Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mr Accident-Prone

Here is another in Loren Kantor's series of woodcuts of writers. (I mentioned other examples here.)

I knew quite a lot of the Hemingway life story, but until I read Loren's accompanying article I hadn't realised that the old bastard had such a history of accidents. Extraordinary.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Akme another

Some time ago, specifically on 24 September 2004, I wrote a description on this blog of a web site set up by one Andrew Malcolm: it went by the name of Akme, and it took the form, mainly, of a critical (highly critical) examination of the activities of Oxford University Press and other parts of said University.

Well, if you kick the shins of a big boy, over and over again, there may well come a day when he loses patience and thumps you into the middle of next week. Which is what appears to have happened recently to Andrew. In October last, his original web site, hosted by BT, was wiped out, and all links to that site, including my own, were rendered useless. More recently, a replacement web site was somehow 'airbrushed out of all the search engines'.

What this means, in practice, is that it is difficult to find parts of the Akme site which may be of practical value to all those involved in doing business with publishers: I have in mind, for instance, the Akme Literary and Charity Law Library. This library, which is more accurately perhaps a list of highly relevant case histories and well informed discussions, contains some fascinating stuff.

However, all is not lost. Andrew Malcolm has now set up shop elsewhere, and, with fingers crossed, has tried to resume doing business as usual.

So, for the main Akme site, you should now go to There you can follow links to, for instance, the law library.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Writer's Guide to Success

Further to what I was saying in August, I have another book out in my series of guides for writers. This one is called A Writer's Guide to Success -- subtitled A Serious Look at a Serious Subject.

As was the case with earlier books in this series, this one is going to be available free for five days. So get your keyboard in gear and visit the appropriate Amazon. Probably the main US site or the UK one.

Free dates are 14 to 18 September 2013, inclusive.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Writer's Guide to Fame, Fortune, and Fantastic Orgasms

I seem to have been around for quite a long time now, and the world has changed while I've been watching it. But one unchanging characteristic of the world is that it always seems to be crammed full of people who want to be writers. Myself foremost among them, of course.

Occasionally, some of these people even ask me for advice. And my instinct is usually to suck my teeth and say, 'Ooh, I wouldn't go there if I were you, my lad.' Or 'young lady', as appropriate. But they never take any notice. They just assume I'm joking.

Same with most things, I suppose. Young people always want to do something that's bad for them. Witness the schoolchildren whom I observe virtually every afternoon. Not a single one of them can pass the shops in town without emerging with hands full of Coke bottles, bars of chocolate, burgers, ice creams, and all like that.

But I digress, as usual. The mind wanders as one gets older.

Given the vast numbers of ambitious young, and not-so-young, writers, I suppose the sensible thing to do would be to set up some sort of consultancy business, under the terms of which I charge substantial sums of money for assessing manuscripts. Or some such. But frankly I can't be arsed. What I do instead is write the occasional book which I hope will be of genuine assistance to those who are setting out on the road to fame, fortune, and (of course) a vastly improved sex life, through the simple art of writing fiction. It can't be all that difficult, can it?

Well, we shall see. And so will they.

I hereby announce a new series of short books, written by myself, on various aspects of the writer's art. These are intended to act as pocket guides, so to speak, on particular aspects of narrative technique and related matters.

The first three are now available. At present they are published only in Kindle ebook form, and they normally cost about the same as a cup of coffee -- depending, course, on where you buy your morning reviver.

However! As an incentive to those who don't yet know me, and as a small reward to those who follow thhis distressingly infrequent blog, for a short period each of these books will be available free! Details below.

Free offer periods as follows:

Emotion: 14-18 August
Viewpoint: 19-23 August
Style: 24-28 August

Hie thee, as ever, to your local branch of Amazon, which is probably going to be either the American one or the British one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Write a Novel that Works

Just to let you know that my latest book for writers, How to Write a Novel that Works, is available FREE in Kindle format as of 22 June for 5 days.

Subtitled A Straightforward, Practical Guide this tells you everything important that I have learnt about writing fiction in the past fifty years. As I may have mentioned before, my first novel was published in England in 1963. So actually I have been collecting information about how to do the job for much longer than fifty years.

For the US Kindle version click here.

And if you buy in the UK, go here.


Saturday, May 11, 2013


The art of the woodcut is not yet dead. Loren Cantor
does some interesting work on arts-related subjects, such as Edgar Allan Poe. Worth a look.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The joy of Academe

I was never a university lecturer, much less a professor, but I do have two higher degrees in Education -- MEd and PhD. I even wrote a book about higher education: The Goals of Universities. I think I did once find a scanned copy of that book somewhere on the net, but a quick Google doesn't make it obvious. And it's out of print.

Anyway, point is, I have more than a passing interest in the state of the university. So I cannot let this article about the plight of the would-be professor (in America) go unremarked: Academia's indentured servants.

And you'll get a bit of a surprise when you find out where it's published.

Much of what the author says is as relevant to the position of writers as it is to would-be academics. And of course the two worlds interact in the shape of creative-writing courses.

Well, I've had my say on those sorts of thing, and the people who teach on them or pay the fees. I can think of much better ways to spend one's time and money.

PS Thanks to Books Inq for the link.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Loadsa free stuff

I've been doing much work on setting up my numerous Kindle books to make nearly all of them free at some point in the coming weeks. The quickest way to check what is on free offer at any time is to go to my author page on the US Amazon or the UK version.

There, if you make sure that you've clicked the Kindle heading, you will see at a glance what happens to be free at that time.

As of the time and date of writing this post, for example, the following are free:

Lucius the Club -- crime novella
Amadea -- literary/fantasy short story
Wolla-wolla-wolla-wolla-woo! -- humorous short story (actually it's about no. 35 on the bestsellers list for free short stories)

Soon to come on the freebie schedule, for five days at a time, are:

Mr Fenman's Farewell to his Readers -- literary/fantasy novella -- from 23 Feb.
How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous -- women's fiction novel -- from 24 Feb.
Daphne Before She Died -- women's fiction novel -- from 25 Feb.

And more, yet to be scheduled.

When you look at this list, you're probably wondering why I write in so many different genres, instead of sticking to one thing and building a readership.

Yes, I wonder that too.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

What is it about the Blairs?

In the UK we had, until recently, a well known writer of what the trade thinks of as 'women's fiction'. The author's name was Emma Blair.

For at least the last decade I've been aware that Emma Blair was actually a man. Can't remember where I picked this up, but I do remember having a phone conversation with his editor, several years ago, in which I asked if it would upset her if I referred to her author's true gender in print. No, she said, it wouldn't, as the fact was fairly widely known. Anyway, I have to report, courtesy of Wikipedia, that our author died of diabetes in 2011.

To take a look-see at what Emma Blair produced over a period of 30 years, go to our old reliable friend Fantastic Fiction. There you will see that Emma was undeniably a bloke, true name Iain. And he was a real Scot, where they tend to spell simple Ian in various different ways.

Just how big a seller Iain/Emma was I don't know, but steady and respectable I would say. And he was successful enough to be nominated for the Romantic Novel of the Year title in 1998.

Anyway, it turns out that there's another bloke who also writes women's fiction, this time under the name Jessica Blair. This author, however, isn't a real Blair. His name is Bill Spence, and the Daily Mail 'unmasked' him yesterday. Since 1993 Bill has written 22 romantic novels, the latest of which, Silence of the Snow, is just out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

More about book covers

I forget now which particular blog or web site it was that first pointed me towards the video of Chip Kidd's presentation to a TED audience, on the design of book covers -- but my hat is lifted to them, whoever it was.

Chip Kidd has worked for Knopf publishers -- which is apparently pronounced with a hard K, unless my ears are deafer than usual -- and unless, of course, Mr Kidd is just being droll -- but in any case, he knows his business and will also make you laugh, never a bad combination.

So, go take a look, is my advice. You will need twenty minutes or so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yum yum

Should you be planning to visit Shakespeare country. or thereabouts, be sure to visit Rebekah Owens's blog Travels with my Oxygen. Full of good advice on where to go to eat well, and how to foment political unrest, where to become the next J.K. Rowling, et cetera.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Simon Garfield: Just My Type

Just My Type is a book about fonts. And these days most people have a vague idea what fonts are, if only because they see the word (occasionally) on their word processor.

Well, a whole book about fonts may not be your thing but this is interesting enough, even for the non-professional. It's a series of short essays, about the designers of type, the folk who choose them for specific purposes, and all like that. It's a good bedside book -- you can read the odd chunk before going to sleep.

Of course you do have to be a bit weird to be interested in fonts. But if you're going to use CreateSpace or Lulu or something to produce actual printed books, as opposed to ebooks, then you're going to have to take an interest to some extent.

If you're looking for a practical book that gives you a list of suggested fonts for various different purposes, then this isn't it. But then it doesn't claim to be.

For something similar, but a bit more in-depth, perhaps, try Simon Loxley's Type: the Secret History of Letters. And for those who are actually designing a printed book, Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style is indispensable.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sugar: the bitter truth

Well, well, it took a while -- actually about twenty years -- but finally Penguin did the obvious thing and reissued Professor John Yudkin's absolutely classic study of sugar: Pure, White and Deadly. This book has been out of print for many a long year, and when you could find it the price was usually in three figures. A few years ago I had to borrow a copy from my local library's county archive.

The new edition comes with an introduction by Professor Robert Lustig, who was probably the guy that twisted Penguin's arm. I'd like to think that Penguin were smart enough to launch a reissue unprompted, but then why did they ever let an important book like this go out of print in the first place? (There's no polite or reassuring answer to that question.)

And, what's more, Lustig himself has a book out. The title is Fat Chance, and it looks like a brave book to write, because it dares to criticise the food industry. Yudkin tried that, and got nothing but trouble as a result. He should, of course, have been supported by his university, but wasn't, which is a disgraceful story in itself.

The fact that sugar is the source of half our health problems is not new. The journalist William Dufty wrote a classic expose of it in the 1970s, in Sugar Blues, which is still in print. But scientists who are prepared to put their head above the parapet and let Big Food fire cannon at them are not thick on the ground.

If by any chance you haven't yet realised what pernicious stuff sugar is, and how determinedly it is forced upon us in almost everything, then Lustig's new book is the one to go for. Those of us who've been paying any attention to food in the last 40 years probably won't learn a lot that's new -- except of course that we shall be given a host of new examples of how little the food companies care about their customers' health, and how committed they are to making profit no matter what.

Friday, January 04, 2013

German Army? No worries...

Englishmen of a certain age -- let's say over seventy -- tend to have a grudging respect for the German army. I'm not quite sure why, but it probably has something to do with two world wars, the flower of English youth slaughtered in the first, 20 million dead, worldwide, in the second. And we tend to remember incidents such as the invasion of Russia in winter (Napoleon did it and lost), the battle of Stalingrad, and so on.

One way and another, us old guys have a mental image of the German army as a vast assembly of bullet-headed thugs, with masses of first-class ordnance made by world-class German engineers. And even now we keep seeing these history documentaries showing the inexorable advances made by these relentless buggers.

It's worth noting that even when it came to the Battle of Stalingrad, when everything conceivable was against the Germans -- the weather, the lack of supplies, the sheer number of the Russians launched against them -- even then the Germans were hard to shift. Stalin's approach was to send boat after boat across the river, where they were machine-gunned down to one or two survivors, as often or not. But one or two was enough. Stalin sent another boat. And another. He had lots of peasants at his disposal.

All of that being the case, we ancient Limies tend to think of the German army as a hard-nosed bunch. Jeez, we mutter to ourselves, I hope we don't have to fight those buggers again -- not till I'm safely dead, anyway.

But you know what? We can sleep easy! Yes, there is absolutely no cause for alarm. A report in today's Times says it all. The link may not get you through Rupert's firewall (the strategy isn't going to work, Rupert, I keep telling you), so I'll give you the gist of the report here.
It was once dreaded for its military might and unfailing discipline. But the German Army is now struggling to hold on to recruits, with almost one in three dropping out after six months of basic training.
See, what happens is this. The recruits turn up cos they rather fancy themselves in one of those uniforms -- a real girl-puller. But then they're a bit surprised by what they find. They have to share a room with other men. They have to polish their own boots! They can't smoke except during certain times. And there are all these bossy types strutting about and expecting recruits to do what they tell them! Whatever next? Result: 30.4 per cent drop out within six months.

So, I think we can all relax. If and when the German army invades somewhere uncomfortable, such as Russia in winter, or even Manchester on a rainy day in August, the recruits are going to take a long hard look at what they can expect. And if the Generals can't guarantee of supply of the young men's favourite hairspray, the great German war machine is going to say, 'Nah. No way. Fuck that for a game of soldiers.' And then they're going to piss off home.

For those of you who would like to read in detail about the glories of the once-unstoppable Wehrmacht, and just how difficult they were to batter into submission, William Shirer gives the best overall picture in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

For a painfully detailed account of one battle, go to Antony Beevor's Stalingrad