Why I don‘t rely on Amazon (Pt XXIII)

(Actually the Pt XIII is probably an underestimate)

My latest book is published in three editions: hardback with a dustcover, paperback, and ebook. None of these editions was produced through KDP, and each has my own imprint (j-views Publishing) and ISBN assigned to me.

Why did I do everything through IngramSpark?

Typically in the past I have used IngramSpark (IS) for print editions, using InDesign as my interior formatter, and a mixture of Illustrator and Photoshop for the covers, using the IS templates to position the design elements correctly. Ebooks were a matter of exporting the InDesign text to DOCX format and then running the file through Vellum, a foolproof way of producing good high-quality ebooks from Word files (even if the formatting choices are a bit limited). EPUBs went to Smashwords for most ebooks (Apple, Kobo, etc.) and KDP for Kindle. A number of reasons for the change:

  1. IS has dropped the price of production for print and ebook editions to zero. It was never that expensive to start with, but zero is a nice round figure. Makes accounting simpler as well.
  2. I upgraded my computer recently, allowing me to use the latest version of InDesign. This allows for much better EPUB export, allowing me to use the same file for all editions, and keep the text in sync (InDesign also includes a conditional text feature, which makes it easy to maintain different editions in one file).
  3. Amazon now want an EPUB as the input to create their Kindle files. Need I say that Amazon’s rendering of EPUB files in Kindle is primitive and lags behind others (Apple, Kobo, etc.). This meant going in with Calibre and doing tweaks galore to the rather over-engineered files from InDesign.

The hardcover was a labour of love – I really didn’t expect to sell that many, but it went on sale on 1 October and it’s had a few buyers. I have set the release date for the ebook to 15 October, and for the paperback to 1 November.

And now…

Here’s how Barnes and Noble show it. All well and good. Correct release dates are being shown. Now let’s look at Amazon (US):

Amazon, on the other hand:

  • seems unable to find the front cover for the hardcover edition
  • the Kindle edition is not linked to the printed editions

But of course, in authorcentral, the story is completely different:

All right, I’ll give them 72 hours to try and get things right. But if B&N, who don’t pretend to be a technology company, can manage it, why can’t Amazon?

But when you look at this sort of thing, you have to question Amazon’s ability to compensate authors with the correct amount for their sales. When the two different parts of Amazon are clearly unable to talk to each other, you have to wonder.

Rodney Stone – Arthur Conan Doyle – REVIEW

I was lucky enough to find a first edition (1896) for sale in a shop near here. In pretty good condition, other than a replaced spine. Lots of Sidney Paget illustrations, and a few advertisement pages remaining uncut.

I don’t buy first editions simply because they’re first editions, though – I read them. And so I sat down and read this one – it’s an easy read – and found myself amused in places and annoyed in others.

In many ways, it’s pretty typical Conan Doyle. There’s a rather convoluted plot (some of which I had guessed before the end), a healthy dose of jingoism centred around the Royal Navy (this is set in Nelson’s time, and Nelson himself makes an appearance), and a good deal of technical period slang connected with boxing and “the Fancy”.

The narrator describes himself as merely the “thin and colourless cord” on which his pearls of others’ adventures are strung. There is an undercurrent of homoeroticism in some of the descriptions of the bareknuckle boxers, but then “manly beauty” was very much a thing of Doyle’s age.

Here’s the part where he talks about his sources (love the typeface, by the way). He seems to have been quite a serious researcher when it comes to historical detail (note the Ashton in the sources – not, as far as I am aware, an ancestor).

However, Doyle had a sense of humour. It surfaces occasionally in the Sherlock Holmes adventures, and bubbles its way through the Brigadier Gerard adventures. Here, it comes to the fore in the person of the narrator’s uncle, Sir Charles Tregallis, the leader of London dandyism and foppery.

“You number yourself in an illustrious company by dipping your finger and thumb into it,”said he.

“Indeed, sir ! said my father, shortly.

You are free of my box, as being a relative by marriage. You are free also, nephew, and I pray you to take a pinch. It is the most intimate sign of my good will. Outside ourselves there are four, I think, who have had access to it – the Prince, of course; Mr. Pitt; Monsieur Otto, the French Ambassador; and Lord Hawkesbury. I have sometimes thought that I was premature with Lord Hawkesbury.”

“I am vastly honoured, sir,” said my father, looking suspiciously at his guest from under his shaggy eyebrows, for with that grave face and those twinkling eyes it was hard to know how to take him.

“A woman, sir, has her love to bestow,” said my uncle. “A man has his snuff-box. Neither is to be lightly offered. It is a lapse of taste; nay, more, it is a breach of morals. Only the other day, as I was seated in Watier’s, my box of prime macouba open upon the table beside me, an Irish bishop thrust in his intrusive fingers. ‘Waiter,’ I cried, ‘my box has been soiled ! Remove it ! ‘The man meant no insult, you understand, but that class of people must be · kept in their proper sphere.

“A bishop ! ” cried my father. “You draw your line very high, sir.”

“Yes, sir,” said my uncle ; ” I wish no better epitaph upon my tombstone.”

Doyle makes this uncle to be a figure of fun, but as a man who is aware of his own ridiculousness, and who is capable of laughing at himself at times, and showing a side of sentimentality, and even commonsense at times.

I won’t claim this is an unjustly neglected masterpiece, but it is definitely an enjoyable light read, and shines a little more light on Sir Arthur.

I become a conceptual artist

(with a little help from my friends)

It struck me that some of the psychobabble that accompanies much conceptual art would be a prime target for Chat GPT. And so it proved to be:

Write the artist’s explanation for a catalogue of a piece of art consisting of three cucumbers in a flower vase standing on top of a harpsichord and entitled “Sonata in Salad minor”

Within the realms of artistic expression, I sought to explore the captivating interplay between everyday objects and the music that resonates within our souls. “Sonata in Salad Minor” stands as a testament to the fusion of visual and auditory sensations, a symphony of form and sound that invites contemplation and delight.

This enigmatic composition revolves around the humble cucumber, an emblem of freshness and vitality, carefully arranged within a delicate flower vase. The three cucumbers, slender and gracefully curving, evoke a sense of harmony and balance, akin to the three movements of a sonata. They symbolize the interconnectedness of nature’s bounty and the rhythm that orchestrates our existence.

Perched atop a grand harpsichord, an instrument of exquisite craftsmanship, the cucumbers take on an elevated significance. The harpsichord, with its intricate design and rich historical legacy, represents the timeless beauty of music and its ability to transport us to realms beyond the physical.

The juxtaposition of the cucumbers and the harpsichord invites us to explore the dialogue between the visual and the auditory. Each cucumber becomes a note on a sheet of music, resonating with a crisp and refreshing tone, while the harpsichord serves as the conductor, guiding their melodies and harmonies. Through this marriage of organic simplicity and refined elegance, a unique melody unfolds, giving birth to the “Sonata in Salad Minor.”

This composition challenges conventional notions of art, urging the viewer to transcend the boundaries of perception and embrace the subtle connections between the tangible and the intangible. It calls upon us to perceive the world around us as a symphony, where even the most ordinary objects possess the potential for extraordinary beauty.

As you engage with “Sonata in Salad Minor,” immerse yourself in the serenade of the cucumbers, feel the vibrations of their verdant rhythm, and allow the harmonious interplay between visual aesthetics and musicality to weave its enchantment. Experience the transcendence of boundaries, the harmony of disparate elements, and the celebration of life’s inherent symphony that resounds through this unconventional masterpiece. May this visual and auditory duet serve as a reminder that art has no limits, and that even the most unexpected combinations can yield beauty and harmony for those willing to embrace them.

And then I asked, what would the New York Times art critic make of this?

Hugo Lombardis’ ‘Sonata in Salad Minor’: A Harmonious Fusion of Visual and Auditory Delights

In a masterful display of artistic ingenuity, Hugo Lombardis unveils his latest masterpiece, “Sonata in Salad Minor,” a composition that transcends traditional boundaries and beckons viewers into a realm where visual and auditory sensations intertwine. Lombardis’ bold exploration of the ordinary and the extraordinary comes alive in this captivating arrangement of three cucumbers in a flower vase atop a grand harpsichord.

Lombardis’ artistic vision is nothing short of extraordinary, as he skillfully crafts a symphony of form and sound, weaving together the most unlikely elements into a harmonious whole. The three cucumbers, elegantly arranged in the vase, stand as testament to the artist’s ability to infuse simplicity with profound meaning. Their slender curves and vibrant green hues elicit a sense of freshness and vitality, mirroring the organic beauty found in nature’s bounty.

Perched atop the grand harpsichord, an instrument of unparalleled elegance and historical significance, the cucumbers take on a newfound resonance. Lombardis draws upon the inherent musicality of the harpsichord, invoking its rich legacy and the melodies it has birthed throughout the ages. The artist presents the cucumbers as musical notes, evoking a visual symphony that seems to emanate from the strings of the instrument itself.

In “Sonata in Salad Minor,” Lombardis beckons viewers to embrace the dialogue between the visual and the auditory. The cucumbers’ form becomes a melody, their contours dancing across the canvas of the mind, while the harpsichord serves as the conductor, guiding their harmonic progression. The result is a sensory experience that transcends the boundaries of perception, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the serenade of organic simplicity and refined elegance.

Lombardis’ composition challenges our preconceived notions of art, urging us to embrace the unexpected and find beauty in the most ordinary of objects. Through “Sonata in Salad Minor,” he invites us to reevaluate our understanding of the world and its inherent artistic potential. The piece serves as a reminder that even the most humble ingredients of our lives can be transformed into profound sources of inspiration.

In encountering Lombardis’ work, one cannot help but be captivated by the interplay of colors, textures, and sounds. The “Sonata in Salad Minor” resonates with a quiet intensity, encouraging viewers to contemplate the harmonious balance between simplicity and complexity. It is an invitation to perceive the world as a symphony, where each element possesses the potential to contribute to a greater whole.

Hugo Lombardis’ “Sonata in Salad Minor” stands as a testament to the artist’s unrivaled creativity and his ability to blur the boundaries between art forms. This extraordinary fusion of visual and auditory delights invites us to listen with our eyes and see with our ears, reminding us of the boundless possibilities that exist when we open ourselves to the unexpected. Through this captivating piece, Lombardis reaffirms his place among the most innovative artists of our time, leaving an indelible mark on the art world and inspiring us all to embrace the transformative power of art.

And one more for luck

Write the catalogue entry for a piece of art consisting of a violin stuffed full of popcorn, entitled “Vivace ma non troppo”

Artwork: “Vivace ma non troppo” Artist: Hugo Lombardis

In this intriguing and whimsical composition, Hugo Lombardis presents us with “Vivace ma non troppo,” a thought-provoking piece that merges the familiar elegance of a violin with the unexpected abundance of popcorn. This unconventional creation challenges our perceptions and invites us to explore the interplay between music, texture, and the ephemeral nature of our desires.

At the heart of the artwork lies a beautifully crafted violin, an instrument renowned for its capacity to evoke emotions and transcend boundaries. Yet, instead of the expected strings and bow, the body of the violin is filled to the brim with a cascade of fluffy, white popcorn. The juxtaposition of the classical instrument and the everyday snack captures our attention, urging us to delve deeper into its symbolic meaning.

“Vivace ma non troppo” not only tantalizes the visual senses but also beckons us to consider the audible and tactile dimensions of art. The violin, with its rich history and association with music, embodies the harmonies and melodies that resonate within our souls. In this piece, the popcorn becomes an unconventional orchestra, its individual kernels representing musical notes ready to burst forth in a symphony of sound and texture.

The title, “Vivace ma non troppo,” which translates to “lively but not too much,” further emphasizes the artist’s intention. The juxtaposition of the violin’s classical elegance with the casual nature of popcorn prompts contemplation on the balance between the refined and the mundane. It suggests that, while life may present us with contrasting elements, there is beauty in embracing the unexpected and finding harmony in the most unlikely places.

Through “Vivace ma non troppo,” Lombardis invites viewers to reflect on their own relationship with art and the boundaries they perceive within artistic expression. The piece encourages us to question conventional expectations and to discover new meanings by challenging the limits of our imagination.

By incorporating popcorn into the violin, Lombardis provokes a sensory experience that stimulates multiple facets of our perception. We are encouraged to consider the crackling sound of the popcorn, the soft texture beneath our fingertips, and the unique aroma that pervades the space. This multisensory encounter invites us to embrace the ephemeral nature of art, as the popcorn serves as a reminder of the fleeting moments of delight that can be found in the simplest of experiences.

“Vivace ma non troppo” stands as a testament to Hugo Lombardis’ artistic prowess and innovative approach. Through this captivating composition, the artist challenges the boundaries of traditional art forms and invites us to explore the harmonious coexistence of contrasting elements. As we engage with this thought-provoking piece, we are prompted to consider the symphony of life and the beauty that emerges when we embrace the unexpected.

Johnson at 10 – Seldon & Newell: REVIEW

Quite a monster of a book – I bought it as an ebook, which in fact is probably the best way to read it. The index is well-constructed, and it’s easy to use the search function. There’s a lot in it, and this review concentrates more on Johnson’s character as revealed in the book than on his relationships with other members of his party, with his attitude to Brexit, and the details of his actions and reactions to the Covid pandemic.

I suppose everyone reading this book comes with a preconceived opinion of Johnson. Mine is typical, I suppose, of many, seeing Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as a lazy narcissist, with sociopathic tendencies. The view expressed in this book, based on interviews and contemporaneous documents, is a little more sympathetic. There’s a lot to read, not only about Johnson, but also about the other big beasts in the Tories, some of whom are still with us, and also about Johnson’s ally, and in many ways, his nemesis, Dominic Cummings, who comes over as more sensible (though just as dislikable as a person) than his Spitting Image caricature.

Though Johnson likes to compare himself to Winston Churchill, Seldon sees him as being much more similar to Lloyd George, likewise a notorious philanderer and populist, who swayed with the prevailing political wind.

From reading the book, it seems that Johnson’s main aim in life is to be liked, together with a disregard for truth that borders on the pathological. Couple that with an almost complete ignorance of the functions and utility of the various aspects of the organisations that help the Prime Minister’s office (civil service, Cabinet, Parliament), and you have a premiership which is destined for disaster.

As a child, Johnson famously wrote that he wanted to be “king of the world”, and that indeed is the way in which he wished to be Prime Minister – as an absolute monarch, ruling by whim, dispensing favours, and building monuments to himself.

His propensity for self-promotion through large projects was noticeable in his Mayoralty of London – the ill-fated ”Garden Bridge” and his island airport schemes, for example. The 2012 Olympics was an exception, but this event rested as much on the hard work done by others as it did on Johnson’s efforts.

As PM, he was largely responsible for the continuation of the over-budget and already obsolete HS2 line (albeit in abbreviated form), as well as the promotion of totally impractical projects such as the Northern Ireland bridge.

Indeed, this obsession with self-promotion led him to believe that the 2019 election result was the result of his own charm and charisma and popularity, ignoring the roles of Nigel Farage, who had paved the way for the Brexit fanatics to take over the steering wheel of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, who had been demonised by the right-wing press as a Marxist monster. Naturally, the image of the jolly, bumbling, tousle-headed Eton toff with a taste for Latin phrases, who nonetheless was “one of us” helped, but Johnson was keen to believe that the victory was his alone.

Since he had no knowledge of how a Cabinet operated, and had no wish to involve others in decision-making at any serious level, his Cabinet appointments, following his purge of the Conservative Party, were a rump of mediocrities and ideologues (sometimes both at the same time, such as Braverman or Rees-Mogg). His ongoing relationship with Gove, who comes over in this book as almost the only surviving Tory with any brains, is complex, and perhaps beyond the scope of this brief review.

And, while Johnson had wide-ranging ideas as to what should be his legacy (reform of social care, etc.), he could not be bothered to think about the details of what these reforms would be, let along how they were to be achieved. In fact, the refusal to examine detail and to comprehend the issues confronting him in any depth runs through his premiership.

His desire to please everyone, together with a disregard for honesty and truth, and a refusal to confront the details of issues, could lead him to give three different answers to the same question on any given day, depending on the questioner, and to deny on the following day that he had given these answers.

It’s hard to imagine almost any other senior politician doing as badly as Johnson when faced with the Covid crises. Seldon does however give him credit for his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which gave him his opportunity to do his Churchill impression on the world stage, and to make relatively simple decisions on black-and-white issues.

Overall, though, the impression that can be taken away from this book is that Johnson should never have become leader of the Conservative Party, still less Prime Minister. His character flaws make him totally unsuitable to hold any public office other than a ceremonial one such as the Mayor of London, where he was able to assemble a team of competent underlings to put his ideas into practice.

After reading this book, it is unbelievable to me that anyone can seriously still support this man as the political leader of the UK.

Why does art seem like a good investment?

It seems that the price for fine art continues to soar, with even relatively minor works by lesser-known names fetching ridiculously (“eye-watering” is the phrase du jour) prices. Buying a work of art now seems like a solid investment for the future – prices can only go up, can’t they?

When it comes to the bigger names in the art world, the prices get even more insane. I’ve just been looking at the catalogue of a Christie’s sale of contemporary art (not that I have any intention of buying any of this, but just to see what’s going on).

There’s a rather nice Hockney chalk drawing dating from the 1970s (I’m not reproducing it here for copyright reasons). It’s 65 x 50 cm – decent size, on good paper. Estimate at £300,000 to £500,000. It’s pleasant, I could certainly live with it on my wall, but not at that price (even if I had that sort of money to spare). But why is it so expensive?

I think that the clue lies in the details of the provenance supplied by the auction house:

M. Knoedler & Co, New York.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 5 May 1987, lot 227A.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Private Collection, London.
Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2017).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Every time that the painting changes hands, it will go up in price (not necessarily in value, though, as I try to explain below). One reason is the commission that you pay as a seller, and another is the commission (and taxes) that you pay as a seller. For example, if I were to go mad, and spend £400,000 on this rather nice drawing, the estimated buyer’s premium (according to Christie’s) would be £104,000. That means a cool half-million for this little beauty.

Now, if I fall on hard times and decide that I want to recoup my costs, this thing has got to sell for the same amount (plus seller’s commission). Seller’s and buyer’s commission? Indeed so:

…a single Seller’s Commission rate for the services we provide. The commission is calculated on each item as a fixed percentage based on the eventual hammer price at auction. This rate includes marketing costs and insurance cover (except for Wine sales, where marketing and insurance are charged separately). If your item sells for over the high estimate we agree with you, there will also be an additional 2% Performance Commission fee.

You may also be charged for other external services such as shipping, restoration and framing, but these will be discussed and agreed with you beforehand. VAT (value-added tax) or applicable duties or taxes may be due on such fees based on the jurisdiction of the auction site.

and the poor soul who next falls in love with Hockney’s Celia is going to have to spend considerably more than the £500,000 I spent if I am to recoup my costs.

Does this mean that the Hockney in five years’ time will be worth more than I paid for it? Hardly – what it means is that Christie’s/Sotheby’s/Bonham’s/whoever are doing very nicely, thank you. And when you do this kind of calculation, and couple it to the greed and pride of the art collection world, you can quite understand how a rather small Lucian Freud oil (50 x 70 cm) can attract an estimate of between £3.5m and £5m.

What’s the answer? It would seem that avoiding the big names and the big auction houses is the first step for those of us who enjoy original art but can’t afford these prices (that is, 99% of art lovers). Of course, there are always the museums.

Here’s one I did earlier…

In 2012, I wrote a story for the benefit of a young lad who was going into hospital for a dreaded medical procedure. This was part of an anthology arranged by Jo, the Boss Bean of Inknbeans Press, for the son of one of her authors.

I’d forgotten all about it until now, and I recently discovered and re-read it, actually enjoying it. I’d forgotten the punchline, and it actually made me chuckle.

So… why not let the world have a look at it – for free? Here it is. Enjoy this short SF story.

“The fretful haggis”

A friend on Facebook put the attached photo and caption on his page, warning us that the haggis should be protected from the unwelcome attention by dogs.

Clearly this is a problem in some parts of Scotland, and probably has been for some time.

With that in mind, I decided that it was time that the haggis be celebrated in verse, so here we go:

The fretful haggis

Behold! the fretful haggis
Treads o'er the bonny braes
A-dreaming of fair haggis maids
Whose beauty always stays.

But if he canna find a mate
All draped aboot wi' neeps.
The haggis digs a wee dark cave
And in there rests and sleeps.

But O! the fretful haggis
Though sheltered, warm and dry.
Has great desire tae grow
Large wings, so he can fly.

Tae fly would be the haggis' dream
Above the peaty bogs
To soar wi' eagles and wi' gulls
And tantalise the dogs.

Alas! the fretful haggis
Will ne'er develop wings.
He'll end up on a dinner plate
With tatties, neeps and things.

Why is the earth flat (according to some)?

My take on flat earth and other “science” conspiracies:

These are similar to the “Nigerian bank director” or “Benin government minister” scams, where a badly spelled ungrammatical email message can gather the writer (or his bosses) thousands of pounds/dollars in income.

But how, you ask yourself, are people so stupid as to fall for this? And, strangely enough, though the rate of literacy in some developed countries is shockingly low, the kind of people falling for these scams includes some sophisticated educated people (my wife’s former boss was twice duped by these fraudsters, and was lucky to escape from Nigeria alive with the clothes he stood up in).

But typically, the poor spelling and grammar form a pons asinorum (a test of critical thinking). If you can accept that a government minister or lawyer or bank manager can write a message starting “Calvary greetings my dear!” then you may well accept the idea that he has a few million dollars in cash lying around which he is willing to share with a stranger. And from there, it all starts to go downhill (for the victim).

Flat earth, ice wall, and all the rest of it are so easily disproved, and have been for years. There never really has been a time in history when the educated classes have believed in a flat earth. So if it really is a conspiracy theory put about by the “elite”, then it’s a very long-lasting one. And to what purpose? It’s difficult on the face of it to know why the Illuminati/lizard people/NWO/whoever would want to do this. Of course, there are many on social media who make some sort of living by promoting nutcase theories and dragging others into their net (which may involve subscriptions or other sales).

However, there is one possible reason – by destroying trust in part of easily verifiable science, trust is easily destroyed in other areas. Wouldn’t it seem more plausible if there really was a conspiracy theory?

But the villains I propose are not Dr Evil or Blofeld, or even Bill Gates and the WEF – they are the enemies of free society, to be found in the Russian capital, and their goal is to disrupt the social patterns of the West. They have had two major successes so far – Trumpism and Brexit. I would be interested to know the proportion of flat earthers in Trump supporters vs others, and Leave voters vs others. It does seem to me that funding and supporting these anti-establishment unprovable conspiracies would be an excellent way to destabilise society. Of course, my conspiracy theory, like so many others, is also unprovable. Enjoy.

What have I been reading?

Like many people, I suppose, I have a pile of books by my bedside, one or two of which I am currently reading, some of which I have read, some I have part-read, and some I have the intention of reading some day.

This morning, I decided that I would take a look at the pile and make a list (in no particular order) of these books. Here we go (title capitalisation as on the spine where it is mixed or lower case):

From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow (Vol 1) Arthur Marder
Redback Howard Jacobson
Blood on the Tracks Various (anthology)
Towards the End of the Morning Michael Frayn
Jonah and Co. Dornford Yates
The Smartest Guys in the Room Bethany McLean & Peter Elkind
Thomas Cromwell Tracy Borman
In cold blood Truman Capote
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke
what if? Randall Munroe
Cover Her Face P.D.James
The Rainmaker John Grisham
The Decameron (Vol I, Folio Society edition) Boccaccio
Henry VIII : King and Court Alison Weir
The Philosopher’s Pupil Iris Murdoch
Brit Wit Various
Picture Palace Paul Theroux
Clinging to the Wreckage John Mortimer
Eats, Shoots & Leaves Lynne Truss
Strong Poison Dorothy L. Sayers
Play All (library loan) Clive James
Augustus Allan Massie
The Dunwich Horror and other stories H.P.Lovecraft
Little, Big John Crowley (this was a present – unreadable for me)
Oswald Mosley Robert Skidelsky
The Tailor of Panama John le Carré

And what have I been reading recently on my Kobo (my current read-in-progress)? American Caesar by William Manchester (a biography of Douglas MacArthur).

So make of all these what you will.

Why don’t I watch films (or TV series)?

It’s true, I don’t really watch films very often. Name a film that “everybody” has seen, and the odds will be that I haven’t seen it, and I have no wish to see it. Same with TV series – I have never seen any episodes of many series that “everyone” has seen – Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, etc.

I was asked why this was, when I read books (and write them as well!). I didn’t have an obvious answer at the time, but I think I have some answers now.

On-screen dialogue is often weaker than written

This often refers to the “film of the book”. A book can use more dialogue with a more complex structure than a film. Written dialogue in a novel is often more complex and less true to the way in which people actually talk than film or TV dialogue. This (a) provides a much deeper understanding of the character, and (b) the reader is able to revisit the conversation later on in the story to determine exactly what was meant by a character’s words.

I can put a book down and come back to it

I can’t do the same with films. Once a film has started, I become emotionally invested in it, and stopping or pausing breaks the flow. There aren’t many occasions when I have a couple of uninterrupted hours to lose myself in a film – but occasionally my wife and I will agree on something that we both want to watch all the way through. Not many of them, though.

I lose interest in films or series

With a few exceptions, series don’t hold my attention past four or five episodes. This may just be me, of course. Recently there have been a few exceptions – mostly catch-up on series I missed while I was out of the UK (I’ve subscribed to Britbox to pick up some references, though): the first series of Line of Duty; all of The Thick of It that I could find; and a lot of the first three series of Hustle. I loved the characters and the plotting of Hustle, Line of Duty because of great acting and plotting (though I’ve felt no wish to see any further series), and The Thick of It because I sort of identify with Malcolm Tucker, and I love this sort of politics. The US House of Cards and Veep didn’t do it for me, though and Borgen lost me after about two series.

There are a few others that I saw all the way through, but they tended to be based on real life situations: Inventing Anna, and Queen’s Gambit come to mind. Some time I will get round to the UK House of Cards, but I don’t really feel an urgent need to do so. And this brings me to another reason why I don’t watch films.

Films now are crap

I have zero or less than zero interest in Marvel or DC franchise films. I’ve seen two on plane journeys. That’s two too many (and one was Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange). This seems to be half of the recent Hollywood releases. The other half are remakes of older films or “movies of the book” (see below). There are exceptions to this, of course, but they’re not subjects that appeal to me from their description, though I might actually enjoy them if I was dragged in to watch them.

I can watch a series of documentaries on the SAS, but the recent fictionalisation on BBC is basically military porn. Forget it, and the majority of formulaic crime series. And I really can’t be bothered to get into 30 years of missed backstory of Doctor Who, excellent though it may be.

The BBC SHERLOCK? Loved the first series, liked the second a lot, thought the third was crap and never bothered with the fourth.

The film of the book

“If you can sit and read a book, how is that different from watching a film of the book?” There’s no comparison. Part of the joy of reading a book for me is imagining the scenes and the characters. Even if they are minutely described in the book, they never match the film versions exactly. Description is part of a book’s appeal. There is no description in a film – the scene is handed to you on a plate, and there’s no room for imagination. Dialogue (see above) is often dumbed down, and the witty lines made in passing are highlighted so that you won’t miss them.

Two exceptions to screen versions of books: The McEwan/Scales/Hawthorne Mapp and Lucia. It’s not accurate in plotting, but the characterisation is lovely, and; the Granada/Brett Sherlock Holmes, which again fools with the plots, but the characterisation is wonderful. So perhaps it’s the lack of characterisation or the lack of fidelity to the written characters on screen versions that turns me off.

Interesting exception – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – the TV series took a few liberties with the plot (how could it not?) but at the same time, actually expanded the character of Mr Norrell, and made Jonathan Strange a more rounded figure in many ways. However, the Gentleman failed to impress, and of course, the whole business of the Raven King and the massive footnotes that make the book such a joy for me were necessarily lost. Also Good Omens (see my review here).

So… I’m not stretched enough by screen adaptations, with very few exceptions. Reading a book for me is an active experience – films and TV are passive. Is this Marshall McLuhan’s “hot” and “cool” media? I think so.

Summing up

A lot of (most?) people will disagree with me on most or even all of what I am saying. However, when I say I haven’t seen such-and-such a film or TV show, there are reasons that I believe to be valid why I haven’t done so. It’s not a value judgement on the production, or even on the medium, but a personal choice.

Comments welcome.

25% off all books! (opening sale)

Lello bookstore, Portugal

Well, I’m a few months late to the party, but it  seems that Amazon has finally admitted that there is a life outside Kindle!

It’s now apparently possible to load EPUBs onto your Kindle through Amazon’s discomobulator which turns them into Amazon’s proprietary format. In fact, the Amazon ebook publishing service gave up accepting DOCs and DOCXs some time ago, and now only accepts EPUBs. I’m guessing that technology has now made it over to the consumer side of Amazon, having had the suppliers as beta testers to iron out the bugs. Here’s how you do it!

What this means for readers is that there is a vast sea of public-domain and other titles out there which are now available for reading on Amazon devices.

And for me and other authors who do their own production and sales, it means that there’s only one file that needs to go up on ebook sales pages.

So now having set up a shiny new shop, courtesy of Payhip, where my books were neatly arranged as both EPUB and MOBI, I find I really needn’t have bothered. [UPDATE – I simplified everyone’s life by only offering the EPUB]

Anyway, take a look at the store, poke around, kick the tyres, buy something if you want something to read, and get a 25% discount on everything using the coupon code 1B57WFAEZI (valid until 17 September 2022). And give me some feedback on things you liked, and things you didn’t like about it.

Another Mapp and Lucia fan

We’ve recently had a Waterstones bookshop open in our “city of philosophers” (Lichfield), and they kicked off what we all hope is going to be a series of book events with a signing by the Reverend Richard Coles of his mystery novel Murder Before Evensong.

Since he had been on Celebrity Mastermind with a specialist subject of the Mapp and Lucia novels, which had also been my Mastermind specialist subject in the first round, it seemed we might have something in common (we’d both played in bands in our more youthful days, though he is a much better musician than me, and had far greater success with The Communards than I did with Ersatz..

So I decided to take along two of my own Mapp and Lucia pastiches, Mapp at Fifty, and the very exclusive Captain Puffin Comes to Tilling (not available on Amazon – special edition printed for the Gathering of the Friends of Tilling last year).

Also a copy of On the Other Side of the Sky for his bedside reading.

As it happened, there were far more people at the event than I had expected. At 12:32 (start of event scheduled for 12:30) the shop had sold out of Murder Before Evensong, so I bought a couple of the Rev Coles’s non-fictions, and joined the 40–50-strong queue.

When my time came, we actually managed to have a little chat, and I’d pre-signed one of his books with Major Benjy’s favourite shout of “Quai Hai!” and he did the same for me.

So a good time was had by all.

The Reverend Richard Coles and me at Waterstones Lichfield, with some of my books.