NEW BOOK – THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS – ALAN HOWARD (OUT NOW)

Thursday, 29 December 2011

At the Turning of the Year...

I wish anyone reading this blog a healthy new one, a little happiness and wealth (if you insist).

After an intense round of signings in the final two weeks before Christmas (minus two days off ill thanks to freezing winds front of store and Waterstone’s new customer-centric policy of keeping wrapped up customers comfortable by turning the cold air-conditioning on full blast, freezing such as me, not forewarned to buy thermal underwear, in a double-whammy) I sold from the start of November 808 books in all. Not bad!
Hoping to have some exciting news on the iPad front in the near future (no, no one has bought me one for Christmas).

This picture, by the way is of my house taken just before Christmas last year.

Friday, 11 November 2011

CURD THE LION FEATURED IN CH.11. – FANTASY FICTION – IN TEACHERS’ GUIDE.


Margaret Mallett: Choosing Fiction and Non-Fiction 3-11: A Comprehensive Guide for Teachers and Student Teachers. Published June 24th 2010 by Routledge – 392 pages. (Winner of the United Kingdom Literacy Association's Author Award 2011 for its contribution to extending children's literacy.)

At the beginning of Chapter 11 on Fantasy Fiction, she writes: “… the huge and ever-growing number of books falling within the fantasy category… How does the teacher select from so many? … In a necessarily selective account, I have been concerned to pick out some of the best writers and most memorable titles which have survived over the years and which I think are likely to continue to be read.”

(full quote):
“BOX 11.2 THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF CURD THE LION (AND US!) IN THE LAND AT THE BACK OF BEYOND BY ALAN GILLILAND (RAVEN’S QUILL LTD)
Four soft toys go off on a journey to find a stolen brooch. Sounds cosy? It is not. In fact this is an exciting addition to fantasy novels for children from about age seven years, although it is also a most engrossing adventure story. The pencil drawings by the author fit the written text perfectly and add atmosphere and often energy to the story.
   It is not surprising that this story has been compared to the work of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear: riddles and word play, mysteries and surprises are wonderfully interwoven. The play on names is superb: for example, the four animals are called Curd the Lion, Pilgrim Crow, Sweeney the Heenie (a hyena) and O’Flattery the Snake.
   Dialogue is convincing too. When the mother of Henry and Henrietta, the two children in the story, wrongly accuses them of losing her brooch she threatens that if they do not find it soon she will cancel their birthday party. Worst of all she will give their beloved toy animals to the charity shop for Children in Need, adding, ‘You don’t care about them. Look at the way you were treating Curd the Lion just now. Beating him to rags!’”

Praise for Margaret Mallett’s book:
'This book is about making readers. A compact summary of its contents would not do it justice. It is the accountof a life's work and it deserves thanks and readers. *****'. - Margaret Meek, Books for Keeps on-line, Number 185, November 2010.
'This book is a cornucopia of varied pleasures, offering something for all tastes, presented with an awareness of the complexities of the field and communicated with commitment, enthusiasm and deep knowledge'. - Eve Bearne, English 4-11, the primary school journal of The English Association, Number 42, Summer 2011

And finally, this was her recent reply to an email I sent thanking her:
Dear Alan
Many thanks for getting in touch. In 'Choosing and Using' I wanted to help student teachers know about some of the very best books for children after my lifetime in teaching children and students. Your book about Curd the Lion is hugely original and imagination stretching. My grandchildren are all 4 and under, but I will be getting them each a copy to treasure in the future. I wonder what you are working on now. You deserve every success.
With warmest regards
Margaret.

How nice is that? Thank you, Margaret.


Friday, 4 November 2011

Half-term and Halloween

I ventured forth to Cambridge, commandeering the house of my dear friend Roger, once again, for a week’s signing tour in the flatlands.

In an up and down week, such one expects in East Anglia, I sold a total of 253 books, with Curd the Lion racing ahead at 160 to 91 of The Flight of Birds, a reverse of the summer where the Birds took Flight and easily outpaced the groundly Lion.

True to form, in Cambridge again my, now nearly five year old, Peugeot 207GT turbo’s exhaust nearly fell off, all brackets broken but one, discovered on Saturday evening as I was about to set off home from St Albans  and I had to rig a ‘non-corroding’ (unlike the exhaust main bracket – designed to rust through)
loop to hold it up as I nursed the car home. On the previous occasion my rear offside computer tyre-valve blew, costing me £240 at the nice Peugeot dealership there.
This metal strap holding the rear exhaust box up was cunning welded at one point and pointlessly to the box itself, necessitating the replacement of the perfectly fine entire exhaust system from front to rear at a (non-dealership) cost of £190 (from Peugeot just the replacement rear box is well over £200 not including fitting let alone the obligatory ‘diagnostics’ that must be performed and charged for before any work is carried out).

I returned to the grisly task of taxes and an automatic rifle cutaway for Osprey to be done by Tuesday, missing Halloween and only just remembering our wedding anniversary before the day’s end (Halloween chosen for that express purpose).


We had a muted celebration on the 31st and another on the 1st to make up where I cooked – sort of – I was still trussed up in taxes so I, on and with the one hand, only managed the fillet steak while Pauline on the other managed the rest while I had one.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Summer signing tour – record broken – but the pain, the pain…

I forgot to mention in my previous summer tour round up post that Basingstoke broke my previous day record of 49 at 52 on a Friday. 27 Curd the Lion and 25 Flight of Birds. I had to go back to the car park twice after selling out of each of their existing stock.
Sold 1,103 total. Curd 488. FoB 615. Av. 34.5 per day. (Curd 15.25. FoB 19.22) Both maxed at 27 in a day. Only sold under 30 books twice.

Downside? My missing spinal disc grated harshly heaving tents around (I camped and cooked all my own meals throughout, succumbing to a restaurant only once) and by the end of the tour of five and a half weeks standing, my plantar fasciitis (torn tendon sheath under heel) underwent an excruciating renascence.

NB. Warning to all sporty types – never, never, play without doing those achilles stretches first – I tore mine (see above) over three days and five matches of real tennis in winning my first ever club (doubles) championship.
My name is now depicted in letters of gold on the great boards at Petworth House Real Tennis Court for my children and grandchildren to see, should they ever dream of venturing into that church-like enclosure.
But the cost of that reckless enthusiasm for sporting achievement?
I count, at sixty, the following price: a hole in my skull, one by half-inch (rock climbing at 13 without a helmet – consequence: no cricket or high-diving); torn meniscus cartilage in my right knee, operated on four times (Irish jigging and then squash – consequence: transfer from squash to real tennis and racketball); basal spinal disc loss (A totally unsporting bacterial infection that nearly killed me and ‘ate’ the disc – consequence: no leaping and back-stretching at badminton); plantar fasciitis under right heel (Real tennis – consequence: there’s only swimming and cycling left, really).

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

And they say self-published books have all the best typos!

Susan Anderson publicly apologised for a typo in her erotic thriller (Avon): 'I apologise to anyone who bought my onsale ebook of Baby I'm Yours and read on pg 293: "He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground." Shifted! He Shifted!'


And Penguin's sales for their Australian cookbook The Pasta Bible quadrupled after word spread that one recipe called for "salt and freshly ground black people". Oops... 

(Quotes courtesy of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

What’s wrong with scary Books for Kids? Maurice Sendak’s view and mine.


An article in Guardian* yesterday reiterating one from the New York Times** quotes Maurice Sendak (new book coming out, “Bumble-Ardy,”) as saying that children’s books are too safe and that modern children's books are not always "truthful or faithful to what's going on with children". "You mustn't scare parents. And I think with my books, I managed to scare parents," said Sendak. 

Read articles here:
*http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/19/childrens-books-not-wild-maurice-sendak?
**http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/on-the-phone-with-maurice-sendak/#preview

My first book, out in the UK (not US), ‘The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond’ is definitely perceived by some adults as far too scary to allow their children access (even though it is a nonsense quest story), while children (all those I’ve heard from) love it and see nothing wrong with a bit of scariness.
Quote (from Bookwitch review responses) –
ab | March 16, Reply: “Sounds and looks intriguing, and those wonderful details such as the snake travelling wrapped around the neck of the – what is it – a hyena? Delightful!
But isn’t it perhaps mainly for grownups who admire the artistry? I would be scared to death by it as a child because of the sinister and foreboding atmosphere in the pictures. And who is so cruel as to threatens to give away children’s toys? The kids in the corner – it reminds me of dictatorships and torture…. brrrr.”
bookwitch | March 16, Reply: “I find I get more scared the older I get. Most children are quite ‘unfeeling’ in some way. And Alan has had lots of satisfied customers, I gather. Of the small variety.
But yes, the mother was a bit over the top with her threat. And so was that woman who wanted to eat Hansel and Gretel.”

From an Amazon reviewer: “From the TERRIFYING front cover, I was worried that this book would be too frightening for a young audience - however, I was completely wrong.” and, “the Minorbore AXING you??”
From kids, though: “The best part (to me) is probably when Sweenie "pondered" and brought down the hilarious Balloonafuss, that utterly baffles them!” and “Here's one of my drawings of a Minobour!”

It is PC (protective custody) adults who decide that a book is too scary for their kids – I’ve never had a complaint from a child. Perhaps Maurice Sendak is right about today’s coddled-childhood in publishing: my book was self-published, yet has sold nearly 8,000 at £15 in hardback in the UK (80 pencil illustrations in160p. story) with plenty of very enthusiastic kids reviews.

Do Mathematicians have hearts – or – from Bucky Fuller to I-Ching

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A nonsensical Twitter exchange with a nice chap from that cold watery waste north of the USA, @JohnJGeddes.
It meandered from this:
@JohnJGeddes: “we are the sum of our loves, so a great writer must have a great heart.” Retweeted to one of my friends, @1_Lovelife
to which I responded: “What does that make a great mathematician?”
He: “The sum of his other sides :)”
I: “He is the Hippopotamus in the Room: in his squareness being the sum of the squares of his bottom- and back-sides!”
He: “my best friend in Scotland is a Mathematician - I know you Math people have great hearts :) ”
I: “I knew one once with a great heart – gave him lift from airport to lecture to Royal Society (?) – Bucky Fuller.”
He: “Oh, wow! Yeah, a good guy :)”
I: “Bucky was a phenomenon! I frivolously worked out that his Vector Equilibrium reconciled east and west. How?”
He: “I'll bite...how?”
I: “1. Individuating West (points as opposed to connections). Represent a one-frequency VE as twelve points around a focus – Christ”
I: “2. Relational East. Within 2-frequency VE can be found the eight great hexagrams (paired orthog. helixes)+56 lesser hexagrams…”
I: “… of the I-Ching! (Each hexagram/tetrahedron is of two opposite handed orthogonal helixes, each of three lines)”
I: “Which brings us to my Minorbore’s secondary riddle: How did the Ring square up to the three Axes?”
I: “In a dual, of course! Bucky’s (VE) cuboctahedral dual, rhombic dodecahedron in spherical guise is the shape left by…”
I: “… the orthogonal intersection of three identical diameter rings or tubes (the three axes). OK enough, ed.”
He: “that's a really elegant solution, Allan* - the Math I mean - well, the drink too, I suppose :)”

[*I guess they spell Alan with two ells over there – to make it go further – they have such vast distances to cover, you see]

I add a few diagrams ‘borrowed’ from the web (I hope with no offense, since there is no commercial purpose to this) to help explain the figures.





The spheres (vertices) represent the individuated West and 12 closest pack around a central to form a frequency 1 Vector Equilibrium or Jesus and the Twelve disciples of Christianity.
The edges (connecting lines) represent the inter-relational East and a 2-frequency Vector Equilibrium has 8 Great (2-frequency) Tetrahedra (Hexagrams) and 56 lesser (1-frequency) Tetrahedra, making the 64 hexagrams of the I-Ching.

This raises the vexed question of why 13 is considered unlucky in the West, whereas 7, the closest packing of circles around a central circle, is considered lucky. Mathematically, both should be lucky (because stable).


Thursday, 8 September 2011

Biography of my childhood – for a child

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A mini biog of my childhood written to a ten-yr-old child in response to her email: OMG outstanding sweenie the heenie. Who would of thought of such a great chacter {he reminds me of alan himself maybe thats what its based on}” – Emma Thompson (At least – I don’t THINK it’s the actress?).

Hi Emma,
(and her teachers and fellow-pupils, as I now surmise)
I was so flummoxed by your email last night coming from the same email as Morgan that I entirely forgot my manners!
Thank you, too, so much for taking the trouble to write to me.

And, to answer your question, Sweeney the Heenie IS the closest to me (he's my favourite character) so, naturally, one might say, he is "outstanding" (heh, heh)!
Though my wife, Pauline, may beg to differ on this - she doesn't seem to think ME outstanding at all! (Standing out [side], more like).

Anyway, if you both go to my blog, you can see the first character-sketches I made for each of the main characters (left side, as a little slide show) and at the top you can see a two-picture slide show of a possible new character, Blunder the Elephant
http://alangilliland.blogspot.com  – called ‘Pencilnotes’
Thanks again,
Alan.

PS. I was puzzling this conundrum last night and it suddenly occurred to me that, with such a peculiar email address and two kids writing from it that it might just be a SKOOL! So here’s a story of

                    “HOW I WENT TO SKOOL (and later, SCHOOL)”
   I went to SKOOL once or twice. But my second one was MUCH BETTER than yours! It was on a beach. So we had LESSONS in the mornings and SWIMMINGS in the afternoon (or climbing coconut trees – my best friend fell out of one and broke his arm and had to go to hospital. He was also stung by a huge jellyfish and had to go to hospital again – he really didn’t have much luck, I guess).
   Our beach SKOOL was right on the seashore (as they often are) and the white sandy beach was about half a mile long, with coconut trees lining it (we had coconut milk and chunks of coconut for elevenses), a Malay kampong (fishing village at the furthest end (luckily – because they used to put out the fish to dry in the hot hot sun until they were nice and stinky). The fishermen paddled out to sea in sampans (like a big open canoe with an outrigger) to cast their nets or spear fish. We would watch them arrive home with the boats so full they were almost underwater to land their catch: the most dangerous were the sting-rays because when they landed them you had to keep well out of range of their tails, which they would whip around with poisonous barbs on them.
   At the other end of the beach a stream met the sea in a mangrove swamp (trees that like seawater and have roots that stick up in the air so that walking through them is quite tricky). Beyond the mangroves was a headland, easy to climb round, and beyond the headland was a ship half-sunken into the beach! Not that we were allowed to go there on our own (I was six).
   This SKOOL was a line of old army barracks. At one end the boys ‘dorm’ barrack, in the middle the classroom barrack, and at the other, the two-story Headmaster’s family house with the girls’ dorms upstairs. Our headmasters was DRUMTUM, an ex-army major with a huge belly and a swagger stick, who marched around looking frightfully important and, more importantly, portly! My most exciting illness there was when I had a raging fever and was put in the little room at the north end of the boy’s dorm barrack with no door, next to the land-drains lined with coconut trees leading to the beach. A HUGE black land-crab (they tear open coconuts with their HUGE claws to eat the flesh) decided he’d had enough coconut for the time being and thought he’d come and get ME! I remember him quite clearly, slowly walking towards me up the bank, clicking his great pincer, testing it for sharpness, over the doorsill and advancing relentlessly! (DARKNESS FOLLOWS.) After I was ‘saved’ they put me on the girl’s dorm floor, which was much, much nicer.
   Getting to my first SKOOL, before the one on the beach, when I was five was an ADVENTURE in itself. First, we drove to the airport in my dad’s car, a big 1930’s American car like the old gangsters used to drive in the movies, because it was the only car strong enough to carry the armour-plating. If you wound the steel windows up and dad put down the front windscreen vizor with a slit in it for the driver to see out of, it was what you imagine medieval knights in armour must have felt like – all dark and hot! Anyway, we drove out of our Rubber-estate compound with its machine-gun post and searchlights and soldiers, across “Puchong Puddle”, a flat swampy jungle which flooded every rainy season so that you had to drive along the road under a foot or so of water keeping close to the line of posts that marked the edge of the road to avoid going off the edge and bubbling into the swamp, and on to the airport at Kuala Lumpur. Here all the other planters’ children and I climbed on board a World War Two Dakota aeroplane with canvas seats and waved goodbye to our parents for another term. My parents were most upset, they told me later, because I just sat down and started reading my comics while all the other kids were blubbing at the windows. Two hundred and fifty miles north, we landed on an airfield at the bottom of the Cameron Highlands and climbed into a convoy of Saracen armoured cars, shaped like a pencil (hexagonal) with a gun-turret on top to drive to the top of the mountain where sat our SKOOL in one of the only cool places in Malaya (they had tea-plantations all around).
   It was very hot and dark in the armoured car and I was lucky enough to get to ride in the gun-turret with the gunner as we drove through the jungle with everyone else being horribly sick down below (phew!). The only thing I can remember is my surprise when I discovered what a knee-bone looked like after I fell down a hill and scraped the skin right off. So I can truthfully say, best part of that SKOOL was getting there.
   Our house was a big ‘bungalow’ with two floors (I know that sounds daft) and its windows – well, it had big windows, in fact the downstairs living-room seemed to be ALL-window – had no glass, just blinds you pulled down when it rained and mosquito-netting. It had a corrugated-iron roof which was brilliant, drumming you to sleep when it rained and you were tucked up in bed under your mosquito-net tent, all cosy and safe (except for the spiders and snakes that could creep and slither up the drains and into the bath-tub which was like a gigantic four-foot wide ceramic flour-mixing bowl with a plug-hole in the bottom).
   Our garden was about an acre with a twelve-foot barbed-wire fence keeping the jungle out. We had a miniature two-storey playhouse that we helped to build (and paint – what mess that was, especially when we slipped on its corrugated-iron roof in the wet paint and slid along the length of until we fell off the end all covered in white paint – which was quite often!).
   We had a concrete swimming pool where I learned to swim and my brother cracked his head open being silly on the steps and had to be taken to hospital.
   We had a chicken run with a very brave cockerel who fought off foxes and even a wild boar once that blundered into it. We had a vegetable patch that the wild boars tried hard to reach at night and a line of banana trees on the edge of the tennis-court. We had rambutans and mangosteens and sweetcorn and bananas and durian (a Malay delicacy: a fruit I grew up with that I’ve never found popular here in England – they tell me it’s the smell – durians fetch high prices and can be found now in Chinatown off Leicester Square – I commend them to you as the ultimate in succulence – if Camembert was a fruit!)
   We had twenty Special Constables (soldiers) in a barracks on one side, near the machine gun post, and one of them had a shiny new motorbike that my brother tried to climb on when it arrived and burnt his hand and had to be taken to hospital again. Dad had a two-way radio so that we could contact the outside world in case the telephone wires were cut and an armoured car visited once a week to check we were still alive.
   We used to visit other rubber estates (you only saw your friends in the holidays when you visited them or they visited you) and at one my brother set fire to the jungle learning what NOT to do with matches and was told off very severely by my dad (who had himself set fire to the South African Veldt at exactly that age when he was a boy growing up in South Africa). On another occasion my friend’s Amah (a nanny) gave us a can of pineapple chunks that was ‘blown’ and I was violently sick almost immediately and my brother was carted off to hospital (yet again) with botulism poisoning and was very ill with his legs all swollen up.
   Because we were brought up on a rubber-estate during the ‘Emergency’ when Communist guerrillas were trying to drive the British out of Malaya, we had to go on compulsory ‘leave’ for six months every three years (It was very stressful for parents there – my dad had to carry a sten gun and .45 revolver everywhere and even my mum, a .38 revolver – we were quite Kool about it: after all, we had cap-guns!).  On my first leave to England I caught tonsillitis, so had to go to hospital and have them out. This was at the time of the Queen’s Coronation and everyone in London (and England) was having fun with street-parties with cakes and ale and dancing, except me – I was watching from my hospital window and eating raw eggs and ice-cream.
   While on leave I was left for few days in a boarding school in Biddeford, Devon, while my parents enjoy a few kid-free days. A child was diagnosed with Polio and everyone was quarantined for (what seemed like) an awfully long time. I remember very clearly staring out of the big window down the hill to where the drive gates were, watching for my parents’ car to turn that corner, any minute now… I think it was around this time I decided I didn’t like England because it rained all year round. In the rainy season in Malaya you knew when it was going to rain like a power shower and you could go out in your shorts and walk, half-in half-out of the rain as the clouds came over to soak you daily.
   I had my reward on the way home, flying in a Comet Four (which seemed HUGE to me then – just go and see one at Duxford aerodrome RAF museum to see how small it is) over the Himalayas (tallest mountains in the world), sitting in the pilot’s seat looking down over the mountain-peaks in the clear moonlight, so close you felt you could reach out and touch them. Magic! (I was allowed in because everyone else was fast asleep and pilots back then hadn’t heard of Al-Qaeda nor kids of Al-Qopops!) That Comet Four crashed on its next trip out to South Africa (I heard later). So I was lucky, I guess.
   But my luck ran out when I came to England for good. On the trip home, aboard the Willem Ruys (pronounced VILLUM ROWSE), which took us around the Cape of Good Hope because the Suez Canal was still blocked, I caught Yellow Fever and was very ill when we docked at Southampton. With all my parents belongings being unloaded, crates and crates of them, we were bundled into the huge customs shed where the customs officer insisted on busting open every single crate and trunk and suitcase, which took more than three hours despite my father’s pleas that a seven-boy with a raging fever should not be kept there in that cold windy hangar.
Life on a rubber estate may seem peculiar to you, but England seemed very peculiar to me when I first arrived here!
   Now I was sent to a real SCHOOL, a boarding school, which I quite enjoyed once I had learned how to avoid getting beaten (they used to beat you in those days with rulers and canes and even cricket-bats – so don’t any of you go thinking school is tough!). We had a four hundred acre wood (much better than Pooh’s) and we would sneak down there and climb trees to make tree-houses (I had a jungle-saw, which was a saw-wire that rolled up into your pockets with two loops on the end with a pen-knife and you bent a strong but flexible stick with two notches in to make the bow and ‘hey, presto!’ – we were allowed such things way back then so could have really good adventures at school).
  We had calisthenics every day before classes (gymn exercises in the yard – or in the gymn if was raining), sports every afternoon, our own allotments to grow mustard and cress and spring onions and tomatoes and lettuce and watercress to have with the bottled chicken, that some of the richer kids’ dads used to bring in, at the midnight feasts held under the gymn floor where they kept their contraband goodies stashed in locked tin trunks.  We had ‘tuck’ once a week, on Wednesdays after lunch, a bar of chocolate or up to a quarter pound of sweets you had to make last all week (Rowntrees Fruit Gums or hard fruit gel discs which took hours to chew were favourites) dished out by Matron, a swarthy ‘Nurse Crabtree’ with huge dark mole on her chin sprouting hairs who used to ‘wash your ears out’ roughly with a flannel if she found you hadn’t passed the bath time ear inspection.
   It was at this school I encountered Colonel ‘Pepperpot’ Pearson – the Professor Balloonafuss of my story – who was the math’s master.  A World War One Cavalry officer, his face looked exactly as you see him on my cover, with his grand salt-and-pepper moustache and a large light-coloured tweed jacket that sported deep pockets. If you got your sums right, he would exclaim in a pleasantly surprised voice, “Well done, boy! Have a Nuttall’s Mintoe!” and extract a large wrapped peppermint sweet from the endless supply hidden in those deep pockets. In the afternoons we would see him flying across the fields astride his huge white charger (a cavalry horse), leaping the hedgerows without a helmet or a care!
   As an ace swimmer and diver (compared to the natives here) I had great fun in the school pool (outdoor – no heating) until one Easter holidays we went rock-climbing in our local chalk-quarry on the South Downs with our neighbour, the doctor, in charge organizing the barbecue at the base. Being a tree-monkey, I shot up one face ahead of the rest and back down again and stood waiting for a slowcoach to clear another route up when he set off an avalanche of small chunks of chalk that skittered down the cliff-face. Standing over ten feet away, looking the other way because I knew I was well clear. I suddenly I felt a squelchy-noise in my head and saw a large chalk-lump bounce merrily away into the quarry in front of me. I went to the doctor who wrapped a handkerchief over the wound and went on with the barbecue. Three hours later we arrived home and he set his aged mother the task of swabbing the ‘cut’. I nearly shot through the floor when she touched the spot and the canny doctor concluded it might be something more than a scratch and I was sent to hospital (you notice the role-reversal here between me and my brother?) in Worthing and then, after a brief pause for x-rays and being sick again, I was whisked by ambulance to the Atkinson Morley head hospital near London where I arrived to see Stirling Moss’s ambulance pip me to the post (he was England’s top racing driver and crashed at Goodwood on that Good Friday at about the time I had my head smashed). I remember thinking it was interesting how the whole top half of my stretcher was red (my poor father was having kittens) but I knew I was quite well so didn’t worry too much about that – I hadn’t seen the race but I did see the Ace!
   After a long wait for Stirling Moss’s head to be put back together, I was wheeled into the operating room to be operated on by the father of one of my school-friends as it turned out. When I was coming round (the anaesthetics were much cruder back then) I can only remember a matron constantly telling me to ‘lay still and stop whingeing’ only to discover, when they undid my head-bandages the next day, that someone had suck a nappy-sized safety-pin right through the lobe of my ear on my non-injured side and then made me lay on it! I think they must have left one of his bone-pieces on the operating table and then put it in my head because I’ve been driving like crazy ever since (once I’d passed my test, that is).
   When I was allowed back to school I was still, embarrassingly, nearly bald (this was the days before everyone over thirty shaved their heads to hide their onsetting baldness so it did look peculiar) and found I wasn’t allowed to play cricket any more or swim that summer or high-dive, ever again! As a budding leg-spin bowler I was confident of making the first team in my final year, but then, as I discovered when I went to my next school, being cricket-banned AND finding myself a member of the school swimming team at fourteen (against eighteen-year-olds: until that point I really believed that sporting heroes were a class apart from the rest of us – here I discovered that they were ordinary too) wasn’t such bad thing after all. We got to sunbathe and swim all week when ordinary mortals were only allowed in to the pool area during their designated swimming times! That was cool (when everyone else was hot and bothered)! It was nice being envied, I can admit.
  I had better stop this tale here, now that I’ve become a bit older than you and life gets a bit more complicated. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my childhood. Or the bits that seemed important enough to me to remember today.

Crab to Chameleon in one quick transformation

Last night we ate crab for the second time in a week.
I went into the kitchen and said to Pauline , my wife, “You have weaned me onto crab just as I weaned you onto meat. I was always afraid of eating crab after an apparent bad reaction when a child.”
As I returned to the living room my eyes started itching and within minutes the eyelids had swollen like this…

Even today they are still puffy and now saggy as the fluid has drained away.









Dare I say it? I can even be compared to the Mighty Mekon
or his Treens (for those of you who grew up with the Eagle comic and Dan Dare – or who have obssessive collector parents who hung onto theirs)!

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Flight of Birds – new review


Book Review: The Flight of Birds by Alan Howard
Posted on by Martyn Drake

A gripping and hugely intriguing ghost story..
After the death of her mother, Kate Pegler moves to a small village with her father where she befriends a local boy whose father works on the estate of the Tercel family. But things take a strange twist when Kate encounters the mysterious Shabby Tattler whose very appearance triggers a series of strange events in which Kate finds out about the terrible massacre that took place back in the village during the Elizabethan times. Kate’s future lies in the past and terrible secrets and revelations come to the surface. I shall say no more, as to do so would spoil things. Intrigue is the key here.
I absolutely loved the story. Alan has created a rich history filled with high drama through to delicate relationships and some truly shocking moments.
Go buy this book.
 

Alan Gilliland / Alan Howard joint summer signing tour comes to an end.

With enormous thanks to the staff of all those Waterstone’s stores who so kindly hosted us from Exeter to Ipswich.

We sold 1,100 books between us, with Alan Howard edging 100 ahead in sales but Alan Gilliland beating him for profitability, so we agreed to call it a draw.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Flight of Birds new review from Littlewriter, on Waterstone’s website

littlewriter
Waterlooville, England
Age: 18
This is a book which fills your mind with wonder. The characters live on in your mind long after the last page has been turned and the story is clever, deserving applause for the gripping plots. This book is a book to read if you want to experience a beautiful piece of writing which will stay with you forever.
Thank you, littlewriter, whoever you may be. What a very nice thing to say (last sentence)!
If you ever read this, can you put it up on Amazon, too, please? Thanks.
Oh, and by all means feel free to get in touch with me here.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The History of Titus Groan, radio series, begins Sun July 10

This cycle of six radio plays by Brian Sibley, The History of Titus Groan, begins its broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 10 July at 15:00 and runs until 14 August with repeat broadcasts on Saturday evenings at 21:00 from 16 July-20 August.

To read more about its background, go to Sibley’s blog:

http://briansibleysblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/casting-continuity.html



And the Guardian celebrates the achievement of Mervyn Peake:

Mervyn Peake, creator of Gormenghast, is now recognised as a brilliant novelist and artist. Michael Moorcock, China Miéville, Hilary Spurling and AL Kennedy celebrate his achievements


http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/01/mervyn-peake-gormenghast?INTCMP=SRCH

And 

The Worlds of Mervyn Peake is at the British Library, London, from 5 July to 18 September 2011. www.bl.uk

The Worlds of Mervyn Peake

Tue 5 Jul 2011 - Sun 18 Sep 2011
Coming soon
Mervyn Peake (1911-68) is best known as the creator of Gormenghast, but he was also an accomplished painter, playwright, illustrator and poet. Using materials from the British Library’s collections, including the recently acquired Peake archive, this exhibition examines his achievements through the prism of the worlds he inhabited, both real and imagined.
In the Folio Society Gallery

Plus two events:

Mon 11 Jul: Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast
Tue 25 Jul: Mervyn Peake: A Celebration

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast

Kings Library, British Library
Mon 11 Jul 2011, 19.30 - 21.00
Price: £7.50 / £5 concessions
The Gormenghast novels, with Titus, Steerpike and Dr Prunesquallor among an extraordinary set of characters, were written by Mervyn Peake from 1946 to 1959. They form a tour de force of imaginative writing, memorably illustrated by the author.
This event celebrating the books features the launch and first reading of Titus Awakes, the recently unearthed fourth in the series, and contributions by China Miéville, Sebastian Peake, John Sessions, Brian Sibley and other special guests.

Mervyn Peake: A Celebration

Mervyn Peake, Jabberwocky by kind permission of the Mervyn Peake Estate
Tue 26 Jul 2011, 18.30 - 20.30
Price: £7.50 / £5 concessions
Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) was the brilliant creator of the Gormenghast trilogy but also a, poet, painter, writer of children’s books and nonsense verse and a war artist. His idiosyncratic interpretations of such classic texts as Treasure Island, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Ancient Mariner, The Hunting of the Snark and many others mark him as one of the greatest book illustrators of all.

An evening of words, memories and images with Peake's associates, experts and family members. Speakers on the night will include Fabian Peake, Sebastian Peake, Clare Penate, Brian Sibley, Hilary Spurling and others, with a specially filmed contribution by Michael Moorcock.

And I cannot go to either of them!

Friday, 1 July 2011

When is an author not an author?


On Authors and Societies.
Like Mr. Acland (author of Friday’s article, ‘When is a writer not a writer?’) I have found myself not rejected but ignored the Society of Authors and, last week, the Author Magazine, and am aware of the automatic omission of 'self-published' authors from admission to literary competitions (for what seem to be obvious reasons).
Having set up my own micro-publishing company, Raven’s Quill Ltd., (taking inspiration from the micro-breweries of California) to publish my own fiction, children's and adult, I published my first book at the end of Oct. 2008 and my second at the of end Oct. 2010.
Here's what I've managed so far:
• My first book has sold 7,000 in hardback at £15 and second 1,300 at £10.
• Both books are in Gardner’s and Bertram’s wholesalers.
• Raven's Quill is a member of both the PA and IPG.
• Company is in receipt of UKTI grants to exhibit at international books fairs and have done so at the LBF, Frankfurt and Bologna.
• Translation rights sold to S. Korea and Israel for first book.
• Big Apple, Amo, and Ilustrata agencies represent in their language zones.
• I am lucky to enjoy a great relationship with the Waterstone's chain (Central children's buyer: "Those are really phenomenal sales") at which I promote my own books quite effectively at signings, averaging 30+ on weekdays and 40+ on Saturdays (It took 2 days to sign up 31 branches from Exeter to Ipswich for my summer tour).
• Both books, as e-books, are now on Amazon Kindle's 'Summer Reads' promotion as of today (Friday) till 31st Aug. (each priced at £1.49)
• 'Curd the Lion' was made a Book of Year for the Lovereading4kids website, at the end 2009 (review, see below)
• 'The Flight of Birds' featured on its sister website, Lovereading, placed at the top of 'Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi' in Dec. 2010.
• Curd was reviewed by The Northern Echo, The Yorkshire Post, The Oxford Mail and by Reading Time (journal of Children's Book Council of Australia).
• 'Curd' has had two brushes with Hollywood so far and HiT Entertainment wrote of it: "We really enjoyed the inventive witty narrative and surreal humour in the book. We can see that Curd the Lion might work very well as a family feature film." Tfou (TF1 France) wrote similar assessment.
• Children’s author Katherine Langrish wrote: "I agree this is a really unusual book - with brilliant illustrations, too. Think Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, lots of wordplay and paradoxical fun, and you'll be there. Not for every child, perhaps, but any budding chess players or crossword puzzle fiends will have a whale of a time. It demands something of the reader, and that's not a bad thing at all."
• BookWitch Blog wrote nice review of 'Curd" in March: http://bookwitch.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/curd-the-lion-and-friends/
• Lovereading4 kids review. "Reminiscent of the writing of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, this brilliant debut children's novel is completely unputdownable as well as being almost uncategorisable. The author has succeeded in delivering on a book that incorporates a terrifically funny yet mysterious story, full of larger-than-life highly improbable characters that I couldn't begin to do justice to by describing them here, other than to say they are wild and wacky and completely original. He's also delivered a story that is full of tongue-in-cheek humour and skilful wordplay. It's 174 pages of pure unadulterated pleasure and deserves to be huge. This book will be loved by anyone from 7 to 107."
• Mike Shatzkin - e-book guru and organizer of last week's 'Publishers' Launch' conference attended by the cream of British publishing - kindly invited me for an hour's conversation at his hotel last week after that conference. Previously he had written: "Alan, what a great story! I'm glad you didn't ask me before you undertook to do this because I would have told you it was nigh on impossible! But, having achieved this much, I think your Korea sale is just the first of many you'll make around the world. You should find a literary agent to sell rights for you in the US, Canada, and Australia right away." [A few weeks before the Israeli offer]
[The activities in which I have been engaged look remarkably like those of a traditional publisher with the exception that one person performs most of them. You can judge for yourselves whether this constitutes any kind of validation of legitimacy as an author.]
Neither of the Society of Authors nor the Author Magazine has responded, even to acknowledge my applications, despite being sent polite reminders. [I am not aware that I have been in any way discourteous to them.]
 I am merely arguing here for more flexible criteria used by the AS in assessment, as more and more authors, whether published previously or not, are turning to self-publishing (mainly as e-books) with a variety of different motives: to keep their back list alive; to gain more control of the forms in which they are published; to prove (or not) the viability of their new work in the real marketplace, in some cases to attract the attention of traditional agents or publishers, in others to see if they can earn more this way than traditionally-published authors.
Authors choosing this route are not in general decrying the value of the services provided by traditional publishers (editing in all its forms, marketing and promotion) except where these are seen to be failing due those publishers’ concentration on certain sections (celebrity) at the expense of others. 
 I am asking that the criteria of acceptance should not merely be based on whether an author is being or has been published by an established publisher but should be widened to take cognizance of actual real world achievement, where this exists, by authors who fall outside this simple categorization.
 To use my own example: I set up a company to publish my work. I have written under two names. Now had I set up the company (as I was originally tempted to do) under a pseudonym or friend’s name (i.e. Son-in-law), that company would have been seen to be publishing two authors each of whom was gaining solid, if not thrilling, sales. Thus those authors could quite validly apply for membership of the Society of Authors and be entered for literary competitions by the startup company under whose aegis they wrote. My guess is they would almost certainly be accepted into that society because their publishing company was seen to be publishing authors (other than themselves). 
 I do wonder at the apparent rigidity and question the validity of the criteria the Society of Authors imposes for acceptance as an author in this time of flux and radical innovation impinging rapidly upon the accepted mores of the publishing world of the last century.

 Books:
'The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond' - Alan Gilliland, author / illustrator. 80 illus. 160pp. h/b. £14.99. ISBN 9780955548611 (e-book -42) A nonsense quest story for children.
'The Flight of Birds' - Alan Howard. 400pp. p/b with French flaps. £9.99. ISBN 9780955548628 (e-b. -66) An adult - Y/A gothic ghost tale.
I otherwise illustrate exclusively non-fiction for publishers – including the Penguin Group, Osprey, Windmill (ex-BRG), Ivy, Aurum and others – and architects including John McAslan & Partners. Former graphics editor of the Daily Telegraph (18 years  – 21 national / international awards).

KINDLE SUMMER PROMO - Both books at £1.49 KIndle edition.

Bothof my books are now available on the KINDLE SUMMER PROMO for a limited period at £1.49!

Anyone readsing this blog please pass the word on?

“The Amazoing Adventures of Curd the Lion (and us!) in the Land at the Back of Beyond” e-book ISBN 9780955548642 is here:


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Amazing-Adventures-Curd-Beyond-ebook/dp/B00486U39A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A3TVV12T0I6NSM&qid=1309512493&sr=1-1

and “The Flight of Birds” by Alan Howard e-book ISBN 9780955548666 is here:



http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Flight-of-Birds-ebook/dp/B004AM5BJ4/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309513008&sr=1-2

Friday, 24 June 2011

JK Rowling, Pottermore and The Daily Telegraph


I thought that today I would share with you the conversation I had with JK Rowling and Pottermore concerning The Daily Telegraph’s* wrong-headed assertion that she was about to undermine the ability of publishers to fund new authors (which is done through advances enabled by the profits they make from established to-level authors such as JK).

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore All pottermore profits going to foundation to support new writing as JK repays support she received in starting out?

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore I am said struggling author in need of pottermore funding. 1st book sold 7,000 hb - nonsense story – Curd the Lion

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore Can you tell me when I can expect 1st advance from generous fund set up to aid new authors?

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore 2nd book gothic ghost tale The Flight of Birds sold 1,300 so far. Urgently need funding to reach next level.

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore Bid in now as know how quickly pot-fund will grow to all-consuming monster denying publs ability to fund new authors

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore We future recipients of your generosity salute you, JK. You can contact me via my blog ‘Pencilnotes’ or send cheque

OnundTreefoot Alan Gilliland
@jk_rowling @pottermore I wanted to add just how wrong The Telegraph article is in saying you are about to undermine future of new writers

As our correspondence shows, JK does not deny the correctness of my assumption that she is setting up Pottermore for the greater good of the community of writers who are struggling for recognition as she once did. We know that JK, far from being, as described by the Telegraph, like Voldemort, has the heart of Harry Potter, the looks of Hermione and the magical ability to transform the lives of aforementioned deserving authors. Will she use it for evil selfish ends as the the Telegraph claims or to save, like Harry, her fellow-writers from the Slush-monster?
Tune in for newsflashes on the burning issue of the day: books.


*http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/adrianhon/100006726/why-jk-rowlings-pottermore-will-frighten-struggling-authors-%E2%80%93-and-remember-she-used-to-be-one/?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Father’s Day special.

(In response to the good wishes of my boys of assorted size and girl of a particular nature)
Thank you. Book signings going well.

Met an agent at my book signing yesterday in Woking. “I’m a Literary Agent,” she chirped, smiling at her little boy, “I’m the wrong audience.” [This before looking at either of my books.]
Really, the very idea of talking books with an agent!
[She promptly went off and bought a ‘Man Tin’ for Father’s Day, simultaneously demonstrating her own sophistication and a justification for the implementation of that product diversification in Waterstone’s book stores so beloved by literary types.]
However, I did sell 43 to non-agents who were open to new authors. Previous two Saturdays sold 49 and 47.
£1,765 worth of books of which £750 to me or £250 per day. Not bad, some may feel, for a lowly self-published amateur’s Saturday job?
[Thinks: I wonder how much that agent’s carefully selected but not A-list authors make at signings. Loads more, of course!]

As a special treat for Father’s Day Pauline (my wife) is letting me cook dinner for five: Ben & Charlie (eldest son and spouse) are joining young Jack (youngest son) for a pork & prawn Nam Prik type dish with Thai flat noodles with spiring onions and cucumber, together with an Indian mango curry and Kropoe (prawn crackers). For dessert we are having simply fresh strawberries and lashings of cream.

All is not as it seems: Pauline has a rare and steaming cold and bruised feet after she and Emily (my daughter of not-yet-Vintage-Pixie-fame) organised a very successful vintage clothing and craft fair at Shalford near Guildford yesterday at which Charlie’s Jumbly Crumbly Kitchen was a cakey-sellout. Despite the torrential showers all went well with a large turnout and tasty profits all round, repaying the three days they (P.E.C.) spent trudging the area dropping leaflets through 2,500 doors.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Summer-tour-in-a-tent signings extravaganza!

Started booking my Summer signing tour yesterday (in the absence of my trusty promotions team) and have already signed up 28 venues from Exeter to Ipswich!

After my wife upended my red-pocket-rocket, my perfect Pug, last year…
BEFORE


AFTER


She managed to steer it right between those two trees, down an embankment, overturn it and yet escape with just a bruised thigh and scratched arm! Spectacular, huh? (She crawled out of the back door – the side doors were jammed till two burlies yanked them open)

I now drive our grey metallic 207 turbo – Mr Q!
And pitch my 5-man tent (I’m bigger than I used to be) – alone and unaided

for five weeks – on strategically located hubs from Dorset to East Anglia, and sign in stores in towns radially reachable, returning home for the odd weekend – and that’s my summer holidays folks.
While all of you’s are sunning yourselves like beached whales on tropic sands or mediterranean shores
I work my little butt off.!



Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A dreary whimsy in green…


Croaking loudly in the oxbow lakes in which they swim as the meandering river of the great plain sluggishly breaks free and starts to run by them, literary agents in their arrogance remind one of nothing more than this description in Emily Dickinson’s lines:
“How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

In their own words, their opinions are “Riveting, riveting…”

The above a random thought sparked by this…
Dreary (David Miller) Agent’s response to Susan Hill “And prizes aren't about fairness. Anyway, hope you're having fun wading through the rest of the poo published this year.”

And of course, as an outsider, I admit in saying this to, maybe, you who are listening:
“I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.”

(As they would, if ever they found us out)

Remaining with the frog theme, does not a “knot” of agents seem particularly apposite?

And some say that to rub up frogs the wrong way is to risk the deadly poisons oozing from their pores. But then, we live in Britain, not some fetid jungle, where living trees are pulped for profit?



Letter to Peter Cox regarding agent ethics and other matters




(Peter’s article, see below.)
Hello Peter,
I have just read with some fascination your argument regarding the ethics of the agent’s role. I can’t remember how I found it but my trail started with the Nosy Crow defence of the Sainsbury’s award.
As an outsider with neither an agent nor a publisher who has sold, mostly undiscounted, around 7,000 copies of my first, illustrated nonsense children’s, in hardback at £14.99and 1,200 of my second, adult gothic ghost tale, in paperback at £9.99, traditionally printed, I am merely an observer of the tribulations and machinations of both sides of the “added value” chain.

In her defence of Sainsbury’s I was a little shocked at the extremely modest figures, both in sales and revenue-to-author, of the examples she quoted: 3,000 copies sold through Sainsbury’s equating to 2,000 through an independent bookshop to realise £900 for her client (the creator as author or illustrator). I was not shocked at the percentage but at the low expectation of sales figures.
Is it really the case that a publisher, with connective, logistical and marketing power at their disposal, has such low expectations of sales volume while accepting such drastic discounting? (It may be that this was an abstract random example merely to show the relative sales between outlets but her introduction of the ALCS’s median author income figures leads me to believe otherwise. I realize the publisher benefits through the accumulated title income but this little helps the individual author. [Which relates to your issues with agents becoming publishers I guess])
Ok, she is one publisher, and a new one, but her ability to self-promote is peerless (she is everywhere to be found plugging NC or pontificating on publishing futures), so it is doubly disheartening to see that she, apparently, has such low volume expectations (I also read a sub-text into her article aimed squarely at her authors and illustrators), and I wonder if this translates to the major publishers for the majority of their new titles (we keep hearing about the onus incumbent on non-A-list authors to ‘get out there and promote your own work’)?
You, as an agent, should be in a position to answer this question and I hope you will be kind enough to do so.

How does this relate at all to your article? Indirectly, inasmuch as your discussion of agent integrity conflicting with the trend to agent-publishing leads me to the other half of my concern: the agent half of the value-added question.
Again, as an outsider I watch the publicised mega-deals which give no indication as to the median agent-struck deals with publishers. In the case of a non-mega deal what does the agent bring to the party? How does he/she justify his/her existence in a world where deals are struck with no advances to help the author live while penning his next book and where publishers do increasingly less to push the book, once published?
In such a situation and disregarding e-books for a moment, I would see a distinct opportunity for a new type of publishing concern – a developmental/copy-editing, proofreading and pre-production company working with authors to facilitate the production of their own work under the aegis of their own companies under one of the following agreements:
  1. Prod Co contracted at straight flat-rate payment for work done for Author Co that pays the printing, shipment, and storage etc., costs. Author Co benefits by lowered print rates through Prod Co’s total printing volume.
  2. For new or cash-strapped authors, Prod Co, after initial editorial viability vetting, enters an arrangement balanced between direct payment and royalties (i.e. in reverse of the current norm, with the possibility that some of these will achieve high volumes and continued income for the Prod Co)
Here the Author Co takes the 42.5-60% share of list price through wholesalers or bookshops direct for street sales or the equivalent through e-tailers.
Basically this is what I have been doing these past two years, paying for runs between 1,000 and 3,000, taking advantage of the print deals* through volume my production company provides (they merely check my pdfs for anomalies and negotiate prices), warehousing and distributing through wholesalers (no Amazon Advantage here – more from Amazon sold through Gardners).
[*Well, I thought they were providing such an advantage! After a falling out I was forced to find my own print deals and found an ace Chinese company, with a London office and an extremely nice and efficient representative here, that printed my Curd the Lion hardback book, retailing at £14.99 on a run of 2,000 at £1.75 including delivery to a UK warehouse – the cheapest by far I’ve had – and perfect quality. DIY strikes again!] 
Ok, I have to pay for printing up front, but I have geared it so that the profit from each pays for the next. Since Gardners take my books in batches between 200 and a thousand my warehousing costs are greatly reduced (and I have found a very cheap warehouse for the remainder).
I originally took the stance, having heard of the self-promotion being demanded of mid-list authors, that I would rather self-promote for 42% than 8% of each sale made. With that in mind I have established a great working relationship with the Waterstone’s chain at which I do signings every Saturday, through half-terms and holidays, just chatting to customers who have never heard of me and talking them into my stories with very consistent results. (Most Saturdays now over 40 books between the two and over 30 weekdays).
I work otherwise illustrating for a range of publishers adult non-fiction titles (Penguin Group, Osprey, Windmill, Hachette Partworks, Aurum, Ivy) plus occasionally for architects (John McAslan & Partners and others) and writing whenever I get free time.
I guess my activities parallel those of a lot of authors represented by agents and published by major companies with the exception that I reap a far greater reward per unit, even after printing, warehousing and distribution costs. (In my position the Gardners business model is so much more viable than the Bertrams where the latter overtly pay when they order, rather than when they sell, but in reality their 90 -120 day payment cycle coincides with an automated returns cycle so that one can be paid just prior to returns being notified and further orders placed for the same books coincidentally.)
It is obvious that everyone concedes that e-publishing is easy (with the caveats of the observed shortfall in proofreading/copyediting for each format in which the e-book is distributed) and in ignorance of that caveat, cheap. Apps are a different matter.
Agents, like authors, it seems, are tempted by the apparent lack of infrastructure needs to set themselves up as e-publishers.
In my case, to avoid the fraught contractual niceties, I have signed up to work under the aegis of Faber Factory (iBookstore deal announced today) – they chunder through the contractual mires while I pay a percentage for the privilege of collecting a cheque each month. Neither has worked out an effective pricing or marketing strategy though their (and others’) success in tactically lowering to 99c. leading to exponentially increasing sales to a plateau, followed by a slow decline, largely upholding sales after returning to the original or a price somewhere between, has worked very well.
But this is merely a short-term big deal for the early adopters, and already it is being said that reduction per se will not be enough, but that every book will have to find a ‘gimmick’ to raise its profile above the horizon, or by exploiting or creating interest-group communication and loyalty (‘verticality’ in Shatzkin’s jargon).
Here publishers are disadvantaged in that the main retailer, Amazon, and Apple, to a lesser but growing degree, know every purchase and the addresses etc., of every customer and can extrapolate from these their interests and tastes to a degree unheard of before. Publishers are left out in the cold and must find ways to generate their own feedback loop to and from their customers as some are trying.
The FT’s adoption of a pseudo-app (Majoobi – see Tech Digest for details) for all devices announced yesterday is a major step in this direction, if not quashed by Apple, in that they have what appears as an app downloadable but not subject to the App store conditions and vetting procedures. It gives them direct purchasing and access to what is read by whom, with all the information that carries
Whether this leads to the Android-style chaos that is a direct result of unvetted apps allowing malware onto their devices, has yet to be seen. If so, Apple will assuredly find a way of banning such pseudo apps. [Otherwise pretty damned exciting especially for small guys like me because cheap and cheerful but looking good.]
It is very difficult to see how publishers can catch up with direct sales or persuade the major e-tailers to divulge their customer preference databases since the latter would facilitate the former undermining their own information-advantage and market dominance.

Wow! I didn’t mean to get this carried away, but it all leads back to my basic question: what advantage, in the emerging ecosystems through which readers are connected to writers (and illustrators) have the massive (statistically-savvy but individually-ignorant) behemoths of the last publishing century over “early-mammalian” micro-publishers?
It seems a particularly fruitless quest for agents to aspire set up as publishers at the same time as the mega-e-tailers (Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc.) are doing precisely the same thing but with direct access to individual consumer taste, purchase frequency, type and price point, indicating wealth level and increasingly revealing social demographic status, permitting irresistible advertising, according to their evolving models, on an individual level.

As an outsider I would be only too pleased to have someone come along and say, “Hey, I’ll take all this load off your shoulders to let you get on with the task of creating,” but all I see from this side of the fence is seeming confusion and uncertainty fuelling panic and withdrawal of that real support, cultivating authors through time, that was a hallmark of the great editors and agents.

I would greatly appreciate it, if you have time, if you would give your viewpoint on these issues.
Best wishes,
Alan.

He very kindly and interestingly replied, agreeing with many of my points and giving me some fascinating insights, for which I am grateful.
I post this as a spur to debate, in the vain assumption that someone reads this blog!

Article: Your agent should not be your publisher. Peter Cox.
http://www.redhammer.info/news/agent-publisher/