Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell
In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell

First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon
An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

Creativity vs Business

When my first novel came out, one of my first ‘reviews’ was a less than warm with approval private message from a reader. This person claimed the book wasn’t bad for a first novel —  the best thing the reviewer said. I’ve since discovered that such communications are not unknown, although I and many authors wonder why a reader wants to contact an author to give them a bad day.

Fine, any number of books make even me grind my teeth. They deserve a few of the negative reviews which stop others wasting their money because it’s an amateur author and/or amateur publisher. Saying that, I admit not all of my past writing has been exemplary, but I wrote according to demand and learned. My writing has seen vast improvements mostly from various editing experiences. An equal number of those books are in mainstream publishing and on bestseller lists. It’s a grey area one might say. Therefore, most books I dislike I choose not to review — I realise the story may not suit me but someone else may enjoy it immensely. I wouldn’t contact an author with anything but praise or a sensible comment. Even constructive critique (critique not criticism — a subtle but important distinction) can be subjective and questionable. It’s all ‘opinion’.

I also accept the book isn’t ‘my’ book. There’s no point writing to an author saying one doesn’t like how the book ended. If a reader only likes books with happy endings, there’s no point to rile against every book that doesn’t have one. Better to read with more care, or write the books one prefers to read. One thing I love J.K.Rowling said was she’s not taking dictation.  The work is the author’s vision, not the reader’s.

Or is it?

There were changes to my first novel. Some occurred because the publisher wanted a series from an envisioned one-off novel. I’m not complaining. I loved my characters and we’ve had a long and happy relationship. Some changes I wasn’t so sure of, but they were small and we compromised. Other changes didn’t happen, but with hindsight I would love to re-work the stories one day. The fact remains when a reader reviews a book they’re not only judging the work of the author, but often an entire team of people the author has worked with. I found that first ‘review’ frustrating, not because the reader didn’t relish my story (it was MY story, not hers and I still feel much of the problem was the reader wanted more sexual content) but because some things the reader complained of weren’t down to me. Sometimes, the failure (or success) of a book isn’t down to one person.

A team of people have looked over the manuscript and the synopsis and decided whether they want to handle a story before it ever gains acceptance. Then the writer will work with an editor, and perhaps a line editor and proofers. These may give input. Their jobs are to catch weaknesses in the story, plot holes, typos, spelling and grammar errors. Even those small things can cause problems. For example, British spelling and grammar differs to that of the US (a subject for another blog). On top of all the ‘rules’ individual opinions creep in, as does house-style. I’ve had editors who want speech to be grammatically correct, when that’s one thing that shouldn’t be unless it’s for a specific effect. I’ve had editors who do or don’t like contractions. Editors who wouldn’t allow me to use a perfectly acceptable piece of punctuation because the person didn’t like it.

But…but…but the book belongs to the author, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the author decide these things, or at least negotiate? Yes, but most contracts will state the final decision lies with the publisher. When contracting a book the title may be up for change. The author may or may not get to approve cover art. The author seldom if ever owns the cover art. Once the book is out of print, be it paper or digital, often the writer can no longer display said cover art. As for the story… Fact: many publishers will let a writer know along with the offer of a contract what changes to the story the publisher wants to create a publishable book — to ‘fit’ their market. Many won’t. Often, the writer signs blind, and then waits with bated breath.

Even if the publisher specifies edits, that doesn’t guarantee an editor won’t cut lines and paragraphs, doesn’t guarantee he or she won’t cut whole chapters. Sometimes, the writer can complain and negotiate. This should involve give and take on both sides…but, remember, the publisher has final decision. With or without previous agreement they can make huge changes to books. If the publisher decides a chapter needs to go, whether they’ve forewarned the author, the chapter goes. If they want an additional character or one removed or altered, then it happens.

Saying that, any ‘good’ publisher will do its best to negotiate and compromise. They will explain why they feel the book needs the changes. Often, the reasons make sense. It’s painful for an author to have someone point out a weak spot in a work, but if the editor can support the argument, the author can grumble (quietly) and then yield to good sense. Sometimes the author cannot see or doesn’t agree with those reasons. I’ve had edits made to books that may best serve the publisher’s market, but don’t serve my intention behind the story. This is where creativity and business clash.

The writer wants to create. The publisher wants to sell. So does the writer, but the story is all important to the writer unless they are writing purely for commercial reasons. A publisher will follow the market trends, see what sells best, and follow those leads, accepting and altering work to gain the most sales. This is often why many manuscripts get rejected, regardless of the writer’s brilliance. A writer also needs good timing. There’s no point writing a zombie novel when vampires are all popular and vice versa. Some books must await the right time and market. Sometimes a perfect market doesn’t exist, and it’s a case of tweaking a story to fit one that does.

It’s in the best interests of the writer to get in writing an indication of what edits the story will undergo before signing a contract. It’s in the best interests of the publisher to provide these. A publisher is nothing without its writers, and should a writer have a bad experience the publisher can guarantee to receive no more works from that source. Some publishers don’t care — there are plenty of people out there who want to write — but in this era of the internet and information exchange bad reputations can stick.

Let Yourself Fly

Usually the mere mention of Tim Burton will put me in a cinema seat, but with the release of the live-action version of Disney’s ‘Dumbo’*, I hear that the film lacks the heart of the original so I’m thinking ‘not this time’. I’ll watch but likely wait until it comes to television in some form.

*(An oxymoron considering much of it is CGI, but so was Jungle Book and that was enjoyable.)

However, what it did was recall a memory I thought to share with you. Many years ago I worked with a woman who had a six-year-old girl. If I say watching films at home on VHS was still quite a novelty and DVDs were still to be invented for consumer use, I’m likely aging myself, but Dumbo had been released on tape and ‘owning a Disney film’ created quite a stir in those days. Many no doubt paid more for the privilege than the often 2 for 1 deals for these films today. Yet I’m talking about another historical event — If memory serves me correctly, this was the first showing of Dumbo on British television. Many of us rushed to set our VHS recorders.

The week after this big event I was talking to my colleague and asked what her daughter thought of the film.

“Oh that,” my colleague said. “I turned it off.”

Confused I asked, “What? Why?”

“She started crying.”

Even more perplexed I said, “So? At which part?”

“The bit with the mother swinging him in her trunk. I told her, so silly to cry over a cartoon.”

“But… But… But…” I stuttered. “I cry at that part too.” This earned me an incredulous look of derision. “It’s sad,” I defended my position.  “And besides, now she doesn’t know there was a happy ending.”

As we all know, the whole point of Dumbo is to show having faith in yourself and taking chances can lead to magical outcomes, maybe not as enchanting as learning to fly, but had I not pushed through adversity I wouldn’t be writing. And I hope, wherever she is now, my friend’s daughter at long last saw the end of Dumbo, went on to great things, and maybe one day sat down to watch Dumbo with children of her own, all having a good cry. I hope you all do, and one way or another, let yourself fly.