Friday, 29 September 2017

Eyes on the Prize - in discussion with Lynn Michell


Every author and publisher appreciates that they have to raise the visibility of their books. There are strategies aplentyapparentlyand often the best publicity lies in the story behind the story. This might be a link between a current news item or a wider ongoing discussion with a theme in the book or headline-grabbing stories about the authors. But how many of us want a rake through our private lives?

Sometimes though we simply need to speak out, even if taking a stance divides opinion. Lynn Michell, both an author and a publisher, found herself in such a position when considering entering one of her Linen Press books for the Womens Fiction Prize. She raised awareness about a situation that is, frankly, surprising (and not in a good way).


Lynn and I each work in different genres, but we share a love of the written word and a passion for the sustainability of British publishing. Given our different experiences, weve been enjoying something of a cultural exchange programme by email. Its my pleasure to share some of her thoughts here.

Please read article in the link above. Its a real eye-opener. Wed appreciate your views in the comments section below. Dont be shy now! Any links on this post have been added by me.


Q1 Gave you been contacted by other publishers, editors or authors, since your article came out?

When an editor at The Bookseller asked if other small presses felt the same as me and could they talk to a couple more NOW, I gave them contacts for the directors of Patrician Press and Inspired Quill, publisher of my next novel, The Red Beach Hut and both sent supportive replies, Patricia Borlenghi (Patrician) more forthright than Sara-Jayne Slack of IQ who had a lot to say. They are quoted in the editorial article. No other publishers have been in contact though.


Q2 How do you compartmentalise your time and focus between being a publisher and being an author?

It varies. At times completely compartmentalised, other times overlapping. When I'm engrossed in my own writing and the characters are talking to me while I walk the dog, I'm inside the narrative more than I'm in the real world and everything gets neglected. You know those times when you live on digestive biscuits? When stories write themselves and suddenly it's dark outside? It took five years to write each of my previous novels with intense periods interspersed with calmer ones. When my energy for my writing plateaued and it felt safe to let it float along for a while, then I turned back to Linen Press. The Red Beach Hut was different. It came suddenly and vividly and I wrote manically for three months. It was good timing because there was no Linen Press queue. Usually I can juggle the two, and if necessary put one on the back burner to accommodate the demands of the other. At the moment, with The Red Beach Hut finished, I'm editing Ali Bacon's historical novel In the Blink of an Eye about the Scottish painter D.O.Hill and when a revised chapter comes in, I drop everything and give it my full attention. I can be almost as immersed in a novel as an editor as I am as an author and I only take on novels that I can see from the same perspective as the author. My next project is very different, a commissioned biography of an extraordinary painter, Rosa Branson. Unlike fiction, there are constraints - like the truth. I don't know yet whether it will tear me away from everything and burn as brightly in my imagination as the novels did.


Q3 How do we make the Arts and the book business in particular more democratic? (Has it ever been that?)

We can't. Not while monopolies dictate what we read by throwing massive publicity and advertising budgets at the few chosen crowd-pleasers and award winners that we see on the shelves of all the stores. Will Amazon listen to a plea for sales programmes that are a bit more generous and manageable for small presses and which offer them terms they can meet rather than demanding the same trading terms they ask of the Big Five like taking a whopping 55% of the RRP for their Amazon Advantage programme? You bet they won't. If a small press can't pay to have books pushed up the publicity ladder, hard luck.

The three big prizes, the Booker, Costa and Women's Prize for Fiction could have a fairer sliding scale of entry fees so that a one-woman press with no paid staff doesn't pay the same to enter as Penguin Random House which holds 23% of the book market. £10,000 plus 70+ copies of the book is prohibitive for many independent presses.


Q4 What was your greatest challenge in writing The Red Beach Hut?


The Red Beach Hut gave me an easy ride compared to White Lies and Run, Alice, Run. Alice in particular started as one novel and turned into another and I can still see the seams and stitches. The Red Beach Hut arrived like a short film, very visual and with dialogue, almost ready made. I'm a sailor who's crossed the Atlantic so in the scenes on the beach and in the boat I'm on familiar territory. One challenge was the office scene in which a computer is hacked. I'm no technology wizard so I had to do some homework. I was also concerned about getting the facts absolutely right about children on the at risk register. Serendipity intervened in the form of a much-delayed Ryanair flight. I exchanged moans with a fellow passenger who turned out to be a senior policewoman. Over a glass of wine or three, she told me exactly what happens if someone reports a worrying incident that involves a child on the at risk register. I took notes. Thanks, Lolly! You know who you are. The other challenge was to not over-egg my tabloid-reading baddie and turn him into a caricature. He had his lines changed quite a few times. The overarching challenge is for everything that happens to ring true. What I want is for the novel to have structural and emotional integrity.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Being Krystyna


Most authors will tell you that the fictional world of their books comes from a real world inspiration. - a news item, an overheard conversation, or perhaps a personal experience that sparks off a chain of inspiration. There is another purpose of storytelling - to memorialise a true story so that friends, family and future generations can see history through the eyes of those who lived through it (and often those who did not).

I'm grateful to Carol Browne for making time to discuss her work on Being Krystyna - A Story of Survival in WWII.



1. What was it that drew you to the project?

I volunteered to write the life story of local woman Krystyna Porsz after a chance meeting with her son in a Polish restaurant in 2011; but I was a very reluctant biographer. I did it because no-one else could be found who was either able or willing to take it on and that was my only reason. I thought, “If I don’t do it, no-one will.” It seemed far too big a responsibility to me but I told Krystyna’s son I’d give it a go, even though I was convinced I wasn’t up to the job. I write fiction. I make stuff up. I assumed non-fiction would be completely different.


2. Did your approach differ from writing fiction?

I discovered that non-fiction and fiction aren’t so different after all because the author still needs to provide the reader with a compelling read. It can’t be written as a chronological series of events or it will be very dull. In the case of Being Krystyna - A Story of Survival in WWII, although I had the facts of Krystyna’s life, they amounted to a few sheets of A4 paper, hardly enough material for a book. So I had to build a structure to hang those facts on, very much like creating a plot for a work of fiction. A young Polish friend of mine had visited Krystyna on two occasions and I used her as a narrative device, so we see the story unfold through her eyes. This gave me much more opportunity to expand the text while still being true to the available facts. It also added another dimension to the story, comparing the very different life experiences of two Polish women.

Additional challenges, however, present themselves when you remember you are dealing with someone’s actual life. Writers of fiction know that characters are apt to take on a life of their own. They seem real to their creators and as authors we want to portray them in their best light. When you are writing a real person’s story, this becomes vitally important. The sense of responsibility the author feels is magnified. For me, writing about Krystyna, it was off the scale; here was a very old lady whose ability to communicate was seriously hampered by dementia. There wouldn’t be any chance of being able to discuss the book with her. There wouldn’t be any feedback. While I was writing the book, I kept thinking, “If this were my life story, would I be happy with how it’s being handled?” That was my benchmark all the time and I’m confident I kept to it.


3. How did the experience change you?

Writing a real person’s story is a challenge. It’s hard work. But I recommend it, especially if that person’s life is drastically different from your own. It’s an enlightening experience. It will broaden your mind and test your ability as a writer. It will give you the opportunity to write something that really deserves to be written. I only met Krystyna once but I made a point of shaking her hand before I left. I needed to physically touch someone who had survived the Holocaust, who had lived a history I had only read about or seen on black and white newsreels. Krystyna Porsz is a truly brave person. A survivor. I’m grateful not only to have met her, but to have had the honour of telling her story.


4. Where can we find out more about Being Krystyna?

Being Krystyna is available in Kindle format on Amazon.
Being Krystyna (UK): http://tinyurl.com/hanoycg
Being Krystyna (US): https://tinyurl.com/ya6gn7c5

You can visit the website of my publisher, Dilliebooks:  https://www.dilliebooks.com/ 
I also write other books and you can find my blog at https://authorcarolbrowne.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Who Owns Your Books?


When it comes to books, the word 'ownership' can mean different things at different times.

Who owns an idea?
Nobody. Try copyrighting an idea and be prepared for laughter and disdain.


Who owns a completed manuscript?
Unless you've been paid to ghostwrite a novel, ownership rests with the author. The laws on copyright different between the UK and US, so as this is a mixed audience I will simply say that in the UK copyright exists (but would still require proof if there was a legal challenge) from the act of writing it. The Society of Authors has some brilliant information here:
http://www.societyofauthors.org/Where-We-Stand/Copyright


Who owns your book once it's contracted?
You own the manuscript and you enter into a contract with an agent or a publisher. They own their edited version of your original manuscript. No matter how many drafts you've gone through, an objective editor will find more gold and cut away more. Their contract permits them to do certain things with your manuscript and specifies which of those actions requires your prior approval.


Who owns your book once it's published?
You and the agent / publisher retain the same proprietary interest in the book, but the reader owns their copy. Now, here's the thing, they may also have an emotional investment in your characters and their adventures, which - I would argue - is every bit as important as the nuts-and-bolts ownership principle. If you disappoint them during that book or in any subsequent book, they will vent their frustration online or by word of mouth. Once you become aware of this factor it can be a challenge to balance what you want to write, what your characters want you to write, and what your audience expects. 

I have spoken on this blog before about the principle of 'the same but different'. However, different can mean different things to different people.

The BBC website recently reported that JK Rowling  tweeted her apologies for killing off Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. Some would argue that the plot demanded it and that there's a certain logic in his demise. Others were so attached to Snape (and, of course, Alan Rickman who portrayed him) that it felt like an act of literary cruelty. 

I ponder all of this as I write my fifth book in the Thomas Bladen Spy Chaser series, and I'm mindful of the feedback I've received, including:
- Isn't it about time that Thomas and Miranda settled down?
- Is there an ultimate revelation at the conclusion of the series?
- Is Book 5 the end of the series?
- Why isn't Thomas more macho?
- I hope you don't kill someone off just for the sake of it.

Without giving away any spoilers, my statement to the imaginary panel is:
Someone dies in each book. I won't name the dead but I make it a body count of at least eight so far. Thomas has shot five people, been wounded by one, and restrained himself from shooting someone on at least one occasion (not counting a familial near-miss!). How much more macho do you want him? Thomas and Miranda's relationship has its own carousel of baggage, but it has also evolved through the series. Book 5 continues that journey. Is it the end for Thomas and Miranda and Karl? That depends on the readers and what they want. Of course, a TV deal would certainly help bring Thomas Bladen to a wider audience! And yes, there is a revelation of sorts in Book 5. It's subtle, but it is there.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have gun battle to conduct. Or do I?

Derek

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Cornish short stories please


Deep within an enchanted Cornish wood...discuss!

Are you a writer who was born in Cornwall, or who lives in Cornwall?

If your answer is yes then opportunity has just knocked and your ship has come in.

Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley, both published short fiction writers themselves, are the editors for Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing.

You can find out everything you need to know here: 

http://www.cornishshortstories.org.uk/

In the meantime, here are some crucial details:
- A word count of between 2,000 and 6,000 words.
- The submission deadline is 7 July 2017.
- OnTwitter at @CornishShorts and a dedicated page on Facebook.

What can you write about? Let your imagination go wild!


The Collection will be divided into four thematic sections and you may or may not wish to make use of these as a prompt for your own writing: 
Sailors' Knots - the high seas and all things maritime
The Heart of the Storm - love and death
Enchantment - magic, hauntings and concealment
Cornishware - domestics

The new collection of Cornish short stories will be published by the History Press in May 2018.

It's time to tell some tales!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Celina Summers - an extraordinary author


Writers are an interesting community. We bicker, compete, support each other and also draw inspiration from one another. It's my great pleasure here to interview Celina Summers, who I had the good fortune to meet when I was part of the Musa Publishing family. She's not only a savvy writer; she takes a scholarly and detailed approach to creating her fiction. Frankly, if you're not inspired after reading this you need to go and read it again! 

Q1 Tell us about your recent work and what inspired it.

Right now, I’m playing around with multiple genre mashups. Probably the best way to describe what I do is literary fantasy. My recent work has been set in 18th century Europe, Asia, and America, with time traveling, magic realism, mythology, and swords and sorcery combined with historical fiction. It’s a lot to keep straight. Greco-Roman mythology is a huge influence in my writing, having studied classical authors like Ovid and Vergil since I took Latin in high school. So while I have immortal entities that are based upon mythology, my main characters are having to confront 18th or 21st century problems, which creates fascinating conflicts for them.

This kind of multiple genre work is more difficult than the straight-up epic fantasy I used to write. The historical aspects of the story requires a lot of research, for one. I have huge storyboards on Pinterest with images of everything from costumes to knickknacks to architecture and art. All the details must be correct in order for such a world to work. So crafting the world is far more difficult. And the consequence, naturally, of writing something so different is you (or your agent) finding a publisher who is willing to take on your literary/historical/time travel/magic realism/mythological/romance/swords and sorcery fantasy novel. They can’t immediately see how to shelve such a novel in bookstores, and that makes them hesitant to take on a project that complicated.

So it’s definitely a challenge on many levels, but I love what I’m doing so I keep plugging away at it.



Q2 What is your take on the publishing industry at the moment?

The publishing industry is once again in transition. For indie authors and small presses who rely primarily on e-publishing, the options are narrowing fast. Amazon’s KDP is convenient and easy to use, so the market is getting flooding with really bad books. The other platforms like Barnes and Noble or Smashwords aren’t any e-pubbed writer’s top selling site. So authors who are self-publishing have one real shot at breaking through and that’s Amazon.

But not so fast—the Amazon sales algorithms are skewed. Preferred product placement occurs only if a book has enough ratings and reviews. Well anyone can get all their friends and co-workers to run off to Amazon and review their books, and many authors do just that. So it’s frustrating when you see books that should never have been published getting so many sales and reviews and popping up on your sales pages as suggestions.

That being said, the pendulum between traditional publishing and digital publishing is swinging back to a more balanced market. While the Big Five are still controlling the lion’s share of the book market, e-books are here to stay. Many writers (and I include myself in this) are learning how to use both routes professionally. I am self-publishing my backlist of small press-published books and adding new sequels to those stories, while my agent is representing my new work. The arrangement works well for us both.



Q3 What are you currently working on?

The primary project I’m currently working on is a series entitled Danse Macabre. In this world, Death isn’t the Grim Reaper, but a conglomerate of immortals who each are assigned a specific group of mortals whose lifespans they monitor. When a civil war breaks out among the immortals for control of humanity’s future, Morgaine, the Death of Art, is faced with a series of adversaries that are not only targeting the mortals in her domain but threaten existence itself. What results is the ultimate Danse Macabre, and neither the mortal nor immortal realms will ever be the same.

At the moment, I have several projects on my desk. But I just finished Symphony of Death, the first book in the Dance Macabre, so it’s uppermost on my mind. In fact, my agent received the manuscript yesterday.

I’m also working on a sequel to the two series I self-published in 2016—The Asphodel Cycle and The Black Dream. (By the way, publishing eight books in eight months looks like a really great idea on paper. But it’s a lot harder than you think it is and you have to work your rear end off to make that happen. Trust me.) The new book, which may turn into a series as well, is the story of the Asphodel heirs. The world of Asphodel is the retelling of major classical myths like the Trojan War or the Titanomachy using traditional fantasy characters and settings. So there are endless possibilities for future stories there. The Asphodel Cycle was my first published series, and coming back to the world after ten years away was a lot of fun.

I’m tinkering with an idea that’s a riff from my Harlequin Theater literary fantasy series. That world is set in contemporary American theatre, and revolves around a company that uses magic to integrate the audience into the performance. Think The Phantom of the Opera meets Something Wicked This Way Comes. That world is a lot of fun to play in.

And I’m building a couple of other fantasy worlds, revising my horror series, Red Ink, which is based on Jack the Ripper, freelance editing and sports writing. Safe to say I’m extremely busy. But I love it.


Q4 Ebooks or paperback, or both?

I don’t write with a particular medium in mind except for the Asphodel series. Unless you’re self-publishing or writing for a specific publisher, this isn’t a question a writer should really worry about. All my books that are currently published are available in both digital and paperback formats.



Q5 Name two books that changed the way you thought about your own writing, or even changed the way you write.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, and Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts. Both books revolve around female protagonists who find a way to succeed despite their gender.

Carey’s world is lush and voluptuous and vivid, having based her story in a world where a courtesan who’s been taught how to be a spy is the key to changing her society. Carey’s descriptive powers are incredible—probably the most intricate and extravagant world building I’ve ever seen—and her heroine is unforgettable. She is deeply flawed and superior at the same time.

Feist and Wurts set their heroine in a lavish, intense world with Oriental settings, culture, and traditions—which needs to happen more in fantasy. The story is about a girl who has always followed traditions having to take the reins of a once powerful house after her family’s rivals kill both her father and older brother. She learns that in order for her and her house to survive, she must play the political game better than any man in the Empire—and she cannot afford to unquestioningly follow the traditions that usually bind the players.

Both books feature heroines who don’t need to be saved. They are intelligent, cunning, and strategic. They use their minds to outplay their foes, and I appreciate the incredible stages those heroines have been provided as well.  Both books changed the way I looked at my heroines, and how I can give them the same stage without having to beat the reader over the head with, “She’s a bad ass. Get over it.” With both books, the writer in me was able to dissect how to establish a strong, victorious heroine without having to make her unfeminine.



Q6 How do you know when your characters have 'come to life'?

When they won’t shut up. I’m one of those writers who ‘sees’ the story in my head and puts it on paper. I never outline, but I always know where the book is going to end. I just let the story play out—it’s basically like taking dictation for me, which irritates some of my writer friends for some reason. And as I’m writing full time now, I’m working 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. If the characters keep talking while I’m working, then I keep working.

Hate to break the flow. Don’t want to stop and then face a Samuel Taylor Coleridge “A maid with a dulcimer” moment and forget where the story was taking me. Of course, I’m not cranked up on opium so maybe it wouldn’t hit me the same way it did him.



Q7 What are your top tips for acquiring and then working successfully with an agent?

I’m a believer in going to conventions and meeting them in person. That’s how I acquired my agent. I went to World Fantasy Con, and hung out all week with a friend of mine (DAW author of the Touched By An Alien series, Gini Koch) and her agent (Cherry Weiner). Cherry asked me to submit my manuscript to her, and upon reading it she signed me. Never underestimate the possibilities of establishing an acquaintance with an agent first.

If cons aren’t your thing, then query. But when you do query, make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors. Learn how to write a great hook, which is more difficult than it sounds. Present your work in a professional manner—don’t try to be cute or clever. Use standard manuscript format. If you want literary representation, you need to demonstrate your professionalism as much as your work.



Q8 Where can we find out more about your writing?


The best places to find out more about me are my website and blog. I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter, and for some reason people really like my Pinterest storyboards.  You can keep up with my articles on writing and publishing (like my recent series on the collapse of All Romance Ebooks and how they absconded with the 4th quarter royalties due every single author and publisher in 2016) on Blogcritics. I enjoy hearing from readers and writers both, and am happy to advise young writers who have a question. So if you catch me between writing blocks, I always appreciate the interaction.