Saturday, 28 February 2015

How to Be a Good Editor

Christmas is well and truly over, so I am now embarking upon the major process of editing the first draft of Death & Dominion, book three in the Diamonds & Dust series, before sending it to my publisher for a read through.

Editing is, in its essence, the art of making things sound better. I have had various editors in my time and they all work in different ways. My OUP editor maintained a firm hands-off stance, more or less allowing the book to emerge from manuscript to finished product unscathed with just a few marginal queries en route. On the other hand, I have had editors who carefully scrutinise every paragraph, and red-pencil everything they want changing.

It is a fine balance for the writer to maintain. On the one hand an editor does (or should) know what makes good, readable prose and so it is in one's interest to take on board suggestions offered. However it is a moot point how far an editor allows their own 'reading' of the manuscript, and involvement in the creative process to predominate over the original voice of the author. I have been told, on one memorable occasion, that a character ''wouldn't have said that''. As if I knew nothing about them. Sometimes, you have to fight for your integrity. It is never an easy balance.

On this occasion though, I shall be doing my own edits, which means I shall be fighting for my integrity against myself, which will be interesting, and the internal Civil War will probably throw up all sorts of queries. Which I shall have to refer to myself to solve. Hopefully any conflict and animosity will abate enough so that the two of us can get on with it.

By the time the book reaches my ''real'' editor, it will be almost Summer. I am not good in hot weather, but the heat in the Victorian era must have been almost insupportable for women. Forced to go about in tight whalebone corsets, stockings, and numerous undergarments, forbidden to show their arms and legs for fear of exciting male sensibilities, one can barely imagine the torture they must have undergone.

And then there was the smell to contend with. In the days before Bazalgette revolutionised the sewerage system, everything made its malodorous journey through London to the River Thames, into which raw sewage and the by-products from factories, and slaughterhouses were poured, so that in the heat of summer, the stink was unbearable.

There is a story that Queen Victoria, visiting the Houses of Parliament one day, noticed small pieces of screwed-up toilet paper floating on the Thames. Upon inquiring of an official what they were, she was told that they contained messages of goodwill from her subjects.
Now that's what I call good editing.

Friday, 20 February 2015

50 Shades of Libertarian

OK,this is a tenuous link, but it is colourful. And chocolate.
Every now and then Twitter stops being a space for endless robotic book promos, pictures of cute animals and ''life enhancing messages'' (I always like to add ''and cake'' at the end of them). Such a state was achieved last Wednesday, when I posed the question: 'what exactly IS a Libertarian?

I've noticed the word appearing in Twitter biographies with increasing frequency, and being used copiously as a hashtag, but the variety of ways in which it is used and the spectrum of people using it is confusing. Also, I do like to poke the complacently smug with a stick every now and then, and I thought it might generate a good debate.

There is an old Jewish saying that goes: 'Wherever there are two rabbis gathered, there are three opinions'. It was very applicable to what followed. Libertarianism, said one, is the right of people to live where they want, in whatever country. Libertarianism, said another, means government looking after our borders and stopping people from living wherever they want. Libertarians, I was told, believe in smaller state control. Libertarians, I learned, are pro-military and believe we should spend far more on defence.

You get the picture?

As Humpty-Dumpty said in Alice Through The Looking Glass: 'Words mean whatever I want them to mean.' One wise Twitter egg threw into the mix that Libertarian was a portmanteau word, constructed from Liberty and Contrarian, which made sense in that it explained why everybody was automatically taking the opposite point of view from the person to whom they were talking.

By the end of my Twitter time, I'd met anarcho-communist Libertarians and hard-right capitalist Libertarians. I'd met Tory Libertarians who were hiding their true colours behind a useful tag, and a socialist Libertarian who wanted to declare Yorkshire an independent state.

The debate also attracted one of the ubiquitous 'JesuisCharlie' brigade, who planted his soapbox down firmly and proceeded to expound on 'Libertarians who were closet Racists'. We tacitly let him get on with it, passing him biscuits at intervals.**

So am I any the wiser? Nope. However I am very amused by the way some people stick a little understood concept that is open to very divergent interpretations into their Twitter biography or at the end of a tweet to make themselves sound clever and zeitgeisty.

John Stuart Mill ....... anybody?

** Similarly the very nice person who thought we were discussing Librarians - it takes all sorts to make Twitter.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Looking for Mr Right

So I'm idling through the Guardian's 'Soulmates' column, as you do because it has good adjectives, and I am struck by the number of ladies and gentlemen who are looking for love - or possibly romance, friendship, affection, a good time, adventure, passion or felicity (yup, copied that last from someone's ad.)

Which makes me think that nothing really changes, does it? When I was researching for Honour & Obey, the sequel to Diamonds & Dust, which is all about the Victorian search for the perfect man, I read a brilliant book called Shapely Ankle Preferr'd  by Francesca Beauman. It is the history of the Lonely Hearts Ad from 1695-2010. Yes, that is not a typo.

Admittedly I know I am lucky in that Beloved Husband and I have been married for 39 years come this September, and although those of you who know us well would say that in our case it is definitely Mr Chalk wed Ms Cheese, we go along amicably and are looking forward to growing even older together. We still make each other laugh. A lot. In his case, every time I open my mouth and say something about football.

Others do not have such good fortune. 'Good fortune' being the critical attribute. To snare Mr Right, or Mr Right Amount in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not so much GSOH as ''Comeliness, Prudence, and 5 or 600l. in Money, Land or Joynture'' that would guarantee you an admirer quicker than you could say knife. Or wife.

By the 1800's, there were fifty-three newspapers all containing lonely heart ads of one sort or another. I was fairly gobsmacked at the audacity of one advertiser who wrote: ''A young man wants a wife with two or three hundred pounds; or the money will do without the wife - whoever will advance it shall have 5%'' (Daily Advertiser) Not for nothing did Jane Austen pen those famous words at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice that: 'a young man in possession of a good fortune ... must be in want of a wife.'

In a way, I guess we are more fortunate (sic) in that money does not feature quite so prominently in today's search for love, though I'm sure it lurks behind the scene, gurning happily. Even so, it is sad that in our digital, well connected age, when we are all supposed to be only 6 steps away from each other (or possibly 6 feet away from the nearest rat, can't remember, but maybe not inapposite, given the topic) that there are still so many lonely folk around.

And oh my, so many over 60's! Maybe I'll hang on to Beloved Husband for a bit longer. I can't see anyone going for: Totally batty writer (64) likes cake, cats, 2CVs and prosecco. Knows absolutely zip about football ...  can you?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

HELP! There's a WRITER in my school!

Just been invited to talk at a Year Seven Parents' evening at a local secondary school. Doing school visits is one of the most enjoyable parts of the 'job', and I shall be sad if I no longer get to do it now I've shifted to writing Adult crime fiction.

I started doing school visits when The SPY GIRL books first came out in 2001. Initially I was totally freaked. Facing 60+ Year 7's and having to interact with them for an hour seemed even more scary than facing a spider in the bath! Now, I love it. Though I still get stage fright as I see them all file into the room.

 Kids are great. They ask the best questions. The three I always get asked every visit are:
                                                                               1.  are you famous?
                                                                               2. how much do you earn?
                                                                               3. where do you get your ideas from?

But then there are the 'left field' questions that leave you yammering like an idiot. Such as : if you weren't a writer, what would you be? (Probably dead.....) Actually, kids are MUCH better at doing this than adults, cos they're less inhibited and not so polite. And afterwards you get to hang out and eat lunch with them too! It's a win-win situation.

Gentle blog reader, have you ever been asked a question you couldn't answer? And how did you deal with it?

Friday, 6 February 2015

The PINK SOFA meets Seumas Gallacher

Every now and then The PINK SOFA is lucky enough to encounter A Real Character. Such is its current guest, writer Seumas Gallacher. He has graced THE SOFA before - leaving a half-drunk bottle of malt and a rather restless haggis behind. Seumas lives and works abroad - a place The Sofa fully intends to visit once the ban on it leaving the UK has been lifted. This is Seumas' account of being an 'ex-pat' author.

Seumas of Arabia… on being an Author in the Middle East.

I’ve been asked several times over the past few years what it’s like being a writer based in the Middle East. I never gave it much thought before that question was posed, but I suppose there are some salient things that differentiate a scribbler’s life out here, compared to elsewhere in the world.

At the outset, much of the routine of producing masterpieces for the universal readership consumption is much the same wherever the writer’s den is located.
The need for researching detail; attention to grammatical correctness; knowing your readership market; all of these are constants, plus many others I’m sure you can all think of.

However, closer focus will reveal some variations from the European, Australian or American writer’s lot. I speak only from personal experience on this, and I’d be happy to learn how others situated in different parts of the planet find it.

First off, with my writing, I produce crime thrillers, populated by all manner of international bad guys. By choice, I have elected not to jump on the bandwagon that many others have done, by tagging their villains as ‘Islamic Jihadists’ of all kinds of hue. Living in the Middle East, I count innumerable friends in the Muslim society that I’ve been privileged to live amongst for the past ten years. I choose not to ‘bite the hand that feeds’ even in my scribbling. It has been too easy a soapbox for too many writers, I feel. That said, I suppose I now have to be careful on my travels to Albania, Turkey, Serbia and Lithuania!

I also published hard copies of two of my novels locally and that has required having my galley proofs vetted by the National Media Council in Abu Dhabi. In one of the books, I was asked to ‘tone down’ a couple of paragraphs with an adult bedroom scene. I simply removed the ‘offending’ passage. The result made me realize that I don’t need these passages at all in what are essentially crime and action thrillers.

Another difference entails getting the books onto the shelves here. I visited each head office of the major book distributers and did hand-to-hand combat on pricing, discounts, deliveries and so on. All of it managed personally. I don’t think that would work in the UK.

Following that theme, because the newspapers and magazines are principally local in focus, my name and work is easily broadcast if I so choose. That also leads on readily to invitations to Guest Speak at clubs and associations, with the attendant book signing and sales opportunities.

With the Internet, access to information is at my fingertips. The availability of the social networks is probably the biggest factor in overcoming the geographic distance from potential readers and physical attendance at other author groups. I made a conscious decision when I began this late-in-life immersion in authorship to embrace as far as possible the baffling diaspora that is the Web. I’m glad I did. Without that continual application to building my own platform and connections, I think very little, if any, of the success that I’ve enjoyed to date would have happened.

Despite the credibility that self-publishing has acquired, as a businessman, I am not wont to turn away the opportunity to partner with a good publishing house. After six years of striving to find the right ‘home’ for that, along has come Crooked Cat Publishing, who have contracted to take my Jack Calder series aboard, starting in January 2015.

Had I not been based in the Middle East, I think my chances of garnering an Agent or Publisher may have come along quicker, merely because I know that I would have made the effort to visit addresses and people in the publishing industry in the UK.

Recently I have spent some of my other business time in Bahrain, (I have my own corporate ‘trouble-shooting’ firm) and now shuttle between there and Abu Dhabi. Discussions with the local distributors may see my books in the retail outlets in Bahrain soon. It was an indescribable pleasure to see THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY and VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK on the bestseller shelves at the W.H. Smith shop at Abu Dhabi International Airport, listed at #6 and #11 respectively. When it gets to that level at Heathrow, I’ll let you know!

So, yes, there are differences in being located in the Middle East compared to elsewhere, but somehow, perhaps mistakenly, I feel a tad more in control of my end of the ‘business of writing’. Oh, and the weather’s not too bad either.

Contact Seumas:

Twitter             : @seumasgallacher
Facebook         :
Email               :


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Seumas Gallacher reviews Honour & Obey

...Here’s a review I’ve just done of HONOUR AND OBEY by Carol Hedges: This review is from: Honour & Obey (Kindle Edition) favourite writer of all time is Charles Dickens, so I approached this novel with a slight reticence as to what to expect from Ms Hedges’ Victorian setting and characters... but what a superb offering... the narrative spins deliciously around main players with names to die for... Moggs, Mullygrub, Cully, Reverend Bittersplit, Lobelia and Hyacinth Clout, Mr Juniper... so, Mr Dickens, eat your heart out, m’Lady here has served up a treat that sits well alongside your narratives... the daytime and night-time streets of London play as much a role in the story as do the live protagonists... murders in the eventide darkness there are,... dedicated detectives there are, much avoided by the common populace... and an evil doer there is, cast in the best morbidity and personal demons... there’s love and romance... there’s intrigue... and an over-arching humour teasing its way through the novel... I was sorry to finish the book, but will be grabbing more of this author’s work...

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Inspiration or Perspiration?

So here we are, almost the end of January, and I have probably spent my heating allowance at least 20 time over. The price of oil is supposed to be lower than at any time over the past few years, yet I am spending every penny I earn on keeping warm enough to earn the money to spend on keeping warm. Paradoxical world.

As writers, we are often asked (well, I am) how the creative process of writing a book happens. What I think people desperately want to hear is the apocryphal Enid Blyton response on the lines of: I just wander into my little writing place, and suddenly, all sorts of lovely characters and plots tiptoe through the mental bluebells straight into my mind fully formed, and all I have to do is write them down and hey presto! a book appears. In other words, writing is easy and you, interested interlocutor, could easily do it too.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. At least not for this little duck. In another of these paradoxes, I find that creativity only occurs when disciplinary structures are applied. Rigorously. In other words, I have to make myself sit at the keyboard, regularly, and write. I can fantasize about the book all I want, imagine the amazing prose that I will write when I get round to it, but until my rear end and the chair are brought into contact, and remain in contact for long periods of time, nothing creative happens.

Sure, there are moments, and flashes of inspiration, when one stares at the screen, and wonders whether the Writing Fairy has just made a house call, but on the whole, these episodes only tend to emerge out of a period of just slogging away at the writing process. And I should know, having just topped 70 thousand words of the next Victorian novel, purely by dint of making myself sit down at the eMac every day and write it.

An article in the Guardian some time ago lifted the lid on how to be a successful author. No secret, sadly. A lot of labour and a bit of luck. Heavy on the former. As Wm Blake remarked: Without contraries is no progression. Ain't that the truth!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Je Suis Katie - Speaking Up For Free Speech

Mark Sparrow is a writer, journalist, photographer and broadcaster. Presenter of Channel 4's Dispatches: 'The Truth About Hospital Food'. He's someone I know from Twitter - one of the friends who ISN'T a fiction writer! Mark uses Twitter to debate and discuss issues. Here's his ''take'' on the Katie Hopkins debacle, and on the way free speech, in his view, is being eroded.

''For some people, freedom of speech is the luxury of supporting causes or people you agree with. In fact, free speech is something we often take for granted but recently I learnt that supporting free speech also means supporting the right of someone you may despise and be totally opposed to speak their mind.

That’s the situation I found myself in a couple of weeks ago when the universally hated Katie Hopkins – she of The Apprentice and now Celebrity Big Brother fame – opened her cavernous mouth and stuffed both her feet in it by referring to a Scottish Ebola victim as a ‘sweaty Jock’. Personally I can’t imagine what sort of mind thinks that spouting such bile is either constructive or dignified. Nonetheless, lacking in common decency or being an idiot isn’t illegal… yet! I was rash enough to tweet this when the offendotrons on Twitter begun calling for her prosecution for racism or just poor taste.

 Unfortunately I have a habit of defending the underdog or simply being contrarian and this came back to bite me on the bum when BBC Radio 5 Live phoned to ask if I’d be willing to defend Katie’s right to free speech live on air. I’m assuming every other commentator in the country had turned them down. This was in the week before the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and free speech was getting a good kicking from all quarters.

So early one Saturday morning I went head-to-head with former Labour minister Brian Wilson who was most robust in his insistence that Katie Hopkins should face prosecution for being racist (the law actually covers nationalities so you can be charged with racism for insulting a Welsh person or a Spaniard) and I had the unenviable task of defending Katie’s tasteless jibe about a ‘sweaty Jock’ who, at that time, was at death’s door in the Royal Free Hospital, in London. It wasn’t an easy task and I didn’t enjoy doing it but my belief in free speech drove me on and I think the interview went well. Afterwards I received some complimentary emails supporting me for doing the media equivalent of cleaning out a cesspit.

That task of defending the right of someone I fundamentally disagreed with to speak freely taught me a valuable lesson. It actually strengthened my resolve to stand up for free speech no matter what. Tragically at the end of that week two crazed gunmen burst into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and massacred 12 journalists and cartoonists in cold blood.

The reason for the attack was the magazine’s insistence on printing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. In certain sects of the Muslim faith this is a big no no. The world responded with horror and the western world finally realised what was at stake. Suddenly everyone got it, if only for a short while, that our very right to mock, ridicule and criticise religion, politics or traditions was at risk. We finally understood what marked us out as different from the gun-wielding fanatics.

My feelings following the shooting were mixed. I was really sad about the killings but I also felt that we had finally got the message that personal freedom and free speech, however, offensive, had to be available to all. That’s not to say that we should needlessly go around offending people for the hell of it, but that if necessary we should have the right to point out irrational or repressive ideas that endangered freedoms that so many people had died to uphold.

Would I do it again? Well, since Katie hasn't even so much as nodded or winked at me for fighting her corner, I do wonder if I would but then I think about the terrible events of Paris a couple of weeks ago and I realise that I would: without question. Je suis Katie.''

Contact Mark:

Twitter: @MarkGSparrow


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Lost in Translations

So, it's farewell to the latest TV Wallander episodes, which confusingly featured a much younger version of the Diabetic 1, and hello to Spiral, fast moving and set in the grimier quartiers of Paris. The Nord-crime fest has been with us for so long that I now seriously believe I can actually speak Scandik ('tak ...alibi..') and I've almost stopped getting snagged up by the sub-titles, except where they are just plain daft.

There was a bit in the last series of The Bridge where Martin, the gloomy can't-keep-it-in-his-cargoes 'tec met up with his son.
Martin: Hi.
Son: Hi.
Subtitles: Hi....Hi.  Someone in the sub-title department was clearly having a laugh.

I don't know how you react, but I also find heartening to realise that there are countries where people exist in a sort of 24 hour low-level gloomy twilight, speak languages in which the consonants vastly outnumber the vowels, and spend all their lives killing each other or plotting political coups behind the scenes. Maybe that is why Annie, the heroine of my ebook Jigsaw Pieces, originates from one of the Scandi countries. I'm a closet gloomster with hidden psychotic tendencies.

I hold my hands up at this point and confess that of all the countries featured in the Nordic Noir dramas, I have a particular fondness for the Danes, because they have translated one of my books into Danish.  Rodt Flojl (the o's have little lines through them, can't work out how to do it, sorry) which is the Danish version of Red Velvet, one of my children's books, has been available in Danish bookshops since 2001.

Interestingly, Rodt Flojl, the translated version, is at least a third longer than its English counterpart Red Velvet. Don't know why. Complete mystery. Maybe I have more to say in Danish. Sadly, I also don't know what it is, but every now and then I receive a royalty cheque.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Blackberries in December

It has been indicated by several wiser, tho' not necessarily older friends that if I intend to maintain my successful presence on social media, I need to get myself up to date, gadget wise. Apart from the laptop, I also need the sort of mobile that does 'sent from my phone' stuff. As most of you know, I have a cheap Nokia rubbish phone, recently updated from the previous cheap Nokia rubbish phone when its back kept falling off and had to be held on by elastic bands.

So, ever eager to please, not to say gullible, I went recently to the XX shop (not sure whether I can advertise, so pretend you don't understand that last bit), and asked the 14 year old behind the counter whether I could Tweet and access my emails on my current mobile. Showed him mobile, and when he had stopped laughing, he pointed me to the sort of sleek, scary looking devices I should be using and proceeded to explain how they worked.

 I stared at them for a while, making 'Uh-huh... mmm' noises indicating (erroneously) that I understood every word of his explanation. Do they not do subtitles for the bewildered in these places? He then told me how much one of these scary devices would set me back. At which point I left on the basis that I'd have to Tweet 24/7 to sell enough books to fund the purchase of it.

Interestingly, this also coincided with the internal school exam season - I work as an invigilator at a local secondary school. It's better paid than stacking shelves at Asda, and you get a nice green lanyard with your name on it and a card to activate the car park barrier, though sadly, my boss has not yet bought into the concept of a high-viz jacket with Invigilator on the back in raised studs. One of those, and I could do door work in the evenings. (''If I say you're not coming in, sir. Then you're not coming in. Do not mess with me. I'm an Invigilator.'')

Anyway, halfway through a recent exam, someone's mobile went off. Crime of huge magnitude. I took the box of collected mobiles outside, located the offender (a Blackberry, it was locked) and took it apart to make it stop. I was watched doing this by one of the ground staff. 'Look here,' I remarked, waving the offending item. 'A Year 11 with a Blackberry.'  He replied: 'You want to check out Lost Property; they've got a whole drawfull of them. Got some of those new iPhone 6 ones too  Kids just lose them, and their parents buy them another one.'

I am trying not to go down the logical pathway on this, because I am, at core, an honest person, but oh my, it is very tempting .....