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Action on Authors' Rights

If you're a UK author or literary agent, or an author resident in the UK, and regard the Google Book Settlement with alarm and loathing - whether or not you've opted in/out - and further if you're not at all happy with the way that our political parties, in power and in opposition, seem so keen on setting up their own statutory body that will have powers to licence various aspects of written works with scant regard to copyright law and authors' other rights -

- then go and have a look at Action on Authors' Rights, an initiative that's grown out of the exhaustive (and exhausting) investigations made into all this by Gillian Spraggs.

The more voices unite to protest, the better chance we have of being heard.

6th Feb, 2010

Since our launch in May 2005, The Write Fantastic's diary has seen over 60 engagements, ranging from library and bookshop events, talks to local writers' groups and contributions to literary festivals, to teaching creative writing.

We've found readers' appetite and enthusiasm for fantasy fiction to be boundless, from epic tales of swords and sorcery to gritty urban myth. It's been our pleasure to help ensure that no one is missing out on all the wonderful reading currently on offer.

To celebrate TWF's fifth year, we're welcoming Kari Sperring, Ian Whates, Liz Williams and Freda Warrington to the team as Mark Chadbourn and Stan Nicholls take a step back from our month-to-month programme.

We’re also planning our first day-long event, to be held at the Jacqueline Du Pré Building, St Hilda's College, Oxford on May 8th 2010. (£15/£12 students).

We're inviting friends and colleagues to share their insights and recommendations in a wide-ranging programme. Guests confirmed so far are Stephen Deas, Ben Jeapes, Geoff Ryman, Mike Shevdon and Ian Watson. The day will also see the launch of TWF's anniversary anthology of original stories.

See The Write Fantastic's website for further details on our guests, the programme, the venue and local facilities, travel and how to book, by post or online.

Further updates will follow.
I've just learned that Irons in the Fire is going into Waterstones' bookstores summer reading promotion. Which will mean it'll stay as part of the current 3for2 offer for a potentially useful number of weeks.

So if you're thinking of buying it, go on, you know it makes perfect sense now!
Among the other excitements of the past few weeks, such as the Oxfringe Festival and Eastercon, Irons in the Fire has been published!

Now, I find one of the most toe-curlingly excruciating things about this writing business is soliciting publicity quotes. On the other hand, praise from the praiseworthy is one of the most completely gratifying things. As in:

Dan Abnett
Gaunt's Ghosts, Eisenhorn, The Horus Heresy (WH40K); 2000AD, Marvel and DC (comics); Doctor Who, Primeval and Torchwood (books)
"Magically convincing and convincingly magical, this book delivers the kind of engrossing read you only get when a writer of Juliet's calibre is in effortless and enviable control of the world she's creating."

Kate Elliott (hereabouts, kateelliott)
Crossroads Trilogy; Crown of Stars series
"If you're not reading Juliet McKenna, you should be. The things I love about her work:
it's sharp, well observed, well written, pays attention to the right
kind of detail to ground the world-building, and offers a comprehensive
understanding of class, politics, war, and human nature. Plus:
sorcery, mercenaries, and the little people rising up against their
oppressors. I mean, really, what more could you want?"

Paul Cornell
Doctor Who (TV/books); Primeval (TV); Captain Britain and MI-13 (Marvel Comics)
"Juliet McKenna is an excellent modern fantasy writer. Irons in the Fire shows her at her best, combining politics, sudden, violent action, and a concern for the domestic, for ordinary people. What's best about it is that it's fundamentally about clever people, trying to do their best, in swift-changing circumstances. Precise, thorough, heartfelt and restrained, and thus very British.

All of which makes me even more eager to get on with writing the third book while the second is away at the copy-editors!
Amid the rich array of blogs and websites that we SF&F readers can enjoy, let me point you towards Fantasy Book Critic, where you can currently find a whole series of authors looking back at books they've enjoyed in 2008 and highlighting those they're eagerly anticipating in 2009. My own contribution is here, from Sarah Ash, here and from Mark Chadbourn, here.

The index to all the contributing writers is here. Enjoy!
Well, the wheels of The Insolvency Service do grind exceeding slow.

Cast your minds back and you may recall, back in December 2006, I wrote an article for a magazine, Writers' Forum, then owned by Writers International and edited by one John Jenkins. I duly invoiced, only to be told that since the issue in question covered Dec 06 and Jan 07, invoices would be settled in February. Chasing in Feb and March got me promises but no money. My sending them notice to pay up or expect Small Claims Court paperwork got me a cheque in April - which promptly bounced, as did its replacement, and the one after that. By this time, no one was answering the Writers International phones or email and I eventually discovered the company had been forced into receivership.

The magazine, Writers' Forum had been sold off as a going concern, without any liability for the existing debts - all perfectly legally. So I was one of a considerable number of people left unpaid, a fair few of whom had experienced the same series of duff cheques - all of which cost the recepient hefty bank charges, you should note. Add those on and I ended up £102 out of pocket. Not a sum to break the bank but still, aggravating.

So, anyway, I decided to see this through to the end, via the administrators and receivers. More out of curiosity than expectation of ever seeing any money.

It has been a long, occasionally tedious and not particularly edifying process. The onus has been on me throughout to find out what's been going on and to make sure my claim is processed. The case has passed through three different offices and I've dealt with (at least) six different people. I've had to submit my information three times and still got a letter telling me I must return Form Such and Such instantly or my claim would be disallowed, when I'd already done just that. So there have been phone calls every few months to keep everything on track - all at my expense.

Several of those were about clarifying errors, after a letter arrived to tell me one Julia mackenna was listed as an unsecured creditor in the information Writers International had supplied to the official receiver. Since I work as a company and had invoiced as such, I was a secured creditor, thanks very much, which gave me a chance of some money, whereas Ms mackenna was almost certainly going to be out of luck. That seems to have been a waste of time as that spurious and illusory claim persisted right through the process. I've just had the letter saying Ms mackenna gets nothing.

Juliet E McKenna, however, has been paid £38.47. So, less the £12 bank charges those bouncing cheques cost me, that's effectively £26. Better than nothing.

John Jenkins in the meantime, has turned into a tutor and assessor for the National Council for the Training of Journalists. According to Google, he's now an external examiner for various university journalism degrees. At last year's Winchester Writers' Conference, he gave a seminar on freelancers selling their work and knowing their rights. Oh, I was sorely tempted to go along and ask pointed questions about pursuing bad debts. But I decided that would be petty.

Nearly as petty as the way he blanked me utterly when we came face to face in a corridor there, hastily walking past and refusing to make eye contact. I learn he did the same to two other people present, who'd also been left out of pocket by Writers International's collapse. Too embarrassed to offer an apology, after making such a hash of running his company? Too arrogant, having cynically strung contributors along until creditors forced his hand? Who can say. You may make up your own minds. I can't help wondering how much of all this is known to those students of journalism now relying on his expertise.

Looking forward, I now know how to deal with The Insolvency Service. Obviously, I shall be taking very great care to avoid ever having to do so in the future.

Libraries for the Twenty First Century

When did you last visit your public library? I'm ashamed to say I don't get into mine nearly as often as I did when the sons were smaller. That'll be a New Year's resolution for 2009 then. Because I did pop into the local branch library last week and saw it's following the positive and innovative trends we've been seeing all over, on gigs for The Write Fantastic. This has been a particularly busy year for us as libraries have really got behind 2008 as The National Year of Reading.

A particularly fine example is Bexley, where Sarah Ash and I were on 22nd November. They have an excellent online presence, where you can do everything you might expect, like reserve and renew books, DVDs and such, as well as finding out what libraries are open when. But there's a great deal else besides, like access to online databases. They have 'rooms' where keen readers can find book groups to join and share recommendations and reviews. Different genres are all featured, along with special events like author visits, which are followed up with online interviews. Sarah and I will be doing just such a Q&A soon.

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'Lifestyle' interests like DIY and sport and travel etc are covered. Then there's the Entertainment Room with information on film, TV, local theatre and cinema. The Teens Room offers study resources, recommended reading and reviews and information on local groups like the Manga Network and Battle Gamers. And there are similarly focused resources for parents and carers, primary-school kids, local and family historians.

But don't you writers want people buying your books, I might imagine someone grumbling, rather than borrowing them for free?

I do think that grumbler is missing the point. Libraries and bookshops aren't mutually exclusive. They're complementary. Libraries enable readers who can't afford to buy books to keep on reading, especially the young. Nowadays, with the rise of the DVD and computer games and libraries lending those, they enable people to explore all the varied facets of the contemporary imaginative landscape. Again these things aren't mutually exclusive, and tie-in fiction plays a large part in keeping teenagers reading on into their twenties, traditionally a time when a lot of people drift away from reading fiction for pleasure and may not return until they have kids of their own. Or at all.

Encouraging teens - girls and boys - was a particular focus I noted in Rutland Library last week. It was the library service who organised the schools creative writing seminar that I was teaching, they're running a short story competition in the run up to Christmas and they host regular Warhammer gaming sessions.

Oh and before that hypothetical grumbler can start on about digital divides and how online stuff is all very well for those with home broadband, every library I've been into before we started TWF in 2005 has offered computer access and free wi-fi is becoming more and more common.

Libraries enable readers in two minds about a particular author to try one of their books for free. If that book doesn't work for the reader in question, no harm, no foul. If it does, chances are, they'll go on to start buying their books when circumstances and funds allow, or start putting their titles on the Christmas list.

The best way of selling books remains word of mouth recommendation. Which is why library review sites and their reading groups are so fantastic. Reading groups in particular encourage people to move outside their comfort zones and try something new. Again, if it doesn't work for them, no harm is done. If it does, they've taken their first step into a wider universe. Again, we were very impressed by Bexley's support for their readers' groups, via their 'Well Read' newsletter, readily available in all their libraries.

Anyway, libraries don't take income away from writers. They add to it, via the Public Lending Right scheme. A token payment for loans is calculated and paid out annually, up to a maximum of £6,600. So no one gets rich on it, not even JK Rowling, but for instance, it's a major contribution to my discretionary/convention travel fund each year. And the UK scheme is soon to be extended to Ireland - hurrah!

Looking more immediately forward, I'm keen to see what Trafford libraries are offering. Checking details for our upcoming TWF gig there, I was impressed with their online presence too.

And I'm wondering just how busy TWF is going to be in 2009 because I cannot imagine any of the librarians we've met this year allowing the impetus they've generated just to evaporate.
Hey there - just wanted you all to know that the 'David Gemmell 'Legend' Award for Fantasy' is now happening!

For all the information about casting your vote etc please visit http://GemmellAward.com

Nominations are coming in from all the Fantasy Publishers thick and fast, and will be Longlisted on the website very soon!
Another gratifyingly busy year concludes with the following events:

4th October – GamesFest III, Tring
Mark Chadbourn, Stan Nicholls, Juliet E McKenna

11th October – NewCon, Northampton
Juliet E McKenna, Chaz Brenchley, Deborah J Miller

15th November - Wokingham Library – 10.00 am – 1.00 pm,
Creative Writing Course & Discussion
Juliet E McKenna, Chaz Brenchley
ring the library for more details on 0118 978 1368

22nd November – Welling Library – 11.00 am – 12.30 pm,
Reading and Writing SF& Fantasy
Sarah Ash, Juliet E McKenna
ring the library for more details on 020 830 37777

17th December –Stretford Library, Manchester, from 7 pm
Reading and Writing SF& Fantasy
Stan Nicholls, Juliet E McKenna, Chaz Brenchley
with Conrad Williams and Paul Magrs
ring the library for more details on 0161 912 5150

Come along, say hello and/or spread the word to pals you know within striking distance of the gigs who're likely to be interested.

And then it's onward to 2009!

Interview with Stan Nicholls

One of our Write Fantastic's very own members, Stan Nicholls has kindly given us an extensive (and in parts hilarious!) interview over on Wonderlands... so do come over and share oor Stan's expertise and reminiscences... http://wonderlands.ning.com

Also, while I'm 'here' - just a reminder that Juliet, Chaz and myself (Deborah Miller) will be at the Ealing/West London Lit Fest on Saturday 6th September 1 - 2pm. Come along and say 'hi'!