Friday, 21 September 2018

About Me, 2016-2018

The "About Me" page needed updating, so I decided to remove all the info on publications, interviews, awards etc. It was getting too long! Here's everything from 2016-2018. (If you want to know what went on from 2010-2015, see this post.)

Interviews / Guest Appearances
Other Stuff


Monday, 17 September 2018

Moving Home

This is my happy face

I moved house last month. Country too - I had lived in Wales for twenty years, but am now a resident of Scotland. A big move that took over a year to put in place (in terms of all the legal stuff, mortgages etc). There are some significant differences in the laws for buying houses in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and I wasn't sure if it would work out.

It worked out.

Anyway, it seems I should have written a post about it on my blog. I've just been so busy. There are boxes stacked up in my office, and I'm getting to know the local area, and writing the sequel to Lost Solace.

One of my readers/fans/friends said: "I'm yearning for a moving house story" and sent me a link to this Tom Cox article for inspiration. Here are some thoughts.

If life is change, then moving is living. As a writer I need fresh ideas and voices and people and places in order to catalyse the fantasies in my head into stories. I'd been living in one small town for two decades. TWO DECADES. I didn't want to stagnate. I wanted a rebirth. To take a chance and go for it. We should all do stuff that scares us.

Even good things are stressful. Because our psychological systems are inherently conservative. All change causes arousal and stress. Some parts are more stressful than others. I think the element I dreaded most was moving house with my cat. She came into my life by turning up on my doorstep and asking to be let in. She'd had nine years of stability with me - she knew my routines, and she knew where the biscuits were. And I was going to overturn all that and could not explain it to her, could not reassure her with words. She didn't like the way boxes were gradually taking over every room. And on move day there were a number of things she had never dealt with - being in a vehicle; wearing a harness; being in a carrier for many hours. On top of which, she'd never used a litter tray (her wild-cat habits of going toilet outdoors had stayed with her even in domestic bliss). It was a lot to deal with, and I was proud of the way she adapted. The journey had one horrible moment when I thought things would go terribly wrong, but we were lucky, and I'm thankful for that every day. And now she is happy in her new home, and - amazingly - uses a litter tray when she needs a wee, and stays in every night, sleeping on my bed (she used to spend the night-time hours outdoors).

If cats can change, so can we.

I am grateful. I love my new town. I love my "new" big old house. I love the sights, the places I've explored, the cycle routes running past my door, the secret garden. I love my new office. I love writing while stood up, on an old Windows XP laptop with no Internet connection, that I have christened "Wordcruncher Turbo". I feel productive and energised.

Every night when I go bed I try to think of a few things I am thankful for that day. I say them out loud. It's not religious, just a vocalisation and appreciation. It means that the last thing in my mind before I go to sleep is a positive thing, nice memories, not worries about bills and spam phone calls and suffering beings and overpopulation. Being positive and thankful is one of the ways that we change our mind, and then, in turn, change the way the world reacts to us.

The view from my new office

Telling stories. We all do it. Every day. The friend I mentioned earlier, that was pining for a moving house story, also gave me a beginning. She wrote:

"After 20 years, Carlos pulled the heavy bookcase away from the wall in his study. He had already packed the shelves' contents preparing to move house, and want to check that no papers had slid behind the furniture, before arrival of the removal men.
All clear, no debris back there, but the wallpaper was quite darker in the unfaded retangle outline. In fact, the darkness on the pattern seemed dribbly. On closer look, the wallpaper was tearing away in places, and the plaster behind seemed blotchy pink. He wondered why...."

Sounds like something I would have written in They Move Below.

I have so many projects on at the moment - sequels, new editions, audiobooks, some editing for clients, new books - that I am focussing my energy there. And did you know I wrote a new horror short set in a library and written in the style of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz? I'll give a free copy of that new story with my next newsletter, I think.

Still, I had to do something. I'm sat here in the dark now, and the howling wind has blown open the French doors in my office twice, sending the curtains billowing. Yep, just like a horror film (the joys of old houses!) So I decided to finish the story she started.

Don't expect greatness, or duration, or sense, or even typo-free words. This is off the top of my head, purely as a free-writing exercise.

My old office, as I moved out

My new office, as I moved in (1)

My new office, as I moved in (2)

My new office, as I moved in (3)


They're Always There, Waiting

After 20 years, it was time to go. Stay in one place, you get heavier. It's the stuff you attract. The debris of consumerism, the mass of the unnecessary, the gravity that results, making inertia your daily companion, as secure and weighty as any chains. But it can be broken with enough effort.

Karl took the last book from the heavy bookcase in his study. Well, study was too grand a name for it. Box-room was more apt. Because it was a room, and it was square and small, and you probably could get boxes bigger than this space that was supposed to be a creative incubator. So it had a desk, sure - where else would a keyboard go? And a chair to sit on, that had been inherited from the 1960s and had castor wheels packed with fluff and seat edges and padding that were so worn that an old pillow had to make do for cushioning. And a bookcase, because you need a place to keep your style guides and dictionaries and examples of pristine prose from better authors, so you can flick through them and feel inept.

The bookcase had been there when he moved in. A big, solid, dark wood Elizabethan monstrosity that would have only earned beer money at auction because nowadays no-one wants brown wood furniture. Old stuff? Nah. Well, not unless it is painted pastel shades in shabby chic reimaginings that would make a Frenchman puke. But it held books, and it stood solid, and that was all you could ask of it. It was always there in Karl's peripheral vision when he wrote, as a dark shape just over his shoulder. A comforting and reassuring shape, apart from when it started to get dark. and then it felt somehow larger and more ominous. But that was just silly imagination. The curse of the writer. Karl knew the last thing you should do is give your imaginations leeway. They'd take a mile, and before you knew it you'd be terrified of looking in a mirror after midnight, or walking past the top of the stairs in the dark, or wondering what the creaking noise in the kitchen meant in the middle of the night.

That way lies madness.

He had already packed most of the shelves' contents in preparation for moving house. Boxes and boxes. Somehow boxes of books were always the heaviest. Maybe because the words in a book are condensed experiences and lives, it makes them super-dense like plutonium. Handle with care. Yeah, he actually wrote that on the sides of the boxes. Tough and precious at the same time, like all the best things we love.

It was all done. Well, hopefully it was. A sudden worry: what if papers had slid behind the furniture? Sometimes things disappeared in this house. A note, some food, a pamphlet, a pen. Odd socks, too, damnit, never a pair. But what if some of those notes contained the seeds of a new book? Ideas only come once, and you have to snatch them and hold onto them like you've found love. The slightest weakness in your will and it slips away forever. Yeah, this made sense. Some of the missing things might have slipped to the floor from his desk in a stray gust of wind, then drifted gracefully and spitefully underneath the looming bookcase.

Treasures. Buried under there. He had to check, before the arrival of the removal men.

He dragged at the bookcase. It was much easier to move than he'd expected. Almost suspiciously accommodating.

All clear, no debris back there. In fact, nothing at all was underneath the gap at the base of the furniture. No dust, no dead woodlice, no sticky notes. As if the carpet had been hungrily hoovered clean by the dark wood. Not the best image to have. Still, he was leaving the bookcase behind, it was just too big to -

Ah, that was weird. The wallpaper behind it was darker than the surrounding area. Shouldn't the rectangles revealed when you moved furniture be lighter, cleaner, protected from dirt? Karl looked more closely. In fact, the darkness still contained the pattern of the wallpaper - a cage-like series of interconnecting bars, that brought to mind a work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that Karl had kept on the bookcase as one of his examples of super short fiction, and which had inspired one of his own stories. And here it was, antique wallpaper pattern that had only ever presented its faded face to him, now appearing as a dark thing, high-contrast, yet also strangely blurred, like charcoal in the rain. He rubbed his finger over the wallpaper. A strange shudder of loathing at the cold slickness, and his fingertip came away dark and smudgy. He rubbed it hard against his trouser leg to get rid of that icky smear.

He'd left a mark on the wall too. A diagonal finger-width line, revealing not clean wallpaper, but something else, something beneath the greasy veneer. A blotchy pinkness. For a second it made him think of boiled flesh, but no, it was plaster. Just old pink plaster that was coated with wallpaper that dissolved into dirt. Some things reacted strangely to light. Locked away from it for years, like a writer in his study, so that when the world shifts and the novel is finished or the bookcase moved he comes squinting into the light and wondering what the real world offers, the modern world that has changed while he was away; the world that had moved on while it lived in darkness and only knew sounds, but was unable to interpret them even through the darkness of this hard barrier, sounds that made it salivate greasily and hungrily, with love and yearning ... Karl realised his hand was halfway into the plaster, he'd been distracted, and he felt the loathsome sucking at his fingers but when he tried to pull them back they would not come - too much weight, too much gravity to that mass. It slurped his arm in, parts of his body sliding into the pinkness in vigorous spurting sucks. No pain, no damage, but a nauseating feel of cold and oily wetness, like a slippery tongue coiling around and around, tasting, savouring. We take the world for granted, we take words for granted, we demand books for free, because authors can survive on the fame alone, the recognition, surely ... and this starved being had missed out on a lot. So much. It wanted the stories, the words in this man almost as much as it wanted the squidgy softness coating the bones, and at last it could have both. The man thing screamed as it was sucked in but it was disappointing, not the words and stories and life experiences the creature desired after being locked away for so long, appetite growing ravenous as years passed by. But once the man thing was inside then it could be taken apart at leisure, and it would find the words, and it would live other lives, and tell its own stories. The words would belong to it. Another slurp and the man thing's head was pulled in, and it stopped that annoying screaming.

When the removal men came, there was no Karl. The empty bookcase was found to be pushed tight against the wall, as it always had been. They knew they didn't need to take it. And they'd already been paid. So they joked, and moved boxes, and drove away, and the house was silent once more.


Saturday, 25 August 2018

When Is It Too Late In Life To Begin Writing Fiction?

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Here's an email I received a while ago (a few details and the name have been changed).

"Hi there, My name is Jenny Hill and I'm a 69 year retired female. Being now retired and having a little spare time on my hands, I thought I would have a go at writing a short story (very short) to begin with. All I want is for someone with the expertise to analysis and critique my work. Just to see if It's worth pursuing. I have no GCSE's or 'A' level in English literature, just what I believe is a vivid imagination. I believe my biggest fear/problem is punctuation. I do not fear criticism has I have nothing to lose all I want an honest opinion on my work. Can you, or do you know of any literary organisation who can help? Regards"

This was my reply (slightly altered to remove some personal details).

"That’s impressive, and it’s certainly never too late to start! Short stories are also a great way to begin practising the craft. I’d suggest just writing to begin with – anything. Descriptions. Ideas. Let the inspiration take you and don’t worry about it too much. That comes later as you learn more (along with editing and rewriting skills). But to begin with – it should be fun!

Once you have some stories finished (by which I mean written, then edited, then polished, each time making it better) it is worth seeking critical feedback. Critical does not mean bad – just that the feedback will point to strengths and weaknesses in the writing, characterisation, plotting etc. If there isn’t a local group then you might like to try an online one. I wrote about these some time ago - and your best bet would be either Critique Circle or Scribophile. They both work on the basis that you read and comment on other people’s work; in turn you earn credit to get feedback on your own. Critiquing other people’s work is a valuable exercise, and really gets you thinking about what works and what doesn’t in a story.

It is very rare for anyone’s first works to be good. Very few people are naturally talented writers. Despite popular belief, it is mostly craft and polishing that makes things shine. On the plus side, we all improve. That’s a positive message. You could always buy a book about writing – there are many of them! Any one of them would probably have at least a few useful tips and pointers.

“Just to see if It's worth pursuing.”

As to whether it is worth it, that depends on what has worth. Financially? Rarely. Most writers would earn more working in McDonalds. It’s not a way to make money in most cases.

But is it worth writing because you feel compelled to? Because you enjoy it? Because you have stories you want to tell? Self-fulfillment? For all those reasons and more, writing is always worth pursuing.

So go for it!"


Friday, 27 July 2018

Copyright, Authors' Income, Author Representation

The parliamentary All Party Writers Group and the difficulty in representing the interests of all writers

The parliamentary All Party Writers Group (APWG) has three aims. The first of them is "To represent the interests of all writers". That is probably impossible, because it assumes the interests of all writers are aligned. You only have to take an issue such as DRM to find that authors differ wildly in their opinions. Some panic and call for more DRM due to a worry about piracy; others (including many famous authors) take the opposite approach because they realise DRM doesn't prevent piracy, it just causes problems for their fans.

Dealing with a plurality of views is difficult. That is why organisations such as the APWG lend more of an ear to lobbying organisations who also claim to represent authors' interests, such as the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and Society of Authors (SoA).

Who influences the APWG, and who do they listen to most? Easy to see. The first page of the APWG's Resources & Briefings has nine entries: four are via the ALCS, four via the SoA, all featured on the APWG page. It's possibly a bit like a Governmental body connected to farming mostly including material from the animal agriculture industry, and sidelining material from organic vegetable growers.

On top of which, the APWG's "What is the All Party Writers Group?" page ends in a feature quote connected to the ALCS, and the contact email address for the APWG ends in ... too. It gives the impression that the APWG is just a mouthpiece for that organisation.

But of course, the SoA and ALCS don't represent all authors' views either. In fact, authors that disagree with them on their stances on some topics inevitably won't be members, and their voices won't be represented by the SoA and ALCS. Masses of authors also aren't members because of a myriad of other reasons, such as not seeing the organisations as relevant (particularly as their models and histories evolved out of the old paradigm of trade publishing), or not being eligible, or through not having heard of the organisations. So the SoA and ALCS can only say with truth that they represent a percentage of authors - their members - and even then, some of the members may disagree with their official stance on some subjects.

All professions are made up of individuals who will have differing views on the major topics of relevance. My previous career in librarianship was exactly the same, where organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) would claim to represent all librarians, when a majority of staff working in libraries were actually not members of CILIP, and often disagreed with CILIP's stance on certain topics. Although I worked with CILIP and its staff on many occasions, I achieved my professional accreditations from other sources.

I don't mean this as an attack on the SoA and so on - they definitely do good work too - just on the stance that it is possible for anyone or any organisation to properly represent the views of a profession. The loudest voices are often just the ones with the most resources, but it doesn't mean they represent everyone.

So what does this author think?

I am a full-time author and fiction editor. All my income is from those two related roles. I've had Amazon Bestseller status; have chaired judging panels for international writing competitions; and am heavily involved in my profession via my networks with other authors, and some of the professional organisations I am an author member of. But I am not a member of the SoA or ALCS because they don't represent my views on issues such as copyright, DRM, licensing etc.

Here are some of my thoughts summarised from previous posts.

Licensing And Collecting Societies - I don't agree with these societies in general, which includes the ALCS, and state some of my reasons in that post. They don't represent authors such as myself. In particular, I find the ALCS business model to be dubious. I would rather the law made more exceptions to copyright so people can do more with a work, doing away with all that admin and sampling and licensing and staff time.

Copyright Restrictions On Books - some more about the ALCS/CLA, including why I could not actually join ALCS without compromising on my authorial principles. It also illustrates how clunky and misleading the CLA licenses and partial exclusions are.

E-book lending and libraries - an example where the SoA's views were completely at odds with mine and many other authors, particularly in their apparent desire to implement or increase DRM in e-books. It's kind of funny because I am in a number of networks with fellow authors. A common complaint (and vast number of queries) are to do with the restrictions they are under - problems with quoting lyrics, worries about quoting titles, or using trademarked terms, or real places and businesses. Restrictions impact on creative arts. And yet those same restrictions rarely benefit the authors in turn, because only rich and big companies have the money to be able to enforce a lot of that stuff without a massive and costly battle (or even understand some of the complexities of it as international law). It's part of the reason I think we should make things more open, not campaign the other way like big music and film media conglomerates do. Openness benefits creative people and industries too. I have a Classics background. I studied great works of art, drama, poetry and so on, where the ancient creators built on and retold myths and stories in a way that couldn't take place nowadays because of the restrictions in place. We have corporations like Disney who are rich enough to get laws changed in their favour; then they take stories from the public domain, then trademark and copyright them to the hilt, and finally clamp down on anyone telling the story of Sleeping Beauty or Aladdin in any way that resembles the Disney interpretations (which most retellings would, because they are based on the same source material) - so most creatives self-censor, and back away as part of their risk management. We end up with corporations owning chunks of story and names that used to be part of the public domain. Likewise in novels set in the real world, authors back away from some of the contemporary names and references, they can't risk offending rich companies, and if the brands are mentioned then the author can never do it in a negative light, even if the scene is based on news stories and evidence. So again, they self-censor. Creatives should campaign for more openness and fewer restrictions, not the other way round. As the outrage over authors attempting to use trademarks shows (new cases over the last few days, but going back to Cockygate), authors are generally against anything that might limit their creations.

World Intellectual Property Day - some general thoughts and reiterations of the above.

There's bound to be other topics connected to creative industries where I don't agree with the stances or approaches of organisations such as the ALCS and SoA.

Author earnings

This post was prompted by an All Party Writers Group call for evidence that came about because "ALCS has just released some research that suggests that the median earnings of writers has decreased since 2005" (the median is just one way of calculating an average - the mean may be a more accurate calculation). Basically, some authors' incomes have gone up, some down. None of which surprises me. In fact, it makes sense, because the whole landscape of publishing has changed, particularly in the last eight years. And it doesn't require much research to understand the reasons and the effects.

A table from Our World In Data. Note the massive and accelerating growth in the number of books published in the UK. And in many ways it is a vast understatement of the reality, because: it only goes up to 2010, but the growth rate has continued and accelerated since then; it doesn't include independently-published books, which may match or outnumber trade-published in volume; and it is only focussed on a few countries, but since we see the same pattern in the US and elsewhere, and those books are available globally (at least electronically), the number published per year needs increasing massively to capture the scale of global publishing.

Even back in 2009 publishers knew that the number of books published was tripling every few years, while sales were going down. So we have more writers now than ever before, and more books being published, all targeting the same market (which grows, but not by as much). It may be even more noticeable here, since "the UK publishes more books per capita than any other country" (and that specifically excluded independent authors, where the largest growth lay).

As that Guardian article showed, those in the publishing industry had wildly different opinions (and note how it reaffirms what I pointed out earlier - in any industry there is no single viewpoint, and anyone who claims to represent all people [in that industry] is being disingenuous at best). In that article one publisher said “I think we publish too many books, and I think this impacts negatively on how well we publish books as an industry. It is very easy to acquire a book. Much harder to publish it successfully. Less is so often much much more.” Too many books. Then a literary agent said the figure is “either a sign of cultural vitality or publishing suicide ... Of course, it is utter madness to publish so many books when the average person reads between one and five books a year." That article hit the nail on the head in identifying a potential problem. Too many authors and too many books; sales drop as a result.

We saw a concrete example of that recently when the poor sales of titles chosen for Wales Book Of The Year were revealed. Publishers in Wales have been up in arms about the revelations, but hiding the truth is actually making things worse, and misleading people. If a nation's "best books of the year" are often ones that sold fewer than a 100 copies (see also this piece) then either the books aren't that good in the ultimate judge's eyes (the reading public), or there are so many books that only the best books sell many copies. But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe nowadays publishers can't rely on scarcity to sell books, or awards based on what a number of insiders think, but only on quality and demand. Personally I have issues with how much of the Welsh book industry is propped up by subsidies to make up for poor sales. If certain books can't survive without subsidies and awards then perhaps they shouldn't be printed, because there just isn't the demand for them. I always find the trade publishing perspectives on things to be so much more protectionist and subsidy-seeking than the rise of independent publishing, which is focussed much more on making books sink or swim on their own merits (partly because the authors are specifically excluded from such subsidies, and often even from prizes). It created a more independent mindset, and maybe that's what is needed more widely.

Though, of course, the other issue affecting authors that go down the trade publishing route is poor royalties. They may receive 7-10% royalties on print books, up to 25% on e-books (whereas independent publishers can receive up to 70% royalties) - if author incomes go down for trade-published authors then a significant portion of the blame could be placed on that 60% royalty difference. That's a hit on the author, not the publisher - which is why the publishers are often happy with more books being out there, because they get their cut no matter what.

A message from a (very successful) fellow author, 2018-07-25

Back to "Too many authors and too many books". So the average income from writing is going to fall. You can still make a huge amount of money if you are successful; though if you're not a celebrity, it takes more books, and generally can't be your sole income. The averages are skewed by books that don't sell, and poor books. If you get into a field with so much competition then it is just common sense that there is less money to go round. And that doesn't require action, it's just the way it is. Unless authors publish fewer books (unlikely to happen) it is inevitable.

But it isn't all doom and gloom. Authors who write good books that a lot of people want to buy will still do well. I see it every single day among my author networks. Here are just two earning reports I saw this week from some of my colleagues. (Note - even some UK writers get paid in US$, or their earnings are converted into GBP from USD.)

So some authors earn less, but when a market is as saturated with products as the book market, average incomes will decline. The end result if that continues is that some authors will drop out, and some new authors will be put off writing for profit, and it will begin to balance out again. Authors are no different from other industries that deal with supply and demand in that respect, and I can't see that tweaking the periphery of this problem would do anything other than actually contribute to that root problem.

Back to the APWG call for evidence

I've answered many of their concerns regarding the call for evidence above. I don't think we need to "improve the position of authors through legislation and regulation". As the situation in Wales has shown, it just leads to money funding the publication (and eventual pulping) of unsuccessful books. The main problems that lead to lowering of authors' incomes are too many books (market is saturated), and often poor royalties on each sale (mainly affects trade-published authors - independent authors recoup greater royalties, though have more up-front expenses in hiring publication teams). It could be a possibility to look at the royalties issue, though there would be such huge resistance from the publishing industry that it wouldn't get anywhere. However, if the APWG really wanted to help authors, there may be another way, which I'll get to soon.

Brexit and authors

The APWG also want to know about "The Impact of Brexit on writers and copyright, how past and developing EU law and regulations have affected authors’ earnings and how this might change."

This is easy to check. Since the flawed Brexit vote we have seen a massive drop in the spending power of £GBP.

Here is a chart I generated last month showing the GBP to Euro conversion rate. Where it began to fall in 2015 is the point when Brexit discussions about having a referendum began.

Here is a chart for GBP to USD.

Conversion rates started falling in the run up and discussion of the Brexit vote, and plummeted at the point when the flawed UK Brexit vote was taken. There has been a slight increase since, but nowhere near the highs prior to all this.

If Brexit continues then things will get worse:

No deal Brexit: 2,800,000 fewer jobs, £158bn loss per year
Trade agreement Brexit (outside the single market): 1,750,000 fewer jobs, £99bn loss per year
Soft Brexit (EEA & single market): 700,000 fewer jobs, £39bn loss per year
Remain in EU: No impact on jobs, No £ loss per year
[Via James Melville]

(Though even if we remained in the EU there has already been a lot of damage caused by Brexit - loss of goodwill, companies planning to set up new businesses or relocate elsewhere in Europe to avoid damaging tariffs etc, but it would still be better than any of the shambolic Brexit options.)

So we will see the fortunes of most people in the UK, including authors, suffer if Brexit goes ahead, exacerbated by the increased costs for items (so a relative drop in spending power).

Funnily enough, independent authors may fare best - those that are paid in USD would then be paid in a currency that has gone from a poor second cousin to Sterling, to becoming equal, and soon to surpass it.

So if the APWG really want to help authors, they would do all they could to stop Brexit occurring. There are increasing calls to stop it from all sides of the political spectrum.

Public Lending Right

I'm not a fan of Public Lending Right (PLR). For most authors it leads to no significant increase in income (or any at all), yet it adds to their admin burden and requires money being set aside from public funds, and staff to administrate it, systems set up, national sampling and so on. Those who sell most books, so already have a good income, tend to get the largest payouts; those who sell the fewest books, and have the smallest income, tend to gain little or nothing from PLR. If we set aside funds and set up piecemeal systems and organisations for every industry where people struggle (which is probably just about every industry anyway) then you just end up with a big wasteful mess of bureaucracy. It's neither efficient, elegant, not practical - these kind of systems can only exist at all by limiting it to a few industries, which then excludes lots of other people.

And things have changed. There is no shortage of authors - the number grows every day. But there is a shortage of libraries as they close or get cut back due to lack of funding, and Councils see them as low priority, soft targets for budget cuts. If this continues then PLR will be for nothing, because there won't be libraries left to loan books. Along with the cuts to libraries we are seeing increased calls from the private sector to do away with them and to replace them with bookshops that benefit ... the private sector.

It's similar to the position in Wales. Bodies like the Welsh Books Council and Literature Wales have many more staff trying to sell and promote (often unwanted) books than there are dedicated specialist library advisors in the Welsh Government (even though the latter are responsible for vital public library provision). No wonder libraries are struggling.

In the Guardian article I quoted from earlier, Jenn Ashworth (winner of a Betty Trask award) said: “It is a shame we have fewer and fewer librarians to help readers navigate their way through all this glorious literary chaos and find hidden gems.”

Personally, I'd do away with PLR and assign the money (and more) as a ringfenced sum to keep public libraries going instead, so that everyone can benefit. We all love libraries. Libraries make a huge contribution to the economy and education. You'll find more facts here. Yet Government expenditure on libraries is dropping, and libraries everywhere are closing (see this partial list of UK groups set up to try and save some of their libraries). I do provide an alternative to PLR below.

Universal Basic Income

In many ways it is silly to support individual industries at the expense of others. But our current system is that every profession campaigns separately for more money for their members. Some win, some lose. Those that lose fall behind comparatively too. So you end up with all this effort across every sector, each one campaigning for more money. These issues to do with author incomes are no different. And setting up piecemeal interventions for each industry is costly, complicated, and unfair.

This is probably why there has been an increased awareness of the possibilities of Universal Basic Income in recent years. It would provide a solution to this and many other issues. It would provide a guaranteed income to authors so they could afford to write, but also a guaranteed income to everyone, freeing up time to volunteer, to become carers for friends or family, to contribute to the community, to pursue any creative endeavours, to study.

With Universal Basic Income there would be no need for benefits, PLR, child support - all of those could be replaced. Disparities in income would be lessened. With UBI authors would be even better off than they would have been with PLR, but so would everyone else in the UK. And this system treats everyone equally, in every industry, every creative profession. With political will from all the parties this is achievable.

Rather than expand on this myself, here are links to further information.


Too many books are published, so income reduces. If most people knitted items for sale then the price for knitted items would go down, and income for knitters would drop too. Paying money to knitters would only make things worse, by encouraging more people to carry on knitting, so the price drops even more. Trying to interfere will just make it worse, and be fiddling with one profession out of hundreds - why should knitters get more help than sewers, weavers, carpenters, musicians and so on? We can't approach it piecemeal. This means a slightly lower average income for some authors is not a problem, it is just an inevitable result.

Cease Brexit. This will stop things getting worse for everyone in the UK.

Consider a Universal Basic Income via cross-party support. Then there's no need for benefits, PLR etc - all are replaced, and everyone is better off. Author incomes would increase enough that the previous drops for some authors become irrelevant, since all authors would get a higher income.

I submitted a truncated version of this post to the APWG on 2018-07-27.


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

An Unexpected Message

This is a slightly bizarre one, but it only just happened this evening so I am still thinking about it.

I try to reduce-reuse-recycle. If I don't need something any more I try to find someone who can use it, since I hate throwing anything away. My friends know what a hippy vegan I am. Over the last year I have been going through old college and university folders of mine, scanning in essays and making notes of anything I could use in future books - such as some of my notes from my university astronomy course for sci-fi works, or psychology for thrillers, or sociology for books that touch on wider issues. At the end of it I had a pile of folders and dividers and plastic sleeves I didn't need, so I put them on my local swap shop groups, in case they were useful for anyone. I got a message pretty quickly, this one below, from a kid at a local secondary school. Though things went in an unexpected direction shortly after.

The image below is what followed. It left me kind of shocked, since it is the last thing I expected!

What's weird is that my audience is not schoolkids but adults, especially for the literary and horror stuff. But maybe some of my books cut across reader groups well, and perhaps Lost Solace has YA elements too (though I am pretty sure there will be a swear word in there somewhere!) Anyway, it made my day, discovering someone who had read one of my books via something totally unrelated! And that's in addition to other nice messages from readers recently.

Oh, and luckily I had two print copies left that hadn't been sent to book bloggers yet, so I gave him a signed print copy. The boy's dad was a taxi driver and was parked opposite my door while the kid got out and knocked - and when I handed the boy a copy of my book his dad leaned forward and gave me a big thumbs up and grin, out of the kid's line of sight.

How it all began.
I love how some stories have such innocuous or innocent beginnings.
Then characters surprise us and take it in new directions.


Saturday, 7 July 2018

Lovely Messages From Readers

The original photo licensed for the cover of Cold Fusion 2000

Writers face many hardships, but we also benefit from many pleasures. One of them is hearing from readers that have enjoyed or been touched by our creations. I woke up to this lovely email about Cold Fusion 2000 today. (Warning: the email does hint at a possible spoiler some people miss, so do not read on if you intend to read this book!)

Greetings. I have visited your website, and that progression meter for book two of Lost Solace is stuck.

Having given up the wait, I scanned for other Karl Drinkwater books that didn't involve horror (my least favorite genre). I had previously considered Cold Fusion 2000 as a possible candidate, and so decided to take a chance that this author wouldn't scare the shit out of me as the reviews seemed to be very positive, albeit somewhat confusing.

So I read it and wow, this is indeed a great book on so many levels.

I wrote a positive review on GoodReads (under KHB), but as always, it's eaten up, consumed, and spit out by Goodread's algorithm to reside in their basement until you have "likes" or positive comments that float it to the top, so you may have to search for it by newest.

I really felt I knew what was going on in this book until I read the date of Lucy Jane's obituary and realized the reason for all the concern for dates earlier in the book such that it became apparent she died before Alex even met her in that chance encounter in the pub. A light bulb went off in my head, and a lot more made sense that was confusing me.

OMG, I knew it, that darn Drinkwater can't write a book without including a ghost in it! Either way, you pulled it off without scaring me and I very much enjoyed the ride.

So speaking for all the readers of the world that are kinda freaked out by horror, consider writing more books like Cold Fusion. It's a gem.

I loved this. As a quirky literary book, Cold Fusion 2000 doesn’t reach as big an audience as my fast-paced genre works. Of those who do read it, some of them miss the date details and think it is all literal and Alex did meet Jane in the real world, rather than the liminal experience that could be spiritual, or quantum physical, or just in his daydream. And, strangely, it works for them too! But I prefer it when readers do dig deeper and read it on a second level, and ponder the puzzle pieces.

So, lovely people - please click "like" on KHB's review, or comment on it, and give KHB a nice surprise!


Monday, 2 July 2018

Should Authors Have Different Pen Names For Different Genres?

Q: Should an author have different pen names when writing in different genres?

I was asked this a while ago. My thoughts: you can use a single name, but it needs to be very clear to the reader what genre each book is. You want to avoid fans of one genre being disappointed if your other books are very different and they buy one by mistake. An obvious example would be cosy romance fans picking up a BDSM erotica ... bad reviews might follow.

I write in multiple genres using the same name - literary, horror, contemporary, scifi, suspense. It requires making sure each book's genre signalling is spot on - cover, title, tagline, blurb, metadata. For example, my horrors have dark backgrounds and creepy covers, whereas my revamped literary novels will have bright backgrounds and pleasant faces. Though, despite the different genres, there are some overlapping elements (some humour, some darkness, some humanity) that mean my fingerprint is on each book - so perhaps readers of one genre will still enjoy my books in another genre.

If there might be confusion, then yes, use different names. JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith, Stephen King/Richard Bachman etc.

What do you think, either from a reader's perspective, or from an author's?


Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Writer’s Mog – Karl Drinkwater

The blog Devoted To Thrills has been running a fun feature - Writer's Mog! Meeting the cats that inspire, help with, or hinder the work of wordsmiths. Recently my cat, Dolly, got to stand proud in the spotlight. You can read about her at on that site, or a backup of the article here.

low-sun Dolly (2)
Tortie Goddess Dolly

Tell us a tiny bit about yourself and a whole lot about the mog(ies) that share your current and/or past life.

My cat is called Dolly. I’m a full-time fiction author and editor, which means I mostly work from home – a fact Dolly loves. She used to hate it when I had to go out to do an employed day job and she had no company for most of the day!

Dolly through skylight

Have you always had cats or are you a late convert to the Church of Mog? How did your cat procure you?

I am more of a dog person and grew up with them. Even when I didn’t have a dog I would dog-sit for other people, who would leave their dogs with me for a doggy holiday while the humans were somewhere else. But then Dolly turned up on my doorstep in 2010 when she was still a kitten. She’d left home, because the people who’d bought her weren’t very responsible owners. I found out where she’d come from and the owners didn’t particularly care about getting their cat back, and weren’t interested that I’d paid vet’s bills when Dolly cut her paw somehow, so after that Dolly moved in with me permanently. Here we are, eight years on, and she is curled up behind me on my chair as I type this (which means I am perched on the edge in a rather uncomfortable position – as usual). I miss the dog-sitting, but Dolly provides good company. Oh, she came with that name, I didn’t pick it.

on window ledge (2)
That mouse doesn’t know what’s coming…

What features do you like most about your current cat(s) or cat(s) that accompanied you through your life?

Dolly is very vocal (she’s a half-siamese tortie), and I like it when she tells me long stories about the rain or the cat next door. She often pauses, waits for me to say something, then carries on. She also has a great sense of humour and timing when she occasionally comments on something that humans are discussing. As a storyteller myself, I appreciate her communication abilities. She’s one of my best friends.
Oh, she makes me get up too – stops me sitting for too long by telling me it is time to go for a walk in the garden, or to check that there are biscuits in her bowl, or to do some stretches.

look-up cat (2)
Those treats better be the right ones…or else!

Do you have a special divert and distract method to keep your feline from bothering you while you’re writing? Or does your cat leave you alone while you are typing away?

She does what she wants. If she sits in front of my screen then she wants to watch cat TV for a bit and swat at animations of mice and birds until she gets bored. She often hogs the writing chair, especially if I make the mistake of standing up or leaving the room. She might seem like she is asleep in her radiator bed, but I’ll come back a moment later and find she is curled up in the chair space I’d just vacated. It signals another sore-bum writing session for me, sat on the edge.

Have you ever featured one of your cats or a cat in general as a protagonist in one of your stories?

No. A dog featured in my first novel, Turner, and a few readers contacted me to say how happy they were that the dog escaped the island. Actually, scrap that – I just remembered that I made a book for her once. You can download the PDF from

shameless self promo
Yeah, he made me do it, rather treat-bribed me, I mean

What’s the biggest catastrophe a mog has ever caused in your household?

I hate it when she’s been attacked by another cat – she has had serious abscesses from cat bites that needed treatment. She is recovering from one at the moment, in fact. As a squeamish person, I find that hard to deal with. But, other than that, she is an incredibly healthy and happy cat. Her main diet has been dry biscuits for eight years (a vet-approved vegan formulation we buy with all the minerals and vitamins cats need, taurine etc.), and the vet said she’s a shining example of good health. Occasionally she supplements her diet with things she begs from neighbours when she’s on the scav alongside a disabled cat from up the road. Oh, she loves a teeny bit of yeast extract or cheese sometimes, on one of her biscuits. The only other catastrophe is that she likes climbing, and didn’t understand that cat claw scratches on antique furniture as she scrabbled to get to the highest point is not something I approve of. But then I thought, “What the hell, it’s only furniture.” My cat and her friendship is more important to me than any possession.