Category Archives: Writing

Pay the authors!!!

It’s the extra bottle of wine I always remember when I think of pay for authors.

I used to believe that when things are tough, they are tough(-ish) for all of us. That if times are bad and books don’t sell so well (hah), then it’s understandable if there is less money for publishers to pay authors with.

Except this doesn’t seem to be the case. Books sell. Well, some books do, and it appears publishers are rolling in it. And it seems as if the better someone does, the less likely they are to share.

This article in the Guardian by Danuta Kean quotes Philip Pullman and Sally Gardner, to name a couple of children’s authors who have done well. Or used to. Authors are now getting paid less than they were before, and it’s not because the publishers are on the brink of ruin.

It’s time this changed! Pay the people who do the most important work for you!

The wine? It was some time ago now, but I was already concerned over the potential end of the good life for publishers, when at an event with one such (big) company, where there had already been drinks organised for slightly later that evening, the publicist I was with, looked round and decided we needed some wine now, whipped out the company credit card and spent £30 on a bottle for those who couldn’t wait.

I get that even if this bottle could have been bought for £6 in a supermarket, that it was hardly going to break the bank at five times the cost. But in my mind I multiplied this unnecessary bottle and it brought down all the publishing houses. And then where would we be?

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A chicken house book launch

Ingrid Magnusson Rading och Den hemlighetsfulla grottan

Yes, another launch. One I didn’t go to, but I had planned my holiday flights before I knew Ingrid Magnusson Rading was thinking of launching her new children’s book Den hemlighetsfulla grottan (The Secret Cave) at midsummer. In the chicken house.

Den hemlighetsfulla grottan

That is much better than you might think. Haverdal, where the book is set, has an old farm which has been restored to be used for public functions, and you can hire all or parts of it. And Ingrid has a fondness for the chicken shed, which is where she launched her first book, the coffee table one about Haverdal.

Annies Gård

It doesn’t get much more beautiful, or typically Swedish summer, than this. The weather was gorgeous. Naturally. And outside her shed the men put the finishing touches to the Maypole (yes, that’s what it is, even in June). I’d like to think that every visitor who came to dance round the pole, also popped in for a book from Ingrid.

Ingrid Magnusson Rading

On the second day she launched the book some more from her own cottage. They don’t believe in being lazy, these authors. They write and they bake. Mini muffins, since you wondered. And on day two I spied Ingrid’s lavender crisprolls. Recipe in the book.

Den hemlighetsfulla grottan

So I’d say there was only one thing wrong with this launch. I wasn’t there.

Losing it

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since the Resident IT Consultant sent me the link to an article about losing your first language.

It’s nothing new. I’ve slowly lost it for decades. But the other day I began writing a letter to a Swedish newspaper, and it stands to reason that I wanted it to be really good. The subject has to be good, and I believe it is. But you need to say what you want to say in a competent way.

So I kept thinking about how I’d write it in English. It would have been faster and wittier, and generally much better. As it is, the document is still resting on my desktop for me to return to and stare at and edit a little, every now and then.

The article is mostly about professional needs for an original language; less about being able to talk to cousins or old neighbours. I suppose they have to ‘love’ me anyway. But my need is primarily for private chats, rather than job related stuff, simply because I’m not looking at being professional in Sweden.

Maybe I should be.

I recall my question to a friend all those years ago, where I explained that we had a new sort of material for clothes here, called fleece. What might that be in Swedish? Fleece, apparently.

Only, was it? I suppose there could have been a change since, or maybe I encountered someone who for whatever reason misspelled it. Flis, is what I found some weeks ago.

It makes sense. A lot of borrowed English words are pronounced the same way, but acquire Swedish spelling and sometimes suffixes or other -fixes. I object to this. Except, I don’t object to those I knew and used before coming to live in Britain. So tajt is fine, if your jeans are a little tight. But sajt is so wrong, if you’re talking about a website.

Oh, never mind! Hand me that flis blanket, Your Magnificence! I need to hide the fact my jeans are too tajt.

Launching the 2018 EIBF programme

I may have to love Baillie Gifford forever, but more about that later.

For the first time I wasn’t on holiday when the Edinburgh International Book Festival launched last night, which meant both that I was able to attend the presentation in Edinburgh, and to provide really nice weather for people. Theresa Breslin, for one, was most appreciative of my efforts with the sunshine.

But it had been uphill. You sort of forget that even a slight incline in Edinburgh makes a difference, and as two people whom I don’t know very well, but who were still recognisable from their backs, swiftly overtook me, I realised I might be slow, but on the right track, but that I was under-dressed. The beautiful red dress that also passed me on the pavement, was going the same way too.

To begin with I only noticed a few people I ‘knew’ plus the EIBF staff I see every year in Charlotte Square, from the director to the tech man I call Costner. But before I left, I realised the whole world was there, more or less. On the other hand, after the talks, people talked, and it got far too noisy for me.

I turned down the offer of a cooling gin & tonic at the door, for a more lukewarm glass of tap water, because we can’t all be cool. The pink fizz looked nice too. When people talked too much and sat down too little, [General] Frances Sutton put us in order so the speeches could begin.

I am now a wee bit in love with Allan Little, who spoke so very beautifully about books and the book festival. He thanked the sponsors and talked about the library when he was a child, and about poetry. And then he cried, and we cried a bit too.

It was everything a speech should be.

The EIBF programme 2018

Director Nick Barley, Associate Director Roland Gulliver and Children and Education Programme Director Janet Smyth continued the show, taking turns telling us what we needed to know about this year’s festival. They did it really well, and they had so much to say that I can’t possibly list all the interesting news here. Get a programme!

In fact, they were nearly as entertaining as the members of Codename F, the group of children from Craigmillar aged between eight and 14, who have been helping put together the children’s programme. Before inviting them onto the stage, we heard them discussing what mattered to them in a video recording, complete with very determined smiling. We all loved the young man who ‘as a fellow artist’ had much understanding for one of the festival’s professional artists. Perhaps with young people like him, the future of the world isn’t quite as bleak as I’d thought?

2018 will be a Muriel Spark year, as well as letting us meet Nelson Mandela’s great grandchildren, and Chelsea Clinton. And it’s been fifty years since that tiger came to tea with Judith Kerr. So it’s probably good that the Main Theatre is bigger this year. And Ehsan Abdollahi will be back, as Illustrator in Residence.

After the speeches, Penelope who isn’t Penelope came up to say hello, before I joined the queue in the Ladies where it became obvious I’ve been doing this for too long, when I recognise librarians everywhere.

On my way out I picked up my party bag, containing this year’s programme, which has a new design that I rather like. There was a choice between red and purple bags, and all I will say is I’m sure there will have been a purple shortage towards the end. Had I known that there would be quite such loveliness inside the bag, I’d have unpacked it there and then.

Purple party bag - EIBF 2018

Downhill was definitely easier and Haymarket was reached without too much difficulty. I was joined there by Theresa Breslin, and saw her safely onto her train before getting on mine.

And after two days of train travel I have been in and out of several stations and forgotten to pick up the new timetable every single time…

But at least I have my book festival programme, and I know how to use it. And the lovely purple pen and pad.

Steve Cole – ‘Made to eat salad’

Steve Cole

On the 482nd anniversary of Anne Boleyn losing her head, Steve Cole walked into the Tolbooth in Stirling for his Off the Page event, to ‘deafening applause’ on a day when a few other things were also happening. Royal weddings, football, warm sunny weather. That kind of thing. He was going to tell us about writing, with the help of a ukulele. The telling, more than the writing, I believe.

Stirling Off the Page

I’d successfully climbed the hill, almost all the way to the castle, and Steve had come all the way from England, and this after his first – very eventful – encounter with oysters. The plane’s cabin crew had apparently questioned whether he really should be flying, but Steve insisted, and with a huge stack of sick bags at his side, he made it all the way.

Steve Cole

He treated us to his version of the Sick Man Blues, on ukulele. I shouldn’t think anyone in the audience will be having a meal of oysters any time soon.

This man who has written 157 books in the last 20 years, got his career started with the diary they had to write for Mrs Cave at school, every Monday. It got so boring he began to make it up, and seemingly Mrs Cave was also bored, so she told him to continue making things up.

Steve Cole

From oysters to salads, and more vomiting, this time courtesy of the dinner ladies at school. Once Steve’s parents realised they made him eat salad every Wednesday, an early introduction of packed lunches occurred. This was the dark days of the 1970s. But let that be a lesson to you; tell your parents if you are ever forced to eat your salad.

Some years after the eight-year-old Steve wrote his own Mister Men book, Mister Paint, he moved on to his Astrosaurs series of books, partly with the help of Enid Blyton’s daughter. The nice one. He told us in great detail how the dinosaurs got their names, but I suppose it’s what you should expect from the office junior at Noddy magazine.

Steve Cole

From Astrosaurs Steve went to writing Doctor Who stories, but then felt the need to return to writing about his own characters. Which must be why he borrowed Lucy the labrador from a child in the audience, and made Lucy – who I am sure is an upright, if doggy, citizen – into a secret bank robber, Canine X, master of crime. It was really to show how you can play with everyday stuff, or dogs, and make them do surprising things. Stories are everywhere.

Steve’s own alternate reality features cows. On this sad anniversary (for Anne Boleyn) he tested the audience on their knowledge of the wives of Henry VIII, and we eventually arrived at ‘the other Anne’ [of Cleves] who appears in his first CIA book. Something to do with a concrete cowpat.

This was a suitably Royal ending to an event on a day when we could hardly avoid hearing about other royal wives.

Steve Cole feedback, or book selling

The children bought books, and filled in feedback forms. (I didn’t, as I was a bit embarrassed about my age. I almost claimed I’m a year older than I am…)

Steve Cole

Steve encouraged the children to ask him questions over the book signing, and as far as I managed to overhear, there were several who required some writing advice.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

There just might have been a hug for me as we swapped questions. I asked if he’ll ever eat oysters again, and Steve asked after Daughter. I almost suggested that next time it might be she who dedicates a ‘space book’ to him.

And no, he won’t have more oysters and advised me not to, either.

As I walked down the hill, I thought, not for the first time, how very dutiful my authors are, whether it’s murderous new boots, or oysters. They persevere, and come to talk to their fans. It’s why I love them.

Favours

I’ll see your lost blurb and raise you a plumbing emergency.

There I was on Daughter’s newly renovated Swiss balcony (they do these things ‘for free’ over there, just because it will enhance the block of flats), with nothing to do, when the email came from author friend in another country. She had misplaced her blurb.

Well, she hadn’t. She knew fine where it was. It just happened to be in the wrong place. And she knew she’d sent it to me, so wondered if I could possibly send it back to her, electronically. I could, except I couldn’t. In my balcony state, I had just my mobile phone, which didn’t seem to return attachments. (By which I mean I didn’t know how.)

So I Facetimed the Resident IT Consultant, and he actually answered. I sent him downstairs to my abandoned laptop and instructed him to return the blurb. As the author remarked afterwards, this turned into a three-country operation.


There I was, just arriving at Son’s new home, which had been anything but ‘free.’ He was in the midst of taking a call from a friend – in another country – who’d just opened up a mains water tap that I am technically responsible for. It was not good news. It was also after hours on the Friday of the Ascension long weekend (other countries do this) when no one in their right minds would be at work, or seemingly, have emergency plumbing cover.

A few panics later I phoned the author of the lost blurb, because according to my information she should be ‘not far away’ from the gushing pipework. She gathered up her husband and his toolbox and went to the rescue. She married a lovely and useful man, so he identified the problem, went home to see if he had one of those thingummies, and when he didn’t, asked the neighbours. As you do. Someone did have one of these plumbing antiques, and it was fitted and the water stopped running more than it was supposed to.

And in my other country, I was at last able to have a cup of tea.

Sensitivity readers?

Honestly. This might well be the last nail in the coffin; the one that makes me hang up my broom.

I read the article with some interest, but in the end it left me both furious and dismayed, as well as once again agreeing with Lionel Shriver, which is something I cannot take lightly.

We should have editors who find language issues in a manuscript. If they are generally wise they might also point out certain other things that could do with changing or adding or leaving out.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of peer reading/editing either. Many authors have a trusted friend/colleague or two who read through and comment on their work. I myself have done a little of this.

But I have never done it as the elderly fat Swede, pointing out where the young and slim English author got it wrong [in his novel about grey and overweight Scandinavians]. Life doesn’t work like that. If we’re going to have ‘lay’ readers who charge for sensitivity reading of novels to make sure that everything about a particular type of person in a work of fiction satisfies them (not necessarily everyone else), and making the poor author write and rewrite until their fingers bleed, there is something seriously wrong in the publishing world.

There is something so smug about the censor who understands ‘sensitivity’ so much better than anyone else, and there is something so sad about the author who is made to believe they must listen to this.

As I said, I wanted to give up, there and then.