This is where I occasionally write about things I care about. My life isn’t all beer and skittles, y’know…


March 09, 2013

Shocking the Reader

The opening scene of my first novel The Forgotten Stars describes a violent sexual assault on a young woman. I know that everyone who’s read it found that scene very disturbing; and I know it’s put a few people off reading the book. I make no apologies for shocking the reader. That scene is essential to the Havensea books and it was intended to be deeply unpleasant. This is why.

During a House of Lords debate on Violence Against Women (13 January 2011), Baroness Gould of Potternewton said:

Many research studies continue to find alarming and unwavering levels of violence against women and girls in the UK, and I make no apology for repeating the figures since awareness is a crucial part of achieving change. Some 33 per cent of girls in an intimate partner relationship aged 13 to 17 have experienced some form of partner violence. Every year, a million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse – nearly 20,000 cases a week, and 3.7 million women have been sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 16. There are 377 cases of forced marriage, many under the age of 16, and 12 so-called ‘honour’ murders a year. In 2003, there were up to 4,000 women trafficked for sexual exploitation. Some 20 per cent of women say they have experienced stalking. Sixty-six thousand women have experienced [female genital mutilation], and it is estimated… that 24,000 girls are at risk every year.

In other words, physical abuse of women is commonplace. But it gets worse. The recent spate of high-profile prosecutions of groups of men systematically sexually abusing young girls has been appalling, and an increasing number of powerful or influential men have been accused of sexually exploiting women and very young girls, and getting away with it because of who they are. Some of those men may well be innocent; but many won’t be. They’re merely the revolting tip of a truly horrific iceberg. And a man doesn’t even have to be rich, famous and well-connected to escape punishment. According to research by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the National Office of Statistics, published in 2012, between 60 and 95 thousand people (some male but mostly female) are believed to be raped each year in the UK. On average 15,670 rapes are reported to the police; yet only 2,910 people are prosecuted – of whom only 1,070 rapists (averaging 2.3 rapes each) are convicted. In other words, less than 16% of reported rapes result in any kind of justice. And that’s only around 4% of the conservative estimate of total rapes.

Worse still, around one in twenty women under the age of 60 says she has been raped or seriously sexually assaulted at some time in her life. That’s around 800,000 women in the UK who have suffered sexual violence of some kind. Add those over 60 who were not surveyed (and those too young to be surveyed) and the total figure is certainly much higher than that.

These are levels of violence and sexual abuse that we normally associate with countries in which there is little in the way of law and order – Third World nations and failed states, not the UK in the 21st Century. The media focus on extreme sexual abuse of children and the occasional sex murder, only really paying any attention to the abuse of adult women when a high-profile case emerges. Recent reports of organised abuse of young girls in Rochdale and Oxford have drawn attention to the Asian origins of the accused. While there may be a cultural element at play in those instances, the Jimmy Savile case alone demonstrates quite clearly that ethnicity and religion are largely irrelevant. I have no idea whether Savile ever enforced or embroidered his abuse with violence; but Fred West, Levi Bellfield, Robert Black, Ian Huntley and John Christie certainly did, with terminal force. Then you have the serial murderers for whom sexual impulses may have been a major contributory factor – men such as Steve Wright, the so-called Suffolk Strangler, and Peter Sutcliffe – and violent rapists like Peter Cook, the ‘Cambridge Rapist’. All are or were white, native Britons. It’s obvious that sexual abuse and violence against women is an equal opportunities outrage. Whatever their religion, ethnicity, skin colour or place of birth, the perpetrators are almost always men. Their victims aren’t always women or girls, but most are.

But surely these misogynistic, violent, predatory men are rare? Aren’t men’s attitudes to women changing? Aren’t attitudes toward violence against women changing? Well, apparently not. In 2011 Baroness Gould went on to say:

Violence against women and girls will not be eliminated until the attitudes that excuse and normalise violence are challenged and transformed. For instance, 36 per cent of people believe that a woman is wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she is drunk and 26 per cent if she is wearing sexy clothes. One in five people think it would be acceptable in certain circumstances for a man to hit or slap a female partner. What I think is even more distressing is that one in two boys and one in three girls believe that in some circumstances it is all right to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

That last sentence is one of the most chilling things I have ever read. It means that something like 40% of the population, at some time in their lives, accepts that women should be subject to violence and/or sexual coercion by men. If that’s what the kids believe, what kind of adults do they grow into? The numbers are eloquent. A third of the adult population accepts that a woman is there to be used sexually by anyone if she is intoxicated. A quarter of the population accepts that a woman is there for the taking if she dresses in ‘sexy clothes’, whatever that means. In other words, a substantial chunk of the population believes the victim was asking for it. So in addition to the psychological trauma and the physical damage, the victim must also take much of the responsibility for what happened to her. Yes, of course it’s complete bullshit – but it’s clearly what a lot of people believe.

These figures are for the UK but it’s the same pretty much everywhere and worse in some places. For instance, in India and Bangladesh so-called ‘Eve teasing’ has reached epidemic proportions and is becoming increasingly vicious, often resulting in sexual assault and sometimes ending in rape by single or multiple attackers. Last year in Delhi a young woman was gang-raped and subjected to violence so extreme that she died as a consequence, an incident that rightly provoked outraged protest across the subcontinent and attracted global media attention. The horrifying details have largely been omitted in UK media reports but are available online. If you read them you might find it difficult to believe that any human being could do that to another; but if you have only a passing familiarity with the work of serial sex killers like Ted Bundy and Ed Kemper – not to mention our own Jack the Ripper – you will be aware that such savagery happens all the time, everywhere. It’s mostly directed at women.

How do serial killers begin their careers? Well, there is the classic ‘unholy trinity’ of childhood behaviours that are predictive of psychopathology: bed-wetting, arson and cruelty to animals. But what most people don’t realise is that many serial killers move effortlessly from those childhood indicators to indulge in voyeurism, sexual exhibitionism and ‘minor’ sexual assault. Then it’s onward to rape and further forward to bloody mayhem. It’s an established fact that many serial killers begin their serious business as ‘ordinary’ rapists. That’s something our legal system should bear in mind when handing out sentences to convicted rapists. Few rapists will only rape once. And the more rapes a man commits, the more likely he is to go on to do even worse things.

Recently in Hartlepool two boys were sentenced to youth detention of three and four years respectively. They had imprisoned a girl of 14, stripped, tied and gagged her, and tortured her. She was raped by both boys. Presumably the age of the accused – one was 14 and the other 15 when they committed this atrocious crime – swayed the judge to be lenient. The judge was wrong. Leniency for violent rapists is a very bad idea. All the evidence indicates that a man who rapes once is likely to do it again. A man who rapes more than once is likely to commit a sexually-motivated murder. A man who commits one such murder is likely to commit others. These are not crimes anyone should try to excuse for any reason – bleeding-heart liberal defences of deprivation or abusive backgrounds are pretty well irrelevant in the face of the simple fact of escalation. These men are incurable monsters who should be locked away for the rest of their lives. In the Hartlepool case one boy was said to be a dominant personality the other boy had gone along with; and internet pornography was blamed for inflaming his lusts. The bad news for those defences is that the vast majority of men and boys who regularly look at internet pornography don’t go on to become rapists. This is distinct from men who consume violent pornography – they do so because they already have violent sexual desires and fantasies. And it must also be pointed out that the ‘weaker’ boy was sufficiently sexually aroused by the situation to commit rape. The two key elements here are the desire and the decision. Either perpetrator could have said ‘no’ and tried to stop the other. Neither did. What they did was premeditated, planned and coldly executed. They are equally culpable, there is no reasonable excuse for what they did, and their sentences should have been much longer to even partly reflect what they did to that poor girl. But there’s more to it than simple retribution. I believe that most convicted criminals can be rehabilitated; but there are crimes that can only be committed by people for whom rehabilitation and expressions of remorse will only ever be a temporary pretence. The only rational response to such acts is to lock the perpetrators up for the rest of their lives so they can’t hurt anyone else.

I didn’t enjoy writing the violent scene that opens The Forgotten Stars.  From first draft to final edit it left me feeling slightly unclean and vaguely ashamed to be a male of the species. It had to be done, though, as the incident it describes resonates throughout that book and its two sequels, and sexual violence against women is one of the things the books are ‘about’. It had to be done because it’s pretty much an everyday occurrence that I feel is rarely treated with due empathy and understanding. It wasn’t all the work of my imagination: I did the research, reading a number of survivors’ stories, and also drew from my own experiences of being beaten up when I was a pre-teen kid, including one time when I was genuinely afraid that I was going to come to serious physical harm at the hands of a bigger, older boy who appeared to be seriously unhinged and was rather obviously becoming sexually aroused by the violence he was subjecting me to. I know how it feels to be powerless against someone inflicting physical damage. And men can be raped too. It hasn’t happened to me but I can imagine how I would have felt if it had, or of someone had tried.

I wanted the incident to be told from the victim’s point of view, emphasising her emotional response to the assault, as though it was the woman telling her own story in the third person. And yes, I wanted it to be shocking, to make the reader think and to give an inkling of the victim’s pain and distress. Things like that are really happening, to real people, and increased awareness of what it does to the victims can only be a good thing. I also wanted to contrast that violence with the love and tenderness the victim later receives. Yes, there are violent and abusive men; but there are many others who are not at all like that. It’s up to the reader to judge if I got it right.


The full House of Lords debate on Violence Against Women can be found here.


January 26, 2013

27th January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Never again. Not to anyone, anywhere.


January 01, 2013

Touch 4 Love

Running parallel to Borough High Street in SE1 is Redcross Way, an obscure London street with a secret. I worked in an office there for a couple of years, then at another nearby in Borough High Street, but didn’t know about it. That was hardly surprising as the secret hadn’t then been rediscovered – that happened in 1992 when the land became accessible to archaeologists thanks to work on the Jubilee Line extension. When I worked in Redcross Way I walked past the Crossbones Graveyard every weekday morning in total ignorance of what was beneath the ground. But the street itself always had an atmosphere that fascinated me. It may have been because of the area’s historical and literary associations. The graveyard is hard by the remains of the old Marshalsea prison, made internationally famous by Dickens in Little Dorrit, and close to where the Tabard Inn of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales once stood. Not far away is the George, a former coaching inn established in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the seventeenth century following a fire. It’s a stone’s throw from the sites of the Globe and Rose theatres, the licensed brothels and bear-pits of Bankside – the area formerly known as the Manor of Southwark, the Liberty of Winchester and then the Liberty of the Clink – that provided questionable entertainments to Londoners and visitors for centuries. Indeed, the area has been occupied continuously since the Roman occupation and a lot has happened there. History is only ever a footstep away. Around Bankside you are walking in the footsteps of Chaucer, Dickens and Shakespeare and traces of their worlds are all around you. If you close your eyes and let your mind wander you can feel the past.

The memorial gate at the site of the Crossbones Graveyard in Redcross Way is dressed with ribbons, charms and trinkets; personal items donated in remembrance. The garden within is not normally accessible but it is visible and affecting. I don’t have any religious faith and I don’t believe in any deity; but this modern shrine is an inherently holy place. It was created from love and memory, kindness and respect. For me that is the best sort of spirituality, the only one that’s worth anything. It is not a place devoted to narcissistic, needy, megalomaniac deities or religions that control through fear, censure and spiritual blackmail. I don’t believe either gods or religiosity have any existence separate from the human mind. Yet I always feel a presence there, something that seems to me to be more than a lingering memory of sadness. Ghosts, spirits, recordings – call them what you will, the people buried there have a kind of existence. I like to think that they have been revitalised and soothed by the compassion that inspired the memorial gate, the plaque and the garden. These dead hearts are alive again because someone cares. Sure, maybe it’s all subjective, a feeling formed by my imagination, my knowledge of the place’s past, my recognition that the dead were real people whose lives were probably pretty desperate, and my emotional response to the way they were treated – but isn’t that what it’s all about? Aren’t they alive in those of us who care and remember? Isn’t that what the immanence claimed by religion really is, that which lives within us?

The Crossbones Graveyard is reputedly unconsecrated ground, a graveyard established for prostitutes. It is first mentioned in John Stow’s A Survey of London (written in 1598 and published in 1603) as a ‘Single Woman’s churchyard’. Until it was closed down in 1853 (because there was no room for any more interments and it had become a public health hazard) it was the burial place of paupers and their children, and prostitutes – the poor, the vulnerable and the exploited, all denied a so-called Christian burial because they were an underclass no one cared about or wanted to take responsibility for. The prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese – from about 1149 the land on the south bank of the Thames roughly between London Bridge and Waterloo and down to the Borough belonged to the Bishops of Winchester, who in 1161 were granted the privilege of licensing brothels (known as ‘stews’) and prostitutes and thereafter took a cut from the brothel-keepers’ profits. However, the Church refused to extend the courtesy of a full religious funeral to the women whose bodies were sold to help maintain the Bishops’ luxury, unless they were ‘reconciled to the church’ before they died. In other words, they couldn’t have a full Christian burial unless they first apologised to the god represented by the prelates who grew fat on the money the women made for them. It wasn’t an uncommon attitude. In the 15th century the legendary Dick Whittington sponsored a ward at St Thomas’ Hospital for ‘young women that had done amiss’ – unmarried pregnant women. But after 1561 the hospital refused to treat them because they were ‘harlots’ – by extension their unborn children weren’t considered important either. The people who made those unfeeling decisions probably thought of themselves as good Christians. I’m no Christian but as Jesus reportedly said to a mob about to stone a woman to death for adultery, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’. He also supposedly said things like ‘judge not lest ye be judged’, ‘love one another’, and ‘blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy’ – but over the centuries far too many Christians have tended to ignore wise advice like that, even when it comes from the New Testament.

Why Winchester Geese? Well, the land belonged to the Bishops of Winchester. Standard explanations for the ‘geese’ part are that the working women of Bankside used to wear white aprons; or that they bared their pale breasts to attract punters. Therefore they were white-fronted and looked like geese. I actually heard these vapid explanations given by a historian on Radio 4 within the last year. Both versions are pure fantasy. The truth is that ‘goose’ used to be a common London term for a prostitute. It’s not a euphemism, as some people seem to think, but is from rhyming slang: ‘goose and duck’ – work it out. That’s how they were perceived, not as people but as the act they were paid to perform; not as women but as the only thing too many men wanted from them. A Winchester Goose was not seen as a person but simply as a fuck. Not a lot has changed in that respect. It’s the way an awful lot of men still think of women.

But the Crossbones Graveyard isn’t just a microcosm of broader gender politics. It’s a symbol of exploitation and callous disregard for humanity. As many as fifteen thousand people may have been laid to rest there. In 1769 the site became a paupers’ burial ground attached to St Saviour’s parish church (as the church of St Mary Overy had become known – the site is now occupied by Southwark Cathedral). While no longer exclusively a graveyard for Winchester Geese, it’s a fair bet that many of the women paupers subsequently buried there were also prostitutes. The 1990s excavation took a sample of 148 sets of remains and found that almost half were of very young children (perinatal to a year old) and most of the adults were women in their mid-thirties and later, who had suffered from a variety of ailments including Paget’s Disease, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis and diseases associated with Vitamin D deficiency. There were relatively few adult males. The statistics tell the story: the Crossbones Graveyard was filled with thousands of exploited women and their children.

I’ve always believed that the strong have a responsibility – a duty – to protect the weak, to look after the small and the sick, and to help those who suffer misfortune. It didn’t happen here. The Crossbones women and children weren’t protected in life or looked after when they died. By the 19th century Redcross Way had become a notoriously violent and noisome slum, horribly overcrowded and ravaged by cholera. One set of excavated remains, from the 18th century, was of a young woman aged between 16 and 19, only four foot seven inches tall, with clear signs of advanced syphilis. The conclusion was that she had been a child prostitute, presumably continuing to sell herself into the early adulthood that was as far as she got. Dan Cruickshank estimates that one in five women (around 63,500) lived by prostitution in Georgian London. And that’s not counting the children who sold themselves to survive – or who were sold by bawds and pimps. (At that time it was widely believed that sexual intercourse with a child could cure venereal diseases; and of course paedophilia has always been with us. Procuresses auctioned the virginity of girls as young as 10 or 11 years old.) By the late 19th century the number of prostitutes had risen by nearly fifty per cent, again excluding the children. Prostitution wasn’t only a desperate resort of the poverty-stricken. In both periods children and young women were often forced into prostitution through a variety of underhand means, and many were effectively sex slaves. And if you read the newspapers you’ll know it’s still happening. The story may be topical but it’s depressingly old.

Paradoxically, the Crossbones Graveyard is one of the things that give me hope. The people now fighting to protect the shrine as a permanent memorial are doing it because they care about the world’s outcast and exploited people, past and present. The campaigners are local residents, spearheaded by the playwright, poet and performer John Constable. Thanks to their efforts the campaign has attracted support from MPs and the London Mayor, while Southwark Council has pledged £100,000 toward the creation of a permanent memorial Goose Garden and planning constraints have been placed upon developers by Transport for London.

To me the Crossbones Graveyard represents both the cynicism that brought it into being and the love and kindness that has turned it into a memorial to the exploited and disregarded victims of the strong and powerful. It represents both a disease and its cure. The memorial represents hope for the redemption of our entire species – if some of us can care this way for people we never knew and who died long ago, perhaps we can all learn to care for and take care of one another. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be? Isn’t compassion one of the things that define our humanity?

By the memorial gate someone has painted a simple message enclosed in a heart: TOUCH 4 LOVE. Go there, stand for a while and remember those lost people you never knew, and touch it for love. It might just touch you in return.

Further reading

David Brandon and Alan Brooke – Bankside: London’s Original District of Sin (Amberley, 2011)

Kellow Chesney – The Victorian Underworld (Temple Smith, 1970)

John Constable – Secret Bankside: Walks in the Outlaw Borough (Oberon Books, 2011 revised edition)

Dan Cruickshank – The Secret History of Georgian London – How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital (Windmill Books, 2010)

See also the Crossbones Graveyard website, via the link in Otherworlds, below. Please sign the petition.

Click on the images to enlarge.



October 24th, 2012

Independent Publishing

I chose to use an independent (i.e. self-publishing) platform rather than go through the usual torturous, soul-destroying and essentially humiliating procedure – find an agent willing to even look at the material, await their suggestions for changes then repeat the process until they’re happy enough to send it to a publisher; then go though the same agonies with them before receiving that coveted rejection slip. Then keep repeating it ad nauseam until you either strike lucky or give up.

Sod that. An agent cannot tell you how to write your story – only how to transform it into something that will sell lots of copies and make them lots of money. It’s the same with the publisher. They’re not writers (usually) but business people. OK, if your primary reason for wanting to write is to make pots of money, then take that route and good luck to you. But be prepared for the stress of waiting a very long time (possibly until the crematorium curtains close behind you) before your text even makes it to the sub-editing stage, and fortify yourself against the pain of transforming it into the story someone else wants you to write in a way you don’t want to write. It depends what you want – a formulaic genre unit-shifter laden with clichés and conventions; or a piece that is written about what you want in the way you want to write it. I’m well aware that I’m probably not going to be either globally famous or mega-wealthy, but that isn’t why I write. Fame and fabulous wealth do not appeal to me. I’d rather write a sincere story that I believe in and retain a semblance of dignity and a few shreds of integrity. That’s why I chose the independent publishing option.

Let’s get one thing straight. Independent publishing is not vanity publishing – not if you’re honest with yourself and honest to your text. Hard work is involved. And the author does all that work.

Before you even consider independently publishing your book, reflect on what you have written and be ruthlessly self-critical. If it passes that test, show it to a few people whose judgement you trust and instruct them to be brutally honest with you. Is it good enough as a text (i.e. does it obey the basic rules of the language you’re writing in) and is it any good as a story? Does the plot make sense? Does it sustain interest? Does it do what you wanted it to do? If the answer to any of those questions is ‘no’ then you need to get back to the story and rewrite it so that all those boxes are ticked. You don’t need to assemble a focus group and rewrite according to what they would do in your place but you do need to pay attention to how they react to it. But if someone doesn’t like the story, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad story. If they don’t like the way it ends, that doesn’t mean you should change the ending. If people find your central character unsympathetic, it doesn’t mean you have to make him or her more likeable. If your story passes the crap/not-crap test, then it needs to be scrutinised for continuity errors. After that, get it proofread and do some proofreading of your own because even professional proofreaders miss the odd typo.

OK, so now you have what you genuinely believe to be a good, well-written and entertaining story with no textual mistakes that can be detected by the naked eye. The next step is probably the most important of all. It’s the one that requires the most courage. Do you publish it? Are you really ready to have your creation – and by extension, yourself – exposed to public scrutiny?

It took me weeks to bite the bullet. Even though I believed in what I’d written there is a major gulf between believing a story is good and believing it’s good enough for people to want to read it and pay good money for it. It’s a huge decision and requires some serious agonising. Really, I suppose it’s the difference between having confidence in the story and having confidence in your ability to handle the public gaze.

The next step is to decide how you want to publish. I suppose the goal of all would-be writers is to sell enough copies to be able to quit the day job and spend all that lovely freed-up time writing more stuff and living in a suitably decadent fashion. It almost certainly won’t happen that way – some independently-published books/authors get taken up by mainstream publishers but not that many. I opted for a dual platform – print-on-demand paperback and e-book. There are several of each out there, so do some research and pick the one that suits your material and circumstances. I chose CreateSpace for the paperback and Kindle for the e-version. I like to keep things simple and manageable.

CreateSpace don’t charge for basic publication. They will make money from the copies you order for yourself – and you’ll need some to dish out to friends and family, and more to send for review if that’s what you want to do – and they’ll make money on every copy that’s ordered by the punters. You can choose to pay for expanded sales (orders from booksellers and libraries) or marketing and publicity. It’s optional. CreateSpace also offer a free DIY cover design service, though you can choose to pay more for a bespoke design. It’s your choice.

Now that you’ve decided on the publishing platform you have to sign up with CreateSpace and give them lots of bank account and other details. If you live outside the USA, there is a small problem in that Uncle Sam will take 30% of your sales earnings unless you register with the US Internal Revenue Service for exemption. That sounds tempting but my advice is to not register with the IRS until you get an idea of how the paperback is selling. Because the registration process is a time-consuming bureaucratic nightmare that will cost you a couple of hundred pounds just to send off for it in the first place! In the UK you have to download and complete a couple of forms (one of which is a single page that comes with eight pages of instructions), then send them off to the IRS with a legalised photocopy of your passport to prove you don’t live in the USA. Legalisation in this instance means that you have to get the copies notarised by a Registered Public Notary (which will cost money), then you send the notarised copies to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be legalised, which means they check that your notary is genuine then affix an apostille (a certificate of authentication) and return it to you. And yes, that costs money, too. After that you send the forms and notarised, legalised copies of your passport to the IRS. In return, they will send you a US tax exemption number, which you then have to send with another form to the publisher. Don’t ask me how long it takes because I haven’t bothered yet. I suspect that when I do it will not be quick. It’s an immense and expensive hassle and is only really worth doing if the book looks like making a fair bit of money. At the moment as far as I’m concerned Uncle Sam is welcome to 30% of not very much at all.

Once you’ve registered with CreateSpace you register the book’s title, which will include a free ISBN. Alternatively, you could spend a small fortune getting your own, which CreateSpace will accept. But if they’re giving them out for nothing, why bother?

Next up is the format – decided on the size you want your physical paperback to be, what kind of paper. Bear in mind that they will affect the unit cost. When you’ve decided on that, download the appropriate CreateSpace Word template. These are specially formatted so they can be transformed into pdf files that CreateSpace will print from, with appropriately sized gutters and margins– all you need to do is copy and paste your text into the chapters provided in the template. It’s easy. It’s also a bloody minefield. The templates only come with ten chapters to paste into. You can copy those and paste them in at the end of the document, but my experience is that this messes up the formatting so that you get two consecutive odd or even pages, and that is not good. Unfortunately, unless your book is ten chapters or less, that’s pretty well unavoidable. You have to adjust the section breaks to compensate for that. It’s tricky and time-consuming but as long as you keep your wits about you it is doable without too many tears, tantrums or suicide attempts.

When you’ve done that you will have a very good idea how the book will look when it’s printed. It will also give you a rough idea of how many pages it will be, which is important as it will affect unit price. You will need to decide on a font and font size – Garamond 11 looks good and will keep page numbers down – and do a few things to make it look more professional, like formatting paragraph indentation, adjusting white space, blocking widow and orphan control and what have you, otherwise the CreateSpace default formatting will make your text simply too horrible to behold. If you don’t know your way around Microsoft Word – learn, fast!

The next thing you really should do is recheck the text for typos and extra spaces – eliminate the latter and it will improve the layout. Make sure the text is fully justified. Make it look cool. Once you’re happy with that, upload it to CreateSpace and they will turn it into a print-ready pdf. The tool used for that may tell you there are problems – take note of what they say, then go back to the Word document and fix them. When you get that nice message saying your book is printable, and you’ve reviewed it to make sure, go to the next step and design the cover.

The CreateSpace off-the-peg cover designs are pretty good. They consist of a basic layout that you can customise, either with pictures from their gallery or your own uploaded pictures. Spine width is calculated from the number of pages in your final pdf. Unless you want a blank back cover, try to think of something interesting to write about the book, something honest and without spoilers.

Now you have the size sorted, the interior (text and layout) is how you want it, and the cover is designed. The next thing you need to do is decide how much you want to charge people for the book. This is a delicate business. The CreateSpace pricing tool will give you a suggested price in pounds and euros based the price in US dollars; but the ‘royalty’ rates are different. The best thing to do is check out Amazon.com and figure out (based on other people’s books) what a reasonable dollar price would be, and then do the same for pounds and euros, making sure that whatever prices you choose you will at least make something from it.

You will also have to do some more fiddly stuff – book description, genre, key words and so on – and when you’ve done all those, there comes that magical moment when you have to click on a button that says: publish! After that there’s no turning back – you and your book will sink or swim.

Check out the CreateSpace site. Some of their information is helpful, but you won’t find a step-by-step guide until you actually begin the publishing process. And the pitfalls are never mentioned until they happen to you. Having said that, I think CreateSpace is excellent and they did a superb job on the paperback of my first novel.

If you also want to publish on Kindle, CreateSpace has a function that allows you to download a picture of your book’s front cover and the book itself as a Kindle-ready Word document. When you’ve got those, head for Amazon, look at the bottom of the web page and click on Self-publish with Us and log in with your normal Amazon username and password – there’s the usual tedious registration process and they too will ask for bank details. When you get past that all you do is upload the cover picture and text, proof-read the Kindle edition (you don’t need a Kindle to do that – it’s an online tool) and then input the usual book description, genre and key words. Oh, you also have to decide on a price and whether to sign up to various schemes (which royalty percentage, Kindle Select). But on the whole it’s pretty easy.

I’m not a self-publishing guru, just a guy who’s done it once, made the mistakes and managed to put them right without getting into too much trouble. I won’t answer any questions about it. Apart from the stuff above, everything you need to know is on the CreateSpace and Kindle sites. I won’t give any advice on marketing, mainly because I’m frankly clueless about that sort of thing. Start a web site, put it in Facebook or cough up for a CreateSpace marketing package – it’s up to you. All I want to do is give a rough idea of what’s involved and encourage you to do it if you want.


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