Monday, 11 December 2017

Nice Things Happen Too



Many people enjoy books without the author ever finding out. That's normal, but it is also nice when we do hear from readers. I especially love hearing about why they liked one of my books, and which elements stood out. That is the kind of thing authors bear in mind when working on future books and sequels.

Well, after a day of dealing with a crappy issue (called Paypal) I received the following email from a reader in Canada, and it made my day.

I just finished reading Lost Solace and really enjoyed it. My preferred genre is present day or near-future hard science fiction, so this was a bit of a departure, but I really dug the cover (yeah, I know that's pretty shallow). After reading the reviews, I gave it a try. It was excellent, even though I usually shy away from any horror, this was great.

I took particular joy in not having to make notes on all the characters in the book. Being old and stupid comes with forgetting most characters in a book by the next day. Instead of continually looking it up, I have taken to jotting down notes. Many books seem to take pride in how many characters they can develop in one book. They could take a lesson from you. You were able to write an entire book with a single character that never got stale. Kudos.

The AI is great, just like I envision it will eventually transform. I enjoyed the banter between the AI and Opal. The smart suit was fantastic.

Beautifully written, your word-craft is stellar (I suspect you attended all your English classes).

I know it's important, so I did leave a small review on GoodReads and Amazon.
(Message included here with permission.)

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Friday, 8 December 2017

Paypal Won't Pay, And They're Not An Author's Pal


The writer's life is full of highs and lows.


In the background I have been dealing with one of the lows for some time - Paypal. I hadn't mentioned this problem, but after many weeks where they have ignored me I think it is time to warn others against using Paypal for any business-critical finances. I wish I'd never heard of them. At this point I just want to close my Paypal account (which I opened more than ten years ago!) and never deal with them again.


Paypal aren't a bank, so they're not regulated like a bank is, and their protection systems are confusing and problematic, which may leave you unable to pursue complaints with the Financial Ombudsman Service. Paypal are an American money-transfer organisation originally set up and connected to Ebay. There have been accusations of fraud, and - relevant to this blog post - lots of criticism related to Paypal keeping people's money and blocking their access to it, often leading to court proceedings. "By 2016, ConsumerAffairs had received over 1,200 consumer complaints relating to PayPal policies" (source). It doesn't look good once you start digging. And I'd never have started digging or summarised all that here except - you guessed it - Paypal are refusing me access to my money. The money I need to live off.


Let's take a step back. As I said, I have been a customer of Paypal since 2007 (maybe earlier). For over ten years they have been tracking all my financial transactions. They know my history, my purchases, my payments. It's been pretty boring and regular stuff. I'm not some person who came along in 2017 and set up an account with them and started transferring large sums of money from unspecified sources. Instead I occasionally bought books, or transferred payments to editors and proofreaders, or paid Ebay fees, or sold an unwanted TV series on DVD.


My problems began at one of the high points of my writing career when one of my books reached #1 in the UK horror charts (back in August 2017). I was so excited. It was to be my biggest royalty payment yet, and the first one that almost equated to my salary from back when I was in paid employment! The way royalties work is that it takes three months before you get paid. That's fine. I could wait.

November came and the money was transferred into my account by the e-book distributor Pronoun (owned by Macmillan). Macmillan are one of the big five publishers. We're not talking about some small and shady organisation, but a traditional and established one. All the elements of my royalty payment are standard and traceable, and tied to recorded sales on various platforms.


But because Paypal use automated systems that are prone to false positives (PayPal developed a "fraud monitoring system that used artificial intelligence to detect potentially fraudulent transactions" - source) it means they often flag things up that are normal transactions. And they save money by trying to resolve things with automated processes rather than human intervention. And boy, does it show.

And so my royalty payment went into Paypal in November (Pronoun only pay into Paypal accounts). And suddenly Paypal started sending automated messages with automated routines, telling me I had to send them all sorts of private data, often things that I don't even have. And even if I did have them, I'd be very wary of sending copies of my most vital documentation over the Internet to a company that isn't UK-based or fully regulated like a bank; data that could well end up on US servers and then be subject to US laws which mean it can be spread even further afield. This is data that should never be shared under those circumstances, because it can be used for ID theft and fraud and impersonation. Staff at Paypal would then have access to the data (since their staff access and check it), which also opens it up to anyone they share it with. Official Government ID is for official Government purposes - you show it to police, to border controls, to social security. You do not send scans of it to pseudo-banks in other countries or to any other organisation just because they request it and tell you they are trustworthy. I'm sure the UK Passport office would advise against that, with good reason, because there is no way to control the data once it is out there, and no cast-iron guarantee that you'll be fine and nothing can go wrong. This is how identity theft can occur.

But Paypal don't care about the risks they transfer to their customers, only about minimising Paypal's costs. So they insist on their worrying and incorrect systems rather than assign an actual human to look into it and confirm that there is no fraud taking place and you are who you say you are. In my case, that I am Karl Drinkwater the author, and that the royalty payment was from a reputable company for trackable items sold as part of a normal pattern of behaviour.

No, that would be too helpful for Paypal.

So they told me my account was restricted. "Don't worry, you can still withdraw money."  Good, I needed it to live. (I wish I'd got a screenshot of their message saying that the restrictions wouldn't stop me from withdrawing money, but at this point I didn't know they'd change that.) So I withdrew some to my bank account to pay bills. Paypal delayed it, but then it went through some days later. Fine. Frustrating, but I could live with it.

"As set out in our User Agreement, withdrawal requests may be subject to review by PayPal to help maintain your safe use of the PayPal service. As a result, it may take longer than the estimated processing time for your withdrawal to reach your bank account. Yours sincerely, Your PayPal team" [Email from Paypal, 1st November 2017]
Paypal even encouraged me to keep spending my money and withdrawing it, which implied all was fine:


I contacted them about it anyway on 1st November, pointing out that there was a problem with their system and what it was asking for.

"The UK has no photo ID card. As an aside - the form asks for a street number (in addition to a house number). It's a mandatory field, but there is no such thing as street numbers in the UK. That needs to be an optional field. Thanks."
 Straightforward. Friendly. Helpful.

There was a reply shortly after, and I logged in hoping for a swift resolution, but I was disappointed - it was an automated response (and, in fact, the only one I ever got to my message - still no human response to it after more than five weeks).

Dear Karl Drinkwater,
Thanks for contacting us about your concerns. As a valued customer we want to help you make the most of your PayPal account. We prefer that you don't need to wait for an answer, so we’ve replied with this automatic message.
We hope you’ll find your answer below.
A. How do I access my PayPal account if I forgot my password?
[There followed a long list of "answers" that didn't have the slightest bit of relevance to my message, and I wasted time looking through them with draining hope.]

Notice the horrible spin in their response. If I was really a "valued customer" they'd read my message and respond to it, not fob me off with an automated and irrelevant response which is equivalent to "Fuck off, you're not worth our time". They "hope" I'll find the answer below? They shouldn't have to "hope and pray", they should do something about it. Like read the customer's message and reply, as any reputable organisation - or one that respected their customers - would do. I'm getting angry now.

On the 2nd November I replied to them to say: "This does not answer my question in the slightest."

They never responded to that or my original message. (I should add that these weren't emails that could go missing - they were messages within the Paypal interface; "Secure Messages" as they refer to them.)

November 3rd, Paypal on Twitter (in a private message)
saying my "case" had been "escalated" to a "specialist".
The specialist must have been a black hole,
because nothing ever came out of it.

Two weeks went by. I kept hoping they'd reply to one of my messages eventually. I even hassled their Twitter support account, and kept being promised Paypal would respond eventually. Like a fool, I believed them, and as a result carried on as normal, rather than doing the sensible thing of withdrawing my money and never touching Paypal with a bargepole. I didn't realise I was being misled into waiting so that things would get even worse.

I was a bit short of cash so sold the more powerful of my two computers on Ebay. The older and slower one I kept is still fine for writing novels and short stories. I accepted a lower price because it was all the buyer could afford and I try to be helpful like that. Paypal told me the money had gone into my Paypal account on 15th November 2017.


Then, on the same day (15th November) Paypal sent me an email that said: "As mentioned in our previous email, you're no longer able to send or withdraw money from your PayPal account until you provide us with the required information."


Wait, what? I went back to the email of 1st November. Nope, it didn't say they were soon going to stop me accessing my money; it actually said (amongst a lot of other guff) "you'll still be able to use your PayPal account to send or withdraw money as normal". And that's the same thing that had shown when I logged into Paypal. But now that had all changed because I had the audacity to sell something to make ends meet. Suddenly they'd applied restrictions saying I couldn't have any of my money (though I was welcome to keep paying it into my account for Paypal to hold on to - why the hell would I want to do that, allowing them to profit from holding on to my money?)

If I'd known that was going to happen I'd have taken all my money out while I still could, and just not sold the computer, or maybe sold it via another payment method like bank transfer or cheque.

They hadn't replied to my messages so now I instituted a formal complaint on 15th November.

I contacted Paypal weeks ago and have still not had a reply. Paypal has now blocked me from withdrawing my money, even though it is all from approved and official sources - Ebay and Pronoun. I am told I can only have MY MONEY if I send you all sorts of documentation, some of which does not exist, and some of which is only possessed by a few people. It is impossible for me to do all you ask. (Plus, we are advised by the UK not to send scans of those documents to any third parties anyway, even if I did have them). So my question remains, how do I access my money? Or is Paypal going to keep it forever (which would be theft)?
Please remove the stupid block or provide a solution so that I can withdraw my money. I am the author Karl Drinkwater http://karldrinkwater.uk and most of the money is royalties on book sales. If I knew Paypal tried to seize people's income in this way I would never have opened a Paypal account all those years ago, and would advise others of this danger to their livelihoods if they use Paypal. To then ignore such an urgent issue and not even REPLY after more than two weeks is disgraceful.
Ha, that was only two weeks without a reply, wait until it gets to over five weeks! That's not a delay, it is a total ignoring or deleting of messages from me.

Then other things started to go wrong when payments for utilities that took place through Paypal started to get rejected, as here on 26th Nov:


These are small companies (I prefer to support independents and those with good ethical and environmental policies), and I often know their staff by name. They were being informed that there were suspicious problems with my account or financial situation, leading them to send me concerned communications. I had to explain what was going on; that no, I wasn't involved in fraud; that I could pay; and then I had to set up alternative payment systems before I lost access to the Internet, my website, my email, and other utilities like that, which would have made resolving any of this impossible. You can imagine how stressful that was, on top of everything else. Luckily those companies actually had people who replied and were quick, efficient and helpful, which was a total contrast to my experience with Paypal. But it shows the knock-on repercussions of having mistakenly involved Paypal in my business - that association was now putting my business and livelihood at risk.

Oh, guess what happens if you reply to an email from Paypal?


It is their choice to send out emails and not bother checking the accounts for replies. They could answer emails if they wanted to, and it is dishonest to imply otherwise. If they want to be "quick and efficient as possible" they would read and respond to messages. But of course, that would be too helpful. What I have seen again and again is that Paypal are very good at sending out one-way automated messages, but terrible at engaging in two-way human communication, or listening to what you say. They seem to favour black holes where your messages can be safely ignored.

I heard nothing back from messages sent to Paypal through their "Secure Messaging" systems, so on the 27th November I contacted the UK's Financial Ombudsman to complain about Paypal, and informed Paypal the same day:

Due to the lack of response after a month, I have contacted the UK's Financial Ombudsman with a formal complaint against Paypal. I copied it into the BBC Watchdog service, and to Which? consumer support in case they want to investigate (Paypal was copied in to all those complaints, but an automated response said you wouldn't read the emails, which is rather unhelpful, as usual). I'll provide a summary below.
As you may expect: there has been no reply to that, either.

On 7th December Paypal finally responded to my formal complaint (not my original or later messages). It had taken them three weeks to tell me this:

I regret the delay in responding to you. When you contacted us, you did so through our Formal Complaint process, which has a response time of up to four weeks. If you wish to hear from us sooner please use the “Contact Us” link.
Firstly, that is a lie. When I contacted them on 1st November it was through their "Contact Us" link. As were my later messages, and they ignored all of them. To imply that the delays were because I hadn't done something that I had actually done shows either a complete inability to understand basic facts, or dishonesty.

There then followed reiteration of things they'd already stated. Then it ends with this gem:

I would kindly as if you could provide us with your National ID card, provided it has been government issued.
The UK does not have a "National ID card". And this was a message from Paypal UK, to a UK customer, asking for something that doesn't exist. Something that was publicly destroyed over a decade ago when the 2006 attempt to introduce a UK National ID card was completely annihilated. It shows how little grasp of the real world Paypal has.

I replied on the same day (7th December).

Britain does not have a National ID card, so that option is impossible to provide. Which leaves Paypal holding my money and making it impossible for me to withdraw it.

I'm sure there are other ways for financial institutions to fulfil their obligations, even if it requires a bit more work from the organisation. You only have to be happy that there is no fraud going on. Selling an item on Ebay and receiving royalties from Pronoun (Macmillan publishers) are both verifiable as legitimate transactions. I have full royalty statements. At this point I just want to take out my money and shut my account. This has been frustrating beyond belief and there is no way I would trust Paypal to be involved in any business transactions after this. I've told as much to the UK's financial ombudsman.

I find it hard to believe that there could be a law preventing people from accessing their verifiably-legitimate income with no possible way for them to be able to access it because the requested ID does not exist.

Also, at the start I could withdraw money. Paypal then applied a second restriction and stopped that without warning.

Finally, I only instituted a formal complaint because my normal contacts (of five weeks ago) had been ignored by Paypal, apart from an irrelevant automated response.

As you can imagine, I am incredibly angry about this.
And that's where I am today. Paypal are holding my income/living money hostage following two payments: one payment of royalties, one from selling my PC on Ebay. Nothing in the slightest bit suspicious about either, both via trackable with reputable companies.

Let me restate that:
  • I haven't done anything wrong
  • There has been no suspicious activity
  • I'm a long-standing customer with a perfect track record
  • My account was fully verified by linking it to a bank account that had full identity authorisation many years ago (which is why Paypal insist on that step)
  • and I'm sure Paypal would have to admit all of those points are true - and yet Paypal has instituted processes that make me begin to wonder if I am a criminal! They've blocked access to my money and after nearly two months still not responded satisfactorily to any of my many communications about this (and most of them have been outright ignored).

Ebay have said they'll be taking their cut of my PC sale from my Paypal account (it looks like about 10% of the money I made). Good luck to them with that. They'd be welcome to it if they had more success touching my money than I did. Chances are that will fail and lead to fines from Ebay, which will continue to accrue at whatever interest rate they decree. Another problem Paypal have caused me.

All this shit about confirming my ID is ridiculous. My ID is not in any serious doubt. I couldn't be much more public! An active member of the Horror Writers Association whose work has been in preliminary ballots for the Bram Stoker Awards; an author whose books have nearly topped Amazon's horror and sci-fi charts; interviewed on Popular Science, Lounge Books, and tons of other places with my photo plastered on the sites, and also on radio, whilst being active daily on social media. I don't think there's anything about me that isn't public. (As my followers know, I am pretty open about all aspects of my life.) Likewise all the transactions are easily traceable and confirmable. I'm probably one of the safest and most confirmed category of customer, and there's absolutely no reason to doubt any of that. This is just Paypal being dicks and trying to choose the cheapest and easiest way for them to do things, as we saw when they didn't even read or respond to messages, just have a system send what amounts to their whole FAQ list and then ignore any follow-up.

I've wasted weeks dealing with this, contacting them, tracking it, complaining. It's probably cost me thousands of pounds in stress and wasted time. And at present Paypal completely refuse to allow me to withdraw my money and close my account. Unbelievable. Currently they're holding over £1,500 of mine (a figure that is growing as other royalties trickle in), my living expenses, and even after 5 weeks haven't acknowledged the issue or implied that in any way they'll ever release my money back to me. I may have to wave it goodbye.

At this point I just want to get my money out, close the account, and never hear the word "Paypal" again. To be honest, their cruddy interface and problems with tracking transactions mean my finances will be much simpler to maintain without Paypal. (As an example, bank statements often show figures that don't match up to Paypal transactions, because Paypal actually took some from your bank account, and some from Paypal funds, but only show the total figure when you view your account summary - it can be like a jigsaw matching it all up every month.)  They created a new website years ago, but to get statements you still have to go to the old website – they never bothered to build those functions into the new one.

Paypal's current blue interface, post-Website redesign (screenshot taken 8th Dec 2017)
  
But when you try and get detailed statement info you find yourself back on the old pre-redesign page with its bewildering options and clunky interface (screenshot taken 8th Dec 2017)
One of many things I reported to Paypal over the years, but which didn't get a response.

Authors and business people – I'd never recommend anyone ever open a Paypal account after all this, especially for business-critical finances. Save yourself the stress and the loss of money. It's not as if my case is a rare one, as the list of criticisms and court cases on Wikipedia showed.

The simple whim of PayPal can destroy your business and your online reputation. The simple whim of PayPal can freeze access to funds that you need to support your family, pay bills, take that dream vacation or replace the busted tires on your car.

Most disturbing of all: PayPal does not need a reason to freeze your funds and limit your account. Remember, PayPal says in its User Agreement (that you agreed to) that it can limit and freeze your funds for "any reason."

Why? Because PayPal CAN. And because you won't do a damn thing about it. [Source]
It is as if no-one in Paypal knows what others do, and automated systems kick in but aren't monitored, and staff ignore messages and official complaints. That's certainly what I've experienced, and it has been one of the most frustrating things I've encountered.

That's over 3,600 words that I'll never get paid for (for perspective - a 20th of a novel). I should have turned it into a short story instead, at least I could have sold it - except you can't make this stuff up!

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Friday, 1 December 2017

A Good Week For Lost Solace

Lost Solace at #3 in the UK's top 100 sci-fi adventure novels on
Amazon - just after Artemis by the awesome Andy Weir!

It's been a good week for Lost Solace, especially in the UK. It may have reached a higher place in the charts before I got round to taking a screenshot, but these are the best rankings I grabbed evidence for:


Top ten in at least three categories. According to my Amazon dashboard, Lost Solace got to #161 overall out of millions of e-books in the UK store.

The recent Amazon ratings were probably down to a mixture of factors.
  • A new book, in a genre with voracious readers (quality action/suspense sci-fi).
  • Another exciting high-profile book was released at the same time by pure chance with a similar cover (Artemis by Andy Weir).
  • Lost Solace was at the promotional price of $0.99 for a week, even though it is new.
  • A few authors and sci-fi fans mentioned the promo in their newsletters.
  • I received excellent early reviews on high-profile sites and from a few book bloggers.
  • And probably the biggest boost: I got my second Bookbub featured deal for 28th November. This one was international-only, so excluded the US, which is why I did well in the UK rankings but didn’t see such a spectacular shift in the US.
In my last promo I got my Horror Collection to #1 in the UK horror charts.

Lost Solace will get a sequel, due in 2018.

#4 in the whole of sci-fi books (Amazon UK)

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Monday, 27 November 2017

Lost Solace - E-book Special Offer


From Monday 27th November until Friday 1st December the e-book versions of Lost Solace will be only $0.99.

You'll find purchase links here.

If you know anyone who likes sci-fi, suspense, action or horror, please mention it to them!

From the reviews:

"Opal is a fantastic character, complex, a history we learn a bit more about as we read on, she is heroic, loyal, strong and long long overdue in fiction. I loved the AI too and the relationship that formed between the two, the ballsy choices and bravery through frightening encounters and life and death situations."
-- So many books, so little time

"It's pretty well impossible not to relate to Opal's character. [...] The ship she explores is distinctly weird with some elegantly nasty touches thrown in by Drinkwater - and Clarissa brings in a really interesting AI side to the whole thing."
-- Popular Science

"Great fun—a female-centred science fiction space adventure, with lots of action, creepy mystery, and satisfying emotional depth."
-- Julie Cohen, author

"I honestly cannot emphasise how much I loved this book. When I finished it my initial notes were as follows - Omgoodness ALL OF THE STARS! 5/5! It's creepy, it's action packed, it's awesome!"
-- Life of a Nerdish Mum

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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Amazon. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.


The Good And The Bad

Amazon does some things well. It gives authors an avenue to sell books with a fair bit of freedom. What it does less well is ... communicating. I know this from the past:
 Oh boy. I haven't had much luck with Amazon recently.

Before I explain what happened today, let me give you a bit of background.

My Monthly Review Procedure

On the first day of every month I check for new reviews of my books on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Goodreads. I read them all, even the weird ones from people who seem furiously angry about everything and give a book 1* on principle, or who seem to be writing a review for a different item. Then I pick some and save them into Buffer, which I use to manage my social media accounts. It's like a big tub of posts for Twitter and Facebook. Every few days I go through and sort out which will appear in the next few days. I like to have a mix of photos, personal posts, links to articles, and so on. In that mix are some reviews. I never cease to be thankful that people liked my words enough to write words of their own. It seems an act of respect to share some of those reviews more widely. It also means it isn't always me talking. I like to highlight a key sentence but link to the full review in case people want to read the full thing.

What Happened This Week - The Ugly

The other day I was looking through the posts I'd saved and came across a review I decided to share. As usual I tested the link first, but instead of going to a nice review, I saw this:


Strange. I'd only saved the link a few days earlier.

I should have ignored it. But it was for one of my books that has fewer than ten reviews. A new 5* review is something to celebrate. It makes my day. I wondered if it was a temporary hitch and I should try again later, or if I should just delete the link to the review entirely. I knew Amazon generally wouldn't comment on reviews except to the person who wrote them, and I had no idea who wrote this one, but decided to ask Amazon out of curiosity. I sent Amazon this email through a general "Contact Us" link.

Hi,

I noticed a link to one of the October reviews on my Horror Collection has stopped working:

https://www.amazon.com/review/R2YA1PCLPZFU2M/

Any idea what has happened or how to restore it? I sometimes link to reviews in social media, pointing people back to Amazon in case they want to buy the book, and that was one of my few reviews that month.

Thanks!
Karl
That seems okay, right? Innocuous? Friendly? Maybe they'd tell me there had been a temporary problem? Maybe they'd tell me they couldn't comment? Maybe it would help them spot a bug, and they could fix it?

This reply was waiting for me when I woke this morning:

-----Original Message-----
From: review-appeals@amazon.com
Sent: 21 November 2017 23:28
Subject: A Message from Amazon Review Moderation

Hello,

We have determined that you have violated our Customer Review Creation Guidelines. As a result, we have suppressed all of your reviews, and you will no longer be able to post reviews on Amazon.com.

We made this decision after carefully considering your reviewing account. This decision is final.

We cannot share any further information about our decision, and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.

Review Moderator Amazon.com
What!?!?! WTF?

At first I thought it must be replying to something else, or from a parallel universe, but no - below that was the email I had sent them.

Let me just be clear. I have no idea what that is about. I asked where a review had gone which had been written by a stranger with no connection to me - just like every other review on my books. In return they are stopping me from writing reviews! Forever, with no explanation, and no appeal. Doesn't that seem weird? Was it a message they meant to send to someone else?

I should also add that I am not a prolific reviewer. On my Amazon account I reviewed a few gadgets, a few games, and the new Kindle Fire. My review of the Kindle Fire was 2*, and ... erm ... Amazon makes and sells the Kindle Fire. Could that be ... no, surely not. Apart from that I write some book reviews. As you can imagine, being an author, I read a lot. Amazon's guidelines say you can't write "negative reviews for items sold by that seller’s competitors", which would mean books in my case, but that's fine - if I don't like a book, I don't review it. I only write reviews for books I think people should go and read. Stuff like this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. All those reviews and many more are lost from Amazon now.

What Set Amazon Off?

So, what happened? I have no idea what it is about, and it looks like I'll never find out. I've encountered similar weirdness from Amazon before. At one time they pointed me to Amazon Seller guidelines they said I'd broken - guidelines that I couldn't even see because I wasn't an Amazon Seller and had never had an Amazon Seller account! The wording is obviously standard text inserted into an email with little, if any, human intervention - just like the systems at play.

So I could be suspicious that they are getting back at me because I complained publicly about their unfairness here. This has the same tone - they say you've done something bad in vague, unpinnable terms, won't say what, and give no appeal. Or are they removing my ability to post reviews because my only 2* review was for the product they make and sell? Is that more likely, bearing in mind that the punishment is taking down my reviews and ratings?

When these kind of things happen it is easy to get angry and hate Amazon. But it's not worth it. There are more important things in the world. I think the most likely cause is a dodgy algorithm, probably innocent people being caught in the crossfire of something else, such as a clamp down on real review manipulators but with such broad strokes that they actually take down the wrong targets. Presumably they have systems set up to detect things like review farming (where companies pay for fake ranks and reviews, a practice that is both foolish and dishonest). But obviously whatever Amazon's systems look for as indicators can also create false positives like this.

One Possibility - Amazon's Tracking/Spying

Here's one example that I've been aware of for a while. Did you know that as well as cookies, Amazon adds code to URLs as you browse their store? All the highlighted part here is actually tracking information:


If you copy and paste that URL without clearing that text from the end (to create "a clean link") then Amazon adds that tracking data to the browser for anyone clicking the link. They add that tracking data to all their pages as you use the store.

So here's a possibility. Maybe I once shared a link to a review of one of my books and forgot to remove that Amazon spying data from the link. (And before I learnt about this, I probably shared lots of links that still contained the tracking data.) Then a person clicked on the review I shared and read it. It then connected the reader to me in Amazon's algorithm. If that person bought my book and reviewed it later, maybe Amazon assumed they were "connected" to me in some way, therefore the review was biased, and they then trigger the flag that implies review manipulation. Who knows? But my money is on it being something like that. But since Amazon won't give any details or allow any comeback, there's no way to prove anything. That's why they don't give you information. If you had information you could show that Amazon was wrong.

What's Next?

There's a part of me that wants to follow this up with Amazon. To ask for details. To point out that I have never violated their guidelines (I am well aware of them). But I know from past experience that not I will get nowhere - I once emailed Jeff Bezos about an issue exactly like this, and he forwarded it to Amazon staff, and then they still sent me the same canned message and accusations. There is no way of getting to a human being who will understand the issue, explain what has triggered the false positive, and work with you to improve their algorithm to avoid false positives in future. Amazon don't want to know, or to improve things. They would rather have large numbers of false positives, because it takes less effort to close accounts and ignore replies than it does to fix obviously-flawed, very complex broad-sweep systems.

Also, just on the off-chance that this is some punitive response from Amazon for something I've done in the past (such as pointing out unfair flaws in their system), I am worried that if I even reply to them they may go further. What next? Close my whole Amazon account? Remove my books, or rank them lower? My livelihood is based on my books. Sales and reviews raise their visibility. It's why I am so grateful to my fans and readers. At this point I don't want Amazon to stomp on me any more. I have little to gain by complaining to them (probably not even a sensible answer - just a repetition of the same email), but a lot to lose.

I get it. Life isn't fair, and there are no comebacks, and if you annoy them by protesting your innocence then they may just stomp even harder. I worry that they may take silence to imply that you are really guilty of something (I'm not), but on the other hand, it's not even possible to discuss this with anyone reasonable at Amazon. In this case even a polite email about a missing review led to them applying restrictions to my account. It's just not worth it.

So I'm afraid you won't see many reviews from me in the future! Maybe that's not so bad, but I do worry about how many thousands of other innocent people are being caught out and having restrictions applied thanks to over-zealous automated Amazon systems. But at this point I can't see anything that can be done about it. Create a behemoth and don't be surprised if it squashes you in its sleep one day.

Comments on this post are welcome.

Update: Same Day, A Bit Later 

It feels like I am stuck in a Monty Python sketch some days.

Some authors have discussed this with me. Authors are lovely people. You should adopt one if you get the chance.

To be honest, I am less concerned about not being able to write reviews any more (which, at the end of the day, benefits Amazon and their customers, not me), than the vague worry that they might start deleting more of the few reviews I have on some of my books, or worse: especially if I create too much fuss. I hate the feeling that I've been accused of something dishonest. This will seem weird, but it then starts making me think I must have done something, because otherwise it is too surreal. I also hate being blocked in that way, i.e. not told what I have done, or given a chance to work out how this situation occurred. I have already screenshotted the reviews of my books because I am worried in case they start disappearing, but even then there's no comeback. So I guess I am mostly just a bit shaken up.

As I explained to my fellow authors, if Amazon's righteous retribution was due to any genuine error on my part I'd have loved to have been told. I could have apologised. I could have accepted just punishment. As with my Kindle Scout campaign, I could have warned others so they didn't follow in my puppyish over-enthusiastic footsteps. But I am nonplussed. It's not like I even have a lot of reviews or a high rank or lots of sales, where nastily suspicious people might wonder about the secret of my success and discount the fact that it could just be down to writing good books and telling good stories.

And there are some horror stories. These are (anonymised, paraphrased) comments from some authors I spoke to.

"Same thing happened to me. I politely asked why reviews were disappearing and suddenly I ended up on Amazon's shitlist and I can't review any longer either."

"I think Amazon outsources the review check system, and recently - the last couple of months - I've heard many people say the same thing. There is obviously a fault with the system somewhere."

"I asked which guideline I'd broken as I looked at their guidance and didn't think I had violated any rules. The next email from them threatened to remove all my books from being published on Amazon. After that I shut the hell up. Even now I regularly get reviews of my books removed by Amazon - but I'm not going to complain any more..."
Yikes. And - oh shit. Because despite thinking I maybe shouldn't, I did go ahead and send Amazon this polite email in response:

Hi,

Can I just check if this has been sent to the wrong person, or the message reached me in error? It doesn't seem to be a response to my original email, which was just asking about a review!

I haven't broken any guidelines that I am aware of, which suggests this is a false positive. I'd be happy to work with you to resolve it, since you obviously don't want errors in whatever systems you have in place. I'm also happy to do that over the phone if it helps.

Best wishes,
Karl Drinkwater
Now I am wondering if this is going to get any worse.

Update: Thursday 23rd November 2017 (Next Day)

I checked reviews of my books on Amazon and another one has disappeared.

I also had lots of supportive comments from fellow authors. Some of the things they said are useful, and I'll share a few here (anonymised, again).

"I've had similar Karl. Reviews were removed from my books, always 5 star ones from genuine fans. Amazon said they violated guidelines and they did not. I tried writing to the CEO but worry that I may have made it worse. It's not as if I have a lot of reviews."

"I've heard so many stories like this. They removed one of my five star reviews recently saying it breached guidelines. I emailed them and they said everything was fine and as it should be as they confirmed my remaining reviews. It was as if nothing happened. The review is still gone. I think it depends on who you get on the email. Some agents dealing with emails are kinder then others."

"One of the things my publisher told me is to never send out ARCS through Amazon or send ARCS to a kindle Amazon address by email because Amazon takes this as direct contact e.g. You know the person, and Amazon then won't accept reviews from either of you. Always send Arcs to a standard email address."
It's a good point - I stopped sending ARCs via Amazon a few years ago for that very reason. There was a time when I didn't realise Amazon tracked all this data and kept it and used it against you (even though Amazon guidelines allow sending of ARCs!). For info: ARC is an Advance Review Copy. It is traditional in the book world to send ARCs to reviewers before publication, to get reviews ready for launch, and maybe quotes to use in the publicity. ARCs are standard practice throughout the book trade.

On the topic of connections:

"I’ve seen this on other author pages. They apparently remove reviews if you are friends on any social media site with the authors. A lot of authors are having this issue. Worse is that Amazon are removing reviews in bulk from authors' books bringing down their rank."

"Use different emails for EVERYTHING especially your amazon and ALL social media. You have to keep your social media email and Amazon emails separate."
But not everyone agrees with this:

"There are good reasons for not having the same password etc for social accounts but it won't stop Amazon, Facebook et al from linking you, this Ted talk shows just how far it goes. When this "don't link your accts" thing came about a few years ago, I got a blogger who I'm friends with on nearly every social network going, to mention me, her review and the whole "Amazon" issue on twitter and several other places. I still have her reviews on my Amazon acct. I really feel for those of you that have lost reviews, but I think you're barking up the wrong tree re: linked accts. Amazon does know the computer, Internet router etc that you use so having different email accts and using the same technology to access them won't help you be unrecognisable."

"The scraping of social media is a myth; there's not one shred of evidence supporting it. There are many other ways Amazon can track connections between authors, however, and connecting those dots is where their algorithms tend to stumble."
It's hard to know what to believe. Lack of evidence doesn't mean things don't happen. As my case shows, Amazon often refuse to give enough information to even identify what rule has been broken, and how - it therefore makes it impossible to also work out what evidence (correct or not) they used to come to their conclusions. And since this probably happens hundreds of times without anyone being able to get answers from Amazon (and in many cases, without speaking out), Amazon's closed-mouth approach means that theories naturally fill the void left by Amazon's reticence to be open. And without knowing what has really gone on in many of the cases, it is also impossible to rule things out for sure. It's rather a confusing mess, and creates a condition of uncertainty for everyone.

"It is against the Amazon reviewer TOS for anyone to review "competitors' products". Broadly interpreted, this could mean that any author reviewing another author's book is in violation of the TOS. More specifically, if you're reviewing books by authors in the same genre(s) you write in, then you're DEFINITELY violating the reviewer TOS."
That's not quite true. "Customer Reviews Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions from Authors" say:

2. Are authors allowed to review other authors’ books?
Yes. Authors are welcome to submit Customer Reviews, unless the reviewing author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed
So it is okay to review other books as an author. Of course, the vagueness over what constitutes a "personal relationship" leaves huge amounts of room for confusion. If another author follows me on Goodreads is that a "personal relationship"? If I know another author online from the author community, is that a "personal relationship"? And if it is a yes for both of those things, does it automatically mean they would be biased and dishonest if they wrote a review? Bear in mind, not all "personal relationships" are positive. Some are neutral. Some are negative. The "personal" part is meaningless; the "relationship" part just means the two people know of each other. It is so vague as to be nonsense.

"I've just read this Karl. I think the "mistake" you made was sticking your head above the parapet and sending them the first email (bringing yourself to their attention). In my case I only learned recently about clean links and about not linking my Facebook and Amazon accounts, too late though. It's a cruel world!"

"The same thing happened to me Karl. Amazon recently suppressed all my reviews and won't allow me to post any more, their email said their decision is final. I don't see how they can think dead authors and singers were my friends, but that's mighty Amazon for you!"

"You should call the customer service. It may be easier to resolve it on the phone. If the person is unable to help, ask to speak to a supervisor."
Good advice there, probably (though I hate using the phone because you have no record of what is said, and most companies use horrible automated menu systems - I have been given the runaround by those many times). Even if Amazon reinstated my review ability I think this has shaken me up so much I wouldn't risk leaving any more reviews unless Amazon told me exactly what triggered this so I could avoid it again, otherwise it would be like playing Russian roulette! All the power is on one side in the Amazon relationship and I don't want to risk losing more than I have already lost.
Now I am wondering if this is going to get any worse.

Update: Tuesday 28th November 2017

I'd given up on Amazon, and just didn't want things to get any worse, but then a new email arrived a few minutes ago, in reply to the message I sent them on 22nd November:

Hi,

Can I just check if this has been sent to the wrong person, or the message reached me in error? It doesn't seem to be a response to my original email, which was just asking about a review!

I haven't broken any guidelines that I am aware of, which suggests this is a false positive. I'd be happy to work with you to resolve it, since you obviously don't want errors in whatever systems you have in place. I'm also happy to do that over the phone if it helps.

Best wishes,
Karl Drinkwater
Guess what the reply said? Here it is in full:

-----Original Message-----
From: review-appeals@amazon.com
Sent: 28 November 2017 13:40
Subject: A Message from Amazon Review Moderation

Hello,

Thank you for your reply to our recent message. We have reviewed the message, and determined that you were sent incorrect correspondence stating

"We have determined that you have violated our Customer Review Creation Guidelines. As a result, we have suppressed all of your reviews, and you will no longer be able to post reviews on Amazon.com.
We made this decision after carefully considering your reviewing account. This decision is final.
We cannot share any further information about our decision, and we may not reply to further emails about this issue."

We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.

Please note that "Customer Reviews are removed for the following reasons:

-- The review violates our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines).
-- A customer can decide to remove their own review.
-- The review is on a page that incorrectly links multiple items. We remove these reviews when we separate the items.

To protect the privacy of our customers, we do not share information about specific reviews with anyone other than the customer who posted it. If a customer contacts you about their missing review, please ask them to write to review-appeals@amazon.com. We can help the customer understand why their review was removed.

Once a review is removed because it does not comply with our guidelines, the reviewer may not submit any new reviews on the same product.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Creation Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines)."

Review Moderator Amazon.com
http://www.amazon.com
In brief: "We have reviewed the message, and determined that you were sent incorrect correspondence. [...] We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused."

Well shit. That's been a stressful week and a lot of wasted time on my part, and it turns out that Amazon accidentally accused me of something unspecified but very bad. But it's all okay now, because they used the pasted in "sorry" line.

On the one hand I am glad they admitted that they'd stuffed up. On the other hand I find it frustrating that they never explain what the problem is, any more than they did last time this happened. I guess the only things I can learn from this are:

1. That I should never leave a review for anything on Amazon again.
2. That I should never ask Amazon any questions about reviews.
3. That I still need my fans and readers to leave reviews on Amazon to help me sell books and scrape a living from being an author.

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

They Were Not Mistakes - Grammar Time!


I love hearing back from readers. Often it is a thanks, or questions about my stories and writing. As you know I also do posts about grammar and punctuation, since I enjoy the nitty gritty of it (and edit books for other authors). Here are some clarifications on things people have asked me about particular phrases in Lost Solace.

“That’s a strange opening sentence: ‘long void sea’”

Yes, it is. I was trying to capture the idea of endlessness, and floating, but also add featureless emptiness to the expanse (to match the feeling of time during the experience of cryosleep). Plus images of sea were relevant because Opal uses metaphors of it a lot (after nearly drowning as a child), and the Lost Ship often resembles a submarine environment. If it was distracting to other readers I could look for a better phrase (feedback welcome!), but I liked this phrase, and it was strange and distinctive enough that readers might spot it again at the end of the novel and realise it ends how it began.

Here's the full opening:

Floating in the long void sea, icy, weightless. The thought processes can’t be called dreams. That would be too generous a description. More like fragments of memory stretched out across an echo chamber and punctured with stutters of sound chained to suggestive colours. This was the status quo for dark eternities. Then new sounds were stitched in. Cadences that coincided with infiltrating warmth.

Spin span spun

Here's an interesting and controversial one.

She span round, hoping to catch the hint of movement she’d felt, but the ship’s galley was empty.
One reader told me the correct word is "spun", not "span".

It's true that modern usage is generally to use spun as the simple past. However, I was using an older form. It is also a dialect issue - to my ear "span" sounds better, possibly a northern thing. I would say “She spins round / is spinning” [present], “She span round” [simple past], but “she had spun” [perfect tense]. It is similar to “She runs / is running” [present], “She ran” [simple past], and “she had run” [perfect tense].

There seems to be debate about the usage here. Some say they’ve never heard "span", others say is normal usage in certain constructions, such as "The car span out of control".

Apparently JK Rowling used "span", but it was changed by her publishers later:



How about you? Have you ever heard the word "span"?

Lots of data [is/are] [was/were]

My novel has this sentence in the dialogue:

Lots of data was uploaded to me.
It was pointed out (correctly) that "technically data is plural so would be data were, not data was."

Data is a tricky one because, despite its origins, it is often used as a collective singular. As such, “Lots of data were uploaded” actually sounds wrong to many people's ears. Here I refer to my Guardian Style book:

though strictly a plural, [data] takes a singular verb (like agenda): the data is clear, etc; no one ever uses agendum or datum.

"What did the word xxxxx mean?"

In keeping with the main character, some of the terms I used were slangy or obscure. These were a few of them.

Clarissa banked to evade and brought disruptive chaff cannons to bear, blatting out expanding clouds but too late.
"blatting out": I was trying to capture the sound of the cannons here (blat as a raucous and onomatopoeic sound).

Physical damage reconstructed by nanite drones to new templates.
Nanite drones are a sci-fi/science word for microscopic robots.

She dodged, but bullets spanged near her and against her, forcing her to fall into an alcove.
"bullets spanged near" is the lesser-used sense of “(intransitive, of a flying object such as a bullet) To strike or ricochet with a loud report”. Unfortunately spanged could be from spang or spange, two words with different meanings and pronunciations, so I accept that this might be misread. However it is one of Stephen King's favourite words, which is good enough for me - and probably also how I learnt it in my teenage years.

We’ve both waved our wangs in mutual appreciation. Get to business.
Wang as penis. It seemed funnier than her saying they’d both waved their willies (willy-waving is how some people refer to male boasts, which the conversation had become up to that point).

“Too tired for that,” said Opal. “I just want to coma out.”
By “coma out” Opal just meant she wanted to sleep deeply, like a coma (with the phrasing of flop out / crash out).

Being with a shotgun

One person had a problem with the following sentence.

It is inadvisable to knock if there’s a possibility of a being with a shotgun and a twitchy finger on the other side.
They thought it should say "possibility of being met with a shotgun and ..."

However, my sentence is correct: the confusion is possible because I use "being" as the noun form for a creature/person.

Even though it is technically correct doesn't mean the sentence can't be improved. What do you think? Would it make more sense if I re-wrote it as one of these?

“It is inadvisable to knock if there’s possibly a being with a shotgun and a twitchy finger on the other side.”

“It is inadvisable to knock if there could be a person with a shotgun and a twitchy finger on the other side.”

I think I favour the latter, but only if other people agree that it is a better sentence.

Gritted teeth

If I had teeth, I would grit them.
One reader thought I meant "grind them" rather than grit them, but grit is perfectly acceptable.

The doughnut cloud and the doughnut egg

One reader told me I used the phrase "doughnut cloud" in some places and "doughnut egg" in others.

The doughnut egg = just referring to the neutron star in the centre of the doughnut, as here:

As the ship accelerated towards the neighbouring neutron star – officially designated UG-324t6 Charybdis, but renamed Doughnut Egg by Opal, forcing Clarissa to refer to it that way – Opal took the chance to familiarise herself with the EVA equipment.
But the cloud itself is the doughnut:

"The cloud of dust and gas looked like a doughnut, or a nest with a tiny egg in it."
"The screen flickered to show a side view of the Doughnut."
"Movement in the one portraying the rear view towards the Doughnut Cloud. Eddying, swirls, a shape within was emerging ..."
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Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Lost Solace Book Cover


The excellent Lost Solace cover was created by Matt Hill. Some time ago I did a consultation using early drafts, to gather feedback on what people liked or didn't like. Different people liked different options - but the key point was that everyone liked one of the covers. That showed we had gone in the right direction. When you have multiple options, all of which are winners, you are in a good position. I thought I'd share a bit more insider information about a few of the choices made.

Title Treatment

We tried various title options. I decided that, regardless of colour (gold, white or blue) I liked the three bars that create an angular block of title and author. Perhaps because it makes the title treatment a bit different from other books. The gold option felt like something I might have created, but the ones with the bars were something new, and that made them more interesting to me. They make things look tidy and regimented (and, in fact, the three lines also resemble futuristic military stripes, which fits in with later parts of the book). The one we chose in the end also makes me think of the E being mutated and stretching to the line above, an imperfect copy, and that also ties in to some later elements in the story. Those subtleties would be irrelevant if the appearance was affected negatively but the order there works: a tight rectangle of conformity and clear information (like a computer might provide), which also contrasts with the humanity and quirkiness of an off-centre character above, perfectly matching the character of Opal.

Opal's Suit Design - No Boob Armour

There were a number of space suit options. The one we chose was listed as a male space suit, but it was a far better option than the suits listed as "female" that had boob armour and seemed shaped more like a fetish than a practical piece of armour.

In plot terms there was no reason for the suit to have any femininity, since it wasn’t custom-designed for Opal – it was a stolen military suit, so adornments and comfort wouldn’t be considerations.

I decided it was fine if Opal looked a bit androgynous. In fact, I think the face still has some femininity to it, the kind that is picked up subconsciously, or by close study. As such it creates a nice discrepancy: woman in a man-style military suit, reappropriated for her ends. It fits the theme of a woman resisting the forces trying to control her, and using whatever is around to survive and pursue her own goals, which makes me like the combination even more. Opal somehow takes the overt masculinity and feminises it slightly by her actions and character.

At the end of the day, I couldn't face the idea of unrealistic fantasy armours. I wanted every aspect of Lost Solace to be more real than that. If you are interested in this, here are some articles:

Opal's Face

I chose the model, as seen in this interview post. I wanted someone who captured Opal's intensity, caution and strength of will. Putting her in a suit and zooming out hides some of the details in the amazing original photograph, but we still have her eyes.

Sci-fi Cover Match

A science reviewer got in touch with me to say: "Just as a curiosity, I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover of Andy Weir’s upcoming Artemis, but clearly a certain cover look is in vogue."


I hadn't, because Lost Solace and its cover were finished long before Artemis was available, but it is a wonderful similarity between the two covers. What’s interesting is that when I first began to work with Matt, I sent him various links to reference images and book covers that had elements I liked, and amongst them were a few showing images of The Martian, with close-ups of helmets and faces. I wanted to focus more on Opal than on spaceships, so seeing the similarities with Artemis pleases me that we were on the zeitgeist for this one. Even the colour schemes match! (An early draft of the Lost Solace cover mixed blue and gold colours, which is my favoured colour scheme, but in the end we removed the gold and just kept the coldness of blue).

In fact, one of my early mock-ups to test out photos involved a faint element of stars overlaid on a face, as seen here, which is a subdued version of what the designer did with the Artemis cover. Fascinating to compare them. I have a whole reference folder of book covers that stand out for different reasons, and I have saved this one into it too.

And, as a Classics student specialising in Ancient Greek history, I can’t help being pleased by the link between the Greek names of Artemis, and Athene (who appears at the end of Lost Solace).

The reviewer said "It is interesting about the cover designs - these things definitely have cycles, and I’d say your designer has definitely hit it on the nail!"

Funnily enough, my book got the same rating as Artemis. That's huge for me, since I have so much respect for what Andy Weir has achieved.

Update: The Cover Won A Gold Star!


We were awarded a gold star in the E-book Cover Design Awards (on The Book Designer), 27th November 2017.

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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview


A couple of days ago I was interviewed on the Popular Science site about Lost Solace. Here's a backup of the interview. They had already written a great review about Lost Solace.




Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Festival, I was surprised that a few reviewers called it science fiction. I never intended that. To me it is suspense, horror and action. But it made me realise that it was time to write a science fiction story. On the one hand I wanted to be able to look into issues of identity and fluid personality (which is how the Clarissa thread evolved), but I also wanted to take the tempo and mood of Harvest Festival and run with it across a longer tale. That required a scenario that involved a need for movement, quick thinking, and a goal that may not be obtainable, but with consequences for failure that don’t bear thinking about. Everything grew from that kernel.

Why this book?

Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and wrote drafts of a collection of contemporary stories exploring love and relationships. Towards the end of the month the book was finished, but I hadn’t achieved my writing goal – I needed another few thousand words. I decided to reward myself for my hard work, and write something that I thought would be a fun short story. I began Lost Solace. However, the book didn’t end when November ended – the story kept growing and changing. What began as a short story turned into a novel; the original male protagonist mutated from some kind of shallow Indiana Jones who plundered Lost Ships into Opal, on her more personal quest; the armoured war droid companion of my draft notes became a hi-tech suit and spaceship, backed up by Clarissa’s intelligence and a truly-forming relationship. I have never had so much fun writing. I would sit down each day, skim over some ideas for where the story might go, but then let it change direction whenever it needed to. It was a joy to write and re-read, and as a result that project took over from the short stories, which are still sat, unedited, a year later!

What’s next?

I tend to have a lot of projects on the go. In 2018 I’ll be working on a new edition of one of my literary/relationship novels (2000 Tunes), which is a homage to Manchester and its music and people, set in the year 2000, when the main characters are determined to change their lives. I will get the NaNoWriMo short story collection finished and work with my editors to determine which stories to keep and which to throw away (I have around 120,000 words of short stories – only the best half will escape the cutting room floor). I will also get the first draft of my next book written. It will almost certainly be a sequel. If Lost Solace does very well then I will continue Opal’s tale without too many delays. However, two of my other books have been popular and fans often ask me for sequels (Turner and Harvest Festival) – so those are other options. Beyond that I have six other works plotted out and just waiting for me to get down to writing their first drafts. Two of those are sci-fi, three are horror, and one is literary/contemporary.

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Everything about my fiction, especially seeing how each book is received, and writing the new ones. Usually I keep a folder for each future work and as I ponder ideas over a couple of years I keep adding to it – so by the time I come to write my first draft I have no shortage of characters, story elements, locations, ideas, scenes, snippets of dialogue and so on, which act as puzzle pieces to fit together as the narrative is shaped. Out of the thousands of files and links for each new work, I may end up only keeping and incorporating a handful of them, but the selection of material and the research involved is tremendously engaging. I also love letting my imagination have free rein so that I end up surprised at the unexpected, which feeds into my excitement for the project, and hopefully the writing itself. Another thing that helps is that I don’t write in a single genre. In some ways that is bad, because it makes it harder to develop a core audience; but on the other hand it means everything feels fresh and unexpected to me (and hopefully my readers), and I can also select the best mood, format and genre for the story I want to tell, rather than being too constrained by expectations and rules.

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