Libraries

In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!

How many drafts?

I began writing The Last Dance over 15 years ago, it was published in 2006. It was followed by Walking Alone in 2007 and Runaways in 2009. Together they made The Iniquities Trilogy.
When I began The Last Dance I knew only in the broadest terms how it was all going to end and I also tried to make each book stand alone as an independent story, so I left too few clues, too few teasers towards the final denouement, in those first two volumes.
In retrospect, I believe that was a mistake so, since mid-May 2015, I have been working them into one.
When I first put the three manuscripts together into a single volume there were 372,165 words in 914 pages. That first complete read through and few odd changes took to the end of July. Instead of reducing in size (which had been my intention) the document had grown to 376,508 words over 917 pages.
The second run through was more of an edit. I began to cut out words, sometimes quite ruthlessly. I cut out incidents and descriptions that really didn’t add to the story – but I began to add in the teasers. When that draft finished a year later (well – I had written another book, Second Strand, and moved house, and worked on the day-job in the meantime) the manuscript was reduced to 342,798 words over 840 pages.
I began the third re-draft in July 2016 and, with no other book, no house move and being almost retired, I completed it in two months. Now at 324,949 words over 792 pages it was still long, but a more reasonable length. It was also a better, tighter and more flowing read.
The fourth run through began in mid-September and there were still sections I wanted to improve and events I wanted to change. By the end of November this draft was completed. (306,352 words over 744 pages).
I am now 30% through the fifth run through with a further 7,088 words and 28 pages having been lost. And I am still changing things. So there will have to be a sixth… and then a seventh… and then…
I suspect this is my Sisyphean task. I will still be working through it, changing it, hopefully improving it for years to come.
Maybe, one day, someone else will read it.

Anomalies and Black Sacks

black-plastic-bin-linerMy resolve to give up writing (see last blog) lasted all of three weeks; well not even that really as I have continued with reworking the first three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into one.
While doing this I have found a number of anomalies and inconsistencies which I have been correcting – some of my readers have been very kind in letting me know of errors such as Charles sending Ted that postcard from Spain when it should, of course, have been Carl.
One anomaly no one has pointed out to me is that I have Holly using black bin bags to clear up after a party held in Oxford at the end of June 1976.
As I re-read that passage I wondered whether black bin liners would have been around then. I tried to remember what I did with the rubbish forty years ago and, unsurprisingly, could remember nothing – so I resorted to the internet.
It appears that plastic bin bags were invented in the 1950s (green, in Canada, for commercial use only) but they weren’t black and widely used in UK homes until well into the 1980s though when I wrote Walking Alone (in 2008) it seemed like they’d been around forever. The people behind the TV programme Mad Men had the same misconception as one is reported to have been used in an episode set in 1963!
I’m now well into the consolidation of The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways into one book and no doubt will find more anomalies to correct; that (being really picky about things), and doing the research to check it all out, is so much part of the fun of writing.
It’s great having another chance at those first three books of mine – no wonder so many artists painted the same subject many times and so many recording artists re-record their music.

Being the right size

Old LorryCars are first on my list of things that are not the right size – they are just getting and wider and wider. A 1970 Ford Mustang was 59” wide, a Mark 1 Ford Capri was 64.8”, a 1963 Morris Minor 1000 was 61” and a 1968 Austin A35 was only 55” wide. Even a 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom was only 78.3”. Yet since that time cars in everyday use are getting wider and wider. A Range Rover Vogue is 87.4” (without mirrors – and what car has no mirrors?) which is 4 inches wider than a current Ford Transit van and about the same as lorries of the 1950s and 60s.
It’s such a shame that many traffic lanes, car park spaces and most garages in urban areas were designed to accommodate Morris Minors and A35s.
Doorways are second on my list of things that are the wrong size. Having just moved into a house constructed sometime in the 1820s I feel that in those days a) they didn’t have much furniture and b) those pieces they had were considerably smaller than today’s. Even a comfortable armchair of the 1980s would be 71 cm wide, yet many in 2016 are over 100 cm and doorways have got no wider….
And then there’s people – they seem to be getting taller and wider by the generation – but don’t get me onto that.
Talking of size, if not width, I have been wondering about how long a book should be. According to www.huffingtonpost.com the average word count of a Top 10 bestseller is 121,395. My recent (2014) book, Her Parents’ Daughter, came in at only 109,800 words which is the length of a Top 25 bestseller but I was happy to sell 300 copies….. According to Huffington’s graph the shorter the book the fewer copies are sold with Top 1000 sellers averaging only 73,408 words. So I will make sure A Second Strand is as long as it possibly can be and I now hold out great hopes for Iniquities as it is currently 365,367 words! But then it is three books (the three books of the Iniquities Trilogy – The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways) and amazingly that averages at almost exactly 121,395 words per volume.
Top Ten Bestsellers List here we come!

Being (or not being) a Local Author

Local AuthorIs there any advantage to being known as a ‘local author’?
On the one hand the description implies that this is not a well-known author of national or international renown. There is something quaintly parochial, patronizing and possibly even pathetic about having to try to appeal to potential purchasers because you all happen to live in the same vicinity.
On the other hand, for whatever reason, it is certainly easier to get bookshops, newsagents, corner shops and pubs (thank you Holdings, The Wheatsheaf and The King’s Head in Yarmouth) to stock books and to give you the opportunity to do signings (thank you Waterstones and The County Press Shop in Newport) if you have some kind of local connection.
But what is the attraction of reading books by an author who is ‘local’? Is it to support someone you may pass in the street, or sit next to in a pub, or queue up with in the Post Office? Or is it perhaps because if the author is ‘local’ then the subject matter may well be locally relevant too? Or is it that the places referred to(and, heaven forefend, people) will recognizable?
When I was writing my first book, The Last Dance, I lived near Sandwich in East Kent. That area didn’t feature at all in the book, instead it was based in The Wirral, Cheshire, where I was born and lived for the first twenty or so years of my life. I lived in Shropshire when I was writing the second which, although also based in the Wirral ventured as far afield as Cambridgeshire. I was still living in Shropshire when the third book Runaways was published. Also based on The Wirral large sections were located in Kent and Mumbai. My fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, was also written whilst I lived in (a different part of) Shropshire and failed to feature anything to do with that county.
It was only when I became ‘local’ to The Isle of Wight that my books became primarily based in the area in which I lived. Her Parents’ Daughter, written in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, is the story of a murder in Yarmouth (as is A Second Strand – also written in Yarmouth).
The difficult book was A Set of Lies. The early drafts of this were written when I lived near Ludlow, Shropshire and the main characters lived, and the main settings were located, there. I then moved to the Isle of Wight and it was suggested by various people that the book should be based on the island. So the fourth, fifth and sixth drafts effected that change.
Since I started writing books that have been published I have moved house five times, lived in five different counties and so even when I have been ‘local’ it has only ever been for a short time.
I have now been ‘local’ on The Isle of Wight for three and a half years. This is a record. Perhaps it’s getting near time to think about moving on again.

A Different Coast

IoW4I’ve finally settled on the title for the follow up to Her Parents’ Daughter.
As well as writing this I am currently re-vamping the three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into a single volume to be published in 2016. In the second section, Walking Alone, Charles Donaldson, an ornithologist, is writing a series of articles whilst temporarily living in Polperro, Cornwall. He named the series of articles he wrote whilst away from his home in Hoylake, on the Wirral peninsula, A Different Coast.
Much of the action in Her Parents’ Daughter takes place in Yarmouth, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. Much of the action in the sequel (to be published late 2016) will take place, not only in Yarmouth, but also elsewhere …… but still by the sea.
A quick check on a regularly used internet search engine revealed no book with that title.
So thank you Charles, whatever anyone says about you I think you’re quite a nice chap.

 

31st August

san sebastianSan Sebastian nowOn 22nd August 1813 the second siege of the highly fortified port of San Sebastian began. In a week of attacks repulsed by the French garrison 3,770 British and Portuguese and 850 French soldiers were killed or wounded. The final assault, on the 31st August, succeeded. Wellington’s forces had taken the town but it was not an honourable victory.
Fuelled by looted drink a week long rampage of the town began. British officers did nothing to stop the orgy of rape and massacre, nor did they prevent the town being completely destroyed by fire.
On 31st August 1967, 21 year old Carl Witherby (at the beginning of his career as an historian) ended the summer he had spent hitch-hiking around the battlefields of the Peninsular wars on the beach of San Sebastian.
His thoughts were of those who had fought so hard and died so horribly 154 years before. But they were also of Susannah. It was her 21st birthday. He loved her but they could never be together. He had been told she was his sister.
31st August, in various years, is an important date in The Last Dance, in Walking Alone and in Runaways, the three books which make up The Iniquities Trilogy.
Professor Carl Witherby (in 2014) features again in A Set of Lies.