Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zombifying the Book Industry

Is zombifying a verb?

I guess it is now.

I was busy refuting some of Ewan Morrison's points earlier this week, and I made a point of doing so without once mentioning JA Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, or any of the other self-pubbed ebook runaway success stories.

But I'm always interested in Konrath's points - I don't always agree with him but he's always interesting - and his response to Morrison's article is worth a look.

One point that Konrath makes is that Morrison is of the belief that writers have a right to make a living wage for their work. Konrath disagrees - he insists hard work and talent are necessary.

I'm with Konrath here. We don't have a 'right' to very many things in this world. We have a right to our basic human rights. We have a right, I feel, to make a living. We have a right to some choice in how we do that.

But we don't all have a right to make a living doing something we absolutely love. If we did, there would be about 500 million teenage popstars and the world's supply of lipgloss, tooth whitening kits and cropped tops would vanish overnight. A world where we all got paid for our passions would be a world that didn't work.

Hypocritically, of course, I want to make my living doing something I love. But I know I'll have to work for that.

And if enough people like what I do, I will get there. But people have to like me, ie I have to achieve a certain level of excellence.

This is the same as any non-artistic day job - I won't be a rich lawyer unless I'm good at what I do and people choose to give me money for it. I won't be a rich doctor, even, if I'm crap.

It's no harm to raise awareness that pirating books may damage an author's ability to write full-time, or reduce their hours at their day job, and thus may result in fewer books for everyone to enjoy. That's grand.

But the world doesn't owe me a living. And it doesn't matter whether I write books, paint houses or verb nouns. I have to get good.

So now to get on with getting good. No one mention Draft Three, it has become a diry word around here :p




Monday, August 29, 2011

The End of the Book: Or, How Scared Should We Be?

Ewan Morrison's arguments at the Edinburgh Book Festival have caused quite a lot of talk. You can find them here, but before reading them I recommend lining up a cup of good quality tea, a quantity of your favourite food treat (be it milk or dark) and arrange for someone to give you a hug afterwards. I didn't do any of these things and ended up trembling uselessly at a blueberry muffin.

There is some scary stuff in there, and Morrison makes some very interesting points that it's hard to disagree with. 

Then I got thinking.

Morrison's main point is that, since ebooks are outselling print and the current generation of consumers are unused to paying for news, music, content, etc., we are ultimately moving towards a world where writers will be trying to sell a product to people who want it for free. And that internet-based providers, like Google and Amazon, will be concerned about making money from advertisers rather than from book sales. So how on Earth will writers get paid?
Morrison writes:

But let's leave the survival of the paper book alone, and ask the more important question: Will writers be able to make a living and continue writing in the digital era? And let's also leave alone the question: why should authors live by their work? Let's abandon the romantic myth that writers must survive in the garret, and look at the facts. Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage: they include Dostoevksy, Dickens and Shakespeare. In the last 50 years the system of publishers' advances has supported writers such as Ian McEwan, Angela Carter, JM Coetzee, Joan Didion, Milan Kundera, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Norman Mailer, Philp Roth, Anita Shreve, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark and John Fowles. Authors do not live on royalties alone. 

A fair point. Lots of writers - lots of amazing writers, including some of all-time personal favourites, are on that list - have emerged from a system where writers lived off their advances until their royalty cheques came in. And now, even successful writers are advised not to quit their day jobs until their backlist supports their living expenses.

And advances are dropping. Or disappearing.

And of course, the garret is not romantic if you have kids, and need health insurance and a car and food and clothing. No quibbles here about writers needing cash.

But. . .

(and I promise I have a counter-argument that doesn't mention JA Konrath even once)

. . . only 40% of self-described 'professional authors' were earning their living solely from writing, according to figures published in 2005.

So these arguments only affect the 40% of professional authors who did not already depend on a second income stream.

Which sucks for them, of course. If we do end up in a world where writing for a living becomes harder and harder, those 40% will find it tough. But if they're smart enough and talented enough to be in the higher range of earners, I'm guessing they'll find a way to diversify in a changing market.

I agree with Mr. Morrison that writers should be able to live by their work.
But the reality is, right now, not that many writers can.

So there's no sense saying that the sky is falling when half of the people who live under the sky are already walking on it, and finding ways to cope.

Ebooks are selling. Yes, they're more vulnerable to piracy, but they are selling. People are paying actual money for them.

And storytellers have been making money since before we invented paper. We may not be able to see the future, but I'm confident that there will be one. There is no sense in fearing a future that sounds so much like the present.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trying to be Nice

I broke with my usual posting schedule yesterday because felt very strongly about an issue. I joined a Facebook group against the use of the term 'frape' and I found that some of the comments I read in the group saddened me a lot and I wanted to address that.

I also felt that joining the group may have been seen as hypocritical, since I am passionately pro-free-speech and have been known to tell some pretty bad-taste jokes myself. And in mulling over the issue, I realised why I feel that trivialising rape is wrong, in spite of being, generally, a very difficult person to offend.

So I decided to write about it. And I didn't post it to the relevant Facebook group, because I didn't especially want to argue with a bunch of strangers who are as entitled to their viewpoints as I am to mine. I don't enjoy arguments.


But I did not want to write my post in anger. I have occasionally written posts in an absolute fit of passion, when I have to consciously slow and soften my typing in case I smash the keyboard :) And I don't like doing it - it's such a pain to re-read the post over and over to make sure I'm not being unfair.

This is my blog so I feel I'm allowed be angry on it. But I don't ever want to be unfair.

I feel strongly about yesterday's topic. I also feel strongly about feminism (which, by the way, I view as a position that empowers both men and women with choices, not - as many people seem to assume - a label for women who dislike men), racial equality, voter turnout, recycling, availability of shoes in unusually large and small sizes, the statement that slim women are not 'real women' (what on earth is a 'real woman' anyway? I'm pretty sure I'm one and I never had to pass any tests. Was I off sick that day?), marriage equality,  transgender recognition and the superiority of milk chocolate over dark. Not in that order, obviously.

And I know not everyone who reads my blog is going to agree with me on all of them. I may never post about most of those issues (the chocolate thing is probably going to come up again, though).

I will, however, always try to post about them with the best manners that I can. And if anyone ever wants to argue, I'll respond with my cool head on.

Have you ever tackled an emotive issue on your blog? What kind of response did you get? How do you feel about issue-based blogging?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Against the term 'Frape' - Language and Lines

I use Facebook quite a lot and recently came across a Facebook group against the use of the word 'Frape' - a portmanteau of 'Facebook' and 'rape' used to describe someone hacking into your account and posting as you.

I joined it.
This was a big moment for me. I'm evangelical and slightly nuts when it comes to free speech. And I believe anything is permissible if it's art (although that begs the larger question of who decides what is or isn't art. . . ). In an online discussion about classic novels recently, more than one person suggested that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita should receive far less critical attention because it's told from the point of view of a paedophile. I think Lolita is a msterpiece, a work of genius and it's one of my favourite books of all time. Yes, it's about a morally reprehensible monster. But it's a good book.

So if Nabokov is allowed to write about Humbert Humbert's desires, why shouldn't a teenage guy in Dublin be allowed to type 'DUDE TOTALLY FRAPED LMAO!!' on his friend's recently-hacked Facebook?

Well, he should be allowed to! Of course. It's a word, and we can't ban words. That's just daft.

But he should also know the implications behind it, and he's not going to know unless the people who find it offensive tell him. And then he can choose whether or not he wants to go on using the word. And I will salute his right to do so, although I won't like him for it and may make nasty gestures at the computer screen when I see it.

Paul wrote an excellent post recently on the challenges of writing about a multi-ethnic society while living in an almost mono-ethnic state. He said that he doesn't want his writing to do an injustice to other cultures. But how can Paul possibly know what every single ethnic group, nationality or tribal group in the world will find offensive?

He can't, of course. None of us can. So being open and non-crazy about what we find offensive is a way of helping everyone to learn more.

This post is my way of helping. No need to thank me guys, honestly, although I am partial to milk chocolate and peach schnapps.

I find the term 'frape' offensive. Here in the West, we live in a society where sexual assaults are not taken seriously by the judicial system, where the conviction rates for rape and sexual assault are criminally low, and where TV shows and movies continue to use rape as a plot device to denote love, or as a source of comedy (especially true of female-on-male rape).

Culturally, we dismiss sexual assault. And here in the West, folks, we have it easy compared to some countries.

If we lived in a society that treated rape as seriously as it should be treated, I don't think I would find the term 'frape' any more offensive than the phrase 'I could have killed her for taking my last pink teabag.' We take murder very seriously, so that phrase is not offensive. It is not an expression of an underlying hostility in our society. It's just another example of hyperbole, and if we took rape seriously, I would likely have no issue with the term 'frape.'

But 'frape' is just another way for us as a society to say 'Guess what? Sexual assault is funny! It's also comporable to someone playing a harmless prank!'

It's not. 

And the people I see using the term on Facebook are probably not bad people, and they're not necessarily people who would condone sexual assault (I'm qualifying those statements solely because I haven't met everyone who uses the term and surely some of them are bad people by the law of averages! But use of the term doesn't make them bad people). Perhaps they just don't see that it offends people.

Well, it does. 
If you're going to use a word that people find offensive, make sure it's a conscious decision. I don't have to like that decision and no one has to like the words and ideas I choose to use, either. But if we unthinkingly use words that trivialise something serious, like rape, or if we use derogatory terms about people because they're 'funny', we send out a message that these issues and these people do not matter

I don't believe that and I don't think most people I encounter on the internet do either.

Language is how we express our thoughts. If we use lazy and offensive terms without thinking, our language is expressing something we don't believe. Frankly, if someone has access to a computer and knows how to use a social network, they're smart enough to make sure that what's in their brain and what's on their Facebook page match.

My fear is that they already do. But that's another blog post and it makes me incredibly, incredibly sad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Duck Soup: Writing and Terror

When Paul and I were in college, sometimes he would talk about how he saw his future as a writer, or how he saw Book Three of his trilogy ending when he had only started Book One that week.

I used to say to him 'Paul, how do you make duck soup? First, kill the duck. Write the book!'

I would then talk about my own future as a writer, or how I saw the sequel to my second book ending when I hadn't even written the first book yet.

Paul would smile and nod, because he is a nicer person than me. He never mentioned duck soup.

But he finally got his revenge last night. I told him that I was putting off my third edit of Becky. I hope this will be my final full edit and that the next steps will be sending it off to gamma readers (the betas have already had their input), a brief polish based on their comments, followed by querying. 

'I'm terrified,' I said. 'This is the last step before I have to think about putting the book out there. It's so scary that I don't want to start the last edit.'

Paul typed back 'Duck soup.'

He's right. I should just edit the book and see how I get on. Maybe the edit will throw up more problems. Maybe I'm still four edits away from querying. I won't know until I start.

But it's bloody scary. Every step of the journey takes me a step closer to querying.

Of course I'm scared of rejection. But that's not the whole story.

I'm also scared of succeeding. 

Yep, I'm scared of the very thing I've wanted all my life. I'm scared of an agent liking my book, signing me, and selling it. I'm scared of being published.

Because when I get published, I want it to be right. I want it to be the right book, the right time, the right agent, the right publisher, the right marketing, the right sales - all leading, ultimately, to the right career. And I have virtually no control over that. I can't write the book that would be best to launch my career - I don't know what that is. All I can do is write the best book I can and hope.

And I can let go. 

This book may never see the light of day. I'm prepared for that, and I'm OK with it. And I've read a lot about how other writers have handled publication, so I think I'm - well, not prepared for that, because no one ever is. But I'm prepared for how unprepared I am. And I have some idea what's required.

It's still scary. But my job right now is to put that aside and write the best book I can.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a duck to kill.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is There a Doctor in the Book?

I am a big fan of doctors in books.

I'm a hypochondriac, so I'm a big fan of doctors in general. I know some hypochondriacs hate them, because they associate seeing a doctor with being ill. I love them, because I associate doctors with making people better rather than with illness. And with discovering new illnesses I can worry about. And with giving me good news ('You're still not dying, Ellen, now don't trip on the way out. . .').

But I especially love doctors in books. I rarely read books with a medical setting though, so most of the fictional doctors I like aren't busy being doctors. They're doing something else novel-worthy, and quietly doctoring away off the page (presumably telling people like me they aren't dying).

So why do I love fictional doctors so much? What does a doctor in your book represent to the reader?

We make more assumptions when we hear someone is a doctor than we do about any other professional. A doctor, we believe, is capable. They have undergone a long and difficult course of study, so we assume they are likely to be intelligent, hard-working and dedicated. They are qualified to do things that virtually no other human being can do, so we feel respect, some awe, some envy. They've probably been trained to handle emergencies quite well, and - crucially - we assume that they are compassionate people. We respect doctors, we trust them.

All of which makes for a very interesting contrast if we're reading about, say, a doctor who makes poor moral choices (like Nicholas Garrigan in Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland) or a doctor who is a horrible old git (like Gregory House) or a doctor who is a serial killer who eats people (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs). Can there be anything more scary than a doctor - trusted, respected, and knowing more about how your body works than you do - who turns out to be evil?

But leaving aside scary doctors, who chill me more than almost anything else in fiction, what about all the other doctors in novels, who don't eat people? They're still really interesting. To make a character a doctor is to force your reader to jump to certain conclusions automatically, and once a reader has their expectations in place, it can be a great deal of fun to challenge them, or to reinforce them, or to completely subvert them.

In Paul's novel, his main character, Nathan, has a helpful doctor friend named Cynthia Keller. She finds herself plunged into a world she doesn't understand, but always, in the back of my mind as I read, I'm thinking 'Cynthia is a doctor, if anyone gets hurt she can help!' Which means that I have a heightened sense of fear - if anything happens to Cynthia, it weakens the people around her more, because she has the capacity to help more than the next person does. She is an interesting character to have around - but she's a very interesting character to potentially lose.

What professions do you like to read about? Do you have any favourites?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watching Willow Watts Wednesday!

Talli Roland, hot on the heels of her Take On Amazon Blogsplash last year, has come up with a really fun way to launch her new novel, Watching Willow Watts, which will be released as an ebook on 14th September.

Talli is hosting the 'If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be. . . ' party - post a picture of the person you would most like to be (if you weren't your amazing self, obviously) and explain why. There is a prize draw for all participants and it looks like it'll be good fun.

Personally I'm torn between choosing someone with an amazing professional life who made a great contribution to the field of art, or literature, or music or rocking a pair of brown eyes, or someone who may have rocked less but also enjoyed a good personal life, strong relationships, and pronounced lack of tendancy to die prematurely and alone.

Obviously I want to be the second person, and combine major achievements with lots of hugs and cupcakes and giggling fits at market stalls when someone picks up something covered with gold sequins and says 'Ellen, this is totally you.' (I have at least two friends who do this to me, and I worry more may follow). But this is a fun exercise, and I also want to pick someone who is simply great, and deserves to have a blog post - with accompanying photo - dedicated to how fab they are. even if their personal life didn't always go right.

So, we have a great new book, a fun blogfest and a chance for me to get all introspective while I frantically Google famous women and muse 'She's cool but I'd prefer to be someone with a better facial bone structure. . . '. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, August 15, 2011

On Why People Are Brilliant

I'm back from parts far away! I had a fantastic time, and it was lovely to come back and see so many new blog followers who had followed my guest posters here. So hello, new followers! I'm looking forward to checking out all of your blogs :)

I also wanted to say thanks to all of my fabulous guest posters - Zoe, Derek, Rosemary, Misha, Paul and the elusive and blogless Writer Friend :) It was lovely to know that the blog wasn't just sitting inactive while I was away and I loved collating and reading the guest posts, so very much appreciated guys, thanks!

On the writing front, I'm starting my third draft of Becky this week and will be posting things like 'Tearing out hair!' and 'How do I make someone more likeable???' with increasing urgency over the nexy few weeks. I also did a lot of reading while I was away so I'm sure various thoughts about books will come up too. But for the moment, I wanted to say that I missed my blogging/tweeting community while I was away. It's lovely to be back and to catch up on all your blogs, and to welcome new followers and find new blogs to follow myself. So my only point today is - you're all great. Have a good week!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Guest Post by Paul Anthony Shortt: One Author's Road

Paul is joining me to talk about his journey to publication and why he made the decisions that he made along the way. He blogs at http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.com - Ellen
There's been a lot of talk in online circles about the best road to publication. Certainly, there has never been more options open to writers in how to pursue their careers. Self-publishing is the new big thing. The success of authors such as Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath have inspired a digital gold rush. Everywhere people are discussing the merits of self-publishing compared to traditional publishing.

Well I'm not here to debate which option is better. I believe there's room in this world for all forms of publishing to find their place, and it is up to each author to choose the road that is best suited to them. 

I want to talk about the road I chose, and why it's the best road for me.

It was January this year when Ellen, who invited me to guest post on her blog, pointed me to a contest that WiDo Publishing were holding. The prize was to be considered for a publishing contract. Up to three people would be considered. At the time I was querying my manuscript to agents, figuring that was the best course to take*. Still, I knew Karen Jones, the person on whose blog the contest was announced, fairly well. She had, in fact, been one of my first followers when I started blogging about my work. I did some research into WiDo and was pleased with what I found. A small house, sure, but one with a business philosophy I found appealing. And, it was the best opportunity I'd found yet to get my book published. 

I had completed the first draft of my novel, then titled Locked Within, about 9 months previously, and finished my revisions later in 2010. I wasn't having any luck with agents, so I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I was told in April that I was the winner of the contest, and was being offered a contract for my novel. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and I haven't looked back since.

So what did WiDo have to offer that I couldn't achieve through self-publishing? Well, for one thing I have enjoyed the services of their managing editor, Kristine Princivale, who has already been invaluable in the work of improving my book. Having the professional, and objective, perspective of an editor means I can find problems or weak areas in my novel that I would never have spotted on my own. Without WiDo, I would have had to pay for such services myself. I can already feel a strong partnership growing with Kristine and I'm looking forward to where we can take the book together.

Then there's the simple fact of seeing a physical book on shelves. Through WiDo's distribution, my book will be available in the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK & Ireland. All it takes is for a bookstore to place the order. On my own I would never have the resources to match that level of distribution. This is in addition to my book being available online both in print and ebook formats.

WiDo are big on the author promoting themselves through an online platform. This is something I've really enjoyed. It has given me real motivation to become a part of the online writing community and to connect with potential readers. I like that they offer a measure of influence over how my book is published, something I would likely not get from a larger publishing house. I believe that this is the future of the industry for new and mid-list authors. More than ever, audiences want to feel connected to artists. They want to build a relationship, not simply buy their stuff. It's up to every author to provide that opportunity themselves, and I'd rather be on that train now, at this time, than trying to catch up years down the line.

And of course, in the most selfish terms I can imagine, there's the joy I got when I was offered my contract. I've dreamed of being an author since I was a child. I wasn't even twelve years old when I first started scribbling down stories and inventing fantasy worlds to tell them in. from that early age I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Receiving that e-mail from Allie, WiDo's acquisitions officer, was that dream come true. I could never have felt that from self-publishing. Now that I've achieved this, I have to work to keep it, and make the reality even better than I dared to dream as a child.

It's an exciting time to be a writer. The industry is developing and changing so much, there'll be so many ways for an author to find the road that suits them. I am grateful every day for finding my road. To any aspiring writers reading this, I wish you every success in finding yours. Keep searching, and you will find it.

*I still believe that finding an agent is an important step for every first-time author intending to deal with a publishing house. I was just fortunate enough to land a deal I was happy with even without the aid of one.

Bio:
Paul Anthony Shortt is an avid reader and lover of music and film. He lives in Ireland with his wife and their dog, Pepper. His first novel, which is still undergoing title edits, is due to be released by WiDo Publishing in 2012.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Guest Post by Derek Flynn: Poetry In Motion

Derek is stopping by today to talk about his writing process and to make me terribly jealous - read on to see why! Ellen

Virginia Woolf said that to write, one must have a room of one’s own (Granted, she was referring solely to women, but I like to think of it as a unisex quote). I have a room of my own, but I often find that, to write, I need to leave the room.

I don’t know how many other writers find this, but there’s something about movement that gets the creative juices flowing. When I’m out walking, I find that I start to write in my head in a stream of consciousness way. I carry an MP3 player with me which has a microphone and a record function (or if I don’t have that, I just use my phone). It’s a very different way of writing. There’s no editing involved as there might be when I’m sitting at my PC. In that situation, I might tend to stop and look back over what I’ve written. I can’t do that when I’m walking. There’s no way of looking back over what I’ve written. I have to keep moving forward. There’s also little time for pausing. If I stop for too long, I’ll forget where I was. So, there’s no time to go off goggling how accurate my description of 16th century headgear is (only to wind up, two hours later, looking at Lady Gaga in a Philip Tracy hat).

But I’m lucky. This is where I go to walk when I want to write:


It’s a long stretch of beach so when the tide is out, you can really get a stride going, and that’s when I find the words will start to flow. If the tide is in, I like to sit on the rocks and listen to the sound of the waves as I dictate. One particular day, I was so enthralled by the sights and the sounds that I sat there for about an hour. In the end, I texted my wife – half-jokingly – to tell her she needed to come down and physically remove me from the beach.

Now, of course, all of this is not without its disadvantages. The most obvious being – “Why is that man talking to himself?” Okay, I’m not actually talking to myself, I’m talking into an MP3 player, but to some people this amounts to the same thing. But, as I said, it’s a long stretch of beach and if you walk down far enough, you can usually get away from the madding crowd. It looks like this:

(In the wintertime, when it’s dull and grey and there’s a mist hanging over the water, it looks like some kind of alien landscape.)

Imagine sitting in this exact location, no one around but birds, waves and serenity. I’ve heard many writers talk about the myriad of different ways they come about their inspiration. For me, all I need is this lonely stretch of beach and the sound of the ocean.
And my MP3 player.

(Oh, and the title is slightly misleading because I don’t write poetry. But it was the only clever thing I could think of. Sue me.)

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician. He has an Honours Degree in English Literature and Philosophy. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here: http://derekflynn.wordpress.com and on Twitter, he can be found here: http://twitter.com/#!/derekf03

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Post by Misha

Misha is visiting today to talk about how her life - which sounds far more interesting than most! - influences her writing. Visit her at her always entertaining blog, My First Book - Ellen

One of my best friends asked me how my everyday activities influence my writing. It sort of left me gaping. I mean, it sort of follows that my activities will influence my writing.

But it’s more complicated than that. I mean, I do and have done a lot of interesting activities (to me anyway) from ballroom to solo singing to fencing to French and Mandarin. But… none of my characters are dancers. None speak any of my languages. None fence.

The only time that one of my fun activities went into my writing was when I did swordsmanship, dagger-work and grappling… as research.

Does it mean that nothing that I do goes into my writing? No… it just means that the details are finer. I use my language back-ground to build fantasy languages. My fencing experience reminds me of the rush you feel right before you decide to move.

But most of all, it’s the human interactions that give me the most fodder. I don’t put whole people in my stories. Don’t even base characters on people I’ve met.

Rather, I sort of pick up on things, like an aspect to a relationship. Or what I call character twitches. Those little things that goes contrary to what we expect from a person, given what we know.

The fears, the hope. The voices used. I breathe those things.

I take those little bits and wait for my muse to mix them together to make magic.

So that’s how I let my life influence my writing. But I’m more interested in how you do it. What do you find makes its way into your writing more than most? How does your life influence what you write?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Guest Post by Rosemary: Adventures and the Galway Arts Festival

Today's guest post is from Rosemary, a college friend who blogs about having adventures. If my blog is a slice of life in Dublin, Rosemary's blog is a cake made from the west coast. Visit her at http://shedoesstuff.blogspot.com and see if you love her voice as much as I do - Ellen.

My name is Rosemary and I am an adventuraholic.

This summer has been a little crap for adventuring, what with it pissing rain constantly and being colder than a penguin's nipple. As a result, my adventuring, what little I have done, has been more indoors than out. Meanwhile it is Festival Season in Galway (April to October) which means we're all too drunk to notice the rain, and happily stand in puddles sipping from our plastic glasses idly begrudging some Canadian juggler, escapologist, or magician the applause they so vocally crave. Don't ask me why they're all Canadian.

Unfortunately, it is currently Race Week, which is the one which Galwegians have the most mixed emotions about. Sure, its great for our faltering economy: the pubs are heaving, the guesthouses are booked out despite their higher than usual rates, and the street sweepers have fierce colourful mornings, but you also can't get a fucking pint in the city for love nor money, and winking at your favourite barmen just pisses them off. So we stay in our houses and sulk for a week, letting the out-of-towners overrun Ballybrit, and then Quay Street in their suits and fascinators. A close friend resolutely refuses to leave her house for a full 24 hours every Lady's Day. She told me earlier that unless its pouring torrentially she won't budge. Why leave the house if its pouring, you may ask? "To see those dozy bitches with their wet feathers and flat hair stumbling around town in the afternoon."

Personally, I take the week to catch up on my work, visit the charming but oft-neglected public houses of Salthill (Oslo and The Cottage are favourites), and reflect on the amazing Galway Film Fleadh, and Arts Festival.

In all honesty I'm unqualified to reflect on the Film Fleadh because I have never, I repeat never attended an event. Which is odd, because I'm excellent at getting off my ass and doing things. I have an entire blog based on my capacity to simply stand up, go somewhere, and do something fun. So why have I not, in the five full years I've lived in Galway, attended a Film Fleadh event? I honestly don't know. Its a self fulfilling prophecy now, the same as the Aran Islands: I've never visited those either. Its partly financial. Did you know the ferry to the Aran Islands is €32? Unless you travel with a local, in which case its free. I'm waiting to befriend a local. I digress. The Film Fleadh directly precedes the Arts Festival and I much prefer theatre, dance and live music to film. That's just me. I'm waiting to befriend an actor/director. Then I'll go. 

The Arts Festival was much stronger on theatre and visual art this year than music. The music thing kind of ticked me off. We had Blondie again, which is awesome; I mean who doesn't love Blondie? But she was also here in 2008. Can anyone name a song Blondie has released in the last three years? No? Exactly. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble was another one. They opened for De La Soul and were reportedly awesome. However they are playing a free gig on Friday 31st as part of the Rosin Dubh organised West End Street Party (presumably a sub-festival of the racing festival). Sickener for those who paid €32.50 to see them in the Big Top last week...

The Absolut Gallery was in-freakin-credible. Just stunning. Hughie O’Donoghue's work in progress, The Road, brings together text and image. Resembling a book, each panel has a leaf from Gramina Britannica, the Victorian book of British Grasses, along with an image. The images are called Anabasis, and represent O'Donoghue's father's war journey. Anabasis is Xenophon's fifth century version of the Odyssey. Yes, I had to Wikipedia that. It is a hugely ambitious work, speaks volumes (ba da bum, ching) to children of emigrants and is a bibliophiles's wet dream. One can even read (ba da bum, ching! I'm on fire!) a subtle argument in the e-book debate, Book Vs eBook: Papyrus with a Vengance

Arcane, a street show in Eyre Square, was an acrobatic spectacle performed by two Frenchmen who must have been made of bamboo and kryptonite, so strong and bendy were they. I make a point of attending an acrobatics or dance show every year, so was distraught to miss the Controlled Falling Project which, judging by how quickly it sold out, deserved a much larger venue. 

But this is really all just preamble. The jewel of the festival, the performance everyone was talking about, was Misterman and I, ladies and gentlemen, was lucky enough to attend the final show. That was three days ago and I'm still struggling to formulate a response. It was everything it was hyped to be. Cillian Murphy (who, by the way, is a short arse), was energetic, ironic, and so enthralling one quickly forgot his Hollywood status. Personally I only imagined him fleeing zombies for the first few minutes. The play is choreographed like a Swiss watch, with props dropping from the sky or being produced by the solo performer not just at the right time, but on the right syllable. It is very very funny, but with Enda Walsh's signature sadness, a few laughs at what is fundamentally a deeply, deeply tragic story. The state of Thomas Magill's mental health is open to interpretation. Are the characters he mimics real, alive? Or is he an agoraphobe, locked in his home and his own mind, doomed to perpetually live out his day, groundhog style, until he gets it right. And ultimately doomed to get it wrong every time. Is he in an institution? Is he in hell?

I have a friend, a member of the Fregoli theatre company, who has a rant about standing ovations. She once told me that everyone is too quick to leap from their seats after a show. "When the cast bows, you sit down and clap. When the cast comes out again, you stay seated and continue to clap. When the directors comes out, if you physically cannot keep your ass in your seat, if you have been so moved by what you have just seen that the muscles in your legs come alive independent of your cerebral process, acting solely on the strength of your emotion, propelling you upwards, then, and only then, you stand."

She was out of her seat before the lights had fully dimmed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Is A Bloomsbury? Guest Post by Writer Friend

Writer Friend has agreed to drop by today to share with us the pain of finding a Bloomsbury in your book. You may remember Writer Friend from Amsterdam or from my posts on beta-reading. Writer Friend is editing the final instalment of an utterly excellent rural fantasy trilogy set in Scotland, which I trust you'll all get to read inside proper covers someday - Ellen

I tend to go off on tangents a lot (so if anything in this seems tangential, just skip down until it starts to make sense again), and I also find it quite hard to see these tangents as I write. Particularly, as I have discovered, with the trilogy I am currently working on. After I had finished writing it, I laid down my pen and handed it to Ellen to read. She read it, enjoyed it and came back to me with many positive comments. But one of the first was ‘I like Ms. Bloomsbury. Why is she there?’ 

I said ‘Because…!’ And I paused, marshalled my thoughts and said ‘Because…!’ Ellen looked at me eagerly, waiting for this surely breathtaking explanation. I took a deep breath and said ‘Because…!’ then mumbled something. Ellen looked perplexed and said ‘Sorry, what?’ 
I repeated myself: ‘I don’t exactly know.’ 
And I didn’t. I had, half way through the first book of three, come up with a character I could really get a feel for and just pitched her in, headfirst. Unfortunately, I pitched her into a totally separate story that really couldn’t squeeze around to accommodate her.

As Ellen and I read on, we both realised that this was not unusual for me. In each of the other books, this situation had arisen at least once. We gave it some thought, and came to the conclusion that it happens more regularly than you might think (this is to reassure us both on those dark nights where you end up looking at your screen in bafflement and wondering if perhaps you took a heap of drugs and have completely forgotten the experience). 

Just picture it –you’re holed up in your room, writing frantically and you feel like you’re on fire…the ideas are pouring in, you can’t contain yourself and you certainly can’t write fast enough to encompass all of them. They just keep on coming, names and faces…places that don’t exist and places that do and all you can do is let it happen and do what you can to record it. 

And then you get what I have decided to call a Bloomsbury. A full-blown character or a storyline that may be both appealing and believable, but have sadly taken a wrong turning from some other potential novel in your head. And removing them hurts, it feels like you are somehow killing them or sending them back to some dungeon dimension until the time when you may – and its only a may – have a place for them.

Charlaine Harris has a book called A Touch of Dead which consists of several short adventures involving her character, Sookie Stackhouse. None of these adventures have made it into her best-selling Southern Vampire series, and I cherish the hope that they are, in fact, Bloomsburies (in this case, the storyline kind rather than the character kind) and that Ms. Harris has managed to let them see the light of day. 

It gives me hope, anyway, that poor Ms. Henrietta Bloomsbury will not be consigned to the scrap heap of my desk forever more. I am endeavouring to keep future Bloomsburies in a seperare notebook, to be reviewed at leisure as a potential cure for writers’ block. But that sounds far too organised to be realistic. I’m sure, when ideas strike me at half eleven at night, I will be much too concerned about just getting them down somewhere to go looking for the lovely notebook I bought just for that purpose. But that’s a thought: as an excuse to buy stationary, Bloomsburies could be top of the list!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Post by Zoe Faulder: Book Fairs

Today Zoe will be sharing her experience of attending her first book fair. She blogs about life in the publishing world in Ireland at http://apples-bananas.blogspot.com 


Book Fairs: The London Experience

Question: Should you go to a book fair?
Answer: Only if you know why you’re going.

In April this year I went to London with the purpose of experiencing my first book fair. I may not have known it at the time but that was pretty much the sum of it. Yes I met people, yes I went to seminars, yes I attended digital presentations and yes I came away wide eyed and brimming with ideas (and business cards) but I get the feeling that the first book fair is more about the experience of it than anything else. 
 
I can say this because in May I went to my second book fair, Book Expo America – a very different kettle of fish I might add.

I stayed  just off Baker Street with my sister and her boyfriend in a lovely little flat with a kitchen and a bathroom down the – communal – hall. That first morning I woke, got smartly dressed in items raided from my sister’s wardrobe (she’s far more fashionable than me) and had a lovely little breakfast made for me (yes, my sister is awesome). I then pulled my handbag over my shoulder grabbed my bag, of books and paraphernalia I intended to sneak on to the stand, and stepped out to become a London commuter!

Well… sort of.

I can barely call Edgeware Road to Earls Court commuting.

As I got on the tube I quickly recognised the publishing folk around me with their Kindles, iPads and giant bags of exhibition extras – The bags rather than the gadgets being the signifiers here.

Stepping off the tube I may as well have slipped into a querying author’s wet dream – I was literally swept up by the mass of publishers and carried towards Earls Court to be deposited neatly by the exhibitors entrance.

In I wondered and with in moments I had my badge and was heading towards the stand – far more efficient than I had been expecting!

Upon arriving at the stand it soon became clear that I would be holding on to my little bag of books – I had been thwarted by the organisational skills of the staff. There was no extra space for me to sneak my hidden books into and so they stayed with me – a heavy, awkward reminder of my failed attempt to stick it to the man.

After the first quick hellos I was off! There were stands that needed exploring, seminar rooms that needed finding, optimal lunch kiosks that needed selecting and, had I been more experienced, wifi enabled stands that needed befriending.

Monday was chock-a-block with seminars I wanted to attend – most of them on at the same time. I had my colour coded schedule with me the whole time and quickest routes mapped within the first hour – alas I still only attended 40 percent of them.

I found it very useful having my net book with me, even if I did evilly eye the iPads that seemed the dominant form of note taking. It turned out finding a nice patch of floor with near by wifi made typing out notes on each seminar and meeting allowed me to retain a great deal more information than I normally would have – unfortunately due to laziness time constraints this practice only lasted the one day.

About 40 percent of my meetings were pre-arranged, and only one was nearly missed due to timing confusion - It is important to remember to have contact details for everyone you are meeting with you on the day you are meeting them; it will make life so much easier. The other 60 percent came out of exploration and milling around.

I did meet with a few foreign language publishers, but most of my meetings revolved around digital services and certainly helped me get a clearer view of what was available, how it worked and what kind of prices were standard. Not all the meetings were fruitful and not all yielded the expected results, but from most of them came new ideas.

I learnt a lot at the London Book Fair and thoroughly enjoyed my experience of it. I met a lot of people and gained a library of business cards.

If you plan on going next year I’d suggest:

  • Knowing what you want to get out of it
  • Having a plan
  • Being organised
  • Allowing yourself some time to wander
  • Being sociable
  • Being open minded
  • Bringing a netbook or equivalent
  • not expecting a wifi connection
  • Enjoying yourself
Oh – and having an awesome fashionable sister that lives in central London is helpful too.