Some are disguised as golden cages…
Benny walked past the old pre-fab house and remembered the day his granddad explained the importance of taking your chores seriously. Like gardening. Or homework. Or keeping in touch.
Tom’s small hand squeezed mine and steered me away from the stall. I looked down and wondered, where he got his will power from.
Britain’s Money Laundromat develops a Leak
Oddly, moments after I had published my latest blog post, I happened to look up that day’s front page of The Guardian newspaper, only to discover that the “Exclusive” covered the money laundering theme of my own blog post.
“UK at heart of $3bn secret payments by Azerbaijan”, the headline reads, proving that I was quite right calling Britain the most corrupt country in the world. It is alleged in the article that Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret scheme to pay prominent European politicians, journalists and businessmen, laundering money via a network of obscure British companies, or rather Scottish Limited Partnerships.
The latter is, incidentally, a theme dealt with in a crime novel by Ian Rankin. Rankin gets his most famous creation, Inspector John Rebus of Police Scotland, involved in a money-laundering scandal that sees Rebus track down various villains operating in Rankin’s (and Rebus’) home town, Edinburgh. Scottish Limited Partnerships enable organised crime to establish bogus companies, using tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and Belize offshore banks corporate “partners”. Rankin’s novel introduces us to a man from a wealthy family background, who is now involved in corporate crime to cover the huge losses he incurred with his own banking and stockbroking efforts. His is the corrupt heart that beats beneath the glorious architecture and highly respectable face Edinburgh puts on for millions of tourists each year. Outwardly he is a member of Edinburgh’s elite, rich and successful, envied by many. But in private he’s a failure in his chosen line of business, a potential murderer and a drug addict.
The real-life investigation of The Guardian asserts that Azerbaijan’s leadership made in excess of 16,000 secret payments between 2012 to 2014, aiming to influence European politicians and journalists as part of an international lobbying campaign to deflect international condemnation of the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and those close to him.
According to The Guardian, there is at present no suggestion that all of the recipients of these payments were aware of the original source of the money they received, as the payments arrived via a disguised route.
The Guardian’s investigation and various leaked documents show that Britain’s lightly regulated corporate landscape makes it easy for organised crime and corrupt regimes to move large sums of money around without attracting the beady glare of tax authorities and regulators. Dubbed the “Global Laundromat”, the money-laundering operation is staggering in its size. Seven million pounds alone were spent in the UK on buying luxury goods and paying for private school fees.
One of Europe’s leading banks, Danske, was unwittingly caught in this “laundromat” scheme via their branch office in Estonia, where large sums of Azerbaijan’s illegal money were being “laundered”. Danske first noticed the irregular payments in 2014, when it was investigating an unrelated money-laundering issue and stumbled across the Azerbaijani angle. Since then Danske has tightened its procedures in all its branches.
Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith both use the city of Edinburgh in Scotland as background for many of their novels and short stories, but they couldn’t be more different in their approach. While McCall-Smith’s Edinburgh is heart-achingly beautiful, often mildly eccentric, but always affluent, respectable, kind and funny, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh is sinister, rotten to the core, impoverished and life-threatening.
Both authors use the Scottish city as another character in their stories, and we get to see many different aspects of the ancient city by the sea, both in terms of geography and psychology. McCall-Smith clearly loves the city (see his Isabel Dalhousie/Philosophers’ Club series as well as his 44 Scotland Street series), while Ian Rankin has more of a love-hate relationship with Edinburgh. Both authors treat readers to an intimate dissection of what life in Scotland’s best known city is like, and how living there influences people’s actions.
How these latest real life revelations about Britain’s involvement in international money-laundering schemes will influence future storylines of UK legislature remains to be seen. That far greater transparency is needed in the UK’s offshore banking and corporate sectors is evident. Practically all the other EU countries have been pushing for this for ages. There are various legal measures afoot that will alter how Scottish Limited Partnerships can be set up and operated in the future. But critics say these changes to UK corporate law are not far reaching enough.
Prime Minister Theresa May is too incompetent and weak as a leader of the Tory-led government to effect positive change during her tenure. We have already seen May back down on various issues related to corporate greed, most notably on worker representation in board rooms and corporate fat cats’ exorbitant pay packages. But it’s not just the domestic angle that’s worrying.
Imagine President Frump, when he proposes the USA should do “lots of great deals with Britain” straight after the UK leaves the European Union in March 2019. President Frump favours “deregulation” of the financial sector, so the UK’s money laundromat may have sprung a temporary leak, but there are already plenty of “engineers”, domestic and foreign, working to fix this regrettable problem.
BTW, before he became President of the United States of Xenophobia, Mr Frump was also busy trying to build a hotel complex in Baku, Azerbaijan. He may have eventually cancelled the deal, but it still leaves huge question marks over Frumpy’s ability to judge who he should do business with and who he should stay well clear of.
Thus, corruption is here to stay. It will continue to prosper as Britain’s greatest, and most reliable, money spinning venture – poisoning every corner of the kingdom, from blustery cold Edinburgh down to the sunnier shores of Brighton, like a relentless worm gnawing its way through a once golden apple, leaving nothing but a blackened, stinking morass in its wake.
American Dream gone sour?
Unusually for me, I saw the movie long before I read the book many years later. The Firm is, as one would expect of a Grisham novel, a thrilling read, a tale of utter corruption and limitless greed that is not necessarily confined to an American setting. One could image this tale could just as well play out in Italy, Little Britain or Spain, if one takes into account the spread of organized crime, and the level of corruption these countries are infamous for. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, I’m afraid this blog post contains some spoilers.
Grisham’s novel is a wonderful example of how one (office) building can serve as a metaphor for a society’s way of life, in this case, the much-celebrated “American Dream”. As long as you work hard, no matter what your background, the sky’s the limit. Anyone can become a millionaire through hard work and determination, at least in principle. That’s the American dream young Mitch McDeere has held on to ever since leaving a miserable mobile home in a trailer park somewhere in Florida to become a hot-shot lawyer graduating from Harvard.
But at what cost do we follow that dream? That’s the central theme of the novel.
This doesn’t come across in the movie at all, but in the book the 100-year-old building on Front Street in Memphis used by The Firm is an essential “character” in the story. Where your office is located in the Firm’s office building tells you which place you are permitted to occupy in society. At the beginning of the story, we see Mitch yearn for rapid progress within the Firm. He’s hungry for success, longs to be the proud occupier of one of the partners’ corner offices, which overlook the river and are twice the size of offices occupied by mere associates. To this end, Mitch works an unbelievable 20 hours a day, and virtually abandons his wife, Abby, in their brand-new home, bought by the firm and “given” to the young couple at a low-cost mortgage.
But as the story unfolds, we learn what price the Firm’s young lawyers have pay to get into these spacious corner offices. The higher up in the building – within the firm and therefore in society – the more corrupt a person becomes. We soon discover that the partners’ success in life is almost entirely based on the work of the guys located in the basement,who sit all day long in windowless cubicles, beavering away without just rewards – or views of the river.
The more the novel progresses, the more Mitch discovers that there’s a sinister side to this office building. It’s a fortress, not just an office block, but what does all this security actually guard? Mitch learns to look beyond the antique Persian carpets, the rosewood desks, the expensive paintings on the walls. He begins to see the true nature of the Firm, sees what’s really behind all this ostentatious wealth, and starts to understand what will happen to him, if he remains part of it. His wife Abby has instinctively understood that there’s far more to “The Firm” than meets the eye. She is suspicious of a company that demands total control over the lives of those who serve it. Mitch, who unlike Abby comes from an impoverished background and a broken home, takes far longer to look beyond the trappings of commercial success. The much-coveted office Mitch was so proud of getting, becomes first a sanctuary, then a prison, then a death-trap. The new house they’ve moved into is not a cozy nest to raise a family, but a cage into which Abby and Mitch are forced each day to live out their lives for the “amusement” of the security chief of The Firm and one of it’s senior partners, a man who is a voyeur and loves to listen – and preferably watch – what young lawyers and their wives get up to in the perceived privacy of their own bedroom. Abby and Mitch’s home is wired, their car is bugged and there’s no privacy anywhere other than the great outdoors. They are followed wherever they go, and spied upon even in their most intimate moments. All locations in this novel turn out to be a threat to those who happen to venture too close to The Firm’s true nature. And soon Mitch and Abby find themselves planning their headlong flight to the ends of the earth to escape from that “American Dream” gone terribly wrong…
Grisham manages to introduce a second location as a character in its own right. When the author takes Mitch, and therefore the reader, to the “glamorous and exotic” location of the Caribbean, he soon learns that beneath the sugar-white sands of the beaches lie the rotten roots of swaying palm trees. This luxurious island paradise is build on corruption. Any feeling of freedom, hope of escape, is soon squashed, and the initial euphoria at being abroad in an exotic location, is soon wiped out by an all-pervading atmosphere of deadly threat lurking behind every pair of sunglasses, behind every stall of pretty postcards and every wide smile a local beauty beams at Mitch.
In Grisham’s thriller, the mafia is aided and abetted by the UK’s offshore banking system, a haven for the world’s organized crime gangs, where money is laundered and profits of slavery and prostitution, drug and arms dealing are squirreled away from the suspicious eyes of tax authorities and law enforcement agencies. Mitch soon realizes that what an FBI agent has told him about the law firm’s involvement in mafia business is actually true.
How widespread money laundering via offshore banking is in real life can be seen by the repeated efforts of the 27 remaining EU member states to force the UK to make its own offshore banking system more transparent and accountable – and the UK’s adamant refusal to comply with these demands.
Hundreds of billions of illegal funds are reputedly laundered in Britain’s offshore accounts, and any attempts at depriving organized crime of their ill-gotten gains has so far failed because of Britain’s refusal to make this offshore banking system accessible to EU law enforcement scrutiny.
When the world’s leading expert on all things Mafia tells newspaper reporters around the world that the United Kingdom is the most corrupt country in the world, you’d better take his word for it! It is my belief that Britain’s total corruption is the real reason why the Tory government held the Brexit referendum in the first place. Brexiteers’ repeated bleating about “sovereignty of Britain’s laws” are nothing but an attempt to keep Europol and the European Court of Justice out of Britain’s offshore banking sector.
Spreading xenophobia and racism as generously as their lies about the EU as an organisation, the Tories and their Brexiteering fat cats are desperate to remove Little Britain from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice as quickly as possible, because Brexiteers are likely to have dipped their fingers into hugely illegal pies, in my opinion. The fruits of their illegal gains will most likely slumber in said offshore bank accounts, in tax havens like Bermuda or Grand Cayman Island. History has taught us that all right-wing, fascist pigs are thugs, involved in organized crime in one form or another. Just look back to Hitler, Mussolini & Co, if you’ve problems with this assumption, or at Franco’s regime in Spain. Crime and right-wing politics have always gone hand in hand.
As the leaked “Panama Papers” revealed not so long ago, of the so far investigated offshore accounts (hundreds and hundreds of them), some 70% can be traced to British organized crime. It is therefore not a stretch of the imagination to dwell on what lies hidden in other British offshore accounts, and why Britain’s right-wing establishment is so desperate to remove the country from the scrutiny of EU law enforcement agencies. However, their Brexiteering efforts may yet be scuppered. A potential leaking of such account details is not beyond the capabilities of public-spirited hackers, as became evident with the Panama offshore banking leak. It is, I believe, a ticking time bomb. In Grisham’s novel, the FBI bribes Mitch to become a whistle blower. Give a modern-day, real life “Mitch” the right financial incentive, and there may well be a leak of major proportions and consequences.
Any investigation into what lies hidden in accounts on Grand Cayman Island, Bermuda etc could easily spell the end of the Tories for good – and topple untold senior business, MPs and establishment figures across the country, not to mention land them all in jail, in my opinion.
Perhaps such a leak would even have the potential to finally end Britain’s class system, bringing about a long-overdue “revolution” in society. Tory corruption (alleged election fraud) is currently under police investigation, so who knows what else may emerge in months ahead, as the EU/UK Brexit negotiations get more acrimonious. We may yet see an EU-spirited hacker deliver a “British Virgin Island Paper”, even without the financial inducement provided by some law enforcement agency, be it the FBI, Interpol or Europol, or possibly handed out by an exasperated EU negotiation team from Brussels, desperate to stop a cliff-edge Brexit fiasco.
It is the very timing of Brexit that has led me to form this “conspiracy” theory, not something I’m normally prone to, and not inspired by Grisham’s novel either. As EU law enforcement agencies and EU government heads began asking more and more uncomfortable questions over the UK’s offshore banking system in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, we suddenly saw a huge populist rising driven relentlessly by the likes of UKIP (UK’s “acceptable” right wing party) and the Tories themselves.
Even now, where spiraling inflation bites and both EU citizens and disgusted pro-EU Brits leave the country in their thousands ahead of Brexit, there’s no end of the anti-European Court of Justice rhetoric from the Brexiteers. The country must leave the EU at all costs, no matter what battering the economy takes, no matter how 49% of the population feel about it – and no matter what many who voted LEAVE last year would vote for this year, now that they know they were lied to on all fronts by the LEAVE campaigners.
I don’t believe in coincidences. To me, this was a right-wing coup, organized and carried out by those who would go to jail for a very long time and have all their assets seized, if the EU unraveled what’s going on in UK’s offshore accounts. Whipping up a populist rising against immigrants and thereby the EU itself was the quickest, shortest root to save all those from certain ruin within Britain’s establishment who facilitate large-scale criminal activities. The likes of David Davis and Boris Johnson & Co are far too incompetent and unintelligent to be behind such a coup – but they are greedy and eager to sit in their spacious corner office of the Firm’s building, and therefore easily manipulated.
Grisham’s novel may at times feel a little too contrived and preposterous to ring true, but current political events around the Western World show us that his novel didn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to corruption and limitless greed.
There are two things that I have issues with in Grisham’s sordid tale of a Memphis law firm being used for major league money laundering.
The first is, naturally, that the young heroes of the tale, novice lawyer Mitch McDeere and wife Abby, totally forget to make provisions for their dog Hearsay. After making elaborate plans to evade the Mob and the FBI, a smart guy like Mitch cannot make emergency provisions for the poor mutt, leaving it to starve in their former Memphis home? He’s thought of every other tiny detail, so is it likely such a person would forget to make arrangements for a beloved family pet?
One would have expected their secret helper, Tammy/Doris, to organise a rescue of the little mutt. However, only when Abby and her husband, together with Mitch’s brother Ray, have escaped from almost certain death at the hands of the mafia, Abby suddenly remembers they have abandoned their dog to an uncertain fate. How exactly does the author think Abby’s neighbor, elderly Mr Rice, is supposed to get into their house to rescue and adopt the dog? How would he even know it’s still there? For all Mr Rice knows, the young couple may have taken the dog with them. This part of the novel contradicts what we know of Mitch and Abby, the latter being quite softhearted and very fond of her dog.
If we had any sympathies with Mitch and Abby throughout the novel, at this point we stop caring about their fate. Leaving the dog behind to starve is simply cruel and reveals Mitch and Abby as greedy, selfish, and yes, corrupt people who’d do anything for money and don’t care who gets hurt in the process. That Grisham didn’t intend us to feel this way about Abby and Mitch can be seen at the very end of the novel, where Grisham tries to get in the romantic money shot. It’s the eternal American obsession with a “happy ending”. But the final paragraph didn’t make me want to say “aw, bless them” – I just closed the book with a “good riddance to them all”.
The other thing that irked me is simply sloppiness on the part of the author. Towards the end of the book, we see Mitch helping himself to a large chunk of Mob money by making a transfer from a numbered Grand Cayman Island account to an account in the US, from where part of the money is then transferred into a Swiss numbered account, while the remainder is transferred to two private accounts in the US.
Having worked in both international banking and accounting, I can say with some confidence that it is not possible to transfer any sum of money out of a company account without the authority of at least TWO people that work for said company or, in this case, said law firm. The novel may be set prior to Internet banking, but for the purpose of practical international banking procedure, this is irrelevant. Then as now one needs two people to authorize any such transaction. And for such a large sum to be transferred from a law firm’s account to accounts held by private individuals would set alarm bells ringing with any bank clerk, no matter how incompetent or corrupt the bank may otherwise be. In the days when one had to complete a preprinted form to make international transfers, such a document would then have to be signed by two authorized signatories, whose signature samples were held on file. Even with online banking, two PINs are needed to make any kind of company to company or company to private individual transfer. These PINs must be inserted into a wee handheld device, and requires two people’s security cards. As a junior associate of the Firm, Mitch simply wouldn’t have been authorized to do any transfers, let alone one of several millions.
As a private individual it is simply not possible to just order some banking clerk to transfer money out of one company-held account, especially that of a law firm, which is governed by even stricter accounting rules as a law firm holds third-party funds. This may sound like nit-picking on my part, but I feel it is such a rookie mistake that could have been easily avoided. A phone call to his own bank would have told Mr Grisham that.
Adding Flavour to your Writing
Something that is often underestimated in fiction is the importance of food and beverages. They are as much part of a nation’s culture and heritage as architecture and art, music and dialects, local costume and customs. Leave out the flavour of food and drink locals like to consume and you’re only telling half the story, robbing yourself of a valuable tool that will draw readers into your narrative by subtle means.
Go beyond mentioning ale, wine, cheese, meat, onions and bread. It is the more intricate detail that helps writers to conjure up an authentic setting, allowing readers to not only see, hear, and feel but TASTE the flavour of a point in time and a real or fictional place.
Food and drink also help writers to characterise protagonists in culinary terms. Think Ian Fleming’s James Bond without his customary shaken but not stirred, super-cool martini or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot without his beloved tisane. Not quite the same, is it?
Perhaps your detective protagonist is a gourmand, astonishing villains with amazing feats of culinary prowess that hint at equally accomplished execution of public duties? Or your hapless Latin protagonist cannot prepare a chorizo Mexicano with tostadas to save her life and is as hopeless at cooking as she is at recognising a good man in your romance novel?
Be literary foodie detective
A foreign character becomes that much more genuine in flavour and scent when your “I-must-be-trendy-or-die” heroine teeters into a Berlin bar on her stilettos, orders a Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, climbs onto the bar stool and smiles broadly at the barman, only to display remnants of Bockwurst between her teeth.
The words fish ‘n chips alone conjure up a picture of Britain’s seedy and run-down seaside resorts, of screaming kids in prams pushed around by indifferent mothers in white leggings and baggy tops, of wheeling seagulls, drizzling rain and fierce gusts blowing litter everywhere. Add a steak and kidney pudding accompanied by mushy peas, followed by a sticky bun and plastic cup of tea and you have a setting that is unmistakably British and noir.
Permit the scent of crispy bacon and a heap of baked beans on toast in the early hours of the morning to lure your crime-fighting hero’s growing paunch off-track, and your reader can digest the fact that even the toughest detective needs comfort food once in a while and shouldn’t be asked to forego his full English for an early arrest of the villain.
A culinary starting point
A great advantage of researching historic food and drink is that often writers come across stuff like “this brewery has been producing Hefeweizen (wheat lager) and dark lager since 1827”. It provides us with a genuine reference point in history, allowing us to concentrate on a small area within a village, town or city from which we can expand into the wider (historical) world of our chosen period setting.
Why not use the street in which the brewery stands as a setting for a scene? Let the brewery’s day-to-day operations become a realistic background to your main action. Without going into a huge amount of detail, your writing will allow readers to hear the clip-clop of dray horses pulling a heavy wagon full of kegs; readers will unconsciously wrinkle their noses at the manure dotted around in this cobbled street and sense the air is filled with the stink of fermented hops, malt and wheat. The fictional employees of such a business could even become walk-on characters in your story’s secondary plot.
By the way, the brewery mentioned here is located on the Northern German Island of Rügen. The Stralsunder Brauerei has been supplying Baltic resorts with beer since 1827, when the brewery was founded.
Let your protagonist drink a dark lager called Störtebecker Hanse Porter, named in honour of 13th century pirate Nicolas (Klaas) Störtebeker, and readers will imagine your manly hero’s rugged good looks and steely gaze. And if your protagonists munch their way through a platter of hearty Braunschweiger, Kohlwurst and Bregenwurst sausages, served with boiled potatoes and steaming kale, readers know the setting is as northern German, Protestant and rural as it gets.
This simple peasant meal will act as a reminder that your story is set in empty, bleak and entirely flat landscapes, lined by deserted white sandy beaches where icy winds rush through dunes even in summer. In this desolate landscape the air is filled with the scent of smoked fish and ham, and the screech of gulls riding the steely grey Baltic waves drown out conversations between windswept protagonists. This is a landscape made for epic, smouldering love stories that don’t end well, leaving a smoky aftertaste on readers’ palates, when they reach the final page.
Equally, no literary excursion to Prague in the Czech Republic is complete without an ice-cold serving of a glass of light golden Krušovice, a lager with a dry straw aroma served to the office of Václav Havel, when he was the republic’s president back in 2003. The beer has been brewed in Czech Republic since 1517 and the brewery once belonged to Emperor Rudolf II, who purchased it in 1581 for the Czech Crown. Now there’s already a historic novel contained in that one sentence! Why did Rudolf buy a brewery? Whom could a writer murder to make this a whodunit with beer?
And while your hero and heroine are gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes over the din of Strasbourg Cathedral’s bells and the merciless fall of the guillotine, why not let them have a fruity glass of Alsace wine, while they’re nibbling slices of grilled Saucisse de Canard? It’s a sausage made from duck, for which Strasbourg’s surroundings and Brittany are famous. Oh go on, it’s the aristocrats’ final meal together, before the doomed lovers’ heads get chopped off!
The importance of food and drink production
From fluffy white ducks and geese that waddle through meadows and farmyards in the Alsace and Périgord regions in France to the sturdy peasants working steep vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel valleys in Germany, food and drink production has shaped the way our landscapes look and the way people have traded and dealt with each other over time.
Even when writing a science fiction novel set on another planet, food and drink production that nourishes the beings living on that planet should therefore be uppermost in a writer’s mind. Agriculture will have influenced that planet’s landscapes. Food and drink will be an integral part of the culture our story is based on. Who eats first in a hierarchical society? Who gets the biggest cut and who gets only the scraps?
Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin, a feat of prowess for manly men or a confounded nuisance for those who have to enforce the law?
If this article has provided you with a morsel of culinary inspiration for your next novel, be sure to pass it on. Spice up your romance with mulled wine; remove greasy burger taste from your Belgium detective’s palate. Serve him cuisine à la bière with a steaming bowl of mussels with frieten instead, adding a glass of Liefmans, brewed in Flanders since 1679, for a refreshing aftertaste. Squirt a little wine into your heroine’s barley water to mellow the minx.
Bon appetite, writers!
(picture credits: all animation sourced via heathersanimations.com,
Picture 1: Nuremberg sausages, By Gerbis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13280953
Picture 2: Stralsunder Brewery, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9768916
Picture 3: promotional Sailing Glass/Segelglass identity for Klaas Stoertebeker lager, Bild Segelglas als Identitätsmerkmal der Biermarke Störtebecker, von Günter Haase – Eigenes Werk, CC-BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40978499)
Landscapes of my Mind
Apart from a few references to creating fantasy worlds, my blog posts so far have dealt with how real locations can be used in fiction to make a point about either the underlying theme, the protagonist’s inner workings or any other topic an author would like to present in the sub-text. But sometimes we take our inspiration from very different sources for the landscapes into which we invite our readers. Not from an Atlas, Google Maps or an old-fashioned globe this time, the inspiration for my book cover and – at least in part – the plot for “Master of the Foxhunt” came from a famous painting.
The landscape painter and printmaker Winslow Homer (1836 to 1910) is a preeminent figure in American art. His beautiful painting “Fox Hunt”, falling so neatly into the Victorian era my ghost story is set in, was the inspiration for my novella’s cover. The story itself, which had been maturing in my head for a long time, was inspired by a real family of foxes who had taken up residence in my garden shortly after I had purchased a flat in London a few years ago. Since hardly a day goes by where I don’t see the bushy tail or tufty ear of an urban fox disappear around a corner these days, it was about time they took on a starring role in one of my works.
My London flat had been on the market for a while and so the garden was rather overgrown, when I purchased it. Imagine a whole row of Edwardian and Victorian family homes with 90-ft gardens arranged back-to-back and you can picture a ready-made urban heaven for foxes. The dilapidated shed that stood in the wilderness of brambles and tall grass at the bottom of my garden was soon transformed into a look-out station from which Mama Fox and her three cubs would survey their little kingdom each morning, when the sun would warm their pelts, while I was floating in the bath. My large picture window of my bathroom overlooked the garden and afforded me an excellent opportunity to spy on South East London’s urban wildlife.
The family of foxes didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they were quite the little show-offs, yawning widely and stretching out luxuriously of a morning, turning their little furry bellies towards the warming rays of the early sun, reminding me that their work was done while I still had my working day ahead of me!
Winslow Homer’s wonderful painting is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts and is one of three Homer masterpieces on show, the other two being “North Road Bermuda” and “Eight Bells”. Oil on canvas and measuring 96.5 b 174 cm, “Fox Hunt” was created in 1893 – eight years after the setting of my romantic ghost story, but close enough!
Homer was largely self-taught (like me…but unlike me, he was a hugely gifted painter!). He spent a short time studying oil painting in the spring of 1861, before being sent to the Civil War front in Virginia as an artist-correspondent for the illustrated journal Harper’s Weekly, then a fairly new publication. The time he spent at the front had a profound affect on him and he produced many works about the meaning of war, its impact on people. He was greatly admired by his contemporaries, who found the force of his work and fierce beauty, the drama and dynamic of his compositions deeply moving. Many of his later paintings carry hints of modernist abstraction and I feel “Fox Hunt” is a splendid example of this.
He often depicted scenes of hunting and fishing, producing many evocative and much admired seascapes in the process, but here we enter an unforgiving frosty world, an icy countryside that is beautiful, but deadly.
“Fox Hunt” was his largest painting up to that point, dealing with the depiction of survival in the wild – a subject largely inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and a topic uppermost on many artists’ minds in the final years of the 19th century. Set in a harsh winter landscape of the Main shoreline, Homer shows us a fox fleeing from a hungry flock of crows. The crow, harbinger of death in mythology for eons, is here not just a messenger but the actual executioner. Looking at the painting one really feels for the fox, its desperate struggle to escape from the trap half-starved crows have sprung on him by ganging up and hunting him as a pack through the deep snow.
Homer surprises us with this reversal of fortune, making the fox the prey. The fox has such a bad reputation as the raider of chicken coops, the cunning hunter of small prey, the sly opportunist who’ll steal your Sunday roast from your patio if you don’t watch out. It is indeed one of Homer’s most powerful and memorable images and a true masterpiece.
My version, of course, isn’t, as is evident from the book cover! However, given that I had to draw this by hand using a mouse pad and my index finger instead of a sweeping paintbrush…it’s hopefully not too insulting to foxes (I challenge thee, Mr Homer, to try your hand on my mouse pad and do better!). No crows this time, although a cheeky reference to them can be found in my story. As the cover shows, the reversal of fortune in my story involves foxes and humans. Since I find “blood sports” abhorrent and regard those who enjoy them as utterly depraved, expect to find foxes who’ll have the upper paw in my novella.
Homer’s “Fox Hunt” was deemed such a powerful work that it became the first of the artist’s paintings to enter a public collection, when the Pennsylvania Academy snapped it up in 1893. What I love about the painting is that our eye is first drawn to the red of the fox’s fur, then the red of the berries of the wild-rose bush, tiny messengers of hope in this harsh landscape, for they signal spring is on its way. With the change of season comes greater availability of food sources for both fox and crow. But then our eye is drawn to the fox’s dark shadow falling across the snow and that implies imminent death – only then do we really take notice of the crows and understand who is the hunter and who the prey in this painting.
Writers are always asked where they take their inspiration from. For once I can actually pinpoint what prompted me to write about a foxhunt and why I set the story in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign. Just as Homer’s painting is a complex study of the struggle to survive in a hostile world, how writers get their ideas and are able to create landscapes of their mind on paper is a complex topic and a question that isn’t easily answered.
My story, initially a straightforward ghost story, soon took a different turn, in that the main characters insisted it should be a love story that leaves readers with a warm glow on a cold winter’s day, not a horror story that sends even more shivers up and down their spines. I was rather miffed at first, but hey, when your main characters pull into one direction and you strain the other way, something’s got to give in the end. The wise thing is to give in and let them have their own way!
Fancy a slice of romantic Victorian ghost story at $0.99? #ebook #MustRead #fantasy Master of the Foxhunt is out! https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/master-of-the-foxhunt/id1080939714?mt=11
This is the only sales link I’ve received from the publishing platform I used so far, but the ebook should already be available at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, Kobo etc. ISBN: 978-3-7396-3465-4
Published well in time for Valentine’s Day and much better for the hips than a box of chocolates…but just as satisfying!
(Winslow Homer’s “Fox Hunt” as per Wikipedia commons licence, in public domain, all animations via heathersanimations(dot)com, cover for “Master of the Foxhunt”: copyright Maria Thermann)
Writer, Know your Turf
I’ve been reading my way through some of the wonderful murder mysteries and crimes novels from the Golden Age of this genre, now re-issued by British Library Crime Classics. Among them is the once very popular, now almost forgotten writer John Bude, who wrote some 30 best-selling crime novels in his day which are now all but collectors’ items.
Having just finished “The Lake District Murder”, which is rather different from his other two novels published in this British Library series, I am once again reminded what a huge difference it makes when a writer knows their “turf”, or locality, and doesn’t just work from a map and tourist guide book.
Set in the Lake District in the north of England, the novel is less of a whodunit and more of a how-did-they-do-it. In it, Inspector Meredith must break some pretty solid alibies and solve the murder of a garage co-owner, whose death was dressed up as suicide.
As Martin Edwards says in his introduction to this entertaining novel, John Bude “not only knew but clearly loved his Lake District”. And that makes all the difference, for he knows not just the geographical, but also the social landscape of this part of Britain, allowing his readers a glimpse into what life was like at that time in this desolate but beautiful region. There is the middle-aged woman who cooks and cleans, mends and washes in the household of two men for just ten shillings a week; there are the two garage owners who scratch a living for just £16 profit a month, shared between the two of them – which means that each of them had just about a couple of quid to spend per week in 1935, when this novel was first published. There are numerous hotels and pubs that make an excellent living in spring and summer, when masses of tourists arrive, but whose proprietors must fall back on local custom during the rest of the year. Times are hard in rural surroundings like these, and we are reminded of this at every turn but in an understated, subtle way.
What is also interesting is that John Bude, in an era when the amateur sleuth was all the rage among writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, chose to make the policeman Inspector Meredith the central figure of his novel and the painstaking efforts of the police to make the crime stick to the villains so they could be rightfully convicted. No dashing Lord Peter Wimsey here or little old Miss Marple. This feels very much like a real detective at work, doing boring stake-outs hiding behind hedgerows or sifting through endless paperwork.
The other central character, if you like, is the Lake District itself, its peculiar geographical quirks as much part of the investigation as the villains themselves. Loving – or detesting – the location a writer uses as background makes all the difference. Even if you create a whole new world for your fantasy novel, you need to feel passionately about the location in one way or another, or you might as well set the whole thing in a void…or a Tesco supermarket isle. Be as passionate about the location as you are about the characters you drop into these fictional landscapes. Your readers will follow their every footstep, so you need to be the world’s best tourist guide!
I didn’t adhere to this rule too strictly in the first outing for Linus Brown, when he meets the leprechauns in his new Lincolnshire environment for the first time, but location will play a big, big part when Linus and the leprechaun colony set out to visit Ireland and Castle Blarney in the second outing for my 9-year-old protagonist. Thankfully, I have been to Ireland, albeit not to the castle, but having visited a lot of castles in my day, I can “wing” that part of it, I’m hoping. The Castle has its own website, fortunately with lots of history and some pictures…research, even for a children’s novel, is vital.
Finally, at the end of week two of my second promotion for Linus’s first novel, my Copromote adventure bagged me of their Twitter networks. A round of applause to all of them and a big, fat thank you. followersCoPromoters who retweeted my original Tweet with the sales link to Scribd(dot)com to
Leprechauns infiltrate Twitter?
Yes, you’ve read that correctly! A week into their second promotional adventure on Copromote the pesky little leprechauns shy 9-year-old Linus Brown meets, when he explores his new surroundings in rural Lincolnshire, have managed to charm no fewer than 67 lovely Copromoters into given the ebook a 6,700% boost. To their utter astonishment, 212,933 Twitter followers discovered a sales link to the leprechauns’ ebook in their “in-box”. There’s still one more week to go, so who knows what these sneaky little so-and-so’s will get up to over the next 7 days?
While Linus & The Leprechauns are busily marketing their children’s book on Copromote, their long-suffering creator and co-author is still assessing writing contests for 2016. Here’s one from the wonderful people at Narrative Magazine, if you’re coming over all “literary” and want to submit to the magazine’s submission guidelines:
Writing Opportunities for Spring 2016
Birds are tweeting their little heads off, the first fresh green leaves are appearing on our trees. A daffodil or two may even be poking their heads out of the soil to say hello….time to sharpen the old goose feather quill and start thinking about entering writing contests again. And just when I’m recovering from my nasty “festive” cold and start contemplating getting back to creative writing, Aerogramme Studio have helpfully published a list of writing opportunities for February and March this year:
Loverly people that they are!
Since my nose wouldn’t stop running and prevented me from doing much writing this last fortnight, I’ve re-read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and devoured Susanna Clarke’s marvellous “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” books to get me into a “fantasy” frame of mind for my own writing. I managed to write one chapter of my Merlin fan fiction epic “Let The Questing Begin”, despite coughing my guts out during the process, have managed to start another chapter. The epic adventure is nearly at an end, so will soon be published via Bookrix as a FREE ebook . A lengthy writing sample if you will.
I’m still revamping this WordPress site and Willow the Vampire’s own blog, so hopefully there will soon be a few more reading samples appearing here and on Willow’s bloodsucking WordPress site, too.
Incidentally, what I loved about “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” was the wonderful use of location, magical and real, that the author makes in her book. Couldn’t put it down – and while I admit to have at first been slightly daunted by the enormous size of the book (1,000 pages), after the first few pages I was so hooked, I couldn’t put it down. I’d meant to read the book for ages, but never found the time, so this was a real treat. Who’d have thought that sober, grumpy Yorkshire could be put to such magical and fantastical use?
And if you’re wondering about the picture at the top, it’s the draft for a book cover “Master of the Foxhunt” I’m working on. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story with a dash of black humour that I’ve nearly finished (about 50,000 words long as an ebook). So watch out for the sales links appearing for that soon!
Trotting down new Avenues
Although I usually publish via platform Bookrix(dot)com, I’ve long been looking to broaden the distribution. Now my kids’ ebook “Linus & The Leprechauns” is available via Scribd, which is the world’s largest online library, 24Symbols, which is also subscriber-based, and Page Foundry . It will also be available via Tolino, a huge German ebook sales site, but I haven’t received the link for that, yet. I used Draft2Digital, but encountered a few problems because they are so vague about their upload and artwork requirements, which was really irritating.
They give you the option of doing a print version via Createspace…and tell authors in their “step-by-step-guide” that D2D will handle all the book cover stuff as long as authors send artwork in a specific size…D2D then suddenly tell you that you must send book cover artwork according to Createspace’s requirements, when you get to the point of uploading what you had been told was all that was required…
So why exactly should I choose Draft2Digital for this service, when going directly via Createspace means I can sell immediately via Amazon, but I cannot do so, if I publish the print version via Draft2Digital? I still end up doing all the work on the book cover wrap-around artwork…but am disadvantaged, if I use D2D, because they have yet to reach an agreement with Amazon for print books. Grrrrr.
On the promotional front, I am giving little Linus his second Copromote boost with a Tweet about the book’s presence on Scribd. In the first 24 hours, 18 Copromoters chose to retweet my message, which gave me a 1,800% boost for my Tweet and gave me a reach of 129,640 Twitter followers for my message.
Not a bad start – although I ran out of “credits”, so must accumulate more before the campaign can continue. I began this campaign with ca. 132,000 credits on the free program. Once I can see how all this translates into sales, if any, I shall consider taking the “pro” route on Copromote, which costs $49.99 per month for the basic package. Will keep you posted. It only took me a week to accumulate 132,000 credits, so that’s manageable, if I continue to stay with the free version of Copromote.
Trotting down this unfamiliar avenue is certainly paying off. I discovered that with some of the ebook sales platforms I even get an author’s page (which I’ve yet to complete), so yay! What is also good about publishing via D2D, despite the irritating teething problems, is that it allows me to whet readers’ appetites with a “next in series to be published on…” date, so readers of “Linus & The Leprechauns” can pre-order the 2nd book in the series, something that isn’t offered via Bookrix.
New Year’s Writer Resolution
So there we are, another year, another royalty dollar I probably won’t earn…sigh. In an effort to find better ways to promote my writing, I have decided to enter some short story contests in 2016. Not that I expect to win anything, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if I won the first prize in the Stinkforth-upon-Avon short story contest 2016, I might get a place in their anthology and get mentioned in the Stinkforth Daily Bugle…(Willow the Vampire readers will get this one…)
Let’s face it, winning a prestigious short story contest does help to win potential book buyers’ attention. People sit up and pay online when your blurb can boast legitimately “winner of blahblah in 2016”. It gives you credentials, it says you’re not one of millions of self-publishing talentless idiots looking for a pat on the back and peer approval from fellow teen writers. Winning an international contest means some literary greats are likely to have read your story…people in the business, people with publishing and critical acclaim clout behind their names.
So here are a few contests I’ll try to brave this year:
The Sunday Times Short Story Prize
It is the world’s richest short story competition, with the winner receiving £30,000 (US$45,000). In 2015 the prize was won by Yiyun Li for her story ‘A Sheltered Woman’. The winner of the 2016 Sunday Times Short Story Prize will be announced on 22 April 2016 and entries for the 2017 prize are expected to open in July 2016.
HG Well Short Story Competition
This one is for stories between 1500 and 5000 words. The 2016 competition theme is space. The shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. There are prizes in three different categories including £1000 (US$1500) for the best story by a writer aged 21 or under. Entries close 17 July.
It is a major international literary competition open to anyone aged 16 or over. The winner receives a cash prize of £10,000 (US$15,000). Stories can be up to 2500 words in length. The organisers also offer a Manchester Poetry Prize. Entries for both competitions close on 23 September.
Seán Ó Faoláin International Short Story Competition
It is an annual short story competition open to writers from around the world. First prize is €2000 (US$2100), publication in the literary journal Southword, and a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat. Entries are accepted from May to July annually.
And that’s enough to be getting on with. If my lovely clients leave me a bit of spare time, I might write a story for submission to the Bridport Prize and a couple of literary magazines, but more of that in my next blog post. Included in my NY resolution to write more for promotional purposes is also submission to KindleSingle. Since they have an editorial process, there’s a certain amount of street cred to be earned from publishing single short stories via Kindle.
If you’re planning to also enter all or some of the above contests, may the best writer win!
Linus & the Leprechauns proudly count their Copromote retweets
Hope you’re all having a great festive few days! As promised, here’s a final update on my Copromote adventure for my children’s book “Linus & The Leprechauns”:
My original tweet was sent on 11th December and the campaign finished on 24th December. Had I not constantly run out of virtual credits, my Tweet would have been boosted even more, but as it is, 85 lovely copromoters retweeted it to their network of followers, giving my original Tweet an 8,500% boost and a reach of 187,817 followers on Twitter. In addition, I bagged more than 100 Twitter followers, quite a few WordPress followers and also got “liked” loads of times. Most of the copromoters, whose own promotional Tweets I had retweeted via my own network of Twitter followers either thanked me or “liked” the Tweet or retweeted it again, giving me additional exposure. It’s been amazing, so I can honestly say, this is one medium that really, really works with regard to creating a bit of buzz for your book/product.
Ho, Ho, Ho, see little Linus go! I don’t know if the campaign had anything to do with it, but I’ve seen a steady increase of readers on Bookrix, the platform I used to publish my ebook. It has been named as one of their “recommended” reads and is every so often coming up in the top five positions, which means the book covers appears on Bookrix’s own landing page.
I will do another Copromote boost for “Linus & The Leprechauns” when the print edition is out. All in all, not a bad way to finish the year…onwards and upwards, slaving away over part two of Linus’s adventures…
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Have yourselves a Merry Christmas by the Hearth
Wishing everybody a wonderful Christmas time and every success for next year’s creative writing!
A little update on my Copromote efforts for my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns”: 81 copromoters have retweeted by original tweet, boosting my tweet by 8,000% and giving a reach of more than 161,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a few seconds work, eh?
Here are two more good sites for book promotions, entirely free, although there are paid-for options which don’t cost much:
I’ve not had a chance to add my books, but will do so asasp. They look good sites and the latter is also an info resource for writers.
Ho Ho Ho and all that, and may my Santa wish list come true for next year: Peace, happiness and prosperity for all!
Smack in the Middle of Town…you’ll overcome Writer’s Block
Provincial towns and sea ports tend to retain their intrinsic character far better than big cities, where greedy developers can’t wait to knock down historic buildings and whole streets disappear in a matter of days to make way for the new. Believe it or not, every brick and cobblestone of your home town is imprinted on your psyche, but you are probably quite unaware of it.
Spotting historic Connections
In small towns like Ramsgate at the Kent coast much of the fishing community spirit has survived to this day. Locals eye newcomers with customary suspicion and don’t like anyone who’s different. Few urban settlements in Britain retain as many historic buildings in their centres as Ramsgate does and this may be one of the reasons why attitudes towards strangers are as crusty and Victorian as the buildings that dominate the town’s two chalk cliffs. In total, there are 900 listed buildings in the town centre, much of which, incidentally, was designed by notable architects Mary Townley, August and Edward Pugin.
Overlooking the sea from their chalk cliff eeries, there are lovely Georgian seafront mansions that would have welcomed royalty like the young Princess Victoria and people like writer Wilkie Collins, painter Vincent van Gogh and, some decades later, actor John Le Mesurier. Today the town is home to actress Brenda Blethyn OBE and Janet Fielding, the former an enthusiastic supporter of the local fleapit cinema, the Granville Theatre, an art deco building much in need of financial support and refurbishment.
But right in the centre of Ramsgate there’s the late Victorian Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission and the adjacent Smack Boys Home that would have taken in some of the poorest people in town and it is this building that is so inspirational within the historic harbour.
Soaking up the Spirit of a Place
One feels positively Dickensian as a writer just looking at its red brick facade. Stand along this dockside for a few minutes on a stormy day and feel the wind chill you to the bone. Lick your lips and taste the salt the breeze deposits there; scrape wet hair with icy fingers from your frozen face and squint at grey rain clouds with streaming eyes. Just a mo’ – you’re almost there, all it needs now is for one of those two-storey-high waves that pound the jetty at high tide to soak you to the skin and you’ll know exactly what the life of a young smack boy was like!
Except, nobody would be clouting you around the ears when you’re doing something wrong or the crew and skipper think you’re not pulling your slender weight in a gale force wind aboard one of the fishing vessels that go lobstering or fishing for herring.
You go to a comfy hotel bed with a full belly and rise in the knowledge that you have warm clothing and oil skins that will protect you from the worst of the elements when you join a fishing crew for a day’s excursion. When you leave the harbour, it is to go home to your loved ones. The smack boys had none of that.
The history of this small home for boys is yet to be written and published, but one could come up with at least half a dozen short stories and a really good Victorian murder mystery just by standing there and looking at the home’s mosaic band at first floor level that is inscribed with the important words: The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys Founded 1881.
It’s the only one of its kind in Britain. It’s handsome plinth with string courses, pilasters, mock machicolations and battlements belies the poverty that the boys experienced and the wretched backgrounds some of them came from. What a wonderfully pushy man the Canon Eustace Brenan must have been to get this project approved by the town worthies! No doubt Charles Dickens, who used to holiday every year in the neighbouring village of Broadstairs, would have made much of such a character in his novels.
Now listed buildings, the charming little Sailors’ Church and Harbour Mission are rarely open to the public these days, but last summer I was fortunate enough to attend a Jazz concert held at this church. The 3-storey Smack Boy Home, which is located next door and also above parts of the church and mission, is no longer refuge to shivering small urchins working on fishing boats. It has been turned into offices and storage space and is sadly not open to the public as a museum.
The church opens its doors throughout the summer months (June to September) on Sundays at 6.00 pm, when sailors and anyone in need of a tranquil, spiritual hour and a cup of tea can visit and see some of the model ships, old photographs and other fishing memorabilia on display. Also, a special Christmas service is held every year for the many people who make a living via Ramsgate Harbour and those who have their boats moored there all year.
A compassionate Victorian with a Vision
Sitting close by the foot of Jacob’s Ladder on Westcliff, the church was built by Canon Eustace Brenan, vicar of nearby Christ Church, in 1878. The Smack Boy Home, Church and Harbour Mission would provide spiritual guidance and physical assistance to the men and boys who made up the crews of the sailing smacks that fished out of Ramsgate Harbour in the latter part of the 19th century.
It was very hard work, especially for the youngest Smack Boys, who were apprenticed to the skipper of each boat. When the boys were ashore, they could look forward to at least a modicum of comfort in the rooms above the church and, a few years later, in the specially built home for them next door.
Over the years the home extended a welcome to sailors who had been rescued, mostly from the wrecks that had come to grief on the notorious Goodwin Sands that lurk beneath the surface of the sea not far from Ramsgate. In World War I. some 3,300 survivors were fed, clothed, sheltered and medically attended to at this small building, an astonishing achievement by anyone’s standards.
When 50 or so registered smacks left Ramsgate Harbour with every incoming tide in 1863, there would have been a skipper and four members of the crew on board, most of whom would have been smack boys of varying ages. By 1906 this number had swelled to 168 sailing smacks – Ramsgate was a popular seaside resort by then and needed plenty of seafood for its tourists. Just imagine how many boys that makes who had no home to go to when they came ashore other than Canon Brenan’s Home for Smack Boys.
Canon Brenan put pressure on the Board of Trade, when he realised that there was nobody looking after these boys when they came ashore. Many of these boys seem to have been orphans and were probably coming from orphanages and workhouses straight onto the sailing smacks, when they were deemed old enough to earn a living (probably aged 10!). No other British fishing port copied this excellent idea, so Ramsgate’s Smack Boy Home is quite unique in its modern and charitable approach to one of the hardest professions on earth.
Recalling Childhood Memories
There are still a few elderly residents around who were smack boys and it would be wonderful if the Ramsgate Historic Society recorded their story before it’s too late and these precious memories are lost for good. We rarely hear from children in history books, and interviewing the surviving smack boys seems such a worthwhile thing to do.
Combined with the Goodwin Sands disasters, the smugglers’ caves all around and the illustrious personages who stayed in Ramsgate at one time or another, there is rich material here for novelists. In this port the past is still casting a long shadow over the present.
The town’s inhabitants have experienced such truly astonishing events since the building of the smack boys’ home that it is hardly surprising many of them keep one foot firmly planted in the mists of time and rarely risk a reluctant toe dipping into the here and now. Our surroundings shape us in many different ways as individuals and communities. The best writers know how to exploit this to their advantage. Still suffering from a blank page and a horror to fill it with words?
Next time you’re out for a stroll because you’ve got a small attack of writer’s block, take a good look at those all too familiar facades in your street. What lurks behind them historically and how has that influenced you? Start with the boy/girl in the mirror and before you’ll know it, that empty page in front of you is no longer staring back blankly. Smack in the middle of your familiar home town, you can discover something new and exciting about your community and yourself.
There’s no stopping Linus & The Leprechauns thanks to Copromote
It’s not even been a full week of promotion and my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns” has clocked up some impressive stats:
As of this afternoon, when I’d suddenly run out of credits (only 53 left, yeiks!) and had to quickly top up with some more copromotion Tweets, the tally stood thus:
47 copromoters have kindly retweeted by original Tweet of last Friday to their own Twitter networks. That has given me a reach of 91,404 Twitter followers, enhancing my own Tweet by 4,700%.
Every time I copromote somebody else’s Tweet about one of their books or other product, I find that the Tweet’s originators either thank me with a message or click the “like” button, giving me additional exposure. I’m also having a good take-up rate of both Twitter and Copromote followers.
If you are thinking of going for the “Pro” version, I got a wee message this morning saying that there’s currently an 80% discount for that one. The next step up from “Pro” which usually costs $49.99 per month, is priced at $99 per month, which starts you off with a reach of 500,000 credits, and unlimited “boosts” for either your Twitter/YouTube/Vine or Tumblr promotions (or a combination thereof).
Traditionally, kids’ books don’t do so well when it comes to book promotional sites – many sites that promote books for free or for a small fee don’t even have a YA or kids’ category, so it can be hard to find a good launch pad. All in all, I find that “Linus & the Leprechauns” are forging ahead far better than expected with Copromote.
Go Linus, go!
NB: Linus Brown is named in homage of the Peanuts and Charlie Brown’s friend “Linus”. Have been to see the Charlie Brown film currently in the cinemas and it’s adorable. Staying true to the original, the film recaps some of Charlie and Snoopy’s adventures, aspirations and dreams. Lose yourself for 93 minutes in this charming world of childhood traumas and small victories!
Here’s a brief update on how my Copromote efforts are doing for my “Linus & the Leprechauns” ebook:
As per my earlier blog post, I “boosted” one of my Tweets with the help of Copromote last Friday. Since then, 30 copromoters have retweeted my original Tweet, thereby increasing my original reach by 3,000% and allowing me to reach 62,099 people. I’ve also gained both Twitter and Copromote followers in the process.
Whenever I copromote somebody, I have a look at how they’re doing so far. Some of the more popular products (music videos, fitness and health-related stuff, sci-fi and romance books) are retweeted/reposted by so many people, their reach can be 700,000+, even with the free Copromote package. Not bad going, given that such promotions can result in a 1% sales take-up rate. The paid for package ($49.44 per month) allows authors unlimited boosts and starts them off with 200,000 credits, so it’s possible to “boost” promotional Tweets/YouTube videos/Vine entries/Tumblr posts for several different products every month with the paid for service.
Using the free package, I had only 8 credits left this morning, but with some quick copromoting efforts, I’ve cranked up my credits again, so hopefully my little campaign can continue today with more people retweeting my call to arms.
If you want a good laugh today, why not read “Linus & The Leprechauns” – a book singularly lacking in pots of gold but making up for it with plenty of farting jokes – or simply start promoting your own stuff via Copromote…the results should put a big smile on your face!
My Type of Book Promotion
I’m sure I mentioned the virtues of Copromote before on this blog, but I really have to sing their praises once more. That’s an online promotional “location” I can wholeheartedly recommend. It works on the principle that with every sales link/tweet/tumbler blog/YouTube video or Vine entry you promote for others, you build up credits which you can use to “boost” your own sales links etc. Obviously., by retweeting or re-sending your link, you have a potential reach that far outstrips your own number of followers, giving you greater exposure for your product, but also allowing you to grow your social media network.
Yesterday I tweeted an update for my aboutme.com page with a sales link to my “Linus & The Leprechauns” book. Already 13 people have retweeted it, giving me a 1,300% boost to my original tweet and an audience of just under 47,000 people. You need to build up about 40,000 to 50,000 credits before you can run a 14-day promotion, but you get a “warning notice” when you’re running low on credits, so you can top up with a few hurried co-promoting moves. It’s a friendly place too, where people start following you quickly and you’ll find lots of artists will always promote other artists’ work. The wider the interests you state in the given categories, the greater your chance of getting “good” promotional links that you are happy to promote for others.
The free of charge version limits the number of boosts per month and the number of credits per day one can do, but the next step up, the $49.99 per month package, allows copromoters a far greater scope and therefore a potential reach of millions of people. Try the free version a few times, as I’m doing now, see how it impacts on sales (or not) and then decide which package is best for you.
Copromote used to be linked with WordPress but for some strange reason this is no longer the case, which is rather a nuisance, since I can’t get on with Tumblr at all. Squeezing what I want to say into my 140 character Tweet is a bit of a challenge, but I’ve sussed out now that I can do this quite well via updates to my aboutme.com account. If you’re running a YouTube, Vine or Tumblr account, you’ll have even better ways of promoting your book/product than I have at present. One of these days, this techno-phobe will get her head round opening a YouTube account…
Pumpkins, Pumpkins everywhere!
Happy Halloween Everyone!
Since the rejection on technical grounds of my ebook, I’ve been busy scribbling away at pumpkin and Halloween related facts in an effort to make the children’s book even better. Now it will have pumpkin dishes, pumpkin-growing tips and even more illustrations in it than before. Am also working on a companion piece of The Little Book of Halloween, a book devoted entirely to the topic of ghosts, spectres, apparitions and ghouls.
The illustration you see here is the first draft for a picture that will appear in my short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”, an adventure four little girls have when out trick-or-treating.
They come across a real witch and things take a turn for the worst from the moment they cross the witch’s threshold…pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere…shooting out of one of the little girls, when the children are magically transformed to become the costumes they are wearing for real. A little bit scary, a little bit funny, the story was written a few years ago for the grandchildren of a former colleague of mine. His grandkids and their friends loved it. Having put the story away for a long time, I looked at it again, worked it over to make it even better, and now it feels right for publication somehow. Hope the girls in question, who are now also a few years older, will like the story just as much now as they did then.
What else is in the book? A recipe for pumpkin soup, my very own, of course, and how to grow champion pumpkins without the help of witches. Have a great Halloween, everyone!
An Awfully Big Adventure
Norfolk has been a holiday destination since the 1930s. The picturesque village of Blankeney gets very busy in the summer months – well, what passes for a summer in Britain – and has many wonderful 17th and 18th century buildings visitors can explore. The North Norfolk Coastal Path runs along this part of the British coast, travelling along the Blakeney quayside and zigzagging a course through the local salt marshes.
Just to the west of the historic resort lies the village of Wells-next-the-Sea, where a lovely miniature and heritage railway lines rattles along the coast for some 11 km, offering spectacular views over this amazing and mostly flat landscape.
Why am I telling you all this in the middle of rain-soaked October, when you’re busy scooping out pumpkin flesh and thinking about hot toddies?
My favourite murder mysteries are nearly all set in the 1920’s and 1930’s, so when I came across Ian Sansom’s book The Norfolk Mystery in one of my local charity shops and read the blurb for it, I simply couldn’t resist, I had to read it. And what a hugely enjoyable and entertaining read it’s been!
Gently lampooning some of the most famous writers of murder mysteries, including Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lord Peter Wimsey’s creator Dorothy L. Sayers, Sansom’s manages to cook up a first rate cozy that makes you laugh out loud at times and sit still deep in thought at others.
From bearding a seemingly genteel and well-to-do Norfolk village society that is really nothing more than a hotbed for Hitler’s warped and racist ideologies, to commenting on every little thing he sees en route while solving the village’s mystery, Professor Swanton Morley is a fabulous creation and amateur sleuth.
With his newly acquired assistant and reluctant side-kick Stephen Sefton, a young man traumatised by his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Professor Morley sets out to “discover” Norfolk in an effort to create the ultimate county guide for it. They get as far as the village of Blakeney in the north of Norfolk, before they stumble over a dead reverend, hanging inconveniently from the rafters of his own church, just when Morley wants to interview the man for his book.
Trapped in the village until Norfolk’s Constabulary allows them to travel onwards, Morley and Sefton set out to solve the mystery surrounding the clergyman’s death. This becomes even more pressing, when the reverend’s servant is also found dead within 24 hours of his apparent suicide.
I particularly liked the use Ian Sansom makes of the locality, the special landscape that is the Norfolk Fens – contrasted nicely by Sefton’s visit to Foyles in London, where he soon gets lost in the aisles that hold the bewildering number of books The People’s Professor has spewed out over the years.
To me, it read like a literary representation of Norfolk’s Fens, where rivulets, canals, streams and wetlands go off into every direction, leading the unwary traveller by the nose and easily to their doom, if they don’t follow the local guide’s instructions (at Foyle’s this would be the young woman behind the counter, who helpfully offers to write down instructions for young Sefton).
Morley is as eccentric as it gets and so is his daughter Miriam, a young woman with very strong views on most things, including how to chat up young men while driving her prototype Lagonda at break-neck speed. And while Sefton ends up in the arms – and bed – of pretty much every young woman he meets during the Norfolk trip, he seems to have a peculiar antipathy for Miriam.
Fortunately for us readers, Ian Sansom has already completed a new adventure, Death in Devon, so I can enjoy another highly entertaining and thought-provoking read soon and find out, if Miriam succeeds in turning Sefton’s badger-coloured head.
Since Professor Morley wants to complete guides for all 39 counties…Samson has his work cut out and eager readers have plenty of awfully big adventures to look forward to.
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