Friday, 30 December 2011

Give me an A ...

Here's something light-hearted on which to end the year:

Hands up if you like fruit smoothies. Innocent do a great range in the UK, in handy little cartons for kids - expensive, I know, but they keep longer that way. Recently they've been doing a giveaway of fridge-magnet letters (3 per pack) and we'd managed to collect quite a few before they stopped. But we were missing a few letters - crucially an A. You can't spell a lot of words without an A and you can't spell my teenage daughter's name Clare.

So she wrote a rather tongue-in-cheek email to the company and asked them pretty-please to send her an A. This is a company whose lists of ingredients frequently say "no socks" or "no trumpets", so we thought they'd have a sense of humour. They replied back saying they'd be delighted to send the missing letters which duly arrived, so my daughter put together a short video of thanks...


Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Reflections

And so this is Christmas and what have you done....


In the words of John Lennon, what exactly have I done with 2011? Well one of the most important things to me has always been writing and up until this year, it's something I'd neglected for a long time, for a variety of reasons. And then my wonderful dad bought me a kindle in early February and I don't think he'll ever realise how much he changed my life. It probably doesn't mean much to most of you, but apart from being a great present, it opened so many doors to me into the world of indie publishing. Suddenly I don't need to be commercial. I don't need to sell thousands of books, to prove to a traditional publisher I can earn back an advance.

So in February I released my thriller Hamelin's Child and a collection of short stories Maniac onto Amazon's kindle platform, followed by a young adult fantasy Edge of Dreams later on in the year. A bit more formatting and they were soon on Smashwords platform too - and from there distributed to Sony, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith, Apple and all the major e-book retailers. I've worked with some great cover designers and taken out some online adverts - which more than paid for themselves in volume of sales. It's been a steep learning curve but I've sold thousands more books than I ever imagined I would and had fantastic reviews from people all over the world - strangers I've never met and who have no vested interest in being nice to me. I've even had fan email. And I'm writing again and loving it all.

The negatives: the near implosion of the British Fantasy Society, seeing friends hurt and egos inflated, realising that the internet can sometimes be a bad place and that some laundry really should be cleaned in private. Hard lessons and ones that make me less likely to volunteer my time and experience in the future. But I've also strengthened friendships and come out wiser and in the end probably happier.

My teenage daughter made her tv debut as an extra on Waterloo Road this year. Tiny acorns, those fleeting seconds on screen, but she's set for a stage career and let's face it, she has as good a chance of a job in the entertainment industry as anywhere else these days. And hubby finally got his stained glass business up and running after more than five years renovating the outbuildings (he's not that slow, but he had to start by underpinning the entire building with reinforced concrete, rebuilding much of the walls and putting on a new roof). So Moulton Glass now has a proper home and he is already making local sales.

And what for 2012? My resolutions are as follows:
  1. To stop procrastinating, get bum on seat, computer off facebook and actually write
  2. To stop being embarrassed about what I do. I find it hard to promote myself - especially as I write some dark and graphic stuff. But I need to learn to be proud of myself and my successes. I AM A WRITER. More than that: I AM A BLOODY GOOD WRITER!
Watch this space, 2012.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Ebooks For Soldiers

I'm involved in a new initiative to keep soldiers entertained while on active service away from home. Now, I don't have any friends or family currently serving in the military, but I can imagine that e-readers are an absolute boon to anyone with a limited amount of luggage or personal belongings. Ebooks For Soldiers was set up so that authors with books available in electronic format could donate free copies of their books to serving military personnel, especially over the festive period when our men and women are far from home and family.

One of the authors involved is Michael Lorde, whose thriller ebook Blind Veil is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.  Michael is also the instigator of the entire project and has put most of the hard work into getting it all up and running. You can find out more about Michael here, but in the meantime, I put some questions to this talented author:

So tell me a bit about yourself –where you are from and what you write.
I was raised in New York State. I lived in Virginia Beach for thirty years, but I missed the seasons and I’m glad to be back up north. I now live in Michigan with my ten year old daughter. It’s Christmas time and we have snow. I’m smiling.

I write fiction. Blind Veil is a psychological thriller, so it has creepy elements, so of course some of it’s pretty disturbing. The first few chapters are different than the rest of the book, and take place decades ago; but then the story switches up to the here and now. Everything else in the book occurs as a result of that unreported past crime.

I’m currently working on the second Blind Veil book as well as edits for a fantasy book. In the fantasy book, the main character is a young woman. That storyline is not as intense as the Blind Veil Series, though it has its own disturbing moments… just not as consistently. That book is a softer read.

I also dabble in scripts. I have two that I’d like to see produced and I work on new ones all the time.

When did you start writing seriously and why?
I’ve always written. Some of my teachers told me that I should pursue writing, but I didn’t pursue getting published until Blind Veil. This was the book that demanded me to pen it down and get it out; to share it with others. I’m probably happier now in this work than I’ve ever been; now that I’m writing all the time. Looking back, I don’t know what took me so long to make that decision.

How much and what type of research do you do for your writing?
I actually did no research for Blind Veil. I have a background as an investigator, so I knew the terminology. The rest came to me when I got the idea for the book. The plot came to me instantly. It was the first time that had happened, and I found it pretty amazing. I had a similar ‘epiphany’ with the second book, the fantasy book. Both are the first of a series.

What do you enjoy reading? Do you have a favorite author?
I love to read, though I stay away from reading novels when I’m heavy into a plot. That way I’m not picking up terminology, or writing styles from other author’s works. I read everything. I’m the type of person who has to learn things all day long. I’ve always been that way. As a kid, I read constantly and really loved school, so yes; I enjoy reading just about anything. As far as a favorite author… There are way too many to be able to pick just one. King is definitely on the list because I like oddities and he’s the ‘king’ of oddities. I also enjoy ‘Lord of the Rings’ type of story lines, so I’m a fan of J.R.R Tolkien. I like Baldacci, Grisham, Clancy. There are way too many to list. I’m big on espionage, conspiracy, and psychological thrillers; so I enjoy anything that includes those elements. A writer’s style means more to me than the ‘technical’ aspect that might captures some reader’s attention. I want to feel a strong pull into the characters and the storyline; not like I’m watching it, but as if I’m next to them the whole time, or close enough to walk a few steps in their shoes.

Tell me something about yourself that not many people know.
That’s easy. I have a water phobia that I’ve never been able to shake. I’m a great swimmer and was even on the dive team in high school, but I’m never totally comfortable swimming in the ocean, or in a large body of water. I went white water rafting years ago thinking that would rid me of it, but it didn’t. It was fun enough, but I wouldn’t do it again. I love boating and tubing and in the past I’ve water skied and wind surfed. I’m fine with all of that; but put me over my head in the ocean without a device nearby, and I am not a happy camper. I hated the swim training I had to go through in a dive tank that the navy seals train in. It was a grueling experience. Impressed? Don’t be… our training was nothing like Navy seals training; we just used their tanks. There was nothing intense or life threatening about it, and water boarding and survival training was the furthest thing from our instructors mind. Still, I would never want to go through it again. Like I said, I’m a good swimmer and more than capable. I just don’t like the feeling. I love being at the ocean, but not in it. So, now you know my secret. I have four kids who are all part fish. Go figure.

So Hollywood wants to make film of your book. Who is going to play your main characters?
Being very visual, I knew the answer to this when I was writing the book. Ioan Gruffudd (or Christian Bale), Denzel Washington, Ian McKellan, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Bridget Moynahan.

Oh no! The film director says that the sponsor will only put up the money if your book can be set on a desert island. How will this affect your story?
That’s funny! Okay, the way my main character’s feeling, he may as well be on a deserted island; and while part of the book does take place on the ocean, I don’t think the whole island scenario will work.

It’s a psychological thriller, so the main character is stuck with his situation. No matter where he tries to run, he can’t run away from his own thoughts. Nothing is easy for him. He faces challenges whether he’s on an island or smack dab in the middle of New York City. The problem with the deserted island is that it’s deserted. His situation requires that others are around and in fact things get pretty intense for him because they are around. I hope I bring the reader in close enough that they can feel that intensity of what he’s going through. Many of my readers have said that they couldn’t put Blind Veil down, so I’m hoping that I’ve accomplished that. One reader told me ‘I was there’ which being an author, was of course music to my ears. As long as I can bring the readers into my character’s ‘island’, I’ll be happy. But deserted island? We’ll just have to hire a different director.

And finally…

Vampires or zombies?

Definitely Zombies. I got bitten by a Great Dane once… while deciding whether or not to adopt him. He answered that question really fast, well before I arrived at the E.R. That was the closest encounter I ever want to have with a creatures teeth. (I’m a huge dog lover. The two great dogs I do have, know enough to keep their teeth in their mouths where they belong.)

Apples or bananas?
Apples.

Commercial best-seller or literary prize winner?
Commercial best seller would be nice. Recognition is wonderful, but it won’t pay for the kid’s colleges.

Thanks for answering those questions, Michael - and apologies for the oddballs. I have a strange sense of humour at times.

So if you're reading this and you are currently away from home and serving in the military, hop on over to Ebooks For Soldiers and take a look at what's on offer. Or email your son or daughter and get them to take a look. Sign up and you could soon be reading Michael's book Blind Veil for FREE on your e-reader. And if you're not eligible for a free copy, then why not buy one instead? There are more authors signing up all the time on the site and you're bound to find something you like.

Michael's website, blog and video trailer are all worth a visit and you can also read reviews of Blind Veil.

How can an unreported crime that occurred forty years in the past,and across the country, affect a New York City Cop today?

Can a seemingly innocent boat ride forever change the life of a former Marine?

Find out when a Police Officer meets an eccentric scientist who claims to hold secret knowledge that has been hidden from the rest of society.

Is this all truly happening, or is he slowly losing his grip on reality? Unfortunately, neither conclusion between the two worlds is better than the other as the clarifying line between reality and impossibility slowly disintegrates, turning his world upside down.

He must dig thirty years into his past; deep beneath the veil and the mesh of murder, lies and deceit to find answers.

Follow the trail of events that will forever shape his future… and maybe yours.


Available in English only at:

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Michael's Story

Have you ever thought about killing yourself?  I mean really doing it – topping yourself – not just messing about to get attention? It’s a scary place, that black hole in your mind, and sometimes I walk the edge, one foot in front of the other around the rim, and wonder whether to just shut my eyes and jump in. It’s like balancing on the railings on a motorway bridge – gives you a thrill, an adrenaline shot like nothing else on earth.

Except perhaps heroin.

You want to know why heroin? I’m not sure I know myself, but then I’m not sure about much in my life anymore.

I’m Michael. This is my story. It’s not pretty and I’m not proud of it. But it’s mine.


Friday, 9 December 2011

KDP Select & Large Fries To Go, Please

So I looked at KDP Select - amazon's amazing new offer for indie authors. Sign exclusively with us for 90 days and we will put your ebook in our amazon prime lending library. You get a share of half a million dollars in December alone. $500,000? Just for December? Where do I sign?

Read the small print. You get a share of the money pot depending on how many times your book is borrowed as a proportion of all borrowings. And the library is growing rapidly by the hour since amazon emailed all us indie authors yesterday. But in return, amazon demands exclusivity - you cannot sell or distribute your book anywhere during that 90 day period - that presumably means you can't sell your books off your own website and you can't give books to reviewers.

Where it really get complicated is if you have ever sold your book via smashwords. Quite apart from the fact that you have to wait for smashwords to pull the books from B&N, Apple, Sony and other sites (which can take a few weeks), you need to remember that even if you unpublish a book from smashwords, the site retains a copy to service previous customers of that book, which they will presumably distribute to said customers who wish to re-download. Bang go amazon's terms & conditions then. And once you violate amazon's t&c, the wording is sufficiently vague for them to get away with anything.

I'd maybe consider it for a new book. But you'd have to have a huge proportion of downloads (not numbers, but % of total downloads) to be making real money at this new game. So I'll pass for now and stick with smashwords and getting my books into as many different outlets as I can.

But KDP Select does sound like a menu option in a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, doesn't it?

Monday, 5 December 2011

You Couldn't Make It Up

It's 3.30pm and I'm finishing the design of a very complex universe at work - yes, really, I am. Not something from Magrathea, no, but that's what I do as a day job: design universes. Actually I work in business intelligence and the software I use to set up systems to interrogate big databases is called Business Objects - the resultant interface is called a "universe".

So it's half-three and the phone rings. It's my husband who I left at home in bed with man-flu this morning. He's been up and about and says that one of my catfish is stuck in the aquarium. Now this morning I remember seeing a bit of plastic pipe floating on the surface of the water - I pushed it back down to the bottom, weighted it with some gravel and realised the catfish was still in it. I thought he was probably a bit scared and he'd come out when I'd gone.

Now my catties came to me about two inches long and they are both about five inches now, if not bigger. They're big and clumsy, but very sweet nervous creatures who like to live in the pipe and the coconut shell. Unfortunately one had grown a bit big, tried to bend in the T-junction of the plastic pipe and got himself completely wedged in tight. Poor thing had been stuck there all day.

Husband insists this is a domestic emergency and I need to come home to rescue him (the fish or husband? I'm not sure). Fortunately, I only live 15 minutes from work, so after much hilarity in the office, I drive home. And the pipe is floating with poor cattie tightly stuck in the bend. I try to shake him out but he gets more agitated and more stuck. Husband says we'll have to saw the pipe apart, so I find a washing up bowl and prepare to transfer tank water, fish and pipe.

Then I have a brain wave. I find a tube of face cream with a lid diameter slightly smaller than the pipe. Insert it gently into T-junction and push very slowly. Visions of squashed fish, but I persevere - and he moves a bit. Take out tube and look inside and he's definitely straightening out. Bit more pressure and a shake to dislodge his fins and he's out, straight to the bottom of the tank.

The pipe is in the bin, but I now have a traumatised fish with a scratch along one side. He hasn't moved in a few hours but he's still breathing. If he hasn't moved by tomorrow, it's off the to the aquarium shop to see if I can get something to put in the tank to make him feel better. He probably needs a stiff drink - I know I did!

I told you - you couldn't make it up.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Code Cracking...

Here we go. Starting at the Guardian's post, this is my pathetic attempt to crack the code created by GCHQ to attract high quality candidates for jobs in the security services.


Well to me that looks like hex code (base 16) from what I remember about computer tech courses way back. Our normal counting system is base 10 (0 units of '1' and 1 unit of '10' make the number 10) and binary is base 2.

No, I don't think they'll give me a job yet.

So, the first pair of characters above is eb. In hex, that gives me (14 x 16 ttp1) + (11 x 16 ttp0) where ttp = "to the power of", such are the limitations of blogger.

Any number ttp0 =1, so that gives us (14x16)+11 = 235.

No, I still don't think they'll give me a job.

I could go through the whole screen of hex and convert each character pair to its equivalent number. Then what? Presumably the base 10 numbers themselves are a code?

Just as well I never wanted a job in MI5. I'll stick to re-runs of Spooks on tv instead!

Oh, and feel free to correct my calculations if I'm wrong, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. It's a long, long time since I used to reconstruct deleted computer files by pulling bits of hex code together!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Is E-Cat a Con?

E-Cat? Finally a source of clean renewable energy - or a giant con?

I heard about this via a techy bulletin board I use at work for my IT support. Some of the US members were discussing it and while I couldn't go hunting at work, I made a note to go and look when I got home.

E- Cat is "energy catalyzer", a supposedly clean way of combining nickel and hydrogen in a "low energy nuclear reaction". It looks like fusion (most of our nuclear energy comes from fission - splitting - rather than fusion - combining), has no radioactive waste products and is apparently practically self-sustaining.

Sounds too good to be true? In most real-life situations, there really is no such thing as a free lunch - and I'm sure if this really was the future of the planet's energy, I'd have heard a bit more about it in the news by now. The web site has lots of stuff on from October, but apparently there's been a sale of an energy plant to an anonymous US customer in the last couple of days.

The company is called the "Leonardo Corporation" - an Italian company (and no, the name isn't lost on me - Da Vinci was famous for a lot more than his artwork and he is still rumoured to have invented the concept of the helicopter) and the E-Cat's somewhat secretive inventor Andrea Rossi is keeping quiet about the "secret ingredient" of the nuclear process.

If it's true, he's going to be a very rich man. If not, there will be a lot of red faces and he'll probably still be a very rich man. Either way, Mr Rossi wins.

I think I'll sit on the fence a while longer and think about those little pecking birds you used to get in the 1970s - the ones that slowly slipped coloured water and were about the nearest things to perpetual motion in existence.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Kindle Coffee-Break Collection Vol. 1

I've got a short story out in The Kindle Coffee-Break Collection Vol. 1.

From the Amazon description:  

"Welcome to the first volume of the Saffina Desforges Presents Coffee-Break Collection. Saffina Desforges is the Kindle-UK best-selling author of Sugar & Spice and Snow White: Book 1 of the the Rose Red crime thriller series."

I'm in some good company here, so feel free to go check it out!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Strike Action!

There's a big union strike next week in the UK - several of the biggest public-sector workers' unions are striking in protest against changes to pensions. Now I've worked in the public sector all my life, mostly in what was HM Customs & Excise and more recently in local government for the police and I can see both sides of the argument.

Undeniably, people are living longer and therefore claiming pensions for longer. So it stands to reason that we have to work for longer. I don't like the idea but I'm lucky enough to have a job I enjoy and so I'm not complaining on that front. But when I joined the Civil Service back in the mid 80s, I went to London to work in VAT office (life got more exciting later - trust me - but that's possibly the subject of another blog and if you read it, I may have to kill you afterwards). It wasn't a well-paid job, in a naff office on the North Circular and there were no perks - no company car, private health care, gym discounts or annual bonus. Many of my colleagues left to go to the private sector - the big accountancy and consultancy firms - and moved on to better pay and conditions. Those of us that didn't had the consolation of the one good thing about the job. The pension. We endured years of rubbish pay knowing that at least we would be getting a decent pension. And now they want to change that? I'm talking about the workers here - not senior management or even middle-management, and I don't know who all these people are that are apparently getting gold-plated pensions. It isn't us. Will it happen across the board? Will ministers and the senior civil service take the same hit? Hmm.

I took HM Customs & Excise to an industrial tribunal many years ago. And won. It was more about taking a stand against bullying management than anything else, but I did get some money out of it. I couldn't have done it without the help of my union and it was one of the most stressful times of my life, but I was proud of the result and I hope I helped other people in the process who may have been too scared to speak out.

So I'm both for and against this strike. At the moment, given the state of the rest of Europe, I'm grateful to have a job and I hope I have a pension at all in 20 years time - or whenever I get to retire! And I'm proud of working in the public sector. I've done some boring jobs, but I've also seen and done the kinds of things you rarely see outside of the movies and television, which has influenced much of my writing since then. And I met my husband in that VAT office in North West London.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Being Bennett

I wasn't born a Bennett. I married into it over 21 years ago. At the time I thought this was a Good Thing. I had no problems with giving up my maiden name, having spent all my life spelling it out to people. I was born Louie. Not Louis, Lowe, Lovie, Long, Louise, Louse or Lousy, but Louie. Yes, it's unusual - in the UK at least - as it's phonetic Chinese and came from my Cantonese grandfather who came to England in the early 20th century with the Chinese navy, where he met my Liverpudlian grandmother, fell in love and decided to stay.

I never knew my grandfather as even though I was 16 when he died, he never spoke a word of English that I could understand. I've never quite worked out how he managed to live the rest of his life in England, marry and raise 10 children and yet not speak the language - my dad says they all managed to understand each other, but I never could. I deeply regret not knowing him - he would have had such fascinating stories to tell of life in pre-revolution China as a member of the aristocracy who was cut off from his family and status when he married beneath him. In an attempt to appease the family he left behind, he sent his two eldest sons - my uncles - back to China as young children and they were never heard of again. It was always a taboo subject in the family as my grandmother was so upset at losing her children, so it was never spoken of when I was young. I do know my cousin (at the time a tax-exile living in the Caribbean - I have such interesting relatives!) spent quite some time and money looking for our lost uncles in the 1980s, even going so far as placing adverts in the Hong Kong newspapers, but with no success.

So my grandfather enters the UK and his name is written down as Harry Ying Louie. Bizarrely, half my aunts and uncles are registered with the surname Ying and half with the surname Louie - creating my family tree was a challenge even with the ones in this country! And I grew up forever spelling out my name to everybody and telling them that no, I wasn't French. And thank you so much to the creator of the 1970s cartoon series Hong Kong Phooey - it was a lovely nickname. Not.

Interestingly, there are lots of Louies in the USA - particularly around the Philadelphia area, which is coincidently where my grandfather apparently said that other members of his family had settled. So I may have relatives over there too.

I married a Bennett in 1990 and thought all my troubles would be over. And spelling-wise, I guess that's true as most people get it right, although it's sometimes spelled with just the one t at the end. But now I find there are so many of them. I never realised that Bennett was such a common surname. And Debbie too (although a great many of us were born within a few years of each other - it's definitely a mid-sixties name!). I've come across Debbie Bennett the singer, Debbie Bennett the racing car driver and even Debbie Bennett who runs her own PR agency (for a few months I got some lovely invitations to celebrity bashes as our email addresses were very similar). Being fairly computer-literate and having had an email address and internet presence for longer than I care to remember, I have enough hits to generally be top of a google search on my name - in fact I have most of the top 10 spots in one form or another.

The problem is that when I publish ebooks, it starts getting complicated. When I first published my thriller Hamelin's Child on amazon, the author was DJ Bennett. I went for just initials as being non-gender-specific tends to sell more books (sexist, but apparently true for crime and thriller genres). Plus when I published other genres, I wanted to be subtly different as my target markets are miles apart and I wouldn't want a teenage reader of YA fantasy Edge Of Dreams to jump straight to a an adult thriller. On smashwords, there's no facility for different books on the same author account to have different author names and when smashwords distributes to other e-retailers, all hell breaks loose.

So the Apple i-store currently has my books listed under Debbie Bennett (singer)'s account and I have no idea how to go about changing it! There doesn't seem to be a support email that I can find - it's one of those help sections that sends you round in endless circles like telephoning a call centre (I once spent 45 minutes in Vodafone's system pushing button after button and hearing so many recorded messages I would have verbally-murdered a human being had any ever actually answered). I'm not overly concerned as I'm sure Debbie's songs are lovely. I'm just not so sure she'd want to be associated with my books!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Why is tax so taxing?

Having sold rather a lot of ebooks last month via Amazon.com, my US sales figures are – for the first time – remarkably healthy. However, nothing is ever easy and sales from outside the UK (as opposed to sales to outside the UK) are treated differently for tax purposes. Because I am selling from a US-based site, I become liable to US tax. Fair enough – I have no problem with that. Death and taxes are the only certainties in life, as somebody said (who was it?).

Amazon withholds a percentage of my profits to fulfil tax liabilities. It is up to me to prove to the IRS that I am not a US citizen. Again, I have no problem with this and I can then declare the US income on my UK tax return together with my UK sales. So I have found my way around the IRS website, downloaded the form I need to get a foreign-national tax number (ITIN), found the tax-treaty article number etc etc. It’s all ready to send off to the US embassy in London with my passport. The only thing I need is a letter from Amazon to confirm I have made sales from their site.

So I email Amazon. They can’t help me. They are still discussing legal requirements with the IRS. So they won’t give me my money and yet they won’t provide me with the documentation I need to claim it back correctly. Doesn’t seem right to me. The other ebook retail site – Smashwords – issues these letters automatically once sales reach a certain threshold. But hardly anybody seems to buy ebooks via Smashwords.

But things have changed a bit. The help texts on Amazon.com have changed and there is a draft letter there which you can apparently now use for tax purposes. But it says it needs to be on headed paper – how can I do that? I can only download it and print it, which makes it a copy and the IRS don’t accept copies. I email Amazon again – they apologise for giving me the wrong answer last time and yes, I can use this letter but they haven’t received approval for it from the IRS. And in any case, it’ll still be a copy, won’t it? There are discussions in the forums by people who’ve had the IRS reject their tax forms because the letters were copies. I give up. If anyone has had success, please let me know what you submitted.

So - in an attempt to get enough money in my Smashwords account to get a US tax letter from them, I'm offering a BOGOFF on any of my 3 books for a limited time only. Buy one via smashwords (they're not exactly expensive) and let me know and I'll send you a coupon for a **free** one of your choice.

This offer will end once I hit my target sales on smashwords.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Word Clouds

This is a wordle - a word cloud apparently made up from all the words on my blog. Not sure why the biggest word is get! It doesn't say much about me, does it? The sum of my blogging life and it has amazon twice. And why is tax so big? Maybe it's just the visible page in my blog - I can't see how it works.

But it's a cool idea. I might try chucking some other bits of random text in and see what it produces.

http://www.wordle.net/ if you fancy having a go.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Power of Advertising

I published my first ebook Hamelin's Child in February this year.By March, I was thinking of having a play with advertising and I paid for a small slot on a large-ish review site - I think the ad came and went a few weeks later with no noticeable increase in sales. I wondered whether it was a waste of money, but thought I'd try once more. So I picked Ereader News Today and paid for a book-of-the-day sponsorship. It cost me $25, but it doesn't seem much when you convert it to sterling. Got an email saying the next slot was October and I promptly forgot about it.

The ad went live yesterday (26th October). Not sure what time as it's a US site. I came home from work early as I was going out to the theatre that night and logged on about 3.30pm to nothing much. By 4pm, I'd sold over 100 books on amazon.com and by late that evening I'd sold over 300.

Amazon.com
#180 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#45 in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Thrillers
#53 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Mystery & Thrillers


Probably the highest ranking I'll ever see, but there it is. Sales are still trickling in more than 24 hours later and I'm hoping that I'll get more from sample downloads that convert to sales.

Trouble is, amazon.com has decreed itself the custodian of my US tax liability. Until I can get a foreign-national US tax id, amazon keep 30% of my earnings against tax. To get a tax id, I have to get a letter proving sales. Can I get one out of amazon? No - they are still talking with the IRS  about what is legally acceptable (despite the fact that other UK authors have got letters out of them). Whereas the other US ebook distributor smashwords apparently automatically sends out tax letters once sales reach a threshold.

So if you have the urge to buy one of my books, please go to smashwords instead of amazon. That way I can get all of my money back from amazon instead of letting them keep it for the IRS!

Update 3rd November -  I reckon I've sold close on 450 ebooks as a direct result of one advert and they are still trickling in slowly.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Introspection

Been offline for a while. I'd like to say I've been writing, but I haven't even been doing that. Well, not much anyway - although I can report a couple of short story acceptances in e-anthologies coming from MWiDP. One was my blowing-up-Liverpool story, so I guess I can abandon my pathetic attempts at cover production (see an earlier post), although I have since attended two 1-day photoshop courses.

After the near-implosion of the British Fantasy Society towards the end of September (you either know about it or you don't - and believe me it's way too long and complicated to get into any detail here), I've been through a bit of a period of reflection. Two weeks being deluged in emails, blog posts and newspaper articles (broadsheet as well as tabloid) and I've realised how much influence the internet can have over lives and how quickly things can go viral online. It's actually quite scary and has made me pull back slightly from all this. For the first time in a long while, I wasn't checking facebook and twitter every night and I have to confess that a lot of emails were scanned and deleted when I realised I had nothing useful to contribute and was only stressing myself out by reading them. And although I wasn't directly a part of any of it, it's made me question a lot of things, not least how quick people are to be judge and jury. I know I will be less quick to jump in with both feet to volunteer in future, and that's sad.

But time to move on. There are worlds to explore and stories to write. And good friends to keep in touch with.

And I've started Christmas shopping!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

New Cover, New Book

So here is the final cover for my YA fantasy Edge of Dreams. Not quite ready to publish yet - it needs a last edit for typos and to murder any remaining extraneous adverbs - but I'm pleased with the way it's come out. I'll post links to it once it's uploaded but I just wanted to share it with the world now.

What do you do when you think that the bad guys might care more about you than the good ones?


Edge Of Dreams is now available in kindle format on  Amazon UK, Amazon DE and Amazon US/Other.  Also in all formats (including PDF and HTML) at Smashwords.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Every Day Fiction

Checking through recent submissions, I remembered having a short story Moira accepted by online fiction site Every Day Fiction. I was sure they'd said August or September so I went back and checked their listings and found that I'd totally missed it on August 16th! I think I was supposed to get an email beforehand, but in fairness, the site had a major systems crash mid-August so I suspect my email was one of the casualties!

Anyway, it was a nice surprise to go back and read it online and find out that 56 people voted it at a 3.7/5 star rating. And lots of lovely comments too.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sample Sunday: Paying The Piper

An extract from WIP Paying The Piper:

The rear tyre blew at eighty-five miles per hour in the outside lane of the M25, just past junction eleven. Amanda didn’t hear it go, but she felt the steering wheel wrench from her grip just as Mika launched into Grace Kelly on the car’s CD player. The screech of tyres didn’t improve the quality of the music as the car swerved towards the central reservation, and the scrape of metal against metal seemed perfectly timed to the song.

She pulled hard to the left, narrowly missing the Renault in the middle lane. The driver flashed his headlights several times in succession, overtook on the inside and accelerated away out of danger, making a crude gesture with his fingers as he passed her. Just like a man. Anything to avoid trouble. Never wants to get involved. The car skidded on the wet road and she hit the brake instinctively, only deepening the skid as all four tyres lost contact with the tarmac.

Suddenly, the world reduced to four wheels and an engine. Frantically, she tried to remember what they’d said on the advanced driving talk which the office had laid on for them all. Two winters ago, when five company cars had been written off in as many weeks, the firm had decided that a driving seminar was called for. At the time, all the staff had been concerned about was the fact that they were expected to come in for an evening without pay; right now, Amanda reckoned that survival would be payment enough. She eased her foot off the brake and steered into the skid, thanking whatever Gods were listening that there were no other cars on the inside. The motorway was quiet and most sensible people would be at work, not speeding round the M25 with their life in ruins. 

Surprisingly enough, the car responded. She could feel the difference through the steering wheel as the remaining tyres began to grip the road. She touched the brake once, twice – cadence braking, just like she’d been taught – and the car slowed and straightened as she eased it across to the inside lane and onto the hard shoulder. Coming to a standstill, she switched off the engine, cutting Mika off in his prime. The sudden silence was overwhelming, the smell of burning rubber filled the car and she wondered what she was going to do now. 

For the third time that day, Amanda burst into tears. It hadn’t exactly been a spectacular success so far. She’d been on the move three hours now, ever since arriving at the nursery at lunchtime and discovering that Paul had already picked up Melanie. At home, she found he’d taken a suitcase; some of his clothes were missing, and a stack of nappies had gone with some sleepsuits from Mel’s room. And three hours later, where had she got to? Halfway across the country, with what seemed like days stuck in a motorway tailback on the M4, and no nearer finding her daughter than she had been when she’d set out with just her handbag, and only that because she knew it contained her credit cards and phone and the one thing she was going to need was money. Money for petrol and food, probably somewhere to stay the night and no doubt cash to bribe his family. Because that’s where he’d be, running home to mummy and that awful interfering sister of his. Running home with Melanie.

Mel. The thought made her cry even harder. How could he have taken their daughter with him? Aside from the fact that he knew next to nothing about caring for a nine-month old baby, Paul had never given any indication about the way he felt before. True, he’d never been a man of many emotions; that’s what she’d loved about him – his calm competence, easy acceptance of redundancy and the optimism with which he’d set about finding himself a new job, even when it had involved a move across the country. She’d gone willingly, six months pregnant and excited at the thought of a new life together. And then it had all started to fall apart.

Damn Bristol. She thumped the car horn loudly with her fist, wishing it was somebody’s head. Damn Carroll’s Limited; there was nothing limited about the liberties the directors were apparently prepared to take with their employees. And damn to Hell and back Mark Cartland for taking her to the office post-Christmas party and then to his bed. She hadn’t meant it to happen, hadn’t set out with the idea of adultery in her mind, but Paul had been working late again, keen to impress his new boss and she’d been lonely in the new house. Mark had been so understanding when she’d had to take time off at short notice when Melanie was ill. She couldn’t refuse his invitation. She hadn’t wanted to. He was a nice guy in his own way, though not really her type. Besides, nobody else had asked her to accompany them to the dinner at a local hotel and as usual Paul had been too busy.

Stop making excuses, Amanda. You slept with your boss and your husband found out. End of story. Who could blame Paul for the way he’d reacted? But how could he run off like that, without giving her the chance to explain, to apologise and try to make up for what she’d done. It was as if he didn’t want to know any more. Perhaps he would never be able to forgive her. Perhaps he’d never let her see Melanie again.

Monday, 5 September 2011

A Long, Long Time Ago ...

... in a galaxy far, far away, I used to be into live fantasy role-playing (aka LRP/LARP to those nerds in the know). In the early 1980s, LRP was really only starting out in the UK and I spent many weekends with a group of like-minded nerds - and I mean that in the most affectionate way - from Liverpool University at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, playing Treasure Trap. If you really want a laugh, click the link. I knew these people. I was one of them...

So there we were, spending weekends camping in a real live castle, with one toilet between however many people were staying. I think there was a shower put in much later, but let's just say it wasn't a health spa. Mostly in bizarre costumes, we'd eat down the local pub and drink into the small hours in the top of one of the towers. Then there were the adventures: many hours enacting various quests throughout the castle. I say enacting, but those of you who have ever played Dungeons & Dragons will understand it's more like free-form acting, with an overall end objective, but you kind of make up the rest as you go along, keeping in character of course. Anything can happen - and often does.

I was writing back then too, and if you are a fantasy writer, you really can't beat the experience of living some of this - I can give you an exact reaction to creeping along a stone corridor in the dark, rounding a corner and coming across a 6ft long-haired, bearded bloke, built like the proverbial brick shit-house, wearing studded leather and wielding a steel sword. Or watching an execution on the drawbridge by flaming torchlight. Or abseiling from a tower while a horde of mad people are firing arrows at you. I've lost touch with most of the people from this part of my life, which is a shame as they were a great bunch of guys and we had some fantastic weekends.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm supposed to have grown up as I'm married with a mortgage and a job. But I'm talking to some like-minded people on CIX and get invited to participate in a Star Wars event in South London. I get a kit list sent to me, with joining instructions and a character sheet. Bear in mind I've never met any of these people before, but I venture off to some disused warehouse that has been decked out for the day, get my laser tag equipment and we're off on a 12 hour adventure loosely set in the Star Wars universe. I had one of the best days of my life, totally immersed in an alternate reality, trying to steal a secret CD and divulge vital information to the opposition (yes, the traitor was ME, mwha ha ha...). Came back through Waterloo station in costume late at night with some of my compatriots and we did get some strange looks, although this was fortunately well before all the terrorist alerts.

So I apologise to anyone who knows me. I was a nerd. And I loved it!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Rebecca Hamilton: Common Mistakes Writers Overlook While Editing

Today’s guest post is by writer and editor Rebecca Hamilton. Rebecca is a writer and editor and you can find out more about her on her website and blog. In this post, she offers some helpful tips for editing your own writing.

I’ve edited for and exchanged with many writers. And, being admittedly picky about who I edit for, I will say that many of them were extremely talented. As I edited for them, there were times where I pointed out things that I knew they knew, but they had just missed. How did I know they knew these things? Because they pointed these same things out to me, even though they knew I knew, too. These are problems that are just all too easy to make when you are too close to your writing.

What does it mean to be “too close to your writing”, anyway? It means you are unable to see problems in your own work that you would see in others. It’s not because you think your writing is better, or that your writing is “the exception”, or even that your writing is too precious to you. It’s that you simply know the bigger picture. You know where that train of thought leads, and so at no point are you confused about what you are trying to say.

This leads me to the first thing on my list. This is the one I see the most – very often in writers who aren’t aware to edit for this, but also occasionally in the works of authors who do.

CONTEXT
This is what I use to describe the order events are relayed. Sometimes there is disconnect between this, and the order events happened. Or it can just be the context in which something happens. Most specifically, this happens on a sentence level, and it’s easy to miss because by the end of the sentence, the entire idea has been relayed. And to the author writing it, they can see that whole sentence as a single idea/moment. But for the reader, that’s not always the case. Sometimes to the reader, putting context at the end of the sentence can make an idea seem “tacked on” or like it’s materialized out of nowhere. This is because readers “fill in the blanks” as they go. This is automatic, and it happens on a moment-by-moment (not sentence by sentence) basis.

Here I will give an example. Let’s say your character just got in a huge fight with her sister. You are now jumping in time to your character working on a birdhouse she’d started building at some earlier point in the story. I’m going to force you to read this like a reader now:

I headed back to my work station to put some final touches on the birdhouse…

I will stop the sentence there. As you are reading, you can guess where that sentence might go (though you don’t know yet). You can also make some assumptions about what happened between the fight with the sister and the working on the birdhouse. Most likely, you’ll assumed nothing happened in between. So when the sentence finishes….

…after calling mom to tell her about the fight with Kara.

Well, that feels a bit tacked on, doesn’t it? If she called her mom first, and THEN worked on the birdhouse, then the reader should be given that information in that order. To a writer, something like this can be a single idea, because we already know the order of events. This is why it’s a common mistake among writers, even those who know context needs to come first.

The good news is, that when you DO spot it, it’s easy to fix. Just reverse the parts of the sentence:

After calling mom to tell her about the fight with Kara, I headed back to my work station to put some final touches on the birdhouse.

So how can you catch these errors? There are two solutions:

1)  Have someone who isn’t close to the work read through for this. The average reader might only know it feels “off” but another writer might be able to help you figure out why.
2)  Give yourself some time away from your MS. Wait a month, then come back to it. A lot more of these instances will pop out at you.

The above two solutions can be used to readdress any common editing mistakes. I’ve listed more of them below:

PUNCTUATION ERRORS
Especially where commas are concerned. A lot of writers struggle with commas as it is, but even those who know them inside and out have trouble. And it’s with certain commas in particular:

a) The introductory phrase comma (these are often left out intentionally by UK writers). Introductory phrases are usually phrases that show context – they introduce the main clause. For example: With a thick pair of mittens on, I could barely feel the rollercoaster safety bar I was grasping. Or After the sun set, I set out on my journey to Lemming Cliff. Or When she told me about what happened to Hank, I nearly vomited up last night’s chilli cheese dogs.

b) The parenthetical phrase comma – this one is a bit more specific. The error with the parenthetical phrase comma is usually that the comma that would close the phrase is left off, and this is most often done by those who don’t use oxford/serial commas and have an and directly following the parenthetical phrase. For example: I went to the store, hoping to buy bread and met with Mark along the way. There should be a comma after bread. Your independent clause is I went to the store and met with Mark along the way. The hoping to buy bread was a parenthetical pit-stop along the way and needs to be encapsulated with commas. This is different from: I went to the store to buy milk, bread and eggs. Which doesn’t need a comma (if you don’t use oxford/serial commas) after bread because bread wasn’t a parenthetical phrase. I went to the store to buy milk was the end of the independent clause. That said, you can use a comma after bread there if you use oxford commas.

c) This leads me to a problem more common with US writers than UK writers – using a comma before a small conjunction. In the US, we are supposed to use commas before a small conjunction only when the next part of the sentence is an independent clause. Too often we (myself included) leave it off more than we should or add it more than we should. For example, you need a comma before and here: I went to the store, and Mark went home. But you don’t need one here: I went to the store and bought cheese. The bought cheese isn’t an independent clause. But Mark went home is.

LAY VERSUS LIE
When trying to figure out which to use, there’s a simple little trick: Objects lay, people lie.

WEAK POINT OF VIEW
A lot of writers use character “filters”. I think this has its place when trying to create narrative distance, but when hoping to engage the reader in the experience, you’ll want a deeper POV. A deeper POV will allow the reader to experience the story, as opposed to have a character narrate it to them. For example: She could see the silhouette of a man outside her window. This isn’t her seeing, it’s saying she could see. Example 2: She saw the silhouette of a man outside her window. We’re hearing what happened, but we aren’t seeing it for ourselves. Example 3: The silhouette of a man walked past her window/shifted outside her window/approached her window. There are lots of options there. Now we’re deeper in POV. We’re seeing it, and we know she saw it, too, because it’s her POV and it’s being narrated to us. It wouldn’t be narrated to us if she hadn’t seen it (unless you’re writing in an omniscient POV). But instead of telling us the obvious (that she saw it) we get to see it for ourselves. It allows the moment to come to life.

The best way to fix this is to do a search for filter words, such as: saw, see, felt, feel, hear, heard, taste, tasted, smell, smelled, knew, know (I knew I shouldn’t do this versus I shouldn’t do this). And so on. This also helps to reduce some of the personal pronoun starts, without unnaturally convoluting your sentence structures. (And the same could be true of fixing the first common error I mentioned: Context)

UNNEEDED SENTENCE ENDINGS
So many times, in my work as well as others, I see sentences that didn’t end soon enough.
For example: He smiled at me. The at me isn’t needed if the two are having a conversation and there is no one else in the room. That sounded like a horrible idea to me. The to me is implied. It’s that person’s POV after all.

Looking for opportunities to cut unneeded sentence endings can help make your voice carry more authority and will also strengthen the impact of your sentences. Emphasis goes at the end. Do you want to emphasize to me or do you want emphasize horrible idea. Which words carry more power?

I’ll sign off here, as this post is already a mile long. But for those who haven’t looked out for these things in their writing, I think you’ll find these 5 simple tips help you improve your MS a great deal!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Other Indie Authors: Marita Hansen

I've decided to feature some other indie authors on my blog. First up is Marita Hansen whose novel Behind the Hood is now available on Amazon kindle & Smashwords. Marita is also a talented artist - the cover art is her own work.

Life on the rough side of New Zealand.

In this South Auckland neighbourhood where gang culture, drink, drugs, sex and violence is already a way of life; a vicious attack on a teenage girl sparks a ripple effect of revenge and fury. Live the carnage through multiple viewpoints as the tale unfolds to a bloody climax.

Warning: NOT for the fainthearted.  *This book contains strong scenes and adult material.

Here's the start of the book to whet your appetite:

Maia

Maia Daniels knew she should just ignore the boys. Walk past, don’t listen, she told herself. Don’t talk back. 

It was ten o’clock on a Saturday night. The gang were sitting on a wall outside Claydon Pub, passing around a smoke. She’d seen some of them at high school, when they decided to turn up that is.

Whooping and yelling came from the pub. A television blared loudly, no doubt replaying the All Blacks’ rugby match against the Wallabies. Maia stopped at the driveway as a purple Holden drove into the car park. Music blasted from inside the souped-up machine, the bass pumping its steady beat out into the night.

“Maia, c’mere,” Tama Harris yelled.

The gang leader was eighteen, tall and solidly built, with a wide, flat nose. He’d shaved off his hair recently, replacing it with a curved pattern called a moko. Usually, the tattoo adorned the face, a sign of a Maori warrior—something to be proud of. But Tama was no one to be proud of, nothing but a dreg who constantly harassed her. Unlike the other boys, he wore his hoodie tied around his waist, his ripped jeans and muscle shirt unsuitable for the cold autumn weather. Maia figured he was probably high on something, either from the weed in his hand or the empty bottles at his feet—or both.

“Hey, Maia! Are ya a double d?” a podgy boy with spiky blond hair shouted.

“They sure felt like it,” Tama replied, his hand actions eliciting laughter from the gang.

A blush ran across Maia’s cheeks. Shit, she hated her breasts. Even in her oversized sweatshirt they still grabbed attention. She pulled her hood further over her head, and rounded her shoulders. After another car passed, she hitched up her track pants and walked across the muddy driveway.

Tama hollered, “Oi! I told ja to c’mere.”

She looked back, aching to give him the finger, but instead jammed her hands into her pockets. God, she was a moron for sneaking out, but ... Ben’s raves were always awesome. Why couldn’t her mum let her go? It wasn’t like she did drugs, and the boys at the party were just mates.

Tama’s scowl changed into a grin. He threw his joint onto the ground and jumped off the stone wall. With a jerk of his head, he indicated for the gang to follow.

Maia’s heartbeat picked up. Still concentrating on Tama, she stepped off the kerb and onto Waiata Crescent. The blast of a horn made her leap back. The front passenger leaned out of a battered sedan, and swore at her. Ignoring the pimply git, she scooted around the car and across the side road. 

A loud wolf-whistle made her jump. She glanced over her shoulder. Tama’s eyes were fixated on her, promising things she didn’t want. 

He grabbed his crotch. “I like ya from behind, Maia.” 

All the boys, except for Mikey Thomas, laughed. Tama’s cousin looked away as though uncomfortable with what was happening. He was fourteen and in her class at school. She thought he liked her; either that or he had a staring problem. Yeah, she’d only noticed because she was usually checking him out too. 

Maia wondered if she could lose the gang by cutting across the highway. Traffic was heavy, making this option just as dangerous as stopping for Tama. Further up the road, past the tyre yard, the video and liquor stores’ lights were on. The neon sign of the happy video man was a welcoming sight. It was maybe a hundred metres away. She thought she had a chance of outrunning Tama. She was fast, damned fast. If she’d showed up to school enough, she probably would’ve been on the track team. 

“Maia, pretty Maia,” Tama taunted. “I’ve got sumpthin’ to show you.” 

Maia wasn’t sure whether it was a knife—or something else in his pants. She knew he carried a switchblade. He’d stabbed her brother in the arm once when Nike attacked him with a baseball bat. She’d always wondered whether this was why Tama harassed her. But she couldn’t blame Nike for it. Leila, his girlfriend at the time, had caused the fight. The bitch had cheated on him with Tama, then cried rape after he found out. 

“Leave me alone, Tama,” she said, remembering the last time he’d approached her. She’d kicked him in the balls for grabbing her breasts. “Nike said he’d beat the living snot outta you if you came near me again.” 

“I’d love to see him fuckin’ try. Plus, you owe me, bitch.” 

Maia knew she should keep her mouth shut; that whenever she spoke it got her into trouble. Her mother had told her countless times, “You speak too much, Maia, you should listen more.” 

She grinned, unable to help herself. “What do I owe you? More bruised balls?” 

She heard a slicing noise behind her, the sound of a switchblade being opened. Shit! 

“Get her,” Tama yelled. 

You can find Behind the Hood at the following distributors

Reviews
"INTENSE! I could probably leave my review at this one word and that would say it all. What a nerve wracking read. At first I thought there were going to be too many point of view characters for me to get involved emotionally, but they all tied back to each other perfectly. I had no problem keeping track of who was who and how they related back to each of the other characters. By the last three-quarters of the book I had the phones turned off and the Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door. I had to know what was going to happen and I didn't want any interruptions. Marita Hansen did not disappoint. I can't wait to read the sequel..." Amazon US Review.
"This may be a work of fiction, but the author has used her knowledge to give us an eye-opening and realistic look into a very rough culture. This book is quality, one not to be missed." Smashwords Review. 

About the Author
Marita is a New Zealander, currently living in Singapore.  She is married with two kids, and likes to write, create artworks, coach soccer, and occasionally referee a match.

maritaahansen.blogspot.com 

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Sample Sunday: Breaking Free

A very brief extract from Hamelin's Child:

Eddie pursed his lips, still smirking. “I’m going to count to three,” he said. “You either put the knife down or I’ll take it off you. Your choice.”

Michael said nothing.

“One.” Eddie tossed the keys onto the bed.

Michael risked a quick glance at them. Too far away.

“Two. Don’t be stupid, Mikey. You’re far too pretty to damage.”

Pretty? Michael curled his lip contemptuously, fired up by adrenaline.

“Three. OK, if that’s the way you want it.” Eddie tightened the belt on his robe and stepped up to him. Right up – not just out of reach of the knife, but well into Michael’s range.

Michael slashed, but Eddie reached beyond the knife and knocked his wrist away. With his other hand, he punched Michael in the stomach and the knife fell to the carpet. Eddie picked it up instantly and before Michael had time to catch his breath, there was an arm across his throat, a face inches away from his own.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Moving On From Procrastination

So what's new? A few posts ago I was debating what I should be working on right now. With too many projects on the go and not enough hours in the day, I wish I could apply some of the OCD organisation of my day job to my writing.

So I've bitten the bullet and asked the wonderful artist/designer JT Lindroos (who did my awesomely good cover for Hamelin's Child) if he could come up with something for my YA fantasy Edge of Dreams. Now Edge was almost picked up a few years back by a couple of traditional publishers (not enough money at the acquisitions meetings, I was told), and was eventually published by an independent ebook company, but I've got the rights back now and have another book in the series almost ready, so I thought it was time for a major edit/update and then it would be ready for kindling. Getting the cover art sorted is a real incentive to get moving, and JT's first draft last week was impressive - not how I'd have thought of doing it at all - which goes to prove that designers are worth the investment. I've been doing a bit of research on blogs, review sites and forums and covers are vitally important in getting a potential reader to get as far as a blurb or a click-through.

So watch this space. Edge of Dreams and its snazzy new cover will be up on kindle very shortly, followed in a few months by the sequel Flashpoint. Young adult contemporary fantasy, certified 100% vampire-and-werewolf-free. Not even any elves, faeries, wizards or dragons. And no zombies either. Although if a million people buy the books, I might be persuaded to write some into book 3...


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Violence in Literature

There's an ongoing discussion going on over at Soooz Says Stuff. This month's topic is Violence in Literature: When is Enough, Enough? There's a guest post up every day or so and it's generating some lively discussions. Today is my guest post, so feel free to hop over and join in!

Mermaid Magic!

Nothing whatsoever to do with writing, but I just found this on an old blog - proof that I have other creative talents!

I painted this on my daughter's bedroom wall when she was about 5 or 6 and wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. Took me about a week to do by drawing small squares on my picture and bigger ones on the wall and transferring the image bit by bit. In the fireplace was a dark green & sparkly grotto complete with seashells.

Daughter is 15 now and Ariel is long gone, replaced by purple and silver, mirrors and make-up. A shame really that I couldn't just roll it up and stick it on some other little girl's wall. My 4 year old niece would adore it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Anatomy of a Cover (or an idiot trying to use photoshop...)

I've been lucky so far. A talented friend did the cover for my short story collection and a professional cover designer did the jacket for my novel (with input from the wonderful Al Guthrie whose help was much appreciated).

I have a crime short story I wrote for a competition. I rather like it and there doesn't seem to be a huge market for shorts, so I thought it might be time to put a few single stories on kindle to generate some more interest in the novel. It turns out that the writing is the easy bit!

version 1



First off, I need an image. No problem - there are lots on google, aren't there? Well there are millions to search through and many have no known owners that I can find. A lot are tied down by copyright and creative commons licensing and it's such a minefield, I don't know where to start. I don't want to pay monthly fees for image downloads and I'm not very good at sifting through them all to find what I want.

So given that my short story is set in Liverpool, I thought I'd go and take my own photos. Hubby has a posh digital SLR and happens to work near Pier Head, so I sent him off on a mission to take me lots of photos of the Liver Birds, Pier Head, the Mersey Ferry and terminal etc. He came back with half a dozen Liver Birds.

Next I need software. I have an old copy of Photoshop that I bought some time ago (you can buy previous versions - mine is CS3 - quite cheaply when new versions are released). So I chucked the best photo in, cropped it a bit, resized it and added a title and author. I even managed to sample the colour of the Liver Bird and use that as the text colour. The result was version 1 - but the Liver Bird is so small, it will be invisible at thumbnail size (need to remember that anything shown on Amazon or used as a signature in forum posts etc will be *really* small, so the cover needs to be sharp with a lot of contrast and big type).

version 2
So I tried again. This time I cropped more of the image so the Liver Bird is bigger. This is an improvement, I think, although you don't get a sense of the sheer size of the building. Now you can clearly see the colour of the text matches the Liver Bird. I'm not sure what else I want to add to this image yet - might go and take some more photos of the ferry and I'm not sure where on earth I can find a royalty-free image of a rocket-propelled grenade (rpg) from as unfortunately I don't know anyone who can assist me there! Version 1 would be better to add secondary images to, but then the whole thing might look too complicated.

version 3
Version 3 and I've cropped the image so that the Liver Bird dominates the space. A different look again.

So what's next? Well I'm not fussed on the font. It needs to be something that's obviously not romancy-chick-lit, all the more so as the title itself doesn't say "crime" (it's a song title for those of you who don't know). I've exhausted the fonts within photoshop so I need to go hunt around the net for inspiration (and fonts seem as complicated as images...)

Sort the font, maybe add a couple of smaller images if I can work out how to do it without it looking tackily amateur. Format the story and upload it and I'm away!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Anti-Social Networking

Much as I hate to admit it, I'm middle-aged. In the 45-54 age bracket on forms (turning 40 was a breeze, but that 45-54 was a killer). I've worked in law-enforcement for all of my career and in IT for a large chunk of it. So back in the very early 1990s - if not the late 1980s - I had an email account. Back then, I don't recall the internet existing outside of academia, but there were a very few ISPs around that offered email accounts if you bought a large and clunky Amstrad dial-up modem card that you stuck in a slot in your pc and plugged your telephone line into. Then there was a choice of basically CIX and one or two others whose names I forget. Not only did I get an email address, with a nice off-line reader (necessary to avoid tying up the phone lines while reading/writing emails), but also a set of community forums where you could chat to other account holders in various groups of threads - much like a non-pictorial version of today's Facebook.

For anyone who is old enough and/or nerdy enough to remember all of this, I was jale@cix.whatever.co.uk and I mostly used to haunt the cult.tv threads where we discussed equally nerdy topics such as Star Wars. I recall a mass meet-up at somebody's house in Birmingham, where we watched lots of classic tv (this is before dvds and internet tv, remember - most of us didn't even have a video player), ate lots of food and generally had a good time. There must have been 50 or so people there (it was  a big house in Solihull), including an undercover journalist who promptly divulged the lot in the next day's national papers - claiming infringement of copyrights and public performances. 

But it shows the power of social networking 20 years ago. There were no other quick forms of communication - mobile phones had shoulder-bags to carry the battery and were strictly for the rich and businesses. Private telephones were still ruled by British Telecom and an expensive way to spend time. Stamps and letters still ruled the masses, but it's not the ideal way to communicate, especially with people you've never met in real life.

I moved on from CIX as the internet gradually grew and lost touch with a lot of the great guys (and girls) I met back then. And now we are spoiled for choice with Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and now Google+ coming on line (I don't get Google - cloud computing? I mean what if it's raining?). I may be 47, but I love being able to keep in touch with old friends and make so many new ones all over the world, especially when they are people I choose to communicate and interact with, by virtue of the things we have in common - shared interests, hobbies or values.

Is it anti-social to be sat at a computer rather than talking to real people in real-time? Where are these real people? I live in a small village and have a family. I don't really have any friends who live close enough to drop in on - and these days, it's not really done, is it? These days you never call unannounced "just for a chat and a drink" like we used to. That's sad. But then I have all these people at my fingertips. They might be online and all over the world - but they are real people too and I know many of them would be there for me if I needed them. I've seen how they respond to others in crisis, whether that's financial, earthquake, fire or other disaster.

And friends like that are hard to find anywhere.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

When Too Much Is (Still) Not Enough

Today I'm guest-blogging over at Steve Lockley's website. He has a different guest every day at the moment, and I think this month it's all women too. So if you want to know what us girls think about stuff, go check it out ...

Monday, 11 July 2011

To Plot or Not


I often get involved in online discussions (Facebook, Authonomy, UK Kindle Users Forum, wherever) about the merits of plotting a novel. Or not, as the case may be. I read posts where people detail the level at which they plan their writing – in notes, in synopses, on index cards, post-it notes, wallpaper above the desk. They outline their characters: What would Joe eat for breakfast? What sandwich does Sally prefer? If Wizard Beerbelly went to the Auld Tavern, what would he order to drink?

I am so jealous. I would love to be that organised – so in control of what I am doing. Or would I? I once wrote that one of my characters was scared. I had absolutely no idea why he was scared, but I knew it was important. So I wrote it in. Ten chapters or so later, I realised what it was he was scared of, and everything fell into place. I became aware of it when the character did. Lazy plotting or inspired genius? Maybe I won’t answer that one! But the point I am making is that I can’t actually write if I know too far in advance what is going to happen. I might have an idea of a scene coming up, or that somebody will discover something important, but generally the plot is unfolding as the characters live it. If I know what is going to happen, then the magic is gone and it all becomes a chore.

This doesn’t make life easy. I have written myself into more corners than I can remember and so I have lots of pieces of work on the go:
  • Young adult contemporary fantasy – Edge of Dreams – book 1 of a trilogy. No elves, wizards, demons or vampires. It’s finished but requires a light edit. This nearly got accepted by a one of the big guys once upon a time, but got bounced at an acquisitions meeting. It was then e-published by a small press a few years ago, but I now have the rights back and want to put it up on kindle.
  • Another YA fantasy – Flashpoint – book 2 of the trilogy which is nearly completed.
  • An as-yet-untitled follow-on novel to my kindled thriller Hamelin’s Child. About 18,000 words in.
  • Blue Flamingo – another dark thriller with a touch more of the supernatural and a touch less of the sex (so far, anyway). I’ve only written 3 chapters of this, despite some nagging by people who’ve read it, and have no idea of where it is going.
  • An adult fantasy Blood Ties, which I started writing about 20 years ago, under the mentoring of an editor from Orion. Of course, she left the company, I moved up North, real life happened etc etc. It’s 70,000 words done and is pretty damn good, but I just can’t summon up any enthusiasm to finish it!

So what should I do? I have ideas for other projects, snippets of scenes and characters, but I feel compelled to tidy up some of my loose ends before I unravel some more. And yet in the rest of my life I am structured and planned to the point of OCD. I make lists of my lists, I tick things off, I finish everything I start and on deadline. Why can’t I apply this mentality to my writing? I need to be orderly, organised, finish all these outstanding bits and pieces and not leave my poor characters in a limbo lasting decades! But I don't want to lose the sheer excitement of writing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, of discovering the story with my characters, having them whisper in my ear and tell me things they've just found out. So do I go with my thriller branding or go back to my fantasy roots? Both ways I can gain – either way I will lose something.

All suggestions welcome!