Paul's Blog

1st January 2014: The Curse of the Literary Weresequel

Happy New Year! I hope all your literary plans for 2104 come to fruition!

It’s customary at this time of year to look back over the Old Year as well as forward to the New Year. Personally I take the view what’s done is done. To paraphrase Mark Anthony:-

The evil that years do lives after them, the good is oft interred (or should be) with their bones, so let it be with 2013.

One of the ‘evils’ which might live on from 2013 was the curse of the literary sequel. The old year saw three notable additions to this canon: PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley revisiting Jane Austen, Willam Boyd’s Bond sequel Solo and Anthony Horowitz’ new Sherlock Holmes novel The House of Silk.

Previous sequels have been added to Ian Flemings’ Bond canon, notably by Sebastian Faulks, Devil May Care and Jeffery Deaver, Carte Blanch.  To add to Bond does not seem too bad; we have all become used to re-interpretation of Mr Bond for the sake of the film franchise.

Nonetheless, literary sequels seem a bit like cheating. No matter how good the commissioned author, some of the basic problems have been solved by your predecessor, giving you a head start. The main characters and their relationships are likely to be set and the scope of plotting pre-defined. Of course these advantages may be accompanied by grave downsides, the worst being the expectation of devotees of the original that there can be no improvement on perfection.

So when I started to read The House of Silk as a member of my local readers’ group I wondered if I would be convinced. I can say that it’s been a treat. 

Apart from a slow start, where Horovitz takes care to provide necessary detail for readers unfamiliar with Holmes, the book cracks along. Horovitz does a brilliant job of integrating plot structure familiar to readers of modern who-done-its while preserving the core of the originals, especially the relationship between Watson and Holmes. Horovitz has also provided a postlude, giving insight into how he approached the problem of writing the book, and the rules he used. I’m look forward to reading this when I finish - it contains spoilers.


Before closing, let me recommend one of the presents Santa left me: Writing Maps by Shaun Levin, about which more details at http://www.writingmaps.com  Each map consists of a well-designed and colourfully illustrated A3 sheet with 14 or so prompts to writing exercises. I was given two, The Character Map and The Café Writing Map. With the latter I have already had a couple of fruitful trips to the coffee shop since Christmas.

Again Happy New Year!

15th November 2013: e-Publishing and all that jazz
I self-published my first novel, Heron Fleet, in June, available for Christmas from all good book shops as they say. It been published in paper form with Matador, though it has a e-form as well.
The main involvement I've had with sales has been those I've made myself at readings from the 100 Copies I saved for the purpose. They have been steady and disproportionately rewarding. They have certainly focused my mind on my marketing and I've rapidly become aware of mistakes I made and opportunities I missed when preparing Heron Fleet
For instance in copies of Heron Fleet I never thought to put notes for Book Clubs or Reader's Groups in the back of the book. Since I have started selling the book to Libraries as stock to supply their Book Clubs it would have been very useful. What's even worse I put nothing in the book about myself, no picture, no biography, no directions to this website. Those mistakes are going to have to be put right with some discreet inserts into at least the copies I sell. 

Last week I was in independent publishing action on my own account in a different way. Seven of us from the MA at Manchester Metropolitan University I took when writing became something more serious than a pass time,  formed a small press after we graduated called Pandril Press after we graduated. We put together anthology of short stories called Panopticon. Last week we rolled out our second, much more professional job called Weird Love. Our ambition is not huge and we will rapidly have to do a second printing run at even very modest demand. But if we go ahead and make it available as a e-book it will be available worldwide very quickly.
Making a book available in e-form has never been easier. Amazon supply tools that allow you to publish on the Kindle store simply. There are limits to how complicated a book can get using such tools but a text based book such as a novel or even a book with some photographs or illustrations can be done without huge technical expertise. It is true that to do a really good job, which some mainstream publishers don't bother doing, requires extra expertise but not an impossible level of technical expertise. 
Rumour has it that the book trade is waiting to see if this Christmas e-book sales will out strip paper sales. Of course e-sales already outstrip paper sales in the sense of number of books sold. With effectively a worldwide sales base and the advantage of lower sales price this seems unexceptional but remember that most e-books do not have the advertising backing a main stream book has, though people may well buy e-versions of main stream books. The really important threshold is when e-books take more money than paper books. If that happens this Christmas in the UK, a very significant barrier will have been passed. 
We will see.