A review: Banquet for the Damned

I’ve just finished my second dip into Adam Nevill’s writing, prompting me to review Banquet for the Damned. I couldn’t help wondering what drew me in so. Simply, a rich vocabulary — a style that elevates the horror genre with a more artistic approach.

One thing that has occasionally made me grit my teeth, has been having to dumb down. Editors say this in different ways but if told, ‘I’m not telling you to dumb down’ they are. Another way of expressing this is commercial fiction: short simple words, sentences, and paragraphs make for faster reading; readers can speed through books and hence purchase more.

Nothing wrong with this. Some genres or stories take to the fast pace with alacrity and even within a leisurely pace there is the need to play with the velocity, speeding up and slowing down to suit the suspense and relaxed segments of the plot.

Still, I was surprised to have people contact me praising my use of language, words, prose, narrative, style, and  expression for my book, A Very Private Haunting all amounting to the same thing and making me feel using a richer vocabulary isn’t frowned on by all as many would have us believe. A vocabulary I’ve often had to simplify to meet market demand, so you can imagine my delight when I stumbled over a writer I hadn’t read before who’s not afraid of opting for a more demanding word choice. If I tell you three of my favourite writers are Mervyn Peake, China Melville, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it should be no surprise I’m delighted to read an imaginative approach in one of my favourite genres.

I can see why this book will receive mixed reviews, and it’s owing to stylistic preference. On the first page, I sank into a rich vocabulary and longer sentences so often lacking in modern fiction. I don’t want to use the term literary as it carries an unfortunate modern-day connotation of dusty libraries and mildewed books written by notaries of a by-gone age (a sad view of the classics that were part of my childhood reading and nowadays periodically termed ‘too difficult’) and Nevill’s work isn’t like that, but one would have to say this is a more literary ‘style’ of horror.

Another way to describe it is I can see several editor’s returning the manuscript circling a few sentences as purple prose. Thank goodness the publisher ignored them if they did. The carefully chosen style weaves a successful spell on any reader able to appreciate the opulent seductive description spiced with the ‘creep’ factor; the sense that something is coming and might be present on the next turn of a page. This seems to be where Adam Nevill excels. I’ve read two of his titles so far but will check out more.

A Review: The Reapers are the Angels (updated repost)

Below I re-post a review for a book I read some years ago. Though my opinion of the story was mixed, it remains on my shelves and something about the tail must have resonated because I remember it well. Once, Vampires were the beloved creatures to terrorise us and seduce us, whether in their seductive forms or by revealing their more parasitic natures as preferred by writers like Stephen King. For the last several years zombies have become the new vampires in the popularity poles and it’s likely easy to see why. Most horror favourites associate with current events.

Vampires were popularised by Hammer Horror and such notaries like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing when the sixties liberation, and cultural changes were rife. Woman, in particular, had more sexual freedom, which was one attributing factor which helped path a way for their social independence, and vampires represent not only the stalking horror but, in much the same way as dancing is often declared a vertical expression of a more horizontal performance, vampires have for so long associated with seduction and the thought of living forever, possibly with the one we love.

Zombies have gained popularity during a time where terrorism is rife, and much of the world seems ever more out of control. The popular monsters of the hour are an analogy for the genuine ‘monstrum’ of reality.

In THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell we invited into the story of a fifteen-year-old teenager called Temple and her journey across America where she encounters other survivors of a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak. Temple has never known a world any different — the outbreak happened so long ago there are people born after the disaster. The slugs, as she calls them, still inhabit the earth, but the art of existing in a world of zombies is only one small step on the road to survival. Constantly running from responsibility, preferring to be alone, and accountable for and only to herself in a brutal world, Temple stumbles across others who affect her life in myriad ways. Some she struggles to leave and doesn’t always succeed.

I liked this book but didn’t love it even though I wanted to. The Young Adult tone categorised this book for teenagers, but raised even one of my eyebrows at a fifteen-year-old girl having sex. Fine, these things happen, and should zombies ever roam then perhaps we won’t concern ourselves with such things too greatly, but in a book whose tone seems to fit younger readers the content seemed a little off-key. Either that or it is aimed at an older or more diverse readership, yet doesn’t come across that way. Don’t mistake me — if underage sex makes sense and is a necessary part of the story then I don’t feel it should necessarily be avoided, and at least it’s well presented and used acceptably, not gratuitously; however, the fact the writer got this by the publishing censors surprised me. Another problem is that some confrontations are predictable although there were a few unexpected turns.

My main issues with the book, though, involve grammar and style. The story uses an omniscient voice that led it to feel as if I was sitting down being told Temple’s adventure by someone sitting around a campfire. Unfortunately, it left me somewhat cold as if the fire wasn’t lit. I can also forgive the use of ‘of’ in place of ‘have’ in speech (as in “I could of left yesterday”) but not in narration. And last, there are no speech marks. Not a single one. The entire book is ‘told’ including all the conversations. I’ll be the first to say it’s nice to find a writer pushing barriers and breaking rules, but I could see no need to avoid the use of speech marks, particularly if this book is YA, which surely calls for the best use of punctuation and grammar. I can only give the book a three, maybe three and a half out of five. It’s not bad — it just rather perplexed me. I can see many will love this story, but for me the style never quite gelled.

Despite these faults, as I’ve already stated, it’s a book I remember and haven’t yet given away. Alden Bell appears to have written only one other novel, Exit Kingdom, which I may check out.

Why order direct?

On a weekend when I’m removing my Loose Id books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.

Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There’s been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors’ annual income below minimum wage. For many it’s much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you’re mistaken.

What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I’ll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let’s say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that’s not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don’t forget possible taxes but that’s another subject I won’t throw into the equation for this post.)

As a rough example, let’s say we’re walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I’m setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book’s cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that’s £2.70 and 30p respectively.

To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we’re talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.

If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.

I’m not saying don’t buy from bookshops. I’m saying do. I’m one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can’t discount the same way as supermarket chains.

Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let’s set the author’s cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.

If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don’t forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don’t overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.

On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 – 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.

If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential ‘loss’ on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn’t mention those, and I won’t, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.

In that scenario, you’ve got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.

Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 – 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.

To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider ‘going it alone’ (not without its problems) there are reasons I’ll address another time.

Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.

And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual ‘file’ rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a ‘click’ because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why Loose Id and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.