Claire King

Author

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

We Need to Talk about Amazon

Posted on: November 27th, 2013 by Claire - 15 Comments

While my first year being a published author has been going great guns in the UK, things have got off to a fairly quiet start in the USA.

That’s pretty much par for the course for a debut British novel, I’m told, and The Night Rainbow hasn’t done too badly. Considering there was no ‘launch campaign’ as such, around release time in April there was some great coverage in book shops, and I’ve had a modest royalty cheque, so hurray!

Then this week, Amazon.com chose The Night Rainbow for their Kindle Daily Deal. I don’t know how that works, but I am thrilled they did.

As a rule I don’t follow my rankings on Amazon, because

  • a) Frankly, I can’t actually affect them.
  • b) The numbers swing wildly about and it’s pretty unfathomable how they relate to actual books sold.
  • c) They change every hour. Can you imagine how distracting that would be to a writer if you let it?

But yesterday I made an exception, because I was interested in how the promotion – which saw the ebook price fall from around €9 to $2.99 for 24 hours – would go. Looking over the months since launch, sales on Amazon of both the printed and the e-book appear to have been close to non-existent. Yesterday my sales ranking in the Kindle Store shot up by 954,681%  (apparently*). From roughly #250,000 to #25 in the paid kindle store. That’s pretty close to the top of the list.

And at the end of the day I got to see this, which although a fleeting phenomenon, is no less exciting and, most importantly, gets The Night Rainbow noticed by readers who otherwise wouldn’t have ever come across it:

2013-11-27 at 08.40.53

Amazon USA Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #2

And also this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 16.42.31

Amazon Canada Literary and Contemporary Fiction: #6

I don’t know what my sales were for the day exactly (they certainly didn’t increase by a million percent) but they did shoot up quite remarkably and continued for a while after the Deal had finished, when the ebook was back to full price.

The Daily Deal was November 26th 2013, so if you’re interested in seeing how the ebook is ranking now, click here.

I also followed the ‘noise’ around the promotion. And it’s not just Amazon who market it. They publicise the deal onsite and send out emails to Kindle users, but I also noticed that on twitter and on the web in general there are lots of accounts set up to catch these deals and shout them out to their followers and readers, magnifying the effect. *It was one of those accounts that tweeting the amazing 954,681% leap in ranking. It’s a machine that works very effectively.

So far so good. Has anyone got to this point yet without screaming,

  • “Yes! But it’s AMAZON!”
  • “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Franzen etc”,
  • “Bookshops closing!”
  • “Death by ebook!”

Or something similar?

Well, yes. So to the thorny question of Amazon. As a reader, I’m a bookshop girl. I love bookshops. I love choosing books in bookshops and chatting to people who work there. As an author I also love bookshops. I love the warm welcome you get from the dedicated, passionate independent booksellers and from their customers, who they often know by name.

But Amazon have about a 30% market share of books in the USA. Many people now go straight to Amazon when they want to buy a book, and an even greater percentage when they want to buy an ebook. And obviously book shops don’t sell ebooks for Kindle (although Amazon are offering them the chance, which is a whole other debate).

Some people do prefer reading books electronically and the people that took a chance on my book yesterday because of a promotional price point and a big shout out from Amazon are not people who would have bought a paper copy from a book shop. Otherwise they’d have done it sometime in the last 7 months, I’d have thought. They are, however, people who will read it, hopefully be delighted by it, and hopefully tell that to other people.

Sometimes, as authors, it’s suggested that when we ‘self-promote’ we should limit that to encouraging people to go to bookshops. When the question of Amazon, or indeed supermarkets, comes up, even if they’ve helped market and sell actual quantities of our work, we are expected to hum and ha and shuffle our feet nervously. I did tweet several times yesterday to let people know about the offer. And every time I did, I must admit I felt worried that people might judge me for inadvertently ‘supporting’ Amazon.

But in the end, is it we authors who are responsible for the struggles that bookshops face? I don’t think so. Most authors I know would happily do signings at bookshops, support library reading groups etc., even if they find public appearances rather painful (the authors not the reading groups).

Nor are we responsible for where readers choose to shop. We have excruciatingly little influence, quite frankly, over who buys our book and from where. We can tweet our little hearts out, but unless we seriously set about a time-consuming social media campaign, it’s just not our call. The greatest influence we have is in the quality of our writing.

So, if a retailer stocks our books and readers buy them, enabling us to feed our kids and write more books, then we are happy. And if we can give that income a little boost along the way, then generally we will, as best we can.

Yesterday’s Amazon promotion was a great opportunity to boost awareness of The Night Rainbow in the USA and Canada. It’s the kind of novel that thrives on word of mouth recommendations, and as many authors can tell you, it can be frustratingly difficult to kick those off.

I hope the people who picked up the e-book for $2.99 yesterday will love it, and that they’ll consider giving it as a gift (wherever they choose to buy it) or just tell others what they thought.

And also that they will want to buy the next book. Speaking of which I’m off to finish it. Hopefully there’ll be news on that soon.

UPDATE:

Since posting this a couple of good articles have shown up on this topic, so links are here:

New York Times tongue in cheek, what Amazon is to a modern author 

New online retailer opens up in UK to offer online alternative to Amazon (The Bookseller)

 

 

We’re in the Business of Selling Dreams.

Posted on: November 19th, 2013 by Claire - 17 Comments

I want to talk about becoming an author. About publishing a book.

So you’re a writer. You get up early in the morning and you write. You drop the kids off at school and you write instead of doing the hoovering. You commute to work and you write on the bus. You stay up late at night and you write. And your dream is that one day, hopefully very soon, you will see your work published. In a book. A book that you can hold in your hands. If that’s you, I’m talking to you.

If what you dream of is your book being available in ebook format only, I’m not talking to you. Because you know that there are many options now for doing that. And personally I know very little about them, and you too have Google and Twitter. You will find your way.

But back to you, the dreamer, the one who wants to hold the solid block of pages in your hand and see your name on the cover and the printed words inside that you created and pulled together and spun into a story to be told to thousands of readers. You, who wants to be paid for your work, perhaps even for writing to be your actual job. You would like to make a living from it. Yes, well I’m really happy you’re here. Because that’s what I want to talk to you about.

Without money

If you are anything like I was, you’d be delighted to hear that somehow there is a shortcut. That agents can see through a first draft of a manuscript to the dazzling novel you know it eventually will be. Or that publishers right now are trawling the electric interweb for rising stars to pull under their wing and lead through the golden doors of literary fame and fortune. Or how the publishing landscape is changing and that now the gatekeepers have left and you are the most powerful person in the publishing supply chain, if only someone could explain to you how that works. You might even be willing to pay for that advice.

Well, my advice – which is free and you take it as it is – is that as far as I know there are no shortcuts, and you are certainly not the centre of the publishing world. Sorry. It’s not you. If I were to go out on a limb and say who I think does occupy that position, thinking about agents, publishers, bookshops, online retailers, authors, editors, and all the others, I would have to say that the most powerful person is likely to be…the reader. Maybe. But in any case it’s not you.

You are the writer, you are the author, you are the person who will create a story, and you will send it out into the world and you will ache with every rejection and bad review (and later you will soar with the offers and the delight of five fat golden stars). Or maybe you have thick skin or pure genius and that won’t happen at all.

But in the meantime I’ll tell you what you *are*. You are a market. Because of that ache for something that is out of your reach, because of your dream of something that is hard to achieve. Because there is something you really, REALLY want. Because of that, there are people out there ready to sell to you.
They are not there to sell you the magic formula, because if they had it, we’d all have it, and we’d all be hitting the jackpot, riding our fat advances to the top of the Sunday Times best-seller list. Oh but wait…
No. But what they are there for is to sell you back your own dreams.

They will tell you there are no guarantees. They will not promise you a publisher, or an advance, or literary prizes. But they will tell you that by buying something off them, a product or a service, you will be doing the right thing, putting yourself in the best position to publish that book, to be that person, the best-selling prize winning author who can give up their day job and set off on tour, gathering movie and foreign language rights as you go. They may throw in a lavish drinks reception or a star studded evening mingling with agents and publishers. Lovely. But the champagne is on you.

Do they have something that is worth your money? It’s your job to work that out. These people are in business. One of the many businesses that are set up to take advantage of the hungry market of aspiring authors. Legitimately. They are not there to take on the establishment, or create a new publishing paradigm, all for one and one for all. They are there to make money. For some that’s all it is, although of course some, often those run by well established writers, also have the very best of intentions and really want to help you succeed.

So if you are thinking of making money from writing, if that’s one of your goals, then before you pay out anything, *anything* to advance your career as a published author, be that writing courses, editorial services, social media publicists, conference fees, subscriptions to writing websites, publishing services or anything that wants your money, take yourself seriously. Make a business plan.

It doesn’t have to be complicated:
1) How much do you expect to earn?
Do you hope to earn a side-income or to give up the day job entirely? Do some research and find out how much an average debut novel earns, and an average second novel. Look into different genres too. Look at self publishing versus the traditional route. Look at advances and royalties and do some maths. Work out the probabilities.
2) How much are you willing to invest?
Do you have money to spend? If so, where is it best spent? Improving your craft; making new contacts; paying to be published, building an author platform on social media or buying a decent desk chair? Taking some paid leave in order to write, perhaps? What would each of those things give back to you and how would they help you to succeed?

I’m not suggesting at all that writing is all about making money. If you’re like most writers you do this because you love it. Because you can’t not tell stories. And sometimes we can buy things that help us along, even if it’s just a copy of Writers’ Forum or a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. But as soon as the question of handing over your money to other people comes up, and you’re tempted, think about it. And whatever you do, don’t become part of someone else’s business plan just because they talk a good talk.

That’s makes them the salesman, and you the punter.

How Stories are Made

Posted on: September 25th, 2013 by Claire - 33 Comments

I was surprised to discover this week that my eight year-old daughter is learning ‘Five-part Story Structure’ as part of her school curriculum. It’s not something I ever learned at school, and in fact was only exposed to for the first time quite recently, long after I’d started writing seriously myself.

One thing that makes it particularly surprising is that my younger daughter, who is nearly six, has just started in the class where French children are taught to read, and some of the children in her class literally don’t know how a book ‘works’. (Not all of them. And you can make your own guess as to whether my own children love to read and engage with stories). Yet two years later they are already moving on to learning the constituent parts of a story.

If you don’t know the five parts, typically they are:

  • Exposition: Setting the scene. “Once upon a time…”
  • Rising Action: Building the tension. “But then…”
  • Climax: The really exciting bit. Sometimes known in our house as ‘the Bad Part’*
  • Falling Action. “And so”
  • Dénouement or resolution: Ending the story. “Happily ever after.”

*I’ve been telling my daughters about ‘the bad part’ of stories for a while, because if they stop reading (or listening, or watching) a story when it all seems too scary to bear, they never get to see the hero pull through, and you are left without a satisfying and cheerful resolution.

Little Red Riding Hood

So in the exercise they are completing, they are comparing Charles Perrault’s original version of Little Red Riding Hood with the later Brothers Grimm version of the story and seeing how they differ at each of the steps. For example, unlike the milder Grimm telling (where Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are rescued by the woodcutter, who slices open the Wolf’s stomach and sets them free, relatively undigested), in the dénoument of the original story, Little Red Riding Hood is lured into bed, and then promptly eaten by the wolf. The End.

Anyway, having thought on the matter, firstly I’m not sure that this is the right time to give children such a functional view of story telling. Isn’t this a time when stories should be something that they delight in, or in which they see echoes of their own struggles and realise they are not alone? As GK Chesterton put it, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Secondly, the five part story structure seems to me a very oversimplified explanation of how stories are built. Unless the writer is being very formulaic, the journey between the opening and closing of a story can differ wildly from one story to another. Could this be a case of teaching a basic ‘rule’ first, and then going on to cover the exceptions? But are the exceptions not in the majority?

Here is a link to an illuminating and funny Kurt Vonnegut talk where he plots out the structure of some well known stories.

My final exception to the teaching of story structure to children is that if we are going to teach anything about storytelling we should start with the magic. We should explain to them why we tell stories, the profound effects that stories can have on human beings in terms of emotional responses, learning and social skills. We should explain that telling stories makes us human, and that we can all do it, and in fact we do all do it every day. That when my daughter walks in from school and says “Guess what happened to me today!” the magic is already starting.

Paperback Launch and Marketing!

Posted on: August 1st, 2013 by admin - 10 Comments

It’s paperback publication day for The Night Rainbow. I didn’t think I could possibly be as excited as I was in February when the book launched in hardback, but I really am!

Before I forget I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at Bloomsbury who has been working hard on the paperback launch – updating the cover, planning the PR and marketing campaigns (of which more in a second), championing the book so enthusiastically with retailers and basically just crossing their fingers and being so lovely and encouraging to me.

The Night Rainbow Paperback

So, the paperback is out today – a nice small supple book at a lower price than the hardback edition. Perfect for summer holidays, reading in bed etc. There are a lot of exciting things happening, but what is *VERY EXCITING* for me in particular is that there is a marketing campaign running for The Night Rainbow paperback launch, which should get it noticed by more people and help get them into book shops to buy it.

As a debut novelist, having a marketing campaign was thrilling news that I wasn’t expecting it at all, and it all happened quite recently. Thanks to the hard work of Bloomsbury’s sales team, they won really strong advance orders and enthusiasm for the paperback from retailers, including The Night Rainbow being the August Book Club pick at Sainsbury’s; being selected for Tesco’s new New Talent slot; being promoted in WH Smiths high street, train station and airport stores.   I know already there are plenty of amazing independent book shops stocking it and Waterstones too.  So do pop into your local shop – there should be paperbacks aplenty. And of course ebooks are available in all the usual places.

Here are a few places you might spot Pea this summer:

  • At railway stations: There is a huge poster going up around London and South-East England. Here are a few examples. If you keep your eyes peeled over the next few days and send in photos, you could be in with a chance of winning a copy. Follow @BloomsburyBooks and #NightRainbow on twitter for more details, and find Bloomsbury Publishing UK on Facebook.
  • On The Daily Mail online – Takeover of the Books page, it’s worth a look! (I think you can only see this wondrous juxtaposition if you’re in the UK)
  • On Mumsnet  – the giveaway is closed now, but the discussion thread is open. Hopefully spoiler free!
  • At The Reading Agency where reading groups could win copies to review.

I took the opportunity to ask Tess Viljoen, who has been responsible at Bloomsbury for the marketing around The Night Rainbow, including this beautiful book trailer to answer a couple of questions about marketing books in general.

1) Would you say it’s true that publishers expect authors to ‘market’ themselves and their books now more than ever? What does this mean in reality?

The shift towards social media has, brilliantly, put fans directly in touch with the authors they love. It’s a powerful way of communicating with readers and exciting for everyone involved. The downside of this, given it would be disingenuous for a publisher to try and impersonate an author online by running a social media stream on their behalf, is it has shifted that responsibility back on to authors. Social media can be very rewarding but it can also be immensely time consuming and doesn’t appeal to all authors. At Bloomsbury we encourage our authors to have a go, and support them as much as we can from our social media platforms but ultimately, it’s up them if they feel it is a medium they can work in.

2) When I worked in consumer goods marketing (years ago!) there was a sort of ‘chicken and egg’ situation with smaller brands, whereby advertising support was minimal or non-existent until (hopefully) word of mouth took off. This also meant it was harder to get those products stocked in shops and positioned well. Does this apply also in publishing/book retailing? If so what factors help get the ball rolling?

The percentage of books that receive advertising spend is in fact very small and so the majority of books are sold into bookstores without that support which makes it a much more level playing field. We have sales reps that go into bookshops around the country and pitch our titles directly to the booksellers and with word-of-mouth still being the most powerful form of recommendation this gives our books a strong chance to being taken by a bookseller and in turn, recommended to their customers.

3) What is more important in book marketing, the author or the book?

They are entirely inextricable. Obviously an author who is happy to do events, to be active on social media and be widely available for publicity is a strong asset for a book, but we regularly work with authors from foreign countries who for all sorts of reason cannot give us their time or physical presence and we have found ways of working around this and still build strong marketing and publicity campaigns.

Thanks, Tess!

For more information around paperback launches specifically, see this post  for an interview with Trâm Anh Doan, my paperback editor at Bloomsbury, when I talked to her about the launch last year of another Bloomsbury novel, The Cowards Tale.

 

A Cautionary Tale for Writers

Posted on: June 9th, 2013 by Claire - 24 Comments

Scrivener

This is a novel, code named ‘Candice’, drafted, redrafted and almost complete.

IMG_3411

This is the Mac that I wrote the book on. I’ve had it 3 years and it’s still going strong.

 mountain_lion

This is the Mountain Lion OS, that chewed up my Mac and made a big mess.

 Disk OK

This is the screen that says things are OK, making this author cry Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Computer Says No

But this is the screen that says “Actually, no”.  Your Mac has now stopped and refuses to go.

Phone

This is the phone where I spoke to the man, who worked on the helpdesk and said “I’ve a plan!”

Here is the number of plans that worked out:                                                      0

And here is the point where the helpdesk bailed out           ——>                  .

Hard Disk

This is the hard drive that gave up the ghost. My words were inside it and now it was toast.

Time Capsule

Here is the Time Capsule, shiny and white, where I’d backed up my work just the previous night. This is the place of Schrodinger’s Book. The back up should work, but I’d no way to look.

MS

Here is the print off I found in a drawer, 3 MS drafts old, from March or before.

I called all this paper my back-up plan ‘B’, but wished that I’d made back-ups ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’.

Husband

Here is the husband, home from Toulouse, back to a wife with the broken-Mac blues.

This is the man that fit the new drive, re-installed the OS and stayed up ’til 5.

Here’s the number of boots that said “Sorry, bad luck…”

“…But we can’t get your data, your back-up’s corrupt.” ————->       2

 

And here is the happy ending, thank fuck,

The third restore worked, we recovered my book.

Pareidolic

Posted on: June 2nd, 2013 by Claire - 10 Comments

Flash Mob 2013 is a hybrid competition/blog carnival to celebrate International Flash Fiction Day on June 22nd.

It is free to take part, all you need is a previously unpublished flash fiction (300 words or less) that you have written yourself, and a blog to put it on.

*21st JUNE: Update* The Flash Mob is now LIVE!

Go here to see all the amazing entries from around the world.

Here is my flash below.

The Face of God

Pareidolic

He stumbles over the brow of a hill and into the jaws of a tempest. He hears their baying calls behind him and has no choice but to press on, pushing against the gale, through ears of corn bent low as though in prayer.

He slips through the gash in the cliff face, panting. In the embracing darkness his breath forms clouds, shape-shifting eerily, then dissipating where rain lashes at the mouth of the cave. All he can do now is wait.

Minutes pass.

Calm eventually settles, the roar and howl replaced by the creak of the grass stretching itself upright, and fat tears dripping from sodden boughs.

He peers out. The sky is a strange and perfect blue, but the weight of darkness is heavy on his skin. The thick scent of danger. The distant clamour of hooves.

He crouches in his den in the eye of the storm. He must lie low for now, he nose.

The Night Rainbow Launch, USA & Canada!

Posted on: April 7th, 2013 by Claire - 4 Comments

I’m very excited that this week The Night Rainbow is being published in the USA and Canada.

Here she is, complete with beautiful new cover, about to whizz off to bookshops everywhere Stateside.

The Night Rainbow USA Cover

I feel a little wistful that I can’t whizz over the Atlantic to celebrate, but I have been raising a glass here in France, and lurking on twitter doing US & Canada pub-day high fives!

And look what the lovely Rachael Dunlop just sent me:

The Night Rainbow on store shelf

On the shelves at Barnes & Noble, New York City

I’ve also been busy meeting book bloggers:

  • I answered 11/20 questions at Linus’s Blanket, including what my favourite books are set in my local region of France.
  • What’s in a first line? Find out as I take part in the Friday First Lines series over at Books on the Brain.
  • I have been interviewed by Mariam Kobras over at #amwriting
  • Daria Anne DiGiovanni hosted me on #writestream, with an interview on blog talk radio which you can also find archived here, and a twitter chat – the summary of which is now here.

Thank you…

Thanks already to some of the lovely reviewers and book bloggers who have reviewed early copies:

Ilana Teitelbaum, who says, in her review in Shelf Awareness “King’s story of a young child’s quest for a light in the profound darkness of her life reaches deep into the complexities of human consciousness. As it explores adult grief through a child’s eyes, The Night Rainbow also underscores the need for stability and love ever-present in children’s lives, yet at times nearly impossible to attain.”

Catherine at Gilmore Guide to books who says “The Night Rainbow is soft, sweet, scary and immense.” *****

Nicola at My Good Bookshelf gave it 9/10 and said “I would happily recommend this book to readers interested in contemporary fiction or family dramas; this was a beautifully written tale with a shocker of a twist that I definitely did not anticipate- just brilliantly done.”

Ionia at Readful Things said “Claire King has done such a supreme job of making you want to hug these children and tell them everything is going to be okay, that it is sometimes hard to believe they are not real…I would recommend this elegantly written novel to anyone. Really a beautiful book.”

Shannon at River City Reading – Richmond, VA said “Writing from the perspective of a child, particularly one so young, without relying on cliche phrases or coming off childish is not an easy task. Claire King does it masterfully.”

Patrice Hoffman says “Claire King writes spectacularly from a child’s point of view using vivid imagery with fantastical qualities only imagination can provide.”

and Cayacosta72 calls The Night Rainbow “A story of love, loss and grace.”

The Pin Map!

In celebration and anticipation of meeting lots of new people in the USA and Canada through the launch, even only virtually, I have put together a pin map.

To get it started I’ve added places I have visited in person (the red pins).

I’m going to add new pins on the map for everyone who tells me they’ve read The Night Rainbow, so do please leave a comment or say hi on twitter, telling me where you are, and you’ll get your own purple pin.

Also, if you have a book group that would like me to call in by Skype for a few questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Pin Map

The travels of Claire, Margot & Pea

 

 

10 Things People Say to Published Authors

Posted on: March 8th, 2013 by Claire - 35 Comments

Two years ago I wrote the post – 10 Things Children Don’t Say to Writers – where I talked about confidence, and other people’s reactions when you say you’re a writer. It proved to be one of the most popular blog posts on this site.

Mummy is Writing

We can only see the back of your head.

At that time, March 2011, I was newly signed up to Bloomsbury, but The Night Rainbow‘s publication was still two years away.

This last month I have, at last, been enjoying celebrating publication, including launch parties, signings and a lot of chatting to a lot of people, mostly about being a writer. And things have changed. People say different things to me now that I have an actual book available to buy and read.

Broadly, they seem to fall into three categories:

 

Things people say that make me feel proud and happy. E.g.

1) I’m so impressed.

2) What a great achievement.

3) You’ve inspired me to get back into my own writing.

Hearing this is like the clouds clearing and the sun shining right onto my little patch of Earth. When you’re an unpublished writer, you don’t get enough of this food for the soul. The struggle is the thing, and it can be a lonely one.

 

Things people say that make me want to run away and hide. E.g. 

4) When is the film coming out?

5) When is the next book coming out?

6) Have you stopped work altogether now?

There’s nothing really wrong with the questions in this category. They are well-meant and show enthusiasm and a high expectation of success. So I tried to work out why I feel agitated with them rather than flattered. I think it’s that I worry I feel the bar marked ‘Success’ is being set too high and that in the end I am going to disappoint people after all.

Signing a book

Chatting at a book signing

And most notably, a *lot* more questions about my writing. E.g.

7) Have you always wanted to write?

8) Who are your favourite authors? (Note – if you ever put me on the spot with this question, be warned that I’ll expect you to reciprocate with your own list!)

9) What inspired your novel?

10) What else are you writing?

They are the kind of questions that often don’t get asked to unpublished writers. Which interests me because it’s not the same for other artistic pursuits. If someone says they are a painter or a sculptor, even on an amateur level, people seem interested and feel free to ask about it. Why is that?

It’s as if, for some, I have passed through a kind of fine, mysterious membrane that separates writers who are interesting (or approachable?) from writers who are not. But I think that membrane only exists if you believe it does. So I suggest next time you meet someone who says they are a writer, why not take the time and ask them about themselves and their writing? You could be surprised what you find out.

 

Meanwhile, for those who read the 2011 post, what are my children now saying about my writing?

– My mummy wrote that book!

– You’re in a book shop / newspaper / magazine! That’s so cool!

– I’m so proud of you, Mummy. 

…And, after they have spotted the book in the umpteenth bookshop I take them into ‘just to check’…

– Please can we choose a book now?

 

Child's drawing

A child’s eye view of a book launch party

A Launch Party Mingle

Posted on: February 1st, 2013 by Claire - 4 Comments

I’m having (whoopee!) an actual launch party in London on 13th February, on the eve of The Night Rainbow’s official publication date, but not everyone can be there, so I’ll be doing some virtual mingling over the next couple of weeks with some very smashing people indeed.

I’m hoping it will be like being at a party on the web, where you wander around chatting, you meet some new people, ask some questions, have a bit of a laugh. And all this without having to wear heels. So come on in, help yourself to a drink, and I hope you have a good time!

Champagne glasses

Take a glass and mingle

Who I’ve met so far:

Kate at For Books’ Sake, where we talk about the portraying pressures of motherhood and how long a story should be.

Jen at The View From Here literary magazine, who asks me what are the important things, and where did the idea of a night rainbow come from?

Roz Morris, about the Undercover Soundtrack to The Night Rainbow – the songs that were part of its making.

Joe at the Bristol Short Story Prize, the home of my first published short story, who asks “What has it been like?”

Dan at Dog Ear Discs  – who asks about the environment of the novel and the surrounding countryside. “It becomes as important as the characters. Was it based on an actual place?”

Simon Savidge, who pokes around my bookshelves and asks “Are there any guilty pleasures?…”

Jen Campbell – Bookshoppist and author, who I may have made happy-sad.

Caroline Smailes, who wants to know about being a debut author and asks “How has your following your dream influenced your daughters?”

Isabel Costello on her Literary Sofa, where we talk about the pleasures and challenges of writing in a child’s voice.

Waterstones blog, where I talk about the inspiration behind The Night Rainbow

Alison Bacon, who asks about my experience of the publishing process with a top publisher, as well as life on twitter!

Vanessa Gebbie, who asks “How much did you want the novel to explore notions of non-belonging?”

Alison Wells – Who has been running a series of posts exploring ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. I talk to her about keeping the joy in writing

Rumjhum Biswas at Flash Fiction Chronicles where I chat about how writing short fiction has influenced my novel, and what I looked for as an editor of a literary magazine

 

Spotted across a crowded room! I’m heading towards…

Chris Mosler  over at Thinly Spread, who has things to say, and a giveaway!

Nik Perring, about getting started and keeping going on a novel and…

… Jonathan Pinnock, who wants to know how I managed to wait out the two years from signing a book contract to publication…

and other people too…I hope there’s enough champagne.

The-Night-Rainbow-front

Paparazzi!

Marie-Claire selected The Night Rainbow as one of their top reads for the month.

Marie Claire Book Review

“An original and beguiling debut.”

Stylist magazine tipped me as one of their 4 soon to be bestsellers (alongside Maya Angelou and Dan Brown!)

You'll be on tenterhooks throughout

You’ll be on tenterhooks throughout

Good To Know magazine have listed The Night Rainbow as one of their 2013 book club picks (alongside Jodi Picoult, Yann Martel and Jojo Moyes!). If you post a review here you could win an e-reader.

 

Overheard…”Have you read it yet?”

Dan at Dog Ear Discs – The picturesque setting of Southern France in the midst of a heat wave is almost hypnotic.”

Nettie Thompson – “Pea and Margot are characters who stay with you, long after the last page is turned “

Teresa Majury – “…a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go”

Tracey Upchurch – “Favourite character? Margot — little sister, voice of reason, bearer of night rainbows.

Laura Vickers at For Books’ Sake – Recommended for… Dreamers, mothers, lovers of the rich landscape of the south of France, and those in need of warming up.”

See more reviews on this page.

I’ll update the page with links as they happen.

For mingling in person, please see my events page here.

Champagne photo (c) Chris Chapman

 

 

 

What I wrote & what you read.

Posted on: December 29th, 2012 by Claire - 7 Comments

I wrote a blog post a while ago about the intention in what we write – how we choose the palette for our story, the setting and the small details to send messages for the reader to pick up on.

But intention is a funny thing, because things are sometimes not interpreted the way we intended. This is the source of a lot of arguments. Any of these phrases seem familiar?

“That’s not what I meant!

“You are inferring that from what I said.”

“You were implying that when you said…”

“I could see by your expression that…”

“It’s not what you said, it’s the way that you said it!”

Well, anyway, in November Waterstones ran a draw for people to receive review copies of The Night Rainbow, and December the books went out. So although there’s still a month until it starts shipping ‘for real’, reviews are now coming in, and I get to see if what I intended to say came across to *actual* readers in the way I hoped. Or not.

This, in a way, is the end of one writing journey that started back in 2009 and which I’ve been blogging about for almost 3 years. So I thought I’d share my first thoughts on being read, and reviewed.

I’d thought about book reviews before in terms of the rating, the number of stars. What does a one star review mean? How would I feel the first time I got one? It’s easy to say that rationally there is going to be some kind of bell curve. You can’t please all the people all the time. And a five star review is the flip side of the coin. You really hit a nerve with a reader, but it doesn’t mean you’re a literary genius.

Actually, now I’ve started to read the reviews, what matters much more is the words. Readers have taken the time to write at some length about how they experienced the story, how it made them feel as they read it, and their conclusions at the end. It’s such a privilege to read these insights, and to see if what I hoped I wrote matched up with what people actually read. It seems so far, so good!

I’m going to try not to get obsessed with reading reviews (seriously, I am!), mostly because I have written a new book that I am revising now and I have to turn the internet off most of the time to do that. But the appearance of these reviews is a timely reminder that I am writing for readers, and that I have to get it right. That ‘good enough’ isn’t really good enough, unless I want to face ‘good enough’ reviews on my next novel in 2 years time. And that’s not my intention.

So to the book reviewers out there who are taking the time to write these considered, detailed reviews – A Big Thank You!

And I wish all readers of this blog a very happy new year. Good health, peace and happiness to you and yours in 2013.

Christmas at the Printers

Posted on: December 20th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

Some of you might know I had a Big Adventure this week.

Last week the Night Rainbow started its first print run, and on Monday the very first finished copies were born.

I had been asking the team at Bloomsbury if it would be possible for me to visit the printers with my daughters. I knew it was a long shot, because of many things – the chance of getting to the UK to coincide with the print schedule, the fact it’s time-consuming for Bloomsbury and the printers to arrange that kind of visit, the fact I was asking to bring my children. But my girls are so curious about books, my writing, and how what I do turns into a book, that I had to ask, just in case.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the special efforts of my editors at Bloomsbury, the production people there and the people at CPI printers, I was told it could happen. Astonishment! Wheee! Cue mad booking of flights.

The Night Rainbow was being produced at CPI Mackays in Kent. Liz from Bloomsbury was meeting me there. There were to be books printed, and sandwiches.

It did feel odd arriving with children in tow, but everyone was so welcoming and kind to me and my two girls. We asked lots of questions about the printers: Q. How many books do they print a day there? A. 300,000-500,000! Q. Do books really come hot off the press? A. more warm than hot. Q: How is recycling managed? A. Error and therefore waste is kept to a minimum. Q: What about quality control? A. Happens at every step of the way. Some is human, some is computerised. Q: What is the impact of e-books? Q (daughters): How do the shiny bits get onto the book covers and please may we have another cookie? Etc.

Then Liz and I were taken into the factory. It smelled like new books. If only you could bottle it…And there, there were big piles of inners, boards, covers with purple foil stars, purple stitching…it was The Night Rainbow being born. Author swoons.

inners

Then Jonathan whipped a finished book off the line and handed it to me.

“Can I hold it?” I said.

He looked at me. “Um, it’s *your* book!”

So there is was. 3 years after first putting pen to paper. *My* book.

I learned all sorts of interesting things about how the books are put together, including how the spines become curved not flat, how books are born as twins and separated at birth and how the thousands of covers are so neatly folded onto the hardback books.

The other thing I learned is the thought that goes into producing a book that is durable and beautiful.

And here are the first copies coming off the line.

books

My oldest daughter, who is 7, was planning on doing a talk when she goes back to school about what she learned. The children were allowed into a restricted part of the plant but no further, as obviously it’s too dangerous (but it was enough to cause dropped jaws and excited exclamations).

Since they couldn’t see as much as we did, as we went along the line, watching the book go from one step to the next, Jonathan from CPI kindly put together a pack of the book at its different stages of the process, so that Amélie could take them in to show her class. How kind and thoughtful is that?

All in all an utterly magical day for us all. What a special privilege none of us will forget. Thank you so much to Bloomsbury for making it happen, and to CPI Mackays for hosting.

Book-bits

Symbols and Ceremonies

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Claire - 9 Comments

I’m planning a book launch. A proper, raise a glass, face to face, huggy, happy book launch. And here’s why.

Symbols and ceremonies see us through life. Through births and deaths, through graduations and marriages, through summer and winter solstices, through war and peacetime. We mark the anniversaries of events that have only the most personal significance as though they matter. Because we know that they do.

They mark a point in time when we recognise some step of our human endeavour, with the people who want to share that with us.

My first novel is about to be launched into a sea of books, an endless tide of literature from the beginning of history to far into the future. One book in millions. I  know my book and I are small fish in a great ocean. But for me this book marks a moment of triumph, of striving and hoping and of sheer good luck.

I really, really, want to celebrate that, and if you do too, you’re welcome to join me.

My launch will be held on Feb 13th 2013 in a beautiful bookshop in London. I’ll be signing books and there will be wine. If you’re a reader of this blog or a Twitter follower and would like an invitation, please do contact me.

I will also be doing an event in Yorkshire a couple of weeks later, with the lovely people at this independent bookshop in Ripon. Please get in touch if you’d like to see me there and when I’ve more details I will let you know.

If you’d like to be part of my book launch in some other way, then please do also get in touch.

 

P4190068.JPG

I don’t know this man but I like his style.

The post in which I hug Hugh

Posted on: November 23rd, 2012 by Claire - 7 Comments

I was lucky enough to be in London on Wednesday for another drinks reception at Bloomsbury.

Authors who are releasing books in January – June 2013 were invited to meet each other as well as the Bloomsbury team who have been (and still are working on their books). Yet another wonderful evening, made of course by the people who were there – diverse, brilliant and lovely.

You might think (I did) that going to something like this might be a little scary – you know there will be authors there who you really ‘ought’ to recognise, or at least when introduced you should know of and ideally have read their work. (In reality of course no matter how well read you are this just isn’t possible). On the other hand there might be people who you read avidly and admire, but you worry about telling them so without gushing and looking like a bit of a stalker.

 Seychellen 2008 fish

But it seems that most established authors seem to know your fear, and everyone is very relaxed and usually find ways to turn the conversation a two way chat about both of you. No-one asked, for example, “Have you read any of my books?” Authors really are lovely people.

Another thing is that you can’t possibly meet everyone. Walking into a room full of authors is like walking into a bookshop – where do you start? There were so many other people in the room I would have loved to talk to, or even just say hello, but time just flew by.

My highlights of the evening:

  • Meeting the delightful grandmother turned snail-scientist, Ruth Brooks, who was bustling about the room meeting as many people as she could and finding out as much as possible about everybody. Ruth’s non-fiction book is ‘A Slow Passion’:

When BBC Radio 4’s Material World programme announced a search for the UK’s top amateur scientist, little did anyone expect that the winning experiment would comprise one of our humblest garden pests. Ruth Brooks posed this question: Do snails have a homing instinct? The nation was gripped by the unexpected thesis and by Ruth’s online diaries, which catalogued her trials and tribulations as she got to grips with these slimy little gastropods. A Slow Passion is Ruth’s story, with anecdotes and misadventures galore. What starts out as a ruthless vendetta against the snails that are decimating her hostas becomes a journey of discovery into the whys and wherefores of snail life. When Ruth dumps a group of the worst offending snails in a far-off wood, she decides to paint their shells with nail varnish, just to see what happens. And guess what, they come back home. This is the beginning of an obsession that sees the grandmother-turned-scientist prowling about and pouncing on the snails in her garden, sneaking off on night-time missions to repatriate bucketloads of painted snails, reading up on the sex-life of snails (which turns out to be unexpectedly romantic) and, eventually, sending off the application to a national competition for home science. With charming illustrations, A Slow Passion is a sweet, funny and surprising investigation into the hidden life of snails, which will change the way you look at the smaller (and slower) things in life.

Snail

  • * Chatting to wise and witty  Elisabeth Luard, food-writer, journalist and broadcaster, whose memoir is ‘My Life as a Wife :  Love, Liquor and What to Do About the Other Women’

They met in the back offices of Private Eye. He was the proprietor, the man the press called the Emperor of Satire, who every girl in London wanted to date. She was the reluctant debutante, an art student, and the office typist. Their affair was secret, and passionate, and days at the office were followed by nights in her Pimlico flat. When things got tricky, she swapped London for Mexico. He followed and proposed. She was just twenty-one when they married.

Luard’s fascinating, witty and often brave memoir charts forty years of marriage to a man who was as cavalier and unreliable as he was charismatic and charming. Good-looking and athletic, with a keen intelligence and a deep understanding of and love for women, Nicholas Luard was also an absentee father, a philanderer, a wheeler-dealer whose numerous harebrained business schemes usually lost rather than made money, and ultimately a man whose love of the bottle was all-consuming. But while life with Nicholas was never going to be easy, it was also never going to be dull.

In My Life as a Wife, award-winning writer Elisabeth Luard tells the story of her life with this hugely glamorous and extraordinary maverick of a man. She traces their years spent together in London, Spain, France, the Hebrides and Wales, with four children, one of whom died tragically from AIDS. It is a journey littered with numerous eccentric friends and innumerable escapades, often staying just ahead of the bank, through to the grim days of her husband’s terrifying descent into alcoholism and insanity, his liver transplant and ultimately his death.

Yet this is a story of laughter and hope as well as sadness – the healing power of children, the comfort of the kitchen table, the delight of good food and the simple joy of making life work – written by a woman of spirit.

 

  • * Making a bee-line for William Sutcliffe, whose book ‘The Wall’ is one of my must-read novels for 2013. William was telling me about his trips to Israel and Palestine to research his novel, and about how he managed to keep a focus on storytelling rather than political ‘tubthumping’:
 Joshua is thirteen. He lives with his mother and step-father in Amarias, an isolated town on top of a hill, where all the houses are brand new. At the edge of Amarias is a high wall, guarded by soldiers, which can only be crossed through a heavily fortified checkpoint. Joshua has been taught that beyond the concrete is a brutal and unforgiving enemy, and that The Wall is the only thing keeping him and his people safe.
One day, looking for a lost football, Joshua stumbles across a tunnel which leads towards this forbidden territory. He knows he won’t get another opportunity to see what is beyond The Wall until he’s old enough for military service, and the chance to crawl through and solve the mystery is too tempting to resist. He’s heard plenty of stories about the other side, but nothing has prepared him for what he finds…
The Wall is a novel about a boy who undertakes a short journey to another world, to a place where everything he knows about loyalty, identity and justice is turned upside down. It is also a political fable that powerfully evokes the realities of life on the West Bank, telling the story of a Settler child who finds there are two sides to every story.
That’s just three of the amazing people in the room. And it was wall-to-wall with them!
  • I also got to catch up with some of my fellow 2013 literary debutants, as well Stephen May whose brilliant novel ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ has just been nominated for the Costa Award 2012 and meet some other fellow newbies, like Hannah Evans, whose book MOB Rule (January 2013) talks about her lessons learned as a mother of 3 boys.
  • Finally, Roshi Fernando and I plucked up the courage to go and ‘mingle’ with the very approachable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Here I am hugging on him like some kind of groupie, as we told him how we admired his work on sustainability, food integrity and eating seasonal produce and chatted about literature, France and figs.

Hugging Hugh

Last but by no means least, I had the chance to catch up in person with the lovely people at Bloomsbury involved with The Night Rainbow as well as other editors, designers, marketing, sales, PR and rights people, all of whom are working hard on all our different books with such passion and care.

I feel really privileged to be a part of this Bloomsbury family.

 

 

 

 

The High Roads and Low Roads of Scottish Fiction

Posted on: November 6th, 2012 by Claire - 10 Comments

I read with interest recently an article that said Scottish children are not being taught enough Scottish literature. A debate has now sprung up over whether or not it should be made mandatory in schools up to exam level. Personally I don’t think that’s a useful approach, but I do believe strongly that if you don’t engage with the culture of the place you live – including the literature and art as well as the local surroundings – then you are likely to feel disengaged from the place, with all the associated problems this brings to a society. Here’s an interesting essay on the subject.

I mentioned this to my Twitter friend, Scottish author Alison Bacon, and she offered to post here on the subject. I asked her if she would talk about what Scottish fiction has meant to her. What did she grow up reading, and how has that influenced her writing?

Here’s what she has to say: My early preferences were the usual suspects: – Enid Blyton (any or all) and series like Sadlers Wells  and The Chalet School,  but for a while adventure stories by Scottish author Jane Shaw were my real favourites. (Like the period feel? Collector’s items now, apparently!)

I went on to historical novels – any period, any country, including Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Renault and with them D.K. Broster’s Jacobite Trilogy And so, if we let pass that Broster wasn’t actually a Scot (!) I’d still argue that Scottish literature was always part of my reading mix. As a teenager I progressed to the miscellany of fiction with which our house was filled, popular novelists of the forties and fifties like Howard Spring, Ernest Raymond, Agatha Christie, and amongst them Scottish classics –  Kidnapped,  Catriona, The Heart of Midlothian. I can still see them lined up around the walls of the ‘front room’ although if anything nudged me towards them it was probably the good old (can we say that now?) BBC whose Sunday serials gave a pretty decent nod to RLS as well as Dumas and Dickens.

Meanwhile, school neither encouraged or discouraged us in reading ‘home-grown’ authors: Burns, Buchan, and Barrie all figured, if briefly. But in the sixties the trend was for modern (in many cases American) authors. I think I only got to the fabulously lyrical Sunset Song and the rest of A Scots Quair via the 1970s TV adaptation (which wonder of wonders, is now available on YouTube!)

To be honest, as I grew up, I don’t remember distinguishing in my mind between Scottish and other writers. Books were generally good things, any decent story would do. But I’m reminded by a member of the Facebook Support Scottish Writing group that I and an entire generation were brought up on the Sunday Post, an icon of popular culture and the prime motivator in my learning to read!

Later, married in England and burying myself in Margaret Drabble and Penelope Lively, I was brought back ‘home’ in reading terms by none other than Inspector Rebus. Never mind the plot or the body-count,I was instantly hooked by the writing ‘voice’. I still can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something in the prose that just feels right. Rankin, like Iain Banks, is from my own neck of the woods, but I find that other Scots writers have the same effect, particularly poet and novelist Moira Forsyth whose dialogue has a ring of authenticity that is instantly satisfying. There are still more gaps in my Scottish reading than I will ever have time to fill, but I’ve recently added James Robertson and Janice Galloway to my favourites as well as Scottish indie authors like Catherine Czerkawska and  Chris Longmuir  all of whom to satisfy that need to hear the ‘guid Scots tongue’.

Going on to writing,  I’m inevitably influenced (no iconoclast me!) by the books I have read, including all of the above. But I don’t consciously ape any writer either. So is my writing style ‘Scottish’? I’m not sure I could answer that for myself! Nor do I feel that Scottish writers have particularly influenced what I choose to write about. My first novel (unpublished) was set in Oxford and France. But a trip to Scotland in 2007 (our first for many years) prompted a strong feeling of homecoming, and maybe even a sense of guilt at having gradually let the idioms and rhythms of speech slip from my conscious memory. And so A Kettle of Fish became, literally, a nostalgia trip, not in the sense of a memoir (I hasten to add!) but I think I used Ailsa’s story not so much to rediscover my roots as to repair my memories of them. Does that make sense?

From my point of view, the experiment worked, because I feel I know Fife better now than I did when I started the novel.I just have to hope that it works for my readers too. I’m afraid I’ve shied away from what is maybe the crucial question of what makes a Scottish writer. Scottish blood? Living in Scotland? Writing about Scotland? Any or all of these will play a part. As an exiled Scot with a desire to write, I’m not sure that I would have put myself in that group before I started Kettle. But it feels like I’m part of it now

 About Ali and her Writing  Ali Bacon was born in Dunfermline in Scotland and graduated from St Andrews University. She now lives near Bristol. Her writing has been published in Scribble, The Yellow Room and a number of online magazines. She was shortlisted for the A&C Black First Novel Competition 2006. Her first published novel is A Kettle of Fish.

Website and blog: http://alibacon.com

A Kettle of Fish  is a rollercoaster family drama set in Scotland and published by Thornberry Publishing Buy it from Amazon UK (£1.99) or Amazon USA in Kindle format. You can ‘Look Inside’ to read a sample.

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/AKettleOfFish Print edition coming soon.

Just like a movie

Posted on: November 3rd, 2012 by Claire - 4 Comments

Something that struck me this week, watching the response to the disastrous weather in the USA, was how the phrase “Just like a movie” was used again and again.

It’s the same reaction we heard from witnesses of 9-11. “It was like something out of a disaster film”. I understand how that feels – I watched those events unfold on a TV on another continent, but I also felt it hard to grasp that this was news footage and not fantasy.

There is human suffering – natural and man-made –  happening all over the world, right now. There is genocide in Sri Lanka and Syria, there are devastating floods in Thailand and Pakistan, there are earthquakes and famines and civil wars. But these terrible events are not set in landscapes that we have seen in Hollywood films. So they don’t look like the movies. And I wonder if we find them harder to understand, in some way, because of that? Because it’s a story we haven’t heard?

Pakistan floods: Families stilll lack shelter, three months on

Storytelling is so important to human beings. We tell each other scenarios – real or imagined – and show characters who suffer, but who overcome adversity in the end. And our brains absorb these stories almost as though we have lived the experience itself. We learn, without having had to suffer.

Stories are told in many ways, in written fiction, in art and on film. We project our fears and hopes into these stories. And although, thinking of the disasters I mentioned above, Hollywood hasn’t always got it covered, you don’t have to look far to find written stories about these kinds of events. The best selling book in the world chronicles them all.

Do we feel comfort that something we experience is so terrible that it is just like in a movie or in a book? Perhaps. Because the day we are confronted with something that we have not yet been able to imagine will be a terrible day indeed.

Archives

Feeds