Monday, September 12, 2016

FoW16 in photos



Yet again, the Festival of Writing was an absolute blast. So much talent; so many inspiring stories; such warmth and love between fellow authors. I think the weekend is best summed up in this email I've received from a delegate who has just signed up for the January online self-edit course. (September's is sold out.)

I did feel a huge sense of trepidation on Friday when I was driving up to York.  My inner monologue kept asking me what on earth I was doing!  By total contrast, I listened to Jo Cannon's heartwarming story yesterday and felt a real sense that I belonged there.  I really didn't want to leave!  But I have come away with a wealth of information and tips to apply to my writing, and am looking forward to getting stuck in.




For me, it was my busiest festie yet - and that's saying something. I ran the self-edit mini course on Friday and was also on the panel for the wonderful Friday Night Live experience. Massive congrats to all the shortlisted authors and the joint winners, Gerry Fenge and Jo Bunt. On Saturday, I had two hours of Book Doctor slots, a workshop on psychic distance and I did the compering for the Saturday competitions after the gala dinner. Congrats to everyone who had cause to celebrate. The real high was being on the crime genre panel as an author rather than an editor or tutor. And on Sunday, I had another hour of Book Doctoring, a final workshop on dialogue and - oh bliss - I had the privilege and enormous pleasure of being the person who introduced the final keynote speaker and FoW success story, Joanna Cannon.

Self-edit mini course. Interesting body language when people are forced to write about an emotionally charged episode from their own past.
Cloudies
More Cloudies
Self-edit alumni: Gerry Fenge, Sylvia Petter, Julie Cordiner and Arabella Murray
The view from my desk for Book Doctor sessions
Veggie starter at the gala dinner
Yet more Cloudies
And more
The wonderful Cally Taylor and her agent, Madeleine Milburn
Cally and Madeleine

Struggling with psychic distance

Cloudie, Scheherezade, who won the Pitch Perfect competition
Katherine Hetzel AKA Squidge, with tiara for added sparkle
Winner and runner up for Jo Cannon's Goat bursary: Linda McLaughlin and Nasreen Rafiq
The glorious and inspiring Joanna Cannon, who made me cry in front of several hundred people. Be more goat, people
The only book I came away with - but what a book
I've been mentioned in acknowledgements for many novels but this is the first time I've had one dedicated to me. Thank you, Squidge
Dialogue workshop - writers gotta write
Who could ask for a more beautiful setting?

The traditional self-edit alumni photo. Similar numbers to previous years but many different faces



Having been reminded that I'm also an author, I'll sneak in a nod and a wink to remind people that my first three Nirvana novels are all available as e-books on Amazon: here for the UK and here in the US. This has just been posted on my FB wall by someone who bought a copy of Trading Tatiana over the weekend:

Every line is bursting with wit handled with the lightest touch, and I can't stop chuckling. The characterisation is very clever and your observations hilarious. Every time you introduce someone they become my new favourite... The list is growing.

My cockles are warmed to boiling point.


As in previous years, lives will have changed over this weekend. Whether or not people end up being signed by agents, everyone should go away with new tools to apply to their writing. FoW is magical and I wish everyone the very best for the journey ahead. See you online - if you haven't already joined the Cloud, what are you waiting for? - and, hopefully, at FoW17.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Self-edit course roll of honour

Writing a novel is hard. Getting said novel published is even harder. Authors need to do everything they can to polish and perfect their story until it leaps off the page. Of course, you can pay for a professional critique, but it's also possible to learn how to edit your own novel.

That's where the 6-week online Self-Edit Your Novel course comes in. Emma Darwin and I designed the course for The Writers' Workshop and wrote the tutorials together, though I now do all the detailed feedback, with Emma coming in at the end of the week with an invaluable round-up of the topic.

But does the course make a real difference, in practical ways? Can it increase your chances? Is there any way of proving that it does?

This should convince you: the self-edit course in numbers.

The first course was in April 2011, 5 years ago, and it runs 4 times a year.

So far, we have had 19 courses and a total of 215 participants.

I recently asked on Facebook and the Word Cloud how many of our alumni now have books 'out there'. The answer was 24 - and they're only the ones I know about. Most of these come from our early courses, the authors having had the time to edit their drafts and go through the next steps towards being published. I'm sure there are many more in the pipeline and probably several I've missed.

So how does that figure compare to the industry average?

A top agent will receive about 2,000 submissions a year, of whom they will sign maybe 2 authors - a hit rate of .01%.

The hit rate for our alumni is 24 out of 215 = 11.16%. (See below for updated figures.) Some of these have self-published but I know from the signed books on my shelf that they are as professionally presented, and as well-written, as the trade published novels they sit next to.

In case you don't believe me, here's our Self-Editing alumni roll of honour, with links to their Amazon pages and other sites when the novels are forthcoming. Oh, and we've sneaked a poetry collection in there too, though I'm not sure how much credit we can take for that.

In no particular order, hearty congrats to:

Cathy Bramley
Claire Flynn
Jody Klaire
Katherine Hetzel
G D Harper
Louise Walters
Susan Murray
Jules Ironside
Claire Evans (forthcoming Spring 2017)
Sonja Price
Amanda Saint
Jackie Buxton
Claire Waller
Matt Willis
Mari Griffith
Chrissie Bradshaw (forthcoming Summer 2016)
Sandra Davies
Kat Mountfort
Bernie Steadman
Isabel Rogers (poetry collection forthcoming October 2016)
Shauna Bickley
Sally Miller (forthcoming Autumn 2016, writing as Sara Bailey)
Voula Grand
Aneeta Sundararaj

If you know of anyone I've missed, please shout in the comments and I'll add them to the list.

Edited to add Susie Campbell. Updated figure 25 out of 215 = 11.62%
Edited to add Barb Ettridge. Updated figure 26 out of 215 = 12.09%
Edited to add E S Rollett. Updated figure 27 out of 215 = 12.56%
Edited to add Sophie Cayeux & Laxmi Hariharan. Updated figure 29 out of 215 = 13.49%
Edited to add Marjorie Lazoro. Updated figure 30 out of 215 = 13.95%


Our 20th course starts 9th June. The next one will be 27th September
Click HERE.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

On this day ...

It's Mayday 2016. 

To pagans, this is Beltane.

 To lefties, it's International Workers' Day

And, to me,  it's LAUNCH DAY for De Nada Nirvana




No party, no booze and nibbles and signings, no cards and flowers, but this one is just as meaningful as the previous ones. So here's a photo of me and my dad at the launch of Trading Tatiana in Jan 2005. Dad was 90 in this pic, and had crossed London on public transport from Edgware to Crystal Palace to be there. (Londoners will get the enormity of going from NW of the city to SE.)

DE NADA NIRVANA IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE IN THE UK AND HERE IN THE US
NIRVANA BITES AND TRADING TATIANA ARE STILL ON SPECIAL OFFER AT 99p EACH. Check them out here (UK) and here (US)

Massive thanks to all those people who have encouraged me to make this happen. You know who you are.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Facing Down THE FEAR

Everything was on track. I'd received the fourth version of the converted file of De Nada Nirvana. All I needed to do was a final, final proofread and I'd be ready to publish. At least, that was the theory. The reality turned out to be rather different. I'm going to talk through this part of the journey here. Let's get ready to ramble.

I can't say procrastination paralysed me. Instead, I suddenly found a huge number of things to do that needed to take priority. Except I didn't. Not really. True, I was running a self-edit course, but there was a lull in editing commissions and I didn't have my usual pile of MSs to work through. But there were Other Things getting in the way. I told myself my website had to be updated first. Emails that I'd usually consider to be non-urgent shot up the to-do list. I even cleaned corners of the flat that were shocked to see me.

My mood plummeted and the questions began to roll in. What if this wasn't just a lull in editing work? What if it had dried up forever? Had my career stalled? Was I going to go back to struggling to pay the rent? Eventually, the questions crystallised and I identified the big one, The Fear.

What if people HATED my new novel?

Yep, I'd been beset by the Doubt Demons, as a writer friend calls them. Only one way to deal with them. I had to call each of them out from the shadows and get them to state their case so I could come up with the answers to silence them.

The conversation went like this:

Doubt Demon: De Nada Nirvana is the first novel you've published in ten years.

Me: No need to rub it in.

Doubt Demon: Ah, but this one's different, isn't it. It hasn't been through a gatekeeper.

Me: That's not strictly true. My agent took me on, on the basis of this novel.

Doubt Demon: Wait. You mean you didn't have an agent for the first two? Are you mad? Or just stupid?

Me: Quite possibly both. What can I say? Hindsight's a bitch.

Doubt Demon: So let me get this right. You were signed direct by Orion without an agent. They didn't offer you a third book deal though, did they? Hmmm? Wouldn't you say that suggests it Just Wasn't Good Enough?

Me: Maybe. But it's also true that a lot of that might have been down to timing and circumstances beyond my control.

Doubt Demon: Yeah, yeah. Keep telling yourself that. Or maybe it's because the first two weren't that good either. Your sales didn't exactly set the world on fire, did they?

Me: Sales of Nirvana Bites were not spectacular, it's true, but they weren't disastrous either. Don't forget I had no web presence back then. It was much harder to build a buzz. But Trading Tatiana had a fraught journey before she even got to the published stage. There was a series of events at the publishers - some tragic - that meant she went through four different editors before she was launched. It was nothing to do with me, nor did it have any connection to my novel. The editorial team must have been in total disarray. There was no one in my corner, championing me.

Doubt Demon: Shame you didn't have an agent back then, isn't it, eh?

Me: Oh, do piss off. We've covered this one. Move on.

Doubt Demon: OK, we will. Let's get back to De Nada Nirvana. Your agent loved it but he couldn't sell it, so it hasn't been through any kind of professional editing process, has it. Answer me that one.

Me: I believe I can answer that, since you ask. I wrote De Nada Nirvana over ten years ago and only returned to it last year when I decided to self-publish it. In those intervening ten years, I've worked as a freelance editor, editing an average of 2-3 MSs a month. For the last five years, I've run an online Self-Edit Your Novel course with Emma Darwin, as well as teaching creative writing at events and to writers' groups. I believe I have both the skills and the distance to edit my own novels. In any case, De Nada Nirvana looks very different now from the version my agent was unable to sell. I know it's a better book. As far as I'm concerned, it has been professionally edited.

Doubt Demon: Yeah, but you have some worries about it, don't you. Go on. Spit them out. You've broken rules and you're scared you're gonna be called out on it. And then that'll undermine your reputation as a professional editor and tutor. You're done. This is the end, my friend.

Me: You're no friend of mine.

Doubt Demon: Go on then. Defend yourself against the charge that you've head-hopped.

Me: Right, I will. I've looked very carefully at the areas where some people might think that's what I've done and you know what? I think it works in the story. A newbie to the concept, looking for things to criticise when they read published novels, might spot it and go, 'Aha! Practise what you preach, Editrix!' but I'm willing to bet that readers won't notice any of the dislocation you get when the psychic distance spectrum hasn't been used to good effect.

Doubt Demon: OK, but while we're on the subject of breaking rules, you always bang on about how novels often struggle to sustain more than three or four. Remind me again how many POVs you have in De Nada Nirvana?

Me: Don't forget that I'm a huge fan of breaking the rules, as long as you have a good reason and do it well. I concede that there are several characters, some very minor, who have their own limited POVs, but I maintain that it's very clear that the story belongs to Jo and Jen. Besides, it's not that uncommon in the thriller genre to have brief scenes in minor POVs.

Doubt Demon: Ah, I'm glad you brought up the business of genre. What the hell is this novel? The politics are more in the background than in the two previous Nirvana books. De Nada Nirvana was the first you wrote in third person. There are two threads: Jo's, in Spain, is the crime thread, and Jen's in South London is ... is ... What the hell is that? Are you writing romance, Alper?

Me: Ha! Yeah, I know. It took me by surprise too. But I don't think I'll be joining the Romantic Novelists' Association any time soon. It's a very quirky sort of romance and I think it's the kind of thing that readers who are following these characters would expect and want to see. One of the reviews for Trading Tatiana, described it as an unorthodox mix of comedy, kitchen-sink drama and dark thriller. All I've done with De Nada Nirvana is throw a new element into the mix. The threads are interwoven. What can I say? I believe in the book. I enjoyed writing it and hope others will enjoy reading it.

Doubt Demon: You do realise that by writing this blog you're going to draw people's attention to the very things you're twitching about ...

Me: Sigh. I know. What can I do? I'm a writer. Lots of us have a tendency to over-share.

Doubt Demon: Right, howzabout this for the killer punch then. You're crap at self-promotion. You'll sell a few copies. You have loyal friends, many of then writers themselves, who will buy it because they know you. But you'll never spread the word beyond that small community because you have neither the will nor the skill to tell the rest of the world your books are out there.

Me: You're absolutely right. I'm not going to try arguing with you on this one. I'm fully aware that self-publishing also means self-promoting. That doesn't have to mean you should be ramming your novel down people's throats at every opportunity but there's an enormous gulf between doing that and doing sod all. I know I should be thinking about mailing lists and competitions and blog tours and special offers and all that but I'm not.

And you know what? I'm OK with that. It all depends on how you measure success and what it is you want to achieve. I wanted to write books I'd enjoy reading. I've succeeded in doing that. I wanted to make the rest of the Nirvana series available for those who want to read them. The job's in hand and making progress. I also want and need to balance being an author with my role in working with other people to perfect their novels. I'm simply not prepared to devote the time and energy it takes to do more than the occasional blog post, or FB post or tweet to promote my novels. But I'm cool with this. I'm not settling for second best. It feels right to me. De Nada Nirvana will be out shortly and then I'm going to start looking at Me, John and a Bomb. It's gonna happen.

Doubt Demon: Bollocks. Looks like we'll have to go off and find some other poor author to torment.

And there we have it. I've faced The Fear and I'm still standing. De Nada Nirvana will be published on 1 May. Because Mayday, y'know. Over the next day or so, I'll set it up so it's available for pre-orders. Meanwhile, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are still on special offer at 99p each. Let's get this show on the road.

UPDATE: DE NADA NIRVANA IS NOW AVAILABLE HERE IN THE UK AND HERE IN THE US.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Love your local library (before it's too late)

UPDATE FRIDAY 8 APRIL
AN EVICTION NOTICE HAS BEEN SERVED ON THE OCCUPIERS OF THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY. THEY HAVE 24 HOURS TO LEAVE OR FACE ARREST. PLEASE SUPPORT THE DEMO TOMORROW. DETAILS AT THE END OF THIS POST. 

When I was growing up, my parents couldn't afford to buy books but I was addicted to stories. I swept through the children's library, exhausting the stock well before I'd left primary school. A kind librarian agreed to allow me to enter the hallowed halls of the adult library, where the biggest excitement was that I could now borrow five books at a time, instead of a paltry three. It was during my teenage years that I ploughed through almost all the books on the lists of 'classics you should read' that come out every so often. I worked through biographies, as well as novels, discovering the likes of Tolstoy, Kafka, Hesse, Austen, de Beauvoir and many more. Genre was meaningless to me: strong stories were what I was after. It was on the shelves of the library that I discovered that stories could take many forms.

In secondary school, I discovered a new use for the library and was there almost every day in the study room, revising for exams. Once I had my children, I was once again in my local library several times a week, pulling books from the shelves and attending reading sessions and after-school clubs. As an author, I've read at many events organised in libraries, connecting readers with writers. The staff were invariably warm and welcoming. One heard that the day I was appearing in their library was also my birthday - and baked me a cake!

When my father was in his nineties, and before he moved to a care home, I would often go over and find he wasn't at home. Needless to say, my initial response was always a stab of anxiety. My first port of call was to check his library, just a few doors away from his flat. And nine times out of ten, there he would be, sitting in an armchair, chatting to other people, or reading a newspaper or books pulled from the shelves. 

As a member of the East Dulwich Writers' Group, I was part of an event at the glorious Carnegie Library in Herne Hill in June 2011. We read in the gardens on a beautiful summer's evening and it was clear to us all that this was a perfect example of a library that was deeply rooted in the community. Libraries like the Carnegie operate as community hubs, offering so much more than book loans, though Gawd knows that would be enough.


And now the local council has decided to close the library and re-open it a year or so later as a fee-paying gym, with a single room with books, but no librarian.

On 1 April (the council has no sense of irony) the library was officially to close but a group of about 80 people, including some families, occupied the building.



The council has since served them with an injunction - which they're determined to ignore.


It's worth remembering these words from Andrew Carnegie: 'A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a spring in the desert.'
In other words, the library belongs to the community, the people. It's not the Council's to take away.

The campaign website is here. Lots more info on Brixton Buzz. If you're on Twitter, there are numerous accounts to follow but this is the one for seeing tweets from those inside the building. There's also a Facebook page. And, finally, this is a map of the location of the library. If you live locally, why not pop along. They have no cooking facilities so gifts of food are welcomed. After snipey tweets from Labour councilors in response to a photo of the occupiers drinking wine, loads of people turned up the next day - bearing gifts of wine. This is community activism at its best.







In case you're still wondering if libraries are about much more than 'just' borrowing books, have a look at the list of events which will not take place if the closure goes ahead.


 Please don't let this happen:



Hope to see lots of you there on Saturday.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Praise for Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana

As Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are both on special offer at 99p each for the next week or so, I thought I'd post some reviews the novels received at the time when they were published. (In truth, several writer friends have ordered me to do this.) No links, I'm afraid, as these date back over ten years ago. However, I have managed to track down this on the wonderful Crimeficreader's blog (re Nirvana Bites) and this re Trading Tatiana. Also the late and much missed Maxine Clarke posted about Nirvana Bites on her Petrona blog.

Cath Staincliffe, Manchester Evening News
When unemployed Jen goes for an interview for a post as a researcher at the BBC she walks in on a scene of mayhem: a naked man stands on top of a ladder, his most private parts attached to a chain and his colleagues seemingly incapable of talking him down. But Jen recognises the man from his distinctive piercing as Stapled Stan, a regular on the S&M scene, and she persuades him not to jump. Stan, married to a high profile Tory MP, is being blackmailed and Jen is enlisted to try and find out who’s calling the shots. Assisted by fellow members of the Nirvana Housing Co-op, a handful of outlandish and damaged individuals who still manage to function as a collective, Jen becomes enmeshed in a world of murky dealing. Sustained by vegetarian feasts, regular spliffs and occasional flurries of direct action, the motley crew discover the trail leads them to the aquatic shop, Koi Korner. When Jen’s friends are on the receiving end of some very ugly violence things get a lot heavier. Comic crime caper from Alper who writes with panache and affection about the alternative worlds of co-operative living, new agers and fetishists. She’s very funny and … delivers a very entertaining read. A fresh voice we should hear more from.

Big Issue
A quick-paced and witty trawl through London’s sub-cultures.

Publishing News
A mix of funny, sad and astute.

Zaria Shreef, New Books Magazine
A funny, decidedly unpretentious thriller with a sub-cultural cast of characters and a fantastic heroine … From the first page NIRVANA BITES is a gripping, witty and distinctive read. It may stick in the throat of the old-school, anti-pc brigade, but its cast of lesbians, New Agers, animal rights activists and drop-outs is an engaging and refreshing alternative to the usual cast of fictional characters … An education for those who have no inkling of the S&M, drug and anti-capitalist scenes, it’s great fun.

Marcia Wellington, The Beaver
A hilarious whodunit set in the backdrop of the netherworld … A side to humankind that is dark and sinister yet, in spite of the negative environment, love and a true sense of family prevail. Woven into all this is a mystery to die for (some did) that kept me guessing to the end … It allowed me a peek into the dark, disturbing world of S&M, junkies and the otherwise fringe elements of society … A series of comical twists and turns … NIRVANA BITES is a definite must read for all mystery buffs. Otherwise it’s a good/funny/sad/whimsical book for those of us who just like a good read.

Tangled Web
Bursting with energy, NIRVANA BITES is a brilliantly observed comic triumph, and heralds the arrival of a highly individual and hilarious new voice. 

Give Me a Break
Becoming a bit fuzzy? Here’s a in yer face tale of blackmail, villainy, bondage and housing co-ops that really kicks. Get down to a bit of amateur sleuthing and have some laughs by all means, but wake up to what you know is really going on.

Daily Mirror
Look out for NIRVANA BITES by Debi Alper – dark comedy as Jen’s job at the BBC leads to bondage and blackmail

Families SouthEast 
Full of wild and whacky underground characters, involved in a weird world of eco-terrorists and S&M.

Magenta Publisher
Gripping stuff.

Gwyn Griffiths, Morning Star
Grim lives of desperate people told with love and humour. A 20th-century Welsh poet wrote that fiction, which is all lies, is closer than the historian to perfect truth. By that definition, the same would be true of the politician’s statistics. Those thoughts spin through the mind while reading Trading Tatiana, Debi Alper’s pacey, funny, heart-warming and ultimately tragic second novel. It is released at a time when Tony Blair and Michael Howard are out-bidding each other to show us all how tough they are – or will be – on asylum-seekers. They should read this novel. This is a political novel by a committed writer, writing from first-hand knowledge and detailed research. The snippets of information about the scale of what is done by those who live off the misery of others is enraging and heart-breaking. This is about the grim existence of desperate people clinging on at the brink, yet told with great humour and love. It is brilliantly written with all the underlying tensions of a terrific page-turner. Get out there, buy it and read it.
 
Catherine Hunt, Shotsmag
Here’s a welcome new crime writer … Alper’s theme isn’t original – she uses the current favourite crime, the traffic in prostitutes and the former iron curtain thugs who smuggle in naive, young girls, beat them up, terrorise them and then become their pimps – but her way of telling is refreshing. Her heroine and narrator is a thirty-something, ex-drug addict living the twentieth floor of a vile block of flats in the Old Kent Road. Jo Cooper has every right to be depressed and cynical but her voice is self deprecating, honest and optimistic. She vividly describes the sleaze and mess around her from the filthy, often broken lift, to the street battles between rival gangs. Multi-cultural London is her city and she loves everything about it but it is dirty, noisy and overcrowded so if people seek asylum there, she figures the place they leave must be hellish. Alper has a gift for voices; she can do Rasta, East End, posh, stroppy, anything at all. Her funniest scenes are those in neighbours’ kitchens when the women get together with their kids and chat. These are real characters not stereotypes and not to be disdained because they live in a grotty place. Moreover, they react to events and their thinking changes. She understands suspense, too. The pace is fast; as Jo gets further and further embroiled into what is patently a very dangerous situation, the tension increases, new characters get involved and the plot, as the cliché goes, thickens very satisfactorily.


Cath Staincliffe, author of the Sal Kilkenny mysteries and creator of Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin
‘My big fear is insanity. Everything else comes a long way behind.’ Ex-addict Jo Cooper is lonely, vulnerable and genuinely kind. She’s also brave and daft enough to offer sanctuary to a troubled teenage runaway. With compassion, humour and a strong sense of social justice Alper takes us for a walk away from the mainstream and into the seedier, needier, weirder side of London. An alternative, contemporary crime scene with the authentic flavour of life in the new, mean millennium yet there’s hope and belief too, in the potential of friendship and the possibilities of ‘families’ we choose rather than those we are born into.


Roz Clarke, Chatshow.net
Debi Alper’s second novel, like “Nirvana Bites”, is set in the downtrodden areas of South London she knows well, areas of desolate high rise housing and vibrant street markets where silent desperation and glorious optimism walk hand in hand. Humour, tragedy, poverty and lawlessness are the daily diet of those who live in within the sprawling urban community and all these elements are evident in Debi’s blackly comic crime thriller. Debi writes with comic affection about the alternative worlds of co-operative living, new agers and fetishists. She has known the strong women who battle against the odds to survive and are knit into a supportive sisterhood. She has sympathy not condemnation for the junkies and the home boys. Debi has revealed that initially she wrote in episodes to read out at her writers’ group, that she didn’t know she was writing a novel. There’s something almost Dickensian in this approach, as there is in the element of social documentary she includes, in her characterisation and in the landscape against which her novels are set. Her photographer’s eye gives her writing a depth of detail and a reality that makes the story both stark and rich … her voice is fresh and bright and laced with a darkly delicious anarchic sense of humour.


Tangledweb
Sparkling, fast paced and blackly comic.

Martin Tierney, Glasgow Herald
The second novel from the London-based writer is an unorthodox mix of comedy, kitchen-sink drama and dark thriller… Alper… move[s] the narrative seamlessly from the comic opportunities sexual perversion provides, to the darker, violent side of prostitution and sexual slavery.

Zoe Walker, South London Press
Alper’s portrayal of South London living is perhaps as honest a portrait as has yet been painted.

Fiona Hook, Big Issue
It’s funny how one thing leads to another. If Jo Cooper, ex-heroin addict and incurable helper of waifs and strays hadn’t decided to let the strange man she found on her roof in buttockless S&M gear into her top-floor flat in horrible, rundown Boddington Heights, she’d never have had enough money to take her neighbour’s kids to Brighton for the day. So she’d never have rescued a mystery girl from the thugs who were pursuing her, and the course of her life would have been different. The mysterious woman turns up at her flat … exposing Jo to a strange new world of illegal immigration and prostitution, where any victim who escapes must be ruthlessly hunted down. Its utter savagery is thrown into sharp relief by the everyday kindness of neighbours who band together to watch each other’s kids, the sweetness of agoraphobic Pete whose handmade candles Jo earns her living selling and the astonishing generosity and willingness to help of the housing co-operative she stumbles into in her quest for her visitor’s real identity. In trying to save her mystery guest, Jo finds her own salvation.

Love Reading
A blackly comic thriller where a London market trader finds herself plunged into the world of illegal immigration and teenage prostitution.

LATEST 7
Trading Tatiana is a rapidly-moving novel that blends black comedy, soft politics and an array of well-developed characters to form a book that is immensely entertaining and packed with unexpected twists.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Over a decade later, the Nirvanans are back

As I draw closer to the publication of De Nada Nirvana, I'm feeling the excitement of releasing a new book into the world. Although each of my novels is able to stand alone, it's obviously best if people read them in sequence. And so ... drum roll ... I've reduced the price of Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana to 99p each for the next two weeks. Those links are to Amazon, but you can read extracts of both novels on my website.




I'm also taking this opportunity to look back at the amazing journey I had to publication, over twelve years ago now.

Unlike many debut authors, I hadn't been toiling away for years, I had no piles of unpublished MSs under my bed, and I had no ambitions to become a published author. I simply started writing a story to read out to my writers' group, with no idea that it would even be a complete novel, let alone any understanding about how publishing works. It's hard to believe that Nirvana Bites ended up being picked up directly by Orion and I was offered a two book deal with what nowadays would be considered a healthy advance. Nirvana Bites was published in 2002 and Trading Tatiana followed in 2005.

Trading Tatiana had a fraught journey, bless her. As the result of a series of unconnected (and sometimes tragic) events at the publishers, the novel went through four pairs of hands before landing up with an editor. The MS came back to me with comments and corrections made in all their different handwriting. I already knew that sales of Nirvana Bites had been decent but unspectacular. (This was pre-internet days, when word of mouth was much harder to access than it is now.) I also realised there was no one left at the publishers to promote my cause. By now, I was savvy enough to know that it was unlikely I'd be offered a subsequent deal by Orion and so I started the (some may say belated) search for an agent. (Worth noting that many long-established authors, including Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, have said their novels didn't take off until the fourth or fifth in the series and that if their career had begun a few years later, they would have been dropped.)

Ten years later and my agent had another three Nirvana novels. He loved each of them but, in spite of some near misses, he was unable to sell them to publishers who were unwilling to commit to a series in which the first two novels had already been published. Of course I was disappointed but you know what? It wasn't as bad as you may think. All authors go through rejection at some point. My career may have been arse-upwards to most others, but that didn't mean I could escape the inevitable pain. And what happened to me had been life-changing. Without that original deal, I wouldn't be doing what I do today. I've loved spending time over this last decade with other authors, polishing and perfecting their novels, crying with them when they get setbacks and dancing with them when they achieve success, in whatever form that may be.

But ... but ... I was still an author. I still had those unpublished novels and I still had people contacting me to ask when the next were coming out. Timing may have been instrumental in me not being offered a subsequent deal by Orion, but I'm also around at a time when I can bring those novels in front of readers by other means. The Nirvanans are back on the scene.

Now I need to adjust my thinking. Going it alone means that I need to wrap my head round pricing and promo and all that other stuff that I don't want to be taking up time and head space. I'm not good at this. It's not what I want to be doing. So don't look to me for answers about how to successfully publish and promote your own novels. I'll be crap at it. One thing I can do though, is write blog posts like this one and then FB and tweet the link. If you don't like the method, look away now.


Monday, February 01, 2016

I'm a hybrid!

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed an addition to the sidebar of this blog. Yep, I'm now a fully paid-up member of the Alliance of Independent Authors - a giant step forward for my new incarnation as a hybrid author.

For those of you who may not know, my first two novels, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana were originally published by Orion. A few months ago, (on my birthday, since you ask) I set up my own imprint and published them as e-books. (See here for Nirvana Bites and here for Trading Tatiana.) I've now edited De Nada Nirvana, the third novel in the series. It was fun to re-visit a novel I considered to be final draft several years ago, when I was still largely operating by instinct. This was my first novel written in third person, with two different threads: one set in London, following Jen and her fellow Nirvanans, and one set in Spain, where Jo has gone to search for a missing teenager.

As an editor and tutor, I often advise people not to have characters with names beginning with the same initial but it's too late to change Jen and Jo now. Anyway, if it was good enough for Orion ... But I did have to cast a beady eye on some of the other characters when I realised four of them had names beginning with T.
  • Tony Bennett is a mobster and there are references to him having the same name as the crooner so that's not going to be changed
  • Tina's name is fixed in stone for me but she's a woman and stretched very far apart from TB, so no possible confusion there
  • Techno Tom has only a small part and is likewise unlikely to be muddled up with TB
  • Ted Baxter, I decided definitely was a problem and so he has become Harry Baxter. There was a salutary lesson there, folks. Thank goodness I knew not to use a global find/replace, or I would have ended up with lots of things like I wanHarry and I was exhausHarry. 
While I'm naming names, I have a main character who never appears in the story: the missing teenager, Matt Willis. Since I wrote the original draft, I have met a real life Matt Willis and wondered whether to change the name of my character but have been persuaded to let it stand. I guess this is why novels always have the warning note about characters not being based on real people.

Anyway, the previous draft has now been edited (by moi), proofread by my wonderful friend Angie, who has been with me on this journey from the beginning, and has now been sent to the wonderful Leigh Forbes, who is doing the techy schmecky stuff, including creating the series covers. I LOVE working with other people on their novels but I have to say it's felt really good to focus on my own stories again. Who knows? I may even find myself blogging more.






 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Happy 10th birthday to my blog

This blog is ten years old. A whole decade of blogging.



A lot has happened in the world since then and it's fascinating to look back at my early posts.

I'm still spending a lot more time over on Facebook and Twitter these days but have popped in here to announce that De Nada Nirvana is scheduled for publication in the next few months under my Nirvana Publishing imprint. Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are already available and I intend to edit Me, John and a Bomb and The Gene Pool next, thereby completing the Nirvana series. Unless there's a miracle between now and then, I'll also be publishing Somebody's Child, the novel which my agent loved so much but has sadly been unable to sell.

The only way I've been able to carve out time for my own writing has been to treat myself like a client. And, as a client, I've also felt free to tell my editor-self to piss off, as I break the rules the Editrix points out.




Monday, September 07, 2015

#FoW15 in words and pictures


It's the morning after the weekend before and, as ever, I feel jet-lagged, hung-over, culture-shocked (Real Life is WEIRD!) and, especially this year, very happy. Although previous years have been fab, it always felt like I spent a lot of time picking people up from the floor and handing them tissues. In some ways, that's not a bad thing. It shows how much they cared about what they do.

Back: Sophie Wellstood, Mandy Berriman Front: Jody Klaire, Katherine Hetzel, John Taylor
But here's the real point: those people who had dusted themselves off, who had taken on board the advice from their 1-1s, internalised what they learnt in the workshops and panels, and come back to the festie with sparkly new writing were the ones who, this year, had the affirmation they had worked so hard for. Time after time, I was approached by shiny-eyed people who had received really positive feedback from agents who want to see the whole MS. At least one, including my gorgeous mentee Mandy Berriman, was told by a top agent that they are 'really excited' by their stories. Another RL friend, Rachael Dunlop, faces the possibility of having to choose between several agents. Two Cloudie friends, Michelle Bromley and Hilary Taylor, were shortlisted for the Friday Night Live Competition and one, the fabulous Sophie Wellstood (who I first met when we accepted her submission for Stories for Homes) won the Opening Chapter competition.

The shortlisted authors in the Friday Night Live competition
 These are the competitions which have led to such runaway success in the past for authors such as Shelley Harris, Deborah Install and Jo Cannon. (Click the links to see their FoW stories.) And these are just a few of the people I know who were wearing ear-to-ear grins this time. Truly, my cup runneth over.
Andrew Wille, Deborah Install and Jenny Savill
When I stood in for Harry Bingham on Saturday night, I asked for a show of hands. How many people were festie returnees? I calculated approximately a third. When I asked our self-edit alumni to come up on stage for a group photo, I was blown away to see that about 30 of the 179 people who have taken the course so far were at the festival. These are the people who, by dedicating themselves to their craft and demonstrating their commitment to their writing, are now reaping the harvest of all that hard work.

A reminder that the self-edit course runs 4 times a year and consists of detailed tutorials to give you the tools of creative writing, and exercises which are based on your own WIP, thereby showing how to apply the tools to your own story. See here for some feedback and here for the syllabus and booking details.

Huge thanks to everyone who has tweeted, FBd and emailed their appreciation following the mini course, workshops and 1-1s. The Psychic Distance workshop was, as ever, the one that blew people's minds, even though it was the last workshop of a packed weekend. More than one person said the insights almost brought them to tears but then it was the end of a totes emosh weekend for all of us. Do check out Emma Darwin's blogposts on PD to get those synapses firing.

If anyone is itching for more writerly input before FoW16, I'll be running workshops at Verulam Writers' Get Writing Day on 26 Sept and also a one day Craft of Writing event in Exeter for The Place to Write on 10 Oct.

York Uni is a stunning setting
Some of the wonderful Writers' Workshop team

Delegates and pros trickling in
Jane Ayres and Moira Please, who run The Place to Write

Mandy Berriman and Janette Owen - natural storytellers

No caption needed. Well worth the indigestion

Craig Taylor at the controls

For the first time - a DISCO!
Discovering the magic of Psychic Distance
Happy birthday, WW!

One final thing, which I post while attempting to uncurl my toes. Several people had a go at me for not talking more about my own books and writing so I'm just slipping in here that Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana are now available as e-books and yes, I will try to get the next 3 out there too at some point.