Sunday, July 25, 2010

Embrace Books

For those who don't know, I recently accepted an invitation to edit Embrace Books, a new digital romance line coming out of Salt Publishing in the UK.

While I wait for the website to be ready, I've launched an Embrace Books blog so that prospective writers can find the necessary guidelines and details of how to submit work.

I'll be keeping that side of my career separate from my writing, so don't expect many posts here about my work as an editor.

Indeed, I write this surrounded by research materials, reference books, my thesaurus, and a rough handwritten draft of my latest chapter. Yes, the great Tudor novel continues to grow apace.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Warwick Writers Open Mic Night

I'll be hosting an open mic tonight on behalf of the Warwick Writers group, and encouraging local writers to get up and share their work at the microphone.

I'll be reading a short set myself, to kick things off, and probably one or two at the end of the evening too.

The open mic takes place at the old Kozi Bar just off the Market Square in central Warwick, across the road from the museum. I have a sneaking suspicion it may begin around 7.30pm, but I shall be there rather earlier, of course, to set up and get comfortable.

In case anyone here is going, I shall be taking copies of my brand spanking new paperback edition of Camper Van Blues to sell. So bring extra cash!

I'll also be reminding any poets in the audience to enter the Warwick Laureateship competition, for a shot at the title. The position is unpaid, but as a former Laureate, I can assure people that there are always a few well-paid poetry commissions and workshops available to you during the year-long stint - if you want them. I published an entire book of poetry off the back of my Laureateship - 'On Warwick', available from Nine Arches Press -  so it's well worth entering if you like public poetry.

Plus, of course, the wonderful fun of being Warwick Laureate, which is part of the package. See the Warwick Words festival site for more details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SALT: Just One More Book

These are lean times for publishers, and my own publishers, Salt, have put out an appeal for people to buy some of their books - just one, in fact, could make a difference. Sales have been greatly reduced in recent months, probably as a knock-on effect from the continuing recession, and they very much need people to buy some of their excellent wares.

You can read their Just One More book appeal here at the Salt blog, with a link to Amazon and the Book Depository, where I believe Salt prefer you to buy their books.

Other writers and bloggers are supporting the Just one Book campaign across the internet. Here's one example from Tom Vowler.

This appeal comes just as Salt announce a brand-new imprint called Embrace Books, to be edited by me. Embrace Books will publish romance ebooks in various categories; we plan to launch the first titles in Spring 2011.

Anyone who was thinking of submitting a category romance manuscript to Embrace Books (first 3 chapters and synopsis to jane AT, but is now uncertain, should understand two things.

  1. Salt has weathered this kind of storm before, using precisely this kind of appeal to its readers.
  2. Embrace Books is a new imprint, a digital fiction imprint, and will be run almost entirely separately from its parent company, Salt Publishing.

The poet Andrew Philip, on his blog Tonguefire, makes the valid point that independent publishers like Salt are vital, and that buying a book from them now, to help them keep afloat in this recession, is 'about you – the reader — and making sure that you continue to have the opportunity to expand your imaginative horizons in fresh and unexpected directions, directions increasingly denied you by the chain bookstores.'

I recommend Wena Poon's brand-new 'Alex y Robert', a brave and stunning novel about a woman who wants to be a matador, against all the odds. It's also a very beautiful looking book.

Support exciting, independently published fiction and buy Wena's novel ahead of the crowd here at Salt (not available from Amazon until its official launch in 2011).

Monday, July 05, 2010

RNA Conference, Greenwich

Like a typical fiction martyr, I've been writing solidly for months now, on one project or another, and saying 'No thanks' to invitations to escape the house.

This coming weekend, however, I'm off to Greenwich, London, to attend the annual RNA Conference. It's a three day extravaganza where romantic novelists congregate and exchange advice and industry news, and spend rather a lot of time propping up the bar in ludicrously high heels.

This will be my first time as a residential attendee, though I've dropped in before for day-only events. I'm massively looking forward to it, and have even bought some new clothes in honour of the occasion!

My mother was one of the best-known romantic novelists of her time, and I do love romances myself, though the historical I'm working on right now is straight fiction. So there's a strong family connection. But it's also a great excuse to escape from the house for a few days, as I've become something of a virtual hermit in recent months, only talking on the internet.

Anyone else going to the conference, do please come up and say hi if you see me wandering about - looking or actually being lost. I know plenty of novelists online, of course, but have only met a small number in the flesh. That's all going to change this weekend!

Ridi, Pagliaccio, ridi!

I was born with a strong inner critic, so I'm never surprised or offended when someone says 'Actually, this doesn't work' about my writing. I'm usually there before them, already wondering how to fix it or improve it, and I'm often grateful to have those doubts spotted by someone else in the trade, as it demonstrates that I'm not imagining things.

If they tell me such things with a laughing sneer, or an obvious agenda, or if they have almost no experience in that line, then I probably have a right to be suspicious. But if they are experienced and have no reason to speak up except in the interests of helping people understand the work better - and that includes the person who wrote it - then why should I not take what they say at face value and examine it with an equal mind?

Sadly, that response to criticism is beyond some writers. They would rather believe the person pointing out the fault is wrong - either incompetent or deliberately nasty - than believe they might need to correct an imbalance in their work.

It's like throwing a line to someone who's in trouble in the water, and having them flail about angrily and question your motives in stopping to help, rather than grabbing on.

I am convinced that this aching sense of self-importance and rightness is connected to an inability to laugh at themselves.

Self-mockery is a necessary correlative to success as a writer - or a lack of it. Without humour, you rapidly lose perspective on yourself and become either an egotistical monster, convinced of your divine right to crow from the top of the dung-heap, or a twisted creature in the dark, bitterly blaming others for your lack of success.

Naturally, the opposite is simultaneously true.  A strong writer must have an absolute sense of mission and purpose, and be able to shrug off criticism at will. But without perspective and humour to temper that side of the creative process, all that is created is more ego.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Mothers, wives, poets.

Horrified today to see, via Arc poet Jackie Wills' blog, that an 'unknown' - as Jackie puts it - American poet called Eleanor Ross Taylor has been recognised for her talent with the Ruth Lily Award.

What horrified me was not the poet herself, or her poetry, or indeed the award, but the apparent equanimity with which some people seem to accept without question the US critic Kevin Prufer's description of her work (taken from a recent blog entry on the NBCC Award shortlisted finalists):

Her speakers are most often mothers and wives thinking about their grown children, the complexities of marriage, and (increasingly in the later poems) their responsibilities to the dead and their own impending demise. Sometimes these voices emerge from an ostensible past, as in “My Grandmother’s Virginhood, 1879” or “Motherhood, 1880.” More often, they take place in an undefined domestic present.  Occasionally, they rise from more surprising places, as in “Kitchen Fable,” where the flatware itself takes on the consciousness of a frustrated wife.

Wow, and there I was thinking we'd got past the ludicrously sexist 'Look, a woman who writes about domestic issues! Quick, let's give her an award and encourage other women to steer clear of politics and the 'big' issues, and write about their children and husbands instead.'

Granted, for some women, writing about being a wife and mother is all they want to do as poets. And for some women, writing a poem about being a woman is a political act in itself.

But let's at least stop and examine why Eleanor Ross Taylor has been so suddenly plucked out of obscurity to be given this award, if it isn't to suggest - perhaps at a subliminal level - to female writers that good girls who keep their heads down and only write quiet, domestic poetry will be recognised for their modesty and humility in the end.

Even if it's only with a pat-on-the-head style encomium from some highly placed male critic.