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Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

I didn’t go to London Book Week.

I didn’t go to the Indie Fringe event, either, though I made half-hearted plans to go and meet friends. I wavered so long I missed the window of opportunity to get cheaper rail tickets that might have made the whole thing a little less harsh on the wallet. Then, on April Fool’s Day (of course) I yawned, stretched and forthwith popped my shoulder out. It popped back in again, leaving me with enough pain to warrant the Big Guns of pain control that mean I don’t dare leave the house for fear of wandering aimlessly into oncoming traffic, or of seeing giant scorpions in alleyways. If I stay home when I take them, I can at least ask family if what I am seeing is real and if it is, I can valiantly sacrifice myself to save them because I can’t run as fast as they can. It took the best part of a fortnight for the pain to recede enough to return to normal levels of baseline pain, and the idea of using sparse energy to trog all the way into the capital to an event that (apart from meeting friends) simply failed to thrill me, was not one that seemed appropriate.

I did however go into an actual book shop during that time and I bought a few actual books. Go me, eh? I was in Lincoln for the day, and having bought a selection of fossils and minerals in a rather wonderful shop, I found the new independent bookshop Lindum and bought two books. I then managed to leave them behind just as the shop closed and for a short time, felt it was perhaps a small sacrifice to atone for my sinful use of Amazon to buy books. You see, while talking to the very nice store owner, I used the taboo A word a couple of times, and we briefly discussed it. That’s to say, she told me how Amazon was basically responsible for destroying book shops, and I (too much of a coward) listened and nodded in an understanding way.

You see, while I love books, I don’t actually love bookshops any more. Even the excellent independent ones like the one in Lincoln or the even more wonderful Book Hive in Norwich. The rot set in really when the supermarkets started selling books. Books heaped up like so many rectangular apples and oranges in pyramids of paper, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. Good, I say. The arrival of the paperback was heralded as the end of books, but it actually made books accessible to readers previously unable to buy highly priced tomes. Books are a luxury when you struggle to feed the family. Most books sold this way aren’t ones that will change your life, but they might give you an escape from reality for a few hours or days, depending on the length of book and how fast you read. And some of the time, that’s all anyone wants of a book.

However in response to the perceived threat of online stores like Amazon, many bookshops have gone into what I call “precious mode” where books become something with a mystique, the province of the special something, magical, almost elite, and it feels as if they have forgotten that they, just like Amazon, are purveyors of a PRODUCT. Their piles may not be of common apples and oranges, but of exotic dragon fruit and pomegranates and acai berries and so on. And the prices reflect this too. They remind you that you are here in this temple of Bookishness to partake of superior fare to the cheap and cheerful sold by Amazon and supermarkets. You can’t have it both ways: bookshops of all kinds, real and virtual, are ALL aiming to persuade the punters to purchase something, whether it’s for a penny plus post and packing (I buy a lot of second-hand books that way) or brand new, in a sumptuous dust-cover inscribed in gold ink and promising glories within.

Would you like to know what books did tempt me to open my purse and part with hard earned cash?

There wasn’t anything on offer that I felt I could justify the £15 or more for the rather lovely looking but totally unfamiliar book on bee-keeping, or on the history of herbal medicine or the thousand page novel in hardback, (its name and the author’s name now escape me). I wanted a book to sit and read while I waited for my coach home; I didn’t want to buy into a literary extravaganza that might well have been more smoke and mirrors than substance. So my selection for just over a fiver were two Wordsworth Classic paperbacks: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dante’s Inferno.

Frog medicine, Duck medicine

All in a rush, Spring arrived and in our garden it came with enough frogs to almost walk across the pond. For a few weeks, there was a party in the pond, and each evening I went out to put food out for the returned hedgehogs, to hear the contented song of mating amphibians. I’ve always loved frogs; the metamorphosis from spawn to tadpole to froglet to full frog is mind-boggling. Tadpoles apparently can decide when they make the transition. If conditions aren’t right, they can remain a tadpole, getting bigger and bigger, until they mysteriously start to change into frogs. In many animistic traditions, frog is a being of significance too. According to one favourite site (http://www.animalspirits.com/index4.html) this is some of Frog’s attributes:

Singer of songs that celebrate the most ancient watery beginnings, Transformation, Cleansing, Understanding emotions, Rebirth

There’s plenty more information out there, though it does tend to repeat itself. Frog is a water totem, and connects strongly with emotion and cleansing, new starts and transformations.

Frogs

Frogs

On Friday, we had a delightful discovery. For a couple of months the garden has been visited daily by a female mallard duck, sometimes with and sometimes without her drake swain. We wondered whether she was the same duck who came last year with two half grown ducklings; on Friday morning she appeared as if from nowhere with thirteen fluffy little pom-poms. The likelihood is that she had a nest somewhere secluded in our garden and the ducklings were brand new, fresh from the egg. Ducks, too, have their medicine attributes:

Grace on water, Water energy, Seeing clearly through emotions, Spirit helper of mystics and seers

 

http://www.animalspirits.com/index5.html

The alignment of the two symbolic sets of meanings is striking, and with my own mystical aspirations, I cannot help but assign meaning to the apparent coincidence of our garden visitors, and begin to see a slow, but accelerating change in my internal world.

 

Mother Duck and ducklings

Mother Duck and ducklings

Viv:

Very moved by this amazing review of Away With The Fairies. Huge thanks for this.

Originally posted on Brainfluff:

I downloaded this book, because I knew from Viv’s blog that she is a fine writer, with high standards, so I knew I wasn’t in for a misspelled, poorly formatted offering – and I was intrigued by the opening passage I read as a sample.

awaywiththefairiesIrrepressible artist Isobel has survived most things and managed to bounce back from everything so far. A sequence of domestic disasters finally signals to Isobel that perhaps things aren’t quite as rosy as she’d like. With her half of the inheritance, Isobel buys an isolated holiday cottage where she hopes to be able to catch up with some painting, as well as have the occasional holiday. The cottage is idyllic, beautiful and inspiring, but odd things keep happening. Doors won’t stay shut, objects go missing and reappear in the wrong places and footsteps are heard when there’s no one there. One of Isobel’s new neighbours…

View original 543 more words

The short life and unlamented downfall of Clean Reader leads to musings on the reader-author relationship

Blink and you might have missed the kerfuffle. The so-called Clean Reader app offered the chance to read without sullying your precious mind with rude words and profanity by covering them with an alternative deemed acceptable by the app’s creators. However, the backlash from authors including Joanna Harris meant that very rapidly the company was obliged to remove all books from its catalogue. The app seems to still exist (so perhaps my blog headline might be misleading) but I shall watch with interest the developments. I have a feeling we are not done with Clean Reader yet. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/27/clean-reader-books-app-censorship-victory-authors-celebrate

There were some excellent explorations about what the existence of such an app means, the best of which was here:

http://www.remittancegirl.org/2015/03/26/clean-readers-profound-illiteracy-the-consumption-of-the-text/

A conversation on Twitter set me to thinking about the relationship between reader and author. The one set out by Joanne Harris is one of dignified mutual respect. Yet another Harris, Charlaine, in fact, author of the True Blood series of books, received death threats over her decision to stop writing the series, and often received very abusive messages when fans disliked the turn a book took. This is the “the emerging transactional relationship many readers are seeking to have with the texts they purchase.” that Remittance Girl writes about so eloquently.

At its best, the dignity of the reader-author relationship that Joanne Harris mentions, is one of fully mature and enlightened adults. It’s one where the author has nothing to fear from readers, and readers can approach a new book by a favourite author and not throw a hissy fit if it is not exactly what they wanted it to be. The other relationship experienced by Charlaine Harris is a blight on the world of the printed word. It makes an author a slave to their readers, afraid and even unable to develop as an author, or explore other genres or techniques.

The realisation has been dawning on me that the power of this transactional relationship (ie someone has paid for a PRODUCT) and therefore demands a product rather than a work of imagination and creativity that does not fit neatly or at all into the box it was believed to have been in (but usually wasn’t) is a pernicious and worrying one. It undermines the integrity and security of a creative artist (author etc) to produce what their (and I hate the term) Muse brings to them. It boils down to this: if I write something that is hated by those who have previously loved my work, the relationship is over because it is seen that I have not provided the “goods” they have paid for. Making literature into a transaction where the buyer believes they have purchased a commodity that conforms to their expressed wishes is a dangerous thing. It means for a start that to survive authors have to tailor their work to the parameters dictated. You could argue that this is precisely what genre fiction already does, but I would disagree. For certain there are a vast ocean of books that could (and perhaps have been) written using a template so that they conform to the genre. However, within these guidelines the authors are free to write whatever tale they want. It’s a discipline, like writing a sonnet. Sonnets have a set number of lines, a required metre and rhyme, and if those are not conformed to, the poem is not a sonnet; within those constraints a poet is able to write about whatever he or she chooses. There is endless freedom within a rigid system.

That isn’t what I mean, though. What I mean is this: an author stops daring to write what wild and crazy and wonderful ideas that come, because they feel sure the backlash from readers will be so devastating it will wipe them out; because they fear the annihilation that comes with plummeting sales, of being dropped by their publisher, of the snide and abusive comments of former fans dripping vitriol.

Learn to love the rain

Learn to love the rain

A chance remark set me thinking. On top of the mess that was International Day of Happiness, it set me thinking quite hard.

On numerous occasions I see friends complaining about the weather. Being British, it’s fair to say we have a lot of weather here and while the variations are quite impressive (the average April day defies logic and even belief, some times) we don’t really get the extremes other countries do and we don’t cope well when our weather goes a bit further than we’re comfortable with. Many, though, express the wish that we could have sunshine all the time. The grey British winter can make the most stalwart of us wish for blue skies and blazing sunshine, but that’s not what I really mean.

In the summer of 1976, I think even the most sun-loving Brits got more than they bargained for. Lawns dried, then died. Hose-pipe bans followed, and further restrictions followed. We were exhorted to save water, “Bath with a friend,” and animal behaviour became affected. A wave of starving ladybirds washed over the country; they had eaten all the greenfly, then because roses were dying for lack of water, the greenfly simple disappeared. I’ve never been bitten by a ladybird since then but they became a pest that summer. I suspect that the drought in the UK was so severe it will show in tree rings.

Rain is essential to life. I live in a land that is damp and while rainfall varies from county to county, it’s safe to say the land as a whole is moist. It needs to be. Crops need water; watching potato fields being automatically watered makes me think that some of our crops might need more help than is wise. The summer of ’76 I watched wheat and barley fail to swell, then dry up and die. Food prices may well have risen that autumn but I was too young to notice.

It’s the same with our internal weather. It’s foolish and unrealistic to aim for wall-to-wall happiness; would you recognise it if you had not experienced the other pole? The International Day of Happiness annoyed me because much of the publicity implied that we can CHOOSE to be happy. This is insulting and damaging especially to those of us affected by mental health issues such as depression. We CAN choose to do things to improve our mood, and we can do many of the things suggested on the literature provided by the official site (acts of kindness to others, positive self talk, treating the self with kindness, exercise and fresh air and so on) but there should not be any implication that these actions and attitudes will result in beaming happiness 24/7.

There was recent research that suggested also that the brains of those suffering with depression retain the feel-good chemicals for much shorter times than the brains of non-depressed people. This would tie in with both observation and experience. A good thing happens, and for some that is enough to keep them feeling good for days; yet for a depressed person, the lift is both less intense and less long lasting. There is also growing evidence that depressed brains work quite differently to non depressed brains in other ways: 

“The study demonstrates that brain regions, collectively known as the default mode network, behave differently in depressed people. The default network typically is active when the mind wanders. It shuts down when an individual focuses on the job at hand. But the researchers found the network stays active in people who are depressed, even when they are concentrating on specific tasks.

The new work suggests individuals with depression may not be able to “lose themselves” in work, music, exercise or other activities that enable most healthy people to get “outside” of themselves.”

http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/13649.aspx

In life, there will always be sunshine and showers. Just as we usually accept that without the rain, nothing can live or grow, perhaps it is time to accept also that the metaphorical rain storms have their place and that too much sunshine of either type is damaging.

When it rains, watch, especially in the summer months. See how the earth responds with petrichor and the creatures of the earth rejoice in the falling of rain of dry earth and how things that seemed dry and dying rapidly become green and lush again and how in the days after rainfall, there is a rush of blossoms. Learn to love the rain, whether it falls internally or externally, for both will bring renewal and growth.

It’s a well-known thing that hobbits give others gifts on their birthday, rather than get them.

Since today is my birthday, I am offering all my novels and my poetry for a reduced price. This is for a very limited time so if you were thinking of grabbing them, now is a good moment.

Happy Birthday to me!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

http://www.amazon.com/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

*Cities that never sleep*

Cities that never sleep

Last week I went to Paris.

Whenever I say that the reaction is almost universally, “Lucky you!” and I concede that I am grateful that I get to go but I’ve never quite figured out why people get so excited by cities, however famous, beautiful or supposedly romantic those cities might be.

Since I was heading out on an early Eurostar train, I’d been billeted in a hotel next to Euston station in London. I got there in plenty of time so I had a little walk down to the British Library and down to St Pancras also, before heading back to wash my hair, eat my dinner and get an early night. I’d hoped to find some ear plugs but failed. I regretted it. The window in my room was defective and wouldn’t shut properly. It wasn’t a cold night, but the noise never abated to anything less than a dull roar all night. I got up at around 4.30, unable to snooze more than an hour at a time. It’s not so much the noise as the continuous low level vibration. Everything shakes ever so slightly, ALL THE TIME. I suspect you get used to it if you live there. But for a visitor it was unsettling. I felt all the time as if I were shaking, and it made me more nervous and uneasy.

When I left the hotel at 6am, London seemed to be already in full motion. The night buses had been replaced by the normal day ones, the pavement shook with the rumble of underground trains and the constant passing of traffic. There were more people visible on the streets at that time than I see normally in the course of a week or more. At no point did the city ever seem to sleep.

Paris comes to life at night too. As the sun sets, the lights come on everywhere, and people head out. Going up the Butte of Montmartre for a meal at the artists’ square, it was still quite quiet. By the time we came out to do some sight seeing, the place was heaving. The steps in front of Sacre Coeur were filled by people sitting enjoying the view, the company and a drink or two. Inside the basilica, an oasis of peace and tranquillity, the nuns were about to sing the office of Compline, the last office of the day before sleep. But Paris too never sleeps. Even in our quiet hotel at the edge of the city, traffic thundered past most of the night.

I’ve lived in a couple of cities in the past, sometimes close to the centre, sometimes in the suburbs, and while the amenities and so on are great, I’ll never forget when we first moved to deep countryside, miles from anywhere. We’d brought sleeping bags and a few bits with us, ahead of the removals van, and that first night, without a plate or fork to our name, we walked through fields to get to the next village and the nearest pub to get our dinner. The sun set as we ate, and when we got back out, full of dinner and a few drinks, we headed out confidently to follow the little paths back through the countryside to our new house. Half a mile on, it dawned on me that it was VERY dark indeed. There were no street lights in our village at that time, and the fields and copses were utterly black. Above us, the stars shone like diamonds on a jeweller’s velvet, and a sliver of moon. We found our way home, cautiously, and when we crawled into sleeping bags, and lay down to sleep, I realised that with the window open, it was almost silent. It was quiet enough to hear the wind blowing the half grown wheat in the field behind our house. The sound of owls, and once or twice the guttural cries of foxes, and very, very faintly, the occasional car passing. and then close to dawn, cockerels, were the soundtrack of almost every night after that.

I learned to walk the woods and fields in almost total darkness, using the glimmer of starlight on the tip of my dog’s tail as a guide, or the bright white glow of moonlight. I learned to tell different sounds apart, so that the call of one owl was different to that of another of the same species. I listened to nightingales singing, and heard the huff of distaste when a deer came upon my scent in the middle of the night as I walked alone but for my dog.

Some people are city people. Some people are country people. I wonder if you can guess which I am.

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