Friday, 29 April 2011

Interview with Penny Deacon

Today we’re talking to Penny Deacon, author of near-future thriller “A Kind of Puritan”, latest title in our eCC eBook imprint, which publishes today.

What first made you want to write?

I remember complaining to my mother, ‘I haven’t got anything to read!’ To which she replied, ‘You’ll just have to write your own book then, won’t you?’ I was six. Years later, I still think it was good advice. The ‘book’ that resulted wasn’t particularly original – it starred an oppressed princess with a remarkable resemblance to me who ended up overcoming all enemies and saving the kingdom. Prince Charming didn’t figure, but there were lots of thrilling adventures. Sadly this early piece of great literature was lost in one of our frequent house moves.

What inspired you to write “A Kind of Puritan”?

Humility (my lead character rather than the virtue) walked into my mind and wouldn’t go away so I had to find something for her to do. I was also fascinated with the way technology was beginning to take over our everyday lives (this was just about the time when the mobile phone was beginning to be everyone’s ‘must have’ and I couldn’t work out how to use all the functions on mine) and remote communications seemed to be endangering the pleasures of talking face to face.

Your novel is set in near-future Britain. What appealed about setting it in that time?

That follows on from my previous answer – I wondered what would happen if technology continued to develop fast, and what would happen to someone who, perhaps from the circumstances of her upbringing, had below average IT skills. Would she see the world in a different way?

 “A Kind of Puritan” would be fantastic as on film or TV! Who would be your dream casting for your heroine Humility? 

The film version (or TV series) is my dream! I wish someone with the necessary money and contacts would read the book (and its sequel) and realise it’s perfect! Ideally I’d like a young Sigourney Weaver as Humility. Not sure what the equivalent is today. Someone with attitude and striking looks – not a Hollywood beauty.

What is your routine when you’re writing? Take us through a typical day.

I am a Bad Person. I lack discipline. I don’t do routine (too many years’ teaching – it’s a reaction to the tyranny of the timetable). When I’m about to start something new I’ll offer to walk the neighbour’s dog, then remember that I haven’t cleaned out the spare room wardrobe, and, oh yes, the skirting boards need washing. And of course I have to stop for coffee. By then it’s too late to be worth beginning anything that day. Of course, once I am well into a story then the phone is off, the refrigerator is empty but I’ve still got coffee so that’s OK, and who cares about housework. And I’m OUT when anyone calls. With everything new I start, I swear I will be more organised but somehow it doesn’t quite work.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to try their hand at crime fiction?

Go for it! The great thing about crime fiction is that it spans all genres, there are no limits. You can be cosy or mean streets, your characters can be whoever you want them to be. Your narrator can be your killer. Even good doesn’t have to triumph (although I have a preference for this). And don’t worry about the plot. Crime writers seem to fall into two camps: those who plot everything meticulously before they begin, and those who have a general idea of the plot and motives but enjoy the adventure of discovering the plot as the story unfolds. Spend all your spare time observing how others behave and asking ‘What if…?’ One of my favourite short stories emerged from wondering about a woman in front of me in a slow supermarket queue (you know the one I mean) with a basket containing only two tins of baby food, some broccoli, and a bottle of brandy.

Is there anything that your readers would be surprised to know about you?

That I spent 10 years living on an ocean-going yacht? And still get sea-sick.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a contemporary crime novel about murder in a care home. With a twist. I’m also trying to do more short stories – I find they’re more of a challenge than the longer format, but when you get one right it’s just as satisfying.

“A Kind of Puritan” is published in eBook form today and is available from Amazon.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Interview with Tracey Shellito

This week we have an interview with Tracey Shellito, author of our upcoming eCC title, "Personal Protection".

Q.Why did you become a writer, Tracey?

A. I’m not sure you ‘become’ a writer; I think you either are or you aren’t. I spend most of my day writing something, whether in my day job or out of it. I guess it just grew out of that. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and made up stories to tell younger family members, and most of my working life has been about coming up with something, whether an advertising slogan or a reply to a letter… I can’t NOT write, if that makes any sense!

Q. What inspired you to write Personal Protection?

A. Truthfully? I’d been playing around with a short story with the same protagonists and when the search for the Crème de la Crime competition entry form fell through my door, the idea of doing a longer work featuring the same characters inspired me. I was already in their headspace.

Q. Your protagonist, Randall McGonnigal, is a bodyguard and a bouncer at a lap dancing club. Do you have personal experience in any of these areas?

A. I’ve always had a sort of Klingon or samurai sense of honour and loved action films, so while I’ve had no personal experience of being a bodyguard or a bouncer, I do know a few of them and it was no great stretch to write about one. And no, before you ask: I’ve never tried pole dancing either - everybody wants to know that!

Q. How do you go about your research?

A. Research? Well, obviously it depends on the story. Mostly I sit down and write the tale, then fact-check later. I visit the places my stories are set - or in this case, live there already. I talk to people who have jobs in the business I’m planning to write about and I read a LOT. I don’t use the internet much. Practical experience gives you a more realistic and visceral feel to what you write. Sometimes the research will lead to a new avenue for the tale to go down, or add an extra layer of complexity. Occasionally it will mean re-writing or changing something to get it right. Fight scenes I usually work through in slo-mo with willing victims! I need to see if I’ve got the angles correct, or if what I want to do is possible. And of course I make use of my own life experiences to breathe life and believability into the characters. But research forms a very small part of the writing for me. I confess I want to entertain. Getting the facts 100% correct is less important than telling a story that will keep people reading till the end. It is, when all’s said and done, fiction.

Q. There’s no denying that Personal Protection has some pretty steamy encounters in it – what are the challenges of writing sex scenes?

A. If writing it arouses you, it’s worked. If it doesn’t, you’ve failed. The challenge is in finding the right language to get the message across without making it completely pornographic, while at the same time not sliding into Mills & Boon territory. I hope I get the balance right. Some of my other work is erotica, where the story is less important than the sex, so I’ve had experience of writing smut and something a little more hi-brow. I like to think that Personal Protection nicely straddles the line between crime, gender fiction and erotica.

Q. It’s unusual in crime fiction to have a gay central character. In choosing to write from Randall’s point of view, were you responding to this gap in the market?

A. I’ve always written what I liked and adapted my style to the moment. There were plenty of feisty straight girl detectives out there already. Writing to win a competition (I was one of six chosen out of around six hundred applicants) meant finding something that bit different that would catch the judges’ eye. There was less desire to respond to a gap in the market, but it was good to give a voice to a minority that had been under-represented in mainstream crime fiction. In a real way, Randall is me. They say write what you know, so having Randall as a lesbian was the easy part. What I wanted was to make her just another person; her sexuality was incidental to the story. What she does and how she does is more important than flag waving.

Q. In your opinion, who would be the perfect actress to play Randall in a movie version of Personal Protection?

A. If it was going to be adapted to an American setting, I’d say Gina Gershon without a second thought! But I’m having more difficulty finding a Brit actress who could play the part credibly, since nearly all the current crop are tall skinny femme waifs! Maybe Kate Beckinsale with a really short haircut? After watching her kick-ass in the Underworld films, at least I know she could handle the action scenes. Tori would have to be Halle Berry!

Q. What is your routine when you’re writing? Take us through a typical day.

A. Is there a typical day when I’m writing? I’ve yet to find one! I’d love to be one of these people who can set aside so many hours in a day and dedicate them to the craft, but I’ve never been able to write to order at a set time. Inspiration strikes at the damnedest moments! I could be in my day job and an idea will strike me and I have to boot up the word processor and get it down, print it off and get back to what they pay me for. I can be dropping off to sleep and the exact way to finish a chapter will come to me, so I have to get up and write it down then. If I let myself go to sleep, it’s gone in the morning. Mostly I’ll have a great idea (or a submission call will go out that will inspire me), then I’ll fire up one of my computers and start to write. Next thing I know it’s dark, I’m hungry, and I’ve got between six to eight thousand words down. On a good day I can write 75 pages of a novel in one go. On a bad day it’ll be editing something already in existence or writing a few paragraphs. I wish I could tell you there was a magic formula that worked the same way every time, but I’ve never found it if there is.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I’m about to feature in a Steam Punk erotica anthology, “Carnal Machines” (out in May), and I’d written a companion story which I hoped would be taken up by a similar tome, but it was not to be. However I enjoyed writing the story, so I’m giving it a little light reworking and submitting it to another publisher who I hope will like it as much as I do. There is a strong mystery element involved, but it’s less crime-based than Personal Protection and has a stronger sense of fun. And of course I’m still writing Randall’s adventures and looking for someone to take these full length novels on. But we’re in a recession and publishers are reluctant to go with mid-listers who don’t bring in as much revenue, so…

Q. Is there anything that your readers would be surprised to know about you?
 
A. Hell, it’s hard to answer this one without giving personal stuff away or looking like a complete fool, isn’t it? Okay, I probably mentioned it before somewhere, so I’m reasonably safe with this. I’m a fairly sober individual, frown lines rather than laughter lines give character to my forty- something year old face, but the one thing I can’t stand to be sober and staid about in my life are my socks. I have a huge collection of multicoloured socks in stripes and patterns and so I’ll be wearing this cool looking black suit and crisp white shirt and underneath there is this screamingly bright set of violet, orange, green, red and yellow striped socks. It just gives me a lift to put a pair of the things on. It’s become a standing joke now. Everybody buys them for me. They go on holiday - they bring me back socks - I must have socks from more countries in the world than anyone else! It’s Christmas, socks, it’s Easter, more socks! I don’t usually walk around with any ID and I don’t have a mobile phone. My mother jokes that if I die suddenly and messily, providing my feet survive, she’ll have no difficulty identifying me! So when you look at that picture of me in my tux… 

Personal Protection”, by Tracey Shellito, is published under our eCC Creative Crime eBook imprint on April 29th.

Photo by Sarah G

Friday, 15 April 2011

To Russia with love...



Russia was big news at London Book Fair 2011...

This year the London Book Fair Market Focus initiative centred on Russia, and provided a key opportunity for UK and international publishers to liaise with their Russian counterparts, giving them the opportunity to seek out new business partnerships. 

So in case it’s useful for those new partnerships, here are a few ‘Dos and Don’ts’ from our title “The Lowdown: Business Etiquette – Russia” by Slava Katamidze and Charles McCall.

When planning your trip....
DO make the arrangements yourself through a good travel agent. DO stay in close touch with your Russian colleagues before you leave to make sure everything’s on track. DO have your business cards printed in Russian on one side. DON’T plan a business trip to coincide with Russian holidays. DON’T book into a very expensive hotel.  

When you arrive in Russia...
DO only use licensed taxis. DON’T use payphones. DON’T be tempted to drive yourself. DON’T engage with prostitutes.

At a business meeting...
DO wear a suit. DO be prompt. DO turn off your cellphone. DO shake hands with everyone. DO address people as Gospodin and Gospozha. DON’T give money or clothing as a gift. DO be polite, but DON’T be wishy-washy during negotiations.

When preparing to sign a deal...
DO have a lawyer review any contracts thoroughly. And DO ask your lawyer to study the articles of incorporation of any company you’re signing a contract with.

When socialising with Russians....
DO give your hosts advance warning of any dietary restrictions. DON’T try to drink as much as your Russian counterparts, but DO feel free to eat as much as you like!

When making conversation, do talk about...
Pretty much whatever you like – architecture, pop music, vacations, your children... keep it light and pleasant.

And don’t talk about...
Politics, religion, the Russian mafia, racketeering, the Communist past. - Slava Katamidze, Charles McCall

"The Lowdown: Business Etiquette - Russia" is available in both eBook and audio formats.

Friday, 8 April 2011

What is a CEO?

In an excerpt from his book “The Lowdown: Top Tips for Wannabe CEOs”, Richard Charkin of Bloomsbury Publishing talks about what a CEO is and what he or she does.

CEO: Chief Executive Officer has different meanings in different companies and in different industries. In my view, the unifying theme is that a CEO is the person who’s ultimately responsible to the shareholders to manage the investment that they made in the company. The role itself will be defined to some extent by the size of the company, its geographical location, the nature of its workforce and its customer base. For instance, the CEO of Microsoft is probably very different from the CEO of The Royal Shakespeare Company. However, each of them is responsible to investors, to customers, to employees, to suppliers and to business intermediaries.

What does a CEO in publishing do, besides answering to the stakeholders?

Well, in order to answer to the stakeholders you have to run a decent business. A decent business is one which fulfils its obligations to all involved with it. In publishing, this means authors, illustrators, designers, employees, distributors, printers, readers and shareholders. Getting the balance right is not easy, but it is the board’s job to help the CEO find that balance. So running a decent business in publishing – or I suspect in anything – is a matter of working with a board and helping it run efficiently. In many businesses, there are two boards. There’s a governing board (which includes non-executive directors) and the CEO is a servant to that board. Then there’s the executive board.

The CEO is the leader of that board and the CEO’s job is to ensure that there is the right structure to do whatever needs doing, that there are the right people in the right jobs in that   structure, that those people are properly motivated and indeed rewarded – for success, not failure, and definitely not for mediocrity.

Part of the CEO’s role is to help identify strategy for the company. For example: Are we going to become global, or shall we return to our domestic roots? Shall we move into new technologies or stick to the knitting? In other words, stick to what we know. Shall we go upmarket? Shall we go mass market? Shall we start completely new businesses, or adjacent ones?

 The CEO is also responsible for business growth. Growth itself is not always essential and indeed its pursuit has frequently led to disaster. However, standing still is rarely a successful strategy in business and a static or declining business is unlikely to attract the best management. Growth might come from acquiring other companies, or it might come from developing new organic growth points. Both routes to growth will certainly cost the business money.

There are two other specific areas for which the CEO is responsible. One is the company’s brand. Not in all, but in many businesses, the brand is central to the success of the business. For instance, Rolls Royce or Monsanto or Glaxo – their brands are crucial not only for their customers, but also for the investment community. A CEO has to ensure that the brand is maintained and that it is strengthened and not diluted by usage.

The second area is the spirit of the company. It should be a company that people want to work for, that they are proud of and which they can comfortably discuss with friends and family. The CEO has a significant degree of responsibility for creating a culture that establishes and nurtures that spirit.

What are the perks of being a CEO?

By and large you’re paid more than the people who work for you. That may not always be the case, but one hopes it is! And you get to meet all sorts of interesting people – that’s a perk.

And what are the responsibilities?

Responsibilities are absolute. They are never to let people down. Never to let your shareholders, your directors, your employees, down. We recently heard of an automobile manufacturer laying off thousands of people. Now I can completely understand this. You’ve got an economic environment and a downturn and these things are inevitable – but I think in some way the CEO of this company has failed. I think sacking people is a sign of failure. We’ve all done it – so we’ve all failed. But I think our responsibility to the people whom we employ is hugely important.

Is the top job the best one to have? Does it bring happiness?

No. The best job is whatever is the best job for the individual concerned. There is nothing worse than seeing someone who’s deeply unsuited to being a CEO – or unsuited to any job, really – and seeing them struggling. You see it quite often in sport: someone’s made the captain of the team, because they’re the best player – but they’re absolutely not the best captain. Not only do they not do a good job, they also are very unhappy. I won’t name names, but there are some very unhappy sporting captains around and there are some very unhappy CEOs around. So in my opinion, being CEO will only bring happiness if you’re suited to the job.

You once said, “If you set out to be a CEO, you’ll fail.” What did you mean by that?

You may not fail to become a CEO, but you’ll probably fail to be a good businessperson, because if you say that, chances are that your career ambition is taking precedence over the business you’re trying to run. And the business you’re trying to run is all that matters.

You also once said that one of your tests for aspiring and ambitious executives is to ask them if they would stab you in the back. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Mostly when you’re hiring people, you’re hiring them to do a particular job and for the skill there is in doing that job. However, there are times when you are trying to develop an all-round future CEO. They’ve got to want my job and they should be willing – if I’m the wrong person – to stab me in the back (or the front for that matter) if it’s good for the business. – Richard Charkin

Download the audio of Richard’s book from Audible or the eBook from Amazon.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Serendipity

This week, Creative Content Ltd director Ali Muirden blogs about  ... serendipity!

I’ve always loved the word serendipity. It means ‘the accidental discovery of something wonderful or fortunate‘.  And a few months ago, CC were lucky enough to happen upon a wonderful new addition to our eBook and audio list which came about purely by chance.

I was recording The King’s Speech with Jamie Glover (when you get a minute check it out at Audible - it’s been getting rave reviews and has been in their bestseller list for weeks now!) and I happen to ask Jamie how his mum was.

Jamie’s mum just happens to be Isla Blair, who is herself a gifted audio reader as well as being instantly recognisable for her many roles on TV and the stage.

Jamie mentioned that Isla had been busy writing a memoir of her extraordinary childhood which began on a tea plantation in the hills of Kerala in India. I mentioned how much I’d love to read it and Jamie passed on the message to Isla, who kindly send me a copy via email.

The book is fascinating. Isla has the happy gift of being able to paint pictures with words and her prose is so evocative that you can almost smell the scent of the tea plants mixed with cardamom together with the aroma of the coconut oil that Isla’s ‘Ayah’ used on her hair.

This warm, spice-scented idyll was abruptly ended when, obliged by tradition and entirely believing they ere doing the best for their daughters, her parents sent Isla and her sister ‘home’ to boarding school. She was not quite six.

But ‘home’ was cold, gloomy, post-war austerity Scotland – a land of liberty bodices, chilblains, icy mornings and dank, drizzly days; an alien land where, for several years she nursed a secret – of which only her sister, Fiona ,was aware.

It was the beginning of a series of long, lonely separations from their parents until they had both finished their education and Isla was accepted at RADA.

Both Lorelei and I enjoyed the book immensely and we’re very proud to announce that we will be publishing it in eBook and audio book format at the end of June this year, with a print version, published by Julian Calder, coming simultaneously. 

You never know where a casual conversation will lead! - AM

photo by Tetsumo