Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Stories for Homes - making a difference

Watch out, I'm about to get philosophical on y'all.

So what's it all about, eh, this life business? What's our purpose in being here? We all know that the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42 but that can't be all there is to it, can it?

With such a diversity of belief systems (or lack of) among us all, I reckon there's one thing we can agree on: we're here to make a difference. In the week that Nelson Mandela died, we're all aware of the enormous difference one single person can make. Here's what Madiba said on the subject:  

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” 

Madiba was unique, of course, but on a much smaller scale perhaps we can emulate his example. We're at our strongest when we join together, rather than act alone. I've seen people doing that recently. The Authors for Philippines project raised over £50,000 for the Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan appeal and is just one example of a good deed in a naughty world.

But the difference I'm posting about today is the Stories for Homes project which was the result of a community of people united for one purpose: to create a world-class anthology of short stories on the theme of 'home' with all proceeds going to the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter.

You can see the background to the project in this blog post in July, which celebrated the launch of the e-book - available here. Our community of supporters have made a promotional video, supplied unique artwork, come up with genius ideas, created a press release, contacted local and national media, emailed, blogged, Facebooked and tweeted. We've had authors, editors, proofreaders, designers, techy wizards, artists, journalists and more on board. There are far too many places where the anthology has been promoted for me to link to here. Check the hashtag #storiesforhomes on Twitter for a full list.

And readers, of course, we've had readers who have bought the book, knowing they can enjoy great writing while simultaneously sending money in Shelter's direction. Because we all know books need readers.

We started here, back in June:

The e-book was published in July and we watched as it leapt up the Kindle charts and the royalties flowed in. In less than four months, we raised almost £600. The reviews have awarded the collection an average of 4.8 stars and we knew we had achieved our aim. Truly, this is a world-class anthology and. most importantly, Shelter was receiving some serious money.

And now, five months later, we're here:

The paperback was published a week ago (available here) and has already raised £213 in royalties at the time I'm posting. Add this to the money already raised from sales of the e-book and we've already made over £1000. We have a launch event at my fave indie bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, coming up this Friday. (Other events will be taking place across the country.) Another talented person has joined our community and created this wonderful window display.

But hang on, let's just take a moment to remember what all this is about. All the following info comes from Shelter's news page. 80,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas. The highest number of families are in emergency accommodation for a decade. In over half the country, less than 10% of properties are affordable for a typical working family. 45% of people renting in the South West are living in homes that are damp, cold, overcrowded or in a bad state of repair.

Shocking, isn't it? But behind the stats lie real people, real stories. You can see some of the people Shelter has helped here. It's in order to help Shelter help those who need their support the most that the whole Stories for Homes project was brought into being, inspiring dozens of people to take part and hundreds more to buy the book.

Please play your part. Buy the book. Post a review on  Amazon. Come to the events. Tell others about the project.

Make a difference.

Going back to the point I made at the start of this post, I leave you with the Stories for Homes dedication page.

Thank you.

UPDATE 18/12/13
Since writing that post, I can report that we handed over a symbolic cheque to Shelter at the launch for the money raised so far!

    Can you see the amount on that cheque?

    This includes 45 copies sold at the launch. Many of them were signed by all the authors who came from far and wide - including one who flew in from Germany. 

    We even had souvenir bookmarks.

In the days following the launch, we shot up the bestselling charts. At one point, we were number 5 in the bestselling paperback anthology charts, nestled between George Orwell and Doris Lessing. When you check out the massive marketing and publicity budgets behind the other books on the list and compare it to our shoestring-would-have-been-a-luxury budget this feat is all the more remarkable.

Cyberspace has been flooded with SfH book blasts. See the comments here on Squidge's Scribbles for a full list. The momentum has built, more events are planned, more books will be sold, more money will be passed to Shelter to help them to help those who need their services the most.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Editrix

Further to my last post about Stories for Homes, the awesomely talented Jody Klaire is creating profile pics of all the contributors. Here's mine! Note that the Editrix's pen drips blood.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Stories for Homes launch

This is just a quick post to let you know that the Stories for Homes anthology in aid of Shelter is now available in both e-format and as a paperback. The first launch event will be 13 Dec at my fave indie bookshop, Bookseller Crow. Details here.

Leaflet credit Debs Riccio

I'm going to be blogging about the project in full on 11 December, when we intend to have a Book Blast of focused publicity in an effort to get #storiesforhomes trending on Twitter.

Monday, September 16, 2013

FoW13 - the day after the weekend before

I did warn you I might not be able to live blog the festie this year. And so it came to pass. I quite literally was on the run the whole weekend and could never grab enough time to turn on my netbook for anything other than Powerpoint presentations for my workshops.

So herewith a brisk round-up to the best of my ability. The photos might suggest that my course and workshops consisted of me making other people do all the work. Reality is that it was only when they were scribbling that I had the opportunity to take any pix. The photos might appear a bit same-y as a result, but I'm going to post them anyway as I think/hope it will be nice for people to spot themselves and others.

Day 1. Friday begins with a minor panic when trains out of Kings Cross are all delayed or cancelled. Twitter was awash with panicking writers on their way to York. But, hey, we made it.

And so straight into the self-edit mini course, with a lovely group of enthusiastic and engaged writers.

There was just enough time to pick up my room key and drop off my bags, then I raced through the driving rain (unlike the glorious sunshine of previous years) to the Roger Kirk Centre for drink, food, drink, chat, drink, hugs.

WW photo

Julie Cohen and Nicola Morgan showing how it's done.
 The Friday Night Live competition, where seven brave souls read 500 words of their WIPs to 3 'judges' and an audience of 400 was won by Gabrielle Kent.

 WW photo

 Day 2. Saturday begins with a keynote address by Adele Parks. Among her pearls of wisdom was an example of the perfect elevator pitch, which I referred to over and over again in my 1-1s.

Then it was straight on to the prose microscope workshop. This was one I stepped into at the last minute to replace (as if I could) a workshop that would have been run by the fabulous Emma Darwin, who had to pull out at the last minute. This was a smaller group, maybe twenty or so. (They even had tables to lean on.) I do like the fact that so many people used pen and paper for the exercises.

Ten minutes later, I was chairing the thriller/crime genre panel with industry experts David Haviland (author and agent with Andrew Lownie), Alison Hennessey (senior crime editor at Harvill Secker) and Suzie Doore (editorial director at Hodder and Stoughton).

At least the sun was shining today.

Straight after lunch, an hour of 1-1s was followed by a rammed workshop for exploring the magic of Psychic Distance. If you missed it, do check out Emma Darwin's blog. Actually, check out Emma's blog anyway. It's packed with writerly insights into PD and much, much more.

Then another hour of 1-1s, a quick dash to my room to shower and change for the gala dinner.

Some of the wonderful Cloudies who were there. L-R: John Taylor (Johnonceupon), Neil Evans, Katherine Hetzel (Squidge), Sophie Jonas-Hill (Tenacityflux), Mandy Berriman (Skylark) and Imran Siddiq (Flickimp). Don't they scrub up well?
Anouska Huggins and Isabel Rogers with essential props
Inevitably, the absence of Harry Bingham was keenly felt though not everyone knew the reason why he wasn't there this year. It was up to me to get up on stage, welcome everyone and introduce Harry's virtual contribution to FoW13 - a video that left everyone sniffling. You can see the reason why here. (Warning: have a box of tissues close by.)

While on stage, I also tried to link people together so the net wouldn't be rattling for weeks after with people regretting they hadn't linked up. Stand up the WordClouders, Tweeters, online self-edit course grads and contributors to Stories for Homes. This also gave me the opportunity to thank the awesome Writers' Workshop Dream Team: Laura, Nikki, Deborah and Lydia for their mega organisational skills. They made it look easy. It's not. My bad though for not publicly thanking Susan Franklin, Mark Clementson and Ellen Hanns for running the 1-1s with their usual iron-hand-in-velvet-glove-ness. I hope they know how much they're appreciated for their efficiency, warmth, support and unflappability.

Kate Johnson (johkat) was the very popular winner of the Opening Chapter competition.

No caption necessary.
William Angelo (Athelstone)
Nikki Holt, Katherine Hetzel and Hannah Kaner. proving it's possible to be both glamorous and a writer (and/or organisational tour-de-force, in the case of Nikki).
Day 3. And so to Sunday. Rain and gale force winds lashed York as I raced over the walkway for two hours of 1-1s, followed by lunch, followed by the final workshop of the weekend: Dialogue. The lecture hall was packed. Brains should theoretically have been fried by a combination of hangovers and too much information crammed into too short a time, but the reverse turned out to be true. Fresh as a whole field of springtime daisies, the dialogue between us all perfectly illustrated the workshop's theme. You all rock!

The closing address was by S.J Bolton. I was too far away to get a decent photo of her but this was one of the slides she used. I posted it on Twitter and we all agreed it was a faithful representation of what a rejection looks like to those of us with thinner skins than are good for us. Sharon Bolton is known for her gripping horror novels. To me, that slide looks like horror flash fiction.

I went over to the Blackwell's book stall, where the staff had done their usual sterling job of - um - selling books throughout the weekend, hoping my suitcase would be lighter on the way home. And, whoop-de-whoop, they told me they had sold out of both Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana. Just as well both will be coming out as e-books.

And then, all too soon, it was over. Just over fifty hours that felt like weeks, months even. Inside our literary bubble for the weekend, time stretched as we crammed in so much information, so many experiences, such a maelstrom of insights, hugs, laughter and tears. (Yes, there were some of those too.) And a fair bit of alcohol.

Goodbye then #FoW13. You've been a blast. Thank you, thank you, thank you to each and everyone of you. You're all stars. Forward to FoW14.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Festival of Writing. York 2013

It's all happening. Over the coming weekend, I'll be in York, running a 4 hour mini course, 3 workshops, 24 Book Doctor sessions, chairing a genre panel and dispensing lots of writerly warmth.

I was pretty rubbish at my attempts to live blog the festival last year, but you can get a flavour here. (Scroll down.) Then, of course, there's the Festie 2012 book, available here. Given that my schedule this year is even more packed than last time, I make no promises to live blog but I'll do my best. If you can't make it to York and would like to find another way to improve your writing, you might be interested in the 6 week online self-edit course I run with Emma Darwin. Next one starts 22nd October.

See you when I see you. Oh, and if you're on Twitter, the hashtag is #FoW13.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Stories for Homes

I am so excited, I hardly know where to start. I always like a nice, clean, linear chronology, so I'll start at the beginning.

Three months ago, I was invited to a housewarming by the parent of one of Teen 1's lovely friends. Over a glass of wine (OK, I may be tweaking the truth there a tad) Sally Swingewood told me about her personal struggles to find a decent home and her plans to raise awareness of the housing crisis, as well as money for a housing charity. Her plan involved a book. Of short stories. On the theme of home. It would be highly polished and professional. The stories would be of the highest quality but the authors should include both published and emerging writers.

Did I want to get involved?

Is the Chief Rabbi Jewish? Am I a natural redhead? (Scrap that last one ...)

If you know anything about me, you'll know I couldn't possibly resist. I have my own experiences of what it means not to have a secure home. Combine that with a project that involves writing and I'm yer woman.

I gulped when Sal said she wanted to launch the book in July though.

July? Really? But that was just three months away. Three months to set the ball rolling, get submissions in, sift and edit them, assemble them into a book, format it, do more editing and several layers of proofreading, design a cover and write blurbs, do all the techy stuff to do with e-conversion. Could it possibly be done?

Well, yes, it could, but only if a whole community of volunteers got involved. Before we knew it, we had a website, Facebook group and Twitter a/c. The submissions began flooding in. We put them into piles of 'yes', 'no' and 'maybe'.

And that's when we noticed something very odd indeed. The 'no' pile was tiny. There were a good number in the 'maybe' pile, many of which wouldn't have needed much work to perfect them. But, oh my lordy, the 'yes' pile was HUGE! I've edited and contributed to other anthologies. I've judged competitions large and small. But never - and I mean, never - have I come across such an incredibly high standard.

Sal and I had never met before that party night but, as we began working together, we realised we had two bodies and one mind. We agreed on everything - including the need to constantly refuel with the three Cs: coffee, cake and cigs. Over marathon sessions, involving multiple spreadsheets, a whole pack of index cards and an arcane coding system, the book took shape.

Fast forward to now. Our army of volunteers has worked tirelessly and continues to do so. Stories for Homes will be on Amazon as an e-book by this time tomorrow morning. (This is the link!) The royalties will go direct to Shelter who are fully behind the project. In a couple of months time, we should have a paperback version and a Real Life launch party. There's a virtual party scheduled for this Wed, taking place simultaneously on Twitter (#SfHlaunch) and Facebook. There will be a video - with music by one of the authors. We also plan to pair those authors who didn't make it into the anthology with editors to help them to perfect their stories. There's talk about a second volume.

Oh, and if you're wondering about my own experiences which I referred to above, you can see the details here. You can also add your own Real Life housing story if you wish.

Huge thanks to all of you who have made this anthology possible. I don't dare name people because it's inevitable that someone would be missed. But you know who you are and you know that none of this would be possible without you. It's a stunning collection and it's been a pleasure an honour and a privilege to be involved.
UPDATE: the promo video by Imran Siddiq featuring music by Dan Maitland can be seen here.

UPDATE: buy the book here! It's only been there for a few hours and it's already racing up the kindle charts.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is this the FINAL word on Brit Writers?

Some of you may remember when many of us were warning unwary writers about Brit Writers. As a result of people raising questions, Harry Bingham of the Writers' Workshop, Jane Smith of the blog, How Publishing Really Works and author Claire King were threatened with legal action - see here for Harry's response, here for Jane's (huge number of comments) and here for Claire's.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can see the whole sorry tale here. That's a link to a post on my blog in November 2011 but it includes links to all the other posts on the subject that were around at the time.

Anyway, this is the upshot. BWA has gone out of business, as we predicted. They'll no doubt try to shift the blame onto us and others who had the nerve to expect something in exchange for the hundreds of pounds they paid over to this bunch.

There's a huge lesson to be learnt here. There are sharks out there who are only too willing to take advantage of the dreams and vulnerability of people who are desperate to be published. Swim with care, peeps.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

I have some news

Blimey, I've just realised how long it is since I last posted anything personal. An aversion to anything remotely resembling self-promotion is hard-wired in my DNA, so although I have some good news to share, I'm going to bury it in a post that promotes other people's creations as well.

So ... I'm delighted to announce that I've signed a contract with Dzanc Books who will be publishing Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana (originally published by Orion) as part of their rEprint series. Dzanc's ethos of supporting writing - and reading - at every level is close to my heart and I'm really happy to be with them. It's also really exciting to know that these novels will be out there again and available to a whole new readership. You can see more about Dzanc in this article in Publishing Perspectives.

While I'm sharing, I'll also say that my agent loves my latest novel and has begun pitching to publishers. There are no guarantees he'll succeed, of course, but having his validation is cause for celebration as far as I'm concerned. 

Now we've got that over with, let me tell you about Stories for Homes. This project is the brainchild of Sally Swingewood - a visionary, mega-talented and hyper-caffeinated friend who is producing an anthology of short stories (and maybe the odd poem or non-fiction piece) on the theme of 'home', with proceeds going to Shelter. Sally is looking for all kinds of help with the intention of launching the anthology in July. That caffeine is going to be essential. The deadline for submissions is 31 May. Get involved!

And here's a different kind of creativity. A close Twitter friend, known as @FemalePTSD, has come up with a genius invention: the Anxiety Wristband. This simple but effective grounding device can be used to ... Oh look, why not just go to her site and let F tell you about it herself. Once again, any money raised will go to charity. F also blogs here. Please note, there's a trigger warning attached to her blog which deals with her struggles with PTSD resulting from gang rape. I just want to say that she's quite possibly the bravest person I know and she uses her blog and Twitter to share her journey as a way of supporting others in a similar position.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Psychic Distance - the comic version

The mega-talented Jody-Klaire took part in one of the 6 week online self-edit courses I run with Emma Darwin. In common with most of the people who take this course. J-K was blown away by John Gardner's concept of Psychic Distance, which he explores in his book, The Art of Fiction. In fact, this exploration of how close - or distant - you can get from your characters' voices and internal landscapes is so powerful, we devote a whole week of the course to it.

Now J-K has created a comic version of Emma and me explaining the concept and she's given me permission to reproduce it here. If you want to learn more about Psychic Distance, check out Emma's blog post here. Or join the next course!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Secret Agent? Not any more!

Sometimes, something new comes along and everyone slaps their foreheads and says, 'Of course! What a brilliant idea. Why didn't anyone think of this before? It's a complete game-changer.'

In this digital age, it seems astonishing that, until now, every author seeking an agent or publisher has gone out and ... bought a book. Now, I'm sure I don't have to say that I have nothing against books (as if!) but, in this case, it doesn't seem like the ideal tool for the twenty-first century.

The book in question is, of course, the Writers' and Artists' Year Book. It comes out annually and consists of alphabetical listings with little more than contact details. Canny authors know to cross-reference the information with that on agents' websites. Even cannier ones might think to do a Google search, seeing if there's anything else out there on the web about an individual agent. They'll hope to glean hints and titbits that might be useful when it comes to pitching a novel. If they're lucky, they just might be able to find out how long an agent has been in the bizz, maybe find an author they represent, that kind of thing. If Canny Author is really on the ball, they might search Twitter ...

Fine, huh? Time-consuming. Random. Fiddly. But fine. It's what we've always done.

It's not great though when you come to think about it.

Well, the clever folk at Writers' Workshop did come to think about it and have come up with an alternative that is truly breathtaking. Welcome to - drum roll, please - 

a searchable database of every literary agent, agency and significant publisher in the UK. 

I could tell you about the functionality. I could go on about the numbers of ways you can search the database. I could mention that, for a £12 annual subscription (less than a copy of WAYB, by the way), you'll be amazed that no one has thought of this before.

But you know what? In the great tradition of show, not tell, I'm not going to tell you any of that. Instead, I'm going to suggest you get there and have a look for yourself. Wander round and see what's on offer. If you want to know some of the thinking that went into producing this new resource, check out this post on Word Cloud.

I'll defend Real Books until my dying day but, when it comes to an unwieldy and restricted reference tome like WAYB, I reckon Agent Hunter is the face of the future. Anyone disagree?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drum roll!

This really is the Festival book! 

For an explanation of what's going on with the fonts and formats etc, see this Cloud post.

I said in that post that producing this book has been a huge learning curve for both Writers' Workshop and yours truly. I hope you'll all agree that the end result is something all the contributors should be proud of.

Now it's down to all of you to blog, tweet, FB etc to spread the word. Wishing you all a zillion sales and hope this is just the first of many experiences of being published.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A sneaky peak

I said there it would be here soon.

Now I'm showing you what it looks like! Huge congratulations to all the contributors. May this be just the first of many successes. 

There are some errors on the Amazon page which Writers' Workshop has spent the last three days trying to get them to fix. Getting published can be a frustrating experience, as well as a joyous one. I'll be posting the link as soon as it's all sorted.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Coming soon ...

What? What? What's coming soon?

Well, it all started with a tweet. Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works and The Self-Publishing Review DMed me with an idea in the months before the Festival of Writing in York.

'How about producing a book of the Festival?' she said.
'Brill idea,' I replied. 'It could include contributions from all the people who were there. It would be great! I'll pitch it to Writers' Workshop.'

'Love the idea!' said WW.
'One catch,' said Jane. 'I won't be able to work on it.'

And so it came about that I was asked to edit the Book of the Festival of Writing York 2012. And what a pleasure that's been! Lucky me was given pretty much of a free rein. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the book to be a gift to the lovely people who make the festival so special. It could showcase their writing and be something they could mention in their CVs and in covering letters to agents. I wanted the book to appeal to everyone who had been there, as a way of bringing back the memories, but also to have a wider readership.

And that's exactly what we've ended up with. The bulk of the book is made up of blogs, articles, poems, writing tips and other insights by some of the many talented delegates at York. There's also a section by some of the professionals who appeared at York 2012 and another featuring interviews with many of the agents who were there.

The e-version is now complete and will be available very soon. It's also hoped that a print version will follow.

I'm really excited about this! When I floated the idea to the audience at York, I began by saying, 'You're all writers, right? Well, we can't guarantee that all of you will eventually land a publishing deal, but we can offer you all the opportunity to have your words appear in a book.'

We can. And we did. Watch this space for more details.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blow Your Kiss Hello. Part 3

This is the third and final part of a series of posts featuring Blow Your Kiss Hello, by Andrew James. In the first part, I posted my thoughts about this exceptional novel. Last week, I handed my blog over to Andy and some of his fans. The questions they asked were about his decisions to self-publish and how he went about bringing his novel to shelves and screens. This week, his interrogators are asking questions about the story - and risotto.

Mandy: Where did the idea for BYKH come from? i.e. what was the spark of inspiration that set you off along that particular story and how did you come to mix historical fiction with crime with romance with quantum physics with rock and roll?

Andy: I wrote the opening pages, or rather I wrote something that evolved into the opening pages, about six or seven years ago. At the time, it was purely an abstract exercise – I liked the idea of someone comforting someone else whilst knowing that they were really the one in trouble. But the spark was meeting someone who has become a close friend; we discovered that we knew many specific things about each other’s childhoods, each other’s lives, without these specific things ever having discussed before. That opened my eyes to where a story could go. Once I got there, it was a case of how far to take it. How could two people know things about each other without ever being told?
   Just “knowing some stuff” wouldn’t have made for much of a plot, so in order to magnify the proposition, I had the central characters be in love and the things they knew stretch over a long time, hence the historical part. The quantum physics was about making these feelings “real,” giving them an explanation. What if parallel universes really do coexist alongside our own and what if understanding them could hold the key to why some people really do just go missing? The crime was just a plot device to create tension and jeopardy.  
   And as to the rock and roll: I’m a musician and much of my writing tends to be inspired by individual pieces of music. Plus my writing style is deliberately a mixture of terse sentences and rhythmic, drifting passages. It seemed only right to make Joe a rock musician within that context.

Jeff: Time travel, the vehicle of the premise of your book, seems timely (no pun, really!) with several films out at the moment, Looper, X-men. How can you capitalise on that in your marketing.

Andy: Has it ever really gone away? HG Wells, Doctor Who, The Time Traveler’s Wife… It’s not really a theme of BYKH as such, which deals more with alternative universes and the unknowns of quantum physics – and that is something that I think is really now and zeitgeisty, what with Professor Brian Cox and the like popularising complicated science. Although I was told by one very respected publisher to “drop the quantum stuff” – so maybe it’s not such a good idea!

Eli: Do you plan everything before casting off, or let fly and see where you land?

Andy: A bit of both. I can’t begin until I know where a story’s going, so I tend to map out the basic elements: who my characters are, what’s happening to them, how they resolve their issues, and the overall “point” of the story. This normally takes the form of a few pages of notes, tables, mind-maps, etc. Once that’s done, the incidentals can often just fly. Sometimes they fly in unplanned and almost write themselves. The scene in BYKH where Joe’s at his wits end and the letters from his tattoo reveal themselves as pertinent anagrams – I didn’t know that was going to happen until it did. The letters were always the same, I’d just never considered them as anagrams of anything, they were just words.

Mark: How much of a technical challenge was it to weave together so many characters and plot strands, the earthly and the ethereal?

Andy: Enormous! It was the part that almost sent me mad! I strongly believed that all the elements were necessary to the story I was telling, but making them sit as a cohesive whole was a huge learning curve. Originally the novel was written in sections that dealt with individual strands, but it just became too disparate. Debi can take a lot of credit here, as she helped me structure it and then set me a challenge that revolved around the seventeenth century narrative; either make it slip in naturally, or ditch it. In my heart I couldn’t ditch it – it was too important to the central story and contained lots of clues that keen readers will hopefully pick up to help them get more out of the book – so I had to find a way. I’m glad I still smoked when I was writing it – so many ideas to smooth things out happened during “fag breaks”! It’s probably why Joe smokes so much in the novel …

Eli: Influences? Who do you like to read?

Andy:I love authors who use language and style as an integral part of the story; they don’t just tell a tale, they illustrate it with words. For example, James Ellroy and David Peace, they make sure from the opening page that we’re in their world. Peace especially is an incredibly brave novelist, he almost taunts the reader to keep up sometimes.
   Bret Easton Ellis, I think, is a genius. I see parallels with the great American writers in Ellis’ writing and yet each one of his books adopts a style that subtly alters depending upon the central character, from Clay’s laconic, don’t-give-a-damn personality in Less Than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms, to Victor’s increasingly unhinged mind in Glamorama. And of course, the pedantic viciousness of Patrick Bateman. I also love that his books contain a sort of repertory company of characters, with minor characters in one becoming lead roles in others.
    What else? Not influences, or at least directly, but I love books that challenge me. Cormac McCarthy’s writing is breathtaking and difficult at times, like a Dickens of the Wild West. I love Will Self’s Umbrella for its sheer audacious complexity. Dylan Thomas is probably my favourite writer, no one uses language better. And I’ve recently discovered Scarlett Thomas. Her brain is simply huge!

John: The question I would love to ask is a bit vague. It's about the genesis of your prose style - how it grew and matured. It is so distinctive, and so integrated and 'of a piece', that it feels as if it might have an interesting story behind it.

Andy: John, I suppose it’s partly deliberate and partly instinctive. It has certainly grown and matured but I’m not sure I can give you a definitive answer as to how. As I said earlier to Eli’s question about influences, I love a style that’s integral to the story, so I try to do that, and I think it’s impossible to escape one’s influences. I’ve also written music and poetry in the past, and I think these art forms influence my prose. I think it’s appropriate that prose has a rhythm in the same way that poetry does. I sometimes set myself exercises, like writing five hundred words without any full stops, a) to see if it works and b) because I think that style of writing begins to dictate content and I find that fascinating. The repetition of certain words in a passage is also something very deliberate in my writing, for effect. Repeat something twice, it’s a mistake, but three, four times, and the words take on a power that they just don’t have when used singly, like a drum beat or a repeated chord being played at an increasing tempo and volume. Does that answer the question? I’m not sure that it does!

Eli: Your prose has a musical/melody-like quality to it. Do you give a lot of thought to the structure of your writing (balancing words and sentences so that things flow better)?

Andy: Yes, lots. I find it impossible to be one of those writers who produce five thousand words a day, or whatever. I’m happy with a hundred! That’s because every word is important, and I edit continuously as I write, changing sentence structures and, as you say, balancing. To me, that’s part of the process of writing, otherwise it has a tendency to be just word ejaculation, which is pretty meaningless for the most part.

Jeff: The Point Of View seems unique within the context of the story’s subject matter. Did it start in the POV or did you adapt it?

Andy: It was always essentially a first person narrative. What’s happening to Joe is traumatising for him and I wanted the reader to be right there with him, not viewing events from the comfort of a third person POV.

Lindsay: Were any of your characters inspired by a real live person?

Andy: Yes. Two definitely were - I’m not saying which ones, though!

Jeff: Joe, a musician, how much of him is you? (Joe de Flo, love that!)

Andy: Quite a bit, I think. Joe’s got the job I wanted in my teens, definitely! Because Joe’s on the page for almost all of the 300 pages, it would be unusual if he didn’t have a bit of the writer in him.

Mandy: Thea is absent for most of the book, yet she has a real presence all the way through and her character is just as vivid as those who never leave the story. How did you go about developing/characterising a person who was hardly there?

Andy: If we love someone, they may pop into our heads at random times without warning because they’re continually in our subconscious. And we can turn that thought into action by picking up the phone, or whatever, and being in touch with them. Joe can’t do that, so he needs to carry Thea around with him, otherwise he might lose her forever. In many ways she’s there all the time, living through Joe. I’m really pleased that notion seems to have worked for you.
    As to characterisation, I know Thea as much as I know Joe. And so she’s always been a fully-formed, fleshed-out character in my head. I know what she looks like, I know what she’d choose from a menu, I know what perfume she wears, what she’d say in certain situations. So these things can come through because of how Joe talks about her, and often “to” her.

Eli: If you were a shoe, what brand would you be?

Andy: Random! Jeffery-West. Definitely.

Mandy: Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived before in another place or another time?

Andy: This is the part where I come over all David Icke, isn’t it? I don’t know that it’s as simple as having lived in another place and time, but I certainly believe in something along those lines. I think that children are far better placed to know these things than adults; we lose the connection to other elements we had as children as we get older. Certainly there were things I just knew as a child that I ignored as I grew up and yet they’ve come to pass in adulthood. There’s a part in BYKH where Kyle discusses physicality with Joe and he’s fascinated by the fact that the human body contains electrons and that electrons can’t die – I know scientists will have all manner of explanations for this and why it means nothing within the context of spirituality, but I also think there’s a whole load of stuff we’ve yet to discover. In that sense, I’m with Kyle.

Jeff: As I am only 1/3 through it, no spoilers please, but are you planning a sequel or spin off?

Lindsay: What next for Andrew James, Author?

Andy: Hopefully some reading events promoting BYKH – several bookshops have expressed an interest in doing something. In terms of writing, I’m trying to finish a semi-sequel. It’s looking like a short novella rather than a full-blown novel and it’ll lay to rest one issue from BYKH. It’s going to be called Almost Over Now.
    After that, I’ve got a few ideas I’m playing with; I’m actually thinking about writing a children’s book, sort of in the David Almond (who I love) mold, and I’m beginning to get a rough plot in mind.

Eli: What’s your favourite risotto?

Andy: I’m guessing this is a reference to my Twitter profile! (@4ndrewjames). For a starter, Italian mushroom. For a main course, spicy butternut squash risotto – great with a nice piece of beef on the side!

Jeff: The brutal last interview question: what would you do differently, looking back at the whole thing?

Andy: I don’t know that I’d do anything particularly differently. In terms of the story and the writing, I probably wrote 250,000 words to get to the final 80,000 and I think that’s just a natural part of the process, especially for a first novel. Perhaps I’d have self-published earlier if I’d known how things were going to work out. But hindsight’s a wonderful thing!

Big thanks to Andy and co for livening up my blog. I happen to know that each of his interrogators are also talented writers in their own right. I wish them all the success they deserve. Let's look forward to more posts in the future, this time with one of you on the receiving end.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Blow Your Kiss Hello. Part 2

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts about Andrew James's stunning novel, Blow Your Kiss Hello. Today, I'm handing my blog over to Andy and some of his readers so that he can answer their questions. 

Today's questions focus on process: Andy's decision to self-publish and how he went about getting his book into print and onto screens - the story of the book, in other words. Next week, the Q&A will focus on the story in the book.

And now - over to Andy et al.

Andy: Susan, John, Mandy, Lindsay, Jeff, Mark and Eli are all writers at different stages of their writing careers. Each one of them has been remarkably supportive of Blow Your Kiss Hello and it seemed only fair to give them the chance to put me in the hot seat. What follows are the answers to the questions they put to me regarding the novel and my writing. I’ll try to be as honest as I can in my replies!

Mandy: Having not followed the traditional route of agent/publisher, how did you make the decision that BYKH was ready for self-publication?
Susan: My question is about going self-published: was it a gradual realisation or more of a sudden epiphany? What ended up being the deciding factor that made you go for it?
Mark: I'm so glad you did, but what gave you the confidence to get BYKH published when traditional publishers wouldn't bite?

Andy: Being self-published was never the goal. In fact I was dead set against it. My opinion of the quality of the vast majority of self-published work was (and remains) pretty low, although of course there are some excellent exceptions. I also wanted the validation of being recognized as good enough by the industry. So I went on the submissions trail, like thousands of others do. And then the inevitable rejections began to arrive, although those that commented (as opposed to just saying ‘no thanks’) were remarkably positive. One agent, for example, said, and this is a direct quote, “I’m torn because you write with great originality and panache and that’s so rare to find… I wish you the best of luck in placing this. I shall kick myself when I read about some mega deal!” Others were in a similar vein, so I thought that the book must have something.
    However, over time I began to lose faith, not so much in my book but in the industry itself. It seemed to me that what was getting promoted as fabulous new works were pretty lame in many cases and there was a real reluctance to turn to anything that wasn’t conventional. And I know this is something that happens in times of recession, you can see it across all the arts; people turn to the equivalent of cultural comfort food. Whilst this was happening, the validation began to come from other places:
    Other authors whom I chatted to on Twitter began asking about the book and whether they could read it. And these were successful, recognised authors, like John Harding (Florence & Giles, What We Did On Our Holiday) and Chrissie Manby (Kate’s Wedding, Getting Over Mr Right). And once they’d read it, they came back with fulsome praise. Barry Walsh, who’s own debut The Pimlico Kid is published this summer by Harper Collins, said he preferred it to a book he’d recently read by a fabulously well-known writer. And of course, Debi, who had worked as my editor and who has helped BYKH become the book it is. She was a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement.
    So with nothing happening for me by way of the traditional route, it was these people who gave me the confidence and the impetus to go down the self-published track, as I could see the alternative being for it to sit in a drawer for years, something I wasn’t prepared to let happen. And to answer Susan’s specific point about an epiphany:
    I was at lunch with a friend who asked me if I’d read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I admit I snorted a bit and said something derisory about it having been self-published and my friend snorted right back at me and said, “So?” And it was at that point that I realised that so long as a book’s well presented, readers simply don’t care whether it’s self-published or not. And that was a kind of epiphany.

Jeff: Marketing - your background seems well placed to be able to get this moving and it seems a very professional product. Have you thought of marketing this aspect of your skill set? The book seems to be a remarkable advert for your talents as not only a writer but as someone who can marshal all of the skills required to create a very professional product. With the growing demand for self-publishing, this fills a gap.

Andy: It’s good of you to say so and yes, I did consider it. However, there are a number of companies out there who claim to be able to help the self-publisher. True, most of them don’t seem to be anything other than money-grabbers, but therein lies part of the problem: in order for me to do this for someone else, there would need to be a charge, and not a small one. After all, it has cost hundreds of pounds to get my own book into this shape. For most people looking to self-publish, large fees are unsustainable and basic self-publishing can be done at comparatively little cost, so that tends to be the route that most choose. The fact that this can result in an “inferior-looking” product is subjective and most seem happy. So whilst everyone will want their book to be the best it can be, I don’t think many are prepared to pay what it might cost for someone else to undertake the whole process for them. Then again, if you want me to publish your work, you know where I am!

Mark: What's been the most difficult part of your quest to see BYKH published? And the most exciting?

Andy: In terms of actually publishing, the most difficult part was coming to terms with the self-published route. Thankfully, I now see it as no different from a band releasing tracks via YouTube or whatever without a record label. The most exciting was definitely receiving the first proof copy from the printer.

Lindsay: Where were you when you first had the idea for the book, where were you in life, what prompted you to begin?

Andy: Physically? I was sitting by the side of a swimming pool in Jamaica! Although I did already have bits of it underway without really knowing what I was going to do with them. I was at a very fortunate stage in life – I’d just sold my business and was contemplating some time away from the day job and I was wondering about doing the thing I’d always promised myself I’d do – write the damn book. The bones of the plot just came to me in the sunshine and after a few days making some notes I knew that this was what I was going to spend the next year or so doing.

Thanks to Andy and his interrogators. Watch out or the final post in this series - coming to a screen near you next week.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Blow Your Kiss Hello. Part 1

This is the first of a short series of posts. The next two will consist of interviews with Andrew James, author of Blow Your Kiss Hello.

I first met Andy at the Festival of Writing in York in 2011. I read an extract of his novel in our Book Doctor session and was delighted when he told Writers' Workshop he'd like me to be his editor. The thing is, I was excited by Andy's book. Really excited. Blow Your Kiss Hello breaks all the perceived ‘rules’ of creative writing and it does so with enormous success.  Andy had created something unique, both in content and style. I loved his lyrical prose, and the way with which he played with ideas and concepts. It was as if his words had woven a spell and transported me to one of his parallel universes, where everything is familiar yet moving on an axis that was shifted fractionally to one side and different rules apply. The rhythm of his writing is intense and hypnotic, mirroring music lyrics and creating the impression of the book as an extended ballad. And the story – or rather the two interwoven stories – were mind-blowing.

But I had a concern. Andy had an inbuilt challenge in that his novel is unlike any other that is out there.  As writers, we’re always being told to come up with something fresh and different, so it’s incredibly frustrating to be told that an approach is so different, it may work against the author.  The trouble is that there’s no proven market for a novel that pushes the boundaries in the way Blow Your Kiss Hello does.  In these troubled times, it’s harder than ever to persuade agents and publishers to take risks.

If ever a book was screaming out to be self-published, this was it. After a few rejections praised his writing to the high heavens but confirmed my concerns that his novel couldn't be easily slotted into a genre, Andy decided to go it alone. He did everything right. He set up his own imprint, rather than paying mega-bucks to a vanity publisher. He ensured the novel was thoroughly edited and proofread; he commissioned an original cover; he was painstaking in terms of quality control; he understood what he needed to do to promote his novel.

And now it's out there, as both print and e-book. All through the process, Andy kept a close connection with the Wordcloud, the online writers' community run by Writers' Workshop. He wrote blogs and forum posts about his journey and received the support of those who had read extracts. When the novel was published, Cloudies were first in line, waiting for their copies.

And, boy, did they love it. You can see some of their reactions here if you don't believe me. Andy decided to open up a Q&A session so these Cloudies could ask questions about his journey to publication and about the novel. I'm delighted to announce that the questions and Andy's responses will be posted here on my blog.

The first part will appear here on my blog tomorrow and will focus on his journey to publication. Next week, I'll be posting the second part of the interview, looking more closely at  what inspired him to write Blow Your Kiss Hello.

A story of Love, Rock & Roll, Guns and Quantum Physics
‘She’s both alive and dead. The two states being the same, just depending upon perspective.’

Joe feels as if he has known his girlfriend Thea for a thousand years. The thing is, he really has. Just not in this place. And now she’s inexplicably missing. From this place. From this time. And for Joe, finding her is all that matters.

But with his own life under threat from a criminal gang, Joe’s left running from shadows and talking with ghosts as he desperately hunts down the truth he could never have imagined existing, the centuries colliding across a broken universe, the voices in the dark singing macabre nursery rhymes and the appearance of an impossible physical reminder of Thea that says that she’s out there –
Out there.
Somewhere between the cracks in the here and the now.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Brief update and some great feedback

Emma Darwin and I are almost halfway through another sell-out 6 week online self-edit course. Details, including dates of future courses are here.

Meanwhile, this is a great blog post from Isabel Costello about the value of a critique.