6 Silly Book Things We Never Notice…


Silly Book Things 350

Reading a book is a lot different to writing a book. There’s a ton of stuff we take for granted that publishers and printers (and of course, indie authors) know all about, but that might not be obvious to the newbie author/publisher.

Now, I don’t consider myself to be a newbie but every day I learn something new about books, writing and publishing. And while it’s all fascinating stuff, it’s stuff I need to know about and understand. This has become more obvious to me over the last month or so and the various challenges of publishing my books on Createspace…

1 White space
Leaving huge gaps or spaces when formatting a manuscript for an eBook is verboten, as readers generally don’t want to be scrolling down, down, down to find the next bit of text. In proper printed books, however, the spacing out of text and images is important for presentation – cramming everything up doesn’t look good. In my hard-back version of Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests for instance, there’s a nice pattern on the first two pages, then a measured five page turns before we get to the first chapter. It looks good, it feels good, and it smells quite nice too.

2 Start on the Right
I’m sure I knew this before, but it wasn’t until I was forced to consider it for my own books that I realized the first chapter always starts on an odd-numbered page on the right hand side. This is traditional in book publishing and probably unnoticeable to most folk – until they come across a book that starts on the left hand page, and then it stands out (probably because we’re used to seeing it on the other side). Whether you go with the further tradition of starting every chapter on the right hand page is another matter. Most of the tomes on my bookshelf don’t follow this ritual, but I can see why they might – as with White Space, it looks nice.

3 Blank pages
Creating a manuscript where the first chapter is on the correct page, often prompts the need for the insertion of a blank page. When I first tried this, I naturally assumed it was simply a case of hitting ‘enter’ until I got to the next page. But no. Blank pages have to be fixed in place so they don’t disappear later on. I now do this using the time-honoured method of creating page breaks/sections. (I won’t go into how, as my own research revealed a multitude of different methods and I’m not sure my way is the best. Anyhoo…)

4 Page Numbers
The first book I attempted to publish on Createspace (The Architect’s Apprentice) resulted in a nicely laid out copy – without page numbers. Arrgh! Okay, so I forgot. And I must admit I did wonder how necessary they are, but common sense prevailed and I got to grips with the (again) multitude of different methods that might/hopefully lead to displaying the correct numbers (odds on the right, evens oMortlake manuscriptn the left) in the right places. After several wretched days of duplicated numbers, unnumbered pages and other catastrophes, I finally got the hang of it. Well, I say that, but it still doesn’t work every time.

5 Headers and Footers
This is another one of those traditions that some folk ignore while others swear by. The idea of having the author’s name at the top of one page and the title of the book on the other, once again, isn’t borne out by the bestsellers on my bookshelves (Sarah W doesn’t do it), so I’ve ignored this, though I’ll admit it would add a little something to the overall presentation, so it’s something to think about for the future.

6 Justification
This is another of those traditions that we’re all used to – reading text that’s fully justified ie goes right to the edge, giving the impression of a block of text, rather than a raggedy edged one. While eBooks don’t require such rigidity, I’ve noticed an increasing number of authors are going with the simple left-justified look in their printed books and though at first I did think it a little odd, like a bowl of soup, I’m definitely warming to it. Anyway, I’ve fully justified some of my books and not others and so far I haven’t decided which is best.

Tradition is often nothing more than the way we’ve always done things, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue in the same vein. After all, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have eBooks. As Bowie said, ‘Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, Turn and face the strange…’

London Bridge is (sometimes) Falling Down…

London Bridge Model

One of the difficulties of writing historical fiction is the lack of pictorial and other evidence – photos, newsreels, podcasts etc, which means the images we can get our hands on are so much more meaningful. And then of course, there are the wonderfully talented people who turn their talents to building realistic models (such as in the above image), which are enormously helpful.

Conversely, one of the attractions of writing historical fiction is the opportunity to do a bit of research myself and then simply use my imagination. In the second book of my ‘Maps of Time’ series (set in 1630s London), I wanted to include a few details about London Bridge in order to describe it realistically:

The noise is deafening. Hordes of chattering, shouting people constrict the two lanes that form an unacknowledged corridor across the vast structure, the narrow track carving a tricky path through and in-between the dozens of shops and houses that line the great bridge.

The most famous version of the bridge was built under the command of Henry II, who presumably had grown a bit tired of the old wooden ones burning down. The new bridge took around 30 years to build and stood on 20 gothic arches. Merchants and would-be householders vied for construction space and over the years a great many houses, shops and even a church were constructed on the bridge itself. The unfortunate lack of space demanded that some houses were as high as seven storeys!

One of the details I was most interest in was the kind of experience Londoners might have had in crossing the bridge. The thousands of people whose daily lives required them to be at one side of the river or the other, meant that two lanes had to be created – one heading north and the other south – providing (you might think) a fairly practical solution to congestion. However, the proliferation of carts, animals and people jostling for space, made the journey of 300 yards (approx one tenth of a mile) a time-consuming process. It wasn’t uncommon to take an hour or more to walk from one end to the other.

The popular version of the song ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ is said to be inspired by the many incidents of fire and other catastrophes that resulted from the generally poor upkeep of the bridge. Indeed, in 1269 the less-than-popular Queen Eleanor is thought to have spent the toll money earmarked for bridge repairs on her own pleasures, leading to all sorts of calamities.

One of the bridge’s more gruesome traditions was the monarchy’s penchant for popping the head of traitors and other rapscallions on spikes above the gatehouse. The likes of Oliver Cromwell, William Wallace and Guy Fawkes found themselves on the wrong side of the popularity stakes, but their severed heads no doubt helped keep the list of would-be ne-er-do-wells to a minimum.

Thankfully, no-one gets beheaded in The Architect’s Apprentice or the follow-up, Mortlake, though there are one or two folk who don’t live to see the end of the story! Cue: evil laugh – Mwah, hah, hah…

Historical Writing – Fact or Fiction?

How to be a VictorianWriting about times long past can be great fun, but how accurate do authors need to be with historical fiction? While most readers expect authors to just ‘make stuff up’, a bit of good old fashioned research can make a world of difference.

I’ve always believed that writers should use their imaginations – after all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, being creative? However, sometimes the imagination isn’t enough and a bit of historical accuracy can really bring a story to life.

In my children’s series ‘The Maps of Time’ which mixes 1630s London with a bit of time travel, I didn’t do much research, though I did spend many hours poring over maps of the city and used dozens of the original street names in my books (Bellyns Gate, Spittle Feyldes etc). I also delved into the marvellous diaries of Sam Pepys to help me get a feel for the place, especially relating to the Great Fire of London.

However, with the second book in my Edinburgh-set Christie McKinnon adventure series, I wanted to include more details about everyday Victorian life, such as the kinds of food people ate, both in the working classes as well as wealthier families. Details of washing, bathing, dressing and even visits to the toilet add a touch of realism to proceedings (though the stark reality of the ‘privy’ might be less appealing to my readers).

One particular book, which covers all of the above and much more, is Ruth Gordon’s ‘How to be a Victorian’. There are chapters on men and women’s clothing (including undergarments), as well as cooking, going to work, school attendance (for the lucky few) and leisure pursuits. Gordon’s writing is fresh and exciting, resulting in a very readable volume that I’m sure will appeal to anyone interested in the Victorian period.

Having said all this, of course, does not mean that my books will, from henceforth, be crammed with characters that get washed, eat breakfast and go to the toilet every five minutes. My aim is simply to create writing that is more realistic and believable – an objective I’m sure the Victorians would delight in.

Deaths and Other Surprises

Lemmy Bowie Rickman

What is it that makes us who we are?

In the space of a few days, the world has lost three wonderfully individual and very different men: Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman were all hugely significant in their own artistic spheres and massively influential in my own personal sphere, too.

It’s strange how the passing of three people I never met (though I got pretty close to Lemmy a few times), can have such an impact. And while I’m generally not one to cite this or that person as having an influence on my life or what I do, these particular three were all part of my life and helped me grow into the creative person I am today.

As a teenager, I thought it might be quite something to emulate the poet Shelley – write tons of beautifully romantic poems and then die young, leaving a huge body of outstandingly creative work to the world. Of course, I soon realized that dying young doesn’t really allow a whole lot of time for having fun, or being creative, so maybe that version is best left to Hollywood.

What always strikes me with the death of any great artist, actor or musician, is that usually they’ve done a hell of a lot of stuff. And quite often, that’s what made them great – that they seized their opportunities and ran with them, doing everything they could to explore their artistic interests, ideas and passions. And though I’m not planning to kick the bucket just yet, it makes me very aware of how little time we all have.

And so, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be doing a lot of writing.

‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh

The Good Son McVeigh
The Good Son
5 stars copy

Ten-year-old Michael Donnelly has a dog called Killer, an almost-telepathic relationship with his sister Wee Maggie, and a bit of a crush on the girl down the street. He’s also got a father who breaks promises and a bullish older brother who calls him ‘gay’. When Michael finds a gun in the dog’s kennel, it throws a bit of a spanner into the puberty vs childhood bag of worms he deals with every day.

Paul McVeigh had me at the first sentence of this wonderfully witty and highly original book. His characters burst with truth and authenticity and his dialogue had me laughing out loud (which doesn’t happen often). For a first novel, this is a pretty mean achievement and I can’t help wonder what Mr McVeigh will hit us with next. Whatever it is, it’ll be good.

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Getting the Word Out

As mentioned in my previous post, one of my tasks for this year is to get folk interested in my books (and ideally, buying them). As there are several ways to do that, I decided to tackle a couple of things I’ve been putting off:

The Mailing List
ReviewsDevil's Porridge2

But before doing that, I thought I’d take a leaf out of Sacha Black’s book and make my Twitter images a bit more consistent, like including my website and such like (as in the pic opposite).

After prevaricating in this fashion for a while I got around to dong what I was supposed to be doing.

So, reviews – I had already managed to garner a couple of reviews, but just before the end of the year I got a lovely one – for ‘How the World Turns (and Other stories)’ – from sci-fi writer Stephen J Carter, so that was a nice little boost of the old confidence thingy. However, I haven’t actually tried very hard to get reviews as such, so thought it was about time I got my proverbial finger out. Again.

I’ve sent out seven queries today so far and have already had a response to one, which seems like a good result – I’m working on Bryan Cohen’s advice which goes along the lines of:

If you want 100 reviews, sent out 1,000 queries.

Okay. So only 9,993 to go, then.

As to the mailing list, I’ve been getting to grips with Mailchimp (or Monkeypost as I call it). Although I like to think I’m fairly sensible when it comes to IT stuff, it did take me a while to work through some of the sections (ended up going onto good old YouTube for advice at one point). However, I got there eventually, and I now have the relevant links and responder emails set up. All I need now are actual people to sign up. (You can see my initial form by clicking here).

Of course, having spent so much time on this stuff, I haven’t done any work on my current book (Ariadne 7) for a couple of days, so I really should get back into that routine asap. And while I didn’t exactly take a load of time off over the festive season (spent New Year’s Eve working on the mailing list), I still feel as if I’ve been a bit lazy. Which I haven’t, but still…

So tomorrow it’s back to the Day Job. As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to not say:

Hey, hey, hey – let’s be careful out there and get that damn book written.