Category Archives: Ebook

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.)

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Montmorency

After being introduced to Eleanor Updale over four years ago, I vowed to find out about Montmorency. As you do. But reality kept me in check, and when I was provided with one of Eleanor’s new books, I read that instead. And then last year there was another brand new one, and poor Montmorency slipped further into my black reading hole.

Until… just last week, in fact. Eleanor wrote to tell me she’s not only got back ownership of all four Montmorency books, but she has done what fans have been clamouring for, and written a fifth book, finally rescuing the man from the cliff he has been hanging from for some years.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency - 3 covers

And would I like to read Montmorency Returns? Well, yes. But perhaps I ought to find out who he is by starting at the beginning, and that is what I’ve done. I told myself that reading the first book might be enough background, because to read all four very quickly, seemed a tall order. Only, I believe I will have to locate books two, three and four as well. If only to ascertain what kind of cliff-hanger, and to feel I’m up to speed on everything. Plus the small matter of my enjoyment.

Halfway through Montmorency I wanted to stop. Eleanor had done that thing again, where I am so worried I’m absolutely certain I can’t go on. I knew she’d have to do something bad to Montmorency, and I didn’t want to see it being done.

It’s curious, really. I shouldn’t cheer a thief on, or care what happens to him. The other thing is, the book has no child characters at all. Montmorency is an adult, and so are all the people he consorts with, in and out of jail. That doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘young’ book. It is, in much the same way as my childhood classics often were about adults, but written in a way that would attract younger readers.

Montmorency is a kind of Arsène Lupin; a gentleman thief, in Victorian London. Because he has to live off something. It’s fascinating to see how prisoner 493 spends time in jail, and how he plans what to do if and when he is free again, and then how he starts off once he does get out.

It involves sewers, and these ones are smellier and generally yuckier than the ones in Terry Pratchett’s Dodger. But it’s the same principle.

In the end Montmorency copes well with what the author throws at him, and I was able to continue. Did I mention I might have to read them all?

Notes from the editor

If you’ve never used an editor, you might not know what they do. To be perfectly honest I’m not 100% sure, either. But I might have a better understanding of the need for them than some. I remember what the editors on the Guardian used to do to my blog pieces for them. Some of it good; some infuriating annoying. It’s good to blog on my own here, where I can do as I like. But the paid blogging was good too. Getting paid. Reaching a larger or different audience.

(Can you tell I edit Bookwitch all the time? And still I have Offspring telling me there are two ‘thes’ or a missing possessive ‘s’ and all sorts of other stupid mistakes. I try not to kill them. I don’t always have a feel for what my readers will find interesting. I get things wrong. Assuming someone wanted to make a book from my blog posts; what do you reckon would happen? Are they ready to be printed straight as they are, or would they need endless editing? The former sounds nice and easy. The latter would make for a better product, but would also cease to be Bookwitch the book.)

As you know (if you’ve paid attention!) I get asked to read self-published books a lot. Some are book books, others ebooks or manuscript. Some are offered for possible review, others merely want an opinion. Some are seeking a ‘real’ publisher. Some are doing well, while others are not.

I seem to recall suggesting somewhere on here that people who can spell stand a better chance of hearing back from me. Some writers seem to feel that if they have indeed got the spelling and grammar right, then that’s all that’s needed.

It’s not. What – nearly – every writer needs, apart from the ability to be self-critical, is someone else to offer constructive criticism. Not nearly enough writers take this route. Or maybe they don’t specify that the husband, mother, neighbour or cousin should be truly critical. Not just say ‘that’s quite good, dear’ and let the writer continue in the belief that nothing needs changing.

Do you remember Fletcher Moss? He won the Chicken House competition a couple of years ago, and his published book was out last year. And it was very good. But, the place where Fletcher ended his story was where the editor suggested he had got about a third of the way, and he should write quite a bit more to make it a very different book. That didn’t mean Fletcher can’t write. He can. They, on the other hand, could see what might sell, or at least, sell better. If your neighbour isn’t Annie Eaton at Random, they will probably not know these things.

No one can see what goes on inside your head. You can, which is why what makes perfect sense to you, doesn’t always work when someone else reads your story. Is it even interesting to most people? Might it be a tad too encouraging of illegal or immoral behaviour? (I’m talking children’s books here.)

I know I like things to be smooth and lovely, and I still grind my teeth when there are lots of dreadful obstacles in a (published) book. I wish they didn’t need to happen. Except I know the obstacles are there to pave the way for improvements later. So, you need to have some bad stuff happening. Too smooth is ultimately boring.

A year ago I read someone’s manuscript, and the asked for criticism of what was a very good novel was taken extremely badly. In this case it was someone I don’t see in my daily life, but it was a lesson to be learned. I’m reading a surprisingly similar (in feel, not plot) MS at the moment. I have no need to say anything bad about it, but my heart beats faster, reminding me of last year.

In short (yeah, I know this wasn’t short at all), I may have to change to reading nothing outside mainstream publishing. Flak for money is all very well. Unsalaried flak is a different kettle of fish.

The Passionflower Massacre

Nicola Morgan kills at the drop of a hat. You have your spunky – if slightly naïve – heroine Matilda, who has just gone to pick strawberries (as a summer job; not for dessert), and she’s surrounded by old friends, and a couple of new ones. Fine, you think, she’s not alone.

And then Nicola kills. Swiftly. Just like that. And because you are already realising, well before Matilda does, that she has ended up very close to being in the grips of a cult, you don’t want her to be alone. You want her to possess more common sense. To be cautious. Or at least careful.

As if! Matilda is 18 and finally away from home. She couldn’t wait to be somewhere free and wonderful.

Gulp.

The people who run the fruit farm are so beautiful, and so charming and very friendly. (Personally I’d have felt the Jesus lookalike would be a dead giveaway, but there you go…)

Nicola Morgan, The Passion Flower Massacre

This is interspersed with the story of an old woman visiting a man in jail 25 years later. He’s a charming conman, and he’s got his sights set on this gullible woman’s wealth and loneliness.

We can work out who he must be. We aren’t sure of her, nor of what has happened. Or if she can withstand his charm offensive.

Passionflowers play a great part in all this. I knew nothing about them before, and I can’t say they have inspired me with confidence. Creepy.

Not surprisingly, this is Nicola’s favourite book. Scary, but more-ish. The reader is forever shouting the equivalent of ‘he’s behind you!’ to Matilda. And she seems to be deaf. She wants to be loved and liked. Don’t we all?

The #6 profile – Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan is very kindly publishing two of her out of print novels as a double ebook today, thus enabling me to put my famous profile questions in front of her. She’s a woman made to answer questions, you know. Here, to celebrate the publication of Sleepwalking and The Passionflower Massacre, I give you epublisher Nicola:

Nicola Morgan

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Three and several halves. And an eighth.

Best place for inspiration?

Not at my desk. Either out for a walk on my own (but not in a scary place, otherwise I start worrying who might be following me with an axe, instead of whatever idea I need to be inspired by) or ironing, cooking or any kind of housework. In other words, things where my body is occupied and I can’t go on social media or check my emails. (Though, actually, I can and do check my emails in all sorts of places, including while walking or doing housework…)

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I don’t think so. But if I had to, I would. And then I’d go to the launch party and tell everyone how absolutely amazing that “Petronella Dietrich” is.

What would you never write about?

Space. And anything else that a) bores me rigid and b) I don’t understand.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I slept in the house where Alfred Noyes used to live, at the invitation of his daughter (because I was writing The Highwayman’s Footsteps.) I sat on my bed after dark, reading The Highwayman poem while listening to a cassette of Noyes reading it, and when I opened the curtains and looked out of the window, the moon was a ghostly galleon.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matilda in The Passionflower Massacre. But only after the massacre and before the last chapter. And also probably a year after the book ends, because she’ll take at least that long to recover, though she will.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Definitely good. Even if they changed everything, as they can, it was and is still my book and they can’t change that. They just create something new out of it, which is good. And I get paid, which, frankly, is not to be sneezed at.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

“What is your name?” and “How does someone as nice as you write such nasty books?”

Do you have any unexpected skills?

It depends what you expect! I’m damned good with an electric drill. Shelf, anyone?

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, as long as I can alter the personalities of all the children and ignore the religious references. And add in Timmy the dog.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

You mean apart from you?! Well, perhaps Greta Garbo, because I also often vant to be alone. But perhaps Astrid Lindgren. Now, I confess I didn’t know much about her other than that she was obviously a hugely successful children’s author, but I’ve just discovered that she once incurred a 102% tax rate, so I reckon she deserves a mention. And a rebate.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

Teenage and children’s books in my study (children’s books by age of child or size of book and by visual rules; teenage books alphabetically) and others wherever shelves can be found, never alphabetically but according to where Mr M and I agree they should go, adhering to unspoken rules and our own internal logic. A selection of interesting and light fiction and non-fiction in the spare room.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

The Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar. And The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer. I know you asked for one book, but an unwilling reader needs lots of choice. Then he could read all the other Louis Sachar and Eoin Colfer books. When he got tired, because reading is tiring when you’re eight and unwilling, I’d read Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer, by JT Petty, to him, followed by One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. And that would be that.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

You mean forever? I’d never be able to do the other one? Meh. Reading. I’d have to be very arrogant to think my writing would keep me more inspired than all the other books there are to read. And I’m lazy and writing is hard.

Thank you! Very interesting questions.

Yes, they were, weren’t they? And finally an intelligent person who could detect my ulterior motive regarding the Swede question! Honestly, how hard can it be? (After today no one is allowed to pick me, however. Copycats.) And I’ll have a shelf or two, thank you, Petronella.