Friday, 6 May 2011


Re-printed by kind permission of Revel Barker of Revel Barker Publishing and the Gentlemen Ranters website – 'The Last Pub in the Street'. Fleet Street, that is; once the world press hub but now a mere address in London EC4. The website is where we old news hounds bay at the Moon and Stars and gather each Friday in a virtual tap room to swap tales; the long, the short and the suspiciously tall of the Golden Years of journalism. It is from Revel's catalogue of books by ace reporters and columnists of that era (see the catalogue so far here) that BeWrite Books' new hack-lit ebook editions are mined. But what follows isn't for journalists only – and neither is RBP/BB hack-lit.

By Neil Marr

Confronted with his first fax machine, an old-stager I knew at the Daily Mail in Glasgow discovered, well within a month, that he didn't really need to stick first-class postage stamps on his London-bound copy.

Those of us long enough in the tooth to remember 'new' technology will also recall how easily we adapted.

So why do electric books hit us like a high-voltage shock?

Readers switched from clay tablets to papyrus, to scrolls, to hand-copied codex, took to Gutenberg's idea when he knocked an old wine press into a primitive flat-bed in his cellar six centuries ago, and  they even survived the advent of cheap, mass-run paperback when our granddads were young fellers in flat caps or tin helmets. As tale-spinners, we scribes coped with web-offset and photo-comp.

The world's last standing typewriter factory (Godrej and Boyce in India) closed last week. We no longer sit-up-and-beg to write. And when was the last time you swapped insults with a bored copy-taker while his tea went cold at around take-three?

In the beginning, we're assured, was the Word. And how the Word is presented is about as significant as whether a good pint is hand-pumped into a straight glass or into a dimpled mug with a handle on it.

Forgive Us Our Press Passes
 by Ian Skidmore
But with no expenses to fritter any more, surely the price of content is a consideration. One point for ebooks. And you're already screen readers ... or how else would you be seeing this week's Ranters or reading the BeWrite Books blog here? Point two scored.

Many of Revel's hack-lit authors agree. Notably Ian Skidmore, who adopted the ebook in his majestic eighties. He wears a handlebar moustache that once put Jimmy Edwards to shame (Prof Jim cheated in the contest), a bow-tie the size of a kite, a Black Watch tartan three-piece suit innocent of volume controls, and he carries a Kindle ebook reader in his pocket – with the capacity to tote a virtual library that's even greater than that housed in the East Wing of Castle Skiddy itself.

So RBP's first venture into ebooks with BeWrite Books was with the enthusiastic approval of Skiddy, and  'Forgive Us Our Press Passes' went digital... a faithful reproduction of the revised and extended paperback edition.

Slip-Up by Anthony Delano
Next on board was Anthony Delano. His 'Slip-Up' was released in all ebook formats and at all major and minor ebook stores last week. And his 'Manacled Mormon' (the tale of naughty Joyce McKinney's kinky kidnapping sexploit) will go BB electric in June.

We see others from this growing hack-lit catalogue being offered in ebook form regularly from here in. The books are identical to the paper editions ... only the means of presentation and the target market has changed.

The hacks and haquettes who wrote these books possess the knack of enthralling the general reader, by the million and day-by-day. So why should their books not appeal just as generally and as widely? Why 'books by journalists FOR journalists'?

Ebooks make them international and as exciting to the man on the bus as they are to us. Some sushi chef in Tokyo might well be reading 'Slip-Up' right now... on a mobile phone while he waits on a railway platform to be shoe-horned onto the bullet train to work. Some jolly swagman is chuckling over Skiddy's hilarious history, sat beside a billabong under the shade of a coolibah tree (knowing he has 7,000 pages of battery life in his Sony, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iPad or whatever, so she'll be right).

When lunches, liquids, lurches and life caught up with me in the nineties, I could no longer hack the trains and boats and planes that on-the-move journalism involved and had to quickly learn how to fly a desk. First I authored and ghosted books (for everyone from Random House to more obscure small press), then I became an editor (mostly of fiction – no surprise), and then a small-time publisher in 2000.

From the start, I insisted on ebook cover of every paperback released by BeWrite Books I'm one of your original ebook evangelists. Our wee team has seen nearly two hundred new and exclusive titles published internationally in the years since. Now BB is so well ahead of the ebook game that, last year, we withdrew all ebook titles from Ingram – the biggest book distributor on the planet – and soon found we had even greater reach than they have.

So Revel took notice and – with a handshake over a virtual bar-top – decided to give ebooks a whirl in cahoots with BeWrite Books. Apart from one recent release (also by an old Fleet Street pal [Irene Thompson's 'A-Z of Punishment and Torture']), RBP hack-lit is our only ebook-only venture.

Downloading and reading an ebook is as simple as falling off a high bar stool, ol' chums. So here goes...

Neil Marr of BeWrite Books
*Although to enjoy the experience fully, anywhere, anytime, you should lay hands on an ebook-dedicated reading device (there are about 100 on the market; from Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Sony, Kobo, Apple's iPad to lesser known gizmos) you can read an ebook on your PC, laptop or netbook... as well as on your Blackberry, smart phone, iPod or even TV screen if you know how.

*You can buy ebooks in many digital formats. Mobi is especially for Kindle, ePub is pretty well industry standard and will present well on most machines. PDF is, in essence, a for-print digital file, but it is also ideal for PCs, laptops and netbooks when specially prepared for ebook reading by BB Design and Technical Director Tony Szmuk. Good for tablet computers like iPad and Galaxy, too.

*You can buy ebooks from scores of ebook stores. The Kindle store will offer only Amazon's proprietary Mobi format for its Kindle machines. Other stores will offer you a choice of download options.

*With a device that has internet access, you can download direct to your ebook-reader. If your device doesn't have this wi-fi facility, no problem; you simply save your ebook to your PC or laptop desktop and read it there or upload it to your reading device in seconds using a USB cable (price of a packet of crisps). My advice is to download the free and superb Calibre Library Software This will store and catalogue your virtual library of tens of thousands of books. It will even automatically convert from one digital format to another at the touch of a key.

Revel Barker, founder of  Revel Barker Publishing. 
Former ace national newspaper reporter and 
managing editor of  Mirror Group Newspapers
*All RBP's hack-lit ebooks will be priced at the local equivalent of $5.95 (as are all BeWrite Books digital editions). That's less than the cost of two pints in real money. If you're not US-based, you might find an Amazon loading of $2 (UK) or even $4 (elsewhere) on Kindle editions. This is not true of other stores. And at BB's own bookstore the price is fixed at $5.95 and you're offered the full range of digital options ... as well as a link to ours and RBP's paperbacks.

*Most stores will also link to book notes and reviews. If you go direct to BeWrite Books, you get this, plus author bio, pix, fuller reviews and also a free download of a generous extract to sample.

*Then you read and have fun.

There are a few tricks and shortcuts and, in the early stages, you might even hit a hitch or two (remember the first time you came to the end of a typewriter ribbon and had to call for help?). If so, just drop me an email and I'll talk you through.

Pretty well the only things you can't do with an ebook that you can do with a newspaper is wrap fish and chips in it or strip its pages and hang them for use in the privy.

Edinburgh-born Neil Marr kicked off on regional evening newspapers in the mid-60s and was a national newspaper staff reporter and freelance in Manchester, Glasgow and Fleet Street. He freelanced around Europe and the USA before opening Riviera Media Services in France in the 80s. When ill health forced him off the road, he took to books and has headed the editorial team of BeWrite Books for the past ten years, working from a home office in the Mediterranean town of Menton, sandwiched between Monaco and the Italian frontier.

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