The London Book Fair 2012 – Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?

Hands shaking with excitement, I was too busy listening to take a decent picture! 🙂

This photo from ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ panel discussion with Unbound Books, and authors Nick Harkaway, Robert Llewellyn, Ilana Fox and Salena Godden – definitely my highlight of the event, for entertainment value as well as insights onto the what’s going on in the hearts and minds of authors, in the current publishing climate. More on that later…

A bit late to the ‘write-up the LBF12’ blog party – I’ve been so busy since. I was at the London Book Fair on Tuesday 17th, this year with Sophie Neville, who had never been before.

You could barely get out of the train station, before people were handing you flyers about books. And these weren’t just indie authors – it seemed that even the big leagues were going out of their way to snag readers, with flyers and promotional copies.

This was cool, because Sophie also had a bagful of postcards she wanted to give out.

“You can tell I used to be a promotions girl, can’t you?” she joked, as we camped out by the HarperCollins stand (they had a comfy seat free), while she accosted passers-by with her British upper-class charm, and I schmoozed with folk wanting help and advice from me on formatting for Kindle. I told her this was the wrong way around, Sophie being the celebrity, and doing all the work. But she was enjoying herself too much not to do it.

I’d never have dragged her away, but The Daily Mail rang her to talk for 45 minutes about her book, Funnily Enough, and the boat Swallow, from Swallows and Amazons. (See the article on Richard Kay’s Daily Mail page here).

So while she was talking, still perched by the lovely HarperCollins, I met the even more lovely Clive Boutle, of Francis Boutle Publishing. Clive had just been speaking at a talk on translations. Francis Boutle publish English translations of works in endangered European languages, including Manx, Gaelic, Welsh, Catalan, and Occitan. While waiting for his next meeting, he got to chat with me, about what constitutes a great bar in Barcelona, and what constitutes a bad translation into English. The kind of thing you wouldn’t want turning up in another Funny Ha Ha, and Funny Peculiar. (It turned out we’d both read the Denys Parsons book of silly news headlines and signage – I remember hiding it in the cover of Lord of the Flies at school, and anything dull about grammar). While we were talking, I recalled the episode of Q.I, where they discussed the ancient parrot who was the only known speaker of a dead language from the depths of South America. (So if you want to preserve an endangered language and keep it going into the next century, teach an Amazonian Grey parrot to speak it!)

We also talked about the work of the translator – the costs, the role they play – and that a translator is not considered to be ‘the author’ of the original work being translated, in intellectual property terms. They are paid highly for their job role, and recognised as the translator, but are no more credited for the original piece than, for example, a translator of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books into French. Clive said that translation is usually the most expensive part of publishing a book in a new language.

In other words, anyone wondering what sort of job roles in publishing are in demand, and for a good wage now, you’d do worse than having excellent foreign language skills, and going into translation.

Earlier in the day, I’d left Sophie researching colour illustrated print-on-demand costs with FastPrint, and gone off on my own mission to research Science Fiction in China at one of the other seminars. I don’t think I’ll quite make it to the level of Mandarin Chinese translator (just recognising the prefixes and a few verbs nowadays, at native speaker speed – I must revise!) but they had simultaneous radio translation, which was more than impressively done, the real-time translators got a hearty round of applause from both the Chinese and English-speaking audience. Science Fiction in China featured authors who worked their way up through University student papers and magazines in the genre, sometimes publishing their own, before gaining market recognition and awards through specific publications. More Chinese science fiction is now being translated into English. Not by me yet, I have to add. Unless you only want to read about the easy acquisition of fizzy drinks, and the location of the Ladies’ Toilets in a bar.

Sophie’s chat with Richard Kay’s office at The Daily Mail finally concluded, and we went to grab a cup of tea. At one of the coffee outlets, we happened upon a nice young lady from Scholastic Books grabbing a coffee-break, here at LBF12 with their Hunger Games Trilogy phenomenon.

I used to read Scholastic’s earlier Point Horror imprint, and actually submitted my first book, Living Hell, to Point Horror in 1996, after finally getting it back from PanMacmillan, who’d had it for three years, and I’d submitted a sequel to them on request (long story short – the awesome Simon Spanton, who was overseeing it at the time, left PanMac and couldn’t fit both epics up his jumper, LOL). So that was very spooky. But I remembered Point Horror and Goosebumps, and discussed how Scholastic had really been at the forefront of the current YA paranormal market, with their earliest Stephen-King-style thrillers, and horror stories for teens. Stephen King meets Scooby Doo – great stuff, as I recall.

But as I said, the highlight for me was ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’

Sophie would have happily continued networking (next year I think I’m going to have to get her a marketing stand of her very own), but I dragged her along to this one, and it provided a hugely valuable insight. Published authors, including high-profile ones, now want more input into their work, and want to offer more interaction to the readers. Which was funny, because I’d just designed a Kindle ebook edition to do exactly that, with my interactive, reader-preference enabled Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition.

And as Robert Llewellyn said, you don’t want to send off your painstakingly re-read and edited manuscript off into the unknown of a major publishing house machine, trusting implicitly that all is well, and get back your first publisher proof copy – to find that they have helpfully inserted their standard typographical errors. Usually at the optimum Funny Ha Ha, Funny Peculiar settings.

I recall Sir Terry Pratchett saying something very similar once, at a talk he was giving at the Barbican in London many years ago, while DS-10 enjoyed her tiny self immensely and squealed delightedly in the baby-sling, loud enough for even Sir Terry himself to hear and crack a joke about. We didn’t get kicked out in the end, for which I’m eternally grateful (although we’d have been in more trouble, most likely, for DS-10 discovering the delight of reaching into other people’s pockets if they stood too close to her on my lap, while travelling that day on the London Underground). Sir Terry said at the end of his talk, on world-building in SF and fantasy fiction, that we could all look forward to his next book at the time “Once it has gone to the publisher to have all the spelling errors put in.” Not an unusual phenomenon, I’m starting to realise. It’s not just you, Robert – you’re in good company! 😉

The subject this year at ‘Has Anyone Spoken to the Author?’ also covered the keeping up with reader expectations and attention span, in the current handheld electronic reading device environment. How long can you keep a reader’s attention, before they want to go off and look at their own Twitter? Or blog? Or Facebook? What sort of interactive, bonus material provisions can you make for the readers?

I’d discussed this at the London Book Fair last year with Jason Kingsley of Rebellion (see earlier post ‘Let’s Cut to the Chase…’), and had included a screenplay as bonus material in one of the even earlier ebook editions of mine – Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition. So it was interesting to hear that this is still a hot topic, which authors and publishers want to definitively crack.

Ilana Fox, in particular, wants to make her character’s lives more accessible to the readers, and I won’t give the game away, but she has big plans for her next book in that respect. It looks like being an exciting time in the coming years, for both readers and writers.

Salena Godden finished the talk with a stand-up of fantastic ‘slam poetry’ about ‘expectations’ – highs and lows… and lower… and lower… As writers, we all feel that at some point. Very funny, and so appropriate!

Great end to the day. I went to say congratulations afterwards to all of the panellists, and handed out my own cards, to which I’d added information about the Cut to the Chase edition. Before running away for a much-needed drink of water, with all of Sophie Neville’s spare change in my jeans pocket.

I had to, or I’d have had a Wayne’s World I’m-Not-Worthy moment. Such amazing, entertaining, and lovely people.

Sophie couldn’t be dragged away at the end, but stayed at LBF12 to do a bit more networking, and to visit her friend from the biggest Christian bookshop in London. It was a stroke of luck that she did pay a visit, because the girl took all of her print copies that she had on her, to sell there. A good day out, all told.

Looking forward to next year already 🙂

L xxxx

Advertisements

50 Shades of Gray Matter: A Zombie Parody ~ Chapter One (Extended)

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a girl. That’s a relief. A girl with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m brushing it to check – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my hair at the ungodly hour of ten a.m. How dare she go for her abortion today, and pack me off instead to do her media studies homework? Couldn’t she have had her termination some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Crispin Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. He’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring his office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Miss Whatsername, my housemate, says that she’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the body farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

She’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. He’ll have changed so much the next time I see him…

I leave Whatserface, my best friend, packing her nightdress for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some sanitary towels,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my father’s trusty bullet-proof Hummer in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blonde is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Mr. Crispin Dry,” I announce. “I’m Sarah Bellum. Miss Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text him,” says Miss Brain-Dead, picking up her phone. “Have a seat.”

She eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded Pigalle pumps and Chanel suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“He’s on his way down,” she says, after a moment. She reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest she hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed Chanel.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see him.

The black suit. The pallor of his skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Crispin Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Miss… Bellllummmm,” he moans softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting his ragged cuticles, and the long, gray, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”

I grasp his outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. His jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and his upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” He gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and he turns to glare at the receptionist. She cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear him emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as he holds the door open, and beckons, his head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”

How he rolls my name around his mouth makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of his footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”

His voice is like sandpaper being rasped over a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my dear Mr. Wheelie-Bin…

His arm extends past me to swipe his security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of his moss-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” he practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blonde is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Debbie,” Mr. Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in his voice? “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”

Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Miss Brain-Dead Mark II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Crispin Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with his rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.

“My office…” he hisses, swiping his security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” he murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom car bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” he confides in a husky voice. “Sit.”

I plant my quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in his office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Crispin Dry watches me, calculatingly. He circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” He moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on his lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” His hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as his clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses he supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

He brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way he arranges himself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. He’s so gay…the way he’s fidgeting his earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking his knee with his other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of gay…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” he says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” His mouth twitches in the corner, and his black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if he can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at his curt nod. Definitely gay. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” he assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up his argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” he muses, his eyes still faintly entertained, his head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Miss Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that his eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at him, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. He is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of his eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of his jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. His square shoulders in that black suit make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? He’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of him within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and he has a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

He indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” he confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

His face darkens. He looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

He puts his finger to his lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

He’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another gay eccentric. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”

Outside the window behind him, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, he produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with him. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” he asks in turn, rising out of his seat. For the first time I notice how tall and manly he is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” he reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”

His voice is driving me crazy. And his hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blonde Mark II.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blonde the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” he agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”

I run to the Hummer in my pointy Pigalle pumps, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside his office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare he hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare he make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is his gray and amused, sardonic and demonically attractive face.

See the movie ‘Secretary’ (trailer above) for the original Mr. Grey, if copyright law is what lights your candle… and you may find a few more movie tributes, amongst those in the following zombie parody… 🙂

To read on, see the opening chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Also available on Smashwords, for all other devices and online reading

~ Only 77p (0.99c) ~

Fifty Shades of Grey Matter ~ a zombie parody

Chapter One.

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a girl. That’s a relief. A girl with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m brushing it to check – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my hair at the ungodly hour of ten a.m. How dare she go for her abortion today, and pack me off instead to do her media studies homework? Couldn’t she have had her termination some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Crispin Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. He’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring his office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your request is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Miss Whatsername, my housemate, says that she’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the body farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

She’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. He’ll have changed so much the next time I see him…

I leave Whatserface, my best friend, packing her nightdress for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some sanitary towels,” I concede, and slam the front door.

 *****

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my father’s trusty bullet-proof Hummer in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial estate, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blonde is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Mr. Crispin Dry,” I announce. “I’m Sarah Bellum. Miss Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text him,” says Miss Brain-Dead, picking up her phone. “Have a seat.”

She eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded Pigalle pumps and Chanel suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“He’s on his way down,” she says, after a moment. She reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest she hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed Chanel.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see him.

The black suit. The pallor of his skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Crispin Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Miss… Bellllummmm,” he moans softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

To read on, the first chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

Funnily Enough…

The Kindle bestseller Funnily Enough, by the awesome Sophie Neville 🙂

Here’s how the latest bestseller happened to find its way onto Kindle in the first place…

In spring 2011, a conventional English rose of a lady popped down to her local photocopy and printer outlet, to have one of her screenplays bound. The intrepid Sophie Neville, actress, writer, charity-founder, explorer of darkest Africa, had written among other things waiting in her bottom drawer, a true-life, historical wartime romance based in Tanzania. She started to chat about it to the helpful young man at the counter.

The young man said, “My sister writes as well. Screenplays and books. She’s just published some on Amazon.”

Intrigued, Sophie scribbled out her telephone number and directions to her house.

These subsequently found their way to me, early one morning, when my Mum came over to feed her cat, who has adopted my front garden as his permanent pied-a-terre. My Mum told me I have to ring this woman, who is a local film producer and wants to see my screenplay.

Having finally found Sophie’s house, which wasn’t easy (Sophie usually draws far better maps, but in this case I ended up at the ferry port first), we met for the first time. Her house at the time was more of a work-in-progress than her writing. She had just gutted out the bijou manor-style house for a renovation, and plastic was still covering the structure where the conservatory would be. She and her husband were camped out in the annexe for the duration.

We had a cup of tea and a rather nice chat. It turned out that Sophie was the Sophie Neville who played ‘Titty’ from Swallows and Amazons, which I had probably seen at some point, between The Great Escape and The Railway Children in distant holiday-TV memory. And she was interested in reading my screenplay about bouncers, because she had a friend in the business who was developing some concept for TV about female personal security. Having been in security work as my main job for some time previously, including before and after SIA licensing, she wanted to know what my insights were.

So we did a read swap. She went off to read Heavy Duty and some first proof copies of Death & The City, and I went off to read Makorongo’s War. I quite enjoyed it. Not my usual subject matter, but it was good writing, and I could see it working well as a film.

In turn, Sophie liked Heavy Duty, and wanted to see more material. She also loved Death & The City, and was a useful spare pair of eyes to have when proof-reading. She started talking about me making supporting trailers for my script, and asking if I would write a screenplay of the novel. But having done producing myself previously, I did say I’d only work on further adaptation of my work if a company optioned it, and I was paid to do so as part of a contractual agreement. I’ve had a go in my own time at playing around with this sort of thing, but not at the request of anyone else. If someone else wants it for their own future purposes, they can pay for it 😉

Anyway, back to Sophie. Sophie had only one old out-of-date website, for her artwork, and an IMdB page. What concerned her was that if Will Smith was handed a copy of Makorongo, and he Googled her, he’d find a hundred other Sophie Nevilles, mostly young ladies in schoolgirl fancy dress on Facebook.

I remember the first time I sat at her computer, and she Googled herself on Images. She pointed at all these grinning photographs of young women on birthdays and hen nights, and asked me: “How do I get rid of all these girls, who are appearing here instead of me?”

Ahem… okay, well, I just write fiction about hit-men, I don’t think she could afford that sort of intervention… it’s all a bit Terminator when you think about it. But that’s not what she meant, of course. She wanted to have her photographs appearing in the top matches. The problem was, she only had about three photographs of herself online. So, we started talking about WordPress, and Twitter, and Youtube, and blog pages, where she could add images that would start appearing in a Google search – they can’t appear if they don’t exist in cyber-space.

And she also wanted to publish her diaries and letters, which she’d had typed up for some time, and edited, and even at one point had an agent some years ago, until he passed away – hopefully not the subject of Googling with extreme prejudice. So I introduced her to the wonders of KDP, Createspace, Lulu, OpenOffice, and Authonomy.

It took a while, as I found Sophie likes the socialising, networking and marketing part more than the technical – so it was me ranting at the computer and scanner and various uploaders. Having taken her through the process of setting up pages on WordPress, she entered her bio, some photographs, and some links to her Facebook and Twitter and IMdB, and then asked me how you got people to look at it.

“Well, you have to start writing posts on it.”

“I did one. And those girls are still appearing in Google Images. How do I remove them?”

*Cough* Okay. So I explained about continuing to add posts and images to a WordPress blog, essentially what a blog entails, with interesting anecdotes, stuff you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Basically, more posts = more matches to your name in Google. You can’t just ‘have other matches removed’ – as if they’re something you can delete from a folder in your own hard drive – but you can add more of your own.

And then she’d take me to look at the main house (still in progress) and ask me where the best place to put a stove island and an extractor hood was. Usually in the kitchen, I find.

So she started writing about being in Swallows and Amazons. And not just a little – she had a lot to write about. She’d kept her diaries from 1973, and also had her father’s own behind-the-scenes footage which could be edited into Youtube clips. Her memory is so good, within a short time followers were flocking to read about the filming that took place on Coniston Water, in real boats, and where the cast and crew hung out, what they got up to, and what else they went on to work in. Half of the technical crew seem to have won Oscars since, working on films like The King’s Speech.

But I have to say, the best stuff doesn’t make it onto the blog. The best stuff comes out while she’s sitting next to me, maybe while I’m cutting footage of the crew eating lunch, and suddenly I’ll hear about who wasn’t really there as part of ‘Wardrobe’ at all. A bit of extra-curricular seamstressing, maybe… I recall her laughing and pointing at a clip saying “How did he get hold of a boat? He was in charge of the chemical toilet. He told all the girls on the set that he was the producer!”

Shortly, due to the matches she was creating by her regular posts and media, more matches for Sophie began appearing in Google searches, and she stopped worrying about what Will Smith would think. The occasional Facebook girl would pop up, but not enough to ask me any more awkwardly-worded questions about displacing them 🙂

In the meantime, we were formatting Funnily Enough, her diary from 1991, when she arrived home from South Africa to work for the BBC, and abruptly collapsed with CFS. But instead of a mis-lit about illness, it’s a British romp of true-life, about an English upper-class family all working in television and film (including their famous pets), while their adult daughter returns home to bed for ten months, unable to do much more than watch the pratfalls of everyone passing through, praying for God to see her through to health and sanity again.

I loved it, and I’m neither a true-life or religious reader. My first novel was about teenage blackmailers and Satanists, but Sophie and I share the same sense of the satirical, so I could see immediately why she enjoyed Death & The City on reading the first draft.

There were a few typographical issues and edits, but it was pretty much ready to publish, once the file was set up with her illustrations included (colour for the Kindle, if your app is on a colour screen). I would occasionally query things, like for example, a dog’s rather questionable name…

“Was ‘Dogger’ really that dog’s name?”

“Yes, why?”

“Do you know what ‘dogging’ means…?”

“No, what?”

And then I would tell her. And she would laugh. “Oooh – we have to leave it in!”

Anywho… Things were going pretty well – she’d done some promotions over Christmas, and had a book launch at Ashton House. Sales of print versions through Lulu.com direct were going well, and the ebook trickled along too.

Then, as the reviews started to come in, other feedback followed it, usually from her sisters, and old friends. “We were wondering… would you mind changing the name of…” It seems that although they’d all read it ten years ago, and said yes to it all, now they were getting older, some sort of decorum had entered their lives. And although yes, they’d love to be associated with a successful book, perhaps certain things could be moved to a respectful arm’s length, when facing the church and pony club circuit.

These requests seemed to be turning up daily for about two months. I’d arrive at Sophie’s having just uploaded and approved a new version, and she’d greet me with “More changes, I’m afraid… we need to change ‘Seargent’ to ‘Field-Marshall’, and So-and-So wants their neighbour’s house name taken out because they’re trying to sell it…” Nothing to do with the fact that Fred West was doing a lot of driveways and patios around there at the time it was written, honest…

So I’d argue for some things to stay in, especially when one reading group of her sister’s, who didn’t know Sophie, were apparently only interested in gossip about her family and not in the fact it was Sophie’s diary, and wanted her parts of it edited out entirely. I argued that I’m about as far away from a spiritual Christian memoir fan as it’s possible to be (sitting here at home right now listening to Korn’s slash metal Greatest Hits Vol.1, wearing a Hell Bunny t-shirt, and wondering why I’m lacking Pringles nearby while the lawn wants mowing and the cats want biscuits) and I loved it. And it’s Sophie’s memoir. She’s entitled to be in it…

The problems arose from these multiple edits when the PDF converter got tired of all the shuffling around of various words, and started to drop images out in the print copy conversion, or add blank pages, where the carefully-laid-out pages were no longer justified. We had some revised proofs back with missing pictures, or text obliterated by images that had shunted. Lulu’s customer services gave us a great tip about downloading doPDF, which I used in conjunction with OpenOffice to export PDFs more reliably. I made a point of doing a page-by-page check of every single new version of the PDFs on the screen in front of me before uploading them. When having to do this with new edits every few days until the furore calmed down, it was frustrating. Sophie was of the opinion that she should be aiming to please everyone she knew, or even didn’t know, and although it’s sweet and admirable, none of those people know the work that she’s already put in. Or that if you take out a paragraph, every image after it has jumped, and nothing is where you last had it. Blank spaces appearing and page numbers obliterated and everything. It all has to be re-justified and/or re-sized manually.

It also meant editing the ebook file separately in parallel, as it’s a completely different format to a print PDF. And although there was no problem with the pagination in that, as a Kindle book is a continuous file, the images liked to give themselves a random aspect ratio occasionally, or jump off-centre, so those would have to be adjusted manually too.

…I got my own back though. You’ll have to read the sequel to see it, but all these name-changes and place-name changes led me to be, shall we say, creative – in the naming of a certain village 😉 Sophie did give me the go-ahead, but still…!

Most of these edits arrived as we were in the middle of formatting the sequel, Ride the Wings of Morning – Sophie’s letters to and from Africa, when she escaped back there to work on horseback safaris, and immediately recovered from her illness. So some of these little changes had to be made in that document as well. Again, the minor edits screwed up a lot of the pagination. We’d done a perfectly good upload and got some proofs back, and then the teeny tiny changes were necessary again. The PDF was perfect, but the uploader didn’t want to know – it would crawl to the end of the ‘uploaded’ bar, and then freeze – you couldn’t move onto the next step, and the document never transferred into her online files.

Due to the much larger number of illustrations, the file by this time for the paperback of RtWoM was ten times bigger than Funnily Enough, at 111MB. After seven attempts at uploading the new revision onto Sophie’s print-on-demand page, yesterday I downloaded an FTP client access program and copied the file directly onto their server. It took three times as long, but arrived in one piece in her file list, and could then be imported into the new revision of her book, which is now public. Any more changes will have to get past me 😉

The last thing I found in the ebooks, completely by chance and just before the London Book Fair 2012 promotion, was that the endnotes didn’t convert into links on KDP. I was checking it after loading it onto Sophie’s Android tablet, and realised that the automatic superscripted endnote links were dud. They’d appear at the end of the book, but the mutual hyperlinks set automatically by the document in Word were lost. No idea why. It meant you couldn’t navigate them. So I went through and bookmarked them all manually, inserting hyperlinks that did work. Just in time for the promo on Kindle to start last weekend.

Well, Sophie was at home on Facebook and Twitter, happily sharing some links to her London Book Fair freebie. I was probably asleep until lunchtime, crawled out of bed as usual, looked at my own Book Fair freebie promo for Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition and decided it could get on by itself as it had already had 30 downloads in my sleep, and I’d Tweet when my laptop could be bothered to load Twitter. I looked at Sophie’s Funnily Enough, and it was ZOOMING up the UK charts.

Over the next four days, Funnily Enough reached #2 in all categories on Amazon UK Kindle Free, #1 in Humour, #1 in Parenting & Families, and #1 in Self-Help. And after the London Book Fair promo ended, it’s still selling, and already closing in on the top 100 paid, having cut a swathe back into the top ten of its categories.

If you want a taste of the classic, upper-crust British sense of humour at its best, the type from Ealing comedy to Fawlty Towers, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Funnily Enough and Ride the Wings of Morning, both by Sophie Neville, are available on Kindle worldwide.

L xxx 🙂

Let’s Cut to the Chase…

Out now on Amazon Kindle Reader-preference enabled

Hello and Happy Easter to you all!

I haven’t been around the blogiverse since my eye surgery six weeks ago. I’m sort of half-finished in that respect, will be back in hospital for more surgery after the summer. Just got to be careful of the tentative scar in my eyelid I now have until then, with things like washing my face with a flannel, pulling t-shirts over my head, catching my eye with the arm of my glasses – that kind of thing. Not rubbing it, not getting infections in it. Lots of anti-inflammatories at the moment.

I have had a few projects to get on with, though. I finished editing and formatting a client’s new book – her second true-life memoir which takes up the story where the last left off. This one is is a much bigger read, made up of her travel journals at the time. It’s illustrated again, taken from her doodles and photographs. The file is much bigger than before, so while we’re waiting for the print proof copies to arrive to approve the hardback and paperback, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that any edits will actually appear, in the gargantuan document – it’s hit and miss knowing which version will actually be printed now!

I helped out on a few other books published so far this year – Freddie Omm’s cultural thriller Honour (published in the US as Honor), Sophie Neville’s Ride the Wings of Morning, and Adam Sifre’s zombie road-trip I’ve Been Deader, which I’ve been waiting to see in print only for about two years. So I asked to proof-read the ebook file, and also made him a print copy PDF as a big hint. I can’t wait until I get my own paperback now that it’s available on Amazon!

Most recently, I was invited to help out on the proof-reading and formatting of a large non-fiction book, which depended on a lot of references and internal redirections to the reader, and I could see this would be very exciting (er – okay, exciting to a computer geek like me) to bring to life by creating the bookmarks and navigational links within the text – literally hundreds of them – making the book as user-friendly as possible.

It was while doing this that I remembered a chat I had at last year’s London Book Fair with Jason Kingsley, owner of Rebellion/2000AD Comics, after a Transmedia panel discussion.

“Remember the old Livingstone adventure books, where you made choices and had to skip back and forth through the paperbacks? I was always frustrated that you couldn’t read them all the way through, cover to cover as well…” What I wanted to do, was to make an ebook you could skip sections of, if you were a busier person or wanted a shorter read, and the story would still make sense – it would just be more compact. But you could also read all the way through in the usual linear fashion, for the complete story.

Jason thought this was a good idea, and I had a few stories I was in the process of publishing already – so I decided to work on some of my other storylines, with the aim of creating this ‘collapsible story’ – one where you could read through it all at your leisure, or just tap a link to skip longer segments of literary exposition, and cut to the chase.

And then within two months I was editing and formatting freelance as my main job, had to give up my NHS post, and focus on getting established in the self-publishing world.

So the idea stewed until I had done the reference book file, and Easter break began, and things got quiet. I looked at a couple of my sci-fi projects, but they aren’t complete enough to play with. I was making a coffee the other afternoon, and the idea just came to me to try the idea out on Death & The City.

It turned out to be the perfect candidate to test out the idea. The protagonist Lara Leatherstone narrates the plot, and being a psychotic, her mind lapses occasionally into high self-monitoring mode. I could easily enable the ebook for readers wanting to stay in the action, by inserting SKIP hyperlinks at appropriate sections, taking them past Lara’s pattern-matching internal monologues and into the next segment – but leaving it so should they ever be curious as to what else goes on in that mind of hers, they can read through the whole book continuously, in the usual linear style.

In other words, as you might flip through the boring bits in a real paperback, it’s got the electronic shortcuts already in place for you. Interactive multiple-page-flipping 🙂

I had to make sure the story read in the condensed style still made sense – that I wasn’t just basically enabling the hopping-over of everything bar the dialogue. So there is still a lot of book in there – and of course you don’t have to skip every single section – depending on your mood at the time, you can skip or not skip a segment. You’ll get a slightly different read every time, depending on which parts you choose to omit on your journey, or not.

It took me longer to think up what to call the new edition, to identify it from the others already available. I asked DS-10, but she’s more interested in watching the new English dubs of Black Butler. The word ‘Interactive’ sounded more like a game. I may come up with a fully interactive version one day, but this one is something else. ‘Reading-preference enabled edition’ didn’t seem to fit on the cover neatly enough 😉

So anyway, I decided to call it as close as dammit to what it is – DEATH & THE CITY: CUT TO THE CHASE EDITION.

I hope you like the idea – let me know what you think.

L xxx 🙂