Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thrilling News

So some of you already know what, for an underground urban author, has to count as a dirty dark secret. I also write thrillers.

The Company of Fellows is the first in a series. I've set up a website for them that has puzzles, an alternative guide to Oxford, links to the ebooks and paperback, and all sorts about the lifestyle portrayed in the books (loads of stationery, food & wine :)). Oh, and you can buy it for UK Kindle here.
So here's the pitch
Imagine the Hannibal Lecter novels set in Oxford University. The Company of Fellows is a dark psychological thriller set in the heart of England's oldest university.

Tommy West. Brilliant academic, until a breakdown 12 years ago. He has reinvented himself as a successful interior designer. His new life is comfortable, in every way, and safe. But life without the intellectual challenge is slowly suffocating him.

Charles Shaw. Outspoken professor of theology. Sensualist. Unpopular with all his colleagues. Loathed by his ex-wife. And, as of five minutes ago, dead.

As a student, Shaw was Tommy’s mentor. Now Tommy must draw on the professor for inspiration one more time in order to find his killer. But all he has to go on are a handful of papers for the controversial research the professor was working on when he died. And the Professor’s 18 year-old daughter Becky, for whom Tommy is the last hope to get some closure on the troubled relationship with her father.

The police are convinced the Professor’s death was a suicide, which should make Tommy's hunt easier. Only in this case, the police means his ex, Emily Harris, and her sultry sergeant Rosie Lu.

It is soon clear that the truth about the Professor's death lies buried in the past: somewhere between the night his daughter was born - and her twin sister stillborn - and the day Tommy broke down. But for Tommy the past is a dangerous place, a long way from the safety he has so carefully built for himself. Can he find the answers before time, and his sanity, run out.
And here's the STORY
I put the book up for sale on Kindle on February 25th. So it's now been on sale for a month (almost). Which means it's worth looking at some figures. Because they say a lot about Kindle. The book is $0.99/£0.70, the same price as Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, my literary book. Songs went on sale in May 2010. It's now had 6 five star reviews on Kindle, it's had 11 ratings on Goodreads, a whole host of great reviews from places as widely read as Farm Lane Books and Pank, and been featured on leading ebook sites. It has sold a total of 20 copies for Kindle US and 89 copies for Kindle UK in that 9 month period, a total of 109. Highest ranking about 1,040 on Kindle UK
I have done little promotion for The Company of fellows other than hang out briefly at the forums on Kindle, and tweet a little (the website is brand new). I've had 2 Amazon reviews (both 5 star which is great), got my first Goodreads review yesterday (5 star as well which is super), and have had no reviews outside of that. And my figures:
35 sales for US Kindle
243 sales for UK Kindle, 25 for each of the last 2 days
highest ranking 210
Go figure. I think that says a lot about how little Kindle differs from regular publishing in terms of genre v literary fiction's market.
I will be continuing to write both forms, and am rather enjoying working on the next in the Oxford Thrillers series. I hope that one may one day subsidise the other.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Authors for Japan

There have been some incredible reactions from the creative community to disasters in recent years, and the unfolding tragedy in Japan has been no exception. I want to give a particular mention to two fantastic projects.

First is Authors For Japan, brainchild of Keris Stainton. This an incredible collaboration featuring 175 donations and counting from authors, publishers, agents and editors all up for auction (closing Sunday) - please look around - there are some stunning things up for grabs from signed editions to having a character named after you in a bestseller to mentoring from professional agents. And you can even bid for something of mine HERE. I'm offering a signed copy of The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes, the original cover art, hand drawn, AND an eight cuts gallery free entry for life pass.

Second, put together by the wonderful Frankie Sachs and Sessha Batto, is the New Sun Rising Stories for Japan anthology, which is looking for submissions until April 11th - if you write, please consider submitting something.

A lot of wonderful people are giving royalties. I am always nervous about doing that. I would hate anyone to think I was doing it for publicity, or for long-term personal gain. But in this instance, there IS something I can do. The MAn Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes came to life in the open forum of a Facebook group, so the idea of charging for it at all makes me rather nervous - but giving royalties to charity (the British Red Cross Tsunami Relief Fund) feels appropriate. Add to that the setting of one of the threads in Japan, and the fact that the whole thing is influenced heavily by manga, and the works of both Harui and Ryu Murakami, and it feels like the perfect book to use. So, I have raised the price to $2.99 (meaning each sale will gain the fund about $2), and will be donating all royalties for a year (and probably in perpetuity) from sales of the book and paperback.

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes: 1 day to go

This is the final voice in the book, that of Shuji, the Japanese schoolboy obsessed with Agnieszka, who hasn't set foot outside his bedroom for years.

Chapter 3

Shuji Nomoto stands with his head pressed against the door. He has been listening for ten minutes as his mother, Junko, and his older brother, Yuichi, argue about something inconsequential downstairs. At last he is satisfied there is no one on this floor, but still his muscles pull against him as he puts his fingers on the handle. His grip falters; the sweat on his palm slides against the metal. He swallows hard and listens to the sound of blood in his ears, the quick, quick, quick beat of his heart, the only fragile thing that separates life from death.
Silently – every day he uses oil from his fried tofu lunch to keep the door from making a sound. A crack of strange light appears from the corridor and Shuji winces. Cooler air and the smell of bean curd catch his face and he feels giddy. He closes his eyes, pushes, feels for the tray with his feet, pulls the door, eases the handle back, turns the lock, and leans back against the door, fighting back shameful tears as he waits for his heart to slow.
Eventually he is calm. He sits at his desk, his back rod-straight, and moves his finger in a perfect nautilus spiral on the mouse pad to bringing to life the ageing laptop his mother bought before his confinement began.
One morning, when he was 14, Shuji stepped out of the shower in the corner of his Kobe room and towelled himself dry. He pulled on his underwear, trousers, socks, a vest, and a clean white shirt. He stood in front of the mirror, pulling wax through his short hair, expertly teasing it into spikes between his fingers. Without any warning, he stopped, stared, and saw someone he didn’t recognise staring back at him from the mirror. It was like he was looking at a mannequin in a shop window, a model on a billboard.
There was a stranger in his room, and the stranger was him.
He took off his school uniform, emptied the identikit outfits from their drawer, bundled them into a bag, placed them outside his bedroom, closed the door, and locked it behind him. He washed the gel from his hair, dressed in jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt, sat at his desk, fired up his laptop, and began scouring the internet for every reference he could find to the Byfield Effect (1).
He hasn’t spoken to, seen, or been seen by, another person since.
At first he was fascinated. He devoted every second of his time to understanding the Effect. It felt to him as though knowing it better than he knew anything else in or about the world was all that mattered. He had been given a task of monumental importance, but he had no idea what, or why. All he knew was he had to prepare for it by mastering this theory.
Two years later, Shuji saw the clip of Agnieszka Iwanowa’s death. He played the clip through five times. Each time Agnieszka turned her head to the camera, he pressed his face closer to the screen, trying to decipher her words, to make out what she was saying to him. He knew what he was watching change his life forever, but he had no idea how.
Eventually his eyes hurt so much from the concentration he cradled his head in his hands, massaging his brow with his fingertips. Through the gaps between his fingers, he saw on a piece of paper handwriting he recognised as his own: Nomoto-Byfield Conjecture.

(1) The Byfield Effect, named after the English astrophysicist Professor Sydney Byfield, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the subject, is the phenomenon whereby a cluster of waves – to an observer travelling at close to the speed of light, and in the same direction as the waves – appears to behave like a solid object. It marks the point where the Doppler Effect, whereby waves appear expanded or contracted according to their velocity towards or away from an observer, breaks down. The Byfield Effect notes that as the velocity of the observer approximates the velocity of the waves, a point of turbulence occurs and the waves no longer appear as lengthened or shortened versions of themselves, but begin to appear as particles. Known as the Byfield Point, this is the place where quantum physics and the chaotic mathematics of turbulent systems intersect.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes: 2 Days to Go

I would like to claim credit for originality in writing 1st person plural but I'll acknowledge my debt - as so often - to Murakami. I think the first person plural Eri Asai passages in After Dark are just masterful. They made me want to write in a similar tone. What I have tried to do with that voice, though, is much more like the complicity in the film Man Bites Dog.

Chapter 2

We can see her clearly. She’s sitting with her legs folded underneath her, gripping the phone with both hands. It takes a moment for us to register things are wrong with this image. We have to blink several times, but still our eyes don’t feel right. We look closer, and then we see that although she is sitting on her legs, her legs aren’t on anything.
She’s not floating. Nor is she in a darkened room, lit only by an infinitely precise light. We don’t even have noticeably tunnelled vision. It’s just that we only see her.
Sometimes when we stare at a flecked carpet in summer we sense that something is amiss. Then we notice a movement. A few seconds later we see an ant scurry through the fibres, and suddenly our optic nerve turns on a switch and we see that the whole floor is a teeming sea of ants.
In the same sickening way we see all at once: this is Emma, and she is still 14 years old, the age she was when she disappeared; but the telephone she clutches like a parachute rip-cord is an iPhone; her skin and clothes are blurred. It’s not our eyes. We see the iPhone perfectly well. It’s her.
She is blurred.
She turns. Her eyes make us seasick. Instead of colour there’s a soup of grey strobing and fuzzing. “Where am I?” she asks.
She sounds sad. Or maybe we just imagine that she must be sad, because through the white noise in the pits where her eyes should be it’s impossible to say if she’s crying or not.
“I don’t know,” we reply. “How long have you been there?”
“I don’t know. No, that’s wrong. I’ve been here a day. Only this day seems to happen again and again and again. I don’t know how many times. It feels like someone’s caught it on tape and they keep playing it over and over and over, and the tape’s wearing thin in places. What will happen if they play it too many times and the tape snaps?”
She’s speaking quickly, like she only has one lungful of air and she has to get everything out in that single breath. We daren’t interrupt, even if we could answer her questions, in case she goes silent for ever.
“I’m scared. I don’t understand what’s happening. Would it be better if they stopped the tape and left it in an archive somewhere it could never be played again? Does that make any sense?”
“Tell Dad,” she begins but whatever the connection was, it’s cut. We blink several times. Everything is sharp again. We stare at our computer screens, and Emma exists only in the words we see there.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes: 3 days to go

If you want a little something to keep you going till the release, don't forget you can order my other books through the sidebar links, as well as Cody's and Oli's masterpieces.

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes is told in three distinct voices. We meet each of them in the first 3 chapters. Here's chapter 1. In it we meet what I guess we could call our protagonist if he could be described with such a word. Dan Griffiths is an everyman and a nobody. A 50-something magazine cover designer. The only thing remarkable about his life is what isn't in his life - his daughter, who went missing without a trace one summer's day ten years ago. But like the thousands of other missing persons she's long since been forgotten by everyone except him. He voweed to himself that he wouldn't get locked in the cycle of endlessly pretending she was still there, trapped in a single moment of grief. But the numb nothing his life has become, reduce to Friday nights at the pub with an old college friend and a once a year ritual phone call with his editor, suggests that in this, as in every other aspect of his life, he has failed.

Chapter One

It’s nearly midnight, and I’ve watched Agnieszka die 103 times since I woke.
In that time, the clip has had 274,392 views.
I click the play arrow for the 104th time.
Running on the treadmill like millions of other middle class woman in their twenties. She looks fantastic in her lycra – she has the time and money to do this on a regular basis. Stop here and you’d never have noticed the silver and greens on her feet.
The camera wobbles. Has her friend turned to check out someone on the pec deck? Another tiny wobble, enough to remind you how casual the whole scene is, that she has no idea what she’s about to film – although there’s been speculation about that, of course, just like everything else.
Here it is. Three seconds of footage, the seconds before she stumbles. She turns, and over her shoulder she says something to her friend. It indecipherable. Not one of the people at the gym that day can remember her speaking at all. The best Polish and English lipreaders are clueless.
Everyone in the chatrooms devoted to her has their own theory. She’s calling out to a child she gave away as a teenager in Gdansk; she realises she’s lost her footing and lets out an expletive; she’s begging her friend for help; she’s fluffing up the camera for posterity. The truth is she says something different to everyone who watches the clip. It’s as though, in those final seconds, she’s stepped out of her own body and time and speaks straight to you, the viewer.
Just you.
Just me.
See you, Dad! I’m sure that’s what she says. Every time I watch I’m even more certain. I pause the clip. Play. Pause. Play. Pause. I see her mouth form the shapes.
The gate closes. Her hair moves first, and then her head turns; she looks at me over the burgundy uniform; “See you, Dad!” she shouts. “Take care, love!” I shout back from the kitchen window but she’s already turned away, heading for school.
See you, Dad!
Was that the last thing she ever said? Why say it that morning? Was she worried? Did she know something I didn’t? No matter how many times I go through it, I just don’t know.
“Take care, love,” I whisper at the screen.
Ten seconds and it’s over. Nothing left of Agnieszka but her silver and green Mercury 500 trainers, logos filling the camera like startled eyebrows. The image of the year; of the decade, probably. The picture on every student’s wall, on T-shirts and placards and newspaper spreads. And the reason my boss will call me tonight – the front cover for Epoch magazine’s Review of the Year.
Give me a different angle on it, Sarah will say. Make it fresh. Sure. Three weeks to find a completely new take on the most reproduced, rehashed, reformatted image of the century.
There’s the phone. The ringtone’s the riff from Smells Like Teen Spirit. Emma had Nevermind in her CD player when she left. I let the second bar finish and press accept.
“Hi!” I get ready for the inevitable banter about calling the wrong side of midnight, and click the mouse out of habit.
It’s not Sarah’s voice. It takes a few seconds to place and by the time I do the line’s dead. The phone’s still against my ear and I hear every word in real time, as though the line’s on a delay.
“Dad? Can you hear me? I’m safe but I don’t know where I am. Dad, I can’t explain it but it feels like I’m fading. Like now; I’m shouting but it feels like nothing’s coming out. And sometimes when I look down at my feet I think I can see through them. Does that make any sense? Dad, you have to come and find me. Please.” The line clicks dead.
Find me. Please. The words synch perfectly with Agnieszka’s lips.
“I’m coming, love.”
But she’s already turned away.
She trips, tangles, and the film ends.

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes: 4 days and counting

(please note the links in the sidebar to where you can buy my current books :))

Two years ago, I started a project. I wanted to write a book that was unlike anything that had gone before. That was semi-interactive, with story arcs prompted by readers, a world that moved in and out of focus, gained and lost segments as readers and characters decided, zoomed in on those aspects people really wanted to learn about.

There was a flurry of branding during which I opened my blogger and twitter accounts under the Agnieszka’s Shoes name, and started the Facebook group that became the centre for discussions. A community slowly built, chapters got written, questions got asked, and I learned as much about the story from what was happening in the writing process as I did from the content of the interaction.

And so Dan Griffiths’ dual quest – to reinvent the world’s most copied image; and to find a daughter whose image had been universally ignored – emerged, along with the more important quest behind it – to answer the question why some pictures and stories grab the collective consciousness whilst others are ignored. It’s something we ask ourselves all the time as writers.
I don’t think I’ve answered the question in the book that has emerged. I don’t think that would have been right. I hope I’ve asked lots of the right questions, though. And I hope I’ve created characters and situations that connect in some way with all of us on an emotional as well as an intellectual level.

This isn’t a “story” as such, for all it is structured more conventionally than anything I’ve ever written before – it features not one but two classically constructed quests. Characters enter and leave, some have their own stories that are resolved, others do so leaving traces of questions and no answers. Rather like life. But this isn’t a philosophical book – for all it casts its gaze over the meaning of many of the elements that make up (post)modern life – art, the internet, loss, memory, love, beauty, and most of all numbness. If it is any one thing, it’s an emotional scrapbook, in which some of the cut-out pieces are ripped from our own lives.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who was part of that original group, for your support and your inspiration, and for the directions you sent me in – in particular thank you for the prominence you wanted me to accord Shuji – he’s turned into a character I am very fond of. A special mention has to go to three people. First, the wonderful Penny Goring. It was, if I remember rightly, this rather bonkers idea that first brought me into contact with Penny, and as I prepare to publish her debut collection I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for that. Second, I want to say thank you for her encouragement to the amazing Jessica Brown, one of the most creative people and fertile imaginations I know, whom I met through the group and who has gone on to run the incredible Defiled Curator site. But most of all a huge huge thank you to Tony Malone (whose great Reading List blog you’ll see in my blogroll) for kicking me up the backside consistently for two years every time I thought it would be easier to stop one chapter before the end. The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes is dedicated to him.

Over the next 3 days, I will post the first three chapters from the book, and then, on Saturday, I will post the buy link – it will be $0.99/£0.70 like my other books. I hope you enjoy reading it. I can honestly say of everything I’ve ever written, it’s the thing about which I have most doubts, but the thing of which I’m proudest – which is exactly as it should be for a book like this.

The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes

Why are there some images we just can’t look away from, whilst others fade without us ever noticing they were there?

When mysterious Polish woman Agnieszka Iwanowa's tragi-comic death in a gym accident is uploaded to YouTube, the film's final image of her upturned trainers is rehashed by everyone from right wing extremists to a reclusive installation artist who only speaks through his dominatrix PA.Now Dan Griffiths has to make the image fresh.

The search for Agnieszka's secret slowly overtakes Dan’s search for his own daughter, missing for ten years, ignored by the media, and now sending him - and the reader - glimpses of messages from what seems like another world.Dan’s journey sucks him into the worlds of political extremism; BDSM; a haiku-composing graffiti artist; an online community devoted to the dead girl, and its reclusive Japanese schoolboy moderator who has just paid half a million dollars for the diary of a scientist whose work he believes will enable him to bring Agnieszka back from the dead.

This is a story about a world gone numb, a world in which pain is the only thing that's real