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1. Author events from the other side - by Nicola Morgan

No, not visits from dead authors. I mean seeing author events from the other side, the side that's not the author's side. And not from the audience's side, either. From the event organiser's side.

I was thinking this the other day, after writing another blog post about organising author events, which was aimed at organisers. It struck me that sometimes we - the people giving the talk - spend a lot of time working to make sure that the audience has a beneficial experience and also a fair amount of time afterwards fretting about whether we've been given coffee, treated well, introduced properly, paid sufficiently, respected. Those things - how well we prepare and how well we are looked after - are very important to the overall experience of not just us, but our audience, because if we are relaxed and positive we are likely to do a better job. But they are far from the whole story and we may have become blind to something else important and useful.

How about we walk a mile in the shoes of the event organiser? I'm not talking about stealing their shoes, though if they were gorgeous I might well be tempted. I'm talking about looking inside their heads, properly, sympathetically, and then using what we find there to help create a really good event, one that is not only great for the audience and us but great for the person who bridges the void between the audience and us, person who can make a real difference: the organiser. Because just as the event is better when I'm happy, the event is better when the organiser is happy, too.

Let's call the event organiser Mary. (This is not code for "I'm thinking of an actual person called Mary but let's pretend I'm not." As far as I can remember I don't know a Mary who has ever organised an event for me. It's just a name, and a very nice one.)

Mary may be nervous about meeting us. This is apparent from phrases we often hear Mary use when introducing us to people, such as "real live author" or "famous author", or from her high-pitched laugh or her exasperated voice as she tells a group of kids, "I told you five times that the library would be closed at lunch-time - we have an  author visit." To Mary, we are not just a stranger, we are a stranger who has been dominating her emails/work/life for a few weeks or months; we are a stranger who may be strange - and often are; we are a stranger who may wreck her day and reputation by delivering a bad event; we are a stranger whose services take up some of her department's precious money; we are a stranger who may actually be "famous"; we are a stranger who may be judging her and leaping to wrong conclusions about her.

Mary's nerves may also be apparent from the fact that she forgets to introduce us, or introduces us badly, or says, "This is Nicola Morgan, who needs no introduction." She may genuinely think I need no introduction. I do very need one, because without one I feel inadequate, but Mary doesn't know that. She just wants to get the hell off the stage and back into the audience. I had one organiser once who was so nervous that she forgot my name entirely, at the very moment when she said, "I'd like to welcome..."

Mary has other things to do than my event. My event is not actually the most important thing in her life. It may well be the most important thing of that week, possibly even longer, but it's not the only thing she's worrying about.

Mary has no idea what I'm feeling. She has never had to "perform" in front of a large audience of 14year-old strangers. She probably thinks, if she thinks about it at all, that because I've done it for years I am totally relaxed. She would almost be right, but it's that "almost" that's crucial. She certainly doesn't know that there are several innocent things she can do which will topple my equilibrium. Years ago, before I was published, I had to organise an author visit to my daughters' school. I'm cringing as I think about how little I understood what those "famousauthors were thinking or how cack-handedly I treated them, but I know that I was wrapped up in my own stress.

Mary is worried that she might have forgotten something. She's made a huge list on the back of her repeat prescription form, but, although she knows she's done everything on the list, apart from order her repeat prescription, she's still worried she might have forgotten to put something on the list in the first place. Which is worrying.

She is also worried that George is going to do his mad-March-hare-crazy misbehaving thing again and she is particularly worried because she's just noticed that George is sitting next to Michael, which she'd expressly asked the teachers to make sure didn't happen, not least because Michael is supposed to be leaving early for his anger management class.

She is not only worried: she is also excited. She has a lot invested in this day. She had to bid for the funding and she's going to have to justify the outcomes. She really wants it to go well. She wants the pupils to be inspired by the talk, library borrowings and reading interest to rise in the ensuing weeks, the teachers to feel it was worthwhile and me to be happy and impressed with the school, the pupils and the library and...and...she's studying my face as I arrive and I'm looking a bit tense and now she's worried that I've just had the experience of walking through the foyer while Year 9 were stampeding to lunch. Or meeting Shannon and Donna from Year 10, who she's pretty sure are waiting outside the Head's office. Because they often are.

So, Mary is nervous, worried and excited and that's a recipe for things not to be completely perfect.

How can we, the authors, help Mary and therefore help ourselves? In my view, it's simple, as soon as weve have recognised what Mary's shoes feel like to walk in. Here are my five tips:

1. Prepare Mary. Make sure that she knows exactly what we need, in advance. In my case, these needs are on my website, on the page which I have asked her to read, and can be summed up as follows: a) she (or someone) will give me an introduction which makes the kids feel they are going to have a great event b) the kids will have been prepared and at least some will have looked at my website and thought about questions c) a few minutes of peace and quiet just before an event and between events. That's all. If Mary knows that, she can stop a whole load of her worrying.

2. Remind Mary. Mary may have forgotten everything in point 1 above, so remind her a couple of days before the event.

3. Forgive Mary. Because you have walked in her shoes and noticed that they are a bit leaky in wet weather and not really as comfortable as they could be. Especially the bit pressing on the toe that the pile of books fell on last week.

4. Smile at Mary. Smile at everybody you meet, even George and Michael and Shannon and Donna. Smile when you arrive. Smile when you shake Mary's hand. Smile as you walk with her to the library and after she's told the kids yet again that the library is closed because there's an author visit. As the well-known saying almost goes: "Smile and Mary will smile with you." And then everything will be all right and, if it isn't, smile anyway.

I honestly think point 4 is far more important than we might think. It's about first impressions, chemistry, putting people at ease. You're a bit anxious, but Mary is more anxious; take control of the situation; don't be a victim of Mary's anxiety or your own - cure it with a smile. Even if Year 9 did stampede all over you on their way to lunch and you met George on a mad March hare crazy day and Michael when he'd forgotten his medication and Shannon and Donna when they were just being Shannon and Donna. George, Michael, Shannon and Donna are probably nervous, too. And Mary. Besides you get to go home and not come back; they don't.

And you have chocolate in your bag. Because that's the fifth tip: Have chocolate in your bag.

You could even share it with Mary.

9 Comments on Author events from the other side - by Nicola Morgan, last added: 1/23/2013
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2. Fighting for fiction - Nicola Morgan

A couple of days ago the Daily Telegraph told us that "Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of 'informational texts'." The article went on to say that "American literature classics are to be replaced by insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014."

OMG, clearly.

Well, that was the desired reaction and it was the reaction I duly gave. However, it appears, judging by the early comments below the piece - which I hadn't read at the time because comments beneath online newspaper items generally give me appalling indigestion - that the article was wildly misleading. The third comment, by Deborah Brancheau, seems particularly informed and suggests that we needn't worry too much.

Anyway, I am not here to say who may have exaggerated what and why, or not checked which facts. I am here to shut the stable-door before the horse bolts, just in case anyone from our Government could possibly be so stupid as to consider trying to undermine the importance of reading fiction. Hard to imagine, but still.

I have done many different talks about literacy and the reading brain over the years, as it's one of my hobby-horses. I will also admit that I used to recommend non-fiction as equal in value to fiction, particularly as I used to teach reluctant readers and am a dyslexia specialist, and keen never to undermine anyone's reading choice.

However, while it's certainly true that readers should be allowed to come to a love of reading by whichever types of book they wish, I can't get away from the increasing research that suggests compellingly that reading/listening to fiction is necessary to developing empathy and an expanded Theory of Mind, which are in turn necessary for tolerance, wisdom and the strong foundations of human society.

If you are interested in this research, here are some resources:

Four fascinating books:
Proust and the Squid – Story & Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf
Such Stuff as Dreams – The Psychology of Fiction, by Keith Oatley
Grooming, Gossip & the Evolution of Language, by Robin Dunbar
iBrain – Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, by Gary Small

And one online article: “Effects of reading on knowledge, social abilities, and selfhood”, by Marr, Djikic and Oatley. Keith Oatley is the author of Such Stuff as Dreams, mentioned above, and this article is an academic but shorter introduction to that message. He and his colleagues find numerous links between degree of empathy and reading fiction and their work seeks to find explanations for such links, in psychology and neuroscience. I find their findings compelling and fascinating and I urge you to read the article and to try some of the books above if you're interested in pursuing this.   

In the article, they ask: "Is fiction just a pastime, an entertainment, or does it have psychological effects that can be distinguished from those of reading non-fiction? Does reading the works of great artists have effects that can be distinguished from reading the same information but without artistic form?" And the work in Such Stuff as Dreams and on their blog, Onfiction, suggests that the answer is Yes, and provides possible explanations and greater detail.

Let me offer one quote from the article, describing one study which goes to the crux of the argument: "Students read either a chapter of a novel about the difficult life of an Algerian woman or an essay on the general problem of women’s rights in Algeria. As compared with those who read the essay, those who read the fictional piece said they would be less likely to accept current Algerian norms for relationships between men and women. In another study Hakemulder (2000) found this same decreased tolerance for current norms in students who read the fiction piece under instructions to mentally project themselves into the situation, as compared with those asked to mark the structure of the text with a pencil instead." The latter finding, they suggest, shows "that it is our imaginative projection of the self into the described situations that is key."

Narrative transportation - that "imagined projection of the self" - it's what humans can do, and what fiction facilitates. And it's this, they (and I) believe, that generates empathy, the human understanding that what is in my head is/may not be what is in your head, at the same time allowing the difficult skill of guessing what might be in your head, based on a combination of what is in my head and a generalisation of what I have experienced from the other heads I've been able to enter - in fiction.

So, if a government were to introduce any circumstances that would make fiction rarer, harder to access, available only to those wealthy enough to buy lots of novels and stories - supposing, for example, libraries and librarians were threatened - they would be threatening empathy, wisdom, tolerance and society. 

And that would never happen, would it?

[If you'd like me to speak about any aspect of literacy acquisition, Reading for Pleasure, and/or the reading brain, whether for parents or educational professionals, do email n@nicolamorgan.co.uk. I've done a number of conference keynote speeches this year and a series of talks to parents for Education Scotland.  I've got dates lined up for trips to London and elsewhere (Kuala Lumpur and Prague!) throughout 2013 and I'm happy to add talks onto those visits, thus saving you some costs. Have brain, will travel!]

8 Comments on Fighting for fiction - Nicola Morgan, last added: 12/13/2012
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3. Caught read-handed... by Nicola Morgan

Recently, the Guardian reported the story of author Terry Goodkind, who "turned to Facebook to name and shame a fan who pirated a digital version of his latest novel".  As usual when a case of theft is revealed, there were arguments on both sides, regarding whether words should be free or authors should be entitled to protect their work and earn from it. Paulo Coelho is quoted as calling on "pirates of the world" to "unite and pirate everything I've ever written". Coelho has every right to say this of his own work - he is exercising the degree of control (or lack of) that he chooses.

However, I do not recall him calling on pirates of the world to pirate steal everything that anyone else has ever written. 

And this is what the proponents of the "words should be free" argument so often forget. Surely the choice should be made by the creator of the content? Otherwise it's theft.

Whether or not illegal downloading increases sales is utterly beside the point. It may well do so. All my self-published ebooks are DRM-free, not because I want them to be stolen but because I want my readers to be able to read them on any device in as many places as they wish, and if the price I must pay is that some people will steal, that's a price I'll pay. That does not mean that I am happy with anyone stealing it, or that I can afford to be stolen from. But frankly, even that misses the point: theft is still theft however much the victim can absorb the loss. 

Recently on my Crabbit At Home blog, I linked to an excellent but long piece arguing why illegal downloading is morally wrong, but to be honest, when will we stop making the arguments so complicated?

Taking something without the owner's permission is theft and theft is wrong. I grant that if you'd die without the stolen item, it's forgivable. But it's still theft. And last thing I heard, books may be important but you don't generally die for the lack of one.

It really is that simple.  

Recently, I downloaded the remarkably wonderful Adblock program, a piece of free software which instantly removes all adverts from my internet experience, including those dreaded "belly-fat" ads on Facebook. After I'd downloaded, I was given the option of paying a contribution, if I wished. I paid $5.

A few days later, I received this email (my bold):
Hi Nicola
I wanted to say thanks for paying for AdBlock at http://chromeadblock.com/pay. I wrote AdBlock hoping to make people's lives better, and you just told me that I managed to do it :) Thank you very, very much! &nbs

10 Comments on Caught read-handed... by Nicola Morgan, last added: 7/24/2012
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4. It's August, it's Edinburgh, It's the bookfest!


Despite the almost continuous rain earlier in the summer last Saturday when the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012 opened its doors  the sun shone and it was glorious.  People were sitting all around the lovely square in Charlotte Gardens chatting reading books,eating ice cream, enjoying the atmosphere and people watching - trying to spot their favourite author.

On the walkways there was a buzz as people rushed to join the queue for an event or strolled by to browse in the bookshops or cafes.

It is my favourite time of the year.  A chance to catch up with lots of friends, writers from all parts of the country, to meet new people and to go to listen, laugh and be fascinated by the skill and imagination of the speakers.

In the famous authors' yurt, (green room) the great and the good,  famous, not so famous and the first time authors gather before or after events. As the festival lasts for over two weeks and has something like 800 authors from all over the world, there are always new people to meet.  This year sees the festival holding the 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers Conference, with special events looking at the role of literature around the world today.

On Saturday I caught up with other authors many of them SASsies - Nicola Morgan, Cathy MacPhail, Eleanor Updale, Elizabeth Laird, Julia Donaldson and Moira Munro, Keith Charters and crime writer Alex Gray.  it is a place for families and  I also met the Bookwitch and her daughter, and Mary and Gerry (the Mole) from Ourbookreviews and their lovely daughter.

I went into listen to the brothers Scarrow, Simon and Alex, both highly successful authors who decided that they might share some characters!  So Alex was able to bring two of his brother's well loved Roman characters into his own book set in Rome.
The event was great fun with teams of three chosen from the young audience brought up to compete in a history quiz.  Lots of fun and cheering ensued.


Monday the sun was still shining and I met up with Barry Hutchison and I went into the event on his new book the 13th Horseman, which made me realise just how much fun you can have with your characters!





 Barry, along with Sally Gardner and Steven Butler were understandably nervous about an event called Story Consequences.  Vivian French was the excellent chair person (and had control of the bell!) in an event where the three other writers were invited to start a story (character, place and emotion suggested by the audience) and keep it going for 30 seconds until the bell rang signalling that they had to pass it on to the next person, and so on.
Despite their reservations it was a riotous success and by the end of the event three very different, if slightly strange, stories had come to life.  The audience got behind the authors cheering them on, and everyone had a great time.
It occurred to me that this might be an interesting challenge to try in the future, for writers, aspiring writers and in creative writing sessions with young people, too.

Story Consequences event


This week also saw the Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS) AGM and lunch when we welcomed some new committee members Cathy MacPhail, Gillian Philip and Michael Malone and our new Scottish (SOAiS) chair  Lin Anderson.  It was also a pleasure get the chance to chat to the new Chair of the Society of Authors who had travelled up from London - Lindsey Davis.

I had a lovely surprise when dropping in to the yurt to find Keren David there, who introduced me to Amy Plum, a YA author who is American  living in Paris and will be speaking at the book festival  next week.

I will be appearing in the book festival this Sunday when I will be reading as part of the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series on Freedom of Speech when  I read  Nasrin Sotoudeh.'s poignant letter to her daughter. 


On Friday 24th I am looking forward to delivering my workshop 'So you want to write for Children?'.

On the following Tuesday, after the main bookfest closes there is the School Gala Day when Charlotte Square is closed to the general public and bus loads of school children fill the square to attend events with their favourite authors.




Sally J Collins
 I will be there with Sally J. Collins the illustrator of the Hamish McHaggis books and we will be joined by Hamish himself as we tell the story of the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt



I love the opportunity to go and listen to all sorts of writers talking with passion about the books they have written and living close enough to Edinburgh I enjoy dipping in and out of the festival to see a wide range of events.

A couple I am particularly looking forward to are events with Jasper Fforde and Eoin Colfer.

So if you get the chance to come to Edinburgh in August come along to the book festival - go to some events and soak up the atmosphere.  And keep your eyes open, you never know who you might bump into. 


...............................

Linda Strachan is an award winning author of over 60 books for children of all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a  writing handbook  Writing for Children

3 Comments on It's August, it's Edinburgh, It's the bookfest!, last added: 9/8/2012
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5. Je Ne Regrette Rien? Thoughts on Author Platforms - Lucy Coats

Two years ago I gave a talk called "How To Sell Your Book on the Internet".  It was, needless to say, about the "Author Platform" we writers are supposed to be standing on top of, dominating the world of books, and gave handy hints and tips about how to use things like Facebook, Twitter and blogging for the uninitiated writer.  I wasn't the only one talking about the subject.  Our very own Nicola Morgan has, until very recently, been giving brilliant advice about it on her Help I Need a Publisher blog (much better advice than mine, I can tell you!).

Last week I read a thought-provoking piece by Candy Gourlay on Notes from the Slushpile.  She asked this question:

If everyone's now got a platform, how are you going to stand out?  

I hope Candy will forgive me for using her excellent pictures to illustrate this point (on the 'picture is worth a thousand words' principle).

How it was....


How it is now....
The question I want to ask is:

How do you feel about those two pictures? 

I can tell you how I feel.  Kind of relieved actually.  What Candy said in her piece chimed with my own feelings. It meant that the misgivings I'd had recently about all this jockeying and jostling were not so stupid after all.  Don't get me wrong.  I love blogging here (and reading about the myriad facets of writing life from my fellow bloggers).  I love running the current series on mythological beasts and beings on my own Scribble City Central blog. I love chatting to people on Twitter, though I'm not so keen on Facebook these days.  But, quite honestly, all that stuff does crunch chunks out of my writing day if I let it, however much I protest to the contrary, and that's before I've even started trying to get through the mass of links and intriguing industry bits and bobs provided by others.

The sad fact is that we live in a time poor world where there just aren't enough hours in the day to process all the information flooding over us, however interesting it might be.  I'd like to read all the interesting blogs out there - but if I did that, I wouldn't have time for my own writing.  In the final analysis that writing IS the most important thing for me.  It's what puts the food on my plate, and clothes my family. So, I've taken another look at that Author Platform of mine, and am now only doing what I have to to keep it alive and kicking, and concentrating on what I know works.  The energy and hours I've saved are already paying dividends in productive writing output.

Je ne regrette rien - building my Author Platform has taught me a great deal.  But I'm no longer its faithful skivvy, slaving away at it for fear of being left behind. I've stopped running to catch up with myself. That, ladies and gentlemen of the ABBA community, is my New World Order - and it feels good!


Lucy's latest series Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books
Lucy's Website
Lucy's Scribble City Central Blog (A UK Top 10 Children's Literature Blog)
Join Lucy's Facebook Fanpage
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9 Comments on Je Ne Regrette Rien? Thoughts on Author Platforms - Lucy Coats, last added: 9/27/2012
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6. Copyright education - by Nicola Morgan

A while ago, I was tidying up after a school event. The librarian had already started her next class, which, I quickly surmised, was the annual “tell them about copyright and plagiarism” lesson for new senior school pupils. Hooray! So, I listened in.

After explaining something about copyright and plagiarism, she gave the reasons why they shouldn’t break the laws. Well, she gave two reasons.

  1. You might get caught plagiarizing in an exam or coursework and then you could be disqualified. 
  2. You are committing a crime and if you get caught you could get a criminal record and/or pay other penalties. 
These reasons, though true, are neither the whole truth, nor the most important truths, nor the arguments most likely to convince. We (people in general) are not very good at risk analysis. These risks seem far off and unlikely and once we observe that in fact it’s very possible to break copyright over and over again and not get caught, the argument loses all power.

Here are some better reasons (which she may have given after I'd left):
  1. If you break copyright laws, you are stealing; in doing so you are directly hurting individual, real people, most often people who really can’t afford to be victims of your theft. (When people hear specific stories of hardship, this is powerful, and most young people care deeply about such things. In fact, it’s my belief that most people of any age care, and those who don’t are perhaps unreachable anyway. Some people will steal and hurt whatever we do or say.)
  2. If you download illegally, you are also putting money into the rapacious pockets of large corporations. (Most people don’t particularly like the thought of benefiting huge companies while harming individuals.) 
  3. If you wrote something and discovered that, although you were making no money from it, someone else was, how would you feel? How would you feel if that happened over and over again, and you remained poor while the people stealing it grew richer and lazier? (The “imagine if it were you” argument is a strong one.) 
I’ve been thinking (and talking!) about copyright and its effects recently, and I’d like to draw your attention to some things.

1. ALCS have produced some wonderful classroom resources for primary and secondary pupils, which outline the issues in useful and clear ways. Consider pointing teachers in their direction?

2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27, para 2: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author." Just in case anyone thinks we don't have any moral authority to protect our work.

3. You might be interested in the story in Der Spiegel of what happened when Julia Schramm, of Germany's Pirate Party, which campaigns on an anti-copyright platform, discovered that her book was available on an illegal download site. When she sold publishing rights to Random House, what did she think that meant, if she doesn't agree with copyright anyway and allegedly regards Intellectual Property as "disgusting"? Surely a better course of action for her would have been to self-publish or crowd-fund the project, then assigning a Creative Commons Licence?

4. What about TrafficPaymaster, the "scraping" software sold by HowToCorp? Do read this Guardian article. It makes the point that HowToCorp was founded by Grant Shapps, now chairman of the Tory party. He handed the company over to his wife, but I'm guessing there's one member of the Government who just may not be on our side in the copyright argument. I do hope I'm wrong.

5. And companies that profit from illegal download sites? Danuta Kean explains it brilliantly here. Please read her full piece but these were some points that stuck out for me:
  • That the illegal filesharing sites iFile.it and Library.nu are alleged to have made $11m from ebook downloads. 
  • That "BitTorrent –the technology of choice for illegal filesharing – is estimated to account for 18% of global Internet traffic." 
  • That when the FBI indicted seven executives of the file-sharing site Megaupload, those executives, including Kim Dotcom (!), had allegedly earned $175m from the site. In 2010 Dotcom took home $42m.  
(Quoted with Danuta's permission...)

6. Here is another online article, the Trichordist’s Letter to Emily White, including a personal story of the negative effect on a writer. As Danuta and the Trichordist both argue, it’s not just the file-sharing sites but the companies that sell the hardware to both parties in the transaction; the sites that profit from advertising (Google, ebay, Facebook etc); and the finance companies that provide the money-handling facilities when people sign up for premium subscriptions, for example. It seems as if everyone benefits except the creator.

That’s the point: I don’t believe I have a right to earn a living from my writing. What I do believe is that if anyone is going to earn anything from my writing, that person should be me. Not only me, but me foremost, me in control. That's what copyright means. It doesn't mean greedy, rapacious miserliness. It means being able to share in the results of our own creativity, talent and hard work.

And this is important for young people to realise because they, too, are creators. One day, many of them will try to make a career in a creative industry, not only to pay their bills but to contribute to the culture of their time. What will that be like if in the meantime they and we have allowed the Cult of Free to hold sway so that paying the bills is not only difficult but impossible? Creative people must eat, too.

Some people disagree with the whole idea of copyright protection. Fine. Disagree away. I'm telling you why I support it. And why I want young people to know the score. Then they can decide. 

19 Comments on Copyright education - by Nicola Morgan, last added: 10/3/2012
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7. The Dreaded P-Words - Nicola Morgan

One of the problems with modern life is too much choice. Choice is offered as a good thing and, on the face of it, it is. Certainly, lack of choice is lack of power and the ultimate lack of power is slavery. But too much choice can be horribly paralysing and lead to great dissatisfaction. 

There's an area of choice in which I think writers are becoming panicky and paralysed. It's the P-Words: Publicity, Promotion, Profile, Platform. Oh, and pro-active.

Time was when a writer wrote a book, waited for Publication Day, was wheeled out for a few signings and tottered back to a hotel for a claret-laden dinner with editor. (Actually, I have no memory of such days, but allow me some imagination.) Now, we have to be pro-active, partly because often our publishers don't do enough or we have better ideas, or simply because there are so many opportunities and our publishers rightly encourage us to use them. We see other authors Doing Stuff and want to Do Stuff too. For a pro-active, interfering, control freak such as me, this is, in theory, great.

In theory.

In practice, it's a flipping nightmare, a feast of choices, incitement to wake in the night with Yet Another Stupid Wheeze Which I Usually Actually Carry Through. And then there's the panic when we hear what someone else is doing - why didn't we think of that? The blog tour, the sponsored marathon, the one-woman festival, the colour-coded Tweet-up, the mail-shotting of the fan database. What?? You don't have a fan database, in a spreadsheet, with the ability to identify each category of reader, by postcode? You mean you haven't set up a Twitter persona for each of the characters in your book? You don't have a special blog, posting every day for six months? You haven't organised a book giveaway throughout all continents of the world? Bad, lazy author.

NO! No more, I say, no more. I reject paralysing choice. I will not be panicked into doing stupid things that sound good but wreck me. Never again will I set a world record of school visits in one day, as I did for Deathwatch. Or organise a blog tour AND set up a new blog, as I did for Wasted. Nor will I ever lie awake wondering what mad things to do for the next book. I will reject panic. I will calm down, be sensible and moderate. We do too much, worry too much, glance in too much fear at other people, fret about what we're not doing instead of focusing on what we can do well.

So, here, for what it's worth, is my advice on approaching publication in a state of zen:

  1. Play to your strengths: do what suits you. If the idea curdles your stomach juices, spit it out.
  2. Focus not on the excitement of the Bright Idea but the feeling you will actually have when you have to put the idea into practice. Will you regret it? If so, stop it in its tracks.
  3. Choose a couple of things to do and forget the other possibilities. You have another book to write and a life to live.
  4. Ignore everyone else: no one is doing everything and most people are not selling as many books as you fear.
  5. If you wake in the night with a crazy idea, go back to sleep. 
  6. Be strategic and time-focused. Six months before publication, make a plan (in conjunction with your publisher); then do virtually nothing till two months before P-day.Then, look at your plan and follow it. This planning eliminates the need to wake in the night in a panic. Besides, you're not panicking, remember?
  7. Remember that what happens to your book will depend mostly on luck and the book, more than how many hours you spent promoting it.
  8. You do not have to have a launch party - it's fun (for some people) but it usually doesn't sell books so only do it if it will make you happy, not if it will stress you.
  9. Do as I say, not as I do. But I'm trying - I really am.

ARGHHHHH.

By the way, in case my publicist is reading this, the book is called Write to be Published. But it's not published till June, so I'm doing nothing yet.

C

8 Comments on The Dreaded P-Words - Nicola Morgan, last added: 3/25/2011
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8. SoA not fighting for authors, claims historian

Written By: 
Benedicte Page
Publication Date: 
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 09:22

Author Gregor Dallas has accused the Society of Authors of not doing enough to defend its members from large publishers which are cutting back on range and creating a "national scandal" with the declining quality of their books.

Dallas, a historian and chair of the SoA’s France group, has put himself forward for a position on the SoA’s management committee, forcing the first election at the body for several years.

read more

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9. Of Yurts and Spiegeltents: Book Festival-ing in Edinburgh - Linda Strachan



Where can you find a Yurt and a Spiegeltent, comedy, politics, cuddly creatures, crime and all kinds of great writing?
Well, if you are in Edinburgh in the next two weeks or so there is one place you should not miss.
By the time you read this the 28th Edinburgh International Book Festival will have kicked off.  Billed as the 'largest and most dynamic festival of its kind in the world'
 Now that is a huge claim to fame but for those of us who live in the vicinity - and the some 220,000 visitors it attracts- it is easy to see why.
Edinburgh at festival time is a completely different place than it is during rest of the year. It feels looks and even smells different!

Playing host to the The Book festival, the International Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, the Jazz Festival and several other festivals all at the same time, the city is converted into one huge venue, where even the streets become the stage and performers attract audiences in the most unlikely places.

In all this exciting cultural mayhem the Book festival is an oasis of calm.  You enter Charlotte Square (which for the rest of the year is a leafy private garden) and immediately the bustle of the city is converted into an excited hush, a tranquil setting resounding with gentle roars when the audience in one of the tents begins to applaud.



Of course the Edinburgh weather can affect the Book festival as much as anywhere else and there have been a few years when the rain left delightful little ponds around the square- delightful for the little yellow plastic ducks that suddenly appeared! Their equally sudden disappearance gave rise to discussions about the possibility of a plastic crocodile..... ?

But each year they have added more solid walkways, then covered walkways to and from the event tents and the bookshop tents and finally even to the author's green room - the yurt.

There was one particular year when there was much comedy to be had watching the staff wielding large umbrellas to shelter celebrity authors in the dash across what seemed to be the only uncovered walkway- the first 2 metres as they stepped out of the yurt on their way to their events.  Thankfully that was sorted the following year.


But when the sun shines the grassy centre of the book fe

11 Comments on Of Yurts and Spiegeltents: Book Festival-ing in Edinburgh - Linda Strachan, last added: 8/16/2011
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10. Of Yurts, mud and wellies - Nicola Morgan

I'm cheating a bit with this blog post, I'm afraid. Many of you know some of the things that are busifying me at the moment and I'm really struggling to keep up so I hope you won't mind my bringing you a link to a post I wrote recently for the Guardian books blog during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which the Guardian now sponsors.

Even that post was a teeny bit cheaty, as I've blogged on ABBA about the gloriousness of the Yurt once before. But the Yurt is magically glorious and magical gloriousness deserves an audience.

However, not everything about the EIBF is magically glorious. But they give us due warning.


Which is very necessary when you see this:


But, in no way does this spoil anyone's enjoyment. In the very same minute that I took the mud picture, I took this, just a few feet away:


And besides, what do I care? I haz these:



2 Comments on Of Yurts, mud and wellies - Nicola Morgan, last added: 8/26/2011
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11. INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION: everything a writer needs- The SOAiS Conference

On Saturday  17th September 2011 at The Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh the
Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS)  held their annual conference with a theme of understanding and making the most of the digital revolution in books and looking for new opportunities.  
The conference was also followed on twitter and you can follow the tweets on  #soaconf

Sara Sheridan and Marion Sinclair
networking- 'Let me give you my card'


There were over 100 delegates attending the conference which was open to all, not just members of the Society.

It was a fascinating day with lots of great speakers who were generous with their advice and happy to answer questions.  We started off with author Sara Sheridan who as always was energetic and enthusiastic in her approach. 

8 Comments on INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION: everything a writer needs- The SOAiS Conference, last added: 9/21/2011
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12. Then and Now - Celia Rees







At the risk of 'bugging the life out of people' (see Nicola Morgan's recent ABBA Post of the 24th below), I've got a new book coming out next week. February 2nd, in fact, and I'm going to mention it because having a book published is one of those things that doesn't happen all that often to me, although with so many books published it is obviously happening all the time to other people, who then bleet and tweet about it, to Nicola's annoyance. I suppose that's part of the problem. In her perceptive way has put her finger one of the profound contradictions of social networking, and publishing for that matter. To an individual author, a book being published is A Very Big Thing; to everyone else, it's another 'so what?'. Cursory glance only before we go on to our own tweet, Facebook page entry, blog or planning our Virtual Launch.


At the risk of bugging, I anticipate publication of This Is Not Forgiveness with the usual mix of feelings: pride and a sense of wonder that my name is on the cover, but also complex feelings of nostalgia and loss. When I turn the pages, it is like looking through a strange kind of diary. I remember where I was when I thought that, wrote that, added that detail. It happens over a summer and I wrote it over a summer, so the weather, the descriptions, are like snapshots of particular places at a particular time. And there is something perfect about a book that is about to be published, before it goes out into the world to be the object of scrutiny and criticism, before it has a chance to fail.


I have another reason for nostalgia. This Is Not Forgiveness is a topical thriller set in the present and this is seen as a bit of a departure for me. I'm now known mostly for writing historical fiction. If not those books, then the old Point Horror Unleashed titles - Blood Sinister and The Vanished. But my first book was a contemporary thriller for teenagers. Every Step You Take. It was published in 1993. So long ago, that when I went to get the rights back from the publisher, they claimed never to have heard of it. That, too, was a contemporary thriller, so in a way, I've come full circle, returning to my roots.


That book was published into a different world. I'm typing this blog on a laptop, it is going straight by WiFi onto the 'net. I'm uploading pictures to go with it. I typed Every Step on an electric typewriter. Laptop, WiFi, 'net, upload? Terms not coined yet. I sent it off as a paper manuscript by Special Delivery, posted at the local Post Office (now a cake shop) not by attachment as I would do now.





The Internet was in its infancy, so no e mails. Publishers sent you letters. All you had to do was open the envelope, read and file. Everyone sent you letters, so it was easy to keep track of things. No matter how hard I try to be organised, finding things in e mails is like sifting though spaghetti. As for publicity, it didn't take up any time at all because there wasn't any. My first school visit came randomly from a librarian wh

18 Comments on Then and Now - Celia Rees, last added: 1/30/2012
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13. Character development: REALLY? by Nicola Morgan

The other day, I was discussing with my family whether people can change. Actually, it wasn't so much a discussion as me posing a theory, them agreeing, and then all of us providing more and more evidence. Which is pretty much my favourite kind of discussion, at least while on holiday.

My theory was that it is very difficult, very difficult, and relatively rare, for people to change themselves. (And this has an implication for novelists, as you'll see.)

Of course people do change. We know that. Any individual changes a tiny bit each day, imperceptibly, adding up to large changes over decades. Sometimes, changes can be more sudden, especially during the growing up years. Various landmarks change us: leaving school/university, having children/not having children, close bereavement, major changes of circumstances. These bring changes to our personalities over the years, and changes to our habits.

But these changes tend to be a) gradual b) an adaptation to changed surroundings/ environment/ people around us and c) largely involuntary. They do not answer the question: CAN people change? In other words, can they change when they want to? Can we often change our behaviours when we see a negative consequence, or, indeed, a positive one? (I know that people sometimes can - change addictive behaviours, for example - but they generally need a great deal of help and intervention.)

The reason I was thinking about this was because I am hopelessly useless at changing bad behaviours. How many times have I looked at the bathroom scales and said that I was going to eat less, exercise more? (Twice today, anyway.) How many times have I made resolutions to drink more water and less wine; eat more fruit and less sugar; not buy ice-cream "just in case one of my daughters comes home unexpectedly"; do an hour's writing before answering emails; say no to speaking engagements; spend less time at my desk; enjoy weekends properly; be less of a workaholic; get less cross when people are stupid; not snap at my husband (no link there to the previous remark!); do more gardening and cooking (hobbies which I love and are good for me); get up from my desk every hour? Countless times, is how many. And I never change my habits. At all.

I am utterly beholden to my adult, middle-aged personality, which happens to be that of a driven workaholic, hopelessly Type A, unstoppably entrepreneurial, unable to say no to any exciting idea that pops into my head at four in the morning. I was different when I was fourteen and will probably be different when I'm 84. But there is no discernible change between how I am now at 50, how I was when I was 40 or 30. I have a whole different life, but my bad habits and behaviours I'd dearly like to alter remain stubbornly unaltered, even though I recognise completely that changing would be good for me and probably give me a longer life.

SO, writers and readers, why oh why oh why oh why do the characters in our books always have to change and develop? Even if the action takes place over two weeks, or two days. It seems to be one of the unbreakable rules of novels. 

The Carnegie Medal even has criteria for characterisation, including:

Are the characters believable and convincing?
Are they [the characters] well-rounded, and do they develop during the course of the book?
Do they act consistently in character throughout the book?
You know, it rather bugs me that a character must develop during the course of what may be a very short timespan

15 Comments on Character development: REALLY? by Nicola Morgan, last added: 4/12/2012
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14. 6 - Nicola Morgan on supermarket book sales

My Photo
A constant complaint from many authors is that the whole business of publishing and selling books has become so, well, commercial.

Our sixth most viewed post of the last four years is Nicola's funny, incisive, and - needless to say - crabbit look at her local branch of the Chain Bookseller of the Year, including a visit to its bacon aisle.



Books, bacon and chain bookseller of the year - by Nicola Morgan

As a bonus, the extensive comments section includes a debate between Nicola and publisher Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow, with inactive URLS to further thoughts from both of them, which for your convenience I present in active form here:
Kate's reply to Nicola's blogpost
Another thought or two from Nicola

Number 5 will be here in an hour!

2 Comments on 6 - Nicola Morgan on supermarket book sales, last added: 7/10/2012
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15. Journey Into Space - Nicola Morgan


My brain often gets stuck when I’m sitting at my desk. I put it down partly to the easy distraction of email etc, because it’s all just a finger-twitch away, and twitching that finger to the “sign on” screen is so much easier than writing. But I’ve often felt that it’s more than that. Even before the email tyrant took over, I’d noticed that if I was stuck on a story, the worst plan was to sit at my desk: the only way was to go for a walk. And so out I’d go, and lo and behold, within minutes all my problems (well, the writing-related ones) were sorted.

It got to the point when I’d answer the “Where do you get your ideas from?” question with “From my dog. See, I go for a walk with no ideas and I come back with ideas and I didn’t speak to anyone except the dog, so …”

None of this seemed like brain science, but I used it in the talks I do in schools about the brain, and how brains work differently, and how you can discover how your brain works. (For details, see Know Your Brain.)

But then I discovered that actually I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t relate to this thing about open space and walking as a way of freeing ideas. And, since I’m supposed to know that brains are different, I thought this was intriguing - but I didn’t really pursue it.

So, imagine how interested I was to read my newest issue of Scientific American Mind. There’s an article which explains it all in brain science terms. Seems we need space around us - and especially above us - in order to have creative ideas. And there’s growing research into this, with many architecture schools now incorporating neuroscience as well as environmental psychology into their syllabus. The environmental psychology isn’t new, but the neuroscience is.

For example, research in Minnesota in 2007 showed that people in a room with a higher (only two feet higher) ceiling came up with more abstract and uninhibited answers to questions than those in a room with a lower ceiling. Those in the lower room focused better on detail. This and other work suggests that higher ceilings help people think more freely and make abstract connections - just what a writer needs.

The article didn’t go to the logical conclusion - that outside is the biggest ceiling of all - but it did say that when we have scenery with greenery and nature we think better and differently. Research in 2000 followed some families who moved house, and looked at the attention ability of the children: those surrounded by more greenery after the move appeared to do better on a standard attention test. Other research showed that students had better mental focus when they had “natural” views, compared with those looking onto buildings.

There’s even a name for the human tendency to respond well to natural scenery: biophilia.

So, for me going for a walk is not instead of working - it’s an essential part of working. And I believe that this isn’t just about writers: everyone needs space to free those thoughts, get ideas flowing. So, every now and then (preferably every day) just stop focusing on the details of life for a while: get outside and let your mind fly.

Release your inner biophile!

8 Comments on Journey Into Space - Nicola Morgan, last added: 4/19/2009
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16. When Swearing is Worse Than Violent Death - Nicola Morgan

As all writers for young people know, we not only have to get our books to our intended readers: we have to get past the gate-keepers - adults. Now, adults are some of my favourite people but let me have a little rant about certain members of that group, specifically certain parents. I am a parent myself, so I know how parenty brains work and I’m sympathetic, but sometimes … HONESTLY.

Yes, I know there’s some pretty tough stuff goes on in my teenage books. I’m up front about that and I would totally understand if a parent of a 10 year old (eg) got a bit cautious about some of it. (Though I still think they should worry less about reading choices and more about some other things - like whether their child is reading at all ...) But anyway, I just had a librarian say that she wouldn’t stock Mondays are Red “because of the swearing” and she’d had a parent complain when a book had a rude word in it. Well, I didn’t remember any swearing in Mondays are Red until it occurred to me that I did say “Piss off!” once, when a character was really really really really ANGRY. Frankly, I think piss off was pretty restrained in the circs. And it was a teenage book and a teenage character. And the character didn’t say it to an adult or anything really terrible like that …

OK, I respect people’s views and I hate bad language myself - only ever use it when I’m bloody furious - but let’s see things in context here. Tell me how it’s fine that my books contain a mastectomy without anaesthetic in front of an audience of men (Fleshmarket opening chapter), death by blood-poisoning, trepanning (when a drill is twisted through someone’s skull), drowning, stabbing, snake-bite and the subsequent cutting of the flesh above the bite, a throat being cut, drinks being spiked, a massacre, drug use (without condoning it, btw), a horse being shot … I could go on but I’m actually starting to feel quite bad about all this. Am I really a horrible and dangerous person? No, I write stories, stories that aim to challenge and grip and provide a safe environment for fictional danger and risk.

Anyway, my point is, I can do all that death and worse, but I can’t say piss off? When I’m really really really angry? And when children and teenagers hear far worse every day in the playground and on TV and the cinema? (Which is not to say it's right, but then nor are half the other horrible things about the real world.) So, I should perhaps have had my teenage character say, “O bother!” Yeah, right. That’s really going to work.

Parents need to understand about fiction and its ability to prepare kids in the best possible way for the real world. They need, frankly, to get a bit real and decide which things are really worth protecting them from. Either that, or wrap their offspring in cotton wool, don’t allow them to go to school / watch TV / travel /go to the cinema / go on the internet / phone their friends, or read anything other than Enid Blyton. Oh, except that if they read EB, they’ll learn that girls are pathetic and boys are just the greatest leaders and that taking boats on stormy water across a sea with no adults is an OK thing to do.

Compared with which, the odd piss off seems like a very small risk to take.

12 Comments on When Swearing is Worse Than Violent Death - Nicola Morgan, last added: 6/1/2009
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17. Newspaper reviews: SO last year - Nicola Morgan

There was one Thing You Shouldn't Say to an Author which I quite forgot: "I haven't seen any reviews of Deathwatch anywhere," said a certain author's elderly acquaintance (possibly related) who lives in a tiny village in Scotland, skims "the" newspaper and doesn't use the internet because, although he technically has broadband, you'd never know, and because his computer is perched in a gloomy corner of a poorly designed room which gives him a crick in his neck after ten minutes peering at the screen. And ten minutes is how long it takes his computer to boot. On a good day, with the wind in the west and the fish beginning to bite.

No, well, you wouldn't have seen any, would you? Yes, there were lovely reviews, even in newspapers, even in a few decent ones, but with 10,000 children's books published every year in the UK, the chances of your young* acquaintance's book just happening to be reviewed in the Pittenweem Telegraph are about as slim as a very slim thing. Slimmer even than the Pittenweem Telegraph. (*artistic licence. Anyway, age is all relative.)

Thing is, we've moved on from a thralled reliance on newsprint and so much grubby ink, haven't we? Not that we'd turn our noses up at a review in the Guardian or the Book of the Week spot in the Sunday Times, of course - far from it: crikey, I'd have a party if that happened, or at least open the bottle of fizz which is waiting in the fridge for such moments and rapidly becoming vintage. But we don't rely on them because we have many more, and equally well-written and important, sources of reviews.

No, no, not Amazon, silly! Everyone knows that Amazon reviews are tainted. Lovely as it is to get four or five-star reviews there, we also know that they can be trusted about as far as a strawberry plant in the Sahara: the good reviews are as likely to be written by our mothers** or publishers** as the bad ones are to be written by an idiot / enemy / someone who was a bit pissed and bored at 3am. (I hasten to add that as far as I know neither my mother nor publisher has ever done this, but we can never be entirely sure what our mothers get up to at 3am.)

I'm talking about the growing number of increasingly respected and valued websites and blogs where sensible and knowledgeable people write sensible and knowledgeable reviews. Places like Achuka and WriteAway and the Bookbag and the Bookwitch. It feels to me as though, a few years back, readers moved from grovelling reliance on newsprint (when that was all there was) to a gluttonous and undiscerning vox-pop-fest of democratisation (when Amazon felt like the only place you could buy and comment on books), and that now we have something more useful and adaptable: a healthy array of places where serious, knowledgeable, passionate readers can give serious, knowledgeable, passionate views and share them with the like-minded. Because, after all, what's the point of a review by someone who's not like-minded?

I'm doing an article for the Author on this subject soon (like, er, rather horribly soon ...) and I'd love your views on that phrase in red above. "Increasingly respected and valued" - do you agree? How and why are some of them respected? Which ones do you (as readers or writers) value? Or don't you? As a writer, do you still blush with extra pride when you find yourself reviewed on scrunchable paper? As a reader, do you take more notice of a printed review than an on-line one? Do we care whether reviews are by "ordinary" readers, as opposed to "professional" reviewers. (Deliberately provocative adjectives there.)

Seems to me that people have been talking about the review being dead (and that link is only one example amongst vast numbers that you'll find by googling "review is dead") when in fact it's merely shedding its skin. And, though I don't claim to be an expert on snakes, I do know that when a snake is shedding its skin it looks pretty grotty and acts as though its not feeling very well at all. (I apologise for the technical lingo there.) But then it appears all sleek and gorgeous (for a snake), bigger and better and stronger than before.

The review is not dead at all. It's beginning to hiss loudly. And people are listening.

9 Comments on Newspaper reviews: SO last year - Nicola Morgan, last added: 7/15/2009
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18. Exposing Ourselves In Public - Nicola Morgan



Gah! What have I said, or what am I about to say, or what might someone think I said, or what did I really mean to say? What if I say something really, really stupid? What if I already have?

Please tell me I'm not the only one. See, every time I'm about to have something published I suffer a serious case of exposure anxiety. It manifests itself in my dreams. I'll have classic exposure dreams - things like needing to go to the toilet but finding that there's only a clear glass door between me and a load of strangers, or realising that I'm walking down the street without certain parts of my body being appropriately covered.

I sometimes have dreams where the News of the World has got hold of the really embarrassing things I did in the past and they're going to tell my parents. (I hasten to add that there were no embarrassing things, other than the time when ... but no, the News of the world will NEVER get that. Will it? Oh my God, what if ....?).

Thing is, having something published IS very exposing. Not in a way you can be arrested for, but in a way which is very anxious-making. We know (or if we don't, we soon find out) that lots of people won't like our book, even if lots of people do. Some readers will be vocal in their opinions, and even when the opinions are positive, many readers will see things in our books that we didn't consciously put there and which we didn't mean to be read into them. We will be misinterpreted and spoken about as though we're really really stupid. We see ourselves written about and talked about. And nowadays the reviews and comments are so permanent - which is good ... and bad. But anyway VERY exposing.

We do interviews in which journalists make weird and wrong assumptions or get facts wrong. I was seriously pissed off once when a journalist came to my house to interview me about Blame My Brain and asked me if she could speak to my older daughter. Now, my daughter hates being interviewed or photographed (after a previous horrible experience) and so I said she couldn't; then, in the article, the journalist referred to my "teenage daughter upstairs in bed". Actually, she was in her bedroom, writing an essay ... Yes, a small mistake, but one which had its effects.

I envy those authors who are confident enough and important enough to play the recluse card and keep their privacy, but even they are inevitably exposed as soon as their book is published. You don't get fewer reviews just because you hide. (Yes, I know we all in theory could be recluses, but we're not really allowed that option. Most of us have to do what we can to raise our profiles, not shrink them. Most of us have to do the equivalent of the model walking confidently along the catwalk, when inside we may feel very vulnerable and self-conscious.)

We lay ourselves on the line, allow ourselves to be hung out to dry, and we're supposed to maintain a calm and smiling exterior, never lashing out at public criticism.

Look what happened to Alice Hoffman and Alain de Botton when they lashed out. OK, they may have been unwise but in the old days it never would have become so public. It's all so immediate, so unforgiving and so hellishly permanent nowadays. (Maybe they have glass toilet door dreams, too?)

The need to be careful about what we say on blogs and websites and in interviews just adds to the exposure anxiety. The SoA has even suggested Professional Indemnity insurance for authors, to insure against the costs of being sued for defamation, for example. And I notice (because I've looked, carefully, paranoidally - is that a word?) that you have to pay extra for including your website, blog or other online presence.

Never was the power of words stronger and more frightening.

I feel a bad dream coming on. Someone, please, tell me I have got the appropriate body parts covered. And if I haven't, wake me up gently.

16 Comments on Exposing Ourselves In Public - Nicola Morgan, last added: 8/21/2009
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19. THE MAGIC YURT - Nicola Morgan

Today, the Edinburgh International Book Festival ends. Many of you were there, either in the Yurt of all Yurts, or else (if you were lucky) reclining in glorious sunshine, eating ice-creams and watching the booky world go by, or (if you were unlucky) suddenly finding yourself stranded in a sea of mud.

It's been a record-breaking year. I don't know all the figures yet but I know that the first day saw record footfall (over 15,000 pairs of feet); the first weekend saw record book-sales; similarly ground-breaking figures for ticket-sales and, incredibly for a recession, a 10% increase in sponsorship.

The book is not dead. Nor are readers. In fact, here are some:



More sunshine:















THE YURT OF ALL YURTS
The Yurt (or Yogurt) is a strange place of peculiar smells and unpredictable experiences. It can make any author feel either unexpectedly important or shatteringly small and worthless. You see people you've only seen on the telly, and you find yourself sharing a drink with them or explaining where the Highland Park is hidden; you experience your chest being peered at by a politician wanting to see if you're a name worth talking to, or you could all too easily trip over a carpet and find yourself on the lap of your literary hero.

In case you haven't been, here are a few images, carefully taken with no identifiable people.


Below is the hospitality table with, remarkably, no one there. It took me a very long time to catch that.


I do often find myself gazing at the roof, not because I spend a lot of time on the floor but because it's rather lovely:



And the entrance, looking unimpressive, deceptively unalluring and small:



Each year, the Yurtish smells bring back memories of other years. First thing in the morning, when the thin sun slices through the opening, you can imagine that the staff slept there, wrapped in yak blankets, and then unwrapped themselves and washed their faces in dew just in time for the appearance of the earliest authors - did you, Roland? Oisin? Lois? As the day wears on, it's essence of coffee and Highland Park, chocolate brownies and goat cheese wraps, ground into the carpets by shoes of all descriptions. (Including mine, which have achieved a reputation for pointiness and getting caught in carpets.) And in the evenings the woodchip burning stove is lit and it's the dry sweet pininess of a sauna. As the night draws closer, more Highland Park, more wine, more wine, more Highland Park. And the rising laughter muffled in the folds of the roof, disappearing like the smoke from a Mongolian fire.

Just to show that I don't always wear pointy shoes, here are my feet on a day off:


One author told me yesterday of how he could not enter the Yurt when he arrived this year. Panic swept over him as he contemplated, remembered, envisaged the sounds of bursting egos. Like a child at a party who is so afraid of the balloon as it is blown up that he puts his hands over his ears and runs from the room.

Others love it. Love the possibility of meeting just anyone, of being on a level with the biggest names in literature. I have loved it and hated it but I go there in anticipation every time. My favourite moment (not this year) was of meeting Michel Faber and feeling suddenly compelled to do that fan thing.
"Excuse me," I said, "I just have to tell you that I adored The Crimson Petal and the White. And as for Under the Skin ..."
And he knelt at my feet ... Sorry, I have to say that again. HE knelt at MY feet. Red trousers he was wearing, and his eyelashes pale and soft and his face open. I asked him what he was writing now and he said he couldn't write at all any more, that his creativity had been damaged by his horror at the Iraq War (as I say, not this year) and he didn't think he could ever write again.

But he has, of course. And I've read it. We talked for ages about creativity and inspiration and integrity and I'm just so glad that it all came back to him. I'm so pleased that I met him, that he gave that time to talk to me, which of course he won't remember. And that I dared be in the Yurt that day and dared tell him that one thing that all writers, from the most famous to the least, need to be told,

"I just loved your book."

That's what book festivals, all of them, are about. Just loving books and having moments of magic when readers meet authors and the connection is story, words, imagination, truth.

There's one thing I know is magic (and if you believe otherwise, please stay silent): the disappearance of the Yurt into thin air when the festival is over. Because of course it's not stored in some dull lock-up somewhere. It couldn't be. And obviously it can't be used by anyone else. Besides, you can't just fold away miles of canvas that has soaked up the hopes and fears and dreams and passions of 750 writers and several bottles of whisky and wine; you just can't. It has a soul: you can't wrap that up. It disappears, I know it does. You wake up the next day and it's just not there, only a pale patch of grass that is far too small to have held so much.

But it will be back, next year, by magic again. Meanwhile, it is nowhere. Or at least not in this world.

11 Comments on THE MAGIC YURT - Nicola Morgan, last added: 9/2/2009
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20. Isn't Twittering for Birds? - Nicola Morgan


All this blogging, Facebooking, Twittering, Linkedinning, Diggiting and other more arcane forms of apparently essential author-profile-building  -  gah, it's amazing we have time to write at all any more! Of course, if you do none of this you are either a) feeling guilty / inadequate b) that and paranoid that every other author must be becoming better known, better connected and therefore obviously more successful than you or c) being rampantly Luddite and proud of your organic writing life and acquired technophobia.


Let's unpick this a bit and then I'll tell you why I use the tools I choose and what they do for me.


Two clichés: 1) there are many ways to skin a cat  2) horses for courses. Building your "profile" as an author can be done in many different ways and we should only do what we want to do and what feels comfortable. We are, above all, writers. If we let ourselves spend more time "networking" than writing and thinking and dreaming, then our profile is going to have nothing substantial to base itself on and we will lose touch with why we exist.

So, my advice to all authors is:
  1. Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring. It's not even a commercial.
  2. Take your time to try various possibilities 
  3. Each tool seems completely mad when you first begin  -  everyone's first "tweet" reads something like "well, I made it 2 twitter  -  WTF do I do now?"
  4. Doesn't matter whether you take it ultra-seriously or dip in and out  -  do it your way
  5. Don't let it take over your life, ever
  6. Enjoy it or don't do it
  7. People survive perfectly well without all of this
  8. BUT, every now and then you will make a fabulous connection with someone who could end up being a genuine friend, excellent colleague or very useful contact. But the same could be said of going to a party, reunion, meeting, lecture or supermarket ... (It's just somewhat less likely, statistically).
So, what do I do, how much time does it take and what do I get out of it?

I think I am registered on most of those things like Linkedin and a few writerly equivalents the names of which escape me. Which tells you how useful I have found them. As in not. So that takes me zero time and I get zero out of it. (There's a lesson there).

I blog. Obviously I blog because here I am. This blog takes me half an hour a month to write, and 5-10 minutes every time someone else posts, so I can read and maybe comment. I get out of it the feeling of being part of a community (we email off-blog too) and being able to listen to other readers; some people may read me who otherwise wouldn't have; and the act of writing something is good practice. It's fiun and it's easy. No pressure.

My other blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) takes up a lot of time. Maybe an hour a day, often more. I blog on it at least three times a week, and reply to all comments  -  most posts get around 20 comments, sometimes as many as 50ish. People also email me off-blog (including agents, editors and publishing industry people). That sounds like a lot of work for no money and it is a lot of work but here's what I get from it:
  • it's become a whole new career strand, with many invitations to speak to writers (on Creative Writing MA course, for example)
  • it's taught me a lot, as more and more people contact me with their own views, knowledge and experiences; it's broadened my knowledge outside the UK
  • I've been interviewed for or done guest posts on many other blogs, which would never have happened
  • I love doing it, love the free style of writing and the instant feedback
  • I've made friends, genuine friends, as in people I can phone, email and meet
  • With one of these new friends, fellow blogger Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works, I'm planning some exciting projects which actually will earn us some income from what we both do.
  • I know I've sold some of my books, as I've gained readers who would never have heard of me
  • people have brought me chocolate. Really. Three times. And people have recognised me by my shoes or boots. Extraordinary.
Blogging, then, can be very rewarding. But you have to want to do it; you have to know what you want to say, and be prepared to open up your personality (or I guess you could always invent one if you wanted  -  after all, the internet lies ...). It's a form of writing itself, very real, very good fun, very flowing, very instant. And it can lead to a greater "platform" or profile, too.

I Twitter. Twitter is very weird when you start because you're essentially twittering to yourself until people start to follow you. I could write a tutorial on how to get started on twitter but this is not the time for that. (Except to say that  if you "follow" me, then I'll almost certainly "follow" you and then you'll quickly see how it works, and I'll help you along. Start your free account at www.twitter.com and in "Find people" put @nicolamorgan).

How much time do I spend on Twitter? Probably 10-20 minutes a day, split into half a minute at a time.

What do I get out of it?
  • because I follow the Bookseller, Book2Book and industry experts such as Scott Pack, I know that I will get industry news first, before it's published, so I'm always informed
  • it's easier for people to discover you on Twitter than on a blog, so people have come across me through the chain of twitterers
  • Twitter is easily linked to your blog, so a) a blog post goes instantly to Twitter, where your followers can "retweet" to all their followers and b) vice-versa, so every "tweet" of mine goes onto my blog automatically, so blog followers see more informal messages than blog posts
  • Twitter organises "tweetchats"  -  so you get to know that, for example, Mon/Wed/Fri, 9-10pm GMT, there's always "litchat", a load of people around the world chatting about a lit-based topic. There are things like writechat and amwriting and pubchat (publisher, not pub ...). Through this, I've made more contacts.
  • I love the even greater instant-ness and public-ness. It's like Speaker's Corner except you can only shout 140 characters. (Thank goodness).
  • I publicised some Edinburgh Book Festival events on Twitter and I know that a couple of people only heard about it through that. I know about a couple but assume there were more
  • And in the last week I have twice been invited to speak, purely because of a message I put on Twitter
  • It's fun
  • It's free
What about Facebook? I do that too, but less than I used to now I use Twitter more. For me, Facebook is purely social and relaxing, nothing to do with work-related "networking". My Facebook "friends" are more genuinely friends, though I admit I haven't physically met them all. How much time? Some days only a quick look; other days I'll get involved in a fun message thread (especially if people like Gillian Philip, Philip Ardagh or Bookwitch are on form!) and come back several times during the day. What do I get from it? Contact with friends. Fun. Relaxation.

People can be very disparaging about all this, and use the word "networking" in a very sneery way. Some people, I agree, do it very calculatingly and some do it unattractively. Some people on Twitter can be very boring  -  there's one person who just says "Morning all" every morning, but on the other hand isn't that what real people do when meeting other real people as they arrive in their offices? This is all, really, about new forms of human interaction. You can call it networking and be disparaging if you want. I call it making human connections. I like doing it and I get something out of it; I hope I give something too.

But, as with all forms of human interaction, it's all about doing what works for you and feels good for you. All I'd say, though, is if you don't try it you'll never know.


This blog post has been far too long  -  it's kept me from Twitter for at least half an hour.

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21. Chancers: Gillian Philip

I haven’t actually flipped a coin since I finished reading Nicola Morgan’s haunting new book WASTED. I haven’t had one on me at a particular moment, or I’ve been driving, say. But (and especially when I’m driving, as it happens) I have spent a lot of time thinking about the workings of chance and luck and fate. It’s WASTED that’s done it to me. It’s that sort of book.

Everybody has stories of what might-have-been, and there are some downright chilling ones at Nicola’s blog for the book, http://talkaboutwasted.blogspot.com/. (Have a look at the post for 4th May, Claire Marriot’s story of the lock that jammed on 7th July 2005, and say you don’t have shivers in your spine).

(On a less sinister note, I was remembering - because of election day - that had I not decided at the last minute to go to a party in 1987, where I met and fancied an SDP supporter, I wouldn't have gone to work for them at election time and I wouldn't have met my husband. And so the examples go on.)

WASTED examines concepts as diverse (or maybe as close; don’t ask me, it makes my head spin) as quantum physics and the myth of Oedipus. It’s the story of Jack and Jess, and Jack’s Game – the coin he flips to sacrifice to luck before he makes any decision. Jack has had two mothers, both of whom have died, and he can’t believe he hasn’t used up all his ill luck – so he trusts to the coin to make his decisions now, accepting its verdict whether it looks good for him or not. There’s a scary passage when Jack plays his game with street corners in the middle of the night, and ends up in a very dodgy neck of the woods, and so loses his ‘lucky’ coin. Contrarily, Jack doesn’t treat this as a message from fate, but finds a new coin... and so the complex game of luck and chance continues, with drastic results for both himself and Jess.

It took me longer than I expected to read WASTED, because I kept having to double back and re-examine an incident, a decision, a concept. It’s that kind of book – it makes you think, and it makes you shiver. Sometimes fate diverges into two chapters; the eerily omniscient voice of the narrator gives us the variables, and a tiny butterfly-flutter of chance is shown to lead to wildly different hurricane-sized outcomes.

It’s haunting because it makes you wonder, even as you make tiny decisions of speed or direction on the school run, just what parallel universes are splitting away from you at each second, and what’s happening there. I’m really quite glad I never seem to have a coin to hand, because Jack’s Game might be a little too tempting, and then what does one do? Defy the coin?

But if you read WASTED – and you really, really should – you have to play Jack’s Game at least once, because it’s how each reader must choose the story’s outcome, and it isn’t quite as simple as life and death. Honestly, WASTED is a corker. Try it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wasted-Nicola-Morgan/dp/1406321958/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

www.gillianphilip.com

8 Comments on Chancers: Gillian Philip, last added: 5/8/2010
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22. Event: Edinburgh International Book Fair 2010


Members of the Scattered Authors Society are performing at Edinburgh this coming week. Do come along if you can, or forward this to friends in the north …

On Saturday 21st August,
1pm, Mary Hoffman will talking about the latest volume in her best-selling Stravaganza series – City of Ships

2pm, Nicola Morgan will be explaining how to make publishers say ‘yes’.

7pm, Michelle Lovric will present her novel The Book of Human Skin and be discussing ways to write about Venice with Katie Hickman.

And on Friday 27th August, Gillian Philip will be launching her new novel, Firebrand.

Details of tickets and venues can be found on the Festival website

4 Comments on Event: Edinburgh International Book Fair 2010, last added: 8/18/2010
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23. How Has Reading Changed? by Nicola Morgan

Everything we do changes our brains. So, if there's something we are doing differently now, compared with how we did it previously, our brains will be changing or have changed to reflect that. If readers' brains are changing and if reading behaviours are changing, surely this will matter for writers?

Reading behaviours have changed over the last twenty or thirty years, at least in parts of the world where the digital age has arrived. Almost all of us read a great deal on-screen, and we spend a certain amount of our day reading material on websites. New research at the University of California, San Diego suggests that the average person today consumes nearly three times as much info as in 1960. According to The New York Times recently, "the average computer user checks 40 websites a day and can switch programs 36 times an hour."

We quickly become better at scanning headlines to decide what we want, and we skip and flit about, gathering snippets of info and processing it very quickly. Our brains change to reflect new skills. Gary Small's fascinating book, iBrain, is based partly on research on a group of people who had never used the internet before, alongside a control group. The study suggested - and this is backed up by other research into time taken to rewire neural connections - that after only five hours' practice, the brain of an internet beginner has changed, measurably, to reflect new skills and experience. And more practice or use produces more change, apparently.

(For more on the science of this, I recommend iBrain, and The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr.) But for now I want to talk anecdote, not science. I want to ask you if your experience matches mine.

Maybe five years ago, I was about to start writing The Highwayman's Footsteps. I wanted it  to be "rip-roaring adventure", thrilling historical drama, just like one of my favourite books as a teenager, The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas. I remembered that The Black Tulip had lots of gore and high tension and a very fast-paced story.

So, I took it from my shelf to re-read it, for the first time since I'd been a teenager. Well, I wasn't wrong about the gore. (Who says modern YA fiction is shocking? Blimey!) High tension? Well, maybe, but you had to read a LOT of words first and unpick reams of long paragraphs and complex sentences. It's turgid prose, with masses of subordinate clauses. The opening paragraph consists of a single sentence of 148 words.

Reader, I couldn't read it. Seriously.

So, what has happened in the intervening years? How did I turn from a teenager who could lap that up to an adult who couldn't keep her eyes on the page? But forget me - what about you? I'm guessing I'm not the only reader whose reading habits have changed. And it can't be to do with age, because surely a teenager would have if anything a greater need for pace than a middle-aged person? Are we just too busy nowadays to read slowly? Have we been subconsciously demanding faster books / simpler sentences over the last thirty years, so that now page-turnability is compulsory, whereas before (?) it wasn't? Has our definition of page-turnability changed?

If our reading habits, needs and tastes have changed, science tells us our brains have, too. There's nothing much we can do about this, although each of us in theory controls the mouse on our own computers. Besides, I'm not even saying that in terms of reading habits this is a bad change. (In terms of the arguments that people like Gary Small and many others are introducing regarding empathy and wisdom, that's a different matter.)

I'm just interested:

  • Do you find it harder to concentrate on longer, denser texts than you used to?
  • Have you had any Blac

    9 Comments on How Has Reading Changed? by Nicola Morgan, last added: 9/22/2010
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24. Who Do We Write For? - Nicola Morgan

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because some people I respect have contradicted a belief of mine. See, I think - thought - that writers should think of their readers. Of course we need to have confidence and belief in our own writing and to love what we do, feel inspired and fulfilled by it; but, for me, each sentence is there for the enjoyment of readers. Therefore, I'm thinking of them while I'm writing.

I also believe that the main reason I failed to be published for so long was that I was writing purely for myself, with little or no thought for the reader's enjoyment. I was so up myself with the beauteousness of my prose that if I wanted two glorious sentences where one would do, hell, I'd put them both in. After all, they were Good Sentences so the reader could damn well read them and enjoy them as much as I did. I was thinking of myself and my enjoyment way too much. I was being self-indulgent, which is what doing something for yourself is.

So, quite often on my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog I have blogged to aspiring writers about the importance of thinking of readers when we write. I don't mean that we should just give them everything they want, just as parents shouldn't give children everything they want. I mean that for me the desired end of a book is the satisfaction or excitement or inspiration of the reader - or whatever other emotion I happen to wish for in them - and that my own pleasure is only in achieving that. I have quoted Stephen King's thing about his Ideal Reader, the person he has in mind when he writes, the person he imagines looking over his shoulder. He talks about writing the first draft with the "door closed", in other words without too much thinking of readers, but the second and subsequent drafts with the "door open", very much with imagined reactions flooding in and affecting what he writes. And that's in a book on how to write - On Writing - so he is offering it as guidance, even a rule.

But I'm aware that this is not the only way to look at things. I recently interviewed Ian Rankin and Joanne Harris and asked each of them where they stood on this question and they were quite clear that they don't particularly think of their readers. Now, considering that they are both phenomenally commercially successful, I find that interesting.

So, have I got it wrong? Or does it just depend how you interpret the question? Are Joanne Harris and Ian Rankin just lucky that they've hit a way to write which indulges both them and their readers, so they don't have to think consciously about the reader? Am I too mired in YA/children's writing, where we have to do a bit of mental gymnastics in order to satisfy a reader who is patently not the same sort of reader as we are ourselves? Or what? To the writers among you: how much do you think of your readers, either as an imaginary generalised bunch or a specific group?

Yes, we write because we want to and because we love doing it, and it's therefore somewhat selfish, but to what extent is your actual choice of ingredients in each book for the sake of your reader more than yourself? What is your relationship with your reader when you're writing?

And take your time: I'm not thinking of readers or writing at the moment because I've got a building disaster. Six days after my lovely plumbers started what should have been a

11 Comments on Who Do We Write For? - Nicola Morgan, last added: 10/29/2010
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25. The New Art of Conversation - Nicola Morgan

In the last week, two blog posts that I've commented on have found themselves in The Guardian. One was Lucy Coats' trenchant post on ABBA about A Certain Person and his unpleasant brain injury comment. The other was independent bookseller Vanessa Robertson's equally trenchant piece about World Book Night. I’m interested in what happened to them and the appended comments and in what this means for all of us.

After Vanessa's WBN post, I'd left a comment, among many comments from other people, and mine was picked up by a journalist and quoted (well, half of it) in her subsequent Guardian piece. No other comment was quoted by name. In the Guardian, my quote was prefaced by the statement, "Author Nicola Morgan was among those happy to air objections..." This implied that I'd been asked by the journalist. Actually, she had tried to contact me but my phone was off while I was doing school talks and by the time I got her message it was too late: her deadline had passed. One might think that because I’d commented, I was de facto “happy”. Well, yes: I was happy to comment amongst all the other commenters but the small but important difference now was that my comment had appeared on another forum, in print, with another headline, and taken out of its original discussion. It had been, in effect, re-contextualised by someone else. I am not annoyed, because I utterly stand by what I said, and the journalist's piece was good. But it got me thinking.

In Lucy's post, one commenter's remark was also taken and used in the Guardian piece on that subject, and later, on ABBA, that commenter expressed a similar surprise to mine. I’m not criticising journalists, by the way. There may be an issue of asking permission but I’m not interested in that just now. Ditto any copyright issues to do with quoting from blogs.

So what am I saying? I am saying that the internet has changed something about conversation. Blogs, unless actually private and hidden, are public, and when we comment, although it might feel like a discussion where we're all in the room, we are putting our views out there in a very public way. We cannot then control where our comments will appear. And it's permanent. The internet doesn’t forget. The internet has blurred the once clear divide between the spoken word and the printed word. It's more permanent than either and possibly more powerful.

In a good old offline conversation, you know who is there, who is listening - unless you are being bugged - and you know it is unlikely your words will find themselves discussed in public elsewhere. You can make mistakes, change your mind, clarify what you mean if someone doesn't understand. No one can take your words out of context because all those in the discussion know the context. The discussion is also moderated by those in it. It is controlled and yet can be wild and free ranging. There is little at stake other than the opinions of those present.

In an online conversation, the new conversation, all that is different. There is much more at stake, much more that can go wrong, much less control. You don't know who's listening and you don't know what will happen to your words, except for one thing: they will remain.

We also need to realise that Facebook and Twitter conversations are now watched by journalists. You make comments on Facebook and those comments can be quoted or passed on to people outside your FB circle. I have heard of people having to "defriend" others because they are worried that those people, not being actual friends, may use their comments against them. And I worry about the unguarded comments that some people make on Facebook, because FB sometimes feels like a party, with a

11 Comments on The New Art of Conversation - Nicola Morgan, last added: 2/18/2011
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