Tag Archives: Naked Angels

The book as Product

This is a horrible subject. Anyone who loves books will have shuddered at the title. The book is a sacred object, it is not a product. It is not processed cheese or a package holiday.

However we live in a world where books have become products. They are as subject to the laws of the market as any other commodity.

Printed books that is: the ones that require to be printed, warehoused, distributed before they can finally be stacked on the shelves of bookshops or increasingly supermarkets, to enjoy a brief window of opportunity, where they may or may not catch the fancy of consumers, before the unsold copies are packed up, replaced with something new, sent back and often, extremely depressingly for their authors, they are pulped.

So if you want to sell your novel to a publisher now, you have to bear this cycle in mind. You have to be aware from the start, that as well as a compelling story, beautifully written, with a convincing setting and unique, unforgettable characters, that what they want from you is not just a novel, but a product.  Something that can be packaged up and promoted. They will want the product to be summed up in a few lines, just like the Dragon’s Den want the bizarre invention summed up in a few lines.  They want to know in a flash what it is all about.

The curse of the pitch

This is of course the pitch, the calling card that any  product now hitting the market now needs. “It’s an organic face cream that uses wild thistles in a proven wrinkle reduction programme” or “It’s a dark police procedural set in contemporary Leeds where a menopausal DCI leads the hunt for a serial killer who targets menopausal women.” or in the case of the sort of book which is going for a literary prize: “It’s written from the point of view of a 12 year old asylum seeker who escapes the brutality of his present life by constructing a series of dioramas from Dante’s inferno, out of sweetie wrappers.” You only have to look at this year’s Booker list to see that the ‘issue’ is what makes these books easier to pitch. Or for women’s commercial fiction: “While attending a family reunion in Cornwall, following the collapse of her successful PR/hat making business, Violet is forced to come to terms with the dark secrets that have cast a long shadow over her relationship with her siblings.” Continue reading


Blane again

We have just launched a new ebook editions of my novel the The Daughters of Blane, which you can buy  from Amazon in Kindle format and from Smashwords in Kindle, ePub and other formats

One of the questions novelist are always asked is where the idea for a particular story came from. In the case of this novel, it was from a place and a painting.

The place was Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. If you are planning any summer trips in that part of the world, I would highly recommend at trip to Penrhyn which is utterly astonishing. Built in the 1820′s by architect Thomas Hopper, with the stupendous profits from slate mining, the Castle is a neo-Norman fantasy of epic proportions.

Penrhyn Castle

The interiors are especially jaw dropping.

The library at Penrhyn Castle

I knew all about the place before I went, and had seen photographs but nothing could prepare me for the reality of it. I simply gawped and thought “I must use this in a story.” The atmosphere was helped by the fact the NT had introduced audio guides which meant that although there were lots of people there they were not chatting but listening to their guides. And perhaps like me, they had been rendered partially speechless by the over-the-top-ness of it all.

The other thing was a painting: Sargent’s very famous triple portrait of the Acheson Sisters.

In Blane, a similar picture is painted of my three heroines by aspiring young Scots painter, James Henderson. Unfortunately for him, his career is not as wildly successful as Sargent’s and his story forms one of the sub-plots of the novel.

When the novel was first published by Headline in 1994, it had a gorgeous cover design by George Sharp which combined the two elements, so that Penrhyn Castle appears in background  to the right of the sister with the black and white sash, who in the story is the middle sister Leonora.

In the story the painting is bought by John Cameron, Isobel’s future husband and is last mentioned hanging in their palazzo in Venice. But, as the Telegraph always says, it can be revealed, the painting of course came back with Isobel when she moved into a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh in 1900, and has been there ever since, the property of the Cameron family. Blane Castle, like its real life counterpart, has of course passed into the hands of the National Trust.