Tag Archives: Author

Time to gather up our ideas

think_aheadPhil: With Kate vs the Navy now out, we are pondering the third in the series.

Much of the humour and many of the important scenes in both books are based on our own experiences. HIA, from Kate vs the Dirtboffins, is influenced by one of my past employers. Recently, I met someone who reckoned he could write a list of real people who match the characters in the book…

Kate vs the Navy has the plot pivoting on an incident that happened to Candice. I’ve wondered for a long while what we would have done if it hadn’t happened to her (no spoilers, but if it helps, she did blog about it at the time). The resulting plotline made a lot of sense both for this book and the story arc covering the whole series.

So, now it’s time to mine our lives for more events to turn in to the plot. We already know that my job history is likely to provide the location for the latest set of adventures. I know it’s Candice’s turn, but I’ve worked in weirder places than she has – which probably tells you something about me.

One little tidbit I’m keen to include is a driving assessment I recently undertook. These are a requirement for anyone driving one of the firm’s cars and so I had to cruise around country lanes for 50 minutes trying not to crash into any tractors while a man decided if I was safe to do so.

Now the idea of people criticising your driving is a real horror for most people and I reckon that all our characters would be hilarious if placed in this position. Kate especially would find it hard – she’s not good at “feedback” at the best of times and she’ll be just the sort of person who thinks they are a great driver simply because they know which foot makes the car go quickly. Tracey, on the other hand, thinks she’s a good driver because her lipstick, applied while looking in the rearview mirror, is perfect.

The poor examiner doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, Book 3 starts in the new year. We better hope our festive crackers have thinking caps inside them.

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Seeing things from the other side

Image result for feed back to a friend

 

Candice: A while ago a friend of mine gave me a synopsis of an idea they’d had floating around in their head.  She professed to not having time to write it, but would I have a look and see if I thought it was worth exploring.

My view, any idea is worth exploring, and it sounded interesting to me, so I said go for it.

A few weeks ago she contacted me with a first draft, asking for my thoughts.  She’d asked me because I had experience in this area and was a ‘professional’ writer. Well, if the cap fits…

Reading someone else’s work is always hard.  I know that Phil and I struggled the first time we handed out pristine copies of book one.  We thought it was great, but we actually lost a few friends over some of the feedback.  So I gulped and dove in.

I’m not going to say much on my thoughts, I need to give them back to the author first.  But I can instantly some of the pitfalls that Phil and I fell in to when we did the first draft of book one.  And I can also see how much we have grown since we wrote the first Kate vs book.  The fact that I can see these things straight off shows we’ve learnt something.  We hope that is demonstrated with the feedback that we are getting on Book two, ie not a lot.

So, I shall carefully point out her where she can make things better and hope that she has another bash at something that is shaping into a good story.

But also go off and think about our marketing plan for Book two… more of that next week.

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Navigating your way to publishing success

Phil: While might be blisteringly succesful with our writing, I banked another £1.56 from sales earlier, we are both still interested in the whole publishing world. With this in mind, I attended a seminar at Stratford Lit Fest last week looking at the continuing changes in the industry. An interesting hour, which provided some welcome pointers.

  • Series sell better than 1 off novels. Readers prefer to invest in something that isn’t a one-off story.
  • Sales don’t really kick in until book 3 or 4. This seems pretty consistent – it worked for Harry Potter after all.
  • Differential pricing works. Price book 1 cheap to get people hooked and then offer the follow-ups at full price
  • Publishers are using e-books as a slush pile and picking up the best-selling ones. Traditional submissions still exist but more and more they are letting sales on-line handle some of the filtering process for them. Why read a thousand poor manuscripts when you can just cherry pick something other people already like and has a proven track record of sales?
  • The biggest trend is authors selling direct to readers. 9 out of 10 members of the Independent Publishers Group are doing this at events.
  • To sell non-fiction, try relevant special interest groups or sports bodies. They may be willing to offer grants to help pay for the work. At the least, they will offer a route to a potential audience.
  • Authors can go to the London Book Fair in April, it’s not trade only any more and there are seminars worth attending.
  • Quality matters. Do not launch without a professional edit. Likewise, get someone who knows the market to design the cover and don’t get upset if they reject your ideas on this.

Of the 40 people in the room, 1 had traditionally published and 2, including. me had self published. Only half the room seemed to be working on a book at the moment which makes me wonder why they had given up a Wednesday evening to find out about publishing.

Anyway, from this, I took that we are doing the right thing. Once Kate vs the Navy launches we are another book towards big sales. The point about the covers was well made too, long-term readers will know that we changed ours at the suggestion of our publisher to something more market-friendly. As a bonus, it’s more bloke friendly too, I’ve been reading something with an overly chick-lit cover recently and couldn’t bring myself to finish it on a train ride…

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What’s your road to publication?

Phil: It’s Stratford Literature Festival time again. Sadly, we aren’t on the bill this year, but there’s still many sessions worth tootling along for.

“My Road to Publication” featured three debut authors talking about their first books with Meg Sanders, how they came about and what happened next. Ironically, thanks to refurbishment of the local library forcing this to decamp to the arts venue, the session took place in an adjacent local theatre (this is Stratford-upon-Avon, there’s a theatre on every corner daahhhling) which I’d never been in before. That made it even more interesting but I have to apologise for the lighting confusing my phone’s camera.

Anyway, the author were, from left to right, Emma Slade, Ruth Hogan and Harriet Cummings.

Ruth and Harriet were both conventional authors in that they have written fiction and writing has become their livelihood, albeit with some freelance copyrighting thrown in for Harriet.  Her novel, We all begin as strangers is inspired by happenings in her parents village. It’s actually her second book, the first absorbed a year an a half before being abandoned. The current book was written in a 3 month session where she devoted her time exclusively to the task.

Of the three, she is the only one with anything approaching formal training with a Faber Academy course. Despite claiming it didn’t provide any real technical knowledge, the course gave her the confidence to write a novel and more importantly, an agent as she had to take part in a mass pitching session. Fellow attendees form a feedback group for each other to provide help and support.

Ruth was an avid reader as a child and had always wanted to be a writer but kept finding excuses not to start, until a car accident in her 30s left her working part-time and with the time and no more excuses. Her writing method is interesting – a chapter at a time laid down in longhand with a fountain pen. This is then typed up on the computer and edited at the same time. Then the pages are printed and edited again. This contrasts with Harriet who writes the entire first draft before doing any editing. The idea for The Keeper of Lost Things possibly relates to a long forgotten, until a “What was your favourite book as a child?” question unearthed it, short story of a child who finds a teddy bear in a puddle and manages to restore it to its owner.

They say all books should start with a bit of a bang and that certainly applies to Emma’s. Her memoir starts with her being held hostage.

This is the least conventional story of all. Emma was a high-flying investment banker but when she saw a photo of her kidnapper after her release, the process of changing her life to becoming a Buddhist nun started. The book is a fund-raiser for her charity Opening Your Heart to Bhutan. written as a respite from her work towards becoming a nun, including creating several thousand hok mandana’s, unlike the others, this is very much a one-off. Buddhism teaches you to either be working for the community or be in retreat from it. Eventually she plans to go into full retreat, but at the moment it’s time to raise funds for a minibus.

All this is of course at odds with one of the first things all three were instructed to do by their publishers – get on social media. Ruth picked on Twitter and Instagram. Harriet is on Twitter too as is Emma. In the modern world, the author can’t sit back and do nothing between manuscripts – writing is just a small part of the job!

 

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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

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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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