Ghost story takes root

Amazon, books, Cul Beag, Cul Mor, paranormal fiction, Suilven, Sutherland, The Ghost Tree

Ghost Tree sepia

Finding inspiration as a writer comes easily when you live in an inspiring place, rich in scenery, culture, heritage and lore … lots of lore.

My second novel, The Ghost Tree, is due to be published on October 1 this year by Urbane Publications.

Staying true to my unhealthy dislike of genre compartmentalisation, this is a paranormal romance, thriller, crime fiction with its roots firmly planted in a ‘true’ poltergeist account that allegedly took place in the Parish of Rerrick, Auchencairn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, in 1695.

You can read the published account by Alexander Telfair, the minister who performed the two-week-long exorcism, here: http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/dumfriesshire/hauntings/rerrick-poltergeist-1695.html

The old gnarled tree in the picture is all that remains of the haunted plantation in Telfair’s account, then called The Ringcroft of Stocking, where stone mason and farmer Andrew MacKie contended with a violent noisy spirit that pestered his family for a few months at the turn of the 17th century.

There were three trees in living memory. The locals call them ‘The Ghost Trees’. The two beeches died some time ago. This enduring oak was more resilient to the sweeping winds of the Solway hills and has survived both the ravages of time and, if Telfair’s account is to be believed, the poltergeist.

Legend has it that, when the last of the Ghost Trees dies, the Rerrick Parish Poltergeist will return.

My work of contemporary fiction took me to surprising places, from the realms of the dead to quantum physics, and my research on the subject came up with more unanswered questions than solutions to the phenomena of the paranormal and supernatural.

I’m still unsure whether I believe that “a ghost” can be described as a visitation from the dead, a symptom of a vivid imagination or a piece of observable data from a scientific equation. What is evident from all the theories and accounts I have read and all the ‘experts’ I have spoken to, is that many people truly believe that the dead can in some way return from the grave and interact with the living. It is also worrying to note that it seems to take a ritual involving God to remove it.

The Ghost Tree follows the misfortunes of a young man, MacAoidh Armstrong, who unwittingly buys a smallholding on the former subjects of the MacKie plantation. The ghost tree has died and the poltergeist has returned, but the pragmatic and stubborn Highlander does not believe in ghosts.

As the story unfolded during its construction, I found there was far more than the paranormal to contend with when a violent spirit haunts a 21st century home.

The result was a terrifying but fascinating journey for me, especially when I was writing it in the middle of the night with my back to a draughty door.

Whether I believe in ghosts or not, I am still uncomfortable with the inexplicable and, until science proves one way or another that death is merely a transition into another form of existence, I will still need the light on at night when I face the reality of going to the loo.

THIRD WAY HOUSE

authors, books, Ivy Moon Press, Jonathon Clifford, publishing, self-publishing, The Third Way, Urbane Publications, vanity publishing

Is there a middle option between conventional and self-publishing?
There’s no doubt that a good book deserves a professional service but most new authors – many with works of potential excellence – will know that their precious title is littering the floors of traditional publishing houses and will never see the light of day.
More and more often, with staff and cost cuts in the publishing industry, typos and errors are creeping into professionally-published manuscripts and many companies are reluctant to fork-out a percentage of their ever-decreasing marketing budget on their authors. Some of the smaller organisations have no marketing budget at all. The burden of promotion and proofing are therefore left almost exclusively to the author.
DIY publishing has been made easy and cost-free by the likes of Amazon and Smashwords but, with so much choice on the market, books are judged by their cover. A bad cover design can let an author down as can a poorly edited manuscript.
Then there’s the marketing and publicity of a book to get it seen. This, to most authors I have spoken to (conventionally and self-published), is where the real work begins. Months of endless networking, press releases and author interviews doesn’t necessarily equate to sales, unless you’re an established author with a strong fan base. I’ve also heard a lot of traditionally published authors complain that they have been forced to take responsibility for the promotion of their own works as publishing houses invest time and expense on other services and their better-established authors.
So, if a book’s worth publishing and an author is prepared to put in vast amounts of time and effort, why do we shudder at the thought of paying out cash for professional services?

I know a good few traditionally published authors who are finding the DIY publishing model far more lucrative. I don’t know any of them who do not pay for a professional editing service. Similarly, most of them fork out for a good cover designer. They do this to maintain the standard of excellent quality that readers expect from them and will continue to buy into. Some of those authors pay for the services of a publicist to professionally market their product.
Unscrupulous vanity publishers (and that’s not a syllogistic statement) have ruined perceptions on paying for publishing. The stigma attached to vanity and the warnings against them are a good reason to stay well clear. Jonathon Clifford, on his excellent site Vanity Publishing: A Campaign for Truth and Honesty makes it very clear what a good vanity publisher will NOT do: http://vanitypublishing.info/agoodvpwillnot.htm
So what’s the alternative? Is there a middle road to publishing between conventional and DIY?
I’ve been speaking to Matthew Smith (pictured right), director of Urbane Publications, a Kent-based company that calls itself a ‘collaborative’ publishing house: an organisation of professional book people who share the costs of publishing a book with the author in a mutually beneficial contract. He calls it The Third Way.
I’m not advocating their services but am curious as to the effectiveness of their delivery. Are they a brand new business model for the industry or just another vanity publisher under a different guise? If they are what they say on the tin, then this is indeed an exciting time for publishing.
Matthew Smith certainly puts up a compelling argument that his Third Way approach is the way forward. He says: ‘[There is a Third Way] that combines all the benefits of traditional publishing (an engaged editor, script development, knowledge, design, route to market, promotion etc) but gives the author creative and commercial engagement during every part of the process. Every aspect of the project is a shared experience with shared goals, a genuine partnership. And that includes the sharing of the revenue, because every author deserves a fair return on their words.’
If you’re interested in learning more, pop over to my Ivy Moon Press site and decide for yourself.

Amazon, authors, book reviewers, books, fiction, Linda Fausnet, Queen Henry
Linda Fausnet

I’m over at Linda Fausnet’s blog this week talking about the importance of the book reviewer to authors and publishers: http://wannabepride.com/blog/

Originally a screenwriter, Linda’s novel Queen Henry is the story of a homophobic, macho major league baseball player whose participation in a clinical drugs trial alters his life in ways he could never imagine: www.amazon.com/dp/B00LFL3IIO.

Linda is a strong advocate of equal rights and all proceeds of sales of her book go to The Harvey Milk Foundation.

She is also a great supporter of the self-published author and regularly features fellow writers on her blog.

She says: “I … believe strongly in helping other writers. It’s my goal to connect readers with good stories, whether they come from traditional publishers or independent writers.”


On the shelf

authors, books, Dumfries, Ewart Library, fiction, libraries, novels, The Sleeping Warrior

THE journey of most debut authors – whether mainstream published or self-published – is a long and arduous uphill climb. Few are fast-tracked to the top of the world’s reading lists and even fewer make a good living out of writing.
So why do we bother to do it?
There was a time when I believed there to be no feeling more satisfying for authors than holding a real copy of their first novel.
The ability to thumb through the pages and recognise parts of one’s own work in tactile print creates a significant sense of achievement.
Although most authors would say they write books to satiate a personal need, there is also a necessity to share the work with others. Authors of fiction are storytellers and storytellers need listeners. There is little point in telling tales in front of an empty auditorium.
I’ve just received another five-star professional review of The Sleeping Warrior (http://readersfavorite.com/book-review/25265) in which the reviewer Danielle Pinzon described it as ‘remarkable’. It is little words like this from complete strangers that make all the effort meaningful and there is nothing better than a sense of worth to raise confidence in a writer and spur them on to do more and do it even better.
The highlight of the month for me was a visit to my local library where I saw a copy of The Sleeping Warrior placed in a prominent position on the shelves. Seeing my book displayed for public access can only be described as one of life’s true joys.
The success of a product lies in its potential value to the purchaser –  in an author’s case, the reader – and the only way to increase recognition is to give readers the means by which to spread the word and share their good experiences. That’s why reviews, libraries and bookshops are so important to an author: they provide the physical channel for public access to your book that no amount of social networking can compete with.
Although Amazon is the biggest seller of books throughout the world, its shelves are endless labyrinths of virtual words and books that don’t sit in the top one hundred of any particular list will normally fail to get noticed by potential readers. Amazon is also very fickle in that anyone who knows how to manipulate their way to the top of the lists can become an Amazon best-seller for a nano-second and then it’s all over.
There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule and I would never seek to underestimate the power of the mighty e-book nor the honest efforts of fellow writers.
I think I’ll put what’s left of my hard copies to good use and attempt to sell them to more libraries and bookshops: especially the ones with a geographical and genre connection to the book.
I will also try and find more professional reviewers to increase the list of candid, independent analyses.
How that will equate to more readers and sales in the long-term is yet another story to be told.

I’m an author … get me out of here

authors, BBC Scotland, book launch, book signing, books, Dumfries, Ewart Library, fiction, Giancarlo Rinaldi, Sara Bain, The Sleeping Warrior

I HAVE FINALLY done it.
I have just paid a Glasgow printers for a small print run of The Sleeping Warrior and they are due to arrive hot off the press in a few days.
I have also organised a physical book launch in my home town on 5th December: my very first venture out of Cyberspace and into the real world.
For those who don’t enjoy being under public scrutiny, there is a lot to be said about internet promotion. You only need to reveal that part of you that you want others to see; tell the curious what you want to tell them; and package yourself with a virtual smile on your face from a photo you are truly sick of looking at.
There is, however, nowhere to hide in the real world. The stammering, the self-doubt and even the warts all light up like the proverbial Beleshia beacons and, before many expectant faces, there is a tendency for even the most hardened of public orators to implode inwards or run screaming to the taxi rank.
A friend of mine, who is also a very successful writer and has made many a public appearance in her time, gave me the following advice:
“Remember to talk more slowly, have a plan. I either type or write about seven  or eight headings to keep me on track. If I’m doing a reading, I time it.
“Remember also that, if folk are sitting there, they’re already interested.”
She also says to be honest and chatty for the inevitable question time.
Although I may appear quite forthright and confident to most of my friends, I am actually quite shy of strangers and absolutely loathe the idea of selling myself.
To counteract this, I am fortunate enough to have enlisted the aid of another very good friend and a local BBC journalist, Giancarlo Rinaldi, who knows me well and will introduce me on the night. He is funny and interesting and will probably put on such a wonderful performance that people will forget about my book signing and ask him for his autograph instead.
In an ideal world, that would be fine for me as I could sneak out the back door and let out a heavy sigh of relief into the cold Scottish evening.
Debut novels, however, rarely sell themselves and, for the past few weeks, I have been printing out posters and placing them on strategic notice boards around the town. I have also been posting the launch on Twitter, Facebook, KILTR, my writing forums and anywhere else with a bit of blank space.The next move is a press release to the local paper and an interview for an article.
On the day, I’m going to find something to wear that the cat hasn’t been sitting on and brave my first public appearance as a new author.
I’ll report back on 6th December.

Resurrection of Borley Rectory

books, Borley Rectory, fiction, ghost hunters, ghosts, Neil Spring, paranormal
Borley Rectory: the most haunted house in England

WITH a legendary reputation of being ‘the most haunted house in England’, it’s not surprising that the bones of Borley Rectory have been dug up to produce what is set to be a prominent best-seller in the fiction market.

I remember, in my youth, reading a book about Victorian ghost hunter Harry Price’s investigations at the notorious haunted house of Essex. That book terrorised me so much that I couldn’t read more than half of it. I had nightmares for years and it put paid to my fascination for the paranormal and things that go bump in the night for many more.

It wasn’t just the pictures of the imposing house, the eerie figures, bricks suspended in mid-air or spectral writing on the walls, it was the witness statements and true accounts of horrific paranormal phenomena that occurred in and around the rectory, even when Price was conducting his investigations.

The rectory appeared to have more than one ghost and there was a strong suggestion of poltergeist activity that could not be explained away by fact or science. From my distant recollections, I remember reading about the ghostly figure of a nun who would walk through the garden and peer into the window of the dining room. The vicar got so fed up with the meal-time intrusion that he bricked the window up. A spirit attached itself to a woman called Marianne and would write on the wall beside her, appealing to her to light mass candles. When one young lady got hauled out of bed by the hair by unseen hands and dragged across the room, enough was enough for me and I slammed the book shut forever, finding a cold comfort beneath the covers of my bed with the light on.

There have been very many books, films and documentaries created about Borley over the years and very many websites dedicated to its name. Some dispel the assumption of paranormal activity; others claim to verify the truth of it. Some have even dramatised the events which took place at Borley in serial fiction. Irrespective of whether the stories are true or arise from the mischievous imaginations of some of the rectory’s inhabitants, it makes a fabulous ghost story and an off-the-peg template for an instant best-seller.

Now novelist and entrepreneur, Neil Spring, has resurrected the haunting once more in his book The Ghost Hunters which is due to be published next week. From the excerpt I have read, it is a well-crafted, stylised work by an intelligent author who gives meticulous care to structure and sense. There wasn’t enough story-line in the excerpt, so I can’t fairly comment on his ability for characterisation or plot, but I have a spooky feeling it will be excellent.

The Ghost Hunters follows Price’s investigations through the first-person narrative of his young assistant, Sarah Grey, and Spring asserts that ‘the novel isn’t just about a haunting, it’s about the interpretation of hauntings and the nature of belief.’

I would love to read it but I’m not sure if I have the nerve to re-visit the stories that have haunted me since childhood. Perhaps it’s time to lay my ghosts and man-up!

Self-promotion for the bashful

authors, books, fiction, self-promotion, social media

WHEN I told a writing buddy about my fears of falling under the spotlight of self-promotion, he said ‘get over yourself.’
A bit harsh, I know, but he is absolutely right and also happens to be quite a successful author.
I am usually the one behind the camera; the one conducting the interviews; and the one promoting another person’s work.
Self-promotion is anathema to me and one of the most difficult tasks a self-published author will ever have to undertake. You just have to let go of the pride and say it’s got to be done.
The impersonal nature of social media makes promotional work relatively easy to stomach. It’s like creating a mirror image of yourself and hiding behind that artificial persona that really isn’t you. I will probably never meet the thousands of Twitter, Facebook and blog followers I’ve made and so can dare to be a little more blatant about pushing my book on them, often just falling short of spamming.
It is comforting to note that I have joined the serried ranks of thousands of other authors doing the same thing and there’s a sense of safety in numbers; a collective conscience with a common goal in mind. Those numbers, however, are so vast that it makes it almost impossible for anyone to notice an individual grain of sand in the desert dunes.
There are, mercifully, many book reviewers, bloggers and readers who generously give up their time to help support authors. I’m compiling a list of them on Pinterest.
Some charge for their time and effort, while others do it for the love of reading or as a cross-promotional tool. I’ve had a look around the internet and can’t find any real evidence of whether paying a site to promote your book actually equates to sales.
The good people who do it for free are not looking for a quick business opportunity and have no intention of fleecing authors. Avid readers will offer to review a book for merely the price of an e-copy; while bloggers, especially those who have just started up, will offer an interview or guest post in order to swell their page counts and followers.
The trouble is that there are just too many authors out there all wanting their books noticed and, I’ve seen it many a time on Goodreads, a reader will put out a request for review copies and the next moment free books are coming at them in a relentless swarm like a scene from a zombie movie.
There’s a lot more about this on my publisher’s blog at Ivy Moon Press.
The next step, I am dreading: launching my book and myself in the physical world with no avatar to hide behind.
Makes writing a book seem like a walk in the park ….

Genre Benders: A speculative approach to fiction

Amazon, authors, books, FeedARead, Henlein, libraries, publishing, Smashwords, speculative fiction, writing
THERE was a time when all ‘genre’ fiction was regarded with haughty disdain by librarians and publishers of quality, realistic literary works. As more people learned to read, however, access to books was no longer the privilege of scholarly bureaucrats and popular fiction was born. 

In order to feed the voracious appetites of patrons and readers respectively, more novels were commissioned and written in a wide variety of subjects, themes, structures and functions. This led to the classification of popular fiction into subject matter or ‘genre’ as we know it.
Publishers rely on strict classification for promotion and marketing. Bookshops require that each new work of fiction is labelled with a ‘genre’ in order to maximise readership and revenue. By placing a book on the right section of the right shelf eases access to buyers’ preferences, thereby increasing sales. Libraries need a classification system by which to help their patrons choose what they want to read.
This has been the traditional way of the fiction market for a very long time and authors whose works crossed those fixed genres had a high chance of being turned down by publishers for the sole reason of failing to belong on a shelf.
Only a few years ago, most speculative, or cross-genre, fiction was sniffed at by many publishers who couldn’t see past their profit and loss accounts to take the risk of baffling bookshops and libraries with works they could not label. A similar treatment was given to erotica which was deemed only to be read by dirty old men in raincoats.
The very word ‘speculative’ denotes conjecture, chance, theory over practicality and a high risk of loss, suggesting that whoever dreamed up that category had a very cynical view of crossing stereotypical classifications. That said, there have been some very successful novels written in this sub-genre of general fiction but they are few in comparison to other more traditional genres.
Speculative fiction, as a concept, has been around for millennia. It was written by the great Greek dramatists and by Shakespeare long before Robert Henlein wrote Life-Line. In fact, every work of fiction can be said to contain a speculative element, no matter how subtle. It is only since the ’40s that the term has been further stretched and distorted to include an element of fantasy, sci-fi, horror or paranormal in the narrative.
The coming of the mighty Amazon, has opened the minds of publishers as well as the locks to their submission gates to speculative fiction as reader trends have demonstrated a hearty appetite for the genre. As superheroes, vampire-slayers and boy wizards wage war against evil in contemporary or dystopian societies – and also on far-off planets – on television, cinema, computer and hand-held screens, spec-fic novels are being gobbled up by new fans and are even appealing to younger readers who would otherwise say that books are for bores and losers.
E-pub websites have revolutionised the publishing business in that readers are now choosing what they want to read as opposed to publishers telling them what they should. The effect has been brutal on the established publishing houses who are all reeling in the wake of the e-book explosion and the movement away from the traditional business model. Without the watchdog of a publisher, however, the absence of quality in many self-published books is a serious cause for concern as is the saturation of the market by thousands of new books being published every day that is giving readers too much choice.
For authors, the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and FeedARead have granted them that freedom of expression that traditional publishing houses have denied them. Now anyone can be an author. Amazon et al have no limitations to their lists, no selection process and no submission constraints. They don’t discriminate on quantity or even quality but instead allow readers to enforce the rules.
Whether this is good or bad is a completely different subject for debate, suffice it to say that now every book has a chance to be read and speculative fiction in all its many guises has an undeniable position on the shelves of quality literature.

Author interviews

authors, Bill Kirton, books, fiction, Mary Smith, Michael Brookes, publishing
TRYING to keep up to date with the social networking platforms is exhausting but often the results are very satisfying.
While I’m busy promoting my own book, over at Ivy Moon Press I’ve interviewed three quality authors and would really like others to take a good look at their work.
Bill Kirton, Mary Smith and Michael Brookes are a diverse trio of talented writers who I’ve brought together in my publishers’ blog in the hope that my small efforts may get them noticed by a few more readers.
Take a look and see for yourself: http://ivymoonpress.wordpress.com/