Thursday, 30 August 2012

Someone Else's Kobo

Neil's small 'Book Mill' e-publishing imprint, is about to start publishing on Kobo, which needs a different format to the Kindle (e-pub rather than mobi - for the technically minded!).  So, we thought we ought to buy one to see how the books look on it and what kind of functions we need to put into them.  There's no standardisation in e-publishing - a cover that's the right size for Kindle will leak over onto another page on a Kobo, but be too small for an I-pad.  Hyperlinks that work on the Kindle, won't on Kobo.   An e-publisher needs to know what they're dealing with.

To it was off to WH Smith to buy a Kobo.  Neil took the dummy box off the rack and took it to the counter - the assistant went upstairs and came down with the same box, though this time filled with a Kobo, put it through the till and into a bag.  But when Neil got home and took the Kobo out, it was covered with fingerprints, the sticky plastic on the screen was crumpled as if it had been taken off and put on again and it had obviously been used.  Back to the shop.  The assistant apologised, popped upstairs, came down half an hour later with the same box but - we were assured - a new Kobo inside. 

Home again and unpacked the Kobo from its box and discovered that the sticky plastic over the screen wasn't smooth and the handbook with it had been well-thumbed.  Suspicious we turned the device on according to the instructions and the set-up menu failed to appear as it was supposed to do.  When we finally got into the settings we discovered that that was because it had already been set up by someone else and their email address and details were on the Kobo, dated almost a year ago, so presumably the device had been returned to the shop by its owner.

Back to WH Smith again (a round trip of nearly 80 miles!) to ask for a new Kobo please, not another second hand one.  This time it was the manager we saw, who told us that - whoops! - they didn't have any new Kobos in stock.   Deeply apologetic.  Money back time. The staff couldn't have been nicer, and - since we were bent on buying a Kobo somewhere, somehow  - we were given a cover at a very reduced price to offset our fuel costs for the 2 return visits.

What made it so disquieting for us what that daughter M had bought a Kobo in London last year for her job and exactly the same thing had happened to her - someone else's details were already logged in and she had to take the device back to the shop.

We now have a Kobo, bought in Staples - it came in a sealed box and was absolutely pristine.  New, definitely!  And we love it.  The touch colour Vox has a vibrant screen to show off illustrations and all the apps, bells and whistles you get on a top of the range smart phone or tablet computer. It's a little short on battery life (7 hours), rather like a laptop,  but the books look amazing.  You can vary the fonts for publishing (you can't on Kindle) and have a much more elegant book.  Newspapers and magazines look exactly the same on screen as they do in your hand - and, in full colour, cookery books are luscious. In fact, reading on Kobo is a fantastic experience.   Wish we could recommend WH Smith in the same way. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Arctic Ice Melt

The extreme weather conditions we've been experiencing in the UK and Italy - caused apparently by a freak jet stream position - are explained in a Guardian article by George Monbiot.  What it says is chilling and it agrees with the known facts.  This isn't scare-mongering.  It's real. But it also makes me feel very helpless.  What can any of us do in the face of global commercial and governmental interests? 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Mutant Sparrow on the way to Bruges

So, phew, we're back in the UK at the Mill, just in time for some really bad weather.  The drive through Europe wasn't too bad.  Leaving Italy at 7 in the morning on Thursday in temperatures already over 30, by lunch time we were in Switzerland where the air was slightly cooler.   We stopped for a quick picnic lunch beside the road (everything is expensive in Switzerland, so we don't hang about) and then saw a very strange bird hopping towards us intent on the crumbs from our baguette.

This is the avian equivalent of the elephant man.  We wondered what accident had caused this overgrowth of the beak, or whether it was genetic - given that something was also wrong with the sparrow's legs.  But it seemed to be able to pick up bread by turning its head to the side and laying the beak down on the table.  I found it quite disturbing.

We stayed overnight in a small French town called St Avold, which was cheap and had nice wine and pastries, and then set off very early in the morning towards the Zeebrugge ferry, aiming to be at Bruges for lunch so that we could spend an afternoon walking round this medieval gem.

Bruges is a marvellous place - I spent so much time looking I forgot to take photographs of the narrow streets with their step-front houses on the canal front.  It's just a bit touristy, but lovely all the same.  I did take this snap from the pub where we had lunch.

It must be one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Then we headed for the ferry and an overnight crossing of the north sea.  We left sunny Belgium and woke up to find the refineries and power stations of  Humberside off the port bow.  Hull, or hell?  We really didn't know.  How are we supposed to live with this level of pollution (which I suppose we've just added to by driving through Europe)?  As for the weather - the grey sky says it all!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Just off to England - too far, too hot.

Packing madly and cleaning the house (the landlady might come in while I'm away and discover what a slut I am!) before climbing into a very hot car for a very long, hot journey north.  It's 800 miles or more to the ferry in Zeebrugge and will take us two days in this heat.  We have an old car and think it should take things gently!  Then overnight on the ferry to Hull and back at the mill (we hope) by Saturday afternoon.  It's a nuisance that the car has to have UK papers, MOTs and things, once a year - in Europe they do it every two years, which would make our life much easier.  But EU MOT's are not recognised in Britain.  How dumb is that?

Meanwhile, my short biography of Margaret Forster, exploring her books against the background of her life during a publishing career spanning forty years, has just appeared as an illustrated E-book. It's a complete re-write,(quadrupled in size, illustrated and up-dated), of an arts council pamphlet I wrote in 2003.  Hopefully it should appeal to Margaret Forster's fans, as it has interviews and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the way the books were conceived and developed, as well as pics of her book covers etc.   We plan a print edition in the autumn.   This is what the E-book looks like:-

And The Book Mill now has a Facebook Page all of its own to post news and anything of interest to Indie-authors.  
See you all on Saturday if we don't break down on the way!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Tuesday Poem: Julia Copus - The World's Two Smallest Humans


Last night I sensed a taking root
under the bonecage of my heart,
a stirring, shifting; something not
quite of a breath or heartbeat's weight.

It was the inkling of a soul.
Now I shall have no peace at all
till he's caught and fastened, nested in
the cradle of my pelvic bone.

Then, in the coracle of my womb,
I'll carry him gently, every inch home
though the hour is late
in the lengthening light

to the crook of my arm, the bay's curved shore,
water-lapped, twi-lit, secure.

This collection begins with a quote from Hilary Mantel:  'What is to be done with the lost .... but write them into being.'  All writing is, as Margaret Atwood observed, 'negotiating with the dead' - descending into Hades like Orpheus and bringing back the lost.  Many of these poems deal with loss and longing - the man who stands in the garden, 'earth-bound, heart-sore, his boots in the /frost-stiffened grass, travelling eastwards, against a background of stars';  Heloise and Abelard, Dido (Julia Copus is a classicist).  One of my favourites from the collection is a poem called 'This is the poem in which I have not left you', which rewinds time to the moment when, lying in bed, she hears the bird in the garden calling 'do it, do it'.

But I bought the collection for a sequence of poems called 'Ghost' , about the experience of IVF treatment, which I first heard on BBC radio - a programme that was short-listed for the Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry.  'Inkling' is one of the poems in that sequence - they are lyrical poems that go to the bone.
Highly recommended.  You may be able to listen to it as a podcast, or on i-player, on this BBC link.

For more Tuesday Poems from round the world, please go to the Tuesday Poem website and check out the side-bar for more contributions.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ulysses, Caligula and the Madonna of the Rock

Wednesday was Ferragosto - the biggest festival in the Italian calendar.  Everyone was on holiday and sharing a gigantic meal in the evening.  Ferragosto is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, but before Christianity it was dedicated to Diana, goddess, huntress, and long before that to other goddesses of fertility and plenty.  It's the middle of summer here, the trees loaded with fruit, and the heat beating off the walls and the scorched ground like a furnace.
Ferragosto was also my birthday, so we lazed around, went for a dip in the murky Mediterranean in late afternoon, and then for dinner in our village Osteria.

The sea was murky because we're in the grip of rampant anti-cyclones circling up from Africa, laden with dust and desert heat.  First, Ulysses with temperatures up to 38 degrees, now Caligula who is not much cooler, and tomorrow we get the Colossus of the Desert with warnings of temps in excess of 40 degrees over most of Europe.  Bad news for city dwellers and anyone at risk of wildfires.
Last night, as we sat on the terrace with a friend savouring the late evening breeze off the sea, we heard music and chanting from the direction of the village. It appeared to be coming along the road that passes above our house.  We walked up the path, just in time to find a candle-lit procession, headed by priests and our local orchestra, the Capezzano Philarmonic.  A wood and plaster image of Jesus was mounted on the back of a pick-up truck and followed by a long file of women and children carrying candles.  Difficult to get any kind of photograph because of the darkness and the glaring lights that illuminated the icon.

We followed it to the bend in the road near our house (which we privately call 'Holy Corner') where there is a big shrine carved into the rock with a statue of the Virgin Mary and an inscription that translates 'to a world guilty and sad, oh immaculate Queen, give forgiveness and peace'.

She is the Madonna of the Rock.  The carved image of her son stopped in front of the shrine and he was turned to face it. Prayers were chanted and sung.  It was all very moving and very pagan in the dark with only the flickering candles and the murmuring voices of the women around me.
Then the procession turned and walked back to the village church where the bells were rung.  Almost midnight by now.  But a beautiful end to the day.

Thanks to everyone who contributed advice on titles and covers.  We now have a cover and a title that we're very pleased with!  All will be revealed later.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Novel Without a Title - want to win a book?

The most important things, when it comes to selling a book, are the cover and the title.(Read Debbie Bennet on the subject)  Which gives me a terrible headache - because I've got a novel that everyone seems to like (it's just spent six months in the top five of the 'best-seller' charts on but I haven't got a title - and until I have a title, it's very difficult to have a cover.  So I thought I'd have a competition - whoever comes up with the 'right' title, will win a free copy of any book I've ever written as well as a free copy of the novel when it's published.
Cover 1
The novel features two girls growing up in the 1930s.  They meet by chance at a school in the north east of England and form a friendship that lasts through bereavement, failed relationships, internment camps and all the day to day discomforts of wartime Britain.  They are very different - Tamar is quiet and reserved, having been dragged from lodging house to lodging house all her life by her itinerant mother - the beautiful and unreliable Sadie.  Anna is more forceful, half German, determined to study art and become a painter.  Her mother leaves Germany as soon as things become difficult, separating Anna from her father and grandparents against her will.  Both girls are constantly seeking a place where they feel they can belong and the war takes them to some unexpected destinations.
Cover 2
One of my suggested titles is 'One Dear Perpetual Place' (from WB Yeats Prayer for my Daughter), but some think it's a bit pretentious.
I wanted to call it 'The Waters and the Wild' (a quote from Yeats that is the epigraph for the book), but someone has beaten me to it with a Teen novel.  I could have 'Between the Water and the Wild', but don't like it as much.
'The Stolen Child' has also been suggested, as both girls have in a sense been 'stolen' from their fathers.  But I think it would lead readers to expect a thriller, and it isn't.
'Where the North Wind Blows' is another contender, but I'm not sure about it.  The working title was 'Travelling North' - which is inadequate.   Then there is 'The Befriending of Tamar Fell', though the novel is also about Anna.
 'The Hat Box' is another suggestion, since that is where Sadie keeps the papers that will reveal the secrets of Tamar's family history.
Any votes?  Any ideas?  Neil has put together some draft covers, some of which I like, but it's difficult not having a title!

Cover 3

Cover 4

The Edinburgh E-Book Festival

The Edinburgh E-book festival goes live today, Saturday 11th of August.  Take a look at the shenanigans!  I will be traveling on trains and planes again, but will be participating as soon as my feet touch firm ground again.  

You can keep in touch via the blog, or Twitter, #edebookfest,  or Facebook, festivals@edinburgh - take your pick now there's no Olympics to distract you.  And if you're on holiday, you might just find a really good holiday read on your E-reader.  Best of all (sorry Cally!) there are NO BAGPIPES!!!!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Rain, rain and more rain in Manila

I'm back in England for a few days and appalled at the amount of rain that's coming down.  I was in the West Country at the weekend, just in time for 40mm of rain in 3 hours and the next door village completely flooded.  Now I'm in Cumbria and the river, which should be only inches deep for summer holiday paddling, is brown, fast-flowing and several feet deep.  The Mill is surrounded by mud and puddles, but at least it doesn't look like this.

While everyone here is glued to the Olympics, rain on an Olympic scale is falling in the Philippines.  My friend Mel U, who writes a wonderful blog called The Reading Life, has sent me these pics of the floods there, which are now covering more than 80% of the entire country.  He lives in the capital Manila, fortunately on higher ground, but most of the city is now underwater and he has posted graphic pictures of the floods on his blog.  It's hard times even for those who aren't flooded, since shops and all essential services are underwater, schools closed and transport networks non-existent.  And it's still raining.
Do check out his blog and take a look.  We're thinking of you Mel.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Tuesday Poem: Derek Walcott, The Schooner Flight

As I worked, watching the rotting waves come
past the bow that scissor the sea like milk,
I swear to you all, by my mother's milk,
by the stars that shall fly from tonight's furnace,
that I loved them, my children, my wife, my home;
I loved them as poets love the poetry
that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea.

You ever look up from some lonely beach
and see a far schooner? Well, when I write
this poem, each phrase go be soaked in salt;
I go draw and knot every line as tight
as ropes in this rigging; in simple speech
my common language go be the wind,
my pages the sails of the schooner Flight.

Derek Walcott, extract from The Schooner Flight

This is a very short extract from Part 1 of Derek Walcott's long, narrative poem which you can read here.
The central character is a man called Shabine who is compelled to leave behind everything he holds dear to sign up on the schooner and go to sea.  The analogies between sailing and making poetry continue through the poem and you can't help feeling that Shabine is simply a fictional identity to enable Walcott to tell his own story of leaving the Caribbean, being homesick, an exile, and yet compelled to do it.

There's an interesting exposition of the poem and of Derek Walcott's work by Mary Fuller called Myths of Identity.

It's the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence this week - Derek Walcott is from Santa Lucia originally, but I thought it would be good to have a Caribbean poet and I love his poetry.

For other Tuesday Poems from around the world, please take a look at the Tuesday Poets Hub and check out the contributions on the sidebar.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Talking to Sophie Nicholls about The Dress

Sophie Nicholls has achieved the E-book equivalent of  an Olympic medal with her novel The Dress.  I'm talking to her about her success over at Authors Electric today.......

And wasn't Super Saturday fantastic?  I'm not sporty, but here in England you can't help being caught up in the atmosphere!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Sophie Nicholls: The Dress - an e-publishing Fairy Tale

Today I'm blogging over at Authors Electric - an interview with the lovely Sophie Nicholls whose self-published novel The Dress was one of the e-publishing sensations of 2012.  I was very anxious to find out how she'd done it.  Curious too, to know why, as a poet published by Salt (one of the best of the UK's independent publishers), she had chosen to put her first novel out as an E-book without even bothering to offer it to agents or publishers.  Her answers surprised me. . . Read more

Friday, 3 August 2012

Edinburgh E-Book Festival

Today is the first part of the rolling launch building up to the First Edinburgh E-book Festival which starts on-line next week.  Lots and lots of authors are lined up to be in it.  Take a peek at the website and put the date in your diary.

This is the brainchild of Cally Phillips, one of the Authors Electric group, and it's also on Cally Phillips Facebook page, so please take a look and click the 'like' button if you want to be informed of the programme.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Botero's Fat Ladies

Woman Reclining

Pietrasanta's current exhibition in the Piazza is South American sculptor Fernando Botero's bronze sculptures of women and animals.  Botero is famous for his depictions of obese (the correct art term is 'volumetric') forms - he's not much noticed in the UK but elsewhere in the world he's BIG!  He has a house in Pietrasanta and works here quite a lot, alongside his Greek wife, artist Sophia Vari.  You either like his work, or you don't.  I prefer his drawings and paintings to the sculpture - they remind me of Diego Rivera.

Europa being carried off by Zeus

Two Figures (and two tourists)

Woman on Horseback
Tomorrow I'm off to the UK again for a family visit.  Not looking forward to the colder weather - you can see from the Botero pics how hot it is here at the moment - but it will be lovely to see the kids.  Probably should write a poem called 'Packing the Suitcases Again'!!   Will I ever get to stay in one place for more than 3 weeks?