Charlie Hebdo – How Things Could Change…

I put out this simple question to the world? Religion, is it time for fundamental change…?

I want to say this first; that I would fight to the end for not just freedom of speech, but freedom of belief.

For as long as we can realistically delve back in time the human race has developed systems of belief. In more recent times, relatively speaking, these have morphed into what we now know as world religions. Many of these have grown to play a significant part in not just the mores of our lives, but in the states and institutions which structure them.

Throughout history, individuals, states and institutions have all battled for religious supremacy. Those battles have sometimes been fought by extremists. In our epoch it appears that Islam is under the spotlight, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is their sole domain. Islam itself is innocent. Like all religions its motives were benevolent, born out of a desire to understand and make sense of the world.

So please don’t blame Islam, for in a different time and place another religion will be hijacked by its militant wing. Indeed history has taught us that this has happened before.

So how should we react to recent ‘terrorist’ incidents? Rather than blame a religion, perhaps we might encourage open, honest and worldwide debate – on exactly what religion is, and why it exists.

Easier said perhaps than done – because what we find is that even in times of rapid scientific development, and greater all round knowledge, this is not a ‘free’ debate to have. It is one shrouded in caution and taboo. Were that not the case, publications like ‘Charlie Hebdo’ wouldn’t exist, because our freedom to chatter amongst ourselves would be unhindered.

So how have we got to the stage where on the one hand we can send a space ship to explore the possibility of life elsewhere, yet on the other we can’t even openly discuss our own?

The answer lies with education, and it is failing our children. Indeed it has been failing us for so long that generations have been unable to tackle the issue. It is imperative now that we understand what part religious belief systems have played in society’s past, what part they play in contemporary life, and, most importantly, what part they might play in future times.

It is easy to forget that ‘beliefs’, of any form, generate to fill a void. Religious beliefs are no exception, indeed on the contrary, they are a classic example. As humans coming to terms with the intricacies, vagaries and ‘unknowns’ of our world there is an inevitable learning path. Along that path we encounter mysteries, and tend to fear what we don’t understand.

Instinctively we don’t like ‘unknowns’. The unknown might be- why do some mountain tops explode with hot liquid? Or it might be – does life exist amid the stars? We just don’t like not knowing the answer. Only a relatively short time ago we didn’t know the answer to either of these questions, yet many say that soon we might know the answer to both.

What we do when we ‘don’t know’ is believe. We might assume that Gods of Heaven and Earth should be prayed to, to stop a mountain top exploding. We might worship other Gods and Prophets to try and understand origins and meanings of life. It’s not the subject matter that’s important, but the role of belief.

It is difficult for some to accept that on this great learning path our beliefs will inevitably and repeatedly be challenged. Some dig their heels in with cries of disrespect and blasphemy, bedding themselves into the earth like a tectonic plate, refusing to budge. But as we all know eventually those plates shift and collide, causing upheaval. Unless we change, this pattern will never cease.

We have failed to teach this – failed past generations and are still failing our children today. What we have allowed to develop is a recipe for conflict and battle… dogma, persecution, ghettos, isolation, etc. Even in modern times, and in ‘developed’ countries, many promote such isolation. If we continue to send our children to schools where they are encouraged not to question but to ‘believe’ then we will perpetuate the myth.

We all have a responsibility to educate and inform, and those of us lucky enough to be brought up in educationally privileged parts of the world have a greater share of that responsibility. Yet these societies, whether they be in the Americas, in Europe, or elsewhere are the major culprits in letting us down.

Even when I was at school we would start the day with hymns, be read passages from the bible, and be taught reverence to our church. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to do those things, and had I stopped and asked, and questioned, I probably would have been punished. That is how backward we were, and still are in places. We have a long way to go.

Those who have watched and enjoyed the film ‘Life of Brian’ know how it explores and exposes the ‘void’ of belief. The line ‘You don’t need to follow me – you don’t need to follow anybody’ is the fulcrum of the film. We may laugh, well at least some of us felt liberated enough to laugh, but on its release there was a conservative majority who wanted the film banned. That again, is how far we must travel, from a very recent past.

It would be encouraging to think that one day we might live together in peace, with an understanding that all along we were our own Gods and Prophets – that it is us who shape our environment and have control over our domain. We are one race, and rather than developing religions to fill voids we might perhaps develop a religion to each other – to treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. It is not impossible, but it does need worldwide education, and honesty.

My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those that died in Paris. It also goes out to all that have died in any form of battle, religious or otherwise. I see this as not just about ‘freedom of speech’, but ‘freedom of belief’… because without honest and open debate, any freedom is impossible to achieve.

So let us at least try to understand religion in its full context, without fear or favour. Let us respect current religions and beliefs but at the same time not be afraid to educate and inform. We can endorse that it is okay to ‘believe’, but always wise to try and fill the void with knowledge.

Knowledge is infinite and at times we may struggle for answers, because we will always be a few steps behind. But if we teach our children that it is okay to struggle, to explore, to not find immediate and pat solutions, then we might be able to start to put belief systems behind us.

Long before states and institutions latched onto their power, religions started out benevolently, and in good ‘faith’. We have however allowed them to develop into accepted alternatives to knowledge, with damaging consequences.

It may take many generations for us to believe in each other, but at least that would be a religion without enemy. This surely is our journey. Let us hope, but perhaps not pray for it.

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12 Days of Crime…

Thanks to Nadine, otherwise known as JT Baptiste for hosting me as a guest blogger in her series… post… Via: http://www.JTBaptiste.com

12 Days of Crime Writers – Interview Questions

1. Tell me about your latest book?

‘Defending Elton’ – A suspect is arrested near to the scene of a murder on the Sussex coast. He has the victim’s blood on his clothing, as well as fibres from her clothes. Indeed everything points to his guilt, including his own confession – but nothing is quite what it seems.

Elton is a ‘care in the community’ patient who, like many with serious mental health issues, is vulnerable to abuse. The story is pegged around his Old Bailey murder trial, with two narrative paths. One deals with the immediate lead up to the trial and the proceedings at court, whilst the other delves back into the life of the enigmatic victim Sarena. We soon learn the shocking truth – that Elton has been fitted up for the crime, but when the real murderer reveals himself the shock is multiplied.

It’s not a ‘whodunit’; it’s a ‘will he get away with it’. As the narrative paths unfold the tension mounts as we wonder whether a) Elton will be wrongly convicted and b) the real murderer will be caught. The book takes a peek behind the curtains of the criminal justice system, and catches some with their pants down. It exposes our adversarial trial system as frighteningly malleable; some might say a ‘puppet theatre’, where lawyers and judges hold all the strings.

2. What was the inspiration behind your book?

Some years ago I worked in the criminal justice system, and saw at first-hand how it can let people down. Whether they be victims, witnesses, or even the accused on occasions, justice can be hard to achieve. The recent Dewani case in South Africa suggests that this may be a universal malaise.

There is often a clash between the truth and the way it is, or can be, presented in court, leaving many dismayed. ‘Defending Elton’ was initially inspired by the real life story of a man with severe mental health issues who was used and abused to bump up police statistics on ‘unsolved’ crime. I used the basic premise to show how the criminal justice system can be manipulated by both prosecution and defence alike.

3. What inspired you to write crime fiction?

Reading crime fiction where good always seemed to conquer evil… where police caught their serial killer and convicted him… where justice was winning out in the end… because it clashed with my real life experience, where victims and witnesses were sometimes treated disrespectfully, where the guilty were sometimes getting off, and where innocent people were occasionally being convicted.

It motivated me to approach crime fiction from a different angle – ‘crime friction’ I call it, where things don’t always go to plan… Such issues tend to give rise to compelling stories, and these are the stories I want to tell.

4. What do you think makes a good crime novel?

A number of ingredients, in an enticing recipe. I like a story I can get into quickly and wonder where it might be going. I like surprises and moments that break conventions. I love good old fashioned whodunits too and well told murder stories, but it can be disappointing to discover that you’re reading something that someone else has written a hundred times before.

My favourite reads are those which feature original and interesting stories – the crime element often raises the stakes, but it’s the story which should keep you engrossed. All the minutia of life, and character, are just as important in crime fiction stories.

There is often humour in the darkest of places too, something I don’t think crime fiction writers should be scared of!

5. Who is your favourite fictional character?

I was fascinated by the characters of Exley and White in Ellroy’s LA Confidential. Their different backgrounds and approaches to their profession really drive the story and deliver a constant intrigue.

I think my favourite character is probably Tom Ripley. I admire Patricia Highsmith’s work and her studies of good and evil. Much of the intrigue comes from the moral ambiguities within her characters, who are endlessly fascinating.

6. Which three crime fictional characters would you invite for Christmas dinner?

Well Tom Ripley of course, but I probably wouldn’t ask him to pass the carving knife. Clarice Starling might be there, so too Philip Marlowe… and Scooby Doo could have the leftovers.

7. Who has most influenced you as a writer?

Probably Highsmith the most… but also Ellroy and Leonard too.

8. Which book do you wish you had written?

I’ve been asked that before and it always makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to have written anybody else’s work. Still, having said that, if I’d woken up one morning and written Strangers On A Train in my sleep I’d be pretty happy!

9. James Ellroy wrote a 700-page outline before he sat down to write his last book. What type of writer are you? A ‘plotter’ or ‘lets just see what happens’?

I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Ellroy’s ‘700 page outline’ was in essence a first draft of the book, which he used as his template. Anyway, much as I admire his work, his stories perhaps more than his style, it has to be each to their own! I can’t imagine not having a general arc of a plot, and an ending to work towards, but apart from that I’m pretty liberal in letting the characters shape the journey.

10. Tell me about your publishing journey?

To be honest it’s been five years or so of trauma. I’ve been lifted up to some big heights and dropped down again, so I’ve learned that not only do you need a thick skin, you need to learn to bounce!

I’ve had some fabulous feedback for my books, and some of the UK’s most respected literary agents backing me for success, yet none of them quite got the timing right by hitting the right publisher at the right time. Not their fault I hasten to add, but just the way things worked out.

When literary agent Peter Straus tells you he wants you on his list because Jill Shadow [the lead character in ‘Kiss and Tell’] is a ‘most bankable franchise’, and then Broo Doherty tells you that you’ve written one of the most inventive crime fiction novels she’s read in ‘Defending Elton’, you could be forgiven for thinking it would all happen from there. It didn’t quite work out like that though, so meantime I’ve put the books up on Amazon – and thanks to all those who’ve taken the time to read them and put up reviews!

Much as I support Indie writers, and I know some have had great success on their own, I still feel that with publishing house backing I could achieve a lot more – we’ll see what happens next year – I think I’ve got one bounce in me left!

11. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a writer? First and foremost, write what you want to write and in your own voice. Take influence yes, but don’t try and be like someone else.

12. What can we expect from you in 2015?

I will finish my follow up to ‘Kiss and Tell’, where battler for the underdog Jill Shadow investigates a ‘cold case’ murder mystery, with a shocking twist. I’ve got two further story outlines for her as well, so if things work out there might be a series…

DEFENDING ELTON http://amzn.to/1ytQnxb

KISS AND TELL http://amzn.to/WZbNPp

http://www.tjcooke.com

twitter: @timscribe

Crimefest – Embracing Indie Authors

I’d like to share the guest blog post I’ve been asked to write for The Alliance of Independent Authors [ALLi]. It is due to go up this weekend…

At this year’s Crimefest, held in Bristol, England, I was thrilled to be on the first ever Indie panel, under the auspices of moderator Joanna Penn.

The panel title was Emerging Indie Authors and it was generally agreed that these days becoming accepted as a new or emerging author doesn’t necessarily mean that you have journeyed along the traditional route.

Given that this was a new venture for Crimefest, I’m not sure any of us knew what to expect, but it was a hugely enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Any doubts about the number of folks who might attend, particularly as we were listed as the first panel on the Sunday morning, were soon dispersed. By the time we kicked off, The Marriot’s Lancaster room was well stocked with writers (self-published, contracted and hybrid) as well as many readers of the genre.

The Indie Author Panel

The authors on the panel were Mel Sherratt, Eva Hudson, Carol Westron and me.

In her opening, Joanna mentioned how indie writers, rather like our colleagues in the music, film and tv world, were now starting to gain recognition. Discussion then followed about how the music business has embraced indie bands, and how, in similar terms, indie filmmakers are often praised for their artistic expression. I also mentioned the world of television, where from time to time I ply my writing trade, and where indie production companies are often seen to have a distinctly creative edge.

Mention was made that it’s only really in the last few years that writers have had the opportunity to display their wares directly to the public, via the likes of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks and Create Space for paperbacks. There was a sense that self–publishing was no longer a dirty word, as it had largely lost the old vanity press connotations of the past and, fortunately, some of the scammers who hung around it. Not all though, as I’m sure David Gaughran and others would soon point out.

The Self-Publishing Revolution

So what was this mini revolution all about? How had writers like Mel Sherratt achieved so many sales? How had books like Defending Elton garnered such positive reviews? Why was Eva Hudson receiving fan-mail asking for the return of one of her protagonists? And how had Carol Westron amassed such generous feedback from the indie community?

The answers to all these questions essentially boiled down to one thing – the writers had gone out of their way to ensure that their books mirrored the quality of traditionally published ones.

All the panellists agreed the following three steps were essential:

  • Firstly, make sure that the draft you publish is as good as it can possibly be, by editing, re-editing and receiving third party input
  • Secondly, seek out experienced professional line and copy editors and cover designers
  • Thirdly, engage with the reading community and fellow writers, doing what you can to promote your book

The panelists then moved on to questions about their own work, and their influences. These included:

  • “How did you come up with your main characters, and how much of you and your background is bound up in them?”
  • “What are your own obsessions and how do they emerge in your books?”
  • “How does your book fit into the crime market and what are the tangents/ lines it crosses?”
  • “Does being an indie author give you independence over style, title, book cover etc?”

Some fascinating facts emerged:

  • Mel Sherratt introduced the term Grit-Lit in explaining how her time as a housing officer in Stoke-on-Trent had shaped her characters and writing.
  • Eva Hudson talked about the influences for her female protagonists, and why she chose them to drive her stories forward.
  • Carol Westron reassured us all that no animals were harmed in the making of her book cover, and then hushed the room by revealing the fact that she had a ‘lost twin’!
  • I mentioned my own past, about how my adoption as a child, or at least the unfortunate way in which it was handled, had influenced the ‘search for truth’ theme in my books. I didn’t have a neat label like Mel’s ready-made, but for some reason Crime Friction sprang to mind during the discussion.

Introducing Crime Friction

Such friction often arises when dark deeds are about to be uncovered. In Defending Elton, the frightening malleability of our criminal justice system is exposed via a rigged murder trial. In Kiss and Tell, the murder of a police officer points to a hidden agenda behind the reluctance of some to amend current drug legislation. Just who is profiting from our current drug laws is one of those grey and hitherto unexposed areas I like to prod and explore.

The indie panelists covered a wide range of crime fiction, but until as a group we are more widely accepted, the old chestnut question will inevitably be aired. Rather than wait for someone to raise it, Joanna posed it herself and tackled it head on: “Doesn’t the fact that anyone can now publish mean there’s a lot of dross out there?”

The answer is of course “yes”, but Joanna pointed out that readers soon suss that out for themselves. With sample chapters largely available, and a network of respected and experienced crime fiction bloggers, it doesn’t take long to spot the real nuggets from the fool’s gold.

The Alliance of Independent Authors was mentioned more than once during the discussions, notably when it was agreed that a thriving indie community exists online, with many individuals and organisations keen to both help emerging Indie authors and promote quality indie fiction.

Conclusions

This year’s Crimefest gave Indie authors a voice at a major crime fiction convention, and judging by the reaction, I’d like to think that we didn’t let them down. When hardened festival devotees and traditionally-published authors tweet such things as “my highlight of Crimefest was the Indie panel” and “excellent panel, so much fun”, then you get a sense that all went well.

Indie authors who’d like to appear in festival line-ups, and see their work in bookstores and libraries, should check out the new ALLi book, Opening up to Indie Authorswhich has great tips on how to present both your book and your writer portfolio in the most professional light.

Many traditionally published and indie writers happily exist side by side, and some even have a foot in both camps. Similarly millions of readers swop effortlessly from one to the other, and back again. It’s only really the industry that is a little slow to adapt to change. Perhaps it’s time for the literary Berlin wall to be properly demolished – with just a level playing field left. One thing’s for sure; Crimefest has now removed a massive stone, and ought to be applauded for it.

Let’s hope other conventions follow suit, and let’s also hope that the barriers which are still in place regarding membership of various literary organisations, acceptance of literary reviews and so on will soon disappear.

“The Rise of The Indies” isn’t a Terminator sub-plot. They don’t want to take over your world, just be part of it.

Tim [TJ] Cooke

Author of ‘Defending Elton’ & ‘Kiss and Tell’

http://www.tjcooke.com

 

Crimefest puts the ‘In’ in Indie…

A good friend of mine, who’s now a captain for a major airline, stated that he couldn’t imagine doing any other job. ‘I’ve always wanted to fly and knew I’d be a pilot,’ he once told me. I understood that entirely, and came back with ‘I’ve always wanted to write and…’ I couldn’t quite force myself to finish the phrase with ‘I knew I’d be an author’.

He had to pass exams and go through an interview. Unless he’d flunked completely or had some previously undiagnosed medical condition there was nothing to stop him fulfilling his dreams. I had to explain that it wasn’t that simple for budding authors. There was a private club, and you had to be invited to join.

At least that’s the way things were, even as little as five years ago. That wasn’t all my pilot friend said though. Despite the kudos which came with working for an internationally renowned company his biggest thrill of all he told me was when he was flying alone, just him against the sky, going solo. That really made me stop and think.

It’s difficult to escape a label. Right now I’m an ‘Indie’ writer. I’m fairly passive towards the term, though it carries with it a heady mix of pride and frustration. Pride? Well, I’ve always been independent as such, in thought, in manner, in my approach to life in general, but having been invited to be a panellist at this year’s Crimefest I felt I ought to consider exactly what being an ‘Indie’ means.

This is perhaps where the frustration comes in. I can honestly say I’m not an Indie by choice. I have been very close to deals which would have seen me tied to a major publishing house, and my former agent insists that had submissions not been made at the height of the financial crash things might have been very different. That may be so, but I’m not fully convinced.

It’s time for reflective honesty, and I don’t think my books were as ship-shape as they should have been. They are now I hasten to add, and there might be an irony in the fact that since becoming Indie I’ve made sure that they have been professionally line and copy edited. I was also lucky to secure the services of Jamie Keenan who’s done a great job with the covers. In former times my agent and editor would have helped with these tasks, but for Indie writers it’s a matter of finding that help yourself.

But what if I had secured that elusive deal? Would it have made me a better writer? I can’t see any logic in that, other than the potential gain from additional professional input. I think the only difference it would have made is in relation to security and confidence. Everyone likes to be praised, and when that’s backed by professional judgement it’s bound to give you a little more confidence. So too the fact that someone is actually investing in you.

Talk to a selection of Indie writers and you’ll get a myriad of different answers about what being Indie means to them. Some authors have taken charge of their back catalogue and directly published future works. Some have taken part in Amazon’s ‘White Glove’ scheme, whilst others have been supported by the company’s own publishing arm. Others still have found their own route to public attention and remained fiercely independent. There are no rights and wrongs here – just an ever increasing field of choice.

Some major players in the writing world, chiefly those who write for specific genres, are now being tempted back to their roots. The revolution which is taking place, and it is surely that in the publishing world, has seen the rise of the Indie author and its hybrid offspring, and it’s having all sorts of ramifications.

So much has happened, and so quickly, that writers, agents, publishers and all those involved in their hinterland are still being shaken about in the literary kaleidoscope. Some see pretty patterns emerging – others only see chaos.

I’m not sure what I see, but maybe a pattern is beginning to emerge. Writers are inevitably at the cutting edge of all this change. Our artistic colleagues in the music, television, art or film industry can empathise, because their own period of change happened years ago. However, in the literary world, as Fatboy Slim might say, it’s happening ‘right here, right now’.

Until very recently, the world of publishing was a club where a few select houses decided which author, and which work, would be published. On the one hand this gave readers the feeling that they were buying into a novel which had been professionally ‘vetted’. On the other it meant that some extraordinary fine works might never see the light of day. We all know the stories; about how household name authors struggled to get that first deal. Their difficulty was that the business model which publishers adopted severely limited the number of authors allowed to join their club.

In recent times however Indie authors have gone from being on the odd guest list to blowing open the club doors. Routes to publication which didn’t even exist five years ago are now used by authors to get their work to the reading public. Indie writing, and Indie publishing is now at the heart of the literary zeitgeist, so much so that some Indie authors have started to outsell traditional publishing houses. With home retail now outstripping high street shopping there was some astonishment when Amazon announced that 25% of their most popular reads were now produced via the Indie market. Anyone who has attended the London Book Fair this last two years will tell you about the buzz around ‘Authorlounge’ and other events which have featured Indie writers.

The difficulty for many writers is that in relevant time the doors were only blown off a matter of seconds ago, and a haphazard state of uncertainty and misplaced debris remains. This ‘chaotic’ state means that some traditional publishing houses, and their authors, still don’t quite know how to react. Some still fear the upheaval, and to be fair you have to understand why. Perhaps Groucho’s famous quote ‘I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members’ is apt for the occasion?

Having attended Crimefest last year, I was in the company of many wonderfully entertaining writers. Every now and then I’d discover, quite by chance, that a certain delegate was an Indie writer. On some occasions they were introduced to various folks from the industry, publishers and authors alike, and it was notable that some felt awkward, as if they were uncertain how to respond. They were, I ought to add, in the minority, as even by last year it was clear that not only were the Indies coming, they were starting to be embraced.

This uncertainty though really fascinated me. In the music world established artists often embrace Indie bands. Some are keen to promote them and be associated, and others appear on talent shows to offer their support. Furthermore many Indie bands are hailed for their invention, often driving the industry forwards. In similar terms Indie filmmakers aren’t viewed with suspicion but as often having original and much appreciated artistic expression. Even in the world of television, where from time to time I ply my writing trade, Indie production companies often have the creative edge over their in-house rivals.

Publishing and the literary world hasn’t yet adapted to this change, though it is beginning to.  The systems may not yet be properly in place to fully adapt – but they are starting to appear.

This year four ‘Indie’ writers, none of whom are with traditional publishing houses have been invited to take part in a Crimefest panel. It’s a first, and I am thrilled and honoured to be amongst them. It’s a sign perhaps that the literary world is being led by genre specific devotees and it’s an acknowledgement that new writers don’t necessarily emerge on the scene via the traditional route.

All this has been made possible by tireless campaigning for Indie authors from the likes of panel moderator Joanna Penn and such groups as the Alliance of Independent Authors. They have provided support in all manner of ways, and together with the likes of David Gaughran, who keeps Indie writers abreast of scammers and con-artists, they are part of a thriving community. So many respected bloggers, and I’ll name but two of the most prolific, Margot Kinberg and Marina Sofia, have commented on and reviewed work by Indie authors based purely on merit, and with no pre-conceived prejudice. Many others have followed suit, including the much admired crimefictionlover.com site, who are also prepared to feature and review on merit alone.

No-one should fear the ‘rise of the Indies’. It isn’t a Terminator sub-plot and they won’t be trying to take over your planet. All that it really means is the reading public will have access to more books, and how can that be a bad thing?

There are those who will say what about the dross? How do we spot the real Indie nuggets from the fool’s gold? Readers will tell you twas ever thus. I expect we’ve all picked up a copy of something at the airport and wondered how it was ever allowed to leave the writer’s drawer? All that is happening now is that there’s more good, and probably more bad too, but in this day and age it’s really down to choice, and there’s certainly more of that.

I do hope if you’re reading this you’ll get the chance to come along to the Emerging Indie Author Panel at Crimefest. I hope the audience is a good mix of readers and writers and that both will be interested in the discussion. I’m sure many writers, unlike my pilot friend, might have a fear of ‘flying solo’, but my fellow panellists, notably thriller writer Eva Hudson and the inimitable Mel Sherratt, are testimony to the fact that persevere and you can enjoy the thrill of the ride.

I say hats off to Crimefest for opening up, and I hope other reviewers, publications and festival organisers will follow suit.

TJCooke

Author of ‘Defending Elton’ &’Kiss and Tell’

www.tjcooke.com

@timscribe

The Sun Has Got His Hat On…

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post and much has been happening. Life has been pretty hectic lately and finally I’ve had a chance to take the lap top out and sit in a warm and sunny garden. Bliss.

Before I say anything else I’d just like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive over a difficult time. I haven’t been as communicative as I would have liked, and not always been able to respond to emails etc promptly. It’s a great relief that my partner Kate is now well and truly on the mend having finished with the likes of chemo and radiotherapy etc. I can certainly empathise with anyone who has to go through that. All I can say is that if you can manage to maintain a strong will and a cheery disposition then it helps you to battle through.

I don’t think I’ve been able to say a great deal since the London Book Fair. There I spoke with Mel Sherratt about how quickly things are changing in the publishing world. It was a great panel and I hope that Indie authors continue to be given their voice at next year’s event. I have no idea whether I’ll still be an Indie author as such. I’ve given up trying to second guess those who are brave enough to back new writers via traditional auspices. I know my agent has recently sent out Defending Elton to a few select folks but whether it gets picked up we shall see.

In any event it was a major boost to hear at the LBF that over twenty-five per cent of their best sellers are now penned by Indie authors, that is to say those that have come to them directly rather than through a traditional publisher. I was pretty taken aback by that statistic, which was lurking at around three percent just a couple of years ago.

I haven’t yet promoted or marketed my books with any gusto. I had just about finished them when we had our setback at home so am quite surprised at how well they’ve done with little more than modest networking. I was certainly chuffed by some of the reviews and thanks so much if you are amongst my reviewers. I’d like to say a special thanks to Tahlia Newland who is the founder of the Awesome Indies website. I know she is very respected, always fair, and tough when she needs to be, so when she described Defending Elton as ‘nothing short of brilliant’ it meant a lot. When I do finally get my act together and give the books a little more support it would be good to reach a wider audience. So far it’s quality and not quantity, but a good start nonetheless.

I attended Crimefest at Bristol in late May. It was the first time I had attended the event and it was pleasing to meet some of the folks I’d only previously had email or twitter contact with. It was fabulous to meet the likes of Joanna Penn, Chris Simmons, Tony Klassaan, Paul Finch, Alison Bruce, Rhian Davies, Mari Hannah, Vicky Newham and many more, though there were some folks I missed and hope to have the opportunity to meet in the future.

That reminds me, I must also say a big thanks to Eva Hudson who distributed the leaflet about ‘Defending Elton’ and ‘Kiss and Tell’. Really kind of you Eva. My book cover designer Jamie Keenan had said a few words about the books and it was good to see it in print. I still can’t believe that a guy who designs covers for the likes of Stephen King and Irvine Welsh actually volunteered to design mine. I’m really lucky to have him on board.

The panels at Crimefest were varied. From a personal perspective I enjoyed the debut authors panel the most, perhaps because I could relate more to their recent experiences. I would really love to be able to attend Harrogate but alas that’s not possible this year… maybe next year with a following wind…

Recently I’ve been getting my copywriting business back up and running after a bit of a lull. I have written a fair few radio commercials of late and would like to think that mine aren’t in the cheesy category! I do try to be as creative and inventive as the brief, and the client, allows… for anyone interested there are a few samples of my commercials and jingles via www.soundssorted.co.uk

I’m still on hiatus from novel writing but will be back at it soon I’m sure. I needed a little time out after a hectic spell getting both books ready for publication via Amazon. After holidays in August I hope to have a more concerted effort at promotion and then it’s down to writing my third novel, which is due to see the return of Jill Shadow from ‘Kiss and Tell’. Mind you I’ve had such positive feedback from ‘Defending Elton’ that some have asked for the return of Jim Harwood, and even Elton! Food for thought….   

I hope to be a bit more active on social media as the weeks go by and things settle down. Once again thanks to everyone who has been patient and supportive through spring and early summer. And may the sun keep shining!

Elton Reviews

Elton Reviews

Got to thank this site Awesome Indies for their reviews of new release ‘Defending Elton’. Both from fellow authors too, which is much appreciated.

A thrilling ride at the fair…

The London Book Fair finished yesterday and I spent two days there with my writer friend Mel Sherratt. Mel and I were invited to take part in a couple of panels in the ‘Authorlounge’, an event which judged by the turnouts is rapidly gaining in popularity.

There was a time when the London Book Fair was totally trade dominated, but with things changing so rapidly in the publishing industry authors are beginning to play a larger part. This is no doubt a reflection of what is happening out there in the big wide world, as authors take advantage of new trends and opportunities.

The two panels we took part in were ‘the author’s journey’ and ‘the future for authors’. During the former I was asked how I had come to write my two novels ‘Kiss and Tell’ and ‘Defending Elton’ and why I had chosen to publish them via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing [for ebooks] and Create Space [for paperbacks].

When I chose to publish via Amazon, my quest to secure what is usually referred to as a ‘traditional deal’ hadn’t come to an end, indeed, even as I write this my agent is seeking an offer. However it really doesn’t matter what stage of the writing journey you are on, the option to get your work ‘out there’ rather than have it languishing on your hard drive gives writers a new chance to find and build a reading audience.

It was good to have an opportunity to share my journey with others, and I know that Mel felt the same. There is a definite sense of community amongst writers, and the vast majority of us are quite willing to share our ups and downs. Though the pitfalls do shift a little over time some things remain pretty stable. Both Mel and I pressed home the point that before a writer goes anywhere near that ‘submit’ button they must make sure that their work is a ship-shape as it can possibly be.

Put all subjective issues to one side and concentrate on the basics. All novels benefit from a solid narrative structure. It doesn’t mean the structure has to follow any given template but it must be able to convey the story. Proper formatting is crucial, as is careful spelling and grammar, copy editing, proof reading and a decent cover. These are basics that everyone can address, and without them you are giving readers and other interested parties an opportunity to ‘pick’ at your book.

Even traditionally published books have proof reading errors in them, as I’m sure we’ve all discovered, but they are few and far between. The standards are generally very high and independent authors can just as easily reach them, albeit with a little professional help along the way.

If I were to choose any two areas where outside help is best sought I would say in copy/proof editing and cover design. Readers will soon get annoyed if there are a series of daft mistakes, and they may not even be attracted to the book in the first place if the cover seems shoddy or lacking in intrigue.

It was a pleasure to meet so many writers in and around the book fair. I know from the feedback we received that the vibes were mainly positive. These are unparalleled and exciting times. During the panel debate Amazon’s Daniel Cooper announced that this year over a quarter of their best sellers were now written by independent authors. If nothing else that is surely testimony to just how rapidly things have changed, and it clearly gave an added impetus to all those who wondered if success could only be secured by the old tried and trusted methods.

So why should authors continue to suffer the long and bumpy road of literary agent and publisher rejections? It’s a good question, and one I was asked by the audience. I don’t doubt that there may come a time when nobody will bother to ask it, should things continue to change at such pace, but I don’t think that time has yet come.

I’m going to skip the literary agent question because I believe that whatever happens in the future writers and agents can continue to forge valuable partnerships. For reasons outlined below the role of the agent might change a little, but essentially the relationship can stay intact.

It’s a different issue though when it comes to publishers. The stigma stain attached to direct publishing has largely been mopped away, but it’s still visible. Literary ‘snobbery’ is fading too, but it still remains, and as Mel pointed out even the most successful independent authors still get refused when they apply to join such establishments as the Crime Writers Association. They also find their books aren’t submitted for major honours or prizes.

If you do run a blog or website and feature writers and reviews etc then please do consider all work on its merits. Nobody is asking for special favours, just equality of opportunity, surely something we should all support? The vast majority of course do, but from time to time you still find some who say ‘sorry we only consider traditionally published work’. In doing so they are ignoring over a quarter of the public’s favourite reads… perhaps they should ask themselves why?

Despite this, the barriers are coming down, and the Berlin wall moment may be closer than some think. Meantime, both Mel and I will continue our quest to secure a traditional deal, in one form or another, but only because that tipping point has not quite been reached. For my own part I would appreciate a publisher who believed in my work and was prepared to back me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that more of my books would be sold but it would give me peace of mind at a vital stage of my writing journey – a touch of added security in a precarious world.

In future times though this might not be necessary, as the more success independent authors have, and the more literary agents stick with their writers however they get published, then the less the traditional gatekeepers will hold sway. The model of the ‘hybrid author’, who may have a traditional deal for some aspects of their output and a direct deal for others might well speed up change even faster.

I guess ‘change’, by definition, can be a scary thing to some. We tend to rest more comfortably with the status quo. Writers though have nothing to fear from this change, quite the contrary, and literary agents can easily adapt. It’s really the larger publishing houses who have most to lose because for so long they had exclusive rights over what we, the reading public, could access.

I’m not going to second guess the future. After all very few successfully forecast the dramatic changes of the last few years. I tend to think though that in the future traditional and direct publishing will happily exist side by side, as indeed will ebooks and paperbacks. There may be a transitional period of give and take, and that may not suit some, but the two chief beneficiaries will be writers and readers, both of whom will have more choice, and surely that can’t be a bad thing?