Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Winter Wear for Writers


As the nights draw in, and conditions in your writing hole become icy and untenable, you are going to want something warm to wear as you scratch away at your work.

These gloves were very much on my 'last season's wear' list, and they are such a strong look they will certainly continue on into A/W 2015. Items like a warm aran glove, along with a strong thermal jodphur, and a fleecy onesie, are certainly must-have wardrobe items for any working writer this winter. Because as we all know: heating is expensive, and most writers don't earn enough to be able to afford to switch it on.

The really on-trend writer this season is going to want to pair these cute gloves with a bobbly Peruvian hat (worn indoors), two pairs of socks, a hot water bottle, and as many cups of tea as they can humanly drink.

I knitted mine from this pattern; if you're an experienced knitter, they're very easy, and really simple to modify. Rather than knitting the fingers all the way to the ends, as it suggests, I knitted my fingers an inch or so long each, and then bound off when I reached the desired length.

Now go forth and shiver.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Publishing: Independent & "Indie"

It's been a couple of months now since my book came out, on the excellent Dead Ink Books. It has been such a fun few months. The guys behind the press - Wes and Nathan - have done so much great stuff that I could never have managed to do by myself. I've been on a book tour with my Dead Ink cohort Richard Smyth. Both of us have been to Manchester, London, Leeds, and Wakefield, on promotional events. We've been in the paper and in magazines. It really has been a great experience and I'm massively grateful to everyone at Dead Ink for everything they've done, and to Richard for making the book tour so enjoyable.

My friends will attest that I'm a big fan of Independent Things. Independent shops, independent cafes, independent music, independent clothes, the newspaper The Independent. Basically if you put the word "Independent" in front of it, there's a fair bet I'll find something to like about it.

You see, the thing about independent things is that they're INTERESTING. In independent record labels, and in independent press, you find fanatically driven people putting out the things they love with few resources, and doing it because they love it. That's the sort of thing that's exactly up my street.

Dead Ink have been running as a press now for several years, and they're pretty well established. They started out as a digital only imprint, and now do 'actual' books. (With pages, and everything.) I had always hoped to have my book come out on an independent press, so I was really excited when they got in touch and said they wanted to publish my book.

Because I'm such a fan of Independent Things, people often ask me what I think about self-publishing. (Confusingly, people who self-publish also often call themselves "Indie Authors".) I've got an opinion about it, just like I've got an opinion about everything.

Lots of people are self-publishing these days. It's so much easier than it used to be, and as a consequence loads of people are doing it. A lot of the people I've talked to who have self-published, end up doing it because they haven't been able to find a publisher for their work. Nothing wrong with that, if that's the way you want to do it. But one thing that I've found in working with an independent press is, that even working with a small press you have so many more resources and reach than you would have putting something out yourself.

Here are the things I've really enjoyed in my experience working with Dead Ink Books.

1. Editorial input.

In summer 2013, I handed Nathan Connolly what I thought was the final draft of my novel. I'd got things as far as I could myself, and had already sent the book around a few trusted writer-friends for critique. But what the book really needed was an editor's eye: somebody experienced, who could look at my work fully objectively (let's face it, your writer-friends are never going to be as savage as you need them to be) and tell me where I was going wrong.

Nathan had a few suggestions about the structure of the book, and about where I could work a bit harder to improve things. Many of his suggestions were extremely good and changed the book much for the better.

If I hadn't had access to an editor through working with Dead Ink, I can categorically say that Brick Mother would have been a much worse book.

2. Graphic design.

I cannot draw for toffee. I have friends who can, but if I'd been self-publishing, I would have had to pay a friend to make the cover. And yes, drawing a cover is a service you should pay for - because good design and artistry costs money, and I wouldn't feel great about asking a friend to do it for nothing.

In addition, because they're my friends and I don't want to hurt their feelings, if they'd done a not-quite-right version of the cover, I wouldn't have felt able to say. Working with the fab Estelle Morris (who designed the cover both of Brick Mother and of Wild Ink), I was able to email suggestions back and forth, and choose from an impressive array of images which she'd given to me to choose from. It was a very good experience and I think the cover looks ace.

3. Publicity & distribution

Now this is a big one. I like socialising and I like a good chat, but a salesperson I am not. Could I go around book fairs convincing a distributor to pick up my book so it would make its way into shops up and down the country? I could not. But Wes and Nathan can: they've got all the Dead Ink books distributed, in shops throughout the UK. To my knowledge, there isn't a distribution company in the UK that will distribute self-published titles into shops.

And as for publicity: we've been in various blogs, magazines and papers. Some of the blog stuff, I sorted out myself - but I do also think that many of the blogs wouldn't have touched my book with somebody else's bargepole if it hadn't had a good cover, good content (see above) or been published by reputable small press.

In addition, I've appeared at two literature festivals and two book parties now, all publicity events which were organised by people at Dead Ink. It's crucial to me that that kind of organisation stuff was sorted out by somebody else: it left me with more free time to write.

4. Infrastructure and organisation.

Every time you sort out a book review, a goodwill copy, journalistic requests, etc, somebody, somewhere, has to get down the post office and send books out. Somebody has to warehouse the books somewhere, whether it's a sort of modest warehouse that also doubles as a spare room or a box under the kitchen table.

Who has done this for me and my cohort Richard Smyth? Wes and Nathan. Yes, I've got a box of books in my house, but they're my books, for me to take around events and sell. They're not books that I have to use to fulfil orders through the website - Nathan and Wes do that. Again, leaving my hands free from organisational stuff, in order to have more time to write.

It is true that alongside this I manage my own social media account (Twitter! Facebook!) - but thanks to the input and doings of Dead Ink, I don't need to use my own accounts to spam my followers / friends with exhortations to buy my book. I hate it when authors do that and, thanks to Dead Ink, who will do some of it for me, I don't need to do it all myself.




Saturday, 27 September 2014

Internet corners: 4

One of my favourite things about the internet is how it allows people of fervent, mutual interests, to connect, all the way across the globe.

Where once you might have been a lonely apiarist, these days you could find other bee-keeping friends anywhere else in the world.

Needless to say, these interest sites are of use to writers too. Communities like these allow writers to research, and find expertise, easily. The internet is great for stuff like this.

Anyway I found this whole set of photos on Flickr, categorising a hundred or more different types of bee. It's so interesting. Link here: check it out.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Abandoned Winter Olympics Facilities, Sarajevo



Enjoyers of old and abandoned buildings will enjoy this haunting set.

"In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics. Just a decade later, the region was torn apart by a bitter years-long conflict, leading to widespread death and suffering. One not-so-familiar effect of this war was the toll it took on the Olympic infrastructure which had been built not that long ago. Today, these structures stand as a visual reminder of how quickly things can change."

Photos here.

Currently reading

An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell Deborah Levy

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Internet Corners: Part 3.

There's a lot of nonsense talk about the internet and social media. Professional havers of opinions always like to say that the internet has killed the written word, and that stories are done for! 

I can't agree with this. For one thing, the internet is full of the written word. I mean, it's like the internet is made up of: 1: Porn, 2: Cats, and 3: Written articles, about all sorts of things. Including short form fiction, literary criticism, and literary interviews! 

Seems to me like people might be reading more now, than they ever have. 

The written word seems to be going in all sorts of different ways, and there are loads of potential new forms that writers and storytellers could be embracing. Check out the 'curated writing' section in Part 1 of the 2012 Best American Non Required Reading, for example, which takes Twitter's best reactions to the death of Osama Bin Laden, and sculpts them into a narrative. 

Anyway, quite apart from that, another interesting thing is that the world wide web in its current, popularised form, has a history all of its very own. 

When the web first started getting popular in the late 90s, it was pretty rubbish. There was no such thing as social networking and the only means you had of communicating with your fellow humans across the world were: email, Yahoo! chatrooms, and guestbooks on people's Geocities websites.

Geocities were like a kind of personalised website, with easy front-end adaptability that anyone could build, for any interest of their choosing. Think of it as a kind of pre-proto-Myspace or Facebook, only one that visitors couldn't really interact with in any way. 

There were literally thousands of Geocities website, at one time. Many operated in 'webrings', where one of the pages linked to other Geocities websites with similar interest. 

Unfortunately most of Geocities is now gone, but there has been a web archiving project to try and rescue and re-publish as much of it as possible. 

One shining example of a Geocities website is the site "Davelicious", which I provide a link to here

I hope you will enjoy it. 

Currently reading

The Bone Clocks David Mitchell 


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Internet Corners: 2

Again, people talking about the internet killing interest in the written word, and crushing - CRUSHING! - our human instinct for storytelling.

Can't help thinking that people who say this have never really looked at the internet. It's full of stories.

Recently I've been getting really interested in how communities come together on the internet, and tell their stories. I spent a pleasant few hours trawling the LiveJournal website, and found this: Customers Suck! a community dedicated to giving disgruntled shop employees the chance to vent their discontents about rude, angry, or irrational customers.

This sort of stuff is a goldmine to a writer. It gives you the chance to really experience what it is like to be a minimum wage store employee. And it's all out there for you to read.

A fie on anybody who says that the internet is a poor resource for writers.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Internet Corners

People like to say the internet has killed interest in the written word, and that's simply not true.

The internet is full of people writing fan-fiction, reading fan-fiction, commenting on one another's fan fiction, and deeply involving themselves worlds partly of their own mutated creation.

Fan fiction, in case you didn't know, is when fans of a particular series, or film, write short stories using characters from that film or series. It's a bit of a weird thing, but people have been doing this sort of thing for years - for example with action figures, or LARPing (live action role-playing), all that sort of thing. It's a way of people creating new stories, and I can't say that's a bad thing. Unless it results in a book called 50 Shades of Grey, which started it's life as Twilight fan-fiction, in which case you definitively can say, yes, in that case, fan-fiction is bad.

One of the best things about the internet is that it enables people from all over the world to form communities, based on mutual (fervent) interests. These interests probably seem niche to outsiders, at best.

Anyway I found one that is fan-fiction based on the trashy 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada. Enjoy!