The dawn chorus and too much time to think.

The Pirates of Ersatz


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 on my Amazon author page


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?

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39 thoughts on “The dawn chorus and too much time to think.

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 28, 2019 at 7:57 pm Reply

    I write doorstops. And aim for literary quality (the good stuff, not the navel-gazing kind). Because that’s what I want to do.

    It lets me live with the implications and the connections of my own stories – my own world. And it’s not going to be for 0.99 (except this month, because I have no time for either advertising or sending out electronic ARCs).

    Your model makes a lot more sense – I just can’t follow it with my brain. You’re going for entertainment value – and will always be in style. That’s a good reason for choosing a timeless subject and a historical setting. I see more and more predictions of that being ‘the’ model for now. Like TV.

    BTW, have you considered how well your stories would work as TV? Netflix, Amazon Prime? Continuing characters, a fascinating setting, and connected stories?

    • jwebster2 March 28, 2019 at 8:23 pm Reply

      I don;’t want anybody to think I’m knocking the ‘doorstep’
      A book which wants to get into a topic in depth, explore the human condition or whatever is going to take a lot of time to do it properly and will carry the reader along with it.
      But I’m more of an entertainer, although if people suddenly spot something deeper, I’m happy to accept the credit 🙂
      I have been told they’d work well for TV etc, but frankly it’s a very very tight market and my gut feeling is that I’d have to have contacts to even get listened to. I’m not part of that world and I suspect I’d be another ‘letter’ lying unread in the electronic dustbin

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 28, 2019 at 8:41 pm

        Keep at it; by the time one of your fans recommends you to his bil who tells a friend… you’ll have enough for several seasons.

      • jwebster2 March 28, 2019 at 9:45 pm

        Oh I’m not going to turn them down, I want to prove that being unfeasible wealthy wouldn’t spoil me 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 28, 2019 at 9:59 pm

        I think your stories would be fabulous televised.

      • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 6:43 am

        I can see how they’d work, I just await the contacts in the industry 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 29, 2019 at 7:03 am

        You have the advantage over me there. But, alas, I have no contacts.

      • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 8:01 am

        ah well, I’ll just have to put off becoming unfeasible rich for another decade 🙂

  2. jenanita01 March 28, 2019 at 9:07 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.

  3. jenanita01 March 28, 2019 at 9:08 pm Reply

    Nothing like being organised, Jim!

    • jwebster2 March 28, 2019 at 9:46 pm Reply

      Well I think we are dealing with a different world and perhaps we have to think differently 🙂

      • jenanita01 March 29, 2019 at 10:08 am

        I know what you mean, things are changing faster than ever before!

      • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 10:33 am

        Yes, last year’s answer might not be next year’s answer.
        But 1930’s answer might be 🙂

  4. Colleen Chesebro March 28, 2019 at 10:13 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Faery Whisperer and commented:
    Jim Webster has tackled an issue with book publishing I’ve thought about for some time. Tell me what you think. I believe it’s a brilliant answer!

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 6:44 am Reply

      In an infinite universe, even Jim and be right occasionally 😉

      • Colleen Chesebro March 29, 2019 at 1:16 pm

        LOL! Bask in your creativity! 🤩

      • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 2:24 pm

        oh sometimes I allow myself to bask for a who twenty minutes 😉

      • Colleen Chesebro March 29, 2019 at 3:13 pm

        LOL! Good for you! 😀

  5. Colleen Chesebro March 28, 2019 at 10:14 pm Reply

    Absolutely brilliant, Jim. I shared and asked for comments. ❤️

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 6:44 am Reply

      I’m across to read them
      Somebody might come up with a better idea 😉

  6. dgkaye March 28, 2019 at 10:51 pm Reply

    Excellent Jim! You and I already discussed our feelings on the 99 cent situation. 🙂

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 6:45 am Reply

      Yes, it makes for an interesting discussion

      • dgkaye March 29, 2019 at 1:38 pm


  7. Widdershins March 29, 2019 at 2:46 am Reply

    The days of the $0.99 ebook are far behind us. These days $3.99 is considered a bargain. That’s in Canadian dollars. I don’t know how that’s translate to Euros or Pounds.
    I agree, once you’ve got an audience for the world you’ve created, throw some more stories out there that are also set in that ‘universe’. 🙂

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 6:53 am Reply

      At the moment my novellas are between $1.28 and $1.31 American dollars and about $1.75 Canadian
      The Novels are $5.39 Canadian
      So my books aren’t bargain although I’m not sure whether the novellas are 🙂

  8. The Story Reading Ape March 29, 2019 at 9:54 am Reply
  9. V.M.Sang March 29, 2019 at 10:24 am Reply

    Bright ideas there. I’m currently writing a series of back stories about the characters in my Wolves of Vimar series. I have a publisher who seems to want them to be released as a single volume, but I think I might argue with him about releasing them separately.

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 10:32 am Reply

      I think you are right to. After all, it’s most unlikely the backstories will fit together as a complete work, so you’re just left with an anthology anyway.
      I’m not knocking anthologies but your back stories are something different and don’t need to go into one

  10. patriciaruthsusan March 29, 2019 at 11:28 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Jim tells how he started with his writing and also offers a couple of his novellas.

    • jwebster2 March 29, 2019 at 11:38 am Reply

      Well hopefully it might start an interesting discussion 🙂

  11. patriciaruthsusan March 29, 2019 at 11:44 am Reply

    🙂 — Suzanne

  12. Jaq April 8, 2019 at 3:34 pm Reply

    One of my favourite Fantasy series/collections has always been Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series. Stand alone stories all in the same world, even covering several ages! They were usually short novel length, until the later ones finished after her death which got fairly big and came out in trilogies. They were still good.

    I’ve often thought my Goblin trilogy needs additional stories. It’s a fun world to visit.

    • jwebster2 April 8, 2019 at 5:36 pm Reply

      then revisit it 🙂
      You might as well do something that is fun and you enjoy
      It can rub off on readers

  13. justmuddlingthroughlife June 13, 2019 at 11:09 pm Reply

    Hi, I’m currently writing my very first novel (door step). This does sound like a good idea Jim.

    • jwebster2 June 14, 2019 at 5:32 am Reply

      There is a place for the door step, some genres suit them. But for other genres, once you’ve got the world in place, you can move to the novella if you want.
      If your doorstep creates the world for people, (whether it’s fantasy, police procedural or even a romance) then the novellas can follow the lives of other characters who might only have been mentioned in passing
      Also hopefully people will read the novellas and be emboldened to tackle the doorstep 🙂

      • justmuddlingthroughlife June 14, 2019 at 1:06 pm

        This is something to think about, thank you!

      • jwebster2 June 14, 2019 at 1:11 pm

        Give it a twirl and see how it goes 🙂

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