Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Reading, not writing

I am such a bad, bad person. Too busy to blog! What kind of an excuse is that? Sadly, one all too many people can identify with, I’m sure. Apologies for my long absence.

In November we had the grand judging of the Dangerous Liaisons short story competition. If you’ve been to the Fiction Feedback site recently, you’ll know who carried off the prizes: Corrinna Toop, of Aylesbury, with The Plum Orchard; Steve Brodie, of Lytham, with Facing Up; and John Dixon, of London, with Comrades. All three winners explored the theme of Dangerous Liaisons in imaginative and exciting ways and wrote involving stories; congratulations to them and to the writers of the remaining five shortlisted stories. They can all be read in Aware, the publication by Chorley & District Writers’ Circle, accessed from the Fiction Feedback site:

Reading stories has to be a good excuse for not keeping up with this blog, but a better excuse is writing them. So all hail to the winners above who – whether or not their peripheral activities suffered – focused on their writing and created fascinating stories for others to enjoy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Dangerous Liaisons

Every year, Fiction Feedback sponsors a national competition with Chorley & District Writers’ Circle, with which I’m personally involved. The shortlist has now been decided and I have to say, the process is very exciting. The competition, on the theme of 'dangerous liasions', garnered over 50 entries and it was great fun reading all those wonderful stories. A lovely labour, too, with quite a generous word limit of 3,000 words.

If there hadn’t been a theme, I honestly don’t know how we’d have created a shortlist that didn't comprise at least three quarters of the stories sent in. There were some fabulous stories: moving, exciting, original, humorous, and all beautifully written. However, a lot had obviously been entered simply because their authors had them ready to send and try their luck at the next comp, and they weren’t geared to the theme. The connection was weak, tenuous or even non-existent. So they missed out. It’s a sadness to see so many terrific stories fall by the judging wayside, but as I say it made our job easier.

I won’t publicise the shortlist here as the final judging has to be made anonymously, but watch this space once the prizes have been decided.

Meanwhile, if you’re considering entering a writing competition, and it has a theme, do be aware that it’s there to make the judges’ lives easier (as well as more pleasurable, ‘dangerous liaisons’ was mined in all kind of fascinating ways). Crafting your story tightly around the theme will increase your chances of a prize maybe more than you’d realised.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Word is the place this Saturday

Looks like The Book Show at Luton on the 22nd that I mentioned in a previous post has been cancelled. Perhaps that £90 ticket price was a bit too hefty?

A better bet should be The Word festival at Astley Hall in Chorley, Lancashire this Saturday, 22nd September. Big draws include short story expert Clare Massey and Kerry Wilkinson, the guy who sold so many books on Amazon (250,000 downloads in six months) that he attracted a six-book deal from Macmillan. For many writers, that’s a dream come true, so I’ll be going along to mingle and network and also to find out the secret of his success – and report back for Fiction Feedback.

I think there are just one or two tickets left (at a reasonable £20, including lunch) if you want to join me.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The 3 Things That Make My Head Buzz Today

Blog-time again. Lots to say, little time as usual.

First, editing novels is a joy but it can also be a very long, dark tunnel from which I wonder if I’ll ever emerge. That’s not to do with the style of the writing (well, OK, a bit) but with the immersion that’s required to make a cracking job of it. Wrinkly finger-ends are the least of it. Frazzled brain is what concerns me; it’s very important when editing to keep fresh, and this means having breaks between passes. (That’s right, you don’t edit in just one go; you have at least two edits of the full thing and sometimes, depending on the density and complexity of the work, rather more.) And that means the tunnel seems to get longer and the light at the end never grows larger than a pinprick. Oh well. I’m still enjoying it and I’m more satisfied than ever that my current author is going to get a very good job. That’s what it’s about.

Second, reviewing unpublished writing is also a joy – especially when it’s good. When the novel’s not so good, and you suspect that the writer has never read a novel themselves, let alone attended a writing course or seminar, it can be torture. We get very few like that at Fiction Feedback for which I’m eternally grateful. So many of our authors write books that, with a little help, deserve publication.

Which brings me to item three. We are looking at an association with a new ebook publishing company that launches next year. They’re adopting a new style of business, yet they are traditional publishers in the sense that authors pay nothing for editing, marketing, production and distribution, and are rewarded with royalties. A high percentage, too. So there might, there, be some good news for our authors, especially in the genre of crime which will be their main focus. And in which, coincidentally, we get most submissions.

Back to editing for me. Enjoy the Bank Holiday: if the weather is as lousy where you are as it is here – I can’t see through the window pane, the rain drops have formed one amorphous splatter – then maybe a good book calls.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Book Shows, Editing and Tennis

Book Shows, Editing and Tennis

Apologies for been away so long. I’m battling away editing a historical novel, which is fascinating in many ways but problematic on others, as well as organising sets of critiques for customers at a time when a lot of reviewers are either on holiday or inundated because everyone else is. Sigh…but it is nice to be busy. I had a little break in June, another reason why the blogging stopped, first at Eastbourne for the tennis, which I was able to visit with an editor friend, and then one lovely day at Wimbledon. Then there was catching up…

I’m now having a look in my diary to see what’s around the corner. A writer friend and I had hoped to go the Harrogate for the Crime Writing Festival this week, and were bitterly disappointed that they’d run out of tickets. So I had a look to see what else was out there…

Coming up on September 22nd is something called The Book Show, taking place for the first time, at Luton. It’s a one-day event and is run by digital publishers Andrews UK. From the website – which is all I’m going on here, I have no inside knowledge – the focus is unsurprisingly on self-publishing, although they do say agents (Watson Little, no less, and Brie Burkemann) and authors will be speaking. The authors, so far as I can tell, are all writers of celebrity biography or of erotic fiction; an interesting mix. Some are self-publishers. So, for writers of mainstream fiction, I don’t think you’re going to find your idols here, and Fiction Feedback won’t be attending. Still, it looks like a nice way to spend a day, if you happen to be near Luton – and if you have quite a bit of dosh to spare. Ninety quid seems a bit steep, although that does include breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. If you buy before August 1st, you get an early bird discount and pay £80. Check out the website and see what you think,

I’ll be back soon to report on any more unusual shows or festivals I hear about, and let you know the latest news at Fiction Feedback.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Opportunities for Unknown Authors

London Book Fair, my impressions. It was very busy, and the stands of the major publishing groups were heaving. Mostly they were discussing rights and all meetings were by appointment. There was a massive poster of JK Rowling on the stand of Little, Brown, promoting her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, and she looked rather smug in a heavy gold necklace, like the cat who’d got the cream. No reason why she shouldn’t, of course, if anyone has the right to look like that she has and good luck to her too, but from a PR point of view I wouldn’t have chosen that photo. Anyway, to me it typified how the stands of the big publishers came across. But of course that was an entirely superficial reaction and for all I know in reality they’re terrified the twin monsters of  Amazon and self-publishing are going to get even bigger and gobble them all up.

That to me was the interesting element to the Fair. So many of the seminars and talks were dedicated to self-publishing – and not just the digital side, either. Matador I’ve known for a while; they conducted talks several times a day about self-publishing so plenty of other people got to know about them too. They have a good, professional offer, and reassuringly they understand the publishing trade. Their background is in academic publishing. Indepenpress, who had a stand close to the front door, also had plenty of good things to say and had an author singing their praises and giving away his books. New to me was an outfit called Acorn, started in autumn 2010, and owned by a brother and sister team, the Dewjis. They ran an hour-long seminar. Ali had worked in sales at Emap whereas Leila’s background was Scholastic, Orion and heavyweight literary agents Sheil Land. If I were considering print self-publishing, they too would be big contenders.

If people are interested in publishing ebooks rather than printed there were plenty of opportunities, and lots of seminars by the likes of Kindle Self Publishing. A company called Autharium, which I’d not come across before, did some talks with Matador; they were an online community-based publishing outfit, focusing only on ebooks. Again, very interesting. If there was a trend, it was very much that authors are doing it for themselves. If they pay for professional distribution and marketing, and can help themselves by setting up a good following with a blog and using social media, they have a chance of earning more than with a traditional publisher as royalties are so much more generous. Acorn said some established authors were coming to them because their traditional publishers wouldn’t let them write what they wanted to, or had withdrawn support, so it’s not only debut authors who believe self-publishing with a reputable company has a lot to offer.

The other thing to hit me was how many independent publishers there are in the UK. Lots and lots. They were very busy too. I had several good experiences on their stands; one publisher which I followed up later said they’re considering launching a fiction list and would be interested in Fiction Feedback submitting my authors’ work to them. They’ve not yet told me what kind of fiction, but if I sensed anything, it was that the independents were sniffing opportunities. One (very, very small publisher) actually said to me they preferred authors without agents. Now, I guess for established writers, that would simply sound warning bells. To unpublished authors, who have tried without success to get an agent, it’s heavenly music. Other independent publishers whom I spoke to seemed more receptive, more ready to consider unknown authors, and can point to a catalogue that shows they’ve put their money where their mouth is, sometimes with spectacular, award-winning results. It certainly makes you think about where the best home might be for your masterpiece.

Fiction Feedback is busier than we’ve ever been. One author is almost certain he wants to self-publish, and we’ve certainly noticed an increase in demand recently for our editing services as well as our critiques. I hope this is partly because unpublished authors are realising they need to have a very polished manuscript with near-perfect prose to tempt literary agents and traditional publishers. I’m sure it’s also because authors are recognising self-publication as a valid alternative and want their work to be as good as it can be. A professional attitude which can do the reputation of self-publishing nothing but good.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

London Book Fair here we come

The industry's UK event of the year. It's a few years since I was there; last year's plans were scuppered by family bereavement, so I'm extra-excited. I'm especially looking forward to seeing several people whom I email regularly, but have never actually met. In one or two cases, I know them so well this state of affairs is very strange.

Despite email, texting, Twitter and blogs, you can't beat a good old-fashioned face-to-face, so vive London Book Fair.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

New way to avoid work

I’ve been so busy editing recently I’ve missed the time to blog. To anyone visiting, apologies.

I’ve also been occupied learning the art of tweeting, thanks to a friend of mine, Amanda at Tigerfish PR. (@AmandaTigerfish.) I can see it’s going to become addictive for me in much the same way as email. Less time to spend on writing, critiquing and editing perhaps, but it’s great to belong to a network of people with related interests, isn’t it. I’ve already learnt lots of useful stuff that I’d have otherwise missed; about a fire in a local restaurant I might have been patronising this weekend – not now, sadly ­– a link to a surprising if enjoyably vicious blog from a writer I know, news from a colleague and a very good in-joke for tennis fans.
Yes, there are some rubbishy tweets, the status reporters ‘just had breakfast’ and ‘went to the shops today’ that non-devotees scoff about. Some from intelligent people you wouldn’t expect it of, too, who are obviously addicted to sharing their every thought with their followers. Then there are others who series-tweet, that’s annoying; never mind the tweets that are so full of links it’s impossible to tell what they’re actually about. Oh rats, this has turned into a grumble, not what I intended. But the good stuff outweighs the bad by far, and if certain twitterers get on the nerves, that’s what the ‘Unfollow’ button’s for. By the way, I do like HooteSuite as a format for managing Twitter, it’s much easier to work with than Twitter itself and you can feed in streams from other social media networks too, for extra convenience.

To aid me in both my email and Twitter addiction, I’m going to bite the bullet and get a smartphone. But which one? Given my main use will be email, and I use POP3 accounts on my PC, I’ve been told the new BlackBerry Bold 9900 has my kind of smarts. It is super-fast for email, apparently, and condenses attachments to allow me to download them quickly. But loads of people recommend iPhone too. And you can play SkyGo on it, meaning I can watch tennis on the move…tempting. But apparently I’d have to install iTunes on my PC to get synchronicity, and I already have minor incompatibility problems with emails from Mac and iPhone users, so that’s a bit off-putting. Advice anyone?

Meanwhile, back to the editing. I’ll just check HootSuite first… @deawriter

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Farewell to the creme de la crime

When I heard that Reginald Hill, one of my very favourite crime writers, had died back in January I felt keen regret that there wouldn’t be any more novels coming from that particular pen.

By all accounts he was a great guy – I only met him once, at a crime-writers convention, where he was very jovial and friendly to a rather awestruck fan – and Martin Edwards, another favourite crime writer of mine, who knew him well writes rather movingly of him as a generous man, loyal to his friends and family and a great personal inspiration.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of Hill’s books, though by no means all, and of the Dalziel and Pascoe novels my favourite is Dialogues of the Dead. To my mind, this took the detective duo to an altogether different level and one I found exciting and fascinating. Anyone who’s read it will know what I mean; the atmosphere and characters transcend the more prosaic pace of the earlier novels and the wordplay it contains is astounding. Erudite, yes. Un-putdownable, also yes.

I read The Stranger House a couple of years ago, which radiates the sinister spookiness of the later Dalziel and Pascoe novels but is a standalone story. It’s a complex historical whodunit, despite being set in present day Cumbria, and in subtle menace and the impact of the past on the present has something in common with Martin Edwards’ own Lake District cold-case detective series. Loved it.

Another favourite is On Beulah Height. The story is intriguing and I especially liked the way it was interleaved with Pascoe’s daughter’s illness and how this plays out in her mind. Given that the main story is themed around a threat to children, with water a constant leitmotif, threading through the parallel viewpoint the tale of a little girl who is trapped by a nix, a malevolent water sprite, is genius.

I enjoyed Hill’s Joe Sixsmith series of novels, too. Private eye Joe sings in a choir, defers to his scary Aunt Mirabelle, lives in Luton and has a cat called Whitey. Joe himself is black, and Reginald Hill has no problem conveying this sardonic, self-deprecating and very appealing character, and taking one or two sly kicks at casual racism and modern injustice on the way. I love the humour and I’m sure many others do, too; I know my crime-mad dad does. A great shame Hill only wrote five and now there’ll be no more! Wah!

So, when I was looking for something else on the shelves of my local WH Smith last week and came across Hill’s last-published novel The Woodcutter, I was happy to buy it and put the biography of Roger Federer I’m reading on hold, fascinating though it is. I’m now some way in and was delighted to see that the first few chapters actually form part of a prologue. Who says prologues are bad style and not to be encouraged in new writers? Some of our reviewers hold this view, and no doubt for good reasons, but if Reginald Hill can do it, well, that’s an example to aspire to, by my reckoning.

A postscript here. I decided at the weekend to lend my copy of On Beulah Height to my friend, a crime fiction fan. I flicked to the title page to check it had my name in and discovered it did indeed: it had a hand-written dedication from the great man himself, garnered at that convention, no doubt. Needless to say, I found something else for my friend, and that particular book remains firmly on my bookshelf.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Edited stories now in hardback

We were pleased to critique and then edit Margaret Tomkins’ collection of short stories, Where the Truth Lies, and are delighted it’s now for sale via Matador.

It’s a splendid hardback and, as they say, would grace any bookshelf – plus the stories are great. I would be buying a copy if Margaret hadn’t already been kind enough to send me one, with a lovely dedication too. Thank you, Margaret.

The phrase I’d use to describe the collection overall is poignant and moving. Splashes of humour characterise many stories, while others send a pleasurable thrill down the spine. If you like short stories – and who doesn’t? – I’d recommend this book. Here’s the link:

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Thrill to the intrigue

I've got the buzz that a fabulous reading experience gives you; I've just finished reading The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. If you like psychological thrillers with wonderful characterisation and breathtaking pace, you might enjoy this!

It does exactly what we're always advising our customers to do at Fiction Feedback. It creates intrigue right from the first. (In this case with a prologue which are sometimes sneered at these days, but they have their place and this novel illustrates why.) Then it sucks you in, with hints of horrors to come, and gradually feeds answers while asking more and more questions. Yet the plot and the characters are so involving; I was reminded of Barbara Trapido's work more than once and I'm a real fan of hers.

Two storylines set at different times in the heroine's life, written alternately, could be confusing, but they work perfectly. The prose is lyrical, evoking images and atmosphere. Not at all inaccessible, but using language and constructions that help to put the reader right there. And it's written in the first person. This is a challenge, and one the author rises to magnificently.

Future Fiction Feedback customers will no doubt be recommended to read this book!