How to Launch a Book

Launching a ship requires a goodly crowd and a large bottle of champagne. Exactly the same principles apply to book launches, though without all the sea-water.  

Daunt Books, Hampstead Heath

I’ll skip the question of whether you “need” a physical launch. I didn’t have a launch for any of my non-fiction books, unless you count one publisher’s lavish effort with a bowl of peanuts and about three people.  

Here’s what I learned from the launch of my novel Hampstead Fever earlier this week.

1 My best tip: share the launch with another author. But no sailing under flags of convenience.  You must like the other author and their book.

I shared Wednesday evening at Daunt Books, Hampstead Heath, with my fellow author Christine Webber. It was her second novel and my second novel, and we’d both had around 12 non-fiction books published already. While Who’d Have Thought It? isn’t much like Hampstead Fever, it’s in the same genre and both make good summer reads.  

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2 Invite people because you like them, not just because they’re “useful”. The second type has a disconcerting habit of finding something more interesting to do on the night. Besides, you’re celebrating your achievements, so you should enjoy the proceedings.

3 Don’t be ill.  I got this terribly wrong last week. On the plus side, some people thought it was a clever marketing ploy.  “So,” said one waggish author friend. “I suppose you’ve got Hampstead Fever?”

4 Have plenty of food and drink. Especially drink.  If you can, have someone to serve people wearing white gloves. Class.

Fron L to R: me, Orna Roass, Jane Davis

From left to right: me, Orna Ross and Jane Davis

5 Take a pen. Of course you’ve already practised your authorial signature and worked out what to write by way of dedications, but something to write with does come in useful.

6 Get someone to take photos. Even better, ask several people, just in case. Make sure they capture the really important shots, eg with your family.

Christine with some friends

Christine Webber with some of her friends

7 Say a few words about yourself and your book.  You might mention the drawers full of unpublished masterpieces, or explain why you write instead of doing something easier, like transplant surgery. Thank key people, but remember it’s not an Oscar acceptance speech. Five to seven minutes will do, especially if more than one person speaks. Christine and I didn’t do readings, but many authors do. At a recent multiple launch, authors from the Triskele collective had others read excerpts aloud, to great effect.

7 Consider getting someone to introduce you and/or field questions from the audience. Someone might want to know how you write (“Is it true that you do your best writing in a rainy orchard with nothing on?”) or whether that scene is based on real life. On second thoughts, skip the questions.

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8 Consider merchandise (bookmarks, pencils and other trifles) or a draw for a book-related prize.  You could also have a slide-show or a book trailer running. The sky’s the limit, really, but it can become tacky, look desperate, or interfere with sheer enjoyment of the event.  

Concentrate on essentials like chilled fizz and plenty of copies of your book, and you’ll have a great send-off for your new title.

Pippa and Bethany of Daunt Books

Pippa and Bethany of Daunt Books

Just How Fictional is Fiction?

There’s a socking great disclaimer at the front of my novels.

“This is a work of fiction. All characters and events in this work, other than those clearly in the public domain, are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

The real bits should be obvious. All you have to do is check out Marylebone, or amble down Hampstead High Street.

Hampstead Butcher & Providore

I’ve made up almost all the rest. Not that readers believe authors’ protestations.

Friends and family are apt to dissect published novels with an eye on ‘real life’. Even Ian Fleming, I’m told, suffered from this problem. People don’t just ask “Am I in it?” They go straight for “Which character am I?” I have half a dozen friends who believe they’re the single mother from One Night at the Jacaranda, and one who still thinks she’s the femme fatale.

Waitrose Marylebone

“I’m Geoff,” insists my husband Jeremy. He has no discernible similarities with the doctor in my novels, though someone did once call him Geoffrey by mistake at a party.

Of course authors draw on reality when inventing their stories. Jane Davis says her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’. Her next book My Counterfeit Self was inspired by the plight of UK atomic war veterans. She even mentions many of them by name, but her book is still made up, and all the better for it, in my opinion.

Finnish author Helena Halme also uses the truth as a springboard for fiction. Her romantic series The Englishman is based on her own life story of meeting her Navy husband and moving to the UK. The prequel The Finnish Girl is now out, but, like the others in the series, reality has been fictionalized to provide the right pace and tension for a novel.

The Finnish Girl by Helena Halme

Fiction certainly benefits from an injection of fact. That’s what makes it relatable. I lost all faith in a story where the NHS doctor ‘worked shifts’. In those days, hospital doctors often worked a one-in-two rota. Going to work on Friday morning and not leaving till Monday evening was called many things, but a ‘shift’ it was not.

(I can’t help thinking a lot of non-fiction could do with a few facts too. Books on curing cancer with carrots really should move to the fantasy shelves, but that’s another story.)

A novelist invents stuff, but it needs to be right. While I can’t define ‘right’, I had to make that call with the image on the front of my forthcoming novel Hampstead Fever.  Cover designer Jessica Bell suggested adding a little red boat to the pond. The flash of red on the water seemed a delightful counterpoint to the red hat and red lipstick. But the pond in question is Hampstead Heath’s Number One Pond. Luckily one my sons, a local councillor, knows all about Hampstead’s ponds. As he explained, only the Model Boating Pond is a model boating pond. Cute as it was, my little boat had to be hauled out of the water.

Hampstead Fever

Being right is more about authenticity than fact. Being authentic, or so the Oxford dictionary puts it, includes

“Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”

Ain’t that the truth?

Heading for the Political Graveyard

As most readers know, London will elect a new mayor on May 5. One of the candidates will end up sitting pretty in City Hall while the others could be heading for the political graveyard.

Which is all the excuse I need to show you a few cemeteries and tombstones.

First up is Grover Cleveland, best known as the only president of the USA to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Grover Cleveland, Princeton Cemetery

Aaron Burr, the third vice-president of the USA, served alongside Thomas Jefferson. He shot dead his opponent Alexander Hamilton in a duel.  Burr died a nearly forgotten man. He’s now in Princeton Cemetery while Hamilton is on ten-dollar bills.

Aaron Burr, Princeton Cemetery

Not about to be forgotten any time soon is Karl Marx, buried in Highgate Cemetery.  Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery

Among the other notables nearby is Saad Saadi Ali, the Iraqi Communist leader, left-leaning even in death.

Saad Saadi Ali, Highgate Cemetery

I really like this memorial to Douglas Adams, also in Highgate Cemetery.  

Douglas Adams, Highgate Cemetery

Anyone know this more obscure writer, buried in St Brelade, Jersey?

St Brelade's churchyard, Jersey

Here lies the Swiss novelist, racing driver and pioneer of the anti-vivisection movement, Hans Ruesch.

Hans Ruesch, cimetiere du Petit-Saconnex, Geneva

If you’re a Londoner, remember to vote on Thursday.  

William Foyle, Highgate Cemetery

What You Can Do for London’s Lungs

Take a nice deep breath. For thousands of people living in London, that’s a luxury.  

FreeImages.com/Christina Papadopoullo

With its plethora of parks, our capital may be one of the greenest cities. But it’s also one of the most polluted. For the last five years, London has been in breach of EU safety limits on NO2.

I’ve noticed it getting worse. For an instant lesson in air quality, head for the outer reaches of one of the Tube lines and see how fresh the air feels when you step outside. 

Pollution isn’t just an irritant to the throat, nose, or eyes. It’s damaging to health, increasing the risk of lung cancer and chronic lung disease, and driving up hospital admission rates for those with pre-existing lung or heart disease.

FreeImages.com/Dave Kennard

Children’s lungs are most vulnerable, yet around 330,000 London kids go to school in areas with illegal levels of pollution.

Pollution has also been linked with damage during pregnancy, including low birth weight and pre-term birth.

I’ll cut a long story short: at least 9,500 deaths a year in London are linked with air pollution.

We may not have the pea-soupers of the 1950s that smothered London in soot and sulphur dioxide for days at a time. But we have a haze of small particles, especially PM2.5s, along with the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide NO(not to be confused with laughing gas because this one isn’t funny).

FreeImages.com/Simon Gray

PM2.5s are fine particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. They come from things like motor vehicles, power plants, and wood-burning, and they’re harmful because they’re small enough to reach the deepest recesses of the lungs.

Nitrous oxide comes largely from diesel cars, lorries, and buses. It follows that pollution is worse near busy roads, which is often where less advantaged families live. But even short-term exposure to air pollution can damage.

Why am I banging on about it now?

Because on May 5, London elects a new Mayor. As a parent, a doctor, and a Londoner, I whole-heartedly support The British Lung Foundation’s #Londonlungs campaign. It calls for the next Mayor and Assembly members to prioritise lung health.

FreeImages.com/Andrew Rigby

So much could be done, from tree and hedge planting schemes to improving transport strategy and extending the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) eastwards – where there’s a lot of deprivation and air pollution.

You too can help by getting on board and asking all the mayoral candidates whether they pledge to protect Londoner’s lungs. You could also share the campaign on social media with the hashtag #Londonlungs.

FreeImages.com/Adam Ciesielski

What else can you do?

There are obvious individual steps to help protect the lungs and heart, like not smoking.

Driving less, for instance by sharing cars or using public transport, helps drive down vehicle emissions. If you’re buying or leasing a car, choose a low-emission model.

Take the longer route on foot or cycle via a less polluted area if you can. You may be interested in the Clean Space app

The British Lung Foundation has some great tips for when air pollution levels are very high. You can find them here

 

The London Book Fair #LBF16

After three days of the London Book Fair, I’ve unpacked my memories and my bags of freebies. All the usual suspects were there, such as bowls of sweeties on the stands, people in unsuitable footwear, and long queues for overpriced sandwiches.

Olympia is vast, but every corner of every hall was filled.

#LBF16

Can you spot land-locked Switzerland?

Grand Hall, LBF16

Books Are My Bag grows bigger by the year.

Books Are My Bag at LBF16

The PEN Literary Salon was a popular destination, especially when the Julian Fellowes entertained with talk of Downton Abbey, his new venture Belgravia, and the eternal truths of writing (eg ‘The trick of life is to be undisappointing’).

Julian Fellowes at PEN, #LBF16

While there’s always an Author of the Day programme, authors are not the main focus of the book fair, even if publishers would find it hard to create many books without them.

Still, there was a goodly contingent of authors, including many independent authors.

Alison Morton, Helena Halme, Jessica Bell, Jane Davis, Peter Snell, Sue Moorcroft, Karen Inglis, Carol Cooper, Roz Morris,

On Tuesday, Alison Morton launched Insurrectio. If you think I missed off an N, you need to get acquainted with her Roma Nova series. 

Alison Morton launching Insurrectio at LBF16

While authors come in all shapes and sizes, there are sometimes uncanny similarities. 

3 literary sisters

Not literally sisters, but literary sisters. In the middle is Helena Halme who writes The Englishman series. Her latest title, The Finnish Girl, is out today. Children’s author Karen Inglis is on the right.

Author HQ may have been relegated to the back of the venue, but it was as packed as ever.

Audience at Author HQ, LBF16

The fair is now over, the final stragglers shepherded out by tannoy at 5pm on Thursday. But today indie authors can attend the Indie Author Fringe here.

And it’s only 11 months to go till #LBF17.

Why should I go to the London Book Fair?

As I look forward to next week’s London Book Fair, I realize I haven’t got a notebook, my comfy shoes need re-heeling, and I’ve been so busy editing that I haven’t properly checked out what’s on, let alone printed my badge. So I think fellow author Sue Moorcroft’s advice is very timely. Here it is, fresh from her blog with my thanks.

Sue Moorcroft blog

2015-04-14 12.13.44At about this time each year, writers begin to discuss whether they’re going to, or should be going to, the London Book Fair. I’ve been an attendee for years and always enjoy it but if a writer asks if they ‘should’ be going to the Fair I usually say ‘Not unless you want to’.

Here are some of the things that LBF isn’t:

  • a place to pitch to agents and editors (unless you’re an invited finalist a ‘Dragon’s Den’-type competition or an agent or editor has invited you to meet her or him there specifically to pitch. I have never heard of this latter thing happening)
  • a book shop
  • a venue in which to sell copies of your book, unless you’ve paid for a stand in order to do so
  • free to attend (unless you count your publisher/fairy godmother paying for your ticket as ‘free’)
  • a madly comfortable place

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How to Conjure up a Title for a Book

Newsflash for TS Eliot: it’s not just the naming of cats that’s a difficult matter. Books are equally tricky.old-books1

If you’re traditionally published, you may not need to give it much thought. One of my books was born with the zingy title of Twins and Multiple Births with barely any input from me.  I can’t really complain. It may be low on pizzazz but it’s a fair description of the contents.

Twins & Multiple Births book

But now that I am nearing the end of my second novel, and the cover design is imminent, I’ve come to the conclusion that Camden Passage isn’t after all right for a racy story about dating in London. Camden Passage is in Islington, not in Camden. It’s a stylish destination for shopping and eating out, but still, could the address confuse non-Londoners?

lighting shop in Camden Passage

For American readers, the potential for confusion is far greater. Camden, New Jersey, is often cited as one of the poorest and most violent cities in the USA. It was no doubt an ideal venue for President Obama to announce his new police initiative last year, but it’s about as far from a classy location as you can get.

Now I’ve abandoned Camden Passage, I’m left with various techniques for finding a new title for my novel.

1 Book title generators like Fantasy Name Generators, Adazing’s book title generator, and a fun blog post by Tara Sparling.

2 Asking friends and family.

3 Talking to other authors.

4 Polling readers of existing books. There’s the title bracket system described by Nathan Roten in his blog post for ALLi.

5 Going to a quiet bar and staying till the barman comes up with a suggestion.

6 Aiming a dart at the dictionary.

7 Subverting well-known titles.

bookshelf crop

I’ve already tried some of these methods. With a dry January, number 5 won’t fly, and I didn’t quite gel with If Clouds Could Steal, suggested by one of the title generators, but polling writer friends and readers remains an idea.

As a journalist, I think bending well-known titles appeals to me more, and that might inject just the right note to hint at the wit within the pages.

The reading world already has Aberystwyth Mon Amour and A Year in Cricklewood.  On that basis, Much Ado about Something Quite Serious makes perfect sense to me.

I can also foresee shelf space for gems like The Ice Triplets, Bonfire of the VAT Receipts, Breakfast at Lidl’s and Great Expectorations (set in a TB hospital in the 1950s).

Hampstead is the scene for much of the action in my novel. Might Hampstead for Dummies work?

FreeImages.com/Grant Kennedy

Hmm. Not convinced. But I rather like Hampstead Handyman which conveys a certain amount of action. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to fulfil its promise unless, as a friend suggested, I actually write a handyman into the story.

Those who can’t decide on a single name for their baby sometimes string all their favourites together as middle names for their little darling. You know the type: the newborn son or daughter saddled with the names of the entire football squad.

That may explain how Tom Wolfe got the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby. Though strictly speaking this was a car, not a baby.

So here I am at the start of the year and the end of my novel, my head spinning with title possibilities, all of them still wide of the mark. 

FreeImages.com/baronsboy

If you’re an author, how do you choose your book titles? I’d love to hear from you.

Why Do Authors Love Setting Novels in London?

There are a zillion places to set a novel, even more if you include locations that don’t exist yet, but this side of the pond London is at the top of the list.

It’s no surprise that London’s attractions shape my writing: I was born in the capital, and after a junket of a decade or two came back here to live and work. But even if you’re not a Londoner there are plenty of good reasons to set your action there.

Abbey Road crossing

1 Things happen all the time in London: knife crime, break-ins, births in hospital carparks. So you can slip in a fictional car-crash or multiple murder and it won’t seem nearly as odd as it might in a dozy village.

2 London is incredibly romantic, even in the rain. That means lots of places for your characters to wander arm in arm in Highgate cemetery, should you wish them to. 

Highgate cemetery

Or, if you prefer, to argue on the top of Primrose Hill.

Primrose Hill

3 Everyone knows something about London. Its iconic features can be used as a kind of shorthand, such as the Tower, the London Eye, and the Tube. However, if you want to include real detail, there’s no substitute for the author joining the melée and checking it out.

Tower of London, field of poppies

4 Medieval buildings can be found all over the place, including smack dab by Big Ben.

© Elvis Santana (tome213)

Then again, there’s no shortage of great new architecture, and more to come, judging from the number of cranes.

The Shard, London

5 It’s very green. Should your characters wish to stretch their legs, or their children’s, offer them Regent’s Park, Clapham Common, or perhaps just a walk by the Thames. Time it right, and they can watch Tower Bridge open.

Tower Bridge

6 London is very diverse, with some parts that are distinctly upmarket, like trendy Marylebone, where my novel One Night at the Jacaranda kicks off.

Waitrose, Marylebone High Street

I’ve also included Edgware Road, where you’d be hard put to find any newspapers that aren’t in Arabic.

There, groceries spill out onto the pavement, with watermelons as big as Beirut, and shiny aubergines, pearly white onions and wrinkly green things that I’ve forgotten the name for, all lying with fat bunches of sweet-smelling herbs.

On the street there are always clusters of young men in T-shirts and jeans, standing on corners as they shout into mobiles or talk urgently with their hands, and, during the annual Saudi summer invasion, streams of women with pushchairs, most of them in a black abaya, some veiled so you could only see their eyes. They glide by, with their Fendi handbags and large retinues of children, while older men sit outside cafés and juice bars, smoking shisha. The men stared hard at passers-by, at any passing Mercedes. They have nothing else to do.

No surprise my next novel is also set in London.

Royal Albert Hall

7 It’s full of characters, like the woman walking down Finchley Road with a black bin liner under her hat. And when I say walking down Finchley Road, I mean in the middle of the bus lane. Or the man in Goodge Street dressed from head to foot as an African grey parrot. This being London, nobody gives either of them a second glance.

8 Finally, consider the US market: to Americans, London IS Britain.

 

What the Dalai Lama Didn’t Say

As invitations from a financial adviser go, this one was a tad unusual. But I was looking forward to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to say about compassion.

We’d been to the O2 Arena before. As I passed the famous balls at the entrance, I wondered: where on the spectrum between Monty Python and Ed Sheeran would this ageing religious rock star fit in?

blue balls in O2 entrance

I’d never met His Holiness, as he is called, but I’ve been on first name terms with one of his dogs. As a teenager, I earned pin money walking Chota Peg, a Lhasa Apso given by the Dalai Lama himself to a neighbour of ours. The breed’s distinguishing feature as far as a 13-year old dog walker is concerned is that its back end looks just like its front, which may explain why I never knew which way we were going.

Now, what to wear to hear His Holiness at the O2? My son assured us that the Dalai Lama would surely be content if we rolled up in yellow sheets, but the good people in hospitality would probably expect us to be in clothes.

So, clothes it was.

Protesters formed a tidy encampment outside the venue.

protest against 'False Dalai Lama'

I can’t fault the O2, especially if you’re hungry or thirsty. We poked our heads into the VIP lounge which has a 70s vibe and possibly the best Bloody Marys in the world, though that wasn’t what we’d come for.

VIP lounge at O2

The Dalai Lama’s warm-up acts were an amazing singer and a young choir. In appreciation, His Holiness bestowed garlands and pats on the head. There’d have been suspicions had he been a Catholic priest or an iconic DJ.

The real disappointment of the day was the Dalai Lama’s address. Martin Luther King he wasn’t. And I should know

The audience was there to hear about compassion as the foundation of well-being. But the man was rambling and inaudible, and, without surtitles à la Glyndebourne, almost incomprehensible. Was the sound system at fault? We cupped our ears, straining to catch the words, trying hard to work out which way he was going.

I’ve heard that HH has spoken eloquently on many occasions. Saturday was not one of them. The unstructured address was punctuated by his trademark chuckling at his own jokes. The question and answer session at the end was even worse. If this was the poster boy for peace and harmony, no surprise the world is in such a mess.  

However the day was not a total loss. The weather was kind and we’d met some interesting people at the event. Fortified by vodka and friendship, we went on the Emirates Air Line

cable car

It’s only a ten minute journey in a cable car, during which you can see Docklands and indeed much of London clearly, including the City and the Thames Barrier. I watched the Thames flow, barges glide past, people amble, trains roll by. 

view of O2 and Docklands

We got off at Victoria Docks and visited the Oiler, a bar on a barge. Next to it, people squeezed themselves into wetsuits and tried out water-skiing.

The Oiler, Docklands

It’s a good place to sit and reflect on peace, and on where to find it.

ooOoo

Easy tweet: What the Dalai Lama Didn’t Say at the O2 http://wp.me/p3uiuG-14C @DrCarolCooper strains to hear him

You may also like:  Dalai Lama says female successor must be ‘very, very attractive’ otherwise she is ‘not much use’; in Times of India.

 

Seven Reasons Why August Sucks

While the name ‘August’ comes from the Latin for dignity or grandeur, the reality is somewhat different.  Yes, it’s still high summer, but when you compare it to its neighbours June and July, I don’t think the month of August makes the grade. Here’s why:

1 The days are already noticeably shorter. As if that’s not bad enough, the weather thinks it’s October.

Rain by Valentina Degiorgis

2 You can’t move for tourists in London. Have you been to Marble Arch lately? It’s heaving. Luckily I know just enough Arabic to move dawdling visitors out of the way.

And in Cambridge, there are even bigger queues to get into the colleges. As here.

Clare College gardens

And here. 

queue at Kings College Chapel

Even more competitive than it is for prospective students, it seems.

Clare College gardens

3 It’s the silly season for news. That’s why the papers carry stories about donkeys rescued from seven-feet deep storm drains.

rescued donkey

And stories about Morris dancers having a punch-up with blind footballers. If you’re wondering, that one’s a spoof.

The biggest silly story of all? Must be the Labour party’s leadership contest. 

4 Kids in Scotland are already back at school. They’ve given up pretending it’s still the holidays.

5 When the August bank holiday weekend is over, that’s it. There are no more official holidays until Christmas. And any minute now, Christmas merchandise will hit the shops.

by Raquel Santos

6 It’s high season for kittens. In north-west London, the Mayhew Animal Home’s kitten cabins are overrun with furry bundles that need forever homes. Can you help? 

posed by model. photo by Roger Heykoop

7 Everyone is away (except for tourists). If you’re an adult, your inbox is full of automated away messages. If you’re a child, there’s nobody around to come to your birthday. I should know. Mine’s tomorrow. Are you going to be there? Thought not.

Roll on September.

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Easy tweet: 7 Reasons Why August Sucks http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13z according to @DrCarolCooper