Freelance Editing

There is an article on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) website with the title ‘Freelance Editors: Find and Cultivate Top Notch Talent’ by Deb Vanasse who is a reporter with the IBPA Independent magazine.  Wikipedia says that: “Deb Vanasse is an American writer of more than a dozen books, many of which are set in Alaska. Her children’s books include six picture books and two young adult novels.”

Deb Vanasse

While the  article appears to be directed mainly toward publishers, it interested me, because I used an editor for the first time on Achieving Superpersonhood, and while the editor did a reasonably good job for me, I felt that she was sometimes missing the points I was making in the novel.  So, while I’m now committed to using an editor, I need a better process to select him/her.  An editor can help the author see problems in the construction – the substance –  of a novel that an author might miss.  So I am interested in getting some ideas about a selection process.  I should mention that the editorial work to which I’m referring here precedes the copy editing which comes just before preparation for printing and which includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.

I also thought that there is material in the article which could be of interest to readers of this blog who wish to become freelance editors.

Ms Vanasse says, “Within the past decade, market changes have created a healthy supply of freelance editorial talent. But in the wide-open field of freelance editing, quantity is no guarantee of quality.  ‘There are more editors looking for freelance work since the Big Five have let a vast number go from full-time or part-time work,’ says Geoff Brown, acquisitions editor at Cohesion Press. ‘Combine that with the many self-published writers who think they can now work as editors because they put out a memoir or urban fantasy through Kindle Direct Publishing, and you have a lot of freelancers looking for work.’

“Freelance editor Amanda Spedding laments that some in her field fail to grasp the nuances of language or understand how it contributes to storytelling. ‘I know of a lot of authors who have been burned by people claiming to be editors when they have no right to call themselves such,’ she says. ‘It gives a bad name to those of us who have done the study, have put in the long hours, who continue to learn, and keep up to date. I hate defending my profession, but I’ve had to do so more these last few years.’  Some publishers even outsource editorial work overseas, a trend that puzzles freelance editor Kelly Lydick. ‘To me, this is a difficult thing to understand,’ she says. ‘Not just because it affects me personally and narrows the job market, but in particular how a non-native English speaker could have an expert command over grammar in the same way a native English speaker could. It is a genuine concern when the ultimate goal is to honour an author’s work.’  Lydick ranks those in her profession in terms of good, excellent, and superb. ‘A good editor will have a sense of content and how content can be organised so that it’s interesting and sparks something in a reader—hopefully inspiration,’ she says. ‘An excellent editor will have a good sense of audience and how a particular work will be received by a reader—and will tailor the work with this in mind. A superb editor will have a sense of the literary marketplace and how and why a book may do well in the market, knowing that it’s often a tough market to predict.’

“‘Talented freelancers also enjoy what they do’, says Renni Browne, founder of an editing service called The Editorial Department. ‘I’ve been at it for over 50 years, and I’ve never known a good one who found their work boring,’ she says. ‘Every author is different, every manuscript is different, every chapter, paragraph, sentence is different.’  Ms Browne likens the work of a developmental editors to that of an architect, suggesting where to place lines and paragraphs for maximum effect. Ross adds that good developmental editors use diagnostic skills to identify strengths and weaknesses, which they must then convey effectively to the author.  When they work at the line level, Renni likens editors to mimics who recognise an author’s distinct voice and then work to make it shine. Line editors also need a good ear, says Ross, Renni’s son. ‘By ear I mean sensitivity to the way language sounds, the way it flows, to the rhythm between dialogue and narrative,’ he says. ‘They’ll know what sounds real and what sounds phony, what sounds natural and what has a strained literary effect. And they probably won’t think about any of this.’

Internet searches, professional associations, and personal recommendations are among the resources for publishers to tap when seeking editorial talent.  An internet search led Crosstown Publishing’s Jim Laughren to The Editorial Department. ‘I saw they were owned by Renni Browne, author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a book I had read and been impressed with,’ Laughren says. ‘There are good bios of all their editors on the website, so I was able to select an editor who I felt was most appropriate for my particular book.’  Geoff Brown, acquisitions editor at Cohesion Press, discovered Spedding through a professional association of writers. After he confirmed her qualifications and experience and checked references from previous clients, he hired her to handle all editorial functions at his small press.  Professional associations may offer request-for-quote (RFQ) services that broadcast publisher needs to their members, notes Ross Browne. But depending on how the service is set up, he warns that the response can be overwhelming. ‘Editorial Freelancers Association has several thousand members, and you can expect several dozen members to respond to your RFQ,’ he says. ‘Thankfully, EFA also allows you to post a supplemental notice stating you have received sufficient replies.’   Other professional associations of freelance editors include the American Copyeditors Society and the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors.

“Editorial relationships begin with an exchange of information between publisher and editor. Specifying the scope of services, scheduling, and compensation, a formal or informal agreement binds the relationship.  ‘When I’m exploring the possibility of a new project, I first get a sense of how well I communicate with the author and how well the author communicates with me,’ Lydick says. “’ also take a look at the content and see if it’s within my scope of understanding or, even better, expertise—a subject I know a lot about—and also whether I like the style of the writing.’

“At The Editorial Department, the business relationship begins as something of a matchmaking process in which Ross Browne works with the client to choose the best fit for the project from among the company’s 16 editors.  ‘We ask a lot of questions of our new clients at the intake stage about the manuscript and its author, including publication goals and intended readership, the author’s experience with writing and publishing, and where they feel they need the most help,’ he explains. ‘I read some of the manuscript to make sure it’s ready for our process and to get a feel for the writing so I can make a good match to an editor.’  After recommending an editor, Browne offers details of the services, costs, and time frame proposed for the project. He provides formal agreements upon request.

“Lydick affirms arrangements with work orders, project agreements and, if necessary, confidentiality agreements.”

 

Review: Midnight’s Children

Having finished the books I brought with me to Sicily, I went to the local bookstore which has a small selection of English language books, but I found nothing that intrigued me.  Looking on the bookshelves in the house, where guests occasionally leave books, I found Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.  Mitigating against reading it were its length (647 pages), and its author (I’ve read The Satanic Verses and admired it, but didn’t particularly enjoy it).  The main factor in favour of reading it is that it is twice the winner of the Booker of Bookers: the best Booker Prize winner in the last 25 years and 40 years.

First Edition

The story, written in 1981, deals with the recent colonial past of the Indian subcontinent, its independence and its partition into two states: India and Pakistan.  The narrator is Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight, the precise moment of India’s independence, and who is telling the story to his future wife, Padma.  Saleem is born with a huge, dripping nose with exceptional olfactory powers, such that he is able to read thoughts and identify intentions.  He learns that all the children born at the moment of independence are gifted with extraordinary powers, and he forms a Midnight Children’s Conference to try to influence events, including political developments and subcontinental wars.    In particular, allegorical style is used to critique the governance of Indira Gandhi during the ‘Emergency’ period.  Mrs Gandhi brought a suit against Rushdie, not for his slating of her administration, but for a single sentence criticising her family relationships; this sentence has been removed from current editions.  As well as the Conference, the tale involves Saleem’s extended family: mother, father, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and his infant son.  The style of the book is magical realism, not conforming to any particular genre, it is factual, comical, suspenseful, magical, surreal, historical and mythic.

In his introduction to the 2006 edition, Rushdie says, “In the West, people tended to read Midnight’s Children as a fantasy, while in India, people thought of it as pretty realistic, almost a history book.”  Though I have traveled to India three times, and know something of its history and culture, I read the book primarily as a fantasy, which is a shame: I feel I have missed an important dimension of the book.  It must be said that Salman Rushdie is an extraordinary story-teller: he has great imagination and invention, and sometimes I felt that he has invented himself into a corner – how can he get out of this one?- only to read a clever, smooth and sensible transition out.  His command of language is breath-taking, leaving one with the clearest possible image of what is happening.  Occasionally, though, I felt left out by his use of Hindi (or other native) words and expressions which are undoubtedly appropriate.  There were also times when I felt that his excursions into descriptive fantasy were too lengthy, and yet, long as it is, I wanted to read on.

So, for me Midnight’s Children is a literary masterpiece, and there is much to learn from Rushdie’s skill as a writer and a story-teller.  But did I enjoy it?  Not particularly, having missed too much of it,

Achieving Superpersonhood

My latest novel, Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives, has just been released.  Three young, black East Africans, Kamiri, Dorothy and Hassan, of dissimilar backgrounds, struggle with hard times and become friends in their intersecting searches for a demanding yet satisfying personal identity – what Nietzsche called ‘super personhood’.  Two voices are heard throughout: the One, likely the voice of God, and the Other, probably Satan’s voice, as they offer conflicting guidance on achieving alternative identities.

The synopsis:

                Kamiri, a dirt-poor, but likable and intelligent migrant, who was raised in the tribal faith, is drawn to the city where he joins his brother in the drugs trade.  Disgusted, he finds work in an abattoir, but his comradeship with Hassan leads him into professional football.  Kamiri’s jealous brother, Warari, turned terrorist, shoots him in the knee, ending his athletic career, and he returns to the solace of the wilderness as a park ranger.  Accidentally, he kills an ivory poacher and faces prosecution until Hassan’s older, half-brother hires him to work as a ranger in an up-market safari park.  Can Kamiri become the park’s general manager, and can he marry Dorothy?

Dorothy, a college graduate from a professional, middle class, Christian family is an impatient idealist who is unsure whether her future lies on politics or medicine.  As an intern working for an MP, she becomes involved in a sting on corrupt exploitation of a diamond mine. Realising that the low ethical standards of politics are an obstacle for her, she opts for medicine, only to be raped by a senior doctor.  Her faith in medicine is also shaken, but she mounts a civil suit and media campaign in retaliation for her humiliation.  Can she find success and happiness as a doctor, and whom will she marry: Kamiri or Hassan?

Hassan, of doubtful parentage, is the youngest child in a rich and powerful Muslim family.  Lonely, insecure and drifting at university, he joins Dorothy in a political protest which goes wrong for him: he receives a two-year suspended jail sentence.  While helping Dorothy in the mining sting, he trespasses on a claim, and fearful of being sent to prison, he immerses himself in suspect Islamic studies and is misled into a terrorist organisation.  Appalled by the terrorists’ values and deeds, he escapes to Kamiri who provides him with a safe haven while he considers his options.  Hassan’s father is able to place him in the Army’s officer candidate school.  Will Hassan make a good Army officer, and will he marry Dorothy?

The setting is current in the startling diversity (cultural, economic, social and political) that is East Africa.

If you would like to read Achieving Superpersonhood, I will send free copies to the first twenty-five of you who send your postal address to bill@williampeace.net.  What I ask in return is that you write a review.  Happy reading!

Types of Readers

The Atlantic had an on-line article 31/8/2012 which i found both interesting an humorous.  It listed the types of book readers.  Lest you conclude that this is a definitive list, I can assure you that there are as many different lists as there are book enthusiasts who like to categorise complicated subjects.

Here is an abbreviated sample of The Atlantic’s list:

The Book Snob. You are hard to impress. You only read books that are well reviewed by critics that you have determined to be of the highest caliber. You would never stoop to read something on a best-seller list, or something sold in a discount department store, or something NOT GOOD. Paperbacks offend you; you only touch hardcover—preferably, award-winning in some form or fashion. 

The Hopelessly Devoted. You stick to the authors you like, and you read them, pretty much exclusively, whatever they write, good or bad, regardless of reviews or the opinions of your friends or family. Everyone knows what to get you for your birthday or holidays. You are a true fan, and have been known to stand in line for a book signing from your BWF (Best Writer Forever)..

The Audiobook Listener. So, ya like audiobooks? That’s cool. There’s a place for you, person whose ears are essentially eyes. Not that we understand, exactly, but, hey, different strokes for different folks.

The Conscientious Reader. It’s nonfiction or nothing for you, reader! It should have a purpose, too, and be meaningful. You should learn something. There should be ideals! If it’s just fun, you can read it on the Internet, in your humble opinion. You like reporting, true tales, and journalism.

The Critic. Yes, it is easier for you to hate than to love, but when you love, you love deeply and in the most eloquent of fashions. It’s not a book if you don’t discourse about it, and so, discourse you shall! No one can stop you. You allude to metaphors and figurative language and concepts and conceits and plot points in daily conversations. You adore a spectacular conclusion as much as you do a foreword and an afterword. But especially, you love something that you can sink your teeth into and discuss. But only with those of a similar intellectual bent. You find book clubs too “mainstream.”

The Book Swagger. You’re the one wandering around book conventions with that acquisitive gleam in your eye and a pile of ARCs in your tote bag. If it’s free, you’ll take it, and even if it’s not, you’ll try to get it for free. Whether you read all this swag or not is really of little consequence. It’s not that you don’t love books, you do. But you also really, really love getting to see them before anybody else. And for free!

The Easily Influenced Reader. If someone says it, they must be right! You listen to everyone, from your mom to Oprah to the members of your book club to Michiko Kakutani, and you believe them all! There are so many books for you to read, you better get started. Don’t worry, you already know how to feel about the books you will read. You enjoy reading in group settings.

The Compulsive/Voracious/Anything Goes Reader. Wherever you go, whatever you do, there’s a book with you. It doesn’t matter what it is, really, so long as there are pages with words on them, or an e-reader with words on it. We can’t really suggested anything here because you took it with you to the grocery store or subway or library or laundromat or coffee shop, and you’re standing in line or sitting down and reading it right now.

The Sharer. You read something you like and you simply will not stop talking about it; you tell everyone you know, and you will not give up until they read it too. And then you want to talk about it.  If you are one of these, sometimes you loan people books, too, and that is a good quality. We like you, book sharer. We really, really do. You’re a giver, not a taker.

The Re-Reader. You know what you like, and instead of branching out and possibly finding something new that you don’t like, you focus on what you do. You read the same books over and over again, returning to them as if they’re old friends, which, pretty much, they are. Your book-reading motto is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The Hate Reader. Oh, you. You pretend to be curmudgeonly, you do, but you really just devour the reading you do in a different way. You’re loving it nearly much as you’re hating it, even as you complain the author can’t put two sentences together properly or that the book is dragging hopelessly in the middle and what kind of plot twist is that, even? An elephant in Act 3? These characters are so poorly drawn as to be comical! You call that a conclusion? Vampires, really? If you are a hate reader you will finish each hate read down to its very last word, and you may well close the covers and toss the volume across the room, but you will do it with a great, secret frisson of satisfaction because it feels so good. You may be an aspiring, disgruntled novelist yourself.

Delayed Onset Reader. You are without a doubt a book lover, and when you walk into a bookstore or any place books are available, you can’t help yourself, you buy one or many. When you get home you put them aside, often reverently, as if they were art, displaying them on a bookshelf or propping them up on your bedside table, pages ready to meet your eyes as soon as you have the moment. But you’re very, very busy, and days, weeks, or months may go by before you actually crack open one of these books. It’s not for lack of trying! When you finally do, you will be overjoyed by all the learning and emotional depth and humor and writing quality that exists in this book that’s been sitting within reach all along, and you will be amazed that you waited so long to ever open it.

The Multi-Tasker. This is the nice way of saying you are a promiscuous reader, but it’s not that you don’t finish reads. Instead, you just have a sort of hippie reading way about you, free love or some such. You might start the day out with a few pages from one novelist, then read something entirely different on the subway, and when you come home from work, another work as well. Your bedtime read, too, might be different, and all in all, when you count up the books, you’ve got quite a lot of irons in the fire all at the same time. Do you confuse characters or plots? Do you give more attention to some books than to others? Perhaps. The point is, you’re not ready for a book commitment just yet, and you’re doing a brilliant job dating them all in the meantime.

 

 

Enter Celebrity Editors

Time magazine, in its 25 June issue, has an article about how celebrities have become editors at the major publishing houses. The article says, “The worlds of fashion and music have long understood the  power of celebrity collaborations, which count on high-profile partners to combine expertise and star power.  Now book publishers are breaking out of their bubble and looking to outsiders – people with name brand cachet and stratospheric social-media followings, and who presumably love books – to curate and helm boutique lists.  ‘Publishers want celebrity stardust, and, let’s face it, most writers don’t have that’, says Claibourne Smith, editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews.”

Sarah Jessica Parker’s new publishing imprint, SJP for Hogarth, released its first novel on 12 June, as the realisation of a longtime fantasy  “I never imagined at this point in my life I’d have the opportunity to turn my lifelong hobby of reading into my work,” she says,

The Time article says, “The proto-celebrity editor might be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who took on a consulting editorship at Viking Press in 1975.  The former first lady oversaw titles on Russian costumes and fairy tales.  ‘Jackie Kennedy is one of the models Sarah Jessica and I discussed when we started talking about the partnership’, says Molly Stern, senior vice president and publisher of Crown, Hogarth and  Archetype  books, who first approached Parker about taking a shot at publishing.  ‘Jackie was a journalist before she was married to the President, and Sarah Jessica was a lifelong reader before she became an actress’.

“SJP for Hogarth will publish literary fiction – Parker’s favourite genre – with an emphasis on multicultural voices.  ‘I’m focused on stories that cultivate empathy and expose us to people whose homes I’m not likely to be invited into,’ the newly minted editorial director says of her mission,”

Sarah Jessica Parker

“Parker say she gets nervous in her new role.  Taking an approach that’s part book nerd and part method actor, she travels to bookseller conventions, doodles book cover ideas and attends Penguin Random House launch and marketing meetings – where she presents her selections in hopes of winning internal support necessary to any book’s success.  ‘I don’t want to look like a lightweight,’ Parker says.  ‘I don’t want people to think I’m dabbling.  I want them to know I take their work seriously, and I try to learn about the trade – I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the importance of bookshelf placement.’  (If it isn’t visible, she notes, it’s not going to be purchased.)

“Kirby Kim, a literary agent with Janklow & Nesbit Associates, has first-hand experience with the soup-to-nuts nature of Parker’s involvement.  In March, when he submitted a novel to multiple houses ahead of the London Book Fair, Parker took a break from fair events to read the manuscript, and her imprint wasting no time coming in with an offer.  ‘Instead of just networking and schmoozing, she actually zoomed through the submission,’ Kim says.  Ultimately, another publisher won the title.  ‘You lose books – that has been gutting,’ Parker says.  ‘It’s tough, but it’s good for me.  I don’t have a limitless budget.  I have to be thoughtful about how we’re spending our dollars,’

“Nearly every major publisher is now in the celebrity business.  Simon & Schuster has Jeter Publishing, a partnership with baseball legend Derek Jeter that launched in 2013.  Random House offered Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO television show Girls, and her producing partner, Jenni Konner, their own imprint in 2016.  Henry Holt & Co., known for elevated fiction and news-breaking political titles . . . announced in 2016 that it had bestowed Bravo TV personality Andy Cohen with his own imprint.

“Even so, certain authors might prefer the imprimatur of a literary institution over a celebrity’s.  ‘I could see why celebrity imprints would be ripe for derision – critics might say celebrities are trying to look smart,’ says Katherine Fausset, a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.

“Parker, meanwhile, is off to the races promoting her first novel.  Two weeks before its release, she posted a picture of herself hailing a cab with SJP for Hogarth’s debut book in her hand.  It got nearly 167,000 likes.”

Review: Living Buddha, Living Christ

My wife read this book by Thich Nhat Hanh, and when I ran out of handy books (we’re on holiday), I decided to read it.  The subtitle is “A revered meditation master explores two of the world’s great contemplative traditions.”

The author is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, born in 1926; he is active in the peace movement, promoting non-violent solutions to conflict.  He has written more than 100 books, including over 40 in English.  He is fluent in French, Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, Pali, English and Vietnamese.  He is based in Plum Village in Dordogne in the south of France, and has established Buddhist facilities in Vietnam, France, USA, Germany.  He is a Zen Master of Buddhism and a teacher of mindfulness (meditation).

Thich Nhat Hanh

This book does a very credible job bringing the teaching of Jesus Christ in line with the teaching of Buddha.  If these two men were to meet, one can suppose that they would have gotten along well.  More on this below.  Contact with the Holy Spirit is suggested to place one in a similar state of near nirvana to Buddhist mindfulness or meditation.  In fact there are references to the benefits of mindfulness on nearly every page, and although Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher of Buddhist mindfulness, and he has written books on the subject, there is no prescription for reaching near nirvana.

(When I was much younger, the company I worked for put its sales people on a course in meditation taught be a man named Jeff Coats.  The reason for the course was that sales people needed to have a constructive escape from the stress of selling.  I can recall reaching a meditative state only once, but it was quite sublime.)

The author takes issue with the Roman Catholic church on its implied position that it is the only true religion.  He makes the point that this can lean to real conflict and it inhibits constructive dialogue.  I agree.

While the ethos of Christianity and Buddhism may be similar, there are two important points on which the two diverge,  Buddhists do not believe in an immortal soul; Buddha taught that the soul, like the body is constantly evolving and therefore impermanent.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “A good theologian is one who says almost nothing about God, even though the word ‘theology’ means ‘discourse about God’.  It is risky to talk about God.  The notion of God might be an obstacle for us to touch God as love, wisdom and mindfulness.” and “The Buddha was not against God.  He was only against notions of God that are mere mental constructions and do not correspond to reality, notions that prevent us from developing ourselves and touching ultimate reality.”  It seems to me that there are several problems with this.  Christians believe that Jesus, as part of the Trinity, is God, and He is not a ‘mental construction’.  Thich Nhat Hanh seems to accept the reality of the Holy Spirit, also part of the Trinity; is the Spirit a ‘mental construction’?  In the last sentence quoted above, the author uses the word ‘reality’ twice, without being clear about what ‘reality’ he is referring to.

When I imagine a meeting between Jesus and Buddha, I don’t think it would be entirely friendly.  In my scenario, Jesus chastises Buddha for being a ‘man of little faith’.

For this reason, I found Living Buddha, Living Christ to be a book of little value: it focuses on relatively minor similarities while ignoring the important differences.

Review: Daemon Voices

Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman, master storyteller, attracted my attention because it is  collection of essays on storytelling.  I thought is might include some tips from an expert.  The book, when it arrived from Amazon turned out to be a hard cover edition of 460 velum pages.  The essays are mostly presentations given at various literary events, and compiled by Simon Mason, who writes for adults and children and his fictional works have won and been shortlisted for literary prizes.

Wikipedia says this about Philip Pullman: “Philip Pullman, CBE, and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (born 19 October 1946) is an English novelist. He is the author of several best-selling books, including the fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials and a fictionalised biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. In 2008, The Times named Pullman one of the “50 greatest British writers since 1945”.  In a 2004 poll for the BBC, Pullman was named the eleventh most influential person in British culture.

Philip Pullman

“The first book of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, won the 1995 Carnegie Medal from the Library Assocaiation, recognising the year’s outstanding English-language children’s book. For the 70th anniversary of the Medal it was named one of the top ten winning works by a panel, composing the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite. It won the public vote from that shortlist and was thus named the all-time”Carnegie of Carnegies” in June 2007. It was adapted as a film under its US title, The Golden Compass.”

Daemon Voices contains 32 essays covering a wide range of topics: childrens’ literature, education, religion, science, folk tales, fairy tales, Pullman’s books, other writers, culture, the writer, and on the practice of writing.  Since most of the essays are oral presentations, they come across as informal, but learned and interesting.

There are many detailed references to particular stories, some of which is valuable and unique, but much I found myself skimming as it did not assuage my interest in technique.  What was of particular value to me were his remarks about stories in the present vs, the past.  (He prefers the past as it is less limiting, while I prefer the present as conveying a sense of immediacy).  He reveals specific instances of stories in a mix of past and present tense.  Also valuable were his thoughts on the use of various narrators, including devices where a character becomes a narrator.  Much of this is contained in his essay The Writing of Stories.

I took particular exception to his drum beating for atheism, particularly his essay, The Republic of Heaven: God is Dead, Long Live the Republic.  As I understand it, his atheism is based on there being no proof of God’s existence, and scorn for the evil deeds committed in the name of religion.  What this fails to recognize is that God can exist for a host of reasons without any proof of his existence, and that evil deeds committed in the name of religion (of which there are many, many) are actually committed by human beings, there being no necessary relationship between the evil acts and the existence, or not, of God.  It also fails to consider the enormous number of human beings (two of three billion?) who believe in God, and each of whom has a personal experience which accounts for their belief.

Daemon Voices is of particular interest to those who are fans of Philip Pullman.

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay was interviewed by Stephen Sackur on BBC’s Hard Talk a few weeks ago.  At the time, I was impressed by this man who lifted himself from ignorant child immigrant to intellectual star in the most adverse circumstances imaginable.

Lemn Sissay

Sissay’s mother, an immigrant from Ethiopia and pregnant with him, arrived in England in 1966.  He was born in Wigan, Lancashire in 1967.  The social worker responsible for his mother renamed him ‘Norman’ and gave him to foster parents with the suggestion that they should consider it an adoption, while his mother went to Bracknell to finish her studies.  She refused to sign the adoption papers, saying that she wanted her son back when she was more settled.  Social services ignored this.

Sissay’s adoptive parents, being strongly religious, wanted to rename him Mark after the Christian evangelist and give him their surname: Greenwood.  They were very strict parents, but kind in their way.  When Sissay reached the age of 12, he became somewhat difficult to manage.  The Greenwoods, who by then had three children of their own, decided he was possessed by the devil, turned him over to social services, and announced that they wanted nothing more to do with him.

From the age of 12 to 18, Sissay was held in four childrens’ homes where he was physically, emotionally and racially abused.  When he left the care system, he was given a flat with no bed; the head of social services said he should be taught a lesson, but what was the lesson?  Sissay asked to see his files from social services; he had no family, no papers and no photos.  His life history was contained in those files.  He was given only two documents.  One showed that his real name was Lemn Sissay.  The second was a letter his mother had written to the social worker when Sissay was one, pleading for his return.

He continued to request his files.  In 2015, after being told that the files were in remote storage and had been lost, he was given his files and an apology by Wigan Council.

In 1988, after a long search, he met his birth mother in Gambia where she was working for the UN.

At the age of 17, Sissay used his unemployment money to self publish a pamphlet of poetry .  He released his first book of poetry in 1988 at the age of 21 and he has been a full-time writer since the age of 24, performing internationally.  He has written eight books, and eleven plays, four for BBC radio, many featuring his maltreatment as a child.

In 2009, he was made an honorary doctor of letters by the University of Huddersfield and the following year he was appointed an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

In June 2015 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Manchester for a term of seven years.  In January 2016, Sissay wrote an article for The Guardian in which he said, “How a society treats those children who have no one to look after them is a measure of how civilised it is. It is scandalous that a prime minister should have to admit, as David Cameron did last autumn, that the care system ‘shames our country’ and that Ofsted should report that there are more councils judged as ‘inadequate’ than ‘good’ for their children’s services.”

Simon Hattenstone, a journalist with The Guardian, said, “Sissay is an old friend of mine. He is one of the funniest and warmest people I know, extraordinarily animated with a life-affirming laugh. He is also one of the most damaged people I know, suffering paralysing depression that forces him to withdraw into himself and disappear for months at a time, sometimes longer.”

During the Hard Talk interview, Sissay made the following observations which I think are memorable:

  • Our families are the repositories of our histories and therefor of our memory.  Without family we are amnesiac.
  • Forgiveness of the injuries we have suffered leads to healing of those injuries.
  • “Define me by my healing not by my suffering.”
  • “Forgiveness lets you live in the present.”

 

Ten Steps to an Unputdownable Book

A group of seven bookworms called New Novel offers three packages to help fledgling novelists with the novel-writing process.  Their packages involve the use of the Internet, email, and, in the case of their best package, telephone.  Their aim is to provide both direction and motivation.  I have no experience of their packages, but I thought their Ten Steps make sense.  I have inserted my comments after each step, and I have quoted Now Novel where indicated.

Step 1: Promise revelation in your story premise.

This one is important. It involves presenting the theme of the novel on the first page in a way that is implied by the opening action.  It’s not necessary to say: “This book is about . . .”  Rather, what happens on the first page tells the reader what to expect, captures her attention and motivates her to keep on reading.

Step 2: Make each chapter beginning and ending tantalizing.

Like the first page, the beginning of each chapter should tantalize the reader to continue.  At the end of the chapter, there should be a situation in suspense to keep the reader’s interest.

Step 3: Master novel writing basics: narration and description.

I would add ‘and dialogue’.

Step 4: Make your characters great company.

Even if some of your characters aren’t people you’d want to spend time with, they should be interesting enough to arouse our curiosity.

Step 5: Mix seriousness with humour.

Good point

Step 6: Help the reader see place in your story.

Having an interesting place in the story that seems real and in which the characters live naturally makes a story both more credible and more captivating

Step 7: Write wish, wonder and surprise into your novel.

Readers tend to wish for something in a novel – for example that a heroine would get married.  Wonder is something extraordinary which occurs.  We always enjoy nice surprises.

Step 8: Keep the story moving with suspense and tension.

Amen.

Step 9: Make dialogue natural but interesting.

One way to keep it interesting is to keep it brief and a trifle ambiguous: did he really mean this or possibly that?  Remove any words which don’t convey meaning.  And keep control of the flow.

Now Novel says: “Showing characters’ personalities through the kind of language they use as well as how much or little they speak.  Writing dialogue that makes the reader feel like they’re eavesdropping. Characters should sometimes say things to each other that they wouldn’t  dream of saying in front of other people.”

Step 10: Know your audience.

Now Novel says: “Besides mastering novel writing basics such as writing good description and narration, make sure you know your audience whenever you start writing a novel. When you invent story ideas, ask:

  • Who would the typical reader of this story be?
  • What similar well-known books would they love?

Writing the book you’ve always wanted to read and writing to a specific imaginary reader whose tastes and interests you can anticipate will help you to craft an unputdownable book that ticks all of the ideal reader’s boxes.”

Judging a Book by its Cover

In the May/June issue of The Independent magazine, there is an article Converting Book Browsers to Book Buyers by Kristin Fields, Associate Editor.

Kristin Fields

The article is quite lengthy, but the part that I found particularly interesting concerned cover design.

Ms Fields says, “There are two deeply held misunderstandings about the nature and role of a book’s “cover” in trade publishing. First, that its main purpose is to be “liked,” when, in fact, its primary role is to motivate browsing. One of the “ugliest,” least liked covers Codex has ever tested was Tina Fey’s Bossypants (featuring Tina Fey with what appear to be massive, hairy, man arms), and yet it had phenomenal browsing impact and became the #2 overall bestselling book on Amazon for its publication year.

“Second, it’s essential to understand book buyers use the cover as the book’s message, relying heavily on it to tell them what the book is, why they should be interested in it, and to judge if it’s worth the effort of browsing—very similar to the role of a strong campaign slogan in politics—conveyed through word and image combined.

“Book publishers consistently make the mistake of undervaluing the cover as simply a piece of decoration, when in fact the data is very clear that it’s the combined impact of title, subtitle, reading line, author name, blurb, and design that together either move, or more often dissuade, a book consumer from browsing. We have to continually remind ourselves that book people are “word people”; they love and respond to words first and foremost. Nearly 15 years of Codex testing has consistently shown that a book’s title, subtitle, or reading line copy are in fact almost always the most important conversion factor in a book’s cover, not the art. While great cover art brings a very important added dimension, amplification, and visual recall to a book, great cover art alone rarely drives the book consumer to act, except in breakthrough examples like Bossypants.

“Here are some examples of past Codex Preview testing case studies to provide additional insight into some key findings on book conversion (buying decision):

“In a rebranding project on the For Dummies series, for example, two message options were tested: Staying Young for Dummies and Healthy Aging for Dummies. Because the Dummies brand audience skewed 55+, the “Healthy Aging” message spoke more powerfully to that audience, best fulfilled the brand’s values, and had the highest conversion.

 

“In another Preview test, when it comes to blurbs, less can be more. While one test version of the cover for The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe was plastered with over a dozen “blurbs to die for” from some of the biggest names in thriller writing, category fans were skeptical, less hype with a single quote and an emphasis on the title.

 

“Using faces on a book’s cover can also be unpredictable. The biography of Apple co-founder and inventor of the personal computer, Steve Wozniak, is a good example. Codex results confirmed that few book buyers were even familiar with the author’s name, let alone his face. One test treatment featured a photo of a young Wozniak from the 1970s, which motivated far less browsing than a text-based presentation that emphasized the message “The Inventor of the Personal Computer Speaks at Last” highlighted by Apple’s iconic rainbow stripes. Faces can be unpredictable conversion drivers because of they may be unrecognizable, distracting, or unrelateable. It’s best to pre-test before committing if you’re unsure.

“While publishers and designers are deeply involved in a cover’s development over weeks or months at a time, it’s important to remember that a book browser typically relies on just a split second gut reaction to make a browsing decision.”

For the indie author, whose books do not usually appear in bookstores, the issues are slightly different, because decisions are not quite so instantaneous.  But, the indie author should still be trying for a cover which says, “Here’s what I’m about” and “Read me!”