Shakey, Mills&Boon and me

Posted: December 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: authors, events | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »
Sara Craven, Alycia Smith-Howard, Mez Packer and Annie Othen

Sara Craven, Alycia Smith-Howard, Mez Packer and Annie Othen

Last week I had another invitation from the lovely Annie Othen to be a guest on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s Friday morning Coffee Club. The format is simple; three women, a surfeit of coffee and biscuits and a trawl through the headlines. It’s not exactly highbrow but it’s good fun and last week the guests all had a literary flavour.

Alycia Smith-Howard – a Shakespeare scholar and writer (recently of New York University) and Sara Craven, author of eighty – that’s eight-zero – Mills&Boon romances, and me, sat round the little coffee table in the corner of Annie’s studio and discussed topics ranging from bankers’ bonuses to how we met our husbands. (I’m not sure if you can still listen again but if so, it’s here). Good fun, as usual.


Posted: December 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: prizes, writing | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Well – despite my cynical post about the People’s Book Prize in November I am pleased to announce that Among Thieves has WON the October vote. This means my novel goes through to the ‘finals’ and I get to wear a frock at an event in London next year – I think.

The thing is it’s not entirely clear what happens once a novel has passed the monthly vote hurdle. Will novelists have to gee the troops again and beg everyone who’s ever met them to vote ‘one more time’? And here’s the problem with literary prizes that depend on a public vote. The very nature of independent publishing means that most of the books submitted for the prize don’t have a print-run of more than 2,000. So the readership is tiny and every novelist entered (if they care) will have to coerce their friends, family and colleagues to go online/register/vote/comment – yawn.

This means that people who have more of an online presence (and this includes me) have a better chance of winning. Democratic it is not.

On the other hand does a ‘struggling’ author pass up the chance to increase awareness of their novel? Of course not. I would love to leave all the ‘marketing and promotion’ bollocks to a PR person who actually enjoys generating column inches. For most authors, publicising their novel is simply something that distracts them from the thing they desperately want to be doing. Writing. But without a successful first outing who will publish the next one?

And so we must throw ourselves into the fray, try not to think about the whore-Factor and keep our eyes on the prize – which in reality is widening our audience.

Hillfields forever

Posted: November 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: events | Tags: , , | No Comments »

When I arrived at the Hillfields Readers Group event in Coventry on Saturday I was unaware that I was in for – what shall I call it? – not a roasting but certainly a light grilling. There were twenty or thirty people, loads of kids doing ‘crafts’ and a table of complimentary food and drink in the foyer. The organisers had laid on entertainment too (storytellers, poets, musicians) and the whole thing felt as benign as a village fete. I tucked into a mince pie (home made) and chatted to one of the gentlemen on the door whose job it was to greet participants, then settled at the back to listen to a performance of humorous verse from Martin Brown. Wonderful. As he left the stage everyone clapped enthusiastically.

The first inkling I had that Among Thieves had not been unanimously well-received was when I bumped into a group member I knew in another context. A lovely Jamaican woman (one of my mother-in-law’s friends) who I’ve met many times over the years. She congratulated me on the novel and I expressed my surprise and delight that she would be in the audience. My book, she told me, was the first to be bought for every member of the group by the Readers Group committee. I felt honoured.

‘So you’ve read it?’ I asked.

‘We all have,’ she replied

Interesting I thought – this would be my first reading where the whole audience had read the novel. I was impressed.
‘So did you enjoy it?’ I ventured.

I must learn NOT to ask that question. The dear lady touched my arm and made a strange sound. It was a sound I understood, a kind of ‘whoooohoooo-oooh’, a sound that implied my novel had aroused strong sentiments and those sentiments could possibly be described as ugly. The whole village fete vibe started to fracture.

I’ll admit – I was feeling vulnerable on Saturday. I’ve had a shit month and I’d set off for Hillfields feeling exhausted, so I was glad the event promised to be an easy gig on home turf. When I saw the organiser’s face my earlier fears were confirmed. He smiled nervously and led me to the front. We did the whole ‘do-you-want-a-microphone’ ‘would-you-like-some-water’ thing and I took a chair in front of the stage without a mic (I prefer things to be intimate). He introduced me and it went something like …. ‘as Mez is about to find out not everyone enjoyed Among Thieves…. and I’m sure they are going to tell her why….’.

He said some other stuff too but I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking ‘shit, they hated it and here I am at the front with no allies, feeling small and not on full power and they’re going to shred me. Shit!’

I was mentally calculating all the things it could be; Jez the racist, Bas the criminal Jamaican, too much swearing, too many voices…? I offered a brief introduction to the story and ploughed ahead with the first reading, expletives deleted as there were so many children present. Now I do find this difficult – I hate editing the text on the hoof but I understand how people feel about swearing in front of the kids. I’ve always sworn in front of mine – but I’ve been a parent long enough to know that the most radical people can suddenly get all reactionary once they pop a sprog. And considering the warnings I’d already had I thought I’d better not do anything else to upset them.

I read well – I’m not just saying it – I’m theatrical and I have fun with the characters and I finished my first reading with a flourish. But the half-hearted applause said it all and I steeled myself as I said, ‘does anyone have any questions?’

Rather than transcribe the events in any more detail I’ll outline the main gripe which seemed to be that I hadn’t got my facts right about the area – Hillfields. And that I had, like many before me, painted Coventry and Hillfields in a bad light. I was suddenly pleased that the book had made them cross – they were sticking up for Cov and defending its reputation against all comers. Once I convinced them that I was friend, not foe – that I too had an affection for Coventry (not as fervent as theirs admittedly) then their attitude softened.

I explained that Coventry as a location was really incidental – it could have been set anywhere but the city fit the themes of the novel perfectly. I also explained that although Coventry wasn’t where I grew up I have lived in or near it for 23 years. I was around in the mid-1980s and so I did have authentic things to say about that time and place. By the end one of the ladies at the front was telling stories about WWII and Queens Street ‘way back when’ and her husband’s family coming from Ireland in the century before last. It was fascinating.

By the time I left I’m not sure if they liked the book any better but I think they liked me – and I liked them. One woman even said that she wouldn’t normally read a novel like mine, she’d found it very disturbing, but she read it right to the end, she had to know what happened. And I felt honoured again.

Alert for ‘Among Thieves’

Posted: October 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: review, writing | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Google Alerts – what fun! Choose the keywords you want to monitor and Google will send you an email whenever something with those words gets posted on the web. It doesn’t catch everything – content from static web sites takes a while to come down the pipe. But anything from news sites or blogs – basically anything that uses RSS – arrives in the mailbox pretty quickly.

This is how I found a new review of Among Thieves last week. It’s from one of Salt Publishing‘s literary magazine titles – Horizon Review. Reviewer Becci Fearnley says:

Jez’s memories of the shattered city in which he grew up, hiding unexploded World War II shells in a secret den, tattooing himself as part of an initiation ceremony into his boyhood gang, Das Bombers, and the way he is misunderstood by his father and brother make Jez the most intense of all the three voices. Although Pads’ sophistication and Mehmet’s family loyalty do make them interesting and readable voices, it is Jez with whom I fell in love.

With three voices so utterly distinctive from one another, and so honest and compelling in their narration, it is easy to lose yourself in Mez Packer’s novel. Three hundred and five pages make this a story deep enough to get your teeth into, yet compact enough to maintain a swift pace.

In 2006 Becci Fearnley won the Branford Boase Award for Young Writers and has had her poetry published in a Young Writer’s anthology. She is currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick, and is working on an eighth novel – bloody hell! She’s only 20.

YOU be the judge

Posted: October 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: events, prizes | Tags: , , | No Comments »
The People's Book Prize

The People's Book Prize

You be the judge – well kind of… my first novel, Among Thieves, has been put forward for The People’s Book Prize. The website says:

The People’s Book Prize is a national competition aimed at discovering talented authors showcased exclusively at your local library and on this website – with no panel of judges except YOU, the public!

Yeah – I get it, but the most likely scenario is that the author who can coerce, cajole and encourage their friends to vote for them will fare best in this type of competition (cynical, moi?). But these things have their place and I’m not above self-promotion – I have a blog for God’s sake, and a Facebook page and I use Twitter. So, should you feel like being part of my master plan then please vote for Among Thieves HERE.


Posted: September 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: authors, events, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »
The Waterhall is part of the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum

The Waterhall is part of the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum

This Friday sees the start of Birmingham Artsfest – with a pretty cool line-up of music, dance, theatre and literature. On Sunday 13th I’m doing a short talk with fellow author, Jeff Phelps, and our gig is described as “literary beach novels far apart”. There’s not that much beach life in Among Thieves but I’m sure I can tailor a reading to fit the advertised theme.

Event details:
Jeff Phelps and Mez Packer talk about their novels (Box of Tricks, Among Thieves) with an introduction from Alan Mahar, Tindal Street Press publishing director.
Date: Sunday 13th September
Start time: 1pm
Venue: The Waterhall, Chamberlain Square, B3 3DH

There’s an online round-up of Artsfest events in the Birmingham Post, where I am once again referred to as Mex Packer – which makes me sound like a Texan warehouse assistant, or a gunslinger – yeah, Mex Packer – the meanest son-of-a bitch in the Midlands.

Birmingham Artsfest

Posted: July 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: authors, events | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

I’m doing another joint gig, this time with Jeff Phelps (who I’ve yet to meet but hope to remedy that soon) at Birmingham Artsfest this September to talk about our novels – reading and writing. Final date/time to be confirmed. Jeff’s new novel Box of Tricks is described by Tindal Street Press as follows:

Box of Tricks by Jeff Phelps

Box of Tricks by Jeff Phelps

While Eddie’s parents are away in Scotland he has to stay and help out at his auntie’s boarding house in New Brighton. Here he pals up with his charismatic cousin Ray, a well-meaning teddy boy who breaks his mother’s heart with his alternating charm and fecklessness and meets Julia, a troubled beauty who twists him around her little finger. But as Eddie becomes involved with the sinister joke shop The Box of Tricks – and its under-the-counter packages – he begins to learn more about the needs of others than he bargained for. Publisher Information

It sounds great – I’m looking forward to reading it. The cover for Jeff’s novel was designed by my very good friend Kate Prentice, who was also responsible for the cover of my novel – Among Thieves.

Mez Packer podcast

Posted: July 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: authors, events, writing | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Mez Packer and Amanda Smyth discuss their novels, Among Thieves and Black Rock, with John Mair as part of the Coventry Literary Festival – in conjunction with Coventry Conversations.

Click on the audio icon below to listen now:

The Rippl effect

Posted: June 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

A lovely guy, Dom Rippl, came to visit me at the weekend to talk about turning Among Thieves into a movie. It’s was exciting to have someone talk about the novel in terms of their own creative vision – and to have inspired another artist to want to produce something of their own.

Dom has worked in the industry for many years and has his own website, Splitting Peas, showcasing some of his work. Take a look.

Bookfest update

Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: authors, events | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Amanda Smyth has confirmed for the Oxfam Bookfest gig on July 6th. This will be an informal ‘meet the authors’ session with readings and conversation and wine! All are welcome. SIGN UP ON FACEBOOK FOR THIS EVENT.
Oxfam bookfest
Check the Oxfam Bookfest website for more information about events in your area.