Friday, 31 December 2010

THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS ....

“That was the year that was. It’s over, let it go,” to parody the old Millicent Martin TV intro ... though she did express it exactly that way in kissing goodbye to 1963. Gosh ... am I really so long-in-the-tooth now that I can remember every word she sang?

And what a year 2010 was for writers, editors, publishers, retailers, readers – the whole book thing we love so much has shot off in a direction old  Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg could never have dreamed of back in the fifteenth century when he came up with movable type and ran off the first printed book for the common man.

In fact, not even the big boys of the modern publishing industry saw it coming until well into this passing decade:

*The emergence of the ebook.

*The introduction of dedicated reading devices.

*The 2010 explosion of the ebook into the mainstream.

The e-revolution eclipses even the printing press in terms of its reach and value. The world’s biggest retailers are now regularly reporting more ebooks sold than print books, hundreds of thousands of freely downloadable classics and other public domain works are now available to the bookish professor in his Oxford study and the literature-starved children of remote villages in the developing world, new and previously unpublished authors are by-passing the traditional publishing gatekeepers to rush into e-print with their own raw material, offered freely or cheaply ... and by no means always without worth.

The word is out!

The doomsday prophets who have been predicting the death of reading since the advent of radio, TV and cinema are now eating their own words. Reading has been rejuvenated in the age of computer games and instant movies. Jane Austen entered the 2010 best-seller lists.

Why? Because a book is its content and not its means of presentation. Carved in stone, stamped into a clay tablet, on a scroll, crafted into a hand-tooled leather-bound hardback, web-offsetted for a mass-run paperback, an ebook reader screen ... it’s the words that matter. The message, not the messenger.

Easier and cheaper access to literature does not reduce its value, it merely finds it a greater readership.

BeWrite Books spearheaded the ebook movement, as old friends know. We predicted dedicated-readers and an ebook revolution back in the mists of the last century. So we’re ahead of the game with every single title in our catalogue now offered in all major digital formats and available internationally at all the huge new ebook stores.

Many BB authors will have a pleasant surprise when their next royalty cheques arrive. Many new BB readers will have a pleasant surprise when they are introduced to our top-drawer authors and their work.

Even so, 2010 hasn't been plain sailing for us at mission control. Tony and I have been working at least 14x7 to keep ahead of the game. We had to re-register BeWrite Books, first in Canada and then in the USA just to get our ebooks into the new retail outlets. Tony’s technical talent, energy and sheer guts has taken my breath away. Unfailing and enthusiastic support from the excellent and diligent Hugh McCracken and Sam Smith on the editorial team and from our authors has been wonderful and energising.

Some of you might know that we have felt badly let down by our printers over recent months. (In fact, you can’t currently even buy print books from our own site because of an unforgivable hitch with a company we now call Laughing Stock – pick them up elsewhere and we’ll eat the retail commissions. And, of course, all ebook versions are available from site for instant download.) But even that set back we are taking in our stride, tackling head-on and making progress with.

In 2011, we will take seven-league strides. We will most probably release more new titles than at any time since we launched our publishing side in 2002. We are extending the genres in which we publish.

We will NOT be less selective in the books we publish or editorially less than top-whack. Our design and technical side is second to none. With ebooks, the playing field is levelling out ... we can now, for the first time, compete with the Big Six in terms of sheer quality and availability if not yet on star-appeal.

This new decade will see our authors and our readers more satisfied than ever.

Happy Hogmanay, folks. Here’s to the future. Here's to you all. Here's to e-volution!

Love and luck: Neil, Tony, Hugh, Sam et al


Saturday, 18 December 2010

BULLYCIDE: DEATH AT PLAYTIME

My book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime, in which I identified the lethal syndrome of bully-associated child suicide, named it 'bullycide' and exposed it for the first time, is to be re-released in January 2011 in paperback and ebook by BeWrite Books.

The original release came as a profound shock and prompted positive and immediate action by governments, education authorities, schools and citizen groups around the world. It spawned countless other books, scholarly studies and papers and media campaigns, inspired plays and movies.

So I considered its job done and resisted requests for re-release when it went out of print. But there's been such high demand that I decided to re-think that decision.

The re-release is NOT an update, more a history lesson and a reminder of just how shamfully secret the bullycide epidemic had been up to the end of the last century and publication of the exposé.

As I re-read the original, added a new introduction and proof read, the tears flowed just as freely as when I investigated the unacknowledged problem and wrote the words all those years ago. Memories came rushing back of the shattered families I’d spoken to (most still in a state of shock); of children who could speak only from the grave, having chosen in their pain and desperation to make their statements through a last, desperate action: the chilling statement that life for them was a fate worse than death.

The re-release is timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the first release of Bullycide: Death at Playtime and the word 'bullycide' entering the vocabulary, and also with the fifth anniversary of the death of my dear friend, co-author and tireless anti-bullying campaigner to the end, Tim Field.

May kids everywhere have a happy Christmas and a bully-free New Year as we enter the second decade of, hopefully, a more enlightened century.

Love. Neil


Monday, 6 December 2010

THE DEATH OF READING by STEVE ATTRIDGE


This fascinating article is contributed by BeWrite Books author Steve Attridge, a well-known, TV, theatre and cinema scriptwriter in the UK. His debut novel is 'Bottom of the List'. See our bookstore by clicking on the open book icon at the top right of this post or any major online store. This is a lengthy article of 1,500 words, folks, but well worth the reading.

Consolidating Differences, and the Death of Reading
Dr Steve Attridge

I recently published a novel in which a shy retiring man is forced to make a stand against corporate tyranny and encroaching philistinism. What facilitates his stand is the slow and shimmering support he receives from literary figures he has imaginatively lived with for thirty years: Molly Bloom, Hamlet, Nietzsche and Ulysses all appear in his hour of need. The point being made in a darkly comic turn of events is that his life in books has furnished him with an inner world of diverse characters, ideas and possibilities for living. Without these he is lost.

The debate about reading books versus watching moving images on a screen is pointless. We live inescapably in a world of moving images and, at best, this can be instructive and entertaining. The question of the value of reading is a separate imperative. When our ancestors invented alphabets 5000 years ago they triggered a revolution in human life. Not just that reading and writing became the foundations of civilizations, but in ways still little understood, they changed the structure of the human brain. This changing, evolving, complex organism is now on the endangered species list.

Reading is the most powerfully acquired cognitive skill. We were not born to read, so the brain has to literally change and rearrange its constituent parts. It physically grows as reading skills are acquired and new texts are mastered. MRI scans demonstrate that in reading and encountering new word formations and associations the brain grows intricate reading circuits, new neuronal pathways and connections.

Professor Phil Davis at Liverpool University underwent tests to see exactly what was happening inside his brain when reading. In particular, as he was exposed to some of Shakespeare’s more densely written lines that coined new word associations, such as ‘A father and a gracious man ... have you madded’ in King Lear, and ‘This last old man ... Love me above the measure of a father, Nay, godded me, indeed’ in Coriolanus. 

The word ‘madded’ compresses an adjective and a verb and ‘godded’ a verb and a noun, and experiencing these words created higher electrical activity in the brain. This Shakespearean linguistic technique, known as functional shift, causes a sudden peak in brain activity and forces the brain to work backwards in order to fully understand what Shakespeare says.

The neuroimaging data obtained shows that this surprise effect leaves the processing of meaning unaltered, the reader (or listener) understands the message equally well.

Twenty participants were monitored using an electroencephalogram (EEG) at Professor Guillaume Thierry of Bangor University’s School of Psychology as they read selected lines from Shakespeare’s plays. The findings were published in the journal Neuroimage. The brain is literally growing, just as the orienteering part of London cabbies brains, as they acquire ‘the knowledge’ (the memorising of London streets over a two year period), becomes bigger and more sophisticated.

These experiments show that Shakespeare has created a gymnasium for the brain, in which there is a distinct, measurable, functional shift. The analogy with the body is obvious – just as muscles enlarge and become stronger so can the brain. It is surprised into activity by the dynamic engagement with language. Levels of attention are raised. New possibilities present themselves. We can move more adventurously from concrete apprehension to conceptual and abstract thought. The recording and reading of knowledge and ideas means we find out where we came from and who we are with greater understanding. Ironically the very technology which is allowing us to understand the process of neural change in the brain is also responsible for the recreational apparatus that is replacing reading.

Popular culture itself understands the significance of reading. In Kubrick’s '2001: A Space Odyssey', the following exchange takes place between the main protagonist, Dave, and the ship’s computer, HAL:

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

It is the word ‘read’ which intensifies this pivotal dramatic scene, the first chilling proof that HAL is not the benign servant of the ship and its crew, but a psychotic manipulator determined to eliminate anyone who gets in his way. The word ‘read’ here allows for a whole dramatic subtext to come into play – HAL has literally been reading Dave’s lips, so he knows the plot against him. He also understands Dave in a comprehensive way – the man, the mission, the motive – he has studied him and can now use that knowledge against him and to ensure his own survival. Polite words belie Machiavellian intent. You only have to substitute other words - ‘acknowledge’ or ‘understand’ - to see how potent the word ‘read’ is in this scene. It acknowledges that to read is a special activity, a vortex of high attention and comprehension, putting the pieces of a puzzle together to form new realities.

It is this intensification of experience which is under threat. Ironically it is in the sphere of education that some of the more alarming results of an ‘unreading’ culture are apparent. 

Cardinal Newman was insistent that the primary purpose of a University is intellectual and pedagogical, not moral or religious: ‘The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following – that it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intelectual, not moral. 

Tony Blair’s attention-seeking slogan, ‘Education, education, education’ and a moral belief (it was always a ‘moral belief’, a tenet of faith, not reason or argument) that just about everyone should go to University, has driven divisions deeper in the sphere of education, and highlighted the problem of fundamental illiteracy. As Nietzsche said, ‘a casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.’ Blair’s gesturing towards a democratisation of higher education was, of course, part of a cynical politics of headline catching superficiality. Changing examination standards, fiddling with entry requirements, simply drove divisions, intellectual, academic and pedagogical, deeper than ever. The gap between haves and have nots was never so manifest.

The older universities simply raised their entry requirements to ensure they got the cream. The rest could compete for what was left. Students had already been converted into consumers, and bums on seats became the order of the day. The two cultures are just that and have little in common. The older universities mostly still have systems of limited contact, academic staff having six or seven contact hours per week, while the “new” universities have a system more in common with FE Colleges, up to 18 or 20 contact hours per week, with almost open entry as long as fees are paid.

Those they teach highlight an alarming problem. Many current undergraduates in UK universities have severe literary problems. Many are called dyslexic. ‘Dyslexia’ comes from the Greek, meaning ‘difficulty with words or language.’ It is assumed that this condition is biological, yet the skyward trajectory of its increase suggests otherwise.

‘Dyslexia’ confers an ambiguous status. On the one hand, the sufferer has enormous problems, yet the label creates a sense of distinction, a ‘special need.’ Dyslexic students avoid reading, which nullifies the educative process they have entered. Reading and learning go hand in hand. One must learn to read in order to be able to read to learn. A poor reader will usually also be a poor learner. A student who cannot read properly is not a student. In many institutions a yellow sticker on a student essay means that grammar and spelling cannot be assessed, even if the essay is indecipherable, because the student is dyslexic. Often, they are not dyslexic, but illiterate. They simply haven’t been taught to read. 

Jan Strydom, a doctor in education, reacts strongly to the popular notion that dyslexia is a learning disability caused by a biological deficit. ‘I believe there is no physical, genetic or biological reason why they have this problem. The cause of dyslexia is that the foundational skills of reading and spelling have not been automated. Learning is a stratified process, in which one skill needs to be properly mastered before other subsequent skills can be learned,’ he says. Basic skills like attentiveness, visual discrimination, precise scrutiny and memorizing, skills of association, visual memory and logical thinking form the foundation of good reading, says Dr Strydom. ‘All these skills are employed constantly while a person is reading, but a good reader is unaware of these events because they have been automated.’

These fundamental skills must be taught to children from infancy. If a child has not mastered these basics he or she will have reading and writing problems as a result. The increase in dyslexia worldwide is caused by our changing life circumstances, says Dr Strydom. ‘The conditions in which children grow up today are drastically different to what they were 50, 40, or even 30 years ago, and certain everyday experiences that are vital to the correct interpretation of the written word have been removed from their lives. It was, for example, a tradition that parents drilled their children on the ability to distinguish left from right. Today, few parents are aware that knowing left from right is an important foundational skill of reading.’

The loss of reading is arguably the single most debilitating feature of modern culture and means that building blocks which can create futures are absent. We may be entering a timeless present of indecipherable texting where information passes for knowledge and, eventually, thought will disappear. The brain will no longer be surprised into action because it will not understand the black scrawls in front of it.

Dr Steve Attridge is a professional writer and a tutor at Ruskin College. His recent book, Bottom of the List, is published by Bewrite Books.

Many thanks for a fascinating article, Steve. And thanks to the Oxford Left Review for carrying it in full in their latest edition.  You can read more about Steve Attridge here: www.steveattridge.com and about his new book, 'Bottom of the List', in the bookstore at: www.bewrite.net

Best wishes. Neil M.



Thursday, 25 November 2010

SHAKESPEARE'S WILL ... OR WONT

In true bardic style, even Meredith Whitford’s title to her new novel, Shakespeare’s Will, is a pun.

The book, released today by BeWrite Books, has little to do with Shakespeare’s last will and testament and everything to do witth his wanton will and his wayward wont. And the pun on Willy’s name doesn’t end there ... but let’s allow readers to discover that for themselves.

Shakespeare’s Will
is based on thirty years’ hard research that has led Meredith to portray an Anne Hathaway that shatters the popular image. Her Anne is as lovingly devoted, loyal, intelligent and strong as her William is insecure, weak and bed-hoppingly unfaithful.

Meredith is a myth-buster. Profound research for her last BeWrite Books novel, Treason (which won the prestigious international Eppie Award for Historical Fiction), brings to vibrant life a Richard III who is the opposite of the cruel, conniving, hunch-backed king in Shakespeare’s play. But, of course, unlike Shakespeare himself, Meredith didn’t risk a traitor’s sticky end with her neck stretched across the Bloody Tower’s chopping block.

Her new novel – and you’ll find subtle and fun references to the Bard’s work carefully hidden on almost every page – is a tantalising mix of fact and fiction, populated by larger-than-life characters that actually existed and is set against the often harsh realities of Elizabethan life in London and rural England. The accompanying author and editor notes are a fascinating bonus.

Here’s what the back cover notes to Shakespeare’s Will have to say:

The last man well-off, clever and attractive Anne Hathaway needs is the penniless eighteen-year-old son of a disgraced and bankrupt glove-maker.

But she shares unhappy William Shakespeare’s secret dreams ... and she's pregnant with his child. Eight years his senior, she marries him, and she soon discovers that to keep her husband’s love she must do everything in her power to make his dreams come true.

For years, she and her children endure the boredom of rustic Stratford while William writes and acts in London and tours the country with his troupe of actors, making no secret of his romantic conquests along the way.

When things start to look up for the budding play-maker, Anne takes her little family to join him in the dirty and dangerous, plague-infested capital; a world of eccentric actors and heartless cut-throats, pompous writers and sly royal spies, spendthrift playboy aristocrats and brazen whores.

Her love and unbounded ambition for her husband lead him to a wealthy, titled and beautiful young patron ... and into the golden boy’s arms, and his bed.

Anne can turn a blind eye to this affair, but when Shakespeare’s wayward will takes another turn and he falls hopelessly in love with a dark and dangerous woman, she must apply her devotion and cunning in a way that will defy even history’s greatest story-weaver’s imagination.

Will Anne’s desperate risk save their marriage ... or destroy it?

The book was written, of course, by Meredith Whitford. It was edited by Neil Marr. Cover art and external and internal design was by Tony Szmuk, who also prepared the ebook editions in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats.

It’s available in paperback and ebook at all major online stores, paperback on order from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop, and in all forms direct from BeWrite Books online bookstore at www.bewrite.net.

You can read more about Meredith and her book and enjoy an entire chapter right now by going to BeWrite Books’ bookstore at www.bewrite.net or by clicking on the open book icon at the top right of this blog post.

Follow this link for an early review by CompulsiveReader’s Magdalena Ball:

The first BeWrite Books blog reader to email me (ntmarr@bewrite.net) will receive a free paperback copy hot off the press. Three others can claim the ebook edition in the digital format of their choice.

Happy reading. Neil


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

WRITER BEWARE by VICTORIA STRAUSS

Victoria Strauss is the author’s friend. A very best friend.

A through-and-through industry pro, who pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to take risks, her long-running Writer Beware blog has, time and again, fingered the wolves and saved countless over-enthusiastic, lesser experienced, perhaps even desperate, authors from becoming fang-fodder in a bloody feed frenzy. All because she knows her way around, treads fearlessly, and really does give a damn.

When it comes to watchdogs, she’s the leader of the pack. And wolves don’t scare her.

Victoria fairly challenged BeWrite Books itself some years ago in possibly the most terrifying but vital publishing forums on the net (Preditors and Editors’ #1-rated Water Cooler). She and her astute and expert colleagues taught us a thing or two, I can tell ya – we were all ears and we thank them for inspiring the important changes they encouraged us to make a year or two back. We learned that good intentions make bad paving stones. I hope they learned that even our failings leaned to virtue’s side. But, gosh, that was some rough ride, folks.

Now she has agreed that we may – with rare special permission – reproduce, from time to time, some of her own blog posts that might be of pressing interest to readers of our own BeWrite Books blog, who are so often themselves developing authors and at risk of deception. Here is the first.

Please do take note … Victoria’s advice, we know from bitter-sweet experience, is not to be taken lightly. I urge you all to sign up to her blog, to visit Preditors and Editors before placing your faith in a ‘publisher’ or ‘agent’, to sign up with the Water Cooler at AbsoluteWrite and read, mark, learn. Maybe even contribute … if you dare.

Victoria Strauss:

Writer Beware gets a ton of email. Reports of schemes, scams and fee-charging, of course, but also questions about agents’ and publishers’ reputations, questions about the researching/querying/submitting/publishing process, requests for advice, requests for recommendations.

Requests to deny reality.

Say what? Well, a request to deny reality is when a writer sees something on this blog or on the Writer Beware website, doesn’t wish to believe it, and wants to be told that in his or her case, it’s just not true.

As in, “Your website says that agents shouldn’t charge upfront fees, but this agent who wants me to pay $500 is so nice, are they maybe legit anyway?”

Or, “Agent X is on your Thumbs Down list, but they want to represent me and their website looks professional, are they really so bad?”

Or, “I found your Alert that says Publisher Y is being sued, but they have books on Amazon, so couldn’t it all be a mistake?”

Or, “According to your blog there are lots of complaints about Publisher Z, but they’ve offered me a contract and they love my book, so maybe they’ll do a good job for me?”

Um. Maybe not.

What this is all about, usually, is a head-on collision between reality and every writer’s craving for validation and acceptance. Especially where the writer has been submitting for a long time without success, the faux validation provided by disreputable agents and publishers is as powerful as it is illusory. It can trump both good sense and actual facts, and it is very hard to relinquish. You don’t want it to be true – so there must, there just must be the possibility that it isn’t true, that just this once, and just for you, the rule doesn’t apply. That the person you contact for advice – because in fact your gut is telling you something, even if your heart doesn’t want to heed it – will eat their words and their warnings and give you their blessing.

I get it. I’ve been there; I think we all have. But facts are facts, and they don’t change just because you wish they would. Sometimes my correspondents get angry when I can’t tell them what they want to hear, and write back to challenge my expertise, or to demand that I give them the names of everyone who has complained (and to declare me non-credible when I refuse). Sometimes they thank me for saving them from a bad mistake. Most often, I never hear from them again, and can only wonder which impulse won out: the gut instinct that prompted them to contact me, or the hope and desire that made them want to believe the promises of a scammer.

Here’s how to avoid putting yourself in that position.

Know the business before you start submitting. Publishing is a confusing and complicated field, but it is possible to acquire enough basic knowledge to protect you from the most obvious schemes and scams. Knowledge is your greatest ally and your best defense. For some suggestions on acquiring it, see my blog post, Learning the Ropes

Be careful of your information sources. Google is not necessarily your friend. There’s a lot of good information on the Internet, but even more bad, and unless you have a decent knowledge base, it’s hard to filter the information you find. For a more detailed discussion of these dangers, see my blog posts, The Perils of Searching For Publishers on the Internet and Using Caution on the Internet .

Research before you query. You can save yourself a huge amount of angst – and temptation – if you check reputations before you submit … not after you’ve sent the query letter, or, worse, after you’ve gotten an offer. For the consequences of not doing so, see my blog post, Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas .

We and Victoria would be glad of your comments and stories of your own grim experiences ... and, of course, your good ones.

Best Wishes. Neil


Monday, 15 November 2010

IF YOU READ ONLY ONE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR NOVEL, IT MUST BE THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY MADIGAN

Head held high, I’ll admit that I devour every word and line I set my eyes on that touch on the 19th Century American War Between the States: What has become known as THE Civil War.

But if you are to read only one novel based on this world-changing tragedy and travesty, it should be The Ballad of Johnny Madigan by John Bray.

It is Gone With the Wind, The Red Badge of Courage, Andersonville, Gettysburg, Cold Mountain and a shelf full of other finely crafted novels rolled into one new powerful, painstakingly researched and fulfilling piece of historical fiction that should make even the genre itself proud.

BeWrite Books is delighted to announce its release today (Nov 16) in paperback and all ebook formats.

Here’s the back cover note:

***Johnny Madigan's journey starts with a lie – then life presents him with the reality of its most terrible truths.

The lie is told to a Union Army recruiting sergeant on the dockside when Johnny – orphaned, penniless and barely sixteen years old – blushingly claims to be eighteen to join up and march to war.

It's Johnny's first and last lie. And it almost costs him his life, time and time again. Will his next brush with death be his last?

There is no room for make-believe on the blood-soaked killing fields of the bitter battle between the states. He becomes a reluctant killer … and a mourner ... as close friends in blue and stranger-boys in gray are scythed down by the pitiless and ravenous reaper of young lives and innocent dreams.

But it is a dream that sustains Johnny: A young girl who showed kindness to him back in the slums of New York City.

As the mini balls and shells take their awful toll, as he suffers capture, as he struggles to live through the ordeal of a gruesome makeshift hospital, as he plays the deadly game of undercover work to expose a nest of enemy plotters, Johnny has two questions burning in his mind …

Can he survive? And if he can, will he return home in time to thwart his sweetheart's mother's plan for her to become a nun?

John Bray takes no prisoners in this disturbingly detailed telling of the ordeals of that cruelest of all conflicts – civil war. As the pages turn, the reader can only hope that Johnny will survive against all odds, that his endearing innocence will somehow escape being slain or maimed in the bloodbath, that he will save Deidre from life behind a convent's walls. This is a tale terrible yet tender, brutal yet beautiful.***

You can read about the book, read an extended excerpt and also read about the author’s intriguing background by going to the novel in the front page of the bookstore at BeWrite Books’ website (www.bewrite.net) or simply clicking the open book icon at the top right of this blog post.

The book was written by John Bray, edited by Hugh McCracken and proof read by the entire BB editorial team. Tony Szmuk provided cover art and external and internal design and also produced all ebook formats.

The Ballad of Johnny Madigan is available in paperback at all major and minor online bookstores or on order from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop. Ebook versions are available in the format of choice for all digital reading platforms from all online ebook retail stores. Paperback and ebook formats are also available direct from BeWrite Books at www.bewrite.net.

Sound, exciting, touching  and satisfying reading of rare quality, folks. Beautifully written by a master wordsmith. Highly recommended. Neil M

The first BeWrite Books blog reader to email me (ntmarr@bewrite.net) will receive a free paperback copy hot off the press. Three others can claim the ebook edition in the digital format of their choice. N


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

BALLET, PROSE, BRASS RUBBINGS, VIOLIN, OIL PAINTING, POETRY ... OH, AND TORTURE, TOO!

The strangest thing about today’s new release from BeWrite Books is that it exists at all.

Irene Thompson – author of The A-Z of Punishment and Torture – I remember from shared Fleet Street newspaper days in London over thirty-five years ago as a gentle, cat-loving, human interest writer of great skill and sensitivity, a ballet dancer of grace, with a tiny country cottage in Kent and who spent her spare time quietly in the cathedrals of England, patiently taking brass rubbings from medieval tombs.

Illustrator Catherine Edmunds I’ve known for many years as a fine, nature-inspired, landscape and portrait artist who gives violin lessons to local children and writes haunting poetry and beautiful books and short stories of whimsical fantasy.

Both are warm-hearted mothers who coaxed their children to sleep and sweet dreams with fairy tales and lullabies.

Yet together they have produced a catalogue of cruelty ... from A-Z!

But let’s look again. This is not a sensationalised and gore-splattered work to appeal to the blood-thirsty. The A-Z of Punishment and Torture documents, through sound journalistic research and with no embellishment, man’s inhumanity to man over the ages and makes its readers more aware than ever of how misguided ideas of justice and morality, even today, could (and perhaps do) reduce ‘civilised’ society to barbarity.

As always, Irene’s writing is spiked with subtle humour. As always, Cathy’s art is emotive. You could safely gift this book to your grandchild. And you probably should. The only shock and horror is that every word and every one of the twenty-six illustrations remind us of what can so easily happen when we don’t keep our dark side in check, when we sanction the unforgivable. It’s a vital lesson in book form.

Irene, who after a lifetime of international writing travel now lives with journalist husband John in a peaceful, rural, medieval village fifty miles south of London said: “You can only imagine the flurry of raised eyebrows when the title emerged, accompanied by a chorus of astonished query: ‘What's someone like YOU doing writing something like THAT!’

The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is a far cry from anything I’ve written before. However, in other respects, it was for me simply a matter of reporting the facts, hard or otherwise which, as a journalist, I had done for decades. In the same way a surgeon regards his patient as a section of flesh to be probed and corrected, I took the tales of torture and cruelty and wrote them down without judgment or sentimentality.

“I did try to minimise the more gory parts as the object of this book is to inform rather than to shock. It’s intended to present an overview of the ways in which humans have punished each other over the centuries and as a warning that some still do. There are moments of levity to lighten the load and some splendid illustrations.”

Illustrator Cathy from England's north east said: I’m not into nastiness and gore, and neither is Irene or her book. The information is fascinating, but it doesn’t set out to terrify or sensationalise, and I was happy to bear that in mind when planning the illustrations. You’ll find nothing graphically revolting in here, but plenty to make you wonder at humanity’s inhumanity.

“‘Q for Quicklime’ was problematic, for instance. It’s not the most picturesque stubstance. Looks like lumps of chalk. I drew some in a bucket. It was either that or do something totally grotesque with people being boiled alive in the stuff, which was not the sort of thing I wanted to be drawing or that Irene wanted to see. It wasn’t until weeks later that the idea of ‘Queen’s Pleasure’ was mooted by our editor,  an additional section was written, and I was able to draw a stern looking Queen Victoria holding a bunch of keys.

“It’s now almost a year since I started on the project. Every picture has been approved, checked for errors, double-checked, the entire book proof-read an incredible number of times by everyone, pictures checked yet again, emails flown back and forth, adjustments made, and now – finally – it’s finished and I can go back to drawing Connemara ponies and curraghs.

“I’ve had a ball. I started off wondering what I was letting myself in for. I ended up thoroughly satisfied that between us – writer, illustrator, editor and publisher – we’ve produced a highly informative and fully illustrated exploration of the darker side of humanity that would make a most unusual addition to anybody’s Christmas list. Plenty of people are going to receive e-book readers this year as a gift and are going asking what they can read on their shiny new gadget that’s a bit different: The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is the answer.”

So no XXX-rated chamber of horrors, The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, but a careful chronicle, a documentary revelation of what mankind is capable of under the spell of twisted ideas of right and wrong.

And why ‘the strangest thing about today’s new release’ as though all this isn’t strange enough?

Well, there are two other firsts. This is the first time BeWrite Books has published a non-fiction book. And it is also the first time BB, Irene and Cathy have worked on a project intended for publication in ebook form only. It’s a revised, extended, re-illustrated, re-designed and re-covered version of the hardback by The Book Guild, UK (for those old-fashioned folks here who haven’t caught on to e-reading yet the hardback is available from major online stores. ISBN for hardback is 978 1 84624 203 8).

The BeWrite Books ebook edition is available at all major and minor ebook stores in all formats for everything from PC and laptop, through Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo et al, to iPod and even smart phones. And, of course, you can buy it direct from the BeWrite Books website on www.bewrite.net or by clicking on the open book item at the top right of this post.

Words by Irene, Illustration by Cathy, edited by Neil Marr, cover art and internal design by Tony Szmuk who also prepared the ebook in PDF, ePub and Mobi digital formats.

Author Irene Thompson’s own blog post about The A-Z of Punishment and Torture is here: http://www.irenethompsonbooks.blogspot.com From the illustrator’s POV, you can read Catherine Edmund’s blog here: http://catherineedmunds.blogspot.com/2010/11/z-illustrators-perspective.html?spref=fb 

And the critics are already reacting – the day before release!

This from the renowned Jan Goodwin, author and investigative journalist with a focus on war, conflict and human rights … Man’s Inhumanity to Man (as well as Woman, Child, and even Beast) dates back to the beginning of time, and is limited only by the perpetrator’s  depraved imagination. Tragically, as Irene Thompson documents, too many of these primitive tortures are still carried out today. From President Bush justifying waterboarding of prisoners, to the constant mutilating rapes ignored by the UN in the Congo, far too many victims still endure the unimaginable. This is humankind’s shame and a must-read.

World-famous best-selling author, James Herbert, says: Splendidly written … a gruesome but enjoyable journey through the history of pain and punishment. I was hooked from A-Z … a fascinating compendium of horror, death, torture … and not just for sado-masochists.

Best wishes. Neil Marr

The first three BB blog readers to email me will receive by return a complimentary copy of The A-Z of Punishment and Torture (Illustrated) in the ebook format of their choice. NM


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

LUCKY HORSESHOES FOR HARRY'S READERS

BeWrite Books today releases Horseshoes by Harry Hughes in paperback and all popular ebook formats. And these horseshoes are certainly lucky for Harry’s readers … they get five extra tales thrown in, because the new book – a long novella – includes five extended short stories.

Harry’s Horseshoes follows in the hoofprints of his hilarious (but also chilling) crime novel The Bait Shack, published by BeWrite Books last year.

You can read about Horseshoes by clicking on its cover in the bookstore section of our website at  www.bewrite.net or reach the site by clicking on the open book icon at the top right of this page. It’s available there, at all major and minor online bookshops for paperback and at ebook stores in formats to suit every electronic reading platform through PCs, laptops and netbooks, to Kindle, Nook, Kobo et al, and for iPods and smartphones. You can also order the paperback from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop.

Harry is a Viet Nam and Woodstock vet, an award winning popular song writer and a professor of psychology. Seven years of his life in New York is the subject of the National Book Critics Circle Award nominated book, Homefires; An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America, by Donald Katz (Harper Collins Press, 1992). Harry's short story, A River Too Distant (which is included as one of the tales in Horseshoes), was published, along with works by Edward Albee and Joseph Heller, in Hampton Shorts, Vol. 3, 1998. He currently lives, writes and teaches in Utah.

So why the switch from a full length novel to novella and short story format? Let’s leave it to Harry to explain:

“The novella, Horseshoes, which opens the book, did start out as a novel. But if I’ve learned anything as a writer of fiction, it’s that stories end themselves. Any attempt to stretch a piece of fiction into something longer than what it can comfortably carry usually becomes an exercise in contrivance. If I had forced the novella into a novel, the tension, humor and impact of the work would have been diluted with filler.

“So I decided to add five short stories (although they’re not really very short) to allow the novella to reach publishable book length. I do not regard these stories as fillers, but rather as slices of life from various milieus, each revealing something palpable about the human condition. Some of these stories were written before the novella was born, others after the novella was completed.”

HORSESHOES is a comic novella about an aeronautical engineer’s mid-life crisis precipitated by one too many trips to the drawing board. His irrational fugue state carries him from East Hampton to Dallas to New York City with relentless irony shredding the seat of his pants.

In SWOOP, two US Marine combat veterans concoct an outrageous plan to keep a young surfer from being shipped to Viet Nam.

In A DOLLAR TWENTY-FIVE PER MILE, a Long Island night-shift cabby eyes the beautiful day driver Althea from an immeasurable distance. One morning he drops to the back seat of her taxi. "California," he tells her.

A RIVER TOO DISTANT concerns an African-American repo man who reclaims the Honda Civic of a white southerner abruptly fired from his job at the lumberyard. But the errant car-owner and his chainsaw are ready for him.

HECTOR'S DRUNKEN BUDDHA
tells the story of an aimless, underachieving Latino who rediscovers his self-worth following a nightmarish weekend of migraine headaches, prescription drug abuse and the death of two close friends.

And in FRY COOK, a North Carolinian woman named Marnee tells the story of her otherwise gentle husband’s grotesque plan for revenge and its inevitable execution, an act that is both unnerving yet strangely reasonable.

Harry added:  “Of course, works of fiction are never only fictional. The author invariably infuses bits of his or her own realities into the mix.

“Of the short stories, for instance, Swoop is closer to an actual event that occurred during the late 1960s. It qualifies as fiction merely because some of the facts have been embellished and because names of those involved have been changed. The story also reveals a dirty little secret about medical treatment of a certain class of military veterans returning from the Viet Nam War. It is my belief that readers will find Swoop to be a harrowing account on every level of human conflict imaginable.

“Naturally, I believe that you will also discover that the novella and other stories enliven your sense of humanity in the realms of drama, humor, compassion, and wit.”

Harry’s BeWrite Books editor on Horseshoes was Hugh McCracken. Cover art and external and internal design is by Tony Szmuk, who also handled the technical side of things, including the careful preparation of all ebook presentations.

Happy reading. Neil Marr

Psssst ... First BB blog reader to email me gets a free paperback, three others will get a free ebook download in the format of their choice: PDF, ePub or Mobi. Good luck. Neil -- ntmarr@bewrite.net

Friday, 29 October 2010

THE SECRET REPORT OF FRIAR OTTO -- REVEALED AT LAST!

BeWrite Books is proud to announce that The Secret Report of Friar Otto can at last be revealed ... after 750 years stamped as classified information.

And that’s a fact! Or is it? In Sam Smith’s latest novel, it’s hard to tell where fact ends and fiction takes over. Maybe it’s all medieval fact because it certainly reads that way – maybe it’s all thoroughly modern fiction because it reads that way too.

Let’s ask the author himself. Play it Sam ...

Why Friar Otto? I was living in Ilfracombe, a well-known seaside resort town in England, and one May – a birthday treat for my partner in crime/life, Steph – we took the MV Oldenburg ferry out to little Lundy Island off the Devon coast, where I spotted an arctic finch by the castle. I wrote it up in the bird-spotters log there, which is kept in the Marisco Tavern.

Politics, current and past, interests me. Especially where it concerns injustice and/or misrepresentation. I’m also attracted to characters at odds with their contemporaries, the maverick likes of Frank Harris and Edward Aveling; and from Lundy onwards to one William de Marisco.

Having exhausted Ilfracombe library’s history section and the net’s resources, with the Mariscos having owned lands in Somerset and Ireland as well as the whole of tiny Lundy’s three miles of rock, I took myself off to Bath and plunged into that old Roman town's reference library.

The superficial, the accepted shorthand history view, was that William de Marisco rebelled against his king, fled to Lundy and there led a band of pirates. But that shorthand view of his story didn’t smell right. So I dug ... and discovered treachery upon betrayal upon intrigue all laced with regal and religious machinations. William de Marisco was a man loyal to the realm, ill-used by the realm.

The Secret Report of Friar Otto is dedicated to Dr David Kelly, a UN weapons inspector who took his own life in despair after revealing to the press what he know about the non-presence of weapons of mass destruction before Britain and America invaded Iraq ... another man loyal to the realm and ill-used by the realm. Friar Otto kept his information secret, probably lived to a ripe old age, and the truth waited for 750 years to be told.

Why Friar Otto? I felt that a single voice was required.

To represent such a convoluted history from an omniscient author’s view would have required more research than I was capable of undertaking. I certainly couldn’t afford to get over to Ireland and France to look into the Montmorencis, the Marisco descendants there. Stanley Marris, a Canadian descendant of William de Marisco, was however most generous with his help.

I was aware that the Franciscans were at the time of William de Marisco’s imprisonment beginning to make inroads into England. They had already placed a man in the English court. So I struck upon the idea of a friar scribe, Otto, a naïf.

Neil asked me, Why novels and poetry? Writing’s writing to me. I can start with an idea for a poem and end up with a novel. Or vice versa. Content dictates form. And very few writers stick to one form, or to one genre. Isaac Asimov wrote detective novels, Arthur C Clarke children’s stories. To me science fiction is like any other fiction: one begins by asking oneself, ‘What would happen if ...’ Then, if one’s lucky, the book grows from there. Unforeseen plot lines develop, characters take on contradictory lives of their own, and – if all is going well – the author becomes the servant of the book.

With my one non-fiction book, Vera & Eddy’s War, I saw that I couldn’t improve on Vera and Eddy’s tales and so I simply converted them to the third person. The Care Vortex on the other hand, while I had masses of material, in order to protect the innocent I had to convert it to fiction. Whereas my working in mental health, with every day being different, often moment to moment dramatically changing, that fractured experience was best represented in poetry, in the collections To Be Like John Clare and Problems & Polemics.

Right now I’m looking at the possible motivations of a serial cat-killer. Moggycide?

Thanks, Sam.

But while we’re waiting for Moggycide, here’s a brief note about Sam’s latest, The Secret Report of Friar Otto:

A gang of renegade knights takes refuge on tiny and remote Lundy Island off the coast of Devon in medieval England.

When they are betrayed, captured and condemned, Friar Otto is sent to investigate their crimes. But, confronted by dangerous ideas, he starts to ask himself awkward questions.

His secret report is Sam Smith's reinterpretation of a 750 year-old manuscript, The Report in Confidence on the Imprisonment and Execution of William de Marisco and Sixteen of His Followers. The original text has been turned into a beautifully-crafted modern novel, utterly convincing in its evocation of the Eighth Century world and mindset.

The prisoners spend as much time goading the prudish celibate with stories about 'tupping' the ladies as they do discussing doctrinal niceties. A brilliant book that deserves a readership.

Words by Sam (of course), editorial work by Hugh McCracken, cover art, internal and external design by Tony Szmuk, who also prepared the perfect ebook version in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats.

The Secret Report of Friar Otto is available in paperback and all ebook formats for all electronic reading platforms from www.bewrite.net (or simply click on the open book icon at the top right of this post and visit the bookstore), from all major and minor online stores, and on order from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop.

Best wishes, folks. Neil

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

HEART WITH A DIRTY WINDSHIELD

BeWrite Books is delighted to announce today’s release of Heart with a Dirty Windshield, a sole-author collection by Howie Good, one of the most powerful voices on today’s poetry scene.

Howie is author of twenty-three poetry chapbooks, including Police and Questions (2008) from Right Hand Pointing, Tomorrowland (2008) from Achilles Chapbooks, The Torturer’s Horse (2009) from Recycled Karma Press and Love Is a UFO (2009) from Pudding House. He has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and three times for the Best of the Net anthology. His first full-length book of poetry, Lovesick, was published last year by The Poetry Press.

This from Howie himself, a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz:

I try in my poetry to challenge reader expectations in hopes of creating a space for a kind of spooky wonder. My poems seem to have scenes, characters and plot, but the relationship among these traditional components of narrative is frequently frayed and strange.

The poems proceed not by linear logic, but the fractured logic of dreams, especially bad dreams. I am less interested in telling what happened than in telling how what happened 
felt. It’s for this purpose that I seek images that are concrete, elusive, accessible and mysterious all at once. Images are maps to areas of thought and feeling untraceable by other means.

I also try in my poetry to make a virtue of succinctness. In fact, one of the defining characteristics of poetry for me is that it suggests a lot with a little. Prose can be discursive, but I see poetry as the most concentrated form of literary expression. It’s the difference, if you will, between the spread of a shotgun blast and the precision of a rifle shot.


And here’s what the critics are saying about Heart with a Dirty Windshield author Howie’s work.

Howie Good’s poetry sleeps with your wife and mocks you in front of your friends. It smokes your last cigarette and hides the remote before spending your grandmother’s Social Security check on brightly menacing tattoos. Good’s poetry, the reader suspects, works for the Yakuza. Jason Cook

Howard Good turns words into a reciprocating saw that can be worked through your gut. He has internalised the existential horror of existence and turned it outward. Nathan Tyree

Howie Good’s poetry remakes reality with startling images, disquieting insights and unexpected juxtapositions. The effect is by turn surreal, disconcerting and always compelling. Juliet Wilson

Good’s poetry is concerned with the anxious, mad beauty of a perilous dream, and his poems teeter on the precipice of something steep, intimating the threat of a drop down a dangerous abyss. Sometimes wry, sometimes tender, and always urgent, Good’s body of work comprises the collective spirit of art in the 21st century. Continuing in the tradition of Breton, Good constructs a dialectic of human history and the nuances of the heart, and locates the tradition of both in the present moment with the lyric as fuel to move his engine forward. Cynthia Reeser

Congratulations to Howie and to BeWrite Books poetry editor Sam Smith on a triumph of a book. And a pat on the back for BB’s technical and design director Tony Szmuk for striking cover work, design inside and out and for preparing the paperback and ebook formats.

Heart with a Dirty Windshield is available in paperback and ebook from www.bewrite.net (or just click on the open book icon at the top right of this post) and all major and minor online bookstores and on order from your local brick-and-mortar bookshop.

The first BeWrite Books blog reader to email me gets a paperback copy with our compliments. Another three can choose the ebook version of their choice.

Best wishes. Neil M



EPIC NEWS FOR THE BLUE MAN


Thrilling news today that BeWrite Books author Michael McIrvin's The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time has been named as finalist for the huge annual Epic Award.

Michael's Blue Man was up against massive and stiff competition in the mystery/suspense fiction section from ebooks entered by publishing houses all over the world.

The winner will be announced at the international EPICon Convention in March, 2011 in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia.

You can read about Michael and his noir thriller in the BeWrite Books bookstore by clicking on the open book icon at the top right of this page or by going to www.bewrite.net It's available from the BB store and all major and minor stores in paperback and all ebook formats.

Huge congratulations, Michael. Fingers crossed for the final. The Blue Man Dreams the End of Time is a superb piece of work that we're all proud to have been involved in and it deserves top billing. Neil

Thursday, 21 October 2010

CANTERBURY NEWS -- BANG ON DEADLINE!


As a very much on-the-ball national newspaper crime reporter in an earlier life, I am just a tad embarrassed to be 840 years late in filing the murder story of Thomas Becket in Canterbury in 1170.


On the other hand, my breaking news is up to the minute ... that world-renowned part-time detective Belinda Lawrence is on the case as of today.

A Canterbury Crime is released by BeWrite Books today, October 22 2010!

It’s the fourth novel in Brian Kavanagh’s riveting Belinda Lawrence Mysteries. And once again Belinda and her sidekick Hazel struggle to crack the case … painstakingly sifting the clues from the red herrings, coping with personal hitches, and facing deadly menace along the way.

Brian’s book was written by Brian (of course), edited by my editorial pal, Hugh McCracken, proofed by the whole team, and beautifully covered and designed, inside and out, by BeWrite Books’ magical Tony Szmuk. Tony also produced the ebook versions.

It’s published by BB today in paperback and all digital formats and is available at all major and minor ebook and paperback online stores as well as on order from your favourite local brick-and-mortar bookshop. It’s also the first BB book to be simultaneously released in paperback and Kindle version.

You can read all about the book, the earlier three novels in the Belinda Lawrence Mysteries series, about Brian, and even read extracts by hitting the open book icon at the top right of this page to take you to the www.bewrite.net main website and visiting our bookstore section.

If you’re already a Belinda Lawrence fan (and you should be) this is a must-read, which also takes Belinda’s enticing and complicated love-life a step in a (maybe) firm direction. And if you’re new to Belinda Lawrence,  A Canterbury Crime is a great place to start. All Brian’s novels are perfectly self-contained stories in their own right.

Here’s a wee taster for you …

The ancient walled city of Canterbury has held many secrets over the centuries but none more mysterious than the death of Professor de Gray.

Called in to evaluate the contents of his Tudor Manor House, Belinda and Hazel are confronted with a number of suspects who would benefit from the book the Professor was about to publish; a book he promised would re-write the history of St Thomas Becket who was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170.

The unfriendly secretary Miss Mowbray, the live wire student Tommy, the volatile amateur historian Peter, the respected publisher Sir Justin, and Quentin the upstart publisher prepared to obtain the book at any price. Add to them the local Doctor and Funeral Director and the cast of suspects is complete.

Confirming the Professor was murdered proves to be a challenge and, gradually ,as they get to know those associated with the Manor House Belinda and Hazel discover another murder and an intricate web of secrets that leads them to life-threatening danger and finally to the killer.

But can they get to him (or her) before he (or she) gets to them?

Happy reading folks … and the first BB blog-follower to email us gets a free paperback copy. Another three can have the ebook version in the format of their choice, PDF, ePub or Mobi.

Cheers, chills, mystery and fun. Neil

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

MARR'D by MEREDITH WHITFORD in AUSTRALIA

Shakespeare had a line for it. "A young man married is a man that's marr'd." (I hope his wife, older than he, hit him upsides the head with a frying pan.) But although I'm neither a man nor young, I've been marr'd. Marred, as we'd say.

Neil Marred.

You see, Neil Marr is Bewrite Books' editor in chief, and he's just edited my latest novel Shakespeare's Will, and, probably like his other editees, I can strip my sleeve and show my scars …

He's too good. Scarily good. Of course he spent a previous lifetime in journalism – oh, sorry, once upon a time that would've been a compliment, meaning he can both read and write, unlike too many of today's journalists who use 'reticent' when they mean 'reluctant' because they are victims of a modern education. But Neil and I are both of a certain age – he's 3 days short of being 13 months my senior – and this means that we went to school back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and children were taught to read, write, spell, punctuate, parse a sentence and understand the subjunctive and the correct use of apostrophes (or, in modern usage, under'stand the correct use of apostrophe's).

He's a damn good editor. So am I. It's been part of my job for years. And when an editor edits an editor's book, then the editor edits the editor's edits and so on, there may just be the occasional difference of opinion. I'm always right, you see, but, quaintly, Neil thinks he is. The fool. But of course he can always pull out the ultimate weapon and threat: house style.

Bastard.

But he can recognise a pun when he sees one; unlike some 'editors' who shall remain nameless. And he edited my first novel, Treason, with only one query; again unlike other editors who shall remain nameless (unless anyone sends me money to name them).

And he's Scottish, you see, so in our gritted-teeth exchange of emails about dashes v. ellipses, he can lapse into some dialect comprehensible only to his own kind. For all I know he's giving me the recipe for haggis rather than a proofreading correction, but I end up saying, "Yes, Neil."

And of course he affects not to understand the simplest, plainest Australian English – for instance, when after The Disagreement About The Quotation Marks I expressed the hope that all his chooks would turn into emus and kick his dunny down – the mildest remonstrance, as I'm sure you'll agree – he responded really quite oddly. The fact that all my pot plants died next day is, I am sure, pure coincidence. Nothing to do with that quotation from Macbeth he sent.

But we both survived the editing experience (the facial tic will go soon, I'm sure) and so did Shakespeare. We didn't misspell the book's title. Our merry jest about bringing the story up to date by changing Shakespeare's twins' names to Chandler and Chardonnay didn't make it into print by mistake. We didn't put 'trumpet' for 'strumpet'. And Tony Szmuk's ingenious cover is a triumph.

And, because I review a lot of proof copies for my local bookshop (shout out: the excellent Mostly Books at Mitcham in Adelaide) I can say that Bewrite Books and their Mr Marr (and, I'll bet, their other editors) can give most bigger publishers lessons in editing. Probably no publishers never let a mistake through – even I did, once – but if more had their books Marr'd it'd be a better world for readers. Though perhaps not as funny ... who doesn't love a really galactic, titanic misprint, as when Jeffery Deaver's publishers printed "brian" for "brain" in a quotation from Hippocrates? And who isn't giggling at the Jonathon Franzen's 'editing' troubles with his new book?

Also, Neil's the only person in the world who's allowed to call me Merry. So when he calls me Meredith I'm back on the headmistress's carpet again, hanging my head and saying, "I dunno," and "Wasn't me." And if there are any mistakes in Shakespeare's Will, it wasn't me. It was Neil Marr. So there. Och aye. Too right.

Meredith Whitford

Thursday, 14 October 2010

THREE NIGHTMARES AND A REUNION




We’ve just made three moves that are just a tad scary ... and one that gave me great personal pleasure. ‘Three Nightmares and a Reunion’ will be the title of the film version of this blog yarn.

Scary A: We’re about to run with our first ever ebook-only project. We will now see if an ebook really can stand on its own feet without support from paperback and hardback sales. Regular readers and old friends know our passion for the future of the ebook presentation of work, so now let’s find out if our enthusiasm has run away with us or if we’ve been on track so far this century.

Scary B: Again for the first time, without the usual support of Ingram’s – the biggest book distributor on the planet – we’re faced with building an ebook retail base ourselves ... from scratch. No mean trick, is that. But we’ve carefully prepared (even to the extent of registering BeWrite Books LLC in the USA to get into the massive new ebook retail stores that exclude publishers without an official US presence) and have high hopes.

Scary C: We’re publishing our first non-fiction book with this release. Until now, it’s been strictly Novels-я-Us. And poetry collections, of course.

Pleasure A-Z:
I’ve been working along with an author who’s an old buddy from mid-seventies newspaper days in Fleet Street. We’ve not worked together or even set eyes on each other since we shared an office thirty-five years ago when we were both still in our roaring twenties and Fleet Street was much, much more than just an address in London EC4. And – wow – it’s been a breeze.

A bit scary for author Irene Thompson, too, because 1) she hadn’t a clue about ebooks and had never even read one when we snared her 2) the subject matter of her A-Z of Punishment and Torture seems to clash with her gentle persona as a popular human interest journalist and former ballet dancer.

The story of this reunion is pretty simple. Irene’s husband, John, is European editor of a major US newspaper group and, over the decades, we’ve touched base on international stories many times. So when Irene drifted from newspapers and magazines into books, I read what she wrote with interest and admiration. When I bought The A-Z of Punishment and Torture, though, it suddenly struck me that the mainstream UK publisher of the hardback version had not yet moved in the direction of ebooks. I dropped Irene a line about it. she thought once, then twice, talked it over with John, then contacted her publisher for the go-ahead, and decided to sign with BeWrite Books to run the ebook version.

We had a lot of fun along the way because the ebook is a significant revision of the hardback.  And it was such a whizz of a job because Irene – a thorough pro – understood all the editorial twists and turns without the batting of an eye and was so happy to learn about ebooks and technology as we progressed through the months of editing.

There was another wee bonus. Although her publisher had handed Irene ebook rights, they couldn’t (for contractual reasons) release rights to the original illustrations in her book. So we pulled in brilliant UK artist Catherine Edmunds, who is also an author, was part of the old BeWrite Community way back when and has always kept in warm touch. Cathy, Irene and I worked together to make the book fully illustrated with twenty-six drawings, one for each letter of the alphabet, as chapter-openers. (Cathy, by the way, also covered and illustrated BB's ALLAKAZZAM! by Daniel Abelman.)

Then partner, close colleague and pal, Tony Szmuk, who also handled inside text design and all matters technical, added the finishing touch of a striking cover that works magnificently in both colour and in the black-and-white used by e-ink ebook-dedicated reading devices like Kindle, Sony, Kobo et al. (B&N’s Nook, like Apple’s iPad, can give it the full colour treatment.)

We’ll see release of The A-Z of Punishment and Torture next month. Meantime, if you go back to the BB website (just click on the open book icon and the top right of this page) and enter the bookstore section, you can read about Irene’s new ebook in the ‘coming soon’ column in the right margin, about Irene herself, and also read a sample chapter from The A-Z of Punishment and Torture and see one of Cathy’s illustrations.

Irene has even made the brave new move – without any help from us or anyone else – of kicking off a blog. Her first foray into online interaction with readers. It’s lovely. And very personal. You’ll find it here: www.irenethompsonbooks.blogspot.com. Do pay a visit and leave an encouraging note because it’s so new (Oct 13) that Irene only has two followers so far – husband John and me. I predict that her followers list will soon be bustin’ at the seams.

Cathy also has a blog. She’s on http://catherineedmunds.blogspot.com/ where she talks about her own new novel, Small Poisons, and poetry collection, wormwood, earth and honey. And you can see many examples of her art by Googling.

So that’s Three Nightmares and a Reunion ... from A-Z, folks.

Slainte ba. Neil

Sunday, 10 October 2010

THE DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN EXCUSES AND REASONS

Gosh, I'm way behind in updating the blog. Sorry, chaps and chappettes. But ... the weak excuse is also good reason, I think. Hope you'll understand. Those who've been involved recently certainly will.  (And I'll even tell you an anti-Scottish joke at the end to help make up for it.)

You'd hardly believe how busy we've been behind the scenes here. It's been 17X7 all summer, and there's no let-up in sight. So here are the reasons you might excuse the excuse ...

*We have five new titles ready to roll, eight more almost ready to go, a dozen in edit, another two dozen in assessment. New submissions are arriving by the barrow-load.

*We've been frantically (but carefully) converting the entire current catalogue of more than 120 titles to ePub and Mobi on a title-by title basis (no shoddy auto-conversion here at BB).

*Now that we're now fully and additionally registered in the USA as BeWrite Books LLC as of this month, we're busy signing contracts and uploading titles in specific formats to all the massive new ebook retail sites that exclude pubhlishers without that vital US 'official' presence. And, golly, do some of these folks make us jump through technical, legal and admin hoops! Gone are the days of dropping a box of paperbacks on the local bookshop's doorstep.

*We've signed a new rep/agent for the US and Latin America. A brilliant man. We struck lucky with Petru.

*We've been moving heavily on promotion for individual authors and titles.

*We've overcome a major accountancy hiccup that has delayed royalty payments by almost a month. From here in, we annually retain professional accountancy and book-keeping services. So far, no author has complained of the wee delay. Please don't. We're on top of it.

*We've overcome a major Lightning Source print-dispatch-order hitch that has caused sticky problems with paperbacks and are now, additionally, assured of a Lightning Source/Ingram's print and distribution service in Australasia in June 2011.

*We're working out a sale-or-return deal with our printers to make BB titles in paperback more attractive to high street brick-and-mortar bookshops. Good news for authors and readers.

*We've sealed deals for half a dozen BeWrite Books titles for translation and mass-run publication on Mainland China and exclusively pitched another seventy titles at the huge Beijing International Book Fair last month. Watch this space for news. (If your an included author, watch this month's royalties cheque.)

*We've overcome merchant problems at our own site and all is now running smoothly.

*We've signed six new authors this month alone.

*We've been helping a major new retailer (a serious Amazon challenger?) set up.

*We've been busy assessing and buying in new hardware and software to keep ahead of new industry demands. Bang goes Christmas for Tony and me -- we're always at the tail end of the wages queue.

*We've joined several professional bodies and entered BB titles and authors for many awards.

*We've juggled all our usual Indian clubs without dropping a single one. We even picked up a few and they're spinning in the air right now.

*And we're jiggered.

A million thanks to Tony Szmuk, Hugh McCracken,  Sam Smith, Alex Marr and Meredith Whitford for their tireless and selfless input recently and to all authors and readers for their support and word-of-mouth recommendation.

Latest figures show that BB sales in 2010 have increased severalfold. That's good news for everyone.

We must be doing something right, eh?

A more interesting blog post will follow as soon as I come up for air.

Promise. Neil

And my favourite Scots joke of the week:

Library patron in Glasgow: "Any books aboot suicide?"

Librarian: "Aye. But ye cannae hae yin."

Patron: "Why"

Libnrarian: "Folks nivver bring 'em back."

N