Sunday, 31 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (6)


This evening was the Facebook Horror Party when my co-hosts and horror fans had a chance to talk about many aspects of the genre (or just lurk and read the posts!). It was the culmination of They Move Below's July Horror Blog Tour. I'll leave the event available online, so you can browse all the posts by me and my co-hosts Helen Treharne and Shaun Horton whenever you want!



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Monday, 25 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (5)


Today is the penultimate stop on my July horror blog tour for They Move Below.

Visit damppebbles for my guest blog post about how I started to love books and writing, and about dealing with depression. Plus a review that made me smile. Many thanks to Emma for hosting me! Please do visit her excellent site.

PS You'll find the full tour timetable here. The final stop is a Facebook party!


Backup Of The Post

I am delighted to welcome you to the penultimate stop on Karl Drinkwater’s July Horror Blog Tour.  ‘Horror…?’, I hear you cry.  Yes, horror.  I LOVE a good horror story and would go as far as saying it’s near the very top of my favourite genre list.  So when Karl was looking for bloggers to take part in his July Horror Blog Tour, I jumped at the chance.
I have read Karl’s fantastic collection of short stories and will share my thoughts with you towards the end of this post.  First up I have a guest post from Karl Drinkwater.  I count myself very lucky as I have had some incredibly honest, truly fascinating guest posts recently.  And that includes this fantastic guest post from Karl, who tells us why he writes and how depression has led him to where he is today.

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Why do I write?
Writing is fantasy.
Fantasy is escapism from the darker parts of life.
So writing is like reading, but with a bit more say in what happens.
We all need some escapism. A breathing space from life’s problems, a chance to recuperate and catch your breath before the next frantic season of Reality.
My father died in July 1981. I was 8. My father was only 28. Over the next few years I retreated into books and solitude. I would head off on my bicycle and just spend an afternoon on my own in the fields and woods around my village. Sometimes I felt bad, and didn’t know why. I fantasised that a demon followed me round. I had to see the headmistress at junior school because when I couldn’t take it any more I started screaming: at dinner time, in a hall full of a hundred kids. The headmistress was Mrs Clifton, and she explained that what we imagine in our heads isn’t always how the world is, but it does affect how we see it. I learned to cope a bit better.
At secondary school I seemed to have more trouble making friends than other kids. I fell back on being the class clown. My other defence mechanism was just not going to school. Sometimes I would miss a whole week. I couldn’t face going in. When I did, my diary entries mostly began with “School was shit today.” My emotions were all over the place. Just being a teenager, eh? We’ve all been there.
And so on in college, then university. My friends thought I was confident and popular and intelligent and busy – I was on the environmental committee, and set up an animal group, and went to demonstrations – and they just assumed that if I didn’t turn up to a lecture I was ill, and if there was no answer at my door I must be out. But something was happening to me and I didn’t understand it. I only felt calm if I went for walks at night and didn’t see anybody. I looked in the mirror during the day and hated myself. Until the day came when I couldn’t take it any more and went home to my worried family, and saw a doctor, and was told I was depressed. At last I had a word for it. (It’s always a pleasure for a writer to find the correct word for something; the right word in the right place is the essence of poetic prose.)
I took the year out and spent it reading. I didn’t leave the house much. I read every day and every night. I alternated between horror novels, and the bookcase of Wordsworth Classics I’d bought in the library for £1 each. I also taught myself the basics of Ancient Greek for when I returned to university.
That time was a breathing space from life’s problems, the chance to recuperate and catch a breath before the next frantic season of Reality.
Since then depression has been an on-off issue in my life. But I understood it. I studied psychology, I volunteered with a counselling service, I read books about our minds. By understanding it better I could adapt, and cope. By acknowledging something it loses some of its power over you. As ever, writing was fantasy, and fantasy was escapism. Not running away, but recharging. Other worlds followed more predictable and satisfying rules than our own. I thought I was in control of it. And for the next 20 years I was, mostly.
In 2015 it hit back, hard, following a combination of external events that had been on my mind for a long time. It took me a while to realise it was depression, that monster I thought I had caged up in the attic. I was in a very dark place, with worrying thoughts, and it reached a head on a day while I was in work, completely unable to function or hold my psyche together any more. Once I got home I couldn’t leave the house for 15 days. Long story short: I left my job as a well-respected professional librarian. I was the person who thought nothing of speaking in front of 200 students, teaching them information literacy and getting them to engage with the material; I was the person who made colleagues smile or laugh, who spoke at conferences, who travelled round Wales supporting college libraries, who was the joking MC for the annual quiz at one of them. I was the person who over-estimated how much control he had of his own mind. Hubris and waxen wings and all that follows.
We all need some escapism. A breathing space from life’s problems, a chance to recuperate and catch your breath before the next frantic season of Reality. For some that is writing. For some that is reading. Appreciate it, and do your best to understand yourself, and know that we’re none of us perfect. That’s something we have in common.
On the plus side: I found the time to write They Move Below. Although I loved teaching, being a librarian, and helping people, I like to think that devoting myself to writing will be equally rewarding. Though being an author is a career followed mainly by fools and dreamers. It is not a quick path to fame and fortune.
It’s hard.
Writing well is hard. Though the generally great reviews I receive makes up for that.
Getting noticed is hard. I haven’t found a way of helping with this yet. You need a lot of sales and reviews before sites like Amazon start offering your work as suggestions for purchasers. It’s the successful writers who appear in the “suggestions to buy” boxes. Presumably they’ve worked hard too.
Making money … I don’t even know yet, because each book costs far more to write and publish than it makes back in sales.
But at least I’m doing what I love, and what I was meant to do, and that’s the best most of us can say in this world.
My last word. Even though I fear I’ve gone on too long already, I wanted to end on something of gratitude, and a note of appreciation to people who work for a good purpose – any purpose – in this time of cuts and cynicism. Normally when someone left my institution they would send a very short and polite thank-you email to colleagues; usually with no personal details if there was anything “untoward” about their leaving. Instead I sent this:
From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 21 May 2015
Subject: Pob hwyl
I’m sorry no-one has heard from me in a while. In this case it wasn’t that I got locked in the external store or squished in the rolling stacks; I was off work suffering from depression, something I hadn’t experienced so severely since I was an undergraduate and had to take a year out because of it. (Yes, we’re talking over 20 years ago!) During this time off work I agreed to take voluntary severance, so – assuming the paperwork has been properly signed in blood etc – I am no longer a librarian. It seems weird to write that. I just wanted to say thanks to all of you for being such great colleagues. You’re a wonderful bunch working hard in some trying times of change, but at the end of the day it’s worth it because of one thing – no, not the high salaries, the free pencils, the pats on the head or the holidays to Barbados – but because of the LEARNERS. We do affect them, we do help them, and even though we don’t always get to see the end results, libraries and education do change lives. You might not know but I was a failure at school, and hardly got any GCSEs (too busy with my girlfriend of the time; I went to Butlins with her instead of doing my maths GCSE). I rebelled and hated being told what to do. Then I went to FE college (South Trafford College, Manchester) and it all turned around; I ended up loving the independence and the studying, and got GCSEs and four A levels, and went on to university (1st class hons in English/Classics, plus – bizarrely, considering my MATHS ability – a prize for astronomy). But it was FE college that turned my life around. I even went to night school to study philosophy and in the long wait between the morning class and then the evening class I would stay in the library, reading, note-taking, thinking in the blessed silence about all the knowledge held in books, all that we know, all that we forget. Happy times. They turned my life around and that’s how I know colleges and universities and libraries are vital, cogs on which many wheels rely. It was a pleasure to work with you all. Keep honing the learners’ minds.
In case anyone is interested in my plans, I’ll be continuing to work as a writer, but with more time to do it, and maybe improving on my average output of one book every five years. You can contact me via my blog or Facebook or Twitter and it would be lovely to hear from you. If the writing thing fails then I’ll switch to my alternative careers as rock star, astronaut, and amateur pole dancer. Every moment is an opportunity to redefine your goals and yourself; if we only have one shot at this game of life then we have to make it worthwhile. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Best wishes and great peace,
Karl

Karl Drinkwater
(Ex-) Academic Services Librarian

Thank you so much Karl for this honest and interesting post regarding a subject many people would shy away from talking about.
Smith & Sons (9)
I love a short story collection.  I’m one of those readers that likes to feel as though they are making progress through a book and a short story collection is perfect for that.  All of the stories in this collection are a great length, normally taking somewhere between 15 minutes to 45 minutes to read from start to finish (I am quite a slow reader by the way!).
The stories all are individual in themselves, some with added shock factor whilst others sent chills down my spine.  I particularly enjoyed Creeping Jesus, Just Telling Stories, Claws Truth Forebear, Breaking the Ice (and Second Transcript), The Scissor Man, Overload and Regression.  Some old school horror, some a little different.
I find great horror stories tend to sometimes be more about the things you don’t know than the things you do.  Karl Drinkwater has expertly ended several of the stories with great handfuls of doubt, leaving you guessing and drawing your own conclusions.  I thoroughly enjoyed this approach, especially as it makes you think and consider what you have just read before moving onto the next story.
Would I recommend this book?  I would, to both established fans of the genre and to first time horror readers too.  You don’t know if you enjoy horror novels until you give them a go, do you?  Karl has created a collection of very readable stories which give a comprehensive view of the genre.  Don’t miss out!

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Monday, 18 July 2016

Reviews, And Why They're Important To Writers



Authors have many concerns beyond good characterisation, exciting plots, broken pencils, and avoiding being distracted by pictures of cats on the Internet. Reviews, for example. Reviews affect sales, and sales affect your visibility. You have to sell a lot of books to increase your Amazon ranking before Amazon starts including your book in "xxx also bought ..." messages. Some of the best marketing services that promote your book also require quite a lot of reviews as a prerequisite (and the reviews on one Amazon site don't count towards another: some services require a number of reviews on Amazon.com, so they ignore all the reviews on Amazon.co.uk and Goodreads; you end up needing even more reviews!). All this means it is really hard to get a foot in the door. You can only use effective advertising and get recommendations after lots of sales and reviews; you only get lots of sales and reviews after effective advertising and recommendations. Catch-22.

For many authors, writing expenses are more than their writing income. The only way to equalise the two is to get more sales and reviews. Again, the loop.

My main task at the moment (apart from my blog tour, editing, and working on my next book) is to try and increase the number of reviews I have so that I can try a marketing service to get word out about my writing. And I'm asking for your help!

How You Can Help
  • If you have enjoyed any of my books in the past but not left a review, please consider doing so. It only needs to be a rating and a sentence or two - no need to break down the structure, plot, characterisation, imagery, style and so on (unless you're that kind of reader and want to write about those things!)
  • If you've left a review in one place - please consider copying and pasting it to another site as well (see "Where To Leave Reviews" below).
  • If you are reading my work now - please leave a review at the end! I'm not just asking for positive reviews, but for honest reviews. If you like it say so, but only if that's true. It's your review.
  • If you've not read my work - there are buy links here. If you can't afford a copy then no problem, just get in touch ("Contact & Follow" menu above). I’m happy to send you an e-book in any format.

Where To Leave Reviews
Goodreads is one option if you have an account; or seller sites, particularly Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Obviously if you are a bookblogger, your blog would be your primary location, but it needn't be the only one. Once written, you can copy and paste the review to more than one of those (which has the advantage that if the review ever disappears from one site, such as Amazon, it will still be visible online somewhere).

Note that you don't need to have purchased a book on Amazon to review it: only for it to be a genuine review. (If you did purchase the book there it gets an extra "Verified Purchase" label, but it isn't a requirement.)

"Karl, Are You Saying That Reviews Are Only Important For Those Reasons?"

Of course not. Reviews are important for many other reasons, such as:
  • A direct form of reader feedback that shows where the writing/story is doing well, and where it could be improved; 
  • Reviews help people find your work, but also help to deter people who wouldn't enjoy it (life's too short to read books that don't suit you); 
  • An extrinsic reward in the form of recognition for the years you have put in to enhancing your authorial skills and writing the novel. 
It's just that with my latest book on tour at the moment, and wanting it to be a success, this other aspect has been on my mind this week. After all, the end result I'm aiming for is so that people who would enjoy my work are more likely to find it.

Thanks! For buying, reading, or reviewing my work; or for sending me emails and Tweets and messages (or vegan chocolate, but that is a rarer occurrence). It keeps me going.

"Karl, Why Do You Often Give Your Books Away For Free If You Need The Money?"

For a writer, obscurity is worse than poverty; and poverty is only defeated by breaking out of obscurity.

"Karl, Why Do You Ask Yourself Questions As If There Is Another Voice In Your Head?"

What do you mean, "as if"?

Peace and love.

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Thursday, 14 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (4)


Today is the third stop on my July horror blog tour for They Move Below.

Visit Life of a Nerdish Mum for Helen's post about one of my stories, and a Q&A with me about my writing. Many thanks, Helen!

PS You'll find the full tour timetable here.


Backup Of The Post

When did you first know that you wanted to be an author?

I've been writing since I was about 9. Once I gave up the career options of spaceman, rock star, secret agent and police man, all that was left was librarian and author. People close to me soon got used to it. I’ve been a librarian for over 20 years, so it’s time for the author part to come to the front.

Have you always been a fan of horror? What is it about horror that draws you to it?

I loved horror as a kid. I liked nothing better than reading ghost stories with a torch under the duvet, or climbing the weeping willow with a collection of monster tales and letting the sighing branches take me to spookville. I think it was pure escapism. Nothing transported me from real life as quickly as something scary. I think I wanted to believe in things beyond this world; and if they were reflections or cast-offs from this world, I would expect them to be dark. And so any horror story was already halfway to convincing me that it could be true.

They Move Below is a collection of short stories, what made you choose short stories over a novel as I believe writing them can be a lot more difficult as you have to get so much information into a lot fewer words?

Different but equally satisfying. When there are limits they force you to be creative in different ways. Poetry is a good example of this – any restrictions of line length, rhyme, rhythm and so on lead you to write differently from your normal pattern, and like any detour that change of pattern can lead you to exciting places. In my case I had a lot of stories already written and just needing a polish – I felt that I needed to get them out in the world so I could move on to new projects.

Where do you get your inspiration, does it come straight from your imagination or do you take from real life?

No single place. It could be a news article, or a dream, or a real event. In the notes section of They Move Below I gave the example of the time I saw a huge jellyfish below my kayak – the image stayed with me, and eventually worked its way into my fiction. Ideas simmer and only rise to the surface when they’re ready. I’m always having conversations in my head, especially when washing the dishes, and they can spark ideas for characters or scenes.

When writing, do you have to set the mood to get into the right mind set or do you have a certain routine that you have to follow?

It does help when you’re in the mood to write, but sometimes you have to force yourself. For writing horror I like a grey day, and to be alone in the house. But it can be interesting to write it on a sunny day in a busy pub or café or on a bench – if you can still frighten yourself (and any horror writer who can’t do that should switch genres) then you are on to a winner. Also external prompts can be a great help – last year I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time (you’ll find his posts about it here) and that really helped me to get a lot of words written in a short space of time.
I know this might be a hard question to answer, but do you have a favourite story in They Move Below?
Mmm, that is difficult. I like them for different reasons: some entertain me or make me smile; some have been with me for a long time; some have technical elements or ideas I’m happy with. The title story is one I’m really pleased with, because I can really feel like I’m there when I read it. However, Web stands out because I had to get into another head and the voice just started to pour onto the page. It’s horrible but in a different way, and maybe the hint of hope is something we all need to cling to in dark places.

When you're not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Computer games; boardgames with friends; playing the guitar (badly: I can’t get the hang of barre chords and suspect my fingers just bend in strange ways; possibly an idea for a horror story right there). Also films, exercise, food, nature, wildlife, and books. Not in that order.

Do you have a favourite author?

I think I am more likely to respect individual works than like everything from a single author. Unless an author only rewrites the same book – which gets boring fast – then each work will be different, and inevitably you will then enjoy some more than others. Which is fine. However, as an early teenager I tried to read everything by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. They both impressed me so much in their different ways. My favourite Stephen King book is Night Shift, and for Dean Koontz it is Phantoms – in both cases they were the first book I’d read by that author.

Following They Move Below, what can we expect next from you?

I tend to alternate between literary/contemporary fiction, and horror. So my next book will be a collection of short stories in the other genre, about life and relationships. Though it is interesting that for a few stories I was torn as to which genre they fell into. For example, Web could just as easily fit into a non-horror collection; and some of what I think of as my literary stories are pretty dark, such as Miasma fromSecondary Character. I suppose that’s one of my author fingerprints.

Thank you so much to Karl for taking the time out to answer my questions and for allowing me to read his wonderful book.
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Sunday, 10 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (3)


Today is the second stop on my July horror blog tour for They Move Below.

Visit Linda's Book Bag for something different: I was challenged to argue the case for why people should read horror. You can read there to see whether I succeeded. Many thanks to Linda for hosting me! Please do visit her excellent site.

PS You'll find the full tour timetable here.


Backup Of The Post

The Case For Horror

A Guest Post by Karl Drinkwater
When I first discussed They Move Below with Linda she told me “I don’t read horror as I’m too much of a wimp”, then spun it round and challenged me to persuade non-horror readers to try the genre. Ouch. How could I do that? I have pondered for some time and come to three conclusions which might help to make my case.
We’re Already Reading Horror
I remember hearing the same thing from crime fans and thriller fans – “Urgh, horror, that isn’t for me!” Then I look at the books and films they like, and discover that they’re full of murders, stalkings, kidnappings, abuse, darkness, and I wonder why they don’t see them as horror. Sometimes the concept of genres blinds us to the elements that all good fiction shares: characters you care about, plots that keep us reading, and a confident touch of style or voice as the work’s fingerprint. Elements such as murders are common because they tie easily into plot (“how can we stop/catch/evade this murderer?”) and character stakes (“I’m worried about this character because they might be killed next!”) And when you look at challenges that a protagonist has to face, threats to their life or body are bound to be common ones, because we can all identify with them. We’re all horrified by them. And thus we have a shortcut to identification with, and investment in, the plight of the characters.
I began to realise that, regardless of genre, certain dark topics will recur, and the best works resist being narrowly categorised because of this. It’s a dilemma I face, because I write both literary fiction with (sometimes) dark qualities, and dark fiction that often focusses on themes and character as much as a literary work does. I occasionally look at a short story I’ve written and realise it could fit into either a horror collection, or a contemporary collection. Am I writing horror about people; or people stories with elements of horror?
Consider these two books.
The Road (Cormac McCarthy): many see it as post-apocalyptic horror (a world of despair, cannibalism, violence, child-killing, rape, death, greyness and suffering); but it is also held up as a literary work about a father protecting his son. It’s okay for a book to contain horror as long as there is something we can connect with.
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë): some see it as a fantastic love story. Some see it as a story of coming of age and a woman gaining independence. Yet it also includes scary visions, violent figures appearing in your bedroom at night, secret imprisonment, trying to burn down a house and its occupants, stabbings … at least some of its power comes from those horror elements.
There Are Different Types Of Horror
All genres have sub-genres. It is easy for an outsider to lump all things they don’t understand into a single category. I see crime festivals with logos of guns, knives and blood spatters (the latter was one I spotted in my news feed today), so an outsider may easily think all crime fiction is gory, when I’m sure that’s not true. Likewise many horror books and films have blood-spattered covers, and may persuade those outside the genre that everything in horror is gory. Again, it is not true, but we remember the extreme cases. In reality much of the blood-spattering is a shortcut marketing technique to signify genre, and may have little to do with the content.
When you get down to individual works there are those which are gratuitous, and those which aren’t. The former favour spectacle over character. As a horror fan I can appreciate that, but to an outsider it is easy to be scared away by imagery and totally miss the more subtle books and films that they might have enjoyed.
An example of a horror book that is unashamedly gratuitous might be American Gothic by Brian Keene. I thought it was entertaining enough, but the shallow characters combined with over-the-top violence and physical abuse would send many more sensitive readers running for cover. Whereas Pet Sematary by Stephen King is also horror, but at the opposite end of the spectrum – it’s creepy and ominous without being gory or gratuitous, and you read on because you care about the characters and want to know what happens. If you are new to horror it is that kind of book that will pull you in and give you a fantastic read; avoid the ones that will only repulse you.
If you’ve read a few of the stories from They Move Below I hope it was the ones that focus more on character than gore – e.g. Web; They Move Below; Bleeding Sunset; Dancing Snowflakes. They make a better case for my argument than some of the others. It reminds me of Stephen King’s Night Shift, which I read as a child. Actually, read isn’t the word: it was more that I was transported to other worlds and lost track of where I really was. King’s collection has many horrible and fascinating stories, yet one of my favourites is The Last Rung on the Ladder, which sends shivers down my spine to this day, and there isn’t a monster, killer, or supernatural boogeyman in sight. Just a story about love and hope and the one chance we have at life. And it’s all the more horrible for it. (Horrible = brilliant, in this case.)
Horror Gets To The Heart Of The Problem
We read books to escape. To forget who we are for a while; to live other lives, see other places, experience other emotions. We read for excitement. We read to imagine: to put ourselves in other shoes and consider what we would do in that situation.
The characters have to face some kind of threat. Otherwise there is no story. “Man goes to the shops; buys chocolate; walks home whistling in the sun; is not mugged or run over or abducted by aliens.” A lovely thought, but I won’t sell many copies when I come to write it. The easiest stakes to care about are those we can identify with. And that comes down to threats to our body, or our mind, to our loved ones. Those things are often key to horror, so it is a natural fit. I once wrote:
“When I’m reading a good horror novel I forget about the room I’m in, the cat on my lap, the cars outside – I am struggling to survive against evil forces, the inhuman, the alien, the grotesque, the cruel, and that takes all my concentration. I am in the book. I discovered that when I discovered horror as a child. Something about it pulls at my mind, snips at its flesh, teases it, worries it, but gets its attention. The journey begins and you need to see it through to the end.”
That still stands. If you pick up a book and the greatest threat facing the protagonist is whether they can afford another designer hat then I assume you’d give up on it pretty quickly. How can we identify with such first world problems? But if you pick up a book and the character has woken in the night, alone, worried that someone – or something – is downstairs, then it grabs you immediately, because we’ve all had that fear, we all begin to think about what we would do. And that’s when plot and character come together in a way that is satisfying to the reader.
I don’t know if that’s enough to make my case. Is anyone convinced? Am I totally wrong? Let me know!

My Review of They Move Below

OK. Let’s get this over with. I was wrong and Karl was right! To answer his question, yes, I’m convinced and yes, he’s made his case very eloquently. As a result of this challenge I have found a whole new genre and if Karl’s writing is anything to go by, I’m in for a treat.
They Move Below is a magnificent collection of stories. Even though one or two made me feel uncomfortable, the lesson here is that horror really lies in who we are as humans and how we treat one another. The obsessive love of the mother in If That Looking Glass Gets Broken is shocking, but completely believable. So too is the insidious escalation of events in the brilliantly structured Overload.
What impressed me so much about They Move Below, however, is the quality of Karl Drinkwater’s prose. He writes with considerable sophistication and an almost urbane style that is so pleasurable to read. I also enjoyed the variety of the stories, with the different voices and perspectives. There’s such a range of presentational devices that They Move Below has something for every reader, from the police interview format of Breaking the Ice to the almost sexual vampiric Bleeding Sunset, Dancing Snowflakes. The direct speech feels natural and well constructed, especially the the dialect in Sinker and Karl Drinkwater has the ability to present scenes very visually to draw in the reader.
I also thoroughly appreciated the commentary at the end of the collection that explained a little about how each story came into being. They Move Below is a vibrant, interesting and (for me) frequently unsettling collection of stories that deserve considerable success. And in answer to Karl’s question above, ‘Am I writing horror about people; or people stories with elements of horror?’ I would answer, ‘Yes, both.’ And this is the attraction of They Move Below.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Review Into The Welsh Government’s Support For Publishing And Literature In Wales


When I wrote A World Of Writers And Readers: Understanding Modern Publishing I didn't realise it would get picked up and shared all around the world. Maybe it is seen as a good overview; maybe it acts as a "how to" guide; maybe the world likes to know about the literary scene in Wales; and maybe it is seen as exposing a form of prejudice. Or all of the above. This post is a minor addition to that.

Yesterday the Welsh Government shared a link to its survey about support for publishing and literature in Wales. I was asked to help share it. The survey is open to anyone, not just people in Wales. It is short - a few demographic questions, a few about preferences, then a few text boxes where you can type what you want. This is the email:
Please see link below to the questionnaire in relation to the current Review into the Welsh Government’s support for Publishing and Literature in Wales. We would appreciate you sharing this widely with your contacts within the industry to ensure maximum input and feedback.
Questionnaire – Publishing and Literature Review
The Questionnaire will be available until 31st August 2016.
Just for information, my responses are below. Only afterwards did I realise that I forgot to add an important point: any panel to do with literature (reviews such as this, or prize-judging panels) should include at least one person who is an independent publisher or has experience of being an author-publisher, or is from an organisation like the Alliance of Independent Authors. Otherwise the panel aren't including all viewpoints, as well as missing out on a whole area of expertise.

Independently-published e-books vastly outperform
traditionally-published e-books [Source]



10. In your view, what are the main challenges faced by the publishing industry and literature in Wales? These could be cultural, social, economic or of another kind.

So much is produced globally (over a million new titles a year in the US alone, I think) that it is difficult to stand out. On the other hand, readership is growing, and new markets opening (India, China), so it is also an opportunity!

Also, publishing often adopts systems that irritate consumers - DRM, limited formats, high e-book prices, regional restrictions, severe copyright restrictions, dishonest marketing (fluff quotes etc) - which puts people off purchasing. Publishing should be more open and honest, and win back consumer trust.

11. Which aspects of the support currently provided for publishing and literature are working well (and why)?

To be honest it is hard to say, because I think the current system is quite difficult to understand. It doesn't seem to be very public about how much money is spent, on what, and why. How are decisions made to subsidise a title or publisher? How much funding goes to just support traditional publishing? Traditional publishing is important but is only one part of the story of literature in Wales. After all, traditional publishing came about a LONG time after the story of literature in Wales (oral and written) began! We're moving back towards a system of openness and participation, which is a good thing in many ways rather than a threat. We need services that aim to improve and promote all writing in Wales, regardless of who produces it and how.

12. Is there anything that should be done differently (and, if so, why)? Please explain what the outcomes would be of making the changes you describe.

We want the best quality writing from Wales. It’s not a requirement for everyone, of course - there is an important role for writing in terms of self-development and creativity, which needn't have anything to do with commercial success and markets. The vital parts of literature in Wales are the WRITERS; literature can exist without publishers, but not without writers. Nowadays there are many routes to market. So I feel that most of the money should go to writers directly. It shouldn’t matter whether the author chooses to licence rights to a publisher in exchange for royalties, or whether they prefer to act as an authorpreneur and retain control and royalties but hire people to provide the key services instead.

How could this be done? Possibly by funding writing services all writers in Wales could use (e.g. substantive editing and copyediting and proofreading). That's probably where I spend the bulk of my money, services which cost c. £1,000 per book. (Cover and interior design are the next most expensive). We want all books from Wales that are available for sale to be the best they can be.

I definitely don't agree with double-funding. This occurs when, for example, and author gets a grant to write a book, then a Welsh publisher gets a grant to publish it. It should be one or the other. Certainly the public seem to get annoyed when they realised double-funding is taking place in any sphere. Maybe grants for writing or editing services should include the condition that, if used, the book cannot receive a second grant to be traditionally published? Or ringfence figures for titles which aren't published by traditional publishers.

Public funding should also make works more widely available and re-usable/quotable to the public who support and fund it. I'm planning on making my books CC-NC in future (Creative Commons licensed, for non-commercial purposes - as used by Cory Doctorow). This kind of thing should be much more common. It could also tie in to the idea of using funding to pay a small guaranteed income to serious writers in Wales, in exchange for the resultant work being made open to the public in this way.

13. Is there anything else you would like the Panel to consider?


All authors should come together. Regardless of genre or format, or means of production. Authors are the primary producer, so it's a no-brainer that funding should primarily support them in their endeavours, and they shouldn't have to assign their rights elsewhere in order to benefit from funding and promotion. It should be their choice whether to do that or not, but they should be supported regardless of what they decide. Nothing publicly funded should exclude an author just because their book was not published by a small press, but rather by a team the author assembled and paid. To be honest, the future is likely to be a hybrid system, where some of an author's work might be traditionally published, some self-published; as rights revert titles might change from one to another. This kind of flexibility is a good thing for all involved in publishing: it's an opportunity, not something to fight over. I don't believe in "us and them": it is all authors together, with traditional publishing being one of the partners authors can work with. Not the only one, but one that can definitely benefit some projects because of the expertise, passion and connections of many small presses. Authors shouldn't miss out on the benefits of working with a publisher; nor should they be unaware of the benefits of retaining full creative control. Likewise we all benefit from a growth in quality literature, that creates new markets and enhances readership; we should all be working together to create that united creative industry.

Plus what I have already said here.
:-)

Thanks for being patient with me.

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Saturday, 2 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (2)


Today is the first proper stop on my July horror blog tour for They Move Below!

Visit Grab This Book for a Q&A with me (where I reveal something I've not discussed publicly before, and reveal the diary entry from the time) and a review of They Move Below. Many thanks to Gordon of Grab This Book for hosting me. I won't re-post his comments here, it's best to visit his excellent blog.



PS You'll find the full tour timetable here. Also this new review appeared on Goodreads yesterday.



Backup Of The Post

I am delighted to welcome Karl Drinkwater to Grab This Book as I have the honour to kick off the They Move Below blog tour. My review of They Move Below follows this post but before you scroll down, Karl has kindly taken time to answer a few of my questions.

Were you always most likely to write horror stories or are there other genres you enjoy?
I was always a horror fiend, and had no intention of writing anything else. “Darkness or nothing,” I would mutter. But then I did English Literature at A level and university, and was forced to read other books. I recently wrote about how that changed my attitude to Shakespeare; the same happened with Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens and so on. At one point I studied Byron and the cult surrounding him for a full year. I learnt to appreciate other modes of expression, and thus began my strange writing career where I alternate between horror and literary/contemporary fiction.
When we talk horror stories the name that most people jump to is Stephen King. Are we overlooking other great horror writers?
Absolutely. I love and respect King’s work, but the danger in any genre is that some authors are so successful and shine so brightly that it is hard to make out the struggling waifs in the shadows. There are so many great writers in every genre. When I came across The Descent by Jeff Long I was amazed – it had one of the best-written and tense (yet understated) openings of any book I’d read, which was then backed up by an imaginative plot that kept growing in scope. My own Claws Truth Forebear was probably inspired by it subconsciously.
Should a horror tale ever have a happy ending?
Yes. A horror tale only implies you have to experience horror and fear, but doesn’t define whether that is at the start, mid-point, end, or any combination of those. In fact, it’s a common pattern to front-load the horror but resolve things and restore order (for writers in the “horror is a conservative genre” school). Let’s take Stephen King’s The Shining. People seem to remember the ending of the film more: coldness, Dick Hallorann being axed, endless evil. But in the novel Dick Hallorann survives, and the novel ends in the sunshine with Wendy, Danny and Dick on a kind of holiday by a lake. Their strength is rewarded with life.
Harvest FestivalWhat do you feel makes a good horror story?
You need to feel fear. It’s almost physical – a shudder, the hairs on your neck raising, faster breathing. That comes from being able to imagine yourself in the position of a character. It is a team effort between the reader (suspending belief) and the writer (creating the convincing narrative). Horror is very different from the baser effects such as revulsion.
I tend not to read many short stories and I find that when I do I turn most often to collections of ghost stories. Do you think “scary” stories are more effective as a short story (perhaps shades of campfire tales)?
I remember loving ghost story collections: I think I read everything by Algernon Blackwood, possibly by M.R. James too. Often short stories do work better. With limited words we are unlikely to have everything explained, so you finish it and look around nervously, your subconscious tricked into believing it has experienced a slice of reality. With a novel, where things are usually tidily-wrapped up, the sense of closure can often weaken the feeling of horror. “That’s all over then, well done Guvnor, another case closed.” If horror is about uncertainty, then closure is an end to horror.
Which horror tales do you rate most highly?  Are there favourites you revisit?
Here are a few!
  • Lot (Ward Moore, 1953). End-of-the-world panic. It’s as unsettling as you’d expect.
  • Children Of The Corn (Stephen King, 1978, in Night Shift). A gripping horror that captures a sense of place brilliantly (and happens to be one of the many inspirations for Turner).
  • To Build A Fire (Jack London, 1908). I read it as a child and decided I would rather freeze to death than burn.
  • Weekend (Fay Weldon, 1978). I count this as horror, even though I may be the only person to do so. [Can’t find a good link about it.]
  • More Tomorrow (Michael Marshall Smith, 1995). Internet horror. You put this one down with a mix of relief and horror.
  • Splatter Of Black (Charles A. Gramlich, 1995). A great example of how to write an action-packed tale.
Have you ever experienced a supernatural phenomenon?
I’ve never been asked this before, but … yes. Even though I’m a rational person, there are things I’ve experienced which I would count as supernatural. All were in my childhood and teenage years, when strange events seemed to follow us from house to house. We moved home a lot. My family was made up of me, my mother, my sister (Sarah); my father died when I was young. If there was a single event it might be easier to block it out, but this was a sustained sequence of events that can’t be easily explained. Hauntings? A poltergeist that followed us? The element that stands out was that this wasn’t just creepy things in the night (though there were those) experienced by the same three people; many things occurred in broad daylight, when other people were present. People who didn’t believe in the supernatural, but who were so shaken afterwards that their views had changed. My best friend of the time (I was 14 or 15) was with me during one of them, and his opinion that I was being over-imaginative totally reversed one night when something happened that left him visibly pale, afraid to cross a room, and admitting that he believed us totally; I don’t think he was helped by my calm statement that it wasn’t out of the ordinary and we should just go back to my computer and that we’d be okay as long as we didn’t go near the dark end of the kitchen. My first girlfriend a year or so later was a creature of awe to me; I couldn’t believe this beautiful and tough woman had somehow fallen for a nerd like myself; but when she told me what she’d heard downstairs in the night, and that she couldn’t wake me up, and she also now believed in the things she’d scoffed at before, I realised that it wasn’t just my imagination. Some time ago I met up with her after many years of being out of touch, and she mentioned again, unprompted, how scared she’d been. It was still with her over 25 years later.
TurnerOkay, I’ve skirted round any details. It’s too big a topic. I could fill a book with it, and no-one would believe half the stuff we came to take for granted. I’m going to tell you about one thing, quite minor in many ways, but I’ve never written about this before.
I was about 15. We lived in a council house on Barton Road in Stretford, Manchester. There was only me and Mum and the dogs in the house. It was a grey day, had been drizzling earlier, but wasn’t particularly creepy: just Manchester. I was watching TV in the living room downstairs. Mum was hoovering upstairs, the drone of the subdued vacuum cleaner somehow comforting. We had two dogs back then, Toby and Tiny, Yorkshire Terriers. They wanted to go on the back garden so I opened the French door and let them out. I could see them through the glass trotting round and sniffing and taking it in turns to wee on the same spots. I usually left them out for a quarter of an hour, or until one of them came back to the door. I lay on the floor in front of the TV again. I heard a noise upstairs, like furniture being moved. All so normal. The hoover stopped. Footsteps coming down the stairs. Measured and slow. Nothing to make me look up.
“Karl,” said my Mum from the doorway. “Where are the dogs?”
“Outside. I just let them out.” I could see them near the bushes.
“Will you come upstairs with me for a minute?”
“Sure. Why?”
I was now following her up the stairs.
“There was a noise under my bed. I just want someone with me when I look.”
I nearly laughed. A noise! In daytime!
“No problem.”
We went into Mum’s bedroom. The vacuum cleaner was still plugged in but off. We stepped over the cable. The bed was on low legs, so there was a dark shadowed area underneath that you couldn’t see into while stood up. I wasn’t in the least bit perturbed. We both started to kneel. Then there was a growl from under the bed. A deep, rumbling, throaty growl like nothing I’ve heard before.
To my shame I didn’t stay with my mum. I pegged it out of there and pretty much flew down the stairs and out the front door, stood by the main road and ready to run even further, leaving my mum to follow calmly. “What’s the point of running?” she asked me later. It was half an hour before I went back in the house.
Mum let the dogs back in. Both of them.
I wouldn’t go in her room for a long time.
If you wanted to be rational, you could maybe argue that the floorboards there creaked in some way. They never creaked like that at any other point in the years we lived there, even when you knelt on that same spot. But it could be an explanation, even if my gut tells me it’s wrong.
After writing that I have just dug out my old diaries. It took me nearly two hours to track down a mention of the event – but I was pleased to find it, because so many things in my diary of the time seem to be just about boardgames, role playing games, computer games, money, and school, and the weird events rarely got a mention. I cringe a bit to read them, but here’s the entry. (Actually, I cringe a lot to type it up, but it also makes it seem more real to see it in a record that’s been closed for about 28 years!) My memories actually differ from the entry, but the gist is the same; there were some surrounding details in the diary entry I’d totally forgotten.
Monday 14th March 1988
I write this with beating heart. Last night Sarah woke up screaming, Mum and Eddy heard noises, smelt burning and sensed something and when I got home today I heard a noise. Mum asked if it was me. We went upstairs to make Mum’s bed and she bent down to look under it. We then heard a horrible growl and ran for fuck. I feel a bit like crying – there have been noises all night. Sarah is in my room tonight and some medium people have contacted us.
Tuesday 15th March 1988
Nothing too bad has happened so far tonight except for knockings outside. Last night I only got 3 ½ hours sleep. I was well scared. On a lighter note, I completed Monty On The Run. A gas mask & rope help.
[Then some normal entries, then this.]
Friday 18th March 1988
Paul likes BMX Simulator as much as me – it is ace. The vicar came round with his friend and daughter. I felt strange after a while and could not help breathing deeply and quickly. I started shaking and crying – I don’t know why. It was really bad. I hated it.
By the way, just in case you suspect I’m making this up – I have attached a photo of the diary entry I took just now. It’s like unearthing the past!

1988 diary

My most sincere thanks to Karl. I can honestly say that no question I have asked in a Q&A has ever returned such a surprising reply and nobody has ever shared their diary either!
You can find and order all of Karl’s books by clicking through this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Karl-Drinkwater/e/B006JZWOPE/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1467407789&sr=1-2-ent

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Friday, 1 July 2016

They Move Below July Horror Blog Tour (1)


Today is the start of my July horror blog tour for They Move Below! I hope some of you will follow it when it reaches each new location. I also have some good news after the timetable. :-)

Timetable
  • Friday 1st / Karl Drinkwater's site: this Welcome post.
  • Saturday 2nd / Grab This Book: a creepy Q&A with me where I reveal something that happened to me in 1988; also a cracking review in another post.
  • Sunday 10th / Linda's Book Bag: I was challenged to argue the case for why people should read horror. Result: I succeeded, Linda was persuaded to read my book, and the post includes a glowing review.
  • Thursday 14th / Life of A Nerdish Mum: a post about one of my stories, and a Q&A with me about my writing.
  • Saturday 25th / damppebbles: a review of They Move Below, plus an article about how depression has fuelled and interacted with my writing.
  • Sunday 31st / Facebook Roundup Party
At some point on each day a post related to They Move Below will go up on the indicated website - in most cases the blogger's thoughts on They Move Below (which will be a surprise to me, because I haven't been told what they will say in advance!) and a contribution by me, such as a small article on a topic, or a Q&A. While you're there have a look around - each blog is packed with reviews and other information, so you might find some other great books to read. Hopefully a blog tour like this benefits everyone. I get exposure for my new labour of love; the blogs gain new readers; book readers find out about other books they might be interested in, and insights into my own work or creative process.

Nominated

I've had a piece of good news this week - IngramSpark has entered They Move Below into the British Book Design and Production Awards. I'm so pleased! Working with IngramSpark has been a pleasure all round.

Audio Books

Another exciting announcement - the audiobook of They Move Below is being recorded. It will be available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. I'm incredibly pleased that R. J. Alldred is narrating and producing the book. She's a professionally trained actress, and among her other credits she has voiced numerous characters in the multi award-winning game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I'm amazed at Rosie's ability to do accents, and my collection certainly puts that to the test: English, Welsh, US, Scottish, Burmese, Somalian and more. I have to admit that the audition I had posted was very cruel, because it involved applicants having to sing as part of it - and sing in an out-of-key way! I'm pleased that Rosie was still willing to work with me after that. :-)

Harvest Festival

One of the stories from They Move Below is also available as a standalone release - Harvest Festival. A fast-paced novella based on the premise: how would you protect your family if you woke in the night to find a terrible threat had arrived at your isolated farmhouse? Harvest Festival makes a great introduction to my recent work, and also a cheap present for someone (hint hint). As with all my books, it is available in print and electronic formats.

Organic Apocalypse

Lastly, I have a publishing imprint called Organic Apocalypse. This year my existing books will get a lick of polish and be re-released with new ISBNs, probably new covers, minor interior edits etc. Organic Apocalypse is also the name of the practice band I play in with my friends.


Thanks for sticking with me, hopefully see you at the various stops of the blog tour! Feel free to say hi below. Have you read any of my books? Will you be visiting any of the sites? What do you like to read?

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