Saturday, 5 May 2018

Eric Borgerson - When the Eye Sees Itself

All writers bring aspects of themselves and their own experiences to their work. It's been said many times that if you want to understand a writer, read their words. It's also a place where, to quote Richard Bach's Illusions, "You are also free to write lies, or nonsense, or to tear the pages." The author Eric Borgerson has done something else again - he has put social issues and political themes at the heart of his novel. Eric and I recently sat down in cyberspace together to talk about his work - both his writing and as a publisher. 


Your novel, When the Eye Sees Itself, is rooted in the way that people can be classified and subdivided – and divided against one another; did you draw ‘inspiration’ from the way that popular opinion, especially online, seems to be drawn along political and ideological lines?

The novel is definitely informed by aspects of contemporary political culture in the (so-called) West and beyond, but the fictional society of the story is very different from our existing systems.  The novel explores the concept of power gradients, whether between individuals, between the government and the public, between branches of the government, and between factions in society.  However, those power disparities are decontextualized from the axes along which we customarily experience them, i.e., race, sex, gender, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, age or (for the most part) ability.  Citizens in the country where the novel takes place are differentiated by temperament: Vulnerables, deemed to require protection, Aggressives, deemed to require confinement or restraint, and Citizens, who possess a balanced midrange of the temperamental poles.

I believe the reader will see parallels to social struggles apparent in the news today, as well as the distorting effect of commercial interests on social policy and the various roles religion can play in underlying struggles for power and access to official legitimacy.

So, yes, the story reflects ideological and political divides blaring at us through the Internet and media today, but the form is very different and, I hope, gets at a deeper archetypal struggle that is playing out in seemingly varied ways on the surface in our world.


Do you see your fiction writing as an extension of your activism, and have you included any direct experiences in your writing?

Interesting question.  My own experience as an activist shows up in the struggles and characters of the story.  The book also contains political critiques relevant to issues in our contemporary world. The story is an allegory, and as such, it provides a mirror that I hope contributes to productive discussions about issues plaguing our societies, and more deeply, our consciousness.

The novel does not contain direct experiences. It is neither biographical nor autobiographical, but is informed (sometimes very vividly) by my experiences as an activist, and my familiarity with multiple sides of the law.

It is a story about power, not just a struggle for power over, but a deeper struggle over the meaning of power itself.
It is also about interconnection: institutional, psychological, political, cultural, economic, conscious, even subatomic (The sci-fi dimension of the story – Quantum Field Resonance Imaging (QFRI) technology that allows people to touch minds – serves an important role in this aspect of the story.)

Power and interconnection are important themes in most forms of activism and political critique.


What are your ambitions for Polylyric Press and its Independent Publishing model?

The objective for Polylyric Press is to develop collaborative relationships with authors, and a fairer distribution of proceeds than under traditional publishing contracts.

Under a traditional publishing contract, if a publisher decided to proceed with a book, it would control the title, cover, and content. If initial marketing did not send the book viral, then the author would be responsible for marketing and, in exchange for his or her labors, sacrifice of control, and ongoing promotional efforts, would receive the prestige of the publisher’s label, and maybe a 10 percent cut of list price on the book (which, if you look at the prices of books on the shelves, does not amount to much!)Although the author might receive an advance on royalties, it would have to be paid back through the royalties as they came in, which might never exceed the advance.

Polylyric’s model is different.  We will collaborate with authors to polish and develop their works to a high gloss for publication.  This means a shared decision making process about cover, editorial decisions, content, and title, with the aim of both Polylyric and the author ending up happy with the final version of the book that goes to market.  The author will, and in my opinion should, maintain control over his or her literary work, continue to own the copyright, and work with, not for, Polylyric.  Polylyric would hold a license to publish and market the book, but the author would retain ownership of his or her copyright.

As for royalties, there would be a proportional split which would route a significant portion of the net proceeds to the author. Initially, the proportion would balance in favour of Polylyric until its investment is recouped, then the ratio would flip, with the author taking the larger portion and Polylyric taking the smaller as sales continued.  This way, the author makes money from the beginning from all sales. If sales are robust and Polylyric recoups its investment, the author makes the lion’s share over the long haul.  If the book did not sell well, the author would still make money from sales and Polylyric would eat whatever it did not recoup of its investment. This, to my mind, is a much fairer arrangement.  I believe authors would come out way ahead compared to traditional agreements.

It bears noting, however, that there are several real world constraints on the size of the pie the publisher and author can divvy up, no matter how progressive their contract.  

The cost of printing is one hard factor, though economy of scale can mitigate it.  Another is the cost of distribution and order fulfillment. I think this may be where the publishing paradigm is about go through a fundamental shift.

As things stand now, in order to get books into bookstores, self publishers and independent publishers must go through existing distribution networks, so that their titles are made available to wholesalers and show up in the catalogs that booksellers consult to place orders. There are various ways to accomplish this (i.e. through Ingram, Baker and Taylor, or various distribution companies that access their networks) but they cost a significant percentage of sales, which limits a progressive publisher's leeway. The gospel is that there is no other way, but I think it is worth considering whether there is a path beyond this process. Circumnavigating conventional distribution would be revolutionary, but much in our world is in transition, and perhaps this sacrosanct assumption is in need of revision. 


This one is mostly for me! As someone who spent a little time in New York and Oakland / Berkeley, a long time ago, I wondered if you see differences between the West Coast writer community and that of the East Coast?  

I don’t have a strong opinion on that.  My interface with the literary world is primarily through authors and their work via the constant-flux digital nexus.  As with the world of publishing, I think the world of writing is getting both larger and smaller at speeds too fast to perceive.  I think we are converging on a global artistic community, even as the political world still clings to armed boundaries.


Are you currently open to submissions and if so, which genres / styles are you particularly interested in?

Polylyric is definitely interested in submissions.  Our mission statement sets forth the broad outlines of what we will accept.  (https://polylyric.com/mission.html.) We welcome both fiction and non-fiction from diverse perspectives, provided they do not negate the worth of any individual or group.  Politically charged material is welcome, though not attack pieces or screeds.  Our goal is to deepen the dialog, not the rifts. As the mission statement notes: “We are interested in works designed to awaken and inspire, rather than mollify and sedate.”  If you’ve got something that demonstrates courage and creative innovation, please consider contacting us at info@polylyric.com.


How, in your view, do writers balance up the needs of creativity with the commercial demands of writing and publishing (marketing, sales, social media, etc.)?

I’m not sure we do!  I have found the hard way that book promotion is very difficult work. It can swallow you up, and it takes discipline not to leap into the maw.  I think one must place deliberate limits in order to strive for balance.  A commitment to a limited number of hours per week for promotion, social media, etc., a commitment to sacred time set aside for writing, all in the context of a commitment to life balance: between work and play, thought and stillness, time with others and solitude, exercise and rest, and so forth.  It’s all about timing, balance and rhythm in life, and it is a lifelong practice, not a static achievement.


Was there any book that gave you a lightbulb moment and make you think ‘I could do this’?

Actually, it was an interview I read with the great Michael Cunningham wherein he said, in essence, that the most important thing he learned about writing was that writing happens by writing.  I sat down that night and started writing my novel and discovered there is magic in the process that no amount of thinking could achieve.


What are you working on next?

I have begun work on another novel.  The only thing I will tell you about it is that it is set in the real world and that it involves a modern iteration of an ancient tale.  I’m very excited about it.  Your questions have reminded me to keep carving out time to write it!


 More about When the Eye Sees Itself:

When the Eye Sees Itself recently was awarded Best Book in Science Fiction at the 2018 Pinnacle Book Awards. 

It also landed Winner in Science Fiction at the 2018 Independent Press Award.

Despite having a sci-fi dimension, When the Eye Sees Itself also was awarded first runner up in general fiction at the 2018 Los Angeles Book Festival.  It was submitted in that category because it is a broad piece, and because the ubiquity of technology in our contemporary lives may be eroding the distinction between (well-written) sci-fi and literary fiction.  Post-Cyberpunk may be the closest genre for this book, but it is a legal and political epic, a sci-fi thriller, and a sort of hard-knocks spiritual allegory.

A recent reviewer said this:  "[A]n intricately woven narrative dipping its toes in more than one genre ... interesting, unique and thought-provoking ... [T]ouches on subjects not explored in anything I’ve met in writing before. [A] nail-biting read."  -Siren and Soldier Book Reviews.


You can read more about When the Eye Sees Itself here:  http://polylyric.com/titles.html.

The Goodreads page for When the Eye Sees Itself can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38111685-when-the-eye-sees-itself.  Facebook for Polylyric Press is here: https://www.facebook.com/PolylyricPress/.  The Polylyric Press website is here: https://polylyric.com.

Links to all vendors carrying When the Eye Sees Itselfcan be found on the Polylyric Press store page, here: https://polylyric.com/store.html.  The book is also available through Amazon (softcover and Kindle) (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0998069647), Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/2940158926969), Kobo (https://www.kobo.com/ebook/When-the-Eye-Sees-Itself), and iTunes/iBooks (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/when-the-eye-sees-itself/id1339808147?mt=11).  

An offset print run is in the chute, and distribution options are under exploration.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Marital Advice? (Peter Davidson has made some notes!)

It's easy to get comfortable with our reading and stick to what we know. And I say this staring at a shelf filled with thrillers (not all of them my own...), comedy material and books about the craft of writing. The world - and the internet we tend to see it through - is a big  and interesting place though, and if you turn off your literary sat-nav you can sometimes find a gem. 

Recently, a US author, Peter Davidson, contacted me about a book he thought I'd appreciate. Turns out he was right. Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel would not have appeared on my radar but I'm glad it has. It combines observational humour with personal anecdotes and has a ring of truth about it, not least because Peter genuinely wrote this book for his grandson, who in turn genuinely got married to Abby (see photo below). 

Peter's book doesn't take itself too seriously, but it has a lot to say about man's evolution, and why it would be a great idea!


Guys, relax. He has it covered.


Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel
By Peter Davidson


When Peter Davidson's grandson, Joel, got engaged, Davidson decided to jot down a few words of marital wisdom for him, based on his vast experience as a husband. Davidson wrote and wrote and wrote until the “few words” became an epistle. Then he thought, why share this wisdom with only one person when he could share it with the whole world.  So, Davidson started a blog, listing new marital advice every week.  As the popularity of the blog grew, people suggested that the material should be turned into a book.  The result is Marital Advice to my Grandson, Joel.

The book reads like a long letter from a grandfather to his grandson, filled with homespun marital advice and philosophies, true stories, and large doses of humor. The reader will have the feeling of peeking over Davidson's shoulder as he pens his wisdom or of eavesdropping in on a conversation between grandfather and grandson.

Advice to grandson Joel, and to any man, includes: make sure that you buy a roll of electrical tape before you volunteer to do the vacuuming, and why, how to deal with your wife's steely-eyed, clinched-jaw scowl, known as “The Look,” the warning that your mouth will get you into a whole lot more trouble than your Willy ever will, and how to create the world's most powerful anniversary card for your wife.

Virtually all of the material in the book is presented in the form of upbeat stories, scenarios, and examples.  This is definitely not the type of advice that you'll find in a textbook on marriage or in a book on marital relations written by some psychiatrist.  This is the real stuff for real people.

The book is available at amazon.com, barnseandnoble.com and at book stores.



And just to prove there was - and is - a happy couple, here's that wedding photo I promised.



Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Film Noir Feeds my Fiction

The rules have changed.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that Raymond Chandler’s writing is one of the inspirations for my Thomas Bladen spy thrillers, but I also owe a huge debt to cinema.  It’s my great pleasure now to introduce you to a back catalogue of films that remain classics of the spy / thriller genre. Many of them are derived from novels but for consistency I will only reference the films and I’ve added the IMDB links so you can read about the plot in more detail. I hope you find some old favourites here, as well as some ‘new’ classics to add to your own list.

We’ll come back to Raymond Chandler in a bit. First and foremost, I have to pay tribute to The 39 Steps, a tale of a man unwittingly drawn into a murderous conspiracy, who goes on the run to prove his innocence. I favour the 1935 version with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, as well as a brilliant BBC version from 2008 (which includes elements from the novel that were left out of every other film). How much do I love The 39 Steps? Well, in Standpoint, Thomas watches the 1935 version with Miranda and comments on how Hitchcock changed the story from the novel. There’s also a homage to one of the film’s plot devices in Line of Sight, my follow-up to Standpoint. I put North by Northwest (1959) alongside The 39 Steps as another great example of a mistaken identity driving the plot forward. How do you win through when you don’t know what you’re supposed to know? I think it helps to have other people looking out for you from time to time.

The films Farewell My Lovely (1944), TheBig Sleep (1946) and The Long Goodbye (1973) allow Raymond Chandler’s world-weary private detective, Philip Marlowe, to fill the screen; much like Bogart’s performance as Sam Spade in the Dashiell Hammett co-scripted adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. My original intention had been to write Thomas Bladen as a detective, only he arrived pretty much fully formed and had his own opinions about what he did for a living. What I love most about this batch of films is the dialogue and the characterisation. The plots are well-crafted but to me they are secondary. The ‘hero’ is flawed and his attitude is often more hindrance than help as he battles relentlessly against the tide. These films are gritty, sometimes sleazy and show the underbelly of society. Yet somehow, almost miraculously, the hero emerges with most of his honour intact. My fondness for this genre led to the creation of Leon Thurston, a West Indian private detective who plies his trade from an old minicab office in Dalston. East London. While we’re on the subject of Chandler, make time for The Blue Dahlia (1947) – it’s an intriguing whodunit that apparently involved a controversial rewritten ending…but you can research that for yourself! Like Alan Ladd’s Johnny Morrison, Thomas Bladen is a little out of steps with the world around him, but the right woman makes all the difference.

Spies yet? Well, almost. Vicious Circle (1957) finds a humble doctor (humble but with a cravat!) drawn into a deadly game of blackmail and intrigue that leads him questioning who is out to get him – and why? I’d put this one in the same category as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and also (1956). Ordinary people in extraordinary times, who dig deep when they find themselves pawns in a much bigger game – much like Robert Hannay in The 39 Steps.

Both The Conversation (1974) and Enemy of the State (1998) tackle surveillance, paranoia and ethics, along with the perennial question of who watches the watchers. It is perennial too, as that phrase is as old as the Romans. In Thomas Bladen’s world, a simple surveillance job often turns out to be far more complicated and it doesn’t pay to ask too many questions (not that it stops him). The observer may seem impartial but they cannot deny there are consequences to their work. Three Days of the Condor (1975) pits one man against the ‘organisation’, by trying to stay one step ahead of everyone, in order to get to the truth and hold people in power accountable. By book five, Flashpoint, Thomas has learned that justice can take many forms and sometimes even a bitter compromise is the best option. The Third Man (1949) involves a mystery, a disappearing act with a difference and a conspiracy – how do you find out the truth when everyone is telling you something different? Its cunning and amoral titular character (compelling played by Orson Welles) dominates the film despite not being the main role. This group of films demonstrate another element that I wanted to bring to my books: unresolved endings. The moviegoer is left wondering what could happen afterwards.

I hope you’ll make time to watch all these films, even if you’ve seen them before.  


For those who enjoy extra homework, make time for:

The Long Memory (1953)
Rear Window (1954)
A Prize of Arms (1962)
Gilda (1946)
Build My Gallows High (1946)
In a Lonely Place (1946)



When not watching classic cinema, I write Thomas Bladen spy thrillers - intrigue, action and sardonic humour.





FLASHPOINT – Part Five of the Spy Chaser series

After London suffers a coordinated terror attack, Thomas Bladen questions everything – his future with Miranda, his Surveillance Support Unit job and even his clandestine role as a Spy Chaser.

But his troubles are just beginning.

When the Unit comes under MI5’s control and two senior SSU staff disappear, his search for answers is blocked at every turn.

A missing handgun and the reappearance of old adversaries forces him into uneasy alliances and hard choices.

-       Could there be a double agent in their latest assignment?
-       What is behind the rift between government departments?
-       And what if he has got it wrong this time?

Thomas must face his deepest fears and what he discovers could change the rules forever.




Friday, 29 September 2017

Eyes on the Prize - in discussion with Lynn Michell


Every author and publisher appreciates that they have to raise the visibility of their books. There are strategies aplentyapparentlyand often the best publicity lies in the story behind the story. This might be a link between a current news item or a wider ongoing discussion with a theme in the book or headline-grabbing stories about the authors. But how many of us want a rake through our private lives?

Sometimes though we simply need to speak out, even if taking a stance divides opinion. Lynn Michell, both an author and a publisher, found herself in such a position when considering entering one of her Linen Press books for the Womens Fiction Prize. She raised awareness about a situation that is, frankly, surprising (and not in a good way).


Lynn and I each work in different genres, but we share a love of the written word and a passion for the sustainability of British publishing. Given our different experiences, weve been enjoying something of a cultural exchange programme by email. Its my pleasure to share some of her thoughts here.

Please read article in the link above. Its a real eye-opener. Wed appreciate your views in the comments section below. Dont be shy now! Any links on this post have been added by me.


Q1 Gave you been contacted by other publishers, editors or authors, since your article came out?

When an editor at The Bookseller asked if other small presses felt the same as me and could they talk to a couple more NOW, I gave them contacts for the directors of Patrician Press and Inspired Quill, publisher of my next novel, The Red Beach Hut and both sent supportive replies, Patricia Borlenghi (Patrician) more forthright than Sara-Jayne Slack of IQ who had a lot to say. They are quoted in the editorial article. No other publishers have been in contact though.


Q2 How do you compartmentalise your time and focus between being a publisher and being an author?

It varies. At times completely compartmentalised, other times overlapping. When I'm engrossed in my own writing and the characters are talking to me while I walk the dog, I'm inside the narrative more than I'm in the real world and everything gets neglected. You know those times when you live on digestive biscuits? When stories write themselves and suddenly it's dark outside? It took five years to write each of my previous novels with intense periods interspersed with calmer ones. When my energy for my writing plateaued and it felt safe to let it float along for a while, then I turned back to Linen Press. The Red Beach Hut was different. It came suddenly and vividly and I wrote manically for three months. It was good timing because there was no Linen Press queue. Usually I can juggle the two, and if necessary put one on the back burner to accommodate the demands of the other. At the moment, with The Red Beach Hut finished, I'm editing Ali Bacon's historical novel In the Blink of an Eye about the Scottish painter D.O.Hill and when a revised chapter comes in, I drop everything and give it my full attention. I can be almost as immersed in a novel as an editor as I am as an author and I only take on novels that I can see from the same perspective as the author. My next project is very different, a commissioned biography of an extraordinary painter, Rosa Branson. Unlike fiction, there are constraints - like the truth. I don't know yet whether it will tear me away from everything and burn as brightly in my imagination as the novels did.


Q3 How do we make the Arts and the book business in particular more democratic? (Has it ever been that?)

We can't. Not while monopolies dictate what we read by throwing massive publicity and advertising budgets at the few chosen crowd-pleasers and award winners that we see on the shelves of all the stores. Will Amazon listen to a plea for sales programmes that are a bit more generous and manageable for small presses and which offer them terms they can meet rather than demanding the same trading terms they ask of the Big Five like taking a whopping 55% of the RRP for their Amazon Advantage programme? You bet they won't. If a small press can't pay to have books pushed up the publicity ladder, hard luck.

The three big prizes, the Booker, Costa and Women's Prize for Fiction could have a fairer sliding scale of entry fees so that a one-woman press with no paid staff doesn't pay the same to enter as Penguin Random House which holds 23% of the book market. £10,000 plus 70+ copies of the book is prohibitive for many independent presses.


Q4 What was your greatest challenge in writing The Red Beach Hut?


The Red Beach Hut gave me an easy ride compared to White Lies and Run, Alice, Run. Alice in particular started as one novel and turned into another and I can still see the seams and stitches. The Red Beach Hut arrived like a short film, very visual and with dialogue, almost ready made. I'm a sailor who's crossed the Atlantic so in the scenes on the beach and in the boat I'm on familiar territory. One challenge was the office scene in which a computer is hacked. I'm no technology wizard so I had to do some homework. I was also concerned about getting the facts absolutely right about children on the at risk register. Serendipity intervened in the form of a much-delayed Ryanair flight. I exchanged moans with a fellow passenger who turned out to be a senior policewoman. Over a glass of wine or three, she told me exactly what happens if someone reports a worrying incident that involves a child on the at risk register. I took notes. Thanks, Lolly! You know who you are. The other challenge was to not over-egg my tabloid-reading baddie and turn him into a caricature. He had his lines changed quite a few times. The overarching challenge is for everything that happens to ring true. What I want is for the novel to have structural and emotional integrity.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Being Krystyna


Most authors will tell you that the fictional world of their books comes from a real world inspiration. - a news item, an overheard conversation, or perhaps a personal experience that sparks off a chain of inspiration. There is another purpose of storytelling - to memorialise a true story so that friends, family and future generations can see history through the eyes of those who lived through it (and often those who did not).

I'm grateful to Carol Browne for making time to discuss her work on Being Krystyna - A Story of Survival in WWII.



1. What was it that drew you to the project?

I volunteered to write the life story of local woman Krystyna Porsz after a chance meeting with her son in a Polish restaurant in 2011; but I was a very reluctant biographer. I did it because no-one else could be found who was either able or willing to take it on and that was my only reason. I thought, “If I don’t do it, no-one will.” It seemed far too big a responsibility to me but I told Krystyna’s son I’d give it a go, even though I was convinced I wasn’t up to the job. I write fiction. I make stuff up. I assumed non-fiction would be completely different.


2. Did your approach differ from writing fiction?

I discovered that non-fiction and fiction aren’t so different after all because the author still needs to provide the reader with a compelling read. It can’t be written as a chronological series of events or it will be very dull. In the case of Being Krystyna - A Story of Survival in WWII, although I had the facts of Krystyna’s life, they amounted to a few sheets of A4 paper, hardly enough material for a book. So I had to build a structure to hang those facts on, very much like creating a plot for a work of fiction. A young Polish friend of mine had visited Krystyna on two occasions and I used her as a narrative device, so we see the story unfold through her eyes. This gave me much more opportunity to expand the text while still being true to the available facts. It also added another dimension to the story, comparing the very different life experiences of two Polish women.

Additional challenges, however, present themselves when you remember you are dealing with someone’s actual life. Writers of fiction know that characters are apt to take on a life of their own. They seem real to their creators and as authors we want to portray them in their best light. When you are writing a real person’s story, this becomes vitally important. The sense of responsibility the author feels is magnified. For me, writing about Krystyna, it was off the scale; here was a very old lady whose ability to communicate was seriously hampered by dementia. There wouldn’t be any chance of being able to discuss the book with her. There wouldn’t be any feedback. While I was writing the book, I kept thinking, “If this were my life story, would I be happy with how it’s being handled?” That was my benchmark all the time and I’m confident I kept to it.


3. How did the experience change you?

Writing a real person’s story is a challenge. It’s hard work. But I recommend it, especially if that person’s life is drastically different from your own. It’s an enlightening experience. It will broaden your mind and test your ability as a writer. It will give you the opportunity to write something that really deserves to be written. I only met Krystyna once but I made a point of shaking her hand before I left. I needed to physically touch someone who had survived the Holocaust, who had lived a history I had only read about or seen on black and white newsreels. Krystyna Porsz is a truly brave person. A survivor. I’m grateful not only to have met her, but to have had the honour of telling her story.


4. Where can we find out more about Being Krystyna?

Being Krystyna is available in Kindle format on Amazon.
Being Krystyna (UK): http://tinyurl.com/hanoycg
Being Krystyna (US): https://tinyurl.com/ya6gn7c5

You can visit the website of my publisher, Dilliebooks:  https://www.dilliebooks.com/ 
I also write other books and you can find my blog at https://authorcarolbrowne.wordpress.com