Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Small YouTube Experiment

Someone took a couple of tiny videos of me answering questions at the recent Bath Festival of Children's Literature.  I thought I'd do a small experimental upload to YouTube.  It seems to have worked.  So here I am talking about how long it takes me to write a book, and giving some tips on how to be a writer to the kids at Kingswood Prep. It never ceases to amaze me that I can sound both quite squeaky and quite posh all at the same time.  Enjoy!  You may throw eggs if you wish. 

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Mythic Faery Interview - Seth MacGregor, Red-Hot Faery Boy

Since I interviewed Seth MacGregor's 'Boss', Gillian Philip, on Scribble City Central back in July, Seth has taken an unsuspecting world by storm.  I described the first part of Seth's memoirs, Firebrand (published by Strident and now in its second printing), as 'rare, new and infinitely exciting', and it seems I am not the only one to be so seduced.  Amanda Craig of The Times has made his book her Top Fantasy Novel of 2010 (Oh! How I agree with you, Amanda!), and Mary Hoffman of The Guardian has just described Seth as 'red-hot' and Firebrand as 'stark and brutal but with moments of heartbreaking beauty'. As of last night (Sunday) Firebrand was at #16 in Fantasy Books on Amazon and at #559 overall.  Cor! And just look at Seth on the cover--who wouldn't want a piece of THAT? *let's all take a moment for fanning purposes here*
Since Seth sneaked onto Twitter (quite against the express wishes of 'The Boss', but then that's our bad, disobedient, authority-defying faery boy all over), he and I have been having some...I shall use the word 'interesting' here (make of that what you will)...conversations. He's given at least two excellent interviews in other places, but for this one I wanted go with the Scribble City tradition by tapping into Seth's mythical faery heritage and trying to delve deeper into the intriguing world behind the Veil.  So without further ado, let's plunge into what I think is a fascinating conversation with the wickedly alluring (and appallingly flirty)...

                                           SETH MacGREGOR

So, Seth...let's begin with 'Faery tales’. That conjures up nice sparkly Thumbelina stuff for little children. But faery tales originate in a much deeper darker space, don’t they? Faery tales first began in the fiery heart of story where the old myths full of blood and ancient magic live. How far back into the mists of myth do your Sithe records go? Who are your lorekeepers? (Or do you not even keep records?)

Yes, blood and ancient magic. I like your style. Faery tales weren’t for children, not to begin with; they were the soap opera of the ancients, told for adults, full of truths and hard reality. And you and I know that however they’ve twisted and turned with the centuries, however they’ve changed, they began in that reality.

Our records go back as far as yours, I think... the further back you go, the more obscured they are by time. We keep the same stories, but like any myth or fairytale, we have our own take on them, our own filter. Full-mortals feature in our tales, but in not quite the same light as they do in yours. Your reputation with us is as mixed as ours with you. And like you, we have books, songs, oral history... there’s always a Shenachie to tell tales on a dark night when everyone’s had more than enough to drink*.
* That'll be pretty much every night, then?

Your brother, Conal is described as ‘heroic’, but you’ve been called ‘half-feral, a bastard boy full of hatred.’ I think that only shows the surly outer armoured skin you have presented to the world so far. There’s someone much more complex underneath all the angry posturing of your younger self, and I’d like to know more about how you would describe yourself nowadays, as compared to in your childhood. Do you, perhaps, see yourself as a kind of mythic hero (or indeed antihero) figure akin to all those butch Greek demigods like Achilles, or do you feel more comfortable closer to home, with heroes like Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cúchulainn—or do you feel like none of them?

I’m blushing** at the very thought of Achilles and Cuchulainn. Hell, I’m not the legendary type, though I love those heroes. They always seem so much larger than life, Lucy, and I’m just... life-sized. I know they had their human frailties, and it’s true I can throw a temper with the best of them, and have been known to sulk in my metaphorical tent... but consorting with gods isn’t for me. Fionn is a little different, isn’t he? He’s closer to us all, more man than demigod, and I like that he had wits as well as strength. More Odysseus than Achilles. I can also vouch for his existence, since Griogair knew him (Aonghas and Reultan named their daughter after him). Needless to say, I only heard the stories with the rest of the clann. My father never talked to me about him.

As for how I see myself nowadays? I’ve mellowed, or I think I have. I hope I’m smarter and wiser. The Boss says I still have a sizeable chip on my shoulder. Hah! She may know me pretty well, but even she doesn’t understand all my motives, not all the time.
** YES! I made Seth blush! This may be a first....

You and I share a love of animals, Seth.  If you had to choose two mythical creatures from any culture to go into battle with and to guard your left and right sides, who would they be, and why?

I have good friends, and good fighting comrades, but there’s no-one I trust more in battle than Branndair***. I know his head and he knows mine: we’re like extensions of each other. So if I was going to choose two mythical heroes instead, I’d take Bran and Sceolan, Fionn’s hounds, the ones with the hearts of men.
*** Branndair is Seth's wolf companion
 I trust you know the cautionary kelpie tale ‘Myself is Myself’+, Seth? It’s said in most of our old Scots legends that the waterhorses can shapeshift. Is this true of your own roan kelpie, or has something got skewed in the story as it travelled across the Veil? We mortals are easily confused about such things!
+ If any of you Lovely Blog Readers don't know it, it can be found in my Coll the Storyteller's Tales of Enchantment

You’re not the only ones. A lot of stories have got skewed and tangled. There are tales of shapeshifting creatures, and I don’t know if they’re true or not, but my horse isn’t a thing that can mutate. I’ve heard people say that water horses and kelpies are two different things, that kelpies are shapeshifting spirits; but we have always called our horses kelpies (and not all the Sithe can ride them). And then there’s the Brollachan, another shapeshifter that’s been known to take the form of a horse.

You ask me, I think tales shapeshift more easily than creatures. I’m not sure you have stories about the Lammyr, do you? Yet there are plenty of them over in your world, taking protégés all the time. Perhaps you notice them even less than you notice us.

In the shamanic tradition it is taught that everyone has a spirit animal (mine is a bear) with which they share affinities. Your true name, Murlainn, as well as symbolising the swift and deadly falcon spirit within you, set off all sorts of mythological echoes for me, being, of course, the same as the great Arthurian wizard of my own culture. Do you think that that Merlin too might have had Sithe blood, or even been a Sithe? Is he someone the Sithe know about?

A bear? That’s lovely. It suits you, because you’re beautiful and have a soft exterior+++, but you can be fierce. I like my true name well enough; it could have been worse. I’ve overheard bitchy comments in the dun before now, like the tosser who said he’d no idea there wasn’t a Gaelic word for ‘snake’. Breaking his nose was a satisfying moment.

And yes, I’ve had full-mortal friends who mistook my name for the wizard’s, and that has sometimes been helpful. I don’t doubt the man had Sithe blood, though I don’t think he was all Sithe: there’s definitely something else there. Didn’t he live backwards through time? Some of his abilities were undoubtedly Sithe, and he had plenty to do with us, or so I hear.

I don’t like the Sidhe of your BBC Merlin. They’re nothing like us. I spend Saturday nights shouting at the Boss’s TV. She gets cross and tells me to shut up, because all she wants to do is drool over Arthur and his knights^ – even though they’re terribly slow with a blade.
+++The less said about how Seth knows this, the better.
 ^You're very mean, Seth. 'The Boss' needs her downtime, just like the rest of us.  If she wants to drool over slow knights, let her (there's even a  free BBC picture below specially to distract her).  The rest of us will drool over slow nights with a certain faery...Oops! didn't mean to say that. Delete delete delete!

When I wrote my own book of Celtic myths and legends, my storyteller set off from the stone circle at Callanish on the the Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leodhas). There are so many stones and circles in Scotland, and they’re pretty much all associated with the Otherworld in some way—generally with mortals wandering through and then coming back tens or hundreds of years later (as you know, to your cost). You’ve told us that there are rings of ancient stones in the Sithe lands too. Do they equate exactly with the ones in the mortal landscape? Is the Veil thinner or somehow more penetrable around them—and if so, why?

Oh, I’m sure that’s true, that the Veil is thinner in those places. You can feel it, can’t you? And not just in the stone circles – there are other rocks, streams, caverns where the other world seems very close. I think of places like Colonsay, or Gigha, or Tomnahurich Hill in Inverness, or the older places of Edinburgh. And I know, for instance, that the Veil is denser and less penetrable around duns and fortresses, so why wouldn’t it work the other way?

Still, full-mortals can’t just wander through, say, a watergate – you’d need someone of Sithe blood with you. That’s why there are all those tales of musicians or knights or midwives enticed through by some unscrupulous Sithe with a few coins or a convincing story.

Some of those stones have equivalents in the full-mortal world, some don’t. I suppose it depends on whether they have been moved or destroyed, or preserved, and why they were built in the first place – some were put there as markers for weak places in the Veil, which makes sense when you think of their atmosphere.

There are a few stone circles in your world I have special affection for. The place my sons are buried, for one. And another where – well. That’s a story for another time^^.
^^You're very good--I had hoped to tempt you into some revelations, but you're too canny for that

You faeries are burdened with the hideous Lammyr (which, incidentally, creep the flesh off my bones). They’re obviously pretty hard to get rid of, and I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one on a dark or any other night. We mortals think about a lot of scary things in our spare time—including vampires and werewolves. Do the Sithe have any experience of those—and if you yourself met either one, how would you deal with them?

I suppose our closest equivalent to your seductive bloodsucking destroyers would be our dear Queen. And I’d like to say the Lammyr are undead creatures, and alien to the Sithe, but unfortunately they live and breathe and we are related. At some point in the past we have to accept responsibility for them. Maybe they creep the flesh off their own bones, who knows? It would explain the way they look.

But werewolves – now, we don’t have shapeshifters, but I know that the Sithe have always had a close relationship with our wolves, just as we have with the ravens. (And of course, wolves and ravens have always had a symbiotic relationship, too, even in your world.) Not that I’m fond of my stepmother’s ghastly bird, I might add; that thing’s got it in for me.

Perhaps the werewolf legends came about in the same way the centaur ones did? A full-mortal sees a Sithe and a wolf working together, just as the ancients saw a man on a horse, and.... ah, but on the other hand, there’s every chance werewolves and centaurs are as real as the Sithe, isn’t there? We don’t know everything of every world.^^^
^^^ Interesting.  So you admit there ARE other worlds....

In these modern times, we mortals have started seeing a lot of what are known to us as ‘urban faery tales’—stories about the Sithe, taken down by people probably not unlike The Boss. Many of them are set in the United States, and feature what seem to be some of your very distantly related kinfolk. Would you ever get on an aeroplane and travel across the Atlantic—or would you prefer to take a boat instead? Can you yourself go very far from the Veil—or can you get back to Sithe lands from anywhere in the mortal world?

Oh, I have travelled across the Atlantic, many times. I was in Antigua only recently #...but again, that’s a story for another time. To be honest, I prefer boats to planes, but I’m not as frightened of flying as the Boss is.

The Sithe certainly have kin in the United States, but then we have family everywhere – I’ve known Sithe from Germany, Belgium, Norway, Chile, South Africa and Pakistan. Some of those have different names, of course, but we’re all one race. Watergates exist in all countries; the Sithe world exists alongside yours in its entirety. I can go any distance from the Veil, any of us can – but I would never want to be too far from a watergate. You know how homesick I get.
# and there you go again with the enticing hints....

Now, finally (and this is a complete indulgence on my part), I just have to know the answer to this: 'The Boss' apparently has huge trouble controlling you and your urges, or so she tells me. You’re a kind of mega-flirt legend on Twitter already, and you have hordes of swooning female fans already (of whom I am obviously Most Important Number One, whoever might dispute that fact). So tell us, what would be your ideal night out with a lady in the mortal world of today (no expense spared)? Details, man, details!

All the details? Are you sure, Lucy? I’m not sure the Boss would allow that...!##

OK, but seriously... it would involve music, live music. And dancing. And down to the beach afterwards, to ride my horse together by moonlight and (probably) sober up. And then – oh, don’t talk to me about sand. It gets everywhere.

## I have a nasty feeling 'The Boss' has had her red censor pen out when she was transcribing this.  She has a very Puritan Streak when it comes to your extracurricular activities, does Gillian. *sigh*.
Well, that's all we have time for right now.  Thanks to the gorgeous Seth, (and to Gillian 'The Boss' Philip) for transcribing Seth's messy notes.  I'm just off for a cold shower and a lie down. 

You’re a wonderful interviewer as well as lovely, Lucy. Thank you!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

SCBWI Conference 2010 - How to Sell Your Book on the Internet (Part 3)

I promised you secret London meetings at the end of my last post (and yes, I know this is a day late and I've kept you all in horrible suspense.  Sorry.  I was busy doing Noble Things.  I might even tell you about those too later in the month). Anyway, back to those meetings....

First, there was Tea. And Cake. Oh, all right. And Wine.

With Werewolves. And a couple of tasty humans to gnaw on for afters.  But I'd better say no more than that or we'll have to come after you at the next full moon and rend you limb from limb. 

After that there was an extension to the SCBWI conference in the form of a very convivial authory dinner in London. We'd all had such fun in Winchester, we couldn't bear to let it go--and besides there were a couple of people who'd missed out. Never say we SCBWI-ites don't share.  Here we all are:

Now, that's quite enough socialising.  Put your serious hats back on and let's talk about your next authory booksale generating tool, which is:

An Author Blog

You're here already, so you know what this particular author blog looks like--but the million dollar question is: why should you have one? and more importantly for the purposes of this post, how does it 'sell' books?

• An author blog reinforces your ‘Author ID’, which you've already started establishing on your website.

• You can design it to complement your books—I did a very successful series of ‘Mythic Friday Interviews’ earlier this year to promote my ‘Greek Beasts and Heroes’ books. I also run a slightly eccentric but useful writing tips series called 'Writing 101 Productions' in which I talk about how I cope with various aspects of the writer's craft. I can also comment on current events like the ‘Speak Loudly’ campaign against book-banning and other items of book news, as well as sharing exciting things that happen in my writing life.  Short blog posts are just fine, by the way!

• You can run competitions and book giveaways which will all generate interest in you and your books. Often your publisher will be happy to provide free books with which to do this.

• You can publish ‘teasers’ from new work, put up poetry (I have a 'Scribble City Central Poetry Page'), use your blog as a campaigning platform—whatever floats your boat.

• But...
How will it sell actual books? Again, you can ‘monetize’ (that really is a HORRIBLE word) your blog by linking to Amazon Associates and having your titles up on a widget (look at the top of this page if you don't know what that is) and available to buy at the click of a button. The more places your books are visible on the internet, the better. Other than that, it’s about people getting to know you—keeping yourself present and current in the media stream.

Part 4 (coming soon) will involve the first of the social networking bits of the 'selling-your-books-and-your- author-self' platform.  I know this will be terrifying for a lot of people—and I should warn you now, it will eat your soul if you let it! Mwahahaha!


Sunday, 14 November 2010

SCBWI Conference 2010 - How to Sell Your Book on the Internet (Part 2)

You'll naturally want to know about the canapes and fizz first, before we get down to the next part of this selling business.  Well, I have to say, the canapes were a disappointment.  There weren't any, due to a canape cock-up of major proportions.  However, there were balloons. Magnificent balloons, some of which did amazing sparkly things (though maybe that was a result of  some slightly overenthusiastic imbibing of fizz on my part). There was a string quartet too, plus bow ties, long frocks and at least one tiara.  Never say children's writers don't know how to have a good time.  We are so rarely allowed out that any party has to be Made To Count. 

There was also cake.  Pretty fabulous cake.  But I will leave the cake till later, because it's time for the first ingredient in your authory internet bookselling armoury.  Yes.  I know that's a slightly mixed metaphor.  I have a hangover and can't think straight.  Pass the Alka-Seltzer please.

Last time, I left you wondering about author websites.  I’m not going to go into any detail here about how you build one, because, frankly, I got the excellent Pedalo to do mine—but advice and help are easily obtained from many internet sources if you don’t know where to begin.  Mine looks like this at the moment, but I'm about to do a major overhaul. Websites date horribly quickly--and there's always new technology coming along which will let you do all sorts of freshly-minted internet wizardry.

A good author website will:

Tell people who you are as an author—you can include biographical material, writing tips, useful information about what you offer schools and libraries in the way of visits, contact details and also that vital FAQ page, where you give answers to all those questions people ask over and over, like ‘when did you start writing’ and ‘what is your favourite book’.

Tell people about your books. This is the place to have all your covers and books and to plug your forthcoming titles. You can put up links to Amazon by each in-print title so that people can click and buy them direct. This might earn you some useful referral fees and it's definitely worth setting up an Amazon Associates account so you can take advantage of that.

Plug your most wonderful reviews from both press and internet, (which will obviously make people want to buy your books)!

Link to your other internet tools such as a blog (either external or integrated), Twitter, Facebook fan page, YouTube and podcasts (if you do them), all of which tie in to your books and you.

Link to external sites such as SCBWI, Society of Authors and others which may be relevant to your books—and you can persuade them to link back to you, thus generating a wider promotional base for you and your books.

Provide content for kids. You can incllude puzzles, games and downloadable art linked to your books if you want to. Because I have younger readers,  I have a kids’ page with all those things, plus an interactive map of Greece and some black-and-white line drawings of cut-out-and-colour Greek monster masks. Teachers all tell me that this is a hugely useful resource, but it depends what age group you are writing for. You want to get kids interested in you and your books--then they'll pester their parents to buy them!

So, to sum up...
How will an author website sell books?
  1. Your website will generate interest in you as a writer and establish you as a 'brand'.
  2. It will (hopefully) hook in teachers and librarians and festival organisers as well as parents/readers, which will in turn generate sales.
  3. It will direct visitors to Amazon (more sales).
  4. It will excite visitors about new books (potential future sales).
Now, I believe I promised you cake.  Tell me you don't want a slice of THIS bookie delight...(trust me, it was yummy).

You'll have to wait till Tuesday for Part 3 of my SCBWI talk, because I am having a couple of Top Secret assignations in London tomorrow (and no, I'm not telling unless you ask REALLY nicely).  But I'll give you a clue about Part 3 instead.  It involves An Author Blog.  Bet you can't wait.  

Saturday, 13 November 2010

SCBWI Conference 2010 - How to Sell Your Book on the Internet (Part 1)

Scary things, panels.  They make you stand up and talk about stuff as if you're an expert.  And you have to exude some kind of zen calm while you're doing it, and try not to sound like an idiot.  Anyway, today I am at the 10th SCBWI UK conference in a dampish Winchester.  And I talked about how, as an author you can sell yourself and your books on the internet.  I think it went well (people said nice things, anyway).  So, for those of you who couldn't be there, I'm going to put up my talk here in 6 easy-to-digest parts over the next few days. And for those of you who were there and didn't bother to take notes--well shame on you, and here it is again. 

But first, some badges...SCBWI do a great line in badges.  My favourite is top left.  Because children's writing IS a proper job. to the serious stuff:

Listen up, authory and aspiring authory people. In the modern technoworld we live in,, having an internet presence is essential. It’s not like the old days when authors were basically cut off from everyone except local booksellers, a few schools and their publisher’s publicist, (who was the one everyone had to go through to get to you). Now we are all as accessible as we want ourselves to be—the internet has brought authors both freedom and burdens, and publishers are now actively encouraging authors to have what is known as an ‘author platform’ which looks kinda like this.

Let me be very clear about this: it is highly unlikely that you will be able to sell a million books or even a hundred books as a direct result of anything you put out on the internet unless you say or do something which gets you on the front page of all the newspapers (streaking at a Manchester United match waving a copy of your latest title will work nicely) or your book trailer (see part 6 later in the week) goes viral on YouTube. It is virtually impossible to give you a quantifiable link between internet presence and books sold— but that doesn't mean you should ignore all this digital stuff.  For me the author platform is about building an internet presence, so that people are more likely to buy my newest book when it comes because they feel they ‘know’ a bit about me and what I am offering to my readership.

It has to be you who establishes your internet presence in the first instance because it is unlikely that your publisher will have the budget or staff resources to do so.
So where do you start building your potential book-selling ‘author platform?

Well--I started with a website...(it's a very good place to start).  But you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out my pearls of wisdom about how having one sells books for you.  I have a mass book launch to attend.  There will be champagne.

and canapes.

I'm sure you understand...this panel stuff is hungry and thirsty work. The Inner Author must be fed and watered....

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 13: The Vital Desk Equation

I'm sure you are all familiar with the idea of feng shui (if not, take a quick 101 via the link). You may see it as superstitious oriental claptrappery, or New Age scammery--or on the other hand you may be someone who has had your house feng shuied by an expert for a shedload of cash.

But--what on earth has it got to do with writing? I hear you ask.
Lovely Blog Readers, you may mock me and jeer at me as much as you like, but for what it's worth, I think that at least one of the basic principles of feng shui can indeed be
a useful tool in the writer's armoury and it's on my mind right now at this very moment. (Warning: there will now be a shocking confession and at least one image of a distressing nature).

Lots of writers work in a sea of mess and clutter.  I am no exception, and am definitely NOT a naturally tidy person.  But from long and painful experience, I find that if I de-clutter my environment then I am much more productive.  It makes sense (to me anyway). Take a look at the picture below, forinstance. Untidy, eh? I'm not sure how my desk got like this, but let's blame a combination of 'I'll definitely do it tomorrow', too much interference from external factors and not enough time spent writing for now.  Does that sound vaguely plausible, or should I just bundle it all under that shameful P-word*?
What do you see? OK, OK, I'll save you the trouble of peering at your screen and tell you. Piles of Cluttery Stuff--a mixture of Vital Notes For Novel and several other writing projects, School notices (probably unread), books used for reference or quotes and then flung aside, magazines, dictionaries, files, unpaid bills, old chequebooks, invoices, receipts, accounting bits, empty mobile phone boxes, chocolate and biscuit wrappers, a CD that enough confession and distressment for the moment (hey, at least I moved the 5 coffee cups)? So what vital feng shui ingredient am I missing?  Yes, Lovely Blog Readers, you've got it in one.
Clear Space.
What I need to do now is to spend half a day tidying and sorting to produce a Harmonious Writing Environment Conducive to Creativity. It makes me feel horribly tired to contemplate doing it. But I know that if I don't, the pile to my left (and the pile to my right, but I'm not showing you that--there is a limit to how much cluttery sluttishness I will expose voluntarily), will niggle at me and prevent me from concentrating properly.   So here's that vital feng shui desk equation:

De-Cluttering=Clean Desk Energy=Creative Flow

Trust me--it really does work, even if I should probably have couched it in terms of 5 jade lotus flowers or something.  Now, excuse me while I sort myself out and find the polish.  I have a novel to write and I can't do it with my desk in this state of anarchy.

* P for P-R-O-C-R-A-S-T-I-N-A-T-I-O-N, the curse of all writers.

Monday, 1 November 2010

NaNoWriMo or Creative Hibernation?

Samhain, Hallowe'en--whatever you call it, it is a signal that winter is upon us, and that darkness is rising towards its December peak.  Today is All Souls--and also the start of NaNoWriMo.  Now I've never done NaNoWriMo, but I did consider it this year, having a novel to write myself.  But I just can't bring myself to do it.  The days of winter, for me, are a time of going inward,  a time of hibernation in which to do my creative dreaming. So in keeping with the season in which I become the writer-bear, I give you a poem to celebrate those of us who prefer to take things a little more slowly.

Into the Shaman’s Cave
Dark: descending dark, and my hand in dense fur.
Black dark, night dark as the Bear devours.
Flesh first, stripped bone bare on the cave floor.
Eyes last, vision quenched,
a delicacy licked out by a Bear's hungry tongue.
Blood to earth, thirsty earth,
then silence.
Now and now and now and now
the red cave beckons.
I know Mother's secrets now,
For I am the Bear.
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