Wednesday, 1 October 2014

On to Watch Wednesday - Thump

This week’s One to Watch is Science Fiction novel Thump by Andrew McEwan.

The first chapter immediately brings to mind the extreme isolation depicted in films such as Gravity and Moon. The act of eating a Banana, for example – an object and act in such stark contrast to the surroundings – is described in such microscopic detail, the reader is immersed in the moment.

This is an ambitious project, and the author is off to a good start. I want to find out more about this version of the universe and the characters who inhabit it. The writing style is unmistakably sci-fi, not overly cluttered, at times this works brilliantly, but can also leave the reader confused. I admit I felt a bit like I was adrift in space myself; this universe needs more of an introduction to the reader before they can really engage with it. We're often telling authors not to give so much away, to give their readers more credit, but it's hard not to feel like the reader just needs a little more help.

McEwan introduces some intriguing ideas from the outset. Spaceships containing entire frozen oceans, and the idea of gestalt beings (which I’m not entirely sure I understand). I hope more will be revealed later, but it would be helpful to give the reader an idea of what these being are and the implications of their existence on mankind.

There’s a lot of potential here, so why not give it a read and share your thoughts with the author. Here’s the pitch:

"You are a component; purpose unknown."

Being the space and time of Skidmore Shuffledeck, galactic mechanic.

Tutored on the machine world of Perridi, Skidmore takes his first steps into a space divided. The human diaspora is in full swing, just not in the twelve worlds, where Horatio Holroyd bends the void and Yours Truly chases his tail. Or on the cusp of the apocalypse, where Terminals seek the star at the centre of the universe - that they might destroy it.


Skidmore has to learn fast. Firstly, interspatial displacement, aka "the trumpet". Secondly, himself, and who he can trust. For the difference between man and machine is the difference between passive stoicism and frenzied blood.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Scott's Blog: The Shopping List

It feels like we’ve broken through some sort of threshold recently. Perhaps it was getting rid of all that spam (Rachel doesn’t like me saying that in case it comes back), maybe it has something to do with people getting used to the new site and finding the way to use it that suits them best. It is probably a lot of things. The point is, after a period of upheaval things appear to be settling down a bit.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t suddenly think the site is perfect or that we can sit back now and leave things as they are. We really don’t. But I thought it was worth writing a few paragraphs to take stock and let you know what lies ahead in the near future.

We are still in the handover period during which the developers are tweaking and fiddling with the site to make sure it does the stuff we asked them to make it do. Until that is over we cannot instigate any major additions or changes, with the exception of our spam solution which was really urgent, but once that period is over we can start to roll out some new stuff.

Here’s a sneak peek at our shopping list:

Reply Button. I don’t want to abuse my power, such as it is, but the lack of a reply button for messages on my profile is doing my nut in. Fortunately lots of you feel the same way so this is one of the first things we will look to do.

Editing Messages and Comments. We want you to be able to edit and change any messages or comments you post on the site. You know, in case you’ve made a typo or decide you no longer want to call the other person a complete and utter @&#$*%!

Deleting Messages. At the moment you can only hide messages you have received so that other members cannot see them but that doesn’t completely delete them or stop you from seeing them. Much as I love scrolling back through the various complaints and abuse I have received it might be nice to delete them completely.

Deleting Books. Though it is possible to delete books from the site by overwriting them with a new book or a blank document, and making them private, it’s clear that a simpler version would be helpful.

This is by no means a definitive list, there are lots more things we want to change and add, but it does cover the immediate highlights. We will let you know when some of these are due to be implemented.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

How I came to write this novel: My author journey by Katy Regan

The Story of You is by far the hardest and darkest (in places) book I’ve ever written, and yet I hope it leaves the reader on a high - even if you feel like you’ve been through the mill! I was very interested in the concept of ‘love conquering all’. Damaged people can find relationships hard, but I wanted to explore, how even if someone has had a lot of pain in their life, they can overcome this and still find true love.

One way or another, mental illness isn’t far from most of us and I’ve always been interested in how it affects peoples’ lives. I spoke to a lot of mental health professionals for research for this book and one of the things that kept coming up, was that mental illness is often the result of unprocessed pain. I then asked myself the question: If one woman’s past came to bite her on the bum in a big way, how could and would, she deal with this to move on in her life? I was interested then, in making the main character a psychiatric nurse: Robyn is skilled at helping people deal with her demons, but what would happen if she was forced to deal with her own? If she was forced to tell the truth about her life?

This was the starting point of the book. Robyn has had a lot of things happen to her: dealing with the loss of her mother and her baby as well as the awful events of that summer. However, Joe is a constant: he is the one person who has stuck with her and accepts her for who she is with all her baggage. This seemed to me, the ultimate love story. The question then, was would she push him away when he came back in her life in a way that repeats the past, or overcome her personal obstacles to be with the person who has always been right for her; the one person who can make her happy?

I had this idea that the letters would be like a parallel world Robyn has created almost as a self-protection mechanism; a world where nothing bad happens, where there is always hope. When it came down to it, this was harder to pull off than I thought! But I hope the letters show that whatever she’s been through, Robyn is still a hopeful, strong person. Deep down, she believes in love even if that belief is tested to its limits.

I really enjoyed writing the Grace character. I suppose she is a mirror. She is what might have happened to Robyn if she didn’t have the love of Joe and her family and this is why Robyn cares about her and her story so much.  Robyn comes to realize that love really can heal us. Grace may never be ‘cured’ but by helping her to reconnect with her daughter, Robyn sets her on the path to a happier future.

It is only with hindsight (and a few months off from it!) that I have worked out why this book took me so long and was so difficult. It was a heady mixture of a few things;
  • The subject matter was probably the furthest away from my own life than any other book I’ve written - none of the big things that happened in it have ever happened to me (I’m very lucky.)
  • Because of this, I had to do a lot of research. I found it was a tricky, vicious circle: I couldn’t write a scene until I’d researched and I didn’t always know how to research / where to look / what questions to ask because I didn’t know what scenes I wanted in the book because I didn’t have the material! And on and on it went…..Until I finally immersed myself in the world of mental health sufficiently to be able to write scenes without looking at vast swathes of notes.
  • It was dark, but I wanted Robyn to be a funny person. Striking that balance between humour and darkness was terribly difficult and required a lot of trial and error, thus lots of writing. I probably write 50,000 more words that never made it into the manuscript.
So, it’s fair to say that this book nearly finished me off (I joke - I can joke now…) and there were genuinely many, many times where I thought I couldn’t go on with it. HOWEVER! Where there is dark, there is light in writing, as in stories and indeed, real life. On the plus side, I found that because I stretched myself so much with The Story of You, I gained in confidence. It was a case of, "well I’ve done that, so I can do anything". I can write anything I put my mind to.  I think it’s this that means I’ve enjoyed, much more so far, the writing of novel five. That’s not to say there haven’t been, and won’t be many problems along the way, but I feel much more confident in trying new things out, being more daring, not feeling like I have to stick to a classic women’s fiction ‘chick-lit’ genre. I feel like I ‘own’ my story, have honed my narrative voice more and have more faith in myself that I WILL get it right in the end. After all, I’ve done it four times now, so it can’t be a fluke! (can it?) I guess that inner critic never fully goes away, but that’s what keeps us improving our writing.

The Story of You is out in paperback and ebook today, and is available here.

You also read a sample of the first 8 chapters of the book on Authonomy now.

Follow Katy on twitter @katyreganwrites 


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

One to Watch Wednesday - The Withering


This week’s One to Watch is The Withering by B. Illi, a children’s fantasy novel. I think a test of good children’s fiction is whether it makes you smile. From the first paragraph, this had me smiling:

With its faded brown façade and small square windows, Number 3 Bog’s End was nothing to look at. Compared to the creamy white and prim hedge rowed neighbours’ houses, it was rather a bit of a disappointment – like a bulbous black wart smack on the nose of an otherwise pretty visage. Presently, in a corner of this dreary looking house, in a small but comfortable room there slept a boy— or rather he tried to.

This is a tried and tested scene setting opening, an ordinary looking street where something extraordinary is about to happen, but B. Illi does this with such charm, and at such a steady, almost lulling, storytelling pace, that you can’t help but be drawn in. From what I have read so far, it’s a good story, well told. Each chapter ends at just the right moment, there’s tension and excitement, darkness and humour as well as some brilliant imagination-capturing imagery.

There is some work to be done, the dialogue doesn’t always feel natural and age-appropriate and the transition from the real world to the fantasy is too abrupt and arguably comes too soon, before we’ve really got to know these characters. Barty comes across as quite a precocious character, and the adults have touches of eccentricity. This could all work well, but these characters need to become real to the children who read about them, and for that to happen they need time and development.

However, we think The Withering is an exciting work-in-progress, which is certainly worth a read. And can we just say, what a beautiful cover that is. Here’s the pitch:

What sort of horrid place was this where bathtubs turned to lakes, elves died and children had to run off into the night to save themselves from— what were they running from?
Barty Glossop would be the first to tell you that Bog's End is the most boring and annoying place to live in all of Slurry.

But when his mum disappears, an unexplained death occurs and a narrow escape from the clutches of a ghoulish Withering leaves him and his best friend Alfie standing in a valley in the hidden inner world of Enerhaven, things are not at all what they seem.
After a run-in with murderous bog-goblins Barty longs to go home, but there's only one problem: the High Elves of the Cidhr Mounds think he's a Son of Yóren and the answer to all Enerhaven's prayers. Now they won't let him leave.

In the south the shadows linger and grow stronger each day. Dark creatures of the Unseelie Court and black-hearted men are rallying around a powerful seeress out for merciless revenge. She has her eye set on the Great Oak Throne in the Eternal City, and an old score to settle with Baldùr and the remaining wizards of the Ash. What she has in mind threatens to unleash a far older, greater evil upon all of Enerhaven.

Now Barty must find and read from The Book of Light. Only it holds the key to saving them all and to sending him home so the sooner he finds it, the sooner he and Alfie can leave this dastardly place. But how do you find a book that no eye has ever seen nor hand ever touched? More importantly, how do you stay alive long enough to do so?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Avon are launching a digital-first imprint

Digital-first imprints are making waves in the industry, and are proving to be a fast-paced alternative to a more traditional publishing route.

HC imprint and Authonomy favourite Avon have just launched their very own digi-first imprint, Maze. We chat to the lovely Lydia Vassar-Smith, senior commissioning editor at Avon, about the exciting new imprint and her tips for writing a stonking crime thriller.



Could you tell us a little about yourself and your role at HarperCollins?
I’m senior commissioning editor at Avon and I’m looking for brilliant commercial fiction to publish on both the Avon and Maze lists. I look after eight authors – all of them very different with diverse but equally brilliant books! I’ve been here for almost two years and worked before at Michael Joseph and Transworld and before that as an agent’s assistant at Abner Stein.

Avon is well known for publishing fantastic women’s fiction, but your crime list is garnering a lot of attention, particularly Paul Finch’s DS Heck series, and C L Taylor’s The Accident. What do you think is the secret to commercial crime fiction success?
Tricky question! You need a great conceit – a really hooky pitch that you can get across to someone in about ten seconds. If you’ve gone on for longer, you’re likely to have lost your audience. In addition I think it helps to have a digitally engaged author who understands the importance of Goodreads, Amazon and other etailers, and a great voice on social media. It also helps if they’ve got a good ‘story’ for publicity purpose and if they are willing to get out and about on the crime circuit and engage with fans and retailers. Oh and a good cover helps as well.

Avon recently launched a new digital-first imprint, Maze, could you tell us a bit about it and how it will work?
We’ll be publishing a minimum of 15 books per year and our goal is to discover, publish and globally build new talent from debut authors supported by competitive pricing, arresting packaging and innovative social media activity. At the moment all of our submissions are agented but we may look to do an open submission later in the year. Watch this space …

There are already a few digital-first imprints, including HC’s very own Impulse – why now, and what do you think Avon can bring that’s new and different?
I think it’s important to mention Avon’s stellar track record in digital publishing. We’ve had a plethora of top ten Amazon hits in the last year (C L Taylor, Jacqui Rose, Paul Finch, Miranda Dickinson) and so feel that Maze is a great platform for the Avon Team to launch and create new brands. Maze content will be commissioned, edited and packaged by the highly skilled and successful Avon team.

In addition we will provide, a unique hand-publishing experience, and dedicated editorial expertise, guidance and collaboration. We have access to a digital sales team who are the industry leaders in digital publishing. Our relationships with key retail partners have powered our eBooks to bestseller status.

We can offer outstanding sales, publicity and social media strategies including dynamic pricing, effective social media campaigns and special key account promotions. 

What are you and the team on the lookout for to publish through Maze? What would you love to find?
Our remit is pretty broad! Avon’s heartland is in women’s fiction and saga but recently we’ve had great success with crime in ebook (Jacqui Rose, Paul Finch, Mark Sennen and C L Taylor to name but a few) so we’d love to find some brilliant British crime. Good sagas are like gold-dust – we’d love to find a new saga. Speaking generally we’re looking at a fairly broad remit under the fiction umbrella – we’re looking for crime and thrillers, women’s fiction, historical fiction, saga, erotica, fantasy and horror

Follow Avon on twitter @AvonBooksUK and @CrimeFix

Monday, 22 September 2014

Katy Regan On Striking The Right Tone: injecting comedy into dark subject matter

Hello Authonomy fans! I wanted to share with you today a piece that I wrote for my friend Jon Rance's blog shortly after I'd finished writing my latest novel, The Story of You. It's about the difficulties I experienced when I was writing this book and in particular, how I finally learnt to inject comedy into a book that deals with some dark and difficult subject matter. I hope it rings true with some of your own experiences.

Have you ever thought, when you’ve read a book how hard it was to write for the author? Like, oh wow, that’s a good scene, I bet they spent a long time in a prison / in Jamaica / in a swingers commune for that. Or, how did she come up with that character’s voice or write that sex scene? That must have taken her MONTHS (and a whole lot of getting over her embarrassment.)

Perhaps you have a little (especially if you are a writer) but chances are, not that much, because if the book is doing its job, you are too enthralled in the story, too busy watching the scene to think about what’s gone on backstage.

For me, it’s the same; certainly when reading other books but even with my own. At the time of writing it, obviously, it’s hard. The last book I wrote (the one out now) The Story of You was hellishly hard. In fact I often thought it would never see the light of day.

I always say, writing a book is like trying to do a Bayeux-sized tapestry without your reading glasses: fiddly, intricate, takes forever and you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Then the book comes out and I still can’t read it. It’s like I’ve got post-book-baby-depression: It gave me such hell on the delivery that I don’t want to look at it, I’m not bonding! Then, hopefully a few nice reviews might come in and I can at least read it. A few months down the line and I haven’t forgotten the general trauma, (!) but when I read it, I’ve forgotten which bits hurt the most, which chapters I slaved over, banged my head against a brick wall about and thought would never get finished.  

However, I think it’s a useful exercise at some point, to sit down and ask yourself, why was it so hard? What made this book such a beast? If only so that you do not make the same mistakes again, or at least to give yourself a pat on the back and say, I overcame those difficulties and did it in the end.

For me, with this book, there was one over-riding difficulty (amongst everything else: you know, plot, character, structure….the whole blasted thing!) And that was TONE. I like writing funny. All my other books have had a certain degree of comedy, although admittedly have become darker in shade as they’ve gone on. This, my fourth, was definitely my darkest and yet, I still wanted to make it funny. I still wanted that light and shade. That bitter-sweetness which I think reflects real life.  The problem was, when the subject matter is so harrowing in places (I won’t give any spoilers but you can imagine ...) how do I inject humour? What is remotely humorous about the sorts of events that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?

I struggled. A lot. I really struggled to get the balance right and I am not even sure if I’ve managed it now. I wrote passages then deleted them all when they made me cringe. I cut whole chapters, lots of chapters! I tried to inject comedy where there really shouldn’t be any and vice-versa and it was only a matter of trial and error (A LOT of trial and error) and re-writing that I ended up with something I was happy with.

So along this journey, what were my thought processes?  What specific ‘comedy’ issues did I have? Well, for a start, the main female character in the book is called Robyn and she’s a psychiatric nurse. Obviously her patients are mentally ill and this gave rise to some great narrative potential, drama, conflict and, essentially humour. However, I had to get the humour right, or else it would look tasteless: I couldn’t have her laugh AT her patients – I wouldn’t dream of that and nor would she – but patients do funny things, my research showed me that. I talked to endless psychiatric nurses who told me how nothing was unusual on a psychiatric ward, how literally anything could happen. Every ridiculous scenario I put to them, they said ‘Yep, happens all the time’. However, there is a fine balance, between maximizing the colour these scenes could give in a book, and taking the P out of mentally ill people. One of the central characters in The Story of You is Grace Bird, who has schizophrenia. I wanted her to be central to the drama, but for Robyn to treat her empathetically and sensitively – and also for their scenes to be funny when appropriate. Much harder than it sounds! Nathan Filer, the author of The Shock of the Fall, which is narrated by a schizophrenic and won the Costa prize, no less gave me some fantastic advice. “Just don’t send her up” he said. “And remember anything is possible on a psychiatric ward”. I tried to remember that as I wrote and I really hope I’ve pulled it off.

My second issue with comedy, was the fact that Robyn herself had gone through an awful lot of trauma, but I wanted her to be a funny, humorous person. How could she be irreverent? How would she be an optimistic person? Above all, I didn’t want her to be a moaner and I wanted her to fall in love. And yet, I worked out (sounds obvious but when you’re in it, it’s not always easy to see the wood for the trees) that just because awful things have befallen you (in fact often BECAUSE awful things have befallen you, some of the funniest, certainly the most resilient people I know have been through the worst things) doesn’t mean you aren’t essentially the same person inside. A funny person. Victims of trauma are often the most optimistic of people, because the worst has already happened. This then became the basis for Robyn’s character: She was as strong as she was vulnerable, she still had so much hope despite the fact she’d actually been very unlucky so far. This is the type of person I decided, I’d want to read about, and ultimately who I would want to spend time with (lucky when the book took me eighteen months to write.)This unlocked the ‘Robyn’ key for me.  Comedy can be found in the darkest, deepest of places, after all. It’s just a matter of how you bring it to the foreground.


The Story of You is out now on Kindle

And out in paperback on September 25, available to pre-order here


Friday, 19 September 2014

Scott’s Blog

We’ve put a number of blog posts up in the last couple of weeks that answered some of the most common questions being raised by Authonomy members and we will continue to do that but I wanted to write something myself about a few more general topics.

Spam

We have been subject to a significant and major spam attack and we are taking a number of different actions to rectify it. We have already made a significant change to the way we moderate books, which you can read all about here. 

Many users have contacted us with suggestions, and thanks for that. One of the most popular proposals is to put in an email validation process for new accounts. This is something we are looking at, but it would be extremely easy for a determined spammer to get round that if they wanted to. And these appear to be determined spammers.

We had an interesting meeting with someone who used to manage the community on the Guardian website and he told us about a particularly annoying period of spamming they endured. Each time they implemented a new feature to stop the spam it took the spammers just a few weeks to work out what it was and get round it. We cannot afford to spend all of our development money chasing spammers so need to ensure that what we do put in place will work for a significant period of time, as a result it may take a couple of weeks to be fully operational.

One of the more interesting conspiracy theories on the forums is that we are deliberately encouraging the spam in order to get our membership numbers up. Should I even bother to grace that with a reply? Probably not, but I will anyway. We really want to get rid of this rubbish from the site and once the fix is in place we should see membership and book numbers go down rather sharply.

Thanks for your patience while we try to fix this. One pretty simple way to avoid the spam is not to use the LATEST filter when browsing for new books as that is where most of them will appear. Try MOST POPULAR, HIGHEST RATED or one of the other options instead.

Forums

Occasionally I am asked a version of the question: Why do you hate the forums so much? So I thought I’d answer it. In short, we don’t, but here’s a longer response.

The forums are a hugely important part of Authonomy and we know that’s where lots of members spend a great deal of their time and get the most out of the site. Sure, a significant number of people don’t go there at all but that doesn’t really matter. They were vast, and will be vast again, with nearly 3 million posts at one point.

We’d love to hang out on the forums every day, shooting the breeze, gauging the mood, answering questions, offering advice and so on but if we did that we wouldn’t be able to do the other stuff. We need to allocate time to reading the books on here, managing the Editor’s Desk reviews, handling the many emails we receive on authonomy@harpercollins.co.uk, publishing the Authonomy titles, promoting our favourite books to the other editors at HarperCollins and so on. And, at the moment, we have all sorts of fixes and tweaks to manage now that the new site is live. Plus, in my case, I am running a completely separate imprint of HarperCollins called The Friday Project and both Rachel and Cicely are part of that team too.

There’s a lot of juggling to do and we just have to be pragmatic. I do pop into the forums when I can, and we do monitor them to attempt to pick up on themes and issues being raised by members, but we can’t be a full-time presence. I know this frustrates some people but it isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Books

I have said it a few times now but it is worth repeating. The vast majority of changes we have made to Authonomy are designed to make it easier for HarperCollins to find books to publish. The good news is, and there is some good news out there, that we have called in a number of manuscripts and are actively considering them for publication across the business.

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Once we have the spam fixed, once the algorithms are doing their thing and once we are publishing books across all the HarperCollins divisions in greater numbers then I will start to think that the revamp has been successful. Until then we will strive to make Authonomy as good as it can be, but it will take time.