Friday, 22 January 2010

Banned Books

Many apologies. This is a pluggy thread. Apologies also for the fact it contains largely the same material as I posted on the Year Zero site yesterday. But I wanted to tell everyone because I'm excited. Actually I'm more than excited. On February 4th, at rough Trade Records, Brick Lane, London, 6-8.30pm, the Year Zero Live tour begins. Full details here on our website. There are so many reasons I'm excited I don't know where to start. So I'll start with the big news: Daisy Anne Gree's "Hearing Voices" event teaser is out, and here it is!
But before you watch it, I should explain the other big news, which is that only a few hours after we'd posted the video, Facebook had had it reported and were banning it from being posted any more. Why we can't quite tell. We think it may be because Daisy's voiceover touches on a suicide attempt. Sure, the first reaction is COOL! WE GOT BANNED! But the second reaction is what the hell kind of sick world do we live in where we get banned for being open about a mental health issue when Facebook allows all kinds of bilious groups to proliferate. Let's just say, it's given us blog material.
Anyway, make your own mind up - but be warned, I guess. If you like it, do tell other people to watch it. I think it's one of the coolest book trailers out there.

Hearing Voices (link to YouTube video)

That's the two of us reading, by the way. So we have a trailer. And we have one of the coolest tour posters on the planet, courtesy Sarah E Melville, based on the cover for Thirteen Shadows Waiting for Sunrise, the anthology we're touring.

We also have a confirmed second date: 23rd February at To Hell With Books in Woburn Place. And the Oxford event will be held during the Oxford Literary Festival - 20-28 March. And we have notice that Jenn is going to be reading in New York in February too!

So what can you expect if you come along to Rough Trade?

Well, the whole gig is FREE, for which you get:

5 writers

me reading SKIN BOOK

3 amazing musical acts

You'll also be able to buy a whole load of books and CDs and Year Zero merch, any and all of which we will sign.

Most of all, I'm excited because we get to perform together, and in a few cases meet each other for the first time!! And I'm hoping we'll get to meet some of you!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Dear Publisher

Thank you for sending me your contract for consideration. I am sure you will appreciate that talented authors receive many unsolicited contracts. Nonetheless, I am aware that a publisher like yourself relies upon discovering new talent in order to keep its lists fresh and win new readers, so I hope that you will not be too disappointed that in this case I am declining your kind offer. I wish you all the best in seeking exciting new talent elsewhere.

I understand that it is frustrating to receive a form rejection from an author, without any elaboration on specific areas to work on in your contract. I hope that the following general points may help you in your future submissions.

1. An author relies for their living upon a day job. They write, edit, and network in the evenings, at weekends, and in lunch hours and teabreaks. A publisher's advance, the largest incentive for an author to sign a contract, is not sufficient for them to give up their day job with any security.

2. Many talented, exciting authors write work that will not appeal to large readerships. Publishers need to sell large amounts of books. The result of this tension is that many of these authors will fail to recoup publishers' outlay within their first two books, and it will not be viable for publishers to keep them on board.

3. Without a publisher, a writer is under no such pressure, and will not be junked if their initial books "fail".

4. Should a writer achieve initial success wit ha publisher, they will be expected to produce similar works, and not explore or develop their talent.

5. Without a publisher there is no pressure to change for a writer the way they write in order to fit market needs.

6. Without a publisher there is the freedom to experiment, change genre at will, try, fail, try again, fail again, and devlop one's talent, voice, and potential to the full.

7. With a publisher a writer must concede control over cover design, the way their work is presented to the world.

8. The long cycle of the publishing industry means that the time from pen to audience inevitably freezes some of the initial energy and excitement of the creative process, leading to a less real and invigorating feedback process between writer and audience, and a less meaningful feedback loop.

9. With a publisher, a new writer loses editorial control. Not just total control of final cut, but control of which editor to use in the first place. An editor must have two qualities - the ability to be utterly ruthless; and absolute sympathy with an author's aims. An author needs to be free to select their own, trusted, editor.

10. Pricing - whilst unsigned, the author is free to set the price for all their books - and other merchandise. This includes setting the price at free should the author wish to do that with, for example, their ebooks. It also means the freedom to create and price specila and limited editions of their work.

In conclusion, I am afraid that an author must consider not just their short-term but their long-term future. And whilst I am sure that your kind offer, were I to accept it, would put me in a financially more advantageous position one year from now, and possibly three years from now, compared to that if I reject it; I am afraid that the models I have run show that in five, ten, and twenty years - that is, over the course of my career - there is no financial advantage, and in many models financial disadvantage, in my accepting.

I wish you every success in your future publishing career.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Countdown: 2 weeks till SKIN BOOK goes on sale

You may have been following my latest project, SKIN BOOK, over at Year Zero. Probably you haven't been :) Anyway, you can read it all for free over there, but if you want a little something in your hands, complete with artwork and design by the amazing Sarah E Melville, there's only two weeks to wait.

The hard copy of SKIN BOOK will not be a standard paperback - that just wouldn't fit the book. It will consist of 8 double-sided high quality cards, of A6 (5.5" x 4.5") size, punched and threaded on a bootlace - like a lanyard programme you'd get at a festival - only bootlaces go with the feel better than lanyards. Price will be under £5 + postage if you order online, or less postage if you buy direct from our live gigs - such as the event at Rough Trade Records, Brick Lane on Feb 4th at 6pm.

SKIN BOOK is a prose poem, first performed in full at Free-e-day live on December 1st. It tells the story of a woman, never touched by another living human, who writes her lonely memories in her SKIN BOOK, her diary made of human skin. And her love for a man who spends his days stalking strangers on the subway, women he can never touch.

Above, you can see Sarah's amazing cover. Which you can have hand tinted in red or not according to taste (but no extra expense). Below you'll see chapter 1. There are also three exclusive, full-page art pieces by Sarah. I hope it's the kind of collectors' edition that you'll consider worth spenidng a fiver on.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The View from the Shoe: Sheena Says

I met Sheena Ignatia on Authonomy, but she is a prolific tweeter, in the guises of @jeannealogy and now @sheenasaysstuff. She is the author of Jeannealogy, a hilarious series of multimedia love-hate letters/journals from her to her mother-in-law. You can find her at and

So, in her own words:

· Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
I had to google Louboutin. I’ve never heard of it, I thought it might have been cheese. I like cheese. So Converse, or maybe adidas two-stripe, or whatever I find on the floor at the Primark sale. Don’t think I would go for adidas four stripe though.

· What do you do?
I created a new social science called Jeannealogy. It’s the study of Jeanne, my mother in law. She is one big sack of crazy, so I tell people what she does, on the internet. And I am quite rude about her and I post pictures of the awful free gifts that she sends us from the catalogue. I got a real treat for Christmas!

· Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
Lots of people tell me horror stories about their in laws, but I have yet to come across anyone who has an in law who checks the frozen aisle at Tesco’s for eye of newt and toe of frog, like Jeanne does.

· What do you really, really love about it?
I normally start to write when I am angry, I have been furious at times. Then, when I reach the end of a Jeanne blog entry, I am laughing my socks off. Yes I know it’s bad to laugh at your own jokes, but I can’t help it. Besides Banana The Poet says it’s okay to laugh at your own jokes… if you haven’t heard them before!

· A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
More money, lots and lots of money. Enough money to emigrate, far, far away from Jeanne.

· Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
I love Spain, so desayunos would be at the Guinness Bar in Benidorm. Toast and butter and maramalade and a camomile tea. Although last time I had that for breakfast there, the toast tasted a bit like sausages. Weird.

· What’s your Jimmy Choo?
And what’s just cobblers? Nothing in life is more satisfying than spotting a £2 flight on a budget airline site, booking it and getting the email confirmation. I know, I know… carbon footprints- but I can’t help it. I love sunshine! What’s just cobblers? Well, there are rumours our local chippy is trying pass off cobbler as cod. I don’t mind though, if sausage infused toast with marmalade doesn’t bother me, then I am hardly going to be upset about fish.

· Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
My brother’s friend, Ste, who famously reads only bus timetables and football programmes couldn’t wait to get home from work to read the rest of my blog. He was so engrossed, it even prevented him from logging onto his favourite pornography sites. Allegedly.

· Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Independent and rich! I’d still book budget flights though!

· Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Napoleon Dymamite. Why? Have you seen Napoleon Dynamite? Wouldn’t he be great at that?

· Frocks or socks?
Socks are a bit of a sore point at the moment, I bought 3 pairs of purple socks from the pound shop. Wore them for one day and they kind of disintegrated, all of the cotton seemed to disappear and I was left with the mesh skeleton of the socks. It looked like I had trimmed a bit of net curtain off, and wrapped it around my feet. So, frocks. Definitely frocks.

Thanks ever so much for asking me Dan

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Muse, don't look at me like that!

Beatrice, Edie Sedgewick, the Dark Lady. Nine of them who flounced around Mount Helicon. Not to mention a great guitar band. Artists and writers frequently talk about their muses. The person - or, indeed, object, or place (Woody Allen's New York, for example) - who not only stirs something creative insode them, but makes that creativity come gushing out in golden form - transforms it as it touches the page into greatness.

But is there a darker side to the muse? In one sense, there very obvioulsy is, and it goes back to Platonism and the worship and objectifictaion of the spiritual. The muse is placed on a pedestal, worshipped, and, as a result, denied genuine reality - museishness is to blame for a lot of our less beneficial conceptions of women, for example.

But I mean another dark side - for the artist or writer or musician.

For me, the idea of a muse is rather terrifying. I imagine my muse, if I had one, staring at me - taunting or sneering - "You dare to call THAT worthy of me?" she harumphs, turning her back and leaving me staring at a blank page.

The point I want to make is this. there is a very fine line between inspiration and intimidation. Between the object of beauty who touches you and opens a creative spring and an ethereal form that's just "out of your league" - that you could never do justice, so you end up snivelling in self-pity, and struck down by block, like an opera composer waiting a lifetime till they're ready to produce a piece for the voice of their generation.

When you're a teenager you're desperate for a muse. A boy or girl in the class above, possibly a friend of your brother or sister - someone to bring out the Byronic in you. And when you find them, you aften will write a great torrent of, er, romantic twaddle, in your efforst to impress. Later you will look back ashamedly, and every time you write FOR someone or thing you will possibly be struck with fear of doing a similar hatchet job. Add in a mix of idealisation and you have a recipe for paralysis - we can, after all, never give a sacrifice worthy of the gods.

For me it's not people who act as intimidating muses - it's notebooks. I imagine if I have a beautiful hand-boundleather journal I will write something worthy of it. But I can never find a sentence good enough and so I sit and stare, and anything any good I DO write by hand is always in a skanky notebook I bought in bulk from a Polish supermarket.

Yet we feel instinctively that art is about eros, about love, about, in short, muses. So how do we avoid paralysis and create something decent as the result of having a muse?

The answer's simple: forget about doing justice TO your subject; forget about writing something FOR someone. Instead, this is a time when a writer/artist needs to be introspective. What is it your subject/muse inspires in YOU? Look within, and describe the fire, the turmoil and the raging passion you find there. Considerations of worthiness go out of the window - the muse will enter only as a marginal character, a penumbra for the piece, but unmistakably present in the form of those qualities that inspire those particular thoughts. This way you will ACTUALLY do justice to them - not as idealised object but as active subject stirring your passions. And you will connect with your audience, will enable them not just to admire but to feel as you feel.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Interview/Review: Tan Su Yin's Through The Storm

Today's post is a mix - I get to review a copy of the super Through the Storm by Tan Su Yin, and then have the pleasure of interviewing her.

I was delighted to receive a copy of Tan Su Yin's Through the Storm, having come across the book through the Aspiring Mangaka and Writers' Club, and been intrigued by both its pitch and its exquisite cover. Through the Storm is, at heart, a love story, following the (I will struggle to avoid puns) tempestuous relationship between Eric and Viki. eric has been washed up on the shores of Phuket following an attack at sea, and subsequent storm. When Viki finds him, he is near to death, and she slowly nurses him back to health.

Further tragedy strikes when Viki's parents are killed by a powerful tsunami, but tragic as this is, it creates a further point of contact with Eric, who still mourns his mother. Even as love blossoms, though, danger is never far away, as the frustrated attackers learn that Eric is still alive, and continue their relentless pursuit. Can he elude them without losing Viki?

I particularly loved the very opening of the book, I have to confess - the passage when Viki finds Eric is very reminiscent (consciously?) of the scene in the Odyssey when Nausicaa finds Odysseus asleep on the river bank. The tender nursing passages, with their beautifully rendered descriptions of herbal dressings, brought to mind scenes from the English Patient. That's a pretty heady set of reminiscences.

Tan Su Yin's elegant, understated prose works wonderfully for romance, conveying tenderness without being mawkish, and - very satisfyingly - never shying away from physical horror yet managing to remain centred in calm. If there were weaknesses, I would say that the strength of the romantic sections outshone the thriller/action aspects of the story, which did not suit the prose style quite so well. I would have liked more tenderness and less action, but then I'm a hopeless romantic with my reading tastes. I would also have liked a little more geographical calm to match the style of the piece. But by the time the ending comes, tranquility is restored and the author is back in total control of her material, delivering a thoroughly satisfying finale.

In conclusion, Through the Storm is a romance with a satisfyingly hard edge to it, and Tan Su Yin is clearly an author full of promise, her style composed and elegant. I look forward to more, and very much hope one day to read the pure romance she was born to write.


1. You refer in your acknowledgements to Winglin and Fanstory. Would you care to share a little about the sites, and how hey helped you to get your book to the stage where you felt it was ready?
Winglin is an amateur site where teenagers and young adults gather to read and write fanfiction on their fave movie stars, most of whom are Asians. There's a comments page accompanying each chapter you post. Once you catch their imagination, they will really cheer you on and literally drag you to the finishing line with their persistence. I daresay that, if not for them, the first draft of Through The Storm would really have a challenged birth, if at all! Now, Fanstory is different. It is a gathering of serious, aspiring writers, some of whom have honed their writing skills to a point where they are able to advise others on the dos and don'ts of writing. A few of them are published authors in their own rights. I still remembered the first few posts I made way back in 2004. The reviews were gentle but firm, some unflattering, others too ego-boosting to be taken seriously, even with a large spoonful of salt. Through their comments, I reworked Through The Storm many times over, taking 2 years to churn out what you see published. My second book went through the same initiation rites, albeit less painful as these same advisors became friends, who provided feedback on the credibility of the plot, any gaps in the storyline, how they take to the protaganist and villians, suggestions for improvement etc.

2. I was very impressed with how well edited the book was - how did you set about that?
Why, thank you! I went back to read the book, just to see how well edited it was, and completed five chapters this time before I spied one missing word. Yep, there are still little nits there, but certainly the two years to rework the book, plus investing in an editor who is also a published author, helps. I now have a burning desire to edit it some more! The dialogue was so stilted, and the pace of writing a tad too fast in some places when I should have taken time to show the reader what was happening. I guess I have the liberty to do it since this is a POD.

3. The opening of Through The Storm reminded me very much of The English Patient - is that a book you had in mind whilst writing?
Heavens, no. I have never read the book. I didn't have any book in mind when I first started Through The Storm. The first chapter emerged a few days after the tsunami, which wiped out hundreds of thousands of lives, struck Asia in 2004. I was truly affected by it. Seeing the photos, reading about the devastation and heartbreak, it made me realise how unpredictable life can be, and how important it is treasure our loved ones, spend time with them, show how much we care … today, this very day, for tomorrow may not be there.

4. Your cover is utterly exquisite - and fits the book very well. How important was it for you to get that right?
How important is your first baby who took three years to take form and emerge from your womb? I enjoyed creating her, dressing her up, making sure she is presentable, likeable and attractive. Again, many thanks for your compliments, Dan. The artist I used is a local and teaches art as a profession. My second book uses an artist from China.

5. What are you working on now?
I'm working on my third book. I've said this in answer to many enquiries since January this year and yet I am still at the start of the second chapter. I wonder at times whether it will go beyond that, whether my passion has fizzeld out, or am I fortifying myself for the making of a masterpiece. Perhaps I'm just plain busy ... and lazy.

6. How would you like people to remember you as an author?
Interesting question. I have never quite thought about this. However, one thing I consciously do in the two books so far is to introduce the Word of God at the most unexpected time, and let the readers understand the awesome price God paid by sending Jesus, his only begotten Son, to us. I will never be a C. S. Lewis, who draws parallelism in the most beautiful way on God and his teachings. I can only say that I try.

Thank you so much, and do feel free to add anything you like.
Thank You!

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Whilst writing SKIN BOOK, and swearing blind to anyone and everyone who'd listen that it WASN'T A POEM but a flash novel, I got a terrible sinking realisation that maybe in 2010 I OUGHT to write a poem.

So I entered up to do a live reading at a local arts festival in the poetry category to make myself write something.

The problem was, I soon realised it was impossible to turn off my story-writer's plot brain. And my OCDish feeling that every rhythm must be carried to its resolution. So filling the 3 minute time slot seemed pretty nigh impossible. Instead I decided to commit myself to a proper, full-length poem that I'll perform at a dedicated reading later ni the Spring. It's called Freakshow.

But, after days and days of agonising, wondering if I could just do a chapter of SKIN BOOK (ignoring the fact IT'S NOT A POEM :p), deciding the local blue-rinses would actually physically expire if I did, I came up with something. The product of torture, pain, despair, it goes by the delightful title:

A bordello in the chambers of my heart

Life says
There’s a bordello in the chambers of your heart,
Under the eaves
The semi-dark breeze
The pigeon scat and bat-soaked beams.
Life takes off its come-stained raincoat
In the orange-grey
Hot rock melting-sweet-syrup-smack
Cigarette bud light,
A thousand sweat stench scents
String out on the scab slab floor
Seep spores leaching into gravestone paving.
Life looks up at me,
Dangling skirt flap,
Bird crap,
Its palm and fans me a light
And scans
And whispers
Is that right?
I spark up
And hum
Yeah, that’s my price.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Hold a Self-publisher to account: Month 4


smashwords - 335

Scribd - 7

Total - 342 (forecast: 300)

Lulu direct: 3

Bookshop: 2

Total: 5 (forecast 5)


1 Dec - Words with Jam ezine is issued, featuring 2 columns of mine, both mentioning Songs

1 Dec - Free-e-day

6 Dec - my article on "The Inconvenient Truth About Voice" republished on Publetariat

8 Dec - Songs enters the Smashwords top 50 (the only time I tweet a link this month)

13 Dec - Songs features on Deborah Riley-Magnus' Christmas Shoppnig recommendations

16 Dec - Songs reviewed by Guy Gonzalez on Google Reads - receiving 4 stars

18 Dec - Songs on the smashwords premium catalogue (again?)

18 Dec - Thirteen Shadows Waiting fro Sunrise released


I met both targets this month, which was very pleasing. Analysis of the download graphs, though, is confusing. There was the anticipated spike for Free-e-day, and also a (surprisingly large) spike for one tweet mentioning I was in the top 50 on smashwords. But there was a major month end spike, with well over 20 downloads on each of 4 days in the last week of December, correspondnig, as far as I can tell from google, to no particular event - all I can suggest is people at home with new Kindles they want to load up.

The 3 sales on Lulu, 2 of them to strangers (I still have no idea who) were particularly pleasing. I was right that family bought no copies for Christmas, though. I have a feeling, from the timing of these, they may be connected to Guy's review - which is a thumbs up for Google Reads if that's true.


I don't have an ISBN as I'd imagined I would - in the end I decided to hold out, and will do so again this month.

I will be fairly quiet promotionally this month because I'm busy arranging the Year Zero live gig on 4 Feb (when I hope to sell several copies) and preparing SKIN BOOK for physical release at the start of February. I will, however, begin teaching creative writing classes at the Albion Beatnik, which may lead to a sale or two, although I will not be actively selling, of course. IMAY also do a reading in Bristol on the 25th. We are also expecting Year zero reviews from Alternative Reads over the next 3 months, but it is impossible to say when this will happen.

On the download front, I am due for read and review at the efictionbookclub in the week of January 7th, which I hope will bring me some independent reviews I can start to use in promotional material. Advance, diligent downloading by the lub's readers MAY, of course, account for the late December spike - in which case do not expect a mini spike in a week's time.

All of which make predictions difficult for January - I am hoping February will be more predicatble with a series of readings and bookshop discussions. I will play safe an forecast 5 sales but push and predict 400 downloads, in the hope that I will receive positive recommendations from efictionblookclub.