Posts Tagged 'publishing'

I’ve been translated

for a few months now, into the new realities of foreign climes…

But here I mean professionally. One of my books, Dream Land, has been translated into French and is available from the publisher Naïve Livres, with a great new cover, very different from the English version.

I am so excited to be in a foreign language! And delighted that the remarkable history and culture of the Crimean Tatars will hopefully reach a wider audience.

Digitising immortal prose

The fate of books in the digital age is in the news (again). Last weekend Amazon ceased to sell Macmillan publications after a dispute over Amazon’s aggressive underpricing of ebooks. Google’s legal director has an opinion piece (or should that be, piece of self-promotion?) in today’s Guardian explaining why that company’s proposed digitisation of the world’s entire stock of books is an altruistic public service. And writer Caleb Crain, when looking up in (where else) Google Books an essay by Immanuel Kant entitled ‘Of the Injustice of Counterfeiting Books,’ found a key passage on copyright had been marked for posterity by a nameless technician, who had scanned his or her fingers over the text.

As a metaphor for the relationship the digital age has with intellectual property (and do read Mr Crain’s take on this), this last can hardly be bettered. It’s so brilliant, I almost want to think the owner of those digits did it on purpose. That scanned hand is at once taking away this book from its author and publisher, and offering to the world to read. It is presenting a faithful facsimile while in fact altering the content. Kant, being two hundred years dead, isn’t likely to be bothered about the copyright of his essay, but on his behalf the writer in me feels offended as well as amused by the implied carelessness. Instead of words painstakingly chosen and immortalised in print to express the workings of an individual mind, Google presents readers with the anonymous digits of Everyman.

Of course any writer who is published or dreams of publication wants her book to get into the hands of Everyman. And as soon as she does put her words out into the world, they no longer belong to her. Anyone with access to a bookshop or library can read, misunderstand and reinterpret them, find hidden meanings the writer had no idea she’d put there, use them as an inspiration or justification for actions the writer might admire or abhor. Readers can love or hate the characters those words make, or invent continued adventures for them the writer never dreamed of. They can devour a story in childhood and remember it in adulthood as telling an entirely different tale. Readers can scribble in books, write notes in the margin, underline favourite bits or cross out ones they don’t agree with; they can sell a book or give it away, cherish it or tear it up for toilet paper.

It’s all this that makes writing exciting, and publishing worthwhile for an author. But it is harder to cherish a digital file, whether it’s an e-book or an mp3, and I think easier to regard the song or the book as no one’s property – certainly not the author’s. I do wonder if digitisation is going to irrevocably cheapen books. In return for added convenience, I expect readers will get more and more used to typos, missing text and scanned extras (let’s hope those stay at the odd techie’s hand), just as we’ve got used to the poorer sound quality of mp3s.

At the same time, it’s worth remembering that what’s important are the words expressing ideas and stories, not the paper they are written on.

Everything has to be called something part II

I’ve written before about the problems with naming my next book. Names are incredibly important. Until the book has a title, sales departments and designers can’t get working on a cover. Until the cover is agreed, there can be no advertising or sales strategies. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book on the strength of its title (although if it had the word ‘Kamchatka’ in it I’d be highly likely to pick it up and jealously flick through…) but I’ve certainly been persuaded by a cover, so I can understand why it’s so critical to get right.

I’ve never been able to shake the feeling though that It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka IS right for my next book. And to my relief, the publisher has finally agreed.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, in the whole kerfuffle of whether to keep or change the title, the publishing date for It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka has been pushed back by a year.

I know that’s nothing in publishing terms. But at the moment, it feels like it’s going to be the longest year I’ve lived through since I got Little House in the Big Woods for my eighth birthday and had to wait till I was nine for Little House on the Prairie (I think my kind aunt relented and gave the book to me earlier – if only publishers were so kind…)

Still, amid the swings and roundabouts of the publishing world, at least I got to keep my title. And here’s a picture of that strange place Kamchatka to celebrate.

Everything has to be called something

I need to name a book, and I’m completely stuck.

I’m stuck partly because it already has a name. I’m not good at titles, and this is the first book I’ve written where I’ve known right from the beginning what I want to call it – It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka. It’s a quote from the song ‘Kamchatka’ by Viktor Tsoy and the Russian rock group Kino. The line for me sums up the whole romantic, fantastical dream of a place that drives the characters in the book to their wild journeys. Kamchatka is a sweet word; beautiful and mysterious. Try saying it. How solid it is, how satisfying, how suggestive.

It’s a sweet word that doesn’t, of itself, mean anything. The naturalist Georg Steller, who took part in an expedition to the Russian far East in the 1740s, wrote that Russian explorers called this whole peninsular on the Pacific Kamchatka, after one of the rivers there which the indigenous Itelmens had named after someone who lived on it. It’s hardly an etymology, more an account of laziness (although perhaps slightly better than the names given to the animals Steller saw and recorded on the expedition: Steller’s eider, Steller’s sea eagle…) No one knows what the indigenous people called the land now known as Kamchatka.

Meanwhile, the Kino song isn’t even about the peninsular; it’s about a St Petersburg boiler house where Viktor Tsoy worked in the 1980s, called, for no reason that I know of, Kamchatka. Everything has to be called something.

For me, as for my book characters, Kamchatka is a word that’s weighted with promise. But if you’ve never heard it before, never had anyone sing you the song, never pored over maps of coastlines half-way across the world, then maybe it’s just obscure. That’s why my publisher feels my book needs a new title.

I’ve been listing words and phrases in an attempt to sum up what the book is about and find a new name:

Bears. Journeys. Running away and coming back. Fish. Dreams. Shamans. Exploitation. Poaching. Memories. Friendship and family. Misunderstanding. Discovery.

Kamchatka.

The power of words over the imagination.

For the book’s main character, Masha, there are two words which define her story. There’s a word which other people call her mother; a name that she knows is bad even though she doesn’t really understand what it means. And there’s the name Kamchatka. The first word sends her away from home, the second one takes her on a huge journey. That’s the power those names have over her imagination.

So you see, it’s important to name things correctly. Maybe somewhere in that thought is the title I’m looking for…

here is Viktor Tsoy and Kino singing ‘Kamchatka’:


previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


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