Monthly Archives: October 2012

The death of print?

The Crystal BallPhil: There’s a bit of buzz around the story that the magazine Newsweek is going to give up its print edition. Rumours abound that the Guardian will ditch the print edition soon and go on-line only.

Many commentators suggest that days of big news corporations are over because we can all get our updates free of charge from bloggers and “citizen journalists” rather than well paid hacks.

They then look beyond expensive news production and into the magazine world confident that you’ll soon abandon buying anything printed on a dead tree in favour of downloading it onto your iKindleslab.

Sadly (for the commentators) this proves why they are wrong. Magazine sales may be slipping but e-publication isn’t making much of a dent. With only 1.7% of sales being electronic any loss in circulation is down to other factors.

The point is that just because you say something doesn’t make it true. Even if lots of people are saying it, that doesn’t make it true. Proper journalism, the stuff people don’t want to pay for, involves going back to original sources, fact checking and other boring stuff that takes time. If you want the news according to an Idaho basement living nerd, well you can have it for free but in truth that’s all it’s worth. Just because something is loaded on to YouTube doesn’t mean it’s accurate either. Chances are that when you are seeing is only one side. Balanced reporting takes time and money too.

Of course, “big media” doesn’t do itself any favours sometimes. When you report stories happening outside your door by watching Youtube and Twitter rather than dispatching someone with a camera to go and have a look then those paying for it will begin to wonder. Likewise, some of us don’t think that the opinions of people you find wandering around the streets during the day are a substitute for cold hard facts, even if they are cheaper and more colourful.

“What has this go to do with writing a book?”, I hear you ask.

Well, the same commentators predicting the death of newsprint also tell me that e-books are the future. I’ve played with a Kindle and it’s very nice. You don’t want to kill flies with it or use it prop up a wobbly table leg but for reading it’s lovely.

The thing is that I can write a book to appear on it easily. Possibly too easily. No need to get involved with “big publishing”, they are as much of a dinasour as the big news corporations. Ignore the basic tenets of plots, character development, grammar and spelling – just write and be free!

Is this too easy though? Some numpty keeps e-mailing me something about how quickly you can write for Kindle etc. without bothering to do research. The messages clutter up my Spam folder daily. I think the idea is to churn out unreadable book after unreadable book, sell them for a tiny price and hope that all the sales will bring in a substantial income. (Feel free to correct me as I never read them properly never mind waste my broadband allocation watching the embedded video).

We have looked at e-publishing and technically, it’s not that difficult.

Is it the right way to go?

Is it the future?

Should we just assume that “big publishing” chooses its authors based on the number of weeks they stay in Strictly Come Dancing rather than how much they have to say?

There is a Self Publishing Conference in Leicester in 6 months time. Should we go?

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Parker’s Guide – On Sale Today!

Parker's GuidePhil: I’ve been waiting 18 months to write that.

On this blog, I try to keep my model-making activities under wraps but today, I don’t care how much eye-rolling Candice* does, I won’t be shut up.

Today you can go to WH Smith, Sainsbury supermarkets or many on-line book shops and buy my new bookazine.

Inside the high-quality soft, shiny covers, you find 130 pages where I show you how to complete over 30 model making projects. Each one is profusely illustrated in colour and surrounded by text in what one review described as  my “cheery, light and informative style”.  I recon that for your money you get 50,000 words from the very depths of my mind. That’s got to be worth every penny of the £7.99 purchase price.

Some might wonder how I managed to recycle a load of old magazine columns into a new publication. Well, they have all been revised and re-photographed where necessary. In addition you get a few new projects including which take advantage of the greater flexibility available to the editors when not having to produce a balanced edition. Personally, I think All Me is perfectly balanced but others may beg to differ. I would agree that my mug shot on page 3 could have been smaller though.

While I’ll happily admit that for the non-nerd, there probably isn’t a great deal of interest between the covers, I am very pleased with it. Yes I did spot a mistake within 5 minutes of reading but I bet most authors get that. If I keep quiet, then perhaps no-one will notice.

You can buy Parker’s Guide on-line from the publisher.

A full listing of the contents can be found on my model making blog. (Warning, contents may contain traces of dork)

*That’s the same Candice who once wrote me a press release for a model railway exhibition that Ellie at Radio CWR described as “a masterpiece”.

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Daddy’s Girls by Tasmina Perry

Candice: Opens ‘ A stylish group of four figures walks into the room, though they are sister’s, each one has a unique style and stance.’book cover of Daddy's Girls byTasmina Perry

And that is the front cover of this book.  However, the back tells a different story…

‘But money doesn’t buy you love.  When their aristocratic and tyrannical father is found dead, the finger of suspicion points towards the glamorous daughters…’

So, how far into the book are you expecting the father’s death, first page, 10 pages in?  How about around 500.  Unfortunately, all though I enjoyed this book I kept stopping at certain points to read the back and check what I was reading.  Yes, it definitely says the Dad dies, ok must be in the next section… and on and on I read.  It’s a bit like knowing the ending or in my case, waiting for the scene I filmed to be shown.  (In fact, when I did Line of Duty last year I spent the whole series going “where’s the car chase?” – last scene…)

So, back to the start with this book, what is the premise?  Four glamorous sisters (well that’s a given) who all have different personalities; one an actress, one a journalist, another a lawyer and one a downtrodden wife (with her own clothing line, of course).  Their lives intertwine as they fall in and out with each other and try to discover themselves.  The father is the tyrant that they love to hate but who drives them on to be who they are.  Along the way there are affairs, pregnancies and of course, the odd undiscovered scandal.  The whole story runs along quite well, and without the distraction of when is Dad dying, I would have really enjoyed it.

It’s funny that Phil and I have been criticised for having too many characters in our writing.  But it this case I think there were too many protagonists.  Each sister could have her own book as they all have their own story and I would have liked to follow each one.  In fact, that would be similar to Cat as there are other books by Freya North about Cat’s sisters. Hey, perhaps we should write those four stories and we have our own equivalent to fifty shades fan fiction!

All in all and good sunbed read – so good that when I went back to my favourite charity shop there was another book by Tasmina, so I’ve picked that up for next holiday!

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Two heads – Better than one?

2 headsPhil: In the latest Writers Forum magazine, there is an interesting interview with Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders. They write under the name “Annie Sanders”.

There is discussion around the advantages of writing as a partnership, many of which I understand fully wot with Nolan and I doing the same sort of thing. It seems that our modus operandi, writing a chapter and then handing it to the other to comment, on is the same as this pair. The only difference is they have a book deal. The deal itself relied on the combined name – signing two writers for one novel is apparently very unusual and the editor was very nervous about doing it. Combining the names into a single author sealed it.

This isn’t the only case – Nicci French is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Apparently they also write alternate chapters and then edit each other work. Ashworth and Sanders wonder how they manage to stay sane living and writing together. I can see their point, collaborating on a book you need to know a little about each others thinking but also bring different elements to the keyboard. It’s a good idea to take a break occasionally. How do you do this when you’re both under the same roof?

Grant Naylor is the collective name used by writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor for their work on the television series Red Dwarf. Grant and Naylor themselves called this pseudonym a “gestalt entity” (i.e. something which is greater than the sum of its parts) and cleverly used the concept as a plot in one episode of the series. I don’t know how they work but I assume it involves a bit of keyboard bashing in the morning followed by an afternoon in the pub inventing more plotlines.

Well, that’s what I see as our future writing style anyway.

 

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Seize the day

Candice: You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet for the last month.  Initially it was due to the fact I was whizzing off to Rome for  a weekend break, my belated birthday present from the other half.  However, returning from that I went into two weeks of running around the country and then capped it off with a funeral.

And the funeral is the reason for this post.  It was my Dad’s sister who passed away, on the 23rd September.  To cut along story short, she and my Dad fell out 20 years ago and I have been trying to get them back together ever since.  However, another strong-minded female member of the family as she was, she wouldn’t move on the idea. But with my regular contact with her, she was finally coming round and then she had a stroke. Luckily my Dad did then get to visit her in hospital and it was like nothing had happened.  However, with everything that was going round in the life of me I just didn’t get to see her enough before she passed away.  My sister and I were due to visit her on the Sunday she died and I was gutted when I found out she had passed away that morning, I just wanted a chance to say good-bye.

Life runs so fast these days and we just aren’t very good at sitting down for 10 minutes and picking up the phone, or finding time to visit someone in need.

So I’m going to do my best to try harder, as I’m still really cut up about not seeing her before she died.  Everyone keeps telling me she wouldn’t have known I was there, but I think she would.

It’s all down hill to Christmas now, but I am rapidly booking in as many teas/drinks/meals/nights out with friends to make sure I can keep up with everyone.

So make sure you do too – because those people might not be there tomorrow.

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The curse of the EPG

Electronic program guides (EPG) provide users of television, radio, and other media applications with continuously updated menus displaying broadcast programming or scheduling information for current and upcoming programming.

Phil: If you think that grabbing the reader attention at the start of a novel is tough, imaging the challenge that television programme makers face now we are in the era of digital television. With you potential viewers using EPGs to decided what to watch next, the programme title is crucial. Those few characters have got to sell the content.

This is why TV programmes have rubbish titles now. The first stop for any titler is to see if there is a celebrity presenting the thing. If there is then bung that name in the title. Hence we have “Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip – An Emotional History of Britain”, which in the world of the EPG will be reduced to “Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip”.  Likewise, BBC3 has “Cherry Healey: How to Get a Life”. I’ve no idea who Cherry Healey is or where she came from but in the same way local newspapers like to stuff their pages with faces, programme titles like a name. Any name.

If this doesn’t work then try for something that sums the content up in as few words as possible – The boy whose face fell off – for example. No mystery, plenty of titillation.

This isn’t easy. On-line we’ve been coping with trying to sell websites in less character than Google puts up in the search results. If your page title is “Home page” then, as the kids say, Epic Fail. I once caught someone on a site I was looking after stuff titles with code numbers to make the pages easy to find in the content management system. I locked him in a cupboard without food and water for a week for this crime.

“Why are you thinking about this Parker?”, I hear you cry.

Well, it’s all down to our last post. Once it had gone live on the blog, both Candice and I shared it with our friends on Facebook. Sadly, my sentence “Grammar nazis are everywhere and there’s nothing the pedants like more than arguing over the semantics of your words rather than wasting time reading and comprehending them.” was shortened.

Thanks to the law of unintended consequences, the pedants were arguing over something entirely different:

I wonder if it encouraged anyone to come to our site!

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Everyone else gets punctuation wrong. Apart from the French

Arghh !Phil: It seems that as an author, some ability with your native language is part of the job. Grammar nazis are everywhere and there’s nothing the pedants like more than arguing over the semantics of your words rather than wasting time reading and comprehending them.

Worse, it seems that publishers expect you to be able to write. A few hundred years ago, we had an oral tradition where being able to tell a good story was sufficient and illiteracy didn’t matter. Some might cruelly suggest that certain celebrity authors are maintaining this tradition but I would never say that.

Anyway, some of us have grammar blind spots. My good friend and co-author insists on writing “abit” instead of “a bit” and every time she does, I grind my teeth a bit and chew my tongue.

My personal foible is insisting on inserting a space before exclamation and question marks at the end of a sentence. I think it looks better like this. Cramming a tall end stop hard up against the letters just looks horrible. According to everyone in the Internet, this is wrong. Except in French.

All of this means I have to resist the urge when writing for publication and it’s not proving easy. Some recent editing work has seen me desperately unlearning my automatic space insertion. Which is hard. Like unlearning a habit. Possibly not as hard as giving up smoking but it certainly makes me grouchy.

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Real life characters are madder than any you might invent

Books of charactersPhil: A book needs characters. Well, a work of fiction does anyway. As humans, we tend to be interested in other humans. This is why local news is full of “human interest” stories and they prefer reporting the opinions of random people to something than bothering to find out boring old facts. Generally these people are the sort of people hanging around the streets during the day and willing to talk into a camera but that doesn’t matter, we like to know about others. It’s genetics apparently. Genetics I must have missed out on as I normally want to punch them rather than listen to their opinions, but that’s just me.

Anyway, a book must have characters and so as authors, we are required to invent them. I explained the background to Andrew, a major playing in Kate vs The Dirtboffins, last year. Basically, you take memories of all the people you know, mix them up in a mental cocktail shaker and pour out a fictional figure who will perform the role your story demands. The worry is that you’ll create a cartoon rather than a believable flesh-and-blood person. Sometime you, or at least I, think that no-one could be as weird as all that.

Worry no more.

I’ve just read a couple of books full to the brim with characters wackier than anything that came out of my head.

Boris Johnson’s excellent “Life of London” describes the people who made Great Britain’s capital city. He uses a long list of characters to chart the history of the city from Roman times (Boudica – All torture and badness) through Richard Whittington (Didn’t have a cat. Was mayor)  and Lionel Rothschild (got a few quid) to Winston Churchill (Cigar, V-sign etc.) and Keef Richard (Managed to get quite a lot of satisfaction). What’s fascinating is that the greater the character, the madder they seem to be. Most of them have lives that read an awful lot like fiction.

Mary Seacole for example, may have been a pioneering nurse and contemporary of Florence Nightingale, but she was described as plump but pretty with a sweet and honest expression. She ran hospitals in the Crimea, went prospecting for gold, roasted and ate iguanas. Her trip to the Crimea was self-funded as she wasn’t included in Nightingales 38 party of nurses. In later years, there is a suggestion that she might have unfairly dropped out of history for both her colour and the opinions of her more famous counterpart.

Turning to the less scholarly-titled “The Worlds Greatest Cranks and Crackpots“, which despite Candice’s suggest, does not feature me, I was particularly taken by Mary Wilcocks. For many years, the Devon-born girl fooled the town of Almondsbury into believing she was shipwrecked oriental royalty named Princess Caraboo. When the hoax was revealed, the girl was packed off by her hosts for America. Life there didn’t seem to work out and she returned to England, possibly via St Helena to visit Napoleon, and was eventually spotted selling leeches in London.

That, is a life well lived and a character that you would struggle to invent.

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Guest blogging the long tail.

Phil: I’m guest blogging again today at Top Hat Books. This time how the “long tail” might be good for wanabee authors.

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The Cathedral Killer feedback

Phil: OK, you’ve now read our short story, The Cathedral Killer (Part 1 and Part 2) we entered it into the Writers Forum short story competition and also paid for some feedback. Here’s what we received:

Presentation: Manuscript layout needs some attention. You might find this post useful: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/manuscript-presentation/ and also this one: http://thewritersabcchecklist.blogspot.com/2011/01/punctuating-dialogue.html for dialogue punctuation. When a sentence starts with a number it has to be written out in words. Salaciously isn’t the right word in context. Typos: over hang/overhang, though/thought, brothers/brother’s, see/seen, back packing/backpacking, no-where/nowhere

Title: Good – apt for the story and intriguing.

Opening: This introduces the main character, but it doesn’t contain a compelling reason to read on. A strong hook is needed to grab the reader’s attention.

Dialogue: The dialogue helps to drive the story but doesn’t do as much as it could to aid characterisation.

Characterisation: Brad didn’t come to life as a real person. I think you could have used his dialogue to flesh him out more – particularly as you want the readers to believe he is the killer.

Overall: I realised a bit too early that she was the killer – it had to be her because it obviously wasn’t Brad. I think you need to give us another red herring so that readers will believe it is Brad. In other words, make another character suspicious, the readers will discount him and look for someone else, so Brad needs to be the next logical person but appear to be above suspicion (which then makes him suspicious).

Needs some work but has potential

————-

OK, it’s not the ringing endorsement we were hoping for but I think I can see where most of it comes from. We’re still at the stage of trying to balance writing enough story to make it interesting with keeping the short story, well, short. If another character was added to make Brad more suspicious, would we need to increase the length of the thing by a third to give this person some dialogue ? Does this matter ?

To be fair, I’d had the same “I guessed the killer too early” point made by a friend who read the story. Throwing red herrings in is much harder than you would think. Agatha Christie was brilliant at this yet she’s often accused of writing pot-boilers. On the other hand we want people to be able to guess the outcome. I hate it when a deus ex machina gets the writer out of a hole. I want to solve the crime, or at least realise I could have solved it.

Still, at least we have potential. Maybe we will re-work the story and re-publish it at a later date in some sort of anthology. Mind you, we’ve also had ideas along the lines of turning it into a play where the audience take the part of the tourists following the tour. Potential indeed.

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