For the reader a free book may be hard to refuse. From the author’s perspective, it’s a different story. After all the hard work of writing, editing, publishing and marketing, it seems counter-intuitive to give away one’s books. For the self-published author there will be a real cost in giving printed books away and a loss of royalties for both these and traditionally published authors. Yet everyone seems to be doing it, and it’s become de rigueur in promoting ebook sales – a way of encouraging downloads, reflected in higher sales numbers and rankings. So, we’ve joined in the freebie giveaway activity, and taken advantage of Smashwords special promotion, currently running until March 11th.
The theme for this year’s Blairgowrie Book Festival, Bookmark Blair, is PLACE.
‘A strong sense of place is important for transporting your readers to the world of your story. A well-crafted sense of place is often said to be like another character in the story, adding depth and a unique atmosphere’. Fiona Thackeray.
I’m looking forward to attending Fiona Thackeray’s writing workshop on the Saturday morning 11th October, as I am well aware that my powers of description nowhere near match my ability to write dialogue. In her writing, my co-author Jones is far more accomplished and focused on the external world than I am and we have had to learn to shift our natural writing styles to become more similar, and allow the story to become more internally coherent.
Having recently returned from The Isle of Lewis where Eight of Cups was conceived and progressed, I am reminded of how important place can be to mood, action and intention. In the Outer Hebrides, the weather and the landscape reduce man’s presence to something far less significant than is normally experienced. It is a place of big skies, racing clouds, beautiful rainbows, swirling and powerful winds, stunning beaches, bleak and silent moors and an ever-changing environment in which any action must take place.
Although it is many, many years since I last sat an English Lit exam, the instruction to ‘compare and contrast’ can take me right back there. Knowing plenty about one of the pieces but not enough about the other! Trying to make what I did know, fit some kind of structure. Hoping that it wouldn’t be too obvious that most of the quotations came from the favoured text.
Two very different reads set in highly dissimilar contexts and yet the overriding feeling that remains is of having walked the road step by step with the author. William Stoner is a university professor in the 1930s-50s in Tennessee, initially amazed to find himself an academic when he had expected to return to his father’s small farm to continue to scratch a living. His life is in many ways low key and uneventful; he is probably forgotten very quickly once he hangs up his gown. And yet his acceptance of a life full of disappointment and sadness is quietly inspiring and laudable.
Yesterday, I had a surreal experience. While dragging myself round a typical Saturday’s chores, I was waiting for the tumble dryer to complete a 10 minute towel softening stint, when my eye was caught by an adjacent bookshelf. My tumble dryer is located in a cupboard on the upstairs landing – a multi-purpose storage area, home to a mini Chinese laundry, innumerable boxes of family photos, a spare uncomfortable futon for the foolhardy who’ve imbibed one too many, and loads of books gathered over the years, and shelved in no particular order. Or are they? I was taken aback, and taken back through the years by an apparently random shelf of books which seemed to encapsulate the key periods and interests of my lifetime.
Heidi by Joanna Spyri – the mountains in summer, the wildflowers, the alpine hut, sleeping on a bed of straw. It was a far cry from a life in a Dundee suburb, one of my very first loves and prompted a detour to visit Heidi-land while in Switzerland a few years ago.
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon – a school reader, and the first novel to touch an invisible place where roots, primeval attachment and a burgeoning sense of identity lay. One of the few books I have returned to several times over the years.
Across the Great Divide by Jim Wilkie – a history of professional football in Dundee, evoking memories of pride, excitement and quality time spent at Dens Park with my late father every second Saturday from age 10 to 18.
Mirren and Jones frequently post reviews on Goodreads. Sometimes it is weeks after finishing a book that we get round to expressing our views, and it is interesting to reflect on that process. Speaking for myself (Mirren), I often find that I am left with a lasting impression rather than an accurate memory of the content of a novel, and want to express that impression in terms of a feeling or emotional memory. For example, Helen Dunmore’s book ‘Your Blue Eyed Boy’ has an arresting prologue. Its words captured my interest and imagination immediately, and that gut response has remained with me. Here is what she had to say about blackmail.
Blackmail doesn’t work the way I always thought it would, if I ever gave it a thought. It doesn’t smash through the clean pane of life like a stone through a window. It’s always an inside job, the most intimate of crimes. Somebody in the house has left that little window open, just a snick. The person who leaves it open doesn’t know why. Or else doesn’t want to know. From outside a hand reaches into the gap, and the window creaks wide. Cold air comes rushing in. I see that hand now, each time I shut my eyes to sleep.
In our second novel (in-progress), Never Do Harm, we have tried to grab the reader’s interest and create commitment to read further with our introductory chapter. See what you think. Here are the first few lines as a taster.
It’s an everyday situation for her.
Again and again until demand, or luck, runs out.
Today it’s the same bar as yesterday. Bar Caravelle on Rue de la Partigon. Nothing fancy. And it’s the same drink as yesterday too – vodka, with just a splash of water. It warms her up, and after a few she begins to feel numb, and that’s good, it helps with whatever follows.