Thursday, 27 June 2013

Three speeches that shook the world


The art of public speaking is something that can be honed and improved upon but at the core it is something that only very few people are blessed with as a natural talent.

The ability to rouse emotions in others by the use of words or to transmit information in an entertaining and enlightening way is something that can have an effect on an individual's life in a defining way. At the pinnacle of its importance, an important speech given at the right time can be something that frames an event or era in history.

The Gettysburg Address and the abdication of Edward VIII are two examples, but more recent times have equally heavyweight examples:


1. Dr Martin Luther King – "I have a dream"

The civil rights issues in the United States in the mid-20th century is a strong example of where the power of oratory both lit the fires of change whilst helping to make the upheavals far more peaceful than historically important revolutionary movements often are. 

Activist Martin Luther King Jr made this famous speech on Wednesday August 28th 1963 as a rallying cry for an end to racism in the U.S. The speech was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where over 250,000 civil rights supporters took to the streets and became the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Drawing on all his powers of public speaking and opening with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation which freed millions of slaves in 1863, the statement that "one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free" is a stark summation of the state of race relations in the U.S. at the time.

King departed from the prepared script when Mahalia Jackson cried out "Tell them about the dream, Martin!"


2. Winston Churchill – "We shall fight on the beaches"

The iconic British Prime Minister is known for his great oratory skills and in this speech drew on his reputation as a great speaker to address not only the assembled politicians but also the whole nation in the aftermath of possibly the biggest defeat in British military history.

The speech was delivered to the House of Commons on June 4 1940 and is widely recognised as the start of the British stand against the seemingly unstoppable march of Nazism across Europe. By rousing the spirit of defiance, Churchill fuelled British defiance as the nation stood alone against a seemingly invincible enemy for a number of years.

Churchill's declaration inspired a generation to take up arms and fight the good fight and reading it today, the same feelings of heroism and bravery are still generated.

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."


3. Nelson Mandela – "An ideal for which I am prepared to die"

Now acknowledged as a leading world figure who helped stop South Africa's transition from the racist apartheid system becoming a blood bath for both sides, Nelson Mandela was once seen as a terrorist and faced a trail that would lead to his long term imprisonment.

This statement was made from the dock at the Supreme Court of South Africa in Pretoria on April 20, 1964 at the opening of his trial for acts of sabotage. Reading over it today, the sheer intensity of emotion can still be felt.

"At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect [...] I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background and not because of what any outsider might have said."


About the author:
We can’t promise you Churchill, Mandela or Martin Luther King but for well respected speakers, event hosts and presenters start your search at SpeakersCorner.co.uk

Friday, 21 June 2013

Fundraising on Facebook


Keep those donations coming in.
I visited a bookshop back in early December to promote my novel, Covenant. At the time, the proprietor said he was fully stocked and suggested I return in a few months. So, as it's June now...ta da!

I handed him a photograph (a real 6 x 8) of Covenant's cover, with the ISBN, my email address and a URL for reviews on the back. He seemed reassured that he could order it through Gardners, like the rest of his stock. No guarantees, although I think I made an impression.

Print-on-Demand is more cost-effective, but there are costs - as my recent decision to tweak those last few typos, post publication, can attest. Then, as every author knows, there are other costs: paperback review copies and freebies, postage, travel to shops and events, bookmarks, posters, photos, CDs for ebook giveaways face-to-face and maybe even a t-shirt of the cover as a competition prize. It all adds up, so what's an impoverished writer to do?

Maybe social media can come to the rescue, in the form of a Facebook fundraising app?

Remember when Unbound launched a crowdsourcing initiative and Terry Jones got his book funded? Well, from what I can tell, this is a similar idea, only, this time, you're targeting your own audience / FB community. (It could also be another motivator to build your community before you go to print.)

I did some trawling (no, not trolling) and checked out the donateapp.

Here's what you need to know:
1. It's a free app, so you download and install it like you would any other one.
2. It's available for use by charities, charitable events, non-profits and just about anyone else.
3. There is a 2% processing fee, plus a $0.40 USD charge per transaction.
4. Donations go into your PayPal account, so the usual PayPal fees apply, and can come from the usual sources (other PayPal accounts and fantastic plastic).
5. The actual donating is done 'on the page', so the donor doesn't need to leave Facebook.

The one I've seen isn't the only fundraising app on Facebook, but it seems to have the lowest processing fee and others aren't all compatible with PayPal yet.

How could it work for writers?

Well, like those independent film start-ups, you could link your donation with some kind of reward. Only, instead of appearing as an extra, a large donation (or a random draw from all the donors) could name a character. Or else, once a funding target has been achieved, you could pay for some of those 'freebies'. Maybe readers could even prepay for thier book, although I'd suggest you've actually written it first before you download the app.

As readerships are increasingly international, your funding base, potentially, could be similarly inclusive. According to wikipedia, in 2012 there were 88 states (sovereign and non-sovereign states) where English is an official language.

If you decide to give it a try, please let me know how you get on.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A messy business

Some jobs turn ugly.
In an ideal world, freelance writing is a straightforward process.

Something like this:

a) Client + defined requirements < writer's experience and abilities.
b) Client + writer's abilities + time = satisfied client + promptly paid writer (+ recommendations).

However, as every freelancer knows, a client's ideas about what they want can be informed, or constrained, by their own experience and expectations.

Sometimes, the best part about being in a creative industry is the creative part itself. You can change perceptions and preconceptions, introduce new concepts and everyone goes away enriched for the experience (not just financially for the writer).

That can happen, but other equations are possible:

a) Client + defined requirements < writer's experience and abilities.
c) (Client + writer's abilities + time) - payment = a 'crap meets fan' scenario.

Recently, like buses, two of the latter types have come along. In each case, prices were agreed at the outset and work commenced. Refinements of instructions followed and feedback was given as my work progressed. And then...nothing. Not a word, not a peep; not even the sound of a wallet closing.

So what's a writer to do? Well, this is your chance to have your say.

Others, so far, have suggested:

1. Name and shame the culprits.
2. Small claims court. No messing about. But also, as I understand it, not necessarily enforceable.
3. Contact the representative body that the business belongs to, or wants to belong to, and advise them that their member / would-be member is a shyster.
4. Write a stern blog.
5. Write to them advising that non-payment means you (i.e. I) retain the copyright on any work done, and unpaid use of that work constitutes theft.

Have you had an experience like this?

How did you respond?

What was the outcome?


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Evolution of an idea

Back-copies still available for sale!

Give me a writer who knows exactly where they're going and I'll give you - and them - a round of applause. Any writer I've ever met, be they published or yet-to-be-published, may have an inkling, or even an ambition, but that's about it.

In a sense, that's part of the joy of writing. You never know quite where it will lead, either on the page or off it.

So if you're sitting comfortably, I'd like to tell you the story of a story. Two stories, actually.

Once upon a time, David French and I created As Above So Below magazine - a satirical take on all things 'alternative', along with anything else that took our fancy. In Issue 13, I wrote a piece, The Daily Grind, about an imagined encounter with a new age luminary in a San Diego coffee house. It included new choices for a modern generation:

Crappuccino - with a laxative for colonic health.
Mocha Shocker - with a battery in it to jumpstart your day.
Americano - with oil dashes.
Bratte - with a mild sedative for children.
Depresso - with serontonin for that extra lift.


As you might have guessed, I'm not a coffee drinker. At all.

Wind forward some considerable time and a jaunt through Craigslist brought me to a competition to get a story / piece of writing in a coffee themed anthology. Naturally, having read the rules, I thought of modifying Daily Grind. And spookily, the indie publisher was based in San Diego. Fate, huh? Ish.

Good news: they liked the piece and said it was funny. Fortunately, the editor-in-chief had spent time in the UK and enjoyed British humour. 

Complicated news: the prizes were vouchers for coffee houses and they planned to sell the anthologies there. Consequently, my anti-coffee piece wasn't quite the ticket, but if I wanted to write something else they would consider it favourably. 

I took a different tack next time and wrote a short story with a serious motif, Diner, about domestic abuse. They accepted the story for print.

Wind forward a couple of months or so and I'm on the anthology editorial team, as well as helping out with administration and posting on the site. Pretty soon I am officially the go-to guy* for new projects in indie publishing house A Word with You Press.

Four of us edit the book in chunks. The paperback comes out and is well received by those who bought it. However, it did not sell well, partly because the price point was too high (the editor-in-chief wanted to include every writer who submitted something, to give them a start in print) and partly because our distribution chain wasn't up to the job. We were learning on the fly, and my, how we learned - often at the e-i-c's expense.

Wind forward a little more time and AWwYP has several books on the go, and one or two in the pipeline. Coffee Shop Chronicles Vol 1 will hopefully become a collector's item, as there are plans afoot to bring out a smaller version instead, containing just 50 entries (we like to think of it as the espresso version). It will give us the price point we need to make the book cost-effective.

My point though (because you've probably been wondering by now) is that the first stepping stone to CSC Vol 1, and my association with AWwYP, was writing a piece for a magazine that hardly anybody read. So few, in fact, that AASB magazine hasn't had an issue out for over two years. If there is a moral here, it's that a good idea is never wasted - not unless we forget it or refuse to act on it.

I'm proud of CSC Vol 1 for many reasons: the cover, my story being in it, the way that four editors worked so well in our respective cities, the fact that 100 writers were given a little floor space by Thorn Sully, and that it's a real, live paperback. And a little bit shiny.

AWwYP recently vacated its premises, and the e-i-c is going on a book tour and considering what the future of AWwYP will look like. It's an uncertain adventure (but all the best ones are) and I look forward to the next chapter. 

Get it while it's hot.
* Project Development Director - all writers love a good title!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The sweet spell of success



Writers can be a little like children, who only stick with the kids that enjoy the same games. Only, in our case, we writers can suffer from genre-phobia. 

Silly really, because the writing process is the same (inspiration, torture and progress, in that order) and the elements of good writing are the same (captivating plot, engaging characters, authentic dialogue, etc.). 

It can be really invigorating to meet writers of other genres to see what inspires them to put pen to paper, and where it has taken them. So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Sarah Painter, who has kindly agreed to answer some questions

The Language of Spells can be described as Magical Romantic Fiction - what drew you to write this kind of book?
I was in a total writing slump. I'd just finished a masters in creative writing at St Andrews and had spent the previous year trying to change my natural writing voice into something more literary. Plus, I'd parted company with my agent (amicably) which I knew was the right move, but it felt very scary. I wanted to cheer myself up so I thought I'd try writing the kind of book that I enjoyed reading when I was in need of comfort - warm romantic comedy. The magic just crept in; very subtly at first, but then it grew...

Did you do any research into beliefs and superstitions?
I love books that mix magic with the everyday world, and have always read widely in folklore, myths and legends, so I already had a fair basis of knowledge. I did research herbalism and checked which plants would actually be available in Gwen's garden in Wiltshire.

When did you realise you were writing a series, and what additional challenges does that bring?
Um. I didn't, actually, but was absolutely thrilled when my publisher asked if I'd write a follow up to the book. After years of rejection, hearing an editor say 'we love these characters and this world and we'd like more' was amazing.

Which writers have inspired you, and continue to inspire you?
So many! I'm inspired by the work ethic and tenacity of all my writer friends. Back before I wrote my first book I was inspired by Stephen King's On Writing to just get on with it, and I'm inspired every time I read a book that I love.

Tell us about your current book and its protagonist.
It’s a contemporary story of family and romance, with added magic. Here’s the blurb:

Gwen Harper left Pendleford thirteen years ago and hasn’t looked back. Until an inheritance throws her into the mystical world she thought she’d escaped. Confronted with her great-aunt’s legacy Gwen must finally face up to her past.

The magic she has long tried to suppress is back with a vengeance but gift or burden, for Gwen, it always spells trouble. She has to stay – she has nowhere else to go – but how can she find her place in the town that drove her out after branding her a witch…?

Where can we buy it?
Thank you for asking! It's available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. I believe it is also going to be available for Kobo and Nook, but it's not listed on those sites, yet.


What question did you hope to be asked?
Would I like a drink? Tea. No, wine…Tea, then wine.

What question were you glad never came up, and why?
How long it takes me to write a first draft (I’m slow and it makes me anxious to think about it!).

And finally, as an aside*...I've written a transatlantic comedy drama, Scars & Stripes, which has been described as 'bloke lit' or 'lad lit', and has some romance in it, after a fashion. In your experience, are there many male romantic fiction authors out there?
Great title! Yes, I think there are plenty of male romantic comedy authors (although they are often branded differently to their female counterparts). Mike Gayle, Nick Hornby, Mil Millington, and Matt Dunn spring to mind.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Derek!


My giveaway (to win a Nook e-reader) ends tonight

And I will be appearing on Chick Lit Reviews tomorrow 




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* 'Aside' being a byword for, "Please help me with my research."