Doing it for ourselves

For a writer, there’s little to beat the thrill of holding a book you’ve written. And today, I had that thrill as I unboxed paperback copies of Taking Liberties.

This has been a remarkable experience for several reasons. Firstly, it happened unbelievably quickly; the wheels of the publishing industry usually grind exceedingly slowly. Not in this case. In only a few months, a group of authors were able to put their heads together and, sharing their various skills and talents, produce a short story collection to be proud of. I was pleased to be a small part of it.

Secondly, the anthology has already achieved success as an ebook, staying at #2 in the short stories ‘hot new releases’ chart for quite some time and getting blush-inducing reviews: “wonderfully eclectic”, “funny, moving, thought provoking”, “offbeat”, and “wonderful, uplifting and sometimes surprising”. Fingers crossed, the success continues with the release of the paperback.

And thirdly, amazing though all that is, even more amazing, in my opinion, is the way in which all this came about.

It’s tough out there. I know how hard, how very hard, it is for an unknown writer to find a publisher and then, almost as important, to get their book in front of a sufficient number of readers. New authors, without an existing fanbase to call upon, can – and do – get lost in the white noise of today’s big-name celebrity marketing promotions.

But what can the poor indie writer do against such juggernaut forces? As my old granny used to say, if you want something doing properly, do it yourself.

And so the Breakthrough Book Collective was born. We are a group of friends and colleagues, all proven and published writers, doing it for ourselves. Many have other skills, such as editing, design, art, journalism, photography, podcasting, presenting and marketing, which we pool for the good of the collective. We write in different genres, have different backgrounds, but we share a commitment to putting the creative and financial power in the hands of the creators. And in producing engaging, exciting and professionally presented books, of course!

Taking Liberties is our first initiative and is now available as a paperback. You can order it here. And please do remember to leave a review. We’d be so grateful.

And if you want to read more about the Breakthrough Book Collective and other ‘commons’ projects, my fellow collective, the author, artist and presenter Stevyn Colgan has explained it better and in much more detail in his blog here.

Here be a monster!

I’m a passable cook. I can knit simple jumpers. I’ve written some scripts and a couple of novels. And … no, that’s about it. Sum total of my skills. So I’m always in awe of those marvellously talented creatures who are brilliant at lots of things.

Such a one is Stevyn Colgan, my writing stable mate at Unbound. Not content with writing both novels and non-fiction – his latest (tenth if I’ve counted right) is a comedy called Cockerings – he’s a marvellous artist, working in several different media, not to mention cook, comedian, podcaster and much more. He’s also probably built a time machine, solved the Northern Ireland protocol problem, and invented a thing that means you can read your phone even when the screen’s in full sun for all I know.

During the pandemic, Stevyn turned his hand to creating monsters. I came face to face with one of his fabulous creations at the very excellent Grayson Perry Art Club Exhibition at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. The Bristol monster is part of Stevyn’s community lockdown installation, The Monster Zoo, aimed at providing local children with a fun and creative activity, when so many other avenues were closed to them. Grayson Perry liked the idea so much, he put it in his exhibition.

If you’re in the Bristol area, I urge you to go along and see this collection of witty and thought-provoking exhibits, made more poignant because they came about during the worst days of lockdown. Here’s a selection from the eclectic mix.

I’ll stick to my knitting.

Monster escaped from the Zoo, doing its thing in Bristol Museum.

Wipe your feet on this. Much more useful than an actual ticket during lockdown

Dishing out some home truths

Clarks make a new acquaintance

Death in Paradise, Wine in Wycombe

What do I have in common with Robert Thorogood, multi-award winning creator of the hugely popular BBC One light-hearted murder mystery series, Death in Paradise?

More than you might think. We’re both BBC scriptwriters. OK, so his show is a global phenomenon, broadcast across the world from Australia to Russia and India, and series 11 is about to launch in 2022. And I wrote sketches. But still …

We’ve both moved from script- to novel-writing. OK, so his book, The Marlow Murder Club has been launched to widespread acclaim and was picked as Fiction Book of the Month by the Booksellers Association. And Note to Boy, while getting great reviews and recently bagging a PenCraft award for humour, is enjoying more modest success. But still …

And both Robert and I enjoy a glass of wine. Erm … think I might be able to match him on that.

How do I know this? Because I recently had the pleasure of meeting Robert at a thoroughly good (see what I did?) author talk at the Wycombe Arts Centre. He was being interviewed by those cheeky We’d Like a Word podcasters – and, let us not forget, authors – Stevyn Colgan and Paul Waters. I say ‘interviewed’ but actually, it was more of a freewheeling chat, as Robert (like his creation) is just that sort of effortlessly entertaining chap.

Not that his road to success was smooth. He was frank about his struggle to the top. Soon after leaving Cambridge, he set up, directed and acted in a touring theatre company alongside – wait for it! – Robert Webb, David Mitchell and Olivia Colman. Fearing he’d peaked too soon, he then watched as those three actors soared into the entertainment stratosphere, while Robert T was still office temping to support his writing habit.

He talked about the importance of perseverance in a writer, and the need to be always ready with a script or a brilliant idea, because you never know when opportunity might come a-knocking. For him, that was in 2008 when he came to the attention of Tony Jordan, legendary writer of Life on Mars, Hustle and East Enders. Death in Paradise was finally broadcast in 2011.

There were confessions too. Robert told us he’d never even been to the Caribbean when he wrote his first ‘uptight copper’ scripts; that he was as starstruck as any fan when he first sat in the real-life Catherine’s Bar, and his knowledge of Jeeps and Land Rovers is somewhat shakey. Finally, he owned up, like many in the audience at the Arts Centre, to getting up and shaking his booty whenever the Death in Paradise sig tune comes on.

But above all, we learnt what extremely hard work it is producing a well-loved, warm-hearted and cleverly plotted murder mystery show, even if it is set on a paradise island with weather and scenery to die for. I’m not sure we were convinced.

Robert Thorogood’s novel, The Marlow Murder Club, is out now.

If you’re a fan of Death in Paradise – and who isn’t? – the We’d Like a Word podcast with Robert, and many previous interviewees, including me, will be posted very soon.