Monday, June 30, 2008

Watch Your Tone

Tone in fiction is a strange thing, not often talked about these days. We hear a lot about voice - does the writer have an original voice? Does the narrator have a unique voice? Does each character have their own voice? And then editors say voice is what they look for - a weak plot can always be fixed but a voice that's not working? Forget it. And sometimes you hear people discussing style. The use of language. The cadence of sentences. Imagery and metaphor. Literary novels are more likely to have style than genre fiction.

But tone? What is it? How do you define it? I used to know when my mother was mad - her tone changed to snappy and short. And if I was mad, she'd say, "Don't use that tone with me." (Hardly fair, if you ask me.) I'll start by saying tone is embedded in the decision about whether you are writing comedy or tragedy. A comedy signals right from the start that it's meant to be funny. The narrator jokes, his or her view of the world is humorous, we see funny things happening. Yes, there'll be some tragedy in there somewhere, but overall we expect that tone to stay light, and we expect a good laugh.

Tragedy, of course, is the mirror side. Lots of drama, serious relationship stuff, catastrophes and character change and growth. Some humour in there works well to leaven the darkness, but the tone will be clearly straight-down-the-line and the work will provide angst/or and page-turning material. Nothing fluffy.

What happens when the tone jars? One example is the YA whiner, the narrator who spends the whole book complaining in a hilarious way that isn't very hilarious by page 30. In fact, by page 40 you want to reach into the book and give the character a good slap. Another is the novel that at heart is about a serious issue, but the writer decides to try and make the issue more palatable by pretending the novel is a comedy. Lots of snappy lines from the main character, and some slapstick here and there, heavily dosed with dialogue that "tells us what we need to know about this issue". That's a book that fails to engage, for sure. No one likes being lectured to, even via dialogue.

Another kind of novel where tone fails (but not completely) is a story which is patently unbelievable, so therefore reader expectation is that we'll go along for the ride here and have a good laugh, with lots of humorous wordplay and situations. Except when you look at the plot, most of it is about serious relationship stuff - boy/girl, mother/daughter - and also stuff about peer pressure. And all the serious stuff is treated very seriously. So all the funny stuff seems a bit odd.

My last example is a movie I saw years ago with Nick Nolte in it (sorry, can't remember the title) which started out very clearly as a comedy. Funny, witty, etc. Then 20 minutes in, it turned into a serious drama. What happened? Did the director bail out and the new director change his mind? How did that happen and no one noticed? That's the thing about tone. It has to be consistent. What the reader picks up in the first 20 minutes or 20 pages is like a blueprint for the rest of the book, especially in terms of tone. You deviate or play with it at your peril. And really, what would be the point? Don't you want your reader to be so inside your story that they wouldn't notice if the roof fell in? Inconsistent tone might not be as immediately noticeable as a character whose hair changes from blonde to brunette on page 50, but it will make the reader uneasy and doubtful about whether you can really tell an engaging story.

(If you can supply any examples of books where you think tone was an issue, I'd love to hear about them.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two Writing Books

Some time ago I was sent a review copy of Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, and although I read most of it, I never got around to commenting. Now that I'm into that time of year when teaching is finished and my brain is slowly coming back to its more creative mode, funnily enough this is when I like to read books about writing.

At first, I wondered why Weinberg would write a book about writing - he seemed to be a software guy who wrote technical manuals. But it's probably the reason why he comes at writing from a different perspective, what he calls the fieldstone method. Most of his book is about ways of gathering pieces of writing, without a fixed aim in mind. Rather, you write many things and then decide how to place them together (like building a stone wall). His first rule is: Never attempt to write something you don't care about.

I like the huge amount of writing exercises he provides. Certainly you'll never have to worry about writer's block with this book. I'm not so sure about his theories on how you put it all together - how you take those pieces and construct a wall/novel. But if you are the kind of writer who isn't anal about starting at page 1 and writing to page 300 via your outline, this book might be very useful. Weinberg also has a blog about writing, which has some good pointers on it.

My second book is one I have only just started reading, but I bought it because another of Lyon's books - The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit - is one of the best I've read on getting your novel out there with query letters, marketing and approaching agents and publishers. The new book is Manuscript Makeover, and I'm always on the look-out for ways to tackle revision. So far I have read about working from the inside out (the heart of your novel) and the outside in (matters of style and language). I'm already taking notes, and making a great working list of elements I need to look at in my current work, and address. Even down to things such as the first and last sentence of every chapter and scene, and the first and last word of each paragraph.

It's too easy in revision to do a bit of tapdancing around the edges, to cut bits out and correct some grammar and think you're done. I like her suggestion of slow reading - to read some of your novel in a quiet space and "become" your character, totally immerse yourself in the experience on the page and see if the emotional depth is happening. If not, imagine how you would feel in this situation and then put it into the story. Another word for tapdancing in revision is skimming - this book won't allow you to do that, if you use Lyon's approach. I'm looking forward to the rest of it.

Also on my pile of writing books (not yet read) is a new one on writing for young adults by K.L Going - Writing and Selling the Young Adult Novel. There aren't many around on this topic. Sherry Garland's book has been the one I've mostly used in class for years now, so I'm keen to see how Going's shapes up.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting Rid of Books

I've been wanting to get new carpet for some time now, but I have to admit that the biggest reason not to is furniture shifting. It would be bad enough having to move beds, chests of drawers, couches etc, but I can't bear the thought of the bookcases. Because I'd have to take all the books out first. So instead I had the carpets cleaned, and left the bookcases where they were.

But it does mean shifting a lot of stuff, and then you start looking at it all, piled up in the spare room, and wondering why on earth you have most of it, and surely it could all be thrown out or given away? And then it gets back to the books. Do I need that many? Will I read them again? Many of them, yes, I will. All of my nonfiction is mostly for research, and I have a lot of kids' books from when I and my daughter were young. (And some from my grandfather's era.)

I also use a lot of my books in class - I put excerpts in my class readers for discussion, I read bits out loud as examples, I pass them around for students to look at (but rarely lend them, I have to admit, having learned that around 50% never come back). But still ... probably 20% of my books could go. Somewhere. To a good home. To the charity shop. To friends. But can I do it? No. I can throw out most clothes without too much angst, get rid of old knicknacks, TVs and videos that no longer work properly, even CDs that I am sick to death of.

Books? Getting rid of books is too hard. Buying more is way too easy. Something has to give. I might have to grit my teeth soon and weed out my shelves. Soon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

After the Critiques

I love my writing group. And I also know them very well. Which means when I have something critiqued/workshopped by them, I can kind of guess what they will say - but only in terms of how they will approach it. Some members will pay particular attention to sentences and grammar, and making sure they understand what I meant to say. Others will come at it more organically, and focus on what they think is underneath the words. One person might talk about structure and pacing, and tell me where things slow down or don't sound credible. Another might pick on particular bits they didn't like and try to explain why.

What am I to do? Do I regard all of these critiquers as pseudo-editors and try to please them in the hope that this will lead to publication? Do I throw up my hands and say they are all wrong, and they just didn't "get" what I was trying to say? The first thing I do is put away the copies of my work with all their comments on and just leave them to sit for a few days. Immediate intake is ill-advised. That's when your feelings are sensitive and you are most prone to dive into defensive mode. It doesn't help. Each person had their reasons for saying what they did. A knee-jerk reaction to their comments is a waste of energy.

Sometimes I leave the comments for several weeks or more. It's amazing what I see when I come back to them - I understand and interpret their suggestions in a very different way. I am removed from them now, so I can be more clinical. I have had time to think about what I was really trying to achieve with the work, and now I can look at my group's comments and put them in context.

The rule with workshopping is if nearly everyone is saying similar things, you'd better take notice. If everyone is saying different things, you choose what is most useful to you. But what if the workshop group is your class? And what if they are also new to this whole critique idea, and are pretty shy about saying what they think? Or they dive in and are too brutal? You have to take that into consideration too. Where are they coming from? Have they genuinely tried to be helpful? It's only by listening (sometimes to tone of voice) and thinking and reading the comments later, when you have calmed down, that you can decide on this.

My problem is that most times in a workshop (not with my group), I am the teacher. I am immediately imbued with the status of "she who knows best". Yeah, right. There have been a few times where I have hated something that has gone on to be published and done very well, thank you, for me to know absolutely that my opinion is not absolute. In a classroom, I will certainly be the most experienced person there, both in terms of being able to critique effectively and also in terms of knowing a fair bit about the publishing world. But I am not the editorial goddess there.

So I have students who dispute what I say. Who question my comments. Who say, "What do you know?" And they are right. To a certain extent. But only so far. They haven't yet accrued 100 rejection slips. They don't yet spend several hours every week reading industry news, blogs, newsletters and information, looking at new books, what is being published and how the market is currently operating. They are just focusing on writing the best they can, and hoping they might get it published. I figure part of my job as teacher is to make them aware of how publishing works, how editors think - and guess what? Editors can be just like the rest of us. They can love something and want to publish it, when a lot of the world is saying, Good gracious, why?

So I am never going to tell a student that what they have written is unpublishable. How could I possibly know that? But I am going to give them my best opinion on things like grammar, presentation, characterisation, POV, setting, plotting, theme, preachiness, dialogue, and voice. And forgive me for putting grammar and punctuation first, but if they are poorly done, it's very hard to appreciate the story or the characters or anything else. A story needs to be readable and understandable first.

So if you have written anything like the following, maybe you need another edit?
Before she went to the beach, she put moose in her hair. On the way to the beach, they went by the longest root.
In the middle of the night, I tried to crepe up the stairs.
The chainsaw cut me in half. As I walked across the room ... (this last one always gives me a vision of legs walking on their own, which, trust me, was not what the writer intended).

It's like anything else - only experience in a critique group or workshop will eventually help you to recognise what is useful and what is not. It takes time, like improving your writing takes time. And many drafts. And the bottom line is: if you think your critique group or teacher is wrong, then send your work out and test the market. If you want to be published, that really is the ultimate test. But don't automatically disregard those comments. They might be telling you something you don't want to hear...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Character Journeys

Some years ago, I either read or heard a statement about characters in a story that went like this: Every character in your story is on their own journey. The main character certainly is, but so is everyone else - without that, they are either one-dimensional props, or are left hanging in space. It was one of those revelatory moments for me - I had never thought about it like that before (we all have long periods of being dumb about things to do with writing - it's reading and listening and thinking that gets us past them!). Up until then, my focus had been the main character - what he/she wanted, how he/she did or didn't achieve their dream or goal.

That, of course, is the core of the story. Fred has a dream to climb Mt Everest and will do anything to achieve his dream, even beg money off his hated mother and agree to take the bank manager with him to Nepal (I use Fred in class as my running example of story/plot/motivation/complication - one day Fred will make it). But when I realised that giving every significant character in my story a journey, a desire, a goal, is what enriches and complicates the plot, and makes a short story into a possible novel, that's when I think I finally started to "get" what I needed to write something more than 10,000 words.

For others, it may be different. I've seen the light go on for students when we talk in depth about character motivation, and I keep asking them "why, why, why" about what their characters do and how they react. I've also seen it happen when we talk about setting and description and link them to characterisation and point of view. Everyone has different things they discover about how to write better, and it often results in a big leap forward in the quality of what they write.

So for me, it was this thing about a character journey, combined with the question: What is the highest point in the story for this character? That goes along with the other question, funnily enough, which is: Does this character have a high point in the story? If not, why not? If we bring it back to the journey (the hero's journey, if you like) it's the climax, the supreme ordeal, the moment of greatest change or challenge. It's the turning point for that character. It is where we finally start to see whether they will live or die (sometimes literally).

Another mistake I used to make was to rush that highest moment in the journey. When it's the main character, that point means you are close to the end of the novel. Wow, only twenty more pages to go, I think. Even less if I get a move on and get through it faster. Big mistake. Rushing the climax takes away the tension, the full exploration of what it means, and the potential of the resolution. If you read articles about dramatic scenes, you'll know that the intensity of drama in a scene usually determines how long that scene will be. The most intensely dramatic scene should be your climax, so there's a good reason why it may well be your longest scene. Not, as I used to write it, the shortest.

It's helped me a lot to imagine each character's journey in my stories. It especially helps for the antagonist - instead of being a cardboard villain, she/he has their own story, their own journey, their own desires and dreams. OK, that dream might be to burn down the school, but for that character, it's believable if we understand why. We don't have to agree, but we do want to see what motivates that character to walk that particular road to the end, no matter what.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The World of the Novel

In a long list of basic essentials we cover in our introductory fiction writing course, Fiction Elements (also now available online), is setting and description. It's funny how students always put it last on their list of "what I need to know". We talk about theme, and how, if you start a story with a strong theme or moral you want to impart, it can often affect the story and make it seem pedantic or preachy. We talk about character and dialogue and plot - in fact, we've made plot into a whole new subject called Story Structure. But setting and description?

One of the common reactions is "nobody does that anymore". Meaning that the days of opening a novel with six pages of description, a la 19th century fiction, is long gone. We're told that readers today are impatient with too much description, and because we all watch so much TV and so many movies, that description only needs minimal space in a contemporary novel - let the reader imagine the rest. We're told about info dumps, meaning that more than six lines of description at a time is considered overkill and today's reader will skip it.

That may all be true - to a degree. But what I often find, in reading students' writing, is that they ignore setting and description at their peril. Whether it's a fantasy novel, a horror novel, a literary story set in an artist's studio, or a comic novel set in New York - the first thing a reader is going to look for is how real the world of the story is. Tell me a scene takes place on the corner of 12th Street and 27th Street in New York, I'm going to wonder what else you got wrong. Tell me the main character is inspecting her ankles, feet and toes, and then tell me she discovers she has turned into a tiger, I'm going to wonder what that writer is visualising, because it doesn't make sense to me.

At the Pima Writer's Workshop last year, one of the guest speakers talked at length about what happens when you visit a location in your novel. Suddenly, details come to life, and you notice the kinds of things you wouldn't think of putting in the story if you were guessing, or making it up from seeing a couple of movies. Smells. Tastes. The kid in the corner of the restaurant flicking ice cream at his mother. The fox that put its head up above the fern. The drunk man who walked into a lamp post and burst into hysterical laughter.

I'm not saying you can't imagine all this stuff and put it in your story. Of course you can. But first you have to realise that it needs to be there. What Michael Connolly calls 'the telling detail' is vital to helping your reader visualise your fictional world, not any old world that's been done to death in a hundred fantasy novels or chicklit novels or stories about going home again. Your world, as much as your characters, is what draws the reader in, making them believe for the time they are between the pages, that this world exists somewhere else and is real. That requires work, research and imagination. Here are some quick examples:

"The sun was hanging on a string just over the horizon, pink and lurid, and the tourists were busy packing up their sunblock and towels and paperback novels while the dark people, the ones who lived here year-round and didn't know what a vacation was, began to drift out of the trees with their children and their dogs to reclaim their turf." Mexico - T.C. Boyle (from After The Plague)

"The Saturday morning we went to pick up the china it felt almost as if we were going to a wedding. Watches were checked and the house carefully locked as if we would be away for a long time. My father drove us into town and parked in the loading dock at David Jones. With the help of a storeman, he loaded the box of china into the boot. My mother watched their every move. Back home, she held the front door open for my father while he carried the china over the threshold." China - Margaret Innes (from Love and Desire)

"She stood on the harbour in the freezing cold, mask in her hand, her breath white in the air, and shivered while Dundas hosed her down. She'd been back to recover the hand with the limb kit, the dive was over and this was the bit she hated, the shock of coming out of the water, the shock of being back with the sounds and the light and the people - and the air, like a slap in the face. It made her teeth chatter. And the harbour was dismal even though it was spring. The rain had stopped and now the weak afternoon sun picked out windows, the spiky cranes in the Great Western Dock opposite, oily rainbows floating on the water." Ritual - Mo Hayder

Probably none of these excerpts are ones you'd point to and say, "Wow, how amazing". But my point is that I opened each of these stories and easily picked out a bit to use as an example. I could have used a number of other excerpts - each of these writers created a fictional world that worked, detail by detail, to engage and draw me into the story. Where setting and character interact, you will get an even stronger effect. Something to look for next time you read?

Friday, June 06, 2008

YA Fiction Roundup

I'm halfway through marking student work - have finished commenting on 25 lots of Chapter Ones and short stories, with another 25 or so to go next week. At this time of year, it's hard for students because they have several major assignments (usually writing that needs reworking after workshopping) to hand in. They oughta try it at my end! Anyway, I am still reading - helps to maintain sanity, especially the serial murder crime fiction. Only kidding. Kind of.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac - Gabrielle Zevin
Naomi falls down some steps at school and hits her head, resulting in memory loss covering the last 4 years. She remembers up to about seventh grade. She doesn't remember her parents' divorce, or how to drive a car, or how to speak French. She ends up in a relationship with a guy with mental issues of his own.
I had to trust that the author had done her homework on amnesia, although at times I doubted she'd got it entirely correct. However, it's an interesting story, not overly predictable, with other layers of meaning in photography (what are you really seeing?) and secrets. The main character is very real, and the way she deals with her problems is typically frustrating as she makes the kinds of mistakes we probably all would.

Pip: the story of Olive - Kim Kane
This is an Australian novel - I wasn't sure what age it was aimed at. The main character (and her imaginary sister) is in Year 7, but at times she felt about ten years old. On the other hand, the language used is quite sophisticated and I wondered if any Grade 5 and 6 kids would persevere with it, as the story doesn't have that much action.
Olive has a workaholic mother and a missing father. She goes to a private school and loses her best friend (only friend) to another girl. As a result, she finds instead that she has a twin sister - apparently imaginary although she just appears. I got the sense that the sister was meant to be like an alter-ego, inspiring Olive to do things, like look for her long-gone father, that she wouldn't otherwise attempt. There are lots of nice moments in the story but it fell a bit flat for me.

Lock and Key - Sarah Dessen
I've been a long-time fan of Sarah Dessen books and this one didn't disappoint (although it's not my favourite). Ruby has been alone with her alcoholic mother for about ten years, since her older sister left. When Mom takes off, Ruby tries to continue on her own but the landlord finds out and she ends up living with her sister, Cora, and her husband, Jamie. Over the back fence is Nate, a popular boy at the new upmarket school Ruby is forced to attend. She has a lot of resentment going on - why did Cora leave and never contact her again? why can't she go to her old school? why can't everyone just leave her alone?
As always, Dessen's story is about relationships. Nice Nate is leading a not-so-nice life. Harriet who makes jewellery and is her family's black sheep is even more of an expert than Ruby at keeping everyone at arms-length. Ruby's only friend at the new school becomes so grudgingly. None of the interaction between the characters is easy, but it continues to grow and change throughout the whole story, so that you end up feeling very satisfied, even though not everything has a happy ending. We read to find out about life and relationships more than anything - how other people manage it - and this book shows the gradual breaking down of Ruby's defences in a believable, engaging way.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Trust Me! and Ford Street - all you wanted to know

Not that long ago, I went to the launch of Trust Me! - I'm a proud contributor and rather than describe the launch (which was great fun, with 20+ authors signing copies), I thought I would interview the publisher, Paul Collins. Ford Street Publishing is his 'baby' and a fine, sprightly offspring it is too.

1. What led to you starting your own publishing company?
I actually started out as a publisher back in the 70s -- I published science fiction and Australia's first heroic fantasy novels. I had no intentions of being a writer. Unfortunately, back in those days the major publishers only distributed their own books -- and they weren't remotely interested in publishing fantasy or science fiction! So small press distributors, with one or two reps, abounded. They also folded regularly. After two did this to me, the second taking all my stock and owing money, I embarked on a writing career. Macmillan now distributes smaller publishers, so I've basically returned to what I wanted to do in the first place. I also felt a little stuck in the writing groove. Last year I had something like twenty books published. It was more like work than enjoyment. I now call the tune, and it's great.

2. What has been the most difficult aspect? The most encouraging, so far?
The challenge will always be name recognition, getting Ford Street titles into shops. The distributor's reps will always push their own books, and this is a given. I would, too. But I think with time booksellers/librarians will see that Ford Street titles are quality fiction, and dare I say it, better edited than some books from major publishers. I'm often appalled at the glaring errors that are appearing in books lately. I know the trend in the US is minimal editing, but I suspect that trend has crept its way into Australian publishing.

3. What do you think the role of a small publisher is in today's publishing world?
I think we catch the ones that "got away". The first book I contracted was Pool by Justin D'Ath. Both of his major publishers rejected it. When it appeared on the CBCA's (very short) Notables List, from which the short-list is chosen, I bet his publishers got the fright of their lives lol. Small presses take the risks that major publishers won't. I've published Trust Me!, an anthology comprising fifty contributors. Much larger publishers have published similar anthologies, but they received the contributions free, citing they were for charity, and besides, such large anthologies can't work financially because of the large contents page. Well, Ford Street has just made it work, and contributors were paid. Small presses can make this sort of enterprise work because the publishers work for free. I don't pay myself. Major publishers have huge overheads: rent and staff costs being in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions per year. I have neither, and I suspect other smaller publishers have minimal costs.

4. We are often told that fantasy and paranormal fiction are "hot" at the moment - what's your perception of the various genres and sub-genres of spec fiction in Australia right now? What's selling? (in adult and kid's books)
Ah, if I had the answer to that question I wouldn't be telling. I'd be "doing". But the one stand out at present is Stephanie Meyer. She even appears in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2008 list. Now that's impressive.

5. Do you think Australian publishers are dealing with spec fiction in the best way, especially in terms of looking for new writers, publishing new writers and marketing? Are authors well treated? (e.g. Orbit advertised for 10 fantasy manuscripts and are going to work on them with the authors in a residential workshop soon)

Publishing has become pretty much a fly by the seat of the pants affair. It's 80% flop and 20% success. In days gone by publishers nurtured authors, spent money on them, grooming them. All of that's gone by the wayside. Now, if your novel's not "ready to go", it's doomed. Budgets have been cut, staff reduced to such an extent that the good editors can no longer afford to be in the business. Those proficient editors still around do it because of their love of working in the industry -- it really is a labour of love for them. Only the A-list authors get publicity budgets -- the B-listers either sink or swim. If you swim, you find yourself elevated. If you sink, you're gone. Flick. Just like that. People ask me why authors do it - - they "do" it because they, like the best editors, love doing what they do. Few authors in this country can survive on their writing alone. Most are either receiving social benefits, grants, receive awards (which pay), have hefty ELR/PLR/CAL returns because they've been prolific (it's this category that I fit into) or do a lot of festivals and workshops in libraries and schools, or take on miscellaneous jobs like assessments or part time jobs.

6. The Quentaris series was a collaboration between you and Michael Pryor in terms of developing the concept, creating the series "bible" and then selling it to Lothian. What was that process like? Can you describe it?
A couple of major publishers knocked back the concept - - more fool them, the first series went to 26 titles. Ford Street is now publishing series #2. It was originally Michael's concept. He asked me if I wanted to collaborate. Together we developed the guidelines and approached Helen Chamberlin at Lothian. She took it and published six titles a year for four years until Hachette bought Lothian. The scenario has been added to over the years, and now it's changed completely with Quentaris a floating city, thrust into the rift worlds via a vortex due to the Spell of Undoing. Michael and I are still having fun with the series, and there's no sign of it slowing. Alyssa Brugman has written book #2, The Equen Queen, and James Roy is now writing book # 3, The Gimlet Eye. As you'll note, it's now sequential, and the books are fully illustrated. The website's at

7. Ford Street recently published an anthology called Trust Me - why did you want to produce something like this, rather than another novel? What has been the response so far? Do you see it primarily as a school text? Who do you hope will buy and read it?
Truth be it known I was asked by an educational publisher to edit an educational text. I commissioned what I thought were sixteen pretty good stories. Then the crunch came. The publisher disagreed. I promptly gave the advance back and decided to publish myself. I let the authors know that it was now a trade book, and they could ramp up the stories, which they did. I also invited other contributors, such as poets and illustrators, because I wanted a Kids' Night In type book. The end result has been fantastic. I've seen five reviews to date, all of which have been excellent. It has great potential as a school text, yes, but it's trade quality, too. I suspect it'll be going into reprint very shortly. According to the reviewers, it's managed to get boys reading, so in response to the last part of your question, I think anyone who has a boy who's a reluctant reader, should try Trust Me!.

8. Where do you see Ford Street heading in the future?
I'm pretty much happy with the way things are presently going. I'd like to score some foreign rights sales, some awards for the authors. I'd like to employ someone to help with the workload, and this will only happen when I get that best-seller. It's a matter of time. Right now it's a seven days and nights a week career. Luckily, I am supported by people such as Grant Gittus (graphics), Nancy Mortimer (marketing), Liz Foley (FaceBook) and my partner, Meredith Costain (editing), all of whom have rallied around me free of charge. My brother has also printed a lot of bookmarks and stickers. I suspect all small presses rely on this sort of support.

9. What have you got coming up?
Forthcoming 2008 books include Jenny Mounfield's The Ice-cream Man, Dianne Bates' Crossing the Line and David Miller's picture book Big and Me. All three are issues based, so have levels deeper than just genre fiction. I have high hopes for all three. As for 2009, I'm already looking at publishing a Gary Crew picture book, a non-fiction (my first!) title by Sue Bursztynski and the third Quentaris book by James Roy.

10. What's the best way for people to find out about Ford Street?
The website is kept pretty much up-to-date: I also have an option for people to join the mailing list. Anyone who gets on that receives free posters, catalogues, bookmarks, as they're produced. I also email a Ford Street News every now and then. People just have to email me at: to get onto that list.

Thanks, Paul - that's a fantastic response and useful info for all of us. (and my apologies to readers if the formatting goes haywire again!)