Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Douglas Adams' flat in London

I find it helps to describe a scene if I've seen it, so I was looking on Rightmove for a suitable place for my heroine's mother to live near Highbury Fields when I chanced upon this flat (link may expire). It's one of Douglas Adams' old homes. I've always known he lived in Islington, round the corner from me, but was never sure exactly where. The estate agent writes, 

It is not often that Hotblack Desiato has the opportunity to sell an apartment that used to be owned by Douglas Adams, who borrowed our name for a character in Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

In the book, Hotblack Desiato was frontman for the mega-successful rock band Disaster Area, and spent a year dead for tax reasons. They may boast about it now on their website, but at the time the estate agent was not so pleased. For a while the firm's name changed to Hotblack & Co, no doubt because people assumed they had stolen the name from Douglas Adams, not vice versa.

This is the living room as it is today, fourteen years after Douglas Adams died too young at 49. I bet that pipe was there in his day, raising eyebrows. It's not the sort of thing you'd install on purpose. Why hasn't the house got a blue plaque? That's what I'd like to know.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reason for Amazon's success - everyone else is rubbish

At the funeral of an old friend of mine, a great guy called Charlie Feathers, someone told a story about him from the 1980s. Charlie had recently done work for several rich and famous people, the latest being Adam Ant, and his friend asked him how he got these jobs.

"Because everyone else is rubbish," Charlie replied.

This is the secret of Amazon's success, too, particularly when compared with Big Publishing, who are spectacularly rubbish at what they do, and only got away with it for so many years because they had a monopsony. So many businesses don't really care about the customer, tick boxes instead of doing a good job, fail to apply their intelligence to what they do, and generally don't bother.

Consider my experience in the past week:

  • I ordered sample tiles from Walls and Floors. Instead of the two square blue tiles ordered, two rectangular tiles in cream and green arrived.
  •  DX claimed via email to have  redelivered the (I hope) corrected order yesterday, when I was in my workshop all day. I asked my neighbours in the building. Zilch. I chased DX. Apparently they didn't deliver yesterday after all, and I will now have to wait till Monday.
  • My gas supplier wants to check my home gas meter for obscure safety reasons. They will only give 'appointments' of a five hour window. They seriously expect me, as a self-employed person, to waste half a day sitting around unpaid at home because they cannot be bothered to organize a tighter schedule. Ocado manages to give an hour's window for grocery deliveries, and rings if running late or early. Why won't Lowri Beck Services? 
Meanwhile Amazon has started same day deliveries in London. I can't be alone in finding myself purchasing more from Amazon and less from everybody else. The makeup remover that the chemist down the road no longer stocks? Amazon has it. The palm sander pads for which my local Leyland charges £6.98 for 5 sheets? Amazon offers 20 for £9.99, with free delivery, or 6 generic for £1.99. Waitrose has stopped selling bean sprouts - but Amazon sells beans for sprouting. I could go on.

Any business feeling threatened by Amazon might usefully consider upping its game. Or shutting up shop.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Time Rats, animatronics and robots

I've been researching robots and androids for the second book in my Time Rats series (first book available soon). I was amazed with what is already out there. See this video:

These skilful imitations of animals increase one's appreciation of the natural world -  and make me brood on the threat it faces from ever-growing numbers of humans. The increase of Africa's population alone is forecast to be 1.3 billion by 2050, the date in which much of my novel is set.

It would be a sad thing indeed if the only big cats in fifty years' time were robotic.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Finished my time travel novel, woop woop!

I've just written the last page of the last chapter of my time travel novel, currently called The Trouble with Time.  (Or that may be the name of the series, as I intend to write more books about the same characters.)

It's always satisfying to reach the end of a book, though of course it still has to go out to beta readers, once my sister, a sort of pre-beta, has read it. I have yet to put it through Pro Writing Aid, to catch word echoes I've missed.

I'm a relatively slow writer, and this novel has taken me longer than normal, partly because of the day job, and partly because the offspring and her fiancé have been buying a small flat in London - which if you don't have much money is a task about as easy as finding the Holy Grail. She's been saving for years, and studying the market to a point where if she went on Mastermind, specialist subject The Cheaper End of the London Property Market, 2013-2015, she'd ace it. They're living in my workshop while wrangling builders. The whole thing has been taking a lot out of all of us. 

So that's my excuse for averaging 225 words a day on this novel. Plus, as I've grumbled before, time travel logistics scramble the brain.

This is the cover I made for Write On, but I'm going to experiment with other options before publishing, and maybe get my trusty blog readers to vote for their favourite.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

More thoughts on Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count

I really approve of KENPC (though goodness me, did they put any thought at all into that clunky acronym?) There is, however a downside.

Any less than best-selling author can follow a reader's progress through his book. 

I was gratified when an anonymous reader powered through Replica in a day. But what about the reader who reached page 338 of Ice Diaries then apparently wandered off? I do hope he/she is all right, and didn't walk under a bus while engrossed in Tori's struggle to survive. Worst of all, though, is the person who read three pages of Remix four days ago and no more since.

There is only one solution to this. I need to sell as many books as Hugh Howey, then the daily pages read figure will be so stratospheric that I won't be able to discern individual readers who fail to finish my novels.

Right. I'm off to work on this.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Amazon makes KU payouts fairer; some writers miffed

Yesterday Amazon's Kindle Unlimited lending library started paying authors a different way.

Instead of payment per book once the reader had reached the 10% mark, authors are paid for each page that is read.  You can read about it here. Books' pages are worked out by a uniform system, the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC v1.0). Clever old Amazon, no doubt anticipating a flood of aggrieved emails, has made these smaller than a normal page; my novel Replica is 287 pages long, but 452 KENPs.

This system rewards writers who write full-length novels that grip readers. Shorter works, and books that readers don't finish, will lose out. This is fairer, right?

You'd never think so from the wails and moans rising from parts of the press and some authors. You'd never think putting your books in KU was optional.

Erotica shorts authors knew it was going to be bad. I just don’t think most of them thought it was going to be quite *this* bad. Because it looks as if authors will be making about $0.0057 per page. That’s slightly less than half a penny a page, folks.
Selena Kitt

(I think erotica tends to be on the short side.)

From The Guardian:

Casey Lucas, a literary editor who works with self-publishing authors, says she has lost six clients already. They have decided to stop writing after “estimating a 60–80% reduction in royalties”. A lot of self-published romance authors are disabled, stay-at-home mums, or even a few returned veterans who work in the field because a regular job just isn’t something they can handle,” she says. “People are shedding a lot of tears over this.”

Oh no! Wicked Amazon is ripping off the disabled and disadvantaged! Writers are being forced to stop writing!

Amazon's KU fund for July will be at least $11 million. If the new system encourages some writers to leave KU, there will be more for the rest of us. Always supposing that readers actually read our books after borrowing them, that is.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Woohoo, 60,000 words!

Today the work in progress hit the 60,000 word mark, which is my personal point of no return (see this blog post) and a cause for celebration, even though there's a way to go before I write THE END.

The novel is a time travel story, which I hope will turn out to be the start of a series. Time travel is tricky and confusing to write about and can make your brain go all squishy.

I like to have the end of the book decided before I start writing, and I've just realized I have to change it since it would fall foul of the grandfather paradox and my clever readers would notice.

It's not the first time I've changed the end of a novel at the last minute. I could see that the ending I'd planned for Replica was going to be predictable and possibly a bit dull, so I spent three weeks furiously mulling over alternatives. A few readers hate the ending I came up with, though I find it entirely satisfying. Most are taken by surprise - this may be an incidental advantage of changing the end well into writing the book.

Back to work. That ending won't write itself. Now, if only I had a time machine, I could whiz into the future and bring a copy back here and save myself a lot of effort...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

READERS in the KNOW - Replica podcast

Readers in the Know is a handy website to help readers find good books at bargain prices (see brief video below).

Simon Denman, its founder, makes short podcasts reading scenes from books on his site to promote them, and he's just done an extract of my novel, Replica. I got to choose which scene he read. I didn't want to strain his thespian talents by giving him a passage in female POV; in the end I chose the scene in which Nick, MI5 agent, seduces Beth one snowy night in London when he's supposed to be outside in a van covertly watching her door.

I think Simon reads it really well. Go to the page, and you will find lots more extracts from other novels to listen to.

Find out more about Readers in the Know in 58 seconds:

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Google Alerts, piracy, poverty and politicians

Google Alerts isn't what it used to be. Once it actually worked, and now it just occasionally informs me that I have written a blog post. But last week it made a bit of an effort, and alerted me to a forum where a reader was asking where she could download Ice Diaries free. The forum was quite strange, as some of the time it pretended to be KUF, the Kindle Users' Forum, and sometimes came up as The Comic Book Forum - but don't let's get sidetracked.

I'm trying to decide what I think about illegal downloads. Neil Gaiman famously believes that piracy boosts sales; but he's in a different league from me where maybe the rules are different too. My novels cost £1.99 or $2.99, which is reasonably affordable for most. Not for everyone, though. Some people really don't have any spare money to buy books, and if the choice is between their reading an illegal free copy of one of my novels, or not reading my writing at all, I'd go for being read.

I've blogged before about poor heroes being more appealing than rich ones, and this is often true in real life as well. It's more difficult to like rich people, as they are free of so many of most people's daily concerns. I still grit my teeth over Shirley Williams saying she didn't know why people were always going on about money - she never thought about it at all. Nor did she need to. 

One problem with politicians these days is that they have never experienced poverty - but not only do they think themselves underpaid (huh!) they wrongly believe they know, from observation, what it is like to have no money. It is not possible to know what poverty is like without being poor. In my opinion, everyone should spend a year or two being a bit broke, as they will be better for it and have empathy for the have-nots for the rest of their lives.

I do worry though that if too many people get into the habit of illegally downloading books, authors will earn even less than they do now. Still, at least we'll be able to write poor heroes and heroines with real conviction and inside knowledge...

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Conflict - a pain in life, essential in fiction...

...or why bad things need to happen to your characters, especially the nice ones.

Consider the following:
  • Romeo meets Juliet and they instantly fall for each other. After initial reservations, the Montagues and Capulets agree to the match. Romeo and Juliet get married and live happily ever after.

  • Mr Darcy, while visiting his friend Mr Bingley, comes across the poor but bewitching Elizabeth Bennett. He cannot overcome his passion for her, and proposes. She realizes that beneath a chilly façade, he's not only hot but a good egg. They get married etc..

  • To his consternation, Hamlet finds his mother has married his uncle quite soon after her husband's death. However, he reflects that she has a right to find happiness again, and he's in no hurry to start the tedious business of ruling a kingdom. He finds consolation in the beautiful Ophelia. They get married etc..

  • On arrival at Manderley, the second Mrs de Winter perceives Mrs Danvers will be nothing but trouble, so persuades Maxim to retire her, leaving them to enjoy their new life together in the beautiful house.
You get my drift. Are you feeling restive yet?

If fiction is not to be bland and boring, your characters must struggle against a tide of misfortune, betrayal, and misunderstanding. Villains are out to get them. Bad turns to worse.

The hero and heroine must earn their happy ending.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Time travel bartering...

A character in my WIP is recalling when, having got his hands on a time travel device, he attempted to visit the Colosseum and see the gladiators. Before going, he researched and purchased a toga and sandals, so he could pass in a crowd. He thought his public-school Latin might come in handy. And he took some items to barter, because he wasn't sure if you had to pay an entrance fee to the Colosseum (coincidentally, neither am I). Needless to say, the trip did not go well.

And serve him right - what sort of person would want to watch the nasty stuff that went on in the Colosseum in ancient Roman times?

I wondered a) where you lot would go if you had a time machine - the discreet sort that goes round your wrist, and b) what you would take to barter for money? My character, Quinn, takes glass spheres in various sizes, drinking glasses, pads of paper and colouring pencils - unless you can make a better suggestion?

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Thirty years ago and thirty years ahead

Part of my work in progress is set thirty years ahead. Musing about the changes that might happen in the next three decades, it seems useful to consider what has changed since 1984. 

Things we thought okay in 1984 we don't think okay now
  • smoking in bars, restaurants and other people's houses
  • dog excrement on pavements - we didn't like it, but grudgingly accepted that to a dog, the whole of outdoors was a potential lavatory
  • milder forms of sexual harassment
  • huge shoulder pads, streaky hair, clothes bigger than you were (like Princess Diana's wedding dress)
  • burglar alarms that had to be turned off by a human, and frequently rang for three days straight over a bank holiday
Things we have now we didn't have in 1984
  • personal computers
  • smart phones
  • internet shopping
  • ebooks and ereaders
  • 24 hour drinking, often outside the bar to accommodate smokers
  • speed cushions (because road planners are very very stupid)
  • the London Congestion Charge (boo, hiss)
  • fines on motorists (£135 million a year in the UK)
  • a modest London one-bedroom flat costing half a million pounds
So what about thirty years' time? I really hope we get driverless cars, and if we do, people won't be able to understand how we endured the carnage on the roads: in the UK in 2013, 1,713 people were killed, 21,657 seriously injured. They'll also wonder why we put up with the pollution cars produce, and our streets being lined with parked cars. In London, most of us live in a car park.

Other possibilities: a cash-free economy, artificial intelligence, and undeniable climate change.

(And please, can we have drones? Amazon delivering by drone would be SO cool.)

What do you think will change in the next thirty years? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

Nature having unaccountably failed to provide snow, here is a picture of some. And a dog. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Killing Hitler

It is not possible to research a time travel novel without coming across the trope of going back in time to kill Hitler. You can listen to brilliant John Finnemore's sketch about it here, at about 26.30 minutes in.

But everything has unintended consequences. I've been thinking about one aspect of this lately, what with Plebgate, Emily Thornberry's snide Twitter photograph, and David Mellor, whose tirade at a taxi driver included the words:

"I’ve been in the Cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I'm a Queen’s Counsel - you think that your experiences are anything compared to mine? And if you think you’re going to be sarky with me, get a better education before you try being sarcastic with me."

And I thought that though there is a lot wrong with our civilization, how nice it is that a de haut en bas attitude is deeply unfashionable these days. Bragging that you are superior because you are rich, successful, well born, white, male, or well-connected is likely to raise a chorus of boos, where not so long ago it was accepted. Perhaps this is connected to the world's horror at where Hitler's concept of German superiority led.

Hitler tapped into the secret belief most of us have that we are better than other people, a belief we should be aware of and treat with suspicion. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have to admit, I harbour a deep inner conviction that I am better than people who get apostrophes wrong.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Time travel via Google

The current work in progress is to do with time travel, and in the course of the novel my characters will visit the same places at different eras. As usual, the setting is my part of London; even so, I sometimes check out a location virtually on Google Street View. 

Yesterday I discovered a curious anomaly; most of Street View round Hoxton dates from July 2014. But there is one spot, just one, on the map where you can see my workshop in August 2008. And it's like going back in time.

So many changes - Hoxton Boutique has gone, the black door is now yellow, next door is a building site covered in scaffolding. Even the lamppost, which used to hover outside my window like a levitating Dalek, has been replaced. (I often used to wonder whether, in dire emergency, I would be brave enough to sling a ladder from my window ledge to the top of the lamppost, climb across and slither down to safety. The answer was probably not.)

London changes all the time, much faster than most places. And we are time travelling all the time. We just don't notice it.

EDIT: the offspring and my friend Joo have now told me time travel is a feature of the latest Google Street View, unknown to me. I've upgraded and it's brilliant. Love it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

We are all heroes in our own stories

I haven't posted a video for a while. I came across this one after watching another via a Seth Godin email. It's apposite for any writer inventing characters, and reminds me of the saying that every villain thinks he's the hero. Come to that, I guess every character thinks he's the hero...

Friday, 31 October 2014

Getting to keep 10% of everything you earn

This is a brief snippet from an old BBC sitcom, Hancock's Half Hour:

Sid James: “You’ve forgotten something, mate. I’m your agent, remember? I got a contract with you.”

Hancock: “Contract? You’ve been holding that thing over my head for five years now, allowing me to keep 10% of everything that I earn.” 

Audience laughter at the rapacity of Sid James and Hancock’s gullibility.

Now imagine Sid as a publisher, and Hancock as a writer, and suddenly it's normal and accepted and nobody laughs. (And his literary agent would take 15% 0f the 10%...)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Present tense again

I've grumbled before about writers using present tense for no good reason in fiction. 

I'm not unreasonable. I'm prepared to admit that sometimes it's okay. I've just reread Mortal Engines, and though most of the novel uses past tense, occasional passages are in present. Unexpectedly, this works. I first read the book before I began to write, and didn't even notice. 

I've used present tense myself. In my short story, Mr Conway's Heaven, the protagonist narrates, and the whole point of the story is that he doesn't know what is coming to him.

But what's rattling my cage right now is trendy historians on radio and television using present tense to describe historical events, when historical events by definition happened in the past. This invariably has me gritting the teeth and muttering, "Henry VIII is not marrying Anne Boleyn now. It happened nearly 500 years ago! If that doesn't merit the past tense, what on earth does?" 

Where will it all end? Do we face a depressing future when any tense bar the present is quaintly old-fashioned and used only by pedants?

Researching the topic, I see I am not alone. The modish Melvyn Bragg was criticised for abuse of the present tense this summer, and quite right too. Grrr.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Truth in fiction - dos and don'ts for authors

A biography can only tell you what the biographer thinks happened. (Imagine your biographer after you've died earnestly interviewing family, friends and enemies. How close would he get to the truth about you?) Whereas fiction deals in what the author knows to be true. One recognizes one's own experience in a good novel, as well as learning about human nature.

It's always a mistake for writers to bend the truth; readers will instantly notice. It's also obvious when they let their views interfere when depicting character. A writer may disapprove of swearing, smoking, and certain political views, but if all the 'good' characters behave in ways he approves of he'll find it terribly limiting. 

Having a character do something nobody ever would in order to advance the plot is a seriously bad idea. Follow the character, change the plot. Unless one's name is Agatha Christie, that is. It worked for her. Last week I listened to Murder in Mesopotamia, and the plot had me yelling at the radio, "What? What? WHAT?" It hinges on a woman who has been married to her husband for two years not realizing he is the same man she was married to fifteen years before. Now I'm not good at remembering faces myself, but even I might be relied upon to spot that husband #2 was husband #1, lightly disguised by a change of name and a Swedish accent.

Though truth is good, writers need to be careful when adding undigested chunks of their lives to a novel. For some curious reason, that's always the bit readers pick on as being implausible, and it's no good protesting that it really happened to you. I remember on YouWriteOn criticizing a thriller because of the gorgeous personality-free female who seemed like just another bit of the hero's kit. The writer emailed me to say she was based on a real person he'd known. Problem is, even if he put a footnote in the finished book to that effect, it still wouldn't make the character believable.

So to sum up: we must tell the truth, but transform it into fiction first; never foist our prejudices on our characters; show life as we see it. No cheating.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

REMIX the audiobook - free copies

Remix the audiobook is now for sale on Audible and Amazon. Yay! 

But hang on ... as a new release, it has no listener reviews yet, and I need those to persuade buyers to try the sample. 

Time for an offer to my trusty blog readers.

If you listen to audiobooks and would like to listen to Remix free in exchange for a review on Audible, email me at and I'll choose a few of you to gift the audiobook to - I can send to the US and the UK. (Amazon price currently £12.50, $19.95, or free when you join Audible for a month's trial.)

You can listen to the sample here, and see what you think of Ric Kealey with an Irish accent.

A free audiobook. Form a tidy line.

Honestly, I spoil you.