The subject of equality and how men act towards women has only become more relevant since I wrote The Joy of Ex.

The novel follows the story of a bet between two [male] friends about the nature of love and whether someone who once loved you can love you again.

The novel was written from the point of view of the men – they always say write about what you know – but I wanted to extenuate the pressures which make men behave the way they do towards women.

The ongoing themes were the three “M”s of marriage, maternity and mortgage which I had found men so feared.

They build up walls and hide from each of these types of commitment – some of these issues more than others (and some men more than other men), I depict a protagonist who has a mortgage, but a profound fear of marriage and maternity.

This created a tale to explore these themes, against a back drop of a bet, which only heightened the sense of disconnect from women.

When I first sent the manuscript to agents I got a call from one. I was pleased, I had a list of 70+ agents to send the manuscript to and the first round had resulted in a call. I assumed there would be more calls.

Flashback to 2001 and my previous novel, UHF Shadow I had sent this to lots of agents and one had called back. It was a Wednesday, I know as I was in the office late on deadline day putting the newspaper to bed and I took the call and walked away from my desk, the journalists and subs watching me stroll off to take a private call on my mobile. She wanted to see the whole novel as she liked the sample chapters I had sent. I sent these off the next day. I didn’t get a deal. But I learnt my work was good enough for all of it to be seen by an agent.

Back to the novel in hand (I may well write more about UHF Shadow another day).

I knew The Joy of Ex was better than UHF Shadow, the main criticism from people who read the earlier work was there was a story, but the premise was weak.

I took on board the constructive criticism and The Joy of Ex was premise through and through – that bet was a beautiful premise upon which hung lots of episodes which built up into a whole narrative.

In the great Chekov tradition, I loaded lots of bullets at the start and shot them off one by one. With the biggest one being shot with the reveal of the reason behind his fear of marriage and maternity.

When I took the call about The Joy of Ex after sending out only the the first wave of samples, I figured there were going to be lots of calls.

This agent said she liked the concept and would sign the book if I agreed to do one thing for her.

As I say, this was the first wave of samples, I assumed there would be lots of interest if this was anything to go by.

She asked for a complete re-write of the novel to make it from a woman’s point of view.

This: a) seemed like a bucket load of work; and b) would mean writing about something I didn’t know – I’d never been a woman, so how could I write as one?

I said: “No”.

Talk about a sliding doors moment.

That one word has no doubt defined everything which has happened to me since I spoke that simple syllable.

No other agent even so much as called me.

Sanitised versions of my concept sprung up. Maybe this is coincidence and maybe this is connected. I will never know for sure.

Since I wrote the novel the concept of toxic masculinity has become something I am aware of. Thanks in part to Tim Winton, a great Australian novelist who has an ongoing theme around masculinity in our modern world.

The two men in The Joy of Ex are completely toxic. I even led the reader up a garden path of redemption towards the end of the novel*, only for it to roll away with the wind. He was just too toxic for salvation.

I had always intended the protagonist to be an anti hero. A bastard who perhaps women would love to hate.

The type of male I was trying to create would be just the type of guy women flocked to the worse his alpha male behaviour became.

I wrote The Joy of Ex intentionally to be challenging and thought provoking. There is a line in The Doors where Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison says: “I guess I always liked being hated” – this line was in my mind as I wrote the novel and I think this shines from the character.

Indeed, the close of the novel refers to the protagonist knowing he was exactly what his sister had called him.

I had used the word already in the novel, so avoided a second C-bomb at the end, feeling the repeat would detract from the power of using it in the first place.

The Joy of Ex was published more than a decade ago. It had premise and a plot.

In retrospect, I think I could have made the irony around the toxicity of these men more apparent. Hindsight is 2020.

Life is all about learning and I know the jump from book to book has made me a better writer, both in terms of reflecting on what I had written and the time passing between each.

In the end I self-published The Joy of Ex as I had drafted it and didn’t sell many copies. But it can be purchased for Kindle from Amazon here.

I am working on a new novel, but that is a story for another day. Hopefully a decade from now I will not be lamenting either not getting my message across as I had intended, nor another sliding doors moment over the fate of this new book.

* I certainly played with the idea of a cut away where Lorna Adams goes home to her fatherless son, but I felt that was letting them both off the hook and didn’t stand up in the logic of the narrative, so got cut.

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I wrote a long time ago about the changes in the publishing industry around how physical books would become luxury items of desire.

While out in Cheltenham, UK, today, as well as a book shop full of board games and pretty stationary, I saw this display which I took a photo of to share.

Sets of popular out of copyright novels, bound in hardback in beautiful designs. They look absolutely fabulous. But they are objects of desire – coffee table books if you will – and priced accordingly, I saw £15 or more price tags.

If you really want to read some of these works – they are out of copyright, which means public domain, which means this content is free (when you buy them in physical printed form you are only paying for the cost of making, shipping and storing the physical media, the publisher has no obligation to pay any money to the author, their heirs or estate, so the rest is pure profit for the publishing house) – then Project Gutenberg is the place to read them. In digital format for free.

If you prefer a physical book, there are cheaper options. Back when I was a student in the early 1990s I would purchase classics in paperback editions from Wordsworth for £1. They are still publishing and a quarter of a century later only £2.50, which is much more reasonable than the beautiful hardbacks I saw on display today.

Or you can scour what we call charity shops in the UK and from memory what are thrift stores in the USA. These often carry books at significant reductions on retail. Or eBay.

  • For the record I am not being paid to endorse anyone here, I would recommend Gutenberg which is free, but I would also suggest if you must have a physical book when you buy out of copyright, go with the cheapest option, whether that is second-hand or a reasonably priced publisher.

Books with sound?

September 29, 2011

One of the latest innovations in e publishing is books with sound effects.

Hmmm… I may be wrong, but I have to say, I am not convinced. Why would you want your eBook to play music throughout, like the incidental music in films.

Surely, you just need to buy an audio book and have it read to you with the incidental music there, rather than alongside your actual text? I often listen to random music when I read, but it is usually something I block out when I get engrossed (usually only noticing the sound when the playlist ends and some random mp3 comes on).

So, I remain unconvinced by the innovation of reading with its own pre-defined soundtrack, as do others. But let’s see what the eBook buying public think.

The Harry Potter books are to be sold as eBooks for the first time.

As far as I can tell from reading the various articles, JK is set to earn herself another fortune as she never sold the digital rights to her books to her publishers.

Which means when Pottermore sells a book, instead of the author receiving 10% of the sale as is often the case in traditional bookselling, as she appears to own Pottermore, she will make every penny.

Good for her by the way.

What this shows is an established author can sell direct to the public via digital means (and remember Radiohead did a similar thing with In Rainbows) but what does it mean for authors without the name recognition of JK and her boy wizard?

The Chief Exec of Bloomsbury (big publishing house) says ebooks “will change the publishing business model” in an article here.

(Been saying that in this blog for a while now)

He also goes on to say the “publishing world is handling its own revolution” – which is interesting to hear, and makes me wonder if the industry has taken heed of the cluster f**k way in which the music industry handled the transition to a digital world. Time will tell.

 

Print on Demand trends

February 8, 2011

When Caxton invented the printing press he revolutionised communication. Copies of writing could be created far quicker using the machine than the existing technology of having someone copy it word for word in handwriting.

From Caxton’s time onwards the ownership of a press required lots of capital up front and this was reflected in the cost of printing. Every page of a document had to be set in metal before being printed, this was an expensive process – the cost of which was divided among the number of copies printed, meaning it was always cheaper per unit to print as many copies as possible.

Thus, publishing anything in great numbers came with a large financial risk.

In the last few years, the advent of digital printing has removed many of the old costly methods involved in printing. Because great sheets of metal do not need to be indented, much of the upfront cost of publishing has disappeared, or at least it has reduced to a manageable rate.

Within the publishing industry this seismic shift is called Print On Demand (POD).

Instead of printing thousands and thousands of copies of a book to reduce the per unit price enough to make it an economical process, we are at the stage where the economical rate is down in the hundreds.

Instead of printing 10,000 copies of a book and hoping to shift them all in a couple of years, with all the inherent business risks carrying that much stock would bring, a publisher can print a decent sized initial run and depending on the actual demand from the market, print more copies.

In my opinion the logical extension of POD will see book stores with every book ever written stored on a PC’s hard drive connected to a printing and binding machine capable of producing one copy of any book while the customer waits – most probably the waiting will be done over a cappuccino in the store’s coffee shop!

For now that is science fiction, but with the advances we have seen recently in printing technology, it can’t be that far away…

Thanks to Astra for bringing this story about Amazon sales to my attention.

A watershed moment?

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