Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What is Unbound?

Unbound has accepted my proposal for a sequel to Gibbous House, called No Good Deed. This means I'm on the crowd-funding roller coaster again; begging e-mails, attempts at humorous and engaging posts on Facebook and Twitter, even wandering about in local towns in a sandwich board. (OK I didn't mean that one, but I'm not ruling it out, you understand).

Last time, every person I contacted wanted to know how it worked. Some saw it as paying for a book in advance (a long way in advance) and to some extent that's true. But it's not the whole story.

The whole story is in this magazine article here. I know, who has time to read all of that, right? So, I'll try and break it down, based on what Unbound writers and potential pledgers said to me last time.

"Unbound is publishing books that no one else will."

That looks like a negative thing, doesn't it? It isn't, here's why.

Publishing is traditionally risk averse (in much the same way as cinema and television are). They like to publish what they know, who they know - and that means best-selling authors, or other high-profile people using a decent ghost writer. Otherwise, they'll look for slightly different versions of what they already sell. "If you liked (insert best seller here) you'll love (insert book of similar kind here).  Unbound do not do this. You can pitch to Unbound, you don't need an agent, you don't even need a manuscript ready to go, but it's probably better if you've got 3/4 of one. (The manuscript, not the agent).

"You are not pre-ordering a book, you are pledging".

This sounds bad too, hey? It isn't. No book - say if the writer doesn't finish it, or if the production costs aren't raised in the campaign - and you get your money back (or you could pledge for something else).

"These books are expensive".

Two things.
a) Books on Amazon and in Tesco's are un-sustainably (for the author, and perhaps even for publishers in the long term,) cheap. I won't bore you with the maths, but an author can earn pennies from a book costing the best part of a tenner.
b) Your Unbound book will have your name in the back (or maybe even the front) as a patron, someone who made the book happen. I've bought a few myself and it feels good to part of creating something that wouldn't exist without that contribution, trust me.

"It takes so long."

It does, but no longer than in traditional publishing. It's just that the process with - say - the latest Hilary Mantel is completely invisible to you. It's the same process though. Manuscript to publisher, structural edit, cover-design, copy-edit
proof reading. Not all of which happens every time with a self-published book, by the way.

Anyway, if you got this far, how about supporting No Good Deed? We can get a great book into the public's hands together .

Monday, 16 April 2018

15 Minutes by Erinna Mettler

No apologies for reviewing yet another Unbound author's book. 

Hats off to Erinna Mettler for producing a pyrotechnic display of short-story writing. If you want to know how it's done buy this collection. Erinna's ability to produce note perfect "voices" across a range of class and and the transatlantic divide make her a kind of Rory Bremner of the short fiction world.
There were so many little gems in this book, which I decided to read again before posting this review. The 15 minutes of fame thread is unobtrusively present throughout the 20 or so stories, but what they all have in common is a humanity and a certain optimism, often found in unlikely places. I reckon that's something we all need in these times.
It is, of course, invidious to pick favourites, and mine, no doubt, will be different to yours. Stand-outs for me were Sourdough, The Typewriter, You Run and The First Punk in Pontefract, but every single story justified its place in this collection. Read it, it's good.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

(Video) No Good Deed : Gibbous House Sequel

Gibbous House's sequel "No Good Deed" is due to start its crowd-funding campaign shortly. Gibbous House was published by Unbound on Jan 17th 2017.
Fans of Moffat's florid voice will be on familiar ground although our "hero" himself isn't. Having been in the Americas for over a decade, he decides to chance his arm over the Mason-Dixon line... The year is 1861, what could possibly go wrong?

The birds comments are not entirely flattering, but then I'm used to unfriendly tweets.

Check out Gibbous House on Unbound here.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Book Review: Blind Side by Jennie Ensor

Another Unbound-published book which keeps up their high standard across a wide range of genres: Jennie Ensor's Blind Side is a fine thriller with a touch of romance. The book provides an authentic snapshot of London during the febrile atmosphere surrounding the terrorist attacks of 2005. Gripping is perhaps the best word to describe the book’s hold on me; not least because in my head I was doing the equivalent of shouting “he’s behind you” at various points along the way. This is not to say I found Georgie less than believable, vulnerable, yes.

The author’s characters were all believable; all flawed to some extent and the protagonist and her lover’s impulsive behaviour were credibly drawn. PTSD was depicted very tastefully and with a good deal of understanding of the condition.

It’s difficult to review this kind of book without resorting to spoilers. I really was on the edge of my seat at times, however. The ending was, for me, deeply satisfying, although it may not be to all tastes.

A really good read. Thoroughly recommended.
Buy Blind Side here.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Book Review: The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid

Gosh! Where to start. If a book had been designed by committee to push all of my own particular buttons, it would have been this whimsical, funny and yes, romantic, debut novel by first time author, Patrick Kincaid. Part campus-novel - at least in as much as it has an affectionate dig at academics and their occasionally narrow view of life - and part boy-meets-girl, boy-likes-girl, boy-forgets-to-tell-girl-how-much novel, Patrick’s debut is so much more than that. Various other themes emerge from between the lines like the disturbances on the loch: a meditation on what being Scottish is ( you’ve seen my name and if you heard my incongruous accent you’d understand why this is such a good thing for me), for example. Furthermore, Patrick deals with the nature of reality and perception: by the time I got to the end of the book I was put in mind of a film quote that Patrick doubtless knows

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

As note perfect a rendition of the tag-end of the 60s as you will ever find, The Continuity Girl put me in mind of Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, so accurate is its portrayal of a particular time. The Continuity Girl hops seamlessly between 1969 and 2014, the year of the Scottish Referendum, with nary a stumble. As a bit of a film buff myself, I loved the asides and references sneaked in throughout the text. However, the story is so winning, and so deftly handled, the reader could care as little for such things as Jim Outhwaite himself - and still be royally entertained. Beautifully plotted and neatly tied up at the end, you’ll want to find out if this Academic Jim turns out to be a Lucky one in the end.

Buy Patrick's book here 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Daft David and Mad Max

 It is vary rare that I post anything overtly political on this blog. Today is an exception because David Davis's depiction of what he thinks Remainers imagine that life on day one A.B. (after Brexit) will be, is a facile and quite dull one to boot. No-one I know thinks that gangs of marauding truckers and motorcyclists will scavenge their way to a feral society. Not even the most fervent of Remain voters, the ones who insist on descending to an ad hominem level which all too frequently becomes full blown abuse or even libel.

My own personal view is that post-Brexit Britain will be very like The Boulting Bros. satire on 1959 Britain, I'm All Right, Jack. For its time, IARJ is relatively even-handed. No-one from any class comes out of this picture well, except perhaps for Ian Carmichael's simple Not-Quite-Everyman and even then he is a Naïf of Candide's proportions.

The unions get quite as big a bashing as the self-interested bosses and probably rightly so. It's very broad brush satire, I doubt it would get made today, or at least whether it would be so even-handed. As mentioned before, the film is set in 1959.

Perhaps I'm equally unjustified in my suspicion that some of those who voted Leave would not be too disappointed if indeed the UK did turn out like the 1959 version satirised in the film. Maybe this makes me as bad as Mr Davis. Maybe not. He is
Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I'm just an unsuccessful writer. Anyway, hunt out the film, it's probably on YouTube, see what you think.

There are few BAME characters depicted in IARJ. Mr Mohammed is played by an Anglo-Indian character actor called Marne Maitland, and that's about it. I like to think the Boulting brothers knew very well that a large part of late 50's society had been air-brushed from the film's view of it (doubtless on commercial grounds). Why do I think that? The only character in the film with any real decency is Ian Carmichael's. He is called "Windrush".

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Holiday to the Past (Bansko, 2018)

Щиллгарник / Shilligarnik
Just returned from a place 1500 miles and half a century away. Aside from the strange, replicant enclave that is every ski-resort all over the world, the parts of Bansko that most tourists don't reach are firmly behind the Iron Curtain. If I were handy enough to do a bit of pointing of all the brick walls in the un-named and unloved streets just a half a mile from the ski-lift I could be a millionaire in a week, even if only in Lev, the local currency. 

We stayed in a pension, B&B, or whatever your native tongue has as a tiny 11 room hotel run by two generations of a family. Планинский Здравец/Planinskij Zdravets or Mountain Geranium, if you prefer. The paterfamilias was Stoil, who, with his wife, ran the business through the week. Post lunch-time if you were foolish enough to bump into him after an early descent from the slopes, he would ply you with rakia, the local firewater, which he swore his own grapes contributed to making. Mind you, he said this about the wine which would arrive with an evening meal in an earthenware pot as old as Alexander the Great, too. We paid 11 Euros a night for bed and breakfast and if we did dine we spent more on drink than food and not much on either. Of course, by 9 p.m. Uncle Stoil was a bit worse for wear, but since he and I attempted to converse in Russian and sign language on all occasions, perhaps that didn't matter. At weekends, Stoil's daughter, Sófia, came back from Sofía to run the hotel. This, after a week of shifts as an anaesthetist nurse in a hospital theater in the capital.  

Perhaps you can see the word "Механа" on the paper napkin in the picture. This - more or less - equates to "Tavern" or maybe "Venta" in Spanish. Bulgarian food is a mixture of Balkan (meatttttt!!), Greek (Feta-like cheeses and salads) and Turkish (at lot of frying and an obsession with sugary stuff). The variety of breads available is also remarkable and the Механа-s are the place to enjoy all of the above. Don't go to the places nested around the crossroads of Pirin and Naiden Gerov near to the gondola lift. "Explore" (of course this means get lost in) the maze of un-named sidestreets that make up the greater part of the town of Bansko. Try anywhere that the internet is unaware of and be pleasantly surprised at how heavy your wallet still is when you leave.

Bansko needs a bigger ski-gondola. The queues in the morning to get onto it are of heroic proportions. Five minutes extra on your breakfast coffee can mean an hour or more's  ski-ing lost. Whilst we were in Bulgaria there were smog alerts for Sofia and Plovdiv, private vehicles were banned from the city and car-parking on main routes was prohibited. Public transport around the cities was declared free for the duration. The drive from Sofia airport to Bansko was punctuated by the smoking stacks of 60's era industry. Bansko won't get its bigger gondola anytime soon and perhaps it shouldn't. Above the mercantile and industrial smog we could look out on blue skies and listen to birdsong. Down in the village I saw cars belching blue smoke like the special effects in a village pantomime. Nobody in Bansko wore a seatbelt. Cash is king and some shops sold knock-offs with the brazen insouciance of a street trader in Bahrain. 

If you have ever beaten off the imprecations of Cypriot "getter-inners" in Paphos or on the Limassol Strip and enjoyed the challenge of resisting all blandishments for "best meze on island, my fren'", then Bansko is the place for you. I hate all that "come in my friend, big bastard steak, best price in Bansko" bullshit. In the tourist area, there are casinos and strip clubs, the seedy alongside the plusher hotels and holiday apartments. As you get further from this central area you see the after effects of the crash of 2011, skeletons of apartment blocks and hotels interspersed between those lucky enough to open before the bubble burst.

Bansko (and Bulgaria) is a place of threes... three strands of cuisine, culture and architecture. There is a mixture of the Slav, the Balkan and the Romany representatives of all three work up the mountain and down in the town. The population is oldish. Unless you work in tourism there's nothing for the under-30s, I suppose. I've never seen so many grandmothers cleaning and picking up rubbish around restaurants. The local school looks like a Soviet Era Brutalist design, and probably is. There is the concrete and neon of Pirin and Naiden Gerov's Club Med-style circle of Dante's Inferno.
Would I go again? Maybe not. Do I regret going? No, the ski-ing was good.