Announcing new book – Darkshines Seven

Darkshines Seven

So my next story is to be called ‘Darkshines Seven’ and will be published in installments (at the moment two, but there is a chance there will be more) Part 1 ‘Beyond Bleeker Hill’ will be published on the Kindle very soon. Although the story can be read as a follow up to ‘Bleeker Hill’ it is very much a story in its own right. Certainly there is more there for those who have read ‘Bleeker Hill’ (and ‘Stone Bleeding’ too for that matter) but I hopefully haven’t made enjoying or understanding the story dependent on it. I would assume, anyway, that if you are the sort of reader that needs everything laid out and coloured in for them, then I’m not really your sort of author in the first place.

Although each part will be released individually on the Kindle first, there will also be a paperback issue that will combine the whole story.

More publication news soon, in the meantime have a look at the really rather cool design by Stew Taylor.

The Party Loves You…


Ginger Nuts of Horror names ‘Bleeker Hill’ a novel of the year + interview

Bleeker Hill

It can be a really difficult process getting reviews for your books when you are an indie writer. At least that’s what I have found. Maybe it’s because my first two books didn’t really have easily identifiable genres, but even with Bleeker Hill, a novel that does, it has been hit and miss. I’ve been dangled around with the promise of reviews a fair few times and I guess that’s just part of the deal, but I also have to say that with all three books I have encountered some really great reviewers and review sites. Jim McLeod at Ginger Nuts of Horror is one of those. It’s hard not to love Jim’s obvious passion for horror. Ginger Nuts is a great site for the horror fan. Fun, personal, and covering all manner of horror sub-genres, with interviews, reviews, articles and so much more, it oozes love for its subject.

I was so pleased Jim agreed to take a punt on Bleeker Hill and absolutely honoured that he liked it enough to name it one of his horror novels of the year! (Some pretty decent company there too) I also did an interview for Ginger Nuts of Horror which you can read here (I tried to keep the ranting to a minimum)

Huge thanks to Jim, and anyone else that has taken the time to review any of my books. Reviews are essential – good, bad or indifferent. Sometimes the hardest part of doing this job is the silence, so hearing from readers and knowing that they liked your work enough to write a review, send an email, or a tweet is just about as wonderful as this job gets.

 


Christmas book offer – signed Bleeker Hill paperbacks + extras

photo

Now, Bleeker Hill may not be the obvious choice for a festive read, but it does feature a lot of snow, some men with beards and a lot of miserable adults, so that is a tenuous enough link in my book. So how about a little Christmas extra if you are considering buying literature for your loved ones? I’m offering a paperback edition of Bleeker Hill – signed or personalised if you wish – and to go with it I have a limited number of Bleeker Hill bookmarks and double sided A5 posters. £7.99 with free postage to Europe (outside of Europe please add £5)

If you want a copy you can pay by Paypal with payment to – russellmardell AT hotmail DOT com – please state in the message box what payment is for and if you would like it signed.

The Party Loves You


Writing is an art – what is your art worth?

A visit to a local art gallery this week got me thinking again about the worth placed on the art of writing. We don’t have a lot of art galleries down my way and it was a breath of fresh air. There was also some truly excellent pieces on display. The cheapest bit of artwork I saw was around £400. The most expensive was about £14,000. I had a chat with the guy running the gallery and invariably I pitched Bleeker Hill to him after he asked me what I did for a living. It was only really after I spoke to him that it occurred to me how utterly ridiculous the situation was – there was a curator talking to me about £14,000 artwork and there was me, pushing my 77p artwork. Now, I’m not being naive enough to suggest there should, or could ever be, financial comparisons between the two. But in that extreme there shows up another huge gulf that has nothing to do with money.

I’m not sure just exactly when the novel was deemed so utterly worthless to people on a financial level. Was it just the ebook explosion and the subsequent flooding of the market? Maybe. It still amazes me how many book reviews I read that base a negative rating on the price of the ebook rather than the actual content. This is invariably towards well established authors as it is only the writers that have a large readership that really dare charge something obscene for an ebook like, say £5. A fiver for a complete novel by my favourite author? I’m not paying that! So where does that leave the rest of us? Yep, offering out a year of work on your ‘art’ for 99p. Or free. All in the hope that you may get away with charging something exorbitant like a fiver for, maybe, your tenth novel, once you have a lot of readers, a large publisher, and a heck of a lot of marketing behind you. Of course when you get to that level you can afford to swallow up a few dickheads slagging off your book because they had to break into a note for it. The rest of us have to decide if being read for peanuts is preferable to offering your art for something nearer its worth but not being read at all.  Of course, there is no real option there. I take my hat off to the indies that manage to bang out books left, right and centre, maintain quality and also find something approaching a sustainable career from it. Far too many people think it is a quick route to fame and fortune. It really isn’t. It’s a damn hard slog, it’s dispiriting, frustrating, slow and badly paid for the most part. Also, if that is the reason you are doing it in the first place, you aren’t a writer. Go on reality TV instead if you want that. Chances are, if you do well you will get a book deal from it anyway.

And there is another issue. A publishing industry that has bought into the celebrity culture that has been infesting society for years now. It may be true that the mass influx of cheap garbage that has flooded the book market since the indie revolution is helping to devalue the actual worth of the novel, but I would argue that so to is the constant line of celebrity penned books. I don’t mean autobiographies here, but the famous people who agents and publishers go cap in hand to, asking if they want a fat chunk of change and a three book publishing deal because, you know, they’ve been on telly. Writing is a strange beast. There can’t be many jobs where you can be utterly untrained or untried, or even, quite possibly not very good, and yet still find yourself being offered a deal to work in the industry. I think of the footballers, TV presenters and even politicians, that have been handed book deals and a nice fat advance and then I debate about my chances of playing professional football, being offered a gig fronting  a TV show or getting a job in politics. None is likely. I am untried in those areas and unless I put the work in, unless I proved I could do the job, I wouldn’t get in the door. And quite right too. So why must my industry be treated like the default, fallback career for famous people looking for a new direction or something to do now they aren’t on TV so much anymore?

A publishing deal, a lit agent, these are things that pretty much every writer (as in someone who has chosen it as their career) strives for, craves and works towards (there are some indies that neither want nor need either, and all power to them, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule) and to secure either or both should be something that is earned and worked for. We all read the books and websites that advise on how to get an agent or a publishing deal. We all read the tips and tricks and spend months tweaking and fiddling with those magic first ten pages, knowing that that is probably all an agent is going to read of your book. We get rejected, if we are lucky we get feedback, then we go away and rework, resubmit, reevaluate, write another book and keep on kicking at the door, because that is what experts and agents and wise heads and publishers all tell you to do. Fine. It shouldn’t be easy to get a publishing deal or a lit agent. But let’s have a level playing field, please. I want my industry to be discerning, picky, and a champion of the best. But it should be hard for everyone. Wouldn’t it be harder for a non-plumber to get a job as a plumber? Now, when I am looking for the right agent, not only do I look to see who they represent so I can see whether my work would be a decent fit with their list, I also look to see if they represent any celebrities, and if they do, I don’t approach them as I know they won’t fit with me.

Every industry wants to make money and clearly there is sufficient readers out there for this sort of sham as to make it worthwhile, so maybe the blame is on us, the book buying public and not the agents and publishers? Maybe. Maybe we as readers are devaluing the industry. Maybe we wouldn’t read books at all unless the author was famous? Sure.

A good novel is a wondrous thing. To true book lovers a paperback or hardback that they have fallen in love with is every bit as precious a piece of art as something you would hang on a wall. There are still plenty of people that take pride in what is on their bookshelves, still plenty that shout and rave and extoll the magic of a story they found and just had to tell the world about. But are there any people left willing to pay even a nominal price for it? I don’t know. I remember a couple of people who after I handed them over copies of my first book, fondled it lovingly, caressed it and even hugged it to them (not for what was in it I should add, merely because it was a book) and I know there are people out there that value books above any other sort of art or entertainment. Yet still, here we are, the publishing industry following the music industry, the novel becoming the new CD, downloads, free or illegal, overtaking even a modestly priced album. Musicians make their money from touring, or from merchandise. But what of the indie author? The author needs advances to make a living from writing. The writer needs publishers and therefore they usually need lit agents. That application for the next series of Big Brother is starting to look appealing.


An open letter to every publisher in the world by Craig Stone

Reading the wonderful blog of the writer Craig Stone, I found this post which rang true and made me laugh. If you are an unrepresented or un(trad)published writer, it may mean something to you too.

Check out Craig’s site http://thoughtscratchings.com/

An open letter to every publisher in the world.


Indie writers and reviews – get tough and get over yourself

I did an interview way back for my first book where I was asked to give advice to other indie writers. That in itself was a little odd to me. You want my advice? Why? But I gave it some thought and it seemed to me that there was one overriding thing that indie writers, indeed any writer, needed and that is to toughen up to criticism. (I took it as read that any writer knows the value of good editors, proofreaders etc) Writers, at least those I’ve met, are a pretty fragile breed. We all want to be loved. You spend months, maybe years, pouring your heart and soul into your latest bit of writing. You lose sleep, friends, all remaining social skills, and all you want at the end of it is for people to see the obvious magnificence in your latest literary birth. Or rather, you just want people to read it. Maybe you have high hopes of people actually paying money for it, but at the heart, all you want is to be read. The fact is that not everyone is going to give a damn about you or your book. Some people will think it’s garbage. And some will say so.

It’s a double edged sword. Indie writers need reviewers, they need social proof to help attract new readers and to be seen in the bloated jungle of indie books. But by putting yourself and your book out there, you are essentially painting a target on your head and inviting the world to take a shot. You’re going to take some hits. Why wouldn’t you? Have you written the world’s most perfect book? That mighty tome that every reader finds irresistible and will immediately fall in love with? No. No you haven’t, despite what your ego is telling you. Deep down you know that some people will hate it. You might get lucky and those that hate it might just bin it off to the local charity shop. Or you may get a reader that feels compelled to write a thesis on how shit your book is and how you should go back to the day job. Either way, my advice was something along the lines of ‘get over it, and get over yourself.’ Not that it’s easy. It isn’t. How many other jobs get reviewed? Damn, I’ve met some staff in some companies who I would love to pin a bad review to. But that is just the way it is. Deal with it. Does that mean you should run away and hide under the duvet, wailing at the injustice of a world filled with cultural heathens? Get a grip. If you have never had a bad review, either online from a complete stranger, or maybe in person from a family member or friend, then personally speaking I’m going to be a little suspicious of you.

Too many writers spend too many hours scrutinising their reviews, pouring over Amazon and Goodreads and the like, instead of actually writing. Reviews are important, vital, but not to the detriment of doing any actual writing. A good review should be plastered everywhere you can, of course, and a constructive negative review should be read, it’s points taken on and considered and then put aside. Problem is some writers just can’t let it go. There is little as unappealing as a writer/reviewer slanging match played out online somewhere. No one wins. In fact, indie writing takes a little hit each time a writer gets into a public hissy fit. I’d hate to be a reviewer. I really would. Pretty much all the reviewers I have dealt with have been good people. Those that run blogs and websites are doing so for a reason. Usually its because they love books, love talking about them, love finding new gems and then sharing them out with their friends and readers. Maybe some are doing it just to get free books. Who knows? Who cares? The fact is as an indie you need them. But you also have to be prepared to take the gamble. You may get a bad review. Can you cope with that part of the job? If you can’t, go do something else.

None of this is to say that I am now totally ambivalent to bad reviews, of course I’m not. But after so many years writing in different areas, dealing with agents, producers, artistic directors and live audiences, I’ve learned to toughen up about it all. You want your audience or your readership to speak, you want feedback, you need it to grow and get better, and sometimes it won’t be what you want to hear. But in that itself there is positivity. No writer is born so damn perfect that they have nothing to learn from their readers. You learn what works and what doesn’t. You take what people like and what they don’t, and it should make you better, more commercial, or define your market. So look at a negative review as something you can turn to a positive. If the review is constructive. This is where my only gripe comes in about reviews – the negative review with no actual review attached. This seems to be a Goodreads affliction. If you are going to leave a one star rating for a book, why wouldn’t you have the decency to say why? A rating without a review is of no use to me as a writer, nor to any potential readers. Maybe it was just not your sort of book – in which case, say so, because it may still be for others. Maybe it was bad editing or proofreading that you so disliked? I need to know if it is! Perhaps you hated the plot, saw plotholes, hated the characters, didn’t understand it, or maybe you just thought it was garbage. Either way, a few lines stating why goes a very long way. The strange thing is this has happened a few times to me from fellow writers, which is, let’s be honest, even more of a shitty thing to do.

All in all, reviews should just be seen as another facet of the job. You should search them out, embrace them, learn from them, good or bad, and be thankful that anyone has actually bothered to read your book in the first place. You can do nothing about the bad reviews so why get yourself in a state about them? Don’t get carried away with the good, and don’t think about hanging up your pen when you get the bad. Grow, get tough, and write. Because that’s what you do. Don’t you?


In praise of Breaking Bad – let’s celebrate the risk takers

Breaking Bad

There’s not much to add to all the things written about the greatness of Breaking Bad. Those that have watched it will know that it is one of the most perfect television shows that has ever been created. Those that haven’t will probably have a good idea of that fact too. I was late to the Breaking Bad party, like a lot of others, finally being swayed to take the plunge by the sheer volume of praise I was seeing for it everywhere I looked. Proper praise I should add, from people that actually watched it, had fallen in love with it, and then wanted to share that adoration out. This was no great marketing machine at work, certainly not in the earlier seasons and definitely not here in the UK, this was not a cynical bombardment but rather a gradual, slow burning love, built from fans that knew they had found something special. A show that comes along once in a blue moon and changes everything. A show you already begin mourning even before it ends. That is surely the most wondrous aspect for the shows makers; its success came from the right place and the right people. It is proof again, if ever it were needed, that the best marketing comes from word of mouth, not the words of a mouthpiece. As a writer who seems to be spending more time trying to market than actually write, I can’t help but smile at that fact.

There is so much to love about the show, things that can’t really be done justice here – there is no way of explaining to those that haven’t seen it of the freshness, originality, the pitch perfect blend of humour and horror, the sheer clammy handed anticipation and those moments that make you well up or scream out loud at the TV, beyond sitting them down in front of it. It is a show that pretty much has everything, yet somehow nothing that you would expect. That is the beauty of the writing. More than anything the thing about this writing team that I applaud the most is that never once did I manage to second guess them. Having trained in film, studied scriptwriting (and subsequently had many films and TV shows ruined for me as I start to see the joins, and the cogs turning) I’m probably harder on the writers than anyone else. So often I can see where shows are going, where the writing is planting its flag and screaming plot developments at you or drowning you in exposition. But not here, not on Breaking Bad. This is writing of the very highest order. What Vince Gilligan and his team have achieved with this show is writing so far above most normal TV shows as to be almost ridiculous.

Of course it helps when you are writing for a cast that is as good as the one Breaking Bad assembled (when Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks are supporting actors in your show, you know that you must have a good cast) headed by the extraordinary Bryan Cranston who turns in what is arguably the greatest performance a TV show has ever seen, certainly since Tony Soprano cut to black. Like that role Cranston brought sympathy to a monster. And also, as with Tony Soprano, I found myself unable to turn my back on him despite his deeds. By the end of each show I found myself wanting to offer man hugs to them both. That is either great acting or the social failings of a writer. Possibly both.

The thing I keep thinking about is the Breaking Bad pitch, it seems obvious now in the glow of its success, but I would be fascinated to know how many brick walls Gilligan hit whilst trying to take it to networks. It’s hardly a story that sounds like an easy sell, is it? Whilst the most groundbreaking and original TV of recent years has all been produced in the USA it is still the exception and not the rule. People like to play it safe. We live in a world where one success story is cut and pasted into another, be it in film, TV or publishing. It is a world consumed by the faux power of celebrity, where your name is more powerful than your talent. As repulsive as I find that notion I can also understand it. People with the money or the power to put on your show, produce your film or publish your book are risk averse. There is money to be lost if they mess it up so is it not far more easier a decision to make to continually spoon feed your audience the same reheated offering from the same people? Of course it is. It’s certainly true that TV does need its equivalent of a take out from Los Pollos Hermanos as much as it needs its four course meals in restaurants. Everyone, even the biggest cultural snob in the world needs to tune out to some undemanding drivel on TV from time to time. But seriously, let’s start levelling the playing field a bit more. Let’s put the faith and trust in writers, directors and actors, and not tired formula, cookie cutter ideas and rent-a-celebrities. Hasn’t the success of Breaking Bad, and before it shows like The Wire and The Sopranos shown that there is a ravenous appetite out there for quality TV that dares to stray from the norm, offers something a little edgier, and even has the cheek not to have any major stars in it? Maybe the tide is turning, I wouldn’t profess to be any expert, and certainly there seems to be a shift in quality happening. But I wonder still how easy a sell Breaking Bad was. How easy will the pitch be for the next show that will come along and shake up TV? Will there be more networks and executives with the balls to take a risk on shows like Breaking Bad? Will the success of shows that don’t necessarily adhere to the conventions of the easy sell, start to change what becomes an easy sell, in film and publishing as well as TV? Let’s hope so. In the end, why shouldn’t it? The demand for quality is clearly there. People will take cheap product if its offered, but shouldn’t everyone now be aiming for Heisenberg standard? It’s not advanced science. You don’t need to be Walter White to get it.


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