Thursday, 13 October 2016

Does an author have a social responsibility?

Long term readers of this blog may know that I have a novel-length manuscript permanently "on the go". It's provisionally entitled Drawn To The Deep End, and tells the tale of a 30-something wage slave who cannot forgive himself for the part he played in his fiancée's suicide three years earlier. His life spirals downwards under a succession of blows, until he ultimately attempts (but is unable) to take his own life.

Now I've workshopped a lot of this story to death, if you'll pardon the pun, and many of my critique group have had an issue with the ending. I've always defended the story by saying that the protagonist has come to view death as redemption, and that was usually that. I put it down to my group-mates not wanting my (anti-) hero to die.

But this week, after an especially full-on but focused session (just three of us - thanks you, KC and DA) another issue was raised. Did I need to think about the message I was putting out there, into the wider world? Okay, it's unlikely that the book, whenever the manuscript becomes a book, will ever be read by that many people. But even if it's only read by one person, was I comfortable with putting out the message that death, and especially suicide, can be redemption? What if one person who's feeling suicidal reads my book, takes that message away, and acts on it? How would I feel?

So, the bigger question: do authors have a social, ethical responsibility for the message, as well as the content, of what they release to the reading world? I'm starting to think they do. And if they do, when does that outrank the story? Could I, with a clear conscience, release my story with it's current ending if I took the Eastenders approach, and put something at the end of the book along the lines of "if you've been affected by the issues in Peter's story, please call this number of visit that website." Is that enough? Or is that a cop-out?

What do you think?

By the way, if you are feeling affected by Peter's story, why not give the Samaritans a call on 116 123 (UK & ROI) or visit them at Thanks.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Higson. Charlie Higson.

Shaken, not stirred. Charlie Higson signs.
I went to see Charlie Higson last week, not in any comedy setting but as an author, talking about the process by which he came to be entrusted by the Fleming estate with the Young Bond novels. The event formed part of the Noirwich Crime Writing festival (the name of which sits somewhere on the punning scale but I can't decide if it's at the 'genius' end or the 'cringe-worthy'). The event coincided with Charlie's donation of archive materials to the host university.

Charlie came across as a thoroughly good bloke, affable, insightful and funny. For people of a certain age in the audience, like me, he even squeezed in a Fast Show catchphrase (though not from one of this characters)... which was nice.

He's a criminally under-rated author in my view, the success of his YA fiction (he writes the zombie-pocalypse series The Enemy too) overshadowing the excellence of his adult fiction. If you don't believe me, take a peak at King of the Ants and Happy Now.

Anyway, I jotted a (very) few notes of the things Charlie had to say; here are those observations.

  • Talking about Bond, Higson described the spy's dream lifestyle, not in terms of the guns/girls/fast cars cliché but by saying (paraphrase alert) he's not married, he doesn't have children, he lives largely in hotels, he eats largely in restaurants and he goes off doing exciting things. Charlie alluded to the appeal of Bond's lifestyle in part relating to not being tied down with a wife and children again later in the evening.
  • Charlie name-checked author Jim Thompson as a favourite, and influence, mentioning The Killer Inside Me and Pop.1280 in particular, suggesting the latter could be his favourite book.
  • When asked about studying how fiction is written in general, and crime fiction in particular, and how the donation of his archive to the university might support that, Charlie joked, "These days you can study anything, can't you?"
  • When discussing the merit of YA fiction, Charlie recounted how Martin Amis, when asked if he (Amis) would ever write YA, had replied, "Only if I had brain damage."
  • Charlie also mentioned Anthony Horowitz, whose Alex Rider books are often understandably considered alongside the Young Bond series. Charlie explained how Horowitz had once confided that he'd named his protagonist Rider after Honeychile Rider in Dr No, and that he considered Alex Rider to be Bond's illegitimate grandson.

Another, more general observation is how much time Charlie made for everyone in the book signing queue. Nobody was rushed, everyone seemed to have as much time as they needed talking with him. Respect also to the guy ahead of me in the queue who had some Higsons 12" vinyl (this, I think) for signing - Charlie duly obliged. Also of interest were the samples of Charlie's work in the foyer that would be going into the archive, including early drafts of the first Young Bond book, Silverfin, complete with extensive editorial notes. Proof, if proof were needed, of the value of a good editor and trusted, objective feedback, something I've blogged a bit about before.

All in all, this was a terrific evening. There was lots more of interest that I didn't note down, but the whole shebang was filmed, so maybe it'll appear online sometime. I'll keep my eyes open and, if it does, I'll post a link here. In the meantime, go and read some of Charlie's fiction, both adult and YA - you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Unbound? Uncharted...

Was just wondering whether anyone who reads this has any experience of Unbound? Seems to be, for books, what PledgeMusic is for albums. Anyone used it, either as an author or as a pledger? (Pledgee, maybe?) If so, how good/bad/indifferent was the experience?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Freebies - this could be the last time

Both Cold and Turn Around Where Possible are free from Amazon from today, for five days. You can get them here.

I don't often blog about free promotions, because it would get a bit repetitive, but I'll make an exception this time, because it's conceivable that this could be the last occasion these will be free. I'm thinking about bundling them, with some other stories, into a new collection of short fiction, and withdrawing the standalone titles. The collection won't be free.

Get 'em while they're hot, is what I'm saying.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

My children need wine!

I self-published my first title, Dark Steps in August 2011. Since then, I have sold some books. Here's a graph to prove it.

You'll note that I have removed the scale from the Y-axis, but essentially this equates to just over 300 sales across five titles. In the same time period, I have given away, completely free, over 9,000 copies through various channels, nearly all Amazon Kindle Select promotions.

Giving books away for free is fine, I guess, and, barring miracles, writing is never going to enable me to give up the day job. That's fine, I accept that. Fortunately, that's not why I write. But, you know, <plug class="shameless">if you wanted to buy a book sometime, well, that would be fine too...</plug>

Footnote: wondering where the title of this post comes from? Wonder no more. And yes, Euro Itchy & Scratchy Land is a perfect metaphor for sales of my books.