Signed with Linen Press – In the Blink of an Eye

Sometimes something just feels right. 

Having toiled for what has seemed like aeons over my fictional version of the Hill and Adamson partnership, I looked at what I had a few weeks ago and realised it was finished – maybe not totally ready for publication, but the beginning and end felt right and the middle wasn’t far off. Most of the writing was polished (one chapter had just won a prize.) Suddenly  it felt like the story I wanted to tell. As I made some minor revisions to the opening chapter, a new title popped into my head.

In the Blink of an Eye

I liked it.

For fun I decided to enter the MS into a competition and discovered writing a synopsis (usually the worst job in the world) had become a piece of cake. After all this time, the feeling of something coming together was  overwhelming. So much so that on an impulse I sent the whole proposal off to the owner of a small press (we’d chatted over coffee last year) to see what she thought. I had a reply straight away saying the proposal was strong and she was looking forward to reading the sample.  Within a day Lynn Michell of Linen Press got back to say she would like to read more and (my approach had been fairly casual)  did I want her to consider it for publication?

By now I was feeling more confident about this book than I have ever done. I had an inkling if Linen Press said no,  someone else might say yes. But who would that be? I could have  gone looking for other, bigger publishers.  That of course would mean finding an agent. The whole process could take months or years – with no guarantee of success. There were other small presses but what did I know about them? Linen Press (recently described as ‘the new Virago’), might be small, but it’s celebrating its tenth birthday this year. Crucially, I liked what I’d seen of its list,  particularly Avril Joy’s Sometimes a River Song, a beautifully written and produced  book  which I mentioned not so long ago  and has since won an award in the People’s Book Prize. Not many small presses had this kind of charisma.

To cut to the chase, I said yes, please consider it. Lynn read it and  liked it – a lot! Within a week  we had ourselves a deal. The rest is not history, it’s the future! If all goes well,  In the Blink of an Eye will be out next year. 

You can read about the book in its new guise on the Linen Press site.  While you’re at it,  cast your eye over the rest of their lovely list. I think you’ll like the look of it.

linen press logo


Feels like a good place to be.


Man Booker Madness

What has caught your eye about the Man Booker longlist? The number of indie publishers? The breadth? The depth? The welcome appearance of small or indie publishers ? All of these have been mentioned in various quarters, but it was when I put my feet up with yesterday’s Telegraph Review  that it came to my notice that from a list of thirteen, five have not yet been published. Well, Man Booker  judges have rarely been influenced by best-seller lists, but surely anything being discussed as a potential literary gem should at least be available to the common man?

And what about bookshops, how galling for them to be asked for a longlist title and be able to offer only a pre-order? I think the guilty publishers – presumably trying to drum up business in advance of any real trial by market – should be given a smart slap on the wrist. Or maybe the rules just need to be changed. All in all, another sign of the book industry being in a catastrophic state of confusion.

spinning heartAlthough there is an interesting footnote. Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, NYP in paper back, has been out since 2012 on Kindle with a Limited edition hardback available from the Lilliput Press. Now it’s with Doubleday who presumably knew a good thing when they saw it.

Good to know that at least some of this influential list has had a previous life. Sounds like a good read, too.

I’m writing this in a season of some difficulty for WordPress  users. Some unknown difficulty with WordPress software, or servers, or, as they woud prefer, external factors (ISPs? browsers? goverment agencies? – don’t laugh, this is a serious proposition) UK users are having a tough time posting, viewing or managing their sites. There is never a good time for this to happen, and in my case I was on the point of launching a new site linked to a Very Exciting Project, all of which (the site not the project) has now ground to a halt.

As the first serious outage of WP in my six years membership, it’s a blow, but the kind of thing we have to live with in the online world.  I’m hoping it’s something silly like the heat. Hopefully I can still rabbit on here until things cool down.

The Night Rainbow and the madness of publishers

The-Night-Rainbow-frontOne day soon I’ll review Claire King’s Night Rainbow which was every bit as good as I expected. Set during a long hot summer in France, it would make a perfect summer read. Well it would be great at any time,  but since I enjoyed most of it out in the garden, it felt just right for the moment and I thought it would make an ideal birthday present for my Big Sis (Francophile and reader extraordinaire) so off I went to order a copy. But what’s this – the paperback isn’t out until August?!?

Silly old me. I had temporarily forgotten the utter madness vagaries of commercial publishing. After all the book has been out since Feb and I recently availed myself of a special offer Kindle copy for all of £1.49. With the hardback at £8.57 (I’ve paid more for many paperbacks) it’s not so much the money as the inconvenience. I don’t kn0w anyone who, except in very particular circumstances, would choose to own a novel in hardback.

If anyone can remember why the route of hardback/paperback was ever a good idea, and more crucially why traditional publishers are sticking with it in this day and age, I’ll be happy to be enlightened. Meanwhile, I’m always pleased to get a Kindle bargain, but now feel rather sorry for the tree-book reader who must wait longer than the rest of us to get what he or she wants.

Still, they – and you – can take my word for it that this is a touching story skilfully told of a five-year-old girl left to run wild in the meadows around her home in the company of a strangely bossy younger sister. What will happen when they make friends with the  mysterious loner called Claude? Well worth getting hold of, however you do it.


e-publishing review

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my dilemma about going for the self-publishing option, which is why I’ve been taking a particular interest in the recent crop of publish-to-kindle books issued by otherwise unpublished novelists.

I think I’m trying to work out:
a) ) how my own work compares with what’s already out there
b) if there’s enough ‘quality’ in the self-pub e-book domain to make me want to be part of it, i.e. is it now ‘okay’ to go it alone?

As a result I’ve been trying to read, or at least sample, as many self-pub e-books as I can, and I’m starting to work out what criteria I’m using in making my judgments. In fact I just hopped over to Jane Smith’s self-publishing review, where she applies the values of a professional editor in rating conventionally self-published books. I’ve always thought this was an excellent idea, and although I’m not a professional, when I read a self-published e-book, I’m still assessing in my own mind if it has simply been unlucky in not finding a commercial publisher (i.e. got lost in the slush-pile, arrived with an agent on the wrong day,  or didn’t quite cut it with the marketing department) or if in fact this book isn’t quite ready for the world. At the same time I’m aware that my reaction can only be subjective. I’ve read quite a few commercially  successful novels that would never have got past my editor’s desk!

I’m not dipping into the e-book word at random.  So far I’ve read novels issued by writing friends and acquaintances or recommended by online associates and fellow Tweeps, and I’ve decided to feature those I really admire on the blog.

On the subject of criteria, it’s actually fairly simple.

Even  if I’ve only paid 0.99, I’d like the thing to look reasonably professional: an active contents page isn’t vital but it’s nice, a cover  image gives a visual clue and the sense of an artistic entity. No proper  title page or stray bits of html? Not good!

The title matters. Would it make me pick it up in a bookshop?

I’m less picky over minor errors (repetition, mis-related participles, oddities of punctuation and typos) than I once was, but any in the first few pages do jump out. Finding lots in the first few chapters is a no-no.

The rest is all about the writing, or perhaps more crucially, the  story-telling.  Jane Smith (I hope you already know her other blog) says here  I’ll read no more than five pages of boring prose before I give up. How to define boring? For me, cliches and clunky prose ring alarm bells, but if the story is going somewhere, or the character is immediately sympathetic, I’ll read on, at least for 50 pages or so.  Nothing will feature here unless I’ve read to the end.

But even if you’ve done all this, i.e. produced a competent work of fiction, let’s say a Strictly ‘Seven!’  you might still not make it onto the review page.  For me to think yes, there has to be a special something: in the style, in the story, or most likely both, that lifts it from competent writing to something memorable. So stand by for those e-books that so far have got to the dizzy heights of 8, 9, or even 10. That’s what it will take to get a real endorsement and a Click to Buy recommendation. These are the ones that might lead me to think the publishing world really is changing. For better or for worse? That’s another argument!

Fessing up

You’ll have to take  it from me that  I started to harbour these heretical thoughts a while ago and certainly before getting wind of  the Guardian article kindly summarised by Snowbooks on their blog. But it did come to a head last night when a T.V. advert flited across my consciousness. The perky graphics and a whimsical melody made me assume the product was a mobile phone or a bank account  (no hi-tech hard-sell here) but it was the Amazon Kindle e-book reader.  And the heretical thought? Yes, I want one. Not necessarily a Kindle, but something that will do the same  job. 

It’s not the first time  I’ve been  tempted into this pernicious (as some would seeit) technology.  For a short while I did have a Sony e-reader in my possession,  just long enough to decide that I didn’t like the book (Dan Brown) but I did like the technology.  I even told some fellow bibliophiles about this experience and I could see that they accepted my arguments (handy for a holiday, not like reading from a screen) without for a moment being convinced that anything could be better than the tried and tested all-time winning invention that is the book.   At that point I thought the same – that an e-reader would be a handy extra reading tool rather than one that would replace the contents of a book-case or bedside table. 

So what has changed? Well, here comes the true heresy.  After seeing the advert I began to think about why I like reading from a book, and discovered that in many respects I don’t find them particularly convenient. Hardbacks, which I occasionally pick up in the library, are too expensive to buy and definitely no good for the handbag/suitcase scenario, as I know from recent bus journeys when the weighty novel  has been ditched in favour of a drink and a sandwich. Paperbacks I like in principal (so colourful and nifty) but in these harsh  economic times I think design has often gone out of the window. Typefaces are too small or lines are too close together, resulting in a lack of white space on the page. Paper chosen by publishers (with some honourable exceptions)  is cheap and nasty. Perfect binding means that pages spring together when you want them apart, and any pressing or bending risks damaging the spine. And I have never been a habitual reader in bed, mainly because I’ve never found a reading position (book, bedclothes, pillow, light) that I can comfortably  maintain for more than ten minutes. And any paperback more than 400 pages long wil probably fall apart after two readings, so ‘permanence’ isn’t really a factor.

So, what is so great about books? Well, the concept of movable type was an all-time winner. The book has held its place as the prime vehicle for scholarship, entertainment, culture and information for centuries, and so that was a damned fine idea too. As physical objects they are also, in general,  pleasing so that their ownership has become a source of pleasure and a status symbol (these two things being so closely intertwioned that a house without books would feel very strange, and ow would we live without libraries? ). I also worry that if we abandon all ‘hard’ copy in favour of electronic media,  that the potential for the loss of swathes of literature and research at the flick of some foolhardy switch could lead to cultural disaster.

But leaving aside the future of human knowledge, the careers of book designers  and the message (or lack of) sent out by my home book shelves, would I rather read novels in paperback or on a reader? My hypothesis is that the reader would be a better bet.  It’s one I’m certainly interested in testing out.

Waiting game

I’m a bit frustrated that the Winchester Writers’ Conference still hasn’t published its programme for July. With Ailsa almost ready to go out to ‘critical friends’ I am determined to take her along this year. Even if I don’t get any interest, I can at least achieve my lifelong ambition of seeing an agent (any agent!)  in the flesh. I know of only one who is giving interviews there this year and hope the timeslip (we were promised a programme in March) doesn’t signal any difficulty in getting people to attend.

Meanwhile, followed a link from Helen Scott Taylor to   Publishing Talk which has lots of useful news on social networking and takes the view that publishing is set to go off in some new directions any minute now. I don’t dispute there are lots of ways to publish now (inculding the humble blog!) but while there are new models available, I  have to agree  with Jane Smith when she reminds us that, despite a lot of talk to the contrary, the ‘old’ way isn’t actually broken, not, at any rate, from the point of view of publishers who are still making money and readers who are still buying books.

A new writer trying to break in to the market, may of course take a different view, but given the choice of  editing, typesetting, designing and selling my own book (with no guaranteed return) or having the whole process done professionally by a company who will pay me for the privilege, sorry, I know which I’d choose. The fact that so few new writers are given this option doesn’t mean it isn’t still the best one out there – and the most highly prized.

 With fantastic timing, WordPress has added a Twitter widget just when I needed one. I am also using Twitterfeed to post from the blog. Hope this circularity doesn’t result in a some kind of blogging melt-down!

The published and the damned

More summer visiting is making it hard to get to the blog, but I do keep looking around my own favourites and am sorry to see that Matt Curran may be giving up his Blogspot of Blood owing to the pressures of being a published author while doing the day job. By most people’s standards, Matt would rate as a successful author. Sad that this clearly brings in nowhere near a living wage. Matt has been both free and candid with his advice. I wish him good luck and hope he’ll manage to put in an appearance somewhere in the blogosphere if not on his own patch.

If that publishing contract ever arrives on my doormat, I’ll be much better informed of the loop-holes thanks to Jane Smith’s comparatively new How Publishing Really Works.  All kinds of useful stuff here, but I’m interested to see Jane really does seem to have it in for self-publishing. A number of other worthy bloggers have added comments to this post suggesting anyone who contemplates such a thing is an egomaniac or an idiot. While I’m sure there are plenty of both in the ranks of the self-published, there must be plenty who have solid reasons for going ahead. Vanity? Most of us would confess to a little. Madness or self-delusion? Not necessarily.  Think I’ll stop before going into full rant mode!