Thursday, December 29, 2005

Say what you like about Macmillan New Writing...

... we made it into the Guardian's a year in books.

Scroll down to April.

Talking about books.

We were with some friends yesterday and Steven is that rarest of beings: a man who reads. Or should I say, a man who reads and is not ‘a writer’.

He’s just finishing Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Before that he had read John Banville’s The Sea. By a strange coincidence (not that strange, really – all to do with Bookermania) these happen to be two books I have recently read.

Steven admired the Proustian qualities of the Banville. I insisted on the superiority of the Hollinghurst, and I think he agreed, though he admitted to being shocked by the gay sex.

The details of the conversation don’t matter. The important thing is, we talked about books. We discussed the totally fictitious lives of completely made-up people. And it was good.

I suppose this is what it’s like to be in a reading group. I suppose this is what RANAM (Read A New Author Month) will be like.

Steven reckons he currently reads a book a month, making him an ideal candidate for a RANAM reader. Slowly, one by one, this thing is growing.

For Steven, here’s a preliminary list of some new books by first time authors that will be available during the first ever RANAM.

Taking Comfort.
The Manuscript.
Selfish Jean.
Across the Mystic Shore.
Dark Rain.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A work in progress.

I’ve got a confession. That thing you see below, which we may laughingly, and temporarily, refer to as ‘The RANAM logo’, was banged out by me using Microsoft Word and a Pritt Stick. Not exactly the most sophisticated design tools. And not exactly the most sophisticated designer.

But don’t worry, I’m getting a professional to look at it. My mate Clive, a highly talented and experienced art director, has generously offered to develop my crude inkings into a contemporary graphic icon.

I’ve also had a wonderful offer of help from Debra Broughton, who’s got loads of great ideas about how to make Read A New Author Month a reality.

It’s scary, but this thing might just take off. Especially if we can find enough people who are willing to take a chance on a book by a new author.

Any volunteers?

Friday, December 16, 2005

RANAM - the website.

I've registered the domain

It must be real, it's on the internet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If I can be serious for a moment.

I think there might be something in this RANAM idea. (RANAM is short for Read A New Author Month, which I have unilaterally decided will take place in April each year.)

It’s well known that publishers don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing books by new authors. Through RANAM, they could pool minimal resources and make a bigger splash that helps everyone involved.

It’s hard, too, for new authors to get noticed in the bookshop, or sometimes even just to get in the bookshop. This way, they could be part of a themed display, or promotional area, similar to the way the Booker short-listed titles are sold together. Which RANAM books are pushed would obviously be up to the booksellers, but we could produce a RANAM catalogue, or magazine, giving details of the books involved. There would always be some books by new authors that bookshops were going to take anyway. RANAM would just provide a theme to help give those books a boost for a month.

Even if a new author doesn’t make it into Waterstones (it’s not guaranteed), he or she can benefit from being associated with RANAM. Especially so. There will be a website, you see, giving details of all the books that publishers have put forward to be included in RANAM. You, the reader, will be able to search this valuable database by genre, title or author. Or price.

The website will list the participating publishers, giving details of how many fiction books by new (i.e. first time) authors they have published in the twelve months up to and including RANAM. I see a league table. It will be obvious to us all, then, who really is committed to new writing.

I think an important part of the website would be a discussion forum, where readers can leave recommendations and comments about books in RANAM. We might also be able to include a book swap facility. Whatever helps to introduce more readers to an author’s work has a place. The website could also hold, or provide links to, published reviews of books.

As a new author myself, I would obviously benefit from being part of RANAM in 2006. But what I would like to see, in the long term, is that the idea takes root, and grows to be a major and permanent fixture in the literary calendar. Even when I am no longer eligible to be a part of it, I hope it will be there to help others.

I also think that established authors will get behind the scheme. After all, they were all new writers once. If this support can be mustered, I think it may well help to drive the publishers.

It’s not a case of new versus old. And I don’t believe anyone should read a book just because it’s written by a new author. It has to be a good book in its own right.

But I do believe that readers are missing out on the opportunity to discover books they might enjoy, purely because they are written by new authors. From a business point of view, it makes sense for publishers to spend most on established, already successful authors. They know they are going to get a return. New authors are a risk. But they are a necessity too. Without new authors today, who will be the established, successful authors of tomorrow?

And who will there be for readers to read?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

RANAM – the backlash.

It had to happen, I suppose. But the nay-sayers have been at it again. And it’s my decision to designate April 'Read A New Author Month' that has got them agitated.

‘Who are you to designate April as any kind of month?’ they say.

‘Isn’t it a little too convenient that April also happens to be the month when your own book comes out?’ they add.

‘It’s just a thinly-disguised publicity stunt designed to whip up interest in your book and the other Macmillan New Writing titles,’ they conclude, jabbing my virtual lapel with a big angry virtual finger.

Maybe they have a point. Or maybe, with all those shoots of new life sprouting everywhere, April is just the most appropriate month in which to celebrate new writing.

To appease them, I propose that we designate November the 1st National Nay-Saying Day (or NaNaySayDay for short). That should keep them happy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why stop at one?

I've been receiving lots of support and advice concerning RANAM (Read A New Author Month). If you remember, the first RANAM is due to take place during April 2006. I can hardly wait, especially as it coincides with the release of my own first novel.

One supporter to get in touch was a man who thinks nothing of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. He points out that reading a novel by a new author in 30 days is, actually, a bit of a breeze. So, why not read two?

To help you out, I’ve paired up six randomly selected books by new authors that will be available in April.

Taking Comfort and North.
The Manuscript and Dark Rain.
Selfish Jean and Across the Mystic Shore.

Hmm. There’s something a little predictable about those pairings, I think. Let me try again.

Taking Comfort and Across the Mystic Shore.
The Manuscript and Selfish Jean.
North and Dark Rain.


Taking Comfort and Selfish Jean.
North and The Manuscript.
Across the Mystic Shore and Dark Rain.

If you prefer, you could use my patented random title-suggesting-engine.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The comfort of mobile phones.

Last night, as I was joining the queue for the W3 from Finsbury Park, my eye was drawn to the glowing white keypad of the mobile phone cradled in the hand of the woman in front of me.

It was late. It was dark. I was drunk – a little, at least. But something about that phone captivated me.

It even distracted me from the woman’s extraordinary thinness.

She held the object out in front of her, and though I couldn’t for the moment see her face, I sensed she was staring at it in amazement, possibly even awe. She showed no inclination to make a call. She was certainly in no hurry to put the phone away, as the security posters advise. She seemed content to merely look. There was a need, I felt, an appetite in her for its phosphorescent glow.

And how it glowed! It glowed like a special effect, a shorthand icon for magic and potential.

My own mobile phone does not glow in the same way. The screen lights up a sickly green when you first switch it on. But the light quickly dies, and never reaches the keypad. Even so, I was perfectly satisfied with it, until last night. It was my first experience of cellphone envy.

It was the latest model, I’m sure: the present tense forged into a gadget. But what I envied was not its technological novelty. It was simply the glow of the keypad, and the comfort that it afforded her. There is something undoubtedly sad about thin women. But that glow seemed enough to compensate for any unhappiness.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

RANAM gathers momentum.

As I announced yesterday (was it only yesterday? – so much has happened in the last 24 hours), April is now officially designated Read A New Author Month (RANAM).

Since then I have been inundated, yes literally inundated, with one or two messages of support. Maybe even three. Publishers around the world have been compiling lists of authors they want to be included. So far, none of these publishers has contacted me in person. But, let me assure you, it is only a matter of time.

Established authors from Neil Gaiman to Jeanette Winterson have been deliberately ignoring my blog, so put out are they by the fact that they will not be a part of this great, month-long celebration of newly-minted literature. Tough. That’s what you get for being part of the establishment. This one is for the kids.

The new authors. The fresh authors. The vibrant, energetic authors.

April is our month. And it’s your month too, readers. What a month awaits you.

Here are just some of the hot books by new authors that will be available to you. Six of the hottest, by six of the newest.

Taking Comfort.
The Manuscript.
Selfish Jean.
Across the Mystic Shore.
Dark Rain.

Got to shoot. The phone’s ringing. That’ll be Richard and Judy’s producer. Probably.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Okay, here’s my idea.

As you may have heard, National Novel Writing Month has just been and gone in a chemically-fuelled blaze of plotting and pacing (around the garret, that is). I didn’t take part myself, but I know a man who did.

That got me thinking. Why not have a month for fiction readers? Or, more specifically, for readers of novels and short story collections by new authors. I nominate the month of April, (which just happens to coincide with the release of my own novel, Taking Comfort, and the launch of the Macmillan New Writing imprint).

So, I hereby officially announce that from now on April is designated ‘Read A New Author Month’. Or RANAM. You saw it here first.

It doesn’t matter which book by which new author you read. Just so long as you take a chance on one of us. Hey, what have you got to lose? Remember, there are far riskier ways of spending your money.

There will be a helpline to ring for suggestions. New authors will be seen everywhere, signing books, giving readings. Impromptu reading groups will form in villages, towns and cities. There will be T-shirts. And stickers. And book marks. There may even be mugs. I don’t see why we can’t have mugs.

(Okay, I made all that stuff up, but if I can persuade some publishers to get behind it, why not?)

Most importantly, there will be books. Books by new authors. Of this I am certain. And that’s the most important thing.

The countdown to Read A New Author Month starts NOW!

Monday, December 05, 2005

More on the comparative risk of buying a book by a new writer.

Thinking of buying a new pair of shoes? Forget it. A book by a new writer is not only cheaper, it won’t rub the skin off your heel.

In fact, as ways of investing your time and money go, buying a book by a new writer has to be one of the least risky options open to you.

Don't put it on the horses. Put it on a book. Like this one. It’s by my fellow Macmillan New Writing author Michael Stephen Fuchs. I learn from his blog that both the hardback and paperback rights of his book The Manuscript have been sold in Russia! Way to go Michael. Kind of makes you think it must be a good book, eh, especially as things are looking very promising for the American rights sale too.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The lovely lady in Prospero’s Books.

I got the tip-off from my publisher that there was going to be something in The Bookseller today about Macmillan New Writing. Naturally, I was interested to check it out, but trying to get a copy of the UK book trade’s weekly bible from local newsagents’ proved to be something of a fool’s errand.

I tried the local library. Their copy had gone walkabout. The kindly librarian went walkabout too, to track it down. He eventually found the copy. But it was last week’s. I pretended to read it, because he had gone to so much trouble. It would have been rude to have said, ‘I don’t want this. I want today’s. I’m not in last week’s. I’m in today’s. Geddit?’ So I didn’t.

Feeling a little like that geezer JR Hartley in the old Yellow Pages ads, I ambled hopelessly along to my last hope. The local bookshop in Crouch End, Prospero’s Books.

‘Excuse me, do you have Fly Fishing by J.R. – I’m sorry, I mean, do you stock the Bookseller, by any chance,’ I said. (Apart from the JR Hartley bit.)

The lady smiled apologetically. ‘Well, we don’t actually stock it, but I have got today’s copy downstairs. Would you like to have a look?’

‘Oh, yes please, I, errr…’ (Oh, go for it, to hell with English reticence.) ‘It’s just I have a book coming out next year and someone told me there was an article in The Bookseller about it.’

Off she hurried, locking the till, thankfully removing that temptation from me. It might have soured future relations if I’d pilfered some cash while she was away.

In the bat of an eye she was back with the respected book trade journal. I took it from her with shaking hands. ‘It’s probably not in, you never know…’

But there it was. In the news section. Right at the front. Three covers shown, mine included. And my name and title along with all the others in the text.

So the lovely lady in the bookshop looks at the article and gets me to point out which is my book. She then takes a note of the title and my name, as well as the release date. ‘Well done!’ she says. And before I can stop her she tears the page from her copy and gives it to me.

I think I'm in there. I'm talking about the book getting in the shop, of course.