Showing posts from 2012

On the right track

Now I know why I used to hate track changes. It was just an excuse for everyone contributing to have a good whinge.

Just had an enlightening experience editing Ice Trekker. Lots of editorial suggestions, style issues, Britishisms ... yeah, yeah. No probs. Then a compliment! I nearly fell off my ergonomic chair.

Comments can be positive.

I'm already editing the sequel in my head before I've even written it.

Beyond the grave

I seem to have touched an editorial nerve with writers at Muse. I just posted a small thing about not being able to add a ‘grave’ accent to the word ‘frontières’ in a dialogue box, and bam! Writers around the globe struggle to get these right. The first reply made me chuckle: ‘That's funny, I thought a grave accent was what you used to narrate Vampire stories.’ Very good. Ha, ha.

Then more frustrated people poured out of the woodwork. The most popular system was to set up a buffer filled with letters with accents and then cut-and-paste as necessary. I prefer key strokes, personally, and I’m quite au fait with cedilla, n tilde and all the French circumflexes and so forth. One book set in the mythical land of Krønagar was filled with Danish-style words using the minuscule, or ø. I found you could type it by hitting control, then forward slash, the hitting an ‘o’.

One Maltese author pitched in and made my head spin, explaining how they have one which is an ‘h’ with a dash across th…

X marks the spot?

I love maps. Here's a diversion: A digital example of why epublishing is so globally interesting. Cheers, Tom

I’ll give you the tip …

Kenilworth is the epitome of middle England. The geographical centre, Meriden, is only down the road from us. As part of its Kenilworthiness, it has a great tip. I know it well, having spent the past few months de-jungling our garden. Eighty bags of clippings, give or take a hernia.

Where is this all leading? Well, not only do I recycle trees, I’m starting to thin down the numbers of books in the house. We can’t move for them! I can’t face selling them, but I thought I’d donate a boxful to charity. Hence, another trip to the tip, where there’s an excellent junkyard shop which raises cash for good causes.

Problem is, they don’t take books any more! Sign of the times.

So, off I went to a charity shop down the road, and they did take books. The customers were genuinely surprised, too. It seems that real books have no resale value, which is sad.

Code: FI

It takes a strong stomach to sort a formatting incident at this time of night. In the biz, it’s ‘Code: FI. Do not alert family members. Even if they understand, they really won’t care.’ I did 17th-century Spanish satire at uni, so I can handle weird stuff. I once read a book that was sooooo long (700 pages) that my supervisor asked me what happened at the end. So formatting? Surely I can deal with formatting. But paragraph marks suddenly appeared when my fingers went too fast - in an email! I don't know what the key stroke shortcut was, but something horrible happened. The paragraph marks were in Italic, too. What can I say? I’m special. SO. I reply to my editor who asks: can you do track changes? Yay. Course I can. Pretending the evil paragraph symbols (in Italics) were invisible. Molto sinistro. It Italic, you'll notice. But now, all is now fixed, courtesy of late-night internet search. I’m exhausted. But I can now fix another editorial thingy. Can’t be bad. I’d rat…

You can quote me

I’m just signing my fourth contract. First Dark Interlude, then Ice Trekker. Last week hubby and I were proper chuffed to get a deal for Half Life, an adventure in Norway in the late 1930s. Think Fascists, fission and film noir.

Then yesterday, imagine my surprise when I received a deal for The Lost Orchid. I have a soft spot for this one – my first completed book.

Now seeing a little cross-eyed, as I’ve just been working out how to replace single quotations with double (and vice versa), without corrupting your regular, common or garden apostrophe. My checklist of ‘search and replace’ looks like some mysterious Holmesian code.

In the end, I used a system I’d devised when working at the West Australian in Perth many moons ago.

The trick is to camouflage all the actual apostrophes by converting every single apostrophe into a dollar sign to get them out of the equation. (’ll, ’d, ’r, ’s etc.)

Next, tackle the opening quotes:  replace ^p‘ with ^p“, and so on. Plus other combinations of […

Arctic thrill

Must be Christmas. Have a third ebook contract! This time it's for Half Life, a film-noir thriller set in Norway in the late 1930s. Nuclear fission, naughty Fascists and lots and lots of snow. Rob and I wrote this one together, which was a blast. I know far too much about 1930s German-built seaplanes, thorium and cyclotrons than is strictly healthy, but hey.

Ice and fire

When we heard about the contract for ICE TREKKER, my husband suggested coming up with a new cocktail to mark the occasion. It seemed appropriate, and having just purchased a bottle of blue curaçao ostensibly for Christmas, I based it on that. Courtesy of my cocktail bible, I adapted the recipe for Galactica, and came up with Ice Trekker, the Cocktail.

So, here goes. Use equal measures vodka (Norwegian, if you can get it), blue curaçao, dry vermouth and fresh lime juice, with a dash of crème de cassis. Shake over ice. Purists could dip the rim of the cocktail glass into some spare lime juice and encrust with sugar for a frosted effect.

The cassis gives the blue a deep, Arctic quality. It really does. And wow, how can something so cold be so volcanic! Also, it made my tongue blue, which was fun.

My next mission is conjure up a beverage to mark the signing of DARK INTERLUDE. I was thinking of Tia Maria or kahlua, but I’ve made some sloe gin for Christmas, and feel an experiment coming …


There’s nothing like being visible to focus one’s attention. I’ve had scores of warm welcome messages from fellow Muse authors on the writers’ forum – thank you, all – and finally got round to finishing off some of those fiddly blog pages that I’ve been putting off. Now I have a virtual catalogue of all my books, complete with blurbs, taglines, synopses, genres, cover mock-ups … I’m exhausted just thinking about how much effort I put into it all. Check it out under 'books'. What next? Machiavelli’s Acolyte beckons. Only problem is, when I left Viktor, my murderous anti-hero, he was stuck in a privy, eavesdropping. Serve him right, of course, but I need to plot-wrangle him out of there. I can feel a long dog walk coming on. Best way to solve it, I think.

Pause for thought

I don’t know why people say they’re scared of a blank page. I like the concept.
It’s supposed to symbolise all sorts of mystic nonsense about writer’s block. Block. Smchock. Call me Ikea Minimalist (actually, she’s a minor character in a steam punk drama, who’s really quite charming), but I like a blank page. At least no-one’s been there before. White carpet of snow, just waiting for my imprint.
Sidebar. I used to work with this magic bloke. He would sit in front of the keyboard (and he was old school - a typewriter was really his MO), and when he needed to birth a feature, he’d gaze into the distance in a mystic way for several seconds, hands hovering over the keyboard, then something would click, and he’d set to, and write this perfect piece of prose. Right take, right balance, right word count. Perfect. Total professional.
My contribution was attempting to do the layout to the perfect length - down to the line. And this was in days when you did your page plans on paper. With a ruler!

Hit and myth

Holding on to my hat. I've just signed a second contract! This time it's for Ice Trekker, a fantasy teen adventure set in the icy wastes of Krønagar, a mysterious uncharted land to the north.

The story was inspired by a trip to Tromso a little while back. It's quite bonkers, full of strange beasts and mystic legends, all with a definite Icelandic flavour. Not Nordic noir, but Greenland gris, perhaps.

I was asked to come up with a 20-word tagline, and all that I could think of was 'In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name? Merlin.'

It's a cracker, and once it was in my head, I knew I didn't stand a chance of thinking of anything else. So, I found myself watching the blooper reels of Arthur et al on YouTube. Never knew Anthony Head was such a giggler. Maybe something will come to me ...

Meanwhile, already pondering a sequel, with the working title of ...
Questiny. I think John Hurt …

Left to my old devices

Woke up the other day – and my Kindle had gone berserk. The screen image was broken up and looked as if someone were trying to communicate from the other side. Cue creepy music. But, the gods were smiling, because it was still in warranty – just. By noon the next day, a brand new one arrived! And there was me all set to boycott Amazon over the tax thing.

Meanwhile, I’d been reduced to reading a real book – left to my old devices, as it were. I found a delightful Gladys Mitchell murder mystery, with a macabre cover and luscious parchment-thick pages. But, blow me down if it wasn’t set in Glasgow! (I’m being haunted by the place.) But the really odd thing is, I’ve become so accustomed to having a single page on display at a time that I find myself distracted by the right-hand page, and I have to stop myself from trying to sneak a quick look before I’ve finished the left. Most peculiar.


When did I start this blog? The idea was to chart the agonies of epublishing. Appeal to wannabe writers in all of us. Agonise over the failures, the nearly made-its, the almosts, the coulda woulda shoulda. SIGH.

I'm rather stonkered to admit I've just e-signed the first contract. I'll let you know who when it's all done and dusted, virtually speaking.

A contract.

I type the words and feel skittish. Yup. A contract. Well, e-contract, but hey. I read my Kindle all the time, despite Flybe telling me I shouldn't. [I sense another post.]

Now, when I say sign, you just use a different font in the boxy thingy. Well, font fetishist that I am, that had me going for ages. Comic Sans? No, I think not. Bookman? Please. No pretensions allowed. Rob suggested Courier. Not bad.

So, guess the font I chose. All right, it was Times New Roman. I owe it to TNR. I've written EVERYTHING in TNR. Everything. It's elegant, clear, unambiguous. You know where you are with TNR. I love …

Introducing Biff

Blog-wrangling, plot-hatching, research – oh, and writing, too. All very well, but how careful are any of us about screen breaks?

All the activities above require fingertips to be glued to the keyboard, eyes to the screen and bum to the ergonomic chair. Not healthy. We are a physio nightmare.
I am perfectly decently workaholic, but there is someone who obliges me to insert intervals into my work-filled fury. Introducing Biff Screen-Break. And here he is.

Who is this mysterious character, you may ask?
He is my four-legged canine hero who ensures I don’t suffer from cramped fingers, sore wrists and stinging eyes. 
It’s not his real name, of course. It’s his Super Dog alter ego persona that comes into force every half an hour or so. First, I hear the humph as he emerges from his slumber. Then there’s the light tinkle of the collar. The long stretch. The subtle exhalation of wind escaping from his nether passageway. Sorry. But I know what’s coming next … The cold, wet nose under the armpit. N…

Greenhouse gasbagging

Curious how life’s minutiae can overlap. There I was, busy completing pages for the blog companion to The Lost Orchid, blissfully dredging up all manner of (copyright-free) images of glasshouses, orchids, Darwin and eccentric plant hunters. All the while I was tapping away, I was thanking the rain gods for being so busy and preventing me from having to do any actual horticulture myself.

The afternoon drew on, the sun set, the blackbirds retreated squawking into the shrubbery. Let’s have a fire, tonight, said I. Time to stop work, said he. I fished out an old mag, and stopped short, having nearly ripped up a genteel article on … Mrs Darwin’s Greenhouse. What a gem it was, tucked away in a rather upmarket varsity publication, featuring ‘secret Cambridge’. I’m a sucker for Victorian glasshouses (and in another weird coincidence, I live in Glasshouse Lane), and this piece was all about the conservatory acquired by Emma Darwin, wife to the naturalist, in 1883, after his death.

The de…

X marks the spot

Did you ever use old teabags to stain paper for a treasure map? When my daughter was still at school, we had heaps of often quite hysterical fun aging stuff for projects. We did all sorts of daft things: softened up old cheese coverings to mould false wax seals, ‘weathered’ parchment by setting fire to the edges (several times, as the first attempts usually had to be dumped in the washing up bowl for fear of triggering the smoke alarm), poured salt, broken pasta and even lentils, so help me, onto puddles of PVA glue …

Now Lauren’s off at uni doing History of Art at Edinburgh, I found I was pining for such lovely messy arts and crafts, until I decided to use my rather Jurassic graphics package to create a detailed, antique-style map to accompany a fantasy adventure book called Ice Trekker.
It turned out to be infinitely more fiddly than doing it by hand, but with the help of Creative Commons, crazy free fonts with odd names and some sneaky text editing tricks I used when I was a sub-ed…

In my humble opinion ...

What's a book worth? Love this crazy move which lets the punters decide. All power to the independents.
Pay-what-you-want ebooks 'bundle' makes $1.1 m in two weeks

Meanwhile, on another planet, justice is served.
Amazon to be stripped of tax advantage on sale of ebooks

Interesting times.

Life and death in Fife

You submit a manuscript. You wait to hear some promising news ... And then all you get is junk mail from Tesco and Argos about furniture and household products that just fills you full of sighs.

I can be patient. I can be good. To prevent implosion, I actually found the time to write a review for the most delightful historical murder mystery book I've read in simply ages. If you have a penchant for an 18th-century Austenesque tale, with pre-Gothic gloom, then the stories by the modestly brilliant Lexie Conyngham are the most perfect offering as the nights draw in ... at Scoggie Castle. (I can hear Brian Cox in my head already.) I'm currently reading Knowledge of Sins Past. You simply can't say it in an English voice. You just can't.

The next trick is to do the casting, when one has one of those nights when one can't sleep for the high winds in the battlements. Major Keyes? David Robb, of course, but I'm stuck on who should play Murray of Letho himself. Ewan, ma…

Blow-by-blow account

There I was, taking the opportunity to ping out a mss to a rather encouraging ebook publisher, when I looked at the date. Now October 16 may not mean much to you, but the phrase, The Great Storm, should.

I was a subeditor in Cambridge at the time, the morning after the storm hit. The one Michael Fish stuffed up? Now you remember. I'd been out with the other subs the night before and had the worst hangover of my life, and then the bastards made me splash sub. I had to collate ALL the news stories that were pouring in from all over the UK. The only bigger chaos than the landscape of southern Britain was in my brain. I made it through, but it's all a bit of a blur.

So, I did what mad writers do. Made a book out of it, combining all the newsroom stuff with a mishmash of my personal existence. I don't know why, but this book turned into a RANT. The most cathartic thing I've ever produced. It's also the first time I've ever typed f*** so many times.

Journos. You kn…

Dark fonts of knowledge

Formatting. We need it, but I'd rather we didn't. It does comes in handy when submitting. Not to the Dark Lord, but just doing the manuscript thing as regards publishers (e-types or otherwise).

Formatting. It's deep and it's mystic. It's an Arthurian-style bane of life. I know this because I'm a Celt. With a C. My grandfather actually changed his surname from Celt to Kelt, thinking it might seem less scary. I like Kelt with a K. I also like Celt with a C. Either way it means: don't mess with me. We Kelts still think about hanging the heads of our beaten enemies over the porch just to upset the postman.

Formatting. The Microsoft version is simply diabolical, but at least one can subject it to one's will. To make it function, one needs to drink some dark mystic liquor and shift into Mordred mode. Only then is it at your command. And never check 'add to template' if you value your soul.

Progress, indeed

I'm still in shock. An ebook publisher has just sent a charming personal reply within hours of my submission - apologising for a six-week delay. Is that all? Six weeks? Pff. Six weeks is nothing. What alternative universe is this? Call me cynical, but it seemed as if certain old school publishers actually bragged about a long wait as if to justify their existence.

So, not only is six weeks relatively short in the scale of things, but I was actually encouraged to chase up the response. Quote: 'Feel free to check on progress. I won't be offended!' Gadzooks. Wouldn't happen in the old days. I've seen comments warning anxious writers not to get in touch, with veiled warnings that their precious manuscript might just be dumped in the slush pile unread.

I like this way of working. And I'm off to submit another mss to another publisher right away ...

What's dis, den?

If you're writing, you need a den. Mine is populated by orchids. Not flashy ones, really. Ikea specials.

However, one particular specimen is a gem. Bought October 2011, it flowered throughout a strange winter, with its glorious fuchsia colours. Then into spring. On through summer. Now it's nearly October again. Still it flowers. AND. It has more buds. All for £4.99 from a Swedish furniture emporium.

It gives one faith. I look at the buds, the flowers, the glossy leaves. When I'm deterred by difficulties, I think to myself: If this plant can keep going, then so can I.

No small thing

Funny thing about book covers. A good or even excellent example may or may not inspire you want to read it. A bad one will actively dissuade you.

A chap writing in The Grauniad ponders the future, complaining that the small thumbnails are 'inscrutable jumbles of pixels that tell us little about the work'. I disagree. Personally, there's skill in creating the right look. After all, postage stamps can be a work of art. Like this, my latest read set in Iceland. If that cover doesn't say Nordic Noir, I'm a pickled herring.

I don't know about anyone else, but I ALWAYS go back and linger on the cover image, despite the fact that the Kindle starts me at chapter one. I go back. I savour. I browse. I dally over dedications, dates and details. It's naughty of the Kindle to beam me in at that point and I would dearly love like to override this particular function.

Furthermore, I won't abandon my endless fiddling about on Adobe Photoshop to achieve the perfect ambi…

So, the strange story of thorium ...

Never thought I'd end up writing about an obscure chemical element.

Research. Love it.

Guilt-free reading

Just tidying up my Kindle, and it struck me how my reading tastes have changed in a few short months.

Old pattern: go on holiday, gorge on masses of quirky murder mysteries. Get home. Slow down, almost stop. Make excuses. Feel guilty.

New pattern: read anything and everything, all the time, including more non-fiction, eg Machiavelli's The Prince, to political texts on the rise and fall of the radical left in Scotland. Mixed in with quirky murder mysteries, of course. Favourite so far? Morgue Drawer Four - an English translation of a German detective novel.

Not bad. Wonder what I'll be reading in the next few months?

Big deal

Another fascinating insight into the fast-moving world of epublishing. Nice to know that someone needs our books!

Top ten blogs ...

Starting with my personal fantasy favourite …

The Creature from the Blog Lagoon - sci-fi news and monster movie gossip

Blog Man! - the site behind the man intent on outing infamous archaeologists

Mabinblogion - e-myths for Welsh readers

Blog Star - Patrick Moore’s secret shame

Bloglodytes United - soccer gen for sunlight-shunning couch potatoes

Egg Blog - a collection of lacto-free concoctions for veggies not vegans

Blog Spawn - fun forum for frog fetishists and newt fanciers

Blogwarts - cosmetic tips for acne-suffering teen wizards

Blogpipes Wa’ Hae - a Scottish site for sore ayes

Haven’t the Bloggiest - Facebook.

E is for exploitation

I'm all for helping students battle with Ucas, but this ebook is simply exploitative. Called The Guardian Guide to University Clearing ebook, it preys on the hysterical A-level adolescent or their anxious parents. I shall not deem it with a link.


So many websites offer a comfortable virtual cardboard box for the homeless writer. It's hard to decide where to curl up. Authonomy is a caring sharing site. Have to say, I wasn't sure at first, but some lovely reviews were a warming boost. Check out a few chapters for freehere.
Reinventing is good. Various agents have suggested this and that. Orchid Wars? Perhaps not. The Lost Orchid? Has some mystique. After much internal wrangling (tautology check: is there any other sort?), the orchid thingy will be The Lost Orchid. Actually ... not a bad choice, given the latest Churchill painting for details of reference. Check the orchid blog. So, now activate redesign of cover and back to the original premise before old-school agents meddled ... and hey presto.


One tries to keep up, but every so often there's a story that's written in a different language:
The Numinous Place hits $75k target on Kickstarter as Russell Crowe chips inMark Staufer's ebook/app project will blend video, audio, images and text on iPhone, iPad, Android and other devicesCan anyone translate, please?

Go geeks go


Sci-Fi campaign bids to convert rare novels to ebooks ... a specialist New York bookshop is aiming rescue out-of-print books and provide them for free online ... acc to Grauniad. So, books and ebooks can coexist in the same universe?

Cover version

Well, I thought about hiring someone to design a cover, but ended up doing it myself. Herewith the new-look sepia-themed cover for Dark Interlude ... a tense post-World War One adventure with political undertones ...

Another quick edit and then it's off into the ether and beyond.

Reading record says UK Kindle users are buying four times as many books as they were before owning a Kindle in what it calls ‘a renaissance of reading’.Apparently, sales of Kindle ebooks are now outstripping those of printed books.How the publishing industry is changing. According to The Grauniad, unaudited figures from the start of 2012, show that for every 100 hardback and paperback book sold on its site, customers downloaded 114 ebooks.

Ebooks big in NY

If talking about bestseller lists give you stomach ache, here’s a bit of soothing seltzer.Four self-published authors will have a total of seven novels on the New York Times ebook bestseller list this weekend, according The Grauniad. My favourite man, founder of self-publishing powerhouse Smashwords Mark Coker, is predicting the number is only going to grow.The highest-ranking is Colleen Hoover with Slammed, in eighth place, ahead of ebooks by James Patterson and Karin Slaughter. I’ll type that again. James Patterson and Karin Slaughter. Then there’s RL Mathewson’s Playing for Keeps in 16th place. Lyla Sinclair’s Training Tessa is 17th and Bella Andre has three self-published romance novels in the chart. A case of multi-storeyed success?‘We knew this day was coming. Self-published ebook authors are landing on the New York Times bestseller list in a big way [and] lightning struck multiple times this week,’ says Mark. Go Mark. I love his enthusiasm.

Love those links

Another project for self. Compile the ultimate list of epublishing links. I'm sorely tired of rummaging about my chaotic bookmarks, so I've gone back to the beginning. Early days yet, but I've started with all my favourites.

Comments? Adds?

Eeeh, publishing, eh?

‘Nobody knows what sells. More so now because the market's changing so fundamentally because of Kindle and electronic publishing. With literary production, it's going to change the sorts of stories that we hear, which is amazing.’And a juicy stat. There were 211,000 self-published books out last year, 50 per cent up on the previous year.Quotes from The Grauniad to lift your spirits on a Monday morning.

Tried 'em all

If you can’t write intelligently, write comedically. If you can’t write comedically, write offensively. These are the three kinds of stories people remember: ones that make them think, ones that make them laugh, and ones that piss them off.

Found this on Writerly Gold.

Epiphany vs e-piffle

I’m writing another book. Given that I’m a bit stuck on Chapter 7, with my anti-hero stuck in a water closet, I thought I’d start a blog instead of cleaning out the kitchen drawers. Besides, I wanted to share my epiphany.

For Christmas, I bought myself a Kindle, and it changed the way I looked at the written word, and I’ve looked at a lot over years, some of them my own.

Just for a laugh, I even published my first book, The Lost Orchid. Even sold some. Then, I slipped into the doldrums, still sending out my new manuscripts to regular agents and publishers, albeit via email.

Enough! After downloading the free e-book by Mark Coker of Smashwords, I am upping the ante on my personal reinvention. He likes authors! He salutes authors, especially the unpublished aspiring ones. I feel all warm and fuzzy, instead of cold and despairing.

So, at six o’clock last night, I skipped the Agatha Christie repeat on ITV and started up a blog in my own name, which is rather scary. The grand plan is to se…