Category Archives: Feature

Longer opinion pieces

Literacy Life and Death

Literacy: Life and Death

Literacy ought to be a topic of concern for any author, since – obviously – it goes straight to the heart of what we do, but even we don’t appreciate quite how much it has become a matter of life and death.

Few people do, apparently, but a report from the National Literary Trust (NLT) has opened the book on this largely ‘unread’ aspect of England’s socio-economic divide. It appears that children growing up in areas with the highest literacy problems can expect to die more than a quarter of a century earlier than their more literate counterparts.

Literacy is more than Reading & Writing

A sobering thought for sure, but it’s not the lack of reading and writing skills that’s the killer. No, rather the deficit in literacy skills serves to signal the presence of a cocktail of disadvantage that combine to curtail life expectancy.

In a society such as ours, of course, a lack of reading and writing skills will reinforce deprivation, locking people into a cycle of poverty. It’s no doubt tempting for some to write the illiterate off as ‘stupid’. Well, it’s one way to ‘solve’ the problem – redefine it and shift the blame – but it does little to alleviate deprivation.

Poverty and Learning: A Locked Cycle

Children who are raised in cold and damp homes (of which there are many in England) are going to struggle with education; likewise, when one is hungry and stressed from the insecurities of a life in poverty, the focus required for learning is harder to grasp. None of this is rocket science; those who care about such things have known it for generations.

Still, deprivation is left to fester, shrivelling children’s futures by diminishing the scope for them to learn essential foundation skills such as reading and writing. What’s more, it increases the likelihood that these conditions will be passed on to their children, locking in social exclusion from one generation to the next. It’s a cruel punishment for what is essentially society’s failure to address basic needs.

The cycle of illiteracy creates cross-generational poverty

The cycle of illiteracy creates cross-generational poverty

Breaking cycles of deprivation isn’t easy, of course; even when there’s the political will to make the effort (which has been sadly lacking in England these last years of austerity). It helps to know the symptoms, though, and how they reflect the underlying problems, which is where the NLT’s report comes in.

Literacy & Life Expectancy: NLT Report

Literacy & Life Expectancy is apparently the first research report to ever establish a link between the two through health and socio-economic factors in England. A series of follow-on reports will be released throughout 2018 to mark the organisation’s 25th anniversary but – more importantly – to emphasise why literacy is more important than ever.

The report also builds on the findings of a study carried out in 2008 (Literacy Changes Lives), in which the NLT established a relationship between literary and life chances through the lenses of physical and mental health, economic well-being, family life, civic engagement, and crime.

This latest research was carried out with the help of Experian. It crunched electoral ward level data on the communities at the greatest risk of “serious” literacy problems, along with life expectancy data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England. What it found was a stark national difference in life expectancy correlating with levels of literacy.

Digging Into The Details

Children born into communities with the most serious “literacy challenges” are those who are more likely to live in deprived areas, the research found. They do worse at school, they are less financially well off, have poorer health – and they have some of the lowest life expectancies in England.

In some respects, it sounds like the equivalent of asking where a bear answers a call of nature; yes, it’s in the woods, but where exactly? We don’t know the details until we’ve got our hands dirty with some proper research. We shouldn’t be surprised that low literacy levels have some correlation with deprivations that reduce life expectancy, but that’s not the same as knowing.

So a boy born in Stockton town centre (one of ten in the ranking for literary vulnerability) has a life expectancy that is 26.1 years shorter than a boy born in North Oxford (10 of 10). While a girl born in Queensgate, Burnley (one of ten) has a life expectancy that is 20.9 years shorter than a girl born in Mayfield, Wealdon (10 of 10).

Socially deprived areas are common in every city

Socially deprived areas are common in every city

The divide isn’t just national, however: the research found significant inequalities between wards in the same local communities. In Middlesbrough, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, for instance, a boy born in the ward of North Ormesby (one of 10) has a life expectancy of 71.4 years – 11.6 years shorter than a boy born just two miles away in Marton East (eight of 10) who can expect to live to 83. The gap for girls, meanwhile, is 9.4 years.

Closing the Literary Divide

“If we are to truly transform the life chances of the nation’s most disadvantaged children, we must tackle low literacy one community at a time,” said Jonathan Douglas, director of the NLT.

“The National Literary Trust already runs long-term literacy campaigns in seven of the most deprived regions, cities and towns in the country, but [this] report shows that we still have a mountain to climb.

“We want to double our presence in local communities in our 25th year, and ensure that every child in England has the chance to live a happy, healthy, successful and long life, regardless of their background.”

Sadly that aspiration runs rather contrary to recent Government policy. That’s not to say ministers have embarked on a deliberate play to limit the life chances (and life spans) of England’s children, but it can be said that this has been the inevitable side effect of austerity.

The issue of poverty and problems with literacy pre-date austerity, of course: still, it adds a cruel twist to the situation.

Over the last few years, the impact of the Government’s policies on some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society has been examined in detail by academic institutions, thinktanks, parliamentary committees, charities, campaign groups and more. Reams of reports have laid bare the cruelties of austerity. Together, they present a grim picture of modern Britain. The NLT’s new report, sadly, is but one more for this bibliography of woe.

Where does this leave authors?

We’re no different to any other concerned (or indifferent) citizen; we’re not entirely powerless, but we can’t write these social issues out of existence either. Would that we could. But we can surely be rather more aware of such issues, and do our bit to spread the word.

After all, one might say we have something of a vested interest in the matter. How many potential readers – fans even – are we losing to these emerging ‘dead zones’ of literacy? For that matter, how many writers are being muted before they even find their literary tongues?

In a way, it’s about diversity. Sure, life chances are the immediate concern. But beyond that, if we are to avoid becoming a monocultural reflection of a homogeneous audience, then we surely need a diversity of readers, every bit as much as we need a diversity of writers.

Literacy is our lifeblood, in more ways than one. We ignore it at our peril.

Post written by Mark Cantrell.

Reading the Wind Introduction

Reading the Wind

I never thought of myself as a writer.

I read fiction nonstop and even wrote some Tolkien fanfiction, but in my mind, that didn’t make me a writer; I also taught technical writing to college students. About that kind of writing, I counted as an expert. Still, that didn’t make me a writer. People who wrote novels were special. I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t know how to do that. And then, one day, some irresistible urge came calling on the wind, and I decided to try. I say “one day,” but it would be more accurate to say “one year” because it turned out I was right about not knowing how to write a novel.

The Wind Reader was one of the first books I drafted, but it spent years on my hard drive, coming out every so often to be revised using the critical eye and skills I developed as I went to workshops, read how-to books, and drafted several more novels. I gradually built up craft knowledge, but the most important thing I learned is that I was a writer all along.

A writer writes.

There’s no other definition. Publication is nice, but it’s not what makes someone a writer.

On the other hand, publication really is nice!

So when I finally decided The Wind Reader was ready to go out into the world, I looked around for a publisher I could trust with my baby. I wound up submitting to Inspired Quill by following a trail of signs. On a writers’ site, authors wrote that they’d had good experiences there, that this was a publisher that would treat me and my book well. Inspired Quill’s submissions guidelines told me it responded to rejected submissions with a brief critique. That’s unusually generous. Some small presses don’t even send rejections. I thought it would be valuable to get a critique along with my rejection.

But Inspired Quill didn’t send me a rejection.

They sent me an acceptance. As any writer will tell you, this is a Great Moment in Writing.

Before the acceptance was final, however, Sara suggested a Skype interview so see if Inspired Quill and I were a good fit. As any writer will also tell you, there are small presses and then there are small presses. On its website, Inspired Quill describes itself as a “Social Enterprise.” I found that intriguing, and during the interview, Sara elaborated. She sees Inspired Quill as more than simply a publisher that produces a product to sell. Rather, Inspired Quill sees itself as part of the web of community. So, for example, it donates part of its profits to charity and runs subsidized workshops. In a phrase, it hopes to do well by doing good. That fit with the way I wanted to see myself and my work.

I want readers.

I want to sell books. But for me, writing is about more than that. It’s the best way I’ve found to examine human experience and touch the human heart. I believe I can do that in partnership with Inspired Quill.

It's time to make our voices heard

Stop Talking About Diversity In Books

“The importance of diversity in books”, “diverse characters – tokenism or important?” and my personal favourite, “is diversity really that important?”

Every time I see a convention panel discussion with a name like this, my eyes roll so hard I end up chasing them across the floor.

Let’s be honest, here. The publishing world is very, very good at talking about things that matter. Unfortunately, when it comes to doing something about it, we tend to hold up our hands and say “we’re swamped already!”

That’s partially true. In a world where the average author royalty payments barely cover the electricity for their laptops, publishers (especially small publishers!) have to work overtime just to be heard above the razzle dazzle of the latest Big 5 bestseller. Just look at how long it took for the Big 5 – with all of their resources and full-time employees – to fully embrace eBooks. It’s only been in the last few years that their websites have been even remotely pleasant to visit.

But this has to start changing. Now.

To answer the above in order, “Very”, “Important”, and my personal favourite, “No shit.”

We all know that representation matters, not just in the boardroom or on convention panels, but actually in the books that we work so hard on. We have all experienced the power of reading about a character that’s like us without being a gross tokenism.

But look at all the LGBT, PoC books out there now!

You mean the ones that are marketed solely because of the sexual orientation of their main character? Or the fact the clever, handsome protagonist is black? The ones where the publisher expects a pat on the head and a biscuit and told that they’re being sooo progressive?

(There go my eyes again!)

Okay, I should clarify here. All of those titles are important. I’m not denying that for a microsecond. But while we’re still hung up in amazement at this handful of books, we’re perpetuating the fact that these books are not normative. (After all, there’s a difference between being vocally supportive of these books, and acting with astonishment every time a big publisher deigns to print an inclusive title that isn’t then marketed as ‘edgy’ or even one of their ‘next big hits’).

But Inspired Quill isn’t perfect!

Honestly, the whole inclusivity thing has never been something we’ve given much active thought to until pretty recently. It was always part of the stories that our authors told – right from the beginning. That this view on inclusivity is in our DNA as part of our core values makes it easier for us to wipe the sleep from our eyes and start being more vocal about the how, why, and what of this side of our process.

So what can we do?

As I said above, it’s time to stop talking about diversity, and actually start to do something about it. Publishers, authors and readers have an obligation to move the stagnant ‘status quo’ forward. And yes, all readers and all publishers and all authors.

I’ll be writing many more blog posts in much more detail over the coming months, but here’s one simple idea to kickstart the process.

Ask people what they’re doing about it.

Whenever you hear someone start talking about diversity in fiction, or asking whether it’s important, this comment has served me well. “No shit. Of course it’s important, so what are we actually doing about it, other than sitting around preaching to the converted?”

As a first step, the mild shock and (usually) indignation is enough to start the ball rolling. “I’ve been commenting on cast diversity whenever I review a book,” or “I choose every character’s ethnicity instead of defaulting to white,” or even, “I haven’t mentioned the LGBT character in this book we published in the primary marketing materials.”

Bonus Request

Oh, and let’s actually stop asking “Is diversity in books important” as well, shall we? Just asking that question suggests the possibility that it might not be important. Quite frankly, that shouldn’t even be up for debate.

It’s 2017 folks, let’s move on. The devil has enough privileged advocates already.

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.


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

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

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?