Claire King


Archive for November, 2011

The Six Figure Advance

Posted on: November 29th, 2011 by Claire - 21 Comments

So, Pippa Middleton has signed a contract with Penguin to publish a book on being a perfect party hostess. The book is to launch 2012 and the advance is reported as £400,000 or thereabouts.

Cue people going nuts. Authors, agents, all manner of literary types. “It’s not fair!” They cry. “It’s a travesty.”

People are being rude about Pippa and her family. They are being rude about the book. And they are being rude about the publishing industry as a whole, taking this as a sign that it is terribly, irretrievably broken.

Can we just stop here for a second? What exactly is broken here?

Is it the author?

Pippa is the media-appointed celebrity sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. She never asked for that celebrity, nor any of the personal infringements it entails. It seems to me she bears it with good grace. If you suddenly had a money tree growing in your front room, wouldn’t you pick the fruit?

Is it the book?

The book was sold on concept, it’s still being written, so I’ve no idea.

Is it the publishers, then?

Because you know, it wasn’t just Penguin. There was an auction. Editors fought each other with cheque books. Why? Because their publishing houses know that in the UK and the USA there will be a huge market for a ‘celebrity’ book of this kind. And party planning seems to fit neatly in alongside celebrity chefs. Poor Pippa would have found it tougher if she’d been an investment banker. ‘Pippa’s guide to mergers & acquisitions’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, eh?

So what is it, then?

‘Readers’/Buyers of celebrity-top-ten-best-selling-autobiographical-tell-all-memoirs, spin offs and the like. I’m talking to you.

There is a big fat advance for this book, I think, for the same reasons there are helicopters circling Pippa’s home. Because there is a market for it. People will pay actual real money for this. No $2.99 e-book for Pippa. The voracious mass market hunger for voyeurism – living vicariously through others, watching them rise and fall – seems insatiable.

So, as businesses, publishers want to publish these kinds of commercially viable books. Book sellers will want them on their shelves. There is money to be made. Made from you, and your interest in ‘celebrity’ (or of course, your interest in parties, and who doesn’t like a nice party?).

It is what it is.

Writers – is this really relevant to us? We cannot compare our journey to be published to this phenomenon. It’s apples and oranges.

Pippa’s advance has absolutely nothing to do with my advance, for example. Not just because we’re with different publishers. I’m not entirely sure how it works in publishing, but I doubt Penguin would have said at the editorial meeting “Well folks, we’ve got half a million, so we can either publish fifty novels, a few literary, a Regency Romance or two, some YA, perhaps some crime thrillers…or we can take Pippa’s party book. What’s it to be?”

There’s still a market for the books we write, and most of us will not be earning the six figure advances.

If the idea of Pippa Middleton’s deal leaves you incredulous you are probably not the target market. But there is a market. Let’s move on?

The Times: Eager for recognition and acceptance, beginners with a manuscript are dazzled by a promise of publication

Posted on: November 25th, 2011 by Claire - No Comments

The Times: Eager for recognition and acceptance, beginners with a manuscript are dazzled by a promise of publication. Useful article in The Times Online here for all aspiring authors. It can also be read on the Times App (Money Section) which is available for a free 30 day trial and in the papers today.

Mark Bridge has spoken to the Brit Writers themselves, Catherine Cooper (winner of the 2010 Brit Writers’ Awards), Debi Alper, a judge in the 2010 awards and writers who have experienced the BWA publishing programme.

He has also consulted with authors, the Writers & Artists Yearbook (Bloomsbury) and Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown about the kosher and the dodgy.

Mark also submitted ‘work’ of his own to publishers advertising for manuscripts and poetry, in an effort to help aspiring authors navigate the publishing minefield. See how he fared…



Posted on: November 25th, 2011 by Claire - 17 Comments

I’m one of those human beings who needs the symbols and ceremonies that mark our little lives.

The beginnings, endings and milestones along the way. I believe that they are important, psychologically.

I like birthdays, weddings and although I don’t enjoy them, I very much appreciate funerals. I always loved the first day back to school, and last day of school before the summer holidays. I love launch parties and recognitions of success. So what am I trying to tell you? OK, I’ll spit it out. I have a birthday with a zero at the end coming soon.

In forty days and forty nights, I’m going to be… (can you guess?)

Forty gets used a lot in religious texts. They seem to use it to mean ‘a big number’.

I remember my mum turning forty. I was sixteen. And forty did seem like a big number to me then. It was the age of mums and dads. An age to joke about, to celebrate, but in a mocking sort of way. In an ‘Over the hill and off the pill, get your slippers out’ sort of way.

For my mum, forty came in the heart of a storm. She was too busy surviving to worry about celebrating, reflecting or looking forward. It was all she could do to keep the boat afloat with her kids in it. My mum, by the way, is amazing. And her life since forty has just got better and better.

For me, forty comes in fine weather. I loved my twenties, although I was rather volatile for much of the time. I loved my thirties too, although I was in rather a hurry and sometimes a bit overwhelmed. I’m thinking that my forties are going to be brilliant, and for now I’m just thankful.

I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for our good health. And I’m thankful that we are bouncing along the regular ups and downs of the day-to-day, living the little trials and joys of our lives, with clean drinking water, untouched by earthquake, famine or flood. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had so far, and the opportunities I have now.

And there’s no big wish list from this blogger. Everything I want from my forties has to come from me. I want to be a good mother to my girls, a good wife to my husband, a good daughter to my mum. I want spend as much time with my family and friends as I can, while I can. I want to seize the opportunity I have to write novels and have them published well. I want to be true to myself, and try and make myself a better person at fifty than I am today.

Hello, 40, you’ll be welcome.

Brit Writers’ legal action against writers – update

Posted on: November 17th, 2011 by Claire - 26 Comments

If you have been following this blog the last couple of weeks you’ll have seen that Brit Writers Limited contacted me via their solicitors, threatening legal action for comments (unspecified) which they deemed to be potentially defamatory.

I was one of three writers to be threatened in this way.

They requested that I removed all references to and mentions of Brit Writers from my blog.

I politely declined, having taken legal advice, on the grounds that I do not believe I have made any defamatory statements.

After several days with no news, today the Brit Writers have issued a public statement, the first paragraphs of which follow (my bolds):

“Brit Writers has decided to withdraw its legal action against Writers’ Workshop, Claire King and Jane Smith. We felt compelled into this course of action because of the accusation that the Prime Minister’s letter of support to Brit Writers was fraudulent. Subsequently, this accusation has now been withdrawn for which we are grateful. We would further request that the accusation that Brit Writers is a ‘scam’ organisation also should be withdrawn.

In keeping with the spirit of generosity and good will Brit Writers are more than happy to answer any questions from anyone; however we refuse to indulge in internet mudslinging particularly since we are sensitive to the interests of our partners and writers.”

Since nowhere on my site or elsewhere have I claimed that they forged a letter from the Prime Minister, nor have I called them a scam organisation, I was still no clearer as to why I was threatened with legal action. I contacted Zareen at BWA, asking for some clarification. Also, welcoming their comment that they are willing to answer questions, I asked again for responses to my initial questions.

Zareen responded to me with this:

The matter that was being investigated was in respect of you falsely accusing and promoting Brit Writers as being a scam – i.e. Brit Writers is filed under the ‘scam’ heading of your website: 

What Zareen was referring to (I do not have a scams section on my website) is that a post was tagged with the tag ‘Scams’.

Why do we tag our blog posts? So that people searching for the content of the post, even if it isn’t explicitly mentioned in the post, can find the post. So, for example, in this instance, anyone searching for “Is Brit Writers a scam?” Would have found my post. And they would have seen in the comments, several comments from myself and others saying that we do not believe it to be a scam.

Whatever. On Zareen’s request, and so as to avoid any confusion, I have removed the tag ‘Scams’ from that post. However I am disappointed that I have not had any kind of apology for the accusations and legal threats levelled against me and the attempts to push me, through fear of litigation, into removing perfectly legitimate blog posts.

Zareen went on to say “We feel your questions have been answered in the statement and within the further response which has been sent to Harry this afternoon.”

I disagree. I found the statement mostly rhetorical and vague, and what I and others were after were some specific answers that showed transparency, competency and credentials.

I replied, inviting Zareen and BWA therefore to either respond to my questions, or decline to respond. I am writing this in the assumption that they will decline to respond. But if they do respond with more specifics I will post them here, of course.

In the meantime, I think Harry Bingham has had the most in depth response to these and other questions, so I shall hand you over to his blog for his summary of what we’ve got.

Finally, I should add that Zareen said:

“Brit Writers and the people who work in this organisation would like to extend an invitation to you and any other interested parties to come and participate in dialogue that involves advice and support for one another so that we may mutually benefit from each other’s experience and thereby add value to the writing community at large. We hope that you will accept the hand of cooperation offered as a fellow colleague and reciprocate in kind.”

I’m going to have to decline that invitation. Just because a dog that has bared its teeth at you is now wagging its tail doesn’t mean you should give it a bone.

And now I’m going to get on with what my blog is actually supposed to be about – writing.

The Coward’s Tale – Interview with Vanessa Gebbie

Posted on: November 10th, 2011 by Claire - 18 Comments

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Vanessa Gebbie to my blog, to talk about her novel The Coward’s Tale, which launched officially three days ago  (7th November 2011). I was lucky enough to have an advance copy to read, and it’s an absolute treasure. The writing is so lyrical I felt as though it was being read out loud to me, the storytelling so thoughtful…

Claire King: Vanessa, first I have to tell you how much I loved The Coward’s Tale. So many novels these days play on our worst fears, make readers anxious and immerse us in the trauma of the characters. Your story was like a breath of fresh air: a careful untangling of cause and effect, written with great generosity and respect. How did you know that this was the story you wanted to tell?

Vanessa Gebbie: I can’t tell you what it’s like hearing those words, Claire. Thank you.  When a reader gives up a few hours of their life to read a book when they could have been doing a zillion other things, that’s always great. But the reader who does that and ‘gets’ it – that’s rather special.

The honest answer to ‘how did I know this was the story I wanted to tell’ is this –I didn’t!  I was hijacked, and it happened like this. I wrote the first section with no thought as to what it was saying, other than the surface story. I was playing with the character of Tommo Price, the Clerk at the Savings Bank, and the story that unfolds in the narrative ‘now’. I’ve always been hugely interested what makes characters who they are, and most of that has no place in the story – but here, there needed to be a bit of his history. I’d already written much of that backstory, but when I came to ‘cut n paste’ it, I couldn’t make it ‘fit’.  Not until a completely new character wandered into the piece, uninvited, and started telling the backstory himself, in a first person narrative.  That was the beggar, Ianto Jenkins. I had no idea who he was, or why I was going along with this (this is where non-writers shake their heads and think we are nuts!) but it worked so well, I let him get on with it.

It wasn’t until I’d written perhaps half the novel that I tumbled to the importance of what was happening… Ianto’s narratives were revealing a rather important backstory, not only for each character, but for the community.  A single event was common to all of them, however peripheral it seemed. And there was a switch – some time towards the end of writing it all – where his stories took on a much greater significance than the bits I’d been creating deliberately.  The novel should really be ‘by Ianto Jenkins with a bit of help from Vanessa G’!

CK: The Coward’s Tale appears to be a collection of short stories that are all intertwined. How did they grow together under your pen?

VG: I’m a story writer by trade, Ma’am. I approached the novel as a series of stories with the same cast of characters, each with a backstory that made up another strand.  I wasn’t satisfied with a book of linked short stories that could be called a novel for marketing purposes. It needed to be something else – and after a year of editing and rewriting, the backbone of the book is a now a quadruple strand weave (I think) – made up of Laddy’s story now, Ianto’s own story then, the gradual reveal of what happened at Kindly Light then, and the separate character tales. Never been one to tackle simple things, me.

CK: There are so many strange and yet believable idiosyncrasies in The Coward’s Tale – the wooden feathers, the  search for a straight line through the town, the fish in the river, the annual bread ritual…did you find all this in your imagination?

VG:  Aye. I’ve always preferred being in my own head to being out on the street…it’s much more fun.  Refused to go out and play as a kid, always nose in a book, or dreaming. But when you do eventually get out there, people are endlessly interesting, aren’t they? There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ person, a mon avis.  Long live not being normal, I say!

CK: I’d seen on your blog that there is a map of the town, which I love. (For the musical version click here – although if like me you’re the child of a mining community, beware the colliery brass band, which made me a bit teary) I’d expected the map to appear in the book, why did you decide not to include it?

VG: I didn’t. I was kind of hoping a place might be found for it. I love novels with maps in the endpapers – can you imagine The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings without?  It adds another element that smoothes the reader’s initial experience, I think. But Bloomsbury have created the most beautiful book – initially a stunning hardback with gorgeous foil-blocked jacket by designer Holly MacDonald, and the paperback out next March in the UK is equally great.  The US version, also coming out in March has yet another cover – again, absolutely stunning.  I love them all. And you have to draw the line somewhere, I understand that – it’s tough times for publishing, innit?

CK: It is, and we have to count our blessings! What has been your favourite or most memorable part of bringing The Coward’s Tale to life (either in the writing, the research, the road to publication etc)?

Vanessa Gebbie:

Favourite: The realization a while back (its taken over 5 years!) that this was a novel, not a short story, and that I was in for the long haul. I had something that would last, a world to which I would return over and over again, whilst also working on the other short stories that became my two collections.  It was very grounding.

Memorable:  The research – I left it until the book was finished to first draft stage. I didn’t want the temptation to cram the work with research detail just because I had it in a file. I had to make sure each detail really earned its place in the story. I needed to check some technicalities of coal mining, to check what I’d written from imagination and memory was correct. I will never forget reading the reports of so many mining disasters in the Welsh valleys, especially the 1913 Senghennydd disaster.  I needed to get it right, hard as it was to revisit some of the tougher passages in the novel to make my characters go through their experiences again.

Memorable: My visit to Big Pit at Blaenavon, where I had to remove mobile phone, watch, don a hard hat with light fitment and an incredibly heavy battery round my middle, before dropping what seemed like miles down the shaft in the cage, and spending abut an hour walking in the tunnels beneath the ground.  Unforgettable, really.  All that massy rock above you. How little the spaces are where the work got done.  The sense that we are absolutely insignificant…

I’d like to pause a minute and remember the recent Gleision colliery disaster here, if I may.  Men who work in mines are among the bravest souls.

Memorable: My visit to Bloomsbury to meet the team, and seeing the boardroom table awash with bags of toffees! (As you know, Ianto Jenkins only tells his stories if he is fed toffees…) next time I shall write a novel about gold mining, in the hopes of taking away bags of gold – although actually, sitting on the train home, chomping toffees, knowing this was the team I wanted to look after my book, was rather lovely!  (If terrible for teeth and now non-existent waistline.)

CK: OK. The toffees just gave me such a frisson I welled up! Aaaanyhowz…Charles Lambert described your book as “The unlikely but entirely legitimate child of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Dylan Thomas” and I’ve seen you’ve already had a number of reviews on Waterstones. How does it feel, seeing your work through the eyes of the readers? Is it different for your novel than for your short story collections?

VG: I love that description from Charles. DT and GGM are two writers whose work I admire hugely, and I count them among the best writing tutors! I am delighted that The Coward is in some way descended from them. Isn’t that perfect? And it is just great to read reviews from readers. As I said above, I am always aware that readers give us a few hours of their lives when they read our ‘stuff’ – I am hugely grateful both for that and for their comments. There’s nothing better, really.

The Waterstones page is here, the reviews now number 13 – and are simply lovely.

CK: In the town you wrote, I could picture the echoes of ancestors wandering around in borrowed clothes, mingling amongst those they left behind, and the new generations. We all carry the echoes of the past with us, to some extent. What are your strongest childhood memories of Wales, and where do you call ‘home’?

VG: ‘Home’ is a difficult word for me, for personal reasons. I’m never sure where it is, but that’s a legacy from my adoption, I suppose. I know lots of adopted adults – many of them, like me, never quite know where they belong. Spend our days looking for it.

But what a gift for a writer, huh?!

I loved staying with my grandmother in Merthyr Tydfil with a passion – never wanted to leave.  Both my lovely parents (adoptive, if we must…) came from Merthyr, so both grandmothers and respective families were there. Some still are. Every setting in The Coward’s Tale is based on somewhere I knew as a child. The kitchens where most of the gossiping got done, where the mantels were hung with gas brackets and carried brass plates and candlesticks and broken cups with spare change for the meter.

I used to play on the tip – the old slag heap at the end of the road, where wild ponies came to graze. We used to try to catch them. Fat chance!

I could ramble on for hours, I’m afraid..

CK: Many of your characters have names that have been bestowed on them by the townsfolk in some way, that have become more than nicknames. How important do you think are the names that others give us?

VG: Oh hugely important. A name holds so much more than the sound, don’t you think? And of course the tradition of linking name to occupation is immensely powerful, if a bit of a cliché. Must be careful with these things…

CK: If you were a character in The Coward’s Tale, what would your given name be, and why?

VG: What a brilliant question. Hmm. I’d be an old bat who wanders the streets with a notebook, her hair in curlers, who sometimes forget she’s still wearing her dressing gown. I’d appear in a line or two in most stories and Laddy would pick up a notebook after I’d left it on the bench in the park…what would my name be?  ‘Imagination’ Ellis, I expect.

CK: I love it! Vanessa, thank you so much for your time, and here’s hoping Ianto Jenkins finds his way into the hands (and hearts) of many, many readers.

Vanessa’s wacky website is and her blog is and here’s a quick link to Amazon…

Brit Writers 3 – The plot thickens

Posted on: November 7th, 2011 by Claire - 247 Comments

As you know, I’ve been active in discussions about the Brit Writers recent ventures into a ‘publishing programme’ and their ‘agents division.’ But so far we have been unable to get any information straight from the horses mouth.

I thought perhaps that was going to change this weekend – Brit Writers started following me on Twitter – so I asked them if they would be willing to answer some questions I had about their organisation. They said of course, and asked me to email them.

So I did.

Please read the questions and their response, and if you have any thoughts, add a comment or email me if you would prefer.

Here are the questions I sent:

Dear Brit Writers,

I’m emailing you as you suggested on Twitter, to get your answers to some questions that are bothering many of us. I am sure that it is simply a lack of information, rather than anything to be worried about, so I look forward to your responses.
1) BWA in general
a) Who are you? Do people in your organisation come from the writing and publishing world? Could we have more transparency on this?
b) What is the status of BWA? Besides the competition and the community work there seem to be a number of ‘for profit’ spin-offs. Do you publish accounts?
2) Legal action.*
I understand that Harry Bingham has had to take down a blog post and a forum discussion on his WordCloud site after you threatened him with legal action. I’d seen both of those postings before they were removed, and whilst I saw plenty of people voicing concerns about BWA, I had not picked up on any defamatory statements. Could you please say what your concerns were in this matter? As you know there are also discussions on my own blog, which as far as I’m concerned are healthy internet debates about something we are unable to get clear information on, but if you are being libelled then of course we need to know.

*Note – This question in direct response to this blog post on another website:
Brit Writers Limited
Published by: Harry on 4th Nov 2011 | View all blogs by Harry A short note to state that I have received a letter from Brit Writers’ solicitors requesting that I remove all references to the BWA from this website. I have therefore done so. I request that all Word Clouders refrain from mentioning the BWA in any way on this site. Any new posts or comments will be removed.I reget having to take this step, but I am being threatened with legal action so have no sensible alternative. We continue to wish all writers entering the BWA Awards the best of luck with their submissions.Please DO NOT reply to this post. Sorry!
3) Brit Writers’ Publishing Scheme
This is something we are having trouble getting information on, which is unusual in the world of social media, blogs and so on. Could you please tell us, as your authors come to the end of their year, how this scheme is going? Are there any successes out there? Has it not worked out with others? Will you be doing it again in 2012?
4) Brit Writers’ Agents Division
a) Please could you name some of the agents who have asked to work with you on this?
b) It seems that many of those who submitted work to you for consideration have been told their synopsis needs work, and you have proposed consultancy services, at a fee, to fix that. Who, in your organisation is responsible for this advice? Do they have the relevant qualifications? Who/which organisations are then going to provide the (paid for) consultancy on those manuscripts and synopses?
5) Passing Off
Are you aware that someone has posted on Jane Smith’s blog defending BWA and attacking Jane using my name (Claire King)? Clearly this is a criminal offence as it it is an attempt to pass off as me in my professional capacity as an author. We are looking into contacting the person via their IP address, but in the meantime what advice would you give to this individual?
Thank you in advance for taking the time to respond to our questions. Are you happy for your responses to be posted on my blog?

And here is their response:

Dear Claire

I’m afraid that this matter is now  being investigated and dealt with by our solicitors and they will be contacting you.


Corporate & Legal

Brit Writers


10th November, update:

BWA’s solicitors have contacted me by email, requesting that I remove this post and all other references to BWA from my website. 

I have taken legal advice, and responded to them. Having reviewed all three of my posts which refer to BWA, I do not see any statement contained therein that would be regarded as defamatory.  Comments made by third parties on these posts seem to me to constitute fair comment or honest opinion. 

I am therefore not proposing to remove any of the posts at this time.
However I do take allegations of defamation seriously, and have therefore outlined a number of things I would be prepared to do, including consider posting a statement from Brit Writers Ltd. on my website.
Thank you to everyone who has commented so far.