National Poetry Day 2013

Today, October 3rd, is National Poetry Day and in my household that is a cause for celebration! I’m cracking open the cava as we speak (my celebrations are wild).

Poetry has an increasing value in this materialistic age where the arts are under attack from both left and right. Poetry speaks to the soul, it gets into the bloodstream. It is easy to understand, even if you don’t understand. Children love it but somehow it seems to get knocked out of them as they get older. What a shame this is. We should nurture our collective love of poetry because it says ‘here we are – we believe that there is something more important than the latest car and holidays in Dubai. We believe in beauty.’

So here are three of my very favourite poems. Which poem is favourite? Perhaps you have one of your own that you carry around in your mind and that means the world to you? Comment away below and let me know.

dorothy75

Resume by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

john-keats

Ode On A Grecian Urn by John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

baudelaire

Destruction by Charles Baudelaire

At my side the Demon writhes forever,
Swimming around me like impalpable air;
As I breathe, he burns my lungs like fever
And fills me with an eternal guilty desire.

Knowing my love of Art, he snares my senses,
Appearing in woman’s most seductive forms,
And, under the sneak’s plausible pretenses,
Lips grow accustomed to his lewd love-charms.

He leads me thus, far from the sight of God,
Panting and broken with fatigue into
The wilderness of Ennui, deserted and broad,

And into my bewildered eyes he throws
Visions of festering wounds and filthy clothes,
And all Destruction’s bloody retinue.

Three very different poems, but each brilliant in their own way. Happy National Poetry Day!

The Lightning Child at The Globe Theatre

I have had a whirlwind few months in which I have become a bona fide bestseller. My thriller novel, The Girl On The Bus, stayed in the UK top 100 bestsellers chart for over nine weeks and is still the number one selling hardboiled thriller on Amazon. And all of that for less than a pound!

Self promotion is great, but sometimes you have to take a break from life as a writer and spend a little ‘me time’. It was with this in mind that I went to the Globe Theatre in London to see ‘The Lightning Child’, a new musical by Che Walker and Arthur Darvill.

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If you have never been to the Globe Theatre then you are missing out. It is an authentic reconstruction of one of the theatres that Shakespeare himself used at the turn of the 17th Century. There is a large open air space for standing spectators and wooden benches arranged in the round. Be warned that umbrellas are strictly forbidden so if you do decide to go and see The Lightning Child (it runs until October 12th) then be prepared to be rained on. The Globe is in London’s Bankside area, just down from the Tate Modern and its uniqueness helps to create a real atmosphere of conviviality and fun.

You may think that The Globe will be a bit stuffy, that it will be Shakespeare-heavy? Well, rest assured that The Lightning Child will prove you wrong. It is loosely based upon the ancient Greek drama ‘The Bacchae’ by Euripides (teacher says to her pupils: ‘give me a sentence with Euripides in’, little Johnny replies: ‘Euripides trousers, you pay for dese trousers!’). And the emphasis here is on the word loosely. As in: ‘The Daily Mail is loosely a newspaper’.

How loose is Walker and Darvill’s interpretation? Well it begins, for no apparent reason, with Neil Armstrong arguing with his wife. He dons spacesuit, climbs a ladder and meets the man in the moon who acts as the emcee of the show, or a version of the Greek chorus if you like. This character is called ‘Ladyboy’. There is no subtlety to this show. There is no structure to this show. There is no sense to this show.

Ladyboy himself constantly tells the audience not to try to make sense of what is happening, urging the crowd to ‘figure it out on the train home’. It would have to be a long train ride to figure this one out.

Somewhere amidst the chaos there is a re-telling of The Bacchae – that most bloody of Greek tragedies. Around this tale of Pentheus and his demented pursuit of Dionysus there are several seemingly unrelated strands. No, let’s be fair – they are unrelated. There is nothing to bring them back to the main plot. Two heroin addicts adopt and then kill a dog. A neurotic housemate mutilates the fingers of a concert pianist. Most bizarre of all is a completely out of kilter section about the romance between Billie Holiday and Lester Young. The play as a whole is far from dull but this particular sequence was dull and incongruous. The only possible explanation is that Walker had at one point produced a biopic about Billie Holiday, had it rejected but was determined to resurrect it, or at least part of it, at some point. It should have remained sleeping.

Castor Semenya also makes an appearance. There are lots of references to trans gender issues, and more cross dressing than you can shake a stick at. There is also foul language of the filthiest kind and lashings of blood, sex and graphic torture. It was all most enjoyable. Or do I mean that it was almost enjoyable? You will have to work that one out on the train home.

The cast had a great time, and there were some excellent performances – particularly from Clifford Samuel as a muscle bound Pentheus fighting to contain his feminine side and from Tommy Coleman as a Hendrix like Dionysus.

Be warned, that this is in no way a play for children. Some parts may be too shocking for the more sensitive out there. The scenes where Pentheus is ripped apart by the Bacchae and by his own mother was particularly gruesome – no part is left unwaved. Another bizarre scene follows where a Nigella Lawson like figure makes love with the carcass of a deer. Two people fainted on the night that I was there – one in each half. That will teach me to wear my Hai Karate aftershave. Most of the audience though loved it, hooting and hollering throughout.

And I loved it as well in a special way, because I love chaos. I love boundary pushing. I love unpredictability. Make no mistake that this is a shambles of a show, but what a glorious shambles it is.

So how would I rate The Lightning Child? I can’t give it one rating. If you are a Shakespeare fan it gets a zero tortoise shell rating. If you want to see something modern yet cohesive with a good plot it gets a three tortoise shell rating. If you want to see something completely out there, in a fantastic location that is fabulously bonkers then it gets a five tortoise shell rating.

I’m glad that I saw The Lightning Child and if you aren’t prone to fainting then I think that you would be as well.

Review: Too Clever By Half at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Apologies, Tortoise Soup fans, for the lack of recent updates. I have been run off my feet thanks to the outstanding success of my thriller novel ‘The Girl On The Bus’ – now in its seventh week in the Amazon UK top 100 bestsellers! It has been an incredible journey and in my next blog I will tell you how I did it and what it’s like being a bestselling writer.

Today, however, I feel compelled to tell you about a play that I saw at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre – ‘Too Clever By Half’ by the Russian playwright Alexandr Ostrovsky. I had a free a pair of free tickets for this show (thanks to Clare at the Royal Exchange) but even if I had paid I would have come away with a smile stretched across my face.

Too-Clever-by-Half-146x300

This is a little known play by a little known playwright but don’t let that put you off. When we think of Russian playwrights we think, of course, of Chekhov and then of Gogol and Pushkin but in his homeland Ostrovsky is equally as famous. Hopefully this production will go some way to enhancing his reputation in the UK.

Too Clever By Half is a comedy that was written in 1868. The producers have updated this setting to the 1960s and this doesn’t detract one bit – in fact it gives us a chance to hear some wonderful 60s sounds from the likes of Small Faces and The Rolling Stones.

Don’t expect a standard Victorian era comedy here. Ostrovsky injects a large dollop of the absurd and the whole seems to be indebted to English restoration comedies. This is no bad thing at all. People climb out of tiger skins and giant stuffed bears. Lovers transform into horses before our eyes, complete with fences to gallop over.

The whole thing is done with such speed and precision that is impossible not to get carried along by the wit and passion. It is uproariously funny in parts, especially in some of the physical theatre brought to a climax in the scene where Nick Haverson (as a short sighted Kroutistsky) rolls on the floor with a tiger skin rug under the impression that he is being attacked by a dog.

The play is timeless in that it could have been set yesterday or a thousand years ago. It deals with an old story: ambitious young man will stop at nothing to advance himself socially, tricking all around him on his way up the ladder. Ostrovsky, and the wonderful young cast, elevate this premise into a truly wonderful theatrical experience. This is possibly the funniest evening I have ever had in a theatre. The incredible love scene at the end of the first half has to be seen to be believed but i won’t spoil the surprise for you!

Particular praise must go to Dyfan Dwyfor in the lead role of Gloumov. This is a scheming, spiteful young man who thinks nothing of betraying the people who love him. Despite this, thanks to Dwyfor, we in the audience cannot help warming to him and as the denouement approaches we find ourselves rooting for him against our will.

Well done yet again to the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre. At a time when many playhouses are playing it as safe as houses, they are not afraid to take artistic chances. This has paid off in spades, and this exhilarating, fantastically absurd and riotously funny play gets a five tortoise shell rating from me! The play runs until 17th August and I heartily recommend this as a summertime treat.

Kindle Publishing!

In previous posts I have looked at how to publish a book in its physical form, and I will be returning to this subject in more depth soon, but today I am going to look at how to publish e-books and in particular how to use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) to get your book onto Amazon with the minimum fuss and with zero expense.

I love to hold books and to feel the pages turning between my fingers but there is an inescapable truth: e-book readers such as the Kindle are the future of literature. I have a Kindle myself and it is a beautiful and practical thing, even if for me it will never replace my true love: the well worn paperback. Kindles are great for readers but they are even better for authors, as I have found out myself.

9781847990129

As you may know, I have recently had my children’s novel, Tortoise Soup, published but back in the mists of time I wrote a thriller novel called ‘The Girl On The Bus’. The book had been more or less dormant for a number of years but suddenly it has been discovered by the Kindle generation and it is now selling hundreds and hundreds of copies every day. I have been propelled into the Amazon bestsellers chart, and am battling it out in the top 100 with writers like Dan Brown and Hillary Mantel! If you would like your own copy, just click the link here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Bus-ebook/dp/B004L2LJJE/ref=la_B00D0RPQR2_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1370184548&sr=1-1

It has all been a bit overwhelming, if very welcome, and in my next post I will give you my tips on how to become a Kindle bestseller but for now let’s start with the basics: here is how to get your e-book into the Amazon store.

Firstly, of course, you have to have the completed script of your novel. For printed copies PDF format is best but KDP prefer you to submit your novel in .doc format. This can be done in Word but also by using free software such as the wonderful Open Office Writer.

Editing is still essential of course, don’t let spelling and grammar errors ruin your chances of e-book success. Amazon allows readers to cancel an ebook and get a refund up to seven days after they have purchased it, and you don’t want too many of those!

It is still important, possibly even more important, to have a good cover. By which I mean, of course, a front cover. You don’t need to worry about a back cover for an ebook as you would for a print book. It is important that this cover can grab a browser’s attention from a tiny thumbnail as that it is all that most readers will see. My tip is make the cover small and striking – don’t bog it down with too much information or lettering as these will be unreadable on the small image that most people will see.

Once you have the .doc file and the JPG cover you are ready to publish! Go to kdp.amazon.com and sign up to their publishing scheme. The whole process is simplicity itself – if you can read this then you can do it all yourself.

Firstly, upload the text and cover. Now you have to provide the obvious information such as the book name and your details. You also have to provide details of how you wish to be paid. Yes, that’s right – you really can make money out of this, and big money as well as I am beginning to find out. And the best thing is that it is all 100% free. Amazon charge you nothing at all to publish your ebook online.

Next you have to click on a statement that you have worldwide rights to your book, which you do of course, and set the price for your book. This is a difficult one, some people like to price high and some go dirt cheap and hope to sell in bulk. I recommend the latter policy, it has worked for me and in my next blog I will explain how this has worked and how to exploit it.

You don’t need to use an ISBN for a Kindle book, Amazon assigns it’s own unique ASIN number. That’s how easy it is. Once you have followed the above steps you have become a digital publisher and within 24 hours your book will be available across the planet. And if you are talented and lucky, one day you might just see your sales start to rocket in the same way that I am with The Girl On The Bus.

If you have anything to add, any experience with KDP, or any questions then please do comment below and I will get back to you!

Self publishing hints and tips

In my last post I took a brief look at self publishing and how it has become an increasingly viable option for the modern writer. Self publishing, also known as indy publishing, has become a boom industry but many writers are still a bit unsure of how to do it and what the benefits are.

timetowrite

I was contacted this week by a budding writer on Twitter. (By the way, if you want to talk to me on Twitter then please follow me through @byrontinker). This writer is currently working an excellent collection of stories about cats, I really liked the preview that I read. They came to me for advice on how to self publish, and as I always like to help my fellow writers I sent an email with some helpful information.

After reading through my reply I thought to myself, ‘hey – my friends who read the Tortoise Soup blog could probably use some of this advice as well’. So, I am reproducing an edited version of my email below. In coming weeks I will be expanding upon lots of the points that I have raised so please do keep checking back in here at the Tortoise Soup blog.

“As you may know it’s incredibly hard to find a mainstream publisher at the moment, unless you’re a celebrity, and the economic hiatus means that agents aren’t taking chances on anyone either.

That’s why self publishing is an attractive option. If a book is good (and I’m sure that yours will be), and a lot of love and effort has gone into it then why shouldn’t it be out there in the marketplace? Good books shouldn’t stay locked inside a mind forever.

There are two main options: the first is using a service such as Lulu. This makes everything very easy, but the process can seem a little remote. You simply pay Lulu a fee (I’m not sure how much, around £100 I think – which is very reasonable compared to vanity publishers), send them your text, choose a cover template and hey presto in a week or so you have your book which will then be on Amazon. The quality is okay, but the cut that companies like Lulu take are very high so your book will be quite expensive for people to buy. For example, I have a friend who published a book through this route. It’s a 400 page book, and costs around £15 which is way too high really. They receive around one pound for each copy that is sold.

The other option is to use CreateSpace or Lightning Source. These are really printing companies, you have to do all of the creative work yourself but I liked that. They are similar entities, CreateSpace is owned by Amazon. I used Lightning Source but contrary to some rumours there was no delay in ‘Tortoise Soup’ appearing on Amazon and nor does it get listed as being ‘out of stock’.

I have heard people say that CreateSpace is easier for beginners to use but Lightning Source was easy enough for me – and I’m not really a computer wizard. To use Lightning Source you have to set up your own publishing company. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds – you buy ISBN numbers in a block of 10 for £120 and assign one to your first book. The purchasing of ISBN’s varies from country to country (for example in Canada it’s free), so to all my blog followers overseas Google should be your first point of call.

You then fill in a form with Lightning Source who, unless you make a hash of the form, will accept you as a publisher client. They then send you a template to fit your cover on and tell you what format the text must be in. Send it to them and again, hey presto – your book will soon be out there but this time under your very own publishing label! It’s a lot easier than it might sound.

Lightning Source gives you a choice of a gloss or matte cover and cream or white paper, I don’t think that CreativeSpace gives you that choice.

The overheads are much lower with CreateSpace or LS and you have complete flexibility on pricing. For example, my 234 page Tortoise Soup sells at £6.99 and over half of that comes straight to me from each sale. If I had gone the Lulu route the book would have cost more and I would have received less.
It costs around £40 to get the book registered with these companies, again much cheaper than using Lulu or similar companies.

There is more work involved though. I’m no graphic designer and it took me a long time to get the cover to fit their template and specifications, I managed it eventually though. I used completely free software to do it: GIMP and a free trial of Quark Xpress. The text has to be in a PDF format that Word doesn’t produce so I used a free word processing package called Open Office Writer.

Can you draw? If so then great, make your own illustrations. I can barely draw stick men but I found a great illustrator on Gumtree who did my drawings completely free. Everybody comments on how quirky and lovely there are. Keep your eyes peeled on Gumtree Artists – there are often budding illustrators on there looking for opportunities to do free work to build up their portfolios.

The other thing to consider is editing. The experts advise that you should always use an editor. You can read your own book a dozen times and because it’s so familiar you can miss glaring mistakes. If you do want to find an editor/proofreader there are lots out there so get some quotes. For Tortoise Soup I had quotes from £200-£500 – I went for the cheapest (Patricia Alderman) but I think she did a really good job, and she also helped me with my cover design. You could edit it yourself if you so wish of course, that’s your decision. I have an English language degree but I still made lots of little errors that Patricia corrected.”

I hope that there may be some points in the email that can help you, and I hope that my Tortoise Soup will continue to be useful to you in the weeks and months to come. As fledgling writers we have to look out for each other and help each other up whenever we can so if you want any specific advice then please contact me!

A lot of you have been asking about my own novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. It is out right now on Kimono Press, and can be bought directly from Amazon in either paperback or Kindle versions. It should be in some independent bookstores as well soon. I am pleased to say that it is getting some great feedback, such as this review by a book mad girl: http://mychildrensbookreview.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/tortoise-soup.html

You can buy copies right here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tortoise-Soup-Nick-Holland/dp/0957557205/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367345532&sr=1-1&keywords=tortoise+soup

Tortoise Soup out now!

These are exciting times for me as besides creating the Tortoise Soup blog, my children’s novel Tortoise Soup is now officially released!

NickHollandwithbook

In my blogs I have shown how to find a publisher or how to publish your own novel. In future blogs I will be looking at publishing essentials such as editing, cover design, the use of social media, ebook choices, and fonts and typesetting. I have learned a lot about publishing in the run up to the release of Tortoise Soup, and I hope to be able to give you lots of good advice so that you can see your book in print as well.

Nothing feels as good as holding your own book in your hand, seeing the birth of your own print baby. Early reviews have been fantastic, and the feedback from readers has made all the effort worthwhile. I wrote Tortoise Soup to appeal to children aged 8-11 but the feedback that I am getting shows that adults love it just as much and that really makes me happy.

You can buy Tortoise Soup on Amazon, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tortoise-Soup-Nick-Holland/dp/0957557205/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365876289&sr=8-1&keywords=tortoise+soup

Or you can get a signed copy here: http://kimonopress.com/buy-a-signed-tortoise-soup/

I hope that you will enjoy the book, I’m sure that you will, and I look forward to reading your books in future as well. If you have a book out then why not tell me about it in the comments box below?

Oh, by the way – I am a contestant on the UK TV show ‘Countdown’ on Channel 4 on Monday – I talk about tortoises a lot but forgot to mention the impending release of my Tortoise Soup book! I still have a lot to learn about generating publicity!

Self Publishing

In my previous blogs I have looked at traditional publishing and vanity publishing, well today I am giving the Tortoise Soup treatment to self publishing.

digital-self-publishing

Self publishing is becoming big business. More people than ever are writing, and why not? They say that everybody has a book in them so it makes sense to let it out. Unfortunately, the recession that has our planet in its vice like grip is making it increasingly difficult to find a publisher but many people are finding self publishing to be an ideal solution.

Self publishing is sometimes called indy publishing because it gives a writer the chance to be truly independent without having to follow the advice of agents and publishers: if you want a pink cover, just go for it. If you want to write a sci fi cowboy novel featuring vampire goats, well nobody will stop you.

Let’s be clear about one thing: self publishing is very different to vanity publishing. As I said in my last blog, no writer should ever pay a publisher to have their work publisher. There are costs involved in self publishing but on a much smaller level, and the costs are clear and justified.

There are two ways to self publish. The first way is to use one of the many ‘self publishing’ companies such as Xlibris. These companies do a lot of the hard work for you, all that you have to do is supply the text. They also often have ready made covers that you can adapt and use. For a relatively modest fee (compared to the vanity publishers) they will make your book available online, but will offer next to nothing in the way of support or promotion.

The second option is the true essence of self publishing – going it alone! To do this you will have to strike a deal with a printer, find a distributor, design the cover and the book itself and become your own marketing and PR consultant – to say nothing of essentials like editing.

If this sounds too daunting then maybe this option wouldn’t be ideal for you, but if you love the freedom that self publishing can bring – and if you have a creative and entrepreneurial streak a mile wide, then you might find self publishing your book to be the most rewarding thing in your life. And because you are doing nearly all of the work yourself, the costs are surprisingly low and the potential rewards can be very high.

So have you decided which publishing option is for you? Let me know your thoughts below. In the coming days and weeks I will be giving lots more hints and tips about getting your book into print. I will also be looking at the technical side of getting your book into print such as which design packages to use, and how to format your work.

Keep tapping away at that keyboard, Tortoise Soup friend, and remember that your only enemy is procrastination!

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