As the weather gets more autumnal and the wind scratches at the windows my thoughts are turning to Halloween. Halloween is my absolute favourite festival, so much better than Christmas with its 6 month build up, Halloween is just fun from start to finish. As a special ghoulish treat this week I have a guest blog from writer Paul Holbrook. His novel Domini Mortum is extremely close to being fully funded by crowdfunding publisher Unbound. I know how this works because my own book 15 Minutes has just been released by them. Paul is offering some great pledges in his crowdfunding campaign, not least one which should appeal to even the most fearless ghost hunters.
Hello Paul tell us about your book?
Domini Mortum is a novel set in late Victorian England, and set in London, York, and the village of Pluckley in Kent.
It tells the story of a journalist called Samuel Weaver, who has travelled down to London from his native York to work as an artist and reporter for The Illustrated Police News (the preeminent tabloid of the day). Weaver is obsessed with a series of murders which occurred six years earlier in London and the man accused of the crimes, who died before he could be brought to justice.
Weaver travels around London, and to Kent, to meet people who knew the accused, in the hope of writing a book about him. However, the more he finds out about the murders, the more he becomes embroiled himself with the people and organisations who have the most to lose by being exposed in the press. Meanwhile another set of murders has begun in London which hold a much darker and foreboding purpose.
Domini Mortum is a tale of how single-minded obsession can lead to a person’s downfall, and how it is impossible to escape from the sins of your past. Once a heart is blackened by deeds, it can never recover.
The book is currently the centre of a crowdfunding campaign by the publisher Unbound. The way it works is straight forward; each book has a cost in order to get it published. Lovely generous members of the public give their support to the book by pledging to buy it. Once enough people have pledged and the target amount is reached, the book is published and everyone who supported it gets a copy with their name inside on a list of people that made it happen. It’s a quite brilliant idea, to get books published that people actually are interested in and want to read, rather than books that a publisher thinks the public wants.
How can people pledge?
Pledging is easy, all you have to do is visit www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum have a read of the synopsis, the excerpt, and then decide what pledge level you want to support the book at.
Once you’ve decided, it’s just a case of clicking that button and entering order details. If you’ve pre-ordered a book from Unbound before, then you will have an account already. I’m so glad that I am publishing my book through Unbound, the quality of the authors on show on their website is extraordinary, and I find myself wanting to support quite a lot of books there.
One of the pledges catches my eye in particular, the ghost walk. Can you tell us a bit about this pledge and what it entails?
Ah, the ghost walk, yes.
“We do not have time to enter the ‘Screaming Woods’ this evening, my friend, which is a terrible shame as it is an experience to be savoured,” he said holding his arm across my chest. “The eldritch howls of the long and recent dead can be heard throughout the night, and it is a brave man who dares enter. Few have tried and they left in such terrible states that they ended their days unable to speak of what they saw, most were placed in asylums, gibbering wrecks of men, hollow of mind and bereft of soul.”
“What did they see in there?” I asked awaiting a terrible tale of murder, suffering and the afterlife.
“See? See? I don’t know, Samuel. Did you not you hear me say that they never spoke of it?” He lowered his arm and paced away muttering under his breath.
The ghost walk pledge came about because of a section in the book which is based in Pluckley in Kent, supposedly the most haunted village in Britain. In the book Samuel Weaver visits the village as part of his investigations, and ends up taking part in a drunken ghost walk with a local called Edward Higgins.
The character of Edward Higgins, is named after a friend of mine, who I definitely had in mind while writing the story. Samuel and Higgins experience the full horror of the ghosts of Pluckley during their tour, which is both humorous and frightening.
In writing the book I did an awful lot of research into Pluckley, watched countlesYouTube videos of ghost hunters visiting the various haunting sites, and read just about every word ever written about the village. For those lucky people that pledge for the ghost walk, they will get a copy of the book, with their name inside, as well as making their way to Pluckley where I will meet them, have dinner and a drink or two in the Black Horse (the pub which Samuel Weaver stays in) before heading out into the dreadful night air to experience such sights as The Devil’s Bush, The Screaming Woods, and St Nicholas church where the famous ‘Red Lady’ has been sighted, as well as many other spooky stops along the way. I will of course be inviting my friend Edward Higgins along, to make it all a bit more authentic to the book.
It’s a very adventurous pledge, but one which I am really looking forward to fulfilling, it will certainly be a night to remember for those who take up the challenge.
It’s official! Fifteen Minutes is out now, after months of crowdfunding and readying for publication the book is available to order from bookshops and on kindle and for other e-readers directly from Unbound Publishing. I can’t thank my pledgers enough because without them this book would never have happened. Please consider it for a summer read and let me know what you think. If you’ve got a book group make it your next read – I might even come along and talk about it. There will be a launch party in Brighton in October, I’ll keep you posted!
15 Minutes, Andy Warhol, apes, book covers, book design, books, celebrities, celebrity, crowdfunding, fame, Laura Wilkinson, Mark Ecob, Mecob, publishing, short stories, short story collections, Skin Deep, starlings
Last year I was signed by British crowd-funding publisher Unbound and now my short story collection about fame, 15 Minutes, is almost ready for release. Yesterday I was sent the final cover proof and I’m sure you will agree that it is an arresting image!
Writers don’t usually get any input in their cover designs. With my first book, Starlings, I was just sent the finished cover with a note saying ‘here’s your cover – hope you like it.’ Bizarrely that cover looked like the front of my house at the time. In the first few months of editing Unbound Digital send their authors a questionnaire to fill out for their cover designer Mark Ecob to work from.
It’s quite a long document and it really makes you think about the book you have written. The questions vary from the practical; title, buy-line, genre, to, ‘Describe the tone and mood you want to come across on your cover,’ and, ‘who do you think your readers are?’ These questions really make you think about your reader. Who is going to buy your book? What are their age, gender, interests? They even ask how they will buy it and where from. As a writer I have to admit I don’t actually think that much about my reader, certainly not when I’m writing, but in order to sell you have to know who you are appealing to. The first reader I listed was ‘short story enthusiast’. Then came the question about genre and the book is obviously made up of short stories but I realised there and then that each story is its own beast, there’s literary fiction and sci-fi and experimental fiction and memoir and it became very hard to pin down.
I was asked for a synopsis, again something the writers of short story collections will know is an almost impossible task, I provided key words and a list of the celebrities in the stories. I tried to get across the idea that fame is not necessarily a good thing. At one point I suggested that if there was a face on the cover it should be hidden in some way, blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs perhaps or masked.
Finally, they ask you what sort of cover you have in mind. This was a curve ball – I didn’t have anything in mind. I made a few suggestions. The Warhol connection was the obvious route, pop-art, bright colours, paparazzi photos. I also had to send an extract and I picked one from a story about a man obsessed with Scarlett Johansson.
Mark phoned a few days later. Surprisingly he didn’t seem that keen on a Warholesque cover but had picked up on the idea of fame as artifice. We talked about masks and dropped cameras. Then I mentioned that the last story was a flash fiction about a talking ape and Mark asked me to send it to him. A few days later he sent over a series of ideas but the one that was the basis for the final cover was the standout. Not Warhol, not pop-art but the suggestion that fame is nothing more than a performing monkey seemed to sum up what I was trying to say.
The proposed cover designs then went to Unbound and I had a long wait before finally getting to see the finished cover complete with cover quote and blurb. Seeing the finished image brings home the fact that this book is really happening and I am absolutely thrilled that soon you’ll be able to read my take on the masks and artifice of fame.
amwriting, anthologies, books, craft, creative writing, criticism, crowdfunding, ediotrs, editing, feedback, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Rattle Tales, short stories, short story collections, The Brighton Prize, writing
I am currently co-editing an anthology of short fiction. I also supplement my paltry writers’ income with freelance editing projects. I’m not a proof reader; the edits I offer are structural, though I will pick up on any punctuation that has gone awry. Editing is something I enjoy. The idea of helping a writer to perfect their work makes me happy but I also find that editing other people’s work makes me a better writer. Editing not only raises my awareness of common writing pitfalls, it also reminds me to put away the resistance to criticism that all writers experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of dedicated and improving edits for both my books. Uppermost in my mind is my collection of short stories, Fifteen Minutes, which has recently undergone several in-depth edits with Unbound Publishing. This was an amazing learning curve and the book is vastly improved as a result. When the first edit arrived I opened a manuscript which was literally covered in red marks and comments. My editor had forewarned me that this was normal in her email but even so it was quite a shock. I have had short stories edited professionally before, for publication in journals like Rip Tide and The Manchester Review. The editors of those journals did brilliant job and, yes, each manuscript was covered in crossings out, with sentences shifted and lengthy comments inserted. Again, I was a bit shocked by the extent of the mark-ups. For a moment I wondered if the writing was any good after all.
This seems to be a common experience for most writers. When faced with a manuscript covered in mark-ups and comments we tend to take it personally. The self-doubt nags, we mutter things under our breath like, ‘obviously they haven’t read it properly,’ and, ‘they wouldn’t know a joke if it got up and bit them.’ What we forget is that as writers we can become too immersed in a piece to see the flaws and the gaps. The writing is obviously great or it wouldn’t have been selected for publication. However, the editor has read it more closely than anyone else ever will. Their mark-ups don’t mean that the writing isn’t good, just that as the writer we have become too used to what we have written. We think that because we can picture it in our head our readers will be able to too. This is not always the case. If an editor points something out as not being clear, and you have to use a paragraph to explain to them why it is clear, the editor is right and you are not.
Obviously editors are not infallible. This is why they often work in pairs. The first edit of Fifteen Minutes suggested alterations that the second editor then suggested should be changed back. At this point it was up to me to decide which worked best. Often it was the original – but not always – sometimes it was something completely different. You can always negotiate. If you truly believe that your piece is better without the changes, that the reader you have in mind will know exactly what you mean, then go ahead, argue your case. What is interesting is that as you progress in your career you will get comments such as ‘still not clear’ from a professional editor a third or fourth time no matter how much you plead. If this happens you have no choice but to adhere to their suggestion. If you are arguing about the placement of commas and the cutting of single words you are being too precious. Go with what the editor suggests; it’s what they do for a living. They know what they are talking about. The real shock will come when you get your proofs back and realize you know nothing about punctuation!
For further information on my freelance editing services please email email@example.com I specialize in shaping up short stories for publication or competition but I have edited full-length manuscripts from children’s books to spy thrillers.
One of the great things about crowd-funding through Unbound Publishing is that there is a real sense of community amongst the authors. We all keep in touch via a private Face Book group, swap news of achievements and frustrations and give each other tips on all aspects on writing and publishing. Sometimes we even meet up, as a few of us did at Unbound’s fifth birthday party in November. They’re a great bunch and today one of them is the first guest contributor to this blog. Shona Kinsella, who has just released her brilliant fantasy novel Ashael Rising, gives some tips on world-building that are very useful for writers of any kinds. Personally, I’m a pantser that stops halfway through for a bit of obsessive map drawing!
Approaching World-Building by Shona Kinsella
One of the most enjoyable and challenging parts of writing fantasy is the world-building. There are fantasy writers who spend years creating a world before they feel ready to write a story set there. They have maps, detailed histories, notes of the flora and fauna and knowledge of political factions in every country – but they don’t have a book.
I’m very different from this. I’m what is sometimes known as a pantser (as in flying by the seat of the pants) although the term I prefer is discovery writer. What this means is that I discover the story, and the world, as I write.
When I sat down to write Ashael Rising, I knew very little about KalaDene. In fact, it didn’t even have a name until the third draft or so. My world-building was all done as I went along. I once heard an excellent description of the process; it explains just what it feels like to me so I’m going to share it here. World-building is like walking through a tunnel (the world) with a torch (the story) so I can see as much of the world as the story shines a light on and a little bit around the edges but everything else is just fuzzy shapes in the darkness, with maybe a puff of cool air indicating that there might be a door to somewhere else off to the left.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. For example, sometimes I could spend most of a day’s writing time trying to figure out how the limits to the magic system worked or whether the climate I’ve described would support the plants that I have my characters eating. That’s not a particularly efficient use of my time and would not have come up had I built my world in advance. On the other hand, people who have created an entire world before writing a book will often find that they have wasted time in building details that they do not need for the book – time that could have been spent writing.
It also means that I made substantial changes between my first and second drafts, tightening up world-building details, as well as improving the plot, and fitting in things that I changed or introduced over the course of writing the first draft. My understanding is that this is common for discovery writers while people who have plotted and world-built in advance will often have something close to the finished work at the end of their first draft. This probably balances out though – they spend the time up front, before they start writing, and I spend it at the other end.
One of the things that I like about my approach is the massive amount of flexibility it gives me. If I find myself inspired by something I see on a nature documentary (something that happens more often than you might think) I generally have space to work it into my world somewhere. I already have a few notes to myself about elements I’d like to fit into book two.
The only major drawback that I’ve experienced is that, since I make things up as I go along, I have no idea what will end up being important and I must try and keep the elements of an entire world straight in my head – something the planners don’t have to do. I have taken to keeping a world-building file open while I write, somewhere to make notes of characters that I’ve introduced, plants that I’ve made up along with their uses, distances between places and so on. The thing is, I’m pretty bad at actually updating the file. While I’m writing, I’m too involved in the story to keep stopping and starting and switching files. More than once I’ve found myself having to search back through the text to check how I spelled something a few chapters ago or whether or not I said a particular plant was poisonous or what someone’s name is. Again, not the most efficient use of my time. Still, efficient or not, it is the way that works for me and it’s the way I’ll continue to work for the time being.
agents, Bookoutre, books, Brexit, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Sarah Rayner, short story collections, The Man Booker Prize, The Manchester Fiction Prize, The Manchester Writing School, Trump, Unbound, Urbane Publishing, Write by the Beach
2016 sucked didn’t it? The EU vote, Jo Cox,Trump, Syria, celebrity deaths, the whole world took a beating. The future, as they say, is uncertain. As we approach the end of the year I’m feeling reflective. At the beginning of 2016, I had completed a collection of short stories about fame (Fifteen Minutes) but had no agent or publisher in sight. I half-heartedly tried a couple of small presses and agents and barely got a reply. Short stories don’t sell, they’re just not popular, blah blah blah. This year’s Man Booker Prize had a book of short stories on it, All That Man Is by David Szalay. It’s a great collection. They pretended it was a novel but it wasn’t, it was even less of a novel than the Pulitzer prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad, having only the merest connection in the first and last stories and nowhere else. The stories are about men at various stages of life but that’s a pretty broad theme in my view. In addition to the obvious collection of short stories, six of the thirteen short-listed authors had previously published short story collections. I’m telling you this because in 2016 I was continually frustrated by the lack of credit given to short fiction writers and their books. I’ve ranted about this before so I won’t again, but personally it felt like I was having to jump through a lot more hoops to get an agent to look at my work than most other writers do, simply because of the form I am compelled to work in.
February offered a solution, a friend told me about the crowd-funding publisher Unbound. I submitted my collection and by March it had been selected for publication. You can find out about my crowd-funding journey in previous blog posts, suffice to say it was hard work but it wasn’t as hard as getting an agent to read my manuscript. By the end of June I was fully funded, some of the people pledging support were complete strangers, so short stories can’t that unpopular after all.
I find myself thinking about other achievements. This year I co-directed a writers’ conference with The Beach Hut Writing Academy called Write By The Beach and it was so successful we’re doing it again next year. In fact you can buy early bird tickets now. I’m going to be hosting a panel discussion about alternative publishing methods with Sarah Rayner Unbound, Bookoutre and Urbane Publishing.
The Brighton Prize, of which I am a co-director, doubled its number of entries and opened to flash fiction and international writers.
I vastly cut down on the number of submissions I made, selecting only a handful of writing competitions and was shortlisted in three out of four, achieving my long-held ambition of being included on The Manchester Fiction Prize shortlist.
I had articles published on writing method and crowd-funding tips and even found a home for my story Sourdough which, after being short-listed for The Writers & Artists Yearbook Award, failed to get a publisher for nearly five years.
I applied for two jobs, was interviewed for both, and failed to get the posts. It was very, very close they said. I’m still mentoring writers though, through Creative Future and privately, and this is very, very rewarding.
Fifteen Minutes has been through a professional editing process with Unbound and has now been submitted for a copy edit. Soon I’ll have a cover and then it will be published. I never dreamed I’d be able to say that at the beginning of the year.
I went to America on a family road trip, pre-election, when we thought there might still be a chance that Trump would fail, and managed to visit the places I had planned to put in my next collection (I’m calling it a novel by the way so let’s see what happens).
I’ve done so much personally and yet I feel a bit flat, a bit disappointed. I wonder if it’s because there’s very little financial reward for what I’m doing, and if this makes me feel like it isn’t important? I wonder if it’s because the contempt with which short fiction writers are regarded by the UK publishing industry is getting me down? Or if it’s a more general disconnect from a world that can vote for Brexit and Trump? It feels like I’m tantalisingly close to something that then moves away again. I’ll snap out of it.
My wish for next year is that the form I have chosen to work in gets the credit it deserves and that publishers stop repeating the mantra that short story collections don’t sell and try selling them instead. That and world peace, trains that run on time, an end to this selfish right wing nonsense that seems to have engulfed the world, some gin and a box of chocolates – it’s not much to ask, is it? Happy Christmas everyone!
I have been thinking a lot lately about Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’. The actual quotation is, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ It strikes me as peculiar that when quoting her people often go straight for the essay title and leave out the money bit. Woolf goes on, ‘In the first place, to have a room of her own was out of the question unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble.’ Thankfully that class nonsense isn’t so much of an issue these days but, as any impoverished writer knows if you don’t have enough cash you’ll have to share your space.
Just a desk of my own would suit me. At present I share mine (in the far corner of the lounge) with my husband, two kids and the cat. It is the favoured location for homework, photographic editing, Ben 10 games and the preferred sleeping spot of the cat (high up and under a nice warm desk lamp. This week I have a particularly bad case of desk envy. At the weekend we moved the youngest from cot bed to grown-up bunk bed, the bottom shelf of which is made up entirely of desk space and a yard long bookcase (sigh!). Baby boy loves his new desk and has lined up his felt tips and sticker books ready for action. The oldest has a similar arrangement in his room but and clear space is hidden under boy stuff and sweet wrappers so he can’t actually use it. He uses mine instead. Come 3.30 and any access to the family desk is blocked by a ten-year-old (sometimes with several friends) frantically clicking at the mouse to try and get to the next level. After he’s gone to bed my husband takes possession to tinker with pixels. I shouldn’t complain; I’ve got it all day haven’t I? And it’s not as if I’ve anything else to do.
Twitter isn’t helping. There’s always some super-successful author moaning about how cold it is in their Roald Dahl style writing shed. Are you having a laugh? A whole shed? Buy an electric heater and shut up about it. Next you’ll be winging about how humid it is and how annoying the glare of the sun is through your leaden windows! I bet your cat doesn’t keep closing down your masterpiece as it stretches out on the keyboard, knocking over precarious piles of books, magazines and games. I really should give it spring clean but I don’t really have the time. I take heart from this picture of Einstein’s desk – look at the state of that!
I have been looking at a lot of pictures of famous writer’s desks, just out of curiosity. There are loads to choose from – just Google it and marvel at the variety. Some are neat and tidy. I’m a bit suspicious of those; I can’t work if there’s too much order and wonder where these authors put their ‘research’ and how much time they spend colour-coding their pen collection. I’m fascinated by the writing space of really famous authors, to go to the former home of Dickens or The Brontes and have a nose around is heavenly. I love to touch the grain of an ancient wooden desk and think about all the creativity that was born there, the toiling of an author long dead over a work still read decades later. It’s inspiring just looking at the pictures and interesting too, the neatness, the size. Jane Austen wrote on a tiny little table by the window with a quill pen, Hemmingway (in Key West at least) wrote in the middle of the room over-looked by the heads of animals he had shot, the Brontes sat together at an enormous dining table like an early writing co-operative (mind you there wasn’t much else to do was there?). Sharing my desk with the cat doesn’t really help me much; apart from the occasional yawn he’s not great on feedback.
Of course I have a laptop so I can just head out and find a bohemian café to agonise in. The thing is I’m not that keen. The words don’t really flow in public cafes. For a start off I usually bump into someone I know and then there’s the hovering waiting staff asking if I want a refill, or babies crying and if I drink too much coffee it costs a fortune and I keep needing the loo. The café has to be just right, it has to be big enough to hide in from friends and waiters, with tall ceilings and no piped music, and I prefer diverting decoration and real-fire cosiness. As you can see I am quite hard to please, especially for someone whose own writing space isn’t up to much, but I think if I’ve made the effort to go out to write it should be worth going out for. I have found my perfect writing café but I’ve only been there once about 15 years ago, it’s on the ground floor of a hotel in Brussels and I have no idea what the hotel is called or where it is in the city. It’s a beautiful place with no literary pretensions whatsoever (unlike all those French tourist-trap cafes where Scott Fitzgerald partied until dawn) the ceilings are high and chandeliered, the walls are mirrored, the tables hidden behind marble pillars. I sat there for hours one day undisturbed. I only wish I knew what it was called (but my memory isn’t as good as it was!) then I could try and persuade the owners to transport it here brick by brick and re-build it just down the road.