Monday, 31 December 2012

My Writing Year 2012

I thought I'd do a quick blog post as to my literary achievements during 2012.

I completed one novel begun at the tail end of 2011, a crime pulp noir titled "Church of Wire", and have begun and am halfway through a new novel, "Body And Soul." This one is a far future SF/F book.

I wrote thirteen short stories this year: "Drowning In Air", "The Evening Of The Mule", "The Stench Of Winter", "The Universe At Gun Point", "Dumb Broad", "My Naked Man", "The Abduction Of Europe", "The Perfection Of Symmetry", "Tetsudo Fan", "The Aniseed Gumball Kid", "The Last Mohican", "Beyond The Island Of The Dolls" and "Rain From A Clear Blue Sky". I do like my titles!

I sold five short stories: "The Quickening" to Shadows & Tall Trees, "The Universe At Gun Point" to The First Book Of Classical Horror, "The Perfection Of Symmetry" to Chiral Mad, "Tetsudo Fan" to the Rustblind & Silverbright anthology from Eibonvale Press, and "Drowning In Air" to an anthology I cannot name til next year.

The following six short stories appeared in print this year: "Dizzy Land" in Black Static #26, "Monster Girl" in The Monster Book For Girls, "The Human Map" in Where Are We Going? (Eibonvale Press), "Things That Are Here Now, Things That Were There Then" in Dark Currents (NewCon Press), "The Universe At Gun Point" in The First Book Of Classical Horror, and "The Perfection Of Symmetry" in Chiral Mad.

I have a handful of stories awaiting publication that were accepted in 2011, a novella, short story collection, and two novels under consideration, and a collaborative story collection awaiting publication.



Not bad considering this little one was born midway through the year, and also that I work full-time Monday to Friday, work part-time alternate Sundays, freelance typeset and proofread often in the evenings, and have been co-editor with Fur-Lined Ghettos. Not often I blow my own trumpet, but it is the start of a New Year and should be heralded as such!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Best and Worst of 2012

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists. As if the start to a New Year really is a magical time of ending and beginning rather than a human tradition defined by numbers which has no bearing on the real world. Yet, if there is a time to do it, I guess it should be now. I know I'm a little early, but it's the end of the world on Friday! I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2012 and pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2012, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.

Books:

I read the following in 2012:

Charles Bukowski - The Pleasures of the Damned
Christopher Priest - Indoctrinaire
Graham Joyce - The Storm Watcher
Joe Gores - Hammett
Art From Art - short story anthology
Jim Thompson - The Getaway
John Hartley Williams - Mystery In Spiderville
Italo Calvino - The Path to the Spiders Nest
Iain Banks - The Business
Thom Gunn - The Pugilist at Rest
Joel Lane - Black Country
Raymond Chandler - Pearls Are A Nuisance
Anthony Burgess - A Clockwork Orange
Douglas Thompson - Apoidea
Paul Auster - New York Trilogy
Neil Hannan - Shenanigans
Angela Carter - The Magic Toyshop
David Guterson - Snow Falling On Cedars
Graham Joyce - The Facts of Life
The New And Perfect Man - PS Publishing anthology
Chris Bacheldor - Bear v Shark
James M Cain - Serenade
Joel Lane - The Lost District
Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles
Derek Raymond - A State of Denmark
Kenzaburo Oe - The Silent Cry
Jean Genet - The Thief's Journal
Steve Savile - Houdini's Last Illusion
The Breast of Russ Meyer - film biography


Some interesting stuff there I hope you agree. By far the worst was "The Magic Toyshop" which I found a real struggle and totally uninteresting. Other books dragged a bit: both "The Silent Cry" and "The Thief's Journal" took ages to plough through despite the quality of the work. Some books I have no idea why I hadn't read them before: "A Clockwork Orange" springs to mind. I've had that on my shelf for over twenty years!

These are my top three in reverse order:

"The Pleasures of the Damned" by Charles Bukowski


My partner introduced me to his work a few years ago and I find his prose incredibly succinct, pertinent, sometimes breathtaking, and totally honest. He edges out "The Facts of Life" to be included in my final three.

"The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury


I have very strong memories of the TV series inspired by this book in the 1980s. Whilst some of the stories were therefore familiar, there was a 'futuristic nostalgia' that deeply connected me to this book.

And the winner is...

"The New York Trilogy" by Paul Auster



I get the impression Auster is an acquired taste - a writer's writer - judging from some adverse response by my partner and an old friend; but I absolutely adored this book. It contains just the kind of enigma and wordplay that I love and works everything together so well that it can't be beaten. I can't wait to read some his other work that's already bought and paid for and waiting on my shelves. There's a real 'literary excitement' to be had reading his work.

Finally, in this category, I also freelance proofread and haven't listed any of the books I've worked on as part of my reading list which would add another ten or so titles. However, special mention must be given to both "Pantomime" by Laura Lam and especially "The Mad Scientist's Daughter" by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I loved them both, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them when they're published in 2013.





Movies:
I watched the following in 2012:

Source Code
Antichrist
Norwegian Wood
Black Swan
Monkey Business
Alice (Jan Svankmajer)
Submarine
Casablanca
The Time Machine
Attack the Block
Bunny and the Bull
Howl
Brighton Rock
Biutiful
The Skin I Live In
The Secret in their Eyes
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Tyrannosaur
The Science of Sleep
A Prophet
La Haine
Melancholia
Super
Potiche
The Orphanage
King Kong (1933)
Beautiful Lies
American Beauty
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
The White Ribbon
Death Proof
Little Miss Sunshine
The Hangover Part II
Restless
The Rum Diary
Snowtown
Into the Wild
The Awakening
Control
The Getaway
Julia's Eyes
American Psycho
The Darjeeling Limited 
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Les Enfants du Paradis
Dead Ringers
Brief Encounter
On Stranger Tides
Incendies
Juno
Trainspotting  
La Belle et Le Bete
Vivre Sa Vie
Midnight in Paris
Kill List
Animal Kingdom
Shame 
Made in USA
And Soon the Darkness
Oldboy
Thirst
Bonnie and Clyde
Lola Montes
Young Adult 
Fantastic Mr Fox
Jules et Jim
The Woman on the Fifth
The Descendants
Happiness
Pulp Fiction
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Kid on a Bike
Silent House
L.A Confidential
Delicacy
Series of Unfortunate Events
Margaret
The Artist
My Neighbour Totoro
Tomboy
Scream
REC
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Kick Ass
The Hunter
Amelie
Rebel without a Cause
Cosmopolis
Leon
Devil
Electrik Children
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Groundhog Day

God there are some good titles on that list. Narrowing it down to three is going to be almost impossible! I think I'll list the handful which need to be avoided at all costs: "Super": even Ellen Page can't save this sub-'Kick Ass' superzero movie; "The Hangover Part II": remember why part one was so good? So did the moviemakers so they served it up identical. As funny as leftovers; "Black Swan": ok, so technically a good film, but I swore for about twenty minutes afterwards at the ridiculously contrived and yet obvious ending. It really wasn't worth the ride; "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger": Woody Allen on an off day.

Favourites would include "Norwegian Wood": a great adaptation of the Murakami novel; "Midnight In Paris": Woody Allen on a very good day; "Biutiful": stellar performances and a heartbreaking ending; "American Beauty": why haven't I seen this before? Another ace Kevin Spacey movie; "Snowtown": devastating.

Some of the above I've seen before, such as "Pulp Fiction", "Vivre Sa Vie", "Juno", "Jules et Jim" etc. So whilst I love them I'm not going to include them in my final three. In reverse order, here are my top movies watched in 2012:

"Death Proof" - Quentin Tarantino




This narrowly edges out Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In", but ultimately I have to go with the absolute blazing fun of this movie. The audacity to end the first half as it does after painstakingly creating those characters is a cinematic joy, and overall it's "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" vibe greatly endears me.

"Midnight In Paris" - Woody Allen



I wasn't going to include this as I'd already mentioned it above, but looking through the titles again it's obvious it needs to be here. Perhaps because it seems so effortless I wasn't sure about it making this position, then I realised it was precisely because it seemed so effortless that indicated its brilliance. An essential movie for writers who understand that wish-fulfilment is attainable and not pure fantasy.

And the winner is...

"Melancholia" and "Antichrist" - Lars Von Trier




Well, that should read "and the winners are..." Truth is, I just can't choose between these two wonderful movies. On the one hand, the utterly believable darkness of "Antichrist" is a perfect study in desolation, but then the meandering endearing "Melancholia" is just as beautiful an examination of the psyche. The talking fox in "Antichrist" almost swung it for me, but "Melancholia" is such a gorgeous complex piece of art that it deserves the joint position. Either way, Lars Von Trier is making some incredible movies that entertain, entrance, and puzzle. I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work.

And as for 2013? I'm crap at predictions, although I'm hoping "Django Unchained" will be worth 2 hours 45 minutes of my life.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Love Songs

Over the last year I read two books by the French writer Jean Genet. In some ways they are fascinating works about criminals and homosexuality, but having no direct experience of either I've also found them a bit of a struggle. "Our Lady of the Flowers" was an almost stream of consciousness narrative of masturbational fantasies, and "The Thief's Journal" - which seems more autobiographical - also slid from one story into another without much of a linear plot. Just as something seemed to be actually happening, it felt like Genet got distracted and we followed his mind elsewhere. Nevertheless, they are an important part of French literature, and subsequently googling Genet I came across this short movie he made in 1950 which is very Cocteau-like in it's b&w imagery. For me, this is a far more accessible introduction to Genet, and I suggest you watch it (beware, there is some sexual imagery that is not for non-adult viewers). I found it a fascinating allegory (and whilst I'm not sure if the musical score was added subsequently I felt it perfectly suited the images). It's titled "Un Chant d'Amour" (Love Song).




On an otherwise unrelated note, but with serendipity bringing the two elements of this blog together, I saw The Damned in concert last week. I've always had a bit of a love/frustrate relationship with their music, although "The Black Album" is probably one of my favourite records. The gig was excellent in many ways, yet despite their musicianship they always sound like a band falling downstairs (not a bad thing). Like Genet, there's some self-indulgence to their work; yet for me the energy can be incapsulated in one of my favourites songs. The one I have to leap around to like a 15yr old idiot (the more observant might glimpse my bobbing bald head). And, coincidentally, it is "Love Song".


Monday, 26 November 2012

American Paddlefish

I remember reading in surrealist Spanish film director Luis Bunuel's autobiography, "My Last Breath", that whenever a film needed something extra Bunuel would chuck in a dream sequence. I follow a similar line with this blog, although when I get stuck I throw in a long-snouted animal. Some of these animals are the stuff of dreams and nightmares in any event.

Today's special is the American Paddlefish. The paddlefish takes its common and scientific names (Polyodon spathula) from its distinctive snout which is greatly elongated and flattened into a paddle shape. It has a pretty cool mouth as well:


Apparently it's in decline but I suggest we start a campaign to ensure it's longevity. I mean, just look at the length of that snout!


Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Perfection of Symmetry

I've decided to write a blog post each time I have something published in order to say a few words about the genesis of the story. In this instance, the story is "The Perfection of Symmetry", recently published in the charity anthology, Chiral Mad.


I'd seen the guidelines for the anthology online and so in this instance my story was written specifically for the book, with the hope that the editor would find it met their requirements. Sometimes a theme can straightjacket a story, sometimes it makes it fly with inspiration. In this instance, it was actually quite tricky getting my head around the anthology's concept. Each story had to be connected with the subject of chiralty. What is chiralty? Here's wikipedia's take on it:

An object or a system is chiral if it is not identical to its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superposed onto it. A chiral object and its mirror image are called enantiomorphs (Greek opposite forms) or, when referring to molecules, enantiomers. A non-chiral object is called achiral (sometimes also amphichiral) and can be superposed on its mirror image. The term was first used by Lord Kelvin in an address in 1904. In a lecture given in Johns Hopkins University on "Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light" he stated:
I call any geometrical figure, or group of points, 'chiral', and say that it has chirality if its image in a plane mirror, ideally realized, cannot be brought to coincide with itself
So, that's clear. Right? Well, it took me a while too. Anyway, I decided to think around the concept of symmetry, and coincidentally this story was running at the time.


Florence Colgate apparently has the world's most symmetrical face, but "not only is the 18-year-old's visage perfectly symmetrical, but she has the 'optimum ratio' between her mouth, eyes, chin, and forehead." It crossed my mind that what if someone not only had the most perfectly symmetrical face, but if they also had a perfectly symmetrical body? What if that person became a model? What would happen to that person - because this is a horror anthology, remember - if some aspect of their body then became asymmetrical?

From that moment, the story 'wrote itself'. My character, Vermillion Chandler, is 100% symmetrical and her entire career depends on that remaining so. Naturally, she gets a little paranoid, and eventually - without giving away too many spoilers - she tips over the edge when it appears that perfection has become flawed. As well as a horror story, it also works in some themes about our culture's obsessions with 'perfection', the nature of celebrity, and what it is to be an individual.

Chiral Mad contains some great authors (including Jack Ketchum, Gary A Braunbeck, Gary McMahon, Ian Shoebridge, John Palisano and many others), and all profits from this book go to Downs syndrome charities. I'd suggest buying a copy, now.

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was going to make a post about a recent short story I've written, but I've run out of time this week. Here's a ten question filler which is doing the blog rounds at the moment. I was tagged by Gary Fry:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Body and Soul - a novel. Although this is what I'm currently writing. I also have submissions out at the moment for a novella (The Greens), a collection of short stories (The Human Map), and two crime novels (The Immortalists and Church of Wire) Plus I have a joint collection of short stories written with Allen Ashley for publication by Screaming Dreams sometime in 2013 (Slow Motion Wars). So 'next' book could be any one of these.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

There's a central premise in the novel which came to me during my partner's recent pregnancy. I can't say more without it being a spoiler, but that's where the idea came from.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It will be an SF/F kind of book - far future but grounded in a recognisable reality.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
It's not something I've given any thought to. I'm not that far enough into the book for firm characters to have developed.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the far future humanity has evolved in a more humane fashion - but the past is about to catch up with them.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have no idea, as it's not completed yet and I haven't started the process of submitting it.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?


Currently I've written 16,000 words in three weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Soft science fiction - maybe some Bradbury and Dick in there, but essentially me.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See question 2 above. I had the idea and the idea was the inspiration. Most of my work is in short stories, but I knew this was a novel idea (ha ha) and decided to make time to write it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It's a multi-genre book - some SF, some fantasy, and essentially some horror although not as outre as it might appear on the surface. Hopefully it'll be a quintissentially slipstream mass market novel (if such a thing exists!)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Autumnal Happenings

I love this time of the year, when the leaves go all colourful and we get pristine blue skies and cool mornings. Recently we spent a long weekend in the Peak District - one of my favourite places in the UK - and whilst the blue skies stayed away we still had a good time. There's always something new to see there, and this giant 'plughole' in the Lady Bower reservoir took my breath away. I really wanted to descend into its depths!


Images such as this can often provide ideas for stories. I've written a new short this month which was inspired by Las Isla de las Munecas in Mexico. I won't go into the details of either the story or the island (there's plenty of articles on the internet to google if you're interested), but here's one of the more interesting photos which influenced my story:


Speaking of stories, I've recently had a short published in "Chiral Mad", titled "The Perfection of Symmetry". The concept of chiralty is something else you should google, because I would make a hamfisted attempt at getting my head around it (although I might make a more detailed blog post about how my story came about sometime later this week). In any event, the book is a beautiful product, and contains stories by Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Gary McMahon, Ian Shoebridge and many many others. And apart from it being a good looking anthology it also deserves your support because all proceeds go to Downs Syndrome charities. You can buy it here.
 

Hopefully the book will garner some good reviews. And speaking of reviews, my 2011 short story collection, "Nitrospective", has been recently reviewed over at the Dundee University Review of the Arts. All reviews are subjective, of course, and this one is a bit mixed. However I can't complain at "The slant towards existentialist themes, suggest a more contemporary re-telling of the ideals of Camus or Sartre." Not bad for a genre anthology!

 And finally, I was pleased to be one of the guests at the inaugral Horror In The East event in Lowestoft last Saturday. It was a small, one day convention, and for a while it seemed that the number of guest authors might be greater than the number of attendees; but ultimately it was quality not quantity which prevailed, and those who did attend were the interested book-buying crowd that all authors dream of. It was also the chance to chat to Conrad Williams and Joseph D'Lacey who I haven't seen for a while, as well as the others who I hadn't met before. David Moody proved fascinating about his experiences in self-publishing and publishing, and the panel I sat on titled "What Is Horror?" gave some eclectic answers to that question. The motley crew of attending authors is below (photo courtesy of Adam Millard).

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

To e Or Not To e: The Paper VS E-Book Debate

I've slipped blogging for a few weeks due to novel writing, freelance proofreading and typesetting, short story writing, family stuff, and the day job, but it's time for me to air a few views (and also promote some of my stuff) on the e-book versus paper book argument.

As I type this I realise the importance of the 'versus'. Of course, it doesn't have to be one or the other. There doesn't have to be a winner. And I guess it comes down to personal preference. For me, there's nothing quite like having a physical book in my hands or seeing the range of books (both read and unread) on my shelves. Imagine walking into a bookstore which is simply a row of PC's where you plug in a device to make a purchase. No thank you. This doesn't make me a luddite, but it does raise questions in my mind as to how books are viewed as objects when they are just pixels on a screen. Do they have the same worth?

I'm raising the question now, as the publishers of my 2009 novella, "And God Created Zombies", have now made it available on Amazon's Kindle (at an initial price of only £1.53). BUY IT NOW!



For a publisher, it's easy money of course. Very little work has to be done to convert print-ready text to an e-book version. Nowadays books begin life as a digital file in any event. It's also a useful way to keep books available once they're 'out of print'. As another example, when I ran Elastic Press we published the award winning collection of short stories, "The Turing Test", by Chris Beckett. Winning an award made an immense difference to sales, and a few months ago the author uploaded a version to Kindle which is selling a steady amount of extra copies a month. All money in the bank. BUY IT NOW!



Yet, as I said above, I do wonder what value is placed on books that you can't physically see. And the obvious parallel here is with music. When I started buying music from age 11 upwards back in the 70s the choice was either vinyl or cassette. Vinyl was dominant, of course, and I retain a large collection of albums which - to be honest - I can no longer play! However, I cherished that music: ensured I played the tracks in the order they were meant to be played, and enjoyed reading the lyrics and inner sleeve notes. There were always subtle differences to both sides of the record. The final track on both sides, being a closer to that side, were selected to be played in that order accordingly. CDs changed this, of course, as there is only one side to a disc. MP3s have changed it totally. My 13yr old daughter has but a handful of CD's. Most of the music she listens to is on YouTube. She has rarely listened to an album all the way through - rarely savoured an album all the way through. It feels to me that music has been taken out of context (certainly out of my context), and I'm sure the same will happen to books, such as my 2010 novella, "Ponthe Oldenguine. BUY IT NOW!


Unlimited access to music or books - particularly where a physical product isn't involved and often where it might be free or heavily discounted - surely undermines the value attributed by the owner to the product? I can't argue that if someone would buy an e-book but wouldn't buy a physical book then that is anything but a good thing. I understand how people have said they can downsize their property because all their books are now on one electronic item. I get it. But isn't it just better to hold a physical book, better to turn pages, better to get an indication of where you are in the book as you move from front to back, better even, to drop a physical book accidentally in the bath. Aren't they just better? Aren't they?

Well, as I said at the start of the blog, I guess the main thing is that there isn't necessarily a "versus". Recent reports have indicated that whilst e-book sales are soaring (up 188%), physical book sales have been unaffected. For publishers and writers - should this trend remain - it can only be a win/win situation. And I suppose if some e-book devotees are happily putting all their previously phyiscal books into second-hand and charity shops, then that's win/win for us hard core paper devotees too.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Nothing Remarkable

What do we want to achieve when we create something artistic? I'm just starting to write a new novel and I have a vision of where I want it to go, who I want to market it to, and a desperate hope that I might actually make some money from it. But apart from all that, what I really want is to do justice to the original idea. The idea is key: it's the portal to creativity. And if I finish the novel - and even sell it - without having satisfied myself that I've done the best that I can, then I will have failed - no matter how critically or commercially successful or unsuccesful it might be.

This begs the question: why does so much mediocre work exist? Whether it's fiction, movies, music, or art. None of its creators begins with that intention, with that goal in mind, I'm sure of that.

Of course, appreciation of any art is subjective, but I thought I'd share a couple of recent examples where the words "Nothing Remarkable" - about as damning as "Competent" when it comes to Art - could be applied from my own humble opinion.

First up, I'm sorry to say, is the new album from ex-Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell.


As has probably been evident from a few of these posts, I'm an old punk and have always been a Stranglers fan. Importantly, I don't blame Hugh Cornwell for leaving the band when he did (others think otherwise). Both sides have gone on to produce some great albums (The Stranglers with "In The Night" and "Suite XVI" and Hugh with "Guilty" and "Hooverdam" for example). But the latest album from Hugh, despite a few interesting songs, is just...well...just another album. The music is inadventurous (rather plodding, unlike "Philip K Ridiculous" or "Irate Caterpillar" for example), the lyrical wordplay so pleasing from solo songs such as "Within You Or Without You" is largely lacking, and the middle section of the album ("Bad Vibrations", "God Is A Woman", and "Love Me Slender") is void of new ideas and/or is clumsy musically, lyrically and vocally. There are some good tracks: "I Want One Of Those" is a deadpan account of consumer culture, and the closer "In The Dead of Night" at least exhibits some creative lyrics ('a swarm of blinded men take turns to photograph their plight in the dead of night'). Yet overall, it's nothing remarkable. And certainly that song isn't the long classic album closure similar to The Stranglers' "Down In The Sewer" or "Too Precious" as some reviews have intimated. The style and tone are a little 60s garage in style, and it's difficult to believe any new fans will created from this work.


I'm sure this isn't a reaction Hugh would have wanted. I give it a grudging 3/5. Neither a positive or a negative. (Just to address the balance, I would also give the most recent Stranglers album - "Giants" - 3/5 for exactly the same reasons whereas for both artists' albums immediately preceding the current one I'd give 5/5). I hope it doesn't disappoint him.

Now, onto a movie. I watched "Margaret" recently. An obviously art-house style film which charts a teenager's descent into banality chaos following her inadvertently causing the death of a woman in a bus accident (she is running beside the bus, distracting the driver, at the time of the accident). The movie is 150 minutes long (180 if you're unfortunate enough to be watching the extended cut, as we were), and, for the most part, is utterly uninteresting.


All the elements of a good social drama are there: absent father, mostly absent mother, annoying teenager on the cusp of everything, death, morality, cause and effect, guilt, but despite it's obvious attempts to be high-brow there is nothing which grabs the viewer by the throat and demands our attention. Yet, simultaneously, I kept watching. For the entire three hours. Now, some movies make you cheer at the end, others make you swear, but when this finished my first thought was "Oh, now we can finally go to bed then." Not the best reaction to a piece of art in my opinion. It was - quite simply - nothing remarkable.


Maybe the problem was with dialogue. If Lisa (note, the main character is not Margaret - watch the film to find out why it's called thus) was a bit more sympathetic, or even empathetic - it would help, but so would have the writer not giving the character ridiculous non-17yr old sentences to spew. Despite it's obvious desire to anchor in our reality, her dialogue rarely did any such thing. It was all so New York upper middle class. Even her descent into 'depravity' was middle class - a little bit of drugs, some swearing, losing her virginity to a bozo and then also having sex with a teacher, having an abortion. It was so mundane it made me want to...well, do nothing: not shout, cry, get excited, annoyed. Just...well...bleurgh. I'm positive this was not the writer's intention: but something obviously went wrong during the execution of the creative process. Others will disagree.

Banality, then. How can it be avoided? Is it an issue with the original idea, the execution, or the reception? Of course, I can't pretend I knock out perfect fiction everytime I write. And views on my work are just as subjective as with anything else. But - dear god - please never let me be bland. I crave some kind of reaction. Although - I suppose - even at the bottom line - "Nothing Remarkable" is better than nothing at all.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Desman

Started writing a new novel this week and have been snowed under with other stuff, so this is one of those 'filler' postings about my favourite creatures: those with elongated snouts.

But what a find this is!


The Russian Desman - described as having a body like a muskrat, a nose like a hedgehog, and feet like a duck-billed platypus (which in itself is an amalgamation!). Not only do I WANT one of these, I want to BE one of these!

There's an excellent article about them here

Bit of a spoiler for that article, but I have to post another one of their pics from that site. Just look at the length of that snout!




Wednesday, 19 September 2012

55 Reading Questions


I came across these questions over at Little Words and thought I'd have a go. I've linked all books mentioned to Goodreads.

1. Favourite childhood book?

The first novel I read was Five On A Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. It certainly got me into reading - even now I can remember sitting on my bed and looking at the cover for the first time - so I would say it's my favourite even though I haven't revisited it.

2. What are you reading right now?

A State Of Denmark by Derek Raymond and The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

None.

4. Bad book habit?

I can't stop buying books! I have about 250 to read not including the titles my girlfriend owns that I should also be reading.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Nothing. Even though I work at my local library on alternate Sundays (the busiest UK library in fact: The Millennium Library in Norwich) I prefer to own the books that I read.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

No. I prefer the physicality of an actual book in my hands.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I usually read two books at once. One at home, and one when I get the opportunity at work. I do this because if I only read one book I'd forget to take it to work or I'd forget to take it home again. Two books at once make more sense.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

As I don't blog specifically about each book then no. I do also review at Goodreads, but this doesn't affect my book selection.

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?

Checking on Goodreads there's a couple of books I've given just two stars to this year. Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop which bored me thoroughly and Iain Banks' The Business which was below par and unengaging.

10. Favourite book you've read this year?

Again, according to Goodreads, I've awarded maximum stars to The Pleasures Of The Damned by Charles Bukowski and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

I'm not sure if I have a comfort zone, but I'm unlikely to read a straightforward romance novel or a hefty fantasy trilogy

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Anything that engages the mind as well as being a pure good read. Currently I've been reading more pulp crime than anything else.

13. Can you read on the bus?

I could if I took the bus, but I cycle to work and don't read on my bike.

14. Favourite place to read?

In bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I'll lend my books to my girlfriend because I know she'll take care of them. I've lent books to friends before and haven't got them back.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Never!

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Never!

18. Not even with text books?

I might have done that in the past, but I haven't used textbooks for a while now. Having said that, if I did need to mark a page I think I would use a coloured sticky note which can be detached without damaging the book.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

English. Although I wish I could read French.

20. What makes you love a book?

Some kind of connection with a character that identifies me with the book.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

If I think the person I'm recommending it to will enjoy it. Sounds like a daft answer, but different books will appeal to different people. For example, I recently recommended a book to a fellow writer not because I particularly liked it but because I thought he might appreciate it (even if he might also not like it).

22. Favourite genre?

This is a tricky one to answer - I guess I prefer literary fiction - even if that fiction also happens to be SF or crime or some other genre.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?

I'm content with everything that I read.

24. Favourite biography?

I'm going to include autobiography and have My Last Breath by Luis Bunuel

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

I read Dreamweaver for Dummies if that counts, although I worked out most of what I needed to know from the programme itself.

26. Favourite cookbook?

This would be 500 Indian Recipes that I bought recently. I now make a fantastic sweet and sour balti chicken curry.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year?

Inspirational isn't a word I think of with regards to fiction, so the above cookbook would take the prize as I can now cook Indian food easily.

28. Favourite reading snack?

I don't like eating when reading in case I mess up the pages with greasy fingers.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

I'd so heard many good things about The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, but whilst the concept of the book was great I think it's dated over the passage of time. I'm not one for remakes of anything, but in this instance I think the book should be remade for modern readers.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

I don't read that many reviews of books, although when it comes to genre work I generally find I agree with Pete Tennant who reviews for Black Static magazine

31. How do you feel about giving bad or negative reviews?

I feel you have to be honest about what you're reviewing because the integrity of all your reviews depends on you being consistent in your approach. What I try and do is balance the review with the things which worked well with those that didn't. Or - if nothing worked - explain why it didn't work for me. It's just a personal opinion, after all.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, what language would you choose?

Oh - I see I answered this above. French.

33. Most intimidating book you ever read?

Intimidating is an odd word. I can't think of a suitable response.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?

Again, not sure about intimidating. For me it wouldn't be subject matter, but as I prefer shorter novels then anything over 400 pages is going to put me off even if I like the author; but I will read it eventually.

35. Favourite poet?

I've recently been introduced to the work of Charles Bukowski and have to say he's my new favourite poet. Not that I normally read any poetry, even though I assist with Fur-Lined Ghettos magazine

36. How many books do you have checked out of the library at any given time?

None - as stated above, I prefer to own the books I read.

37. How often have you returned books to the library unread?

Never. I'd have to get them out first.

38. Favourite fictional character?

Humbert Humbert from Lolita and Alobar from Jitterbug Perfume

39. Favourite fictional villain?

Well, you could make a case for Lolita from Lolita being the villain of the piece.

40. Books you're most likely to bring on vacation?

I choose my books at random so it could be anything. All my unread books are numbered and when I finish one my girlfriend selects a number for another without sight of the list

41. The longest I've gone without reading.

It's probably been a few weeks, although I've been reading steadily now for the past few years so can't recall when that would have been.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

I rarely give up on a book, but did so with The History of Danish Dreams by Peter Hoeg, even though I loved Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow. And also something by Robert Graves that I can no longer remember the title of.

43. What distracts you when you're reading.

My girlfriend.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

I really enjoyed the film Norwegian Wood from the Haruki Murakami novel of the same name.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

The film of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife which trashed the book and changed the ending. I'm afraid I was rather vocal in the cinema.

46. The most money I've ever spent in a bookstore at one time.

Probably around £30. Probably at the Astley Book Farm.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it.

Only the blurb and interior reviews and maybe an introduction if it's not a spoiler. Never the actual text.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?

It's very rare, but boredom. Also I stopped reading a Simone de Beauvoir novel when I realised pages were missing and others were duplicated in the edition I had.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?

Since my girlfriend moved in with me all my books are on the shelf author alphabetical chronological.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?

I always keep books. They establish my identity.

51. Are there any books you've been avoiding?

If I don't think I like a book I won't buy it. There might be some on my shelves I've had for a while which I might not have chosen to pick up next , but that situation is changing now I have the random selection procedure established as mentioned above. Now I have to read whatever book is chosen for me.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

I think I'd find it hard to get angry about a book. A friend got so angry at the ending of Paul Auster's Oracle Night that he threw it against the wall. Then he lent it to me and I loved it.

53. A book you didn't expect to like, but did?

The previously mentioned Time Traveller's Wife. I thought it would be a 'woman's read' but it grabbed me from start to finish.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?

I'm a great fan of Tom Robbins but wasn't keen on Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas. I think he phoned that one in.

55. Favourite guilt-free pleasure reading?

Pulp crime fiction - short, direct, great prose, and an easy read.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Proof That There Is A Dog

I'm a big fan of coincidence. Coincidence implies that there might be some interconnectedness to the universe. It doesn't imply there's any meaning, of course. That would be silly. But sometimes coincidence can wrap around you and surprise you and take your breath away.

Some coincidences can be easily explained. You see a word you never heard of before: suddenly that word is everywhere. All that's happened, of course, is that you have become attuned to seeing that word. It was always there, you just weren't seeing it.

Other coincidences are visual. Again, given the limitless permutations of reality it's hardly surprising these things can happen. A little more surprising is that somewhere is there to take the photograph, but even so, as I firmly believe, anything is possible given time. So whilst these are coincidences, they can be easily explained away.



With other coincidences, there isn't an easy explanation. Here's something that happened recently: at home we have a way of reading our massive collection of books whereby there is a numbered list on the PC and when one book is read another number is selected at random. The other day I picked a number for Sophie and as a result she began reading E M Forster's "A Room With A View". So far, so good.

The following day I happened to be browsing Smashwords after seeing that someone I knew had uploaded a book they had written to the site. Whilst I was there I searched for crime novels - not to buy anything, but because I've written a couple and I've been looking for publishers. I bookmarked one crime e-book publisher to check out once I've exhausted the print options, but then happened to see the name Craig Forgrave. The name rang a bell with me. But I couldn't place it. I clicked on his profile and the picture also seemed familiar, but again I couldn't pinpoint why. It was quite a distinctive photo.



Anyway, I forgot all about it. Later the same day Sophie told me she was giving up on the E M Forster book. It just wasn't grabbing her. Fair enough. I took the book off her hands and went downstairs where I placed it back on the shelves. Our books are all shelved author alphabetical, and - you've guessed it by now - I slotted it back into it's position immediately to the right of this book:



Let's just examine what had to happen for this coincidence to occur. Of course, I could start with every event since my birth (and indeed, before it), but perhaps the obvious place to start would be the publication of my 2004 novel Moon Beaver by ENC Press. ENC Press also published Devil Jazz, which is why I have this - probably obscure - book on my shelf. Next, let's fast forward to Sophie moving in last year and deciding to put all our books in alphabetical order. Then let's remember that E M Forster's "A Room With A View" was chosen from a list of around 350 books at random. I'll remind you that the following day I came across Craig's name on a site I have never previously visited. Then, perhaps most importantly, the fact that Sophie gave up on reading "A Room With A View" and so I had to replace it next to the Forgrave on the same day. That's some coincidence!

Then I get to wondering, maybe it isn't a coincidence. Maybe I've created the world that I live within and therefore there are only a finite number of possibilities for events to happen - those that are limited within the extent of my imagination. I've written a short story recently - "The Aniseed Gumball Kid" - where the main character muses in a similar vein; for example, why does every office always contain the same mix of similar looking people with similar interests? And in my novel, "And God Created Zombies", the main protagonist is thrust directly into a world which he seems to have the key to.

Ultimately, whenever a cool coincidence occurs I think to myself: 'maybe this proves there is a dog after all'. I'm not religious in any sense to believe there might be a god. But a dog, well, that could just about be possible.

Meantime, let's embrace coincidence. That usually happy set of circumstances which make life worth living for the sheer joy of happenstance.


Friday, 7 September 2012

Diet!

This week - from Tuesday through to Thursday - I'm planning on losing a little weight. I'm going to write this blog over the next three days as I go but will only post it on Friday morning, so if you're reading this you'll know the result before I do (of course, that doesn't quite work, but I like the sound of it).

So, why the weight loss? I'm reasonably fit, I cycle 6 miles a day to and from work, and I currently weigh 12st. But anything over 11 and a half stone always makes me feel uncomfortable - the clothes don't quite fit right, my belly extends like a starving child, and if I'm not careful I have the feeling I might end up like this:


I'm following a diet which I've used before - a handful of times over the past ten years - which could mean I lose 10lb by the end of the three days. It's known as the British Heart Foundation diet, but it's not endorsed by them and its origin seems unknown. There are also warnings on the internet about it, because essentially I'll be having no more than 700 calories a day. However, it works. Or at least, it has worked for me, and even to do it just this week should hopefully bring my weight down to a more comfortable level.

So, here we go. Weigh in Monday night was dead on 12st. Breakfast Tuesday morning:

Black tea
½ Grapefruit
1 slice of toast (no butter/margarine)
Small tin of baked beans

This is actually more than I usually eat for breakfast. I'd normally have a couple of pieces of toast maybe with jam together with a mouthful or two of milk. So far, so good. Incidentally, I don't often drink tea or coffee. Usually I'll have milk or water. On this diet, I must drink lots and lots of water.

Mid-morning I'm hungry and drinking a lot of water. I usually have a banana at first break at work, but nothing today.

Tuesday lunch:

4oz tuna
1 slice of toast (no butter etc)
Black tea

This is so dry to eat! Normally at work I would have a granary bap with meat, cucumber and tomato, a packet of Walkers Crisps, and an apple. Occasionally, I might succumb to a chocolate bar. But it was quite tasty - even though I missed the mayonnaise. Also at afternoon break at work I usually have another banana, but not today.

Tuesday dinner:

2 slices roast pork
1 cup of string beans
4oz beetroot
1 small apple
40z vanilla ice cream
 
Again, this was quite filling. I did have two slices of breaded ham on the menu instead of the pork, but it had turned green and my partner forbade me to eat it (I have a habit of eating gone off food). I steamed the beans and they were ace. The ice cream was also filling - it's rare I have ice cream so it felt like a treat. Later, around ten, I was getting pretty hungry again, but had some water and was fine.

Wednesday breakfast:

Black coffee
1 soft boiled egg
1 piece of toast (no butter etc)
½ a banana

Wasn't particularly hungry when I awoke - no more than usual, in any event. Which seemed quite hopeful. Again, this is more than I would normally have for breakfast, so I enjoyed it. At work I didn't even miss my usual banana at break time.

Wednesday lunch

Black tea
4oz cottage cheese
5 saltine crackers (mine are Tuc)

Must admit this is the lunch I've been dreading. I am no fan of cottage cheese - it looks like the posset my 3 month old daughter has been bringing up. I imagine it tastes the same. Anyway, having eaten it it's surprising how tasty stuff can become when you're quite hungry. Lunch wasn't bad at all - BUT IT WASN'T ENOUGH! Drinking water to compensate.

Wednesday dinner

2 slices honey roast ham
4oz broccoli
2oz carrots
½ banana
4oz vanilla ice cream
 
I steamed the broccoli until it was soft. Not a huge fan of crunchy vegetables and not a huge fan of broccoli unless in a curry, stir-fry, or covered with gravy and mashed potato. Eating it was a bit of a chore, but eat it I did. Felt pretty hungry until I ate the ice-cream which more or less filled me up. And I've been nowhere near as hungry during the day or evening as I thought I would be. Drunk less water in the evening than I did in the day. Feel thinner.
Thursday breakfast

Black coffee
1 slice of cheddar cheese
5 saltine crackers
1 small apple

I'm not really getting terribly hungry unless I smell food and I wasn't particularly hungry overnight. Makes me wonder why I've been eating so much. In some respects I'm thinking that eating makes you hungry! Once the diet is finished I'm hoping that I don't put the weight back on. I'll certainly have a think about what I eat and how often during the day. Only annoyance was that I have a boiled egg to look forward to this lunchtime and with three eggs in the fridge this morning I actually weighed them to see which was the biggest - then I dropped the bastard thing and cracked it. Lunch looks even more minimal than on the other days...

Thursday lunch

Black tea
1 hard boiled egg
1 piece of toast

Well, there wasn't much there. Ate the egg slowly with the occasional bite of toast inbetween. Yet again - surprisingly - whilst I've got a bit of an ache for food I'm not frothing at the mouth for it. Mid-afternoon my water intake went up to quell some hunger, and I find I'm automatically clenching my stomach muscles regularly. Anyway, just the final meal to go and then nothing til normal breakfast tomorrow before which I'll weigh myself.

Thursday dinner

4oz cauliflower
4oz beetroot
4oz tuna
½ melon
4oz vanilla ice cream


Compared to previous evening meals this was a feast. Again, I steamed the cauliflower until it was soft enough for my taste. I had a Galia melon. And again, the ice cream certainly seems to take the hunger pangs away.

Slept well. Woke at 6 and couldn't get back to sleep (not for excitement, just one of those things). Before my usual breakfast I had the weigh in: 11st 7lbs. I have therefore shed 7lbs, half a stone, in 3 days. Result!

To keep it that way I'm not going to snack much, will cut down on what I take to work (because it's there I will just eat it) and will probably do the same thing again next month. You can do it week in week out, but 11st 7 was my goal and I made it (although apparently 11st is the ideal weight for my height).

So, now, I can hopefully remain like this. To Sophie's approval :)




Monday, 3 September 2012

Why Don't Even The People You Expect To Read, Read?

I attended a local SF convention over the weekend, NOR-CON, where I had a dealer's table selling some of my own books as well as a lot of brand new paperbacks and hardbacks that I'd managed to accrue over the last twelve months. I must admit I wasn't expecting to sell much - it was a media convention and the large dealers room contained everything from lego spaceship toys, to displays including Robby The Robot and R2D2, to make-up artists, memorabilia specialists, comic books, and figurines. In fact, those stalls selling books were few and far between - not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it's better to sell books without competition, of course. Anyway, the thrust of the convention was its special guests from Dr Who, Star Wars, and Red Dwarf. This photo will give you an indication of what it was all about:



As well as the special guests who were genuinely from the TV shows and movies, there were a large number of lookalikes (or dressalikes in the cases where the costume concealed the face) either attending professionally or just for fun. We saw Predator, a short and stocky Batman, Superman, various Stormtroopers, Power Rangers, a couple of Supergirls, and Capt Jack Sparrow (aka Johnny Depp aka someone who looked a bit like him). Naturally, many of these costume-wearers took themselves seriously, which was hilarious. I even donned my penguin mask in an attempt to fit in.

Now, forgive me if I'm naive, but I had a feeling that those people inclined to be interested in the aforementioned TV shows and films, those people open to SF and therefore open to new ideas and mind-blowing concepts, those people geeky enough to celebrate that geekdom by narrowing their love of genre down to monogamous desire, might - just might - read books that were SF-related. Does that sound too much to ask?

Well, apparently it is. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting people to flock to buy books by Andrew Hook (although there was a certain amount of interest in And God Created Zombies and I sold some of those), but I did expect the brand new books I had for sale by recognised SF/F/H writers to get some attention. What tended to happen, however, was for people to glance at the table with books on it, and then wander off. My only assumption is that it was the books themselves which weren't the attraction (in fairness, I sold two - Zoo City by Lauren Beukes to someone who picked up the book on three separate occasions before buying, and Kraken by China Melville by someone who only deliberated over it twice). Some people looked at the top book, but didn't peruse the spines of the rest - why is that? Only a couple of people actually looked at everything I had (other than the handful that bought).

So, why the aversion to books? In our visual media saturated society has television (or any of the contraptions upon which images can now be viewed) won out over books? Or is it something that is perhaps more worrying, in that many readers will only buy books by names that they know? Is no one willing to take a risk anymore. To find a gem by looking at a cover and reading a blurb without knowing the author who wrote it. I remember as a kid I would buy books and music based on visual appeal or intriguing blurbs. And in a genre which by it's very definition should be forward thinking and open to new ideas, the disinterest in books seems a tad radical.

And again, more worryingly, if mankind does not seek out new and unusual books other than those spoon-fed or familiar, then as a readership we will enter a narrowing cone of mental stimulation. Our choices will become less and less. For without some kind of market, the writers will give up. It's evolution in reverse.

So - please - read outside your boundaries, extend your feelers beyond your comfort zone. After all, we can't all be photographed with copies, can we? Where's the attraction in that?

Friday, 31 August 2012

Mmmm...Books!

Like a magpie to glittery things I am drawn to books...

We were on holiday for two weeks this month. The first week was spent in Yorkshire in a farm cottage near Scarborough and the second week with in-laws in Leicestershire but also spending three days in the Peak District. Whilst naturally sampling the local scenic delights, ice-cream, fish 'n' chips, and partially sunny climes, it was also a good opportunity to scour all the local charity shops and secondhand bookstores because - frankly - it's not possible to own too many books.

The Yorkshire holiday started off well with my partner Sophie setting herself on fire (I'm so dramatic, but hair and gas hobs don't mix - thankfully it was quickly extinguished). The charity shops and bookstores in the Whitby/Scarborough area however were a great disappointment. In the week we were away I bought the total number of 0 books! Sophie only picked up one. Still, I had taken something to read. An excellent collection of short stories by Joel Lane:


The first few days of the second part of the holiday were spent with my in-laws near Leicester. The week started off well with myself descending down their stairs head over heels in pitch blackness at 4 in the morning having mistaken the black opening of the stairway for the bedroom - and having decided not to turrn on a light as I didn't want to wake anybody up. Thankfully, despite bruises everywhere, I remained unscathed. One day we headed out to the ever reliable Astley Book Farm and between us picked up this little lot:


Once in the Peak District just outside of Ashbourne the charity shops were much better stocked than those in Yorkshire, with some eclectic reading to be had other than the obvious 'holiday' reading pap thats good for more or less nothing. Within a few brief days, and including a visit to the excellent discounted bookstore that is Brierlow Bar, we had this lot between us:



Some gems there. But when will I read them? As well as these pictured, we picked up a few others in Leicester and returned with around 31 new titles between us. My reading list - not counting books Sophie has that I want to read - currently stands at around 240. With that amount of choice, we've devised the best way to select new titles is to maintain a numbered list and Sophie picks a number at random for me each time I need a new book. Which is why I read this on holiday which I've had for years but never got round to reading (and might never have got round to reading based on choice alone, even though I thoroughly enjoyed it):


Thankfully, other than hair-burning and the stair-falling there were no other accidents other than me reversing into a post and the passenger side electric window failing on the car effecting a £250 repair. Blow! Especially when that amount of money would have been better spent on books!

For those interested, you can follow my reading habits and reviews on: Goodreads

Friday, 10 August 2012

Do The Bandicoot

Nope - not a new dance, but a suggestion for a long-snouted animal from my beloved.

Bandicoots are a group of about 20 species of small to medium-sized, terrestrial marsupial omnivores in the order Peramelemorphia. They are endemic to Australia. The name roughly translates as pig-rat.

But - and of course more importantly - just look at the length of that snout!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Judging Book Covers

They say don't judge a book by its cover, which usually means if someone is physically ugly that doesn't mean that they are not pretty inside. Of course, the reverse is also true. The pretty can be ugly. But for this post I'm not really talking about people. I'm taking it literally. I'm talking books.

And of course, with books, most of us will judge the content by its cover.

Now, I don't know about you, but condensing the quality of around 100,000 words into one cover image which encapsulates the contents seems like a tough task. Yet its essential for publishers to achieve this to get the book from the shelf into someone's hands. Once there, other things can come into play: like the actual quality of the writing. But the springboard for the sale is the cover. Which begs the question, why are many of them so bad?



Branding comes into it, of course. Take the world's current obsession with "Fifty Shades of Grey". A novel which almost doesn't need a cover in order to be sold (copies are 'literally' walking out of the stores), but something ambiguous is needed rather than graphic for this subject matter. And it helps that all three covers of the trilogy look the same:




Oh! See what I did there. It isn't actually the Fifty trilogy, but it could be. It's certainly designed to appeal to the same audience, and with the Gemmell book if you bother to click to look inside on Amazon you'll see that the book originally had a different cover. It's no doubt been re-branded to appeal to the Fifty Shades of Grey audience. The publishers no doubt hope it might be confused with that book too. How similar the contents actually are I have no idea, but the intention is homogenisation which seems successful.

I'm hoping to use a similar design when I write my expose of corruption in the dog racing circuit: "Fifty Shady Greyhounds". But that's another story.

Independent publishers have limitations when it comes to budgets, of course, and many independent press book covers leave a lot to be desired. Considering most of their authors are unknown, the book cover is perhaps even more important than dealing with big name authors. For example, from 2002 until 2009 I ran Elastic Press, a publishing company dedicated to unknown writers' short story collections. We prided ourselves on our covers - most of which were interesting, if not all of them worked. My favourites are below:


Each of these tried to encapsulate the contents of the book. For example, "Milo & I" was a book of quirky crime stories, and the cover illustrates the title story yet also the theme for the book. Nick Jackson's collection illustrates how it's always worth asking a designer if they are happy for an image to be used. The central image in "Visits To The Flea Circus" is by Mark Mothersbaugh (lead singer with Devo, film soundtrack composer - including The Life Aquatic - and artist in his own right). Devo were one of my favourite bands, and browsing his website one day I fell in love with this image. Not only that - and more importantly - I knew it was perfect for the book. A quick email to his agent secured the image at no cost, other than a few copies of the book (which Mark later confirmed by webcam that he read on the toilet - fame at last!). Incidentally, the wallpaper background is just that - a scan of the wallpaper my parents had on their living room walls in the 1970s.

Of course, paying for artwork is always preferable for the artist, but in independent publishing there's usually not a lot of money around. And to reiterate, it's always worth asking. Perhaps serendipitously, similar to the Mark Mothersbaugh incident, my partner's favourite band is New Found Glory and we found that the lead singer, Jordan Pundik, does a bit of art and again there was a piece she bought which we then realised would be perfect for Fur-Lined Ghettos (our new magazine).


Again, it summarises the contents for us. And again, we were thankful Jordan was happy for us to use it. It goes to show that 'famous' folk are just as human and willing to share the outcome of their endeavours as the rest of us. And sharing art in this way brings both the books and their artwork to a wider audience.

I guess the crux of this blindingly obvious blog post is that the cover art really matters when getting someone to pick up the book. And this thought was kick-started today by Dean Harkness who has designed some of my own book covers and who now has some of his designs for sale as t-shirts here:


Right, I'm off to grab me an "And God Created Zombies" t-shirt. Another design that perfectly encapsulates the story within. Oh, and I mustn't forget to commission him for Fifty Shady Greyhounds...