2015-05-27T11:42:37.720+01:00Back in July 2006, as you doubtless remember, I mentioned a well reviewed book by Robert Eggleton: Rarity from the Hollow. Well, it's still in print, from a different publisher, and in Kindle, and still getting good reviews. As witness: The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several yearsRarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton is the most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several years. Who could think of an intergalactic handbook for entrepreneurs? Who could turn a tree-hugger into a paranormal event of death-defying significance? Who could create characters so believable, so funny, so astonishingly human (and not)?Robert Eggleton, that’s who.I put this book on my IPhone, and it followed me everywhere for several days. Strangers smiled politely at my unexpected laughter in the men’s room toilet stall. They looked away as I emerged, waving the IPhone at them as if it might explain something significant.Oddly, the novel explains a great deal that has become significant in our society. Rarity from the Hollow is satire at its best and highest level. It is a psychological thriller, true to traits of mankind (and other species). It is an animal rights dissertation (you will laugh when you understand why I write that). It celebrates the vilest insect on earth (make that Universe).The characters created by Robert Eggleton will bug your brain long after you smoke, uh, read the final page. Thanks for the laughs, the serious thoughts, the absolute wonder of your mind, Mr. Eggleton. A truly magnificent job.Temple Emmet Williams, Author, former Reader’s Digest editor [...]
2014-09-16T09:29:57.114+01:00Loren Kantor has completed another woodcut of a famous author: this time Virginia Woolf. (For Loren's portrait of Hemingway, click here.)
2014-03-16T19:49:43.125+00:00You will be thrilled, indifferent, or mildly interested to know that I have now completed all seven volumes in my guides for writers series.
2014-01-24T19:50:14.964+00:00Just a brief note to let you know that the fifth in my series of Writer's Guides is now available. Title: A Writer's Guide to Traditional Publishing.Here's the blurb: This is a book which will tell you all you need to know about traditional publishing.Publishing is a business which goes back over 500 years, and if you’re going to succeed as a writer you need to know how the business has developed and changed over that time. Otherwise you can make serious mistakes, with long-lasting effects.The aims of this book are therefore as follows:(i) To provide you with a short history of publishing, from the beginning of the trade in the late fifteenth century to the present day;(ii) To enable you to understand how likely – or unlikely – it is that you will be able to interest a traditional publisher in your work;(iii) To enable you make informed and realistic decisions on what sort of books to write, and how much time and effort you might sensibly devote to that work;(iv) And, finally, to show you that there are now more ways than one to make your work available to the reading public.A Writer’s Guide to Traditional Publishing is the fifth in Michael Allen’s series of practical, down-to-earth guides for writers; the previous ones deal with emotion, viewpoint, style, and success. This one will be most relevant to those who write fiction, whether short stories or novels – but non-fiction writers will also find it useful. Michael Allen’s first novel was published over fifty years ago (1963). He is the author of numerous other novels and short stories (some written under pen-names) which have variously been published in hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, in the UK, USA, France and Denmark. He has also run two small publishing companies.Just for the record, all the Writer's Guides have now been reduced in price to 99 cents, which is about 77 pence in the UK. [...]
2013-11-20T09:53:55.974+00:00Here is another in Loren Kantor's series of woodcuts of writers. (I mentioned other examples here.)
2013-10-26T16:46:47.279+01:00Some time ago, specifically on 24 September 2004, I wrote a description on this blog of a web site set up by one Andrew Malcolm: it went by the name of Akme, and it took the form, mainly, of a critical (highly critical) examination of the activities of Oxford University Press and other parts of said University.
2013-08-13T11:37:37.706+01:00I seem to have been around for quite a long time now, and the world has changed while I've been watching it. But one unchanging characteristic of the world is that it always seems to be crammed full of people who want to be writers. Myself foremost among them, of course.Occasionally, some of these people even ask me for advice. And my instinct is usually to suck my teeth and say, 'Ooh, I wouldn't go there if I were you, my lad.' Or 'young lady', as appropriate. But they never take any notice. They just assume I'm joking.Same with most things, I suppose. Young people always want to do something that's bad for them. Witness the schoolchildren whom I observe virtually every afternoon. Not a single one of them can pass the shops in town without emerging with hands full of Coke bottles, bars of chocolate, burgers, ice creams, and all like that.But I digress, as usual. The mind wanders as one gets older.Given the vast numbers of ambitious young, and not-so-young, writers, I suppose the sensible thing to do would be to set up some sort of consultancy business, under the terms of which I charge substantial sums of money for assessing manuscripts. Or some such. But frankly I can't be arsed. What I do instead is write the occasional book which I hope will be of genuine assistance to those who are setting out on the road to fame, fortune, and (of course) a vastly improved sex life, through the simple art of writing fiction. It can't be all that difficult, can it?Well, we shall see. And so will they.I hereby announce a new series of short books, written by myself, on various aspects of the writer's art. These are intended to act as pocket guides, so to speak, on particular aspects of narrative technique and related matters.The first three are now available. At present they are published only in Kindle ebook form, and they normally cost about the same as a cup of coffee -- depending, course, on where you buy your morning reviver.However! As an incentive to those who don't yet know me, and as a small reward to those who follow thhis distressingly infrequent blog, for a short period each of these books will be available free! Details below.Free offer periods as follows:Emotion: 14-18 AugustViewpoint: 19-23 AugustStyle: 24-28 AugustHie thee, as ever, to your local branch of Amazon, which is probably going to be either the American one or the British one.[...]
2013-06-21T20:10:00.204+01:00Just to let you know that my latest book for writers, How to Write a Novel that Works, is available FREE in Kindle format as of 22 June for 5 days.
2013-04-13T17:01:06.977+01:00I was never a university lecturer, much less a professor, but I do have two higher degrees in Education -- MEd and PhD. I even wrote a book about higher education: The Goals of Universities. I think I did once find a scanned copy of that book somewhere on the net, but a quick Google doesn't make it obvious. And it's out of print.
2013-02-21T19:49:50.202+00:00I've been doing much work on setting up my numerous Kindle books to make nearly all of them free at some point in the coming weeks. The quickest way to check what is on free offer at any time is to go to my author page on the US Amazon or the UK version.
2013-01-25T11:47:26.221+00:00I forget now which particular blog or web site it was that first pointed me towards the video of Chip Kidd's presentation to a TED audience, on the design of book covers -- but my hat is lifted to them, whoever it was.
2013-01-15T09:52:45.090+00:00Should you be planning to visit Shakespeare country. or thereabouts, be sure to visit Rebekah Owens's blog Travels with my Oxygen. Full of good advice on where to go to eat well, and how to foment political unrest, where to become the next J.K. Rowling, et cetera.
2013-01-10T10:19:09.431+00:00(image) Well, well, it took a while -- actually about twenty years -- but finally Penguin did the obvious thing and reissued Professor John Yudkin's absolutely classic study of sugar: Pure, White and Deadly. This book has been out of print for many a long year, and when you could find it the price was usually in three figures. A few years ago I had to borrow a copy from my local library's county archive.
2013-01-04T18:59:12.203+00:00Englishmen of a certain age -- let's say over seventy -- tend to have a grudging respect for the German army. I'm not quite sure why, but it probably has something to do with two world wars, the flower of English youth slaughtered in the first, 20 million dead, worldwide, in the second. And we tend to remember incidents such as the invasion of Russia in winter (Napoleon did it and lost), the battle of Stalingrad, and so on.One way and another, us old guys have a mental image of the German army as a vast assembly of bullet-headed thugs, with masses of first-class ordnance made by world-class German engineers. And even now we keep seeing these history documentaries showing the inexorable advances made by these relentless buggers.It's worth noting that even when it came to the Battle of Stalingrad, when everything conceivable was against the Germans -- the weather, the lack of supplies, the sheer number of the Russians launched against them -- even then the Germans were hard to shift. Stalin's approach was to send boat after boat across the river, where they were machine-gunned down to one or two survivors, as often or not. But one or two was enough. Stalin sent another boat. And another. He had lots of peasants at his disposal.All of that being the case, we ancient Limies tend to think of the German army as a hard-nosed bunch. Jeez, we mutter to ourselves, I hope we don't have to fight those buggers again -- not till I'm safely dead, anyway.But you know what? We can sleep easy! Yes, there is absolutely no cause for alarm. A report in today's Times says it all. The link may not get you through Rupert's firewall (the strategy isn't going to work, Rupert, I keep telling you), so I'll give you the gist of the report here.It was once dreaded for its military might and unfailing discipline. But the German Army is now struggling to hold on to recruits, with almost one in three dropping out after six months of basic training.See, what happens is this. The recruits turn up cos they rather fancy themselves in one of those uniforms -- a real girl-puller. But then they're a bit surprised by what they find. They have to share a room with other men. They have to polish their own boots! They can't smoke except during certain times. And there are all these bossy types strutting about and expecting recruits to do what they tell them! Whatever next? Result: 30.4 per cent drop out within six months.So, I think we can all relax. If and when the German army invades somewhere uncomfortable, such as Russia in winter, or even Manchester on a rainy day in August, the recruits are going to take a long hard look at what they can expect. And if the Generals can't guarantee of supply of the young men's favourite hairspray, the great German war machine is going to say, 'Nah. No way. Fuck that for a game of soldiers.' And then they're going to piss off home.For those of you who would like to read in detail about the glories of the once-unstoppable Wehrmacht, and just how difficult they were to batter into submission, William Shirer gives the best overall picture in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.For a painfully detailed account of one battle, go to Antony Beevor's Stalingrad. [...]
2012-12-18T20:04:41.113+00:00It seems that The Book Designer web site runs a monthly competition for the best designs for an ebook cover (or e-book cover, as the site chooses to spell it). If you follow this link you will arrive at the page recording the winners for November 2012.The results make interesting viewing, and almost without exception they confirm my belief that most ebook covers -- or at least those designed by 'professionals' -- are grossly overburdened by information and are generally less than wonderful in meeting what ought to be the design brief.Anyone with any wit surely knows that ebook covers are going to be viewed mainly in thumbnail form. And that is the key format, because that's the one which determines whether a potential reader cum buyer is going to bother to look at the sales page at all.But... If you got to Amazon.com, books, fiction, last 30 days, and list by publication date, you get a reasonable set of examples of what is being offered by way of 'design' for the covers of today's new ebook novels. And most of these designs, quite frankly, are bloody useless. Here are three chosen pretty much at random from the first page:In each case the title and/or author's name is largely illegible, at least to my elderly eyes, and the illustration gives very little clue as to the genre. The one on the left might be a Regency romance, but I wouldn't bet money on it.My own view (doubtless hopelessly biased) is that any reasonably computer-savvy author can easily design her own cover, and in most cases it will turn out to be at least as good as something commissioned from a professional. Why? Because the professionals (on the evidence of Amazon) seem to be still thinking in terms of mass-market paperback.All a good ebook cover needs is a highly legible title, highly legible author name, and perhaps an image of some kind to reinforce the perception of genre which is created (ideally) by the title.Here's a good example which author Camille Laguire designed for her own book:Many of the other honorable mentions in this months's Book Designer competition were also designed by the book's author. Go take a look.[...]
2012-12-12T11:26:41.422+00:00Despite my best efforts, there seems to be less and less time for writing these days. However, I have managed to turn out the odd short story. (Odd in more ways than one.) The Rescue of Bertie's Mummy is my latest.
2012-11-30T16:21:47.683+00:00watch his latest post.
2012-11-03T21:01:12.344+00:00London's Overthrow is a small paperback -- about 7" by 4.5" -- and it runs to about 96 pages, including the prelims and a few photos at the end.The book is printed on paper which, as in a newspaper, allows the reproduction of a number of the author's colour photographs; these are done in what I take to be a deliberately impressionistic style. The publisher is the Westbourne Press.The text began life (in a shorter form) as an article in the New York Times in March 2012.As for China Mieville, who he? Answer, a very distinguished science-fiction writer: he is a three-times winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and has also won the Hugo, World Fantasy and British Science Fiction awards.And what are we to make of it all? The title suggests that London has been overthrown. And if so, by whom?Speaking as someone who lives in the provinces, I can only say that, on the rare occasions when I go there, I am struck by the almost complete lack of Londoners. In a restaurant or a hotel, it is rare to be served by someone whose first language in English. As for Cockneys -- damned if I've seen or heard one for decades. Is that circumstance the same as being overthrown? I don't know. But the character of the place has certainly changed, within my own adult lifetime.Mieville seems to have wandered around this ancient city, poking his nose into obscure as well as famous places, and giving us, not unreasonably, his impressions of what he sees.Inequality is one such feature. Rich and poor. Forty per cent of London's children live in poverty, he tells us. But poverty by what measure, and whose definition? Certainly nothing remotely comparable with the nineteenth century. All these poor children wear shoes, and I would bet good money that the majority of them carry a phone.The picture of London that I get from these pages is of a patchwork of cultures. The Brick Lane mosque, for instance, was formerly a synagogue and before that a church. And Mieville suggests, if I read him aright, that Britain is seeing a mutation of its 'traditional' fascism into a form fixated on these new scapegoats.I don't think I recognise that 'traditional' fascism, though it's an arguable point, I suppose, based on the UK's history of colonies and Empire. The past was indeed pretty vile in some respects. But would we be better off, for instance, with Sharia law? Would our women welcome being forced into arranged marriages, and being chopped into small pieces if they demurred? I hardly think so.At the very end, Mieville encounters an old Londoner who is pretty depressed by the scene he now surveys. 'It starts this bitterness,' he says. 'Many become hopeless... Well, let us just wait for things to -- for chaos, really to take place.'This is, I fear, all too realistic an attitude.Speaking for myself, I am at a loss to explain how it is that the UK has not already descended into interracial violence on a massive scale. I speak here not so much of London as of the great industrial cities of the north. The streets where my mother and father grew up are now solidly Asian. For block after block.And what do the displaced working-class Brits make of this? They seem to accept it. 'At least,' said my elderly aunt as I drove her past my grandmother's old house, 'they are maintaining it well.' This, mark you, where groups of Asian youths have recently been convicted of grooming underage white girls for sexual exploitation.What is the explanation for this lack of violence?Only a supreme op[...]
2012-10-16T19:25:40.981+01:00Don't know about you, but I'm not exactly short of books to read, so I don't often need to go searching for something new. However, I do keep my eyes open, and occasionally the Saturday edition of the Times (London) runs a column on new crime books. Also, occasionally, science fiction. But I don't think it ever stoops so low as to list new romances.Anyway, couple of months ago the Times made mention of a new crime novel by Marek Krajewski. Sounded intriguing, so I looked him up.Krajewski is a former academic who taught at the University of Wroclaw, which is now in Poland. And until 1945 Wroclaw was known as Breslau, and it was part of Germany.If you live in the eastern part of England, you will have learnt that there is nothing between the east coast and the Urals. Nothing, that is, that would stop or slow down the Russian winter wind. Of course, the wind is not really cold by the time it gets to England. Not cold by Arctic standards. But by God it's pretty bloody chilly by English standards. And the point is, you see, there's just a big flat northern European plain until you get to the Urals.What that means is that there are no natural boundaries. Hence lots of wars over territory. Hence cities changing hands and names. There are only a few rivers to divide the plain up a bit: Vistula, Oder, Elbe, Weser, Rhine. And although they are pretty big rivers they're not big enough to be much of an obstacle to a determined army. So Poland, for instance, has tended either to be very strong and big (1611, my memory tells me, was the biggest it got, but I may be misremembering), or it has been small and weak.All of which is a bit of background. What you need to know, relative to Marek Krajewski, is that in the 1920s and 1930s, one particular city was known as Breslau, and was part of Germany, and now it's called Wroclaw and it's in Poland. In 2016, should you care, it's going to be the European City of Culture.So, it is in his home town of Breslau, in the 1920s and thereafter, that Marek Krajewski has chosen to set his series of crime novels. There are four of them so far, and I understand that there will be a fifth. They are translated from Polish, and the UK publisher is MacLehose, part of Quercus. The UK publisher has given several of the books a striking set of covers by Andrzej Klimowski.Krajewski's lead character, and series detective, is Eberhard Mock, head of the police, and a complicated fellow indeed. Drinks too much, beats his wife Sophie, and so on. He walks (or, more often, gets driven down) the mean streets, which seem to be lined with brothels, casinos where women have to serve as sex slaves to pay off debts (one of said slaves being, at one point, the unhappy Sophie), and so forth. The place is thick with Nazis, freemasons, debauched aristocrats, and all like that.Question is, can I wholeheartedly recommend these books? Well, yes. Up to a point. I suspect that you need to be interested in the history of Europe in the twentieth century. You need to keep reading when part of you says surely there must be a more interesting book in my pile. But on the whole, it's a rewarding series. Perhaps, if it doesn't sound snobby, one could say that these books are for crime-fiction connoisseurs. I've read two so far, and intend to keep going.[...]
2012-10-15T20:39:32.697+01:00Some months ago I stumbled across the blog written by American author Dean Wesley Smith. Dean also has a web site which describes his thirty-year (and counting) career as a writer. Most of his output has, of course, been published in the pre-digital era, and the total so far is over 90 novels and 100 short stories. So he's a man of some experience.I find that Dean has a habit of publishing blog posts which say exactly what I would say if I had the time and the energy (in addition to doing some fiction writing), so I thought I would just link to his sites and leave it to you to explore as you wish (or not).If you are a wannabe writer, or even a published author with a book that you are trying to promote, there is much here for you to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. (That last bit, by the way, is a quote from the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, 1662 version. You may think it's a bit poncey of me to quote such stuff, but I heard it in church many times in my schooldays and it has kind of stuck. In any case, it neatly encapsulates my thinking, and advice, on Mr Smith's dicta.)Dean's view is that the main thing you need to do as a writer is produce a substantial body of work. Stop pissing around, stop reading all that twitter rubbish, and get your head down for a solid ten years or so.What prompted me to write this little recommendation was Dean's post of 15 October 2012. In it, he notes that all the professional marketing skills in the world will not help you if your novel is not, actually, very good. I have the distinct impression that one effect of the digital revolution is that some readers are not much influenced by reputation. In fact they may not even care that you have one. All they care about is the story. Does it grip at the start? Does it continue to hold their attention? There are numerous examples nowadays of ebooks which are, by normal publishing standards, semi-literate and unpublishable, yet they sell to readers who aren't too fussy about all that spelling and punctuation stuff but just wanna read a good story -- on their smartphone or tablet or whatever. Books? What are they? Oh, those funny square things people carry around.Anyway, here's the sort of thing Dean has to say, and it's just as true of me as it is of him:Folks, sorry, but if you have only written one novel or few short stories, promoting a pile of crap just won’t help you.And trust me, I wrote some really heaping, steaming piles of crap when I started out. We all do. And my piles of crap were pretentious because I came from a poetry background and thought I knew everything about writing. They were rewritten to death because I believed that was the way to create art. They had zero thought to the art of storytelling or what a reader on the other side might be thinking when reading it.They stank up the place and I had no idea at the time.Looking back, I have no idea what would have happened to me at that point in the 1970s when I wrote those early stories if I had the modern world of easy access to publishing. I imagine I would have published and promoted them to death and wondered why readers were so stupid as to not understand my great art.Luckily I didn’t, so I just sent them to editors who paid no attention and sent me form rejections.Yup. Me too.[...]