Thursday, 8 September 2011


by Emlyn Rees

For authors, the beach is a prime spot for spying who's reading your book. But the Kindle makes it more tricky...

So, I’ve just got back from a holiday with my family in Mallorca. Ice creams. Sangria. Pedloes. It should have been a complete break, in other words, from thinking about what weapons and devious plot devices I should use in the sequel to my new thriller HUNTED.

Only as a writer, of course, you’re never really that far away from work. Partly because the old grey matter keeps on chewing over potential storylines. But also because, no matter where you are, you’re never that far from a book.

Nowhere is this more true than on holidays. Books and beaches go together. Like fish and chips. Or buckets and spades.

Even more fascinating for any writer is that on beaches the books aren’t just sitting on shelves, they’re right there in the hands of real live readers.

Apart from being generally nosey, and seeing what kind of person reads what, the narcissistic temptation is always there to see if anyone’s reading one of your own novels. And if so, who? What exactly do your readers look like? Are they men or women? Are they young or old? And, most important of all, are they enjoying the read? Are they furiously turning those pages? Or instead using them to mop up spilt beer?

Only this year my annual bout of book voyeurism never really got off the ground. For one thing, HUNTED was only out as a Kindle edition until September, when it finally hits the shops in the UK. Meaning that, short of peering over people’s shoulders to see what they’re reading on their Kindle, I have no way of knowing whether any of them are reading HUNTED at all.

Another, far stranger discovery is the astonishing lack of electronic reading devices on beaches at all. One. That’s all I saw in seven days. One lonely Kindle. A tiny black spot on a huge domino of white sand.

In the UK, I’m up and down on the Brighton to London train line a lot and have witnessed the proliferation of e-reading devices over the last six months. The e-Book revolution hasn’t only begun, it’s gripped commuterland by its collective short and curlies and shows no sign of letting go.

In the space of six months, the demographic lovingly nuzzling their iPads and Kindles has exponentially expanded from the hip early adopters, to include everyone from school kids catching up on their Lord of the Flies assignments to sprightly sixty-somethings getting to grips with how Freakonomics might affect their final salary pension plans.

So how come I only saw one Kindle on the beach? Amazon and Mac certainly aren’t to blame. iPad and Kindle sales have been rocketing. Amazon has also been busily promoting Kindle summer beach reads for the last month.

But if the Kindles and iPads aren’t on the beaches, then where are they? Left back home in the UK? It seems unlikely, given what great devices they are for getting out of paying for all that extra weight that a similar amount of new hardbacks would cost you on Easyjet.

More likely, then, is that people are leaving them in their holiday apartments. On the grounds, I suspect, that while we don’t mind smearing ice cream or wet sand on our paperbacks, we consider our electronic devices altogether too fragile and sacrosanct for such slipshod treatment.

Interestingly, the one person I did see reading a Kindle on the beach covered it with a towel to protect it from the sand and his children, before rolling over onto his side for a nap. Also interesting is the fact that some friends have said that they've seen plenty of Kindles on pebbly beaches, where there's no sand to worry about.

But I think there’s another reason too why we’re not yet proudly parading our Kindles on the beach. And it’s all about display and the fact that, apart from our swimming costumes and shades, the chief way we choose to advertise ourselves - who we actually are - on holiday is by showing people what we read.

And that’s the one true drawback with Kindles and iPads in their current incarnation. They’ve not got covers. They’re bland to look at. Chunks of IBM-esque hardware, nothing more. Meaning the reason I think we’re not seeing more of them on the beaches this year is the same reason why we’re not seeing more bland grey bikinis, or bland grey beach towels and shades. It’s because they look boring. And that risks making us look boring. And that’s a chance which few of us seem prepared yet to take.

You can contact Emlyn Rees via his website

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