This is a strange way of going about things, but I’ve just chosen a cover for a book that I haven’t finished writing yet.
We’ve been running a competition over at Arachne Press for the covers of the next two books, and I got down to three gorgeous, wonderful designs for the reprint of Mosaic of Air, and couldn’t choose between them. I wanted them all! So I had a bit of a think about other books we have planned, and decided that only one of the designs would only work for a collection of stories, and have chosen that one for Mosaic of Air. So I get to use the other two designs. for my two novels. Anyway the one that I’ve not finished writing yet is this, from Kevin Threlfall – you’ll have to imagine a different title for now.
The book is a sci-fi novel and doesn’t have a title yet, though it’s going by The Dark Is My Delight, which is a 17th century song about nightingales and sex, basically (words by John Marston, music anonymous); nothing to do with my storyline as it happens, but it has the right feel to it, out of context. The book started life as the lead story in Mosaic of Air, and has grown and morphed into something much larger and more complex. As Mosaic of (the) Air is a quotation from an Andrew Marvell poem (describing music) it seems right to continue the theme of music and the 17th century by picking another title from the same era. (I had thought about Heavy Time, which is also a 17th century musical quotation, but it’s already been used for an excellent Sci-fi novel by CJ Cherryh – who also nicked my intended pseudonym when I was about 17, at which point I decided to write under my own name and have done with it.)
So, interesting how that all galvanises me to finish the book!
The latest news from the catwalks … um … doorsteps of South London, where the fashions of the night come to your door for a minimal payment of handfuls of jellied eyes, chocolate bites and the occasional satsuma is… dayglo is the new black.
Of course you can’t just assume that the show will come to your door, you need to show willing and advertise your openness to revellers with the traditional lantern. This year ours was a cat, and we got several compliments on its raffish charm, including that we had been channeling Picasso!
Back to our report: This Hallowe’en’s hairstyles are streaked candy pink or pumpkin orange. Make up is livid, but carefully applied for that just risen look, and for those tired of the nightly routine of makeup fit for the dead? A mask!
A wide range of styles available to suit every mood… one size fits all. Hats are generally traditional in height though wide-ranging in shape and colour, with an interesting voodoo influence.
For the younger ghoul: pumpkin, spider, cat and skeleton outfits are de riguer, with phosphorous glow a key element in the design.
The night was not without casualties, small undead who had eaten too many gory treats were heard to whine and wail more authentically than their parents would wish, one particularly rabid group of zombies had to be threatened with the trick we had up our sleeve to ensure there would be enough bait (sorry, treats) for all the neighbourhood monsters, and our cat Elton got a lot of exercise running up stairs every time the door was banged upon.
At the point when the more stalwart Julian started flinching at the doorbell we extinguished our pumpkin and settled down for dinner and the remaining eyeballs...
This did get me thinking about Horror as a genre. I really don’t enjoy horror, I can’t abide zombies, torture or graphic violence, although I used to watch Buffy with great enjoyment. I couldn’t even bear to read Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man because it had a zombie in it, the whole idea turns my stomach, and that’s the only Pratchett I’ve not read.
But I do like a good ghost story, if like is the word, appreciate might be closer to the mark. M.R. James springs to mind, and tends to stay there late at night, wiffling about in my subconscious, it’s all suggestion and oblique reference.
I’ve written a couple of ghost stories (All Hallows, Eye of the Beholder) and they are definitely not in the M. R. James mould; They aren’t meant to be frightening: I think of my ghosts as lives unfulfilled, trailing on after death, which is a bit frightening, actually. So there’s a moral there, if you don’t want to become a ghost, live life to the full!
Most of my free waking hours since finishing the opera (apart from work, singing, partying, holidays…) have been spent fighting with the software to get the book to look beautiful. Anyone planning to do a photobook on Blurb be warned you need a lot of free RAM. It does very strange things, like randomly copying chunks of text and shoving them in somewhere else each time you try to format something. To be fair they do warn about pasting large amounts of text, but it kept crashing, and even when I put it on my new laptop, with nothing else loaded apart from the virus guard, and it didn’t save except when you shut it, so if it crashed you lost the lot- so I got in the habit of saving at the end of each page and after every loading of a photo. Its taken three times as long as it should have… But it is finally done, and I’ve ordered a proof copy. waiting eagerly!
UPDATE: Comment from Readers:
You chart the gradual emergence of the opera in such a lively and insightful way – it’s a kind of scraggy, no- hoper kitten that turns into a fat cat with presence. It’s a real window into how nourishing participation in the arts can be.
Lovely reminder of the intensity of that time in the summer. Great text and pictures, apart from me on page 10 looking like an elephant about to charge !! I sat up late last night chortling away and am now regretting it as eyes on stalks. Thank you Cherry. A terrific job.
It was in my mind to post this on my other blog, but in the true spirit of being aware of my market, I’m putting it where it will be seen by the people I want to see it! If you are thinking, what, no Opera? be patient, I’ll get there.
I’ve been supporting my local traders today, by being a model for advertising, and by eating ice-cream (it’s a hard life!), and it got me thinking about market research.
Hills & Parkes, who have had a Saturday only Deli on a stall outside Honor Oak Park station since just before Christmas, are opening a shop just over the road, in mid August. It was tipping down this morning and I think they will be very happy to have a roof over their heads! The stall has very limited stock, and it will be a very different operation being there all week. In preparation, they have asked regular customers to be photographed with their favourite product, thus combining marketing with market research, though of a not very scientific kind, but they have of course been trading long enough to know what sells and what products people come back to buy. I have got very lazy about making my own bread since they arrived in the neighbourhood; their bread is excellent, and I was happy to be photographed with my favourite sourdough loaf, and playing tug of war with A over a baguette. I am wondering what research they have done about what else to stock, however, and what people’s buying patterns through the week are. I’ve always had the impression our shops are a bit quiet during the week.
From the photoshoot we went straight to Broca Foods, where my friend Joan had a ‘pop up’ ice-cream parlour for her new ice-cream range ‘Secret Sundae’. The place was heaving despite the rain, and the idea is clearly one that will be welcomed locally. (I mentioned it to H&P and they are interested in stocking local ice-cream, and several other people on the photoshoot looked disappointed when I said the pop-up was a one off. )
Joan was looking slighty wild of eye and several flavours had already sold out, and others were not quite frozen, so the menu was shorter than it might otherwise have been. I tried the rose-geranium sorbet, which was delicious, but had melted by the time I finished it, which wasn’t long- I was warned this would happen and counselled against having a cornet, wisely. A had a double cornet with a scoop of lavender & something and a scoop of chocolate sorbet, which of course I also road-tested. The chocolate was magnificent and didn’t suffer for the lack of dairy products one iota. The lavender was too strong for me, it was a bit like getting a mouthful of soap, but A liked it. This was a trial run for Joan and she will get useful info about the process but I was disappointed she had no questionnaire – what people order is about what appeals to them in the desciptions, whether they actually like the product and would buy it again you can only find out by asking!
So here are my answers to an imaginary questionnaire
What appealed to me at point-of-sale was the novelty of the flavours, and the herby-health foody-fresh-as good for you as icecream can be- impression they give.
Prices barely registered, so they must be fine, though think about your margin- relatively speaking they look expensive to make.
What I would want to know more of at point-of-sale: sugar and fat content and where the ingredients are sourced, explicitly. For example I know the rose geranium came from your garden but I wouldn’t know that if I bought this from someone other than you, and its a great selling point so tell me the story! If your sorbets really don’t have any dairy in them say so – make the vegans happy! they will buy with confidence and enthusiasm.
Back to my own Opera related sales project, The Blackheath Onegin. Did I say the opera was sold out of friday? and for Sunday!
So: over 300 unique visitors have read one or more of my opera blogs (thank you by the way!) and I haven’t finished yet so there may be some more new folk to come. This is my potential market for the book: them, and the people involved in the project who haven’t read the blog, and the people attending the Opera.
Fliers are pinned up and scattered about in the Dressing room, the Bar and the Ladies, and despite (I thought) plugging it to death at every opportunity, people are still coming up to me and saying ‘what’s this?’ Which is because this is passive marketing, and because when I started this process I was marketing the Opera, not a book. Forward planning see, there is no replacement for it. And active marketing. I need a call to action (I hate marketing speak, but there you go).
Support local community opera! Buy this book and help fund next year’s production.
I should probably write something to the tune of one of the songs in Onegin, and sing it in the foyer in the interval. (Me?!)
The cuts hurt, we can no longer sing since our funds have gone
but if you buy this book we can go on….
But I’m only happy making an idiot of myself in company, so if anyone else in the chorus wants to join in, I’ll consider it.
Now, if every one of the people reading the blog was sufficiently excited to want a copy of the book, that would make @ £1,500 towards next year’s opera. Assuming I gift aid my donation once I have the money, that improves the value to @ £1,800, but if everyone in the chorus, and the opera, and the parents of the children, and the schools bought one, and anyone in the audience who wasn’t one of those people ordered a copy, we could probably double it.
(See all those links back to the post about the book? That’s passive marketing too!)
25 people have already pre-ordered, and I need another 25 to maximise our discounted price on printing and so maximise the profit for the Halls. I won’t be doing anything about ordering until after 1st August so there is plenty of time to get your pre-order in!
So here is your call to action:
Order a copy for yourself, your family, your friends
Pass on a flier (or a link to the blog) to anyone you can think of, and encourage them to buy a copy too.
It feels really weird not being in Onegin-land for a day. I actually go to work, and talk about something other than music, very strange! And despite not getting to bed until 1am and being awake again at 5, I decide I do have the energy for writing group. I have a completed story about Cretan bull dancers that I want to try out on them, and although it is too long to read the whole piece, I read about half, and an animated discussion follows about young narrators, contrasts and heat, which is extremely useful.
B reads the first page or so of his new novel which is very entertaining, and we talk a little about sequels (which this is) and exposition of the crucial plot detail from the previous book, for those who have not read it, and how difficult it is to get right. I don’t think we reach a conclusion. A reads a chapter from her ongoing work, a riveting novel of self deception and angst which is both gripping and laugh out loud funny. She says how much we helped by suggesting she decide who exactly a musterious character was, and how it freed her up to get on with the plot. We talk about our awareness of the group as potential audience when we are writing, and I admit to enjoying writing things I think they won’t like. R is deep into a massive re-write of her adolescent novel (67%) and feeling a little worn by the process.
We discuss the fact the A is now retired, B redundant, and D redundant from tomorrow, and how all this time to write is suddenly available. I try very hard not to look expectant in an ‘ I expect at least a chapter by next time’ way. I think that makes it that under half of our group are still in full time work now. Are we a typical demographic?
J hasn’t made it to the group tonight because she is manically churning ingredients for her pop-up icecream parlour at Broca Foods on Saturday. We decide that our writing exercise will have an icecream theme in her honour, but make it difficult for ourselves by imposing a 100 word limit, and we produce, memoirs, love stories, and humour. R texts J to let her know, and she stops churning long enough to respond that she is delighted. We talk about emailing them to her to print off and use as wrappers, but I don’t know that she has the time for that!
All profits will go to next year’s Blackheath Halls Opera
If you pre-order, we hope to have enough orders to get a bulk discount, which means that, provided you are prepared to pick up your copy(ies) from the Halls, you won’t need to pay postage, and the halls will make a better profit.
Early music is a passion I share with my partner A, and a chance discovery led to the inspiration for an historical novel, The Cold Time.
Sometime in 1993 , arriving early for a film at the Odeon at Marble Arch, we headed into HMV to browse, and I picked up a new release in the early music section: Sinfonye’s the sweet look and loving manner.
Dire title, I thought, lovely cover– a medieval painting of two women in a garden. Look like lesbians I thought, turning over the CD to discover that what I had was recordings of very rare songs, written by women in 12th and 13th century Languedoc. I couldn’t resist, I bought it, loved it, confirmed that one of the songs was indeed written by a woman for a woman; and I was off- research, research, research!
I found The Women Troubadours a book of transcripts of the songs with English translations and brief biographies by Meg Bogin. There was sufficiently little real information to leave plenty for my imagination to fill in. I found all the songs interesting and full of personality, and apart from the song that started it all of, Domna Maria written by Beiris de Romans, I found my title in a song by Azalais de Porcaraiges (Portiragnes 5m east of Béziers) which follows the traditional troubadour motif of using the seasons and weather as a metaphor for her love life:
Ar em al freg temps vengut
quel gels el neus e la faingna
e.l aucellet estan mut
c’us de chantar non s’afraingna
-e son sec li ram pels plais-
que flors ni foilla noi nais
ni rossignols noi crida
que l’am e mai me reissida.
Now we are come to the cold time
of ice and snow and mud
and all the birds are mute
for not one inclines to sing;
and the hedge-branches are dry
no leaf nor bud springs up,
nor calls the nightingale
who woke me once in May.
before going into a strange litany of (apparently) places she’s saying goodbye to because she will never see her lover any more.
To God I commend Bel Esgar
and the City of Orange
and Gloriet’ and the Caslar
and the lord of all Provence
and all those who wish me well
and the arch where the attacks are shown.
I’ve lost the man who owns my life,
and I shall never be consoled.
The references are obscure, but I think, from having visited Orange, and researched (oh the research) architectural terms, that it is her lover, Raimbault d’Aurenga’s home she is referring to: Gloriet is a term used for a tower, and the arch with the attacks is a Roman triumphal arch which at the time she was writing was effectively Raimbaut’s front door. These days it is marooned on a traffic island on the ring road with heavy trucks pounding past. I love this vignette of loneliness, it is all the more challenging to realise that what seems to be a complaint against the medieval equivalent of not returning her calls, may actually be in response to Raimbaut’s death.
As I researched further I discovered there was overlap with the Cathars in terms of time and territory, and loosely at least in politics and got some interesting responses when I discussed my research with friends and family.
A lot of nonsense is talked about the Cathars, and as an atheist I have to make a bit of effort to relate to it all, but I was quite shocked by how ruthlessly the Cathars were treated; I remember mentioning this to my mum, whose response was ‘they’d all be dead by now anyway’ and a friend, who got cross and seemed to think that being distressed by people being tortured and burnt alive put me in some ‘anti catholic’ bracket, which hadn’t even occurred to me: I had been thinking of the crusade as a land grab by the French, rather than anything motivated by genuine religious feeling of any kind. Once she had raised it, of course, the whole religious angle became more of a motif in my research.
So, more research; too much research. I have an entire bookcase of ‘essential’ reading that I shall probably never finish, obscure books about Jewish ghettos in Provence in the thirteenth century, articles on littoral erosion … books on attitudes to death, building techniques, farming practices, the position of women and the persecution of heretics, more than half of them are in French.
I had lessons to refresh my French (not a lot of use with a medieval vocabulary- you would not credit how long it took me to cotton on to Terre Sante meaning the Holy Land and Outremer overseas, nor the likelihood of coming across témoin (witness) and blessé (wounded) during your average French class) I now own an enormous French dictionary which is too heavy to lift, as well as smaller Provençal, Latin and Spanish dictionaries, just in case!
We spent a total of five weeks over a two-year period touring Cathar castles and hilltop villages, abbeys, rivers, pilgrim spots, mountains, graveyards, springs and ruins. The biggest realisation I made (apart from how much further apart everything was than I had expected) was that part of the reason the Albigensian Crusade was successful must be that most of the castles they were attacking were effectively facing the wrong way- expecting attack to come from the south.
I met Stevie Wishart, director of Sinfonye a while back, at an early music festival at the South Bank, and thanked her for setting me off on what sometimes feels like a wild goose chase, but has widened my horizons considerably, in terms of musical taste, philosophical and architectural understanding, to say nothing of languages and travel!
Quick update, follow this link for the Radio 4 Early Music Show special on Trobairitz, not sure how long it’s up for but while it’s there, an hour’s music that’s spot on.