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Friday, 27 June 2008

Toilet Humour

A friend of mine once flew 5750 miles to get laid.

He (obviously only a man would do this) flew the 11.5 hours from London to Rio, did the dirty, then hopped back on the plane and headed home. We (his friends, although he may revise this description if he reads this) didn't even know he'd done it, until we chanced upon his passport one day and noticed the Brazilian stamp and the whole sorry tale came out.

At the time we made fun of him - you sad b*****d - flying to Brazil for a sh*g etc.- but later I came to see that there was something rather romantic about flying half-way around the world to see someone you love, even if the stingy sod did travel as a courier to avoid shelling out. I think he thought it was quite a grand gesture too, although the later revelation that the entire Oxford men's rowing team, who had accompanied the female team to Brazil, had had slightly less far to travel to enjoy similar favours, left a rather bitter taste in his mouth. And quite possibly hers too ...

Anyway, I mention all this because this weekend, I am flying 645 miles to ... go to the toilet. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. You see, there is a scene in my fourth book set in the casino in Monte Carlo. Set in the toilet at the casino at Monte Carlo to be more precise. And never having been to the toilet in the casino in Monte Carlo, I felt I needed to go to make sure I properly captured the mood and smell of the place (the casino that is) as well as the layout and fixtures and fittings of the facilities themselves.

I'm taking the missus, of course - you try having a conversation that starts "Darling, I'm going to Monaco for the weekend" and not end up having to bring your better half too! The whole trip is costing me a bloody fortune. Flights, helicopter transfers, hotels, food, gambling money, cocktails. You probably even have to pay to have a pee. The things I have to go through to in my unselfish drive for authenticity!

- good thriller - £6.99
- holiday and palm tree to read it under - £1000
- knowing that the description of the toilets is 100% accurate - priceless (except for me)

Monday, 9 June 2008

Giving good panel

There's a moment in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Elizabeth Swann invokes the right to "parley" under the Pirate Code, and Captain Barbossa dismisses it as "more of a set of guidelines than actual rules."

Well, much the same could be said for the unwritten agreement that exists between writers invited to speak on a panel together. There are no written rules, more a set of commonly understood basic and principles:

1. Give everyone their fair chance to speak - don't hog the microphone or jump in at every opportunity, especially if some of the other panellists are a little shy
2. Promote but don't sell - don't hijack the session into a sales pitch at other people's expense

3. Humour not humiliation - don't belittle or criticise your fellow panellists to get a cheap laugh
4. Humility rather than smugness - don't batter everyone with your sales figures or the size of your advance (yes, I said advance) or with how clever or funny you are

Or maybe these principles aren't as well understood as they should be. At last weekend's Crimefest, I witnessed numerous instances of mike-hogging and selling, where well-behaved panellists lost out to some of their more vocal and pushy colleagues.

Even in my panel, (See Graveyard Shift), Michael Morley (a TV producer turned novelist who has just published his first novel, Spider) was guilty of reading out two paragraphs of his book at the end of the session. He was trying to illustrate how your imagination can lead to small things running away with themselves and suddenly acquiring a greater significance - a good point, granted. But surely not one that warranted the four other writers, all equally keen and deserving for the opportunity to promote their work, being forced to sit there while he turned the session into a private marketing event. The look on moderator Declan Hughes' face was priceless - the sort of strained smile that losing nominees give on Oscar night.

Maybe I'm just being too sensitive. Michael seemed like a nice guy - family man, successful and interesting TV career. In fact I later went and brought a copy of Spider, because I thought it sounded interesting. So this was probably just him being unthoughtful, rather than showing a deliberate lack of professional courtesy. The same probably couldn't be said for Tony Broadbent, a thriller writer who I shared a panel with a few years ago, who started every reply, interruption and "If I could just build on that ..." comment, with variations on, "Well as you will see in my novel X,..." or "Well when I was writing my novel X."

I think I was asked to sign about twenty books after that session. He had about five.

There is a God.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Graveyard Shift

So it's finally out there! The Gilded Seal has hit the shelves and the agony has only just begun. Tuesday morning next week is when I'll get the first TCM (Total Consumer Market) "flash" numbers from Nielsen and a feel for how the book is doing. With any luck ... God I hate this time - the feeling of powerlessness, of my fate being out of my control and in the hands of chance and a fair wind.

The Tom Clancy story is a good one. Having (amazingly) failed to get a publisher for The Hunt for Red October, he eventually convinced the Naval Press to knock out a small run given his submarine warfare based plot. A shipment ended up in a small bookstore in Washington DC and a copy sold to a woman. The next day, she returned and bought the entire shipment - apparently her husband had been so enthralled he'd stayed up all night to finish it and was now insisting on handing copies out as gifts at a cocktail party they were hosting that night. Two weeks later Ronald Reagan, a guest at the party, was seen getting off Air Force One with a copy under his arm. When asked what it was he gave the title and said that it had been written by "a great American patriot." The rest, as they say, is history. Just imagine if Gordon Brown was seen reading one of my books...not entirely convinced it would help!

The good news is that Harper have really pulled the sales and marketing stops out this time. The image above is the poster that they are running in four and six sheet versions at UK airports and railway stations serving airports. And go into any bookshop for the next few months and the chances are you'll find it in the chart or in their front table summer promotions. What do you mean you thought that books were placed there at random or based on merit? True the bookshops have to accept you into their promotions based on whether they think you will sell enough copies, but you have to pay for the privilege of them making money. With any luck, because it's the summer, it will hang around a little longer than the average 6 weeks that most books spend out before relegation to the shelves at the back of the shop.

Anyway, with all this going on, I haven't really thought about this weekend and the panel I am doing at Crimefest in Bristol. You may think think that a graveyard shift is midnight to six am as a security guard on an industrial estate, but you'd be wrong. It's 9:00am on Saturday 7th June 2008 on a panel discussing Chills and Thrills (whatever the hell that's meant to mean) when you just know that everyone will have been out on the lash the night before and that the room will therefore me empty. This is the equivalent of being on BBC3 at 3am.

Maybe Gordon Brown being seen reading my book wouldn't be so bad after all ...