Saturday, 31 May 2014

Five Ways To Succeed in the German Market

Sophie Schmidt
by Sophie Schmidt of epubli

As most authors know, it is not enough to be published in just one market. For example, Joanna Penn - New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author - just has published her first German translation of her book “Pentecost”. In our globalized world it has never been so easy to publish and distribute books and ebooks worldwide. One high potential market is Germany with its great affection for reading and its long book tradition. 5 key facts will explain what English speaking authors should expect and why the German market might be exactly the right one for them.

The German affection for Britain


One thing you should always keep in mind: Be as British as you can! Germans love the British attitude, settings and humor. So don’t try to become a German writer, just stay as you are.

This love for the English language goes beyond TV series and clothing from Top Shop. Many successful German writers take English-sounding author names, like Poppy J. Andersen and epubli author Mathilda Grace. Especially in the romance, history novel and fantasy sections, English author names are really attractive for the mostly female readers.

The British countryside as well as metropolitan cities like London are highly attractive for German readers. Especially love stories seem to be much more appealing to readers when they are set in the English environment.

Also the economic side is really interesting. After the UK Germany is the biggest market for sales of American books in print and even the third biggest market for sales of American ebooks. Books in the English language are frequently bought and read in Germany. 40 Million Germans speak English fluently. This is a market you shouldn’t ignore.

Germans value books

Germans are rightly proud of their literary heritage: Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Fontane and their colleagues set the bar high for new and upcoming authors. Some would say that German readers are mostly conservative. It is true that many people are still struggling with digital reading. But one could see it differently. Germans love books. The long reading tradition, the strong affection for good stories and the curiosity for new authors make Germany an interesting market for international authors. Especially British and American publishing houses see that.
This means also that Germans are used to a very high quality - not only in printing but also in the way how stories are told. You, as the author, should take care that your book meets these standards. Your translation has to be done professionally as well as the book design and printing. German readers will judge you harshly, if this is not done correctly. So get the help you need to shape your idea and prepare the book as well as you can. epubli offers a range of experts on the page tailor platform. On this platform, authors can find help for editing, design, translation, marketing and PR.

Amazon is not everything

Germany has embraced many of the developments already at stake in the USA and the UK, but there is one major difference: Amazon has to compete with other distribution platforms such as iBookstore, Kobo or Tolino. Tolino in particular is a strong alliance of the major German bookstores and accounts for over 37 % of ebooks and ereader sales in Germany. Also, it was just announced that independent bookstores are starting a digital alliance to improve their standing within digital book distribution. Every author should consider the variety of platforms Germany has, when choosing a distribution partner. It would not be enough to rely just on one platform.

eBooks and indies are up and coming

There are some significant differences between the UK and the German bookmarket. First, let’s have a look at ebook growth.

Compared to 2012, the overall market share for ebooks has doubled in the year leading up to 2013 (5%). At the same time, online book sales soared to 10.4 %, making up 16.5 %. Even if the German market is behind the US and the UK, it is growing fast. One good thing: there is less competition for you.

Also the Indie author scene is growing. The notion of hybrid-author is spreading in the country of Goethe and Schiller, and a cursory look at the Amazon.de ebook bestseller list reveals that 50 % to 80% of the top 10 ebooks are self-published titles.

One key thing you should know about the German book distribution in general: The German book market is regulated by “Buchpreisbindung”. This tongue twister translates as “fixed book price law”, which states that a book cannot be priced differently on different platforms. You couldn’t, for example, price your book at 99p on Amazon but £7.99 in the local book store (or vice versa). The fact that retailers cannot freely determine the price for books - and that pricing is not linked to consumer demand or production costs - is designed to support small local bookstores. Without Buchpreisbindung big online retailers would offer deep discounts on most books and local stores would lose customers. Of course publishers and authors can set the price for a title as high or low as they see fit.

Spread the word in Germany

Marketing in Germany is as complex as in every other country. There are some special platforms and societies you should know about. Even if many Germans speak English very well, it would be useful to do marketing in German. Maybe some of your friends or even your translator might be a good help?

Social Reading Communities
It’s not only Goodreads which plays an important role in Germany. lovelybooks.de is the perfect platform if you are writing literary fiction and they have just opened up for Indies as well. Use these communities to have some online readings, interviews and give aways. Also, there are some interesting platforms bringing authors and bloggers together. For example, vorablesen presents titles to bloggers, who review the book and give feedback on cover design and layout. You shouldn’t miss this great input.

Social Media
Even if the social media market in Germany is much smaller than in the UK, you should have an own facebook fanpage as well as a Twitter account. These are the major social media platforms in Germany. If you are an author of non-fiction books you should think about LinkedIn and the German pendant Xing. Beside these bigger platforms there are many special interest communities organized online. You should do your research here to get really close to your target group.

PR
The German press is often conservative and not open to Indie authors. Especially the national newspapers and magazines are still into traditional publishing. But there are a lot of online magazines and blogs you should contact. Often, they are much more open.

Newsletter
A German Newsletter will help you to connect with your German readers. Use it to give them some special information and maybe invite them even to a reading in the UK? As it might not be easy for German readers to meet you in real life, you should give them some insights in your readings and your work to build up a long lasting relationship.

Events
We see it might not be easy to travel several times a year to Germany. But maybe you could use the bigger fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig to meet your readers as well as making important contacts within the German literary scene.

In general, marketing in Germany is not too different than in the UK. Indie authors know that the work just starts when the book is finished. The overall goal of all your activities should be to build up a long distance relationship with your readers to create a strong fanbase.

Sophie Schmidt is Head of Author Relations and Marketing at German Self-Publishing platform epubli. The platform has supported the work of independent authors since 2008 and offers print as well as eBook publishing and distribution through all major retailers including Apple, Amazon, Google, Tolino, etc. More and more international authors identify Germany as a key markets for their books. Sophie and her team help authors get started in the very complex German bookmarket. Besides broad distribution worldwide, epubli really helps authors reach their readers. The workshop programme “epubli lab” was announced at this year’s Leipzig Bookfair. Amongst other topics, authors are trained in marketing, PR and online sales. 



With JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger
Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and first drafts.


Friday, 30 May 2014

Interview: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Photograph by Ivara Esege
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Translated into thirty languages, she is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, (winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award), and Half of a Yellow Sun, (Orange Prize winner, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, New York Times Notable Book, and People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year); and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck, published to critical acclaim in 2009. Her latest novel Americanah, published 2013, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and was named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.


Chimamanda visited Switzerland as part of her two-week European tour. We met in Z├╝rich’s Old Town and had a chat over a pot of peppermint tea.


Half of a Yellow Sun is one of my Top Shelf Books. I’m struck by its balance. The breadth and generosity of your narrative, and how the characters never become polemical devices. You say many of these stories come from your family history and in particular, your father. How are you able to maintain such a clear-eyed perspective?

I start off thinking of my characters as human. That period of our history has haunted me for a very long time. I’ve been close to obsessed by it. I took a while before I could write it. I’d written poems, I’d written short stories, I’d written a play at the age of sixteen, called For Love of Biafra, which was terrible. But it goes to show how long my interest in that period had lasted.

When I finally felt emotionally ready to write the novel, I didn’t want to romanticise the war, or the cause, or the humanity of the people who were involved. I kept reminding myself it was about the people. I spent so much time reading about the period and finding out lots of interesting little titbits, many of which were political, all of which I wanted in the book. So revising took quite a while, as I had to take out all those things which simply showed off my research.

I'm still reading Americanah. I wanted to finish it before this interview but found it a book I could not rush. I keep stopping to think. Once again, such clarity in observation, but I was surprised by the amount of wit and humour pervading the book. So the absurdities surrounding cultural perceptions, miscommunications and misunderstandings make you laugh as well as cry?

Yes. I spoke to a reader this week, who mentioned a character as ‘that racist Kimberley’. And I said, ‘What? I like her very much!’ The reason I say this is the miscommunications and misunderstandings can be hostile and malicious, but many of them are not. Many come from people who don’t know what they’re doing. And there’s something about it that’s funny, if sad. Even things that annoy me can make me laugh.
A woman came up to me yesterday and said, ‘Chimamanda, can you pronounce this word for me? It’s from South Africa’.

Your writing transports the reader. What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?


What you see, what you smell, what you hear, just being there.

I noted the detail you used in your TED talk on feminism – the parking-space finders in Lagos.

Yes, the truth is sometimes in the smallest things.

I’d like to know more about how you choose to tell your story. In Americanah in particular, your jumping narrative makes me think of a mix of fireside storytelling, with meandering tangets, juxtaposed with fast flickering images, contrasted with slow, painful detail such as Obinze’s deportation.

Interesting question. I don’t know if I choose. It’s very hard for me to talk about how I work. I sometimes have to invent answers to questions on my writing process as I don’t really plan. When I start a book, I have a vague idea of what I want to do. And if it’s going well, it often becomes something else.

You’re right to observe that in sections like Obinze’s deportation, I pause. It’s an emotional pause. Because it’s important to me, that’s where I feel emotionally involved. In writing that scene, researching and talking to people, it made me very sad.

That vague idea. Theme, character, where do you start?


It’s character and story. But it’s unformed; a nebulous procession of images in my head. With Americanah, I had all these observations I’d made and conversations with other people I wanted to put into the book, but I didn’t know if Ifemelu would go back to Nigeria. I thought it might be a book about longing, about the home you had left behind. As the book progressed, she really wanted to go back, so she did.

With Half of a Yellow Sun, I started the novel obviously wanting the characters to be changed by the war. As I approached the end, I imagined something bad would happen to Baby. But Baby refused to have something bad happen to her. It’s difficult to talk about this without sounding strange. When it’s going well, the characters take over.

Books and writing feature as powerful portals in your novels.

Yes, and that is me. It’s easy to assume that books are important to everybody but they’re not. I know many intelligent people for whom books are irrelevant. This is me making a case for reading, for books.

What kind of books made an impact on you?

Growing up I read a lot of crime, most of which was bad. Do you know James Hadley Chase? You do? (laughs) He’s incredibly popular in Nigeria, but when I went abroad, no one had heard of him. I think I read every single James Hadley Chase book that was published. Recently, I got bored of what is termed ‘serious fiction’ and went back to the books I loved when I was younger. I tried to read James Hadley Chase and it was unbearable! It was so bad! But I discovered PD James and really, really like her. I don’t like violence and prefer the detective kind of thing.

It seems you naturally gravitated towards writing from being a passionate reader. I know you read Enid Blyton books as a child. I recognised the ginger beer.

I loved them!

Me too. You know, my cousin Marcus played Julian in the 1970s TV series of The Famous Five.

Really? I watched that in Nigeria! (sings the theme tune) "We are The Famous Five! Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the dog..." That’s hilarious!

Now Half of a Yellow Sun is a film, and there are rumours of interest in adapting Americanah. I spoke to David Mitchell about Cloud Atlas. He said he had almost no influence on the film adaptation and didn’t want to. He felt an adaptation should be a new creative vision, a story told in a different voice. What’s your view?

Very similar to his. I stayed away. I chose to stay away and it’s not even the wanting to hear the story from another voice, which by the way I did enjoy, but Half of a Yellow Sun means so much to me. Everything in that book matters to me. Film-making is such a different thing. It would involve making decisions not necessarily based on the integrity of the book. I worried it would break my heart. I thought I'd lose my mind if I were involved.

They asked if I wanted to write the script and I said no. I had a few conversations with the director [Biyi Bandele], who’s a friend of mine, which was calming. In one conversation, he talked about making the story about the sisters, and not Ugwu. I thought, no! Ugwu is the soul of this book. In many ways, Ugwu is me. For him to be something on the side was almost unbearable. He said, yes, I understand, but for film...
And I remember very clearly thinking this is why I cannot be involved.
Having seen the film, of course he is right. Making the sisters the focus works, perfectly. I just couldn’t have done it.

Are you impressed with it?

I think it’s beautiful. And very well acted. It’s filmed in Nigeria, which was important to me. The art of it, capturing Nigeria in beautiful images. There’s something very nostalgic about it that I love.

As an expat, I’m often seen as the mouthpiece of my country. A Brit must be able to justify Britain. You’ve mentioned not only being seen as a representative of your country but the entire continent. In the light of current events, is it an opportunity or a burden to focus attention on Nigerian issues?

Is there a third option? (laughs) I’m ambivalent about this. Sometimes when there are things I feel very strongly about, I’m grateful I have this voice. And there are times like now, when what’s happening is headline news. As often happens with headline news, it’s simplified and there’s no context. So I get 200 emails from news organisations all over the world wanting ‘Chimamanda to come and talk about girls-education-in-Nigeria’.

I’m from southern Nigeria. You've lived there so you know that the north and the south are quite different. And for an Igbo person, the education of women is not the problem; it’s the education of men. Men are dropping out of school in Igboland but women are much more educated. So for me to go and talk about girls’ education... it’s not even a lack of nuance, it’s just there’s not enough space for diverse stories. The thinking is that, after those girls were abducted, every Nigerian must have a story to tell about their own experience. And I don’t.

The dangers of the single story? [Chimamanda’s TED talk 2009]

Yes. They want me to focus on this one thing. And while I care very much about this one thing that’s bad, there are other things. So they’ll end up with a very lopsided view of this place where I come from and it’s a place I happen to love.

Also I don’t like to feel defensive. At times I do feel that way with people who don’t know many stories about where I come from. An emotional defensiveness comes in. It’s strange.

And what are you working on next?

I can’t tell you.
I’m going to play the mysterious one. (laughs)
Tell me about you instead. What do remember from your time in Nigeria?

(I show Chimamanda a photograph from my childhood - see left.
We talk about memories, how pictures can hint at stories, and families.)

I noticed the photography credit in my copy of Half of a Yellow Sun. Is that your brother? 

Photograph by Okey Adichie
(laughs) Yes! We had the most hilarious time! This was taken at the house where I grew up. We were walking around and he had the camera and he was saying, I’m tired of this. And I would say, no, tell me what the lighting is like, and he’d say, I don’t know anything about lighting, leave me alone. It’s amazing we actually got this picture, which isn’t bad.

From what I’ve read, you sound like you have a very good relationship with your family.

I have, actually. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t because writers are supposed to be all ‘oh, what my father did to me, what my mother did to me’. I tease my writer friends and tell them certain conversations, I just can’t join in. My parents are lovely. We’re all really close, my parents, my siblings and me.
I’m the strange one.



If eloquent, funny, animated, articulate, observant and precise are strange, may there be much more strangeness to come. by JJ Marsh


By JJ Marshauthor, reader, Triskelite, journalist, Nuancer, reviewer and blogger
Likes: pugs, Werner Herzog and anchovies. Dislikes: meat, chocolate and first drafts.


Are You Made of the Write Stuff?

Or How to let people know you’re a real writer By Derek Duggan

While it’s obvious that a big part of being a writer is actually doing the writing, there are several other things that the modern day author needs to become. A salesman, for one. An entrepreneur, for another. And a lot has been written about these things. However, one thing that is often ignored is this simple question – How pretentious do you actually need to be?

It may seem abhorrent, but being pretentious is a vital part of being an author. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is the preserve of the high end literary set. No – these days it is expected of even the most ordinary of writers. Even if you’ve just written a book about army people going around doing shooting and stuff, you will still be expected to be such a pretentious twat that you will do interviews on the telly wearing a balaclava. And that’s a fact.

But you don’t need to jump to this level of bellendedness straightaway. It’s very difficult to carry this kind of thing off from a standing start, so ease yourself into it. Start simply.

Step one is to listen exclusively to BBC Radio 4. Even Gardeners Question Time. This will teach you the vernacular. After a month or so of solid listening you’ll be ready to begin.

The first thing you can do is to stop calling yourself a writer. If you want to be taken seriously you must always refer to yourself as a wordsmith. If you introduce yourself to people thus you can rest assured that they will remember you.

Next, you’ll need to let people know how clever you are without actually saying anything. This seems tricky, but actually it’s very simple. Merely buy a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce and carry it around with you everywhere. Make sure you crease it up a bit and dog ear the pages so it looks like you’ve actually read it and then just leave it on the table when you go to meet friends for coffee. Don’t worry; you won’t have to actually read it. Nobody will ever question you about it or want to discuss it because despite selling millions of copies worldwide the only person who’s ever actually read it is Mrs Joyce and the chances of her showing up to have coffee with you is pretty slim. Once you’ve become comfortable with the book you can learn off a couple of random quotes from it and slip these into conversation. For example, if someone tells you they’re going on holiday to Ibiza or something, why not say – Won’t that be nice? Or, as Joyce might have said - The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea. This will make your coffee partner realize that you are indeed a right wordsmith.

After this you might want to have a shot at doing some literary jokes. Perhaps take some friends to the Zoo. When you get to the bear enclosure indicate one of the animals with the corner of your copy of Ulysses and say – I think that one is a Samuel Beckett bear. Your friends may look at you quizzically. Then say – Yes, you can tell because of the big paws! Guaranteed hilarity will ensue and everyone will marvel at how bloody brainy you are.

The next thing you might think about is wearing a hat or some roundy glasses or if you want to go the whole hog, both. Nothing says I’m a brilliant writer like wearing a Panama hat while it’s pissing down in Croydon. And would anyone have gone to see Waiting for Godot if the author responsible hadn’t been an ardent roundy glasses wearer? I think not.

Next you’ll have to start producing something yourself. As a wordsmith you will be used to getting inside the heads of your characters, so use this skill to your advantage and think your way into the head of a teenage girl so you can write some horrendous poetry. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to whip out your notebook at social gatherings and subject strangers and friends alike to an impromptu recital of your latest poem – Polite Smiles. You will be amazed at how well people will relate to your theme.

Once you’ve mastered this the sky’s the limit. You really can do what you want. George Orwell got so good at it that he pretended to be a tramp for a couple of years. Ernest Hemingway was such a master that he regularly got drunk, punched people in the face and joined in random wars. And John Irving talked about how important he was endlessly.

So what are you waiting for? Dress up like Doctor Who and get out there.

Glad I could help.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

TLC - Tender Loving Care, a short story by Louise Johnson

‘How’s Gilda doing today, Grace?’ Mrs Cooper asked.

‘Last night we thought she was a goner,’ Grace replied, as blunt as ever, ‘but she’s hanging on. She’s a fighter.’

‘She is that. Strong as an ox.’

Mrs Cooper snipped off the chrysanthemums’ dead heads with more force than usual. How long had Gilda been ‘hanging on’, as staff nurse Grace put it? Four weeks, going on five? The delay had at least allowed Mrs Cooper to get on top of the situation but it was proving a strain. Less than two weeks was indecently fast; anything over six started to become tedious. Extremely tedious.

‘Fancy a cuppa, Mrs C?’

‘I’d love one. Then we can put our feet up and maybe you’d run through the reports with me? You know how I like to be kept up-to-date.’

Grace bumbled off to the ward’s kitchen to brew up and search for biscuits, leaving Mrs Cooper alone in the nurses’ office to attend to the pot plants. But once Grace was gone, she put down her sprayer and secateurs and pushing the door to, picked up the nursing files. She liked Grace. Grace didn’t mince words unlike stuck-up nurse Dolores who seemed to think hospital volunteers were a lower form of life.

No, you knew where you were with Grace. No funny medical terms. None of your ‘stable’ or ‘doing well’ nonsense that Dolores was apt to spout when Mrs Cooper asked after a patient.

Grace cut to the chase. So, old Mrs Piper’s blood pressure was ‘down in her boots’, Ella’s lungs were ‘packing up’ and as for Gilda, they thought they had ‘lost’ her, leaving Mrs Cooper with visions of nurses rummaging through laundry bags and rubbish bins in their attempt to find her. Indeed, it was Grace who had told Mrs Cooper that the little red dot in the nursing notes, which she now found displayed on Gilda’s records, meant ‘do not resuscitate’. What a shame, thought Mrs Cooper. If the patient stopped breathing, that was it. No calling in of the crash team. No ER heroics.

When Grace came back, Mrs Cooper sipped tea from the hospital’s regulation green crockery and munched a soggy biscuit while Grace ran through Mary Seacole ward’s recent happenings.

A shabby visitor passed the office and glanced in but Mrs Cooper took no notice. Shabby visitors didn’t interest her.

‘Well, I can’t sit around all day,’ said Mrs Cooper, draining her cup. ‘Time to go and deliver some TLC to Frank.’

‘Oh, he’ll like that,’ said Grace. ‘There can’t be long left.’

Mrs Cooper allowed herself a little smile as she pushed her trolley from bed to bed. She never sold many of her celebrity magazines or much of her fruit or Lucozade but it didn’t matter. Her voluntary sessions at the hospital included shop and chat, with emphasis on the chat. Many of the old ducks on Mary Seacole were on modest pensions so making a profit was unlikely. However, Mrs Cooper liked to imagine the patients derived some succour from her sympathetic bedside manner.

A red-eyed Frank was sitting next to Gilda, where he had kept vigil for much of the last month.

‘Can I tempt you, Frank?’ said Mrs Cooper, more coquettishly than she had intended but the poor man looked as though he needed to lighten up.

Frank shook his head and Mrs Cooper wondered if he would start crying if he tried to speak.

She moved some of the plastic tubing keeping Gilda alive and perched on the edge of the bed, her stocking-encased leg almost brushing Frank’s corduroy covered thigh.

‘You ought to look after yourself at times like this or you’ll end up in the next bed to Gilda. Now, she wouldn’t want that, would she?’

‘No, you’re right. She wouldn’t,’ replied Frank, looking at Mrs Cooper for the first time. ‘Give me one of your sandwiches then. Any flavour. I’m not fussy.’

Mrs Cooper selected egg mayonnaise and put it on a plate with a napkin.

‘You’ve been wonderful,’ said Frank, taking a bite. ‘The girls haven’t got time,’ he said, indicating Grace and the other nurses, ‘but it makes all the difference having someone like you around.’

‘I’m here for you, Frank. I know what you’re going through.’

She squeezed Frank’s arm and to her surprise, Frank placed his own hand over hers and gave it a tentative pat. Gilda, flat out in bed, stirred slightly, a gurgling sound emanating from her parched mouth. Was that what Grace would call a death rattle?

Frank jerked his hand away and regaled Mrs Cooper with the latest on Gilda’s condition. Her blood gases, her oxygen levels, her white cell count and her urine output – he didn’t spare a thing. Mrs Cooper nodded and made the appropriate noises.

‘Thanks for listening, Mrs C. I live in hope.’

‘So do I, Frank. So do I. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some errands to run. I’ll see you before I go.’

Mrs Cooper sauntered off with her trolley, aware that her rear view looked rather good in the tight black pencil skirt she was wearing today.

‘Where do Frank and Gilda live, by the way?’ she asked Grace before she packed up and left.

Grace flicked through some paperwork.

‘Here we are… up by the golf course. Private road. Nice area.’

‘Oh, yes, I know. Very exclusive.’

‘I think they must have been devoted,’ Grace said. ‘Frank’s here 24/7.’

‘Married forty years, Frank told me. It really makes you believe in the power of love, doesn’t it? In sickness and in health, and all that.’

The next day when Mrs Cooper arrived on the ward, the curtains were partially drawn around Gilda’s bed. Mrs Cooper knew this generally meant death was imminent. The ward had a muted quality and the other patients seemed shaken yet relieved - they were being spared this time.

She found Frank by the bedside, quietly sobbing.

‘Oh, Frank, I’m so sorry.’

Mrs Cooper placed her arms around Frank and pulled him close, making sure she didn’t disturb her hair or make-up. Being partly screened from the rest of the ward at least meant they had some privacy.

‘Mrs C…’ he said, letting himself be embraced. He pulled out a hankie and gave his nose a vigorous blow. ‘The doctors say the end is near. Gilda’s been slipping in and out of a coma all night. Our daughter, Terri, can’t even fly back from New Zealand. She’s got her own life, you see. What with the new baby.’

‘That’s terrible, Frank.’

Mrs Cooper put on a distressed face and hugged Frank again. His tweed jacket was scratchy and smelt of pipe tobacco but she disregarded that. She felt Frank’s tense shoulders drop. If only she was properly alone with him, she could really help him.
Through the gap in the curtains, Mrs Cooper suddenly became aware of a man a couple of beds away staring at her. The same man that she had seen passing the nurses’ office the day before. Bespectacled and in his late middle age, he stood by old Ella’s bed and chomped on an apple. Was he visiting Ella or maybe he was even her husband? Mrs Cooper didn’t think so. She had never seen anyone come to visit Ella and anyhow she felt pretty sure the elderly lady was a Miss, not a Mrs. Shifting her position slightly so as not to alert Frank, she swivelled her head in order to see if there was something catching the man’s attention behind her. There clearly wasn’t. She tried to outstare him while murmuring words of support to Frank. It was insolent of this man to gawp at her like this. What business was it of his? He wasn’t eyeing her up in a complimentary light, she felt certain of that. She continued with her sweet nothings but now her words had a hollow ring to them and even Frank, with his back to the stranger, seemed to pick up on something because soon he extricated himself from Mrs Cooper’s grasp and said he wanted to sit on his own for a bit.

Grace and Mrs Cooper had only been together in the office for a short while when Frank appeared at the door.

‘Grace, I think it’s over.’

Grace rushed to Gilda’s bed, followed by Frank and Mrs Cooper.

‘She’s out of pain now,’ Grace told Frank, confirming the worst.

Grace closed Gilda’s eyes and turned off the oxygen. Mrs Cooper thought how unattractive and ashen death made people look unlike in the films, and that she hoped no-one would ever see her in a similar state.

‘I’ll leave you with Gilda,’ she told Frank.

‘No... Stay with me, Mrs Cooper. I can’t bear to be here on my own right now.’

Mrs Cooper held Frank’s hand and distasteful as she found it, kept him company as they gazed at Gilda’s inert body for the last time.

‘Gilda might be gone but I’ll look after you now, Frank.’

With her free hand, she pulled Frank’s damp cheek towards hers so that his tears mingled with her own crocodile ones.

Later, while Frank was filling in the necessary forms, Mrs Cooper decided to take a breather in the hospital canteen. It had been an emotional morning and she needed to get away from Mary Seacole’s fetid atmosphere. She deserved a treat – a cappuccino and maybe a doughnut would be nice, the hospital not seeming to have heard of low fat. The unblinking stranger had bothered her too. Who was he and what did he want? He seemed vaguely familiar. Maybe he’d just wandered in off the psychiatric ward. Perhaps it was as simple as that.

She sat herself down at a spare table, thankful that food smells had replaced those of talcum powder and disinfectant ubiquitous on Mary Seacole. She was perusing one of the magazines from her trolley and spooning milky froth into her mouth when she became aware of being watched again. He was there, this time standing opposite her, over by the snack machine. He held a plastic cup in one hand but raised his little finger and pointed it directly at Mrs Cooper. Now she could be in no doubt he was pestering her.

If this harassment continued, Mrs Cooper thought, she would call security. Get this creep thrown out. She worked here for heaven’s sake. She was a valuable voluntary member of staff.

Then she remembered where she had seen him before. At Long Meads Hospice, five years ago. There she had met George Cooper, caring for his wife with terminal cancer. Six months later, Mrs Fox had become Mrs Cooper. This man had worked as a night nurse, she remembered now, and an unhelpful one at that. A chip on his shoulder.

She flipped through her magazine but the words no longer seemed to make any sense. It was as useless as trying to read in a dentist’s waiting room. She sensed him coming towards her and felt beads of perspiration break out above her upper lip. She tried to stay calm – he was nothing. A shadow fell across her page. He stood over her.

‘I’m watching you Mrs Cooper,’ he said, rapping his knuckles on the Formica table. ‘I’m watching you.’


Louise has made some short story sales both in the UK and abroad. She comes from London but she is currently living in Seville where she is researching the world of flamenco dance for a screenplay. 

SCRIPTS: Monday Mornings by Ola Zaltin

A new colleague recently asked me: ‘How do you get by?’ And he didn’t mean spiritually, socially or physically - he asked how’s the money, although I’ll be the first to confess that all four interconnect in my world. Money don’t make you happy, but it sure as hell smoothes the waters when you’re able to pay your bills, bar tabs and adult stuff like taxes (yikes!) and internet, TV, gas and rent (ouch).

I went to a very prestigious film-school, and some of my class-mates have since created - and/or worked on - TV shows like “The Killing”, “The Bridge”, “Borgen”, “House of Cards” and “Wayward Pines”. Just to mention a few. They’ve had tremendous professional success and bless ’em. Me, not so much.

A friend of mine went to The Royal Danish Art Academy with Bjarke Ingels, a disgustingly young and sickeningly successful young Danish architect, who now has offices in NYC and Copenhagen and roams the world doing huge projects. My friend designs ecological garden sheds for bored housewives in the suburbs of Copenhagen. I sympathise.

As Shane MacGowan sang: “We watched our friends grow up together. And we saw them as they fell. Some of them fell into heaven, some of them fell into hell.” 

Well, some of us ended up in between, and scrape by. Just.

Why is this?

Of course, the natural pecking order of life being what it is, some stuff will float to the surface, and other sink. What I would argue is that successful people don’t just merely pull the red tab and inflate their life-jackets to float upwards towards money, recognition and success. To the contrary, most of them had no life-jacket, held their breath and swam like crazy for years and years.

Many of them still didn’t make it. But they had this one thing: a clear goal and enormous drive.

Another friend of mine (since some 15 years) is now one of the hottest crime-writers in Denmark, with novels being translated into a handful of languages already and his franchise growing steadily. I shall not name him here, because when we met he was an overweight wannabe writer who wanted to hang out with us hipsters who were just fresh out of film-school.
He basically sat home and ate pizza and dreamt. What he subsequently did was something as unoriginal as buying one of the most (in)famous self-improvement books ever: “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”. The difference was that he actually made it his bible. In ten years, from scratch (junk food and navel gazing), he went from an overweight schlob nobody to a very fit man of 35 and had two crime novels picked up in Denmark, the second one being the start of the franchise he is now embarking on. Oh, plus a wife and a penthouse apartment and writing loft in the centre of Copenhagen. Now he’s the one being interviewed by the BBC and me sitting with the stale slice of pizza.

I’m a slow learner, god knows, but at age soon 45 I’ve finally realized that the old saying “Success is 90% discipline and 10% talent” is true. I’m not even going to say “10% genius”, because you don’t need genius, talent will do nicely, thank you very much. In fact, most of us have it, in one form or the other. The trick is the 90% part. Discipline and focus that will hold hours, days, weeks, months, years without anyone even deigning to read a line you’ve written, let alone give you a thumbs-up.

I don’t think there’s any kind of statistics on the above theory, but I’m willing to bet my left nut that a fair proportion of the writers that succeed have an enormous amount of determination and grit - and won’t give up until they’ve reached their goal.

I once heard of a Swedish professor of physics based in Stockholm, Sweden. He had the most successful and awarded students of all the teachers of his generation. My father once met him and asked: “How can you produce so many very diligent and successful researchers, over so many years?” The professor answered: “It’s easy: when they are to graduate to PHD level I give them a theoretical problem that is unsolvable. Those who give up leave. Those who still keep at it after a year, I accept as my graduate students.” Sheer bloody-mindedness pays off, evidently.

There are, of course, two easy-to-spot dichotomies here: those who write and write with blind focus and great zeal and never make it (quite a number of them) and those dreamers and talkers and bullshit artists that actually manage somehow to produce one single novel, screenplay or collection of poems - and has great success with it: the one hit wonders.

In the end though, if I were a betting man, I’d put that nut on the writer with a focused goal, a daily routine - a novelist, screenplay writer or poet who daily produces text, and constantly works on improving his or her style and voice.

*

So, how do I get by? As mentioned above: just. What pays my rent at the moment is working as a story-consultant for a global computer-game franchise, plus translating season III of The Bridge (and no, I’m not at liberty to say a peep more than that, as I’ve signed Non-Disclosure Agreements with both production companies).

In addition, I’m developing not one, or two, but three feature films. One set on an island harbouring a dark secret; one that takes place in a small village in Denmark that big city evil visits; and one that centres on a 40-something careerist feminist woman, loosely based on a director friend of mine.

This might look like a foolish act of multi-task juggling, but in fact it’s a necessity for many screenwriters: until one of the projects get a green-light (funding, meaning money for me) I have to keep all three gestating. Once one of them (or god forbid, two) gets some kind of funding, the other projects are more or less put on hold. Follow the money, that’s the tune, as always.

*

If you’re not passing out on champagne in Cannes, but not driving a bus either - at least not just yet: if you’re a jobbing screenwriter in for the long haul there’s ups and downs, just like with everything else in life.

The fun is the ever not knowing what will happen next day, week, month: if your proposal will get a yes or a no, if your agent will call on a dreary Monday morning you didn’t very much  like and turn it into an exciting prospect of future collaboration with persons as of yet unknown. (Note to self: call agent.)

The shit is of course the above, inverted. Never knowing how to get enough dosh for next month’s rent. That Monday morning (or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) call that doesn’t come. Sitting alone and feeling really uninspired and, well, out of steam, as it were. When you get well and truly tired of the pasta and ketchup routine, the growing hill of bills, when jealousy mounts about your friends’ secure 9-5 lives, monthly pay-checks and pension fund investments.

But if you really want to do this, if you’ve consciously chosen to go and go and go for it, no matter what, no matter no kids, no girlfriend - no money - it’s still the best thing in the world.

Because you’ve literally got your back to the wall, and, hopefully, that will produce some pretty good stuff, in the end.


So I do get by. But I would like to get better, at getting by. 

All the Fun of the Book Fair by Anne Stormont

Are writers and their readers getting any closer to fair deals for all? The answer from the 2014 London Book Fair seems to be yes.

The theme at the heart of this edition of Words With Jam is the London Book Fair (LBF). I must admit that when the Ed let us, her team of humble scribblers, know this, I was discombobulated. 'That's not fair,' I thought. (See what I did there?)

Although Her Editorness is no tyrant, and the  theme is always just a suggestion for the way to go when writing an article, I have always managed to come up with something theme related. I know, for someone who proclaims herself to be a subversive old bat, this is rather conformist behaviour. But, hey, it's too exhausting to be rebellious all the time.

So, back at the theme. I've never been to the LBF, so what could I do to maintain my 100% conformity record. Not only have I never been to the LBF, I've never been to any book fair.

I've been to several book festivals, yes, but I don't think book festivals and fairs are quite the same thing, are they? My perception is that book fairs are more for writers and publishers, and that book festivals are centred around readers, and authors interacting with their readers.

I've enjoyed all the book festivals I've been to including Edinburgh, one of the biggest - and dare I say - best.  I've listened to writers I  admire talking about their work. I've taken part in question and answer sessions with well known authors. I've listened to journalists and politicians in discussion on various topics, usually related to one or other's newly published book. I've soaked up the bookish atmosphere, browsed the booksellers' shelves, and sat in the outdoor cafes and bars watching out for famous literary figures. I've even dreamt of one day appearing at a festival as a writer... But following a rather sniffy and snotty rebuff for even daring to approach the organiser of a relatively small, relatively local, book festival five years ago, I've sort of given up on that dream.

But as a reader, I still love book festivals. Book festivals exist to encourage us to read. They draw us in and give us a deeper insight into the crazy and wonderful world of books. At Glasgow's Aye Right book festival this year, you could attend talks by writers as diverse as polymath writer and artist and Whitbread prize-winner, Alasdair Gray, who was launching his memoirs; former bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, who revealed he reads Nietzsche; and crime writer Val McDermid, who has done a contemporary rewrite of Jane Austen's Northhanger Abbey. You could also hear close-to-the-bone comedian Frankie Boyle talking about 'Five Books That Made Me'. Surprisingly perhaps,  Boyle turned out to be a fan of the work of Noam Chomsky and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Yes, the rich world of literature is indeed brilliantly showcased at a well-run book festival.

But what of the book fair? Does it in any way relate to the book festival. I've heard of the Frankfurt book fair. I know it's the biggest of the book fairs where literary agents, publishers, rights and licensing experts and writers can all meet up and exchange ideas expertise and insight. And I know from what I've read about the LBF that it's the same. As a one-woman author-publisher, it didn't occur to me that there would be anything of relevance to me at such gatherings. These meetings were for the big boys surely. That's what I thought. Then I read online reports of how the LBF went.

Most of the reporting that I read came from members of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) http://allianceindependentauthors.org/ Their experiences all sounded positive and informative as regards how to get work published, protected and publicised. ALLi was at the LBF to launch the Opening up to Indie Authors book  and campaign. The book is by ALLi stalwarts Dan Holloway and Debbie Young. As an author-publisher, I was greatly encouraged by the fact that ALLi were even at the LBF. You can read a full account written by ALLI's founder, Orna Ross, of how it was to be at the fair here http://www.ornaross.com/2014/04/how-self-publishing-saved-my-writing-life-thoughts-from-lbf2014/

The level of professionalism encouraged by ALLi and achieved by many 'indie' writers, along with the growing number of successful, good quality author-publishers, (some of whom have previously been traditionally published but have chosen to take more control of their work by adopting the indie route) really do seem to be leading to significant changes in the world of publishing. This is good for readers too, as their choice of reading matter is less restricted, especially if their tastes aren't mainstream.

And just as for readers visiting book festivals, it seems that the world of book fairs holds much to enchant all sorts of writers. I've promised myself I'll visit at least one in 2015. And, I reckon, thanks to ALLi, I'll feel welcome and comfortable. Perhaps the Alliance could look at book festivals next, see if attitudes have moved on there too.

But some book festival organisers already have an open-minded and inclusive approach to most things book related. And, on that note,  I wouldn't want to end this perusal of fairs and festivals without mentioning the Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair. The fair takes place in October every year and is run by Wordpower Books who have an actual, bricks and mortar book shop in Edinburgh's Nicolson Street. They also run the Online Independent Bookshop http://www.word-power.co.uk//

Wordpower promote non-mainstream small presses and new writers. However, it's also possible to buy any book from them.

The programme for this year's fair hasn't been announced yet, but in the past topics have included politics, polemics and poetry as well as showcasing some great fiction writing. The sub-title for the event is the Alternative Book Festival and so here we see both fair and festival being used interchangeably. And the use of both terms is at least partly justified. The Independent Book Fair is about readers AND writers. The philosophy and ethos are inclusive. The target group of presenters and audience is broad. It's not offering technical advice to writers or bringing writers and publishers together. Neither is it in thrall to bestsellers or celebrity authors. These things are the province of the more traditional fairs and festivals. I'm glad that something like the Independent Radical Book Fair exists. There's a place for it and for other types of book-themed gatherings like LBF and Aye Right too.

Now if we could just get a festival that embraces author-publishers and an independent bookseller that welcomes independent authors, that really would be progress...

And following the developments at the LBF, there now seems to be real grounds for optimism that good quality literature in all its forms, sources, genres and readerships will be able to get shelf room (real or virtual), and that the traditionally published and the independently created can co-exist. We live in interesting times.

The Alliance of Independent Authors can be found on Twitter at @IndieAuthorALLi and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AllianceIndieAuthors and at the website address above.

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Anne Stormont is a writer and teacher. She can be a subversive old bat but maintains a kind heart. As well as writing for this fine organ, she writes fiction for adults – mainly of the female-of-a-certain-age persuasion – and for children. She blogs at http://putitinwriting.me  – where you can find out lots more about her.  

Simon Scarrow

… in conversation with Gillian Hamer.

As historical fiction writers go, they do not come much more successful or prolific than Simon Scarrow.

Since the publication of his first novel, Under the Eagle, in 2000 he has published a further eleven books in his Eagle series set in the Roman empire, the last just last October, titled The Blood Crows. Not content with the success of the Eagle series, he has also written a four book series under the title, Revolution, set around the time of Wellington and Napoleon, plus a third series, Gladiator, aimed at the Young Adult 11-14 year old market. Oh, and let us not forget the five Roman novellas published under the Arena title.

So, when he finally found time to draw breath, Words with Jam were knocking at his door to ask what drives on his passion for historical fiction, the secrets of which genres he plans to visit in his future works, his thoughts about adapting books into film, and how he sees the future of publishing.

You're obviously best known for novels set during the Roman Empire, but you have handled a cross section of history including the Napoleonic Wars. What attracts you to particular periods in history?
It’s hard to say when you are talking about interesting periods in history. So often it is the human story that is the catalyst for a novel. A particular event or predicament that creates the drama around individuals. Aside from that there just happen to be some historical periods that interest more than others. The ancient world being one, and the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era another. At present I am about to return to a novel set in the Second World War which I started last year. It is about a tiny marginal event, but the themes are universal.

What is it about the Roman period that inspires you to write not only the Eagle series, but also your latest Gladiator series for the YA market?
Rome was always on the curriculum when I was at school (more so because I also studied Latin as well as history), and outside of school it seemed to be on television – hardly a week went by without a TV showing of Cleopatra, Fall of the Roman Empire, Spartacus, Demetrius and the Gladiators, Quo Vadis or later on I, Claudius. All great stuff.  At school I was an ancient world nerd and loved every aspect of the history and culture. As a result I would say that most of the research for the novels had already been done by the time I left school.  The YA series came about as a result of telling a story to my boys when I would walk them to school. Eventually they said they liked it so much that it would be a shame not to tell it to others.  All of which has pleasingly resulted in two sons who are also fascinated by history and studying hard for the subject at school.

Research, love or loathe? It must be a massive part of your books. How do you handle it?
I adore research. It’s the best way of putting off writing (and I mean that in a kind of positive way!). Seriously, I spend the vast majority of my working time immersed in books, visiting museums and historic sites and talking to re-enactors. There’s so much good material out there that I would need ten lives just to get through a fraction of the material I have gathered over the years.  But, once I commit to writing the books the research has to stop completely to focus on the story.

Location plays a central role in your books, how important is location to you when creating a new world or setting for your readers?
The sense of a lived in setting is at the heart of the craft as far as I am concerned. Your reader has to believe they are ‘there’ when they get stuck into a book. And that means that I have to create the sights, sounds, smells and general ambience of a place. Consequently, I do my utmost to travel to the places where the novels are set and soak up as much sensory detail as possible. For example, at the end of The Eagle in The Sand there is a knife fight in a desert by some cliffs where there is a single tree growing. That tree and the setting is a faithful description of a spot in Wadi Rum in Jordan. The same goes for many settings in The Legion, where I had great fun reconstructing ancient Egypt from three research trips down the Nile.

What other genres do you enjoy reading? Would you ever write in another genre?
I like a lot of historical fiction. The Hornblower series is still my runaway favourite. Other than that I enjoy some crime novels (though not many, since as a writer you know the nuts and bolts of storytelling and can usually work out who the villain is within the first 20-30 pages.). Most of my reading these days is non-fiction. I just love finding out about ‘stuff’. As for writing in other genres, I will be starting a crime series later in the year for which I have high hopes.

Are you a visual writer? Are there any of your books you would particularly like to see in film or television? Any plans in the pipeline?
I’m not quite sure what you mean by a visual writer. I suppose the nearest I can get to explaining my perspective on this is by drawing on Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ when he says that after 20 mins of writing he begins to ‘see through the page’ and gets transported to the world he is creating. If that’s what you mean, then yes, it is the same for me.  Getting novels made into films is such a difficult process and frankly the experiences I have had with an American film producer with respect to his plans to adapt my YA novels were not encouraging. Apart from wanting to turn them into an animated feature, starting in the present and time-slipping back to Rome, he also wanted to cut out any references to slavery (“y’know, that’s a bit of a bad word here in the US, Simon”) and fighting to the death (“can’t do that in a family film, Simon”)  in a story about gladiators…  So, if it happens, it happens, and I’ll take the cheque and cry all the way to the bank. No writer should grieve over any adaptation of their material they have sold to film-makers, I think.  I know some who do, but if you sell something, it ain’t yours any longer. That’s how I look at it.

Cato and Macro have become quite iconic characters. What makes a great character for you, and as a writer, what do you consider are the vital ingredients when creating a new character?
Cato and Macro are like old friends to me. What makes them good to readers is that they talk and think like real people and frequently will take stories off in new directions, regardless of what the humble author may originally have planned. If they can do that, then to me that is proof that they work. Making up new characters is like meeting new people. There’s that process of probing to see what makes them tick, and whether you like them or not, and then analysing why.

This may be like asking you to choose a favourite child, but who is your favourite character to write, and why?
Right now, it is Marcus, the hero of the YA series who has undergone a process of change from happy child in idyllic home to slave, to gladiator, to hunted fugitive. It’s been an education watching him deal with loss, grief, determination, survival and most significantly, revenge.

You’ve obviously won so many awards and accolades throughout your career. What have been your proudest moments and achievements?
There have been many wonderful moments and opportunities which I have been lucky to enjoy as a result of the novels’ successes. It’s always nice to receive praise from readers from around the world, from schoolboys in Africa, to farmers in the outback, to the King of Jordan.  But my proudest moment was when a young reader told me she cried when she read the scene when Marcus’s mother forces him to abandon her and flee. If writing can do that, then I feel I have made it a real experience for someone.

You must have learnt a great deal about writing and publishing over your career. What words of wisdom would you impart to the next generation of writers?
It’s the obvious advice, I’m afraid. There’s no substitute for doing a lot of reading and writing. You have to be experimental with both. There’s no point in reading just vampire fiction or Harry Potter. It has to be far more eclectic than that. (And while we’re on the subject, Rowling has proved that she can outdo Potter with ‘The Casual Vacancy’ which I loved). Experiment with your writing. Try different styles out, a necessary process through which to discover your own distinct voice. Most authors are fairly interchangeable, but there are some wonderful writers like Chris Humphreys who have such a distinct ‘voice’ and if you can achieve that then I’m sure you will find success.

Can I ask how you see the future of publishing? In such a rapidly changing market and technological world, do you believe ‘real books’ will survive or that e-books are the future?
I’d like to think physical books will survive since they are brilliant pieces of technology. They don’t need recharging, they’re rugged, they are cheap, they are reusable and they are far more rewarding than films, computer games and even music and art. Interestingly, the evidence is that ebook sales are plateauing out. While I appreciate the opportunities for new authors afforded by ebooks, the sad fact is that most of the output is pretty poor and barely merits the low prices charged for it. That said, some very, very successful publishing stories have their origins in self-published ebooks. So go for it.

Finally, what are your plans for the future and what next do you have in the pipeline?

At the moment I have 9 more books under contract, which I aim to have cleared within three years. Macro and Cato will carry on until they pay my mortgage off and then I dare say they will continue for a while longer as there are some great stories they can be involved in. Other than that, I’d like to learn how to fly and get a private pilot’s license. Before I’m too old.