Sunday, 31 October 2010

Podcast 03 - The Jessie Kirkels Chronicles - Dr Muriel

I have added a new episode to my free podcasts in which I share plans for the first novel in my new mystery series, The Jessie Kirkels Chronicles. In Episode Three I introduce a new character: Emily's eccentric neighbour, Dr Muriel. And I reveal the first twist in the story.

In the next episode I'm going to read some of the text from the manuscript for the new novel so you can see how I have translated my plans for the novel into a first draft of the text.

You can listen to episode three here or you can subscribe in iTunes here or in a reader here.

The Survivor

My friend F. Mehrban has had a story published in The Survivor magazine's 25th anniversary issue. The Survivor is the quarterly magazine published by The Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture. The story is called The Miracle of Song and is dedicated to a young girl called Nosrat who was in prison with the author in Iran and was executed at the age of sixteen or seventeen.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Author Surgery - Big Green Bookshop

I'll be at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green tomorrow for an author surgery, 12.00-2.00 pm. It's a drop-in session and you can come along to discuss your work or ask for advice about getting published. If you're thinking of taking part in Nanowrimo we can talk about that.

Listing in The Londonist here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Advice for Writers

I just came back from giving a talk to creative writing students at Middlesex University. Hello if you're joining me from there - and good luck. I forgot to pass on the single most useful piece of advice to writers that I have ever seen. It's from Chuck Palahniuk. He said that you should be sure to get your publicity photos taken when you are still young and reasonably attractive.

The National Student Film Association has been in touch to ask me to publicize a new competition for student screenwriters. You can submit short film scripts up to five pages long, in any genre - the deadline is 7th November and winners will be notified by 20th November. The competition is being run in conjunction with the BFI and Circalit. You have to become a member of Circalit to enter but there are no entry fees. More details here.

I said that I would email some of the students at Middlesex some information and links to various sites that might be useful - and I will - but in the meantime, here are some links. I won't provide an exhaustive list. If you investigate these sites, they should lead you to other useful sources of information/blogs, etc.

Danny Stack - Scriptwriting in the UK. Lots of information about his route into writing for TV. Very useful. He also does a podcast with Tim Clague and he co-organises the Red Planet screenwriting competition.

Lucy Vee - Write Here, Write Now. Lucy always has lots to say on any screen-writing related matter. She is a reader for several production companies and has helped to organise the London Screenwriters Festival.

Jason Arnopp - Bloggery-Pokery. News of Jason's various writing projects including a recently produced horror feature film, a web drama series and some original Dr Who novels.

John August - sound advice from a Hollywood writer.

London Screenwriters Festival. Even if you can't get along to the festival next week, you should be able to cull lots of useful information from the blog.

Literary Agents
The Writers and Artists Yearbook or the Writers Handbook will give you the names and addresses of all the agents in the UK. You can borrow them from the library or buy them from the reference section of bookshops. Send the first three chapters of a completed manuscript with a covering letter to agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts. Make sure your book is finished (i.e. as good as it can possibly be) before contacting an agent.

Literary Events
These showcase new talent. You might be able to get your work read or hear others reading it, or go along and meet people who have already made a name for themselves on the 'spoken word' scene: Liars League, The Book Club Boutique, Let Me Tell You About Me, Farrago Poetry Slam, Literary Death Match.

Self-publishing Ebooks
J A Konrath - a successful midlist author who decided to self-publish some of his backlist and has also written some new work exclusively for Amazon's kindle store. He talks in quite a lot of detail about how much money he's making from it.

Amanda Hocking - a young woman who has self-published a paranormal series aimed at young adults and made a very successful career from it.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Holidays From Home

On Thursday I went to see The Colour of Nonsense by Forkbeard Fantasy at the Croydon Clocktower.

Was it like being on holiday? CHECKLIST:

Did I go somewhere different or exotic? Yes - I had never been to Croydon city centre before.
Did I get lost? No. But I had to ask directions to the theatre from the Tourist Information Centre because there are no signs anywhere and the street names are positioned so they can be read by drivers rather than pedestrians.
Did I feel relaxed? Not especially.
Did I eat food that someone else had cooked? Yes. I went to Wagamama.
Did I walk a lot? No.
Swimming, sunsets, etc? No. The moon was still very bright.
Exotic or exciting? No. But Braithwaite Hall and the Public Library are impressive.
Unusual transport? No. I took the overland train from Clapham Junction to get there, and I came all the way home on the 109 bus.
Did I get philosophical? Forkbeard Fantasy are innovative, underappreciated artists.
Photos? No.
Local colour? I was about to go to the aid of a youth who seemed to have stumbled and fallen in an empty shopping precinct, and then I realised that he was break-dancing.
So it wasn't really like being on holiday? No. But my daughter was with me so in that sense it was quite like old times.

The Colour of Nonsense is on at the Greenroom in Manchester, the Mac in Birmingham, The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Alison Wonderland - Review and Q&A

There's a lovely review for Alison Wonderland over at Lisa's herbookself blog, and a Q&A about the book here.

Thanks, Lisa.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Podcast 02 - Jessie Kirkels Chronicles - The Party

You can now listen to Episode Two of my podcast, in which I develop ideas for my new mystery novel.

In Episode Two, I flesh out the details of amateur sleuth Emily's visit to a party in a big house at the end of the street where she lives. A tragic event takes place - and Emily is there to witness it.

Subscribe in iTunes here or in a reader here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

More Books I Love

Lavengro & The Romany Rye by George Borrow - autobiographical tales of George Borrow's journeys across England in the 19th century. He was a self-taught linguist who was interested in the lives of the gypsies who lived here, and made friends with them. If you have an ereader, the books are free in the kindle store or through the Gutenberg Project because they are out of copyright.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates - an imagined life of a character inspired by Marilyn Monroe. Not a biography. Fragmented, impressionistic and brilliant. Also notable for using 'synechdoche' in a sentence in the introduction to the book, which was written by the author.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey. I think Peter Carey is my favourite living author. I admire all his books, though I particularly enjoyed The Tax Inspector, Bliss, The True History of the Kelly Gang and Oscar and Lucinda.

Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice. I discovered this novella through Granta. It's heart-breakingly beautiful. I sobbed most of the way through it when I read it. It doesn't matter that it's short; you'll get your money's worth if you like to shed tears.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Podcast 01 - The Jessie Kirkels Chronicles

You can listen to my first podcast as I plan a new series of mysteries, provisionally entitled The Jessie Kirkels Chronicles, in memory of my dog Jessie who died last week.

Interested in learning how a book is written? Then this podcast is for you.

Thanks to Kevin MacLeod of Incompetech for use of the music you can hear at the beginning and end of the podcast.

You can download the podcast in iTunes or listen to it here or subscribe in a reader here.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Yarn at Arch 61, Ewer Street

As part of an attempt to do new and exciting things by way of having a holiday without actually leaving home, I visited Arch 61 where Gemma Mitchell of Yarn had put on an interesting evening in which six participants used film, written narrative, traditional storytelling, rapping and a theatre sketch to tell different parts of the same story which had been improvised on October 1st in part one of this Nursery event, which I didn't attend. I particularly liked the contribution from Katy Darby, who is one of the founding members of the Liars' League, but all the different sections were inventive and clever.

Was it like being on holiday? CHECKLIST:

Did I go somewhere different or exotic? Yes - I had never been to Yarn or to Arch 61 before.
Did I get lost? Yes. London Bridge is a frightening labyrinth of despair so I decided to get off the train at Borough, and then I walked back towards Camberwell for a while by mistake. I hadn't brought a map with me and had to ask directions when I got near to the venue.
Did I feel intimidated? Not really. The kids in Brixton try to act tough but they don't scare me because I was once fourteen years old. The alley leading to the railway arches off Ewer Street is dark and desolate and would be terrifiying - except that I could see the sign for the Jerwood Space as I walked down it, and as that is a rehearsal space for dance/theatre, I felt reassured.
Did I eat food that someone else had cooked? No, but I sat next to someone eating an anchovy pizza and a box of salad with truffle oil on it, which was very pungent. So there was no need.
Did I walk a lot? Yes, though only because I got lost.
Swimming, sunsets, etc? No. The moon was very bright.
Exotic or exciting? Yes, it's London.
Unusual transport? No. The Victoria Line, the Northern Line, the 109 bus, the 137 bus.
Did I get philosophical? I noticed the smell of aftershave on the travellers on the bus and thought that it was the smell of Saturday night.
Photos? No. I left my camera and my phone at home.
Local colour? Shortly after I left my house a man accelerated down the street in a fancy 'drug dealer' car and a bystander who was smoking weed and dressed in a suit of military camouflage clothes shouted, 'Ride, bro! That's a riiiiiiiiiide!' And I saw a woman emerge from Brixton station wearing what appeared to be a fox fur around her neck, though it might have been made from gingery rabbits.
So it wasn't really like being on holiday? No. But it was nice.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Holidays From Home

Now that Jessie is no longer here, I'd like to go on holiday. I have been looking at everything from two nights in Morocco to three weeks in India - but it's all too expensive, really. What I save on dog food won't cover the costs of an exotic holiday.

My favourite holidays have included some of the following elements:

Visiting unfamiliar places, especially those featured in TinTin books
Trying to speak a foreign language - or at least hearing it spoken
Enjoying cultural highlights, including museums & festivals
Eating unusual food that has been cooked by someone else
Making new friends
Taking photos of myself or my holiday companions in front of landmark buildings
Staying up later than usual
Getting up earlier than usual
Watching the sun rise or set
Walking a lot
Getting lost
Getting philosophical
Unusual or slightly dangerous transport: clinging to the top of a jeep or the back of a motorbike; funicular railways, tuktuks, propeller planes
Buying inexpensive mementos and bringing them home
Returning home 7lb lighter than when I left

I live in London, one of the most exciting cities in the world. I should be able to recreate the holiday experience from home. I'm going to start today and I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Interesting Theatre Shows

I'm looking forward to seeing some interesting theatre shows that friends are involved in over the next few days:

Sunday 17th October - The Miniaturists are back at The Arcola with five short plays for £12, at 5pm and 8pm.

The writers are Sarah Grochala, Dan Muirden, Laura FitzGerald, Kenneth Emson and Stephen Sharkey.

Wednesday 20th & Thursday 21st October - The Colour of Nonsense by Forkbeard Fantasy is on at the Croydon Clocktower at 8pm. Tickets are £12. Inventive staging of a surreal thriller. Trailer here.
4* Review from Lyn Gardner here. Further tour dates here.

Terror at Southwark Playhouse until 31st October, with four Grand Guignol plays by Mark Ravenhill, April de Angelis, Neil LaBute and William Ewart. Shows at 7.30 pm with 3pm matinees on Saturdays.
Tickets £13-£18 (I think all the 'early bird' £8 tickets are sold out, but you can check with the box office or online.)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Money under the mat, Jessie, Dawkins, Chilean miners

Thanks for your kind comments about Jessie. She had a very good life and a good death. The vet and a nurse came to the house yesterday and Jessie died very quickly by lethal injection without any pain or anxiety.

I had booked the visit from the vet the night before and then tuned in to the rescue operation of the miners in Chile on the BBC. There were times when I didn't know if I was crying because Jessie was going to die, or because the miners were going to live. Eventually, I began to conflate the two events in my mind, as if Jessie had to die so that those 33 men might live. I have read Richard Dawkins and so, of course, I understand that none of us is entitled to fanciful belief systems that might give us comfort in our bleakest hours. The successful rescue of the Chilean miners was not 'a miracle', nor was it attributable in any way to the timely dispatch of my dog Jessie. I know that. I do.

In addition to the overwhelmingly joyful news of the successful rescue operation in Chile, I had some good news of my own yesterday - a long-awaited draft contract for a writing project arrived by email last night. Despite what my rational mind tells me, it's hard not feel that this piece of good news was connected to Jessie's death some hours earlier, in some obscure way.

If you are reading this and you are waiting for good news yourself, I would not advocate sacrificing a family pet to ensure that it arrives. You might try the money under the mat approach first. It takes about six months to fully take effect, but it does seem to work.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

And I love her - Jessie Kirkels 1993-2010

Born on Valentine's Day. Died the day the Chilean miners were rescued. Very much loved.
Normal service to be resumed shortly. Until then...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

All About Ebooks

Last week I went to the Publishers Association in Bloomsbury to take part in a podcast about ebooks with Linda Bennet and Graham Taylor of the Publishers Association, WGGB Editor Tom Green and Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett.

The podcast was produced by WGGB member Daniel J Alexander.

You can listen online here or download the podcast from iTunes.

Update: announcement today from Amazon about 'Kindle Singles'.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Bad Girls and Celebrity Autobiography

For the first time in a very long time, I found myself worrying last week about what shoes to wear. The occasion was the launch for my friend Rebecca Chance's new book, Bad Girls, which was held at a private members' club in Mayfair, London. It was a very glamorous affair - we drank passionfruit martinis at her publisher's expense and even came away with goodie bags containing books, leopard print emery boards, chocolates and a bag of fudge courtesy of the proprietors of Bovey Castle, a country house hotel in Dartmoor where one of the many inventive sex scenes in the book is set. I ate the fudge on the way home on the 137 bus.

Everyone was too dazzled by Rebecca's magnificent embonpoint to look at my feet, so halfway through the night I slipped into the loo and changed into my comfy boots (which I had brought with me just in case). All in all, it was a wonderful evening: glamour, comfort, free drinks, free fudge, beautiful people, famous people, beautiful famous people - and a ride home on the top deck of a London bus on a route that took me - for only 90p with my Oyster Card - door to door via Chelsea Bridge, with the always lovely nighttime views of Battersea Power Station to my left and the 4,000 bulbs of Albert Bridge all lit up to my right.

I can't remember if I have said how much I enjoyed Bad Girls when I read it a few weeks ago. I think the category it falls into is 'bonkbuster', which isn't one I normally read. But it's funny, filthy and well-written, and I'm looking forward to reading more from her.

The following night I went to see Celebrity Autobiography at the Leicester Square theatre, on the recommendation of the West End Whingers, whose review is here. A changing cast of performers - the night I was there these included David Tennant, James Lance, Michael Urie and Doon Mackichan - take it in turns to read exerpts from the autobiographies of celebrities who write revealingly about sex, marriage, the difficulties of acting for stage or screen, and how to bring up children, among other things.

The show is crafted so that the performers begin to interact with each other by reading from the pages of co-written autobiographies (N Synch, Destiny's Child) or from biographies dealing with the same moments in celebrity history (Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor). It's very, very funny and highly recommended.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cheap Reads and Backlist Ebooks

I'm delighted that Alison Wonderland has been featured on the CheapReads site today. The site is dedicated to finding discounted ebooks on Amazon and is a useful resource if you're looking for ebooks under $5. They also list SuperCheap reads - under $2 - and free books.

I'm also listed at the new Backlist Ebooks site, along with other traditionally-published authors who have published their out-of-print books as ebooks. The list is growing - and the website is still under construction - but it features award-winning authors who write in a variety of genres. There's a Facebook page here.

All my books are on offer at low prices.

You can find more information at and

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Experimenting with Signed Ebooks

There has been quite a lot of talk about how to sign ebooks for readers, to replicate the experience of getting a paperback or hardbook signed by an author at a reading.

You normally sign the title page of a print book. But a signed title page would have to be dropped into the digital file of an ebook as an illustration by the publisher. It's easy enough to personalise individual ebooks in this way for readers who buy direct from an author's website and pre-order a signed copy. But if someone has bought from Amazon, the Book Depository, WH Smith, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Waterstones, etc., a new ebook would have to be sent to the reader by email to replace the one they had bought.

It seems authors are experimenting with signing the covers of ebooks and sending these by email to readers who ask for them. Readers who are reasonably technologically-minded can use a tool called Calibre to manage their ebook library - Calibre can be downloaded for free online (though the designer welcomes donations) - and readers can use it to swap the new signed cover for the existing one.

Someone called Pagan Parker has just bought a copy of Alison Wonderland from Amazon and mentioned on the Kindle Forum in the US how nice it would be to get a signed copy. Yay! Hello Pagan!

Here is what I have come up with: Two alternative signed front covers - I used the old 'baby' one as an option because it has more room to write on it. If Pagan doesn't have Calibre or any way to grab one of these covers and drop one into her existing copy of Alison Wonderland, I can do it for her. Pagan? What do you think? Email me if you need help to get the signed cover onto your Kindle.

Anyone else want a signed cover for one of my ebooks? Please email me.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Eliminating Exposition

If you write a script, and you have characters telling each other things they should already know for the benefit of the audience, it's called exposition.

It's not a problem in novels because you have a narrator who can fill in the gaps: 'her brother said...', or you can have a character remember something that will explain to the reader why she hasn't spoken to her sister for twenty years, or whatever it is that you'd like the reader to know.

In a script, you just have the action and the dialogue to tell the story (and visual cues including props and sets). It's considered very lazy to have characters saying things like 'But you're my brother!' or 'You haven't spoken to your sister in twenty years since you had that argument about the...'

It is the job of the writer - and script editors and others who might read their work - to eliminate exposition from a script.

I have recently come to believe that it's not enough to remove exposition from scripts. We have to eliminate it from real life, too. This revelation came to me in the course of a fairly mundane conversation I was having with my daughter in the kitchen about a week ago, when I said something like, 'But you're my daughter and...' I honestly don't remember the details - it was so shocking, I have wiped it from my memory. But I stopped, mid-sentence, and saw Lauren look at me with a mixture of pity and shame as we tried to come to terms with what had happened: Exposition! When did I start talking like a very bad episode of a TV series?

I'm not alone. A couple of days ago I got off the 137 bus at the same time as a rather distressed woman of about my age who was talking on her mobile phone. 'But Mum,' she said, 'I have been at your house for two hours and I have just got on the bus. And now you want me to come back?' I felt that I needed a sticker - like one of those stickers that they used to put on fuzzy photos when you had them developed in Boots, telling you off for not doing it properly - a pre-printed sticker with 'EXPOSITION!' on it, that I could have slapped on her coat or on her mobile phone, reminding her to be more careful in future.

Alternatively, I could have discreet cards printed. Something along the lines of:
Need to eliminate it from your life?
Contact me now, ask me how.

And just hand them out, as necessary. I'm not sure whether to charge for this service or offer it for free. It's something I could probably do as a side-line when I start my emporium. I should think £50 would be about right.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Grand Draw - Winner Chosen

Thank you to everyone who entered the competition for a signed copy of one of my books. The Grand Draw took place on Friday and a winner has been chosen: Peter.

If you would like to see how the winner was chosen, please watch the video below.

The runners-up were Kristie and Big Al. Big Al was entitled to two entries but I only gave him one opportunity to win for reasons that are explained at some length in the video. A last-minute rule change is quite shoddy really, and just goes to show that you have to be careful about entering competitions on the internet. I have been in touch to offer him a consolation prize.

Thank you to Mioko for being a lovely baby and doing the Grand Draw so efficiently.