Gig Review: Headline’s 2017 Blogger Night

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(photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

Yesterday I travelled up to London, always a major undertaking for me, to attend a gathering of authors, publicists, bloggers and other book people, organised and hosted by Headline Publishing. It was held on the top floor of their riverside headquarters, Carmelite House, and was my second visit to the building. On this occasion the bitterly cold weather kept everyone inside enjoying the warmth and ambience rather than braving the views from the rooftop terrace.

I had taken my daughter, Robyn (@LeFailFish), as social events can make me anxious and I valued her support. Having collected our name stickers from Jenny (@jrharlow) in the foyer we made our way up to the sixth floor.

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The always lovely Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) ensured throughout the evening that everyone felt welcome and included. She introduced us to several of the authors whose books we were able to take away.

I chatted to Alison Weir (@AlisonWeirBooks) about her fascination with the Tudors and the medieval period and now look forward to reading my proof of her latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anne Boleyn, due out in May. New insights and secrets are promised although Alison ensured that only teasers, not spoilers, were shared last night.

I had a lovely conversation with Gemma Todd (@GemTodd) before realising that this personable librarian is also the author of Defender, which I had spotted early on the book table and eagerly popped into my bag for future reading. This was a popular choice for many attendees.

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Felicia Yap (@FeliciaMYap) and I discussed our love of Belfast where I was raised and now enjoy returning to as a tourist. Visit Belfast (@VisitBelfast) should totally get Felicia to write a piece for them as her enthusism for the city was infectious. Felicia’s debut, Yesterday, is due out in August and I will be hoping for a proof when available.

Copies of Pendulum were also tempting readers on the book table and I had been advising everyone to pick up this taut thriller, a proof of which I read last summer. I was therefore delighted to meet the author, Adam Hamdy (@adamhamdy) and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was chatting to a group of bloggers about setting and how he visits each place featured in his story rather than relying on long distance research.

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Meeting other bloggers is always fascinating as we all write for the love of books but often have different perspectives on what we do and how we are recieved. I was particularly pleased to meet Linda (@Lindahill50Hill), Tina (@TripFiction) and John (@Thelastword1962) all of whose reviews are worth checking out.

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Adam, John, Linda and Tina (photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

There were many other authors, bloggers, publicists, librarians and book sellers enjoying the company and the freely flowing wine. I could have stayed on to pick up writing tips and share book recommendations but, as ever with my trips to the capital, I had a train to catch if I was to make it home. The roads around our village are very dark at midnight – perhaps I read too many thrillers…

Thank you to the team at Headline for inviting me and for organising such a friendly, welcoming event. Also for my goody bag and the opportunity to add even more titles to my tottering TBR pile. Book people are the best.

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Note: hen is my own. In discussing recognition from Twitter pictures I had told John I would bring it to the evening. Next time he wants a live one.

 

Gig Review: The Inaugural Bath Book Bash

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There are many aspects of corporate culture that I was happy to leave behind when I resigned from my job in the IT department of a large, financial services company:

  • Team Building Days;
  • Ice Breaker Games;
  • Role Play;
  • Networking.

Why then did I choose to attend an event that would require me to walk alone into an unknown pub and introduce myself to strangers with whom I would be expected to mingle and chat for an evening? A couple of words explain all – book people. In my experience book people are lovely and the more of them I have in my life the better.

The inaugural Bath Book Bash was organised by  Jennifer Vennall, a writer and final year publishing student at Bath Spa University. Aided and abetted by Sam Missingham she had offered to help grow the concept of the Book Bash outside of London. If the number of people attending last night was anything to go by, this is a popular idea.

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The venue was The Bath Brew House and they had set aside an area near their entrance which was quickly filled by authors, publishers, creative writing and publishing students, their teachers, and a large number of people I didn’t have time to place. After introducing myself and chatting to several of the early attendees I found myself in authors’ corner where, despite feeling a bit of a fraud, the conversation proved too interesting to leave. Thank you RachelLucy and Jason for your company.

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As well as talking to these authors, I enjoyed conversations with several of the students and a representative of a previously unknown publishing house, Crimson, based in Bath. Another house I have worked with, Impress, were also there but my inability to hear well across a crowded table in a noisy pub prevented me engaging.

I discovered another writer I would have enjoyed chatting to as I was leaving to catch my train. Thank you for saying hi Joanne and apologies that I had to rush away.

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There is obviously scope for a repeat performance. I am unsure if there were any other book bloggers but I felt welcome and a part of the community.

Jennifer is hopeful that another Book Bash will happen in Bath in January. All being well I shall do my best to attend.

Random Musings: Halloween and hibernation

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Have I mentioned that I love Halloween? Its traditions appeal so much more than the trappings of a modern Christmas. For one thing it falls in autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when the trees turn their leaves into flaming displays before consigning them to the ground to be crunched underfoot on crisp, early morning walks. Fires may be lit and blankets wrapped around shoulders as sofas are snuggled into. Curtains are drawn early giving rooms a cosiness forgotten over summer.

Halloween does not demand that gifts be exchanged with all the pressure this brings. Friends may choose to get together but it is acceptable to eschew the social whirl. There is no requirement for an expensive, time consuming meal.

Have you guessed that I am not a party animal? I choose carefully the events I will attend and who I will spend time with. Whatever the occasion I wear clothes that are comfortable on my socially derided bulk. Christmas exacerbates my anxieties with its demands and excesses. It is glitter and false promises of joy to the world.

Had I been born back in the day, I ponder if I may have been considered a witch.

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Witches were often women who would not follow the crowd. Perhaps they refused to marry, choosing to live alone rather than be dominated by a man. Perhaps they dressed differently and would not do as they were told. Some accused of being witches had simply drawn the anger of peers who believed in a hierarchy of sycophancy and aspiration. Witches lived apart and appeared content with that. Their autonomy angered many; in the time honoured tradition, conformists sowed fear of the ‘other’ – and witch hunts ensued. Maverick tendencies are anathema to those whose comfortable lives rely on social discipline.

The festive season, with its myriad of expectation, joviality and consumerism fills me with dread. Each year I dream of locking my doors and hibernating with just my family for company. At Halloween I am permitted to do this if I choose – me, my family and my books.

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Recommended reading for Halloween

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Pavement by Richard Butchins

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Many by Wyl Menmuir

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

I shall be curling up with ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver. The cover promises me a ghost story…

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Random Musings: On judging a book by its author

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October started with the alleged unmasking of the author Elena Ferrante, who has publicly stated on several occasions that she wishes her identity to remain unknown. Predictably the literary media went into overdrive. Fans were concerned, readers were incensed, everyone it seemed had opinions that they felt compelled to share. Newspapers commissioned comment pieces that were avidly re-posted on Twitter and Facebook. And some voiced wonder at what the fuss was about, and how much privacy those who choose to publicly promote their work can expect.

As this was happening I noticed an aggressive comment awaiting moderation below one of the older book reviews on my blog. The vitriol wasn’t aimed at me but rather at the author of the book. There was something about it that prevented me from simply discarding it as I do any comment that I believe could be deemed offensive – this is not what I wish to host on my blog. Instead I took the unprecedented step of tentatively contacting the commentator explaining why I would not be approving her words.

A few days later she replied. She knows the author. They have a history and it is not pretty.

“I am his ex partner who has just managed to escape an abusive relationship with this man with the help of the police. I am myself an artist, established. I am speaking out for all his ex lovers who have experienced extreme emotional and physical abuse […] to have the traumatic experience of reading about ourselves in his books, with a name change and a tweak here and there. I am trying to expose a con artist who through his charismatic and charming approach, has been given a platform to write about us and call it fiction, to be praised for his amazing transformation of character when myself, and his past lovers know full well that [he] is a misogynist, a self-confessed chronic liar […] a deeply cunning and manipulative man.”

There was more, and I have edited out what I hope is sufficient to mask his identity because, disturbing as all of this is, and allowing for the huge sympathy I have for any victim of domestic abuse, I do not feel qualified to enter such a personal battle. It did however get me thinking about what it means to support the creators of my beloved books. Does the character of the writer matter or simply the quality of their words?

With the current need for authors to take on some of the burden of marketing their books, more readers are meeting them face to face. I enjoy attending literary events and am delighted when I am granted the opportunity to chat to the authors, the vast majority of whom appear to be lovely individuals. Even so, I can think of a couple who did not present themselves in such a positive light. And then, shoot me now, it affected the way I think about their work.

Yet I don’t think it should. I cannot know these people based on a brief, public interaction. Whatever of themselves they choose to share, or keep private, it should not alter my judgement of their writing.

When I read articles about Woody Allen and the way he treated his daughter I vowed I would never watch another of his films. If I were to apply this thinking to classical writers I would be denying myself so many beautiful stories. Perhaps my discomfort only applies to the living, a wish to prevent the wicked from basking in esteem. And this is the point that I believe my commentator was making.

I do not consider that authors owe their readers anything. There will be threads within their stories whose foundations are personal experience, perhaps episodes they should and may regret. However much sympathy felt for any acquaintance wronged, it remains the author’s prerogative to keep private specifics of their own life. It does not change the quality, or otherwise, of their written words.

What do others think about this issue. In buying a book, in supporting the author’s work, is the reader in any small way complicit in the perpetuation of a writer’s behaviour? Should this affect a reader’s willingness to offer that support?

 

Books Beyond Words

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Today I received a very special book in the post, Ginger is a Hero, by Beth Webb. I plan to review it in the next couple of days but first wished to talk about its provenance.

It tells a story but there are no words, only pictures. People who cannot read, or who don’t like written words, are often very good at reading pictures. This book is published by a small, not for profit organisation called Beyond Words who publish books and provide services for adults with learning disabilities.

Each of their books tells a story, but they also let the reader tell their own story – the one they see in the pictures. This can tell a lot about a person’s inner world and their understanding of situations. There is plenty to talk about and each story explores feelings and reactions as well as giving information.

For someone who struggles with words there are barriers to getting the right health or social care and support. Even when a person with a problem reaches someone who can help, like a doctor, a social worker or a therapist, there can be communication problems and anxieties on both sides. By telling the story in pictures, each Beyond Words title gives people the chance to work together to explore different types of situations.

Ginger is a Hero is the first in a new Beyond Words series called Page Turners. These stories are designed to be read for fun, alone or with others. Ginger is a cat who befriends a young neighbour, much to the annoyance of the elderly lady Ginger lives with. Who wouldn’t want to read a story about a typically obdurate but adorable cat?

Everyone should have a right to read and enjoy books. With this new Beyond Words series readers who struggle with words are offered the opportunity to enjoy stories, as those of us avid readers of words can do.

As we celebrate the joy provided by books through initiatives such as Books Are My Bag, Super Thursday and National Poetry Day, may we remember that our education and abilities are privileges.

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https://www.booksbeyondwords.co.uk/

Interview: Fahrenheit Press

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I first came across the all new Fahrenheit Press on Twitter. They were arrogant, assured and deliciously upfront about what they were going to achieve. They want you to buy their books. That’s it. They will provide books that are worth reading and they want you to buy them.

Sometimes, as I am being seduced by the friendliness and hype of publishing companies, it is easy to forget that this is why they exist. I’m not knocking that friendliness; it is welcoming, encouraging. I also know that many publicists truly believe in their product, and with justification.

Fahrenheit Press grabbed my attention because their approach was different. When they offered me the opportunity to interview them I jumped at the chance.

Please welcome to neverimitate, the founder and mouthpiece of Fahrenheit Press, the original Hot Punk Publisher, Chris McVeigh.

1. The obvious – why did you decide to set up Fahrenheit?

Frustration.

In short I’ve become increasingly depressed and frustrated by the way the publishing industry has developed. Authors are continually being let down by sub-standard marketing and promotion. Thousands of authors careers are being thrown on the scrap heap because the business models of the big 5 publishing corporations are no longer aligned with the business models of authors.

I’ve worked in publishing for 25 years, started as a marketing grunt for one of the big corporations and worked my way up. In the end my speciality was finding poorly performing publishers, turning them around and selling them on. I moved to Los Angeles about 6/7 years ago to concentrate on other things but I’ve always kept my hand in by writing opinion pieces and talking at publishing conferences around the world.

In the 6 or 7 years I’ve taken a step back from the industry I’ve waited for things to get better but in fact they’ve got worse.

In the end I just got fed up shouting from the sidelines and decided to put my money where my mouth is and get back into the ring.

The main point of Fahrenheit is to prove that all the things I’ve been saying over the years are true.

  • Having a hit book doesn’t have to be a fluke.
  • Effective marketing is scalable & predictable.
  • Both publishers and authors can get paid fairly.

So far it seems to be working.

2. You decide to set up – what sort of books do you want to publish and how do you go about signing authors?

I knew fairly quickly that if we were going to hit the ground running we had to do it in genre publishing because the audiences and the routes to market are more clearly defined.

For me that meant either Crime or Romance. I know more crime writers than romance writers so that was a fairly easy decision.

Initially a lot of the authors on our books are friends of mine. Most are very well established names with a fair few books to their names and some fairly weighty sales histories.

James Craig author of our launch title A Slow Death is a great example of that – we met 5 years ago when I helped guide his debut book to the No.1 spot on Amazon. We kept in touch over the years and I’ve enjoyed watching his success grow and grow. He now has nine Inspector Carlyle novels in print with Hachette but when he had a new series he wanted to publish he chose to do it with us.

That said since we launched last month I’ve been buried under the weight of submissions from authors wanting to get on board.

The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve been used to making a living out their writing but over the last few years they’ve seen their incomes shrink.

We have signed a deal with one previously unpublished author who sent us his manuscript on the off-chance and we liked it so much we snapped him up – now, after years of trying to get published he’s one of our November books – that’s how quickly we can move.

Basically if you’ve got a crime book and you hold the rights to it, we’re happy to have a look – we don’t mind if it’s been published before – what’s important to us is the potential.

3. The marketing strategy – is the early experience what you expected?

Unlike most publishing companies, marketing is in our DNA so it’s kinda our main thing.

We’ve spent quite some time crafting our strategy and so far it’s pretty much going to plan. We had to establish Fahrenheit’s presence in the market quickly which we’ve done by employing a fairly radical and mouthy approach on social media – to some success.

We’ve followed this up with some very carefully placed adverts and features in various places and one month in we’ve established a fairly decent sales footprint for our first title A Slow Death by James Craig – we’re now just about to enter phase two of the marketing of this title and we expect sales to peak for this title about 8-10 weeks after the release date.

Interestingly this is another key difference between us and most other publishers. Most publishers front-weight any marketing and promotion they do to hit around the release date. If a book hits they plough a bit more money in, if it doesn’t they abandon it and move on to the next title. We don’t do this. Experience of building hits over the years has shown us that it’s much more effective to stagger your marketing and promotion over a longer period – not only does this prolong the active life of the title but the data has shown us time after time that overall sales are significantly higher over the lifetime of the book.

4. There are a good number of small, independent publishers out there publishing some great works. Do you consider yourself different and, if so, how?

Yeah there’s a vibrant scene of small publishers out there – often set up by people migrating from bigger corporations and having a go themselves.

This pleases me greatly.

One thing that doesn’t please me though is when they wear the clothes of the vibrant new indie start-up and then adopt the same tired old industry attitudes and techniques. Sadly this is becoming all too familiar. Lots of talk, lots of press releases but then at the end of the day underneath all the glitter is the same old business model peeking out – publishing too many books, not putting the marketing graft in, hoping for a hit, authors getting paid peanuts while the publisher scales small profits across many titles to make a decent living.

We are not those guys. We’re the real deal. I promise.

For sure we’re unapologetically commercial – as we keep saying, we want everyone to get paid properly – that said the money isn’t our main driver.

We mainly want to prove our approach to publishing and marketing is the right one.

We want to show authors that things don’t need to be the way they are and that there is an alternative.

5. Do you intend staying with just ebooks?

No, not at all. We started with eBooks because it’s a quick, low cost way to get our books out in the marketplace but very soon we’ll be offering paper versions of all our books.

Watch this space.

6. Are you collaborative or dictatorial?

Dictatorial. For sure. No doubt.

This is my train set.

If you don’t like what I’m doing or the way I’m doing it go find another publisher.

I’m not everyone’s cup of tea – I’m clever, I’m cocksure and I’ve got a smart mouth that throws out one-liners like bullets.

I ruffle feathers – I always have and that’s just the way I like it.

Fahrenheit has a gang mentality but make no mistakes it’s my gang.

7. Aiming for subculture or mainstream?

Great question.

We want to have a subculture attitude with a mainstream balance sheet.

I’ve always had one foot in the music business and we’re running Fahrenheit very much along the lines of a record label.

Each book, each author will be slightly different but together they’ll reflect the personality of the label.

We fully expect people to become fans of Fahrenheit in just the way they became fans of Factory Records back in the day. We have no doubt that very soon people will buy books because we publish them and they trust us.

We’re bringing an old fashioned punk ethos to everything we do we’re trying to be as transparent as possible in everything we do – which if you read our twitter feed you’ll know is true.

8. Plans for the future? 

We’re not in this to build a massive company.

We’ll only ever publish one or two books a month but we’ll make sure every one of them is marketed properly and that each and every book makes money and gets to the widest possible audience.

Our programme is already full for the next 12 months so we’ve got plenty to be getting on with though we’ll probably mix things around a little as new authors get on board.

In a year or two once we’ve proven our point we’ll most probably either sell it to someone else and split the cash with the authors or we’ll turn the whole thing over to the authors themselves and let them run it like a sort of United Artists.

Whatever happens it’s going to be fun. The second it stops being fun is the day we stop doing it – (my) Life is literally too short.

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The website: Fahrenheit Press : Crime Fiction Publishers

The Twitter account: Fahrenheit Press (@fahrenheitpress)

Now, go buy their damn books…  Fahrenheit Press : Our Books

A Slow Death by James CraigThe Lobster Boy and the Fat Lady's Daughter

Book publicists and bloggers

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My relationship with book publicists presents a bit of a conundrum. For an awkward, anxious, introvert like me their infectious enthusiasm can sometimes make them appear like my next best friend. Of course, they are not. They are looking at how best to promote their books and do their job. As a book blogger I can play a small part in this, but I will not necessarily be at the top of their list for ARCs. Sure, they want review quotes they can use in promotions, but ideally they want these quotes to come from widely recognised sources. What they look for from me is that I talk about their books on social media and elsewhere, post reviews on public sites, spread the word along with others to generate a buzz. If I like a book then I am happy to comply.

So, where is the conundrum? Most of the books I receive have been sent at my request. I approach many publicists accepting that my request may be ignored, particularly by the bigger houses. This is fine, they are busy people and need to get their books in front of those with the most influence. Naturally I am cheered by those who respond positively to my requests. Who doesn’t wish to feel valued?

Recently though I have found myself in a troubling place. Publicists promise me books which do not arrive. Requests placed via Bookbridgr go unfulfilled. I know that there are a limited number of review copies available so assume that my potential contribution is not regarded highly enough. This makes me sad. I see the buzz around the book and feel that I have not been invited to the party.

Over the summer I had some amazing books to read for which I am very grateful. These came from a number of sources, but I noted that books from the smaller publishing houses reminded me in particular of why I am such an avid reader. The variety of subject matter and quality of prose were unfailingly exceptional. With the big push towards Christmas approaching, and my feelings of dejection growing, I decided that I would see how I got on reading only books from these smaller presses.

As with any rules I set myself when reading, I will break them if it suits. Thus, when I had the opportunity to attend an event where Hilary Mantel was to speak I diverged from my plans to read Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. These were such great works I am glad I did. I would not wish to rule out any source.

Otherwise though, I have given this month to books from Orenda, Urbane, Salt, Galley Beggars and Arcadia. Had I been more organised I would have made requests to Cutting Edge, Cargo and Influx whose books I enjoyed so much earlier in the year. I decided that, as part of this series, I would also read a self published book or two. In the past I have accepted a few of these with mixed success. Whilst I do not doubt that there are many high quality, self published books out there, the pool is so much bigger and it can be hard to find those I will enjoy. We will see what I think of the two that I have added to my pile.

The quality of the books read to date has encouraged me to seek out other small publishers and I have been promised more titles which I hope will arrive in due course. I am still likely to request certain books from the bigger houses. ‘A Little Life’ came from Picador and was an incredible read. I would not have wished to miss ‘Purity’ which came from 4th Estate, the same press as the Mantel books.

Being sent any book to review is a privilege, especially when I am sent an advance copy and may join in the publication buzz. If I put the time and effort into reading and reviewing though, it is good to have my efforts appreciated.

What are other book bloggers recent experiences? Would anyone else care to share their thoughts?