About time someone brought out a postcard series that sells east London as it really is. Enjoy!
I hope we’re all now clear on that! Stay tuned for ‘Postcard … #3: How to Tell if You’re In a Walthamstow Park’…
Although I am not feeling particularly amenable to celebrating yet another successful revolution of the Earth round the sun – a paucity or superfluity of ambition on my part for it to do so would seem rather redundant anyway (Bah! Humbug!) – I would nonetheless like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and successful 2013.
And while you’re reading, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog; it makes for interesting reading, breaking down the stats into who wanted to read what, from which countries they originated, and what they thought about the blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.
I read an article recently about the Queen’s English Society having closed. (Hands up, I co-opted the clever title from that article for this blog post, and therefore the copyright remains with the author; however, as no one actually cared enough to read the source material, I should be fine.)
Now just hold up one darn cotton-pickin’ minute here!
Did you read that right?
Did I write that right?
Closed …? Yup. Just reread it.
Pushing up the proverbial daisies.
In other words: snuffed it … innit.
This society has been railing against incorrect English usage for years, and now they’ve closed, apparently due to a lack of interest.
‘A lack of interest …?’ you may well splutter, as I did when I read it. (Well, I chuckled. Near enough?)
Surely that’s the same as closing the language due to a lack of interest. Calling time on it, dotting your last ‘i’ and crossing your last ‘t’, bolting the doors and going home. Shutting up shop. Forever. Tragic.
I jest, of course. You can’t close a language (can you?). You can close a shop or any other kind of business, put it into receivership and get what you can for it. But a language? I mean, what are you going to do with all your stock?
A language. No …! Ludicrous …! Patently! You can’t simply give a mental shrug of the shoulders and loftily decide:
‘Why? Because we’ll decide if and whether you are allowed to like our product – it doesn’t matter that you, the customer, are satisfied – not good enough. Oh no! Not by a long shot.
‘The fact is, you’re using it in-im-dis-un-non-contra-anti-sans-abcorrectingly (who’s to say anymore?) so we’re cancelling it.’
Weird attitude to cop in the first place. I mean, who’s to stop me buying an Armani jacket and cutting off the sleeves to make a fetching leather vest? Who’d want to? No one, least of all Armani. He’d applaud the creativity. Same thing with this English Society nonsense.
Imagine if IKEA or Lego took the same stance. Ruined childhoods and many a shattered Sunday DIY dream would ensue.
Of course it closed. Who needs the thing, redundant and obsolete. And their idea to set up an ‘Academy of Contemporary English’ was a frankly weird (and mercifully unsuccessful) attempt at self-imposed cultural policing that’s about 900 years too late to do any good anyway.
Oh, by the way, the use of the word ‘innit’ (which I frequently use in my own books) in the title of the article and this blog post as a good-natured pejorative is indicative of the real nature of the English language – the very nature these English society people tried to police and promptly found themselves sweeping the streets.
‘Innit’ is a contracted form of an English tail question and is therefore a brilliant use of an economy of words in its written form, and, more to the point (as one of my more eagle-eyed respondents pointed out), syllable reduction when spoken.
‘It is cold, isn’t it?’ is five words. ‘Cold, innit’ is two (and, as the same canny respondent noted, when spoken in its contracted form, the phrase loses three – count ‘em – syllables). Anyone who doesn’t like it, doesn’t have to use it in speech or in writing, but can hardly accuse anyone who chooses to do so of doing any more than perpetuating the only consistently ‘correct’ usage of the English language anyway, and that is that it changes as per needs. Period.
Even the MLA and the CMoS are style guides: useful, authorative, essential tools for any writer, or anyone interested in publishing – tools I wholeheartedly endorse, use, and recommend – but they are still precisely that: guides to accepted styles and conventions: written in ink, not stone.
And that’s something these English society people never really understood while they sat round debating whether Subway posters contained the correct usage of the Oxford comma.
Who cares? Get over it: English is dead, long live English!
And anyone who doesn’t like that might as well take up French or Spanish – I hear they have academies there to tell you what to do.
This post is in response to the exciting announcement over at my publishers, Orb Entertainment, that we are almost ready to roll with publication of my novel – the title of which, I am now allowed to reveal: Shadechasers. (Cool title, huh?)
Or, to use the full book title (Shadechasers is the series moniker): Shadechasers: Book One – Chronicle of Days.
The meaning? Let’s break down this new mythology a bit:
1.Comparative darkness and coolness caused by shelter from direct sunlight.
2. A disembodied spirit; a ghost.
v. chased, chas·ing, chas·es,
1. To follow rapidly in order to catch or overtake; pursue.
2. A person or thing that chases.
Put it all together and you have the name of a terrifying kind of multi-dimensional being (described in the book as a [race of] ‘alien-vampire-Frankenstein-like paranormal hybrid[s]’) that ‘chases shades’. In other words, it is a creature that hunts down and captures ghosts across the dimensions – for sinister and mind-blowing reasons that will gradually be revealed as the book (series), games, other apps et al progress …
Stay tuned for an update on the innovative publishing model Orb is using to deliver this exciting new work to you – offering, among other things, a brand spanking new mobile reading experience. More on that and what else we’re up to over at the Orb site …
I am fortunate to meet many, many talented people in publishing, illustration and design through my industry connections, and none more so than Peter Dobbin.
Peter is a highly gifted and much-in-demand concept and graphic artist as well as an illustrator of books, games and comics, including the Harry-Potter games for EA games, no less.
Peter would be my choice of illustrator for my novels, set as they are in a part of London both he and I find creatively stimulating as the ‘Personal Projects’ section of his website portfolio amply attests.
Peter’s eye for the nuance and detail of east London life is extraordinary; he manages to make a wood-slat rubbish bin beneath a looming concrete overpass in a deserted park look menacing; the weed-strangled pavement seems to writhe with resentment at the trainers that tramp disinterestedly across it. And that is exactly the feel those forgotten and abandoned corners of east London have about them; lonely places where few locals dare venture and rarely glimpse as they go blithely about their daily lives.
And Peter’s work captures that perfectly.
As, I hope, does mine.
As regards illustrations for my novels, however, much depends on the vagaries of the publishing process and many factors outside my control. Regardless, Peter has very kindly allowed me to use some of his artwork in this post (all rights remain with the artist) to give a feel for both my book series as well as what the man himself is capable of. It’s worth giving these illustrations some time and attention because I know of no writer or artist that could not learn something from Peter’s work.
Fig 1. [Character/Environment] Local gang/The mean streets of Leytonstone, east London
Fig 2. [Character/Environment] Bus ride to hell (or Hackney Road as it’s known locally)
Fig 3. [Character] Street kid ‘chilling’ in South Tottenham after dark
Fig 5. [Character] DIY zombie surgeon (Waltham Forest NHS trust is in need of a best practice review )
Fig 5. [Character] East London characters – ‘Spare some change, guv?’
Hooray, then! And three cheers all round for everyone’s support and hard work.
Helluva process, and a lot of final details to get ready if we are to make that rapidly approaching deadline. We’ll crack it, though.
It is now a question of formatting, final editing, and, of course, creating a cover design – or, in the case of a multi-app downloadable book, a ‘thumb’.
No, me either. Apparently, a thumb – or thumbnail image – represents the book visually across the various apps that it will be made available on, and needs to be more of a logo than an image per se for this reason.
Now we all know. We can look forward to that then. Stay tuned …
I wrote this blog post a short ten months ago – if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now and bring yourself up to speed.
In conjunction with my publisher, Orb Entertainment, we have now completed everything we predicted would be required to fulfill our goals as outlined in that post – and much, much more – and we are almost ready to roll with publication.
I don’t know exactly.
Not too sure.
In what formats?
Don’t know that either – digital to begin with, I gather.
Certain aspects of Orb’s innovative publishing model have been deemed so top secret that even I don’t have access to everything yet.
All will be revealed …
In the meantime, check out the Orb site (their latest publication, Carved, pictured above, is available to download), which is undergoing a revamp, and glean what precious nuggets of information you can ahead of publication.
Oh, by the way, the line in the Orb blog post that reads ‘[the novel has been] professionally edited by one of YA’s new young superstar editors’ doesn’t even come close to describing the level of editing that I was fortunate to have access to.
You can rest assured, then, that the book we are about to publish is on an entirely different level to anything else out there as regards concept, quality and execution.
On my word. Stay tuned …
With that in mind, the good people at Shortlist.com are offering a development deal with Big Talk and Comedy Central UK worth £5000 as first prize in a sitcom writing contest that runs until 24 September.
So get writing, and test your creative mettle against what is arguably one of the hardest forms of writing there is.
To paraphrase Edmund Gwenn: ‘Creative fiction writing is easy – comedy is hard!’
Who knows where your creativity might lead you – the Baftas beckon!
I came across this article while researching something else.
The article was written by Richard Curtis at [e-reads] and refers to a recent article by agent, Andrew Zack, in the Huffington Post about the perils and pitfalls of e-Pubbing.
Although I am involved in various aspects of digital pubbing, I do not have the time to write at length on this subject now, so please follow the links in this blog post and pay VEH-REE-CLOSE-ATTEN-SHUN: these guys know of what they speak.
Suffice to say, it’s a horror story you couldn’t invent.
The experiences recounted by both writers are pretty much universal – in other words, they are the same experiences that the pay-to-publish outfits never quite find the time or verbiage to mention in their glossy (e-?)literature. (Yeah, knock me over with a feather as well.)
If you wish to continue to remain deluded and fooled (you’d be surprised: many writers do!), then do not read this article.
You’ve been warned …
As my novel nears publication, I thought it was time I wrote something about the areas in which my books are set, as well as the ghosts and apparitions that may (or may not) inhabit them – after all, that is what my fantasy fiction is about. (Think: Ghostbusters-meets-Eastenders, and you’re in the ballpark.)
I couldn’t, however, do a better job of this than Martin Belam (pictured), who has already researched (though not at the time of writing personally experienced) the ghostly happenings in this neck of the woods, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce the blog post that reports his findings here.
It’s a great article, however do also check out the comments section at the end where locals have reported their own spooky accounts, as well as the links to his other London ghost walks.
I would also invite anyone who has had ghostly encounters to contact me and I will publish the accounts on my blog as well.
I will let Martin take it from here …
© Copyright Martin Belam. Kindly reproduced with the permission of http://www.currybet.net/.
Followers of this site will know that my wife and I are no strangers to traipsing around bits of London looking for the locations of alleged hauntings – in fact currybetdotnet even has a Ghost Walks category. In all these trips though we have never investigated the haunted heritage of where we live and where I was born – Waltham Forest. So finding ourselves at a loss for somewhere exotic to stay over the bank holiday weekend, and wanting to spend some time walking and talking together, we put together our own haunted tour of Walthamstow and Chingford.
We started off at Saint Mary’s Church near Walthamstow Village. Whilst we could not ascertain that this was haunted, it lies in the heart of an old graveyard, which contains some Grade II listed graves, and has been the subject of paranormal investigation. According to a local newspaper article from July 2004:
A pair of ghostbusters are coming to Waltham Forest to capture spooks on film.
Paranormal investigator by night Sandi Monarque, 36, will be visiting Vestry House and St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow Village with her photographic assistant Seth Farren.
She said: ‘I am not a psychic, I can’t speak to spirits. I research the place, go and visit, speak to people and when we see the pictures we know we have seen a ghost.’
Mr Farren, a teacher in Waltham Forest, said he had been a sceptic until he started taking pictures.
He claims to have photographed colourful globes of spirit energy hovering in the air, the faint outline of a man standing in a window, and clouds of mist hanging above gravestones.
He said: ‘I, like a lot of people, was sceptical, but these pictures have blown me away. I hope to find more ghosts in this area.’
Five buildings make up the school, one of them being the old house, which was once a church vestry and is said to be haunted. It is not very likely you will see the ghost. I never have!
Our walk then took us down past Walthamstow Central, to something that wasn’t a haunting, but was a cryptozoology report in the local paper from 2001.
The big cat known as the Beast of Ongar has been spotted in Walthamstow near the marshes.
A dark, silky-sleek figure of a panther or puma was spotted going through bins near houses in St James Village, a block of flats near Low Hall Lane, on Saturday, at 7.30pm. A woman was sitting in her car waiting for her son when she spotted the animal walk past her round the corner to some bins.
Big cat experts claim the animal may be living on the marshes and making food raids on local houses.
The resident, of Downsfield Road, Walthamstow, who saw the beast, said: ‘It came to the front of the car. It looked like a dog but with the face of a cat and it had a long tail. It was as big as a fox. “I thought this is a huge animal. It was looking for food and rooting around. I must admit I was not really scared even though I recognised it was a puma.’
Being around the Low Hall area also took us past the Steam & Transport museum. I’m actually yet to visit it, but the next open days are October 13th & 14th this year, when my wife will be away for the weekend, so I think I might just manage to pay it a visit then.)
Next up was Leucha Road. In May 2003 this made the local news when a resident reported to the council that his house was haunted:
Mr Nembhard, 41, said: ‘I have to leave the television on as this seems to calm the ghosts down, and I can’t sleep because I feel a presence that keeps me awake.’
The first time the welder saw the ghost was while he was lying in bed and trying to get some sleep. He says he started to feel strange and it was as if someone was passing through him. The image he saw was a blonde woman, aged in her 20s or 30s.
The second encounter took place while Mr Nembhard was standing in his kitchen. He claims he saw someone pass quickly. He thought it was his sister but she was upstairs the whole time.
It seems the council at the time were pretty unsympathetic:
A council spokeswoman said: ‘Unfortunately, in this situation there is little that the council can do to help in practical terms.
‘Any physical problems with the property or services provided by the council should be reported to the housing department.’
It was also left unclear what the neighbours who hadn’t experienced the ghost thought of his television being left on 24/7.
Our walk covered quite a bit of distance, so for our next destination we caught the 158 bus from St James Street in order to get off at the Sinnott Road stop on Billet Road. Waiting at St James Street is one of the grimmer areas in Walthamstow, and so we spent an uncomfortable ten minutes sandwiched between a branch of Cash Converters and the bus stop, listening to someone from one of the flats above blaring out the second ‘The Streets’ album at full volume to the general bemusement of passers-by.
Once we’d got off the bus we walked to Cooper Avenue, to visit the street where another council house had apparently had visitations. According to a report on the Paranormal Database in 1969:
Shortly after moving in, a family demanded to be relocated after a white lady manifested in front of a four year old boy and ordered the child to leave. The family dog refused to enter the boy’s bedroom.
From there we headed to what is known as The Crooked Billet roundabout, named after a pub that disappeared to be replaced by a church when I was a youngster. I never visited it (too young), mind you, I’ve never visited the replacement Church either (too Godless). I do still remember the illuminated signs for Skol and Double Diamond that adorned the pub during my youth though – that’s naff brand penetration for you.
In any case, back in June this year a house near there had been the subject of a paranormal investigation by the team at the Eerie Investigations website.
A family in Walthamstow who had recently moved house contacted us regarding concerns which they had about the property. Numerous paranormal phenomena had occurred and been witnessed by multiple family members and friends both individually and in groups. These included; doors which had no locks ‘locking’ closed, DVD cases opening and closing by themselves, books moving across the room, sudden icy-cold blasts of air being felt – despite the house being double-glazed and the windows closed – and frequent occurrences of strong odours of cigarettes and whisky being smelled, although all of the house-residents are non-smokers and non-drinkers.
After investigating the local area and talking to neighbours we determined that the previous tenant had been a heavy smoker and a whisky drinker, and that the events had started to happen after the new family had begun modernising and re-decorating the house. We took with us the famous local medium Alma Butler and interviewed Alma and the residents. Our monitoring equipment noted EMF spikes in some areas of the house, particularly one window which faced onto the street. Without being told this, Alma immediately told us that she could see the previous owner’s spirit standing in this area. Alma performed a spirit-clearance, communicating with the spirit and asking to it move on. Since this date, there have been no further occurrences of any phenomena and the family feel that the house is now completely normal.
We then caught our next bus, towards the cemetery at Chingford Mount. This is reputed to be haunted by a ghost on horseback, who sometimes dismounts so that their footsteps are heard. According to “Ghosts Of The South-East” by Tony Ellis:
Romantics suggest that this could be Lord Nelson or the overworked spirit of Dick Turpin but it is more generally thought that the ghost is that of a member of the Royal hunting parties that used to frequent the area many years ago before it was turned into a cemetery.
We then got back on a bus and headed towards our ultimate destination, The Royal Forest Hotel by Chingford Station.
Before going in there we dropped into the Hunting Lodge, which I have to confess I have never visited before. The building was used as a grandstand for royalty and nobility to watch the progress of hunts through Epping Forest.
I hadn’t realised that the forest was only opened to the public around 150 years ago. The Lodge is now run by the Corporation Of London, and the information in the exhibit is really good – even down to the fact that when first designed it had to have a specifically designed extra wide staircase to allow portly Tudor monarchs to make their painfully slow way upstairs. There is also a dressing up box to allow you to get yourself up in some Tudor gear. I think it is aimed at children but we naturally couldn’t resist.
Our trip ended in The Royal Forest Hotel. A characterless pub serving identikit food for people who have never eaten out before – I say this because on each table they have some forms to fill in where you write down what your order is to ensure that you don’t forget it in the seconds it takes to get from your table to the bar. It is also a pub that is meant to be haunted.
The local paper ran an article about it in September 2003 according to ghosts-uk.net:
While some diners and drinkers might describe the Royal Forest Hotel as their “favourite haunt”, the expression has taken on a whole new meaning for staff.
Manager Jo McCormack and his team believe the spirit of a woman they call Mary is causing them difficulties. Mr McCormack said: ‘Mary manifests herself in various ways.’
Common occurrences include lights and cookers being on without any electricity supply, or dogs barking for no reason. ‘One member of staff, who used to live upstairs, moved out because he felt someone was staying in the room and even felt that person sitting at the end of the bed. But when he looked, there was no-one there.’
The staff and Brewers Fayre, which owns the pub restaurant in Rangers Road, Chingford, is keen to hear from anyone who can provide information about the disastrous fire of 1912 which they believe may be at the root of the alleged haunting.
The hotel was built and opened in 1890 to provide for the many Londoners who started to come out to Chingford to enjoy Epping Forest after it was fully opened to the public in 1882. Tea gardens, pubs and other places of refreshment were developed to cater for them.
Currently I am working in a pub in North Chingford. The building has a lot of history and a history of burning down (which I think it has done now twice). The last time it burnt down a few people were killed, one being a lady – she is the ghost we think we have here. I think she haunts the basement and the 2nd level.
Well I was down in the basement bottling up at night (all of us don’t really like being in there on our own) and I had called a friend from the upstairs to keep me company. Anyway she came down and we were talking about the ghost (we know her as ‘Mary’) and in the middle of the bottling up room there is a line of bottles. Just as she was talking about Mary a bottle flew out of its packing and landed on the floor with a bang, giving us the fright of our lives. Another time I was down there on my own changing the coke over and I could feel some one intensely watching me from behind, I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder and feeling scared. A lot of people feel they are being followed around the basement and up the stairs.
Of course we didn’t have anything paranormal happen to us, but I was impressed with how much information we could find out about alleged hauntings in the Waltham Forest area with only a couple of hours research on the internet. Mind you, that only served to show how easy it might be to spoof being a psychic.
We finished off our evening by dining at Le Monde on Station Road – which was a shame. Although it looked nice from the outside, and the food was fine, their idea of ambience was playing Ronan Keating’s Greatest Hits, and it was priced at what it aspired to be, rather than what it actually was.
You can find more posts on currybetdotnet about the ghost walks I have been on:
Haunted Clerkenwell, Haunted St Paul’s and Barbican – “The city of the dead”, Haunted Knightsbridge, Kensington and Notting Hill, Haunted Westminster and Piccadilly, Haunted Liverpool Street to Mansion House, Haunted Walthamstow and Chingford, Ghosts by Gaslight, Haunted Belgravia and Chelsea, Haunted Canterbury, Haunted Cockfosters and Enfield, Haunted Malta, Haunted Great Portland Street and Theatreland, Haunted Highgate, Haunted Chiswick, Haunted Holborn and Haunted Hampstead.
Eh? It’s like a surgeon asking you to tell him what you think is wrong and where the best place to start the incision would be. You don’t know!? Well if you don’t, how the heck should I?
Okay. So. I am actually thinking of doing it the other way round and starting an agency representing agents to writers. That way I can decipher, for all those bemused unrepresented scribes out there, what appears to be a sort of literary agent’s ‘secret code’ that’s designed to make the gates to the kingdom appear open and welcoming, whilst in reality keeping them firmly closed.
Seems reasonable. And hey, I can be reasonable too. I’ll only take fifteen percent of the same amount that an agent won’t make from your writing (in other words, nothing), as they have no intention of acting for you anyway.
Be that as it may, I’ll leave you with the code-phrases a writer needs to look out for in ascending order of importance and arch imponderability:
1. ‘We’re currently accepting submissions’, which means: ‘You’ll never hear from us again’.
2. ‘We really enjoyed reading your work, but …’, which translates as: ‘Didn’t you know that by stating, ‘We’re currently accepting submissions’, we clearly, and unambiguously, meant we didn’t want to see your unsaleable rubbish in the first place?’
3. Every writer’s favourite: ‘Send us your full manuscript’, meaning; ‘You’ve waited sixteen weeks to hear back from us after having sent your trite synopsis and boring first three chapters that we didn’t want to see in the first place (you just don’t get it, do you – see previous two points), so by way of a suitable punishment, let’s string the whole torturous process out by a further sixteen months before we reject you anyway’.
4. Finally, this old chestnut: ‘Please include return postage if you want your materials sent back to you’, i.e., ‘Trust us – your unpublishable manuscript will be winging itself in precisely that direction before you can type: ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’’
Nope. Me neither.
There seems to be an interesting disconnect in literature between raping the classics by ham-fistedly shoving zombies in them and writing original, entertaining modern classics with Coke cans and iPods in them. (Love it or loathe it, that is what we’re doing).
Unimaginatively shoving generic zombies in classic literature = good; … Coca Cola multipacks and Apple iPod touchs with Philips SHL9700/10 On-Ear Headphones = evil.
An odd, nay hypocritical point of view to take unless anyone can honestly tell me that shoving hordes of zombies in a Jane Austen classic serves an artistic purpose and actually provides a depth and subtext she somehow managed to overlook.
No …? Kidding? … You can’t? …
Then why shove zombies in it? … Cultural relevance, perhaps? … Surely not as a cynical cash grab with no intrinsic artistic or literary value?
Of course not! That’s just me being cynical again.
Anyway … I must get back to writing my latest mashup literary epic: ‘War and Peace and Cranjuice-swigging Vampires.’ Aww, c’mon! How is that bad? The stuff does look like blood! So at least I’m trying to make my mashup’s culturally relevant! (Ocean Spray, I assume the check is in the post.)
I read an interesting article about what Amazon are up to with their publishing program and the way the wider publishing industry views it. (Surprise, surprise – they don’t like it much.)
This article points out that in today’s climate the only irreplaceable elements in the publishing process are the writer and the reader. So serious writers take heart! The playing field is that much more level – it is again becoming possible to write and get your work in the hands of readers whilst making some dosh out of it.
My personal opinion is that if Amazon can ensure top-notch editing in their publishing model, then why not? They already have all the other elements in place – no mean feat. And – knock me over with a feather (quill pen) – Amazon doesn’t view their stable of writers as so much grist to the (pulping?) mill (traditional commercial publishers, you know who you are).
My prediction is that it’s going to go (or has already gone – depending on whose figures you refer to and which trade publications you read) that way whether anyone likes it or not. Writers are best advised to capitalise on that fact.
My motto as a serious writer who is making a career out of writing is: buy in, don’t sell out. What other choice does a writer have? Let’s face it, the big publishers are never going to work with you or consider your manuscript anyway due to internal machinations you will never understand or even know anything about as the rejection slips continue to assemble themselves into a distinctly Pyrenean-looking pile next to your mock Louis Philippe Mahogany writing bureau. So give up on that pipe dream and go where your writing will make you enough money to keep at it.
And if that notion is somehow unpalatable to you, then you will not be a professional writer and big, commercial juggernauts like Amazon will always be a convenient whipping boy for your lack of success.
The upshot? Regardless of Amazon’s detractors and deficiencies, competition is a good thing, and having a dusty elitist monopoly and their fawning, feckless minions as gatekeepers to a lumbering, stuck-in-the-past industry is not exactly, er, healthy, and book sales figures are reflecting that.
Duh. Of course they don’t like it.
Stay tuned …
Or maybe that rule should be amended to ‘show and tell’?
Huh. Again – maybe that’s just me.
Remember Show & Tell from your ill-begotten school days – you wouldn’t have gotten too far without the ‘telling’ part, right? QED.
I’m lucky through my publisher to be working with one of the best editors in the world.
And I mean by far.
I’m finding that what you learn from a great editor crystallises and clarifies the craft of writing in a way no course, MBA or writer’s group ever can – I ought to know. Been there, bought the t-shirts. (Wouldn’t you know it, all the wrong size – don’t you just hate that?)
I feel privileged to be in this position and intend through my blog to pass on what I learn, succinctly and in brief.
Editing and writing looks a lot different from inside the publishing industry – mostly because that’s where all the best editors tend to congregate – and it’s quite illuminating.
Lesson number one: pah! Forget what dusty old writing tutors tell you! A writers group composed of the blind leading the blind may not be your best way to go. Sitting round reeling off inaccurate aphorisms doesn’t really help much in the writing stakes either. (Again, I have a drawer full of ill-fitting tees on that one! Don’t we all?)
The first aphorism to be overhauled is the old ‘show, don’t tell’ adage.
Certainly, there is truth to the adage; I’m not in general terms arguing against it being the much-touted ‘first rule of writing’. Granted, then.
But when asked to define the adage ‘show, don’t tell’, I find most writers can’t; … at least not in concrete terms. I can, after years as a screenplay story structuralist and teacher, however that’s the subject of another post, or you can contact me directly.
In this post, I want to discuss why this adage isn’t too useful – and is guilty of endless interminable pages of excruciatingly boring and redundant writing – when employed to a fault.
Without going into detail here, the theory’s pretty evident, if you think about it. Ask yourself at the outset: do you want to ‘see’ something that isn’t very interesting or important anyway? No? Then why would we, your readers, want to see it?
The solution: if it’s necessary to advance the plot but not that fascinating then don’t show it, tell it – get it out of the way – and do your readers a favour by advancing the story without endless meandering verbiage.
If you feel compelled to ‘show’ absolutely everything then even your hero preparing a ham and cheese sandwich will read like War and Peace. Yawn. Okay. It won’t exactly be Le Carre.
It won’t even be the Bible. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth’ is pure ‘tell’. (God was a notorious plagiarist but he did have a knack for eloquent prose.)
The techniques to do this should be known by all writers; if not, you risk making the activity harder on yourself than need be whilst simultaneously boring your reader, alienating editors and potentially losing that big publishing deal.
Again, I ought to know. I am learning – and continue to learn – the hard way as well.
In short, there’s a reason it’s referred to as ‘telling a story’ and not ‘showing a story’. Long live the non-rhetorical expository passage!
Please contact me regarding information in this post and I am happy to respond.
This meme is as true today in the age of e-publishing as it ever was – truer, I would argue, because in the age of digital and the internet, I predict the medium will increasingly influence the content.
And not in the often clunky, limited and ham-fisted, shove-a-vinyly-record-in-a-CD-player-and-see-if-it-the-end-result-sounds-the-same way that many so-called ‘transmedia’ apps (vis-à-vis books as opposed to games, or whatever), portable devices and even Kindle currently do.
I mean the technology actually influences and infuses the creative writing process with new ideas, concepts and story innovations. If this process is followed from inception through research, writing, editing and ultimately publication then the technology and its development becomes the subject as well as the medium. Thus, the subject influences the technological development that deploys it, and vice versa, ad infinitum in an upwardly spiraling creative, conceptual and technological development cycle.
With Coke cans and Ocean Spray Cran-Grape drinks in it. (Oops! Can’t talk about that yet either.)
Suffice to say, if your story is about the gadget your reader chooses to download and read it on, and contains a story hero that eats and wears the same brands as your reader, then if follows you can sell to the reader more gadgets, apps for the gadgets, and branded products as part of a dynamic ongoing consumer-advertiser interaction.
So far, so brilliant, I would’ve thought. But that’s just me, apparently.
It still amazes me how this innovative idea is being ignored by marketing ‘experts’ right up to publication a few months from now. It’ll be hard to ignore then … but alas, the boat will have already sailed.
Regardless, that is what I write.
As ever, I apologise where my blog posts steer deliberately clear of specifics; however, I am sworn to secrecy on the content and technical aspects for obvious reasons – give it six months and all will become clear. In the meantime, this blog is full of useful material in Recent Posts and Archives in the sidebar on what we’re doing and and how we are doing it.
With a view to being a bit more concrete and public with my ideas, the meme I have paraphrased for the title of this post – originally coined in 1997 by Bill Gates, no less, if I’m not mistaken – is the theme I have chosen for a talk the good people at Academy Class have asked me to give. (Dates to be advised.)
Academy Class (their omission of the definite article, not mine) is a training institution for creatives and developers, with headquarters in Waterloo, London. As instructor, Mark Young explained to me, the institution offers targeted courses for industry professionals to improve their design and programming skills across a wide range of related disciplines.
I, on the other hand, come from a creative, copy and business writing, and teaching background. So mine is a different but related skill set, then – at least by definition of the above concept.
In truth, my ICT skills are not great. I know as much about Guatemalan highland coffee production as I do Dreamweaver ACA and CAD visualization. In fact, that’s an exaggeration – you’d have a better chance of me personally sourcing the beans required to prepare you a light roast Huehuetenango coffee blend than me designing page layouts with CSS or navigating throughout the AutoCAD 101 interface.
And that’s my point. My whole ‘content is king’ theme is based around my prediction that medium and content will increasingly evolve hand in hand – a sort of push-and-pull, leap-frogging effect, as it were, between different but interrelated disciplines.
This is the basis of my written work as an author of commercial and literary fiction. In conjunction with my publisher, the innovative Orb Entertainment, we intend to capitalise on this revolution to create exciting interactive, user-centric works of entertainment, as well as applications for corporate, advertising, and education purposes.
In the age of Twitter, Kindle, Facebook, and any number of ubiquitous apps the monopoly held by traditional publishers on ‘published’ literature continues to weaken – in no small part because as users we’re all now able to create, write, and publish.
The challenge now for professional authors, writers, designers, and publishers is to come up with content and ways to distribute it that reflect the desire and ability of users to contribute to the creative process in any manner and form they choose, whilst maintaining quality control and, yes, turning a profit. (Transmedia’s disavowal of commercial manipulation, I certainly do agree with – we need to be cleverer than that!)
An ambitious brief, agreed, but our work in conjunction with other talented creatives is delivering the blueprint.
I look forward to meeting everyone at the talk, and I will announce dates on this blog as they come to hand. Come along and we can discuss both design and content to see what new ideas and directions we might together come up with.
Feel free to contact me in advance with any questions, and check out the rest of this blog to get a feel for my style, work, and aims.
I look forward to seeing you all.
Whilst I am certainly not here to demean the work of literary agents, I include a link to an interesting article, the tone and content of which is not as unusual as you might think in publishing and writing circles.
The upshot? Take heart! Maybe you need an agent, maybe you don’t – just don’t fall for the idea that they’re the gatekeepers to your career.
Ultimately, the only person who holds the keys to your success is, well – [fill in the blank – in italicised 'CAPS'].
N.B. More on my work soon. I am currently knee-deep in revisions of my novel manuscript in conjunction with a fantastically talented editor, and the only thing to report on that front is that I am being taken firmly to task! So it isn’t just you … we all have to go through the process.
In conjunction with the brilliant Orb Entertainment and the best creative and business minds in publishing we will together be publishing my YA action-fantasy-adventure novel manuscript with a tentative release date of 2012.
I very specifically use the term ‘novel manuscript’ because the ongoing evolving digital applications that head of Orb Entertainment, Paul Rhodes, is envisaging will take publishing to a new level.
In the brave new publishing world Orb is creating as you read this post, ‘publishing’ will be an umbrella term for all and any applications a good story may lend itself to.
A simple conceit, yes, but few have the knowledge, foresight or technical skills to fully capitalise on this revolution: Orb Entertainment does.
I can’t – of course – divulge details of what we are doing. I will however be updating everyone on a regular basis as to our ongoing progress.
If this sounds overly secretive, it’s not – not really. Revealing a big – and I mean B-I-G – idea that is not yet ready for public consumption – especially one that involves a lot of important and expensive people’s time, skills and financial investment –could prove a bone of contention further down the line.
For example, I have gone so far as to not even reveal the title of the book. A Google search reveals a tentative character in World of Warcraft that may share the same name, and a company on Twitter that tweets about, er, awnings. (No, me neither, Paul. I can’t see how we can get sun awnings into the narrative either – but I’m working on it, assuming their checkbook is of reasonable size.)
Do I want problems with this? No. So best to hold one’s tongue (or in this case, keyboard) sometimes. Discretion and valour, and all that.
I do, however, intend to start using snippets of the soon-to-be-published manuscript etc that Orb okays in conjunction with an increasing number of posts on the art and craft of writing as part of my analogous teaching goals.
I hope you will enjoy these and get a lot out of them.
Anyone who wishes to direct message me for particular details on any aspect of our work please feel free to do so.
Anyone doing a PhD on networks and branded content or related disciplines is especially welcome.
Anyone who has not read my previous articles is in luck: I would delete the posts that threaten to give away too much but then those who have read them would know what we’re up to.
Lucky indeed! So get rereading! …
Or was that (ahem) August?
Somewhat embarrassingly, it was pointed out to me by an astute subscriber during the writing of this post that my last post was indeed actually over a month ago, so apologies again.
The delay has been down to me being rather busy in the background with revisions of my novel manuscript and other works, as well as the various business aspects related to these.
Not least of these related aspects has been the ongoing (and hopefully soon-to-be-finalised) negotiations for publication.
As you’ll have read in my other posts, this aspect has taken a little longer than anticipated because the actual digital publication of my work across various mobile platforms et al is proving to be so innovative and unique as to be unheard of.
And new ideas, of course, tend to take more time and nurturing; ones that don’t yet exist and are without any real precedent, well, they take a little longer still.
Especially if they also upset the status quo. I am unable to say any more as I am under a strict oath of secrecy however I will keep you updated on developments over the exciting coming months.
Another related aspect I am of course pursuing is the branding-in-books idea that I’ve written about ad nauseam (pun intended) in other posts in the side bar.
There still seems to be resistance to the idea in certain quarters. The frankly odd reaction I’ve been getting along the lines of: ‘branding in TV and films = good; … branding in books = evil’ still continues to baffle me. But there you are.
I am not quite certain why my marketing ideas seem to represent the nadir of literature – nay western civilization by some hysterical and rather disproportionate accounts – in the vain and mercenary pursuit of profit, but I’ll take it as a compliment.
My motto: if you’re putting noses out of joint you must be doing something right!
I’ve also used it as the inspiration for the branded poem included below. (Kind of ironic, if you think about it – and I do like irony.) I hope it entertains as you await from my end more news and stuff to read .
The below poem, ‘O! My Kingdom for a Branded Nike Ad’, is a branded allegorical piece (a new genre if ever there was one) and follows on from my article Branding in books: click here for a practical example. It is meant to be funny and make a point.
Those astute readers amongst you with a taste for high fantasy adventure, Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry and, er, Nike sportswear will note that the ‘king’ in this particular poem represents branding ‘experts’ and the marketing industry in general (vis-à-vis branding in books). The king in the poem, having grown fat and rich from his allegiance with evil branding merchants throughout his heavily branded kingdom prefers to sit loftily upon his commercially adorned throne and deny the fact to all and sundry lest he be accused of ‘selling out’.
Disclaimer: Any similarities in the below work of fiction to any branding expert, living or dead, who denies branding in books is commercially or creatively viable is, of course, purely unintentional.
In a mythical land far, far away,
A brand-obsessed king
let his kingdom fall
for a pair of Nike Free Run Shoes,
and a Nike logo football.
He was dressed head to toe
in Nike printed sweats
and a Nike 6.0 Dri-FIT tee,
“Its product placement!”
cried the townsfolk with ire,
“That’s what it be!”
To which the king coolly waved
a Nike Dri-FIT-gloved hand and tersely replied,
“Just listen to you jealous commoners cry:
“‘Branding! O! You’ve sold out!’ Me?
“Pah! Who said anything about Nike?
“Innovative marketing you falsely decry!”
The trendily dressed king merely tut-tutted,
Adjusting his sleek Nike Veer Shades,
“Adidas or Quicksilver,” he chided,
“Reebok, Puma or Converse,”
“Well, yes, those superior brands
“my court may have humbly abided.”
“But Nike? O!” he roared. “Never, I say!
“Nike! Ha! That brand? Not blimmin’ likely”
He pulled at his Nike 6.0 Logo Fitted Hat,
“O no! I’d never ever—EVER—sell out,
“Not even … not even …
“Well! Not even for the engineered Dri-FIT fabric and ultra-tight compression fit of the new Nike Hyperwarm Pro Combat.”
As I sit across from the affable and erudite Paul Rhodes of Orb Entertainment, an old joke runs through my mind:
A struggling writer arrives home to find his house cordoned off by the police. He immediately runs up to the officer in charge and, sick with worry, asks him what has happened.
Grim-faced, the officer tells him gently, “I’m sorry, sir. Two hours ago your agent came to your house, butchered your wife and strangled your children.”
The shock on the writer’s face is palpable.
“No … it’s not possible. How can it be … ?” Tears stream down his cheeks. “My agent actually came to my house?”
The joke is all the funnier for being generally true of this industry. Most publishers and agents don’t have the time to talk to unknown writers, let alone make themselves available for face-to-face interviews.
So it is with some trepidation I turn up at Bar 5 on the top floor of Waterstones in Piccadilly, London. (If you haven’t visited, please do so: it’s an impressive book shop.)
I find Paul already there; I’m late, but if he is irked by this he is too professional to let on.
We sit and chat, and there is a touch of the old Groucho Marx observation about the whole arrangement – after all, most writers secretly suspect they don’t want to join any club that would have them as a member.
And mostly this observation is correct. With the burgeoning number of thinly disguised pay-to-publish outfits, self-publishing presses and book ‘partner’ programs sullying the market there are any number of ‘clubs’ a writer is best off declining membership for.
But Paul Rhodes’ entertainment label is not one of these.
Not by a long, long way.
So the question is: why me?
And the answer resulting from our enlightening chat is as simple as it is elegant.
With the succinctness of Paul’s vision in mind I will keep this post short and give the answer here (though without giving all our secrets away).
Another reason to keep it short is an economy of words. (In fact, I will try and keep it short enough to Tweet.)
Paul had clearly read with a savvy marketer’s eye my recent blog posts on branding in books and had drawn an interesting conclusion, one he now wishes in conjunction with a talented writer to pursue aggressively.
He framed his conclusion to me as a rhetorical question: in a market where digital formats i.e. e-reader, kindle, and the like, are becoming increasingly popular and thus driving prices ever-lower, how does a publisher make any money out of books?
Paul sees a future (he is a man of no small insight, and defines ‘long-term’ as six months – we should all learn something from that: the future is here) where e-books themselves are literally free. As I write, the average price of UK frontlist e-books according to the Bookseller is £7.50, and in the US around a pound less, so the writing is on the wall. (Pun intended.)
The obvious conundrum, then: how to make a profit out of zero or less than zero? What is the literary equivalent of medieval alchemy? What exactly is the ‘philosopher’s stone’ that can achieve this trick with books; i.e., how does one spin gold from thin air?
The answer is simple: the same way free newspapers and magazines do. Stick advertising in them; not covertly, as in gaudy back jacket inserts, and the like, but overtly as part of compelling, entertaining narratives. Obviously, it will take a very good writer and a better artist to pull that off without coming across as exploitative and purely commercially driven … a very good writer indeed.
It also requires a style of story and narrative comprising a concept that does not yet exist in publishing – one that is to be deployed digitally in ways that have not yet been tried.
And that is what we’ve come up with – so stay tuned for more on that.
Regardless, Paul has identified that niche in the market and has the skills to exploit it, and I am delivering the blueprint in line with my own artistic and publishing goals to meet his needs.
To co-opt a literary metaphor, I suggest we all take a leaf out of Paul’s book: the future is indeed now. It is being built by publishers like Orb Entertainment with the foresight to identify opportunities and in conjunction with writers of books and games and other media pursue them in an increasingly fractured and competitive market.
And that relationship may well be the future of publishing.
Do reread my other posts on the subject or risk the future being yesterday.
At the outset: this is not what I have in mind when I refer to branding and product placement in books for children. My other posts on a related subject Product placement: coming soon to a book near you and Branding in books: click here for a practical example are about increasing engagement and interactivity through writing, not eating.
However, I have to admit a guilty, grudging admiration for any educator that is at least trying to get kids to read by appealing to them on a level that engages.
After all, that is what I am trying to do with my work.
Now, if we can only raise that level to one where boys (and girls) actually write and read about rather than consume the brand in question, we’re there.
According to the National Literacy Trust three-in-10 children in the UK own no books, and those that do are most likely to be girls.
Any better ideas on how to tackle literacy? Please leave a comment, and stay tuned for more on this subject in upcoming posts as my book marketing phase moves into schools arts and literacy programs in the UK.
*The reprinted article below remains the copyright of the author.
Pop culture: school bribes boys to read with Coke
New Zealand boys’ school boosts consumption of books with sweetener of free cans of pop
They say that every man has his price – and now a New Zealand school has discovered that the cost of getting a teenage boy to read is a can of Coke.
Rongotai College in Wellington is currently trying out a new scheme to get boys reading, offering them a can of drink if they can prove they’ve read two books, a voucher from Subway if they are able to stretch to five, and a movie voucher if they can make it to 10. The school says the scheme has been so effective that library book borrowing has doubled since it launched.
“Boys don’t read enough. Some are only reading one book a year, so we want to push them. We are not trying to turn them into English students, we just want them to read books,” teacher Kit Norman, who is in charge of the scheme, told New Zealand website Stuff.
“I am the first person to admit it is a bribe, but the results speak for themselves.”
If pupils can read 20 books – proved with a reading log and with parental guarantees of home reading sessions – they are awarded a mobile phone voucher, with each class’s top two pupils winning a school blazer, and the top three students overall taking home a clothes voucher. Robert Walpole would surely have approved.
Okay, set aside branding in books for the moment then. Let’s by way of an analogy start with branding in blogs.
My recent post on branding in books garnered a lot of interest. However not all those who contacted me with initial enthusiasm pursued the idea.
Odd, really. Unless branding experts and potential sponsors take a look at sample manuscript pages with products and brands integrated into the narrative, I don’t see how anyone can reasonably decide whether the concept is valid or not.
After all, the value 0f this concept really is all in the execution.
So I’m taking a different tack. In this blog post, I will demonstrate the way in which I see the possibilities for branding in books being exploited. How ? Simple. By including a branded example of my writing at the end of the post.
Well, it’s a start. And it’s a time saver, too: anyone who may be interested doesn’t need to take the added step of asking for an initial sample as you can get a pretty good idea of the merits of the concept right off the bat.
Branding in blogs? It’s a fair analogy, if you think about it. Blogs are a word-based digital medium, and we can by extension imagine how a similar concept and execution might be exploited in a book in digital form.
So let’s begin the blog analogy. Over on my Get Creative page you’ll find a poem I wrote called The Wazy Troll, which features an exercise whereby anyone wishing to get creative can adapt popular fairytales, putting a spin on them in any way they wish to make their own hip, modern fairytale.
It’s a fun exercise and makes a point: stories change to reflect the times in which they are written. Nobody would deny the times in which we live are branded, and I personally want to move with the times. So my work reflects that. Simple.
To make my point, in this post, I intend to progress the adaptation of story themes discussed on my Get Creative page a step further. I have taken a popular high fantasy theme, that of goblin and elvin races and noble quests and put a hip, branded spin on it. I hope that way the core concepts behind my book branding idea can be better appreciated.
The poem is about a dream the main protagonist in my upcoming novel, Raul ‘Jhonny’ Lopez experiences; I should mention that this poem is not in the book and there are certainly no elves or goblins of any kind between the pages – the monsters in my books are of my own making (and have a penchant for Monster Macs, slammed or otherwise).
And that’s my point: personally, if I never see another elf, goblin or for that matter a moody teen vampire, buff teen lycanthrope or posh teen wizard again it’ll be too soon.
But these fantasy tropes exist and are very popular. The aim, then, is to put a spin on what risk becoming genre clichés and prevent them becoming stuck in a (admittedly lucrative) creative rut.
As previously discussed, the aim of great storytelling has always been to adapt and retell and that is my aim here – only with a few more drive-thru burger joints than your average Tolkien or Le Guin.
The Jhonny character himself, a fast food- and brand-obsessed kid, (I imagine) would take the viewpoint that the lives of these clichéd fantasy characters must be a bit boring without fast food chains and branding to make life liveable. Young, hip and ethnic, this character reflects the concerns, interests, likes and dislikes of modern kids.
It’s a simple conceit, and kids love it. It’s a perfect example of high caliber writing and creativity that embraces positive product branding as not only an enhancement to a narrative but a central plot and story device.
It’s also great fun. The Wazy Troll is witty and fun, however the following poem, in my opinion, is more so because it’s relevant and, more importantly in branding terms, relevant to the target demographic.
So why demonise McDonalds et al? A modern classic with a McDonalds drive-thru. Why not?
But most importantly, it engages kids. And personally, as a teacher involved in schools arts and literacy programs, I believe anything that gets kids reading and writing – creating – is no bad thing.
Fast food, fizzy drinks and branded trainers exist – get over it. So let’s reflect that aspect of kids’ lives by discussing and examining the benefits and limitations through writing and the arts.
And if sponsors sell merchandise on the way to enhancing and supporting literacy and the arts, again, why not? (It all has to paid for somehow.)
The crux of the concept for me? It entertains and educates. I have linked the poem at the end of this post to relevant sites that I, as a writer and teacher feel are important to note. This post in itself then is a useable piece of word-based positive branding that can be used as a resource to find out more about how to responsibly enjoy a reader’s favourite brands.
And this by analogy is what I want my books to acheive on e-reader and other associated digital platforms.
Still unsure about positive branding in books and associated word-based formats? Read on and experience it actually happening before your very eyes and clicking mouse …
the craziest dream,
Crazier than any he’d ever been in,
A world of high fantasy filled
with ghouls, goblins and ghosts,
Eating all the fast food
he loved most.
High on a hill above a trickling stream,
An ugly and odious Goblin King ate
a hundred KFC crispy twisters
and let out an almighty scream,
“So good,” he shouted. “Sooo good it be,”
whilst heartily rubbing his bulging tummy,
holding the recyclable packaging aloft
for all the Goblin kingdom to see.
Dainty Elvin princesses played,
Down in the fleeting meadows,
Munching something healthy and tasty
lest they be bitterly dismayed,
At all the weight they’d otherwise put on,
So they wisely chose 2 for 1
reduced fat McD’s quarter pounders
on a low sodium sesame seed bun.
But O! A towering war was brewing,
Brave young Elvin warriors
in the darkened forest
were preparing and stewing
a pig they’d slayed in the forest that day,
But what most of them really wanted
was a BK cheeseburger meal deal each,
With large fries and a coke to take away.
Amidst the crumbling towers and barren mote,
In a creepy haunted castle two hills over,
The spirits of long-dead Goblin soldiers,
Clinked and clanked and prepared to fight,
However they soon became thirsty and hoarse
from all the boo-ing and woo-ing they were doing,
So they slurped McCafe pineapple smoothies,
Whilst holding a mop and bucket of course!
The Goblin and Elvin Empires henceforth
together fought a long and terrible war
with a fast-food obsessed alternate world,
McD’s menus in hand humans never foresaw
this great campaign wasn’t for land or pillage,
O! No! It was so the fantasy kingdoms might have
in every town, hamlet, and sleepy village.
I look forward to discussing this further with anyone wishing to follow-up on the potential of product placement in books and associated applications, being the overall aim of the concept.
My concept requires the addition of many popular fast food and clothing brands, gadgets etc for authenticity and realism, and this is currently underway. It is merely now a question of engaging sponsors to assist in the correct branding angle and subsequent marketing to schools and literacy programs.
Let’s face it: what corporate sponsor would not want to take part in that?