Thursday, 15 December 2011

To You With Best Wishes

Someone has asked for a couple of copies of 'The White Rajah' to give to friends at Christmas. (What a wonderful person! Are there more of you out there?) I asked if they wanted them signed and, if so, how. "I wouldn't know about signing," he said. "What do you usually do?"

What a good question. I've already blogged that I find signing a bit embarrassing. And when I do, I just sign my name or my name with a generic 'Best Wishes'. But I've had people say they would like something more personal. 'With love,' perhaps? Or 'To John Smith with every best wish'? I quite like the idea of 'I hope you enjoy this book,' though I've never actually put that.

Does anyone else have any ideas?

Thursday, 17 November 2011


Posted by Picasa

Having blogged some winter photos from years ago, I thought I'd share some pictures of the leaves as they are now. All these were taken in St Margarets. I'm very lucky to live there.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Something completely different...

I've mentioned our local magazine here before, because they are very supportive of local writers. It turns out that they are quite supportive of local photographers, too. They asked if anyone had a picture suitable for the cover of the Winter edition of the magazine and it looks like they're going to use mine. I'm not posting it here because I don't want to put it up before it's been published, but it's one of several pictures that I took when there was heavy snow three years ago. Here's some others that were taken at the same time. They're not suitable for a magazine cover because they're in landscape format, but I thought it would be nice to share. I hope you like them. 
Posted by Picasa

PS There's more photos of St Margarets here.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Yet another way to read for free

Public libraries!

Public libraries are a Good Thing.

Why not borrow 'The White Rajah' (other titles are also available) from your local public library? If your library does not stock 'The White Rajah', why not ask them to add it to their shelves? Most libraries have request forms to ask for specific books to be stocked. That way, you get to read it for free and other people get to see it too.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Sign here please

All authors sell their books themselves. Even John Grisham started out that way. My experience is that if you sell your book directly to someone, they often ask if you will sign it.

I will, of course. But it does seem a bit weird. I mean, it's very flattering but why on earth does someone want me to sign their copy? I guess if you bought a book from John Grisham back in the day and he signed it, it might be worth something. But he must have been to hundreds of book signings since then and signed thousands of copies, so it can't be worth a lot.

One thing, I suppose, is that it gives the reader a direct physical link to the writer, not mediated through print. Which is nice. But you get a direct link by commenting on any of these blog posts. I read all the comments people make and I reply to them if people ask for a response (and often if they don't). That gives a really direct link, but not many people use it.

So I genuinely don't understand it. Being British, I find it mildly embarrassing, but it's flattering too, so I'm happy to do it.

In the St Margarets magazine, it does say that you can buy signed copies through this blog. That's easy for me to do, because I live in St Margarets and can drop copies off locally. I'd love to sign them for anyone who wants. Someone did pay the postage so that I could mail them a signed copy but generally it's only really possible to sign for people who buy it directly from me in person. If you do, I'll sign it and, more practically, I'll sell it for £7.50, instead of the £9.10 Amazon asks for. (Why £9.10? I think it was a translation of a dollar price and it always drives me nuts but it's out of my hands, I'm afraid.)

If you want a signed copy and you live in St Margarets, please just comment on this blog or message 'James Brooke' on Facebook with your contact details.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

St Margarets

I live in St Margarets. It's one of the little 'villages' that make up London. We have our own butcher, a new baker is taking over since the old one shut down and, if we don't have a candlestick-maker, there's certainly a gift shop that sells a nice line in candles. The village even has its own quarterly magazine, My St Margarets, a glossy production with news of local businesses and things that might interest the people who live here. Which, fortunately for me, includes the efforts of local authors.
The picture above is clickable and enlarges, if you want to read it. Anyone interested in flicking through the whole magazine online will find The White Rajah covered on page 12.

I like living in St Margarets. It's a nice place. And it's full of people who think books are cool. I specially like that.

Friday, 2 September 2011

It's all about ME!!

A little while ago, 1PlaceForRomance did an author spotlight on me. Here it is for those of you who missed it:

Tell us about your current release. It’s a historical novel based on the life of James Brooke. In the middle of the 19th century he went Borneo where, in exchange for some help that he gave to the native ruler, he was given his own small country. It was called Sarawak and he and his family continued to rule it for around 100 years. The story concentrates on some of the conflicts in the early years of his rule. It’s principally a romantic adventure but it does also touch on some serious issues about the nature of colonialism and what happens when people become militarily involved in the affairs of other countries. I tried to keep it short and relatively light with lots of romance and excitement compared to the more serious bits.

Tell us about your next release. I’m working on a novel based on the Indian Mutiny. It should be ready to be published this year but it won’t be if I don’t put my head down and write more.

Where do you research for your books? I used to spend a lot of time in quite specialist libraries but, thanks to the wonder of the internet, I’m now able to do most of my research from home. My first book is based in Sarawak and I did visit there, though the idea of the book came after the visit, so it hardly counts as research. I’m working on a book set in Argentina and I did spend some time specifically researching there. I’m also writing about India and I’d love to get there too but I don’t think I’m going to make it.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they? Start writing. There’s no preparation like putting those words on paper. Write anything. Then be critical, tear it up and write something else. Keep on until you’re happy with it, then show it to other people, take their comments on board, tear it up and write something else. Repeat until you have something you can submit to an agent. Take their comments on board… You know where this is going by now, don’t you?

Do you hear from your readers? What kinds of questions do they ask? Yes, occasionally, which is nice. They ask about whether Brooke really was gay, which seems much more of an issue than I would ever have expected. And I get questions about the history of Sarawak which have me desperately running for my notes. When Anthony Brooke died recently, a few people picked up on this and asked me about him. I had never heard of him before he died. He lived long after the time I was writing about and he was never technically the Rajah but I read up about his life and he does seem to have been a very interesting character. I blogged about him if anyone wants to know more. (

What are you passionate about these days? Dancing the tango. It’s a passionate dance.

What hobbies do you actively pursue? I dance tango, I ski and I spend a lot of time rollerblading.

What would we find under your bed?
Lots and lots of tango shoes. (There’s a theme developing here, isn’t there?)

What do you do to unwind and relax?
I go to a small place in the country miles away from anywhere with no phone or TV. While I’m there I read a lot and go for long walks. It’s lovely.

Friday, 19 August 2011

'The Bloomsbury Review' revisited

Sorry for going on about this but it's a huge deal for me. Apparently 'The Bloomsbury Review' claims a circulation of 50,000 - 10,000 paid and the rest given away in book shops. They reckon a total of 125,000 people see each issue and these are, practically by definition, the sort of people who buy books. TBR concentrates on books from smaller publishers that would not otherwise get reviewed, which gets a big thumbs up from me, but it is selective in its reviews so getting covered by them says I am being taken seriously as a writer. TBR is widely respected in the USA with best-selling author Tony Hillerman describing it as “the best book magazine in America.”

What did they say? Well, it's a reasonably chunky review and I think there's copyright in that but I obviously wouldn't be getting this excited if they didn't like it. My favourite line is, "An interesting tale, well told."

Is it helping sales? It's too early to say but I hope it does. Amazon sales don't seem to account for many of the copies my publisher says are sold but the indications are that they might be going up a bit. So fingers crossed for next quarter's figures.

If you are in the USA and know someone who runs a bookstore, you can getup to 100 copies of your first issue of The Bloomsbury Review free. After that, you pay for the shipping and handling of the issues—the issues themselves are free. The review you need to highlight starts on page 11 of the current issue.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bloomsbury Review

US readers with $4.50 to spare can read a review of 'The White Rajah' in the latest issue of the Bloomsbury Review. (You've already bought the book, haven't you?)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Tracy Franklin interview

So here, as promised, is the interview with Tracy Franklin, author of Angst, Anger, Love, Hope. Enjoy!

I get the impression that you have moved around a fair bit. Where have you come from and where are you now?

I live in the US. I grew up in the South, mostly in west Tennessee. I live in the Northeast now, near Philadelphia, PA. I've lived other places as well, ending up in particular towns because of school or marriage or divorce.

Do you feel that living in these different places has been important in your poetry?

I think it helped me realize that regardless of accents or industry, people are the same everywhere you go. There are kind and unkind people everywhere, and class distinctions based not only on income and education, but on stuff like whether you were born in a particular locale. In the North, some people are quite comfortable sharing decidedly unfunny jokes and open disdain; in the South, you're sometimes just persona non grata if you haven't lived in a place all your life.

You've obviously seen a fair bit of life. Can you tell me some of the things you've done and the jobs you've held that have affected the way that you write?

I spent a lot of time in service industries before I got my degree, and some time behind counters afterward, too, since I moved across the country and had to start a job hunt in the middle of our economic downturn. For some reason, an awful lot of people seem to think it's okay to speak to people who work in service industries as though they're so much trash. I'm as well read and well informed as anyone, but so what if I wasn't? Human worth isn't decided by intellect or money or education. Feeling disenfranchised from the rest of society has definitely affected the way I write.

When I saw a video of you reading your poetry to an audience, I was struck by how angry your words sounded. Would you say that a lot of your poetry is angry?

Definitely. I think anger has its place, its purpose. It's only the misdirection and misuse that cause problems. Justified anger is a great catalyst for social change.

Do you think you're an angry person?

No, but I know that others often see me that way. I think of myself as compartmentalized. I'm always happy about some things and always angry about others. I make it a point to generally think about those people and things in my life for which I'm grateful, but I don't begrudge myself anger for those situations that deserve it. I've gotten some useful stuff done because I've been angry about injustices.

I have the impression that you are concerned about the way that society treats people at the bottom of the ladder. Do you feel that your poetry carries a political message?

Yes. I think it carries a very social message, but I don't think it carries a partisan message. Everyone can agree that there is greed in our society, but I think a real danger is that we still have some vestiges of Manifest Destiny floating around, only now they're connected to our ideas about self sufficiency instead of cultural expansionism. "You made your bed, now lie in it" and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of stuff.

I would like to see the person who did everything right without help, or the person who fixed every mistake without help. These people don't exist. But life at the bottom of the ladder is hard - traumatic, even, filled with constant fear and shame. We tend to wipe our memories as we move up the rungs; pretty soon, we're keeping the romantic parts of the stories that showcase our hard work and pluck, and we're keeping quiet about handouts and sheer luck. There are things I won't talk about either, but I'll go on the record and say that I had lots of help along the way. And I hope that I never let myself forget those things I won't talk about.

I know you have a rare genetic disease that leaves you in a lot of pain. You blog about this but you don't seem to mention it in your poetry. Other poets are happy to use their own physical problems in their art. Why don't you?

Actually, that's just a matter of timing.

It seems to be almost impossible to be taken seriously when you don't look ill. I look normal, I'm capable of rational thought and conversation, everything looks like it moves the right way - it's really impossible for most people to accept that I battle constant fatigue, muscle stiffness, and pain. Even if they get it intellectually, they don't get it emotionally. They'll still ask for a quick, unplanned trip through a discount store if we're traveling together; their first thought if they catch me napping in the afternoon will still be that I'm indulging myself in some way. Sometimes people are nice and ask me if I can hold things, carry things, whatever - but I haven't learned how to tell people outright that I can't when I can't. So they'll have seen me carry groceries in or go up and down stairs, and that makes it harder to take the physical problems seriously. What they don't see after I've carried groceries or gone up and down stairs is that I might have trouble pulling my shirt on over my head later, that my jaw is clenched so tightly I'm in danger of cracking another tooth down through the root, that I'll be awake and twisting my legs until 5:00 a.m. because I'm in too much pain to sleep until I fall out from sheer exhaustion.

I knew that without a diagnosis, it would just be that much harder to be taken seriously, and most of the poems in Angst were written before I had a diagnosis. Now that I have one, I am working on a themed collection dealing with the difficulty of getting a diagnosis and the issues that surround the disease itself. I have to be careful, though, because without the right blend of humor and the right mix of issues, the collection could be overwhelmingly depressing.

When I reviewed your poetry I said that poems that come from suffering often read better than those written when you're happy. Do you agree? Do you think that you've suffered and do you think that makes stronger poetry?

Overall, I agree. I don't think that has to be the case, though. Instead, I think I'm still finding my voice with the happier poetry. I think that experience in general makes for better writing, and suffering is definitely a part of that. The happier poems that I am pleased with certainly reflect an awareness of life's darker possibilities.

I think that I've suffered, but I don't think that I've suffered more than other people. In fact, I think I've suffered a lot less than many. I think everyone has a few key issues with which they have to deal. I'd definitely rather have to deal with poverty and a physical disorder than a lot of the other horrors in the world. I've really been quite fortunate.

I have the impression that your life is happier now than it used to be. Do you find that it is easier or harder to write when things are going well? Do we have to keep our fingers crossed that you'll be unhappy so that we get more good stuff out of you?

My life is definitely happier now than it used to be, but I don't think the happiness is an issue, at least not more than tangentially. As I said, I'm still finding my voice in that way, but I am finding it. The real problem I have is finding the time to write. Write more poems, you'll have more poems to vet - and more good work to pull.

Another problem is the potassium-aggravated myotonia; the time I do have has to be very carefully managed. I guess I should say some good writerly thing like, "A real poet makes the time," but that won't come out of my mouth. I have obligations to people other than myself, and I've always thought the self-important temperamental artistes of the world asinine. The whole stereotype is tiresome. Try to be a decent human being before anything else.

I know you have lots of poems that you selected from when putting the book together. Are you collecting more? Can we expect another book and, if so, when?

I am writing new stuff, mostly for the medically themed collection I mentioned earlier. I was hoping maybe a year, but now I might be taking a detour into fiction. I'm not sure. There's an idea brewing that it might be time to start getting down on paper; then again, it might come to nothing. My fiction efforts usually peter out early on.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Values and family are a close first and second, and since those cover almost everything, I guess I'd choose art as a distant third.

Thank you, Tracy.

Tracy's book is available on Amazon or directly from her publisher, JMS Books.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

I want some of that

If you've been reading this blog a while, you may have picked up the odd reference to Tracy Franklin and her book of poems: Angst, Anger, Love, Hope. I discovered some of her stuff on her blog and I think that only later did I find out that she, too, was publishing through JMS Books.

I'm not generally much of an enthusiast for poetry. A lot of poets seem to me to work on the assumption that because really good poetry can be truly sublime, second-rate scribbling will be OK - and it so isn't. But Tracy's stuff has a lot to say and often says it really well. (I've reviewed it on Amazon, so I won't go on about it now.)

I've asked Tracy if she would agree to guest on my blog and she suggested I come up with an on-line interview. I'll put that up here in the next few days. But first I thought I'd like to share one of her poems. She suggested 'I Want Some of That.' She considers it's pretty reflective of a lot of her free verse. It's also one of my favourites.

I hope you enjoy it and you return in a few days to read the interview.

I Want Some of That

I had an invite;
was maybe, probably,
the only one who needed it.
I watched the drinking buddies,
men and women,
couples, singles,
all so easy with each other.

I sipped my beer and knew
I'd never really
be a part of this.
I sipped my beer and knew
I'd never really
want to,
so it was cool.
We were all on friendly terms,
and it was cool.

But I want
some of that.
I want barbecues
that do not feel like work.
I want to feel safe
if I'm a little out of hand.
I want
some of that.
I want some
of that.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Learning from Grisham

So, following Tuesday's blog, I decided I had to be more aggressive about selling my book.

Today I went in to see a nice man at the bank who wanted to talk seriously about savings and investments. And by the end of our meeting, I'd sold him a copy of the book.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What John Grisham and I have in common

John Grisham (as if you didn't know) is a hugely successful writer. The first book he wrote (the second to be published) was A Time to Kill, which I consider his best work and a spectacularly good novel by any standards. So I was interested when I saw him writing this:

"When A Time to Kill was published 20 years ago, I soon learned the painful lesson that selling books was far more difficult than writing them. I bought a thousand copies and had trouble giving them away. I hauled them in the trunk of my car and peddled them at libraries, garden clubs, grocery stores, coffee shops and a handful of bookstores."

People keep asking me how The White Rajah is selling and I always feel embarrassed that it's hardly setting the world on fire. It sells slowly but steadily and sales seem to be going up rather than down but it's not about to hit the best seller lists any time soon. I'm probably not nearly aggressive enough in selling it. Yes, I have copies in my car but, being British, I don't get them out and make people buy them. And I've never asked a garden club or coffee shop to sell it. I think that's partly a cultural thing: I've never seen a coffee shop selling novels in the UK.

In the end, John Grisham is right. Selling is awful – and not nearly as much fun as working on the next novel. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know them.

I do write this and I hope that it generates interest. There still seem to be quite a lot of people reading this blog and if they all bought a copy, that would make a big difference. If you do think it looks interesting, could you buy it? Amazon will sell you a Kindle copy for £4.31, which is hardly going to break the bank. Look on it as your personal contribution to arts funding. Admittedly Amazon are now pricing the paperback at a slightly silly £9.10. I'm happy to sell it for the £7.99 most UK paperbacks seem to retail for but that does mean you have to get it from the back of my car. Amazon at least include postage and are probably a more convenient source.

What would make a big difference would be if a bunch of people bought it from Amazon at the same time, thus pushing it up the charts. If people would be interested in this, we could organise a 'Buy The White Rajah at 8.00pm tonight' party online and, briefly, become a best seller, which would be fun. If anyone would be interested in that idea, comment here to let me know.

Monday, 20 June 2011

As seen in Waterstones

My local Waterstones (in Richmond - the one in the UK, not the one in Virginia)now stocks 'The White Rajah'. I don't think it's carried in Waterstones generally but at least we've made a start. (And, of course, you can still buy it in Foyles.)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Book Group

Last night was a first for me. I was invited to a book group to talk to people who had been reading 'The White Rajah'. Someone there had noticed the death of Anthony Brooke and asked about him. They had photocopied a couple of letters about this from the 'Daily Mail', one of which mentioned Reuben Brooke, who may or may not have been James' son. I explained why I think it was unlikely that Reuben was James' son. (James was desperate for an heir and it seems incredible that he would have adopted Charles as his heir if a son existed.) Of course, James could have fathered a son even if he was gay, but the fact he had such limited contact with women that it was widely believed he was impotent (as a result of his war wound) suggests it was unlikely.

It wasn't how I'd imagined the evening starting but it certainly made for a lively discussion and it was followed by other questions about James and Borneo and only later did we get onto all the boring stuff about how I wrote it.

I was lucky that everyone seemed to have enjoyed reading it and they were very kind with their comments. It made for a pleasant evening.

Book groups are really important for less well-known authors. Even mainstream publishers will not give much publicity to most of their new writers, so we all rely on word-of-mouth and book groups are one of the best ways to get the word out. I'm happy to visit any book groups discussing 'The White Rajah' in the London area. (I've even been invited to visit Brussels to talk about the book and I will if I can.)

If you (or a friend) are a member of a book group, please do consider making 'The White Rajah' your book choice.

Friday, 25 March 2011

RIP Anthony Brooke

A couple of people have drawn my attention to the recent death of Anthony Brooke, described by some as 'the last White Rajah'.

He was the great-great-nephew of James Brooke and would have almost certainly have become Rajah in time, had his uncle, Vyner Brooke (the third Rajah) not negotiated with Britain to hand over rule to the British Crown after the Second World War. Anthony Brooke wasn't ever technically the Rajah, though he was Rajah Muda (heir apparent) and ruled for six months in Vymer's absence. He was, understandably, unhappy with the handing over of Sarawak to Britain, which he considered robbed him of his birthright. His anger was shared with many of those in Sarawak: the first British governor was assassinated shortly after his arrival in the country.

After leaving Sarawak, Anthony Brooke devoted much of his life to campaigning for World Peace, which he believed might ultimately be imposed by visitors in flying saucers. His campaign to bring morality back to British politics has clearly been equally unsuccessful.

Anthony Brooke was the last representative of a dynasty notable for eccentricity combined with a passionate desire to do good, albeit often imperfectly realised. James Brooke's huge achievement was to rule well enough for his Raj to continue for three generations, sustained not by armed force but by the support of the people. It is significant that Vymer Brooke's resolution to pass the country to Britain was opposed by native representatives and forced through by European government officials. There is no doubt that James Brooke, had he been alive, would have supported Anthony's opposition to his uncle.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Now available in the best bookshops.

Foyles, for those who don't know, is arguably London's best bookshop. It's certainly the most famous. And this is my book, on sale there.