in the rain and the cold. It was more like February than June but the roses were all in bloom and friends and family came round and we huddled together under a hastily-erected gazebo. We lit our brand new firepit and got smoked out by the wet logs. Guitars appeared from forgotten corners; we sang Donovan and Bob Dylan songs and reminisced. Here’s what we had for pudding:
Over the last few months I’ve read and enjoyed a variety of excellent books. Most, though not all, have been fiction – some paperbacks, some e-books on my Kindle. A handful were published by well known and established publishers, a few were self-published and some were published by small press ‘independent’ publishers.
All had typos. Every single book. Some were blockbusters – brilliant, headline-hitting marvels that made me laugh and cry. Some had only one or two tiny mistakes that must have slipped through the final edit, some had several typos that (in a perfect world) would have been weeded out on a final, final proofread.
Please don’t think I’m saying this because I think my own books are perfect. Far from it. I recently re-read The Ripening Time and was aghast to discover that too had its share of minor typos. I was cross, but went through it again and uploaded a revised, hopefully this time error-free manuscript.
Anyone who’s read my ‘How to publish on Kindle’ post will know the same thing happened with Daisychains of Silence, but with the kind and speedy assistance of fab editor Stef Mcdaid at Write into Print, and a painstaking final, final proofread, a fresh and fully edited file was quickly scooted off to Amazon.
I know the big publishers wouldn’t appreciate an email detailing the typos that caught my (unqualified) eye as I read and enjoyed their authors’ books. But what about self-published writers?
If it was me, I’d want to know. If any of my Facebook writer friends or Twitter pals spotted a typo in one of my books I would leap on it and shower them in effusive thanks. But I think that’s just me.
Somewhere during this writing process I’ve got the impression nobody wants some well-meaning eagle-eyed smartypants upsetting things by pointing out typos after the book’s out there in real readers’ hands. As if, what’s the point of telling them now? As if it’s too late, like shutting the door after the horse has bolted. As if they think the messenger might be slightly crowing…
But I don’t think it’s ever too late. Yes, there are probably hundreds of copies of my books with typos already out there being read, or sitting on Kindles waiting to be read. But as a self-published writer it’s easy to correct a typo (in an e-book) once we know about it. And from then on all copies sold will (fingers crossed) be perfect. And surely that’s what we all want.
So do I tell writer friends I know in this virtual world when I spot a typo in their book, or do I keep schtum and just read on and enjoy the story? I realise the glitches I’ve spotted might already have been amended but it’s also possible they might not. As I said, if it was my book, I’d like to know.
Don’t all growl at once. x
There must be, but from the brave and talented voices I read on blogs and on twitter it can sometimes feel as if I’m the only one.
There are some interesting articles and blog posts about the quality of self-published novels, and possible models of quality control which would help to filter out poorly-written books. I think it’s a good idea, and would protect readers from being ripped off and good books from being daubed with an undeserved ‘indie-so- it-must-be-rubbish’ tag. I don’t feel qualified to take part in those discussions, though I do follow the conversations where I find them. It’s just that I don’t feel sure enough of myself and my book to stem the little voice that wonders if they might actually be talking about how to effectively filter out my book from the seriously good indie-published novels now available on Amazon Kindle. I’m so inspired I’ve started an indie books worth reading Pinterest board with some of my recommendations.
The decision to put my first novel on Kindle was based on the belief that readers would decide whether or not my book was good: if it wasn’t up to standard it would sink. It hasn’t. It’s doing well. Does that mean it is good? I still don’t know though I’m hugely encouraged by reader ratings and reviews, both on Amazon and on goodreads. But maybe I’ve just been lucky.
A couple of years ago I paid for an editorial report from a long-established and respected appraisal service, and was pleased when they described Daisychains of Silence as ‘an intelligent read, with a strong literary quality’. To a new writer that sounded good, but they also said it was ‘a sector sadly squeezed in today’s difficult market’. They recommended I add another 20,000 words to hit the magic 100,000 they said publishers want. And an agent I approached around that time suggested the same – they left the door open for me but wanted an additional 20,000 words. Overall, I was left with the impression that anything less probably wouldn’t be considered by a publisher.
I thought about it for a while but at that time felt the story was complete as it was and another twenty thousand words would just be padding. I wonder now if I was too hasty in coming to that conclusion even though I revised and edited and mulled it over for about a year. I have a sequel in mind yet on reflection I now think it might have been possible to develop those threads as part of the original whole, if I’d let it sit for longer in my mind.
That’s one of the downsides to going it alone. There’s nobody to mull things over with and sometimes it feels that if my thoughts don’t stop tumbling around they could soon drive me mad. I don’t regret it though. I feel like a pioneer, a bit like my ancestors who centuries ago braved the unfamiliar territories of Australia and Canada I’m having to learn how to navigate my way round a virtual world. It’s an amazing adventure but it would be wonderful to have an agent with me for the journey.
Ellen’s in the kitchen buttering toast when Daisy comes down bleary-eyed at half past nine.
“You could have woken me, Mum.”
“Deirdre! How nice. Would you like some toast?”
“No thanks, I’ll just have coffee.” Daisy stuffs a filter paper into the coffee percolator, putters around with a cloth for a bit, then takes her steaming mug to the back door and leans against the peeling doorframe to survey the sad state of the garden.
The brick paths are question marks half-hidden beneath leggy branches of last year’s lavender; the clay rope-edging now organic hillocks of moss. The forsythia, untrimmed and hopeful, is about to radiate a yellow sunrise into the gloomy corner down by the shed. The area of planting nearest to the house, the herb bed, is looking sickly. She calls through the doorway to her mother,
“Hey, Mum, the forsythia’s nearly out.”
“Is it? That’s early,” Ellen says, her voice coming distantly from the kitchen.
“Not really, Mum. It’s March.”
“March? Don’t be silly…” Ellen comes to the door, hands Daisy a slice of toast. “Would you like marmalade on it?”
“Oh… you made me toast?”
“Of course. You always have toast. Do you want marmalade on it?”
“Oh, why not? Thanks.” She watches her mother’s stooped back disappear into the house, suddenly aware of a gnawing emptiness in her stomach. Maybe Mother does know best, she thinks as she stands shivering in her T-shirt, her hands clamped round the warm mug.
Last night’s downpour has freshened up the air. Daisy breathes it in. The sun’s starting to filter through diminishing thick cotton clouds, bringing a hint of gauzy warmth to the sheltered walled garden. It’s going to be a fine day.
Ellen passes Daisy her toast and they sit down together on the bench. She points to the gravel bed.
“I don’t know what’s got into my herbs there. See them? They don’t look too happy.”
“Well, they’re only just coming into growth, Mum. But it might help if you stopped peeing on them.”
“What! … I do not.”
“I saw you, Mum. I don’t think it’s good for the plants.”
“I don’t know what you think you saw. The idea!”
“If you say so,” Daisy says. She’s about to say more but swallows it down and crunches into her toast.
Ellen sniffed. “I don’t know where you get your ideas, Deirdre. Anyway, urine is meant to be good for the garden. Men pee on their compost heaps. I’ve read about it.”
“Oh, well, they’ll probably pick up now spring’s on its way.” Daisy gets up and strolls over to an evergreen shrub densely patterned with dappled green and yellow leaves; bends to lift a low branch. “There’s snowdrops under here.”
“Elaeagnus Pungens Maculata. My sunshine bush,” Ellen says, taking a sip of her coffee. “A glorious shrub.”
Extract, Daisychains of Silence, chapter five.
And remembered this:
I’m meant to be working on a sequel to Daisychains ( and I am, I am …) but last night, when I found myself awake, I started typing up another of my father’s novels, so they will be available to readers on Kindle. An early one, this time, and probably my favourite. Look at this extract from Ch. 3 of The Devil’s Minister. No wonder I fell in love with the written word:
That journey must be one of the most enchanting – as well as one of the slowest – rail journeys in the world. Especially is it enchanting when the sea is reached and the line winds along the broken coast, by little shingle bays, past rocky headlands, with the sea breaking over the thrift which clings to the crevices of the shattered rocks, with heather and birch and stunted oak growing down almost to the high water mark, and, far away, a mighty panoply of mountains disposed against the sky, patterned by the shifting shadows of the clouds, islands and mainland merged beyond the blue, white-flecked water in a prospect as magnificent as any I have ever known.
On that first day, it made a tremendous impact on me. I have known places infinitely more remote, but few in which one sensed so strongly the tortured chaos out of which the world sprang, the labouring influences of time and nature on its face, the origins of man, with his toe-hold on the shore, struggling to survive on that narrow strip between the sea and the unfriendly hills, but surviving, building up a way of life, creating a culture, working out a philosophy which comprehended man and the unruly sea, the mountains and the wide sky, and then living in that philosophy, happily, for generations, with well-springs of wisdom tapping far back in time to the dark days of his beginning.
In such a place, the past and the present are one. The continuity is there, written by the ice on a piece of stone set in the corner of a cottage gable-end. And men can be humble and proud at the same time, which is an excellent thing – humble, because all but the most foolish of men must be humble before the record of the past, and proud, because they and their fathers have endured and begotten and torn poetry out of the throat of the shouting storm.
Or, how to make your dreams come true without actually going to heaven.
Update Christmas eve 2012. I wrote this last year, and once again it’s Christmas eve, and I feel blessed to be here…
This time last year my novel was written but not published, and I was dying. Seriously, I really was. On the 20th December, 2010 I’d had what I’d been led to believe was a ‘routine’ operation. The fact it was keyhole surgery made it seem almost a minor procedure, and I was up and about, walking round the ward as soon as I woke from the anaesthetic. I’d done my homework and knew it was important to get moving as quickly as possible. I was determined. Oh yes I was, and I planned to discharge myself the day after surgery, or at the very latest on the 22nd, my wedding anniversary. So I wanted to show everyone – the doctors and nurses, concerned family and friends – how the whole thing was a breeze and I was fine. Fine enough to go home and get on with my life.
The hospital food was delicious on the way down. Not so good when it came back up. Yes, I ate the evening meal I’d ordered then I vomited the lot. They said it was the after-effects of the anaesthetic, so I dismissed it and carried on walking round the corridors of the ward, feeling a little proud about how well I was doing. No lounging about in bed for me. I was young and healthy and I was going home tomorrow. Oh yes I was.
I vomited all through the night.
I ate breakfast, vomited then I walked round the wards.
I ate lunch, vomited then I walked round the wards.
They gave me injections to stop the vomiting, straight into my bum-cheek just like in the old comedy films.
I ate tea and vomited.
I ate dinner and vomited.
I vomited all through the night in between walking round the wards.
Then it was the 22nd and I was going home. Oh yes I was. I was up and dressed and when I wasn’t vomiting I was practically bouncing round the wards. I packed my bag, said goodbye to all the lovely nurses and a few patients less fortunate than I who looked like they might not be going home for Christmas.
Oh, I forgot to mention it was snowing. Really heavy snow blanketed the ground. The car park transformed into an ice rink but I wasn’t fazed. Supported by my husband and daughter, I crunched my way through the snow to the car. I was assured the vomiting would wear off with the anaesthetic, and I was going home, no matter how deep the snow. Oh yes I was.
Home. Bliss. Vomiting.
More of the same with a couple of trips to outpatients where I was given more anti-sickness injections in my bum and some anti-sickness tablets to take, none of which made the slightest difference to my vomiting prowess. I could hit a wall at ten paces, so forceful was my body’s disgust at whatever was happening to it.
I’ll skip to Christmas eve. My husband had a gig (he’s a musician) so my daughter stayed in with me. I felt terrible and I looked terrible, but it took us both a while to realise that I might actually be as ill as I felt and looked. My daughter got on the phone – to the out of hours GP service, the local hospital, the hospital where I’d had the op. Hold, star3, wait for a call-back. No one wanted to make a decision about me. I was by this time practically unconscious, so my daughter dialled 999. They wanted to speak to me, the patient. Like a good girl I summoned my stalwart attitude and explained what had happened and how I was feeling. It seems I managed a degree of coherence that unfortunately convinced the medical professional on the other end of the phone that this was clearly just a minor setback from routine surgery, and as such could be managed perfectly well at home. I should wait for the out of hours GP to call me back.
1 am. My husband arrived back from a jolly Christmas eve to find me practically comatose and my daughter frantic. Another 999 call and we were told to wait for the doctor to call us back. They would not send an ambulance.
Lucky for me my husband doesn’t drink when he’s playing. He bundled me into the car and took me to Accident and Emergency, my daughter cradling me in the back seat. They lifted me into a wheelchair and wheeled me in. The staff took one look and waved us straight to assessment.
They pricked my finger and tested my blood within seconds. Within minutes I was given a life-saving injection and put on a drip. They didn’t yet know what was wrong, but they did know I was very ill; the doctor told me I was in imminent danger of renal failure, seizures and coma.
I was admitted to a ward and my lovely family clustered round my bed, fear etched on their faces as days and nights merged; Christmas was happening somewhere else while a trail of doctors came and prodded and went. I can’t remember much about it as I was barely conscious, except for when I vomited, which continued hourly in spite of all the medical interventions they were able to access under a skeleton staff.
The 27th December 2010.
3.30 pm. They still didn’t know what was wrong but I was worsening by the hour so someone was going to come in on the bank holiday to operate the CT scanner, especially for me.
9.00 pm. I’m being wheeled into the operating theatre, to have emergency life-saving surgery. My intestines had been sewn into my operation wound and I was told to prepare myself for the possibility that I’d wake with a stoma (colostomy bag).
That wasn’t necessary, thank goodness and now I get to the point (at last…).
The anaesthetist, the doctors, the nurses, they were all lovely, and chatted away to help me relax and calm my anxiety. They asked me about my family, and they filled in the forms for me so all I had to do was sign. They asked what I do.
I’d nearly died. I was still dying. Until they’d sorted me out I might still die – it was major surgery and I was going to be cut open and there was no guarantee about any of this. It was now or never.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
Oh yes I am.