Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday roundup

Cate Sweeney reading

To Waterstone's in Bath last evening for a reading by Cate Sweeney, author of Selfish Jean (reviewed here on 16 March 2006). This attracted a decent audience -- clearly a bit larger than Waterstone's expected, and more chairs had to be summoned. And it sold a few books, as these things should.

Selfish Jean is a novel which will appeal most to women of a certain age. Those whose biological clock is not just ticking but making loud groaning noises as well. And it is certainly well written.

I get the feeling that we shall hear from Cate again. Not least because she has a two-book contract.

Scott Pack blogs

Scott Pack used to be described as the most powerful/influential man in the UK book trade. That was when he was the Buying Manager for Waterstone's. Now, much to the puzzlement of many, he works for The Friday Project. He has also started a new blog (link from the Literary Saloon).

One of the early posts on Scott's blog (Me and My Big Mouth) tells why he really left Waterstone's; and, in the process, analyses all the reasons that other people suggested for his departure.

Meanwhile, Ian Hocking, who is a blogger in his own right, has just posted an interview with Scott Pack over at Pacifist Guerilla.

Bloggers: the Real Internet Diaries

This year I shall be going to Edinburgh for a few days while the Festival is actually on, and I've been looking through the Fringe programme.

Well, you've probably heard about the Edinburgh fringe, but you may not appreciate just how vast it is. By my count there are just under 600 separate theatrical productions alone, without even counting comedy and musicals; then there's the art, the movies -- oh, and very largely forgotten in all this is the proper Edinburgh Festival, a highbrow affair to which the Fringe is, officially, just an adjunct.

Anyway, the point is that at least three productions on the Fringe are derived from blogs, and the one making the most noise at present is called Bloggers -- the Real Internet Diaries. This has its own web site and seems to have some highly professional publicists. The BBC also has a report about it.

I have tickets. Not for everything, of course.

iUniverse gets criticised -- again

Please note that I do not hold shares in iUniverse (a US-based self-publishing company). Neither have I ever done business with the company. But I have noticed that hardly anyone has a good word to say for it. It's all sneers and crits and warnings and stuff like that. And I'm not sure that's quite fair.

As it happens I have just read a damn good self-published iUniverse book, and I shall be writing about it at a proper length shortly. And so for the moment I tend to take the view that iUniverse is OK, so long as you read the small print and don't have silly ideas. (Which, I admit, is rather a lot to expect of anyone dumb enough to write a novel, but never mind.)

The latest disapproving piece is on Galleycat, where Ron Hogan points out that two iUniverse executives have just written a book about how to get published, and that this book is, from start to finish, just a plug for the company they work for. And ain't it awful, says Ron, that they have the gall to charge money for telling you how to do business with them.

Well, no. Actually. If people take the trouble to read the publisher's blurb before they buy the book, the fact that it is a guide to iUniverse is absolutely clear. And it may be very convenient to have all the necessary info in handy book form, rather than having to go online and grope around in the Help section.

Over on Buzz, Balls & Hype, M.J. Rose is also a bit underwhelmed by the chutzpah of these two ladies. And she issues all the usual caveats about going this route and not having too many expectations, and so forth. Fair enough, if far from new. But the most interesting piece of information in her post is almost an aside.

Do not imagine, she says, that Amazon numbers are any kind of proof that a book is selling well by normal book-trade standards. One of her books debuted at #5 at Amazon and stayed in the top 10 for four days. The total of books sold was under 600.

Now that is new.

Bring out your dead

Have you got, somewhere tucked away in the back of a cupboard, an old novel, or short story, or play? One which, somehow or other, was never published or produced? Yes, I thought you probably had.

Well despair not. It might be worth good money. Hie thee over to icNorth Wales, where you can read the inspiring story of how Gwen Pritchard Jones dug out an old children's story, turned it into a novel aimed at adults, and won £5,000 as a result. (Link from

Mitzi Szereto: Dying For It

Mitzi Szereto seems to have established a niche for herself as the leading provider of instruction in the noble arts of erotic fiction, and she has just assembled an anthology of pieces which are, presumably, models of their kind. Entitled Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death, the anthology is published by Thunder's Mouth Press.

The publisher tells us that 'sex and death have always been connected. The French call orgasm "La Petite Mort" (The Little Death). In Shakespearean England, "To Die" also meant to have an orgasm.' And so forth.

Actually there's a web site called La Petite Mort -- or so they tell me -- but I haven't the faintest idea where to find it. And should you wish to know more about the etymology of the phrase (though I cannot imagine why you should), and about links between sex and death and the risky business of indulging in the former, then there is much earnest and learned discussion on Everything. But be warned. You should not read the last post on that page, the one by The Dead Guy, if you are a single person of nevous disposition. Especially if you are alone, at night. I cannot answer for the consequences if you do.

The Dead Guy relates what can happen to a young man if he allows himself to be distracted when counting pile of threequarter-inch bolts. (Or should that be three-quarter inch bolts, as the Dead Guy has it? Or three-quarter-inch bolts? This is very worrying.)

More complicated than I thought

Clive Keeble draws my attention to the arrival of Sainsbury's supermarket in London's Gypsy Hill. It seems that this is not only being welcomed by small traders in the area (including The Bookseller Crow), but they actually petitioned Sainsbury's to go there in the first place.

You always thought that supermarkets were death to small local shops. And so did I. But it seems it ain't so.

Himself of The Bookseller Crow has a blog, The Bedside Crow, and he relates that he done had a guided tour of Sainsbury's. Whereupon the following exchange took place:

So, okay, lets get it over with, show me the books.
No books, he said.
You must have some books, I said.
No, he said. Books are a pain in the arse. In the end, he said, Sainsbury's are only interested in stocking things that make them money, and books don't do that.
See, I thought I understood the theory and practice of retailing, but it seems I don't.

A dreadful warning

You are never too old to get into trouble. (I am taking careful note.) Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong -- far too lowbrow for you, I'm sure) got done for dope at the age of 65. Now he's out, and he's written a book called The I Chong. Which, obviously, is based on the ancient Taoist philosophy of the I Ching.

The Book Standard has an interview with this elderly reprobate, in the course of which he says 'I think marijuana should be legal, but I don’t remember why.'

Actually I've never been seriously tempted to smoke tobacco, let alone marijuana, but the discussion of the latter's legality or otherwise seems to me to be complicated by the fact that, in the UK at least, what is sold as marijuana is often heavily corrupted with other substances. One favourite substance (I am informed) is ground-up linoleum which has got too old and worn to remain on the floor. Now it is one thing to smoke marijuana, but quite another to inhale the fumes of ground-up lino, into the long-term effects of which which no serious research has been done. But it doesn't seem likely to do you any good.

An ideal present

OK, so you've got a peppery old uncle, very rich, a man who's spent a lot of time in Africa and China and places, and is likely to leave you something when he finally goes, and you want to keep in with him and buy him a nice birthday present, but you don't know what to get him. Very simple. You buy him a book bound in snakeskin or something.

Yeeees, but... where do you get one? Easy. Nip over to Abebooks. They've got lots. And some bound in eel skin and salmon skin too.

You hand it over and sit back. The old boy's eyes go quite misty. 'Ah yes,' he says, 'I remember the time when I was in Sidi Barrani....'

E.J. Knapp

Mike Coombes tells me that E.J. Knapp is a writer who has fallen upon hard times. Mike says: 'Various writer friends offered him money, which he refused, so instead many of them have donated stories, which he's selling via his site - - for $2 - just a few pennies over a quid - each. The target is 1500 sales in 20 days....'

Well, E.J. has a considerable number of friends. Go take a look.

The Looking Glass Wars

No, this is nothing to do with John Le Carre: that was War, singular.

Penguin US is already banging the drum for Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, which comes out there on 26 September. says that it is for reading ages 9-12, but there's nothing about that in the email that reached me.

There is a very fancy web site to accompany this book. There you can find an elaborate video trailer (of course) and enough to keep you busy for a half hour or more. Money has been spent on plugging this book; lots of it. There is already a spin-off in the form of the Hatter M comic book stories, and there are to be two further books to form a trilogy.

If you hadn't guessed, this is all to do with Alice (or Alyss, as she becomes here) of Alice Through the Looking Glass fame. And, as you would expect from a modern young woman, Alyss has her own page on My Space. She has six friends so far, so if you hurry you can be really cool and get your piccy on the front page.

Aside: If, like me, you're wondering whether there ought to be hyphen in that looking glass, then you will have to go on wondering, for I can shed little light.

Search Amazon for various editions of, and books about, the original Alice, and you will find no consistency whatever. So then I went to the catalogue of the British Library, for they would have worked from the original edition. But oh -- gnashings of teeth -- no consistency there, either! The 1872 edition has a hyphen (as I would have expected) but other nineteenth-century editions don't.

So what does Oxford say? Well, my Concise Dictionary says no hyphen in looking glass. So there we are. Clear as mud really. For whole decades of my life, dining room and living room had hyphens, and how they don't. It's hard work keeping up.

Before we get too excited about this amazing 'new' book about Alice/Alyss, from Penguin US, it is perhaps worth remembering that the UK hardback came out two years ago. On it gets four stars from 26 readers. Comments range from genius to not worth the hype.

Owlcroft web sites

The Owlcroft Company owns and operates a considerable range of web sites, many of which will be of interest and value to readers of this blog. (The full range is listed on the Company home page.)

So far I have only had chance to take a quick look, but we have, for instance:

Omniknow, an online encyclopaedia. I ran a quick test on Algernon Swinburne, and while I could take issue with some of the judgements thrown up in the articles linked to, the encyclopaedia looks like being a useful resource.

Then there's Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Works. And it's immediately obvious that someone has done a hell of a lot of work. And that someone wants you to reap the benefit in the most fruitful possible way. Hence this statement:

A certain portion of the visitors to any web site will be season ticket holders to Short Attention Span Theater. If you choose to bypass the recommended introductory material, I cannot stop you; as noted, a directory of the entire site--intended as a convenience to returning visitors--is at your disposal on every page. This site, however, was designed for civilized readers, not for the MTV generation.
Brave words, eh?

And one more: The English Language -- subtitled 'thoughts on its right use'. This, it is emphasised, is a 'commentary on why sound English is important, and on just what "sound English" is.'

There's enough on 'the singular they', for instance, to occupy you for a whole weekend.

Isn't copyright wonderful?

Before we get to the weekend, here is just a reminder of how long copyright lasts, and how eager and determined some are to extract every penny, and more, which is due under its provisions.

This morning's Times carries a report that two shows at the Edinburgh Festival have run into trouble.

First, the estate of George Orwell has prevented the performance of Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad, an unauthorised adaptation of Animal Farm, which still has full copyright protection. Kerry Frampton, whose Splendid Productions group was due to perform the show, said that the company had wasted £3,000. 'It has become a very expensive holiday,' she said.

Oh dear. Back in 1955, I did an adaptation of Animal Farm for an end-of-term performance at school. And I never asked anybody's permission. Please don't sneak on me or I could be in big trouble. George Orwell, by the way, died in 1950. He was a Socialist.

Then there's... Oh but you've guessed. Link the words copyright and trouble, and what do you get, nine times out of ten? Yes, that's right, you come up with the name of Stephen Joyce, currently controller of the James Joyce estate and a well known philanthropist, a man of unlimited charm and good manners.

Adam Harvey has adapted part of Finnegans Wake into a theatrical performance called Finnegans Wake: The Tale of Shem the Penman. Stephen Joyce has tried repeatedly to block the performance of this piece, but has failed. Hee hee hee! Sorry, sorry; how bitterly disappointing.

A quirk of copyright law means Harvey can carry on. Finnegans Wake fell out of copyright in Britain in 1991, 50 years after the author’s death. In 1995 copyright was extended to 70 years after death, but all works that had passed into the public domain were granted only limited protection. So Stephen Joyce is entitled to a fee for Harvey’s show, but he cannot stop it.

After a performance in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Harvey sent the estate 5 per cent of the takings, but Stephen Joyce demanded 15 per cent. Harvey has spent $30,000 (£16,000) to bring the show to the Fringe and has not decided how much he will offer. 'I feel justified that it will be less than 15 per cent,' he said. 'He [Joyce] would be the only one to make any money out of the project.'


Anonymous said...

I look forward to your review of the iUniverse book. It confirms what I've always believed, that for all the trash being self-published, there is good stuff out there as well. As much trash as you will find in Barnes and Nobles, I might add, there's even some good stuff there.

I suspect the best answer to the muddled copyright laws of today is for more and more people to ignore them.

Anonymous said...

My first novel Lost was self-published, though not through any of the self-publishing companies like iUniverse. This was in 2000, when there weren't quite so many of these outfits around. Readers must judge for themselves, of course, but Lost was favorably reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was a daily pick. There is definitely good self-published stuff out there, though finding it isn't always easy. The same could be said for books put out by major publishers.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I'm glad to see that Susan Driscoll, who was given an oleaginous interview by blogger Poddy Mouth when Driscoll became iUniverse’s CEO, is now taking her lead from PublishAmerica. Almost a year ago today, PublishAmerica CEO Willem Meiners’s How To Upset a Goliath Book Biz: PublishAmerica: The Inside Story of an Underdog with a Bite was published. That book was a laughable attempt to counteract the bad publicity PublishAmerica had been getting in a series of stories in major periodicals such as the Washington Post.

Now Driscoll, together with Diane Gedymin, editorial director of iUniverse, have published a book extolling the virtues of using iUniverse. Despite the title, their book is not a guide to getting published through a reputable trade publisher. For $9.95, you get a sales tool promoting iUniverse put between covers. You lucky dog! You can get whatever this book contains on the iUniverse web site for free.

I'm betting that Driscoll and Gedymin will sell more than a few copies of their book thanks its generic title, which will show up in Google searches ("how can I get published?"), as well as the intentionally vague bullet points on the book's Amazon product page, which only once mention that this is a guide to using iUniverse without also mentioning that iUniverse is a subsidy publisher.

Anonymous said...

Now, much to the puzzlement of many, he works for The Friday Project.

I'm not sure it is a puzzle. The Friday Project has had a year or so and has turned around precious little but hype - and 99% of that self-written. Scott, I'm afraid, must have believed the hype.

Anonymous said...

The Friday Project has had a year or so and has turned around precious little but hype - and 99% of that self-written. Scott, I'm afraid, must have believed the hype.

So Scott is smart enough to be Buying Manager for Waterstone's (which would give him almost unparalleled access to our sales figures and our forward list info) but dumb enough to make a career choice (when he could pretty much choose his next move from a menu) based on hype?

In little over a year, we've published 11 books and raised over half a million pounds in a public share offering. We've received great reviews for our titles (they're on our site) and we've got some very happy authors (see their sites). I reckon we're doing ok.

Why is it that whenever something is posted here about TFP, there's always an ANONYMOUS comment slagging us off?

If I were a cynic, I'd suspect that someone had a bit of a vendetta.

I'm a cynic.


If you're going to make ridiculous statements, at least have the balls to do it in your own name.



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