Wednesday, 30 June 2010

United for Iran Event at Free Word Centre

I read a poem by F. Mehrban at a recent event at the Free Word Centre entitled 'Iranian Women One Year On: Victims, Transgressors, Heroines?' which was organised by Exiled Writers Ink, the International Coalition against Violence in Iran and the One Million Signatures Campaign. It was part of the 'United for Iran' festival.

Iranian poets Shirin Razavian and Mehrangiz Rassapour (M. Pegah) also read at the event in Farsi and English, and there was a video of a poem by Hila Sedighi in Farsi with English subtitles. Music was by Mansour Izadpanah.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Memory Man - Funnier Than Sartre

There's a lovely review of The Miniaturists on the West End Whingers' site today. Despite their dislike of theatre in the round and unreserved seating, they pronounced it 'great fun' and had this to say about my play:

'The Memory Man was a bit like Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, only funny, interesting and moving. It’s always a huge relief when your friends’ work turns out to be genuinely good (and extremely well cast).'


Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Memory Man - Photos by Alex Brenner

Suzanna Hamilton, Tricia Kelly, Gary Merry and Richard Trinder in my play The Memory Man for The Miniaturists at The Arcola, directed by Gordon Murray, curated by Stephen Sharkey, produced by Flavia Fraser-Cannon.

Thanks to everyone who was involved. I was thrilled with the production and it had a very warm reception from the audience.
Photos by Alex Brenner

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

How to sell books

I'm delighted to see that Alison Wonderland and Being Light are now on sale at &, WH Smith, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, The Book Despository. (Use WH Smiths, Barnes & Noble or if you want to buy discounted copies online). If you don't see a copy in your local independent or chain book shop, or in your local library, you can always ask them to order one.

More than 1500 people have signed up to the draw for a free copy of Alison Wonderland at GoodReads, with a further five hundred in total signing up for the draw for review copies of digital and print editions at LibraryThing. There's still time to sign up for print editions of Alison Wonderland at both sites, which are now also hosting giveaways for my second novel, Being Light.

Thanks to Russell West for designing the cover for Alison Wonderland, and to Phil Argent for doing the artwork for it, and to Kevan Cummins for allowing me to use a photo of him balancing on a fence on a hillside on Lamma Island for the front cover of Being Light. He's actually taller and slimmer in real life. I have only just noticed how much I must have scrunched him down on the cover so I could fit in the title above his head and on the spine of the book. I'd be furious if someone did that to me; I spend half my life untagging unflattering photos of myself as they appear on Facebook.

The cover ought to carry a disclaimer - 'photoshopped by the author.' That's awful, isn't it? What a liberty! I'll scrunch him back up again for revised editions.

Kev, are you reading this? What you need to do is ask everyone you know to go out and buy a copy of the book so then we can do a new edition.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Lyn Gardner's Theatre Tips: The Miniaturists

Lyn Gardner has tipped The Miniaturists at The Arcola in her round-up on the Guardian theatre blog of what to see this weekend.

The Miniaturists are showcasing five short plays by Sam Ellis, Ben Musgrave, Nicholas Pierpan, Simon Treves and me.

My play is called The Memory Man and it's directed by Gordon Murray. We have a fantastic cast: Suzanna Hamilton, Tricia Kelly, Gary Merry and Richard Trinder.

There are two shows on Sunday 20th June; one at 5pm and one at 8pm.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Alison Wonderland Review and Q&A

There's a lovely review of Alison Wonderland up on the Breakout Books blog, where I also took part in a Q&A with Imogen Rose, author of the Portal Chronicles, time travel fantasy books for young adults.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Giveaways for Alison Wonderland

LibraryThing and Goodreads are hosting giveaways for Alison Wonderland this week, so if you're on those sites and you'd like the chance to get hold of a review copy of the book, please sign up.

Allocation of the books is determined by the sites involved and seems to function like an enhanced lottery - there's more than pure chance involved, as top secret algorithms are used to select the recipients of the books; it's the kind of lottery that Roald Dahl might have devised.

Incidentally, if you are participating in Book Chick City's Typically British Reading Challenge, Alison Wonderland might be just the book for you, so if you're on LibraryThing or Goodreads, here's a chance to get hold of a typically British book.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Smith's Bleakly

Writers are sometimes asked which comes first, character or plot. I always say character, which is true. But before that, I start with a theme. I have read many successful writers' musings about their craft and I'm pretty sure that all of them say, Whatever you do, don't start with the theme, which is why I don't usually mention it.

My first book, Alison Wonderland, was going to be about whether the mother and father roles in looking after a child are gender specific - is there always going to be one person who sits at home feeling depressed and looking like shit while the other goes out and gets drunk? Fortunately you'd never guess this from reading the book, which is a wry comedy about a woman who joins an all-female detective agency in London and goes on a series of adventures with her kooky best friend.

The second, Being Light, was about my boyfriend leaving me, though I doubt you'd know it as the story is about a man who flies away on a bouncy castle while installing it in Brockwell Park, south London.

The third, The Miracle Inspector, is about what it might be like to be a refugee - how would one go about leaving London if things went downhill fast, civil liberties were eroded and life was no longer tolerable here - what sort of reception might one get elsewhere? I'm sure you'll get all that, if you read the book - though whether it means I've got better or worse at writing because I have stuck to a recognisable theme, I can't say.

Recently I've been working on a full-length play and, rather than start with the theme (though I think this is acceptable in playwriting? Correct me if I'm wrong), I went ahead and started with the sort of review I'd like to get, and tried to reverse engineer from that:

Smith's bleakly comic meditation on life was thought-provoking, intelligent and ultimately uplifting, though it made me weep several times. Don't miss!

I can't make people cry, I always go for comedy in my writing, which leaves us with: Smith's bleakly comic meditation on life was thought-provoking, intelligent and ultimately uplifting, though it made me weep several times. Don't miss!

I'm fond of ambiguity in prose but drama is about conflict, action - inpenetrability is not considered an asset. Sometimes I pitch scripts along the lines of, 'we never really know whether x did this or not' and get cheerful notes back saying, it would help if we did! So I try to compensate by ramping up the jokes: Smith's bleakly comic meditation on life was thought-provoking, intelligent and ultimately uplifting

But by now, none of my jokes seem funny, so I take them all out: Smith's bleakly comic

I will one day start from the opposite end and write a masterpiece called Smith's Bleakly which contains all the bits I have ever cut out of other scripts - all the jokes, all the hi-falutin' ideas, all the extraneous characters. You don't have to 'kill your darlings' to make a script work, you just have to take them out and put them in something else. Smith's Bleakly is where mine belong.

Art Below

Art Below puts on exhibitions of artists' work on posters in underground stations in London (and previously in Shibuya station in Tokyo).

Check out the contribution from friend of the blog Amanda Holiday in London Bridge station on the Northern Line platform, southbound, until 21st June.

More about Amanda's art on her blog here.

Friday, 11 June 2010


Composer Sam Watts, who writes music for film and television, has decided to write the first Twitter Composition, using notes suggested by other people, in the order they are suggested. Details of this project here. Charlie Higson, Eos Charter, The London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus have all joined in and contributed a note. What will your contribution be?

If you're on Twitter and you want to get involved, tweet Sam @i_is_sam with your choice of note (you can even specify note duration if you like) and include the hashtag #twittercomposition. You've got until 30th June to contact him. He's currently working on the fourth series of The Sarah Jane Adventures but when he's finished with that, he'll sit down and write 'our' composition.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Free the Mangel One

There was an interesting article in The Guardian by Sam Jordison yesterday about author Charlie Williams's fate. It seems that his publisher, Serpent's Tail, have decided not to publish the fourth book in his series about hapless doorman Royston Blake.

The previous books got good reviews but unfortunately it's not financially viable for Serpent's Tail to publish another book in the series. I had been tipped off long ago that it's a myth that book stores won't return signed copies of an author's book to the warehouse for pulping - signed books travel in a reverse direction as easily as unsigned ones, apparently - so there's really no point in authors touring book shops anonymously to write their name in the front of every copy of every one of their books they find on the shelves. But I had always believed that writing a series would guarantee an author a reasonably long-lived career, so long as he or she can get the first one published, of course, and the reviews are not awful.

If you'd like to help you can join the 'Free the Mangel One' Facebook group here. Or you could always go out and buy one of Charlie Williams's other books or ask for a copy in your local library.

The author also has a blog here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Elderly Dancer

If you have not yet read this story in the News Shopper, please go and have a look at it. 75-year old Edna Lunt - described as an 'elderly dancer' in the article - reenacts the moment when she was attacked by a crow in her garden in Catford. Thanks to Joe Lidster for the link.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Closure Preview

Last night I went to an early preview screening in Soho, London, of Closure, a feature film that was made in 30 days in LA.

Trailer here. Facebook page here. Details of how they did it and what they're doing to sell it here.

It's extraordinary what this young team have achieved in such a short time. The film is compelling, thrilling and credible, with excellent performances. I'm sure they'll get a good reaction when they start previewing elsewhere - let's hope so, anyway.

Here's to ambition, creativity and hard work - it's amazing what can be achieved when someone says 'let's just do it.'

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Adventures in Publishing: Part two - Random House

Other people publish their books under their own imprint, they set up production companies to write, produce and direct their own films, they form bands and put out hit singles - and they don't complain about how difficult it is. Maybe I just find things more difficult than other people? I mean how many households in Britain have a dog and yet they get by without taking to the internet to write haiku every time the dog does a shit, or report every little bout of dizziness, or post short films featuring the dog as a 'dream detective' on YouTube. I'm the Princess and the Pea of the publishing industry.

Nevertheless, it is quite difficult to become a publisher if you have no idea what you're doing. I'll post some 'how to' information over the next few weeks but let me give you an example: The printers sent me a proof copy of Being Light by courier. It took more than a week to arrive (was it a bicycle courier? Coming from France? My sister-in-law did a London to Paris cycle ride for charity and that only took her 48 hours.)

When I checked the shipping and tracking information I could see that it had been despatched promptly by the printer but had been sent by the courier on a tour of various fascinating English towns, including Milton Keynes and Canterbury, before eventually passing to the depot at Vauxhall. From there, I gathered it had been sent to my house and had been signed for just an hour before by my neighbour at no. 34, under the name of Sandra.

Never mind that I had been in all day, waiting for the parcel. I went round and knocked at the door of no. 34. London is a friendly place but we don't necessarily know the names of all our neighbours, as you will do if you are reading this in the north of England. So I was gratified to learn that my neighbour's name was Liz. Unfortunately my parcel had not been left there.

Perhaps I do have something of Miss Marple in me because it occurred to me that my book might be with my neighbour at no. 34 in the street that runs parallel to this one - delivery drivers sometimes get confused. I went round there, got my neighbour to come to the door wrapped only in a towel (she had been sunbathing in the garden, lovely tan) and established that she didn't have my parcel and was not called Sandra. Next I went to no. 24 in my street. We both get Nespresso coffee delivered and sometimes she takes in my parcels and sometimes I take in hers. Flowers, books, bird seed, wine, coffee capsules, fancy bath taps - behind the respectable anonymity of the Edwardian facade of our London terraced houses, we get to know an awful lot about each other from the deliveries we accept on each other's behalf. Unfortunately, whatever else my neighbour at no. 24 might know about me, she does not know what the proof copy of Being Light looks like as my parcel had not been left with her. No surprise, really, as I know her name and it is not Sandra.

So, there you have it. Yet another of the difficulties of going into independent publishing. My proof copy of Being Light has been left at some random house and I can't find it. Random House - wouldn't that be a great name for a publisher? Unfortunately it has already been taken.

Oh dear. That gate post needs painting.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

So you want to be a publisher? Part one

I have always thought it would be quite nice to have a shop. I would have a wool and knitting accessories shop that also sold sweets by the quarter pound from large glass jars arranged side by side on wooden shelves, and in quiet moments I would solve mysteries, just like Miss Marple.

Of course, this is a fantasy. I don't actually want to have to find premises, source skeins of wool, knitting needles, patterns and old-fashioned sweets, haggle for discounts, advertise in the Yellow Pages, pay businesses rates, do health and safety checks, keep accounts, work out taxes and VAT (if applicable) and be nice to customers. I don't even want to solve mysteries as I have no talent for it - no patience, no interest in puzzles. I don't mind googling the names of people I meet socially. Mystery-wise, that's about it.

The point about a fantasy such as this is that you don't have to bother with the details because it's never going to come true. I've had a baby, turned a man gay, had a couple of novels published, had a lovely review in The Times Literary Supplement. All my dreams came true before I was 35. Really, what else is there? The knitting/sweetshop/mystery dream is a place-holder, that's all. I don't want it to actually happen, it's just something to joke about on a blog.

But then, what do you know? Whoosh bang. Suddenly I'm in commerce, doing accounts, worrying about VAT. Never mind the knitting shop. Suddenly I'm a publisher. How and why, when I never even wished for it? Perhaps you're reading this and you always wanted to be in publishing and you're jealous. Well, don't be. It's awful - or awfully difficult, anyway, which amounts to the same thing.

The background to this new venture is that my first two novels, Alison Wonderland and Being Light, were published ten years ago by Gollancz, which later became part of the Orion Group. Victor Gollancz - George Orwell's publisher! Imagine that. Shortly after my first book was published I went to a cocktail party on the roof terrace of my publisher's new premises and a senior editor told an amusing story about getting letters from would-be authors, addressed to the long-dead Victor Gollancz, which typically began 'Dear Victor (if I may)'. I could have died of happiness there and then if it wouldn't have seemed disloyal not to have already died of happiness some months before, when I got taken on by an agent.

No matter how the relationship between author and agent is depicted in the movies - with the author calling numerous times for advice, day and night, whether because they are drunk, broken-hearted, recently arrested or attempting to rescue a cat that has got stuck up a tree - I think we all know that securing the services of a literary agent is a cause for celebration, but not because they will one day arrive at your house to coax your cat out of a tree.

So anyway, in the intervening years between getting an agent, getting published, and now, what has happened that has precipitated me into the publishing business? Well, Gollancz was taken over by Orion and started to specialise in horror and fantasy books, my lovely, lovely editor left and went into a non-publishing job, I got side-tracked by drama. Not the Mary J Blige kind; I developed a TV series for the BBC which was commissioned but didn't go into production, I developed another TV series which no-one was interested in, I was hired to work on another TV series which may yet go into production, I wrote a few plays, I wrote a few articles, I visited Hong Kong, Japan, Tunisia, Morocco, Laos, Thailand, China, America, Switzerland and France. I fell in love with some unsuitable men. I wrote a couple of children's books, and my novels went out of print.

It was difficult to think of any compelling reason why my publisher or any other publisher should invest in printing new editions of the novels. Fortunately my agent stuck by me. The method I used to determine whether she was still my agent was not to ring up and ask if she would cut short her lunch with one of her more successful clients and bring me two dozen packs of imported Egyptian cigarettes from the little booth in Harrods, nor even to pretend there was a cat stuck up a tree and see whether she'd be prepared to rescue it. I simply waited to see whether her assistant would send me the desk diary that goes out to all the agency's clients at Christmas each year. I had a blue one, a grey one, a green one. One year I didn't get my diary and I had a very sombre few months, believing all hope was lost. But then the following December, I got a diary in the post. I think it was purple, although it may have been dark green. When I wrote my appointments in it for January - whatever they were; dentist, smear test, hairdresser - my hand trembled slightly, with relief.

And then one day last year my books went out of print. It's hard to feel like a novelist when you haven't got any novels to sell. My reasons for bringing them back to life are much the same as my reasons for putting water down for my dog to drink each day - it seems like the right thing to do; I can't bear to see them die; who else is there to do it? So, after consulting with my agent, I've had the rights reverted and I'm publishing them myself, under my own imprint. They're available as ebooks and in new print editions, from,, all good book shops, blah, blah, blah. Marketing, eh! Gotta do it. But more about that later. Much, much more.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Red Adept Reviews

If you have an ereader, please take a look at this invaluable resource: Red Adept Reviews.

Each week Red reviews digital books and I'm delighted that this week Alison Wonderland is included in an ongoing feature about settings authors have chosen for their books.

You can subscribe to Red's site by email for free, or you can get your subscription delivered to your Kindle for a small fee of 99c a month.

How to get an agent

Advice from author Stevyn Colgan on his blog, The Unbearable Oddness of Stevyn, about how to get an agent.

He says, 'It took me years but I got there in the end. You will too.' And he prefaces that with lots of sound advice.