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Sunday Times Books LIVE

Paige Nick

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

1 book, 3 covers, 3 titles

A funny thing happened to me on the way to getting published.

How does one book get published with three different titles and three different covers?

I finished writing Dutch Courage in January 2015.

Incredible agent and selling machine, Oli Munson of AM Heath, sold Dutch Courage to Penguin SA. And to Harper Collins in the UK, who scheduled it for digital release in April 2016.

Covers and titles are tough for an author. Well for this author in particular. I’m in the ad industry, so I have a strong visual aesthetic (read: opinion).

I don’t know which is worse for a publisher, an author with design experience, or one without. Just about all my covers have been torture.

The amount of influence an author has on their cover depends. Generally, the publisher presents a few options to author, there’s some discussion and tweaking, and on (rare) occasion a second round of options. The author gets a say, mostly, but not entirely and sometimes not at all. Publishers have research and strong opinions on what sells and what doesn’t sell.

I instantly LOVED the SA cover of Dutch Courage by Penguin SA. Which is a first for me. We did minor tweaks and sent it to print:

DUTCH COURAGE (4 legs)

(PS: you can buy this book here)

Harper Collins UK changed the title to Like A Virgin (They wanted to change my name too, but that’s another story for another day). I liked the new title. But the cover wasn’t as easy.
I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. They did. We negotiated some tweaks. I still didn’t like it. In the end we agreed to disagree, and off it went into the world. You can’t win ’em all:

29845532

 

Cut to July. An email from Harper Collins. By now, the full team I’d worked with on the original edit, cover and launch had left, some already replaced twice. No surprises, it had been over 18 months since they bought the book and publishing is fast-moving. When I read the email I wanted to vomit. Sales of Like A Virgin were tragic. Worse than tragic, dismal. Wait, worse than dismal, pathetic… wait… worse than pathetic… you get my drift.

Mistakes had been made, they said. I waited for them to say a polite but understandable farewell to me and my dreams.

I was wrong. They said they believe in this novel and they’d decided to give it a new title, a new cover, and another shot.

Introducing The Wrong Knickers for a Wednesday. launching in the UK today. 

Same book, new title, new cover, new marketing plan. Who knew.

Whoever said ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’ never had a ballsy, ethical, can-do publisher.

Thank you for the second shot Harper Collins UK, Eloise Wood, Helen Huthwaite, Helena Sheffield, and Oli Munson. And godspeed fun stripper book with lots of faces:

9780008160845

Click here to buy this book in the UK (please, please, please buy this book. I’m not sure they’ll give me a 3rd shot).

One book, three covers, three titles. Which is your favourite:

1 book 3 covers.001

PS: Dutch Courage/Like A Virgin/The Wrong Knickers for a Wednesday is a book about what’s left behind when your clothes come off. It’s set in a strip club in Amsterdam, where all the strippers are celebrity impersonators. Some say it’s smart with a heart (coined by genius editor, Helen Moffett). Which I think is a cute, rhymey description that sums it up nicely.

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The little postcard that could

When I asked Books Live Editor, Jennifer Malec, for her postal address, so I could send her a Dutch Courage postcard, she told me she generally has good luck with the post office. I raised an eyebrow. You can’t blame me, I think we’re generally all still a little cynical when it comes to the skills of our postmen and women. That brief postal strike that lasted most of 2015 may have something to do with that.

Turns out she wasn’t kidding.

Yesterday (Sunday 24th April), as Jennifer headed through the streets of her neighbourhood to play a spot of tennis (not something she does regularly I’m told, although I believe she still won) she spotted something. It was her postcard. Addressed to her, lying there, in the gutter. Which is appropriate I suppose since Dutch Courage is a book set in a strip club.

Sure, it had been driven over a few times and was looking a little worse for wear. But it was still in one piece. And even though it got a little lost and sidetracked along the way, it still found its way to her! What are the freaking odds of that?

 

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So are you feeling as lucky as Jennifer Malec?

If so, and you’d like me to post you a good old-fashioned postcard, in the mail, to your postbox (or I can do gutter deliveries too), then simply email your physical address to amillionmilesfromnormal@gmail.com and I’ll pop one in the post to you immediately.

AND if you post a postie (postcard selfie) to social media with the hashtag #DutchCourage you could win a copy of the book too, nogal. Bonus.

Here are some of the #DutchCourage entries so far (the rest are here):

11215100_10153385994316333_7718870437657878719_n 12063680_10154688863796002_3067105102251771519_n 12472567_10208794126348833_89244366030559739_n 12991109_10153411621807026_936750156643817900_n 12920241_10154002641611405_3862854643304060658_n 12923290_10153331066345566_4562127094418432408_n12472762_10156656206915062_6714009309798103372_n 12974351_10153372145531036_7722785481196727749_n 12987022_10156777482700517_2105738630163269921_n 12994342_10154001607621224_9003017198796994372_n 13001214_10153639262005829_5395292946117824649_n 13006575_10204421910026933_7292135047760622559_n 13051583_10153372276596036_125749733491485539_n 13061919_10154215140762526_7998878966164555363_n 13000293_645778035572610_5683733876775710269_n 13015429_10153935480005310_1864101014259448892_n 13015590_10154172796944468_3716775006044726872_nCgA7ouNXEAQ5pq-.jpg-large Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.54.23 AM CgfByN9UsAAjskX.jpg-large beaver.001

 

Brave Ben Williams

I don’t remember his exact words, but some months ago, the inimitable, unstoppable and clearly courageous books editor of The Sunday Times (among other things), Ben Williams, said to me, hey, you know what, we should bring out a book of your columns.

I wonder if he had known what a Pandora’s Box of grime, smut and crazy he was opening, whether he would have still been so keen? Either way, I got him to sign on the dotted line before he sobered up and changed his mind, and so together with Renee Naude, we embarked on the funnest mission ever, to collate a selection of columns and the letters I get from them every week.

Letters that range from the good:

Subject: “living alone”

Paige, I never write fan mail but I just had to after reading “A song for toast with the most” because it was so true and made me laugh out loud. My secret? I live alone so I can watch WWE Smackdown on ETV and drink whisky on Wednesday nights. Thank you for a fantastic column.

I steal the Lifestyle section from my family on Sundays, and when I get back to my lonezone, you and Ndumiso Ngcobo make my crime totally worth it!

To the bad:

Dear Paige,

I understand your weekly column in the Lifestyle section of the Sunday Times is meant to be a light-hearted attempt at humour and that you cannot please everyone with what you write. However, I believe that some of the generalisations and stereotypes that you made in your most recent article ‘Toy boys vs sugar daddies’, published on 21 November 2010, are just plain obscene, even offensive…  [It goes on a bit from here, but you get the gist]

To the downright ugly:

Subject: hello

Hello Paige, my love

my darling, its is my ferverent desire to ravish and feast upon your heavenly form and to pleasure you with my big black ****. i love youso much Paige, you hace the most beautiful smile and i’m sure you smell like jasmine down there.

all my love

Loverboy

Pens Behaving Badly with foreword and shout by Darrel Bristow-Bovey and cover artwork by James B Hannah, launches on 15th July on Amazon and Kobo, paperback to follow later on in the year:

less than 1 meg

 

 

On deciding whether to write under a pseudonym

I was recently commissioned to write erotic fiction in the vein of Fifty Shades of Grey for Cosmopolitan Magazine. I know, I know, somebody bring that bandwagon around so we can all hop on. I thought quite hard and then accepted the job, in the hopes that erotica might be a gateway drug for some magazine readers, leading them to other kinds of fiction, preferably the type that I do usually write.

However, as we made our way through the writing and editing process, and my client asked me to add in more explicit scenes (it’s in a sealed sex-issue, so they wanted it to be as raunchy as possible) I got to thinking about the concept of writing under a pseudonym. A nom de plume would give me the freedom to write the hot lady-porn my client was after, and not have to worry too much about friends, family and colleagues disowning me for writing the words “heaving” and “thrusting”.

Tons of writers have made use of pen names for one reason or another. Even some of the greats like Mark Twain, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll weren’t actually themselves.

Some authors do it to conceal their identity so they can genre-hop without alienating their market; others want to free themselves from the perception of gender that their name brings; and some just want to pay the rent without doing too much damage to their personal brand. One bestselling US romance and erotic novelist writes as Angela Knight, instead of her real name, Julie Woodcock. The double entendre was just too much for her to bear, given her genre.

And, of course, the Brontë sisters all used male pen names for their early work, until the dark ages passed and it became slightly more acceptable for women to be writers.

Richard Bachman, who you may know better as Stephen King, even did it. He was incredibly prolific and his publishers doubted fans would buy more than one new book from the same author in a year.

Besides changing their names, authors have also been known to abbreviate, anagram and initialise their full names, mostly to disguise their gender. It wouldn’t do to be a man writing romance, or a woman writing guy-spy.

Some of the original episodes of Star Trek were written by D C Fontana, (Dorothy Catherine). And let’s not forget J K Rowling. Abbreviating has hardly done her any harm. And it would be wrong not to give a nod to E L James here, or rather Erica Leonard, author of the Fifty Shades series.

It’s pretty sad that even today some female authors still need to make their names as gender neutral as possible to improve sales. Jane Austen would frown politely.

Acclaimed French author Romain Gary started to publish books under the pen name Emile Ajar because he wanted to see if his new book would be well received without him having to lean on his already established reputation. (It was.)

But the master of writing as someone else has to be Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) who wrote under at least 72 different names, and became the creator of the heteronym. Each heteronym came with its own personality, appearance, biography and writing style. Pessoa created whole worlds for his writing alter egos. It’s pretty impressive; I’m just one person and I sometimes struggle to remember who I am.

Fascinated with astrology, Pessoa spent ages creating detailed astrological charts for his writing alters, to help figure out their personalities down to the finest detail. Writing as these different authors was more than just a cover-up or marketing tool for him; it became a way of allowing him to write in different styles. In a complicated web, some of the characters Pessoa wrote as even knew each other or were relatives, and he often had them translating or editing each other’s work. In a letter to an editor, one heteronym ruthlessly criticised another heteronym’s writing, calling it “appalling and rigid”. And one of Pessoa’s heteronyms wrote a letter to his lover in a fit of jealousy. In on the joke, she wrote back.

This behaviour is hardly surprising — your average writer is pretty schizophrenic already. Our characters chatter away in our heads, holding their own conversations, arguments and adventures.

Pessoa created his first alter ego as early as the age of six, named Chevalier de Pas. Other children have imaginary friends; child authors have heteronyms. So if all of this is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be the first writer to consider disguising my identity. But it’s a tricky decision to make. With the book market in the state it’s in, anything you can do as an author to get your name out there and get people reading can’t but help, and all publicity is good publicity, isn’t it? Even publicity of the hard, throbbing variety.

I realised that on the upside, if I wrote erotic fiction under a pseudonym, nobody would know that I had written it; and on the downside, if I wrote it under a pseudonym, nobody would know that I had written it. So in the end I decided to publish under my own name, and attempt to make it the best damn pornography I could write. Then I took a deep breath, covered my eyes with my fingers and sent it off.

Now that my erotic fiction is out there, I’m considering disguising myself as someone else and leaving the country. Anyone know where I can get a pair of those eyes, nose and moustache glasses and a new name?

A vending machine for books.

It’s the little things in life that make me happy.

Like insanely clever ideas like this:

It’s called a Biblio-Mat.

It’s kind of like a random-book jukebox.

It’s a vending machine that was invented for an antiquarian bookshop in Canada called The Monkey’s Paw.

You put $2 into the coin slot, and out pops a literary surprise.

Perfect if you can’t decide what to read next.

And perfect if you’re a small independent book seller with a ton of old books on your hands.

No two books are ever the same. Collect all 113 million titles, it says on the machine.

It makes my heart beat a little faster, and it makes my jealousy muscle twitch. Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

Click here for a video of it in action.

To market, to market…

There’s a very cool market happening in Cape Town on Saturday:

 I’m going to be joining a bunch of other local authors at the Freeworld Design Market selling and signing copies of our books.

 The market looks like it’s going to be amazing, with tons of shit-hot local designers, live music, stone carvers (looking forward to seeing what that’s all about), Easter egg hunts and other kids activities and yummy foodie type stuff.

 I’ll be selling and signing my book, A Million Miles from Normal:

 And will be joined by a couple of other amazing local authors.

 The wonderful Sarah Lotz who has just launched her new book, Deadlands, which she co-authored with her daughter. It’s the first ever Zombie book set in Cape Town.

 



Sarah Lotz





 
 

 

Lauren Beukes, genius author of Moxyland, and her more recent, much acclaimed Zoo City, will be there.

 

Lauren Beukes

 

And the very tallented Sally Partridge will be signing copies of her first book - The Goblet Club.



Sally Partridge



 
 

So if you’re in the hood, come swing by and say hi, we’d love to see you. We’ll be at the first stand as you walk in the entrance.

Oh and one last thing, the Freeworld Design Centre have an amazing blog, if you’re a person who likes cool and uber-gorgeous stuff. Check it out here: http://www.freeworlddesigncentre.co.za/

To find out more about the market visit:

http://www.mothercityliving.co.za/designer-easter-market-waterkant-street/

or:

http://www.visi.co.za/content/article/657/easter-market

Thank you for helping The Bookery win R20 000

The Price Check Charity 48 hour blogathon just finished, and I’m so chuffed to announce that thanks to all your help and retweets and posts and votes, that we’ve just managed to win R20 000 for The Bookery. (An Equal Education Foundation that creates libraries in desperately needy schools.)

 Thanks for every single vote, made by every single one of you. I know I must have irritated the living daylights out of everyone here and on facebook and twitter, nagging constantly for votes, and I appreciate that none of you have hatched plots to murder me, or worse, unfriend me.

It’s a great initiative, and I’m so chuffed us bookies managed to pull it out.

A million and one thanks to each of you. (And a special thank you to Editor Ben for BookSA’s support.)

Happy Friday everyone. x

Click here if you love books

Hi book makers, readers, writers and lovers,

I’m writing with a request. I’m currently part of a charity blogging event being hosted by PriceCheck SA. I’m one of twenty bloggers competing. The blogger who gets the most votes wins R20 000 which will all go to the charity of their choice.

My charity of choice is The Bookery. It’s part of The Equal Education Foundation. These guys are amazing and spend their time building sustainable and well-stocked libraries in schools located in very disadvantaged communities.

Some of the kids in these communities have never owned a book, let alone had someone read to them, or been able to take a book home for a couple of nights.

So, if you get a chance, please swing by here, and click on the ‘Vote’ button (it doesn’t cost a cent, all it takes is a click). And let’s see if we can get every kid in South Africa reading.

What Lionel Shriver said

For those of you who aren’t so bored with this series that you want to murder me with a sharpened HB pencil, here’s yet another in the series of notes I took when I visited The Cheltenham Literature Festival in October.

I do like Lionel Shriver, although I must admit to not having the balls to read We Need To Talk About Kevin. I did read Post-Birthday World, however, and absolutely loved it. So much so that i blogged about it at the time, over here.

But back to what Lionel Shriver said. She is an incredibly severe looking and sounding woman. She wore a high polo neck and had her hair scraped back very tightly. She speaks with a very deep masculine voice, and a thick American accent, and I must be honest I found her a little scary. Although still really interesting.

One of her first comments was a complaint that American Authors aren’t able to be considered for The Booker. Which is hard for her because although she’s American, she’s lived in the UK for the last 20 years.  

She says that ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ was her seventh novel, and her first work that was recognised in any significant way. She also says that ‘Kevin’ was rejected by thirty British publishers, and twenty different American Agents before someone agreed to pick it up. A lesson in tenacity and perseverence if ever I’ve heard one.

She speaks extensively about her latest book, ‘So Much for That’. It’s a book about a woman with terminal cancer, and it’s really a statement on the sorry state of the current American medical health system.

Shriver says she was inspired to write the book when she discovered that the leading cause of bankruptcy in the USA right now is medical bills. She finds it a fascinating lesser known fact, and she wanted to highlight the issues.

For the first light moment of the session she says with a small smile: ‘I doubt there are that many authors who can kill off so many main characters and still have a happy ending.’

 Then she read a couple of pages, I must say I was surprised she picked such a boring piece to read, and I found my mind wandering, checking out the packed audience (not a spare seat in the house) and wondering if I was the only person in the room who probably hadn’t read ‘Kevin’.

Once she’s finished reading the excerpt she responds to a question from the interviewer, saying that she describes herself as an angry person. It doesn’t surprise me.

She says; ‘Americans only want to read stories set in USA. If an American author sets a story outside of the states, sales drop by half.’ Which I find sadly fascinating.

The only other thing she says that holds my attention, and keeps me pondering for the rest of the evening and well into the next day is:

 ‘The problem with trying to write a happy book is that something terrible has to happen for it to be good.’

She makes a good point, and I find it relevant to the kind of stuff I like to write.

They open up for questions from the audience and 99.99999% of them are arbitrary questions that take the title of her most popular book way way way too literally. There isn’t a single question about any of her other books.

Ultimately it’s an interesting session, but definitely with the least laughs of the festival, and a serious undercurrent of political agenda. My conclusion is that while it does look good, I probably won’t be buying or reading her latest book, it’s all just way too serious for me. But I respect her greatly as an author, so I’ll definitely stick around for the next one, and hold thumbs that it has a slightly lighter touch.

What A.S. Byatt said

Here’s number four in the series of notes I took at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in October. So far we’ve covered what Salman Rushdie, Bernhard Schlink and James Ellroy had to say. So I thought it was time to hear what a woman had to say.

I managed to do my homework and read both Possession and The Children’s Book before I saw Byatt speak, so I was curious to hear what she had to say about them. She mainly discussed The Children’s Book, as it’s her most current.

She describes herself as ‘a greedy reader’, which I liked.

You don’t have to read more than a hundred pages of any of her books to know that she’s big into research, so she spoke a bit about that.

She says she grew up on childrens books, and they’re very dear to her.

She speaks a bit about her parents. She says they were Utopian Socialists. And when she started to research The Fabians she realised that she hadn’t known her parents at all. Writing the book became a process of understanding them after they were gone.

She says of her father: ‘I didn’t know the kind of mental manure that fertilised his plant.’

and

‘Money always crops up, like muck, where humans are.’

She says of Olive, one of the main characters in The Children’s Book; ‘Women writers made money back then. Independence caused Olive to be generous.’

She says she was inspired to write The Childrens Book when she came upon the statistics of suicide in the children of children’s book authors. 

She said she feels ‘it’s because there is no room for the child in the house where the writing  is going on.’ and ‘So much misery in these households. There’s something intolerable in being the child of a children’s writer.’

Kenneth Grahame, who wrote Wind in the Willow’s had a son, Alastair, who committed suicide just before his twentieth birthday. So tragic. Byatt speaks of how Grahame had sent him The Wind in the Willows in letter form over the years while his son was at school.

She said, ‘for example, Christopher Robin, it couldn’t have been easy being him.’

‘The children feel pressured to remain a child. But the author is childlike too, which leaves the space of adult open.’ ‘The parent is also the child, so it’s harder for the children to remain children naturally. they have to grow up fast, while maintaining the muse of childhood for their parents.’

She also said of writing for children: ‘The imaginary world belongs to the constructor, not the reader.’

She speaks at great length about fairy tails. She says she adores Hans Christian Anderson, but his work is different from fairy stories. As a child she figured out that he was hurting her. She says: ‘He means his readers to be hurt. He is dangerous. For example if you are a girl who wanted red shoes, in the end you would get your feet cut off. That is the way it is with Hans Christian Anderson.’

She tells a story written by Hans Christian Anderson about a disobedient child who died and was buried, but then kept sticking his hand out of the ground. His mother would beat his hand with a broom until it went back into the ground again.

Charming tale.

On a different theme of the book she says that her ancesters were potters, which is why she always avoided it and wrote about glass in her books until now. ‘Glass is much more transparent,’ she said.

‘Ironically’, she said, ‘the best clay comes out of the graveyard.’

She calls The Children’s Book ‘an ensemble book’. She says the characters grew out of the reading and research she did. She says it starts with ghostly whisps of characters and builds from there.

Of her writing process she says: ‘For a moment the whole world hangs together in your head, that’s what happens when you have a click moment.’

‘I don’t start with characters, I start with a world.’

‘If you don’t come to writing for pleasure, you might as well give up.’

‘You imagine the room a scene is taking place in. That’s not wisdom, that’s pleasure.’

‘And the more awful the things you write, the greater the pleasure.’

She says in The Children’s Book, Dorothy is her very favourite character. She says she loved writing it because it was a time when women’s lives and place were changing daily. She says Dorothy was based on DH Lawrence.

The house lights come on, and the audience are allowed to ask questions.

Someone asks her how she feels about illustrations in childrens stories.

She says: ‘Well, think about Winnie the Pooh. Supposing there weren’t illustrations? What would I think he looked like?’

Another audience member stands up to ask a question, which starts with: ‘Hello, well I haven’t read any of your books yet, but…’

The audience groans. Chop. There’s one in every session.