The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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Book Review: The Timekeepers’ War

81C6jQyqOVL._SL1500_The Timekeepers War is the debut novel of Saskatchewan based writer, S.C. Jensen, but you wouldn’t know it. Skillfully written and edited, there is no hint that this book is written by anyone other than an author at the top of their game.

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We are taken to a disconnected and post apocalyptic world, some hundreds of years into the future. There, people like the protagonist, Ghost, scrabble a hand-to-mouth existence amongst the ruins of the City, living in fear of one another, and of the burning rays of the Sun. Some have moved underground entirely, and these scenes did have resonances with Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ for me.

Unknown to many of the City’s inhabitants, others, considering themselves an elite, moved up, into a guarded luxury undreamt of by those below. This is the Elysian Empire: a dictatorship, run by the tyrannical Ursaar.
The Elysian Empire is a skilful and nightmarish blend of the worst of all worlds – think of Nero’s Rome with unbridled genetic engineering, and you’ll have something of the flavour of it. Psychologists would delight in picking apart the various conditions of the Ursaar, who is plagued by paranoia, megalomania, and best of all, a substitute Oedipal complex.

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It is hard to write about this book without including too many spoilers, but I can say that Jensen has created a believable and complex world, peopled by strong characters. Many of them are not beauties, either physically or morally, just as most of us are not in real life. One thing I did love was the way that the book avoided painting anyone as entirely black or white – no-one is an angel, and motivations are mixed and sometimes obscure, again, truly reflecting society. Written as the first part of a series of books, you are often left wondering what people’s real aims are, and I’m sure that will provide ample fodder for the next books.

In the same vein, it was refreshing to have a kick-ass heroine who is strong, and can look after herself, and yet acknowledge that she has doubts and fears just like everyone else. Ghost is no superhero, but perhaps a woman steeled by the hardships of her existence.

There is plenty of action, guerrilla warfare, and even spirituality in The Timekeepers War, which will lead you through a rich world of secret societies, secret passages, steamy townships and impossibly rich gilded imperial gardens. A lengthy but necessary section of explanation and back story in the middle of the book is kept flowing well with intrigues and a deepening of the relationship between the main characters, Ghost and the mysterious Lynch.

Overall, The Timekeepers War is a highly accessible book, which deserved to be widely read. It would make a fine film, and I look forward eagerly to the sequel.

Five stars from me.

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I received a free ebook of The Timekeepers War, in return for an honest review.

Transitions

One of the greatest challenges I seem to face as a writer is managing transitions. As I work and have a toddler, my ‘spare’ time is intensely, painfully precious, and the pressure to use it fruitfully is keen. However, my frustration is that my creativity doesn’t seem to want to work like that. It is a lazy beast, and doesn’t respond well to whipping. In fact, it flips its top lip and sneers at the concept. It needs time to lumber thoughtfully into it’s stride, and I just don’t have that luxury. We need to go from 0 to 60 in under an hour.

My beast may look a little like this, but he is elusive… Image by Sargon the Dark at DeviantArt

I feel like when those opportunities to write do come along, I should be sitting down and pounding out as many hundred words as I can, but somehow mundane things keep getting in the way.
Following a terrific suggestion from readers of this blog, I carry a little notebook with me at all times, and that has been wonderful for poetry and jotting down ideas as they occur. That little notebook is like the slice of ‘me’ that remains just ‘me’, without any other hats heavy with responsibility. However, ideas are building up in there without the time to bring them to their full dreadful glory.
Any other suggestions as to how to manage these transitions better? To go from ‘worker’ to ‘Mum’ to ‘Writer’ in the blink of en eye?

Some possibly useful links I’ve found:
You may not be able to force creativity, but you can certainly invite it.

You cannot force creativity. You must force creativity.

The Power of Forced Creativity

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness

Today, I’m Guest Posting over at the fabulously named “Peanut Butter on the Keyboard”. It’s a blog close to my heart in that it’s run by a group of great women who also manage to juggle writing with motherhood.

So please – pop on over to visit them.  🙂

Guest Kasia James on The Milk of Female Kindness.

 

The Empathy Library

Have you heard of The Empathy Library?

Founded by School of Life member Roman Krznaric, it’s a fabulous new on-line resource to help us to walk in mile in someone elses shoes. It seems an idea very much in the footsteps of what the School of Life has been pioneering: a new and more considered way of thinking about the big issues of life, free from the traditional ways of teaching. If you’ve read any of the books by the philosophers and writers involved, you’ll know just what I mean. In an increasingly ‘blip-vert’ society (extra points if you get the reference! 🙂 ), their work is refreshingly well considered.

The Library contains more than just philosophical works though. As they say:

“What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The Library takes you on journeys to these unknown worlds.

The Library is founded on the belief that empathy can transform both our own lives, and the societies we live in.”

Beyond my personal interest in trying to understand other people, which is always a challenge, I think that the Empathy Library could also be a terrific resource for writers. I want my characters to be believable, and ring true. My imagination, although pretty broad, probably can’t extend to all walks of life without a little guidance, and so I’m looking forward to browsing its shelves. Maybe you should too.

‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is listed in the Empathy Library, in the hope of helping people understand what the experience of being a mother is really like for a range of women around the world.

 

What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpu
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Practical advice for the beginning novelist

Today, I’m delighted to be able to host a Guest post by the talented Cheri Roman, fellow blogger at The Brass Rag, and author of ‘Descent’.  A lady who understands how hard it is to fulfil that dream…

“How do you come up with all that cool stuff in your novels? Your characters and settings are awesome. When I’m reading your novel, it feels like I’m right there. And your villains…” (shudders delicately) “…super evil.”

This is a portion of the fantasy conversation I’d love to have with a reader someday. It ends with the fan asking for my autograph and assuring me that I deserve a Pulitzer. For writing fantasy genre fiction. Hey, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home, I always say.

My fantasy also includes a secluded writing spot; four clean, white walls and a huge bay window through which I can see little forest creatures cavorting on a wide, green lawn ringed by ancient redwoods. No phone, TV, or (gasp) Facebook. Best of all – hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time.

But the operative word here is “fantasy.” These are rare scenarios, unless, of course, you are Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts. (Seriously, have you seen their houses?) For many authors, the writing life looks more like this:

Get up at five a.m., go to your day job. Work all day, constantly distracted by story ideas, terrified that they will escape before you can capture them. You steal the odd moment and write on whatever is handy: file folders, notepads, the desk calendar, napkins. Frustration sets in because you end up accidentally filing, covering, losing or throwing the notes away. You consider getting a notes app on your phone, but you worry that your boss will accuse you of making personal calls on company time.

The work day is over; you hurry home. Ideas are still buzzing between your ears as you maneuver through traffic. You arrive home and the kids/spouse/pets need your attention, so you feed and brush everyone and then, finally, the house is quiet and you hurry to your writing space and….your mind goes blank. You fear you’ve used all your creativity just to get through the day. But you power through. You pull out the crumpled napkin, power-gulp an energy drink and you write. Sometime around four a.m. you stumble into bed where your spouse gives you a sleepy side-eye but you are too tired to notice. You fall into the bed, already unconscious. The alarm goes off at five. Time to start over.

Alternately, you save your writing energy for the weekend and your spouse complains that they never see you, because you spend Saturdays and Sundays behind a closed door with this sign on it:

Warning.pdf-page-001

The writing life is challenging whether you work a day job or not. Business, family and writing pull you in opposing directions. Plus, you have to sleep sometime. But for authors, giving up isn’t an option. Not writing causes mental and emotional agita. So you steal the moments and write the words that torment you until you put them on paper. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. So do it.

That’s my best advice. Create the space in your life for the passionate art of writing well. Surround yourself with like-minded people who support your efforts and dreams. Explain to your significant other how important writing is. Ask for their support. Be courageous enough to say, “no,” in order to guard your writing time. And write. Every chance you get, consistently, creatively, bravely. Write.

Happy New Year!

A great New Year to you all! Hope it’s filled with adventures, calm, deep satisfaction, and new experiences.:)

That’s what I’m hoping for, I think. As usual, I’ll probably be going for it with all the enthusiasm of my little guy.

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It’s been a big year for me – I spent a lot of it looking after my bub, some of it compiling our new motherhood Anthology, The Milk of Female Kindness, and some of it working in what must be admitted was a somewhat half-hearted fashion, considering everything else going on.

I think I need to take advantage of some of that calm I was talking about earlier to consider whether or not I will try and publish my short story collection this year. They are a rather eclectic mix, rather like me – science fiction, speculative fiction, and some which are probably best described just as ‘odd’.MOFK COVER front final

Anyway, if you are looking for a new experience to start off with, I am currently running a Giveaway on Goodreads for The Milk of Female Kindness. It’s not a how-to guide, but a creative look at being a mother, with artwork, poetry, essays, stories and interviews. It will make you think. there are five paperback copies available to the lucky winners, and it’s free to enter, so pop over there and give it a shot! 🙂

 

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

MOFK COVER front final

The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!