Mea culpa – red-faced publisher

Umm, I have a confession. All this stress over Amazon making my life as a publisher (Threadgold Press) into a nightmare and endangering sales of my new book (Border Line) may be my fault. I asked them, yet again, why they did not send an email to me about an order, and I put in the email address I expected them to use. They replied that if I wanted to use this email address I had better change my settings, because the one they had was… They had a non-existent email address, a mixture of two of my three addresses. This particular stramash is an error I have made in the past, so I’m sure it is my fault. Apologies Amazon Advantage (ouch!).

My penance is to tell you all and perhaps help one other person to avoid the same pitfall, and to check their settings when expected emails go astray. In spite of GIGANTIC embarrassment, I am happier than before, because an intractable problem has an explanation and a cure, so the problem should disappear.

All I need now is a placatory photo so that you will remember the photo and not my idiocy.PICT0001

Author (almost) Faints at Book-Signing Event!!

If Amazon put me through a two-week version of the author and publisher’s worst nightmare, today the gods handed out one of those moments that an author can only dream of. No, I didn’t sell 100 books, or get signed up by an agent or publisher. It was sweeter than that.

I was sitting in the corner of the friendly and comfortable café of the Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 22.02.14DSCN6799(Like so – sorry, this only comes blurred.) I had distributed little booklets with info about Border Line  all over the room and left a browsing copy on one of the tables plus various other signals. However the café was full much of the day and I remained hidden. Several friends came and we all chatted and I sold a satisfactory trickle of books and I had my photo taken with an interesting Chinese visitor, Josie, who bought a copy too.                             In the afternoon a couple of women came and sat on the table next to me, glanced at my leaflet and got on with their tea and chat. Finally, as they left, one of them leaned over and spoke to me, and I explained that I was signing my new book. Then she spotted copies of my earlier novel, Unseen Unsung, and said, ‘Do you mean you are the author of that book?’ I agreed I was. I was gobsmacked by her reaction and modesty prevents me from repeating… well actually I was so overwhelmed by all she said I can’t remember it enough to repeat. After saying many wonderful things, she explained to her friend that she had made her reading group get it and it had been difficult to get enough copies and they had had to share books, she didn’t have her own copy… I sat there is a state of blissful amazement.

Anyway, I think if you ask any writer what would make them happiest in the world, it would be to hear from a stranger, who had read their book, a spontaneous and generous appreciation of it. So Tracy and Alison, if you should happen upon this post, thank you for making all that sweat, uncertainty, aspiration and crazy numbers of hours shifting words from A to B (and often back again), all worthwhile in the end. I really mean that.

Publication day and the blood pressure challenge

Border Line 2Border Line will be released tomorrow… except that two days ago Amazon took the print book off the UK site. A friend who had pre-ordered the book had the order cancelled and received an email saying… ‘Our supplier has informed us that it’s been discontinued and is no longer available.’

I, the publisher, supplier and author, have sent no such information.

This came on top of increasingly frantic efforts to get a cover image for the print book onto the Amazon UK site. In the course of these efforts I discovered that Nielsen have been feeding out the image to Amazon since August, but Amazon are having problems with images and are still working on a fix.

At this moment, Border Line (print version), can be found by clicking on the kindle edition icon, then choosing ‘paperback’ from the list. This then shows it as unavailable, but you can put it on a wish list. If I had been trying to dream up a way to raise the blood pressure of a small publisher/author to danger levels, I don’t think I could have done better job than Amazon have achieved.Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 18.54.12

In the grand scheme of things these are trivial problems. So on the plus side, I have twice met the hedgehog outside the back door, either with his face in the trough, or waiting patiently by an empty one. We have had a visitation by a small flock of goldcrests, picking spiders off our window ledges. They were too swift to photograph, but they did reduce the blood pressure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATomorrow I shall have a peaceful day, signing copies of Border Line (or twiddling my thumbs) at the wonderful Gog Magog Hills farm shop.

 

Borders, borderlines and choosing when to die

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Border Line (as print and ebook) in the UK and ebook worldwide will be on sale from December 5th 2014

“Of course love is the ultimate luxury, but I am unwilling to continue the trek in the certainty of its absence.”

Eleven people travel across Slovenia in a small coach. Grace and the other nine members of the group all wish to die, while their leader, Daniel, appears only to want to help them. He involves them in actors’ exercises and therapeutic games. They tell stories, travel like tourists and surprise themselves with laughter. Daniel promises he will take them, at the end of the trek, across another border to die. Though they are free to change their minds at any time, by day twenty-one they must make their choice.

Border Line is written as  an entertaining and comfortable-to-read story about ordinary people. That said, its USP (Unique Selling Point – see, I have the jargon) is: ‘An upbeat love story about suicide’… So, any sane person may conclude that I have either trivialised a very serious subject by wrapping it in a love story, or the reverse; I have spoiled a decent love story by weighing it down with the heavy subject of how we choose to die. (I am long past judging whether it is either or neither).

Three things kick-started Border Line:

  • Some lines in a poem titled Rehearsal by Eleanor Green                                     … for an exercise/I look at his hands/to improve our relationship/onstage?…
  • A strange and wonderful day with a Frenchwoman, an American/Hungarian(?) woman and a taxi driver from Ljubljana, in which we communicated in many tongues while trying to see most of Slovenia. We got lost in a forest in fog.
  • Curiosity about people who feel a particular kind of guilt. We try to help victims, but what happens to decent people who cause bad events.

DSCN1906 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Borders in the story are Slovenia’s. This amazing country, about the size of Wales, and has four of them and, being at a cross roads in Europe, a lot of nations have tramped through it.                                                                          DSCN1940OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The borderlines in the title are also those of the mind. Suicide causes untold distress to relatives and friends. We all know this, and most people who contemplate it at some time in their lives recover and go on to complete their natural span. Yet living is, for some people, unbearably difficult and I personally have never felt I could blame someone who chooses the exit route. I also feel, ever more strongly, that we should have some choice about how and when we end our lives.

I also believe that there is much to live for and that the majority of people are kind, trustworthy, interesting and loveable and the world is an endlessly fascinating place that I will be reluctant to leave when my time comes.

Is this the way to sell books?

Saturday was wonderfully surreal. Although the Border Line pre-publication launch party was intended for local friends, very dear old friends and my daughter and partner came to stay, and a dear friend from Ireland and dear writing friends from Wiltshire also stayed nearby.

I was very grateful for messages of support from my blogging friends and also this  wonderful card made by the multi-talented young singer Charlotte Hoather.DSCN6772

We had more than enough food. A tithe of it is visible in this photo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I saw little of the party, as I spent most of it in my working den signing copies (and taking the moulah). I was aware of my husband and everyone working very hard, looking after about sixty thirsty people. Note the lovely rose, a gloriously sweet-smelling flower, cut and brought round by my next door neighbour. DSCF3550 (4)

To a large extent this party was a thank you to friends, particularly this who have read, proof-read (free copies) and given feedback on the text and cover of Border Line. I’m not pretending that selling the book was not part of the aim, but you wouldn’t think that this is the recommended method for selling books. However I’m two boxes of Border Line down, six more to go. The bookmark I made, seems to have been a big hit too. Hooray for the old printer!DSCN6773

I brought the greenhouse pepper in after a frost scare last week, and left it as decoration for the party. I am absurdly proud of it and don’t know if I will be able to bear cutting and eating it. How absurd is that?

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Short stories, small books

Our short story course at the Sainsbury Centre with Patricia Mullin is progressing nicely and everyone has the beginnings of a story inspired by one of the pictures in the exhibition Reality ( Modern and Contemporary British Painting). Being a fool, or simply greedy, I now have three stories on the go. The front runner at the moment is based on the intriguingly-titled Maid’s Day Off by Cecily Brown.  Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 20.18.58  I am finding the different styles and story subjects very stimulating and looking forward to the results.

My other delight has been the arrival yesterday of another book from Hercules Editions. These tiny publications give equal weight to text and graphics. This one, by Hannah Lowe, is poetry, photos and information about the precursor ship to The Windrush, The Ormonde, which arrived in Britain in 1947 and brought desperately needed workers to our industries.DSCN6756

Finally, tomorrow is the day of the local launch for Border Line, a ship with an unknown fate. DSCN6758 - Version 2

 

A sticky undertaking

[M-R look away now]

I had this great idea for my Border Line book launch, it would be an afternoon affair with tea, coffee and cakes… so simple. The only problem is that I really cannot bake cakes and I have more than sixty hungry people coming on November 8th and I do want them to feel good (and, of course, buy books). I have ordered some mini cakes from our village café (lovely but expensive), and my daughter will help. Still, I am a tad concerned. I have in the past made passable fruit cakes, and they keep, so I thought I’d start with these.

I found five suitable tins, did some maths, but stupidly did not really take in the quantities I was juggling with, and started mixing currants, raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries and candied peel prior to soaking them in brandy.DSCN6648Of course, I didn’t have containers built for this scale of catering, but after a sticky 20 minutes, managed to mix the fruit fairly evenly for overnight brandy-soaking.DSCN6653 Next afternoon my task started with preparing the tins – I’m a dab hand at this, but it takes time.DSCN6671 I’m finally about to get started when the Broadband engineer arrives. We don’t normally keep the phone and the router in the kitchen, but our main telephone socket is there and and our internet provider is insisting we use this socket until the problem (now three months old and this is the fourth engineer to visit) is sorted. I clear the table. After an hour the engineer has (Halluljah!) taken router and phone to husband’s desk.

I assemble all the other ingredients and start measuring – we’re talking twenty eggs here and 2 1/2 kilos butter never mind the flour, sugar, spices etc. [The glass of wine is merely a kitchen aid]. So I run to a neighbour to borrow some mixing bowls and decide I’d better cream the butter and sugar in two lots. DSCN6679 My maths is suspect as I have more fruit than I will ever be able to put into the two lots of mixture. DSCN6676By the time I have grated five oranges, five lemons, added all the final ingredients, filled the tins and put them in the oven, it is 8 pm and we are HUNGRY.DSCN6680 The cakes are supposed to take a minimum of four hours. I take some out at 3 hours and the others at midnight, I have a horrible fear that I have overcooked them (death to fruitcakes).DSCN6681In the morning they at least look the part. I shall feed them with brandy and perhaps display them temptingly, but out of reach, on the day. DSCN6683I now have about a kilo of brandy-soaked fruit unused and a small bowlful of uncooked fruitcake mix.

Although I enjoyed the mud-pie side of hand mixing the dried fruit, I think, on the whole, I’d better stick to writing.

Reading pile-up and Reality exhibition

My reading has reached crisis proportions. Middlemarch, which I started months ago, has been cruelly and endlessly sidelined, though each time I pick it up, I am right back in there, the characters are old friends and I am in happy awe of Eliot’s every, exact word. Grabbing a volume slim enough for handbags and waiting rooms, I also started Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, the story source of an opera. For iPad reading on trains, I have Carol Balawyder’s Mourning has Broken, a very moving and fascinating set of essays. Also downloaded months ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which I foolishly started… just to see what it was like. Sandwiched between these, but finished, have been a list of nine books both light and heavyweight and ahead are another five books to read ‘immediately’.

So, I made a resolution, NO NEW BOOKS until all the above are finished, and I MUST  carve out some real writing time.

I have just started a ten-afternoon writing course at the wonderful Sainsbury CentreScreen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.35.40    Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.39.35             at the University of East Anglia (UEA). I signed up for this at a low moment when re-reading the final, supposedly fully edited, manuscript of Border Line, and having concluded that I still had everything to learn about writing.

The course tutor is Patricia Mullin, so I downloaded Patricia’s novel, Gene Genie, and have been reading that on the train.

The writing course is attached to the current exhibition of modern and contemporary British painting, Reality. This is a stunning exhibition (no photography allowed), but we have a free run of the exhibition for the ten days of the course. Many paintings have intrigued me, but one by John Keane (website screen grab), has set a story going in my head.

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His other work is fascinating too and on his website he says:

I am interested in the process of painting, and I am interested in why 
human beings want to kill one another for political ends. These two 
apparently diverse preoccupations I attempt to reconcile by smearing 
pigment around on canvas in an effort to achieve a result whose success 
can be measured by how well it disguises the sheer absurdity 
of the attempt.

And what is the writing course homework? Trawling for great opening lines and writing our own story first lines. I spent a happy and feverish week reading old favourites: Kipling stories (The Maltese Cat, Without Benefit of Clergy, Little Tobrah, The Head of the District etc), and Salinger (For Esmé With Love and Squalor etc), Saint Exupéry (The Little Prince) etc, etc, etc I also opened all my most-loved books, only to find that the majority had nothing dramatic about the opening lines. They were often quite conversational. Though one of my favourites is Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine which opens:

When I was a young boy, if I was sick or in trouble, or had been beaten at school, I used to remember that on the day I was born my father had wanted to kill me.

Is it just me, or are others caught in the same reading maelstrom? How does one extract oneself, brain intact, from such a reading pile-up? (sorry about mixed metaphors.)

I shall go and sweep some leaves and pretend that my list of tricky phone calls to promote Border Line can just as well be tackled next week… I read this and then made myself ring a local newspaper.

eBook cover adventure

The last week or so has been too packed to blog. Happy family visit, soft proofs to check, print cover to approve and The Great eBook Cover Design Competition. I was the lucky winner of a free Book cover from the Writer’s Workshop. This came too late for the print version, but seemed like a good idea for the eBook. I was given £189 credit for a bronze cover design from 99Designs.

First, I had to fill in a Design Brief including images to give potential designers a direction. Being naive, my brief was misleading and my reduced heading read: ‘An upbeat story about suicide, love and Slovenia’. Then, the brief is opened up to designers worldwide online for 4 days. You select the best designers during that time and then go on to refine entries until you choose to award a winner (total 7 days for bronze).

To start with I didn’t have many entries (though there were things I could have done to increase this). The ones that did appear were often distressingly inappropriate. Prettily-coiffed girls with computers in meadows and mountains – sort of modern Heidi on Holiday style. I rated (stars) and commented on each entry, and updated my brief to explain that in my story a computer is only used at night in Devon and that the girl had unruly hair (difficult for designers with limited English). Some Wild Girl in Wild Landscape designs followed –teenage adventure style. I tried asking for something a bit more grown-up and got raunchy, steamy romance covers, then Airport Monumental, I asked for sad and got Noir (I wish I could show you). By this stage I was struggling between laughter and tears. One designer was particularly persistent and I worried that he was putting in so much work with only negative feedback from me. I assumed that he was on a different wavelength.

There are also ‘watchers’, that is designers who follow the competition, looking at the entries and the feedback. You can go and check their designs and invite them to join in. However, out of the blue, my persistent designer produced a perfect (stock) image for my story. With enormous patience, and feedback from me, he adapted it, tweak by tweak, until it was just what I had hoped for. Here is the winning entry from didiwahyudi.trend all the way from Indonesia. It links quietly to my print cover, while giving me the all-important figure I need for the eBook thumbnail. Hope you like it.

BL- COVER fix

My proofs and the print cover went back to the printers last night and my new eBook cover arrived on my desktop 20 minutes ago.

Now I shall go and cultivate my garden.

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Self-publishing progress?

Another week of mayhem and progress – of sorts. Having made my proof-readers’ lives hell by pressing them to complete as much as possible against the clock (with the rather minimal bribe of runner beans) I entered all their brilliant catches into my final file in InDesign and… pressed the button to send the text to the printer.

I then got my head round the file requirements of the cover picture, recreated the file with the correct dimensions (then correcting that when I found I had misunderstood) and sent it for checking to a great designer (whose time I can only afford by the minute).

BL Cover Finaljpgsmall

On Saturday I received an email:

Apologies for the s – l – o – w announcement of a competition winner, but the announcement (and my reasoning) can be found here:
http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/win-a-free-cover-design/#comment-101835
Well done, Hilary. Commiserations everyone else. [there were all of 6 entrants]

Umm… although I have reservations about my cover (because it has no figure in it), I have grown fond of the beautiful image my daughter put together and I want it to go to the printers as soon as possible. (NB you are never sufficiently ahead of the game in publishing), so I felt I had to turn down this opportunity – something I would have lain in the mud for a few weeks ago. However, we have a compromise. I will now have a design by Bronze Design for my eBook version of Border Line.

CORRECTION: I now have bronze level design by 99Designs for my eBook version of Border Line.

I have also been in touch with the travel company, Just Slovenia, who, way back in 2009, helped me set up an itinerary to research many of the places that feature in Border Line. They responded and I have now sent them a PDF of the novel.

I’m not accustomed to so much progress up the ladder, I’d better get ready for another snake.