Category Archives: Ebook

Project Firebird

I can’t help it. I like what Nick Green writes. Very much. His books are precisely how you want children’s books to be; exciting and fun, and just that little bit different.

Nick first offered Project Firebird for me to read when he’d finished it a few years ago, and I loved it. But I knew he had edited it substantially, so felt it was best to re-read the new version. Nick is about to publish Project Firebird as an ebook in September, along with its two sequels.

It’s a dystopian adventure, with a twist. We first meet the main character – Leo – in his joy-riding days, in Salford of all places. His actions cause him to end up as one of a group of 25 (ish) young teenagers at a centre in the Lake District. They are there because they have all done a ‘good’ deed. They are different.

Events unfold in a way I don’t want to give away, but let’s just say that the plot changes dramatically several times. When you think you know, expect to be surprised, again.

The teenagers learn new skills and how to cooperate with each other (well, they are meant to) and to prepare for a bad future.

(When the Resident IT Consultant first read the book he asked if it really was all right for adults to do what they do in this story. I reckon it is. It adds to the thrill and the adventure.)

Project Firebird isn’t one of those books where you are dismayed to learn there are two more. On the contrary, you won’t want to wait to start on the sequel.

Stealing and borrowing

Some people put it better than others. That’s why I am borrowing someone else’s words to talk about stealing. Simply because they said it so well.

First it was Nicola Morgan who discovered that ‘pirates’ were offering her ebooks online. She has worked hard to bring them out, so wasn’t terribly pleased to find that people were that keen to avoid paying the mere £2 she’s asking for her books.

Nicola reckons ‘pirate’ sounds much nicer than ‘scummy thief’ and that it’s time we stop thinking of these book thieves as rather loveable pirates. She’s right.

Then came Joanne Harris who discovered her fans tweeting happily about how and where to best steal her books. Except if you use the word download it sounds rather better to those who do it.

She wrote a great blog post about it, and she doesn’t just mention her own – lack of – income, but that of everyone else in the book business, who will not have the money to feed their families or pay the bills.

It’s worth noting, too, that this is the way to lose the publishing business, and anything else connected with it, like libraries. Which is just as well, really, as there will be no books written, that could be published, or that might be borrowed from your local library.

For free.

Marcus Sedgwick on horror and sheds

The Marcus Sedgwick interview is ready for your entertainment today. I wish you could hear Marcus, as well as just read. He laughs a lot and he talks ‘just right’ by which I mean that he is interesting on whatever stupid question someone like me might ask, and he spends time on them, but not too long.

Lagom, as we say in Sweden.

He is someone who has been on my interview radar for years, and it’s mainly coincidence that it was his new adult novel, A Love Like Blood, that caused us to meet and talk (I ‘blame’ the very helpful Kerry at Hodder), which is why I used up some of our ‘adult’ time on talking about his – slightly – younger books as well.

Marcus Sedgwick

And his shed. (It’s not necessary to buy a house that has a good shed. You can actually build a nice shed once you’ve found the house of your dreams.)

Marcus claims not to be obsessed by horror, but he is a man who scares me a lot, through his books. They are the kind of books you read hiding behind the sofa.

Caught mid-cycle

Last week Ebony McKenna told us how she dealt with the problem of her publisher not wanting to publish more than two of four planned books. That’s getting to be a far too common problem. This week Miriam Halahmy has agreed to answer a few questions on what she did when her publisher ceased to operate, just as she was expecting to send her third novel out into the world.

Miriam Halahmy, Hayling Island books

“How did you start? Was it just one book at first, or did you know there would be three?

Hidden was the first Young Adult book I had ever written. Before that I had written and published short fiction and a novel for adults. But half way through writing Hidden, I became interested in the bad girl, Lindy Bellows and decided she needed her own story. This became Illegal.  I decided that I wanted to continue with my novels set on Hayling Island and so Jess, the leader of the posh girl gang, moved forward in Illegal, and then Stuffed became Jess’s story, together with her boyfriend, Ryan. I call the books The Hayling Cycle and my new publisher, Albury Books, would like another. I have a very good idea and so there might be a fourth!

And what about your contract; was that for one book at a time? Did you actually have a contract or agreement that Meadowside would publish the third book in your Hayling Island cycle?

Meadowside loved Hidden and offered me a contract for that book. However, I had written Illegal and had a strong synopsis for Stuffed. They loved Illegal and liked the ideas for Stuffed and so they then offered me a three book contract which I accepted.

When, and how, did you find out that they would not be publishing Stuffed?

In September 2012, a few months after publishing Illegal, I was informed that Meadowside had been taken over by Parragon Books, the fiction list cancelled and rights for all three books would revert to me. I was devastated, as you can imagine.

Had you already written it by then? Did you ever consider giving up on Stuffed?

I had completed Stuffed and was actually working on a new novel. I had no idea what would happen to my Hayling Cycle and whether Stuffed would ever be published.

How did you set about finding a replacement publisher?

I didn’t. I felt realistically that no-one would want the third book in a cycle of three and it was also very unlikely that a publisher would take on all three books. But in June 2013, Simon Rosenheim, the former director of Meadowside, who had left before their demise, emailed me and said that he was starting his own publishing company, Albury Books, and would love to publish my books. Simon came and met me in my home. He was very keen to put the Hayling Cycle back in print, especially as Hidden had done so well. ‘I was so proud when Hidden was nominated for the Carnegie Medal,’ he told me.  He also said that Stuffed would be Albury’s first unpublished book and would showcase what the publisher could offer. I was delighted to sign with my original publisher again and give my cycle a new lease of life.

Did the change delay publication of Stuffed?

Originally Meadowside were going to publish Stuffed in March 2013, a year after Illegal. Albury worked very fast and were able to publish in February 2014, only eleven months later. So yes, publication was delayed, but the end result has been amazing.

How has it been different working with a new publisher on an already established series of books?

Simon was already right behind my books as he was my original publisher. But of course there were different editors, designers, type setters, etc to work with and this was tricky at times. I was used to the way the Meadowside team worked and we had discussed the layout and design of Stuffed already and had a particular vision for it. However, Hannah Howell, Publisher Controller, and Simon worked together so well and helped me to overcome any problems. We all had the same vision. We wanted Stuffed and the other two books to be produced to the same high standard as my previous publisher so that I could be proud to promote my books and also proud to be published by Albury Books. We believe that we have achieved that.

What would you have done had Albury not stepped in? Any thoughts on self-publishing?

I was considering publishing all three as e-books. I was also looking into companies that simply printed back lists for established authors. But I have to say that my heart was not really in this because I knew how hard it would be for Stuffed to get noticed this way and very difficult for me to reach my audiences. I am very relieved that Simon contacted me and set up Albury Books.

I gather you have lots of events about to happen this year. What sort of events, and where and for what age group? What do you talk about; the books, or the kind of society that caused them to be written in the first place?

Miriam Halahmy

Yes, I have had a sudden wonderful resurgence of interest in Hidden and as a result have been invited to schools in Paris and Frankfurt. Also Hidden has been chosen by IBBY Ireland  to feature on their website for International Children’s Day, April 2nd, as an example of multi-cultural issues in children’s books. Meanwhile, with Stuffed coming out, I have about 20 invites to schools, festivals, colleges and universities. At an author event I talk about my books, give a reading and I have adapted some of my scenes into drama scripts which the students are very keen to read out. I encourage debate, group discussion and question and answer. My books cover some of the most contentious issues in our society today and there is always a great deal to discuss.

Do you have plans for your next book yet? Can you tell us about it, or do you feel it’s better to stay quiet until a book is finished and ready to go out and meet its readers?

In the past year my book, Meet me Under the Hitler Tree, about a Far Right street group influencing a Sixth Form college, has been under submission. No takers yet and so I have written a new book with Home at its heart and that is currently being redrafted. I have an idea I am researching and will let you know as soon as I have some news.”

I’m very relieved Miriam found a solution to her problem, and that we have more books to look forward to. (Might be a good idea to buy one or several of her Hayling Island books, just to encourage her new publisher?)

Preston’s Plumage

Some people don’t want to earn money. Or so it seems, in this crazy world. Just like I give you my witchy musings for free (would love to charge if I could), Damien M Love is doing his level best to let you read his latest short story for free. Except the big bookshop in the (cyber)sky will only let big publishers give ebooks away for free.

Damien M Love, Preston's Plumage

Small Damien didn’t want to give up, however, so he is using the loophole of being allowed to offer something to download for free for five days. Starting today. So get shopping! It won’t cost you anything but your peace of mind.

And that’s only if you read Preston’s Plumage, a nice (no, it isn’t) and short (yes, it is) story. It is short. It is good. It is creepy, in an amusing sort of way.

It’s about a not very nice boy not called Preston. You could say he’s dim, even. He’s got a granny. There’s a fence. And a major splat.

Don’t worry; it will soon be over. And you won’t have paid for it, unless you wait until after Monday, and thwart Damien by paying good money for his little story on how crime pays. Or maybe not.

Little orphaned Ondine

I must be careful. Very careful. If I’m not, you’ll find Ebony McKenna has taken over as chief Bookwitch. Which would at least mean you’d be well entertained. As you may have noticed in yesterday’s review of her third Ondine book, it is an ebook. Below is her background story as to why.

‘I hate orphans. Not actual orphans (poor loves) but the trope of orphans in fiction.

They started in fairytales and never went away, did they? The loner who has to face the world – alone – with no parental figures to offer sanctuary; the plucky victim of circumstance who wins the prize based on their sheer goodness/magical abilities/discovery of the elixir. Orphans may have reflected the times they were originally from – mothers who died in childbirth, parents who died in battle or from the pox – but they’re an anachronism today.

Which is why I made sure Ondine wasn’t an orphan. When her story first crashed into my brain she was an orphan. Because I picked that low-hanging fruit. But as her character became flesh and blood she grew a family. Two older sisters and parents who treated her like a baby, plus a batty great auntie slash mentor. Love and conflict all rolled up together. Plus, she worked in a pub, surrounded by people. Family, magic mayhem and a talking ferret. I’d captured lightning in a bottle.

Ondine and her sequel found generous parents at Egmont in the UK, who doted on her, educated her and gave her the prettiest clothes. They sent her off to the ball bookshop, in hope of finding true love with readers.

Many readers did love Ondine. Laika films showed interest in adapting the story for animation. Alas there were more books that were prettier, had wealthier suitors, were more glittering . . . and I’m clubbing this fairytale analogy to death.

Ondine had two big adventures in the bookstores in the UK and Commonwealth, but all the love and care in the world wasn’t enough to guarantee a third outing (let alone a planned fourth). Around this time, bookstores were closing and the GFC was kneecapping everything. Times were bad, especially for authors.

My anti-orphan series became an orphan.

If my life were a book, this would be ‘the black moment’, where all is lost and love is not enough.

After gobbling chocolate through a funnel, it was time to look at options. The first step was to take advantage of ‘the rest of the world’ rights I’d retained, so I could self-publish the first two Ondine novels as ebooks into the USA, Russia, China, Japan and Moldova (which has eerie similarities with Brugel, where Ondine is set. For starters, neither has won Eurovision).

Ebony McKenna, The Winter of Magic

The thing about self-publishing is you have to do it all yourself. Which means hiring everyone to do the things an author can’t do.

Fate had not completely given me the middle finger; I found an editor who used to work with Egmont, who was now living in my home country, Australia. Naturally I hired her to edit the next two novels in the series. I hired a cover designer to give the series a stunning new look. I hired a formatting company to crunch the pixels into shape so the novels would be available everywhere good downloads were sold. All the while I kept writing, because that’s what had gotten me into this fix in the first place, and it would be what got me out of it.

Now the Ondine ‘trequel’ is available worldwide. The Winter of Magic has me brimming with tears of joy. Relief is in there too. Terror gets a mention – it’s always scary putting a book out there into the world, however it’s published.

There is also pride. Not a boastful pride, but a quiet, satisfied sense of a job well done; a wellspring of hope as my orphaned Ondine gets to dance at the ball once again.’

Thank you, Ebony! And don’t worry too much about Eurovision. One day Brugel will win. (Also, please keep writing.)

The Winter of Magic

I get it now. Ebony McKenna is working her way through the seasons. We did autumn three springs ago (she’s from Australia. She’s bound to get things like that ‘wrong’), and now it’s Christmas (with the before and after, so almost right) and it’s cold in Brugel. Very cold. Especially with the electricity cuts.

The Winter of Magic, the third book about Ondine and her beautiful Hamish, who is only occasionally a ferret, is out as an ebook, which means you can do amusing things with the lovely footnotes. Ebony said to tap the screen, but no amount of tapping the Resident IT Consultant’s Kindle did me any good. Was she pulling my leg, or is my equipment no good? Not to worry, the footnotes come at the end of each chapter, and if you have a good memory, you will even remember what they refer to, by the time you get to them.

If you’re waiting for Hamish, you can’t wait too long. Three years is obviously far too long a gap, but you will do it for Hamish. I mean Ondine – of course – because she is the main character here. A witch. Luckily for her, most of her witchery must be done by kissing Hamish. Such hard graft

They are back with Ondine’s family, working hard in the pub. Her sister is getting married, and her great aunt is poking her nose into everything. The Duchess is trying to make herself popular, while town is filling up with witches (it’s time for the CovenCon), one of whom is a very bad witch.

This is such fun. Again. I recommend this book against the dark depressing times we have to suffer through before it’s summer, or at least spring, again.

The seasonally obsessed Ebony seems to plan to end the series (which personally I thought was a trilogy) with a spring themed fourth book. She had better be kind to Hamish!

(Review of first book here. To buy The Winter of Magic.)