Book Review: River of Ink by Paul M.M Cooper

River of Ink

At a time when the world seems at times to be descending into chaos, and with writers, artists and activists imprisoned, and persecuted, a story about a poet whose written words change the world and fight injustice is exactly what the doctor ordered. It was a real treat, therefore, to review River of Ink, the new novel by British author Paul Cooper.

Within this novel, mediaeval Sri Lanka is vivified – it lifts itself from the pages and chapters and engulfs you, utterly and completely, in the real, lived intricacies and complexities of the mysterious and intriguing world Cooper weaves for us. It is a world of steaming jungles and dust-covered streets, of stamped okra fingers and pink rambutan skins and, of course, of spat betel juice – a continuous feature of this world we encounter again and again, until we start looking for it in our own homes and streets.

Asanka’s world becomes familiar for us, in this way, yet this does not hinder our ability to be surprised by the things we see and the characters we encounter: Sarisi, Asanka’s mistress, whose own story and thoughts intrigue us right to the end of the book and beyond; King Magha, the tyrant king who is not entirely unlikeable, even if he does have a touch of Hitler or Pinochet about him; the Queen of Polnnaruwa who we, like Asanka, underestimate.

As the story twists and turns, the shifting literary world we encounter seems to move as we move, and the language lifts it up – bringing us both beautiful and terrible things, fear and hope, anger and hate; but most of all love. In some novels, the use of similes can be distracting; but here each one seems to fit and compliment – rather than detract from – the story itself and the language used. Cooper’s description of an ancient tome of the Shishupala Vadha as sitting on a table “like a blood fat tick”, for instance, reminds us how similes, when used properly, can present us with new ways of looking at things in the world – and the world itself, which we never otherwise would see.

There is also something about the way Cooper presents us with the thought processes of Asanka that suggests a writer of clear skill and ability. For the court poet is so clearly humanised by his clear faults, as well as his virtues. We will Asanka to show more courage – every time he is summoned to speak with the cruel King Magha he immediately fears the worst, and is reduced to internalised pleading and reasoning – yet know in our hearts that the fear he has is our own. This presents us with a psychological cohesion that is all the more important when you’re telling a story that treads the balance between madness and sanity, in which characters are exposed to gruelling mental stresses and tensions that could so easily break them.

Part of Cooper’s success here is undoubtedly down to the language used, and the rhythms within each of Asanka’s internalised thoughts – as well as the vivid descriptions of the world and landscape around him. Surprising twists in the shape and structure of the novel as a whole – for instance, the use of poetry, as well as longer interjections of separate narratives from a mysterious other source – give you the feeling that the very book you are holding is alive in a way that is both beautiful and unsettling, as though the story had its own consciousness and self-awareness.



Creatives in profile: Interview with Iain Maloney


In the latest of our ‘Creatives in Profile’ interview series, it’s an honour to introduce fantastic author, Iain Maloney.

Maloney was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and now lives in Japan. He is the author of three novels, First Time Solo, Silma Hill and The Waves Burn Bright and has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize and the Dundee International Book Prize.



Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle


I’m originally from Aberdeen, Scotland. I lived there until I was 23 and studied English literature at the University of Aberdeen. Then I moved to Glasgow to do a Masters in Creative Writing. I’m currently based in Japan but I come back to the UK regularly to do various book related events.


Is creativity and writing – your first love, or do you have another passion?


Writing is what I’ve always wanted to do with my life. I first began writing songs when I was about 12 or 13 years old but I’ve never been a very good singer and growing up in the countryside there weren’t many people interested in starting a band, so I began writing poetry, then prose, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I was writing for about 20 years before my first book was published and creativity has been central to my life for so long, I couldn’t imagine a life without writing.


Who inspires you?


From a writing perspective, people like David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce – writers who do things with language that is startling and original. They, to me, are the pinnacle of what can be achieved with a pen and a blank sheet of paper. When I was wallowing in my formative years, Iain (M) Banks was a huge influence on me and even today I still find fossils of that influence in the way I plot or manipulate voice to achieve certain effects. His death was a huge loss to literature.


Who were your early teachers?


Probably the most important initial moment for me as a writer was joining the University of Aberdeen Creative Writing Society in 1998. None of the people I knew at school were interested in writing and until then it had been a solitary activity. Meeting others who were as passionate about writing as me, people who liked nothing more than sitting around talking about literature, reading each other’s work and critiquing it seriously (while partaking of a drink or many) opened up a new world. It confirmed that this was what I wanted to do. I was lucky that, at that time, Alan Spence and Sheena Blackhall were working at the university. They both gave me help and advice which I will always be grateful for. Later on, Zoe Strachan became my tutor at Glasgow University. She’s a wonderful teacher and I still use many of the tips and techniques she taught me.


Could you tell us a little about your two novels – First Time Solo and Silma Hill?


First Time Solo is the story of Jack Devine, a farmer’s son from the North-East of Scotland. In 1943 he joins the RAF and leaves home to train to be a pilot. The book follows him through his training as he makes friends and starts a jazz band. When another trainee dies Jack has to choose between morality and loyalty. It’s a book about friendship and identity, set against the backdrop of World War Two.

Silma Hill is a very different creature. Set in late-18th century rural Scotland, it tells the tale of a village torn apart by accusations of witchcraft. Centering on Reverend Burnett and his daughter, Fiona, it’s a Gothic tragedy set during a time when the clash between science, religion and superstition made for a volatile society.


As you write and prepare to write, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?


Planning. I wrote a couple of novels before First Time Solo and they were messy, woolly affairs because I set off with a character, a setting and a fair wind, and quickly got lost. I don’t plan down to every last detail but I need to know roughly where I’m going and have a general idea of how to get there. When Captain Cook set off around the world, he had a good idea where he was going and where he would end up. The excitement and adventure was in what he might discover on the way. My first two attempts were more like hacking into a thick jungle with a machete until I was exhausted, lost and too disheartened to go on.

The other important thing is to always remember that a draft is just a draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect from the start. Even once a publisher has accepted a manuscript you’re only at the start of the editing and rewriting process.


Do you feel any ethical responsibility as a writer?


That’s a tough question. On a basic level we have an ethical responsibility because we are humans, part of human society, and everyone has ethical responsibility. We often like to think we are outsiders, observing and commenting, but that’s a myth. We also have an ethical responsibility to our subjects, particularly when dealing with people or events that are / were real. My latest novel, The Waves Burn Bright, is about the Piper Alpha disaster. 167 men died when the oil platform exploded in 1988. By taking on that subject I have a huge ethical responsibility to their memory, to the survivors and to the families. I also have an ethical responsibility to the facts of history. The events surrounding Piper Alpha are set. I cannot mess around with them for my own ends. By choosing to deal with a real disaster rather than creating one from my imagination, I took on the responsibility of getting it right.

On the other hand, ethical responsibility has come to mean, particularly on social media, not offending people. I see a rise in self-censorship. Writers are afraid to commit to a political or moral position, are afraid to tackle some of the most vital issues of our time or take on controversial subjects because someone might get offended and kick off on Twitter. A writer’s job, for me, is to examine the world around us. My publisher, Adrian Searle, recently wrote that writers need to be sociologists as well as artists and he’s right. We live in a time when politicians and corporations believe they can do what they like because no one will hold them to account. The majority of the press certainly won’t. I think writers should. We have an ethical responsibility to engage honestly with our stories, with our subjects, not to shy away because a handful of people won’t agree. We saw this in Scotland where writers who engaged openly and publicly (on both sides) with the Independence Referendum became the victims of some atrocious abuse. What they had to go through was awful but what is worse is that so many others were scared of joining the debate because of the abuse that awaited them. That’s sad and it means the trolls are winning. We can’t let that happen.


Do you have a specific ‘reader’ in mind when you write?


I don’t, though my publisher wishes I did. Publishing works by selling books to a readership and publishing companies rest easier when a writer complies and aims everything at that demographic. Doing what Iain Banks did and splitting your work into science fiction and non-science fiction undermines the way books are marketed at the moment. This is entirely sensible and if you have a genre you love and want to stick to, great, but my inspiration ranges wildly over genres and eras and characters and stories and I want to write them all. It’s much more acceptable for film directors to follow a story regardless of the genre (take Tarantino, no one complains that he jumps genres, even within the same movie. No one told David Fincher that because he’d started with Aliens 3 he couldn’t do Seven or Benjamin Button). It’s a shame that the pressures on publishing – both financial and social – are pushing the industry away from risk-taking. I understand that and sympathise, but at the same time it’s frustrating.


You’ve written that “audience engagement for a writer is a strange thing” – could you expand on that at all; how do you adapt to those rather strange situations where the audience attending public appearances haven’t read much – if any – of the writer’s writing?


I was talking about the difference between, say, a stand up comedian and a writer. The comedian knows within seconds whether a joke has worked or not and can react accordingly. For writers, it might take years for all the opinions and reviews to settle into a general response to the book, by which time we’re usually two or three books removed. So when we do events – at least at my level – you’re talking to people about something they haven’t read, and maybe won’t read for months even if they buy it then and there (we all have the ‘to be read’ shelf).

It may be different for writers like David Mitchell or Margaret Atwood, but I’m not nearly famous or successful enough to have hundreds of advance copies circulating the media so with a couple of exceptions everyone at my launch will be completely new to the book. In some ways it makes the writer’s job even easier. You are introducing the book – what’s it about, why did you write it, give an example of the text. There’s an element of being a salesperson.


How do you find your work as an editor and journalist influences and compliments your work as a writer?


Editing and journalism – specifically reviewing – has helped my writing enormously. It’s much easier to be objective and critique someone else’s work. It’s easier to see the flows and ebbs of a text, to find bad habits and good techniques when I have no emotional attachment to the story and the characters, and then it becomes easier to see those things in my own work.


What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?


I think the financial pressures on the industry are causing it to be too risk-averse. Independent publishers like Freight are doing wonderful things, finding new writers, taking on books and projects that the big companies wouldn’t touch, but they are working under such difficult circumstances that it’s hard to see how the situation can be sustained indefinitely. We’re experiencing a reallignment in the industry which is making everything uncertain and unpredictable but for writers the most important thing hasn’t changed: people haven’t stopped reading books. What’s changing is the means by which writers and readers connect. While financially writers are taking a huge hit, creatively it’s an exciting time.


How would you define creativity?


Loosely, it’s the urge to create something new, something that hasn’t existed before. I try not to examine the urge to closely in case I scare it away.


In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?


As a writer these days you have to be pro-active, both online and off. Independent publishers don’t have big marketing divisions and big budgets, so gone are the days when a writer can put a book out into the world and consider their job done. We’re expected to engage with our readers, to be active on Goodreads, to join in the conversation on sites like this, to be on Twitter and Facebook promoting our work. We need to be out doing readings, going to spoken word events, building a reputation and a presence. Some people are resistant but I love it. The act of writing is solitary but being part of a wider community is a lot of fun.


For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?


I have my own writing voice which developed naturally, and comes through most when I’m writing non-fiction. In a novel the most important voice is that of the characters – whether I’m writing first, second or third person, it’s the character that’s telling their story, not me. My most recent novel is written from the point of view of a woman at various stages in her life and she has to sound authentic, to speak in her own voice – she can’t sound like a 35 year old Scottish man. We all have our ticks and habits, the kind of rhythms we like and they’ll always be there – it’s why you can recognise a David Peace novel in a few sentences, for example – but one of the main aims of the editing process is to remove the ego of the writer as much as possible from the story. David Mitchell is the master of this – his prose takes on the persona of his character so completely.


Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?


My new novel, The Waves Burn Bright is out in May 2016 so we’re doing final proofreads just now, and I’ll be tinkering with the text until my publisher tells me to leave it alone. Most of the year will be devoted to promoting that. I’ve got a few ideas for my next novel but I’m not sure which one to pursue and I don’t want to jump into anything until I’m convinced it’s the right direction. I’ve got a poetry collection called Fractures coming out later in the year and I’m putting together a short story collection.


Could you write us a story in 6 words?


Not a good one.


Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?


There are only two that are important: write every day and don’t be afraid of mistakes. We learn by trying, we learn by failing.



In search of the evasive professional writer: an increasingly endangered species

With author’s incomes at their lowest levels in years, and fewer full-time professional authors than ever before, amid increasingly draconian publishing contracts and the pitfalls of self-publishing, is it true that the professional author is on the cusp of becoming an endangered species? And, if so, can anything be done to save this important breed from extinction? Professor Wu investigates…


Name: The Professional Author

Age: usually between 45 – 64 years of age, if you believe the statistics.

Appearance: White and black, canine, beagle, usually found with a typewriter to hand.

Isn’t that Snoopy? Oh yes, sorry about that. Easy to confuse the two.

I like to think of professional authors looking a little bit like Michael Caine from the film adaptation of Educating Rita: That’s fine, whatever suits!

Great, so why is everyone looking for Michael – I mean, the professional author? Well, because it seems as though their numbers are on the decline.

Do we need to get David Attenborough involved? Not yet, though don’t rule it out.

I read somewhere that endangered species required artificial breeding programmes to support wild populations: That probably won’t be necessary.

That’s disappointing. What’s the issue, then? Declining incomes, mainly. Writers are increasingly seeing their income from writing decrease – through lower royalty revenues and lower advances for their books.

But surely this is a prime example of an industry where the workers really do control the means of production, shouldn’t writers be receiving more money, not less? You might think so – and that’s why a lot of authors are so concerned about these developing trends.

Has someone written a letter? You bet they have! Philip Pullman – you may have heard of him…

Did that thing that Catholics didn’t like? Close enough. His Dark Materials collection of books are international best sellers. There was even a film made out of the first one, though we don’t like to talk about it.

Gotcha: He’s now heading up a charge from the Society of Authors, which points out that authos remain the only essential part of the creation of a book, and that it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living. They’ve taken particular issue with unfair royalty terms offered to writers by the publishing houses.

But the publishing industry is in dire straits itself, no? That’s true, and partly indicative of a disconcerting trend within the wider creative industries – whereby the organisations in charge of producing new pieces of culture – art, novels, films and so on – are increasingly choosing to invest in pieces of art that have a guaranteed income attached: so you have copies of novels that are copies of other commercially successful novels, and films that are remakes of these successful books, and so on.

So writers should get aboard self-publishing, is that what we’re saying? Unfortunately it’s more complicated than that. As the prize-winning author James Smythe points out, self-publishing is even less of a way of earning money from you writing if you’re any good than conventional publishing.

Ah, not so positive: No, quite the opposite, in fact. It’s critical that we begin to recognise the importance of books – and those people behind them – to our society and to our culture.

It sounds like this actually could do with a good David Attenborough documentary: That actually might not be such a bad idea, thinking about it.

There’s something about his lovely, David Attenborough voice, isn’t there? Exactly. Lully David Attenborough with his lully David Attenborough voice. He’s probably preoccupied focusing attention on the issues of man-made climate change, though – which is also pretty important.

There’ll be no writers at all if we don’t have a planet we can live on anymore: Very true.

Do say: “Writers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your draconian publishing contracts.”

Don’t say: “But wasn’t 50 Shades of Grey originally published as an e-book?”



Writing when you’re broke: authors’ incomes collapse to “abject” levels


Shocking new statistics show that the number of authors able to make a living from their writing has plummeted dramatically over the last eight years, with the average professional author now making well below the salary required to achieve the minimum living standard in the UK.

According to a survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the median income of the professional author has fallen to just £11,000 – a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (or £15,450 if adjusted for inflation). This figure is well below the £16,850 figure the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to achieve a minimum standard of living.

The survey of almost 2500 working writers – the first comprehensive study of author earnings in the UK since 2005 – was carried out by Queen Mary, University of London. It also found that the typical median income of all writers (not just professional authors) was a miniscule £4000 – compared to £8810 in 2000.

The study also found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors (defined as being those who dedicate a majority of their time to writing) earned their incomes solely from writing – with a vast majority of writers supplementing their writing income with earnings from other sources. Again, this figure has declined sharply since 2005, when 40% of authors said they did so.


Will Self, who has previously written that “the literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes”, the statistics from the survey were unsurprising. He said: “My own royalty income has fallen dramatically over the last decade. You’ve always been able to comfortably house the British literary writers who can earn all their living from books in a single room – that room used to be a reception one, now it’s a back bedroom.”

Children’s author, Mal Peet, echoed Will Self’s words in The Guardian – pointing out that his own income from his books had “dwindled really significantly” from receiving around £30,000 every six months to just £3000 for the first six months of 2013.


“My direct income from sales is abject – literally abject. There’s been an absolutely radical decline in my income over recent years,” said Peet. “I do live by writing, but that’s because I have got a backlist of educational books which keeps on selling, and I have a pension, and I have to go on the road. Because I’ve a certain reputation, I can ask for a £25,000 advance, but then you spend a year writing the book, and £25,000 is a loan against sales and you can easily spend five years earning out. So that’s £25,000 for six years.”

Author James Smythe also said in the Guardian that he would never “earn out” an income from his writing. “Being a writer can’t be treated like it’s a job. It maybe was once, but no writer can treat it as such nowadays. There’s no ground beneath your feet in terms of income, and you can’t rely on money to come when you need it,” he said.

“I know very few writers who earn above the Minimum Income Standard, and that means that they need second jobs,” Smythe added. “Awards and critical acclaim used to be enough, in the heady days of 1970s publishing. It’s simply not, now.”

The ALCS described the new figures as “shocking”. “These are concerning times for writers,” said chief executive Owen Atkinson. “This rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK.”

For those writers who see self-publishing as a realistic means of earning an income from their writing, it also appears as though such hope remains just that – hope. Smythe pointed out that “self-publishing is even less of a way of earning money from your writing if you’re any good than conventional publishing.”

According to Smythe, “the industry works the way that it always has, just with tightened coffers”. So “if you sell, you’ll get more money next time around. If you don’t, then you’ll earn less. In most jobs, you work hard, and you deliver results. Unfortunately – and this is out of everybody’s hands – working hard in publishing guarantees no such results. You could write the best book in the world, and it could still sell dismally. My publishers are great, in that they believe I’ll write something that pays off. So I get to keep doing this. But one day, if I fail to deliver results, that will change. Why would you keep paying somebody money for no gain?”

Of the 2454 writers who took part in the ALCS survey, 56% were men and 44% women. 17% were under the age of 44, with 54% aged 45-65 and 29% 69 years old or over.

Poet Wendy Cope said that the findings of the survey may come as a surprise for many people.

“Most people know that a few writers make a lot of money. This survey tells us about the vast majority of writers, who don’t,” said Cope. “It’s important that the public should understand this – and why it is so important for authors to be paid fairly for their work.”

Iconic bookstore of Santorini faces fight for survival


Atlantis Books – described in the Guardian as “a dream of a bookstore” – has been run by an international collective of artists, writers and activists since 2002, when it was first founded on the Greek island of Santorini.

As well as organising theatre and open-air cinema, and running the successful annual Caldera Festival since 2011, the bookstore has also set up programs such as the ‘book donkey’, which brings books to the local schools.

Atlantis 2

However, the bookstore is now facing the threat of extinction, and the collective or artists who support Atlantis Books is now seeking help to secure its existence.

The owner of the picturesque cave house that has accommodated the Atlantis Bookstore since 2005 has announced plans to sell the property and, although no legal documents have yet gone around regarding the sale, the owner has claimed to have secured a 1 million euro deal for the building.

Atlantis 1

One of the original founders of Atlantis Books, Craig Walzer, has since struck a deal with the owner, which would see the building sold to the company, if they are able to come up with the same amount of money.

The race is now on to raise the funding for the purchase. Walzer has already said he is willing to invest his own personal savings to secure the store buyout and set up a writer’s and artist’s residence on Santorini, and the bookstore also has a first edition copy of The Great Gatsby which is expected to sell for around 10,000 euros.

Atlantis 4

However, Walzer has also estimated that the total funds needed to buy the building and keep the business sustainable will be around US$1.5 million – which will go toward the cost of buying out the bookstore building and paying off the IRS tax that will be imposed on the campaign revenue.

The importance of securing the funding for the building cannot be overstated.

Not only has the building become a landmark for the area, it has also become an international symbol of creativity, art, and writing. It stands for both the local people and the world at large, and the story of the bookstore stands out as being one of ethical business, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. One of the store’s interns once put it this way:

“I had always held the assumption that business was essentially a Darwinian struggle to best competition, while fending off would be predators, in order to vie for the business of customers. The bookshop however operates on an entirely different paradigm. Most notably for me is the complete lack of adversaries it inspires. The island locals are proud and grateful for the store, especially since they can find books in Greek. The tourists are delighted at the unexpected opportunity to refresh their travel reading, or take home a colorful coffee table book. The surrounding business are happy the bookshop does its part to attract people to the area, while not directly competing with them. The people working the store like myself are grateful for the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful location with inspiring company. And of course the owners are happy the store is performing all the above functions, as well as being profitable for them. In short the bookstore improves the lives of everyone it touches.”

Of course, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time that the Atlantis team has turned to crowdfunding. In 2011, the bookstore raised US$40,000 through a two-month Indiegogo campaign, which was organised in order for the owners to perform “overdue renovations to the shop interior, the transformation of our terrace into a flexible retain and performance space and the buying of fresh stock of unique books”.

That money has kept the doors open for the past four seasons. The new campaign of course seeks substantially more, but in the views of those who have been inspired by Atlantis Books; it is certainly a price worth paying.

Professional writers to become “an endangered species”

pullman, philip

Author of the best-selling His Dark Materials books, Philip Pullman, has warned that unless publishing houses make “serious” changes, the professional author “will become an endangered species.”

Pullman is heading a new charge from writers demanding to be rewarded fairly for their work, as the Society of Authors points to a recent survey that found the median income of a professional author is now just £11,000, with only 11.5% of UK writers able to make a living purely from writing.

The Society of Authors points out that “authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living.”

“Unfair contract terms, including reduced royalty rates, are a major part of the problem”, the Society adds.

Pullman said that the case for fair terms for writers was “overwhelming”.

“From our positions as individual creators, whether of fiction or non-fiction, we authors see a landscape occupied by several large interests, some of them gathering profits in the billions, some of them displaying a questionable attitude to paying tax, some of them colonising the internet with projects whose reach is limitless and whose attitude to creators’ rights is roughly that of the steamroller to the ant,” Pullman, the current president of the Society, said.

“It’s a daunting landscape, far more savage and hostile to the author than any we’ve seen before. But one thing hasn’t changed, which is the ignored, unacknowledged, but complete dependence of those great interests on us and on our talents and on the work we do in the quiet of our solitude. They have enormous financial and political power, but no creative power whatsoever. Whether we’re poets, historians, writers of cookery books, novelists, travel writers, that comes from us alone. We originate the material they exploit,” he added.

A key change necessary to improve the lot of professional writers comes in regard to revenue from ebooks, with the Society of Authors arguing authors should receive at least 50% of revenue from these digital sales, rather than 25%.

The society also asked publishers to stop discriminating against writers “who don’t have powerful agents”.

“Some publishers are excellent but we see many inequitable contracts. Without serious contract reform, the professional author will become an endangered species and publishers – as well as society at large – will be left with less and less quality content,” the letter, sent by Society of Authors’ chief executive Nicola Solomon, reads. “Unless publishers treat their authors more equitably the decline in the number of full-time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success and cultural reputation of our creative industries in the UK.”


Professor Wu says: “Established and aspiring authors already know only too well how difficult the challenge of earning a living through writing can be – and it is a challenge made all the more difficult by current practices within the publishing industry. Authors and writers play a crucial role in our society, and in our culture, and there needs to be recognition of this.”

“Of course, we understand that the book business is facing a number of challenges, and it’s important that we see publishers do well – for the same reasons that it’s important to see writers do well. However, we must be careful not to fall into a situation where only the already-wealthy can afford to be writers. How many voices are being denied a deserved platform because of current financial restrictions? How many great novels are we not getting, because fantastic writers aren’t able to afford the costs of writing their magnum opuses? And what degrading impact is that having on wider society? What new ideas are we not hearing? What new ways of looking at the world are we failing to see? It’s time for a change – it’s time for authors and writers to unite; after all, we have nothing to lose but our draconian publishing contracts.”

The year ahead: 6 literary trends to look out for in 2016


So the New Year hangovers are gradually receding and New Year’s resolutions have been both started and abandoned in earnest. Literary stocking fillers have been read and enjoyed, and those presents we were less than impressed by have been exchanged for books. Writers are cogitating quietly, holed up from winter storms, preparing for upcoming writing competitions. As we look to the year ahead, though, the question on every bookworm’s tongue, of course, is what literary delights we can expect to come our way over the next twelve months.

We here at Nothing in the Rulebook have incanted the runes and stared into the tea leaves, and have come up with some of the key trends to watch out for in 2016.

  1. Books are back – did they ever go away?


Tales of the printed book’s demise have been much exaggerated, it seems. Despite the long-standing brouhaha around e-books and how they were set to take up at least 50 – 60% of the literary market, Waterstones and Foyles have been announcing strong sales figures or printed, physical books (made of paper, would you believe?) and even predictions about the death of the Kindle.

Consider the words of Robert Topping – owner of bookshops in the beautiful towns of Ely, Bath and St Andrews: “I’m utterly confident that there is life in books. E-books were hyped up nonsense. It could be the zeitgeist, I don’t know, but people are talking more about supporting community businesses rather than sucking money out of the community and giving it to American tax dodgers.”

He adds: “I don’t know about you, but I spend all day staring at a computer screen, I don’t want to go home in the evening and stare at another one.”

After Waterstones reported an increase in sales of book figures of 5%, the company even took the Kindle off its shelves. Perhaps this in part because people are starting to recognise how good printed books actually are: after all, for starters, they have pretty good longevity, they’ll work just as well today as they do ten years from now, they don’t need to be recharged, and if you spill water on them, they’ll still work! Incredible!

  1. Adult colouring books continue to boom


In 2011, the British publishing house, Laurence King, asked Johanna Basford, a Scottish artist and commercial illustrator specialising in hand-drawn black-and-white patterns for wine labels and perfume vials, to draw a children’s colouring book. Basford suggested instead that she draw one for adults. And so began what has been one of most intriguing publishing trends in recent years – and one that seems set to continue.

Fuelled by the rise of digital technology and social media, adults seem caught on the idea of colouring in these books and sharing their work on forums like Facebook and Pinterest.

“We’ve never seen a phenomenon like it in our thirty years of publishing. We are on our fifteenth reprint of some of our titles. Just can’t keep them in print fast enough,” Lesley O’Mara, the managing director of British publishers Michael O’Mara Books, said.

When you have delights like Dream Cities, or Colour me good Eddie Redmayne, as well as the sublime Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book (pictured above), is it any wonder these have taken hold? Expect to see more of them in recent months – though perhaps not a David Cameron colouring book any time soon, after all, we’re talking about a man described by illustrator James Nunn as having “a big dough face with no markings, no sign of life on his face.”

  1. The explosion in sales of left-wing literature shows no sign of abating


Bookstores across the UK have reported huge spikes in the sales of socialist and left-wing literature. In fact, some booksellers have noted being inundated with requests for Karl Marx’s Capital, and The Communist Manifesto.

With figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders coming to prominence in the UK and the US, alongside booming left-wing movements in Europe – from Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the newly elected left-wing coalition in Portugal – it seems likely such publishing trends are set to continue, as consumers become more interested in the literature of left-wing philosophers and economists.

  1. Publishers feel the power of the force


With ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ set to break box-office records, publishers expect a corresponding rise in consumer demand for science fiction and books about regaling space adventures.

Orbit, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Hatchette, is set to double its annual number of sci-fi titles to 90 books. Meanwhile, in late 2015, Simon & Schuster launched its own science fiction imprint – Saga – in anticipation of the ‘Star Wars effect’.

And of course, we’ve already seen some Star Wars-specific books released – such as the new take on the classic ‘Where’s Wally’ book series in the recently released Find the Wookie search and find book.

  1. More female protagonists and heroines


Just as Rey in the Force Awakens has proven to be a feminist hero mainstream cinema has been so sorely lacking, so too have characters like Katniss Everdeen from bestselling book trilogy The Hunger Games finally started to shift attitudes towards female protagonists and heroines in mainstream book publishing.

At last, it seems as though girls are at the centre of the action is ways that go beyond spending 300 pages worrying about which boy to go out with (sorry, Twilight fans). Instead, the heroine is growing increasingly central to the books we read – and their quest is no longer to simply find love or win the heart of a man.

Here, YA fiction is leading the charge – with a string of new heroine-led books set to be published in the coming year. They include The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine, Nemesis, by Anna Banks, and Of Fire and Stars, by Audrey Coulthurst.

They’re already on our to-read list!

  1. The future of literature may be electric


Increasingly, books are being designed with the digital age in mind. So-called ‘interactive’ literature combines the traditional printed book with apps and software. This creates, according to Faber & Faber, “a rabbit hole that encourages all sorts of reading”.

Another intriguing trend has been the development of computer software that generates original pieces of poetry and creative writing. Already, this software has had pieces of writing accepted into various journals and magazines. It begs the question as to whether androids actually dream of electric literature.




5 reasons writers love winter


Winter has been at the heart of countless literary classics, and for generations, it has served writers well as a metaphor for stillness, sterility, and despair – as well as for introversion and contemplation. Understandably, the relationship between writers and winter has long intrigued.

This relationship is explored intriguingly in Stephen King’s The Shining, writer Jack Torrance takes on the job of winter caretaker at a grand hotel in the American Rockies. He is convinced that the isolation and the light workload will be invaluable in helping him get to work on the novel he’s been planning. Such a feeling is undoubtedly familiar to many writers, convinced that a retreat will be the catalyst to productivity.

Of course, lovers of the book – or the Kubrick film adaptation – will know the reality turns out a little differently. Torrance stalls work and procrastinates for weeks on end and is eventually driven to madness. He works through his writer’s block by typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly, and also takes to writing the same phrase on the walls of the hotel. Such a solution to creative block is not advised for anyone struggling to meet deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise).

Yet while Torrance here perhaps does not have the most stable of relationships with the cold season, there are plenty of reasons why writers are drawn to winter – both as visual, linguistical aid and writing tool, as well as being perceived as an opportunity to focus on their work and write (albeit with more focus on the writing and less focus on the axe-wielding murdering that Torrance gets up to).

We’ve put together a few of the best reasons writers should start falling in love with winter right this minute…

Winter sunset, Mount Tegelberg, Bavaria, Germany

Winter sunset, Mount Tegelberg, Bavaria, Germany

  1. Winter scenery is inspiring

Certain images of winter recur time and again throughout wintry literature. The transformation of a river in winter from a fluid pathway to a solid one can be magical or devastating, a glassy arena for figure skating or an icy grave. This shift can convey a powerful mood.

Think of James Salter’s lyrical novel Light Years, where he describes New York’s Hudson River in winter:

“We dash the black river, its flats smooth as stone. Not a ship, not a dinghy, not one cry of white. The water lies broken, cracked from the wind… The day is white as paper. The windows are chilled. The quarries lie empty, the silver mine drowned. The Hudson is vast here, vast and unmoving.”

For writers of all ilks – screenwriters and playwrights, novelists, poets and short story writers – the scenes and images we encounter in winter can carry all manner of different meanings. They can inspire stories and poems, and guide our pens when we err or lose focus.

  1. It’s the excuse we need to stay inside and write

Shorter days and lack of reason to stray outside provide us with a reason to devote more of our time to our notepads and keyboards (or minimalist typewriters). The season carves out more time for us to spend with our loved ones – so often the inspiration for great writing – and also leaves us space to contemplate the world, ourselves and our writing.

While the urge to seek distraction via Christmas television, award-season films and through our social media networks may be great, such opportunities for silent, calm contemplation should be seized with fierce gusto by all writers.

As an added bonus, if the weather is too fierce to venture outside, there’s no risk of being that hipsterish aspiring writer sitting in a coffee shop with a cinnamon-mochalattefrappecino. The importance of not becoming this guy can perhaps not be stressed strongly enough.


  1. It’s a break to prepare for the next round of writing events

Winter gives us a chance to take a break from touring the literary circuit and networking at conferences and seminars, and helps us recharge for next year. It also gives us time to research upcoming events for the year ahead, as well as new writing competitions – a list of which we’ve put together here.

  1. Winter helps us add new dimensions and elements to our stories

Winter settings add elements of claustrophobia and danger to a story. Think of Butcher’s Crossing, for instance, where a small troupe of buffalo hunters are trapped in the mountains by a fierce snowstorm, and forced to survive for months on end in isolation among the potentially fatal elements.

They also help enhance ideas and narrative elements. Think of The Shining here, how King describes winter weather to help ratchet up the tension:

“It snowed every day now, sometimes only brief flurries that powdered the glittering snow crust, sometimes for real, the low whistle of the wind cranking up to a womanish shriek that made the old hotel rock and groan alarmingly even in its deep cradle of snow.”

  1. Without winter we wouldn’t appreciate the summer

Perhaps the most important reason for falling in love with the cold season, however, is that our experience of winter helps us better understand and appreciate the summer.

This concept is described expertly by Adam Gopnik in his beautiful love letter to winter. He writes:

“Without the stress of cold in a temperate climate, without the cycle of the seasons experienced not as a gentle swell up and down but as an extreme lurch, bang! from one quadrant of the year to the next, a compensatory pleasure would vanish from the world. There is a lovely term in botany — vernalization — referring to seeds that can only thrive in spring if they have been through the severity of winter. Well, many aspects of our life have become, in the past several hundred years, “vernalized.” (Even those who live in warmth recognize the need for at least the symbols of the cold, as in all that sprayed-on snow in Los Angeles in December.) If we didn’t remember winter in spring, it wouldn’t be as lovely; if we didn’t think of spring in winter, or search winter to find some new emotion of its own to make up for the absent ones, half of the keyboard of life would be missing. We would be playing life with no flats or sharps, on a piano with no black keys.”