I was up quite early the other morning, even for a cowman, and I was just mooching about getting stuff ready. Nothing too dramatic, just Jim wandering about on his own, sorting things out a bit, but as it was just me and I wasn’t moving cattle about, it was quiet.
So I got the dawn chorus. With us, because we have the sea so close on three sides, the first thing was the gulls. Some nights they seem to spend on the fields next to the farm. I suspect it has something to do with the state of the tide and of course the weather. With the dawn, and perhaps with the tide going out, they wanted to be up and out to sea. So they were circling and crying to each other.
They were followed by the more usual sounds, the cawing of nesting crows, the chittering of innumerable smaller birds and in the distance the occasional cry of a goose. Then as I listened we got the bark of a pheasant and the drumming sound of a woodpecker. Sounds like everybody else was busy.
But I like the quiet times because it gives you time to think. It was during this sort of time that I’d been thinking about books and writing. We have a serious issue. People want books cheap. £0.99 seems to be the sort of price point a lot of people look for. The new standard is that the book you read with your coffee should cost you less than the coffee.
To be fair, given the fact you can pick up cracking paperbacks in charity shops at three for a pound, splashing out fifteen quid for a novel does rather look at you.
The problem with writing paperbacks is sheer cost. Printing and distribution costs set a minimum price that you cannot reasonably go under, even if you’re willing to work for nothing. But people do seem to want that more economical read.
Anyway I was thinking. Look back at the years of the Great Depression and wartime austerity. People really needed some magic in their lives; people needed taking out of themselves. It may well have been the golden age of Hollywood, think how many cinemas even small towns had. It was the same with reading. We had ‘pulp fiction’ by which I don’t mean the film, I mean the magazines. Take as an example, Astounding Science Fiction, it was only 35 cents. The reason the magazines were called pulp fiction was they were printed on paper that was the cheapest the printers could get away with. Looking at some of the early issues, they ran to about 90,000 words (which is actually novel length) and had seven or eight stories in them.
Then we had the age of prosperity. One thing that struck me was we went from the slim volume to the doorstep. Fantasy tales and SF stories became epics, paperbacks with a thousand pages. Yes we’d had them before, Lord of the Rings being an obvious example, but now they flooded the bookshelves.
Let’s be brutally honest, I’m not going to spend two years sweating and slaving over a book that size and expect to give away the copies I sell for 99p, especially as I only get 28p of it. (The Chancellor of the Exchequer nearly gets as much as I do, with his 20% VAT on ebooks.) Not only that, but to write a great book at that sort of length, you have to be really, really good. It’s not easy to write a good story in 20,000 words, or in 80,000 words, but it’s more focussed and more disciplined. If you’re not careful, writing a doorstep means that unless you’re really good and really disciplined, you leave in a lot of stuff that you’d cut out in a slimmer volume. It might be kind of fun, you as the author might quite like it, but it doesn’t add to the story and can even get in the way.
But now, with ebooks you can read on a tablet, a kindle, or your phone, perhaps we are back in the world of pulp fiction. We can suddenly turn out stories, pile them high and let you have them, cheap as chips.
I thought about this for a while. Now the thing about the doorstep, when written by a great writer, you are sucked into a fabulous world. A great book is like a holiday taken at home.
But I suddenly realised, I could give you the holiday at home experience, but with shorter stories. If I had the stories set in the same place, about the same people, then each time you picked up the next ‘issue’ you’d find yourself sinking comfortably back into the world. Not only that but I’d make the stories a ‘collection’ not a series. The difference is that with a series you ought to read them in the right order. With a collection, it doesn’t matter. The Sherlock Holmes stories are ‘a collection.’ Yes they were written and published in a particular order, but it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.
So I went for it. I decided on the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, which would chronicle the antics of Benor, the hero of two of my novels, when he was a young man in Port Naain. I wrote six novellas, got them ready for publication, and then published them, one every three months or so. It seemed to work.
At the same time, Tallis Steelyard appeared as an incidental character in the first Port Naain Intelligencer novella and elbowed his way into my life. He was a poet, he demanded a blog. The blog consists of the anecdotes that Tallis might tell to friends over a glass, late at night. Eventually I collected up the anecdotes and published them. I also wrote some novellas, set in the same city as the Port Naain Intelligencer stories, with many of the same characters. But this world is seen through the eyes of Tallis Steelyard and the stories have a different emphasis.
So where are we now? Well I think I’m ‘getting there.’ There are now four novels and twenty-one novellas. Obviously the novels are slightly more expensive, but the novellas are all there at £0.99p.
The world is in place; anybody can pick any of the books or novellas, and be sucked into it. If they like it, there’s plenty more where they came from, and I can quietly keep adding, because a good world does not stand still. Plenty to find at
Anyway two more novellas are now out!
Tallis Steelyard. Deep waters, and other stories.
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?
Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red. Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death by changing the rules?