remember observing his endeavours to right wrongs, and thinking: nope, if you’re invisible, there’s better, more entertaining things you could be doing with your talent, and I’d find myself conjuring up a whole lot of naughty scrapes for the guy. Or maybe it could be Tom’s Midnight Garden? Or Alice – can’t not mention Alice, the wordplay at work, the imagination - the dodo! Perhaps as readers we are drawn to read what we really are inside. Perhaps if I’d enjoyed the heroic deeds of the famous five I would be a crime writer. Who knows? Can one single book have such great influence as to be nominated so? I’m not sure. So I’ll go for all the above.
Describe your writing room and its salient features. I share a desk with wifey at the rear end of an open-plan downstairs. To my left, the windows show a lovingly untended garden. Roses, honeysuckle, lavender, running amok; an upended water feature which no longer works, and a cherry tree I like watching the blackbirds strip in late summer are all good focal points when I’m yapping to the muses. To my right there’s a three-foot model of Lara Croft with her guns out, which is also a pleasant focal point. From a shelf behind, a life-size bust of Regan from The Exorcist in full mad-eyed demon mode watches over me, alongside a small Japanese carving of a man enjoying autofellatio. On the wall in front is a sketch of my five muses, my fellow writers. They watch, advise, argue sometimes. The latest addition to my desk is a gorgeous stuffed crow which Santa brought me, and there’s also a handsome WWJ mug which is empty yet again. It needs to be bigger, enough to hold five cups of tea, a monster version. See to that WWJ, will you.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your writing life? That’d be Perthes’ disease. It snatched me from the streets aged seven, sealed both legs into plaster casts and slung me into bed for two years. I went from player to observer in a blink. My bed was moved into an already too small living room, and when my siblings were packed off to bed I was allowed to indulge in grown up telly. Andy Pandy was dumped in favour of Hammer Horrors, King Kong, and Boris Karloff. So as not to scare the pants off their seven year-old, my parents explained the techniques used to create movie monsters and horrific special effects and, from there, armed with an unending supply of sketch pads and plenty of time to think, my imagination exploded (as did Mr Pink-whistle’s capers). I won my first school writing comp aged 12, which was to devise the instructions for aliens to make themselves a cup of tea. Imagination is the key for my writing and for my reading. Being plonked into bed for two years, forced to observe, was certainly a colossal twist in my own plot.
What have you learned from collaborating with a group of target readers? I learned what they really wanted. I’d done my research,
listened to my peers, moulded the words, the rhythm, the voice to the best of my perceptions, and approached this group of grinning twelve year-olds with nervous trepidation. They kindly told me my efforts weren’t too bad, patted me on the back, and showed me where I had to up my game. They wanted to work for the read, wanted the unexpected, a twist at every turn, a heroine with balls, and so on. Such direct contact was invaluable, and made Kimi’s Secret what it is.
Which book should every child read? Alice and her Wonderland would have been my choice a few years ago, but writing evolves, so for enormity of admirable production I’m nominating the entire Potter series. To capture a whole new world, a huge cast of endearing characters, and deliver the lessons of family, friendship, and good versus evil over seven novels whilst holding the whole lot together with warm family timbre is an astounding achievement.
Let’s talk about the editor. Can you swap hats when it comes to your own work? Not unless I give my brain sufficient time to forget what I’ve written. Six months is a reasonable hiatus, otherwise I have two very good editors who keep me right.
Where are you most comfortable – short stories or novels? I like the challenge of production in both, but I’m not sure comfortable is a good place to presume to be.
E-books – nemesis or genesis? Genesis. An explosion of writers producing more readers can’t be a bad thing for the evolution of storytelling.
How do you keep the vast imaginary world of Heart under control? Do you have a system for remembering all the details? Numerous files covering the entirety of Heart’s physiology exist on my hard drive in a poorly organised mishmash of confusion, but for the most part, Kimi’s Secret went through so many drafts, and I’ve lived every scene untold times along with many more yet to be written, I feel I know Heart better the real world.
What are you writing at the moment? I’m working on a second adventure for Kimi. It’s mad. Dark times ahead.
Describe your ideal Sunday breakfast. Crozzled smoked bacon, sausages burnt black and crusty, tomatoes fried until juiceless, sliced mushrooms of the field variety with the stalks left whole, black pudding medium rare, duck egg scrambled with smoked salmon, beans stirred with black pepper and a splash of soy sauce, toasted whole grain bread allowed to cool before buttering and sprinkled with sea salt; five cups of strong black tea, two pints of icy mango juice – and HP sauce. Not forgetting the vital alcoholic starter served the night before, sufficient to allow the fast-breaker to be sumptuously tasty; all served up with the rain-soaked view from a window of a very old Scottish Inn. Unless it was a Sunday morning on Heart, then it would be roasted dodo sandwich with piskie polyp pickle served with maggot-ripe cheese from the Dank Forest ponies - and a tankard or two of pommy juice.
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Less Than Nothing Procrastinating with Perry Iles “What do you fear most in this world?” “The possibility that love is not enough.” - dialogue from Twin Peaks, 1991.
ell, here is the news. Love isn’t enough. We also need purpose, meaning, reason; call it what you will. But since 99% of life consists of sleeping, going to the lavatory, shopping and watching television, interspersed with episodes of sexual intercourse which in no way resembles the choreographed ballet of internet porn, we need stories too. And if we don’t have stories, we weave them from the fabric of our own existence and turn them into fiction. That’s why we invented religion. There is no such thing as fact. As the present pours into the past through the moving point of now, it becomes instantly warped by the selective process of memory, and as writers, it becomes our raw material. But it’s not fact; make no mistake. Fact is to fiction what Lo-fat Flora spread is to butter. It looks the same but in comparison it tastes like shit. In this non-fic edition of WWJ, fiction is on holiday for an issue, so we’ll just have to talk about going to the lavatory and the price of eggs in Tesco, won’t we? Arthur Conan Doyle once said “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent,” but sadly he was talking bollocks, so let’s examine the reasoning behind a couple of personal episodes… I was in Cambridge in the summer of 1992, visiting friends during one of those East Anglian heatwaves, where the air comes in from northern Europe packed with European carcinogens, crammed with moisture from its passage across the North Sea; where the colour seeps from the world and the sky is a uniform slate-grey through which the sunlight leaks like something diseased. With the temperature in the nineties and the humidity at 100% there was no escape, not even at night where I was staying in a room up under the eaves of a friend’s flat. I woke one day at dawn with a frightful hangover lying in a pool of my own sweat and realised I could bear it no longer. I went to a café early in the morning, had a massive fry-up, two mugs of coffee and four paracetamol and headed north, back home to Edinburgh. My Ford Cortina (it was in the days before they were ironic, you understand) had no air conditioning, the A1 was rammed with holiday traffic and the back of my t-shirt turned into a soggy mop as I sweated out all the alcohol I’d drunk in Cambridge over
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the last few days. I drank ice-cold coke from motorway service stations and fretted as I tried to hand-roll cigarettes in the fast lane with all the windows wound down, steering with sweaty thighs. As I came into Edinburgh, I noticed the mist – haar they call it - rolling in off the sea, squeezing moisture across Musselburgh and Portobello. Back in Porty, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and I’m talking centigrade. I got out of the car under cold grey skies and I watched the sea, dull and flat and grey as the East Anglian sky, disappearing into the mist. For the first time since the previous winter, I shivered. In the absence of anything else to do, I wandered off to a seafront pub I was beginning to think of as my local in a city I was beginning to think of as home. Football’s European Cup was in progress, and it was plucky little Denmark’s year. On the TV behind the bar I watched them beat somebody, possibly Turkey, and drank a few pints of cold lager. Sometime in the middle of the evening a woman came up to the bar where I was sitting. She was shivering too. I told her how hot it had been in England and how glad I was to be home. She told me it had been even hotter in Greece yesterday and she was really pissed off to be back. That night we kept each other warm, and we’ve been keeping each other warm ever since. So the question I ask is this: If it hadn’t been so hot in Cambridge and I hadn’t come home early, would I have never met my wife, and would my daughter consequently not exist? If I had considered the fact that I’d had already drunk enough booze to float a battleship, I could have stayed at home and watched Denmark beat Turkey instead of going down the pub. Does my daughter exist because Denmark were playing well in 1992 and I was at the bar watching? Does she exist because it was cold and misty and I was therefore inside the pub rather than in the garden smoking joints behind the bushes with some newfound cronies? The fact is that my kid exists due to blind chance in an infinity of possibilities. As do I. As do all of us. That’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it? And that’s what I mean by purpose, meaning or reason. Was David Mitchell right when he said that souls cross the ages like clouds cross the sky, randomly and chance-ordained, and history is the written word’s attempt to map their progress and make sense of it? How do you write the truth? You leave out all the extraneous stuff and turn it into a story, making sure there’s a because in there somewhere. Here’s another story, a bit darker this time:
After a few years in Edinburgh, I moved to the country. I was driving home one evening. It was just dark, and I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw headlights behind me. I looked again a few seconds later and realised the car behind was being driven rather quickly. As I realised this, it pulled out to overtake me. We were on the brow of a hill and a car was coming the other way. Nobody had time to react. The two cars met about a foot from my shoulder. There was a dull crump, and for a moment I wondered if they’d just glanced off each other. There was none of this long skidding noise and extended splintering sound you get in the movies. Should I just carry on home, or stop and check? I stopped and walked back over the brow of the hill. There was a Nissan Almera on its roof. A woman in the passenger seat dangled upside down from her seatbelt. Her arm was badly broken, so I didn’t feel I could try to move her in case she fell on it. I’d left my phone back in my car, so I told her not to worry, that I was off to get help. She looked at me, tried to say something, tried to focus and then died instead. I began to realise how serious this was. There must be a driver somewhere. I wondered if he’d been thrown out of the car and had a brief look around but didn’t see anyone. They told me later he’d been forced into the footwell by the impact. In retrospect I was glad I didn’t find him because he was only two feet tall by then. The other car, a big Saab, was sideways in the road, right-side up. The windscreen was smashed where the driver’s head had hit it. I looked in through the open door. The man’s seatbelt had cut him in half. His lower body was still in the driver’s seat, his top half on the dashboard. There were some strings of cloth where his shirt had torn. I wandered about for a bit. I was in the middle of the country. Eventually another car came, driven as luck would have it by an off duty policeman. He took me by the elbow and led me away from the wrecks. They might explode, he said. There were still people in them, I thought. Anyway, I stopped traffic in one direction and he stopped traffic in the other until the fire brigade and police and ambulances came. I gave a brief statement and after a cursory chat with a medic I went home. The next morning I found that some kind of liquid had sprayed all over the back wing of my car. Water from a radiator with oxidised antifreeze in it, I hoped, as I washed it off. Three people were dead, and I knew why. It was because of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The latest series had just come out on DVD and instead of going straight home I’d popped into HMV in Edinburgh’s Cameron Toll shopping centre to buy it. So I was on
So, tell me about your book or, how not to get an interesting interview - by Dan Holloway that road ten minutes later than I would have been, at exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold myself to blame for the accident, nor do I feel guilty. I wasn’t driving too slowly and the twat who overtook me was driving with his head up his arse. I went back there the next day with a bunch of filling-station chrysanthemums and stuck them in the drystone wall next to the accident spot. I’d never done that before, and I haven’t since. Just another floral tribute to the abruptly dead - you see them everywhere. I filled in forms for the police, the accident investigation unit and various other people’s insurance companies and that was the end of that. The series of Buffy wasn’t as good as the one that preceded it – except for the David Lynch dream-episode at the end when Willow got off with Buffy in an ice-cream van and Buffy’s mum tried to seduce Xander while Adam and Riley played Death of a Salesman in cowboy suits. It’s fine, it wasn’t their fault either. Salvador Dali once said: “What is truth? Less than nothing.” To some extent the old charlatan was right. Maybe it’s reason, not truth, but we need a reason to underpin our truths. So where we can, we give the truth purpose, and where we can’t, we invent it. We think of all the speedy ripostes we should have used to the rude salesgirl in River Island and then insert them when we tell the story back. We invent our truths, and when they’re just too obviously apposite to be believed we cut them free from the moorings of reality and sail off in the comfortable balloon of fiction where all the bad things happen to someone else and you don’t have to feel guilty because those people aren’t real anyway, so when the villain dies in a car wreck you think yes, got the bastard. We need lies. We’re writers, we tell lies for fun and profit, and the world needs us badly. We con people into suspending their disbelief, and the best writers need to be superb actors, taking on the mantle of their work and shrugging it off again when it’s time to go to Tesco’s or have a poo. And sometimes, like now, like this month’s non fiction WWJ, we admit that there is in fact a reality out there, but we still turn it into reasoned stories instead of admitting to blind chance. So until the next tall tale comes along, let’s go off and wallow in the truth. It might be pretty meaningless, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
Dan the Interviewer: So, tell me, what inspired you to write your book?
ID: Uh, yeah? DI: So I’m asking you.
Interviewee Dan: Um, what kind of question is that?
ID: My agent’s dead meat.
DI: An opening question.
ID: Come again?
ID: Well, they clearly didn’t send the press pack out.
DI: An ice-breaker. A scene-setter. You know, one to put people at their ease and in the picture.
DI: Press pack?
ID: But I know the picture. I am the picture, numbnuts. And at ease? I can’t make up my mind if you’re a replicant of every student news hack or just too lazy to do your homework. I’m not sure which of those is meant to make me feel at ease.
ID: Yeah, you know, the sheet about the book that my agent sends out with the cover and a lovely picture of me patting my poodle so you can tell your readers what the book’s about and I don’t have to say the same damn thing a hundred times a week. DI: Er, patting the poodle? Is that a euphemism?
DI: So what’s the first question you’d like me to ask?
ID: Now you’re talking!
ID: Well, that one’s better.
DI: I think I get it. You want me to give you the chance to look smutty.
DI: What one? ID: “What’s the first question you’d like me to ask?” It’s personal. Gets me thinking. About me – and I always like thinking about me. After all, I am an artiste. DI: But my question was about you! ID: No it wasn’t. DI: Yes it was, I asked you what inspired you about your book. ID: Hmm, that’s the worst kind of impersonal, though, because you’ve always got that sneaky little comeback, “Oh, but I used the word you.” The thing is, do you have the first clue how many interviews I get asked to do? DI: Er ID: Well, put it like this, if I got minimum wage for them, I’d make more doing interviews about my book than I would from selling my book. And you guys all ask the same thing. It’s like you have a tick box thing. Or a bingo chart, and you perm any ten from twenty. And guess what, when you perm any ten from twenty, so will I. And you better hope they’re the same ten because I sure as heckfire don’t care if they are. What’s my book about? Who’s my favourite character? How much of me is in the protagonist? What were the challenges I faced? What research did I do? What the bloody hell was my damn inspiration? Just hope you don’t get me at midnight when I’m bored and drunk and decide someone’s got to make the damn thing interesting so I end up listing the films of Kevin Bacon. DI: But my readers want to know what your book’s about, why it matters to you.
ID: Of course I do. I’m an author. And clever. I want you to make me look clever. No, not just clever, I want you to make me look brilliant. Then your readers will all want to buy my book, after all, that’s why I’m doing this interview. DI: Yeah but I’m doing it so all your readers will come to my blog and read my article in the magazine. ID: Well there’s the thing. You see this may be a newsflash but like I said, I do actually give more than one interview. So you know what? DI: What? ID: If you want people to read your interview with me rather than some other numbnut how about this. You ask me clever, interesting questions and I’ll give you clever interesting answers. No, wait, better still, how about you ask me something original. Challenge me. Push me out of my comfort zone. But not so far I reach for my lawyer. And flatter me. At least a little. Make it look as though you’ve read my book. Or at least the back cover. Then maybe I’ll tell you something I haven’t told anyone else and all your readers will buy my book and all my fans will read your magazine. DI: Well that sounds good. ID: OK, so let’s start again. Now, where were we? DI: Hang on, let me just read the press sheet, and have a play on Google and I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Would that be OK? ID: And you’ll shred the interview bingo sheet? DI: I’ll shred the bingo sheet.
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Just the Facts, Ma’am Just the Facts ... By Derek Duggan
OK, here’s the thing – a great way to get people interested in the book you’ve just made up out of your head is to get them to think that even though it’s clearly fiction there’s a good chance that a lot of what is in it is absolutely true. Even back in the old days when men were real men, women were real women, and the collection of soft dangly objects in a gentleman’s loin cloth that occasionally smelt of cheese were real bollocks, writers couldn’t help but hint that what was contained in their fantastical imaginings was actually the god’s honest truth. And there’s no doubt that this helps sales. It’s easier than you think. There are tons of people out there who are predisposed to believe all kinds of mental shit like ghosts, vampires, and withdrawal as a safe method of contraception. There wouldn’t be an advertising industry without this predisposition, so why not jump on the gravy train (not a real train)? You can go down two routes with this – there’s the self help route, the Read This Book and you Won’t be Fat/Poor/Bald Anymore, type of thing which is great because you won’t have to even come up with a plot, just a Secret or something that they can have for sixteen-ninety-nine, and then there’s the more interesting totally-made-up-story route. In times gone by, a lot of publishers went to the trouble of printing things like ‘Fiction’ on the back of the book above the price, just in case there were any mentallers out there who might spend the family fortune trying to find a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. These days the fact that it’s fiction you’re reading is often relegated to the flyleaf and although people seem to be able to scrutinise every single word of the Da Vinci Code and find astonishing hidden ‘facts’ in it, they are completely unable to read the bit
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before the book starts that says – In this work of fiction the characters, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or they are used entirely fictitiously (Corgi paperback edition). What’s amazing is that it’s the one actual fucking fact that’s in it and yet the truth seekers who were brilliant at solving all of legendary genius Leonardo’s clues ahead of renowned cryptologist Sophie Neveu seem completely blind to that page. It’s not as if Dan Brown went out of his way to try and make anyone believe what he was saying was true. In fairness to him, it is written clearly that it’s all made up and he can’t be responsible for gobshites going around saying – It really is a picture of Mary Magdalen, you know. Of course, you can help the suspension of disbelief along by sticking in a bit at the start that actually says it’s all real. Think of the great introduction to Umberto Eco’s (Who? Eco. Who? Eco. Oh I could do this all day) The Name of the Rose where he talks about the lengths he took to verify the manuscript he had was genuine and that all he really did was translate it. There isn’t even the standard – This is a work of fiction etc – on the flyleaf of this book, although it does have the old fashioned Fiction tag on the back (Vintage Future Classics Edition). (It’s a great book by the way – you should read it if you haven’t already). If you’re not as confident in your abilities as the fantastic Mr Eco (Who? Eco. Who? Eco. It never gets old) then you could always go for the older and more reliable way of attempting to get the reader to believe that the totally unbelievable story they are reading is true. It’s really very simple – just say that God/Angel with directions to golden plates/Alien Overlords told you what to write and before you know it you’ll be up to your hairy front bucket in people who’ll believe it. Start with something
simple – And lo, the brilliant people that shall understand and hear the truth shall come to you and listen to My words and they shall be known to all as The Gullible. And then stick in a bit about anyone not believing it is either going to Hell or won’t be given a lift on the spaceship and Bob’s your mother’s brother. You can even stop your readers from buying books by the competition by telling them that if they read Harry Potter they’ll turn gay or something. Before you know it people will be arguing over what the ‘facts’ contained in your book actually mean and you’ll be able to write other books explaining it as well as going on the lucrative lecture circuit where you can charge patrons extra for a new roof on your house or a test to fix their personality or whatever. Really, the options for cashing in are endless. To lend an air of authenticity to your book, you might try having it translated into ancient Greek or Spaceman Language first and then translate that version back into English. You won’t need to shell out for expensive translating services – just run it through a free online version. Don’t worry about loads of peculiar inaccuracies that might creep into the text by employing this method as it hasn’t hurt any of the previous books this has been done with. Now, you might not believe it’s as simple as that, but in a recent survey it turned out that 83% of people believed that there was no definition for gullible in the dictionary. (Not a real survey.) With statistics like this on your side you can’t lose. Glad I could help.
And lo, the brilliant people that shall understand and hear the truth shall come to you and listen to My words and they shall be known to all as The Gullible.
The Vital and Rich World of Non-Fiction The personal view of an unwitting aficionado by Anne Stormont If asked whether I read more fiction or non-fiction, my instinctive and unexamined response would be fiction. But after I really thought about it – following the Ed’s announcement of the theme for this edition of the magazine - I realised that I own and have read a lot of non-fiction. Even disregarding texts that I’ve had to read for study or work purposes, including several ‘how to write’ books - of which Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Dorothea Brande’s classic ‘Becoming a Writer’ are simply the best - my non-fiction tally is at least as high as my fiction one. A look along and down my bookshelves reveals a fairly wide range of non-fiction books. I have an alarming number of health and wellbeing books. The most recent of these being ‘Teach us to Sit Still’ by Tim Parks – a sceptical Parks investigates meditation as a way of overcoming chronic pain, ‘Finding Sanctuary’ by Abbot Christopher Jamieson – a look at ways to find spiritual peace based on the teachings of St Benedict, and ‘The Warmth of the Heart prevents the Body from Rusting’ by Marie de Hennezel – an inspirational take on ageing. Amongst older favourites are Tom Gordon’s ‘A Need for Living’ an inspiring book when I was ill with cancer, Christopher Rush’s book ‘To Travel Hopefully’ and Justine Picardie’s ‘If the Spirit Moves You’ – both fascinating accounts of dealing with grief - and Richard Maybe’s book ‘Nature Cure’ on how he dealt with depression. There are several encyclopaedias and English dictionaries. The most treasured of these are my, now grown-up, son’s copy of the Dorling Kindersley Children’s Encyclopaedia. This brings back happy memories of him and I doing joint research for his homework projects. And the ancient, and much used, Cassell’s English Dictionary that I received as a prize at high school also holds a special place. The next shelf holds many travel and walking guides as well as various maps and atlases. There is all a person could ever need to know on visiting New England, Australia, Spain, Israel, South Africa, Singapore as well as the nearer to home territories of highland Scotland, Yorkshire, the Lake District and London. Several of these have been used, not
only more than once by me, but also lent to other fellow travellers. They are wonderful reminders of a rich travelling life and I hope to add many more to this particular collection beginning with guides to the counties of Clare and Galway in preparation for a trip to Ireland in the spring. Beside the guide books there are several foreign language dictionaries and phrasebooks – namely French, German, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian and Gaelic. All are used to support my less than satisfactory grasp of most of these languages. Also on the shelves there are nature books aplenty. The Flora Britannica, Fauna Britannica and Birds Britannica – three wonderful tomes and regularly dipped into. Other regularly perused, but slimmer, reference books include ‘Complete British Birds’ and Collins ‘Night Sky’. And the Granddaddy of this category, and too big for any bookshelf, so it just leans, is ‘The Earth from the Air’ – a stunning collection of photos of our lovely wee planet. There is of course the whole genre of memoir, biography and autobiography – none of which I have a lot of - although I do have and very much enjoyed Nigel Slater’s ‘Toast’ – a real ‘curl up on a winter’s day/evening and read by the fire’ book. I also loved Ursula Muskus’s account of her life as a prisoner in the Soviet gulags entitled ‘The Long Bridge’ – a book that makes you gasp and admire the resilience of the human spirit. And ‘Anne Franks’ Diary’ has been with me since I was a teenager. And, finally, the last few worthy of a mention are, firstly, ‘A History of Modern Palestine’ written by academic and friend of mine, Ilan Pappe -an incisive insight into the situation in modern Israel. Secondly, there’s ‘A History of the English Language by Albert Baugh – a book I’ve had for nearly forty years since I got it in my first year at university – a fascinating study of how the language developed. And, lastly, Blake Morrison’s brave reflection on the child murderers of Jamie Bulger, ‘As If ’ – a book that asks uncomfortable questions about unbearable topics - and haunts the reader for a long time after reading. So that’s a fairly comprehensive collection for someone who thinks of herself as mainly a reader of fiction and I suspect many of you would find the same to be true of yourselves. The world of non-fiction is at least as rich as the fictional one. My current read-in-progress is ‘A Book of Silence’ by Sara Maitland. Maitland is an
author whose feminist fiction I’ve admired and enjoyed for around thirty years (her novel ‘Women Fly When men Aren’t Watching’ would be one of my desert island volumes). ‘A Book of Silence’ is difficult to categorise, but it’s not fiction. It’s part memoir/autobiography, part travelogue, part reflection on her own writing processes, but is mainly a reflection and discussion of her study of the concept of silence. Silence is something she views as a presence rather than an absence. I don’t completely agree with everything she says, but there’s a lot that resonates and it is beautifully and intelligently written. However, this book won’t be going on my shelves – it’s an ebook on my Kindle. And for a book like this – one I may want to dip in and out of – as with many of the other above books – maybe the old-fashioned paper version is best for works of non-fiction. But that’s a whole other feature...
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Bad Parent, Good Writing? by Patrick Toland
In our time-pressed lives, what can the Greats teach us about how to give attention to your writing as well as, often, the object of its inspiration? Cyril Connolly’s maxim, “there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”, is well drilled into the minds of writers who strive to balance literary creativity with nurturing childcare. It reminds that it is testing to not only get a buggy up three flights of stairs to your garret, but the child it contains is unlikely to sit like an impassive, adoring Boswell whilst you script your opus. Certainly no writer has yet to be pulled in front of Social Services for child neglect due to the rival responsibility of authorship. It would be a bit like those aberrant parents who jet off on holiday and leave the kids at home with just a tin-opener, but your defence would be that you, ‘had to follow your muse’, instead of not being able to resist a two-for-one discount for Torremolinos in October. So why do the social workers not come calling when you pop on Bob the Builder for more than a few hours every day and go off to the computer to research how to write a villanelle? Perhaps this has more to do with writers being seen from the outside as perma-sensitive and emotionally regardful souls rather than anything to do with their actual ability to get on with the act of writing whilst the practicalities of childrearing literally tug at their elbows. Wordsworth may have composed, “the child is the father of man”, but I am guessing that if his sister Dorothy didn’t write this herself, it is more than likely that she was giving him some quiet ambience to do so by stuffing one of his mouthy children with a milk-mushed precursor to Kendal mint cake. The sadly childless William Blake wrote in ‘Infant Joy’, “Sweet joy I call thee; Thou dost smile. I sing the while, Sweet joy befall thee”. Really William? Try penning that refrain after your eldest has smashed one of your relief etchings of a tiger and your youngest has told the next door neighbour that daddy ‘has visions’. There may be a litany of authors who have been brutal in their private lives (the over forty Dickens had an affair with an eighteen year old), political viewpoints (T.S Eliot and Ezra Pound in turn described Jews as ‘money in furs’ and ‘unteachable’) or personal peccadilloes (Schiller kept a drawer of rotten apples in his writing desk to remind him of life’s inevitable decay). What is less well known is that there are many titans of literature that, if judged by their actions as parents in a modern context, would be less trustworthy babysitters than a dingo and a Doberman. They also provide quite the historical comfort blanket to any current author who is overwrought by any under-writing they experience when the call goes up for nappies, snacks or pushes on the swing-set. Starting close to home with our own mud-footed deities, James Joyce may have been disgusted by his motherland, calling Ireland, ‘the old sow who eat her own farrow’, but he himself was eventually happy to cannibalise the contentment of his wife, Nora Barnacle, to further his own repute. His early love letters to her are raw with hungry sexuality and even if read after a century of passing, have an immediacy of soldierly need, farm-yard animalism and blunt pastoralism that make you feel you have fallen into some film mash-up between David
Fincher’s Seven and a Merchant Ivory production. In one his milder epistle extracts, he says that his little James was, “still hot and stiff and quivering from the last brutal drive it has given you when a faint hymn is heard rising in tender pitiful worship of you from the dim cloisters of my heart”. Of course, we all know that once little James serves its purpose of producing an actual little James, the music of sexual congress can dim and the architecture of carnality is prone to weathering. Add in a move to Europe, a refusal on Joyce’s part to marry because of its bourgeois associations, one daughter with mental health issues that Joyce refused treatment for and then used as a secretary whilst making her apologise for her spelling mistakes and him with diminishing eye-sight but still managing to go for a piss-up and a laugh with his friends on the Left bank, and you can begin to understand why Nora may have been irked from time to time. In 1923, not more than a decade after Joyce’s love letter comment above, she wrote to her sister saying, “He’s a weakling, Kathleen. I always have to be after his tail. I wish I was married to a man like my father. Being married to a writer is a very hard life.” Her sister retorts that the relationship is better defined as, “Nora all go and Jim all stand-still”. A few years after that she writes again, saying that she is willing to return to Ireland with the kids and without Joyce. It takes a lot for a woman to go back to a country that eats its own offspring, especially if your husband could raise an extra crust by using his Godgiven tenor voice to sing for the easy money and popular acclaim that eluded him and, therefore, the family for much of their time together. I think authors like Joyce raise a time loop thought experiment for all of those close to the kind of writers who sometimes denigrate the priorities of those around them because they elevate the primacy of their own writing. A bit like - would you go back in time to kill a dictator who slaughtered thousands? – we can ask, would you go back in time and have a quiet word with Joyce that it might be better to put Ulysses to one side for a moment to patch up some of the neglect in his home-life? The answer is probably not. We all half-expect, half-hope for the great artists to be anomalous and wilfully against the social mores of their time and even fight against the domesticity that equally inspires and entraps. Maybe for some of that reason, Nora was the muse that stayed. What of the muse that goes? Maude Gonne is rightly not only known for her prowess as an activist and actress but also her adamant refusal to give into Yeats’ repeated proposals. She settled instead on a marriage to John McBride, that was stymied in divorce and allegations of child molestation. Yeats’ fancy then passed to her illegitimate daughter, Iseult Gonne, who also had a bit of a twinkle for Ezra Pound at the time. With that maelstrom of incestuous behaviour in mind, it is difficult not to think as a muse you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Either way, the writing doesn’t seem to suffer. Yeats’ poems of unrequited love are some of the finest ever and if Nora and Maude were the templates for the womanliness of Molly Bloom and Cathleen Ní Houlihan, sure what’s are a little emotional poverty and actual privation set against those characterful creations? Maybe the confusion, messiness and unseemliness of family life are why Shaw and Beckett chose to remain childless. Shaw wrote in his Treatise on Parents and Children that, “The parent has to play the part of Aladdin’s djinn; and many a parent has sunk beneath the burden
So why do the social workers not come calling when you pop on Bob the Builder for more than a few hours every day and go off to the computer to research how to write a villanelle?
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of this service”. Again problematic for a writing parent – when it comes to how you spend your time do you sit at your desk, rubbing the lamp for inspiration and praying for the magic wishes of fame, success and applause or do you play the Genie of imagination for that little lump at your feet that Shaw described as, “an experiment. A fresh attempt to produce the just man made perfect: that is, to make humanity divine”? Beckett, when asked about having children himself, said that he did not want to have them and, “that’s one thing I’m proud of ”. Maybe it takes a bleak iconoclast like Beckett to remind us that there is something innately inhumane about the selfishness of writing and the rearing of your own miniature human, who unlike the kind that person you people the page with, does much to ignore your instructions about what to say, where to go and how to behave. This reluctance in an author’s nearest and dearest to match their creative schedule can lead to some interesting solutions. Jules Verne dealt with the difficult teenage years by sending his son Michael on a two year steamer voyage in the hope that it would harden him up. William Golding used to take his daughter for long walks, him stubborn to her speech as she chattered away. In her own memoir, Judy Carver remarks that it is clear to her now that he was thinking about his latest novel and not her, which proved in recollection somewhat hurtful. Not as bad though as poor William S. Burroughs Jr. having to deal with, at the age of four, his father shooting his mother in the head during a game of William Tell gone wrong. His father made up for it though by having his son sent from his grandparents over to him in Tangiers at the age of thirteen, during which time WSB Jr. recollects being introduced to marijuana and having to fight off a succession of rape attempts by older men. And, as a matter of fairness, if I am giving the impression that it is only fatherly authors who can be prone to cruelty, disdain or disregard, there are a few female writers who have had little reserve about taking the maternal impulse and turning it into a fairground ride with loosened bolts. Agatha Christie disappeared and this so disturbed her daughter, Rosalind Hicks, she spoke about it rarely and when she did so, was still bewildered by her mother’s breakdown that caused Christie to, ‘“not remember anything we had been doing together or even the stories she used to tell me”. Then again, poor Sylvia Plath stands as testament to maternal protectiveness in her style of sealing the gaseous room that she took her life in to protect her children. So after this semi-slanderous trawl through an archive of deceased authors, what lessons emerge? Perhaps you could do what Roahl Dahl did and buy a secluded shed for the end of the garden, become beloved for your children’s books and attempt to match his height of fatherly love when he invented a breakthrough medical device, with others, that alleviated the symptoms of his young son’s illness, whilst refusing to profit on it. Plus, never forget that the child of the bad parent who writes will, when they reach maturity, will probably have plenty of material through your neglect, carelessness and sloppy parenting to fuel their own writing. What more stunningly revengeful and painfully pleasurable thing could there be for your child to garner praise in your chosen field? Kingsley Amis said of his son Martin’s work that it was prone to, “breaking the rules, buggering about….drawing attention to himself ” – a line just as applicable to the behaviour of the writing parent as the child of the writer. With that in mind, I’m off to the soft-play with my two sons and the next time I am in the bookshop browsing, I think I would do better if, instead of buying a Russian formalist in translation, I pick up a copy of Adam Mansbach’s best-selling rhyming book supposedly for children called, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’ – a fine example of how, with a smidge of self-deprecating wit and humility you can turn the dual frustrations of parenting and writing into financial fortune….or at least enough to hire a nanny for a few mornings a week.
Poetry & Writing Courses In France
Chateau Ventenac is delighted to announce new writing courses & retreat weeks for 2011 Tutors include Sean O’Brien, Pascale Petit, Maurice Riordan, Penny Shuttle and novelist Patrick Gale.
Inspiring location, wonderful views, great food. We look after you whilst you relax and write. www.chateauventenac. com/courses email: email@example.com Call: +44(0)7773206344
The Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust Creating an 'enchanted land' and restoring one of the most beautiful buildings in Dumfries ... J.M. Barrie called Moat Brae the 'enchanted land', scene of the boyhood adventures that would touch millions when re-imagined in the character of Peter Pan. But the fine Georgian town house and the gardens in which Barrie played were until recently in the shadow of the wreckers' ball.
An extraordinary effort by local people and generous partner organisations saved Moat Brae from destruction. Now the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust is restoring the derelict shell, and creating a new teaching garden. The house will be returned to its rightful place as a landmark and attraction in Dumfries – and a new generation of children will be free to explore a magical landscape in the footsteps of Peter Pan. To find out more about the project, visit: http://www.peterpanmoatbrae.org
JJ Marsh interviews author of the Peter Pan sequel Peter Pan in Scarlet, Geraldine McCaughrean ... Which was your favourite childhood book? It depends on what era of childhood. At five, Wimpy the Wump by who knows? At nine, The Silver Brumby (Elyne Mitchell). At eleven, The Eagle of the Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliffe)
Where do you write? In bed if I get the chance - there are no disturbances and there is room to spread out my cards, books, notes etc. I write longhand so anywhere is good. Trains are excellent, especially with headphones on.
Which was the book that changed your life? No book made me think ‘I want to write!’ But plays did: The Lady’s not for Burning, The White Devil, Cyrano de Bergerac - all full of delectable language and with aural and visual associations that seared themselves into my brain.
But there are SO MANY! I was (and am) very put off by small print and close leading (when the lines are close together). So much of Literature has overfaced me.
What have you learned from writing? How to use that part of the brain that can travel through time and sapce; also how to make things imaginary real enough to see, touch and hear. Each novel I write also teaches me something I didn’t know about myself.
What’s your opinion on e-books? I don’t object to them on aesthetic grounds or even sentimental grounds. But 25% of very little is not enough for any author to live on. And if illegal downloads of music are anything to go by, no one will bother to pay even the tiny amount ebooks cost.
Why does the appeal of JM Barrie endure? Everyone needs a Neverland to escape to.
What objects are on your desk, and why?
Are there any books you re-read?
Paperwork, because I am disorganised and books take so long to publish that everything is permanently ‘pending’.
Not many. Those that spring to mind are the Dorothy L Sayers Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books and Jill Paton Walsh’s two sequels to them (which are rather better and not so snobbily superior in tone.) I love the whole milieu, without having the smallest idea why.
Which book should every child read? The one that answers their own particular needs.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? “Bloody email questionnaires!” (You can edit that one if you want.)
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Ivanhoe at the age of 8. It had a great horse on the cover but it turned out not to be about horses at all. No gymkhanas. No rosettes. What a swizz!
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What are you working on at the moment?
About Geraldine Geraldine McCaughrean was born in 1951 and brought up in North London. She studied at Christ Church College of Education, Canterbury and worked in a London publishing house for 10 years before becoming a full-time writer in 1988. She has written over 120 books, 50 short plays for schools, and a radio play. Her book, Not the End of the World, is currently being adapted for the stage.
A community play - my fifth - for which people from several villages round about here collaborate with a much loved theatre to stage to present an open air drama. It was a local event staged by a local lady between 1900 and 1912 and was reinvented for the Millennium.
She was selected to write the longawaited sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan after a competition run by Great Ormond Street Hospital, who own the rights to the books and the Barrie Estate. Peter Pan in Scarlet was published in 2006. Geraldine lives in Berkshire.
What’s the best way to start a Sunday morning?
With an empty notebook and a good idea.
exploring the psychological aspect of writing with consultant clinical psychologist Sue Carver
Gender-Related Differences in Reading Habits
male and female. I have known and appreciated for some time that he is unusual in that and that many of my female friends lament the disinterest of their partners in the novel. The bedside survey also suggests I read more non-fiction than the majority of women surveyed. Even so, aside from literature relevant to my profession, the number of novels I get through in an average year far outweighs my non-fiction consumption. *Illustration for essay by Robert Lipsyte Boys and Reading: Is There any Hope, New York Times, August 19, 2011
*Fig 1 A substantial body of research, conducted for the publishing industry and by concerned educationalists, comes to the same depressing conclusions: a) girls and women read many more books than boys and men and b) this is a growing trend. In addition, there appears to be increasing polarity when it comes to the types of reading material selected, with men reading less and less fiction and women reading little non-fiction. This is not a new phenomenon; Gore Vidal, for example, speculated decades ago on the possible reasons for the decline in men’s consumption of fiction. “It has been observed that American men do not read novels because they feel guilty when they read books which do not have facts in them. Made-up stories are for women and children; facts are for men. There is something in this. It is certainly true that this century’s romantic estrangement of writer from the World has reduced the number of facts in the American novel. And facts are the stuff of art as well as of life” (Homage to Daniel Shays, Gore Vidal, 1972). The piles of books that have accumulated either side of the Carver marital bed buck the trend. On the left, five novels, one poetry anthology and two work of non-fiction; on the right, four novels and three non-fiction books, a fair representation of our typical reading habits. I’ll leave you to speculate as to which is his and which hers. Regardless, it seems we are atypical. It is not incidental that I fell in love with a man who reads literary fiction, by writers
When I go into a bookshop to browse, I nearly always head straight for the fiction section; a tendency that the writing of this article has prompted me to question. Why don’t I spend more time perusing the non-fiction shelves when some of the books that have had the greatest and most persistent influence on my thinking — off the top of my head: The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski; Varieties of Religious Experience, William James; Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Erving Goffman; Arts and Crafts Gardens, Gertrude Jekyll; The Kama Sutra, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf; Cognitive Therapy of Depression, Aaron T. Beck; The Change, Germaine Greer and The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir — have been non-fiction? It may be helpful to consider the findings on literary preferences in the context of the research into gender-related individual differences in a range of abilities. Females, on average, show greater strength in linguistic, social and verbal abilities and emotional intelligence, arguably, of significance for the appreciation of many aspects of the novel, with males showing greater aptitude for spatial skills, fluid reasoning and certain motor tasks (see fig 2). It may be worth noting at this point that a disinterest in fiction and a strong preference for non-fiction is common in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome and is used as a diagnostic criterion for the condition, also that Lorna Wing, psychiatrist and authority on the autistic continuum, viewed autism as ‘an extreme form of maleness’.
Fig 2 taken from Halpern’s response to Drs Pink and Spelke in Edge The Reality Club http://www.edge.org/discourse/science-gender. html There is scant evidence to support the idea of large gender-related differences and the jury is still out with regard to the relative influences exerted by heredity and socialisation and the degree to which suspected inherited differences may be amenable to environmental influences. Also in response to Pink and Spelke, Newcombe states: “Even though sex differences in some kinds of spatial ability are substantial, levels of spatial ability do not seem to be biologically fixed. Spatial ability increases a great deal with practice, training and schooling, for both men and women.” I have relatively good spatial skills and have always had an interest in and aptitude for maths and science, which I attribute to my somewhat atypical upbringing: during the first seven years of my life I spent a great deal of time helping my invalid father, a skilled carpenter, ex Royal Marine diving instructor and largely self-educated man, with an impressive small library behind the sliding glass doors of the bookcases he made, who encouraged me to ask questions. He also implanted in me the belief that, like my two brothers, I could achieve anything I set my mind to. If, as seems to be the case, the gap between the genders, in terms of reading habits, is widening it may be worth speculating on the extent to which publishing industry’s targeting of women readers and ‘giving them what they want’ may, in the long run, be detrimental to both women and men. Books that are selected for publication too often fail to stretch women’s minds with what Gore Vidal referred to as ‘facts’ and alienate many male readers by emphasising the domestic, emotional and relationship aspects of life. My preference is for fiction such as Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Possession, AS Byatt, Snow, Orhan Pamuk and The Secret River, Kate Grenville: novels that do both. As in other areas of life, patterns and habits build up in relation to the reading choices we make. Even in adulthood, the brain is more ‘plastic’ than is commonly believed and both genders are likely to benefit from reading more and from widening the range of reading material they consume. I am going to make an effort to challenge the patterns I have slipped into and read more non-fiction. Perhaps I’ll make a start on the works of Eric Newby I’ve been meaning to read for some time.
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Maroula Blades Angel Blues Undress the dark singer of angel blues, Moan a modal current, molasses sweet. Reach through the library of sound, Prospector of ebony smiles And stay loose my friend. Visionary of sweet tomorrows, Hook the notes, do the speak, You heard long before you dreamt. Saturate the night with soul. I’m on your rhythm, sweet, pure thing. Sing.
About Maroula Maroula Blades is an Afro-British poet/writer living in Berlin. Verbrecher Verlag, TAZ, Cornelsen Verlag, Trespass Magazine UK, The Latin Foundation US, Caribbean Writer and Peepal Tree have published her work. She has received awards for poetry. Her Poetry/Music Programme has been presented on several stages in Berlin: IFA, Der Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Volksbühne to name but a few. Maroula read at the Black History Month Festival 2010 and the Berlin Poetry Festival 2010.
Mandala I choreograph myself to the situation, creating maps of inner and outer worlds, pentagrams, circles, compact shapes, houses of pure air for the mind to breathe in. No cages. Freethinkers and the morally bankrupt are welcome. No painful extractions from the mind. I softly go behind, touching the deepness, the unknown factor where demons flee the details, the yellow fog. Meditative art. Like a battery I work off the positive and the negative, every shade holds a secret that is pivotal to life. A dominion of ages, a universe, listening to dark and light tones, easing down the slave lake of life. I brush away cobwebs from the corners of thoughts, stored in cryogenic rooms at the base of memory. Wade in my maternal peace, paint the joys and the pains, use the spaces in my sphere; make my body pregnant with colour. Let the colours bleed, it’s my wish, as every tint is vast and beautiful, every line infinite, climbing frames, leading upwards and outwards. Where I exist, freedom has a place to grow, free of a hunched back to flow brightly back to the source, the light.
Comp Corner Corralled by Danny Gillan
Ah, back to normal, excellent. All those high value prizes and thousands of entries were starting to affect my hairline, to be honest. I didn’t get into this writing malarkey because I needed more stress in my life. I’m way more comfortable with a couple of desirable but modest prizes and a manageable number of entries in the region of tens of, well, tens. It was a blurby one this time out. All writers hate composing synopses, that’s just the writing-gods’ special torture, obviously, but that bit on the back cover can be equally as challenging/frustrating/difficult/arse-in-pain like. Obviously if you’re as gifted and sought after as Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi someone else will do that bit for you, but for the rest of us journeymen it’s likely we’ll have to come up with this first little bit of promo material long before we start worrying about trying to hack into Amanda Hocking’s Christmas card list. A blurb is promo material. It’s your first, and sometimes only, chance to grab a reader’s attention and persuade them to take a punt on that thing you’ve spent months and years to produce. It’s worth getting right. And so, to the winners. There were plenty of great entries to this one and, as always, we’d like to thank everyone who took part. There could easily have been more on the list, but we only had two copies of Paolo Coehlo’s Aleph to give away, so two winners it is. Congratulations to Tayo Leigh and Pat Black, who won out because they clearly recognised the difference between the job a blurb has to do as opposed to a synopsis or plot summary, and, frankly, because they made me want to read their books. Here they are:
All Hail Jo, by Tayo Leigh Survival is a choice, but not a pretty one. Jo makes no excuses for the bastard he’s become while subsisting on the edge of ‘Life745’. When the sky starts to literally crumble, Jo is forced to find a new home. Unsuccessful in the mandatory group personality tests, his only option is to apply for a permit to run his own spinoff world. With time running out, Jo must save his own life by convincing others to join his new civilization. Ultimately he must ask what’s the minimum amount of human you can be, without killing your chances of survival?
Snarl, by Pat Black The Beast of Barlingborough Bay. As seen on T-shirts, mugs and children’s colouring pads. It even has a line of “beast baggie” condoms. But there’s a snag; it’s real. It’s 350ft tall. It eats everything and everyone. And it can’t be killed. Rufus Farnan is a local reporter given the scoop of a lifetime as the Beast rampages from his seaside beat towards London. Meanwhile in Downing Street, super-slick Prime Minister Stanton Preece has issues. Paperwork to sign, foreigners to rail against and… damn it, where’s the toot? Bankers, politicians and journalists beware: the Beast isn’t a fussy eater. Worthy winners both, I’m sure you’ll agree. What’s next, I hear you become vaguely curious about? Well, if all goes to plan we might be featuring a few comic book related items in the next issue. So, inspired by that, I want you to send us an origin story. And by story I mean less than 100 words, of course (we’re a small corner and like it that way). What we’re looking for is a concise, potted history of a character, prior to the start of the story you want to tell about them: their origin. They don’t have to be a superhero, don’t worry (can be if you want, mind). The challenge is, can you explain what brought a character to the point where their story can actually begin to be told? In 100 words or less? It’s a birth of a hero/protagonist/antagonist/ supporting character/comic relief type thing. Give it a try. And give it a try in the body of an email to danny@ wordswithjam.co.uk before the 5th of March, please, ta. Ah, but are there prizes, I hear you become slightly more curious about? Well, duh! We’ve got either two or three copies (we haven’t got them yet so we’re not sure how many) of Then by our cover author Julie Myerson to give away. Excelsior!
A Cheery Little Tale by Helen Summer Helen Summer was a girl (okay, a 50-something year old woman) who dreamed of becoming a published writer. For 10 long years she toiled away, achieving a modicum of success, but the published book continued to elude her. Then one day she suffered a personal tragedy and for 3 empty years she wrote not a word. However, inside her size 0 (according to Girl Guide hat measurements) head, the writer worked on until her tiny head exploded and fingertips were applied to keyboard producing the first 3 chapters of Helen’s brilliant new novel in 7 days. A week later she met a publisher. The publisher (John Blake) was travelling with ‘Running Crazy Limited’ (organisers of running trips abroad), as was Helen, a life-long runner and occasional helper-outer with Running Crazy. John happened to meet some guys from the ‘100 Marathon Club’ (a club exclusively for people who have run over 100 marathons).
‘These people are incredible,’ he raved, ‘they’ve run marathons all over the world and have so many stories to tell. There’s a book here.’ Naturally, being of a modest writerly disposition, Helen said nothing. Not so Running Crazy’s owner, Malcolm Hargraves. ‘Helen may be interested in writing it for you, she’s a writer.’ ‘Would you?’ John asked. Breathe deeply, Helen commanded herself. Do not grab his arm and free it from its socket. ‘Take your time and think about it,’ said John. Funny guy. Count to ten, Helen willed herself. ‘Yes,’ she eventually squeaked, thinking, ‘Yes, yes, yes! Oh thank you, oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening. Oh My God!’ One synopsis and 2 draft chapters later, Helen had a publishing contract and offer of advance. Twelve months on, the book, entitled ‘Running Crazy’ and published by John Blake Publishing, is available on Amazon pre-order and is due out on 5th March 2012. Meanwhile, Helen’s brilliant new novel is on ice – but the champagne’s flowing!
The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Meg Davis
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 would like to ask about agents demanding writers show their work to nobody else during the time they are looking at it. Surely this is fine if the agent responds to the writer quickly, but I hear of agents demanding the writer does not send their work to anybody else, and then the writer sits at home waiting for months and finally, the agent says no. Surely this is not very professional? Armand Hérisson, Toulouse It is not and simply a restraint of trade. Secretly, I always prefer a submission is exclusive because I spend time and money on assessing it and it’s frustrating if one discovers after all one’s efforts paying for reader reports that the author has gone elsewhere but that’s business. I don’t like ‘beauty parades’ and it’s more flattering to feel one has been singled out but I understand that authors can’t hang around before submitting anew. I always try and respond, at least acknowledge, very quickly. As an agent, I generally make blanket submissions with deadlines of a month to publishers and that’s a perfectly fair position for authors too. There are plenty of good, efficient agents who will respond quickly so I wouldn’t worry.
Dear Andrew, What do you read for pleasure? Paul Harris, Canterbury Outside submissions, and they take most of my time and I read them for pleasure as well as work, I tend to read at night or on holiday. I also like to keep abreast of other books in my area and have been reading for a biography I have been writing on Guy Burgess. At the moment by my bed are : Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton (just watched the Martin Clunes film with my children); Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, David Nicholls’s One Day; Robert Sackville-West’s Inheritance:The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles; Madhusree Mukerjee’s Churchill’s Secret War and Susan Ottaway’s Violet Szabo.
My query is this. I published my first e-book on Amazon Kindle in September last year - a collection of short stories of general interest. Then in December I published my second this one all sci-fi shorts. Both books got 5-star reviews from Rachel Dove of Goodreads, and the first was given a lot of good comments, though the second only the one review as yet. Rachel and others have been very fulsome in their praises of my work. http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006IYVA1K. Rachel Dove thinks I may need an agent, if I am to get anywhere with marketing these books. She believes they would be very popular - but I am clueless about this, so I need some helpful advice please? I have been writing and getting published for fifteen years now, though never books before, so I feel as if I am dancing in the dark to some extent. Do you have any words of wisdom for me? Tony Leather, Colne, Lancashire Having shown your writing has commercial appeal and
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attracted critical praise then an agent may be more interested in taking you on for these books or future ones but, given the format you’ve chosen, you may simply be best selfpublishing and paying for marketing support from a company such as Palamedes. Personally, I believe over 75% of books in future will be self-published and the future lies with ‘indie publishing’.
In a world where publishing is changing very fast, do agents see their own roles changing? How do they feel about e-publishing? Do they fear their jobs will begin to disappear as new authors turn to self e-publishing and existing authors are being lured away from their publishers by Amazon? L.J. Windkinson, The Wirral Yes, the role of agents and publishers is changing very fast and publishing models of advances, royalties on published price etc very much under threat. There is now direct communication between writer and reader and the writer can be their own publisher which gives the writer/ publisher greater freedom, control, flexibility and profit. Agents and publishers need to show they can and do add value as gate keepers, advisers etc to guide authors through the complicated publishing maze of contracts, copyright, rights, marketing, problems of policing etc . There are huge opportunities for writers with e books but also many pitfalls and monies will now come from volume rather than margin with price a huge factor. I can’t speak for other agents but I’m certainly adapting and trying to offer a wider range of services, such as a speaker agency, and looking how one can develop as many different revenue streams for a writer as possible.
Who would be the best agents to approach for publishing historical fiction in UK? Thanks. Ruth Kozak, Vancouver, Canada I’m constantly asked by authors to suggest suitable agents. Sometimes I can because I’ve read about their sales or studied their websites but, flattering as it is to be considered omnipotent, I’m generally so focussed on my own list that I haven’t time to be aware of other agents’ tastes. My advice is always to study the acknowledgements pages or publishing catalogue entries of comparable books to see who was the agent. Googling ‘literary agent historical novels’ is another option.
What the strengths and weaknesses might be in signing with an agent who has a huge list of writers on their books compared with somebody with a smaller list - is there an ideal? How many writers can an agent feasibly look after? Guy Eastman, Cambridge I have over a hundred authors and, judging from the comments of authors in the website section ‘How I found the Agency’, they are very happy! There are plenty of very inattentive agents with very small lists and excellent agents with large lists. It all depends on how hardworking and effective an agent is and active the authors. If an agent has lots of authors then it suggests that writers want to be on their list just as rich agents tend to be successful ones. My
experience is that having a wide range of authors can be useful as they can help each other and it broadens the experience of the agent and range of publishing contacts. An agent should be judged on how many sales they are making and to whom not on number of clients. Each year I have a batting order of authors earnings from most lucrative to least profitable and the order is never the same. One author makes me half my income most years and 90% of my income comes from 10% of my authors but it would be very shortsighted not to always be looking to take on new authors and extending my range. An agent’s list should always be evolving to reflect the marketplace.
Out of around 10 agents I have submitted to in the past 18 months, only two have responded at all, even with a stock rejection. This is despite (a) carefully researching agents that seem a good fit (b) personalising my covering letter (c) making sure I match their submission guidelines to the letter (d) proofreading the submission within an inch of its life and (e) supplying an SAE for return of materials. (I should say I have had the same experience with big agencies and small ones, new ones and old established ones.) I have heard from other writers who have had similar experiences. Five years ago, my experience was entirely different. Every agent I submitted to responded, one way or another, within a few weeks. What has changed and what are we doing wrong?
How will the role of agents change, do you think? Agents have to think in non-traditional ways now, and offer a wider suite of services. I think about ways to increase my clients’ profile - the bigger picture, not just selling rights.
Katrin-Siân Lloyd, Neath You are doing nothing wrong and agents are simply being rude. Increasingly I have the same experience with editors. Email has made submission easier with the result that I’m now receiving over 500 submissions a week and I suspect it’s true of my colleagues. We are all busy but the least we can do for any submission is to have the courtesy of replying.
Why do so many agents refuse to accept email submissions and insist on dead trees and IRCs? Andy H., Pitesti, Romania Those agents don’t deserve to remain in business and probably will not. I much prefer email submission as I can forward to my readers and submit more easily. Publishers, who need to share submissions often with over twenty colleagues, are the same.
Meg Davis – The Ki Agency Meg worked in the theatre and as a trombonist before becoming an agent. She has served on the council of the Association of Authors’ Agents, and is currently on the council of the PMA. She represents writers in all media. http://www.ki-agency.co.uk/
Traditional publishing is undergoing a series of rapid and dramatic changes. Which elements make you optimistic and which pessimistic?
Which trends do you see waxing and waning at present, apart from the celebrity memoir? I think the pressure is on to offer a more intense experience. It doesn’t matter so much what the genre is, as long as the book can deliver enough ‘mind candy’. It’s got to stand up there with episodes of MadMen, films like Avatar, games like World of Warcraft. That doesn’t mean dumbing-down - quite the opposite; it’s got to be very intelligent and characterful, but also easy to get the flavour of. Perhaps this means more genre mash-ups, perhaps some straight re-inventions of genres such as horror and crime. I’m enjoying the decline of the misery memoir, and the success of the historical novel.
What’s your view on the multimedia opportunities offered by e-books? I think we’re going to have divergent platforms according to our mood or what we’re being entertained by at the time. There are some books that we’ll always want on paper or straight eReader. We just want to concentrate on the words. Some books lend themselves to hyperlinks, so if I’m reading a book on astronomy (for instance) I’d love to take a peek outside it at what a crab nebula looks like, or a particular moon of Jupiter. There may be books that go great with a soundtrack - maybe a history of the musical. I think we shouldn’t get hung up on the technology - the divisions are blurred, but offer more interesting possibilities.
If you had three wishes for 2012, what would they be? People spend more money on books Publishers regain their confidence Booksellers find a new business model that allows them to thrive
What I’m pessimistic about is publishers’ belief in more idiosyncratic or specialist authors. It feels as if they don’t believe that readers will have the time and attention span to browse and find those gems, but grab the big obvious books. What I’m optimistic about is that it feels more possible these days that a grass-roots movement can make an unexpected success; it’s not so much that we have only a few big gate-keepers any more.
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What Edit Twenty-four editors have kindly explained what they are looking for this year, giving a fascinating insight into the commissioning mind. With thanks to Andrew Lownie for his kind permission to re-publish this list in WWJ Hugh Andrew, Managing DIrector, Birlinn What you want is usually to be surprised ie it’s what you didn’t think you wanted that ends up being the success. However what interests me, as always, are books which are focussed on alternative views of how we should live our lives and are also focussed on community and local identity. I am also always enthusiastic about top class non fiction – whether illustrated or not. Of course we tend to have a Scottish twist in what we do but I maintain we don’t publish Scottish books we publish good books that happen in the main to be set in or by Scots. Trying to predict what we want forward in publishing is always a nightmare. That sure fire banker we believed in sinks quietly while the left field contender that no one was terribly keen on surges through. So I would prefer in the main to do my prediction by hindsight and claim that it was all inevitable really at the end of the year.
Myles Archibald, Associate Publisher, Harper Collins To say that 2012 is going to be interesting is an understatement – recession and Amazon Fire, plus the continuing ebook revolution is going to make the next 12 months a period of considerable change. It is also going to make it very exciting, with the new technology allowing us to deliver excellent ideas in a range of different ways. So what am I looking to acquire in the next 12 months? Ideas or stories with a strong, interesting narrative structure is essential for all media and is what non-fiction now needs. It is also interesting that non-fiction works well with broad subjects, or very specific, illuminating stories. Finally, it is striking how stories that seem to have waned from people’s memories can have a massive resurgence – so perhaps new takes on old stories might be a vein to mine.
Jennifer Barclay, Commissioning Editor, Summersdale Given the challenges we’re facing in the trade this year, I am looking for extremely talented and
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committed non-fiction authors who already have a following for their work and know how to promote themselves without having unrealistic expectations. We’re especially good at selling entertaining, accessible and informative true stories, and based on what did well for us last spring, these are the areas I’m looking in… True crime - we did well with Cocaine Wars, mostly thanks to the support of WHSmiths and in spite of getting hardly any publicity for it, and Conspiracy Theories is a perennial seller for us. Travel - whether exotic adventure like Sarah Outen’s A Dip in the Ocean, much helped by her regular appearances on national radio, or European lifestyle such as Lunch in Paris (we always do well with France!), Tales from the Fast Trains or Two Wheels Over Catalonia; and especially British travel - Too Narrow to Swing a Cat, Steve Haywood’s latest about exploring the English waterways by narrowboat, is doing as nicely, as is Ben Hatch’s Are We Nearly There Yet? I’m also looking for quirky narrative books in the area of gardening, like Minding My Peas and Cucumbers: Quirky Tales of Allotment Life, and pets, like Dash: Bitch of the Year, as well as nature, activities and sport (but quirky, humorous narrative, not straight biography). Summersdale also does extremely well with gift and humour, but many of the ideas are generated in-house so we only buy in things that are really special, usually with illustration, e.g.Me Without You by established creative team Last Lemon, or the Older Wiser Sexier books developed from the Spring Chicken range of cards, which have done brilliantly for us. We’re tentatively developing our health line (50 Things You Can Do) with bigger titles such as Emma Woolf’s deeply moving An Apple a Day (from her weekly Times column about anorexia), which we’re really excited about, so we’re on the lookout for really compelling projects in this area, but nothing that feels too much like self-help.
Dan Bunyard, Editor, Michael Joseph My focus is on commercial non-fiction, spanning a wide range of genres from true crime, sport and humour to biography and memoir. In terms of memoir, I’m always looking for original
and compelling stories - whether the focus is inspirational, nostalgic, military or otherwise, and whether the subject is a celebrity or just an ordinary person with an extraordinary story to tell. I think as a rule, it helps if a narrative has that immediate ‘one line pitch’ quality to it, or at least the potential to be pitched in a simple, powerful way. In a tough market with people buying fewer books, I think that ideas and books that carry this with them stand out. Looking back at the last year, it doesn’t surprise me that books like Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Koreaand The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz performed so well. You barely have to read the title before knowing that the book itself will be fascinating to read. And more recently, in last year’s Christmas market, I thought it was really encouraging to see Michael O’Mara’s Where’s the Meerkat? sell so strongly - a simple, clever, highly commercial idea. It shows that even in a challenging time for the industry people will be drawn to a well conceived and well published book. Looking forward to this year, I have an exceptionally well researched biography of the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith hitting the shelves in February. Later in Spring, I’m publishing an illustrated memoir by the young Olympic diver, Tom Daley, and then look forward to publishing the memoirs of footballer Joey Barton - a project that I’m hugely excited about.
Sam Carter, Editorial Director, Biteback Publishing & The Robson Press Since Biteback started in 2009, we’ve grown rapidly on the back of our commitment to publish serious non-fiction, establishing our reputation as one of Britain’s premier political publishers. I joined Biteback in 2010 with a brief to expand beyond our initial niche. That intention has continued with the creation of The Robson Press imprint. I commission across both lists, so on the Biteback side I’m after political titles and biographies. What I need is narrative skill, expertise with the telling cameo and an eye that fixes on those details that have previously escaped even the best informed observer. I am looking forward to publishing
courtesy of The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
Mark Peel’s study of Shirley Williams in 2012 and I’m very excited about Dan Conaghan’s The Bank, coming out in March; it’s a tour de force of investigative journalism that will make many at the Bank of England and the Treasury choke on their cornflakes. I’ve also been on the lookout for big think books and polemics, like Alom Shaha’s striking examination of what it means to be a Muslim atheist. I’m tempted to call it The Allah Delusion, but he’s holding out. In the final analysis it all comes back to the writing. My first call when I joined Biteback was to the agent of the peerless Jeremy Scott, now at home on the Robson list. His prose has a rare effortless quality, and his love of the Jazz Age and the demi-monde lightens our serious mien. Wise, truthful and rampantly politically incorrect – more of that please!
and memorialise the conflict during the centenary years of 2014-2018. I am really keen to find new stories, personal histories and compelling combat analysis from up and coming historians in the field, to offer a fresh perspective to this important historiography. I also want to recruit more strong female military historians to bring to light some of the incredible female perspectives on war from WW1 to modern-day Afghanistan. We’ve recently had great success with female narratives, such asHeroines of SOE and our book on Ursula Graham Betts, The Naga Queen. I still feel this is an underwritten area with much potential for emotive stories. We’re also continuing to develop our successful Battle Story series and I think there will always be a place for well-crafted and accessibly written battle narratives.
Phoebe Clapham , Editor, Politics, Economics and Current Affairs, Yale University Press
Trevor Dolby, Publisher of Preface, Random House
At Yale, we’re looking for really authoritative, engaging books in the broad fields of history, current affairs and economics. Big ideas are always welcome and a strong central argument is crucial, as demonstrated last year by the success of Frank Ledwidge’s iconoclastic Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan . In a world where we are continually being bombarded with information and diversion, we are focusing on how to add value and craft an unmissable pitch such as with our super-accessible ‘little histories’, most recently represented by Nigel Warburton’s bestselling A Little History of Philosophy. Our transatlantic operation and strong export and rights departments mean that international appeal is key, and I’m currently thinking about the new economic world order and how to identify the wider trends from the unending plethora of global news stories.
Jo de Vries, Head of Publishing – General History, The History Press In terms of military non-fiction, I’m passionate about First World War history and am getting very excited about the opportunities to commemorate
At a fundamental level Preface is looking, as always and as everyone, for that great story well told… no matter fiction or non-fiction. Rosie is on the hunt for really smart historical stories following the tremendous success of Ben Kane, Fiona Mountain, and the young James Aitcheson and hopes for the just purchased Elizabeth Loupas’s book based around the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. In 2011 our non-fiction has achieved some strength in depth. History is working as is our humour and popular culture – our series by Tessa Hainsworth escaping the rat race to Cornwall will go into its third book this year. With the success of Hawksmoor at Home I’m back on the cookery trail… it’s been a long time since I worked with Marguerite Patten and on the Hamyln All Colour Cookbooks. I think we sometimes find it difficult to get past the cool ‘London books’ so it’s Middle England for me this year with Dolan prize shortlisted Hugh Thomson’s Green Road into the Trees and the official story of the Animals VC called Gallantry and Devotion… See you on the other side.
Ed Faulkner, Publishing Director, Virgin Books and WH Allen At Virgin, I am always on the lookout for great
business books that have a compelling story behind them as well as well-written, well-researched books about adventure and popular culture, especially music and technology. At the end of last year we revived one of the oldest publishers in Britain – WH Allen. Founded in the eighteenth century, WH Allen started out publishing pamphlets on many political and social issues of the time. The new digital era seems to be a perfect opportunity to bring back this accessible style of non-fiction publishing, so for this list I am looking for new politics, current affairs, science and popular history titles in particular. We have signed up a new book by Al Gore and a memoir by former Islamist and founder of the Quilliam Foundation Maajid Nawaz. Whether we publish as an ebook, an innovative trade paperback or as a beautiful hardback, it is our passion for ideas and for reaching new readers that we hope to demonstrate with all of our publishing.
Philip Gwyn Jones, Executive Publisher, Granta Books & Portobello Books More so than ever in these changeable times, for me prospective books for our two imprints Granta and Portobello (the former more voice-driven, the latter more issue-driven) need to be utterly compelling to be worth publishing – although, of course, what compels me and what compels the next reader are not necessarily the same thing; which is partly why publishing remains so full of surprises – why else would our best-selling books of 2011 be so happily and unpredictably a report on life in North Korea, a cowboy story, interviews with ordinary Londoners, and a history of the Ordnance Survey? As an independent house, we are looking for independent-minded writers, who are inimitable, and who are looking for similar independent-mindedness in their publisher. There is so much change happening at such speed in the UK and in the wider world now – technological, demographic, geopolitical, social, financial, environmental, familial – that there are inexhaustible reserves for the curious writer to sieve. There’s no excuse for dullness or derivativeness, or rather we have no interest in
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them. This year, here in Britain, I’d be particularly keen to see more British writers explore and interpret the many changes rippling through our lives that have not yet been given illumination by our literature.
Louise Haines, Head of Non-fiction, 4th Estate As ever, I am on the look-out for non-fiction that is a little bit different and provocative. It needs to be stand-out in a challenging market. 4th Estate is an eclectic list but I would particularly love to find a great new ideas book, something original for the women’s market (having been the underbidder for Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman) and some humorously written non-fiction as we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously in the current economic environment. In the food area, I am always on the look-out for new young talent, though it can be tough to get it off the ground. I am pleased with how books by two more established food authors, Dan Lepard and Giorgio Locatelli, Short and Sweet and Made in Sicily, sold last autumn and Giorgio’s new BBC 2 series, Sicily Unpacked, is joyous.
Bea Hemming, Commissioning Editor, Weidenfeld & Nicolson In 2012 I’ll continue to look for brilliant, authoritative and beautifully written non-fiction. Whether it’s history, science, ideas, current affairs or memoir, the books I am most drawn to – and that are always the most rewarding to work on – are the ones born out of real passion. We had great success in 2011 with big history books such as Jerusalemby Simon Sebag Montefiore, and we have high hopes for Antony Beevor’s The Second World War this summer. I’m always on the look-out for talented historians to join the Weidenfeld list. Popular science is welcome, such as Tim Spector’s forthcoming Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes. I love books that open windows to the rest of the world, such as Ben Chu’s Chinese Whispers, which will debunk many of the common myths about modern China, and Anne de Courcy’s The Fishing Fleet, about the young women who went out to India in search of husbands during the Raj. This year I’m especially keen to acquire provocative, talking-point ideas book, non-fiction that will appeal to women and memoirs, but I’m often most seduced by one-off, unique books that defy categorization. Above all, it’s about finding that magic combination of an original idea and a writer at the top of their field who understands how to engage, inspire and transport their readers.
Georgina Laycock, Editorial Director, Penguin Press/Particular Books As the news from the world becomes darker and more apocalyptic, people need hobbies and enthusiasms, to play more games and make more music, to create things and to learn how to fix them. I want to publish the books that inspire them to do so. Publishing Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal over the last year has been an eyeopening experience: it’s been fantastic seeing the thousands of wildly different and creative ways her readers have interpreted her suggestions (look
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it up on flickr) and how much they have enjoyed doing it. I’m looking for authors who want to write about their passion – however unconventional – whether it’s for weathervanes, bridge or graffitti. (And, incidentally, if there’s a literate literary gricer out there, do please get in touch.) I love non-fiction, and now that the internet has abolished the need to be encyclopedic, it’s getting more and more interesting. I’ve found the success of beautiful books like The Hare with Amber Eyes or our Atlas of Remote Islands incredibly heartening. It proves that people love books that fire their imagination.
Juliet Mabey, Publisher, Oneworld At Oneworld, we are always on the look out for authoritative, accessible non-fiction across a broad range of genres, from science and psychology to current affairs and politics, but we get particularly excited, and would dig deep for, books that really engage with important issues, like The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier or The Spirit Level by Paul Wilkinson & Kate Pickett – challenging, brilliantly written and which say something important about the state of the world. We are also very keen to publish strong history titles, but are finding them rather thin on the ground. We don’t publish many memoirs, but we are very excited about No Worse Enemy by award-winning documentary filmmaker Ben Anderson, whose gripping account of the war on the ground in Afghanistan is based on 5 years embedded with both US marines and British troops. We also have a brilliant crop of popular science titles coming through this year, following our success with How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog, which hit the WHST bestseller chart once again this Christmas. In terms of literary fiction, we are on the look out for very distinctive voices and stories that open up other worlds or viewpoints in a very compelling way – stories that linger in the mind, that make you think, that can move you, like our Man Booker Longlisted A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards. Basically very, very good fiction.
Kate Moore, Editorial Director, Virgin Books At Virgin Books we specialize in commercial nonfiction, so I’m looking for books that will appeal to a wide audience. Virgin Books started life as a music publisher, and that’s still very much part of the list, be it memoirs and biographies of music stars, or books about an important genre or era. I’m looking for celebrity memoirs and books that tie in to popular culture, as well as humour titles – Virgin recently had a hit Christmas bestseller with the website-based Damn You Autocorrect! and we’re looking to build on this success in 2012. I’m also building a popular reference list, so I’m looking for quirky language books, and popular history and science titles, all written in a way that’s accessible and entertaining, as well as knowledgeable, with an eye to the gift market. With history, I’m looking for personal stories, a human insight into an era, whether multi-voiced or singular – following in the footsteps of our bestselling Dambusters by Max Arthur. And with our science title Massive by Ian Sample having just been nominated for the Royal Society Winton Prize in 2011, I’m looking to acquire commercial
science and mathematics titles to build on our success in this field. Virgin Books is also known for its business publishing, from inspirational how-to books to business memoirs; and we also publish sport and ‘cool lifestyle’ books, with a practical book on crafting coming in the autumn. I think 2012 is going to be a really exciting year in publishing, with the additional commercial opportunities of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, and with digital becoming ever more innovative.
Sarah Norman, Senior Editor, Atlantic Books This year, I’ll be looking to bring some debut talent and rising stars to the Atlantic fiction list. At the beginning of 2012, we’re publishing Courtney Sullivan’s Maine, the author’s second New York Times bestseller but her first novel to be published in the UK. This story of long-held family secrets is brilliantly written, witty but thoughtful, and has great emotional impact as well as commercial appeal: another novel that manages to combine all of this with a totally compulsive reading experience would be wonderful. We have had great success with The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – a novel with a controversial talking point that led to fantastic publicity. Two recent acquisitions, This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman and Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld, likewise deal with dilemmas thrown-up by the modern world and I’d like to add to this group of Atlantic titles that confront questions of how we live now. I’ll also be continuing to open my inbox in the hope of finding a big literary novel with the strong voice, rare originality and linguistic flair of a true storyteller. In terms of non-fiction, I’ll be searching for writers who also have a talent for storytelling but in the realms of history, biography and memoir. Even in a challenging market, writers like Christopher Hitchens, Claire Tomalin and Siddhartha Mukherjee – whose books have the scope, style and ambition to be prize-winners – have the power to enthrall new readers. Non-fiction that inspires, provokes and challenges, as well as distinctive one-offs from the worlds of science, nature writing, culture, music and food (2012 sees Atlantic publish our first recipe book), are also on my wish list.
Kay Peddle, Editor, The Bodley Head The Bodley Head is devoted to excellence in nonfiction in all fields. Its two principal strands are, on the one hand, books of immaculate scholarship in both the humanities and sciences and, on the other, books which contribute to the intellectual and cultural climate of our times. 2012 promises to be an exciting year for us and, of course, more widely, for the industry. Digital publishing will allow us to continue to experiment with different formats – short form non-fiction – and will allow us to respond more rapidly to events that envelop our world: something few book publishers have been able to do until now. We’re very excited to publish Hemingway’s Boat this year – a unique biography of the great man – and also Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England. What we’re on the lookout for in 2012? Good writing, authoritative authors, a unique approach to a subject and, most importantly, engaging content
that can be used in a number of ways beyond the book.
always on the lookout for something a bit different and out of the ordinary.
Laura Perehinec, Publishing and Digital Director, The History Press
Jane Sturrock, Commissioning Editor, Orion Non-fiction
The THP list is wide-ranging, covering military, transport and local history alongside biography, archaeology, genealogy and sport. We are looking for non-fiction that is popular, not populist, in tone and are keen to find books that bring lesserknown figures or an unusual standpoint to light in a compelling way, such as The Other Mitford and The Dracula Secrets. Our titles emphasise personal stories and experiences rather than providing sweeping narratives of major events, as with Ordinary Heroes: Untold Stories from the Falklands Campaign, and we remain on the lookout for tales of British heroes and heroines across all lists. We’ve seen an enormous amount of affection for nostalgia titles in recent times, especially conveying the post-war period and childhoods past, and this has shown no sign of slowing; given our great strength in local history publishing we are also particularly interested in memoirs that include a powerful evocation of place. On the crime side we’ve got an eye on historical true crime titles which display a hint of the macabre. From a personal point of view I am looking forward to exploring the possibilities for non-fiction as digital publishing evolves and would like to investigate digital-first projects and innovative approaches to established series and topics.
My tastes are fairly broad but one eye is firmly fixed on popular culture encompassing the very best in memoir – celebrities autobiographies and anyone who has a fascinating story to tell, comedy and humour, modern cultural comment and popular reference and ideas books. On the narrative side, I look for well-written compelling stories that have the ability to immerse the reader in the writer’s world whether that be an uplifting or nostalgic memoir that brings a particular time and place to life or a particularly well-timed and original book on modern culture. Comedy and humour books simply have to make me laugh. But, on top of that, the success of Keith Lemon’s The Ruleshas shown me that it is the right combination of author, subject and timeliness that dictates whether a book will work commercially. And I am always on the hunt for a big ideas book written by someone who knows their subject inside out and is keen to share it in an accessible with general readers. I like surprising conclusions whether in the field of science, economics, business or psychology. If it is engaging, well-told and has an intriguing central premise then I would be keen to read it. All that said, I can always get excited by a particularly quirky one off!
Roland Philipps, Managing Director, John Murray I am, as ever, looking for good storytelling in fiction - books that engage the reader from the start, and take them to a different world (even if a familiar one) and away from what I expect to be a gloomy news year. This applies to contemporary fiction, top-of-the-range thrillers and detective novels, historical fiction, and the unclassifiable. Perhaps particularly the unclassifiable. In nonfiction, storytelling is also key. As is authority for more serious subjects - experts not just commentators. Again, the unlikely is always an advantage, and the fresh look at old subjects. This year more than ever an international dimension is a bonus as there are parts of the world which have stronger markets than some of our traditional territories, so wide-ranging business, political and historical subjects are of especial interest.
David Shelley, Publisher, Little, Brown I acquire sparingly these days (although it is worth saying that if I feel something is not right for me personally, I will always share it with the most suitable publisher or editor here). I publish mainly crime novels and thrillers – Patricia Cornwell, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Dennis Lehane, Carl Hiaasen – as well as some authors who are sui generis (Mitch Albom, Christopher Moore). Although I usually tend to only know what I am looking for at the moment it hits my desk, I guess my buys can be characterised by the combination of a very strong central hook, a gripping narrative, and good writing. I’m excited by new subjects that have not been tackled before in fiction and am
Jonathan Taylor, Publishing Director, Headline Non-Fiction The Headline non-fiction team (which I run) operates at the commercial end of the popular culture/entertainment spectrum, anything with a strong media platform. So we’re interested in a broad range of areas including autobiography, sport, music, food & drink, diet & fitness, business, TV tie-in and inspirational real-life stories. My personal areas of interest are sport, business, TV/ radio, music and comedy. Examples of what I’m looking for would be a ground-breaking, hardhitting memoir from a well-known sporting hero (I’ve published Marcus Trescothick and Jonny Wilkinson, and acquired Mike Tyson’s memoirs); a riotously funny romp from a cult sportsman or woman (I’ve published Micky Quinn, Alan Brazil, Jeff Stelling, Bumble and Paul Merson); an inspirational book on leadership from a highly respected business figure (I’ve published Richard Branson); an off-the-wall, quirky narrative from a cult comedian; an unexpected memoir from an underground TV star (I’ve published The Stig’s autobiography,The Man in the White Suit); a knock-‘em-dead, leviathan of a memoir from a rock god; the “next big thing” dietary regime (I’ve published Carol Vorderman’s detox diet books and The Gi Diet).
Susanna Wadeson, Publishing Director Eden Project Books and commissioning Editor Bantam Press and Doubleday. Transworld publishes so many big ‘brand name’ authors, that every new author’s book that we take on has to work very hard to ensure it doesn’t get overshadowed by the established stars. So whether
our expectations will be huge, or more modest, I look for books with an immediately definable audience and a succinct pitch. Mark Henderson’s brilliant Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters which we’ll publish in May is a good example. Andy Hamilton’s Booze for Free: the definitive guide to making hedgerow & garden wines, sherries and liqueurs, beers, ales etc has a Ronseal title and over a hundred recipes that deliver just that. It also makes me smile which always helps. Wit, charm, and also a ready audience of Radio 4 listeners and dog-walking Daily Telegraph readers, drew me to Edward Stourton’s Diary of a Dog-walker; the sublime quality of his writing made it, and indeed his next book, irresistible. Truly elegant, poignant writing, and perhaps an indefinable Britishness, also drew me to Rachel Joyce’s wonderful and exciting debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which we publish in March. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I look for a very strong story or narrative thread, lovely writing, a sense of humour however wry, and identifiable (and targetable) fellow readers. Beyond that my list is pretty eclectic. I’d love more memoir and history, I’m interested by food , human behaviour and family relationships, our landscape, politics …
Sam Carter, Editor Director, Biteback Publishing & The Robson Press Since Biteback started in 2009, we’ve grown rapidly on the back of our commitment to publish serious non-fiction, establishing our reputation as one of Britain’s premier political publishers. I joined Biteback in 2010 with a brief to expand beyond our initial niche. That intention has continued with the creation of The Robson Press imprint. I commission across both lists, so on the Biteback side I’m after political titles and biographies. What I need is narrative skill, expertise with the telling cameo and an eye that fixes on those details that have previously escaped even the best informed observer. I am looking forward to publishing Mark Peel’s study of Shirley Williams in 2012 and I’m very excited about Dan Conaghan’s The Bank, coming out in March; it’s a tour de force of investigative journalism that will make many at the Bank of England and the Treasury choke on their cornflakes. I’ve also been on the lookout for big think books and polemics, like Alom Shaha’s striking examination of what it means to be a Muslim atheist. I’m tempted to call it The Allah Delusion, but he’s holding out. In the final analysis it all comes back to the writing. My first call when I joined Biteback was to the agent of the peerless Jeremy Scott, now at home on the Robson list. His prose has a rare effortless quality, and his love of the Jazz Age and the demi-monde lightens our serious mien. Wise, truthful and rampantly politically incorrect – more of that please!
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Submitting Non-Fiction by Helen Corner
Helen Corner, founder of the Cornerstones literary consultancy, gives some guidance on how to ensure your non-fiction proposal lands on the agent’s desk and not in the slush pile.
My job is to help authors through the redrafting and submitting stage; talent and inspiration cannot, as we know, be taught, but I strongly believe that a writer can be shown how to craft their skills and to approach the publishing arena in a confident way. Once you’ve finished your non-fiction proposal, it’s tempting to throw it into the publishing ether to see if someone will recognise your talent and commission your work. However, agents and publishers are a business and if something isn’t working – perhaps your writing is unformed, or your submission is incomplete or unclear – then it is likely to be rejected and they almost certainly won’t have time to give you feedback or tell you why. Agents and publishers often talk of metre high piles of unsolicited material – manuscripts (mss) sent in direct by authors - and their time is already filled with servicing their existing authors and taking on new clients, so your submission has to shine above the rest. The key to this is preparation and perfection. Part of what we do at Cornerstones is passing through first-time authors to agents, and each agent has different quirks and preferred ways of being approached. You’ll only know who likes what by carrying out your own research and this sense of care and targetting should shine through in your submission. So, draw up a list of three to four agents and profile them so that you target them in a personalised way. Look at their website, see exactly how they like work to be submitted; Google them to see if they’ve written any articles or have been written about in the trade press. When you introduce yourself in your cover letter, you want the agent to notice you and take you seriously. How professional it would sound if you mentioned, for instance, that you have read an interview on them in a writing magazine, and that you thought they might like to consider your non-fiction idea because they were currently looking for this kind of subject. You’re now ready to prepare your submission. You can either target one agent at a time – but be prepared for one month or so for a response, or you can target a couple at a time. If you do submit to more than one agent it’s important to say this in your letter (you don’t need to say who you’ve submitted to but you do need to be transparent with your approach) and tell them that you’ll let them know of any developments – this immediately signals professionalism in your approach because you’re aware of etiquette. By contrast, an agent will find it irritating if they think it’s an exclusive submission and then find out that another agent has already shown interest. I would advise against sending out your submission to more than three or four agents at one time, as it suggests a lack of conviction both in your work and in the agent you’re targeting. For non-fiction, usually all that is required is a proposal and an agent
can make a swift decision based on this. Every agent works differently - some just require a cover letter introducing you, your idea and a market analysis of why your idea would appeal and then some sample chapters. Others may request a synopsis or an introduction (why you, why the subject), and perhaps a contents list which will allow the agent to see the areas you intend to cover, along with sample chapter(s). For non-fiction the most important thing is why you’re qualified to write it. You can either write as an authority on a subject - for instance, if you’ve written about a particular period in history you should have some form of academic or professional credential to back this up; or, you can write from personal experience – you might have grown up in Africa and wish to write about how apartheid affected you. Either approach will carry weight, as long as the subject itself is inherently fresh and interesting; agents see a lot of memoirs and very few are published, so to succeed in this sub-genre you must be telling an outstanding story. The agent will probably glance at your cover letter and then go straight to your writing, and their decision whether to take you on will be 99.9% down to you and the concept - are you high profile or ‘interesting’, and is this high concept, unusual and likely to sell – backed up by the quality of your style and delivery. Every second that the agent remains with your work counts, and you don’t want to give them any excuse to turn it down. The real key to a professional submission, irrespective of genre, is to ensure that your writing is as strong as you can make it. Even if you’ve redrafted several times and you’re convinced you can’t do any more revision, have one last read – perhaps read it aloud – and get someone whose opinion you trust to read it as well. Check your presentation: is it a standard type and font (Times Roman, 12 point); are your chapters numbered and double-spaced; does each chapter begin with the narrative left justified and each subsequent paragraph indented? Are all your contact details, and the agent’s, correct (have you called the agency to double-check the agent’s name and that you have the right address)? If you would like your material returned don’t forget the stamped addressed envelope, with stamps on it, and not the white sticker that the post office will try to give you, as this goes immediately out of date.
And finally… remember that as a writer, your primary function is to be creative and original, so don’t lose sight of what you love to do, and persevere. I wish you all the best in your professional submission, and I hope to see your book on the shelves on day. With a background in publishing, Helen is the founder of Cornerstones, and Kids’ Corner - a leading literary consultancy. ‘Rough diamonds’ in the slush pile inspired her to set up Cornerstones, to give authors feedback on what works in their MS, what doesn’t, and what they can do about it. She now heads a 60-strong team of readers, all professional authors or editors, who share her vision of helping writers. Cornerstones scout for agents and are known for launching new writers. Based on their workshops, Hodder commissioned Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly to write ‘Write a Blockbuster and Get it Published’.
If you would like to participate in the Cornerstones Opening Page Mini Masterclass, send your opening pageStuff to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject ‘Cornerstones Masterclass’. 36 | Random
Hello, I’m Here to Help by Dan Holloway
I wanted to write something marketing- and/or social mediarelated in this issue for all the nonfiction writers out there. But for several weeks now I’ve been having one of those authenticity crises. You know the kind. Where you want to say something but you feel anything you say will be a fraud. I mean, I’m a novelist. And when I’m not writing novels, I write poetry. Or short stories. I’m not a nonfiction writer. Only... Well, I had a think. What was the last thing I had published? Um, that would be the review I did for The Guardian website. And the first thing? Oh yes, that travel piece I wrote for The Observer. And the biggest audience I’ve ever had (or ever will I dare say)? That would be the 140,000 circulation for the booklet on debt and mental health I worked on. And the biggest paycheque for a piece of writing? Ah yes, the mental health article I wrote a couple of years ago. Oh, and I guess there’s that column I write for a really rather fabulous writing magazine. So maybe I’m not such a fraud after all. Maybe I’m actually more of a non-fiction writer than a fiction writer. I’ve certainly written more non-fiction pieces in more respectable places than I have fiction. Or poetry. So why do I still feel a bit of a fraud? I think it has to do with how I “got the gig” for my various non-fiction pieces. I wrote a blog post more than two years ago called “Chutzpah, Cheekiness, and Chance” which I opened with the lines, “I wasn’t expecting to write something about, essentially, online journalism, and how to break into the field. It’s something I know very little about.” I think I still feel the same, and if someone pushed me into a corner at a party and demanded I unburden my wisdom to them, I think I’d still quote those three words. But chewing a little more of this particular cud, maybe there’s actually more than a little method behind those three little words. What you actually need is “the right kind” of chutzpah, “the right kind” of cheekiness, and “the right kind” of chance. And in that “right kind” there’s a surprising lot you can learn.
Chance I want to take this little sucker first, because it, and its stepbrother, Luck, are so frequently misquoted. The thing about luck, of course, is that there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what makes it luck. A lot of people who say you make your own luck have led charmed lives or are simply not particularly empathic. The rest actually mean, “Make sure you put yourself in a position to make the most of your chances.” And putting yourself in a position to make the most of chances that come along is something you most definitely can do something about. It was chance that first got me in touch with the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), with whom I’ve gone on to do lots of very rewarding work on debt and mental health, and through whom I’ve met many other people and organisations I’ve
The other thing about chance is that you can tune yourself to be aware of it. Look out for stories about your area of interest in the news. Have a press contact sheet ready to go that you can tweak ever so slightly to make it relevant to this particular story, then fire it off straightaway. worked with. I was in the middle of writing a travelogue, and had started a blog to go with it that combined travel exploits with mental health and financial troubles (my wife and I had coinciding “ups” during our bipolar cycle, and ended up travelling to 23 countries in
a single year on budget airlines). One of the researchers at the RCP was looking for people with mental health and debt problems. And Google did the matchmaking. For me it really was luck. But the principle I learned has stayed with me. If someone’s looking for the thing you can do, make sure you’re the person they find. That’s the real knack to what people call platform-building. Whether it’s Google or a friend, if someone with stuff that needs writing asks “Who can write this for me?” is your name the one that’ll come up? It’s worthwhile remembering that “Google or a friend” are quite different things though, and that people may go to either. For me, what comes first is a blog that has regular posts about the things I want to be asked to write about by others, and which you have carefully tagged and filled with the words that people will search for. Aside from being Googlefriendly, this is your calling card. There are many ways to make sure people know about you, but ultimately they will all point back to your blog (when someone asks, ”Can I see an example?” or some such, it is there you should be able to point them), hence the priority of starting by blogging and building out from there . But once you have that base, the next step is to research the places where other people talking about the things you are talking about hang out. If these are online places, you can go and interact on forums and blogs. I’m never a fan of the “look at me and this is my fabulous blog” approach. It is far better to offer help and insights, and link back to your blog subtly. If you are regularly helpful, witty, and wise (and if we’re not then you probably don’t deserve that gig in the first place), it won’t take long to get a reputation. And then you’ll be the name on the tip of real people’s tongues as well as Google’s.
“Once You’re In” There are lots of helpful tips about getting noticed, and making sure people come to you for the things you can do best. But there is one golden rule to transcend them all like some bad Tolkien rhyme: Once you get your break, don’t blow it. Simple, really, but we spend so long thinking about how to get that all important foot in the door that it’s all too easy to get it caught and end up with nothing more than an almighty blood blister. The thing is, once you do have a piece of work out there, that’s what people will be looking at, regardless of
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what’s on your blog or anywhere else. So make it an absolute zinger, because however hard it is to get a first chance, a second chance is ten times harder to get. But if the first piece you do is great, more offers will start to come very quickly. The other thing about chance is that you can tune yourself to be aware of it. Look out for stories about your area of interest in the news. Have a press contact sheet ready to go that you can tweak ever so slightly to make it relevant to this particular story, then fire it off straightaway. Make sure you follow all the organisations and publications that might be interested on twitter, and tweet them offering a story the moment the news breaks (and make sure you regularly search key words on twitter so you know when the news breaks). Then, two minutes after the news breaks (because minute one was firing out that contact sheet and those tweets), write a short, crisp, informative blog post about the story with a very heavy angle, and post links to it on twitter. I had a huge spike in interest and contact when I managed to post an article about Stacey Slater being revealed as Archie’s killer on EastEnders – I almost burned my fingers getting a post up within 20 minutes lambasting the BBC for undoing all their good work on sensitively creating awareness of bipolar disorder through Stacey’s storyline, and by getting in first, my article was the one that everyone re-tweeted on the subject.
Cheekiness and Chutzpah I often joke that 90% of the things I end up doing happen because I stuck my hand up at an (in?)opportune moment. Only it’s not really a joke. Unless you’re interested in the paints used on 1986 computer keyboards, then the chances are there are organisations and magazines and events going on around you all the time that relate to your interest (with apologies to anyone interested in 1986 keyboard paint – there may well be conferences held on a weekly basis, and I’m sure there’s more than a passing forensic interest). Go along as often as you can. And offer to do things. That’s what I mean by sticking your hand up. Could you write an article for the UK Stapler Appreciation Society? Why not go along to one of their events, join in the fun, and then offer to write something. Or go along to a local history group and volunteer to organise a day trip to London Stapler Museum for them? The problem is this all sounds a lot like cold calling. A lot like those annoying people on twitter who are always spamming agents saying “look at my fabulous book!” Have you ever noticed that there are two kinds of people, and they seem to ask the same things and say the same things, but one group’s treated like needy pariahs whilst the others are welcomed with open arms? That’s where cheekiness and chutzpah come into their own. Always be helpful, always be kind, always be warm and witty, and always, when you’re asking something, do it with both conviction and
your tongue firmly in your cheek. Even online, people can spot someone who’s self-serving as opposed to someone who’s genuine. And remember, the very best question you can ask, and one you should ask as often as you can: Can I help? You’d be amazed how many doors it will open. As well as being immensely rewarding in its own right.
To Summarise: • Make yourself easy to find through Google by having a regularly updated blog filled with all the words people are likely to be looking for. • Make yours the name everyone knows by offering interesting, helpful comments on blogs and forums. • Make sure you have an interesting take on things – make people want to get your opinion. • Once you get your foot in the door, make it count! • Look inside, find “your” voice (using twitter a lot, and letting yourself emerge, is a great way to do this), and turn up the volume • When an opportunity comes along, ask! • Be courteous to everyone; be helpful to everyone; act like you belong; never be arrogant; don’t take yourself too seriously.
Whose Story Is This? Looking at viewpoint with Sarah Bower Stories are precious possessions. We fight hard for them. We all know the indignation of another person cutting in to give their version of a story we are telling; when they do this, they trespass on our souls. Fictional characters are no different. Every one of them is clamouring to tell his or her story, battling it out in the mind of the writer to be given the privilege of a viewpoint. When the novelist performs the work of characterisation thoroughly and properly, every character she imagines, however minor a role they have to play, will be fully rounded, with a deep backstory, a rich hinterland that may never appear in the finished book but is always there between the lines, the life-giving secret shared between author and character. Every one of these characters will therefore be pressing you
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for a voice; every one has a story to tell. The way in which you manage these competing claims will, perhaps, determine the course of your novel more than any other single thing. It affects, obviously, the development of and interplay between characters, the unfolding of your plot, what readers know, are left guessing, are lied to about, and the voice of the novel – the forms of words, the images, the cadences of its storytelling. So how do you decide which of your characters will be given a point of view, which of them is going to work hardest alongside you to bring the novel to life? Kazuo Ishiguro, it is said, actually goes through a process of ‘interviewing’ characters to determine which of them is best suited for the job! There is no single right way to arrive at a decision. As with most aspects of creativity, it is perhaps best to begin with your intuition. Whose story does it feel like? Which character’s
voice is most often in your head when you are thinking about and planning your novel? Even for writers whose ideas come to them plot first, as a series of dramatic situations or confrontations, character must follow close on the heels of the plot because, without characters, you have no-one to enact the plot. So, there is much to be said for beginning by listening to the voices in your head and focusing on those which speak loudest. As with every aspect of constructing a novel, however, the intuitive work must be given form and reinforced by reasoning based on technical understanding. You must understand what narrative viewpoint is and how to deploy it if the voices of your viewpoint characters are to be authentic and intelligible to readers. Narrative viewpoint refers to the point (or points) of view through which the novelist tells her story. It determines through whose eyes (and other senses, of course) the reader
perceives the action and whose voices will be given a privileged hearing. This may, and most likely will, also suggest whose lies the author would like readers to believe. I began this discussion by talking about the viewpoints of characters inside the novel because this is the commonest mode of narration in contemporary mainstream fiction. The convention is that readers follow certain characters, but the characters are unaware of the readers’ presence. They act out the part of their lives examined in the novel as if they are unaware of their status as fictional constructs in an artificial, imagined world. This was not, however, always the case. The convention of the early modern novel was for the author to make his role in the story explicit.
readers’ understanding. Principal characters are also the ones most likely to engage readers emotions and therefore the ones whose voices readers will most want to hear. If you choose multiple viewpoints, try to avoid using too many as this can become confusing. As a rough rule of thumb, a maximum of six different viewpoints is probably the most it is wise to use in a novel of average length. When using multiple viewpoints, it is also a good idea to try to establish some pattern in the way you deploy them, as this is another way of helping readers navigate your text. You could, for example, always use them in the same order, associate certain voices with certain locations, or give them a chronological relationship so that each narrates aspects of the story from fixed, but
open. Of course, your murderer may be dying to confess, in which case you have a novel which uses a reverse chronology (like Gabriel Garcia Marques’ Chronicle of a Death Foretold, even though the author classifies this book as journalism rather than fiction). We know who the victim is and who killed him, and his motives are the mystery the book explores. I have referred already to the close viewpoint. Having decided on your viewpoint characters, you must also decide how close you want to bring readers to them. Do you want readers to participate in the fictional world from right inside the heads of the viewpoint characters, giving them a visceral experience of those characters’ physical feelings as well as their
If I only have a single viewpoint, how can I tell the reader things that character doesn’t know? It is, of course, a valid question, but what I ask my students is this: how do you find your way through life? How do you assimilate knowledge or an understanding of other people? Thackeray, for example, subtitles Vanity Fair ‘a novel without a hero’; by imposing his own acute and merciless vision between his characters and his readers, he makes sure the latter see the former warts and all; he gives them no voice with which to big themselves up to readers. Throughout the novel, the reader is aware of the author himself mediating the text and manipulating the characters; this is more like puppetry than CGI. This is an authorial viewpoint, producing a novel which is very much about the author telling us a story and drawing the moral he intends. A form also popular at the same period, and which has remained so in contemporary fiction, is the fake memoir. Robinson Crusoe is an example of this, as is William Boyd’s Any Human Heart. These are novels which are presented as the truth – in Boyd’s case as a diary, in Defoe’s as travelogue-cum-adventure, but because their narrators are fictional, ergo the stories they tell are also fiction. Crusoe and Logan Mountstuart are what we call virtual authors, who stand between the ‘real’ author and the rest of the characters in the novel, who have no viewpoint. This kind of novel is almost always narrated, for obvious reasons, in a close first person voice. The entire action is filtered through the virtual author and spun according to his agenda. So, although both the novels I have given as examples contain elements of historical fact, the reader cannot necessarily trust it because it is shown through the eyes of a self-promoting, and therefore unreliable, narrator. As I have said, however, the commonest mode of narration in mainstream fiction is that which uses the viewpoints of one or more principal characters. Clearly, viewpoint characters must be major players in your story, otherwise their knowledge of what is going on will be too little for them to contribute to
different, points in its chronology. This latter can be either cyclical or linear, where the story is handed on from one to the next like a baton in a relay. Many beginning novelists start out believing multiple viewpoints offer the best way of telling their story because they worry about the handling of information. If I only have a single viewpoint, how can I tell the reader things that character doesn’t know? It is, of course, a valid question, but what I ask my students is this: how do you find your way through life? How do you assimilate knowledge or an understanding of other people? The fact of the matter is, the single, close viewpoint is actually the easiest to do because it is the most like life. All of us go through our lives with a single viewpoint. We have no idea what is going on in other people’s heads other than what we can intuit from observing them. Our readers are the same so, if your single viewpoint character tells them her boyfriend says he’s going fishing but can’t look her in the eye and clears his throat a lot, they will know he’s lying and is probably off for a hot weekend with the femme fatale. Viewpoint characters who have limited information, or choose to lie about what they do know, are unreliable. The unreliable narrator is one of the key tools at the disposal of the novelist who chooses to use character viewpoints or a virtual author figure. Unreliable narrators do not tell the truth, either because they do not know it due to their limited viewpoint or because they do not wish to share it with readers. If, for example, you are writing a murder mystery and choose to narrate it from the viewpoint of the murderer, the murderer may not want to give himself away so you and he will both have a vested interest in keeping his action quiet until investigation forces it into the
thoughts and emotions, or do you prefer to keep your distance? The former has obvious advantages in the immediacy with which it can engage readers and bring the fictional world to life. The latter, on the other hand, can be a useful hybridisation of character and narrator/author viewpoint. The view of the fictional world is confined to a limited cast of characters, but they still keep their innermost feelings secret. We might see, for example, that Jane is wearing new Louboutin shoes, but we will not necessarily be aware that she has blisters as a result. Not only can this help with the management of information, but also helps the author exercise control over the atmosphere of the novel. In Never Let Me Go, for example, Ishiguro always maintains a distance between his characters and the reader, and this contributes to the detached, somewhat glacial atmosphere of the novel, an atmosphere which is needed to reinforce its theme. Finally, keep in mind that you can mix and match different degrees of closeness, much as the cinematographer zooms in and out from wide angle or cherrypicker to close up. There may be times when it suits you to keep readers and characters apart and times when you want to make the reader feel at one with a character, slower moving passages where you want a wide angle, descriptive approach contrasted with tense sequences in which you want us to feel the protagonist’s racing heart. I have to end with an apology. Writers must, of course, read widely, but the more they learn about their craft, the more critical they become as readers. Once you start reading for viewpoint, which is virtually unnoticeable unless done badly, your days of reading for enjoyment are numbered! Sorry.
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Scripts: Stranger than Fiction by Ola Zaltin
I’m channel surfing again, so what? I’ve already cleaned the apartment, colour-coded my books, re-potted the plants and flossed the cat’s teeth (ok, I don’t have a cat, but the neighbour’s volunteered - if somewhat evasively - the hurdle was to hold him still but as my niece says: if it ain’t working, you simply haven’t used enough gaffer tape.) For short: anything to avoid writing that horrid article for WWJ. “Non-fiction”. I mean, seriously, where DO they get it all from? So I’m hopping from channel to channel, merrily procrastinating away another afternoon in a very clean apartment with some very happy plants and good-looking bookshelves and someone pounding on my door yipping away for cat and country about the RSPCA in the background. Which is when something catches my eye and I suddenly can’t make my thumb obey my brain and push the button for the next channel. And no, it’s not Playboy channel (not this time, at any rate). In fact, I don’t know what it is. It’s utterly strange, what I’m watching. There’s black and white footage from some kind of eastern block country in the seventies. Oldsters being interviewed about I think Czechoslovakia back in the day. An English woman in her seventies, who I am starting to understand is looking for her heritage in the Jewish part of Prague that was before WW2. I haven’t watched any channel more than 10 seconds tonight, and now already 20 minutes have passed without me moving a muscle. Okay, truth be told, I just made up the specifics of the documentary. But you know the feeling: you just have to find out what the story is and so you stay on the channel. At least if you’re curious, and I believe most writers are, on one level or other. In the image-saturated society of today we have become extremely adept at decoding moving images. I dare anyone reading this not being able to tell within five seconds after switching to a new channel what genre it is, whether made for tv or film, what decade it was produced, and round about where we are in the story. Sounds like a lot? Yet you do it
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without thinking about it 25 times per evening, give or take. If you watch the telly, that is. If not, stop reading. Now. Genre is easy of course, rom-com, detective stories, comedy, thrillers, historical dramas etc; we all know them. TV-productions generally contains more talking heads, few movie-stars (for natural reasons), whereas films have another aspect-ratio, better lensing and more landscapes and so on. Production decade isn’t a biggie either, as we decode this fast as well, based on things like resolution, black & white or techni-colour or colour, the way the dialogue runs, the fashion and interior decorating of the sets, and more. Even historical dramas from another decade aren’t that hard (e.g. “Kelly’s Heroes”: a film from 1970 set during the second world war has Donald Sutherland as a hippie in a tank...). Where one has landed in a film when channel surfing can be figured out through some easy tells: if the camera is zooming in slowly, it’s the very opening. If it’s slowly zooming out, the credits are about to start rolling. The beginning means a lot of talking, a lot of exposition, things are moving along at a rather sedate pace. Middle means things just got a lot more complicated and dangerous (spot the film: the Death Star is in fact fully operational, Jules is kidnapped by Davian, Cobb’s projection of Mal sabotages the plan, and so on and so forth ad absurdum). When it starts raining and the guy just lost the gun, the girl plus his nerve and the storm of the century is headed for the coast with 100 feet waves saturated with very miffed cyborg sharks - that’s when you can tell we’re beginning to see the climax and approaching the ending of the story. And so on, there’s a dozen other simple signs that we decode and understand more or less subconsciously. This is part of my theory why documentaries make such fascinating viewing. Being so inundated with Hollywoodese and its formula story telling, well made documentaries has become a breath of fresh air, an anti-dote to the make believe world of been there seen that. Although knowing what’s around the corner can be very comforting in story-telling terms, we also need to be surprised, get to know new worlds, true drama and deep sorrows and real-life triumphs. After all, this is what fiction strives to portray. So what makes documentaries so watchable? To find out more about this I called up Swedish documentary film maker
Fredrik Gertten (whose film ”Bananas!” http:// www.bananasthemovie.com/ is now out for distribution in the UK). It came as no surprise that his genre of documentary film-making, doesn’t have a script per se. More of an outline, a question he is curious about. Something worth exploring to see if there is a story behind the headline, the article or the tip-off. What came as more of a revelation was that he said good documentaries were character driven. Fredrik told me that once he has the subject matter researched, he goes looking for the character that can tell the story. Without this person, no documentary. Which blew me away, because this is so very much like fiction script writing. Without a strong protagonist: nada. It hit me, upon a quick mental run-through of my favourite documentaries, that they all had amazing main characters or groups of characters. Hoop Dreams (1994), Capturing the Friedmans (2003), Dont Look back (1967 - easy: the main character is Bob Dylan) and The War Room (1993) are ones that immediately leap to mind. They all have amazing stories, strong characters and very involving story-lines. Then there’s Grey Gardens (1975) possibly my favourite documentary of all time. It concerns the mother and daughter relationship of Big Edie and little Edie Bouvier and their solitary and impoverished, half crazed and vividly alive existence in the eponymous Grey Gardens, a derelict mansion in the posh East Hamptons. The fact that little Edie was first cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made quite the headlines when the film was first screened. I won’t even try to describe the film, it has to be seen. I will never forget mother and daughter Bouvier (how can you, when the main character little Edie every other night goes up to the attic with a bag of cat-food to spread out for the visiting badger?). It’s one of those things, if you wrote it as fiction and showed it to someone they’d immediately say it was completely outlandish and wholly unbelievable. Man, you just couldn’t make it up. Larger than life and incredibly heart-felt. Stranger than fiction.
Question Corner Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ...
Brenda Darling is concerned about her work being used without her permission. She sent in the following plea for help: Hi there, I wonder if you could give me some advice please. Last year Sheila Bugler kindly helped me with my synopsis for my novel HARD KNOCKS. Since completion I have been sending three chapters of my book to agents. Recently an agent got in touch by e-mail saying that they were interested to represent me if I could send them my novel by word document. This I did immediately, without giving any thought to the consequences. After getting no response, I rang and it was explained to me that I had to pay money up front. A published author whom I know, advised me not to go ahead. So I rang the agent and declined his offer. My question is, the agent now has my complete novel and as I cannot retrieve my word document what do I do now? Is there a way I can stop my work from being used? First and foremost, your writer friend is absolutely right to warn you off paying a prospective agent. Money should always flow to the writer, not the other way round. The only time an agent should make money from a writer is in commission for selling the book. The exception to the money flowing to the writer is if you choose to pay for professional editing prior to submitting to an agent, or if you go to an editorial consultancy for advice on improving the storyline and structure. You don’t have to worry too much about the agent using your work as you own the copyright and any use without your express consent would be illegal. I would, however, suggest sending the agent an email referring to your telephone conversation. Make it plain that you have declined the offer of representation and that you are withdrawing your work. Even if they have kept the file (highly unlikely) you would then have a record of what was said and done.
Jason from Devon is writing a novel based on people he knows, but is concerned about possible legal implications. He writes: I live in a fairly small town and the people here range from the slightly odd to massively eccentric. I’ve got an idea for a book based on these people (you wouldn’t believe how out there some of them are) but I don’t want to end up in trouble if someone recognises themselves. Apart from changing the names, how can I disguise the fact that I’m using real people?
The best way of doing this so that people in your life won’t realise you’ve used them is to combine two or three real life people into one fictional character. If, for example, the pub landlord is a misogynist and the vicar has a drinking problem, you could easily put the two together as one character and make him the local magistrate. What I suggest you do is create a profile for each composite character. Put down as much factual information as possible, but also change anything which would enable the person to recognise themselves. So, for example, if you intend to use the man who works in the petrol station and he has brown hair and brown eyes, give him a different job, change the hair to red and give him green eyes. Make him taller or shorter than the person you’re going to base your character on, or make him fatter or thinner, give him more hair or make him bald, depending on how much hair the actual person has. If you change the way he looks and where he works, he is unlikely to associate himself with that character, meaning you can still use his eccentricities without fear of recognition. Few of us recognise our own eccentric habits, but are quick to spot odd behaviour in others. At the top of each profile make a note which character/ characters they are in real life to remind you of the foibles and traits you want to incorporate.
Jessica from Mussidan, France, sent in the following plea for help: I’ve been told by my writing tutor that I have to plot each chapter of my novel from start to finish before I even begin writing it. Is he right? I’ve tried, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. I know the story in my head and just want to get on with it. It seems there are two types of writers: plotters, who have to know exactly what is going into each chapter and scene before they write a word, and pansters, who like to write by the seat of their pants and allow the characters to decide where the story is going. Both systems work, but neither works for everyone. My advice would be to go with what suits your writing style. However, to keep your writing tutor happy, why not scribble down the basic plot of what is already in your head? Not a chapter by chapter, scene by scene plan, but a simple outline so that he can see where the novel is headed.
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 Pencilbox | 41
Synopsis Doc with Sheila Bugler
Working with Helen Phifer on the synopsis for her novel, Deadly Obsession. Helen Phifer lives in the South Lakes. She uses her experience as a community support officer in her crime writing. She is married and has five teenage children. Deadly Obsession is her first novel.
Sheila’s comments As a crime writer, I was delighted to get a chance to work with Helen on the synopsis for her crime novel. Deadly Obsession is Helen’s first novel and two things were immediately obvious when she contacted me. The first was that she’s a natural, talented story-teller. Secondly, like many first-time novelists, she was struggling to get her synopsis right. Helen sent me one of several versions she’d been working with (see below). It wasn’t bad for a first attempt but it needed work. The narrative – which switches between the past and the present – was confusing and the punctuation needed serious attention. One problem with synopsis-writing is that it’s too easy to write yourself into a corner, trying harder and harder to produce something that’s easy to read and also manages to summarise every plot element of your complex novel. All within 500 words. This isn’t possible and the sooner you give up trying, the easier you’ll find the whole synopsiswriting process. A good starting point is to come up with a one- or two-sentence summary which captures the essence of your novel. I suggested this to Helen and she agreed to give it a try. After a few attempts, we agreed on this: The dead can’t harm you. At least that’s what police officer Annie Graham believes, until she becomes the target of a Ripper-style killer. Next, I gave Helen the following list of instructions which she had to follow to get to the next stage: 1. Sit down somewhere quiet (with a glass of wine, if necessary). 2. Keep the summary at the front of your mind. 3. Forget all other versions of your synopsis. 4. Write a one-page (or less) synopsis from scratch. 5. When it’s finished, save it and send it to me. Do not revise it before sending it. 6. Do not spend more than 30 minutes on this. Helen followed my instructions to the letter (although I’m not sure if she stuck to just the one glass of wine) and sent me through the revised synopsis. It was good. Now, we had something to work with. We tweaked it a little more until we both had a final synopsis we were happy with.
I know why I prefer the final version, but what do you think? Send me an email editor@
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wordswithjam.co.uk with the subject ‘Synopsis Doc’. I’d love to hear from you. Helen’s comments I had written several versions of my synopsis, but I wasn’t really happy with any of them. They were messy and to be honest I was at the point of giving in. I had no idea what I could do to sharpen them up until I found the answer to my prayers, SHEILA. I have learnt so much from her and she has the patience of a saint. It was amazing to see this messy piece of writing begin to take shape. I was aghast when she said I had to forget what I had written previously and start at the beginning although the glasses of wine helped immensely with this task. I have never been one to disobey orders and followed Sheila’s instructions. It has been a fantastic experience working with another crime writer and I am so thankful I have been given this opportunity. I would recommend any writer struggling with their synopsis to follow Sheila’s list of instructions, it will help them immensely. I am now feeling far more positive about sending my work out to agents and can never thank Sheila enough for all the time and energy she has spent helping me.
Deadly Obsession – Synopsis One Police officer Annie Graham is in serious trouble recovering from a violent attack by her now estranged husband, she becomes the object of desire for the town’s first serial killer. A killer who is heavily influenced by “Jack the Ripper”. Henry discovers a trophy room in the cellar of a crumbling Victorian mansion, empty since its owner died in 1945. He realises this room once belonged to “Jack” and finds the knife once used by him it becomes Henry’s weapon of choice. Annie who is temporarily homeless agrees to housesit for her brother. Off work because of her injuries, the only job she has to worry about is keeping an eye on an empty mansion, nearby. Inside the mansion Annie discovers a diary written over a hundred years ago by Alice a housemaid who went onto to marry Edward the only son who inherited the house. It chronicles the abuse she suffered and Alice finally pieces together that her husband is the infamous “Jack” who everyone is talking about. She has to fight for her life in his trophy room. She wins and buries him in the cellar, taking the world’s best kept secret to the grave with her. Henry lures his first victim to see the mansion, killing her in the trophy room. The police begin to search for the missing teenager. Bringing Will the Detective Sergeant in charge to the woods, where he meets Annie for the first time. Will has a reputation as a womaniser but finds himself falling for Annie which is the last thing either of them wants. Henry begins to stalk Annie. After seeing her with Will he murders another woman in a fit of rage, this throws the police and Henry into turmoil. Henry then begins to kill anyone who gets in his
way. Realising time is running out he goes for Annie. Ambushing her he takes her down into the trophy room. She has read the diary and knows exactly where she is. Will makes the connection and dashes to rescue her only to confront Henry and have a massive heart attack, leaving Annie to fight to save them both. The past is being played out again. Annie manages to overcome Henry. Help finally arrives as the mansion goes up in flames. Annie, Will and the dead girl are all carried from the burning building to waiting paramedics. Henry stumbles out after them his hair on fire and bleeding he collapses onto the lawn. Three weeks later Annie buries her husband. The story ends with Annie laying flowers on the grave of Alice the woman who killed “Jack” and telling her that her secret is safe.
Deadly Obsession – Synopsis Two Novel: Deadly Obsession Word Count: 83000 Words Genre: Crime/Supernatural The dead can’t harm you. At least that’s what police officer Annie Graham believes, until she becomes the target of a Ripper-style killer. When ANNIE GRAHAM’S violent husband MIKE finally goes too far, putting her in hospital she flees to the sanctuary of her brother’s house, located in the grounds of a crumbling Victorian mansion. While she’s there, police begin to search the woods surrounding the mansion for a missing teenager. During the search, Annie meets WILL ASHWORTH a fellow cop with a taste for the ladies and a vulnerable side. Despite Will’s reputation Annie finds herself drawn to him. And the feeling is mutual. Will can’t stop thinking about her. Local girls are going missing, and it soon becomes clear that Will isn’t the only one with his eye on Annie. When the killer, who lures each victim to the woods, spies Annie, she unknowingly becomes the object of his desire. As the killer closes in, a regretful Mike skips his bail hostel and comes to find Annie, determined to win her back. Meanwhile, Annie has become intrigued with the content of an old diary she finds in the school room of the mansion. The diary belonged to housemaid, ALICE HUGHES. Through its pages she discovers clues to the house’s dark past. The owner, a once charming man called Edward, had a terrifying alter ego. After killing his mother in a jealous rage, he goes to London where he murders at least five prostitutes, gaining infamy as the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’. The clues to Edward’s dark past lie in the pages of Alice’s diary. But can Annie figure out the truth before two terrible crime sprees, separated by more than one hundred years, converge in the grimy, blood-splattered cellar next door? A contemporary, supernatural crime novel set in the South Lakes; this is the first in the Annie Graham series.
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
If you are considering starting your own business, I would suggest reading this book. Even if you think you know everything there is to know, this is a great reference tool to keep on your desk and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll still pick up a handful of tools you didn’t know existed. If you are a seasoned home-business owner, don’t let the basics at the beginning deter you because there’s a wealth of information to be found further on.
Logodaedalus: one who is cunning in the use of words
Start Your Own Home-Based Business by Nick Daws Reviewed by JD Smith Rating: Logodaedalus If starting your own business isn’t difficult enough, wading through all the literature, help guides and government webpages can often feel like a mission designed specifically to put you off. Tax, VAT, Business Rates, Accountancy, Business Plans and Cash Flow are just some of the inherent and more commonly known areas that, as a prospective business owner, you’ll have to address, and that’s what any ‘how to start a business’ book sets out to explain. Most books will give you a good understanding of these tricky parts of business which often scare anyone thinking of diving into the world of making money from home. But not only does Start Your Own Home-Based Business explain these areas concisely, it does so in depth. Nick Daws impressively covers much more than the obvious tax and business plan related aspects of starting your own business, covering in detail: what business to start; what sort of business would be suitable depending on your personal qualities; market research; what sort of computer to buy; what information needs to go on your letterhead; whether or not you may require planning permission from your local authority; the various postal services available; pricing your products and services, where to advertise; getting free publicity; taking a debtor to court; and how much you can expect to pay for an accountant. Start Your Own Home-Based Business then moves on describe how to expand your business, and what advantages and drawbacks you should consider. Everything is laid out in a step-by-step, nononsense fashion, giving useful examples where appropriate, together with well-designed exercises and references for further information. What’s more, it is entirely objective. Perhaps not the most useful part of the book but a brilliant key feature is the portfolio section at the back. Over 50 types of businesses that can be run or based from home are detailed, including phone, postal and web addresses for further information.
Writing for Magazines – the Essential Guide by Diana Cambridge Review by Lorraine Mace Rating: Deipnosophist and a half I’ve been writing for magazines for nearly two decades, so was pleased to have the opportunity to review Writing for Magazines: the Essential Guide. I went through it from two aspects: one as a beginner writer would see things and the other as someone who has experience in the field. I tried to put myself back in time to when I knew nothing about how to approach editors or plan articles, to see if the book would have given me enough information to guide me through the process. I also tried to find areas where I felt information was lacking. The answer to whether or not the information was sufficient was a resounding yes. As to the second aspect, I felt that Diana Cambridge had covered all the bases for a beginner setting out on the path to magazine publication. The information is easy to follow and refer back to. By the end a reader should know how to conduct market research, have ideas for slots, columns, opinion pieces, readers’ letters, travel features and interviews. The guide also covers such essential subjects as pitching to editors with queries and outlines, including giving a sample query letter to follow. Learning how to market yourself and cope with rejection are essential elements of a writer’s life. Diana Cambridge shows the reader how to do both. As you can imagine, a book covering such a wide range of information cannot, by its very nature, go into each item in great depth, but for anyone starting out on a non-fiction writing career, or for those interested in writing magazine articles as an additional source of income, this book is an excellent starting point.
The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer by Andrew Crofts Reviewed by Gillian Hamer Rating: Deipnosophist
When fifteen-year-old Maggie Mitchell leaves her boring, suburban life behind to discover whether the streets of London really are paved with gold, the reader is ready for the clichéd tale of disappointment and heartbreak that is sure to follow. But something about Maggie de Beer (as she is known when she gets off the train several hours - and three years in age – later) helps her keep her head just above water. She meets a lot of dodgy characters in her determined quest for fame and fortune, but luckily for her she also meets a few diamonds among the slag heap. Q – a one time hippy who turns into a marketing mogul, and Martin – a client who never once tries to take advantage of the woman he hires as an escort, but who could bed her for free in the blink of an eye. These men play important roles throughout Maggie’s life, and it’s because of them she finally finds her own happy-ever-after. Maggie’s early choices lead her into increasingly complex situations, but her resolve to be the next Audrey Hepburn never leaves her. And in one of the most poignant parts of the book, when Maggie finally sees herself as others have seen her for the past decade, it seems that just when she’s ready to give up her dreams of stardom – in full circle it drops straight into her lap and she becomes more famous than she could ever have imagined. The additional irony, cleverly delivered at the end of the story, is that the dull teenage life she escaped from so many years before was actually more interesting than any of the Hollywood roles she spent her life so desperately craving. Hidden behind the story are a lot of morals and messages that Andrew Crofts delivers with an adept talent. The author writes with skill and humour, and a flair for characterisation that really brings this book to life. Even though you have a dozen or more reasons for disliking Maggie, you don’t. You even go so far as to start to care about the girl, despite her vanity, ignorance and at times downright stupidity. There were scenes in the early years that I even found myself tutting in my most maternal, protective manner – as Maggie blithely catapulted headlong from one drama to another. And in the later chapters, I did find the slow realisation that she was no longer the beautiful young starlet, really poignant and almost written from the heart.
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What we think of some books I think the real strength here is that there is never any sniff of author intrusion in the writing. Whether it’s the dippy teenager or the faded glamour model, Crofts keeps tight to the character’s POV and as such Maggie feels totally believable. Also, the succinct and gentle descriptive lines that the author used on occasion were really beautiful. I wanted to doubt that they could have come from such a shallow woman as Maggie, but somehow they always seemed to fit, with the use of an additional throw away comment that was always very ‘Maggie.’ For example - “We gazed out across Hyde Park and the rest of London … looking down on Buckingham Palace in every sense of the word.” I’ve tried to find a few negatives for balance. I did find the ending a little too sugary for my taste. I won’t blow the plot, but everyone was just a little too sweet, the coincidences a little too brilliant to be true. I wanted Maggie to get her pot of gold, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted her to fight for it right to the bitter end. And my only other complaint. Sex. Or the lack of it. We lived with this girl through her most promiscuous years, through her topless modelling, through lap dancing bars and escort services – and not once did we get anything more than an off-screen quickie. Maggie bemoaned her lack of orgasms several times throughout the story – and I have to admit I was right there with her. But those are only minor gripes, there’s so much to like here, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this read to anyone, whatever your reading habits. From the really gritty writing to the clever twists and turns, and the believable characterisation and highly-entertaining wit, I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t enjoy a trip to the inner world of Maggie de Beer. And by the end, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and was even hoping there might be a follow up …
Catch Your Death by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards Review by Sue Carver Rating: 5’9” After facing a string of rejections from publishers, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, co-authors of thriller Catch Your Death listed the full title of their ebook on Amazon as Catch Your Death (for fans of Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson). This shrewd marketing ploy catapulted the book to the top of searches – and in fact, says Voss, it was so successful that Amazon decided to remove the “subtitle”, in an attempt to block self-publishers from marketing their work in a similar way. The writing duo was subsequently offered a four-book deal by Harper Collins. Catch Your Death was launched in paperback, “in an updated edition
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with exclusive new material”, in January 2012. I think I should preface my review by stating that I am not a fan of either Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson. Perhaps it was just as well I was unaware of the comparisons made by the authors before I got stuck into the book - during a flight to Almeria for a week’s winter sun. The plot outline sounded sufficiently enticing for a holiday read and I wasn’t expecting high art. Before I get labelled as a literary snob, I’d like to say that I do enjoy well-written genre fiction: crime writing and psychological thrillers, in particular. The book is certainly a page-turner and, while I found many aspects of the narrative implausible, it hooked me in from the outset and held my attention throughout. The novel opens with a prologue, set sixteen years in the past, with Kate Maddox (now a Harvard Professor in virology) taking part in a volunteer program at the Cold Research Unit in Salisbury. Her stay there culminated in a fire in which her first love, Stephen, a doctor at the unit, perished. Soon afterwards, Kate left the UK to pursue an academic career in the US. The present day narrative begins with Kate, recently returned to the UK with her young son, Jack. Intent on making a new life for herself and Jack after fleeing her control freak of a husband, Vernon, she bumps into Paul, Stephen’s twin brother on a busy London street. I have to say this plot contrivance stretched my credulity, both because the chances of this meeting occurring - soon after Kate arrives back in the UK - seem remote and also because it seems highly unlikely that the man with whom she’d formed a close bond wouldn’t have told her he had an identical twin. Predictably, Kate and Paul fall for each other and the course of true love - aside from their pursuit by a psychopathic killer and an angry ex-husband - runs a little too smoothly for my liking, but the fast-paced narrative pulled me along. I was motivated to find out what went on at the CRU and I was sufficiently engaged to care what happened to Kate and her young son, despite not being convinced by the characterisation of Kate - an emotionally labile ditherer unlike any senior academic of my acquaintance. The ease with which she left her young son to go off with a man she has only just met may have served the plot, but that contrivance left me feeling distanced from her and unconvinced. Paul I found marginally more credible. The bad guys in hot pursuit of Kate Vernon and Sampson - are one-dimensional, with no redeeming features. We enter into the mind of Sampson, a psychopathic, sexual sadist killer. His
reminiscences and anticipated acts, though nasty in the extreme, smacked, at times, of pantomime villainy. Much as I admire this ebook route to publishing success and like the premise, I can’t help wishing it was better written. However, those who like a thriller with a hurtling pace, an undemanding holiday read and who aren’t unduly concerned about the quality of the writing will not be disappointed.
Kimi’s Secret by John Hudspith Reviews by Emily Horler, Alia Slater and Caitlin Horler Overall rating: Logodaedalus I found this book absolutely tremendous! The types of sentences and words the writer has used are brilliant and the story line was gripping and exciting. It is about a girl called Kimi who has a ‘Tulpa’ called Bentley. She goes on an adventure to find out secrets about her life and herself that she never knew. I really liked it when Bentley kept on changing his age because it was quite funny how he could just change ages so quickly. The story made you want to read on and I found it hard to put down. I really liked how the story linked together towards the end. I also really liked the ‘Greylians’ because they kept on changing and making you think they were nice, and their name is really exciting and peculiar. I think this book should be for older children - 11 years and up because it did have some fairly rude words. It was a book that is definitely worth reading and I can’t wait to see if there is another book in the series. Emily Horler (11), Clevedon One stormy night I was alone at home and I was bored out of my mind. As I walked into the dining room I saw a book lying on the table. I picked it up and went to my room. I sat down and started to read... And WOW! That book was GOOD! I’m telling you, you will want to get that book (or borrow or take or steal) and sit down and read it... and you won’t want to stop until you have finished it. It’s about a girl called Kimi and it follows her through a big storm, through a cloud of crows, through quite a few twirlies, through a room with flying clowns, and then, oh, right back to the storm. So I assure you, you will love this book. If you are 12 or 120 it doesn’t really matter. (Although it’s probably not much use to you if you’re dead. Though I guess it’s worth trying.) Alia Slater (12), Horgen Kimi’s Secret is a very exciting and interesting book that is full of mystery. It can be quite difficult to understand the first part of the book until you have read the end. Although there are some strange names that can be quite hard to read, it is a perfect
Reviews book to excite you. It is definitely a page turner and hooks you on the story line. Throughout the whole story strange things happen, you feel like you can’t stop reading until you find out why or what it is, and at some parts of the book you have to flick back or remember what happened earlier in the story to understand what’s happening now. Even though this book is aimed at children between 10 and 15 years, it is a good read for all ages above ten, providing you like sci- fi and/or fantasy books. Kimi is a very mysterious girl who is very wary, and conscious about the people and places around her. Her Tulpa, Bentley, is also very mysterious as he can change age and doesn’t give much away easily. But to find out what a Tulpa is and who Bentley and Kimi are then read the book! This is a very good book because it draws you in right from the start and keeps you hooked throughout it! It is one of the best books I have read and strongly recommend it. If you like adventure and mystery then this book is definitely for you! Caitlin Horler (13), Clevedon
A Question of Sequels Reviews by Catriona Troth Ratings Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James: Tacenda The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz: Logodaedalus Like a lot of other readers, I expect, I had two sequels in my Christmas stocking this year – Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James, and The House of Silk, by Anthony Horowitz. The idea of bringing in an author to write a new book for an old series was something I was predisposed to view favourably (if cautiously). As a lifelong Dorothy Sayers fan, I pounced a few years ago on the two new Peter Wimsey books written by Jill Paton Walsh. Sayers abandoned her two lead detectives at the end of their troubled Busman’s Honeymoon, with the strain weighing heavily on their new marriage – something which had always seemed horribly unfair. Walsh picked up again a few weeks later and, with the handful clues left to her (fragments of the manuscript for ‘Thrones and Dominations’, left in the safe with Sayers’ agent, and ‘The Wimsey Papers’, imaginary letters which give accounts of the family’s wartime activities) took Harriet and Peter’s story on through the first few months of marriage and into parenthood and the War. The picture she paints is of exactly the sort of marriage of two minds that Sayers’ fans would have expected. Plus she delivers two rattling good detective stories in their own right. So I approached Death Comes to Pemberley with much the same sort of expectations. I imagined I was about to read about the blossoming of Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage, coupled with, say, something between Wilkie Collins and The Suspicions of Mister Whicher. I am sorry to say, I
was thoroughly disappointed. It seemed to me that Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship was stuck at a point before their teasing conversation where Elizabeth asks Darcy “to account for his ever having fallen in love with her,” and had failed to move on. I almost felt, reading it, that James had never truly believed in Austen’s resolution and was now demanding to know how the two could possibly have gone on. No detective character arrived on the scene, amateur or otherwise. I thought at one point that one of the three local magistrates was going to step into that role – of him it is said that ‘every nuance of a case with which he was concerned was scrutinised in meticulous detail’ – but he only appears once, briefly, and is never referred to again. James captures some of the tone (if not the vigour) of Austen’s writing and there are a few nice touches where connections are made to other Austen novels. (Both the Elliots and the Woodhouses make fleeting appearances.) But the text is overburdened with one character explaining to another, at length, the workings of justice in the early 1800s. Facts are repeated by one character after another without being given any fresh gloss. And the resolution is provided more deus ex machina than through deduction. PD James is, rightly, a much admired writer of detective fiction. I’ve always found she provided strong, literary stories that consistently challenged the detective genre. But in this case I wonder if reputation has been allowed to bypass the need for some vigorous editing. I somehow doubt if a novice author would have been allowed as much latitude. The House of Silk is another kettle of detection altogether. Strictly speaking, it is not a sequel at all, but belongs in the middle of the Holmes canon. It is placed very specifically in 1890, a week or so after the events of ‘The Dying Detective’. The premise of the book is that Watson, at the end of his life, is writing up one last story – one that was too profoundly shocking to be read by his contemporaries. His plan is to send the manuscript to the vaults of Cox and Co. in Charing Cross, with instructions that it should not be opened for one hundred years. “Perhaps readers of the future will be more inured to scandal and corruption. To them I bequeath one last portrait of Sherlock Holmes.” The weight of expectation is thus on this story from the beginning, and Horowitz does not fail to deliver. He has come up with a plot that is intricate, Holmesian, original and true to
the period. All the familiar Holmes elements are here – from the Baker Street Irregulars through a crucial glimpse of Moriarty himself to Holmes’ uncanny gift for disguise. And yet it is not hard to believe, when the truth about the House of Silk is finally revealed, that John Watson would have found it impossible to publish. Unlike James, Horowitz wears his research lightly, creating a believable landscape of Victorian London without the need for tedious exposition. And he has captured Conan Doyle’s voice perfectly. I read a couple of the short stories before and after reading The House of Silk, and the transition felt seamless. Horowitz has stated categorically that this book is a one-off; he has no intention of becoming the new chronicler of Sherlock Holmes. In that, I think he is right. To attempt to repeat the exercise is to risk become formulaic. But in my mind, this one book is a resounding success, of which Horowitz should be justly proud.
Richard by Ben Myers A review by Perry Iles Rating: Deipnosophist Johnny Thunders on the Rosemary Conley diet. It’s a brave soul who attempts to blend recent history with fiction to give voice to a protagonist whose existence and movements are welldocumented and have already been picked over at length by others. And it’s a brave soul who writes a novel about the music industry – a facet of reality where the flash chrome of truth is always stranger than anything you could possibly make up, where fact becomes cliché virtually overnight; groupies, booze, drugs, destruction, mayhem and a human cost that’s often sneered at by the Smartie-crunching masses who spend their lives in a mixture of incomprehension and envy, lacking the imagination to realise that the underlying reality is vastly different from the public truth. Ben Myers is that brave soul, taking on the historical metafiction of Richey Edwards; muse, lyricist, inept musician and the cod-philosopher behind the Manic Street Preachers. In Richard, Myers forces Edwards into the spotlight, taking on the first-person narrative as he shines a light into the claustrophobic series of psychological cul-de-sacs into which Edwards’ built-in auto-destruct drove him. So, the first question to ask – is Richard a fansonly deification, the public crucifixion of a reluctant Welsh valley-boy? It’s a question that’s easily answered in the negative. This is not exploitation; it’s a novel that’s respectful, stylish and literate without shying away from reality. Myers intended Richard as a book for readers who hadn’t heard of Richey Edwards or his band or knew little about them – a novelisation of the facts that led up to Edwards’ disappearance in 1995, when his abandoned
Random Stuff | 45
What we think of some books
Guess the Book
See if you can guess the book from the one star Amazon reviews below. 1. this book is really boring. it’s about some weirdo’s who kidnap kids in england, and about
46 | Random Stuff
probably fossilising in the Severn’s sediments, below the dark currents, beneath the impenetrable greyness of the cold, swirling water. He was declared dead in 2008 after his family finally gave in to the inevitable. His legacy, a few years of public spotlight torment, a swathe of adverse publicity for his effect on the 4 REAL imitators and some ripples of encouragement for helping bring the issue of self-harm into the public forum. The Manics continued as a three-piece rockband, enjoying the sort of mainstream success that Dave Grohl found in the wake of Nirvana. But their past contains a true rock legend, and Ben Myers’ Richard adds to it whilst going a long way towards explaining it. And Ben Myers – rock journalist, music aficionado and novelist, will be someone to watch out for. Not since Andrew O’Hagan’s Personality has an author succeeded so well in getting inside the head of a victim of fame, blending the real with the imaginary and presenting the results in a literary and inclusive way – writing about a world that exists below most people’s consciousness in a way that’s readable, literate and entertaining. Myers is a writer – and someone to look out for.
driven in their early days by a kind of sixth-form angst, fuelled by Edwards’ undergraduate catchall nihilism, quoting Sartre and Mein Kampf in equal measure, visiting Auschwitz when most bands are in the presidential suite of the Riot Hyatt getting the A&R men to take out the brown M&Ms, these young Welsh boys were born to be stars, especially in an age where Kurt Cobain had broken the ground for them by proving that the inarticulate speech of the heart can shift records by the truckload and make colossal amounts of money for large corporations. Richey Edwards was the artistic driving force behind the Manics back then – spokesman, designer, image man, a kohl and powder panda-faced Rimbaud when rock music had lithified itself into the stadium Rambos of Jon Bon Jovi and Axl Rose. To call him a genius is overstating things, but Edwards was perhaps the most tormented human being in the history of the music business – especially after Cobain had plastered his own angst all over his bedroom ceiling. Slicing himself to pieces so that his bandaged arms were mistaken for heroin addiction, shutting himself away from the world, subsisting on nothing but vodka and coffee and stubbing cigarettes out on his body, Edwards weighed six stone when they finally battered the door of his flat down and carted him off to the Priory. He was a mess. He was not born for survival. He didn’t even have the strength to smash his guitar up at the end of a show. James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire between them did £26,000 worth of damage to the stage of the London Astoria as well as destroying all their equipment. Poor Richey was left chasing across the stage after a Telecaster that just would not break, trying to trash it into a speaker stack that weighed more than he did. Richey Edwards was never meant to make old bones. They never found him, not any trace. He’s
a girl and a polar bear in the north pole, where somehow, aurora borealis (i didn’t spell that right) just transformed in to an alter dimension thingy. 2. i hated this book. It was made up of stupid people with stupid problems. I hated the book. Didnt understand, didnt want to.... I hated the book. BURN IT! 3. I thought this book was interesting in the beginning, but after a while it got a little wierd. The wierd part was the dacing robot, but the
book crossed the line into bazzar when the alien spacecraft landed in the suburban community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Super Terrific, but strange. 4. a. Most pretentious title of recent memory.
b. There is not a single believable character, incident or line of dialog in this entire book.
5. More or less, all the characters in this book should be shot. Easily the most disappointing read against the hype I ever experienced. My 2 cents. Maybe you have to be stoned and drunk to like it.
Answers: 1. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman 2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 3. The Shining by Stephen King 4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 5. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
car was found at the Severn View service station, a popular suicide spot overlooking the muddy banks of the Severn Estuary. Whether you consider the Manic Street Preachers as early nineties generation terrorists or as a kind of Barry Island Nirvana, this is a well-written and engaging book, not given to hyperbole and not written in that terrible musojournalese that’s almost, but not quite, English. Myers presents Richey Edwards as a sympathetic character. His madness, obsessions, his anorexic self-harm and his incipient alcoholism are welldocumented and honestly presented, and the story of his band’s rise to fame is interspersed with an account of what might have happened in the immediate aftermath of his disappearance – and even this has to be bent to accommodate unproved sightings and vague hints of contact. There aren’t that many good books about the music industry. Danny Gillan’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow steers consciously away from clichés, Kevin Sampson’s Powder panders to those same clichés, and Iain Banks’ Espedair Street is far from his best (although given that he wrote The Wasp Factory and The Bridge, he’s got a lot to live up to). But these three are the best music industry novels I can think of, and Richard can now stand alongside them. The music industry is a part of the business we call show that is primarily flim-flam and dross, and those who write for it, or about it, are mostly talentless hacks. There are exceptions – Nick Kent, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, brief flashes of Hunter S Thompson’s new-American sanguinity - but they are vastly outnumbered by the shedloads of magazines, online fanclubs, ghosted pseudobiographies of 18-year-old mayflies and suchlike that do little more than give the music industry and popular culture a bad name. But every so often a band like the Manic Street Preachers comes along. Swaggery and attitudinal,
Crossword created by Renyard & Arianate 1
3 4 5
6 7 8 9
Hemingway’s moveable feast. (5)
Who sat on her suitcase in the Gare de Nord and wept? (5)
12 13 14
11 Whose heroine has tolerable teeth, but not out of the common way? (6) 13 Red flower beloved of a baroness. (9) 16 Both Wolfgang and Gioachino are inspired by tales of this playwright’s coiffeur. (12) 18 Marquez’s lonely town. (7)
19 Carol Ann Duffy described this character from Greek Mythology as a pillock. (6)
21 George MacDonald Fraser’s literary cad. (8) 23 Members included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. (8) 24 Sterne’s favourite tipple? (6)
25 This butcher’s implement addresses chicklit heroine as the dusky maiden. (7)
Aristocratic author of ‘Time and the Gods’. (4,7)
A suspected but innocent mutineer rather than a whale leads the writer to the sea. (5,4)
In ‘Something Might Happen’, where does Rosa meet her end? (6)
Which Terry Jones book was launched by Unbound?
According to Louis, what is causing the Cardinal trouble? (9)
This Lucy is trying to see the Arno from her boutique hotel. (11)
“Three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.” Whose name? (6)
December 2011 Answers
10 Coetzee was waiting for them. (10) 12 First novel from Ben Myers. (3,4,2,4) 14 Murakami’s holiday reading? (5) 15 This flower threw her pearls into the bin. (5) 17 Who won a prize with this sentence? “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories”? (3,7) 10 Which book took Mark B away from Tom T? (2,3,4) 22 Lola’s imaginary friend. (5)
If you would like to download and print a copy of the Crossword, visit www.wordswithjam.co.uk/crossword
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Letters of the satirical variety
Dear Editor, I was recently too ill to go to work and spread my germs so I was forced to stay at home for a couple of days. While there I made a startling discovery – the reason that we have an obesity epidemic is that about seventy per cent of all day time TV is taken up with cookery programs showing the work shy, who are the only people at home at this time to watch it, how to stuff their faces. When oh when will the government wake up to this fact? Surely the great British institution of the television should be providing encouragement to the couch potatoes to get up and do something. If not they should shut down these daytime broadcasts altogether. I am not an idiot. Yours sincerely, Mr I Diot
printed on this page of this magazine. I feel that he may have not spent enough time watching daytime TV to really get a sense of it. While it is true that there are many food related programs on throughout the day, there are also many educational shows like the one presented daily by Mr Jeremy Kyle where the less scrupulous will learn that they are only ever a lie detector test away from being forced to pay child benefit for the child that they fathered out by the bins behind the pub. There are other important programs too, like where they show you how benefit cheats have been caught, thus ensuring you don’t make the same mistakes. Without shows like this I wouldn’t have my second home in the Bahamas. Yours faithfully, Mr C Heat
Dear Words with Jam, It was with the greatest of interest and rising infuriation that I read a letter printed recently in your fine magazine from a Mr Diot stating that about seventy per cent of all day time TV is cookery based. Well, I don’t know what stations he was watching, but this clearly isn’t the case. There are several programmes out there that actively encourage people to get up off their large backsides and exercise by going down to a local hall to try and flog tat like old hideous teapots that they’ve collected to an orange gentleman or one of his colleagues. If the promise of raw cash isn’t enough incentive then I don’t know what is. Indignantly yours, Mrs I Rate
Dear Ed, I would like to point out to Mr Diot who had a letter published recently in your magazine that without all the food programs on the telly there wouldn’t be hilarious comedy offerings like The Biggest Loser where they make massive greedy people run up and down stairs until they puke and then put them in a room with cake. Would he really be able to say goodbye to such comedy gold? Yours truly, Hillary Us
Dear Editor of Words with Jam, I would like to applaud you for your brave inclusion of the word homophone in a recent article I read on your pages. It’s so refreshing to see a stalwart magazine such as yours take a stand against all this ridiculous political correctness. I’m happy for them to have their own parades and everything, but I’m sick of homophones or homonyms or whatever they like to be called these days commandeering the English language and telling us what we can and can’t say any more. Well done to you and all your team. Yours truly, Sheri Sherry Dear Ed, It was with great horror that I saw a letter from a Mr Diot printed in this issue of Words with Jam where he proposed taking daytime TV off the air altogether. What a bloody foolish thing to do! Doesn’t he realise that without daytime programmes we wouldn’t have any celebrities to do Strictly Dancing on Ice while entering a Great British Master Chef Bake Off in the Big Brother Jungle? Where would we be then, eh? Germany, that’s where, and my granddad didn’t fight a war so there’d be a shortage of unknown celebrities for quality TV shows. Yours truly, Miss S Nothing Dear Words, I am writing in response to a letter from Mr Diot
Dear to whom it may concern/sir/madam/other, The fact that you had employed homophones in your magazine frankly makes me sick to my stomach. When I think of how far this great country of ours has fallen I truly want to vomit. In my day we didn’t have all these homophones knocking about. We need to keep Britain one hundred per cent heterographic. There is no room for homophones and homographs coming over here with their double meanings and quirky spellings, taking jobs away from our traditional words. It’s two categories too many to contemplate. I blame Europe – Back off, Brussels! With sincerity, Mrs T Watt President of the Keep Britain Heterographic Society. Dear Editor, Well I hardly expected such a hostile response from your readers when I pointed out why they are all obese. I would have thought they’d have been grateful. And let me assure Ms Us that yes, I most certainly could do without that sort of programming after coming in from a hard day at the office where I’ve been superior and slim. I think it’s sad that she should find this sort of thing funny. Think what sort of message this programming is sending out to the rest of the world. We used to do proper comedy in this country – shows like Love Thy Neighbour where the laughs were derived not from the lazy but from people who have a different culture. Now that is something worth laughing at. At least we still have Top Gear. I am not an idiot. Yours sincerely, Mr I Diot
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. My friend’s girlfriend’s mother was told by a guy she met in the Doctor’s surgery that he overheard someone in a queue at the bank saying that the British Olympic team are being forced to watch the Direct Line television advertisements with Chris Addison on a continuous loop to improve their ability to suffer. Is this really true? I have looked into this and I can’t find anything to confirm this rumour although I did come across reference to a secret government experiment in Guantanamo Bay involving what was termed as ‘the shittest series of adverts ever made.’ Apparently four ‘volunteers’ watched these on a loop in a locked room for an hour, but all useful scientific data was lost because, on their return, the scientists found that all the subjects had simply lost the will to live and were dead. I’ve read on the internet that the Twilight series of books were released by a secret international governmental body in an attempt to establish once and for all exactly what percentage of the population has more money than sense. This certainly has the ring of truth to it, but can you verify it? It’s hard to establish the veracity of this claim despite how completely logical it sounds. I’ll continue to look into it and update you if we find anything out. Someone was telling their friend on the bus while I was eavesdropping that it is now completely legal to boot anyone who writes down could of, would of, or should of, as hard as you can right up their stupid arses. This couldn’t be a real fact, could it? Although that sounds like common sense I’m afraid you have been mislead – this is not technically legal. However, any self respecting literate judge would probably let you walk if you explained yourself. Someone down at my drug rehab unit said the reason there aren’t any new episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger is because he was transferred and is now Walker, Glasgow Celtic Ranger and the clash of interest means he continuously beats the shit out of himself. How much truth is there in this? This is a spurious rumour, I’m afraid. He was indeed transferred and is now actually known as Walker, Queens Park Ranger. The transfer didn’t sit well with the fans and that’s why the show was dropped. Is there any truth in the rumour that you couldn’t think of a final rumour to finish this off? Well, yeah.
Horoscopes by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith You may have heard the expression – It’s not all doom and gloom – but unfortunately this year it is as, according to a very reliable and absolutely true prediction from fun time ritual sacrificers the Mayans, the world is going to end on the 21st of December this year as that’s when they ran out of fingers. Still, I would like to inject a note of hope – I hope this will not happen. It probably will though, as this sort of stuff is always true, just like the following horoscopes. LEO: It’s finally time to throw caution to the wind for all you Leonian Lewisists out there. This year don’t feel bad about pissing all your money away on crystals and homeopathic remedies because you can’t take it with you and the world is probably definitely going to end despite what heresy mongers like Professor Brian Cox might say. He’ll wish he spent more time communing with the spirit world than on his stupid girl’s haircut when December rolls around. VIRGO: Don’t worry if those around you try to say that it’s common sense that the world isn’t going to end this year. You can rest assured that they’ll be laughing on the other side of their dead faces when it happens. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to say ‘I told you so,’ to them as you’ll be dead too. Swings and roundabouts. LIBRA: Libranianists – your plan to become best mates with top Hollywood actor John Cusack in order that he may save you from the coming cataclysm is basically sound so why not spend the next few months stalking him. Remember, he is the only one with experience of driving a bit faster than the world falls apart and he won’t mind being stalked by you at all. SCORPIO: Scorpionists are, of course, the most rational of the star children. Don’t be put off by those around you when you pull your kids out of school and launch yourself and your family full time into the happy world of Scientology. After all, there’s only room for so many on the spaceship and the cuddly pint sized pilot Tom Cruise is a stickler for the no standing rule! SAGGITARIUS: All Saggitarianists are worriers to such an extent that you actually enjoy it. Good times for you as the forthcoming End of the World will give you and your ulcer something to really get your teeth into. Set up a Saggitarianist only support group in your area so you can meet other like minded people and you can all enjoy having a good worry together. Remember, a problem shared is still a problem. CAPRICORN: As someone who always likes to look at the long view and make careful
and meticulous plans for the future, you may struggle over the coming months to come to terms with what’s probably definitely going to happen. Use your abilities to arrange a big Last Day party. Don’t waste any money on fireworks though as they’ll look crap in comparison to the world actually blowing up. AQUARIUS: You may be thinking of giving up that new fitness plan you’ve taken on this year and you’d be right. There really is no point. Joggers won’t be able to outrun the fact that the world is about to blow up any better than lard arses. So go on – have another big slice of chocolate cake and maybe a slab of pure lard. PISCES: There’s nothing like the coming doom to focus the normally scatty minds of you Piscesianists. Enjoy your new found clarity and use it to pluck up the courage to tell your boss what you really think of them and where they can stick their job. Don’t worry about future prospects because, as sure as ghosts are real and Jeremy Clarkson has an opinion worth hearing, there aren’t any. ARIES: As the child of the Zodiac with the most inquisitive nature, Arianists will find that their minds may dwell on exactly how the world will probably definitely end this year. The answer is simple – magic. Now that you know this you’ll be able to spend your abundant star given energy having a good time and making a show of yourself on holidays this year by drinking so much sangria that your puke comes out of your nose. Happy times. TAURUS: Your normally cautious nature has been forcing you to hold it in, but now is the time for the long running bad feeling you, as a Taurusianist, have been harbouring towards your in-laws to finally be expressed. Invite them round to dinner and then really let them have it. Phrases that might come in handy are – miserable old cunt – trout faced wank bucket – and – stinking fanny batter features. Better out than in. GEMINI: As the twin of the Zodiac (twinned with Croydon), you may find that you’re in two minds as to whether the Mayans got it right. Don’t waste your time on this – they definitely did (probably). Invest all your savings on alcopops, the blue ones are best, and use this investment to get out of your minds – remember, there’ll be no hangovers on December 22nd this year. CANCER: Many of you Cancerarianists have been struggling with your New Year Resolution to quit smoking. There’s no point – the world’s about to end. So smoke up and enjoy yourself – there’ll be plenty of time for not smoking after the 21st of December.
WWJ New Words Awards February 2012 This month’s Mentioned in Dispatches award goes to JO HUDSON, for her definition of Gabbulate: Gabbulate: A modern form of gabble. To Gabbulate: To hold an intense/manic conversation during/after listening to dance music whilst consuming large amounts of Red Bull/ Relentless/Skittles. My addendum to this would be: Gabbulate: to bullshit about anything for absolutely hours when under the influence of Bolivian Marching Powder - until your companions are forced to feign death so that you will eventually fuck off because whilst you think you sound like a cross between Bertrand Russell and Bob Dylan, they think you sound like Jedward on Haribo. And guess who’s right. Jo also coined the word Nemulon, for which I thank her. My definition is as follows: Nemulon: (n, medic): The clinical term for the furrows between the bulges on a Klingon’s forehead. Scientists at L’Oreal believe they have identified an eighth sign of ageing concealed within the nemulons. However, persuading heterosexual male Klingons to moisturise is proving problematic, and an entirely different approach to advertising is now called for, using mindless violence set to a death-metal soundtrack and avoiding the colour pink. L’Oreal has suspended its creative media and advertising staff, replaced Andie McDowell with Lemmy off of Motorhead and recruited members of the World Wrestling Federation on a temporary basis. I am also indebted to Amanda Reed, who writes: My oldest and dearest friend and I coined the word Snerdly way back in the 60’s (before nerds were invented). It described someone (usually a boy we didn’t like) who was slimy, snidey and generally Uriah Heep-ish. In response I offer the following: Snerdly (adj) descriptive of the sort of loser who always plays a role in American high school coming-of-age films and who is always the target of bullying by kids with crewcuts who will later join the army and get sent overseas to die really horribly, whilst the snerdly one either a) grows his hair out, learns to play electric guitar and fetches up living in a Malibu beach house with a surgically-enhanced Swedish contortionist and her twin sister, b) sets the new all-American high school massacre record or c) invents Facebook. Jo and Amanda’s efforts are above and beyond the call of duty, but the winner of a printed copy of the February issue is KATHRYN FAULKNER who managed a two-in-one with the following definitions of Glemp and Flenstery: Glemp is the embarrassed expression on the face of a previously smug politician or clergyman when caught with pants down (or cassock up) having recently condemned others for promiscuity. The appropriate punishment should be flenstery - having one’s mucky linen publicly hung out of the windows of the Houses of Parliament or St.Pauls Cathedral. Many thanks to all participants, and I’ll leave you with three words for the next issue of WWJ: Follyn, Cropulary and Malectomiser.
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Published on Feb 9, 2012
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