Is There Such a Thing as Awesome Free Stuff?

Can you really get awesome stuff for free?

Course not, silly! As a smarty-pants friend always reminds me, the preposition ‘for’ is redundant here, and ‘for free’ is incorrect.  But I just threw it in for, like, free.

I’ll keep this short because you may need time to hunt for free stuff (see how ‘for free’ is correct here, Ms Smarty Pants?).  Here’s what I bagged this week.

1 The best thing was this bike, courtesy of a lovely friend of mine.

Universal Ladies' Bicycle

I hadn’t cycled since my teens, but, with a bit of encouragement, off I wobbled.  As well as the bike, I got three bonus bruises and a grazed elbow. Yep, this could be the gift that goes on giving.

2 Advice from a hairdresser.

Thanks to a cut-and-blow-dry on Wednesday, I’ve absorbed a ton of knowledge. Did you know acupuncture could cure hair loss? I got so much free info that I may have to start a new blog. Maybe haircourse.wordpress.com or headteacherblogspot.co.uk.  

3 Two free pillows from a bedding shop.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, there was a snag. You had to be in Geneva to get them.

Geneva, Switzerland

4  The Indie Author Fair at Foyles.

It’s a free event at the iconic Foyles bookshop in central London, with loads of indie books, authors, and refreshments. Who wouldn’t want to be there? It’s on Friday April 17 from 16:30 to 19:30, so it’s still up for grabs. It’s unticketed, and did I mention it’s free?

Indie Author Fair 2015 at Foyles

Whether you go or not, you can also enter a free draw for a huge number of prizes, including an awesome digital swag bag from the OUTSIDE THE BOX team. It includes a novel, music, a printable “Reading is Bliss” poster, inspiring wallpapers for your desktop, phone or Facebook, and all manner of playful surprises. You can enter the draw right here.

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEG (1)See? There are awesome things to enjoy for free.

 

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Is Researching a Book Better than Sex?

Some authors say that research is the best bit about writing. I’ve never believed that. What’s so great about spending long hours in the stacks at the library, or ages trawling the internet to find out what people had for dinner in 17th century Crete?

reference library

But now that I write fiction, research has taken on a whole new hue. I wouldn’t say it’s better than sex, even if in some cases it IS sex. Here’s a rundown of some recent endeavours.

1 Intel gathering for a steamy bathroom scene.

steamy bathroom scene

Is it possible for the earth to move while scrubbing lime-scale off the taps?  Everything had to be just so: a non-slip bathmat, a filthy dirty bathtub (this takes months), and of course the right bathroom cleaner.

Cillit Bang

2 The front seat of the Mini scene. If a couple feel inclined to bonk in their Mini near a lighthouse in Norfolk, can they do so without tearing an Armani suit or a ligament? We may never know for sure. Thanks, man who rapped on the window to say, “Ere, lost me mobile. Can I borrow yours?”

Mini Cooper S

3 The Gents at the hospital. There’s a scene in my work-in-progress where a character has to rinse his tackle in the loo at Watford General Hospital. I couldn’t do this one on my own, but the great thing about being married is all those vows. My other half is an honest guy, so he takes such things seriously.

However, it proved not to be so simple. The water was either freezing cold or boiling hot, and the hand dryers were at the wrong height. Besides, who’d actually dip his bits into a Dyson Airblade?

Dyson Airblade hand dryer

4 Undercover underwear work. Hopefully this quiet day would keep me on the right side of the law. St Michael may be the patron saint of underwear. They’ve even made briefs with the word Gentleman woven into the elastic, just like the Diesel ones say Diesel. But John Lewis has the range of men’s kecks I needed for my research. So there I was, checking out the feel and, more important, the scent of the fabrics used in boxers, briefs, budgie-smugglers, front-loaders, posing pouches and thongs.

Pierre Cardin knitted briefs

As I crumpled the waistbands and studied the gussets, I managed to side-step six shop assistants, or, as John Lewis calls them, partners. Unfortunately I didn’t spot one of my patients who was shopping for Y-fronts. He caught me with my nose up a pair of Calvin Klein trunks (low-rise, if you want to know). It’s funny, but he hasn’t made an appointment to see me since.

5 Bridge over troubled water. It used to be so easy to climb in and out of King’s College, Cambridge after the back gate was locked.

King's College Cambridge bridge (1819)

But what about now, after they’ve added extra ironwork as a deterrent?  As I found out, there’s a very real risk of losing your footing and falling into a deep and murky ditch, especially if you’re 40 years older than the last time you did this.

I tried to think calming thoughts.

Keep Calm.You're in Cambridge

This is hard when a couple of tourists are standing over you, offering to ring an ambulance. A passing medical student thought an air ambulance would be more appropriate. Perhaps he hoped Prince William might pitch up.  What got me out of the ditch in the end was a snooty college porter, incensed that I was doing my research on his patch.

6 An overnight stay in a bookshop.

bookshop

Luckily I didn’t have to do this myself, or enlist any of my family, as an American tourist did exactly that in late 2014.

Right. That’s it. From now on, I’m doing all my research on Twitter. Though I will miss my husband.

***

I’ll be at the Indie Author Fair at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on April 17, and so will lots of other authors. Why not come in, see their books, and maybe ask them about their research? The event is free.

Indie Author Fair

Self-Published Authors, eh? What Are They LIKE?

Unless you’ve been in Siberia for the last few years, you’ll know that publishing has changed with the rise of self-publishing.  Indie authors, self-published authors, author-publishers – call them what you will. Their distinguishing feature is that their books bypass mainstream publishing houses.

Some publish themselves in the strict sense of the word, while others use small publishing outfits. What are they like?  ALLi LBF14

A number are hybrids like me: my non-fiction is traditionally published for good reasons. I can’t see a textbook for medical students gaining much traction without the backing of educational big guns like Wiley-Blackwell. On the other hand, I’m very happy self-publishing my fiction like my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.

One thing to make clear: self-publishing is not vanity publishing, where someone is so desperate to appear in print that they exchange a fat cheque and an unreadable MS for a garage full of books nobody wants to buy.   garage full of unsold books

Authors go the indie route for various motives. Most often there’s the desire to have full control over their work: the cover, the blurb, the price, the royalty rate, the timing of publication and so on. As Orna Ross, director of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), says, indie authors “see themselves as the creative director of their books, from inspiration to publication.

Orna at London Book Fair 2014

Orna Ross at London Book Fair 2014

When you read a book by an indie author, you’re getting what the writer intended.  If you’ve never come across a book by an author-publisher, you’re probably thinking “What, typos and all?”

No, of course not. That’s because ‘self-publishing’ is something of a misnomer – it takes a team to make a book the best it can be.

You can self-publish all on your own without spending a cent, but you need a bit more to produce a quality product fit for discerning readers (and your English teacher from college).

If you haven’t come across any of the 18m self-published books bought in the UK last year, you may still be thinking of indie-authored fare as pale imitations of ‘proper’ books.

Like, say, a cut-price Ian McEwan or a downmarket version of a Julian Barnes. Or maybe a Maggie O’Farrell with spelling mistakes. A Ruth Rendell minus the mystery. Gone Girl without any suspense. Perhaps even Jeanette Winterson with random capitals and grocers’ apostrophes. You know the type: potatoe’s, lettuce’s, Orange’s aRE Not The Only FRuit.   farmers' marketAs it happens, more than one commentator describes the indie scene as a literary farmers’ market (see posts by JJ Marsh  and Lynne Pardoe.

Tesco they’re not. These authors are individuals and they provide fare you can’t easily find elsewhere.

So it’s tough to generalise about what they’re like. Indies are poets, thriller writers, romantic novelists, and a lot more, but some things unite them.

Jane Davis' novel 'I Stopped Time'

Jane Davis’ novel ‘I Stopped Time’

  • Their books may defy genre, which is one reason why they may not sit well in a supermarket.  You’ll see what I mean if you check out the work of Dan Holloway, Orna Ross, Rohan Quine or Alison Morton). 
  • Author-publishers relish the control they have over their own work. They may have turned indie after their publisher insisted on changing the title of their book, or made the titling pink and loopy to shoe-horn it onto the chick-lit shelf.
  • They know readers deserve first-rate content and presentation, so they’re increasingly professional. The best author-published books are on a par with high-end products from big publishers.  And many of them have accolades that say so.
  • That’s because they take it on themselves to produce books with care, but they do so with the help of editors, designers, beta-readers and so on. No author, even an indie author, is an island.
  • As you might have guessed by now, they’re not all sitting by the phone waiting for one of the Big Six to call.  But indies aren’t all fed up with traditional publishing either.
  • Most write for love. Indie authorship is not a get-rich-quick scheme, though some have done spectacularly well.

I think all this choice makes it a very exciting time to be a reader.

So, what are indie authors like? Come and see. You’ll find about 40 of them at the Indie Author Fair in Chorleywood, Herts on November 16.

Indie Author Fair 2014

 You may also like to read this informative book from the Alliance of Independent Authors which gives a great overview: Opening Up to Indie Authors.