Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter break

I'm going to be away for a week or so over Easter to see the Boat Race in London and to visit my parents in Wales so I shall wish you all a peaceful, sun- and primrose-filled holiday (keeping all fingers crossed for a change in the weather) and see you at the end of next week sometime.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Writing rules

I'm a big fan of the Guardian Books blog and never more than today, where there is a digest of many, many famous writers' rules for writing. They make for interesting, and potentially helpful reading.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Publicity and the Author

Publicity – it seems to be the talk of all the authors I know at the moment and an awful lot of those I don't. How much publishers are or aren't doing, how much we should be doing as authors, how much difference the right kind of publicity makes, debates about what the right kind of publicity actually is... etc.

I have no idea whether publishers really are doing less publicity for their authors than they were wont to do but, perhaps, in our YouTube culture, we are all aware of how much more we could (and therefore feel we should) be doing for ourselves. After all, it's our book, our livelihood (or some portion thereof) we should be at least as keen as any publicist to see it do well.

This article appeared on the net a fortnight or so ago (thanks to Eliza Graham for the link) and makes some interesting points. I was particularly interested in this one:

In the run of things though there should be honesty and collaboration between author and publisher. A collaboration of equals where the author cannot any longer wait at the end of a phone for the publicist to call with an itinerary. They really do need to be out there helping themselves. This is not an abdication, just a fact of life.

Well, it may be a fact of life but it's not necessarily as simple as just going out and doing some publicity, is it?

Most of us aren't marketing professionals – we don't necessarily have the aptitude or the knowledge to organise our own events. Book tours and signings are rarely any use to the unknown as nobody is going to come and see somebody they've never heard of and events other than these need some imagination and inspiration. And turning imagination and inspiration into publicity events is a very different thing from turning them into books.

So much for aptitude. Then there's the time element. If you're an author who has a day job then taking off a lot of time to publicise your book may simply not be feasible. Bosses who are prepared to wave you off for a month's book-tour are few and far between. Normally they say things like 'that'll be the whole of your annual leave for this year then.' If you're any kind of professional you're even more constrained – you need not to do things which might bring your profession into disrepute or ridicule. If you were a doctor, for instance, your hospital or PCT wouldn't necessarily be vastly keen on seeing pictures in the press of you bungee jumping off a local landmark with the name of your book stretched along the length the bungee cord or dropping primroses along the length of the M25 so as to get on the national news hugging your book. Teachers could expect even more stick for being seen to be in the public eye – after all most kids are amazed to see you in the supermarket, never mind in the newspaper or on the television.

And, even if you are in the fortunate position of not having to support yourself and/or your family by gainful employment other than literature, taking a lot of time to 'do' publicity is still problemmatic. I mean, when are you going to write the next book? Because, if this one's a success, your publisher certainly isn't going to want to wait an indefinite period for the next.

Which leaves us all exhausted and hoping for the thirty-six hour day to be invented (and our body clocks adjusted accordingly) sometime in the alarmingly near future.

While I'm on the subject of publicity, can I point you in the direction of Natasha Solomons' website. She is in the process of organising her own publicity tour for her very intriguing-sounding book, Mr Rosenblum's List. I am impressed and it's making me think about publicity for The Black and The White – a book that isn't even finished yet.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

In praise of the semi-colon.

I love the semi-colon; I freely admit it. I love the fact that I know how and when (and when not) to use it. But even I have been struck by how often I find myself using it in my current book; and that has started me thinking about the voice of my central character.

Clearly, the use of the semi-colon implies that he qualifies what he says a lot, that he's keen to back up his assertions, that he makes sure that we know what he's talking about. He's not a self-confident character but he has pretensions to being a thinking person.

And this got me thinking - what grammatical devices would other kinds of character use?

The gossip – parentheses (constantly remembering and inserting extraneous information) and lots of double inverted commas (reporting what other people 'honestly said'!!) And exclamation marks.

The bully – imperatives, statements, challenging questions. What do you mean, no they don't? Of course they do.

The chronically uncertain person – ellipsis.... probably. Because they don't want to impose.... they're not quite... sure...

The person who can't shut up – sentences strung together with and and but and then and so and because and if and when and so on and so on.

OK, your turn...

Thursday, 11 March 2010

More on e-readers.

Just in case anybody was getting really into the whole 'green or not green?' debate about e-readers, I came across this today on the Guardian books blog which sheds a little more light (and asks more questions) on the subject.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The great e-book debate reaches HB

E-books. I've been galvanised into writing about them because Frances Garrood has put up a post on the subject over on her blog but it's something I've been thinking about, on and off, since Testament was published and Panmac acquired the rights to sell it electronically as well as in physical form. I have no idea how many e-versions of Testament have been sold (if any at all) maybe I'll find out in my royalty statement at the end of the month.

I've never had any objection in principle to e-books. I quite like technology and e-readers have an aesthetic all of their own – granted, it's a very different aesthetic to that of a print book but there is an aesthetic, nonetheless. In fact, I've been waiting for Apple to produce an e-reader and am slightly disappointed that they seem to think that the iPad is it. Since it uses the same backlit screen technology as every other laptop and phone, it's qualitatively different (and, in this respect, inferior ) to the dedicated e-readers, whose screens look like paper and need to be lit by ambient light, just like an ordinary book.

I also have no objection to not having a physical book in my hand. Hardbacks are heavy and lots of paperbacks are tiresome to hold open unless you can break the spine, so just holding an almost weightless e-reader is a pleasant change.

Then there's the issue of space. We live in an averagely sized terraced house and there are books in every room, not excepting the bathroom where they seem to congregate however hard I send them away. I think we're at shelf-capacity now, and we have to prune our books regularly, to the benefit of the local Oxfam bookshop. If we lived in a smaller house, or a flat, a houseboat or a caravan, housing physical books would be a nightmare. For everybody who lives in a confined space (and more and more people do) e-books must be a godsend. You can own hundreds of titles that take up no space but the electronic variety.

So, on grounds aesthetic, manual and spatial, e-books are winning

The green issue seemed like a no-brainer – all that processing of paper, printing, binding and shipping that wasn't going on with e-readers - until I heard a radio documentary about the energy required to keep central servers (essential for all this downloading) running. Suddenly e-readers' green credentials didn't seem quite so verdant.

And then there's the piracy issue. If e-books are going to be ripped off in the same way that music has been, that's going to be very bad news for writers.

I used to assume that, whatever people of my generation thought, physical books would begin to lose ground to e-books with time as the next generation – used to doing everything onscreen – would automatically gravitate in their direction. But my eighteen-year-old son tells me that this isn't necessarily so. Precisely because they spend all the rest of their time with electronic screens, he says, his generation escapes into real books when they want a break. Even as I type, he is sitting and doing exactly that.

So maybe e-books and print books will continue to exist side-by-side, with those for whom space is an issue pragmatically choosing e-books and those of us who think a house isn't furnished unless it's got books on every wall continuing to favour physical books, unless we do a lot of travelling or want a lighter option for holidays and train-commuting.

Or is there some determining factor I've not thought of?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Fiona Robyn's Blogsplash

In case you're wondering whether you've come to the right blog, don't worry, I'm taking part in Fiona Robyn's Blogsplash to introduce her new novel, Thaw. I don't know Fiona but I'm intrigued by her work and even more intrigued by this idea for promoting her work. She has two other novels in publication which you can find here.
Anyway, let me introduce Fiona, who is, in her turn, introducing her main character, Ruth:

Meet Ruth. She doesn't know if she wants to carry on living or not, and she gives herself three months to decide. Her diary is Fiona Robyn's new novel, Thaw, and you can read it for FREE, beginning today.

Now, over to Ruth.

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat - books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about - princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.

I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,' before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.
You can continue reading here.

I'd be very interested to hear what others think of this innovative way of reaching new readers.