Can Everton Jones find out how his father stole Emperor Bokassa’s diamonds and, more importantly, where he hid them; before the world and his brother get there first?
Click on the picture link in the sidebar to read an extract of my first novel, which was published by Paradise Press in August 2012.

Friday, 29 April 2011

First shot over the e-book bows

With the sourcing arrangements for physical books progressing nicely, and platform building underway, I turned my attention today to trying to get my head around what e-books are all about. It seems there's a big spat between Macmillan and Amazon, and another between Amazon and Apple. So the big names are fighting over something. And I am seeing more and more people with Kindles, so there is a market out there, and the big names think it's worth fighting over. How in the name of Bajeezus does it all work?

I guess most customers will go straight to Amazon. And probably buy directly from their store. If they do that, then the file they download is copy-protected (i.e. has "Digital Rights Management"--or "DRM") and can be read on all of the main platforms, kindle, iphone, android, tablet etc. They have a simple system, through their German website: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin to publish the book. All you need to do is send them a word file, it seems. They do the conversion into their format, although I was a bit unclear what happens about cover artwork. Kindle is in Black and White, so that would mean a potential re-design at least if the design looks naff in B&W. Unfortunately, it is not impossible to remove the DRM protection, but is sufficiently complicated a procedure that I am not too worried about piracy. What was concerning me was the kind of discount they would be wanting.

And I had a nice surprise! Here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B they have a price list. The terms and conditions will need careful scrutiny before anything could go ahead. But, if the e-book is from the UK or a number of other countries, they list it at the standard cover price. The author gets a 70% royalty, which is a 30% discount. Paradise Press currently has a standard 35% discount to book shops, so that is actually marginally better than we could do if we placed the title in a shop, and none of the attendant difficulties of returns and capital invested. And there are some costs and tax issues hidden away in there, which might make some difference on the numbers, which will need careful study.

There is some chatter, well more of a shouting match really, on the web about e-books being too expensive, and I can see why. If the e-book is listed at the cover price, one of the reasons for getting the expensive Kindle in the first place goes away. No need to print the book, so it should be cheaper? Little does the poor reader know of the mechanics of the publishing industry! Even so, I would have thought with no need to print a physical copy, we could be saving the £3.90 or so unit cost of a book (based on the quotes for my book). So, let's say my cover price was £10? Then I'd be looking at £7.50 from the bookshop less costs of around £1.50 to get it into the hands of their customer. I'd be making something like £2.90 per book on a retail bookshop sale. Direct sales are better, say with a 10% discount for website sales, that's £9 less the £1.50 and not forgetting the cost of the book, I get £3.40.

And also, just think about those numbers for a mass-market publication, where the publisher is having thousands printed off on offset litho for a fraction of anything Paradise Press could match. Then the physical delivery of a printed book comes down more to postage and packing and the terms of the various contracts between bookshops, distributors, agents and authors about who gets what?

What about e-book sales? On a £10 cover price, I'd be getting £7. Fuck, that's twice as much. Or if it could be agreed to discount the price by 50% as an ebook, selling at £5, I'd still be getting £3.50, which is up with the other physical printing and selling options. With those numbers in mind, I can't understand why Amazon is insisting on e-books being sold at the same price as physical books. Or have I got that wrong?

I still don't like paying a discount to Amazon for distribution, when all they are doing is juggling files, something which most internet providers will do for a pittance, if not free. Since when did I pay hotmail to send an email, for example? How is sending what is essentially a .pdf of my book any different? It's a few clicks of a mouse's tail!

There must be applications to convert my file into kindle format (I just found Kindle's own software to build an e-book and preview how it will look on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000234621) But that probably won't include DRM, so that needs further research if we want to do it independently. So the file could be sold on our website at only £3.50 and still make the same margin. (well, there isn't any really, it's just pure profit.) But the bulk of sales would probably be generated through the kindle store, I rather suspect. It looks like the discount is not negotiable. And then there are contractual terms to consider, they want their money, at the end of the day!

Anyhow, watch this space, feeling better about ebooks now.

Tying the Knot

There's been much fun had by Outrage in the run up to today's wedding. Delivering a huge wedding card pointing out that some men want to be able to marry other men as well. Well now, here's a thorny issue and no mistake. On the face of it, why not? We all call entering into a civil partnership "getting married" and the legal ramifications are exactly the same. But it does seem to be hitting a line of stern resistance in the ranks of the straight right wing, or Christian bigots, as they are sometimes called. It goes something like this, "marriage is all about making babies, and only a man and a woman can do that." So what about same-sex couples bringing up either an adopted child, or using fertility services, such as sperm donation (if necessary by borrowing a teaspoon) or surrogacy, or simply two oppositely gendered same-sex couples coming to an arrangement. Nowadays there are multiple ways of skinning this particular cat. And what of women who have been married to a man and have children (and men in the equivalent position), who then stop denying their sexuality and run off with a boy/girl and end up with custody of the children from the earlier marriage. And where does the trans-agenda go with any of this? Boy oh boy those responses to their opposition, which is just plain old fashioned biggotry dressed to look good, get the right wing going.

So it's all good grist to the progressive mill, but that's not what caught my eye. Two tweets got my interest. One about one of the founders of facebook being about to marry his male partner, and another about facebook having made it possible to list "in a civil partnership" as a relationship status. Is this pure co-incidence? I wonder what the gentleman will be doing in the listing on his own homepage? In fact, is it already possible for two male facebook users to marry? And if so why offer the civil partnership option? Should Peter Tattchell be outside these guys' house asking them to make it possible for gays to marry on facebook as well?

I'm watching this one with interest!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

I fail to get myself blown up


This morning, I headed for the airport. I regretted leaving so early, as I had an enormous wait, but at least I got on the plane with plenty of time and am now heading for Liverpool street on the Stanstead Express which thankfully runs until 1h30. But the big surprise was when I was asked by a guy at security where I'd come from. When I said "Marrakech" he asked me if I knew anything about the bomb. Bomb? what bloody bomb? Apparently whilst I was waiting patiently at the airport, someone blew up an upmarket tourist café at Jemâa al Fnaa killing 45 people. I didn't hear any loud bang, or get any whiff that anything untoward had happened. This explains the girl on the plane telling her friend she'd just had two messages on her phone from distressed relatives. I suppose they think she's in pieces all over the square. Actually, come to think of it, I suppose I'd better let my near and dear ones know I'm alright as well. I've had a Moroccan SIM card in my phone all this time. They might just be a tad concerned. (Picture from the independent, btw)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The End of Days

It's barely credible that I'll be back in the UK in two days' time. The clouds have gone and it's a baking hot day, well over 30° and bright blue sky everywhere. God I'm gong to miss this town, what with it's donkey carts, crazy boys zooming about on scooters hugging the driver to stop themselves falling off, uneven cobbled streets, two stroke oil fumes, ridiculous motor tricycle vans, hand carts, roadside cafés, scrawny cats shagging each other on street corners, £2 a packet fags and I didn't have to paint the town pink, someone's already done that for me!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

I can't believe it, the Duchess of Cornwall has a twitter account! (@DuchessCornwall) For some reason @dfa73 re-tweeted her: "one particularly likes the Union Jack tea towels hanging from the bunting" What a shame, surely she knows it's the union flag? I assume this is a reference to craziness relating to the upcoming royal wedding. BAH. Because of the Ryanair schedule I will be back in the UK on the day of the wedding. Fuck! Thank God I don't have a TV. And the impromptu bank holiday makes it a difficult day to return to ...Bugger Fuck Shit Piss Wank.

Print on Demand quotes

I've had the last quote it looks like I'm going to get from the print-on-demand companies I visited at the London Book Fair. For reference I asked about a perfect bound 312 page trade paperback "B" size (129mm x198mm) on 80gsm white paper with laminated cover (all companies can do matte or gloss laminations). These are the quotations, in the order I received them!

Lightning Source: Initial set-up: £21 for cover, £21 for book, £21 for proof copy (all required for initial order) which comes to £63. Cover and Binding: 70p, each page: 1p. Delivery: delivery costs + £1.25 handling fee. Discounts: 50 - 99 units: 5%, 100 - 249 units: 10% 250 - 499 units: 20% 500+ units 25% discount. Minimum order quantity: 1 unit. That comes to a unit cost of £3.82. If the various charges are included on a first order, this is what it comes to per book for 10, 100 and 200 copies: 10 copies: £10.24 each, 100 copies: £4.08 each, 200 copies: £3.76. That does not take the cost of delivery into account.

Berforts: quotation was not itemised. 10 copies: £10.70 each, 100 copies: £3.64 each, 200 copies £3.22 each. This does include delivery costs.

Orbital Print: Set-up £30 + 9p per page comes in at £58.08. Cover: 75p gloss laminated, 85p matte laminated, Binding: 50p, each page: 1.2p. 2.5% discount per 100 copies ordered and minimum order of £30. Delivery charges were indicated but, as the weight of the book was not supplied, the information could not be used. That comes to a unit cost of £4.94 for the glossy laminate. Adding the set-up charges but not allowing for delivery, the discount reduces the bill for a first order to the following: 10 copies: £10.80 each, 100 copies: £5.45 each, 200 copies: £5.04 each.

Print on Demand Worldwide have not supplied a quote, but have an online quote generator, which I used. 10 copies: £9.69 each, 100 copies: £3.74 each, 200 copies: £3.32 each. The website says the delivery is free if I order online. I asked for the price without delivery charges. The website suggested that set-up is chargeable on each order. When I asked for a repeat order price, the only difference was that I was not charged for a proof, which made an almost minimal difference to the price.

And that's about it. When I went to Print on Demand Worldwide's website, I mis-typed the link and was redirected to another, rival, company, which I'd never even heard of. They must have registered the domain I mis-entered and are sneakily redirecting those who make the same mistake as me to their site. Cunning! Except that I sent them a quotation request out of curiosity, and they have as yet to get back to me. So why go to all that trouble?

Print on Demand Worldwide's website says they will deliver free if I order online. That makes a big difference. Berfort's prices were inclusive of delivery. Lightning Source quoted without delivery, and then there's that £1.25 extra on top. This makes Print on Demand Worldwide the cheapest on a first order, then Beauforts, then Lightning Source even before the delivery costs are added. (Lightning Source are slightly cheaper than Beauforts for 10 copies, and that suggests Beauforts have either higher set-up fees or lower unit costs or more aggressive discounting or combination thereof, although their quote was not itemised.)

Orbital have similar set-up to Lightning but significantly higher unit prices and much less aggressive discounts.

If it is between the other three, it all comes down to set-up. Including set-up, Print on Demand Worldwide is cheapest. But when I tried to find out how much it would be for a repeat order, they only subtracted the proof copy from the bill. That looks like they charge set-up every time. If so, that knocks them out of the running from the start.

Beauforts are next on price for an initial order including set-up, but were not clear about whether they will charge for set-up on repeat orders. This needs to be clarified with both Print on Demand Worldwide and Beauforts, before I can decide where to go. I can't believe they really do charge set-up on repeat orders, it's barely credible.

Unit costs were not available from all the companies. But assuming similar set-up charges, the running order is still Print on Demand first, then Beauforts, then Lightning, then Orbital.

All could be different if Lightning Source's 20% discount for 250+ copies is taken into account. But, given the state of the gay book marketplace, I'm not sure how easy it will be to get 250 copies onto the shelves of the remaining three bookshops? I think Paradise Press's business model has to be for 100 copies initial order and then 10 copies re-order. Although for a parcel of only 10 books, the weight does come into play quite considerably. The weight bands for parcels and letters are quite wide, so maybe for re-order it should be the weight of books, not the number we decide to order, to reduce the delivery cost per book? If pricing is based on 10 book re-order numbers, then titles will always be in stock. If a book is a runaway success, unit costs drop and margins go up. Hooray!

In conclusion, Print on Demand Worldwide is cheapest, but if they charge set-up on re-order, they are out. Likewise Beauforts. If Beauforts get back to me and say they will waive set-up on repeat orders, then they are narrowly ahead of Lightning Source. Orbital are just too expensive. and are out of the running.

Rather a technical post, I know, but if you're printing books, you need to have an eye on the numbers!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Seeing Pink!

I seem to be seeing pink at the moment! According to an old French statute which has never been repealled, all the buildings in the new town of Marrakech have to be painted pink. Bizzarre! But that's not the real reason. I've just (nearly) finished making out a listings page (which you can get to by clicking on the directory/listings link in the page list at the top of the right-hand panel of this blog).

I was primarily looking for publications which might be persuaded to review my book and places which could host book readings. In the process, I am becoming more and more enraged with Millivres/Prowler group, the publishers of Gay Times, Pink Paper, you name it. Perhaps it's not them, but the gay marketplace and shallow gay men who are destroying our cultural life, but destroyed is what is has happened to it. Millivers bought up Prowler to form the Millivres/Prowler Group of companies. They also bought up Expectations, a large sex shop. Fine and dandy and good for them, I hear people saying. Yeah, right, but they also bought up Gay Men's Press and then closed it down. Is that a response to market conditions? Sure, the book is taking a beating right now. I learned yesterday that "A Different Light" the last gay bookshop is California is to close. In researching my listings, I can find no trace of "West and Wild", a fantastic Gay bookshop in Edinburgh, so that must also have gone the way of all flesh. "Gay's the Word" in London is hanging on to viability by the tips of it's fingers. Apart from two radical book shops with an LGBT section, "Books from Nowhere" in Liverpool and "Word Power" in Edinburgh, there's only "Clone Zone" and "Prowler" left stocking a handful of LGBT titles hidden away amongst the, admittedly rather eye-catching, smut and sex toys. (Oh, and there's that word "Prowler" again.)

With that off my chest, I began to look at the "Pink Paper" to see how many books it reviewed. They went digital only last year, blaming the recession, but their website is no longer organised around anything which looks like a print edition. Their stated aim to return to a print version looks unlikely to happen anytime soon. I searched their site with "book". It turned up just a handful of reviews, dated at roughly 6 week intervals. There was a cluster around a sponsored feature. On closer investigation, this turned out to be a self-published book from createspace. They surrounded it with reviews of other people's books. Hmmmm how does paying for a featured article work out if that's what happens to it? And then I find a prominent article plugging all of Prowler Press's forthcoming list of, well, smut. Not that I've anything against smut, smut I like, but it's not the only show in town. I would have thought the Pink Paper would have had higher standards. God alone knows what I'm going to find when I look at their other, less (allegedly) high brow titles.

Hand me a pair of boots to throw. I hear it's quite popular over here!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Another Gay Bookstore Closes


Just heard on Twitter that "A Different Light", the last gay bookstore in California is to close down. Will "Gay's the Word" be the last one in the world? I'm composing a list and it is the last one in the UK. Sure, there are places which stock gay books, but it's not the same. A bookstore devoted to exclusively LGBT books is something special. They somehow foster a sense of community. The article blamed online book sales for the closure. "Amazon sells everything, it sells them cheaper, and it doesn't pay sales tax". Well, I don't know about sales tax, but I'm not going to be using Amazon, they want a 60% discount! But I am just as guilty of using online sales as the rest of us. I haven't bought a single book from Gay's the Word, although I have been in to have a look. It's a bit of a hack for me to get to. If bookshops are a thing of the past, what next? Will e-books wipe out books as well? Hand me some boots to throw or a loom or two to smash up!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

How can I find a gay book to read?

Without getting bogged down in what exactly a "gay" book is, it can be difficult to find reading matter with LGBT content. As a gay writer, I want people to be able to find my book, when it gets published next year. Where do people go to find LGBT books? I am going to be blogging on this subject as I research places which might stock my book and magazines and websites which offer reviews of gay literature.

Right off the bat, I might say that the local library is a good starting place. Wolverhampton library service are putting a rainbow sticker on the spine of all books with LGBT content. Good for them! This is a positive step.

It's an issue for a writer when designing a cover... How will a gay reader know the book is going to be of interest to them? A picture of a gorgeous guy on the cover might be there to interest straight women. Then again, straight audiences might enjoy reading gay books. I know my brother enjoyed reading Kenneth William's diaries, and many straight women have said they found the sex scenes in my book very enjoyable. Is that a bit like straight men perving over lesbian porn? (That's only toungue in cheek, btw, please don't flame me with a load of femminist discourse, I'm fully aware of the issues, that was meant to be a joke.) Cultural references are a very subtle and insidious thing... you somehow know when the naked torso of a man on the cover is intended to appeal to men or women. I guess that's why we employ professional jacket designers! LOL.

It is a mammoth task, but I am going to add a page with links to...

gay and lesbian centres,
gay and lesbian publishers,
gay and lesbian bookshops,
LGBT magazines and newspapers which have book reviews, online or otherwise,
LGBT writers groups.

and any other relevant things I can think of.

I will devote a blog entry to each one.

The page link is in the right hand panel of my blog at the top. It's chaotically organised and formatted at the moment, so please bear with me.

If you want to be included, get in touch via email: toussaint_toubabu@live.co.uk

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Breakfast

When I got here, I was told, “In the morning, there is a breakfast buffet, you can help yourself.” Well, I’ve been here before and I know how munchy a Moroccan breakfast can be. That is to say dry and uninteresting, unless you like to smear everything with honey, which I don’t.

I got downstairs the next morning to be faced with a choice of black coffee which tasted like it had been made from instant powder and chicory essence, hot milk and weak Lipton’s tea. There was only one kind of chewy, dry, but, thankfully white, bread on offer. The classic round Moroccan bread.

A black french family emerged from a room off the main courtyard. The father explained to his son, “you can help yourself to whatever you like.” How ironic, there was nothing to choose from. The boy wanted a hot chocolate. Sadly, there was none. I felt sorry for him, his father was so optimistic, but the reality didn’t bear this out.

As time has gone by, more and more choices have emerged at breakfast. After two days, orange juice was on offer… even brought directly to my table by the long suffering “Khadijah”, whose name is heard every time the haggard old lady in a long black dress who presides over the central courtyard wants something done.

Yesterday we were even offered some kind of sugar coated bread which was really quite nice, but it left my hands covered in oil.

The shower in my room is a bitch. It only trickles water, and it is luke warm at best. Yesterday morning, the always optimistic black guy was telling his son, “now there is hot water…” I tried the shower... Hot water suddenly gushed out, and my spirits rose. But then it got too hot and I turned on the cold tap. Suddenly the pressure decreased again, and I was once more disappointed.

The other day, I was in the main square, and I tried one of the food stalls. The salads on offer were on display, and I could finally choose one I liked the look of. It was called “salade maroccaine”. Basicaly a salsa: tomatoes, onions, green peppers, beetroot, cucumber, coriander and mint, all cut into tiny pieces and with lemon juice and olive oil over them with rock salt and “rass al hanouff”, a moroccan spice mix. Fucking delicious. And only 5 dirhams. Don’t settle for anything less, but watch the price, chic restaurants will charge up to 25 dirhams for the same thing!

I then ordered the fish, which was more expensive and horrible.

But the main discovery was a small shop just around the corner from my hotel. Last night, I ordered the fish. This turned out to be salt fish, deep fried in batter, and a single mild, grilled green chili pepper (and I mean mild!). It was served, however with a salsa, diluted with water, which they called “sauce”, and one of the omnipresent flatbreads. The salsa transformed the meal, and it was a great snack. The price? 13 Dhirams (£1.30) Can’t quibble with that!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

L' Inconnu

I did some research online before I came about gay life in Morocco. It’s certainly true that my gaydar will need retuning here; boys walk around arm in arm and it means nothing. I even saw a boy riding on the back of a scooter kissing the driver affectionately on the neck yesterday. One of the articles I read online suggested trying the cafés in “Guéliz”, it turns out those are some of the places in the new town around Boulevard Mohammed V which I had visited last time, such as the Café de la Poste, which serve alcohol. I haven’t gone back there, and I seem to remember there being some kind of rule as to where you could sit with your expensive thimbleful of beer. The article said the technique was to leave a packet of cigarettes on the table, so a stranger could have a plausible reason to approach you. God knows what you are supposed to do if you don't smoke, wear a pink carnation? Duhh, we're not called "fags" for nothing! It also said if you sat in view of the street you could make eye contact and then the boy would follow you discreetly after you left and “a price could be agreed”. This is not at all what I have in mind but, what can you expect? The meter seem always to be running over here. I had hoped that by, following a number of local gay rights organisations on twitter, some of their followers might notice me and check out my profile. So far nothing has come of it. For some strange reason I cannot fathom, I seem to be gathering quite a following in Taiwan. But none of them are tweeting. Don’t know what to make of it but, hey, if it directs a market towards my book I don’t really care.



Anyhow, when I went to get my internet dongle and SIM card, my first port of call was some of the places off the main square ("Place Jemaa el Fna"--I can never remember the name!). I duly purchased the SIM card for 30 Dirhams and a 20 Dirham top-up, which was still quaintly on a scratch card. The guy in the shop didn’t have any dongles, but directed me to a place three doors up which did, but which was, unfortunately, not yet open. So I sat down in a café opposite and ordered a coffee. I instinctively placed my fag packet on the table next to the coffee and, lo and behold, a boy turned up and began talking to me. He asked for a fag and sat down. The conversation was in English. Bad sign. He offered to show me around. Bad sign, I’d never get rid of him. He was poorly dressed and had several teeth missing. Deal breaker. I finished my coffee and left. Seems what you read online can sometime be uncannily accurate.

The other issue here, I was informed by the article I read, is do you or he have somewhere to go back to? A "local". In principle, I have this hotel room. It has a very discreet entrance off the street and there’s nearly no-one around. So that could work, except for the absence of the safe in the room which had been advertised. I don’t want to go to the loo and find the room empty of both boy and my money and computer when I come back. And then, I begin to understand what it was like in the UK before 1967. Technically, I would be opening myself up to the threat of blackmail. Although the boy would be in more danger, I suppose. And that’s not to say guys aren’t having sex over here. The large number online today on gaydar suggests that at least some guys over here are getting their rocks off.

Last night was my second visit to the tiny restaurant off the road past my hotel. That is, "Rue el Gza", which has become "Rue Laarous" by the time you get to the restaurant. It is a tiny room with about five very low tables and the chairs are equally low but even then your knees scrape the table from below. It isp oorly lit by small candles on each table. The food is prepared in a small kitchen in the same room and the front is open to the street, so you eat with motor scooters and donkey carts passing by. The set menu is 60 dirhams, for which you get a bowl of olives, a salad, a tagine and a dessert. Seems a good deal, only the olives were very strongly marinated and the salad vastly too complicated with almost everything they could think of in it and smothered with some kind of sauce or other. Just like in Holland. By the time I got to the tagine I was already full. It came sizzling hot and my poulet au citron was just that, a chicken breast and two halves of a preserved lemon and some meat juices. It was so fibrous as to be almost inedible. Today I chose a simple salad of tomatoes. What could go wrong? It was smothered with ground up hard boiled egg, topped with grated cheese and mayonnaise. The berber tagine which followed had far too many vegetables in it and only a small amount of, this time, edible chicken at the bottom. It was not seasoned properly and had too much turmeric. And the dessert? A simple plate of orange slices… topped with ground cinnamon. A foul combination. For the second time I left feeling sick.

Today I wanted to find an alternative. Some of the places off Place Jemaa el Fna offered reasonable sounding choices, including liver and kebabs, at lower prices even, but I decided not to bother just yet. But the logic of skipping the revolting salad is inescapable. Making my way back to Guéliz, I gave in and stopped off at Macdonalds. At least I got what I paid for and knew it for what it would be like.

The hotel here is quite a labyrinth, and most of the doorways look the same. I sometimes have difficulty finding the exit. All the doorways look the same and some are to guest bedrooms. Yesterday morning was no exception, and imagine my surprise when a gorgeous guy in his early twenties who I’ve never seen here before showed me the way out. On the way he asked about my family, and was able to establish I was by myself. Well that’s very nearly a tick, since that’s one of the key questions to ask when sounding someone out. He asked me if I smoked weed. Hmmm… I could offer to share a spliff on the roof terrace, but then I’m back to the problem of the room. I saw him clearing some dishes from breakfast, so perhaps he works here time-to-time or else is part of the proprietor’s family? If so that could go one of two ways, either making it easier or extremely difficult. Not to mention may capacity to make more noise than is reasonable!

I was eagerly on the look out this morning, but of him there was no sign. Except when I left to make my way into town. I caught sight of a guy wearing what can only be called radioactively white shell suit pants. Actually, to be honest, it was mainly the jogging pants I noticed. As I made my way down the street I was called from behind. It was he, the boy from yesterday, whose white trousers I'd just checked out. He offered to sell me weed and said he’d give me a democratic price. I said no, but then had an idea. I’ve been having trouble loading the credit on my SIM card, as the instructions are all in arabic, and asked for his help. He duly obliged and, when he asked for my phone to put in the code, I took a risk. It was safely handed back to me with the credit loaded. So, tick on trustworthiness up to now anyway. He doesn’t seem to be in employment, unless selling shit to tourists counts? And I suppose it is Sunday, after all?

For reference, the off-licence I am using is on the left-hand side of Boulevard Mohammed V as you go out of town (so the south-west side, just past the Post Office. It’s called “Palais de Restauration” and has a simple black sign and a window with a black grill covering it. (picture to follow)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Progress, of a kind.

Venturing off the street the hotel is on this morning, I find it is very close to the bus station. There is a taxi rank there and I took a cab to the central square. I was able to find the hotel I stayed in last time I visited Marrakech, “Hotel de Foucauld”. But the little café where the old men played a vigorous game of something which looked like “snap” with tarot cards has been turned into a KFC. The modern world continues to stamp on the old in a brutally insidious manner. I was obliged to buy a map to find my way to Avenue Mohammed V which leads to the new town and the supermarket where I bought my beer, but it also seemed not to be there, although I found a sort of off-license instead, which sold me normal sized cans of beer at 25 dirhams. So far that’s the best price I can find. They wrapped them in newspaper and put them in an opaque brown plastic bag, so the general revulsion about alcohol is still there. On the way I was able to find a new SIM card for my phone AND a place which could supply a dongle for my computer, so that, in principle, solved the WIFI problem. But they needed a passport, and so I had to come back later.

A note about taxis in Marrakech. There are two kinds, “petit taxis” and grand taxis”. The difference is that the “petit” taxis are, well “petit” and the “grand” taxis are, well, “grand”. The same goes for the price. A Grand Taxi costs around twice the price. (airport runs always cost 100 dirhams, no matter which you use). Excepting how you present yourself. I went back to the shop for my dongle and they said I would need to download software and could I bring them my computer? So I went back again to the hotel and took my nice new yellow leather bag with my very expensive new and lovely macBook Air inside it. The moment I stepped outside the hotel a boy accosted me in the street and offered to show me the sights. Only I knew he was directing me down a dead-end and the most likely outcome was the loss of my bag. The most obvious marker of his intention… he addressed me in English. I gave him the slip.

The cab ride back to the bus station from the shop had cost me 20 dirhams (less than £2). This time, with the bag, suddenly the guy didn’t speak french too well and seemed not to know where “la grand place” was. (It’s only the most important tourist destination in Marrakech.) So I told him to go to the “Hotel Foucauld”, which is just opposite. He took me to somewhere completely different in the new town and even picked up some other passengers along the way. They were VERY specific about their destination and, when he suggested 50 dirhams, they jumped out of the cab. The price was re-negotiated for 30. The guy drove like a maniac and, when we finally got to the correct place, he said it would cost me 2,000 euro. He was, of course, joking, but I had to get very strict to beat him down to 30. (And, yes, Londoners, you got that right, that’s less than £3, but that’s not the point, it should have been £2 or less (20 dirhams). They can smell money, even though the rest of my cash was safely locked up in my hotel room. Suffice it to say, the same thing happened on my return. Trouble is, if you don’t have the exact money, you have to hand over more than is agreed and just hope you get the correct change, which they often protest they don’t have and add 5 dirhams or more to the bill.

Once back in the hotel I could breathe. Six cans of heineken were waiting for me in a plastic bowl full of icecubes bought from the hypermarket I found opposite the bus station. I tried the roof terrace. Too much sunlight, I couldn’t read the screen. So I went downstairs into the courtyard to have another go. It’s a deal we make btw, between gay rights and smoker’s rights. In Europe gays have basic human rights, but can’t smoke under any roof. Here gays are persecuted like back in the 50’s, but I can smoke anywhere. I’d trade my right to smoke in public against my right to express my sexuality openly any day, but it’s still nice to be able to enjoy a fag without the attendant issues in the EU. That’s why my book is set before the smoking ban in the UK.

So, I continued editing my blog in the courtyard of the hotel. I got so far and the straight couple talking to the proprietor called me over. An extremely interesting and long conversation ensued, fuelled by may bottles of rosé which I hope won’t come my way when I check out. I don’t get the feeling that that will be the case. He is an Armenian Muslim and is here in Marrakech to support someone who has fallen foul of islamic law on a sharia precedent dating back to 1100. At least that is what I think I have understood. His wife is leaving at 5h10 tomorrow and they made a hurried departure so she could get ready, but he may be here for the whole of my stay. Amusingly they were the couple next to me in the little restaurant where I ate last night. She had the couscous. I had the chicken tagine au citron and it was unbelievably tough. She has my card. I can’t imagine what they will make of me when they finally compare notes.

The mosques are just broadcasting the latest call to prayer. I was woken this morning by the first one. I have already mentioned the mice. It seems there are cats in the hotel also. They joined in the call to prayer, yowling at the top of their voices. I don’t know the time, but it must have been very early. Do mice eat cockroaches? If so, I shouldn’t interrupt the food-chain.

Oh, and it seems the people here like to lie about the temperature. According to the internet, to which I now have access, it was “only” 34° yesterday and 31° today. On the street today the indicators vary from 40° to 28°, so they can’t be believed. Suffice it to say, I’ve taken some colour and it felt very hot and humid.

pictures to follow

Traveller's Tales





Sometimes you have to try a little harder to make things happen, it's a minor miracle I'm back in Marrakech at all. The Ryanair booking system went down in the middle of booking the flight and I nearly lost my reservation. I paid for the hotel using a newly set-up paypal link to my bank account rather than paying with my debit card and the bank reclaimed the payment and… I lost the booking. Luckily I was able to re-book on my debit card. Then I cut it a bit fine to do my online check-in. It is the first time I've used Ryanair since they made this compulsory and so I went to the internet to do it to make sure I could print out the boarding card. The check-in required my passport number and I had to go home to collect it and, when I got back to the internet it was too late. It was now just under four hours to my flight and I only got the boarding card for the return journey. Packed my bags in a hurry and made it to Stanstead with about 50 minutes to spare. I had to pay £40 to rectify my untimely check-in at the sales desk and did so just within the 40 minute deadline. The "Bag drop"--a thinly disguised check-in procedure which makes the online-check-in completely meaningless unless you view it as another opportunity for then to fleece unwary passengers like me--was taking forever to achieve and I finally realised I would have to go to the "imminent departure" point and jump the queue. By now the displays were all saying "proceed to gate". Stopping briefly to buy a travel adaptor I then found that my gate was the furthest possible from the concourse and, with the displays now reading "final call", I began to speed up. Finally there as the last of the priority boarding queue were going on to the plane I went through with the last of them as those in the non-priority queue looked on and considered the wisdom of saving on their tickets. Then, not having had the opportunity to get something to eat in the airport I had to pay their inflated prices for food and drink. Although that was better than I had remembered.

At Marrakech it was getting dark, but still hot. Apparently it reached 38° today. There was a guy with my name on a card waiting for me with a free transfer, which was a considerable improvement on last time. The hotel is pretty much as I had expected, except that my room is not really up to much. I do have an en-suite, but the shower is dirty and it's fairly small and shabby, but I don't plan on spending much time in here. No safe in the room, as was advertised and the air conditioning needs a remote control to operate which I am getting tomorrow. The only facilities to store clothes are some hooks on the wall. I am told there is a problem with the wifi which was one of the main reasons for choosing the place, but am promised a wifi dongle in due course. Oh, and to top it all, I tried to do some work on the plane only to find out I had run out of time on my 30-day trial copy of Word and so can't edit my book unless I copy and paste it all into textedit. Oh yes, and there's neither soap nor a towel either. I passed a mouse scuttling along the stairway and my bathroom has cockroaches. I guess you get what you pay for.

One deeply annoying thing, there's a wash basin on the wall outside my room and the proprietor's family use this from time to time. All just a bit too cozy. He has a crazy little girl too, who has a toy which is like a ball on the end of elastic and the little bitch thwacked me right in the balls with it when I was being shown in.

The roof terrace is just perfect, however, and I will hope to get a lot of writing done there unless… I wonder… will there be enough shade for me to be able to see the screen in the strong sunshine I've come all this way for? The hotel is built around a central courtyard which serves also as a public restaurant and has a partly covered top. I wonder what they do when it occasionally rains? Stepping outside though is fantastic. It's in a narrow cobbled street which goes on forever and boys on motorscooters whizz past beeping and honking vying for space with donkey carts piled high with vegetables. The air is thick with the smell of two-stroke oil and donkey shit. I've not strayed from the line of this road, as to get lost this evening would really be the icing on the cake. No progress yet on locating somewhere to buy alcohol. When I locate a route to the main square I will be able to make my way from there to the new town and get some from a supermarket. As it stands I was lucky to find a small restaurant on the street I am on which also sells beer, but at 25 dirhams (about £2) for a tiny french size "cannette", this is not really a workable solution. On the plus side, fags are 22 dirhams (less than £2) a packet. Bliss!

Blog to be edited and have pictures very soon.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The London Book Fair 2011


I’ve just attended the first two days of the London Book Fair with my Paradise Press/Authorial hat on. Primary goal, to sound out print-on-demand companies in the UK for Paradise Press, collect handouts and give away as many of my nice shiny new business cards as I can. First stop was “Lightning Source”, who have printed some of PP’s books.

They are a subsidiary of Ingrams, a large book distributor, and I was surprised to see their stand was mainly devoted to their distribution business. There were no available copies of their books, or rather I was not directed to any, which seems rather off. But Elsa Wallace had given me a copy of her book which Lightning Source printed and I had it with me. The title is off-centre on the spine, which was concerning me rather. The guy I spoke with assured me it ought to have been in the middle, and couldn’t understand why, but made much of the quoted +/- 2mm tolerance. Even so, it was hardly encouraging. When I then asked about printing a sample copy of my book he got even less helpful. I was told I’d have to set up an account, which could take several weeks. Not much help either, if I want a physical copy to show off in Morocco next week. When preparing the artwork for the cover, I used their website to download a cover template, which they emailed to me. But it is a .pdf built to an odd size and I can’t edit it. It proved impossible to verify the size of the safety margins they have built in and I had to resort to reading their online file preparation guidelines to find the relevant information. Their attitude was very much that they would prefer me to have my book professionally designed, which is what I’ve been told by Paradise Press/GASPS. The general feedback from their competitors was that they were picky and wanted things done their way and charged for practically everything, including changing a single page. I know this is what the competition would say, but my impression of them persuaded me that they were telling the truth. The off-centre spine lettering on Elsa’s book alone is reason enough to avoid this company in the future.

Next up was Print on Demand Worldwide. This was a completely different story. The staff were open and friendly and they had printed copies of their file preparation guidelines. Their website has a convenient spine width calculator (as, to be fair, does Lightning Source’s) but they alone among the companies I found also have an online quotation widget which I have made much use of in the last few months. They, as all the other stands I visited, had examples of their books on display and all the companies had good finished product on display, with the exception of Lightning Source). The final quality of the books is not a factor I would consider in choosing a print on demand company as the standards were all very similar. When approached with the idea of printing a single copy they were quite happy for me to submit the file right away and would have a 4-5 day turnaround if memory serves me right, which was quite standard across the companies I spoke with. None other than Lightning source wanted me to set up an account and so a simple credit card payment would suffice. I would say Print on Demand Worldwide had the most transparent pricing, because of the online quotation option.

The next company I visited was Orbital Print. I must say I was astonished when I handed the guy a copy of Paradise’s flier and he said, “Oh, I know him… and him… we printed those books.” No-one at PP/GASPS had mentioned this company. More impressive though is that they remembered their customers. When I started looking at their book display the quality was poor. But they told me the copies on display were rejects. They insisted that they would ensure the spine was centred on my book. I must say I am still a bit surprised that they were displaying rejected books, or was that on the level? I will ask my colleagues about the standard of work they had from Orbital Print and edit this post when that is done. One good thing was their pricing structure. They quoted me a price for my book on the spot of around £4.50 and a discount of 2.5% per hundred books ordered, which I can easily understand. They quoted a minumum order of £30. When I asked about payment methods they said I could pay then by any means possible. I’m afraid I replied that they were talking to the wrong person as I could think of some very imaginative ways of paying them, but it was taken in good humour.

Then it was the turn of the Berforts Group. I think I had researched them already, but as we don’t use them as yet I knew nothing other than what they have online. Again, very friendly, again, acceptable books on display. One thing I did like, however, was the option of having a matt laminated cover. Those were very sexy and I think I want one for Bokassa. Their approach to spine width and costing was that they would respond by email. Fair enough, but not as useful as Print on Demand Worldwide’s system, which is a winner. Although to be fair, Lightning Source’s spine width calculator also tells me the weight, which is useful when considering postage and packing costs.

Then I found a stall for Matador, who market themselves as a self-publishing outfit. Actually they are a subsidiary of Troubador and have close links with Orca Books (a distributor). They sell their titles through their website and bundle distribution (which I do not want). They were also a bit sniffy about their standards and said they don’t print everything they are asked to. I’m not going to recommend them to Paradise Press as they are not offering the package we want, which is just a simple print and go service. They will just print books but, as the service is outsourced, I doubt very much that their quote will be competitive as someone, somewhere, will be wanting a slice.


A surprise discovery was Beamreach Printing. They had a tiny, tiny, stand with one very talkative guy staffing it. He actually asked me what my book was about, which threw me a bit off-guard, as I’ve not perfected my elevator pitch yet. After we had talked about my book he admitted he also outsources all his printing and wasn’t the man to talk to as he is primarily an intermediary and designer. Fair does. He did offer to find an offset printer for me, but I can do that for myself as well.


I saw Gardners listed as print on demand suppliers in the directory, but discovered that they outsource all printing requests. The guy I spoke with couldn’t even remember the name of the company they use. It was useful, however, to talk to them, as the 55% discount they require was enough to persuade me that my choice not to use a distributor was the right one.


What about the next step? Well, I will be asking Print on Demand Worldwide, Orbital Print and Berforts for quotations for 1, 100 and 200 books and I will take it from there. One further note, all were of the same voice about file preparation, they want crop marks in the cover artwork but not right up to the inner edge of the bleed. Orbital Print, in particular, were adamant this was necessary to ensure correct trim.


NB the date on my camera is wrong!


PLEASE can anyone who has used any of these companies post a comment on their experiences of them, as this blog page could be a valuable resource to others going down the self-publishing route and needing to find a print on demand printer who is reliable, approachable, professional and competitively priced.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Book Reading at the Gay Authors' Workshop, Sunday 10 April

Yesterday, I went to the Gay Authors’ Workshop monthly meeting to read my novel, “Bokassa’s Last Apostle”. If you have dipped into the extract, you will know the plot is detailed and rich and the style is very dialogue heavy and the authorial narration almost non-existent. I read them chapter 12, which had been sent to a copy-editing service for a free edit/evaluation ages ago. The feedback from the editor was that she had greatly enjoyed working on the extract and would love to get the job.

Yeah, right, but then again, maybe she was being genuine? Anyway, it went down well. I had prepared a summary of the plot up to then and read that out first. There had been a discussion earlier in the meeting about the difficulty of finding a really good plot, and so I was gratified when the first comment after the summary was: “Well, no difficulty finding a plot there then!” Yeah, right (again), if they only knew how many miles I’ve walked around Liège and Harrow trying to work out how to make all the ends meet! The key, I suppose, is that it’s NOT actually all fiction. I’ve basically joined up bits of reality and woven the story around them. Is that more difficult than writing something completely made-up? I just don’t know. My last post about the apparent non-existence of Bokassa’s ring is a case in point.

Another old chestnut resurfaced after I’d read chapter 12. And more to the point. One member commented that he thought it too dialogue-heavy and that it read like a play. Suffice it to say, his own extract had a very distinct authorial narration and used a lot of reported speech. It’s a question of style, and this is NOT meant to be a criticism of his own work, which I really enjoyed.

He’s right, actually, it WOULD work better as a screenplay or a play script, only I just don’t know how to write one of those. AND the market is that much more restricted. At least as a book there are established channels, GAW/GASPS amongst them, which I can use. If, in the fullness of time it is picked up for a TV series or a film, so much to the good. Although, rather like William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, I had hoped it would be too graphic in places to get made into a film. (You would have to read the original opening to see why! LOL) It would also be too difficult to get an actor with the right attributes to play Everton. LOL! Maybe he would need a voice double, at the very least.

Whatever… that comment was immediately contradicted by another. This time he said he was envious of the dialogue and the pacing. Take your pick.

Actually, I was very proud when that was said, because I’ve worked extremely hard on getting the dialogue right. To be brutally honest, I never believed I’d be able to write dialogue, and it’s come as a complete surprise that I seem to be rather good at it. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it begins with the character living inside your head. Somehow, the dialogue just follows from that. But it takes time for the characters to come to life. Then there are technical issues such as scanshion, rhythm, voccabulary, use of elision, errors, and phoneticisation and, in my case, grammar errors—like Édouard calling Everton’s famous trousers “that trouser”. NB there are certain lines of good taste not to be crossed. JK Rowling would have had Fleur saying “Zat trouzer showz everyting”, which is crude to say the least.

But then… and then… the way I’ve written this book says a lot about the cultural space I inhabit. Maybe next time I should chose a chapter with less dialogue?????

Monday, 4 April 2011

Bokassa's Ring Didn't Exist!

Having planned a trip to look at footage in the French national video archive in Paris of Bokassa's coronation, I discovered yesterday that it is available to download online for just 2.99€. After sitting through the whole 52 minutes of it, I saw no sign of the famous ring on his hand. It's a bit of a bummer because I've built the whole of the plot of "Bokassa's Last Apostle" around it. Pitty, it's such a good story, still, I guess quite a lot of the legend of Bokassa is made-up.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Two weeks to dedicate to my book.


Now I've the means, I'm firmly resolved to get Bokassa's Last Apostle into print, vie the Gay Author's Workshop a.k.a. Paradise Press. There really isn't the market for it out there, so the self-publishing route is best all round as I don't automatically feed 50%+ of the income to agents/publishers/distributors etc. Furthermore, Paradise Press is a well regarded house, even though everyone knows it's really just an umbrella for self-publication. So I'm reading the third installment to the upcoming meeting of GAW on Sunday, then attending the London Book Fair next week to sound out print-on-demand publishers and then... off to Marrakech for a fortnight to get the final editing sorted out before I send it to an editor.

Watch this space for the reports...
Oh and follow me on twitter @toussaintToubab...
 
Twitter Bird Gadget