Black Friday Weekend Freebies – Death & The City

Hope you’ve all had a good week so far and are planning a chilled-out weekend (let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you’re already chilling out compared to those folk stampeding around the shops).

I’ve put two Kindle ebook freebies up for the next 4 days – Friday 27th to Monday 30th November inclusive (until midnight Monday, Pacific time).

These are the books I learned the most by writing, back in 2008 – what not to do, genre ambiguity, what to say when I felt like it, whether it was bad writing or not – but mainly, how to stay sane 🙂 Editing was an unknown practise to me back then, so these are the long versions. Luckily, I did know how to proofread!

Considering all the ranting I do and advice I give, If you’d like the evidence that we all start somewhere, you can find it here:

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Death & The City: Book One on Amazon

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Death & The City: Book Two on Amazon

The books were originally one massive book, which I split in half down the middle – no reason except for print cost at the first time of publishing. Another lesson – in the digital age – that’s not necessary either, although I do still love my print books.

Here’s the blurb:

Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator… and Connor Reeves, also not his real name – how he came by his, is less clear… Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.

When her head office try to set her up in a team with a wingman, her main concern is they’re trying to manufacture a weakness that they can manipulate her with – not to mention once they agree on a working colleague, Pest-Control-sniper-turned-police-officer Connor, that he might be quite manipulative too…

Hope you all have a very happy and safe holiday weekend xx

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New – Free on Kindle until midnight Wednesday 28 Oct, PST

3D WritingPublishing

Writing & Publishing For Yourself: The Indie Author Handbook, Self-Publishing Toolkit, and Staying Sane Survival Guide – or ‘The Adventures of an I.T. Helpdesk’ by Lisa Scullard (non-fiction/humour)

FREE on Kindle for a limited time (regular price $2.99 or equivalent) – Write a decent book, Tweet a few times, accept any spontaneous reviews graciously, and keep all of your friends…

Hi folks! Seeing as I didn’t know what I’d really done to earn recognition as a top blogger on here, a while ago I went through all of my posts on Writing and Publishing and compiled a list (see my Tutorials pages). Following that, and reading them through, I realised I had a whole lot more to add – to update – and articles elsewhere that were relevant. As well as journal entries of everything I’ve learned on the indie author rollercoaster.

I’ve now`organised them, fully-revised and updated, into this eBook above – containing my earliest advice on writing (reviewing the 27th Brussels International Film Festival, in 2000) to the latest. The eBook was was published yesterday, and I’ve just finished the final tweaks after uploading.

Here’s the blurb:

This isn’t a ‘How to sell a million copies’ or ‘How to be a New York Times bestseller’ guru session. This is not for seasoned ‘Authorpreneurs’ looking for new promotion and sales tactics. It is NOT a tried-and-tested formula for writing a blockbuster novel. And it will not tell you how to become a billionaire through exploiting your hidden USP (Unique Selling Point).

Neither is it a Zen lifestyle guide, telling you that it is simply a case of convincing the world (and yourself) that you are the world’s top author, and you will be showered with money, Nobel prizes, Oscars, Specsavers Daggers, retail sponsorship, street-value turnips, or whatever else takes your fancy.

None of the above. It’s a journal of the everyday life of a modern, under-the-radar indie author since the global self-publishing trend started, and a few confessions of advising others while being a Useful Technical Person to Have Around…

It is also a book for beginners, giving tutorials and case studies – on the subjects of inspiration, motivation, genre, legal hurdles, research, editing, and identifying your ideal market audience – along with the rocket science of formatting your documents, embedding illustrations, creating and linking to external content (such as audio and video), uploading them, and some gentle cautionary advice on publishing issues and promotions.

There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be revealing examples made (and for readers with browser-enabled tablets or PC/phone reading apps, links to working samples of multimedia content).

Above all, it’s designed to save you time, hassle (and ultimately, save you money) when joining the indie author phenomenon.

Lisa Scullard went online one day in 2014 to find she was suddenly (and without warning) a WordPress-promoted top blogger in Reader on the subject of ‘Writing & Blogging’ – and promptly understood the full meaning of the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This subsequent book is an organised compilation of relevant blog posts, tutorials, articles, experimental book trailers and journal entries made over the years, covering the topics of writing, researching, editing, publishing and promotion. It has been an undertaking of mass rewrites, edits, revisions, expositions and updates, and some keyboard-crunching efforts at formatting, in order to justify such an unprecedented amount of recognition.

…And it’s FREE until midnight PST, Wednesday 28th October 2015, on Kindle worldwide. Grab it while you can.

Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.deAmazon.frAmazon.esAmazon.itAmazon.nlAmazon.co.jpAmazon.inAmazon.caAmazon.com.brAmazon.com.mxAmazon.com.au

It’s already available in print on Lulu directly (postage £2.99 basic shipping) and should appear on Amazon in paperback form over the next few days.

Last updated: 14 November, 01.30 GMT – The latest updated version is now live. If you’ve downloaded your copy already, make sure it’s automatically synched to the newest version. You can use the Kindle Customer Services ‘Contact Us’ by chat/email method to request it to be re-delivered free to your app/tablet if it doesn’t update automatically from your reader settings. You’re always entitled to request the newest revision of an ebook for free, even after a paid purchase.

One of my supporting examples of fiction is also available FREE on Kindle for the same time period, for reference – Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition. (Also worldwide).

3D DATC CTTC cover

I hope you all have a great weekend, and for those of you off school and college, enjoy half-term break (and happy forthcoming Halloween) 🙂

L xxx

New Year’s resolution – the importance of still writing for yourself

Happy new year! I hope you’re all looking forward to 2015, like I am, and to the opportunities and changes it may bring to your creativity.

This was originally going to be a tutorial post, but I didn’t want to overload your New Year’s Eve inboxes and blog readers with something you’ll need a hot water bottle and supply of endless coffee to get through… so I’ll try and keep it on the shorter side 🙂

In a nutshell, when you set out to write for an audience, a target market, remember there’s still time (and a need) to continue to write and be creative for yourself alone.

Whether it’s therapy, or relaxation, or just for entertainment. Whether it’s recording your dreams or memories, or making plans for the future. You need to keep that part of your writing alive – the part that inspired you to write with a purpose in the first place – because nothing tries to suck the joy out of writing more than constantly thinking about deadlines, sales, and financial returns.

If you’re a compulsive writer and it’s something you’ve always done, it’s particularly important to keep writing for yourself, to preserve that feeling of serenity and the internal insights that arise from it. You will find yourself picking up inspiration along the way, and using elements of it in your commercial writing, but allowing yourself to BE yourself in your creativity, and taking time out from the ‘author’ side of it, is what will help prevent any disillusionment, doom and gloom taking over.

You don’t ever have to make your personal creativity public. Like a diary, you can write it in quill and ink in endless notebooks, or record them aloud using your phone, tablet, or computer. Keep your spontaneity going! It will do your mind and spirit good, as well as positively enhance your professional efforts.

Although I put quite a lot out there commercially, most of my creativity is still personal – I’m still developing my skills and different genre styles away from the marketplace. I still experiment and play with ideas, counsel myself with writing, and use other art forms like sewing, knitting, customising and painting to relax.

One of my longest writing therapy projects did eventually end up in novel form, and because I feel silly/embarrassed promoting it commercially – to me, it’s therapy I wrote for myself, in the guise of narrative fiction (written nearly seven years ago now!) – I give it away in regular Kindle ebook freebies, so a few times a year you’ll find it listed as free:

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition

 Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition on Amazon UK & Amazon.com – search for it on your regional Amazon site as prompted by clicking here on the Amazon.com product page.

This is the version I made more reader-friendly by including shortcuts through the text, meaning you can skip through the internal monologue as prompted and read it more as an action novel, or read the whole thing in linear fashion as a semi-literary one. That was one of my technical experiments in ebook formatting that I’m quite proud of – you can see how it works by checking out the description and the ‘Look Inside’ preview on Amazon.

I’m still in two minds as to whether publishing it (unedited) was the true outcome or purpose, but in terms of the therapeutic side of writing, I definitely came out the other side feeling better for it, both internally and creatively. And having it out there, rather than filed away and forgotten, is a small reminder to me that writing therapy and self-analysis is worthwhile to some of us artistic types – even if no-one else reads it 🙂

I hope you all have a very happy and creative new year, and remember to make time for yourself in the process!

L xxx

If you’re seeing this post in your email inbox, and wondering how it got here, you can change or turn off email notifications in your WordPress Reader by clicking on EDIT below each blog you follow in the list here – https://wordpress.com/following/edit/

The ‘Writing Process’ blog hop

Jill Pennington, the entrepreneur true-life author of Diary of a Single Parent Abroad asked me on FB the other day if I had a blog, and if so, would I mind following up her guest post on Tottie Limejuice’s blogspot as the next author to answer the same three questions as her?

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After telling her yes, I have maybe eight blog sites scattered around, and hadn’t done this blog hop thing yet on any of them, I said sure, why not. Pretty much everyone else I know has done one already, so I’m probably the last one ever. (Hooray, I hear you all cry).

Anyway, without further adon’ts, let’s get this mess over and done with, so we can all move on with our lives and never speak of this again… 🙂

Question one: What are you working on?

I’m working on a Toshiba M400 tablet laptop upgraded to Windows 7. I bought it off ebay. Highly recommended 🙂 Oh, the real answer? :/ More Zombie of Oz books for YA, more Lauren Boutain romance for the definitely adult, some sci-fi (including designing an open-source planetary setting that anyone can write about), some more parody/steampunk, and some more introspective stuff, which may or may never see the Kindle-fuelled light of day.

Question two: Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s there, in my head. If I don’t write it down as a creative outlet, it tends to manifest itself in other ways. Life would be unbearable with all those zombies turning up in reality. Me and Junior yell ‘Money should be falling from the sky!’ at least five times a day, because our nonsense creative conversation gets echoed back to us from the TV or by something occurring in real life. So writing down the nonsense is the safest place for it to go. Still waiting for the money to fall from the sky. That’s the real joke 🙂

Question three: How does your writing process work?

I switch off my ‘external monitoring’ and transcribe what I see and hear in my head. But I don’t need soundproofing or isolation to switch off my outside awareness. I like background noise, or TV, even doing laundry at the same time. Writing is just part of my normal life, and has been since I was 7 years old. I was doing it to kill time while waiting to make friends, did that, then later to kill time while waiting to have my first relationship, and I’m still waiting, so still basically killing time. There’s nothing really technical or methodical about it. I don’t need to ‘get into’ author mode, or put on a writing hat or anything. When I was younger I would have loved to grow up and be Barbara Cartland wafting around in a pink dressing-gown writing a book every day after lunch, now I don’t see being an author as having an idealised image attached to it. I can write for fun, and still be me, especially as all I’m doing for a living now is writing, since I’ve given up freelance IT support due to sports injuries that I’m awaiting surgery and rehabilitation for, so there’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove about it either.

I find I’m a more interesting person when I’m not talking about my writing, so I’m going to end there before I bore myself to sleep 🙂

I haven’t asked anyone if they want to be tagged, because they’ve all done the godforsaken deed already, so I’ll just recommend a couple of authors I know, for their indie inspiration:

Robert Rankin – also on Facebook

Sophie Neville – also on Facebook

You should check out what they’re up to, and how they market themselves and their work. Everyone’s different, but even though these two have a genuine hook they can exploit, they’re still working tirelessly to get out there in the real world and meet the public to promote their writing, rather than just banging away on social media.

Enough already – time for bed!

🙂 xxx

Current events – Writing Buddies 5th Anniversary exhibition at the Central Library, Southampton Civic Centre, 12-17 May 2014

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The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Southampton (Councillor Ivan White), centre, with Pam Whittington and Penny Legg, the founders of Writing Buddies, cutting the celebration cake yesterday at the opening of the exhibition. All photos: Lisa Scullard

I joined Writing Buddies back in 2010, having found them by chance while looking for a local writing group close to the New Forest.

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Writing Buddies is unique in that it isn’t a feedback and critique group, but rather a support group for the technicalities of living as a writer – where to take your writing, who can help, and if you are inclined, the technical details on how to publish.

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It’s free to join and we pay a couple of quid at the group meetings towards hire of the room at the Mercure Dolphin, Southampton, on the first Friday of every month.

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The 5th Anniversary cake was created by Christine Donovan, previous Rubery Book Award winner, who studied cake-making at Brockenhurst College

DSCF2382Members are from all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and as well as sharing progress on individual writing careers, they have supported other projects, including recording audio stories to be played on the radio for the visually impaired.

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Penny Legg discussing the work of Southampton Sight, with the Right Worshipful The Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Ivan White

Individuals can also volunteer to give informative talks at these monthly meetings. In June’s meeting, I’ll be giving a talk on copyright.

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The exhibition runs until this weekend, where you’ll be able to see examples of all of our work and other creative projects, in the main body of the library near the entrance.

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For more information on Writing Buddies, email Penny on penny@pennylegg.com

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Christine’s lovely cake went down a treat 🙂

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Until midnight Friday 16th May 2014, PST, you can download three of my ebooks for free from Amazon Kindle – Death & The City: Book One, Death & The City: Book Two, and One Stolen Kiss, written under my pen-name Lauren Boutain

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Enjoy 🙂

Niche marketing – part 2…

Following yesterday’s post Niche marketing – the psychology behind success I’ll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived ‘niche market’ as I saw it.

When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she’s reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.

Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren’t referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It’s all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion’s fickle nature – you’ll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes – quite literally…

Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned ‘niche market’ is ‘a character’ as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She’d never ask a guy out because she’s too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

That’s a caricature. It’s a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn’t define or specify a completely real person or reader.

The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn’t need to try and target ‘everyone’ and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I’m saying is, don’t announce that your book is for ‘everyone’ – try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide ‘market’ you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.

Here’s my own example – chick lit/crime, ‘self-help’ fiction, Death & The City:

DATC hd cover

Other editions and covers available – see ‘eBooks’. Also in paperback print and hardcover.

Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.

But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.

The ones who hadn’t always managed to pick the right guy – or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.

Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013

The ones who saw everyone else’s mistakes, but still couldn’t make their own life work out perfectly…

Angelina - Girl, Interrupted

Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it’s that they know better, they know what’s best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the ‘worst case scenarios’ on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side…

Britney at MTV Awards

They’re a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship – but that’s only because they’re protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first…

britney-spears

They don’t ‘need a man’ but the right one will find them – eventually.

Katie Price 'Jordan'

And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she’ll kick everyone’s ass…

Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft

…So that’s my caricature of a potential ‘niche market’ audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you’ll find that some of the characteristics you’ve given your ‘specific reader’ speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.

But you don’t advertise that fact.

You stick to communicating your idea of ‘one perfect reader’ who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.

Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it’s to a publisher or directly to the public – and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.

It’s funny. I’ve never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my ‘reader’ and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:

Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover

Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback

The pink is more appropriate – but I still think it’s not quite there yet. I’ll need to make a bigger ‘niche marketing’ pinboard and see where that leads me…

Make your ‘ideal reader pinboard’ – it might surprise you 🙂

L xxx

‘Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition’ free on Amazon Kindle

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition

Now available free through the next 5 days (promotion ends midnight 30 July Pacific Standard Time). Click below for regional product links:

Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.deAmazon.fr – Amazon.esAmazon.caAmazon.itAmazon.co.jpAmazon.com.brAmazon.in

Monday 29 July 2013: 

Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator…

…And Connor Reeves, also not his real name, as it turns out – how he came by his, is less clear…

Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.

When she’s not under surveillance by Head Office, Lara spends her time juggling a night job in bar security, an only child with a zombie fixation, and what passes for a social life in the small hours in between. And the minor matter of ongoing internal scrutiny, by her own highly-self-monitoring personality disorder.

HOW THIS EBOOK WORKS: This version of Death & The City has been adapted for you to literally ‘cut to the chase’ and skip past Lara’s longer internal thought-processes. You’ll see the hyperlinked word SKIP in the right margin, which will take you into the next action segment. If you want to return to the top of the segment you skipped, the word BACK will take you there. So depending on your reader preference – for the times when you just want to stay in the action, and for when you want to know what’s going on in that mind of Lara’s – you can either jump ahead, or read the whole thing continuously – it’s up to you.

Death & The City (c) Lisa Scullard 2008

P.S. The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum is also still free on Smashwords for all devices with promo code SW100 until the end of July – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262618

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Hope you all have a great summer! So far in 2013 I’ve been a cartoon character, a vampire slayer, a pirate… I’ve successfully collected new eye surgery (yay) and some heavy duty sports injuries (ouch), and I’m looking forward to being a zombie again and maybe even a Doctor Who character for events later in the year 🙂 Enjoy! xxxx

Read an E-book Week, 3-9 March 2013*

read an e-book week

For Read an E-book Week, Smashwords authors were invited to discount their ebooks or make them free as a promotion. Three of mine were free with the promo code (RW100), including the novel of my previous blog serial, The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum.

*UPDATE: This promotion has now ended, but I’m sure there’ll be more in future!

The links to my books are:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/262618

Living Hell – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56513

Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55782

Also available at other e-book (and print) retailers.

Happy reading! 🙂 xxx

Genre Jazz II: Worldbuilding and popular Romance

In the last post I was talking about parody and mash-ups in fiction as a form of new fictional world creation out of existing fabric. Worldbuilding doesn’t end at sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk though.

Reading popular romances lately is a bit like entering a Bridget Jones theme park. Perky secondary characters, unlikely-sounding tycoons who don’t wear high-waisted Simon Cowell trousers or drive Bugattis, or work in real-world industries like Bill Gates – and everything has so much emotional ‘significance’ – from the town or city it’s set in, to the memories inspired in the heroine by the ancient family coffee-pot being utilised to pour a non-significant cup of Java.

Now, I’ve done my share of chick-lit, five years ago with ‘Death & The City’ in 2008. It’s ‘psycho-chick-lit’, and the reason that the lead character notices everything, looks for significance in everything, and analyses everything, is that she’s a self-monitoring, OCD, psychotic-psychopath. I was aiming for a genre mash-up of Bridget Jones meets American Psycho. There’s a reason it’s over-written and contains too much TMI, and that’s because, in my personal experience, learning to filter reality from psychosis takes a lot of self-monitoring, and the best way to portray it realistically was not to filter or edit. Unfortunately, a psychotic can’t go back and edit their thoughts, or their nightmares, so they’re stuck with them, like a demon-possessed mental train set whizzing from one illusion to the next, reinforced by pattern-matching at every station stop.

I did eventually do a cut-down version that readers could skip through, (the Cut to the Chase edition) but more out of experimenting with ebook formatting than out of pity for readers. It’s my own book, basically I wrote it to remind myself to focus on reality and not head off down the path of antidepressants and antipsychotics. So I pick it up once in a while to remind myself of what it used to be like, and how to avoid going down that route again.

I don’t think the eventual sequels will turn out the same – like the lead character Lara was trying to do, I’m running on a different personality now to the one I was escaping at the time. One that doesn’t get out that much, but definitely a saner and less scary one 🙂

Writing it was my own personal journey of self-help, as well as a fictional outlet for a lot of ‘what ifs?’ regarding my job at the time in nightclub security. Ten years previously I was also a bar tender, with another personality. And the kind of preconceptions the public had about that kind of person working in the industry. I could do the real job at night, dealing only with what was in front of me and quoting the licensing laws at people, and during the day I wrote all the delusions up (my own, and of the occasional drunk customers) in the form of fiction. My main relationship was with my car, in which I did up to 300 miles a week, all at night on empty roads, so that was a major feature and place to happily delude myself with new stuff to write down when I got home. And my holiday-romance daughter, who has since turned out to be equally interested in fantasy things, writing about undead carnage, Youtube, heavy metal, and dreaming about what it would be like to have a split personality. Luckily, I can tell her that’s all completely normal, because I went through the real thing.

So as you might guess, seeing a lot of TMI and mental ramblings, delusional thought-patterns, anthropomorphic significance of inanimate places and objects (i.e. scene-setting red herrings), stalking behaviour, and denial of real-world issues glossed over in romance fiction is a bit weird to me. If I was back on the other side of events in my life, it would all act as reinforcement – telling me Sure, be a stalker, or encourage creepy guys, there’ll be a happy ever after before you know it. Funny how that never happens in real life. Which is why I left Death & The City: Book Two somewhat open-ended to be continued later after the two protagonists agreed on a deal. I haven’t even reached that stage yet emotionally myself to know if there will ever be a significant other with whom to do that sort of, er, research…

Lots of writers debate about the problems of writing sex scenes. I don’t even know if I should be writing love scenes. I don’t have the experience. So writing to me is all just ‘what ifs’ – not based on reality. There’s no such person in my life to base it on, and never has been.

In a way it’s good, because I don’t have to worry that anyone would ever recognise themselves in a male lead in one of my books. Background characters for sure, I get inspiration for those everywhere – but even those better know I made most of their character traits up, because I was too busy listening to the voices in my head most of the time to hear their chatter 😉

Anyway, after Death & The City, subs, waiting around, and then discovering broadband, writer sites, the social networking of the internet, and self-publishing – and after a couple of career changes, then becoming a full-time writer and editor – I started looking back into an old teenage ambition to write category romance, without the psychoses (or zombies, real or imaginary). But since picking up a number of the trad published rom-coms and chick-lits to read through over the last couple of years, it appears that the world of trad romance has also lost the plot (while I was away really losing it and getting it back again) so to speak. Lost it in favour of first-person ramblings and red-herring significance attached to everything, combined with a designer label shopping channel, Oddbins wine-list, men with no latex or stalker allergies, and cars that have blown themselves up on Top Gear.

So out of the shock of that, came this year’s parody (of many books and movies) The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum – a more readable, reader-friendly epic about a love-struck idiot who’d take any man at any time of day, dead or alive, given the opportunity…

But it is curious, as to how every romance I’ve picked up in the last eighteen months breaks every rule in the book (the book in question being my fave How Not to Write a Novel by Mittelmark and Newman), as well as indicating that the romantic aspirations of young women today are being influenced more by the need for mental health intervention than for wedding lists and family planning advice. Some women who have been through the real thing (mental heath issues, not romance) don’t relish the portrayal of behaviour which leads to restraining orders in real life, suggesting that it should be deployed to achieve happiness. Or that happiness is a man. Happiness is not a man. Happiness is knowing who you are when you look in the mirror – and I don’t mean that metaphorically. I mean it literally.

In proper romances, as I recall, the *sane* lead character does not find themselves fascinating to the detriment of all other storyline, action and dialogue. They engage with other characters, their family, work and the world, yes – but mainly, they engage with the Plot. They do not engage with the socks their Great Auntie knitted every time they wear them. They do not gush over the French chandeliers. They do not drool over technology which will be redundant by the time the book is published. They put on regular socks (if they must, but the wearing of clothes generally is usually accepted as a given), they walk into rooms in which the reader assumes the lights are on unless told otherwise, and they do not show themselves up as gold-diggers by doing an inventory of the hero’s apartment and all his gadgets.

There’s another good reason for this. Like wandering around inside the mind of a psychopath, which leaves you wanting a cuddle and a Paracetamol, wandering around inside the mind of any verbose woman for too long leaves you wanting a bit of mystery back in your life. Fuck the Great Auntie’s socks and Mister Tiggles the cat. If all you can picture while reading is the author’s fantasy man, fantasy wank, fantasy shopping trip, fantasy best friends/sidekicks, how much she hates her day job and her boss, and the number of Nigella Bites cooking shows she watched while detailing every meal she wishes she was eating instead of writing and attempting to diet, it’s like spending too long in the company of someone addicted to personal revelations and co-counselling. Which should really be left to people with actual problems and issues that they need help with. Not the kind of thing you can get the answers to by pulling the petals off a daisy instead 🙂

In other words, chatty is fine. Self-absorbed (in silence) is fine. Self-absorbed chattiness, no. Ouch. Bad author. That’s not romantic escapism at all. That’s a recipe for insomnia and psychotic episode flashbacks. If your character is not going to come out as a psychotic who has been (or will be by the end of the book) prescribed everything on the a la carte trolley from Mellerill and Largactyl to Olanzepine and Citalopram, tone it down. One in four of us would like to have a bit of escapism into what it’s like to think straight. Not what it’s like to live in a world where the heroine thinks exactly like us and gets away with it, without turning purple by the end and fatally believing she can fly.

So that’s the internal world of the heroine, being done to death everywhere I look. But what about the external world? The theme park version of every trendy setting on the planet?

If you must name a specific town or place, please go there first. People live there, who will see a theme-park candy-coating a mile off. There is a certain beach I would not want a moonlit romantic tryst on, for fear of stepping on a hypodermic needle or getting deafened by the noise of the regular doggers under the pier. You are allowed to create unnamed fantasy places where people live by simply not referring to them by name, or inventing one if you must. People use the phrase ‘going into town’ when they go out, or ‘going to the beach’. If your town or village is a character and also a real place, why is it a character? Is it historically significant to the plot, or was frequented by a relevant historical figure? Is it haunted or paranormal in some way? Are you marketing it as tourist material to the residents? Remember, that giving an existing location a characterisation not yet known to the residents in real life will raise eyebrows – even more so if you give the general public themselves a new and improved reputation of any sort.

As a writer, I have my reasons for going psycho. But as a reader and consumer, I would like to read things once again which make me experience what it’s like to be romantically sane for a while. Interesting, but normal. And not in a comparative, unresearched, patronizing, I’m normal because the girl next door is sectioned kind of way…

Indulge me 🙂 xxx

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