Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead will be celebrating Robert Burns and her own poetry in a live broadcast to children around the world during a special Robert Burns celebration on Thursday 26 January at 11am. The Scottish Friendly Meet Our Authors Special Event, run by Scottish Book Trust, will be streamed live from BBC Scotland in Glasgow and available after to watch again for free from the Scottish Book Trust website. The broadcast will be most suited to children aged 9-16 and any fan of Scottish poetry.
You can watch the event by following this link: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors-live-with-liz-lochhead
Previous Scottish Book Trust events have featured authors such as Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo, Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond and many more. You can stream or download any of these events for free here: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/childrens-authors-live/2010-11
Ben Hatch is the author of the fantastically funny and entertaining ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’, a very honest account of the five months he, his wife and two very young children spent driving eight thousand miles around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra, visiting several attractions a day and staying in a different hotel each night. My review can be found at: http://www.bookwormink.co.uk/2/post/2011/11/review-are-we-nearly-there-yet-by-ben-hatch.html When did you begin writing professionally? I submitted a sketch to the BBC Radio Comedy Series Weekending about the Gulf War when I was about 24. That was the first time I was paid for writing anything. I never cashed the cheque, I was so proud of it. £32. Ironically my dad had been the first ever producer of this show. That made it doubly special, particularly because in competition with me (we were always very competitive), he started submitting his own anonymous sketches to them after that. In terms of creative professional writing I finished my first novel aged 30. Are you currently working on a new project? I’m working on a follow up to Are We Nearly There Yet? It’s about a 10,000 mile road-trip around France. Where do you write best? I don’t think there is a best place for me. A best time is in the mornings though. I like to start about 6am before the kids are up demanding piggy backs to breakfast. For some reason every day for the three years I have had to give them piggybacks to breakfast. They won’t come downstairs otherwise. They sit on the step shouting, “PIGGYBACK!” I feel quite smug at breakfast having already done a few hundred words. The adventures your book recounts were in aid of a travel guide, when did you decide to write ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’? About a year and a bit ago. We’d just written a guidebook about family-friendly attractions in the UK. My editor for the guidebook company, a lovely guy, had become so fed with having to chop out all the funny stories and anecdotes I was trying to lever into the guidebook, he introduced me to my current editor at Summersdale, who suggested I write about our experiences in a travelogue. Have you and your family got any similar trips planned for the future? We’d love to drive around Australia or America and do the same thing. I drove across the states – coast to coast - with my wife Dinah before we had kids but it was so rushed when we reached the Grand Canyon, I stayed in the car and kept the car engine running while my wife got out and peered over the rim. I’d like to do it properly this time. How do you publicise your work? Mainly through remorseless self-promotion on twitter. I’m with a small publisher with a very limited budget. They’re very lovely but they can’t hype me like other publishers can with their authors. Basically it’s just me and tweetdeck. Actually that’s a lie, I haven’t got tweetdeck. I’ve heard of tweetdeck. I’m not sure what it is though. I’m also going to be doing a few signings over the coming weeks. I’ve not done one before. I’m a bit nervous actually it’ll be just be me sat there behind a pile of books in Hitchin Waterstones on my own like Alan Partridge. Are you pleased with how your book has been received? Very pleased yes. I’ve had some wonderful responses. John Cleese read it and it made him laugh. It’s been featured on the Wogan Weekend Radio Show, is currently being serialised in the Telegraph and it was a Radio 2 pick of 2011. The book was even voted the No1 favourite kindle Read of 2011 by Amazon Customers. Even my daughter has been swept along in the hype. She’s insisting I read it to her at bedtime. It’s the first book she’s ever read without a fairy picture on the front, I think. I do have to screen some sections and change a few choice words and it is a little embarrassing. We had a babysitter the other night and my wife, anxious that I not appear conceited, took the book from her room in case “Keely thinks you’re MAKING her read it, Ben.” Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? Read a lot, stick at it, don’t be afraid of rejection, and marry an understanding partner. Which author had the greatest influence on you as a child? JD Salinger. It was after reading Catcher in the Rye that I wanted to become a writer. The first person narrative was so direct, and Holden, the main character was so engaging, it made me think about literature completely differently. Before this I’d only read thrillers full of needless details about the calibre of gun someone was holding. Or else period pieces where the women fuss around in bustles having hot flushes over their needlework. This book seemed like real life, real life but with a very cool, comic twist. Finally, and most importantly, you’ve lost your wallet, who do you enlist to help you find it, Poirot or Miss Marple? That’s easy because if I said anything other than Poiror the in-laws would murder me. My mother and father in law LOVE Poirot. They come to stay every Christmas and within 5 minutes of arrival, even before they’ve unpacked and said hello to the kids, they’re in the living room, a fire on, the door shut to keep everyone else out, lost in a Poirot on some ITV 3 type station. They can find a Poirot on at any given time of the day. At Christmas they watched 5 Poirots. For some reason they hate Marple. It’s Poirot or die with them. Ben Hatch is on Twitter as @BenHatch and ‘Are We Nearly There Yet?’ is available on Kindle for the bargain price of 99p.
The notion that you could write the novel you wanted to read, was first implanted in me by my older sister. Having exhausted the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer, she decided to write her own. As a young teenager I too loved to read those Heyer romances, but as I matured my own writing settled into a more contemporary style, and dwelt in a darker, seedier world - a world I had no experience of. I was a lazy and innocent middle-class teenager; I had to rely entirely upon imagination and, unsurprisingly, never finished anything. I never took seriously the idea of writing as a profession. After all, writers were clever, educated people. I was neither. I was not a star pupil at school. I wasn’t even particularly outstanding in English. I now realise that although I am on the mild end of the spectrum, I am almost certainly dyslexic. The only subject I unfailingly got good marks for was art. So I knew what I was going to be. I left school at 16, with just enough exam passes to go on to art-college.
My career was in advertising, where I worked as an illustrator. When I stopped work to have my son, I wanted something I could do at home. Believing it would be easy, I started writing a romance for Mills & Boon. I may have been misguided, but at least I finished that book. My rejection from Mills & Boon swiftly followed, but undeterred I continued to send my manuscript of ‘Just Before Dawn’, one at a time, to a list of publishers. In hindsight I find it astonishing that within four months of writing ‘the end’, I had interest from a new publisher. It was the eighth I tried.
At the time characterised as the “thinking woman’s Mills & Boon”, ‘Love Stories’ was a one woman band. Anne Dewe was looking for un-clichéd stories about women and relationships, with a love-theme at their core which need not be conventionally romantic. My book fitted the bill. Just Before Dawn went through its fair share of editing before publication. Now, feeling full of confidence, I let my hair down and wrote the novel of my heart. Desires & Dreams, also published by Love Stories, revisited the darker world of my teenage imagination. In it I subverted the ‘romance’ stereotypes. I was allowed to design my own covers.
It was the end of an era when publishing was a gentlemanly profession; the premises would be in the old parts of London - dark dusty offices, accessed by many flights of stairs, or those old clanky lifts with concertina metal doors - on the top floors of rabbit-warren buildings. Publishers then were relatively small concerns, they were in the business for the love of books. They were willing to bring writers on and nurture them, allowing them to find their voice and their readership. But it was also a time when the bestseller list was filled with brick-sized block-busters, which sold in shed-loads. Suddenly publishing was ‘hot’. There were amalgamations, flotations and takeovers, and what had been small UK based concerns became vast international companies. The men and women who had been in the business for love not money were either eased out of this brave new world or they were sidelined and had to fight their corner against the real power in the companies, the moneymen. What became important in all this was not the writer, but the bottom line. My own publisher shut up shop after a few years of battering her head against brick walls. She couldn’t get the marketing, promotion or distribution necessary for the success of her business or her writers.
And so started the next phase of my life. The need to find a new publisher coincided with my move from Surrey to Gloucestershire. For a while I did what I’d done in the past - sending the complete manuscript to publishers, but back it would come, with only the first few pages riffled, and with the advice to find a literary agent. Although I soon learned the lesson of only submitting the first 3 chapters + synopsis to a researched list of likely agents, it did not produce the result I hoped for. That I was a published author held no sway; quite the reverse I suspect. My association with a failed publisher looked more like a millstone. I began to accept that the world had changed and I went from complacency to depression.
Since those days, as we all know, the business of publishing has continued to change and not necessarily for the better. With the loss of the net book agreement, books could and were being discounted to the point where very little profit was being made for anyone other than Amazon, or the supermarkets, businesses that are able either to make their profit from the vast quantities sold, or that can regard the top ten paperbacks as loss leaders. Poor authors are the smallest cog in the wheel, it seems. Even well established writers have to keep up their sales figures, book after book. It has become ever harder for the new writer - which, to all intents and purposes, is what I am - to win a contract. Publishers become increasingly risk averse, even more focused on the bottom line, even more determined to find the next Sophie Kinsella or the next celebrity to hang a book on. I felt that I was ploughing a lonely furrow. I didn’t want to be the next anyone. I wanted to be the first Gilli Allan.
I was already considering whether there might be a benefit for me with the advent of the E-book, when my husband bought me a Kindle, for Christmas, 2010. I had heard about other writers self-publishing their back-list to Amazon Kindle. I had a back catalogue on which all rights had reverted a long time ago, so I began to look into how to do this. There was a problem, however. I’d written those books on an old fashioned ‘sit up and beg’ Olivetti. To convert them into files on my PC I would need to scan them into editable text, but I don’t have an OCR programme. Not an insurmountable problem but, on reflection, wouldn’t those two books be terribly old fashioned? These days, even a ‘contemporary’ story written 5 years ago can seem out of date
I then discovered there was nothing to stop writers self-publishing original work through Kindle Direct Publishing. I knew people who had done this. Having just received yet another, and to my mind ‘last chance saloon’ rejection for my book TORN - a book I love and really believe in - I decided that the only way I could share it with the rest of the world would be through self-publishing. I looked up the KDP instructions but found them incomprehensible. Even a programme called Scrivener, which I’d heard could be used as a tool to self-E-publish, required an understanding of HTML code. None of it made any sense to me. My grumbles on ROMNA - the Romantic Novelists’ Association e-loop - prompted several helpful replies. The source book didn’t need to be in HTML, I was told. Amazon-Kindle will publish, as long as the text is in the proper format, with automatic page-breaks inserted at chapter ends, automatic indents set up, and a justified page layout. The advice included instructions for creating a cover.
It took me over a month to delete the old formatting and reformat as instructed. I guessed there were methods of doing this automatically, but remember I am a technophobe AND dyslexic, so I did it line by line. And then I had to check it all. Eventually I believed I’d removed all the old formatting from my text and reformatted it all, as instructed. I created a copy-write page, an acknowledgements page and a dedication to my son. Last but not least I created my cover. This was fun, even though I only have the basic MS Paint programme. I used my own photograph, cropping it and altering the colours. I added the lettering in ‘paint’, and then saved to ‘my pictures’ library.
Following the advice I’d been given I then prepared the cover. It had to be saved as a PDF. When it opened in my ‘Adobe reader’, I copied the image and pasted it into the ‘paint’ programme. I needed to right-click to remove the selection rectangle, and saved it as a JPEG. I then gave the file a unique name which I could identify when browsing for it. Naming the correct file was very important as, by this time I’d created many inferior versions, and I’m easily muddled. There was a very real danger of uploading the wrong one unless I was very careful.
The KDP Amazon site http://kdp.amazon.com/ where you upload your book, is self-explanatory, even for me. But in typical dyslexic fashion, I managed to miss a stage or two, and clicked ‘PUBLISH’ too soon. When TORN went ‘Live’ on April 1st, 2011, I was tremendously excited – until I discovered that the cover image on Amazon was miniscule, the price was too high (I’d not allowed for VAT), the downloaded book had no cover attached to it, and the formatting was all over the place! I unpublished.
After my corrections, I uploaded again – previewing the book this time. I’d managed to attach the cover on this occasion, but the layout remained unacceptably erratic. It seemed that I had either not stripped out all of the old formatting, as I thought I had, and/or the book should have been converted to HTML after all. After many frustrating hours sourcing free HTML conversion programmes to download, and failing to get any of them to work, I complained to ROMNA again. I had been typically stupid. Saving work in HTML is easy with Word7. If you click ‘Save As’, then choose the ‘Webpage’ option, this creates an HTML version of your document. So far so good, but in this format my book would not upload to Kindle with the cover attached!
I won’t describe every subsequent trauma. Suffice to say, the peerless Freda Lightfoot, multi-published member of the RNA, came to my rescue, again through another appeal to ROMNA. There are two free downloads called MobipocketCreator and MobipocketReader. The first of these programmes would put my HTML text together with my cover and ‘build’ it into a book. The second would allow me to look at the finished product before going further. Then, when I returned to my Kindle page and browsed my PC for the correct file, she told me I would find it in ‘My Publications’, in the Documents Library. True to her word, there it was! The named folder contained 4 files. I selected the PRC file and uploaded it to Kindle, where I previewed it again, before clicking ‘publish’. Success.
Kindle is not the only e-reader available, of course, and now that I had the bit between my teeth, I decided to publish to Smashwords, which allows the downloading of your book to some of these alternative devices. In many ways, I wish I had done this before the KDP experience. The instructions for formatting a book for uploading to Smashwords are longer, but are much more simply expressed. The explanations are stage by stage, with images of the computer page you will need to be on and what or where you need to tick or untick - for someone like me, invaluable. As I still wasn’t entirely happy with the way my book looked on Kindle - the formatting was still a bit irregular and idiosynchratic in places - I actually re-uploaded to KDP once I had put my book through the Smashwords process. I now feel like a professional ‘E-publisher’. One of the symptoms of dyslexia, however, is a poor memory, and I only hope I can remember what to do next time!
Of course, publication is only the beginning of the process of getting your book to the public. Selling it is a whole different ball-game. It would require another article to describe how I try to raise the profile of TORN above the myriad other e-books available. It is slow and time consuming, and you have to train yourself to be brazen.
I cannot follow any kind of a formula in my writing, which is probably why I have remained unpublished since 1987. Love may be the engine of the plot (not that my characters are necessarily aware of this) but I try not to romanticise. TORN is a contemporary story, which faces up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships. Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. You don't always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you're in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting......
Gilli's third book 'Torn' can be found on Amazon and Smashwords:
Stella Stafford is the author of the very English murder mystery ‘Did Anyone Die?’, the first in her Little Wychwell Mystery series. My review of ‘Did Anyone Die?’ can be found at: http://bookwormink.co.uk/2/post/2011/11/review-did-anyone-die-by-stella-stafford.html So Stella, what started you writing and is it something you always wanted to do? I have written for pleasure and amusement ever since I could do so. Quite recently I found a little book for children that I wrote by hand when I was 5. It wasn’t very good but then I was five! But I have never written a full length novel intended for adults until I wrote “Did Anyone Die?” Do you write full-time or do you have another career? I suddenly found myself with time to write ‘Did Anyone Die?’ because I had given up work to look after a disabled relative. After two years being a carer my relative died. So for the last year I have had much more time for writing and I suppose you could describe it as my full time occupation. However I think of it as a very enjoyable hobby. Although I don’t have another regular career at present I do a lot of things that are not writing, like voluntary work and singing. I am also a perpetual student, I am nearly always taking a course of some sort. (I also have a husband and children!) Describe your typical writing day. I usually compose the next section that I am going to write while I am walking in the countryside, I write the whole thing in my head, descriptions, dialogue, everything. I walk for at least an hour, usually longer, in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. When I get back in it’s a rush to get to the computer and type it all up before anything interrupts me. Sometimes I grab a sheet of paper and scribble down a short summary before I start typing. My subconscious writes the plots for me, its ideas are much better than the original vague plot that my conscious produces before I begin writing each novel. My characters, who are all very strong minded, voice the thoughts of my subconscious. They all argue with me about what they were supposed to do and even make me re-write whole sections. They are always right and I have to agree with them. What inspired you to write ‘Did Anyone Die?’ My disabled relative loved reading and read around twenty books a week but wouldn’t re-read the same book. The local library were brilliant at finding and supplying books but it was getting difficult to find enough and so I decided to start writing suitable books myself. This was, on reflection, obviously ridiculous as it takes far longer to write a book than it does to read it. But it seemed like a bright idea at the time. Once I had begun to write, however, the novels and characters became part of my own life and the original reason why I had started writing became irrelevant. I write because I find writing enjoyable in the same way that I find reading books that other people have written enjoyable. I am pleased when my books are published but I would enjoy writing them just as much if this never happened. The Little Wychwell Mystery books are set in Oxfordshire and Oxford because this is the world in which I live and when I started writing ‘Did Anyone Die?’ I seemed to remember hearing a piece of advice that you should write about ‘what you know’. However I have just completed my first science fiction book which is about a world that definitely doesn’t exist and has no connection with my own life. What projects are you working on now?
The second Little Wychwell Mystery, the sequel to ‘Did Anyone Die?’, which is called ‘A Very Quiet Guest’,
Is being published in May so I am still involved in reading final proofs for that.
I am currently writing the fifth Little Wychwell mystery at the minute. I have recently finished writing my first science fiction book.
I have just popped a rather ad hoc book called Nature Notes and Other Musings 2011 on to Kindle, this is an edited version of my nature tweets from last year.
I have also just started writing poetry again, I had some poetry
published when the children were small. How do you publicise your work?
This is the part of being an author at which I am truly terrible!
I use Twitter and Facebook because my publishers advised me to do so and because, since I started using both of them
in a rather grumbly way, I have found what a wonderful supportive community exists on both of them.
I do tweet and FB post adverts for my books from time to time but I still feel rather embarrassed about doing so.
I was brought up to believe that ‘self praise is no recommendation’ and I find this concept very hard to shake off.
I have a book Facebook page and an author website.
I very much appreciate sites like Bookworm Ink who are kind enough to review my book for me or to interview me! Do you have any advice for aspiring authors? Enjoy writing and love it for its own sake!
Other than your own, what’s your favourite work of fiction?
I have such a lot of very favourite books! It would be very hard to choose just one.
I love classic authors like Dickens, Tolstoy, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Poe, the Brontes, Leroux, Elizabeth Gaskell….. But I also enjoy modern authors like Jasper Fforde, Michael Ondaatje, Yan Martel, Umberto Eco, John Wyndham, Gabriel Garcia Marquez….. If I want to read something lighter I really enjoy Georgette Heyer.
I quite often choose to read non-fiction, especially travel books. Which author had the greatest influence on you as a child? When I was a child I still preferred reading classic books so my favourite authors were Laura Ingalls Wilder, Elinor M Brent Dyer, Elizabeth Nesbit and Noel Streatfield. Finally, and most importantly, you’ve lost your wallet, who do you enlist to help you find it, Poirot or Miss Marple? I wouldn’t want to enlist either of them as I would almost certainly finish up dead, a trail of further murders usually happen around them before they solve the very first mystery. I think I would rather enlist Sherlock Holmes or Inspector Maigret. But if I have to choose Miss Marple or Poirot I would prefer Poirot parce qu’il est très charmant! Stella Stafford’s webpage is www.stellas-home.co.uk. She can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Did-Anyone-Die-by-Stella-Stafford/221583511185270 and her Twitter id is @stellastafford