Monday 26 September 2016

The Perfect Storm

It was rare to hear of anybody doing it back then. A good eight years ago, when I first had the idea for Glass Houses, texting at the wheel was not a big issue. We were only just starting to believe that holding the phone to our ear was a bad idea. The law against that came about in December 2003 but, according to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), it wasn't until an increase in the fine from £30 to £100, as well as a fixed 3 point penalty, was made law in 2007 that the punishment was viewed as any sort of deterrent.

I had already stopped at that point but only because I'd had a chastening experience at a roundabout on my way to work. There I was, posh dress on, mother of two young children, in her battered-but-reliable 'R reg' VW Polo, looking every bit the driver the old insurance schemes were allowed to back as a safe bet. I'm ashamed to think that I was probably sorting out some tea date for my little ones, booking a hair appointment, talking to my mum… anyway, the bit I do remember is that the phone was in my hand when a man cloaked in black leather on an over-revving motorbike passed me in the outside lane, his finger tapping the side of his head as if to say: Think about it. Oh the glorious juxtaposition of the stereotype.

It worked though. I realised that I hadn't known the motorbike rider was there until he started gesticulating and that was the last time I held the phone to my ear. Having gone on to consider and research the awful consequences of similar anti-social behaviour whilst driving for Glass Houses,  it haunts me to think that it could have been me who'd changed everybody's life, including my own, for the sake of a conversation I can't even remember today.

When those first words of Glass Houses went down on paper however, the sending of the text which causes the accident and Tori Williams' overnight transformation into Public Enemy Number One, was what I would call a 'plot tool'. I needed to find an action which most readers would find abhorrent, only to reflect and concede that they had done similar thoughtless things themselves. I wanted to explore the, 'perfect storm', that instant when a moment of recklessness takes on a much more sinister turn. I wanted to ask the question that if we're lucky enough to avoid the perfect storm, are we any less guilty?
What I didn’t envisage when I was writing that first draft was that texting and other messaging at the wheel would become so wide-spread.

It took me eighteen months to write the first draft of Glass Houses and years and years of re-writing and editing to get it into book form. During this time texting at the wheel has become much more common.  And the terrible consequences have, inevitably, increased in number. What I hadn't expected was that around the time of the launch of Glass Houses there would be a surge of public feeling against messaging whilst driving, so much so that the Daily Mail, citing the RAC's talk of an 'epidemic'' of drivers messaging and checking social media at the wheel, pushed for parliament to change the laws. They listened, last week announcing plans for the doubling of points to six and the fine to £200 for use of a hand-held phone in the car. More about this, here. 

Of course, those are the punishments for committing the offence. Cause an accident whilst messaging and the penalties become irrelevant, as told so poignantly and eloquently, here in the Summer Break Campaign. 

So why am I writing this? Glass Houses never set out as an instrument to deter people from texting at the wheel, but if one of the knock-on effects of reading the book achieves that, then nobody would be happier about that than me. Readers are constantly sending me clips of campaigning stories and videos, all hard-hitting, difficult to watch and with powerful messages. Thanks to Chris Swiffen for this one, particularly devastating when you see the picture the messenger had posted on Facebook, moments before she killed herself at the wheel. 

I hope my children are watching these clips and will take it seriously when I say they have to put their phone in the back of the car when they drive.  I hope their friends are, and their friends of friends. But, although I agree that targeting teens before they start driving has to be an effective start point, it isn't just teens. Our generation and beyond, well, we get complacent behind the wheel, don't we? Teens aren't the only ones who think that there can ever be a phone call which is important enough to make whilst driving.

We need to have a change of culture in much the same way as the Clunk Click campaign of the Seventies made it normal to fasten our seatbelts. I think it's started already and I want to help spread the message. I always think in life that there are some people who'd never do something, others who will do it whatever you tell them and then there's a whole malleable group in the middle who could be persuaded either way. I think this current swell against hand-held phones whilst driving has the power to positively influence a significant amount of people in the malleable middle.

I've read enough to support the message that there is never a reason important enough to text from the wheel. If I can help promote this via my blog and through supporting campaigns such as Summer Break's, not to mention, through the reading of Glass Houses, well, I'd feel a little better about when the man on the motorbike caught me offending. 

Thursday 22 September 2016

Whoops. My bad...

The moral of this sorry tale comes at the end. But feel free to skim read until you get there: you simply need to know that I was ranting about big brother on my back and the injustice of rejected reviews...

'I'm writing to you as the author of two books listed on Amazon: Tea & Chemo and Glass Houses. Both are published by a small but increasingly successful, and certainly ethical, independent publisher, Urbane Publications. I'm happy to say that both books seem to be well-received and are gaining good reviews.

You will not need me to tell you that we live in a world where reviews are vital if we want to sell books. All writers these days, whether published by one of the traditional presses, an independent publisher or are self-published, have to promote their books. They have to find innovative ways of getting their writing into the public eye, need to work with the media, social media, blog, have a web site, do talks, signings, appear at book group meetings and generally make as much noise as possible about their book. I am no different. What I don't do however, is coerce people into reviewing. I don’t find a way of putting up bogus reviews or, god forbid, pay for reviews. I've never understood cheating – not because I'm a saint, but because I can't see where the glory is in gaining top place when it's not deserved.

As with many authors. I have no expectation of making huge amounts of money through book sales. I'm in the wrong career if money is my driver. But I want to tell stories. I want to entertain. I want people who read my books to think that their £8.99 is money well-spent. I want somebody to read my book and recommend it to others because it's had a great effect on their day/ week/ life… But I can't make that up. I have to write, get my book out there and hope that it's well received.

With that background, I hope you will understand why I was particularly upset to hear from somebody I've known for years as we live in the same village, even though our paths don't cross frequently. She wrote to say that a review she'd written, as well as one her equally enthusiastic son had written, had been rejected by Amazon. She was disappointed because she'd devoured Glass Houses, wanted to spread the word and had spent time writing a positive review. When the original review never appeared, she tried to re-post it but received an automated reply to explain that the original, 'did not comply with our customer service guidelines. Amazon does not permit reviews from customers whose relationship to the product or seller may be perceived as biased.'

I'm upset on many counts. And what I find particularly galling is the injustice. I have never asked a friend/ acquaintance/ family member/ neighbour… to put up a bogus review to increase numbers. I bring you back to the above – if it isn't genuine, I'm not interested.

I'm also baffled by the 'connection' that has flagged up a problem with this particular review. Is it because the reviewer also reviewed Tea & Chemo? Readers of Tea & Chemo have gone on to read Glass Houses. Personally, I've posted reviews on several books from authors I like – that's normal, isn't it?

Yes, I know this lady, yes I think she's great, but there are other people who've reviewed my book, whose reviews have been posted, whom I know better. Is it because the first part of our postcode is the same (everyone in our village shares the first portion of the postcode) and if so, does that mean that my neighbours aren't allowed to review? I bring you back to my point about the necessary promotion for all writers, as well as the desire for happy readers. My publisher and I held a launch at my local pub for Glass Houses in which we sold over eighty books. Of course, the idea is that those eighty books will be well-read and enthusiastically recommended to another eighty readers and so on. But it's totally normally that those first sales start close to home. These people should still be allowed to review. And trust me, I am not feeding them the lines if they do.

Furthermore, I'm troubled that there may be other instances of genuine reviews of the book in question, Glass Houses, and also my first book, Tea & Chemo, being automatically rejected without my knowing.

In summary, I'm upset that this review hasn't been posted because it was genuine. I don't like the implication of involvement in bogus reviews. And, with reviewing being such a big part of the promotion business, I hope my books won't slip into reviewer-oblivion on Amazon because the machine has decided that reviews on my novel aren't 'kosher'.
I'd therefore like to ask for:
1. The original review to be reinstated
2. A check for any other rejected reviews on either Tea & Chemo or Glass Houses, allowing me to respond
3. An assurance that this won't be allowed to have any negative effect on my author account regarding future reviews and my Amazon ranking
4. Some explanation as to why this happened.'

OK, still here? Thank you.

Here's an abbreviated version of what happened next: a reply from Amazon said that they couldn't liaise directly with me on the nature of the rejection of the review but they included a handy link  with detail on reasons for rejection. Huffing and puffing, I clicked the link. Pah! Yet more of my precious time spent - do they know how busy I am??


Amazon, it writes, first on the list and bold for all to see, does not allow multiple reviews for one product from the same household. And you know what, much as I wish the reviewer was allowed the opportunity to delete one of the reviews and thus one review from her household would survive, I do concur. It could get out of hand, couldn't it? In our house alone we must have ten email addresses between us; reviews could soon become meaningless.

And so, the moral of this tale is as follows:
1. Do not jump to conclusions and spend your Sunday morning writing a cross response before you have appraised yourself of the facts
2. Big Brother is not yet as powerful as we might fear in our paranoid dreams: Amazon is not yet able to name your friends simply from their ip address (but it's coming, I'm sure…)
3. However much your partner, your six children, dog, cat and two guinea pigs are impressed by the packaging of the second hand copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the smelly poop bags, or the self-cleaning toilet (I made that one up, nice idea though, eh?) don't, I repeat, don't be tempted to leave more than one review of its brilliance.

PS Next event for your diary: Waterstones Book Shop Party from 1pm on Saturday 8th October, Harrogate. Very excited about this! More details to come. 

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Join Me at Blackwell's, Leeds!

I'm going to be in the gorgeous Blackwell's Bookshop in Leeds this Saturday 17th September and I'd love you to join me. We'll be talking books and a whole lot of other stuff. There'll be cake, obviously, as well as discounted copies of Glass Houses and six free books from Urbane Publications up for grabs. And I do a pretty mean book signing if I say so myself (if the definition of 'mean' is to use ten words where others would use one??)

Here's the detail: 

The six books included in the prize draw, all with rave reviews, are as follows. Click the links to find out more:

As If I Were A River by Amanda Saint 

Threat by Hugh Fraser 

Heart Ladder by Elizabeth Macbain

Roebuck by Luke Waterson 

The Rwandan Hostage by Christopher Lowery

Escape to Perdition by James Silvester  

A bit too far for you? Future venues include Ripon, Harrogate, Newark, Cardiff and somewhere else 'down south'. Watch this space!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

The Winning Entry

Phew! London buses - radio silence and then three posts all at once. It's because there's a lot going on in the land of Glass Houses and, I'm delighted to say, none so exciting as my competition to win five Urbane Publications books of your choice. A very fine prize indeed. And some - all - very fine entries.

As some of you will know, there was a little bit of work to do to validate your entry into the draw and  you were asked to respond to one of the following questions either via this blog, Facebook or email. 

either (1) a question about Glass Houses you feel would spark discussion in a book group 
Or (2) a question you'd put to a specific Glass Houses character if they were sitting in front of you 
Or (3) the name of at least one of the Urbane titles you'd like to win and a sentence explaining why. 

I've collected up all the answers and tittered and gosh'ed and nodded (at the brilliance) my way through them and thanked my lucky stars I wasn't required to choose a 'winning' question. Instead, all the entries were put into a hat and stashed in the corner of the room until head adjudicator, the husband, came home to pick out the winner. 

Oh, you don't think I'm going to tell you yet?

Thank you to those who worried their answers might be 'spoilers' and emailed them to me. I appreciate the sensitivity and for the same reason, I'm not going to print the whole list of questions here. However, the entries were SO good - seriously, there wasn't a duff questions amongst them - that I have compiled a list of all questions entered. I will squeeze as many of them as possible into the book group flier which was at the heart of this competition. If you would like to see the list in all its glory, and/or think it might be useful for your book group, please send me your email address by private message and I'll send you the list by return. 

Meanwhile, a taster. 

The one which made me laugh the most:
Oi, you, Tori's step-dad, what made you such an arse...?

The one where I'd be particularly keen to hear the responses: Has the novel chaged your perception of the way we, as a society, view and deal with those of us who make split-second decisions with potentially devastating consequences? 

The one where I thought, Yep, fair play, I wouldn't have thought to ask that: Oh! Actually, spoiler alert, but well done, Julia!

And the one which really made me think: What are Gerald's positive traits and can he change after what happens at the end of the book?

Other questions were just as fabtastic, but because I hate, with a passion, when I find out too much about a story before I read it, I am being particuarly cautious.

Oh, you want to know the winner?

One more thing. Because book groups are a writer's friend, buying lots of books and meeting to drink wine/coffee/eat cake discuss them exhuberantly, and because the cost of the wine/coffee/cake books can mount up, Urbane Publications have a very, very generous deal for book groups: 

Order five or more copies of the same book for delivery to a single address and receive a 50% discount on the order AND free p&p. I think that is pretty generous. Contact Urbane Publications if your book group would be interested. 

Where were we? OK, thanks to everyone who entered the competition, the winning entry out of the hat belongs to...
...Tamsin Sargeant. Well done Tamsin, I'll be sending you a DM about how to claim your prize.

Next date for your diary: Saturday 17th September between 2 and 5.30pm, Blackwell's Book Shop, Leeds. Book signing, Q&A, chat, cake...would love to see you there!

Sunday 4 September 2016

Ahem! Your deadline approaches...

Monday 5th September is shaping up to be an exciting day, not to mention a very pleasant slide back into 'proper' work after the summer holidays. 
It's the deadline (9am, just in case inspiration strikes in the wee hours) for my competition to win five books of your choice from my wonderfully generous publisher at Urbane Publications. And once I've sifted through the entries to steal choose the questions for the fliers to accompany copies of Glass Houses for use in book groups, and the husband (to ensure no jiggery-pokery) has chosen an entry from the hat to be our prize winner, then it's off to Bakewell in Derbyshire for a bit of a chat, a coffee and some cake. 
As there's still time to enter the competition and because you're all exceedingly welcome to join us tomorrow night in Bakewell, I thought I'd paste the salient information below. 
By the way, you don't have to have read Glass Houses to enter the competition, nor to come along tomorrow night. 
So, to win your choice of five books from the Urbane Publications catalogue, please enter:

either (1) a question about Glass Houses you feel would spark discussion in a book group 
Or (2) a question you'd put to a specific Glass Houses character if they were sitting in front of you 
Or (3) the name of at least one of the Urbane titles you'd like to win and a sentence explaining why.  

*Competition closes:
9 am Monday 5 September*

  • You can insert your question in a comment below, email it to me here or post it on Facebook or Twitter (@jaxbees).
  • You can enter as many questions as you like - each question = one entry.
  • If you feel your question may include 'spoilers' (ie you'll give some of the plot away) please choose the email option. 
  • The winner of their choice of books will be chosen at random and the best question – or questions - will be included on the flier.   
  • Glass Houses is available direct from Urbane Publications and Amazon and to buy or order from book shops.
  • For more about Urbane Publications and its titles, click here.

Good luck!

If you're free to join us tomorrow night:
Where: at The Bakewell Book & Gift Shop, Matlock Street, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1EE. View their website here
When: 8pm Monday 5th September
What: a brief talk about me and Glass Houses followed by a reading and Q&A. More than happy to sign books if that's of interest.
Anything else? Coffee, cake and a 10% discount on Glass Houses and Tea and Chemo.   
RSVP not strictly necessary but I'd love to know if you're able to make it :)
Hope to see you in either the competition, the book shop, or both. 
Happy September every one!