Pinter’s Plea for Peace

Dr Frances Pinter

It may seem strange to publish a piece on peace (if you’ll forgive the wordplay!) to celebrate Crime Reading Month. However, taking the big picture approach, the worst murders are committed during wars – as the conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated yet again. Wartime atrocities emphasise that peace is vital and, as Dr Pinter says, generations who have grown up knowing only peace lose – dangerously awareness of the calamity of war. On the smaller canvas, classic crime fiction always ends with a denouement in which normality is restored – as peace follows war.

Dr Frances Pinter, who is currently Executive Chair of the Central European University Press [CEUP], is probably best known by readers of this blog for her outstanding – and continuing work to promote Open Access models that work for academics, readers, librarians and publishers equally. Frances is passionate about achieving the fair dissemination of knowledge and equally committed to working towards world peace, and particularly the maintenance of peace in Europe. These two ambitions are, of course, not unrelated.

When Frances was writing her PhD in the early 1970s, she came into contact not just with academics but also with practitioners in the study of conflict and research into peace. These were very new academic disciplines. Frances, who was totally committed to the concepts, found herself meeting all kinds of unusual academics. She understood that there was not sufficient understanding of the processes that needed to be worked through to achieve the satisfactory resolution of conflict – something she learnt while studying the conflict in Northern Ireland for her PhD which included pub crawls with the IRA. As a result of many studies that she and others later published, we now have a corpus of vital information on the subject – although politicians are not good at deploying it.

Frances founded her own publishing company at the young age of twenty-three. This happened by accident: she was still working on her PhD when she “ran into someone whom I thought would write a wonderful book and decided to try my hand at publishing”.

Although for a short time she subsequently took a job as an academic, she carried on with the publishing and loved the whole process. She also decided that she would make a much better publisher than an academic, but if she wanted to expand her publishing activities and therefore leave academia, she “needed to find a way to have enough money to eat”. Her solution was to take out a mortgage, buy a large house in Oxford and fill it with tenants. It was a period of high inflation, so she was able to keep on borrowing against the increasing value of the property and use the money to invest in the new publishing company, which was originally called Frances Pinter Publications and then simply Pinter Publishers. She gave the company her name because she wouldn’t then have to carry out a search to see if another company was using the name she chose – which would have incurred an unnecessary expense. She became a successful medium-sized Social Sciences and Humanities publisher.

The company was twenty-one years old when George Soros invited Frances to work for his foundation. He had contacted her to suggest that it would be a good idea for the Social Science and Humanities classics of the West to be translated into all the languages of the post-Communist countries; and could she do it? Although Frances saw instantly that this would change her whole life, she accepted the offer and sold Pinter Publications.

Working from Budapest for the Open Society Foundation, she began the translation programme. This turned out to be just part of the work required. Soon she had set up the Centre for Publishing Development, whose mission was to help the new private publishing sector that was emerging in thirty post-Communist countries. She visited all the countries that were being supported and worked in all of them. Budapest acted as the hub for the programme; each country had a publishing officer and Frances worked through them. She ceased working full-time for the Foundation at the turn of the millennium, but continued in her capacity as adviser for a few years afterwards.

All these activities were either directly or indirectly focused on peace. Frances says her family history – some were victims of the Nazis in the second world war – has played its part in her recognition of the most profound importance of peace. Sometimes this made her prescient. She knew when she was working in Eastern Europe in the ‘90s that some of the West’s approaches to bringing ‘democracy and capitalism’ to the East would backfire. Former Communist states were presented with an ideal, but the reality they observed – generated by hubris and hypocrisy – was far different and generated an enormous amount of resentment. “We were rich and they were poor and much that has happened since stems from this. It pained me terribly – I could see the parallels with the resentment felt in Germany after World War I that led to the rise of Hitler. It got worse after the financial crash of 2008. Transitional and developing countries suffered far more than we did.”

Like Frances, I was the child of the generation that was shaken by the Second World War and vowed it would never happen again. She observes that, inevitably perhaps, we were followed by a generation of Europeans who didn’t think about it so much. “Suddenly, people ARE thinking. Now is one of the saddest periods of my life – to see what we were building in the West unravel.” In this, she includes Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. During the referendum, she reminded British politicians that, fundamentally, the EU was a peace project, created to maintain peace in Europe. Every politician under the age of sixty-five scoffed at the idea that Europe might engage in another war. “They knew the facts but didn’t feel the weight of them. Now they bloody well should. Europe has been deeply destabilised because so many people didn’t understand.” She feels that pro-Brexit comments are frivolous. Britain has weakened its power to promote peace in Europe by standing outside the EU.

Frances visited Kiev a few times in the 1990s, during the period in which Judith Heneghan’s novel Snegurochka is set. One of her abiding memories is the very keen desire of the Ukrainian people to have the books she was offering them translated into Ukrainian, even though everybody could read Russian.

On a positive note, Frances believes that the current generation of young adults is again engaged in searching for profound truths. Recently, in Vienna, she met a colleague of Linda Kinstler, a young American journalist who has written a book entitled Come to this Court and Cry. The book describes Kinstler’s quest to establish whether her Latvian grandfather was really working for the Nazis or the Russians. “The truth is shrouded in secrecy, but all the time she is digging into it.” Truth leads to peace.

Ukraine: an author’s evocation of Kyiv (Kiev) in the 1990s

Today’s and tomorrow’s posts both touch on the war in Ukraine and feature interviews with an author and a publisher who have a marked affinity with the country. In today’s post, Judith Heneghan talks about Snegurochka, her debut novel for adults (she was already a prolific children’s author when she wrote it), which is set in the Ukraine of the 1990s, shortly after the breaking-up of the Soviet Union. The novel was published by Salt in 2019.

Q: Snegurochka is set in Kiev in the 1990s. Briefly, could you describe what it’s about.

A: Snegurochka is the story of a young English woman, Rachel, who lives in newly independent Ukraine in 1992 with her journalist husband and their new baby. Isolated, unable to speak Russian or Ukrainian, she develops a crippling fear of the balcony at their apartment. The city below is distrustful of foreigners and reeling from economic freefall, but her own needs create dependency and soon she is caught in a frightening endgame between the elderly caretaker, a money launderer and the boy who lives upstairs. Each is defined by their past, but Rachel doesn’t know how, until it is too late. All she wants is to keep her baby safe.

Q: It is a very powerful novel. Does it draw on personal experience?

A: Yes, I am drawing on personal experience, in that I lived in Kiev (as we called it back then) with my journalist husband and our new baby.  This allowed me to use my own memories of places and public events. However, the characters are all invented; we were far too boring. I have placed made-up characters and their problems in some real environments with many fictitious scenarios and outcomes. I think this is how much fiction is written – it’s a potent mix of experience and imagination. I am drawing on my memories of how hard it was to make friends, to find nappies, to navigate a city where people still carried the legacy of famine, invasion, suspicion and, of course, Chernobyl. 

Q: Have you visited Kiev again since you wrote the book?  Had it changed?

A: I did visit at the end of 2018, although I chose not to go back before then, while I was writing the novel, for fear of recent changes diluting my memories of thirty years ago. And it was such a joy to find that what I loved about Kiev remained – the exquisite churches and monasteries, the broad, tree-lined boulevards, the cobbles and cafes and the over-priced (still) Bessarabsky Market. However, what had made it a difficult place to live had changed. Now people seemed open, welcoming, happy to smile, to talk to strangers. Young families were everywhere. There were, also, new memorials and shrines to those who had lost their lives in Crimea and Donbas since 2014 – another layer of history now ran through the city’s streets – but the atmosphere was vibrant, forward-looking, hopeful. 

However, one theme of the novel is the way we as foreigners might think we know a country and a people. My impressions in 2018 were superficial, and of course any place is much more complicated than that.

Q: You must feel particularly horrified by the war in Ukraine. Are there people (especially writers, but anyone) there you are in touch with? Are they safe?

A: The war is utterly horrifying. I think most Europeans feel this, and of course when one has lived in a place that is being bombed, there is more to imagine, and perhaps it is less easy to forget.  But the journalists we mixed with back in 1992 have all moved on, and I had very few Ukrainian friends because of the language barrier. So no, I’m not in touch with people there now. I watch the news, feeling helpless, as do we all.

Q: If the novel were to be made into a film, who would you choose to play Ruth? And Lucas?

A: Absolutely no idea! Lucas is described as looking like the Marlboro Man, if anyone remembers those ads…

Q: Are you working on a new book now? If so, can you describe it very briefly?  

A: I am working on a new novel, yes. It is set in the Catskills, in Upstate New York, in a small, hippyish commune-style community on the verge of folding. It has young strangers in it, and a river, and mountains and pickups and dogs…

Q: Who are your own favourite authors – both classical and contemporary?

A: Oh, I feel a list coming on… in no particular order, Elizabeth Strout, A M Homes, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Sebastian Barry, Colm Toibin, Joseph O’Connor… less contemporary (and the loves of my late teenage years) John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy.

Q: I understand that you teach creative writing. What would be your top three tips to would-be authors?

A:

  1. Learn the conventions so that you can break them.
  1. The scene is the queen (unless… see above).
  2. Don’t worry if you don’t have a plan.

Murder in Horncastle and Mablethorpe

Conviviality in the very friendly library at Horncastle!

Yesterday was an exciting day for me. It involved a very early start – in perfect early summer daylight, the gentle sunshine gradually getting stronger – as I travelled to the first two of the four library talks I have been invited to give in Lincolnshire to celebrate Crime Reading Month.

The first was scheduled to take place at the library in Horncastle, which is a fine old market town of brick, mellow stone and painted rendered buildings.

Post Office building, complete with guerrilla knitting!

It was also my first visit there. It was market day – I love Lincolnshire markets! – and I had time to buy new potatoes (‘Boston potatoes’), the rich local soil still clinging to them, and some strawberries.

Buying potatoes: “You want washed or dirty? Dirty? Help yourself.” Lol.

The event was very ably hosted by Helen, the library manager, and Donna and Hannah, two of the library’s librarians.

Helen, Donna and Hannah: In amongst and engaged with everyone.

All were wonderfully hospitable and knowledgeable about the history of the town and famous people who have lived there: I discovered, for example, that the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was born at Somersby, near the town. The audience – some of them members of the library’s book club – was also formidably knowledgeable, as well as being avid crime fiction readers. After the formal part of the talk, the discussion ranged far and wide. Over tea and biscuits, we managed to talk about local murders, discrimination against women, why I use a pseudonym, local tycoons and local customs – including an explanation of the fascinating ‘ran-tanning’, something I had never come across before, even though I am Lincolnshire born and bred. It was an ancient practice adopted by the neighbours of a wife-beater, who would surround his house and make a racket by beating on pots, pans and farm implements until he treated his wife with more respect. If he transgressed again, the process was repeated: an early version of Neighbourhood Watch and vigilantism combined which was probably more effective than calling the police today. It might be worth a revival.

I stayed talking with the Horncastle audience for so long that I only just made it to Mablethorpe for the afternoon event.

The light and airy new Mablethorpe Library.

Kathy, Manager of the recently built and very well-stocked library, and her colleagues had gathered an impressive audience which consisted of local people across the age range, including several children.

An animated and warm welcome from Kathy.

Once more, there was a lively discussion which covered many topics –  again accompanied by tea and biscuits – after the main talk. This audience was interested in the process of writing, how to get published and how authors exercise their rights over the more unusual outputs of publishing – films, TV scripts, audio etc.

They particularly wanted to know whether, if I sold the film rights to my books, I would let the film company alter the characters and the endings of the books. (My answer was a resounding ‘No!’ 😉) They said they had often been disappointed when they’d watched films of books they had read, only to discover that the script writer had “mucked about” with the author’s story.

One of the young women present and two of the children were aspiring writers who wanted to know how to get their work noticed. One of the children had already won a writing competition. Ebony, her sister, presented me with a tiny, fluffy feather, which I have carefully brought home. I think it is beautiful. I suggested that they should start a blog and post on it often, sometimes supporting other writers, attend festivals, book themselves into author surgeries at events and, above all, exercise patience, courage and self-belief! Regular readers of this June CRM series will see that I have ‘borrowed’ many of these tips from others who have contributed to it.

For this series of Lincolnshire talks I have carried out some research to find an unsolved murder which took place in each of the towns in which I am speaking. As I still have two more talks to go – I am at Long Sutton library next Monday (13th June) and at Sleaford library on Friday 17th June I won’t today bomb the blog by introducing a spoiler that tells more. I shall, however, write a post about these murders – some of them very unusual – when the talks have all been delivered.

Huge thanks to Helen, Donna and Hannah and Kathy and her team for all the work they put into making these talks a success and for their magnificent hospitality. Massive thanks also to all the members of the two marvellous audiences. I hope that some of you will find this post, read it and like it – and that we may meet again. Kathy has already expressed enthusiasm for my suggestion of including a writers’ workshop next time I come.  So, two more exceptional library teams that are awe-inspiring in their people skills, organisational flair and warmth of personality. Well done, Lincolnshire!

And a very special thank you to Ebony. I shall treasure the feather!

A Q. and A. with a fellow Bloodhound author

Following on from yesterday’s post, Sarah Stephens is a fellow Bloodhound author whom I have also not met in person. I am hoping to review her book on the blog later this month.

What is the title of your novel? Briefly, what is it about?

My latest thriller is The Good Life. It focuses on Kate and Calvin, a married couple traveling to a luxury resort in Costa Rica to rekindle their marriage. After an evening of partying with another couple at the resort ends in tragedy, Kate must unravel a mystery that threatens to reveal secrets she’s been hiding for years—from her husband, her family, and herself.

I also have four other thrillers: Isolation, The Anniversary, It Was Always You, and A Flash of Red.

Why did you decide to write in the crime genre?

I’m a developmental psychologist and my teaching at Penn State University focuses a great deal on healthy development for children and families. In my writing, I like to explore the darker side of the human experience, since my other work examines the more joyful pieces of life.

And what inspired you to start writing this book?

We were deep into lockdown here in the States, and I wanted to transport myself to somewhere bright, full of luxury, and warmer climes. My husband and I honeymooned in Costa Rica many years ago (and I should mention that our trip was much less eventful than Kate and Calvin’s!), and the story for The Good Life evolved from imaginings I had of specific places we visited during our travels.

What do you find most challenging about writing fiction? And what do you find most rewarding?

The biggest challenge is the blank page and getting over your inner critic. Once I get started, I find the process deeply enjoyable. Living with characters you create and transporting yourself to a different place and set of experiences is a fun reprieve from life’s normal challenges.

Are you working on another novel now?  If so (without giving too much away) can you say what it is about?

I am! It’s another thriller. It focuses on a young professor who crashes weddings to pick up one-night stands. One of her lovers ends up dead, and intrigue and danger ensue as she works to prove her innocence.

What do you like to read yourself?  Are there other crime fiction writers you admire? Aside from crime writers, who are your favourite authors?

My beloved P D James is forever a touchstone for me. I love everything she’s written, and go back to her novels often. I enjoy almost any psychological thriller, especially those by Gilly Macmillan, Fiona Barton, and Ruth Ware. Recently, I finished The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris and highly recommend it.  

Author friendships and a fine novel: The Physics of Grief

One of the best things about being a writer is the unexpected opportunities you get to meet and correspond with other writers. I use the word ‘meet’ in its widest (post-COVID) sense, which may mean Zoom or Teams meetings, webinars or online chat as well as face-to-face encounters.

I first met Mickey J Corrigan digitally – we have never met in person – in my capacity as an editor for Salt Publishing in 2016. Mickey, an American author, had written a book entitled Project XX, subsequently published by Salt in 2017. I was privileged to edit it – the book required minimal alteration from me – and the long email correspondence that ensued – and continues – has mainly been about sharing our ideas and experiences as writers. Project XX is an incisive satire about America’s gun culture, high school shootings and materialism. Sadly, it is as relevant today as it was when it was first published, as the recent Texas school massacre shows.

This single-sentence blurb describes it so eloquently that, although I can’t remember who wrote it, I am certain it must have been Mickey: “A darkly humorous story of girls on the rampage that will grip you by the throat and won’t let go until you gasp for breath on the final page.”

The main purpose of this post is not to review Project XX, however. Instead – with permission – it is primarily a page-long quotation from Mickey’s The Physics of Grief, a crime noir novel which is sadly no longer in print. Another powerful satire on the American way of life, it describes the career of Seymour Allan, a man in late middle age who is offered the job of professional griever by the mysterious Raymond C. Dasher. Seymour embarks on the strange occupation of being paid to ‘mourn’ at the wakes and funerals of some very unpopular people. He cares for a dying criminal who tries to murder him; he attends unorthodox funerals in the Florida Everglades that are probably illegal; he encounters trigger-happy gangsters and an alligator and meets Yvonne, a sexy redhead mourning her mobster boyfriend.

The Physics of Grief is beautifully written, quirky, erudite – though it wears its learning lightly – and profoundly funny. If you are a publisher and think it may appeal, please contact me and I will put you in touch with Mickey.

There were seven of us not counting the one in drag. Together but with much difficulty we managed to lift, shove and roll the massive body into the deep and muddy hole. After he had landed – with a resounding splat – we high-fived each other. It took us another hour to fill in the hole and pack down the wet dirt. Finally we covered the fresh grave with branches and brush, leaves and acorns, pebbles and small rocks, until the burial area blended in nicely with the surrounding environment.

Very much a natural burial. Except for the fact the gravediggers were most likely murderers, and the body that of a murder victim.

Also, in this case, there was no marker. Obviously, no one would be coming here to mourn their loss. Their very big loss.

As we worked, the night had closed in around us. The hum of mosquitos had died down and the crickets were singing from the trees while tiny bats swooped overhead. An arc of juvenile egrets swept upwards with a whoosh and flew off together. The moon rose in a silver sliver and bright stars popped out across the black sky.

The men talked among themselves, joking around and laughing. When I finished up I stood off to the side, scratching my bug bites while they smoked cigarettes and chatted. I tuned them out. I didn’t want to know. All I wanted was to get away from them in one piece. But I was afraid to leave. What if they didn’t let me go? What if they saw me as an outsider, a witness to their crime?

I needn’t have worried. My friend in drag pointed to me and reminded his peers, “This guy’s on the clock. He’s gotta go.”

All the men shook my sore hand and a few slugged me on my sore shoulders. They were dirty, sweaty, rough-looking gangsters, but okay guys.

My guide and I retraced our steps over the trail to the lot. We halted once to allow a hunching bobcat to scurry past, a fresh-killed rabbit in its mouth. Barred owls swooped down, capturing rodents in the tall prairie grass. The hooting of great horned owls, their deadliest enemies, was seriously creepy.

When we arrived back at the well-lit parking area I still felt nervous. I headed for the SUV, hoping my new mobster pal wouldn’t shoot me in the back before I reached the safety it offered.

He didn’t. He did call out to me, however. “Hey! Aren’t you gonna ask me?”

When I turned around, he was standing with his hands on his hips, head cocked to the side. The wig hair shone a brilliant gold in the light of the street-lamp overhead.

Did he want me to ask him who the dead guy was? How he’d died? If they’d murdered him? Why they were allowing me to leave after witnessing what they’d done?

My legs felt weak and I stuttered for a few seconds before he interrupted me.

“I’m transitioning, bro. But it’s early yet. I got a long ways to go.”

All rights reserved © Mickey J Corrigan 2021

Three great librarians and what makes them tick

The lovely Gainsborough Library

This month I shall be lucky enough to give talks at four Lincolnshire libraries: Horncastle, Mablethorpe, Long Sutton and Sleaford. The first two are on Thursday. In the first instance they were arranged by Lynne Kershaw, who has welcomed me to Gainsborough Library several times. When I was last there I asked Lynne and her colleagues to describe what it means to be a librarian.

On 24th May, it was my privilege to be invited to give a talk on crime fiction at Gainsborough Library in North Lincolnshire. I had visited the library before and was looking forward to the warm welcome that the librarians, Lynne, Fabi and Jill, always provide.

A relaxed interview with librarians Fabi and Jill

Between them they have devoted fifty-one years to the library (Lynne has worked there for twenty-six years, Fabi for nineteen and Jill, seven). I asked them what inspires them. What makes them so committed to their jobs?

They said they love reading and books, being with people and helping those who use the library. They are much more than advisers about and dispensers of books: their patrons confide in them and often need their support to help sort out problems.

“There’s a lady who’s been using the library for a long time who told us she had been bereaved. She was very lonely and needed to get more activities into her life. We put her in touch with people who could help her. Now the only free day she has is Tuesday.”

These librarians are particularly devoted to helping children. “We want to inspire people to read. It’s a real joy when children want to come in and choose books to read. There are still many families who have no books at home.”

The library has set up a writing group of a special kind. Led by a journalist, it aims to provide therapy for people who are depressed or suffering from a disability. And many people who visit the library regularly come to use the computers. Being able to access computers has become a crucial element of all library services since applications for government benefits switched to online. Often people who are entitled to benefits don’t have computers of their own and, quite frequently as a result, they don’t know how to use them. The librarians have had some training in assisting with this, but the technology is always changing and it’s sometimes hard to keep up with it. A ‘computer buddy’ therefore offers sessions in the library on Mondays and Tuesdays. The library is made available to other groups and societies who want to use it, too.

Lynne, who is the library manager, said that her mum used to bring her to Gainsborough Library when she was very small – she thinks from the age of seven. Recalling what the library was like then, she remembers that all the books were catalogued in card index files and there was always an old bloke smoking a pipe who had come in to read the newspapers. (The library has kept its collection of old newspapers.) After she left school, she worked in a bank; then, when she had her first child, she looked for a job in the library and has been working there ever since.

Lynne, Gainsborough Library Manager

They organise as many events as they can cope with. ‘My’ event was obviously about crime fiction. Many events are intended to keep children reading: they were preparing for a sequence of Platinum Jubilee events when I was there. They will also launch a Summer Reading Challenge, which will last for six weeks. A separate event is planned for each week and children are encouraged to read six books in the period. Each time they read two books, they receive a prize, and a certificate when the challenge finishes.

Despite all this activity – and very hard work – the librarians say that it is sometimes difficult to explain how librarians and libraries add value. They are continually having to justify their existence to the government and others who scrutinise the (relatively modest) costs of running a public library service. “It’s hard to define qualitative work.”

As an author, I can say librarians have certainly added shed loads of value for me – and, I’m sure, for other authors, too. It’s not just the joy of being welcomed to a place where my novels are really appreciated or the buzz of being invited to talk about writing – though both are of course important – it’s achieving the holy grail of being able to interact with readers in the flesh, of having the chance to ask them what they like to read, who their favourite authors are and what they think of individual books. In my experience, readers pull no punches – but they are also amazingly generous. The amount of time they are prepared to spend on reading my books and afterwards thinking and talking about them is truly humbling. It may sound trite to say it, but readers are the lifeblood of writing; and authors would attract far fewer readers if librarians did not devote every day to promoting their books.

The influencer: Linda Hill, founder of Linda’s Book Bag

Picture copyright Linda Hill

Linda Hill founded Linda’s Book Bag in February 2015 and has never looked back, rapidly becoming one of the most influential blog-based reviewers in the country.

As to how she built up her huge following, she says:

“I went on to Twitter and followed all the authors I knew, then searched for publicists and publishers. I put out a few reviews and quite soon I was asked to do a blog tour. It just grew from there – people started sending me books and requesting review space on the blog. It snowballed after the lockdowns. During the first one, I was receiving 200 emails a day. It’s even escalated since then – I’ve just been out to meet someone for coffee and when I got back there were seventy-four new messages waiting for me.”

Linda always refuses payment for anything connected with Linda’s Book Bag (she is a guest reviewer for My Weekly and does accept payment for that). She says she doesn’t want to be paid because her aim is not to act as an advertiser: it would compromise her own morality and she would find it distasteful. She does not, however, give bad reviews. “I can’t read everything I’m sent – nine books arrived this week. It’s wonderful to get a book through the post, but that doesn’t mean I’ve promised to praise it. If I read – or start to read – a book I don’t like, I contact the person who sent it to me and say it’s not for me.”

Once she has met or reviewed an author, Linda often keeps in touch with them. “Lots have become friends – I’ve been to their homes and they’ve been to mine. One of the things I most like about the book community – I mean the genuine book community, people who really love books and writing – is how mutually supportive it is.”

She has only had a couple of negative experiences over the past seven years. One author sent her a book to arrange a book tour and she discovered the book had been ‘completely stolen’ from another author. The author ‘disappeared completely’. And sometimes people who contact her are ‘not as polite as they could be’ – they may take it as a given that she will want to read and review their books.

As well as running her blog, Linda is one of the organisers of the Deepings Literary Festival, now in its third year. The original plan was for it to take place every two years, but the 2020 and 2021 events had to be cancelled owing to COVID restrictions. The festival took place this year, so the next one will be in 2024.

“In the first year I was asked to interview Alison Brice. Planning interviews takes much longer than people realise. I spend several hours researching and writing the questions. I write out the whole script – just so I can get it straight in my head, and, for the last festival, in case I went down with COVID, so someone else could take over.”

Asked if she writes herself, Linda says that she has published more than twenty tutor resource books for Hodder Education. She started her working career as an English teacher and then became an Ofsted inspector. She also set up her own business running independent projects – for example, an event in the Millennium Dome. She was in demand straight away. “The first year I went independent, I had ten free days, including weekends.” She has been encouraged to write by others and once entered a competition run by Simon and Schuster that involved writing the first few chapters of a novel. “They said they’d like to see the rest, which didn’t exist, so I wrote 55,000 words in the space of two weeks! Unsurprisingly, their verdict was that it had promise, but it wasn’t for them.” However, although she has a ‘story in her head’, Linda says she has no burning desire to write. She wants to do other things, including the Book Bag and travel. She and her husband Steve are prodigious travellers and have been from “Antarctica to Zambia, Australia to Zimbabwe.”

Linda grew up in Wood Newton, which at the time boasted a pub and a shop and a solitary telephone box. She was a late reader, not learning to read properly until she was eight, when she first acquired a pair of spectacles and realised that “all those black marks on the pages mean something.” Thomas Hardy is her favourite writer from the classics. Among her modern favourites are Carol Lovekin, Chris Whitaker and, for crime, M W Craven, to whom goes the distinction of being the only writer whose entire series of books she has read. She says her tastes in writing are eclectic – she reads most types of fiction, except SF, Fantasy and Horror.

Asked what advice she would give to new authors, Linda says:

“When you’re contacting reviewers or other people on social media, don’t just launch in with ‘Here’s my book; buy it!’ Build up a following by following authors of books similar to your own. Support other authors. Organise a blog tour – it’s like undertaking a physical tour of bookshops. Take part in social media regularly – not necessarily by writing a lot, but by constantly reminding people you are there. Join Facebook groups – the Crime Book Club, Book Connections. Interact with people. Create relationships and build them up. Be brave: approach local libraries and radio stations. Be prepared to put yourself out there – I know this is hard for some authors.”

Her Majesty the Queen Investigates: The Windsor Knot, by S.J. Bennett

As a small offering to the finale of the Platinum Jubilee long weekend, I thought it would be jolly to review this zinger of a book. First published in 2020, the same year as The Thursday Murder Club, the first of Richard Osman’s crime fiction series about OAP sleuths, The Windsor Knot delights with a similar combination of wicked irreverence, compassion and incisiveness and a similar regard for the prowess of the elderly. Is it too fanciful to suggest that these two novels, both published in the first year of lockdown and therefore written before COVID struck, sparkle with a pre-pandemic joy that is only slowly being rekindled in fiction?

The Windsor Knot tells the story of a murder that takes place in 2016 at Windsor Castle after a soirée that the Queen has agreed to host for wealthy Russians to please Prince Charles, who is hoping for donations to one of his charities. Some of the guests are invited to stay the night and the following morning one of the performers, a young dancer with whom the Queen herself has danced, is found hanged in a cupboard. At first, he seems to have accidentally suffocated whilst engaging in an arcane sexual practice – Bennett has a lot of fun depicting a scene between the Queen and her private secretary in which the latter tries to explain the nature of this practice while cloaking it with a delicate vagueness that immediately causes the Queen to probe further: as she later remarks with terse precision to Prince Philip – who has just observed that the young dancer had been ‘strung up like a Tory MP’ – the official cause of death was ‘autoerotic asphyxiation’. She had looked it up on her iPad.

The Queen, however, comes to realise the accidental death notion won’t wash. Reluctantly she accepts that the young Russian has been murdered and then, with increasing enthusiasm, sets out to uncover the killer. I won’t reveal any more of the plot, as it would be certain to introduce some spoilers; but suffice it to say that at every twist and turn she displays a commonsense attitude coupled with uncanny acumen and impressive levels of expertise in all sorts of areas that perfectly reflect what the actual Queen allows to be known of her character.

As well as trying to shield her from the seamy side of life, people with whom the Queen comes into contact regularly patronise her. She accepts this behaviour with a grace and wry amusement that is shared with the reader. Here she is with Gavin Humphreys, the new Director General of MI5:

She stopped in her tracks, calling briefly to the dogs, who were keen to keep going. ‘Assassination?’ she repeated. ‘That seems unlikely.’

‘Oh, no at all,’ Humphreys said, with an indulgent smile. ‘You underestimate President Putin.’

The Queen considered that she did not underestimate President Putin, thank you very much, and resented being told she did. ‘Do explain.’

There are several prescient accounts of geopolitical events that had not occurred when the book was written but have happened since, the sinister references to Putin included.  There are also some scenes that are both funny and sad, particularly those between the Queen and Prince Philip, who in the novel is semi-retired from public life, but still very much alive. About to set off on a trip to Scotland, he asks the Queen if he can bring anything back for her: ‘Fudge? Nicola Sturgeon’s head on a platter?’

‘Actually,’ she said, as he bent arthritically to drop a kiss on her forehead, ‘I wouldn’t mind some fudge.’

Poignantly, the Queen as she appears in The Windsor Knot is ‘only’ eighty-nine and still in robust good health, as the real Queen was at that age. There is now a sharp contrast between this fictional figure and the frail if still beautiful and determined matriarch full of years who appeared so briefly on the balcony of Buckingham Palace last Thursday. The jacket of the book – again, by coincidence – sharpens up the pathos with its illustrations of the Queen’s familiar black handbag, the Queen herself dressed in powder blue, a brooch pinned high on her chest, in an outfit very similar to the one she was wearing last week.

This is a brilliant novel: it sends up the establishment, but only very gently, it offers huge laugh-aloud entertainment, it’s a great whodunnit and, for those who care to look for them, it offers some profound insights into Britishness and what makes the British nations tick. It sparkles with wit but most decidedly is not ‘cosy crime’ – a term I abhor and which is used far too loosely to pigeonhole a work of crime fiction that is not filled with gore and violence on every page. It is crime fiction for grown-ups. I had never encountered S.J. Bennett’s work before I bought this book. The blurb tells us that she ‘wrote several award-winning books for teenagers before turning to adult mysteries.’ I understand that there are already three titles in the Her Majesty the Queen Investigates series. I shall certainly read the others. I hope the real Queen knows about them and has found time to read them, too, as they would certainly make her laugh.

Making crime fiction happen: the Marketing Manager’s story

Hannah Deuce is the Marketing and PR Manager for Bloodhound Books.  In this post she tells her story.

“I love the variety involved in my work. My role embraces marketing as well as PR and publicity, which means no two days are the same! My key responsibilities include the creation and execution of marketing campaigns for all the books published by Bloodhound. This means designing the graphics for publicity, gathering reviewer quotes for marketing materials, generating digital advertising campaigns and reporting on the data gathered so that we can do the very best for our authors.

“I am one of the main points of contact for Bloodhound authors. I work with press outlets as the opportunities arise and oversee brand management for Bloodhound. The marketing side of my work is highly strategic, whilst the PR and publicity require creativity and the ability to act quickly. 

“After gaining a Masters degree in History from Goldsmiths, University of London, I worked for PR companies and at magazines. These jobs gave me invaluable experience of the broader PR and marketing landscape. Next I studied for a Masters degree in Publishing at City, University of London, to hone my understanding of the industry and help me break into what I knew was a highly competitive job market. It was then I fell in love with the complexity and creativity of marketing and PR. I was lucky enough to be appointed Marketing Executive at Hachette UK, based in London. I learned so much there and became even more passionate about my work, but at the same time grew weary with big city life. A few years working in central London is enough for anyone! So I applied for posts with independent publishing houses that weren’t based in London, which led me to Bloodhound’s door!

“While I was studying for my Masters degree, I supported myself financially by running my own business. I offered my services as a digital marketing manager for companies working in the creative space (e.g., photographers and makeup brands). During this time I developed my own distinctive take on digital promotion, utilising cross-channel attribution (this means cross-referencing social media channels to complement each another) to create effective promotional opportunities. I brought this experience to Hachette and developed it further, so that when I moved to Bloodhound I was able to merge my own methods with the Bloodhound team’s existing frameworks and knowledge to create the publicity techniques we use today. 

“Bloodhound is perceived to be a specialist in the crime and thriller genres. However, we also publish historical fiction, women’s fiction and, occasionally, so-called ‘chick lit’. I love the variety of what we publish and feel that it provides me and consequently Bloodhound authors with an advantage, as I am able to recognise trends developing across different genres in both the UK and USA. I can then adapt my work and techniques accordingly. 

“Though all Bloodhound crime authors may be working in same genre, I believe that every book we publish should be treated individually. We design separate marketing and publicity campaigns for them, adapting reader targets, visuals and the language we use to maximise the opportunities offered by the storyline and author’s style for each one. We therefore create a bespoke package for every book to help it to achieve its full potential. 

“My advice to new authors would be, first of all, to build a social media presence. Even if technology isn’t your best friend, social media is here to stay. Platforms may evolve and change, but the best thing you can do is establish an author profile online by setting up a blog or website, and then create pages on the key social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and maybe Instagram). When you have done this, continue to update them regularly with news about your books, any events you’re attending, what you’re working on, etc. Don’t be afraid to have fun while you’re doing it: social media is designed to have a casual feel, so post what you think you yourself would like to see or read, update your accounts regularly and let your readers engage with you directly. 

“I am an insatiable reader myself, and enjoy books from multiple genres, written by authors from all walks of life. I love a book with a twist that I can’t guess, or an ending I didn’t see coming! I don’t really have any favourite authors within the crime genre as I read so widely, but if pressed I would say my all-time favourite author is Kate Mosse. I would read her grocery lists!

“I live in a village on the outskirts of Cambridge with my partner Jon. My favourite way to pass time when I’m not working or reading is to train with my horse, Vince, a Danish Warmblood Dressage horse who has been with me since he was a youngster. He and I now compete nationwide, riding at national level, and we enjoy nothing more than just relaxing in the yard together.

“To anyone who is looking for a job like mine, I would say don’t give up! But be aware that it is possible to over-romanticise working in the publishing industry. People thinking working among stacks of books every day must be heavenly (it is, but it has its white-water rafting days, too!). Roll up your sleeves and keep applying for jobs, as no one simply walks into this industry. I sent off more than 100 job applications before I got my first job in publishing, so keep trying, even if you don’t get an acknowledgement after you’ve put your all into applying. Keep your CV up to date and do things which make you stand out – for example, run a book blog or book Instagram account; take a short course in creative writing to help understand authors better, or a Masters if you have the resources to do it. Network at every opportunity and build your LinkedIn contacts, keep up-to-date with books in the charts and make sure you understand the unique characteristics displayed by different publishing houses. Finally – and I would say this, wouldn’t I?! – consider working at an indie publishing house rather than one of the ‘big five’: we’re a lot more fun and you will learn so much! 

I’ve certainly benefited from Hannah’s expertise!

Fight for your rights and be free!

Many authors are mystified by – and sometimes afraid of – the seemingly arcane world of rights. Interestingly, as internet books sales have boomed and the RRP is merely a guide to how much the book will cost, many readers also feel frustrated by their lack of understanding of rights and sometimes ask if authors are getting a good deal. In this post Lynette Owen, editor of Clark’s Publishing Agreements, explains what rights are and how they should be used.

In the world of publishing, rights – sometimes referred to as subsidiary rights – can be something of a mystery to authors (and indeed to some staff working in other areas in publishing houses). Rights are ways of exploiting the intellectual property in a literary work by licensing the content – perhaps to be published in an overseas market, published in translation, or used as the basis for a stage, television or film adaptation. These rights normally belong in the first place to the author (and perhaps also to the illustrator where relevant) who may then choose to specify that all or some categories of rights are handled by their literary agent or their publishing house. The share of revenue paid to the author from licensing arrangements will be specified in the contract between author and publisher; for deals handled by a literary agent, an agreed rate of commission will be paid to the agent.

As General Editor of Clark’s Publishing Agreements: A Book of Precedents (11/e, Bloomsbury Professional, January 2022), I receive mixed feedback on how the contractual precedents are used. Many small publishers use the downloadable templates verbatim, whilst larger publishers may want to tailor the wording to reflect company practice in terms of royalty models, warranties and indemnities, accounting dates etc. Some publishers incorporate selected wording from the Clark templates into their own contracts.

How an author chooses to grant control of rights in their work will depend on individual circumstances. If represented by an agent, the agency may make separate publication arrangements for separate markets, e.g.  the UK and Commonwealth with a British publisher and separate arrangements with a US publisher.  The agency may have specialist departments to handle translation rights or film and television rights, so those categories would be withheld from the English language publishing house/s. If no agent is involved, much will depend on the geographical territories granted to the publisher and the resources of the publishing house to exploit rights, something authors should discuss before contracting. These days, many larger publishers will expect e-book and audiobook rights to be included as part of their primary publishing rights. If some categories of rights are withheld from the publisher, authors do need to consider carefully whether they have the time and expertise to handle rights negotiations and contractual and accounting arrangements themselves.

The role of a literary agent is to act in the best interests of the authors they represent; however, not all authors are represented by an agent and it is rare for agents to operate in the areas of educational, academic and professional books, where contracts tend to be directly between author and publisher. If authors are concerned about the fairness of some elements in the publisher’s contract, they should first clarify any points with their editorial contact in the publishing house, who should be able to explain the reasons behind the contractual requirements. It is also worth noting that the Society of Authors can offer advice to member authors, although they probably do so more frequently for trade (general) authors than for educational and academic authors whose contracts usually differ from trade contracts to reflect different market conditions. Any formal legal advice on a publishing contract should be sought from a firm specialising in intellectual property matters.

I first joined the publishing industry immediately after graduating from London University, starting work in the London office of Cambridge University Press, and came to work in their rights department almost by accident – rights work was little known as a career path back then. In 1973, I moved to set up a rights department at Pitman Publishing, then spent a year at trade publisher Marshall Cavendish before joining the multinational publisher Longman Group Ltd (now Pearson Education), latterly as Copyright Director. I was fortunate to be able to travel extensively to sell rights, both at international book fairs but also on sales trips and publishing delegations – educational and academic publishers were early entrants to challenging markets such as the former Soviet Union, central and eastern Europe and mainland China. Space here precludes recounting many strange experiences in those markets, some of which I covered in my recordings for the British Museum Book Trade Lives project! Since 2013, I have worked as a freelance copyright and rights consultant, providing advice on rights and contracts to smaller publishers and also running training courses for publishers and degree students on rights in the UK and abroad. In addition to my work on Clark’s Publishing Agreements, I am also the author of Selling Rights, now in its eighth edition (Routledge, 2019) – as far as I am aware, the only book on the subject.

I think the most attractive aspect of working in rights is the opportunity to meet a wide range of publishers from all over the world and build up long-term relationships with them; a great deal of rights business hinges on personal relationships. It is also challenging and hugely rewarding to negotiate rights deals on behalf of authors and to tie up those deals in legally sound licence contracts, fair to both parties. By contrast, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of rights is that senior management in some (but not all!) publishing companies still do not recognise the value of the rights function, both in terms of generating revenue for authors and publishers but also in terms of the PR value derived from broadening access to publications through licensing.

My rights-related tips to authors would be:

  1.  If you have a literary agent, talk to them about rights possibilities and be prepared to assist with promoting rights if required.
  2. If you work directly with a publisher, find out how they handle rights and make contact with their rights staff.
  3. But do try to be realistic in your expectations for rights deals – not every book is a candidate for the silver screen!

For publishers, my tips would be:

  1. Time and effort expended on the promotion and sale of rights will produce results, even for smaller publishers with limited resources, and will enhance expertise.
  2. Rights selling depends on building long-term relationships with compatible publishing partners – these take time to establish.
  3. To publishing management – recognise the importance of a rights operation, both in terms of revenue and PR value to author and publishing house alike.

© Lynette Owen

In tomorrow’s post, Hannah Deuce, Marketing and PR Manager for Bloodhound Books, describes how she works with authors.

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