Friday, 13 April 2012

Can we learn anything from the writing preferences of the great novelists?

As I was writing the last blog post, perched on my bed with my laptop on my knees and papers scattered around me, I wondered if I’d be more productive writing at a spot actually dedicated to writing … like a beautiful antique desk with minimal clutter, a collection of artistic photos framed on the wall in front of me, and ambient lighting pooling over my laptop.

Were my thoughts more or less disorganized because I share my writing space with my sleeping space, the clothes on the end of my bed that I’ve not yet had a chance to fold and the television talking at me in the background?  I have a perfectly good study area that is quite large, but to be honest I do my more technically boring work there so it tends to be utilitarian, and to be frank, the chair I have is not comfortable and makes my rear end ache after a while.

I have been known to craft a line or two at the dining room table, on the train, on the couch in front of the television (although that is more to appease the family so that I can say that I’ve hung out with them for a while). I’ve even been known to take a few moments at my desk at work, when an idea just grabs me and I HAVE to get it out.  Basically, I write wherever and whenever I can find a spare moment.

To satisfy my rampant curiosity, and to have something concrete to write about, we did a twitter poll.  The question we posed to writers was: Where do you write?  The answers eerily mirrored my own—on a laptop in bed, at the dining room table, or on a couch with the television on—so maybe writing well is less to do with where you write than I thought … or made excuses for. 

So it got me thinking—where did (or do for that matter) the great novelists of our time write?

What I found is that most successful writers are shockingly similar to me and any fledgling writer.  PD James and Stephen King both get up early and write, usually at the desks in their studies—nothing earth shattering there. 

But there are also notable exceptions to the norm: Ernest Hemingway and Vladimir Nabokov both wrote standing up, Nabokov going one step further and writing only on index cards that he could mix and match later. Robert Frost apparently wrote on his shoe while riding the train, D.H. Lawrence wrote while sitting under a tree, and Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub.  Mark Twain and Truman Capote wrote lying down on a couch or in bed. J.K. Rowling famously wrote on the back of napkins in a coffee shop, and Marcel Proust wrote from midnight to dawn in a cork-lined bedroom. 

Stephen King

P.D. James


Mark Twain

So, apparently the location in which we write has no bearing on what we produce—the great writers are no different to us “newbies” in that respect.  What has struck me though as I’ve been doing this research, is that a common thread has been creeping through as I read interviews with authors about their writing habits.  Although the location of where writers write may vary, one thing did not.  Each and every successful writer set aside an amount of time each day to write something.  Be it an hour every morning before the household awoke, or to reach a goal of a pre-determined number of words or pages. 

The key it seems to me is to be consistently writing something.  And then editing … lots and lots of editing.

Bottom Drawer Publications 
12 April, 2012

Friday, 6 April 2012

What is Steampunk and why we love it so much ?

I stumbled upon the phenomenon known as Steampunk a few months ago after watching the movie, Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth. I didn’t know the movie had steampunk overtones until I googled the movie and its soundtrack, loving the sound and feel of the production, and the word steampunk kept coming up.  

When I click a Google link, I am invariably drawn down a path of discovery, clicking link after link in a quest for knowledge; my initiation into “steampunk” was no different. I got lost: steampunk art, steampunk music, steampunk fashion, steampunk movies, and for a voracious reader like me, the Holy Grail, steampunk fiction.

I don’t know exactly what it is about “steampunk” that drew me to it, but it was love at first sight.  I love the eclectic-ness of the fashion, the idea of bringing the inside out reflected in much of the art, the quirkiness of the music, the dark undertones in the movies, and something that is a little out of the norm in the fiction.
From left to right, clockwise - Clockwork Universe by Tim Wetherill, Telectroscope aperture at London City Hall, a "steampunked' cell phone, scene from the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, steampunk band Abney Park.

Yes, but what exactly is steampunk, you say.  Hmmm, well that is a difficult question, which many struggle to answer, so I’ve borrowed from Wikipedia’s definition in this instance to do so …

Steampunk is a genre which came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fictionfantasyalternate historyhorror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashionculture, architectural style, and art.

As you can see steampunk is not a new idea, it’s been around for a while with many people citing the works of Jules Verne and Mary Shelley as the pre-cursors for this genre.  Wikipedia cites a letter from K.W Jeter, a science fiction author, to Locus, a science fiction magazine, which they published in their April 1987 issue, as the source of the name. Jeter suggested the name "steampunks" to collectively refer to a group of writers wanting to publish books in this style.

What is abundantly clear from following link after link is that it is a theme that appeals to both men and women pretty much equally.  When we added the steampunk genre to our list of works that we will be publishing, the husband of my publishing partner zeroed straight to that anthology cover and asked, “What is steampunk?”  The answer interested him enough to check steampunk out a bit more.  But why?

The genre has elements that appeal to the inner scientists and inventors in men (and women) who love to tinker with machinery and contraptions; artists and appreciators of art are drawn to the eclectic re-use of bits of machinery and industrial flotsam, often bringing the intricate inside workings to the outside for appreciation of its beauty; and the fashions have an element of the modern mixed with Victorian themes. It’s different and quirky and appeals to men and women alike. 

Movies incorporating steampunk themes have been around for a long time but seem to be making a revival in recent years and appealing to men and women, old and young alike. Take for example the recent Oscar-winning Hugo, the latest forays into the tales of Sherlock Holmes, The Golden Compass and Van Helsing.  They all have themes that have universal appeal: an alternative reality or a mechanical mystery, heroes and heroines that are on the outskirts of society for being a bit different, and usually a theme to right the wrongs against that society. A little shot of romance or attraction between the leads doesn’t go astray either.

Now I give you a challenge, go to your search engine of choice and type "steampunk" and check it out.  But be prepared, only click the enter key if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and nowhere to be early the next morning.

Bottom Drawer Publications
5 April 2012


If you’re already an aficionado of steampunk and love to write it, we are calling for short story submissions to include in a steampunk anthology, Steamworks, to be published in July 2012. For more information check out our submission calls here on our blog or here on our website.

If your interest has been piqued, here are some videos that reflect the steampunk themes:

1. Abney Park - Steampunk Revolution music video

2. Steampunk exhibition at the Oxford Art Gallery

3. A peek into Hugo, the Oscar winning movie

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Fifty Shades: Seducing women's grey matter

Have you been intrigued by the hype surrounding the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, and the other two titles from the Fifty Shades trilogy, by E L James?

We have!

What is the attraction to this story? Why has it garnered discussion on everything from morning TV and chat shows such as The View in the USA, to newspaper columns in Australia, and blogs everywhere else—all around the world?

Women who would never have admitted to reading anything like this are now talking to all their friends. They are reveling in the delicious allure that is Christian Grey. Secretly wishing they could have just a moment with someone like him.

How did this book leap from free fan fiction less than 18 months ago to #1 on the New York Times E-Book Fiction Best Seller List and land a deal with Universal Pictures and Focus Features to adapt it for the big screen?

Regardless of whether you think it’s right to publish reworked fan fiction or not, this story generated a whole lot of interest in its free form, garnering unheard of reader numbers.  Released in chapter format over the course of many months, each chapter was eagerly anticipated, and as soon as the posting went live on, readers literally dropped everything to read the latest installment about the relationship between a na├»ve young college student and a slightly older, emotionally damaged billionaire who was into kinky sex.

As soon as each chapter was posted, office workers mysteriously disappeared in droves, housework was put on the backburner, some even pulled over to the side of the road to read it.  News of each chapter spread like wildfire in social media circles and then each chapter was discussed, dissected and sighed over.

When little known independent publisher, The Writers Coffee Shop, released the first story, quickly followed by the two sequels, many fans of the free form followed the author and purchased the "official" version. Following that with reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, generating interest in the book for new readers who’d never even heard of fan fiction.   The publisher couldn’t keep up with the demand and the print books became scarce … suddenly the cry went out, “Where can I get a copy of Fifty Shades?”

What is the "secret ingredient" of this book, and books like it, that has so many people hooked?

The Fifty Shades trilogy is seducing women through words … sensual, erotic words that stimulate their brains as much as they titillate their bodies.  Women need more than visual stimulation to get turned on, unlike many men who can simply glimpse a nice cleavage or a bit of leg and be ready for some action, hence the popularity of "girlie mags" for men.  Fifty Shades, and books like it, are a woman’s equivalent.

Gone are the days when you would hide your cheap romance novel in the bottom of your handbag, only daring to bring it out when there was no one else around. Gone are the days of openly denying any enjoyment of the genre, but secretly loving the romantic plots lavished with sexy male leads and quietly submissive femme fatales.

The choice of book covers for the trilogy is genius too.  Without a chosen picture of the characters on the cover, just a well-tailored business suit with a designer tie, it has allowed the reader carte blanche on how they visualize Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.  And imagine they do …

Fifty Shades opens the door on what women want, or more to the point, what they are willing to do and ask for in the bedroom. Sure, not everyone who reads the book and loves it secretly wants to have kinky sex themselves, but reading books like these in many ways gets the point across to women that it’s okay to experiment in the bedroom.  Time and again we hear how this book and others like it has revitalized many readers' sex lives … and saved more than one marriage.

We caught up with a friend for coffee recently and, as per usual, our conversation turned to what we’d been reading.  We’d never really discussed personal things on more than a superficial level before, but as she excitedly told us she’d read Fifty Shades of Grey and was onto Fifty Shades Darker, she said this:

“… I’m so loving this book, girls. I can’t put it down, except to molest "Dave" (fictitious name to protect the satisfied husband). We’ve had more sex in the last week than all of last year. He’s reading the first book right now. I can’t wait to get home and see what he thinks.”

Knowing that others love and appreciate the sexy sensuality of a story like Fifty Shades, and are openly discussing the story and sex in general, is bringing romantic and semi-erotic literature out of the closet too.

Add to this increased appreciation of semi-erotic literature, the new ease to which readers can enjoy it—eBooks and eReaders.  The advent of the eBook, and the prolific sale of eReaders in the last twelve months, is making it possible for independent publishers (like ourselves) to compete with the big guys on this platform.  Not only is access to books in this format fast and convenient, and cheaper, but it allows the discretion some people still feel they need to openly enjoy their renewed passion of books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Has Amanda Hayward from The Writers Coffee Shop publishing house paved the way for small publishing houses to publish their own Fifty Shades? 

Random House certainly seems to think so. Nikki Christer, their publishing director, recently said in an interview printed by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that she expects to see more publishing from the bottom up.

"Books are emerging from everywhere so the possibilities of finding new authors is really opening up," she said.


Universal Pictures and Focus Features win Fifty Shades of Grey

Our website - publishers of romantic and erotic eBooks

Bottom Drawer Publications 
1 April, 2012