Unconnected connections of habit.

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I recall reading Roald Dahl’s ‘Georges Marvellous Medicine’ to my son when he was a child. One phrase I found particularly hilarious was when George’s grandmother said, ‘Growing was a nasty childish habit’.

I’ll give you a short extract for context.

‘You know what’s the matter with you?’ the old woman said, staring at George over the rim of the teacup with those bright wicked little eyes. ‘You’re growing too fast. Boys who grow too fast become stupid and lazy.’

‘But I can’t help it if I am growing fast, Grandma,’ George said.

‘Of course, you can,’ she snapped. ‘Growing’s a nasty childish habit.’

As it happens, in the ensuing years I found my son adopted other ‘nasty childish habits’ growing boys seem to enjoy. I mentioned most of them to him in much the same way as George’s grandmother, not that it had any effect!

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However, it is not childhood or growth or adolescence peccadillos I speak of today, but one of habits.

You see, like many other authors, my mind is constantly working overtime. Even when I am ignoring it, doing regular stuff like cleaning, gardening or shopping, it is whirring away noticing things, listening to other people’s conversations, reading notes, lists and phone screens over people’s shoulders and so forth.

It really is a bit of a rouge in many ways.

Rotational_symmetries_in_designs_produced_by_a_kaleidoscopeDSCN2440The thing is, those subconscious bits of my mind remember it all, record it and mull it over, twisting totally unrelated events, jiggling individual occurrences, shaking them together until a kaleidoscope pattern of instances which hold the possibility of illusory whimsy form.

This is when it digs a sharp elbow of attention into the soft kidneys of my platitude, painfully jerking my ‘normal’ daily thoughts away from the mundane and into the imaginative world of fantastical conception.

Last night, as I was going to bed, I felt the aforesaid sharp elbow ram painfully into the soft parts of my consciousness.

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A voice in my head spoke excitedly to me.

 

 

“You know,” it started, “you write a fair bit about remembering the past, about nostalgia and stuff?”

“Um, yes,” I said, not sure where this was leading.

“Well, what about if people get all nostalgic because they survived it?”

“Survived it?” I questioned.

“Yeah.” The voice was shouting in my brain. “Think about it.”

“I’m going to bed,” I said. Trying to placate my thoughts.

“Yeah, but you’ll not sleep, not until you understand this.” The voice said sounding a little annoyed and a more than a little bit smug.

Of course, it was right. I needed to do this now, as tired I was. So, I grabbed a notebook and pen. I have several dotted around the house exactly for moments like this.

“Okay,” I said, “fire away.”

“How about if… people love the past, the recent past, like the times in and around their childhood because they lived through it, or most of it. They survived relatively unharmed. Well, they must have done or they wouldn’t be here now, would they?”

“Um, no,” I replied, “I suppose not.”

“So, just like in a good book, or a movie, where the hero rides off into the sunset at the end, that’s what you have done, along with everybody else who reminisces. You rode off into your sunset and arrived in the here and now.”

“Well, maybe, sort of.”

“I’m right. The past is where your parents were. They helped keep you safe, mended your cuts and bruises, kissed your grazed knees. It was home, comforting, warm. Your bedroom your inner sanctuary, guarded by your parents.”

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“I guess so.” I was chewing my inner lip. Something I rarely do. “But not all memories are good ones, bad things happened too.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” my mind said, “I’m not talking about those bits. No one gets all sentimental over the bad stuff. We remember it when we must, but not in a nostalgic way. Nostalgia is reserved for nice memories.”

“I’ll go with that,” I said, nodding to myself.

“Well, that’s the key,” my mind continued.

“The key to what?” I asked.

“The key to writing something captivating in your books, especially when you’re basing them in the past, or have characters talking about ‘back when’ & ‘do you remember’ and stuff. It’s great for flashbacks, prequels and shit like that. Think about it.”

I was thinking about it.

“Even a futuristic story must have its past.”

I scribbled a few rough notes, odd aide memoir single word notes I could refer to later. (That later being now).

The thing is, after a good night’s sleep, a day carrying out family chores and a visit to the dentist for a clean & polish, I have mulled over my conversation with the excitable voice from last night and my conclusion is… I agree.

It makes a ton of sense for us to hold fond memories of good times. They could well be recollections of childhood events, maybe a loving mother tucking you into bed, possibly escaping an annoyed farmer when scrumping for apples, or like some of the memories I have written about previously, such as days out for a family a picnic or a train journey to the seaside; all exciting experiences for a child.

My teenage years hold more life events which have helped forge who I am today. Don’t get me wrong, I have instances of near-death, but… I survived to tell the tale. I did ride off into my sunset… although some moments may be more akin to crawling along a drainage ditch in inch thick cloying mud… but those tales are for another time.8ZXBf5MBEC-10

It’s called living life.

As an author, I feed on such memories, use them to build my fictional worlds, create my characters, lay plots and write scenes. It is a habit I’ve adopted.

Until now, until the conversation with myself, I did not consider why nostalgia, which is according to the dictionary, ‘A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past; even one never experienced,’ is such a powerful apparatus to use to elicit emotion.

Now I have spent time complementing the reasons, it makes perfect sense and one I shall be far more aware of when employing it in my writings in the future.

So, while scrumping for apples and reading George’s Marvellous Medicine may be unconnected events, both in time and geographical distance, the voice in my head found a way to join them together into a cohesive entity.

You could say they were unconnected connections of habit.

Keep Happy, Paul


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I would love you to check out my books, you can see them all on my website, even those not available on Amazon, including exclusive hardcovers.

Don’t forget to look at my Electric Eclectic books, eBooks and Pocketbook paperbacks You can find them on my website or on @open24, the Amazon store for readers & writers

I am open to comments and communication, so feel free to contact me at pwauthor@mail.com or via Facebook.

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The ELECTRIC ECLECTIC NOVELLA FICTION PRIZE 2020… is open for submissions

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Are you an aspiring writer or an indie author looking for a publishing contract? If so, the Electric Eclectic Novella Fiction Prize 2020 is ‘right up your street’.

Simply write a 20K to 30K word story, in any genre and about anything you want, and enter the Novella Fiction Prize.

Entry is just £10.00 GBP, (via official entry form) and the winning authors will have their manuscripts published as Novellas.

The top prize is a full paperback publishing package.  Second and third places having their work published as eBooks.

There are also associated prizes, such as cover designs, marketing packages and author assist support.

The Electric Eclectic Novella Fiction Prize 2020 is an international literary competition for emerging writers and indie authors.

Submissions are encouraged from all literary fictional genres with no restrictions on theme or subject.

The emphasis of the judging will be on ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches which explore and expand creative writing.

Details of ‘How to Enter’ are on the Electric Eclectic website http://bit.ly/NovFicPrize

Mexico, shopping and a passion for words

 

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This is the fifth post in this series, where I feature a car from my past and link it with something to do with being an author.

Today’s post features a British Classic, the ubiquitous Ford Escort Mexico Mark1. Mine was bright yellow. I think it is called Daytona Yellow, but I’ll stand corrected if you know better.

The Mexico was a product of Fords famous Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO), built to capitalise on their success in the 1970 London-Mexico Rally. It used the same strengthened bodyshell as the RS models but was powered by a 1599cc pushrod engine, developing 86bhp and 92lb ft of torque.

Top speed? 99mph all-out (although ford said it could do 124mph.) That may seem pathetic now but still, the driving experience remains genuinely special.

Don’t just believe me, during the Silverstone Auctions in 2018 a 1973 Ford Escort Mk1 Mexico sold for a new world record auction price of £50,625.

The accompanying photo bears a close resemblance to my 1970s production car.

I was and still am a bit of a ‘Petrolhead’. I love fast cars and been fortunate enough to own several excellent machines and driven some other amazing examples.

It is a passion which I first recall having as a child of four or five years old.

I was born into a working-class family, living in the south of England, a country which was still smarting from the second world war. As with most families back then, it was a matter of make and mend.

Luxuries were simple treats like tinned fruit served with jelly and not as a separate dish on another day. We walked for miles to get to the shops, the market or visit relatives. Not many people owned cars and bus fares were deemed an unnecessary extravagance.

I recall many shopping trips when we wheeled a pram, a large ‘carriage’ type pram with a basket tray underneath and hooks on the handle. In the pram would be an array of bags. Sturdy leather ones for potatoes, vegetables and fresh fruit. Baskets for loaves and eggs, woven hemp or seagrass for the general shopping.

The shopping trip took in the butchers, I would watch as they cut the meats to order and 5fce18b692fa117009b2a6a5682aa3fccounted the number of sausages strung together.

“How thick would you like your bacon?” he asked,

“Number four, please,” my mother would reply.

A weeks’ worth of freshly butchered meats, all wrapped in white ‘butchers’ paper’, would go into one of those bags we brought with us, a particular bag reserved for meat.

This story was repeated at the fishmongers. A piece of rockfish for my father, a small portion of cod for mother and a bag of sprats for us children. Each item wrapped in white paper by the fishmonger who served us. We would have the sprats ‘on toast’ with tomato ketchup or with a slice of bread spread with margarine for our dinner that night.

These purchases again had a dedicated bag. Fish needs to be kept apart from the other foods.

The shopping trip continued. At the bakery, if I were lucky, I would be treated to an iced finger roll. Basically, a plain bread finger roll with a smidgen of pink icing on top. Often, even mostly, this was given to my mother by the baker. A gift for me in recognition of her continued patronage.

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The main grocery store, ours was the co-operative (CWS), was something to behold. I loved this place. For a young child, it was magical. Men in brown coats, with the help of ‘shop boys’, scurried around fulfilling the customers’ orders, mostly women with hats or hairnets who stood gossiping while the storemen collected and packed each order.

Our shopping was piled into a big box, often a long box which originally contained a gross of hens’ eggs. Once the order was complete, the payment was taken, cash, of course, and put with the bill in a large wooden ball.

The ball was then hoisted upwards on a contraption until, near the high ceiling, the ball fell onto a narrow metal track. I watched in wonderment as the ball rolled along this circuitous track above my head and disappear through a hole in the wall.

A few minutes later the ball would return, clunking and rattling along with the same overhead rail system, passing over and under several other wooden balls making their own way back and forth.

Eventually, the ball would drop onto a cage and the shopkeeper who collected our order would deftly twist the ball to open it, revealing the receipt and the change. He would then pass the receipt to mother and judiciously count the change into her palm.

It was some years before I understood the balls were sent to the cashier’s office, where the payment is taken and change made, so those working on the shop floor did not have to (or be trusted with) handling cash transactions.

There is an open-air museum in County Durham, called Beamish. (If you have the opportunity, please go. I know you will love it.) In the reconstructed town, this museum rebuilt an original co-operative store where the payment/cashier system of sending wooden balls along suspended tracks is still operational. One of my delights, to this day, is watching the balls run along those rails, the entire system operated solely by gravity.

It never fails to bring back memories of my childhood.05-The-Co-op-hardware-shop-at-Beamish-1024x768

 

One of our final stops, when shopping, was a second hand (used goods) store called ‘Bluebird’. This is where my mother would buy clothes and household equipment. Many of the clothes were unpicked and made into entirely different attire. The odd bits and pieces of scrap material too small to be useful became dolls clothes for my sisters, other remnants rags for cleaning.

However, while my mother was looking around the shop and gossiping, I would go to the corner of the ‘Bluebirds’ where the toys were, especially the matchbox cars.

Here is where I found a Jaguar XK120 and a 150, both in ‘old English white’, a bright red e-type, a blue Bugatti racing car and so on. Sometime mother would let me keep one and I would carry it, clenched in my small fist, all the way home without letting it go.

I would not let my grip release the car, even when I needed to help push the pram or help mother to steady it up and down the kerbs, the large box on the wire tray beneath, bags sitting in the pram and those with the ‘delicate’ items swinging from the handle. Whatever occurred, I would keep my new car clasped tightly in my palm.

I did not know at the time, but this was, I am sure the beginning of becoming a petrolhead.

My dear little Mexico stayed with me for a well over a year. Only the water pump failed. I must admit I was a little sad to see it go, as I have been with most of the cars I owned.

(My next car, another Ford, soon helped me forget the Mexico… but that’s a story is for another time.)

Anyway… this post is leading me to say a person’s interest, their passion starts somewhere, usually in a small way when a certain event triggers their inquisitiveness, stimulates their curiosity.

matchbox_1120_15For me, it was my child-being falling in love with small model cars which led to me having so many marvellous wheels once I became an adult.

Later, in my teens, I found books created those same heart-fluttering moments of marvel and wonder as I became totally lost in their pages, carried off to fictional worlds which made themselves real within my mind, so real they distracted me at school as I wondered what was happening if I would miss anything, anticipating what the character would do next.

Both reading and driving are passions conceived in childhood and now, in my dotage, they both still excite and comfort me in equal quantity.

I say to you, write if it is your passion to do so. Write in a way and a style which is all yours. Let it be fired by your love and lust for wordsmithing. Look to no one for permission or approval.

Buy the car you want to drive. Write the book you want to read.


You can check out the books I wanted to read because I followed my own advice and wrote them.

They are all on my website, right HERE

Feel free to browse around.

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After Caroline came the Hunter…

After Caroline,  (read ‘Meet Caroline’ here)

… it was a long time until I owned another vehicle. You see, I was back at sea, often for long periods and there is not much of a requirement for cars aboard a ship.

However, when I was home from leave I did have the opportunity to drive whichever car my father had at the time. It seemed each time I returned home a different car was in our garage. I cannot remember them all, but I do recall one I enjoyed driving, the Hillman Hunter.

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The photograph shown above is about the closest example I can find to my fathers’ car, a gold-coloured Hillman Hunter with a vinyl (leather look) roof, (all the rage at the time), The car was an automatic, making it a very easy vehicle to drive.

The Hillman Hunter was probably one of the best vehicles being built at the time in the UK, whose motor industry was in total meltdown, from which it never recovered.

Today Morgan is about the only manufacturer still British owned.

Other famous marques, often still perceived as British, are all foreign-owned.

Aston Martin belongs to Ford, Rolls Royce to Volkswagen, Bentley is part of Tata as is Land Rover, Lotus is a division of Proton, MG is a Chinese brand, Mini is BMW, and Vauxhall is part of General Motors (GM).

This, the Hillman Hunter, is one of the cars I recall in which we, the family, travelled to the beach and countryside for ‘days out’ and picnics, something I have blogged about before.

Many of these trips, or instances from those journeys, are part of the various recollections I write about in one of my ‘works in progress’ On the Highway of Irreverent Rumination & Delusion, which takes the form of a fictitious road trip, allowing me to share my thoughts and perceptions with you, “strung together as a collage of momentary instances, loosely stitched together by wisps of fleeting reflection.”

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In a way, I feel I am cheating a bit by writing this book. You see, I am blending reality and fact, suspect and distorted, even selected memory, along with fiction and fantasy to create a platform in which I can share my personal observations and sideways views on life, society, culture, civilisation and humanity by way of a series of connected monologues.

The result, when completed, will be a book which is neither a factual piece nor a work of fiction but rather one of reflective opinion and personal contemplations. One which is far from accurate or objective, although it is both genuine and honest.

I find On the Highway of Irreverent Rumination & Delusion difficult to classify or, as is the want with everything nowadays, to give a label. I wonder who may read it once completed? Is this book pure indulgence on my part, a form of catharsis so I can justify my own assessments and evaluations of life?

I am hoping people find the cover and blurb intriguing enough to buy it, so I can take them on a voyage where we can rattle along the twisted neural carriageways of my psyche and see where it leads.

We can but wait and see.

I shall have this book ready at some point during 2020… hopefully.


In the meantime, I have some news, there is a NEW blog, Electric Eclectic’s blog. Please, please, head over there and follow the blog today. You will love it… that’s a promise, not an order!

Catch you next week, Paul.EEBlogBlkSqr

Meet Caroline

Last week I based my post around the car I learnt to drive in, way back in1973.

This is the link if you want to read the post:  https://wp.me/p5nj7r-1nM

This week I continue with the ‘cars I have owned’ themed series of posts.

(Okay, I did not own the Vauxhall Viva in the first post, but that’s just a little technicality we can dismiss for the sake of this blog.)

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This Cresta is very much like ‘Caroline’

So, where was I… oh, yes.

I was back from sea.

My trip from Portsmouth took me over to Lisbon, on to Keel, then up to Copenhagen and onwards to Oslo before heading back to England, via Scapa Flow and Inverness. After which my sailing schedule was halted for a short period and I found myself based in the small village of East Meon, Nr Petersfield in Hampshire.

Now, East Meon is not a well-known place by any stretch of the imagination. It is one of those villages that, should you blink while driving through it, you would miss it completely.

I think the village was served by two busses a week. One on a Tuesday morning and another late on a Thursday afternoon, which meant, apart from the old ‘Shanksy’s Pony’ I would be pretty well isolated from humanity.

Not an attractive prospect for a young man of almost seventeen years of age.

Thus, four of my friends and I rummaged around in our pockets and collected the sum total of £39.86 (GBP) pence. This is, at today’s exchange, worth around $52.45 (USD).

Now, back in late 1974 early 1975, this sum was worth a little more than it is today and, I think, the Pound to Dollar rate was about two US Dollars for each British Pound. Anyway, whichever way you slice the cake, it was not a vast sum of money.

But it was more than enough for the five of us to find ourselves the proud owners of a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, with two new tyres, which were in the boot, (that’s the trunk in Americanese) awaiting to be fitted.

Our bargain car cost us the princely sum of £25.00, cash, from our pooled funds. That left us with £14.85 pence to buy some petrol, (that’s gas to you Americans), and beer at the local village pub; which is located at the foot of the hill, about three miles away, along a very twisty and dark tree-lined country road.

Now, before you think this tale is about some disaster concerning five young men, a vehicle without any documentation or roadworthiness inspection, two bald tyres, a very dark, twisty, rain-soaked road and the fact that not one of those young men, (except my few lessons which got me passed my test almost eighteen months ago, lessons and procedures now totally forgotten), had ever driven a vehicle of any description on any sort of road before, you are wrong… sort of.

Brian, (I’ll call him Brian because, after forty-six years, I have forgotten his actual name), got to drive Caroline first. Why we decided to call the Cresta ‘Caroline’ escapes me but I should think there was no good reason, at least not one which would make any sense today.

The trip was a simple one. We would leave the base and, once we were off the track and onto the road, we would allow the car to freewheel down the hill for the three-mile trip to the village. Once in the village, we would be able to coast to the filling station, which in fact was just a single pump garage, put a small amount of fuel into the car and then go to the pub for a few beers.

We reached the tarmac road at the top of the hill and began our descent, killed the engine and allowed the car to coast downhill, picking up speed as it went. In those days’ cars did not have power steering and the breaking was a matter of pressing hard, feeling the breaks fade, letting them off and jumping on them again, as sort of camber breaking to help the breaks bite.

However, as none of us were experienced drivers; we knew nothing of this technique and, as the car began to accelerate to breakneck speed, the four of us pressed ourselves further and further back into the leather seats with wide grimaces plastered across our fear frozen faces as we watch, unable to move as Brian, now a paler shade of white than an albino turd, stood upright planting his entire 7 and a half stone, that’s around 105 pounds, weight on the brake pedal and wrenched the steering wheel right and left as the sharp, blind bends rushed at us at warp speed.

Rounding the final bend, the road levelled out as it approached and entered the village of East Meon. By the time we were nearing the garage, the car had slowed to around thirty miles an hour and Brian realised he had been standing on the accelerator (gas pedal) and not the break. He now pressed the correct pedal and the car jerked to a halt, throwing the four of us forward.

I hit my head on the dash. Dave slid off the bench seat and disappeared under the consul. Jack became wedged in the passenger footwell and Mark landed on top of him, breaking Jack’s nose in the process.

Dave said, “What the fuck” as he extricated himself from wherever he had disappeared, climbed over me to get out of the car, ran around to the driver’s door and pulled Brian from the vehicle, throwing him unceremoniously into the middle of the road. He then jumped in, started the car and drove the remaining ten yards to the pump.

We fuelled the car with enough fuel to get us back up the hill and, we hoped, back down again but in a much more controlled manner. Then Dave drove to the pub, but not allowing Brian back in the car, so he had to walk. (It was a quarter of a mile at most.)

After a beer or three each. It is amazing to recall how far a few pounds would go back in those days. It was time to leave and make our way up the hill and back to base. I am unsure of how it happened, but I was the one nominated to drive back. I was both terrified and excited at the same time.

Now, as I said before, this car did not come with any warranties with regards to its roadworthiness or any guarantees as to what parts worked and what was defunct. We soon found out only one headlight worked, as did one windscreen (windshield) wiper and, guess what, it was not the one on the driver’s side.

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Inside Caroline

The heaters power however compensated for both of these malfunctions. Whenever the headlights or the windscreen wipers were switched on the heater blasted out a stream of red-hot air akin to the afterburner of an F15 fighter aircraft. The heater was also automatically activated when the left turn indicator was used, as it was when reverse gear was selected.

If on occasion, the glove box was opened while the car was moving at over thirty miles an hour, the radio would come on at speaker shaking, window-rattling volume; tuned into some random station, never once the same as the time before. Other than that, the radio would not work at all.

So, I got to drive the three miles back up the hill in the pouring rain with illegal tyres, no clear vision, jets of hot air bonding my polyester trousers to my legs, all the windows wide open, to compensate for the lack of oxygen available to our lungs because of the same furnace, the persisting rain blowing painfully into my face by the gale-force winds and the radio ear-splittingly blasting the drumming jazz hit, Skin Deep‘. 

I must say though, this journey back was surprisingly uneventful if you disregard my searching for and getting the wrong gear on the column change as I struggled to understand the mechanics of controlling a motor vehicle whose controls were alien to anything… that one vehicle I took lessons in… oh, and the swerving, harsh breaking and full 180 degrees spin, on tyres so worn they were all but slick, I managed as I swerved to avoid the deer, which ran out from the almost pitch black shadows of the trees in the pouring rain.

How I did not hit the deer, the embankments or end up shitting my pants, I am unsure but I got us all back alive if a little shaken.

Over the next few weeks, we did get the headlight fixed and replaced all four tyres. No one knew what to do with the heater, so we simply put up with its furnace temperatures by driving most of the time with the windows wide open. As for the radio, we decided it was haunted and the soul of the car, so we left that well alone, just in case ‘Caroline’ was a relative of ‘Christine’.

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Still haunted?

A few months later it was time to move on, so we sold ‘Caroline’ to a group of ‘newbies’ for the heavenly sum of £50.00. That was a one hundred per-cent profit on our original investment.

I often wonder what became of Caroline. Maybe she continued to service the base’s personnel until they closed it down in 1993.

Who knows?

***

What, you may ask, has this post got to do with writing or being indie?

I like to think it shows one can create a story from even the most basic of events from our everyday lives.

The next time you feel stuck for something to write about, scribble a short article about what happened to you today, yesterday or twenty years ago. I am certain you will find you have an audience eager to read about those events in your life.

Try it. You have nothing to lose.

Keep Happy, Paul


 

If you liked this short story why not download one of my Electric Eclectic Novelettes, they are longer short stories I am sure you will enjoy.

Find my books, paperbacks and ebooks, including my Electric Eclectic books HERE

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Want a bit more? Then check out ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’ a collection of short stories all with feminine titles.

You can find Within the Invisible Pentacle  HERE in the UK and HERE in the USA

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1973, a Vauxhall Viva and no excuses.

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I thought I would start this year’s posts based on a theme of the various motor vehicles I have driven over the years.

Doing such links with other projects I am working on, such as my new artwork collection ‘8mm’ and one of my current works-in-progress ‘On the Highway of Irrelevant Rumination and Delusion’.

8mm is where I take a still from an amateur home movie and combine it with a short excerpt from one of my books. You can view the 8mm collection on this link. https://paulznewpostbox.wixsite.com/artworks/8mm

On the Highway of Irrelevant Rumination and Delusion is my musings on life and living, taken from my old blog series of the same name and explored during a fictitious road trip, itself an amalgam of many, to create a captivating, informative and entertaining monologue. https://paulznewpostbox.wixsite.com/paul-white/works-in-progress

I am beginning this series of posts with a car from 1973 in which I first learned to drive, the ubiquitous Vauxhall Viva.

In its time, the Vauxhall Viva was the most popular car to come from Vauxhall’s Luton works. Once seen on every street corner The Viva was the first Vauxhall to achieve a six-figure production run and, by the early 1970s, was Vauxhall’s best-selling model.

None of that mattered to me as I struggled to master the necessary synchronicity between clutch, steering, mirrors, gearshift and acceleration while simultaneously looking ahead and in my mirrors. No mean feat for someone who never road a bicycle until they were eight years old!

However, the point of this series of post is far from riding bicycles or driving cars, its about life, the world, being an indie author and, at least for the first few posts, a little bit of nostalgia. A mix I hope you will find informative as well as entertaining.


So, without further ado, let me get started ‘proper’.

At the end of 1973, I was a young sailor in the Royal Navy. I had around six weeks left before I was to join my first ship and sail away to some far-flung shores. I was, to all intents and purpose a ‘whippersnapper‘. I suppose it was the start of me becoming me, becoming who I am now.

Did you know the word Whippersnapper was originally a “diminutive, insignificant, or presumptuous person?”

It was a term of reproach, here is the word used in a lengthy harangue by Edgar Allan Poe, from his story “Loss of Breath”:

“Thou wretch! – thou vixen! – thou shrew!” said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding, “thou witch! – thou hag! – thou whipper-snapper! – thou sink of iniquity! – thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! – thou – thou –”

(The speaker in the story is then, gratifyingly, bereft of breath and stops speaking.)

 

Some may have preferred to call me a ‘Whiffet’ which has similar connotations and also means “a small, young, or unimportant person.”

But the cuteness of the word kept it becoming a term of reproach. Whiffet was used in the 19th century in relaxed and informal writing, such as this breezy passage from an early magazine movie review:

Particularly is this true in the case of William Haines. This cinema actor invariably plays the obnoxious, precocious whiffet who upsets plans, causes heartaches by his wilfulness.

—“The New Pictures,” Time Magazine, 10 October 1928

Now, back to my tale…

With little to do with my ‘off-duty’ time, I decided to learn to drive. (Not that I was going to get much chance to practise the skill once at sea!) Anyway, I engaged the services of a driving instructor and jumped into the driving seat of a shiny red car. The picture on this blog is exactly as I recall the vehicle.

Three lessons a week taught me the skills necessary for basic car control, well, enough to pass my test and gain a licence just in time to board my ship and sail away on the high seas.

My first ‘foreign’ port of call was Lisbon, Portugal; which is just across the English Channel and a little south. The fine city that it is, it was not the exotic tropical port of my boyhood dreams. (Thankfully I did get to visit those too.)

But tales of sailing the high seas and exploring foreign lands is not my premise of this post. It is about me taking those driving lessons although I knew it would be many months before I could use to use my newly acquired skills. Besides which, I still needed to purchase a vehicle.

You see, far too often we stop ourselves from undertaking certain tasks because of… well, whatever excuse we can find to convince ourselves. I could have so easily not taken those driving lessons because I was going to sea, because I did not have a car, because I… whatever. The point is it would have simply been an excuse with no real foundation of any matter.

It is making these excuses to ourselves so many of us authors and writers do far too frequently when what we should be doing is finding reasons to do something, making time to do something.  

We must say to ourselves, “Yes, I can write another chapter today despite having to work late.” Or “I can watch the TV later, or tomorrow, but I must write this down now.” No matter your book may not be ready until next year; no matter your laptop is broken, you have paper and pen.

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I got to drive later that year when I returned from my first sea draft. Since then I gained an advanced drivers’ licence. I have driven racing cars on various tracks around the world, from Brands Hatch in the UK to Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. I have personally owned some amazingly powerful machines like a Nissan Skyline GTR, a Toyota GT4 and an Aston Martin BD9.

I don’t think I would have done so had made an excuse to myself not to take those driving lessons. I am a firm believer that each decision we make forges our life path ahead for a length of time until our next pivotal decision must be made. Once each choice is selected there is no going back, no return, just differing routes to choose.

I think this is why I have several books and various art projects on the go at any one time, I don’t like saying no to myself; I don’t like making excuses to myself about why I can’t, or shouldn’t do something, anything.

I like to encourage myself to forge ahead, to do it, to say yes.

I encourage you to support and believe in yourself. I bet you will find you are a far more capable person than you give yourself credit for.

Keep Happy, Paul 😊

Bait your books to catch more readers.

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Okay, so the title of this post is probably not the best metaphor ever written. Maybe, I was just fishing for compliments, or reeling you in… okay, okay. Enough.

But relating your books sales, or rather your book marketing, to fishing is not so far off the mark as you may think.

I am sure you would have heard the term ‘hook’ used many times when referring to writing, particularly fiction

Most authors know and recognise the importance of having a ‘narrative hook’ in their book’s opening lines and at the end of each chapter, even in the closing paragraphs of books in a series.

The idea, of course, is to leave your reading wanting more, wanting to know what happens next or indeed, on ‘tenterhooks’.

Which, by the way, is an old English word deriving from the 14th-century wool making industry. A ‘Tenter’ was a frame used to stop cleaned woollen fabric shrinking, (from the Latin ‘tendere’, meaning ‘to stretch’). Hooks are placed around the edge of a frame, to which the fabric was attached, so it streached it enough to stop it shrinking whilst drying.

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Hanging fabric onto a Tenter

By the mid-18th century, the phrase ‘on tenterhooks’ came to mean being in a state of tension, uneasiness, anxiety, or suspense, i.e. figuratively stretched like the cloth on the tenter.

However interesting all that may be, these facts have nothing to do with fishing and by association, sadly nothing to do with my terrible metaphor.

 

So, let me get to the nitty-gritty of this post, which is about your book’s description.

For this blog post, I am including your back-cover blurb and the description you use on your sales page of online sites, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc. as the ‘description’ discussed.

It seems, by the requests for answers I receive and the social comments I read, the writing of your book’s description is an area many authors struggle with, which is, on consideration rather strange as, after completing an entire novel, pages upon pages of creative writing, authors should then struggle to write a dozen or so lines describing the very premise of the book.

Which is, in all honesty, probably one of, if not the most important few paragraphs of the entire work.

What I find is, as the creator of the story, authors tend to want to put every element into their book description. (Much the same is true in amateur cover design.)

The thing is, the description is not supposed to be a summary, or a report, or a review. It is simply an advert. The intent of which is to ‘reel’ in book browsers and have them buy your book.

Allow me to elucidate.

Someone will buy your book if…

Firstly, the little thumbnail image of your front cover catches their eye.

Then, when they enlarge, click, expand or whatever they might need to do to see your book as a larger image if they like what they see at the smaller resolution. (The reason you need a great cover artist. One like PeeJay Designs. PeeJaydesigns@mail.com)

This is the online equivalent of having a potential buyer physically pick up your book from a bookstore shelf and hold it in their hands. If they never pick it up they will never buy it.

The next step is, your potential purchaser will now read the carefully crafted and captivating description of your book. This could be the ‘blurb’ on the back cover or the description given on an online bookstore.

Reaching this point means the cover has done its most important job.

Of course, your book’s description will stop the reader in their tracks, intriguing them enough to want to…

One, buy your book immediately or…

Two, read some of the ‘Look Inside’. (If in a physical bookstore, flick through and read a few random samples.) and then they will, of course, buy your book, won’t they?

Sarah Gribble of The Write Practice, says. “I recently picked up a nonfiction book, which I don’t read many of, and almost put it right back down. But the description intrigued me. It got me to read the first couple pages, standing right there in the store. Then it got me to buy the book.”

However, if you have a lazy, badly worded and therefore an unsuccessful book description, they will simply move on to the next book, regardless of how wonderful your actual story may be, a story they, along with thousands of others, will never get to read.

This means you will have blown your chance, your opportunity to get the sale, all for a few lacklustre lines.

Okay, I hear you saying, “How do I make my book’s descriptions work for me?”

I’m glad you asked because it’s a little like fishing; you must bait your hook with the right lure, the right bait, for the fish you want to catch. (Yep, back to my metaphor.)

Perhaps, one of the best ways is knowing what to do and what not to do when writing your description.

The (basic) do’s:

Always write in Third Person

Use keywords, emotional words, like chilling or passion; they work well for both nonfiction and fiction book descriptions. You can Google power words to find some good ones. But do not overdo it.

Also, consider what people might be Googling that would take them to your book. This is especially true for nonfiction works. Think about employing those in your description.

Be succinct and to the point, no purple prose or verbose writing.

Be clear about the genre, the main genre, do not focus on sub-plots. i.e. if you have a thriller, say so, do not harp on about the romantic story which runs as a sub-plot.

Employ the proper utilization of grammar

Use eye-catching, powerful language. Just like your book needs a hook at the beginning, so does your book description. No one’s going to continue reading the description, let alone the whole book if the first line is as boring as dry toast. Plus, this is often the only thing an online shopper will see before they are prompted to click to see more, and you want them to click, don’t you?

Hint at the climax, never reveal it.

Tell your potential readers how perfect your book is for fans of… genre/style etc.

Mention any awards, high-class reviews, or serious ratings – (see notes below in ‘don’ts’)

Add any audience and age-appropriate.

Give trigger warning when it’s necessary. (These can have a positive effect on sales.)

The (basic) don’ts:

Never use shouty capitals.

Give too short a description.

Cut off words

Make false or misleading claims

Double/triple edit. Do not allow any misspellings or typos to get through. If you cannot write a short description without any errors, there is little hope your book will be error-free.

Do not employ ‘date language’ like ‘just released’ or ‘new novel’, in a week it won’t be and you will need to re-word your description.

Stay away from aggressive calls to action. Such as “You MUST buy this book”. Using such language lends a note of desperation and drives potential buyers away.

Do bear in mind retailers accept differing lengths of descriptions, so you may need to tailor it to each site’s requirements.

Surprisingly, some things you might think influence, do not, according to recent Bookbub research;

It seems it is irrelevant to include details of which type of bestseller you may have, i.e. New York Times Vs USA Today. Simply saying ‘Bestseller’ has far more significance.

Adding a question at the end of your description has no effect on your potential purchaser’s decision making. Which makes doing so a total waste of time.

Neither does saying the book is your debut novel, or your tenth novella, or your seven hundredth and fiftieth for that matter. It has no significant impact on the choice to purchase.

Therefore, use your description to tell people about your story, get them intrigued, wanting to know more.

Avoid telling them about ‘the book’. You may be proud of all those things, but readers don’t give a flying ***, they simply want to know if they will enjoy the story.

Including the series name in the description did not affect readers positively or negatively. Therefore, adding such information (in the description) is pretty much a waste of time and effort. It seems the cover, and the titles on online pages, already show that information; so potential buyers do not want the same information repeated over and again… they know, they get it already.

I now hear you asking how you get to a good description.

The easiest way is to create two versions of similar text, like this:

hook1

hook2

Both versions have the same information. They both start by listing the accolades which represent the renown of the book.

However, from there, description A focuses more on Nick Dunne’s perspective, while B hones in on Amy.

So, go ahead, create two versions of your book’s description, test them against each other and determine which works best for your book.

Use friends to help you decide. After all, their point of view will be far more accurate than your own; you will not be buying your book, they will and they know what attracts them better than you ever will.

Try using the following suggestions as an outline guide.

Start your description by using a bold opening sentence, possibly a statement to grab the reader’s attention.

Use at least one hook to grab readers’ attention.

Ensure the description does not contain any spelling or grammatical errors.

Make certain to ‘inspire’ your potential reader to ‘buy’.

While I do not suggest using direct comparisons to ‘famous’ or ‘renowned’ authors, (such as “…is the new Stephen King” or “Better than Sophie Kinsella…”) which is considered cheesy, desperate, egotistical and opens all sorts of avenues for negative feedback and bad reviews, it may be worthwhile making a statement your book would be “Perfect for fans of Lee Child” or “Martina Cole fans will love this gritty and convincing thriller

Note, the words, ‘Gritty & Convincing’ are taken directly from the cover of Martina Cole’s book. Never be afraid of copying the methods and styles used by major publishing houses.

Once you have found a style and method which suits you, why not create your own template and use that for your future books?

After all, great fishermen have their own way of baiting their rod for the type of fish they want to catch. You can do the same, go get the readers you need, lure them in, hook, line and sinker.

See, fishing is not such a bad metaphor after all.

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I have compiled a wealth of information to help authors of all capabilities and experience to know more about the publishing world, books and being indie.

To share this information I created two books, The Frugal Author, which is all about publishing at the lowest costs for the maximum return, and ‘Lots of Author Stuff You Need to Know’, which contains, funny enough, lots of author stuff you NEED to know.

These books are full of useful and enlightening information, are designed to help you avoid making costly mistakes and to help you generate profit as early as possible.

Both books are published as low-cost eBooks, waiting for you to download right now.

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 Redbooks2

 

Authors, are you sitting on a fortune without realising it?

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A short while ago I wrote a post about the different ways and reasons authors might sign their books. Why you should take signing and inscribing your books very seriously…

This post follows on from that one, but not along the route you might think.

Once again, this is an in-depth and informative article, from which I think you will take far more than just the main points I make.

At least, I hope so.


The idea for this post came about while I was chatting away with a friend, discussing how easy it is to recycle print books nowadays, especially since the introduction of environmentally friendly inks, papers, films, card and such.

However, as with most conversations, our chat wandered across many subjects, soon I found myself explaining how I sold several uncorrected proof copies of my books, ones which included errors, misprints, formatting issues and so forth to either fans or collectors.

My friend, who happens to be an avid collector of rare books, said this is not such an unusual occurrence, many book collections would not be complete without an uncorrected proof copy or two.

He said, some of these proofs are produced without cover illustrations, so the books are, in his words ‘raw’, just containing the writer’s words and little else. The resulting post is formed both from the information my friend shared and from research I undertook following our meeting.


I do understand why people collect first editions.

I the early days of printing presses the plates were made of lead, the sharpness of the edges on these plates would, after a number of impressions, wear. Thus, the earlier impressions would be far sharper and clearer than those printed later.

This was most important where the printed work contained illustrations or maps, which were generally finely penned pen & ink drawings or engravings, so clarity of reproduction was all-important.

In modern times, first with off-set printing and now with digital technology, this is no longer a factor and collecting ‘first’ or ‘early’ editions is now more of an act of faith than a practical necessity.

If one was to take the ‘early’ edition to its most, but logical, extreme, then it is the authors manuscript would be the rarest and most valuable version of ‘the book’… which it is.

Most collectors, including institutions, cannot collect authors manuscripts as widely, or as thoroughly, as they may wish.

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There is, however, a preliminary state of a book, prior to the first published edition and therefore closer to the authors manuscript so it still holds a high rarity value yet is more readily available.

These fall into two categories.

The first is the authors proof copy(s). Dependent on how many ‘proof’ editions are required.

The second is the ARC’s or ‘galley’ proofs, which often need final-final proofreading before publication and printing start in earnest.

These copies of your own books can also hold a higher intrinsic value than those of your production run, including POD’s.

The reason is twofold; the first is they are early examples, so they are rare, most being produced in low quantities of a dozen or so.

Secondly, most books will undergo their final revisions, by the author and editors, after the printing of the proof copies; meaning these books often show a state of the authors work otherwise unpublished. This is enormously interesting and informative for scholars and students of literature and language studies.

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The history of producing proof copies for distribution dates to the partly printed ‘salesmen’s dummies’ of the 19th century.

But ‘proofs,’ as part of the publication process, has a shorter history.

Advance copies of books for in-house use by the publisher are customary,  either as long galley proofs or in other formats. Printed and bound advance copies for distribution were rare in the 1930s and 40s, only becoming regular practice in the 1950s and 60s.

This was mostly due to Crane Duplicating Service, a Cape Cod printer, who promoted the idea to the publishing industry. Those who had a ‘Crane’ could print inexpensive prepublication editions which they could send out for early reviews, thus tempting the major wholesalers and retail buyers to place larger orders. Another development to assist with this was also devised by Crane, this was the placing of promotional ‘blurb’ on the rear covers or dust jackets of these promotional books.

This practice gained such wide acceptance proofs became known as ‘cranes’ by the print industry for many years, a practice which has only recently fallen from fashion.

You can see the natural, almost organic progress of how this influenced the concept and design of the modern book, which still sports the back cover and dust jacket ‘blurb’ first fashioned by those early publishing houses.

The number of proof copies is a secret kept by each publisher, but some figures have escaped, such as the 57 copies of Robert Stone’s first novel, The Hall of Mirrors, or the 39 proofs of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

One of Phillip K Dick’s novels contained ‘potentially libellous’ text. It is said that 19 proof copies of this book still exist… somewhere.

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Not satisfied with these simple proof copies, many publishers (since the 1930s) issue elaborately produced prepublication volumes in hope of generating further interest in forthcoming releases.

Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was issued in such a prepublication form, as were Dashiell Hammett, and James M, Cain and, in 1961, an ‘advance reading copy special edition’ of a forthcoming first novel called Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, was created.

Since then, ARC’s have become commonplace, they are now par-for-the-course for most releases, such is the case for ‘The World According to Garp‘, John Irving’s breakthrough novel, which used 1500 advance copies printed for promotional purposes. Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park had two printings of ARC’s totalling 2500 copies; it was his first bestseller. Since which he has become one of the most popular and successful thriller writers of all time.

Examples of textual changes in proofs abound.  Most are never discovered until someone does a line by line comparison with the final book.

Tim O’Brien revised his National Book award-winning novel, ‘Going After Cacciato‘, after the proof was printed, and O’Brien’s own copy has whole paragraphs marked out and rewritten. His second novel, Northern Lights, has a two-page section in the proof that does not appear in the finished book.

Peter Matthiessen’s National Book Award-winning ‘The Snow Leopard‘ has major changes made after the proof was printed, after he sent it to a friend, and Buddhist scholar, for comments on his references to Buddhism.

Kent Anderson’s powerful Vietnam war novel ‘Sympathy for the Devil‘ has the most stunning passages excised after the proof was printed, perhaps because they were deemed by editors to be too harsh for publication.

Oh, and no one would have known just how bad Ernest Hemingway’s Spanish was in the late 1930s if the proofs of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls‘ was not found.

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So, even if you change, finalise, re-edit sections or whole parts of your book after feedback from your ARC’s, this may not be a bad thing.

There is a case made because proofs are printed first and are distributed outside of the publishing house, they comprise the ‘true first edition’ of a book, as such distribution constitutes the ‘publishing’ of said work. i.e., making a book available to the public, however limited the availability may be.

Combining their historical scarcity, and likely future scarcity, with the textual variations which are often found and which, by definition, represent a state of the text closer to the author’s original manuscript, the value in collecting proof copies is self-evident.

Which brings me, albeit by such a circuitous route, to where this post links back to my previous one about book signings.

http://www.peecho.com/checkout/14716200169619823/234509/doveshardv3I have sold all the copies of my own proof books and intend to do so in the future as I release new works.

I combined the rarity of such with the opportunity to sign and/or inscribe each copy as described in the previous post on this blog.

Of course, the cost of these rare editions is a little higher than the general releases and, as I have the physical copies, shipping charges are also paid by the buyer.

Some may think this would dissuade the regular purchaser, but I have found otherwise and, on two occasions, had people bidding against each other.

I no longer allow people to get embroiled in this way and set what I consider to be a fair and reasonable price for each book.

Taking this one step further, I would also welcome the sale of my original manuscript, should I have handwritten, typewritten or even made handwritten alterations on hard copy, which I have, sadly, not.

Personally, I do not work that way. I do know some authors who prefer to do so and maybe this is an option they may like to consider?


To cap this post off, here are some points you may like to consider in your future marketing plans. Please note, these are ideas for Paperbacks and Hardcover books, they are not ideal or workable for eBooks.

The following notes are based on the premise from which I started this post… “are you sitting on a fortune without knowing it?”

1, Create a ‘first edition’ short run of your next book.

You could do this as a time-limited promotion or for a set number of books. Of course, you may find some little niggly alterations you need to make, which would only better the rarity of this first edition run.

2, Use any ARC copies (which could simply be a small number of the above or a set number of pre-proofread editions) to your benefit.

Don’t just send them to ‘reviewers’ or ‘friends’ seeking Amazon/Goodreads reviews. Such reviews now lack credibility as their authenticity is under challenge, which is why Amazon deletes so many ‘reviews’.

Instead, give them to your local radio and TV stations; in the UK seek out the local BBC stations as well as the independent ones. Do the same with your local newspapers. Give one to the manager of your local Waterstones bookshop, (these managers have a say in selecting the books their stores stock.)

The main reasons I suggest ‘local media’ is they are constantly hungry for ‘local’ news, so an author from the area who has or shall soon, be releasing a book is exactly the type of story they need. You may well get an interview or be asked to appear as a guest.

Try and milk the airtime. Do a pre-book release show with the ARC & get invited back, in say, two weeks, once your book has been released and is ‘live’ online. (Get two bites of the cherry & create a relationship with the host(s))

I have appeared on two of the three local radio stations in my hometown. Including several guest appearances on the primetime breakfast show.

Note: Do think outside the box, which is especially relevant for certain genres and non-fiction. I have some of my own books in maritime museums, seafarers, and naval heritage centre gift shops and online websites.

You can try your local tourist information centres if your book is about, or set in, the locality. Check out your local museums, galleries and tourist hot spots. Your book may just be welcome on their shelves.

3, If you want to try to attack the regional market, which will encompass your ‘State’ in the USA, then why not produce your own ‘special prepublication edition’ to send to the key organisations? (This would work for National campaigns too, but they are far more difficult to organise and manage.)

As with #2 above, only offer to sign or inscribe these ARC’s for the host when you are interviewed or appear on their show, or when your recorded slot has been aired. Try not to do it pre-show or during recording sessions.

After which, it is always worth turning up ‘out-of-the-blue’ on another day to sign the book when the show is on-air. (It is to the hosts benefit… they will almost certainly ‘fit-you-in’. Trust me, I have done this.)

Even if you do not get lucky with more airtime immediately, you can arrange a time to go back for the signing, even offer to give a signed book or two to the listeners, suggest holding a little quiz or competition. Anything that engages the station’s listeners will make them jump all over you for the privilege.

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4, Manuscripts.

A, If you handwrite and are willing to sell your manuscript, either your first draft of your final draft, then please offer it for sale at a price that reflects your love for your story, (i.e. not cheaply). You could fashion a loose cover or folder to keep the whole thing neat, or at least together for presentation purposes. If this has your signature or additional notes written on it, it will add to the overall provenance.

B, If you use a computer to write, as I do, why not consider printing out your draft, at least the ‘final/final first draft’ and making your own handwritten editorial notes on the physical copy, along with and as, you edit the on-screen copy.

This could then be treated as the manuscript above.

Please, however, only have one copy of your first draft and one of your final draft, (although other working copies are acceptable, such as the ARC draft, bot ONLY as long as each is a sole copy and unique), any other/repeat copies will only devalue your manuscripts and will be considered fraudulent, which is not, I am sure, a label you want to associate with your good name.

The more handwritten crossings out, margin notes, additions and so forth the better. These are the things collectors, libraries, scholastic establishments and museums adore. Such items tend to lend people a sense of ‘knowing’ the author as they work, an insight into their mindset if you will.

Well, that’s it from me for this post.

I do hope you can use some of these ideas or, indeed, find fresh ones which suit your own unique situation.

Finally, I can’t help think of eBooks as being ephemeral, subject to being lost in a power outage or, as Amazon.com did with a number of George Orwell books, when it found it sold them without having rights to them, simply erased them from the face of the earth. Something which is far harder to achieve with printed books…. note Fanrenhight 451.


Find my books, even those not available on Amazon.

Get a preview of my current Works in Progress.

See my Artworks and Photography.

Find my Biograph. 

Visit my website

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Why you should take signing and inscribing your books very seriously…

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But first, here are a few bits of book lore authors may not know.

By tradition and convention, authors should always sign their books on the title page, the page which has the author’s name printed on it, generally under the printed title of the book or nearer the foot of the same page.

If the author wishes to add an inscription, a message along with their signature, it should also go on the title page if it is very short, about a word or four in length. Longer inscriptions should be written on the half-title page, the page preceding the title page, or on the front endpaper, sometimes referred to as the flyleaf, if of a serious length.

An old tradition has the author put a line through their own printed name when they sign their name on the title page.

There are, by historical anecdote, two views of why this practice is undertaken.

The first, is a book only needs a single validation attributing its author, the authors own handwritten signature makes the printed attribution unnecessary, hence it is crossed out.

The second accepted reason goes back to the earliest days of printing when it was the practice for authors to sign each copy of the printed material by hand as proof of their authorship, a kind of early copyrights protection if you will.

My own view is, the tradition of crossing out one’s name arises from a combination of both, developing over the years as the printing revolution gained credence.

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I do like the thought, even nowadays, these hundreds of years later, there is some conservative part of us writers who continue this practise as a nod to our literary forebears. That we authors like to keep a connection with our history and heritage.

Another tradition for book signing is when someone asks you to sign or personalise their copy. (This is inclusive of book signings, or under any other circumstance.) Say the person is ‘George’, then the author should write the words ‘For George’. ONLY if the author is giving the book as a gift should they write the words ‘To George’. (Note Stephen King’s inscription in the above photograph).

Of course, these are only conventions, accepted literary etiquette and in no way are enforced rules or regulations. Authors can sign any way they wish.

I do hope, however, you are one who embraces historical values, discernment and class.

Here is what some established authors say on the matter;

malcolm_gladwell_signed_title_page-e1381421633946Tom C. Hunley says. “I asked Rodney Jones, American poet and retired professor of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, why he crossed his name out in a book he signed for me. He told me it makes it more valuable for collectors. Also, if it has a date and location, it makes it even more valuable. So, I’ve been crossing out my name and writing in a date and location at every book signing since.”

(Tom is the director of Steel Toe Books and a prolific writer and Professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY.)

Nicholas Belardes, a Chicano writer of speculative, literary, YA and MG fiction said, “Sometimes I cross my name out and sign. I do it out of respect for myself, for the idea of accomplishment, for the idea that writers are real people, that we can touch our manuscripts in ways that transcend the printed objects they’ve become. Our works become even more personal this way because our signatures are more physically attributed to us in the world than even fingerprints.”

“I do it. My understanding is it dates to the historical tradition of small press runs, where the author would hand-sign each copy as an authentication of the text.Sandra Beasley, American poet and non-fiction writer from Virginia.

Note: Sometimes authors sign additional copies, ones intended for future sale by the store or organisation where the signing is taking place. This is encouraging for people to purchase the book from and even attract custom to, that retailer.

However, there is also an ulterior motive; once a book has been signed, it is no longer classed as a ‘new’ book according to many publishers’ rules. Therefore, it cannot be returned to the publisher for a refund by the retail vendor. (Neat trick or not. I guess it depends on your viewpoint?)

Okay, now we have those tidbits of information, let’s get on with the reason why you might take signing your book as a very serious matter…

 When you buy a signed book, you are purchasing a signature, but when you buy an inscribed book you are getting a story.

One of the questions I’ve been asked often is “Which is better, having a book signed by the author or having them inscribed it?”

Without any hesitation, my answer is the more writing by the author in a book, the better. I even encourage collectors to have their own copies personally inscribed by the author whenever they can.

For a long time, generations, literally, there was a clearly established hierarchy of values pertaining to books signed by their authors.

I shall clarify…

The best copy is the dedication copy, most usually there is only one of these. The one gifted to the person for whom the dedication was written.

Next best are the association copies, books inscribed by the author to someone notable or important in the author’s life, a relative, a friend, a mentor or possibly another writer.

After that were ‘presentation copies,’ which means the books inscribed by the author to someone who was not (as) important to the author, or whose importance was unknown.

And finally, at the bottom of the hierarchy, are books that are just signed, with no further inscription, no other writing, etc.

The logic of such a hierarchy is more or less self-evident.

The dedication copy is usually unique or, at most, limited to a couple of copies, inscribed by the author to the person he or she thought important enough to dedicate the book to, in print.

Association copies involved significant figures in the author’s life (or in the general cultural life of which the author was a part) also have a self-evident value, although not one as unique or specific as the dedication copy.

Presentation copies are more ambiguous, the mere fact a presentation copy could sometimes, with a little bit of research, luck, or specialised knowledge ‘become’ an association copy argued for their importance, and the closeness of the two in the hierarchy.

Signed books are last, and there is the suggestion of a ‘taint’ to them, as though the only justification for a book having an autograph is celebrity worship which is inappropriate to the book (literary) world.

Because this preference is clear and longstanding in the book collecting world, dealers prefer to have presentation copies over plain signed copies, collectors prefer them and there is a premium placed on their price in the collector’s marketplace.

Now, a true story of how this hierarchy was thrown into turmoil…

An enterprising bookselling from the New York area, recognising this preference, decided to exploit it, relentlessly.

Somewhere in New York, even before the days of routine author tours on the publication of a new book, there were author readings every day. The same with lectures, talks, and seminars, most open to the public.

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Frequently one could visit several in a single day.

The bookseller in reference was a family business. They attended many readings and talks, en masse; often five or more family members at each, all carrying a bag full of the author’s first editions. Each asking the author to inscribe the books to them personally.

Then, when they issued catalogues, nearly every book was listed as a ‘signed presentation copy, inscribed by the author’, a most desirable designation, especially for modern first editions, many of which are not inherently rare unless there is something special about a particular copy.

This exploitation continued for several years. As it did the family grew bolder, branching out its operation to reach more authors, those beyond the boundaries of New York.

Stories began to circulate among writers as they began to receive identically worded, ingratiating letters from a correspondent claiming to be the author’s greatest fan and sending a box of books to be inscribed personally before being returned.

Some writers began noticing the ‘fan’ would then write a follow-up letter some months later, sending another batch of books to be inscribed,  often including copies of titles the author remembered signing previously.

Authors began to dislike it, feel manipulated, deceived and exploited. Several undertook to go along to bookshops and signing all their books in each store.

Booksellers eventually recognised the fraud of these ‘signed presentation’ copies. Whereas a plain signed book carried no such taint.

Collectors began to absorb the preference for plain signed books the booksellers now favoured, although they did not realise it was only the books inscribed to this family’s members which were ‘tainted.’

The public’s perception (wrongly) grew that all inscribed books were now less desirable than those which were simply just signed by the author.

The whole episode created a self-fulfilling prophecy: if collectors’ value inscribed books less than books which just have the authors signature, for whatever reason, it becomes far more difficult to sell inscribed books than those which are signed…. The perception of which is, it ‘proves’ inscribed books are less valuable…. and so, the merry goes around.

Such a view not only defies long-established historical precedent it also diminishes and demeans collecting.

Not only can a presentation copy, to an unknown third party ‘turn into’ an association copy (after a little research), but a collector’s own copy can become an association copy if the collector stays with it long enough and seriously enough for the collection to become recognisably important.

Hemingway’s first bibliographer was Louis Cohen, a fan and book collector.

A Hemingway book inscribed to Cohen would, at the time, be a simple presentation copy to a person of no particular consequence.

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Today, it would be viewed as a highly desirable association copy.

 

Similarly, if Carl Peterson managed to get Faulkner to inscribe a book to him, it would now be viewed as a major association copy.

The time-honoured practise of identifying books from an important collection, ‘the Doheny copy‘ or ‘the Bradley Martin copy,‘ for example, underscores collectors themselves can become significant figures.

Perhaps, most telling in terms of underlying values is the cases of long-dead authors like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Joyce, it is true a presentation copy has a higher value in the marketplace than one which is just signed.

They are more interesting, they can provoke interesting questions leading to discovery, which is one of the pleasures of collecting and ‘the more writing by the author in the book, the better’ is still generally the accepted truth in this market.

Now, this is where it matters to you most…

Since we do not know, cannot predict or even guess who will be part of the next generation of Faulkners, Hemingway’s, James Joyce’s or even Stephen Kings, is there any reason different criteria should apply to the inscriptions of we contemporary authors than to those we now deem as ‘classic’?

I don’t think so.

Therefore, I suggest you take your book signings very seriously indeed, because one of those people may well be you, or me, or… maybe it will be the author who just inscribed your copy of their new book.

Keep Happy, Paul.


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