I used to read a lot in French, not only for pleasure but because it improved my vocabulary. Now I read in English so as not to forget the words I already know. But the other day, a family moving back to the Metropole were selling their books, so we went over to see what they had. And there I came across Autoportrait de l’Auteur en Coureur de Fond (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) by Haruki Murakami. Now, I’m always up for anything he writes and since it’s translated from Japanese, it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or French. It isn’t a novel but an artful comparison between writing and long-distance running, and one immediate consequence was to remind me I need to get fit. So on went the trainers and tracksuit and off I trotted round the block, perfectly happy with my progress until boing! Some sort of muscle behind my knee that I never knew I had. So now I’m hobbling around like Long John Silver. Just thought I’d warn you – though reading in a foreign language may improve your vocabulary, it can have painful side effects.
My arithmetic skills having long since withered, my third R these days is reviewing, which I don’t do enough of. That’s partly because I don’t do enough reading, in fact, so I ought to reduce the first R to get more time for the other two. But if I did that, I’d be unhappy, so for the moment it’s staying as it is. Nonetheless, as I look ever deeper into self-publishing, the importance of reviewing becomes more obvious. A sizeable batch of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads helps to attract more reviews – it’s a snowball effect. Fewer than thirty, and you’re unlikely to make much of an impact – readers tend to dismiss them as the usual 5-star hype by friends and family. More than fifty reviews, though, and people start to take notice.
I’ve only been on Goodreads a short while, but one thing you see straightaway is that the books with the most reviews are the ones that need them least. The first book I rated (5 stars) was Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. I didn’t write a review, though, because it already had 15,248, and I said to myself that I’d rather write reviews which could actually make a difference. So I wrote one (4 stars) for The Attic Piranhas by Marlin Williams, which currently has six reviews on Goodreads and 13 on Amazon.
Nonetheless, despite my writing commitments, I’m trying to make time for the other two R’s. I was recently a beta reader for William Chasterson’s intriguing Metaphysical Man, and I’ve just posted a couple of reviews on Goodreads. One for Clara Wiggins’s very well-written Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, the other for Casting Shadows Everywhere by L.T. Vargus. This, then, is the modest start to my Help Other Authors campaign, which others, such as The Story Reading Ape, have taken to admirable heights. And here’s a quote from Sally Cronin at smorgasbord which gives it a concrete basis: We are always hearing about the overwhelming number of Indie authors and the number of books we are competing with in the market place. However, instead of being overwhelmed, take a look at your circle of author contacts and instead of trying to make a difference to all Indie authors, how about as a group making a difference to twenty or thirty. If we all did that we would be supporting thousands within a very short space of time.
Sound advice indeed, and I’ll be posting more about the three R’s in future. Meanwhile, Amazon is asking me to rate the first issue of The World Unknown Review, volume 1. I bought it a month ago because it has a story by Book Country writer D.J. Lutz, but I haven’t started it yet. Give me a chance, guys – gotta do some writing myself!
Many thanks to those who signed up for The Gazette. Issue 2 will be sent in a couple of weeks, and of course, to anyone who wishes, the first issue is also available – the subscribe link is on the right. Just a reminder – The Gazette is a free magazine containing two or three of my stories which may vary considerably in style or topic. For me it’s a useful way of sifting through ideas I’ve had for a long time but never got round to writing. So now I’m getting them into what you could call beta shape – not the finished product perhaps, but worked on enough to be put out for the judgment, and hopefully the pleasures, of others. Subscribers aren’t officially beta readers, since there’s no obligation to provide feedback (even if feedback is welcome). Details of the contents of Issue 2 will appear shortly.
Following my interview of T.J. Paris (author of, amongst other things, the wonderful Papa Bouilloire series), he has kindly reciprocated, with my answers to his questions appearing on his blog today. Many thanks, TJ!
Finally, after writing a first piece about Mayotte to kick off Clara’s excellent series People Who Live In Small Places (now including Gibraltar, the Seychelles, the Netherlands and a village in the west of France), I was asked by Phoebe at Lou Messugo to do another piece, her series being devoted to France and its overseas territories. I didn’t want to repeat the same post as I did for Clara, so it’s quite different in fact, with the negative side (i.e. illegal immigration and its consequences) given more prominence.
And that’s probably enough of me for the moment so I’ll sign off here. Ta ta!
A month and half passed before I saw him again. Amid rumours of an imperial-backed invasion by Suffolk, and as the earl and his right-hand man Sir Robert Curzon were anathematized by bell, book and candle at St. Paul’s Cross, the country remained on high alert.
The sentences above could come from the same book, but they don’t. And no prizes for guessing which one is Patterson and which one Thomas Penn. Now I read the Patterson six months ago, it took me all of two days. I even remember more or less what it was about. I’ve been on the Penn for a month and I’ve got to page 79 (300 still to go, and the typeset’s really small). Will I finish it? Yes. Maybe in 2018, but I will (I’m stubborn that way). Time was, I could take Wolf Solent in my stride, but now I have trouble with anything more abstruse than Alex Cross. Must be the age, I suppose. Not my own, of course, the one we live in (ahem…).
A couple of weeks ago, I discreetly added a widget to my sidebar inviting readers to sign up for The Bausse Gazette. Here I announce the forthcoming appearance of the first issue and explain the reasoning behind it. Each issue of the Gazette will contain two or three stories. A few have been previously published in online or print magazines, but most are being written specially for the Gazette. I work best to deadlines – the first Tuesday of each month, when the Gazette goes out, the stories will have to be ready. Without that deadline, they probably wouldn’t get written.
It’s experimental – not the writing itself but the idea. While I’ve been concentrating lately on crime fiction, I’m also attracted to literary texts, with themes that may be dark or humorous, whimsical or weighty. My team of marketing advisors (i.e. me and myself) had quite a debate about this. Some said too broad a variety is bad for ‘brand identification’. Others said no problem, it’s a ‘product diversification strategy’, just like Unilever, really. The bottom line? I enjoy developing ideas of all sorts so why not? (Not that I’ll be straying into E.L.James territory, if you’re wondering).
What’s in it for you? Well, a couple of free stories if you want. As always, when it comes to writing, the reader’s in control – you stop reading or unsubscribe any time you want. And if you like them, you’ll have had a few minutes of whatever pleasure reading gives you.
Watch this space for upcoming details of the contents of issue one. (For the moment, this is just The Bausse Gazette, but there’s no reason the name can’t change one day and other contributors be welcomed). And now all that remains is for me to really commit myself by pressing ‘publish’. Here goes…
It is with a heavy heart that I sit at my laptop to announce the death of Mabel Moo, whom I interviewed just last month. Optimistic to the end, she went to the slaughterhouse believing she was testing a new milking facility. It was no doubt better that way. RIP, Mabel, we shall miss you.
Izzy’s May I: The Write this week is about the death of fictional characters. As she gives a good list herself, I shall only add a couple here (apart from poor Mabel). Perhaps the death which caused the greatest trauma was that of Sherlock Holmes, in the 1893 issue of The Strand Magazine. ‘It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen,’ writes Watson at the start of The Final Problem, before going on to reveal that Holmes had fallen to his death at the Reichenbach Falls, pushed by his old enemy Moriarty. Having lost its fictional mainstay, The Strand Magazine promptly lost 20,000 devastated subscribers. Unlike his readers, Conan Doyle was relieved to be rid of his creation: “I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day.” Eventually he relented though, revealing ten years later, in one of the most famous examples of retcon (retroactive continuity, or altering an established fact) that Holmes hadn’t died after all.
Very different is Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which I’ve just finished. If you haven’t read it, do (no excuses, I’m afraid, that’s an order). It’s no spoiler to tell you the heroine Ursula dies. In fact I lost count of the number of times she dies, but she springs back to life again and again. You might think it’s a tiresome device, but in Atkinson’s masterful prose it becomes a delight.
So there you have one of the joys of fiction. Though death in novels can often be harrowing and atrocious, it also sometimes loses its sting. Speaking of which, it appears the stun gun at the slaughterhouse didn’t work – Mabel is back in her field!
If that title drew you in, I must confess immediately: it’s not mine. I found it on a site about blogging, building a platform and getting millions of readers. The first tip they gave was to write a question for one specific audience and answer it. Well, that flummoxed me straight off. I don’t have a specific audience. People who read books? That’s not very specific. Perhaps I could narrow it down. People who read detective stories. Set in France. With a female detective. Whose ex-husband is a plastic surgeon. Who had an Alfa Romeo till his wife drove it without any oil and the engine blew up. And that really made him mad.
Phew! Identified the audience now. Not as difficult as it sounds. Now for the question. Well, the obvious one that springs to mind is: Why do plastic surgeons’ wives drive Alfa Romeos without any oil?
I’m very glad to have the opportunity to address this issue because there is no doubt that in spite of the millions of websites out there, it hasn’t been adequately answered. Which is very surprising, really, given the number of people who wonder about it every day.
The reason is: They ignore the dashboard warning signs! Now this of course begs the question, why do they ignore the warning signs? But I’m not going to give you the answer to that. It’s for a different specific audience.
– Mr. Roberts, you were my first English teacher, or rather the first who showed me the joy to be had from reading. In fact, I see you as the sum of all the teachers who nurtured my love of reading. What made you choose that profession?
– The desire, simply, to transmit my own love of reading to my pupils. There are many, I know, who never responded as I hoped, but even if I succeeded with only a few, it was worth it.
– And where did your own love of books come from?
– A teacher, just as yours did. People can discover books on their own, but young minds benefit from guidance, and I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher myself. The first book to astound me, transport me to a world I knew nothing of, was The Grapes of Wrath. After which I devoured the whole of Steinbeck. Without a teacher, I might not have discovered it till much later. Teachers also introduced me to Hemingway, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on this side of the Atlantic, Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster, and of course, George Orwell.
– And I remember you speaking to us about them. But the book you chose to draw us in with was The Catcher in the Rye.
– Of course! And it worked, didn’t it?
– I read everything Salinger wrote after that. Such a shame he didn’t publish more!
– It was a set text in schools the world over. But despite its phenomenal success, it’s come in for huge criticism too. Consider this from Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post:
Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as “a symbol of purity and sensitivity” (as The Oxford Companion to American Literature puts it) when he’s merely self-regarding and callow? Why do English teachers, whose responsibility is to teach good writing, repeatedly and reflexively require students to read a book as badly written as this one? That last question actually is easily answered: The Catcher in the Rye can be fobbed off on kids as a book about themselves. It is required reading as therapy, a way to encourage young people to bathe in the warm, soothing waters of resentment (all grown-ups are phonies) and self-pity without having to think a lucid thought. […] The Catcher in the Rye touches adolescents’ emotional buttons without putting their minds to work. It’s easy for them, which makes it easy for teacher.
– Harsh indeed. And what’s your answer to that?
– I stand by my choice. The book isn’t badly written – the voice captures the adolescent thought process brilliantly. And it didn’t make it easier for me, on the contrary. I tried to get you to look at Holden critically, not simply identify with him. And that was a challenge with boys your age.
– Yes, I’m not sure I managed the critical bit. But I’d like to thank you anyway, you and teachers of literature all over the world, for doing all you could to open our minds to other worlds and ways of seeing, to the power and the magic of stories. And not just from the English speaking world, of course. There’s a great initiative here that invites us to read a book from every continent in 2015.
– You’re most welcome. Long may the power of stories continue.
A perfectly timed 201 assignment today! Allows me to (i) give a brief update on One Green Bottle and (ii) collect your thoughts. What more could I ask for?
(i) OGB is now one of the editor’s picks on Book Country. Not entirely sure what that means but it can only be good! Meanwhile, after scouring query shark, I realised my own query letter sucks. So I’ve done it again and soon it’ll be off to more agents.
(ii) The survey below is really quick and easy. Just a few yes/no questions, but your answers will be much appreciated!
So you’re a writer, I see. But tell me, does anyone read your books?
Not yet. But that’s the whole point of getting onto social networks, you see. I’ve got a blog to publicise my writing, and I’m using Twitter to –
Stop! 140 characters max. Short, sharp, to the point. What’s your message to these readers you’re looking for?
Um… One Green Bottle. Available
for just $4 free for next 5 mins. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity. Get it now. And I mean #now!
And you think they’ll fall for that? Oh, Bausse, whom no one’s ever heard of, has written a book. I really must read it. Very likely!
Well, how else am I going to become famous and earn a zillion dollars?
Subtlety, Bausse, subtlety! Slip it into a conversation unobtrusively.
OK, I get it! Must admit I’m pretty green when it comes to Twitter. Green as a bottle, in fact. Which reminds me: One Green Bottle avail-
Good try, but no. Look, check out today’s blogging 201 task. You’ll see for example that the best tweets are in the form of questions.
Ah, that’s interesting. Let’s see now… Has anyone else been wondering why so many bottles are green?
Good luck with that one. You’re not very good at this, are you? Have you joined any Twitter chats?
No, but I’m going to join #greenwater. It’s about algae but I’m sure they won’t mind if mention bottles.
Can I make a suggestion, Bausse? Why don’t you sign up for Pinterest?