Blog Author Archive: Anne
We have three topics for this episode. We’ll start by discussing the latest book sales information released by AAP for the first quarter of 2013 and the way it has been interpreted by industry commentators. Then we move on to the New Adult genre, and finish things off with opening lines.
Going negative on ebooks – latest sales data released by the Association of American Publishers has shown a decline in growth of book sales across all formats, down 4.7% from Q1 of 2012. The focus of many commentators has been a decline in the growth of digital books sales though, despite the ebook market growing by 5% in 2013. This means that ebook sales significantly surpassed all other book format sales, yet many are choosing to ignore this news and focus on the negative.
New Adult – a genre that has sprung up as recently as 2009 when St Martin’s Press called for submissions of “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.” It features protagonists aged 18-25, and while the term New Adult has only recently been coined, the genre has probably been around far longer. Currently authors like Abbi Glines and Jamie McGuire dominate New Adult lists, which are aimed at readers 14-35 and feature explicit themes like sex, drug use and self-discovery. So these books are going to be formative texts in readers lives, and in light of that I thought we could discuss some of our formative texts.
Opening Lines – there has been some discussion in the book world about opening lines of books recently, after an article in The Atlantic on authors’ favourite first lines and we’ve been talking a bit about our favourites in the office. The Slate Culture Gabfest talked about some of their picks recently, and Mark suggested that our discussion would probably focus more on genre fiction. The opening line that has stayed with me above any other is from Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.
“The small boys came early to the hanging” – Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth
Mark – Graphic Novels: Batman Year 100
Joel – The Kingkiller Chronicles
Over the weekend someone on twitter asked me what I thought about this blog post regarding the flattening of ebook sales in the US. On his blog ‘Rough Type’, Nicholas Carr wrote the following:
In a post on the first day of this year, I noted the surprisingly rapid decline in e-book sales growth over the course of 2012. The trend appears to be continuing this year. The Association of American Publishers reports that in the first quarter of 2013, overall e-book sales in the U.S. trade market grew by just 5 percent over where they were in the same period in 2012. E-book sales in adult categories fared a bit better, rising by 13.6 percent, but that also marks a continuation of a sharp slide over the last two years. The explosive growth of the last few years has basically petered out, according to the AAP numbers*:
E-books are still taking share from printed books, sales of which declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but the anemic growth of the electronic market calls into question the strength of the so-called “digital revolution” in the book business. E-books now represent a bit less than 25 percent of total book sales. That’s a healthy share, but it’s still a long way from dominance. The AAP findings are backed up by a remarkable new Nielsen report indicating that worldwide e-book sales actually declined slightly in the first quarter from year-earlier levels — something that would have seemed inconceivable a couple of years ago.
There has been so much written about this apparent slow down in ebook sales that rather than engage in a detailed discussion over twitter (which I adore, but is a less than ideal platform for a nuanced and extended conversation about the state of digital book publishing in 2013) I was able to refer to a post written by Sam Missingham on the Bookseller’s FutureBook blog earlier in the year. Basically, Sam points to the huge amount of self-published ebooks that are not accounted for in the AAP data, up to 30% of the market, and the fact that 43% growth year on year is hardly something for publishers to be worried about.
Sam rounds up her post with six main points;
i) A market that has gone from zero to conservatively 706m ebooks in 5 years in the US is not plateauing.
ii) The area that has seen revenue growth rates reduce (again, not the same as plateauing at all) comes from data provided by 1953 traditional publishers. (A subset of the entire market).
iii) The fact that print book sales have remained strong (actual plateauing) tells us very little about whether readers prefer e, p or e+p (absolutely no stats to back purchasing behaviour)
iv) No consumer market has exponential growth year on year in a maturing market (including ebooks). BUT the growth year on year is still mind-blowingly HUGE.
v) There is a growth in the number of books bought across e & p. Print books $ and units have plateaued whilst ebook units have grown rapidly. More books.
vi) The number of self-published authors will continue to grow, in general their ebooks are cheaper; we will see more rapid growth in unit sales here.
The Rough Type post buys into the negative narrative about ebooks that Sam posits, and is emphasising the figures that support this negative standpoint.
Yes the rate of growth is down, but it is down on book sales across the board, including print. With a -4.7% change in all book sales from Q1 2012 to Q1 2013, that ebooks still grew by 5% means digital has surpassed other book format sales significantly.
And when it comes down to it, that is the story that reputable outlets are reporting: US ebook sales grew by 5% in Q1 2013. Let me repeat that: digital book sales grew. In the first quarter of this year. And that’s not including sales of self-published titles. So don’t buy into the negative narrative that some people enjoy spouting about books and the book industry (and digital in particular). Let the numbers tell the real story.
Annaliese and Anna are two women divided by time but united by a common destiny and the heritage whose dramatic history exerts so powerful an influence upon their lives.
Anna Riordan, a very successful businesswoman who also dabbles in politics, is at a crossroads in her life. Her husband has just walked out on her, she is trying to decide whether to seriously pursue a political career, and then there is the matter of Mark, an old flame, and her ties to South Africa. Anna’s great-grandmother, Annaliese, fled South Africa not long after the Boer War.
But she remembers the farm and the land, and impresses on young Anna that she must buy back that land nothing else matters. Anna is sent on an unofficial government mission to test the winds of change in South Africa she makes contact with one of the black African leaders whilst there; a meeting that will, in the future, change her life.
Before she can move on with her life, Anna must come to terms with her heritage, with the ghost of Annaliese that haunts her, and decide whether she really wants her husband back.
Read on for the first chapter of JH Fletcher’s Keepers of the House.
The first thing that Anna saw when she came into the house was the envelope propped foursquare against the crystal vase on the table in the entrance lobby. She turned it in her fingers, frowning. Mostyn’s handwriting. Her heart went pit-pat. Her thumbnail broke the seal. She took out the single sheet. Read it. Pain sliced.
The envelope slipped unnoticed to the floor. On numb legs, letter still clasped in her hand, she walked through the lounge to the terrace that ran across the rear of the house. She rested her hands on the stone capping of the wall and looked out at the manicured lawn, the flowerbeds that now, in the second week of December, were bright with petunias and antirrhinums, the scented heads of roses. Beyond the garden, the blue water of the harbour. The Manly ferry, toy-sized, trailed its wake as it tossed through the chop towards the city. The water was white-flecked, the air crackled with salt. The house unfolded its wings behind her.
It was here she had planned so many of her triumphs in recent years. To it she had returned to lick her occasional wounds; who, in the savage world of business, had not known a few of those? It had comforted her, cosseted her, protected her. Her safe stronghold. No longer. Now, with Mostyn’s note, the walls had been breached.
In the house the telephone started ringing. Anna did not move. It was probably Hilary with the latest production figures from the new factory in Geelong. They could wait. For the moment she was not up to Hilary’s obsessive pedantry, her accountant’s voice scratching dust over all Anna’s bright visions.
The phone stopped as the answering machine cut in. Released by silence, Anna walked down the steps to the grass. The turf yielded beneath her boardroom shoes. She had an urge to chuck away not only the shoes but everything they represented: the structure of deals and treasons, lies and promises, minutes and financial statements that for so many years had constituted her life.
All that, she thought, so that one day — today — I can come home to an empty house and find that my husband of thirteen years has walked out on me.
She was still holding Mostyn’s letter. She looked at it again. Behind the written words she could hear his voice, hot and spiteful, listing all the faults he claimed to have found in her in recent years. Yet the letter contained nothing of that; he had never been one to commit himself in writing if he could avoid it.
I’ve had enough. I’ll send for my things.
Just that. Not much to end a life with its attendant pains and joys, its hopes and plans and companionship.
Because there had been love, surely? To count no triumph complete without sharing it. To feel warmth at the sound of his voice. To know contentment and peace in his presence. What were these if not love?
They had found this house together; like excited kids had run through its rooms, sharing their vision of its potential, its place in their future. They had eaten Sunday morning breakfasts on that terrace, crumbs and newspapers and the hot, strong smell of coffee. They had laughed together, wept together, clung together. Silly, trivial things.
Of course, there were other, less delightful memories. Of rows and more rows, particularly lately. And now this.
I’ve had enough.
The crash of her collapsing world reverberating in her head and heart, Anna Riordan climbed the steps to the terrace and went back indoors.
She looked in the kitchen. Mrs Casey had left a cold meal in the fridge. Mrs Casey was no doubt the reason Mostyn had taken care to seal his note. Meats, salad, cold potatoes, the remains of a fruit flan.
You will not think, Anna said, as adept at giving orders to herself as to others. You will eat and then you will have a bath. Only then will you decide what has to be done.
Half an hour later, wreathed in steam, she lay in the hot scented water and, for the first time, brought her mind to bear on her situation.
She supposed she should have known a break was on the cards. The good times, the shared delight in each other, the enmeshing of minds and bodies had all ended years ago. For a long time they had not even made love, had been no more than two strangers sharing the same accommodation. Yet, in truth, she had not expected it. It was what happened to their friends; never once had she thought it might happen to her.
She stirred restlessly in the bath, running her hands over a body that at forty-one was still taut and firm.
We had something precious but were so tied up in our piffling careers that we never bothered to take care of it. Never even realised that care was necessary. Now it is dead, from indifference and neglect. And we are supposed to be so smart.
Damn, damn, damn.
One question remained. What had happened to cause Mostyn to make the break?
She supposed that, in this situation, it was the first thing all women wondered. It was certainly possible. Mostyn’s eye had wandered often but she had always been careful to ask no questions, had not permitted herself to care too deeply; always, the moments had passed. She thought she would have known had Mostyn involved himself seriously with someone.
No, not that. What, then?
Only one thing seemed possible. Over the last few years Anna had had the Midas touch; all her ventures had turned to gold. Because of her flair she had been invited to join the boards of some of the largest companies in the land; political connections had caused her to be offered — and accept — a seat on the prestigious State Economic Strategies Committee.
By contrast Mostyn’s own career had topped out. No one could call him unsuccessful. He was executive director of a merchant bank, had a hatful of other directorships and enough cash to indulge his whim of investing in premium vineyards, both in Australia and overseas. It would have been more than enough for most men. Yet, somehow, his career had lacked the sparkle of her own.
He had known it and resented it. Small signs that, in retrospect, had been significant: a determination, ever more frequently expressed, that Anna’s career should be subordinate to his own; unreasoning anger when their schedules clashed and she was unable — or unwilling — to put off her arrangements to suit his.
Recently had come what might have been the final step in bringing him to the break. Some weeks earlier, Anna had been invited to lunch at an unfashionable restaurant by one of the main power brokers in the party. He had spoken ambiguously, yet to someone like Anna, who understood the language, his words had been unmistakable. People had been wondering, he said, whether she might be interested in a place, a very senior place, in government. If one happened to become available. If she should by chance be interested in a political career. No need for a decision right away, he had told her. Think about it.
She had gone home ten feet off the ground, bursting to share the news with her husband, who knew well that politics had been a source of unending fascination to her ever since the early eighties when she had spent two years as aide to Jack Goodie, at that time shadow Trade Minister.
Mostyn had been unable to handle it.
‘I’d as soon mix with the Mafia as that riffraff. At least you know where you are with the Mafia.’
‘Just a chat. They’re not committed. Neither am I.’
‘No such thing as just a chat with those blokes.’
He was probably right. She had not committed herself but knew she probably would, had felt the tingle of excitement that for her always signalled the lure of a new adventure.
‘Isn’t business enough for you?’ The genuine astonishment of a man to whom the acquisition of money was the world.
For some time she had felt restless at the prospect of spending the rest of her life making nothing but money. Such a limited ambition … Whereas politics would give her the opportunity to stretch herself, perhaps even do some good in the world.
For some time she had become involved in a number of issues, women’s rights and third world matters among them, telling herself they were no more than sidelines.
Perhaps, with the cautiously worded invitation, it was time for them to move centre stage.
Had that caused the final rift? Probably. Since that conversation, if you could call it that, Mostyn had never stopped bitching about how her career was taking over both their lives, had made it clear that if she wanted him to play second fiddle she was in for a disappointment.
‘You needn’t expect me to trot along behind you …’
And then, two days ago, the Premier himself had phoned. An election was due next year; it would be helpful if he had an idea of her plans.
Even then she had not committed herself. She had not said no, either, as she had admitted when Mostyn questioned her. Some husbands would have been proud; he had been furious, had told her that she thought only of herself, that his career meant nothing to her.
It was nonsense and she had said so, angrily. It had ended in a terrible row, recriminations flying like bullets, and the spoiled brat she had married thirteen years earlier had stormed out in what she now saw had been a rehearsal for today’s main event.
Envy, she told herself. A petty, petulant reaction from a petty, petulant man. The thought made her feel better, if not much.
She stood up, body glowing from the hot water, mind clear. She reached for a towel and began to rub herself dry. Envy, pure and simple. Except that envy was never pure and seldom simple.
She knew Mostyn so well. He had always been a hatchet man, even had the nickname to go with it. Hatchet Harcourt, they called him in the city. If he fell out with you, people said, look out. Anna had never thought she would have to worry about that — her husband, for heaven’s sake — but now was not so sure.
She tossed the towel into the laundry basket and walked naked into the bedroom. Theirs, it seemed, no longer.
She would have to watch her back.
She put on a deceptively simple linen dress in a tone of dusty pink that suited her colouring. She had bought it in Genoa the last time she had been in Europe; it was one of her favourites for a summer evening when she didn’t want to get too tarted up. She brushed her dark hair — no grey so far, although after this episode who knew what she might find in the morning? — and put on the dab of lipstick that tonight was her sole concession to the conventions of make-up.
As she did so, she thought deliberately about what she had to do. Speak to Maurice Steyn, first of all, if she could get hold of him. He was her lawyer and would have to be told, much as she hated the idea. She would check the answering machine for messages, return Hilary’s call, if that was who it had been. She might phone Monica; it was what friends were for, wasn’t it, to lean on in times of trouble? The idea of leaning on anyone was so bizarre that she found herself smiling at her reflection in the dressing-table mirror.
Perhaps the shock of all this will make me cuddly, she thought. But doubted it. Loving, yes, that might still be possible. But cuddly? Never.
Apart from sitting on the phone for an hour, she had no plans for the evening. Tidy up the bits and pieces, eat her supper on the terrace, have a glass of wine and watch the lights come up in the city on the far side of the harbour … She could have done all that in a dressing-gown. In nothing at all, come to that. The idea of sitting in the nude, clutching the phone and discussing her marital problems with the dignified Maurice Steyn brought the smile back to her lips. How the idea would have horrified him!
So why go to the trouble of dolling herself up in her favourite Italian dress to make a few phone calls?
Because I must, she told herself. Suddenly she felt like tears. Resolutely she fought them down. I have to prove to myself that the show will go on. My show. However much I want to lie down and scream my heart out, I shall not do it. I shall not allow him to destroy me.
Purposefully, as presentable as she could make herself, Anna walked down the stairs to her study.
Let’s get on with it.
Two hours later Anna, plans for a quiet evening blown out of the water, sat with her friend Monica Talbot eating Chinese food at a harbourside restaurant in the Rocks.
Monica had been less surprised by the news than Anna had expected, and had at once suggested that they should go out and eat together.
‘Cheong Wah’s,’ Monica had said. ‘Eight o’clock.’
It was nice to be bossed for a change.
Monica was bowstring-taut, angry-eyed and neurotic. She’d been through two husbands and now blamed the world — or at least the male part of it — for them both. One had been wealthy, pleasant. After five years she had caught him making up to a woman she had regarded as a friend. The second had been a dealer on the stock exchange who relieved stress by drinking. When he drank, he used his fists. The first time, Monica had warned him; the second, she had packed an overnight case and walked out. Anna had sheltered her on that occasion; now she was returning the compliment.
Not that Anna needed it. She could look after herself and said so.
‘Don’t you believe it. Your husband’s no different from the rest of them. They’re all bastards.’
‘Mostyn’s not the bash ’em and mash ’em type.’
To Monica, Mostyn was male, the enemy. ‘I wouldn’t put it past him.’
‘He’s probably home already,’ Anna hoped. Or did she? She couldn’t be sure.
‘Reckon there’s someone else?’ Monica asked.
‘Thought you might be able to tell me that. They say the wife is always the last to hear.’
Above their heads the bridge’s familiar girders loomed against a rash of stars, but here, on the cobbled waterfront, her new situation had made all things strange. It was like finding herself in a new, incomprehensible world where the signs were back to front. I don’t understand this new place, Anna thought. I don’t want to understand it. Bruised ego or not, she wished with desperate fervour that everything could go back to how it had been three hours ago. Futile, no doubt, but knowing it did not stifle the wish.
Monica was not into wishes where husbands were concerned. ‘It stuck out a mile. You were bad for his ego. A wife more successful than he was? No way he would put up with that.’
Her own thoughts; yet she disliked hearing them from anyone else. Absurdly, she found herself defending the indefensible. ‘He’s not that bad —’
‘If he’s so marvellous, why aren’t you home with him instead of sitting here with me?’
Monica was right, of course. His place was here, with her. They’d dined out a lot together, once. Had fun together. Once.
‘He certainly chose his moment. The first free weekend I’ve had in yonks and he messes it up.’
‘Only if you let him.’
That was true, too. For the first time in thirteen years she could do what she liked without thinking about anyone else. She could walk the beach, stay in bed, get on a plane. She could do anything she wanted. If she wanted anything.
Oh Moss, she thought, how could you?
If he’d turned up that minute she would have thrown herself at him. Open arms; open legs, too, no doubt. You make me sick, she told herself.
Belatedly, something that Monica had said a few minutes earlier struck her.
‘I would hardly say I was that successful,’ she said.
Monica laughed in disbelief. ‘Australian Businesswoman of the Year?’
‘Doesn’t mean much.’ Though she’d been delighted at the time. ‘What’s the point of it? I’ve worked my butt off all my life. For what?’ To be like you, filling lonely evenings with food and bitterness? Somehow, she managed not to say it.
‘You started with nothing. Now look at you. How can you say you’re not successful?’
It was true, she supposed. She’d picked the tree she’d wanted, had climbed damn near to the top. It was a bit late to start wondering if it had been the right tree.
She was in shock, she told herself. That was why she was thinking like this. It would have been remarkable if she’d felt nothing, after all.
Out in the harbour, islanded in darkness, a brightly-lit ferry headed somewhere unknowable, like a metaphor of her life.
‘Love is a mistake, isn’t it?’ Anna said. ‘It makes you vulnerable.’
Vulnerability was a new experience, yet now it had arrived it seemed in no hurry to abandon her. Later, at the house that no longer felt like home, it tightened like a clamp about her heart. Lying alone on the tossed sheets in a bedroom that was suddenly far too big, far too small, every creak of the house jerked her out of the doze that was the nearest she could get to sleep. Afraid Mostyn would come home after all; afraid he would not.
He wouldn’t; she knew him too well to believe anything else. The ego that had driven him away would make it impossible for him to return so quickly. She hoped, all the same. Unavailingly.
At last, after a dozen lifetimes, the dawn. The harbour as serene as on the first day.
I can’t stay here all weekend, Anna thought. I’ll go ape.
She showered, wishing she could scrub her mind as clean as her body. She arranged a few clothes tidily in a case — not even a broken marriage, which was what she supposed it was, could break her addiction to order — spread a croissant with jam, drank one cup of black coffee. She went out to the garage, stowed the case in the Porsche, and headed north.
Past Broken Bay she found a beach with a pub at the far end, a lake behind a scattering of houses. Miraculously, being a fine Saturday, it had a room. So small the bed almost filled it, a rickety, dark-stained wardrobe jammed against one wall. At the end of a bare corridor, the shower and lavatory were as drab as a public toilet. It was a long time since Anna had stayed anywhere like it but the very discomfort eased her. Here everything was different. She had a name for resilience, for permitting nothing to faze her. Very well. Now was her chance to prove it. Here she would start to forget.
She gave it her best shot. She walked the beach; when she was sick of the sea she crossed the dunes and followed a sandy track shaded by trees until she reached the lake. Watched a man with a dog, a father and mother surrounded by a joyous scream of children.
I should have been like that, she thought, knowing it was nonsense. She had never been cut out for a housewife. A week of it and she’d have been climbing the walls. She imagined packing hubby off to work, the kids off to school. Cleaning the house, doing the shopping, building her own little kingdom in her own little home. Nothing wrong with any of it. Admirable, even, but not — most emphatically not — for her. If everyone were like I am, she thought, the human race would have died out long ago.
Which at the moment did not seem such a bad idea.
It grew hot. She returned to the beach. Luckily, she had thought to slip on some bathers beneath her clothes. She peeled off shorts and top, baring white city skin to the cancerous eye of the yellow sun. Much she cared about that. She rubbed on sunscreen, lay on the stinging sand, plunged periodically into the tepid Pacific as it lapped along the shore. Later, when she’d had enough sun, she found a scrap of tattered shade, sat and stared at the water.
She wasn’t used to doing nothing. It was an art, like everything else, and she had never thought to acquire it. All her life had passed in a rush. She wondered what was the point of it.
Don’t start that again.
But there had to be a point. Simply to function mindlessly, with no object in view — that was scary.
Surely there was merit in the generation of wealth, not simply for herself but for tens of thousands of others? People better off than they’d have been without her? Of course there was. Then why didn’t it seem enough?
Damn you, Mostyn. I never had doubts before.
Except that she had, which was why the political option had seemed so attractive. Now she found herself wondering even about that.
She wasn’t going to walk out on her present life, make any rash decisions. She had to give herself time. It was less than twenty-four hours since she’d got the letter. Besides, what else could she do? She wasn’t the sort to sit on her bum and do nothing. She was used to seizing problems by the throat and shaking them to death. Not being able to do so now made her uncomfortable. Like the drying, powdery sand, frustration itched her skin.
Give it time and it will pass, she told herself. I only wish it would.
She wondered if Mostyn had been trying to contact her. It pleased her to think of the phone ringing in the empty house, him listening to her metallic voice on the answering machine. She liked to imagine his indignation at discovering that she was not available just because he wanted her to be. Of course, the chances were he had not tried to get in touch with her at all.
Once again she thought back over their relationship, seeking the defining moment when the balance between Mostyn’s options — to stay or go — had finally shifted. She remembered one of their more recent rows. At the time, she had barely noticed it. It had been simply another in what now she realised had been a crescendo of rows.
If only I’d taken more notice, she thought. If only I’d listened. If only …
But she hadn’t.
Now she saw that it had been remarkable only because Mostyn had come closer than ever before to expressing his real feelings, the core of his resentment of her and their life together.
Mostyn’s voice, battering the living room walls. ‘You’ve always wanted to keep up with me but you couldn’t hack it. Envy — that’s your problem. It’s become a kind of mad game, hasn’t it? How many directorships, how many TV appearances?’
‘I don’t see anything wrong with being well-known.’
It was true that most businessmen favoured a low profile, but Anna had always enjoyed the limelight. She knew how to manipulate the media, with its politically correct cringe towards any woman who achieved prominence or notoriety.
Mostyn topped up his Scotch without offering her one, took a ferocious belt. Given half a chance he would have devoured her too, and her independent ways.
‘All this palaver about human rights … In the old days it was South Africa. Now it’s Northern Ireland, the United States. Australia too, of course. Why do people like you always pick on their own side? Softer target, I suppose. As for this feminist garbage …’
On and on.
Anna, maliciously, said nothing, knowing that it would make him madder than ever. Which it did.
‘Bumped into Donald Jeffreys last week, at the SCG. Know what he said?’
No, Mostyn, I do not know what Donald Jeffreys said. No doubt you are about to tell me, though.
‘Asked if I’d burned any bras lately.’
And down, yet again, went the Scotch.
‘Good work if you can get it,’ Anna said, contempt hot as flame. ‘Right up Donald Jeffreys’ street, I’d have thought.’
Mostyn had already told her about Andy McKillop and his chuckles over Hatchet Harcourt’s feminist army. Better not call ’em women. They don’t like that.
‘Don’t you see how embarrassing it is when my friends start talking like that? Doesn’t do my image much good.’
‘You’ve no idea how I despise your friends,’ she said.
Mostyn glared savagely. ‘They put bread on your table, though, don’t they?’
Which was true, too, if irrelevant.
None of which had anything to do with the real problem, what Mostyn called buttering up the pollies.
‘You don’t get the nod in the boardrooms of this city by playing footsy with the ALP.’
Had that been the moment when the balance — to go, to stay — had finally shifted? Probably not; from what Anna had seen of other people’s bust-ups, one isolated episode seldom made the difference; it usually took a series of events to cause the break.
None of it mattered, now.
She meandered back to the hotel, forcing herself to take her time. She had a shower, washed her hair, determined to make herself as sparkly as possible. Not to attract anyone — heaven forbid! — but for her own sake.
If I have to make a new life, let me get on with it.
That night, iron bedstead and lumpy mattress notwithstanding, she slept. Woke, romantically, to the first rays of sunlight shafting through the smeared window. Discovered that in the night she had come to a decision.
I shall do nothing until after the New Year, she thought. Give myself time to work things out. She had two board meetings that week. The Christmas break meant there would be nothing after that until mid-January. In past years she had worked through the holiday but this year Hilary could handle it. She had not had a real break in years; now she would.
She spent the day in the hills, had a bite at a fancy-pantsy restaurant, felt herself beginning to come back to life. Driving back to Sydney that evening, she wondered how her great-grandmother would have reacted to the situation.
She laughed, ruefully. Anneliese had been dead for twenty-six years yet, in a sense, had never died at all. Her strength and willpower had been a role model to Anna all her life. She could feel her right now, beside her in the car.
The ferocious old lady would probably have gone for Mostyn with a shotgun, Anna thought. How she had been influenced by her! — even to the extent of changing her name from the Tamsin Fitzgerald she’d despised to an Anglicised imitation of her great-grandmother’s name.
What would I have been like without her genes in me?
She tried to imagine herself as placid and easy-going, a cow chewing the cud in her own particular paddock. A preposterous idea; she laughed and felt better.
Anneliese Riordan had died in 1970 at the age of ninety-five, when Anna herself had been fifteen. Her will had been diamond-bright until the end, eyes focused resolutely upon the twin objectives of her life: never to relinquish her heritage; never to forgive the past. She had lived sixty-seven years in Australia yet never for a moment had she allowed her hatred to grow dim.
As long as Anna could remember, Ouma Riordan, as she had liked to be called — Granny Riordan — had told her tales of her life in the years before she had been forced to leave Africa.
Such tales. Of her first husband and the two children they had made together. What had happened when, after nearly three years of war, her own home burned, she had returned to Oudekraal, the farm that had been the centre and focus of her childhood.
Anneliese’s guttural voice had drawn pictures in the air: Oudekraal, with its steeply-pitched roofs, its white walls gleaming in the moonlight, the central gable rising over the front doorway; the stoep along the length of the building, the oak trees to shade it from the fierce suns of summer.
Tamsin, as she had then been, had seen it so clearly, had felt herself as much a part of the great house thousands of kilometres away as if she had been born in it herself.
‘My brother Deneys came to terms with the English,’ Anneliese had told her, spitting hatred. ‘Something I would never do. Yet without him they’d have had me, sure enough.’
For a moment she was silent, her eyes seeing every grain of soil, the terraces of vines climbing the hill behind the house, the valley enclosing it. Tamsin saw it, too; had heard about it so often that it was hard to believe she had never been there herself.
‘I wrote once to an attorney in Stellenbosch,’ Anneliese said. ‘He told me my great-nephew has it now. Pieter Wolmarans. By rights it should have been mine.’
Anna’s memories faded but later, back in the house overlooking the harbour — no messages from Mostyn on the answering machine — they returned. She remembered the last time she had spoken to the old woman.
In the bedroom Anneliese was fighting her final battle. Echoing voices, a confusion of memories, death with its hand already upon her. Her voice rose and fell, gasping, barely coherent.
‘I was twenty-eight when I came to this country. Already I’d had children of my own. Ja, and buried them. My first husband dead. No, I was no longer a child.’ She cackled. ‘Surprising your great-grandfather would have me. But he was a wild one, too.’ Her eyes were lost in distance as she remembered. ‘Dominic,’ she said. ‘And fire, the curse and cleansing gift of God.’
And for a time was silent. Eventually she came back. Outstretched fingers clutched at the past. ‘Two hundred years,’ she muttered. ‘Two hundred years since the first of the Wolmarans carved his farm from nothing. Oudekraal. A garden where before had been only a wilderness of stone.’ The wandering eyes focused again on Tamsin. ‘My land was stolen from me. You know that?’ Spit rattled urgently in the ancient voice. ‘My life has been a life of blood. Some from my heart, some on my hands. There are times when I can hear the screams …’ Again she drifted, again returned. This time the old note of purpose was back in her voice. She stared up at Tamsin, leaning forward over the bed. ‘Oudekraal is mine. You will recover it. Never forget. You will reclaim my house. Our past. It is your destiny. I can see it in your face.’ She tried to sit up a little but could not, and lay back again, panting. ‘The book on the table beside the bed … Is it there?’
‘You know what it is?’
‘It’s a Bible.’
‘Take it in your hands.’
She waited until Tamsin had done so.
‘It is not like the one we had when I was your age, with brass hinges and the names of all the family from the beginning written inside the cover, but the word of God, all the same. There is something in it that I want you to remember. For me and for yourself.’ The claw fingers tightened on Tamsin’s wrist. ‘Oudekraal is mine. I want you to swear to get it back for me. The Bible says it. In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble …’ The dark eyes probed, as fierce as a hawk. ‘Keep my commandments,’ Anneliese said.
On Monday morning Anna sat in her office on the twentieth floor of the building overlooking Darling Harbour. She thought long and carefully before at last picking up her private phone to dial a number in the city.
‘Mark Forrest, please.’
‘Mark Forrest’s office.’
People who called her had to fight through a similar ring of defences.
‘This is Anna Riordan. May I speak to him, please?’
‘Mr Forrest is not available. So sorry.’ She didn’t sound sorry at all.
‘You mean he’s out or in a meeting?’
Ice chinked at the end of the line. ‘I mean he’s not available.’
‘Do yourself a favour. Tell him who’s calling, right?’
What a bully! Anna thought, not worrying about it. She had grown used to bullying. At times, as now, enjoyed it.
Silence as again she was put on hold.
‘Anna?’ Laughter as well as astonishment in his voice.
Even after so long there was no mistaking him.
‘What did you say to my secretary?’
‘I asked her to put me through to you.’
‘Was that all?’
‘More or less.’ She shared his laughter. ‘Why?’
‘You seem to have got up her nose.’
‘Oh dear.’ Not in the least repentant.
‘What can I do for you? After all these years?’
‘I want you to have lunch with me.’
‘Today?’ He sounded doubtful.
‘If you can.’
‘Let me grab my diary …’ A pause as he considered. ‘I could maybe re-schedule a couple of things … What time?’
‘There’s a place in Darling Harbour called Hugo’s. I’ve heard good reports about it.’
‘I don’t know it.’
‘Neither do I.’
She had thought to suggest Ristorante Venezia, where they’d shared their last meal all those years ago. She had been there again in recent times and found it as good as ever but, for this meeting, somewhere without echoes would be a wiser choice.
‘Look forward to it.’
She cradled the phone. He had not asked if her business were important. She liked that. It was like saying that anything involving her was bound to be important. The implied compliment gave her a warm feeling, as his voice had given her a warm feeling.
She indulged the luxury of thinking back, something that her own inclination and monstrously busy schedule rarely permitted. Her brain juggled dates. Fifteen years since they’d first met. Good heavens. That meeting, startling as it had been, had at first been a good deal less than friendly, although almost at once the atmosphere between them had changed. Then, later, it had changed back again. How it had changed! At that time it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine that they would ever choose to meet again. Yet here they were, fifteen years down the track, going to have lunch together. At her invitation. The wheel turning in a world where it seemed nothing was ever definite, nothing final.
Despite everything that had happened since Friday, she found herself looking forward to the lunch with more than warmth, even with a touch of gathering excitement.
Re-visiting old times …
You can buy Keepers of the House now for $4.99. Visit the book page for more info.
The first book in a new series by Ilsa Evans will be released tomorrow, and ahead of publication I thought I’d give you a chance to sample the first chapter of Nefarious Doings, the first of the Nell Forrest Mysteries. Enjoy!
Welcome to the sleepy town of Majic, where neighbourhood watch is a killer
For Nell Forrest, life in the little town of Majic is not going smoothly. One of her five daughters has just swapped university for fruit-picking, another is about to hit puberty, while a third keeps leaving aggrieved messages on the answering machine. On top of all this, her mother is infuriating and it’s only been a matter of months since Nell lost her husband of twenty-five years. It’s no surprise, then, that she is even struggling to write her weekly column.
But the floodgates of inspiration are about to swing open, almost knocking her out in the process. Murder and mayhem, arson and adultery, dungeons, death threats and disappearances are just around the corner. Despite Nell’s abysmal aptitude for investigative work, she manages to shine the light on the local Richard III Society and that’s when things really start to heat up. Throw in some suspicious widows, nosy neighbours, a canine witness, plus a detective who is getting a little closer than he should, and it’s clear that nefarious doings are well and truly afoot.
I am emailing to thank you for your wonderful Middle-aged Spread column – especially the last one about how the meaning of the term ‘wee hours’ changes over time. Boy, can I relate! But my husband and I have missed your occasional ‘Notes on Marriage’. Very funny. Please bring them back!
The fire was just a crimson fingerprint on the horizon, with a glow that leaked across the pre-dawn gloom. At this distance it had a warmth reminiscent of campfires, or the cast-iron depths of pot-belly stoves. Even the scent seemed rather benign, just lacing the breeze with a hint of burnt toast. Sourdough preferably, a crusty piece that poked against the toaster elements, calling for ridged curls of butter, and maybe honey, or farm-fresh raspberry jam.
The kettle began to shriek, cutting across my reverie. I let it go for a while, simply because I could, and then closed the living-room window before padding barefoot into the kitchen to make coffee. Elixir of the gods. As an afterthought I pulled out the toaster and dropped in two pieces of fat white bread. I glanced back towards the window while I waited, trying to calculate how far away the fire was. Nine or ten kilometres perhaps, maybe a little more.
With breakfast in hand, I propped myself on the armrest of the couch. It was a little awkward, but the view was an excellent source of inspiration. A canopy of gums curving down towards the town of Majic; manna gums, scribbly gums and the towering blue gums among which I would sometimes spot a lone koala feeding lazily. And I needed inspiration, soon, to build a column around. Something, anything, otherwise all I had was the joys of solitude and I was pretty sure I’d written about that already, at least once. The stupid thing was that this was one of the easy-column weeks, not like the monthly segments which included a carefully selected smorgasbord of reader responses. Those required a significant investment of time; this piddly five hundred words should have been accomplished in my spare time. Especially with all that joyous solitude.
I took a sip of coffee and willed my mind to go blank; something that always seemed effortless when I was in the supermarket, or standing at the ATM, or trying to come up with a perfect retort to put offspring in their place, but impossible when required. Instead, thoughts churned like butter: must ring Lucy about her exam, must defrag computer, must check Quinn’s uniform, must put a bra on, must decorate the Christmas tree, must find out what defrag means, must write bloody column.
The distant glow was fading now, consumed by the gluttonous orange-yellow of the rising sun. I wondered if the fire was in bushland – hopefully under control – or somebody’s house. And this latter thought was followed by the oily realisation that somewhere, perhaps, right this very moment a family was being devastated. Clustered on the nature strip, faces streaked with ash and worry. Or counting heads, coming up short and being torn asunder, from the inside out.
I felt my eyes glisten, stupidly, even as they slid across to our most recent family portrait. All dressed in white against a crisp burgundy background, everyone laughing. My gaze lingered on Darcy, his hand resting on my shoulder. There was something I could write about: the heaviness of absence, like saddlebags. I could tell how yesterday, while trying to decorate the Christmas tree, I’d been sucker-punched by an image of him testing the tangled lights last year. Or maybe I could simply discuss how illusionary it was, that absence was a presence in itself; so much so that I might as well set it a place at the dinner table.
But I wouldn’t write about any of that. I transferred my gaze to the still-naked tree and forced myself to also recall how much he’d grumbled about the damn lights. How I’d had to postpone my own tasks in order to become his assistant, a job that primarily called for the provision of intermittent praise, coffee, and a captive audience for his lecture on primary prevention. I’d thought then, as I often did, that next time it’d be easier just to do it myself. I closed my eyes, then swallowed the memory and turned away. Perhaps that’s what started the fire over there. Christmas lights, incorrectly stored, the owners paying the price for a laissez-faire attitude to the principles of primary prevention.
I shivered instinctively before transferring my mug so that I could reach down to rap my knuckles on the wooden coffee table. Coffee slopped across my toast, instantly transforming Loretta Emerson’s Gourmet Seeded Raspberry Jam (75% fruit!) into something more at home in a pathology lab.
‘Shit.’ I put the plate down and used the front of my baggy T-shirt to dab at the bottom of the mug. The doorbell rang and I started, soaking my cleavage with hot coffee that instantly spread to bracket both breasts. ‘Shit, shit, shit.’
The doorbell rang again and I rose, holding my clammy T-shirt away from my skin. I could now see bare breasts streaked with shiny coffee rivulets, just above a rounded belly that jiggled cheerfully as I began walking towards the front door. I looked away, not just because the sight wasn’t particularly appealing, but with the way my luck was running I’d probably walk straight into a doorjamb and knock myself out. Middle-aged woman found unconscious. Police suspect foul play.
The grandfather clock in the hall confirmed my suspicion that it was a little early for callers so I stood on tiptoe to peer through the brass peephole that was set about fifteen centimetres too high. On the porch was a girl, slim with a mess of brown bed-hair, her back to the door as she stared towards a puffy plume of smoke. The crimson glow had now all but vanished, drowned by daylight.
‘Quinn!’ I threw the door open for my youngest daughter. ‘What on earth?’
She turned, grinned. ‘Sorry, I forgot my key. You weren’t asleep, were you?’
‘No, but that’s not what I meant. You’re supposed to be up the road at Caitlin’s.’
‘Yeah, I woke early. Got bored.’ Quinn pushed past me and dropped her backpack beside the grandfather clock before heading towards the kitchen. She continued talking, her voice floating over her shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, I left a note. Did you see there’s a fire somewhere? What’s for breakfast?’
I shut the front door and followed. ‘You can make toast if you want. For me too.’
Quinn was already slipping bread into the toaster. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Are you, like, practising for a wet T-shirt contest?’
‘I spilt my coffee.’ I plucked my T-shirt forward again and fanned it, which accomplished very little.
Quinn worked briskly, putting together a hot chocolate to go with her toast, cleaning as she went. Sometimes I couldn’t quite believe she was mine, with her efficiency, her sufficiency, her equilibrium. This thirteen-year-old girl, the last of five, the afterthought, who seemed to have taken the best of each. The confidence and capability of the eldest two, Scarlet and Ruby, along with the diligence of Red and the mellow empathy of Lucy. And while she certainly wasn’t the favourite – because there were no favourites – even so her personality, her supportiveness, the ease of her upbringing made Quinn … special.
‘Where d’you reckon the fire is?’
I took a plate of buttery toast and preceded her into the living room. ‘I don’t know. Hopefully not near Majic. Apart from anything else, the newspapers will fall over each other coming up with smartarse headlines. Like Flames Lick Majic. No, skip that one, it sounds a little … off.’
‘Or how about – Majic explodes!’
‘Hopefully not.’ I smiled, accustomed to our town’s name drawing more attention than the town itself. There was even a business on the main street whose stock in trade was the address, which they rented out to others. Apparently there was something very appealing about buying candles, or an online psychic reading, from a place called Majic. Ironically, the origin of the name was not mystical at all, but from a wealthy Ukrainian gentleman whose eccentricity had verged on madness. Legend had it that around the time of the gold rush, he rode out from Bendigo after a liquid lunch vowing that he would build his house at whichever spot he reached when the sun set. Construction took almost three years, with the enormity of the project resulting in the evolution of a town near the building site. When the man called Majic died only a few months after taking up residence, possibly due to his fondness for liquid lunches, the town called Majic continued regardless.
‘I reckon it’ll be over towards Axedale. Probably like an empty warehouse or something. Maybe squatters.’
‘Maybe.’ I nodded, eating toast slowly as I imagined the squatters huddling around a fire for warmth, only to fall asleep from exhaustion as the fire licked across the earthen floor.
‘I don’t think it’s going to catch on.’
Quinn nodded towards my original plate, where the toast had now disintegrated. ‘Coffee and toast combined. Efficient, but it looks feral. LOL.’
‘That’s what I said.’
The conversation was halted by the sound of the doorbell ringing again. I frowned as I put down my toast but this time I didn’t bother checking the peephole as I have a robust theory about post-sunrise and nefarious doings, which holds that safety progresses along with the morning. I pulled the door open and then stared at the barefoot young woman standing on the doorstep, a wheeled duffel bag by her side. ‘Lucy!’
‘Hey, Mum.’ Lucy grinned and pushed forward to press herself against me briefly. ‘Sorry I’m early but my lift needed to be in Bendigo first thing. I brought you a present!’
I took the little gift bag from her without dropping my gaze. ‘Thanks, but why are –’
Lucy made fleeting eye contact before sliding her gaze to somewhere over my right shoulder. She had the same eyes as her father, a light blue-grey that appeared almost sightless when lost in thought. Now, however, they just looked furtive. ‘Yeah, well, something I need to tell you. Can we talk inside?’
‘I suppose –’
‘Great.’ Lucy flashed another grin before picking up the duffel bag and surging forward, striking my knee with a wheel as she passed. ‘Sorry, Mum. Hey ya, Quinn! Is that toast?’
By the time I reached the living room once more, my second-youngest daughter was ensconced in the armchair, one leg hooked over the armrest, eating a piece of my toast. Her blonde hair was caught up in a messy bun, displaying an underside of streaky lilac. She was wearing what looked like pyjamas, with the top indicating a devil-may-care attitude towards support which, I thought grimly, she would regret in about twenty years. The same with the splash of colour visible around her ankle region; red and green, with thorns.
‘Hey, Mum, do you want me to decorate the tree for you?’ She waved towards the corner. ‘And how do you like your present?’
Something was definitely up. I opened the gift bag and removed a lump of white tissue that unfurled to reveal a tiny toby jug, complete with gold-leaf rim. ‘Oh, Luce, it’s lovely.’
‘You can put it in the house.’ Lucy gestured to my doll’s house, sitting atop an antique tea trolley in the far corner. It was a Tudor-style residence of four cantilevered levels, with the uppermost set among the eaves. I had begun renovating it about seven months ago and the living room had been the latest room reveal, with fresh carpet, wallpaper and even three tiny ducks flying up one wall. And now a toby jug for the mantelpiece, between the two brass candlesticks. All that was needed was a little screen for the fire. Perhaps an embroidered one, with a walnut frame to match the skirting.
‘So how come you’re here?’ asked Quinn.
‘Yes.’ I turned away from the house and folded my arms. ‘You have that make-up exam tomorrow. First thing.’
‘Listen.’ Lucy straightened, the tattoo disappearing. ‘And just keep an open mind till I’ve finished, then I know you’ll understand.’
‘Want to bet?’
‘Five dollars,’ said Quinn, nursing her hot chocolate. ‘That she won’t. Actually, make it ten.’
‘Thanks. Very supportive.’
‘What can I say? I’m an entrepreneur. Nothing personal, Luce.’
‘Enough!’ I took a deep breath. ‘Now –’
‘My best friend has breast cancer!’ announced Lucy. She nodded at our shocked expressions and then continued, looking grim. ‘That’s right. Breast cancer. She’s got a mammogram on Thursday.’
‘Oh my god, that’s awful.’ I took a step forward, put a hand on Lucy’s shoulder, and then pulled it away. ‘Hang on, a mammogram’s preliminary – has she actually been diagnosed?’
‘Not quite, but it’s a given.’ Lucy held out her fingers to make a circle the size of a dinner plate. ‘Like you should see this lump.’
She brought her fingers in, reducing the plate to a saucer. ‘No lie.’
‘What’s her name?’
‘I’ve never heard you mention a Melanie. And you’re always talking about your friends.’
‘Well, she’s more the friend of a friend. A best friend. But that’s not the point.’
‘Let me recap.’ I lowered myself onto the couch and crossed my legs. ‘The friend of a friend has found an anomaly that she will be getting checked out later next week. And this has had a negative impact on your ability to sit one single make-up exam tomorrow, without which you will fail your entire first year of university. Is that right?’
Lucy frowned. ‘Well, yeah, but you make it sound stupid.’
‘Good lord, how on earth did I do that?’
‘What does the lump look like?’ asked Quinn.
‘Well, it’s sort of – I’m not quite …’ Lucy glanced towards my chest as she spoke, as if hoping for inspiration. She frowned, and then leant closer. ‘Mum, is your T-shirt wet? D’you know, I think I can see your nipple.’
‘Oh, vomit,’ said Quinn, nevertheless staring in that direction.
I jumped up, tugging my T-shirt forward, which was rather unfortunate as it had, at some point, managed to adhere itself to my skin. I glared at Lucy, pain escalating my irritation. Mother of five culls offspring. Jury of her peers refuses to convict.
‘D’you want to get changed, Mum? I can’t concentrate with your top like that.’
Further discussion was curtailed by the doorbell, again. Still holding the T-shirt away, I did a mental tally of remaining daughters. Scarlet – on duty in Melbourne; Ruby – most probably still asleep in the unit they shared; Red – halfway through an internship in London and due home for Christmas in two weeks. I grabbed a chiffon scarf from the hat stand and flung it around my neck, ensuring the ends draped over my chest, before pulling the door open. Police.
My heart froze, solidified, and then sunk; my mouth opened, but no words emerged.
‘Eleanor Forrest?’ asked a young, ruddy-faced policeman with a blonde buzz-cut, his finger still on the doorbell. His older companion was a stocky fellow whose belly strained against his blue shirt.
I nodded, stared.
‘I’m Constable Matthew Carstairs and this is Constable Drew Reynolds. Are you –’
‘My daughter’s a police officer,’ I blurted, as if this would make a difference. ‘Scarlet Blake-Forrest. She’s a constable as well, but in Melbourne. Tall, brown hair, looks a bit like Ana Ivanovic. You know, the tennis player?’
The older one cleared his throat. ‘Are you the daughter of Mrs Lillian Forrest? Of Small Dairy Lane?’
My eyes widened as I registered the implications. Relief surged upwards, like bile. The girls were okay, it was my mother. ‘What’s happened? Is she all right? Is she …’
Lucy gasped from behind me. ‘Grandma?’
‘She’s okay,’ said the young policeman hurriedly. ‘That is, apart from some smoke inhalation. They’ll keep her in hospital for a while, to monitor her breathing, but she should be fine. See, there’s been a fire.’
‘A fire!’ And I knew. Not Axedale after all.
Quinn pushed forward and waved towards the right, where the plume of smoke had now disappeared. ‘Was it the one over there? We saw that!’
‘God.’ I took a deep breath, picturing that fingerprint of fire, so distant, but so close. My mother. ‘But she’ll be okay. Do you know what caused it?’
‘Not sure yet but I’m afraid there’s been substantial damage to the house. And …’ He paused, exchanged glances with his partner. ‘Well, I understand your mother is widowed but does she, um, have a … companion?’
I stared, stunned. For a moment I had a widescreen image of my mother – being companionable. I grimaced and shook my head. ‘Hell, no.’
‘Well, it seems your mother wasn’t the only other person on the premises when the fire took hold. A man? Tallish? Uncertain of the age just yet.’
‘If you’re uncertain of his age,’ I said slowly, ‘does that mean …’
He nodded. ‘We haven’t been able to talk to your mother yet but as soon as she’s up to it, we’ll be asking a few questions to ascertain his identity. In the meantime, could you let us know if you’ve anything to add?’
I took the card the sergeant offered and stared down at the Victoria Police crest. ‘So … she could have died.’
‘Yes, it was very fortunate that a neighbour spotted the fire, rang 000, and got her out through a window.’ The older policeman dropped his eyes for a moment and then blinked. ‘Yes. Very fortunate indeed.’
‘But not for the –’
‘No, afraid not.’
After promising that I would get in touch with any information, I closed the door behind the two policemen and then stared at Lucy and Quinn while I tried to process everything.
‘So, the guy’s dead?’ asked Lucy, breaking the silence.
‘Yes, it seems that way. Whoever he was.’
‘Like, I don’t know what’s most shocking,’ said Quinn, taking the business card and examining it. ‘That we just had the police here, or that Grandma’s house burnt down, or that she had a boyfriend. Or that he’s dead.’
‘Perhaps it was the sex,’ added her sister. ‘You know, like sparks flew. Ignited.’
‘Or maybe he spontaneously combusted. It can happen.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘And I suppose you have a best friend who had a friend who spontaneously combusted, which is another reason you’re here instead of studying for your exam.’
‘Mum, really?’ Lucy shook her head. ‘Is now the time for sarcasm? With your mother in hospital? Homeless? And by the way, that scarf is see-through so I can still see your nipple.’
I resisted the urge to look down, not wanting to know. ‘Don’t think I’ve finished with you. We’ll talk later. For now just go put on some shoes. And, Quinn, brush your hair. Quickly.’
As the girls left, I hurried to my bedroom where I tugged jeans and a shirt from the wardrobe. I knew that the man, the dead man, was not my mother’s partner, or boyfriend, or whatever anyone wanted to call it. I knew this as surely as I knew that my mother was not a widow either, never had been. I also knew that it was unlikely he was a welcome visitor, as my mother, despite belonging to several social groups, was not a fan of inviting people over. ‘Thank you, but I don’t do guests,’ she had said only last week, emphatically, when one of her grandchildren suggested that she entertain for her upcoming birthday.
I took a moment to sponge the coffee from my breasts and then dressed, only slowing when I caught sight of Darcy smiling at me lopsidedly from our wedding picture on the dressing-table. I stared, wanting, needing to make contact, before dragging my gaze towards the mirror. I looked pale, so pale that my dark, stupidly curly hair seemed even darker and my eyes looked huge. A little Botticelli, or a middle-aged Rembrandt. Certainly my figure was more Renaissance than contemporary anyway, so it matched the whole theme. Who knew shock could be so flattering? This last thought reminded me that my mother was in hospital, and a man was dead. ‘Thank you, but I don’t do guests,’ she had said. Which was just as well, given the circumstances.
You can pre-order Nefarious Doings now. For more information, head over to the book page.
The AU Review recently did an excellent in-depth interview with Koraly Dimitriadis about her work, and specifically her verse novel Love and Fuck Poems. Read on for an excerpt of the piece, or head over to their site to read more.
Sexually repressed, separated Greek girl on a rampage. There’s no love here, just fucks. But is she fucking him or fucking herself?
Koraly Dimitriadis’ work was first published as a zine in 2011. It quickly sold out of stores. Now reissued as a book with extra poems, her first erotic verse novel strips itself down, pulls you close, and explodes — both with you, and at you.
Love & Fuck Poems is a collection that explores tensions: sexual, cultural, familial, and gendered pressures are held up against one another until they’re spitting in conflict or sparking with similarities. It is an emotional self-examination with a hand-mirror. What we see is a vibrant and visceral story of a woman scrutinising herself from every angle, and realising that she can’t look like a “good girl” from all of them.
Dimitriadis’ novel plays with our desires as readers. Comfort is rarely given. Pieces like the violent and venomous “How To Get A Fuck” are followed by the simpler “Freedom”, yet the latter is hardly reassuring — if anything, the shift in mood is disconcerting. We get the impression that we’re being appeased, not pleased.
It is this sensation of being nearly-but-not-quite-satisfied that tantalises the reader, and encourages us to keep searching, even though we’re not sure what we need to get over the edge. Maybe we’ll find it with the next poem. But as the levels of intensity and intimacy fluctuate, often quite independently of each other, we start to understand how ‘love’ and ‘fuck’ can be two very separate concepts. All of a sudden, our motivations are startlingly similar to those within the book.
Perhaps one reason why Love And Fuck Poems is so relatable is that Dimitriadis’s writing is so raw and passionate. By rejecting many of the academic conventions that the form is still measured by, she has written poems that are accessible even to those who don’t often read poetry — the universality of her themes, coupled with the intensity of her personal experience makes for a powerful read. This uncompromising collection will have you wondering: Are you reading this book or is it reading you?
Question and Answer with Koraly
Love and Fuck Poems — Awesome title. When I was reading through your book the first time, a colleague saw the title and remarked, ‘But aren’t they [‘love and fuck’] the same thing?’ In response, I found myself saying that I interpreted it as two themes sitting side by side; very similar in some ways but very different in others. This concept also comes through very strongly in individual poems. Would you say that this is an accurate (if simple) way of explaining it? If not, then how would you explain the two ideas in the title?
Wow, great question! I think my upbringing has a lot to do with the title. I was brought up in a conservative Greek family and sex wasn’t really discussed except that you had to be a virgin when you got married. I also wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. A boy was a “friend” until he was “a husband”. I wasn’t even allowed to watch kissing to television. So when I got married and did what was expected, and lived the life I was expected to live, when it all fell apart, the repressed girl inside me exploded out and the words came out raw and unapologetic. To me, the title is “these are my words, and I am not shutting up anymore.” But there are many layers to the title of the book. I don’t want to be didactic about what the title means. I prefer readers to interpret the story and the title in their own way.
Author Adina West joins us to talk about vampires in popular culture. From Nosferatu to NOS4A2, we run the gamut of vampire history from the Slavs to the deep south of America.
We talk about our favourite vampires in popular culture, how vampires have become an allegory for societal issues, and why we think the vampires are such a popular trope in books, television and movies.
Recommendations – Favourite Pop Culture Vampires
Mark – Joe Pitt
Joel – Lestat
Anne – Lestat
Adina – Selene in Underworld
For more information on Adina’s Dark Child (non)vampires, head to the book page.
With the Random House/Penguin merger there has obviously been some consolidation in management, and the venerable Gail Rebuck, who has been chairman and chief executive at Random House UK since 1991, stood down from her role running the business. In the same week the chief executive of Harper Collins, Victoria Barnsley, left after 13 years. Both women were succeeded by (eminently suitable, I might add) male replacements.
As The Guardian points out,
The suddenness of the change is startling – from 2000 to 2012 three of the big four British publishers were overseen by women. In the Guardian’s Book Power 100 list two years ago, Rebuck was ranked ninth and Barnsley fifteenth, and Rebuck took 10th place in Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour power list for 2013. Now, arguably, there are none.
While in Australia the gender power balance is quite different, what happens in the worldwide publishing scene now affects us more than ever. Most of the big 5 (going to take a little while to get used to saying that) have recently restructured in a vertical manner, so that the new arms of the business are directed from either US or UK strongholds.
Felice’s post struck a chord with me, as a female working in book publishing. I am one of the many women who have noticed that while we outnumber our male counterparts in the lower ranks of publishing, most of the top jobs are occupied by men. Obviously there are a number of reasons for this, chief among them the fact that women are required to delay their careers rather more than men if they choose to have children.
Reading Felice’s piece I thought about the number of brilliant women who have inspired me in my career (Katie Crawford, Cate Paterson, Nikki Christer, Sam Missingham to name but a few). Read an excerpt of Felice’s ‘Finding Feminism: A Woman in Publishing” and let me know what you think.
“Four years ago, I would have probably said we don’t need feminism anymore. I would have said we’re doing ok as a culture and don’t sweat the small stuff like discrepancies in wage, promotion opportunities, and people yelling ‘nice tits’ when you’re walking down the street in the middle of the day. I would have said this stuff will disappear with time, or possibly denied they even happened. Of course, this was before I knew page three existed (because, no, it’s not normal and where I grew up it wasn’t a thing), before Robin Thicke, and before last week’s news that two of the biggest jobs in publishing, previously held by women, are going to men.
I am not suggesting that men don’t deserve these jobs. Both men seem incredibly well qualified to hold their respective positions. But every time something like this comes up, I am (and in fact most people are) reminded of how our industry is overwhelmingly female, and the top jobs are held overwhelmingly by men. I don’t know why that is. I also don’t know why there is a difference between men and women’s pay.
I found feminism partly through the fact that I noticed these problems, and partly through the incredible women I know who work in publishing. Because there are so damn many of them. The ones who stare you down; the ones that ask difficult questions; the ones with brilliant ideas; the ones working late and hard on a bottomless pit of a project; the ones that make me laugh with how much they cut through the shit when a conversation is in danger of spiraling towards circularity. These women inspire me to be ambitious.”
Continue reading Finding Feminism: A Woman in Publishing over at Book Machine.
I currently have two pop culture obsessions. One of them is Kylie Scott‘s Lick, and watching it rocket up the Amazon charts. The other is the recently released Guillermo del Toro movie Pacific Rim. So naturally when I discovered that Warner has made available a make-your-own Jaegar Design app, there was only one conclusion.
Behold, the STAGE DIVE.
So what’s next for the Stage Dive jaegar? Fan fiction, obviously. Stay tuned (or feel free to take this idea and run with it) – imagine, a Stage Dive tribute band made up entirely of skyscraper-sized mechanical robots. Drifting with members of the band. A giant jaegar rock concert in Vegas. I mean, (spoiler alert) once the world has been saved from monsters, what else are the jaegars going to do?
For more information on Lick: Stage Dive 1 head to the book page to read the first chapter, find retailer links to buy the book, or purchase directly from Momentum.
David Druas is a successful psychologist, with a thriving practice. When he encounters Hans Werner, a client who sees imaginary doors, life takes a dark and unexpected turn.
After trying to unravel the delusion, David also notices mysterious doors. Scattered throughout the city, they lead to beautiful, terrifying and dangerous new worlds. But are they real?
When Hans Werner is murdered, the evidence identifies David as the killer. Forced to become a fugitive, he struggles to escape the deepening nightmare that threatens to overwhelm him.
As the police close in, it becomes apparent that the doors are concealing a dark and tangled truth. The question is: can David unlock their secrets before his time and sanity run out?
We’re giving away a print copy of the novel in our Doors Giveaway. To win, just tell us one thing:
What would be behind the door in your horror novel scenario?
To celebrate the release of Lick, the first book in Kylie Scott‘s new series Stage Dive, today, I thought I’d not only give you a preview of the second chapter in the book but also a chance to win a print copy of Lick.
In order to win, just email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your best remedy for a woken-up-married-to-a-rockstar-in-Vegas style tequila hangover. Make sure you include Lick Giveaway in the subject line. Entries must be in by the end of Wednesday 3rd of July to be in contention.
Now, here’s chapter 2 (chapter 1 can be found under “read sample” on the book page).
Lauren sat beside me on the plane, fiddling with my iPhone. “I don’t understand how your taste in music can be so bad. We’ve been friends for years. Have I taught you nothing?”
“To not drink tequila.”
She rolled her eyes.
Above our heads the seatbelt sign flashed on. A polite voice advised us to return our seats to the upright position as we’d be landing in a few minutes. I swallowed the dregs of my shitty plane coffee with a wince. Fact was, no amount of caffeine could help me today. Quality didn’t even come into it.
“I am deadly serious,” I said. “I’m also never setting foot in Nevada ever again so long as I live.”
“Now there’s an overreaction.”
“Not even a little, lady.”
Lauren had stumbled back to the motel a bare two hours before our flight was due to leave. I’d spent the time re-packing my small bag over and over in an attempt to get my life back into some semblance of order. It was good to see Lauren smiling, though getting to the airport in time had been a race. Apparently she and the cute waiter she’d met would be keeping in touch. Lauren had always been great with guys, while I was more closely related to your standard garden-variety wallflower. My plan to get laid in Vegas had been a deliberate attempt to get out of that rut. So much for that idea.
Lauren was studying economics and she was gorgeous, inside and out. I was more kind of unwieldy. It was why I made a habit of walking everywhere I could in Portland and trying not to sample the contents of the cake display case at the café where I worked. It kept me manageable, waist-wise. Though my Mom still saw fit to give me lectures on the subject because God forbid I dare put sugar in my coffee. My thighs would no doubt explode or something.
Lauren had three older brothers and knew what to say to guys. Nothing intimidated her. The girl oozed charm. I had one older brother but we no longer interacted outside of major family holidays. Not since he moved out of home four years back leaving only a note. Nathan had a temper and a gift for getting into trouble. He’d been the bad boy in high school, always getting into fights and skipping classes. Though blaming my lack of success with guys on my non-existent relationship with my brother was wrong. I could own my deficiencies with the opposite sex. Mostly.
“Listen to this.” Lauren plugged my earphones into her phone and the whine of electric guitars exploded inside my skull. The pain was exquisite. My headache roared back to sudden, horrific life. Nothing remained of my brain but bloody red mush. Of this I was certain.
I ripped out the earphones. “Don’t. Please.”
“But that’s Stage Dive.”
“And they’re lovely. But, you know, another time maybe.”
“I worry about you sometimes. I just want you to know that.”
“There is nothing wrong with country music played softly.”
Lauren snorted and fluffed up her short dark hair. “There is nothing right with country music played at any volume. So what did you get up to last night? Apart from spending quality time heaving?”
“Actually, that about sums it up.” The less said the better. How could I ever explain? Still, guilt slid through me and I squirmed in my seat. The tattoo throbbed in protest.
I hadn’t told Lauren about my grand having-good-sex plan for the night. She’d have wanted to help. Honestly, sex didn’t strike me as the sort of thing you should have help with. Apart from what was required from the sexual partner in question, of course. Lauren’s assistance would have involved foisting me on every hottie in the room with promises of my immediate leg-open availability.
I loved Lauren and her loyalty was above question, but she didn’t have a subtle bone in her body. She’d punched a girl in the nose in fifth grade for teasing me about my weight and we’d been friends ever since. With Lauren, you always knew exactly where you stood. Something I appreciated the bulk of the time, just not when discretion was called for.
Happily, my sore stomach survived the bumpy landing. Soon as those wheels hit the tarmac I let out a sigh of relief. I was back in my hometown. Beautiful Oregon, lovely Portland, never again would I stray. With mountains in the distance and trees in the city, she was a singular delight. To limit myself to the one city for life might indeed be going overboard. But it was great to be home. I had an all-important internship starting next week that my father had pulled strings to get for me. There were also next semester’s classes to start planning for.
Everything would be fine. I’d learned my lesson. Normally, I didn’t go past three drinks. Three drinks were good. Three got me happy without tripping me face first into disaster. Never again would I cross the line. I was back to being the good old organized, boring me. Adventures were not cool and I was done with them.
We stood and grabbed our bags out of the overhead lockers. Everyone pushed forward in a rush to disembark. The hostesses gave us practiced smiles as we tramped up the aisle and out into the connecting tunnel. Next came security and then we poured out into the baggage claim. Fortunately, we only had carry-on, so no delays there. I couldn’t wait to get home.
I heard shouting up ahead. Lights were flashing. Someone famous must have been on the plane. People ahead of us turned and stared. I looked back too but saw no familiar faces.
“What’s going on?” Lauren asked, scanning the crowd.
“I don’t know,” I said, standing on tippy-toe, getting excited by all the commotion.
Then I heard it, my name being called out over and over. Lauren’s mouth pursed in surprise. Mine fell open.
“When’s the baby due?”
“Evelyn, is David with you?”
“Will there be another wedding?”
“When will you be moving to LA?”
“Is David coming to meet your parents?”
“Evelyn, is this the end for Stage Dive?”
“Is it true that you got tattoos of each other’s name?”
“How long have you and David been seeing each other?”
“What do you say to accusations that you’ve broken up the band?”
My name and his, over and over, mixed into a barrage of endless questions. All of which merged into chaos. A wall of noise I could barely comprehend. I stood gaping in disbelief as flashlights blinded me and people pressed in. My heart hammered. I’d never been great with crowds and there was no escape that I could see.
Lauren snapped out of it first.
She shoved her sunglasses onto my face and then grabbed my hand. With liberal use of her elbows, she dragged me through the mob. The world became a blur, care of her prescription lenses. I was lucky not to fall on my ass. We ran through the busy airport and out to a waiting taxi, jumping the queue. People started yelling. We ignored them.
The paparazzi were close behind.
The motherfucking paparazzi. It would have been surreal if it wasn’t so frantic and in my face.
Lauren pushed me into the back seat of the cab. I scrambled across then slumped down, doing my best to hide. Wishing I could disappear entirely.
“Go! Hurry!” she shouted at the driver.
The driver took her at her word. Our ride shot out of the place, sending us sliding across the cracked vinyl seating. My forehead bounced off the back of the (luckily padded) passenger seat. Lauren pulled my seatbelt over me and jammed it into the clasp. My hands didn’t seem to be working. Everything jumped and jittered.
“Talk to me,” she said.
“Ah …” No words came out. I pushed her sunglasses up on top of my head and stared into space. My ribs hurt and my heart still pounded so hard.
“Ev?” With a small smile Lauren patted my knee. “Did you somehow happen to get married while we were away?”
“I … yeah. I, uh, I did. I think.”
And then it just all blurted out of me. “God, Lauren. I screwed up so badly and I barely even remember any of it. I just woke up and he was there and then he was so pissed at me and I don’t even blame him. I didn’t know how to tell you. I was just going to pretend it never happened.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work now.”
“Okay. No big deal. So you’re married.” Lauren nodded, her face freakily calm. No anger, no blame. Meanwhile, I felt terrible I hadn’t confided in her. We shared everything.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have told you.”
“Yes, you should have. But never mind.” She straightened out her skirt like we were sitting down to tea. “So, who did you marry?”
“D-David. His name is David.”
“David Ferris, by any chance?”
The name sounded familiar. “Maybe?”
“Where we going?” asked the cab driver, never taking his eyes off the traffic. He wove in and out among the cars with supernatural speed. If I’d been up to feeling anything, I might have felt fear and more nausea. Blind terror, perhaps. But I had nothing.
“Ev?” Lauren turned in her seat, checking out the cars behind us. “We haven’t lost them. Where do you want to go?”
“Home,” I said, the first safe place to come to mind. “My parents’ place, I mean.”
“Good call. They’ve got a fence.” Without pausing for breath Lauren rattled off the address to the driver. She frowned and pushed the sunglasses back down over my face. “Keep them on.”
I gave a rough laugh as the world outside turned back into a smudge. “You really think it’ll help, now?”
“No,” she said, flicking back her long hair. “But people in these situations always wear sunglasses. Trust me.”
“You watch too much TV.” I closed my eyes. The sunglasses weren’t helping my hangover. Nor was the rest of it. All my own damn fault. “I’m sorry I didn’t say something. I didn’t mean to get married. I don’t even remember what happened exactly. This is such a …”
“That word works.”
Lauren sighed and rested her head on my shoulder. “You’re right. You really shouldn’t drink tequila ever again.”
“No,” I agreed.
“Do me a favor?” she asked.
“Don’t break up my favorite band.”
“Ohmygod.” I shoved the sunglasses back up, frowning hard enough to make my head throb. “Guitarist. He’s the guitarist. That’s where I know him from.”
“Yes. He’s the guitarist for Stage Dive. Well spotted.”
The David Ferris. He’d been on Lauren’s bedroom wall for years. Granted, he had to be the last person I’d expect to wake up to, on a bathroom floor or otherwise. But how the hell could I not have recognized him? “That’s how he could afford the ring.”
Shuffling further down in the seat, I fished the monster out of my jeans pocket and brushed off the lint and fluff. The diamond glittered accusingly in the bright light of day.
Lauren started shaking beside me, muffled laughter escaping her lips. “Mother of God, it’s huuuuge!”
“Fuck me. I think I’m about to pee myself,” she squeed, fanning her face and bouncing up and down on the car seat. “Look at it!”
“Lauren, stop. We can’t both be freaking out. That won’t work.”
“Right. Sorry.” She cleared her throat, visibly struggling to get herself back under control. “How much is that even worth?”
“I really don’t want to guess.”
“That. Is. Insane.”
We both stared at my bling in awed silence.
Suddenly Lauren started bopping up and down in her seat again like a kid riding a sugar high. “I know! Let’s sell it and go backpacking in Europe. Hell, we could probably circle the globe a couple of times on that sucker. Imagine it.”
“We can’t,” I said, as tempting as it sounded. “I’ve got to get it back to him somehow. I can’t keep this.”
“Pity.” She grinned. “So, congratulations. You’re married to a rock star.”
I tucked the ring back into my pocket. “Thanks. What the hell am I going to do?”
“I honestly don’t know.” She shook her head at me, her eyes full of wonder. “You’ve exceeded all of my expectations. I wanted you to let your hair down a little. Get a life and give mankind another chance. But this is a whole new level of crazy you’ve ascended to. Do you really have a tattoo?”
“Of his name?”
I sighed and nodded.
“Where, might I enquire?”
I shut my eyes tight. “My left butt cheek.”
Lauren lost it, laughing so hard that tears started streaming down her face.
To continue reading, find links to selected book retailers via the book page here.
I’m happy to announce that Adina picked Elana Bowman as the winner. Elana will receive a signed paperback copy of the Dark Child Omnibus. Her winning answer is below. Everyone else who entered will be receiving a digital copy of the Dark Child Omnibus for their efforts – thank you all!
My favourite vampire inspiration was Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) in Interview with the Vampire based on Anne Rice’s novel.
I was fascinated by her un vampire like looks – her gorgeous golden curly hair, pale white skin and the way her vampire ‘fathers’ dressed her like a doll. I didn’t know anything about vampires when I saw this movie and the scene where Claudia struggles with the fact, that she would never grow up and never would become a woman made me understand the supernatural elements and the immortal elements of being a vampire.
She acted out and killed in anger and made a woman into a vampire to become her ‘mother’ just in case one of her ‘fathers’ remarried – I was very intrigued by her humanness and all the issues that little girls (who should be growing up and becoming women) have to face.
I wouldn’t say I’m inspired exactly, was just very intrigued by the portrayal of the characters from the book. They read, were chivalrous and graceful, lived well in society and had such a humanness to them …oh and they killed!
We had a lot of excellent entrants in our Adina West print book giveaway, so I thought I’d highlight some of the most popular. I asked for your favourite vampire inspiration, be it in books, movies or television, and you definitely made the judging difficult. But looking for illustrative decoration was easy.
Eric Northman, the Sookie Stackhouse series
“I’d have to say Alexander Skarsgard as Eric Northman in True Blood! Perfect casting and just overall yummy.”
(Pretty happy they chose to give him a haircut for season 2, actually.)
“The best Blade is Blade Trinity. Jessica Biel amazing, Ryan Reynolds super muscles. I don’t remember anything else.”
Lestat, Interview with a Vampire series
“Lestat de Lioncourt from The Queen of the Damned movie – definitely not the Tom Cruise incarnation.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Claudia, Interview with a Vampire series
“I was fascinated by her un vampire like looks – her gorgeous golden curly hair, pale white skin and the way her vampire ‘fathers’ dressed her like a doll. I didn’t know anything about vampires when I saw this movie and the scene where Claudia struggles with the fact, that she would never grow up and never would become a woman made me understand the supernatural elements and the immortal elements of being a vampire.”
Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Strangely no one nominated Edward Cullen from Twilight, but I suppose that makes sense because Joel wasn’t allowed to enter.
Evelyn Thomas’s plans for celebrating her twenty-first birthday in Vegas were big. Huge. But she sure as hell never meant to wake up on the bathroom floor with a hang-over to rival the black plague, a very attractive half-naked tattooed man beside her, and a diamond on her finger large enough to scare King Kong. Now if she could just remember how it all happened.
I felt all lit up inside. Like a potent mix of hormones was racing through me at light speed. His other hand curled around the back of my neck, bringing my mouth to his. Kissing David threw kerosene on the mix within me. He slid his tongue into my mouth to stroke against my own, before teasing over my teeth and lips. I’d never felt anything so fine. Fingers caressed my breast, doing wonderful things and making me gasp. God, the heat of his bare skin. I shuffled forward, seeking more, needing it. His hand left my breast to splay across my back, pressing me against him. He was hard. I could feel him through both layers of denim. The pressure that provided between my legs was heavenly. Amazing.
“That’s it,” he murmured as I rocked against him, seeking more.
The Up All Night book blog has an excellent interview with Kylie up today, as well as a review (and some visual inspiration that is very much appreciated, above). Here’s an excerpt from the interview;
Up All Night: We loved David and Evelyn’s story! Can you share any details on what’s next for the Stage Dive band? And whose story are you most excited to tell?
Kylie: Everyone loves Mal! The reaction to him has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s brilliant to see. You know, I had plans to do Jimmy next because he really needs a good smack upside the head from love. But people are so into Mal. I haven’t decided yet.
Up All Night: Well, we vote for Mal!
So, you have several others books in publication. Can you tell us a bit about them? How are they different or similar to Lick?
Kylie: The Flesh series, Flesh and Skin, is an erotic romance set Post-Zombie Apocalypse. Flesh is a bit darker than Lick. It’s been described as The Walking Dead with much more sexy times and romance. I really wanted to do a book about survivors. And after the downfall of society, all bets are off. The setting lends itself to some extreme situations which makes for a hell of a lot of fun. Colonist’s Wife is another erotic romance. This one is a novella size sci-fi tale of a mail order bride sent to a gritty mining colony on one of the moons orbiting Jupiter.
So for added encouragement, I thought I might give away a paper copy of the Dark Child Omnibus.
Just email email@example.com with your name and address, and tell me your favourite vampire inspiration for a chance to win. It could be a book, television series or movie, just tell me why you made that particular choice. Make sure you put Paper Adina West in the subject line. The giveaway is open to anyone around the world and will close on Monday 24 June.
A recent article in the The Guardian discusses a new form of DRM being proposed:
“The new ebook digital rights management (DRM) system would, reported PaidContent, change certain words in the text of a pirated ebook – “invisible” could become “not visible”, for example, and “unhealthy” become “not healthy” – so that an individualised copy could be traced”
All of our books at Momentum are DRM-free, and we made this choice because as ebook readers ourselves we want our books to be as accessible as possible, meaning that legitimate users should be able to read the books they have paid for on whatever device they choose to read on. DRM restricts valid use of property, and we respect the reading community too much to put in place obstructions to an enjoyable book experience.
Tor dropped DRM around the same time we did last year, and Tor UK’s Editorial Director Julie Crisp recently announced their findings one year in, saying that not only did they not see an increase in piracy, but also that it helped to establish Tor as a publisher that listens and understands their readers, and that “we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community”.
Proposing a new form of DRM for books, particularly one that directly interferes with the words of a text, is utterly redundant and out of date. As John Birmingham says, “Every book I’ve ever published in electronic format has been pirated. Every single one. And they all had DRM. It didn’t protect me from piracy and it won’t protect publishing in general. The best protection is to make your work as easily accessible as possible, everywhere, all at once, at the same, reasonable price. Is it possible? Nobody really knows, but we’re gonna give it a hell of a shake to find out.”
Other authors echoed Birmingham’s sentiments in the Guardian article:
Lloyd Shepherd “believes the only ways to tackle book piracy are cultural and economic. “You address it culturally by banging away, year after year, on how creators are people earning a living who should be compensated fairly – authors have a big part to play in that, by being present in social media and book forums, by being very obviously human beings capable of being damaged and not faceless entertainment ‘brands’,” Shepherd said. “You address it economically by taking a long, hard look at issues like ebook availability in international markets – the old geographic rights model has been fatally undermined by international data networks, and the licensing regime has to react to that.”
The award-winning Nick Harkaway, author of Angelmaker, was less concerned about textual changes, suggesting that it would be “pretty simple” to find words which could be switched, “unless you’re talking about a work of staggering poetic precision”. His problem would be “much more visceral”.
“I hate with a fiery passion the idea of making the text spy on the reader,” he said.
Harkaway called the new system “a clever technical fix and “a very silly idea”.
“The whole concept is forlorn because filesharing – piracy is a crime of violence and horror, filesharing is more like fly tipping – may not actually do any harm, and some evidence suggests it helps sales,” he said.
“The criminalisation of the reader is probably not the best model for the publishing industry generally, and it creates an adversarial relationship which increases the likelihood of copyright infringements; what one program can do, another can inevitably undo, and this particular version of the system raises the possibility of a ‘scrambler’ filesharing program which randomly alters additional words so that any subsequent court case must acknowledge the possibility, however faint, that the text did not, in fact, come from a given person but merely looks that way because of the scrambler – producing ever more garbled versions of the text.”
Momentum author Nathan M. Farrugia agrees, “if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. The best way for publishers to fight piracy is with convenience.”
The only way to limit book piracy is to make your books as accessible as possible; globally available at a reasonable price. DRM is not the answer.
And thank you to Craig Hildebrand-Burke for bringing the Guardian piece to my attention.
If you’re a fan of romance and you haven’t read any Kylie Scott yet, it’s probably about time you did. Lucky for us, she posts a six sentence peek at her work-in-progress every Sunday. Here’s this week’s instalment from Lick, which will be out exactly two weeks from today.
“So, come on,” he said softly, taunting me. “What’s the plan here, Ev? How were you going to convince me?”
“Oh. Well, I was um … I was going to seduce you, I guess. And see what happened. Yeah …”
“How? By complaining about me buying you stuff?”
“No. That was just an added bonus. You’re welcome.”
He licked his lips, but I saw the smile. “Right. Come on then, show me your moves.”
“Your seduction techniques. Come on, time’s a-wasting.” I hesitated and he clicked his tongue, impatient. “I’m only wearing a towel, baby. How hard can this be?”
When people talk about serial novels, they often refer back to Dickens as the first and last guy who ever tried this format. Publishing in regular episodic instalments may have peaked in popularity back in Dickensian times, but the form didn’t disappear with the 19th century. Print serialisation declined in the early and mid 20th century thanks to a rise in the popularity of radio and television, but it’s back thanks to the relative easy and speed of digital publishing, and set to be more popular than ever.
Here’s a quick history of the serialised novel in nine books.
1836 — Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens
First released as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, this was to be Dickens’ first book, originally published under the pseudonym ‘Boz’.
1851 — Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
This novel first appeared as 40 weekly instalments in abolitionist periodical National Era. It was contracted to be turned into a novel after the huge popularity of the weekly serial, and Stowe was reportedly skeptical that anyone would want to read it in book form. Uncle Tom’s Cabin went on to be the best-selling novel of the 19th century.
1873 — Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Published in periodical The Russian Messenger, the series of instalments ran from 1873 to 1877. However the final instalments were not published in the periodical after Tolstoy clashed with the editor, and the first time Anna Karenina appeared complete was in book form.
1900 – The Ambassadors – Henry James
Initially published as a serial with several passages and three chapters missing in the North American Review periodical, the complete novel was finally published in full in 1903.
1984 — Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
1996 — The Green Mile – Stephen King
Published in six monthly paperback instalments from March to August in 1996, The Green Mile was then published as a single volume in May 1997. It has since been re-released in serial format.
2009 – Machine Man – Max Barry
Originally serialised a page a day for five days a week as Barry wrote, it is still available “as it was meant to be” from his website. The page a day serial began in March 2009 on Barry’s website, and ran until December of that year. Machine Man was published in its entirety in book form in 2011.
2012 – Positron – Margaret Atwood
The first instalment in this series I’m Starved For You (2012) was meant to be a stand-alone short, but was so popular that Atwood decided to extend it into a series for Byliner. The first three instalments have been combined into one ebook, but it is also available as single shorts, and is ongoing.
Adina’s novel was the first book that Momentum released in episodic form, in five monthly instalments from February to June 2013. The Dark Child Omnibus is now available, or if you’d prefer the serial format experience you can start with a complimentary copy of Dark Child Episode 1 right now.
So what did I miss? Any notable books that were first published in episodic form, particularly in the early to mid 20th century, would be helpful to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Suggestions in the comments would be most excellent.
In exchange she’s asking for your zombie slaying rock n roll song.
Kylie’s is The Pretender by The Foo Fighters
Other suggestions have so far included
Thriller by Michael Jackson
One Way or Another by Blondie
Millionaire by Queens of the Stone Age
Mine would probably be Knife Party’s Destroy Them With Lazers.
Head over to Kylie’s Facebook page and tell her which song you’d pick, or tell us below in the comments.
And don’t forget you can pre-order Lick right now. Click on the cover above for more.
“One person alone can wield the magic of the box, Lark. What we need to find out is if that person is you.”
“Why didn’t you let me bring the box with me?” asked Lark.
The earthwitch laughed. “You’re sharp, boy. The truth? We didn’t dare. We are not about to put the most precious vessel of our combined magical traditions in the hands of a young boy who has not been tested.”
“Are you prepared to be tested, Lark?” Simon’s steel-gray eyes looked into his.
“Of course,” he said. “What do I need to do?”
On the outskirts of the city, a young orphan boy, Lark, is forced to scavenge the muddy flats of the river for treasure in order to survive. When he finds a magical box that cannot be opened, his life changes forever. Lark soon learns that he is destined to battle the Capposeign—the corrupt and evil theocracy that rules the city of Perous with fire magic.
However, Lark soon discovers that he has his own sort of magic, earned through a childhood spent in the water. He must quickly learn how to use his power—or die trying. In his quest to take down the Capposeign, Lark must ally with a witch, an artist, a revolutionary, and a strangely familiar and beautiful courtesan. Facing the powerful fire mages will push Lark and his friends to the very limit as they fight to save the city—but will their efforts be enough, or will it all go up in flames?
To pre-order your copy of Mudlark, click through to find your preferred retailer.
“Bailey manages to distil a daunting amount of research into an intriguing tale. It’s a warts-and-all accounting of historical figures and a worthy demolition of the fake idols created today for patriotic or religious adoration.”
To read the full review, click over to the Byron Shire Echo.
The book is available for purchase in both digital and (for the first time in Momentum’s short history) hardback. Let’s be honest, we’re pretty excited about digital books but a Momentum hardback? Wow.