Monday, 14 October 2019

Give Me My Chocolate or the Turtle Dies



I've just finished reading Give Me My Chocolate or the Turtle Dies: The tantrums and trials of expats in Viet Nam, by the talented travel writer and aid worker, Dara Passano. 

It's a warts and all exposé of life as an expat in Vietnam, but so much of it could apply to many other countries. I nodded along sagely with the issue of having clothes made to fit the size the tailor thinks you should be, rather than the size you actually are. 

When you first came to Vietnam, you were blown away by the idea of having a whole new wardrobe handmade to your specifications. You stayed up late paging through designer catalogues and surfing fashion websites and even sketched out some of your own ideas ('They're nothing, really,' you said flippantly. But oh, were you proud). You spent whole weekend picking through the fabric market. Friends recommended their tailors to you and you went from one to the other during lunch breaks. During weeks of lunch breaks. You wanted everything to be just right.

Then you went for the first fitting and were... a little disconcerted. The tailor swore she could fix it. You tried to believe her. One week became two became six. By the time you got your clothes back you were desperate. And they were dreadful. Well, one-third was pretty good (though not exactly what you had in mind) and one-third was so unwearable you couldn't possibly use them for anything more public than mulch.

Then you noticed that it was these most unwearable creations that had ruined the nicest fabric.

This is when you cried.

We've all been there - several times.
 
Also identified with the issue of asking how long something, such as ear-splitting building work that starts at 6 a.m., is going to finish, only to be told 'soon' - which could mean anything from tomorrow to (more likely) five weeks. 

The part about teaching English:

And no one will ever remember the difference between 'he' and 'she'. Fascinating.

Same in Rwanda, gender pronouns just ain't a thing. I admire this, you don't change the way you speak to someone, or what you call them, based on whether they're male or female, but it can lead to confusion when editing English reports - one moment the leader of the co-operative is holding a meeting in her local community, the next moment he is handing out leaflets to everyone.

Something that reminded me of visiting my friends Ruairí and Martine in Laos several years ago, because it's the same there as Vietnam:

... the law of the street says that the biggest vehicle is always at fault [in a traffic accident] (except in the case of buses, who may each merrily slaughter several people and untold potted plants per annum).

That's really a thing. Doesn't matter what happened, the largest vehicle is at fault.

Two days ago, I was in a fairly hairy collision in Kigali. I was taking my cat to the vet when my taxi driver decided to pull straight out in front of a cement mixer. It was absolutely my driver's fault, no question, but under Laotian/Vietnamese custom, the cement mixer would have been at fault. An interesting concept.

Each chapter of this book has an entertaining quiz to work out how fresh off the boat you are, or how much of a jaded long-termer. For instance: How Keen are You to Karaoke? and How Well Do You Bargain?

It's a book that needs approaching with a large pinch of salt. Travellers full of dewy-eyed optimism might not get on with it as well as people who have lived abroad for many years and become one with the daily frustrations that come with long-term expatriation.

That said, there's a rather touching bit towards the end on counter culture shock and the sense of dislocation long-term expats often feel when returning to their country of origin. It also acknowledges the way expats can build up their home countries as beacons of efficiency. A delusion which is quickly dispelled when you eventually do take a trip home. I was nodding vigorously along when she spoke of returning to the US:

I was on the phone for three days trying to find a way to get my internet connected and was snapped at and hung up on so many times I wanted to force-feed the operators burnt fish sauce. Their only redemption was transferring me to a call center in India.

The Indians were nice. They could not give me internet, but they did give a bit of love. I thanked them. Sometimes I still call them when I am lonely.

It's a fun read, even for those expatting it in other countries than Vietnam.

If you find yourself nodding along with a significant amount of it and need a little extra support, you might like to consider joining Grumpy Expat.

Friday, 11 October 2019

A Wandering We Shall Go



Sorry for the silence everyone. My mum and her partner, Merrick, came out to visit for three weeks and we've been touring the country having a lovely time. We've:

  1. Been on a walking tour of Kigali and visited the memorial
  2. Taken a boat ride on Lake Kivu
  3. Visited the tea fields of Pfunda
  4. Taken a game drive to see the wild animals of Akagera
  5. Visited the royal palace
  6. Trekked golden monkeys

Had a mild case of malaria, but all better now. It's been an incredible holiday and so happy my folks made it out here. Lots of lovely memories and photos. 

I'll resume normal programming soon. Few book reviews to catch up on.


Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Monday, 9 September 2019

Author Copies


Large box of author copies have arrived. All ready for reading!

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Mythos



Really enjoyed this retelling of ancient Greek myths by the legendary Stephen Fry.

No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly or brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses.

In Stephen Fry's vivid retelling we gaze in wonder as wise Athena is born from the cracking open of the great head of Zeus and follow doomed Persephone into the dark and lonely realm of the Underworld. We shiver when Pandora opens her jar of evil torments and watch with joy as the legendary love affair between Eros and Psyche unfolds.

Mythos captures these extraordinary myths for our modern age - in all their dazzling and deeply human relevance.

Unfortunately, it illustrates a problem with Audible, in that I made a lot of notes (or clips as they're called), but it would take a long time to sift through and type them all out. Usually, other people have picked out the same passages as me, so I can Google the quotes and include them, but for some reason, there aren't so many quotes from this book coming up at the moment. It would be unbelievably useful if, when you saved an Audible clip, it also gave you the text.

The majority of the bits I bookmarked were the links between the ancient names of the gods and modern words today, such as Brontes, thunder, who gave the brontosaurus its name - thunder lizard - and Hypnos, Latin Somnus, associated with sleep. There were a lot of really interesting geographical links between god names and places, and a lot on symbolism, such as the difference between Hermes's caduceus, which features wings and two entwined snakes, and the Rod of Asclepius, which features one snake and no wings. The former is often confused for the latter and used to represent the medical profession, whereas:

The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods..." - Wiki

Anyway, there's so much to unpack here. I especially liked the bit in the story of Pandora's Pithos (it wasn't a box), where one of the torments she unleashed was trapped inside, the only one that was not awful: Hope. That seemed particularly cruel.

I've always loved mythology, and some of the first books I read were illustrated fairytales and the myths and legends of Greece and Ireland, so I was fairly familiar with most of the stories, but Fry purposefully avoided many of the very well known ones in favour of some lesser known tales, and it was all the more interesting for it.

Actually, I've never mentioned it on this blog, because I read it years ago, back in uni, but C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces is a very nice retelling of Psyche. I'm surprised it doesn't get mentioned more often.


It's a real pleasure to listen to Fry narrate his own book. He carries such an air of knowledge, authority, and above all, interest in the subject. His enthusiasm pulls you in. 

Really did enjoy this. It's worth picking up if you enjoy origin tales and classical mythology, though it's best to focus on the overall story rather than trying to remember the names and domains of every god - there are a lot of them. 


Although I can't include all of the quotes I'd like to, there are some choice ones on Goodreads.

Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.

Also check out my review of Circe by Madeline Miller.

Monday, 2 September 2019

The Egg


That's an entertaining mind-bender. Nice story and I like the animation.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Rivers of London



Down the sodium-lit streets, along roads that have been traffic-calmed to within an inch of their life, Peter Grant is trying to subdue the spirit of riot and rebellion:

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden ... and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.

I really enjoyed this one. It fell into a sub-genre of novels I really like, where institutional bureaucracy meets the fucking insane. In this case, the spirit of Punch & Judy, with a Punch who can split your face wide open. 

Grizzly back-alley goodness, steeped in ancient mythology and believable police protocol. Same ilk as Jane Lovering's Vampire State of Mind, and Yhatzee Crowshaw's Differently Morphous, with the sinister atmosphere of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman.

I'm a latecomer to this, but it seemed at one point it was on everybody's bookshelves. I'd always liked the cover and so, when I saw it on Audible, I thought, 'I'll have that.' Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is an excellent narrator and really carries you along on the current.

The book provides some useful advice for life:
When I'm considering this I find it helpful to quote the wisdom of my father, who once told me, "Who knows why the fuck anything happens?"

"Just because you think you know what you're doing, doesn't actually mean you know what you're doing." 

And a few really interesting snippets of London history:

‘I am Jack Ketch,’ I said, and this time I felt it carry out to the audience. I got a ripple of vestigia back, not from the people but from the fabric of the auditorium. The theatre remembered Jack Ketch, executioner for Charles II, a man famed for being so unrepentantly crap at his job that he once published a pamphlet in which he blamed his victim, Lord Russell, for failing to stay still when he swung the axe. For a century afterwards, Ketch was a synonym for the hangman, the murderer and the Devil himself: if ever there was a name to conjure him with, then it would be Jack Ketch. 

In 1861 William Booth resigned from the Methodists in Liverpool and headed for London where, in the grand tradition of metropolitan reinvention, he founded his own church and took Christ, bread and social work to the heathen natives of east London. In 1878 he declared that he was tired of being called a volunteer and that he was a regular in the army of Christ or nothing at all; thus the Salvation Army was born. But no army, however pure its motives, occupies a foreign country without resistance, and this was provided by the Skeleton Army. Driven by gin, bone-headedness and growling resentment that being the Victorian working class was bad enough without being preached  at  by  a  bunch  of  self-righteous  northerners,  the  Skeleton  Army  broke  up  Salvation  Army  meetings, disrupted marches and attacked its officer corps. The emblem of the Skeleton Army was a white skeleton against a black background – a badge worn by right-thinking ne’er-do-wells from Worthing to Bethnal Green.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch is a dark, fun frolic of a book, and the start of a long-running series.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Zodiac


Every now and then I indulge in a true crime book or documentary. The most recent of which was Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, who was involved with the case during his time as a political cartoonist for San Francisco Chronicle, which is one of the papers Zodiac sent letters to.

During my post-grad, I studied Forensic Linguistics. We studied cases like the Yorkshire Ripper, and how local accent helped catch him, and the Unibomber, who was brought down by his own idiolect. Each of us has a pattern of speech which is unique, like our fingerprints. That's called idiolect. The Unabomber apparently thought himself too smart to use the phrase You can't have your cake and eat it (because you can), so he used You can't eat your cake and have it (which is true, you can't). This turn of phrase was recognised by his sister-in-law in letters to his brother.

So, speech, language and crime is a fascinating subject, and the reason I was drawn to this.

A sexual sadist, the Zodiac killer took pleasure in torture and murder. His first victims were a teenage couple, stalked and shot dead in a lovers’ lane. After another slaying, he sent his first mocking note to authorities, promising he would kill more. The official tally of his victims was six. He claimed thirty-seven dead. The real toll may have reached fifty.

Robert Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when Zodiac first struck, triggering in the resolute reporter an unrelenting obsession with seeing the hooded killer brought to justice. In this gripping account of Zodiac’s eleven-month reign of terror, Graysmith reveals hundreds of facts previously unreleased, including the complete text of the killer’s letters.

Things I learnt:

  • E [is] the most common letter in the English language, followed in order by T, A, O, N, I, R and S. The most commonly doubled letters in English are L, E and S. The letter most commonly occurring together are TH, HE and AN. More than half of all words end in E, and more than half of all words begin with T, A, O, S or W. 
  • The most commonly doubled letter in the English Language is L (LL).
  • The most common three-letter combinations, trigrams, are THE, ING, CON and ENT.
  • During an autopsy, it's called 'penetrating' if an object, such as a bullet, enters the body but doesn't exit, and 'perforating' if it also exits. Not sure why this stuck with me - useful if I ever retrain as a coroner, perhaps.

Returning to idiolect, there was a suggestion that perhaps Zodiac was British because he used the phrases Happy Christmas and picking off the kiddies (killing the children), which works for Britain and Canada, but not so much America. Later, there's a suggestion that the term fiddle and fart around, is commonly heard among older men of Lubbock County, Texas. But I'm curious as to why that doesn't also back up the British theory, as fiddle about and fart about are common expressions in the UK. Although, fiddle and fart together, not so sure. 

Given that the guy deliberately misspelt things to throw people off the scent, it wouldn't be surprising if he also drew from colloquial speech outside his native area.

Something else I found interesting was the Zebra Murders. A racially-motivated set of murders by The Death Angels in the 1970s. Interesting purely because it's a footnote of history I had never heard of before.

There was also the suggestion that Zodiac was influenced by a 1932 film called The Most Dangerous Game. The whole thing is available online, so you can make up your own mind.

The obvious allure of Zodiac is that he was never caught, therefore the reader always has that tantalising prospect of noticing something others have missed and solving the crime. The book firmly places suspicion on  Arthur Leigh Allen, who died in 1992.

I must admit, it all seemed a bit circumstantial and bias-confirmatory, but then, I wasn't there, so don't know. Whilst looking into the case after finishing the book, I stumbled across this fascinating story, where a guy called  Gary L. Stewart tracked down his biological father, Earl Van Best Jr., who is a man with a very unfortunate resemblance to the Zodiac composite.



Stewart went on to co-orther a book called The Most Dangerous Animal of All, in which he claims his father was Zodiac.

Anyway, interesting stuff, and quite an education in deciphering ciphers.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Blog Tour Complete


The blog tour for The Children of Lir is complete. The reviews are in, the interviews given. To find out what people are saying, head here. Huge thank you to Fraser's Fun House for organising this tour, it was a real pleasure working with them. Hope to do so again in the future. You can pick up your copy:
 
Kindle UK/US
Paperback UK/US

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Children of Lir Takes Flight

Love it when people send pictures of them reading my books. Here's the latest, The Children of Lir. Find out more here, and join the UK giveaway.


David, Rwanda

What's in my Wonderland

Patsy, Wales

Friday, 16 August 2019

Children of Lir Giveaway


First review up for The Children of Lir on What's in my Wonderland, along with details of a UK giveaway. Head on over for details.

Purchase:

Kindle UK/US
Paperback UK/US

Monday, 12 August 2019

The Children of Lir Launch Week Blog Tour




Hello everyone!

My novel, The Children of Lir, will be launching this Thursday 15th August.

Here's a list of the participating blogs who will be running reviews, interviews, excerpts and giveaways. As the week progresses I will add direct links below, so check back each day to view them.

We'll also be running the hashtags #TheChildrenOfLir #MarionGraceWoolley on Twitter.

The Kindle version is currently here: UK/US and the paperbackis here: UK/US.


Thursday 15 August 
B for Book Review (interview)

Friday 16 August 

Sunday 18 August 

Monday 19 August 
Margaret Pinard (interview)

Tuesday 20 August 

Wednesday 21 August 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

A Short History of Nearly Everything



Recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It's my second adventure with him, and I'm a huge fan of his book Shakespeare: The World as a Stage. This one was first published in 2003, and although the audio book is considerably more recent, narrator William Roberts still manages to infuse suitable levels of horror that CFC won't be banned in developing countries until 2010. Like Bertrand Russel's History of Western Philosophy, though, it seems to have largely stood the test of time and still reads as highly relevant to today.

In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson trekked the Appalachian Trail—well, most of it. In A Sunburned Country, he confronted some of the most lethal wildlife Australia has to offer. Now, in his biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

There was so much to unpack in this book, which stretched from the beginning of existence, through the first signs of life to the possibility of life on other planets and the future of mankind. Here's some of my favourite nuggets of knowledge:

Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe. 

*

Even the Reverend Buckland, as pious a soul as the nineteenth century produced, noted that nowhere did the Bible suggest that God made Heaven and Earth on the first day, but merely “in the beginning.” That beginning, he reasoned, may have lasted “millions upon millions of years.” 

*

The confusion over the aluminum/aluminium spelling arose because of some uncharacteristic indecisiveness on [Humphry] Davy's part. When he first isolated the element in 1808, he called it alumium. For some reason he thought better of that and changed it to aluminum four years later. Americans dutifully adopted the new term, but many British users disliked aluminum, pointing out that it disrupted the -ium pattern established by sodium, calcium, and strontium, so they added a vowel and syllable.

*

You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. Everything has this kind of energy trapped within it. We're just not very good at getting it out. Even a uranium bomb—the most energetic thing we have produced yet—releases less than 1 percent of the energy it could release if only we were more cunning.

*

The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand. 

*

As you might expect, oxygen is our most abundant element, accounting for just under 50 percent of the Earth's crust, but after that the relative abundances are often surprising. Who would guess, for instance, that silicon is the second most common element on Earth or that titanium is tenth? Abundance has little to do with their familiarity or utility to us. Many of the more obscure elements are actually more common than the better-known ones. There is more cerium on Earth than copper, more neodymium and lanthanum than cobalt or nitrogen. Tin barely makes it into the top fifty, eclipsed by such relative obscurities as praseodymium, samarium, gadolinium, and dysprosium.

Abundance also has little to do with ease of detection. Aluminum is the fourth most common element on Earth, accounting for nearly a tenth of everything that's underneath your feet, but its existence wasn't even suspected until it was discovered in the nineteenth century by Humphry Davy, and for a long time after that it was treated as rare and precious. Congress nearly put a shiny lining of aluminum foil atop the Washington Monument to show what a classy and prosperous nation we had become, and the French imperial family in the same period discarded the state silver dinner service and replaced it with an aluminum one. The fashion was cutting edge even if the knives weren't.

*

By and large, if an element doesn’t naturally find its way into our systems—if it isn’t soluble in water, say—we tend to be intolerant of it. Lead poisons us because we were never exposed to it until we began to fashion it into food vessels and pipes for plumbing. (Not incidentally, lead’s symbol is Pb for the Latin plumbum, the source word for our modern plumbing.) The Romans also flavoured their wine with lead, which may be part of the reason they are not the force they used to be. 

*
The dandelion was long popularly known as the “pissabed” because of its supposed diuretic properties, and other names in everyday use included mare’s fart, naked ladies, twitch-ballock, hound’s piss, open arse and bum-towel. One or two of these earthy appellations may unwittingly survive in English yet. The “maidenhair” in maidenhair moss, for instance, does not refer to the hair on the maiden’s head.

*

At least 99 percent of flowering plants have never been tested for their medicinal properties. Because they can’t flee from predators, plants have had to contrive chemical defenses, and so are particularly enriched in intriguing compounds. Even now nearly a quarter of all prescribed medicines are derived from just forty plants, with another 16 percent coming from animals or microbes, so there is a serious risk with every hectare of forest felled of losing medically vital possibilities. Using a method called combinatorial chemistry, chemists can generate forty thousand compounds at a time in labs, but these products are random and not uncommonly useless, whereas any natural molecule will have already passed what the Economist calls “the ultimate screening programme: over three and a half billion years of evolution."

*

Even thinking, it turns out, affects the way genes work. How fast a man’s beard grows, for instance, is partly a function of how much he thinks about sex (because thinking about sex produces a testosterone surge).

I also learned that Mary Anning was the inspiration behind the tongue-twister 'she sells seas shells on the sea shore,' that panspermia is the word for the theory that life on earth originated from outer space, and that English Sweating Sickness wiped out thousands of people in the 1500s before disappearing without a trace. 

It also took me on a nice trip down memory lane with an entry about the dinosaur display at Crystal Palace, where my dad lived for a time when I was a kid. And also when he was talking about dodos, it brought back memories of the New Walk Museum in Leicester, which I loved when I was young. It had ancient Egyptian mummies, a life-size diplodocus skeleton and a stuffed dodo. Most of which, thanks to this book, I now know are reconstructions, but it still fascinated me.

Enthusiastic thumbs up. History with a twist of humour.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Two Weeks to Children of Lir Launch


With two weeks to go before the launch of The Children of Lir, here's the blog tour list. There will be interviews, giveaways and excerpts. Currently got a bit of pre-release nerves, but looking forward to it. Thanks to Fraser's Fun House for organising this, it's been a real pleasure working with them.

If you'd like to purchase this in e-format, please put in a pre-release order. This helps to give it a bump up the rankings on launch day. The paperback will be available from 15th August.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Amazon Fails Authors on Launch Day


My last post was a bit of a gripe about the difficulty KDP authors face getting hold of Amazon.

Here's why I was trying to get hold of them - it's quite bizarre.

Any author, whatever they're publishing, knows the importance of launch day. Whether trad or self-published, it's the day you spend months leading up to. You advertise the date everywhere. You organise your blog tours and promotion around it. You set up your giveaways to go live at midnight.

Launch day is fundamental to, well, launching your book.

Which is why it's utterly unbelievable that Amazon doesn't let you set one!

You can set your launch date for a Kindle e-book, and even set up pre-sales so that people can order your book and receive it the moment it's released. But you can't do it for a paperback.

What's worse, is that you have absolutely no control over the exact release date of your book. When you hit publish, you're met with a message saying it can take up to 72 hours for your book to go live. 

Up to.

That means it could come out the day before launch date or even the day after. There's no way to synchronise it with your Kindle copy, and no way to set up pre-order.

Why is pre-order important?

Well, book bestseller rankings aren't based on how many books you've ever sold. They're based on how quickly your book is selling. Sell 200 copies over a year and you won't make a dent in the listing. Sell them in an hour and you'll zoom up the charts. Any pre-orders count as a sale on launch day, giving your book a much-needed bump up the rankings.

A paperback takes far more effort to produce than an e-copy. E-formatting is really simple, text layout on a print copy is not. Yet there's no benefit to creating a paperback with Amazon. Doesn't count towards launch day sales, can't even set the launch day.

KDP is a total mess for print books. If I'd known all of this a few months ago, I'd never have published through them. They really don't appreciate how long it takes to write a novel or the work that goes in to preparing for launch.

When I contacted them about this problem, they replied saying they'd enabled phone support for me because it was a 'unique issue'. It's not a unique issue. Authors all over the place are pissed off with Amazon for messing up their launch promotions. Here's a few comments from writing groups I'm in:

Signe: You can't [control the release date]. It was slightly easier to control with CreateSpace, but KDP is a mess. My clients have had numerous issues. 

Juliet: I've heard horror stories about this and lots of promotional work being ruined, because Amazon doesn't give a crap. I will never publish through them, not when there are far more reputable POD publishers like IngramSpark and BookLocker.com, Inc. out there...

Michelle: Doing audiobook releases is worse because ACX (Audible) doesn’t give an exact date just a (I think) two week range.

When I spoke to Amazon, they told me they understood the problem and that other authors had reported it too, but they couldn't do anything about it. Maybe in the future.

Well, maybe in the future I'll publish through them again, but for now I'm exploring other options.


UPDATE:  A friend in publishing just told me this:

Hi. I just saw your post about Amazon not allowing you to set up preorders for paperbacks. There is actually a way, but they won't tell you that. You have to set yourself up as a seller on Amazon and list the book as one of your items. Then you can do preorders. BUT just be aware that if you set it up for preorder and no one buys it, you doom your rankings. So it's not worth putting it up for preorder unless you've done a lot of promotion ahead of when you set it to preorderable. The algorithm does some weird math and a low sales rank will stop people from seeing the book in the ways that Amazon is actually good at promoting things.

I won't be doing it as I believe pre-order is a right for all authors - and that's a sucky system - but interesting to know.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Amazon's Non-existent Phone Support




Back in April, I posted about Amazon's non-existent customer contact form, designed to keep KDP customers from ever making contact with their customer care team.

This month, things get even more ridiculous.

There's a massive issue with their pre-order system - or lack of - which I'll go into in a separate post. Suffice to say, I needed to talk to someone who could fix that problem.

They seem to have sorted the e-mail system, so I was able to send them a message outlining the issue.

I received the following response:

Thank you for contacting Amazon KDP. I understand that you wanted information on coordinating your books release dates. I would be glad to assist you.

Due to the unique nature of your inquiry, I've temporarily enabled your account for phone support. Our phone support is available every day from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Pacific time...

1. Sign in to your KDP account [...]
4. Follow Steps 1 through 7 above to request a phone call.

First off, this really wasn't a 'unique issue,' many other authors are hacked off by the same thing and have been vocal about it in writing groups - seems Amazon just isn't listening. 

Secondly, there were no steps 1-7. Not above, not below, not anywhere in the e-mail, not on the website.

I replied to point this out and received:

First of all, our apologies for the inconvenience caused.

The steps for the phone support were sent incorrectly previously, now you will be able to see steps 1 to 7 correctly...

The steps included:

1. Go to the Contact Us form: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us
2. Select your issue under "How can we help?"
3. Choose the subcategory that best describes the reason for your contact.
4. You'll see a "Phone" option under the section "How would you like to contact us?"
5. Under "Phone," click "Call us."
6. Under "Talk with KDP Customer Service," enter your contact number and country or region.
7. Choose "Call Me" or "Call Me in 5 Minutes," and be ready to provide your account information when we call. 

Yeah, I got as far as three. None of the topics under How can we help were remotely linked to my issue, so I selected book details and How do I change my book details? Nowhere under that subcategory was there an option saying phone or How would you like to contact us

So, I sent a miffy reply telling them to call me and including my number.

You could watch your entire life go by trying to get customer service from KDP. Amazon is worth almost $135 billion, yet they can't build a website. Rather backs up the theory that this is deliberate and that they're trying their very best to become a company that filters customer service requests out the back door. They can't genuinely be this bad, can they?

Anyway, I'll post an update if I ever get to talk to someone. 

Meanwhile, if anyone knows how to get around this and request a call back, I'd be grateful. 

UPDATE: So, a very nice man from Amazon did call me after I sent the e-mail. Worked out that there is a call back button on the website, but it's well hidden.

If I had chosen Moving from CreateSpace to KDP, I would have seen it immediately:


But because I chose Book details, I should then have guessed that I needed to click one of the additional links below, rather than looking to the right, where you'd logically expect it to appear.



Really unhelpful web design.

Anyway, the guy went off to talk through my problem with colleagues. He admitted the problem was a definite issue, but there was nothing KDP could do about it at the moment. Hopefully in the future.

Well, that was worth it.

Two days to get to talk to somebody, to get nothing done.

What's that IngramSpark - pick me, pick me?

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Children of Lir on Pre-order


My novel, The Children of Lir, is now available for pre-order on Kindle.


The official release date is August 15th. Any pre-order sales count on launch day and help to push it up the sales ranking. If you would like it in e-format, please do pre-order. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't allow pre-order of print books, so that will be available after launch.

A curse that lasted 900 years, a legend that lasted forever.

From the Iron Age of Ireland to the dawn of Christianity, this epic retelling traverses the realms of magic and sorcery. From the fort of Fionnachaidh to the watery wastes of Sruth na Maoile, it tells of the downfall of an ancient race and the children caught in its wake.

Grieving for the loss of his wife, King Lir marries her younger sister, Aoife. Jealous of her husband’s children she calls on the power of the Aos Sí and their Phantom Queen, making a bargain that will cost her life.

The children, turned to swans, are cast out upon the waves in an adventure that sees empires rise and fall as centuries pass. Eventually, they must choose between the world they once knew and a future they do not understand.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Drawholic


Recently discovered the YouTube channel of this incredible time-lapse artist, Drawholic. I'm absolutely mesmerised. As one blogger put it, a 'Prismacolor pencil savant.' So many incredible pictures, so perfectly drawn. I have trouble with stick figures, so this just blows me away. Follow the channel for more.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The First Word


Well, it feels like an age since I wrote anything new. I've been busy preparing my next two releases, The Children of Lir (August 15th) and Secure the Shadow (TBC). Cover reveal on that second one coming soon.

All that proofing left little time for new endeavours, and the longer you're away from writing, the harder it is to get back to. I've also been torn between two separate story concepts, both of which had their merits, but I've finally settled on another stab at historical fiction. 

This one is a heck of a challenge, though. The Children of Lir was tough, but the characters were entirely fictional and the reading around them brief. This time, it's even further back in history, but the characters are historical and the reading around them almost as weighty as Rosy Hours. The books are academic and expensive, and the gaps numerous. I've just spent two days trying to work out viable dates for known family members to have lived and died. Trying to slot them all into a workable timeframe. Still not quite there.

As usual with historical fiction, I'm taking time to go through the resources, make notes and watch documentaries. I'm slowly starting to feel a bit more confident and, as with The Children of Lir, it's one of those stories that seems to be all laid out. Political intrigue, power politics and a smattering of natural disasters. I'm just hoping I can cram it all into one volume. 

I'm just over the first thousand words at the moment, which is nothing. A story can shrivel up and die in the first ten to twenty thousand. I'll report back in a while, but hopefully it's a goer. It feels really nice to be back at the page with a sense of purpose. Too long a hiatus and you start to fear you can never write again. 

Here's an introductory bit, subject to tinkering:

It is only now that I can no longer write, that I wish to tell my story. Not the story of small things, of how I liked my hair braided as a child, nor the story of holy things, such as the temple hymns which caused the earth to tremble. Simply my story. The story of who I am, who I once was, and everything in between.
My hands, once supple, are clawed and caked in clay. The bones never truly mended. As I try to press the stylus against its soft bed, my fingers fail me. Instead of the clean lines and arrows of my thoughts, only deep grooves appear. Incomprehensible scars, malformed and incomplete. I collect the stories of other people beneath my nails. The silt of generations who drank from those waters, drowned in them, and made love beside the flowing depths of the Euphrates. Palil used to draw back in disgust when I laid out my slabs of clay. He never appreciated them for what they truly were, the bones and tears of time itself. To him, it was a mess. To me, it was beautiful. The remnants of bold warriors and widows’ sorrows. We write our stories on those who have gone before.
 

Beside my wrecked attempt is another tablet. This one touched by age. Baked by a thousand days of Sumerian sun. The stylus left its mark firm and unapologetic. Its patterns pressed by the hand of a man who forged both words and empires. My father, Sargon the Great.
 

When I look upon his writing, I feel a thousand snakes coil within. Yet, even as they bite, their poison tastes sweet. Everything wrong in him was wrong in me, and all his strength was mine to inherit. He gifted me an empire, but could not protect it from the enemy within. As the weather turns wet and my bones shriek mercy, I wonder what he would have thought to see the devastation his children wrought upon themselves. If he could have his life again, might he have taken more care?
 

When I ask that question of myself, it cannot be answered.
 

My end draws near. I am old, but it is not age that comes to claim me. As I sit, waiting, I am not afraid of what is to come. Without my hands, without the ability to even write my name, there is nothing left for me in this world. I have said all that I needed to say, to all who mattered. I spoke words of love, of vengeance, even of regret. Yet I have never spoken to myself. Never truly heard the story as I wished to tell it. And now, only the walls remain to hear me.
 

So, walls, built of the same simple mud as my tablets, dried by the same sun that hardened my father’s words and mine. Will you listen now? In this small space between midnight and dawn, will you accept the last of my breath? Will you hear my history as it was – entirely?

Then I shall tell it.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Tales From The Hanged Man


Really like this guy. His story is heavily influenced by David Southwell's Hookland.



If you want more Hookland, check out Twitter,  and my novel Creeper's Cottage.