Sunday, December 08, 2019

Fairly Fed up December

Well, folks - this is - theoretically - out! Murder Repeated. There have been many issues - books not arriving at distributors, bookshops, amazon and other outlets, let alone customers who were expecting them on Thursday 5th. According to amazon, delivery is still taking longer than average, and currently there are only 2 copies in stock. I have had virtually no promotion, and have resorted this morning (Sunday) to rushing round trying to drum up a little blog tour; a fairly hopeless task, I feel, this close to Christmas.

I also discovered that Headline have raised the Kindle price to £5.99. This is unacceptable to me. I desperately need an agent, but all of those to whom I've applied have failed, so far, to reply. I wish now I'd stuck to my guns and refused to go to Headline at the time of the takeover. There is another publisher to whom I would far rather have gone, but I don't know the legal position, and the various stratagems employed in wrangles of this kind. I have repeatedly complained to my editor at Headline, who has, again, repeatedly assured me that all issues have been addressed.

I'm telling you, dear readers, all this because I'm seriously considering giving up the whole thing. I'm not fishing for compliments here - I know full well that Libby Sarjeant fans will not want Libby to disappear, but right at the moment I genuinely don't feel like writing another word.

***EDITED*** Well, the copies have arrived at Amazon - just hope everyone receives theirs! I shall carry on with the agent-hunt, and the promo-slog - and, of course, Libby is safe. She lives to fight another day.

Anyway, I wish you all the merriest Christmas you can possible have, and thank you all for your support - I shall wear it always 😊.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Betjeman's Banana Blush

This is a self indulgent post. While I am holiday in Turkey every year, I listen to my iTunes collection in my room, due to lack of internet. Among quite a large selection of old comedy - I'm Sorry I'll read That Again, I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, Alan Davies, Stilgoe and Skellern - I have two albums by John Betjeman, with music by Jim Parker.

My husband and I were introduced to the first album, Betjeman's Banana Blush, by a schoolfriend of the old man's, Colin Eades, who, appropriately, lived in the heart of Metroland, as we did ourselves. I loved it so much I bought it, and later, the follow up, Betjeman's Britain. I didn't know much about Betjeman or his poetry at the time, but he soon became my favourite poet. One I particularly loved was Business Girls, which describes with the utmost poignancy the solitary residences of these ladies in Camden Town, backing on to the railway cuttings: At the back precarious bathrooms Jutting out from upper floors; and ends with: Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones, Lap your loneliness in heat. All too soon the tiny breakfast, Trolley-bus and windy street.

Then there's the famous Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel, an event which, in my youthful ignorance, I knew nothing at the time. I was fascinated. And Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican: Isn't she lovely, the Mistress? With her wide-apart grey-green eyes? I could go on; each poem brilliantly nostalgic, often humorous and always with the underlying sadness. Even Hunter Trials, from a young girl's point of view, competing at a local event, and ending with: Oh, wasn’t it naughty of Smudges? Oh, Mummy, I’m sick with disgust. She threw me in front of the Judges, And my silly old collarbone’s bust. That resonated - the same thing happened to me on a pony called Charade at the Clapham Common Gymkhana. Not quite the same as a posh "county" event, but never mind.

All of these enhanced by the wonderful music of Jim Parker, of whom I had also never heard. You might not have done, either, but I bet you know the atmospheric theremin theme for Midsomer Murders.
Told you it was a self indulgent post. Ever since Colin introduced me to the album I have loved both Betjeman and Parker, so to him, wherever he may be, thank you. I don't suppose this will set any of you off on the same path, but if it does, good. And when I get home I'm going to watch Metroland again. I shall also re-read Laurie Lee, suggested by Peter, a friend out here in Turkey, which will no doubt set me off on another trail of nostalgic discovery.

Happy listening!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"I have confidence in me!"

See that title? If you know the song - young people please Google - you will realise it's about someone bolstering her own courage. Well, that's me at the moment.

I refer you to my previous post Worries of a mid-list Author. You will see how a writer friend and I were worrying together. This is now explained by the fact that Accent Press have been sold to Headline, part of the great Hachette Group, one of the Big Five Publishing Groups in the world. Now my friend Chrissie and I are used to being published by a smaller, independent press. Although Chrissie was one of the big names, along with our other friends, Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell, she has had publisher problems before, as explained in the aforementioned previous post. And I have never aspired to be at the forefront of popular genre publishing, so how were we going to fit in with this go-getting young publisher? Would we be shoved into a corner and forgotten? Would they understand us - and our public?

Well, some of the worries have been addressed, but there are still people who tell me I just like worrying and "it's all going to be all right". Mainly my children. And no - it isn't. There are typographical errors in the ebook that came out last week (where did my corrected proofs go?), there has been no promotion, orders have been cancelled. I now know the paperback will come out on December 5th - almost two months late - and no idea about the next book for which I'm contracted.

However, tomorrow I'm going to have a chat with the publishing director and hope we can clarify the situation. After all, it's quite a Big Thing to be published by one of the largest and most successful of all the genre publishers, but it's going to take some getting used to!

Along with the chaotic disaster that has taken over our country at the moment, about which I also constantly worry and get angry, it hasn't been the happiest of summers. On Monday I go off on my annual pilgrimage to rural Turkey to metaphorically hide under the duvet.  See you when I get back!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Worries of a Mid-List author, or Where did July go?

The first weeks of July were entirely taken up with trying to finish the book which should have been delivered by the end of June. However, youngest son Leo's wedding, together with attendant overseas visitors rather got in the way, and I had to lie down in a darkened room with a wet cloth on my head. Just as the new bride was about to leave to go back to America, a parcel arrived for the new groom, containing, to our surprise, proof copies of his book, due out next April.

Then it was grandson Gus's birthday, then eldest daughter Louise's birthday. And then younger daughter Phillipa arrived yesterday. Within minutes, I was in the middle of a political, philosophical and social discussion between her and her brother, upon which I stopped trying to comment after a bit and just went and got dinner. After which, she set off on her bike training for the triathlon she's attempting next month. When she came back, we ended up having a long conversation about childhood, visiting places around the world and mortgages. More darkened rooms call, I feel. Oh, and by the way, we had HOME MADE ice cream after dinner. Yup - I made ice cream. Not in an ice cream maker, with a bowl and a whisk. Quite a lot of it went over the kitchen work top and me, and Godiva the Elder Cat enjoyed what went on the floor. But it was pronounced lovely, and didn't taste home made.

After all this domesticity I now have to get down to planning the next book, while awaiting the edits on the one I finally delivered in the middle of July. I'm also awaiting the contract for the next book, so there's a sort of shall I/shan't I feeling about it. I asked the publisher, who more-or-less said "Get on with it!" But without a contract I feel a little nervous. This is something that never leaves you as a writer - in fact it's true of most creatives, especially those who are self employed. This means all my family. We're dead worried all the time that the next book/gig/tour won't happen. We all reassure each other, of course, but we still worry. Especially me.

I am still a - rather remote - member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, despite not writing romance, and most of my best writing mates are members, too. So, thanks to soshul meeja I get to see lots of posts/requests for advice/moans from aspiring writers. And most of them appear to think that when they land that elusive first contract, their worries are over. Oh, no. Not on your nelly. Sometimes, a debut novelist is so good, picked up by a major publisher, that she/he has an immediate second book contract and fulfils everybody's hopes. Like my friend Joanna Cannon, whom I met when she was still doing her rotation as a young junior doctor, and writing little bits which I was lucky enough to read. Eventually, she went on to be published by The Borough Press, part of Harper Collins (one of the Big Boys of the industry) with a world wide best seller, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Her second book, Three Things About Elsie, did just as well. So, yes, first contract - worries over.

Now let's look at another friend of mine, whom I've known for a good many more years than I've known Jo. An absolute top seller, every book was rich in comedy, atmosphere and often unlikely romance. Her characters were a delight. And then her publisher sold to another publisher and it all fell apart. Luckily, she was picked up again by a further publisher, but it was only after two years in the wilderness with a lot of wrangling over contractural obligations. She and I are still very good friends and spend a lot of time worrying together about this sort of thing. Of course there are people who tell us both that we've got nothing to worry about: "With your track record?" they say. "You'll always be published." No, we won't. See aforementioned reasons.

So there are always worries. And heaven help you if you rely on an income from your books. The powers that be in the publishing industry, who look after our interests, commissioned a survey last year of authors' earnings, in which I took part. The dispiriting results informed us that authors' incomes have fallen by 40% over the last few years. The average author earns less than the designated living wage. I used to get very annoyed with what I called the "dilettante lady writer", someone who relied on her husband's income to support her while she dallied with writing, or had possibly retired on a large pension. I knew several. Writing wasn't essential, although they said it was; "Oh, I have to write," they'd say, waving a limp hand and dabbing their temples with cologne. (No, not really. But you get the idea.)

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm still worrying about my career. Despite having one non-fiction book, two romances, three Alexandrians, twenty full lenth Libbys and three short Libbys, plus occasional short stories in collections and magazines, I am still worried. You see, publishing these days is no longer about nice old men in tweed suits with pipes, shaking hands over a walnut desk. If it ever was. This is what it's like these days. Pretty, aren't they? See why I'm worrying? They aren't exactly my reader demographic...Ah, well. See you all again soon.

Friday, June 28, 2019

A thought or two on crime as entertainment

Amid the welter of bad news and going-to-hell-in-a-handcart news this week, which I believe to be the source of the vague sense of depression that continually hovers around me, two items caught my attention.  The first was about a new Jack The Ripper Experience, to which an action group were objecting, saying it glamourised abuse of women. The second was a comment by a very respected crime writer and ex-police officer (female, as it happens) complaining about the portrayal of a police procedural TV series.

Now, these two things don't, on the surface, look at all similar. But both reflect on Crime as Entertainment. Let's take dear old Jack the Ripper first. Ever since the crimes, and yes, they were ghastly, were committed there has been speculation about the perpetrator. Had they been committed in the present century there would still have been horror and fear, but let's face it, he would undoubtedly have been caught, if only because of the amount of DNA available. But it wasn't available then, and he became almost mythical. And as such - entertainment. It wasn't long before the ballads were written, the murders were re-enacted in the penny gaffs and what would now be called "think pieces" appeared in the press.

Subsequently, he has been incorporated into hundreds of stories. Various versions of the Whitechapel murders have been told in novel, film, television and even computer games. And up and down the country, and probably overseas, for all I know, Jack the Ripper Experiences exist as entertainment, recreating the murky fog-ridden atmosphere of Victorian London. But all of these are concentrating on the still unsolved mystery of "Jack" himself. They are not concentrating on the victims, except as victims, objects of horror. So surely to suddenly up and complain about one new "experience" is a little naive? I would argue that, should it need it, it only helps to draw attention to the plight of the abused, of both sexes. We cannot wipe out the fact of this murderer's existence, only perhaps deplore the fact that he wasn't caught but was glamourised at the time.

The second item to catch my attention was simply a Tweet which came up in my feed. I happened to have got caught in a discussion about a new daytime TV series centring on a London MIT - Murder Investigation Team. It is one of those 5 day things, which I have on series record on Sky to watch in the evenings. It has an excellent cast headed by Sharon Small and Hugo Speer, and is a lot simpler and easier to follow than many of its fellows.

BUT - some of the comments have been quite vitriolic. Aforesaid crime writer complained about the mistakes made in the portrayal of a police investigation. I did not answer her (she sells a lot more than I do and is a bit of A Personality) but I should have pointed out something that many a crime writer before has known, the minutiae of a police investigation would bore the pants off your average reader/viewer.

This is a short series of short, snappy episodes. They can't get bogged down in due process, however much a female former police inspector may deplore the fact. I don't write procedurals because I don't know enough about a police investigation or the force, and I therefore apologise to police forces everywhere in the acknowledgements in my books. After all, Libby Sarjeant wouldn't have a series if I worried about real policing. And I've been writing long enough (longer than she has, actually) to know a lot of other crime writers, many of us good old mid-list types who don't hit the New York Times bestseller list but simply write for the entertainment of others. And that's what it comes down to. However much we shake our heads and raise our eyebrows about the state of the human psyche which allows us to treat disaster as entertainment, the fact is that it DOES. Whether it's Jack The Ripper and the Whitechapel murders, or a fictional London police investigation in the present day, it's presented as entertainment.

I'm sure there will be people who take issue with my views, and there is, of course a wider argument to be had which I will not attempt to broach. But at least it's a different argument to all the going-to-hell-in-a-handcart arguments that currently dominate the media.  

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A post of Appreciation

This post was originally on my Facebook page and when it popped up in my "Memories" I felt moved to share it again. However, since I wrote it two years ago, I have tightened my FB privacy settings and I can't share it to either my reader group or my "work" page. So, as I had something else to say as well, I decided it could go in here. And here it is - with revisions.

 I have been reflecting on the most important person in my life - after the children and the cats, of course. She paid for the conservatory and the gazebo, pays the bills and keeps me in alcohol. Although the glory days have passed, when we all made quite a bit more money than we were used to due to the uprush of ebooks, she's still keeping us afloat. And I STILL haven't the faintest idea how she does it. For a woman who came into existence on a drive through the Kent countryside to pick up (or possibly having delivered) a daughter to friends, it's quite an achievement. I suppose it was my lucky day. And apart from her, bless her little cotton socks, there are all those people (some of you, I know) who are the real heroes. Who buy, or borrow from the library, her adventures. I'm sorry if this sounds impossibly twee, but it honestly did just pop into my mind and I realised just what a huge part of my life she's become - far more than a lot of- er - real people. Go on, someone's going to say "What? She isn't real?" 
But of course, coming up to date, there are four other people who are the mainstays of my life - my children. I am embarrassingly proud of them all, and naturally consider them more beautiful (even the boys) and talented than anyone else. I am not, as they will all tell anyone who asks, a naturally maternal sort of person, nevertheless they support me in all my endeavours. And Miles - eldest son and number 2 child - is a constant source of ideas. Indeed, without him I doubt that Libby Sarjeant would have had quite so many adventures. He has two jobs - one as a musician/entertainer and the other as a jobbing builder/landscaper. He started the latter when musician friends who had started doing the same took pity on him and started asking him to do odd jobs for them. A more unlikely labourer you had never seen at the time, but now he's hugely experienced and can turn his hand to most things.
This job takes him to all sorts of places; rural villages, isolated houses, town centre renovations. And there are stories... And I'll suddenly get a text, or an FB message with a photograph, or a brief description and then he'll tell me the situation. And they always work! I'm currently writing Libby 20 based on a Miles Idea, and have several more stacked up.
So this is an appreciation post. Thank you Libby for keeping us afloat, and thank you Miles for all the ideas. And thank you Louise, Phillipa and Leo for being there. And finally, as I said in the original post, thank you to my readers.
(How I originally saw Libby)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A little reflection on life, the universe and everything

This post will, of course, go out as a newsletter (because that's how the internet gnomes manage it), but it is nothing to do with my job, books or writing - or only tangentially, anyway.

I have been aware over the last few weeks of a feeling of general depression. I do not suffer with depression, clinical or otherwise, but as with many families, we have sufferers in our midst, some more severe than others. I am, therefore, quite conversant with what can be a devastating illness. So this feeling took me rather by surprise, as I was sure I didn't ever feel like this. Eventually, I realised what was causing it. And it might sound trite, even facile, but yes, it is the General State of Everything.

I realised that, no matter where I turned, the outlook was bleak. I now console myself regularly with the mantra "I have everything I want; a good job, enough food, enough money to buy me a few luxuries and four lovely children, not to mention two equally lovely grandchildren and two wobbly cats." And following hard on the heels of this comforting thought comes another: "And how long will this last? How long will the food last? How long will the economy remain stable? How long will we live in a war-free zone? How long before civil unrest breaks out in a big way?" And, of course "How long will it be before we completely destroy our world?"

This dystopian view of the future is no longer the province of the fantasy writers. It was something I could dismiss until recently, but now I find I can't. My son The Philosopher is getting married in less than two months to his American fiancee, and despite this happy circumstance, he descends further into gloom as the days go by. The world does not conform to his ideals, and the obstructions to his marriage from both US and UK governments have proven almost disastrous - and very expensive.

If we look back over history - our own and that of the rest of the world - we will see how close we have come in the past to total civil breakdown. We never learn. Just look at the Climate Change Protests of last weekend.. People really are beginning to take things into their own hands. And just supposing both the Remainers and the Brexiteers decide nobody is listening to them and they, too, need to show the government exactly how they feel? (I do NOT include Nigel Farage in this. He, I am certain, is a Spitting Image creation and Not Real at all.)

Well, there we are. I am delighted that these days there are platforms on which we can state our cases, and maybe, vent our spleens. But I am exceedingly sad that our cases - and our spleens - need this outlet. However, I have bought my outfit for The Wedding Of The Year and I have two very pleasant Literary Festival Events coming up, so as long as I keep the screens up round my recalcitrant thoughts, I'll be all right.

And of course, I have the luxury of being able to retreat into my own world of Steeple Martin, where I don't have to worry about anything - except Murder...

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

One down - one to go

After a heroic struggle, Death Treads the Boards is finished. Possibly the most difficult book I've ever had to write, and all my own fault, as I volunteered to write it "in between" Libby Sarjeant books. As I was also doing panto this season (something I'm NEVER doing again), I should have known better. So I've asked Accent Press to re-label the Alexandrians as a Trilogy, and I shan't go back to Nethergate in the early 20th century, either...

I fully expect my editor, Greg, to come back with pages and pages of revisions, but meanwhile, as I was reminded, Libby 20 has to be written and delivered by the end of June. As there is a bit of a fuss going to be made about this because it's the 20th and because it will be one of the first Accent titles released under a deal with one of the Big Five publishers, Hachette, it really does have to be in on time. Difficult, as there's only three months and in June my son Leo is getting married to his lovely American fiancee Carrie, which means a hiatus in normal life and an influx of new American relations.

Meanwhile, Accent are re-releasing my entire backlist of Libbies in print with new covers - as they currently appear on Amazon. If you aren't in the business, you won't know how rare this is and how honoured I feel - it really should put paid to my continuing "imposter syndrome".

In other news, younger daughter is home between cruises and tours, although she's been dashing around seeing people and getting things done, including a holiday in South Africa with her Uncle Roger (best man at my wedding). Elder daughter is still being a mother and singer going all over the UK and doing an Open University degree. Elder son is still living round the corner and doing what he's always done - leading his own band and helping friends with building projects to top up the finances. Younger son is, as I've said, getting married and his first book will be published later this year. No - he isn't following in my footsteps - it's on popular philosophy. I'll show you the cover when he allows me to. Meanwhile here are the floral tributes I received on Mothers Day.

I shall get back to normal as soon as I recovered from terminal tiredness...

Monday, February 25, 2019

Daughters, hedgehogs and deadlines

Brief catch up, as I haven't written a post for a month.

I have been struggling with the third Edwardian book, for which I did a cover reveal last week on our reader group: Lesley Cookman's Libby's Loonies. Here it is again.

To my excitement, a new series began on Channel 5 on Saturday, called Edwardian Life in Colour. I rarely look at Channel 5, and I'd forgotten how brief the shows appear, but it was interesting, especially towards the end when the films showed holiday makers in Blackpool. There was nothing new, though, and I'm still struggling. As I only have three weeks left, I'd better get on with it.

At the beginning of last week (Tuesday) my second daughter came home after four months cruising round Australia and New Zealand entertaining rich people who can afford to go cruising. When she arrived, she'd actually been awake nearly 48 hours, with a horrible journey home. She arrived, and we asked elder brother round for a family takeaway and confab, as younger son and his American fiancee had finalised their international wedding last week, and there's only three and a half months to organise it.

Following day, off she went on a four day tour with her new band, and American fiancee went back to America. It's all go here, you know. Anyway, she arrived back yesterday - for a week.

Also yesterday evening, younger son discovered a hedgehog in the bag of logs. This delighted me, as despite making sure there is ingress and egress for hedgehogs in the garden, and undergrowth for them to hide in, we've never seen one. I was quite prepared to give up my logs for the good of hogkind, but this morning he'd gone. However, it's a Very Good Sign.

So, on with the third Alexandrian. Can't wait to get going on the next Libby, though...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Return to normal life...

Well, that's done. In many ways, it was the worst three months of my life, and certainly almost ruined the children's Christmas. Younger son and elder daughter (the one with two children) refused to come and see it because it had made my life such a misery. However, elder son and girlfriend did come and see it, and loved it. The cast - dragged in, some of them - delivered a very enjoyable final product. Not sure I had anything to do with it...

Now I've got to get on with the new Alexandrian story, which has rather taken a back seat, particularly over the last month when I've been out every evening and a lot of afternoons, too. Panto don't 'arf take up a lot of time... So now I can sleep well and not worry about having to make myself presentable every day, I've got to get back into routine. Over the last few weeks I discovered an illustrator called John S Goodall, who wrote (?) some delightful little pictorial books, the Edwardian series. There's Entertainments, Summer, Season and Holiday.

There's also Christmas, but I haven't bought that one yet. They've been sitting beside the Big Mac in the office waiting for me and now I've got time to take inspiration from them.

So now it's nose to the grindstone time. Fingers crossed.