Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Chase by Lorna Fergusson

Lorna Fergusson’s The Chase is a complex, dark and sometimes claustrophobic story of a couple whose dysfunctional marriage is way past its sell-by date.  The novel is skilfully written, bold and ambitious for a first novel. But Fergusson obviously honed her craft by writing short stories and is a former winner of the prestigious short story prize – the Ian St James Award.

 

The only thing that Netty and Gerald still have in common is a shared sense of loss over a terrible tragedy to befall the family, five years previously.

 

In his boorish, blustering way, Gerald buys a gloomy house in the Dordogne (or as it is unkindly known, Dordogneshire), as pre-Euro and the current recession, the area attracted a large number of Brits who could afford second homes or who sold up and started a new life there. 

 

I’m guessing the book is set around the mid 1990s (although there is no reference in the book to the wider world in either Britain or France) but I figured it would have to be around this time – just as the economy in the UK has picked up enough for Gerald to sell his plumbing manufacturing company in England for a killing and head off to a blissful retirement in France. 

 

As someone who used to help expats relocate to their idea of utopia, those who left their home country to run away from something (like Gerald and Netty) were the least likely to settle; as sadly, no matter how hard you try to leave your  emotional baggage behind, it has a habit of catching up with you.  

 

Netty’s characterisation is bold, complex and so realistic that I had to take breaks while reading The Chase as she is so realistic that she reminded me too much of self-absorbed and manipulative types who, by refusing to take control of their own lives can then go and blame everyone else for how awful their lives seem to be.  And in Netty’s case, the terrible tragedy happened to her entire family but as she sees it, it’s only her feelings that count. 

 

Netty has a troubled relationship with her grown up children and is particularly critical of her adult daughter Lynda, whose crime was to inherit her father’s forceful personality. You do wonder what it was that Netty ever saw in Gerald in the first place – apart that is as an old-fashioned provider or that she ‘enjoyed the sense of his protection, a bulwark against social fire and flood.’  Netty seems to take no interest in her grandchildren either, which is curious. Her relationship with her son Paul seems to be better than it is with Lynda, although she even turns on him when she reveals that she doesn’t love her children equally and unconditionally, when he bares his soul to her about his sexuality.

 

Netty does have a pang of guilt over the way she reacted to Paul’s revelation but is not honest enough with herself to admit the real reason for her reaction – that she was in competition with her son – and she lost. And as we know, hell hath no fury….

 

Only a writer of this calibre could sustain a story about such unpleasant characters in the way that Fergusson does and she does so with brio. The story within the story – of the history of the house and the area is brilliantly done and I was particularly interested in the art historical aspects of the cave paintings. And although I’ve never been to the Dordogne, the detail of the research is evident.

 

A brilliantly observed story of the disintegration of a marriage.

 

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Is this the end for KDP Select Free?

 

The days of the indiscriminate downloading of free KDP Select books, if my recent promotion is anything to go by, seems to be well and truly over.  KDP Select is now 18 months old (and that’s a long time in this ever-changing digital world) and the novelty factor for readers has worn off. Of course, that’s had an impact on writers, as Select was pitched to us as a product designed to help us sell more books and become visible on Amazon. While Select was new it worked brilliantly, for some writers, at least, particularly those with a backlist, who reported not just downloads in the thousands but an important spike in sales afterwards.

 

But last year Amazon made some changes to its Amazon Associates program, which meant that Associates could no longer promote free books in quite the same way. And now it seems, even the most successful indie authors are feeling the effect of the changes Amazon made, as writers are reporting a downturn in downloads and subsequent sales.  To test out this theory, I went free, choosing Wednesday to Friday 24th-26th July, just before the summer holidays in the UK.

 

Because Revolution Earth isn’t mass market fiction that appeals to BookBub’s mainstream US readership, I knew that I would have to work extra hard to find readers, so for $40 I paid for eBookbooster to push the book to their 20 plus promotion sites. The sites that did feature Revolution Earth were: Awesome Gang, Author Marketing Club, Book Goodies, EBook Lister, eReader Perks, Free Book Dude, Frugal Freebies, Indie Book Bargains (UK), Indie Book of the Day, It’s Write Now, One Hundred Free Books, Pin Your Book and Sweeties Picks.

 

I had contacted Indie Book Bargains (UK) prior to the promotion, after a tip-off from a fellow indie author, as I was keen to recruit more UK readers. I also let readers on the UK Kindle Users Forum know as well as at Amazon Germany, as New Zealand is a popular destination for German travellers. If you have a book that might appeal to German readers here’s the link: www.amazon.de/forum/englischebücher­ on the thread: We Can Get a Book for Free?

 

Despite this extra help, we had a big drop in downloads in the US, where we managed only 676, when the three day promotion held on 31st August 2012, yielded 2842. And in Germany, when last time round we had 134, this time it was only 20. Of course, if we’d been picked up by one of the big freebie sites such as Pixel of Inx, the results might have been different but as they only feature a handful of freebies every day (as do BookBub), our results, I think, represent the reality of Select for the majority of writers. The power of these sites is enough to propel you into the top 100 in free Kindle books. Getting into the top 100 free list is crucial for visibility. The highest ranking we managed was #589 in the US on the 25th July and #577 in the UK free list. 

 

This doesn’t make me despondent because I never believed the hype around Select in the first place. I have had similar ups and downs in my writing career and this is merely one in a long line of many.  I thought I had it made back in 2006, when I got a book deal for two non-fiction travel and lifestyle titles, which I had high hopes of updating every couple of years.  But two major events completely out of my control stopped all that: My publisher retired and sold his company in the same year that the books were published. And I only found out I’d been dropped as an author when my bio no longer appeared on my new publisher’s website. The second reason was, ironically the digital book revolution, which I’m now a part of, affecting the travel and lifestyle market. Suddenly travellers no longer wanted to lug around heavy guidebooks any more and if I ever do republish, (as I have got my rights back), it will be as an app.

 

So you see, I never had unrealistic expectations or get too excited about how much money I would make from Select in the short term. What benefits there are to writers like me, who haven’t had any increased sales as a result of their recent promotions, to stay in Select remains unclear, unless it is to recruit more readers, who might just leave reviews?  I’m keen to hear your opinions and what you think indies should be doing to promote their work, so do let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone Girl – Gone Toxic

 

The American dream goes sour Amy & Nick are two cool New Yorkers, working in dream jobs, being paid to write. Amy is a Cool Girl and the heroine for a succession of best selling books written by her parents. Who wouldn’t envy them? And then the economy falls apart and “the once plentiful herds of magazine writers would continue to be culled – by the Internet, by the recession, by the American public”. So sadly for Nick and Amy they both get made redundant and soon they can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on their trendy Brooklyn townhouse. Life can be cruel for losers in the City That Never Sleeps and the couple are forced to sell up, and retreat to somewhere affordable – in this case, back to Nick’s Midwest home town, in nowheresville, Missouri.  

 

Despite their money worries, Nick has to find a way of making a living so borrows off Amy’s inheritance to open a bar, as playing barkeep is something that he’s always dreamed of doing.  But pretty soon Nick and Amy are arguing over money and once couples start doing that, it’s a sign that love don’t live there any more and all that’s left then is the division of the spoils. Hardly the stuff of young love’s dream, is it?

 

Told from the points of view of both Nick and Amy, Gone Girl, is a psychological thriller, a War of the Roses for the 21st century. It is the tale of love gone toxic in a world where even the malls have closed down.  The big question at the heart of this book though is just who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist as by the end of the novel you may be none the wiser.

 

This is writer Gillian Flynn’s third novel. An experienced journalist, she is an assured writer and has done a particularly fine job with the characterisations of both Nick and Amy.  Nobody in Gone Girl is let off the hook, even Amy’s parasitic parents who have made a living out of creating a perfect Amy for public consumption. It’s no wonder that the film rights were snapped up so quickly as one this is for sure, Gone Girl is a book for its time, a cynical take on the reality of shattered hopes and dreams for one particular Generation X couple.

 

Top of the Lake – Episode 1

If You Go Down to the Lake Today You’re Sure of a Big Surprise

 

After the opening episode of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I wish it had been the insufferable GJ (Holly Hunter) who had ended up face down in freezing Lake Wakatipu. GJ is the guru who has led a group of vulnerable (and gullible) women running away from their lives and has set up “a half-way recovery camp for women in a lot of pain,” all of whom are hoping to find paradise in, well, instead, a place called Paradise. Their biggest pain, that I can see, is GJ herself, a controlling, humourless, self-important, guru-like figure who all the women revere. 

 

Top of the Lake deals with some unpleasant subject matter, when a pregnant twelve-year-old goes missing but this is not a thriller or even a crime drama.  It is a slow, (sometimes too slow) unravelling mystery that features as light relief the group of daft, flaky, misguided women who came to seek spiritual enlightenment in a place called Paradise and who promptly spoil Paradise by littering it with shipping containers.  My favourite so character so far has to be Anita, (played deadpan by Outrageous Fortune lead, Robyn Malcolm).  Anita has come to the camp because of “chimp issues.” I liked watching the reaction of the Kiwi blokes as Anita delivers a monologue about having to get the chimp castrated after it attacked a friend and then when it still didn’t behave itself, having to have it put down.  The young bloke looks at her, exasperatedly and asks, pointedly, “was he your boyfriend or your pet?” and by Anita’s lack of response, confirming that she and the chimp were indeed getting jiggy.

 

Top of the Lake is the latest example in the New Zealand gothic genre, or ‘cinema of unease,’ (a term used by the actor and film-maker Sam Neill) to describe the kind of film-making in a country that on the outside looks like a perfect paradise, but scratch the surface and you find child abuse, domestic violence, murder and suicide.  From the works of film-maker Vincent Ward to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, the New Zealand gothic is very much a force in New Zealand cinema (and now television).

 

The idea that There is Something Wrong in Paradise is a view of New Zealand that may come as a shock to eager visitors as it is, understandably at odds with the one peddled by the tourism industry. But for locals, it’s an accepted part of living in this little corner of the world.  If you hang around long enough to admire the view at many a tourist spot, stay there long enough and a friendly local may sidle over to you and then proceed tell you the story about the bloke who was pushed over the falls because he owed money to the local biker gang leader and when his body was finally washed up further down the river he was wearing a three piece suit and had an orange stuffed in his mouth.

 

I like the way that feminist Jane Campion has intentionally made members of the women’s camp funny (I certainly hope that was intentional and that I’m not the only one laughing here) but oh dear, I just wish, especially after the success of a book like Gone Girl, that she would, for once, be a little bit less predictable with the gender politics, and have a half-way decent, sympathetic bloke in there somewhere?

 

The woman you really have to feel sorry for though, is visiting detective Robin Griffin (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss). Not only does Robin have a difficult mother to deal with, she has to negotiate with GJ, Creepy Queen of the Sisterhood, deal with the missing girl’s wholly dysfunctional father Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan) and a bunch of sexist colleagues.  Oh, and her boyfriend is putting pressure on her to finish up the case as soon as she can – presumably so that she can get home and cook him his dinner. 

 

If you’re heading off for a holiday in and around the Queenstown lakes, be wary of accepting offers of fishing trips from strangers. Because whichever direction that Top of the Lake takes in the next six episodes, you can be sure that the iconic Queenstown Lakes region will never look so sinister again.  

 

Books on the Underground

Books on the Underground is an imaginative scheme to help ease the pain of the London commute.  We’re thrilled to be part of it.  So in case you’re travelling on the London Underground in the next few weeks.. look out, a copy of Revolution Earth could be lurking!

 

Goodreads and LibraryThing Giveaways

 

I did a paperback giveaway of Revolution Earth on Goodreads and LibraryThing back in March 2013. LibraryThing has one slight advantage over Goodreads, in that you can offer ebooks as well as print books for free, which of course means that you don’t have the additional expense of postage and packing.  Let’s hope that one of the improvements that Amazon makes, as the new owner of Goodreads, will be to extend their giveaways to include ebooks.

 

I offered four copies of the book on Goodreads and two on LibraryThing.  The giveaway on both sites ran for a month and on Goodreads alone 1074 people requested a copy.  When they didn’t win the book, two of the readers who wanted one messaged me directly; one was from for a literacy charity and the other from an interested reader, who promised a review in return for a free book. And because he was so enthusiastic and asked me so nicely, I couldn’t resist sending him a copy.

 

I am not one of those writers that restricts their giveaways to readers living in the USA or UK.  I can understand why it might be tempting, as postage and packing can become quite expensive when you send out eight books and the winners are scattered across the globe. But as this book is an international thriller, with characters from Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand the UK, it was important for us to see how the work was received by readers, in as many different countries as possible. 

 

The book was sent out to winning readers in India, Dubai, Canada, the U.K. as well as the USA. We received one two star rating from a winner on Goodreads, two five star reviews as well as one four star review on Amazon from a LibraryThing reader.  The LibraryThing giveaway resulted in one very good review, not bad when you consider the return rate of reviews was 50%, compared with around 35% on Goodreads.

 

One of the more frustrating aspect of the Goodreads giveaway is that you know that you have hundred s of potential readers out there who added your book to their ‘to read’ shelf, but it’s hard to reach them.  At the London Book Fair Patrick Brown, Director of Community at Goodreads advised writers against friending the many readers who may have entered the giveway. Prior to the end of the giveway, Goodreads sends out a message to  all the entrants, inviting them to buy your book. If they didn’t take up the offer then, the argument goes, they’re not going to be all that receptive to a further approach from the author, as let’s not forget that Goodreads is primarily a site for readers.

 

If I do another giveaway on Goodreads I might, in fact exclude readers from the UK and the USA this time round, only because many readers seem to enter every giveaway, regardless of genre and aren’t necessarily going to review the book once they receive it. Besides, you can buy a bestselling paperback in a UK supermarket these days for under £5 – making a free book no longer much of a novelty.  Other territories though, where books are relatively expensive, could be just the place to find a willing reviewer.

 

I’m also going to offer just one book at a time and run a second giveaway a couple of months later. Giveaways are a useful tool for creating buzz for a new release and it’s a cost effective way to promote a paperback, without breaking the bank.