Sunday, 30 October 2011

Vladimir Poignard - the interview

To celebrate a couple of milestones for the Booksquawk site to which I contribute reviews, I wrote what we called a spooftacular. And, since it seems that everyone grabs the excuse of Halloween to do a 'special', I thought I'd slavishly follow the fashion, join the flock, and share it here. Before this recording, all that was known of the person behind the wildly popular writer of such horror classics as I Recognise The Neck But Who Does The Razor Belong To? and The Night Of The Haggis was that he lived somewhere in the north of England and had resolutely refused to be photographed or give interviews. I have no idea why his representatives agreed to allow me to meet him, and what follows is a rare aural document and a genuine scoop for the blog. Only three people were present at the recording: Vladimir, myself, and my wife, Carolyn.

Audio track - Vladimir Poignard, the interview by Bill Kirton

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Guest blog – Social Media: a double-edged sword.

By R. B. Wood

(Richard Wood is a friend whose first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, has just been published by Pfoxmoor. As part of his blog tour to celebrate its launch, I’ve invited him to give us some observations on writing today. Here's what he thinks.)

The twenty-first century for writers is a marvelous time to be in the business.

The big six are trying to figure out what to do with the ebook revolution while Amazon nips at their heels to eliminate the middlemen (namely agents and other publishers).

Small indie presses are popping out of the ground like daisies and the self-publishing market is exploding.

What does all of this have to do with social media and said internet tools being a double-edged sword?
Let an old man get to the point in his own way.

Never since the introduction of the printing press (“Gutenberg!” you all shout – no… it was introduced much earlier. But that’s for another post), has there been such a revolution in the writing/publication industry as that which we are witnessing today. The small and self-publishing market alone has expanded dramatically and shows no sign of slowing down.

Both Bill Kirton and I are proud to be listed with other fine authors of the Pfoxpub group, under the hardworking leadership of Ms. Diane Nelson. Pfoxpub, which encompasses both the Pfoxmoor and more adult leaning Pfoxchase imprints, is one such small press that has arrived on the scene to embrace the new publishing model.

But along with being in the literary company of a small cadre of excellent authors, editors, and artists there comes a problem. See, the marketing budgets of the ‘Big Six’ are significantly larger than our budget. So how do we compensate for this disparity?

Well, the internet and social media of course. Told you I’d get there eventually.

Tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ are used with some success in advertising our wares. We’ve done other internet-based marketing as well, from blog tours to online trailers and from Writer websites to Facebook Fan pages and participation in online forums. Social media has been a big part of “getting the word out there.”

But it is a double-edged sword for two reasons.

TIME – All of these activities take time away from the actual writing. Websites need to be maintained. Twitter posts need to be consistent and conversational. And don’t get me started on Facebook, which in my opinion is the digital equivalent of the rabbit hole poor Alice fell into. The Social Media campaign takes time, planning and in some instances as much creativity as was poured into the stories we want to sell in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve found loads of advice online for an “indie writer” such as myself. I’ve made fantastic friendships (I’m proud to count Bill as one such friend), found amazing critic partners and all have generally improved my writing significantly.

Which leads me to the other part of our imaginary blade:

90% of those I’m connected with are writers. This is fantastic when you are just starting out. But make no mistake about it, most of the folks you end up connecting with in the writing world are trying to sell their own stories. And think about how many of your 2500 Twitter friends’ books you’ve purchased in the past year. A dozen? Half-a-dozen?

So even in this new world of ebooks and social media, we writers are left with the age old dilemma. Finding the READERS to go with all those writers whose company you enjoy online.

Social media will get the new millennium writer started. And you’ll be amazed at the number of writers out there who will want to connect to you as well. But remember two things about this new world we all are struggling with: limit/plan your time on social media; and make sure you connect with readers of your genre as well as those dear writer friends.

Links for Richard:
Podcast (The Word Count)

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Behind Shadow Selves

This week, the fourth novel in my Jack Carston series, Shadow Selves, is out as an ebook. It doesn’t have the same sort of back story as The Darkness, which I wrote about a while ago – here, in fact – but, like all the others, it has special connotations for me.

The trigger was many years ago when my friend, Donnie Ross, who was then an anaesthetist, said that if I ever wanted to do some research on surgical procedures and operations generally, he could arrange for me to visit an operating theatre and see how it all worked. My first thought was that I’d probably faint, be a bloody nuisance and get in the way, but it was a great chance to do some real observing, so I said ‘yes please’. Just a few days later, I got the call and found myself in the theatre wearing all the stuff you see on hospital telly shows and being so fascinated by all that was going on that it never occurred to me to faint. In fact, the operation scene in the book is a direct description of the experience and of the astonishing business of being prepared to dig around in someone’s thorax amongst all the lungs, heart and other stuff that’s packed and folded away there.

But I wasn’t planning a book involving surgical things or anaesthetics, so the notes sat in the computer. For ages, though, I’d been toying with the idea of setting one of my books in a university context. I used to be a university lecturer and I’ve done writing fellowships at three others, so I knew something about the settings and what goes on there. The problem, however, came from something I’ve mentioned before – a lot of my thoughts of academia involved other people and fiction doesn’t work (for me, at least), if your head’s full of real people. If you find yourself thinking ‘Oh, this character’s like so-and-so’, the character can’t develop in his or her own right. The real person gets in the way.

So I had to work hard to take myself and my ex-colleagues out of my thinking and start from relationships rather than let the characters decide the relationships beforehand. In the end, they grabbed their independence and, since I didn’t know them and they weren’t based on any memories or specific realities, they had room to surprise me.

The reality I didn’t change, and it’s one which has worsened rather than improved, is the significant transformation that took place in many institutes of higher education, beginning in the 80s, with Thatcher’s insistence on ‘leaner, fitter’ establishments. I know I’m generalising but, before then, education combined the close study of your chosen subjects and topics with the freedom to investigate beyond them, to develop a broader cultural awareness. It provoked and encouraged you to be intellectually curious about everything. Post Thatcher, it became a student-processing, goals-orientated, vocational experience with too many boxes to tick to spend time on thinking, reflection, broader investigations.

I’ve said it before, but academic life was marvellous – sitting around with young, intelligent, interested people talking about books, and getting paid for it. And yet, beneath the urbane, learned surfaces, the most bizarre thinking sometimes went on and apparent intellectual giants behaved like schoolkids. The title, Shadow Selves, relates to this phenomenon. It’s from Carl Jung, who wrote ‘Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is’. So here, the lecturers, surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses – and, yes, the police too – all have these shadows, but it’s not necessarily the blacker ones that cause all the damage.

Commercial break. You can get Shadow Selves at:

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Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The view from the virtual world

Some gratifying news this week. First, Pearson want me to write two more books in their 'Brilliant' series, then an email to say that the first one I wrote for them, Brilliant Study Skills, is being translated into Spanish for the north and south American markets. The new books are needed for March next year so I won't be able to indulge my idleness until the spring. On top of that, the Pfoxmoor edition of the next Jack Carston mystery, Shadow Selves, will be out soon and the fifth (and perhaps final) one has been written and will be appearing next year.

All of which is very nice but will put the brakes on the audio tracks I've been doing recently. That's been fun, largely because I love finding technology simple enough for me to use. I hope it's been useful, too. The idea is always to try to attract readers and whatever methods are available, we have to use them.

Anyway, I'll still add audio extracts to the list on the right now and then but this one is different. It's a story from a batch I wrote a while ago when I was playing the online game Second Life™ .  It's a fascinating game and I met some interesting people there, some of whom are still good friends. But it certainly sets your mind working on the whole business of virtual and real worlds, and technological advances are so fast that any stories you write about them can be out of date by the following day. I have a batch of these stories but they'll probably never appear for precisely that reason. On the other hand, the real interest lies in the fact that the avatars and impossible contexts of virtual worlds are still manipulated and populated by normal people with familiar, maybe even eternal hungers, curiosities, foibles and all the other things that provide us with material for our fictions.

This one moves through the screen and looks back at our world through the eyes of an avatar. Warning - it contains rude words and adult content (but definitely not of the titillating variety). I'd appreciate your comments - positive or negative.

Audio track - The view from here by Bill Kirton

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Thursday, 6 October 2011

Extract of Sparrow

No, not the latest gastronomic delight from one of the army of today's chefs who spend their time not on cooking but on arranging mutilated vegetables and fragments of meat in artistic patterns on a plate or slate or lump of driftwood before drizzling balsamic fuel over them and scraping a smear of something along the edge of the confection. This is a wee experiment. I've recorded another extract from The Sparrow Conundrum and thought it would be a good idea to embed it in the blog. You may or may not agree but, for those of you with time to spare, you can click the play button at the top of the column on the right and listen. I'm sure you'll let me know the wisdom or otherwise of the initiative. It's the moment when, having had his garden (and a relief postman) blown up, Chris Machin (aka Sparrow) is visited by the sociopathic Detective Inspector Lodgedale as he's eating breakfast.

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

 This is hard to write because it features a conflict between my social and political principles and my sybaritic tendencies. For the past week, we’ve been the guests of very generous friends who have a place in the south of France near to St Tropez. They hired a car and a very fast and quite big boat – the sort that usually has women with long legs and bikinis lying on the foredeck. In this case, there were no women but, at the other end, there were 2 Honda 225 4-stroke engines.

It was moored at the bottom of the patio where, on evenings when we weren’t at a restaurant, we sat drinking wine and eating rillettes, pâtés, cheese and the like, with the sun setting over the Mediterranean beside us.

Every morning there was a gorgeous orange dawn then, after breakfast, we just stepped up onto the bow, untied a couple of lines and motored slowly out of the port. Once on the open water, we could ease the throttles forward and skim out to watch the hundreds of sailing boats taking part in the annual ‘Voiles de Saint Tropez’ regatta.

I love sailing boats and this was a gathering of some of the most beautiful examples of the various designs and rigs, from smaller cruisers to enormous racing yachts with crews in the twenties and vast sails. Time after time, I marvelled at the fact that we were cruising along surrounded by hundreds of sails, nearby and filling the horizon.

The sun shone all week and, altogether, it was like living a fantasy.

The quaysides in St Tropez were thronged with tanned and beautiful people who could obviously afford the £85 they were being charged for T-shirts. They strolled along beside the moored boats, admiring the masts and spars, the brass and copper fittings, the strange coexistence of the seemingly conflicting trappings of hard racing and unashamed luxury.

And there I was, amongst it all, not bothering to remark on the transitory nature of material things, such as the boats and the people, and me. I was just in the moment, enjoying it. There was a statue of good old Sisyphus there, too, but somehow it expressed the positive aspect of what he represented, the way he triumphed over things, despite their meaninglessness, the way he engaged with life. So my tedious philosophising was stilled. It had no place in such an intensely physical environment. Nothing needed to mean anything.

But… yes, there’s a but…

… there was a bitterness in the concentration of so much richness, so much luxury; of millions of pounds, dollars, euros being in the hands of a minority who indulge every whim with no awareness of or concern for those who have to live for months and months on a fraction of what they pay to moor their boat for the week. And I was as guilty as the rest, forcing myself to close my mind to that huge gap, unrecognised by those on the privileged side of it. Yes, the privileged ones, like me. I had a great time, but what a pity it’s not accessible to everyone.

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