Cover roughs are in for ‘Gnaw’! Which one, A or B?

Cover B: Designer says ‘A response to the frenetic energy of protagonist…unravelling and of the tenuous hold she has on her life. The rope has not snapped yet, potential is there to stop the unbearable tension of whether to tame boredom or whether destructive contact will succeed.'

Cover B: Designer says ‘A response to the frenetic energy of protagonist…unraveling and of the tenuous hold she has on her life. The rope has not snapped yet, potential is there to stop the unbearable tension of whether to tame boredom or whether destructive contact will succeed.’

Behold! Cover roughs for upcoming publication of Gnaw. I understand why I reached out to my sister apart from cottage industry mentality. Our ideas of psychological disturbance are very different. As writer is to editor, author is to cover designer (if that makes sense?) Mand as designer is the filter and the foil. You see, in my head psychological disturbance is a gravid thing, fecund, panicky. What I would have come up with as a person of words would have been…more words? Or all of the ideas represented in one busy jam-packed image fest? However, Mand has read the text and come up with something far more compelling, something I could never even conjure up as a cover image because the vacuum is exactly what nature abhors (as they say) and what my protagonist avoids at all costs. The designer has correctly read the subtext of unmanaged existentialism in this piece and has presented something minimalist that unsettles me very much. Take away the noise and what is left —blackness and a last tenuous hold on life. So, cover ‘B’ is the one I favour. I vote for cover ‘B’

I like cover ‘A’ too BUT two things jump out as challenges:

  1. ebooks are viewed cover-wise as thumbnails on retailers’ noisy interfaces. White is not an ideal backdrop in this context and the flesh colour of the typography (which has a particular CMYK breakdown in print control) can’t be controlled on multiple devices with RGB filters. Basically, digital, for better or worse, has smashed through the legacy standards and I need to be optimising here for the digital bookshelf, not the book-shop shelf, or both if possible.
  2. I fear potential readers will be misled that it is thriller or a ‘slasher horror’. They will not thank me for bringing them into the more real and discretely apocalyptic terrain of the mind if that is not what they are suspecting.

 

Cover A:  Designer says: ‘A visual response to the protagonist’s description of the ‘gnaw’, flesh coloured…trickle of blood alluded to throughout (bloodstream, in her blood etc.)'

Cover A: Designer says: ‘A visual response to the protagonist’s description of the ‘gnaw’, flesh coloured…trickle of blood alluded to throughout (bloodstream, in her blood etc.)’

Interesting that the designer singled out blood however. There is blood in this piece, yes, and there are the deeper connotations of what blood means, what you are born with, human condition and DNA but the theme in this story — and blood in this case — is linked very much to the outward manifestation of life at its best and worst… sexuality. The protagonist will draw ‘blood’ incidentally as she tries to control her own passions, but the impact of the invisible ‘institution’ is always nearby in safe routines — work, religion, TV, alcohol and absent love, faulty love and impossible love — situations that will stymie real change. The ‘Gnaw’ is the leaking in of unbridled potency, in her case sexuality, to civilised thinking and is perhaps even a slightly criminal instinct as judged by society. The primal aspect is key here, the suspicion being that human beings are still trying to evolve into something else, but are still animals on some level. Savage instincts are still psychologically resident the way perhaps (physically) we still have tail bones or wisdom teeth, things we don’t need, but have as reminders that we were once something else. It’s how we manage this that defines what kind of human being we are, or where we are personally on the evolutionary line.  As a writer my hunch is that society,  institution and law is a thin skin on the face of more chaotic form. It’s suspension of disbelief most of the time that keeps the world in order or peace.

Sexuality is the protagonist’s poison and saviour, so if the theme of sexuality is prominent too in this work then it’s the only element missing from the cover ‘B’, yet was present (indirectly) in cover ‘A’. But I’m nearly sure that I cannot have blood as the image on the cover, the erotic maybe, but that would be misleading too as it is sacrificed in this case for survival. So, is the imagery of cover ‘B’ enough to imply the content? Does it even need to? I don’t know how you even could impose the other themes on this cover ‘B’ without destroying the integrity of it.

Sundries, need to play around with the title being bigger and up higher perhaps, though I’m aware that this is exactly because all that black space is making me edgy (the intention of the designer?) Either way the designer has nailed the tension here. I am arrested.

For sport, and because I value the opinion people who read this blog, let’s do a poll. Help me out here. Which cover? A or B? Make a comment if you can, this would really help, all this working with no team is really weird for me. Would you enlarge the title on cover B? Place it elsewhere? Do something completely different? What does this image mean to you? Would you buy this ebook based on the cover?

screenshot_for_JSB_2

Fellow writer/blogger Sean McCann has emulated the potential look of this cover in a sea of thumbnails. Food for thought. The title must increase, The first is at 'books' level. When you head down into genre fiction the thumbnail size seems to increase (so I magnified your image up a level, see second screenshot) 'making the case for quality, legible cover art more persuasive?'

Fellow writer/blogger Sean McCann has emulated the potential look of this cover in a sea of thumbnails. Food for thought. The title must increase, possibly author name too? 

Cover story: Sister I need your help

the cottage industry is well and truly kicking in. Enter, old school bartering, family ties and a currency based relationship and skills, not money, and you know what, it’s nice, it’s a lesson learnt, it’s a reminder of how all businesses start and what it takes to make things happen.

The cottage industry is well and truly kicking in. Enter old school bartering, family ties and a currency based relationship and skills. Graphic Designer and sister, Amanda Brady, will now be responsible for the face of ‘Gnaw’.

I never got a job in publishing from knowing someone. I’m no-one’s daughter, niece, pal or whatever, I’m as far from publishing royalty as can be. Thankfully this has never been an issue (that I know of) but as I move through Project Gnaw a paradox is emerging. Self-publishing should emulate the paradigm of the ‘self-made man’ but here I am relenting in the usual stance of not using contacts.

One of the managers in work has a sign in her office saying ‘No Guts No Glory’. It fascinates me. Is it a warning to naysayers who disguise fear in begrudgery? Or is it a mantra to self, that yes, inching out on a ledge IS stomach churning but it ultimately rewarding? Whatever it is, I like the sentiment. Glory doesn’t have to be big. Glory can be a minute recognition in yourself. Glory can be a hurdle jumped that liberates thinking. For me, in this context right now, it’s having the guts to ‘bother’ some key people I believe can impact my self-publishing effort positively. Enter, old school bartering, family ties and a currency based relationship and skills and you know what? It’s nice, it’s a lesson learnt, it’s a reminder of how all businesses start and what it takes to make things happen. I have an award-winning graphic designing sister. Our paths seldom cross in the industry as her emphasis has shifted to jewelry design, but she has the quality, qualifications and critically the blood ties that means our communication has a sibling subtext that no-one else could possibly get.

A warning to naysayers who disguise fear in begrudgary? Or is it a mantra to self, yes, inching out on the ledge is stomach churning but it is rewarding.

A warning to naysayers who disguise fear in begrudgery? Or is it a mantra to self, yes, inching out on a ledge IS stomach churning but ultimately rewarding.

Below is my brief to commission the cover for Gnaw. Bear in mind, I’m not the one who does the cover brief in work. This is done by a team of marketers who’ve studied the audience. I’m sticking my neck out here, risking getting laughed at by peers for what must surely be an unorthodox brief, but remember, No Guts No Glory? And remember too that Project Gnaw is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a narrative in its own right, told right here; the story of a person on one side of the publishing fence trying to see what it all looks like from the other side. Flaws are part of that narrative. Scrutinise if you will, the brief to sister and cover designer Amanda Brady. I leave in for authenticity the errors, the jotted down train of thought, the erratic fluency, sister-to-sister speak. We shared a bunk bed for many a year, in this brief I am talking from the top-bunk to the bottom-bunk, quite naturally.

Flaws are part of the narrative. The brief to sister and cover designer is a little unorthodox. I leave in the erratic fluency of sister-to-sister speak. We shared a bunk bed for many a year, in this brief I am talking from the top-bunk to the bottom-bunk.

Flaws are part of the narrative. The brief to sister and cover designer is a little unorthodox. I leave in the erratic fluency of sister-to-sister speak. We shared a bunk bed for many a year, in this brief I am talking from the top-bunk to the bottom-bunk.

Indie Publishing —The Entropy Is All Yours

You wince reading your own work in print, or sometimes you are happily remote to it. Either way you created it and there’s something right about having the autonomy to take control of your content if you trust yourself to be your own foil and if you don't? Then welcome to publishing.

You wince reading your own work in print, or sometimes you are happily remote to it. Either way you created it and there’s something right about having the autonomy to take control of your content if you trust yourself to be your own foil and if you don’t? Then welcome to publishing.

Happy to be announcing official kick-off of self-publishing experiment Project Gnaw. First observation: Organising a publication solo is tumbleweed territory. There’s no noise, meetings, procedures, discussions, fanfare or pondering over author imagination, like, how proactive will this author be online? What ideas do they have around repurposing? What territories have they or their agent agreed rights for? So as author, publisher, editor and producer the entropy is all mine. As is the conversation, which goes something like…

‘Jen, get the print version off the shelf there, give it a re-read for errors and repurposing.’

‘Sure Jen, what’s Jen’s deadline?’

‘Today Jen, today.’

‘Okay Jen, let Jen confer with Jen — Jen, can Jen do the work on this today?’

‘Jen, Jen is the author today, therefore not advisable that Jen does the edit, Jen?’

‘Jen?’

‘Yep?’

‘What would Jen do if Jen was not Jen?’

‘But Jen is Jen is Jen and Jen…’

And so it goes. Actually, I feel like one of my own creations from an earlier post. Circular, self-referential, internal. This is way to insular for my liking. No wonder there’s a load of bad self-published work out there. Without a foil how do you accurately curate the bats inner monologue when it comes to publishing your own work? So the first decision is not difficult. Open the door; expose the work to industry peers. Makes sense. What’s a publisher for if not to stress-test the work itself? The worst thing I could do to myself is to bypass some key processes.

The dusty shelf of repurposing, where all e-book legacy projects start. 'Gnaw' lies dormant in good company inside 'Southword Vol 5'.

The dusty shelf of repurposing, where all e-book legacy projects start. ‘Gnaw’ lies dormant but in good company inside ‘Southword Vol 5’.

As David Marcus, Pat Cotter and the Munster Literature Centre have already vetted this work I like to think the literary part is sound. But the repurposing of a legacy title is never just a facsimile. It needs updating, it needs to be made suitable for a global audience if possible, or reworked. So with the publisher hat on, and bearing in mind self-publishing is a bit of a cottage industry, I’m asking some people I respect to give me their take on this piece of work via their proven skills. Over the next few posts I’ll be showcasing some extraordinary people, not just in publishing but in the design world and other industries and giving reasons why I have chosen them to be the best foils to prevent my Indie pub house from becoming a vanity pub house. First up: Screenwriter/writer Ferdia MacAnna.

Several years ago, aware that as a literary writer with a focus on words I may have blind spots when it comes to plot, turning point, dialogue, character arcs and other important  basics of storytelling. To brush up on this I attended one of MacAnna’s screenwriting courses, advisable for anyone writing anything ‘story’ based to my mind. Exposure to a wider landscape and having the scrutiny of one who is a dealer in ‘story’ means an all-rounder mind, ideal reader for this project. I want my story to appeal to the person who reads all sorts, not just literary fiction. Plus his rate is reasonable. I asked him to flag the tropes, or the missing tropes from a plot POV, flag what sticks out as ambiguous, faulty dialogue or non-visual writing. Not to say that these things are not deliberate devices too in lit fiction. I’ll stand by that if I’m deliberately doing something there, but to take the work out of the vacuum and get it through a more commercial eye, well this is necessary stress test no 1. So my task today is to balance Ferdia’s comments with my own appraisal, update the text in Word format and get the document in better shape to pass on to the next person on the chosen team of craftsmen and women, none other than…to be continued next post!

Obstacle or Opportunity?

Three interests converge in one place. Having many interests and little time is not an obstacle but an opportunity.

Many interests and little time, an obstacle or an opportunity?

In 2003 I published my first short story Gnaw in a literary journal called Southword. The story was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin competition by the late David Marcus. It was a big deal at the time and still is. I never met David Marcus but I hope he’s drinking fine wines in heaven. Today the story sits in on my shelf, dust gathering. The story is what I’d call in work a ‘legacy title’ or what the industry calls ‘backlist.’

One of my tasks in my day job is to make ebooks out of a ‘backlist’. I adore this work. It’s the closest I get to campaign on behalf of the author, an out-of-print author sometimes, while at the same time make-good the digi-archive I’ve worked meticulously on for years (in a previous life I was an archaeologist which explains my love for preservation). It also gives me fuel to re-imagine an author’s content in a digital context. This may also mean re-purposing their content to suit how Generation X/Y, Millennials and upcoming ‘Digital Natives’ expect to engage with content.

So to recap, in my job I get to extend an author’s shelf-life, potentially make sales for them where sales would never happen, in territories previously inaccessible and in ways that a 2k-plus print run with a finite life-span could never do. All this without the horror of returns, pulping and the inevitable ‘OP’ = Out of Print.

A recent study showed how the Indie/self-published authors were holding their own against the ‘Big Five’ publishers when it came to non-fiction category in ebooks (ref to follow). We already know how powerful the self-pubs can be in fiction in this area. They campaign rigorously, they don’t have a hundred different authors on their list, and they are genuinely part of their product’s sales ‘DNA’, they ARE the business. The Indie publisher too with a smaller list and possibly being a ‘one-man-band’ has less diversity and more incentive to sharpen digital tools. In short, self-pubs and digi Indies are possibly more focused and opportunistic than med-bigger publishers when it comes to digital because they have no choice not to be.

From a production/editorial POV, my particular bread and butter, the indie/self pub crowd are enviably more innovative, self-empowered and by now have a better handle on technology. They understand serialisation of titles, agile publishing, smaller bite-sized content that can be consumed by people who read on device. In digital marketing too, they may have the edge because digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with data analysis; something traditional print publishers are new to. When you look at a svelte publishing model like Orchard Wall Publishing you realise that the hands-on for an ebook publisher is very different to that of a hybrid/print publisher who ends up unwittingly and through no fault of their own in a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ situation. The question for med-large publishers is not only how to sell books online as a discipline in its own right using intelligent metadata and data analysis, but also how to harness, or simulate, the ‘neurotic power of the individual’ (term supplied by author and metadata specialist Ian Flitcroft).

Going back to the ‘killing three wild boars with one stone’ dilemma in my last post I asked myself: How can I as a person working in a medium-sized publisher harness the neurotic power of the individual on behalf of that publisher, on behalf of the authors, on behalf of myself who walks a fine-line between author, producer and publisher? There are only so many hours in the day. Plus I need to write my own book and study at the same time to keep up with the changes in the industry.

It occurred to me that that fine-line was not an obstacle but an opportunity. What if I was to do my own digi indie/self-pub ‘start-up’ beginning with the story Gnaw I mentioned above? The content is peer read, copyright owned by myself. It’s a cheap, time-efficient way to test the waters. What if I ran it through the KDP process, or…took the other model for a different learning curve ie published outside the Amazon ecosystem? If I could do this I could be asking the questions I have as a producer, publisher, editor AND writer and getting more answers.

Can it be done? I think so. Three wild boars with one stone? Yes. Time? Well, put it this way, some colleagues spend a good part of the weekend on the golf course. I don’t do golf. I do THIS, and the bonus is I can do this at odd social hours so I still get to hangout with my family on a Saturday. And that is a bonus that can’t be valued in currency.

Great Aunt Mona’s Macabre Legacy

Great Aunt Mona’s slogan gives the mighty mythical ‘apple’ a longterm holiday.

Great Aunt Mona’s slogan gives the mighty mythical ‘apple’ a longterm holiday.

One of the more bizarre Christmas events this year was a visit to Great Aunt Mona. I call her ‘Great Aunt’ even though she’s only my aunt, it’s a bit of a tease given that I have now have kids and can bestow this aging title on her with impunity. She’s always been something of a mystery. She has a Levantine beauty about her, dark brows, olive skin. To look at her you might wonder what part of the middle-east she was from, the fact that her twin looks nothing like her and is a distinctly ‘Irish’ beauty makes the novelty of Great Aunt Mona even more miraculous.  She’s not your typical aunt either, none of them are I suppose, my aunts, but Mona has the renegade blood in her, which makes her stand apart. Where others glad-handle and do small talk, Mona pretends for no one. That is why I blanched only slightly when she suggested that I come out to her house and choose what items I wanted in her will.

‘Oh you!’ I laughed it off, but no, there it was again at the next family get-together, Mona smoking like a chimney too after dodging the cancer bullet only recently.

‘Put your eye on what you want.’ She said, ‘It’ll save me a lot of hassle.’

It was time to level here. ‘Isn’t that a bit macabre?’

When for the third time Great Aunt Mona made the request I was getting worried.

‘Is she off her rocker or what?’ I asked Mona’s best friend. Since the best friend spent a great deal of her life in embassy circles I assumed she of all people would be able to suggest the correct diplomatic response, but all she said was ‘It would mean a lot if you went out and picked what you want’.

No trip to Switzerland needed: Benzene, hydrogen, cyanide and formaldehyde. Great Aunt Mona points out ‘Where else can you find all that in one easily ingested item?’

No trip to Switzerland needed: Benzene, hydrogen, cyanide and formaldehyde. Great Aunt Mona points out ‘Where else can you find all that in one easily ingested item?’

I put it off, I did. I worried myself that Great Aunt Mona had a trip to Switzerland on the horizon, that I would receive a posthumous note after the deed saying: ‘And for you my most STUPID niece? A sack of coal. That will teach you!’ And there my sisters would be oohing and ahhing over sixteenth century paintings and chaise longues and venetian ladies’ writing desks all of them marked with little colour-coded stickers as if at a gallery – Great Aunt Mona’s posthumous but grim installation. But then Great Aunt Mona is no sweet old lady with a bad cough, or one bad enough one to fall of the perch, was there more to this, or less? She wants to reconnect with her niece, I reasoned; get to know the kids who are already leaving toddlerhood behind.

Great Aunt Mona warned me on the phone as I searched for the place missing the turn many times before I got there ‘I’ve no sweets for the kids.’

‘Don’t be worrying.’ I reassured her.

‘Kids’ I said when I was off the phone, ‘Don’t be asking for crisps and sweets from Great Aunt M. It’s not all about treats you know, it’s not all about what you can get.’ Was I transferring a wishful parsimony here to my kids? A little projected anxiety? That I might be asked to select my ‘inheritance’ and at the same time have greedy spoilt kids who wanted sweets? That would be a crass scenario, too crass for me to cope with and besides I was getting irritable. The house was not even on the GPS, it was not even addressable.

Probably the most offensive and sexist ad in the history of misguided governments with agenda. The suggestion that smoking is equated to a lack of hard-on gives is an appalling message to men who don’t smoke but have performance anxiety or medical issues.

Probably the most offensive and sexist ad in the history of misguided governments with agenda. The suggestion that smoking is equated to a lack of hard-on is an appalling message to men who don’t smoke but have performance anxiety or medical issues.

Great Aunt Mona herself came to the door wearing a hat that spelt out ‘Bah Humbug.’ The kids found this charming, she is after all the best anti-hero (sorry for the pun, it’s unavoidable) a kid could wish for, no saccharine pretense and kids don’t like to be patronized. They promptly got to running around the house, way too much at home for my liking. ‘Kids,’ I yelled ‘Take it easy.’ I mean it looked bad, it looked like we’d already moved in and me with my own house and all. I prayed that the kids would not knock over something valuable, or worse, invaluable. Great Aunt Mona offered them 7-up, I fixed them with The Look, the look that needs no words that you get somehow when you become a mother. 7-up was the slippery slope, 7-up now, what next? Paintings and chandeliers? I looked around. I felt a bit at home myself. It was a tardis of a place full of curiosities and finely collected items. Taste, Great Aunt Mona had taste. We talked. The tone, as it would be with Great Aunt Mona, assumed a certain stoicism and very little sentimentality. Two of a kind we share; insomnia, guaranteed levels of anxiety, intolerance of boredom which could mean anything at any given time, twee letters in the Irish Times that announce things like; the first of the spring crocuses has ‘sprung’, things like that, things that remind you that you don’t feel these responses the way you might, that you’re wrong for not getting it and enjoying life more somehow.

‘And what about this euthanasia stuff?’ I tested the waters ‘Why can’t we do it if we want?’ I watched her carefully for signs. The mystery still stood –was this the reason for the visit deep down? Was this the last time I would see Great Aunt Mona?

‘Agreed,’ Great Aunt Mona lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. ‘Dying slowly in an old folks’ home getting your nappy changed by strangers.’

Great Aunt Mona makes a thrifty observation on how to save money on funeral costs by absorbing some of the cost of cremation while still alive.

Great Aunt Mona makes a thrifty observation on how to save money on funeral costs by absorbing some of the cost of cremation while still alive.

‘Or even worse…’ The catastrophic thought hit me ‘Dying slowly in an old folks’ home getting your nappy changed by family.’ I watched my kids trying to lure Great Aunt Mona’s cat back in the cat flap with a stick with ribbon tied at the end. There was no way I could imagine it. Some things are NEVER going to happen. I understood it then. Maybe not euthanasia as such, but something subtler that took time, but not too much time.

‘I like the chair’ I said. The chair was an antique from God knows what era; it was on little hidden wheels like a ballpoint pen and had deep rose coloured upholstery and worn wooden arms.

‘Try it.’ Great Aunt Mona said.

I did.

‘It makes me sit up straight.’ I said, ‘I could use that.’

‘It’s yours in the will.’ She said.

I laid off praising anything else lest I was on the slippery slope, like the 7-up and the kids… except then I found THESE little gems. I nearly pocketed them straight off, they were cigarette boxes is all, empty but adulterated.

‘I thought the inheritance thing was macabre, but these?’ I picked up one box after the other reading the counter slogans. ‘It makes sense.’ I said ‘Of course you’d see through it.’

‘Well, I did used to be a copywriter.’ She said.

The ads bothered me too. I didn’t smoke anymore so there was no need for me to get personal here, but on behalf of those who do smoke the ads are insulting and heavy-hitting and not unlike those explicit pro-life campaigns that somehow manage to be offensive to everyone; man, woman, child and dammit, even the unborn.

Top Tip! Spend your money on cigs so that you’ve no money to leave in your will = no family squabbling.

Top Tip! Spend your money on cigs so that you’ve no money to leave in your will = no family squabbling.

‘And what really gets on my fucking nerves,’ Great Aunt Mona said, ‘Is that IF I have decided to smoke I FUCKING KNOW I’m killing myself, just slowly, that’s all: S-L-O-W-L-Y.’

‘Passive suicide.‘ I mumbled as I turned each box around one by one. ‘Can I keep these?’

No answer needed; in the will of course, the will.

(Thanks to Great Aunt Mona for a lend of adulterated cigarette boxes, a prize for the person who guesses what Mona is not giving up today.)

The many uses of a cigarette box...here is a a vintage Players battle-tank made by Mona for her brother (see comments). Pic courtesy of Mike Brady  who will not part with it.

The many uses of a cigarette box…a vintage Players battle-tank, one of several made by Mona over time for her kid brother (see comments). Pic courtesy of Mike Brady – who will not part with it for love or money.

…The One-eyed Man is King

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind of notes. Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of the repetition of words like are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind study notes on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of repetition are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Normally I’ve to work hard for my rewards so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I turned up at the Central Hotel in Dublin on Friday night and was presented out of the blue with a prize. The presentation was given by a small group of writers consisting of 1) Hennessy Short Story finalist and crime-writer Colm O’Shea 2) Eye-surgeon and writer Ian Flitcroft the creator of the thoroughly enjoyable ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’. 3) Novelist Janet Cameron of ‘Cinnamon Toast And The End of The World’ fame, blog writer with the gift of the gab and a scathing sense of humor. It was Janet who presented me with the prize, the prize being a copy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

Now, I’m no literary snob but I did read an extract of this title in the national newspaper a while back and made a decision that I wouldn’t prioritize it as a read. Not that I’m against erotic fiction. I admire the intense prose of Anaïs Nin for example and the sexual tension in Nabokov’s Volshebnik (‘The Enchanter’), is a gem read. But if the writing slips, the content becomes porn and that tires quickly. But, the tongue-in-cheek backlash (‘scuse the pun) against EL James from the educated classes bothers me too. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a benchmark book, it’s a positive example of self-publishing, it’s a digital-first title only going to print when earned its stripes as online bestseller proving that publishing globally online is a very different thing to the traditional gatekeeper type-publishing with its neat print runs. I commend this title if only for shattering some obstructive legacy thinking. But I really did not want to buy it. Or borrow it from the library, or have it on my ereader or what not.  Nor did I want to put it on the  ‘to be read’ list in the Goodreads list alongside Munro and Franzen. The lurking snobbery of that bothered me.

All four of us in of the Central Hotel crew had reasons for not reading it but our reasons were dubious. Mine, apart from snobbishness, was that I might find myself crippled with writers’ block jealousy that I hadn’t written it first. Ian Flitcroft was the most open-minded saying that at least it opened up reading ‘at all’ to a group of people who ordinarily wouldn’t go near a book. Colm O’Shea, to be fair, confessed it wasn’t his genre at all, but perhaps if it were more gritty with a bit of murder thrown in? Maybe. The book bothered Janet too. Here we were, bitching about something we hadn’t read, it felt that the time had come to read the thing. So being excellent delegators and knowing that time is precious, much like a study group, we nominated one person to read for all and report back. Janet Cameron was nominated as reader for all. She would keep us updated via her blog and ‘just for fun’ she decided also to throw in 50 pages of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and 50 pages of a lesbian biker novel called ‘Satan’s Best’ so we could get a balance on ‘pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex.’ What emerged was a very concise report that will not only make you laugh but is clearly a solid draft for the “For Dummies – Fifty Shades of Grey’.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

An advantage of Cameron’s report is that she wades through the surplus flesh (sorry!) and points out the pages where serious action occurs. You don’t even have to bother with the thin plot if needs be. When the going gets tough, Cameron casts Ana as Cillian Murphy, which sort of helps keep it interesting. Cameron spotted a failing of imagination in the book as follows: Despite all the spanking and follow up penetrative sex, Grey’s order for Ana (aka Cillian Murphy) to be ‘on first name terms’ with his ‘considerable length’ is never fully realized. A star without a name? So Janet opened up a competition. The challenge was to name Grey’s favorite body part. The winner would get a ‘used’ copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Naturally I rushed to enter the competition. The naming of the part (or parts – for they are, to my holistic mind, inseparable) fired up my imagination but more importantly IF I won it would solve the snobbish dilemma re how to have the book without buying or borrowing it. I confess when presented with the prize publicly I did blush and ask for a bag to take it home in, concerned that I might encourage unwanted chat with some drunken langer on the last bus. As to what Grey’s dong and associated parts are now called? Go to Janet Cameron’s website Part III to find out! Spot the dearth of imagination. Could it be that I was the only one who entered? So it seems, as they say, in the land of the blind…

To spread the love I now open the competition to find a new name for the ‘member’ he (or she) who wins gets the printed book posted or even better presented to them in public, only after I’ve read the interesting parts