Gavin E Parker – Exclusive Interview

Interview Still

Who would ever want to interview an unknown author?  Nobody!  With that in mind I thought I’d interview myself, so a couple of weeks back a wrote a script and set about shooting it.  Unfortunately, my delivery was very stilted and the sound was terrible, so (with the exception of the screengrab above) the video will never see the light of day.

I cut a few corners too (that’s how the sound ended up so bad), and the end result didn’t have the same feel as what I’d written.  I thought, ‘Ho-hum,’ and moved on.

Then it occurred to me the other day that the script does capture exactly what I wanted to say, so to that end I’m sharing it with you here:

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Please talk about typos again, please

Everyone loves typos. I know it’s cheap, but since I’m here to garner popularity I’m going to go on about typos again. I spoil you, and you know it.

I’m ploughing through the paperback proof of Ephialtes and noting required corrections. I’m up to page 184 (of 464. Tiny font too, so it’s lots of words) and have 118 minor corrections so far. I say minor – I think there are a couple of missing words and a few instances of minor editorial tinkering, too – because the bulk of these corrections concern the use and misuse of hyphenation. Ain’t that funny?

I’ve already mentioned that, of all things, I had quite a bit of gyp with capitalisation, and that’s weird enough, but who’d have thought that hyphens could be such a bother?

So this is my top writerly tip for the day: keep on top of your capitalisation and hyphens, and the rest will look after itself.

There. Is that enough typo-talk for you? Right then, on your way. Don’t you have homes to go to?

What are you reading?

Weird thing: reading a book once it’s book-shaped is different to reading it as a manuscript. Why? No idea, but it certainly seems to be true.

I’ve spent some time today reading a paperback proof of Ephialtes. Despite the strong story, great writing and terrific characters, I had become weary of reading through it in draft form. But now it’s book-shaped, it’s like reading it for the first time.

What does that mean for ebooks? Again, no idea. They aren’t particular booky, but seem to do okay. I guess it means there is something you don’t quite get from that experience that you do from reading a physical book.

This seems a shame to me, because CreateSpace have a minimum price for physical books they produce, based on size and length. In the case of Ephialtes, that minimum price is seventeen dollars (roughly eleven pounds), which is prohibitively steep for a paperback by an unknown author. It’s too bad, because as I’ve been discovering, the essential ‘booky’-ness adds to the reading experience.

I’d love to be able to get the price of the paperback version down to something realistic, as it’s my preferred version. I recommend this to you: if, come September, you download and enjoy the ebook of Ephialtes, treat yourself to a copy of the paperback.

Go on. You’re worth it.

I think I might read a book

Today is another day chasing typos. I’ve checked my proof, and although the formatting is great (one scene was unjustified – typographically speaking; there are loads of scenes that are unjustified generally) typos are popping up all over the place.

I’ve looked at the first four chapters so far (of thirty-seven) and have a list of fifty corrections to make. Most of these are odd uses of hyphenation, things like ‘fire-power’ where it should be firepower. It still seems strange to me that I missed so many of these previously.

A thing that interested me, as it was not what I was expecting, was that when I came to revising the first draft the thing that caused most problems for me was capitalization. Really. My book Ephialtes is set during a future conflict between Earth and its former colony on Mars. So I have lot of generals and majors and so forth. On the political side of the conflict there are presidents, secretaries of defence and foreign affairs and whole load of other people with fancy job titles.

The capitalisation of these titles is trickier than you might think. Look it up if you’re interested, but it changes according to how the title is being used (indirect address, direct address etc). I’m still not quite sure if I’ve got it right for all my uses of ‘army’ (an army is just army, but a specific army might – might – be Army, depending on how it’s being used. Nightmare.

Anyway, I’m settling down today with the paperback of Ephialtes and noting all the little errors that I thought had been put to bed weeks ago. It’s somehow nicer to be reading a paperback than an A4 manuscript, but there’s still that dread feeling that this process will never end.

Still, there’s worse things I could be doing.

Proofs at last

I now have proofs of two versions of the Ephialtes paperback. One has dodgy margins, both have dodgy covers. The cover image is a spacescape. When printed, most of the stars are too small to be visible. Also, the deep blue is very deep, and some details are lost. I can live with that, but I need those stars so I spent some time last night making them bigger.

This is the first time I’ve had a proof of a book to peruse. Somehow the book seems more like a book now it is a book, if you can follow that. Now its compact, laid out in Garamond with proper covers and feels slightly heavy in the hand, it is somehow very ‘book.’

My next task (having fixed the cover) is to laboriously check the formatting, page by page. I’ve had a glance through and have already noticed some typos (particularly annoying as the formatting seems pretty good). Don’t those things ever give up? It seems somehow miraculous to me that there are any left, but they still keep coming. I’ve read that thing over and over again, sometimes literally one word at a time. Many times I’ve thought, ‘That’s it, done. There may be one or two sneaky typos hidden in there somewhere, but I’ve got most of them,’ only to come across a glaring error moments later. For instance, I have ‘one hundred thousandth’ hyphenated. How did I miss it? Moreover, how did I miss it ten or fifteen times? What other howlers are sat there, hiding amongst the text, ready to mock me in their simple discovery?

I guess at some point you just have to let your manuscript go. Sure, there will still be errors in there, but I’ll collate them and create a ‘revised edition’ somewhere down the line.

Funny thing is, even knowing as I do how hard it is to eradicate these bastards, I still can’t help thinking badly of other people’s typos. ‘Couldn’t you even be bothered to check’ I will loftily think, sneering as I wrap my cape about me. I know, from bitter personal experience, that that is not a justifiable position, but it is how I feel in my gut. I can switch in my manual override (‘I know that seems lame, but I bet that person had as much trouble as I did trying to stamp those out’) but deep down my animal brain will be thinking, ‘Look at that typo. Twat.’

As a self-publisher you don’t get an editor. If I had one I could blame them for any errors. In fact, I’d turn that magnanimous, ‘of course, the errors are all mine,’ thing on its head. ‘Any errors are my editor’s fault. Blame them. What am I paying them for, anyway?’ I would say in my gracious preface.

But I don’t have an editor, so what am I going to do? Well, try my hardest to chase the little blighters down and otherwise just take it on the chin. It would all be my editor’s fault, if I had one, but don’t, so I’ll have to grudgingly concede that all the sloppy errors in Ephialtes belong to me, and me alone.

Also, in accordance with Murphry’s Law, there will be a typo in this piece itself. Twat!

All substance and no style

When I set out to write my first novel, Ephialtes, one of the many things I had to consider was style.  This is how I approached it.

I don’t like writing that feels ‘writerly’.  It seems to me there is no need to over egg every sentence, or to describe in depth every little thing a character is thinking, feeling or wearing.  To me that seems fake, and suggests the author is trying too hard.

With that in mind I made a conscious decision to imagine my story and then simply describe what I had imagined.  I wanted to convey these imaginings as clearly as possible.  I strived for clarity and didn’t consider a conscious style at all.

This isn’t to say that style is unimportant.  It is. However, it’s one of those things like accents – you can’t hear your own, but everybody has one.  And like an accent, it will sound dreadful if you try to fake it.  By strenuously avoiding a deliberate style I hope that my style, whatever it is, will be there on the page.  I’m sure I must have a way of constructing sentences, scenes or stories that seems unremarkable to me, where it might seem distinct or noteworthy to someone else.  And if not, at least I hope I have written clearly.

Apart from specific instances (where you want to create mystery or ambiguity for plot reasons) I can see no value in confusing the reader.  To me, that is just bad writing.  You could kid yourself that you’re deep and arty, but if you’re such a damned hot shot you should be able to communicate with precision and clarity – that is what good writing is.

Sadly, this isn’t to say that I made a total success of it.  Like most people I fall easily to waffling, and I’m sure there are many passages in Ephialtes that contradict what I’ve said above.  It’s what I tried to do though, and I think it was worth aiming for.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Maybe you’ve been here yourself. You spend the better part of eighteen months – perhaps even longer – writing, rewriting and honing your book. Somewhere near the end of that process you start thinking about a cover. ‘I know about as much about designing book covers as I know about writing books,’ you think to yourself. Then you think, ‘Bollocks, I’ll have a crack at it.’ The fun begins.

I had an idea for the cover of Ephialtes quite a while back. I knew I’d have to go for something stark and bold, as I don’t have any drawing or 3D design skills. I had an idea I thought was pretty good. It was a black background with a fraction of yellow circle on the left and a fraction of a pink circle on the right, each spilling off the edge of the cover. In between, equally spaced on an invisible straight line are four more circles, coloured appropriately so they represent Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The yellow and pink partials are the Sun and Jupiter – it’s easier to figure it out when you can see it. Above the red Mars circle I had an oblong which, together with the Mars underneath it, combines to form an exclamation mark.

I thought it was quite a strong graphic. It was direct, required a little bit of thinking (crucially, not too much) to ‘get’, and it suggested an issue with Mars, which is what the book is all about.

In the end, I decided to not go with it. Even a pared down graphic like that needs precise execution to pull it off, and I thought I couldn’t do it justice. So I went looking for alternatives.

My first thought was to look at other book covers. When I did that I came across this startling fact: book covers are universally awful.

I hadn’t really given it much consideration before. I usually select the books I buy based on newspaper or magazine articles, so I don’t pay much attention to the covers. And I’m glad I don’t, because so many of them are just terrible.

The guy at Smashwords (why should you pay any attention to someone who can’t get their formatting guide below a hundred and twenty pages?) advises that the cover image should be strong enough to work without any text. That’s an interesting position, given that most modern covers a) have text all over them; title, author’s name, review quotes, tag lines etc, and b) have dreadful, bland, generic images under the text.

In the end I used a piece of free software to generate a spacescape. On my front cover are the title of the book and my name over the spacescape image – nothing else. I worried that this made my cover look ‘wrong’ – where’s the text all over the place, like all the other books have? – but I decided that it might make my cover stand out. Of course, there’s a problem with that, too, because you want your book to look like the others – like a book – but you also want it to look different. Go too far either way and you’re in trouble.

The other issued I had was with the back cover. I put a headline and a brief description, and under that I had some made-up quotes. It all looked ‘right’ when I roughed it out a month or two ago, but when it came down to submitting it for the final print version of the book over the weekend I had to take the fake quotes off, and then it just looked wrong. There’s a place on the back of a paperback book that somehow should have positive quotes on it. That’s just how it is, but no one has said anything quotable about my book. ‘Oh, you wrote a book?’ isn’t going to cut it for a compelling cover quote.

In the end I fudged a couple of my dummy quotes so they looked more like statements of fact, and, of course, I had to remove the quotation marks. It looks sort of okay, but should anyone ever say anything vaguely positive in the future – ‘Yeah, that wasn’t too bad,’ – I’m firing up InDesign immediately and that quote is going on there.

I’m happy with what I came up with, in the end. It looks a bit old fashioned, but I think my story telling is a bit old fashioned, too, so that’s cool.

If you’d like to see it it’s on my Amazon page.

Laters!