Sunday, 22 October 2017

How long is a novel? Ali Bacon looks at the changing shape - and size - of some favourite reads

How long does a novel have to be to be worthy of the name? With In the Blink of an Eye currently coming in at around 60,000 words, i.e. somewhere short of the regulation 70 – 90,000, I’m developing an awareness of the size of books I’m picking up to read.

Compact but totally satisfying
On my recent trip to Fife, bereft of a car and encumbered with hand-luggage I became doubly aware of the volume of my volumes. In Toppings of St Andrews, I turned down the new Arundhati Roy precisely because it was massive and looked around for something more compact. Elizabeth Strout's  My Name is Lucy Barton with its 190 pages of well-spaced type and lots of good reviews, fitted the bill exactly. Later (yes, bit of a book-buying spree) I added Ali Smith’s Autumnchunkier but still nicely manageable. Come to think of it, I had really enjoyed her Hotel World, and although I read it as an e-book, that one struck me as a fairly slim volume too. Back home and picking something at random from my everlasting TBR pile, my eagle eye spotted straight away the modest proportions of The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan– yes, 156 pretty wonderful pages.

Short, sweet, forgettable?
I liked some of these books more than others, but none of them felt in anyway less than a novel. But wait a minute – what about the infamously short On Chesil Beach? I’m a McEwan fan but remember feeling slightly cheated: a  story beautifully told that didn’t quite seem to measure up.  Was it different in quality to those mentioned above or would I feel differently if I reread it now? I suspect not. The Spinning Heart may be relatively short, but with its multiple viewpoints it has a narrative and social complexity lacking in On Chesil Beach.

Re the particular issue of size or length, I think this is only one of the ways way in which we as readers are looking for a different approach to the traditional extended narrative. Of the books I’ve discussed above, Hotel World and The Spinning Heart conform more closely to the idea of linked short stories than to a conventional novel. They have episodes in the voices of different characters which combine to reveal the over-arching narrative. The televisual equivalent is something like the bleak but riveting Broken – a series in which a priest’s personal struggles were revealed through the stories of his parishioners’ problems and how he deals with them.

Maybe what surprised me most in this interlude was a bookish discussion with a friend, in which she said she had given up on an acclaimed novel (I have forgotten which one but it was something I’d liked a lot) because it was too big, referring not just to its physical size but to the bulk, as I understood it, of the narrative; the emergence of characters and sub-plots which made her feel bogged down. This lady had a traditional education and reads widely in more than one language, but I sensed an impatience with the accepted novel form which I remember also seeing some years ago in a column by Andrew Marr which questioned how much longer the novel had to live. At the time I was shocked but now I have an inkling of what he means. I can still loose myself in a conventional novel of any length, but I’m happy to take on something a bit different. If it’s not going to take me weeks to read, so much the better.  

Ali with some of the early photos that inspired her next book
Wait, I hear you say, isn't the size of a book irrelevant in a blog that champions e-publishing? Certainly the length of an e-book is maybe less significant when it isn't weighed in the hand. But in the case of Blink I'm hoping to make significant 'hand sales' at book events and talks like the one I did last week in Dunfermline. My audience will be expecting tree-books,tree-books that meet their expectations in terms of appearance and value for money. 

Still, it looks like it’s not just me with my hand-luggage  who's in search of  a less bulky read. Which gives me heart that In the Blink of an Eye (multiple viewpoints, not quite as long as a novel) might actually catch the wave.


In the Blink of an Eye
is a re-imagining of the life of Edinburgh artist and photographer David Octavius Hill.
It will be published in spring 2018 by Linen Press. 
(Tree-book and e-book!)
Click here for full information.


Saturday, 21 October 2017

NOT a celebrity author - Katherine Roberts

There has been much media attention lately devoted to celebrities publishing children's books. In many cases they're writing them, too - after all, children's books are short and simple and therefore quick to write, aren't they? (Children's authors: don't answer that!) Many of these celebrity titles are, of course, perfectly decent books loved by their young readers and, more importantly for their publishers, they sell in squillions... at least compared to a perfectly decent book by your average non-celebrity author. In fact, ever since Madonna successfully published English Roses, publishing a children's book with your name on the cover seems to have become an important addition to the celebrity bucket list, along with camping out in a jungle on TV so you can scream "Get me outta here!" or appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.

No problem, you might think. Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you're banned from writing a book or two, or even a whole series, if that's what you want to do and you can find the time or a good ghostwriter to write it for you. As far as the publishing business is concerned, a celebrity author is always going to have a head start in the publicity stakes, which means their books will probably sell, unless they miss their market completely and bomb (it has been known to happen... er, anyone remember Black Swan?) Publishers who make a profit are good news for authors in general, since they can commission more books and afford to pay their authors royalties. The trouble occurs when the growing number of celebrity titles hog shelf space, air time, dwindling review column inches, and the lion's share of advances at the expense of books written by less famous authors, who actually need these things in order to survive.

So where does that leave your typical non-celebrity author? Well, you'll find some of us lurking here at Authors Electric. (We don't have many celebrities blogging on this site, but we're not exclusive... any celebrity reading this is most welcome to contact our guest email: guest @ authorselectric.co.uk and sprinkle a bit of celebrity magic on our blog. We promise we won't make you wade through any crocodile-infested rivers in return!) Others are busy writing books for their publishers in the hope of generating a bit of Harry Potter style magic and attaining celebrity author status the JK Rowling way. It can happen - like winning the lottery, "it could be you!" Still others are working without a publishing contract, shoehorning their writing between mortgage-paying jobs. Then there are those authors on creative writing courses studying the craft, and authors not on courses who are simply writing their first book and learning as they go along... everyone these days, it seems, is writing something somewhere.

Which brings me to one of those small but important events that keep authors like me going through the dark times. Without the benefit of being a ready-made celebrity, and before the days of creative writing courses, I was one of those authors who just wrote and submitted my stories until publishers stopped saying "not for us, I'm afraid" and started saying "yes". During what I think of as my apprenticeship years back in the 1990s, two of my dark fantasy tales 'The Sin Taker' and 'Rubies' were accepted by a little magazine called Visionary Tongue, edited by some of the most popular dark fantasy authors of that time, among them Storm Constantine and Freda Warrington.

Visionary Tongue in the 1990s (issues 3 and 6)

Roll on twenty years. By this time, my first children's book Song Quest had been plucked off the slush pile by the editor who discovered Harry Potter and gone on to win the inaugural Branford Boase Award, on the strength of which I landed an agent and a seven-book deal with HarperCollins pretty much on the same head-spinning day in London, when I made the journey to the city for the award party. All of those books have now been published, plus a few more, and I have readers all across the world. I suppose that means I'm slightly more of a celebrity now than I was before I'd published a book, even if you might not have heard of me (is there such a thing as the Z-list?), but I will always be grateful to those first publishers who said "yes". So when an email pops into my inbox from Storm, saying she is editing a collection of stories from the Visionary Tongue magazine, and would I allow her to use mine in return for a free copy of the book, it brings a glow of fond memories. This time, it's my turn to say "yes."


The delightfully gothic Visionary Tongue anthology is published by NewCon Press in both paperback and collector's edition hardback, and was launched last month at Fantasycon - the British Fantasy Society's annual celebration of the genre. I'm proud to appear in this collection beside celebrated (as opposed to celebrity) authors such as Tim Lebbon and Justina Robson, among many others. Our writing careers might have taken different paths, but one thing I think we all had in common back in the days of the cardboard-and-stapled magazine was a passion that keeps us creating stories, even when Strictly doesn't call.

In the increasingly commercial world of publishing, writing is a business not personal. I understand that a lot better now than I did at the start of my career. But for authors, writing is always personal, because true creativity comes from the heart and any commercial success follows on from that. That's why I think so many of us here at Authors Electric and elsewhere are making the choice to indie-publish some of our projects that might otherwise never see the light of day amidst all the celebrity glitter.

I've some exciting news regarding my Genghis Khan historical romance for YA readers, which will be the subject of another blog post. In the meantime, since Halloween is on its way, you can read the Kindle editions of my popular witchy title SPELLFALL (originally published in the early 2000s by Chicken House/Scholastic) and its sequel SPELL SPRING (quietly indie published by me last year) for only 99p/99c each until October 31st. Both of these books are also available in paperback, in case anyone is thinking Christmas gifts for teenagers... and don't forget that if you buy the paperback version, you can pick up the ebooks for free via Amazon's matchbook scheme.

Paperback

* HALLOWEEN OFFER 99p/99c *
Kindle UK / Kindle US

Nook
Kobo
Apple

Paperback

* HALLOWEEN OFFER 99p/99c *
Kindle UK Kindle US

Nook
Kobo
Apple

*
Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award for her debut novel Song Quest. She writes fantasy and historical fiction with a focus on legend and myth for young (and older) readers, and is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Penryn in Cornwall. More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk

Friday, 20 October 2017

Movers and Shakers by Sandra Horn




‘We are the music-makers,
We are the dreamers of dreams,
...
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.’

O’Shaughnessy  didn’t explicitly mention writers, but they are here by implication in his Ode. Of course they are. I’m not sure how many of us forsake the world to go wandering under the pale moon and sit by desolate streams, but we do our share of moving and shaking, especially when we get together. There are many fine examples of books with the theme of wanting to make a difference; to change things for the better. Here are two I know well.

In 2003, as an angry and horrified response to the Iraq war, Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter contacted every writer and illustrator of children’s books they could reach to invite them to contribute to a book of poems and stories. Contributions poured in from all over the world. The anthology is called Lines in the Sand. All profits and royalties were for UNICEF ‘s emergency appeal for the children of Iraq. The powerful introduction was addressed to the children and was about the realities of war. It ended: ‘The writers and artists who have contributed to this book want you to know what has been going on in the world for the last fifty years or so. But they don’t want to make you despair about the future of the human race. You, the children of today, are the ones with the power to make it stop. Tomorrow, when you are the grown-ups, you can make the world a more peaceful place.
Advances for the book and an American co-edition, together with sales from an auction of the artwork, raised a substantial sum of money for UNICEF, but perhaps the messages in it were equally if not more important. A review in The Sunday Times described it as ‘an uplifting and impassioned collection that goes beyond ephemeral politics to broaden children’s understanding ... to encourage them to aspire to a better world.’


 
I was reminded of Lines in the Sand again recently, when the call went out from Jacci Bulman, Nicola Jackson and Kathleen Jones, for poems for an anthology to be called Write to Be Counted: an anthology of poetry to uphold human rights. All profits to go to PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organisation, which ‘aims to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views.’ The editors’ introductions speak of hope, light, love and fellowship and it is another terrific anthology. It was launched to a standing-room-only crowd on October 4th at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden and at the Old Fire Station in Penrith on October 14th. 



At this point, I should say that I have poems in both anthologies – that I am privileged and humbled and delighted (and amazed) to have poems in both – but this is not a puff for me, I just wanted to ‘declare my interest’ if that’s the term. Rather, it is about the power of words to transform, to uplift, to guide, and about the power of writers (dreamers of dreams, movers and shakers!) for good in the world, especially when they act together. 

Lines in the Sand, edited by Mary Hoffman and Rhiannon Lassiter, Frances Lincoln 2003
Write to be Counted edited by Jacci Bulman, Nicola Jackson and Kathleen Jones, The Book Mill 2017

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Eyes Are Always On You by Jan Edwards

If you ask writers why they write most will say tell you it is a compulsion, or, as Terry Pratchett once said, ‘writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.’ If we manage to make a few bucks in the process all the better. If we come to be recognised as a writer of some merit, better still, but to do that the writing needs a reader.  So how do we get noticed?
During September I had quite a few changes going on around me on a personal/family level. Moving house and also the marriage of my step-son Graham to his lovely wife, Anna.
In addition there was Fantasycon, an event that I have haunted for the past 25 years, either as an organiser, a bookseller, a book editor,  an author (and sometimes all at once). For the uninitiated, Fantasycon is the annual convention organised on behalf of the British Fantasy Society at which the British Fantasy Awards are announced. This year’s event was held in Peterborough  between 29th September to October 1st So many people were crammed in to watch the awards ceremony that, despite extra chairs being parachuted in, it was standing room only at the back of the room. Suffering from lack of sleep, as you do at these convention weekends, and knowing my poor old knees where not going to survive that long on my feet, I had elected to sit in the bar (which was close enough to hear the applause). Besides which, I knew that all the details would reach us bar flies soon enough along the con-telegraph.
Then... My name was read out... And I was not there to hear it!
I am told that somebody shouted out ‘She’s in the bar!’, which was greeted with tolerant laughter. (Karl would have been proud of me.) The first I knew, however, was Pauline Morgan hoving into view shouting, ‘Oi, you – get in there! Pronto!’


I hurried into the banqueting room, where the awards were being presented, totally unprepared for what was to come, and paused for a moment realising something was afoot. I had no pre-composed speech (well, why would I?) nor had even time to think far beyond the instant. Taking several bows to cover my confusion I arrived at the podium to be greeted by the horror Don Ramsey Campbell, and BFS Chair Phil Lunt. Still totally at sea I whispered, ‘What’s going on?’

‘You have an award,’ Phil whispered back.
‘Me? What award? What for?’
‘It’s the Karl Edward Wagner Award…’
I was, and still am, totally gobsmacked.

Karl Wagner was a world-renowned writer and anthologist who was unstinting in his support of Fantasycon and the BFS, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award is bestowed by the British Fantasy Awards committee in recognition of the work done by its recipients in genre fiction and fandom.
Those of us who work on committees and organise conventions do so in the full knowledge that if a convention or society is running smoothly, the regular attendees  seldom notice the backroom brigade. You don’t ever think that people are aware of you, or the work you do. But nothing you do ever goes unnoticed, it would seem.
In the sea of social media platforms and world wide connections this had never applied more than it does now. As authors we write and we promote and send out ripples, or even waves, to our potential readership in the hope of attracting attention, of gaining an audience for our ideas and our work. We blog and appear at events up and down the country and frequently have no idea how many people those ripples will wash up along side of.
Why do we write? To tell a story or to pass on facts. And who sees us writing? Who takes note? More people than we ever realise, it seems.  Little that we do as writers ever goes unnoticed, though given the welter of information passing through our screens on a hourly/daily basis it may not always be recalled for long. The trick for any writer is to keep those ripples on the move.
...
Promotions for this month? (and yes, here comes the shameless self promotional part!)
I shall be organising a Spooky Reads event with Misha Herwin on the 28th Oct (4pm to 6pm) on the 6 Towns Radio Curtain Call show.
In honour of that the kindled version of my fantasy/horror collection Fables & Fabrications,  and Misha’s spooky time-slip novel House of Shadows, are reduced to 99p for the whole of October!
Next month – 12th November at the Gladstone Museum in Stoke on Trent we have another spooky read event!
Also available: Winter Downs, a crime drama.You can catch up with all my news on my blog here.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Goodbye from me - by Tara Lyons

I've loved sharing all my bookish experiences with all at AE
I posted my first blog for Authors Electric in April 2016, just a month after I'd self-published my debut solo book. I felt a great sense of belonging - reading other author's posts, having a new monthly "deadline" and sharing my bookish experiences with everyone involved with AE. In the past year and a half, that feeling hasn't changed, although my situation has.
My son finally entered the world of full-time education, and while that sounds like I should have more time on my hands, I haven't. It's quite a surreal feeling to be given more "free" hours each day, yet feel you're still not getting enough done.

But, not only am I using this time to write the fourth book in my series, I've also taken on a new project that will mean I can continue to work from home and keep my working fingers in the proverbial publishing pie.
Sadly, that does mean something has to give. And with the new, increasing deadlines, I'm sorry to say I will be stepping back from my monthly blog posts on Authors Electric. I'd just like to thank the team, who have helped me publish a few short stories in the AE anthologies, and who are a fantastic bunch of people. I'll be stopping by whenever I can to catch up with the posts.
So, in the words of Cilla, ta-ra for now (and if you'd like to follow what I'm up to next, stay tuned to my Amazon Author page).

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Holiday reading habits, by Elizabeth Kay



  

Cinnamon hummingbird

I’ve recently returned from three weeks in central America. The first part was an organised tour of Nicaragua, with seven participants, including me, plus our guide, and the second part was staying with a friend in Costa Rica.
     I’ve always used these holidays as material for stories, but this time I was intrigued by the differing reading habits of the others on the first trip. Most people brought books, not e-readers, much to my surprise. When you have a 20 kilo weight limit on an aircraft books take up quite a lot of it, so for me an e-reader has been a real bonus as I never run out of something to read.
     What seems to happen is that people read the paperbacks they’ve brought, and then leave them somewhere for other people to read and use the resulting space to bring back souvenirs. It never seems to occur to them that authors get nothing when a book is passed on, or sent to a charity shop. I’ve nothing against charity shops, they do good works, but it does rankle when someone asks you to sign a copy that they’ve bought in Oxfam. Not all authors earn a fortune, the way so many people assume they do, and a few sales can actually be rather important, both for income and rankings. So hurrah for the e-reader, which no one is going to leave behind for someone else to read.
     My husband and I do share books on our Kindles, but that’s just two of us. Charity shops encourage their clients to read something, and then bring it back so that it can be sold over and over again. I wonder how the managers would feel if they were expected to work for nothing? PLR has made libraries a positive force for the writer; we’re all in favour of them as some recognition for the amount of work that goes into a book, however small, is good news.
      I’m always surprised by how much more expensive books seem to be in other countries. Costa Rica is not a third world country by any stretch of the imagination; it’s become a very popular tourist destination, especially with the US as it’s on their doorstep. Books there cost more than they do over here. A lot of countries have English Language sections in their bookshops now, but as the books are all imports it makes them even more expensive.
Howler monkey
Sally Lightfoot Crab, illustration
Sally Lightfoot Crab, taken in Galapagos
        Although I read nearly all my fiction via the Kindle, I still buy field guides in hardback. I’m fussy, too, having illustrated a few myself. There’s a good reason why the best guides contain illustrations rather than photographs. Try taking a picture of an animal from the right angle that shows all its features, doesn’t have a shadow on it somewhere or a bit of foliage obscuring part of a leg. It’s really difficult. Illustrations can be derived from several photographs, or even the animal itself. I used to wonder why, in the Natural History Museum, they have an entire drawer devoted to one insect – it’s so that you know what the majority of the species looks like, because there are always aberrations. Butterflies, with white patches on their wings. Moths that have oddly-shaped antennae. Crickets that never reached full size. Mistakes get made, too. Many years ago I was doing an illustration of a swordfish. Like most people, I’d assumed that the fish was dark on top, and silver or white underneath. Not so. It’s copper-coloured. The books that first showed it were in black and white, and other illustrators simply copied previous illustrations. This is why I always buy reputable guides, and update them every so often. Even using the live creature can pose problems. I was illustrating a stick insect for a T-shirt, and obtained a live specimen. I was really pleased with the result, and a lot of them were printed. And then someone pointed out that the antennae were too short. I couldn’t believe it – the insect I used had clearly had some sort of mishap, and both its antennae had been broken off at the same place!

Friendly mantis

Anyway, here are a few photos from the holiday in Central America, and a wildlife illustration as well, so that you can see the difference. These days, I try to paint from my own photographs, as not only does it avoid royalty conflicts, I also know a bit about the animal concerned. 
Pacific parakeet

Monday, 16 October 2017

A Murder of Crime Writers by Wendy H Jones




 So what do Canada's 150th Birthday and a bunch of crime writers have in common? No it's not a joke. For their 150th Birthday the Canadians threw the crime party of the year, Bouchercon 2017. This conference hosts the glitterati of the crime writing world and it was an honour to be a part of it. The fact it was in Toronto was the icing on the cake. What an exciting city. The vibrancy and fun of Toronto is another blog post in itself.

So, why am I waxing lyrical about Bouchercon? The answer, it is a chance to hear the top names in the industry talk about their writing and publishing itself. Who can pass up the chance to hear from the likes of Sara Paretsky and Kathy Reich? Not only are they knowledgable, but also extremely funny.




Of course, I had to have my photo taken with them.




Kathy Reich and Sara Paretsky


The Scots were in town in force. Caro Ramsey moderated a panel with her usual flair and bucketloads of humour. Her panellists were equally funny leading to genuinely laugh out loud moments. 


What with a dance, a quiz, networking, panels and making new friends it was a whirlwind of fun and learning about the industry. The Canadians put on a great event and made everyone feel welcome. I am already looking forward to the next Bouchercon. If you ever get a chance to go to one I can highly recommend it. It's not all dead bodies you know. 


About the Author

Wendy H. Jones is the author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series, and The Young Adult series, The Fergus and Flora Mysteries. She is also an international public speaker, the presenter of Wendy's Book Buzz radio show, and runs a Writers Consultancy and Training company, Equipped to Write.