THE CATHY MACLEOD ARCHIVES
Booktaste.com is owned and operated by The Darling Newspaper Press, a small independent publisher in Western Australia. Its principal is Charles Bryce (firstname.lastname@example.org), lifelong journalist, Scottish born, formerly of The Sunday Post, The Straits Times, Reuters, The Sunday Times (Australia) and creator of The Darling Advertiser newspaper.
Blogger Cathy Macleod (email@example.com) is an independent literary critic who monitors the Internet for good reads, bookworld views and news.
For Darling Newspaper Press email firstname.lastname@example.org or post to PO box 176, Kalamunda, Western Australia 6926.
Free of charge, these copyright articles by Cathy Macleod may be reproduced for commercial or private use provided the user includes the words “originally published by Booktaste.com”
Historical truths make splendid tales
An Officer And A Spy is a darn good book, with a remote yet real hero plucked from history. Author Robert Harris has dramatised the notorious Dreyfus Affair, a shameful injustice involving France and Germany. The hero is not the victimised Jew, Captain Dreyfus, but a French Army intelligence officer, Georges Picquart.
After stumbling on proof that France convicted an innocent man, Picquart sacrificed his own career because he held that Justice must prevail against Politics and Ambition. I enjoyed the 479 pages like I do a legal thriller, especially revelations within secret hearings that sentenced Dreyfus without right of reply. The research here is brilliant, and Harris names sources at his story’s end.
A few murders, character conflict, courtroom drama and illicit love are all here. The author claims in an opening note that almost all of what occurs actually happened in real life. Doubting, I went on a web search after finishing his extraordinary tale . . . and yes, it all happened to these people. Like his bestselling Pompeii and Enigma, Harris dresses real history in pageturning narrative.
Similar in approach and writing skills is John Ivor, whose Dreams Quartet describes disturbing events in a far-flung British colony. His hero (Jeremy) and heroine (Maggie) are inventions inserted to reveal injustices that were both murderous and official.
Politics and what Ivor calls ‘the beasts of ambition’ created amazing villains and bloody happenings in the 1830s Swan River Colony. Despotic government prevailed there for many years until Queen Victoria put a stop to it.
Top sellers in 2013, John Ivor’s novels are available as ebooks at Smashwords and other digital retailers, or in paperback at Amazon, Barnes&Noble etc.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 17 January 2014.
The year ahead for self-publish promoters
There is no shortage of self-publishers and the hordes will grow as 2014 unfolds. Online sites to help people get into print have multiplied in recent years. So has online advice on how to sell a book, and online sellers flogging their own magical methods.
I came across a rare promoter, PJ Nunn, whose new-year advice is given free and has lots of commonsense. Self-publishers keen on self-promotion will find handy hints from PJ at http://bookbrowsing.wordpress.com/
Filmstar Meryl Streep turned a Mary Poppins celebration into sensation when she badmouthed Walt Disney, creator of the famous movie of that name. It’s said there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Meryl’s outburst certainly earned wide exposure for Saving Mr Banks, the film featuring Disney’s copyright deal with Mary Poppins author PL Travers.
Meryl balanced her Disney diatribe with high praise for Emma Thompson, the actress cast as PL Travers. The whole thing, I’m sure, was a dinner to remember.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 17 January 2014
History’s happiest year ever
ONWARD and into the dire unknowns of 2014, a year that, hopefully, will be even happier than 2013, humanity’s happiest yet. What? Yes, the world enjoyed history’s happiest year in 2013. Despite the wars, disease, earthquakes, floods, fire, storms and famine the world last year achieved best-ever status. And the evidence for this is big and bright.
It comes from the United Nations and the World Bank, and was reported in Spectator magazine where my disbelieving eyes discovered the happy news. Sing it, shout it, tweet it . . . this is big stuff. The Spectator article, headed ‘Joy To The World’, gathered an annual stack of official figures that when put together tell the encouraging story.
The magazine stated: “A cold, dispassionate look at the facts reveals that 2013 has been the best year in human history.” It then related the achievements.
A plan to halve poverty – people living on $1 a day – was completed five years early. A plan to halve the number of people without access to drinking water by 2015 was reached in 2013. A target to improve water supply, sanitation and housing for 100 million slum dwellers was achieved ten years early.
“Most people alive now can hope to see a time when the concept of famine is consigned to history,” said the Spectator.
It added these good things were happening because of trade. The world’s economic output in 2013 was an unprecedented $73.5 trillion. But more importantly, never has the wealth been shared so evenly. “From the end of Aids to the end of famine, goals that once seemed fantastical are now within reach,” commented the Spectator.
Watching news bulletins, I can’t help my doubt remaining, but in the long run the UN and the World Bank are more powerful than dictators and monopolies. So with renewed hope and faith, and ongoing charity, it looks like the world might just muddle through to a time of universal peace and plenty.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 January 2014.
Ho Ho Ho, Ha Ha Ha!
MERRY? You betcha. Christmas is for having fun along with the goodwill and the spiritual reflection. Among the seasonal publications one of my favourites is a collection by Roger Lewis of cartoons and quips. Definitely worth perusal.
Globals embrace the reading revolution
LOOKING back at the year past, 2013 was a mix of progress and pain in the world of books. Too many bookshops had to close through cashflow starvation and the same grim fate felled several publishers. A few new authors secured legions of followers and some of the old favourites joined the ranks of the sadly deceased.
Business deals among the big six globals entered many a devious pattern, yet these were of little concern to readers. Perhaps the best outcome for bookworms was that all the major publishers embraced ebooks wholeheartedly, a trend that finally and permanently consolidated the digital revolution that began less than a decade ago.
Having won their permanent place in literature, the ebooks join audio books, paperbacks and hardbacks as a happy expansion of the way we learn, dream and create.
An historic human development that the reading revolution sped is the rise of a language revolution, a situation recognised by several commentators. As early as 2006, the internet was extending English as a world language. Robert McCrum summed it up nicely in the Observer newspaper, an essay worth recalling.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 December 2013.
The gift the Three Kings omitted
THE birthday babe arrives as usual, brightly parcelled in tradition more than 2000 years after that divine event in the manger. So here we are in 2013 wishing peace and goodwill to all, wassailing and feasting and gifting and, happily, bringing booksellers their busiest time of the year.
Amid the pre-Christmas spending, Ann Morven’s ebooks have been getting big hits. She’s Booktaste’s whodunit diva of the year (cozy chills and chuckles), touted as a worthy successor to Caroline Graham and PD James.
Her Smashwords page is
Her Amazon page is
After that little puff here’s a sobering observation. In welcoming Jesus, the Three Kings presented gold, frankincense and myrrh, yet no books. Times change, thankfully. It’s good to reflect how people now apply such great value to the written word. So here’s my Christmas wish to fellow readers: Whether to learn or to entertain or to hand to someone else, go buy a book!
Nicely put: Through these meadows, yellow with cowslips in spring and buttercups in summer, meanders the river, lined with gnarled willows that appeared to my childhood eyes like processions of crook-back witches. It is Constable country.
From The Last Telegram, which I am now reading. The author, Liz Trenow, sets a mood and sense of place in skilfully few words.
Christmas crime 99c: Christmas ain't happy when you're next target of an unknown killer. That’s the dilemma of bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright in my fiction of the week, Kill Him Sweetly.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 20 December 2013.
Great man and great author
NELSON Mandela dies at 95 and the world is awash with eulogies to the great man. A book or two will follow – several about him already exist. But Mandela himself was a great author.
His autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, is a stirring read that has inspired many people worldwide. This is an exhilarating book. There is no doubt that it now takes its place among the finest memoirs of history's greatest figures. In this work, after 27 years as a political prisoner, Mandela revealed personal and moving details of his extraordinary life. It is an epic account of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, is available online. It is not the only book he wrote. Here are more: Books by Nelson Mandela.
MY BOOK OF THE WEEK is a brilliantly baffling mystery, Murder Piping Hot, by Ann Morven. It opens with a bang when a haggis pudding explodes during a ceremonial dinner. This seemingly impossible method of slaughter pits a bumbling amateur female sleuth against the pedantic police descendant of Sherlock Holmes. Family jealousy flares, ancient passions intrude while clues and red herrings abound. The solution to this clever whodunit is hidden in porno verse by Robert Burns. I loved it (the plot, not the dirty verse -- which incidentally is historically factual!). The novel, highly recommended, is available as a paperback, or Kindle, or in multi digital formats.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 December 2013.
Amazon rival gives top-rated titles free
BEST news of the year for readers is a website to rival Amazon. Launched in the lead-up to Christmas 2013, Bookworld brings an impressive challenge by Penguin in print, digital and audio books. It advertises most prices ten percent below those at Amazon, also free shipping. Some bestsellers are slashed 30-38 percent and some of these quality titles are free.
Among these free selections is top-rated historical fiction by John Ivor, as follows:
Invade America! (Brits burn down the White House)
Reverend Rapist (Girl versus pedophile).
The Prize Bride (Hunting a rich heiress).
Kill (A coward’s mission begins).
Experts are predicting one of the biggest book buying periods in decades due to the unprecedented number of high profile book releases now hitting the market.
Selling to the world from Australia, Bookworld also has CDs, DVDs, Audio and ereading devices (but, significantly, not the Amazon-owned Kindle).
The owner and operator of the Bookworld website is Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, a local subsidiary of Penguin Random House. The web address is http://www.bookworld.com.au
A gentle pageturner
Two voices, one book! The Forgotten Seamstress is a tale of two secrets. Neatly embroidered, the twin narratives are 100 years apart. A mysterious quilt, plus the author’s skill in weaving words, brings together the contrasting women of this clever plot. I must say that I felt close to each of them. Liz Trenow instils instant empathy towards her characters.
A mid-teen in the year 1914, the first of these has a rough, smoky, Cockney twang (it’s not overdone). The other is an educated businesswoman in 2008. She is 38 years old with problems: no boyfriend, no job, big mortgage, and can’t afford the care needed for her widowed invalid mum.
As the story begins, pre World War 1 attitudes are deftly sketched when a young teen orphan is employed at Buckingham Palace. She falls pregnant when seduced by a teenaged royal, the future king. She sews her tragic secret into a patchwork quilt, each panel and fabric representing a person or event.
The 2008 woman has a secret too, and it remains a secret until the closing pages. She has an obsession with the quilt’s provenance after coming across it, and this obsession brings her both romance and heartbreak.
The role of the quilt in this splendid story is intricate and yet wholly credible. The technique employed in the quilt’s fashioning is finely described and adds vivid interest as the plot unfolds. Author Trenow says her ancestors were silk weavers for 300 years but admits she herself has no quilting experience. In an afterword to the novel she acknowledges how she gleaned details from a world authority on the craft.
“I love novels with a great sense of place,” she also states, which explains the exactness of her own settings. This novel succeeds her first, The Last Telegram. Her dialogue, rhythm and structure are just perfect and, with future compelling plots, should assure her of a large regular following.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 December, 2013.
Life and a cure in Darkest Africa
MORE than a memoir, I found Kill Daddy to be an intriguing report on the human condition. The adventure is simply told, no flowery prose. It is an honest account of Gerry Freeman’s problems, and the cure he found in Africa.
The title relates to an obsession that haunted him after childhood abuse at home in England and lack of parental support. He ran away mid-teen, adopted a drug habit and existed somewhat miserably – an all too familiar situation in today’s world. Fearing total addiction, he resolved to remove himself away from temptation, friends and, in fact, everything.
His dream was to find peace in remote beaches and small villages in the heart of the jungle. He backpacked to Kenya, funding his fare from the sale of handcrafts in markets and small shops in Europe.
Despite being a white man in the vast black continent, Gerry made friends easily, lived in poverty with the locals and discovered a sort of comfort in what makes people tick. He also found disease, death and deceit.
His comment on Kenya and, later, Uganda: “I loved it and hated it.” Robbery, black magic and armed conflict existed side by side with gentle characters. But Gerry found his cure.
“I felt not reborn but definitely as if I was being born,” he writes. He eventually returned to Europe and lives in Portugal, a sculptor and seller of artifacts.
Overall, Kill Daddy is a fascinating narrative that encompasses both individual emotion and the social woes of Africa.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 29 November, 2013.
Cozy crime for Christmas
IF like me you fancy a bit of murder and mayhem at Christmas to balance all that goodwill and joy, the options are many. One of the best of the shorts has been around a long time yet qualifies as good classic crime in digital format. This whodunit short story is Kill Him Sweetly, by Ann Morven. The killing comes at a Christmas party as unsuspecting guests look on. While the police work out the clever way it was done, they can’t name the Who. This revelation falls to bumbling amateur Sheil B. Wright, hired to sing at the festive event. She is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart. Her snooping takes her into the killer’s clutches!
The only print version of this brilliant tale is in a collection by the author: Crime Please! Ann Morven has been dubbed the modern diva of the whodunit. Her novels are available as ebooks or paperbacks.
She is just one of the crime writers with appealing seasonal titles. My taste seems to be for female crime authors. I think they write the best cozies. Here are a few authors who equal Ann Morven for ingenuity and strong writing:
Agatha Christie: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
Simon Brett: The Christmas Crimes In Puzzle Manor
Suzanne Young: Murder by Christmas
Leslie Meier: Christmas Carol Murder
Jessica Fletcher: A Little Yuletide Murder
Sally Goldenbaum: A Holiday Yarn
Ngaio Marsh: Death of a Fool
MC Beaton: A Highland Christmas
Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In
Anne Perry: A Christmas Beginning
Joan Coggin: Who Killed The Curate?
Pierre Very: The Murder of Father Christmas
And, for readers who prefer a selection of favourites, there are 13 contained in Classic English Crime
Happy reading! week ending 22 November 2013.
Agatha Christie in the slush pile
AMAZING! That is my reaction to Agatha Christie winning the Whodunnit Best Ever poll, conducted last week by the Crime Writers Association. The voters were 600 members, and that means professional crime writers who should know better. I’m still trying to solve the mystery. What misled them? Or is it a case of authors being (like many a publisher) not the best people to judge a book?
Did they not look beyond established Reputation and massive Sales? Agatha Christie (1890-1976) has these qualities to a degree that invokes the envy of every aspiring scribbler of crime fiction. She is deservedly labelled Queen of the cozy genre she more or less invented, and television dramas maintain her fame. Beginning in 1920 (The Mysterious Affair At Styles), her 66 detective novels have sold four million copies. But best ever whodunnit author? Ridiculous.
Her writing is good but her whodunnits are unacceptably contrived. Submitted today, her manuscripts would not get beyond a publisher’s slush pile.
However, the mystery of the CWA poll thickens. In releasing the verdict November 5 (Guy Fawkes Night), Britain’s top crime-writing group sparked controversy over the best ever whodunnit novel. Their winner was Agatha Christie’s 1926 Poirot puzzle, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd.
Okay, it is widely read and highly praised. But it is also condemned by many whodunnit fans for unfairly leading them astray. The planting of clues and red herrings in crime fiction has to be acceptable. The Roger Ackroyd deception is not.
Incidentally, the CWA poll named Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) as the best ever crime series. Surely there are current series more worthy of the title? Google ‘crime fiction series’ and see what you get.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 15 November, 2013.
A crime star is born
CRIME fiction readers are ever demanding. They devour the best mysteries and eagerly explore fresh authors as they come along. Today I can name one who has the promise and the talent to entertain for many years to come: Nicola White. Let’s say you enjoy my own three favourites – Caroline Graham, Ann Morven and PD James. Chances are that, like me, you will also love newcomer Nicola who has just won the 2013 Dundee International Book Prize with her first novel, In The Rosary Garden. It was inspired by a true case of infanticide in Ireland in the 1980s. As with Mesdames Graham, Morven and James, Nicola White uses fascinating characters to fuel her plot.Although this is her first novel, Nicola White is well practised in the art of writing. Her short stories are popular and in 2008 she won the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award.
In taking the Dundee prize Nicola wins £10,000 and a publishing contract. She won from over 350 entries
There is a review of In The Rosary Garden online. The novel is also now listed on Amazon.
And here’s another sample of Nicola White’s writing in a short story, courtesy of Artlink, Edinburgh.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 8 November 2013.
Booktaste.com is owned and operated by The Darling Newspaper Press, a small independent publisher in Western Australia. Its principal is Charles Bryce (email@example.com), lifelong journalist, Scottish born, formerly of The Sunday Post, The Straits Times, Reuters, The Sunday Times (Australia) and creator of The Darling Advertiser newspaper.
Blogger Cathy Macleod (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an independent literary critic who monitors the Internet for good reads, bookworld views and news.
For Darling Newspaper Press email email@example.com or post to PO box 176, Kalamunda, Western Australia 6926.
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- Best books of 2013
AS the end of the year approaches, the usual variety of surveys has begun over what was, or will be, the best book of 2013.
Does ‘best’ mean biggest sales? Or winner of most awards? Or best fiction, best adult, best written, best plot, best idea, best revelation, best promotion? Obviously, with so many genres and the differing requirements of readers, there can never really be a single best. The annual exercise is merely a welcome excuse for people to crow about their favourite reads.
It is also a great exchange of opinions and word-of-mouth publicity. The Publishers Weekly magazine will declare its ‘Best Book’ in the week ahead. Up until November 1 it has been asking its editors to nominate titles, one at a time. This week was the turn of Okey Ndibe, a Nigerian author, to be featured. Africa is experiencing a surge of talented writers. As with India and Pakistan over recent years, authors born to the post-colonial era have explored the Western influence on their homegrown cultures. I believe African authors will be increasingly to the fore from now on.
- The cosmic code
HAS an amateur stumbled on the secret of life? The very concept invites ridicule from scientists and theologians. So why arenﾒt they scoffing?
- Ghosts and goblins
THE ancient Scottish festival of Halloween, when the dead return for one night, has spread worldwide and was merrily celebrated (mostly by children) on October 31. Several publishers released books to meet the mood. Here are some of the most appealing for young zombie fans.
- Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 1 November 2013
- A tonic in words
IT is rare for any book to catch on throughout the world, but this is what has happened to a humble memoir, written by a husband after the death of his wife.’Til The River Runs Dry, by John Freivalds, is an inspirational account of a woman making the most of her life before she eventually lost her battle against cancer.
The subject sounds morbid but the book is nothing near that. John’s wife, Margo Mogush Freivalds, left behind a collection of diaries – 27 in all – and these became the foundation of an exciting exploration of many aspects of life in many different lands. At the age of 42, Margo dropped out of the corporate rat-race to backpack around Asia.She recorded her adventures in her diaries and postcards, and these were discovered in an old trunk after she died.Comments Mr Freivalds: “When I started going through the contents of Margo’s trunk, a whole new relationship with her began, a relationship with her spirit. Or with what some might call her essence and others might call her soul.”
In more than 11 countries, 91 towns and cities, Margo shared the human experience of countless other people. Her adventures, descriptions and conclusions make a classic read, which is why this unusual book is so popular. Feeling low? Here’s a reviving tonic.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 25 October, 2013.
- Prize politicians
MY talent prize of the week goes to politicians claiming expenses as ‘work related’, and thus paid by public purse. Both government and opposition parliamentarians contributed to this Australian achievement, so it is a joint award in keeping with Nobel Prize precedent.
Athletic prime minister Tony Abbott squirmed like a worm on a hook in justifying his expenditure incurred in contesting an Ironman championship. Even more intriguing, at least for booklovers, was the funding of literature for Attorney General George Brandis QC, who is also Arts Minister.
Senator Brandis qualified himself for an impressive array of expensive tomes in the $12,808 allowed him. They included The Marmalade Files (a thriller); lives of the Popes, Stalin, Trotsky and Christopher Hitchens; biographies of historians ranging from Manning Clark to Hugh Trevor Roper; histories of Byzantium, Berlin and the Spanish Civil War; biographies of FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Obama and a Scottish painter; essays by Orwell and Nietzsche; and a collection of Isaiah Berlin’s letters.
Revealed by nosy newshounds, his list of titles inspired many creative comments by the humble populace paying for them.
- Treasure in the library
IN a world where memoirs are dominated by celebrities of sport, showbiz and politics, I discovered the great writing of a ‘nobody’ in my local library. His name: Finlay J. MacDonald (1926-1987). His book: Crotal & White, scenes from a Hebridean boyhood.
It is a blend of fascinating information, wry comment, island legend and uproarious story-telling. This way of living in the 1930s is long gone, yet its larger-than-life characters can still delight in the Space Age.
Finlay’s memoirs actually run to a trilogy. Named above is No. 2. The others are Crowdie & Cream and The Corncrake & the Lysander. All are available online, where I have placed orders for future reading.
My discovery of this delightful British author illustrates the value of public libraries, now facing closure in sad number in the country of his origin.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 October 2013.
- Fiction, the miracle cure
A GOOD NOVEL can be a miracle cure. Just ask Ella and Susan. They have delved into the mysterious workings of fiction, and compiled an ABC of escapist cures for human ailments. If the medicines they reveal fail to heal you, at least they’ll raise a smile (hopefully) and perhaps they will also expand your reading urges.
Clancy’s ghost dons bestseller crown
TOM CLANCY, one of the greats, died last week aged 66 and the bookworld mourned while looking forward to his final novel, due December 3.
Command Authority, like his other recent novels, is written ‘with Mark Greaney’. Prominent on the front cover, the Greaney name could possibly suggest a way to snare Clancy fans by the million, for many more technological military thrillers. But Greaney has fans of his own for the thrillers he has written under his Mark Greaney name. Unsolicited reader comments on Amazon range from one star (hate it) to five (love it). They range the same for Clancy’s books.
December 3 also sees the release of a Clancy paperback, Threat Vector. It was a hardback bestseller, like all Clancy’s 17 published titles. Number 18, Command Authority, is also guaranteed to hit bestseller status. Hereﾒs a synopsis.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 11 October 2013.
- Remember your first story?
MOST likely you do not remember your first story, most likely you heard it in the cradle, most likely it was just another pleasant noise in the big strange world. Your first physical book, however, is something else and persistently memorable. Mine is, anyway, and I believe this holds for all booklovers
What was it? Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Its wonders were read to me nightly, not by my mother but by Dad, who invariably granted my pleas for just-one-more. Together we thrilled to dragons and giants and the princesses who had to be rescued by a brave prince. The magic enthralled me long after bedtime. It could only be that Dad liked these tales also. Or maybe his delight lay in observing my wide-eyed amazement. There lies the joy in reading to a child. I was 4.
By age 5, I recall Mum in afternoon read-alouds of Bimbo The Cat, a small pink-paged journal mailed by Grandma back in Glasgow. The author was Enid Blyton.
At age 7 I received Myths And Legends for Christmas, again from Gran, god bless her. On its cover a white-bearded King Neptune surged from the sea to instill lasting intrigue that took me, in my teens, to the more adult Sanskrit epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana.
I remember reading my first book for grown-ups, title forgotten, from the library of an ocean liner. I was 8 and the book was a whodunit. The killer was the investigating detective! On the same voyage I discovered Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I could go on boring you with books recalled over a lifetime, but my purpose is merely to mention those first few reads that open the door to Fiction’s marvels. The joy of books is one of the greatest gifts that adults can give to a child. It’s a gift that lasts from nursery to your old age.
Books remain the world’s best-value entertainment. Can you name the first one that introduced you to their glory?
Happy reading from Cathy! week ended 4 October, 2013.
- Naked marketing grips Manbooker
THE Man Booker Prize, ever controversial, has begun its biggest brawl. And it has nothing to do with the quality of its entries. In the bookselling game, the year 2013 will be recorded as the final triumph of Marketing over Literature.
On September 19 this year the Man Booker Foundation announced that from 2014 the £50,000 prize will be open to all books in the English language. Why the change? Hush, don’t mention marketing to the Foundation, nor to the publishers who helped the Foundation decide on worldwide expansion.
Personally I feel like the little boy who sees not new clothes but a naked emperor. I see Marketing, and a booktrade desperate to get higher sales. Nothing wrong in boosting sales, is there? Strangely, nobody else seems to see (or mention) the lure of big bucks.
Said Jonathan Taylor, chairman of the Booker Prize Foundation: "The expanded prize will recognise, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai."
He added that the decision had not been made lightly. Significantly he then revealed that it followed 18 months of consultation with the publishing world.
There has been a mixed reaction, most notably comment on the inclusion of the United States and how this might alter the quality and tone of the event.
So far, I have yet to come across anyone pointing out that the US is the largest market for books in the English language. This, I reckon, was the deciding factor.
It’s all about selling books, lots of them. The Man Booker longlist and shortlist are guaranteed sales tools. Books on next year’s lists will sell as never before, thanks to the American interest.
Incidentally, this year’s shortlist of six includes four authors who live and work in America. All six have increased sales since the shortlist announcement, and one of them will skyrocket, as happens each year, when the winner of the prize is announced on October 15.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 September 2013.
- As You Might Not Like It
TWO top authors dived into the fan-fiction whirlpool this week, announcing they would each rewrite a Shakespeare play as a novel. Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson will each tackle a Bard of Avon favourite as a book. The titles were not revealed.
It’s all marketing fluff, mind you, as publishers strive to prod a sluggish book market. And it saves the author the bother of working out a convincing plot for their next book commission. Hang on, are Shakespeare plots all that good? I think not.
They were written for the amusement of playgoers, and these get their pleasure from the antics on stage, never mind making sense of the darn thing. Repertory and literature are vastly different crafts. I’ll name one example:
The Mousetrap, a play by Agatha Christie, has been running for many years in London and it thrills packed audiences every night. They love the creepy atmosphere, the posturing of talented actors. But try reading this ridiculous and unconvincing plot as a book! It does not translate.
If today’s authors really want to exploit the classical greats, then they should invent gripping plots of their own. Some have done it successfully. Again, I give one example: whodunit diva Ann Morven.
Her The Killing Of Hamlet, set in modern times, delights in the Shakespeare syndrome and even, with absolute conviction, links him to gruesome happenings in a present day English village. This is an original plot and thoroughly enjoyable.
Not satisfied with scoring off Shakespeare, Ann Morven does something similar with Scotland’s immortal Rabbie Burns in Murder Piping Hot. This tackles the passions of love and murder and ethnic bigotry. Again most original and fun to devour.
Happy reading from Cathy! week-ending 20 September 2013.
- Poirot is vampire in Agatha Christie follow-up
A VAMPIRE! Is that true? No, I made it up, which echoes the nonsense infesting publishers these days. Recent news that the Agatha Christie estate will resurrect the Belgian detective opens infinite potential.
Author Sophie Hannah has been commissioned to write the new novel, title unknown. Public reaction varies, yet is fierce on all fronts. No matter the quality of this book, good or bad, it is a guaranteed bestseller. And I’m not joking when I suggest that next year could see a Poirot tale aimed at Teens or even Young Adults.
The book trade is ailing and in some areas near death. According to Agatha’s grandson Mathew Prichard, Poirot reborn will be a huge shot in the arm for the whole detective and mystery section.
Crime fiction’s egotistical sleuth was killed by his creator in the 1975 novel Curtain, therefore Teens and Young Adults can anticipate his raising from the grave. Odds are he’ll be a zombie or a vampire, maybe both. His little grey cells that solve baffling murders will need a daily feed of human blood.
Exciting, ain’t it? Or perhaps pathetic. This is what makes money nowadays.
To her credit, and our relief, Sophie Hannah promises not to change the Hercule Poirot we all know. “I'm not going to be taking any liberties," was her comment. “He won't be taking up roller skating.”
Her plot will take place in that elegant era between the wars, and thus before Poirot died by the murderous pen of Agatha Christie.
Will Hannah try to imitate Agatha’s naive writing style? This didn’t work well for Sebastian Faulks’ rehash of James Bond, nor for PD James in Death Comes to Pemberley. Yet, like these examples, the new Poirot will flourish.
Some critics have voiced doubt, saying Hannah’s plots are too complicated. I just hope she isn’t too faithful to the mould, because many of the plots Agatha Christie got away with lack credibility.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 Sept, 2013.
- A way with (or away with?) words
SQUEE! I’m srsly dappy over my selfie in jorts that went virile. It ain’t buzzworthy, but shows what’s happening to the English language. Grats if you dig this.
Obama loves books
BEING an author with several best selling memoirs, Barack Obama diverted his eyes from the Syria crisis last week to assure bookshops he cared. The US president was responding to industry protests about Amazon and unfair competition and the woes of small publishers in a sea of global entrepreneurs.
He won’t take up arms against Amazon, but he described the various advantages his government had initiated to give small business a boost. His own books, of course, need no boosting. They are popular buys in bookshops and online retailers – yes, including Amazon.
Agatha Christie festival
THE Agatha Christie festival begins 19 September in Torquay, her birthplace. Various tours and events have been arranged, including a big-name panel to discuss her work and the status of crime fiction nowadays. Needless to say, current practitioners of mayhem and murder will be much in mind. Of these, the whodunit diva is Ann Morven with her bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright (chills and chuckles).
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 6 September 2013.
- Lewis Carroll monster in Raj comedy
JUST released is a short story by Bryce McBryce that beautifully bestows both humour and nostalgia. Nanny And The Jabberwock is about toy soldiers, a scheming colonel and young love.
- Oh yeah, and also Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Created by the author of Alice In Wonderland, the monster with “the jaws that bite, the claws that catch” is recalled to the world of childhood in a British colony.
- It’s also a world where adults are preparing to commit slaughter, the eve of World War 2. In this same outpost of Empire, love blossoms despite fierce attempts to smother inappropriate passion.
- Now available at Smashwords and Kindle and other online retailers, Nanny And The Jabberwock is a self-contained extract from the book BRAT (available in digital or paperback). In the novel, which is presented in episodic chapters, Bryce McBryce roasts the British Raj at its peak in the 1930s.
- Not only is there comedy and a niche social record, but also feel-good philosophy that holds true for today as well. The publisher is Darling Newspaper Press.
- Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 August 2013
- A good story is forever
SCARY stories have delighted me ever since nursery days, and that is the place most readers first encounter them. Then, as now, they’re lotsa fun. Zombies and vampires have become a bit ho-hum through over supply, but a different idea will always grip me by the throat!
- I’m reading one now, not so new, having been released by Dorchester Publishing in 1999. But it goes to show how a good story keeps on being a good story. Regeneration, by Max and Barbara Collins (isbn 0843946156), is sort of chic-lit cum granny-lit, because the fun-horror leaps the generation gap. Doubtless it was inspired by the Faust plot where a man sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for earthly gains.
- The difference in Regeneration is this:
- A mature business woman signs a contract with a tempting medical company in order to restore her to youth and beauty. Her new body retains the wisdom and talents of her lifetime. Then the smallprint snags crop up. The contract cannot be broken.
- The cover blurb for this book likens it to Stephen King and to Roald Dahl at his wickedest, and I guess I agree. Highly recommended.
- Scary books in childhood led me fast to murder mysteries as an adult. My preference is for a traditional whodunit rather than the violence of hardboiled gore. “Chills and chuckles” is the phrase to describe Ann Morven. She is wholly original, plants clues in good faith, and guarantees some thrilling endplay. This is her Amazon page.
- Happy reading! from Cathy, 23 August 2013.
- A wise man’s view of the world
BOOK of the Year, so far, was launched August 6 in Singapore. One Man’s View Of The World contains wise comments by a nation builder who also proved himself cunning and astute. I refer to Lee Kuan Yew, 90 next month, the founding father of modern Singapore.
- According to Mr Lee, Singapore is too small to change the world, but he himself changed Singapore and Southeast Asia and is not restrained in his comments on current world affairs.
- This is the man largely responsible for policies that have given Singapore 95% home ownership, the world’s busiest port, third-biggest oil refiner, major global manufacturing, and the lowest cost of health care anywhere.
- Lee’s sweeping analysis takes in America, China, Asia and Europe. He observes their society, probes the psyche of the people and draws his conclusions. Their chances for survival? Where might they be in tomorrow’s balance of power? What makes a society tick? What do its people really believe? Can it adapt?
- Lee considers whether the United States and China might clash militarily. He writes: “There is no bitter, irreconcilable ideological conflict between the Americans and a China that has enthusiastically embraced the free market.” China needs friendly relations with the US to secure continued access to US markets, investments, technology and universities. And the US, he says, simply has no need to make a long-term enemy out of China. He forecasts that Europe will struggle to keep its union intact, and the Arab Spring won’t bring democracy to the Middle East.
- In 400 pages, this is a fresh and gripping read.
- Lee’s previous books include My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey (2011), Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas (1998), and two-volume memoirs, The Singapore Story (1998) and From Third World to First (2000).
- But have they read the book?
THE sales guru who promotes a book often quotes literary gems to market other things, such as shirts or raisins. But have they actually read the book?
- A look at some advertising indicates not. Elisa Gabbert took the trouble to seek out a few and blogged her discoveries. It makes for interesting reading.
- Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 16 August 2013.
- Crazy for Jane
THE Brits have weird ways. First came a decision to put Jane Austen’s face on ten-pound notes, then a few days ago the Government ruled that Jane Austen’s ring (auction value GBP 150,000) must never leave the country. It was bought by an American woman.
- Culture minister Ed Vaizey put an export ban on the ring after the sale. "Jane Austen's modest lifestyle and her early death mean that objects associated with her of any kind are extremely rare," he said. "So I hope that a UK buyer comes forward so this simple but elegant ring can be saved for the nation."
- What if singer Kelly Clarkson, the woman who bought it, doesn’t wish to part with it? The gold and turquoise ring is one of only three surviving pieces of jewellery known to have belonged to the writer. It was given to her sister Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Ironically, Britain’s professed regard for literature sounds hollow when it comes from a government responsible for closure of the nation’s public libraries.
- Never trust a review
OUCH! Yet another lurk reveals how publishing and faking are successful publicity partners. It has been going on for years, with orchestrated paid praise for a book dominating its reviews. The difference last week was that even the newspaper reviewers were invented for an invented Swedish crime writer! JK Rowling, move over!
- I never trust a book review. If the book seems appealing I always seek a free sample before purchase.
- Curl up with a cozy
IN our real world of global violence, the cozy murder has maintained its intellectual escapism. The cozy began in England in the time of Queen Victoria and has been popular ever since. As opposed to hardboiled crime, the cozy downplays sex and violence. A baffling puzzle, with clues for the reader, give it the special appeal.
- Agatha Christie remains the best known cozy author, yet there are modern writers just as good. And, with today’s internet browsing, it is easy to track them down.
- Ann Morven (four novels, several short stories) leads the field in my opinion. Her bio and titles can be found on her web page at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Ann-Morven/e/B008GREDDE
- She does the standard English village crime, but also locates her whodunits in erotic settings that vary from the Borneo jungle to the remote Highlands of Scotland. This reflects her lifelong career as a world journalist, which is also a likely source of the hostile police who resent her amateur female sleuth.
- A few more cozy authors of interest: Simon Brett, Jeanne M. Dams, Christianna Brand, Nicholas Blake, W.J. Burley. Also, the best selling PD James, now in her 90s and still applying her unique gentle prose to the gory evils that beset the human mind.
- James features a professional police detective, unlike most cozies. The usual cozy sleuth is amateur (a trend set by Miss Marple). Their ages, jobs and backgrounds vary, often providing the link to the fatal deed.
- The killers in cozies are generally members of the group or community where the crimes occur. Their motives—greed, jealousy, revenge—are often rooted in past events.
- But, of course, it is the writing that makes a cozy you simply can’t put down, and some of these creations surely must qualify as great literature. To critics who claim crime writing cannot be literary I say: Shakespeare wrote some lovely murders.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 2 August 2013.
- Rip, rip, roohay for ripping yarns!
IT was John Ivor’s moment to confess when the Annual Thrillerfest spotlighted his favourite plotting method. “Ripped from the Headlines. The Pros and Cons of Using Actual News Stories in Your Plots” was a major presentation.
- More than 1000 enthusiasts attended the eighth yearly gathering in New York from July 10-13. Included was a ‘craft-fest’ of practical classes for aspiring writers, taught by some of the stars of the thriller genre. A topselling author of historical thrillers, John Ivor said his plot snatching drill owes everything to newspapers published more than a hundred years ago.
- “The drama is all there,” he explained. “Just as modern news media holds a wealth of ideas for developing stories.
- “I do my research in archives that contain diaries and letters as well as old newspapers. Letters to the Editor are particularly good when searching for the social attitudes of former times. My books resurrect villains from a bygone era. What I do is take real locations and situations and introduce my own fictional hero and heroine. The plots fall into place once I’ve figured out how history might have dealt with individual characters and their personal yearnings.”
- There is a full report on the Thrillerfest at Publishers Weekly.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 26 July 2013.
- New creature evolves in book world
- PREVIOUSLY unknown to Science or Nature, a new creature has evolved in the ever-changing book world. It appeared suddenly but the species is prolific, and therefore easy to observe spreading through the wordy plains of the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2013.
- Not yet given a generic name, the newcomer lobbies literary agents on behalf of authors. This is a natural progression from the difficulty authors suffer in getting a lit agent to take them on. Most publishers, of course, won’t look at anything unless it comes from an approved agent.
- Hence the new literary lifeform, and its numbers will grow as writers get more desperate. My own unofficial name for the fresh breed is ‘spruikers’. The more daring will read an author’s work ‘without a reading fee’, although there’s warning that photocopying and postage may incur charges. As will copy editing. They will farm the manuscript around what they term ‘the right agents’. They’ll even help you write the darn thing!
- If you think this tripartite morass to getting published is weird, remember that books, especially fiction, occupy a crazy industry.
- Do the biggest publishers really have the least commonsense? One has to wonder. I have always held that the booktrade crisis is largely their own fault.
- While blinkered by traditional patterns of profit, the conglomerates of the literary arena allowed Amazon to introduce methods that now dominate a $50 billion market. (Amazon media sales worldwide, including ebooks, books, DVDs, CDs, music and more, reached $19.94 billion in 2012).
- This week, industry watchers were astounded, as no doubt was Vikram Seth, when the author’s publisher demanded return of a $1.7 million advance. Allegedly he failed to deliver a manuscript due in June. The demand followed merger of Random House and Penguin, a partnership with apparently tighter accounting.
- My bewildering first thought was why did they pay out such a big advance in the first place? Without known sales, even payment on delivery of a manuscript for A Suitable Girl (sequel to A Suitable Boy) would have been a gamble.
- The business of publishing is strange indeed.
- Happy book browsing! From Cathy, week ending 19 July 2013
- Readers vote for best crime novel
- THERE is a panel of judges, but online votes from book readers will largely decide one of the fairest and best annual contests. Winner of the 2013 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award will be announced July 19.
- Run in partnership with bookseller WHSmith, the $5000 award was created nine years ago to celebrate the very best in crime writing by British or Irish authors during the previous twelve months. In addition to the cash, the winner gets a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.
- The judges this year are novelist Val McDermid, WHSmith’s Head of Fiction David Swillman Theakston director Simon Theakston and broadcaster Kate Mosse.
- The six finalists below have different styles and varying appeal to crime-fiction fans, so it will be interesting which novel takes the prize. All are great reads.
- Booktaste browsers can access links to read samples from each title.
- The finalists are
Rush of Blood - Mark Billingham, Safe House - Chris Ewan, The Lewis Man - Peter May, Gods and Beasts - Denise Mina, Stolen Souls - Stuart Neville, and A Dark Redemption - Stav Sherez.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 12 July 2013.
- At tax time and Christmas, it’s murder!
THE murderous British months of June and July are upon us. By sheer numbers, crime-fiction sloshes away all other genres as one financial year ends and another begins.
The reason for all this entertaining gore is publishers hoping to make a killing, the money kind. All those June titles bring hefty production costs, which help to reduce a publisher’s 2012-13 tax bill. For obvious lack of time, there are no, or few, sales of the June titles to swell taxable income before the end of the UK tax year on 30 June.
The July surge is different. These titles are the first rash of a contagion that will grow to epidemic proportion before Christmas. Crime-fiction outsells all other categories, except in December when comes the feverish flood of cookbooks and celebrity memoirs.
Mystery fans will find some of the best writing on whodunit diva Ann Morvenﾒs homepage, but more recent are these (just a few of the numerous June releases). Check ’em out:
- The 9th Girl, by Tami Hoag. Popular investigators Kovac and Liska look into the killing of an unidentified teenage girl.
- Waiting for Wednesday, by Nicci French. This is No. 3 in the Frida Klein series. A mother of three is found by her daughter in a pool of blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why?
- The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth Silver. A tale of love, anguish and deception with Noa, 25, on Death Row awaiting her end.
- Husband and Wives, by Susan Rogers Cooper. How many wives does a man need? Milt Kovak seeks the truth.
- Coming during July are these and others:
- A Final Reckoning, by Susan Moody.
- Chantal Frazer has come to Westerby Lodge in the Cotswolds to find some answers about the murder of her sister, 23 years before
- The Stranger You Know, by Irish writer Jane Casey
- Three women have been strangled in their homes by the same sadistic killer. With no sign of a break-in, the suspect is a police detective.
- A Bitter Taste, by Annie Hauxwell. This is No. 2 in the Catherine Berlin series, set in London. A girl of 10. knows enough to wipe clean the handle of the bloody kitchen knife.
- A Killing of Angels, by Kate Rhodes. The first death looked like a suicide. But someone had tucked a picture of an angel and a handful of white feathers into the banker's pocket -- before pushing him in front of a Tube.
- The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache probes murder in a remote monastery.
- Later this year, another murder milestone awaits in the October releases. These will call upon the big names for a final surge of slaughter into the Christmas holidays. Already announced and taking advance orders are books by Val McDermid (Cross And Burn), Elizabeth George (Just One Evil Act) and Ruth Rendell (No Man’s Nightingale).
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 5 July 2013.
- Wendy. Don’t lose the manuscript!
FORGET the politicians and princes. I believe that ordinary people who get entangled in history are the most fascinating. To my delight I came across some rare titles this week, all concerning children in the Far East in tumultuous times. I’m passing them on to other readers here.
Imagine a girl sorting her deceased father’s items and finding a parcel with this message: Wendy. Don’t lose the manuscript whatever you do. Daddy.
- The documents within, scribbles and an unsorted mess, led Wendy Law-Yone to write Golden Parasol: a daughterﾒs memoir of Burma.
- Just published, it tells how the author, when aged 15, witnessed the travails of her journalist father, owner and editor of a newspaper called The Nation. In the military coup of 1962 it was closed down and her father arrested. He escaped to organize rebels and became adviser to U Nu in the ‘government in exile’. Wendy also escaped prison and now lives in the United States.
- Also good reading is a British colonial memoir of Borneo, Scorpion on the Ceiling,
by Roderick Martine. In Sarawak, his father was a Scots businessman when WW2 broke out and was interned by the Japanese.
- The family survived a jungle trek. It was the end of a way of life for Europeans in the Far East. This account is both entertaining and fascinating.
- Ten Thousand Sorrows : The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan, by Elizabeth Kim, contains grim memories. Her grandfather and her uncle hanged her mother from a rafter in her home, after Kim was fathered by an American soldier.
- Apart from the family disgrace of being a bastard, she was a halfcaste oddity. She was dumped in a Christian orphanage and suffered further abuses.
- BRAT, by Bryce McBryce, is the opposite extreme. Lots of laughs and nostalgic descriptions record a child’s view of the Raj in its twilight. Based on personal recollections but spiced for hilarious reading, this literary gem comes from Ceylon just prior to WW2.
- The British were building big guns to repel the Japanese, but for one army brat (aged 4 to 9 as the book progresses) the main enemy was his dad’s pompous colonel. Apart from the humour, this is an insight to a peculiar social niche in the days when Britain ruled the world.
- Back to the serious stuff is Child of War: Son of Angels. This is a child's memoir of horror and reconciliation while imprisoned in WW2 in the Philippines.The author is Curtis Whitfield Tong.
- His family's difficult journey through several concentration camps and prisons not only exposed Curtis to the sights and sounds of anger, hatred and torture, but also taught him the truths of abiding love.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 28 June 2013.
- World War ahead in the bookworld
THE bookworld is going to war. It is to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1914-18 World War. Expect a regular flood of titles covering all aspects of that monstrous conflict.
Stephen Romei at the Australian newspaper had some interesting viewpoints to express. Worth a read.
Meanwhile, browsers can find whatever war books appeal and buy right now. A good story or a scandal revealed? Take your pick. One of the best sites for non-fiction gives intelligent reviews, and is in fact called Warbooksreview. Its creator, Adrian Gilbert, says:
“I’ve set up this book-review blog for military enthusiasts, with an emphasis on cutting-edge war memoirs and key works of modern military history. I hope to provide a round-up of the latest publications, while at the same time providing a retrospective look at some of the many volumes from military history's vast back-catalogue.”
The war books reviewed, and many others, can usually be bought on amazon.co.uk by clicking on the links provided. Older and out-of-print books are best tracked down on second-hand book sites such as abebooks.co.uk and alibris.co.uk
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 21 June 2013.
- Fibs, faith and finding a good read
THINK of the worst book you have read, or tried to read. Can you relate it to the following comments?
- “This country’s unrivalled literary giant.” –Independent on Sunday.
- “The supreme novelist of his generation.” --Sunday Times.
- “He is the maestro at creating suspense: the particular, sickening, see-sawing kind that demands a kind of physical courage from the reader to continue reading.” – New Statesman.
- Think again about your judgement, as I did on finding such a three-against-one opinion. Are they right and are you wrong?
No, you are the only reader who counts when deciding what you will enjoy reading. Then were the reviewers quoted above telling fibs? Not at all. They simply get a kick out of dead narrative, absence of dialogue and a story that plods to nowhere.
Never trust reviews. If you like, use them to glean a novel’s potential, then look for a sample before forking out good money.
Always have faith in your own rating. It is the reason booktaste.com links to extracts at point of sale.
While on the topic of reviews, here’s a recent article in the New York Times yearning for the honesty of a hatchet job.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 14 June 2013.
- All aboard for Lilliput, the great land of dreams!
AND still they come, eager to reach the great land of dreams. Ambitious and optimistic, or desperate and despairing, and ranging from the nomads of prehistory to space-age millionaires, or global migrants or illegal boatpeople. The Great Southland has ever been a beacon of hope.
From June 1, people are celebrating a niche event in the world’s most isolated capital city, Perth, Western Australia. The state has a peculiar history that dates back to Aboriginal legends of the Dreamtime. Since then it has grown to be Australia’s richest state through gold, wheat, wool, cattle and minerals. Western Australia Week, little known beyond its shores, is a commemoration of human endeavour.
Unique literary potential was spotted here by author John Ivor, himself a migrant from London. The result is a series of novels that trace an exciting heritage for the folk who call this land their home.
The progress was bloody and politically intense. “Just perfect for historical fiction,” said Mr Ivor this week when I emailed him at his home in Kalamunda, a forested smalltown in the Darling Range overlooking Perth.
“The plots and personalities were ready made. All I had to do was invent a few fictional characters to blend these grand ingredients into an entertaining read.”
He has written six novels reflecting the dreams and hopes of the people attracted to the place that Jonathan Swift called The Land of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels (“northwest of Van Diemen’s Land, latitude 30 degrees two minutes south”).
John Ivor’s pageturning novels, in historical order, are these:
- Java’s Dream. Before history, humanity begins when a strange fork-legged creature challenges cannibal tradition. Java and his mate risk all in a stand that sets a moral standard for the human race.
- Captain Striver. (Fictional autobiography of Sir James Stirling, 1829 founder of The Swan River Colony). Family in disgrace, a penurious young sea captain dreams of creating a British colony to replace lost America. Against him stand Admiralty, Government and the influential British East India Trading Company. Nevertheless, if only he can marry into wealth . .. .
- Run Maggie Run. Aged 9, and sentenced to death! A factory waif escapes Scotland’s hangman, outsmarts Arab pirates, endures kidnapping, survives sex predators and is sold as a slave, only to find herself a bonded servant amid English gentry. They are sailing to create an Eden for themselves in a remote wilderness. 'Best serial since Dickens', says the publisher’s blurb.
- No Kiss For A Killer. Skilled swordsman Jeremy Hanwell vows to avenge his father’s murder by joining the infamous Pinjarra massacre of dissident Aborigines. Then he falls in love – with a woman who’ll reject him if he performs this sacred duty. Romance rides a thorny trail in an 1830s British Colony.
- Eden’s Deadly Shore. Aged 17, Maggie seeks justice for the dispossessed native people of Swan River Colony. Her good intentions result in bloody conflict via the biggest obstacle of all − human nature.
- Amateur Rebel. Magistrates commit murder, Aborigines mistake a missionary as an incarnation of the sacred Rainbow Serpent come to end white settlement, and Maggie, a young interpreter, could lose her head – literally. But her main problem is trying not to fall in love with Jeremy, her hot-headed foolish ally who is romantically pursued by a wealthy widow.
- John Ivorﾒs author page at Amazon has 13 titles.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 7 June 2013
- Graphic, funny, personal and sexy
A STORY with a strange title, The Bat Tree, by Sadie McAndrew, also has an unusual appeal to the reader. It is a bit like reading a blog, a personalized and private narrative. It tackles issues everyone knows about yet few speak of. In relating to the thoughts and emotions of this memoir, the reader also is entertained by a tale set in India.
- Confessions of a sex addict? There are graphic passages and funny ones too. Without being salacious, the sex confronts reality in well written prose.
- Most of all, I found this compelling stuff an escape to a different kind of fiction. It’s good. Get yourself a sample and take it from there
- Is this how you pick your next book?
IN a world awash with books, how do you pick your next read? How do I?
The question applies particularly to fiction, because non-fiction gets selected, almost exclusively, on subject matter. A technical book, memoir, history . . . each offers a narrow field where an interest already exists. But fiction? It’s a galaxy to be explored.
My first choice is a favourite author, and this happens online as well as in my local bookshop or at the public library. However, even these reliable performers must undergo my judging, especially if I’m buying. A book can be expensive even though they remain the world’s best entertainment value. So here’s what I look for, whether the writer is known or unknown.
- An eye catching front cover. In the book jungle, this is like a beacon on a dark night. Better and brighter still if a trusted writer’s name is printed in ‘can’t miss’ type.
- Appealing title. A really good one sparks my ‘tell me a story’ fuse.
- Back cover description of where I’ll be going. Conversely, a book cover splurge of praise turns me off. Such plaudits are no more convincing than Amazon’s orchestrated 5-star reviews.
- Open the cover. Usually there’s a more specific account of the tale’s direction, it’s main characters, their problems.
- The narrative’s first paragraph. Does the rhythm of I, and the style, appeal?
- Glance at early dialogue. Is it natural? Acceptable?
- Check the price. This decides whether I buy the digital version or bound print. Mostly I prefer the latter.
- Enjoy! Make time, because reading is good for the soul. My favourite reading is accompanied by a pot of tea on the verandah. Otherwise, a commuter seat undisturbed on the way to work.
- Great book! Flush with the joy of Story, I need to tell other people about it. I upload my review to the Internet. Word of mouth is still a book’s best friend.
- 10.Don hunting glasses and seek again. Always, I sample a few unknown authors. It’s where all favourite authors once languished, unread in Literature’s vast forest.
- PS. For a nostalgic laugh at pompous adults, read Brat, by Bryce McBryce. By no means unread, this literary gem deserves the widest audience.
- Happy reading. From Cathy, week ending 17 May 2013.
- Printed fiction keeps pace as readers multiply.
IT is gratifying to view the latest reading statistics, which show that printed books are holding their place despite an extraordinary 149% increase in ebook fiction sales last year.
Sales of physical fiction rose by 3%, and that is from an already dominant base compared to ebooks. The ebook revolution of recent times has established digital formats as a permanent and popular way to enjoy a story. Nevertheless they account for only 12% of the total market. I guess this shows that the ebook is handy and most welcome, but does not replace traditional publishing.
The most pleasing statistic of all is that more people than ever are reading. Total fiction readers (physical plus digital) increased in number by 21% last year.
The statistics I quote come from The Publishers Association’s annual report.
- Price war hots up
With such a huge consumer market for fiction books, worth US $1billion last year, the battle is on to capture big bucks. Additional to actually selling books, a lucrative cashflow comes from the sale of digital reading devices. These are now embroiled in a furious price war.
In Britain, the basic Kobo was slashed last week to 29 British pounds (US$45) compared to the basic Kindle; 69 British pounds (US$107).
Interesting times ahead indeed.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 10 May 2013.
- Thinker list a stinker list for women
THE world is full of thinkers and other trouble makers. It is interesting therefore to see Prospect Magazine’s list of leading thinkers for 2013, published 23 April. Top sage was Oxford’s evolution guru Richard Dawkins, as voted in a worldwide poll. This only confirms my own thinking that our planet is a vast loonybin.
More than half the 10,000 votes, it is reported, came via Twitter and Facebook. Oh dear, there’s me thinking again. I reckon that such a volume of tweets from twits says lots about the credibility of the whole project. Never mind, the ruminative rankings demand to be read because reasons for their choice are also given. My conclusion after skimming through the list was there should have been more women on it. I found one at Number 19, a lonely lass beneath all those macho intellectuals.
There is not one woman in the top ten! Going by Prospect Magazine’s readers and tweeters, women don’t, or can’t, nut things out much. What do you think of that?
Here’s what I think anyway: Male scientists have long accepted that women have smaller brains than the male of the species. I’ll concede that men have bigger heads. Richard Dawkins in particular might need the space to cram in heaps of all that anti-god guff.
But ponder this . . .having less deadwood means that a woman’s brain is more compact, and thus quicker and slicker. For example, who writes the best whodunit mysteries?
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 3 May 2013.
- In search of new favourites
AWARDS are a shortcut to discovering new authors who are worth reading. The unwelcome side effect, growing as books battle to be noticed, is that a surfeit of awards has joined the surfeit of authors.
Nevertheless, one can still have faith in the annual Women’s Fiction Prize (formerly called the Orange). This year’s shortlist is as follows:
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life (Doubleday, British, 8th Novel).
A.M Homes - May We Be Forgiven (Granta, American, 6th Novel).
Barbara Kingsolver - Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber, American, 8th Novel).
Hilary Mantel - Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate, British, 11th Novel).
Maria Semple - Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, American, 2nd Novel).
Zadie Smith - NW (Hamish Hamilton, British, 4th Novel).
As I always say, literary tastes differ, but this well regarded half-dozen gives much scope for browsing and sampling.
- Another award of sorts is a mention in Granta magazine’s Best of Young British list, an event that occurs only every ten years. Twenty names this year and certainly lots of controversy. Again, browse and sample for an author to enchant you.
Here is the list for 2013:
Naomi Alderman, Tahmima Anam, Ned Beauman, Jenni Fagan, Adam Foulds, Xiaolu Guo, Sarah Hall, Steven Hall, Joanna Kavenna, Benjamin Markovits, Nadifa Mohamed, Helen Oyeyemi, Ross Raisin, Sunjeev Sahota, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Adam Thirlwell and Evie Wyld.
I can name a newcomer not on the list (only one novel) who has already captured my enthusiasm. It is Helen Simonson. Published 2010, her Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has secured praise everywhere. It is a gentle comedy of current multi-cultural and class conscious England.
Situations, characters, dialogue and a comfortable narrative pace make this a great feel-good read.
An award? Yes. Among numerous accolades, it won BookBrowse’s Best Debut prize in 2010. Said BookBrowse: “Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
“The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.”
I’m looking forward to Helen’s second book So are lots of other readers. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand scores well lover 700 reader reviews at Amazon.
Helen Simonson’s homepage is http://www.helensimonson.com/
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 26 April 2013.
- Good authors invent best baddies
GOOD writers create the best baddies. That’s an opinion I’ve gained through various encounters with monsters, thugs, murderers and sadists. Enjoyable encounters, I should add, because these nasties were born to Fiction.
Remember Ian Fleming? His Agent 007 series could always be relied upon to present interesting ogres. My favourite? The steel-toothed hitman known as Jaws. And take Dickens. Lots of fearful villains there. My vote is that his Fagin tops them all.
Currently, in a world teeming with boring vampires and magical misfits, there are not so many horrid humans. Unless you read John Ivor. I find he’s a bit like Fleming and Dickens combined. Not only are his baddies gruesomely bad, they meet grim and gory punishment. I reckon that’s what readers want. We don’t find evil people punished enough in the world news, so, in a psychological manner, Fiction helps balance terrible Truth.
The John Ivor Quartet, historical adventure in the 1830s, deals with the brilliantly vile in ways that are wondrously satisfying. The books feature a heroine named Maggie. Her wisdom has been gained from reading books, and is therefore suspect, as plots reveal in their unfolding.
John Ivor treats his characters, goodies as well as baddies, with a ruthless irony that makes his novels unique. They are all current online or in paperback. Get some free samples:
Run Maggie Run, Eden’s Deadly Shore, No Kiss For A Killer, Amateur Rebel.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 19 April 2013.
- Much Ado About Shakespeare
OH how debate and insults flared! It was spontaneous combustion after an English newspaper reviewed a book about Shakespeare. On Easter Saturday, March 30, the Guardian reported 22 experts compiled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, due for release April 18. Responding overnight came 650 comments, and these were later heading for 1000, as doubters made claims for 77 different people (including Queen Elizabeth) as the author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.
The war of words descended to vitriolic personal accusations such as “sneering arrogance”, “you are a brain amputated being”, “complete bollocks”. “you spout drivel”, and “foaming hatred” as academics defended their opinions. Even the revered Bard was derided as a “grasping social climbing proto bourgeois”.
That Easter weekend was a busy one for Shakespeare fanatics. Separate to the identity squabble, researchers at Aberystwyth University, Wales, denounced the idol of English literature as a tax dodger and grain hoarder. Their paper will be delivered at the Hay Literary Festival in May.
"Over a 15-year period he purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen," the research team wrote. Also, Shakespeare "pursued those who could not (or would not) pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities."
They said Shakespeare’s monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, originally depicted him holding a sack of corn. This was changed in the 18th century to a tasseled cushion and a quill pen.
I have to wonder how much of their “discovery” is conjecture? The playwright’s tax defaulting has long been recorded in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records. Viewing those entries (links below), I concluded that here was an ordinary bloke reluctant to help fund a wasteful government. (Some things never change!)
I can, however, see how the cunning Bard foxed the law for at least 15 years. All he had to do was protest to the tax inspectors: “It was not me. It was Christopher Marlowe.”
While the pundits battle 400 years after the event, I draw attention to author Ann Morven’s brilliant whodunit, The Killing of Hamlet. Set in a modern English village, the murders are linked to the current Shakespeare identity debate. And Morven suggests a solution more credible by far than all the rest.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 12 April 2013. Oh yeah, and happy birthday, Shakespeare, whoever you were, born 23 April (or thereabouts; academe disputes even this).
- Book review and comments.
- Historical legal documents.
- The Killing of Hamlet, a whodunit by Ann Morven.
- New romance genre
AND now a new genre niche, the Bonnet Ripper. What will they think of next?
Rebecca Armstrong at the Independent newspaper came upon this new romantic buzz and suggested a few more ideas for book marketers to explore. Meanwhile, the bonnet ripper has the gals agog in Amish land. Good luck if you like this kind of twist to yearning hearts.
Personally I’ll stick to the tried and trusted. Have you sampled Anna Jacobs?
- Michael Frayn’s magic
Mistaken identity is fun in a short story yet hardly the stuff to fuel a novel, unless the author is Michael Frayn. Skios, his newly released novel, is a farce that maintains pace. His situations stretch the mix-ups to become a magical literary achievement. Frayn's humour is unique, his plotting clever, his skill in delivery almost unbelievable. I’m a big Frayn fan. I've read all his books and this rates with his best.
Happy Easter reading! From Cathy, week ending 5 April 2013
- Don’t talk books at a party
NEVER talk about books at a party! That’s the learned advice from a professor of literature.
In fact, he has written a whole book explaining when and how literature becomes a welcome social item. And when and how it doesn’t.
I won’t be reading it, because chatting about books anywhere anytime is what I do. Nevertheless, I am sure the professor raises some interesting theories. If you wish more info and a review of his book, it is easily available to browsers.
- Death of James Herbert
BRITISH horror author James Herbert died last week at the age of 69. His demise coincides with publication of his latest ghost novel, Ash. Mass sales of this final work guaranteed, I guess, but there’s more James Herbert ahead.
His bestseller, The Secret Of Crickley Hall, becomes a BBC drama later this year. Herbert wrote 23 novels. They sold 54 million copies and were translated into 30 languages. He is probably best known for the horror classic The Rats
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 29 March 2013
- Silly titles, super sales
A SILLY title draws attention to a book, and that’s a big plus among the millions scrambling for attention. Funny, strange or even meaningless, the title invites investigation and encourages comment.
It is a first step on the way to that marketing gold, word-of-mouth. If, in addition, the content is good it leads to bestseller status.
Many readers, myself included, automatically shun such obvious bait, yet many more pounce upon it with glee. Remember Who Moved My Cheese?. Peculiar in title, it was about office politics and it soared to world fame. Then there was Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It tackled the dull subject of punctuation with flair and quickly entered bestseller ranks.
More recently we’ve had a hilarious novel by a previously unknown author lumbered with the title A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It has sold a million copies. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (crime narrated by a dyslectic boy) has sold more than two million. Alexander McCall Smith began his global glory with three comical German professors in Portuguese Irregular Verbs and a follow-up, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs.
With these and other examples, there is no doubt that odd book titles catch public notice. This week brings lots of them, with the 35th annual Diagram Prize. Itself bearing a puzzling name which I’ll not try to explain, this contest will be decided on March 22. It seeks out peculiar titles and rewards them
On the shortlist is How To Sharpen Pencils (funny and informative non-fiction), The Life And Times of the Penis (history of the male organ), Lofts of North America (improving or building yours), How Tea Cosies Changed The World (creative knitting), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (dwarves, gnomes and goblins beware).
As you can see, the event carries on a bold tradition that began 1978 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The winner then was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (medical research studies).
This year the competition’s co-ordinator is Philip Stone of Bookseller Magazine. He commented, "There is a cliché that you can't judge a book by its cover but I think people do. The cover and the title."
How did last year’s winner fare? Better than expected, considering it was Cooking with Poo. The author was a Bangkok dweller named Poo
Happy reading from Cathy! Week ending 22 March 2013.
- Outfoxing the Taliban
HIS books are not prolific but there’s never been a bad one. I refer to Timeri N. Murari, an Indian author of exceptional talent. Now 70, he has divided his lifelong talent between writing and film making.
I have just read The Taliban Cricket Club, a novel that holds attention from start to finish. Published last year, it is a well plotted tale of love and courage amid the horrors of Afghanistan when under Taliban rule. The heroine is desperate to escape her native land because an evil aging Taliban chief has decided to marry her despite her family objections.
- Murari previously entertained with Taj, a love story about the origin of the Taj Mahal. He also wrote a pair of memorable thrillers that continued the adventures of Kipling’s Kim as an adult. These are The Last Victory (published 1988) and The Imperial Agent (1987).
A former journalist at the Guardian newspaper, this author is widely travelled, a background reflected in his characters. His narrative style creates gripping visual images, as one might expect from a film maker. Also, it is not without humour
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 15 March 2013.
- Lovelorn and desperate She-Hulk
REMEMBER the days when heroines were sweet, shy and demure? Maybe Grandma does. In recent times they’ve moved up to be macho mums and vampire slayers and kick-ass extroverts.
Now comes the ultimate in the novel The She-Hulk Diaries. Leader of a superhero pack, this rampaging female lawyer takes Marvel Comics into the realm of chick-lit books. Despite her horrendous nature, all she really wants is love and happiness. Personally I prefer the waif in Run Maggie Run. Crusader for justice, she’s a victim of the world’s wicked ways. And yet . . . sex predators beware!
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 22 February, 2013.
- The power of love
WITH Valentine’s Day upon us, I recommend an unusual tale of love, a short story that’s a warm chuckle.Title: The Coolie’s Sweetheart. It is extracted from the novel Brat, by Bryce McBryce. This book, through the eyes of a child, examines the peculiar ways of the adult world.
Another amusing short is Swamp Magic, by Ann Morven, where love casts its spell when least expected.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 15 February 2013.
- Lehane’s great American novel
HAVING discovered Dennis Lehane during his Mafia phase, and then into the violent romps of private-eye Kenzie, I was surprised to find he also wrote the great American novel of 2008. One of them, anyway. Set in1919, its title is The Given Day.
Lehane has achieved brandname status by churning out thrillers, yet this epic work (while thrilling enough) delves deep into the American psyche. It is a marathon read of more than 700 pages. Nevertheless the pace never flags, nor its fascinating historical detail of the Boston riots after the Great War and just before Prohibition.
Political and social climates of the era were settling into something like the fabric that has emerged today. At the centre is the Coughlin family, forever Irish and known to readers from other Lehane fiction. Through the father and three sons, the family is bonded to a police force rife with dissension and internal turbulence.
While also suffering their own internal rifts as a family, the Coughlins endure the dramatic events and political upheaval taking place. Anarchists, gangsters and unionists are here galore, plus segregation.
Lehane’s trademark violence and humour skip and stir as he applies his high skills in dialogue and character. And the history is reliable.
Co-protagonist to Danny Coughlin is a young negro named Luther who ranks with this author’s best imaginative creations. More than a five-star read, this is lasting literature.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 8 February, 2013.
- No-review titles are among the best
CYBER smarties figured out years ago how to get any book a 5-star ranking in Amazon’s “customer reviews”. Also how to join the Top Reviewers list. I’ll not describe their methods here. Google can reveal the tricks for would-be fakers.
Amazon has not been able to end the deceit, despite banning authors and publishers from reviewing own books and despite discouraging paid-for praise. Even worse, a new monster has arisen, the book killer.
Yes, it’s click to kill. It’s an organised attack on a title by uploading multiple negative reviews.
“Hate it” is indicated in an Amazon customer review by a one-star rating. So, just as five clicks rates a book at five stars and potential big sales, a single click can help destroy it.
This was demonstrated when Michael Jackson fans rallied to smother a biography they disliked. “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” by Randall Sullivan, suffered the death of a thousand clicks.
Aided by Facebook and Twitter to rally the troops, this was social media used as a weapon. It was obvious, too, simply because so many fans joined the gangbash.
In other cases, orchestrated reviews, good or bad, are harder to identify. Usually the presence of a high number of customer reviews should raise suspicion. But it is not always easy to tell.
Personally, if I have loved a book I give it five stars on Amazon. If I hate it, I just forget it. Authors deserve praise when they move us, but I see no point in damning those who do not.
So you paid for a disappointing book and you seek revenge! Get over it. The writer did not intend to hurt you. You will know not to purchase that author’s other titles.
Back to Amazon reviews: How reliable are they? Answer: not very, especially those with more than 1000 gushing plaudits even though only recently published. You will even find love-it “customer reviews” for books not yet released. Presumably, as with James Patterson’s thriller Run (due February 2013 but already reviewed by 90 alleged customers), review copies were supplied to fans.
Tastes differ anyway, so no review should be taken at face value. The best guide to an enjoyable book is in a free sample. Never buy without one. Even popular authors sometimes slump. (I can name at least four of my favourites who did so).
Here is the golden rule. Where a host of clicked stars dazzle or disparage, or when a book is acclaimed by an army of enthusiasts, simply click for a sample before you buy.
This recommended practice applies in particular to titles that show no reviews at all. Amid the review wars of recent times I often find these the best to buy.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 1 February 2013.
- Find spotlights murder mystery
EXPERTS have authenticated new writing by Rabbie Burns, found in Glasgow last week. Researcher Patrick Scott Hogg, along with the Burns Society, identified the handwriting and a 1794 watermark. Strangely, the news comes in the very week that a mystery plotted on his poems won Booktaste’s Best Book Cover award (see next item).
Murder Piping Hot, the award winner, hinges on lost poetry by Scotland’s revered rhymer
In Murder Piping Hot the discovered poetry is Rab’s journal of smutty ditties. He actually did write this but it disappeared on the day of his funeral. Ann Morven has created a thrilling modern whodunit about it.
While including some rude letters to his lawyer, the lost writings found last week were poems in good taste and in the homely style Rab is famous for. They comprise seven lost manuscripts.
The find was also timely for the poet’s 250th birthday, January 25. Traditionally on this date, known as Burns Night, Scots around the world eat haggis and laud the writer of Auld Lang Syne, A man’s a man for a’that, Tam O’Shanter and other popular verse.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 25 January 2012.
- Oz skygods and tartan a powerful mix
The best cover of the past year, voted by Booktaste, is on a third edition of the crime-fiction novel Murder Piping Hot, by Ann Morven. Its striking colours and image grab instant interest. And capturing the eye is what book covers are all about. It’s not all, however.
A cover should also suggest the book's contest and mood if it is to be an honest guide to potential buyers.
Voted second best in the Booktaste survey of covers is The Racketeer, a John Grisham title.
Third is a vampire romance, Death's Angel, by Heather Killough-Walden.
This is not the first accolade for the cover of Murder Piping Hot. The book's first edition, an ebook, depicted a large face of a feasting demon, and was reproduced by Apple in promoting its initial iPad.
The current cover, for paperback and ebook, is just as dramatic. It shows swathes of tartan framing weird faces that are in fact the Wandjina skygods of Aboriginal myth. It is a powerful combination. The peculiar bonding of these elements reflects the plot of this brilliant whodunit. It is, after all, a tale of primitive passions unleashed in modern Australia.
In developing the mystery, ethnic Scottish and Aboriginal themes are tied to the poetry of Rabbie Burns. And to a pedantic policewoman descended from Sherlock Holmes. This character deserves a repeat appearance but so far has been limited to this one mystery.
The main character in Murder Piping Hot is amateur sleuth and bush balladeer Sheil B. Wright. Her quirky success in solving murder has earned her a series of novels.
Informed of her book's selection, author Ann Morven commented, "It's nice to have my book's cover take top honours, and for that I must thank the publisher, Darling Newspaper Press. My other novels have likewise received great artwork. I'm told it helps with the sales and I can believe that because, as a reader, my own instinct is to make first selection via the cover."
The artwork for the winning novel’s front cover was by Peter Lee.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 January, 2013.
- A plea to Fiction’s good fairy
WISHES for 2013 are flowing fast all over the Web, so here’s mine and I’m hoping it comes to pass. To the Good Fairy of fiction: Please, please bring back the days when a reader could rely on books to tell a good story. There simply are not enough of these.
For too long, we have been burdened with sensation, violence, wizards, zombies, mummy-porn and reinvented classics. Plots and credible characters have been hard to find among the millions of titles begging to be read. The best sellers have included too much trivia, too many mediocre authors pushed to the top by frenzied marketing. Oh for that rare treasure, a good story. May the year ahead be full of them.
I know one that’s coming this month. It’s the third title of the Isle of Lewis trilogy by Peter May. Look for The Chessmen. The previous titles in this gripping series are The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. Although genre-listed as crime fiction, these are much more. Their location is out of the ordinary, too, with mysterious events and an ongoing love affair occurring in Scotland’s remote western isles.
In Romance, there is Linda Howard’s Shadow Woman. Good plot, interesting people. Or, for Daniel Steel fans, her novel Until The End of Time. For short stories, sample the startlingly original collection by George Saunders, Tenth of December.
And then there’s John Ivor, a regular favourite whose historical tales are in the best tradition of adult adventure. His series of gripping reads began long ago with Run Maggie Run. This has an opening that is one of the most compelling ever. It reads thus:
A FINGER of sunshine poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished the dock’s varnished panels and created a halo for the prisoner, she who was known as Maggie, age nine. The charge was murder. The judge: Mr Justice Gallows.
- You can depend on this desperate waif from a tartan factory to attract catastrophe! Here she is at first sight, as described by the author:
Her face was a splotch, colour upon colour. Like her cheeks and her nose and her puckered brow, her arms and legs were stained, and these poked from her tattered frock as hideous rods. Yet her eyes sparkled and her ragged return grin to the judge held the magic of youth.
- Oh yes, I’ve followed Maggie’s odyssey to womanhood, one of the great stories and comparable to Dickens
Happy reading! Week ending 11 January 2013.
- 2013 the best year ever for readers
THE pleasure of a book is such a personal experience that selecting the top releases coming in 2013 is impossible. We all have favourite authors and special tastes in what we choose to read. However, one thing is sure for the year ahead: there has never been such easy access to publishers’ catalogues. And never so many books available. The world is awash with them.
The traditional publishers have finally recognised the marketing value of the Web and the permanent appeal of ebooks. Their catalogues this year offer a vast selection, unprecedented in volume. Hardbacks, paperbacks, digital and audio are all there in profusion. Surprisingly, not all of them offer a free sample.
Selecting a book by its cover has long been a familiar trap for the unwary. It is also risky when an author is unknown. Hence the need for a sample before purchase.
This applies to recommended titles too, because tastes differ. A reviewer may like a book that you don’t. It is a fact that reviewers give most praise to works they have enjoyed.
Looking at the 2013 catalogues, I get the impression that the big global publishers have yet to clear out their shelves to take a chance on new ideas, novice writers or anything they fear may not sell a million. Sure, they have accepted ebooks, but tend to limit these to the same offerings they feel confident with in the print format.
Online retailers think differently. Their lists abound with everything and anything, yes even those long-spurned self-published authors who traditional publishers shun like a blind man sensing heavy traffic.
And the traffic really is heavy this year, never more so, with millions of eager writers grabbing the chance to display their genius to the world. The barrier to novice authors, created by agents and traditional publishers, has gone forever. Now the problem moves to we readers. How to winnow good from bad?
The answer is to get a free sample. This is my recommendation for the New Year: browse and sample. You will come across new favourites, amazing writings, and all the wonders of books, books, books.
And a prediction for 2013? We all know that ebooks will equal or surpass the sale of bound volumes. My crystal ball shows a world swing back to paperbacks that are purchased online. Ebooks are wonderful but they’re not everything. Personally I prefer a paperback. During 2013 we’re going to experience retailers who can offer ways to reduce mailing costs. The Postal Service has become a major factor in the pricing of books. Watch for the seller who can reduce this outlay. Amazon does it already. Others will follow.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 4 January, 2013.
- The year’s reddest faces
EVER alert to report, in this blog, amusing typos and double meanings in newspapers around the world, I was delighted to find a bloke who compiles a list of the best. Not just the misprints either, but embarrassing apologies, errors and recorded boo-boos that make editors cringe beneath their desks.
One of my favourites is from Boston’s Globe And Mail:
“François Mitterrand, the former French president, is reported to have said that Margaret Thatcher had the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula — not Stalin, as reported in an earlier version of this article.”
Poynter’s website at www.poynter.com has many more in a 2012 list that makes for an entertaining read.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 December 2012.
- Bumbling amateur wins without a sidekick
A FAMOUS sleuth without a sidekick is almost unknown in fiction. The assistant usually plays a vital role in helping the detective formulate theories and discuss clues.
Even the most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, needs his Doctor Watson when spouting that immortal phrase, “It’s elementary”. Poirot has Captain Hastings, Scarpetta has Marino, Dalziel his Pascoe and Morse his Sergeant Lewis.
And so it is with most expert investigators whether in books, movies or TV.
But author Ann Morven remoulds the ploy in her whodunit tales starring songster Sheil B. Wright. Her secondary character changes for each story and is always an official rival. Some are quite weird. Thus she gets the clues debated but also introduces humour and, invariably, a threat (other than the killer) to the bumbling amateur.
Ann Morven’s formula is “chills and chuckles”. Her stories are extremely entertaining and the characters serve to fuel clever plots.
Most recently published, in both paperback and digital, is The Right Royal Bastard. With world news focus on the latest royal birth in Britain it could not be more topical. An Australian Aborigine is murdered after claiming his first-born right to the throne!
Best from Asia
ASIAN authors have a special quality that earns them unique appeal to readers throughout the world. The longlist for the 2012 Man Asia Literary Prize has great books from nine different countries.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 21 December 2012.
- Christmas chills and chuckles
DEATH spoiled the party, and I was the woman who saw it all. In entertainment circles they call me Fat Sheil, and I told the cop how horror had arrived the moment I plunked the opening note of my recently composed ballad Sod The Government, Vote For Jesus.
“Yair,” he leered a crocodile grin, “reckon we all dig them traditional carols.”
I flushed. “Saint Brigid’s Hospital hired me for country.”
Rude and stupid – that was Detective Sergeant Blinky Tubbs, who had kept me two hours and was now snarling at the tree. This glittered with tinsel and fairy stars amid spray-on snow. A brisk homicide team, contradicting balloons, streamers and baubles, probed and dusted like a grim game of hunt-the-slipper.
Apart from me, the revellers had been allowed to depart after giving identities, with one other notable exception: he sprawled on the polished floorboards, frozen agony on his face, and his eyes had become marbles. As if defying this sad fate, the corpse wore an orange paper-hat, now crumpled. One hand still clenched his gift from off the tree: a small plastic pouch of marshmallows.
- And so begins the brilliant whodunit, Kill Him Sweetly, by Ann Morven. It is one of the short stories in her collection - CRIME PLEASE! This is available in paperback $9.99 or digital $2.99. Lotsa fun and brimming with chills and chuckles.
- Book of the Year 2012
THE candidates for best book of the year are many. We all have one, a title that made a lasting and positive impression. In the weeks before Christmas, literary commentators around the globe like to tell us their top reads. They seldom agree. Here are an early few at random:
New York Times, The Spectator, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 December 2012.
- Fishing for readers in Storyland
HERE is a book, here a reader. Where's the attraction to pull them together? First, while the work remains unseen, comes "favourite author". This is when fans simply grab and devour, but for authors who are not widely known the reader responds to word-of-mouth, reviews and the cover. And, if wise, that reader proceeds with caution.
Remember these facts: tastes differ, reviewers have been known to fib (or get paid for praise) and covers can deceive. All of which makes essential a personal peek inside the cover. Here waits the hook to lure you into Storyland.
The opening lines of any book are usually a fair test of its rhythm, style and voice. That's why I always read the first paragraph before purchase or a library loan.
There are occasions when this method does not work either, but it remains my benchmark test. It's the reason I have collected some first lines from this website's offerings. Would I read on? Would you? The genres vary.
- Before history, when politics began
EVERYBODY wants peace. Asylum seekers risk their lives for it, nations go to war to win it, treaties try to keep it. Nothing works. It never has.
Go back to the dawn of humanity, like author John Ivor, and you'll find the same elusive dream. His short novella Java's Dream is spiced with an underlying philosophy which the reader swallows in the conflict of situations. This all happens before history, before writing, almost before speech. This is where politics began with a yearning for peace among the earliest humans.
Typical John Ivor touch is the main character in this tale of tribal savagery. He's a bloke who decides it is wrong to eat other people, and this causes all sorts of trouble. He is also a weapons maker (stone blades and nice-balanced clubs), which adds an interesting slant to community relationships.
Doubtless human interplay has progressed heaps since those dark days in a primitive world, yet sometimes I wonder about that when watching a news bulletin. Do Java and his pregnant mate achieve their dream in Planet Earth's distant past? Well . . .let the author tell you.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 28 September, 2012.
- The pace never flags
PECULIAR heroine, thorny romance, corrupt rulers. These elements give Amateur Rebel its popular appeal. The story takes place in a British colony in the 1830s. Far removed from London, its despotic administration profits a clique of self servers.
Land is seized on a whim, opposition is crushed and magistrates commit murder. Author John Ivor says he took the main characters from real history and real events, simply inserting his young heroine and hero to join tumultuous dots. And what a strange young lady she is!
Her name is Maggie, self taught from books, and one of Fiction's most intriguing inventions. Because of a victimised background, she believes perfect justice can’t be achieved without perfect rulers. This drives her to action, revealing her blind reliance on books and logic without the wisdom of experience.She tries not to fall in love with Jeremy, her hot-headed foolish ally, who is wooed by a rich young widow.The pace of a John Ivor plot never flags and Maggie could lose her head – literally.This is a five-star read. resurrecting the early days of Australia’s richest state.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 September, 2012.
- From the macabre to the magical
VARYING from the macabre to the magical, a short-story collection by crime novelist Ann Morven is released this week in paperback. As one might guess, murder and mystery predominate. The title: Crime Please!
These tales have been previously published as 99c singles in digital format. They are now offered together at a delightfully low $9.99. Being eligible for free posting makes the book even more attractive to buyers.
Ann Morven, diva of the whodunit novel, always delivers a gripping read. And so it is in these short stories. Whether it is widowed Marjorie cultivating weeds, Luckless Liz trying to strike it rich or balladeer Sheil B. Wright bumbling along a murder trail, readers are assured of sizzling entertainment.
The collection is also available as an ebook at $2.99 from Smashwords, Kindle and other major online retailers.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 August, 2012.
- WITH the arrival of Read An Ebook Week (March 3-9) Booktaste offers free fiction as detailed below. Simply click on a title and, where given, use its coupon code at smashwords.com checkout.
- The Seventh Petal. (PV79M) In a creepy old castle, the murders keep coming.
- That Lovely Feeling. (YS69C) Whodunit. Love and murder, both passionate pursuits, share a jungle retreat for millionaires.
- Born Again Bandit. (UK72M) Hilarious! Big hairy spider bothers memsahibs.
- The Prize Bride. Historical fiction. Winning the daughter of an English tycoon is a prospect to fear.
- Invade America. Historical fiction. Britain captures the White House.
- Reverend Rapist. Adults only historical fiction. Sentenced to hang at age 9, Maggie fears there is something even worse.
- Kill. Historical fiction. Adept with sword and pistol, heroic Jeremy has only one weakness: he’s a coward.
- 0.99c KINDLE GEMS
The Painted Ladies. Humorous short story.
- The Spirit of Waterloo. Ghost returns toensure aggression in army children.
- Birthday Snakes. An angry cobra disrupts the Sultan’s party.
- The Coolieﾒs Sweetheart. Banned romance when Britain ruled the world.
- Jesse Owens And The Sprinting Buddha. Memoir from the Malayan jungle.
- Brat Overboard. "Amusing and nostalgic, a literary gem" - Bookpress News.
- Great White Gun Prat. A memoir of colonial days in Singapore.
- The Wizard of Woe. For children. Small yet smart, Mousedeer challenges a powerful wizard.
- Blood On The Wind. Whodunit. You never know where murder will strike.
- Look In The Well. Macabre. A family buys a house at suspiciously low price.
- TOP RATED BOOKS, $1 EACH
- To get these low prices, use the following coupon code for each story at Smashwords.com checkout.
- Run Maggie Run. (VB97A) Adults only. A waif wanted for murder, Maggie endures a violent odyssey to womanhood.
- Gone To Bed. (RC78R) Memoir: The birth, battles and bliss of a smalltown newspaper.
- Amateur Rebel. (DX44P) She fights the corrupt and murderous rulers of an 1830s British colony.
- Captain Striver. (CS67T) or (MH34T).Family in disgrace, a penurious young sea captain dreams of creating a British colony to replace lost America.
- HAPPY READING! from Cathy, week ending 9 March 2013.
- Old favourite goes digital
HERE’S a message from author Tim Griggs: “Redemption Blues (by T.D.Griggs, a modern psychological drama) is now available for the first time as an e-book on Amazon. A million sales in hard copies overseas - but it's hardly been read in UK. If you liked the adventurous Distant Thunder (by T.D.Griggs) and The Warning Bell (by pen-name Tom Macaulay) then let me brighten your universe once again!”
Tim writes compelling fiction. For more info, readers can take a look at his website at www.tdgriggs.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @TDGRIGGS1.
- Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 1 March 2013.tt
- · Shakespeare's missing years
MY blog last week inspired 173 emails in response. How the world loves Shakespeare! "Shakespeare's crime fiction", the topic I covered, is apparently something lots of readers have opinions about. His unrecorded early years also fascinate readers and authors alike.
Jude Morgan's new novel tackles not crime but romance in "The Secret Life of Shakespeare", just published. It dreams up situations involving a teenaged Bard of Avon and his older wife Anne Hathaway. These link to Shakespeare works that we know.
Equally imaginative is Ann Morven's whodunit "The Killing of Hamlet", which I mentioned last week. It invents items Shakespeare allegedly wrote as a boy before fleeing England. A clever plot connects these with modern murders in an English village.
Both authors delight and both confirm that the Immortal Bard, 400 years dead, remains a force for popular entertainment.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 November 2012.
- · Shakespeare’s crime fiction
DID Shakespeare write crime fiction? I pose the question after a London debate suggested this genre is the true literature of modern times, reflecting the world we live in. It is a teasing thought and the Bard of Avon did write crime fiction, but set in historical times, never his own. Doubtless, he considered it wise not to reflect the world he lived in. The penalty for outspoken authors was beheading.
The great entertainer would surely approve, however, of a neat Shakespearean mystery set in modern times. It is called The Killing of Hamlet, and is available in either paperback or digital format. Is it literature? Could be. It’s certainly delightful entertainment.
Can this be true?
PUBLISHERS HATE AUTHORS, according to blogger Michael Levin. He sounds convincing, too!
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 November 2012.
- · Hate and love – the tale of Amazon
AMAZON is the world’s most loved bookseller, and the most hated too. This seeming contradiction is founded on undeniable fact. Who are the haters? Traditional bookshops and traditional publishers who can’t find a way to compete against Amazon’s commercial wizardry.
A printed paperback retailing for $9.99? Amazon does it. Excellent content, sturdy binding, and delivered free to your door. The secret? Ways and means and lots of shrewd thought. For instance, the free postage is tied to your spending a set amount. Perhaps a second or third book?
No other global bookseller I know attempts to match this sales ploy. Their paperbacks invariably top $20 in a physical bookshop. Free postage? Forget it!
Now take a look at ebooks, the digital format downloaded instantly to the reading device of your choice. Amazon gives you a digital novel for $2.99, sometimes less. Traditional sellers seek $4.99 and above. Some even price their ebooks at the same price as the print-and-paper version. No wonder these bookshops and these publishers go broke!
So who loves Amazon? The answer is book buyers, whether seeking a bound book or an ebook. Even more ecstatic are the thousands of self-published authors who can present their creations to the world exactly as they desire. Kindle Direct Publishing produces their ebooks while Amazon’s CreateSpace site enables design, printing and binding of a paperback. And the author decides the retail price. Yes, these self-publishers are the most loyal of Amazon lovers. But . . .
There has to be a ‘but’, as in most good things. The snag here is that not all self-published writers are talented. Too often, there is crap to be found within attractive covers. However, that’s what publishers, small or big, have tried to sell since the era of clay tablets. The only difference today is the great increase in published garbage (sometimes, alas, with the lure of a brandname author).
No matter. There is a solution. Thanks to cyber magic, readers can sample a book before purchase. It’s what we offer at Booktaste. Just pick a cover and click.
Better books or bigger profits?
THE merger of two global giants to create “Penguin Random House” may be wise financially, but it will reduce the choice for readers and for authors.
That’s my forecast anyway. I doubt it will bring us better books.
The merger announced last week was a business decision to meet the industry’s current problems. These are largely due to digital competition. Amazon, Apple and Google have been remoulding the bookworld. Analysts reckon the Penguin-Random deal will generate annual revenue of $3.8billion (yes, billion). It will control 25 percent of global book sales.
Sadly, my crystal ball shows that within five years Random, a German multinational, will swallow its Penguin mate, last of the great British publishers.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 9 November 2012.
- · Love and tyranny 1822
PEACE, prosperity and love. Helene and Philippe have all these things at the start of A Merry Requiem.
- · Life is perfect. Their France is idyllic. I loved this placid opening to a tale that warms as it unfolds, pleasantly at first and then into turmoil.
This is 1821-22, a troubled time in national affairs. Young Philippe, being a writer with a keen eye on humanity, feels something is not quite right beyond his personal bubble of bliss. Observing events in Paris, he records: "This world – this city – this country – all turning ever more to vice and corruption; the Bourbons, the Bonapartes, all of them power-mad and drowning in greed and lust. And the streets of Paris full of charlatans and whores, grasping after every penny, every mad indulgence, all choking on smoke and ashes. It is as though all the beauty has gone from the world."
My word! Author Margaret Pritchard Houston has delved deep into the woes of history to show how human emotion remains constant. One could almost equate this scenario with modern times, and it tugs the heart. Sub-titled 'The Gathering Storm', this novel begins a trilogy that explores relationships and the way historical events can shake even the most settled people. In this instance we follow the troubles after King Louis XVIII is succeeded by his tyrannical brother, King Charles X. It's a five-star read. Free samples at Kindle and Smashwords.
Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 12 October, 2012.
- · Sing a song of murder
NOW here's a puzzler. The skygods of Aboriginal myth somehow get involved with Scottish songs in a whodunit paperback released this week. Title: Murder Piping Hot. That’s them on the left. Weird!
- · Ann Morven's super mystery has been around in digital format for some time. The paperback from Amazon is priced to please at $9.99, plus postage (or free postage to readers who qualify). The songs are by Rabbie Burns, Scotland's immortal bard, and include one with a clue to the mass murder at a dinner party. Others (and they're genuine) reveal Rabbie's penchant for dirty ditties, a truth rarely mentioned in the poetry books. To make the chills and chuckles more complex, the homicide inspector is a pedantic Australian female descended from Sherlock Holmes. Challenging her on the murder trail is bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright, who is hired to entertain the Scots but becomes a suspected suicide bomber. As in her past investigations, she is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart.
This title, an ebook bestseller, is bound to score with paperback fans in the print edition. Click for more info.Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 15 June 2012.
- · Two rare and wonderful reads
BOOKS for adults with a child protagonist are rare, and yet widely popular. Readers have all been children, a fact that makes it easier to relate to the young character featured. I think of the Bible tale of David and Goliath, where the killing of a giant is for adults to realise the glory of the Lord and, of course, encourages their belief in the mythical worth of their King David. This week's blog, however, is about two different stories.
First is When we were Romans by Matthew Kneale. It's brilliant. His narrator is a boy aged 9 who describes adult crises from the child's innocent, often selfish, perception. Kneale has a talent for finding the exact voice, and here he does it to perfection.
The invented kid captures readers from the start, blending amusement, dismay and a journey across Europe with Mum and baby sister. They're on the run from nasty Dad. Published 2007, I was amazed to discover this book remaindered last week at $3. It's also on Abebooks, used copy, around $1 plus postage. The author and this great book deserve more respect from the publisher. Readers who have not encountered it, however, should pounce now.
The other brilliant title in my recommended child chronicles for adults is Brat by Bryce McBryce. The publishers told me you won't ever find this literary gem remaindered. It's $9.99 at Amazon (free-postage paperback), or as an ebook for $2.99. It is a funny and nostalgic account of a boy who is aged 4 to 9 as the novel unfolds. He strives to understand that weird species, the Adult.
To stress a series of intriguing situations, author McBryce chose the pompous British Raj at its peak on the eve of World War 2. The colonel trembles in his rage, the nuns pray, the brat pursues his own ambition to make sense of the way grownups behave. Located in Ceylon, a land now renamed Srilanka, this book stands as an entertaining insight into social philosophy.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 14 September 2012.
- · Souls and solitude
- · THE inner self is what spiritual books tackle, but here's some fiction that led me into that vast human arena. The Land Beyond Goodbye, by Barbara Scott-Emmett, does this while relating a fascinating tale about a woman who finds herself in the remote Australian Outback. Here she learns from the ancient people, Aborigines of the Northern Territory, some eternal truths our modern world seems to have lost or forgotten.
Beautifully written, this novel grips heart and soul. I considered it unusual in its themes, also easy to read. This author knows her stuff as a writer. She explores the personal realms by means of creating compelling characters. What's more, this is one of those books that had me thinking about it long after the end. Five stars! Read a sample.
- · Serials still appeal
THE Amazon Kindle folk are using serials in their UK marketing to good effect. Learning this reminds me that Run Maggie Run (best serial since Dickens) is likely still available in serial format and wowing new ebook enthusiasts. But it’s easier downloaded in one go as a novel. This adults only book is also available in print.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 September 2012.
- · A Right Royal Paperback, $9.99
THE Right Royal Bastard, newly launched in paperback, was actually the first novel featuring bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright. Long popular in digital format, the paper edition retails at $9.99, to which online buyers must add postage (about $7).
This Ann Morven whodunit is driven by strong characters. The plot is audacious, even outrageous, yet credible in the telling.
- · A black Australian singer, officially recognised as a royal bastard, is murdered after producing proof he is legal first-born heir to the British throne. Pageturning chuckles and chills – this author’s forté -- take readers to the massive sea-cliffs of Western Australia. In an isolated hotel, sleuthing bush-balladeer Sheil B. Wright is challenged (as usual) by a peculiar cop. In this book, the homicide detective is a “New Australian” pom who brought his old country with him. Wearing cricket flannels and a flat union-jack cap, he sucks up to a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
Disgusted, Sheil herself checks the suspects, and these are well drawn. She nabs a triple killer (of course) after herself becoming next on the murder list.
Ann Morven’s novels and short stories are always grippingly entertaining and this one more than fulfils expectations. Find the book here. Or get a free sample.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 25 May 2012.
- · Terror, love and gripping history
NOTE this title: Spirit of Lost Angels. I liked the story and also the history. It's rare to find this
- · combination of good writing and brilliant research. This novel is narrated by the heroine in revolutionary France of the 1770s. Born to a peasant family, she grows from girlhood to become a desirable woman. But she's bent on revenge!
The passion held my attention. There's love and violence and eerie surprises, all with insight into those troubled times.
Author Liza Perrat is an Australian author living in France, which is where she unearthed her superb historical detail and sense of place. The tale begins in a quiet village that is fatally assailed by lightning and progresses to the turmoil and intrigues of Paris. The dialogue and descriptions bring everything alive. Liza has her own author page at Amazon. The novel is available in Kindle or paperback. Its appeal should find well satisfied readers, either male or female.
Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 10 August, 2012.
- · The moral behind Olympic gold
OF all the crowded literature with Olympian flavour my favourite is a 99c memoir. It gives me lasting pleasure from its unwritten moral, which is: The humblest rank can be great and the greatest can be humbled.
That sort of thing is taking place right now at the London Olympics. It is what makes the world gathering, beneath its politics and venality, a wondrous human spectacle. This account by a young sports reporter dates back a bit to steaming jungle and peerless Jesse Owens. Read it via Kindle or Smashwords or my link: Jesse Owens And The Sprinting Buddha.
Immortal Jane and unknown Mansfields
ONE might assume that the world has read, heard and seen all it needs regarding the late Jane Austen, but apparently her fans are more numerous than ever. Her work has been reworked for Bollywood, amended to include zombies and now is being spiced to meet the latest craving for erotica. And still she fascinates.
One book critic has devoted a chunk of his life to discussing the Immortral Jane. Published recently, "What Matters in Jane Austen" by John Mullan is 352 pages for enthusiasts to devour.
Another old favourite, Katherine Mansfield, was in the news this week when three unknown stories by her were found in university archives. Details.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 3 August 2012.
- · Also a history lesson
BERLIN cop Bernie Gunther is anti-nazi, so I share his horror in the novel Field Grey when, after WW2,
- · he is sentenced to death as a nazi war criminal. But being a victim is par for Gunther. In this and other novels he arouses the ire of Authority. He also shows, as always, that interest in a character is more important than a plot.
Not that Gunther books lack plotwise. This time, he's hounded by Russians, French, Yanks and even fellow Germans. I was surprised the Brits leave him alone, but maybe the author is saving a few research secrets for his next Gunther revelations. Philip Kerr has peerless skill in resurrecting real monsters to spice his fiction. Field Grey covers the horrendous half-century when Fascists and Communists battled to control the world. It is a history lesson, too, and a comment on the deceit and treachery that, too often, motivate governments. This book switches back and forth between the 1930s and 1950s, which I sometimes found confusing. Yet Gunther, irrespective of decade or particular conflict, strives steadily for justice. And his familiar wisecracks keep on coming. The end twist is stunning and unguessable.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 August 2012.
- · Spooky thriller in wild Wales
A GOOD story well told is always great to read, and this one cracks along with atmosphere. The setting is wild Wales, the coast of Anglesea. A clifftop mansion, Charter House, holds family secrets dating back to 1859, a shipwreck, and gold
- · from Australia.
Heroine Sarah stumbles on strange things from her past. She suspects the recent death of her father is murder. As she investigates, her own life is threatened. Author Gillian Hamer has a way of gripping readers that goes beyond the twists of her plot. Her writing is superb. This is five-star stuff. Surprisingly in view of its flair, it is also a debut novel. I look forward to Gillian's next one. In particular, I like the way she blends paranormal suspense with modern mystery.
Where to buy: Amazon.uk.
Author's website: http://www.gillianhamer.com/
Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 27 July 2012.
- · A rejuvenating delight
MY young-adult years were lost in the mists of memory until a recent book brought them chuckling back. Bras, Boys, and Blunders by Vidya Samson is a delight. A girl of 15 wrestles the pangs of youth, and the author extracts maximum humour from Life's early ambushes. It's something with which everyone can identify
- · .
Subtitled Juliet and Romeo in Bahrain, her story takes place in the Persian Gulf and involves the attitudes and antics of teenagers in a mixed race Catholic school in a Muslim land. Veena is a naive lass from India, trying to cope with a variety of woes, mostly concerning a handsome boy named Rashid. His dad is Arab, his mum British converted to Islam.
Veena laments: "I would gladly have sat next to him, but of course that was impossible. The seats around him were all grabbed by girls more forceful than me."
And so her torments progress, giving scope for great humour and the author's philosophical eye. Beneath the jokes runs an undercurrent that reveals the absurdity of many adult prejudices (race, religion, dress, teens etc).
I enjoyed this book, and it is not Vidya Samson's only one. She is a joy to read!
Where to sample or buy: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0089P7G14
AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: http://vidyasamson.wordpress.com/
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 July 2012.
- · Migrant's Tale Delights Brits
MAYBE it's the prospect of getting away from Britain's crippled economy! For some strange reason, books about Australia pulled a heavy tide of readers to Kindle last month (April). Both fiction and non-fiction found rapid downloads, comprising both historical and modern.
The most popular was a migration account involving a British family, Gone To Bed.That's what made me wonder if Australia suggests a fresh start to people trapped in Europe's fiscal agonies. The Great Southland, of course, is booming while the rest of the world slumps.
Furthermore, it's crying out for migrants to cope with a massive surge in the mining and export of minerals.
Gone To Bed, by Charles Bryce, describes the migrant family's experience, and Dad's dismay when his promised job turns sour. With a wife and two kids to support, and no savings left, his solution was bold and triumphant. He started a newspaper!
The battles and the bliss of this smalltown rag make a great read. Based in a haunted hotel, the Darling Advertiser recorded odd events and quirky characters as it grew to wealth and its own custombuilt premises.
And the historical Australia that Kindle users lapped up? Same author, with an exciting history book for schools. The Fabled Swan fits Mark Twain's famous comment that "Australian history reads like beautiful lies."
Kindle enthusiasts, too, seem to enjoy the heritage of this nation. April's popular fiction on Kindle included:
Kill, an 1830s adventure that hastens a young swordsman to Australia.
Invade America! (true biography of an Oz hero).
Both the above are by John Ivor, whose short story, Reverend Rapist, was also among the top April reads.
More Australian delights read on Kindle (all historical adventure) were Java's Dream, Captain Striver, No Kiss For A Killer, Amateur Rebel, and Eden's Deadly Shore. And maybe I should also mention Run Maggie Run. It is not set in Australia, but Maggie, age 9, is fleeing that way after escaping the hangman in Scotland.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 11 May 2012.
- · Off to war at age 4
NEWLY released in paperback, Brat is comedy fiction that enshrines the situation of military children during the peak of the British Raj. When soldier dads went off to defend an empire embracing the whole world, mum and the kids went too.
This may have been great for family travel, but it was a bewildering and often dangerous environment for young minds. It was also a frustrating burden for the British Army's top brass. Author Bryce McBryce recalls this "family baggage" in a book of nostalgic and hilarious tales. His Brat grows from age 4 to age 9 trying to understand the weird protocol pervading a fighting force in an occupied land.
In this instance the location is the strategic colony of Ceylon in the 1930s, eve of World War 2.
The tender-aged son of a junior rank, Charlie is labelled a bigger menace than militant Japan. In the far British fortress where he innocently interferes, the Colonel trembles with rage and the nuns pray. Charlie meanwhile is fighting his own battles -- against Life's monsters. The Colonel is his enemy, the adult species a puzzle.
Originally published 2006 as Wee Charlie's World, this second edition was retitled to bring it closer to the dedication. This is to "the children of military personnel, then and now, the children history ignores". The reprint quotes an added philosophy at the end of each chapter as the growing kid learns a new truth about the world.
This is a literary gem, spiced with Wodehouseian farce, rampaging elephants, natives evil and natives divine, the ghosts of battles past, a child's vision of grownups and, ultimately, the Japanese invasion. It is $11.99 retail. Online buyers pay extra for postage (about $7). Click to access its Amazon page. Or, get a free sample at Kindle.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 May 2012.
- · Hating Sherlock Holmes
REAL detectives of a bygone era hated the fictional master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, according to a new book. When I came across it I was reminded of another knowall, perhaps of lesser fame yet probably more entertaining than the genius of Baker Street.
I refer to author Ann Morven’s homicide investigator in Murder Piping Hot. Inspector Sheryl Holmes in remote southwest Australia is descended from the pedantic London detective and has inherited his sweeping knowledge of the criminal mind. But she’s on the wrong track against amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright, who is a dunce at deduction yet well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart. Get a sample of this pageturner.
And if you wish to learn why Scotland Yard hated the original Sherlock Holmes, click here.
- · Self-publish disease fells authors
THERE is no cure for a terrible new disease devastating the book world. Writers Eblock is already nearing plague status. Endemic in every land, it defies even the power of God, the heavenly force that created cosmic bytes.
The scourge is a complication of the familiar Writers Block, but is immune to all the remedies for that ailment.In the old paper-and-ink days, authors could motivate themselves by methods various and individual. Brisk walk, nagging publisher, stiff whisky, new pen, change-typewriter-ribbon, promise of payment on delivery −- all these helped dispel an uninspired lethargy. No more. Writers have run out of time. They are too busy self-publishing to do anything else.
This ensures a case of dreaded Eblock, which strikes even while creative juices flow. Fresh before a monitor screen, the scribe can still poke keys but inspiration gets smothered after just one book composed in doc or pdf, whatever. Why? Here is why:
Upon completion of a manuscript, the tentacles of Writers Eblock emanate from cyberspace. The self-publisher is trapped by spellcheck, page-size, font style, font size, paragraph style, tab-space, line spacing, margin width, margin depth, page-numbering . . . oh the many chores of the traditional publishing house, a friendly species now extinct.
Same applies to a digital author's bookcover. This requires dpi and pixel count, spine width and cover-blurb. Millimetre accuracy essential.
Then comes uploading everything to an online printer/publish site, proofreading, and distribution (after seeking and setting up the sales outlets).
To the sensitive wordsmith this is all a massive burden, but the worst has yet to come. Marketing!
Marketing is the killer. Potential readers browse the web, of course, but how can writers attract them to one particular title amid the millions? Answer: by hard promotion using blogs, email, press releases, review-begging, blurbing on Google and Facebook . . . the chores go on and on. No time to write another book. Eblock takes over. The author has become a one-man business. Now writing is confined to sales messages.
Bookreaders are choosy, however. The story must be good, the quality of presentation must be high, yet the retail price must be low. It is the conundrum that afflicted traditional publishers and booksellers and sent many of them broke. Can digital authors fare any better? They are, after all, amateurs in the roles now undertaken after producing their story.
The end result is an ocean of amateurish books. And authors of unpredictable talent. Most of these, anyway, because of Writers Eblock, have ceased to write books.
All a reader can do is get a sample before deciding to buy. Regular browsing uncovers the goodies. Do it often!
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 29 June 2012.
- · A wealth of new voices
IMPOSSIBLE! Nevertheless, browsing in bookstores, libraries or on the Web gives me the fancy I have read every book of fiction there is. Brandname authors, clones and copycats abound. So hats off to the Commonwealth Foundation for bringing great new writers to world notice.
This week my bookshelf is stacked with them, winners of the 2012 prizes for new authors. Here are fresh voices and new ideas, often from small publishers.
Overall winner of the £10,000 top award is Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka. His novel relies on cricket for its settings but the reader does not have to know cricket to enjoy the human drama in Chinaman and the Legend of Pradeep Mathew. Here's an extract to introduce the narrator.
Before taking the big prize, Shehan was judged winner of the Asia region. Other regional winners this year are as follows.
AFRICA - The Dubious Salvation of Jack V , by Jacques Strauss (South Africa).
CARIBBEAN - Sweetheart, by Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica).
PACIFIC- Me and Mr Booker, by Cory Taylor (Australia).
UK/CANADA - The Town That Drowned, by Riel Nason (Canada).
And if you're still hungry for talent, spend some time browsing through this year's shortlist:
The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan), Hamish Hamilton
Patchwork, Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia), Penguin Books, South Africa
Rebirth: a novel, Jahnavi Barua (India), Penguin Books India
The Sly Company of People Who Care, Rahul Bhattacharya (India) Picador
The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards (UK), Oneworld Publications
The Book of Answers, CY Gopinath (India), HarperCollins India
Jubilee, Shelley Harris (South Africa), Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street, Denis Hirson (UK), Jacana Media
The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka), Random House India
Purple Threads, Jeanine Leane (Australia), University of Queensland Press
Sweetheart, Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Peepal Tree Press
The Town that Drowned, Riel Nason (Canada), Goose Lane Editions
Dancing Lessons, Olive Senior (Canada), Cormorant Books
The Dubious Salvation of Jack V, Jacques Strauss (South Africa), Jonathan Cape
Me and Mr Booker, Cory Taylor (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
Pao, Kerry Young (UK), Bloomsbury
Happy reading! from Cathy, 22 June 2012.
- · Puzzling twist in Amazon's tale
LIAR, liar, pants on fire! (maybe Kindle Fire). A schoolyard jeer greets Amazon's fiscal tale for the first quarter of 2012. Hang on – other cries sound investor delight. What's going on? Is Amazon's announced progress fact or fiction?
Just like book readers, the financial world floats differing tastes. When Amazon reported that its revenue rose 34 percent to $13.18 billion, there were opposing interpretations.
Publishers Weekly burbled: "It's hard to find a weak spot in Amazon's strong first quarter, in which total revenue rose 34%, to $13.18 billion. While net income fell 35%, to $130 million."
Financial analysts hailed the good news. CNN Money declared: "It was much better than the 7 cents per share forecasts from analysts".
The BBC noted that profits beat Wall Street forecasts.
It was left to a shrewd editor to spot the flaw. Dennis Johnson at Melville House Publishing saw the Amazon press release as "astounding plunge in earnings".
"Utter devastation was predicted, and the company beat expectations by delivering simple disaster," he commented.
Read his cold-water assessment. It ignores the frenzied lunatics who gamble in stockmarkets.
Best Bard’s Birthday Read
WITH Shakespeare’s birthday approaching, a recommended whodunit is The Killing of Hamlet by Ann Morven. It’s a pageturning mystery full of chills and chuckles, as is usual from this author. Available in either paperback or Kindle
Happy reading!from Cathy week ending 4 May 2012.
- · Publishing's petal-strewn milestone
The Easter launch of The Seventh Petal in paperback confirmed a milestone in the booktrade and the future of print-on-demand.
Listed at $12.99 on Amazon and qualifying for free postage, Ann Morven's whodunit returns pricing to an attractive level for readers. Furthermore, it apparently leaves the publisher without economic pain. This was achieved because print-on-demand requires no big printrun and no distribution of unsold copies. The book is bought and paid for before it is printed.
Ann Morven's publisher, The Darling Newspaper Press (1971), allowed this title to sell at 99c as an ebook during the April promotion of Kindle Touch in Britain. Is there a profit in such a miserable retail price?
"Not by itself," said publishing executive Charles Bryce. "The main value is in spreading an author's name and popularity. It builds reader confidence in that author before they risk spending on the author's higher priced creations."
And The Seventh Petal? It's a page-turner from the opening sentence, with good character conflict and clever plotting. There are several murders ('One by one they die' says the cover blurb). But included in the chuckles and chills that occur within a creepy Scottish castle is one murder method wholly original. Ann Morven sure knows how to keep her readers baffled to the thrilling end.
Happy reading! from Cathy week ending 13 April, 2012.
- · It's murder with a British ‘Touch’
HERE comes murder with a British touch! British readers love a good murder, so it makes sense that whodunit diva Ann Morven is leading a Kindle promotion this month (April). It brings Kindle Touch to the United Kingdom.
Kindle offers her crime novels at $2.99 each, with one (The Seventh Petal) at 99c. These low prices are aimed at winning new Kindle readers who like operating the screen with their fingers. Kindle Touch is priced at £109 for a wi-fi model and £169 for the 3G model. But content remains king in digital reading formats, which is why Ann Morven's chill-and-chuckle mysteries are getting big play.
Amazon has yet to reveal a date for UK release of its colour Kindle Fire, an entertainment tablet. This goes beyond ebooks to provide music, video and various applications.
Ann Morven's publisher, Darling Newspaper Press, recently launched a collection of her popular short stories titled Crime Please. The cover’s a ripper! This joins the novels on Kindle Touch at $2.99.
Meanwhile, with pedophile priests scandalising news channels these days, John Ivor has a piece of short fiction that suits the public mood.
- · Last Orange is sour for some
- · FOR its last hoorah, the Orange Prize went pink. And controversial: homosexual lovers, debut author and a story done to death for about two thousand years. To beat such odds, Madeline Miller sure gotta be good.
- · In The Song of Achilles she put together her own version of Homer's tale of Troy, THE ILIAD. The judges were split, but, after a three-hour debate lasting beyond midnight, they awarded her this annual prize for fiction by a woman.
- · Why write about the male lovers, Achilles and Patroclus, when there's lovely Helen in the same plot from Ancient Greece? Seek your answer in Madeline's book! You can read the first chapter online.
- · Chief judge Joanna Trollope praised the American author's inventiveness and originality. She added that any of the others on the shortlist of six would have been a worthy winner. Hence the judges' tough debating to arrive at their decision.
- · The other contenders were State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick, Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.
- · The Orange company, after 17 years, is relinquishing literary sponsorship and switching to movies. Its final £30,000 prize launches a new author whose next work will be much anticipated.
- · Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 8 June 2012.
- · Publishers! Grab a lifeline
WHEN all the writers in all the world self-publish, who will write the books? It won't be those authors −- they have all become publishers and marketeers!
You think I joke? Okay, just peep into my crystal ball.
The work in producing a book does not end with penning the final chapter. What follows is designing, copy-editing, formatting, proof-reading, printing, distributing, promoting, and keeping track of sales. No author can do all that at professional level. No author can even attempt it without abandoning the biggest and most essential chore of them all −- writing.
So are we going to see the demise of decent reads? Heaven forbid!
And yet, when you take a long hard look at what's happening, such is the obvious end result. Self-publishing and self-promotion has to cause massive Writers Block.
Brilliant writers will soon be joining the ranks of the disappeared, after the present vanishing of bookshops, literary agents and traditional publishers. Unless the still existing publishers take action now.
To date, the book industry has kept itself barely afloat by desperate marketing of The Greatest Book Ever (one a year since the century began!). Frustrated readers, like me, seeking a ready source of books that satisfy, have discovered the same secret as self-published authors. It is this: Books no longer need literary agents, nor fulltime publishers, nor even a physical bookstore.
The bookworld has moved online. Digital books and printed books are all there in abundance, and increasingly self-produced by their writers.
Direct from Writer to Reader is low-cost and easy. Yet it is also a trap that will self-destruct writers and appal readers as professional book production dies out. Amateur layout and frequent misprints already bring hasty turnoff.
Traditional publishers, long ago, shot themselves in the foot by rating sales above a good read. I'd hate to see self-published writers doing the same. Hopefully, this is the time for a fresh industry pattern.
Maybe traditional publishers can save themselves from ultimate oblivion by encouraging writers rather than exploiting them. So far, Amazon and Smashwords seem alone in successfully nurturing new talent.
Royalty of 70 percent? This is now the self-published norm. And there's online help to ease writers through the proofing and promotion chores. Covers can be created, markets assailed, earnings quickly advised.
It's wonderful but it is too much for a writer to take on alone. Writers still need editors and publishers, provided those publishers adapt to the changed demands that are at present monopolised by Amazon, Smashwords and a few less-famous others.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 April, 2012.
- · Readers decide the pricing wars
IT’s readers who decide the pricing wars now sweeping book markets, whether digital or paper.
After many months of disagreement and lots of skirmishing, the online battlefields seem to have settled on the following prices: For an ebook, readers like to pay below $5, for a paperback below $10, and for a hardback below $30.
Unfortunately such retail levels are difficult for production managers to achieve, and depend on many different elements. Obviously, the cost of publishing a book is tied to the cost of materials and labour. And these essentials cannot fall below an ultimate base. All the same, it is great to see publishers (and self-published authors) striving to present the best value possible.
The above quoted prices, while not necessarily applying to all creations, remain a benchmark to online outlets. Bestsellers can demand a higher price. So can an author of unique expertise.
Personally, I have been happy to fork out $50 for hardbound fiction by a favourite author. I do this knowing it buys me a week or more of happy reading.
Books remain the world’s best entertainment value. Buying online? Go for Booktaste’s new whodunit in paperback, The Killing of Hamlet, $9.98. By Ann Morven, it remains a big hit as an ebook ($2.99) and the paperback version is now successfully launched.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending March 23.
- · Ann Morven dun it best
HERE we go into 2012, the great uncharted hope for an uncertain booktrade that is dreading the worst. Between ebooks and online sales, the year past was grim for traditional booksellers and publishers.
Many of these have (at last!) come to realise the wisdom of that old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them”.
During 2012 several global publishers will streamline their online direct sales. And some major bookshops have already taken the plunge to compete against Amazon using the weapons Amazon has applied so effectively. In many high-street stores, physical shelves are now augmented by sales online and, yes, ebook editions also.
All this was a natural evolution but nobody knows how it will all work out in the end.
Meanwhile, the Internet is awash with “Best Books of 2011”. Every site seems to have a different list. You just have to browse and sample to decide if you missed some goodies. Booktaste has its own list, topped by whodunit author Ann Morven for a second year in succession.
Because of its clever Shakespeare allusions, my personal favourite is The Killing of Hamlet. This title, ranked by sales, comes second only to Murder Piping Hot. The latter, however, has been available longer and is published in paperback as well as digital.
All Ann Morven’s other novels and short stories are in electronic format only, via most of the main online sellers. If you haven’t sampled the chills and chuckles of her mysteries, there is a snap summary below.
After the encouraging ebook sales of 2011, Ann Morven’s other novels are heading for paperback editions. There will also be at least one new ebook (now nearing completion). My spies say its location is Singapore. Provisional title: Tears of the Goddess.
The following can be accessed online now.
- · The Right Royal Bastard. Alleged true heir to the British throne, a Black Australian singer is murdered on the eve of inheriting a fortune. To unmask the killer, bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright opposes a police Anglophile and a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
The Killing of Hamlet. Murder stalks a modern English village while Shakespeare experts squabble over a newly discovered masterpiece. Australian folksinger Sheil B. Wright, prime suspect, challenges hi-tech British police, only to become the killer’s next target.
Murder Piping Hot. Death for dinner and an old Scottish love song send Sheil B. Wright on her most baffling whodunit trail, her mind teased by Rabbie Burns poetry. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, the heavyweight chump of crime fiction bumbles through. But only after being denounced as a suicide bomber by a pedantic female police inspector descended from Sherlock Holmes.
The Seventh Petal. A creepy castle, hidden treasure, and the murders keep coming. Bumbling balladeer Sheil B. Wright finds a corpse and intrudes on an isolated weekend group in the Scottish Highlands. While a dunce at deduction, she’s well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart. But can she catch a serial killer?
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 December 2011.
- · Historical adventure
JOHN Ivor heads the historical fiction list at Booktaste, for his series on The Great Southland.
These books are expertly researched and thrillingly written. They differ in theme but each narrates a history of global importance. Here’s a brief overview:
Java’s Dream. At the dawn of humanity, an apeman and his mate discover compassion, then learn it is a dangerous belief.
Captain Striver. How one man, family in disgrace, changed the social and political shape of the southern hemisphere.
Run Maggie Run. A girl flees Scotland’s hangman, only to encounter more perils of the 19th century world of the Enlightenment.
No Kiss For A Killer. Jeremy, a coward, must find the courage to avenge his father’s murder in a distant land, but this vow will sacrifice the girl he loves.
Eden’s Deadly Shore. It was a paradise for gentryfolk, until ambition and murder erupted.
Amateur Rebel. Inspired but unequal is the fight for justice in a British colony with corrupt rulers.
Happy reading! from Cathy Macleod at booktaste.com, week ending 16 September, 2011.
- · To the rescue: Publisher of the Year
IRONIC INDEED! In this Age of electronic wonders and instant communication, the Christmas message sounds faint. “Peace on Earth” and “Love Thy Neighbour” strive to be heard above the anger against greed and corruption. There is no continent free now of protest by the people.
In these days before annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, Time Magazine acknowledged global wrath by naming “The Protester” as its frontcover personality of the year. From the Holy Land to everywhere else, there is public outcry. The Protester has dominated the year’s news. In the Bookworld it’s different. Here the personality of the year is also publisher of the year. It is the self-published author.
Wails of despair have continued from traditional publishers and bookshops, bankruptcies abound, redundancies rage, but authors have never had it so good. The urge and instinct to get published is achieved by digital distribution to every corner of the globe. Websites like Smashwords and Kindle Books have guided solo scribblers into acceptable online formats.
Authors have responded by issuing their works directly to readers. The Literary Agent, once mandatory, is no longer required, a publishing company unnecessary. The Bookworld has become a vast democracy of self-published authors.
It goes beyond ebooks, too. Authors still keen on paper books and real ink, bound between solid covers, can realise this aim through a growing number of websites where anyone can print-on-demand their own creations. Often, the biggest cost is postage.
Sites that spring to mind are Create Space, Lulu, WordClay, and Cafe Press. More will appear as more authors join the ranks of the self-published. These sites also market the books created, offering them to readers everywhere. This momentum will bring the next element needed in online publishing . . . trustworthy reviewers to help readers choose. We try to do this at Booktaste, complete with free samples, yet more such guidance would be good to bring obscure talent to public notice.
As new self-published writers join the millions of online titles now clamouring for sales, the year ahead will see review needs hopefully met. And readers might be thankfully satisfied, at last, after years of weary brandname novelists and boring clones of what sold well the year before. All this thanks to literature’s self-published hero, the SP author, publisher of the year.
Also saviour of the world? Not quite. The Holy Child still fulfils that task. A messiah for the Bookworld then? We can only hope.
Happy Christmas reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 December 2011.
- · Statistics tell the story
WITH a happy ending? The odds say Yes, because the ebook has come of age. It will maintain speedy growth at least until 2015. That’s official and comes with the seal of expertise.
According to a forecast by the highly regarded gurus at Idate, the global market for ebooks will increase at an average annual rate of 30 percent to total US 7billion in 2015. This equates to 12 percent of the total book market.
Such statistics are reassuring. There is no doubt that the digital book is here to stay, but will it eventually supplant hardbound physical paper and ink? Let’s hope not. I like paperbacks. I regard ebooks, like audio books, as an additional publishing method.
Sometimes an ebook is more convenient, other times not. So what will happen as the world’s readers adapt to this handy alternative?
With trepidation I recall reading that people once said, “Motor vehicles will never replace the horse.” Now here I am nursing similar vibes and telling myself, “Ebooks will never replace the paperback.”
I hope we shall always have both formats, yet who can tell? Statistics don’t have an answer to that. Not yet, anyway.
Happy reading! from Cathy week ending 6 January 2012.
- · Books still gleam mid the gloom
GLAD tidings of great joy may have moved to another planet this Christmas. Our troubled world shows little to brighten the occasion. Politically, commercially and weatherwise, from Europe in the north to the most southerly realms, good cheer is missing.
Take heart though, there is still −- as ever −- the singing of children. Add a good book and things look brighter. You’ll find no shortage of year-end booklists, highly recommended, mostly duds decked in seasonal glitz. My top three recommendations for Christmas? Browse, browse some more and browse again.
In the gloom of literary garbage, which is confusing to readers, it is the best way to spot the gleam of a great read.
- · Dark times, laugh times
BRITAIN’S turbulent empire gets renewed airing in a history condemning the colonial era. It’s title is “Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt”. There’s good research here by author Richard Gott and the narrative sweeps along.
While against imperialism myself, I can’t agree with the author’s glorification of native tyrants and sadists removed by the Brits.
A lighter look at the era is available in tales by Bryce McBryce, who writes thus: “Long ago, when Britain ruled the world. . .” The laughs flow fast in “Wee Charlie’s World”.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 16 December 2011.
- · Best magnet? Conflict
CONFLICT inspires. And the biggest, noisiest conflict is war. It attracts writers and readers alike. It brings memoirs, histories, endless debate and, of course, mind-gripping fiction.
The appeal is timeless. People are delving with tireless enthusiasm back to World War One. Heck, they go much farther, there’s no limit. Today we still thrill to the quarrels of Ancient Greece and the battles of the Pharaohs. In our imaginations, the Vikings still rampage, the Mongols scourge fierce as ever. Where does it end?
It doesn’t. I guess war will ever be. The war books, either fact or fiction, will continue to pour upon the reading public like massed infantry. The themes go back, back, back, even to forgotten empires that spread and disappeared.
This week I was fascinated by a history of changing Europe. It reveals the powerful kingdoms that have simply vanished. Tiny Lithuania, for example, once ruled an empire that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It was the superpower of its era. This and other long-gone powers are described in fascinating prose by Norman Davies in his latest book: “Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe” (Allen Lane/Penguin 830pp, £30 or $74.99). The author’s conclusion is ominous: All leaders and all their nations come and go. Yes, even Dorgobel the Great. Who? Never heard of him. See what the author means?
It occurred to me how wars shape our ongoing world even while we’re reading about turmoils of the past. The essence that attracts our war reading is conflict, the clash of ideas, people and countries. Yet war is not the only conflict. Conflict is the nature of things. It gives us the best fiction too, whether the discord is physical or mental. It can be a verbal exchange, courtroom drama or the eternal battle of the sexes. This applies no matter what sort of books we’re into.
Romance, Mystery, Humour, Children’s (you name it); all thrive on a conflict of some kind. If only the world could confine its conflict instinct to the written word!
- · Cheating impossible at the Culture Olympics
TO me, anyway: the best Olympics ever will be the first without the Three Cs of commerce, cheating and corruption. Unlikely? Not if performers stick to the Olympic creed that taking part is more important than winning.
An Olympics without winners and losers would be just perfect for global harmony, and it’s coming. When London hosts the 1212 Olympic Games, the city has a parallel world event that might blossom into my ideal of a Culture Olympics.
From many lands, more than 7200 creative performers aged six to 90 will take part. Singing and dancing are included but officially this is a gathering of thespians. And they will all be doing Shakespeare.
It is in fact a World Shakespeare Festival, highlight of the 1212 Festival of London. Organiser Ruth Mackenzie promises: “It will put culture back up there with sport."
The Globe Theatre, on the banks of the River Thames, is going to stage all of Shakespeare's plays (37 at last count). They’ll be in different languages by different companies from around the world.
Thousands of worldwide performers, both amateur and professional, are involved in the culture fest from April 23 to September 9.
- · Hearty chuckles
THOSE rare books that make us laugh have attracted an academic research to discover why. A sense of humour is a fascinating thing and varies immensely between nations and even individuals.
This is serious stuff (giggle-giggle), as the title of the resulting book might suggest: “Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind” (MIT Press, 2011). An amusing read nevertheless, compiled by three authors with the right attitude towards fun. It all began as an undergraduate’s thesis. A good laugh is ever a tonic.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 December 2011.
- · Crime boosts Nook Books
BARNES & Noble have boosted their Nook ebook reader with top quality crime ficion, an enduring genre that seemingly never goes out of fashion. Among star attractions, Nookers can now access novels and short stories by Ann Morven, the whodunit diva from Downunder. She has long been an online favourite in various other formats.
Ann Morven’s mysteries are not restricted to an Australian location. They rove the world, pitting the same female sleuth against murderers in different lands, and also against the local cops who resent her interference.
Stagenamed Sheil B. Wright, the travelling singer of Oz bush ballads is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart. In tracking the villains she invariably bumbles into personal danger.
“Inventing the baddies is a joy,” Ann Morven said when quizzed on her B&N deal. “They are nasty-nasty. and yet . . . well, you wouldn’t suspect any one of them. Just like some of the real people one learns about in the news. Creating them is the easy part. The hardest is getting the plots just right while planting clues that don’t give away the whole thing.”
Asked why she gives her crimebuster a cop rival in each story, she explained that it introduced extra conflict. Also, since Sheil B. Wright has no sidekick, a police investigator comes in handy to discuss the riddle. A favourite cop rival? “I love ’em all. In England there’s a brute who throws Sheil in jail. The Aussie ones include a pedantic female inspector, descended from Sherlock Holmes and spouting his knowall conclusions. I’ve also introduced a Chinese detective and a Malay and, being Scots-born myself, a kilted detective in the Highlands who scares the pants off everyone.
“The villains, unfortunately, cannot be described outside the pages they live in. That would give them away. I like to keep readers guessing.”
Ann Morven’s whodunits are widely praised for originality and readability. Her best selling novels are as follows:
The Right Royal Bastard. Alleged true heir to the British throne, a Black Australian singer is murdered on the eve of inheriting a fortune. To unmask the killer, bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright opposes a police Anglophile and a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
The Killing of Hamlet. Murder stalks a modern English village while Shakespeare experts squabble over a newly discovered masterpiece. Australian folksinger Sheil B. Wright, prime suspect, challenges hi-tech British police, only to become the killer’s next target.
Murder Piping Hot. Death for dinner and an old Scottish love song send Sheil B. Wright on her most baffling whodunit trail, her mind teased by Rabbie Burns poetry. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, the heavyweight chump of crime fiction bumbles through. But only after being denounced as a suicide bomber by a pedantic female police inspector descended from Sherlock Holmes.
The Seventh Petal. A creepy castle, hidden treasure, and the murders keep coming. Bumbling balladeer Sheil B. Wright finds a corpse and intrudes on an isolated weekend group in the Scottish Highlands. While a dunce at deduction, she’s well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart. But can she catch a serial killer?
Happy readiing! from Cathy, week ending 11 November, 2011.
- · It wasn’t the butler. Don’t tell!
DON’T tell, don’t tell, don’t tell. An urgent voice (perhaps the butler) forbids me whenever I want to write about favourite villains. You see, all my best-loved baddies are in whodunits. Describing them would spoil everything for some reader who is midway through the book.
Okay, so the fiends remain incognito, but there is no barrier to mentioning location, or what one might term ‘the butchers block’. The place of the grisly doing can be as compelling as the doer. The locale sells books also. While romance may waft a reader to Venice, Paris or Rome, the whodunit lurks in more innocent places. Often, a peaceful scenario contrasts dramatically with the dastardly bloodletting, a formula begun by Agatha Christie and still widely popular.
American writers seem to ignore this element of the chiller. They do most of their killings in the city where, let’s face it, most real murders actually occur. It is a handy marketing device, too, because readers drool over tales disrupting their familiar daily pattern, and there are more readers in cities than anywhere else. A notable exception to the city crime scene is Jonathon King. He prefers the primeval Everglades (Blue Edge of Midnight series).
The English like their mayhem in a friendly village where, in the words of Ann Morven, “evil will out, no matter the why or the what or the when or the where. Or the who.” (The Killing of Hamlet). Sherlock Holmes said something similar when investigating a big-house mystery: “Dear old homesteads always fill me with horror.”
A nasty in the placid village of Maggots Wallop comes close to ending Ann Morven’s bumbling sleuth (The Killing of Hamlet). But all’s well that ends well, as Shakespeare would say. Yes, the Bard’s in this whodunit too, but being 400 years dead removes him from suspicion. How about a creepy old castle? Instant suspense! Ann Morven’s butler is a sinister cliche in The Seventh Petal, set in the Scottish Highlands. The secret baddy couldn’t possibly be him. Or could it? Don’t tell, don’t tell!
A Sussex market town accommodates Ruth Rendell’s detective, Inspector Wexford. Sharing this preference for the rural scene are Anthea Fraser and Gerald Hammond, but the other Fraser, Antonia, places crimebuster Jemima Shore in London.
Historical locations boast a big following. There’s no end to the appeal of the ancients, whether in Egypt, Rome or Greece and, of course, in the British Isles or particular parts of the realm. The historical research introduces intriguing detail and often an unusual motive for murder. A few authors in this specialist genre whose names leap to mind: Paul Doherty, Ellis Peters, Robert Gulik, Bernard Knigtht, Edward Marston, Kate Kingsbury, Christian Jacq, Alanna Knight . . . there are so many! The best listing I could find is at Gaslight Books,
Perhaps a crime fiction coup, serving both marketing and place appeal, is the gentrified world of Jane Austen as borrowed by author PD James. Death Comes to Pemberley revisits Darcy and Elizabeth six years after their marriage. And whodunit? Don’t tell, don’t tell!
Going by the above authors, and twisting the wellknown real estate boast, I’d reckon that location is only almost everything. The villain beats all, yet remains in the shadows. Don’t tell.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 October 2011.
- · Secondhand title wins 2011 Booker
- · After Gaddafi, literature’s new dawn
The desert song is unshackled. With the defeat and death of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan writers greet a new era. For the first time ever, they can bare their souls without a dictator or occupying power hovering over their pens. Until Gaddafi’s demise, exile was a necessary condition for novels, poems or simply statements against the nation’s chronic problems such as women’s rights, poverty, tribal friction and individual liberty.
Anguish has been the theme of Libyan writers since Adam was booted from nearby Eden. When the land became a colony of Ancient Greece (circa 300BC) Callimachus recorded the excesses of imperialism in what is now Benghazi. Then came the invading Romans, Turks, Italians, French and British. Authors in Libya have never been free, until now.
In the aftermath of the revolution that has deposed and killed Gaddafi, the dream of literary freedom has at last arrived. It has been a long, cruel wait through the many torments of history.
Colonel Gaddafi, as a young soldier, himself wrote poetry and short stories that dreamed of civil liberty. After independence from Britain in 1951 he led an army coup against Libya’s autocratic monarchy, when King Idris was abroad for medical treatment. Gaddafi’s writing then turned to a wishful social theory, The Third Way, a middle ground between communism and capitalism. It was an inspired political vision, but in practice it degenerated into despotism. And Libyan literature maintained its pain.
Writers were censored. Dissent was not only discouraged but punished by jail, torture and worse. In one infamous case in 2005, author and journalist Daif Al Ghazal wrote articles that criticized Gaddafi’s system of government. He was tortured, then killed. and his body dumped in Benghazi. Many other writers lived in fear, careful in what means, or how, they expressed their inner thoughts. These included several talented scribes including Kahled Darwish, Wejdan Ali, Mohamed al-Asfar, , Ramez Enwesri, Saleh Gaderboh, Wafa al-Buissa and others. It seemed that to be creative without fear was only possible by living abroad. And this tended to limit their issues to the political.
One recent novel of note, In The Country Of Men (Penguin) by Hisham Matar, was shortlisted, in translation, for the 2006 Booker Prize. In 2007 it won a Commonwealth Writers Prize and many other awards. It’s about a boy aged 9 experiencing Gaddafi’s oppression, and begins thus . . “I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still beneath it”.
On state television under Gaddafi, young Suleiman watches the execution of his best friend’s father. The path to adulthood is fraught with despair. Matar’s second novel, Anatomy Of A Disappearance, was published this year, 2011, in March. He lives in London.
Previous Libyan authors wellknown in English include (according to Wikipedia) Maryam Ahmed Salama (Dreams Of A Captive Girl), Ibrahim Al-Kouni, Ahmad Al-Faqih and Sadeq al-Neihum. To which I would add Bashir al-Hashmi (Screams In Our Village), included in Libyan Stories (Kegan Paul International, 2000).
Literature, like religion, thrives in bondage. It also echoes history. “Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days where Destiny with men for pieces plays” (Omar Khayyam). During months and years ahead, the Libyan Revolution still has a long way to go. What will evolve as its new system of government? How will the factional jealousies of tribes and religious sects blend?
These are complex human issues that will add impetus to writings from Libya. However, with authors unchained at last, their novels and their think-pieces will hopefully emerge from tales of anguish and of hope to literary peals of joy.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 4 November 2011.
- · Is Salman Rushdie detestable?
YOU don’t need to be the Ayatollah to think so. Just ask Maurice Sendak, children’s author, who once received a terrible review by Rushdie in the New York Times..Sendak doesn’t like Roald Dahl either, calling him cruel. Sendak, who wrote Where The Wild Things Are, is grumping against lots of people and situations this week, but gets away with it because he has become a grumpy old man.
Now in his 80s, he is still creating extraordinary books and cannot believe his age. “I was young only minutes ago,” he .complained. He makes pointed remarks, too, about ebooks and the world at large. Grump, grump, grump, but an amusing grump. Read the interview
Sendak’s new book is Bumble-Ardy (HarperCollins), price £12.99
- · The death of creativity
THIS modern world, for all its wonders, is killing creativity, according to Neal Stephenson who writes for an organisation called World Policy Institute. It is a group of thinkers who try to identify critical emerging global issues. Its stated mission is to “give voice to compelling new global perspectives and innovative policy solutions”.
So what is killing creativity? A thing called certainty. Neal explains.Old and rare
BOOKS have been around ever since Tree Dwellers began scratching their thoughts on the leaves. Old and rare ones (books, not leaves) continue to fascinate. Here’s a handy list of websites pursuing these immortal tomes.
Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 14 October 2011.
- · Folk heroes bow to The Great Detective
EVERY country has its favourite sleuth. The fictional detective has just about replaced the folk hero in popular esteem. Certainly in popular readership. Ask your bookshop or library. Crime novels are sold or borrowed more than any other kind. Their protagonists usually reflect some concept typical of their homeland, and not necessarily realistic.
England has that village shrewdie, little old Miss Marple, and America gave us hardboiled Mike Hammer and courtroom virtuoso Perry Mason. It is difficult to think of a land where there is no Great Detective of inimitable skill.
France has world-weary Inspector Maigret, India the conscientious Inspector Ghote, Russia a defiant Inspector Renko, and China the inscrutable Charlie Chan. The latter was created in the 1920s by American Earl Derr Biggers while holidaying in Hawaii. Like Ghote (HRF Keating), Renko (Martin Cruz Smith) and Egypt’s funny Mamur Zapt (Michael Pearce), the Chinese detective came from the pen of a foreigner.
Scotland, where medical student Arthur Conan Doyle invented the very English Sherlock Holmes, sprouts mystery authors readily as heather. To randomly name a few and their creations: M.C. Beaton (Constable Hamish Macbeth), Glenn Chandler (tough Chief Inspector Taggart), Philip Kerr (Berlin’s Bernie Gunther), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana’s Precious Ramotswe), Val McDermid (lesbian Lindsay Gordon), Denise Mina (journalist Paddy Meehan), Ann Morven (Australian balladeer Sheil B. Wright), Anne Perry (historical sleuths William and Hester Monk), Josephine Tey (Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard).
There are many many more. I’ve just given those who come to mind as I write. With so many of them, now and in the past, “Bloody Scotland” has just announced, a Scottish Crime Writing Festival. This will be held in Stirling next year 2012, September 14-16. Needless to say it will promote Scots crime authors of all kinds, from home and abroad. And crimebusting characters, too, even if invented by sassenachs.
Here’s what Edinburgh writer Ian Rankin had to say last week: “Maybe it doesn't get the attention it deserves because it's not as though there's a school of Scottish crime writing. With the Scandinavians, you pretty much know what kind of novel you're going to get. But Scottish crime includes cozies, satire, hardboiled, noir, historical, urban, rural - there's a catholicism about it, and that's a strength not a weakness. What have they got that we haven't? Nothing - apart from some very good PR. Scottish crime writing continues to fire on all cylinders and talented new voices.”
Nations and their differing sleuths is a theme I hope to explore in future blogs. Also their assorted make-believe villains. There is one investigator, however, who sets a precedent. To my knowledge, she is the first to solve whodunits in a variety of countries. Name: Sheil B. Wright, Australian singer of bush ballads. Her creator is Ann Morven, a Scot resident in Perth Australia. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 September 2011.
- · The sense of a secondhand title
A borrowed title won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Could the following be how marketeers foresaw it, asks Cathy Macleod.
- · Hey, Chief, a brainwave! It’ll win us the Man Booker.
- · How can? The fiction entries are strong this year. Lotsa zip and grip.
- · That’s why we gotta help Jooley. Here’s what we do. Get a famous used title and squeeze it on a cover as if the printer was squint-eyed. Just big type. Important stuff, see? Litratoor.
- · And that’s all?
- · Not quite. Keep it short at 160 pages. That cuts production cost and retail price. Then we blurb it as a classy masterpiece, without saying what it’s actually about. We call it Oliver Twist or Pride and Prejudice. It starts dull but we tell folk to push on to the ending. Then they’ll get the sense of it.
- · Sense of what?
- · Something, whatever, maybe the ending itself.
- · Okay then, why not call it that? The Sense of an Ending. You know, same as that egghead book by that bloke who wrote great essays on literature. He’s dead now so won’t complain.
- · You mean Sir Frank Kermode, he’d love it. Why, Jooley’s book will be a tribute to the guy!
- · COMMENTS CATHY: Most Julian Barnes fans will like his 2011 Man Booker winner. I am one of those fans and I didn’t.
Is his The Sense of an Ending great literature or just confusing boondoogle? It is written as a memoir by a middle-aged man and reflects on the nature of memory. I wonder how Sir Frank Kermode would have reviewed it? Sir Frank, who died last year aged 90, was a critic who was himself a pleasure to read. His seminal critical work was The Sense of an Ending (studies in the theory of fiction), published 1967, revised 2000.
Professor Kermode’s writing was aimed at the general reader rather than what he called “horrid professors”. Asked by New Statesman journal, shortly before his death, if he read for pleasure, he replied: "I hardly have time for such things! The other day I picked up a copy of Antic Hay, Aldous Huxley's first novel, which I had loved when I was 17. So I bought it, and I thought, it's the most awful tripe. Either I'd matured or it had gone off.”
Here is another good interview, at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where he explains the link between fiction endings and eternity. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/20/2988905.htm
- · Julian Barnes obviously tackles a similar theme in his fictitious memoir. As always, his voice is enjoyably readable, although the conclusions (like most memoirs) can be dismissed as egotistical tosh. The book is $13.99 at Barnes & Noble, or $11.99 as an ebook. There is a free sample:
- · Happy reading! from Cathy at Booktaste, week ending 28 October 2011.
- · Stranger than fiction, and richer
NOW here’s a strange thing: a book jacket that is worth more than the fiction it covers. While good for the artist’s reputation, it has got to be a put-down for the famous author whose yarn won world fame. I refer to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Artist Francis Cugat’s painting for the 1925 first edition is described these days as “the most celebrated and widely disseminated jacket art in twentieth century American literature”. Well, someone would say that when they’re hoping to clear $180,000 or more at its October 20 Sotheby auction. In humiliating comparison, a first-edition Gatsby novel sells at around $8000. Seems crazy, but these prices have been confirmed by past sales.
The reason collectors pay so highly is not their regard for artistic genius. It’s because of a printing error. On the cover’s rear panel, the "j" in Jay Gatsby was incorrectly printed in lower case, so the publisher grabbed a pen and hand-corrected it many times to a capital. Odd, isn’t it? One letter of the alphabet, and an incorrect one at that, is more valuable than the 50,000 words of this literary classic.
The author’s ghost must be pondering the weird ways of investors. A single typo is more valuable than anything he ever wrote! Incredible? Unfathomable? No, it’s the world we live in. See if you can spot, right now, one click, a book cover (without misprints) worth $1 million. It may take a generation or two, but ya never know!
- · Santa’s big bulging sack
NOBODY can accuse publishers of ignoring the religious meaning of Christmas. They’re all praying that Santa’s big bulging sack will include some of their Christmas releases that poured forth October 1. Many booksellers are on their knees too, forced there by circumstance and about to go under. They are being killed by a changing market in our digital age.
One global giant, HarperCollins, came to their rescue last week by embracing the ebook revolution via print-on-demand. The publisher announced that readers will be able to have HarperCollins titles printed instore while they wait. This eliminates warehousing, distribution and shelf costs. The shop will simply print and bind your copy using the Espresso machine.
I’ve mentioned this fabulous invention before. It marks the future for bookshops. The booktrade should have gone for it in a big way long ago when first the gizmo was born. It allows a physical bookstore to promote and print thousands of paperbacks selected from a catalogue. There’s only one sour note. For most shops, still the main outlet for publishers, the strategy may be too late.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 7 October 2011.
- · Shakespeare the cripple
LAME? William Shakespeare? The brilliant wordsmith, father of English literature, flawed of frame? Yes, he said it himself, even wrote it in a bitter pun: “Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt”.
That’s from a sonnet, the medium in which the great poet revealed personal loves, fears and resentments. In another he confesses he was “made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite” and sees himself as a decrepit father.
Ah, but did he mean it literally, or merely as poetical whimsy? The experts are still debating. Here’s what Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago:
Sonnet 37: As a decrepit father takes delight/To see his active child do deeds of youth,/So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite,/Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
Sonnet 89: Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault/And I will comment on that offence./Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt,/Against thy reasons making no defence.
Certainly, nobody can deny that Shakespeare was ‘lame’ in these two sonnets, yet did his condition stretch beyond the imagined? Cripples and lameness often crop up in his plays.
Critic George Wilkes (1882) claimed Shakespeare had a lame back, citing Sonnet 87: And so my patient back again is swerving. W.J. Thoms, 1865 (Three Notelets), asserted Shakespeare was wounded while soldiering in the Netherlands. Another alleged expert of old averred that Shakespeare injured his left leg in a fall while acting at the Fortune Theatre (“Fortune’s dearest spite”). In 1889 it was suggested that Shakespeare usually acted as old men because of his disability. Author Pemberton (1914, Shakespeare and Sir Walter Ralegh) contended that Shakespeare was Raleigh who wounded his leg at Cadiz in 1596.
In recent times, Professor Rene Weis was certain of the lameness (Shakespeare Revealed −- a biography, John Murray 2007). Professor Weis, English and Language lecturer at University College London, said Shakespeare’s works reflected the man’s life. Phrases often regarded as figurative should be taken literally, he said. This surely adds new avenues of speculation to the many that have grown over the years.
For instance, was Shakespeare, himself a player, ever cast in the role of Richard III without need of a faked humpback? Did he have a club foot, or a crooked knee, or an odd limp? The one known fact is that nobody knows. Among the many wild Shakespeare disputes is that he never existed but was a pen name for someone else.
Unfortunately, Shakespeare never got around to penning his memoirs. Had he explained himself, it would happily have aborted centuries of blah-blah.
Away from the learned brawls, a battalion of fiction writers have captured the lad from Stratford in their own conjectures. Notably The Shakespeare Curse, by J.L. Carrell, was a popular hit last year, although falling short of Ann Morven’s page-turner, The Killing of Hamlet.
Morven’s plot deftly ties Shakespeare to present day murders. At the same time, she invents plausible answers to the most common inconistencies surrounding the Bard. She gives her heroine, bumbling folksinger Sheil B. Wright, a fright or two along the whodunit trail. Hoping to collect olde English madrigals in an historic village, Sheil collects arrest instead, accused of a murder witnessed by scores of people.
Highly recommended. Happy reading! from Cathy, 9 September 2011.
- · Globals fear digital marketing blitz
PUBLISHERS are afraid. They are afraid of Amazon. Again. This time, it is more than the internet retailer’s slashed prices and massive sales.
Those two things helped kill many physical bookshops, the major retail outlet for publishers. Yet publishers found they could survive this and, by using Amazon as an online retailer, make money from Amazon themselves. The new threat is Amazon Publishing, which last month, August, announced its entry to conventional book creation. Hardcover, audio and ebook editions are proposed. And Amazon boasts an unassailed marketing advantage. Its online salesmanship is without peer.
The irony is that conventional publishers long relied on marketing to sell their books to bookshops. Now marketing of a different kind −- direct sale to readers −- will advantage a rival that global publishers cannot hope to match.
Not only that. Google and Facebook, two other digital emperors, are well on the way to publishing books too. A new sales war is developing in which social-media and cyber skills outshine travelling reps and seasonal catalogues. Making readers aware of a title is already a fine art on Amazon, which monitors every sale and employs direct persuasion. Google and Facebook have similar digital potential. By means of online sales, the traditional pattern of author-publisher-distributer-bookshop becomes author-publisher-postage-reader, with the reader paying the postal distribution cost
No wonder publishers are anxious. Foresight should have them recruiting digital geeks to push their titles. Relying on trade reps, advertising, festivals, author tours, and book-signing is no longer good enough.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 Sept, 2011.
- · Your next good ebook is here
WITH millions of titles available, your next good ebook can present a daunting search. We’re all different, so what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. A recommendation helps to choose your next good ebook. but is no sure method. For individual preference, therefore, your next good ebook is here on this website. Why? For the simple reason that you make the choice yourself.
Booktaste allows ease of browsing and always a free sample. Just click a cover or an author or our shop (top left) and enjoy sampling. Sci-fi apart, we’ve something for every taste, every format, every electronic reading device.
THE digital age has created a yen for short ebooks. This is because, for most folk, onscreen reading is not a marathon pleasure.
I’m writing from personal experience as well as internet comments. Nowadays even lengthy printed works that I clutch in my hand discourage me from purchase. It’s not the price, inflated though this has become. I feel the same reluctance when browsing doorstop fiction at my local public library where everything is free.
The cover on these weighty tomes looks good. the jacket blurb promises much, yet anything over 400 pages gives me pause.
I used to enjoy great doorstoppers. I grew up reading books as thick as a fist. Today I no longer commit myself to a book or an ebook that demands great chunks of my leisure. For me the doorstopper is dead.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 August 2011.
- · Better than a Man Booker browse
TO avid readers like me, the search for a good read is endless. No sooner do we finish one book than the quest resumes for the next. It’s fun to browse the Internet and even better when word of mouth suggests a likely treasure. This week and through September there’s a multitude of such pointers.
The Man Booker prize for British fiction recently announced a longlist of 13 titles for 2011. It’s a good place to seek your next good read. The five Man Booker judges reckon these are the best published between October 2010 and September 2011 and will announce their winner this coming October 18. Book browsers can check out the nominated novels at the official website:
- · But even bigger in scope than the personal taste of Man Booker judges is a torrent of public nominations for this year’s Not The Booker Prize. This contest is run by the Guardian newspaper, which is about to name its longlist. Meanwhile, the suggestions pouring in were too numerous to bother counting, but present an easy source of links to reads that have given readers much pleasure. Here’s the url:
Tastes differ, yet I found several titles that took my fancy. These would not otherwise have come to my notice, being from small independent publishers who cannot afford big-budget marketing. So hats off to the Guardian for running this forum where good reads get a personal plug.
Here at Booktaste, our own good reads are ever available at a click. Nobody nominated us for the Guardian event but (judging by sales) our titles appeal throughout the world. Click our offerings to judge from a sample. Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 19 August 2011.
- · Fiction goes marathon
BOOKS, I think, are getting longer. The impression I get is that publishers are offering more pages to justify the high price charged for binding them and delivering them to their point of sale, compared to the economic appeal of ebooks.
Great novels always seem inclined to demand a marathon read, but lately this characteristic has become noticeable in run-of-the mill fiction, and crime fiction in particular. It’s a surprising observation in an age when the human attention span is said to be decreasing. Is it because publishers are hoping to compete against the onscreen market, where long reads often meet disfavour? A more successful strategy is available and obvious. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Good to see more big publishers realise this and are seeking to earn from ebook editions.
Genius in the book world
THERE are 41 people of genius status in publishing. You can find the list on record at The MacArthur Awards, announced each year and worth half-a-million dollars to any genius who manages to rate recognition. Read all about it at http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/PWxyz/?p=6176
WHILE on the subject of awards, I was fascinated to learn that Germany is offering big money to self-published authors. It’s a feature of this year’s Frankfurt Bookfair, but open to text in the German language only. The winners will be decided by public vote, and is going to be announced at the fair on October 13. Five categories will share $29,000 in prizemoney. Read the details at
THE largest English-language book market remains the United States. Here’s what was selling best this week: Hardcover Ghost Story by Jim Butcher; Paperback The Help by Kathryn Stockett; Mass market The Confession by John Grisham; Non-fiction A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 12 August 2011.
- · Forget the spats, find a great novel
THIS could be yet another year when the Man Booker churns up gallons of controversy, if the early favourite is anything to go by. Gay-and-lesbian occupies a rightful place in humanity’s diverse library but surely the distasteful themes in The Stranger’s Child are unworthy of Britain’s novel of the year for 2011. That’s my opinion anyway. Alan Hollinghurst’s entry has a niche reader interest and that’s all. It teems with familiar national issues such as Somme slaughter and Great War poetry, adultery, prep school, unwise marriage and the progress of weird people. It will be interesting to learn what the judges think of this 560-page mishmash.
Other early front runners are Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending), Sebastian Barry (On Canaan's Side), DJ Taylor (Derby Day ) and Stephen Kelman (Pigeon English).
This year's shortlist of six will be announced in early September and the £50,000 winner on 18 October. Meanwhile, the book trade is happy at increased sales for all the titles no matter who wins. You can read about hopes and betting odds at bookseller.com
Here’s the longlist of 13 anyway: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry, Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards, The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness, Snowdrops by AD Miller, Far To Go by Alison Pick, The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, and Derby Day by DJ Taylor. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 5 August 2011.
- · Browsing through famine and flood
FAMINE grips the world of books. Or is it a flood? Well, it's both really. For that reason, I suspect, book clubs proliferate and attendance at book festivals exceeds capacity. People are seeking good reads.
Oddly, while bookfair events are regularly sold out, bookshops are closing for lack of sales. And, as a consequence, publishers cut output, or go bankrupt when readers don't buy.
What started the famine in bound titles? My opinion is fixed: It was marketeers replacing editors in deciding what should be published. Their creed became "sure-sell brandnames or nothing." And 'nothing' is clearly the choice of many readers in tough financial times. There's cheaper diversion in movies and television, and in the digital deluge we can read onscreen.
This electronic flood, of course, gives a confusion of choice. Book-hungry readers exchange views. Many post impromptu reviews – a service most newspapers abandoned long ago. Thus has evolved the social-network Babel.
Antennae tuned to public trends, the Big Six publishers have dived into the flood too. Their marketeers know how to build a following and this is exactly what they have been doing. It is too soon to determine whether a following equates to selling, even though rare success has befallen one or two self-published authors using Facebook, Twitter and similar.
Encouraged by these go-it-alone authors, the globals have adopted social marketing in a big way. It is word-of-mouth marketing, and that's the best. But do tweets persuade readers to buy?
Publishers Weekly tried to pin down an answer in a June survey. Viewing Twitter only, here is how the Big Six are swimming in the yabber tsunami:
Random House 429,000 followers, Penguin 221,000, Hachette 173,000, Simon&Schuster 149,000, Macmillan 115,000, Harper Collins 57,000.
May they prosper! The more books sell, the better for the industry. For me, however, browsing bookshelves is the best way to pick my next read. This can still be done when physical bookstores close. Just go online.
Thanks to cyber magic, books can be found, examined and sampled as never before. Depending on one's budget, they can be delivered by post or by download to one's preferred device.
Happy browsing! from Cathy, week ending 8 July 2011.
- · The long stretch beyond kilts and claymores
IT is heartening to observe Scotland's connoisseurs of historical fiction stretch beyond kilts and claymores. It's a long stretch, too (excuse pun) to The Long Song by Andrea Levy, set in Jamaica and sugar plantations. No heather here, no mists, no feuding clans – just an old woman remembering the days of slavery.
Named for the great writer who established tartan swashbuckle, the £25,000 Sir Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction embraces the whole world. Not only the winner, but others among the final shortlist of six stirring images of other lands. For 2011, there's Japan and Russia and Sierra Leone, and only a sniff of anything celtic. It's a grand selection to delight readers everywhere. This is the second year of the prize. It is sponsored by the Duke and Duchessof Buccleuch, who have family links to Walter Scott.
Andrea Levy, 54, was born in London of Caribbean parentage. Booktaste followers can get the mood of the victorious The Long Song from this opening. Extracts from the other finalists appear below. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 1 July 2011.
THE BOOK YOU ARE now holding within your hand was born of a craving. My mama had a story—a story that lay so fat within her breast that she felt impelled, by some force which was mightier than her own will, to relay this tale to me, her son. Her intention was that, once knowing the tale, I would then, at some other date, convey its narrative to my own daughters. And so it would go on. The fable would never be lost and, in its several recitals, might gain a majesty to rival the legends told whilst pointing at the portraits or busts in any fancy great house upon this island of Jamaica. Read more.
C, by Tom McCarthy. The author was American born in New Jersey, and he lives in London. This is historical fantasy, witty and eerie, in the early years of radio broadcasting. How it starts:
DOCTOR Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Versoie House. He has sore buttocks: the seat's hard and uncushioned. His companion, Mr Dean of Hudson and Dean Deliveries (Lydium and Environs Since 1868), doesn't seem to feel any discomfort. His glazed eyes stare vaguely ahead; his leathery hands, reins woven through their fingers, hover just above his knees. Read more.
To Kill a Tsar, by Andrew Williams, who was born in Lincolnshire. His book is a thriller in mid 19th century Russia as revolutionaries begin a campaign of terror. A young British doctor gets involved. How it starts:
2 April 1879: Ice is scraped from the carriageway in readiness, but it is still treacherous and the Tsar must tread with care. At eight o’clock the guard at the commandant’s entrance to the Winter Palace came smartly to attention and the doors swung open for the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. A tall man with the bearing of a soldier, Alexander II was in his sixtieth year, handsome still, with thick mutton chop whiskers and an extravagant moustache shot with grey, a high forehead and large soft brown eyes that lent his face an air of vulnerability. His appearance was greeted by a murmur of excitement from the small crowd of the curious and the devout waiting in the square. Read more.
Heartstone, by C.J. Sansom, an Edinburgh born Scot. As Tudor England wars with France, lawyer Matthew Shardlake is presented with a difficult case via an elderly servant of Queen Catherine Parr which will plunge him into the labyrinthine toils of the King's Court. How it starts:
THE churchyard was peaceful in the summer afternoon. Twigs and branches lay strewn across the gravel path, torn from the trees by the gales which had swept the country in that stormy June of 1545. In London we had escaped lightly, only a few chimneypots gone, but the winds had wreaked havoc in the north. People spoke of hailstones there as large as fists, with the shapes of faces on them. But tales become more dramatic as they spread, as any lawyer knows. Read more.
Ghost Light, by Joseph O'Connor, an Irishman. A tender love story that melds fact and fiction in the life of the Irish playwright J.M Synge and his lover Molly Allgood. How it starts:
IN the top floor room of a dilapidated townhouse across the Terrace, a light has been on all night. Read more.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell, who was born in England on Merseyside. His entry for the prize was a love story from 18th century Japan. How it starts:
THE House of Kawasemi the Concubine, above Nagasaki. The Ninth Night of the Fifth Month.
‘Miss Kawasemi?’ Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. ‘Can you hear me?’
In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.
Orito dabs the concubine’s sweat-drenched face with a damp cloth. Read more.
- · Taste the Oranges
THERE is only one first place, yet all six finalists are great reads in the annual Orange Fiction Prize for women authors. You can sample them below. Just click the title of your choice.
These books are different in theme and style, and therefore vary in appeal to individual preference.
The winner was Tea Obreht, youngest ever at 25. Her unusual brilliance claimed the £30,000 contest. Born in Yugoslavia, she migrated to the United States aged 16 and has obviously absorbed the trend to fantasy. She blends it with realism in The Tiger's Wife. This is a bittersweet evocation of the Balkan war told through a series of magic tales.
Praise came from the judges: "She has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms."
The other finalists
The five other contenders in the final round were as follow, in no significant order:
Grace Williams Says It Loud, by Emma Henderson is an honest and witty insight into mental illness. Don't let this put you off. It is beautifully written, funny, sad and unforgettable, a love story like no other. Click the title to read the opening chapter.
Room, by Emma Donaghue, is a novel narrated by a five-year-old boy who has spent his whole life incarcerated with his abducted mother. This tale could have been inspired by recent news items.
Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love is a delicately written saga of desire and betrayal in postwar Sierra Leone. Adrian Lockheart is a psychologist escaping his life in England. Arriving in Freetown in the wake of civil war, he struggles with the intensity of the heat, dirt and dust, and with the secrets this country hides.
Nicole Krauss's Great House is a novel of family tensions. It soars powerfully as memory struggles to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.
Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, is beautifully written. It is a story of bisexual isolation. Here are the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 17 June 2011.
- · Black claims British throne
HE is black, he's legitimate and he's claiming the British throne. It's murder! Ann Morven's new whodunit perturbs the Palace, baffles the police and delights readers with her regular mix of hefty thrills and hearty chuckles.
Officially launched this week, The Right Royal Bastard is fourth in a series featuring a female sleuth who is a dunce at deduction but well acquainted with human nature. Like the others, it is in digital format and readable on all the usual electronic gadgets.
Located in Australia's rugged and remote southern coast, the plot centres on the murder of a black singer who can prove his right of succession to the throne. The narrator is showbiz singer of bush-ballads Sheil B. Wright. As usual, she bumbles into personal danger along the mystery trail. The author's cheeky storyline is not beyond the possible, given the inclination of callow British royals to venture abroad. Be quick and you can download the ebook from Smashwords at a cut price of $3.99. Simply quote Coupon JZ95F at the checkout. (Short time only until 31 July, then the regular price of $6.99 applies).
Ann Morven's previous crime novels succeeded with equally dubious propositions. The Killing of Hamlet employed Shakespeare, linking him to modern murders and suggesting who really wrote England's greatest literature. (Not a bad guess either).
Murder Piping Hot featured pornographic verses by Scotland's national poet Rabbie Burns. "How dare she!" you exclaim. Well, the fact is that the revered luminary penned many a dirty ditty and they're on public record.
The Seventh Petal borrows the history of Bonnie Prince Charlie as people die one by one in a creepy Scottish castle. Red herrings abound, yet so do the clues to be identified by the more astute crime enthusiasts.
"I like to entertain readers," Ann Morven said. "The feedback I get shows it is what lots of people seek in a book. I don't claim to write classy literature, I just try to create a good story with a challenging riddle."
Ann Morven, a mature Scots-born writer, is published by Darling Newspaper Press, a small independent in Kalamunda, Western Australia. Her warbling crime-buster also appears in several short stories. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 June 2011.
- · Fiction's most vital element
GREAT characters make great fiction. To me, character is the most vital of all the many elements that go to create a story. It is more important than dialogue or plot or structure or pace.
Such was my conclusion the other day when contemplating prominent personalities from myth and the Bible. The ancients give us a fascinating array. From conceited Narcissus to persevering Job, from David the giantkiller to Merlin the Magician, there is a protagonist for every situation. And the same remains today.
In modern times, according to one Web survey, the favourites are Batman, Superman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. A different site opted for Hamlet, Ulysses, Don Quixote, Eve and Genji. It just goes to show that every genre and every reader niche holds distinct and often dissimilar opinions.
Characters are often created for their time, reflecting their society and the prevailing modes of thought. In this way they direct the plot as events play out to the pattern of their individual beliefs. It's the reason I like Maggie, an unusual heroine of the 1830s. Created by John Ivor in Run Maggie Run, she appears in other of his stories. She makes things happen, usually catastrophe.
Being self-taught from avid reading, Maggie thinks the wisdom of the world lies in books. And surely this is true. She makes her decisions accordingly, but naive faith is blind to Fate's likely interference. This lass lacks experience. Not surprising when you consider she begins as a nine-year-old and suffers a hectic odyssey to womanhood.
From being sentenced to death in Scotland (age 9), Maggie encounters villains and heroes on her fictional path through violent history. Of course, she cannot make history happen. Through author Ivor her actions simply direct stirring plots within history's compass.
- · Discovered
GREGG KEIZER was first published in 2004, but I found his debut, The Longest Night, by chance at my local library. It is Booktaste's book of the week, a tense story, a conflict of characters, an unusual yarn of World War 2. His follow-up is Midnight Plague, published 2005.
- · Hurrah for murder!
PUBLISHERS ahoy! The world loves murder. Consider this fact when selecting the title that will see you through the gloom of recent market woes. I write this in May 2011, a violent time of mini-wars and armed rebellions. In such a global atmosphere of turmoil, one might expect that ebook readers would opt for hard action thrillers. Not so.
The top four bestsellers in the Booktaste list are all murder mysteries. Another mystery (ghost) is in No. 5 place, before Violent Adventure kicks in at No. 6 (Run Maggie Run).
The top four sellers are, in order, Murder Piping Hot, The Killing of Hamlet, Blood on the Wind, That Lovely Feeling. These are all by whodunit diva Ann Morven and feature her bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright.
I believe that women readers outnumber men in buying ebooks, and it is logical to assume that women prefer a whodunit to brutal action. And, of course, a female protagonist. Booktaste’s market analysis showed that Sheil B. Wright has a wide band of followers. She's unusual among detectives. She is a dunce at deduction and this invariably gets her into trouble. Where she can outdo the professional crimebuster, as she does repeatedly, is through her painfully acquired knowledge of human folly and traumas of the heart. She is a folksinger, which also explains her weird name, adopted for showbiz identity.
Just released at Smashwords is Sheil B. Wright's new whodunit thriller, The Right Royal Bastard. This novel presents the audacious idea that legal right to the British throne could be held by a Black colonial.
Sheil muddles through the conflicting clues to earn herself a hair-raising encounter of the nastiest kind. This, naturally, is a gripping delight for author Ann Morven fans. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 May 2011.
- · Murder magnifico
THE murder mystery is old as the hills, and perpetually refreshed by new authors. Such as Bruce MacBain, whose Roman Games gives him instant status in the genre. Set in Ancient Rome, his whodunit is informative, thrilling and baffling and is unusually accomplished for a first novel. Maybe the author's background explains this flair. Bruce holds a BA in Classics (Chicago University) and a Ph.D in Ancient History (Pennsylvania University).He has taught Greek and Roman history at Vanderbilt and Boston University. He is grey-bearded, scholarly, and admits to being born in Chicago "long long ago".
Published by Poisoned Pen Press, Roman Games exploits the philosopher Pliny as the investigator. The idea of using a real person is not new. Robert Harris did it well with the orator Cicero, and many authors plant plots and thoughts into the rich turf of history. Bruce MacBain uses the ploy with extreme skill. Amid the intrigues and slaughters, his Pliny is assisted by another real character, the poet Martial, famed for bawdy verse.
Events, identities and dialogue compel page-turning. Topping everything, however, is a fascinating and original murder method. I still shudder on recall. The book's digital version is $6.95 at Amazon Kindle.
- · Some prod, others plod. Do first lines really matter?
FIRST lines are a book’s greeting to the reader and therefore a vital element in the whole. If it strikes the wrong note, a weak opening can nullify a great cover or an enticing jacket blurb. On the other hand, a good initial hook captures the reader from the start. Yet does it signal a bestseller? Consider some of these.
- · One of my favourite openings is from 1984 by George Orwell, and reads thus: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
- · Any book browser has to pursue such an outrageous statement.
- · Or how about Dodie Smith’s opening to I Capture The Castle: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
- · Why the heck is she in the kitchen sink? One can’t help but read on.
- · The same, yet more dramatic, applies to the intro of Run Maggie Run by John Ivor, which has been compared to a Dickens tale: “A finger of sunshine poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished the dock’s varnished panels and created a halo for the prisoner, she who was known as Maggie, age nine. The charge was murder.”
- · A later novel, No Kiss For A Killer, allows John Ivor to flow fast action from line one: “There was a time, a desperate time, when I cursed the gentle mists of my native Oxfordshire and regretted its picturesque vales and folds. Among the fruitful brown and green a deceptive dip will conceal the approach of riders.”
- · Dickens himself is not noted for his openings, which are usually wordy and mild. His first published fiction, The Pickwick Papers, starts like this: “The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”
- · All one can say to that verbosity is Ouch!
- · However, the opening of a later Dickens novel is often quoted: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
- · That is how he begins A Tale of Two Cities, which is a story of the French Revolution.
- · Another oldie, less intense than guillotine days but more intriguing in commencement, is still widely popular: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin . . .”
- · Guessed it? Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.
- · Charles Bryce uses the same technique to charm children in introducing Mousedeer: “Deep in the forest comes a breeze. Hush! Hear it whisper . . .”
- · For browsers, whether in a bookshop or online, first lines become mightily important in deciding whether to buy an unknown author. These lines need not necessarily be thrilling or puzzling. The only need is to get the reader’s interest.
- · Here’s one I particularly like. It introduced me to The Feng Shui Detective’s Casebook by Nury Vittachi: “The tiger loping through the supermarket had blue eyes.”
- · If that doesn’t grab you, nothing will. Now let’s glance at some current bestsellers.
- · Stieg Larsson, late author of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and other super sellers, doesn’t bother with a clever hook. He simply sweeps straight into the action, like a movie. His narrative comes close to ponderous, often boring, and yet it keeps moving.
- · While a good opening will influence a sale, it never guarantees a bestseller. There is no way to prejudge mass appeal. The phenomenal Stephenie Meyer began her Twilight series with an insipid girls’ school scene. No hint here of vampires and scary doings, nor worldwide fame for the author.
- · Dan Brown begins The Lost Symbol in gripping fashion, thus: “The secret is how to die.”
- · His thriller degenerates thereafter, yet still it has soared to bestseller status. It has the most valuable ingredient of all – a brandname author.
- · The 2009 Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel opens Wolf Hall with a spoken jibe: “So now get up. Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard.”
- · This is ongoing action, the middle of a fight, and encourages a read-on.
- · Bryce McBryce gives first lines his own delightful twist. The amusing and nostalgic Wee Charlie’s World starts thus: “Smaller than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles.”
- · The above book is presented as linked short stories while a boy grows from age four to nine pondering the weirdness of adults. All McBryce chapter opening are good, but one demanding instant attention kicks off The Spirit of Waterloo: “Alphonse haunted the garrison school because it was there. It was heavily there, on his grave.”
- Brilliant lead-ins will always have their place in literature but do they really matter to the eventual destiny of a book? This is a question I challenge readers to answer, because there is no analysis that can enlighten us for sure. Apart from brandname authors who sell millions on reputation alone, it remains a mystery how book readers will respond to a particular title. Happy reading! 2 Feb, 2011.
- THE following is a selection of opening lines from some of the books published by Darling Newspaper Press.
- Java's Dream
ONE of the greatest events has received no mention in humanity’s written records. Read more.
- Captain Striver
I CHANGED the world ―? not a boast but obvious when you look at an atlas. Humanity should be grateful, yet is not; I get short shrift in the histories. Read more.
- Eden's Deadly Shore
SEVENTEEN. When a girl's eyes sparkle and her heart throbs, and her face in the looking glass is almost lovely. Almost, that is, beneath the grime of her dye stains. Drat! Read more.
- Run Maggie Run
A FINGER of sunshine poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished the dock’s varnished panels and created a halo for the prisoner, she who was known as Maggie, age nine.The charge was murder. The judge: Mr Justice Gallows. Read more.
- No Kiss For A Killer
THERE was a time, a desperate time, when I cursed the gentle mists of my native Oxfordshire and regretted its picturesque vales and folds. Read more.
- Amateur Rebel
WE were young folk then, and chasing our dreams in a new land, me and Jeremy. Read more.
- Born Again Bandit
BRILLIANT, simply brilliant. The Colonel reflected on his cleverness. Brilliantly simple. Such sound planning won Britain’s battles, created the Empire itself. Read more.
- Brat Overboard
SMALLER than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles. Read more.
- Swamp Magic
SLURP, burp, heh heh, hic! The chuckles skitter over the Australian wetlands where Chief Munday, back in the Dreamtime, had often dined on tortoise. Read more.
- Jesse Owens And The Sprinting Buddha
JESSE OWENS, greatest athlete of the generation, laughed in polite disbelief when I pointed to a fat soldier. "That man has equalled your sprint record," I insisted, "believe it or not." Read more.
- Great White Hunting Flop
WHEN I was a young man in British Malaya I felt I had to take up hunting, the abominable tradition of Englishmen abroad. It seemed the right thing to do. Read more.
DEEP in the forest comes a breeze. Hush! Hear it whisper: The trees seem to be saying "All bow to the hero, greatest of them all." Read more.
- The Wizard Of Woe
A STRANGE thing was happening in the land beyond the mountains. Mousedeer went to see what it was. Read more.
- Prize Bride
“YOU'LL love Ellen,” said Uncle Charlie. “She's a wonderful girl.” I recall how his eyes of Royal Navy Blue sparked at me, and how his chin jiggled in merry arrogance, as if about to fight the Frogs or the blasted Yankees. Read more.
- The Coolie's Sweetheart
LONG ago when Britain ruled the world, Wee Charlie flew to school on a large oriental cushion. Read more.
- The Painted Ladies
THE dirty drawings were in his sketchpad. Read more.
- The Widow's Golden Weeds
MARJORIE, content in the autumn of her years, was watering her garden, and therefore did not notice the advancing threat. Read more.
- Wee Charlie's World
SMALLER than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles. He knew that the din of embarkation at Southampton Docks would take him to a faraway place where, according to Mum, the Empire’s warriors would defend a far-flung outpost. Read more.
- Spirit Of Waterloo
ALPHONSE haunted the garrison school because it was there. It was heavily there, on his grave. Read more.
- The Killing Of Hamlet
THE first murder was before an audience, in a picture-postcard English village, ten miles from the roar of the M1, on a temperate summer’s day, the kind that nudged Shakespeare to lyrical bliss. Read more.
- Murder Piping Hot
MY gut twisted when the knife-wielder declared he was digging a trench of gushing entrails. Read more.
- Birthday Snakes
ISKANDER the Magnificent, Sultan Supreme, interrupted my singing with a flick of his fat, jewelled wrist. Read more.
- That Lovely Feeling
IT is strange, yet true, that a people so personally modest have a folk song about orgasm. Read more.
- The Seventh Petal
SOLO female on a long hike, I found words pinned to a dead man’s chest and they mesmerised me. Read more.
- The Right Royal Bastard
"POORFELLA blackbugga me!" The blue-eyed Aborigine sang with sincerity and the tragic face of Royal Windsor. Read more.
- Kill Him Sweetly
DEATH spoiled the party, and I was the woman who saw it all. Read more.
- Blood On The Wind
THE willy-willy nearly took my ute wagon as I drove over the red plains to Cattlecreek. Then it was raining bullybeef tins. Read more.
- Look In The Well
LOCALS called it the witch house, and for half a century it was a hospice where old folk came to spend their final days. But to Joan and Simon, a couple with a young family, it had character, comfort and surprisingly low cost. Read more.
- Luckless Liz And The Lotto Dream
“UNLUCKY, that’s me. Always have been.” Liz threw down her Lotto card in disgust, another losing week for her in the nation’s sweepstake.Read more.
- Real diamonds gleam in bookworld dross
- IN these fast-buck days for global publishers, many of their “greatest ever” new titles are not worth reading.
- It’s disappointing, but blame the marketers who control the trade. Without them a truly great author can languish. This has happened to more than one past-generation genius, available now at $1.
- My newest find among these neglected gems is Jessamyn West. She ranks alongside the best short story writers in the English language.
- Her humour reflects dilemmas of a gentle kind. She is funnier than Mark Twain and more original in her plots. Married life is her strongest theme, while situations, characters and dialogue are her greatest skills.
- Jessamyn West (1902-1984) found fame in 1945 with “The Gentle Persuasion”, a collection of short stories about a Quaker family. It became a movie starring Gary Cooper. It’s just one of her marvellous creations.
- These days her books can be bought for $1 (www.abebooks.com), and I have just ordered a stack of them.
- Since she’s not of my time, I was ignorant of this literary homebody until she popped up during an internet browse. It’s ironic that our high-tech tool of the Space Age was the means to discover a woman chronicling life in the Old West and, additionally, in the family suburbs many of us grew up in.
- What a shame it would be for readers of the present generation to miss her folksy yarns, so this is my pitch for Jessie. She has a magic that soothes and tickles and regards the world with sympathetic grace.
- You’ll find 30 PC pages listing her works at abebooks, my favourite browse after www.booktaste.com
- What a shame that publishers have let this virtuoso lapse into the $1 shelves. But what a delight to come across her there–an everlasting source of mirth and philosophical musings.
- Flashman and the D-Day landings
- FLASHMAN in the D-Day landings, at his cowardly best? Such is promised by the publishers of Coward On The Beach, by James Delingpole (Bloomsbury, isbn 9780747590705). But they’re wrong.
- The novel is original and exuberant, and that is the only resemblance to the popular rogue created by the late George Macdonald Fraser. The marketing blurb, unintentionally, coincided with GM Fraser’s death. It claimed:
- “James Delingpole has come up with the brilliant idea of updating the Flashman story to the Second World War.”
- In fact, the closest resemblance to GM Fraser is in Fraser’s non-fiction memoir of fighting the Japanese, “Quartered Safe Out Here”. Seeking other comparisons, the campaign scenes have vivid touches of Waugh, and the domestic ones recall Wodehouse, yet author Delingpole is his own man. He gives amusing and credible dialogue, page-turning action, farcical situations, and easy narrative rhythm.
- Much of the entertainment embraces the young aristocrat, Coward, serving as a lowly Private, while his former manservant has become his brutish Sergeant. Factual elements include revealing and thrilling research into 47 Royal Marine Commando.
- The Normandy landings have featured in countless books. Delingpole’s is different. He confidently blends fact and fiction (and no footnotes needed). This first of a series is a welcome delight, and Delingpole a fresh champion in the book world.