Wednesday, November 29, 2006
In the early part of the 21st Century, newspapers (printed with ink on paper) still existed. Although some recycled materials were used, the environmental costs associated with their production and distribution were astronomical.
An even greater threat to their survival were the inherent delays. A morning paper could, by its very nature, not include up-to-date reports of unfolding news. With the internet able to report events as they were taking place, the news in papers was no longer new enough.
Features and reviews, previously penned by professionals accustomed to dictating public taste, were far from immune to the changing face of journalism. Anyone with access to a computer and internet connection (in those days the computer was a large box that needed to be plugged into a phone line with wires) was able to publish information and express opinions and make them available across the globe at the press of a button on a keyboard.
The advent of weblogs, known as blogs, hastened the demise of traditional roles within journalism. Bloggers could publish posts on any subject and others could comment on the issues raised in a form of collectively-owned interactive debate.
Many in the industry embraced the inevitable changes and adapted. Others, terrified by the unregulated (and interactive) nature of the World Wide Web prophesied falling standards and anarchy. (See here and here.)
It was no surprise that many of those who had previously enjoyed a heightened status as the sole repository of access to information and opinion felt threatened. Some worked hard to undermine the importance of blogging, provoking much debate. (See here and here . For some of the responses, see here and here and here and here. ) At this time people still believed that if someone was paid to do something like write a review, this exchange of money was in itself a guarantee of quality. The amateurs of the blogosphere argued that, as they were not accountable to bosses or advertisers, their contributions were more likely to be honest.
Within the blogosphere as well, sparks flew as the bloggers strove to identify the parameters within which they operated. This led to some unpleasant spats. One blogger, for example, when debating the independance and integrity of online reviewers, was denounced as a nitwit and a slattern!
The power of the blogosphere was such, however, that newspapers soon became extinct, with the majority of people preferring to have a diversity of sources for their information. Although there were inevitably many blogs of limited interest or dubious content, people felt able to make informed choices as to whom they trusted.
New communities of like-minded individuals sprang up, whose members were able to reach out and speak directly with one another for the first time. They dealt with rogue elements (see the comments here) in a show of collective strength and created a world where ordinary people were empowered to combat injustice and bring about radical change, heralding the advent of the brave new world in which we live today.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Not to be out done, I'm putting it here too.
Could you do me a really big favour? If you'd like to support this event (even if you can't be there in person) could you post about it on your own blog? For the evening to have the best possible chance of fulfilling its huge potential, we need a really good blogger turnout.
AN EVENING OF LITERARY TREATS!
A magical book – both in content and in the story of how it came to be published.
· 2nd National Literary Blogmoot.
An opportunity to meet influential literary bloggers – writers, readers, reviewers, commentators and booksellers.
· Guest appearances.
· A chance to stock up on gifts at the best independent bookshop in town!
BOOKSELLER CROW ON THE HILL
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Well, she'll be there. And so will he. And hopefully all of you (see blogroll)!
And where is 'there'? Why, here of course.
Watch this space for further details.
Meanwhile delete anything else lurking in your diary for the evening of Saturday 9th December. Believe me, it couldn't be better than what we have in store ...
Clear your diaries NOW for the evening of Saturday 9th December for Something Very Exciting!
I'm not going to say more for now ... except you're going to love it!
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Following the continuing rage over the remarks made by John Sutherland, Fiction Bitch is posting here and here and providing some balance in the debate.
There's more bloggy navel-gazing on the issue of whether anyone reviewing a book they were sent as a freebie should publicise the fact and whether it compromises the independance of the review. Check out Kimbofo at Reading Matters, Fiction Bitch (again) and Susan Hill for some different angles on this.
For an example of what can happen if you interpret 'independance' in way that earns the disapproval of the literary citrus fruits, check out the email received recently by Susan Hill.
Dear Susan Hill
After reading your Blog about Book Review pages, I would like you to know that no book either published or written by you will in future be reviewed on our Literary Pages.
In the light of your expressed views, I am sure you will neither be surprised or distressed.
Yours etc.Dove Grey Reader gives her reaction here.
And DCSC is back with some thought-provoking posts. Glad she's decided not to let sleeping blogs lie.
Monday, November 20, 2006
If you're new to blogdom, pay close attention. I'm going to impart these pearls to you because no one did it for me when I was just starting out. If only I had known then what I know now ...
This is it then. The Debi guide to the times when it is essential that you turn to your blog. And those times when you absolutely, indubitably, 100%edly, shouldn't be allowed within 50 miles of an internet connection.
WHEN ONLY BLOGGING WILL DO
- When you're so angry you're screaming into your pillow with no one to hear you rant except the dust mites. And they gave up listening ages ago. In fact they've all got these teensy microscopic headphones and are boogying to the rhythm of your head banging on the pillow. Except the really poor ones who can't afford headphones and who just stick their little dust mite fingers in their little dust mite ears and sing, 'Lah lah lah lah! We can't hear you!'
- When you're so happy you want to share the cause of your delight and spread the good vibes as far as you can virtually fling them.
- When you have some really useful advice. (This post being a case in point.)
- When you need some really useful advice. (Some may say this post is also a case in point.)
- When you want to share a joke/pain/opinion/debate/stream of consciousness with a wider audience than the wooden duck you bought in Marazion but didn't want or even like but someone broke its beak and damages have to be paid for even when it's a helluva lotta money for a bloody wooden duck even if it's quite a nice piece of wood but it's got a malevolent glint in its eye ...
- When you've popped onto the laptop to check something for your 11 year old's homework and supper's on the stove. Fight that little voice whispering in your ear, 'Go on. Just a quick peek ...' Before you know it, the overcooked food was eaten aeons ago - along with everything else in your fridge, freezer and cupboards. And you've had your benefit cut because your First Born is over 18 - even though he's still in Year 7 because he's yet to hand in his homework.
- When you're so off your face you can't remember how to open the laptop and find yourself staggering off in search of a hammer and chisel.
- During a wedding - especially if it's yours - or you're the minister/registrar/photographer/best man/bridesmaid.
- During a funeral. Unless it's yours. Otherwise the next one will be.
- When you're driving/bathing/operating heavy machinery/operating on a patient/being shot at.
So I'm sending an appeal to all you seasoned bloggers out there. Let's create the ultimate list. Our gift to the world and to virgin bloggers everywhere.
Friday, November 17, 2006
'There are those who see web-reviewing, whether independent bloggery or commercially hosted, as a ‘power to the reader’ trend – the democratization of something traditionally associated monopolized by literary mandarins. And there are those who see it as a degradation of literary taste.'
Degradation of literary taste??? You can imagine the howls of fury zapping round the blogosphere! Check out Susan Hill, Dove Grey Reader and Fiction Bitch for starters. Scott Pack was interviewed on Radio 4 on the subject - apparently he was far more polite than many of us would have been. I'm sure there must be many more people outraged at this pompous snobbery.
Don't worry. If this is the sort of reaction coming from the establishment, it means they're running scared.
The days of the literary citrus fruits are numbered! Bring on the bloggerati!
I felt a little bullied into it by the constant reminders (felt more like doom-laden warnings) and it remains to be seen how it works out. In the end, I felt like I had no choice. Adapt - or suffer the consequences ...
Please let me know if you have any problems. I won't know what to do about them, of course, but at least I'll know!
Oh and Sharon - please don't hate me ...
Thursday, November 16, 2006
If you want the truth about how the big guys sell books - go ahead and click it.
And then give thanks for the indie bookshops and pray they survive!
But if I write a glowing review, will you believe it?
Sod it. I don't care. I'm going to write it anyway and hope you take it at face value.
The book I'm on about is The Three Bears by Derec Jones aka Skint. And the reason I'm reviewing it in spite of the above reservations, is that it provided the most unique reading experience I can recall ever having.
The unnamed narrator speaks directly to his reader in the most intimate and personal way, to the extent that, at times, it doesn't feel as though you're reading words on a page, but have made the leap into the author's head, bouncing along neurological pathways, following his seemingly random thoughts.
But they're not random of course. Although the narrative hops about in time and in and out of present tense (even when dealing with the past), this is clearly a journey with a beginning, middle and end. (Except in a clever twist even these boundaries are blurred - the end is also the beginning and vice versa.)
Derec's heady stream of consciousness and the immediacy of his voice, draws us into each decade so that the reader needs to make little effort to see, feel and taste each era. Every word is chosen with care - the man is also an accomplished poet, remember. There's profound humanity lurking in these pages; questions posed that some would prefer remain unasked; challenges to comfortably-held perceptions.
In an ideal world - one where book publishing wasn't driven by commerce and greed and narrow perceptions of genre - The Three Bears would be in every bookshop and translated into every language. It would probably never achieve mass market status, nor could it ever be mainstream, but I'm convinced there would be many people out there who would be inexorably drawn into this unique and compulsive reading experience, as I was.
Luckily, Derec had the vision and drive to ensure we had access to this and his other books. Go here to order them.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Happy birthday to my lovely dad!
Born 14/11/14 - work it out. Yep that's right - he's 92!
He lives alone in a 2nd floor flat, doing all his own shopping, cooking, cleaning etc. He also still goes twice a week to the local hospital - not as a patient, but as a volunteer in the A&E department!
Do you have any idea how proud I am of him??? He is absolute proof that, given reasonable health (that's crucial of course), age really is just a number.
Here's a pic of him at his brother's 95th birthday party a few months ago (!)
Dad's on the left.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Someone just emailed me this and it's a natural for me to share with you.
1. Being in love.
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.
3. A hot shower.
4. No queues at the supermarket.
5. Taking a drive on a pretty road.
6. Hearing your favourite song on the radio.
7. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
8. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
9. Chocolate milkshake ... (or vanilla ... or strawberry!)
10. A bubble bath.
12. A good conversation.
13. Finding a £20 note in your coat from last winter.
14. Running through sprinklers.
15. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.
16. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.
17. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.
18. Waking up and realising you still have a few hours left to sleep.
19. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.
20. Having someone play with your hair.
21. Sweet dreams.
22. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.
23. Holding hands with someone you care about.
24. Running into an old friend and realising that some things (good or bad) never change.
25. Watching the expression on someone's face as they open a much-desired present from you.
26. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day.
27. Knowing that somebody misses you.
28. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.
29. Knowing you've done the right thing, no matter what other people think.
Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Friday, November 10, 2006
I was a little nervous. I can walk the walk and talk the talk at such events, but it doesn’t come easy to me to be the centre of attention. Luckily I had the wonderful Joan and Meloney Lemon (friends and fellow members of the East Dulwich Writers’ Group) with me as henchwomen.
But I had particular cause for anxiety this time. Readers of Nirvana Bites will know that I haven’t been exactly flattering about Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. ‘Redneck territory’ is how I described the area.
‘So what’s wrong with Rotherhithe?’ Joan asked as we drove – or to be strictly accurate, Joan drove, I navigated, Meloney lolled.
‘It’s weird,’ I replied. ‘There are plenty of black people living here but it’s very much a white working class area where racism is the norm. There are definite no go areas if you’re black.’
We turned a corner onto a back street leading to the library. A group of shaven-headed geezers, complete with obligatory bull terrier straining at the leash, leered at us.
‘See?’ I said.
‘Blimey,’ replied Joan. ‘Yes, I see.’
We drew up outside the library. We were early and decided to wait in the car. I had a sudden rush of paranoia.
‘What if they’ve read Nirvana Bites?’ I stammered. ‘What if they’ve come to GET ME?’
(For those of you who haven’t read my first book, I should point out that the plot revolves round the setting up of an international fascist headquarters in this very area. My unequivocal anti-racist stance is also clear from my website and this blog. Oh – and I’m Jewish too …)
I turned to Joan, seeking reassurance. None was forthcoming. It seemed I’d have to provide it myself.
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘These guys wouldn’t read a book, would they?’
Meloney piped up from the back seat.
‘You’ve got a blog now, m’dear. You’re out there. Anyone can find out about you …’
‘It’s all right, Debi,’ Joan murmured in her famously dulcet tones. ‘We’re here. I can just hit them with my handbag.’
I glanced at the diminutive figure with grey hair sitting next to me, glanced back at the blokes on the corner behind us … The odds didn’t look good. And I couldn’t even smoke a fag, thanks to this awful cold …
So it was with some trepidation that half an hour later we made our way into the library. About 20 people sat in a circle of chairs.
‘Are you Debi?’ one guy asked.
He looked good. I liked the look of him. Very camp and my kinda people … He grabbed my hand.
‘Loved your books,’ he gushed. ‘Both of them. Brilliant characters, wonderful writing …’
OK. Maybe I could relax a bit. There’d be at least one person on my side apart from Joan and Melony. I sat down in the circle.
‘We split the room,’ an older man growled from my left. ‘This side is always people who hate the book we’ve read.’
Gulp. The room was split about 50/50.
‘Think I’m in for a hard time,’ I muttered to the divine Ms Lemon.
Well, my dear blogmates, how wrong can you get???
They were ALL just amazing. Nearly all of them had read one or both of my published books. Several had bought their own copies and many complained that not enough were available in the library.
And they knew them. Really knew them. With hindsight I should probably have reread them myself before coming. It was a bit like a comprehension exam at times. They kept correcting me!
‘But Tatiana wasn’t a victim of global trafficking, was she?’ one woman pointed out. ‘She came here with the circus. It was only after she was here that she fell into the hands of the traffickers …’
‘Ooops, yes, you’re quite right. Sorry.’
I managed to slip in a plug for Amnesty's campaign while I was at it though ...
It would be hard to imagine a group of people more generously-spirited. I almost drowned under the outpouring of positive feedback. They knew my characters. Really knew them. Had no problems whatsoever in identifying with them. This was a very diverse group in terms of gender, age, race, nationality etc yet no one said they had any difficulty relating to the people in my books.
Buoyed up by their support and positive affirmation, I read out the rejection letter I’d received that morning. There was a roar of disapproval. These people, like all of us, are lovers of books and were appalled at the reasons stated for turning down Me, John and a Bomb. I lost count of the number of people who said they couldn’t wait to see my next books published.
There may have been some there who didn’t like them, but if so they stayed silent. I hope they would have felt able to voice criticism if they felt it … It would be utterly ridiculous to expect everyone who reads any book to love it.
Oh and some sundry extreme weirdnesses – they told me that a tropical fish shop (just like Koi Korner in Nirvana Bites) opened up in the same street as Koi Korner round about the same time the book was published! And several of them also said they knew Boddington Heights, the fictional tower block in the Old Kent Road that appears in both books.
‘No you don’t,’ I said. ‘I made it up!’
But they were adamant …
The evening was supposed to end at 8.30. At 9.30 Julian, the warm and welcoming organiser, called a reluctant halt.
So there are wonderful experiences to be had in Rotherhithe after all. I have never been so glad to be proved wrong!
Huge thanks to Julian and Margaret who organised the evening.
Huge thanks to the Rotherhithe Library Reading Group for inviting me and for their warmth and generosity.
Huge thanks to Joan and Meloney for their never-ending support.
And huge thanks to Life for giving me this magical and uplifting experience.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I had a two book deal for Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana. Given the state of the publishing industry, I was unsurprised to learn that the contract was not going to be renewed.
At that point, I found an agent and gave him the manuscript of De Nada Nirvana. (I’d previously been picked up directly by the publisher and had no agent. If I had my time again …) Anyway, he told me that he foresaw an excellent long term future, but warned me that we faced formidable obstacles in the short term.
How right he was! He now has the manuscript of Me, John and a Bomb as well as De Nada Nirvana.
Today I received a copy of a letter sent from one publisher to the agent that he thought I might like to see.
On the plus side, the letter said the following:
• ‘Cleverly and powerfully written’
• ‘… a controversial subject whilst remaining mostly unbiased’
• ‘I like the way the writing style changes to complement the content, for example when Sky and John are on the run the sentence structure changes to short and staccato sentences, reflective of the protagonists’ pain and mental state’ (Gosh – I hadn’t even consciously realised I’d done that!)
But it was, of course, a rejection. I can handle it! I know it’s just a matter of waiting for the right place at the right time. But I was bemused by this particular editor’s reasons for the rejection:
• …’you mention that Alper’s characters come from “a very different world to those we usually meet”. Although I realise this was intended to provide a refreshing change of perspective, to be honest, this was probably the most significant barrier for me – I really had trouble relating to them.'
I hardly know where to start with this … My characters are real people living on the margins of society. Although they are fictional, many people have told me they KNOW them. And they’re not THAT odd. I certainly live in their world … Some are homeless, some live in council flats, and the main characters live in a housing co-op where they have formed their own community. Some have problems with addiction, many are political activists. Many are damaged by abuse of one form or another.
Is this SO strange??? And don’t many books have characters that live in a different world to that of their readers?
And if all books published reflected only the experiences of those working in publishing, wouldn’t that be incredibly narrow?
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
No? Why on earth not?
Have you seen the glittering array of prizes?
Think of the prestige ... the kudos ...
Imagine how good winning would look on your cv or on your next submission letter ...
Now, get scribbling! You've got 3 weeks left.
Monday, November 06, 2006
As soon as I'd signed my two book deal with Orion, I knew I wanted to use the opportunity to draw attention to the horrors of the international trade in women's bodies. The subject was all over the media. I hoped that in my own small way I could contribute to a raised consciousness that would surely result in a tidal wave of public revulsion. If people really knew, I reasoned, their demands for an end to the global trafficking of women and girls would be unstoppable.
Here's an excerpt from Trading Tatiana:
Facts were delivered with no dramatic embellishment. They needed none in order to invoke horror and disgust. Statistics leaped from the paper and bludgeoned me with the stark reality of human misery they represented.
• Fifty two billion dollars – the annual value of the global prostitution industry.
• Five hundred thousand – the number of women smuggled into Western Europe by the sex trade.
• Ten thousand – police estimates of the number of illegal immigrants working as prostitutes in Britain.
• Seventy – the number of walk-up flats in Soho worked by prostitutes of whom ninety per cent are from eastern Europe.
• Twenty-four hours – the time within which women picked up by Immigration are flown home, having been seen as illegal immigrants rather than victims who could potentially give evidence against the criminal networks that brought them here in the first place. The traffickers often meet the women at the airport and bring them straight back to Britain.
• Two years – the Court of Appeal’s recommended sentence for pimping.
My tea grew cold and my toast lay uneaten as I read through case studies of girls – teenagers most of them, but some as young as ten – tortured and exploited, isolated and terrified. Like the sixteen-year-old whose pimp had taken out her front teeth, so she could give better oral sex. I learned about ‘seasoning’ – a pimping term for raping and beating a girl until all resistance has been knocked out of her.
I was beginning to understand Mags’s concern. The men controlling this human trade were not part of an organised Mafia. They were more dangerous than that. They operated in small groups held together by blood or tribe. Their own backgrounds were often ones of abject poverty. They had little to lose and untold riches to gain.
So here we are, nearly 5 years after I wrote those words. Have the hoped-for changes come about? Has the situation I depicted been consigned to the dustbin of history?
Here's an excerpt from an Amnesty International leaflet I received last week:
... Victims of trafficking have little real protection. Most women - even if they manage to escape their captors - are frightened of going to the authorities. When they do, they are all too often treated not as victims but as criminals. That can mean deportation to a homeland where they may be shunned by their own family or - worse still - fall back into the hands of the traffickers.
What is urgently needed are new international laws and guidelines ... Amnesty International, together with other organisations, has been campaigning for the introduction of a Europe wide convention against trafficking ... The Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings has finally been drawn up.
However, before it can come into force it must be ratified by 10 states.
So far the UK has refused to sign.
If, like me, you feel sickened and ashamed to live in a society that allows this suffering and exploitation to continue unchecked, go here to contact Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister responsible for preventing human trafficking (!)
Either compose your own email or copy and paste the following:
I am calling upon the UK government to sign the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings as a matter of extreme urgency.
The Home Office's own sources suggest that at least 1400 women are trafficked into the UK and sold into the sex trade every year. This sale of women and girls is utterly unacceptable. People who are trafficked are not criminals - they are victims of a most horrific human rights abuse and deserve our protection.
Unless enougn people demand change, it won't happen.
And thousands more Tatianas will have their lives stolen from them ...
It's not one of mine of course cos I'm crap at them.
This is one of Skint's from his book, The Words in Me.
There are those that wake with still closed eyes
And grunt and hide and live in lies
They swallow anything that comes
And lay to rest with nothing done.
Then there are the ones that see
That live their own humanity
They show their beauty in the night
And when they leave they leave a light.
While I'm on about Skint, let me tell you about another book of his - Fabulous Fillings for Baked Potatoes. If the title leads you to expect recipes along the lines of 'Fill with grated cheese and for that extra special touch add a knob of butter' or 'Open the tin of baked beans ...' think again!
This book is a veritable cornucopia of vegan delights such as Continental Lentil Moussaka, Mushroom Yoganoff and Hawaiian Stir Fry. But what else would you expect from the man who gave us bhajis to die for???
Both these books are a tribute to Skint's determination to bring his words into print for us all to share, savour and enjoy. Searching for sustenance for the soul or for the palate? Look no further for that special present for the gift-giving season!
I've just started on the stream of consciousness that is The Three Bears in the sure and certain knowledge of his ability to make me laugh, cry and dribble.
Oh - and you did know he's a talented and intuitive painter too, didn't you?
Friday, November 03, 2006
(Bet Sharon's already had it ... I'm on a mission to post a link to something she hasn't known about for ages ...)
We just wanted to send you a quick e-mail about Starbucks, and ask you to put pressure on the coffee company to give coffee farmers a fairer deal.
It's simple: the Ethiopian government has asked Starbucks to sign an agreement that recognises Ethiopia's legal ownership of its coffee names. This will give Ethiopia's 15 million farmers a better cut of the profits.
Despite its much-publicised commitments to farming communities, Starbucks refuses to take the Ethiopian request seriously.
WHAT YOU CAN DO - Click here to go to the Starbucks Action MySpace page:
And then take the action: click the link and send an automated fax to the
CEO of Starbucks, telling him to give Ethiopian farmers a fair deal.
If you're on MySpace, add it as one of your top friends, send a bulletin with a link or spread the word in any way you can.
Whatever you do, please take action!
Thanks loads for your time,
Oxfam Generation Why
Thursday, November 02, 2006
London to Cardiff.
Over 150 miles.
Three and a half hours travelling through golden Autumn sun-drenched landscapes under a clear blue sky.
Across the vast awe-inspiring expanse of the Severn Bridge, feeling as though I was crossing a small sea, not a mere river.
Into another country.
For just under 24 hrs I was removed from the familiar safety of my normal sources of shared love ...
And instead was enveloped by the kind of warmth and hospitality you would only usually experience in the company of your own family or old and trusted friends!
Making the shift from the blogosphere into Real Life adds so many rich new dimensions. It truly is a gift we're sharing here!
I was delighted to spend the first night in over 11 yrs away from my family (yes, really!) for such an occasion as the first launch of Coven of One. (There will be more ...) I don't yet have the perspective to know the significance of All This and how it fits into My Life, but there's one thing I do know - the relationships forged with Minx and her family, Skint and his family, and the wonderful crimeficreader are very special indeed.
I'd meant to turn off my mobile but forgot (bad Debi!). I'm glad I did though, because in the middle of the evening I had a text from Sharon - who was the first person to comment on both my and Minx's blogs and an early visitor to Skint's. How fitting was that???
Thanks to all of you who were there and who showed such true friendship ...
Thanks to all those who weren't there physically but whose spirit we felt so keenly ...
And most of all I wish Minx and Skint the very best of good things with your new adventure.
Glad I was able to travel this small but momentous part of the journey with you!