Friday, 31 July 2009
My novel STOP ME hit shops and Internet sites on the 4th August and the one thing I’ve learnt on the run up to publication is that as a writer you have to make yourself as accessible as possible. First and foremost you have to be accessible to the most important people- readers. Without them you wouldn’t have any sort of career – or, at least, the beginnings of one. Feedback is vital – from agents and editors. But whose opinion is more vital than the people who are going part with their hard-earned to pack you in their bag and have you at their bedside?
This isn’t something to be daunted by because the Internet enables every writer not only to interact with the people they hope to entertain/provoke/offend/amuse but also to find the new support base of bloggers and enthusiasts who can be so instrumental in bringing their work to the notice of a wider readership.
These people are usually unpaid but have a huge passion for the sort of books they review and blog about and I think are now an indispensable influence in an increasingly competitive market. I’ve already hooked up with some extremely friendly and helpful bloggers who have a very decent and honest approach to the whole process. Yesterday, one of them extended the courtesy of showing me his review before it was posted. I was relieved to find that it was largely positive but there was some constructive criticism within it that I’m quite happy to have out there – particularly as he gave me the option to respond to it via his blog. Writers can’t tamper with the subjective process but the Internet does allow you the opportunity to elongate a debate.
Some of my favourite novels are hated by critics and even like-minded friends. Opinion –positive and negative - has to be welcomed and analysed. There’s always something useful that can be extracted particularly when it comes to penning your next book.
So as well as putting the finishing touches to the STOP ME website, YouTube book trailer and looking forward to a handful of signings with the Curzon Group and my own at Waterstones I’ve also enjoyed connecting with an interesting society of new people. Individuals who have been generous with their time in the nebulous and unquantifiable world of promo who will not only get the word out about my book but, along with the people whom I hope will read it, will shape with their opinions the next thing I write.
Thursday, 30 July 2009
Since then, I've returned to my local Waterstones for another signing. The staff there are beginning to feel like old friends. Fortunately it went well and the manager was pleased. On Monday I gave a talk at another library. A lovely lady who'd attended a previous talk of mine came along, which was a great compliment. I warned her she was probably going to hear the same again, but she seemed to enjoy it anyway. I should have taken her email. Next time... Today was a trip to pastures new (hence the late post) the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, a brilliant independent bookshop in a vibrant multicultural area of North London. It was a very enjoyable evening, and a pity for the bookshop that it was so poorly attended. I've said this before (and will no doubt say it again) - if readers don't support bookshops, there won't be any bookshops left to support. It ain't rocket science...
On Saturday I'll be signing in Henley-on-Thames, very different to Haringey. I'm trying to absorb all the different atmospheres of the places I'm visiting. So many authors write about far flung exotic places. Am I just exposing my own narrow experience when I claim there's an amazing variety within a few miles radius?
A few more signings and then we'll be off on the airport tour. I'm very excited about it. Who wouldn't be? East Midlands Airport at 5am! It reminds me of my misspent youth... but on the day it will probably have the opposite effect... I hope my publisher is impressed by my dedication! 5am!
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming.
The best title of all time, if not the best book. And one of the best opening sentences as well, even from one of the masters of the introductory line (and whilst we’re on that subject, was it just me who thought Sebastian Faulk’s opening to the Bond pastiche ‘Devil May Care’ was shamefully weak). Fleming is primarily a prose stylist, and a lot of his plots ranged from the creaky to the incomprehensible. But FRWL cracks along at terrific pace, and has both great villains, and love interest. Perfect in every respect.
Berlin Game by Len Deighton.
Len Deighton never wrote a bad book in his life, but in Berlin Game he hit his best form, a surprising achievement for a writer who’d already been churning out books for 15 years. The beginning of the Game, Set and Match trilogy, it introduces to the character of Bernard Samson, probably the most sympathetic fictional spy ever created. Grumbling and harassed, Samson may work in intelligence, but really he’s just a middle-aged executive trying to stay on top of some very complex office politics. And, hey, the wife turns out to be the Russian spy? Now there’s a twist to make you feel uncomfortable.
The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth.
It’s probably just me, but I’ve never really been able to get to grips with ‘The Day of the Jackal’. But Forysth’s second book is one of the great thrillers of all time. The story of the German crime reporter who stumbles across a conspiracy to protect former Nazi’s is expertly woven. Forsyth lays out his template of forensically piecing together the plot in precise detail, and he’s followed it with brilliant success ever since. If you want to know how to write a thriller, just keep re-reading The Odessa File.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
Dinosaurs. They come back to life. And, yup, they eat people. There was always a crazed genius to Crichton’s high-concept techno-thrillers, and none of them did it better than Jurassic Park. His skill was to take some serious science (genetic engineering, in this case) and mix in some pop science as well (in this case, chaos theory) and blend them into a terrific story. Thrillers have always been partly about information – Crichton nailed that completely. The film is okay, but it is the book that is the real masterpiece.
The Firm by John Grisham.
Like Forsyth, it was with his second book that Grisham really established his style, and The Firm is far and away his best book (although ‘The Pelican Brief’ is brilliant as well, although it is downhill from there on). The sinister law firm, the exploration of offshore finance, the single, young hero placed in terrible danger, and the paper chase that finally defeats the enemy are all expertly told. Grisham is basically about how brains win out over muscle. A breath-taking read. You’ll have landed on the tarmac, and picked up your bags before you know it.
That’s my top five. Any more suggestions out there?
Monday, 27 July 2009
So there I was, standing in the Gents at the Crown Hotel Harrogate, when two blokes came in and took up their positions to my right. One of them said to the other, ‘When did you know you were going to murder me?’ To which the other said, ‘Just before it happened.’
The men in question were Mark Billingham, who had just been the victim of a murder staged for the benefit of diners at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and his supposed killer Martyn Waites. In actual fact, I probably had a better motive for murder than Martyn, since Billingham had two days earlier beaten me and 12 other writers) to the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award. Sadly, I was unable to be there to plaster an embittered, insincere smile on my face and applaud vigorously as he took the prize. In fact, I had to fight hard to prize the engraved glass tankard, handed out to all the nominees, from the grasp of Transworld editorial director Selina Walker, who had collected it on my behalf and was, I strongly suspected, thinking of keeping it as a handy ornament, pencil holder or, indeed beer-mug.
Harrogate is my favourite of all the festivals to which crimewriters traipse off, in the hopes of getting a bit of publicity, flogging and signing a book or two (or thousand, if you’re Lee Child and pull queues like the Harrods sales to your signings), or simply getting extraordinarily drunk.
I actually fail miserably on all three scores wherever I go. Quite apart from anything else, I’m not nearly a heavy enough drinker and I like to get to bed early, to give myself the maximum amount of time in which to lie awake, doped out of my mind on some form of prescription hypnotic, yet unable to get to sleep. At American festivals, like Thrillerfest or Bouchercon (the biggest of them all, even if it has the strangest name), matters are made even worse by catastrophic jetlag.
But anyway, Harrogate is at least in the same time-zone, it is hugely enlivened by the humour and relentless piss-taking so common among British writers but so absent from Americans (when on public panels, at least: they’re funny enough in private), and it has the big advantage that only one event or panel takes place at a time. So audiences number in the hundreds, not the tens, and everyone ends up being able to join in the post-event bar-chats because they’ve all been to the same things.
Also, Harrogate is now free of the legendary Norwegian sex-pest, an over-ardent fan who harassed women at previous events until grabbed by the throat, shoved up against a wall and told to desist by James Twining, one evening last year. Female scribes are still swooning about it, and Twining, to this day. Damn him!
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to Bloodsport, the online short story I wrote about last week, in which Samuel Carver hunts down the Prime Minister and strikes down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger (as the saying goes). Well, it ran into a little hitch. Some people weren’t entirely happy with the concept. On the other hand, other people absolutely love it. So it will be published, one way or another … and soon.
Saturday, 25 July 2009
A lot of people read escapist fiction to relieve the monotony of their daily lives, to transport themselves to exotic locations while they sit on public transport. So, if they've already transplanted themselves to somewhere exotic what to read then? A lot of people will make sure their favourite author is with them irrespective of the subject matter but does having the time and a relaxed frame of mind make people willing to give a new author a try?
Personally, I usually take some dependables with me but there are always some impulse purchases that go into my suitcase. Holidays are the one time of the year I don't mind taking a gamble and it very often pays off. It's a great opportunity to broaden your reading range.
This is the purpose of our signing tours. We want holiday readers to take a gamble on some names they may not have encountered before and to take a signed copy away with them that will always be a souvenir of (we hope) an enjoyably escapist holiday.
Manchester airport has been confirmed for Friday the 14th August (time to be confirmed), we're in East Midlands airport from 5.30 am (!) until 10.30 am on the 15th August and an August date and time for Heathrow Terminal 5 will be confirmed very soon.
Should be a unique experience and hopefully you'll all be in a holiday mood.
Richard Jay Parker
Thursday, 23 July 2009
Some years ago we took our children to an Imax where the screen showed the view from the perspective of someone riding on a rollercoaster. In sync with the visuals, the seats tipped and swayed, to support the illusion. The children loved it. (They were very young at the time). It was wasted on me. I kept my eyes tightly shut throughout the excruciating experience, and I was still petrified. Not in a fun way. 'That was some rollercoaster,' I thought as I left my seat, trembling and faintly nauseous, ignoring the children's pleas to 'have another go.'
After Cut Short launched, I naively started watching the sales ratings on amazon.co.uk. I'd been warned how the figures fluctuate. 'It's a rollercoaster,' someone said. I should have heeded the warning. 'I'll just take a peek,' I thought, unaware how compulsive it can become. I soon became addicted, like a gambler with nothing riding on the race except that burst of adrenaline fuelled pride when my little book shot up the sales ratings. (You can see where we're heading now, can't you, and where the comparison to a rollercoaster comes in... We'll be there very soon now... we're nearing the top of the slope... )
Cut Short reached the dizzy heights of 5,000 in the sales ratings. It wasn't exactly in the top 10 but there are millions of books on amazon, so I was pleased. I never claimed to be Dan Brown. Cut Short came in at number 2 in the Female Sleuths category, second only to Alexander McCall Smith. 'This is it,' I thought. 'Success.'
At which point, amazon.co.uk ran out of stock and sales of Cut Short plummeted. No books to sell = no sales. In less than 24 hours Cut Short had zoomed down from 2 to 83 in Female Sleuths, and was still falling... By the following day, books were back in stock and Cut Short moved up the ratings again. Where is it now? I've no idea. I don't look any more. (Oh, all right, it's around 6,000 on the ratings and number 3 in Female Sleuths. At least it was when I last looked, five minutes ago.)
Perhaps I'll try riding a real rollercoaster one day; it might seem quite tame compared to the virtual ones I've tried so far.
(Sorry - I have to dash now - must go and check my sales ratings on amazon.co.uk...)
Monday, 20 July 2009
Samuel Carver is an angry man. The protagonist of The Accident Man, The Survivor and Assassin, whose speciality is creating deniable assassination by means of unattributable ‘accidents’ has just discovered that one of his former brother officers in the SBS has been killed in Afghanistan. The man died very horribly and painfully in the hands of the Taliban, lost for want of the helicopter that should have airlifted him to safety.
Suddenly, a situation that has long been a matter of principled outrage to Carver has become very personal. So he reacts in the way that he knows best. He decides to make a bad thing happen to what he believes is a bad person; the person he holds responsible for the death of his friend and many other fine soldiers, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In the tradition of Rogue Male and Day of the Jackal, Carver stalks his prey. In this case he does not choose the boulevards of Paris as his hunting ground, nor the hills and forests of Germany. Instead he goes to the Lake District, where the Prime Minister is taking his summer holiday.
What happens next will be told in a series of three online episodes, to be released this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I’ve already been having some fun trailing the whole Saga on my Twitter and Facebook pages.
If there is any truth at all to all the talk of the mysterious Echelon listening in on all our phone and online chatter on behalf of America’s National Security Administration and our own GCHQ, then there may already be flags being flown and questions asked about the threats being made by a pseudonymous British crime writer and his online henchmen to the safety of the inhabitant of No10.
So to put the spooks’ minds at ease, let me just say this …
The Carver novels may contain elements based on actual events, but the events they depict are pure fiction, as are all the characters in them. So Bloodsport will play by the same rules as The Accident Man. That book centred on the fictional killing of an unnamed princess in the Alma Tunnel, Paris. Similarly, Carver will be stalking an unnamed, fictional Prime Minister. It's a story, pure and simple.
Above all, though, I am in the business of writing thrillers. That means that stories twist and endings are uncertain. People reading this may feel sure they know what is going to happen. When they read the opening lines of the first episode and find themselves sharing the view through Carver’s sniper sight, they may be even more convinced of the likely outcome.
But in fiction, as in life, nothing ever works out quite the way one expects …
And Episode One of Bloodsport will arrive at Author's Place on Friday …
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Would I buy a Reader? The answer is a categoric 'yes' - if it can enrich my life. It's my criteria for investing in any new technology and I suspect it's most other people's as well. Things move fast in this world and I've always been willing to embrace new technology - if it can do something for me. I'm not one for wanting the latest gadget just because it's the latest gadget. You always get a reflex purchase reaction from a certain percentage of the population to any new gizmo. I think that's what we're seeing at the moment. We saw it with video, dvd and iPhone and we also saw it with Betamax, laserdisc and minidisc.
What can a Reader offer me on a personal level? Currently it's being sold on the notion that no longer will I have to take unwieldy hardbacks on holiday and that I'll be able to download and store all my books neatly and conveniently. I rarely buy hardbacks so it's no hardship to put a selection of paperbacks into a suitcase so that's not particularly tempting me. There's the cost implication of course. E books are cheaper but then you have to buy the Reader in the first place and can I be bothered to do a calculation of how many cheaper books I'll have to read on it before I've made the money back. Not really
But I do recognise that for busy professionals - particularly in the industry - loading a plethora of reading material onto something so neat has got to be a huge plus. But how many of us will that appeal to? There's also the benefit of being able to load your entire library onto it - as you would music onto your iPod. An incredible concept. The notion of so much on something so little is a design that has driven mankind's quest for technological advancement since the beginning of the 20th century. I'm certainly somebody who enjoys access to a large portable archive of music but I don't know if I really want to dip into my reading collection other than at home - my current paperback is usually sufficient when I'm out and about. One Reader is now being made to look just like that book.
So, although it doesn't convince me personally, the Reader does what all new technology should and makes life easier and services a need. There is a human need I can think of that it doesn't service though.
I was chatting to some friends of mine who make all their money from Internet technology. I'd noticed that their shelves were still groaning with new books, dvd box sets and cds and asked them why they didn't download all they wanted from the net. They said they still loved the physical presence of a product - the cover and packaging as a solid testament to the money they'd spent on it and the time they'd spent with it. It was a part of their life and a badge to visitors to their home of what they rated and liked. So rather than press one button and have Sky Plus conveniently record every episode of a series on a hard drive they still wanted the box set as a record of their involvement with it.
I've downloaded a lot of music but if you believed the portents of doom of a decade ago there should now be no physical music outlets left. Some have closed - the nature of shopping has had to make room for the internet but people are still tactile beings - they still like to browse. I think books are even more of a physical experience. A gripping read means just that to me.
I was speaking to someone on Twitter yesterday who is gradually loading up their Reader with their favourite books. However, she still said she loved the feel and smell of real books and had hundreds on her shelf.
Another anti Reader argument is that e books will see a flood of inferior books being self published. On a positive note this does also mean that we'll be able to discover some original voices that the current publishing system precludes.
When I started downloading music I discovered some great new artists that I normally wouldn't have had access to. I was also able to become more choosy and the dross I could quickly identify and dispense with. Moreover, it re-affirmed that having a system that sieves out inferior artists is necessary and although the publishing industry isn't infallible (and has foisted some execrable rubbish on society) it does develop and allow the best talent to shine. It's still quality that will out for an ever more discerning public.
To get away from the music/book analogy I suppose books and Readers are like real food and food pills. Convenience is never going to completely outstrip the need for the real thing.
Sci-fi writers' predictions always presuppose (for the sake of a good story) that man's trajectory into the future is a straight line. They don't account for the fact that we're an aesthetic race with a healthy respect for what has worked in the past. It's why we're not all content to live in aseptic, minimalist techno pads but instead crave period property and want to preserve our heritage.
Not to say that the book is outmoded though. It's a simple model that works as well today as it always has.
I'd be lying if I said that, throughout my life, I haven't fallen out of love with books but I've always come back to them and there's a reason for that. The book has survived my fads, banning, burning, cinema, TV, video, dvd, Gameboy, Karaoke and Wii so I'm sure it can weather the appearance of a smarter cousin trying to be a simultaneously thicker and thinner version of it.
Mobiles changed the way we converse (and unfortunately the way we have to listen to others converse) but not many of us are disposing of our landline.
I'm not becoming anti Reader. I actually believe the two can happily co-exist. I can't think of any instances now when I'd use a Reader but I'm certainly not ruling one out.
Sure there's a lot of doom and gloom in publishing at the moment but any industry that thinks it's recession proof is arrogant indeed. We're all experiencing it on every level. Obviously the Reader contractual ramifications for publishers and authors are an additional headache but as with every threat to western civilisation as we know it we always emerge the other side. Wiser? Probably not because there's always a new fear to fill up column inches and keep us awake at night.
I also don't buy the argument that it's a generational thing - that when the yellowing book reactionaries have snuffed it the new technology will rise. If that was the case why, with all the home entertainment technology listed above, do children still queue round the block in fancy dress to get their hands on the new Harry Potter? And that's the key phrase here 'get their hands on.' We'll leave media hysteria and peer pressure for another blog but these books are definitely being read. They're something we're familiar with from the time we put our smudgy hands all over a pop-up book.
But at some stage I will go and have a look at the new Reader - weigh it in my hand but, more importantly, weigh up whether or not I'm going to benefit from it. I can't wait to read the next chapter in this saga and - on a personal level - to feel the pulp between my fingers when I turn the page.
Richard Jay Parker
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
A leading chain of bookstores is closing five branches, including a flagship store in central London. Not so long ago bookshop chains were the bullies in the playground, chasing independents off the swings and roundabouts. Now the chains are being pushed aside by supermarkets and online suppliers, themselves under threat from a new gang on the block - eBooks.
What’s wrong with eBooks? In a word: quality. eBooks threaten to make publication accessible to everyone. I wouldn’t claim that all self-published books are inferior, or that traditionally published books are necessarily good. Far from it. But experienced publishers put their reputation and their money on the line when they publish a book. They demand quality, whether literary or commercial, and they pay professionals to hone the product.
It’s no secret that people are queuing up to be published. Literary agents receive as many as 50 manuscripts every day. Remove the constraints imposed by publishers and you fling open the floodgates. As increasing numbers of writers produce eBooks, paradoxically fewer people will read them. Readers will be overwhelmed with choice, much of it third rate and poorly produced.
And there is a further worrying aspect to our growing dependency on technology. In 1909 EM Forster wrote a short story. Set in the (then) future, he posits a world where man has become so dependent on technology that he has become virtually paralysed. People lie in beds, their limbs withered and useless, as a vast machine tends to their every need. The title of the story is: The Machine Stops.
So let’s support real books – they are an endangered species, and, if we’re not careful, we could be next.
(I did warn you my post this week was going to be serious. I’ll be cheerful next week.)
Monday, 13 July 2009
Friday, 10 July 2009
You can see who we're following and who's following us here
If you're already a Twitterholic please RT and follow friday us so we can reach as many of you as we can.
See you in the Twitter ether...
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
David Milliband denied accusations that security had been compromised: "You know he wears a Speedo swimsuit. That's not a state secret." Nor, it seems, is the code name of the new head of MI5. The Sun, in its excited report on Sir John Sawers’ swimsuit, mentioned in passing ‘Sir John, 53 - who will have the codename "C" when he takes over in November – is seen playing Frisbee in tight swimming trunks.’ Surely not! Never mind the code name, a middle-aged man in tight swimming trunks is a serious attack on our way of life!
What is so newsworthy about men in shorts? Don’t reporters know that politicians have legs? How else could they shoot themselves in the foot, or put their feet in their mouths? Without legs, how could they skate on thin ice, or fall flat on their faces? To put it bluntly, how would they do the job at all?
So it’s not who you are, it’s who you appear to be. Image is all. Should we blame the cult of celebrity which has reached pandemic proportions? Nothing is safe. Even the literary festival has come under attack. An article in the Telegraph this week described the festivals as ‘a bit of reading and writing with a hefty dash of celebrity.’ The article is dominated by a picture of Sophie Dahl looking gorgeous in something strappy with a feather boa - the ultimate in glam.
‘You get all sorts of people turning up’ the reporter continues. (Has he heard I’ve been invited to appear at several literary festivals this year?) ‘A lot of them do wear sandals with socks, and bring their own Thermos flasks and picnic chairs, but equally there is always a throng of girls wearing designer welly boots.’ Hold on - designer welly boots for walking in puddles and cow pats? Am I missing something? ‘The emphasis is now on entertainment more than literature.’ Can it get any worse, I wonder. It seems it can. ‘Writers certainly need to be robust,’ is the conclusion. “These festivals expose you to people with no apparent interest in books, who seem to come along much as villagers did to throw tomatoes at someone in the stocks.” I can’t wait!
Politicians pictured in shorts, glamorous celebrities headlining literary festivals – why should appearance matter so much? Our obsession goes way beyond issues of health. Don’t judge a book by its cover – oh, talking of books, I have to dash. It’s my book launch today and I haven’t got a thing to wear. I’ve got the shoes – hand crafted by a Bosnian cobbler - but I need to try on at least seven outfits, panic, collapse in hysterics and have at least one hissy fit before I can even think of leaving the house. And did I mention I’m having a bad hair day? (Please don’t tell the organisers of the literary festivals or they may not want me after all.)
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
The logic behind it, as I explained to The Bookseller, is pretty obvious. We write what are usually called ‘airport thrillers’. So what better place to sell them than an airport?
But that also set me thinking? What exactly is an ‘airport thriller’?
It’s partly the market. It means a book aimed at people who do a lot of their reading on the beach, or else on business trips. They probably aren’t heavy or devoted readers. They don’t spend hours and hours browsing in a big Waterstone’s. They pick up a couple of books at the airport before they leave the country.
But it is also, and probably more importantly for a writer, a style of book.
To me, a classic airport thriller has to be engrossing enough to make time melt away.
Most of don’t enjoy flying that much – and, as it happens, I really don’t like it at all. It’s dull, and often stressful. So you need something to take that will totally draw you in, getting you involved enough in the story that you’ve collected your bags from the carousel before you realise it.
That means the plot has to be brutal in its grip, and the writing fast enough to leave your breathless.
There is also, I suspect, something exotic and escapist about a great airport thriller.
Air travel doesn’t have much glamour left to it. The idea of the ‘jet set’ has been killed off by Ryanair and Easyjet. But an airport thriller is still a book we read when we’re travelling on business or on holiday, and that is a fun, exciting thing to be doing. We want the book we’re reading to have a bit of glamour as well: some exotic locations, some sex, some wit and panache. It needs to have something of the flavour of a good holiday itself: exciting, memorable, escapist, and most of all great fun.
I wonder what are the ten best airport thrillers of all time?
Funnily enough, I’m about to head off to Portugal for two weeks on holiday (and no doubt collecting a couple of airport thrillers at Gatwick on the way).
I’ll try and put together a list of my top ten for the next post? But any suggestions?
- Matt Lynn
Monday, 6 July 2009
Friday, 3 July 2009
The Chinese lunch was a lively affair with plenty of interesting ideas circulating amidst the dumplings and noodles and it was evident that everyone's looking forward to the airport tour in August. The Bookseller piece online and in print had certainly generated a lot of positive feedback since I met up with Matt to discuss the idea a few weeks ago and it's certainly got my publisher excited.
I then walked from the edge of Chinatown to Charlotte Mews for a meeting with them and picked up my hot-off-the-press copy of STOP ME. I filled my editor, Lara Crisp, in on the details and she was kind enough to feature us on the Allison and Busby blog which you can read here
Looks like we're cleared for takeoff.