A selection of interviews with a difference, there is some macabre, a hint of winter, a splash of great adventure and some eye-wateringly funny humour! See into the mind of the writer and also some of their characters and learn about how writing can lead to some interesting pastimes!

The macabre tale of Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge is the author of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, a mystery thriller for young readers set in Victorian London. The heroine, Penelope Tredwell, is quite unusual for a thirteen-year-old Victorian girl - she runs a literary magazine, The Penny Dreadful, under a pen-name and is enthralling Londoners with her macabre tales. Then one day a letter from the Bedlam insane asylum plunges her into an adventure even more mysterious and frightening than any of her stories...  

Have you always been interested in the strange and mysterious side of life?

In a word, yes! When I was growing up there was a programme on TV called Arthur C. Clarkes Mysterious World which investigated strange and unexplained phenomena such as haunted houses, psychic powers and alien abductions. I was fascinated by this, even buying the book that accompanied the TV series, and then spent most of my time in school either watching the sky for passing UFOs or waiting for my classmates to spontaneously combust. I also loved mystery stories from the Hardy Boys to Sherlock Holmes, especially those curious cases in which Holmes would say when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Where did you first get the idea for Penny? 

Twelve Minutes to Midnight started as a series of images in my mind: the Bedlam patients scratching their stories across the walls of their cells, an icily beautiful lady at the heart of a web surrounded by deadly spiders, the whole of London teetering on the brink of madness. I just had to work out how all these images fitted together. Then when I came up with the character of Penny, the ideas seemed to come in a rush as she plunged straight into the heart of the mystery.

Did you read lots of Penny Dreadful-style magazines as research?

As well as the Sherlock Holmes stories, lots of my favourite Victorian novels such as Great Expectations and The War of the Worlds were originally published in monthly magazines. It was a revelation to go back to the original magazines and see the stories as they first appeared, with illustrations woven into the text and each instalment of the tale coming to a cliff-hanger ending. This definitely inspired the way I approached the writing of Twelve Minutes to Midnight even though it wasnt going to appear in a monthly magazine, I wanted to create that same page-turning sense of excitement for the reader.

Did you enjoy exploring London, 1899?

It had great fun bringing the foggy streets of old London town to life! From the corridors of Bedlam to the British Museum of Natural History, I wanted to show the different sides to life in London at this time and these places all had a key role to play in helping Penelope unlock the mystery. As the book is set on the eve of the twentieth century, I also wanted to show how the city was changing too with gas lamps starting to be replaced by electric lighting and other modern conveniences being introduced. It was really interesting to flick from books of old photographs of London and then look at the same streets online using Google Street View to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Some famous faces make an appearance are these writers some of your favourites?

Definitely! I grew up reading authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard and H.G. Wells, so it was great fun to write them into my story. I like the fact that Ive finally provided an answer to where H.G. Wells got the ideas for some of his spookily accurate predictions!

Penny is pretty feisty for a young Victorian lady did you enjoy putting her into the uptight literary world of men with moustaches? 

Ive always been fascinated by the Victorian era its a time where science and the supernatural seem to weave together more easily. However, every famous author from this time seemed to have broad shoulders and a bristling moustache and I wanted to give them some female competition. As Penelopes only thirteen years old I realised shed have to hide her real identity behind a pen name in the pages of The Penny Dreadful and that was where the character of Montgomery Flinch came in. Its difficult for Penny at times to keep her secret as Monty swans around soaking up the fame that should rightfully be hers, but shes a very resourceful character and uses her wits and guile to get her own way in the end. 

Is she inspired by any other literary (or real) heroines?

Penny wasnt directly inspired by any other literary heroines, although I took her drive and spirit from some of the female explorers of the Victorian era. It was only when I was researching Shadows of the Silver Screen, which is going to be the follow-up to Twelve Minutes to Midnight that I discovered the story of the Victorian writer Daisy Ashford who wrote her novel The Young Visiters in 1890 at the age of nine years old the Christopher Paolini of her day. However, this novel wasnt published until nearly thirty years later, so in 1899 Penny is really one of a kind.

Penny hires an actor, Monty, to do dramatic readings of her tales (and so the public won't realise that she is the author). The dramatic readings reminded me of Charles Dickens (where members of the audience would faint away at some of the more violent bits). Do you think Victorians had a secret liking for the gruesome? And have we changed?

In terms of the Victorians taste in entertainment, I dont think much has changed between then and now. They had the freak show, whilst weve got the early rounds of The X Factor! When I was researching the book, it was fascinating to see the parallels between their era and ours scandalous tabloids, celebrity culture and endorsements to name just a couple. You only have to look at the popularity of recent TV series such as the Sherlock to see how the same stories still thrill us today. And if Twitter had been around in the Victorian age, then Im sure Charles Dickenss readers would have been tweeting their reactions to each instalment of his latest tale: OMG Little Nells dead! #theoldcuriosityshop #epicfail.

Serial fiction like the stories in The Penny Dreadful was the soap opera of the day. Would you like to see it return?

I love the idea of reading a story in instalments, but as a writer the idea of having to constantly meet weekly or monthly deadlines is a terrifying one! However, I think e-books, apps and digital readers offer opportunities for serial fiction that havent existed since the Victorian era and I think this could be a way of injecting a fresh sense of excitement around reading for more reluctant readers.

Finally, could you do a Victorian-melodrama-style announcement for the book?

Ladies and Gentlemen, your children will keep quiet for hours if you take home a copy of Twelve Minutes to Midnight! The pages of this spine-tingling mystery are filled with a thrilling tale of madness, spiders and the sinister Lady Cambridge. Follow in the footsteps of the intrepid Penelope Tredwell as she dashes headlong into an adventure more terrifying than anything she has ever imagined

(Interview by Liz Bankes)


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Who is Marcus Alexander?

Marcus Alexander is the author of Crow's Revenge, the first in the fantasy trilogy Keeper of the Realms. Before signing with Puffin, Alexander self-published the the trilogy with Book 1 titled Who is Charlie Keeper? The books caused such a stir that graffiti asking 'who is Charlie Keeper?' starting appearing around London.   

So who is Charlie Keeper?

She is a funky kid that most kids will like or hope to be. A lot of children are constrained, they dont have the chance to be what they really want to be. She indulges herself, she does gymnastics and she enjoys the London scene.

Who is your favourite character in Crows Revenge?

All of the characters have a bit of me in them, other than Lady Narcissa I couldnt be like her. Even Bane has a bit of me in him. The Delightful Brothers were my favourite to write they are outrageous, dangerous and fun.

How was your experience of self-publishing, before you signed with Puffin?

It was hard work. I didnt want to be paying commission to an agent, and thought that if I self-published and got enough good reviews, I could go direct to publishers. I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I had a tight budget and didnt have an editor or a proof-reader. Since then, I had rejections, and I did have some good agents recommended to me, but Puffin came in first.

Are there many differences between the original books and the version being released by Puffin?

Well, Ive travelled loads, so my grammar wasnt that good my editor shakes her head at me all the time! I also had to cut the original wordcount by 30,000 to 40,000, which was really hard. I had to drop a good kitchen scene and a lot of Charlies nightmare passages, but the new version is faster and much better edited.

Did the idea of Kchanga come from your work as a personal trainer?

I have been involved in sports all across the world as I have travelled so much, including Thai boxing and Brazilian martial arts which have elements of dance. I mixed and blended these with gymnastics to come up with Kchanga.

You illustrate some of the moves on YouTube and the Charlie Keeper website do you think it might ever catch on as a sport?

Some of my friends would love to get into it and promote it, and some of the kids I work with are really fired up by it. One is a circus producer and performer, and he is really interested. It could be a sport there is a sport called Chim Lone, which is like a low key version of Kchanga.

Are you offering a certain philosophy with the books, and where does that come from?

It really came from my travels and experiences. If I have ever wanted or needed something, it has been hard work, but if you keep trying, you get what you want. That is where the Will and the Way came from. I had a business in Chaing Mai and a restaurant here, and I had to work really hard to make those happen, but you can make things work for you.

Keeper of the Realms is a very interactive experience, with the website, the artwork, YouTube, etc. Do you think that publishing for children will increasingly move that way?

The books are geared up for todays kids. A lot of authors write for their own inner child when writing for kids, so that is more appropriate for the 70s or 80s or 90s. Look at the media they are exposed to now. Charlie has got todays mentality.

You wrote these a while ago what have you been working on since?

Marketing, getting signed and re-editing have taken a lot of time. Im now polishing the sequel, which will be out next year. It could expand from the original trilogy, but I will probably try to keep it to three.

What can we expect to see from the sequels?

Bellania expands as Charlie travels further.  She finds the secret behind her pendant and learns the Stomen art of fighting, and the whole of Bellania gets involved in the battle between Bane and the Jade Circle.

What was your own favourite book as a child?

I loved Dr Seuss and Where the Wild Things Are the stories with images really kickstarted my imagination. I read loads as a teenager, comics as well as books. They dont seem to be so encouraged now, but graphic novels and comics can be great. The rate of literacy is really declining in England, but I think its great to have a good book and just lose yourself in it.

(Interview by Kristina West)

Selling snow in a wintry November evening

The book launch party for Sam Gaytons debut novel, The Snow Merchant, was held at Kew Bookshop in Southwest London on a suitably chilly evening of November 16 2011. I interviewed the author before (and as!) the guests arrived.

The Snow Merchant is a travelling salesman. He must keep himself at all times completely chilled, since he carries a snow cloud with him in a suitcase. I asked Sam Gayton what was the origin of the character of the Snow Merchant. He said that the idea of the name came to him first, and that the character evolved gradually from the name. 

Did the illustrations by Tomislav Tomic also stimulate the development of the Snow Merchant? The illustrator sent several versions of the different characters, including the protagonist Lettie, and the choice of the best illustrations certainly played a part in the evolving work.

In fact Tomics conceptualisation of the Snow Merchant was clearer and more convincing than the authors original perception of the character. The Snow Merchant as depicted seemed to present a more coherent picture than before.

The young male protagonist, Noah, comes from a curious breed of people who have flowers growing out of their backs. The flower can change type or colour, depending how its bearer feels. At one point when Lettie needs warming up, Noah grows a pepper seed a useful skill. I asked Sam Gayton how he thought of this attribute does the flower represent the spirit of its bearer? 'I was thinking of course of Pullman, and the characters in Lyra Belacquas world with their daemons'.

Noah and Lettie become partners in a quest to find her mother, who disappeared when Lettie was two years old. However their partnership faces environmental problems. Lettie must remain off the ground and Noah must remain in the sea. Their conditions, says the author, are metaphors for their loneliness.

I asked Sam Gayton how his writing was influenced by the course in creative writing he took at Bath Spa University. He said that for the first time he learned how to craft his writing. He has already completed his next book, which he trails as something completely different

(Interview & report by Rebecca Butler)

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 Stand Up and Prepare to Laugh

A dark night in London at the end of January was given a spark of light when Piccadilly Press held their comedy night. It was a night that Liz Bankes thoroughly enjoyed!

Jeanne Willis, Ciaran Murtagh and Ros Asquith walk into a bar. 

No, they actually did. This isn’t a joke – it is a factual story. Because these three authors are so talented in the joke department that I am not even going to try and compete. Except for maybe one pun. 

Piccadilly Press, after realising they had a particularly high proportion of amusing people writing for them, decided to throw a comedy night. On the bill were: 

Jeanne Willis, author of many funny things, but on this occasion wearing her dinosaur hat for Dinosaur Olympics, the first in the Downtown Dinosaurs series. 

Ciaran Murtagh, an actor, writer and comedian whose book, Genie in Training, is the first in a series about a boy who goes to genie school.

And everyone’s favourite teenage worrier Ros Asquith, whose book, Letters from an Alien Schoolboy, was nominated for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

I had some serious fun asking these authors about all things hilarious. 

Jeanne Willis

Dinosaur Olympics
introduces the Stigsons, a family of stegosauruses made up of mum and dad, son Darwin and Uncle Loops (who, at 190 years old and with a brain the size of a peanut, is getting a bit forgetful). The Stigsons and their herbivore neighbours on Fossil Street (including a thespian Triceratops and an overweight Mastodon called Phyllis) are terrorised by the carnivorous Downton Dinosaurs, headed by fearsome T-Rex Flint Beastwood and glamorous (but slightly evil) velociraptor Liz Vicious. When a spot of stegosaurus-napping has the two clans spoiling for a fight, the Mayor, Boris, has a suggestion for settling their differences once and for all: an Olympic games.

The collection of outrageously fun characters (particularly the more villainous ones), with the lovable and sane Darwin at the centre, combined with a story that pits the good against the beastly (finding both to be equally rubbish at the high jump) makes this book utterly (pre)hysterical.

So Jeanne, what makes you laugh?
Cats scooting along on their bottoms, falling over and a particular joke about two cannibals eating a clown

Did you always want to write funny books?
I'd like to write serious, intelligent books and win the Carnegie but I can't be sensible for long enough. Also I seem to know very little about an awful lot – although my parents were teachers, I spent most of my time at school writing hilarious rude poems in class and getting thrown out of religious studies.

Which member of the dinosaur gang do you most identify with?
In my dreams, I'm Liz Vicious.  Flint Beastwood is based on a dear friend of mine who was a small-time villain in the 60's. Sadly he's now extinct but I fancied myself as his gangster's Moll. In reality though, I'm probably Mrs Stigson.

Have you ever been surprised when seeing the illustrations for one of your books?
Surprised and delighted 99 times out of 100.  I have been lucky enough to work with the most talented, funny artists and waiting to see what they make of my characters is always a buzz.  If ever I feel low, I just look at the drawings Arthur Robins sent me or revisit a book I've done with Tony Ross. Cracks me up every time.

If you were to take part in the dinosaur Olympics, which event would you compete in?
That's a hard one. I was the Blue Team Captain at Wheatfields Junior school in Year 6 and on that Sports Day, we won the egg and spoon race, the sack race and the hat race. We'd also have won the obstacle race if Mary Norton hadn't got stuck in one of the car tyres. I was the fastest sprinter in the school, mostly because a boy called Jonathan Hawkins used to chase me a lot and I had to gather speed to escape so he couldn't kiss me. So many skills... how to choose? Hmm... maybe I'm for the high jump?

Ciaran Murtagh

This is a jolly magic-carpet-ride of a tale that, like The Worst Witch or a certain bespectacled boy wizard, shows how adding magic makes school really fun. A work of comic genie-us. 

Ciaran, my good man. What is your favourite joke?
I like very silly jokes. One of my favourites is “Two snowmen are standing in a field, one turns to the other and asks, 'Do you smell carrots?'” I also like jokes that play on words. For The Legend of Dick and Dom I wrote a Christmas episode, but because it's Dick and Dom it had to be slightly gross! Instead of Christmas they celebrated Garlic Tuesday. Instead of Father Christmas they were visited by Farty Whiffmass, instead of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer they had Rudy the Red Bummed Skunk Pig... You get the idea. Watching Dick and Dom sing 'Rudy the Red Bummed Skunk Pig' to the tune of 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' made me laugh a lot! 

Is writing a funny book very different from writing stand-up comedy? Do you have a favourite?
Writing a book is different from writing stand-up because you don't have the chance to try it out! If I write a joke and I tell it to an audience and nobody laughs then I won't tell that joke again, or at least I'll change it before I do. When you put a joke in a book you have to be absolutely sure that it's funny because you can't just rub it out and start again – the joke is in the book forever. When you write jokes in books you have to trust your instincts and be positive that the joke is worth putting in there, with stand-up you can be a little more flexible. As a stand-up you can also tell your joke in a particular way to try and get a laugh. You can pause a bit before the punchline, put on a funny accent and time it to perfection to make sure the audience 'get it'. When you're writing a joke for a book, you're not going to be there to tell it. You have to make sure it's funny in and of itself because the reader won't – at least I hope
they won't - hear the same voices inside their head that you do! 

If you could acquire some genie training, what wish would you grant yourself?
I'd love to be able to fly. It would be great to step out of my front door, jump into the air and take off whenever I wanted to. That would be a brilliant wish to grant myself. I'd also like an unlimited supply of chocolate to eat and drink. Wouldn't it be great to turn on your tap and instead of having water have a stream of hot chocolate? Why don't they do that? We can send men to the moon for goodness sake!

Did you always want to be a comedian?
I didn't always want to be a comedian, but like a lot of comedians I realised quickly that it was the only job I could really do! I tried to be a serious actor but even when I tried really hard to be very serious indeed people would laugh at me. I played a robber in an old detective show called Murder in Mind and even then, when I was robbing someone in the street and being really really nasty, everybody laughed. Sometimes you have to just accept that no matter how hard you try you are what you are. If people are going to laugh at me anyway I may as well try and get paid for it don't you think?

Which books make you laugh?
I love Andy Stanton's books, they make me laugh a lot. The first book I ever remember laughing out loud at was a book called 'Help, I'm a Prisoner in a Toothpaste Factory' which was very funny indeed – at least it was when I was 7! Letters from an Alien Schoolboy is also very funny, so funny it made me drop the book!

Ros Asquith

After saving the Earth from the fearsome Threggs (and their fearsome leader, Keith), Flowkwee and his family are back. They are still determined to round up Earthlings to be ‘improved’ in their ‘improver’ (which involves being given a more impressive amount of limbs and brains and being sent to their home planet of Faa to be slaves). This time Flowk has a special mission – to collect as many different animals as he can. He’s going to need the help of his friend Susan (who isn’t bad for a human) to complete his mission and to understand absurd human activities, such as ‘swimming’ and ‘snow-ball fights’.

This is one of the funniest books I have read in the course of my pathetic human existence. I found Flowkwee’s dim view of humanity (flies, on the other gripper, are very intelligent) and his struggle to get his many brains round our strange Earth customs hilarious. I laughed my sad little singular head off.  

I thought I’d ask Flowkwee a question first. Hi Flowk (if I may). Your heads are looking lovely today. I’ve enjoyed your letters was wondering what you find most amusing about us humans?
Where to begin? The single head? The four pathetic limbs? The absence of whirlers, winkers, tentacles, gills, wings or buzzers? Maybe the strange fact that Earthlings only have two eyeballs -and those two only face forwards, so they are incapable of looking behind them without swiveling their sad little singular heads.
And, poor things, they are such a drab grey colour. They have brownish, pinkish, yellowish tinges to their skins, to be sure – but no violet, green, blue or oravaloom. 
They are even incapable of growing fur, except for a tuft on top that they call a 'hairstyle.' 
No wonder the poor feeble creatures have to cover themselves up with tubes and flaps that they call 'clothes'. Then their mental capacity is exceedingly limited. 

They have no idea, for instance, how many stars are in the Milky Way, which is their very own galaxy. 

And the English ones cannot even spell in their own language, despite only having a measly 26 letters. 

As for their habit of going to a furniture called a 'toilet' INSIDE their own homes. Unspeakable. (They are so under developed they cannot even digest all their food...)

I'm afraid Earthlings are a sorry lot, but never mind, because we are going to IMPROVE them massively in my Papa's magnificent IMPROVER. Then they will be nearly as intelligent and useful as our own most primitive species. Can't wait.

Well, that was quite a lot to get my sad, singular head round… So, Ros! When you are illustrating your own books, do the words or pictures come first?
A combination. I do, usually, start with the words, but I doodle all the time - especially when I'm on the phone – and sometimes one of these doodles (of an alien, for instance) will bring an idea for a story to mind.

I am considering doing a book without any words at all soon, so that will be a challenge.

Which writers and cartoonists make you laugh?
My favourite cartoonists are: Steve Bell, Posy Simmonds, Giles, Charles Addams, Ronald Searle, Gary Larsen.

Funniest writers: Richmal Crompton ('Just William'), Edward Lear (limericks and rhymes galore), Lewis Carroll ('Alice in Wonderland'), Andy Stanton ('Mr Gum'), Gerald Durrell ('My Family and Other Animals'), PL Travers ('Mary Poppins'), PG Wodehouse ('Jeeves'), Nancy Mitford ('The Pursuit of Love'), Dodie Smith ('A Hundred and One Dalmatians', and' I Capture the Castle'). I
could go on... Although in fact, finding a book that makes you laugh out loud is quite rare, whereas finding one that makes you cry out loud is more common. One that does both is sublime. For that, I nominate Nancy Mitford's 'The Pursuit of Love.'

What is your favourite word?
Today, it's 'buffoon'. Yesterday it was 'bamboozle'. The day before it was 'incarnadine.' Tomorrow I think it's going to be 'amphibian' but it might be 'cabbage.' Or 'spavloon.' Or possibly 'gimble.'
Just so long as it's not 'feisty'.

What would you do if you weren’t a writer?
Gaze into space. But I do that anyway.

An interview with Susan Price – e-publishing, group strength and Authors Electric

Authors Electric was started last year by Susan Price and Katherine Roberts – it’s a group blog by authors who have independently made their own books available electronically. Among the children’s writers who contribute, besides Susan and Katherine, are Pauline Fisk, Lynne Garner, Dennis Hamley, Jan Needle, Linda Newbery, Enid Richemont and Jennie Walters. Susan Price has won both the Carnegie Medal (for Ghost Drum) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (for The Sterkarm Handshake). Here she talks to Linda Newbery about the benefits to readers and writers of e-publishing and group blogging.



Sue, you’re a highly-regarded award-winning author, winner of major awards. What made you decide to go it alone with e-publishing?
People keep telling me I’m a ‘highly-regarded award-winning author’, but it’s never seemed that way to me. I’m just struggling to make ends meet from one book to the next. Like many other authors, I had no new book deals, and a lot of my books were out of print, so my income fell off a cliff. It is a myth that all writers are as wealthy as J K Rowling!
So when Katherine Roberts – who was in much the same situation – suggested that we self-publish, and publicise our books by starting a multi-blog with other writers, I thought, what have I got to lose?
Kath taught herself to turn her books into e-books, and generously gave me and others a lot of help in learning the process, and we set up the Authors Electric blog to help publicise them. There are 29 e-publishing writers contributing to the blog now – one each day, with the final days of each month saved for guests. We’re building our reach through social networking, and we have a waiting list of e-publishing writers wanting to join.
There have been various articles lately suggesting that e-publishing is easy. Has that been your experience?
It wasn’t exactly easy – there were hair-tearing moments – but I would say it was ‘tricky’ rather than difficult. 
How did you make the covers for your e-books?
My brother, Andrew Price did them – he’s a talented artist. For my first e-book, Overheard In A Graveyard, I wanted a brooding graveyard, with a yew-tree and a gravestone. He looked through his own photos, found one taken in a graveyard, in daylight, and made it look as if it was taken at night.
For the Ghost World books, I wanted something like a woodcut, and he read the books, and drew the covers. I think each one was better than the last. I like them all, but just love the cover for Ghost Dance.
For Nightcomers and Hauntings, collections of short ghost stories, he chose one story from each book to illustrate. The cover for Nightcomers is my favourite so far.
I’m really looking forward to seeing his covers for the next two, Head And Tales, and Christopher Uptake. The first is a collection of folk stories retold by a severed head! The second is set in the Elizabethan period, and Andrew is doing a cover that looks as if layers are being ripped away to reveal other layers underneath.
He works on a computer, first scanning in a sketch, then adding colour and layers until he gets the effect he wants. He gives me two versions, one in black and white for the Kindle, one in colour for my website and Amazon. All I do is insert them into my Word-file. We do a test run by e-mailing the whole thing to my Kindle, and Andrew checks that the cover looks as he wants it to. When we’re both happy, I click ‘publish’.
If anybody reading this would like to commission Andrew to do a cover for them, I’m sure he’d be happy to discuss it! He can be contacted through me, at my website.
You have high standards for your work, but is there a risk that, as anyone can publish an e-book, the marketplace will be swamped by indifferent, badly-written and badly-edited novels?
There is that risk – but it’s a risk that exists in any market. There are many books published conventionally that are so badly written – I won’t name names, but we all know who they are – that I wouldn’t buy them. The market in paper books is swamped by indifferent celebrity biographies, endless cook books, and so on. The ‘mid-list’ – which one critic defined as ‘the books that readers actually want to read’ is being forced out.
I think the problem has always existed, even before e-books. How does the avid, discerning reader find the books they want among all the celebrity biographies, celebrity cook-books and diet-books?
Well, now we have the internet, which is a fabulous tool for readers and writers, because it puts them in touch. Avid readers, once they’ve found a good book, can spread the word via Twitter, Facebook and Amazon forums. (In the past, it could be quite lonely being a book-lover, as I can attest.)
This is the purpose of Authors Electric. Some of ‘our’ writers have a track record in that they’ve been previously published and won awards. Others, equally talented, have always published independently. Simple publication was never, per se, a guarantee of quality.
We know our writers are good because we vet them. We try not to let our taste get in the way – it’s not a decision made by one person, or by the same people all the time - but we’re looking for high standards of layout, grammar, and proof-reading, as well as evidence, in fiction, of skilful handling of character and plot. We’ve turned away writers we didn’t consider good enough, because we want people to know that if they come to our blog, they’ll find well-written e-books, produced to a high standard.
People probably won’t like all the books they find on our site, because we cover a wide range – we have fantasy, crime, romance, self-help, historical, children’s – but I don’t think you’ll find clumsy writing or books full of typos and grammatical mistakes. And as e-books are quite cheap, it’s an opportunity to try a new kind of book that you might not have tried before!
We hope that when people are looking for a new read, they’ll use our site as a starting point. From our blog they can jump to our writers’ websites, read extracts and reviews – then maybe feel happy about buying one of our books. We hope people will bookmark our site and come back to see what’s new – our writers are bringing out new books all the time.
The books are all independently produced by the authors, and the profit goes straight to them. We earn more per book than we would from a publisher. Think of it as a Farmers’ Market for books! Or a Campaign for Real Authors. If you love reading, and you want to support and encourage the people who actually produce the books, to ensure that there will always be such books – then one way is to drop by Authors Electric!
What's your experience so far - has it been worth the effort?
If you’re talking simply about selling e-books, it’s too early to tell. I certainly haven’t been swept away by tides of money surging into my bank account. But I’ve only been selling them since March 2011, and then I had only one book on sale, Overheard In a Graveyard. I now have six, with another two soon to go on-line, and sales are steady, if not huge. I hope that, in time, sales will increase.
I – and the other authors involved – have put a lot of effort into Authors Electric, and that’s been worth it. We’ve developed into a little community, helping each other with support, advice and actual assistance. We pool skills and work together to publicise our books and we’ve learned a lot and spurred each other on. I think that, even in the space of ten months, we’ve proved that Katherine Roberts had a brilliant idea when she proposed it!
Have e-readers such as the Kindle caught on with teenagers and children as much as with adults? What trends do you predict?
I think they’re still in the process of catching on! They’re still quite expensive, but I’ve now lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me, ‘I thought I’d hate it, but I was bought one and now I love it!’ Or who say, ‘I wasn’t interested, but I had a look at my friend’s and now I want one!’
The students I meet at the University where I work as an RLF Fellow are quite excited when they see my Kindle lying on my desk – and it would be great if students could have all their text books on a Kindle, because it doesn’t matter how many big clunking heavy books you load onto one, it doesn’t weigh any heavier. They can also be annotated, and finding references is easy. So I think you may see more students buying them, or being bought them.
I hear of more children being seen with them, and given them – and, in fact, the Authors Electric statistics show that the children’s book page has been looked at more than any other. Make of that what you will.
Predictions? I think e-readers are here to stay, at least until global warming overwhelms us and the lights go out. Apart from that, I wouldn’t like to guess. Will paper books die out, or become once more the unique, expensive status symbols they were in the days of illuminated manuscripts? Will writers be crushed by multi-national companies and pirates stealing their intellectual property? Is there, even now, a new kind of reader being developed, one you can read in the bath, which will supersede all others? I’ve placed my bet, but have no idea how things will work out.
Is e-publishing the way forward for you now, or will you still be looking for conventional publishing deals for any new books you may write?
The advantage of a contract with a publisher would be a largeish advance, which I could bank and live on – writing is my only source of income.
But again, I just don’t know. Rights in The Sterkarm Handshake and A Sterkarm Kiss have reverted to me, and I’ve just finished the first draft of ‘Sterkarm 3’. Several publishers have expressed an interest in all three, and my agent is busy – but there’s certainly a possibility that Sterkarm 3 will appear first on the Kindle. And although I’m concentrating on making my backlist available at the moment, I’m thinking more and more about unpublished projects which I might publish myself.
Interesting times!

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(Interview by Linda Newbery)


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