Capitalizing Hyphenated Compounds

I write and I edit and I regularly discuss matters of grammar and style. One of my clients recently asked:
"Quick question about which parts to capitalize. The all-seeing Governor, or The All-Seeing Governor ??? Or should I use italics?"
My first thought: is there such a thing as a quick grammar question? :-)

There's some flexibility here, and an author could get away with any of these options: the main thing is to be consistent and make a note of which you go with, in your own style guide document.

1. For one-offs where it is just a description, you could just capitalise Governor (since that's his title/replacement name). "The all-seeing Governor." That's the simplest option.

2. However, if you want it to represent your protagonist's official secret name for him at that point, you would capitalise the prefix, and that's also acceptable. This raises a question. Would you just capitalise the all-, or the second part of the hyphenated word too? All-seeing Governor, or All-Seeing Governor? Well, that's up to you, again as long as you are consistent. Although style guides differ, I'll just go by what my main one, New Hart's Rules, says about how to treat hyphenated compounds:
The traditional rule is to capitalize only the first element unless the second element is a proper noun or other word that would normally be capitalized:

First-class and Club Passengers
Anti-aircraft Artillery

In many modern styles, however, both elements are capitalized:

First-Class and Club Passengers
Anti-Aircraft Artillery
So as you can see, both All-seeing Governor, and All-Seeing Governor would be okay, depending on whether you opted for the traditional or modern style. Pick one, stick to it!

As to italics - used here it would imply a sneer. So you could have a scene where the Governor was talking about omniscient God whilst fumbling for his glasses, and you could ironically italicise all-seeing - it would be a sneer of derision and would have a definite effect. But it isn't an effect you'd want to over-use. In most cases I wouldn't use italics for the words describing the Governor. Like capitals for shouting, it draws attention to itself, and therefore works best and has more effect if used sparingly.

I'll try and cover questions such as this (and some to do with substantive editing and plotting) more often on my blog if they are useful to readers.


Twelve Books Of Christmas - They Move Below

Today I was honoured by the Nerdish Mum book blogger. They Move Below was included in her excellent 12 Books Of Christmas list. I am so chuffed I can't tell you! I don't celebrate Christmas (because I am a weirdo) but this is like all the ones I skipped rolled into one ball of something with icing on.

You can read her Day 10 article about They Move Below here.

(And you can buy my book if it tickles your fancy like a dainty cake.)


Even In My Dreams

I generally write short stories, novels and novellas because ... well, that's what I'm good at. That's what I sell. In the past I have also written plays, articles, songs and poems. The formats are all connected by a love of words.

I recently contributed some of my poems to a book called Even In My Dreams, aimed at raising money for a worthwhile cause. The writers and editor all donated their time and work; none of us make any money from sales. I'm proud to say that all proceeds go to an animal sanctuary.

Even in My Dreams: A collection of vegan poems was released as a print book in November, and will be out in e-book format soon (I'll update this post when that happens - in the meantime, keep an eye on the book's Facebook page). It's available via Amazon, Lulu and other places. The editor also runs a magazine - find out more about that on Facebook and Twitter.

I contributed three poems.

Caged is a poem drawing parallels between experiences. Sample lines:
A stench like loosened bowels and acrid smoke,
Sharp throbbing from the legs upwards, hot head.
Voices assured her she would be okay.
I wrote Coventry after attending one of the live export demos there. Sample lines:
I try to get nearer to the fire, among the crowd.
I smell the smoke - everything smells of smoke.
And The dog is running madly round the office is just a bit of fun after I heard the tale of a real dog running happily around a civil service office one day. Sample lines:
Rebel dog defying civil servants,
How cool you are, a canine insurgent.
Maybe I should dig out some poems and include a couple in my next book. For some of you that could make it my greatest work of horror yet. (Bdum-tsch!)

I should also do a post about being vegan one day. Some people might think veganism is "only about animals" in a kind of us-and-them attitude. Not true. Humans are animals too: Homo sapiens, Order Primates, Class Mammalia. Yes, we're mammals too. So when vegans support animal rights we are also supporting human rights; it is why so many vegans are also involved with social justice issues, fighting sexism and racism alongside speciesism. As a philosophy of respect it often goes beyond animals, ultimately to also extend protection to the planet as a whole. I went vegan over 25 years ago. Still here, still enjoy a chip butty and pint of beer, still eat chocolate like a decadent monk.

I've only just got round to mentioning this book release, but it seems appropriate at a time of year that many associate with kindness and giving. :-)


Keeping Your Author Details Up To Date

I sometimes write about "the business of writing" with its own tag that covers writing, editing, publishing, formatting, promotion: all sorts of tasks that a writer might be involved with. I also share tips in writing groups; a few people told me the tip I'd shared today was useful to them so I thought I'd include it here too.

The image is a checklist I made for when the blurb or cover of one of my books changes, or if my author details (bio) get updated. I then work my way down the appropriate column. It's a way of controlling the mass of information related to that task and a useful guide for keeping track of where I need to update the changes. I just use simple Word tables so if you're an author feel free to make your own based on that idea (with your own sites and distributors).

Note that I also have more formal services for other writers.


Sad Books, Readings, Performance

Me. Doing a reading. Yonks ago.

And while I'm on the subject of storytelling ... a member of one of my reading groups said they were in the mood for a sad book and asked for recommendations. One book that springs to mind is Watership Down by Richard Adams - a book so sad I can't even read it. Just knowing what it's about makes me want to cry - reading it now with the knowledge of how much more has been lost would be too much for me.

But I remembered something else that deserved a mention. Last year one of the writing courses I went on was Writing Women’s Popular Fiction led by Julie Cohen and Rowan Coleman. At the start of the course I saw something profound. Julie did a reading from Rowan's book We Are All Made of Stars and it brought a room full of adult women to tears. Literally. Sniffing and hankies and everything. It was a powerful experience demonstrating the impact good words can have. A book should always make the reader feel something: fear, sadness, excitement, intrigue, arousal, whatever (it depends on what genre tickles your pickle). A book without feeling is an empty book.

(Note that We Are All Made of Stars isn't just a sad book: Julie described it as "such a beautiful, sad and happy book. I love it so much.").

The spoken word is important. As an act of communication it can transfer emotion. I believe the ears are less of a censor than the eyes, so the words go straight into your brain. You will read the words "I love you and I hate you" in one way, but different speakers will perform that phrase a hundred different ways. Angry, softly, shouted, sneering, plaintive, emotionless. And 94 more (trust me, I counted). I studied Classics at university, translated poems that were never meant to be read on a page, that would have been oral performances spanning several evenings of entertainment. Thanks Homer et al. (If you want to know more about Greek oral performances, read my article on Ancient Greek Drama.)

It's one of the reasons I enjoy well-narrated audiobooks. I'm proud that my first audiobook is now available and was so convincingly performed by Rosie Alldred. Performance is the key word. You can't skip ahead. The story will unveil itself at its own pace.  And the story has more chance to surprise you. Or shock you. I once wrote a nasty character piece: a dramatic monologue about a man describing his wife's death. I read it out to a group of fellow writers, and afterwards the room was silent. The anger I felt while reading aloud communicated itself only too well. One of the audience later wrote about it:
"Another interesting thing was that Karl read a powerful, challenging story [...] Karl’s story was an assault on the psyche of everyone in the room. It was vile, repugnant, out of control, despicable - and deliberately so. At the end of the story, the response was not an intellectual one of “I like what you did with X, but not so keen on Y,” rather it was a coming to terms with the emotions we were each feeling, and why we were so appalled, and what it mean for the person in the story. It was an important lesson."
Written words do not assault the mind as spoken words do, because we can shut our eyes and take the power away from the words on the page; we can not block out another person, cannot close our ears, so easily. If the story is an accusation then we can't help but identify with the accused. It's the identification with another being that powers most fiction. And, so help us, this world needs a lot more empathy.

Anyway, it's one of the reasons I enjoy doing readings, even when the story isn't an intense one. Here's an old one I gave at Aberystwyth Arts Centre; and one I gave at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (you'll need to turn the subtitles on for that, it wasn't a pro-recording).

Okay, that's enough of me. Go have a read of Julie or Rowan's books. Listen to an audiobook. And have your say. What's your saddest, most heart-breaking book? Have you ever been affected by or really enjoyed an author's reading? Cheers.


Storytelling Is Not Just Telling A Story

CC0 Public Domain image by MorganRen via Pixabay

Storytelling Versus Telling A Story

Recently I got this lovely email from someone who had read a few of my books (and left glowing reviews online, which is the way to make any author smile!):
"I have to ask--have you ever gotten or tried to get your books picked up by regular publishers. I'm not a pro but I've read enough stories to know good from...well, not so good. Yours, in my humble opinion, are a cut above what I have read recently...It just seems to me that many are just trying to tell a story, and there's more to story telling than just telling the story, if you get what I'm trying to say. You seem to have that knack. Anyway, I hope you have a terrific response to your book. I loved it."
The email writer said they weren't a pro, yet they picked up on something that eludes many writers. An inexperienced writer thinks that what a story is about on the surface is what the story is about. Then they go off and write something one dimensional. It may be okay, but it won't resonate. A good example is my novella Harvest Festival. I'll assume you've not read it so I won't give away spoilers - let's pretend the danger is a night-time attack of the Wombles. So a beginner writes an exciting tale about an attack of the Wombles, and thinks the job is done. But actually my book isn't about that. It's about rediscovering how much you love and respect those close to you. The Wombles could be replaced with Zebedees or Trumptons or rabid Ivor the Engines and it wouldn't matter. But taking away the central theme of rediscovering love would gut the story and leave it hollow. That's what it is really about, the rest is set dressing. You'd be surprised how many first-time authors don't realise that. Every story needs more than one level to it. The one on top has to be entertaining, and the one underneath has to have depth and some universality.

Action Horror Thriller

My correspondent also wrote (in their review of Turner):
"It reminded me of The Thing where the characters are trapped in the middle of the Arctic in a small building trying to fight off an alien. It's one of my favorite movies for that very reason. Turner does the same thing."
I love The Thing too. I've seen it loads of times, including once at a cinema, and I always champion Who Goes There?, the novella it was based on. It's another good example of depth: on the surface a scary tale of something totally alien taking over our bodies cell by cell; but beneath that are universal questions to do with identity, and how you can know who to trust, and appearances being deceiving. Those ideas really get under your skin (just like The Thing itself).

As an aside, I didn't actually count The Thing as one of my influences - see here for a full list of the ones that I thought of. When I wrote Turner it was because I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with my literary work, so I thought "Why not just write the kind of book I like to read: action, survival, horror, and a setting where I would try and imagine what I would do in that situation?" Hence staying for a week on an island with no electricity, and writing Turner. Harvest Festival (which now has a brilliant audiobook version available) was an attempt to write something else in the Turner vein, just shorter.


What Do You Suggest For Good Horror Reading?

CC0 Public Domain image by bykst via Pixabay

I love reading. For entertainment it has to be something riveting - good horror, sci-fi, or thrillers mainly. Though I do love the classics as well. Being eclectic and trying new things sometimes is also important.

In one of the book groups I'm a part of I was recently asked: "What do you suggest for good horror?"

I thought I'd share my answer.


Well, the obvious is Stephen King (Night Shift; The Shining; It) and Dean Koontz (Phantoms; Midnight). I wrote about their works here.

A recent (for me) novel I loved was The Descent (Jeff Long): I wrote a review here but I'd actually recommend going into it without knowing anything.

If you can deal with something riveting and horrible and surprising, consider Housebroken by The Behrg.

Oh, and some short stories. As I said here:
"Sometimes short stories can stand alone, and have the strength to survive through time. In the past I’ve written about my love for many of these, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Lottery. And as a fan of horror, I can’t neglect classics such as I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (five people trapped inside a sadistic computer which tortures them forever); I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (last man on an Earth of monsters); and Who Goes There? by John Campbell (paranoia and alien body horror in the Antarctic). Count them as recommendations."
Some people may ask "Why should I read horror? Isn't it ... horrible?" I would suggest the case I made for horror over on this blog.

A quick self-promo (I can't get shot for it on my own website): I tried to fit a range of styles of horror in my latest book, They Move Below.

Regarding that work, the author Julie Cohen told me:
"You are really good at building up a slow atmosphere of uncanny and suspense, and also in creating characters in oblique strokes so that the reader has to do some satisfying work. [...] This is so freaking scary. [...] Okay, so I am properly terrified at this point reading this story [...] This is so clever and awful. [...] The stories I’ve read remind me really strongly of Stephen King’s horror shorts (which I LOVE): they have the same feeling of creeping, growing menace, the same sort of foreshadowing and inevitability, and then a twist of gut-churning horror at the end. And they all explore, to some extent, the idea and tropes of good old-fashioned horror movies: the teen party, the boat in trouble, the monster in the deep, the horror stories that come true. To a lover of the genre, they are an enormous treat. [...] I absolutely LOVED reading these."
My more traditional horror novel Turner is probably the most Koontzian thing I've done. Basically it's set on a Welsh island you do NOT want to visit.


Interactive Horror, Teenage Imaginations: Fighting Fantasy And Harvest Festival

A small part of my collection

Fighting Fantasy

When I was a kid I loved Fighting Fantasy books. They're a type of book some people refer to as "Choose Your Own Adventure", since you aren't meant to read them cover to cover: instead you have roughly a page of story, then make choices as to what you do next. Should you go left, or right? Listen at the door, or barge in? Each page/paragraph would be numbered, and each option would have a number after it too - once you chose an option you would riffle through the book to the appropriately numbered section and see what the results of your action were. A battle, a treasure, a piece of information, death, or a new choice.

I still have a full set of the books, since I started collecting them right from the time they launched, along with Warlock magazine. At the age of 12-13 I would sit in the parlour with my dice, character sheet, and a chocolate digestive, and lose myself in creepy forests and dungeons. As soon as I completed one book (or, more likely, died) I would start the next. If a character somehow survived I would let them start a new book with all their statistics and equipment from the previous adventure intact. Note that this didn't happen often, since Fighting Fantasy books were notoriously unfair - sometimes the direction you pushed a lever might be the different between success, and immediate death. Just like life, I guess.

My First Book

My obsession endured, and eventually I created my own Fighting Fantasy adventure when I was 15 (my first ever book, I suppose - pre-dating Turner by many years). I wrote this book because of another obsession: I'd fallen in love for the first time. I sat in the deep window ledge of my bedroom to write the book, in case the object of my affections walked past my house. It didn't matter that I hadn't spoken to her yet. I planned to wave and smile casually if she looked up. You know, unrehearsed, natural, cool. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had a cardboard Halloween skeleton on the wall next to my bed. I found out later that it was visible as you walked down the passage by my house. Some of the locals thought it was a real skeleton, and I was this creepy 15 year old Boo Radley figure in thick glasses and a mess of hair with a skeleton in his room, sat spying on people. It would have taken more than a wave to give me any kind of credibility.

Anyway, I wrote that book so I had something to do while I waited. It was a Fighting Fantasy (FF) book of 500 entries (they normally had 400). I spent all summer writing it by hand in a hardback book, with no planning - there wasn’t much room for sheets of notes on my window ledge once I’d crammed myself in. I got by with just a lot of knowledge of the gamebooks, and my love for Port Blacksand, the setting I chose from my favourite FF book City of Thieves, with its cover showing the undead Zanbar Bone stroking a scythe below a nightmarish city adorned with heads on spikes. Despite my lack of planning, the last entry finished on the last page, final line of the book. Fate, eh? I found that handwritten book recently.

I have never played it. No-one has. It's been in a box for the last 30 years. I should re-read it. It’s a testament to what you can achieve when you’re in love.*


Harvest Festival - Interactive!

For Halloween I decided to try something new: taking my novella Harvest Festival and making the opening of it interactive, like a Fighting Fantasy book. Harvest Festival seemed ideally suited because of the rapid nature of the action, with split-second choices that could mean life or death for Callum and his family.

I tried various tools, and it took a long time to get as far as I did, with lots of varied options for the player, but it is now available for the world to play. I first released it via the book website Life Of A Nerdish Mum, but you can get to the adventure directly:

Have a go, let me know what you think. Did you win? I'm not ruling out the idea of doing this properly at a future date, with a full version of the story and multiple endings, possibly as both an online game and as a printed Choose Your Own Adventure format. A few of my short stories could work like that too. We'll see. Thanks for playing it, and thanks to everyone who bought or reviewed Harvest Festival - and to everyone who does in the future.


* Just to fill in the gaps - yes, I did eventually go out with that girl, even though she was way cooler than me. My first girlfriend, and I loved her dearly. Sometimes nerds get lucky, which is probably why I wrote Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes.


More Promo Images

I recently shared some promotional images I'd made. There's a new one above, and some fun newsy ones for those that have read my books below!

Ref: "Sinker" in They Move Below

Ref: Turner

Ref: Turner


Where To Buy Books - Secondhand Is Valid

Image via Pixabay (CC0 public domain)

Where can you buy books? In a bookshop, obviously. And, nowadays, through the miracle of trumpets, cables and wireless, you can buy them online too. I try to offer a number of such places (called "websites" by the kids) where you can BUY MY BOOKS. I'm a canny promoter in that way, using my psychology background to implant subliminal ideas in a blog post that isn't overtly about self promotion. No-one even noticed.

I don't want to just point you to the usual suspects like The Zon. I used to be a librarian. A pretty good one. As part of that role I sometimes had to track down rare books, or find out more details about them while working on reading lists with a lecturer. Some of that knowledge might be useful to readers, so I'll share it with you. Round about ... now.

Books And Ethics

Where's the best place to buy books? The wonderful Ethical Consumer can help here. Look at their Ethical Shopping Guide To Booksellers. They point out that secondhand is best. I agree. Too many publishers will try to dismiss this option, but buying new all the time is wasteful. The ethical consideration for me is always this one:

Reduce > Re-use > Recycle.

Secondhand books count as re-use, whilst also reducing the demand for new products, so it is a double win. And if a writer on a (zero) budget - i.e. me - can totally support people sharing my books because I care about the environment more than money, then so can big publishers. Please take my blessing. This article may also help. Bear in mind that when you resell your sofa, your phone, your DVDs or your car the original manufacturer/producer doesn't get a cut - why should books be any different? My librarian persona also likes to shout "Reading is a good, and culture should be shared!" at the top of its voice. Usually before they cart me away in the little white van. Again.

The other advantage of secondhand sellers is that you can get books and editions that are no longer in print. Here are some options:
Or pop into your local independent secondhand bookshop or charity shop, I'm sure they'd be pleased to see you. They struggle in the face of chainstores and supermarkets. And just in case you're wondering: no, I don't have any connections with these sites. No affiliate schemes, no profit to me.

If you're in the UK you might want to just swap books. Read It Swap It is one free service for that (I've never tried it but it still seems to be running). Feel free to put other ideas in the comments.

Should Authors Be Worried About Second-Hand Books?


I encourage people to do what they want with my books. I don't mind if they're given to libraries, charity shops, friends, sold on, composted, or carved into book sculptures.

In the long run, the more widely you're spread, the more people will have awareness of you. It's like music or games. When I was a kid people shared these round. Some of those games, musicians, bands and developers went on to become my favourites, where I'd buy everything they created - but if I'd never received copies for free off someone else, I'd also probably have never become a fan.

Buying books is a commitment (partly money, partly time ... and partly storage space!), and only occurs if the reader/buyer has enough impetus to make that commitment. And that requires a number of things, one of which is interest in the author, which often comes from having seen their previous work around. So don't be worried. The more your name is out there, the more it is shared, the more chance you have of becoming a name that people will pay for and support.


Harvest Festival - The Audiobook!

Ready just in time for Halloween, the tense horror novella Harvest Festival is now also available as an audiobook. I was phenomenally lucky to persuade Rosie Alldred to be the producer and narrator. - Rosie performed several voices in the award-winning Bioware video game Dragon Age Inquisition. She has a great voice, and I'm super-impressed at how she deals with the different characters and the changes in tempo as the action ramps up. I couldn't be more pleased with the final result! I've listened to it twice already, and still want to put it on again at bedtime. If you haven't read it yet, it's a tense story set on a Welsh hillside farm: something unwelcome arrives in the night and the farmer, Callum, has to go to extreme lengths to keep his family alive. Along the way the family dynamics change. Sometimes it takes a shock to restart a heart.

You can buy all my books here, but these are quick links for the audiobook version:
If it is successful then there will be more audiobooks in the future!


Quotes And Pics - Promo Images

Recently I've been combining quotes (from my books) with images, as a kind of mini-advert. Here are some of those I've created so far.

Creeping Jesus, one of the stories in They Move Below


My Films For Halloween

I do like to get my Halloween freak on. It's pretty much the only thing I celebrate (no birthdays, no Christmas, no Easter, no olympics). One of the things I do is watch horror films in the days leading up to Halloween. These are the ones I've picked this year. What will you be watching?

I've yet to choose my Halloween book, but with my heaving shelves I'm spoilt for choice. Maybe the 1979 novelisation of Alien by Alan Dean Foster, or a re-read of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971).

Updates (22nd October). So far I have watched:

The Falling: not a great choice, since it wasn't really horror, just a drama about neurotic schoolgirls. I kept expecting horror to kick in, but despite playing with horror tropes (witchcraft, madness, discipline, ghosts) they were all pretty weakly portrayed, before being cast aside as ornament. I'd heard of it from Rolling Stone's 10 Best Horror Movies of 2015. That's the problem - it set up incorrect expectations. If I had just expected drama I'd have been fine.

Goodnight Mommy: a great horror film, clever and restrained and well acted and worthy of wider attention ... but I had to stop watching before the end. That's not like me, but I was unable to continue, having already covered my eyes for part of it. It's possibly the first time that has happened to me in a horror film! Still, if you want to see something horrible without it being overly gratuitous (so the opposite end of the spectrum from Hostel) then I would recommend this. Especially if you're tougher than me!

Update (27th October). Last night watched The Visit. It was well acted (especially by the Nana actress) and entertaining. I think that's the key difference from Goodnight Mommy. I'd say Goodnight Mommy is the better film artistically, but it isn't pleasurable to watch; The Visit entertains and makes you jump a lot more, but also has less lasting impact because it opts for a typical Hollywood happy ending. It often seems to be a difference between European films (Goodnight Mommy is Austrian) which can be bleak and unsettling in a way that feels all too real; and US films, which often resolve the status quo and have a "happy" ending via stabbing and skull-crushing anyone who dares to interfere with family life. At which point there can be smiles and comedy rapping. Don't let that sound too negative or put you off: The Visit did exactly what I wanted and had some great scenes. Even the derivative ones were well done, with good use of sound, and I thoroughly recommend watching The Visit; this is something I can't do with Goodnight Mommy despite how powerful the latter is. Oh, I'd read that The Visit has a twist, but I suspected it 22 minutes into the film, and spent the rest of the time wondering what the real twist would be: nope, I had guessed correctly. To be fair, that's not a fault of the film, which works well: it's probably down to the fact that I'm a writer, so always ask why each details of a book or film has been placed there, and try to unravel the implications. Yeah, sucks to be me, when I can't just enjoy something without analysing it! The Visit gets a thumbs up.

Update (6th November). I've now seen all the films.

What We Do In The Shadows: very funny, I laughed out loud - a lot! I'm a huge fan of Flight Of The Conchords anyway.

Spring: lovely photography, and a nice slow-brew menace to it, but which resolved into a love film more than a horror film. I have no problem with that, though maybe the final bits went on a teeny bit too long. Still, I enjoyed this and would recommend it.

And that's my Halloween films over and done with!


What Should You Buy For The Ghoul Who Has Everything?


I mentioned my new horror/thriller book covers recently. Here's what they look like in print! One of them would make a cool present for that person you're friends with ... you know the one, thingummy ... oh, your lover, is it? ... or, maybe they're a relative of yours rather than a friend? ... whatsername ... whatsisname ... yeah, that's the one! Anyway, I'm sure they'd love a copy. Dead sure. Especially as one of the books is a recommended Halloween read.

You can buy them almost anywhere.


5 Halloween Reads To Make You Shiver

Today Harvest Festival was featured in 5 Halloween Reads To Make You Shiver (from Jera's Jamboree). I'm honoured!

What other books should we read at Halloween?

What Books Influenced Me?

Today I crawled out of bed, tired from a night of fighting aliens, dodging chainsaws, and seeking public approval (or just book sales), to find I'd popped up on another great blog. Visit Bloomin' Brilliant Books to find out what books influenced me, then stay on Abbie's site a while for all the other great articles and reviews. See you there.
Here's a backup of the post.

I’m thrilled to be joined by author Karl Drinkwater today who is telling us all about his author influences.

KD pic[320739]

Which authors/books did you like to read as a child?
Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and any ghost stories (especially the Armada Ghost Books edited by Mary Danby). I would climb the weeping willow to read the latter. I also adored Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy (George Selden, 1975). I remember crying at the end of it. I really should read it again one day, and buy copies for presents.

Were you good at English at school? Did you like it?
I loved it. I made up stories from an early age, read continuously, and always came top in English classes. It was the only subject I did well in at secondary school, and I often contributed fiction and poems to the school magazine, Urmstonian. Though I cringe when I re-read them now.

What genres do you like to read? Have they had an impact on the genre you write?
I read horror books for escapism and literary books for style. I write in both genres so that works out well.

If you were to write a different genre what would it be and why?
Well, I write in two genres already, which is seen by many as a no-no. Though some of my work mixes the two, so maybe the twain shall meet.

Did any author’s work encourage you to pick up your pen and write and if so who, what and why?
I think the pure readability of Stephen King and Dean Koontz inspired me a lot in my teenage years when I spent all my pocket money on their novels. I wanted to be able to write books where the reader forgets it is a book. Some of my thriller/horror works have been compared to Koontz, and the more character-based stories to King, so maybe a teeny bit of their magic rubbed off. One of the short stories in my last collection was called Just Telling Stories and was a mini-homage to some of the creepy tales that seasoned my imagination.

Are there any authors who, as soon as they publish a new book, you have to get it?
Strangely, no, not any more. I tend to enjoy individual books – even when I really enjoy one it doesn’t mean I’ll always seek out other works by that author. If you think about it, any author who writes a lot has two options. One is to keep writing to the template that made them famous, because it sells and it is what readers expect. Downside: the books become increasingly familiar and predictable. The effect is diluted. The other option is for the author to try new things. Downside: they may annoy fans by not fulfilling their expectations. If every book is different there’s no guarantee that every book is good. Either way, I try to read great books regardless of who wrote them, rather than follow just one author. I enjoy trying new things in my own writing, so have created novels about finding love in Manchester, and about being chased across a Welsh island by murderers; stories about haunted museums, and about a child trying to show love to a parent whatever the cost. One end of the spectrum to the other.

Which books have you read that have made you think ’Wow, I wish I had written that’ and what was it about the book?
The opening to The Descent by Jeff Long wowed me. I couldn’t understand how he’d achieved such a gripping effect. The whole book was good but couldn’t match the ever-so-subtle menace of the opening, stuck in an icy cave in mountains during a storm.
Sometimes books that take an escalating concept and just push it to its max can amaze me in the way they achieve the effect. For example Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, or the wildness of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (lovely cover and book design on that one too).

Have any of your plots/characters been influenced by real life events/people? (Be careful, I don’t want you getting sued!)
I joke that my two Manchester novels, Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes explain how I came to leave Manchester (they are set around the time that I moved from there to Wales). I say no more.

image001[320740]TurnerThey Move Below

About Karl Drinkwater
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.

Amazon Author Page

A huge thank you to Karl for taking part!


Close To Home

Today I'm the first guest for the new "Close To Home" blog post series on the lovely book blog jaffreadstoo. In the series different authors from The North (of England) will talk about "what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing". Find out why I kept an axe under my pillow, and what advice was given to pretentious people round my way.

Here's a backup of the post.

Today please welcome Manchester Author
Karl Drinkwater

Is a person shaped by the place they grew up? If so, and assuming writers count as people (a truth not universally acknowledged), then we’re bound to find out more about a writer when we look at their past. Even a random sample of dates could be informative.

I usually talk about my early childhood. But let’s start later than that. What about my teenage years? Two memories spring to mind.

1. I was the non-conformist class comedian rebelling against authority at Urmston Grammar School. It was a boy’s school so I didn’t know anything about girls until I first fell in love at 16. Maybe that’s why I write about relationships a lot now.

2. After my father died it made me the man of the house. I kept a hatchet under my pillow, something school friends didn’t believe until I showed them. I explained that if a burglar tried to climb into mine or my sister’s bedrooms I’d cut his fingers off. Maybe that’s why I write about darkness a lot now.

That’s me, I’m just like everyone else: half romantic, half obsessed with apocalyptic survival. It’s a comfortable mix. But maybe my teenage years explain why I write in two genres, that thing writers are told they MUST NEVER DO. (Oh, I sometimes got in trouble at school, so you can add rule-breaker to that list. Only got caned once though.)

Although my thriller/horror writing gets most publicity (Turner, Harvest Festival, They Move Below), my last two literary novels were set in Manchester in the year 2000, often around the city centre. They’re Cold Fusion 2000 and 2000 Tunes, and I see them as love letters to Manchester: its music, its city, its people, whilst also being critical of some aspects. And they’re also more traditional love stories, after a fashion, about nerds and difficult people being able to find love and happiness and contentment. Shades of my own life sneaking in there again – impossible to separate the work from the worker.


The novels are concerned with place and how it shapes us, particularly in 2000 Tunes where the character of Mark gradually perceives the city of Manchester as switching from being a supportive home to being a prison of memory and lost glory. Only the promise of a new place can offer the chance to change behaviours and start again.

Both novels have many scenes set in the city centre (as it existed in 2000): often the same places and themes, but with different outcomes. Cold Fusion 2000 can be particularly tricksy. It was fun for me as a writer to play with reader expectations and assumptions, even if the ending comes as a surprise that requires re-evaluating what went before. That plot twist is an exception: I normally think of these two literary novels as being more character- and theme-focussed than plot-focussed, which makes it too measured for some readers, but compellingly believable for others.

Manchester is the home of many social movements. It’s where The Vegetarian Society started. I liked that radical and questioning side to it (and went vegan when I was at South Trafford College). I also loved the frequently down-to-earth nature of the people, at least where I lived. If you had any pretensions you were told to “shove them up yer arse”. It prevented you getting too big for your boots.

Obviously there are downsides to the city – like everywhere else, we’re seeing loss of green spaces, litter, urban blight. The little green park in Urmston where I used to sit in and eat my lunch got turned into a two-storey car park. The field I walked past on my way to work is now covered in houses. Piccadilly Gardens was once all flowers and bushes; it got concreted over; then they eventually stuck a token bit of turf on top of that (along with extra concrete walls to make it look like a prison). As a child I lived in a house by some fields; then the diggers moved in and widened the motorway until it almost touched our back garden and I had trouble sleeping (and then doing well at school) because of the continuous traffic. Independent shops replaced with supermarkets; cafes with Starbucks and Costa. Progress? The impact of globalisation, and its footprint of making everywhere the same, hits as hard in Manchester as anywhere else.

But sometimes the bad is something to rebel against. And even then, it shapes us.

©Karl Drinkwater

All photographs by kind permission

Huge thanks to Karl for kicking off my Close to Home feature and for sharing his thoughts about Manchester so eloquently.


Copyright Restrictions On Books

Image by stevepb via Pixabay

A librarian approached me the other night. No, it's not the start of a joke. She said she'd seen me on the CLA excluded list. I think she suspected me of being a primadonna. I'm not, generally (except during band practice when I can't find my plectrum - I mean, how is it possible to lose it every ten minutes?). I chose to be on that excluded list because I want to make life easier for people - I allow far more re-use of my work than would be the case if it was included in a CLA licence.

The CLA excluded authors list. I'm in good company.
Note that this list is not comprehensive - any author who hasn't given the CLA/ALCS permission to re-licence their work is excluded, and many of them will never contact the CLA, or even know about it. Despite best efforts, this list can only ever be an incomplete snapshot.

If you are new to the acronym CLA, here's some background: it stands for The Copyright Licensing Agency. The law allows a certain amount of copying and re-use of published works. The CLA sell licences to allow a bit more than that without the threat of the CLA or relevant publisher taking legal action - though that only applies to the subset of authors and publishers they represent.

Here are some of my thoughts about this setup and the CLA, in no particular order. 
  1. As we saw above, in many cases a CLA licence is not required since the law allows a certain amount of use under the "fair dealing" provisions.
  2. A CLA licence is not all-encompassing, and can only cover authors and publishers who opt in and register with their partner organisations the ALCS and/or PLS. Lots of work is excluded but is not on the exclusion list, e.g. works from many non-trade-published authors. So even if you have a CLA licence, copying work that isn't registered (beyond what the law allows) would be illegal, and unfortunately there are new works being published everyday that aren't covered by a CLA licence, and no easy way while stood at a photocopier to check what is covered. I've worked in numerous educational institutions, and been in hundreds of libraries (workplace, school, FE [college], HE [university], business, private, national, public). An academic library might have thousands of staff and students using copiers every day, and if you sit by a photocopier and watch people use it, the process is the same in each case: approach the copier, slap book or journal on, copy, walk off (possibly reshelving the book or journal, possibly leaving it by the copier for a friendly, intelligent, lovely and gorgeous librarian to deal with). I've never observed anyone stop by the copier and try to browse the CLA website on their phone to check if the CLA licence allows them to copy that specific item. It would be horrendously complicated and impractical, which is why I've never seen anyone do that. Yet it is the only way to be sure that what is being copied is something that they are allowed to copy. It's a mess, frankly, and a bit of an elephant in the room, the thing we know but can't acknowledge. And it's one of the reasons why I think it would be better if the law allowed much more re-use than it currently does, so there would be no need for organisations to buy these extra licences (not just the CLA here - see my licensing society post for examples of other annual licences that organisations might be pressured into buying), taking chunks from budgets that could have gone on buying more books.
  3. Unfortunately organisations like the CLA/ALCS campaign for tighter copyright laws and more restrictions, rather than the way I would like things to go. I support many more concessions for re-use in particular circumstances, and removal of restrictions, so the CLA/ALCS/PLS etc have opposing views to those of authors like me. See my licensing society post for more on how this all works, and why I - as an author - don't take part in it. They don't represent me, whatever their websites seem to claim.
  4. I am sure staff at organisations such as the CLA work hard and mean well in acting in the interests of those that have joined them. They're probably really nice people, and I imagine I'd happily have a drink with any of them. But I don't agree with the CLA as an organisation prosecuting institutions which don't have a CLA licence. It all seems so mean-spirited and sneaky. And when applied to education e.g. FE and HE libraries, it seems totally wrong. Let's think about this for a moment. Suppose a university has a canteen that still uses proper cutlery rather than wasteful takeaway packaging. And a student takes a knife and tries to rob a bank with it. Then stabs someone with the knife when their meticulous and supposedly-foolproof plan goes wrong. Would you prosecute the university, because their knife was used in the crime? Or the student? I think it is pretty obvious that it would be ridiculous to prosecute the university. They hadn't known of, condoned, or committed a crime. They're not responsible for someone abusing their trust and using their property for an illegal purpose. But when it comes to copyright, common sense goes out the window. Suppose a university or council or library has a photocopier, for copying things within the limits the law allows (maybe with guidelines displayed on a poster by the machine). And a student or visitor copies beyond what the law allows - maybe a few chapters of a book about their favourite band. Again, the organisation hadn't known of, condoned, or committed a crime. They're not responsible for someone abusing their trust and using their property for an illegal purpose. It is the individual who is at fault. Yet it is the organisation that the CLA would persecute. (I was advised by more than one practitioner that the CLA generally use means other than prosecution to pressurize public and private bodies that don’t take up licences or who don’t comply e.g. encouraging students to "grass", occasional threats, audits etc.)
  5. Note the error in the image that starts this post. That list should just have a single line for my name; Organic Apocalypse (all works) should be in the publisher list below, not the author list. I contacted the CLA again about correcting that.
  6. You often can't use a Creative Commons license if you are a member of a collecting society like the ALCS. See this FAQ. Likewise not all authors can register with the ALCS: I allow people to do more with my books than the CLA/ALCS allow, which excludes me from registering. Money they claimed for copying my work on their more restrictive licences would be illegally claimed, since my licence would have allowed it without charge.
Anyway, back to the librarian. As I said to her at the time, I want to use the copyright page of my books to ALLOW more than the law permits, rather than use the page as most publishers do to try to RESTRICT actions. (Honestly, I'm so sick of books which say "No part of this book whatsoever may be reproduced blah bah blah without permission from the publisher" - liars! The law allows certain uses under the fair dealing provisions, such as quotation for purposes of review. Duh.) As an example, the CLA Licence in the past allowed institutions to copy up to 5% of a book. Apparently, starting this academic year, this will be increased to 10% of a book. For comparison, I allow 50%. I mean, I absolutely love it when my work is re-used for education.

So I'm proud of the copyright pages that will be used in my future books, as reproduced below. Hopefully you'll find it more straightforward and refreshing than most copyright pages.

Organic Apocalypse Copyright Manifesto

Organic Apocalypse believes culture should be shared. We support far more re-use than the UK law and licensing organisations currently allow. We respect our buyers, reviewers, libraries and educators. You don't need to sign anything or pay for a licence to get the extended rights below.
  • You can copy or quote up to 50% of our publications, for any non-commercial purpose as long as the source is acknowledged. So it's okay to do that for purposes such as review, criticism, study, assessment, research, teaching, education, parody, or just to say "Hey people, isn't this book amazing?"
  • You can sell our print books when you've finished with them. (Or pass them on to other people: share the love.) You buy, you own.
  • We don't add DRM to our e-books (though some third-party distributors do - wherever possible we opt out of such restrictions). Feel free to convert between formats (including scanning, e-formats, braille, audio) and store a backup for your own use.
  • Libraries: our print books can be freely loaned to the public, and sold on in booksales at end-of-life. Also, we don't inflate the price for libraries: you pay the same for a copy as anyone else. 
This is based on the situation in the UK: if your local law allows more than we state above, that's great! Local law then takes precedence over this.

Note to librarians and educators: all Organic Apocalypse titles are excluded from CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) licences. We believe the law and CLA licences are too restrictive, and should allow far more re-use and sharing. If we joined the CLA we would have to restrict what we allow people to do with our work, and we won't compromise on that. So until the law becomes fairer in terms of allowing more re-use and sharing of copyrighted work, this manifesto is the best we can do. Times are hard, libraries and schools are closing: we do our bit by being as flexible and fair as possible. Peace and love and keep up the good work.

Updates Since I Drafted This Post - 2016-09-22 17:29

When I first drafted this post and ran it past a number of professionals in this area I had just thought the CLA were a bit clunky. But at the moment I'm rather furious.

This afternoon the CLA responded to my email about point 5 above, concerning them having incorrect information on their website.

Firstly, they said they don't update the publisher list any more (even though it is still openly available with no caveats). It is "an old list of Excluded Works that is no longer maintained/updated".

The confusing CLA site. Apparently visitors are meant to know that the author exclusion section is still used but the publisher exclusion section isn't. Image from 2016-09-22.

Instead people have to search yet another system of theirs (one which you can't browse - so you can't see a list of all excluded items, only search for ones you already know of). This makes me think of endless rabbit holes.

So far, so bad.

Then the CLA refused to add Organic Apocalypse to that database of excluded publishers, unless I jumped through unnecessary hoops by creating an account on a third party site that I have no interest in, and apparently the CLA want me to inform this extra site about every single book that is excluded, rather than it being a blanket exclusion. Apparently only then will the CLA fulfil their legal obligation to list excluded works. Which, basically, stinks.

And it leads to the situation where the CLA know certain works are excluded (e.g. all Organic Apocalypse-published titles, now and into the future), but the CLA refuse to communicate that to the people they sell their licences to. Also they sell licences by making it seem as all-encompassing as possible: so they are profiting from the implication that the licence covers works that they are fully aware it does not cover.

It is the CLA that sells the licence; the CLA have been informed that all works by a publisher are to be excluded. If they refuse to acknowledge that, and try to create extra barriers to acting on it, then they are profiting by selling rights they are not permitted to sell. So a warning to those who pay the CLA for a licence: by omitting excluded publishers it means the CLA licence's excluded works are inaccurate, and you have no way of knowing for sure what is included or excluded in a CLA licence.

The other thing that stinks is the lack of parity between how you opt in, or opt out.

Suppose you don't want to licence the CLA to re-sell some of your rights? You should not have to do anything, since by default they have no permission. But they require you to tell them specifically; and even that is not enough in some cases like this, where they try to send you off to register with another organisation.

Whereas suppose you do want them to re-sell some of your rights? No need to tell them about each book. Or do anything. Or even know about it, or agree with it, or be happy about it. Unless they specifically hear from you, they continue regardless.

The systems to "opt out" are made much more complicated and onerous, even though the CLA have no right to include your work automatically. Basic truth: you don't have to "opt out" of something you never agreed to "opt in" to in the first place. But that is exactly the position the CLA etc put you in.

I will update this. Hopefully it is a misunderstanding on their part and can be quickly rectified, but at the moment ... (Sigh). I hope I don't have to look into my options for dealing with the barriers the CLA are putting in place, but they are preventing me from exerting my rights. This experience just reinforces my decision to keep barge-pole length from their licences (and connected organisations such as the ALCS and PLS). Let's hope they correct this and respect the rights of authors and small publishers.

Updates Since I Drafted This Post - 2016-09-23 11:38

Resolved now, but I am tired (went bed at 6am, we authors are nuts) so I may add further details on another day. Thanks to the CLA for eventually acting on my request. I still think the CLA should make it clear from their first page that the CLA licence only covers authors and publishers that opt in, and they should link to both a full browse list and a searchable version of that opt in list from that homepage statement; and also link to the opt out list and explain that it is a guide, but only the opt in list is comprehensive. Still, enough progress for me to put my sabre away.


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