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Grumpy Old Bookman

A blog about books and publishing, aimed at both readers and writers. Listed by the Guardian in 2005 as one of the top ten literary blogs.

Updated: 2016-10-13T11:49:31.643+01:00


Robert Eggleton: Rarity from the Hollow


Back 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 [...]

The real Virginia Woolf?


Loren Kantor has completed another woodcut of a famous author: this time Virginia Woolf. (For Loren's portrait of Hemingway, click here.)

To my eye, this woodcut makes the troubled lady look more peaceful and beautiful than most photographic images of her. Nice work.

Loren's woodcuts are available for sale via his web site.

I was never a great enthusiast for Mrs Woolf's novels, but Orlando made a wonderful film.

More Guides for Writers


You will be thrilled, indifferent, or mildly interested to know that I have now completed all seven volumes in my guides for writers series.

The previous post described number 5. Number 6 in the series is on Literary Agents:

And number 7 is on Career Planning.

More to the point, perhaps, there is now an Omnibus Edition, containing all seven of the guides, this time arranged in a more logical order (I hope) than the one in which they were written. By buying the Omnibus Edition you will save yourself half the cost of buying all seven separately.

All are available from whichever branch of Amazon you favour, and only from there, in Kindle format.

A Writer's Guide to Traditional Publishing


Just 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. [...]

Mr Accident-Prone


Here is another in Loren Kantor's series of woodcuts of writers. (I mentioned other examples here.)


I knew quite a lot of the Hemingway life story, but until I read Loren's accompanying article I hadn't realised that the old bastard had such a history of accidents. Extraordinary.

Akme another


Some 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.

Well, if you kick the shins of a big boy, over and over again, there may well come a day when he loses patience and thumps you into the middle of next week. Which is what appears to have happened recently to Andrew. In October last, his original web site, hosted by BT, was wiped out, and all links to that site, including my own, were rendered useless. More recently, a replacement web site was somehow 'airbrushed out of all the search engines'.

What this means, in practice, is that it is difficult to find parts of the Akme site which may be of practical value to all those involved in doing business with publishers: I have in mind, for instance, the Akme Literary and Charity Law Library. This library, which is more accurately perhaps a list of highly relevant case histories and well informed discussions, contains some fascinating stuff.

However, all is not lost. Andrew Malcolm has now set up shop elsewhere, and, with fingers crossed, has tried to resume doing business as usual.

So, for the main Akme site, you should now go to There you can follow links to, for instance, the law library.

A Writer's Guide to Success


Further to what I was saying in August, I have another book out in my series of guides for writers. This one is called A Writer's Guide to Success -- subtitled A Serious Look at a Serious Subject.

As was the case with earlier books in this series, this one is going to be available free for five days. So get your keyboard in gear and visit the appropriate Amazon. Probably the main US site or the UK one.

Free dates are 14 to 18 September 2013, inclusive.

A Writer's Guide to Fame, Fortune, and Fantastic Orgasms


I 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.[...]

How to Write a Novel that Works


Just 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.

Subtitled A Straightforward, Practical Guide this tells you everything important that I have learnt about writing fiction in the past fifty years. As I may have mentioned before, my first novel was published in England in 1963. So actually I have been collecting information about how to do the job for much longer than fifty years.

For the US Kindle version click here.

And if you buy in the UK, go here.




The art of the woodcut is not yet dead. Loren Cantor
does some interesting work on arts-related subjects, such as Edgar Allan Poe. Worth a look.

The joy of Academe


I 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.

Anyway, point is, I have more than a passing interest in the state of the university. So I cannot let this article about the plight of the would-be professor (in America) go unremarked: Academia's indentured servants.

And you'll get a bit of a surprise when you find out where it's published.

Much of what the author says is as relevant to the position of writers as it is to would-be academics. And of course the two worlds interact in the shape of creative-writing courses.

Well, I've had my say on those sorts of thing, and the people who teach on them or pay the fees. I can think of much better ways to spend one's time and money.

PS Thanks to Books Inq for the link.

Loadsa free stuff


I'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.

There, if you make sure that you've clicked the Kindle heading, you will see at a glance what happens to be free at that time.

As of the time and date of writing this post, for example, the following are free:

Lucius the Club -- crime novella
Amadea -- literary/fantasy short story
Wolla-wolla-wolla-wolla-woo! -- humorous short story (actually it's about no. 35 on the bestsellers list for free short stories)

Soon to come on the freebie schedule, for five days at a time, are:

Mr Fenman's Farewell to his Readers -- literary/fantasy novella -- from 23 Feb.
How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous -- women's fiction novel -- from 24 Feb.
Daphne Before She Died -- women's fiction novel -- from 25 Feb.

And more, yet to be scheduled.

When you look at this list, you're probably wondering why I write in so many different genres, instead of sticking to one thing and building a readership.

Yes, I wonder that too.

What is it about the Blairs?


In the UK we had, until recently, a well known writer of what the trade thinks of as 'women's fiction'. The author's name was Emma Blair.

For at least the last decade I've been aware that Emma Blair was actually a man. Can't remember where I picked this up, but I do remember having a phone conversation with his editor, several years ago, in which I asked if it would upset her if I referred to her author's true gender in print. No, she said, it wouldn't, as the fact was fairly widely known. Anyway, I have to report, courtesy of Wikipedia, that our author died of diabetes in 2011.

To take a look-see at what Emma Blair produced over a period of 30 years, go to our old reliable friend Fantastic Fiction. There you will see that Emma was undeniably a bloke, true name Iain. And he was a real Scot, where they tend to spell simple Ian in various different ways.

Just how big a seller Iain/Emma was I don't know, but steady and respectable I would say. And he was successful enough to be nominated for the Romantic Novel of the Year title in 1998.

Anyway, it turns out that there's another bloke who also writes women's fiction, this time under the name Jessica Blair. This author, however, isn't a real Blair. His name is Bill Spence, and the Daily Mail 'unmasked' him yesterday. Since 1993 Bill has written 22 romantic novels, the latest of which, Silence of the Snow, is just out.

More about book covers


I 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.

Chip Kidd has worked for Knopf publishers -- which is apparently pronounced with a hard K, unless my ears are deafer than usual -- and unless, of course, Mr Kidd is just being droll -- but in any case, he knows his business and will also make you laugh, never a bad combination.

So, go take a look, is my advice. You will need twenty minutes or so.

Yum yum


Should 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.

Simon Garfield: Just My Type


Just My Type is a book about fonts. And these days most people have a vague idea what fonts are, if only because they see the word (occasionally) on their word processor.

Well, a whole book about fonts may not be your thing but this is interesting enough, even for the non-professional. It's a series of short essays, about the designers of type, the folk who choose them for specific purposes, and all like that. It's a good bedside book -- you can read the odd chunk before going to sleep.

Of course you do have to be a bit weird to be interested in fonts. But if you're going to use CreateSpace or Lulu or something to produce actual printed books, as opposed to ebooks, then you're going to have to take an interest to some extent.

If you're looking for a practical book that gives you a list of suggested fonts for various different purposes, then this isn't it. But then it doesn't claim to be.

For something similar, but a bit more in-depth, perhaps, try Simon Loxley's Type: the Secret History of Letters. And for those who are actually designing a printed book, Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style is indispensable.

Sugar: the bitter truth


(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.

The new edition comes with an introduction by Professor Robert Lustig, who was probably the guy that twisted Penguin's arm. I'd like to think that Penguin were smart enough to launch a reissue unprompted, but then why did they ever let an important book like this go out of print in the first place? (There's no polite or reassuring answer to that question.)

And, what's more, Lustig himself has a book out. The title is Fat Chance, and it looks like a brave book to write, because it dares to criticise the food industry. Yudkin tried that, and got nothing but trouble as a result. He should, of course, have been supported by his university, but wasn't, which is a disgraceful story in itself.

The fact that sugar is the source of half our health problems is not new. The journalist William Dufty wrote a classic expose of it in the 1970s, in Sugar Blues, which is still in print. But scientists who are prepared to put their head above the parapet and let Big Food fire cannon at them are not thick on the ground.

If by any chance you haven't yet realised what pernicious stuff sugar is, and how determinedly it is forced upon us in almost everything, then Lustig's new book is the one to go for. Those of us who've been paying any attention to food in the last 40 years probably won't learn a lot that's new -- except of course that we shall be given a host of new examples of how little the food companies care about their customers' health, and how committed they are to making profit no matter what.

German Army? No worries...


Englishmen 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. [...]

Ebook cover awards


It 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, 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.[...]

The Rescue of Bertie's Mummy


Despite 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.

(image) This is a story intended for those who have been given a Kindle (of one sort or another) for Christmas. Such giftees will no doubt be looking for free stuff, so this one will be offered free for 5 days from 24 December. In the meantime it will cost you 99 cents or the equivalent in your local currency.

The narrative begins on Christmas Day, and it involves a little boy who is lost, together with some not very bright policemen (apart from our hero, PC Moreton); and it has a love story with a happy ending.

What more could you possibly want?

This book is the first in what I hope will be a series of 'coffee-time' short stories. That is to say, they will be short enough to be read over a cup of coffee. This one runs to just over 4,000 words.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, while stocks last. Or some such misleading drivel.

Adam Curtis rides again


I have recommended the work of Adam Curtis here before. And if you have any hope (Ha! What an optimist you are!) of understanding the Middle East, then you urgently need to read and watch his latest post.

It is something of a mystery how Mr Curtis comes to be allowed (and presumably encouraged) to poke around in the BBC archives, but his resulting insights are worth ten of any academic tomes on the subject. More power to his elbow and archive-searching, say I.

David Wesley Hill: At Drake's Command


Some eighty-five years ago, an English novelist by the name of C.S. Forester published the first in a 12-book series about Horatio Hornblower. The books were not written chronologically, in terms of the hero's life, but eventually covered Hornblower's career in the British Navy, from Midshipman to Admiral.

The Hornblower books were set in the age of the Napoleonic Wars, and were enormously successful, both in the US and the UK. They were admired by, among others, both Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill, and yet could easily be read by the average schoolboy. In 1951 a successful film version appeared, starring Gregory Peck in the lead role.

Since then, the idea of a book, and possibly a whole series of books, starring a member of the British Navy in times past, must have been seen by many a publisher and writer as a target worth consideration. Patrick O'Brian began a similar series, with Master and Commander, in 1970. And now David Wesley Hill has taken his turn to have a go.

At Drake's Command is set in the late sixteenth century and is subtitled 'The adventures of Peregrine James during the second circumnavigation of the world'. It's just published by the Temurlone Press, where you can read the first chapter, and it's available in trade paperback format through the usual channels. Early reviews are good.

The naval-fiction genre is a small one, but there is, surprise, a web site devoted to it.

China Mieville: London's Overthrow


London'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[...]

Marek Krajewski and the city of Breslau


Don'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.[...]

Dean Wesley's Smith's words of wisdom


Some 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.[...]