Friday, 30 September 2011

Book Makeovers

By Richard Jay Parker

One of my recent posts was about picking up a book you enjoyed when you were young.  The question being should you revisit it as an adult or would that degrade the happy memories you had of it?

It's been the subject of debate amongst friends and it prompted another thought about the way some books date.  We often see cinematic remakes but we never see literary ones. Will we ever see publishers take a classic story and give it a 21st Century makeover? You know, update the era, language and attitude as they might a black and white movie.

You can see how a studio would approach a great story the current generation aren’t aware of - sex it up, throw in some CGI and what the hell, make it in 3D as well.

But, so far, no Dickens in the hood, no Bronte with botox, no zombies in Jane Austen....  Wait a moment - OK that's only one extreme example.

Unlike movies the books have done and continue to do their job.  The reason for this is simple - no matter when a story is set the reader will interpret it with their imagination and make it personal to them.

The techniques of movies date but a person's imagination converts words into subjective entertainment.  It's why books, in whatever format, will always be a part of the majority of people's lives.

It begs another question: If you do go back to a book from your childhood does you adult imagination give it that makeover?  The danger is that because of the body of work you've experienced since it may not stand the test of time, however your 21st Century mind re-presents it.

Personally, I still maintain that if you really loved a book but think it might disappoint many years later then there's probably a good reason for suspecting so.  Best to leave it on the shelf as a good memory.

Visit Richard at:

Holiday? What holiday?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

It’s going to be a tough couple of weeks. The taxi will arrive outside the house at ten thirty tomorrow morning – if it doesn’t, then I’m in all kind of trouble – and whisk us off to Gatwick to board a British Airways flight to Venice. Waiting for us there will be a coach to take us to the Crystal Serenity which will be our home for the next twelve days or so. It will be the second time we’ve cruised on board this ship, and we’re really looking forward to it, because if there’s one characteristic that sums up the Crystal cruise line better than any other, it’s attention to detail. We’ve cruised with many of the major lines, and Crystal stands out for all sorts of reasons.
            It’s not a holiday, of course. I have to deliver lectures on board – three on this particular voyage – and although that means standing on my hind legs in one of the theatres talking for only about three quarters of an hour, the preparation work takes me a lot longer than you might expect, usually at least two full days per talk. On this particular trip, I’m doing destination lectures, telling the passengers about the ports the ship will be visiting, and including the history of the place as well as the economy, what to see and do while we’re there, and any other significant points, all illustrated with lots of good quality photographs.
On other cruises, I’ve talked about everything from the real pirates of the Caribbean to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle (and the biggest mystery there is why so many people think there’s anything mysterious about that particular bit of sea) to writing and getting published.
            From Venice, one of my favourite cities and incidentally the location of the new ‘James Becker’ novel The Nosferatu Scroll (which I’d like to remind everybody comes out as a mass-market paperback in November), the ship cruises to Dubrovnik, Sicily, Sorrento, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Livorno (for Pisa and Florence) and Monaco, and ends up in Barcelona, just over 120 miles from our home in Andorra. From there, we’ll fly back to London, and a few days later retrace our steps south across France to Andorra by car.
            It all sounds like a good holiday, but actually I don’t really take holidays. When I go on a cruise, it’s to work, to get some writing done as well as deliver my assigned quota of lectures. These days, I travel with three laptops because I deliver so many lectures that I’ve given up trying to memorize them.
I have my PowerPoint presentation on an elderly Dell running Windows XP – because XP is dead reliable and that computer will talk to any ship’s theatre projection system without any problems – and I have my script, which I’ll paraphrase when I give the talk, on a neat little Asus netbook. And I carry my all-singing, all-dancing HP Pavilion as well, just in case one of the other two should pack up. Plus a selection of external hard drives and USB memory sticks containing back-up copies of everything, just in case any of the hardware gets lost or stolen.
            I've always found that a cruise ship is an excellent place to work. Food and drink are available 24 hours a day, a stewardess cleans and tidies your stateroom – though we always try to keep everything neat – and there are always quiet little corners where I can sit in comfort, a stunning view in front of me, and lose myself in whatever piece of writing I'm working on.
            This time, I have another deadline looming, with my next book for Transworld to be delivered by the end of October. For a number of reasons, I can't say too much about this project, but I can tell you that it was suggested by my editor there. In fact, what she actually suggested was just a title around which she thought I could create an interesting plot. Unfortunately, a couple of months ago we discovered that for legal reasons we couldn't use that title, and so far we haven’t been able to come up with another one everybody likes. So it’s now just known as ‘Book Five’. Hopefully somebody will have a light-bulb moment between now and the publication date, because ‘Book Five’ doesn’t sound to me like the title of a novel that’s likely to sell well.
            As soon as I get back, I have a meeting with my new publishers – Simon & Schuster – to discuss my second book for them, due for delivery early next year. Again, they have a firm idea for the subject matter, but we have to talk about a number of different approaches and in fact different plots.
            This will be my last blog entry until we get back on terra firma, and I’ll talk to you all again in a couple of weeks.

Please visit my website at:

Friday, 23 September 2011

The 28-day novel

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barringtion, James Becker and Jack Steel)

This image is a draft of the cover design for the first ‘Jack Steel’ novel, to be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2012. I’ve covered the circumstances of writing this book before, but just a quick recap: my agent came up with the initial idea in January, I started writing it on 4 February and delivered the final, pre-edited MS of just under 100,000 words on 7 March 2011. This was a total of 28 days because I lost two days’ work due to editing another book and then having a water leak in the house in Andorra that necessitated driving 200 miles to another house where the concrete floor and staircase weren’t being dug up by a gang of Spanish workmen armed with jackhammers.
            Obviously the finished MS was a bit rough, because I simply hadn’t had the time to read it as well as write it, but my agent did some quick and dirty editing on it that knocked it into much better shape, and the finished product was good enough to be picked up by Simon & Schuster as part of a two-book deal. I’ve just finished the final editorial work on it, and in fact there haven’t been all that many changes to the submitted MS.
            And that leads me to ask a fairly obvious question: how quickly can – or even should – a book be written? Readers with a mathematical bent will realize that I was averaging well over 3,000 words a day, every day, seven days a week, as well as doing the necessary research to ensure that I got all the details of the RMS Titanic right. It was a very hard month, and I wouldn’t want to do it again, but we were working to an immovable deadline – the London Book Fair – and the end result clearly justified the effort.
            Normally I expect to write between about 1,000 and 2,000 words a day, and I gather from other authors that this is a fairly high output. I heard of one author, who was perhaps predictably working in the literary rather than the commercial field, who satisfied himself by writing just 100 words a day, but who insisted that they were ‘good’ words, which wouldn’t need changing or editing. That prompts two obvious comments: First, I don’t care how ‘good’ the words are, 100 words is not much more than a note for the milkman, and is simply a personification of laziness. This blog submission alone will be around ten times longer than that, and I can promise you it’s not the only writing I’ve done today. Second, every manuscript, no matter how erudite and accomplished the author, benefits from editing, because the author is simply too close to the work to see the faults that are obvious to an unbiased reader.
            And while on that subject, and without naming names, I know of one or two authors who have acquired a well-deserved reputation for being ‘difficult’ – meaning that they’ll argue with their editor for a couple of weeks over the placement of every single comma – who are simply not having their publishing contracts renewed, and who are being dumped by their agents. One in particular has achieved very impressive sales figures, but he’s such a nightmare to deal with that his publishers would rather take the hit and lose his sales instead of having to work with him any more. These days, and in this economic climate, being able to take editorial direction is simply vital if an author wants to stay in business.
            But back to the word count. What is a reasonable output? Should authors take the weekends off, and just work a five-day week like most other people? And, having written your 1,000 words or whatever your daily target is, should you stop at that point and go shopping or walk the dog or something? Or should you carry on until you run out of steam?
            Is a book necessarily any better because the author has slaved away over it for half a dozen years? Or does a book which has been written as fast as possible retain more of a spark of originality, simply because of the speed of its creation?
            Personally, I do know that if I did ever decide I was going to take five years to write a 100,000 word book, I strongly suspect I would die of boredom before I got half way through it. And if I did somehow manage to complete it, my guess is that most of the readers would suffer pretty much the same fate. If the author isn’t excited enough by the story to tell it quickly, I just don’t think it’s worth telling.
            And you can’t even argue convincingly that the research in a book which has taken years to write is going to be any better than one written in a much shorter timescale. Again, no names, but a thriller written by an extremely well-known British author, a literal household name, after – I think – an eight-year gestation period, included a section set on board the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal during the Falklands campaign. This would have been a difficult trick to pull off, because the ship was still being built in Newcastle throughout this brief and bloody war, and I know that because I was serving on board HMS Illustrious, which was involved in the conflict, as were the Hermes and Invincible. Checking that fact would have taken him about fifteen seconds on the internet.
So taking years to produce a manuscript is no guarantee of either quality or accuracy, and in this particular case I also wonder if his editor was too frightened of offending the great man to point out his mistake. Because that’s another unattractive trait among certain successful authors – the great ‘I am’ syndrome which so often translates into unbearable arrogance. Publishers normally refer to such authors as ‘demanding’, but few people in the trade are in any doubt about what they really mean.
Personally, whenever one of my publishers, or my agent, asks me if I can do something, my invariable answer is ‘yes’, and I sort out the logistics afterwards. These days, being as accommodating and helpful as possible is essential in the publishing world if you want to have any hope of a continuing career.
Or, at least, it’s certainly worked for me!

You can contact me at:

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Libraries in the 21st Century

Posted by Leigh Russell
I was pleased to be invited to talk about my books at the relaunch of Bushey library. Before speaking about my own books, I decided to say a few words about how fantastic it is to see a refurbished library in the current climate.

With over 430 libraries closed or under threat, the professional body of librarians CILIP are forecasting another 600 more will soon be under scrutiny. That’s around 20% of our libraries threatened with closure.

Under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide a library service. But the government are changing the rules, claiming attendance has been dropping since 2005, although children’s visits have remained steady.

Libraries, on the other hand, report increased use since the start of the recession. In the past year around 50% of adults in England visited libraries. They go there for free books, information, learning resources, work and ICT. New communities seek help with English, material in their first language, and help with citizenship procedures.

But whatever the true picture, there is no question that funding is a problem, provoking a lot of debate about what can be done. Reducing opening hours would only make visiting more difficult; reducing stocks would have an adverse effect on users’ satisfaction; and replacing staff with volunteers would, in my opinion, be disastrous. Part of the value of libraries is the expertise of the trained librarians. Introducing any of these measures would inevitably hasten the demise of any library, in my opinion. You can’t rescue a good service by making it mediocre or worse.

The question should not be solely about money. As US Publisher’s Weekly says: ‘‘The value of libraries should not be measured in economic terms alone’’, although of course economic considerations can’t be disregarded. We have to decide what we want from libraries in the 21st century, with our 24/7 culture, cheap books, ebooks, and almost limitless information accessible to all without having to stir from our homes.

What kind of society do we want?

Borders closed, the whole Waterstones chain has recently been bought for price of one footballer, and the past 15 years have seen an increase of over 1,000% in lap dancing clubs in London alongside a 6% decline in libraries in the capital.

As book lovers, we should all care about libraries, even if we don’t use them ourselves. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to speak up in support of our struggling library service, because without pressure from the reading public, libraries as we know them may not survive for much longer. To paraphrase Burke: “All that is necessary for the disappearance of libraries is for readers to do nothing.”
Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel crime novels:
Contact Leigh on
CUT SHORT (2009) - shortlisted CWA Dagger
ROAD CLOSED (2010) - top read Eurocrime
DEAD END (2011) - bestselling kindle detective
DEATH BED (2012)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Swearing in Books

I had an e-mail this morning from a reader who said he was a big fan of my books, which was nice of course. But he also pointed out that the characters in the Death Force series used the word ‘sodding’ all the time, and it got a bit repetitive.

He’s right, of course. They do, and it is.

There is a reason, however. They are soldiers. In real life it would be fu%£kig this and f!c£king that. And for some reason, I don’t think swearing works very well in books. I don’t have anything against it in real life, and it can work fine in films, but I print it somehow falls flat.

So I use sodding instead.

But maybe that doesn’t quite work either? 

Friday, 16 September 2011

To iPad or not to iPad?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

Is it just me, or is the iPad a triumph of marketing and hype over usability – and over usefulness, in fact?
            Read the reviews and you come away with the firm impression that the iPad, and especially the iPad 2, essentially redefines the tablet computer, being far and away the best of the bunch. Even holding one apparently conveys an almost sexual pleasure, it’s so beautifully designed, sleek and elegant and cutting-edge and just unbelievably cool.
            Wonderful. Now let’s just stop for a moment and ask one simple question that never seems to be addressed in any of the reviews. What actual use is it?
It’s been promoted as a kind of ‘all things to all men’ tablet device, a combination of mobile phone, diary, contacts database, e-book reader and laptop but, unless I'm missing the point, it doesn't really seem to do any of those things particularly well. Who, in their right mind, would lug around an iPad to make telephone calls – and you even need a special app to achieve this – when a normal mobile phone is so small it can sit in your pocket and you don't even know it's there until somebody rings you? And every modern mobile can act as your calendar, contacts list and appointments’ diary. As for ebooks, it seems to me that the Kindle, with its excellent battery life and compact dimensions, is a far better, more convenient and more usable device.
Most netbooks are about the same size as an iPad, albeit thicker, and when you open up one of those to send an e-mail or surf the web, you have a real keyboard in front of you, not the ‘virtual’ version provided by the iPad. Composing and sending emails is a lot easier on a netbook because of the real keyboard, and so is surfing the web, not least because Apple won’t allow Flash to be displayed on their equipment, and these days the vast majority of websites use Flash in one way or another. So presumably some websites can’t even be opened on an iPad, and many of those that can be viewed will be incomplete.
            And the price of the thing is simply eye-watering. Even on eBay, an iPad 2 with 16 GB of memory will cost well over £400, or about the same price as TWO entry-level netbooks each with 160 GB hard disks and 1 GB of RAM. And 16 GB of memory? I have USB memory sticks with twice that capacity. The iPad’s RAM is a mere 512 MB, and the dual-core processor runs at 1 GHz – hardly what I’d call cutting-edge technology. For pretty much the same price, my HP laptop has a 750 GB hard drive, 6 GB of RAM and a quad-core processor running at 2 GHz.
            If you need more memory on a laptop, you simply open it up and add another chip. The same applies to the hard disk. Or you can simply plug in an external hard drive to give you effectively unlimited hard disk capacity. But on an iPad, you can't do any of that. It doesn't even have a built-in USB socket, only a lead that fits its proprietary connector and has a USB socket at the other end. You want more memory? You sell the old unit and buy another. That’s the only way to upgrade. Hardly a choice most people will want to make.
            What about connectivity? As an extra cost option, you can buy a dock to sit the iPad in, but otherwise there’s only the proprietary connector and a headphone socket. I’ve no idea how you’d get the thing to print anything, but it’ll probably only talk to a wireless printer, so if you haven’t got one, forget it. Again, with a netbook or laptop, you can connect it to almost anything simply by using the appropriate cable.
            I’ve looked at Apple’s promotional video, and the most significant feature of the new unit, or at least the one they spend the most time talking about, is the cover. Oh, and it has two cameras, twice as many as my netbook, and twice as many as I would ever have the slightest use for. And most reviewers comment that the quality of the images the cameras produce is actually only barely average at best.
            I’ve also looked at the range of applications, and the vast majority of them seem to be completely pointless. If you want to watch a video, any laptop or netbook will show it in pretty much the same detail as the iPad, and probably with better sound because most laptops have far better speakers. And you can put the laptop down on a desk and sit back to watch the movie, instead of having to sit there holding the unit in front of you. Of course, you can add external speakers to the iPad, as long as you’re prepared to buy the dock, but that means you’ve got to lug around the iPad, plus the dock, plus the speakers, rather than carry just a laptop. If you want to watch a DVD, don’t even think about the iPad because, naturally, it doesn’t have a DVD drive.
I don't play games on computers, so none of those offered on the iPad are of any interest to me. In fact, whenever I get a new computer, about the first thing I do is delete the games folder in toto.
            GarageBand? Do people really want to demonstrate their total lack of musical ability to the world? You want to play a set of virtual drums by tapping on the screen of a tablet computer? Clever technology it may be, but give me a break – it’s a completely pointless waste of time. If you’re a real musician, I suppose you might enjoy playing about with it, but it’s never going to be of any use to a serious user, who’ll run a much better professional program on a laptop or desktop PC.
            I've never done video conferencing, and am never likely to, but if I had to, I think I'd find it a lot easier on a laptop which I can place on the desk and open, rather than having to presumably prop up an iPad on a pile of books or something, or hold the wretched thing in my hands.
            In short, the iPad looks cool and sexy and geeky, the kind of ‘must-have’ accessory people want to use in a train or a cafĂ© somewhere, so that other people will look at them and think they’re smart and sophisticated but, for me at least, it just seems like a complete waste of quite a lot of money. It doesn’t appear to do anything that I’d find useful, or that I can’t do just as well – and arguably even better – on other electronic devices that cost a fraction of the iPad’s credit card-busting price tag.
            Or have I just completely missed the point? Does the iPad have any use whatsoever? What does it actually do that makes it so expensive and apparently so desirable to so many people? Surely somebody out there can set me straight. After all, Apple is predicted to sell 40 million of them this year, and all those customers can’t possibly be wrong.
            Or can they?

You can contact me at:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Gluttons For Punishment

By Richard Jay Parker

Had an interesting tweet from another writer (thanks, Michael) who said that most of the writers he had encountered on Twitter were from the UK.  It's an interesting obervation.  For such a small island we certainly have a considerable, creative weight.

As well as our rich literary history I commented that perhaps it's because we're all gluttons for punishment here.  Anyone who chooses to find their way in a career of writing knows they have an arduous journey ahead.  The rewards, financial or otherwise are never guaranteed.

There are all sorts of theories about why the UK has exuded more than its fair share of creativity on all fronts.  One favourite is that our system of benefits has allowed many aspiring artists and writers to find the time to develop their skills.

Whether this is true or not perhaps it's a combination of our optimistic, never say die spirit as well as a touch of insanity.

But having made contact with writers at different stages of their careers worldwide it's true to say that we all share the same dogged approach and, moreover, a global camaraderie and willingness to help and support each other.

Long may it continue.

Visit Richard at:


Friday, 9 September 2011

The future of publishing?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

Emlyn Rees and Richard Jay Parker both mentioned ebooks in their blogs this week, so I thought I’d follow suit.
It’s undeniably true that the impact of this new form of reading technology has alarmed the publishing world more than most people who work in it are prepared to admit. Kindle sales in particular have been spectacular, and for people who enjoy reading on holiday the reason is not difficult to find. Why an earth would you take a dozen paperbacks along with you, with all the weight and inconvenience that that implies, when you can slip a Kindle which contains your entire library into your jacket pocket? Kindles seem to be everywhere these days, but especially on most forms of public transport, and almost everyone seems to own one.
I was having lunch with my agent in London in that bastion of celebrity, the Ivy Club, a few weeks ago and talking about this very subject, when to my surprise he reached into his jacket pocket and flashed his own Kindle at me. I have to confess that I don’t actually own one of these slim grey devices, though I have acquired an extensive library of Kindle books on my laptop, and I do have an Android tablet which will do much the same job as a Kindle, but in Technicolor rather than shades of grey. But I never seem to use it. For some reason, the idea of reading a book on an electronic device is still somewhat foreign to me, and I still go on holiday with a couple of paperbacks.
            The publishing world is frightened of ebooks, as far as I can see, because they’re new and they don’t quite know what effect their proliferation is going to have on mainstream publishers, and indeed on literary agents. In five or ten years’ time, will there even be such a thing as a publishing house? What’s the point of an author going through all the aggravation and hassle of writing a novel, finding an agent, letting the agent secure a publishing contract, doing all the editing and fiddling about with the cover design and all the rest, when he could just as easily spend a few hours at the computer converting his words of wisdom into an electronic format that would be acceptable to Amazon, and then sitting back and waiting for the money to roll in?
            And if an author goes this route, there’s no agent sitting in the middle to take his 15% or 20% of the author’s meagre income, and we’re not talking about revenues of 7% of the cover price either. The author can pitch the price of his book exactly where he wants it, and once Amazon has taken its slice of the pie, all the rest is pure profit.
            A few months ago, I read an article in a British writing magazine which covered this topic rather neatly. The contributor quoted as an example a young female American author – using the word ‘author’ in its loosest possible sense – who had written some twenty ‘novels’ (I’m again using this word extremely loosely, as they were between 8,000 and 12,000 words in length, meaning that they were actually longish short stories) and was selling them all on the Internet. He even quoted a few sentences from one of these ‘books’, which made it abundantly clear that the girl was almost completely illiterate, couldn’t spell most words longer than five letters and had only the haziest idea about grammar, punctuation, plotting and pretty much anything else to do with writing.
But, and this is the real point of this story, she’d priced her ‘works’ at well under $5 each, and had sold in total some 200,000 copies. Even after Amazon or whichever company was handling the sales had taken its cut, this girl, with no readily discernable talent or ability, had achieved the kind of annual income that most British mainstream authors can only dream about.
So is that kind of thing the future of writing? I really hope not. The most important single thing the literary agents and publishers achieve at the moment is the unspoken guarantee that when a reader goes into a bookshop and chooses a novel, that novel will be of an acceptable standard. Of course, not all readers would agree with this statement, even if we decide to leave Dan Brown out of consideration. But I think most would accept that a book which has taken about a year to write, and has been accepted by a literary agent and then bought by a publishing house is far more likely to be worth reading than one which has been knocked together in a few hours by somebody in their bedroom and then flogged as an e-book on the web.
What does the future hold? Nobody knows, obviously, but I do think it’s fairly clear that ebooks will occupy an increasingly large share of the market over the next few years as the technology proliferates. We may even see the demise of some of the High Street bookshops as increasing competition from the online retailers hits harder. But I still think we’ll find both literary agents and mainstream publishers in business. Perhaps a slightly different business from the model they’re used to, but they’ll still be there.
            At least, that’s what I hope. As the Chinese say: ‘may you live in interesting times’. And I certainly think we do.

You can contact me at:

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

Interact With The Author

By Richard Jay Parker

Read an article this week about an ebook q&a facility being road tested.  It basically allows the reader to address questions to the author while reading their work.

It's another example of how the relationship between readers and writers is being changed by technology.  Blogs, Facebook and Twitter are prime examples. Obviously the bigger name the author the less likely it is that they will have the time for regular dialogues with their readers.  International bestselling authors usually operate under enormous pressure.  There's constant demand for their presence on book tours, at signings, for interviews etc not to mention the limited time they have to deliver another book that will have to tick all the boxes for their readers.

I think this new device will allow a writer to connect with readers on a wider scale.  It also offers an opportunity to do so without being tied to a particular timetable.  The author can respond when convenient rather than having to speak about their work when they'd rather be immersed in it.

Meeting readers face to face should always be part of every writer's life.  They are, after all, the very people who allow the author to earn a living from their imagination.  I've spoken to authors who say they have started to feel out of touch with their readers because of deadlines and other promotional commitments.  It's good to see that as technology offers ways for writers to make their work more instantaneously available it's also offering imaginative solutions for maintaining this increasingly vital connection.

Visit Richard at:



Friday, 2 September 2011

Not the best year I've ever had ...

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker)

It has been, by any standards, a pretty bad year. Last November my mother-in-law – a lady with whom I had a very good relationship – was diagnosed with terminal cancer and despite two very major operations and treatment from the National Health Service that was, despite our fears fuelled by the typical bad press the NHS attracts, startlingly good, she died in July. It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that because of this I have been somewhat distracted, and this has inevitably impacted my job – writing. That’s not an excuse for my prolonged absence from this blog: it’s simply a fact.
            Quite apart from the mental anguish that such an event produces for all family members, there are also the sheer practical aspects of the matter to consider. Initially, it was taking her to receive the chemo treatment that was recommended, which occupied about four to five hours two or three days a week. Then, when she was readmitted to hospital when it was clear that the treatment – which was at best a palliative, no more – wasn’t working, it was daily visits. These involved about a forty-minute drive each way, and then perhaps two hours at the hospital, and sometimes we were visiting twice a day. With that level of commitment – which we were only too pleased to make, obviously – almost all other aspects of our lives were to some extent put on hold. Until the diagnosis of my mother-in-law’s condition was made, I had never properly appreciated the fundamental truth of the expression that when one family member gets cancer, everyone in the family gets it. It really is, in all sorts of ways, a life-changing experience.
            Now we’ve moved into what you might call the admin phase: obtaining probate, clearing the house, what stuff do we sell, what do we keep, and which of the several charity shops in Sevenoaks should we visit next, carrying large bulging sacks. The staff at several now greet us by name, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing …
            So we move on.
            Maybe a brief sitrep about where I am is a good idea, as I see that my last post here was back in April, and obviously a lot’s happened since then.
            In my post of 16th March, I mentioned a brand new writing project, an idea cooked up by my agent which, when the dust had settled and the dates finalized, necessitated writing just under 100,000 words in 28 days, including a lot of detailed research. The good news is that the project worked, and the manuscript was bought as part of a two-book deal by Simon & Schuster. The bad news – well, it’s actually not bad, just confusing – is that because this novel is in yet another different genre, I’ve had to acquire another nom de plume, my fourth.
            My agent’s idea was to set a conspiracy thriller on board the RMS Titanic on the ship’s tragic maiden voyage, which was the reason for all the research because, although the ship sank almost 100 years ago, there are thousands of people out there who know almost every detail of the interior and the construction. If my hero walked down a corridor, the description of the corridor would have to be right, otherwise the angry emails would start flooding in. I know how passionate people can get about their pet subject.
            I’m reminded of a local geographer here in Andorra who, when he read Overkill, my first ‘James Barrington’ book, actually got in his car and drove all the way out to my house, which is at the end of a dead-end valley, to point out that I’d got the name of a port in Albania wrong.
            Anyway, my new alter ego is ‘Jack Steel’ (the publisher is toying with ‘Jason Steel’, but the image in my mind is somehow wrong), and The Titanic Secret will be in the shops to coincide with the centenary of the sinking next April. We’ve just about finished the editing, and I’m waiting to see the proposed cover designs, which I hope will be available next week.
            And I now have a new website:, so please visit. You can also find me on

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Real-Time Story-Telling

The Kindle is a huge opportunity for writers. It is not just a new way of distributing our work. It is also an opportunity to tell stories in a new way. I’m just launching a new series of e-book only novellas called Black Ops. The first one is called Black Ops: Libya, so it is fairly obvious where it is set. The idea, however, is to tell stories ripped straight from the headlines, and put them out instantaneously.

The e-book allows us to do that. Traditional publishing takes a year at least to get a book to the market. So the instant thriller, which is what the Black Ops series aims to be, takes advantage of the technology to tell a story that has the advantage of immediacy. It is real-time story-telling.

In the first one, an ex-SAS guy called Alex Marden and a former Navy Seal called Jack Rogan are dropped into Libya by NATO to retrieve a document in the hands of the old regime that would be hugely embarrassing to the British and American governments if it fell into the wrong hands.

But they soon get themselves caught up in the fighting and chaos as Tripoli falls to the rebels.

It is a cracking adventure story. And the first time anyone has taken advantage of the e-book to try something like this.