My name is Matt, and I am a self-publicist. I feel awkward, standing here, sharing this with the group. I have been doing some appalling things, like retweeting praise of novels and blogs, and telling people about events, and I even – at a particularly low point – spent an entire Friday evening setting up a Twitter account for an inanimate object (my novel). Once or twice I have even told people my Amazon rank.

There are no excuses for such brazenly tarty behaviour. Writers should be above such things. If we wanted a job in marketing we should have taken a job in marketing, shouldn’t we? I mean, aren’t books the best hope we have for escaping this late-capitalist age of perpetual promotion? Aren’t we drowning in advertising anyway? Doesn’t advertising belong to the surface world that writers are meant to spend their life digging beneath?

As I’ve said, I have no excuses. I only have explanations. I have written specifically about retweeting praise here but don’t think I covered all the bases. So if the group wants to listen, here I go:

  1. I can’t help it. I might as well start with the lamest of all excuses. But I have an addictive personality. I used to be addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and other substances. These addictions played a part in giving me a nervous breakdown when I was 24, so I have since found healthier addictions. For instance, I have to run at least 5k a day and write 500 words and read a couple of chapters of a book or I get depressed. Also, I am addicted to Facebook and Twitter.
  2. I want people to read my book. Not all my books. I don’t want you to read The Possession of Mr Cave, for instance, as I wish I hadn’t written it. But I want you to read The Humans because it is the best thing I have ever done, and that I probably will ever do. And I have never said that about a book before. (You can check if you want.)
  3. If I wasn’t a writer I would probably be working in advertising, selling things I don’t believe in, so I think it is better to sell things I do believe in.
  4. People get annoyed when I say I don’t care about money but I genuinely don’t. It’s kind of a disease I have. Up until four years ago almost all my adult life had been one debt. It’s not about money. Listen, I got quite a nice advance for this book. Nicer than my other advances. However many books I sell via Twitter isn’t going to make up that advance. Also, I have so far given a lot of books away. I gave 60 books away on Facebook once. And for The Humans I have given away at least twenty for free. I get precisely the same buzz from people reading a free/library/borrowed/stolen copy as I do from one in which I will get 70p in royalties. And I’m pretty sure a lot of writers are the same.
  5. I think the people who write reviews or praise of a book genuinely like it when you share that review or praise. Bloggers are the new gatekeepers. I value their opinion. The retweet is the source of their power.
  6. I want to stay being a writer. The book I wrote before The Humans was called The Radleys. It ended up being my most popular book to date but it didn’t start that way. It almost cost my career. My then publishers Jonathan Cape dropped it on the grounds that it was ‘too commercial’. It was then given the cold shoulder treatment by most major British publishers, until it was eventually picked up by Canongate, who found 25 foreign publishers for a book no other UK publisher wanted to take on. Anyway, it scared me. I had thought I was safe and I wasn’t. So from that point on I wasn’t going to sit on my bum doing nothing, I was going to sit on my bum promoting my books when they came out. It is a very hard thing, this staying published malarkey. But it is worth putting the effort in.
  7. I think I am an organic promoter. By which I mean I don’t just promote. I talk to people, I get back, I like chatting. I write lots of blogs – like this one – for free. And yes, I am too wrapped up in my books, but I don’t know how not to be. A book is a kind of photo made of words. A brain photo. And it gives you more of a person than any tweet could. I would rather be judged on 80,000 words than 140 characters.
  8. I try and be honest. Most writers on Twitter are selling themselves in some way, some do it in more subtle ways than others. I am not very subtle. If I want you to buy my book you will probably know about it. You can unfollow me. I honestly don’t mind. I have people unfollow me, some others follow me. Some people will be against any writer promoting themselves. Fine. Better not follow me. I would far rather you unfollow me than you get grumpy or sad or despairing each time I share a review. It is not ego, it is wanting to stay employed in a job I love.
  9. I have made some genuine friendships via Twitter and Facebook, and some of them have been formed after people got to know me through my books, which they’d only heard about because I had banged on about them.
  10. The idea that writers are above promotion is a kind of arrogant one, no? I mean, most other people who work for themselves – photographers,musicians, plumbers, architects, wedding planners, electricians, actors – are expected to go out and sell what they do. Writers aren’t any different. We create something, and the reason we create it is because we want people to read it. (Why else would we bother? Why wouldn’t we keep it under the bed?) I know a bit about promotion, from a former career, and I use that knowledge. I never write for the market (or I’d be writing thrillers). I have no shame about it. The main theme of my books is that humans are thwarted by shame, so I try and fight that anxiety within myself, which is hard as I am British, and no one here likes a poppy trying to rise. Every word I write in a novel is a kind of appeal to connect with my fellow species (I was the sad lonely kid on the playground – it’s all about that), and now the internet means that desire can spill over. The tentacles can reach further. I push books I write, and those I read. I probably should get out more, but there you go.

So, no excuses. There is probably no hope for me. Oh, and read my book. Read it right now!

The Humans by Matt Haig

OUT NOW 

Buy from: Amazon.co.uk

WaterstonesBook Depository, Big Green Bookshop (signed) or your local bookshop.

The last werewolf

As this is the first book on the list I should be praising its brilliance and saying ego inflating things about it but that’s not my style. In fact, I’ve struggled with it, which is what a book club book should make you do I think?

Where is the struggle? Well a literary author has delved into genre and by his own admission only has the foundations of the genre to build from (think Dracula). Though Duncan is a big horror film fan (think American Werewolf in London) so it doesn’t veer that far away from what you’d recognise as werewolves and vampires.

But it feels like a literary novel as it’s told in diary entries (again think Dracula) as Jacob Marlowe discovers that he is the last werewolf on Earth. And that WOCOP (think Team Van Helsing) plans to kill him on the next full moon. And its focus is on Jacob as he goes from not caring that he’s the last werewolf and he’s about to be killed to really wanting to live.

It’s an exploration of what it’s like to live for 200 years and kill people once a month rather than a battle for survival though Duncan does chuck in plenty to keep the plot moving along. And that’s the struggle as it does feel on occasions that things happen just to move the plot along and seem disconnected from the struggle that is going on inside Marlowe. Though he isn’t struggling with his inner beast as he’s come to accept it and accept that he is something ’other’.

And this is where it gets interesting again as Marlowe as a narrator is very graphic in his language and descriptions. Not only do you get a good slice of gore but it’s sexually graphic and animalistic with the type of focus and description that you don’t get in a typical genre novel. And it certainly raised this reader’s eyebrows. So it might make for uncomfortable reading for some and you might want to be choosy about whom you recommend it to.

Without giving too much away the fact we find out that he isn’t the last and that love is the one thing that is worth living for does feel a very literary device. The genre fan in me wanted to explore more of his history and what Marlowe has done with his life. Having time seems to equate to being able to get hold of money in vast quantities. Being fair he was an aristocrat when he was human so breeding could have helped. As will the need for survival.

But because he’s relating his own tale this aspect just felt too easy to come by and too convenient but I am looking at it as someone who has read plenty of genre novels that pay attention to world-building.

Ultimately what this is a good barrier novel that will introduce literary readers (its prime audience) to genre ideas, moved on from Dracula-esque school reading, but not much and conversely for ardent genre readers they get a chance to experience a werewolf tale at a deeper level than they are used to.

The Summer Book Club is happening on the The Readers, a podcast that I co-host with Simon from the blog Savidge Reads, right now and the plan is to review each of the eight books we’ve selected. If you want to here an interview with the author, hear Simon and I discussing each book and hear what others thought please head over to the blog.

Title: The Wizards of Perfil
Author: Kelly Link
Link: n/a
CollectionPretty Monsters
Publisher: Canongate
Release Date: Out Now in HB

A child is sold by her mother in a market to the wizard’s secretary.

From that point we have two view points. One is the family the child leaves behind left behind and the other is the child themself as they serve the wizards of Perfil.

Kelly Link creates a whole world that has plenty of scope to expand beyond the confines of this tale. The fact that she mentions the travels of the family from city to city, the ongoing war and the whole feel makes it a place that is alive outside this story.

The story itself builds towards the ending. It’s one of those stories where you get absorbed in the imagination of the writer. The market place is full of life, the families destitute state is heartfelt and the resentment of the child not chosen to go with the wizard is tangible.

What made it for me was the skill of Kelly Link’s writing. The children share a link. They can each ‘visit’ the other and see and feel from the their point of view. That awareness isn’t limited to each other. They can see into the people around them.

This gives the writing an interesting quality as the narrator is narrating the view of one child she is themselves a narrator for the other. But she does it without once making it unclear. You can tell instantly what chain of links you are following.

I was worried about how it would end as there seemed no where for the story to go over so few pages and the texture very rich but there is a journey and an ending that is a beginning.

After my first Kelly Link I’m now eager for more.

A tweet from Stephen Fry appears to have sent a book about the afterlife from the murky depths of the book sales lists to the dazzling heights of number two. The online retailer Amazon yesterday reported a 6,000% rise in sales for Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. It went from number 3,629 to number two and the only discernible reason is this tweet from Fry: “You will not read a more dazzling book this year than David Eagleman’s Sum. If you read it and aren’t enchanted I will eat 40 hats.” The tweet was retweeted by Fry followers – hence the dramatic rise.

link: Tweet smell of success for book backed by Stephen Fry | Media | The Guardian

By anyone’s terms Mr Stephen Fry is a popular figure in British culture but he’s also a twitter star. And if you’ve been following him for any length of time you’ve have noticed something I can only call The Fry Effect – usually it involves the following events: Mr Fry wants to mention a weblink, he then checks to see if they can cope with the increase in traffic, they say they can, he posts the link and then the website crashes as numerous amounts of his followers all check out his recommendation as well as ReTweeting his post for others to do the same.

So it’s great to see that same Fry Effect being applied to the book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman by Canongate. And it looks like he’s caused a more than healthy increase in sales.

Incidentally, I mentioned the same book ages ago and Simon A reviewed it around the same time on BookGeeks.co.uk and gave it a great review. Not that Mr Fry would recommend a dub or anything ;)


theearthhumsinbflat The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
Published by Canongate and Out Now

Young Gwenni Morgan has a gift. She can fly in her sleep. She’s also fond of strawberry whip, detective stories and asking difficult questions. When a neighbor mysteriously vanishes, she resolves to uncover the secret of his disappearance and return him to his children. She truthfully records what she sees and hears: but are her deductions correct? What is the real truth? And what will be the consequences – for Gwenni, her family and her community – of finding it out? Gwenni Morgan is an unforgettable creation, and this portrait of life in a small Welsh town on the brink of change in the 1950s is enthralling, moving and utterly real. Mari Strachan’s debut is a magical novel that will transport you to another time and place.

I found this novel with the power of Twitter and Rhian Davies of It’s a Crime (or a Mystery). The sticker on the front tells me it’s been on Radio 4’s ‘Book at Bedtime’. Now that’s something I haven’t listen to for ages but the stories are always interesting.

I’ve read the first few pages and I love the opening line, ‘I fly in my sleep every night’.

Rhian said,If you enjoy a mystery, with a dark undercurrent – it’s not all daffs in Wales, you know – then you’ll enjoy this novel.’

the guardian said, ‘Strachan’s deft handling of a dark subject is both sober and sparkling.

Bookslut said, ‘This is a novel about family secrets, family history, and coming to terms with who people are and why they make the decisions that they do.’

Sounds like there is plenty to look forward too!

Social Networks are diversifying, whilst everyone you know and don’t want to know might be joining places like Twitter and Facebook, and I’m a member of both, there are also places like GoodReads and Tor.com that gather together like minded people. I quite like the idea of social or cultural hubs.

Canongate emailed me today to announce the official launch of Meetatthegate.com:

Meet At The Gate is not a typical publisher’s website.   Designed as a cultural hub, Meet at the Gate will act as a forum for great writing, intelligent and lively debate, and recommendations you can trust.  Interactive and totally independent in its spirit and content, it will provide a wide range of articles and opinion pieces – called Gateposts – on all manner of subjects, but with a particular focus on books, film and music. Visitors can read and comment on essays by leading writers such as Richard Price, Misha Glenny, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin and Nick Cave, and post Gateposts of their own.  Those who sign up to the weekly newsletter will be sent Meet at the Gate Fives – 5 of the latest, 5 of the most popular and 5 of the most commented-on Gateposts. Regular features include the “Literature World Tour”, moving East-ward from country to country focusing on books from one country each month, “Talking With”, a series where one author interviews another author, who then interviews another, and so it continues and “The Gatekeeper’s Site of the Week”, linking to literary and book-related sites that visitors may not already be aware of.

The first 500 people to sign up from the launch date will each receive a free book, and everyone who signs up get a free download of The Gift by Lewis Hyde.

You read the bottom bit right? About the first 500 people getting a free book? So what you waiting for! Go on Meet at the Gate!

It does sound like they’ve thought a lot about it. And as it’s been in beta (for want of a better word) so there is plenty of content there already! I’m also sure that Canongate wouldn’t mind if you spotted one or two of their books along the way too. :)

I’ve just spotted Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

In the afterlife you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. Or you may find the afterlife contains only those people whom you remember. In some afterlives you are split into all your different ages, in some you are recreated based on your credit card records, and in others you are forced to live with annoying versions of yourself that represent what you could have been. In these wonderfully imagined tales – at once funny, wistful and unsettling – Eagleman kicks over the chessboard of traditional notions and offers us a dazzling lens through which to see ourselves here and now. His stories are rooted in science and romance and awe at our mysterious existence: a mixture of hope, love and death that cuts through human nature at innovative angles.

sum

Have fun exploring!