Saturday 28 February 2015

How to Be a Good Editor

Christmas is heading for the distant boundary, so I am now embarking upon the major process of editing the first draft of Smoke & Mirrors, book five in the Victorian Detectives series, before sending it to my first reader/editor 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 final 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...