Saturday, 29 April 2017

A Hand-written Novel

I found this folder the other day: the first draft of Turner, hand-written on an island in 2006. Saturday 25th August to Monday 4th September, to be exact, on Ynys Enlli. Story plans, maps, and my scrawled draft, mostly written by gaslight because the house I rented had no electricity. I thought I'd share this historical record before I recycle it! I love the old note on one sheet that aimed for chapters 1-4 to only display "cryptic horror", but for the chapters after that to "slowly explain".

I was worried about the only copy of Turner falling off the boat back to the mainland and sinking into the sea. Maybe that inspired They Move Below. But once I had it typed up and backed up I was able to sleep sound again.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

World Intellectual Property Day

Today I saw an interesting post by Dan Holloway: We Need to Talk About World Intellectual Property (IP) Day. Have a read. He gives some real examples where IP affects decisions. As an ex-librarian (subject and enquiry desk) I used to come across those and others daily. As a full-time writer I also come across them daily, though often from a slightly different angle.

It's a topic I sometimes blog about or touch upon, as in these posts:

I'll add some examples to Dan's:
  • I hate the way that as writers we self-censor all the time, worrying about mentioning real world places, events and brands.
  • I hate the way that things which should have passed into public domain get their copyright extended because rich corporations can pressure law makers for exceptions and extensions.
  • I hate the way copyright on classic works of art has expired - but you end up not being able to re-use that work because a gallery or museum manages to restrict it.
  • I hate the way that there might be stories and characters in the public domain (fairy tales and so on), yet you have to be careful because companies like Disney may have used those names and stories in works they have then copyrighted and trademarked, meaning you then have to be careful how you use things that should be available to all.
  • I hate the way trademarks are allowed to use and restrict common words (and in some cases images, fonts, colours).
  • I take a photo I want to use - but maybe one of the buildings in it is protected or restricted and I am infringing in some way?
  • I record a video and it shows logos and images in the background, maybe a poster, which is copyright with reproduction forbidden, perhaps exacerbated by music playing from a nearby TV which is also copyrighted.
We easily end up with a minefield of complications that require an (expensive) legal expert to fully understand and navigate. Partly this complex scenario has built up because so many organisations keep campaigning to add yet more piecemeal restrictions, and no-one has an overall view. 

One of the reasons I can't join some organisations (writing or licensing) is because they campaign for even more and tighter copyright laws - which is the opposite of what I want. I can't register with a licensing society (even if I wanted to) because I allow people to do more with my work than their licence would if I signed up, and I don't want to restrict people.

For all these reasons, and more, I would support simpler, clearer, and more open intellectual property laws, with far more cases where things are unequivocally okay. And that's speaking as an author.


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Amazon's Confusing Automated Communications

Image CC0 via Pixabay

Like it or not, writers are affected by Amazon. Amazon will sell our books. Reviews on Amazon can encourage people to buy our books. So it is quite scary when an author receives an email from Amazon that threatens severe penalties (such as not being able to sell books) - without even specifying what it is the author has done to receive the warning, or offering any appeal. I experienced this recently, and it was a stressful situation. It is the equivalent of police warning you that "If you, or someone you know, continues to do something which we won't specify, then you'll be locked up, and you can't appeal against our decision or question what you're supposed to have done or what evidence we think we have." Then add to that the fact that you haven't done anything, but seem to be targeted for an act someone else (unknown to you) has done. Bizarre, isn't it? But when organisations like Amazon get so big they start to rely on software algorithms to flag things up - especially when that software is flawed, or creates false positives - things get worrying.

This is the shocking email I woke up to a couple of weeks ago:
Sent: 05 April 2017 04:08
Subject: Policy Warning


We have determined that your account is related to accounts that have written Amazon customer reviews for products that you have a financial interest in. This may include products that you or your competitors sell. Family members or close friends of a seller on Amazon may not write reviews for the seller’s items or negative reviews for items sold by that seller’s competitors. Sellers are not allowed to manipulate ratings, feedback, or customer reviews.

If this problem continues, we may not allow you to sell on

To learn more about this policy, search for "Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions" in Seller Central Help.


Seller Performance Team
Amazon Services
I have no idea what it refers to, and still don't - Amazon refused to reply to any of my follow up emails. All I know is that it must be a false positive. I am not an Amazon Seller, and am unable to even login and see any contents in Seller Central Help - which is one of the huge warning flags that Amazon is incorrectly sending out automated warnings.

In case it is of interest, this is the reply I sent to Amazon nearly two weeks ago. As stated, I didn't get a reply, or even acknowledgement of their error. All that stands is the threat to my livelihood if their software creates another false positive. I write horror, but this is scarier than anything in my books. Has anyone else received a message like this?
From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 05 April 2017 10:14
Cc: Jeff Bezos
Subject: RE: Policy Warning

Dear Amazon,

Please can you give me some more information.

The only products I "have a financial interest in" are my books. But my family do not write reviews. I only have two friends on Facebook, and they don't read my work. I have many followers on Facebook and Twitter and Goodreads, but they are fans of my work, not "close friends". I do not leave negative reviews for other authors - if I don't like a book, I just don't mention it. I do not write reviews for the books of close friends.

Therefore, please can you tell me _something_ about the review or user this relates to. Being told that Amazon will close your account if you do something a second time, without defining what that thing is or giving any indication of it (even though you obviously have a particular time/circumstance/review/user in mind) is unhelpful. Further, I can only assume this message has come about as a misinterpretation of something, such as a person wrote a review of one of my books, became a fan, and now follows me on Twitter.

These Policy Warning messages should include:

1. What the person is being accused of (specifically), and
2. A chance to point out if the accusation is incorrect (since the warning flag has probably generated by an algorithm rather than a person).

To send such dire warnings without the recipient having any way of avoiding further warnings or punishments (such as account closure) is stressful and unhelpful.

I do not, and never would, "manipulate ratings, feedback, or customer reviews": and I disagree with those that do. I support Amazon fully in trying to fight against that kind of unethical behaviour. But obviously you are also flagging up false positives, and there needs to be information and an appeal process for these cases. Otherwise your algorithms cannot improve, bugs will not be spotted, and genuinely innocent authors - the ones that you should be supporting - will be caught up in these false presumptions.

Further - your email says "To learn more about this policy, search for Prohibited Seller Activities and Actions in Seller Central Help". There is not even a URL included. I Googled that and found this address - a site I have never seen before - but the site won't let me log in, saying "Welcome. You don't have access yet." Obviously something has gone wrong with your system if you are directing users to policies they cannot view, on systems they do not use. And again, the lack of information and an appeal opportunity makes this even more stressful and confusing.

I hope this is a misunderstanding or bug, and that I can help you get to the bottom of it before it causes problems for other users.

Yours faithfully,

Karl Drinkwater

Update: 19th April 2017

Just before I wrote the post above, I had copied my email to Amazon once more. Well, I did get a new reply last night. This.
-----Original Message-----
Sent: 18 April 2017 17:46
Subject: RE: Policy Warning


Thank you for taking the time to contact us in response to the policy warning.

Our investigations have shown that your account is related to the accounts of customers who have reviewed your book. Our policies state that family members or close friends of authors on Amazon may not write reviews for that author’s book.

We want to call your attention to this policy because violations may result in the removal of your KDP selling privileges.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Guidelines Page for Authors (

We cannot share any further information about this warning and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.
I was flummoxed. I have no problem with their policy. If someone who knows the author writes a review, fine, delete it. But it's me being threatened with punitive measures and pointed to policies I can't access, not the unknown person who wrote a review. And, due to the lack of information, I'm still betting this is a false positive, that they are misinterpreting something as a "related account" e.g. I used to send ARC - Advance Review Copies - to bloggers via Amazon; maybe Amazon then takes that to represent a "related account", assuming it was a gift and therefore the person was a friend? Someone who follows me on Twitter? A “Friend” fan on Goodreads? Did some author I'd reviewed in the past go on to read and review one of my books? Who knows. Amazon make it impossible to do anything but surmise.

I was quite stressed by this, and replied.
-----Original Message-----
From: Karl Drinkwater
Sent: 18 April 2017 21:09
Subject: RE: Policy Warning

Thank you, but this is so bizarre.

I don't know which book, or what person, or when this applies to. There seem to be only two options.

1. Someone who knows or follows me wrote a review. I have no idea who, and I have no control over anyone writing reviews, or any ability to stop them, yet I could have my account closed for something I have no control over.

2. Amazon has mistakenly created a false positive, and since I am not given any information to help Amazon check that, I could have my account closed for something that hasn't happened.

Whichever is true, I am given no information as to what happened, and am not allowed to appeal against it anyway.

Does that not strike you as incredibly unfair?

"We cannot share any further information about this warning and we may not reply to further emails about this issue."

As a literary editor, I have to point out that sentence is incorrect. Amazon could do both of those things. It is Amazon's choice not to provide any useful information that could help to identify a false positive, or to improve your processes.

This is incredibly depressing and scary. I cannot tell you how stressed I feel right now having been accused of something I am completely unaware of. I really am knocked for six by the unfairness of it.

Karl Drinkwater
I have no control over this. No author does. This is what happens when we become connected to large organisations that minimise their accountability via their guidelines and terms and conditions/EULAs. You have no say, no matter how bizarre or unfair the issue. Pretty scary stuff. It's probably why many people keep quiet about these cases, for fear of the organisation lashing out for you having the temerity to ask what you are accused of. All authors who publish to Amazon can be held hostage in this way. Amazon customers are generally our largest market. So, there's nothing we can do. Just accept that our livelihoods, and that of our family, can be taken away for infractions we have no control over, and no way of stopping.

To end on a more positive note, I've been discussing this with fellow authors, and some of them managed to reassure me.

"Wow. That's getting crazy. I'm not saying it doesn't make sense that they don't want bogus reviews. But how do you prevent someone you may know from reviewing your book?"

"A few of my friends posted reviews when I first started and I got the same threatening email and vague responses. Amazon is a little over the top sometimes."

"Make sure your Facebook email and Amazon email are separate. Amazon and Kobo are known to delete reviews from "friends" on Facebook, whether they are real friends or not, whether they live across the world to somewhere you've never been. Apparently you aren't allowed to socialize with your readers. Kobo email and Facebook email as well.  I've had a few of mine deleted of an author who lives in the UK whom I've never met, but I love his books."

"I had my 5 year old KDP account terminated 2 months ago after my best month. So did 4 others in the same group I was in. Not much of an explanation given."

"It hasn't happened to me, but I've heard of it happening to others. I've also heard of authors being dropped from KDP Select for sudden increases in page reads. The way they handle these things is less than encouraging."

"I've heard of similar letters: they're form letters sent out when Amazon thinks they've detected unusual activity, and as you surmised, it's probably a false positive. It's also a hollow threat. I don't know of any author who's been permanently banned from selling on Amazon, though I've heard of two who were permanently banned from leaving reviews. (In both cases, Amazon's actions were harsh, but justified — there were shenanigans by the authors.) And in the cases where authors have been banned due to other issues, like KU anomalies, they've been restored on appeal (e.g., Pauline Creeden). I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."

So I'm going to hope this never recurs and I can just get on with writing and selling fantastic books.

Update: 20th April 2017

I did get a final reply. Unfortunately, despite escalation, it just reiterates what has already been said, something I have found many times with Amazon. There are no answers to any of my questions. I am still in a position that I had no control over. I'll include the email anyway, for completeness.
From: []
Sent: 20 April 2017 16:13
Subject: **JB Escalation**CTC 24465749586 CID501075982

Message From Customer Service

Hello Karl,

Jeff Bezos received your email and requested that I research this issue and respond on his behalf.

Our investigations have shown that your account is related to the accounts of customers who have reviewed your book. Our policies state that family members or close friends of authors on Amazon may not write reviews for that author’s book.

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related.

We want to call your attention to this policy because violations may result in the removal of your KDP selling privileges.

To learn more about this policy, please see our Customer Review Guidelines Page for Authors (

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

Warmest regards,

Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Wales Book Of The Year In Review

Literature Wales is currently looking into how to run its publicly-funded Wales Book Of The Year award. The review is being outsourced to a PR/marketing firm called Mela (cost unknown), and their review is scheduled to be completed by the end of April.

In case the topic seems familiar, I have discussed this prize in the past. See these posts for background:
In summary: this prize used to be open to all books published in Wales or by Welsh authors (which you'd expect from the name), but things changed in 2013. For the 2014, 2015 and 2016 awards, Literature Wales discriminated against independent authors and changed their eligibility criteria, so a book could only be entered if the author transferred their rights to a trade publisher. It's not clear where this prejudice came from - presumably some person or group within the organisation - but it seemed rather dishonest to continue to call the prize Wales Book of the Year when it arbitrarily excluded many works that might have actually been the best Book of the Year. It's a disservice to authors and to those following the prize, as well as having other deleterious effects; for example discrimination just reinforces prejudices ("oh, only trade-published books win, so only trade-published books are good quality"). It would have been more honest to call it Wales Trade-Published Book of the Year.

It's a shame the controversy about this prize is still unresolved, as it shadows many of the good things about Literature Wales, and the many staff at (and connected to) the organisation who do good work, who are helpful and friendly, and who I've been happy to share a pint with. Along the way I have attended some of their excellent courses, and promoted them to other writers. I want it to be clear that today I'm only grumbling about this one issue of discrimination.*

Photo: Some famous authors and some soon-to-be-famous authors.
Plus some whingy bloke with a funny surname.
And as if on cue:

[*Though Literature Wales are the only funding source for writers in Wales and they turned down my application that was backed up by statistical and qualitative evidence when I was in desperate need of financial support, and I worried that it was because I mentioned being published in various places, including independent - but hey, shut up Karl! I've had cake and chocolate since then! And it's past, and I'm still alive as Pearl Jam sang, and I try to be thankful for all the good things rather than focussing on the worst. But I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to splurge. Sorry, normal service is resumed. ... Then again, they still haven't returned my evidence - a copy of one of my books - despite my postage-paid envelope ... Sorry, moving on ...]

So! What shall I add that wasn't in the posts I've already linked to above? In no particular order:
  • I love this: the Romantic Novelists' Association has many respected prizes. Some of my favourite author friends have been honoured on their lists. Well, for the first time in the awards’ history, the shortlists included both traditionally and independently published authors! This year Kate Johnson was named winner of the first Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel Award for Max Seventeen: and Kate was also the first self-published author in the award’s 57 year history to win one of the prestigious RoNAs. That is amazing.
  • There’s a brand new Arnold Bennett Prize which specifically states that all authors are welcome, however published.
  • Another exciting prize that is open to all authors, regardless of how their books are published, is The Jhalak Prize
  • The £40,000 Folio Prize has relaunched, not only taking self-published titles, but also opening up to non-fiction as well as fiction.
  • Do non-discriminatory prizes get too many entries? No. Can it be managed? Of course. An insider told me it's really not hard to do - the Folio prize starts with a form submission about the book and goes from there. My contact said some prize bodies are initially terrified of the perceived extra work involved, but the feedback she had from another really huge prize (that is also open to independent authors) - the Young Writer of the Year Award - was that despite massive publicity they struggled to get any indies to enter.
  • Also: if an organisation was worried about the number of entries, they can implement quality controls – this is far better than arbitrary exclusions. Apply the same criteria to all books, trade-published or independent. Personally I'd exclude books with more than one typo or error (grammatical, printing, formatting): that would get the list down pretty quickly, without prejudice. But they could be more lenient than me and still have a manageable list with poor-quality works excluded.
  • What a prize should NOT do (if it wants to be open) is charge fees to enter. Costs that can be swallowed with no problem by a large publishing house such as the Big Five (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster) would be impossible for an independent author or small publishing house. This is why independent authors could not win the Costa Book Awards (the prize requires a £5,000 fee from publishers if a book is to be shortlisted), or be part of the Richard & Judy Bookclub ("publishers have to discount their books heavily – typically by around 65 per cent – to get them into the front of book stores, and are also required to contribute towards steep marketing costs").
  • If Literature Wales remove the unfair discrimination, I promise to promote their open prize on this website.
  • Someone recently described Gladstone’s Library to me as “stuck in the 1950s” because its smallprint was so old-fashioned and included prejudice against independent and hybrid writers ("We do not accept self-published authors of any kind. No correspondence can be entered into."). I don’t want Literature Wales to get permanently tarred with the same brush, I want my national literature organisation to be at the forefront of modern culture, relevant, where it belongs to be.
  • My article linked to above, "A World Of Writers And Readers: Understanding Modern Publishing" makes it clear, but independent publishing is not vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is generally paying a third party an inflated sum for a poor service, all smoke and mirrors trading off the lure of being able to say "Wow! I'm published!" before realising that it isn't being published at all. It is basically paying for a printer. Maybe with unethical rights grabs in the process. Self-publishing means being in charge of it all yourself. This encompasses the range from unprofessional (no quality control, amateur, perhaps for personal fulfillment - which is great but which won't trouble national prizes), to professional independent publishers. It's the range of quality and diversity that confuses things, especially for those who only know about traditional publishing. At the professional end of independent publishing books go through all the same processes that they would at any publishing house (and sometimes more), but with the difference that the author chooses who to hire and use for each job (beta readers, literary editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, interior designers, cover designers, distributors etc etc), and the author has the final say on blurb, marketing, cover etc. The author foots the bill for all those services (usually £1-3,000) but retains all ownership and copyright and can publish in any formats, languages and territories they wish.
  • The Arts Council For Wales (ACW) distribute public money set aside to support literature. They pass it all on to Literature Wales, making Literature Wales the only source of funding for writers in Wales. Literature Wales has annual bursaries for developing new works, but does not set aside any money for a hardship fund (as some other organisations do). So the only option is the once-a-year bursary application, even if it is an immediate and desperate need. There is no flexibility in this. The Arts Council For Wales could stipulate that some is reserved for a hardship fund, but they choose not to have any such guidelines. (It is similar to how ACW treat the Wales Book of the Year - totally hands-off - and why, when I first asked them why they were funding a prize that excluded Welsh writers, and not stipulating that Literature Wales should consider all Wales-connected books, ACW had no interest at all). It was no surprise then when I recently discovered that The Arts Council For Wales invite comment on their Facebook page but delete/hide any questions they don't want to answer (with no explanation or response). They do the same with Tweets, so obviously miss the “social” bit of social media, and think it is just a one-way system to do self promotion. It's a shame, because how can an organisation improve if it doesn't listen to those it represents? Though ACW does have a reputation for being a quite old-fashioned and small-c conservative institution. Sorry, another aside while I'm talking about official organisations connected with writing. I get distracted easily.
  • 5 Famous Books That Were Originally Self-Published
  • I just found this excellent piece by Joanna Penn: Am I Good Enough? The Validation Of Awards For Writers
  • And this by Roz Morris: A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books? 
I'm going to stop. That is some first class waffling and haranguing, and a lot to take in. At the end of the day we will hopefully see fairness as things become more open and inclusive again, for the benefit of all authors and readers, who are the two central pillars without which all of publishing collapses. I try to be positive, and in this world that's sometimes hard, but By The Power Of Greyskull everyone working for good can continue to shape things to create a fairer and more compassionate world. And I'm not even talking about books any more! Peace and love!

(And if my national prize doesn't open up then dammit, I'm moving to Scotland.)

Update 29th April 2017

Strangely, the consultants, Mela, haven't replied to (or acknowledged) any of my emails, sent to on the 12th, 20th and 28th of April. I wanted to check that they had all the evidence I'd provided, and offered to answer questions on any of the issues raised. I find it hard to believe that they'd ignore information and evidence (otherwise, what kind of consultation would it be?), but it is worrying. A "communications agency" that doesn't communicate.

No reply from Literature Wales either, who were contacted on the same dates.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Get Out - My Thoughts

Last night I went to the cinema (first time in ages) and saw Get Out. I like to flag up films and books I encounter that are either disappointing or brilliant. My verdict:

Go and see Get Out while it's still on at the cinema!

I knew nothing about it when I went, and it was all the better for it. I'm one of those people who hates knowing too much - often I can't even watch trailers because they give away so much of the plot (and as a creator, I'm adept at filling in the spaces - most trailers destroy my desire to see a film, even before they add that stupid reverse-bass-boom cliched sound effect that gets more airtime than the Wilhelm scream or BWAAAAA). Get Out kept me guessing for a good while, there were so many possibilities.

Some of my spoiler-free thoughts.
  • Get Out has great acting throughout, especially Daniel Kaluuya (Chris) and Betty Gabriel (Georgina), who were mesmerising at times; but all the actors were utterly convincing in their roles.
  • Get Out was never boring. There was always something to see or think about. It's a masterclass in cutting out the flab and keeping up momentum without losing coherence. So taut that even a momentary shot of choosing things in a bakery ties in to the plot and characterisation. Not a moment wasted.
  • I couldn't find anything to criticise. That's rare for me when I see a film.
  • There was some beauty in the film too. Balance is important.
  • Excellent use of sound.
  • Humour well-done, at just the right times, to relieve-but-enhance tension.

Do not read on if you haven't seen it - SPOILERS!!!!

And further thoughts as I walked home at night (passing a parked white car with its lights on at one point, which was fun). I haven't read anything about the film yet, so this is all speculation, but I know I'm right. :-) With Get Out I really had no idea what direction it would go in. The name gave nothing away. Alien invasion? Serial killer? Torture porn? Psychological breakdown? Would it be a variant of Them (2006) or The Strangers (2008)? Was there something in the woods? Was it playing off The Visit (2015) - a thought that seemed especially likely in the early jump scare of an old woman wandering a house at night. But Chris's friend's obsession with sex slaves was the closest to the truth, since for me the touchstone is obviously The Stepford Wives (1975), based on Ira Levin's 1972 book, but replacing sex politics with skin colour politics.

I loved the depth of connection in images. Car-hit dying deer = his mother by the road = white father's hatred of deer because they "over-breed" and are "taking over" = deer head on the wall watching him undergo the change = his antagonist's mother by the road hit by his car. So much fun connecting the dots. And I said the sound was good, but it also helped reinforce all this: I especially liked the first night, where the dying deer sound morphed into a mosquito - both blood connections - reinforcing the deer/mother analogies, and preceding Chris's major encounter with his girlfriend's mother.

Talking of connections and significance, another one impressed me. At the start there was a momentary shot of Rose choosing things in a bakery. Even this wasn't just pointless segue - it turns out to be ominous in retrospect. I think there were only two scenes where Rose was seen totally alone. The bakery, and using her laptop at the end. In both of them she is perusing brown items like a catalogue, humans reduced to a small-size commodities that makes them seem identical, items she can consume later after making her choice. Chilling characterisation.

I said some of the acting was mesmerising at times (I couldn't resist that pun in relation to the teaspoon control). As a writer I liked the hypnotism element, words gaining more power than muscle and martial arts. It also led on to scenes that reminded me of the final chapters of Turner, which weren't in my first draft but were added after discussion with my editors.

What else? The ending. They didn't do the obvious Night of The Living Dead ending, even after setting it up with the racist cop earlier, and the audience knowing it would tie in with real-world events. As earlier, they made you expect one thing, but then surprised you. They'd made their point simply by creating that expectation. Restraint and control were keywords for the whole film, in multiple ways.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chugga Chugga Whammy Kerrang Wahwah Slide

This isn't book-related (not that irrelevance has ever stopped me), but I just thought I'd share this as a bit of fun/personal stuff.

When I was a librarian I taught classes of hundreds.

As an author I've done readings to ... fewer than hundreds, but still some pretty big groups.

I'd never played music in public before though. I've been teaching myself to play basic guitar over the last few years. Maybe my love of music is why I wrote 2000 Tunes. Well, I took a few lessons and did my first gig on Sunday! Since I'm used to being in front of groups I wasn't nervous at all, and just had a great time. It was over before I knew it. Here's a few pics of my band's performance to prove I was there. :-)

They were a lovely set of band mates to perform with.

The cat hated the rehearsals at my house, mind you.

There were actually two mini bands for the rock school performance. My band did these songs:
  • Creep (Radiohead)
  • All The Small Things (Blink 182)
  • Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac)
  • Bad Reputation (Joan Jett)


There was also a brilliant open mic session after we finished, so much talent - I'll try and go to those in future. You get goose bumps when you hear brilliant music live, and see the talented people who can make it.

And here's a few seconds in action. Go Your Own Way.


Thursday, 30 March 2017

UK State Pensions For Writers - Class 2 NIC Nuked

Okay, do UK writers know about this? I found out last night and had quite a sleepless night.
New bombshell for self-employed: pay 400% more NICs … or lose state pension
You should know about it. As should anyone on a low income who is self employed.

I'm in the same position as the person in the article, and I'm sure some of you are too. I'm self-employed (author) and I currently earn too little to have to pay National Insurance Contributions (NICs), but if I don't pay voluntary ones I won't get a state pension. So I pay the voluntary Class 2 contributions. I need to do this for another 10 years or so to get a state pension (it's hard to be exact, because the Government doesn't keep you informed of it - part of the reason many women got shafted by pension changes, including some of my friends and family).

According to the new budget the Government are going to get rid of Class 2 contributions. For people like me, the lowest earners (with least savings, claiming no benefits), we then have two options: not get a state pension at all, and live off nothing when we retire; or pay the Class 3 contributions, which are four times more expensive. Instead of £145 a year, we'll have to pay £733 a year. That's more than I earn some years! But unless it is paid, the state pension I've contributed to (worked in paid employment for over 20 years, paid weekly voluntary contributions since then) will be lost and I'll have nothing to retire with. There's no way I can afford that. And no way I can afford not to have a state pension. It is an untenable position.

I'll obviously write to my MP, and I suggest you do the same if you are self-employed and on a low income. We're the ones hardest hit, and the ones least able to take the hit. Ouch.

Find your MP here or here. Feel free to ask them on social media too. And sign this petition.

Oh, and the person implementing these changes is Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Conservative MP).



I've been in touch with The Society Of Authors. They have this useful guide to the planned changes, including a template letter you can use:
Have your say on Making Tax Digital and proposed changes to National Insurance


Monday, 27 March 2017

Recent Promo Images

On social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook - do follow me on one or both!) I try to create a mixture of post types - text, shares, links to information, and images. For the latter I'm always playing around with different ideas to create interesting visuals, as can be seen from previous blog posts such as this and this. I've filled this blog post with various images I've used recently. Do you have any favourites?

General horror

Me messing around

Jumping on the "inspirational quote" bandwagon

Cold Fusion 2000 - since it includes a drawing in the story

Cold Fusion 2000 - since it has a love scene set in a gallery

Trailer For Harvest Festival

As a reward for those who read this far: a moving image promo! The future is now!


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Karl Is Angry: Moon Hit By Scientists


I saw the following link in my Twitter feed yesterday, covered by the BBC:

"Sighting of meteorite's moon hit by Aberystwyth scientists"

Why are Aberystwyth scientists hitting meteorite moons? What did those poor moons ever do to them? And why did the BBC only report that scientists had been seen doing it, rather than going to the police with this information?

This got me proper affronted. I studied astronomy at university. Even won a prize in it for "outstanding achievement". Then these scientists come along and start hitting things. What next? Will they chin a planet? Uppercut a star? Suplex a black hole?

Proof of my astronomical credentials

I complained but got no response from BBC, who obviously have an anti-moon bias.

I will continue to report on cases of science gone mad.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

My Girlfriend's In A Comma, I Know, It's Serious

What punctuation issue do people come to blows over most often? Single versus double quotation marks? How to use an ellipsis? Dashes? Apostrophes?

Nah, it's commas. Specifically, the serial comma. (Some people call it the Oxford comma. I don't particularly like Oxford so will stick to the proper name of a serial comma. Though as a peripatetic writer, I am aware of other punctuation elements tied to real places, such as the River Piddle Slash and the Shitterton Dash.)

A serial comma is where a comma is added before the final conjunction in a list, usually "and".

Example without a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below and Harvest Festival.
Example with a serial comma: Karl wrote Turner, They Move Below, and Harvest Festival.

Generally, individuals either brandish knives and shout "You must always use a serial comma!" or they raise a club and yell "You must never use a serial comma!" Yep, it's all or nothing for most people.

But guys, come on, peace and love! Chill! In most cases the answer is not to be found at one extreme or the other. Those who say it should never be used are being silly. Look at this sentence.

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Teletubbies.

Wow, how many ex-lovers did I have? It becomes a lot clearer (and prevents me being taken to court for slander) if I add a comma:

The inspiration for "Fast Times" was my ex-lovers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Teletubbies.

Phew! They were just inspirations, and separate from my ex-lovers.

My infinitely wise view: if the comma clarifies things (prevents confusion), I definitely add it. If it creates confusion, I definitely leave it out. In all other cases it doesn't matter one way or the other as long as you're consistent. That's how all punctuation should be used - the minimum to achieve clear communication.

And clarity of communication is always the issue. This week a court case hinged on a serial comma. If a certain dairy had used one they would have won the case. As it was, they lost. Hard cheese.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Out Now! Karl Drinkwater’s Horror Collection

Lock the doors. Bar the windows. Sharpen the axes. Boil the kettle. Then stop ... horror time!

All three of my horror/dark thriller books are now available as a single e-book collection (which works out a fair bit cheaper than buying them separately). It should be available at all the major e-book vendors, including Amazon. The three titles included are also available separately, both in print and as e-books. Please spread the word. :-)

[This collection now has its own page here.]

The Blurb

Three Horror Books In One Tense Collection.


An isolated Welsh island seemed like the perfect escape for a convict on the run, a jilted woman, and a policeman seeking a quiet life. When the surly locals turn to murderous violence the three visitors are forced to flee together, trying to stay one step ahead of their increasingly insane pursuers.

"TURNER was intense, dramatic, and shocking. Well-done horror is all about setting up an atmosphere of anxiety and hopelessness; Turner smothers the reader in both in the opening chapters. It’s not ‘if’ someone is going to die, it’s ‘if’ someone will survive." -- Lizzy's Dark Fiction

They Move Below

In this collection of fifteen tales Karl Drinkwater sews flesh onto the bones of our worst fears whilst revisiting some of horror's classic settings, such as the teen party, the boat in trouble, the thing in the cellar, the haunted museum, the ghost in the machine, and the urban legends that come true. No-one is safe. Darkness hides things, no matter how much we strain our eyes. And sometimes those things are looking back at us.

"THEY MOVE BELOW is a great collection of dark tales. Nobody is guaranteed to come through a story unscathed, and there was enough variety in the scenarios that I was able to read through more than one story in a single sitting and still think each new tale felt fresh. Mr Drinkwater has a delightfully warped imagination. Now if you will excuse me it is late and I need to go and turn on all the lights..." -- Grab This Book

Harvest Festival

First the birds went quiet. Then the evening sky filled with strange clouds that trapped the heat below. Now Callum wakes, dripping in sweat. Something has come to his isolated Welsh farm. If he's going to keep his family alive during this single night when all hell breaks loose, he'll have to think fast. And when he sees what he's facing, he suspects even that may not be enough.

"HARVEST FESTIVAL - I felt like my heart was in my mouth. I could very much feel the fear that the family were feeling and as a parent my maternal instinct was kicking in and shouting at Callum and Cerys to get their family to safety. This is certainly not a novel you want to read just before going to bed. It literally had me on the edge of my seat. I found it to be a very tense read that scared, yet thrilled me. A great read for any horror lovers." -- ByTheLetterBookReviews

Reviews - A Favour Asked!

The three books that make up the collection each have lots of reviews, as you can see from their individual pages: Turner, They Move Below, Harvest Festival. Unfortunately, the reviews from the separate books don't have any effect on a compilation, meaning the new Horror Collection looks rather lonely and unloved! That will stop a lot of readers from taking a gamble on the book. So the favour is: if you've enjoyed any of the three books in the collection, please could you pop a rating (and/or few words of favourable review) at one or more of these sites? Many, many thanks if you do!


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

End-User License Agreements - EULAs

Sometimes you have to agree to something you can't even see, 
in order to use the software you paid for - this is how EULAs appear in Steam on my PC

What Is An End-User License Agreement / EULA?

End-User License Agreements - EULAs - are those mammoth and impenetrable "Terms & Conditions" (T&C) documents that are cited whenever you install software or sign up for a new service of any kind. Which generally means a few a week. It's common knowledge that people do not read them, and therefore are not actually agreeing to them when they click a button - they are clicking the button just to move on. The words "I agree" bear no relationship to the intention of the person clicking on the button.

The screenshot above is a good example. I sometimes buy computer games on Steam (though I prefer GOG). Then when I go to install the game I bought, Steam pops up a box like that above. To play the game I have to click "I AGREE" - even though I am not shown what I am agreeing to, making it impossible to agree in any meaningful sense of the word. (I reported this craziness to Steam many times, and they either ignored it, or support just went in circles with no resolution).


Are EULAs really too long to read? This is what Wikipedia says:
One common criticism of end-user license agreements is that they are often far too lengthy for users to devote the time to thoroughly read them. In March 2012, the PayPal end-user license agreement was 36,275 words long and in May 2011 the iTunes agreement was 56 pages long. [Source; checked 7th March 2017]
So the Paypal agreement is the length of half a novel of densely-packed legal jargon. And you're meant to read and understand it all before clicking the button. How ridiculous.

As I mentioned here, I once copied and pasted into a Word document a selection of the EULAs that were mashed into my face over a five month period in 2010. It certainly wasn't every relevant agreement/T&C/licence, and nor was it from some specialist sphere like work. This was just from being a normal person using my PC and installing a few games and bits of software. The agreements over that period amounted to 331,993 words, or 592 pages of dense single-spaced legalese. Seems ridiculous doesn't it? No-one can realistically be agreeing to all that; if I'd included licences I had to deal with from my work in libraries it would probably have tripled that figure or more. If you're interested, you can view that document here. In a few cases I couldn't copy and paste from the EULA box because the software/service provider had disabled that option (thanks), so I had to enter random words that came to the same total so my document's final word count was accurate, even if the content wasn't. Bear in mind that was 2010 - we use even more software and services nowadays. It's not unknown to share content via Hootsuite or Buffer to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on, while listening to Spotify and dragging a file from Dropbox to Google Drive so you can use Wordpress to update a blog post and edit the image you downloaded from a stock image site with Photoshop, and you check something on a phone app that came via an app store (both of which had their own "agreements") while you wait etc etc. Also bear in mind that EULAs/T&Cs are not static. I often get emails telling me they've changed. And, yes, I'd probably be expected to read them all over again - the service will assume I do that, and agree with it, all unless they hear otherwise (by ending the service I have already paid for). My head spins.

No wonder I hate this kind of thing. It's one of the reasons I changed the copyright sections of my books to make things more open and easier for people.

Finally, this article captures what would happen if we were really able to read all these EULAs: "I read all the small print on the internet and it made me want to die". And that was only reading a puny 146,000 words of EULAs.

This is one curse of modern life: normal functioning includes agreeing to things you do not, and cannot, agree to.

Update 2017-03-17: Further links

Saturday, 25 February 2017

One Book Interview #2 – Karl Drinkwater

A couple of days ago I was interviewed on Andy Graham's website about books that have had an effect on me. Here's a backup of the post.

For this week’s installment of the One Book Interview series, I’m very happy to have with me a British author who has a book nominated for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards. (I’ve read the book – it’s great.)
May I present Karl Drinkwater.

Name one book:

1 – everyone should read
Watership Down (Richard Adams). Maybe if more people read it we wouldn’t be building roads and houses on all the green spaces. Richard Adams was a thoughtful writer and sounded like a good bloke.

2 – you would take with you if you going to be marooned on Mars
So difficult to choose just one! Unsurprisingly my shortlist is all sci-fi. In the end I think I’d go for Neuromancer (William Gibson). I can’t resist this tale of hackers and revenge; surgically-enhanced assassins who only see the world through filters; personalities smashed then stuck back together by the military; mysterious intelligences directing our actions; and a conspiracy-uncovering finale aboard a space station for the rich. A world that I can fall into, whether the sky is the red of mars, or the colour of a dead TV channel.

3 – you took a chance on and were pleasantly surprised by
Housebroken (The Behrg). I expected a short and nasty tale that would entertain me if I could stomach it: I was surprised by how imaginative it was and how cleverly it was written. Too many authors would restrict a book to a limited number of settings and layers, but The Behrg impressed me by always taking it further, throwing in a twist that pleased and convinced me that I was in safe hands. I then sought him out and interviewed him for my website.

4 – you’ve written that is your favourite
Harvest Festival, because it’s the kind of book I love to read: believable characters, a fast pace, mystery, scary action, and for being deeper than just surface-level events (it’s really about families and love). I also have a soft spot for it because it is in this year’s Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot list, which is the furthest I’ve got in a major writing competition. I have my fingers crossed that it will go on to the final shortlist later in the month, but even if it doesn’t I am still proud of this little gem.

5 – that has influenced you most as a person
Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy (George Selden). First book to make me cry, and a story with a great heart that made me want to protect other beings. Kids’ books are the first we read, and they are hugely important in shaping our tastes and values.

6 – that has influenced you most as a professional
Oh, the edict to choose only one book is too cruel for this question. As a teenager I was obsessed with the books of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. That’s how I spent a lot of my pocket money (if it wasn’t spent on computer games, role playing games, Fighting Fantasy books, and Citadel Miniatures). If I had to pick one book from each: Night Shift (King) and Midnight (Koontz). Night Shift has so much variety to it, and so many brilliant stories, that it is worth dipping into again and again. Midnight is just a great example of pulpy-but-exciting horror that keeps you riveted, and introduces new and exciting scenes at a fast pace. Both of those works inspired elements of my last book.

7 – of yours that prospective readers should start with if they want to get to know your work and where they can get it.
I’ll pick my first novel, Turner. A group of visitors to a remote Welsh island find themselves trapped there by a storm as the locals go on a murderous rampage. They don’t like tourists round them there parts.

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but has lived in Wales for nearly twenty years, ever since he went there to do a degree: it was easier to stay than to catch a train back. His longest career was in librarianship (twenty-five years); his shortest was industrial welding (one week).
Sometimes he writes about life and love; sometimes death and decay. He usually flips a coin in the morning, or checks the weather, and decides based on that. His aim is to tell a good story, regardless of genre. When he is not writing or editing he loves exercise, guitars, computer games, board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice and zombies.

You can find Karl at:

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dear New Author (1)

Dear New Author,

I'm writing to you about your first book, Sinking In The Amazon. I may write you further letters. I don't know how well you deal with constructive criticism, but having got this far I assume you're pretty good at it. So don't take any of this the wrong way. I know if I revisit my books I'll find improvements that could be made. It's never-ending because our craft keeps improving. Which is a great thing! I count myself lucky that I've worked with literary editors who are straight to the point and pull no punches. Thanks to that I learned a lot each time. Particularly with my first relationship novel, for which I got whacked with the stick so many times I couldn't walk straight.

"Show don't tell!"
"Let the reader do the work!"
"Be more concise!"
"Is this detail really important?"
"You are repeating yourself!"
"Cut to the bloody chase!"

Yes, my editor wrote all those things and more. But they stuck in my mind. Even if you don't want to revisit your book, the stuff you learn after publication will be worth bearing in mind for your next book. You will write one, won't you? The successful writer is the one that doesn't give up. (And the one that keeps improving.) So I'll give you some of my thoughts, and I hope you'll see them as well-meaning advice, some of which is vital, some which is hogwash, since I'm no more right than the next man/woman/demon. Though I often edit fiction, so that gives me an edge over supernatural entities that don't.

Firstly: don't be overly disheartened by the negative reviews you received. On the other hand, it is worth analysing any information you can get hold of as to why the people didn't like your book. In some cases it just isn't their cup of tea, or isn't their genre of preference: nothing you can do about that (apart from make sure the cover, blurb and categories metadata are correct and clearly indicate what kind of book it is). But if an issue comes up enough then it is worth considering.

Okay, structure: an issue with your book is that too much of it was setup. According to my Kindle I was 40% through the book before anything major happened, tied to the central arc. Up until then we just followed your protagonist Johnny Bigballs on his daily routine. The novel only really picks up after he finds the gun, so shorten the first bit, get rid of some repetition, get to the hotness sooner, let it shine front and foremost. Every scene in a novel needs to do something concrete in terms of revealing things or moving plot along, not just passing time. If it's really important make that clearer. Because it is good once it gets going! That Johnny, what a character, eh? You just need to crank up the engine sooner. Focus on that escalating series of events - each has to have a greater risk for the protagonist than the last. In terms of how quickly we get to the tension I like to think of other books. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is fantastic (despite that author's abuse of apostrophes). Cormac could have begun the book by showing the relationship of the protagonist with his wife, the war starting, how they survived in the house, the wife leaving - but no. He begins at the point of highest drama, tells the story from there, using flashbacks if required, and it keeps the reader tense. We begin at the core of the real story: the boy and his father. By the way, you might think "I can't shorten the setup, there's so much I need to say" but think about short stories - they might be able to get across a lifetime of background in just a page. Obviously we don't have to do that in novels, we have room to breathe, but we all know it can be done.

Another way to crank it up is to use subplots. Novels need conflict, but apart from the central murder (committed by tickling someone to death, which was certainly original), your novel has no other plots running in parallel, nothing to give it depth. Everyone Johnny meets is really nice to him - colleagues, police, family, friends, torturers. So it is harder for the reader to feel engaged. We need conflict between desires and outcomes, between characters - add some extra strands and increase the tension.

I want to mention use of detail. When to include it, when to omit. It felt like I was often told everything Johnny did, every trip to the toilet, even if it didn't reveal anything new or move the plot along; yet other times I wanted to know details and they weren't given. I'll give some examples.
  • A few times he sat down to watch his favourite old films, and cried: but the films were never named, which makes it feel a bit unreal. It helps to create sounds and memories and tell us more about him if we know what he watched. There's a world of difference between him crying while watching It's A Wonderful Life, versus The Exorcist, or Porky's II: The Next Day.
  • Likewise when Johnny spies on martial arts classes, none of the martial arts are named, turning the concrete to vagueness. Martial arts do not all look, sound, feel or smell the same. There’s variety: from the bangs of judo throws, to the kiai shouts and punches of a karate class sparring, to the silence and effortless throws (and lots of rolling on the floor/ukemi) of aikido. If you spend the time talking about something, piquing the reader's interest, then you have to seal the deal.
Okay, let's look at one error, and ideas for fixing it.

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub. That would be me and my daughters on the news."

The full stop leaves the clause unfulfilled.  It needs joining.

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub that would be me and my daughters on the news."

Or you could pause for emphasis:

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub ... that would be me and my daughters on the news."

Or maybe even better:

"If Greasy Bill had come over here with the bomb instead of going to the pub ..."

i.e. leave it hanging and let the reader do the work. There's often a temptation to explain too much. Sometimes we don't need to. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks.

General tips for you.
  • Don't repeat things multiple times, in different ways. She agreed, then she nodded, then the narrator says she was sure it was right ... This happens quite a bit, and many words could be cut which would speed up the novel.
  • Johnny summons a policeman when he suspects danger next door, but never insists the policeman check inside the house, even though Johnny has a spare key. I wanted to yell at him to do this: Johnny was far too passive. Never miss a chance to let a character make a decision, to overcome a challenge! As it is, this scene is not earning its keep the way it could, tying elements of the novel together, and you missed the opportunity to weave in tension.
Okay, that's me done. Don't be put off, but if a few of those things are useful, or lead to a bit of revision, great. They could help fix some of the criticisms in the negative reviews if you're willing to put in more work. And trust me, nothing I've said is as harsh as what my current editor says to me. Once she told me "I skipped this chapter, pretty much. You'd bored me and I couldn't face it."
After that I went back and did some major re-thinking. And it was all the better for it.

Good luck with the book! I want to know what Johnny Bigballs does next!



NB This is not a real letter, but it is a combination of points I made in some past editing commissions, anonymised and merged together. There are further examples in my post 13 Tips for Writers. Oh, the book and the characters I refer to are fictitious too. Though I'd possibly buy it if it was published.