Tag Archives: Author

In the air tonight

Candice: I have just finished reading Phil Collins’ autobiography.  I actually bought it for the other half for Christmas but had finished my previous book and was looking for something else to dive in to.  It was collecting dust on his bed side table so I took the opportunity to steal it.

Well I’m glad it did.  I like bios – either self written or by someone else, though the autobiographies are always better as they are closer to the truth.  I like to know how celebrities ended up where they are as its often a strange collection of happy accidents as much as their planning to get famous.

Phil’s is a bit of both.  He was determined not to follow his father into insurance, a family tradition, but also had a wandering streak so when presented with a drum kit at an early age decided he wanted to do something really different from an office job.  It did help that his mother got involved with a talent agency and he ended up performing in ‘Oliver’ at an early age, whetting his acting chops.  But music was his real thing and by his mid teens he was a jobbing drummer looking for a band.

Though contacts and coincidence he ended up  auditioning for ‘Genesis’ an up and coming band with an already tight knit group of players.  Phil passed the audition but struggled to fit in.

There is a lot of talking in the book about his relationship with Peter Gabriel, the original lead singer in Genesis.  The rumour mill insists he was pushed out by Phil, Phil says it was all for Peter’s personal reasons and he was reluctantly made the new front man when no one else stepped up to the plate.  Reading the rest of the book you find out what a driven man he is so I think this is six of one and half and dozen of the other.  Phil’s Genesis explored a different musical route so I also think this would have been an influence.

The rest of the story takes me to the time of Genesis that I remember, and also Phil’s solo career.  He is one of the few people to have run concurrent careers, which meant a punishing schedule of touring and writing for both projects.  It made him a rich successful man, but also lost him three marriages in the process.

And then he decides to retire, and falls of a cliff.  With no focus for each day, alcohol takes over and he quickly becomes an alcoholic. The stubborn person he is it takes a few goes at rehab and arguments with family and friends before he realises it was give up the alcohol or life. Hence why the book is called ‘Not dead yet’!

I really enjoyed it, especially when it was at his peak as each record mentioned brought back memories of different part of my youth.  I can remember playing ‘No Jacket Required’ a lot, especially round at my friend Kathryn’s house for some reason.  I will be going out and buying the ‘best of’ album.

However, Phil is an interesting character.  He is focused and ruthless, there is no other way for him to have got where he was.  The book is quite open and I don’t think he would realise how some of the things he says or did would make some of  us wince. The music always came first, and pity his children, wives or even sleep if they got in the way.  I think his brush with death made him realise that there is more to life than this, but only just.

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Thought for day with the Rev Richard Coles: Cake is good.

Phil: Is there anything more middle class than going to Stratford-upon-Avon literary festival’s autumn season, to see a nice vicar because he’s entertaining on Saturday morning Radio 4?

That’s me. I ought to buy my clothes from the Boden catalogue (whatever that is).

Rev Richard Coles is an interesting character. He first appeared on telly as part of 80s band, The Comunards.

After stepping off the waterskis of fame (his description) there were titanic amount of drugs followed by finding a life within the Catholic church, conversion to the Church of England. He is now a parish priest in the diasis of Peterborough as well as Radio 4 regular.

He arrived on stage with his interviewer and a cake an audience member had baked for him. Cutting a slice, he munched through it during the enjoyable hours chat.

Reading up a little before the evening, I discover that life in the Communards was not always each. Jimmy Somerville was a natural at being famous and far more charismatic than his bespecled bandmate. Fans would flock to him, sometimes not even waiting for a completed autograph from the keyboard player. When you are the sort of person who has always tried to “nudge your way into the spotlight”, even while looking like a vicar trying to emerge from a pop star, this has got to be hard.

Is this the future for team Nolan Parker? Will the audiences only have time for one of us? And will it be the glamorous one, or the speccy bloke with the charisma of a tea towel?

Well apparently the pay is good and I’m sure taking the cloth isn’t necessary. I’m sure I’ll manage.

At least when you go to a literary festival, people bring you cake, and as Rev Coles says, it is good!

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Print On Demand. Not for losers.

Bello is a digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan, established to breath new life into previously published, classic books.

We publish in ebook and print-on-demand formats to bring these wonderful books to new audiences.

www.panmacmillan.com/bello

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Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s SHETLAND. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on scree and in print. Her books have now sold over one million copies worldwide.

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anncelevesbookPhil: I acquired this book from my local railway station “library” – a bookcase in the waiting room on platform 3. With a journey ahead, I’d planned to drop a couple of books in and find something random and unexpected to read. I chose The Healers because it felt like the print copy of our book. Satin finish cover with no frills but otherwise just like any other paperback.

When I read the above, I understood why. It’s the offspring of the same printing machine, or at least a very close relative.

The idea that a major publisher maintains a digital and print-on-demand imprint is fascinating. We all know that putting books on the shelves of shops costs lots of money. This limits those books to those that the publisher and shop are certain will sell – mainly ones with someone off the telly named on the cover.

But what about the rest?

Print-on-demand offers the chance for publishers to leverage “the long tail” of the book world. The same business model that makes Amazon a success. The idea is that there is a large body of work that will sell in tiny numbers over a long period of time. For a shop this is bad news as they simply can’t keep all the slow movers on the shelf.

If your business is based on enormous warehouses or even POD then this isn’t a problem. If you have 2 copies of a thousand books that sell 1 copy a year, that’s still a thousand books sold. Best of all, they all sell at full price, unlike the best sellers which are heavily discounted so no-one makes any money.

Maybe POD is the future for lots of novelists. You’ll never be out of print for a start and there is always the dream of sudden interest in a title pushing sales.

For those lower down the author ladder like us, it’s comforting to know that our book is in the same market as people who have written for the telly. And that you can own a copy that will be just as good as theirs.

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The Healers?

It’s a good fun whodunnit novel. I rattled through it very quickly – always the sign of an enjoyable read. It has the hallmarks of an early novel with a bit more set-up than you might like at the start, but if you can find a copy then grab it.

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Showing off our book

drink

Phil: We came, we drank cocktails and we told our story in front of a crowd.

Yesterday evening at Books Showoff was great fun. In the bunker underneath Tottenham Court Road Waterstones, we were the last act on stage (we’ll be calling that the Headline Act as it makes us seem more important) and wowed the audience.

There was much booing and hissing at pictures of Michael Gove. We went off piste from the planned words to accompany the slides a bit, but it didn’t matter. Someone suddenly found she really owned the microphone when she got hold of it, something to do with the fancy shoes bought for the occasion I suspect.

Great fun. Sadly we had to run for the tube straight afterwards but if you saw us and enjoyed our stuff then please buy a copy of da book. Link on the left or drop me an e-mail and for £7.99, I’ll send you a signed copy.

Thanks to Steve X for putting this on. Keep an eye on the web page if you are within striking distance of London. A fiver well spent for a great fun evening.

stevex

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Sign your name

signiture

Phil: My trip to Brum last week involved a good workout. A backpack full of books for the yomp across the city centre certainly added something!

I was keen that Candice took away some of the copies with our lovely new cover – so keen that I put them in a suitable plastic bag from a shop that wouldn’t embarrass her, I doubted that her designer handback would be big enough to tote them. A second bag contained some for me. I wanted these signed.

Over tea, an interesting question was raised – which signature to use?

Using your normal one isn’t a good idea – at least not unless you want people copying it in cheques, contracts and anything else that gets scribbled on. What is required is a “public” signature that is different from the “official” version.

This must be a real nightmare for the Bank of England’s chief cashier, Victoria Cleland. Her monica is on every new note issued by the bank, so if any of us want to fake a copy, we have a handy example in our wallets. Presumably she also has a “public” version, possibly worked over by the banks graphics department to perfect it.

We have to be practical. In our dreams there will be book signings, whatever we do needs to be quick so the lines of adoring fans aren’t kept waiting.

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So, I’ve gone for a simple Phil, with a my little cartoon face. Candice has a cat paw print after hers. Personal but if you see them on a cheque, it’s pretty obvious that something is amiss.

With that solved, I know you are thinking of another question:

“How can I get hold of one of those signed copies?”

Well, the answer is simple – send me an e-mail – and I’ll reply with a PayPal invoice and pop a copy in the post. Price £7.99 including free postage in the UK (Overseas at cost but we’ll sort something out).

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Remembering with Pam Nixon

Back in June, Candice and I visited Worcester Litfest for an event called “Authors of a Certain Era“.  I came away with Pam Nixon’s book “But I’ll remember this.”

The book tells the story of Dilly, a rather naive eighteen year old who is a boarder at the Girls’ High School and her meeting with glamorous couple, Mike and Alithea Davis. The text immerses the reader in a 1950s world that seems very alien today. My mother, in her 70s, raced through it and tells me that it brought back a lot of memories and the atmosphere is absolutely spot on. 

As a co-published author, we thought it would be interesting to have a chat with Pam.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

When I retired from a career teaching English I imagined years of leisure ahead during which I’d read long novels like pamnixonheasdshotUlysses and Moby Dick as well as having time to write my novel.

It didn’t turn out quite like that. My daughters started producing children and wanting me to go and help, sometimes locally but also in France and Australia.

We sold the family house and renovated a wreck of a flat in Oxford, where there proved to be many distractions. I took GCSE French and Italian, did art and literature classes as well as joining writers’ groups -and then there was the local arts cinema, the theatre, art exhibitions and friends to keep up with.

Somehow the novel did get written, but it took a great deal longer than I’d envisaged.

How did you start writing?

My mother wrote poems and stories for my sister and me when we were children. Before she was married she’d had poems published in a magazine called ‘The People’s Friend’ so I always thought writing was quite a normal thing to do.

I wrote poems that rhymed and had lots of thous and thees, Later I wrote more sophisticated ones, officially published in school magazines and unkind rhymes about teachers, unofficially passed round amongst my contemporaries.

I started stories but never finished them. I wrote plays for my sister and friends to perform But then I went to Oxford to read English and felt so intimidated by people who seemed so much cleverer and cooler than me that I more or less gave up writing anything original for years.

I never quite gave up the idea of being a writer however and eventually got up the courage to go on an Arvon course. Other courses followed and I joined a poetry group. I had a few poems published, got commended in competitions – even won one but I still wanted to write a novel.

What’s a typical writing day? Do you set yourself a word count?

I really don’t have a typical writing day. Life is fairly unpredictable and I write when I can.

With my first novel I had a break of about two years when I got totally stuck and started to write a family memoir. It was a life-writing class that started me going again.

Then I found a mentor and had to produce something every fortnight. That’s how the first draft was finished.

After that I became obsessed and wrote whenever I could sometimes for hours at a time, completely oblivious to anything else that was going on.

Now , with my second novel, I’m stuck again and this time am distracting myself by writing a play – I’ve just finished a ten week playwriting course – but the novel is going on in my head and I’m making notes.

Favourite place to write?

We live in a second floor flat and don’t have many rooms but, as it’s part of a Victorian house, they are quite big. I write in a corner of our bedroom under a velux window so it’s nice and light. I’m very happy there surrounded by books and files with a big table for my laptop and printer. The only disadvantage is I can’t work late at night if my husband wants to go to sleep

My children clubbed together to put up a summerhouse at the end of the garden that they hoped I’d use as a writing room but it’s a long way down to the garden; so I only work there when the weather is lovely and it seems a pity to stay indoors

Could you tell us a little about your novel “But I’ll remember this”

pamnixonI like to base my writing on real life and memory but when I was younger I thought my life was so ordinary it was of little interest. As I grew older ,however I began to realise that my time as a boarder at a girls’ high school in a provincial cathedral city in the mid-fifties was part of a vanished world. I wanted to recapture that world through fiction but I couldn’t think of a plot. Then I remembered that during my last year at school I’d longed for some interesting people to arrive and I thought, ‘What if they had ? As soon as I’d created charming Mike, his exotic wife Alithea and the pompous Hugh the plot almost wrote itself .

The story is written from the point of view of a young girl. Is it autobiographical?

Well it is and it isn’t. I did quite a lot to differentiate Dilly from my eighteen year old self , changing things about her background and appearance, but a great deal of her day to day experience was described from memory. Nobody interesting ever did appear in my life during that last year at school. However I have a lot of trouble convincing some people that I’m not still yearning for some lost love, who in fact never existed.

The older Dilly is a more successful poet than I am and my husband is not an academic and is not at all like Steve although he’s convinced Steve is based on him – actually he’s a bit more like Mike!

Are any of the characters based on real people – that you will admit to!

After the book was published I got an e-mail from a man who’d been a pupil at the Boys’ Grammar School in the same era. He wrote,
‘The most fictional bit is the passage on the title page which says “Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to businesses, companies, events, institutions or locations is completely coincidental. I was reminded of many people institutions and locations…”’

I did invent some people however – or half-invented them. The hero, Mike, for example, is based on anecdotes my then boyfriend used to tell me about his history teacher. After the novel was published another one of the ex-grammar school boys put me in touch with the real life history teacher ,whom I found, to my embarrassment, was still alive . He turned out to have come from a very different background than the one I’d invented for him. He wasn’t the son of a Welsh coal miner, but of a German, Jewish banker. He’d come over here on Kinder transport. Fortunately he was amused by the character I’d created.

So yes, a lot of the characters are based on real people or my interpretation of them.

The book is co-published, what did this involve between writing and publication?

3Score Publishing was set up by a friend of ours and my husband and I had been involved in it for some years.

A few years ago I’d become tired of a senior editor at a large publishing house telling me how, having been so impressed by the first three chapters of my novel she couldn’t wait to read the rest. She managed to resist the temptation for 5 months; so I decided I’d had enough and turned to 3Score.

My husband did most of the work preparing it for the printers as he has a background in IT. It was meticulously proof-read by another 3Score member who is a retired language teacher and our friend who set up the co-operative,had had a career in PR so helped with publicity.

I had some outside help. My sister did the painting for the cover which I then gave to a graphic designer. The marketing manager of Blackwell’s in the Broad in Oxford whom I know, offered me a book launch there. I managed to get 60 people to come that evening and it was a great success.

I’m not much good at social media and most of my sales come through word of mouth. Lately I’ve been giving talks to local W.I s on my novel and have sold a number through them.

What’s next, is there another novel in the pipeline?

As I’ve said I’m a bit stuck on my next novel at the moment.

The title is ‘A Passion for Dead Leaves ‘. It’s about the relationship between two sisters who, despite their strong affection for each other, have a rather strained relationship.

Part of it is set in Cyprus where we lived for 4 years during the 60s and one of the reasons I’m not progressing at the moment is that I’m doing some background reading about the politics of the time. I also need to find out something about RAF family life, the A level chemistry syllabus in the 60s and, later on, about coloured glazes on pots. In other words this novel requires more research than the first one.

In the meantime I want to finish my play, ‘Franglais’, which will be entered for a competition in January.

Thanks Pam.Good luck with the play, and your research for the next novel.

You can buy “But I’ll Remember This” from Amazon.

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Agents are a good thing. Right?

Agent of ChangePhil: Conventional wisdom is that the path to seeing your book appear on the shelves at Waterstones runs:

  1. Have great book idea.
  2. Write book.
  3. Pitch book to agent.
  4. Agent sells book to publisher.
  5. Publisher prints lots of copies which sell like hot cakes.
  6. Writer buys yacht.

It seems this isn’t the case. Last week’s literary event saw us listen to some horror stories of books that agents loved but ultimately never made it to the shelves.

All of the ladies had snagged literary agents, some more than one, but in each case the response had been along the lines of “I love your book, but I can’t sell it to a publisher.”

The issue seemed to be that they weren’t writing genre fiction. Good as the books were, they didn’t fit within the narrow definitions of the silos publishers like to work in. They want YA fiction with vampires, they don’t want vampires and requited love. That’s chick-lit and a whole different audience. Apparently.

Of course, the Ladies of a Certain Age weren’t having any of this. As one explained, at their age there wasn’t time to leave their book sat in a pile for months on end. I guess that this is one deadline that focussed the mind! More to the point, all had led full lives and weren’t the sort to put up with being messed around. If a door needed kicking it, they were willing to do this to achieve publication.

I suspect this is why co-publishing appealed. Spending money didn’t seem too much of an object, the important thing was to move the project on and they were willing to do what it takes to get things going.

Perhaps this is just another example of how the world is changing. Publishers genre silos are all very well, but maybe they are restricting the books that people can find and enjoy. As we discussed on the trip back home, music has changed with anyone who fancies being in a band able to produce and distribute from their bedroom.

Books take longer to write, and there is much more of a desire for physical product, but as we keep hearing from other authors, the “proper” way is no longer the only way.

 

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