Archive | July 2013

Demolition Dreams

Back when I was a very little boy, I dreamt of being a farmer. Don’t ask me why. Since then, I’ve done a few different jobs – journalist, fruit picker, barman, gardener, teacher…

Today, though, I think I would absolutely love to be the person pressing the button on this job:

It’s strange because I’m a creative kind of guy in many ways. On the other hand, there’s something about explosions and destruction that appeals to my inner chaos demon…

That’s one of the beauties of being an author though. You can get all sorts of vicarious thrills – like blowing up buildings – by putting your characters into situations that you know (or pray) will never happen to you.

With Findo Gask my protagonist is a thief. His life is not easy but he carries out all sorts of daring exploits for which I’d personally never have the nerve – using a bungee jump for a jewellery heist, clinging beneath a moving armoured truck, stealing the proceeds of a major drugs deal.

For Pagan’s Sphinx, I sent my hero into the wilds of the Sahara to look for an ancient statue – and set a gang of armed thieves on his trail.

In my other books, characters have had to cope with everything from serial killers to school bullies. I’ve even written about a black female police officer who’s moved from a multicultural urban upbringing to a senior post in a predominantly white part of rural England.

Hopefully my characters are convincing in their actions and mannerisms!

But that’s the wonderful part of writing stories – and one of the reasons I don’t think I could ever stop – the enormous fun you can have living someone else’s life. What else should I try?

PS I love the name of the company blowing up the chimney. Brown And Mason… BAM!

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Ruthless

I’m in the process of moving house and yet again I’m reminded of the pointlessness of many of the possessions we accumulate during our lives.

Why do we do it? What is this instinct to hoard memorabilia and souvenirs that have no real purpose?

Oh little pig of inspiration!

Oh little pig of inspiration!

For the past six years or so, our house in Cornwall was rented out to tenants while Carolyn and I gadded about teaching in Portugal, riding a tandem around the world and generally escaping from responsibility and ties.

Now, though, we’re back in the UK and it made no sense getting rent for a house we owned in one part of the country while we paid to live in somebody else’s. The only winners were the agents and tax people.

So, having just exchanged contracts on the house in Truro, me and Carolyn drove down to Cornwall over the weekend to clear out the loft, which still contained an assortment of our belongings.

It was quite a task. There was just so much… stuff! Boxes and boxes of it. Maybe it’s partly because of my age. I’m 47 and I’ve done quite a few things and have been to quite a lot of places. Lots of opportunities to accumulate ‘stuff’. But do I need it?

There were bits of furniture and furnishings, boxes of photo albums, maps and guidebooks, board games, travel souvenirs, childhood mementos, spare bedding, framed pictures and photos, hi-fi equipment, my old computer… etc, etc.

I also found stacks and stacks of old writing. Some of it was printouts of different versions of my novels, sometimes with scribbled notes and corrections. I also found lots of tatty exercise books – dating back to as long ago as 1980 – full of teenage poems, thoughts and bits of stories.

Now, if I was a really famous author, maybe I could set up the ‘Huw Thomas Library’ and academics could pore over my adolescent musings and see how my writing has developed over the decades. But I’m not in that league and to be honest I’m far too busy trying to finish my latest novel. I haven’t got time to be embarrassed by the things I wrote when I was full of hormones and anxiety.

I have kept a small selection of finished ‘works’ but most of it went straight into the paper recycling skip.

We also had boxes and boxes of books, many of them good. But I’ve read them all before. I could re-read some of them again but there are so many other stories out there. I’ve already got more books on my Kindle than I have time to read – and they take up much less space!

There were also all those mementos and souvenirs. Glancing at some of them did bring back memories. But do I really need ‘things’ to make my brain remember? After all, if I can’t remember an event or occasion without something physical to prompt me then maybe it wasn’t so special after all.

There’s only room for so much stuff in our lives. Or in a two-bedroom house with limited storage space.

One van-load of stuff went straight to the tip/recycling depot. Most of it, though, has been brought back up to Hampshire and put into storage before we move into our new house. We’ve got good intentions of going through a lot of the boxes and weeding it down further. Whether we will or not is another matter.

The thing is, when we were living in Portugal we had a rented flat and we couldn’t take more possessions than would fit into our car. When we were on our year-long cycling trip, we had to fit everything – including camping gear – into four cycle panniers and our trailer.

Having spent quite a few hours over the weekend lugging all that ‘stuff’ out of the loft and into the van, I quite miss that clutter-free life. I want to be ruthless and get rid of more!

But sometimes it’s difficult. I don’t think I could get rid of all my photos. There’s also my full set of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica – all 35 volumes of it… oh, and the nine-volume 10th edition that supplemented it. They’re so marvelously out of date but full of all kinds of esoterica. Although they are quite heavy!

And as for the little pig? Well, about 20 years ago, my brother and his wife came to visit me at my first house, up in Cumbria, and my little nephew Owen left this pig on my hearth. For many years the pig lived next to my computer along with a small dragon and a piece of coral!

I wanted to be ruthless but for some reason I couldn’t throw away the pig. Maybe I should post him back to Owen – now a university student in New Zealand!

Editorial Correspondence: More Answers I Cannot Send

Wonderfully insane sanity. Read, chortle and snigger.
I particularly love the conclusion to the one about words that are misspelt…

harm·less drudg·ery

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your comments on the etymology of “Lego.” Sadly, we cannot say whether “Lego” stems from the Latin legere, nor whether, in naming their plastic blocks, the makers of Lego intended to call to mind Augustine of Hippo’s conversion to Christianity, in which he hears a child’s voice calling “tolle, lege.” We are merely dictionary publishers–the very antithesis of beloved toymakers. I would, however, wager that Lego is not intended to call to mind St. Augustine, particularly since Lego is a Danish company, and you no doubt think Europeans are all godless nihilists (though you can’t beat their godless, nihilistic public transportation).

——————

Dear Ma’am:

We are sorry that you are having trouble accessing the Internet, but I doubt it is because our website killed the Internet. The Internet, as you may know, is a series of tubes that are cats all the…

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Let’s Have ‘Royal Idol’

So, some (still nameless) baby boy is now third in line to the British throne and one day could be head of the Commonwealth, commander in chief of our armed forces, inherit some of the best palaces in the country etc, etc…

I just don’t get it. How do we know if he’s going to be any good at the job?

I mean, what if this little boy turns out to be rubbish at diplomacy or a complete pacifist? What if he converts to Buddhism, doesn’t like flying or is allergic to garden parties? How will he fit in then?

My idea – which fits much better into this modern celeb-dominated world of ours – is to introduce the concept of ‘Royal Idol’!

It’s like democracy but better. We get Simon Cowell and Lord Sugar to host it. Anyone who fancies being the next monarch has to perform a variety of tasks in front of a live audience and demonstrate how they would handle being King or Queen.

We could start with public nominations in order to come up with a short list. Then maybe set a few conditions, like insisting candidates have to have already proved themselves in some area of public life. (Otherwise, we’ll end up with all kinds of silly nominations like ‘my mum/favourite dinner lady/football coach’ etc.)

The future King Terry I

The future King Terry I?

I’m thinking more of people like Discworld creator Sir Terry Pratchett for services to literature, looking cool and advocating euthanasia in such an intelligent fashion.

Plus he’s already got a knighthood so that must make him respectable. King Terry… sounds good, huh?

Or how about Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams. Imagine having a woman boxer as Queen! She’s got a wonderful smile and bubbles with enthusiasm. She’d look great on our stamps and I reckon she’d make a charming host at all those Buckingham Palace garden parties.

Plus she could turn round to people like Robert Mugabe and tell him he’s a thuggish despot without running the risk of being called a racist.

Or could it be Queen Nicola of the Golden Gloves?

Could it be Queen Nicola of the Golden Gloves?

Of course, if we’re going to be really radical, we could open the contest to all the citizens of the Commonwealth and make the monarchy really inclusive and multicultural. (Sorry, no Americans allowed: you threw your toys out of the pram a few centuries ago when you decided to get all republican on us.)

I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for (crush on) Freida Pinto since Danny Boyle bought us Slumdog Millionaire. 

Or are there any votes for Queen Frieda?

Or are there any votes for Queen Frieda?

Just think how good it would be for international relations and world harmony if we expanded the Royal Idol franchise to include all Commonwealth citizens – the TV ratings would be HUGE!

Of course, getting a line-up of eligible celebs would only be the first stage. Then we’d have to put them through their paces. What kind of tasks would we need? So many options…

To make it interesting, though, we could go old school. At the end of each round of the contest, the candidate with the least votes from the TV viewers gets beheaded! (Or at the very least imprisoned in the Tower of London.)

This is only some early thoughts but I think this is a much more logical way to go. Any more suggestions?

Oh yeah… Thin Ice is free on Kindle for the rest of today if anyone wants to download a copy of my ‘crime thriller with a paranormal twist’. For the link to Amazon, click here.

The Spice Of Life

Variety, they say, is the spice of life. In which case, my working week has been particularly flavoursome!

Since coming back to the UK nearly a year ago, I’ve been juggling a number of different occupations in order to earn my daily bread (and stay freelance).

This week combined three of my current careers – teaching, gardening and journalism.

I spent Monday teaching English to four classes at a language school in Bournemouth. That was a long day but I enjoyed having a roomful of students from different countries. Quite a contrast from the previous six weeks when – for several days a week – my only student was an 11-year-old Saudi boy.

One-to-one teaching can be more productive but it’s also very intense and quite hard work. Particularly when it turns out your student has ADHD! (Wasn’t told that until week three but at least it explained why it was hard getting him to focus and I didn’t worry quite so much about our rate of progress afterwards.)

On Tuesday I spent four hours digging a pond for a gardening client. Not so much brain power required – just gallons of water to drink as it was extremely hot, particularly after meeting the compacted flints about 18″ down.

Wednesday I really went back to my roots, working as a sub-editor for our local newspaper. It was a bit strange being there – journalism was my first career but this was my first time working in a newsroom for about 15 years.

However, newspaper sub-editing isn’t that dissimilar to editing a novel. The content is different but a lot of the same basic rules still apply – getting the punctuation, grammar and story structure correct is crucial. Unnecessary words are also ruthlessly eradicated.

Every newspaper also has its own linguistic and stylistic quirks. Which is why one of the the first things I was given was a copy of the paper’s style guide. Maybe it’s something every writer should have – as a reader I can cope when writers break ‘rules’ but they’ve got to be consistent or else it’s just sloppy.

Today I finished the pond.

During my unpaid hours I’ve also managed to devote some time to my career as a writer. Part of that was tied up with phoning the IRS in the States so I can get an exemption certificate and persuade Amazon to pay me all of my royalties rather than withholding 30%. (Huge thanks to Samantha Holt for letting me know I didn’t need to waste a day going to the US embassy in London!)

Hopefully, once Amazon get my letter, I should get all my royalties. The next step is some paid promotion for a couple of my books in a bid to get sales back up. (Didn’t seem quite so much point when I wasn’t getting all my money).

And – hurrah! – I’ve also got a reasonable bit of writing done this week. Now on the last main scene of White Rabbits

So. Got to dash, there’s a showdown to write.

5 Book Marketing Myths You Need To Forget – Guest Post by Joanna Penn

Excellent advice from two very valuable sources!

David Gaughran

bookmarketingframeAnyone familiar with Joanna Penn’s blog – The Creative Penn – will know what an excellent resource it is for writers, particularly on marketing, where she regularly offers no-nonsense advice that actually works.

When I heard she was writing a book on marketing, I was eager to see what she would come up with, and managed to wangle an advance copy.

How To Market A Book is a comprehensive guide to book marketing, with a much wider scope than something like my own Let’s Get Visible. I can see it being particularly useful for those who are struggling to get to grips with marketing (or to fit it into their busy schedule), but I think everyone could get something from it (including traditionally published authors).

The book takes a holistic approach, covering short term marketing like book reviews and ad sites, as well as longer term marketing like author…

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Summer Strutting

And as it’s such a glorious day, how about some real summer sounds?

Found this lot via a FB recommendation from my second cousin (who’s also a guitarist!).

Is This Summer?

We’ve had so many wash-outs in this country recently that expectations are pretty low when it comes to British summers.

But we’ve woken yet again to blue skies, flowers out everywhere, birds tweeting happily… and Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final this afternoon!

Morning view of The Needles.

Morning view of The Needles.

Hurst Spit stretching off into the morning sun.

Hurst Spit stretching off into the morning sun.

Sea poppies.

Sea poppies.

Trouble is, when the sun’s shining from 5am to 9.20pm, it can be hard to make myself pull the curtains and shut myself away with my laptop to work on the final chapter of my new book!

Death & Taxes

There’s an old saying about only two things being certain in life. Sadly, literary success isn’t one of them and neither is an easy life – particularly when dealing with bureaucrats.

One of the most wonderful and simultaneously worst things about being an indie author is that you are in charge of everything.

As many others have already discovered, writing the book is only a minor skirmish in the ongoing campaign to get your book out there and selling copies on a significant level.

I’m currently trying to battle my way through the US tax system – and I’m a Brit!

The trouble is, Amazon is withholding 30% of my income (from their North American sites) as I haven’t yet proved to them that I’m a taxpaying UK citizen and – as we have a tax treaty with the US – should get 100% of my royalties and then pay tax over here.

It’s not an easy process.First of all I need to get what’s called an ITIN from the US revenue service.

Now, you’d think (ha, ha) that Amazon/KDP might provide some useful advice so I had a look at their FAQ pages and found the following gem:

‘You may apply for an ITIN… The application may take up to 8 weeks and requires that you submit certain documents.’

What Amazon neglected to mention is that one of those ‘certain documents’ is a letter from Amazon to verify that they are withholding some of your royalties! (By the way if anyone else needs that letter, it’s here.)

I can’t just blame Amazon though. The information provided by the IRS is not exactly crystal clear. I’ve already had two goes at the application and dutifully sent my passport to the US Embassy as I thought this was what I had to do to prove my identity.

But no, unless I want my passport to disappear to Texas for up to three months (no thanks, I fancy a trip to France later in the summer), I have to go in person to the embassy in London to prove it’s really me!

I mean, come on! I thought we were supposed to be allies and all that. Because of selling and buying a house, I’ve had to send photocopies (not the real thing) of my passport to various solicitors etc to prove I’m not a criminal doing a spot of money laundering.Why is this so much more complicated?

The ironic thing is we’re not exactly talking about millions of dollars in royalties here. Is it really necessary for me to take a day out to go to London and back just to prove I’m a British taxpayer?

I used to like Americans. Huh!

Who’s Obsessed?

It’s probably fair to say that most writers can be a tad obsessive. We spend months – sometimes years – hiding away as we work at something no one else can really comprehend.

If we’re lucky, at the end of the process we’ll unveil our masterpiece to universal acclaim.

Well, that’s the secret hope. Sadly, what’s probably more likely is that our nearest and dearest will say ‘that’s clever’ and a handful of strangers might read our great work and think it reasonably entertaining.

If we’re really lucky – and also good at other arcane arts like marketing – who knows… maybe some people out there will even pay money to read what we’ve laboured over for all those hours.

Like I said, you’re not likely to write a full novel unless you’ve got a certain amount of obsessive, bloody-minded, stubborn persistence in you.

Recently, though, I went to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and found myself looking at Bluebird. The car in which Donald Campbell broke the land speed record in 1964.

bluebirdBluebird is a monster. It makes the Batmobile look like a toy. The car is 30ft long and weighs four tons. You could lose a child inside the air intake at the front and, with a little glass bubble over the tiny driver’s cockpit, it looks more like a submarine than a car.

Donald_CampbellCampbell hit a top speed of 403.1 mph in the car – disappointing as Bluebird had been designed to reach 500mph. Unfortunately, however, the surface of Lake Eyre in Australia where he set the record wasn’t dry and hard enough to get the car up to its max.

But Campbell’s mission wasn’t something he came up with over a weekend. He (and his team) spent eight years building this version of Bluebird and preparing for what was his second land speed record.

That’s only part of the story, though. Campbell had previously broken the water speed record in 1955 and set a total of eight water and land speed records. Tragically – or inevitably – he died in January 1967 on Coniston Water when his boat (also called Bluebird) flipped over after reaching a speed of 328mph during another attempt on the water speed record.

Now, I’m one of those blokes who missed the ‘car’ gene. Personally, I think they’re useful for getting about but I don’t get excited by cylinders, metallic paint and fuel injection. Speed just doesn’t excite me.

But for Campbell it was everything. He dedicated his life, literally, to going faster. Seeing Bluebird at the National Motor Museum reminded me that it’s not just writers who can be a bit obsessive. Maybe the question is, can you be great without being obsessive?

Donald Campbell's jet hydroplane Bluebird on Coniston Water in  Photo: PA Wire

Donald Campbell’s jet hydroplane Bluebird on Coniston Water. Photo: PA Wire

PS. I know this blog’s not had much attention recently. I blame a combination of factors – work (always the biggest nuisance in my life), house-hunting ( thankfully successful) and a major dental problem (don’t get me started on that one or I’ll be ranting about rip-off dentists until the cows come home).

I’m not promising an immediate return to more regular service as I hate making promises that I might break. On the other hand, between dealing with all these inconveniences, I have managed to write quite a few thousand new words on my new novel.

I’m now on the last chapter of Church Of The White Rabbits. So, to all those lovely people who offered all those weeks ago to be a beta reader, hopefully I’ll be in touch soon!