Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scotland the possibly brave


I don’t live in Scotland, have very little Scottish blood, and I won't be voting in the referendum, but… I have come to the conclusion that it’s really time to end the “union” that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The thing about our union is that it came about, piecemeal, through conquest, repression, persecution, feudal genealogical alliances, bribery and incompetence among capitalist interests, hundreds of years ago, before any of our present values were remotely acceptable, let alone the norm.



When the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was at its height, Wales had been conquered, Scotland had been bought, Ireland had been starved, any English workers who wanted rights were transported, and democracy was a dirty word. So how about ending the Union, not so that little nation states of Scotland, Ireland and Wales can go off into isolationist ghettoes, but so that we can re-form, not a union, but an alliance, of modern adult societies who share civilised values, cultures, interests, and even a currency, who can agree with each other without having to submit perpetually to rule by an Eton-dominated public school ra-ra debating chamber in mock Gothic in the middle of London.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kindling interest


So I have this book, A Time For Silence, which is published by Honno as a paperback and as an e-book, on Kindle, Kobo etc. I think I may have sold one through Kobo, and perhaps a couple through etc, but really I mean Kindle. People use Kindle. This still surprises me. A book is a paper thing, with pages you can turn, flip through, mark and scribble on, and why would anyone want an electronic device instead?
I discovered why they might, when I started reading Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books and found my wrists snapping under the strain of wrestling with 24 kilos of paper. So I bought a Kindle. I still thought of it as a minor addition to the library and surely people didn’t them on a regular basis.

Having featured on the Kindle monthly deal, in June, I have concluded that people do use Kindle. Lots of people use Kindle, and even actively look for books to load on them. Better still, they keep an eye on such things as Kindle deals and buy accordingly. Not just dozens of them, but hundreds of them. Thousands, even. I hadn’t realised there were a thousand people with Kindles. We live a sheltered life in West Wales.
When you feature in an Amazon deal, you can pretend to be as blasé or dismissive as you like, but it is impossible not to become hooked on checking your rankings. There’s the general ranking of hourly Kindle sales, but there are also the genre rankings. It was hugely gratifying to find myself #1 in literary fiction. I would never have presumed to define my book as literary fiction, which is surely reserved for writers like Iris Murdoch or A.S.Byatt, but then I found it also contained Jeffrey Archer, which pricked the bubble a little. And I also did well as popular fiction, which is, presumably, the opposite of literary fiction, all with the same book.

I was listed too in Crime/thriller/mystery. This worried me. I never considered my novel to be a thriller, or even really a mystery. Would readers be disappointed at the lack of police procedure and car chases? But at least it does contain a crime. How I found myself as #1 in contemporary romance I can’t imagine. My book deals with domestic abuse, depression, suicide, murder, but not a trace of romance. Still, who’s complaining? Now that the monthly deal is well past, I have settled down to being #1, on and off, in Welsh Crime, which is almost as good as being the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
What I gained most from the monthly deal, apart from sales of course, was an astonishing harvest of reviews. There was one who denounced it as rubbish suitable for women, and another dismissed it as cheap and cheerful (cheerful?), but mostly they were written by people who liked it. Genuinely liked it, thought deeply about it and would like to read more.  People who don’t even know me. Which made me feel for the first time that I’m truly an author. Published. Promoted. Approved.

Very reassuring.
Now I can just concentrate on the next one.
Motherlove, out in February. Thought I'd just drop that in.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

My Writing Process

Many thanks to Juliet Greenwood, author of the brilliant Eden’s Garden and We That Are Left, for inviting me to take part in the ‘My Writing Process’ blogging tour, and to Edith Ó Nualláin who previously tagged her. Read Juliet’s blog, which tagged me, at http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/my-writing-process-blog-tour/

And now it’s my turn to answer four questions.


1    1)  What am I working on?
      Far too much. My first novel A Time For Silence was published a couple of years ago. I have a second novel due for publication in February 2015 (Motherlove), and I expect that at any moment I’ll be working on the editing for that. I have been revising and re-polishing a third novel, which was called Shadows but which might now be called Guilt Bonds (open to perpetual revision), which, like my first two books, is set in Pembrokeshire, with roots in the past. It differs in having a hint of a paranormal twist, though essentially it is, like them, about people responding to traumatic events by either growing or going under. I’ve also been working on a novella, set in the 17th Century, to accompany it, though I’m not sure quite how it would do the accompanying.


And then, purely as self-indulgence over Christmas, I treated myself to a re-read of one of my old Science Fiction novels, Inside Out, and enjoyed it so much that I started re-editing it, and am still fully immersed, remembering what it was like just to write for pleasure. When I say Science Fiction, it’s actually about people responding to traumatic events by either growing or going under – no change at all then, except that it happens to be set on a space ship.
What I would really like to be doing is writing, uninterrupted, preferably without even having to get out of bed. Unfortunately, since I have a business to run, making miniature furniture (www.peartree-miniatures.co.uk), I have to keep stopping and doing other things.

2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Difficult, this one, because I have never thought that I was writing in any particular genre. I often include crimes, but I don’t write crime novels. I include links to the past, but I don’t write historical novels. I write about women, but they invariably finish up sorting themselves out rather than finding Mr.Right, so I don’t write romances. I don’t really think of Inside Out as science fiction, despite the space ship. What do I write? About people responding to traumatic events by either growing or going under. Have I mentioned that before? I try to explore why my characters do what they do, how they cope, how the present is born out of the past, and how it determines the course of the future. At the moment my first book, A Time For Silence, is doing quite well, according to the Kindle charts, as Women’s Literary Fiction, which I think I can live with quite happily. Even so, I don’t like genres, or brands, or anything that tries to squeeze me into a writing straitjacket. I like to wave my arms around.


3) Why do I write what I do?
Because I am egotistical and arrogantly assume that I have something worth saying and other people ought to be LISTENING TO ME! Other than that? Being arrogantly egotistical, I like to play God? I like to be in complete and unchallenged control of a world of my own making - except that my characters invariably go off at a tangent and pay no attention to me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, or want to be a writer. To create with words. I’d probably be a lot better off if I had accepted it as an amusing little hobby, something for spare hours of a Sunday morning, leaving the rest of the week to pursue career, family and wild hedonism.
Most of all, I suppose, I write what I do because I write the books I want to read. Back to egotistical arrogance. If you want something doing well, do it yourself.

4)  How does my writing process work?
Literally, it works by me waking up, around 6 a.m., groping for my laptop, and leaving it to start up, while I get on with opening my eyes properly. I’m a morning person, the earlier the better. Evenings are no use. My brain shuts down at 9 p.m. and the rest of me an hour later. So at 6 a.m. I write, and at 9 a.m. or thereabouts I reluctantly shut the laptop and drag myself over to my workshop. After dinner, every day, unless it’s seriously pouring with rain, I go for a walk. Nowhere serious. Nowhere with views to inspire me or people to arouse my curiosity, just up and down my shady lane for 30 or 40 minutes, by torch light in winter.

 During that walk, I just think, and all the problems in whatever I’m writing sort themselves out. Miracles happen. Solutions present themselves, so obvious I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of them before. Descriptions take form. Dialogue flows. Wit bubbles. It’s all brilliant. The trouble is, by the time I’ve slept on it and woken the next morning, 50% of it has evaporated and the rest is no longer quite so brilliant, but progress is made.
I usually start writing a book with a clear idea of who’s who and where it’s all going. By the time I’m between a third and two thirds of the way through it, the characters have all gone rambling off under their own steam, and the whole meaning has rearranged itself and come to completely different conclusions, so I usually start the rewrite before I’ve even written it. Once I have written it, I can see how I’ve got it all entirely wrong, so I rewrite it again. Then I polish it. And re-polish it. Does anybody know how to stop writing a book?

That’s me then. Now, let me hand on to three other great writers whose blogs will take the tour on .

Catherine Marshall, author of Excluded and Masquerade. Read her blog (as Kate MacCormack) at http://www.katemaccormack.blogspot.co.uk/  and visit her website: http://www.catherine-marshall.co.uk/

Alys Einion, whose novel, Inshallah, is being published by Honno in July: http://alyseinion.wordpress.com/

Judith Barrow, author of the brilliant Pattern of Shadows and Changing Shadows (and soon a third instalment of the trilogy I hope): visit her website and blog at http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk




Tuesday, 28 January 2014

So fare thee well, Pete Seeger


I remember my parents buying their first record player. Or gramophone player. It was covered in cream and maroon vinyl, and it was placed in the dining room, where we all looked at it and wondered what it was doing there.

My brother knew what it was doing there. He seriously bought records, EPs and LPs – still has all the original Beatles records, and he followed the charts religiously.

I wasn’t really interested in music, and in this, I took after my parents, which is why I wondered why they’d bought it. The purchase did compel them to invest in some records. There was, as I recall, an EP of Ella Fitzgerald. We also had a few classical LPs stamped with ‘Fire Salvage,’ which might explain why the labels couldn’t be trusted. It was years before I discovered that what I’d thought was Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was actually Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto.  My parents really felt far more comfortable with the spoken words, so we had Dylan Thomas reading some of his poems, Under Milk Wood and several Shakespeare recordings. This is why I can still quote most of Henry V from end to end.

But there were music records that made an impact in the family: songs by Pete Seeger. We played them religiously, and every Sunday we would go to the pub at lunch time (long before serious campaigns about drink-driving) and come home roaring ‘The Banks are made of marble’ or ‘If you miss me at the back of the bus’ or, if we were too tipsy to manage complicated words, ‘We shall overcome.’ We were, of course, a radical left-wing family, which we demonstrated by singing Pete Seeger songs on our inebriated way home.

So perhaps, the best song to commemorate Pete Seeger, for me, is not one of his but ‘As soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts.’