Blog Tours: an explanation

Last week I was at a meeting at Writing West Midlands. I was asked to explain blog tours because some of the people present weren’t familiar with them. I’m quite sure I didn’t do the subject full justice, so I thought I’d write a brief blog about the experiences that I’ve had with them.

A blog tour is a virtual tour that your book goes on, and each stop on the tour is hosted by a book blogger. When you organise a blog tour you decide how long it’s going to be, perhaps a week, and then you try to find bloggers who will mention, review, or host some content about your book on their site. They are used by independent publishers, small presses and traditional publishers.

There is usually a banner which is the equivalent of a flyer or a poster that you might see for a real-life tour. It lists all of the stops and the dates for your blog tour and has the artwork of your book cover built into it.

Blog tour banner for A Spell in the Country

Blog tour banner for “A Spell in the Country”. This blog tour took place a few months ago

It is possible to organise your own blog tour if you’re in touch with lots of book bloggers. Otherwise, you might ask a blog tour organiser to do this for you. They will normally charge you a nominal fee, and some will include the design of the banner in the price.

I’ve just booked a blog tour for an upcoming release. The book is called A Heart in the Right Place, and the blog tour will take place in January.

Book cover for A Heart in the Right Place

A Heart in the Right Place

Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources is the organiser who has filled the tour spaces for this book. We’ve also been lucky enough to enough to have a tour organised for us by Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers.

For this latest blog tour, I sent Rachel the cover and description of the book, the sort of content that we are prepared to write for people’s blogs, and the number of paperback copies that we can provide. Rachel then contacted lots of bloggers and the tour soon filled up. We have 25 bloggers taking part and 17 of them will review the book, which is wonderful.

Sometimes bloggers might like to include an extract from the book, sometimes we might write them a brief article that relates to the content of the book or the way that we went about writing it. Sometimes it’s just the review, but there is always fresh content for anyone who drops in on various blog tour stops.

So what are the benefits of having a blog tour? It’s a concentrated burst of activity on social media that features your book. The blogging community are an amazingly friendly and cooperative bunch, and they all share each other’s posts so you can be sure that lots of people will see your book over the course of the tour. It really raises the profile of your book and of course lots of people will become familiar with the cover because it will appear on social media multiple times.

Bloggers and blog tour organisers are the rock-star influencers of the online book-buying world and their impact cannot be underestimated.

In the meeting where this came up were several small poetry presses, and the question arose of whether poetry books ever went on blog tours. I asked Rachel on Twitter and she said that she’d seen Anne Cater of Random Things Through My Letterbox do blog tours for poetry books so the answer is yes.

If anyone is reading this and wonders whether they ought to try a blog tour for their book then I would urge them to give it a go. It’s generally the case that you’d organise a blog tour for a new book, but they are equally useful for a relaunch or to boost sales of an existing book.

Posted in 2018 Tagged with: , , , , ,

Baby’s Fantasycon 2018

Baby got back from Fantasycon in Chester, very happy to have mingled with old friends and new. Here is Baby’s account, as written up by Heide.

Friday

Baby and I arrived in Chester just after 3pm on Friday afternoon. Friday was our busy day, so I went to the bar to look for the other people on the Hysterical Fiction panel. I found Richard Webb and Justin Lee Anderson without too much trouble and we got to the panel room for the 4:30 panel and met Duncan P Bradshaw.

Fantasycon panel: Heide Goody, Duncan Bradshaw, Richard Webb, Justin Anderson

Hysterical Fiction panel: Heide Goody, Duncan Bradshaw, Richard Webb and Justin Lee Anderson

Richard had given us some homework, and so we each read a brief passage from a funny book and commented on it. Justin read from Good Omens, which is such a classic that you could dissect it for hours on end, but Justin pointed out some of the sentence level techniques. Duncan read from Larry by Adam Millard, commenting on the wildness (and the similarity to his own family). I read a piece from Second Coming by John Niven, which sets out the stall for the reader, so that they can anticipate all of the fun stuff that is going to happen in the rest of the novel.
There was lots of great discussion and the audience asked some really interesting questions.
Justin and I were also doing a reading soon afterwards, so I went down to the restaurant, to ask if I could borrow a high chair for Baby. I didn’t exactly lie to them, but I didn’t correct them when they wrongly assumed that I was a guest in the hotel and I planned to feed a real baby in my room.

Fantasycon reading Iain Grant, Heide Goody, Justin Lee Anderson

Iain Grant, Baby, Heide Goody, Justin Lee Anderson

The third person in our reading slot was Iain, so I was keeping tabs on how close to Chester he was, as Justin and I would read a long piece or a short piece, depending on whether he was likely to make it in time. I read a story containing a protagonist whose actions are influenced by a creepy baby doll. People sometimes want to know where writers get ideas from, but it’s very tricky to pin down where some of these things come from. I mean, who would go round with a creepy doll in real life?
As it happened, Iain made it exactly in time to do his reading, entering the room with a dramatic flourish and then reading an extract from the new Clovenhoof’s Diary.
We had a short gap to inhale some chips in the bar and then it was time to moderate the Self Publishing panel.

Fantasycon panel: Iain Grant, Steve McHugh, Heide Goody, Ritchie Valentine Smith, Rachel McLean

Self publishing panel: Iain Grant, Steve McHugh, Heide Goody, Ritchie Valentine Smith, Rachel McLean

We had an interesting range of experience on the panel. Steve McHugh had moved from self publishing to traditional publishing, Ritchie Valentine Smith and Rachel McLean are early on in their journey and Iain and I have self published since 2012. Because of this, it was a very practical panel, with lots of hints, tips and ideas about where money needs to be spent.

Saturday

Iain and I ran a workshop in the morning called “Fractal Writing”. It’s a very condensed version of the plot and story workshop that we sometimes run, with the added bonus of having a tactile element to it, because all participants make a piece of garish artwork so that they can break down their plot onto the stuck-on shapes and use it as an aide-memoir or just to explore the plot in a more visual way. The redcoats were very helpful when we got to the room and there were no tables laid out, and it was soon sorted. It’s a challenge for ten people to each work on a giant piece of paper, even with plenty of table space, but everyone showed great resourcefulness in using other surfaces and the workshop was great fun.
The stationery box that we carried back down from the workshop included a pack of googly eyes, so the conversation inevitably turned to the story of the city of Savannah where officials warned against people defacing statues with googly eyes.
Imagine our surprise when we noticed that the owl next to us had a Zorro mask with googly eyes on it.

Statue of owl with Zorro mask

Owl sporting a Zorro mask

A statue in the garden had a googly eye wink going on, but Baby denied any involvement.

 

Statue with one googly eye

Statue with one googly eye

Next up was Iain moderating the Religion in Genre Fiction panel. This was a very popular panel, and the panellists did a great job of exploring a huge topic.

While I was paying close attention to the discussion I found a tiny dragon on the floor. It kept very still when I picked it up and posted on the Fantasycon Facebook page. I passed it to the registration desk and happily it was reunited with its handler later in the day.

Fantasycon panel Religion in Genre Fiction: Terry Grimwood, Marion Pitman, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Naomi Foyle, Tasha Suri, Iain Grant

Religion in Genre Fiction: Terry Grimwood, Marion Pitman, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Naomi Foyle, Tasha Suri, Iain Grant

Dragon

Dragon found unsupervised in panel room

On my way to the Alchemy press launch I bumped into Jen Williams and Anna Smith Spark. Jen had a cuddle with Baby, which was almost certainly how she came to win the best fantasy novel in the BFS awards the next day; nothing to do with it being a great novel or anything.

Jen Williams cuddles Baby

Jen Williams cuddles Baby. Probably as great as winning best fantasy novel. Probably.

Baby dug straight into the stories once we’d bought a copy of the Alchemy Press book of Horrors and it had emerged from the spin cycle of the authors all sitting in a circle, signing books until they got dizzy.

Alchemy Press Book of Horrors

Alchemy Press Book of Horrors

Rio Youers suggested that Baby was related to Jim McLeod. He might have a point.

Baby with "Gingernuts of Horror" Jim McLeod

Baby with “Gingernuts of Horror” Jim McLeod

Baby was left behind when we went out for an actual meal, which was fabulous after just inhaling snacks in passing for previous meals. We went to Istanbul, a Turkish restaurant, and had some amazing mezze.

When we got back it was time for a late night panel. Iain, Justin Lee Anderson and Richard Webb were discussing Film Comedies in Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction.

 

Fantasycon panel Film Funnies: Justin Lee Anderson, Richard Webb, Iain Grant

Film Funnies: Justin Lee Anderson, Richard Webb, Iain Grant

It was a fascinating and lively discussion and I strenuously deny the cruel allegation that I fell asleep in the middle of it. I was just resting my eyes.

Sunday

Sunday morning was time for a stroll amongst the bizarre statues in the hotel’s garden. More than one person stopped in the adjacent corridor to bang on the glass and indicate that I should be locked up for my own safety.

Lion and Baby Cherubs
Then it was time for the panel on Starting Out Writing Genre Fiction with Steven Poore, Rachel McLean, G V Anderson, Peter Haynes and Tasha Suri.

Fantasycon panel: Peter Haynes, GV Anderson, Rachel McLean, Steven Poore

Starting writing genre fiction panel: Peter Haynes, G V Anderson, Rachel McLean, Steven Poore (Tasha Suri turned up after I took the photo, sorry)

This was an engaging discussion about how the panellists had found their various paths into publishing, with lots of audience questions.
Baby sensed that it was almost time to go home, and was determined not to be put back in the tote bag. Joanne Harris was kind enough to agree to have a picture taken and now I think she will have to put this on the back of her next book, because the “classic pose with creepy doll” is very much in fashion amongst BFS award winners.

Joanne Harris with Baby

Joanne Harris cuddles Baby

Had we seen the last of mad creepy statues as we drove away from Chester? We thought so, until we saw this and had to stop the car to stare at it properly.

Apparently it’s part of Snugbury’s ice cream park

Giant Peter Rabbit statue

Giant Peter Rabbit statue

Posted in 2018, Events, Genre Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing conventions to get excited about

What’s the collective noun for a whole load of writers?
It’s a convention – yay!
The fun times during the year when lots of genre writers get together to exchange best practice and sing bad karaoke.
It has dawned on me recently that we have a slew of fabulous events on the horizon, so I put them into a calendar to see how busy things were going to get.
If you want to join me in getting excited about them, then firstly, feast your eyes on the picture:

Calendar showing upcoming conventions

Conventions are already crowding out the calendar for next year

My list. Not exhaustive!

There are many literary festivals and fun events that I haven’t included on here. 
That really isn’t a reflection on what I think about them and whether or not I’m going to them. 
This list is based on upcoming events that have fixed dates and that I am looking forward to.

Fantasycon

19th – 21st October 2018
The Queen Hotel, Chester, UK

Panels, readings, workshops and most importantly of all, seeing lots of familiar faces.

Sledge-Lit

24th November 2018, 10am-6pm
The Quad, Derby, UK

A one-day midlands-based genre convention. This is the Christmas version of Edge-Lit which happens in the summer.

Stokercon 2019

9th-12th May 2019
Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

A horror convention, with a similar format to Fantasycon.
It’s unlikely that I will get to this, but I would really like to.
I went to Stokercon 2017 and I can’t wait to go to another!

Collectormania Birmingham

1st – 2nd June 2019
The NEC Birmingham, UK

Not a writers convention. This is a Comicon-style event.
Has “small press alley” which is where Iain and I will be selling books.
 

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

18th -21st July 2019
Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, UK

I’ve never been to this one, but for the last couple of years my Facebook timeline has lit up with all the fun that people are having.
There’s a very good chance that the fear of missing out will make sure that I am there in 2019

20Books Edinburgh

25th – 31st July 2019
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland
This is a conference centred around self-published marketing.
Organised by the Facebook group 20BooksTo50K®, it brings some of self-publishing’s biggest hitters to our shores.

Worldcon

15th – 19th August 2019
Convention Centre, Dublin, Ireland
A science fiction convention. Looks as though it will be fantastic.

Stokercon 2020

16th – 19th April 2020
Scarborough, UK

The news that Stokercon 2020 is coming to the UK is beyond thrilling!

 

Hoping that I’ll bump into lots of you at these events, and that I have the stamina to make it through them all!

Posted in 2018, Events Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Creepy Dolls (and how this one demanded to have stories written about it)

The Uncanny Valley

You may have come across the concept of the “uncanny valley”. This is the strangeness that humans perceive when something is very close to resembling a human, but isn’t quite right. The reason for it being described as a valley is because our acceptance of human-like forms goes up and up as things get more realistic until they reach a critical point where they horrify us. This dip in the graph is the valley.
This phenomenon is seen in waxworks, animations and robotics, and also in newer technologies that seek to immerse us into various kinds of virtual reality. Can you spot it in our virtual reality book trailer?

Creepy Dolls

It is however something that you can find much closer to home: dolls. Why do we find dolls creepy? There is something especially dreadful about a doll, which is after all intended to resemble a human baby, that is aged or damaged in some way.
Creepy dolls occupy a special place in the horror pantheon. I especially like them because they can also be funny. There was an outbreak of dolls planted into potholes in Swindon recently. 

There are companies and individuals who specialise in customising dolls to be a unique and horrific companion or ornament.

Baby

I have my own horrific companion. I acquired Baby around three years ago when Iain and I launched Beelzebelle, a book containing a baby. It seemed as though it would be a fun thing to get a baby doll and take some photographs with it. I went to the tip shop, one of my favourite places, and asked them if they had any baby dolls. They’d put this particular doll aside, with the thought of listing it on eBay because it was a reborn doll, and they can be quite costly and collectible. I can see why they might have hesitated to list this one though, because Baby has seen some trauma. Missing eyelashes on one eye, strange gouges on its face and the strangest, wildest tendrils of hair matted on top.

Face of Baby: the original creepy doll

The face of Baby

Baby is also dressed in a grubby pink romper suit, which is probably not how it left the factory.
As soon as I saw Baby I knew it was the doll for me. When I started taking pictures, it became clear that baby looks even more horrific when photographed. Baby started to come with me to writing events and family get-togethers. Baby met George RR Martin, he of Game of thrones fame, and numerous other writers.

George RR Martin with Baby

George RR Martin with Baby

F Paul Wilson with Baby

F Paul Wilson with Baby

Baby with Iain Grant

Iain Grant with Baby

It soon became clear that Baby was sticking around and became somewhat notorious on my Facebook timeline and among real life friends.

Baby tries yoga

Baby tries yoga

Baby Fiction

Would it be possible to write Baby into some stories? Baby lent itself to being a passive villain and an enabler for foolishness and stupidity and so we decided to team up Baby with some characters that we’d used in a short story we’d written as a playful tribute to PG Wodehouse.

Faithful butler James lives with his mildly idiotic master Rupert in modern day Birmingham. What would happen if we introduced Baby into the mix? It turns out that it’s a really entertaining dynamic and one that we have revisited for several more short stories. We will be releasing them shortly as two short collections: Right you are Baby! and Thank you Baby!
We can reveal the covers for these to you now, created for us by Mike Watts.

Book cover showing two men and a Baby Book cover showing two men and a Baby

Posted in 2018, Books, Writing

What price research?

Heide and I are currently working on third and fourth books in the Oddjobs series. If you’ve not read them (and you can get the first one HERE) then we should explain that they’re comedy horror novels about the government employees who have to manage upcoming apocalypse and were described by a recent reviewer as “‘Men in Black’ meets ‘Hell raiser’ meets ah, something that made you grin and laugh a whole bunch”.

All the books are set in Birmingham (UK, not Alabama) and make use of real but unlikely facts about Britain’s best city.

Oddjobs 3 and 4 heavily feature the real and imagined adventures of the Lunar Society, an eighteenth century club of industrialists and inventors, whose members included Erasmus Darwin (inventor of the jet engine and grandfather of the famous Charles Darwin), the steam engine genius James Watt, Joseph Priestley (the man who discovered oxygen) and Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin). To write these books, we needed to do some research.

The questions I want to look at in this blog are:
a) How much should we be willing to pay for decent book research? and
b) How much of that can count as a legitimate business expense (and therefore be tax-deductible)?

I’m not going to give you any answers but simply present the facts…

Item 1 – The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow – £9.99

The internet will get you so far but some of the best research is still (shockingly!) to be found in books. Jenny Uglow’s history of the Lunar Society has been utterly invaluable. It’s given us a very clear timeline of the key members’ lives and also an insight into their lives and personalities which I’ve just not been able to find elsewhere.
Of course, you don’t have to read about history. You can go explore it more directly…

Item 2 – A drive to Soho House – 6.3 miles @ 45p per mile.

It’s a twenty minute drive from my house to the Georgian house that was home to Matthew Boulton, lynchpin of the Lunar Society and the first man in the world to build what we would recognise as a factory. As of writing, HMRC will allow tax relief of 45 pence per mile for business travel.

Item 3 – Entry to Soho House – £7.00

Actually, that’s what you’d usually pay but on the morning I’d turned up, all the tour guides were off sick or something so the woman at the desk said I could have a poke around for free. I did. I was pretty much the only person in the entire building. I love Soho House. It’s mostly a recreation as it fell into serious disrepair in the 20th century and parts of it were demolished but what remains is a treasure trove of ormolu, blue john (more on that below) and inventions. Boulton’s sidereal clock became a plot element in Oddjobs 3.

Whilst there, a little inspired internet searching led me to discover that another meeting venue for the Lunar Society, Great Barr Hall, was not very far away…

 

Item 3 – A drive to Great Barr Hall – 5.3 miles @45p per mile

Actually, you can’t drive all the way there. The road that once led to it is now a gated road only open to construction traffic.

Item 4 – Entry to Great Barr Hall – Free

Are you getting the creepy abandoned house in the woods vibe? Good.

Free, unless you count the cost of the creeping dread that comes from trespassing onto the grounds of an abandoned mental hospital which is now in the middle of encroaching woodland and considerable distance from any signs of civilisation.
This was less educational but super-cool. Great Bar Hall has been falling into ruins for some decades. Like Soho House it had been put to various uses since its heyday as home to one of Birmingham’s leading industrials. Great Barr was the home of Samuel Galton, noted arms manufacturer and grandfather to Francis Galton (famously the inventor of eugenics and the phrase “nature versus nurture”).

Great Barr Hall, then St Margaret’s Mental Hospital, then this ruin…

 

So, I had some research material for Heide and me to discuss. Heide mentioned how much she despises ormolu ornaments. She has a theory that the Georgians invented it as a dare and not because they actually thought it looked nice. She was also impressed by the quantities of blue john stone that went into some of Boulton’s ornamental pieces. Blue john is a semi-precious stone but, as it can only be found in one cave system in the whole world, it is in finite supply and increasingly valuable. It also has some very queer properties involving prehistoric sea creatures and its reactions to high temperatures and gamma radiation. This sounded very interesting and possibly something that could be used in Oddjobs 4 so…

Item 5 – A drive to the Blue John Caverns in Derbyshire – 82 miles @ 45p per mile

This was a day trip and, since it’s the summer holidays here, there were certain members of my family who needed/wanted to come. Let’s call them my camera crew and research assistant.

Item 6 – Parking in Castleton for a ‘comfort’ break – £3

Look, it was a long drive and the toilets at the Blue John Cavern weren’t open because the current hot weather has totally dried up the stream that feeds their sanitation system. I didn’t want to be underground and in need of the loo.

The author’s daughter and wife – Ahem, I mean the research assistant and the camera crew.

Item 7 – Entry into the Blue John Caverns for 3 people – £30

This was a one hour tour of ‘Britain’s deepest unassisted cave system’ i.e. the deepest caves the public are invited into that doesn’t have a lift to get you to the bottom. We were shown round by guide and part-time miner, Ben. The purple-blue colour of blue john comes from the oil made from the soft tissues of the prehistoric crinoids whose fossilised remains could be seen in the cave walls. Crinoids are wonderfully Lovecraftian-looking creatures and will definitely be making an appearance in Oddjobs 4.

Crinoid fossils in the Blue John Cavern.

Some lost souls at the bottom of the Blue John Cavern.

Blue John in its natural state

The author, staring into the abyss and grinning for no good reason.

It was also a great insight into how brave/mad you’d have to be to go wandering around down there before the advent of electric lights, stairs and handrails.

Item 8 – Afternoon tea at Tilly’s tea room in Castleton – £19.30

My camera crew wanted afternoon tea (the whole tiered assortment of sandwiches and sweet things). My research assistant had to be bribed to come out with the promise of a hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream. I didn’t argue.

The camera crew and the remains of her afternoon tea

 

So… after all that expenditure, what have we gained? Richer characters? More believable historical fiction? A plot that now features time-travel clock machines, abandoned mental hospitals and prehistoric monsters? Absolutely.

The bigger question is whether I can get all of this past my accountant as a business expense.

Oddjobs 1 & 2 are available now. Oddjobs 3 & 4 will be published 2019/2020.

Posted in 2018, Books, Writing

The Virtual Reality Book Trailer – Simon Fairbanks gives it a test drive…

We met up with indie author, Simon Fairbanks, at the Edge-Lit genre fiction event in Derby last weekend and we showed him our new Virtual Reality Book Trailer. He was so impressed, we asked him to do a guest blog to describe his experiences…

Edge-Lit surpassed my very high expectations: charming authors, fascinating workshops, and table after table of great-smelling books.
One of those tables was hosted by Pigeon Park Press, AKA Heide Goody and Iain Grant, the collaborative writing duo behind the Clovenhoof franchise.
Their smorgasbord of paperbacks drew me in.
We spoke about my first Edge-Lit experience, praised the redshirted helpers, and I shared my starstruck encounters with (gasp) traditionally-published authors.

I was about to slip off to another star-studded interview panel when –
“Would you like to try our Virtual Reality Book Trailer?” asks Heide, innocently.
I blink a couple of times.
“Yes?”
I hold out my hand, expecting a sleek Oculus Rift headset – at the very least a Google Cardboard.
Instead, I am presented with a large cardboard box, boasting the insistent and what-I-now-know-to-be-accurate declaration: YOU’VE NEVER SEEN A BOOK TRAILER LIKE THIS!
“Erm, what do I do?”
Heide and Iain appear perplexed, like I had asked which end of a fork I should be holding.
“Put it on your head,” says Heide. She doesn’t add “Of course” or “What else?” but I hear it all the same.
I then notice the hole cut into the bottom of the box.
“Um. Okay. Here goes.”

My head rises into the box. It begins. My senses are assaulted with colour and lights and plastic figures salvaged from McDonalds’ Happy Meals. There are cartoonish eyes looking at me from all sides and I need to rotate the box around my head to see them all. My head is too big for the box, so the insides are too close to make out fully, which means I undergo the whole experience boss-eyed.
Was I laughing? Was I screaming?
No doubt, Schrodinger would suggest I was both laughing and screaming until someone looked inside the box.

I remember birds and Hercules and naked Barbie dolls. I think. It was all a blur.
But I do remember thinking it was a very innovative way to engage Edge-Lit punters in the Dealers’ Room.
Standing out is everything for independent authors such as Heide and Iain (and myself), especially when surrounded by booksellers brandishing the works of Big Name authors. It helps if indies have a few tricks up their sleeve, like Edge-Lit bingo sheets and the Virtual Reality Book Trailer.
On that note, Edge-Lit is a huge help for Indies in itself.

I learnt at least 18 things during the day, gaining helpful tips about rising through the Amazon charts and building a network with fellow indies writing in my genre.
Mostly, I feel fully-rebooted after my inaugural Edge-Lit visit. In the days since, I have dusted off my Moleskine and blasted through a narrative knot in my third novel, all thanks to the inspiring words of Edge-Lit authors.
In summary, Edge-Lit is very much like a mysterious box with a hole cut into the bottom…
In both cases, you should dive in head-first!

Snowflake, the latest comedy novel, by Heide Goody and Iain Grant, is a story about prehistoric pets, delinquent donkeys and becoming the person you want to be, not the person everyone else expects you to be. You can buy it here:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snowflake-Heide-Goody-ebook/dp/B07F3X4XF2/

 

 

Simon Fairbanks is the author of The Sheriff and The Curse of Besti Bori, both part of his Nephos fantasy series. He has also published two short story collections, Breadcrumbs and Boomsticks. Simon is a committee member of the Birmingham Writers’ Group.
www.simonfairbanks.com
@simon_fairbanks
Facebook.com/simonfairbanksauthor

Posted in 2018, Books, Events Tagged with: , , , , ,

The power of local services: 4 things that can work locally

We recently blogged about micronations. If you’re not quite ready to set up an entire new country, you might want to dip your toe in the water by declaring independence for your local area in a more targeted way, perhaps with local services.

Today we’re looking at some of the fascinating ways that areas of the UK have bucked the trend and decided that a local system is better than a national one.

Complementary Currencies

There are good reasons for establishing your own currency. If you keep the money circulating locally, you’ll:

  • support the local economy
  • reduce “food miles” (the environmental cost of moving food from producer to consumer)

Totnes was the first to establish its own currency in 2007, but several British towns have followed suit. The purpose of a local currency is to encourage money to be spent with local businesses. For example, you can use the Totnes Pound in the local butchers and restaurants, but not in the supermarket chains, so money doesn’t “leak” away from the area. Some local currencies contribute part of the payment transaction into a community fund to be spent on local causes.  None of these currencies are legal tender, but they work in the same way as a gift card or a voucher, circulating between local people.

The places that do this often identify as “Transition Towns”, which is a more general initiative to promote self-sufficiency.

Local Telecoms Services

White Hull Telephone Box

Photo of a Hull phone box from CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Municipal telephone companies existed in several locations in the UK at the beginning of the twentieth century, but all were absorbed by the Post Office (now British Telecom ( BT)) except for the one in Hull. As a result of this, Hull is the only place in the UK not served by BT. They have telephone boxes in the town which are cream, to underline this.

Local Energy Suppliers

In the UK’s competitive energy market, any company can apply for a supply licence. There are now over sixty suppliers of energy to UK domestic customers. Some local authorities have set up not-for-profit energy companies in order to provide local people with lower energy costs and address fuel poverty. The first of these was Robin Hood Energy, launched in 2015 by Nottingham City Council, and other towns and cities have since employed a similar model.

Sharing economy

What better way to keep things local than to share with your neighbours? The sharing economy, which has largely been enabled by the internet, means that we can all make better use of our resources by pooling them in ways that may not have been possible in the past.

Lift sharing and minute-by-minute level car rental are changing the way that we think about car ownership. Do we all need a set of ladders or a pressure washer, or can we share these things around our neighbourhood? We can certainly pass things on when we’ve finished with them, either by selling or giving them away on a listing site.

Satan reclines on his throne

If you want to read about a more outlandish and militant attempt at keeping things local, take a look at Hooflandia. Jeremy Clovenhoof has built a moat around his local pub and has set about redesigning everything from the currency to the army.

Hooflandia is available in Kindle and print versions at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hooflandia-Clovenhoof-Book-Heide-Goody-ebook/dp/B07DC6C3ZF/

https://www.amazon.com/Hooflandia-Clovenhoof-Book-Heide-Goody-ebook/dp/B07DC6C3ZF/

Posted in 2018 Tagged with: , , , ,

Talking about Genres – what makes genre fiction special?

Writers, publishers and readers talk about genre a lot. It’s how bookshops decide where a book belongs. It’s used to draw up charts, award prizes and produce those “If you liked this book, you might also like…” messages on-line retailers send us.

Pigeon Park Press asked a number of published authors about the conventions of genre writing, what connections exist between genres and what challenges they face writing in their chosen genre.

Pigeon Park Press –  What are the conventions and rules of your chosen genre?

Anna – Grimdark conventions are fairly straightforward. The usual epic fantasy tropes – conflict, war, heroes and antiheroes – but with added grimness and a decided lack of morals. Fewer clean cut heroes, and an unlikelihood of a happy ending. It’s not so much that the rules can’t be broken. Instead, if there isn’t a sufficient level of nastiness, a novel will simply be reclassified as epic fantasy. You’d have to go a very long way to fall out of the fantasy genre altogether.
Heide – Like Anna, I think it would be hard to fall completely out of fantasy. If we wrote a straight comedy story with no fantastical elements then it wouldn’t be correct to call it comic fantasy. Having said that, I could picture a straight comedy story, perhaps set in the same world as our other books but with no overt “fantasy” in the story. I really don’t think readers would care about that. If, however, we wrote a book that wasn’t at all funny then it would definitely not be comic fantasy.
Jon – The very term “Steampunk” was meant to highlight the two parts of the genre; that technology runs on an alternative form of energy than happened in reality, (steam rather than petrol/gas/electric etc), while the “punk” was meant to show the inherent rebellion toward history, convention, and maybe also the status quo. It is debatable whether the second part of the name has lived up to its potential, though, especially as airships, goggles and prosthetics are now the main (and easily recognisable) tropes of steampunk – whether they are needed or not…

James: Folk horror really needs a rural setting, ideally isolated from civilisation, where local people follow the Old Ways without interference from outsiders. Think Royston Vasey, or Stephen King’s backwoods Maine locations. The horrors are subtle, at least at first, deriving as much from the psychopathologies of the characters as anything else, but that doesn’t mean that demonic or monstrous creatures might not be lurking behind the hedgerows. It’s impossible to say what doesn’t belong in the genre; one might suggest science fiction tropes, but then look at The Midwich Cuckoos. Possibly it would be hard to see the ‘folk’ in extensively urban or futuristic environments, but then you have something like Candyman which has a strong folk-horror feel. Basically I find the notion of genre ‘rules’ an unhelpful way of evaluating a story. Everything bleeds into everything else eventually.

“Everything bleeds into everything else eventually.”

Pigeon Park Press – Do all genres bleed into each other? What are the nearest neighbours or sister genres to your chosen genre?

Anna – I think the easiest sister genre to name here is epic fantasy. It has the same epic scope and complex world building as Grimdark, and may focus on similar subjects including war and conflict, but will tend towards a lighter tone. There may be more hope and moments of levity in epic compared with grimdark, but the two genres are very closely aligned.
Heide – A sister genre to comic fantasy might be comic horror. If you’re accustomed to writing comedy (and, crucially, your audience expects it of you) then delivering comedy in a slightly different genre is an easier transition than stepping away from the funny. It’s important to realise that readers might view the subject matter very differently; gross-out humour might not appeal to the same people who enjoyed the whimsical adventures of a boy and his dragon, however if something is genuinely funny, then readers are extremely tolerant of different story forms.

Tiffani – Well, the most obvious ‘sister’ genre to historical fantasy is straight up historical fiction. Writing histfic itself is, in a sense, writing fantasy; until we build a TARDIS, we have to imagine the past as best we can with the records we have, but even those are suspect, or biased, or missing bits, etc., so we end up creating history that is arguably fictional, a fantasy. This makes the relationship between historical fiction and historical fantasy that exists in our primary world a muddy one; where does one end and the other begin? Even in historical fantasy that exists in secondary worlds (or ‘tweaked’ primary ones), the historical influences can be really heavy, which can further muddy the line. That’s where I start: in our history, building on real people or events, and then adding more fantastic elements. Get the reader to buy the historical, and they’ll go along with the fantastic, too.

 

“Get the reader to buy the historical, and they’ll go along with the fantastic, too.”

Jon – There isn’t much related to Steampunk. Except Dieselpunk, of course. And Cyberpunk. And Atompunk. Clockpunk. Gaslight. Stonepunk, Clockpunk, Elfpunk, Mythpunk and Renaissancepunk. I kid you not… Just re-imagine the era with added anachronistic technology and you’re halfway there…

 

Pigeon Park Press – with all these different genres, are there certain criticism or too-often-heard comments about your genre?

Jon – “What’s Steampunk?” is probably the most common phrase I’ve heard. I know a few in the community do get hit with the “Steampunk is fascism for nice people” comment, though thankfully I’ve never had that one myself. I suppose one possible retort is “And the Daily Mail is fascism for nasty people; make your choice.

 

“Steampunk is fascism for nice people”

Anna – “Women can’t write grimdark.” I see/read this comment a lot, but so far it’s not one that’s been said to my face, which is best for all concerned. Now, you can probably imagine my reaction to that, but rage aside, it’s patently untrue. There are a lot of us and our numbers are growing. I don’t know why men think women can’t write dark – many of the most horrifically graphic crime novels are written by women.

Heide – Anna, I feel your pain. The phrase “women aren’t funny” is one that I have heard people say, in all seriousness. I’m confused about where that notion even comes from, and what particular quality we’re supposed to be lacking. As with the writing of grimdark, it’s patently untrue, as there are lots of women out there being successfully funny. I do wonder if the same underlying prejudice is to blame. By that, I don’t mean general misogyny, but some belief that women lack (or perhaps ought to lack) the capacity to be shocking, which lies at the heart of both grimdark and humour.

Tiffani – To be honest, I don’t tend to get “off” or snarky remarks about historical fantasy, probably because so much fantasy contains historical settings and elements. It’s interesting that Anna’s and Heidi’s experiences have to do with whether or not certain people believe women can write in their particular sub-genres; I suspect one reason I’ve not received such comments is because of historical fiction being traditionally read by women and the close link to historical romance. Does this mean that what I’m doing is (unconsciously or otherwise) considered “just right” for me or other women authors? That what I’m doing isn’t in any way threatening to the sub-genre or its tradition? I’m not sure, but it is something I’m now going to be more aware of, moving forward.

 

Pigeon Park Press – Unhelpful and snarky comments aside, are there any genuine problems inherent to your genre?

Jon – One problem with the genre that is both a strength and a weakness is if you ask ten Steampunks what the movement is about, you’ll get eleven different (and sometimes quite fractious) answers… so Steampunk does contain a lot of contrariness – and even caddishness – but there are also many genuinely wonderful people within the movement, and personally I like the disagreement as we can all bring something individual to the table. Why try and limit it artificially?

Tiffani – My answer is similar to Jon’s: historical fantasy is full of so many sub-sub-genres that it is difficult to define and everyone has their own idea of what it is. If I say I write it, some people immediately think I write Game of Thrones type books, and others think I just write non-fantastic historical fiction. A recent controversy with writing anything historical is running into the misconception that people of colour and women and even LGBT+ people or people with disabilities didn’t exist “back then”. If you write a story in which someone from a marginalised group is front and centre, there are readers who will immediately dismiss it because “the history is flawed” or who argue that we are making up history to please a PC audience. It can be frustrating because the point of doing research and then writing about these characters is to show the audience that so many amazing historical people and events have been mostly lost from the records because they don’t fit the widely taught narrative. There’s more to historical fiction and historical fantasy than knights and swords and the same old stories.

Heide – In terms of comic fantasy, we need to deal with the issue of Terry Pratchett. While he has much to offer authors writing in this genre (a solid audience to target, which is very handy for marketing) he is also the inevitable benchmark, leading to “oh, they’re just Terry Pratchett wannabees” whether you intended it or not. It’s a genuine issue. The other problem is comedy itself. How funny does something have to be? Personally, I think it should make people laugh, not just be wryly amusing. It is a subjective label and invites challenge; if you’re going to tell people you’re funny, you need to deliver the laughs.

 

“We need to deal with the issue of Terry Pratchett.”

 

Pigeon Park Press – But there must be some positives too? What’s the best kind of feedback you can get in your genre?

Heide – The best feedback for comedy writers is laughs. A review for a book that says someone’s laughed out loud on the bus or woken a sleeping partner with their snorting is wonderful. If I read a short story out loud, the laughs let me know that the audience is enjoying it. I’m not sure if all writers are people-pleasers, but when you write comedy, you have the same basic urge that we all have when we’re in conversation: you want to see that the other person’s enjoying themselves and it’s at its most obvious if they’re laughing.

Jon – I think the sort of feedback that shows the reader invested/believed in the Steampunk world I created is very satisfying, as is the reader “mapping” that fictional world onto the real one and finding the parallels I was hoping to tease out.

Tiffani – Without a doubt, the best feedback comes in two forms: one is “I felt like I was in the historical time you wrote about. It felt so *real*”; the other is when a reader gets excited by learning about an historical person they didn’t know about before. I like to do research on characters that aren’t terribly well known, so it’s a lot of fun to share them with people. Granted, putting the characters into fantastic situations means I risk readers thinking the characters themselves are made up, so when a reader gets interested in the person or the historical era I feel like I’ve done a bit more than just entertain them. History is alive for me—in my head—in a certain way; it’s geeky fun to share that with someone else.

 

Pigeon Park Press – So where does your genre sit amongst others on bookshop shelves? And what does the future hold?

Heide – Comic fantasy doesn’t have own section in bookshops. It’s a shame that the “humour” section in a bookshop very rarely contains fiction, it tends to be funny lists, comedians’ memoirs or parodies of famous books. Comic fantasy lives in amongst the regular fantasy, and has to demonstrate a sense of whimsy using its cover art and blurb. Of course, ebooks are very much more discoverable using genre labels and other sorts of metadata, which makes me wonder whether genres ever really disappear. We’ll continue to see surges in popularity for some things, but if you want to seek out your favourite subgenre, you should always be able to find it.

Anna – At the moment, grimdark doesn’t have its own section in book shops – or certainly not to my knowledge. Instead, we’re in with the rest of fantasy of all stripes, and personally I think that’s right and where we should stay. The label grimdark could put off some readers who’ve only heard that it can be extreme; by putting us in with all fantasy, readers are allowed to make up their own minds without preconceptions.

Jon – Steampunk has been a funny one for some time now; it arose as a named genre in the 1980s although you can argue it existed before then in the works of Jules Verne etc. Since the eighties, however, it seems to have fluctuated in terms of visibility and popularity, with many articles floating around declaring the death/birth/death of the genre. It still seems a bit niche over here in the UK, but it’s growing; the “tropes” are becoming a little better known, with goggles popping up here and there in popular culture. So, maybe in another 40 years, it could almost be mainstream… Why not start the journey with Full Throttle, an excellent Steampunk adventure? (Editor’s note; we apologise for this blatant product endorsement. The author has been told to stand in the naughty corner and think about what he’s done).

Tiffani – As far as I know, historical fantasy has never had its own bookstore section or even shelf. Because it is so closely linked to the popular sub-genres of epic and high fantasy, I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but neither does it seem to be branching off much as a clear sub-genre that’s as immediately recognizable as other sub-genres, such as those mentioned above. Fantasy has so many overlaps that its sub-genres will wax and wane in popularity, but historical fantasy will always be around, even sometimes camouflaging itself as other sub-genres.

 

“makes me wonder whether genres ever really disappear…”

 

The Contributors

Anna Stephens is the author of the grimdark debut fantasy novel Godblind, first in the Godblind trilogy published by Harper Voyager in the UK and Commonwealth. It has also been published in North America and France, with forthcoming publications in Germany, Poland, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Book 2 is out Summer 2018. An Open University Literature graduate and a second dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, Anna loves all things speculative, heavy metal music and the screams of her enemies.

James Brogden is a part-time Australian who grew up in Tasmania and now lives with his wife and two daughters in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where he teaches English. His horror and fantasy stories have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies ranging from The Big Issue to the British Fantasy Society Award-winning Alchemy Press. He is the author of the novels Hekla’s Children, The Narrows, Tourmaline, The Realt and the short story collection Evocations. His new novel The Hollow Tree was published by Titan in March 2018. Blogging occurs infrequently at jamesbrogden.blogspot.co.uk, and tweeting at @skippybe.

Heide Goody said her co-writer, Iain, could write this bio bit. She didn’t say it had to be true. Heide was born in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire in 1953 but not fully assembled until 2012 as part of the London Olympic Games closing ceremony. She is only four inches tall and worked as freelance security for woodland creatures. She became a writer after being hospitalised by some very vicious shrews. Iain and Heide have been writing together for 6 years. Iain writes the nouns. Heide puts the verbs in. Her favourite verbs appear in this book.

Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire. His latest novel, Full Throttle, a steampunk motor racing adventure examining the gulf between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, appeared with Accent Press in August 2017.

Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A graduate of Clarion, she has published short fiction in a variety of genres (historical fantasy, fantasy, SF, horror, and erotica). Her current research includes gardens in fantasy fiction and women in apocalyptic fiction. Find her at tiffani-angus.com and @tiffaniangus

Posted in Uncategorized

Set up your own micronation for fun and profit!

We live, as the Chinese allegedly say, in “interesting times” or as internet memes would have it, in that bit of history labelled in school textbooks as ‘Factors Leading Up To…’ and followed by a section which involves maps with lots of red arrows. In such times, it’s only natural for people to want to shut the door on the world and hide. But how can you do that when even your own country doesn’t feel like your country anymore?

 

Well, the answer is simple: set up your own country. It’s easier than you think and, as long as you have a loose attitude to international law, you’ll probably get away with it. For a bit.

 

Micronations are the best place to start. A starter country, your first step on the international property ladder. Depending on your budget, you can set one up for less than the price of a house. And your country doesn’t have to be any larger than a house. The micro-micronation of Lovely, for example exists only in a single East London flat.

 

You may decide that physical size is utterly unimportant and make your nation an entirely virtual one. Wirtland is an internet-based micronation. Founded in 2008, Wirtland exists as, essentially, a website and a set of ideals. It is run by a chancellor and describes itself as a constitutional democracy. Want to become a citizen? Well, you can send an e-mail of introduction to web@wirtland.com and ask to become one of its Witizens (that’s what they are called). It has a currency, the International Currency Unit (ICU) and it has minted a number of coins. You can purchase a 24 carat gold ‘crane’ coin from the country’s website.

 

Micronations are a means for their leaders and residents to make money. Micronations across the world have successfully sold stamps, coins, passports and even aristocratic titles. You can become a lord or lady of Sealand for a mere £29.99. However, some micronations have given the rest a bad name by having been set up with the evident intention of duping gullible foreigners (i.e. everyone else) out of their money.

the Sealand platform, a micronation in the North sea

Sealand! – who wouldn’t want to be lord or lady of this place?

Soon after being set up on the Colombian island of Malpelo (before going on to claim the semi-permanently submerged Karitane Shoal plus a couple of islands and an uninhabited atoll), the Dominion of Melchizedek started selling licenses for banks and other companies which then tried to secure loans from real banks around the world. It’s a decent enough fraud scheme: make up a place, pretend to live there and use the address as a base of operations to borrow money. The debt collectors and bailiffs would be deeply unlikely to bother coming looking for you at your made-up address on your submerged island. But if dodgy dealings are your plan, don’t stop there. Be sure to sell useless insurance policies backed by your made-up banks and do get as many possible people to invest in hopeless Ponzi schemes and see how much money you can amass before government agents realise what you’re up to (a bank registered in the Dominion of Melchizedek conned 1,400 people out of four million dollars which would certainly pay for some damp-proofing in your mostly submerged bank vault).

 

But don’t be thinking that micronations are all underhanded and dodgy affairs; many come into existence because a person sees a new opportunity. The Principality of New Utopia was founded in 1999 when US businessman Howard Turney discovered there was an unclaimed plot of land in the Caribbean Sea. Though it was tiny, Turney laid claim to it, applied for nation status (the UN’s address is on their website) and launched the New Utopia project.

 

Like so many founders of micronations, Turney changed his name and became Prince Lazarus, naming himself after the Robert Heinlein character, Lazarus Long. He then embarked on a creating a new society built upon libertarian ideals and the pursuit of personal immortality. That’s actual immortality, folks – he had been injecting Human Growth Hormones for years in the belief they would stop him ageing and it seems part of the reason for founding New Utopia was to enable him to continue injecting himself with these hormones without running foul of US law. Do you fancy shipping out to a tropical hyper-capitalist utopia where you can lounge in the luxury spa all day, gamble in a Monte Carlo-inspired casino at night and know that your country is safe in the hands of an Ayn Rand-loving immortal? Well, you can’t. Lazarus Long died in 2012, aged 80 and New Utopia’s wondrous resorts aren’t yet open for business.

 

If you are sick and tired of the interfering nanny state telling you what fraudulent banks you can set up or what you can inject into yourself, setting up a micronation does seem an ideal solution. However, unclaimed parcels of land (above or below sea level) are few and far between these days. Perhaps if you want to set up a physical micronation in unclaimed space then maybe that’s where you need to go – space!

 

The Space Kingdom of Asgardia, which wins the prize for the coolest micronation name if nothing else, is a proposed nation which will exist entirely in outer space. It’s not a total fantasy. It has its first orbiting satellite already up there, although if you want to visit Asgardia-1, you might need to call ahead first. Nonetheless, if we accept it as a nation, it is the only country to entirely exist in orbit. It has over two hundred thousand applicant citizens but, currently, none of them actually live in space.

 

Space law (that’s a real thing!) is a complicated beast and Igor Ashurbeyli, who is currently bankrolling the whole project, might have trouble in both getting his country recognised and in avoiding legal entanglements with countries who already have assets in space. Nonetheless, he will probably have fewer barriers to his dream than one James Mangan who, in 1949, set up the Nation of Celestial Space and claimed all of space. That’s just greedy!

In our latest novel, Hooflandia, Jeremy Clovenhoof has much more modest ambitions. He has set up his own independent state in the local pub. Yes, he might have done this to avoid settling an unfortunately large tax bill he’s been given but that doesn’t mean his country hasn’t been founded on strong moral principles. He’s overturned the old adage that you can’t eat money by making his coins from compressed soup-powder and he’s advanced women’s rights by appointing the world’s first female archbishop. Everyone’s welcome and we invite you to come on in!

 

Hooflandia is available in Kindle and print versions at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hooflandia-Clovenhoof-Book-Heide-Goody-ebook/dp/B07DC6C3ZF/

https://www.amazon.com/Hooflandia-Clovenhoof-Book-Heide-Goody-ebook/dp/B07DC6C3ZF/

Posted in 2018 Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Has humorous fiction lost its fizz?

champagne glasses

Where are all the funny books?
It’s apparently a question being asked by the judges of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (the only prize in the UK for comedy novels) as they have decided not to award the prize for 2018 because none of the entries was funny enough.
Can it really be true that there are no funny books, or is something else happening?
The doomsayers of the internet would have you believe that it’s a sign of the times. Writers can’t be funny in the face of so many bad things happening in the world. Jonathan McAloon asserts that comedy is now “found in books with the darkest, unhappiest subject matter”.
Perhaps the answer is actually much simpler. The growth of independent publishing is a well-documented phenomenon. There is a wealth of content that now bypasses the traditional part of the industry completely.

Those administering prizes have included specific rules to ensure that they are not besieged with self-published work. The rules for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize state that “self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically set up to publish that book”. The message is clear; self-published novels are not allowed.
Heide and Iain asked some of the UK’s most successful independent comedy authors about their experiences with traditional publishing.
Stevyn Colgan was once a policeman, now he’s a writer. He worked for QI for 11 years, first on books and annuals then as a researcher and as one of the show’s scriptwriters. He found that traditional publishers “are so risk-averse now that they’re not signing comedy unless it’s by a big name or a celeb.”
Justin Lee Anderson who writes comic fantasy was told by a prospective agent that “bookshops don’t have a comedy fantasy section, they have a Terry Pratchett shelf” which very much echoes my own experiences.

What about Heide and Iain? We have been told on several occasions that “[insert publishing house] doesn’t do comedy” so we stick with independent publishing, where we know we can sell books to readers.
It should be noted that the writers mentioned here do sell books to readers – lots of books. The suspicions that persist about independent writers being those writers who aren’t good enough to get a traditional deal don’t apply here.
We wrote to the company who administers the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize to ask them whether they would consider changing the rules to include indie writers. If they do that they might just get to read some books that will make them laugh out loud.

Posted in 2018 Tagged with: , ,