Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Awesome Indies Quality Site



I decided to write this blog as part of a drive to raise awareness about the Awesome Indies website dedicated to quality in self-publishing. There are always discussions about the quality of indie books and without a gatekeeper it is inevitable that some substandard books will slip through thereby lowering the name of indie books in general. There is a big demand for sites such as Awesome Indies in the new publishing environment. 

The idea of the Awesome Indies site is to promote independently published books that meet the same standards as mainstream books and provide a place where readers can browse for books assured of their quality (as determined by editors and authors against a clear set of criteria). The Awesome Indies team hope to raise the opinion of such books in the general readers' perception and to encourage and support self-publishing authors striving for excellence. The site ethos is one that strives for comprehensive, objective, editorial reviews and abide by a strong set of ethics, such as complete honesty in their reviews and no favours for friends.

Below is an Awesome Indies Badge for approved authors to use on their websites:





They also have similar badges for your website and the much coveted 'Seal Of Excellence' Badges.

The idea for such a site was the brainchild of Tahlia Newland at the end of 2012. Says Tahlia, 'It started out as a WordPress blog. I was so sick of reading substandard books that I also wanted recommendations from people who knew the difference.'  This is when she came up with the idea of authors submitting 4 or 5 star reviews and approving such reviews by trusted reviewers in a similar way to industry professionals. Tahlia contacted approved reviewers and asked them to check submitted books against criteria before accepting the book.  However, after a while, Tahlia found that even this system wasn't rigorous enough so she decided to have a clean slate and only approve those books that she personally knew and trusted.  Authors were asked to resubmit their books with three approved reviews or to submit their book to the AI Team for review.  Another valuable team member joined - Brain Sfinas and the new look site was launched. The Awesome Indies initiative has raised issues particularly in those whose books that don't meet their criteria, but they have discovered that though some Self Published authors do not want genuine critical appraisal, there are many out there desperate for it, and the site seems to be getting a name for giving it because there's a big demand for such reviewing services.  They began to offer more to authors than  a simple review and as a result they have expanded their author services to meet authors' needs. 'Our reviews rapidly became the most comprehensive and editorial in nature of all the review sites and authors began to really value that level of feedback,' explains Tahlia. 'Brian pointed out that we were providing a valuable service and that some authors would be happy for us to pay to give their review some kind of priority. This came at a time for me when it was either this beast had to start paying me at least somthing for the huge amount of time I put into it, or i'd have to shut up shop and get a job, so I agreed to charge for priority reviews so long as there was always a free review option as well. The One Stop Submission is very popular. A lot of authors request this service as soon as they publish a new book and before they publicise it, knowing that after we have pointed out any issues and they have fixed them, their book will be top quality. The editorial services are just getting going with our first major edit and a couple of proofreads and mss appraisals.'

Awesome Indies is about to enter another phase, beginning with a revamp of the site including a simplified menu and a new design, and new ways to attract the discerning reader.


My other reason for writing this blog is that I also wanted to put something back. I have had two of my books (so far) awarded an Awesome Indies badge of approval at no cost to myself.  I agree that you should always have a free option alongside the paid priority options, even if you have to wait a bit longer. Having said that, I would gladly support the site with donations as I think what they're doing is unique and very worthwhile. 

One of my books 'Fall Of The Flamingo Circus' with Awesome Indies with approved badge to show this book has been placed on their list of independent quality fiction.




Thank you to Tahlia Newland for the background information to the site.

For more information about Tahlia Newland and her books please visit:

http://tahlianewland.com/

More information about Awesome Indies books and the site please visit:

http://awesomeindies.net/

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The L Word



Too many people seem to be daunted or scared off by the L Word.  That is, the Literary Word.

I’ve recently read Under Milk Wood and I’m sure many would recognize this as a great piece of fiction although it may not be recognised as literary fiction but to me it has all the imgredients. As I read it the qualities that made it so striking were firstly the language: At the sea-end of town, Mr and Mrs Floyd, the cocklers, are sleeping as quiet as death, side by wrinkled side, toothless, salt, and brown, like two old kippers in a box…and there’s plenty more of where that came from; secondly the characters with their colourful monikers such as Nogood Boyo, Butcher Benyon or Organ Morgan to name but a few,  and finally the voices. For instance: Me, Mrs Dai Bread Two, gypsied to kill in a silky scarlet petticoat brown as a berry, high heel shoes with one heel missing, tortoiseshell comb in my bright black slinky hair, nothing else at all on but a dab of scent, lolling gaudy at the doorway, tell your fortune in the tea-leaves, scowling at the sunshine, lighting up my pipe.

Apparently Thomas wasn’t a great one for plot.  In Walford Davies; introduction to Under Milk Wood he explains that Thomas ‘knew better than anyone that his strengths did not lie in extended ‘plots’ of any kind. The only firm frameworks that were ever congenial to him were the intricate verse-forms of his poetry. In all other respects his genius was essentially lyrical, capitalising on the vividness of parts within loose structures.’

Neither would Thomas’s work fit into the structure of a play.  When Thomas was offered the chance of having his works broadcast on the radio, the producers got round this by calling Thomas’s work ‘radio features’ rather than ‘radio plays’. Douglas Cleverdon states that  a radio feature ‘has no rules determining what can or cannot be done and though it may be in dramatic form, it has no need of a dramatic plot’.

Now all this fits in with the concept of literary fiction where plot is secondary to what may be character-driven or voice-driven or both.  There’s a lot of misconception around literary fiction: that it is lofty, flowery, wordy - maybe because of the word ‘literary’ –  it may  be, but more likely it won’t.  It is just as likely to be gritty, edgy or experimental.  Literay fiction is non-genre fiction so there is more freedom to bend the rules expected of a genre – for example experimenting with form, structure, characters, voice, language.  This is why it’s my favourite fiction and what I also like to write. Too often people review literary fiction and don’t understand the genre.  They may say ‘nothing happens’ and have missed out on acute observations of characters and situations.  They’ve missed out on fresh and poetic language.  Fine art gets the same flak.  Of course, you get Fine Art and Literary Fiction which doesn’t work or is just trying to be different for the sake of it but you also get poor genre fiction and poor commercial art too.   They say Fine Art is art’s for art’s sake, thus Literary Fiction is sometimes words for words’ sake.  Yes, it may annoy the hell out of some people but it is often – should be – at the cutting edge of fiction, rolling back the frontiers.

Some of my other favourite literary writers who also tell a great story include: Margaret Forster, Ali Smith, John McGahern, Jon McGregor, Alison Moore, Kate Atkinson, Jane Gardam, Penelope Lively, Helen Dunmore, Paul Magrs, Jeanette Winterson and many more.  


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Endings


In three recent reviews of three different books of mine, the subject of endings has come up.  Two of these reviews were thorough, in-depth reviews – always worth their weight in gold - the other a four-liner. But what they all had in common was the feeling that my endings were rather abrupt.  The fact that these three reviews came close together in time, regarding three different books of mine, prompted me to write this blog. It’s always good to be challenged and also to know the effect of your writing on your readers. 

The four-line reviewer felt that Thalidomide Kid ‘was so rushed in the last chapter that it was almost like the author was trying to beat a deadline and just whipped out the ending rather than finish the story’ and ‘felt cheated of a conclusion’. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! I spent a lot of time writing and polishing the book with the help of my then publisher.  Although my publisher made several suggestions for improvements, interestingly enough, none of them included extending the ending.

Another very favourable review for Fall Of The Flamingo Circus states: ‘My only issue with the book, and it’s a small one, was the ending. It just sort of happened. Lauren’s life didn’t seem resolved in any way. However, I guess diaries do just that, one day you’re writing one, the other you’re not. This though is a personal view. I like stories to close off.’  More about that later.

The third review of Did You Whisper Back? - another thorough in-depth critique - gets to the heart of my intentions when I end a book.  The reviewer states: ‘The ending is abrupt which I’m assuming is a deliberate intent to show that a) there are no happy endings and b) there are not really endings in life and c) what we are looking at is a very small beacon of hope, a very small new beginning rather than an ending…I can live with that abruptness because I think it’s stylistically intentional.’

It’s very satisfying for writers when readers and reviewers ‘get’ your intentions.  I don’t go in for long drawn-out endings.  I hold my hands up, guilty as charged!  This is because I have an aversion to the sort of endings, be it in books or in films (especially films) that dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.  When that happens I find myself wanting it to end in the perfect place which for me is leaving a bit to the imagination, a bit of mystery, a bit of ambiguity, wanting a bit more. There’s a tradition in European dramas and films to understate endings and not to overdo them which is perhaps lacking in the UK and the US tradition.

In literary fiction, there is more a tradition of the fluid or ambiguous ending.  But if you are used to reading genre fiction with different expectations of endings then this may jar and leave you feeling disappointed or frustrated.  

My brother had an altogether different explanation for readers’ perceptions of endings. He thought it may be a gender thing and he may well be right.  The need for something ‘to close off’ and the feeling of being ‘cheated of a conclusion’ were both from a male perspective, whereas the reviewer for Did You Whisper Back? was female.  OK, I know this isn’t scientific evidence but it did get me wondering. 

This is where I’d love to have your feedback and thoughts. Feel free to knock these theories down in flames!  Do you have expectations of how a book should end?  Do you like everything to be tied up or do you like a bit of mystery?  Do you have different expectations from different genres?  And do you think there are gender differences?

Finally, thank you for reading and many thanks to those who have taken the time and trouble to read and review my books so meticulously. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Reviewing My Reviews.


New Year New Start!

It's about time I did a fresh blog since it's almost a year since the last.

I don’t do many book reviews though I try to support indie writers by doing some. I try to be positive and fair in my reviews, concentrating on a book’s strengths and have erred on the side of generosity.

But I've been thinking - is this helpful to the author?  Shouldn’t I also be concentrating on a book’s weaknesses too?  Then again, a review isn’t the same as a critique.  If an author asks for private feedback about a piece where there are clear weaknesses, I wouldn’t hesitate in offering it where I felt it was warranted.

That said, I wear two hats: one as writer and one as reader.  And I also feel an obligation to the reader.

Lovely as it is to receive them, too many glowing five star reviews does little to profit anyone: neither the author whose book is being reviewed nor your own integrity as a reviewer.  It cheapens and threatens to patronise.

So from now on, I intend doing my reviews a little differently, aiming to highlight weaknesses as well as strengths if possible. I may also amend some reviews I’ve already done where weaknesses were overlooked. This may be due to too many typos or some other deficiency.  I may drop a star here and there (a 4 Star review is still very worthy) but I want to save the 5 star reviews for my absolute personal favourites. 

Well, that’s the intention anyway.  I may revert to type by next week.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Meet Ben Hardy

I first met Ben Hardy on Authonomy and found his book on wine-making - then a work-in-progress - a refreshing read, laid out in short appetising chapters and washed down with a good home-brewed humour. It was clear then that this book had great potential and so it didn't surprise me at all when it was snapped up by The Good Life Press.






My Review



If you think this is just another book on wine-making you'd be totally wrong. Yes, wine is the raison d'ĂȘtre for the book but it's as much about the accompanying events which enrich the whole wine-making and wine-drinking experience: the food, the friends, the family members, the cats, the classical music, the dissertations on medieval childbirth and other little anecdotes that almost make you feel a participant in the Hardy household. The book is divided into sections according to wine flavour (and there are many), and we are privy to the agonies and ecstasies of each new flavour, from the picking (or buying), to the stalking, mashing or cutting of the fruit (or vegetable), to the bottling, maturing and eventual drinking. The events are relayed with a wit, sometimes dry, at other times sparkly, just like the various wines. Banana, plum and blackberry are some of the fruits employed, even exotic tinned fruit, though Hardy strongly advises against the potato. "I think this is the most disgusting wine I have ever made or supped. It's bitter and tastes of raw potatoes," he writes with his usual candour. I'm not at all surprised that the Barley Wine tasted like Carlsberg Special either - as a teen I would drink both to get off my head quickly and cheaply, though the Barley Wine was pretty bitter and disgusting to my youthful palate. I am also very averse to rhubarb but I must say that the description of something more akin to pink champagne and no hint of rhubarb did sound very enticing. One gets the feeling that corks are popping and wine exploding all the time in the Hardy household and when they're not drinking the stuff or having Wine Parties for friends to rate Ben's wines, they're foraging, picking, racking, bottling and keeping a journal. One wonders how Ben and his wife Claire - whose home-made dishes are usually a mouth-watering accompaniment - have time for all their other pursuits.






About the Author


From Leeds, Ben turned 40 last year, and he describes the last decade as being “a strange mix of wine making, commercial property, playing the bassoon and medieval history.”  You will hear a lot more about his interests in his book and his blog.


Read more about 'what happened next' at Ben's blog.
http://bensadventuresinwinemaking.blogspot.com/


Ben's book can be purchased in paperback at Amazon - now at £9.74 
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bens-Adventures-Wine-Making-Hardy/dp/1904871909





Saturday, 22 October 2011

Trippers - William J Booker

Over the next few months, I plan to highlight some exciting new authors I have discovered online, published by small press or self-published.

The first author I’d like to introduce is William J Booker, author of the 1971 popular culture book ‘Trippers’. I first read a sample on Authonomy and knew I just had to buy it.



My Review:

Trippers is a profound and important book about the life-changing experience taking place in the life of Bill Booker and his friends over a period of two weeks in the summer of 1971. The writing is beautiful and of its time. Beginning in Leicester, Bill reaches a turning point in his life as he questions his existence and the pure futility of living until he alights on the idea of a journey as a passport out of the gloom and depression of Leicester. The book is peppered with nostalgic references, infusing deeper significance to those of us of a certain generation: Ted Heath, power cuts, Double Barrel, Spirit In The Sky, Reefer jackets. Bill gravitates towards a new crowd of like-minded, mind-expanding, enlightenment-seekers who listen to the soundtracks of the time - Cream, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd - while imbibing certain mind-altering substances. Bill's travelling companions and fellow trippers, Ray, Jake and Syd are vividly described, the 'tripping' of course not only referring to their planned trip to Weymouth, perhaps an unlikely destination for enlightenment, but also to the psychedelic substances they ingest before they hit the road and during their time away. The reality of living cheek-by-jowl with fellow travellers is beautifully observed and with plenty of wry humour as we get a more in-depth portrayal of the characters, their complexities, their vulnerabilities, even their personal hygiene problems (Ray's foot odour problem for one!) as their shared experience of tripping bonds them. Egg and chips provide fuel for the boys wherever they travel, but even the fried eggs, sunny side up, become a metaphor for something deeper (if only I liked fried eggs). There are great discussions aplenty and some very eerie experiences when they are tripping, like the walk in the dark back to the campsite, but the whole `trip' to Weymouth provides the catalyst for the meaning of life, and a new self-confidence and fearlessness in Bill as he embraces the philosophy of Tim Leary: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. But more than this, Bill's quest and understanding about light, love, and oneness, is like reading one of those books about Buddhist experiences and the connectedness of all existence, leaving one with a sense of awe and positivity.




William, or Bill as he is known to his friends, is only in touch with one of the 'trippers' now, two of them having sadly died since. Trippers is meant to be a stand alone book, not part of a series or to have a sequel.  I wondered how he would follow such a book, whether it would be possible.

Bill tells me he has been working on an idea for a mystery thriller, though he thinks it would be a tiny fish in a big pond compared to Trippers, which has a good niche. “It would be something like a cross between Robert Goddard and Simon McKernick, but there are so many about and even some established authors are having their work turned down. It has to be something really fresh and original as well as extremely well-written and even then it's hard to promote a mainstream novel without a sizeable budget to force its presence on the potential readership. Having said the above, if we believe we have something worthwhile, we should do it!"  Bill also has three unfinished novels and several short stories that he’s never attempted to publish, so he has no shortage of material and new ideas. 


Bill divides his time between writing and graphic design. He also enjoys reading, photography and walking.  


Book trailer for Trippers.









Trippers can be purchased from Amazon and other online stores and all good booksellers.  It has been very well-reviewed, all of them 5 star.




More about William J Booker and Trippers can be found at his website:

Friday, 30 September 2011

Tiffany's Bookshelf: Far Cry From the Turquoise Room, by Kate Rigby

Tiffany's Bookshelf: Far Cry From the Turquoise Room, by Kate Rigby: Hassan is a Persian man living in England with his family. Life is splendid; he does well at business and his family is perfect. But sudd...