Friday, 21 September 2018

Unexplained Book Tour

Huge shout out to one of my favourite podcasts, Unexplained. Creator Richard MacLean Smith is releasing a book, which you'll have heard about if you've been listening to the show recently. Here's the UK tour dates, kicking off at the Wigtown Book Festival. Make it if you can, pre-order your copy if you can't.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Reading the Landscape

Oooh, this blew my mind the other day. I caught up with my friend Ineke at a local café and interrupted her whilst she was reading. She was face-first into a tiny little book about the size of my hand. Turns out it's actually a full-length novel condensed down into small print and inked onto the page horizontally.

She assures me there are loads of novels printed like this, but it's the first time I'd ever seen one. I think it's the compromise for people who don't like Kindle. You can certainly fit a lot more of them in your bag. 

Is there a word for this print format?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

What's Going on with the 'BBC'?

I wrote a while back about how many spelling mistakes and typos were cropping up on the BBC website, fuelled by its need for 24-hour rolling news, which editors and proofers don't seem able to keep pace with. Naturally, all articles have one or two mistakes, this blog's got plenty of them, but they were persistent and often in really noticeable places like bylines and even headlines.  

Whilst that continues to be noticeable, there's another, much stranger, trend occurring. I've only really noticed it over the past few months, but the whole of the BBC website seems to be littered with single quotation marks as though half the headlines contain words that are not to be believed. It gives current affairs even more of a sense of unreality than usual.

Why 'The 'Scotch-Irish' influence' and not simply 'The Scotch-Irish influence'? What possible benefit does adding quotation marks to headlines have other than making them sound sardonic? Almost every second headline seems to have a set of inverted commas. You can almost picture the author pausing at her keyboard to crook her fingers in glee. 

If the Pussy Riot man was 'poisoned', was he poisoned, or suspected of being poisoned? Wouldn't it just be easier to express doubt using words, like normal journalists? 

An absolutely baffling trend, and one that adds no clarity whatsoever for the reader.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Violet Evergarden

I'm enthralled by this.

A long-ago ex and I used to be fanatically devoted to Ghibli because of the beauty of their animation: Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Tales from Earthsea. My early twenties were awash with anime. This just brought it all back, and then some. 

Occasionally a little saccharin, but on the whole it hits the emotional nerve dead on. Fantastically observed, exquisitely drawn, and all about the power of writing letters.

I've made up my mind. I wish to follow in the footsteps of Violet Evergarden and become an Auto Memories Doll.

I will travel to wherever you are.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Stuart: A Life Backwards

Whilst in the UK last July, I was talking books with Aunty Patsy. We were talking about what we were reading, and she brought up a book called Stuart: A Life Backwards. She spoke of it in such high terms that I promptly bought a copy for Kindle and started reading it on the flight home. 

I got through 30% on that flight, then readjustments to daily life took over, and I've just finished it now. 

It's an extremely important book:

‘Stuart does not like the manuscript. He’s after a bestseller, “like what Tom Clancy writes”. “But you are not an assassin trying to frazzle the president with anthrax bombs,” I point out. You are an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath, I do not add.’

This is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer (‘a middle-class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander’), and Stuart Shorter, a homeless, knife-wielding thief. Told backwards – Stuart’s idea – it starts with a deeply troubled thirty-two-year-old and ends with a ‘happy-go-lucky little boy’ of twelve. This brilliant biography, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, presents a humbling portrait of homeless life, and is as extraordinary and unexpected as the man it describes.

It isn't too often that you find yourself reading biographies about people who are not A-list celebrities or important historical figures. It's a book about a man you might find in a doorway in any British city.

There are numerous types of homeless person:
There are those who were doing all right beforehand, but have suffered a temporary setback because their wife has run off with another man (or, surprisingly often, another woman). Their business may have collapsed. Their daughter has been killed in a car crash. Or both. Self-confidence is their main problem and, if the professionals can get hold of them in the first few months, they'll be back at work or at least in settled, long-term accommodation within a year or two.

Right at the bottom of this abnormal heap are the people such as Stuart, the 'chaotic' homeless. The chaotic ('kai-yo-ic', as Stuart calls them, drawing out the syllables around his tongue like chewing gum) are beyond repair. When Stuart was first discovered, Kaspar Hauser-like, crouched on the lowest subterranean floor of a multi-storey car park, the regular homeless wanted nothing to do with him. They called him 'Knife Man Dan' and 'that mad bastard on Level D'.

What unites the chaotic is the confusion of their days. Cause and effect are not connected in the usual way. Beyond their own governance, let alone within grasps of ours, they are constantly on the brink of raring up or breaking down. Charity staff fuss especially hard over these people because they are the worst face of homelessness and, when not the most hateful, the most pitiable extremity of street life. - Full Guardian Article

Harrowing and honest. It gives an insight into 'the System' (all of them, from the police and care homes through to social workers and media), into life on the streets and the origins of how a person loses themselves. It offers no easy answers, but definitely raises a lot of questions - and a little more compassion.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Will Davis Showreel

This is the lovely Will Davis, not only a breathtaking aerialist but also a fantastic author. I highly recommend his book The Trapeze Artist. You can also book him for shows via his website

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Widows and Orphans: Adventures in Self-publishing

Well, I've learnt a new publishing term.

I'm having a little fiddle with self-publishing. A long time ago (or a long, long time ago, if we're telling a story in the style of Don McLean), my publisher took up a novella I'd written, asked for two more stories to go with it, then promptly dropped the project. 

The original novella was shortlisted for the Leapfrog Press Award last year, but didn't hit a chord with the handful of other publishers I sent it to. I did receive some lovely compliments, but no one was accepting adult fiction below 70,000. 

So, I've decided to use the stories as an experiment in self-publishing. I've always been interested in how that works, but never been brave enough to sit down and give it a go. I've opted for Amazon's CreateSpace, as it seemed a lot more user-friendly than Lightning Source, even though I do have an account with them.

I sat down and had a good read through the PDF submission specifications.

At first, I felt a little queasy, though it's nowhere near as gratuitous as Sashwords's 117-page beast of a style guide - and that's just for e-books.

Eventually, I turned to YouTube and found a really helpful set of tutorials by Killer Book Marketing which takes you through the whole process. The four that were particularly helpful were:

I had a bit of a meltdown over getting headers and footers in the right place with continuous page breaks, which Word doesn't handle very well, but got there in the end.

Then, when I uploaded it to CreateSpace and checked out the preview, I discovered the issue of 'widows and orphans'. There's a nice little article called Improving the Bottom Line which explains it quite well. A widow is where the first line of a new paragraph appears by itself at the bottom of a page. An orphan is where the last line of a paragraph appears by itself at the top of a page (I think). Word automatically readjusts the layout of a page to avoid this, moving the widow to the next page to form a whole paragraph. This means you end up with opposite pages in your book having a different number of lines, usually resulting in the page that had the widow now having a blank line at the bottom, so the bottom lines of your page don't line up in the same way the top lines do.

You can knock off the widow and orphan control on Word, so that it doesn't do this, but most typesetters seem to agree that allowing widows to appear is a cardinal publishing sin.

Mostly, I was wondering which is the greater sin - allowing widows to appear, or leaving blank spaces where a line of text should be?

I went to my bookshelf and had a rummage through. I discovered that most self-published and POD books had the blank space, even when the overall quality of publication was very high. But I did find a professionally published book by Anchor (part of Random House at that time) which had them. 

Ideal Alignment
Missing Widow (Right)
With Widow (right)

That last one is from a copy of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is a pretty famous book. So, I decided I'd follow their lead and knock off widow control in Word. Apparently there are ways around it if you play with character spacing, but that seems like a huge amount of effort throughout a 345-page book. I think I can live with the odd floating line. Definitely looks better than a missing line.

Having said that, I had never noticed the blank lines in books I had previously read until I became aware of this issue through trying to publish my own book. Now I see them everywhere. To the average reader, I doubt it makes a lot of difference.

The manuscript has now been adjusted and re-uploaded to CreateSpace. Just waiting on the cover to come through. I'll talk about that another time. Then I'm going to order a hard copy and make any final adjustment.