Saturday, 29 October 2011

Will The Kindle Get Men to Read More?

by Matt Lynn

If you haven’t bought one of the new Kindles yet, I really recommend it. It’s lighter than the old one, which makes it completely portable, but it is just as slickly designed, easy to read, and simple to use.

But I’ve noticed one thing about it. It fits perfectly into inside breast pocket of a man’s jacket. I’m a fairly averaged sized bloke – 42 jacket size if you must know – so I guess that is true for most men.

This is a more important point than most people realise. Men don’t normally have anywhere they can carry a book around. We don’t have handbags. Jacket and coat pockets are two small for printed books (unless you are going for the intellectual look, in which case you might have a copy of Camus stuffed into a big, grey coat). Unlike women, we don’t have anywhere we can slip a book away that we can read on the bus, or waiting for a meeting, or whatever.

On the whole women read more than men – that’s why women’s fiction sells more than men’s fiction. I’m not suggesting the Kindle is a male device – I’ve seen loads of women reading them on the train.

But it might well encourage men to read as much as women – which can only be a good thing.  

Post-cruise blues

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

Just a short follow-up to my previous post:
The following day we arrived at Gatwick to fly to Venice, and at the airport I found a convenient hobby horse onto which I could climb. I turned on my laptop just to see if by any chance there was a wireless system there which I could log onto without making a significant dent in my credit card. The third one listed said ‘FreePublicWiFi’. Now, I don’t know about you, but to most people that name would suggest that members of the public could log on to a wireless network without paying a fee, right?
            Actually, wrong. I’ve tried logging onto such networks around the world and every single one I’ve tried has been anything but – not free, not accessible to the public, or in some cases not even a wifi network. But I tried anyway. Gatwick didn’t disappoint, though in a way that I hadn’t expected. It was accessible to my laptop, it was free and it was a wireless network. In short, it did, as they say, do what it said on the tin. What it didn’t do was what I – and what anybody else who logged on to it – would reasonably have expected it to do: it had no access to the internet. Or to anything else.
            That, I have to confess, rather puzzled me. Why, in the name of all that’s reasonable, would anybody have gone to all the trouble and expense of setting up a wireless network at a place like Gatwick, and then disabled access to the internet? What, exactly, were they trying to achieve? What was the point? Apart from pissing off the passengers, obviously, which they certainly managed to do in my case.
            But the cruise was as good as we’d hoped, with calm seas and excellent weather apart from the day the ship was in Naples, where the skies produced torrential rain all morning but brightened considerably during the afternoon, when we drove back along the Amalfi Coast. The ship, the Crystal Serenity, was just as delightful the second time around, the destinations were all interesting, and I had good audiences for my lectures, which always helps.
            Then we flew back to Heathrow from Barcelona. I had a couple of meetings in London, and I definitely knew I was back in England when the illuminated sign in the train announced: ‘Welcome aboarl thas service to Sevenoaks.’ General literacy obviously hadn’t improved while we’d been away …
            The publishing schedules roll around seemingly quicker than ever. The delivery date for my next book is Monday 31 October, so it’s just as well that it’s almost finished. That’s the next ‘James Becker’ novel for Transworld, and I’ve also got a little under two weeks to go through the page proofs of The Titanic Secret, the first ‘Jack Steel’ novel for Simon and Schuster, which has just been sold to the American arm of the same publishing house. Then there’ll be the editing to do for Transworld over the following two or three months, as well as writing the next two books for these publishers, because I’m now back to doing three novels a year.
In fact, it might even be four, because my agent – always a font of really good ideas – has suggested another possible plot that sounds interesting. If it works, that’ll mean another nom de plume and probably another publisher, but it all depends on the book working, and him selling it.
And on me finding the time to write it, of course.

You can contact me at:

Saturday, 22 October 2011


by Matt Lynn

We tend to think of authors as fairly reclusive characters. The word ‘bookish’ summons up images of fairly self-absorbed, introverted characters, with a slight detachment from the real world. And from the authors I have met, I would say that is, in the most, a fairly accurate characterisation. Some were larger than life – Dickens, perhaps, and certainly Hemmingway – but they also led largely artistic careers.

Now, however, something is changing.

Authors are becoming entrepreneurs.

The books industry has changed. Even when you are published by one of the big houses – Headline in my case – you still need to do a lot of marketing of yourself to make sure your book finds an audience. You need to build a website, get on Twitter, and give talks. There is no point in expecting the publisher to do it all for you.

And, more and more authors are turning to Kindle as well. They are bringing out their own books, and promoting then themselves, either entirely on their own, or in conjunction with traditionally published books.  They are in effect setting up small businesses.

One consequence, however, is that the books we all read will be increasingly produced by people who are as much entrepreneurs as writers. That may well not be a bad thing. A lot of fiction in the last half-century has been very inward-looking. It doesn’t have much of the energy and involvement in the world of Victorian fiction.

But it certainly means that the types of books that get written are going to be very different. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Virtual Legacy

By Richard Jay Parker

Saw an interview on TV with a girl who was in a car accident and thought she was going to die in hospital.  She hurriedly gave her best friend her computer passwords so her virtual legacy (intellectual property, sensitive documents etc) wouldn't be lost.  Thankfully she survived and has now appointed official keepers of her passwords.  She's obviously very trusting.

It's something writers should certainly consider, particularly if their work is stored in password protected locations.  Although it's impossible to value intellectual works it would be good to have the equivalent of a curator who knows which discs/locations contain the projects you've slaved over.

We've certainly come a long way in a short time in terms of the way we archive our work.  I saw a documentary about Stanley Kubrick and the huge number of boxes he kept stored in a residential warehouse which contained all of his reserch materials, notebooks and scripts.  It seemed fitting that his career would leave behind such a substantial personal library.

21st Century writers will probably have one memory stick to account for their entire creative life.

It certainly means less trees are cut down but when all those hours of anguish and hair-pulling can be condensed into something smaller than your nail it doesn't seem like much to leave to the family estate.

But like ebooks it's not the file that it's stored on that is of value but the experiences and hard work of the writer, without which the work would never have been created.

I hope my family will understand that after my death and a fusty man in a suit hands them a very, very small envelope.

Visit Richard at:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lost in the land of the illiterate ...

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

We’ve visited this topic before, but I think it’s both a.) kind of important and b.) desperately sad that we seem to be surrounded by people who very obviously can’t spell or use English properly and who also clearly don’t care that the products of their illiteracy are displayed for all to see.
Of course, we’re all very familiar with the signs posted by greengrocers, who certainly know that a punctuation mark called the apostrophe exists and seemed determined to use it as frequently as possible, which is why you can be invited to buy lettuces’s and potatoe’s and tomatoe’s and apple’s and even, on occasion, xma’s tree’s. We’re used to that, and I think most people accept that these traders are in the business of selling us fresh fruit and vegetables and stuff, not demonstrating their command of the English language, and we simply smile and walk on.
            But it’s a bit different when the same lack of even the most basic grammatical skills are displayed in the arts. Then I think we need to start worrying.
            When we’re in England, we stay in Sevenoaks, a pleasant market town perched at the top of a hill in Kent. Some people unkindly refer to it these days as ‘One Oak’, because about half a dozen of the old trees around the Vine were blown down in the big storm of 1987. A few years ago, the town was frankly rather dull, staid and boring, and even finding a decent restaurant was quite a challenge, but recently there’s been an influx of new businesses and younger residents, attracted by the excellent rail service, which can get you to Charing Cross in about thirty minutes, with the result that Sevenoaks is now noticeably more vibrant and alive.
            One of the old establishments in the town is the theatre, which the council tried unsuccessfully to have closed down a few years ago, possibly on the grounds that they wanted to erect a new office building on the site. That’s the charitable view. There were other mutterings about backhanders and brown envelopes, and it is certainly true that every time a large site in the town becomes vacant, the most likely new construction on it will be yet another office building that the town neither wants nor needs. Down by the mainline railway station there are three of them, all conspicuous by the fact that ever since they were built they’ve stayed wholly or partially vacant. There used to be a decent pub down there as well, but that was demolished some time ago, and most people expect that yet another empty office building will eventually arise, Phoenix-like, from the rubble, to become a fourth eyesore. But whatever the degree of corruption or incompetence manifested by the council, the decision to close the theatre provoked an uncharacteristically vocal storm of protest.
            The council relented, and appointed a management team which clearly had not the slightest idea of how to run a theatre and cinema complex in an English country town. The only films they appeared able to show were French art-house productions which mainly involved the smoking of large numbers of cigarettes and the consumption of prodigious quantities of alcohol by the actors, long smouldering glances which appeared meaningful in a meaningless way, inaccurate subtitles and sparse dialogue which was banal even by normal film standards, and no discernable plot. Attendance numbers dropped exponentially, and it was feared that the council’s wish to shut the establishment would be fulfilled. But then another management team took over and simply transformed the place, showing films the public actually wanted to see, and hosting excellent stage productions.
            All of which is a rather roundabout way of getting to the point I was trying to make. I spent some time in the theatre restaurant recently, and was looking with interest at the various advertisements and posters which plastered the walls, all announcing some forthcoming production. Almost without exception, they were scattered with spelling and grammatical errors. A new production of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was heralded as an ‘amatuer’ production. A performer had worked at some other venue as a ‘compare’, and so on. And all these were on professionally printed posters, presumably created and then approved by the theatre management staff, which implies that both they and the printers they used were illiterate.
            That day, I went to London, to be treated on the train to an example of the Unnecessary Use Of Capital Letters, when the illuminated sign warned passengers to beware of the gap ‘between the Platform and the Train’. But at least the words were spelt correctly. In the evening, we had a meal in the local pub, where the theme was continued, the menu offering both ‘cellery soup’ and ‘choccolate brownies’.
We seemed unable to escape to a land of literacy. It’s almost as if there’s a complicated plot being run in the background, orchestrated by a bunch of evil faceless men, and designed to seduce people who are literate over to the dark side.
            In fact, I’ve just had a brilliant idea for a book. I’ll call it Teh Iliteracky Cod by ‘Don Brawn’. It’ll sell millions.

You can contact me at:

Friday, 7 October 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

I've noticed that a large percentage of online pieces about books and technology frequently use the phrase 'Death Of The Book.'  It was probably quite attention-grabbing a couple of years ago but now it seems to have lost its impact and doesn't guarantee as many hits.  It doesn't stop people using it though, particularly when they want to bring people's attention to an otherwise dull piece (like this one).

Whatever side of the debate you're on re the fate of the printed word maybe a similarly vigorous campaign could now be launched to bring about the death of the death of the book headline.

How about: 'The Protracted Asphyxiation Of The Book,' 'The Ignominious Death Rattle Of The Book,' 'The Gruesome Disembowelment Of The Book' or The Book Dies Screaming Bloody Murder As The Kindle Slips Back Into The Fog With Its Gladstone Bag.'

It would certainly grab people's attention again even if the piece offers no real insight into whether this will ever be the case (like this one).

All flowers and moribund suggestions welcome.

Visit Richard at

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Making It All Worthwhile

by Matt Lynn

There’s always plenty for writers to moan about. Not having our books prominently displayed in the bookshop for example. A miserable sales ranking on Amazon. And that’s before we even get started on the publishers and agents.
            But every so often something comes along to make it feel worthwhile.
            A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a woman whose son was very unwell. He wouldn’t be having much of a birthday, she said, and his situation made it hard for him to get out and meet people. But he was a big fan of my first two books, Death Force and Shadow Force. And he would really like it if I sent him a birthday card.
            In fact, I sent him a signed copy of Shadow Force.
            It’s nice to know your work has got through to someone enough that they would be pleased to hear from you, even though they don’t know you. I guess that is what all writers aspire to.
            I hope he has a good day. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Booktrack - what a yawn.

Booktrack, the iPad app that matches soundtracks and sound effects to the ebook you’re reading is now here. Meaning you can read Sherlock Holmes complete with crackling fires, creaking doors, and continuous ‘foreboding’ muzak, all neatly synched to every turn of your virtual page.

“It’s difficult to imagine a movie with no soundtrack,” Paul Cameron, Booktrack’s CEO said. “Yet, until today, the technology did not exist to synchronize music and sound within an e-book”.

Apart from pointing out to Mr Cameron that he clearly hasn’t heard of the Dogme film movement, which regards soundtracks as superfluous distractions which most modern films could entirely do without, I’d reply - tongue firmly in cheek - that, ‘Sure, Paul, but why stop at Conan Doyle? What about a soundtrack to go with The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot? Maybe even spice it up with a bit of rap: 'My name is M.C.Eliot, my rhythms and rhymes are really hot.'

Because, I mean, in this modern day, why should we have to put up with those tedious subtleties and rhythms of Eliot’s carefully chosen words, when our whole reading/listening experience could be enhanced by having some engineer synch in a bunch of clanky out-takes from the BBC Radio Sound Effects Department instead?

And why put up with a merely brilliantly timed and cadenced cliffhanger at the end of a Stieg Larsson chapter, when its dramatic impact could be so much better emphasised by concluding each chapter with an Eastenders-style, ‘Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-der-derrrr’?

In fact, why not move beyond simple musical and sound effect enhancements? Hell, why should we trust plain old poets and authors to trigger any of our other senses at all, when technology could surely do a much better job?

Why rely on Nigel Slater to titiliate our tastebuds with descriptions of his recipes? Much better, surely, to have ‘lickable’ books, where the real taste comes straight through without all those unnecessarily cumbersome words? They could even be printed on rice paper. Mmm. Yum, yum. A tasty read indeed.

Equally, why have Patrick Suskind waste our time with those exhausting descriptive passages conjuring up a myriad of olfactory sensations in Perfume, when instead we could simply have ‘scratch ‘n’ sniff' patches attached to the bottom of the pages instead?

Actually, maybe the best thing of all would be not to bother with books at all. I mean, all that bothersome’s just such a drag, isn’t it?

Perhaps Mr Cameron could come up with a way to save us all that hassle completely? Like, I don’t know, how about just getting rid of all the words? Maybe just having pictures instead? Or even moving pictures and spoken words and music. You know, like one of those - watchoocallems? - movies, oh, yeah, that’s already been done.

I don’t know...maybe I’m missing the point...but why can’t a book just be that? I’m well up for movies, or narrative-based computer games, or for whatever else the future might bring...but sticking a soundtrack on a printed work isn’t the’s just tacky...and distracting...and, frankly, something I think we can all do without.

I'll leave the last word to Mr Cameron, though. He sums up his true passion for books better than I ever could, as well as the true appeal to book retailers of the Booktrack app: "What they like about it is its ability to upsell—which you can’t really do with books at the moment. Other products you can—when Amazon sells shoes they can ask: ‘Would you like polish with that?’

Shoes? Books? He's right, of course: there's no bloody difference at all.

* Interesting to note also that Salman Rushdie was at Booktrack's launch party. I wonder what soundtrack they'd give his books. I know, maybe they could kill two birds with one stone, by soundtracking THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH and MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN with one great big, gassy yawn.

You can contact Emlyn Rees via his website

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Stupid Tax on E-Books

by Matt Lynn

E-Books are the best thing that have happened to writers since…well, probably the invention of instant coffee. Sure, there is a lot of nervousness among publishers and bookshop owners and that is understandable. But for writers, they can only be good news. At the flick of a switch, you have a global market. Far more of the money generated goes to the writer. And it opens up markers for all sorts of new kinds of work.

There is one glaring injustice, however. E-books carry VAT, whereas printed books are tax-free. 

That is just short-sighted greed on the part of the Treasury. A petition has been started up on the government’s website calling for its abolition. As it rightly points out, e-books are far more environmentally-friendly than the old, paper sort. No trees get cut down. No vans drive them around the country. A book is a book, regardless of the form of delivery. It is crazy to discriminate in favour of one kind through the tax system.

I’d add another point. I bet e-books can be a huge industry for the UK. We have great writers, English is the world’s language, and we have the editors and entrepreneurs who can seize the market. And yet the Government is taxing e-books unfairly – which almost certainly means the industry won’t develop as fast as it otherwise would. Bonkers.

I’ve already signed the petition, but there are only 2,500 so far. So click on the link and add your name today.