Frances Fyfield on Amazon

FyfieldThere are some good deals on Amazon at the moment, for example this double helping of Frances Fyfield for £3.29. From the blurb: Nature of the Beast. Douglas Petty's penchant for too much wine and too many women was quietened a little by marriage to Amy. But when Amy is involved in a horrendous train crash, her body is not found in the resulting fire. Why has she disappeared and, with no money and no other family, where is she? In a story of mesmerising suspense, Amy slowly reveals why she cannot return to her beloved home, and why she can never escape from the lies she was told as a child. Seeking Sanctuary. When Theo Calvert was driven out of the family home by his wife's cloying piety he tried to take his daughters with him, but in the face of the law, the girls' health and his wife's intransigence, he failed. Theo fought back through his will, shaping it to benefit them so long as they did not follow their mother's example. Anna turns her back on her mother's teachings, but is horrified to see her sister Therese naively accept the faith which had ruined their lives. And when the convent where Therese settles employs a new gardener, Anna is too busy fighting against Therese's blind faith to see the danger.

I have read and enjoyed many of Frances Fyfield's books, mainly those featuring lawyer Helen West (my favourites, not least because she buys her clothes on Oxford St, which at the time I read the books, so did I), and Sarah Fortune, but I can't remember if I have read these two (which, apparently, aren't about either of those characters). The volume is in my shopping basket now.

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Grammar alert for The Sigil

My friend and colleague Henry Gee (End of the Pier Show blog) writes:

A draft of Scourge of Stars, Book Two of The Sigil, is available here for those who wish to comment, either here or offline (all comments gratefully received, irrespective of the means of transmission).
It’s probably full of holes and typos, but I can’t bring myself to look at it again – at least, not until I’ve had a go at the final instalment. I hope to be able to post that in a couple of weeks.
For those who missed Book One, you can download it here.
The usual parental advisories apply. If reading explicit accounts of sex, violence and religion is not to your taste, then this isn’t for you.
WARNING: May Contain Adjectives

Prequel to Harry Potter

Via the Bookseller blog: J K Rowling has written a prequel to Harry Potter on both sides of a story card. The 800-word story will be auctioned off at an event at Waterstone's Piccadilly on 10th June, with proceeds going to English PEN and Dyslexia Action, as part of the retailer's "What's Your Story?" campaign. Following the auction, copies of the cards will be available for view in Waterstone's stores and on its website. In August, a postcard book featuring all 13 story cards will go on sale.

Muddy musings on island fiction

Juliet of Musings from a Muddy Island reviews Ann Cleeves's Raven Black, but before getting down to business (she loves the book), writes:

"Clearly, an island gives a writer small, complex community, in which many of the inhabitants will be interrelated; where resentments can fester – perhaps for generations; where secrets have to be kept more deeply hidden than in a less close-knit society; and from which quick escape can be physically difficult or impossible.
In today's age of instant mass communication, a remote island gives a perfect opportunity for recapturing realistically some essential elements from the world of 'golden age' detective fiction which would seem impossibly stilted on the modern mainland."

Thinking about this in the light of my recent reading, I recall Mari Jungstedt's two books Unseen and Unspoken, set in Gotland off the coast of Sweden. They have similarities to Ann Cleeves's books, being a combination of mystery, police procedural, human interest (local married teacher falls for TV journalist), and very well-conveyed island atmosphere. Another author who used the island setting is Simon Beckett's second novel, the very good Written in Bone; and another  "island" novel which I did not think worked all that well, but is certainly uniquely atmospheric in quite a horrible way, is Pig Island by Mo Hayder.

Do you have any suggestions for Juliet, who writes: "Island fiction could become a niche literary interest for me – with island crime fiction as a niche within a niche."? William Golding's Lord of the Flies is obvious, I suppose. A book I have just started reading, and which seems excellent so far (can it really keep on being this good? I am asking myself) is  Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin, to be published in July by Transworld. The author will be at the Harrogate crime-writing festival this year, taking part in the New Blood event with Laura Wilson on Friday 18 July, by the way. But, enough distractions — please let Juliet know if you have any good island novel recommendations.

Phoenix not sent off-course by comments

Rules of etiquette often don't apply to the hurly-burly of the social chapter of the online world. Nevertheless, one piece of advice to the nasty-minded is to pick your target, as there are plenty of worthy ones out there. Another is, if you are going to criticise a piece of writing, don't yourself be illiterate.

Eric Hand has been writing a lovely series of posts about the Phoenix landing, at In the Field blog. Yet one of his early posts in the series, 'In good health, ready to begin' attracted a mean-spirited response from "Ross", who among other things, writes in the comments: "Do you honestly think the way you write is an eficciant way for another to absorb information " and  "you use the most elaborate word you can find for the subject, so by the time I get half way through a sentance I am still putting an image together and the words aren't sinking in.."

My comment: "I completely disagree with Ross. I enjoyed this post and your other posts on the Phoenix story. What's not to get about sentences like:
"The solar arrays also unfolded correctly, and were gathering power, with little to no dust visible on them."?"

Wasn't I restrained not to comment on his spelling and grammar? There are some other nice responses to the post, now, too.

You can follow the whole Phoenix Landing series here. I can assure you it is very good! See this sample about coping with Mars time, complete with urine if Debra is reading. "Since the the Martian day is longer than Earth's by almost 40 minutes, the scientists have to come in a little later each day. The effect on their bodies is as if they are continually flying west across time zones…" You don't need a degree in rocket science (groan) to understand this prose.

Top ten newly described species

2008_03th Via press release: The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists have announced the top 10 new [sic] species described in 2007, selected from the thousands of species described in that calendar year.On the list are an ornate sleeper ray, Electrolux; a 75-million-year-old giant duck-billed dinosaur; a shocking pink millipede (see image); a rare, off-the-shelf frog; one of the most venomous snakes in the world; a fruit bat; a mushroom; a jellyfish named after its victim; a life-imitates-art "Dim" rhinoceros beetle; and the "Michelin Man" plant. The list of ten species, with illustrations (none of which is as pink as the millipede), can be seen here. Although each entrant is given a dumbed-down name in this list, the Latin name is provided one click away as part of a fuller description.

Grim inter-regional struggle or post-modern kitsch contempt?

Fig2This picture of the science of the Eurovision song contest voting "blocs" comes via Mixed Miscellanies. The figure comes from a paper  with the title Comparison of Eurovision Song Contest Simulation with Actual Results Reveals Shifting, published in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation vol. 9, no. 2 (2006). Thanks to Scott Keir, of Mixed Miscellanies blog, I can now share it with you, too. "What implications does this have, if any, for pan-European political institutions? The answer to this depends on whether or not one takes the view that the contest is some kind of grand metaphor for European politics", writes the author of the J Art. Soc. paper, the appropriately named Derek Gatherer.  "If one believes this", he continues, "then the outlook for an expanded European Union is one grim inter-regional struggle. However, if one simply sees the contest as an expression of post-modern kitsch contempt for the established pop music industry…, then no such concern is warranted. This paper shows that regionalism in the contest is a memetic epidemic, and not likely to reflect very profound fault lines in the current state of Europe."

The Sun and Moon corrupted

From Mind the Gap:

"Philip Ball’s debut ‘lab lit’ novel The Sun and Moon Corrupted  will feature in our first Fiction Lab book group at the Royal Institution on 9 June (blogged about in more detail here). It’s a page-turner, so if you live in or near London, it’s not too late to pick up a copy and join us for the juicy post-mortem in a few weeks’ time.
I’m only halfway through, but it’s a cracker of a story. I won’t give away the plot, but it deals heavily with fringe science, which lies on a continuum between quackery and legitimate (or at least, accepted) knowledge. Often, the fourth dimension of time is the only thing that separates fringe science from its ‘real’ counterpart; anyone studying molecular biology in the 1980s will recall the scathing and incredulous reaction that Stan Prusiner and his wacky-seeming self-replicating prion proteins received in the traditional community – in stark contrast to his momentous encounter with the Swedish monarchy in 1997. Ball’s novel deals with people who doubt Einstein’s view of quantum mechanics, and offers a fascinating view into this nether, neither-here-nor-there universe of scientific culture."

Read more at Mind the Gap – Jennifer Rohn's blog — and see here for Lab Lit, "the culture of science in fiction and fact".

Sunday Salon: Frode Grytten and Ann Cleeves

Sunday Salon Frode Grytten's 'The Shadow in the River: In the provincial, decaying Norwegian town of Odda, journalist Robert Bell is a cynical observer, relishing his self-chosen role of outsider, constantly sizing-up and judging his fellow-citizens. He enjoys his lonely job at an outpost for a big newspaper, though has been regularly frustrated at the paper's refusal to publish what he regards as serious investigation, instead having to write frothy pieces. As the story opens, a nineteen-year-old teenager has driven into the local river and, although no body has been discovered, presumably drowned. Read on….

White Nights by Ann Cleeves is the second book to feature the Shetland Island detective Jimmy Perez and the artist Fran Hunter. As the book opens, Fran and a local celebrity artist, Bella Sinclair, are about to hold a joint exhibition of their work at the Herring House, a gallery/cafe on Bella's land in the tiny hamlet of Biddista. An air of menace is subtly conveyed about the strangely low turnout at the exhibition, made even more puzzling given the presence of Bella's rock-star nephew, Roddy. Suddenly, a man bursts into tears in front of one of Fran's pictures. Jimmy takes him into the kitchen to calm down, but the man claims to have no idea of who he is, nor does he carry any identification. While Jimmy is seeing if any of the visitors know the man, he vanishes. As the disappointing evening ends, Jimmy is invited back to Fran's house, and his attention is otherwise engaged. The next morning, the crying man's dead body is found hanging in the boat shed on the beach. Read on….

The week's other new reviews at Euro Crime are:

  • Karen Meek on The Darkness and the Deep by Aline Templeton
  • CrimeFic Reader on The Manor of Death by Bernard Knight
  • Pat Austin on Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi
  • Sunnie Gill on the enticingly titled The Affair of the Bloodstained Tea Cosy by James Anderson.

More Euro Crime reviews can be seen here.
If you are in the UK or the rest of Europe, you can enter Euro Crime's current competitions (closing date 31 May) to win copies of Lost Souls by Neil White and a signed copy of Spider by Michael Morley.

Dissection of The Friday Project

Via Ian Hocking at This Writing Life.

Scott Pack, publisher of the Friday Project, writes in the Bookseller about the demise of the company.

"I could fill this column with a list of contributing factors, but the truth is that if we had sold more books and produced them more cost-effectively,­ then the business wouldn’t have gone under. Mistakes were made. These have proved extremely costly to both people within the business and, more importantly, to those outside it with a vested financial interest. When a company goes bust, creditors are often left out of pocket. That is certainly the case with TFP, but there is also the added weight of shareholders losing their investments and a number of authors now having no home for their books."

In the same issue, the Bookseller tells the fuller story of the Friday Project from an independent perspective.

"Launched in June 2005, TFP began flying its colours as the first mainstream publisher to truly tackle the web. It aimed to produce books inspired by popular websites, and promised to thoroughly engage with the internet community. It was screw up rather than success. In March, TFP went under, prompting an unprecedented storm of online vitriol from the very community it had courted. “Self-deception when you are in a financial hole is as bad as when you are in the grip of an addiction,” wrote author and blogger Susan Hill. Vanessa Robertson at Fidra Books blogged: “As they disappear in a whirlwind of debt, The Friday Project has been shown to be no more than spin and self-promotion, masking the fact that although they had some great books on their list, they had no idea of how to run a business.” "

Of the titles published, losers included Out of the Tunnel by Rachel North, "a summer title it [TFP] had projected sales of more than 30,000 for, tanked, selling only 5,000 copies" and Caroline Smailes’s In Search of Adam (it has sold 1,333 copies since publication in March). These and other titles are compared with "blog-to-book" Anya Peters's Abandoned, selling over 150,000 copies, published by Michael Joseph. Various people are quoted as stating that TFP's problem was publishing "frozen blogs" between covers, rather than developing the "neverending story" of the blog into the "narrative arc" necessary for a book.

What now? From the Bookseller: "After much wrangling—and internet anguish—HarperCollins ended up acquiring, for a “nominal sum”, certain assets of TFP out of administration: 30 author contracts….; the website; the brand; the goodwill…; and the continued employment of [publishing director Clare Christian], Scott Pack and managing editor Heather Smith."