A first wee peek. Some advance copies of the book, due for publication on 12th June 2018, might be for sale – contact me directly. The background music was an accident, but it's OK so I just left it.
I need to share a very sad story with you.
As some of you might know, I run a small self-publishing collective called Comely Bank Publishing. At the moment six of us have published books, a total of either nine or ten titles depending on whether you count ebook-only publications. We do all right; in fact some of us do very nicely and almost all of our titles have gone to reprint. But our motto is damna ad reductum – keep losses to a minimum.
In the circumstances, then, you'll understand that the very notion of throwing out books, even destroying them, is anethema to our association. Yet that's exactly what I'm about to do. What makes it worse is the books in question are actually my own.
My 2013 novel Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie has gone to reprint a few times now (they're not big print runs, 100-200 at most). By 2015 sales were beginning to slow down, but I didn't want it to be out of print so I asked the printer I was using at the time, Berforts, to run off 40 copies for me.
When the books arrived a few weeks later, I didn't know what to make of them. The ink seemed very faint, the copies seemed rather thick and the paper had a rough texture. Back then I was still learning about printing (I still am, in truth) so I couldn't work out what the problem was. Fortunately I had some copies left from the previous print run so I wasn't panicking.
And then, just as I was about to complain, Berforts went bust. It had gone into administration. As John Cleese might have said, it had ceased to be. It was a dead printer. I had nobody to complain to.
I had to find a new printer fast, and fortunately managed (our current printers are 4edge) with the help of a former Berforts employee. But I also needed to find out what was wrong with the old books so I sent a copy to the new printer and one of their staff helpfully explained over the phone that... absolutely everythingwas wrong with it. The wrong paper had been used, they'd even cut it in the wrong direction. Presumably this was because the firm was struggling to meet orders and it was my misfortune to get caught up in all of it. Berforts should have been ashamed of it. Thankfully it wasn't a big print run.
I have enough decent copies of Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie. You can still buy it in the shops and it's available online, too. But what can I do with those unsaleable copies? Nobody seems to want them, even free, and they're taking up valuable space. We have new titles coming, including one of my own called The Blogger Who Came in from the Cold, and of course last year Comely Bank Publishing also published The Discreet Charm of Mary Maxwell-Hume. Meanwhile, I keep tripping over these two unopened boxes of substandard books in the middle of the floor.
They have to go, and reluctantly I've come to the conclusion that means "recycling". I can't even burn them to stay warm this winter as it's a fossil fuel. Perhaps they'll compost nicely.
STOP PRESS: They've gone, thanks to Oxfam!
Thanks to all who offered useful suggestions: toilet paper, wrapping fish suppers, blocking up draughty holes in the skirting, etc....
I've had a couple of interesting discussions recently with fellow writers and editors over the value of style manuals such as the Chicago Style Manual, Fowler, Grammar Girl and so on.
Personally, I don't care for them much. Particularly when writing fiction, language style is definitely what seems natural: there isn't a 'right' and 'wrong'. I concede that style manuals are fun to look at sometimes, and there are a few things – italicisation of newspapers or song titles and so on – that my generation wasn't taught at school.
Here are a couple of examples. Some people just hate semi-colons (a word that can be spelled without the hyphen, of course). A semi-colon should separate two linked sentences; the two sentences should be independently viable but feel better connected.
Another bad boy is the "comma splice", sometimes known as the "comma fault". Occasionally it feels right to separate two sections with a comma, the words just read better that way. But you can't lay down rules for any of this. (That comma could even be a semi-colon, for instance. Or just two sentences. Or a dash.)
To quote Lynne Truss (not the Tory cheese woman), "done knowingly by an established writer, the comma splice is effective, poetic, dashing." I'd suggest the rest of us should consider dashing.
Finally, it so happens I completely disagree with Grammar Girl on the use of commas – I just happen to think she's coming from completely the wrong angles. The use of a comma is generally easy for me: it's where you stop to breathe. Just about everyone of my generation would agree with me.
That doesn't mean she's wrong, though, it just means that her style and mine are different...