The Judge of the Dead is published – please be careful during the stampede to buy it

Finally, five years after a 1,500 word Open University creative writing exercise sowed the seeds of a 75,000 word novel, The Judge of the Dead is published.

Here’s me and my proofy of egduJ ehT daeD eht fo by nnaCcM naeS:

Photo on 2015-07-29 at 10.10

Excuse the topless shot. I’m in Andalucia, it is corking hot at the mo, and I haven’t been feeling 100% this week.

I actually published on the 26th, but it can take a few days to filter through to Amazon so I delayed the grand announcement, pyrotechnics and whoopwhoops until today; didn’t want to send people scurrying off to eStores only to find it wasn’t available yet.

On that note, the ebook is £3.99 via Kindle , while the paperback is £7.99. That’s higher than intended but (UK) printing costs swallow slightly over 50% of that and Amazon take 40% so it doesn’t leave a lot for little old me. I make significantly more on the paperback if I sell through the CreateSpace eStore so if customers from the Americas can buy through them (ships in 5 days for $3.59 at time of writing) that would be massively appreciated. UK customers might find the quickest delivery is from Amazon UK, but they charge the highest printing costs, much more than or Amazon Europe, so unless you know me well enough to get a copy signed, or you just love the feel of a paperback in your hands, I’d suggest going for the ebook version. It’s cheaper for the reader, and makes more margin for the author, so it is a win-win purely on the money front.

Back to the book itself, I had to choose two genres to categorise it by. I went for ‘Crime’ and ‘Technological thriller’. I think the word ‘thriller’ is daft – I’ve never been thrilled reading a book – but I had to choose something so that was as near as I could get it (more for the ‘technological’ than ‘thriller’). If it doesn’t thrill you, then I apologise, but there wasn’t a category entitled ‘Barely perceptible pulse quickener’.

As I’ve mentioned before, the book may prove somewhat of a challenge for readers used to getting to the end of page 1 and thinking ‘Alright, this is my protagonist, this is ‘me’ for the remainder of this story, I know who I am and what’s going on’. My novel, on the other hand, is told through the eyes of six different first-person narrators, so the reader won’t really have a clear feel for who to get behind until the end of chapter 6, once all the main characters have been introduced. This for me brings a semblance of reality somehow. We all like different people. To my mind there is an obvious hero but readers may decide some of the other characters are attractive in various ways. Some people adore Jeremy Clarkson, whereas I think he needs a biff round the head. Each to their own. I didn’t deliberately set out to write characters that way, but I think ambiguity exists in most people, so your villains with a caring side and upstanding members of the community with a darker side both have degrees of plausibility.

The story will probably appear stylistically uneven from chapter to chapter. Again I feel this reflects the way different people tell stories in real life. Some will stick closer to the essence, while some will exaggerate wildly and perhaps even make bits up to make themselves look interesting, cool, whatever. Honeydew, the escort girl, opens the book. To my mind she is out of the noir genre, a bit like one of the characters from the film Sin City. She is all persona, but there is a real person behind that persona. Magnus takes over in chapter 2 and he presents a world a bit more ‘true crime’, London villain stylee. Chapter three reads more like espionage-cum-technothriller, and so on. You might find you need to feel your way into the story, but by a quarter of the way in the picture should start to reveal itself and build towards the pay-off for the reader. It was written to entertain, in terms of both humour and aesthetics, so I sincerely hope anyone that buys it thoroughly enjoys reading it, as a reward for supporting the little guy.

As a final reminder, here, again, is the cover blurb:

‘A fatal legal misunderstanding leads to human embryos being destroyed. The headlines scream: “Rhadamanthus – The Judge of the Dead”. Devastated donor Afro Eccleston smells a rat and resolves to bring down the judge. The security services are onto her but Lucky Jim Ridgewell has an Achilles heel: escort girl Honeydew, linked to East London organised crime. Online auction fraudster Magnus Gilzean has been grassed up, but there is a curious observer in court. If Afro can circle the connections she will set off a carousel of revenge only one can win…’

Over to you, dear reader…


The Judge of the Dead now just a few weeks away (touch wood)

Today I got CreateSpace to send me a proof of The Judge of the Dead. Supposedly it will arrive Wednesday. I doubt the cover will cut the mustard. More of that later. That’s now the only doubt I have over publishing on my intended date of 11 August. If I can pull the trigger before then it could be even earlier.

I did manage to get the cover done before the 4th July deadline but of course it wasn’t hassle-free, me not being an Adobe dude. I couldn’t work out how to export the cover as a single-page pdf; it kept saving it as 3 files: back cover, spine, front cover. Fortunately Bob Levine on the Adobe forums came to the rescue. There’s an option on one of the menus to save as a ‘spread’. I uploaded the file to CS and it was accepted. Job done.

A couple of people on the CreateSpace forums are similarly helpful, namely ‘Walton’ and ‘Lighthouse24’. They seem to operate as a deadly duo, fighting incompetence on every street corner in CreateSpace City. I had a horrendous time using the CreateSpace pre-formatted Word templates, which I’m sure had some kind of hidden section break messing up all the formatting. Anyway, eventually I abandoned the template, building up replicas using the same settings on blank documents, eventually producing my front matter (title page, copyright page, dedication, blank pages where appropriate e.g. to keep page 1 of the manuscript as a recto page, not verso). Word for Mac 2008 was creating multiple pdfs but Lighthouse24 came to the rescue, advising that multiple pdfs could be merged together using certain software. For me that meant Preview on my MacBook. Sure enough, with the help of one of those invaluable webpages you somehow just seem to sniff out (see link below – only useful for people running ‘big cats’ OSX on older Macs)…

…I managed to merge my front matter, back matter, and 331-page manuscript into a 338-page pdf ready for upload to CreateSpace. It was accepted. Job done. Not quite.

It’s reasonable to expect to go through one last time looking at punctuation, re-running spellcheck, that sort of thing, but when I started all this I never really expected to learn about type-setting. I had read a blog post from a woman who claimed to have gone through her manuscript and made little rewrites where there was too much space between words. I dismissed it at the time, thinking it was just nuts to be doing that, but when I came to my finalfinalfinalfinal read-through, I noticed that Word does vary the space between words as a result of justifying text to the left and right margins. Having already spent almost a week going through the MS expanding or condensing the spacing on pages and paragraphs by as little as 0.1 points, I was really not enamoured with the idea of doing another major exercise to combat wide gaps between words, but it is obvious at times (even more so when you are aware of the issue, like you are now) so I decided if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly…

I spent a couple of days fixing this up as best I could. There is a secret to it, and here it is…

A line of text is likely to have wider gaps the longer the first word is on the following line. For example, if the first word on the following line is ‘unambitious’, that’s an 11-character word that the first line can’t host without it rolling onto the next line. If the first line had space at the end for a 3- or 4-letter word, the gaps between words on that line might not look that bad, as Word only has to spread out the shortfall of 3 or 4 letters’ worth of space over the rest of the line. However, if the first line could have hosted a 9-letter word, say ‘ambitious’, but can’t fit in ‘unambitious’, that’s a lot of space to spread out over the rest of the line; the gaps between words will be pretty obvious.

I decided that I would review any line of text that began with a word 10 or more letters long, in conjunction with the preceding line. There is really no option but to rewrite sentences, so I did, substituting a longer word for a shorter, or vice versa, or rewrote phrases, or even entire sentences. When doing this is it is important not to change the number of lines in the paragraph, because that risks creating new widows and orphans, thus the prospect of having to go through the entire MS all over again doing another sweep for widows and orphans: a nightmare scenario. Anyway, I would say there were 1-4 rewrites per chapter, which over 25 chapters means less than 100 minor rewrites. It’s not too bad; it just feels like the tail wagging the dog, having to edit the manuscript due to type-setting issues. The blank spaces control which words I can write. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Looking at it positively, that’s up to 100 sentences that I had the chance to tighten up before the book hits the shelves. That’s the way to think about it.

Of course the >10-letter word cut-off means I didn’t catch the 9-letter worders, or the 8-letter ones, but there’s only so much you can realistically do. The type-setting might look a bit odd from time to time but it shouldn’t take over the writing process.

That still wasn’t the end. The fly in the ointment was that my CreateSpace manuscript was different to my ebook one. I had tried to adjust both in real-time by juxtaposing the two files, but inevitably I missed a few adjustments so had to go through the two files trying to identify where they were different.

Finally I ended up with two files containing exactly the same story, word for word, even if the formats are different depending on the requirements of CreateSpace or KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). I converted them to pdfs with my new pdf wizard’s spells, loaded them to the relevant Amazon websites, and got the thumbs up. My interior files are done. That’s it. No more.

My only concern now is the paperback cover. I had a message back from CS saying it could be printed, but that some part of the image was at a resolution of less than the recommended 300 dpi (dots per inch), thus it could be blurry or pixellated. Blurry should be fine, even possibly quite cool. Pixellated would be dreadful, and require re-designing the cover, at which point I would just scream and hand it over, with some money, to someone else to do. I’ve really had enough with messing around with graphic design programs. Not my bag.

I could do the big ‘cover reveal’ thing, get some marketing energy going, but I don’t want to jinx it. I’ll wait for the proof to come in the post. If the cover’s okay, it’ll be time to set the publishing date, set the price, make it available for pre-order, and start the fanfares. What I really want to start talking about on here is characters, plot, themes, the writing, not publishing mechanics and lists of problems encountered and how they were resolved. But I said months ago when I started this blog that it would be altruistic to an extent, logging the journey so that others that follow might have some materials to help them light their own way. That altruistic element has probably just come to an end. I feel like Doctor Frankenstein, spending months explaining how I built my monster. You’re probably not interested. You just want to see the bloody thing. Hopefully in the next 24 days I can unleash him on an unsuspecting world…

Draft blurb for The Judge of the Dead (the deadlines are coming thick and fast now)

I’m shattered after one ‘interior file’ (~manuscript) formatting problem after another, which I’m not going into. Time is of the essence. i want to finish my (paperback) cover for CreateSpace by Friday night so it’s back to fiddling about with InDesign tomorrow. Oh joy.

I’ve looked at the blurbs (back cover blarney) of a handful of books and while the variation in word count can be huge, a popular range is 90-100 words. That’s what I’ve targeted.

Without further ado, here is my draft. It won’t be draft for longer than 48 hours, max. If anyone out there has any strong opinion about it, positive or especially negative, speak now or forever hold your peace.

‘A fatal legal misunderstanding leads to human embryos being destroyed. The headlines scream: “Rhadamanthus – The Judge of the Dead”. Devastated donor Afro Eccleston smells a rat and resolves to bring the judge down. The security services are onto her but Lucky Jim Ridgewell has an Achilles heel: escort girl Honeydew, linked to East London organised crime. E-auction fraudster Magnus Gilzean has been grassed up, but there is a curious observer at his trial. If Afro can circle the connections she will set off a carousel of revenge only one can win…’

A roller-coaster week – formatting my MS for CreateSpace

This has been a real week of ups and downs, but at least I haven’t done an Alton Towers. It’s been a cycle of problem identification, solution, exaltation, smug complacency, and problem identification…

A real psychological barrier was overcome when I justified the text to both left and right margins. At the touch of a button  (or many touches, as thinking about it I may have done it chapter by chapter, even section by section) the manuscript suddenly looked like a novel, all evenly aligned along the right margins. I take back what I said on the previous post about not caring about indentations to the right margin. It looks a whole lot cleaner when justified.

At this stage I thought I was well on the way toward my target of having a finished document that I could load onto the CreateSpace website today. Ah.

Hoping to avoid potential problems with document size and formatting I downloaded a Word template 8in by 5in (paperback size) and dumped my MS into it. Easy. Nope. There were the page numbers, sitting there at the foot of the pages, right in front of my eyes. But when I went to print preview they’d gone. Except sometimes when I went to print preview they were there. Glitchy software. I messed about for hours with the settings and then decided to try to create a pdf. It fell over at page 3. At this point I decided to abandon the template and create a new blank file, mirroring the template’s margin/header/footer/etc settings but NOT using the template’s section breaks as I suspect it was these causing at least part of the problem. I decided the missing page numbers and pdf fallover could be a Mac-Windows thing so asked my stepdad to see if he could do it on his Windows machine. Yes, the page numbers were there and it dumped the whole MS into a pdf with no problem. I’m hoping this problem is now gone, as long as I go to the library and use one of their Windows machines to create my pdf. Anyone reading this who wants to make their own pdf for CreateSpace, I would avoid Word for Mac 2008 like the plague. I would also be very wary about using CreateSpace’s templates unless you are absolutely comfortable with inserting and deleting section breaks, as this seems to screw the formatting up.

At this stage I decided to hope for the best and press on, with the aim of eradicating widows and orphans, those single lines at the top or bottom of a page caused by paragraphs not magically ending or starting pages. Two lines of text seems to be acceptable but not one.

A couple of net resources proved useful. The CreateSpace community forum heavily features someone called Walton (Mendelson), clearly passionate and knowledgeable about all things print setting related. His Build Your Book pdf should be easy enough to find, although some of his answers on CS can be overly complex for those who just want a simple question answered simply.

Another useful source was a document produced by (someone at?) Tufts Uni in the US. Here it is (my alias):


That document explains how to get rid of these single lines by condensing or expanding the space between characters, down to 0.1 points (to give some idea of that scale my line height is set to 15 points). It doesn’t sound much but is very effective. However it is time-consuming. I reckon it took me about 1.5 days to finish my MS.

I say finish. Re-setting many areas of text means all the punctuation has moved around, so the original sweep through looking for colons and semi-colons at the end of lines (frowned upon) had to be reprised. I also took the opportunity to go back through and look at my treatment of dashes and hyphens, and colons and semi-colons, to see if sometimes just a comma would suffice. I also put in the old ‘* * *’ asterisms (I think they’re called?), used to denote section breaks on the last or first line of a page. I’m not sure how acceptable these are on first lines, but I think I’ll run with them. I can find them in novels. In fact, dispiritingly, I can find quite a few widows and orphans in novels too, so maybe I should have left these as they were. Still, I’ve started so I’ll finish…

That’s where I got to as of Friday night. I was looking in a really good position, but then started to have doubts about my condensing and expanding of text. Without thinking, I’d paired up pages 1 & 2, 3 & 4 etc, when in fact page 1 will be on the right on its own, and the first (double-page) ‘spread’ will be pages 2 & 3. Well I hadn’t written down what I’d done page by page so I started going through from the beginning again. Sometimes I’d condensed on one page but expanded on the other, sometimes by up to 0.3 points (+/-). I lost confidence and decided that, unless it was critical, 0.1 (+/-) should be the max adjustment. So it was that yesterday afternoon I began the exercise all over again. If I couldn’t use the spacing method I would simply make little rewrites, to add words to force a line into the next, or remove words until a line disappeared. Adding is harder. Removing is easy enough. Even in a heavily edited manuscript you can find a word or two of fluff to get rid of, or use a shorter word for a longer one.

So that’s where I am right now, 2/3rds of the way through what will hopefully be the (almost) last piece of editing-formatting. I won’t get it done tonight so will run into tomorrow. I really need to get it done and dusted in the next few days as I want to finish my paperback cover by next weekend, when I go on holiday. In order to finish the cover I need the spine width, and I won’t be able to calculate that until I know the number of pages, which I won’t know until I’ve finished the editing-formatting process.

A big week lies ahead. Better get back to it…

Readier, and Eddie R

After not getting a response from a certain record company, despite a second request for permission to use some song lyrics, I’ve had to rewrite one of my chapters. You’d think a small independent label would be only too pleased of some free publicity but apparently not. So, sod ’em. I’ll leave the name of the band in as it’s not their fault their permissions man CBA to respond to my mails.

It was only a 110-word rewrite but not having touched the chapter for a few years it was weird, and a little unnerving, getting the pen out again. I’m a great believer that a writer gets on a roll, that it just flows, and that once a particular creative episode has ended it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to bring it back to life. I’d compare it to waking up during a nice dream, and trying to go back to sleep again so you can pick up where you left off.

That said, the little voice in my head, the one I thought I’d got rid of, reminded me of a couple of sub-plots that it wasn’t entirely happy with. Several of the chapters have multiple time-shifts, jumping back years, jumping forward again, and it’s important to get these right. It sounds easy enough, but it’s actually quite a hard skill to master. Films tend to use captions that say things like ‘Seven years earlier’, ‘fifteen years later’, or whatever, but it’s harder to pull off these shifts in prose. That, allied to the sub-plot not being quite right, and I knew I needed to look at it again. Fortunately, after a couple of hours of 228-word rewrite I’m happy that one of the last nagging doubts has been removed. I’m readier. Almost ready to roll.

On a completely different note, I usually couldn’t give a monkeys about the Oscars, I find the whole thing a bit nauseating and narcissistic, but as much as you can be pleased for someone you’ve never met, I was pleased to learn Eddie Redmayne had done the business yesterday evening. If you could tell how nice a person was just from looking at their face, and I’m quite sure you can’t, then I reckon Eddie R would be a pretty top bloke. I’ve not seen the film, and don’t intend to, but his performance opposite Clémence Poésy in Sebastian Foulks’ <i>Birdsong</i> was outstanding. I rarely eulogise over such things so that really is praise indeed coming from me. Out of all the films I’ve ever seen, the on-screen chemistry between Redmayne and Poésy was, to use a cliché, electric. Actually I’m not sure you can have electric chemistry, that seems to be conflating two sciences, but you know what I mean. I’d go as far as saying it’s the only time I’ve ever watched a film and believed that the actor and the actress were in love with each other. Maybe they were. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must-watch.

Praying for the Tory/UKIP dream ticket

Four years ago or so, a few chapters into my twenty-five chapter novel I foolishly predicted another hung parliament in the 2015 general election, with the Tories being coalesced – that might be a euphemism – by UKIP. As predictions go, I have to say it’s looking rather ‘good’ at the moment, but it could still all go wrong. If it does, I’ll have to rewrite the chapter, and then do a painstaking search through the rest of the manuscript to check for possible continuity errors. That would be a bit of pain in the backside to say the least, so I’m praying for a Tory/UKIP dream ticket come May.

If that means coming out of the EU, probably permanently damaging our economy; if that means picking/processing/packing labour shortages driving up the price of our home-grown crops; if that means kicking out lots of perfectly nice people including my old French mates in London, and my sweet Slovakian friend from uni…so be it. For no more rewrites, it’s a price worth paying.

If that means supporting the meanest nastiest domestic policies since 1930s Germany, including withdrawing benefits from obese people simply for being, well, a bit on the fat side; if that means painting ‘Pizza Night’ on the windows of these chubby new Jews where once others may have painted ‘Kristallnacht’…so be it. For no more rewrites, it’s a price worth paying.

Of course that might sound rather selfish on my part, and you could point out that phobia of people from mainland Europe is at best irrational, at worst racist. You could point out that if Mrs Thatch hadn’t sold off all the council houses in the 80s, then local councils would be able to place people in low cost housing instead of bed and breakfasts, thereby saving tens of billions of pounds on the benefits bill and perhaps avoiding the apparent ‘need’ to stigmatise the disabled, the obese, and whoever else is next on the hit-list, for having homes, or waistlines, or whatevers, that are ‘too big’. But proffering such apparently rational points of view would be to fail to understand the seriousness of the nightmare that I sit here facing right now. I achieved psychological closure on my novel over a year ago. I wrote ‘THE END’. There was not supposed to be any going back to the files on my hard drive and changing stuff.

So, for no more rewrites, when push comes to shove in May I’m praying for the Tory/UKIP dream ticket.

New year, new career, new ideas

Three months without posting anything on WordPress probably began with a bit of frustration at the sheer size of the blogosphere, the amount of stuff to wade through before you find what you want, but doubtless it was also due to concentrating on the final module of my degree, which I will wrap up in June. The first tentative steps toward a career change back in the autumn have rapidly moved on to a firm offer of a training place as a secondary school English teacher from September, so it’s new year, new career, all being well.

As part of my presentation to the interview panel I condensed four chapters of Pride and Prejudice into a single tweet, in modern colloquial language, and it seemed to go down well. It’s rewarding to get the thumbs up for any creative effort, however small. I know I’d get a kick out of trying to bring some new ideas into the classroom.

All this has meant the supposed launch date of The Judge of the Dead is going to have to be shifted back by a season, so summer instead of spring. The spring date was arbitrary anyway, six months from my 4th October decision to publish, to give me time to work the internet to my advantage; something I’ve singularly failed to do so far. I’m not really convinced about the efficacy of blogging, doing reviews on Goodreads etc, but I’ll gladly be proved wrong. I need to get back on the case.

I am now in the unexpected position of wondering what the school’s position might be on me publishing a novel. On the face of it you might think they’d be all for it, but it’s a crime novel so there are naughty characters in naughty places spouting naughty language, taking naughty substances, doing naughty man-WOHman stuff. Is that the sort of material parents and governors are going to be pleased to be associated with? Probably not.

Of course this would only matter if my novel entered the public consciousness to any great extent, and I’m well aware that the odds are stacked against me in that regard, but I’ll still need to have the conversation with the school, just in case.

The obvious thing to do is use a nom de plume, but show me a writer who claims not to be bothered about putting their name to their creation and I’ll show you a liar. If Charlotte Bronte were alive today, would she be hiding behind the name Currer Bell? I doubt it. Still, I need to consider the pen name option, unappealing as it is. If I did go down that road, that would kill off any likelihood of me spending any money on the cover. If it’s not going to have my real name on it, what’s the point? I can think of better ways of spending a few hundred quid. I suspect for most self-published authors, the person designing the cover makes more money than the writer. Doesn’t sit right with me that; not unless I can get Dscreet to do the artwork. His owls get a mention in The Judge of the Dead, but I don’t think that’ll qualify me for a freebie cover somehow.

[Edited for tags. I always forget the bloody things, but I like the idea that just by tagging the word ‘owls’ someone with no interest in crime fiction might be drawn into my lair. Sorry once again if anyone gets this twice as a result of my memory slowly disappearing through its sieve.]