Monday, 22 May 2017

The Content Machine by Michael Bhaskar

This could be described as a close reading of the publishing industry. Michael Bhaskar steers us away from the idea that publishing merely means making public. After all, he asks, is a book with a 10,000 print run that doesn’t sell a single copy any more “published” than a typescript left on a park bench? 

He takes a long look at the industry and also compares it with farming and the music trade. He describes how it started, what it became and how it is evolving now.  

He discusses filtering, framing, amplifying and curating. He shows us models that have worked, are working now and may work in the future. He doesn’t shy away from pointing out their flaws. 

This book has an excellent critical tone and the Bhaskar’s research and knowledge must be commended. He provides as well easy to follow foot-notes, an extensive bibliography and a very useful index. 

This book certainly helped me to clarify my ideas, as a writer, editor and publisher, about the whole process. 

I was pleased to see confirmation that this academic publisher used print on demand – a model Bhaskar discusses. We see Lightning Source’s logo on the final page. This is the very company we use. Slightly puzzling though that the digital resources are listed separately form the print ones, given what the author discusses. 

Never mind. This is an excellent text and is certainly informing my decision of where to go next.          

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Woman Undefeated by Vivienne Dockerty

Another stunner by Vivienne Dockerty. This is one of those thick, engaging books that are difficult to put down. A young Irish woman’s life is turned upside down when she flees the failed potato crop and disrupted family. She comes with her new husband and family to England.       
Dockerty holds a close point of view and we are with Maggie all of the way. She does not have an easy life but she is feisty and brave. All of Dockerty’s characters are well drawn. They are rounded, believable and consistent. 

There is pace and tension a plenty in this tale.

Here we can admire the craft of a master story-teller. 

I am so pleased that I have the sequel, Dreams Can Come True, waiting on my shelf.  I do hope this writer will continue producing these satisfying novels for us.      


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Beggarman’s Cottage by Vivienne Dockerty

I first came across Vivienne when she advertised Beggarman’s Cottage on Streetlife. Ah, I thought. Another local writer. So, I ordered a copy of her book and she hand-delivered it whilst I was out.
As usual, it queued on my shelf behind various others. I buy books compulsively.  

Then I actually met her when I went to a local coffee morning – and bought two more.
I finally read Beggarman’s Cottage and was totally amazed. I’ve currently started one of the others. That will get a review here as well. 

I’m astounded that Vivienne Dockerty has never found a mainstream publisher. Her story-telling is excellent. Her writing is also superior to much that is written in historical fiction of this nature, even that which is published by the Big Five. 

Beggarman’s Cottage is a little tricky in that is has multiple points of view, including that of a ghost.  There is one character who has more of the story and we are gunning for her all of the time. Dockerty certainly engages us. The ending is satisfying but I’ll say no more here. 

Perhaps her stories are all the richer because they are based on those of her ancestors. 

She has moved back to Australia. I hope she will continue to write.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Rendezvous in Russia

Lauren St John delivers again. If you enjoyed Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or the Nancy Drew mysteries you will enjoy this.  Except it probably wouldn’t displease your parents and teachers as much as Blyton did: it is more 21st century and much better written. 

Laura Marlin – and the book is subtitled “A Laura Marlin mystery” - is a feisty teenager who loves mysteries and detective stories. She is an orphan who used to live in a children’s home.  She now lives with her uncle Calvin, a Chief Inspector of Police. 

She has two great friends - Tariq Ali, who is good with horses, and her three-legged husky, Skye.
Laura, Skye and Tariq get a lot more than they bargained for when they get involved with filming The Aristocratic Thief. They are once again swept into the world of the deadly “Straight As”. 

There is pace and tension a plenty here along with good characterisation. I read it virtually at one sitting. Do give it a go.       


Friday, 3 February 2017

The Secret Baby Room by DD Johnston

D.D. Johnston wrote to my colleague at the University of Salford to ask if he could come and talk to our students.  We had a Masters creative writing workshop that seemed to fit well. I was running it that evening. He had a Power Point presentation – but didn’t trust our technology so he showed it as a series of A4 flash cards. It worked. There were also lots of questions from the students. It made for an inspiring class.  

I bought the book. None of the students did. It is published by a small press so is a little expensive. 

It took me over a year to get round to reading it but when I did I could hardly put it down.  It’s unusual for me not to figure out what is happening long before the end.  This time I did not know until the very last page how everything was going to turn out. Yet the story progression and the resolution remained convincing.
Part of the appeal must be because it is set in Greater Manchester. As there is a tower block and a river involved, I saw in my mind’s eyes an area very near to the university – in fact just a few yards away from where I held the class. However, it isn’t there because there is a golf course, an old people’s home and a St Michael’s Church involved as well. 

This novel has an excellent narrative balance. The characters are totally convincing. They are ordinary folk, too, not white upper middle class. The story moves forward at a pace and we are kept guessing. We are totally gunning for protagonist Claire Wilson. 

I suppose Johnston approached us partly because the story is set in Greater Manchester. The story is based on something that happened to him.  Oh, and he used to work at a Manchester coach station – just like Dan, Claire’s husband. 

Do give it a go.