The eagle-eyed will notice that none of those authors is me. This is because Amazon refuses to recognise that I set Speak Its Name to free (in ebook form, at least) several weeks ago. Lulu, Kobo, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble have all caught on, though, so help yourself. (And if you’re dithering, here’s a recent review to help you make up your mind.)
As usual, I’m late to the controversy. As usual, I only have a hazy idea of what actually went down. But I think it was something like this:
- A site went up which shared pirated ebooks in PDF format
- Authors and publishers protested
- Users of the pirate site protested in turn
- Conclusions were jumped to (authors do not want people to read their books for free!)
- Assumptions were made (authors do not want people to read their books in any way that doesn’t involve buying the book new!)
- Somewhere in the middle of this, the site was taken down
- But the controversy kept running
If you happened to look at Twitter at the wrong moment, you might well be forgiven for concluding that authors disapprove of: libraries, charity shops, jumble sales, second-hand bookshops, those shelves you find in cafés and staff rooms and railway stations.
(Although if you looked a bit harder you’d find plenty of authors who’d disagree.)
There simply aren’t enough hard copies of my books out there in the wild for this to affect me. If there’s somebody currently scouring the charity shops of Britain in the hopes of picking up a paperback of Speak Its Name, then all I can say is, good luck to them. They’ll spend more on the petrol or the train fare than they would just buying the thing new.
So really, I’m talking as a reader here, as a browser, as a purchaser.
I’m talking about charity shops here, and about libraries, and about bricks-and-mortar second-hand bookshops. I’m talking about places with actual shelves. I’ve spent a lot of time in that sort of place over the years. And I have picked up books by authors I’d never heard of. My eye has been caught by a title, a cover picture, a half-remembered name.
And I wouldn’t have spent nine pounds ninety nine on this whim, but fifty pence, two pounds, seems like a decent gamble. Because it is a gamble. I might abandon it after one chapter. On the other hand, I might end up devoting the next five years of my life to finding everything else that author wrote and buying it – yes! perhaps even new!
And I have never felt remotely guilty about any of that; nor do I intend to start now. I am pleased to support a small business or a charity. (Well, most charities – but that’s another story.)
If I like a book, I might keep it and re-read it. If I don’t like it, am I expected to throw it away? Because I certainly don’t want it around my house. No. I will pass it on to a charity shop, or leave it on a swap shelf, or BookCross it, and if someone ends up selling it for fifty pence or five pounds, then they’re welcome to it. And, if I’m honest, the implication that all books should be new books (because that’s where the other way of thinking leads leads) appalls me on ecological grounds, quite apart from anything else.
Many of my clothes came from charity shops, and many have gone back to others. I don’t see the difference when it comes to books. Nobody apart from me can wear the dress that I am wearing. (They can wear a dress very like it, but that’s another story.) But I can lend, give, or sell it to somebody else without the manufacturer having any reasonable grounds for complaint. Likewise, nobody except me can read (for example) the particular copy of The Birthday Party (Veronica Henry) that’s currently on top of my chest-of-drawers. But I could lend, give, or sell it to you, and then you could read it.
And I don’t think that’s depriving Veronica Henry of any income that she could reasonably have expected, because I’d never heard of her before a BookCrosser sent me that book. On the other hand, if I were to start making and handing out copies of it to anyone who asked – people who were actively looking for her book, say – then that would be illegal and immoral. And that’s what the PDF distribution site was doing.
But the existence of any physical copy of any book implies that at some point, perhaps way, way back in the dim and distant past, the author (or the author’s estate, or whoever managed to get the rights off the author**) has been paid for that copy of that book. That is what makes the difference for me between the second-hand trade and piracy.
Incidentally, if you do happen to want a free ebook, then my Speak Its Name is free on Kobo, the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu until the end of September. And if anyone tells you off for downloading it, well, you can tell them that I wrote it and I published and I’m the one who gets to set the price. My apologies to Kindle users: I’m waiting for Amazon to catch up. If you don’t want to wait, you can get an EPUB copy and run it through Calibre with my blessing.
* I also make extensive and enthusiastic use of Project Gutenberg, on the grounds that the authors represented there are far too dead to care, and for the most part, so are their heirs.
I am back on the mainland and back at my own computer, after most of a week at the Ventnor Fringe Festival, most of which I spent hanging around at the Book Bus.
I sold a few books. I wrote a few lines. But mostly I sat in a deckchair and chatted to Tom and Jen, who are in charge of the book part of proceedings (my father and brother look after the bus side of things), and to various family members and friends who were around for the week. I listened to poets and musicians. I bought some books I didn’t know I needed (a leather-bound copy of Prince Otto, which I finished in the form of a Project Gutenberg ebook a few weeks ago; an account of the Oberammergau Passion Play by Jerome K. Jerome; a Val McDermid so early it was published by the Women’s Press; a guide to the Offa’s Dyke long-distance trail).
And I reread my own book. I’m just beginning to work on the sequel to Speak Its Name, which will pick up on the action three or four years down the line, and I wanted to remind myself of what actually ended up in the book.
I knew most of what happened, of course, but I discovered that I’d got Colette’s brothers mixed up, and had given her a niece that I’d completely forgotten about. I discovered that the family dog appeared to be alive and well. I managed to distinguish the two separate parts of the Mel-and-Rose combination. I learned that Colette reads Trollope. I reminded myself of the names of all the churches in Stancester. I found that I’d already sown the seeds for one of the themes that I’m intending to develop in the sequel.
And I found myself filled with an unexpected affection for all my characters, but particularly for Colette and Lydia, who I put through hell and brought out the other side. I have found that all my major characters continue to sit in my head, and quite often I stop to think about what they would make of current affairs that affect them, but this felt rather different. This was more like sitting down with them for a long old gossip than following them on Twitter. It was lovely.
The next book will come from Colette’s point of view. I’m not planning any more Stancester books after this, but, you know, I said that last time. Either way, I’m looking forward to getting to know Colette and Lydia (not to mention Georgia, Will, and Peter) again. And it was great to have a week on a bus full of books to get things going.
Next time I’ll try not to bookend the week with the Discworld convention the weekend before and a wedding the weekend afterwards. But it was great fun, and I’ll definitely be back, so long as the bus is.
I’m very pleased to say that Upstaged!: an anthology of women who love women in performing arts is available now, and that it contains my story Prima Donna. It’s a delightful selection of short stories published by Supposed Crimes, who specialise in F/F fiction across a variety of genres.
The ‘performing arts’ in question are many and varied – my story is (of course) about opera, while others feature panto, silent film, burlesque, plays and musicals.
The genres are many and varied, too. We have steampunk, sci-fi, romance, slice-of-life, and straight (or not-so-straight) historical. Settings range from the 1830s to the far future, from Broadway to New Helsinki. Not all the stories will be to everyone’s taste – that’s the nature of such a diverse collection – but all the same I think there is something in there for everyone.
There’s an interview with me about the inspiration for Prima Donna and about my future projects over at the publishers’ site today.
As for the book itself, here it is at Amazon.com…
… at Amazon.co.uk…
… at Kobo…
… at Smashwords…
… at Barnes & Noble
I can’t say that I’m surprised. It was in fact North Face, which is the last novel that Mary Renault wrote before giving up on writing about straight people and moving to South Africa. The rest of this post will contain spoilers, because I feel that I probably ought to explain a little.
The unpleasant hero is Neil Langton, who spends the whole book alternately mansplaining, manpaining, and trying to persuade the unfortunate Ellen that she ought to sleep with and/or marry him for her own good.
He achieves both.
The biscuits are metaphorical – well, a simile, really, and a very odd simile it is, too.
So far he had brought her; if it seemed well to him that she should part with her virginity as a casual epilogue, after an exhausting emotional crisis, in the abrupt and flickering desire of weariness – a satisfaction as brief and trivial as the biscuit which, wakeful, one reaches from the bedside tin – then this must be the perfect, the only possible thing, and she would embrace it gladly.
Sexy, no? No.
As for the incest, I still can’t work out whether we’re meant to think the reason that Ellen wasn’t attracted to her (now deceased) childhood friend Jock is because of the Westermarck effect, or because he literally was her brother. So it actually isn’t as incestuous as the book group made it sound. Or is it?
On a less baffling note, the winners of the giveaway, as determined by Random.org, are VivieH and joannechillhouse. I will be emailing you for your addresses.
The picture, by the way, shows the north face of the Eiger as seen from the train at Kleine Scheidegg, and rather appropriately obscured by the weather.
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!
Here is what two thirty-something-year-olds, who have spent a lot of time in many various types of churches and who have often travelled into London by rail, sound like watching the last two episodes of Around The World With Willy Fogg:
– King’s Cross? From Liverpool?
– Westminster Cathedral? Really?
– Well, this is a Spanish programme. Maybe they’ve decided he’s Catholic.
– Why is he wearing vestments in the street?
– At least they’ve got the colour of the stole right.
– No, that’s Westminster Abbey. They’re just wrong.
You may well point out that the hero of Around The World With Willy Fogg is a lion who wears a top hat, and that’s a fair point. This is children’s television, and one might as well put the increasing price of stamps down to the fact that Postman Pat now has a two vans, a motorbike, and a helicopter as expect logic. But sending the Liverpool trains to King’s Cross requires me to believe not only in a world where animals wear clothes, but also in one where all the northbound trains leave London from one sole station. Which would make much more sense than the real world, but there we go. Actually, thinking about it, I can’t fault Willy Fogg’s decision to avoid Euston. It’s one of my least favourite stations, ahead of Birmingham New Street and only slightly behind Gatwick Airport.
One of the other eyebrow-raising things about Willy Fogg was the way that Fogg’s acquaintances at the Reform Club seemed to know about his movements almost as soon as he does. This despite the fact that the action is set during a period of history where news cannot travel across the sea any faster than a human (or a top-hat-wearing lion) can. I can give Willy Fogg a pass on this one, but I’m less indulgent when Joseph O’Connor makes the same mistake in Star of the Sea.
We all have our own areas of expertise, our own sensitivities, our own knowns that may well be authors’ unknowns. And so, when a character is meant to know more about a particular subject than their author does, and when a reader knows more than the author, any mistakes are likely to come to the surface.
Apart from how to get to the North West and the difference between Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, I know enough about the career of Kathleen Ferrier, for example, to know that she was singing the role of Orpheus when she broke her leg on stage, not Eurydice, as Rose Heiney assumes in The Days of Judy B.. And that wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that it’s Judy B.’s singing teacher, who really ought to know better, who says that. I know enough about the Church of England to know that it’s unlikely that a bishop would wear a ‘soutane’ to a secular function, as Kate Lace assumes in The Chalet Girl, and very unlikely that he’d call it that.
I know enough to know that I’ve almost certainly missed something myself.
And so, as I wait for the edits to come in on A Spoke In The Wheel, I am nervous. I am nervous about what I may have got wrong about professional cycling and about disability benefits and about how flood defences work. I am nervous about what I may have got wrong about the road to Preston and about doping and about working for a charity. I am nervous about what other people will see that I cannot.
Where possible, I have asked people who know more about those things than I do to read the manuscript and advise me, but I know that it’s inevitable that something is still going to slip through the gaps. I can only hope that it’s not going to be something too embarrassing.