A View on Self Publishing

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by Mike

You're a writer right? A good one. What? The picture is to get your attention. You see you need to be able to publicise yourself if you go into self-publishing. Sure you think you can hack that, but the chances are you will fail. Sorry, but you are up against marketing machines fighting for prime space in the retail market - even if you do have the PR gene - the odds are stacked against you. And you should be writing right? The breasts also appeal to base instincts - more of that later.

So I wonder what your view is on self-publishing? These are a few extracts from past interviews here at the magazine where we asked that question ...

Jessa Crispin of Bookslut

"Right now, unless you have a platform and a good designer and the stars on your side, you're better off setting your wallet on fire. It will be near impossible to get noticed and find readers. Sometimes it works; there are good self-published comics, and the new, brilliant Alinea cookbook was self-published, but those are exceptions. So much that is self-published is just awful. Really, painfully bad."

Juliet Pickering Associate Agent for AP Watt

"I think you should determine what your reasons for self-publishing are: to get into print at any cost, or to get a personal sense of completion after putting so much work into your magnus opus in the first place. What I would advise, is approaching agents to consider your book before you go down the self-publishing route. It does tend to be viewed as a last resort. And there’s no harm in moving on to another book after the lessons you’ve learnt through writing the first, and perhaps coming back to it later."

Dave Kuzminsk of Preditors & Editors

"Self-publishing is fine for poetry and books applicable to speakers giving how-to speaking engagements based upon specific platforms. On the other hand, it's the second worst route to take for fiction. Only vanity publishing is worse for novelists."

A final word from Julian Barnes on Publishing:

"The commercial pressures are much, much greater - the publisher wants their money back, the pressure on a young writer to write that 'break-through' book is more severe. I'm not against young writers making money - on the contrary. But I am in favour of young writers writing the best books they are capable of. And being protected against disappointment. Though maybe disappointment will make them better writers, who knows?"

So is it better to take the pain of rejection slips on the chin and use it to develop your character and writing skills - to push on and become a better writer? Certainly to self-publish could get you that publishing deal. But you are just as likely to win the lottery and far more likely to discredit your reputation if your intention is more than printing something up for your family and friends.

Our view?

Don't do it unless it's for fun. I understand the desire to birth the baby you've been working on for years, but you really don't want to deliver your love and joy into a box in the attic - that's no way to treat your labour.

It needs to come out into the open - to live, to breathe. And that's where the companies that urge you to self publish tap into your base instincts. As a writer your base instinct is to communicate, to move a reader emotionally, to take them on a journey. To communicate you need readers - a book really comes alive as it interacts with a reader. You know that it frustrates the hell out of you that it is trapped inside your pc. So the Self- Publishing houses tap into that desire. Tell you that they can give your book wings.

But don't be fooled the wings are clipped.

Stop. Think it through and take the long term view.

Top photo credit: Scott Sandars

Travel & Writing - A Postcard From Home

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by Paul

Even though it’s damp and cold outside on this winter afternoon, the first thing we do when we’re in the house is throw open all the windows and doors. It may be damp and cold outside, but after eight weeks away from home there’s a bitter chill inside. The stink of mice and old birds’ nests has slipped between the ceiling boards from the attic, down into each room; stagnant water sitting in the drains has brought something acrid into the kitchen, the laundry, the bathroom; an unseen filament of cobweb clings to my face as I lug one of the suitcases down the hallway. So we throw open all the windows and doors and I light the woodstove; crank up the fiercest, hottest of fires. A fire to purge every scrap of stale mustiness and the seeping, blackening moistness of mildew. What the place needs is a flow of fresh, warm air.

There are times when this might serve as a metaphor for the keg of ideas in my head. When my view of the world feels as if it’s stagnating, is becoming grimy under a sticky layer of dust, and in need of a good shaking up and airing out. But not today. Today, I am returning from eight weeks travelling – meeting new people and new friends, reacquainting with old friends, exploring landscapes I’ve never visited before and returning to places I thought I knew – and the opposite is true. There’s a welter of new impressions and ideas storming and tumbling and crashing about in my mind, some of which are bravely clinging to the potential of new projects, but all of which need to settle and sift, to grow a few hairs and gather a little dust, before I can do anything with them.

And, for me, this is the most important fringe benefit of travelling. After all the pleasures (and challenges) inherent in experiencing different textures of life and being exposed to new ideas and different views, everything feeds back into writing: the stories we tell and the words we use to interpret an ever-changing understanding of the world – an overheard phrase here, an observed mannerism there, a unique perspective, a response or a reaction, or maybe the absence of a reaction... a description of how afternoon light at a particular time of year in a particular environment illuminates a person’s face or the edge of a skyscraper or the leaves on a tree. All this and more.

So, now the house is fully aired and the woodstove is contentedly ticking over and it begins to feel like home again, I’m trying to re-establish the habits and the habitat which allow me to write. I’m holding my cupped hands out, encouraging some of that welter of new ideas and impressions to land without getting too bruised, so that I can nurture them and, in turn, allow them to take my words someplace new. In this manner, I’ll begin to read and elaborate on the brief notes I took while sitting on trains, planes or in anonymous hotel rooms (an overheard phrase here, an observed mannerism there), and I’ll gradually review photographs that might help make sense of my more cryptic notes or that will encourage new ideas to land. Maybe, one day, a few of them will give substance to a character or a scene or the direction of a story, and then, for me, these will have become the best souvenirs of all.

Jodie Foster and the art of ventriloquism -- A.J Kirby


‘It’s like in that film, The Silence of the Lambs,’ one of the prison officers had said, ‘when they send Jodie Foster, a damn trainee, to go to speak to one of the most notorious criminals in America.’

I steeled myself to ask the question; the one that had been laughed, spat and ignored back into my face by most of the rest of the men on the wing. ‘Would you like to join my discussion group?’ I murmured.

‘Why Janet; I thought you’d never ask,’ replied Francis, pleasantly. ‘And what shall we be discussing?’


Read the rest of the story at The Front View.

Getting Sentimental

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by Stella

Recently I had the pleasure of doing research in a university library. (I know. I’m a bookworm. Not pretending to be otherwise.) I simply glided in and got a tingly feeling down my back at the sight of all those beautiful books with their words and wisdom. A friend was with me and as we walked up the steps to the second floor she said, “You know, once everyone has those e-book readers, libraries will slowly close down. In fifty years this place probably won’t be here because we won’t need it.”

I froze on the spot. Deer in the headlights.

Now, I would like to make something perfectly clear. My computer is a lovely, shiny thing. It lets me cut and paste. It lets me press the backspace button to erase stuff I don’t like. It lets me format my documents with ease. I am grateful for this wondrous machine and never sit pining for a typewriter or an inkwell. So this is not a rant against technology. Technology good. Technology pretty. Yes it is.

Actually, it’s not even a rant at all because I get the e-reader thing. It’s convenient – like carrying around an entire library in your bag. It’s ecological – I shudder to think of all the poor trees chopped down to print utter garbage. People will not be able to deface books with pens and highlighters – that alone makes me giddy with inexpressible glee. And, as my friend pointed out, one day – sooner or later – all written knowledge will be a click away. But, and here’s where I get sentimental and possibly a little irrational: I love books. They sit on my shelf. They gather dust. Their spines get wrinkled from use. Their pages have texture. E-reader’s are so… cold and impersonal.

Obviously that’s no sound argument against e-readers. What’s important is to preserve the words in the best way possible – just like the gradual move from vinyl to digital ensured we get the highest sound quality from music. My brain gets it. Completely. My heart/soul/whatever organ responsible has misgivings. Why do I feel like something will be lost if you can’t walk into a library? If the books on my shelf become quaint artifacts that will eventually be gotten rid of?

Maybe because it feels as if something is coming to an end, but is that really all it is? When the internet became popular – and I can remember perfectly well when it didn’t even exist – I didn’t think, “Socializing will never be the same! Oh dear, all is lost!” (And I certainly wouldn’t have said it like that, if I had.) I don’t even know what I’m mourning for or why I’m mourning at all when I can see the advantages of the new technology.

Whether libraries full of books will still exist or not, my future grandchildren will listen to my stories about the late 20th/early 21st century, roll their eyes and sigh, “Grammy, you lived in the Stone Age.” That's the way the world works. I am fully prepared for it and will treat their foolish whippersnapper comments with the proper degree of indulgence. But do we really have to give up actual books?

The Ivy, Irish Man and BlueMoose.

by Kevin Duffy

I am and have been a sales rep for 23 years for a variety of publishing houses that range from the commercial, Headline, to the academic, Kogan Page. I now represent Anova, which is an illustrated non-fiction house. Having won a national writing competition in 1998, I thought that it would be only a matter of time before I was drinking cocktails on the sun drenched beaches of The Caribbean.

Not so.

I was invited down to London to be wined and dined at The Ivy by a well-known agent and an editor from Macmillan. To be honest it didn’t go well. I felt like a Northern oik who’d been brought down to perform for the metropolitan elite. I was very judgemental when I met triple barrelled ladies who lunched. I should have known better but I was very nervous. I was being interviewed for my all time favourite job, writer, and I didn’t want to mess it up. I did. As I made my way to the loo realising my dream of being published was slipping through my hands I decided I need a memento from The world famous Ivy and decided to take something from the toilets. As I was about to put a small monogrammed facecloth in the pockets of my jeans, a wardrobe sized member of staff said in an Eastern European accent, "We don’t do that kind of thing in here sir." I put it back and left.

Move on to 2001 and I was signed up to Darley Anderson as Colm O’Driscoll. I’d read in The Bookseller that all the big money was going on new Irish writers. I spent a year talking to them as an Irish writer before being asked to go down to London to sign a contract. Jaysus, I thought, I’ll have to tell them I’m not Irish and I’ve been spinning them a line. I pressed the doorbell at their HQ and when I met my agent said. ‘My name’s not Colm and I’m not Irish.’ Fortunately they saw the funny side of it, laughed and called me a ‘Con man and a rogue.’ They also said I couldn’t be 41, my real age, and that I had to be 37, as the press didn’t think you could be a new writer and over 40!They pitched my book Anthills and Stars and Hodder were going to publish it. They said it was like ‘Father Ted meets Chocolat.’ Excellent. Get the cocktail umbrellas out. That is until the Commercial Director told the Publisher he didn’t think he could sell 20,000 units, so they decided not to publish.

I started to rant a lot. My wife told me to stop moaning and do something about it. So I did. We remortgaged the house and started Bluemoose Books. Our first two books were my novel Anthills & Stars, which looks at Hippies moving into the Calder Valley at the end of the 60’s and The Bridge Between by Nathan Vanek, which looked at Nathan’s life as a meditation guru living in India for 25years and then his move back to Canada to look after his ageing a dad, a judge. We’ll be publishing our fifth title, Falling through clouds by Anna Chilvers in January 2010.

Although I’d been involved in the selling of books, to produce and market them is a different skill altogether and we’re still learning. From buying blocks of ISBN’s, sending the correct bibliographical information to Nielsen’s and getting the advanced information sheets to the library supplier’s three months in advance of publication. Jacket design, printers, and setting up accounts with the wholesalers and Waterstones. Dealing with Amazon. And most importantly trying to get review coverage. If nobody knows your book is out there then how the hell can you sell it?

As a small publisher it is virtually impossible to get review coverage in the nationals. Their thinking is if it comes from a small indie it must be rubbish, because if it were any good the mainstream publishers would have gobble it up. Which of course is nonsense. Roddy Doyle self published the ‘Commitments’ and I believe he was a Booker winner. The Internet has stepped in and made it possible to get new books reviewed and noticed. If it weren’t for the likes of Scott Pack reviewing The art of being dead and other online literary review sites, then it wouldn’t be the success it is. From there it was chosen by Exclusively Independent to be one of the books of the month trailed in Independent bookshops up and down the country.

This will stir the nest up a bit. Perhaps the very model of the advance is a thing of the past. The whole publishing business model needs to be looked at, because agents won’t sign up new writers unless they think they will sell tens of thousands of copies. They have been told by publishers that because so much money is being spent on celebrities, they are not going to take a punt on a new writer unless they are sure they can sell hundreds of thousands of copies. This means that they will all follow safe publishing rules. Only publish what works. Copy the generic styles that are working and you will make money. Go outside these very limited boundaries and you are taking too much of a risk. It’s the old supermarket mantra. Pile ‘em high and sell’em cheap. It worked, but it’s not the future of publishing.

It seems the only people taking risks these days and publishing writing that doesn’t follow a standard form are the Independents. Tindall Street, Myrmidon, Route, Legend Press and dare I say it Bluemoose Books. I think it’s very patronising of the publishing industry to think that the British people are not ready or willing to take a few risks with what they want to read. It is possible for small independents to make their mark. I am so proud to have published Stephen Clayton’s latest book The art of being dead, because it is important that brilliant stories by significant new writers are allowed a voice. And the public, even in these trying times are voting with their wallets and buying books that don’t conform. And long may that last.

BlueMoose books can be found here.
And Kevin's blog, The Moose that Roared here.

Photo credit: Geof Wilson

Boys to Men

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by Kathleen

From age seven until seventeen, I was responsible for my brother Ryland and his friend Rico. Being three years older seemed plenty at the time: girls are more mature than boys.

Our mother traveled in sales. Dad came and went—mostly went until he was totally gone.

If people asked about Rico’s family, he said, “Nada.” Not that he knew Spanish. His real name was Richard. “Call me that and I’ll bust your lip.” He was five.

Rico wasn’t always around; it just felt like it. He probably spent holidays away. But I remember taking care of him if he had a fever. He slept in Ryland’s bunk-bed. If the fever continued, we took a bus to the doctor. I suppose my mother paid the bills. Never a problem buying food or medicine.

The older we grew, the more the boys made me laugh. Salt in the sugar bowl. A radio station called because they had picked my name for a contest. And if I answered three (trick) questions in three minutes, I won a bicycle.

Being an expert at Rico’s trick questions, I won hundreds of bicycles. When they didn’t materialize, Rico said, “Those bums,” and offered me a consolation kiss. He was ten.

When he was twelve, I caught him staring at my chest. “Love that green sweater on you, Casey. It matches your eyes.”

“Don’t try that line on a real girl, Rico. She’ll laugh in your face.”

Ryland swiped at him. “Stop sucking up to the babysitter.”

“No babies here, Ry. Unless it’s you. Casey likes me flirting with her.”

“Whatever, man. See you at the beach.”

Another year passed and they went to the beach to get high. “Wanna come, Casey? You like weed.”

Approximately then, my brother wanted to ditch Rico. Thought he’d outgrown him. “Don’t talk to me if you’re gonna drag her around,” he said.

No matter—I didn’t want people seeing me hanging out with them anyway.

Ryland and Rico were old enough to take care of themselves.

Eventually, I got a scholarship to Indiana and never looked back. I teach high-school biology in Bloomington. Five full years in June, so I’ve even got tenure.

Ryland moved to Colorado and worked at a resort long enough to become a skiing instructor. Off season, he’s a river rafting guide. Rico, too, I thought.

But last night Rico phoned from Illinois. He’s tried for years to find me but Ryland would steer him wrong. This time he conducted his own search.

He does construction work, every kind and everywhere. “So, Casey, can I see you? I’ll stay at a motel till we’re adjusted. You know, I’ve always loved you. Even as kids, it wasn’t like kids’ love. For me, it was always real.”

What do you say to that? Like I had a choice.

Jenn Ashworth, A Kind of Intimacy part 2

Reader Logoby Kerrie-Anne

The View From Here Interview:
Jenn Ashworth

For Part 1 of this interview click here.

A Kind of Intimacy was written prior to you working in a prison library; have you found inspiration since from those you meet giving new life to characters for upcoming tales?

Well, I’m very interested in unreliable narrators, and I’ve certainly met a lot of those while working at the prison!

I found myself wincing, cringing, laughing and at times almost screaming at Annie, her character is so believable you just want to grab her by the shoulders and tell her to wake up. How hard was it for you to tell her story without doing exactly that?

I think the experience is very different for a writer. The whole time I was trying to push Annie and the situation as far as I could – make every situation more and more embarrassing – I was more concerned with writing it so it was funny without being implausible, so I think my attention was more focused on the technical aspect.

Is Annie mad or misguided?

I think that’s up to the reader to decide. Annie says some very reasonable things, especially about her relationships with men and her experience of motherhood – I’d hate a reader to ‘diagnose’ her, decide she isn’t really culpable for her actions and then write her opinions off as nonsense. But she isn’t quite normal either, I suppose.

A Kind of Intimacy has been the recipient of rave reviews leading to your inclusion in Waterstone's New Voices 2009. What has surprised you most?

The reviews I’ve had, the emails from people I’ve never met, the Waterstone’s Promotion – they’ve all been lovely. I know I’ve been very lucky. I still find the fact anyone would like Annie surprising. And I’m very glad about it.

Being an Author

Did you ever rewrite ‘The Balloon Novel’ which was stolen with your laptop and ultimately lead to rise of ‘A Kind of Intimacy’?

No, I haven’t. I don’t have any plans to return to it yet, although I certainly know everything there is to know about the history and construction of hot air balloons, so you never know where it might crop up in my writing in the future!

What are the best and worst things about being a published author?

The best thing is the validation – you always wonder if what you write is any good or not, but if people are willing to give you money for it, it’s easier to think that it must be okay. The worst thing is how busy you get with other things that aren’t writing, and the pressure to write number two. But these are small problems and don’t outweigh how great it is to realize that the book is out there and being read by people.

How has your life changed since becoming published?

I’m much busier, and I feel a bit more confident about talking to people about what I do. I’m also in the position of being able to give up my work at the library and concentrate on my next book for the next few months. The luxury of time is something I only wished for before, so I’m incredibly excited about this new phase beginning.

When writing your novels do you sit with a story plan or do they simply erupt onto the screen and paper?

I try and plan, but because I’m so interested in character and narration, things tend to get out of hand. I’m a slow and wasteful writer, doing lots of drafts and throwing lots of versions away before I finally hit on the story and the right way to tell it.

In order to be an author what is the most important trait a person can have?

Single-mindedness. It’s too easy to get distracted with friends or television or blogging or whatever it is other people do in the evenings. I think writing involves a lot of sacrifice, and being willing to do that is almost essential for getting a large project like a novel finished.

What advice can you give someone reading this with the dream of becoming a published author?

Read, constantly – and get used to being on your own. I think some writers can combine hectic social lives with an active inner life, but I don’t think I can.

Thanks Jenn.

Jenn Ashworth, A Kind of Intimacy. Part1

Reader Logoby Kerrie-Anne

Jenn Ashworth

I was not sure what to expect when I approached this interview with Jenn Ashworth, her debut novel A Kind of Intimacy was dark, funny, gripping and at times frightening in its reality.

What I found was a confident, easy going woman. A real 'what you see is what you get' kind of gal. Born in 1982 in Lancashire England, she has a down to earth playful nature which is more than evident in her writing.

Currently Jenn is working on her next novel after being named one of 'Waterstone's New Voices 2009'. She received a MA in Creative Writing from Manchester University and at the time of this interview works in a Prison Library.

Jenn's blog title 'Every day I Lie a Little' gives an insight into her humour and everyday goings on, well worth venturing to.

A Kind of Intimacy is the story of Annie, an overweight, self conscious woman, who seeks out a new life after tragedy strikes her. Moving to a new house she sets about meeting the locals and attempting to make friends. Her life takes unusual twists and turns as she attempts to out manoeuvre her old life and start over. Ultimately her past catches up with her with dramatic consequences for Annie, the boy next door and his girlfriend. I found myself cringing at some of her attempts, almost screaming at others and totally gripped as her secrets were revealed. Things you never thought were coming.

Seeing the world through Annie's eyes, her thoughts, feelings, and judgements at times has almost a voyeuristic quality even though it is told by Annie herself. Each page leads you further into a twisted tale, as she unravels a story which will have you guessing right till its bloody end.

Although fictional, Annie's complex mixture of emotions are some which we all face at one time or another. She is that likable strange lady down the road, the friend who tries too hard, the odd one out at a party. There is a little piece of all us in her.

A Kind of Intimacy gives us an unique window into the life a woman who many would never notice otherwise and shows us just how fragile the human mind can be.

A little about Jenn:

What was it that brought you to writing?

I’ve always written, from when I was very small. I think it’s probably a lot to do with escapism – being able to go through the page or the computer screen into a completely different world. I’ve been a very keen diary writer since I was thirteen, so a lot of the way I understand myself and the outside world is by writing things down. It’s very natural to me and although it doesn’t always go well I can’t really imagine not doing it for any length of time.

Which do you prefer writing, short stories or novels?

It depends on what I want to say. They are very different things. Short stories are wonderful because they force you to be so specific and immediate, and I love reading and writing novels because of the entire fictional world you can inhabit. The short stories you can read via the links on my blog have been a very immediate, instant way of interacting with the online literary scene – I’m not sure if it is quite the same with a long novel like A Kind of Intimacy – it takes much longer to be finished and get feedback, anyway.

What was life like growing up in Lancashire?

My childhood wasn’t a particularly happy one, but I don’t think that’s anything to do with Lancashire. It’s quite a quiet, inward looking place. I’d never lived or been to anywhere else when I got to Uni, and I had an idea that I was fairly experienced and open minded because of how many books I’d read, when actually I was naïve in lots of ways. I almost decided never to come back, but obviously I have, and things are very different for me now I’m an adult and the cultural and literary scene is developing a bit here.

What is the Preston Writing Network?

As well as writing, I do freelance literature development work. The Preston Writing Network is the fruit of a Associate Artist’s placement I’ve had with a Arts Development Company for the past eight months. My brief was to discover, promote and develop emerging writing in Preston and the blog, the classes and the live-lit nights are one of the ways I tried to do that. I think it’s been a fantastic success – very little to do with my tapping away on my computer, and more to do with all the new writers I’ve met – Preston is suddenly full of bloggers, short story writers, poets, journalists and novelists. I wish someone had done this when I was growing up.

Why leave Preston for Oxford?

I was living in Cambridge at the time and had just finished my first degree. My partner at the time was offered a job with training in Oxford, and although I nearly decided to move to Liverpool (I wish I had) I decided to go with him and lived in Oxford for a year, working for The Samaritans and The Bodleian library, as well as training at night school to be a counselor and trying to write The Balloon Novel.

Your best and worst habits?

My best habit is also my worst habit. I work very, very hard – and I never say no to things. That means I’ve had some amazing experiences and some wonderful opportunities, but it also means that I’ve neglected a lot of my friends and don’t have much time for other things. I worry about getting tired, and burning out. I should make it a habit to have some weekends and evenings off!

About A Kind of Intimacy:

When you began writing ‘A Kind of Intimacy’, your laptop had been stolen, you were sharing a run down home and newly left your home borough of Preston for Oxford. How did these events effect your writing of A Kind of Intimacy?

Nothing direct, although living next to a pub in Oxford and continually overhearing everyone in the beer garden having a wonderful time must have found its way into the book somehow! I think a general sense of loneliness and dissatisfaction in the quality of my relationships with other people might have influenced me, but I certainly didn’t set out to write about myself or anyone I knew.

It's been described as dark, humorous, frightening and its main character Annie compared to Misery’s Kathy Bates by Stephen King. Which authors influence you in your writing and which do you enjoy most?

I like Stephen King, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Ali Smith, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carole Oats, Raymond Chandler – and hundreds of others. Also dramatists like Alan Bennet and Mike Leigh, who did Abigail’s Party. I don’t think I’m influenced by anyone in particular – I’m much more likely to be moved to write by an emotion or a memory than I am by a book.

What do you hope readers take from Annie's tale?

I’d love it if a reader realized, at the end of the book, that they’d been rooting and sympathizing for someone who is actually quite dangerous and who does some terrible things. I hope readers like Annie. I like Annie very much. I wanted to say something about intimacy – I used to think it was an impossible thing to achieve but now I think the intimacy between the reader and the writer is something quick tricky and slippery and special too.

Annie’s character is profoundly lonely, her actions show this with disturbing clarity, her only true friend being her cat Mr. Tipps. Ultimately what do you feel she was craving?

She wanted the same thing that everyone wants – I think she says it in the book somewhere. To talk without misunderstanding. We’ve only got language to rely on when we want to get close to each other, and language is so unreliable. She’s fighting a losing battle really, despite her disadvantages. She wanted a friend and to be special to someone.

Annie has many ill conceived obsessions as she attempts to start her new life and searches her self-help books for a magic bullet to heal her life. Do you think these vulnerabilities are what makes her so believable in that she wants nomore than we all want?

I’m glad you find her believable – many people have told me they recognize parts of Annie in themselves, or in someone else they know. I don’t think she’s that unusual – just an exaggeration of something that we all fear. Maybe.

What do you think is Annie's more endearing quality? For me it was her optimistic delusions.

I think for me it was her naivety. I still shudder when I think of her in her taffeta peach bridesmaid’s dress at the housewarming party. She probably wanted a dress just like it when she was ten years old, finally bought it in her twenties and wore it to the supermarket thinking she looked lovely. I imagine her twirling in front of the mirror, checking her lipstick, reciting her affirmations and being almost convinced she looks beautiful. There’s a big bit of Annie that never grew up, and still wants her mother.

Part 2 of this interview on Monday.

Celebs in Writing Distress: Megan Fox

by The Lone Ranger

Dear Lone Ranger

I'm writing my first novel in Microsoft word and have my font set to 12 - do you think it should be in size 10?



Dear Megan

I would normally recommend matching your font to your shoe size. Good luck with the novel.


The Lone Ranger

More letters from celebs soon!

8 Rooms, The Short Story Reinvented

by eight authors
Publisher: Legend Press 2009

Reader Logo by Jane Turley

I’m fortunate that I’ve more than eight rooms in my house. However, I’ve found it’s impossible to keep them all in order without being slavishly devoted to housework. As a result each room has taken on a life of its own. It lives, it breathes. Indeed, if you look closely at any room it reveals much about the occupants. For example, in my kitchen the stacks of plates piled with crusts, bottles without tops and towers of leaning glasses betray the presence of three hungry boys. In contrast, the dining room is the tidy showpiece of two mature adults moving towards old age and then there’s my study where I slip away into peaceful but rather chaotic solitude.

8 Rooms, a collection of short stories from Legend Press and part of their Short Story Reinvented Series, is the result of a competition where the objective was to tell a story principally within the confines of a singular room. It’s an interesting scenario which poses many questions. What can we learn about a character from their room? Does a room define a character or does a character define a room? What is revealed about the protagonist when he/she is alone or interacting with others within their room or maybe even in someone else’s room? So many tantalizing ideas spring to mind it’s not surprising that the eight winning authors have produced an eclectic selection of stories which rather like the rooms in my house paint entirely different pictures of their occupants.

Of the stories I felt the opening one by C J Carver, which told the story of a prisoner confined to a rail truck and en route to his execution, was probably the most well rounded. It managed to pull sufficiently well at the heart strings, in what was quite a difficult and challenging subject, despite a rather cheesy ending where the narrative ended in mid sentence like an episode of a soap opera.

However, it wasn’t only C J Carver who suffered from this terminal illness. I was enjoying Mark Kotting’s colourful story of a disillusioned photographer only to discover that the resulting madness was all in his head. Yep, it was a Dallas scenario! In fact when the doorbell rang at end of this story I thought the surprise was going to be Bobby Ewing. (Unfortunately it wasn’t- which is a pity because I kinda have an attraction to rich oil men.)

The same sickness affected Emma Seaman’s story of the masseuse and the bachelor. Overall, this was a nicely written tale of two people’s mutual attraction but whose inhibitions prevent them from vocalizing their feelings. Unfortunately, after a 30 page build up I felt a little disappointed that there was no shock, sleaze or even a twist in the tail that might have set this story apart from so much of the sentimental fodder that appears in women’s magazines. Frankly, I would have been glad if one of the protagonists had been shot like JR in this story because, let’s face it, a real cliff-hanger is better than a wishy-washy “maybe they will, maybe they won’t” scenario.

Something entirely different and completely refreshing was my favourite story from newcomer Guy Mankowski. A trained psychologist, Guy used his knowledge to delve into the mind of a translator obsessed with the ownership of the space and people around him. With its explicit language this isn’t a story for those looking for a comfortable read but for a glimpse inside a mind descending into mental illness it's quite intriguing. Guy’s position gives him a unique insight into the oddities of human behaviour and I look forward to seeing what he delivers next.

Regrettably, I don’t feel the same about D E Rhylis whose story about the sudden death of a mother, seen through the eyes of her daughter, left me completely unmoved. As my own mother died suddenly and dramatically last autumn, I probably should have ended up weeping profusely but, sadly, the story didn’t fully explore the real issues of personal loss. Ironically, it actually skirted over them by featuring too many characters, events and details. By trying to achieve too much it actually achieved very little. In my opinion, to portray love and loss you don’t need to catalogue a series of events as evidence of your distress, you just need to strip away the detail and write from the heart.

I’m not sure that D E Rhylis’ story could even have been saved by some careful editing but like most of the stories it would have certainly benefited from the slash of a red pen. I suppose this raises the question of how much or little an editor should or would want to play in nurturing a writer. 8 Rooms was the result of a competition so I suspect the stories had minimal editorial input which is rather a pity because like actors on a stage, an author can sometimes benefit from good direction. And when there’s a price tag attached the ultimate objective must surely be to make any piece of work the best it can possibly be.

I felt this was particularly the case with A J Kirby’s story. It started out witty and entertaining with the premise of a geeky nerd living in a ground floor flat where strangers frequently call looking for directions. This was an exciting proposition dripping with potential for Kirby’s engaging humour so when the doorbell finally rang I was disheartened to find it was just his girlfriend’s dreary best friend and her baby. From then on the story got bogged down in trying to produce something obviously meaningful. I wanted Kirby to just let loose with mayhem perhaps with the arrival of someone as outlandish as a mass murderer, a rain soaked politician or even a transvestite door to door salesman. Humour is Kirby’s weapon and, I believe, used effectively could be just as successful as any “serious” attempt at writing. According to Legend Press Kirby is now currently writing a situation comedy. So good luck to him in his endeavours he has the wit, he just needs to go into freefall with the imagination.

Of course, imagination is a principle factor in developing any story but I didn’t feel either Miranda Winram’s tale of a burns victim or Rebecca Strong’s one of an unborn child were particularly creative. In fact they imbued me with the image of an angst ridden female’s writers group. (Ugh.) While the sentiments of both stories are praiseworthy and no doubt will find many female admirers they didn’t appeal to me. Perhaps it also didn’t help that the real action in these stories took place, or had taken place, outside the “rooms.” (The foetus reacts to what’s going on outside the womb and the burns victim is already injured when we encounter her in her hospital bed.) In the more successful stories the action/conflict was more obviously centred within the room although in C J Carvers story the action cleverly took place using a moving room (the railway truck) which enabled her to tap into all sorts of memories and emotions without it appearing overly contrived.

So 8 Rooms is very much a mixed bag and like the rooms in my house, some stories were neat and orderly, some were messy and some looked good on first impression but on closer inspection didn’t live up to expectations. Maybe with a little bit more handiwork, some décor and a few finishing touches this book might have been a collection of truly memorable rooms rather than one where some of the rooms needed a little more love and attention.

Pride or Prejudice?

By Lorraine Jenkin

The great thing about being a published author is that at least some people have read the work that you have spent months, weeks, days and hours toiling over. Hopefully they will have enjoyed it. One of the less favourable aspects about it is that they might believe that they now know everything about you – about your dreams, your hopes and your fears. And sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t.

As an author who has recently grappled with a (very) long list of editor’s notes for my second novel, Eating Blackbirds, I am coming to terms with the fact that I am finally seeing my own likes and prejudices paraded in front of me.

It struck me recently as I read a book and was jolted by a statement completely unrelated to the story. A woman was sat, contemplating, on a bus and listened into another conversation in which a younger woman was saying what a wonderful husband and father he really was, despite being sat there with a black eye from him. The author obviously had feelings about women who stick with their aggressors and had wanted it to get inside her novel. Fair enough, it’s her novel, but it made me think: what are the things that I’ve put in mine that make me read like an open-book?

The process of editing is very revealing. My editor, Caroline Oakley of Honno, is fantastic: sharp, objective, blunt and, despite a few mumblings, I realise that she is usually right. Her editing process is therefore rigorous and exposes all my foibles and (as I prefer to call them) my eccentricities.

The first cull is usually my foul language. Expletives are removed and it makes me cringe as I realise (as she has done) that most were gratuitous and, therefore, pretty childish. The second cull is my lewdness. Less is usually more, I am told. Therefore references to wind, burping and cat-sick are removed. These culls make me question my own spoken language and I am ashamed to sometimes find it crass and lacking in sophistication.

The other jolt has been my ingrained stereotyping of people at certain ages. I recently wrote about two forty-five-year-olds who really shouldn’t be having any kind of intimacy, rolling around like hippos, squelching and slobbering with a lack of sexual prowess and a large pair of beige pants. It came as a shock to me when it dawned that, at thirty-nine, they were only six years older than me! These scenes were views of people that I had had when I was fifteen and they hadn’t matured, as I should have done. Am I, therefore, a slobbering, squelching hippo? Quite probably.

As I am battling with novel number three, I am debating the dilemma: if I remove my own feelings and prejudices, will I make it better or will it become bland and impersonal? Should I analyse what my thoughts actually are and review them to make sure that I am still happy that they are current? Or should I just move the ages of my characters forward ten years and worry about it another day?

Author Profile Lorraine Jenkin quit her job and went off round the world to write her novel, Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons. She has written a variety of pieces for newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian and The Times. Her second novel, Eating Blackbirds, is released this July by Honno. Catch up with Lorraine on her blog, http://lorrainejenkin.blogspot.com/

Picture of hippo: Jennifer Jordan

Issue 13 of TVFH

The View From Here issue 13

Issue now on sale for $5.49 plus P&P.

Interviews with ...
Katie Fforde
Yasutaka Tsutsui

Original Fiction at thefrontview by:
Todd Heldt
Suvi Mahonen
George Polley

Guest Writers:
Paolo Giordano
Mike Murphy
Sophia Bennett

A Creative Exercise by Stella Carter
Original Short Fiction by Kathleen Maher
Rabbit Writer monthly cartoon from Naomi Gill

Book Reviews of
Love Letters by Katie Fforde
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

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We Are All Made of Glue

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by Charlie

Here’s the thing. If I was reviewing an Ian Rankin ‘Rebus’ I wouldn’t be giving much away if I told you it was a gritty account of one man’s struggle to bring justice to a world in which alienation battles with hope. I would add it was a cracking whodunit to boot, written with a sure hand and a dark wit and I wouldn’t be spoiling it for anyone. You know what you have when you hold a ‘Rebus’ in your hand. The problem here is that to define Marina Lewycka’s latest book as a whole would weaken one of its greatest strengths – that although her tone is light, I felt that calamity might take the whole book to unexpectedly dark places. And that’s all I’m going to say on that; if you pick up a copy, and you should, you’ll have to find out for yourselves the path Marina’s characters led her down. I know and I was not disappointed.

The book finds Georgie our narrator and central character, having come ‘unstuck’ from her husband, meeting the remarkable Mrs Shapiro who lives with a population of cats in a large crumbling house. Rather to her surprise Georgie is befriended by Mrs Shapiro and becomes her reluctant champion when Mrs Shapiro is beset by social workers, scheming estate agents and matters of a DIY nature. Alongside this Georgie is trying to figure out if she wants her self absorbed husband back or a new and salacious love life, puzzling over her teenage son’s newfound religious leanings and cleaning up quite a lot of cat poop. Oh and Georgie also writes articles for an adhesives magazine when not struggling with her novel of romance and revenge, The Splattered Heart.

Marina sets this stall out with a deft touch, lining up her characters without fuss. She has the gift, through dialogue and description, of fleshing them out in ways many other authors might only dream of. Georgie as narrator is a pleasure to journey with and her deeds, thoughts and opinions are both warm and comfortingly domestic. Some of the people she meets are equally charming, others less so, yet all are intriguing although some seem oddly disconcerting, if not somewhat sinister.

The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me. I suppose he was trying to warn me off, which was quite prescient when you consider how things turned out.

What befalls Georgie and Mrs Shapiro is both touching and comical; and sometimes laugh out loud funny, particularly in moments that involve bargain shopping or cats. This is at heart a story of almost everyday events and almost ordinary people but as we, like Georgie, are drawn in we are also taught more than one lesson. Snippets of the history of Israel and Palestine after WWII, how fundamentalism may take root in unexpected places when the internet is in every bedroom, the treatment of Jews in Denmark during the Second World War and how the Miners strike in the 1980s touched adults and children in those communities. Not to mention we discover quite a lot about glue.

That’s a lot of targets to aim at and whilst Marina may not hit the bull’s-eye every time, her aim is more than sure enough to make us think, and more importantly, feel how the past shapes lives in the present. Some might accuse her of cherry picking events to make her points and they might have an arguable case if the book is seen as a history per se rather than a human drama. Some might also accuse her of bringing her subtexts to the surface a little too often but I was not unhappy to see them. Like Georgie, a northern lass by birth, Marina also calls a spade a spade.

Let me be blunt as well. Go buy this book. It isn’t War and Peace; it isn’t The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What it is is a simple pleasure to read. If I were you I’d take it on holiday; if the sun doesn’t warm you, this book will – although as I said at the beginning, you might find yourself checking for rainclouds on the horizon from time to time.

Finally I cannot help but include a personal aside. In another life I was an industrial chemist, making adhesives for a living. I never thought I would want to hear about the stuff again. Thanks to Marina I can once again think about cohesive strength and cure rate without wanting to do someone harm!

Read our interview with Marina ...

Part 1

Part 2

Interview with Marina Lewycka - Part 2 of 2

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by Jen

The View From Here Interview -
Part Two: Marina Lewycka

Part one of this interview can be found here.


Your latest book is just out this week, on July 2nd - We Are All Made of Glue - a mystery which moves from Highbury to wartime Europe to the Middle East. Can you tell us something about writing your third novel?

The new book is called We Are All Made of Glue, and it’s about bonding. (Though bondage comes into it too.) On one level it’s about an old lady who lives in a crumbling house in London with seven smelly cats, and a secret. As the narrator gets to know the old lady, she realizes that she is not who she says she is. But as we find out about the old lady’s past, we also discover things in the present which relate to her story.

One of the strands is also about the situation in the Middle East, and the dispute between Palestine and Israel. I wrote it partly because I was so troubled about the state of the world, I wanted to learn for myself what was happening over there – it seems to be one of the central problems of our time. I was trying to understand the current situation in the Middle East and find out whether there is a solution to the problems.

When I tell people my book is about the conflict in the Middle East, and it’s a comedy, they look at me as though I’ve gone mad.

It often seems publishers want more of the same after an author is initially successful, but authors and readers may need something new. How do you manage this?

When Tractors was published, I was all set to write a sequel. But my publishers said, don’t do that. Sequels are always compared unfavourably with the original. Why don’t you do something completely different? I thought that was good advice, so I started working on something completely different. But as Tractors became more and more successful, they started to get nervous – ‘well, actually, we’d like it to be the same’, they said. So there you are – Two Caravans, is the same but different.

After Tractors came out, Rose Tremain’s novel The Road Home also explored Eastern European immigration, working conditions and aging in the UK and after Two Caravans Patrick Ness featured a talking dog in The Knife of Never Letting Go. How difficult is it to be original and what do you think writers can do to be distinctive?

I think that may be more of a problem for readers than writers. I haven’t read either of those books yet, and I’m sure they haven’t read mine. But I do think there’s a Zeitgeist – ideas and themes which are current, and which grab everyone’s imagination.

The covers of your novels are distinctive. Were you involved in the artwork selection, and why the US / UK title difference for your second book?

They’re by a very talented designer called John Gray. Our only brief was that because the title was rather ‘male’ the cover should have feminine appeal – definitely no tractors on the cover, we said. But when his design came back, we just loved it. He gave the books a rather utilitarian look, to make them seem like authentic books from the former Soviet Union. There’s a name for that style – it’s called Ostalgia. It’s even done deliberately off-the-straight.

You know there’s a funny story - when I was in Holland I looked at the cover and noticed they had straightened up the edges But they said, “Well, we Dutch, we like things to be orderly.”

The Americans, however, couldn’t relate to that ‘Ostalgia’ style at all – it means nothing in their culture. They wanted something prettier. Actually, I think the US and Canadian covers are very attractive, but they don’t have the same whacky appeal as the John Gray covers.

(Two Caravans was published as Strawberry Field in America, as caravans didn't translate well.)

Do you favour a PC or longhand - what tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

I work on a lap-top on a little bean-bag tray I bought in Oxfam – the sort of thing they used to have for TV dinners. My preferred place to write is in bed propped up with lots of cushions, and a nice pot of tea on a tray – but it can be hard on the back.

What’s your writing process? Do you write in order, or in parts?

I’m not a very orderly writer, I don’t plan nearly enough. But for Two Caravans, I used a different colour for each character, so I could follow through the individual threads, and
make sure they all ran smoothly. The story is a bit like a game of rugby. Each has the story for a little bit, and runs with it, then passes it to someone else. (I’m married to a New Zealander, maybe that’s where that idea comes from).

Because there are nine characters, the voice of each character must be different. Only Irina has a first person voice. And Dog, of course. The others are in the third person, some in the present tense, some in the past.

I’m a huge fan of Chaucer, he has the most wonderful characters, and I drew on him a lot for Two Caravans.

Do you read other writers’ work for pleasure, for study of the competition or to improve your own writing?

I find it quite hard to read for pleasure now – being able to lose myself in another writer’s world is a thing of the past. I enjoy reading non-fiction nowadays – I feel that with so much out-put I need to keep on topping up my in-put. And I do study other fiction writers for ideas about technique and how to solve particular problems.

What's coming up for you now in terms of events with the launch this week?

The new book is just out and I’m sure there’ll be lots of trekking around to book festivals, though the only one I know for sure at this stage (at time of writing in March) is the Edinburgh Festival.

Assuming you were on Desert Island Discs, which book and which luxury object would you like to take with you and why?

The book would be The Culture of The Europeans by Donald Sassoon – it’s a big fat book with lots of fascinating information, but written in a very accessible and amusing style. It would keep me going for ages. My luxury object would be a solar-powered laptop. I’m afraid I’d need my glasses, too. Would that be allowed?


Marina Lewycka is of Ukrainian origin and was born in a British-run refugee camp in northern Germany, after the end of World War II. She grew up in England and studied at Keele University. She has written a number of books of practical advice for carers of the elderly, published by Age Concern England . She lectures in the department of media studies (journalism & PR) at Sheffield Hallam University.

Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (2005), tells of the exploits of two feuding sisters trying to save their elderly father from a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee, Valentina. This book won the 2005 Saga Award for Wit, the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her second novel Two Caravans was published in hardback in March 2007 by Fig Tree (Penguin Books) for the United Kingdom market, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing. In the United States and Canada it is published under the title Strawberry Fields.

To visit Marina's web site click here.