January 16, 2018

Can it be? Has the Girl grown up?

Although I've been absent for a while due to family issues, I've still been keeping an eye on the ironies in the world of books and publishing.

Can it truly be - that the next big thing in those infernal "Girl" books actually features a "Woman" in the title? What happened? Is publishing growing up or something?

Article here about The Woman in the Window from The Guardian. 

And which also goes to prove that if any debut author wants to get their Girl or Woman novel start a bidding frenzy, it doesn't hurt to have this in their CV ... "senior editor at the New York publishing house, William Morrow. Prior to that he had been the publisher of the British mass-market crime imprint Sphere ..."

The title isn't completely original though ... 

And not forgetting the original movie of that name!

September 29, 2017

When not doing social media is cool

Hm, interesting article in The Guardian about the tres cool  Zadie Smith who doesn't do social media because she wants to "retain the right to be wrong" and not be called to account over it.

Zadie Smith by Risko (Vanity Fair)

At least she was really lucky to get recognition and establish her career in the years before it became mandatory to flog oneself mercilessly on social media until you draw blood (mostly your own).

All new writers are endlessly harped at by book publishers, agents, creative writing teachers and other well meaning friends to be "out there" networking on social media, even if it can be counter-productive in too many cases. The current approach is that if you haven't got at least a thousand plus followers on your blog, or Twitter or Facebook, you are unworthy of being taken seriously as a writer, even if many of those followers are serial spammers or even a bunch of bots.

Although I'm on social media and I do appreciate its pluses in being able to reunite with old friends or have a laugh at cute kitten videos or support causes I care about, its many minuses have forced me to be low-key. I have the odd flurry of posting comments but have learned not to get involved or respond too quickly to controversial topics or moralising and posturing from either the extreme left or right trying to tell me what I ought to be thinking. (I am a bit over those rainbow-hued avatars at the moment.)

Here are some social media cartoons that hit the nail on the head for me :-

My favourite! [or sic. favorite]

... and a whole bunch more here on this Pinterest page.

September 14, 2017

Judge thyself on book covers

A reader-writer email newsletter has a link to a site that presents you with images of book covers and gets you to give them a stars score out of five and compares your results to those as voted by Goodreads readers.

Some were quite good, most average, and none of them would induce me to drop everything and rush across to the other side of the store or library to investigate whether I wanted to read the book itself.

My score?  Bad. At "48% accuracy", it seems I have have failed the test and have nothing in common with Goodreads readers.

Absolutely nothing impresses you.
If Michelangelo himself painted these
covers you'd still say 'meh.'
Thumbs down.

No surprises - admittedly I'm not a candidate for any book with Justin Bieber on the cover for a start - although I did gasp at a couple of truly ghastly romance titles on which Goodreaders readers gave high scores. 

Here's the link. Have fun! 

July 08, 2017

Girls in the Dark

Previously I've grumbled about the overuse of "Girl" in titles, yet it's a juggernaut that never stops and they keep getting rolled out by publishers week after week. In fact, I'm currently reading one for a future online review plus I have two more in my general reading pile but only because their plot-lines captured my interest enough to overlook their girly titles.

Sigh. I accept defeat.

It's also getting "Dark" out there with two out of nine new titles in the latest crime newsletter from Allen & Unwin being The Dark Lake and The Dark Side. Is this the next trend?

"Dark" often features in titles of fantasy, ghost and horror stories, and I imagine just like "Girl" can be a nightmare (no puns intended) for bookshop owners and librarians: Can't remember the exact name, but it's got 'Dark' in the title" ... so I got to thinking whether novels might work with more imaginative alternative words for "Dark" and I looked up the word on thesaurus.com. (Thesaurus.com is a great way to waste time but also learn a thing or two.) 

Apart from basic Black, there are quite a few options. Would you be tempted by books called The Atramentous Road, The Obfuscous Garden, The Crepuscular Sea or The Tenebrous Way ? Probably not.

And, yup, there are a few novels called Girl in the Dark. (Obviously, you would have to be careful calling your novel The Dark Girl due to possible racist connotations.)

Perhaps you could try The Girl from the Dark. Or The Aphotic Girl, The Cimmerian Girl or The Stygian Girl (probably the best of the bunch)

I also looked up other words for "Girl". All tame or clunky. "Gyrle" might work in fantasy or medieval historical fiction. "Virgin" has all sorts of issues best left alone.

How about The Young Lady on the Train or Gone Lassie ? The latter might appeal to dog owners. But The Damsel on the Locomotive might get somebody excited.

From Akihabara
Love the cadence in this. Maybe we need more titles in Turkish?

The original and the best!

May 19, 2017

A'tishoo A'tishoo, we all fall down

Here is a new clutch of repetitive book titles. 

The old nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o'Roses  etc ... has numerous versions and hotly-debated origins, including that it may have something to do with some long-ago plague in which you sneezed, then went round and round, fell down and croaked. 

After spinning around all the huge number of books that include variations of the last phrase  - All Fall Down, We All Fall Down and  They All Fall Down - I feel ready to fall in a heap myself. (And this doesn’t include all the movies, music albums, poems or songs as well, but there are an awful lot of them from kids’ music to folksy to “explicit” hip hop.) 

So here are just a few random covers of the many books with falling-down titles - quite a number of self-published efforts, plus the odd one to do with drugs or unstable architecture. (Please note clicking on these images takes you nowhere and if interested in any of them you can do your own investigative Googling.)

Yup, all that going round and round ...
This is a pretty cool cover!

Same book, different edition

A really early one from the 1960s

So yet again this is a plea to all authors and publishers out there: you’ve invested all your blood, sweat, tears into writing and publishing your fabulous book but have failed to find a title that will give it the edge in a highly competitive market. It is really worth going that extra mile or two to find one that stands out.

Similar advice here from wiseinkblog and this general list from Goodreads is worth browsing for stand-out titles that we all know well. Just a word of caution; don’t make your title too long because that makes it a bit hard to remember.

On the other hand, though, if you’re aged about 8 or 9, you will find any title featuring Captain Underpants highly memorable. I mean, who could possibly forget a book called Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds)? 

April 17, 2017

Too many books

If you have ever wondered how many books have been published in the world since printing began, you would be set an impossible task, although that doesn't stop some folk from trying to estimate the figure.

This post from Mental Floss figures that last year (2016) there were 134,021,533 books in existence! And here is the link to the Book Statistics from UNESCO with a running total that makes little sense as it will be seen that many countries' statistics have not been updated for 25+ years. 

Trying to imagine so many books makes the mind boggle. I wonder how high that TBR (to be read) pile might stretch - to the moon and back perhaps?

These images pretty well sum up what happens to nearly all books: how quickly this year’s best-seller or prize-winning book will be relegated to a cave or a pit and become just another layer in the archaeology.

Cave of Forgotten Books, copyright Martin Geupe

Master of the Books, copyright Waldemar Bartkowiak

February 19, 2017

The "Sensitivity Police"

The topic of "sensitivity" is again doing the rounds of writers and readers groups with the inevitable heated discussions both for and against. I am alarmed at the whole idea - who is going to police these "sensitivity police"? 

Here is the latest from The Chicago Tribune.

For a while I have been toying with the idea of re-issuing a couple of my earlier novels in e-book format and putting them out there to either sink or swim, but it is largely because of this prevailing politically-correct attitude that makes me reluctant  (OK, absolutely terrified is more like it!) to go ahead.  One title features a huge cast of characters, each with the potential to offend a section of the community in some way.

The story is based on truth, and I made it as historically accurate as I could possibly could. It is set in Central Africa, c. 1880-1920’s, warts-and-all the way it really was back in those days. I undertook years of solid research as well drawing on my own personal connections to people who knew some of the real characters involved. My main protagonist had some surprisingly tolerant views for the time, but my book is bound to fail to pass muster on too many levels.

The lead character is a man  ...
... As you are a woman writer, how can you possibly understand a male viewpoint?
A South African white man who had some enlightened views ...
... Impossible. South African white men are always crude and bigoted bad guys (Hollywood says so, thus we know this is true.)
He’s been a soldier ...
... Nope, as non-combatant female you are not qualified to write about the horrors of being in a battle, of fighting to the death ... etc.
He's a hunter too ... 
... The fact that he has to shoot endangered or protected animals out of necessity will not endear him to the environmentalists and animal protection lobby ...
He also forms and leads an army of black people ... 
... This would be seen as reinforcing all that squirmingly embarrassing imperialist/racist domination stuff, stereotyping, etc. (even if his one saving grace is that he hates Cecil Rhodes as much as those groups of modern student protesters demanding his statues be pulled down) ...
He also has both black and white women in his life ...
... Deeply personal area - if you haven't been involved in cross-racial sex/marriage, what can you possibly know about it ....
And my white man has a loyal black companion ... 
... Ooh, no, mega problem, how dare you try and imagine what this black man felt, what could you possibly know of the terror experienced when he was a small child witnessing the slaughter of his family by slave-traders ...
Then there is the group of misguided missionaries who end up going to hell with their good intentions ...
... But this is quite OK, because mocking Christians messing around in Africa is cool and trendy, for reference, see musical, The Book of Mormon ...
A maniacal witchdoctor ... 
... The International Witchdoctors Federation will sue you for misrepresentation ...
One particularly vile mixed-race slave trader ...
...  Added sensitivity issue here. Nobody is born just plain evil, he got that way due to bullying and racial identity issues as a child ...

I could go on and on ... 

In a real-life world that is increasingly immune to the worst kinds of violence - towards women in particular - and the most horrendous lies and verbal abuse appear daily in the press - why are some so “sensitive” now about such things in fiction? It’s fiction for goodness’ sake. Nobody forces you read it. It is: Invention. Imagination. Are we no longer allowed to have empathy, to try and to reach out and through our writing discover just a little of what it is like to be somebody else, to walk in their shoes. What it is/was like for any other human being in a certain situation, no matter their race or sex or political persuasion? Banning us writing in this way is sinister and echoes the book-burning policies of authoritarian regimes.

As to another novel of mine, also with a male protagonist who really existed and who was associated with an area not far from where I used to live, I haven’t forgotten the earnest and rather stern individual who came up to me at a book-signing and demanded to know what my connection to this man was and what gave me the right to write about him.

Right?! I was so taken aback I was unable to give a coherent answer, utterly at a loss as to why someone thought there was some impediment to me choosing a historical figure whose private life was a complete mystery, who has no known descendants, and for me to create a fictional personal life for him in a novel.  Should I have first rushed about checking that it was okay with his x-times removed distant cousins in Scotland or the fifth-generation descendants of his neighbours and gain their approval? 

During my research, I had contacted individuals in the area with direct links to the man I was writing about and they had been more than happy to give me information and let me have a copy of a portrait in their possession for my book cover. I did not disparage any of their ancestors in my book, but was dismayed when I discovered another recent novel with the same background that had made them into the complete opposites of what they were historically and switched them from religious teetotalers into irreverent and rip-roaring drunks.  Clearly, this writer had no compunction about "sensitivity" or "right" to the story. 

Perhaps my problem is I'm too sensitive ...

Copyright Calvin & Hobbs?