Category Archives: Feature

Longer opinion pieces

Blog image for Anne Goodwin's post on Inspired Quill

Victims, Villains and Vulnerability

Over a decade ago, the children’s charity, Barnardo’s, ran a controversial advertising campaign aiming to raise awareness of the damaging impact of being born in poverty. The Advertising Standards Authority received almost 500 complaints about the ads, which showed shocking (photoshopped) images of babies, such as one with a cockroach in its mouth and another apparently drinking from a bottle of methylated spirits. As a result, the campaign was subsequently banned. While the complaint that the pictures could be demeaning to the poor was justified, I believe the public revulsion also stemmed from our discomfort at the juxtaposition of innocence with delinquency.

We like our villains villainous and our victims virtuous.

The image that struck me most strongly could have been a stereotypical “junkie” holding a syringe, except that the drug user was a baby, not an adult. Was it a portrait of a villain or a victim? Or the vulnerability common to both?

I’ve long been interested in the vulnerability that lurks under the skin. My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a professional woman whose entire adult life has been structured around keeping her vulnerability hidden from view until a new relationship threatens to expose it. While Diana’s vulnerability – if not the reason behind it – is evident from the first few pages, Steve, the narrator of my second novel, Underneath, presents initially as a straightforward villain. Of course, he has to be: he’s keeping a woman captive in a cellar.

As I descend the concrete staircase, I can’t see my feet for the cardboard box I’m cradling in my arms. Nudging the banister with my elbow for balance, I duck to avoid the underbelly of the main staircase and catch a whiff of chocolate sponge filtered through the fragrance of your freshly laundered clothes.

The stairs shunt left and left again. I count the last three steps beneath my breath. A short walk down the corridor and I’m setting down the provisions on the chequerboard lino alongside the panelled door.

I put my eye to the peephole and flick the switch on the wall. Inside the room, the ceiling light beams on the grass-green carpet dotted with daisies and on the three hundred and sixty degree mural in fiery sunrise hues. It picks out the lidded bucket in the far corner and, directly opposite the door, the double mattress marooned in a sea of discarded food packaging and dirty underwear. It traces the curve of your back where you lie beneath the duvet.

The duvet veils your torso, your hands, your head, your hair. But it can’t disguise the spasm in your shoulders as the light comes on. The flinch. There’s an echoing jolt through my own body, and I have to back away for a moment while my pulse quells. When I look again, you’re frozen in the same teasing posture: camouflaged by the quilt apart from one foot peeping out the bottom, the enamelled nails a regal lapis lazuli.

The bolts squeal as I drag them one-two-three into their casings. I shoulder your box of goodies and shove through the cream-coloured door.

But turn over the page and he’s anxious about making a good impression on a woman he’s just met in the hospital canteen. A little later, he’s struggling to resist the demands of the sisters who have controlled him since childhood. Later still, in flashback, he’s a lonely little boy unable to connect with a mother who is grieving the death of her husband, the father who died before Steve was born.

Similarities and Differences

Steve’s vulnerability is different to Diana’s; it doesn’t lead him to self-harm. It’s different to that of the babies in the Barnardo’s adverts; although he smokes cannabis, he’s not an addict living only for his next fix. In the beginning, he is how he sees himself: a perfectly ordinary guy. He might well have stayed that way if Liesel hadn’t threatened to leave him, and he hadn’t bought a house with a cellar he needed to put to good use.

Unable to bear his own vulnerability, Steve locates it in others: in his mother’s dementia; in the psychiatric patients at Liesel’s workplace; in her childhood trauma. When his own vulnerability threatens, he pushes it down as deep as it can go into the underground prison.

In exploring Steve’s vulnerability, I’ve no wish to condone his criminal behaviour. But the novel is narrated from his point of view and he certainly doesn’t see himself as a bad guy. Yet, the more he tries to justify himself, the more deluded and dissociated he becomes.

The mentally disordered offender disrupts our desire for a clear demarcation between victim and villain. Is he mad or bad and, if the former, can that explain, or even excuse, the crime? I’m hoping that different readers will come away from Steve’s story with different answers.

A clear reason?

I’ve given my character a rationale for his crime that functions for him, until the strain of living a double life overwhelms him. I’ve tried to maintain an authorial neutrality, to approach him with the empathy and lack of judgement which are familiar from my previous professional role as a clinical psychologist. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the bigger picture of the harm he’s perpetrated, which I hope will be evident to the reader too.

I was going to end with the hope that readers of Underneath will feel, as I do, compassion for the criminal alongside condemnation of the crime. But that isn’t my greatest desire for my second novel. What I really want, is for it to be an engaging read.

Clickbait Books – A Publisher’s Response

Recently, the ‘Big 5’ publisher Simon & Schuster signed a deal reported to be worth $250,000. So far, no worries. But when the author of their acquisition is a (very loud) mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’…things start to get a little cloudy. (Note: I’m not going to write names here – they’ll get no online kickbacks from this site!)

I have other work to do today, so here’s a pre-emptive list to cover some important things before we begin.

  1. I have done my homework and dutifully read a number of articles previously written by this mouthpiece.
  2. Yes, I understand what ‘Freedom of Speech’ really means – including the fact that it does not have anything to do with necessity of platform entitlement.
  3. No, I do not condone the censorship of any book.
  4. And yes, I know that publishing is a business that needs to make money to survive.

Okay, good.

What’s the real problem here?

Words are powerful. As publishers, we have a responsibility to all of our readers (current and future), to provide a platform which is diverse and inclusive. In which readers are able to see themselves in a light which is empowering, not degrading.

So why can’t Inspired Quill just sit down and keep our mouths shut? This deal doesn’t affect us, right? We’ll likely never be in the same league as any of the Big 5.

Thank goodness.

If being in their league means taking on a clickbait book in order to be ‘edgy’ and make money, then we want no part in it. Staying quiet in the face of such an issue would be to passively legitimize it – and that’s not going to fly with us any more.

To clarify, we’re not upset at the fact the book is going to be available for the public to read – heck, unflinching optimists might even say that it might pull a handful of people into realistic dialogue (I know, I know). We’re the last ones to suggest that any book should be ‘banned’.

The issue we take with the likes of the aforementioned book is that Simon & Schuster are actively legitimizing and normalizing behaviour and ideas that are damaging to the well-being of many different groups. They’re making money from clickbait negativity.

“Hey guys! Antagonise people for kicks, denigrate numerous already-marginalised groups to whom you have a greater privilege*, and we’ll plaster your face in every bookshop window in the country! And we’ll protect you with ‘Freedom of Speech’ clauses! Sound good? Your advance is on its way.”

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

You don’t need to tear others down, and make them inferior, in order to rise up. In reality, there is no ‘bigger piece of the pie’ – there’s enough pie for everyone. Coming from a place of fear is the easy option. And for a company with as much clout as Simon & Schuster to swoop in and capitalize on that fear is, quite frankly, disgusting.

Being negative or silent is the ’safe’ approach. So we won’t be. Our tagline is ‘Positive Publishing’ – not because our books are schmaltzy tales with sweet endings where the protagonists ride off into the sunset – but because we wholeheartedly believe that every single one of them adds value or enrichment, however small, to whomever reads it.

Anyone in this industry will tell you that remaining optimistic is pretty exhausting. I’ll readily volunteer that during the six years I’ve been running Inspired Quill, there have been more than a few struggles and moments where I just sit back and ask myself ‘what’s the point’?

Then I remember the importance of books. The potency of their words and how they have the ability to make people realize that they are not alone. Their ability to lift people up and to create a dialogue amongst two strangers that – before reading about the inclusivity of the other in a book they’d taken to heart – may have looked at one another with suspicious glances.

Books are cultural artefacts. They give us ideas of what’s possible in the world, and they’re a very powerful tool for learning about self-identity (especially for youngsters).

A positive outcome

I can say, at least, that this debacle has had one positive effect. It’s given Inspired Quill the kick it needed to stop mumbling about social enterprises and win-win situations.

From now on, we’re going to stand up, square our shoulders, look inequality, injustice and fear in the face and say:

“We see you. And while we may never stop you completely, we will still do whatever we can to make it happen. We see you, and we will not shirk our responsibility any longer.”

Now begins the process of considering the best ways to make that happen.

What It Means To Me

I readily admit to not having the greatest memory in the world. I will forget what I said ten minutes ago. I won’t remember what I had for lunch three hours prior.

I have to begin with this disclaimer, because the following memory has stayed with me my whole life.

When I was in reception class (Kindergarten, for those outside the UK), my teacher Mrs Alton showed us how to fold an A4 sheet of paper into a little book. The task for the day was to fill this wee booklet with a short story.

I don’t remember if I’d demonstrated any love for writing before this, but I’d always loved books. I wrote my little four-year-old heart out. Thus was born The Dancing Tree, a weirdly grim fairy tale (heh) about a magical tree that lay deep in a forest. Every night, the tree would lift its roots and wave its branches, and dance under the stars. One night, the animals and birds of the forest joined in with its dancing, and the tree, feeling unimportant and unnecessary, vowed to never dance again.

The. End.

I had a happy and safe childhood, there was absolutely no reason for such a dark and bitter ending. Was it a lament for the loss of fairy tales? Or was it just that a four-year-old has no idea how to end such a story on three small pages when her drawings take up most of the space?

Either way, my love of writing, fairy tales, folklore, and magic was born that drizzly afternoon. Thank you, Mrs Alton, for suggesting I should consider becoming an author.

If I could go back in time and tell my four-year-old self that when she grows up, she will hold a copy of her very first (of many, hopefully) published novel in her shaking hands, she’d… probably wander off to play with Molly the Dolly.

(I’ve just been informed I was actually more interested in books than toys at that age. Go figure.)

But skip to about ten years later, and tell my fifteen-year-old self the same thing, and she’d either laugh or cry. Maybe both. I’d never experienced true love until I opened that first box of books and looked at that shining cover, emblazoned with a white stag, and the gleaming title, The Old Ways. I was engulfed with pride. I could barely breathe, let alone speak.

My first book signing was no better; I was shaking so badly, I could hardly hold the Sharpie. Nothing could have prepared me for how it feels to have a dream come to fruition. Of course, I got a little more confident as time went on, even had the courage to tell a potential reader, no, I am not from a cult, I just appreciate and respect the ancient legends of Britain. But thank you for your interest, and I like your hat too.

The support from my friends and family has been overwhelming. I never imagined how it would feel to have people say, although they don’t read much, or don’t particularly read fantasy, how much they loved it, how they couldn’t put it down, and how angry they were with me for killing off their favourite character. (Consider this my public apology! Things don’t improve in the sequels, I’m sorry.)

Things have gone by so fast, it’s now one year since the release of The Old Ways. Work on the sequel, Age of Magic, is steadily trundling along, with the storyline for the third one (gasp!) neatly laid out. One year of promotions, interviews, signings, newspaper articles, radio shows, and the high still hasn’t worn off.

But, and I will admit this now, I was young and foolish enough to think copies would fly off the shelves, and I would be on my way to Hollywood by now as Creative Consultant, and Tom Hiddleston would be flying in to play Erlik, and Peter Jackson would be praised for staying so close to the source material…

That, obviously, is not happening. Not yet, anyway.

But fame and fortune was never my goal. My dream for nearly twenty years was to see someone with a copy of my book in their hands. Now, my new dream is to see that same person with a copy of the sequel.

The Gateway is open. He walks free.

Blessed be,

RK Summers )O(

P.S. You can find more information about The Old Ways right here on the IQ site.

Homecomings

A blog post by author Lynn Michell.

Sara asked me to write something about returning to IQ Press with my second novel and fourth work of fiction, a request which led to some off piste reflection. It’s a topic close to my heart and one which worries its way into my writing. As a wordmonger, the word return has the built in connotation of a place to which one willingly goes back,  but in real life, as an army brat, that for me was rarely the case. I have no roots. But as a writer I still search for a home for my books and look for that elusive sense of belonging.

Previously I’ve been published by HarperCollins, Longman, Pluto Press and the Women’s Press. The Women’s Press is the role model for my own Linen Press, now the only indie women’s press in the UK.

So it was with a quiet confidence that I sent my first novel, White Lies, to Quartet Books. Two days later a husky voice with a heavy foreign accent on my answer machine said, ‘I love your book. I want to publish it.’ The joke wasn’t funny. Which friend or foe was responsible for that one? In fact it was the owner of Quartet who went on to offer me a contract and within a week all was signed and sealed. But things went very wrong. They designed a glossy cover for a hardback book and discussed a rapid publication. Then came the proofs.

‘Did I like the font?’ they asked.

’What about the editing I’d been promised?’ I asked back.

‘No need to edit.’ came the reply. ‘Your novel is perfect.’

Oh but it wasn’t. No debut novel is. What followed was a very nasty and costly extrication from the contract but I’m glad I did it. That novel wasn’t ready for publication. I put it in a drawer for a year, re-wrote it, and published it myself.

Looking back, this was probably the start of the cutting back by many publishers of costly editing until we arrive at today’s state of play in the book trade where a famous author and activist, Maureen Freely, comes to Linen Press with her seventh novel having left her mainstream publisher because they refused to edit it. She described the ethos as ‘anti-intellectual and anti-literary’ and likened her publishing house to a bunch of Tesco salesmen. The writing was on the wall, and we in the business stared at it with growing alarm.

And so it was in a rapidly changing and shrinking book business that I finished my second novel, Run, Alice Run. Two things mattered to me: I wanted a press whose ethos was right for my writing and I wanted close collaboration with a good editor. I knew that the Big Five wouldn’t touch it. I wasn’t a known author. I hadn’t written a sensational novel nor a series. I was no longer young, and my heroine was middle-aged, a fact that my male foreign rights agent told me would bar it altogether from publication.

The end of this long story is that I accepted a contract from Sara-Jayne Slack here at IQ. I knew nothing about her, nor her publishing house except from the website. She followed up with warm personal contact, Skype discussions, an openness and transparency, and, most important, excellent editing.

She and I work very differently as the bosses of small indie presses. I am not highly organised, work very intuitively, often play things by ear, and spend the first couple of months with an author talking about the manuscript. During my first Skype with Sara, she asked me about my expectations and described how she worked but not a word did she say about my novel. Not even if she liked it. Over the next weeks we talked again – about the timetable, social media, an online presence, branding and marketing, software, the contract, but not my prose. I was worried. But this is her way of tackling a project with a new author and she does things in a different order. Later, when the first round of edits came in, I was impressed and delighted. My manuscript had been reworked at every level from the overall structure to the choice of vocabulary. She suggested moving sections, rewriting sections, changing the nuts and bolts of the plot, making subtle changes to the characters. And she was available to answer my queries and objections. She held a very effective magnifying glass to the book that we both called Alice and I was satisfied and happy that it had found a good home.

It is with no qualms that I’m returning to IQ and placing in Sara’s safe hands my new novel,The Red beach Hut, which is more dear to my heart than the previous one. Sara may talk to me and email me about many topics outside the writing, but I’m confident that once more my prose will be carefully, sensitively scrutinised and edited and that the published book will be a better version of the one I sent her. Two books now with one press. Two horses in the same stable.

I have continuity, security and the beginnings of a sense of belonging, even of coming home.

IQ Interviews – Paul Salvette!

It’s nice to have the opportunity of pulling back the curtain and seeing the people behind the screens.

This doesn’t always mean interviewing the folks here at IQ, though. You may not know this, but for formatting (both eBooks and Paperbacks), we outsource to the excellent BB eBooks. (Because the process makes our brains hurt, and we’d much rather spend the time playing to our strengths).

So for this blog, we’d like to welcome Paul Salvette, the owner of BB eBooks. This interview will give you a few insights into the biggest formatting mistakes, why book formatting is sooo important…and why Paul thinks the Publishing industry is a lovely environment to work in.

 

1) Could you give us a bit of history behind BBeBooks? Why did you decide to start the business?

It was the end of my 20s and my first kid was on the way. I desperately needed to grow up and needed cash. Unsurprisingly, kids are expensive! I had written a novella when I got back from Iraq in 2008 and figured I could publish it and make a few bucks. This was during the Wild West days of self-publishing back in 2011 when there was a bit of a gold rush mentality, if you recall. The book flopped of course—probably because I’m a crummy author and I hate writing. But I had to learn how to do all the formatting, which was a bit more technical and its geekiness was more well-suited to me personally. I started posting on my blog all the HTML, XML, and CSS tips and tricks and got a terrific response. Pretty soon people were offering me money to format their eBooks for them. That was when I finally put two and two together (I’m usually sort of slow) and figured I could turn this into a small business. That’s when BB eBooks started. The business has continued because working with authors and publishers is great. They are a very kind and considerate bunch–you can’t say that about all industries!

2) What’s the biggest mistake you see regarding books that have been DIY formatted?

I’m always careful about not slamming other people’s formatting, and I understand people who want to DIY format, either for cost considerations or because they have more control.  However, for the love of God please do not format a novel with gross blank lines of space between every paragraph. It reads like a boring term paper. Novels have been laid out with indented paragraphs for hundreds of years and there’s a reason the tradition is in place: it makes for a pleasurable read. Never do anything to disturb the reader experience with formatting.

3) Are there any books you’ve worked on that have been particularly tricky?

We’ve done a lot of legal references and academic references for various churches and non-profits. Those can get sort of fun (we had one with over 1,500 footnotes). However, these are just technical challenges and can usually be overcome with some programming and elbow grease. I’d say the hardest part about our line of work is being consistent with the end-to-end customer experience. Like a McDonald’s, it is very important to be available to customers whenever they need something and deliver the product they expect. This is a major challenge for us since, unlike McDonald’s, we’re a small operation. We have a number of systems in place that customers can get new work formatted and changes made in a timely fashion, but we’re constantly trying to improve and get better.

4) From a business perspective, why is a book’s formatting so important?

Most readers will not notice good formatting, but they will notice bad formatting. Good, consistent formatting ensures your reader will have a pleasant and immersive reading experience where they can focus on what’s important (i.e. the writing and the escape). One thing we see a lot of the superstar authors do, that many first-time authors do not, is use the front and back matter as a way of promoting their brand—clickable graphics for newsletters, book lists, calls-to-action for a newsletter sign-up, etc. All of this is an important component of marketing. We’re happy to help with this for veteran and first-time authors alike.

5) Have you ever been formatting a book and wanted to stop and read the title all the way through?

Haha, yes. We work with a lot of romance authors and sometimes we’ll have to go in and make typo corrections. If it’s an interesting scene and I’m doing the corrections—often I read it!  I feel like it’s something the world’s population of men aren’t supposed to know about and I’ve stumbled upon a great secret. No one teaches young men about love and courtship, but reading a romance novel is quite educational as a dude.

6) Quick! You have 10 seconds to grab your 3 favourite books of all time, what are they?

In honor of your recent and historic Brexit vote, I’ll name only my three favorite books by British authors. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was truly a book ahead of its time. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange was great literature and a chilling look at how society controls its malcontent youth. I also really liked Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great. I’m not an atheist and don’t agree with him on everything, but he was a very unique intellectual. Also, he had that hilarious sense of humor that many British people have: simultaneously sophisticated and raunchy. He will be missed.

 The Boring Important, Interesting stuff:

BB eBooks is a Bangkok-based company that was founded in 2013 to provide fast, reliable, and professional formatting and design services for books created by independent authors and small presses. All books created by BB eBooks are immediately ready for sale at all major online retailers (including Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and many others). BB eBooks acts as a business-to-business contractor for the worldwide publishing community to bring about better standards for book layout and production. Find us at http://bbebooksthailand.com.

Three things learnt in my first year as a published novelist

Just over a year ago I was on the brink of achieving a lifetime’s ambition (and let me assure you, it’s been a long life), ready to celebrate the publication of my debut novel yet aware that what was a huge leap for Anne was a miniscule step for womankind. I was brimming with gratitude for the support I had already, while bracing myself for the inevitable disappointments that lay ahead. As I mark my novel’s first birthday, it seems a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt in the last twelve months.

The novel as baby metaphor is surprisingly apt

Clichéd it might be, but getting a novel published is very much like having a baby, especially in the age of infertility treatment. The parallels are many: the false dawns, setbacks, and let downs on the journey to conceive; the nine months or so of gestation as the novel grows (in quality, if not in size) until ready to emerge as a viable book; the countdown to the launch date and the sense that this book/baby has got to come out whether the mother/author is ready or not; and finally the pride in this new entity as friends and family gather round to admire.

The parallels continue once the baby/book is out in the world: the parents have to grow into the role their baby bestows on them, just as the writer becomes an author by virtue of her book and, no matter how much we might have imbibed from the experience of others, it’s very much a process of learning on the job. I’d thought about this, as well as about how having novels at different stages of development is like parenting a family, but I didn’t notice for a while that the analogy also applies to that stage where you look up from your own creation and realise that there are billions of books and babies and most people are indifferent to yours.

Parents must learn that, while they might lay down their life for their child, they’ll make a lot of enemies if they trample on other people’s children in the process. Parents must also learn that other people’s children might have genuine virtues that their darlings don’t possess. So when Junior gets only a non-speaking part as a lamb in the school nativity play, his parents still turn up to cheer him on and congratulate the infant Mary and Joseph on their performance on stage.

Similarly, I’ve learnt that I’ll fight for my own book with an energy and shamelessness I never knew I possessed. Despite being an introvert and shrinking violet, I’ve said yes to every offer of publicity (including an anxiety-inducing appearance on a local TV network) and been hyper-vigilant to opportunities to push my novel without being pushy. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to review others’ novels on my blog, and to celebrate the success of those I’ve particularly enjoyed.

Readers are lovely and feedback is ace

Having published a number of short stories, I had some experience of reader feedback on my words. But a few sentences in the comments section of an e-zine, albeit much appreciated, is small beer relative to the response to a novel. Although I maintain that reviews are for readers not writers, I can’t help revelling in my novel’s reviews. While readers forge strong connections with fictional characters, relating to them as they relate to people in real life, writers also value affirmations as evidence that we are not writing into a void.

Of the myriad special moments, I’ll highlight just a few: the reviewer who suggested a song for my playlist; the woman who walked into one of my library events frantically trying to finish the last chapter; the review from Spain; the woman, who had had a similar life experience to my character, Diana, who mentioned on Twitter that if she ever decided to share her secret past with her friend she’d give her a copy of Sugar and Snails. For any writer published by a small press, whose voice is often drowned out in a noisy marketplace, reader endorsement of any kind counts for a great deal.

It’s all about trust

I took a big risk last year publishing a novel on a challenging topic in a way that resonates for me personally with a publisher I’d never heard of. I didn’t know that Inspired Quill would make such a good job of it, nor did I know that readers would be so readily engaged. Additionally, as I said at my launch party, I worried that those who did read my novel would discover that I was even more weird than they’d thought. But, like my protagonist Diana, I had to learn to trust the key players in the process: the publishers; potential readers; my characters; myself. I’m taking that trust into my next publishing adventure, when my second novel, Underneath, comes out in May next year. Steve isn’t as heroic as Diana; in fact, keeping a woman imprisoned in a cellar, he’s a fairly disturbed and disturbing man. You’d certainly be advised to steer away from him in real life, but I trust we’ve done enough on the writing, rewriting and editing for readers to take a risk on his story.


In honour of its first birthday, Sugar and Snails is available in Kindle format at only £0.99 / $0.99 until 31 July 2016.

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

Insert Title Here

A Title. It’s the first thing you see, pretty much.

That is, unless the book’s cover artwork is so busy or the font is the same colour as the background (in which case you need a new designer). A title might seem like a simple affair, but it’s incredibly important. Like naming characters, it has to embody everything that it is.

It can be very easy for novels to sum up the journey, purpose, setting, or MacGuffin in its title, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But choosing the most obvious element can lead to a book being seen as dated, stereotypical, immature, or pretentious, especially if it’s too long or contains tropes already overused by its particular genre. There’s an increasing trend now for genre fiction to use much shorter phrases (unless it’s Steampunk, where it’s acceptable to over-explain anything in keeping with the setting’s vernacular), or even butt two words together to form a catchy portmanteau. Romantic, dramatic, and biographic books capitalise on phrases that generate an emotional response. Crime fiction usually has something very serious, or military code. When deciding on a title, it’s important to consider the most prominent theme; the one that you feel is best represented in the story overall. A good way to start is to write one word that describes that theme, and develop it from there.

Using some of our titles as examples: Craig Hallam’s ‘Greaveburn’ uses the name of the city in which the book takes place, not just because it’s a very evocative word, but also because the city itself is a hugely important aesthetic in the book. It’s everywhere, and inescapable. David Wilkinson’s ‘We Bleed The Same’ emphasises the physical bonds between two sides of a war. ‘The Last Time We Saw Marion’ is a brilliant phrase that ties together the narrative structure of Tracey Scott-Townsend’s novel.

There isn’t necessarily a ‘wrong’ way to construct a title

…but keeping it relevant to a tone, theme, subtext, or particular pathway is important, as is making sure the word or phrase you choose isn’t copyrighted, and/or doesn’t have misleading connotations. Even though Greaveburn is Steampunk, calling it ‘Abrasia’s Peril in The Dark and Dangerous City of Rain and Death’ makes it sound like a kids’ Dungeons and Dragons spoof. Likewise, if “We Bleed The Same’ was simply called ‘Bleedwar’, it changes the expectation of the book immediately. The former is more representative of the nature of war, the latter seems to focus on the war itself by being a more brutal word in its own right. And ‘Marion’ wouldn’t be enough to describe Tracey’s book. Despite aptly describing the character the story wraps around, it needs fleshing out to act as a hook.

It’s fun to play around with, though.

Coming up with the most drawn-out and ludicrous name you can for you story is a good way of exploring what words and themes come to mind. A title can change at any time up until it’s put into print, as well, and some even change afterwards. The most recent example we can think of was a Tom Cruise movie, released in cinemas as ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, and subsequently changed to ‘Live. Die. Repeat.’ for its DVD release. It would be interesting to see if people viewed it differently. Which would you prefer to watch, based on the names alone?

The Way For Me

When one publisher chooses another.

In 2013, I was on holiday in Majorca with my mother and my daughter when I got an offer of publication from Inspired Quill. The Last Time We Saw Marion was my first novel and I had to think long and hard about committing what was at that point my life’s work to a small press that I had never heard of. I weighed up the options. I would not get the advance of money that every aspiring author dreams of. The royalties for each book would not amount to much.

But what I would (and did) get were a series of edits on my book, mutual back-and-forth edits which improved the quality of the writing – and for me, the quality of the writing is as important as the story and the book’s potential saleability – I’m in it for the long run.

Signing with this particular small press would also result in a beautifully-produced book with a professional cover design, and printing costs, all funded by my publisher. From signing, to the first box of books, equates to at least £2000 in monetary terms, and that doesn’t take into account what would have been the cost of the repeated rounds of editing. The small press publisher contributes these services for free. I take immense satisfaction from working with an editor, perhaps my willingness to work with others on every possible way of improving my work comes from my background in Fine Art. During the process of the BA and Master’s degree, ‘group crits’ are an essential means of personal development.

The £2000+ costs of proofreading, cover design and initial printing, not to mention any publicity costs, are what I would otherwise have had to spend myself to come up with a comparable finished product, and I didn’t have that money. Most of all, I wanted a publisher behind me, I didn’t want to be cast out alone on the choppy sea of self-publishing.

When you open your first box of newly published books it feels like a validation of all the hard work. The Last Time We Saw Marion emerged into the physical world in April 2014. In 2015, Inspired Quill published my second novel, Another Rebecca.

But in November this year, my third novel, The Eliza Doll (currently out on Kindle), comes out in paperback with Wild Pressed Books. This is the independent press I’ve set up with my husband, Phil Scott-Townsend. Wild Pressed Books has also published two other books this year: Davíð Rafn Kristjánsson’s Burning Karma (launched at the Embassy of Iceland, London, March 2016) and Holly Bidgood’s The Eagle and The Oystercatcher, to be launched at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. We’re really excited at the new skills we’ve learned, and are continually working on. Our first publication has gone very well so far, and our author, Davíð, is already making a name for himself in Iceland, with the sales trickling through from our bookshop. We can do this.

And yet, in March, 2017, I am returning to Inspired Quill for the publication of my fourth novel, Of His Bones. Why did I decide to go back to Inspired Quill to publish my fourth book? Because I value the editing and production services of my small publisher. Yes, I could do it myself, as could have the authors who have signed up with the small press Phil and I have set up. But for me it isn’t about having all the control, it’s about working in conjunction with a trusted other, to produce the best and most professional outcome. This can be achieved in different ways for different writers, and the small-press way is the best way for me.

Time Waits For No Morlock

Read a book and make a dream come true

Remember what Einstein had to say about relativity and time? Well, this has nothing to do with any of that. This won’t take long. Relatively speaking.

I want to talk about the temporal relations of Terapolis. Time isn’t the same in the city of Silas Morlock, you see. It’s measured, it passes, much the same as it does in our frame of reference, but that’s clocks for you, not time.

The city isn’t that old by our measure, but it feels ancient, a place where the weight of time presses the juice out of your soul. In Terapolis, so much more of that timey-wimey stuff has slipped through the neck of the hourglass than is tallied in the count of actual days, weeks, months, years since the city came into being.

The residents don’t notice, not really.

They’re too busy leading their lives, such as they are. Time is just the ticking hands of the clock, counting out the long emptiness between those longed-for periods of escape into The Gestalt. This mysterious and esoteric technology offers release from the darkness of this dread city, it shapes their lives, takes people out of themselves, gives them a reason to keep plodding along.

You might say that every day is Monday in Terapolis; The Gestalt is Friday concentrated and turbocharged. Little wonder, when you consider the environment. Yeah, it’s no place for people suffering with SAD.

For those of you who don’t know, Terapolis is a city of organic skyscrapers, clustered as dense as a primeval forest, musty. Down in its depths, the light of the living day is absorbed long before it reaches ground so that humanity lives in a world with little natural light. Neon and an eerie bioluminescence play havoc with the body clock. With no external reference – the sun, the moon – the body’s rhythms slip into a rough 25-hour cycle, but at least in Terapolis you don’t have to worry about time zones – or jet lag.

At this point it’s probably worth noting that Terapolis is a city of trans-continental proportions. As Caxton says in the book, Terapolis “absorbed the cities of history, swallowed entire nations, embalmed continents, and somewhere along the line we stopped noticing; we had The Gestalt by then”.

Of course, The Gestalt’s blessings come at a price –

— but if you want to know what it’ll cost you to release your soul, you’ll need to read the book. For now, it’s enough to know that some of that price is the dreary truth of daily existence in Terapolis. No wonder the city presses heavy with the weight of ages, but there’s a little more to it than the psychological burden of living in such an unearthly place. Sorry for the mind-screw, but Terapolis really is an antediluvian city, even though its origins are scarcely more than a few decades gone.

Memory is a fickle critter at the best of times. In the city of The Gestalt, centuries of time have passed for every decade of lived experience. Caxton’s generation once dwelled in a world similar to our own, but in their subjective (relative) reality, living memory has dissipated almost beyond recall.

That’s the thing about time, wherever you are; it keeps its own pace.

In Terapolis, you’ve got all the time in the world, rushing you headlong to that moment when there’s no time at all. So, don’t look back, just make the most of those moments to hand until you can lose yourself again in The Gestalt.

On some level, the inhabitants feel it, this discord in the flow of time; a sense of life stretched beyond its natural vitality, of a soul diminished. Not that many of them retain the capacity to articulate this sense of dissonance, of course, except as a need to hurl themselves back into The Gestalt. It’s a refuge for the lost and the deeper we burrow into its promise the more lost we become. You just know, it can’t end well.

Okay, I admit it:

…underneath all the metaphysics, The Gestalt is a metaphor for consumerism, but there is a simple antidote. Caxton pushes the most powerful drug ever used by mankind. A veritable poison for The Gestalt, it breaks the hold it has on us; little wonder it had to be driven underground literally and metaphorically.

The stuff Caxton sells alters the mind, expands consciousness, transcends time, opens a channel to the dead; it feeds the soul and sets us free. Luckily, living in the here and now, we don’t need to go find our fix in the shaded underbelly of our cities and towns, not like Adam going out of his wits as he searches for his dealer.

We can find this mind-altering material on every high street, in countless retail stores, online, in libraries, and on the shelves of like-minded friends.

Want to know the secret? Time is no object, we make our own. All we gotta do is grab a book and read. You might want to start with Silas Morlock. Let him light the way towards a wealth of worlds – and spark a fire in the forge of imagination.

Plot Vs Character

 “Which is more important, plot or character?”

It’s an odd thing to ask, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But which should be the focus of a compelling story? Does a complex plot negate the need to concentrate on character? Do intense characters provide enough motivation to complete a book regardless of meandering plot threads?

It’s not a binary answer.

At Inspired Quill, the focus is on character-driven stories. Personalities drive plot events via their decisions, actions and individual motivations. It makes for more natural path transitions, especially in fantasy quests or dramas; whether or not the characters are going to take a certain direction, or succeed, becomes part of the thrill of following their path. It’s not only about what happens next, it becomes just as intriguing to wonder how they’re going to deal with whatever situations arise.

Shoehorning Scenarios.

If you focus ostensibly on the plot, (that is, the events that you want to occur instead of how they come about or are resolved), you run the risk of creating bland characters, or having them make arbitrary decisions that don’t fit their demeanour simply to reach a specific conclusion. A common mistake in plot-driven stories is to have characters come to conclusions or uncover knowledge that they may not realistically have access to, or make unnaturally lucky guesses that move them forward. Story should always feel like the character (or narrator) is the driving force, but not to the point where they become omniscient themselves.

On the right path…I think.

Having said that, plot lines become more important where specific events do have to occur. Stories set in historically-accurate timelines have to adhere to specific dates, for example. But even then, the character is the one we’re following. If all you’re writing is plot, you’re essentially writing a biography, or a textbook. The difference in tone between a plot-led story and a character-driven one is like comparing a Bond movie to Game of Thrones. Bond is running an investigation and his journey is led by going from place to place as he discovers each piece of the puzzle, whereas Game of Thrones is run by the motivations and actions of the characters. Bond doesn’t choose his path, he follows it. Any person in game of Thrones can completely change the direction of the story.

To conclude:

Characterisation sparks our attention, makes a story feel alive. You can describe a brilliantly-intricate murder mystery, but the most important element is the motive of the killer, and that will reflect in the actions taken by the character whodunnit.

Characters should make a plot exciting to follow, but a plot won’t make characters interesting by itself.