Category Archives: Writing

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

Advertisements

Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland

Had they even written those books they worked so hard to pitch?

I ask only because last year’s winner of Pitch Perfect apparently hadn’t. She pitched. She won. She got contract. And then she wrote. Or I hope she did, as the book is coming out in the spring.

I don’t know why I’ve never gone to one of these sessions before. Well, I do. They sounded too intimate, for some reason. A moment between hopeful writer and stern publishing person. Could be embarrassing to witness.

Pitch perfect

Except it wasn’t. Eight – slightly vetted – hopefuls using their three minutes as wisely as possible, trying to charm the four professionals, who in turn had three minutes per applicant to give their verdict.

The first pitch was really good, I thought. I liked the person, I liked his performance and I thought the book sounded promising. But maybe they’d all be like that.

Well, some were, in some respects, and others weren’t. Most were interesting in some way. But what fascinated me was that while what I liked best, the professionals also liked. I think. But they seemed to like what I didn’t go for, even more. Very illuminating. As far as the publishing world goes, I mean.

And the thing is, a personable potential author does not guarantee a good book, or sales. A good pitch still does not mean it’s going to be a cracking novel. And so on. Those publishing people could be wrong. Maybe?

Or rather, they know very well what is likely to work. But it doesn’t mean they pick the best story to work with. The choose what will fit in best with their business. And it’s from this readers get to pick what they might enjoy. I noticed how one of the panel was impressed by an idea that I at my age felt was anything but original, because I’ve been around for longer.

Pitch perfect

They liked the person who could say who her expected readers might be. Except she had young people in mind, and that makes it YA (the horror of it!), and young people don’t spend money. Probably right. What they overlooked – perhaps – was that authors are often mistaken about who will love what they have written. It’s a judgement better done by someone else.

The panel obviously wanted to tick boxes. It’s how business works. And the digital publisher understandably had different needs from traditional publishing.

That’s why they eventually picked two winners; one for a possible digital future, and one traditional. The latter was the one I liked best, the first one. Look out for crimes in 1930s Singapore!

Launching Trespassers

No sooner had I met Claire McFall last Saturday than she invited me to her book launch, which was last night at Waterstones. So back to Edinburgh I went. This was no hardship, as I’d had several days of ‘rest.’ And I was able to meet up with two toddlers on the same day, both of whom took exception to their mums being a bit busy with other people.

Claire McFall

The second toddler belonged to Claire and he was a little vocal about mum sitting over there on the chair, without him. I thought that was rather lovely, and realised that there are too few tiny children helping launch their parent’s books.

Lari Don was there as well, and I will not speculate on why, or make anything up. Maybe. She had chaired Claire’s event at the book festival on Saturday, so has read both Ferryman and Trespassers. (Ferryman is Claire’s first novel about the afterlife, the one that is doing well in China, and it’s just been re-issued by Floris, so it can help usher the sequel Trespassers in.)

Claire McFall and Lari Don

Between them Claire and Lari have enthused a lot about how wonderful they feel Floris have been. And that is good. Floris had laid on lots of crisps and chocolates and drinks, too. (And I know why Lari was there! She offered to hold my glass so I could drink and work.)

Claire McFall

After an enthusiastic introduction, Claire told us all – well, some at least – about herself and her writing, what comes after the afterlife, and how she used to read trashy books as a teenager, and was a little surprised to find she’s now seen as writing romantic fiction. (Not surprising at all, and nothing wrong with that, I say.)

I had already encountered several spoilers re the end of Ferryman, so coped relatively well with Claire’s reading from Trespassers. It sounds at least as good as the first book, so those Chinese fans are in for a treat. As are the – slightly fewer – Scottish fans. Some of them are Claire’s students at school, and they were there last night.

Claire McFall

Lots of photos were taken, including some great ones by Claire’s mother, which I had to go and ruin by suggesting maybe the book shouldn’t be held upside-down. I won’t be invited again.

Claire McFall

Here’s to another million sales!

Day 7

Let me tell you about Keith Gray. Eight years ago, on our seventh and last day of our first Edinburgh Book Festival, Daughter and I happened upon Keith Gray signing in the children’s bookshop. It had been a bit of a learning curve for us, and we realised when we discovered Keith sitting there, that authors might be there even if we hadn’t gone to their events, and even when we didn’t know there was an event.

Keith Gray

Back then I was less shy about being forward, so walked up and introduced myself, and we had a nice chat. Over the years Keith has tended to pop up in Charlotte Square at some point, and there have been other Scottish-based events as well. But ever since that day – the 26th of August 2009 – in my mind he has personified the happy coincidence of the bookfest.

Yesterday was also the 26th of August, and Keith and his family had organised farewell drinks in Charlotte Square, for their many book friends, because they are moving away from Scotland. It was lovely of them to do so, and they will be missed. Much less coincidental popping in future, I suspect.

Jasmine Fassl and Debi Gliori

So, it was especially nice that Daughter was able to be there with me, freshly extricated from the Andes. She was able to say hello to Frances in the press yurt, and – oh, how convenient – she was able to take photos for me as I had an interview to do. I’m nothing but an opportunistic user of my nearest and dearest.

Claire McFall

The interview was with Claire McFall, about her astounding fame. In China, in case you were wondering. She’s lovely, and didn’t even complain as we almost cooked her in the ‘greenhouse’ café. (There will be more about Claire later.)

We’d already spied Michael Rosen, and I’d caught a glimpse of David Melling with Vivian French as they walked over to the Bosco Theatre (which meant I missed out on their signing in the Portakabin) for an event. The signing no one could miss was Julia Donaldson’s, still taking place right next to us in the greenhouse, a couple of hours after her event.

Kirkland Ciccone and Sharon Gosling

Pamela Butchart

Despite not dressing quite as loud as usual, we still managed to see Kirkland Ciccone, signing next to Sharon Gosling and Pamela Butchart. Who else but Kirkie would have posters of himself to sign and hand out? Pamela wore some rather fetching furry ears, but it wasn’t the same. Also milling about in the children’s bookshop were Danny Scott and Keith Charters. The latter chatted so much to Daughter that I had to do my own photographing…

Keith Charters

I believe that after this we managed to fit in eating our M&S sandwiches, before keeping our eyes peeled for one of Daughter’s heroes; Catherine Mayer of the Women’s Equality Party.

Catherine Mayer

We searched out some shade after this, enjoying a wee rest next to the Main theatre, where we were discovered by Kirkie and Keith C and chatted before they departed for home.

Cressida Cowell

Noticed Gill Lewis at a distance as we sped across the square to find illustrator Barroux in the children’s bookshop, and then straight over to the main signing tent for Cressida Cowell. Her signing queue was most likely of the two-hour variety, and necessitated the services of her publicity lady as well, so no chat for me.

Barroux and Sarah McIntyre

And as it seemed to be a day for dressing up, we lined up to see Sarah McIntyre sign, in her queenly outfit. You can join her but you can’t beat her. Barroux, who was still there, seemed to think so, as he stared admiringly at Sarah.

John Young

After all this to-ing and fro-ing we had covered all the signings we had planned for, and we went in search of the drinks party out in the square. Debi Gliori was there, before her own event later in the afternoon, and she and Daughter had a long chat, while I talked to Keith Gray himself. He introduced me to a few people, including debut author John Young, whose book I luckily happen to have waiting near the top of my tbr pile.

Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney turned up, and so did a number of other people I knew, but mostly people I didn’t. We were all charmed by a lovely young lady, who spent most of her time smiling and playing on the grass. If it had been socially accepted, I reckon Daughter might have taken her home with us.

Little M

Daughter and I had placed ourselves strategically by the path, so that when Philip Ardagh strolled past, we cut him off, forcing him to chat to us for a little, while also giving Keith an opportunity to come and say goodbye. And then Philip made Keith take the photo of him and the witches. It only looks as though we are of different height. In reality Philip’s arm on my shoulder was so heavy that I sank straight into the mud, making me look a little short…

Philip Ardagh and witches

We’d never have got away if we hadn’t had a train to catch, so we got away, and the train was caught, but not before we’d encountered Jackie Kay on the pavement outside. Seemed fitting, somehow.

Talking about a revolution

I’ve said it before, the school events at the book festival are often the best. And I was grateful to masquerade as a secondary school pupil on Wednesday morning. As I said, I even had my tie. Although, not all the students wore uniform; some did, some didn’t.

Theresa Breslin was there to talk about revolutions, and mostly the Russian revolution one hundred years ago. Lindsey Fraser introduced her by saying that she has known Theresa a long time, and she has always been interested in many different things. This is obvious from all the books she has written, on a variety of subjects, and always good.

To begin with Theresa read from chapter one of The Rasputin Dagger, about the massacre in St Petersburg in 1905. It’s something I recall from my school history books, but it was never like when described by Theresa. She really does bring history to life.

Theresa Breslin

The character Stefan was twelve years old when he took part in this peaceful march because people were starving. And then his mother and many others were massacred. He was radicalised by this, and it made what happened in 1917 the only way forward for Stefan and countless others.

The dagger in the story was one Theresa found in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul many years ago, and just knew she had to use in a story. And some years ago when the Edinburgh Book Festival sent fifty writers to different places in the world, they sent Theresa to Siberia. It was somewhere she’d never have gone otherwise and it was a fantastic experience. She loved the light in Siberia. Less so the idea of encountering wolves and bears in the wild.

She talked about Rasputin and his background, and about the haemophilia the Tsar’s only son suffered from. She showed photos of the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace, where the Royal family lived, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of the people.

When writing this book Theresa had a deadline, since it was about what happened in October 1917. And as it was about real people, she couldn’t change what actually happened. She looked into the rumours that Anastasia survived the murder of the Tsar’s family.

Theresa Breslin

When she was in Siberia she collected names for characters, and made lists of things like street names. Sometimes she needs to get to know her characters before she can tell what their names might be. And to, well, maybe confuse herself, Theresa would hold her notebook up to a mirror to try and read mirror image, seeing if she could decode the ‘Russian style’ words.

Talking about Charlottesville today and how there is a split between the sexes on how people perceive what’s going on, Theresa reminded the pupils that whereas women had few rights in Russia, in 1917 more women there had the right to vote than did British women.

Asked which of her characters she might be, she felt she is Frances in Remembrance. And she recalled the librarian of her childhood, a ‘dragon librarian’ who forced children to pass a reading test before they could borrow books. Theresa mused on the fact that she went on to become a librarian herself…

Theresa Breslin

She also remembered a very bad review in one of the Sunday papers once. Mr B brought her tea in bed, which made her realise it was bad news. But her son-in-law later barbecued the review.

Day 6

Thanks to me wanting a scone (although it turned out not to taste terribly nice) I found Moira Mcpartlin downing an espresso at the station café, which was very nice indeed. We were both going to Edinburgh, so suddenly I had company, which was both welcome, and positively useful, as Moira kept me awake. And there was all that delicious book and author gossip to engage in.

Moira Mcpartlin

In Charlotte Square the first thing Moira needed to do was photograph her own book (Wants of the Silent) in the bookshops. Which is a perfectly normal thing to do. Then we went over to admire [the photo of] Kathryn Evans in her swirly dress, and as we stood there a black clad figure wearing an enormous witch’s hat walked past and into the Corner theatre.

Kirkland Ciccone

An hour or two later I discovered this had been Kirkland Ciccone. It being a really warm and humid day, he said he’d been too hot, except when you’re as cool as he is, you can’t be too hot. So that’s fine.

The first thing for me was to find Amanda Craig who was signing after a morning event in the Spiegeltent with Gwendoline Riley. Amanda told me it had been a good event, and how much she enjoys the book festival.

Amanda Craig and Gwendoline Riley

I rested in the yurt for a bit, and was able to hear all the shouting going on in the tent next door where Lari Don was entertaining a large horde of schoolchildren. Caught her just before her signing, when she was having a one minute rest.

Lari Don

Theresa Breslin

My main reason for day 6 was to join Theresa Breslin’s school event (they said I could), so Frances kindly walked me over there and told them it was all right for me to sit in. When Theresa arrived, she handed me a school tie from Mr B, to make me blend in a bit. It made all the difference. And the event was much better than the one in my dream in the early hours (the reason for me feeling so sleepy).

Theresa Breslin

Afterwards Theresa signed for a good hour, which meant I also managed to see Nicola Morgan who was half an hour behind in the signing tent. That’s what I like about these weekday school event days; my authors all over the place. So then I slipped across the square to the children’s bookshop, where I saw Judy Paterson, and Jenny Colgan with Kathryn Ross who had chaired her event.

Nicola Morgan

Judy Paterson

Jenny Colgan and Kathryn Ross

On my way back to the yurt I encountered Cathy MacPhail en route to the Main theatre and there was time for a little hug. Saw Elizabeth Laird arrive, and then went to sit outside the yurt while waiting for a last photocall. Press boss Frances went off to buy green ice creams for her crew, which they licked in the rising heat, after first taking pictures of her posing with the five cones.

James Oswald

At last it was time for Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger and James Oswald to face the paparazzi, and me. I think they were both taken aback by the onslaught of so many cameras all at once. Chatted to James while Thomas was being ‘done’ and it sounds as if it’s not something he’s used to encountering. And when it was James’s turn, I mentioned to Thomas that we’d met in Manchester a few years ago. Luckily he remembered who he’d been with, as my memory was fading a bit.

Thomas Enger

I picked up my school tie and half-eaten scone and walked to Waverley in the heat, ‘enjoying’ the piper on the corner, and narrowly missing my train. But there was another one soon enough, and it was both cold and empty, which is the beauty of travelling mid-afternoon and mid-week.

School tie

Coming of Age

Waiting for the two double-Cs to appear in the Bosco Theatre, I studied those cracks in the floor again. It’s not just the poor stiletto heel that needs protecting. You could chuck pens down there, even the whole notepad. Or why not your mobile phone? I mean, I know why not the phone, but it’d slip so easily. I held on to my pen and pad and put everything else away.

I was sure there’d be plenty of people, because Cat Clarke has lots of fans, meaning that even though Christoffer Carlsson might have begun the evening a relatively unknown foreigner, he’d win fans during the event. So, lots of teen girls and a few older girls like myself. And two grown men, one of whom was fellow author Jared Thomas.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

When the CCs and their chair Ann Landmann arrived, walking down those steps to sit underneath the glittering disco ball, I noticed that Christoffer carried a Fjällräven rucksack, blue with leather straps. Naturally.

Ann urged us to come closer, to get ready for the audience participation, saying the trapeze would be lowered later, and that perhaps they’d better lock the door so we couldn’t escape. Not a soul, apart from Jared, moved…

She also said there’d be a signing afterwards, in the signing Portakabin, the ‘white kind of box’ near the theatre. I’m glad she said it. I’d hate to be complaining about its, erm, lack of space.

Having forgotten the title of the event, Ann referred to Death & Murder, two of her favourite subjects, pointing out that Swedish Christoffer has a ‘real degree’ – to which Cat added, a PhD – in criminology. ‘A terrible over-achiever.’ And Cat is ‘not quite homegrown,’ having been born in Zambia, but Ann doesn’t think she has ‘a strange accent.’

So that Ann could shut up for ten minutes, she handed over to her guests, asking them to read. Cat said her book Girlhood is set in a boarding school (she loves them!), and she read from chapter five, about some sort of initiation of a new girl which, to be honest, is why I don’t want to go to boarding school. But I can see that it’s better to be wearing the Trump mask, as you don’t have to look at it.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer told us about Halmstad, asking if anyone has heard of Roxette, and described the darkness of Småland, where October is the Coldest Month is set. He read the first chapter where we meet Vega. Both books feature darkness, rain and cold, so not much difference between Scotland and Sweden.

An obsession with Mallory Towers made Cat set this book in a boarding school, and needing a mix of the best and the worst in life, she gave her heroine a dead twin. Christoffer hears voices, by which he meant he talks to his characters. He has to write fast to get it down on paper, and many ideas don’t work. Unlike other Swedish authors who set their books in Stockholm or Gothenburg, or even ‘mid-level cities’ such as Örebro, he chose the countryside close to where he grew up. He wanted to write about violence against women.

This wasn’t planned as a YA book, but he realised he was writing for himself at 17. And that way you can have a smaller book; one that fits in a pocket and can be read on the bus.

Cat feels it’s fun to explore teenage feelings, and said the new girl is a bit weird. She had an idea to begin with, but it changed, and she feels Girlhood is more honest than her other books. But she never did pretend to be a prospective parent at a boarding school, to find out more, and left this to a documentary about Gordonstoun.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer wrote his book during the summer, in Halmstad, where he now feels like an outsider, belonging neither there nor in Stockholm where he lives. A bit like Vega. His dad who never usually reads, has in fact read October is the Coldest Month, while his mum hasn’t, although this keen reader always reads all his books, at the expense of everything else. The title refers to the TS Eliot poem about April being the cruellest month. He set the story in October, because he needed Vega not to be going to school.

As for Cat, she had lots of titles for Girlhood, including one she might use for some other book. Regarding characters’ names, she has to like them, and they must type easily. Such as Harper in Girlhood, which unlike George is easy on the keyboard. She does find though that good names are running out. Even bad characters have to have good names.

I found that Christoffer used the word ‘sucks’ a lot. He needs to learn to be ‘crap at’ things in Britain. Anyway, he gets up early, to write from five am, until maybe eleven. He can edit anytime, but not write. Cat writes in chunks of 25 minutes, acording to the Pomodoro Technique, although she might be taking rather longer breaks than prescribed. She too has to write before noon. This book took her two years to write, which is too long, for someone who is not famous, although Cat aspires to be Donna Tartt one day.

Describing writing like go-karting, Christoffer swore enough that he had to stop and apologise, even if his replacement word was only marginally more sanitised… The pitfalls of a second language. He feels one difference between YA and adult novels is that the sentences can be shorter. He’s a middle class man living in Stockholm, writing about a working class teenager in the countryside, and the book needs to be accessible to everyone, including non-readers.

The last, and really excellent, question from the audience was on hating what you write. Cat said this is normal. You should write, even if it is crap. ‘Crap can be moulded.’

And on that note we piled out and over to the Portakabin.