Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Industry View - Reedsy's Ricardo Fayet

Ricardo Fayet
Ricardo Fayet is a co-founder of Reedsy, a curated marketplace connecting publishing professionals. He’s primarily a startup enthusiast who likes to closely follow the publishing industry. He spends most of his spare time analysing European football games and complaining about the London weather.

So how would you define Reedsy? 

There are a lot of definitions of Reedsy, from the succinct “curated marketplace for publishing professionals” to long paragraphs explaining exactly what we have in mind for the near future.

However, there is one that really expresses the brand we are trying to create: Reedsy is a publishing company where authors get to choose the people they want to work with and keep their rights and royalties.

Many fantastic editors and designers have left the big publishers in the past few years to work as freelancers, and almost all like to tap into the self-publishing market. We’re creating a place for them to regroup in with other top-notch freelancers so authors can easily find them.

Many author assistance schemes have attracted a certain amount of scepticism for selling sub-par services at a premium price. What makes Reedsy different?

Self-publishing should not mean “vanity publishing”, as seemed to be the case 5-10 years ago. There are tons of professional “indie” authors out there, seeking to make a living out of writing, and we believe they should have access to the same level of quality they would get through a big publisher.

We are all about that. We call ourselves a curated marketplace because we are going to check all the profiles of the freelancers featured on Reedsy to make sure they comply with our standards. We don’t want to stop there though, we are working on exciting collaboration and project management tools to save authors and freelancers both time and money. We think the way authors work with editors today is a bit outdated (we already had MS Word and email 10 years ago, maybe it’s time to move on?…) though we will naturally let people use whatever tools they prefer.

What drew you to the self-publishing market?

Emmanuel (my co-founder) and I were among the first people in France to read on tablets. Emmanuel actually imported his from across the pond. We were enjoying the “digital revolution” as readers and started thinking about what that revolution actually meant for authors. We started digging into self-publishing, spent a couple of years researching “the industry” and felt like almost all services offered to “indie” authors today were “vanity publishing” ones, so we came up with Reedsy.

The media likes to fan the trad v. indie debate whereas others believe the industries are complementary. What’s your take?

I don’t think the trad v. indie debate we currently have is the right one, because one side of the debate is totally anachronistic. Publishing companies haven’t changed their business model at all over the past 50 years.

Today, with some work, money and dedication, you can get a pretty good book out and sell it to the world. What publishers do, today, is save you the investment and some of the work, give you a small advance, and add one distribution channel that is shrinking year after year (print) to your distribution strategy. For that they take 90% or more royalties, the same share they took 10 years ago, when you basically had no other choice as a writer than going with them…

If this business model changes (and that’s what people like Hugh Howey have been calling for, basically), then we can have a debate. We can say “if you’re entrepreneurially minded and good at marketing, you should self-publish, else try to find yourself a publisher”. But right now for me there’s no debate. Which company is ever going to give away 90% equity in exchange for a couple thousand dollars and access to a shrinking distribution channel?… If you do that it means that you don’t really believe in your company.

You’’re a speaker of more than one language– - are translators going to be a significant resource at Reedsy?

Definitely. This has been our vision since the very beginning. We had to start somewhere, so we are doing it with the most basic services, the ones without which you cannot self-publish (editing and design). But our goal is to recreate a publishing company and be a kind of “one-stop-shop” (without ever sacrificing quality, but I’ve made that clear already).

In year 2 of Reedsy, we will be adding new languages (countries) and opening our marketplace to translators. Finding good literary translators is the next big thing for today’s successful indie authors, and it’s no easy thing.

In our last issue, David Gaughran gave his opinion on the Amazon/Hachette battle. It’’s a business dispute but how does it affect authors?

Wow, it’s kind of difficult to come after David Gaughran and all that has already been said about it…

What has struck me in this dispute, from the author’s perspective, is the trad. vs self-pub. clash that has emerged, and how both parties have handled the situation… If you sum up and caricature it a bit, the first group has paid a ton of money to get an ad in a newspaper, while the second one has created a (free) online petition that has almost immediately gathered thousands of signatures…

I’ve tried to follow this neutrally, as a reader, but as I discussed it with Andrew Rhomberg from Jellybooks over Twitter, it really makes you wonder where these best-selling traditionally published authors took their PR advice from…

In any case, I think this battle mainly affects traditionally published authors, because they are the ones in danger if Hachette comes victorious out of it and prices ebooks high (in order to protect print). And they are the ones in danger if the “negotiations” (or absence of it) carry on and pre-order buttons are not reinstalled.

The good thing for them is that indie authors genuinely care about them. Let’s think about it for a moment, if Howey’s/Konrath’s/Eisler’s theory is right and publishers are actually fighting to price their authors’ ebooks too high, it’s actually a good thing for indies’ marketshare, right?

Well, I voiced this question to many indies, and the global response was: “yes, but we actually care about authors in general, not just indies”. I feel that right now Hugh Howey and co are fighting the mid-to-low-list mainstream authors’ battle, because these authors basically don’t have a voice. And that’s a good thing. Now, I could be totally wrong and mid-list “mainstream” authors may actually be on Douglas Preston’s side, but as they have no voice, it’s difficult to know…

I know you’’re a serious reader. So which book, regardless of publication source, has impressed you most this year?

I realised a few months ago I had probably never read a self-published book before. So I started reading Ben Galley’s Emaneska series as I enjoy the occasional “dark fantasy” book (as he likes to call his genre).

I was incredibly impressed by his second one (Pale Kings). Don’t get me wrong, the first one wasn’t bad, it was pretty entertaining, but not much more than that. From the first pages of the second one, though, I really felt like I was entering his world, and not only “reading” it.

Seeing this incredible improvement from one book to the other makes you feel close to the author, so I actually reached out to him to congratulate him (something I had never done before). I can’t wait to read his next novel, Bloodrush.

Nice easy one to finish with - how do you see the future of the publishing industry?

Honestly? I see it as a combination of two complementary type of companies. On the one hand, companies like Reedsy, making quality self-publishing possible and “easy” since the very beginning. On the other hand, actual publishing companies with a fair business model (like FG Press).

Some authors are just not supposed to self-publish, those who don’t want to have to pick their editorial and design team, negotiate prices, do all the marketing, etc. At Reedsy we can make self-publishing easy but it will always make sense for some authors to just have the publisher handle everything which is not writing.

 By JJ Marsh

Friday, 26 September 2014

Sophie Hannah in conversation with Gillian Hamer

Two modern-day crime queens discussing the ultimate crime queen.

No one will ever take Agatha Christie’s crown, but it’s thrilling for me to see a brand new Poirot novel hit the shelves … and the headlines. Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, Christie has sold over two billion copies of her books around the globe. She remains the best-selling author of all time.

 Now, for the first time, the Christie estate – guardians of her legacy – have approved a brand new novel, featuring her enigmatic, beloved character – Hercule Poirot. The novel will be welcomed by crime readers around the world, attracting new fans and captivating older ones.

It has fallen into the more than capable hands of international best-selling crime writer, Sophie Hannah, to breathe new life into Christie’s creation, in new novel, The Monogram Murders

In the same way Anthony Horowitz took readers back to the era of Sherlock Holmes in the wonderful, House of Silk, Hannah weaves a thrilling tale that embroils readers into a 1920s' London mystery – with Poirot at its centre. And with the usual touches of her wonderful talent for complex plots and sub-text, I can’t imagine any Christie fan being more than thrilled with the result.

So, WWJ asks Sophie Hannah just how it feels to be part of the Christie legacy …

Welcome back to Words with Jam, Sophie, and as a lifelong Agatha Christie fan I am delighted it is under these circumstances. Can you tell us how The Monogram Murders came to life and how you were commissioned to write it?

Well, it was really just a massive coincidence. My agent, Peter, happened to be talking to somebody from Harper Collins, Agatha’s publishers.  He said, ‘Hey, you should get Sophie Hannah to write a new Poirot novel – she’s a massive Agatha Christie fan.’  At the same time, the Agatha Christie Estate had started to think that now might be a good time to do a continuation novel – so it was serendipity really, those two things happening at the same time!

I believe that like me you’re also a huge Christie fan, how did it feel when the novel got the go ahead?

That’s right. My dad bought me my first Agatha Christie novel, The Body in the Library, when I was 12. He spent a lot of time at second-hand book fairs looking for old cricket books, and I soon realised I could ask him to look out for Agatha Christie’s for me at these fairs – which he did. By the time I was 14 I’d read all of her work and had all her books on my shelf. When The Monogram Murders got the go ahead, I felt honoured and determined not to let either Agatha Christie or her family down.

I read in a Telegraph review of the novel, that the reviewer first questioned why you would want to turn your hand to rewriting a Poirot novel, but once he’d read it felt it was ‘so full of love and energy that if the Christie estate hadn’t commissioned this book –  I am quite convinced Hannah would have written the whole thing gratis for a fan fiction site.’ I think that’s a wonderful quote and tells us a lot about you as a writer and as a person – but what where your motivations?

Yes, it’s true!  I was so excited about writing a Poirot, I would (as I regularly say) have done it for twenty quid and a packet of Minstrels!  My main motivation was love for Agatha and Poirot – I see The Monogram Murders as sort of my love letter to them!  Fan fiction is a v accurate term for the book, I think.  But to be clear, my novel is not a ‘rewriting’ of any existing Poirot novel – it’s a completely new novel, a continuation novel of one author’s series by another.  I see my role as faithful sidekick to great genius (Agatha!)

Did you ever have any doubts about taking on the project?

It was a huge challenge, but no, I was so creatively excited, energised and inspired by the prospect, there was no way I’d have refused to take it on.  I try to make decisions based on hope not fear wherever possible! 

What were the hardest parts for you in writing the book?

Getting the plot exactly right, structurally, was the hardest part.  Like some of Agatha’s plots, mine is quite complex. The notes I made were extensive and ran to over a hundred pages, but once it was all planned out in the notes, the writing process was huge fun!

And did you have any ‘Oh my God, I am writing dialogue for Poirot…’ moments!

Once I started work on the book, I was so immersed that I was focused only on the book, not on the surreal and almost implausible fact that I was writing a Poirot novel.

Are there any future plans for more Agatha Christie novels that you can tell us about?

No plans at all for future books at this stage! We’ve all been so focused on this book, no one has thought beyond it.  It feels like more than enough for the time being!

There’s no doubt this is going to catapult your name to the stratosphere, are you ready for the publicity and journey to come?

There is a huge doubt!  The big names here are Agatha Christie and Poirot.  I imagine my ‘well-known-ness’ level will remain much the same, because even if The Monogram Murders does amazingly well, it’ll be Agatha and Poirot’s names that people think of more than mine.  But that’s fine!  I don’t want to be any more famous than I am.

Thanks so much for your time, Sophie.

Our review of The Monogram Murders here for more details.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Scotland the What? Procrastinating with Perry Iles

Dumfries is broken. It’s a Netto Ghetto, Lidled into submission by German market economics, charity outlets and pound shops. Sometime soon the charity shops are going to eliminate the middle man and start handing out their takings to anyone walking past. The Loreburn Shopping Centre is full of damaged people with limps wearing beige polyester and combovers as they make for the ranks of mobility scooters parked outside the perma-shuttered branch of HMV. Saturday virgins in panstick makeup sashay down faux-marble shopping centre catwalks in spray-on clothes; teenage boys with gelled hair and spots swagger in Bench and Superdry, looking almost but not quite completely unlike the chisel-chinned blue eyed photoshopped Hollywood heroes they aspire to be. They have the same number of limbs and heads, and that’s where the resemblance stops.

I’m reminded of Charlie Brooker’s comment about humanity—six billion farting skittles with their haircuts on. Over by Specsavers, the auto-doors let you out into the drumming rain with a hiss that sounds like an old woman’s rebuke. A busker plays Mandy, badly; in the street the women come and go, talking of Barry Manilow. Outside Superdrug there’s a kids’ carousel wired up to a generator. Most mothers ignore it, because it’s £2 a go. The owner is wise, however. He’s priced three goes at a fiver, which is just about long enough for the mothers to smoke a cigarette and scratch their misspelt home tattoos before heading off to Greggs for a pasty. There’s a Greggs either end of Dumfries’s pedestrianized High Street and one in the middle, appropriately sited next to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s furniture shop which offers plywood and MDF starter-packs to those pregnant teenagers lucky enough to have been given local authority accommodation in the boonies on the floodplain beyond the Whitesands. Broken bottles and jacked-up cars with the wheels gone.

Ah, the humanity.

My wife’s in New Look taking clothes from a hanger, my daughter’s in Waterstone’s checking out Manga. You read it from the back, evidently. This also works for Murakami, I’m told, but I don’t speak Japanese and the insipid translations always put me off. I’m sitting on a graffitied bench with my mobile waiting for the Hay Day paddlesteamer, and when I finally stand up and catch my reflection in the window of Poundland I realise I’m broken too. Fifty years of pies and lager, forty years of twenty-a-day and no exercise other than a vague and uninterested stroll to the nearest field to empty the dogs. Lard, booze and fags, Scotland’s new triumvirate of narcotising pharmaceuticals. They’ve done for me, rendered me shapeless, uninteresting and uninterested. They’ve done what all drugs do. They’ve killed the pain and made me love Big Brother, even when Jim Davidson wins. I look like the sort of man who lives alone, of whom neighbours would later tell reporters “you know… quiet… you’d never have thought it of him…” I’m a fat bastard in a stained t-shirt and joggers. I blend in perfectly. My wife and daughter appear from different shops and I’m absurdly glad to see them because they love me.

Up above the shower passes and the sky turns a bluer shade of autumn. The trees, stunted and cowed in their squares of dried earth and dogpiss set in High Street concrete, are going the colour that makes autumn my favourite season. A brace of Easyjets, crossing as they head for Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, leave a perfect saltire vapour trail scratched across the blue. A perfect sky-cliché that reflects the more earthbound Scottish cliché of life in Dumfries on a Saturday afternoon. Smile, at least you’re not in Kilmarnock…

The sun’s come out and the day’s grown windless and warm, but the trees in the frost hollow at St Anne’s Bridge have gone that autumn colour. I’m driving home in the last aircon of summer. My wife is dozing, nursing a can of Vimto (I’m thirsty so I debate taking the can from her slackening grasp, but I couldn’t possibly drink anything that was an anagram of vomit). My daughter’s nodding to music that sounds like white noise and roaring reproduced through the moody set of Dr Dre headphones I got her from a Porto Pollensa market stall in Majorca last year. It sounds like there’s a small bird trapped inside her head trying to get out. A useful metaphor for Scotland, I think.

It is of course, not fair. I’ve just spent the afternoon shuffling through the political and social debris of what it means to be British these days. But five hundred years ago Scotland gave England a king. He was James the first of England, although we’d already had five previous Jameses up here, so he was the sixth for us. As such, it seems a little unfair that we’re having to beg to be set free from England. It should be the other way round, really, considering we loaned them a whole royal family. We should be cornering England behind the bike sheds every morning and stealing its pocket money. We should be beating the shit out of it on the sportsfield, in the science labs, on stage and on screen, round the back of the pub on a Saturday night armed with Stanley knives and fuelled by lager and aggression (hang on, I’m reliably informed that we do in fact have that last one covered…) But generally speaking, we’re forced to abide by decisions made in parliament four hundred miles away in another country; we were the experimental field for the Poll Tax, we’re a Tory-free zone governed by Tories who look at us in the way a retired colonel looks at his pet Labrador. We’ve been England’s bitch for a few centuries, and we’re comfortable with it now. But if Scotland is an oil rich state and the United Arab Emirates is an oil rich state, how come we don’t have their wealth? Why isn’t Glasgow like a slightly chillier Dubai, all skyscrapers and students learning how to base-jump in their gap years? Scotland should be minging with MILF shopping at thousands of Waitrose branches the length of the land. Scotland should be awash with Italian supercars and upper crust shoe-shops where you can slip into something less comfortable for the price of a small car. Dumfries should be a little southern Scottish outpost for Hermes, Chanel and Jimmy Choo. Instead its herpes, River Island and Shoe Zone Direct. We go shoplifting in Primark when we should be drinking double latte decaffs in the upstairs bistro at Harvey Nicks.

So really, what the fuck? Where is our money? Well, here’s a clue: the vast majority of high profile politicians in Westminster are Eton-educated millionaires who are currently putting on their serious faces and pretending to give a fuck about what they consider to be five million or so barely continent knuckle-scrapers north of an imaginary border the Romans built a couple of millennia ago. These politicians have all read Machiavelli, possibly even in the original Italian at Cambridge. “Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.”

Ah, Niccolò, never a truer word…

But however we live, we deserve some kind of say in it or democracy is lost, and we might as well be the thirty million Indians who starved to death in the eighteenth century while their British rulers feasted on imported delicacies, or the millions of native Americans slaughtered by the Manifest Destiny policy of the conquering heroes of the west, or the twenty million people who died during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or the other twenty million who died during his Cultural Revolution, or the thirty million that died from Stalin’s purges, or the seven million Jews in World War II. Whatever we might think about our Blairs and Camerons and even our Thatchers, they’re positive saints compared to the peoples’ champions of socialism who grabbed the reins in twentieth century Europe and beyond. But the idea of actually being ruled by Tories is akin to being adopted by the sort of people who pick the disabled kids because they’ll be able to spend their DLA. We’d quite like to slouch towards Bethlehem on our own hands and knees to be reborn, if that’s OK with everyone else.

So of course, in this issue concentrating on the power of change, it’s Scotland that springs to mind for me. Cradle of literature from Walter Scott to Irvine Welsh, our identity calls us home like Caledonia. The main problem for me, of course, is that I’m English, but given that I married a Scotswoman (it’s a bit like marrying an Italian girl except with less reason or accountability, more bruising and much bigger tits, in case you’re ever tempted) and have a half-Scottish daughter that talks like a native and swears like one, I hope that after nearly twenty five years I’ll be allowed to stay.

England probably wouldn’t want me back anyway.

But in the morning when I look out through my window over the fields to the low hills of the Southern Uplands, I realize I’d like to have a bit more say in how things are run. These same mist-covered mountains I’m staring at are probably owned by Lord Cunt of Cuntshire, who grows pines or plants windfarms and hides his income in the Maldives so that we can’t have it. But like Icarus ascending on beautiful foolish arms, we can reclaim this land. We can be owners of all we see, not just the curtains. Oil reserves, natural resources of wind and wave power, tourist income from all the shortbread and jimmy-hats, and some form of national heritage that incorporates stab wounds, ginger people, alcohol and a national musical instrument that’s as close to actual violence as music gets without amplification.

It’s Wednesday, September 17th, and it’s in our grasp. Here, the local farmers have big “No Thanks” signs in the backs of their Range Rovers and the housing estates are covered in “yes” posters sellotaped into grimy windows. There won’t be an election more important than this, there probably won’t be a British political decision as important as this in my lifetime. We can bring it all crashing down. Cameron as “the man who lost Scotland”, the Tories as a spent fizzle like a damp firework, sad and ridiculous in their postures of spurious concern for pretty much anything north of the M25. For our children’s sake, if not our own, for their free health care, for their free education even unto university, for a welfare state that’s not run by millionaires bent on breaking it. In the final analysis, for a country that’s a little bit distanced from the really dangerous loose cannons, the politicians pretending to be hapless buffoons: Boris Johnson and his haircut, Nigel Farage sipping a pint of real ale outside the Bigot’s Head. Independence is a vote against the UKIP fools who stood up as one and turned their backs on the European president at the first sitting of the European parliament a month or so back, a vote against burgers and fries and 51st state politics, a vote for the calm waters of Europe, seaside icecreams, wine and mañana, French food, the architecture of Florence, the art of Spain, the scenery of Switzerland and whatever good things the Germans have.

We’re in the last chance saloon. If we say no we’ll be punished severely, like a wife who dared to have an opinion of her own, we’ll be walking into some doors soon if we don’t run, now, over the hills and far from this abusive relationship we’ve endured for so long. Now, for the sake of the kids, while the highway’s jammed with broken heroes, grab your opportunity and run like a bastard…

They say that to vote for change is harder than to vote for the status quo. It’s a leap of faith, with unknown consequences. That’s the only possible reason I can give for the outbreak of cowardice that gripped the Scottish public yesterday. It’s Friday September 19th. Scotland is still broken, limping and lame, but the wound is self-inflicted this time around. It wasn’t even close in the end. Bits of Glasgow and Dundee said yes, but that was about it. So next time anyone Scottish moans on about the Tories or the government 400 miles away that doesn’t care, just tell them to shut the fuck up and fuck the fuck off (unless they’re bigger and drunker than you are). We had our chance and we blew it. They can do what they want to us now. They’ve taken the oil and given us their nuclear weapons storage facilities in return; they’ve played political experiments with us and now we wanna be their dog, willing victims begging for more. It’s depressing, demeaning, dispiriting and disappointing.

There is of course a school of thought that says it’s better to subvert from within. That school of thought probably never witnessed Britain’s slow, methodical abandonment of Scotland—the shipyards and the coalmines gone, the heavy industry and the trade gone. If people were frightened that English businesses would leave Scotland if it gained independence they’ve only to look at the last forty years to see that a precedent has already been set. So subversion from within is the only option now. Salmond’s going, Sheridan and Galloway are walking political cartoons and there’s no solid opposition, the road is clear for UKIP and an extension to British Nationalism under one flag. There ain’t no tartan in the Union Jack—just underneath it. This is something we’ll need to struggle against constantly and slowly. They say it’s impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but that’s not strictly true. Someone once said (it might have been Terry Pratchett, it certainly sounds like one of his) that it’s entirely possible; all you need is a blender, a fine-needle syringe and a great deal of patience. That’s what we’ll need now; patience is our only option, but in the meantime the nightmare stalks the land and there’s no lights. Bagpipes are droning down into silence all over Scotland, we will not in our lifetimes hear them squeal again. Hey, every cloud. In the meantime, there’s a road in Lockerbie called Cameron Close, and someone has scrawled a message under the street sign that reads “He fuckin is now”. David Cameron is a happy man. Well, come away in, Dave, you’ll have had your tea.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Welsh Voices by Gillian Hamer (Part 2)

Welsh Writers II

As some of you will know, my books are all based in North Wales and I have a deep affinity with the country, its landscape and its people.

Here, in the second part of my discussion with Welsh authors, I speak to another collection of talented writers, some who are Welsh born, others now live in Wales and some are simply moved to write about Wales or set their books there.

Whether it’s location, language or legend – there seems to be something special about Cymru.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I am the author of six historical novels and a few short story collections. Since I studied creative writing and history at uni, it seemed the natural course to take. My earlier books have an Anglo-Saxon or medieval setting but recently, due to reader requests, I have been writing in the Tudor period. My books are mostly from a female perspective although the multi-narrated plots have a male point of view. I am interested, some might say obsessed, in perspective and like to show how a single event can appear so differently to each witness, which proves my point that there is no ‘truth’ in history.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

Peaceweaver is the story of Eadgyth, daughter of the rich and powerful Earl of Mercia. Eadgyth’s story begins when she is sold into marriage to Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, leader of the Welsh; a man old enough to be her grandfather. Her life in turmoil, she discovers both friendship and romance, but not from her husband. Ultimately she finds herself accused of treason, fornication and incest.

The peace of Rhuddlan is shattered by Harold Godwinson’s surprise night attack on the palace. Gruffydd and some of his household escape but Eadgyth is abandoned and falls into the hands of the Saxon invaders.

After the betrayal and brutal murder of Gruffydd, Eadgyth is separated from her sons and taken to the court of the Saxon King, Edward the Confessor. There, desperate to be reunited with her children, she befriends the queen and her feminine charms enable her to infiltrate the sticky intrigues of the Godwin family.

My novel The Song of Heledd is loosely based on a collection of fragmentary middle Welsh poetry detailing the downfall of the 7th century Kingdom of Pengwern.

Most scholars date the Canu Heledd poems to the ninth century but generally agree that they are representative of an earlier oral tradition. The beautiful Welsh lament, the Canu Heledd, together with the poems of Llywarch Hen, describe the fall of the Cyndrwynyn dynasty. The narrator is Cynddylan’s sister, Heledd, her pain and loneliness is in every word of the ancient poem and also apparent is her strong sense of guilt.

We can never know the true story but I began to wonder about this woman who lamented so woefully for her brothers and the lost kingdom of Pengwern. Over the next few months I sifted through the smoke ruined halls of Cynddylan to piece together a story for Heledd, a fiction of what might have been.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

Readers of historical novels love to stumble upon something new, they like to learn as they read and, as I mentioned earlier, Welsh history isn’t taught in English schools. They can’t help but be biased because they are ignorant of the Welsh story. My books are enjoyed not only by the Welsh or those of Welsh descent who are now overseas, they are read by readers of English history who are keen for new perspective. Often people don’t even realise there is another side to it. Wales is always depicted as the underdog, the thorn in the flesh of the English kings, they don’t realise how it must have been for the Welsh to be so persecuted, although they should do for it was a very similar story for the Anglo-Saxons after the Normans came. Literature is a great way of reaching out and getting the former enemies of Wales to see that, actually, we do have a point.

Name some of your favourite Welsh writers or books? (Feel free to quote a passage)

Of course I love the Mabinogion or Dylan Thomas with something bordering on passion. The Mabinogion has a great mystical atmosphere that I adopted when writing The Song of Heledd. This excerpt is from The Song of Heledd, the llys is under attack and the women have taken refuge in the hills.

At last, to everyone’s relief, we huddled in the shelter of a large outcrop where scrub grew up to screen us from the enemy below. If I stood on the tip of my toes, I could just see the llys far below us, and the river running into the flooded valley and on toward the sea.

From our great height the skerries looked tiny and the men milling about them as small and as insignificant as insects, although I knew that each and every one of them had a family and home. I suppose, when seen en mass, we all appear as nothing more than insects; our approaching enemy had no concept of us as people who wept and loved and laughed. We were just in their way, like a nest of wasps and so must be destroyed. I think that was the moment, although I had not the time to contemplate it, that I first conceived the true cost of war.

I scanned my eye in the other direction, across the purpling mountaintops until I perceived in the distance a cloud of dust far off on the valley road.

‘They are coming,’ I whispered and Rhonwen began to cry, her head in Gwarw’s chest. The old woman patted her shoulder, crooning comfort as she so often had to me. I turned away from them, into the wind. I could offer them no consolation, would make no false promises. In the next few hours anything could happen.

And then, quite suddenly, as if from nowhere, an eagle flew down, the wind from his wings lifting my hair, his mournful cry penetrating something buried deep within my mind, bringing the memory of heartbreak and defeat. And pain and dread lurched in my stomach as I recollected a childhood dream.

Gerald of Wales was a helpful resource too with his detailed diaries of his travels through Wales in the 12th century. His work also illustrates how little things have changed here. It is still possible to stand close to a spot where he once stood and enjoy the same view he did.

As a girl I used to read R.S Thomas’ poems because they spoke so richly of the place I was missing. His imagery is so perfect you can almost smell the rain. I think my favourite is Ninetieth Birthday, I feel I am walking up the track beside him, inhaling the scents of the landscape.

You go up the long track
That will take a car, but is best walked
On slow foot, noting the lichen
That writes history on the page
Of the grey rock. Trees are about you
At first, but yield to the green bracken,
The nightjars house: you can hear it spin
On warm evenings; it is still now
In the noonday heat, only the lesser
Voices sound, blue-fly and gnat
And the stream's whisper. As the road climbs,
You will pause for breath and the far sea's
Signal will flash, till you turn again
To the steep track, buttressed with cloud.

And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.
You bring her greeting
And praise for having lasted so long
With time's knife shaving the bone.
Yet no bridge joins her own
World with yours, all you can do
Is lean kindly across the abyss
To hear words that were once wise.

I studied the metaphysical poet Thomas Vaughn at university but I prefer the less flowery approach of Dylan and R.S. Thomas. For me they represent the essence of Wales, omitting nothing and painting a truer picture.

Modern Welsh novelists I enjoy are Jan Ruth who writes contemporary grown up romances novels set in north Wales. They have everything, humour, sorrow, and a sense of how irrational and silly relationships often are. Jean Mead’s books are great too, she writes Welsh historical fiction, her Widow Makers is really worth reading. I also enjoyed Judith Barrow’s Changing Patterns and Pattern of Shadows, again they have a historical slant but that is what I enjoy. Reading about the past illustrates what shaped us into the society we are today. I can’t get enough of it. A new (to me) author I discovered recently is Kate Murray, her writing and her illustrations are fabulous, so look out for her, I can see her going far. That is the great thing about the Welsh writing community is that it has a bond and we can support and share each other’s work. It is how we grow.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

Well, my vote has to be for the Canu Heledd and the poems of Llywarch Hen. It has everything; history, love, loss, betrayal, war, death. Any tale that mourns the end of a great dynasty does it for me. I am a great romantic. The poems, although they only survive in fragments actually tell us a lot about Cynddylan’s hall, his purple cloak, and speaks of the war with Oswiu of Northumbria. I just wish we could find the middle part of the story to discover the catalyst of the disaster (which appears to have something to do with Heledd) although that might mean I’d have to rewrite The Song of Heledd. Historically we know nothing about Heledd herself but her brother, Cynddylan is believed to have united with Cadafael of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia against Northumbrian forces in the battles of Maes Cogwy, Chester, Lichfield and Winwaed, where Penda was slain.

Shortly after Winwaed in 655AD Oswiu invaded Mercia and Powys, launching an attack upon the royal llys at Pengwern and practically obliterating the dynasty in one night.

It has been suggested that, in order to cement the alliance between Powys and Gwynedd, Heledd was married to Cadafael, then King of Gwynedd.

For reasons we will never know, on the eve of the battle at Winwaed, Cadafael suddenly withdrew his troops and rode back to Gwynedd, abandoning Powys and Mercia to their fate. This act earned him the title of Cadafael Cadomedd, which translates as ‘battleshirker.’ There is no record as to his motivation but it did his reputation little good and shortly afterward, although the circumstances remain sketchy, the rule of Gwynedd passed back to Cadwaladr.

It is extremely rare for a female narrator to appear in early poetry but in Canu Heledd, Heledd speaks out loud and clear. The first time I read it I was compelled to help her spread her message.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

My name’s Will and I’m an authorholic. That means it could be dangerous for me to stop writing: at least, that’s what I used to say to my ex when she wanted me to mow the lawn. I’m a fifty something lover of blues, rock and jazz who has recently fulfilled a lifetime ambition by filling a wall of my study with bookcases. And then filling the bookcases. When not writing speculative fiction for children, teenagers and adults, I can be found walking the hills of Wales peering into caves for dragons. I haven’t found one yet, but it is only a matter of time.

I write horror, children’s books for the 5-8 age group, and what I fondly imagine to be a hilarious fantasy comedy collection called The Banned Underground which is centred on a dwarf rock n roll band working in modern Britain. Speculative fiction is the best encompassing term I’ve heard.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

Not all, but most, of my books include a Welsh setting or locations. I enjoy writing about the places that I love, or as one of my characters once said: he’s too idle to go looking for somewhere new to write about.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?

I’ve lived here now for over fifteen years: I’ve wanted to live here a lot longer, but circumstances were against me. My father always told me that one of my ancestors had fled Powys after being accused of sheep stealing. He grew up on a farm in Norfolk, so I’m not prepared to discount the theory. And of course I’ve been walking/climbing in Snowdonia for over forty years.

What is it about Wales that inspires you to include it as a setting in your novels?

The scenery is just tremendous, isn’t it? How can you not want to write about the hills and mountains and the myths and legends the surround them and flow across the landscape like a mist? Just walking out of my door – I’m lucky enough to live rurally – and looking out at the landscape is enough to get a writer’s imagination firing on all cylinders.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

What hasn’t it added? The Mabinogion, one of my favourite books, is the source material for countless books. I write speculative fiction – aka fantasy of sorts. Wales has dragons, knights, ghosts, elves, enchanted forests and lakes and mountains… everything any writer in my field could ever need. We even have the essential rain! (it helps to keep us writers indoors at our keyboards, you know). Our mythology is so rich and varied it seems inexhaustible.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?

I’ve got a YA –teenage- fantasy novel set here which will be coming out in 2015, and also a paranormal/horror novel called The Picture which will be out towards the end of 2014 or the start of 2015. The Picture started in my head one day whilst I was sat in a café in one of the Arcades in Cardiff, watching reflections in a glass window opposite.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

Oh, that’s really hard. I like so many of the legends and stories, from the enchanted lakes at Llyn Y Fan Fach and Llyn Lech Owain, to the mountains whose slopes turn benighted visitors into poets or madmen (or, presumably, both)… but I think I’d go for The Dream of Macsen in The Mabinogion. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the history of this land at the time of the Roman invasion and occupation, and this story relates a version of a part of that time. It isn’t overly accurate in historical terms, but dreams aren’t meant to be factual, are they? They are there to tease, tantalise, intrigue and inspire.


Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I've lived in Wales for a year now, on a hillside, in Cribyn, Lampeter. I started out in a tent, moved up to a caravan and finally, 10 weeks later, moved into a tumbledown 300 year old farmhouse, with my partner and four cats.

I worked in the City, BC (Before Children) but since 1999 I've indulged my creative side, training in natural therapies, belly dance and writing. Publication of dance articles led to writing courses, and summer school, producing my first novel 'Destiny of Angels - First book in the Lilith Trilogy.'

In 2012 I published my first non-fiction title 'Wendy Woo's Year - A Pocketful of Smiles', as well as two short story anthologies and an erotic accompaniment to the Lilith Trilogy 'Too Hot for Angels'.

In June 2014, I published my second novel 'Wrath of Angels – Second book in the Lilith Trilogy', available on kindle and in paperback.

Which of your books are set in Wales?

The Lilith Trilogy is set in Wales and London, though my characters also visit Rome and Paris. In Destiny of Angels, you'll discover that Angel was sent to live with her maiden aunt in Wales at age 16, while her parents go abroad on their missionary duties and her love of the country stays with Angel as she buys a home near Corris. Angel and her friends celebrate the Spring Equinox there in the second book, Wrath of Angels, and all the final scenes of this book are set at Cader Idris.

Tell us about your Welsh background or connections?

My aunt and uncle lived at Llysfaen near Llandudno so my first introduction to Wales was walking the dogs over the hills when I was 3 years old. I have no other family connections but after our first holiday in Wales 15 years ago, I didn't want to go home and subsequent camping and cottage holidays inspired my dream to live in Wales one day.

What is it about Wales that inspires you to include it as a setting in your novels?

Wales is awesome in every sense of the word! From the greenest, verdant pastures to soaring mountain peaks, from sheep spattered hillsides to narrow, winding lanes and from waterfalls to fast flowing rivers, everything about the scenery is beautiful.

What do you think Wales or Welsh history adds to literature?

The fact that Wales promotes it's history and culture as well as the amazing scenery and extraordinary weather, makes it an inspirational setting for novels of all genres.

Tell us what books you are planning in the future that include Wales as a location?

I am writing the third book in the Lilith Trilogy, Angels and Demons and there are scenes in the house near Corris and near Machynlleth and I've begun a Christmas story set partly on the site of a bronze age settlement near where I live.

What is your favourite Welsh story or legend?

It would have to be the legend of Bran the Blessed which embodies Wiccan values of giving, light and rebirth. Bran's story is one of royal responsibility and great personal sacrifice as well as showing a king's love for his people and the land.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Professional Musician - a short story by Tom Kilcourse

‘See nowt, hear nowt, say nowt’. So went the counsel of wisdom on the eastern fringes of Manchester. Unseen, unheard, unsaid, and unexamined it nevertheless hung like an inn sign over every sinful heart in Newton Heath, where I was raised. It was a code, an amoral dictum that I understood and accepted long before I appreciated how ubiquitous and timeless it is. In truth, we saw many things as we weaved our way through evenings’ shadows, and we heard too, indistinctly and partially, muttered confidences where youths gathered: but we said nothing, at least to strangers. Of those who would rail against acceptance of such a maxim, who reproach us for protecting the guilty to the cost of the innocent, I ask where they believe it not to apply. During a life of varied experiences I have yet to discover such a place. Certainly the Church sees it as the eleventh commandment, and my son, a sergeant of police, could tell, if he chose, of deeds not prescribed in any manual. It is a condition of humanity, neither good nor evil, simply there: one might as well denounce the oceans’ tides.

Those who grow up where momentary inattention to the rule can be costly develop a second sense, an involuntary safety mechanism that manages the reflexes: brows do not lift in surprise, eyes do not betray fear or recognition. This process was well ingrained by the time I was introduced to Belinda’s father. Ah, Belinda!  Where are you out there? Somewhere comfortable, no doubt, some better class of neighbourhood, chic and secure, which you grace with your elegance. Or has the elegance abandoned you now, leaving you a little bent, with rheumatic movement? Would it lift your spirits to know that in the head of this long forgotten admirer you are still twenty-two, your heels clicking with youthful rhythm, your smile shining with undiminished luminosity? Forty years have passed, yet I need only to close my eyes to have you step into my cerebrum, occupying it as of right, clearing out the trappings of two marriages and three kids, haunting it instead with your own image: the smell, the sight, the sounds of your younger self. Would it have been different had your father not feared me?

I had been gone from Newton Heath for about three years when we met, and was living in Davyhulme, an altogether different Manchester on the other side of the city, with fields and gardened houses. The only terraced cottages were quaint structures, picturesque mementos of a less hurried age: quite unlike the brick rows of Newton Heath, built to house the fodder of labour hungry mills. We moved there, into a council house, as a result of my mother forming a relationship with someone at the town-hall. Little was said about the nature of the contract. Mother never talked about it, nor did I ask, but it led to the two of us occupying a three bed-roomed house, with a bath and several other comforts not experienced previously. I soon tired of evening visits to my old habitat across the city, a one hour journey by bus, and began exploring what was on offer closer to my new home. That is when I met Belinda, in a local dance-hall.

Had I been more athletic, I would that night have somersaulted my way home and entered the house via the upstairs bedroom window, reaching it with a single spring. But I was not athletic. Instead, I floated the two-mile walk, turning unseen corners, crossing anonymous roads. She had agreed to see me again – SHE had agreed, laughing at my cockiness, she had AGREED. What was her name? Linda? Brenda? It didn’t matter. What mattered was that a soft-spoken angel, a gentle, graceful goddess had moved into my raucous world and not been repelled by its gaucheness, its clumsy, boastful shell. She was unlike any girl I had known, in voice, movement, in every way, and I was wildly, stupidly in love.

Belinda lived in Sale, a rather up-market district a few miles from where I lived. We would meet in Stretford, about half-way between our homes, where our bus routes converged, but the inconvenience of this arrangement soon became apparent. So, I bought a car, an old Austin A40 that had seen better days, but it served its purpose. I was able to drive across to Sale to collect her, take her into Manchester, and deliver her safely home afterwards. For a whole year I courted her thus, ever surprised that she retained interest in me. At the end of the evening we would park outside her home, a large, detached pile set in an azalea covered half-acre, and sit in the old banger, necking, or just talking about our world. I should say ‘worlds’, because those conversations emphasised the plurality of our backgrounds. In the earlier days of our relationship I was quite voluble, but as time passed and Belinda’s world began to take shape in my awareness I talked less and listened more, lapsing eventually into virtual silence. Once home I would go to bed to lie fully awake in the darkness, immersed in loneliness, my self-assuredness on the wane.

How can one build a bridge across an ever widening gulf? Whatever the topic, my unsuspecting goddess placed herself further beyond reach at each meeting. My efforts to narrow the gap seem trivial now, but involved significant sacrifice at the time. Whereas the pub had been my habitual source of entertainment it was superseded by Belinda’s preferences; theatre, live concerts and dancing. My adoration of Manchester United yielded to tennis, a game that I had considered unmanly. Such matters were, at least, open to correction, but others were historical fact. When education was mentioned Belinda’s shining at Grammar school contrasted with my habitual truancy from a secondary modern, and in conversation about holidays she spoke of times spent in places known to me only through the pages of brochures. ‘Abroad’ to me was the Isle of Man, while she had relaxed on two continents. So, I listened, nodded knowingly, and lied.

One subject though played a greater part than any other in heightening my awareness of the gap between us: our parentage. Belinda’s mother was a secretary in a solicitor’s office: mine was a cleaner in a factory canteen. Her father was a businessman in the entertainment industry, and a musician, while my vaguely remembered dad was a bus driver who had done a runner some years before. We pretend today in England that such things do not matter, and Belinda claimed so at the time, but I believed otherwise, and now know otherwise. So it was with feelings of intense panic that I heard her invitation to dinner, to meet mummy and daddy. Thankfully, my involuntary safety mechanism kicked in, allowing me to accept with apparent equanimity. Only later, in the privacy of my bedroom, did I let panic have free rein.

When the dreaded day arrived, after a week of rehearsed greetings and abandoned excuses for cancelling the appointment, I washed the car thoroughly in a futile effort to make mutton look like lamb, and drove across to Sale. There, parking well short of the house I crunched my way up the drive and pressed the illuminated bell-push. Somewhere in the depths of the pile cathedral chimes announced my arrival. ‘You must be Harry’.  I couldn’t deny it, though I felt much like doing so. Belinda’s mother was a forty-something version of her daughter, slim, fair, and elegant. The perfume that revealed itself as I stepped past her was subtle, quite unrelated to the nostril invading stuff my mother splashed down her bra before heading out. The hand that took my offered bouquet was as gentle as the smile that invited me indoors. She was Belinda twenty years hence.

The hall that I entered almost on tiptoe, as if my great feet would damage the tiled floor, was the size of my bedroom, with three heavily panelled doors off, and a broad, wooden staircase curling upwards. My fragrant hostess opened one of the doors and led me into a sitting-room filled with wood and leather. No cheap, fitted carpeting here, but a sea of glowing parquet on which floated richly coloured rugs. ‘Take a seat Harry. I’m off to the kitchen, but Belinda will be down any moment. Can I get you a drink?’ My stay-sober resolution – ‘for God’s sake don’t get drunk tonight’ – dictated the polite refusal, and I seated myself gingerly on the edge of a leather covered settee that would have looked ridiculously ostentatious in my own home, but fitted in here. I remained thus, leaning forward, elbows on knees, gawping at the picture festooned walls, until Belinda put in an appearance. I jumped to my feet, and for want of something better to say, blurted out the question that had just come to mind ‘Hello love, where’s the ‘telly?’ She giggled, and opened what I had presumed to be a drinks cabinet.

‘Ah, here’s daddy’. The door from the hall had swung open to administer the greatest surprise I ever experienced, before or since. As ‘Daddy’ approached I stared incredulously at the monkey-like features; black button eyes, vestigial nose, and thin lips that stretched in imitation of a smile. The simian impression was heightened by his stoop, and awkward, swinging gait across the room due to what was commonly called a ‘club foot’, his left, which wore a surgical boot with a six-inch thick sole. For once, my Newton Heath street-training almost failed me, but not quite. The laughter that bubbled within showed as no more than a smile to be interpreted as a courtesy. ‘Hello Harry, I’m pleased to meet the young man who has set my daughter’s tongue wagging so much.’ ‘Pleased to meet you Mr; Payne.’ The thin lips stretched further. ‘Please call me Stanley, I feel that we know each other already.’ How true! How true mate! Or rather, I knew him, but not as Stanley, or Mr Payne. To me, he was known as Gordon, and I knew well his music, and his business. My face betrayed not a flicker of the relief I felt. All the nervousness of the last few days vanished and I suddenly felt my old, cocky self.

Much of the evening was devoted to the predictable interrogation, most charmingly conducted by Stella, my beloved’s mother, while Stanley’s high-pitched, hoarse voice was heard rarely. The pall of self-doubt having been lifted by recognition of ‘Gordon’, I can only think of him by that name, although I managed to avoid using it on the occasion, I actually enjoyed the cross-examination and found myself falling ever so slowly in love with Stella. Her husband appeared to be slightly bored by the proceedings, until, that is, it emerged that I had lived until recent years in Newton Heath. At the mention of my old stomping ground his distracted eyes flared into new light and focussed on my face. ‘Where about did you live there Harry?’ The ‘smile’ was more forced than ever. ‘Just off Culcheth Lane, near All Saints’ church’. ‘Ah, so you’ll know Church Street well then’. Any denial would have been such an obvious lie as to give the game away on the spot. I nodded, and gave my attention to a piece of beef. He was silent for the rest of the meal, and I knew that he knew that I knew.

That was the last time I saw Belinda. A couple of letters went unanswered, and the only benefit from a telephone call was the opportunity to hear Stella’s mellow voice. After a few weeks I switched into my ‘not caring’ mode: I’m very good at not caring. A brief affair with Cathy, who worked at the local dry-cleaners, led to her first pregnancy, our marriage, and eventual parting of the ways. That was followed by life with Janet, two more offspring, divorce, and memories for company. Of those memories, the most intense reach back to Belinda, and her father. It is they who rob me of sleep, causing me to ponder unanswerable questions. Did Belinda know, or was her father fearful that she would learn? Was the break at his instigation, or had she simply tired of my unpolished manner? If the former, he need not have worried: my code would have protected him from revelation. Though Belinda avoided me, I did see her father once more, but from some distance.

Curiosity drove me back to Church Street, Newton Heath about a year after that dinner. On a bright, spring afternoon I parked outside the Magnet cinema, wound down the window, and sat back to enjoy the music. The same old tunes drifted across from the steps of the Co-op Emporium: exactly as I remembered from my childhood and teens. Cheerful tunes to lift the spirits of the passers by, the housewives of Newton Heath scurrying from butcher to fishmonger to baker or chemist. Some had children with them, some of whom did what I had done when a small boy accompanying his mother to the shops. A sudden wave of sadness made me wish to leave this scene of my youth. I started the car and pulled out from the kerb, just as another child dropped a coin into the open bag of ‘Gordon, Gordon the accordion man’, whose monkey head nodded thanks while his fingers continued to flick over the keys. Someone once said that he was the richest man in Newton Heath, but I knew that he lived in Sale.

Mancunian Tom Kilcourse is an ex-miner, ex-bus driver, ex-Ruskin College & Hull University student, ex-management guru, and at 77 nearly expired. He writes for fun because he can’t make it pay. He has self-published two short-story collections, a brief autobiography, and three novels with a fourth in preparation. He retired to France in 1998 and returned with his wife last year to live in Cheshire.

Carpe Diem by Anne Stormont

New Opportunities and Seizing the Day

'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it. Begin it now.' Goethe

Life, be it national, professional or personal is driven by opportunity. Nothing would happen if new opportunities didn't present themselves. And equally nothing would happen if opportunities weren't created or taken up. There's nothing wrong with periods of status quo, but we need to be wary of stasis tipping into stagnation. Being born is of course our biggest opportunity, but it is in facing all the new beginnings and times of upheaval, change and challenge we're presented with throughout our lives that we truly live. Opportunity - recognising it and taking it when the time is right - is vital.

Writing this as a Scot living in Scotland in September 2014 in the final fortnight before the referendum on Scotland's independence, I am very aware of the possibility of new opportunities at a national level. Whatever way the vote goes, things in Scotland won't be the same post-referendum. The old ways won't do; not after all that's been said by the Yes and the No camps.

I hope that both sides, winners and losers, whatever the result, will work together to improve the governance of Scotland. I hope both sides view Scotland as facing new and positive opportunities and that disappointment, anger or resentment don't get in the way of us seizing our chances to improve the lives of individual Scottish citizens.

And I hope that people resident in the other parts of the United Kingdom will also see their opportunities to change the way they're ruled; that they will see that the UK, with or without Scotland, can change how it operates; that discussion and debate are healthy and that although challenging, the opportunity to change things for the better, to change how government works and to change the nature of our politics away from being answerable to vested  interests and towards being accountable to the electorate is something to be seized. It's not about nationalism. Yes or no, in or out, Scotland and the rest of the UK are facing significant new opportunities for fresh starts, more justice and fairness and big changes to how we run our lives.

In my professional life I have just undergone the major change of retirement. At the age of fifty-eight and after thirty-six years of primary school teaching I accepted the opportunity to take my pension and to move on to the next stage of my life. I'm very excited by this. I plan to take this opportunity and use it to become (amongst other things) a more professional, more dedicated and more productive writer. Yes, there's a pun coming - I'm at the beginning of a new chapter.

But what of writing and new opportunities? Well, as in the instances above, sometimes opportunities present themselves and sometimes you have to create them. The biggest enemy of the would-be writer is procrastination. Don't wait for the time, the conditions, the ideas to be right. Goethe got it right - the time is now. Show up and write every day - even if only for a few minutes - take the opportunity.

Then when you're underway, you'll see that every line, every page, every chapter is another new opportunity; a new opportunity to drive your narrative forward. The act of writing is taking up the opportunity to tell your story.

However - as far as writers are concerned - probably the biggest and newest opportunities of all are the opportunities to get your work out there. It has never been easier to publish your work. The rise of the indie or author-publisher has been amazing in recent years. The traditional route is still valid and rumours of its death exaggerated, but it's no longer the only route. Authors nowadays have the opportunity to seek out and work with the best editors, proofreaders and book designers. We can choose our formats, distributors and retailers. We can do our own publicity and control our costs and prices. I've published both my novels independently and can highly recommend doing so.

It's a great time to be a writer. The opportunities are there for the taking.

If you're inspired to take up the opportunity to write, good on you. Below are just a few of the many useful sources of support:

Books - there are many how-to books. Two of my favourites are:

'On Writing' by Steven King - straight talking from the bestseller himself

'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg - exercises and motivational tips

Writing clubs and groups:

Investigate what's available locally. Your local library might well be able to help.

Online groups and forums - e.g You Write On http://www.youwriteon.com/ where you can get feedback on your work.

Writing magazines:

 Mslexia https://www.mslexia.co.uk/  is a quarterly magazine aimed at women writers and stuffed with tips and information

Writing Magazine https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writing-Magazine/ same as for Mslexia but includes those of a blokeish persuasion in its readership

WORDS WITH JAM - of course!


Local  authorities, colleges and universities run courses in Creative Writing as does the OU - and not all are at degree level


Enter them, whatever your genre there'll be something for you. They are great for giving you a deadline and a bit of a focus. Writers' magazines, including this one, and writing clubs are great sources for competitions.

Ready to publish?:

You may want to go down the route of finding an agent and a traditional publisher and if so, 'The Writers and Artists Yearbook' is the publication for you.

Or you may want to go it alone and self or indie publish in which case, The Alliance of Independent Authors http://allianceindependentauthors.org/ is a great place to go for advice. You'll find information on editors, designers and publishing packages here. Take time to explore their website and consider whether joining might be helpful to you.

Whatever you do in the pursuit of your writing I wish you well and many new and exciting opportunities.

Anne Stormont is an author-publisher. 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.   

Authors & Audiobooks – From the Narrator(s) POV

By Gillian Hamer and JD Smith

It’s a good time to be an author – indie or trad. In keeping with the theme of this month’s issue, exciting new opportunities seem to appear every month for writers: KDP, Select, Bookbub, Book Translation services, and one of the biggest events of the past twelve months into the UK market – ACX – Amazon’s audiobook service.

Here, we chat with professional narrators, Catherine O’Brien, who has worked with on the audio version of Gillian’s novel, The Charter, out later this month - and Paul Hodgson, narrator of the recently released, The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith.

Catherine O’Brien

Hi, Catherine, Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a professional narrator?

I was born and educated in England, and always had a love of storytelling and the dramatic arts. I worked for several years at the BBC and then moved to the US in 2010 to get married to an American! My husband encouraged me to take a course in Voice Acting at a Studio in New York, and while doing this I auditioned to produce a novel for ACX. Somewhat to my surprise I was awarded the project. That started me on my career as a voice actor, and I still narrate audiobooks for ACX, as well as my other voice acting projects.

What made you decide to join ACX?

Well, as I said, it was almost by accident, but after my lucky break with my first audition, I discovered how great it is to work with ACX.

How have you found the experience?

The whole process of matching the right book with the right narrator works incredibly well. I do work for other publishing companies and use other recording studio as well, but I have to say ACX makes is very easy to produce audiobooks in my home studio, which is wonderful!

What have been your favourite projects so far?

Oh, that’s so difficult! I have four favorites at the moment – The Charter (obviously!), a children’s thriller called The Ley Lines of Lushbury by Scott Hunter, a historical novel called Palace of Pugin: The Westminster Conspiracy by Nick Corbett, and a Regency romance called A Father’s Sins: A Pride and Prejudice Variation – coincidentally all new writers.

What genres do you prefer and why?

I actually love several different genres as you can see from my last answer! In fact I really enjoy the contrast. I like to alternate between non-fiction, fiction and children’s fiction. However, I do have a secret affection for thrillers!

Is there an element of ‘acting’ required within book narration?

Of course! The whole process is acting. In fact voice acting is far more difficult as the narrator has to convey the whole story without any visual assistance.

What have been your most successful projects sales-wise?

I have to say that the classics sell best of all. My most successful project sales-wise (so far!) has been “The Complete Little Women: Little Women, Good Wives, Jo’s Boys and Little Men” by Louisa M. Allcott. This runs to almost 40 hours (thank goodness for MP3s), and I loved every minute of this recording.

What do you think makes a successful, bestselling audiobook?

I think the key to a successful, bestselling audiobook is for the narrator to bring the story to life letting the words tell the story, without any vocal styles that may interfere with the author’s voice. That is what I always aim for anyway!

What do you look for when an author approaches you with an offer?

The main thing I look for is something that captures my interest and makes me want to know what happens! I then look for the quality of the writing – some writing styles are easier to narrate than others – yours is particularly good, and a real pleasure to narrate.

I know a lot of authors have concerns with their characters voices and how they are portrayed, how do you work on getting this right?

Whenever possible I like to work directly with the author so I can find the right tone and accent, etc. However, it can be a challenge when this is not possible, and in that case I choose voices that seem the most appropriate. I do a lot of research beforehand into the author’s style, any other books they have written, and re-read the text several times. When an accent or particular vocal style is called for the idea is not to do some sort of impersonation, but to just give enough of the accent so listeners know who is speaking.

The author gets to hear and approve the first fifteen minutes of the book, so has the opportunity to give whatever direction is necessary to the narrator before proceeding with the entire novel.

Without naming names (unless we can persuade you!) any projects that you wish you hadn’t taken on, and can you tell us why?

I am incredibly fortunate in that I’ve enjoyed virtually all of my projects – apart from one with ACX which shall remain nameless! Unfortunately the only interesting part of this book was the paragraph used for the audition piece… However, any author who has taken the time and effort to write a book deserves to be heard and I did the best I could with it. It does sell very well, so that is a consolation!

Are there any things within ACX that could be improved for the narrator or changes you would like to see made?

On the whole, I think it works pretty well. I have noticed that the time between ACX approval of the project and it going on sale has decreased considerably and this is a great improvement.

Do you think ACX is a good thing for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers, who wouldn’t usually have access to this kind of facility?

I do! I think it is a fantastic opportunity for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers to find a whole new audience. That has certainly been my experience.

Any tips for authors and narrators out there considering moving into audiobooks?

I know it can be a bit scary for authors to allow someone else to interpret their novel. However, ACX’s audition process makes it easy for you to find the right voice for your book, and allows you to give detailed direction to the voice actor. Keep an open mind – you might discover that someone else’s interpretation works even better than your own!

One tip for would-be narrators out there is please make sure you really like long form narration! Most of the books I have narrated have been between 7 and 15 hours, and bear in mind that it takes approximately three hours (including pre-reading, research and editing) for every one “finished” hour, you really do have to like what you’re doing.

My idea if heaven is standing in my recording booth telling stories to an imaginary audience, but I know that would be some kind of hell to many of my voice over friends!

Catherine O’Brien is a multifaceted actor with a love of storytelling. She has the ability to grasp the essence of a story and bring it to life. Her smooth and versatile voice is suitable for a diverse array of project types and styles: warm and friendly, cruel and cunning, professional and sophisticated.

Her experience includes works in such varied fields as romance, historical fiction, fantasy, biography, memoir, mysteries, children's books and other genres. She has voiced many types of characters both male and female, ranging from old people to children, sweethearts to cads, even angels to talking skulls.

Born and educated in England, she speaks with a natural BBC English accent, and having travelled extensively throughout Europe, she has a facility for languages and accents of many kinds.

Catherine worked for the BBC for several years, before moving to the United States and becoming a full time voice actor.

“I have to tell you that you amaze us. Your ability with different voices and being consistent with them throughout the book is phenomenal. Also, the emotions you express while reading is outstanding. I couldn't be happier.” - J Dawn King

Paul Hodgson

The Rise of Zenobia is available from Audible and iTunes

Tell us a little about your background and how you became a professional narrator?

I trained as an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – not that I’m Welsh, they were the only ones who’d have me – and worked professionally in theatre, TV and radio in London for a while before moving on to a writing career. On moving to the US (I married and American in the meantime) I returned to acting and founded a professional company, The Everyman Repertory Theatre, in Camden, on the coast of Maine in the far North East of the country, at the same time as holding down a full-time writing position. When I got fired from that – who needs journalists any more – the consequent drop in income precipitated me into doing what people have been telling me I should be doing for a long time – reading audiobooks. I started with a mammoth 22 hour commission of Alec Waugh’s The Balliols – a much better book than anything Evelyn ever wrote, and just continued from there.

What made you decide to join ACX?

I’d been commissioned several times by Audible and by Macmillan but the work wasn’t coming as fast as I wanted so an actor friend recommended ACX.

How have you found the experience?

Apart from a few technical hitches, which were not difficult to fix, it’s been very easy. It was my first time with them and the steps were pretty intuitive. I think I only called the help line twice, just to find out where to upload the book once it had been mastered.

What have been your favourite projects so far?

Fiction. Always. I’ve done a couple of non-fiction titles, on things like statistics and nanobiotechnology, and while you learn a lot they are TOUGH to read.

What genres do you prefer and why?

I don’t have favourites. As long as I’m being hauled along by a good story I don’t care what the genre is.

Is there an element of ‘acting’ required within book narration?

Some narrators might disagree but there isn’t an element of acting, it’s all acting. You can’t just act your way through the dialogue or listeners will lose interest in the narration. You have to feel your way through all of it. You can’t just describe someone falling in love, you have to do it. If a book gives me catharsis, I want to be able to give the listener that same feeling.
What have been your most successful projects sales-wise?

I have absolutely no idea. You can tell with ACX, but not with other narrator projects.

What do you think makes a successful, bestselling audiobook?

I feel like I’m harping on about this a bit, but it’s always the story. You need a voice that people want to listen to, I’ve bought audiobooks before, and not been able to get beyond the first few minutes because of an irritating way a male actor does female voices, or an execrable French accent or something, but that was only because I wasn’t hooked on the story.

What do you look for when an author approaches you with an offer?

Enthusiasm and confidence that they’ve chosen the right person for the job. It’s a lot of work to record something only for an author to turn round and say… this wasn’t what I was looking for.

I know a lot of authors have concerns with their characters voices and how they are portrayed, how do you work on getting this right?

That depends. If they like what you’ve done in the first few minutes and those include the main characters then you are usually good to go and can just get on with it. If they have very specific needs then it’s just a matter of enough back and forth until you get what they are hearing in their heads. I once did a short story set in Cardiff – I was probably the only actor in America who can do a Cardiff accent because, let me tell you, they don’t sound like anyone else in Wales – and the author was a Cardiff native, and I’m still working, so it must have been OK.

Without naming names any projects that you wish you hadn’t taken on, and can you tell us why?

None so far, though that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Are there any things within ACX that could be improved for the narrator or changes you would like to see made?

It’s been going a while in the States so I think they have most of the problems worked out already. From my point of view I might wish it were a little easier to find books that are appropriate for my voice, but it’s still not that hard.

Do you think ACX is a good thing for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers, who wouldn’t usually have access to this kind of facility?

I’d imagine it was a bloody godsend!

Any tips for authors and narrators out there considering moving into audiobooks?

Authors: do your research. Listen to a lot of voices, don’t settle for anything less than the best. Narrators… don’t take on projects you regret, he said, smiling ruefully.

Paul has a BA Hons in English Language and Literature from Durham University in England, and an MA in Performance from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Wales. His first professional role was as a clarinet-playing bandleader in a show for a small touring company in London. After that he went on to work in television and radio in the capital before moving to the US. He is currently the artistic director of a professional theatre company based in midcoast Maine, in the far North East USA - the Everyman Repertory Theatre - where he directs and performs in many of its productions. He also works as a freelance writer. He has regular columns with Responsible Investor Magazine, Fortune and on Motley Fool's website, and has had several plays professionally produced, one at the National Theatre of Wales, Sherman Theatre. He is a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.

He has a number of titles on Audible, including The Rise of Zenobia, Pushover, an Amazon Single, The Improbability Principle for MacMillan, and Life's Ratchet. In between times he has been recording top secret projects for MindsEye Productions and was recently the lead in a radio drama for Final Rune Productions. Before that he recorded 22 hours of Alec Waugh's The Balliols for Audible.com. He has also done a large amount of cartoon and videogame voiceover work for Slimgoodbody Productions including a wide variety of voices and characters for cartoons commissioned by PBS, ranging from Rene Descartes to Albert Einstein.