Harper & Collins and plagiarism

First, a disclaimer.  I have no idea who LK Rigel is, other than she is an independent author who obviously takes a great deal of trouble and care with her marketing and covers (unlike me, who relies on the sheer genius of the written word).  She has a novel, Spiderwork, that she commissioned the cover for from Nathalia Suellen.  I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like the sort of book I’d buy, but then I doubt middle-aged married men is her key demographic.  However, what incenses me is that Harper and Collins apparently tried to buy the cover artwork from Nathalia, and when she declined, shamelessly ripped it off for their novel, Bewitching by Alex Flinn.

How can an established publisher like H&C have so few ethics?  How do they think they can get away with it?  I have emailed them, and I would encourage anyone else to do likewise.

Compare the two covers here and see what you think.

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Saturday – the start

The alarm sounded at 02:30, a time at which I am more used to heading to bed rather than rising from it.  I shook ‘Er Indoors awake.

“Wassa amat oo?” she said, eloquent as ever.  “Has the alarm gone off”

“Yes, light of my life, at half past stupid o’clock as you wished.  Isn’t it curious that we say the alarm has gone off, when it clearly comes on?”

She ignored my incisive and witty conversation and staggered off to the bathroom as I made my way to the kitchen.  If I was to drive I would need a fix of tea.  Then we swapped stations until, just after three, we were ready for the off.  I programmed the car park post code into my phone and the sat nav app guided us towards our point of departure.

As we neared the airport I relied on ‘Er Indoors to supply the final navigation, as the whole site has a single post code.  I had also committed the directions to memory.  Now, in my defence, I did not have the directions in front of me, that was her job, and it was still very early in the morning.  Consequently we found ourselves stuck in a line of traffic approaching the drop-off point, amidst building work to make our journey more pleasant (we’re sorry for any inconvenience).  I slowly wound my way past tearful farewells, out the other side and round again.

“We should have turned left,” said the love of my life, five minutes after it would have been useful to know that.  I turned left.  “Oh, not this one,” she said, as we pulled into a hotel car park.  “The next one.”

“No problem, my angel,” I said, smiling.  Well, my teeth were showing.  Let’s call it a smile.

I pulled into the airport car parking lot and parked the car in the required lane.  It appeared quite a lot of people had decided to head off to the sun at stupid o’clock.  I left ‘Er Indoors by the bus and entered the reception area.  I handed over my reservation and key, the receptionist handed me the receipt.  Inside a minute I was back outside again.

“Oh no.  It’s the wrong place, isn’t it,” she said.  Have you not read the previous chapter?  Who’s stolen my drink, remember?

“No, Princess.  It’s all hunky-dory.  Let’s get on the bus.”  We boarded the bus, heaved our hand luggage onto the rack and sat down.  Within minutes we were at the South Terminal.

“This way,” I said, for I am a man, and a man always knows where he is going.

“But it says Easyjet that way,” she said.

“Yes, Precious, but that’s for those that need to check in and who have hold baggage.  We have our boarding cards already, and we don’t have hold luggage.  We can head straight for the bleep-bleep machines.”

“Okay,” she said, doubt not so much dripping as pouring from her voice.  We made our way to the bleep-bleep machine, where she finally entrusted me with my own passport and boarding card.  We went through the bleep-bleep machine.  ‘Er Indoors has a phobia about these.  She is convinced they make the machines bleep whenever she goes through, just so the butch security woman can pat her down.  This time we passed unbleeped.  Not so our luggage.    “Wait a minute!  Why have you got your laptop?”

“Um, well, there’s free InterWeb, and I thought we could research online things to do, and check our flights home, and stuff like that.”  Her look was one that was not exactly encouraging.

While one guard tested ‘Er Indoors’ collection of liquids another wiped the inside of all my backpack’s pockets.  He rifled my carefully packed contents.

“A travel iron?” he said, looking inside a small bag.

“Yes, God forbid foreigners should see me in a wrinkled shirt,” I said.  “Or old shirts,” I added, as he picked up shirts still wrapped in plastic.  He smiled.  He obviously had an ‘Er Indoors of his own.

It appeared that neither of our bags had been in contact with illicit chemicals and we were allowed to proceed (after I had surrendered my boarding card and passport back to ‘Er Indoors.  I am not to be trusted, it appears.  I wonder how I ever manage to travel on my own).

It was now 04:20.  We had passed through the whole process in minutes.  We located our flight on the departure board.  Good.  No delay or cancellation.

“The gate doesn’t open till 06:20,” said ‘Er Indoors.  “I thought it was 04:40.”

“No, ma Cheri.  The check-in opens at 04:40, but we checked in over the InterWeb.  That’s why we could go direct through the bleep-bleep machine.”

“You mean we’ve got two hours to wait?  We could have had another hour in bed?”

I showed her my teeth again.  We bought a newspaper and waited.

The gate opened a little before time.  When we boarded the plane the row by the emergency exit was unoccupied.  My six feet three frame rejoiced.  We settled in.

“This is the captain.  I’m afraid we’re scheduled for a little delay.  Air traffic has scheduled us for a 07:05 slot.  My apologies.”  I have yet to be on an Easyjet flight that took off on time, but they’ll charge you if you’re a minute late.

But as it was, we took off just before 07:00, and landed at Montpellier on time.  We skipped past the tourists waiting by the luggage carousel, trying unsuccessfully not to look smug.  We found the bus stop.  We had just missed the bus.  The next was an hour later.  Stuff it, I had Euros burning holes in my money belt (not all our Euros, of course, but as much as I could be trusted with).  We took a taxi.  Like taxi drivers the world over, he drove at breakneck speed, casually holding the wheel in one hand.  The sensation of imminent death was enhanced by the fact they all drive on the wrong side of the road.

He dropped us off at the hotel, corporeally intact.  We walked into the reception, smiles present and baggage wilting.  Check in was at 14:00, but we could we drop out luggage off.

First was the tourist office.  We walked along the magnificent Antigone pedestrian precinct.  The sky was overcast, despite all my predictions of blue skies and unbearable heat.  In the Place de Comedie (how can you not love a place whose central square is called that?) market stalls littered the square.  ‘Er Indoors’ eyes lit up.  As we walked through the place a group of people debussed from the tram, a variety of mainly brass instruments in their hands.  They took up their instruments and launched into an enthusiastic recitation.

“Is this a flash mob?” said ‘Er Indoors.

“No, it’s just Montpellier,” I replied.

We wandered along tiny medieval streets, lined with boutiques.  I found a cafe I’d eaten at six years previous.  We ordered beer, with me showing off my perfect French.  The pretty waitress immediately divined we were English (how, I don’t know, as my French is without fault).  Afterwards, refreshed, we made our way to the pumping station.  Now, anywhere else you would be correct in asking, what the heck?  But this is the south of France.  The pumping station is like a monument, and the aqueduct a marvel.

Afterwards we meandered through the municipal gardens.  Formal layouts gave way to natural-looking conglomerations of vegetation.  Turning a corner we came across a bamboo grove, the trunks clunking against each other in the Mistral.  We turned another corner and I swear the man seated on a bench was Gandulph.

We started back towards the Place de Comedie, or L’Oeuf, as we locals called it.  We came across the huge cathedral, where a couple were getting married.  I called out, but it was too late.  The groom had already been suckered into it, and it was all over bar the rice.

The next square held another fanfare band, different people but the same joi de vivre.  I wonder what that is in French?  Another square, and yet another fanfare band, this one all dressed in a uniform that consisted of red and blues, with skirts.  The men in particular looked very fetching.

We hit the Office de Tourisme again.  It was to be an almost daily thing.  We bought tickets for a walking tour on Sunday, grabbed yet more leaflets and looked for lunch.  This was France.  Not just France, but Mediterranean France.  What would our first taste of this gastronomic centre of excellence be?

After our burger and fries we returned to the hotel.   It was 14:10, but our room was not ready.  Twenty minutes.  Have a coffee.

When our room finally became available at 15:00 I was almost asleep on my feet.  They gave us our card keys and the wi-fi password and we ascended to our third-floor room.

Or rather, our suite.  “Yes, I’m famous,” I told her.  “They’ve upgraded us.”

“No they haven’t.  They’re all suites.  Why haven’t we got a balcony?”  Oh, she can be so ungrateful sometimes.

“I am just going to test the bed for five minutes,” I said, as the air-con kicked in.

I awoke at 19:00.  Oh come on.  Up at stupid o’clock, remember?  We headed out for a bite to eat.  Tired and hungry, we forwent the excitement and mystery of a restaurant hunt and opted to go to the end of Antigone by the river, where a dozen restaurants nestled together.  ‘Er Indoors ummed and ahhed over each one, wincing at the prices.  We settled on an Italian restaurant.

“I’m not that hungry,” she said.  “I’ll just have a salad for starters and a pizza.”

The salad arrived.  I don’t know how many fields died to populate the plate, but the apple of my eye (and lettuce and cabbage as well) looked aghast.  “That’s bigger than a main course.”

She managed to struggle through it, though.  The pizza was no smaller.  Welsh crofters could have used it as a coracle, and still have room for a sheep.  It was too much.  We had to take half of it home in a take-out box.

We sauntered slowly back to our apartment.  As night fell and the street-lights game on, families with small children wandered along the precinct.  Back home they’d all be safely locked away by seven, but the climate and the attitude here gave us a sense of safety and well-being.  I grinned.  I hadn’t dreamt it all.  This was going to be a magic place.

The most stressful things in life

The most stressful things in life, popular opinion has it, are bereavement, divorce and moving house.  They have forgotten one: going on holiday.  Oh, not so much the holiday itself, though they never meet the anticipation and often descend into the holiday from hell.  But the lead up to it, that is where strong men weep and the rock on which marriages are founded crumbles.

 For the last six years I have regaled Er Indoors with tales of my brief sojourn in Montpellier.  For two three-day stints I worked during the day, and encountered the night life of this Southern France city.  In particular I was there for the 21st June, which throughout the country is le fete de la musique.  It was that night I lost my heart.  Not to a person, of course, because my heart will always belong to Er Indoors, along with all my other worldly goods, but to the city and the way of life.  Finally she had enough of my rosy reminiscences.

 We Googled.  Easyjet flew from Gatwick to Montpellier for a song, and we found a hotel on Antigone, a stunning new architectural precinct within walking distance of the town centre.  (Of course, everywhere is within walking distance of everywhere else, if you have enough time).  I booked the ludicrously cheap flight.  There was a surcharge for using a credit card.  How else, I wondered, was I meant to pay?  Stuff fifty pound notes into my CD drive?  I also checked in over the Internet and printed the boarding cards (there’s a surcharge for booking in at the airport).

 Of course, we could not possibly go on holiday with the same clothes we had last year.  Er Indoors regressed to her childhood, and I was her Ken doll.  Several trips to the shops later, and we had new wardrobes.  Easyjet, I began to suspect, weren’t the only ones that hid charges into the total cost of a holiday.

 We started packing a week before we were due to fly out.  We, you understand, being the royal we.  I then explained about the Easyjet surcharge on hold baggage.

 “What, both ways?” she cried.  “Stuff that.  Could we get away with cabin luggage?”

 Out came the tape measure.  I had recently bought a laptop bag that was the maximum size for cabin baggage.  I had an old suitcase that was nearly the same dimensions.  Yes, we could get away with it.  We re-measured it half a dozen times as the departure date approached.  Er Indoors likes to have things to worry about, and my reassurances merely raise her anxiety.  The suitcase was consigned back to the attic and the two small carry-on bags packed.

 What about liquids?  Because, as you know, the French have never heard of shampoo, conditioner and other English cosmetics, so we could never buy it in France.  Therefore we bought small bottles of every cosmetic the local supermarket sold.  What about the clear plastic bags they needed to be contained in?

 “Don’t worry,” I said.  “They have them at the bleep-bleep machines at the airport.”

 Strangely, this failed to reassure her.  After a couple of days of fretting, we bought a box of fifty freezer bags, so we could pre-pack our cosmetics before leaving.

 We needed travel insurance, because Er Indoors isn’t so much a glass half empty person as an ‘I just knew some goy would steal half my drink’ sort of person.  We found a cheap insurer.  We phoned them up. They asked us to list our existing ailments and drugs.  Er Indoors has a small pharmacy of drugs she needs.  I have a sore shoulder I’m awaiting the outcome of an MRI for.  So her panoply of pharmaceuticals add an extra £1.50.  My sore shoulder was an extra £14.50.  My drink, it appeared, was more likely to be stolen than hers.

 Finally, all was set.  Our bags were packed, our car-park booked, our surcharges paid.  The day before we were due to leave I stumbled on a recording of Fascinating Aida, a song bemoaning all the surcharges for a flight for fifty pence they found on the internet.  I laughed long and hard, with just a hint of mania at the edges.

 We went through the rules with number two sprog one more time.  We were trusting this nineteen-year-old boy look after our worldly possessions and our house in our absence.  No worries.  We trust him.  Of course we do.  Implicitly.

 Besides, he’s too lazy to arrange a bacchanalian party.

 The flight was at 06:40.  The check-in at 04:40.  It was an hour’s drive.  So that meant we would rise at 02:30.  This is a time I am more used to going to bed at, so I turned in early that night, relaxed and anticipating an idyllic and worry-free holiday.

 Yes, I know.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards reviews

I got through to the quarterfinals on the strength of two reviews from Amazon Vine reviewers.  Here they are, warts and all.  I am so proud I could bust something.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The humor was definitely the strongest aspect for me. Lines like, “A demon’s not just for Christmas, you know,” and Scarth making “the sort of mess it normally takes six college students an evening to make” made the piece very amusing to read.  
 
The back and forth between Paul and Scarth is quite good as well, as Paul goes between the roles of exasperated parent (““Do you want me to use the invocation, Scarth? Do you?”) and a frustrated young man (“He should have held out for a succubus, but it was too late now..”). 
 
I also liked the prose style. The author gives enough detail so that the reader can picture the events and the story flows well. It’s a good mix of dialogue and description. 
 
The work makes me think a bit of Neil Gaiman – the juxtaposition of the everyday (“level two support desk technicians”) with the fantastic (demons and “Lord Roath of the Inner Circle of Pain, Destroyer of Peace, Crusher of Souls.”)

What aspect needs the most work?

At times, the humor drifts too far into absurdity, at least for my taste. I like the idea of a normal(ish) young man, probably bored with his life, conjuring up and then dealing with a demon. The concept is a funny one and there are a great number of humorous situations possible.  
 
But when the demon’s main talent is “the ability to fart a single note for ninety seconds solid” and a priest (albeit and young and hip one) uses the words “crap” and “ass” within a few minutes of meeting a new person, then I think the bar has been lowered a bit. Farce is funny and takes great talent to do well – vulgarity does not.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I enjoyed this piece and think there is potential for a good story. It’s easy and enjoyable to read, and even though Scarth seems sort of an out of the box demon (at least in this short bit) – I like the character of Paul and the cameo by Lord Roath was very well done. I would very much like to see how he figures into the novel. Something about him grabbed my fancy and I am hoping this appearance was the first of many.  
 
I think the bit with the priest needs a bit of work. I found it unbelievable that he would use the language he did and that Paul would then turn around and use the f-word back to him. Paul may not be Catholic but I think there are very few people who might use that word to a priest – especially one they are trying to get help from. The priest being a film buff is good – as are the movie quotes – but I think it can be clear that he is a different sort of priest than the stereotypical “middle-aged to old, with an old-fashioned outlook” without crossing the line. 
 
It’s difficult with only this limited view of the work as a whole to say for sure, but I am hoping there is more action between the time Scarth first arrives and the scene with the priest. There must be more anecdotes than just the photocopier incident with Lauryn…some daily life things. Where does the demon sleep, how does Paul shower/eat/sleep with him around? 
 
I think the concept is ripe with potential and I enjoyed reading this excerpt.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The author creates amazing, vivid characters that are incredibly fun to read about. From the very first bit of dialog, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about how these characters were, what they wanted, and what was going to happen to them next. Something about the honest way they speak -I can easily hear it all out loud in my head and it seems like normal exchanges of dialog that real people would have. Very witty and fun -almost reminded me of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan!

What aspect needs the most work?

Details and settings. I feel as though the author does a great job with pacing, character and dialog, but neglects the setting a little too much. For the majority of this excerpt I found myself wondering where the characters were -what does the world around them look like? What do the characters themselves look like? These items are touched upon at points, but I really wanted to see more of this world that just seems so fascinating.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I really enjoyed this. I was immediately pull into the universe of these characters, had an instant liking to them, and wanted to know what happened next. The author truly had my attention for every bit of this, and it was great. So much fun to read. 
 
However, it could still use a little more. I would have liked to have seen a little more definitive world-building early on in the excerpt so that I could get a better understanding of what type of setting we were in.

The morning after

Well, here we are, the morning after the night before the quarter finalists were announced for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Not only did I make the cut, but the two reviews I’ve received in the competition were fair (the weaknesses were legitimate questions, even if they contradicted each other) and complimentary.  Looking at the aftermath on the forums this morning many are complaining that their reviews consisted of a fair one and a blistering condemnation.  Maybe I was just lucky in my reviewers.  Perhaps I have had so many reviews in the past for my stories (both good and bad) that the criticisms weren’t personal.  Maybe the grapes were picked just a tad too early.

Anyway, I’m chuffed to bits.  I even dreamed about my book being reviewed last night.  Why exactly a publican would write a review on the fence of the beer garden is a mystery, as is his references to Santa, who as far as I recall was not in my book.  Still, it made sense at the time.  In the next day or so my first 5000 word excert will be made public on Amazon, and I hope to garner many more reviews. 

Now the wait begins anew.  22nd April is when the semifinals are announced.  You know the trend in competition TV shows now when the MC says, “And the winner is…” (dramatic music, 30 second pause)?  Imagine that over 5 weeks.

As Er Indoors said, “It’s like Get On The Bus all over again.”

Nerves on PDT

So, the quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards are announced today.  In the adult category 5,000 hopefuls entered.  The second round knocked that down to 1,000.  Today that will be further reduced to 250.  So anyone reaching the quarterfinals could be said to be in the top 5 percent of the entries.  I’m much more emotional than I should be.  I shall erupt with joy if I make it.  I will weep real tears if I don’t.  What makes it worse is that the competition offices are based in Seattle, a full seven hours behind jolly olde Englande.  That means, if somebody is on the ball, I have to wait till four this afternoon.  Or later.  I leave the office today at 6:30.  What if the results aren’t announced by then?  Jeez, what happens if they wait until close of day Pacific Daylight Time?  That will be way past my bed time.  I just want it to be over.

So, today my body is on GMT, but my nerves on PDT.

It’s a funny old business, writing.  I originally took it up to pass the time whilst stuck in nameless hotels on the edge of nowhere, with long evenings of lone drinking beckoning.  And it is a very selfish act.  I write now on the train and in hotels.  At home my family deserve my attention (even if it’s not always appreciated).

But the Interweb is a curious thing.  Through it I’ve found fellow addicts and we form support groups.  They are the antithesis of AA meetings.  Here the theme is to encourage each other to write more, not less.

 Even in the cutthroat atmosphere of competition a reluctant camaraderie prevails.  I’m through to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.  Only this morning my friend Paul IMed me to ask about my progress.  Which is all well and good, and though greatly appreciated, is only to be expected from a friend.  But last night I was emailing a fellow competitor, a rival, a fellow Brit who has also made it through.  We were exchanging tips and good wishes in the competition.  True, I’m sure both of us were wishing ourselves a little more luck than the other, but even so.

 So why don’t you drop by Ray Sullivan’s place and peruse his books?  After you’ve bought mine, of course.