Friday, June 28, 2013

No names, no jackets

Many thanks to Riptide Publishing for pointing me in the direction of this new(ish) website, which combines a promotional tool for writers with a lot of fun for readers.

Basically writers or publishers submit the first chapter of a book, which is displayed on the site with (as the name suggests) no further identifying details.  No author name, no bio, no cover, just a genre tag and the writing itself.  Right at the end of the excerpt, there's a small link to 'find out what the book is and where you can get it', so at least if you've dipped into something and enjoyed it, you can follow up.

As they themselves say: "No Names, No Jackets is a blind taste test for books, backed by a StumbleUpon-style lucky dip system and a total and deliberate lack of star ratings, likes and reviews. Whether it’s your first book or you’ve written dozens, whether they’ve sold thousands or none at all, whether your cover copy is woeful or superb, whether your jacket design is jaw-droppingly awesome or looks like it was made by a child using MS Paint, all that matters here is the writing..."  You can't help feeling they have a point.

The site is searchable, but only on a randomised basis - either a totally random choice, or a random choice by genre.  This means you can't just go in and search for your favourite author, but you can discover gems that you would never have come across before.  On a whistle-stop tour I found a short story by an author I'd never heard of, and like it enough to follow it back to her web page.  So this really can work, both for readers looking for new reading material, and for authors looking for new readers!

Want to join in the fun?  The pop along to No Names, No Jackets and hit the 'random pick' button at the top of the page.  I believe both my Riptide books (Necessity's Door and Gleams of a Remoter World) are on there somewhere, though it might take you a long and strangely rewarding time to find them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Does my blog look pink in this?

I've been working away from my usual desk the last few days, using a laptop with a very different screen from my normal pc.

And I've noticed something odd.  On my pc, this blog is all in shades of muted beige and brown, and the background to the invidiual posts is so pale as to be almost invisible.  But on my laptop, that background has a definite pink tinge, which in some lighting conditions looks dark enough to be classed as light red.

It's a little baffling because it's not a colour I've chosen or set in the Blogger controls, and it can make the posts harder to read.

So, does this blog look pink to you?  Is the background getting in the way of the text?  Does it look as though the whole thing's been washed through in strawberry juice, or blood?  If so,  please, please let me know, and I'll go and hack about in the controls again and see if I can tone it down.  I don't want to make anyone queasy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Books theme for Win 7

Anyone who loves books and writing might like the desktop theme on Windows 7 that I've just discovered.  It's probably been available for ages, but then I haven't checked for new themes for ages, so hadn't realised it was there.

There are thirteen different pictures of beautiful old books and architecturally stunning libraries from around the world.

It's in the 'Art (Photographic)' category and is called, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Beauty of Books.

Now, if I could just find a writing-themed template for my blog that was anything like as attractive, I'd be a happy bunny.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pill Hill Press closes

Last week I noticed that my link to Pill Hill Press no longer worked, and that their website appeared to have been removed from the internet altogether.  Further investigation revealed that the press actually closed its doors back in January, although unfortunately nobody had told me.

I had a number of stories in Pill Hill Press anthologies: The Other Side of Silence in their 'There Was a Crooked House' collection; and four separate flash stories in 'Daily Flash 2012'.  So I wrote to ask for clarification on what was happening with rights, sales and the like. 

Normally when a publisher goes under, all rights automatically revert to the relevant authors.  All digital and POD sales cease immediately (or at least as immediately as the owners can let the various distributors know); and print copies only continue to be sold until existing stocks run out.  But when I checked my point of sale links, I found both books appear to still be available in a variety of formats, which isn't ideal.

The owners assure me that all the books will be removed from Amazon and the like in the next 'month or so' - on top of the five months since the press formally ceased trading - and obviously I'll be keeping an eye on things to make sure that happens.  In the meantime, if you happen to see a copy of either book for sale anywhere, might I respectfully request that you don't buy it?  I wouldn't be getting any financial reward and it could well be in breach of contract...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunday afternoon stroll

One of the nice things about moving to a more rural area is being able to go for long country walks quite literally from the doorstep.

Yesterday we went for a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll without even touching the car, and hit open countryside after less than ten minutes of street slog.  And what countryside!  It might not be the high fells, but the scenery is a stunning mix of woodland and fields, heath and open fellside, criss-crossed by streams, stone walls and ancient tracks.  The path meanders up and down; there are farms with fascinating names like Matson Ground and Old Droomer, and less than two miles from the town you could be in the middle of nowhere.

As to the wildlife, it was pretty spectacular too.  Loads of flowers at last - the warm weather a week or so ago seems to have brought everything out at once.  But also signs of some less common creatures: a raven flapping and croaking overhead; deer tracks by the tarn at Matson Ground; and a strange animal scent nearby that put us in mind, rather forcibly, of big cats in zoos.  There've been tales in the past about a big cat roaming the countryside at the back of Bowness; could this have been proof?  Or just otters in the tarn?  We'll probably never know, but it made for added interest on the walk.

We covered about four miles in just under two hours with frequent photo stops.  The picture here isn't one of mine (I'm still waiting to download my SD card) but shows Old Droomer farmhouse - a perfect example of a seventeenth century Lakeland farmhouse hidden in the back lanes behind Windermere.  Sadly, the farm it used to be attached to is now derelict and it's pretty much surrounded by a modern council estate, but still retains its charm.  If anyone knows where the name comes from, I would love to find out!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ask us a question

You might remember I posted a few days back about the revamped Britwriters Blog.  Now fellow British author Sharon Bidwell has added a new feature to that blog - a page where people can ask us questions about Britain and the British way of life.

As Sharon says, "Want to know about everyday life, our towns, our countryside, our petrol prices, whether tea is as popular here as the jokes would have you believe? Which side of the street we drive on, or what dialects are spoken around the country?"  If so, ask away on the Ask Us a Question page at the blog.  No question is taboo... as long as it's legal, decent, honest and truthful *grin* and we'll always do our best to answer.  Writers basing books in the UK may find this feature especially helpful, but we're happy to answer anyone else's burning questions as well.

You can find the Ask Us a Question page here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Newts, herbs and water wheels

The weather has been far too nice lately to hang around indoors.  Saturday was brilliant from start to finish and we took one look at the chores, shrugged, got the car out and headed up the motorway in the general direction of Penrith instead.  Once there we turned off into a maze of country lanes in the most gorgeous countryside in the Eden valley, and finally ended up at Acorn Bank garden.

This is another National Trust property but unlike most of theirs round here I'd never actually been, and all the pictures looked idyllic.  Sure enough, there was a 'big house' in lovely old red sandstone basking in the sunshine, surrounded by immensely pretty gardens.  The first area included an old garden pond which was absolutely swarming with newts - something I haven't seen for years - and a sprawling rockery.

There's far more to the garden than flowers, though, because it's known as a nationally important collection of herbs and medicinal plants, containing over 300 different varieties.  We saw a sign to the herb garden and thought 'oh yes, parsley and thyme', but there were plants from every corner of the globe, many of which we'd never even heard of, let alone seen growing in this country.  The collection is divided into sections depending on the part of the body they treat (head, heart, skin etc) and it was fascinating to see Medieval childbirth remedies cheek-by-jowl with plants used in ultra-modern chemotherapy drugs.

We could have wandered round the garden (which also included old orchards, beehives, wild-flower
meadows etc) for hours but after a nice salad lunch in the tea room we set off through the woods to the old watermill on the banks of the delightfully-named Crowdundle Beck.  There's been a mill here since about the twelfth century (the original is believed to have been owned by the Knights Templar) although the current building and workings date from about 200 years ago.  While we were there the volunteer miller opened the sluice on the mill leat, diverted water along the newly refurbished chute, and got the waterwheel working so we could see the machinery turning.  Originally there were three separate wheels, each connected to different workings with a different job to do, but only one remains.  It was still fascinating, though, listening to the clunk-creak as it span lazily round, and imagining how it would all have looked and sounded a century or so ago when they still used the building regularly to grind corn.  Swallows buzzed in and out of the windows just above our heads, chickens pecked and scratched in the farm yard at the back, and it was all so Yesterday's Rural Idyll it practically hurt.

Lovely place, though, and well worth a visit.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Gleams is award finalist

I'm even more delighted to announce that the judges at the Bisexual Book Awards included Gleams of a Remoter World in their list of finalists.

The winners were announced on Sunday and Gleams didn't quite make the grade on the night, but I'm not entirely surprised.  One of the main judging criteria (along with quality of writing) was 'quantity of bisexual content' and if I'm brutally honest, the main character's sexuality is only referred to a handful of times, so it's hardly a wonder if the judges felt other books had a stronger claim to the award.

I'm still glowing, though, because being an award finalist makes all the hard work worth while.  Many thanks to the Bi Writers Association for selecting the book and including me.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Boyfriend From Hell

A fun title for a fun new short story.  The Boyfriend From Hell is a tongue-in-cheek romp involving aliens and tentacles which has just been accepted by British micro-press Fox Spirit for their new Shapeshifters anthology.

The collection forms part of their Fox Pockets range, a set of themed anthologies designed to introduce readers to the scope and style of their work.

No word yet on a release date as the stories have only just gone into the editing mill, but I'll post more details as soon as I have them.  In the meantime, you can see the full contents list here.