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.

What’s in a name?

The naming of a book or story is a curious thing. Once it’s done, there it is, set in stone – but getting there can be as much of a process as any other type of writing.

Take Catch 22 for example. Joseph Heller thought long and hard about what to call his darkly comic magnum opus about the Second World War, until he finally came up with the perfect title – Catch 18.

Only trouble was, there was another book coming out that year with 18 in the title, one by a more famous author (this was Heller’s first book don’t forget). So the publisher wasn’t feeling the love for the whole Catch 18 thing.

It was back to the drawing board and Heller ummed and arred over various possible numbers before settling on 22 on the grounds that it was more amusing than other numbers. And who are we to dispute the great man on that?

Anyway, the point is that something which seems so set and intractable now – so much a part of the book, and indeed part of our culture, could so easily have been something else.

For my own part, I often start with one title, as a kind of place marker, then change it for something more exciting later on. This early title tends to be quite a basic label – one which describes what the story is or does. Sometimes this title survives into print – other times it gets replaced.

Song of the Sea God for example, spent a lot of its early days being called The Longing. It was even short listed in a couple of awards for unpublished novels under that name. It was only when my publisher suggested I change the title for something more evocative that I came up with Song of the Sea God, which I think is a lot more attractive title have on its cover as it sits in the bookshop window hoping for buyers.

I expect it was the first time I properly considered a title in terms of something which might entice people to read my work – rather than as just a tag. Previously when I’ve had stories published in anthologies and so on they’d been ‘paid for’ in terms of competition prizes – the title had not been there to attract readers or buyers – just to indicate what the story was about or convey a feel for what it contained. At that stage it never entered my head that, essentially, what you call your story or book is an exercise in marketing.

Perhaps the writers out there could comment on how you find your titles – and how important, or otherwise, you think they are in the finished work?

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.