The Reader’s Gazetteer: J

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Well, I have to admit it: I’m stuck. I couldn’t think of a single fictional place beginning with J. Nor could my father, who has got enthusiastically into this excursion, as will be seen from his postcard.

And I think I can explain why they’re so difficult to find.

I’ve said before that the thing about fictional places is that you have to be able to believe in them. And it’s difficult to believe in a place if you’re not sure how you’re meant to pronounce it.

J – believe me, I know – is not an obvious letter. (The number of places in which I’ve been addressed tentatively as ‘Miss… er, Yo-veet?’…!) Is it the English dg sound? The French zh? The German y? Maybe even the Spanish hk? Or perhaps it’s more like Latin and you should treat it as another form of i. Well, you might be able to work it out from the location or the language, but you might equally well not, and it’s a bit distracting to spend the whole book wondering whether you’re pronouncing the site of the action correctly. I can see why authors don’t take the risk.

(In fairness, I should add that the ever-entertaining Smart Bitches, Trashy Books came up with a post that led me to a book set in somewhere called Jura, but I haven’t got round to following it up, so I don’t know whether it’s pronounced like the Hebridean island or the French mountain range or something else entirely.)

Next time: K. You know where you are with K. (Except in Swedish.)

Books mentioned in this post

The English Bride (Royal Bride), Joan Wolf

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Book meme

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It’s a wet Saturday afternoon, so let’s have a meme! Comment with a number and I’ll answer the question.

1: What book did you last finish? When was that?

2: What are you currently reading?

3: What book are you planning to read next?

4: What was the last book you added to your tbr?

5: Which book did you last re-read?

6: Which book was the last one you really, really loved?

7: What was/were the last book/books you bought?

8: Paperback or hardcover? Why?

9: YA, NA or Adult? Why?

10: Sci-Fi or fantasy? Why?

11: Classic or modern? Why?

12: Political memoirs or comedic memoirs?

13: Name a book with a really bad movie/tv adaption

14: Name a book where the movie/tv adaption actually was better than the original

15: What book changed your life?

16: If you could bring three books to a deserted island which would you bring and why?

17: If you owned a bookshop what would you call it?

18: Which character from a book is the most like you?

19: Which character from a book is the least like you?

20: Best summer read?

21: Best winter read?

22: Pro or anti e-readers? Why?

23: Bookdepository or Amazon?

24: Do you prefer to buy books online or in a bookshop?

25: If you could be a character from a book for just one day who would you be and why? (Bonus: any specific day in the story?)

26: If you could be a character from a book for their entire life who would you be and why?

27: If you could change one thing about mainstream literature what would you change? (i.e. more diversity, better writing, better plot etc.)

28: How many books have you read so far this year?

29: How do you sort your shelves? (i.e. by color, author, title etc.)

30: Who’s your favourite author?

31: Who’s your favourite contemporary author?

32: Who’s your favourite fantasy author?

33: Who’s your favourite Sci-Fi author?

34: List five OTPs

35: Name a book you consider to be terribly underrated

36: Name a book you consider to be terribly overrated

37: How many books are actually in your bookshelf/shelves right now?

38: What language do you (most often) read in?

39: Name one of your favorite childhood books

40: Name one of your favorite books from your teenage years

41: Do you own a library card? How often do you use it?

42: Which was the best book you had to read in school?

43: Are you the kind of person who reads several books at once or the kind of person who can only read one book at a time?

44: Do you like to listen to music when you read?

45: What is your favorite thing to eat when you read?

46: What is your favorite thing to drink when you read?

47: What do you do to get out of a reading slump?

48: Where is your favorite place to read?

49: When is your favorite time to read?

50: Why do you love to read?

Camino Inglés 10: you are not the same people (the journey home)

Previously:

Camino Inglés 1: two ways to prepare for a pilgrimage

Camino Inglés 2: Isle of Wight Coast Path (eastern half)

Camino Inglés 3: Isle of Wight Coast Path (western half)

Camino Inglés 4: fare forward, travellers

Camino Inglés 5: Ferrol to Pontedeume (day 1)

Camino Inglés 6: Pontedeume to Betanzos (day 2)

Camino Inglés 7: Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma (day 3)

Camino Inglés 8: Hospital de Bruma to Sigüeiro (day 4)

Camino Inglés 9: Sigüeiro to Santiago (day 5)

16 May 2017

At the end of Monday I was still not famous. On Tuesday morning we had a train to catch, so didn’t check. We ate breakfast in the café in the station, and then boarded a train headed eastwards. It trundled along at 80km/h for the first couple of hours, then slowed and crept along the sides of steep wooded valleys, following a river. Then it went through Astorga and out onto the meseta, and I sat watching intently out of the window for landmarks I might have seen ten years before, walking the other way. I couldn’t swear to any particular landmark, but I saw some storks’ nests for certain, and was glad.

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We came out into Palencia in the early afternoon, and found intense heat, and pale stone buildings, and a park with a retired steamroller mounted in it, and old men sitting on benches. ‘This is what Spain is meant to be like,’ John said, not entirely joking.

It was siesta hour. I’d been the one to resort to Booking.com this time, and had found us a room in a rather quiet, tired, hotel. We found it and checked in – and found the wi-fi.

Now, it turned out, I was famous. The Society of Authors had put out a press release, and I learned that I was the first ever self-published author to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. I had emails, Twitter notifications. I sent text messages to my parents, linked the story on Facebook and my blog, and watched the notifications roll in for a bit.

Then we went out to look at the cathedral.

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Palencia immediately went to the top of my ‘favourite Spanish cathedrals’ list, knocking Burgos down into second place. It was cool and quiet, with far more stained glass than any other I’d visited, beautiful ceilings, and an actual sensible system for keeping the frivolous out of the way of the devout (or vice versa) – separate doors, sending the latter to a chapel right in the middle of of the cathedral, rather than shoved in a (tiny) chapel opposite the main doors as an embarrassment, as at St Paul’s in London. We came in as tourists, and didn’t have to pay because it was a Tuesday. For us, too, there was huge, silent space, and brightness through high windows.

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In the evening we ate at a table under a canopy in the square, with too-sweet white Rioja (which I suppose I should have expected, with a name like ‘Diamante’), and liqueurs on the house, and talked about how to spend my winnings. ‘If I win the whole thing,’ I said, ‘I’ll go to Brazil, and if I don’t, I’ll go InterRailing.’

17 May 2017

The next morning was cloudy and considerably cooler. We explored some more of the city, looking at an exhibition about the Spanish air force, walking by the river, going into normal shops (I came away with pyrite beads and owl-shaped ceramic beads; John, with a fidget spinner), drinking coffee and watching storks in their nests on the corners of church belfries.

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Afterwards, we sat in the cafeteria in Palencia station watching the rain and waiting for our train. The incoming train from A Coruña and Santiago got later and later, and we became increasingly thankful that we hadn’t attempted to do the whole journey in one day. Eventually our train to Santander turned up and the Coruña train still hadn’t come, and we felt very thankful indeed.

The Santander train was much quicker, of course; it was a much shorter journey. A documentary about Coco Chanel was being shown on the screens overhead. I was quite interested, but the file had some glitch that kept sending it back to the beginning.

Once more in Santander, we returned to Café Royalty for a quick supper before boarding the Pont Aven and investigating all its questionable delights: the duty-free shop, the bars, and the cinemas. The choice of films was, of course, fairly limited: the choice that evening was between the live-action Beauty and the Beast and some action movie I now forget. John and I, possibly compensating for our television-deprived childhood, went for the Disney, and, at the appointed hour, we duly filed into our seats.

Then somebody said my name. ‘Kathleen?’

It turned out to be Father Paul, who had been the Catholic chaplain at my university, and who was walking the Camino del Norte in stages. I introduced John. We attempted to catch up on ten years worth of life and several hundred miles of walking in three minutes before the film started, which didn’t really work.

He was not interested in Beauty and the Beast, though, so he withdrew to the other cinema to watch the action movie. John and I quite enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, and then went to bed.

18 May 2017

I got up earlier than I needed to in order to see the tip of Brittany as the ship passed close in to the shore; but it was good to have the sea to myself for a couple of hours; well, me and the woman hoovering the carpet in the bar, and the rep from the whale charity, and a few other early risers. It was a big ship. John appeared somewhere between ten and eleven and was still in time to see France pass by.

I couldn’t get onto the internet, which was probably good for my peace of mind. I read Madensky Square (acquired from the duty free shop) instead, just sitting there with the sea outside the window and a book and a cup of coffee and no work that I could practicably do. There would be plenty of it when I got back to dry land.

When I packed Four Quartets, I’d expected ‘Little Gidding’ to be the one that had the most to say to me, to be thinking about roses and yew trees and the end of all our exploring. And yet, from the fog-choked eucalyptus of the FEVE, to here, taking the voyage of ten days ago in reverse, my identity as a writer rewritten, it had been ‘The Dry Salvages’ all the way:

You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.

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#IndieAthon wrap-up

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Well, considering I didn’t find out about #IndieAthon until two weeks in, I didn’t do too badly…

As it happened, I’d already got two down: I’d had to spend a day in bed with a horrible cold, and The Comfortable Courtesan and Rustick Exile made for excellent, well, comfort reading. The characters are old friends now, and it was lovely to go back to the beginning of everything and remind myself how it all started.

A. M. Leibowitz‘s Anthem, from independent publisher Supposed Crimes, was my next #IndieAthon read. Leibowitz is one of the few authors who’s interested in the intersections between religious and LGBTQ identities. This one is particularly entertaining for anyone who’s ever had to stifle a snigger at the unintentional suggestiveness of much worship music.

Firebrand by Ankaret Wells was a re-read – it’s a steampunk fantasy romance. In between the first time and this I’ve read some of Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia, so was able to pick up a lot more of the allusions and appreciate the setting. Having said that, I didn’t feel that I was missing that last time around – this was more of an added bonus!

Another book that came from a small press, rather than being self-published, was R. V. Bailey’s Credentials. With some dating from before U. A. Fanthorpe’s death, and some afterwards, this collection of poetry spans all sorts of emotions and experiences. I think my favourite was Suddenly, but Hard Work has a poignant kick to it.

I finished the month with How I Broke Bath, and other stories, by The Hunter. The man behind that name died earlier in March. I met him a couple of times, not enough to say that I knew him well, but he was a good friend to people that I consider good friends. He had an ear for a pun and a knack for telling a story: both are evident in this collection of blog posts.

I’ve very much enjoyed #IndieAthon – reading, recommending, and generally hanging around on the hashtag. I hope it runs again!

A Spoke In The Wheel has a cover, and other exciting news

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Three things make a post, or so they say. Well, I can manage two and a half.

Firstly, and most obviously, A Spoke in the Wheel now has a cover. My very grateful thanks go to those who took their personal conveyances to bits so that I could take photographs of the wheels.

The thing itself is on track (odd metaphor, for a bicycle/wheelchair book!) to be launched (even odder metaphor!) on Saturday 5th May. (That way there’ll be something to do if the Giro d’Italia is boring. Which it might be. There’s been so much controversy around where it’s starting and who’s starting it that the race itself could be a huge anti-climax.)

Secondly, I’ve been asked to judge a writing competition to celebrate the public service union UNISON’s 25th anniversary. I don’t talk much about the day job over here, but I’ve been working for UNISON for eight years now. Most recently I’ve been in Learning and Organising Services, which oversees training for reps and learning for all members – generally speaking, continuing professional development or building confidence.

One of the most wonderful things about what we do there is getting to meet people, who, having assumed or been told all their life that they can’t, suddenly discover that they can. That’s what learning is about, that’s what this competition is about, and I’m really looking forward to reading the entries.

And – here’s the half, because it’s very closely related to the above – I’ve written a blog for Unionlearn about finding the time and the confidence to write. It’s over here.

Ways to help your author friend sell a book

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Pass it on

Assuming, of course, that this is something that you want to do. Many of my friends have very little interest in my book, and this is absolutely fine. We are friends because we have a shared interest in something totally different. These tips are only for people who actually want them!

Talk about it

Not in an ‘I’m my friend’s unpaid salesperson’ way, because that’s a very good way to lose all your other friends, but just in a natural, ‘if we’re talking about books, my friend wrote a book [and it got published/won a prize/got a good review]’ kind of way. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. Nobody can want to read a book if they haven’t heard of it. You get to brag about your author friend. Your author friend gets someone else hearing about their book. Apart from anything else, it builds credibility. The more people who talk about them as an author, the more seriously they get taken.

And by ‘talk’, of course, I also mean ‘Tweet, post about on Facebook, include in shelfie picture on Instagram, leave casually on coffee table when expecting company, etc’.

Lend it

This one divides opinions among authors. There is a school of thought that says that every book lent is a sale lost. I don’t agree with that. As a reader I can point to dozens of books that I’d never have bought at full price, but which I came across some other way (book swap shelf at work/charity shop/lent by my mother/Bookcrossing.com) and which I loved so much that I went on to seek out more by the same author.

As an extreme example, I know someone who shoplifted his first Discworld book – then bought all the rest of them full price. I don’t actually recommend this course of action, but it does go to show… something.

Anyway, if you buy my book and then lend it to someone else, I won’t mind at all.

Order it

Ask your library to get it in for you – then it might reach other people when you’ve finished it and taken it back. Authors do receive a small amount of money when their books are borrowed from libraries.

Or you can order it from a bookshop, and if bookshops get the idea that this is something that people want to buy, they might start stocking more copies, and other people might then see it and buy it. Well, we can dream.

Give it

Only to people you think might like it, obviously. Books can be surprisingly tricky presents, but, depending on the book and the occasion and the recipient, they can work well.

I’d recommend mine for: the person who’s about to go to university; the person who is simultaneously LGBT and Christian; the person who would benefit from knowing that LGBT Christian people exist; the person who likes Catherine Fox’s books. Extrapolate for the book that you have in mind. (You might have to read it first. You might not.)

If you’re fed up with having your own copy knocking around the house, then by all means give it to a friend or a jumble sale or charity shop. See ‘Lend it’, above, for my rationale on this – and if you want my opinion on which particular charity shop to give it to, see this post and extrapolate for your own home town.

Review it

The more (honest, balanced) reviews a book gets, the more credible it becomes. And for those of us who don’t get into the Times Literary Supplement, reviews by real people are particularly valuable. Review it on your blog, review it on Goodreads or LibraryThing or Amazon.

Nobody quite knows how Amazon works, but I have seen a hypothesis that if an author reaches a certain number of reviews, they start popping up in the ‘Customers also bought items by’ recommendations. (Authors currently popping up in this manner on my Amazon page are Kate Charles, Winifred Peck, Simon Park, and Kate Charles. I don’t know how many Kate Charles has sold to be there twice, or, indeed, if that’s got anything to do with it at all.)

In this case you really should read it first. Although with some reviews, one does wonder.

Nominate it

This is only really recommended if you have a thick skin, as it is a well-known fact that book clubs can get vicious. Favourite books, and books by favourite authors, can come out shredded. Having said that, selling a dozen copies all at the same time is really exciting for us small-time authors. Maybe nominate it and then stay in bed with a heavy cold when the time comes to actually discuss it? Or perhaps show up at the meeting the far side of several gins?

If you’d rather not be present when it gets shredded, then there are quite a few literary awards that accept nominations from the general public. If you think it merits an award, obviously, but your opinion is as good as anyone else’s. A nomination can make an author’s day. Actually winning something can make their year.

Any more ideas?

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something! Tell me in comments.

No, it *is* about enjoying it

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A very grainy photo of some books I’ve enjoyed. You might not enjoy these. That’s fine!

On Thursday I took part in a workshop for union learning reps, exploring ways of promoting reading and writing for pleasure in the workplace. One of the initiatives that they work with is the Reading Ahead challenge – members are encouraged to choose six reads (which could be anything from a haiku to War and Peace) and write a brief review of each of them. The idea is to make reading less off-putting, to demonstrate that it’s for everybody.

One of the ULRs told a story about someone who had managed to put one of her recruits right off joining in the challenge.

‘And what are you reading at the moment?’ he’d asked. She’d told him, had said, a little apologetically, that maybe it wasn’t the most intellectual thing in the world, but she was enjoying it.

‘But it’s not about enjoying it, is it?’ he said. ‘It’s about challenging yourself, learning something new.’

That person was wrong. WRONG.

It is about enjoying it.

I’m going to write that bigger:

It *is* about enjoying it

And if the person who said that it isn’t was the person I think it was, I’m going to tell him so when I next see him.

This person is also wrong, or, at least, missing the point spectacularly. If we try to make people read because it is good for them, they will never enjoy reading. It’s like eating enough vegetables, or getting enough exercise: if you do it because you think you should, you’re constantly fighting with yourself and sooner or later you give up because you just hate yourself so much for making yourself do it.

The world is full of things that we read because we have to. Bills. Textbooks. Contracts. Procedures. They are not fun. Why should we extend that misery to the rest of our reading life?

The more people read for fun – read because they genuinely enjoy it, because they would rather be reading than doing something else – the easier they will find it when they come to reading what’s dull, or difficult, but essential.

Can we enjoy reading challenging material? Of course we can. Personally, I have just downloaded Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours – yes, in French – which is going to be a challenge, and also something that I will enjoy. As one of my friends says, ’embrace the power of AND’. We can also keep reading things that we’re not currently enjoying in the hopes that we will enjoy them eventually.

But to deliberately seek out things to read that we don’t expect to enjoy… no. No, thank you.

In much the same way as one gets tired of doughnuts very quickly if one eats nothing but doughnuts, it’s unlikely that people will read nothing but [that book you’re thinking of] and [that other book you’re thinking of]. And really, if they did, would that be such a problem?

The more we read – the more we read for pure pleasure – the more we will find our horizons expanding and our tastes diversifying. If we just let people read what they want to read, and keep reading what they want to read, they’ll probably end up reading something that comes up to the exacting standards of the person who terrorised that poor potential Reading Ahead challenge participant.

But that’s not the point. Enjoyment comes first. Life is too short to drag ourselves through things we’re not enjoying just because somebody thinks they’re good for us.

It is about enjoying it. In fact, enjoying it is the most important thing.

Looking forward to Kingsblood

2013 August Wells 076Ankaret Wells, whose books are great and who I credit with showing me that self-publishing could be far more fun and far less trouble than I had always feared, has teamed up with Irene Headley, whose writing is always insightful and often hilarious, to write a new fantasy series, Kingsblood. And it looks like it’s going to be fantastic:

The bitter years of the Cousins War are over… for now.
The grandsons of Kharis Sidonia are dukes and kings, and the last kinsmen of the deposed King Gilbert the Bloodless are hunted exiles… for now.
Winter holds armies at a standstill, and in Briege, the suitors of the new Duchess of Bergomance protest that they are at her feet… for now.
Before the thaw breaks, Ambrosia of Bergomance must choose a husband, and place her people in the hands of another, greater, power, By her side are two men – her uncle Thomas of Wharram, loyal to his family above all else, and Nicolas ás Ithel, who has spent most of his life as a hostage.
Thomas and Nicolas become lovers and allies…
For now.

There are extracts at Ankaret’s blog and at Irene’s. The first work is coming out in December.

I’m really looking forward to this one.