Month: August 2017

Books You Should Read But Have Probably Never Heard Of

Listen, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not particularly well-read, especially not for a writer. I read a lot when I was small, but it’s something I’ve let slide as I have progressed into adulthood. Perhaps it is because of my own unwritten rule that I don’t read when I am working on my own writing – I have been doing quite a bit of that in the last few years. But when I do read, you can guarantee I find the very best of the weird and the wonderful, the very highest of brow, to tickle my literary taste buds. Here are some of my favourites.

20170820_132124

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun – Neil Rushton

This is certainly not a book for the faint-hearted, nor the easily offended. It is the story of one man’s descent into madness – or possibly his return to sanity, depending on your point of view – through the controlled use of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs. It is rather Joycean in its lack of linear narrative, but is surprisingly easy to follow, although the fruity language might be a bit off-putting for some. As might the occasional foray into very dark subject matter, although it is written with such explicit beauty and care that even some of the most unthinkable elements become pure poetry. It is weird, it is challenging and I have never read anything quite like it – and never enjoyed a book in quite the same way, either.

20170820_132545

 

The Mullet – Hairstyle Of The Gods – Mark Larson & Barney Hoskyns

Once upon a time, I would only go out with chaps who had mullets. No, really. It was a dark time in my dating history, but it did at least introduce me to this fine tome, which really does contain everything you need to know about the most controversial and enduring haircuts of all time.

We learn the history of the mullet (it goes back to prehistoric times!) and its evolution, the various types of mullet and where they can be found – there’s even a handy guide to mullet wining and dining. If you have ever been curious about the ‘shorty-longback’, this book will tell you everything you never wanted to know.

20170820_134040

Filthy Lucre – Simon Rose

A book about corporate corruption and insider dealing sounds neither interesting nor funny, but this unlikely book manages to be both. It was published in 1990, so bits of it come across as rather dated, but this only adds to the charm. It was, apparently, serialised as a cartoon in the Mail On Sunday at the time, which is fairly unusual. I would say this is a classic British farce, with plenty of good-humoured smut mixed with astute satire that could probably benefit from being modernised, but is hugely enjoyable as it is. There are quite a lot of rude bits in it, too.

 

20170820_134115

Yes Minister – The Diaries Of A Cabinet Minister – Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay

I saw this on a friend’s bookshelf and swiped it immediately to read on the train. This is volume two, so one assumes there is a volume one also, perhaps even a volume three. Anyway. This is presented as the collected diaries of the fictional Minister for Administrative Affairs James Hacker and is basically a direct adaptation of the utterly brilliant TV programme from the 80s. It stays true to the television series and is a brilliant light read for fans of the original. While Filthy Lucre demonstrates how business and technology have moved forward in leaps and bounds, Yes Minister shows us that Whitehall hasn’t changed at all. The debates around surveillance and personal privacy are as pertinent now as they were then, not to mention their views on what was the EEC (now, of course, the much-discussed EU). I could go as far as to peg Humphrey as a Remainer and Hacker as a Brexiteer. I shall certainly be doing my best to get my hands on volume one. Hopefully, my friend has it and I can steal that too.

20170820_132158

Crap Taxidermy – Kat Su

Quite frankly, this is the best thing ever published. I mean, ever. It does exactly what it says on the tin and provides page after page of some the worst, the funniest and the most downright bizarre examples from the eclectic world of taxidermy.

This is the perfect book to bring out at dinner parties and hand around between courses – who couldn’t fail to love this earnest-looking bear or the dieting fox?

20170820_132433

This is my personal favourite. He (it’s definitely a ‘he’, isn’t it) looks so pleased with himself, doesn’t he? There is even a section at the back of the book that talks you through your own home taxidermy projects, step by step. I haven’t tried this, however, so cannot say how helpful it really is. But the main point of this delightful publication is to enjoy the efforts of other (assumed) amateur taxidermists and enjoy them you will, let me tell you.

So there we have it. I hope I have introduced you to some hitherto little-known literary gems that would otherwise have passed you by. No need to thank me, it has been my pleasure.

Hide & Seek – Part Thirteen

Despite the bounteous breakfast consumed not an hour or so since, Captain Hastings felt the beginnings of a small rumble in his stomach. It was another fine day in the Norfolk coastal town of Tunkle-on-Wyme and a salty breeze chased about the streets, gently ruffling his immaculate golden thatch. The sea air is said to be good for the appetite and Hastings was content to attribute to this his unseemly greed. It had been quite an eventful morning thus far, with the discovery of another body; poor Maggie the maid now joining the ill-fated Clara in the list of victims of a unknown rapscallion. Whilst Clara was clearly bludgeoned in the most despicable manner, Hastings and Japp had immediately taken Maggie’s hanging to be suicide. But the great Hercule Poirot had other ideas.

As he continued along steep, narrow streets made all the more treacherous by flint and cobble underfoot, Hastings began to see how obvious it was that Poirot had come to the conclusion he did. Firstly, there was no stool or chair anywhere beneath the body that would have been kicked aside in a suicide. Secondly, the keen eye of the famous detective had spied an unusual wearing of the rope along its length, suggesting that it had been dragged across the beam whilst bearing weight. Maggie was already dead when the noose was placed around her neck and then hoisted into position. Poirot was confident that on examination of the body, another cause of death would be discovered.

The rope was one thing but it gave Hastings the pip to think he hadn’t noticed the absence of a stool beneath the body. Perhaps this was why he had been despatched into town to find a mechanic, rather than assist with the investigation, which had now taken a much more urgent turn. In truth, Hastings did not mind too much. Questioning suspects had never been his strong point and it was true to say that he was slightly more concerned about the state of the car than he was the murders. Murders happened all the time in London and were usually for some good reason or other, but the vandalism of a motor vehicle was a mindless crime against common decency. Also, Derbyshire had mentioned that the mechanic was next to the bakery and Hastings was very much in the mood for a pastry.

Hastings soon found the mechanic’s workshop at the bottom of an unusually severe incline, which struck him as a most inconvenient location to be reached by vehicles of any kind, let alone ones needing the attention of a mechanic. In fact, it struck Hastings that Tunkle-on-Wyme was not at all an ideal place for motor cars. The streets, although pretty in their own way, were crowded on either side by quaint buildings fashioned from the local flint, their painted wooden doors and window frames resplendent in cheerful pastel shades. The cobbles on the roads would make any journey a bone-rattling experience, that is if one could make it more than a few feet before being stopped in one’s tracks by a marauding flock of geese, or old women carrying unfeasibly large baskets of fish or some such thing. Charming, but hardly practical.

Tempting aromas of fresh bread and sweet treats mingled with the briny breeze and Captain Hastings would have followed them directly through the door of the bakery, had the quirky rolling Norfolk lilt of the mechanic not drawn his attention.

“Mornin’, sir, its thar summit thass ah kin help yew with?”

Hastings turned to address the beaming, oil-smeared face of a man who appeared entirely comprised of grime and overalls. He stood beneath a painted sign declaring the premises to be ‘Took’s Automative Centre’ and was wiping his hands on a cloth that was filthier than he was.

“Good morning,” replied Hastings, fervently hoping the fellow didn’t offer him his hand. “My name is Hastings, I’m staying at Somersby Hall and I’m having a problem with my vehicle. You are Mr Took, I take it?”
“Yis. Everrone calls me Tooky,” replied the mechanic. “Somersby Hall, eh? Yew’re a furriner, then?”

Hastings returned a blank stare, wondering if the chap was speaking English.

“A vister to these parts?” Tooky continued. “Nivvermind. Wassisit the matter with your car?”

“All four tyres have been damaged, I’m afraid,” Hastings replied, hoping he was answering the question he thought he was. “It’s a Delage D6-11, do you think you can find me the correct tyres?”

“Thass a hoolly rare ‘un of a car, sir, yew know.”

“I’m sorry..?”

“Ah dint have the right tyres here but ah can ax about and bring them acrorst to the Hall afore too long,” Tooky pulled a grubby roll-up from his top pocket and rummaged around for a box of matches. Hastings held his breath as oil stained hands fumbled to get the roll-up lit. “Lady Bottomclutch is a primmicky maw, ent she sir? I had the vicar in here yisty axing about the wedding car and he had a raw mouth on him over her Ladyship.”

Tooky sucked the roll-up into life as Hastings tried to make sense of what he was saying.

“Wedding car? Is someone getting married?” asked Hastings.

“Yis! Ent that why yew’re visting? Yew know, it whar the vicar’s son that were putting up parts with their new maid and now they’s havvin to get spliced. Ah allus thought James Philpott ent the marrying kind, if you get my drift, all that velvet an’ lace. Still, tha mardle of the town says they done the dutty and bein’as the maw had a fat pot on ‘er it muss be true.”

“Sorry – are you saying that James Philpott is the father of Maggie’s baby?”

“Yis! Ah’d have said it was squit ’til I seen the girl meeself.”

“And you say that Mr Philpott was complaining about Lady Bottomclutch?” Hastings continued.

“Hold yew hard, ah’m not saying no one said nowt,” replied Tooky, dragging hard on the limp stub of his roll-up. “With all yews furriners about I dussent gev over to mardling!”

“There are other… furry… types… about?” said Hastings, getting a feel for the local lingo.

“Ah seen one ah em lassnight on the way back from The Cat & Compass,” replied Tooky, nodding. “But ah’s full ‘o tha sluss and ah dint see the face. It were late. He was in the telephone box on the high street. Bloody furriners. Howsomever, ah’ll bring tha tyres acrorst tha Hall, arright?”

Tooky threw the tattered remains of the roll-up to the floor, tugged at his cap and sauntered back into the gloom of his garage. Hastings felt that he had garnered some very important information here this morning, if only he knew what the devil the fellow was talking about.

From Blog To Bookshelf

It has been pointed out to me that in recent interviews I have spoken at length about how I started writing – this is mainly because it’s one of the questions that always crops up in interviews, so it’s hardly surprising. My PorterGirl series started life as a blog (this blog!) and it is generally accepted that authors should have a blog or similar web presence. Say what you like about Fifty Shades Of Grey, but EL James started off blogging and it didn’t do her any harm. Neil Gaiman cut his teeth in fan fiction and even Charles Dickens could be considered an early blogger, publishing his works in serialised form for public consumption. So there’s definitely something to be said for it. Even so, blogging and writing novels are completely different disciplines so don’t assume that if you do one it will lessen the work of the other.

20170405_194548

There are lots of different types of blog and I cannot profess to knowing the secrets of gaining millions of followers overnight, making your posts go viral or earning vast sums of money from blogging. There are plenty of articles online promising all sorts of wonderful results, if you feel so inclined. All I can really tell you is what I have learnt from my own experience of going from blogger to published author.

received_883610708376685

Getting Started

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl began as just that – a secret diary. I had started a new job as the first female Deputy Head Porter at a prestigious college and wanted to share this strange new world with friends and family. The reason so few of my characters have names was due to the need for ambiguity and anonymity in case my employers found out (they eventually did) and sacked me (this they did not – contrary to popular belief). This quickly grew into a fictionalised account of my time there and eventually developed into an adventure-murder-mystery type thing.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t have started posting until I had a better idea of the structure of the story. Working on a manuscript requires much retracing of steps and rewriting, a luxury not afforded to the blogger. Of course it is possible to go back and make changes, but significant plot amendments are not possible when your readers are following the story step by step. The good news is, major flaws will be spotted early on and if you are upfront and gracious about your mistakes, readers will forgive you and might even find it a little endearing.

masterpic

How Much? How Often?

Blog posts should be significantly shorter than traditional chapters of a book – I reckon around the 1000 word mark. People read lots of blogs in a day and hefty word counts are off-putting. Also unlike book chapters, it’s a good idea to end each of your posts on a cliffhanger. It doesn’t always have to be dramatic, just enough to pique an interest as to what happens next. When you come to convert your blog to a novel, this will keep up a jaunty pace.

How often you post is up to you, but devise a manageable schedule and keep it regular. Posting four times in one day then nothing for two weeks will not build a regular audience. And it’s not just the writing you have to think about – factor in time for replying to comments and being active on other blogs, too. Cultivating connections with your readers is just as important.

00 lucy 3

The Comments Section

My favourite part of blogging. The comments section is often more entertaining than the post itself. All sorts of side projects, ideas and inspiration have spawned from this primordial soup of a platform. Contributors have influenced everything from plot direction to character development, new projects to collaborations – and usually in an encouraging, entertaining way. Make time to really engage with the comments in a prompt and timely fashion – you won’t regret it!

A word of warning – whilst it is very important to listen to the views of your readers and take on board advice, don’t fall into the trap of ‘writing by committee’. You will never please everyone and some people will never appreciate your work. Get a broad sense of what works and what doesn’t and align that with your own style and voice.

PGOctDHP&HP

Building Your Brand

When my blog was in its fledgling stages, I asked a professional to read some posts and see if I had something worth pursuing. He came back to me with various suggestions, but  his strongest point was that what was so appealing about PorterGirl was actually me – the personality that came through in the writing. Blogging is perfect for letting your own self shine, far more than novel writing will ever be. It is immediate, accessible and interactive. Bring your work – and yourself – to life by posting things other than just your story . This gives a sense of a real person behind the words and allows readers to feel a little closer to you – they will then invest time and interest in your work and, hopefully, spread the word!

In my case, I interspersed PorterGirl tales with a step-by-step guide to Finnegans Wake, occasional posts about writing, a couple of Poirot parodies and even a dystopian-satire-murder-mystery-sex-romp (alright, it wasn’t that much of a sex romp). Show the world that you are not just a one-trick pony and expand your skill set and experience by doing different things. If you are stuck for ideas, ask your readers!

But Won’t People Steal My Ideas?

Well, maybe they will. They probably won’t, to be honest, but you can protect your work with copyright. Popping a notice on your blog will deter infringement, as it states that the work is protected under law. A copyright notice is not required as work is automatically subject to copyright protection under law, but displaying a notice shows that you have an awareness of copyright and take infringements of your work seriously.

It’s Not All Fun And Games

Some blogs take off over night, for most it’s a slow build up. Don’t be discouraged by low view counts or not getting ‘likes’. If stats are important to you, post cat videos or something – indie fiction isn’t going to make you an online superstar. For me, my blog was a way to practice my writing, cultivate discipline, develop a professional work ethic and to gain insights from other writers. Of course, once my publishing deal came along it became a platform to reach a wider audience and promote my books, but it’s only because I put in the groundwork first that I had that platform. I cannot stress how important it is to publish consistently good work, regularly, on your blog. This isn’t easy but it can be done. At times it might feel like a wasted effort as hardly anyone is reading your stuff, but once it’s on there, it’s there for people to find and enjoy. Be patient, be determined and develop the skin of a concrete elephant.

There will be people who mock your little blog and your literary efforts, maybe even people close to you. They will scoff at spending all that time, writing for ‘a couple of random people on the internet’. You will be ridiculed, labelled a chancer and a wannabe, told over and over again how ‘no one ever makes it that way’.

Do not listen to these people. Just get on with the writing.

First Lady Of The Keys 

UK Edition     US Edition

The Vanishing Lord

UK Edition     US Edition