Sunday, 27 April 2008

Viral marketing?

A few weeks back I referred to a tall, round, brick chimney, which I thought Chimney_2 might have figured in the landscape of my childhood, but couldn’t be sure. Well, my dear old mum e-mailed me soon after to not only tell me I wasn’t imagining this chimney (phew!), but that the name DOVER, which was painted down its height in large, white capitals, was there to advertise a bike pump.

As she pointed out, someone had gone to greatAntique_bike_pump_2 trouble to advertise a product that was usually supplied with each bike as a matter of course. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many people ever looked at that chimney and realised they’d lost their bike pump and needed to buy a new one---and a Dover bike pump at that? Or how many people, like myself, passed that chimney on a regular basis and didn’t have a clue what DOVER stood for? If the company owned the chimney it would make more sense to have a logo that size down the side of it, but I don’t think they ever did. Hmm.

Maybe, in a period where we talk about viral marketing and saturation marketing, this early marketing was about as incidental as it got. Advertising and marketing has changed a lot. And yet, in the world of books and music, word-of-mouth is probably one of the most effective forms of promotion there is. How many books have the critics slated or ignored, prior to them becoming phenomenally successful because a network of readers enjoyed them and recommended them to one another? Most of the books we buy, I think, are on our shelves because a friend or colleague told us they were a good read, and not The_dressmaker_frontbecause a critic in The Sunday Rag gave them five carrots or because we were sucked in by thirty seconds of prime time TV advertising or because they were plastered across the side of a bus or ... or painted down a chimney.

Rosalie Ham’s first novel The Dressmaker, which I read in 2005, was one such word-of-mouth success---a quirky 'Australian gothic novel of love, hate & haute couture'. I'm not sure what the critics had to say about it at the time, but for months everyone I met who was recommending a book was recommending this one until it became too difficult to resist buying. It was well worth it as a good read, which also made it the best kind of success story.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

"Curiouser and curiouser!"

‘There were doors all round the hall, but they were allLewis_carroll_facsimile_aaug locked, and when Alice had been all round it, and tried them all, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again: suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing lying upon it, but a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first idea was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall ...’ (Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures under Ground, Dover Publications)

As a teenager of the trippy, hippy-happy seventies, I’ve seen a few Lewis_carroll_facsimile_aaug_cove_2 people chase white rabbits down dark burrows. However, the hall that Alice finds herself in, with its many doors, has, with the ticking of the rabbit’s watch, acquired less of a surreal association for me, than as a place that symbolises the possibilities in life. Behind each door is the adventure of a new opportunity, with its own risks and rewards, dangers and pleasures, and in the grounds of each new opportunity there’ll always be another burrow and another hall with doors all round. And doors like this should be opened, never shut, don't you think? If you find a key to a door, then you have to see what’s on the other side. After all, if only monsters lurk there, and you don't want to learn to dance with them, it’s sometimes possible to step back.

Last week a door opened. And after a quick peek through, I couldn’t see any monsters. Not one.

Having mentioned in my last post that The View From Here had been relaunched as an online literary magazine, I was delighted to receive anWhite_rabbit_with_colours invitation `to become a regular contributor. It’s fair to say my first reaction was one of panic because, despite the comments I’ve made about change and opening doors rather than shutting them, I’ll initially resist change with the best of them. Too right, I’ll sink into a comfortable routine if I can. After all, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do as much writing as I want and still earn a living as it is. All the same, after giving myself a good talking to, I reminded myself that this is exactly the type of door I like and that the view from its threshold is exciting. Very exciting. So, to hell with sleep and chewing meals properly and getting to work on time and ... and ... there are lots of ways to find an extra hour or two in the day to do the things you love doing. Aren’t there?

Come and visit. I'm looking forward to seeing you there.

There's no way this post could finish without Jefferson Airplane playing White Rabbit.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Times They Are A-Changin'

There’s only one thing we can guarantee will remain the same in life, which is that nothing will remain the same in life. Big changes or small changes, the only thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. Dylan, Bowie and a thousand others have sung about it, Chaucer and Heraklietos wrote about it, Macmillan proclaimed about it, Darwin got a real grasp on it, Lao Tzu ... the list is long and constantly being added to because the earth and her inhabitants have been changing since before they began.

Vending_machine Even Anonymous gives a qualified assent: “Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.”

There’s been a big change afoot at PaperBooks during the last few weeks, which would’ve been inappropriate for me to hint at, let alone comment upon at the time. However, with the news released to the media last weekend (see Book Trade News, The Bookseller, Legend Press), I reckon I can now explain to all those lovely people who’ve been asking when The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore will be released, and who I’ve been fobbing off withPaperbooks_logo_2 the vaguest of replies and a quick change in subject, that PaperBooks have been bought by Legend Press. Yes, it’s a done deal! I understand that PaperBooks will continue to exist as a separate identity, but that this union will not only give both houses greater stature but that it’ll Legend_press create efficiencies which will see an increased list of titles and broader marketing and promotion opportunities. (I’m beginning to sound more like a business executive than an author, so I’ll stop there.) What it means for The Snowing and Greening is that we’ll be working towards a new release date and will let everyone know this as soon as is practicable.

I’d like to say a public thank you to the dynamic Keirsten Clark, whoWritingcouk_3 established PaperBooks and who, through her editorial insight, helped me develop a sharper focus for The Snowing and Greening. Keirsten is going to concentrate her energies on her other business, the literary consultancy Writing.co.uk , so, if you're after assistance in developing a manuscript, have a close look at the opportunities available there. And congratulations to Tom Chalmers, who, in establishing Legend Press and taking on PaperBooks, must also be pretty darned dynamic.

The_view_from_here_online_literar_2 Whilst I’m plugging, but still on the subject of change, big things have been happening over at Mike French’s site The View From Here recently. It’s no longer a blog as such, but has evolved into an online literary magazine. With his regular book reviews and interviews, Mike has been heading inevitably towards this change and it’s great to see the place he’s arrived at. It’s a boon for everyone interested in literary events, and Mike has reinforced this by affiliating with Cornerstones, another British literary consultancy. Recent interviews that Mike has conducted at The View From Here include Julian Barnes, Helen Corner, Tom McCarthy, Antony Moore, Paul Torday, Edward Smith (YouWriteOn.com) and yours truly. Not only is Mike French’s site well worth a visit but, for anyone interested in all things literary, it’s worth adding to your Favourites list if you haven’t already done so.

Thought I might finish with a YouTube clip of Bob Dylan singing The Times They Are A-Changing, or of Schopenhauer saying “Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal", or of Darwin setting sail in the Beagle, but thought I’d finish with a little light relief instead. Maybe this clip is about resisting change or maybe it suggests that sometimes things don’t change that much in some respects, or that things happen at their own sweet pace---you can decide for yourself---but I love the wink at the end.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Doing Donne

There was a time I read too many nineteenth century novels. It placed me in danger of writing tortuously long sentences, that, whilst resembling the metaphorical labyrinth they may have been attempting to convey, provided little in the way of illumination or hope for the hapless traveller who found his or her self trapped in the midst of such a dense text, and which, in terms of narrative style, became, dear reader, a little self-conscious and over-indulgently introspective … Phew! Glad I got that off my chest. These days, I read modern literature by choice.

Except when I don’t.

Recently I’ve been revisiting the literature of Elizabethan and Jacobean England---love the Errol_flynnbawdiness and the cloak-and-dagger thriller stuff---but John_donne_2can go there safely it seems. There are no disastrous side-effects.

One of many favourites is John Donne (1573-1631), playboy and priest. Whilst his life story is fascinating in itself, it’s the cleverness of his conceits (those extended metaphors, developed at several levels to pursue a logical, but sometimes fatuous, argument), coupled with his ability to achieve a flawless fluency in meeting the technical demands of each poem, that really knocks my socks off.

So, taking a leaf from Alina Sharon’s blog and her regular feature Respect The Classics!, here’s a seductive John Donne poem:

The Flea

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,

How little that which thou deny’st me is;

It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.

Thou know'st that this cannot be said

A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,

Yet this enjoys before it woo,

And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two,

And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, yea, more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;

Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,

And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.

Though use make you apt to kill me,

Let not to that self-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?

Wherein could this flea guilty be,

Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?

Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou

Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.

'Tis true, then learn how false fears be;

Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,

Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

PS. Does John Donne look a bit like Errol Flynn or what?

PPS. To add to the Elizabethan ambience, and to underscore the power of logic and rhetoric for this period, here’s a very short Black Adder sketch.