Thursday, 14 December 2017


I am a white, middle-aged male. (Don't stop reading, please). My conscience has been pricked a great deal over the last couple of years. Since I began the obstacle course that is getting a novel published, actually. I started looking at my bookshelves about a year ago. There's a ratio of 5:2, more or less. A ratio of what? Male to Female authors.

It is rare I'll pick up a pastel-colour-covered paperback. However, I did have the following: Lionel Shriver's novels, all of Donna Tartt's books (brilliant! But you knew that), Faye Kellerman (not so keen now but earlier books were wonderful, maybe you knew that too), lots of other thriller writers, Reichs, Slaughter, McDiarmid, for example. (There are a lot of books in our house). George Eliot, only Middlemarch, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss. Mary Wollstencraft, everything by Austen except the last unfinished novel (What's it called?) I have a novel each by the Bronte sisters, same as everyone.


It's still 5:2. I have read, Louisa M. Allcott, L.M.Montgomery, Anna Sewell and Toni Morrison. I have a copy of Bridget Jones's Diary, but I preferred Helen's column in the Independent; I don't know why, seeing as they are more or less the same.

I bet if I counted up all the books I've ever read, it would still be 5:2.

Which brings me to the book in the picture. I've decided I'm going to read a book by a female author for every single one I read by a male author from now on. Katarina Bivald's book was the first one I picked up. You will note it doesn't have a pastel cover, but I'm not convinced I would have chosen it to read, if not for my "little experiment".

This is a book written by a person who loves books. On the surface it is a simple love story, not out of place in Mills And Boon or (haha) Harlequin's catalogues, I would venture.  There is much more to Katarina's book than that. Is it coincidence that Sara's pen-pal is called Amy? Allcott is referenced throughout the book.

And the jokes, the meta-glory of putting the words "all stories start with a stranger coming to town" into a character's mouth. These pleasures are strewn throughout Ms Bivald's book.

It's sentimental, some might call it twee. I would call it Capra-esque, or better still it's like a Preston Sturges film. What's wrong with creating things to make people feel good? Watch Sullivan's Travels, if you don't want to read this book - they want the same thing for us and bless Sturges and Bivald for making their film and book respectively.

Respect, Ms Bivald, I'll change that 5:2 one day, thanks to you. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Malaga: City of Culture

After nearly 15 years in Andalucia, I finally made a proper attack on several of the art galleries available in Malaga. An overnight stay in The Hotel Carlos V in Cister was in no way disappointing. Cheapish and very comfortable. No further away than I could throw Keith Richard was La Catedral. For the Spanish, an Art Gallery is a Museo, as is a Museum, it can disappoint the unwary, but then, who goes to an Art Gallery on the spur of the moment? (Me, if I get the chance).

On Friday we visited El Museo Ruso, currently housing works from The Winter Palace's collection once owned by the Romanovs. One day I hope to visit St Petersburg and see what treasures were too valuable to send. Some of the work was, it must be admitted, of variable quality: other pieces were unbelievably good. Like this: "The Ice House" by Valery Yakovi

The Ice House 1878
 Bizarrely decadent - and as disturbing in its way as Velasquez's Las Meninas - this striking painting depicts the Jester's wedding in The Ice Palace built by Empress Anna Ivanova. The jester was in reality Prince Mixhail Alexeevich Goletsyn, who had displeased the Empress by marrying unsuitably. On the death of this unsuitable wife, Anna Ivanova forced him to marry a servant in a degrading ceremony. How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen.

The lighting in the Ruso was most disappointing. There were sufficient spotlights to satisfy the vainest of actors, every one seemed to be positioned for maximum glare on every painting, were it oil on canvas or water-colour behind glass.

Tapas for lunch near the Hotel in the shadow of the Cathedral and then it was off to Museo Carmen Thyssen. The best thing was one of the temporary exhibitions. This compared some of Goya's goriest and grimmest etchings with work by a Belgian artist with a peculiarly Irish name, James Ensor. If you've a taste for grue, I thoroughly recommend it.

Two of Goya's Etchings Featured in the Exhibition
The lighting was better in the Thyssen, thank goodness...

Dinner was at Garum (named after an ancient fish sauce invented when the Romans ruled Malaga) an interesting Restaurant on the Calle Alcazabilla. The menu is not extensive but it really is quite different. Try the 5x2 Atun (10 cuts of Tuna cooked in five different ways) - a real treat. The service was very good too, which, unfortunately, isn't always the case here in Andalucia. 

Garum: Go, it's good.
Saturday morning, coffee in La Café de la Abuela, Granny's Caff, if you like. I read the newspaper-wallpaper, pages and pages from "Cronica de España" from the early 70s. Franco dying, Juan Carlos reinstating the monarchy, Adios à Picasso, off-plan homes on never-built urbanizaciónes with prices in pesetas: all Spanish life was there. My coffee grew cold and eventually the clock showed 10 and we could go to the Museo Picasso. The doors opened right on time. It truly is a beautiful building, a one-time town hall and beautifully laid out with lots of salas off a lovely central patio.

If, like me, you've seen Picasso's Guernica in the Reina Sofia in Madrid, you'll feel that Pablo never did anything as good/significant/important (choose your own adjective) before it or after. So, I'd recommend the Museo Picasso for completists only. But, and it is a big but...

Oh, and Dorothea Tanning is quite good too...

Until 28th January 2018 there is a temporary exhibition entitled "We Are Completely Free: Women Artists and Surrealism". Works by 18 women are featured in this exhibition in a variety of styles. I had heard of several of those featured (Lee Miller, Frida Kahlo, Claude Cahun), many more were artists I'd never heard of. Particularly impressive were : Maruja Mallo, the Leonoras - Fini and Carrington and... (Tada!) Kay Sage.

It was one of the best things I've seen for years. Women in art seem to have been air-brushed out of the picture or painted over by male art-historians, curators and critics. This is one exhibition which makes an effort to overturn some of that. Do go.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

One Hand...

"One hand washes the other and both wash the face."
 Spanish Proverb                            

This blog post is an unashamed plug for some Unbound projects that I am supporting. Unbound gave me a chance and I'd like to see others get a chance too.

This anthology contains short pieces by various and gifted writers on what it means to be different, and how difference and variety are things which enrich our lives, rather than things to be feared. Contributors include, amongst others Salena Godden, AL Kennedy and Matt Haig.

Net profits from the book will be donated to the charities Refugee Action and Stop Hate UK

 Borrowed: Shona Kinsella (Ed.) 

Eight authors from eight locations come together to tell the stories of one small-town library and its patrons and staff. Contributors to this collection are among the best of Unbound's debut and previously published writers; Shona Kinsella, Ian Skewis, Claire Patel-Campbell, Lou Allison, Stevyn Colgan, Paul Holbrook, Elena Kaufman and Erinna Mettler.
The royalties from this book will all be donated to World Literacy Foundation.

Glarnies, Green Berets & Goons: Julie Warren.

Subtitled "The Life and Legacy of Larry Stephens" Julie's book will reveal the story of the man without whom we might never have heard of Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan. A biography of a fascinating man, who served as a Marine Commando during WWII, this book promises to be a treat for Goons fans all over the world. 

The older amongst you (okay, us) will remember the title of an Agatha Christie novel whose title is now "And Then There Were None". Damon L. Wakes' book is an intriguing  distillation of Christie's murder mystery into a tense, hard sci-fi thriller.
Well researched and based on current scientific principles and thinking, you'll find no magic space dust here, just a taut and unusual whodunit. 

Well, there you go. Four to choose from. Pre-order these books as a Christmas gift for a loved one or treat yourself. Why not?

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Blindefellows Chronicle - A Book Review

Auriel Roe’s episodic novel is old-fashioned in the nicest possible way. Imagine a kinder, less cynical rendition of the school in Waugh’s “Decline and Fall”. Imagine Stalky & Co’s school moving with the times. In some ways reading A Blindefellows Chronicle is a sort of Goodbye, Mr Japes. None of these is any bad thing.

As a former boarder, albeit at one of the last state grammar schools, in an equally small and isolated school, I recognised many things in this book. This is a tribute to Auriel Roe’s imagination, research or experience, and most certainly to her writing skill.

The chronicled-style, skipping on a few years at a time, made me invest a great deal of emotion in the characters, good and bad. I was always trying to second guess what would happen in the next chapter. It also brought home to me how much England has changed in my lifetime.

But best of all, “Blindefellows” (the book is destined to be referred to by aficionados in this way, surely?) is funny. Wryly, sharply and dryly – funny, all the way to an end which has that much-maligned quality “pathos”.

I recommend this book very highly and hope to read more from the author sometime soon. 

An unusual book in so many ways, not least for naming a character "Mafalda" which will have raised a smile among anyone who has spent time with Latin Americans.

Monday, 13 November 2017


If you're of a certain age, the song would have gone through your head. We all like to think we have a local. If you're partial to a convivial glass, that is. I don't have a local bar any more. The one at the end of the road is all locked-up with a tenant living in the upstairs flat. Someone is still paying the lease on the building, but whatever rent is coming in will not cover that, for sure. I used to go to a place in town quite often. Eventually I remembered the names of the staff. As usual that was their cue to leave. I'll bump into them in other bars in town, of course. Most people in the pueblo know who Professor Longhair is. Some even say "Es autor. ¿Sabes?" It's fame of sorts. Because they assume - since I am a guiri- that I won't understand a word they say, they are quite uninhibited in what they do say. The saying goes that one shouldn't listen to private conversations, for one might not like what one hears. That hasn't been true for me so far. It's just as well, Andalucians do not whisper.

Winter has come, here in the sunny South. Shopkeepers mention the weather, shivering in their overcoats, gloved hands counting out change. Then they'll mention the snow in the town only a couple of years ago, the first time for 50 years.Children were clad in overcoats on top of pyjamas and taken out to stand in the flakes. Some stayed up until 2 in the morning just to throw snowballs. Just goes to show, the unusual is better than "the usual".

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Milling About

Trevélez from the dirt track
Today's wanderings were more hiking than walking: "más senderismo que caminar", you might say. In the apartment is a pamphlet showing a map of the town of Trevélez. It is not to scale, it might even be accused of being topographical. A path is shown leading out of the town, sort of eastward, to one Molino Altero - which might or might not mean Pile Mill as in piles of money. Off I set, believing, as all ex-airmen ought, in the map.

The way started as a fairly wide concreted camino rural sin numèro (Un-numbered country road, there are lots of those in Spain).  The sign-post warned of the Junta de Andalucia's contribution to its upkeep, so I wasn't expecting much. A sign placed by the local council suggested a speed limit of 30 Kph and was recommending the route to cows or warning of their presence: one of the two.

After about a kilometre it became a dirt track, which remained fairly wide  Whilst it remained so wide I passed a few horses and fields and fields of market gardening. As the track narrowed, the trees closed in. Races burbled down the hill, but still no sign of a Molino, of Piles or otherwise. One could imagine a trail of breadcrumbs or the flash of a red hood between the green trees.
One of the many streams

So beautiful, so peaceful, with the sound of the bells around the goats' necks counterpointing the water rushing down the hillside. Eventually I saw a signpost, which indicated that I was travelling in the right direction. A source of some amazement, I confess. At this point the track become a narrow, rocky path, like something the smugglers in Moonfleet might have used. Often the streams and rills crossed the path making the rocks slippery or indeed covering them completely. I kept going until I had travelled about four kilometres. The track became wetter and wetter and ever more narrow. It did not peter out, but the woodland became more dense. I turned back. On the way back, I came across one contender for the title Molino Altero, it didn't look close enough to the river or one of the many streams. No, it didn't have sails, either.
Molino Altero??

I made my way back to the signpost, and followed the arrows in reverse. This was not the way I had come. There were some tremendous views over ths true valley and the lower quarter of town. Being afraid of heights and prone to feeling dizzy I felt quite brave taking the photos, it's true. On this winding narrow path tacking round the contours I met the only other person out walking. A bandy-legged fellow of about 60, accompanied by 3 short-legged and vociferous dogs. He had an old flip-top motorola glued to his ear, but apart from that he could have been a goat-herd on his way down to have Franco's greatest innovation for his lunch: Menú de Dia.

Eventually I made it back to civilisation. I hadn't reached my goal, but so what? It was a beautiful walk on a beautiful day. It doesn't come much better than that.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Nearer the Sky than the Sea

View from the Top of  Barrio Alto
Trevélez, a beautiful town, perched in the folds of Mulhacen's skirts some 1500 metres above sea level, is only the second highest municipality in Spain. It is the place to buy the best Iberian hams in the whole of Spain  - as any Andalucian will tell you. Of course "Everyone has the best wife at home" as somebody or other once said. Every day at this time of year luxury coaches take the winding route through Las Alpujarras before disgorging hundreds of tourists into the square in Barrio Bajo (Low Quarter).

The town consists of 3 zones, although it tickles me to use the other dictionary definition: quarter. It isn't quite a town, you see, it's only three quarters of a town. It is not what the Andalucians would consider a village, certainly. Another cultural difference between we Northern Europeans and our Latino hosts. Anyway, there is The Low Quarter, The Middle Quarter and the High Quarter. There is a walking route which winds from the bottom of the town to the top: "La Ruta de los Tres Barrios", unsurprisingly enough. The dog is too old to manage this route as, certainly on the way up, it's too steep for his old legs and weary heart, so I try to do the walk every other day. It's not the same as walking the 7 hours to the top of Mulhacen, but every little helps to fight the middle age spread.

For the third year in a row, the town where we are staying has bizarre mannikins placed in the street. These are slightly more realistic (and sinister) than the wicker men and women of previous years.
Emil and Some Friends of a Similar Age

Fresh Eggs for Breakfast Here.

Winding through the back streets is an education, there are many surprises behind some rustic looking doors on the sides of the houses in these narrow barrio streets. The higher you go, the stranger things you see. I'll spare you the occupied outside loo with the open door onto the street, but these chickens have a room in a house...

Generally I take the main roads (some licence also taken with the term here) down and stop off for a coffee, where I eavesdrop on the conversation between whomosoever happens to be in the bar. This morning the owner was complaining to the woman serving behind the bar that someone hadn't greeted him while they were at the funeral that took place yesterday. This tirade segued seamlessly into complaints that some people from Catalonia had been in the village yesterday, claiming that their ham was better than that of Trevélez. Clearly preposterous, from what I overheard. The owner was turning puce. The woman behind the bar offered the owner decaff for his next coffee. Perhaps I shouldn't have laughed.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

"Pot Calling Kettle, Come in, Over"

The pot calling the kettle black, check out the beam in your own eye, before you mention the mote in others'. I'm posting this just as food for thought.

I overheard quite the conversation a while back. A change from the usual, "I left because of the immigrants, no-one spoke English, the corner shop was taken over by Poles, who turned out worse than Ali." A change because, although the continued diatribe followed the normal route and was met by yeah,yeah,yeahs and fierce nods of the head, the nodding head belonged to a woman between 30 and 40 with three kids in tow.

Her Hispanophone partner had left her at the café terrace with a kiss for the toddler in one of those convert-a-car child buggies that cost as much as an old second hand car, and a cursory wave for the other two children.

The red-faced, beefy man in the singlet and tattoos gave her a look.

'Only José Antonio is Miguel's...' she said.

'He pay for him?'

'It's complicated,' she said.

Beefy finally started asking the woman something instead of paraphrasing Britain First Facebook posts,

'Why d'you come, then?'

'Same as you, all those immigrants, comin' over, scroungin' our benefits...'

'I seen you, workin' in The Black Horse, ditten I?'

'Um, yeah, not been there for a while...'

'No good?'

'No, I loved it, extra money was sound.'

'Why d'you go, then?'

'Some fuckin' tourist ponce threatened to dob me in at the social...'

'The Seguridad Social?'

'Naw... in UK, me benefits.'

'Livin' here and claimin' from home?'

'Yeah. I'm entitled.'

'Sweet, that.'

I went to drink in another bar.

The content of this conversation is more or less true to life, less offensive in most respects than the real thing, however. I hear this kind of thing so very often, the broad thrust of what the man says and the breezy insouciance of the fraudulent claimants. It is unusual to get both at once. I don't know how many people over here are living on UK benefits, but, it is a reflection of how little they would get as someone resident on the Seguridad Social over here.

Now the agreement is that immigrants from within the EU are entitled to the benefits available in their country of residence: someone is screwing the system and it isn't the Poles in the UK.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Ashael Rising: Book Review

Ashael Rising (Vessel of KalaDene, #1)Ashael Rising by Shona Kinsella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This confident and well-written debut novel sits firmly in the fantasy genre, whilst bringing something new and different at the same time. Ashael, the eponymous heroine, is a well-drawn and convincing character who puts me in mind of Jean M. Auel's Ayla, as did the the sure and deftly handled description of the People of the Cam. This is most definitely a compliment. Ms. Kinsella introduces the differing races - humanoid or not - and their milieus with compact exposition and yes, "shows" much more than she "tells". On Kaladene, the peaceful People of the Cam and others, some not so peaceful,are awaiting the arrival of the long-prophesied Vessel. All have their own expectations and some even have plans to profit by this mysterious arrival. Kidnap, an unusual ransom demand and attempts to escape result. To avoid any spoiling, I shall only say that the plot is engaging and had me turning the pages faster still towards the end. I very much look forward to Ashael's further adventures on Kaladene.
A tremendous read, which I thoroughly recommend.

View all my reviews

Monday, 29 May 2017

Back Tae Books...

...and the power of networking, friendship and goodwill. In the picture is Gibbous House's page in the Angus Library catalogue. Ecstatic though I am at the thought of "ma wee book" being available in a real, live library, I thought I'd share the story of how it got there.

One of my former bosses in the Royal Air Force spotted me on Linkedin and dropped me a line to see how I was. I'd bumped into him at a Squadron open-day the year before. We got on remarkably well. This fellow often goes down as everyone's favourite boss on the famous 51st - and he was and is a genuinely good egg. The thing is, it was me who was the a-hole, for most of my time on the Squadron: I wasn't a good subordinate and it may be that I had come very close to an overnight posting to somewhere not very nice. However, by the time I left, (March 13th 2005, last day of service, thank you) there weren't many places left as a punishment posting. Besides, everyone was getting "jiffed*" every couple of years for a detachment in Afghanistan. 51 Sqn was quite lucky, at that time. We just had to fly over these places, but there were "opportunities", if only temporary, to get rid of the "spanner in the works" or the "square peg". But they never did in my case and I often wonder why.

Me, centre background with not my favourite boss at a quite different shindig

Anyway at the Squadron shindig, last year, I mentioned to my ex-boss that my book had finally been published and he said he'd give it a read. Just today he let me know that he had convinced Angus and Tayside libraries to acquire 6 copies of GH for the region as I was a "young and aspiring Scottish author". So here's one last salute for a really nice man and I'm sorry I was such a pain in the proverbial.

*jiffed=done over, unfairly treated, etc.

Monday, 22 May 2017


Feria: The May Fair. This year's poster might be a rather more sexy Hepburn in Almodóvar's remake of "My Fair Lady". Every year, during the last week of May, our town lets its hair down. The Fairground rides open with a half-price afternoon for the children. The Recinto Ferial transforms from a dowdy market square to a cacophonous pageant of calliope music, the latest download hits from "Eye Tu-nés", the barkers' calls and the screams from those who will go faster.

Later, at night, "por la tarde" - around 10 P.M - the marquees will be full of local "personajes". The Recinto is right next to El Bajondillo, the town's Gypsy Quarter. The night will be full of the glint of gold teeth and raucous laughter as cousins two and three times removed meet for the only time this year.

Bankers, builders and boys pretending to be grown up will rub shoulders on the terraces of the bars and cafés. The bankers and builders will seal deals that may not cross the urban planning desk at the town-council. Boys will look at girls - and women - and won't drink much. They never do. I often think how this might turn out if this small town fair were in Altrincham instead of Alhaurín. This first day, the day for the children, leaks into the night, all but the smallest children will still be around at midnight. Even then, young parents may be seen with a sleeping tot in a pushchair.

The weather has turned. There will be no temperatures below 25 degrees C until the end of August now. Despite this, the Guiris are easy to spot, in their shorts and flip-flops in the dark of the night and the neon of the rides. The locals will be in their near-best clothes.

Friday and Saturday are the best days. On Friday, most will abandon the office, building site or avocado field by 1 or 2 p.m. There are smiles for everyone, even La Suegra - the mother-in-law - a friend once told me. He was a bachelor though, so he may have been demonstrating an unjustified optimism. The streets will seethe. Cars will stop on corners, roundabouts and pedestrian crossings, windows wound down for the conversations family members and one-time friends have been meaning to have for - well, 12 months.

On Saturday, the colour and the clothes paint the white backdrop of the town's buildings with vibrant reds,yellows, blues, greens and - of course - thanks to the other of the town's Hermandades - purple. I am surprised every year at the number of people who are in traditional dress. The men with their impossibly tight trousers and bum-freezer jackets and the women with their tight-waisted dresses which their sister or best friend has helped them get into. No-one could resist smiling when the May Queen of 1972 walks arm in arm with her sister along the street. The sparkle in her eyes is a clue to why she won the accolade all those years ago.

¡Disfrutanlo, Todos!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Multum in Parvo*

I came across Dan Malikin on twitter. I'd tagged a link to some nonsense I'd written myself with #FlashFiction. Dan gave it a retweet. I found Dan had a book on Amazon. Since I live outside the UK I couldn't download the Kindle version. I contacted Dan and he sent me a copy via e-mail. I'm glad he did.

Smiling Exercises by Dan Malakin consists of 30 small but perfectly formed pieces of flash-fiction. I am put in mind of some of Aliyah Whiteley’s terrific work as Dan manages to imbue the truly bizarre with just enough of the mundane to make his tales entirely believable. The collection kicks off with “Plugs” - a tale of incompatibility displaced and discovered - and passes through some truly memorable writing with an economy of language which is refreshing to see. I found “Mirror” particularly intriguing, but I expect everyone will find their own favourite.

Several of the stories in this collection won prizes or were singled out for special mention in competitions, Dan’s work has been short-listed twice for the Bridport Prize.

At the end of the book there are some chapters from Dan’s novel in progress, The Vaccine Slaves, which whetted my own appetite for the day when it is published. 

Originally from the wetlands of Manchester, Dan now lives in the beautiful village of Holloway in North London, right next to the prison, with his wife, daughter, and Boddington the PBGV.
In the ten years he’s been writing seriously, he’s had over a hundred stories published, and been shortlisted twice for both the Bridport Prize and science fiction’s Aeon Award. He is also an Editor at The Forge Literary Magazine.
In 2013, he completed an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University, and since then has been working on a novel, a thriller called The Vaccine Slaves.
You can download Smiling Exercises from Amazon here
Dan's web-site is here 

* Much in Little  

Friday, 12 May 2017

We Are Not Alone...

Having just read a blog-post entitled "Why Bother to Blog?", I felt shamed into writing another post myself. It is a question I have often asked myself. As you can see I am most desultory in putting anything out there. However, I believe it's a grave mistake to keep banging on about your latest meisterwerk. I mean, everybody you know has bought a copy, your two regular blog-followers have thought about it, but are waiting to see it at number one in Amazon's Books About Off-Grid Survivalist Romance list and - yes - your sarcastic, ironic, thoroughly-British nature prevents you from waxing enthusiastic about your OWN work. I mean, it's so frightfully "infra-dig", is it not?

In spite of the foregoing, I just thought I'd share this. 

My novel was crowd-funded (don't panic! I'm not asking for your money, it's published and on sale at all good virtual and even some real book-stores, though not necessarily near you). This does not mean it was any kind of vanity project. Nor was it self-published. In fact, it was very like being published by a "real" publisher. Why? Because Unbound is a"real" publisher: Pitch, synopsis, outline, Thanks/No Thanks, manuscript, structural edit, rewrites, copy-edit, cover-design, type-setting, and finally, publication. That makes it sound easy, but it isn't.

My own experience was a little different. Through no-one's fault - something to do with a change of personnel - my book was en-route to the type-setter before someone (thank goodness) realised that it couldn't be published as it was. Another year's work was required on the manuscript both from me and my very generous Editor Rachael Kerr, Unbound's Editor-at-large. Here's the thing: that very serious problem meant that my book cost twice as much to produce.

Did I have to raise more money? No. Think about that. Unbound have taken twice the risk on me and my book. Support this unusual and, I believe, principled publisher, buy my book, or pledge for someone else's book, Unbound deserve your support.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Very Important Bookshop

I came across this bookshop on a random blog-post that I stumbled across thanks to someone's twitter feed. The post is well worth a read. It draws a parallel between the upsurge in vinyl sales and those of "real" books. It's aimed at indie authors. I'm not sure that I fall into that category. Is Unbound an independent publisher or not? It has a distribution deal with PRH, but they have no curatorial/editorial input into what Unbound publish, I believe.
Anyhow, if you look at the lollipop-cum-bookmark in the photo, I'd really like the Pipe and Thimble Bookstore to stock my book, even if SOCAL isn't a likely source of hundreds - or even dozens - of buyers for Gibbous House.

I haven't read IVSage (the blog-post's author)'s, book, but I'll be looking it up on Amazon and, if I like what I see, I'll be buying a copy. 

Only thing is, I'll be missing out on a lollipop. If you're ever out SOCAL way, buy a book in the Pipe and Thimble and tell them you want two lollipops, yours and mine.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The 19% Solution

Just to keep you all abreast* of the life and times of Gibbous House, a debut novel from a nonentity author. (That's me, by the way). Unbound- or PenguinRH who handle distribution - managed to get a physical manifestation of my book in a total of 5 branches of Foyles (Yaay!) in the London area (Booo!). If you click through PRH's Gibbous House page using the "Buy From" button, you will see that GH can be ordered from Waterstones,Hive,WH Smith and Leviathan - I mean Amazon -  on-line.

Now, an optimistic estimate of how many books have been sold since publication is about 20. Yes, twenty. I know of five or six here in Spain and the other 14 are an attempt to make sense of Amazon rankings, in the absence of sales figures. This number does not include all the special editions that the generous people who supported the novel on its journey to being a physical book are lucky enough to own. Well, obviously, I'm a writer without an agent, I have no PR team and, yes, let's be honest I am just one of Unbound's authors, who must now number in the hundreds, if not, they soon will. If you have any other Unbound books check the spine for a number, it will tell you what number book it is in Unbound's catalogue, (I think). Gibbous House is number 89.

Neither do I have a generous trust fund to finance appearances at Hay-On-Wye or Frankfurt Book Fair, even if I could get invited to such a thing. So I promote Gibbous House on line. I have a page on Facebook dedicated to my writing. Unfortunately,  I think the sarcasm from Please Allow Me may put off more than it encourages, I find the daft posts of my alter-ego very therapeutic in what is a really frustrating business. I tweet occasionally and like to retweet authors I know and the posts of fellow Unbounders, especially those still in the long funding process. I join book review groups and promise to review others books in the hope that they'll review mine. Of course, I am a book snob. I want what I review to be well-written, free from solipsism and dangling participles. This doesn't help my efforts to get Gibbous House reviewed. If you are an author and you'd like an honest review for your book, send me a final proof or an e-book and I'd be pleased to look at it. My only condition is that you have worked with (and listened to) a competent editor. Contact me here

Notwithstanding the above, my Facebook followers and twitter audience do not increase and therefore the echo chamber effect is noticeable. Many have already bought the book, in fact. Not many people share or retweet, usually it's the same people and grateful though I am, it would probably more effective if more people shared or retweeted one thing about the book per week. Or so I am told, who knows?  

Anyway, regarding the 19% solution, that's the discounted price for Gibbous House on Amazon today. I don't think it will promote sales, somehow.  I am looking into some local radio here in Spain, but, I doubt they'll be very keen since Gibbous House's only connection to Spain is the fact that I live here. Even the local free English press aren't prepared to do a review, although I offered them a hard copy to do so. (Can't imagine why they weren't tempted!)

Well, that's a lot of my chest. Never mind, I'll post something more positive later in the week!

*Ooer missus, have you noticed how the BBC prefers "across" plus a direct object? What are we, nine years old?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Everything Must Go! (Amazon's Marketing Strategy)

I was stunned to learn this morning that Amazon is heavily discounting Gibbous House... by 9p! Seriously, is this really going to garner any more sales? What are they thinking? I've had 3 months at full price, so I get it, only 8 reviews and my sales must be under a certain number (who knows what?) so the algorithm kicks in and... Eight pounds 90 p vice 8.99.

I was hoping I'd get six months to a year at full price, but you know, without knowing how many sales there actually are, it hardly seems to matter. Oh well, live and learn.

Anyway, those of you out there who have read it, I would be so grateful for a review. 10 words or a 110 both equally welcome.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Well, I Never...

A picture of me holding a copy of Gibbous House was posted on one of those "What's on in..." Facebook pages. It got me 3 sales on the day it was posted. I'm pretty sure that it's a one off opportunity, though. I am thinking of holding an event in the local area. I have about 15 copies that a reviewer is never going to see, so I could take along a lap-top and convince people to buy a copy on-line when I run out of these too. Ha! Ha!

Anyway, I think it may have achieved more than Please Allow Me's efforts on my behalf. However, it's hard to tell because Amazon don't release any sales figures, not even to publishers.

Reviews help, of course, I've had a good one from a Blog-based reviewer here. What I particularly liked were the headings like the one below, if you've seen the cover of Gibbous House you'll realise why.

A nice touch from the blogger, no? They are different for every book reviewed. Many thanks to Little Bookness Lane. Amazon rating had a twitch on the 30th March too, it's no coincidence that this was the date the review appeared.

Well that's all folks, except to say, do keep a look out for more nonsense from Please Allow Me, he's sure to come up with something less fit for purpose than Boris Johnson. However, in the meantime this is the most fun so far for my money... ("What money?" says PAM)

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

It Started Out As A Joke...

Honestly, it did. I set up a Facebook page several years ago to promote my writing. Please Allow Me, I called it. You may recognise the words from the Stones' Bulgakov-inspired classic, Sympathy for the Devil.
It was also the title of one of the collections of short stories I was promoting at the time. The other collection, loosely based on experiences in Cold War Berlin, also got the occasional plug. I confess it was all a very dilatory business, mainly due to the inordinately long time it took my novel Gibbous House to move from acceptance to publication.

When I realised, after publication, that I needed to promote the novel almost single-handed I began to try to boost Gibbous House's profile. However, being me, I was unable to remove my tongue from my cheek. Besides, my expectations were extremely low. This was one of my first posts post-publication on the Please Allow Me page:

This reached 453 people. Previous posts reached an average of 20 people. Now, of course, Please Allow Me's page does not have Bieber-like numbers, but it is a significant boost.

Please Allow Me now has a life and personality of his own. He lives in a fantasy world where he has invented the concept of Fakevertising (He has not), going so far as to invent a slogan for the entirely fictive Please Allow Me Inc. brand.

"Never Knowingly Oversold"

Never one to be discouraged, PAM has faked celebrity endorsements with looky likeys such as the infamous Brant Pidd Cricklewood Poster campaign pictured below. I believe this actually generated a visit to a local book-shop. Still, as PAM says, "If people will believe fake news, why shouldn't they believe Fake Advertising, or, as I like to call it, Fakevertising".

So far so predictable. I have found it exhilarating to put words in PAM's mouth, especially when it comes to discussing the merits - or otherwise - of Gibbous House. Equally satisfying is to disparage his efforts at promoting the novel. For they are feeble, how could they not be? I have absolutely no money with which to promote my book. So I make this token effort and hopefully make a few people laugh along the way. So, PAM is my "sock-puppet" of sorts, so if you meet him, have some sympathy and some taste. Not that he merits it, of course.
But PAM does have some integrity. He believes there should be truth in Fakevertising. So much so that this picture was captioned "Brant Pidd in Cricklewood", just so people knew that a certain Hollywood actor has absolutely no idea that a novel called Gibbous House, or indeed  a place called Cricklewood, even exists (Facebook reach count 329). 
Furthermore, PAM's latest assault on Mount Marketing, could not be more honest. The pages do turn in this latest multi-media marvel

Gibbous House is a page turner, maybe they don't turn as fast as this, but almost.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

This Little Piggy...

... went to market. Or perhaps it was a goat.

About six months ago, I remember reading one of Jack O'Donnell's posts about the post-publication experience. Hmm... I thought, bit negative. I thought he'd be over the moon at having a real book with his name on the cover. To tell the truth, I have no doubt that he was. The thrust of Jack's post was that publishing was all very well, but it really was all about sales. And marketing. Because marketing = sales (if x = y, where x is the author and y is very, very lucky). Furthermore, if you don't do any marketing there won't be any sales at all, because no marketing = no sales who- or whatever x or y are.

Anyway, post publication, your time is subsumed in writing:

a) twitter posts that no-one reads because you don't have the secret hashtag that ensures your tweet is read by every prospective buyer of books in the world.

b) Facebook posts which all your circle of friends "like" but never share because, well, of course, there is no cat on your picture illustrating it.

c) blog posts that the three people who follow your occasionally diverting blog don't plug or comment on.

d)  e-mails to independent bookshops begging them to stock your book (they won't answer so you can assume they won't. Honourable exception : Cogito Books, Hexham (link is external) who replied and did).

In addition, you lose hundreds of hours grappling with new skills like photo-shop so you can find out that you can't even manage to make an image like the one above. Then you discover a web-site which will do it for you.

So what you don't have is time to write.

All this aside, Unbound have an agreement with The Three Marketeers - Laurie Avadis, Jack O'Donnell,& Yours Truly - and ABCTales, wherein ABCTales gets a cut of the profits. Now I don't care about what money I make, and I seriously doubt whether Laurie or Jack do either. What we do want is to have our books read by as many people as possible. Buy one of them, buy an e-book (although all three books are beautifully designed and a pleasure to own, even if you didn't write it), or buy from one of the cheaper suppliers the Amazon page links to. Every sale will keep ABCTales going. Go on, give it a go, make it worthwhile learning how to get my novel's cover artwork in a picture with some goats.

Ewan (link is external)

Jack (link is external)

Laurie (link is external)

Sunday, 5 March 2017


My fellow crowd-funded Authors at Unbound have a "Social Page" on Facebook. It's an informal group, where we have lively discussions and provide each other with a great deal of support over the course of the ups-and-downs of a campaign to get our books published. I can't tell you how much I wished I had known about the page when my campaign was "Live". My book, of course, has been published now.

Yesterday, a thread began concerning marketing of books (our books, naturally). One of the most experienced of Unbound authors (thank you Stevyn Colgan) gave us a few home truths about what a debut (or any) author can expect in the way of help from their publisher. However, what I found most interesting was this:

"if a publisher wants to promote a book in a book shop, they have to pay substantial fees; those ‘featured’ books and the ones put out on tables aren’t there for free."

Now, maybe you can remember the Payola scandal in the USA which implicated Alan Freed, the pioneer of Rock and Roll on the radio.  DJs and radio stations took payments to play artists' records and the USA found this to be illegal. UK radio has ever since been very frightened of any accusation of this kind of thing, but they tread a very thin line, which just stops short of Pay for Plays. Actually this gave rise to DJ's in Anglophone countries having to play music from the playlists. (Incidentally, how does an indie band get on those playlists?) Last.FM will only play debut bands if they pay for the privilege. 

How is the model quoted above different? I think we need to get ourselves an Under-Assistant West Coast Promo Man  

buy my novel here

Friday, 3 March 2017

Authors Are Marketers, Discuss...

There is no discussion required, in truth. Only if you are Stephen King, do you have no obligation to promote your book, but that won't have been the case in the 1970's when that best-selling author started out. First premise, no-one, (NO ONE!) outside your immediate social  circus circle could care less that you have written a novel. If anything, it's probably more difficult to market your deathless-prose nowadays with self-publishing and indie-publishing flooding the market with more books than anyone ever can read.

 Self-published books: marketing = author's responsibility
 Indie-published books: marketing = author's responsibility pretty much. Funds are limited in  these small companies. They need a "unicorn" just as much as a tech start-up does. That is unlikely to be your book. To tell the truth, the indie gang don't know which of their titles it's going to be, any more than one of the giants like Penguin/Random House does.
 Large Publishing House-published books: marketing = part of the deal struck, most likely, with the author's agent. The large publishing house deal used to include an advance if they were willing to take a risk on you. That's why it was so hard to get published. It must have taken a brave soul to risk 10,000 smackers of the publisher's money on a debut novelist. One would suppose that very few advances are paid outside of the Vlogger and Celebrity deals nowadays. I would think a story like Jo Rowling's (and it was no overnight success by the way) will become rarer and rarer in the future

However, it is easier to publish a book. Self-publishing can be done by anybody, and, cruel though it may be to say, whilst everyone probably does have a book inside them, in the vast majority of cases, that is probably where it should stay. In this vast flood of dross your book is bobbing about like a cork in the Atlantic. No matter how many tweets, hashtags, facebook posts, vimeo videos, or linkedin articles you post, that will probably remain the case.
Crowd-funding and indie publishing is also slightly easier. For a start there is a better than even chance that someone will eventually read a manuscript, this is the most fantastic fluke at somewhere like Little, Brown or Penguin/Random House. But the fact remains, that your indie-published book, however good it is, is no more than a slightly bigger cork and it's still in the ocean of books.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Gibbous House Pledgers Video

I thought I'd post the latest version here, just before travelling back to London for Gibbous House's Launch Party. Gibbous House on sale from Thursday... Amazon will melt down... Ok perhaps not, but just look how far the special 1st editions of Gibbous House have travelled!

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Longest Wait...

Is over very shortly. Gibbous House is published on 12th January, that's this Thursday. There's a launch party in London on that day. I'll post some photos on here and it will be just as if you were there... Honest! Any last minute bandwagoneers see the image below...

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Berko Book Club on Tour

My dear friends, the Garlands, paid a visit to my other dear friends the Woodwards in deepest,darkest Australia. They met up on Sunshine Beach in Queensland. They sent some memorable photographs of their party and random strangers "reading" Gibbous House. I made this video.