Friday, 28 May 2010

A Business Day in Mexico

Our guest blogger this week is Chris West - divisional managing director at the Mexican subsidiary of a large Spanish publishing group and author of our latest title, “The Lowdown: Doing Business in Mexico.”

Wake up around 0600, it's still dark but the birds are twittering merrily in the trees around my house.

Off to the airport for a flight to Monterrey in the north of Mexico. I'm going to team up with a distinguished textbook author from Spain, who's going to begin a series of lectures at prestigious universities.

The traffic is light and I'm soon at Mexico City airport Terminal 2, which is quite new and quite smart, and seems to be modelled on Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2F. Leading local airline Aeromexico dominates the scene and at the right time on the right day you can breeze through from the entrance to being on board a plane within ten minutes. Which is what I do, catching a plane an hour earlier than the one I was booked to fly on.

Surprise! My author is on the same plane, on the last leg of a three-segment flight from Barcelona in economy...publishing marketing budgets aren't what they used to be. He tells me he's just been informed his luggage only made it to Madrid.

70 minutes later we touch down in muggy Monterrey, 32 degrees in the shade and 90% humidity. A guy from the office whisks us to the author's hotel, and he wanders off to buy some clothes and a shaving kit.

I go to the office where the atmosphere is a bit tense as we've just had to fire someone for selling sample copies...educational publishing isn't as sexy as selling fiction but it has its rules.

After an hour or so of delving into coverage plans and market share analysis, I wonder why I feel cold. Ah! The air conditioning unit is set at a glacial 16 degrees. The "Regiomontanos", as the people of Monterrey are called, love air conditioning.

Lunch-time comes round and our author has fresh clothes and is ready to give his first lecture in the mid afternoon.

We agree no alcohol and a salad would seem to be called for to combat jet lag - the time difference is 7 hours.

Bad news arrives on the way to the restaurant. There has been a shoot-out between the army and the drug traffickers very near the University where our author is scheduled to speak.

No-one got killed but the University was evacuated and the faculty and students will not be coming back today. No chance of re-scheduling.

The author decides to change strategy, and plumps for a margarita and a steak, followed by a huge desert involving a mango formed into a spiral staircase with coconut ice cream on its rungs. Goat is the favourite local dish but can be greasy.

So it's back to the office after lunch and a chance for the staff to ask the author

about his work.

Some of the people in the office appear glum. Ah! Mexico has been playing a friendly match against England, who won 3-1. We have Holland, Italy and The Gambia to go and there is some rather desultory conversation about our chances.

By the end of the day we have finished planning sixteen more talks for the visiting author in five more cities, and he still doesn't know where his luggage is.

As is frequently the case on field trips, the team decides that everything is going well and we will make our budget and our bonuses. I pull out the predictions from this time last year and point to the gap between the estimate and the final result, and we calculate the "salesman optimism factor". Over the years I have observed that people coming into the publishing industry from the pharmaceutical industry forecast better than those joining from the automotive industry. How can I monetise this knowledge?

And so back to the airport, and a chance to chew over market trends with the head of a competing publishing house in the down time before the flight leaves.

Nuts! Is all they serve today on a dinner-time flight and they appear to be unfamiliar with wine. But the flight is mercifully on time.

Get back home before midnight thanks to a mad taxi driver who storms through the deserted streets - not much doing late on a Monday night. The dogs make a fuss of me but soon take me to an empty food bowl. Now, do I prepare for tomorrow's 0900 board meeting now or early tomorrow? You guess... – Chris West

Friday, 21 May 2010

Crime fiction writer Mary Andrea Clarke

We love crime fiction and crime fiction authors! Continuing our occasional series of interviews with some of our authors, this week we talk to Mary Andrea Clarke, author of The Crimson Cavalier - one of CCTheLowdown director Lorelei King’s favourites in the eCC eBook series.

By day, Mary Andrea Clarke is a responsible civil servant - but by night, she is a mystery woman! Her love of crime fiction led her to join the vibrant group of readers and writers who organise many events and meetings all over the UK. She lives in Surrey and has completed her next novel, which is due for publication in August 2010

1. If you could choose any actress to play the lead role on TV or reading an audio version of your titles, who would you choose?

Catherine Zeta Jones! She has a lively and spirited presence which would bring Georgiana Grey to life on-screen. Anne Cater did an excellent job of reading The Crimson Cavalier and I think my fellow crime writer Linda Regan would also be a good choice. If I had the chance, I would LOVE to narrate the audio myself as I think it would be a really exciting experience.

2. How do you structure the layout and plot lines of your books? Do you have a clear plot line, or do things twist, turn and develop as you go along?

I have a general outline for the entire book, but plot each chapter as I go along using a mind map - this helps with tangents and off-shoots. The initial draft for my first book was written in long-hand, but now I write direct to my laptop. I spend an hour each day on my commute to work, so try to write as much as I can then, but otherwise it’s back on the computer after I’ve had something to eat and working into the night…Weekends are better, as I can have a whole day, but as far as structure and plot is concerned, I either have a notebook or my laptop with me so that I can keep note of ideas and plotlines.

3. Your book is publishing in ePUB/eBook format with Creative Content at the end of April. Do you have any specific views on the digital marketplace as an outlet for your titles and what do you think of the new devices like the Kindle?

It’s very exciting to see reading moving into the digital world. It’s a helpful option for the reader to have another medium to enjoy books and which can offer a wide range of titles in an easily mobile format. The Kindle and the iPad can bring a lot more books - even audio downloads - to the reader, which is a great addition. A great way to take a lot of books on holiday without exceeding the baggage limit!

4. Did you set out to create a series based character or was that accidental?

The Crimson Cavalier was started as a standalone novel, but as the book progressed, ideas developed for other books featuring Georgiana.

5. How do you go about your research?

I tended to do the bulk of my research about the period, and particularly highwaymen, before the first novel and tend to renew and refer back to that as I go along, but if it‘s something I just don‘t know or am not familiar with, I would always do the main research before starting to write. And I am always reading - another way to pass the time during my daily commute! I had read a lot about the Regency period in my youth and that has continued and that has helped a lot when it comes to research and background.

6. Is there any one person who inspired you to become a writer?

I tend to absorb what I can from lots of different writers. When I start to write, I think a lot of what I’ve read returns from my subconscious mind; you almost don’t realise you’ve remembered it! I used to read a lot about the Tudor period from Jean Plaidy and she was always very well researched and could really bring characters to life. She also used to write as Victoria Holt.

7. Is there any one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you?

I was in a fencing club when I was at University!

8. Were you at all inspired by the novels of Georgette Heyer in setting your novels in the Regency period and if so, which of hers novels is a favourite?

Yes - her novels did contribute inspiration, but I wanted a different angle - a single woman working around the restrictions of the period to solve a crime. My favourite of her books is Sylvester, where the heroine secretly writes a novel. - interview by Alan Muirden

eCC launched on 30 April 2010. For further information, visit or contact

Friday, 14 May 2010

Interview with author Kaye C Hill

To tie in with the launch by Creative Content on of their first four Crème de la Crime novels in eBook format, we asked the four authors some questions to get some background on themselves and their books. This week, we feature Kaye C Hill.

Kaye C Hill - Dead Woman’s Shoes

Kaye’s sparky sleuth Lexy Lomax lives on the Suffolk coast where, when not writing, Kaye herself spends as much time as possible. It’s a place that she finds incredibly mysterious and atmospheric, making it a perfect setting for Dead Woman’s Shoes. Kaye is currently working on her third novel in the series, which will be out early in 2011

1. If you could choose any actress to play the lead role on TV or reading an audio version of your titles, who would you choose?

Kaye: This is a tough one! I think someone who was a tomboy - not glamorous - perhaps Sharon Small, who plays DS Barbara Havers in the Inspector Lindley Mysteries ? As for an audio book reader, I would choose someone with a laconic, humorous voice - like Jennifer Saunders or Jo Brand.

2. How do you structure the layout and plot lines of your books? Do you have a clear plot line, or do things twist, turn and develop as you go along?

I start off with a vague plan, then fill in detail as I go along. Characters appear and do and say things which can surprise me as much as the reader! I usually know who the murderer is, but have been known to change him or her when I’m three-quarters through writing the book! I keep a notepad for ideas and often sit in the garden or a nice outdoor place and scribble away ideas and then transfer those ideas to my computer…those ideas can be fleshed out more easily on paper rather than if I used a voice recorder…I also tend to write and check/improve as I go along, rather than write a full draft and then return to the start and then re-read and make changes. I think you need to be reminded of what you’ve written as you’re writing. I tend to write more in the mornings and aim to do around a thousand words per day.

3. Your book is publishing in ePUB/eBook format with Creative Content at the end of April. Do you have any specific views on the digital marketplace as an outlet for your titles and what do you think of the new devices like the Kindle?

Kaye: I think it’s important to move with the times. Much as I love the look and feel of traditional books, I also admire the sleek electronic versions - and also that you can store so many titles on them. I don’t have one at the moment, but we do intend to get one - you can’t fight it and especially the younger generation, who are at ease with the technology, will embrace it.

4. Did you set out to create a series based character or was that accidental?

It was always my intention to make Lexy Lomax the main character in a series of whodunits - the first book provides the background and contains certain strands if intrigue that I unravel from one book to the next. I realised that all the elements of Lexy’s character couldn’t be resolved in the first book, so set out to set up certain things that the reader can recognise as they start to read the next book. Some aspects can also just run and run from book to book, but there are always the connections and sub-plots which are important. I am a big fan of “series” based writing. A great example is Sue Grafton who has created a character in her books with an intriguing past and slowly revealed things book to book. I am also very impressed by Lindsey Davis’s writing - she has a PI character set in Imperial Rome. I also very much like Alexander McCall-Smith and of course Agatha Christie.

5. Is there any one person who inspired you to become a writer?

Kaye: I’m not sure whether they inspired me to start writing, but I have always liked the novels of Alexander McCall Smith and Lindsey Davis in particular, but I like to read many different authors.

6. Is a Private Investigator a career you ever saw for yourself and do you know any personally that inspire Lexy’s character?

Kaye: Writing about a private eye is definitely a case of wish fulfillment. When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a private detective and used to go around solving “crimes” in the street with my big tin foil badge saying “Kaye C Hill, Private Investigator” pinned to my raincoat! I don’t know any private investigators personally, but I was approached by one who had read the books and wanted to offer advice - but at a price. I didn’t take up the offer, but I think the world of official private investigating is only a few steps away from the world of un-official private investigating, which is really what Lexy does - she just keeps stumbling into situations - so there aren’t necessarily any “rules” to learn, but it is always useful to pick up any tips whenever I can. interview by Alan Muirden

eCC launched on 30 April 2010. For further information, visit or contact

Friday, 7 May 2010

Could It Happen Again?

Our guest blogger this week is historian John Lee.

Ali Muirden and I know each other from both working for Pan Macmillan for more years than we care to remember. I cleared off at the end of 2006 to get on with a lifetime’s obsession – the study of military history through writing, lecturing and battlefield tour guiding. And then one day an e-mail appears from Ali saying she had been driving along listening to the news and started to wonder things like “What is all this ‘fussing and fighting’ in the Middle East about, and, oh, by the way, how come an archduke getting shot in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 plunges the whole of Europe into a world-changing catastrophe that was even then known as ‘the Great War’?”

If she did not know, she knew a man who might. And I agreed to do my first audio book, on the origins of the First World War.

Despite Noel Coward’s admonition that ‘we must not be beastly to the Germans’, and how we are all firm allies now, it is almost impossible not to conclude that the German ruling-class was looking for an excuse for a war in Europe that was scheduled to start some time after the summer of 1914. The killings at Sarajevo were cleverly turned into a threat against Germany, but, if they had not happened, there would have been another excuse found before too long.

Germany had convinced itself that all its neighbours were consumed with jealousy of her, and were ganging up to bring about her destruction, first by strangling her legitimate bid to be a world power, and ultimately by all-out attack. Rather than sit and wait for her enemies to grow stronger year on year, Germany decided to risk everything on issuing clear ultimatums threatening war, and them delivering a knockout blow with all her strength. (And she would do it all again in 1939!)

This all left me wondering how the world has changed since 1945, arguably for the better. That might not be an immediately obvious deduction, but this is what I mean. Studying the run up to the First World War, I had been struck at how nations could decide that their ‘honour’ had been ‘fatally compromised’ and how war was the only possible solution. Nations were continually threatening each other with ultimatums, forming ‘defensive’ alliances while arming themselves with all the latest weaponry, and coolly laying plans for a war that was seen as utterly inevitable, and even desirable. There was all that psychobabble about war being the ultimate test of a nation’s fitness to strut upon the world stage, where ‘vigorous young nations’ had the right, and indeed the moral duty, to sweep older states into the dustbin of history.

We don’t get much talk like that any more (not even in the ‘Daily Mail’!) Do nations take umbrage at ‘insults’ these days? All the great colonial empires have been demolished, leaving every nation to make a mess of itself in its own way.

Now here is a scary thought. There have been many wars since 1945, and there are ongoing wars at this very moment, but can anyone envisage a great worldwide conflict like 1914-1918 or 1939-1945 ever again? Could you see modern youth queuing up at the recruiting offices like they did in 1914? Is that because we are increasingly comfortable, and connected (thanks to the digital age we live in, and all those foreign holidays), or is it because we have invented weapons so destructive that their use becomes idiocy. We all recognise now that the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ of the nuclear age certainly deserved its acronym, MAD, though we are only just realising what terrible psychic damage the constant threat of that destruction may have caused. But the ‘final war’ never happened, and is looking increasingly less likely. Only because of the threat of nuclear annihilation? I sincerely hope not. Maybe the world is growing up at last. Looking at the nation-sized tantrums that led to the First World War, there might yet be cause for hope. - John Lee