Thursday, September 29, 2011

LAVINIA OR TRACEE?


I feel a new persona coming on.

I should have thought of it years ago. As a writer I've been this me for a long time. That is, the careful, responsible, married me. When I started writing, I did so without imagining x number of years ahead to the time when I might be a famous author with a dozen well-received works to my name, a name that echoed around the world. A name that bestowed gravitas. Or a name that went with the phrase "... the best-selling novelist". So it never occurred to me to use another name to write under that was not the same as the married one. A name that was my own and could do what I wanted with.

You need foresight to adopt a pen-name. You have to figure out well ahead of time that you might need one, because you don't want to start with one name and change it later, thereby throwing out the reputation and credibility that you've built up so far. This particularly applies to women if they are already married and using their new names when they start publishing, but can apply to anyone if, for example, they have a day job that requires them to be respectable and upstanding, and they want to write the kind of books that don't fit the corporate image. Such people, if they want to get down and dirty, will probably simply adopt a pen-name and get on with it.

The name I've been using all this time was shared. It belonged to us as a couple. It meant that whatever one of us did or said was ipso facto connected to us both. And that meant that we were each mindful of the fact that what we did or said could reflect on the other in some way. Not that this mattered. We were both, by and large, respectable and upstanding and I, as a writer, didn't make a total prat of myself as far as I know.

Sharing a name, and by association a reputation, can however act as a restraining influence. Risk-taking is not an option. Co-operation, consideration and consultation are the norm. As a writer I have generally confined myself to a well-worn path without even thinking about it. How sensible. How dull.

I have been thinking of changing direction though, literarily speaking. Or rather, I have been thinking of adding a new string to my bow. And the advent of ebooks has given so many writers, including me, the nudge to take a risk or two. So is it time to break out? Shall I become Lavinia Peabody or TraCee Comewotmay and kick up my heels a bit?

I think so.

Picture: cover of a book of short stories at Smashwords.com

Friday, September 9, 2011

SMASHING WORDS

Ebooks. They are beginning to scare the dickens out of publishers and book stores. Librarians are biting their nails. What is going to happen to books – real books? The kind with stiff covers that you hold in your hands, the kind which require you to turn the pages. The kind that take up shelf space in your house and have to be dusted. The kind which harbour silverfish that blink and slither out when you take down a book that hasn’t been touched for months or years.

When Sir Allen Lane invented Penguins he was at a railway station with nothing to read. He wanted portable, affordable books accessible to anyone, and the paperback was born. Booksellers probably quivered then too, but real books didn’t die. Now there are ebooks – portable, accessible and affordable, and I have just clambered onto the band-wagon because ebooks make it possible for writers to be their own publishers.

I have spent the last week revising and reformatting the writing manual I wrote two decades ago, so that I could publish it as an ebook. The manual was out of date, and a bit creaky here and there. It mentioned pens and paper and tape-recorders and sticky tape, and barely acknowledged the existence of the personal computer. There was advice that was no longer relevant, and there were also, shame on me, typos. So I read the formatting guidelines from smashwords.com and set about bringing the manual into the 21st century.

My eyes glazed over chasing up the spelling mistakes. I went cross-eyed sorting out the curly quotes, the straight quotes, the single and the double quotes, and trying to maintain consistency. Removing inappropriate material sometimes meant that the sense went with it, and I had to rewrite whole passages. Deleted text boxes and page numbers – can’t have those when ebooks are read on so many different gadgets including phones. Hyphens – so old-fashioned – poxed the text and had to be grubbed out. Took out the screamers (exclamation marks) – not one of my regular guilty habits but there were one or two just the same. The patient friend who helped to proof-read found more faults. We sometimes bickered about them but arrived at a consensus.

That wasn’t however the end of it. While reading through one more time before uploading to smashwords.com I kept finding things I wanted to change, including the beginning of chapter three. At last, I was done. I designed a cover and pressed the upload button. But when my patient friend inspected the product on screen for the world to see, there, near the beginning of chapter three, was a bleeping “b;ank”.