Friday, 19 October 2012

Promotional tours of authors - get real!

You learn something every day.  I have recently found that unless you're already a wealthy best seller writer, your publisher doesn't pay for promotional tours - you do!

Is it just me or isn't this a tad counter-intuitive?

I mean, if an author sells thousands of books, the publishers benefit, right?  An author who's willing to travel, stare glass-eyed at every fan as they answer the minutae of their characters life which the fan is sure they're the ones right, to get RSI from signing books (even the ones fans haven't purchased then but dragged along with them) is worth supporting, aren't they?
An approachable author is a popular one and again, this increases sales.  Each event is - in effect - an advert for the titles and the publisher.  So why do publishers demand that this advertising is free?  They benefit if the author flourishes so why shouldn't they at least pay for travel expenses?  When the senior directors get the firm to fund their little jaunts to conferences, seminars and holidays ... er ... fact-finding missions, I'm sure it ends up costing more than sending one author tourist-class to another country.

But they don't and popular authors that deserve more exposure than on t'internet are left to fund their own book tours which, I must stress, aren't tourist holidays - it's work.

I declare my interest:

One of my favourite authors, Jeri Westerson, has just released her fifth novel Blood Lance.  I've reviewed it on Amazon, I've reviewed it on Goodreads ... but I still feel I can do more.  Jeri usually tours around California - her publishers refuse to back her to do more.  Not even in different states!

Now in her Medieval Noir series her protagonist Crispin Guest walks the dangerous streets of medieval London - well written with humour, pace and depth, Crispin could do with more coverage in his "home" town.  But the above situation stands - if they won't let Jeri tour the US her publishers certainly won't foot the bill even for a short signing tour of London!

I think this is disgraceful.

So ...

I've decided to get the ball rolling and get Jeri over here - if only so I can swap taste notes on mead.  Before anyone wonders at my qualifications for such a task, I'd like to point out that once I helped organise a major role-playing games club including national branches and a major convention.  Let me tell you, organising RPG'ers is like herding cats!
After years of reviewing and publishing articles and books, I think I can get a line on what makes a business tick: after all, I'm a partner in a small firm myself.  I'm also it's book-keeper/accountant; I know what costs and where it can be offset.
Finally, I'm so confident in the quality of Jeri's writing - her product, if you will - that I think my time and effort will be well-spent.

Hell, if I wasn't as poor as a Dickensian hero sent to the Fleet for his debts, I'd foot the bill myself!

So - please heed this bugle-call!

I'd like suggestions along the lines of who might be interested in sponsoring her a short tour in the UK.  I'm looking at July 2013 to culminate at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate (and yes, I'm approaching the organisers with respect).  A short stop in London - say a book signing and publicity photos at The Clink or The London Dungeons - but possibly a short trip to Bristol (a major port in medieval times) and either Nottingham or possibly York.

I'm looking at no open cheque - this will be flights to/from the UK, accomodation, travel within the UK and some expenses.  This is no "pot" which money gets put into and drawn out - we're looking at accountable figures, with one firm picking up the travel tab, another the accomodation and so on.  What do they get out of it?  Publicity.  Lots of lovely publicity!  I can even interest some medieval re-creation types in staging displays at said events.

So,  how about it?

Jeri's Website 

Blood Lance on Amazon 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A bit of advice - helpful, I hope.

Going self-employed?  Got a small business and need tips - on any related subject?

There's plenty of web sites, pundits, official online sites and books out there but there's nothing like experience.  Now I'm no expert - far from it - so I'm not going to charge for any advice or suggestions.  I don't earn from this.  But, after a few recent experiences I decided I could use my blog to give a couple of tips to prospective business creators.

My background.

Just to let you know my "qualifications" to pass advice.  Almost three years ago, after a lifetime of working for others, my wife was made redundant.  She decided that there would be nothing to lose and, taking an existing idea, made it her business ( 

I decided that I couldn't keep on my regular job as well as support her in her business so ... took the big step and registered as self-employed.  We've been working for ourselves and - just about - surviving ever since.

Self-Employment, it's feckin' scary!

You get no sick pay, you get no holiday, you do your own taxes and if you bugger that up then you're the one to sort it out.  You've got to be careful you don't take work home - keep an imaginary boundary between both.

So what's so good?  Well the biggest benefit is that whatever you put into your business, you get out.  Say you were sitting on a stall, selling widgets.  It's great - your sales skill means Widget Ltd. makes £500 in one day.  At the end of your day, you give Mr Widget the £500 ... and he says "Well done - here's £20 for your days work!"  You're Mr Widget and you've spent a whole day selling stuff.  At the end of the day, you've made £500.  Everything else has to come out of it but, bottom line, you know that every penny you worked for, you've got!

Minor benefits.  You make your hours:  You know when you need to earn, you decide how much you need to work.  You make the rules:  If you don't think a way to do something is right then you can change it.  If you think something is pointless, you don't have to do it!

I didn't say the scary bits were less in number than than the good bits.

But the good bits count for a lot!


Keep records.
Record everything, written!  Get strange about demanding receipts, keeping odd tickets, collect anything to do with your business, even if you don't think it's useful.

Be strict with yourself.
Just because you don't have a "Mr Jones" to hassle you if you don't turn up for work, you can't slacken off.  You must BE the Mr Jones!  Remember, if you don't work, you don't earn.  If you don't earn, the bills won't get paid, you'll get hungry and cold and your kids will question why you sold their PS3.  And - no - benefits aren't a wage and you'll be knackered if you think them so.

Have confidence in what you do!
It's not enough to know what you have is good or you enjoy what you do - if it is to sell or earn you a fair wage, you must treat it as a business.  Be hard on yourself!  Have confidence in your creation ... by treating it professionally!

Research, research and ... research all over again!

Google, while a darlin' little thing, isn't the end of research.

"It isn't enough to be allowed free in a research library - you have to know what questions you want answered, which subjects it relates to ... and which book is worth reading to find the answer."
 As an example, our business is making dog treats.  You can Google dog treats and get recipes, rivals and some good ideas but it takes deeper digging to find the actual legislation concerning pet food production, labeling and the respected Trading Standards authorities.

You're a plumber.  Fully trained, qualified and experienced.  You want to set up on your own.  Look into it.  How many other small business plumbers are in your area?  What do they offer?  What can you do that attracts customers?  I use this noble (and actually ancient) trade as an example and to demonstrate how much background research to do!  Never assume you know all the ins-and-outs ... you have to use a bit of imagination and be nosy in everything!

Don't Despair - There is information for business out there!

Do a bit of digging and you can find help, even if it's not immediately helpful.  Even Mr Taxman (otherwise known as the HMRC) is happy to give free help!  There are a few places to look for aid ...   This site takes a while to navigate but, in the end, you can find plenty of advice and suggestions, including free training!

The Federation of Small Business   While they're at their best when you are a member, they'll still give advice for basic problems.

Don't Accept First Opinions.

Two real examples:

We wanted a Chip and Pin terminal.  Y'know, one of those handheld do-hickeys!  We understood we had to pay a basic set-up fee, a fee per transaction etc. etc.  We talked to two different companies - and continued with the one with the best rates.  After eight weeks of us supplying all the necessary documents and them asking for other documents, I called to find out the progress; they said they couldn't continue because we hadn't supplied ONE particular document.  I said "We can't get one.  Even the HMRC don't issue one!"  Ah, we were told, without it our application couldn't continue.  On talking to the affiable salesman, to wonder why he'd not said this, he said "It's industry standard - all firms banks require this document!"
Talking to another business owner, they recommended another, third, firm.  We applied, talked to a salesman, asked about application documents ... and within three weeks we'd been set up for chip and pin sales, the machine delivered and the whole kit ready to use!

Second Example.

We needed a regular dispatch firm.  In my own experience, I avoided some then applied to one which was dead keen to take our account.  Getting all the required information to them was a nightmare - they could only accept original documents scanned and emailed or posted then, hopefully, returned.  After a few weeks of "just one more thing you need to send us" then they finally stated they couldn't do business.
On that same day, a rep came into our shop and asked if we'd be interested.  We asked what documents we'd need to give and how long would set up be, she said "Being here, I know your business exists.  You tell us the kind of traffic you'll give, I'll email you the prices per consignment.  You tell us you want to use us, we'll send out your parcels.  You pay the bill, we see how much business you give us and we'll talk about better discounts later."
We're using them and have (so far) been served well.

The lesson?

Don't assume things are "the norm".  Question it.  Think about what needs doing and what might be required.  But don't take first (or second) opinions on services and what is required.  Persist.

Finally ...

It's a big and scary world out there and being self-employed is bloody scary ... especially after years of working for someone else.  But if you have a great idea, it's worth struggling for!

Just to see where I come from:
Mrs Bishop's Doggy Deli 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Now here's a rant - brushing against politics so I'll warn anyone to look away who is certain in their faith in any political party.  I present my opinions, based on experience.  I'm happy to debate or be proved otherwise.

The big subject is ... money.

The government, especially that smug and incredibly insulated git PM David Cameron, is always saying that < the Government is pulling the country out of recession by stimulating growth, encouraging investment and forcing the market towards financial movement - the results of which benefit all! >

<The past phrase is, in fact, paraphrasing all the trite nonsense which has been generated by Civil Servants (Job Secure) to be used as speech material by politicians of any stripe who wants to generate their own personal income while pretending they give a toss for the so-called common man, or "prole".  It must be remembered that a majority of politicians are, in fact, career politicians and since leaving University with a mediocre degree, have only wanted to become a politician as a career, regardless of philosophy.  They have no concept of "working for a living", "earning by hard work" or even "you mean I can't work for this firm, even though my father owns it?">

I am not anti-politician.  I am not anti-money.  I am what-is-it-that-makes-the-great-British-public-so-dim-and-easily-led-that-they'll-believe-absolutely-anything?

The Government declares in the press (which, lest anyone forgets, is privately owned and has it's own motives) that it's "giving" several billion to the "banking industry" to "encourage" lending and small business growth.
Let's look at this ...

The Government is giving public money, generated by many more ways other than taxes, to several private financial institutions.
"The Banking Industry" isn't actually a club which can be donated to.  Exactly.  The banking industry looks at a big pot of money - some might call it a publically-subscribed bribe - and dives in for their share, biggest bastard gets first dibs!  How many of the ... er ... benefited banks actually pay a wage to ... er ... politicians? Isn't this good business sense?  Get a politician (or their family) on your payroll and you needn't worry about legislation or even oversight on your actions.

So what happens?

The Government gives money to the banking industry and tells them "lend it to small business, to keep the economy going".

The financial industries take the money ("Thank you very much, Tarquin, see you at bridge next Thursday") then sit on it.
"Please invest in small business!" say the politicians, in the hearing of the press.
"Sod off," says the banks, "our Computer says 'No'!  Our staff may see an excellent chance of profit with investment but our computers - which, of course, are our God - says no.  Tell you what, Government; we'll invest in the companies that have you on the Board of Directors.  Now, go away.  You've pretended to the plebs you actually care - they're dim enough to fall for it.  We'll take the public money you've given us.  If shit happens, it's you that takes it, not us.  Ta ta and ... see you at bridge next Thursday?"

Meanwhile the Government shouts about encouraging growth by investment.  Where is the money being invested?  Into multinational firms which individual politicians have interests in.
Once upon a time, politicians represented their constituents.  They had a vested interest in the area.  They'd actually worked for a living rather than inherited places on company Boards and firms.

Next time a politician asks you for your vote, perhaps you should ask not what Party they belong to or what they've been told they should say but ... "what have you done for a living wage and why should I think you represent my interests?"

Monday, 27 August 2012

Just finished "The Secret Of Prisoner 1167:  Was This Man Jack The Ripper?" by James Tully.

The subtitle is rhetorical - Tully is convinced.  On my own part, I've some misgivings but parts of his theory raises suggestive points in the case as a whole if not of the circumstantial guilt of James Kelly.  Tully admits that after years of interest in the Ripper murders, even his awareness of Kelly's nomination as Jack was only raised by an article by John Morrison.

James Kelly was convicted of the murder of his wife, stabbing her in the neck with a pocket-knife, in 1883.  Found insane, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Broadmoor hospital.  In 1888, he escaped the "secure" hospital and, in an astounding story of chance, incompetant authority and sheer determination, he remained on the loose for almost forty years!  He'd given himself up twice, after travels in Britain, France, America and Canada and, finally, returned to Broadmoor to knock on their gates for re-admission!

Tully's first assumption - suitably fitting his nomination of Kelly in the role of Jack - is that the first Ripper killing was that of Martha Tabram.  Her naming as a Ripper victim always causes contention but, it can't be denied, the M.O. is fitting - unknown killer, East End location, throat slit then post mortem mutilation of the trunk and sexual organs.  However, Ripperologists argue against her inclusion in the "known" victims.
Second (to me) surprising inclusion is that of Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles as Ripper victims ... years after the "canon" barbarity in Miller's Court of Mary Kelly.  These, I'd suggest, are only accepted since the duration between Mary's and Alice's killings was spent by the suspect abroad!  It might be also said that while the classic Ripper deaths increased in mutilation and excess, Alice and Frances suffered relatively little abuse - their abdomen had been cut - true - but ... um ... nothing had been "done" to their internal organs.
Thirdly, Tully implicitly links the authorship of the Dear Boss letter and postcard to Kelly's reappearance in England - the author sees a similarity between existing letters of the Broadmoor escapee and Saucy Jack!

While an interesting nomination for the Ripper, I'm afraid Kelly isn't convincing to me.  A man who is mentally disturbed and kills his wife in a jealous, disturbed rage doesn't automatically "up the scale" by rampage around, killing and mutilating prostitutes!  His relation between classic Offender Profiling of a serial sex killer and James Kelly's reported condition fits ... as many others!  In effect Tully puts Kelly in the frame because he was a mental patient, convicted of stabbing his wife, and free.  What about the undetected psychotic killer?

However, the points that I find worth closer examination are these:

1)  Tully raises the possibility of the canon Ripper Double-Death of "Long" Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes as pure coincidence!  Where everyone has considered the short period between the two as the almost supernatural ability of Jack to spirit himself from one location to another invisibly, Tully posits a suspect for Liz Stride's murderer.  A slight yet strong point is that nearly all sexual frenzy serial killers cannot be "interrupted" or distracted in their attention.  If Jack was interrupted in his "attentions" to Lizzie, it would take quite a few policemen on the scene to make him flee!

2)  There was a long-lasting cover-up concerning the escape of James Kelly from Broadmoor and his possible links to the Ripper killings.  Frankly, his escape and subsequent long freedom was an utter balls-up on the part of the police, the Home Office and Broadmoor!  With all the flak the police took over the Ripper, the last thing they needed was publicity over a murderous psychotic trotting around England so any authoritarian sweeping under the rug is perfectly understandable.  Tully was very illuminating (and convincing) in this area.

3)  His tidy explanations of classically troubling factors in the Ripper cases - the Double Killing and the mysterious Removed Chalked Message - are well imagined and not unreasonable.

All in all, an interesting addition to any Ripperologist's library.  Contentious for the most part, I wouldn't say it was groundbreaking or "the last word".  However, it certainly raises interesting points.

Hey ho ...

I'm currently starting Tacitus' Histories.  Can't say my literary diet isn't varied.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A review - I've not done any for a while and I've started to get withdrawal.
“The Sins of The Father:  A Mediaeval Mystery” by C. B. Hanley is set during the turmoil after the death of King John, the occupation by forces of the French prince Louis (later King Louis VIII) and the start of rebellion by Barons, to enthrone Johns son Henry III.  So far, so good.  The location is the impressive castle of Conisbrough in Yorkshire.  Its lord the Earl of Surrey William de Warrenne, has been called to arms, to muster a force as well as act as a central meeting of other lords retinues – they gather to march upon Lincoln, occupied by French forces, and relieve it’s castle’s garrison of English royalists.

In this gathering of armies and nobility, Edwin Weaver, the young son of the castle’s bailiff, has to keep order among its civilian population.  Intelligent and kindly, he’s taken unawares when summoned by the Earl and his castellan Sir Geoffrey.  One of the visiting nobles is brutally murdered – a favourite of the old King and known to be willing to seek favour by exposing (or implying) treachery against the young King.  Since Earl Surrey’s past is somewhat chequered, does he have motive for the killing?  Edwin is ordered to uncover the killer, before the host marches onto Lincoln in two days!

What follows is a great novel, combining an intriguing mystery with period detail and intelligent characterisation.  The plot is intelligent, with clues scant yet present and the actual solution shocking.  The reader understands the basic motive but red herrings lead us away from the true killer.  The location detail is wonderful, giving a intriguing insight into the workings of the lower echelons of castle inhabitants as well as it’s lesser nobility.  I can highly recommend this novel to both mystery readers as well as those interested in medieval life.

Published by The Mystery Press, 2012, ISBN:  0-7524-8091-6

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Whew!  What a subject!
I'll open with a statement that all I say relates to the current UK status but, at a stretch, could guide others in other lands.
Now then ...

Our current system expects early teens (say 11 to 14 year olds) to know what they want to do in their future life.  Some talented, possibly gifted, early teens might've decided what they want to do and train their attention in the required direction.  Good for them!  But most early teens - boys as well as girls - have other, more urgent considerations such as who is talking to who, who is "going around" with who and, possibly incredibly important at the time - who fancies me?

Can you see a problem?

A system is devised by adults with decades of retrospection.  It has nothing to do with the immediate which, like all youths during the years, every teen generation lives in.  But, with the best of intentions, the system has been put into place to provide the NOW with suitable talent.
The current education system is explicit in it's uselessness, for it is "designed" to create an educated person to fit an employee "model", a model that is currently - and possibly always - out of date and, therefore redundant!

The education system is designed by adults who've forgotten what it's like to be teens!  They'd say they were qualified to judge by experience but, and isn't this something that is missed, it's an experience that everyone has had?  What makes them more experienced than any other teen?  What says they are are more qualified to pronounce what is suitable to learn?

What is wrong? 

1)  The exam - and learning system - still persists in it's history!  With all respect to tradition, isn't it only right that if tradition is found wanting you change or lose it?  The years - and timing of exams - is ONLY held for traditional reasons!  The educational year is still a reflection of the medieval legal terms.  And this is only held as sacred by The Bar.  Because of this, terms of schooling are unbalanced and idiotic.  I mean - Who but an idiot would say it's a good thing to hold exams during a season which has proved to be high in the suffering of hay fever?

2)  A teen, defined flexibly as a young human from the age of 13 to 17, is expected to say what they want to do in life, how they contribute to society, what they want to achieve.  How stupid is that?  I mean, you are asking a young human - concerned with personal habits and relationships - to define his academic course.

Why Not ...

1)  Have all final exams conducted in midwinter.  These, then, would be a finality of their school year and act as a closure.  New Year, New Opportunity for the next.
2)  Planning Years. From Age 11 to 16, the pupils get a general grounding in most subjects.  At age 15, pupils are consulted as what they want to do.  Given all information - and, let's face it, they can find it on the internet - they are asked what they want to do  as a job.  They can then be advised what qualifications they might need, what experienced and so on.
3)  Exam Years.  From age 15 to 17, the pupil - given a chance to think on what they want to do, they must attain the relevant qualifications.
4)  Further education.  This is an option, not a goal!  If at the conclusion of the basic education the pupil has a suitable collection of proven, certificated skills then this must be a primary employment avenue!  If a pupil has demonstrated a skill or talent further than they can be placed at, then they qualify for discounted Further Education.

So Why Not?

When you're a teen, you know bugger all.  The sap's rising, the world is the mollusc of your choice!

And it's big, old reactionary gits like me that harp on about "it was harder in my day!" and so on.

But can't we adults take a step back, look at what is then look at alternatives for our future generations?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

It's a sad, sad time for me.
I've finally decided to put my website Criminal-History.Co.Uk on hold until further notice.

I've been working and writing on this labour of love for seven years.  I've enjoyed it immensely, having an excuse (should I need one) to read my favourite genre of books - historical crime fiction.

But times have changed in my life.  I'm now self-employed, working as a business partner with my wife - mainly on administrating our firms web site ( and doing the accounts.  Thus I have less time to spend on my own "hobby".  I'll still be reading - of course - and active in the world of crime fiction and, perhaps, one day I might re-launch the site.

I suppose it's a good thing; it shows our main bill paying occupation is increasing.  In fact, we're soon launching our over-the-counter sales in our new business unit.  But I can't help feeling at a loss.  Still, there's plenty of places like to inflict my hapless opinions.