Sign here

So – I’ve just had my first book signing. That was quite a posh moment, made me feel like a proper author.

If you weren’t able to make it you can get the book from Waterstones online here

And the Kindle version here.

The signing was at Waterstones in Gloucester, where I live. Waterstones is more or less the only show in town as far as bookshops go in most British towns these days. All the little independent ones have gone the way of the dodo and I would guess that even the mighty Waterstones is feeling the pinch what with the online revolution and the march of downloads.

Who knows, in a few years there may not be any bookshops to do signings in, or any books to sign.

But for now there is a Waterstones on every high street with its tables piled high with best sellers and its Costa coffee franchise. When you walk through the door of one you smell the unmistakable scent of new books.  So I was able to spend a Saturday afternoon sitting behind a small pile of my books with Rebsie from my publisher on hand for moral support.

It’s a curious experience this book signing business. Basically you are sat watching people do their shopping. Though I am of course keen to sell copies of my book I don’t feel it’s right to go up to people who aren’t interested and pester them – I wouldn’t want someone badgering me if I was shopping. So I waited for people to come to me – and thankfully quite a few did.

One or two mistook me for a member of staff and wanted me to tell them where the John Grishams were, but most wanted to talk about Song of the Sea God which was great. You really do need a quick way of describing your work in this situation I’ve found – it’s no use coming over all coy and saying it’s too complex to sum up in a few words – people want to know what it’s about. So I have my elevator pitch ready. I tell them it’s about a man who washes up on a small island off the coast of Britain and tries to convince the local people he is a god.

The people I talked to were very receptive and it was a fun experience – plus I sold a few copies which was great. As well as wanting to know what the book was about they asked a bit about me – where I was from, what I do for a proper job, have I written anything else, and so on. I’m quite chatty, which helps I guess, and I enjoyed the whole thing more than I expected to. With any luck I’ll get to do it again!

First reviews

The first reviews are starting to come in on Amazon now for Song of the Sea God – and thank you to the readers out there who are taking the time and trouble to say what they think about the book.

You can see the reviews, and read the first few pages of the book here.

And readers in the USA can get it on Barnes and Noble here.

There were a couple of comments that I particularly related to from the reviews.

One was that the novel has a strong sense of place.

I’ve already said my piece about the book being set on Walney Island in the north-west of England where I grew up – but not really. I took the liberty of using the island’s geography for my own purposes but making it the place I needed it to be and populating it with my own characters. So it’s not Walney – but  having that island in my head helped me massively in writing the book.

I’ve always been fond of books which do ‘sense of place’ well. It’s very important I think, it adds to the richness of the reading experience. Here’s my tip for a book which does this brilliantly – Waterland by Graham Swift. It’s masterful and beautiful. The place, in this case The Fens, percolates through the whole book and influences the characters, the action, everything. I would recommend the book to you if you have not read it. If I have achieved a fraction of what Swift did in Waterland on my island then I am a happy writer.

Another comment which made me very chuffed was that Sea God was refered to as a ‘page turner’.

That’s a particularly pleasing thing to hear about a literary novel. I had in my mind that I wanted to preserve the depth and the quality of writing that readers of literary fiction demand and expect, while at the same time making sure the book held the reader with its story.

I wanted to create a literary novel with the pace and plot of a thriller. Which, I accept, is a bit like wanting your cake and eating it. Did I come somewhere near succeeding? I would be delighted if you read the book and let me know.

Song of the Sea God is available to buy!

Not a very long post this one – more in the nature of an announcement really. I just wanted to say that my novel Song of the Sea God is now officially available for those who might wish to buy it.

It’s on sale through Amazon here.

Through Waterstones online here.

And lots of other places online – also, of course, you can order it from any bookshop, though they won’t necessarily have it in stock they will be able to get hold of it easily.

It goes without saying how chuffed I am to have the book on sale. It takes a long time to write a book – well it does for me anyway – a good couple of years, roughly one for a first draft then a second for rewriting it into something I am happy with. It’s also a long process searching for a publisher to work with, and one which is not for the faint hearted. I consider myself very fortunate to have found Skylight Press who are a joy to work with and clearly care very much about the books they produce. You can buy Song of the Sea God directly from their website too by the way.

A big moment for me will be holding a copy of the book in my hands – my copies haven’t arrived yet. I guess that’s a thrill for any author, it certainly will be for me.

A quick description of the plot of Song of the Sea God, what Americans call an elevator pitch, is that it’s a book about a stranger who comes to a small island off the north of England and tries to convince the local people he’s a god. In a wider sense it’s a story about faith, about religion and what it means to us. Oh, and there are jokes too.

Thanks in advance to those who do take a punt and buy a copy – I hope you will find it worth your while, thought-provoking, challenging even. I hope there are things in there that you want to discuss – and that you come here to do it!

Things are moving fast

So, things are moving quite quickly now towards the publication of my novel Song of the Sea God which you can pre-order on Amazon here. I had the proofs of my book through from the publisher Skylight Press – it looks great and I spent a long evening reading through it one last time plus correcting issues picked up by the proof-reading the publisher had done.

Had you asked me before they read it what they would find I’d have said I’d read it and rewritten it that many times it would be fairly clean. And so it was – but there were a couple of howlers in there – and they duly found them!

One was that a character changed his name for an entirely new one about half way through. And the other was that at one point in the book a pair of characters had a discussion about something which had not yet happened – and didn’t happen for another 30 pages.

How did mistakes like that get in there you might ask? Well the simple answer is rewrites. I will actually have written those errors into the text fairly late in the day – while changing and, for the most part, improving sections of text. Luckily, they can just as easily be rewritten again! You can be assured that when the book appears the characters will keep the same names throughout.

Another development is that, on Friday October 5, I read from Song of the Sea God at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I was delighted to do it – even though it turned out to be a bit of a weird setting. My reading took place in one of the festival book tents, basically a big book shop, at a time when there weren’t that many people around. There were people coming in and out, browsing the shelves, and me sat in the middle on a stage, with no microphone, reading from my book. I felt a bit like I did in my late teens when I used to busk with my guitar in the streets of northern cities. Luckily at that time I learned how to keep on keeping on, even if the interest in what I was doing was fairly muted.

My lit fest gig was an experience to say the least – and I’m glad I did it. It was the first chance I had to read from Sea God to the public, and at a prestigious event – even though my little corner of it was far from prestigious. It was nice of the organisers to find room among all their big stars for an unknown first time author like me.

Exciting Developments!

It’s all happening all of a sudden. After some months of knowing, as an abstract concept, that my novel was to be published, now it feels as though it is actually happening.

One compelling bit of evidence that the birth of the book is imminent is that you can pre-order it on Amazon here.

And I feel I would be failing in my duties as an author if I did not urge you to do just that.
Another particularly big piece of evidence is that the book now has a cover. Here it is on this page. I love it I have to say. Thanks to Rebsie from my publisher Skylight Press for creating it. The moody photo of the beach was taken by an old pal of mine Phil Murray and thanks also to him. How it came to be taken is a tale both ancient and modern.

Modern in that I got in touch with Phil via Facebook – we were mates when we were both in our 20s. I was guitarist and songwriter with a not particularly popular Indie rock combo called the Blaze Heroes, Phil was the bass player. But Phil left town, to get a proper job – with her majesty’s constabulary. And these days he also has a photography studio on the side – he’s a busy man.

So much for modern – now for ancient. Friendship – there’s something that hasn’t changed in a few millennia – and when Phil found he was in a position to do an old mate a favour, an old mate who needed cover photography for his book and couldn’t take a decent snap shot to save his life, Phil didn’t hesitate.

Not only did he insist on taking the photographs but he got up at stupid o’clock in the morning to do it and drove for an hour or so in the dark down the meandering roads of West Cumbria in order to reach the beach at dawn.

The beach in question is on Walney Island, off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness. It’s where I grew up – and where Song of the Sea God is set. Though I hasten to add, I just borrowed the geography from the island – not the people, not the plot. Walney island has an isolated feel, though it is attached to the mainland by a bridge. It is beautiful in a stark, uncompromising way – Phil captured that beauty in his photo, I hope I have also done so in my book.

A final proof that things are moving is that I have my first opportunity to read from Song of the Sea God – at the Cheltenham Literature Festival no less. The Cheltenham Festival is one of the biggest and most star-studded in the UK – packed with stellar names from literature and showbiz. I’m very pleased the organisers were willing and able to crowbar me in down at the very bottom of the bill. I live in Gloucestershire so it’s a local event for me and one I’m very pleased to be involved with.

I’ll be reading in the Waterstones Book Marquee in Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham, at noon on Friday October 5th. Public readings can be an anxious experience for a writer – but I’m happy to do this as I feel I owe it to the book to give it the best delivery into the world that I can.

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s one of the questions people most often ask writers – and one of the hardest to answer – Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s tough to answer because there’s no one place, and sometimes we don’t know ourselves where we get them – it‘s like some kind of deeply felt sympathetic magic. Norman Mailer called writing ‘the spooky art’ and this is why. By the time something I’ve written is finished it’s difficult to say where it originated – if I didn’t know the process it took to get there I’d say it just arrived on its own.

For me the fairest, simplest answer to the question where do you get your ideas from? Would be – they evolve.

That’s the truth, it’s a statement more honest than if I’d said I got them from listening to friends, or watching people on the bus, or reading books. Bits and pieces can come from all these places of course, and many more: newspapers, magazines, rock songs, dreams. But the point is that a finished story or book is highly unlikely to have something in it which is a straight lift from art or life – it will have evolved, with time and thought and rewriting, into its final form.

Perhaps that’s why some authors get grumpy about the ‘based on’ question which seems to be the line of inquiry so often these days from people looking to find a way into a piece of fiction. Was this character based on such and such a person? It’s as though writing has to have a direct route back into the artist’s biography – whereas often the reality is that a character in a story or novel is at least partly the way they are because they have to serve the plot – the whole thing is an artistic construction after all, not a personal diary.

In some ways I suppose it’s not where I get my ideas from, but where they lead to which is important to me. But hey – where do you get your ideas from?

Long story short

427px-Ernest_Hemingway_1950_cropChallenged to write a short story in just ten words Ernest Hemingway managed it in six. His story read:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

He later said it was the best thing he’d ever written.

And there is a skill of course in brevity. It’s a lesson you learn in newspaper journalism, where space is at a premium. Writing a good News In Brief is an art in itself, as is a tight story intro. They can become quite poetic in the right hands

The legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans offers up a cracking intro in his book Newsman’s English. His example, from the New York Sun, reads:

Chicago, Oct 31: James Wilson lighted a cigarette while bathing his feet in benzine. He may live.

Though not quite as compact as Hemingway’s shortest story it has the same function of carrying a whole world in a few words – of distilling the tale right down to its bare essentials.

That’s about it for today. A short blog this one – naturally.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.