Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Alien abduction of buffalo

According to local radio, a Berkshire resident has witnessed aliens abducting buffalo from a farm in Overton, near Basingstoke.

My initial reaction was "why buffalo?". Could this be a case of mistaken identity? Perhaps, if you're an alien, all earth life looks much the same. I can imagine the conversation now...

"We have tuned in to your radio and TV broadcasts. We know you are an intelligent species so take us to your leader."


"Moo? Lieutenant Zog, run that through the ship computer's language analyser. What's he saying?

Of course, I could have got it completely wrong. Maybe aliens are just excessively fond of mozzarella.

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Monday, 3 August 2009

Five Ages of Man

The five ages of man (or woman)

Childhood: My parents are always right.

Teenage: My parents are always wrong.

Maturity: My parents are sometimes right, sometimes wrong.

Middle Age: I have to tell my parents what's right and what's wrong.

Old Age: My parents, God bless them, were probably right all along.

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Friday, 12 June 2009

Finding an illustrator

Suddenly my publishing project has got real. I have hired an illustrator. In the process I have discovered there's one thing worse than being rejected (something with which we authors are all too familiar) and that's having to reject someone else.

When my first possible illustrator fell through, I was quite down for a while. In retrospect it had all been too easy. I had stumbled across a young art student on the recommendation of an internet friend, and everything seemed hunky dory at first. The only downer was he was often a bit tardy responding to my emails. Finally he admitted the reason was he didn't really have time for the project - well at least he told me before it was too late.

It took me a few weeks to pick myself up and have another go. I was finally inspired to take action when I had a couple of recommendations from contacts on the Lewis Carroll discussion group on Yahoo. In the event, finding an illustrator turned out to be a much less painful process than I had expected - at least, in some respects.

By this time I had become aware of a number of web sites where you could post projects inviting tenders from folks all over the world. I was a bit intimidated by the idea but decided I had nothing to lose as the site I had chosen made it clear the service was free to the "employer". So I went ahead.

In only a few days I had received more than 20 offers. These seemed to be divided into two categories. Some were from professional design studios, or full time designers, who had mistaken my budget of "up to 500 dollars" as being per picture rather than for the whole project. One studio, who had correctly interpreted my budget, took the trouble to write and tell me off for offering such a derisory sum but I was vindicated by the other responses. The majority of the responses were from individuals who were more than happy to take on the whole project for sums considerably less than my asking price.

Typically these were art teachers, students or others for whom this was a little bonus on the side rather than their bread and butter. They were darned good artists, though. A browse through their portfolios revealed some stunningly good pictures and illustrations. I was genuinely spoiled for choice. Meanwhile, one of my Caroll group contacts had also got back to me with some pretty good artwork and an unbelievable level of enthusiasm - at times I thought this lady had more confidence in, and enthusiasm for, the project than I had.

It was a really difficult choice but I finally had to go with an art teacher from New York. Her sample sketch of a scene from my first chapter was the closest to my mind's eye picture and the other artwork in her on-line portfolio convinced me she was more than good enough for the job. Oh yes. That was something else I got ticked off for. Apparently it was against the rules of the web site to ask prospective illustrators to provide a sample. I was supposed to go purely on their portfolios - though how I was supposed to tell from their illustrations of other things how they would interpret my Alice, I don't know. Anyway, against the rules or not, I got away with it. Several of those who tendered for my project did provide a rough sketch of my "Alice and dog" scene and it was these sketches which helped me most in making my final choice.

So what was the hard part? Saying no to those clearly very talented and enthusiastic artists who didn't win the contract. I didn't have time to respond to all but I felt I owed it to those who had so nearly made it, particularly the lady from the Yahoo group. Call me an overly sensitive old what's it but I find it really hard having to turn people down, particularly if they are clearly so enthusiastic. I'd rather have a dozen publishers' rejection letters any day than have to write one myself. I wonder if publishers and agents find it similarly agonising. Nah. They have to write so many, they must be immune to it.

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Monday, 20 April 2009

Book launch? Help!

I just started to dip my toe into the things you need to do to launch a self-published book onto an unsuspecting world and frightened the life out of myself.

You need a press release. OK, fair enough, but where can I find out what a good one of those looks like? What should go in it and who to send it to? I guess none of these problems is unsurmountable but it looks like I'm committed to a good deal more research here.

Then you need a book-launch party? A what? Does that mean party in the sense of drunk people in the kitchen debating how to set the world to rights; Mrs B girating seductively in the lounge, bouncing all her wobbly bits, whilst Mr B stands, dejected, in front of her, his hands held slightly higher than normal occasionally bending his knees not quite in time to the music. It takes you the next day and a half to tidy the house and the next fortnight to finish off all the opened bottles of cheap plonk. Are we talking one of those sorts of parties?

Why? I expect most of my friends will buy my book even if I don't invite them to a party and I don't know anyone in the publishing industry. That's the problem. Who on earth should I invite to a book launch party and why on earth should I suppose anyone who matters would have the slightest interested in turning up?

Interviews in the local media. Maybe. I occasionally phone in to the local radio station. I wonder if they'll remember me enough to be interested in my imminent book release. Probably not. They say you need to start planning six months in advance. It all seemed so possible when it was tomorrow's problem but six months before release is getting horribly close to the time I generally think of as "now". It seems almost pointless contacting anyone in the media six months in advance. By the time the book is actually released they will have forgotten all about me.

It's clear I have a lot to learn in the next nine months or so. I'm planning on a February launch so, if this were a human baby, the gestation period has just started. What a frightening thought. I have found a lot of very general information out there but the devil is in the detail. Help! And I mean that most sincerely, folks.

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Thursday, 16 April 2009

The publishing game

This week I sent, to a select group of UK publishers, what I believe to be the last submissions of my Alice manuscript - ever. There's actually a part of me (and like most parts of me these days, it's growing) that hopes these submissions will be rejected.

The selected publishers were the last three stragglers in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook who are prepared to consider unagented submissions and who don't explicitly discourage either children's or fantasy or both. Why do I not continue to try via agents? Is it because I fear these modern day bouncers at the publishing club door will turn me away as unsuitably dressed or, for some equally trivial reason, not the sort of person they want to admit to their industry? Well it's partly that and partly down to a question of time. To have any chance of even modest success I believe my book launch should be timed to coincide with the release of Tim Burton's new Alice film.

I have severe doubts whether the lumbering dinosaur of a commercial publishing house is capable of moving sufficiently quickly to achieve that objective in the ten and a bit months remaining. Some of them, I understand, can take almost that long just to decide whether to take on a manuscript. Introduce the additional delay of going via an agent and the project is doomed.

I am also, like many writers today, becoming disillusioned with the whole publishing industry. The problem is right there, in that second word: "industry". It is a business so who can blame them, especially in these troubled times, for rating every incoming manuscript using the single selection criterion "how much money can I make out of this?". I would too if my livelihood depended on it. Unfortunately quality of manuscript and commercial viability don't necessarily go hand in hand - and I don't think that's just sour grapes.

It was brought home to me by my most encouraging and, simultaneously, most painful, rejection a few weeks back. A major UK publishing house wrote and told me they thought my book was an excellent pastiche, very well written, and of a genre very much in vogue at the moment. Despite all that, they felt unable to publish it because items of that nature, apparently, only sell well off the name of a celebrity author. Doesn't that just about say it all? It doesn't matter how good your product, if you've not got a name then you aren't going to get anywhere.

So how does anyone break into this closed shop? To be honest, I don't know. You've clearly got to be lucky, or know someone, and have a book which is more than merely good. It has to knock a reader off their seat but commercially. The reader, be they agent or publisher, needs to see pounds and dollars in front of their eyes either because your work hits whatever nerve is in vogue this (or, to be more accurate, next) year or because they see a constant stream of saleable merchandise from the same stable.

The losers in this game are those who's books are merely very good, those whose work isn't "commercial" for any reason and those who are likely to be one-book-wonders (no matter how brilliant that one book might be). The other losers are the reading public who might actually have liked the good-but-not-so-saleable, the books that don't happen to conform to whatever here-today-gone-tomorrow fad is flavour of the month.

So why am I almost hoping for rejection? Partly it's that time question again. If a commercial publisher were to take me on now, would the product get to market in time to catch the bow wave of publicity from the film? Quite likely not. I understand that, in the case of new or untried writers, the lion's share of the responsibility for publicising a book rests with the author rather than the publishing house. I'm none too sure how to achieve that without the film to lean on. Which is better, to be commercially published and shown to be a failure than never to have been published at all?

The other part is that I have convinced myself I actually want to have a go at publishing myself. It sounds like an adventure. If it all goes pear shaped then, at worst, I will have lost a few hundred quid. It's probably no more than, say, a golfer here in the South East would spend in a year on his hobby. The only drawback I can see is that moment when you admit to someone that you published it yourself. I have a feeling that, in some people's eyes, that's only one step up from child molesting, but that's their problem, not mine. If I sell a couple of dozen copies at least that's twenty-odd people (not too odd, I hope) who will read my work. If sales get into the hundreds I shall be ecstatic and into the thousands? Well let's not even go there. It would be like planning what to do after you win the lottery.

I even have this dream, if it all goes well, that I shall publish further titles and not necessarily all my own. I quite fancy the idea of becoming a publisher myself.

In the likely event that the latest submissions come to nothing, it is my intention to maintain a journal, in this blog, of my learning curve and the ups and downs on the path to self publishing my book. I plan to do it properly - getting my own ISBNs, illustrations, design etc. I certainly won't be investing in any of these £700+ DIY publishing packages. Anything that expensive would torpedo any chances of showing a modest profit.

If this an area of interest to you then please follow along for the ride. If you have already trodden this path before then your contributions and experiences would be welcome. Follow me on Twitter (WriterManUK) to keep posted on updates to this blog.

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Cerrie Burnell

I was appalled to learn that some parents are apparently objecting to the BBC's decision to employ disabled presenter, Cerrie Burnell, to host programmes for young children.

Astonishingly, some parents are so psychologically disabled themselves that they cannot find a way to explain to their kids that, in nature, not everything turns out the same size, shape and colour - that people are natural things and, unfortunately, not everyone comes out absolutely perfect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the children of these repressed parents are also psychologically damaged to the extent that they are frightened by the sight of Ms Burnell.

At last I understand how we managed to breed a generation of Eurocrats who believe in the value of straight cucumbers. I guess it's the same philosophy as objecting to organic apples because they're not all the same shape (incidentally, what do you call the other sort of apples - inorganic?).

Presumably these same parents would also be objecting if a disabled child were to join their offspring's nursery school or playgroup. Perhaps we should have more consideration for these unfortunate souls and pass legislation forcing all disabled people to stay at home, thus avoiding the possibility of scaring their sensitive sons and daughters.

Or maybe we should be doing the more sensible thing of seeking out these parents and gently persuading them not to have any more kids, or even to relinquish the ones they've already got, as they are clearly not up to the job of bringing them up.

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Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow, snow. Quick, quick? No.

If there's one thing we Brits have never quite got our head around, it's the fact that, occasionally, at this time of year, white slippery stuff falls out of the sky. It always takes us by surprise.

I woke up this morning to find most of the south east covered with a thin, but very pretty, white blanket. It's like a Chrismas card which has come about six weeks too late.

The list of school closures on the local radio goes on for several minutes. It would probably be quicker to list those that are open. There is stationary traffic in the main road outside my house. In fact, there's stationery traffic too. I spotted a W H Smith's lorry. The busses and local trains aren't running.

I am in the fortunate(?) position of being able to walk to work so I feel smugly superior as I effortlessly overtake the traffic queued on the A329. On my journey I pass several groups of school children who have set off prematurely. My route takes me past a number of bus stops, and a local railway station, where stranded passengers are talking anxiously on their mobile phones, trying to let offices or loved ones know they are going to be several hours late.

A Danish lady phoned the local radio station this morning. When she was a child, growing up in Denmark, her school never closed because of snow.

'In Denmark,' she tells us, 'we have a special word for this kind of weather. We call it "winter".'

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Thursday, 29 January 2009

An open letter to manufacturers of hair care products

Picture this (not too vividly if you don't mind) - I'm standing in the shower, stripped of all my usual clothing including, significantly, my spectacles. I reach for one of your excellent hair care products. What is the most important information to me at this time?

Is it your branding? Much as you might like it to be, alas it is not. I already made the decision to purchase, several days ago, in the supermarket.

Is it that it's new and improved? Well, no. I was actually quite happy with the old formula, otherwise I wouldn't have bought your brand again. I do have an optimistic hope that if change it then it will be to improve it - although I accept it might just be a cost saving exercise.

Is it the fact that it contains ceramide B? If truth be told, I've never heard of ceramide B outside of your TV commercials and have only your word for it that it's any better for my hair than lard.

No. What I really want to know, more than anything else at this precise moment, is which of your identically styled bottles contains shampoo and which conditioner. Unfortunately, this information is consigned to a tiny font and is hidden somewhere near the bottom of the label.

Please spare a thought for your more myopic customers who all too frequently end up putting conditioner on unwashed hair. Let's have it nice and big and obvious - what's in the bottle.

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Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Christmas Soaps

Did your household's Christmas festivities get brought to a shuddering halt by that scourge of the modern British family Christmas, the Christmas holiday soaps?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Christmas TV on principle. It can help to fill the quiet periods or keep the children out of mischief. For those unfortunate enough to be on their own, it can be an invaluable public service.

A spot of light entertainment? Fine. You can even have it on in the background, if you must, whilst normal family life continues around it. A high profile film? Excellent idea. If it happens to hit a lull in the proceedings then the family can settle down to watch it together. If the party is in full swing, you can just let it go in the certain knowledge that it will be on again before too long. If you’re really keen you can always record it or rent it when the family have finally gone their separate ways.

Not so the soap. For those following any particular series, every episode is mandatory viewing lest some vital event be missed. The chances of anyone else wringing a crumb of entertainment from it are minimal. The witty one liners lose their sting, and the significance of those knowing looks evaporates, when you don’t even know who the characters are, who hates who (everyone hates someone in soap land) and what circumstances led to their current crises.

You can be assured, too, that every soap dweller's situation is one of perpetual crisis. Even during the supposedly happy festive season, practically everyone in soap land is thoroughly miserable. Perhaps this is supposed to make us ordinary folk feel more contented with our lot but, for the most part, it’s just plain depressing.

Recording the soaps isn’t an option because the episodes have to be watched in the correct order and in most cases there’s another one due along tomorrow. Once you start the recording game you’re into an ever increasing spiral of debt, like a painter on the Forth Bridge, desperately trying to catch up. Also, if it's for granny's benefit, you can bet your bottom dollar that she won't be able to play back whatever format of recording you use at home so you're committed to screening the lot before she leaves.

So, at the appointed hour, the TV has to go on and all other distractions must cease.

This Christmas Day was pretty typical, with back to back soaps monopolising many a living room from 6pm until 9:30 with just one, brief, half hour break. By the time that lot was all over, the magic must have evaporated in many households. "Quiet kids, Granny is trying to hear Coronation Street" is hardly conducive to the spirit of Christmas.

Most years I end up forced out of my own living room to do the washing up - an activity marginally more entertaining than Emmerdale. Come on ITV, don’t let the ratings war blind you to your obligations to British family life. BBC, we rely upon you to do what is right rather than what is commercial. Do you think we could possibly make next year a "soap-free" Christmas?

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