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Our other blog, dedicated to our amusing little book of boastful national chest-beating, SO THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT GREAT BRITAIN, has just been updated.

Today’s is the second piece about British Polar Exploration – that method by which ostensibly sane men attempt to do almost impossible things to no discernible benefit, while hobbling themselves so as to raise the risk of failing, and dying, from ‘near certain’ to ‘99%’.

The first piece dealt with the famous Captain Scott, who died in a tent because he thought using dogs to pull sleds across hundreds of miles of frozen wastelands was not quite cricket.

The second deals with Ernest Shackleton – whose story of survival is maybe the greatest in the annals of mankind.

It really is worth reading – you don’t have to buy the book – and, more importantly, it’s worth getting your kids to read it.

Astonishing stuff.

 

 

At The Going Down Of The Sun – which contains heart-breaking stories such as this, this, and this – will be in a one-week kindle promotion on Amazon from tomorrow.

The price will be dropped from £7.99 to £1.99 during that time.

Kindle pricing continues to be a bit of an issue (for us). To me, £7.99 feels like quite a lot for an eBook, in the same way that I don’t mind paying £10 for a CD (or a lot more for a piece of rare vinyl) but I don’t like shelling out a similar amount for the electronic version.

On the other hand, if you have an £18.99 hardback out there then you feel you need to support it, rather than undercut it, with the eBook.

We could have priced the hardback a little lower, but even at a RRP of £18.99 we won’t do much more than break even on it even if they all sell, given the expenses associated with a book of this type.

Meanwhile nice reviews and comments continue to accrue slowly (if you’ve read and enjoyed the book, please do review it at Amazon, or elsewhere).

Piers Morgan called it ‘a brilliant book’ the other day; he may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Piers, but I knew him years ago and his heart is very definitely in the right place. He made a mistake with the Mirror soldiers story, but he paid for that with his job. I can’t quite understand the hatred.

Here’s a nice Facebook mention:

Facebook comments1

 

WE HAVE A NUMBER of books planned for this year – among them the memoirs of a paramedic, a teacher, and a detective – but the first we’ll mention is the autobiography of one of Britain’s most colourful barristers, Gary Bell QC.

Over the years, Gary has prosecuted and represented some of the country’s most serious criminals – murderers, rapists, international drug barons and the like.

As a leading Silk, he now specialises in fraud – the most complex of crime – and the evidence and papers in his cases are measured in tonnes, not pages; one recent case had over sixteen tonnes of material to be assimilated.

But the story of how he reached the height of his profession – published this coming July as ANIMAL QC: My Preposterous Life – is truly amazing.

Believe me when I say that the following brief description does not even begin to scratch the surface of an utterly preposterous life.

Animal-QC-v2_AI-cover-WEBThe AI jacket for Animal QC: hilarious, moving, astonishing, and preposterous – all at once

From all appearances, you’d have him down as a privileged member of the Establishment, from the top of his horsehair wig to the hem of his silken gown. But the truth is very different.

Conceived in 1959, the son of a teenaged Teddy Boy coalminer and his young John Player cigarette factory worker girlfriend, Gary’s early life reads like a Hovis ad scripted by Charles Dickens for Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen.

His first home was a condemned slum terrace in Nottingham, where the Bells shared an outside tin bath with half a dozen other families. He had brown sauce sandwiches for tea, his most prized possession was a Dinky car with only three wheels which was given to him by the daughter of the local rag-and-bone man, and he left school without taking any O levels.

The next decade or so was a blur of football hooliganism¹, fraud (ironically)², homelessness, and various short-lived jobs. He was very briefly a miner (he quit because of his lifelong fear of the dark, and specifically the vampires whom he feared might lurk down the pit), an Asda forklift driver, a pet food warehouseman, a Pork Farms production line worker, a trainee fireman, an apprentice lawnmower mechanic, a fruit machine tester, a door-to-door rags-and-tat salesman, and a lamentably untrained bricklayer.

He left those from which he was not sacked, and after a period on the dole he went bumming around Europe for a couple of years – in Cannes, he nearly starved to death, became friends with The Village People (this is not a euphemism), and shacked up with a beautiful French nightclub hostess.

After that, he went back to school as a (very) mature student, took his O levels and A levels, and then went to Bristol University to read law.

He arrived a moustachioed skinhead in stonewashed jeans with flat vowels, and left in Church’s brogues and a Hugh Grant hairdo with a BBC accent, having amused himself by becoming a fake Old Etonian.

(He reinvented himself so successfully – with the assistance of some actual Old Etonian friends at Bristol, who helped him bone up on the history and culture of the school – that many people remain convinced to this day that they actually were at Eton with Gary; he has even been ‘back’ there a few times to take part in the famous ‘Field Game’ in Old Boys vs current pupils fixtures.)

All of that is without touching on his first career as a Los Angeles lawyer (he was offered a job at a Beverly Hills law firm while still at university, after being talent-spotted on a three-month debating tour of the USA).

Or his second career as an award-winning stand-up comedian.

Or his third career as a BBC TV presenter.

Or his improbable marriage to a woman whose family appear in Burke’s Landed Gentry, or his exciting time in student politics, or his becoming a pilot, or the many scrapes he’s somehow contrived to get into over the years (for instance, accidentally urinating on some important court papers a few moments before he handed them to a judge), or his various highly amusing personal foibles and eccentricities.

And – of course – it’s without going into his extremely successful life at the Bar, tales from which he tells with immense and self-deprecating wit and verve, and which would easily make an excellent book in their own right.

The whole thing is mad, moving, hilarious, and completely life-affirming.

¹Gary was nicknamed ‘Animal’ by his fellow hooligans – hence the title of the book – though it was not for his fighting prowess but for what they viewed as his disgusting eating habits.

²It is extremely rare for a person who has been given a suspended prison sentence, as Gary was, to be called to the Bar. But then, just about everything that has happened in his life has been extremely rare.

THERE ARE MANY fascinating stories in our book Our Man in Orlando, written by Britain’s former consul in Florida, Hugh Hunter (currently only £1.99 on Kindle, free extract here).

We’ve sold the TV rights, and one day you may see some of it on the small screen. It’s brilliantly episodic, and would work well.

Hugh – a former London fireman who himself entered the US illegally, and only took the job as a means of avoiding deportation – was employed to deal with any trouble involving Britons in the Sunshine State.

From Orlando To Canvey Island, And Points In Between

Often, this meant visiting them in jail, or hospital, and trying to assist with lawyers and relatives and the media.

Some of it is minor stuff – such as visiting the hordes of Brits who shoplift in Disneyworld and are astonished when they don’t get treated as leniently as they would back home.

A lot is a great deal more serious.

A woman on holiday killed in a hire car wreck, her children badly injured…

A vile Welshman who beat up his wife, tracked her down to her new life in the States, savagely murdered her, and will spend the rest of his days a broken man being raped and beaten up in prison…

A young Scotsman on his pre-uni gap year who visited a friend who was studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and somehow took it into his head to rob a bank with a stolen gun, tried to get away on a pushbike, and ended up doing five years…

The Londoner who decided to rob a dinner party at a private house and ended up serving 1,285 years (that’s not a typo) for armed burglary and kidnapping – he ordered the guests to move from the dining room to a closet while he and his mates ransacked the place; technically, this was kidnapping, and he received a hundred years for each of the twelves guests…

(If you take one lesson from Hugh’s book, it is not to mess with the US justice system, which can seem capricious and loaded against the defendant, and is often extremely tough.)

Our Man In Orlando_Hugh HunterHugh Hunter: Our Man in Orlando

One of the most interesting cases is in the news this week.

It sounds exactly like an episode from Miami Vice – the super-glossy cop show which was the world’s biggest TV hit in the 1980.

Miami in 1986 was a town of high rollers, and a Briton called Kris Maharaj rolled higher than most.

Maharaj – by birth a Trinidadian of Indian extraction whose brother was Trinidad and Tobago’s Attorney General – had made a multi-million pound fortune in the fruit and veg trade in London.

He owned a fleet of Rolls-Royces and put his racehorses up against the Queen’s.

In 1980 he went out to Florida to look for a holiday home.

That stay became quite protracted, and while he was out there he first fell in and then fell out with a chap called Derrick Moo Young.

The falling out led – say American prosecutors – to the murder of Moo Young and his son Duane by Kris Maharaj.

The prosecution case is that Maharaj hid with a Smith and Wesson revolver in suite 1215 at Miami’s DuPont Plaza Hotel.

He was hoping to force the repayment of a $400,000 loan, but there was an argument and a struggle.

He first shot Moo Young snr, and then he took his son Duane into another room in the suite and executed him in cold blood.

Kris Maharaj denied being involved and said he was thirty miles away at the time of the killing (though he admitted that he had been in the suite, and his hand print was found in some blood at the scene).

But in 1987 he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

After fifteen years on death row, this was commuted to life imprisonment, and a few days ago Maharaj – now 75 – lost the latest appeal against his conviction.

He claims – and the evidence seems reasonable – that the murders were actually carried out by an infamous hitman, after Derrick Moo Young began skimming profit from drug deals he was doing with the Colombian cartel.

The court was not convinced and, for what it’s worth, neither is Hugh.

But, almost thirty years after the killings, Maharaj’s fight to be freed before he dies continues.

 

According to Nicola Solomon, the chief executive of the Society of Authors, traditional publishing is unfair and unsustainable because authors are earning less than they were, while publishers’ earning are up or, at worst, holding firm.

Apparently, authors’ median incomes have dropped to £11,000 pa – which doesn’t sound all that bad, until you remember that that includes the earnings of whoever has replaced JK Rowling and the Fifty Shades of Grey author in the last 12 months and the rest of the top couple of hundred writers. Clearly, for most people it is a (hopefully) paid hobby which may one day develop into a career.

Meanwhile, ‘publishers, retailers and agents are all now taking a larger slice of the profit when a book is sold’.

Authors need fair remuneration if they are to keep writing and producing quality work, she said.

Publisher profits are holding up and, broadly, so are total book sales if you include ebooks but authors are receiving less per book and less overall due mainly to the fact that they are only paid a small percentage of publishers’ net receipts on ebooks and because large advances have gone except for a handful of celebrity authors.

(P)ublishers are doing less for what they get. There are still important things they do – a traditional publisher can edit, copy edit, design, market, promote, make your book better, deal with foreign sales.

With ebooks, though, publishers’ costs are less, so authors should get a better share. They do not have to produce, distribute or warehouse physical copies. Even on traditional books, publishers’ production costs have gone down but authors have not benefited from these costs savings. And, increasingly authors are being asked to do a lot of marketing and promotion themselves.

I appreciate that she’s probably talking mostly about major publishers, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but our contracts haven’t really changed, and our profits are down.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that (like all publishers, outwith the vanity press) we pay all the upfront costs for every book we publish, and we take all of the risk.

Nicola is (I think) a solicitor. I have no idea what she earns in either private practice (if she’s in it) or as the head of the SoA (if she’s paid), but I do know that you can publish a really nice paperback book – say 5,000 copies, with a lovely jacket, with embossing and spot-UV, and a decent marketing campaign – for around £12,000.

I’m sure that Nicola has £12,000 to spare – and if not she could surely borrow it.

If publishing is so easy, and rapacious publishers are so shamelessly ripping off authors, it ought (one would think) to be a fairly simple matter for Nicola to start a publishing business that offers authors better contracts and takes less profit (when there is profit to take).

It doesn’t have to be massive – just one book, to start off with (it’s how we started).

Or am I missing something?

 

FROM JANUARY 1, eBooks* (sold through Amazon and other third party sellers) will be charged at the prevailing UK rate, twenty per cent, as opposed to the just about current three per cent.

(Books-proper remain VAT free for crazy historical reasons associated with the idea that reading is a good thing, and it’s quite hard to see why eBooks don’t enjoy the same status; but perhaps that’s not an argument to raise.)

The three per cent, in the case of Amazon, was a bit of an anomaly based on its use of Luxembourg as the hub from which its digital sales are processed.

As far as I can tell – and it is not at all easy to tell – there will only be one effect on us, which is to make our eBooks more expensive.

Obviously, this is not something we welcome, and it will certainly hit sales, but it is not at all on the scale of the bureaucratic nightmare of forms and multi-territory VAT arrangements which awaits those publishers who sell their eBooks direct to customers.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it will be a nightmare of epic proportions, roughly akin to drowning in a vat of hot toffee and razor blades.

Wired covered it here a while ago, so I’ll leave it at that – other than to question what Osborne thinks he will achieve, other than to drive out of business lots of small publishers who rely on direct sales, to reduce the profits of those publishers who remain in business (and therefore the amount of corporation tax he can get his hands on, which to bribe us all before the next election), and to concentrate more power and cash in the hands of the big corporations.

*This doesn’t just affect eBooks – it affects pretty much every digital service bought via any digital supplier, including films, music, and games.

Happy New Year!

What I’m pretending to read this Christmas, so as to make people think I’m an intellectual:

Not Bunter booksWhat I’m actually reading this Christmas:

Bunter books

I think the Bunter books are better written, anyway. They’re certainly funnier.

True fact: my (then) six-year-old daughter was taken to one side and seriously admonished at primary school for using the word ‘ejaculated’ instead of ‘said’. The teacher didn’t know it had more than one meaning.

Bunter ejaculated 01Other interesting words in Billy Bunter’s Benefit (bearing in mind they were aimed at young teenagers):

Bedewed

Ignominious

Chagrin

Dilapidated

Accrued

Capacious

Palpitating

Extraneous

Delectable

Elocution

Orthography

Lugubrious

Provender

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