Friday, 30 November 2018

Nyamirambo Music School




Just had to share this. Spent three hours tuning a piano with a stinking hangover today. About two hours in, I was wondering if it was all worth it, but then my friend Bonanni took it for a test run and it was totally worth it. He's so talented. He used to be the manager at Kigali Music School, but that ran out of funding earlier in the year, so he's decided to set out on his own. He's opened a centre in Nyamirambo and some kind soul gifted him this piano, but they haven't been able to use it because it was so out of tune. The trade-off is, I get piano lessons in return. Poor guy, he doesn't know what he's let himself in for! If you like pianos, there's more about all this over on Kigali Keys.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Holding


I was just rewatching the Graham Norton interview with Stephen Colbert the other day. It was done in September last year, but reminded me that Graham Norton had written a book. I've just treated myself to an Audible subscription and decided to download it.

For those who don't know him, Graham Norton is a massive talk show host in the UK, but is perhaps just as loved for his role as Father Noel Furlong in Father Ted, riverdancing a caravan to death.

Not only did he write the book, he also narrated it, which was nice as he's really expressive and has an easy voice to listen to.

From Graham Norton, the BAFTA-award-winning Irish television host and author of the “sparkling and impish” (Daily Mail) memoirs The Life and Loves of a He Devil and So Me, comes a charming debut novel set in an idyllic Irish village where a bumbling investigator has to sort through decades of gossip and secrets to solve a mysterious crime.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama but when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke—a former lover of two different inhabitants—the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated sergeant PJ Collins struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

In this darkly comic, touching, and at times heartbreaking novel, perfect for fans of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore—with searing honesty—the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

It's a bit harder to review audiobooks than written ones because you can't glance back at your notes and pick out the specific bits you liked. But the characters were really well observed, led by overweight PJ Collins and a kooky band of villagers. A gentle whodunnit, with a more in-depth Guardian review here.

I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Ladies of Horror Fiction


Grateful to Ladies of Horror Fiction for giving me a profile on their site. If you like dark fiction, it's well worth checking out. You can also find them on Twitter.

We believe that women in horror fiction are: underrepresented, often lost in the sea of male authors and often unacknowledged for their brilliance

Ladies of Horror Fiction was created to bring about a multi-dimensional way to support women (either cisgender or those who identify as female) who either write in the horror genre or review in it.

This will be done via the website, the podcast, the yearly Instagram Challenge, read-a-longs featuring said authors, and other activities that have not yet been determined.

Monday, 19 November 2018

The Hypochondriac


So proud of my friend Pieter, who runs Thespis Consulting. He directed a play at Kigali Cultural Village last night with an all-Rwandan cast. Molière's The Hypochondriac:

A French play by Molièr, spoken in English, performed by Rwandans, directed by a Dutch guy.

How much more international can you get?

I've put the programme online here

It was actually my first time inside Kigali Cultural Village, which is just at the end of the road with Marriott and Serena on it. It's a collection of several tents for events. Really beautifully lit as you walk in.

 

I meant to ask Pieter before I left home whether it was posh or casual dress. I assumed casual, but as I walked in, there were loads of people in ball gowns and suits. It's only when I followed them, I realised I was in the wrong tent - someone was getting married! 

Quick about-turn. I eventually saw a tent with the EU sign outside and assumed that was probably where a production of Molière would be taking place, if anywhere.

I was right, and just like the TEDx talk, there was a full house.



I had absolutely no idea that the play was from the 17th century (1673), so 345 years old. It was only the second time I'd been to the theatre in all my years in Rwanda. The first time was Butare Deaf Theatre back in 2008. I'm not counting Ugandan cabaret at Pasadena in this. 

Theatre here is often a showcase of dance, drumming and visual arts, and in the villages it usually contains an HIV awareness-raising message, as a lot of theatre is commissioned by NGOs to spread health messages in rural areas. It was really interesting to watch a European play delivered in a European style, with a few amendments. There is one soliloquy where a guy is telling his reluctantly-betrothed how beautiful she is, and that was delivered in Kinyarwanda, comparing her soft skin to the gorillas in Musanze, and her slender neck to a giraffe... 

There was a lot of laughter throughout the performance, and the jokes came across well, which was impressive as it's quite wordy English. But, as Pieter explained, the play may be over three-hundred years old, but the themes are universal and still relevant: parental pressure to marry someone you don't love, a rich guy being surrounded by friends who adore his money more than him, someone pretending to be sick for sympathy... everyone can relate.

For most of the actors, this was their first time in front of a live audience, and they did superbly. 





This is my friend Pieter sitting to the right of the stage. They put the play together in five weeks, which was really impressive.



Afterwards, I took a little wander around the tent - it's really nice in there, showcasing various Rwandan craft makers.


Reception desk with reed mats, agaseki peace baskets,
bark cloth, milk urns, drums and spears.

Imigongo paintings, traditionally from magic huts.


After the performance Pieter and I went for drinks and dinner at the top of Ubumwe Hotel, which has a fabulous view of the city.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

TEDx Rugando

Went to a fantastic TEDx event last night in Kigali. It was hosted by Westerwelle Startup Haus

 

This place is in a building close to Lemigo Hotel and it has an incredible rooftop view. 

(panoramic, click to enlarge)
(panoramic, click to enlarge)

On one side you had a clear view of Kigali Convention Centre, which is currently the most expensive building in Africa. 

 



On the other side, you can see the Parliament building. Since 1994 bullet holes have been plastered over on residential properties, but they left a massive shell crater in the side of Parliament as a reminder. If you look up as you drive past, you can see it.

 

They were still putting the stage together as I arrived, but the place soon filled up. It was a really good crowd - looked like close to 100 people.

 

It was a really nice venue, and kudos for the funky lighting setup.


There were six speakers and two TED videos. My only criticism is that it would have been nice to have more information about the speakers on the programme, as the info on the website really focused on their business backgrounds rather than their idea and what they were going to talk about. Quite a few of us turned up expecting it to be more of a business promotion event and it was really pleasing to discover the diversity of speakers and topics. It was a really energising evening - as a good TEDx talk should be.

The first speaker was Kevine Kagirimpundu, co-founder of Uzuri, Made in Rwanda shoes, explaining how she took her love of fashion to the high street with the help of a local shoe maker. Next was Betty Tushabe, who founded Spoken Word Rwanda. Her talk chimed really closely with my own TEDx talk, in which she spoke about being forced to study law because of her mother's expectations, then finding her passion for policy making later in life - that 'click' moment.

There was music by Rwandan singer Mike Kayihura, performing a mixture of cover songs and original work. Captivated the audience - really beautiful voice.

The two TED videos were Andrew Youn, founder of the One Acre Foundation who are very big in Rwanda, on how we can end poverty, and Wanuri Kahiu on the importance of art for art's sake.

The second half of the session featured Clement Uwajeneza, who masterminded Irembo, a government services portal, with the ambition of making all government services accessible to everyone, cutting out trips to government offices and reems of paperwork. 

Norbert Haguma, co-founder of AfricaGen, talked about leapfrogging technology in developing countries. This is a big topic at the moment. The West took centuries and an industrial revolution to get to where they are technologically today, whereas Africa is in the strange position of having that technology (internet, computers, iphones) but a large portion of the population still using Bronze Age equipment to farm fields and cook with. Leapfrogging is how you bypass the need to replicate an industrial revolution by introducing non-technologically advanced populations to the technological solutions we have today. It's called leapfrogging, because you're jumping over industrial evolutionary steps to fast-track progress. This is why it should take less time for developing countries to catch up to developed ones than it took for developed countries to become developed. During his talk he mentioned the Great Green Wall, which is a project I'd heard about some years back, but didn't realise was still going ahead. It's a project to plant trees across 8,000 km of Africa to stop the progression of the Sahara Desert.

The last speaker was Gael Vande Weghe, who recently published an aerial photographic journal of Rwanda's diverse ecosystem, This is Rwanda. The talk was accompanied by many beautiful examples from his work.

During Norbert's talk about the future of technology and artificial intelligence, I felt like a Victorian woman listening to a lecture on the potential of electricity. Such a sense that we're so far behind what we're going to become. Exciting, yet unnerving.


Betty Tushabe, founder of Spoken Word Rwanda

I bumped into a couple of the speakers on the roof before they were due to go on. I didn't envy them their nerves, and we laughed about that universal sense of panic every performer gets before stepping on stage - and how that's multiplied tenfold with TED because you know it's being recorded. It was nice being in the audience this time.

A really excellent evening, very glad I went. Plenty to think about. Hopefully the first of many TED events in Rwanda. The talks should be available online in a couple of months. I'll post them once they're up. For now, you can see more at #TEDxRugando




Sunday, 11 November 2018

Armistice Day


A little picture of my nana, Rhona, as an ambulance driver in Carlisle during WWII. She was one of the fastest wheel-changers in the north.

And here's my great grandfather, her father, Thomas Alfred Sewell, who remained behind at Ypres after WWI to help bury the dead at Poelkapelle. An occupation that eventually killed him aged 41. Reinterred from the town cemetery to the military one in 2005.


 
Ypres Town Cemetery
Ypres Military Cemetery


This poignant art installation of ghost soldiers at St John's Churchyard, Slimbridge, was created by Jackie Lantelli. If you'd like to do something to commemorate, I suggest joining the Last Post Association. They ensure that the last post is played beneath the Menin Gate every night of the year.


Saturday, 10 November 2018

Lucid


Finally! Book number two of three before Christmas.

It took a bit of doing, but after the release of The Tangled Forest last month, I've just re-released Lucid.

Lucid was the first novel I ever wrote, mostly to see whether I could make the word count. It was written during nights in Rwanda, when I had no television, few books and the internet wasn't capable of streaming video. I got a lot of writing done back in the good ol' days.

It was then shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers in 2009, which was a huge boost of confidence. 

Eventually, it was picked up by Netherworld Books, the third of my novels to be published. Netherworld are an impress of Mirador Publishing. The parent press has the reputation of being a vanity press, charging authors money towards the publication of their titles, however Netherworld weren't. I've never been charged a penny towards publishing. It was a long time ago now, but the reason given, over an enthusiastic phone call, was that they wanted it enough to publish off their own back.

For that, I am grateful. Again, small successes such as these are key to building a fledgeling author's confidence. Though, of my three publishers, they're definitely the one I've had the rockiest relationship with.

The first issue I hit was that they were going to publish the manuscript as is, without any editing. This is practically unheard of. If a publisher takes on a book, they clean it up, at the very least give it a spit and polish. Nope. Not Netherworld. So, I enlisted the help of a friend to proof it.

Second issue - I never liked the cover. The cover image was fine, but the font always reminded me of SmartArt from a Word package. Other than cringeworthy typos, there's little worse for an author than being lumbered with a cover design they don't love. As every novelist knows, cover design is nine-tenths of the law. That's what sells books.

Original Cover
I also didn't like the way the cover pushed the book as purely horror. Yes, there's some of that, but that isn't all that Lucid was about. There was a lot of other stuff going on there as well. 

Every night we go to sleep and dream, but what if dreams could wake in our world?

Oliver Ryan suffers from sleep paralysis. It’s so bad that he’s afraid to invite anyone home in case he wakes screaming – or worse.


His dreams are so vivid they feel more real than his waking life. Each night he visits the Church of Shattered Hopes, where people cry blood, watches helplessly as horses devour themselves, or shoots himself through the head because a Hollywood star told him to.


His salvation appears to lie in Welsh witchcraft and psychoactive drugs, yet they also open the door to a world far worse than he could have imagined.


What does the brutal killing of a young girl in 1968 have to do with the recovery of a local coma victim? Ollie is unwittingly thrown into the role of detective.

Something else that bothered me about that particular publisher was the impersonal nature of their marketing strategy. There was one very brief release article, then once a quarter I'd receive a royalty statement with an attachment talking about ways to market my book, from how to write a press release to The Ten Commandments of Being an Author. Later down the line, when I became involved with Ghostwoods and saw what a proper, tailored marketing campaign involved, I felt a bit sore about the lack of personal support. It very much felt like they were trawling for material they could churn out as fast as possible with little input into the author-publisher relationship. Royalties en mass.

Fair enough, everyone gotta eat, but that didn't leave me feeling good about the relationship, and it certainly didn't shift books.

When, after six years, Netherworld decided it was no longer viable to keep the title in print, I breathed a sigh of relief. Pretty much every author dreams of being able to go back and edit their earlier work - this was my chance. Having just completed my first self-published novel, The Tangled Forest, I knew that I could make a better job of it. I went back through and edited out many of the typos I'd noticed the first time around (probably made a few new ones in the process), switched the format to 6x9", and slapped on a new cover that I really like.

So, here is the re-released result of my efforts. 

Lucid Mark II.

Paperback: UK/US
Kindle: UK/US


Friday, 9 November 2018

Amazon CreateSpace Joining KDP is a Bit of a Mess


Talk about arse and elbow.

I've just had the most excruciating experience with Amazon.

They've decided to lump CreateSpace in with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), but their administrative system really hasn't caught up.

Earlier this year, Netherworld handed back the rights to Lucid. After six years, they no longer felt it was viable to keep it in print. I put a glossy new cover on it and decided to take a shot at self-publishing so that it would still be available.

Anyone who's ever been through the process of typesetting and formatting a novel for self-publication will understand how much time and attention it takes. That's what made this so upsetting.

I submitted it for publication as both an ebook and paperback. The first format has always been published through Amazon KDP. The second format was traditionally published through CreateSpace, but is now also undertaken by KDP.

You get a little pop-up saying items are usually published within around 72 hours unless there's an issue. So, you sit back patiently and wait for notification that your title has passed the review stage and is now available for purchase.

Only, this time, I received a query asking me to prove my rights to the book, as it had previously been published with Amazon by Netherworld Books.

No problem. I tried to forward them a copy of the e-mail in which the publisher transferred the rights. Only, the address they told me to send it to bounced.


When I e-mailed them to mention this, I received no response.

Going back through the e-mails, I tried sending it to the person who originally sent me the request, and then, I think, through the online messaging system. I'm not quite sure what I did, but eventually I got notification that the Kindle version had gone live on 3rd November.

Going live means being published and made available for sale. This would not have happened unless Amazon received my rights notification and accepted that I held the rights to this work.

Yet, while the ebook was out in the world, the paperback still said In Review five days after I'd submitted it.

I contacted Amazon and got a kind reply saying, 'Don't worry, we're looking into it.'

Famous last words.

Today, nine days after submitting my paperback for publication, I got a lengthy e-mail saying I haven't complied by submitting proof of rights ownership and therefor my book has been blocked from Amazon!

Yet the ebook is still live.

So, they accept that I own the ebook but not the paperback?

Joining CreateSpace and KDP was supposed to make this process streamlined. Instead, it's just confused the paperwork. All that hard work to prepare my paperback for publication, and it's just been deleted.

Fuming isn't even a start to it.

Amazon do well, earning money out of authors, but they really don't treat them as people. It's a world full of automated messages. When something goes wrong, you're lucky if you get a response, and even luckier if you get a response from someone who can actually solve a problem.

Not impressed at all. 

[UPDATE: Yeash. Within an hour of sending me yet another 'you don't hold the rights' automated e-mail, I get one saying 'congratulations, your paperback has been published'. What a waste of everybody's lifetime that was.]

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Universal Basic Income



Further to my TEDx talk, several people have asked more about the concept of Universal Basic Income. Above is a really good introductory video. It's also been shown to be extremely helpful for mental health.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Castlevania


What did you do yesterday evening, Marion?

Well, I watched the entire second season of Castlevania in one sitting.

It took me an episode or two to get into the first season, but I'm hooked. There are some fabulous lines, plenty of profanity, and wonderfully gory animation. 

"Adamic is the original human language. The one spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The one that was split into all other languages at the Tower of Babel by God, to prevent human cooperation."

"Is that how you understand that story?"

"Oh, yes. The Speakers are the enemy of God. We live in cooperation and hide our stories inside ourselves so he cannot strike them down in jealousy."

I'm seriously shipping Belmont and Alucard, but respect that they've kept romance out of it in favour of ripping people's throats out. Fantastic set of characters, and very nice to see Jaime Murray on the lineup - I was a huge Hustle fan.

Vampires never get old (no, really, they don't), but there were some nice twists that gave them fresh fangs. 

You can find it on Netflix at the moment. Really looking forward to Season Three.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Blank


I'm really looking forward to this. Giles Paley-Phillips featured briefly in my TEDx talk with his origami swan. He's now starting a podcast with his friend Jim Daly called Blank. You can find more information via Twitter: @Blankpod. They're kicking off on 7th November, interviewing the fantastic Jon Ronson. I was lucky enough to catch him at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2012 and loved his books The Psychopath Test and So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Absolutely tuning in for this. You can plug yourself in via their website.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Girls & Boys


Whilst on my travels, I downloaded a copy of Girls & Boys, a play by Dennis Kelly, performed by Carey Mulligan. 

When they met at an airport, it was love at first sight. But in time, everything collapsed. As an unnamed but unforgettable woman muses on her life—from meet cute to marriage and parenthood—her recollections inexorably build to a devastating truth. In this shattering performance, Carey Mulligan, star of the critically lauded drama An Education, captivates audiences with playwright Dennis Kelly’s harrowing ruminations on family, ambition, gender, and violence. An acclaimed Off-Broadway play, the gut-wrenching world of Girls & Boys now thrives as an Audible Theater production.

It's an extremely well-written and well-performed play unpacking gender-based violence and its consequences. It's peppered with disarming, dark humour. The way it's delivered really draws you in and you're listening so closely, you don't see what's coming.

It's available on Audible, and there's an interview with Dennis Kelly afterwards which is a nice added extra. Highly recommend it.