Joanna Penn nailed it at our CrimeFest panel and summarises it all again here.
A perfect, energetic, brilliant summary of why we do it our own way.
Yes, that grinner in the middle is me.
May 11, 2015
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April 30, 2015
Recent events at Foyles Bookshop (see below) in central London created some multi-media perspectives on indie authorship and author collectives.
First up, audio.
Here’s a radio interview with JD Smith and myself, talking about Triskele Books author collective with Roz Morris and Peter Snell on Surrey Hills Radio. (Warning, contains seriously cool music.)
This take on the collective is neatly delivered by our fellow Triskelite Catriona Troth, speaking here to Ingram Spark.
April 23, 2015
Friday 17 April saw London Book Fair’s first Fringe Festival.
Foyles, London’s biggest independent bookstore, opened its doors to the Alliance of Independent Authors, IndieReCon and IAF15, organised by Triskele Books. A thrilling, vibrant and educational day, not to mention a lot of fun. So what happened?
CJ Lyons opened the event by using the analogy of a blacksmith.
Forge your first book with love and care, then keep honing your craft.
Engage with readers.
Don’t try to sell a million.
Write something a million people want to buy.
Debbie Young of the Alliance of Independent Authors chaired a discussion with panellists Peter Urpeth of Scottish based Creative Agency, Emergents; John Prebble of Arts Council of England Literature Relationship Manager and Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors.
The theme was how to keep the cash coming in while you write. Grants, prizes, Public Lending Rights, mentoring schemes, partnerships with business development organisations and sponsorship are all potential sources of support for authors.
Dan Holloway and Rohan Quine fired up the audience by speaking eloquently and poetically on diversity in literature.
Read Dan’s poem ‘Because’ here.
ALLi’s literary agent, Toby Mundy of TMA chaired a panel including Scott Beatty of Trajectory, book-scout Sharmaine Lovegrove of Dialogue Berlin & Fremantle Media, and Katie Donelan of BookBub to discuss how authors can sell more rights.
Porter Anderson introduced SELF-e. Authors everywhere can sign up to get their ebooks into US libraries.
Much talk centres on what self-publishing should learn from trade publishing. Rarely vice versa. Porter Anderson explored this key question with panellists Robert Caskie, Senior Agent at Peter Frazer Dunlop; Dr Alison Baverstock, Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Publishing, Kingston University and Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark: how does self-publishing affect trade publishers, editors, agents and bookshops?
Debbie Young and Piers Alexander introduced the new #Authors4Bookstores campaign. All writers and readers love bookstores and want to see at least one on every high street. This new campaign encourages and enables indie authors and bookstores to form mutually beneficial, supportive relationships.
Last session of the day saw Joanna Penn grill a range of successful indie authors, Rachel Abbott, Steena Holmes, CJ Lyons, Mark McGuinness and Nick Stephenson on their tactics, breakthrough moments and advice.
Orna Ross & Porter Anderson wrapped up the conference with a look back at the last three years of ALLi (including a divergence of opinion on how to pronounce it) and hopes for the future.
You can access all this and more via IndieReCon – talks, tips, ideas, videos and vast amounts of resources to peruse at leisure.
The last part of the day was IAF15 @Foyles, organised by Triskele Books. Fifty authors with books, balloons, goodies, quizzes, wine, canapés and smiles welcomed browsers, bookclubbers, friends and readers. The atmosphere was happy, friendly, communal and everything an indie author fair should be.
And we’re now planning the next one.
After a cup of tea.
Images courtesy of Liza Perrat
April 3, 2015
A bunch of treats and goodies for you to indulge in at your leisure:
1. Writing Retreat
Writing At The Castle is 5 days of professional tuition and private writing time in the inspiring surroundings of a magnificent medieval Château in Gascony, South West France. Award-winning authors Amanda Hodgkinson and Tracey Warr, together with literary agent Andrew Lownie and publishing professionals including Jill Marsh author and co-publisher at Triskele Books and Anselm Audley, will be among the speakers who will lead practical workshops for a small group of writers looking to make that difficult leap from the private and often solitary writing desk, to the world of published success.
Writing At The Castle 2015 will concentrate on fiction and the novel. Wednesday 1st July – Tuesday 7th July.
2. Words with JAM
THE magazine for writers is just out. If you’re new to Words with JAM (WWJ), please pull up a stool and take a look around. We email out issues packed full of interviews with authors and industry professionals, articles on writing, reading, libraries, the publishing industry and indie-publishing every other month, as well as occasional newsletters.
This is the History issue, containing interviews, reviews, info, opinion and a smidge of sarky satire.
Jill Indie Pub – Your ALLi rep’s take on indie publishing in Switzerland. These are the slides from my talk at WriteConZüri15 on 21/22 March. A round of all speakers’ presentations will appear in the next issue of The Woolf, Zürich’s quarterly literary magazine: pouncing on narrative media, dragging tasty morsels home to share with the pack.
4. Here’s A Time & A Place
Today, Triskele Books releases a boxset of SEVEN fabulous novels, taking you wherever and whenever you want to go. Gorge on gorgeousness and feel saintly as it is completely calorie-free. What’s in the box?
Crimson Shore: ‘Hamer does for Anglesey what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford’
The Rise of Zenobia: ‘Packed to the hilt with tension and adventure, it kept me spellbound’
Rats: ‘An absolute treat for fans of SF, dystopian, and YA novels, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great story brilliantly told’
Ghost Town:‘Unique and brilliant… not just a compelling read, but also a learning experience’
Wolfsangel: ‘Fascinating, forceful and extremely well researched… will thrill historical fiction fans’
Delirium: ‘Beautifully plotted and written, this absorbing, enchanting novel is one of the best books I have read this year’
Behind Closed Doors: ‘Warning: once you start this book you may not be able to put it down, and you may find yourself talking to it’
February 21, 2015
A writer friend is helping me out by checking a Spanish translation of my work. I asked how I could repay the favour.
“Encouragement!” she said. “I’m blocked. So many false starts, I need help to get moving again.”
Blocks happen to all of us, sometimes caused by rejection or criticism, sometimes because we need to top up the creative reservoir. Advice often falls into the ‘Stand back’, ‘Take a break’, ‘Do something else’ category. Yes, that works.
But sometimes we get blocked because we’re looking at the woods and not seeing the trees. So get closer.
When I hit a wall, I stop trying to envisage the forest and get right down to twig level. I spend some time doing the equivalent of staring at a blade of grass. I’ve collected a series of exercises from all over and this is how I get past my blocks. After I’ve forced myself to complete a few of these, I return to my ms with an attitude I can only describe as Hell Yeah!
They aren’t for everyone – depends on what the block is – but it might give you a few ideas. Here are ten exercises which have worked for me:
Roll the dice. To generate some writing, start with www.storycubes.com/products. You could use cut out images from a magazine just as easily. Apply genres – whatever images you turn up, you have to fit them into crime/erotica/fairytale… WHY? Remind yourself of the childlike joy of just making shit up.
The Dürrenmatt Exercise. Write the first 250 words of a short story, but write them in one sentence. Make sure that the sentence is grammatically correct and punctuated correctly. WHY? Same reason as you do yoga – stretch.
Eavesdrop. Sit in a restaurant or a crowded area and write down the snippets of conversation you hear. Listen to how people talk and what words they use. Practise finishing their conversations. Write your version of what comes next. Match their style and try to capture those voices on the page. WHY? Break old habits, learn new ones.
Play with structure. Find a descriptive passage you admire (not from your own work) and revise all the sentences. Write the passage using all simple sentences (no coordination, no subordination); write the passage using all complex-compound sentences; write the passage using varying sentence structure. WHY? The more ways you can think to play with sentence structure, the more you will become aware of how sentence structure helps to create pacing, alter rhythm, offer delight.
Focus on verbs. Find a passage that you admire (about a page of prose) and examine all of the verbs in each sentence. Are the “active,” “passive,” “linking?” If they are active, are they transitive or intransitive? Are they metaphorical (Mary floated across the floor)? What effects do verbs have on your reading of the passage? Now take a passage of your own writing and revise all of the verbs in it. Do this once making all the verbs active, once making all the verbs passive. Then try it by making as many verbs as possible metaphorical. WHY? Make words work harder.
Work on word choice. Trying rewriting this extract using no adjectives or adverbs. Not just taking them out but choosing more powerful nouns, verbs, constructions to convey the same concepts. WHY? Read it and you tell me. (Lest you think I made this up, it comes from Kay Burley’s Betrayal.)
Leaning on the edge of the enormous walnut and leather inlay desk he now slowly began to unbutton her silk blouse … Isla was mightily relieved she had always heeded her mother’s guidance of wearing good underwear, though that advice had no doubt been for other reasons.” It’s La Senza, since you ask.” He instantly turned and swept away every bit of clutter from his leather-topped desk, knocking over a Waterford Crystal water jug in his urgency, which smashed into tiny shards as it crashed to the ground.
At that exact moment, Julian was expertly using his silver tongue to offer intense gratification to Sally as he held on firmly to her taut, tanned thighs, tightly gripped around his handsome face. Lithe and muscular, he effortlessly lifted her from the bed and onto his broad shoulders. Sally felt all the excitement and exhilaration of a fairground ride as he continued to offer intense pleasure before she was finally sated and he lowered her gently back onto the round bed.
Wear other shoes. Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, no your own. WHY? To understand voice and perspective and flex your imagination.
The secret subtext. Write a dramatic scene between two people in which each has a secret and neither of them reveals the secret to the other or to the reader. WHY? To appreciate the power of the unsaid.
“Body English”. In his book on writing, “The 3 A.M. Epiphany,” Brian Kiteley suggests an exercise on paralinguistics. Write a conversation that takes place with no words. Kiteley recommends that it might be easiest to write from the point of view of an observer watching two people. Write only about their movements, gestures and positions. WHY? Challenge your reliance on dialogue.
The Eliot/Gardner Killer Exercise. This exercise is quite possibly the most difficult, demanding and important exercise a writer can ever do. T. S. Eliot coined the phrase “objective correlative”: rendering the description of an object so that the emotional state of the character is revealed without ever telling the reader what that emotional state is or what has motivated it.
John Gardner, recognized in his lifetime as the leading creative writing teacher in the United States, developed the following exercise:
A middle-age man is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the setting from the man’s point of view without telling your reader what has happened. How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odours? Colours? That this man will notice? What will his clothes feel like? Write a 250 word description. WHY? Because it calls on everything you’ve got.
Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
February 13, 2015
I first encountered Jane Davis when we were both selected as Readers’ Recommended Reads in The Guardian. I was very glad I did. Not only is she a lovely person, but I am a serious fan of her writing, hence my willingness to provide a quote for the cover.
As she is releasing three of her wonderful books in a boxset, I took the opportunity to find out a little more about her, her writing and her reading.
Which book most influenced you when growing up?
The books that I loved the most were those of Alan Garner. I was drawn to his dark depiction of the British countryside as a strange and mysterious place, almost a character in itself, with its old beliefs and pagan influences. Whilst there was no conscious connection, in adult life I have explored Britain’s prehistoric sites and am intrigued by phenomena such as ley lines.
Where do you write?
I am overwhelmed by guilt just reading that question. I write at the dining table. The problem in our house is the layout. You have to walk through the dining room to get to both the kitchen and the bathroom. Since I need absolute silence to work, I have a habit of glaring at Matt whenever he disturbs me, even if he is offering to make me a coffee. I have also failed miserably in my promise that I would clear away my writing stuff every night before dinner. There is a practical reason why I don’t – I usually carry on working into the evening. But it does mean that we usually eat surrounded by my work – pens, papers, post-it notes, the stack of books I am using for research of my current novel. It’s hardly relaxing. My advice: never live with a writer!
Who or what had the biggest impact on your creative life?
The rejection of my second book by my publisher, Transworld. Strange as it may seem, I think it was probably the best thing that could have happened. (At the time, I didn’t think it was cause for panic as I was assured that another publisher would snap me up.) But, having won the Daily Mail First Novel Award, my reality check came in 2009, when my follow-up was refused because it wasn’t ‘women’s fiction’. Never having considered that I was writing for exclusively women (in fact, I have a growing number of male readers), I hadn’t appreciated the implications of being published under their Black Swan imprint. Without realising it, I had been pigeon-holed – and my new novel didn’t fit.
Personally, I am drawn to books that refuse to conform. When a review of Roz Morris’s My Memories of a Future Life described it as strange and stubborn, I went out of my way to track it down. But at the point of publication, a book must be defined. Bestselling authors like Joanne Harris can stick their necks out and say that they don’t insult their readers by assuming that they only like to read one type of fiction (she also disputes that ‘womens’ fiction’ is a genre – a sentiment that resonates with me both as a reader and an author.) Recently, Kate Mosse has distanced herself from the off-putting literary tag by announcing her return to her roots as a storyteller.
As best-selling author Hugh Howey suggested at the London Book Fair, authors should enjoy their anonymity. Over the next four years, I produced two further novels. Had I been under contract, I would have been chasing deadlines. Instead, with the luxury of time, I added layers to plots, depth to characters and a real sense of time and place. In later novels, I have tackled subjects that mainstream publishers might have encouraged me to avoid – a mother who turns to prostitution, for example.
How far are you influenced by other media, such as music or photography?
I don’t use music in the process of creating characters, but I make extensive musical references in my writing. For me, 7 inch singles pinpoint a particular time and so they’re useful tools for tapping into a reader’s sense of nostalgia.
In Half-Truths and White Lies, one of my main characters is a musician, while another has been brought up without any popular music in the house (a situation that reflects my own up-bringing) and so the musician takes over the responsibility of educating his friend. These experiences are mine. My mother was a classical musician and my father policed Beatles gigs during the height of Beatlemania, dealing with teenage girls who wet themselves, fainted and threw their knickers (not in that order, that wouldn’t make sense at all). One of my father’s dinner-party stories was how he arrested Georgie Fame for speeding and Georgie Fame asked him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and my dad was quite proud to say that he didn’t. (Georgie Fame took his revenge by writing a song called Sargeant Jobsworth). But it wasn’t fair to send any girl to guide camp in the Seventies without knowing the words to Yellow Submarine, and I suffered the ultimate humiliation of failing the interview for Crackerjack because I didn’t know the names of all of the Beatles.
My characters are influenced by music to the same extent that I was. Music was what made sense of my teenage years. References are also scattered throughout These Fragile Things. I suspect that only someone who was a teenager in the 80s would be aware when they read, adding her voice, that it is a nod to the Human League. There is a scene in which Graham is reciting the Lord’s Prayer as he walks though hospital corridors. It is borrowed from Yazoo’s In My Room.
My other obsession is photography. It is the theme of my novel I Stopped Time, which is my homage to the pioneers of photography and I was determined to do them justice. The review that most pleased me came from a professional photographer who wrote, ‘This book voiced everything I’ve held inside of me as a photographer . Stopping time…looking at the world with a different perspective. I found it to be affirming of all artists, especially photographers. In the age of digitalization, we are given even more opportunity to craft our art. The novel’s heroine was creating artistic images that were cutting edge for the setting.’ I was very moved by that.
Do you have a phrase that you most overuse?
I don’t know about overuse. My favourite phrase is KBO (Keep buggering on). It is borrowed from Churchill. I find uses for it several times a day – and I managed to squeeze it into my novel, An Unchoreographed Life.
Which writers do you enjoy?
A great book has to transport you somewhere else. There have to be a few deeply flawed but sympathetically-written characters. The speech and descriptions need to sound true. There must be a love interest, even if the love is unrequited. And there needs to be a tragedy. I like authors who write about complex subject-matter in simple language. I don’t want to have to interrupt my reading to look up words in a dictionary. Those are the things I look for.
My favourite author is John Irving and it would be difficult to include only one of his novels in a shortlist. I am torn between Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both are life-changing. I particularly love John Irving’s use of themes and challenging viewpoints. I have never been to New England, but I feel that I know the area well through his writing.
I was most flattered to have my characterisation compared to Maggie O’Farrell’s, an author whose writing career I have followed closely. I love her warmth for her characters, and her total lack of judgement.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is the book I recommend to people who tell me that they don’t enjoy fiction, because it is based in fact. The author tackles extremely sensitive issues with originality and simplicity, which is perfection. I got to the very end before I learned that he is the author of several award winning children’s books, and it explained much about his writing style and his deep understanding of his main characters.
The book I return to time and time again is The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy is a difficult, rich and rewarding read. Don’t be put off by the film which focused on everything that is romantic in the book, detouring neatly round the more shocking elements of the storyline, leaving very two-dimensional characters.
Annie Proulx wrote the most extraordinary main character in Quoyle in The Shipping News but her use of language is so full of warmth and humour and sadness that we cannot help but love him.
And don’t get me started on Jennifer Egan. I will start to stutter.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. So clever. Mind you, it would be terrible to have actually written Good Squad and to be aware that you probably won’t be able to top it. As Matt rightly said to me last week when a reviewer wrote that I was at the pinnacle of my career, ‘Of course, you wouldn’t actually want to be at the pinnacle of your career, because there would only be one way to go.’
How do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A total pantster. I embark on a new project with a whiff of a character. Usually, they’re very vague. John Irving says that he won’t set pen to paper until he has the last line nailed. I just couldn’t work if I set myself rules like that.
An Unchoreographed Life started when I walked into Waterstones at Piccadilly. At the risk of sounding flaky, I become aware of another presence, almost ghost-like. The need to latch onto it before it fades was very immediate. I went home and wrote seven pages of something I called The Book Diviner.
If I get the character right, the plot usually follows – not necessarily in its final structure or even with its complete cast. My books undergo numerous revisions as I throw my characters to the lions and explore their motivations. You write about a detective. Well, the process requires detective work. Sir James didn’t appear until about draft twenty of I Stopped Time. I think we’ve talked before about how in A Funeral for an Owl Shamayal turned up very late in the day. Fortunately he was so vivid that he almost wrote himself.
Unlike life, everything in fiction has to have perfect logic and so every question has to be followed through to its natural conclusion – although I never tie up all of the loose ends. Sometimes the final scene will be as great a surprise to me as it is to the reader.
Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?
In a word, No. I do find that my enjoyment of a novel can be hugely influenced by the book I was reading immediately before it. I really did feel that The Girl is a Half-formed Thing rewired my brain in such a way that my return to reading ordinary prose was difficult. In an ideal word, you would allow yourself a period of mourning between novels. Recently, I read seven novels in a two-week period. Frankly, I ended up feeling so jaded I knew it wouldn’t be fair to another author if I continued. My strategy was to switch to biographies.
Your covers are just beautiful. How does the design process work?
Branding is hugely important to me. Through submitting work to literary agents, I became aware that my fiction was difficult to categorise. The reason the majority gave for rejecting it was because they weren’t sure how to sell it to a publisher. As I added to my back catalogue, I ventured into yet more sub-categories of fiction. In my mind, a book written for market without passion is going to lack integrity.
The brief I gave Andrew Candy was that the books should look like a set you’d want to collect. I was thinking of my own bookshelves: the novels of John Irving; Frank Herbert’s Dune series; the classic Penguin paperbacks. If it were possible, I wanted that certain something that would make people say, ‘Oh, another Jane Davis’. I wasn’t starting from scratch, and so I simply borrowed elements from the cover of Half-truths and White Lies and used them as building blocks: the font and the strong photographic image, repeated on the spine.
In terms of the feel, I try to reflect the themes and the emotions of individual books. I suppose the cover for A Funeral for an Owl, which features a boy and an owl, is the most literal. I am absolutely clear in my approach about what I don’t want. My novel, These Fragile Things, tackles near-death experience and religious visions. I didn’t want to exclude readers who would normally avoid Christian fiction, because that is only one element of the book. I always source the images. For this one, I chose a butterfly with a broken wing, which not only fits the title and represents transformation, but also hints at vulnerability. For An Unchoreographed Life, my story of a ballerina who turns to prostitution, I was very careful to avoid any hint of erotica. Instead I wanted to give the feel of a woman living behind a mask; someone who has not quite left her past behind. That’s how I arrived at the image of a ballerina with a deer’s head.
So the key elements have to be instantly identifiable, inclusive and – I hope – intriguing.
Would you share what you’re working on next?
I’m just emerging from a stage when I’ve been juggling projects. I have been involved in Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, a collaboration with six other authors which has resulted in a limited edition box-set. Like you, I am launching my own three- book box set, Second Chapter, and I have also been putting the finishing touches to my forthcoming release, An Unknown Woman. I have written a first draft of a new first under the working title Less Venom More Sorrow. Writing it made me realise how much more research I need to do. My main character – a kind of Edith Sitwell v Vivienne Westwood hybrid – has been anti-establishment her whole life and is horrified to find that she’s on the New Year’s Honour’s List. That’s my starting point. My next challenge is to pinpoint exactly when she was born. Everything else will stem from that.
Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. Her first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Of her three following novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’ Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth’.
Second Chapter: http://goo.gl/82NjUs
Outside the Box
Amazon.co.uk – http://goo.gl/89FlFZ
Amazon.com – http://goo.gl/8jfFMS