Friday, 27 September 2019
Dear everyone - It's a last-minute thing but I have a table at Leamington Comic Con 2019 next Saturday 5th October! I will be taking pre-orders for A Hundred Years to Arras and I can exclusively reveal that, if you pledge on Saturday, you will receive from me this fantastic promotional poster by the amazing comics legend that is Ian Gibson ! Ian has kindly donated to the cause.
These posters won't be for sale and are purely a gift for pre-ordering the book. (If anyone who has already pre-ordered would like a poster, just send me a message - you won't lose out!) I'll also be selling some of my comics but the focus will be on the Arras book. Hope to see some of you there!
You can also pledge via the website and, if you message me with your details, I'll send you a poster!
Thursday, 26 September 2019
On the hundredth anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, my father and I had spoken on the phone. He had just spoken to his eldest sister who had casually mentioned Robert Gooding Henson. Neither Dad or I had known anything about him before, but suddenly this was a connection to the past and The Great War. I started researching Robert and his regiment’s movements at Arras. I discovered where he was. Knowing that I would be convalescing at home after surgery, I set about researching the Family Tree. And then, one August morning, the phone rang. My father had died.
This prompted my decision to in some way pay a sort of tribute to the past that the family all shared: on 22nd April 2017 exactly one hundred years after his death, I would stand at the graveside of Robert Gooding Henson.
North of Arras, barely signposted from the road under a railway bridge, was the cemetery at St Laurent Blangy. Down a rough track that led to a quarry in one direction and our destination in another, we found the Hervin Farm cemetery. No longer a pit of rutted mud and inescapable craters, the landscape undulated where it had been ravaged but otherwise had the peaceful mundanity of any other slice of twenty-first century countryside. We had already visited the Wellington tunnels, where so many had dug their way to the German frontline. On the memorial, the Fourth Infantry Division listed the Eleventh Brigade, which included the First Somerset Light Infantry.
At Hervin farm, the path curved down from the railway bridge that led to the embankment on which Robert was injured. We turned a corner and, just behind a row of houses, the neat square of the cemetery sat amongst the trees. Housing no more than fifty or sixty headstones in straight white rows, it was a tightly tended garden, a stone cross atop a plinth in the centre. On one side of the iron gate, the stone pillar had engraved these words: “The land on which this cemetery stands is the free gift of the French people for the perpetual resting place of those of the Allied armies who fell in the war of 1914 – 1918 and are honoured here”.
Private Robert Gooding Henson died on 22nd April 1917 at the age of twenty-four. He was entitled to the Inter Allied Victory Medal and the British War Medal, which his mother Lucy received with the small payment that was scant recompense for her loss. One simple phrase was inscribed on his headstone: “Peace, perfect peace”.
This novel is Robert’s story. It’s being published by Unbound, who need a certain number of pre-orders and pledges before they will go to print and make the book available to all booksellers. It would be wonderful if you could support the book and help me tell the story.
Friday, 23 August 2019
BANK HOLIDAY DISCOUNT! 10% OFF WITH THE CODE AUGUST10!
Almost 3 years ago, my father passed away, and this set me off on a journey to investigate the family tree, in which I discovered the role that my great aunt's son played in the Battle of Arras in The Great War. This novel is inspired by his story. It's being published by innovative publisher Unbound. The book will be available everywhere once it's out, but initially you have the opportunity to share in the journey. Pre-order or pledge for rewards and become a supporter and your name will be listed in the book.
For this weekend ONLY, to coincide with the Bank Holiday, you can claim 10% off any orders on Unbound! Use the code AUGUST10 and you can be part of my journey to getting 'A Hundred Years to Arras' in all good bookshops in brick and online and tell the story of Robert Gooding Henson. More information in the link below:
Monday, 29 July 2019
“That night, in the darkness, we are back with the Russians”.
I just wrote that line. It’s part of a script I’m writing for ‘Commando’. This will be my fourth script for the long-running DC Thompson comic. This is a writing opportunity that I’m really proud to be part of. Three of my adventures have made it to newsagent shelves and subscribers’ letterboxes so far. The most recent was ‘The Sunken Avenger’, set in the Pacific War of the 1940s. The middle one was ‘The June Winter’, set during the Falklands Conflict. The first, though, was ‘The Tunnels of Arras’. How it came about is a nice coincidence. Whilst I was researching my novel, the publisher put out a call for new submissions, and they were particularly looking for stories featuring Anzac soldiers. I knew that a great number of Australian and New Zealander soldiers were involved in the tunnelling out of chambers underneath Arras, where soldiers lived, laughed and worked until they had the word to attack the German frontline in April 1917. It was quite a story, and formed the basis of my pitch to ‘Commando’.
Now, that’s one route to publication for writers. As a comics writer, I’ve been published in a number of different ways. Early on, there was a fair bit of self-publishing. I started with Bulldog Adventure Magazine, with my anthropomorphic hero Captain Winston Bulldog (he continues to crop up in other places including Paragon magazine and his compatriot Keiko Panda is appearing in Brawler at the moment). Comics, now, with the explosion of the independent market through comic conventions and the internet, are increasing funded via Kickstarter. I did this myself last year with Amnesia Agents with artist James Gray, and I’ve been part of the Brawler campaign on Kickstarter run by Steve Tanner of Time Bomb Comics. Steve is a good example of how it’s possible to build a whole publishing venture around taking pre-orders for comics on Kickstarter to build a ready audience.
Crowdfunding itself isn’t all that new, although it can be dated back to the turn of the century. Dissatisfied with their offers from record companies, the band Marillion knew they had enough of a fanbase to approach their mailing lists and offer a pre-order of their new album. It financed their recording costs, and crowdfunding was born. Countless bands do the same thing now, and it continues to be a massively successful business model for Marillion and other bands. Crowdfunding is viable for publishing too.
I had written a draft of my novel ‘ A Hundred Years to Arras’ and had not got anywhere with agents, despite one saying that it was “hugely compelling”, and also had submitted to publishers who were open to submissions (very few are unless it’s through an agent). Again, the feedback was favourable, but the novel didn’t quite fit in with what they wanted to publish that year. In my experience, publishers and agents are either vague with feedback or brutally honest. The honest ones weren’t brutal, so I took that as a good sign. I decided to submit to Unbound, knowing that their model was one that could be successful for what I was trying to achieve. In the meantime, I set about preparing a self-published version, complete with test copies and amazing cover artwork by James Gray. And then the offer came through from Unbound. Wonderful!
What Unbound offer is different from other crowdfunding novels. With Kickstarter, you’re on your own. You raise the money, then you source a printer, design, do all the selling and marketing yourself. It’s a brilliant thing because it represents a huge vote of confidence from readers on what they think a creator will produce. When I used Kickstarter, I was overwhelmed by that vote of confidence. Unbound’s campaign is different: the supporter places a pre-order and can pledge for extra rewards too just like Kickstarter, but the money doesn’t go to the writer; it’s going to the publisher in order to fund editorial costs, design and so on. A successful campaign shows the publisher that there’s an audience for the book and for the writer, and gives them a launchpad for when it’s released. It’s not even that new a model really: it’s what Charles Dickens used to do in the 19th century!
So, what’s the purpose of this article? Well, of course I want to direct ‘traffic’ to my Unbound page to get as many supporters as possible so we can get the book out there on shelves. But I guess I also want to explode a few myths.
One of the questions I get asked is why don’t I just self-publish? Well, yes, I could do. I was going to, in fact. But I’ve been there, done that. The question comes from a misconception about Unbound, maybe. In every respect, Unbound are a traditional publisher – the book will be available to all bookshops, physical and virtual, like any book from, say, HarperCollins. The crowdfunding model for initial costs is the only difference. It means that they can afford to take a risk on new, untried authors. Although I’ve written comics for many years and self-published some prose, this is my first full-length literary novel for adults. I take it as a massive vote of confidence in my abilities as a novelist that Unbound have taken me on.
And it’s not just me. Unbound is a viable proposition for many. At the bottom of this blogpost are links to a few examples of books that have been funded by Unbound or are currently worthy of support there. Not least amongst them are of course Paul Kingsnorth’s ‘The Wake’, which was nominated for the Booker Prize, and Jessica Martin’s recently-released ‘Life Drawing: A Life Under Lights’. (Links are to Hive.co.uk - please support your local bookshop!)
But crowdfunding is hard. Don’t get me wrong; it’s brilliant in lots of ways but putting yourself out there as a creator is like standing naked in a field doing a rain dance when everybody is sitting in a circle around you in shorts and t-shirts with binoculars trained on your every poorly-rehearsed dance move. It takes immense confidence or hubris to do it. Or does it? I haven’t met a writer, artist, musician or actor who isn’t afflicted with self-doubt from time to time, constantly second-guessing themselves or how they’ll be perceived by others. It’s a huge leap in the dark to hold up an unfinished book to friends, family, acquaintances and strangers and say: I need your support. So I did it with my eyes closed, holding my nose and taking a sharp intake of breath.
Almost immediately, pledges came in. Some work colleagues, lots of friends pledged. People who only know me through my writing liked the look of it enough to pledge as well. So, so brilliant. Some people who I never thought would be interested leapt on it right away, and others a bit later, as I knew they would. Some who I thought would be a shoo-in just haven’t been interested. It’s been an interesting journey in that respect. I know there are lots of people who are planning to get around to it but, hey, we all have lives and it’s the summer holidays. I’ve been there myself.
What we do when we support creators through pre-orders or crowdfunding, is placing faith in them as creators and/or placing faith in the project itself. I’ll always take part in the crowdfunding for a Marillion album because their music has meant so much to me over the years and I want them to continue. I’ll always back some comic book creators that I know because I love their work. Sometimes I’ll do it because they’re friends and I want them to do well. Our reasons vary, and no one’s pockets are bottomless so we do what we can when we can. But it’s become an increasingly common way to support creators.
Publishers are increasingly risk-averse, we are told. There are plenty of examples of celebrities getting book deals and a massive share of the marketing. But I don’t think it’s that simple: some argue that it’s these signings that enable publishers to have the money to bring in new writers. I know personally at least one new writer who landed a publishing deal with his first novel and hasn’t looked back: Philip Gwynne Jones’ ‘The Venetian Game’ launched a series of thrillers that are doing really well. He’s already on the fourth book in the series.
However! The rise of different types of publishing is giving an outlet to more unique, individual voices and, in some cases, going side by side with a more even playing field for bookselling. Many independent bookshops are now seeing the importance of supporting authors, however they are published, and placing themselves as an important part of the whole creative environment. Amazon serves a purpose, but it isn’t good for promoting diversity and creativity.
My own Unbound page is about six weeks into the fundraising campaign and stands at 25% with 116 backers. I feel so fortunate, especially in the early stages, to have gained the support of some prominent writers and artists who I’ve admired for years, as well as family and friends who have invested in me as much as in the book itself. What’s difficult is keeping that momentum going: most people have been beautifully gracious about being approached directly on social media. My way of thinking is that, if I follow a writer on social media, I’m interested in their work, and so it turns out, it’s mostly reciprocal! People are lovely really, aren’t they?
So, back to the Russians. I've got to finish my script, then on to redrafting ‘A Hundred Years to Arras’. Why not take a look?
Other books worth a look on Unbound:
'Note to Boy' by Sue Clark
'Be Guid Tae Yer Mammy' by Emma Grae
'The Lion and the Unicorn' by Tom Ward
'The Mash House' by Alan Gillespie
'Philosopher's Dogs' by Samuel Dodson and Rosie Benson
'Verona in Autumn' by Tom Lloyd
'Jacob's Advice' by Jude Cook
'Your Friend Forever' by Zena Barrie
'A Cut in the Brain' by Kate Orson
And many, many more! They'll lose their impact if I list them all here, so I'll save some recommendations for the next blogpost!
A couple of examples from Kickstarter:
'Switchblade Stories' by Chris Askham
Everything by Steve Tanner: 'Filintlock' book 4 is about to launch, and 'Brawler' book 2 is coming soon!
Sunday, 14 July 2019
So, I'm sitting in a Premier Inn with a cold, hopefully not about to sneeze into my breakfast, flicking through Prog magazine, reflecting on the previous day. We're staying in this litte hotel after attending a friend's evening wedding reception last night, which itself followed hot on the heels of me spending half the day at Kenilworth Books for Small Press Day 2019. It was great to be able to see people personally, to hand out promotional postcards, to spread the word about the novel. Two people signed up then and there as supporters, a further couple pledged online when they got home. The story of my great-grandmother's sister's son (I think that means he's my first cousin twice removed - please correct me if that's wrong) Robert Gooding Henson has struck a chord with many. I met one lady yesterday who had written her dissertation many years ago about Arras, and a fella who served on the Ark Royal at around the time my Dad did (he was in the Royal Navy in the 1960s). Researching and then drafting the novel has brought about many conversations that have helped clarify a few things and actually help shape the final draft in some ways.
Supporting events like this are great - meeting other authors, chatting with people, telling them about my novel, is all good. So, where we are with the novel is at 23% of target now. Just a few more backers would get us to that crucial 25% and then momentum starts building and more potential supporters are attracted to the project. That's how Unbound works.
Remember that Unbound isn't crowdfunding in the way that, say, Kickstarter does crowdfunding. The money isn't going to me personally. Unbound carefully curate their titles in the same way that any traditional publisher does, the only difference being that they look for a certain level of pre-orders before they proceed to editing and designing the finished book.
A Hundred Years to Arras began as a family tree project and has developed into what one agent called a "hugely compelling" novel. Unbound's innovative involvement means that you can be part of the project as it develops.
The thing is, it will take far longer to get out there into the world without your support. As someone who has visited this blog, I already know that you have an interest, so it would be wonderful if you could us reach the next target as we move into the second month of crowdfunding.
At the link below, you can read two excerpts from the novel, see all the updates so far, and explore the pledges, which range from just the book to picking a playlist for my radio show, to even having a personalised short story written just for you or naming a character in the novel. Thanks for your support!