In My Wildest Dreams: Adventures in Children's Fiction

Diggle's Dilemma (again...)

Diggle’s Dilemma: to write or market? Increasingly, I don’t think I can do both. Find an agent you say? I know that is a good idea… in theory… but let’s not be diverted by that question.

In the past four years I have written four novels for children/young people. I am presently re-writing the second one of these. The other free remain in finished form, but have proved to be unplaceable to date. I think that they are there or thereabouts, certainly interesting, one amusing and another uncomfortable and challenging, verging on the adult.

That is Diggle’s Dilemma. Do I concentrated on finding a home for three or crack on re-writing the second one I started… or start something completely new? Unfortunately, I am a finisher, tenacious by nature and nurture.

Why the dilemma? Time and energy. I’d rather be a writer than a marketing man. Today, you have to be both.

Should I spend time putting my work in order or crack on with the new, even make a change of direction – write for adults – NOW!? I think I may have said before that curation might be the answer. Just put my work up on the web and see how it goes. That seems like a half-way house and doesn’t really resolve anything.

Time will tell, but I can no longer sit here doing nothing. One must dismount with purpose rather than just wait to fall off the horns of a dilemma.

Four years on: indefatigable and still uncategorizable

It's two months since I've blogged. Meanwhile I have been to Alberta, Canada for a month over Christmas. I have done no writing since finishing The Reaping, but have been collecting my thoughts. On my return from Canada I went down with a debilitating cough - transatlantic air travel - but I am better now. I have shovelled out my my study and reoriented my desk at right angles to the window. New beginnings. Ha!

Agents? I have heard from 11 out of 21. Ten pro-forma negatives and one more personal, but still a negative reply. I am beginning to think I am uncategorizable in that I don't write genre fiction, I flit between age groups, and am not intent on producing a series or recognisable brand. I write about what interests me. No complaints. I write well enough. Some might say unprofessional. Ha!

In the past four years I have written four novels for children & young people, a total of a quarter of a million words, more if you include all the redrafting. Three of these I sent off to agents, unsuccessfully, one I didn't feel was ready.

What's next then? I have choices:

  1. Rework the four novels I have written? The stories are worth telling.
  2. Develop two of the above into a series?
  3. Settle on writing for 9-12's?
  4. Begin a new children's novel? I have two ideas.
  5. Write an adult novel?

I still have some thinking time. I tend to think it will be a year of consolidation, travel in the camper van, and then come October the beginning of a new story. Self-publication is still a maybe.


Becoming the next big K-ching!

Sometimes when you throw a ball against a wall it will bounce right back up and hit you under the nose before you've had time to settle your stance. It stings! Game spoiled, temporarily. That's how it was with my second submission of The Reaping to an agent. Outbox on the 13th November, back with a clout to my inbox on the 17th. The positive: agents work weekends. The negative: my proposal failed to entice. I probably had 30 seconds to impress - same with buying houses - speed dating in the dark. 50 submissions to consider. Despite being a published author, I warranted a mechanical rejection. That's the way it is. Next! K-ching!

I have a further nine submissions out there at the moment and more to follow. I like to hear back, but I also enjoy the deluded interlude where you imagine anything can happen!

I have had a brief Twitter exchange with Ed James ( @EdJamesAuthor ) about self-publishing. He has worked hard and been very successful at it, but it may be more difficult to successfully self-publish children's/YA fiction. I am not complaining.

I shall give it some consideration in 2015.

If you fiddle Rome will burn.

The thing about creating any piece of work is knowing when to stop and let it go. ebooks allow for any amount of post-publication fiddling and revision. Letting the work go has to be a matter of self-discipline, self-belief and an acknowledgment that it was how you saw things at the time. After the event if you see the world differently, then create something else that reflects that. Let's not be lazy.

When I came to think about the ebook of Badgerman & Bogwitch, I initially saw it as an opportunity to update it, if not significantly revise it. I fiddled around with dates and updated the book to reflect the changes in technology in the twenty years since I began to write it. But in the end what I realised was that making it more contemporary added nothing to the power of the story, so after a few months fiddling and reformatting, I went back to the original text. I am happy with that. It helped me focus on  my new projects.

At the  end of the day the electrification of Badgerman & Bogwitch was a technical exercise. I learned a lot on the way about the new format. I am still learning how to manage the book once it is on line. I have dipped in and out of publication on Amazon - I have deleted my own book from the list - and made it available as a free download on my website. I am about to distribute it more widely for free through Smashwords.

Having said all, this I have revised the cover.

I have returned to my favourite colour: blue.

Comments (2)

An ebook is a lost child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.

20 writer's neuroses in no particular order :) 
  1. Why doesn't anyone under thirty think print books have a future.
  2. Why hasn't my blog views' counter moved in the past four days?
  3. Should I really look at Google Analytics to see how my web page is doing? 
  4. If I lived in London, I would network with other writers & court agents at parties. (Doubt it!)
  5. Should  I read more books by other authors to get a feel of the market? (I am not fourteen, though I once was, so what do I know?)
  6. Should I be writing more than 1000 words a day, and an additional day a week?
  7. Do I bore my Twitter followers?
  8. Do they care enough to be bored?
  9. Should I get into Linkedin, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, and......?
  10. Do I have time to make a splash on Goodreads?
  11. How do I stop myself looking at Amazon's Daily Deal?
  12. Why are agents always looking for new writers, not old ones?
  13. Should I give my ebooks away for free?
  14. Everyone else seems to be going to writers' conferences.
  15. How many self-help ebooks does one writer need?
  16. Should I stop buying on Amazon and support my local bookshop?
  17. How can I compete with those who turn out 5+ ebooks a year?
  18. Why am I not interested in zombies, vampires and life after the apocalypse?
  19. Publishing an ebook is like abandoning a small child in a soundproof warehouse run by robots.
  20. Why can't I take myself more seriously?


Tartt's Dilemma

Well, I am not going to buy two copies of Donna Tartt's new book, The Goldfinch, unless I buy one as a present for someone else.

What would you do? Buy the hardback edition (784 pages) for £10.51 from Amazon or the Kindle edition for £9.98, which is all of 53 pence cheaper? In a nutshell, this is Tartt's Dilemma.

So what's the problem? I love books, that's the problem. I love the smell of them, the feel of them, the sight of them lined up on the shelf - all colour and splash. The Goldfinch will be a long read - I am looking forward to it - but in this case the hardback (like most) it is too hefty to tote around and the paperback when it comes out will be no slim volume. Anyway, on this occasion I'm not prepared to hang around for it.

On the other hand I don't have to be the first person in Britain to blog a review so I don't need the download right now. Anyway the initial reviews are already out. I can wait for the post, which will of course be free from Amazon (I think I read somewhere that Amazon actually include a download charge in their Kindle price).

So which to buy? I err on the sumptuousness of the hardback, but then again, there's the convenience of Kindle. But then again, I won't be able to share the book after I've read it. And I hate the thought that when I have read 100 pages, the Kindle will tell me baldly that I have read 13%. On the other hand...

Tartt's Dilemma. And I guess the publisher feels the same. Give the reader a digital download with the hardback and they might only sell one copy instead of two, which takes me back to my top line. No chance.

I am still not sure what to do. This is Tartt's Dilemma.

Then again... I should be supporting my local independent bookshop. That is the author's dilemma.

You can't gift an ebook!

I have made up my mind. I prefer to read books.

ebooks are a convenience like supermarkets. Books are a delicatessen. I was on my way to this conclusion when I started thinking about reading Sarah Dunant's Blood & Beauty, her novel about the Borgias and Renaissance Italy. I couldn't talk myself into downloading it, even though it was cheaper than the hardback. The subject matter didn't seem to sit well with the e-format.

ebook and Renaissance art? ebook and rich colour and period detail? Even though I am a technophile I couldn't imagine an electronic alliance between the Kindle and the Borgias that would work, at least not for very long. The book then is the book of choice. I was tempted to say format, but the term doesn't really describe the nature of a book.

Then comes the gift, through the post from my niece in Edinburgh, quite unexpectedly - Blood & Beauty, signed by Sarah Dunant. A complete and giddying surprise. The book is sumptuous, 526 pages of rich detail. The cover has a velvet feel. It sits well in the hand, weighty but not too heavy.

I have been a long time admirer of Sarah Dunant. Twenty or so years ago, I spent a weekend with my friend Rob attending a writing workshop in Stroud library with Sarah Dunant and her friend Gillian Slovo. That moment in time still resonates, not just because I was slightly star struck, but because our tutors turned out not to be the media types from the television that we might have imagined, but good, honest, down to earth people willing to give their time and experience for very little financial reward. They were kind and thoughtful - very much like my niece, who took the trouble to queue for the book without being prompted and post it to me the following day.

The book is not the gift, so much as the thought and effort that went into making it. You just can give someone a Kindle as a present, but you can never give someone an ebook. It just won't work. It has no resonance.

I am not against ebooks; I love them - the convenience, the fact that out of print books can be easily revived, that self-publication (though not self-publicity) is easy. I love ebooks, but not all the time. I still stick with my view that for a small additional cost all books should be available with an ebook download code.

For now at least, the gift of writing is best presented between cardboard covers.


'I thought you were dead...,' he said.

A way back a child expressed surprise on seeing me. "I thought you were dead," he said.

"Why did you think that?" I asked.

"Because all authors are dead," he said.

Certainly not dead, but I have been out of print for a while, obtainable only through Abe Books or Amazon, sourcing my novels from secondhand dealers in Australia, Japan, the UK or wherever my books have ended up. They have been thinly spread across the globe; a small miracle in itself.

But now? Badgerman & Bogwitch has a wider distribution. Having wrestled with the old WordPerfect files until I put it back in shape, I uploaded it to Amazon today as an ebook.

It was a painless procedure. It went without a hitch, except that I wanted to price the book at £1.99 in the UK, but it ended up showing as £2.00, which to my mind seems somewhat more expensive. (If you decide to download it, please don't email me asking for change.)

I am left with one question? How long will this book be in eprint? It could be 1000 years. No one seems to know the answer. I am not inclined to delete it.


I used to love WordPerfect, but is it the Betamax of word processors?

I have spent a large portion of the day trying to correct formatting issues with the ebook version of Badgerman & Bogwitch. The problem has arisen because I imported the original 1992 WordPerfect file into MSWord, then imported it into Scrivener so I could export it as an Amazon .mobi file format. I have been left with a number of unwanted indents and hard return paragraph anomalies.

I have been going through the Scrivener document line by line, adding and deleting hard returns as necessary. It has driven me slightly mad.

There is no problem with formatting for ebooks if you write straight into Scrivener, as I have been doing for the past three years.

WordPerfect has turned out to be the Betamax of Word processors! :(

10 fantasies for Independent Booksellers Week

Wouldn’t it be nice if…

  • The EU adopted a Common Bookshop Policy & paid subsidies to independent bookshops, funded by corporation taxes collected from online booksellers.
  • Independent bookshops were eligible for lottery funding to create reading corners & put on events for children.
  • Book tokens were prescribed by the NHS to counter the over prescription of anti-biotics & tranqulisers.
  • Every secondary school adopted a bookshop.
  • There was an “e free Friday” campaign & no one bought books online the day before the weekend.
  • Supermarkets could only sell books between 12.00 & 1.00 a.m. on Tuesdays.
  • Authors who had ever sold a million copies refused to sell their books through online retailers & supermarkets.
  • There was a five year moratorium on business rates for independent bookshops,
  • Every paper book sold came with a code for the ebook download for an additional £0.99.
  • The Net Book Agreement was reinstated.

Tablets: the saviour of the paperback

It's nearly year since I bought my Kindle. So how does it compare to reading books printed on paper? The Kindle is certainly convenient, easily portable and superb if you want to read several texts concurrently. It is wonderful until it breaks down.

I am on my second Kindle. The first one froze two weeks ago and there was nothing I could do to reboot it. I phoned Amazon. They answered within a minute and  five minutes later  they had ordered me a new one under the warranty. It arrived three days later. Great service. It tells me that they clearly want to support the infrastructure of ebooks and don't want any customer turning their back on their product.

Before the Kindle froze I was reading Kate Grenville's, Secret River, which I had picked up for £0.99 on Kindle's Daily Deal. And that's one of the things that irritates me about my relationship with the Kindle. It has turned me into a book buying skinflint; my greed for a bargain has started to dictate my reading. I was finding the novel somewhat indifferent, so it was a relief to turn to a paperback, The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connolly (which I hasten to add, I borrowed from a friend, which would be difficult to do with a Kindle book.) By the time I had finished it my replacement Kindle had arrived and so I continued with Kate Grenville.

Which was the more satisfying experience? I have to say it was reading the paperback. Why? Not because of holding the book. It was a tatty copy with small print. (I always enlarge the typeface on the Kindle). It was because I enjoyed the story more.

Earlier in the year I had another chance to compare. I read Donna Tartt's The Little Friend on the Kindle. Later I read The Secret History in paperback. (Incidentally, I bought it from Amazon secondhand for a snip inc., p&p.) Which was the better experience? The Kindle, because I thought The Little Friend was a more interesting book.

It is the literature that is important, the medium is less so, though I do concede I still enjoy reading paper books. I shall continue to read both. What I would really like is a paperback book with a code to download the ebook, but that's not going to happen for a while because it would destroy the current business model where readers are subsidised so that profit can be made from ebook sales.

I have yet to acquire a tablet and that begs a question for me? Why buy a dedicated e-reader when you can buy all the benefits of a tablet for not much more cash. That is certainly the case with Amazon products. I ask the question. Will the tablet kill the e-novel, just as the CD killed the cassette tape?

Why have a tablet and an e-reader? If you have a tablet the tendency will be to browse the web, read magazines, explore multimedia titles, play games, watch movies, catch up on tv, and fiddle around social media. The benefits of electronic paper may not be enough to persuade customers to buy a tablet and an ereader.

Ironically, the tablet may be the saviour of the paperback.

Where is the key to Finlac?

So who's has the key to Finlac?

It is sixth months since I started writing this blog and this is the 70th entry. So where am I? At the outset, I determined to be up front about the process of being published again: my adventures in children's fiction.

I completed The Key to Finlac back in August 2011, or at least I thought I had. It is a book in two parts and stands at 95,000 words long. Since that time I have been seeking an agent. What have I learned from my enquiries during that time?

  • The premise promises much.
  • The story is worth telling.
  • The characters are interesting.
  • The writing is charming and lyrical in places; I can still put sentences together.
  • The book is too long.

I have decided to revise it, rather than throw up my hands and epublish it as it is...or abandon it. That would be the easy option. Writing is not easy.

I need to lose at least 40,000 words and replace a few. I need to pull it apart and put it back together without losing the essence of the story. This is a process that once I start will take three months. What's more, I shall be revising two books at once. A challenge. I shall enjoy it. Otherwise it is not worth doing.

So who has the Key to Finlac? I have. And eventually, so will you.

ebooks: lazy ways & easy money - why proofreading matters

Have you ever read an ebook on Kindle that doesn't have some formatting problems: spacing errors, randomly indented paragraphs, typos? I haven't.

I am not just talking about the free out of copyright classics, but recently published novels like David Guterson's Ed King, (Bloomsbury pub.) which I am enjoying. Fortunately I bought it on the Kindle Deal of the Day promotion for £0.99. At the current price of £5.00 I'd feel less charitable about the formatting errors (of course it could be a problem with my particular Kindle Keyboard 3, bought in 2011.) You wouldn't accept a printed book in this condition, so why do we have to put up with imperfect ebooks?

Formatting an ebook is not an easy option, as I am finding with Badgerman & Bogwitch. It is straightforward to convert the file from a Scrivener document. It took less than thirty seconds. It is only when you look closely at the .mobi (Kindle format) or epub file that you come across formatting errors, that have to be painstakingly corrected by going back to the original word processor file. And much of this seems to be trial and error - it could take days!

If you publish an ebook you owe it to your readers to get it right.


Time-Lapse and other Displacement Activities

What to do when you have just finished your first draft? While it settles like roast beef straight from the oven, (vegetarians be not offended - it has been said that I was born politically correct), I am leaning about making time-lapse movies. It seems an appropriate thing to do and keeps my imagination engaged.

The photography - and I only claim to be competent at it -  also engages me with the local landscape which is so important to my books. My stories are set in the small towns and the five valleys around Stroud, or an imagined version of them.

Of course the sudden interest in time-lapse movie-making might be another displacement activity. My next task is to finish the revised Badgerman & Bogwitch for ebook publication. What's putting me off? Filling in the Form W-7 and sending my passport off to the American Embassy for a US IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, so I won't have to pay income tax in the US. That's for you, good or bad.

Meanwhile, as I drink tea, my DSLR is clicking away every 4 seconds, and will continue to do so (I hope) for the next couple of hours.

A time-lapse movie I made earlier: Selsley Common.