Over the last year, Amanda has edited my novels Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly as well as the Game Night prequel novella Saving Stone. And when I’ve bashed out an nth draft of If Pigs Could Fly’s sequel, Sticks and Stones, Amanda will be my number one choice on a shortlist of one to edit it.
I could leave this recommendation there. After all, the best recommendations in life are generally those from satisfied customers like myself, saying, I’ve used her services in the past, I’ll use them again, and so should you. But I feel that transparency and honesty both behove1 me to say something further.
In my case, I feel that having an editor like Amanda both adds to and complements my writing abilities, but also allows me to extend myself as a writer. The first of those is perhaps obvious: pointing out jokes or descriptions that don’t work; highlighting section that are either over-long and boring or abrupt and truncated; and spotting underlying flaws in plot or character actions.
The latter is perhaps less obvious, but I’ll try to illustrate it. Part of my writing style is, I’d like to think, that i use rich complex sentences that play with language. A member of a writing group I used to belong to once said that my writing was very “epigrammatic”. (I had to look that up, but it turned out to be good). But the flip side of this is that I can often go too far, producing a sentence so convoluted that a reader will find themselves getting lost in its labyrinthine structure, only navigating their way out after much head-scratching and re-reading.
Amanda is my safety net here, my security tether. With her at my back I can push my writing without fear, without second guessing, secure in the knowledge that if I fall, she’ll catch me. (Typically by highlighting the offending section and attaching a comment to it pointing out that a re-wording to simplify it would be good). This doesn’t mean that I’ll take her every suggestion or heed every warning; at the end of the day it’s still my work, and stubborn fool that I am, I probably jump out of the “safety net” more often than I should.
But I can say that every single point Amanda makes is thought provoking; where I don’t simply take her suggestion or correction as is, and in the vast majority of cases I do, I’ll think about it, consider it, and usually end up making some sort of change somewhere.
To me, attempting to self-edit your own fiction is like attempting to cut your own hair, and risks a similar humiliation when you expose the resulting “work” to public view. It’s not just that it’s hard to be impartial about your own creation; it’s that you simply cannot know how your words will read to someone who isn’t you. Perhaps you’ve make a joke that relies on a piece of knowledge that it turns out most people don’t know. Perhaps one piece of your story references another part of the story that you meant to put in, but forgot. Maybe – like a tired anecdote about a drunken escapade – a whole stretch of story is interesting to you only because it’s your story, and not through any actual, universal interest.
I cannot stress highly enough my belief that every story needs an editor, and if you’re looking for one, I’d suggest you check Amanda out. It’s always a pleasure working with her, and the feedback you get back will be detailed, complete, challenging, and insightful. You can find her at:
First off, a statement. I do not consider being a vegan to being in any way comparable to being a member of an discriminated against group, be that persons who are non-white, female, gay or bisexual, trans-gendered, or members of a minority religion. However, for someone such as myself who by virtual of being a white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered heterosexual, ticks every single privilege box going, I think that being a vegan might perhaps in some partial way simulate what it might feel like to be a member of a discriminated against group. Not for real. Just for pretend. A simulation.
That said, I’ll then launch into a second statement that might sound rude, exclusionary, and frankly arseholish:
I sometimes wish that vegetarians wouldn’t turn up at what’s supposed to be a vegan event, like the one I’ve just been to. Although to be fair to them, in this case, it seemed very badly described. (Then again, the people organising it, when speaking, repeatedly referred to it as a vegan event, so I wonder if the “mis-description” was inserted in by the person who wrote the program). Here’s how it was (ambiguously) described:
(I should say, it was still a great event, I really enjoyed it, and I’m very thankful to the two women who organised it for putting it on).
The thing is, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t feel I have a huge amount in common with them. I live in a non-vegan world, where I constantly have to moderate what I say, and bite my tongue. When people ask why I don’t drink milk, I have to simply say that it’s “because I’m a vegan”, rather than give the truthful answer that lies behind that, because if I did, I’d upset people. I can’t even really give that truthful answer here, because while this is my own personal blog, it’s still a non-vegan space. It’s still me writing as a vegan in a non-vegan world. (If you really want to know, I’ve attached it as an appendix to this post).
It would be nice, just once, to go to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone. But as soon as vegetarians turn up, I have to, because it’s now back to being a non-vegan space.
Vegans tell anecdotes about the times they want to a wedding or restaurant and there was literally nothing for them to eat, and they literally went hungry. We cry that all we’re asking for is for there to be just one thing on the menu that we could eat. Just one and we’re happy. Overjoyed even. Hell, put two items on the menu and you risk rendering us catatonically indecisive, so unused are we to coping with choice.
Meanwhile, one of the vegetarians at this event just told an anecdote about going to a restaurant for a wedding dinner in the US where the punchline of the anecdote was that there was only one vegetarian option on the menu.
As you can imagine, I did somewhat fail to feel his pain.
Yeah, sure there’s a place for outreach, and bigger tents, and evangelism, and inclusiveness, and all that… But sometimes you just want to be among your own kind, you know? Where you can talk about the things that you have in common, and the things that uniquely affect you, without having to bite your tongue for fear of upsetting “the others”.
I’ve been trying to think of an anecdote about this, and the best I can come up with is (again, veganism is only a simulation of discrimination!):
Irish people living in the UK have certainly faced serious, historical discrimination in the past, and quite possibly to some extent still do. But if I was organising an event for BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) attendees at a UK convention, and an Irish person turned up, I think I’d be a bit, “Mate, really?”
And if he responded to our anecdotes about the serious and damaging discrimination we’d faced for being BAME with an anecdote about discrimination he’d faced for being Irish that was, by comparison to our experiences, quite minor…
Well I think I’d fail to share his pain.
So to go back to the “simulation” I referred to at the start of this point, when some white people get upset about things like the National Black Police Association, I’d like to think that just maybe I get it.
When you live in a world where you’re always the “other”, sometimes, just for once, just for a while, you just want to be among your own kind.
(Oh and by the way, the title refers to the fact that we ended up having cows milk bought to this supposedly vegan event by the hotel. If we’d all been vegans we could just have told them to take it away. But when a bunch of the attendees are vegetarian, that would have seemed a bit rude.)
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The truthful answer…
Cows are mammals, and as with any mammal, they only make milk if they give birth to a child. So to get milk from a cow you have to make the cow pregnant, and when the resulting calf comes out male it’s surplus to requirements and is thus often taken straight away and killed (if not killed it will be raised for beef and then killed after several months). I’ve heard stories of cows that cry for eight days straight after their calf is taken away. I cannot see the moral principle in refusing to eat beef, but being okay with baby calves living a life that in its entirety consists of: be born, be immediately taken away from your mother and taken to a slaughter house, have brains blown out. It’s a life that spans less than 24 hours, which will entirely be spent, thirsty, hungry, scared and lonely. It seems to me that the life of a male dairy calf is about as shit, miserable, and pointless as a life is possible to be. It makes a mayfly’s life seem possibly purposeful, and every single time I think of what we do to cows and their calves it brings me to the verge of tears. That’s why I don’t drink milk. It’s not because “I’m a vegan.” It’s because I cry when I think of baby cows getting their brains blown out in slaughterhouses.
It’s now twenty-four hours since Jonnycon I, the convention-themed launch party for my new novel If Pigs Could Fly, and while the smile has left my face, I am still very happy with how it went. It was a good night, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Drinks were drunk, nibbles were nibbled, friendships were made and renewed.
If the purpose of a launch party is to help the novel take flight, Jonnycon did that. Alternatively, if the purpose is just to reassure the nervous author that maybe, just maybe, he’s written a half-decent novel, then it did that too. Everyone seemed genuinely thrilled to be a part of the launch, and to be genuinely looking forward to reading the book. And when we decamped to the Iron Duke’s Theatre room for a reading, there were quite a few laughs, and since they were in all the right places, I’m pretty confident they were laughing with me, not at me.
I’d like to say a very big and sincere thank you to everyone who came (especially those who came from far, Somerset, and further, Dublin), to my wonderful mother-in-law Jean for helping prepare the food, and finally to my wife Jules for being at my side throughout this whole process.
Jules was a little late arriving because she had to put our daughter to bed first; for me, the event only really started when she arrived.
And finally, I should also say a particular thank you to Ian and Leigh-Ann for helping us set up, and then running the “Registration Desk”.
So thank you everyone.
And lastly, it’s been lovely to see people talking about the event on Twitter. I’m not saying it was trending, but I’d like to think it made a little splash:
If Pigs could fly won’t be released until this coming October, but you can get your hands on an advance reading copy (ARC) right now, through a Goodreads Giveaway I’m running. There’s no catch. Go to Goodreads’s Giveaway page (or click on the link below) and click on the “Enter Giveaway” button. You then get entered into a free draw, with five lucky winners getting a copy of the book sent to them by me. I’ll even throw in a bookmark.
I now have a draft convention programme for Jonnycon I. In true convention style, this will be given out to attendees as they “register”. It’s mainly a bit of fun, something to add to the theme. But it does hopefully have some useful information in there, so I thought I’d give you guys a sneak preview.
When publishing a book, one of the big questions you have to ask yourself is: how much am I going to charge for it? And in an era where you will have two versions, a physical paper version and an electronic e-reading version, of which the latter is probably the most important product, this is actually quite a hard question. A lot of it comes down to the psychology of pricing.
For the new Game Night, and if Pigs Could Fly when it comes out, I’ve gone for a fairly simple policy.
Paperback (trade): $9.99 US / £6.99 UK
Ebook (Kindle + others): $2.99 US / £1.99 UK
I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t mention that those two ebook prices are the minimum price points at which Amazon will pay you a 70% royalty; anything below that pays 35%. That fact did help me pick the actual price points. But I genuinely feel that those prices are a fair price for a novel, with the Ebook prices especially hitting that point where I feel I’m getting a reasonable price for the work while the reader/purchaser feels that they’re paying a reasonable price for what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a digital file.
Obviously, other people will come to other conclusions. It’s a confusing market. But then you see something like this:
I’m sorry, but that’s just insane. Asking someone to pay £8.54 for the Kindle version might be reasonable if: a) the book has just come out and the only other, physical, version is say a hardback priced at £18.99, or; b) this is a very expensive textbook with the physical version being much more expensive.
But when it’s a book that launched more than three years ago, and the paperback version is barely fifty pence more, that makes no sense at all. In the US, this book is even more incoherently priced: you can buy the paperback new for $9.22 while the Kindle version will set you back $13.31.
What I think happened is that they originally launched a hardback version (there’s one now, priced at £12.95) and a Kindle version, setting the Kindle version to complement the hardback price. And then, when they launched the paperback version, they just, plain, damn… forgot to reduce the price of the Kindle version. Which in the Kindle era, in my opinion, qualifies as incompetence of the highest order.
This is mainly just a bit of fun, but I thought I’d have a first cut at a “programme grid” for Jonnycon. It isn’t anything that anyone has to worry about. If you’ve never been to a con, you can completely ignore it – all you need to know is that we’ve got a couple of rooms in a pub and are holding a party in them from around 7pm to 1 am, and at a couple of points I – the author – might get up and talk. But this gives a bit of a structure to what will be happening, when, and hopefully makes it feel a bit more like a mini-convention.
Later this year, after a difficult gestation of more than seven years, I’m finally publishing my “difficult” second novel, If Pigs Could Fly, and creating my own publishing imprint (Wild Jester Press) to do it. To celebrate both of these events, Jules and I are holding a party, and we’d love you all to come.
The party is basically a book launch, with all the things you’d expect from a book launch (including a reading from the author, me, and the chance to get an advance copy of the book and have it signed). In addition, we’ll have a bit of food, some dancing as we work our way into the early hours, plus chat, and even a few board games.
Additional note: The official launch of the book is in October (we will be selling copies at the Irish Discworld convention in Cork from 2nd to 5th October, with the book then becoming available on Amazon on 6th October). So Jonnycon gives you a chance to get your hands on a copy of the book two months early!
Letting us Know
No invites are required. This is a public event, and it’s fine to just turn up on the night. But if you are coming, it would be good if you could let us know, either by commenting here or sending an email to jonny (at) jonnynexus dot com, just so that I have some idea of numbers.
Note: due to licensing restrictions at the venue, under-18s are not allowed after 8pm. I don’t think this would affect anyone who might be coming, but I thought I ought to mention it just in case.
When and Where
Jonnycon 1 is being held on Saturday 1st August from 7:00pm onwards at The Iron Duke pub, 3 Waterloo Street, Hove BN3 1AQ.
One of the hazards of having a day job, a writing career on the side, and a two-year old daughter, is that it does rather cut into the time you have available to actually read fiction, let alone review it. But I do feel that as an author it’s important to try and “put something back” by providing reviews, so I’m going to start now with some thoughts on something I read recently.
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“The Fat Controller’s Busy Day” is a frankly disturbing piece of work, reading – as it does – like Animal Farm might have read had it been written by a reactionary conservative rather than a progressive socialist. The story’s essential plot is as follows.
The manager of Sodor’s railway system, the hereditary baronet Sir Topham Hatt, has been slimming down his workforce, promoting Thomas the Tank Engine to his own branch line while leaving his previous shunting position unfilled. Historically, tender engines have not been required to assemble the coaches that make up their trains. But Hatt now decides to eliminate this labour demarcation, and orders them to shunt.
Three of the tender engines – Gordon, James and Henry – refuse, working to rule, and performing only those duties that they have previously performed. They will pull trains, but not assemble them. On the first day of the work to rule, Hatt asks the fourth tender engine, Edward, to assemble the passenger trains. Edward, who Hatt sees as a “really useful engine”, but whom might less charitably be seen as a management lackey and class traitor, agrees, and as a result is ostracised by his workmates.
Upon hearing of this, Hatt – who is colloquially known as “the Fat Controller” – is outraged. He immediately institutes a lockout, barring the three protesting engines, and initiates an emergency passenger service using Edward and Thomas, a tank engine happy to serve as a strike-breaker. However, more labour is required, so Hatt now recruits a new tank engine, Percy. Percy, a young and naïve engine unaware that he is being recruited into the management side of a labour dispute, eagerly agrees.
The three engines successfully run the emergency service. There are fewer trains than usual, but the passengers are content as they wish to see the three “rebellious” tender engines punished. Eventually, the three tender engines – who have been confined to their engine shed – agree to comply with all Hatt’s demands. From now on they will accept the abandonment of their previous, protected status, and will shunt alongside their tank engine colleagues.
I feel this book is fundamentally misnamed. The Fat Controller has not had a busy day, being as he is a capitalistic industrialist born into inherited wealth who emotionally manipulates his workforce into serving him, and backs this up with an extensive propaganda campaign. I personally feel that this book would have been more honest, had it been titled “Edward the Scab and Percy the Strike-Breaker”.