Thursday, 7 March 2013

Why Write?

Today is World Book Day. If you haven't heard of it, it's a worldwide celebration of reading and all things related, ie books, authors etc. 

I'm all for celebrations. My good friend and narcissistic publisher Edie Tor is marking the day by having the complete works of ELJames tattooed on her body, but I wouldn't go that far. For one thing, ELJames is hardly my benchmark for literary merit*, even if she has sold cartloads of copies. And for another, I come out in hives when I put transfers on my wrist, so tattoos might just be fatal.

I'm all for reading, however. Far better to stimulate the imagination than pig out on junk telly. And with the advent of ebooks and KSP, the choice of reading material has never been wider. Which begs the question: With an ocean of books out there, should anyone be bothering to write more?

Of course "should" never enters into it, does it? If people feel the need to do something, for whatever obscure and indefinable reason, they tend to just go ahead and do it. And it doesn't really matter how loony it seems to everyone else. Witness the number who die trying to be the zillionth climber of Everest, or walking to the North Pole, or pole-vaulting across the Grand Canyon. The rest of us shake our heads on the sidelines, but it never deterred anyone.

So why do we write? What is the need we're trying to fulfil when we torture ourselves with rewrites, critiques, rejection letters and bad reviews? If it's for glory or riches, we're setting ourselves up for disappointment. Granted a few do win the jackpot - it's an analogy worth emphasising because you're about as likely to win the lottery than hit Harry Potter levels of riches - but the vast majority never see enough to cover the cost of pens and ink. 

But isn't art its own reward? Someone once said art is the purpose of life, and therefore no one should expect to earn from it. Like the poor sod trying to pogo across the Sahara it's one little contribution to the tapestry of life, a little coloured fleck in the midst of all that rich imagery. It's an achievement, of sorts. It's something out of nothing. And that's always worth the effort.

Happy World Book Day! 

*Is she anybody's?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hand Knitted Electricity

Just a short post today announcing the publication of Hand Knitted Electricity which I had a hand in.

 I should warn you that this so-called book is not for those of a nervous disposition, or indeed anyone easily offended by the politically incorrect. So don't go buying it for your sweet old granny thinking it's about knitting and stuff because you might precipitate her early demise. The publisher cannot accept any liability for suffering caused, but if  you're willing to take the risk on your own head be it and if she leaves you a sizeable inheritance you might like to chuck a few quid in our direction by way of thanks.

Anyway, if you like a laugh you might enjoy it. It's available from Amazon, or for those of you with Kindle from here.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

When Words Get In The Way (or how not to be Mr Hutchinson)

One thing writers have in common is a love of words. After all, they are our stock in trade. So it would be strange if they didn't hold a certain charm, even fascination. There is something about the sound of the right word, the feel of it in the mouth, the sight of it on the page, that is immensely satisfying. But as with all pleasures it can become an obsession.

Do you enjoy word games like Scrabble? Do you cancel appointments so as not to miss your daily dose of Countdown? Do you sit up late trying to finish the Times crossword? If so, you could be a lexaholic.

Stephen Fry is a famous one and it shows. Robert Robinson was another - remember all that camp delivery on Call My Bluff? The pure joy of words is the greatest spur to a wordsmith, but it can also be their downfall.

Because it's so easy to let your passion get the better of you. Remember, story telling is about communication - it's a two way street, like a conversation. Just as you would bore a listener rigid by spouting great long pompous sentences of obscure and unnecessary words, you lose the reader in much the same way. If you have a propensity to wax lyrical all the more need for critical editing, either from yourself or a sympathetic beta reader.

Otherwise you run the risk of sounding like a pompous bore, as this clip from Fawlty Towers shows:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Santa Claus touched me up, claims elf.

The world of fictional characters was shaken to its foundations today in the wake of a new ITV documentary, "Kringle the Kiddy Fiddler" in which several underage elves claim the much beloved seasonal benefactor sexually assaulted them.

"I was working late in his workshop at the North Pole," claimed one sobbing elf who wished to remain anonymous. "When I heard the familiar Ho-ho-ho and the next thing he'd yanked off my tights. It was dreadful. I haven't been able to work since, I was so traumatised."  

A spokesman for Christmas said these allegations were completely scurrilous and unfounded. "Santa Claus is the seasonal Father to children everywhere, and there is nothing whatsoever unnatural about an old man in a red suit creeping into children's bedrooms in the dead of night to give them the contents of his sacks. For anyone to say otherwise is pure malice."

But other alleged victims have since come forward to add their sordid stories to the debacle. "He asked me if I wanted to pet his reindeer," said one. "Then we drove around in his Rolls Royce Sleigh drinking eggnog. I started to feel dizzy then the next thing I knew he had his hand up my dress."

Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle as he is known informally, has long been celebrated for his generous gift giving to children and works tirelessly every Christmas Eve to bring presents to every child, near or far. He has been recognised by having his picture on Christmas Cards and in songs like "Santa Claus is Coming To Town".  He has always maintained a wall of strict privacy regarding his private life and consistently refuses media interviews.

"It's just not right," claimed a former reindeer who claimed he was sacked for speaking out about Kringle's activities in 1987. "Something should be done. He's a menace. They should get someone safer who's good with kids. Like that Jimmy Savile bloke."

Santa Claus declined to comment.

Monday, 24 September 2012

...and trolls

As a companion piece to my last blog I thought it pertinent to mention another species of review which gives cause for annoyance or amusement depending on whether you are on the receiving end.

With review sites like Goodreads and all retail sites having customer reviews which are open to anyone regardless of whether the purchase of said item can be verified, the way is clear for trolls to put the boot into any unsuspecting author they deem deserving. I call them trolls because personal attacks on an author can hardly be called reviews. These troll attacks can be the result of many things, but usually it's someone with a grudge for one reason or another.  I've seen spates of negative "reviews" appear after a forum debacle or after an author has received a bad press for whatever reason. Self publishing guru John Locke received a raft of these after the revelation that he had paid for some of his reader reviews. 

You can easily spot these in the one-star or two-star (if they're feeling generous) section. The giveaway is that they contain no specific details about the book, only vague criticisms of style/genre/cover art spiced with digs at the author. They often lead to bitter rows in the comments too which reinforce the vitriolic motive.

As well as these there also is a subset of trolls who fancy themselves as experts on a particular subject and make it their mission to nitpick every detail in a novel in order to write self-aggrandising reviews which are really nothing to do with the book at all but a means to show off their amazing prowess. Historical fiction is particularly prone to this kind of trolling.

These trolls are more interested in boosting their own self image than relaying useful information. Some barely mention the book, instead listing their own (dubious) qualifications. Sadly their lack of knowledge is even more apparent than the gaffes they are uncovering. Some have trouble stringing a coherent sentence together and it is hard to take someone's pompously proclaimed qualifications seriously when they can't even spell.

So there's much entertainment to be had from troll reviews. What do you do if you get one? Have a good laugh and ignore it. The one thing trolls love is to get attention - it's the reason they do it, after all. Don't feed them.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

On Sock Puppets and Reviews

Everybody's doing it. Or so it would seem.

In case you haven't heard - in which case you should come out of that sensory deprivation chamber NOW and get with the programme - there's been a lot of rumpus this week about authors faking rave reviews by creating sock puppet accounts. Go and Google sock puppet if you want all the sordid details, I can't be bothered trawling through the multitude of news items. Not only that but SP guru and Kindle pin-up boy John Locke admitted he'd achieved his jaw dropping sales by paying for five star reviews. 

Well, I'm disillusioned. With each new revelation it seems the world of honest law-abiding authors and reviewers is nothing more than an illusion. And I can't help wondering how long this has been going on. Did the doyens of literature stoop to such disreputable tactics to launch their masterpieces?

Amazon review of:  Oliver Twist by Norbert Cheeseworthy

This is the best of books. It's not the worst of books. Were I a younger man I'd aspire to write such a tome myself.

Was this review helpful to you? YES/NO    78 out of 98 people found this review helpful. 

Amazon review of: Genesis by Old Testament Scribe

And lo! I looked upon the face of the book and saw that it was good. Certainly worthy of five stars.

Was this review helpful to you? YES/NO    8965 out of 98888 people found this review helpful

Amazon review of Emma by Regency Fop

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a discerning reader should shell out a good part of his fortune to gain possession of this book.
                                                      Was this review helpful to you? YES/NO   76 out of 82 people found this review helpful

Friday, 24 August 2012

In the Interest of Press Freedom

For several days now a picture has been posted widely online, in fact one might say it had "gone viral" in modern parlance. In spite of its easy availability Buckingham Palace has asked me not to publish the picture on my blog on the grounds that it violates the privacy of a well-loved member of the royal family. But the larger issue is one of press freedom. For that reason, and nothing to do with getting a few more hits than normal, I have decided to publish and be damned.

So here it is. The picture the Royal Family did not want you to see:

Next week: Harry gets his nob out.