Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Since starting this blog I have tried to post something everyday (except when I have been away from home), even if it was only Regency slang term of the day.

The deadline for the RNA New Writers' Scheme is looming, however, and my top priority must be to get Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth into the best shape that I can before I send it off for a frank and honest assessment of its many merits. This may mean missing the odd day, but I still hope to say something vaguely interesting, if not always sneering and incisive, as frequently as possible.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

1. Venetia Lanyon (Venetia)

OK, so I haven't exactly gone for a controversial choice here for the first of this series. Those of you poised to defend Harriet Presteigne, Sarah Thane or Sophia Stanton-Lacy will have to wait a while.

So, why pick on poor Miss Lanyon? Well, to put it in the modern idiom, what's not to be picked on? While the best of Heyer's heroines, like the three mentioed above, take a while to build up one's irritation, Venetia achieves this in the very first paragraph when she comes in wittering over-dramatically about a fox in among the chickens, and then answers herself in a silly voice. (Apologies for the slip into italics there, by the way. I blame Miss Lanyon. She's always doing it.)

Quite a few of the italics spring from her habit of throwing around quotes instead of having a sensible conversation. Pope, Byron, Shakespeare, Campion - rather than say what she means she just pulls out a snippet of poetry. That sort of thing can get on one's nerves fast.

Then there's the whole "house in Hans Town" business. She's a matchless beauty and knows as much. She has never been to London before. Yet when her future happiness is put at risk what does she do? She proposes to set up house in London with her younger brother, rather than doing what any spirited young woman ought to do, which would be to go back to Yorkshire and irritate her useless elder brother by constantly quoting at him, his insipid wife and his odious mother-in-law.

Luckily Lord Damerel is around to sort out this unholy mess, but even when he proposes to her she manages to muff it in various ways. One botched proposal might be misfortune, but three? She is probably too busy searching for the right quotation, or trying to work out just which word of her acceptance she should italicise.

I rather suspect that Damerel would tire of Venetia very quickly, but they plan to honeymoon in Rome. I just hope that Venetia can find appropriate quotations whn she gets there. I have in mind the bit of Coriolanus, Act III scene 1 about throwing someone off the Tarpeian Rock.

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They may seem an unlikely bunch of quiz boffins but Stephen Bowden and colleagues from the Romantic Novelists' Association have proved they've got what it takes.
The Gloucestershire Echo have put their interview with me onto page 3 under the headline Love conquers Uni Challenge. The online version lacks a not-particularly-flattering photo of me standing in front of a bookshelf full of Mrs Wenlock's mediaeval history books, and a copy of the official team photograph.

Monday, 29 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
Heel tap - A peg in the heel of a shoe, taken out when the shoe is finished. A person leaving any liquor in his glass is frequently called upon to "take off his heel tap"

Overindulgence of the day:
Drop in the eye
Did I mention that the Romantic Novelists' Association team will be competing in the second semi-final of University Challenge - The Professionals next Monday? I had a photographer round this morning from the Gloucestershire Echo to take pictures of me at work in my book-lined garret to go with a short piece that they are doing on the back of a press release from the RNA. Our aim of generating favourable publicity for the Association seems to be making progress.

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Having competed in the programme as an undergraduate at Cambridge I was lucky enough to make the University Challenge team for the University of York while doing an MA in Mediaeval (Anglo-Saxon) Studies in 1984. We weren't quite as successful as the Girton team had been. We won our first match, against a team from the LSE, but went on to lose to Trinity College, Dublin. They went on to reach the final, I think, before losing to the Open University. I say I think, because my memory is not what it should be. I have to confess to not even remembering the names of two of my team-mates. Our Captain was Andrew Corbett-Nolan, who won us crucial points towards the end of a tight match against LSE by recognising the names of some breeds of strawberry, but I cannot remember the first names of Ms Glyn and Mr Nash.

Sunday, 28 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
Purple dromedary - a bungler in the art and mystery of theiving

Overindulgence of the day:
Every time I visit my local bookshop it seems that there is a whole new series of novels set amidst the 18th and early 19th Century Navy.

Obviously C S Forester's Hornblower novels and Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books have been there for a while. The recent BBC adaptation has brought William Golding's Sea Trilogy back onto the shelves, but there is more.

I must have missed Richard Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater books when they first appeared in the 1980s, but they are now back, in omnibus form - five volumes containing fourteen novels and two short stories. Hot off the press comes Julian Stockwin's Thomas Kydd series, which is currently at six books. Another writer who has appeared on the shelves recently is James Nelson, who has written five novels set aboard the fledgling US Navy, and others with a naval setting earlier in the 18th Century. Jonathan Lunn has also written a series of five novels featuring the adventures of Lieutenant Killigrew in the early Victorian Navy. And finally I came across the first two Martin Jerrold books by Edwin Thomas, described as "the nautical Flashman."

I was considering some naval activity for Lady Cardington's Folly; or, the Limehouse Leviathan, which is the planned sequel to my current work in progress, but with the field so full already I think that I will keep the action firmly in harbour.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

A long, long time ago I wrote a piece about Jo-Jo Moyes that took her to task for denying that she wrote Romantic Fiction while picking up the healthy cheque that went with winning the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2004.

I have learned that Ms Moyes has recently joined the Romantic Novelists' Association, which is great news. It looks like she has realised that there's nothing actually wrong with writing Romance, nor even with being proud of the fact.
It may be a lonely life tucked away in Wenlock's garret, but things could be a great deal worse.

What amazes me is that Fox are slave-driving all these writers in order to produce reality TV. You mean that all that stuff is not spontaneous? I am shocked. Shocked.
Regency slang term of the day:
Cadator - a beggar in the character of a decayed gentleman

Overindulgence of the day:
How came you so

Friday, 26 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
Mystery bag - a sausage

Overindulgence of the day:

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Coming soon...

I am an enormous fan of the work of Georgette Heyer, but occasionally, just occasionally, I find myself thinking that one or two of her heroines are in need of a bit of a reality check. For this reason, starting sometime next week, and probably running on a weekly basis, I will post a short piece on just why a particular Heyeroine deserves a slap.

(Short disclaimer here - "deserves a slap" is a turn of phrase and nothing more. It does not signify any belief that violence solves anything, and should not be taken as approval of any slapping of any individual, real or fictional.)
Regency slang term of the day:
Oil of Angels - a gift or bribe

Overindulgence of the day:
Wrapped up in warm flannel
My first two attempts at writing a novel both ground to a halt after about 25,000 words. I had the plot fully worked out, and I was happily moving my characters around like chess pieces, but I discovered that they were not coming to life. I was bored with them because they were so predictable. My careful plotting (which was hugely constrained by the fact that these were real historical figures) had drained the excitement out of the writing process, and if I was bored with my characters I could hardly expect any readers to enjoy them.

So when I started writing Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth I launched straight into it without any plotting at all. I knew that I was writing a Regency, and I had the opening scene - the heroine waking up in a coaching inn without the faintest idea how she had arrived there - and the fact that there would be an espionage plot in there somewhere, but that was it. I just kept writing for about 30,000 words and whenever I needed a hook to end a scene or a chapter I just stuck in the first thing that came into my head.

There comes a point where this approach stops working; having created a tangle of characters, plots and subplots I needed to resolve them in a satisfactory way. So I started writing the end of the book, so that I would know where all my characters would need to get to, and what they would need to know (and what they must not know) at that point.

Now I am writing the bit in between. I haven't written down an actual scene structure or plot summary, but I know roughly what has to happen as I start each scene. I had been dreading this point - would the constraints of the plot drain the life from the characters as they had done before? On the basis of this morning's writing the answer is "no." Lord Alexander behaved impeccably, and Charlotte neatly moved from showing off her enormous knowledge of elephants (based solely on regular reading of Dr Johnson's Dictionary) to almost giving away her real identity, to telling a story about her pretended childhood that is sufficiently close to a real incident that somewhere down the line her uncle will find out what is going on.

I have to get this all finished by the deadline for the RNA New Writers' Scheme, but as long as it keeps working as well as this, all should be well.

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
To have an M under your girdle - to have a courteous address (ie to merit a title such as Mr, Mrs, Miss)

Overindulgence of the day:
Oh! she was perfect past all parallel --
Of any modern female saint's comparison;
So far above the cunning powers of hell,
Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
Even her minutest motions went as well
As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison:
In virtues nothing earthly could surpass her,
Save thine "incomparable oil," Macassar!

Lord Byron,
Don Juan, canto the first, xvii
So what has Don Juan's mother, Donna Inez, got to do with anything?

It is not Donna Inez herself that interests me, but Byron's reference to Macassar. This was the first substance I came across when wondering about Regency hair care. Now in woodworking circles "Macassar" is a type of Ebony, and is a very dark-grained wood. I had therefore always believed that Macassar oil must have had the effect of darkening hair colour (and the existence of antimacassars tended to confirm this in my mind).

A bit of actual research (well, sometimes guessing just doesn't do it) revealed however that Macassar oil is in fact colourless, and has nothing to do with Ebony except that both were imported from the same place, Macassar, a district in Sulawesi.

So Macassar oil is not the answer to my quandary. The search goes on.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
Cucumber - a tailor, because they are said to subsist, during the summer, chiefly on cucumbers.

Overindulgence of the day:
Once again I must return to the sidewhiskers issue. As I may have previously mentioned, Wenlock has passed the summer months growing a set of sidewhiskers to more closely resemble a true Regency gentleman. The results are in some ways quite good, although you may not quite be confident in confirming this from the recent photo on Kate Allan's blog.

As I say, in some ways quite good. But not in all ways. The problem is not in the shape or luxuriance of the side whiskers, but in their colour. The hair on top of my head is basically a dark brown. The whiskers are however coming out somewhere on the Anne-of-Green-Gables side of auburn. The combination is not really working as well as I would like. It isn't that big an issue while I sit at home working on Lord Alexander's Cipher or the Bridekirk Behemoth, but if I am to take part in the Grand Georgian Costumed Promenade, or the Grand Regency Ball at the Jane Austen Festival will I be reduced to tinting my whiskers? And if so, with what?

Clearly I will need to research Regency trichology.

Monday, 22 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
To travel the road - to take to highway robbery

Overindulgence of the day:
Hicksius Doxius
If you have been following the current series of University Challenge - The Professionals you will have learned that the team from the Romantic Novelists' Association made it through to the semifinals with the highest first round score. We will be appearing in the second semifinal, which, last time I heard, was due to be broadcast on 5 September.

This series of University Challenge - The Professionals is not Wenlock's first appearance on this particular programme. I first made an appearance in 1981 for Girton College, Cambridge. The rest of the team were Sue Gill, who answered most of the questions, Shelley Eyre, our long-suffering captain, and Anna O'Connor, who shocked the more upright of Girton's alumnae by not being as ladylike as they would have wished (quite what they thought of me, I'm not sure.) In those halcyon black and white Bamber Gascoigne days teams had to win three games in a row to make it through to the knockout stages. This we did, defeating Leicester, Royal Holloway and somebody else, before going down in the quarterfinals to a team from Queen's University, Belfast, who went on to win the series.

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I don't know what has become of Sue, Shelley or Anna, but if anybody sees them, tell them "hi" from me (they may not look exactly as they do in the photo, of course).

Sunday, 21 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
The Fam Lay - going into a goldsmith's shop, on the pretence of buying a wedding ring, and palming one or two other rings by daubing the hand with some viscous matter.
Divine Monosyllable of the day:

Saturday, 20 August 2005

Home at last. While I was away I managed to write a little over 9,000 words of the great masterpiece and even came up with a title:
The Bridekirk Behemoth
You see, I have my mind on a sequel already, and where there is Behemoth there is usually also Leviathan (particularly in Job xl 15-24 and xli 1-34). The greater scheme of things would be thus: having scored a succès d'estime with The Bridekirk Behemoth I would achieve a succès fou with its kickass sequel, The Limehouse Leviathan. Seeing as trilogies are still all the rage I would then miss a few deadlines before coming up with the difficult third volume, the one with the unicorn in the title. Hey, if it worked for Mervyn Peake (not the unicorn, but the difficult third volume)...

However Mrs Wenlock is of the view (and is probably right to be so) that publishers will look askance at the word "Behemoth" on the grounds that they may not be sure how it should be pronounced (answer: "behemoth"). Further thought was necessary and my by now wilting brain produced:
Lord Alexander's Cipher
This is a bit dull, and would be somewhat at risk if I change the name of my hero. Lord Cedric's Cipher sounds silly.

But then I thought, why not combine the two and have one of those long titles that were fashionable in the early 19th Century (eg The Tourifications of Malachi Meldrum Esq. of Meldrum-Hall, or The Castle of Villeroy or the Bandit Chief). So the working title is currently:
Lord Alexander's Cipher or the Bridekirk Behemoth
The sequel, which has no plot as yet, is currently pencilled in as Lady Cardington's Folly or the Limehouse Leviathan.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Wenlock has been invited to a moorland estate in the North of England for a few days, and so will not be posting again until next Saturday.

Wenlock's illustrated guide to writing Regencies. Posted by Picasa

1. Be careful that you do not accidentally include anachronisms in your novel. This is particularly important when writing military scenes, as readers will be quick to spot the most minor of slip-ups.

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Having criticised Blake Morrison for an unjustified and lazy slam against Mills & Boon, I feel I can't let Zoe Williams' piece in the Guardian last Thursday go by without comment.

Normally I enjoy reading Zoe Williams' articles, and particularly her short columns on Saturdays, "Is it just me or..." and previously "Things you only know if you're not at work", but this latest item supports my theory that journalists know a great deal about everything that I don't know much about, but are hopeless on stuff I do know.

Get Real claims to be about the new Mills & Boon editorial line, Next. Williams argues that for M&B to address what comes after the "happy ever after" is to miss the whole point of being Mills & Boon. This might be a fair point if it came from a passionate fan of the existing lines, but I don't think that Williams reads many. She certainly doesn't think much of the M&B readership:
my feeling about the Mills & Boon reader has always been that she's very, very idle. There is so little variance within the template that, really, you should be able to make stuff like this up for yourself.
Of course such a readership is, in Williams' view, all that might be expected given the way the books are written:
The whole reason chick lit was invented, 50 or 60 years after Mills & Boon started production (I use the term advisedly - I don't think I'd be putting anyone's nose out of joint to say it's more like a production line than a creative process), is that the heavy romance of Mills & Boon didn't quite cover the demands of all femalekind. It was definitely aimed at women, yes, but mostly at mad women, or sane women made temporarily mad by sadness, or a hangover. It was mad lit, really, writing so cravenly gooey and optimistic that it had no dialogue at all with any recognisable reality.
From where I sit it is Williams' article that is struggling to relate to any recognisable reality. Yes, M&B can be relied upon to deliver a happy ending, but so does The Wasp Factory. I rather struggle to describe that as "cravenly gooey and optimistic".

I suspect that Zoe Williams is very lucky that she lives on this side of the Atlantic. If my well-brought-up friends Candy and Sarah were to read her closing paragraph they might well put down their samplers and aim a few pointed comments in her general direction.
However woefully written it is, all other potboiler fiction has this irritating top-note of self-justification - "I'm not ashamed of this daft/ selfish/ pointless thing I did/ want/ fantasise about!" says the protagonist, in some roundabout way. "I'm only human!" Your heroine may have ups, downs and comeuppances, but you are rarely encouraged to despise her. The act of reading true romance fiction is different - it has a kernel of self-hate, that unmistakable tang, when you pick up Breathless for a Bachelor, that you're nothing, really, nothing more than a bag of ego, you don't even have the animal nobility of a libido going for you, all you really want is to be adored. Adored and rich. Self-disgust is a compelling motivator, which is why people not only buy Pop Tarts but also eat them. I think it would be a shame to lose that from the culture altogether. But who knows ... maybe nowadays we get all the self-disgust we need off the telly.

Friday, 12 August 2005

Jan Jones has had a look at my synopsis, and has managed a rewrite to include the elephant. She has also had a go at Lord Alexander's surname on the grounds that nobody can take a hero seriously if every time they read his name, they immediately start thinking about weatherproof jackets...
It is 1809 and Charlotte Everson enlivens her days by devouring gothic romances. Which may be why she acts in a manner disconcertingly contrary to everything counter-espionage agent Lord Alexander Hawkmead expects from a country miss. But really, when there is a French spy ring and an elephant involved, a girl isn’t going to meekly sit at home trimming bonnets, is she? Especially when Lord Alexander is clearly going about his mission in completely the wrong way.
I like it, and if I slip it into Laurie's course as All My Own Work, nobody is going to know any better, are they?
Some further thoughts on Doug Hoffman's question. The story so far is in my post from yesterday.

Today's thoughts are about how people get into reading particular books and authors, other than through marketing effort. My hypothesis is that, far from being the private and solitary activity as it is often portrayed, reading is, for many people, an intensely social activity. If we see reading as taking place within a social structure we can understand why some books succeed and others don't.

So what do I mean by reading being a social activity? The actual reading of the words is usually a solitary pursuit, of course, although I still read a chapter or two of some children's classic to young Wenlock in the evenings. But I reckon that reading is more than that. It's about talking about the book with other people who have read it, or might read it. This is where book groups come in, and is behind the extraordinary impact of Oprah's book recommendations (and Richard and Judy over here). This social thing finds its most extreme expression in the world of SF, with events such as WorldCon. Indeed SF recognises and to a large extent embraces the concept of fandom to a much greater extent than any other genre (with the exception of graphic novels and comics, perhaps, which have a significant overlap with SF).

Fan conventions, Oprah recommendations, reading groups and even informal conversations with friends and colleagues about our reading habits all offer a degree of social support, telling us that we are not alone in our activities and our tastes. We are a social species by nature, so this is a comforting thing. And in these groups and conversations we talk about the books we are reading, and what we think about them, and maybe how they relate to our own lives. And of course conversation will turn to other books, and so recommendations will be made by word of mouth, and readers will find new authors beyond the 3 for 2 tables at the front of the shop.

As a reader of SF and crime as well as historical and romatic fiction I found out about Alastair Reynolds through recommendations at work, and about Henning Mankell. My father learned about Stephen Booth and Laura Lippman from me. In those last two cases the appeal of the books was the settings - the Peak District where my family comes from in the first case, Baltimore, in whose shadow I was living in the second. It was easy to explain the books' appeal.

And that's where we may start running into problems for books about relationships aimed at men. It's a cliché sure, but men don't casually talk to each other much about their own relationships, at least not at any level of personal detail. I suspect that men are even less willing to do so in mixed groups, or across generations. Sadly I think that this tendency would undermine the development of the sort of social networking that generates the word-of-mouth that supports successful authors as much, if not more than their publishers' marketing budgets. There are ways around this - Nick Hornby started with a book about football, which may have been a negative with publishers and agents but certainly legitimised it for male readers, but that sort of thing may not always be available.

I don't think that marketing can solve this, although it can help (but spare us the horror of Penguin's ghastly, laddish "Good Booking" promotion, now largely gone from their website). Whether anything else can do the job I don't know.
I am currently taking an on-line synopsis-writing course from Laurie Campbell. The latest homework assignment was to write a short paragraph (less than 100 words) that summarised the unique selling points of our novels. This is what I came up with:
It is 1809. When Charlotte Everson, a bookish country mouse,
accidentally becomes entangled in an attempt to unmask a French spy ring, she finds herself crossing paths with Lord Alexander Hawkshead. His dreams of a heroic military career frustrated by his family obligations, Hawkshead works for the secret counter-espionage organisation known as Wenlock House, and he has clear ideas on how to catch spies. His approach does not fit well with a young woman apparently determined to be the heroine of one of the gothic romances that she reads so avidly.
I'm not entirely happy with it. One problem is that the names are aren't quite right, but I can fix that later, thanks to the "search and replace" facility in Word. Of more concern to me is that I don't think that it manages to capture the humour that I am aiming for (reading this, would you expect something that had a Heyeresque sense of humour?) and, perhaps more critically, I haven't managed to mention the elephant. But maybe that would be best done in the title, or in the cover design.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Gabriele encouraged me to comment on Doug Hoffman's thoughts on Romantic Fiction for men. I left a comment there, but I have been thinking further on the subject.

Doug's question is "why is there no body of romantic fiction for men?" which I take to mean books that focus on relationships, and whose primary point of view is male.

I think that there are a few authors who fit this particular bill, of which Nick Hornby is easily the most obvious. One could argue that David Lodge writes romantic fiction too - after all, Nice Work is a reworking of North and South by Mrs Gaskell that has also been redone as a Mills & Boon historical, The Iron Master by Rachel Ford (I will leave out the rather sad story that brought this book to my attention a decade ago). I could probably fit a number of other works usually identified as Literary Fiction into Doug's category but his basic point holds true. There is no great chunk of mass-market men's fiction to match women's middle-market fiction, even allowing for different levels of book-buying by men and women.

I am not going to try and answer Doug's question fully right here, but I have a first hypothesis to float.

Georgette Heyer did not write specifically for women. Indeed her first novel, The Black Moth, was written for a man - her brother who was ill at the time. Heyer's books are not all written primarily from a female point of view. Some are, some are written primarily from a male point of view, and some are written with a fairly balanced combination of the two. However I am pretty certain that Heyer is read these days overwhelmingly by women. If we can understand why this is, we might have the beginnings of an answer to Doug's question.

So why is Heyer read so little by men? I think that it is primarily because most men know nothing about her writing. So many women say that they started reading Heyer in their teenage years, after (female) friends raved about her. Others seem to have been initiated by their mothers or other female relatives. Her popularity seems to have spread genuinely by word of mouth and by personal recommendation, but through a network - teenage girls, mothers and daughters - that is almost entirely invisible to most men (and boys).

All Heyer's historical novels have recently been reissued in paperback by Arrow, and they are selling very well. But I haven't seen much of an advertising campaign for them. The cover designs are very attractive - Regency paintings mostly - but it must be said that they are not aimed at attracting male readers. This suggests that Arrow are not particularly anxious to try to tap a potential male market, although one of Heyer's books, An Infamous Army contains a description of the Battle of Waterloo allegedly used to educate army officers.

Those very few men that I know who have ventured inside a Heyer novel have enjoyed them immensly. The covers are usually seen as a bit of a barrier - I suspect that the Heinemann Uniform Edition covers might have been easier to push - but the main problem is that this is a new author to most of them, of whom they have only heard, if at all, in connection with female readers. They simply don't believe that the books are for them.

So the brilliant Georgette Heyer struggles to find a male readership because of lack of word of mouth networking. Does this contribute to answering Doug's question - well, possibly. More on this tomorrow.
It's Booker Long List time again.

Londonist says
Word on the street is that this is the strongest crop of British novels in decades, with a mix of literary greats, first-time novelists, and long-time midlist authors deserving of accolades.

In the Guardian, D J Taylor says
This year's longlist, in fact, is about the most predictable in the 37-year history of the prize. Almost without exception the famous names of contemporary British fiction - McEwan, Rushdie, Barnes, Ishiguro, Coetzee, the Smiths (Ali and Zadie) - have brought out new novels in 2005, and almost without exception those novels can be found contending for mid-October's £25,000 garland.

Wenlock will probably read a couple of the books on the list - John Banville's The Sea, and Harry Thompson's This Thing of Darkness. The former because I really liked Banville's previous books; the latter because Harry Thompson was in the year above me at Skool so it will be fun to find out what he has been up to (apart from being a highly successful TV producer of things like HIGNFY and They Think It's All Over) in the years since he founded The Grand Order of Lemmings (motto: "You will diiieeee!!!!").

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

It never does to bite the hand that feeds, but as a yet unpublished novelist I thought that I would mutter a bit about Amazon before it gets to the point where every post on Wenlock is an exhortation to buy my book (still no title, but the elephant remains a big selling point).

Before going into my mutterings I will note that there appears to be some debate about how significant Amazon's sales are. For instance Sarah Weinman offers some sales figures for a recent New York Times best-seller that suggest that of about 98,000 sales in a three week period Amazon were responsible for only 320, with Walmart's distributor, Anderson Merchandisers, being responsible for about 50% of the rest.

Weinman doesn't say where she gets her figures from, nor does she identify the book beyond saying "a NYT bestselling thriller writer's most recent book", nor does she say which three weeks the sales figures come from. I am therefore deeply suspicious of her "hard numbers" and "actual figures". The only place that is likely to have these sorts of sales figures for a three-week period is the book's publisher. It would not surprise me if these numbers represent the total number of copies shipped out by the publisher, and it would also not surprise me if they reflected a time period before publication date. Walmart have a "pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap" strategy and Anderson will buy in bulk and ship across the US to ensure that this can happen. In contrast Amazon are seeking all the time to minimise their stock levels to limit how much capital they have tied up in their warehouses. In the run-up to publication Anderson will buy large quantities, many of which may well be returned unsold in a month or two. Amazon will buy no more than they need to meet advance orders and likely sales over a few days.

A different view of Amazon sales comes from Chris Anderson, Morris Rosenthal and from MIT. This addresses the importance to Amazon of the "long tail" - those titles that are outside the top 100,000 carried by the big US bookstores (eg Barnes and Noble, Borders). The best summary of this work, with lots of links to previous published material is in Chris Anderson's blog, which is actually called "The Long Tail". I am grateful to Anne Weale for pointing me at this.

It would be wrong to set up Weinman and Anderson in opposition to each other. They are not discussing exactly the same thing. However I am not going to ignore Amazon as a cursory reading of Weinman's piece might encourage me to do. As Anderson shows, there's a lot going on in those numbers.

Which brings me to what I was going to say before I was diverted into all that analysis. I'm not going to moan about Amazon selling used books alongside new ones - I don't like it, but plenty of other people have said all there is to say on the subject. Instead I am going to moan about a new "feature" on Amazon (new, at least, in the UK). It appears with the words "Customers interested in this title may also be interested in:" The site explains this thus:

Sponsored Links are advertisements that provides for you. We receive Sponsored Links from Overture. When you click on a Sponsored Link, we get revenue. The selection of Sponsored Links that are displayed is based on keywords. For example, if you search for "Bruce Springsteen" or view pages about Bruce Springsteen, the Sponsored Links may point to sites that sell tickets to his concerts or provide information about him. Sponsored Links are always clearly labelled.

Generating additional revenue from Sponsored Links allows us to offer you lower prices--something we are dedicated to doing in every way we can.
Note that bit at the end of the second paragraph:
Sponsored Links are always clearly labelled.
Oh, really? The sponsored links are headed
Customers interested in this title may also be interested in:
This is distinct from the more familiar
Customers who bought this item also bought:
Customers who bought books by [your name here] also bought books by these authors:
See the clear distinction? Me neither.

Why am I so worked up about this (apart from needing something to blog about)? It is because I found the old, unsponsored links and recommendations so impressive. Did I tell you about the time Amazon came up with three book recommendations, and I had bought all three books (from non-Amazon sources) within the preceding four days?

One of things I really liked about Amazon was that these recommendations were genuine, in that they reflected the habits of other book buyers. Of course you had to aim off for best-sellers - whatever book you bought a couple of weeks ago you would have been told that customers also bought Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but once you got past that it was always worth following up other customers' preferences. This contrasted with the bricks-and-mortar chain bookshops whose displays and recommendations are paid for by publishers.

But now, in pursuit of higher profits - sorry, "lower prices" - Amazon have joined that tawdry crowd and slipped this little cuckoo into the nest. It's not there for many books yet, but it is creeping rapidly into the music section.

It's not as if the links are actually very useful. OK, so if I am looking for an album by Lindisfarne I might, just possibly, be interested in a holiday cottage near there, but if I am looking for the works of Boston I have more than a feeling that a flight to Massachusetts is unlikely to be top of my list. And why, for crying out loud, if I am browsing for an album by Yes (and this has been known) should I be interested in buying car insurance, even if it is from a company called "Yes Car Insurance"?

Luckily there is a feedback option for these links. I have been using it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

While I was out of reach of the blogosphere these last few days I was able to get hold of the Guardian, and in Saturday's Review section there was a rather good piece by Blake Morrison on the decline of the editor.

After offering some evidence that there just aren't editors out there like there used to be Morrison comments:
If editing is in decline, that's bad for literature. History suggests that while some authors work alone, more or less unaided, the majority benefit from editors - and that a few are utterly dependent on them.
He then gives the example of Thomas Wolfe (no, not that one) who was so prolix that he was utterly dependent on his editor to be readable at all.

Morrison sees the growth of creative writing courses as a response to the lack of editorial support that authors now endure; these classes are the only opportunity many of us get for any sort of editorial input, either from a tutor or from fellow students. I think that he makes a good point. I personally feel that I would be a lot happier with where I am in my writing if I had a steady dialogue with somebody who is looking at my work from an editorial perspective, and who can tell me why what I think of as a brilliantly sparkling duel of wits between the hero and hs adversary reads more like a bad stand-up comedy performance that does not advance the plot one iota; and who asks why I don't instead put in something to explain how the heroine has ended up in Hampshire when we last saw her in Gloucestershire.

Unfortunately that seems no longer to be an option.
Most of the publishers I've talked to, both young and old, say it's impossible to do such editing today. However diligent you are, the sheer speed at which books have to be pushed through prevents it. These days you have to be an all-rounder, involved with promotion, publicity and sales - all of which are crucial but mean that when a writer is trapped in a wrong book you don't have the time to sit down together and find a way out.
It's a good article. However I am not going to let Morrison off one unnecessary crack which a thoughtful editor might have picked up on. In discussing Edward Garnett's editing of Sons and Lovers, Morrison suggests that Garnett made a misjudgement in cutting a section where Paul Morel secretly tries on Clara's stockings.
The modern reader wants the stockings, and will wonder why Garnett didn't dispense with the Mills & Boon stuff instead ("She gave herself. He held her fast. It was a moment intense almost to agony").
"Mills & Boon stuff"? Has Blake Morrison read any? Or is it just that he thinks that it is acceptable to take a cheap shot at Mills & Boon? That line is not just unnecessary and inappropriate, it is lazy journalism. He should know better.
Well, I'm back for a few days at least. I will post up until Sunday and then disappear off until the following weekend.

Regency slang term of the day (and its disreputable little sister) will be on hold for the time being, unless I find out that it was the only reason any of you ever read Wenlock.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

Wenlock will be disappearing for a few days to take the waters at some fashionable spa, but will return, all being well, on Tuesday.

While I am away, why not visit Kate Allen's blog, or Alex Bordessa's. I mention these two because their respective authors will be appearing in period clothing at a venue near you during August. On 20 and 21 August Kate will be reading from her novel The Lady Soldier at the Jane Austen Fayre near Basingstoke. The previous weekend Alex will be doing something Late Roman at the English Heritage Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire.

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

I am English and writing books set in England, which I hope will appeal to British readers. It's not that I wouldn't like to appeal to American readers - after all the American market for Romantic fiction is staggeringly huge - but it is a whole different world over there, and despite my being married to an American, and having only recently returned to the UK after four years living in the States, there are aspects of American romance writing that I cannot get my head around. Until I do, I do not plan to join the Romance Writers of America.

Not being an RWA member, I didn't attend the RWA National Conference in Reno last weekend, and so I missed what seems to have been a rather controversial awards ceremony. There are lots of accounts of what happened in the blogosphere and the wider web, from those who were there and from those who weren't, so I will not go into any details here. The best jumping off point for reading all about it is probably the blog written by my charming (if a little forthright) friends Candy and Sarah.

As one who always likes a good conspiracy theory, I was particularly struck by the comments that they link to from Laurie Loves Books, both in her blog and in her column in All About Romance. Laurie's view is that the controversial awards ceremony is in part a result of the entanglement of the RWA with the "culture war" going on in America at the moment. I suspect that she may well have a point.

Back here in the UK the nearest thing we have to the RWA is the wonderful Romantic Novelists' Association. While the RWA has just been celebrating 25 years of existence the RNA is already beginning to think how it will mark its 50th anniversary, five years from now. I think that the RNA committee will have picked up some pointers on one thing not to include in the plans for 2010.
Regency slang term of the day:
Ferret - A tradesman who sells goods to young unthrifty heirs at excessive rates, and then continually duns them for the debt.

Divine Monosyllable of the day:
Aphrodisaical tennis court

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Regency slang term of the day:
Apron-String Hold - an Estate held by a man during his wife's lifetime.

Divine Monosyllable of the day:
the clouds
I'm very grateful to Pam Cleaver for pointing me at Rachel Deahl's piece in the Book Standard on blogs and bestsellers. Blogging is clearly the perfect short-cut to fame and fortune. If Wonkette can parlay 50,000 hits per day into a $275,000 book contract then Wenlock must be worth, well, hmmm... maybe I shouldn't give up the day job just yet. Nor indeed the novel, which is going OK since you ask.

Stephanie Klein's blog seems to have netted her an even bigger publishing deal than Wonkette's. This is probably at least in part because of the candid discussion of her life of sex, shopping and relationship angst in New York. Not something that I can really compete with here in Cheltenham ("Centre for the Cotswolds" - never trust a town that uses a preposition that isn't the obvious one). But I won't give up just yet. Perhaps I should blog more about the progress of my side whiskers.

Monday, 1 August 2005

Tomorrow is the 200th Anniversary of the first occasion upon which the world of Romantic literature crossed paths with that of Cricket. The occasion was the first match between Eton and Harrow. The match appears to have been held at the instigation of Lord Byron, and it was probably only his active involvement in organising the match that secured him a place in the Harrow side. While Byron was a great lover of the game his club foot must have severely hampered his playing it. On this occasion he employed a runner. He wrote of the match:
We have played the Eton and were most confoundedly beat; however it was some comfort to me that I got 11 notches the 1st Innings and 7 the 2nd, which was more than any of our side except Brockman and Ipswich could contrive to hit.
Sadly the scorecard does not quite support this version of events. I am however inclined to believe Byron's account of the aftermath of this match:
After the match we dined together, and were extremely friendly, not a single discordant word was uttered by either party. To be sure we were most of us very drunk and we went together to the Haymarket Theatre where we kicked up a row, as you may suppose when so many Harrovians and Etonians meet in one place. I was one of seven in a single Hackney, four Eton and three Harrow, we all got into the same box, the consequence was that such a devil of a noise arose that none of our neighbours could hear a word of the drama, at which not being highly delighted they began to quarrel with us and we nearly came to a battle royal.
The match took place at the original Lord's Cricket Ground, where now stands Dorset Square. I was hoping to make a pilgrimage there tomorrow to see if I could drink a toast or two to the great Romantic, but it is not to be.
Friend of my heart, and foremost of the list
Of those with whom I lived supremely blest,
Oft have we drain'd the font of ancient lore;
Though drinking deeply, thirsting still the more.
Yet, when confinement's lingering hour was done,
Our sports, our studies, and our souls were one:
Together we impell'd the flying ball;
Together waited in our tutor's hall;
Together join'd in cricket's manly toil,
Or shared the produce of the river's spoil;
Or, plunging from the green declining shore,
Our pliant limbs the buoyant billows bore;
In every element, unchanged, the same,
All, all that brothers should be, but the name.
Lord Byron, from Hours of Idleness.
Regency slang term of the day:
Eyes and Limbs - the Footguards, so called by the marching regiments from a favourite execration in use among them, which was damning their eyes, their limbs and their blue breeches.

Divine Monosyllable of the day:
Postern gate to the Elysian Fields