Monthly Archives: January 2013

Borgen Season 2 Episode 5 Plant a Tree

Episode 5, Plant a Tree starts with a typical political publicity stunt beloved of many a politician:Birgitte is filmed planting a tree and talking up the government’s latest green policy.  The problem is though that it’s January and as the nurseryman who supplied the tree points out to Kasper Juul, Birgitte’s spin doctor, nobody plants a tree at that time of the year.  Kasper couldn’t care less: the only outdoors that the pasty-faced Kasper ever communes with is the pavement between the office and his apartment.

After the planting of the tree is faked so that Birgitte can deliver her piece-to-camera, the politicians and the spin doctor in their gas guzzlers drive out, leaving the gardener to dispose of the tree.  What is he supposed to do with the tree, he asks Kasper.  The spin doctor shrugs and tells him to throw it away. “Nobody plants a tree in January,” Kasper says, before casually taking a drag on his cigarette and leaping into the waiting car.

What I particularly liked about this episode is that it reveals the ruthlessness behind the political scenes.  No matter how personable Birgitte comes across, it was she who gave Kasper the go ahead to discredit the Climate and Energy Minister, Amir, by revealing to the press that he has a collection of vintage gas-guzzling Cadillacs. Birgitte badly needs the support of Amir, the coalition’s rising star and only minister from an ethnic minority.  But her plan to bring him back into line goes disastrously wrong as the press lays into Amir to such an extent that he is forced to resign.  And then Birgitte loses the support of the entire Green Party.

As each side refuses to budge over policy Birgitte has her work cut out for her, trying to appease both sides yet still retain cross-party support for her policies.  I found the hypocrisy involved over the green policies in this episode to be very true to life.  Once a political party is elected,  bit by bit all their idealistic policies they proposed to the electorate are either watered down or thrown out altogether.

One of the strengths of Borgen is that we see the chaotic domestic lives of all the major characters.  Katrine Fonsmark, the ambitious journalist is so driven by her work that at 31 she’s still living like a student in a tiny rented studio apartment.  Kasper Juul is a damaged commitment phobic who seems incapable of renting his own apartment.  Instead he boomerangs from one jilted girlfriend to another.

Birgitte’s domestic arrangements may look orderly, on the surface: she has an au pair who cooks and helps out at home.  But on closer inspection, Birgitte’s home life is just as chaotic.  Her marriage has collapsed yet we never really find out what really went wrong – apart from Philip being fed up with Birgitte putting work before family.

Birgitte does try to be a good mother but she lacks awareness of the agonies her daughter Laura is suffering.  Low self-esteem is bad enough for teenage girls. Imagine what it must feel like if you happen to be the daughter of the most powerful person in the country.  No pressure there, then!

Birgitte is less sure of herself when she finds herself in a tense meeting with her ex and his new girlfriend, who happens to be the paediatrician who first alerted her that Laure’s teenage angst was something more serious. Birgitte doesn’t want to let go of Philip and finds it particularly painful to be without him.  There is one particularly poignant moment when Birgitte is alone.  She holds her head in her hands, as if to say, how can I go on like this?

Borgen is currently screening in the UK on BBC 4.

Marketing for Print on Demand

Many successful authors publish exclusively in digital format and wouldn’t ever contemplate bringing out a physical book, believing there to be so little profit margin, it is hardly worth bothering about.  And when we first published Revolution Earth as an ebook, I was convinced that digital was the future.  So it came as rather a shock when a number of friends and family confessed that they not only didn’t own an ereader, but felt that the price was still too high for them to bother to buy one. And when was our novel coming out as a ‘real’ book?

Promote your work at a local independent bookshop and to the local library   Despite the increasing market share of digital versus paper books, I still think that writers are missing a trick if they don’t offer their readers the choice.  If you are lucky enough to live in a town that still has a thriving independent bookshop that likes to promote local authors, why not talk to them to see if there is the opportunity to host a book signing session. And if you invite representatives from your local library (that is, of course, if you still have one) and they are prepared to buy a few copies, who they might consider running a promotion for you as well.

Goodreads Giveaways As well as the chance to promote your work to your local community, you can also offer up pre-release copies of your books as giveways on Goodreads.  Readers put their name down for a free book and if you are lucky the giveaway will be oversubscribed.  Even if you offer, say, six books to lucky readers, you could have at least a couple of hundred others who may have missed out, but who will be generating some buzz by talking about your book. Goodreads take away the hassle of running the giveaway, inviting readers to enter and then selecting winners randomly.  Winners not only get a free book but it is posted to them free of charge. So the only downside for the author is that you have to agree to ship the books to the winners and pay for postage and packaging.

Use up some of your free days on Amazon KDP Select If you publish on KDP Select, you should really think about taking advantage of those free days in a cross promotion, perhaps highlighting the fact about the paperback release on Twitter and Facebook.  If you can get a temporary boost in the rankings for the ebook then that ‘s another way of drawing attention to the newly released paperback version.

Don’t price yourself out of the market What price to charge for the print version on two factors: firstly, whether or not you can cover your costs and secondly, what your competitors in the same genre are charging.  As part of my market research I noted that a fellow thriller author has a paperback version of her book coming out next month in the US and although the list price is $14.95, already there is a line through the higher price and a 40% discount is advertised for those readers who pre-order. That brings the paperback version down to $7.98.

Although that particular book isn’t advertised yet in paperback in the UK, I did a quick calculation, using today’s mid-market exchange rate, that would work out roughly around UK £5.00 per copy.

As you can see, while bringing out a physical copy of your book might not make you rich, it is still a valuable way of promoting your work.  And there is nothing quite like seeing the tangible, physical book and being able to turn it over in your hands and being able to say,  “I made that!”.

Formatting and Previewing Your Book

I have just recently made some minor edits to Revolution Earth, incorporating the changes suggested by a leading UK literary agent.

As I was making the edits I noticed that we had inadvertently given chapters 21 and 26 the same title.  Red faces all round – how could I have missed that one?! It really does go to show that even if you have a book professionally copy edited that you shouldn’t rely on the copy editor to pick up every minor proofing error.  No matter how many times you have proofed your own book somehow these minor errors still slip through.  Fortunately for us and for all of you who are intending to publish on Amazon KDP Select – making these updates is a piece of cake.

Since I last revised the book and went to update the changes on Amazon, a new and very important feature called Previewing your book on KDP Select has been introduced.  This allows you to preview your book as they appear on Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPAD and iPhone. 

If you own a Kindle you can, of course, read your book on your own device but my worry was that I have only the most basic of models and since I bought mine, back in 2011, a host of new and more sophisticated e-readers have been introduced.  And I had heard via other writers that sometimes there can be formatting problems with these new devices.

As Amazon state: ‘previewing your book is an integral part of the publishing process and the best way to guarantee that your readers will have a good experience.’ Today I looked at every single page of our book as it would appear on Kindle Fire – and I was able to experience the book just as the reader would.  And it was at this point that I really did feel like I was now a publisher rather as well as a writer.  And I can’t tell you how empowered I felt as a result.  Because when I look at our book compared with that of a mainstream published author, who has had their book professionally designed and formatted, I can’t tell the difference.

So if you asked me whether or not professional formatting and layout really do matter, I would say that with the launch of Kindle Touch and Kindle DX, yes more than ever. A poorly formatted book not only looks amateurish but it could result in  complaints from readers.  Amazon takes this sort of feedback very seriously and could even reject a book if a reader brings poor formatting to their attention.

It might sound shallow but when we first indie published – back in June 2012 we could see how competitive the market was becoming. We use the professional publishing package Adobe InDesign to format our work and just download the free plug-in for Mac users.  One of the reasons we published exclusively on Amazon in the first place was that the Kindle Publishing Programs are very user-friendly.

So if you published your e-book on KDP Select before the introduction of the preview feature on your Bookshelf – I urge you to go and read it now.  Because one thing is for sure, the format is under scrutiny as soon as a reader clicks on the ‘Look Inside’ feature for your book.  When I’m trawling Amazon for my next indie read, if it has been formatted in Word, the book has to work that much harder to hold my attention, than a properly designed one .

So make sure that your book is getting noticed for all the right reasons.  After all, you sweated blood to get it down on the page, didn’t you?

The Cliffhanger Ending 2 – Season 2 Episode 12, Homeland

In the second part of the series on cliffhanger endings, I examine Episode 12 of Season2 of Homeland – The Choice where Carrie and Brody finally have the chance to be together.  If you haven’t seen this episode then look away now. 

The start of the episode sees Brody and Carrie finally together as all obstacles that kept them apart have been overcome.  Carrie has spent the past ten years hunting down Nazir and in Episode 11, finally got her man.  And now even Brody’s highly dysfunctional family seem curiously at peace. Jessica is happier than we have ever seen her in the entire second season and even the troubled Dana seems resigned to letting Brody go. And now that Walden is dead and Brody is never going to be Vice President, none of these people have to pretend to live a lie any more.

In this episode Carrie has to chose between being with Brody and furthering her CIA career and at times she wavers but chooses Brody.  It is at this point that there is a curious lack of dramatic action as Brody and Carrie return to the cabin in the woods where they were holed up last season.  They talk openly about their relationship and make affirmative statements that they could be happy together.  Only there’s one thing that isn’t quite right.  There seems to be three people in this relationship as Carrie’s CIA colleague Quinn is observing and tracking every moment of their loved-up bliss. Quinn is there under orders from his boss Estes, who has instructed him to cover his tracks and get rid of the evidence.

At times Homeland really does lay it on with a trowel – I mean was it really necessary to cut between Brody peacefully praying by the lake and Quinn preparing his hunting rifle?  And in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere, what is Carrie doing, going out in her car to find croissants, leaving Brody on his own? Did she bury some last time they were up there, in an underground freezer, ready to access at a moment’s notice whenever she happened to be passing and had a craving for patisserie? Because sure as heck, the last time I went into the wild I didn’t find a little French bakery tucked away in the wilderness.

But if we are talking realism, then, much as I’ve enjoyed the series, there’s not much about Homeland that is real.  But if you are prepared to suspend your disbelief about pastry shops in the woods then you will probably swallow that Carrie has an emergency escape plan all prepped and ready to go in a lock-up garage in the city.

Carrie is in dire need of her emergency escape plan when the explosion rips through the heart of the CIA building in the middle of Walden’s funeral.  Quinn, meanwhile has had a change of heart and gone all soft on us. Maybe he just couldn’t face another lonely night out in the woods, eating cold baked beans while his prey feasted on lovingly crafted hand-made pastry? Instead, Quinn turns on his CIA boss and appears, like an extra in a vampire movie, magically turning up in Estes office in the middle of the night.

Quinn tells Brody that there can be no justification for a CIA endorsed killing of Brody.  What Quinn does know is that Estes motivation is merely a personal vendetta. Estes better watch himself, Quinn tells him, telling him, “I’m the guy that kills bad guys.” So if any harm was to come Brody’s way, Quinn would make sure that the number one bad guy sitting in front of him would also be taken out.

As Carrie and Brody attend Walden’s funeral a life-changing event rips their love apart and their hopes for the future are shattered.  Carrie switches back into CIA operative mode, even pointing a gun at Brody as suddenly everything she believed about him has turned on its head with one mighty explosion.  Brody points out that this must be Nazir’s last stand and that the bomb in his car must have been planted by someone else as he sure as hell didn’t move it.

You know that Carrie so much wants to believe him and what persuades her is Brody’s suicide confession being leaked to the global media.  Knowing that her job will be over if anyone finds out, she nevertheless decides to raid her lock-up garage and get Brody out of harm’s way and across the US border and into Canada.  She promises that she’ll do everything in her powers to clear his name so that they can be together.

By the end of the episode Brody and Carrie are once again separated by circumstances but this sets up a brand new season.  Will Brody and Carrie ever be together?  Has  Brody in fact conned Carrie with his charm and is in fact hiding a monstrous lie? Because let’s not forget, that the actor who plays agent Brody, Damian Lewis, (although many Americans may not be aware of this) is in fact, British.  And we all know that in Hollywood that if you want a bad guy, the go-to candidate is always a  foreigner – and if you want a really superior bad guy then it just has to be a Brit!

Greedy, powerful and stinking rich, the battle for Russia – Part 2

“Upright in the back seat, the FSB officer waited for the Range Rover to glide to a halt outside the battlemented walls of Novodevichy Convent.”  This is the opening of writer G.W. Eccles’ exciting political thriller, The Oligarch.

Author G.W. Eccles spent ten years living and working in Russia and Central Asia before he wrote his highly original and fast-paced political thriller, The Oligarch.  But lest you think you’re in for a business history of post-perestroika Russian, then think again.  Eccles is a highly engaging storyteller and this is a skilled and assured debut.  It’s so skilfully written that you can’t tell that this is a first novel.

You can’t write about Siberia or the political conflicts within Russia without first-hand knowledge.  They are, after all, hardly the kinds of places that anyone calling himself a writer would be welcome.  Journalists who poke their noses in the wrong places in these parts have a habit of turning up dead.

The Oligarch begins with the election of a Russian President for a third term amid widespread accusations of vote rigging, and deals with the consequences of the President’s determination to claw back from the oligarchs what he regards as the family silver they obtained for a song as a result of the ‘loans for shares’ episode.

Just to give you a bit of background – in the mid 1990s a sick and ailing Yeltsin was struggling to control the new Russia and the government was rapidly running out of cash as government revenues stalled. A group of enormously rich businessmen who had profited from the fallout of the Soviet Union agreed to lend the State money in return for taking shares in major Russian companies (particularly in the natural resources sector) as security. The theory was that the State would borrow money for a year, then repay it and the security would be returned, but everyone knew that Yeltsin would never be able to repay the money in that timescale. As a result the oligarchs gained ownership of enormous companies for a tiny amount of money.

In The Oligarch: A Thriller, there are three main characters, all of who have convincing back stories and come across as three dimensional. Leksin, the hero, who is brought in by the President to investigate what is happening at Tyndersk prior to its appropriation by the State. He’s tough, but then he has to be. He has both physically and mental strength and is unflinching in his determination not to give up.

Anton Blok, the oligarch, who gained control of Tyndersk though the loans for shares scheme, has his own private agenda (about which we learn about as the book progresses) and will stop at nothing to thwart the President’s plans. He’s essentially a thug in a suit: rude, insensitive, greedy, ruthless and dangerous as he has political aspirations.

Finally, Anya, Blok’s daughter. She’s a particularly interesting character because, when we first meet her, she comes across as a rich, spoilt waster, obsessed yet bored with the Moscow social world. However, as she gets to grips with what her father’s doing and the danger in which it’s putting Leksin (with whom she falls in love), she has for once a purpose in life and she shows steely determination in pursuing it.

It’s a shame that mainstream publishers and agents passed up the opportunity to publish The Oligarch.  But I’m certain that this will not be the last we’ve heard of writer G.W. Eccles and I look forward to reading the next instalment for Alex Leksin.