“The Woman At The Washington Zoo” by Randall Jarrell

The saris go by me from the embassies.

Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I. . . .
this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief–
Only I complain. . . . this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,
Wavy beneath fountains–small, far-off, shining
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death–
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!

The world goes by my cage and never sees me.
And there come not to me, as come to these,
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas’ grain,
Pigeons settling on the bears’ bread, buzzards
Tearing the meat the flies have clouded. . . .
When you come for the white rat that the foxes left,
Take off the red helmet of your head, the black
Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man:
The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn,
To whose hand of power the great lioness
Stalks, purring. . . .
You know what I was,
You see what I am: change me, change me!


Dude Slags Off Kindle

Engadget reviewer has had enough of the Kindle:

Amazon states that “a copy of every book you purchased from the Kindle Store is backed up at Amazon.com in case you ever need to download it again. You can wirelessly re-download books for free any time. This allows you to make room for new titles on your Kindle, knowing that Amazon is storing your personal library of Kindle books. We even back up your last page read and annotations, so you’ll never lose those, either. Think of it as a bookshelf in your attic–even though you don’t see it, you know your books are there.”

Sounds good. Not too different from eReader’s policy where I can download books I bought more than decade ago to my iPhone, a device that didn’t even exist when I bought them. My problems occurred after downloading my copy of Freakonomics to my Kindle 1, my iPhone and iPod touch. I discovered I couldn’t download the book to my Kindle 2. I kept getting error after error that simply said this book can’t be loaded on this device. A little time with Google revealed I was not alone. It seems there’s a finite number of times each book can be downloaded, even if it’s downloaded to the same device. This number is set by the publisher and varies from book to book, but Amazon never mentions this, and there’s no indication of it anywhere during the purchase process. In short, it obviates the reason why one would buy an e-book in the first place. If I want to read Freakonomics at this point, I either have to find a device that I’m no longer using that has that content on it or buy a new copy. Sorry. That’s just not acceptable and I’ve been debating what books I’d buy in the future. That was until last week.

I think this is the point where people come to terms with how bad some of the DRM systems are for the Kindle, as well as the sheer thoughtlessness of design.

(And we all know where I stand on such matters anyway).


Podcast & Features

I’ve been a busy boy.

Here’s a podcast I recorded with the wonderful Hagelrat at Unbound! That’s her full name apparently: Hagelrat Unbound. Listen to me talk about bits and pieces to do with me (how solipsistic!), the industry, and the follow up to Nights of Villjamur.

Also, here’s a tongue-in-cheek feature on hype, which I wrote for the Pan Macmillan newsletter.

It starts out innocently enough. You’re a new author, your book – your cherub – is soon to be released, and proof copies have been doing the rounds. You watch with glee as the first reader responses are positive. It puts your heart at ease. You fully expected them to serve your arse back to you on a plate, but no – they liked the book. Actually, they loved the book. Your website stats indicate that someone other than your editor and your mother knows you’re alive. Suddenly more reviewers across the blogosphere begin making meerkat postures, demanding their review copy. A while later, a lot of positive reviews roll in. Forums throng.


Bookshelf Etiquette

An article in the Guardian newspaper discusses bookshelf etiqeutte, and how to arrange books.

• The literary snob

Old Penguins, heavily creased to denote re-reading, are lined up in rows of orange, black and grey. These can be bought by the yard at most secondhand bookshops, and are a very easy way of acquiring instant intellectual credibility.

• The David Cameron

Books by important members of the new Tory World Order are prominently displayed where they can be seen by everyone. Acolytes can ascertain how close to power they are by the position of their own books.

• The Jeffrey Archer

Shelf after shelf of your own book in every imaginable translation and edition – frequently in multiples of 10.

Come to think of it, this applies to almost ever author I know.

• The ‘I’m desperate for a shag’, male version

Must include prominent copies of The Golden Notebook and The Second Sex and any dreary rubbish by Ian McEwan lying around to show you are in touch with your sensitive side. Best to hide any well-thumbed copies of Belle du Jour and La Vie Sexuelle by Catherine M under the bed.

• The “I’m desperate for a shag’, female version

Doesn’t really require books – it’s the last thing a man will notice. But on the off-chance you bring someone home who can read, it might be an idea temporarily to lose anything too intimidating by Andrea Dworkin.

Unless you’re a lesbian, in which case you might like to put it on the coffee table.

I resent the comment about “this applies to almost ever author I know”. I’ll have you know I only currently have one shelf of my books – yes, I know I’ve only got a couple of titles out at the moment. Whatever.

Anyway, I prefer the Leaning Towers of Death when it comes to book arrangement. If you aren’t worried about being buried alive underneath them, you’re not doing it right.


Plug For C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake Series

See bloggers – I can get free books too!

This is a bit of a shameless plug for fellow Pan Macmillan author C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake Series. (I promised my editor, Julie, I’d do so if she sent me free books.) They look just my thing, I’ll admit. A spot of medieval crime.

Here’s the blurb of the first novel, Dissolution.

Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved. But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the alter, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic. Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell into this atmosphere of treachery and death. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes …


On Responding To Bad Reviews

The Telegraph discusses the merits or otherwise of responding to bad reviews.

From time to time, a dust-up between a writer and the reviewer of his or her latest book attracts the attention of a wider audience and briefly confers on that audience the status of children in a playground urging a pair of muddy, sweaty and often ill-matched combatants to “Fight! Fight! Fight!” Generally speaking, the spectacle is not edifying, and shows nobody, onlookers included, in an especially good light. Truth to tell, though, and in order to sidestep the charge of hypocritical hauteur, one must admit that a bit of bloodletting appears to perform some shadowy, relaxing function in the collective unconscious.

In particular, the article references this little incident (and the shitstorm surrounding it) of a review of Alain de Botton’s latest book.

It must be very tempting in this interconnected age, where anyone can hide behind a computer screen and type away a review safely behind the screen of internet autism, to thrash out an angry response. My view? If there’s a shitstorm with your name on it, sit back, rub your hands together and enjoy the free publicity; then watch the sales come in.

I’ve worked behind the scenes in the industry and one thing that matters more than most is word of mouth. The most damaging thing you can do to a book that you dislike is not give it any coverage at all.

Someone once advised me that you weigh your press, you don’t read it…


Road to Publication (Reprise)

Over a year ago I made a series of posts documenting the things I discovered on my road to publication with Pan Macmillan, and offering advice to new writers who are looking to get published themselves. A comment in an earlier post reminded me of it, so I thought given that I’m more well-known online now I’d put them up again. Essentially, it covers everything from before you start, to what you do when you have a finished manuscript.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Read Part Four

I was someone who worked in bookselling and publishing as well, so I had a pretty good grip on the industry, and although nothing is ever guaranteed, I like to think that this advice would really increase a writer’s chances of getting published.