Friday, June 30, 2006

Hope they enjoyed it too ...

It went really well at the Dulwich Reading Group at Dulwich Library last night.

Half an hour beforehand, there I was retching violently on my balcony. Will I ever get over that awful nerves thing when I have to do face-to-face stuff? Dunno, but I was assured that no one would have known from the outside what was going on inside ...

Anyway, it couldn't have gone better really - thanks to the following (trumpets, please):

Anna from the library, who not only organised the event but also baked a cake for my you-know-what day.

J & E - great friends and fellow members of the writers' group, who are so unstinting in their support.

Maxine - yes, folks THAT Maxine! My lovely virtual friend made oh-so-huggable flesh who trekked across London to be there.

The members of the reading group - knowing that reading groups thrive on criticism, I was prepared to be savaged. But they were all so nice! Really welcoming, interested and interesting, intelligent ... I'd been all ready to cry if need be and wail 'But it's my biiiiirthdaaay ...' but there was no need. Whether they were being kind to me - or genuinely enjoyed the evening, they made me feel great. And I even sold some books!

So - big thanks to all. Doesn't mean I won't be retching next time though ...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Er - thanks, Juliet ... I think ...

I've received an e-card that I couldn't open from someone called Juliet. Now I know a Julie, a Janet and a Janette - but can't place a Juliet.
On the other hand, it is my you-know-what day so I tried opening it. It said I needed an e-card flash player which I tried - unsuccessfully - to install.
Now I'm wondering ... things are acting up ... Coincidence? Or summat more sinister?
So - if you are Juliet and you really wanted to send me something nice, I apologise for not thanking you directly.
If you're not, and you're some spamming virus-laden scuzz-bucket, kindly crawl back into your repugnant little corner.
I thank you.

A(nother) plug for Etain

Do you remember this post I did about my friends' farm in Italy?

Well, the US publisher of Etain and Martin's books has tracked me down - ah the wonders of the web ...

He's asked me to pass on the info that you can get their books, A Silent Joy and Real Horsepower directly from him by emailing him at

He and his partner own a bookstore and a small publishing business and have just started a blog. Yippee and welcome! This was the message they sent:

to help celebrate Gulf of Maine Books' 27 year in business (with a Borders about to open in our town of Brunswick) we have created a blog for the store. We will list store news, book suggestions, news from the bookstore community and more. You can always post comments, suggestions, books reviews, whatever. We are hoping to extend the conversation of the bookstore into cyberspace. To begin this conversation, we are asking you to recommend 5 books, on any subject - choose a subject that you would like to share with us, and send your 5 titles. We hope that this will be one of many features of interest, to keep you checking out the site from time to time.
Gary and Beth

Saturday, June 24, 2006

They're books, Jim, but not as we know them ...

So there I was lying on the settee yesterday, reading the latest copy of The Author and feeling all my optimism and positive energy drain away to be replaced by a flood tide of doom and gloom.

Article after article talked about the shrinking book market, the death of the midlist author (or indeed any author not already a best-seller) and the impossibility of making any kind of living from writing for any but the most successful celeb.

Here’s a little selection.
(Warning – unless you’re feeling irrepressibly upbeat, look away now!)

‘The midlist author has already become an endangered species … a healthy literary culture depends on book buyers being able to find a wide range of good quality affordable books. It also depends on authors being able to afford to write those books.’ Andrew Taylor

• Discounting is ‘driving readers to different books, for example to discounted new books in preference to full-price backlist and to discounted bestsellers in preference to non-discounted midlist … All retailers … promote pretty much the same titles.’ Tim Hely Hutchinson

• Nicholas Clee writes re a novelist whose first 2 books attracted a £75,000 advance. 18,000 copies of the first were sold – more than the first sales of many authors who have gone on to become bestsellers, but not enough to cover the advance.
‘The publisher has already written off the investment. It is giving no promotional support to the second novel … The current publisher will not throw good money after – in its view – bad; other houses, noting the author’s record, will stay away.’
This author’s agent is quoted as saying, ‘The author’s at work on his third. I haven’t the heart to tell him not to bother.’

‘You can get a high five-figure deal, or even a six-figure one, and still find your career is over in the time it takes to read a BookScan print-out. Still, winning a publishing contract remains preferable to not winning a publishing contract – the fate that is befalling an increasing number of first-time writers, as well as experienced ones.’ Nicholas Clee

‘Leading publishing houses are cutting their lists … (one) UK company has reduced its annual output in the past five years from about 600 new titles to about 350. That scale of reduction is common.’ Nicholas Clee

• ‘In fiction, if a book is not likely to be on the front tables (of Waterstones), publishers don’t want to take it.’
Clare Alexander, Gillon Aitken agency

‘You’re either going to get £100,000 or zero. No one’s going to say, “This isn’t bad: I’ll give you £15,000 for it.’ Jonathan Lloyd, Curtis Brown agency

• ‘No one wants a midlist. An author is either on the way up, or on the way out.’
Helen Fraser, Penguin

‘The number of novels selling more than 10,000 copies has been dropping like a stone for the past three years.’ Ursula Mackenzie, Little Brown

‘If you are an author … you should be aware of the trends. You might produce lead title after lead title, and be a darling of publishers and agents. If that happens, you will become very rich. If it does not, you will certainly need a more lucrative day job.' Nicholas Clee

‘Yes we would all like to make money out of writing and selling books. But we might also like the moon to be made out of green cheese.’ Robert Cole

There’s more. Much more.

I felt swamped by negativity. Yet again, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the right place at the wrong time. Either way, any hope I may have been harbouring about making a (modest) living from my writing was clearly an illusion. Who the Hell did I think I was?

But then, just before I drowned in self-pity, there was this other article … At first, in my negative state of mind, it seemed like even more bad news along the lines of ‘I’ve seen the future … and there are no books in it.’ Or at least, ‘There are some – but yours ain’t among ‘em, baby.’

It was about the advent of the e-book. New products are coming onto the market, Sony Reader for example, that are set to revolutionise our reading habits. The size of a small paperback with a display that ‘looks like paper’, these little devices can store up to 80 books downloaded from the internet (a la iPod), 100s if you use a memory stick or similar. The current sales price is £200 but this will come down as demand increases and the technology improves.

After I swallowed down the initial instinctive distaste bordering on horror, I started thinking …

Let’s take a step back and look at the pros and cons:

• For all those of us who love the feel, smell and sight of a Real Book, the thought of its possible demise is little short of catastrophic
• The advent of the e-book will be disastrous for the already beleaguered independent bookshops
• We’ll have less and less face-to-face contact with Real People
• There would be huge job losses in the printing and associated industries

And now the advantages
• No more deforestation to produce paper
• Think of the costs to the environment of producing a book – from tree to wood mill to pulp to printer (remember the machinery involved, the ink etc) to storage to truck to distributor to truck or train or plane to more warehouses to bookseller to reader. Think of the drain on the earth’s dwindling resources … the pollution …
• No more shelves groaning under the weight of books both read, not yet read and never likely to be read. No more teetering piles of books gathering dust in every corner of your home
• A full library of books of your choice – fitting into your pocket
• Because of the savings in production costs, downloadable books will cost a fraction of a Real Life book
• Due to all the above – wait now – this is The Big One for me – publishers will be in a position to sign up a truly diverse range of books and authors. Far more than now. The costs will be smaller, the risks correspondingly less …

It’s going to be a matter of adapt or die. If the advent of the e-book is inevitable, it’s no use doing the ostrich routine. There are advantages. We either concentrate on them and go with the flow – or wallow in misery and self-pity.

In spite of feeling unspeakable sadness at the losses implicit in the changes that are ahead, I know which I want to do …

Sorry this is such a long post. I'm really looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts ...

Friday, June 23, 2006

A warning!

It's not all sweetness and light out here in virtuality. There be sharks lurking in them there cyberwaves waiting for unwary surfers like us ...
I received an email a couple of days ago entitled 'A fiction writer wants to link up'. Cool, I think. Apparently this guy (who shall remain nameless) has already linked to my site on his which is all about interactive fiction.
I checked it out (none too thoroughly, I must confess) - it wasn't something I'd want to get into, but I remembered a woman who used to come to our writers' group who was addicted to it. No harm, I thought, although to be honest I wasn't mad keen on the way he was promoting himself. Some little niggling vibe ... definitely no lightbulb, as Minx would say.
Anyway, I dismissed the vibe and created a blog post with a link to his site, thinking I'd let you all know about it in case it was something you might be up for. I then went back to my email and replied to let him know what I'd done.
Moments later, my email got bounced back with a warning that this guy was on a spam blacklist! I went straight back to my dashboard and deleted the post - probably before anyone saw it.
I'll be a lot more careful next time ...

If south London doesn't seem like another planet ...

... then I'd love to see you next week Thurs 29/6 from 7.30pm at Dulwich Library, Lordship Lane. The Dulwich Reading Group has invited me to their monthly session.
Entry is free and there will be wine (not free apparently) and nibbles.
I'll do a couple of readings from my books and then open up for general chat - the writing process, getting published etc. Basically, whatever they want to talk about.
I've been told to expect anything from 5-35 people. It's a massive room, so if you're in the area without anything better to do, you'd be very warmly welcomed!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's all about creating a karmic climate ...

Gettaloadathis! I've just rec'd an email from Orion - the parent company of Weidenfeld & Nicolson who published Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana. I haven't heard from them for nearly a year - since they decided not to renew my contract. She wanted to know if it was ok to use a photo G had taken of me for the Spanish edition!
Yes, indeed. I had to read the email several times to take it in. It seems Trading Tatiana is going to be translated into Spanish and published by El Tercer Nombre. What's really strange is that this was apparently negotiated last Autumn - but no one told me! If it wasn't for the business with G being the copyright holder of the photo, I wouldn't have known now either!
So why now? Well, I think it's all to do with creating the right karmic climate for things to happen. I've been amazed and uplifted by the wonderful levels of support I've received since I started blogging. You know how it goes - if you're feeling positive you attract good stuff.
I used to be part of a photography collective. For five years we worked together doing social documentary stuff for voluntary organisations and charities. At no point would we not have been better off signing on but we were doing something we loved and felt committed to. (Do you sense a trend here?) Anyway, sometimes we did very little work to be honest. Days could meander past filled with making silly audio tapes of darkroom noises and dressing up and taking bizarre photos. Then, after a bit, we'd shake ourselves up and decide to do some work - sorting files, printing up pix etc. Almost invariably, the phone would start ringing the same day and commissions would come in.
Which - in long and tortuous fashion - is the point I'm making. It's all about creating the karmic climate.
And - this at last is the REAL point - I couldn't do it without all of you.
Heartfelt thanks!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Whatever next?

Now I know some of you are into felines - gettaloada this! Cats who look like Hitler???
Then I wondered if anyone might be offended on grounds of trivialising etc ... but I nearly peed myself laughing (damn those pelvic floor muscles!).
I reckon the answer is all about the power of humour to undermine horror. Just don't mention the war!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

An interesting new slant on the old debate ...

Just found this about women and blogging. Check it out. Interesting, huh?
I can hear sabres rattling and brain cells grating.
Touchy feely? Me? How ridiculous. Let's all have a group hug to reassure ourselves ...

Friday, June 16, 2006

This is a goooood week!

The ever wonderful Petrona has posted a lovely review of Nirvana Bites on her action-packed blog. What a star!
Big thanks to her and also to Crimeficreader, who has been giving me some excellent advice and support behind the scenes.
People like you (and our other fellow blogsters) sustain me no matter how hard the struggle sometimes seems.
Thank you!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Homeless hero

Just had to post about Emily.
Emily is a Jamaican woman in her mid 80s who sells the Big Issue at London Bridge Station (when she's not being harassed by London Transport staff). She lives in a hostel and I've known her for many years throughout all her attempts to sort out her passport (and life) and get back to Jamaica where she has a small house in Kingston.
Anyway, today I stopped and chatted as always, but had to apologise for not having enough money to buy a copy of the Issue. As usual, she tried to persuade me to take one anyway and - as usual - I refused. (I'm presuming everyone knows vendors have to buy their own copies to sell.)
This time she got cross with me and insisted. I didn't want to offend her so accepted but dug out all the coins I had and gave them to her. As I turned to walk away - blimey she moved fast for a woman her age - her hand snaked out and she shoved the coins back into my carrier bag!
The next person I hear slagging off Big Issue vendors is so going to get it from me ...

Monday, June 12, 2006

The blog about the book about the blog about ...

OK - so we know about the books from the blogs eg Belle de Jour, the woman with the recipes and now - or sometime soon - Wandering Scribe. And then there are the Blookers, blogging equivalent of the Bookers. And there are books about particular blogs ...
But does anyone know if anyone's yet written a book about the whole psychology, sociology, ologyology of blogging? Why we do it, the formation of virtual communities, what works and what doesn't, the forum for stimulating debate, floating ideas and sharing skills and experiences, anonymity vs exposure ... the whole caboodle and its significance in the 21st Century.
It could also cover the Wandering Scribe phenomenon. Though I still believe her to be genuine it was fascinating watching the Princess Di effect unfold - people round the world experiencing extreme emotional responses to someone they don't know and are never likely to meet.
If it hasn't already been done, anyone up for it? It would need to be entertaining as well as thought-provoking and informative. Anyone with the writing skills (which is just about any of you) time, energy and inclination can have this one for free. I won't even charge commission or expect credit.
Though I wouldn't say no to a bar of chocolate ...

Friday, June 09, 2006

So funny I could've cried ...

I know this one has been doing the rounds but thought I'd post it too for anyone who might have missed it.
It has special resonance for me cos the guy's sitting on the balcony of a council flat ...
The trouble with living in a flat is that you can't be 'outside' but simultaneously 'at home', which is hardest in summer when the world beckons.
So I'm changing the way I write. After blogging I take a blanket and my pen and notebook (remember them?) and go out into the world beyond the balcony.
This is the way I always used to write. When I was working on Nirvana Bites I begged and borrowed laptops to type up the hand-written chunks I'd produced in the evenings lying on the settee and saved them onto floppy disks. I finished the book on the ancient DOS laptop someone gave me rather than throw away. It died literally after I finished the last words of the final draft.
When I got my advance, the first thing I did was buy my very own laptop, but I still continued to write in longhand. This gave me the freedom to write anywhere and everywhere. In the car (passenger - I don't drive), on the train, on a beach ... whenever and wherever the muse struck.
Let's hear it for pen and paper - the ultimate in convenience, portability, economy ...

Thatstupidbloodybusinesswiththe tax ...

Remember the outrage and terror induced by the article in the Sunday Times re whether agents' fees are tax deductable?
This is the response from the ever watchful Society of Authors that puts it all into proportion.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A fab new review!

Mystery Women have done a fab new review of Trading Tatiana in the June issue of their mag.
Reviewer Ruth Wade (I think I love her!) says, 'DA brilliantly evokes the lives of people living on the fringe...the central character is engaging and sparky and the runway teenage prostitute, Tatiana, is very believeable in her complexity...DA writes with a lightness of touch that does leave room for lots of gentle moments...A book threaded through with the warmth of caring relationships and ultimately says a lot about the triumph of compassion over sleaze...Full of fast-paced action and tension, TT is a book I recommend reading. It opened my eyes to a thing or two.'
Yippee! This is the kind of thing that gives you strength to carry on.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A plug for Etain

While we were in Italy we visited old friends Etain and Martin at Pratale, their organic hill farm on the other side of the valley. They have 30 acres of land - olive trees, vines, a huge vegetable garden, sheep, chickens, donkeys, horses, cats, dogs ...
I first went to Pratale back in 1981 and have returned many times since. Etain has lived there for 30 years and has brought up 3 children there. They operate as an 'open farm' where people from all over the world can come and stay for anything from a day to a year.
In 1984 there was a huge earthquake and the old farmhouse was severely damaged. Over the following years more than a thousand people came to help build a new house.
Etain has written a book called A Silent Joy in which she interweaves stories from Pratale with anecdotes about the lives of her neighbours in the valley. She uses these tales to illustrate and expound on her core beliefs on bioregionalism and about finding your place on earth among the animals, insects and plants native to that particular piece of land.
Martin has also written a book called Living & Working with Horses and Donkeys, which is a collection of articles about ... do you really need me to tell you?
For some irritating techy reason I can't get the link to work, but both books are available on US Amazon - search for Etain Addey or Martin Lanz.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I'm back - and to prove it - I'm here ...

Hi all! Thanks for keeping an eye on the blog for me and for keeping me alive in my absence.
We had The Best Time in Italy. We were staying with bezzie mates in the rambling ancient house I helped rebuild 15 years ago when they first moved out there (and were sleeping in a tent with their 6 month old son - but that's another story). Anyway, I'd only been back a couple of times since and not for the last 7 years.
It's in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains in Umbria - very isolated, peaceful yet spectacular too. We went for walks in beech forests, wandered round the deserted village down the track, visited with other local friends, weeded the vegetable garden, swung in the hammock, gazed at the stars and their firefly reflections in the valley below ...
For first born's birthday we went to the Grotte di Frasassi - the most mind-blowing caves imaginable. I tell you, guys, seeing is believing. And even while I was seeing my brain reeled away from believing ... Bottomless pits and rooms you could fit cathedrals in - the sheer scale was awesome. I knew about your regular stalactite/stalagmite/column combos - but never expected the variety of rock formations - curtains like tattered rags, immense vertical blades only millimetres in thickness, twisted shapes glittering with multicoloured minerals ... It all made me think that if this was the tiny (in planetary terms) bit we could see, it was possible that just the other side of a rock wall, or through an unexplored tunnel, there would be sights that are literally beyond our imagination ...
So - did I miss blogging? Can't say I did really. I thought about it a lot and certainly thought of all you guys - but for me writing (blogging or any other kind) has always been about connecting with the people out there rather than the act of typing the words on the screen ...
It was certainly hard coming back to our cramped and grimy flat with its view of the garages ... I was living a different reality in Italy. I was connected with wood, earth and stone instead of plastic, concrete and metal. Back here with the garages to stare at, it's the keyboard I need. You just have to get into the positive aspects of whatever your current reality is and while I'm here in the smoke, I couldn't stay away from you all if I wanted to ...