Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Nantes of Jules Verne

In 1828, the world-renowned science-fiction author, Jules Verne, was born in what was then called the Venice of the West - the city of Nantes, in France.

Around the same period, when Jules Verne was only a baby, the English landscape painter, JMW Turner, drew sketches of Nantes.

Nantes - view from Île Feydeau, Turner 1828

The wonderful drawing above illustrates the lively canal activity around Île Feydeau. Then the home of Nantes' wealthiest families, Île Feydeau's majestic residential buildings can just be discerned on the right-hand side.

In the early 20th century, major diversion projects began in Nantes and lasted through WWII. Before this time, the Erdre, the Loire's tributary, flowed through a number of canals, lending the city a somewhat Venetian aspect. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Nantes' port thrived with large vessels destined for Africa and the Americas, including sadly, slavers. Dark as Nantes' past may be, one easily forms an impression of a bustling trade city comparable to Venice.

Banks of the River Erdre, looking North - Turner

Touring through Nantes one finds much history. There is first the medieval Chateau along the banks of the Loire. The Dukes of Brittany had their seat here and it serves as a wonderful museum today.

The unforgettable Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, Nantes

Turner's sketch of the castle is lovely too.

Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany - Turner

But a rare treat, if you are a fan of Jules Verne, is to follow the Loire River from the Chateau, past Place Bouffay, all along key spots where one of Brittany's finest authors lived.

18th Century map of Nantes before the diversion of the Erdre
Ile Feydeau lies in the center of the Loire

Stop 1 -  4 Olivier de Clisson Street
An island within a city.
Such is Île Feydeau, which today following the diversion of the Erdre, is accessible on foot.
Parallel to the quay is the old Rue Kervégan which is lined with restaurants and fine mid-18th century buildings. Ile Feydeau is the area of Nantes which was once inhabited by rich slavers and merchants. Its edifices are ornate with marine monsters and creatures that evoke the intense relationship between the island's ancient dwellers and the sea.

Beautiful balconies on Île Feydeau 

The head of marine creatures gracing Île Feydeau homes

It is also on Ile Feydeau, at 4 Olivier de Clisson Street to be precise, that the founder of science-fiction (a title he shares with H.G. Wells), was born. Jules Verne's father was a lawyer and barely of middle-class.

Plaque on 4 Olivier de Clisson Street
"The 8 February 1828
Jules Verne
Precursor of Modern Discoveries
Is born in this house."

4 Olivier de Clisson Street

It is no surprise that from a young age, Jules Verne became well-aware of Nantes' trans-atlantic slave trading. He turned out to be a staunch opposer of slavery and of the slave trade, denouncing these in his book, Dick Sand, A Captain of Fifteen. Later in his twenties, he would become a good friend of author, Alexandre Dumas, whose own father had been borne of a slave.

Stop 2 - 2 allee Jean Bart (cours des Cinquantes otages)

At 2 Allee Jean Bart, long before the Erdre was diverted to give birth to what is now the Cours des Cinquantes Otages, we find Jules Verne's other childhood home. His family moved to Jean Bart when he was barely a toddler. They remained there until Jules Verne was 12 years old.

"Jules Verne, as a child lived here from 1829 to 1840."

Stop 3 - Church of Saint Nicolas
Nearby, the basilica of Saint Nicolas, whose earliest building dated from the 12th century and which had undergone a number of evolution through the centuries, was re-constructed starting in 1844 based on plans that had been finalised on the eve of the French Revolution.

Jules Verne's father belonged to the parish council that commissioned this wonderful building.
This neo-gothic church is classified as a historical monument since November 1986.

Neo-Gothic Church of Saint-Nicolas

There are other Jules Verne residences or landmarks in Nantes that are worth mentioning, including 1 Rue Suffren, 6 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Chantenay country home on 29bis rue des Reformes, but all are old stone houses and it can get a little dull.

But if you follow the Loire River toward the Jules Verne Museum, you come across a more recent statue, created as an homage to the celebrated author - it is Captain Nemo looking out across the Loire...and just behind him, a fictitious statue of the young Jules Verne sits on a bench, dreaming of the sea.

And that is a rare treat.
Because to dwell upon the imagination of a child who would one day become one of the world's greatest science fiction authors, well, that is sheer bliss.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Julien's Terror - My Third Novel

This is not the cover of Julien's Terror by the way.

As readers, we do judge a book by its cover, don't we?

What imagery comes to your mind with the words - French Revolution, mysterious woman, tormented couple, obsession, haunting and psychological thriller?

Where to start? How can a self-published author avoid cliches yet use appropriate book cover symbols to draw a desired audience? What is my desired audience? I think she is female, over 25 and obsessed with 18/19th century France. The macabre and gothic must appeal to her while she must also have a fascination for the human mind and for unveiling secrets.

Is that you? Then how can I best attract you with my book cover? Tell me.

The next six months will be intensely creative as I finalise the imagery to feature on the cover of my third novel, Julien's Terror, before preparing an art brief.

Despite the tenebrous aspects of this novel, I was overjoyed over the last months. I spent ample time researching fascinating real-life characters, all of which are featured or mentioned in the story. They include 18th century fortune-teller, Marie Anne Lenormand, writer Germaine Staël, the unflinching Minister of Police Fouché, the brave Breton counter-revolutionary François de Charette, the unique physician Franz Anton Mesmer, to name a few...

I am excited!

And I've saved it for last: Julien's Terror now has a blurb...


Julien's Terror

Eight years after France's bloody Reign of Terror, a young couple is happily married in Paris. Julien d'Aureville is an upcoming bourgeois raised in the poor and intensely revolutionary district of Saint-Antoine. His young wife, Marguerite Lafolye, is an orphan from Brittany who escaped the cruelty of Nantes' butcher, Jean-Baptiste Carrier. Fiercely royalist, she remains a mystery to her husband.

Marguerite becomes obsessed with Dauphin Louis-Charles, youngest child of the late Queen Marie-Antoinette and in Le Temple, the medieval prison where Louis-Charles was kept for almost three years before his death. 

Meanwhile terrifying nightmares plague Julien from the beginning of their marriage. In desperation, he reaches out to Paris' celebrated fortune-teller, Marie Anne Lenormand. But when Marie Anne attempts to draw insights into Julien’s wife, she is startled to find that she cannot read her cards.

Who is Marguerite Lafoyle? 

To Marguerite's horror, Napoleon wishes to demolish Le Temple. The couple make a final visit to the old Templar building where Marguerite mysteriously faints.

And then jealousy rears its head. A romantic visit to Napoleon's Venice sees one of the fortune-teller’s predictions come true. When Marguerite meets dashing Austrian, Maximilian Von Hauser, Julien's worst fears are realised.

And it's only getting more sinister... Marguerite begins to behave strangely.

Deep in Marguerite's past, where the tyranny of murderous Republicans meets with ancient Breton folklore, lies a terrifying secret. Is Marguerite a liar? 
Who is she really? And is she truly possessed by the late Dauphin? 

In this chilling psychological tale set in post-revolutionary France, a young couple confront their darkest fears. Looming above them, between healing and oblivion, lies the French Republic's most shocking secret.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Publishing Dilemma - Indie or Traditional?

I took three months off over Christmas with the intention of completing my third historical novel. No more suspense - it is done. Julien's Terror is a psychological thriller/mystery set over three dramatic and well known periods in France's history - the Terror, the Directory and Napoleon's rule.

The completed draft of Julien's Terror leaves me with a perplexing dilemma - should I follow my initial plan for novel number three and aim high for traditional publishing, or should I continue on the path I have so far taken and remain indie?

Traditional publishing was my original plan for this book because I wanted to discover what it could do for me as an author. I still have the confidence that I could successfully vaunt the sale prospects of this book to an agent and to traditional publishers. Firstly because wider masses will more easily relate to the characters (by contrast, the male character in my first novel, The Ming Storytellers, was a Muslim Chinese eunuch), and secondly because this subject matter is known and more popular than, say, 15th century China (The Ming Storytellers) and 15th century Venice (The Mascherari). This last point means that historical readers, many of whom love reading variations of what they already know, would be more compelled to read Julien's Terror than my other books.

In my best case scenario, which looks a little like fantasy, Julien's Terror would find a spot on a shelf in bookstores, rather than be available only through online orders, and be translated at no cost to me for distribution to French and Spanish markets. That was a fine dream!

The more realistic version of my dream saw the book's sales benefit from the traditional publisher's galley contacts - via more reviews, or through features in Australian newspapers, both of which would boost audience confidence in the product and potential sales. These sort of promotions happen frequently either through the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian or other local newspapers.

And there was even the more modest scenario - that of a traditionally published ebook, with no bookstore presence, no paperback, with minimum marketing support from the publisher but at least - and here it is, the golden ticket - acquiring a respectful published-by-'insert name of some Big 5 imprint here' label. Such a publisher endorsement still exerts a strong pull for many readers.

So that was the plan.

This most realistic plan is attainable. I would in no way expect the freak phenomenon that the likes of G.R. Martin, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and other 'celebrity' authors have experienced in their publishing life.
Aside: only non-writers make an allusion to these type of authors time and time again whenever you mention that you are an author. I find this odd. It is the equivalent of mentioning the billionaire Bill Gates to a computer salesman who has just announced their new business; or telling someone who has just had their first child, that Josephine Baker adopted 12 children... end of rant.

So the reality is that MOST authors who are traditionally published:
1. do NOT earn much
2. are NOT celebrities and,
3. are NOT in any way overnight successes

I can handle reality but would I gain anything from being traditionally published?

That's the question I have been asking myself since completing Julien's Terror. Recently I have debunked a few myths for myself by observing/researching other modest non-celebrity authors I know, and who are published through traditional means. My learning examples may come from any of the Big 5. These observations are in no way about the author or the agent, both of which I know have stood by a good product - they are a reflection on the publisher.

Myth One: Traditionally published books garner more reviews through the galley network

It depends.

Having observed the experience of fellow non-celebrity authors who are traditionally published by Big 5 publishers, I am not convinced that their books' success and improved audience reach is necessarily tied to any effort on the part of the publisher to organise reviews/articles through the galleys.

In addition, the number of reviews accumulated are not necessarily higher than those received by some good indie authors.

Myth Two: Traditional publishers lend added professionalism to books

It depends.

Naming no names, I know a couple of authors who have been appalled at the quality of their ebook cover as suggested by the traditional publisher. They ended up sourcing their own cover (at their own cost) and supplying the traditional publisher with this alternative cover. The original covers were deemed to look unprofessional, and in some cases actually fulfilled the "self-published cover" cliche.

This also reminds me that I read a shockingly edited book by Thomas Harris a few years back with grammar and spelling mistakes that were unbelievably frequent.

Myth Three: Traditional publishers will help promote your book

You have heard it elsewhere and I am only repeating it, but support from a traditional publisher is minimum.  To market my book, I would still need to do exactly what I do now as an indie author - that is, be active (and annoying) on social media platforms, promote the book left right and center, setup my own website, post relevant articles on my blog, contribute to blog articles and setup promotions on Goodreads. On the other hand, having no control over the publishing price and other selling outlets, I could not run my own Kindle countdown or sell my books for free whenever I wanted on Amazon.

It goes without saying that unless the author is already a rising prominent figure - filmmaker, screenwriter, model, singer, actress - or has published many books already, or else won a few literary awards, the publisher will remain minimally involved in marketing.

Myth Four: Traditionally published books demand less effort from the author

An advantage of being traditionally published presumably is that someone else edits my book for free and someone else formats it and takes care of everything before the release. Time saving? Hmm...No. Based on what I have observed, I would still need to contribute to the editing effort. Not only that, but there is also the initial effort of actually getting published which demands that I contact up to 100+ agents, up to 20+ publishers, write a synopsis in various formats, write letters and hell - that I spend at least 6 months of my time, which I do not have, trying to acquire a published-by-"insert name of some Big 5 imprint here" endorsement.

Hold that thought.

We are in late February 2016. Those 6 months would not include the time I would need to also refine the draft of Julien's Terror before it is ready to be read by agents. With a full-time job, I would need at least a year (assuming I edit during weekends only and take no time off) to be happy with Julien's Terror before contacting agents. Assuming I hook someone early, I would still need to cater for at least a year before a traditional publisher actually takes on and releases Julien's Terror - it would be available for sale in 2018 at the earliest!! My belief is that it is more likely to be 2019.

What a ride. Do I want to wait that long? I would... if and only if there were clear benefits to waiting that long.  You can see where I am going here.

Aside, I like how indie authors are often accused of laziness and 'taking shortcuts'. I want to remind those who think this way that I just took three months off - without pay - from a highly paid job, in order to write a book. And here I am trying to make a sound decision which is all based on better ROI. The faster I get this book to market, the faster I get paid, right?

Here is a table summarising pros and cons of indie vs traditional publishing for each of the core steps in publishing. You can gauge my dilemma.

The analysis above seems to indicate that I would be better off pursuing my indie course.

The one item I overlooked is that authors who are traditionally published can be nominated in a large number of writing awards not open to indie authors. This is attractive, but for this particular book - not relevant. With Julien's Terror, I cannot claim to have written anything other than a psychological thriller.

I am not ruling out the traditional course but I can only see true benefits if this path guarantees my book:
* a bookstore presence
* translation to French and distribution to French territories (i.e. a reach beyond Australia, US, UK)
* strong support from the galley network in the form of newspaper articles and reviews both nationally and internationally - dealbreaker!

Without the above, I see no advantage for me in traditional publishing. Thoughts?

Friday, January 1, 2016

In the Name of Courage

Loyalty, a worthwhile trait it may be, and often it is elevated to the highest standing among the qualities required for true friendship, but it pales in comparison to that noble trait of Courage.

To be clear - not the courage to take action in your own life, to keep on trying, to make a change or to follow your dreams, but the quality that allows you to stand up for a friend, when you know they are in the right and when it would ruin your reputation to side by them.

Yes, that kind of courage. The tough kind.

Often relegated to the military, long forgotten as a foundation for relationships, courage stands underrated these days.

Humans have a profound reverence towards courage when it is embodied by historical figures. Those historical figures stand out, as the very best of humanity. And yet when it comes to our every day relationships, and more specifically, when it comes to loyalty in our relationships, the value of courage is forgotten.

Demonstrations of courage are most often frowned upon, at worse they are perceived as foolishness, bravado, absence of maturity, inability to reconcile opposites. A person who takes a stance is seen as 'difficult to work with' or as 'splitting up the family'. We are afraid to rock the boat and to choose a side, and those who do are labeled black sheep.

In retrospect, it is those black sheep that history remembers. In the same way, you can bet that it is those black sheep that stood up for them when no one else would that friends will remember. Because it is easy to be loyal when all odds are in your favor, when your reputation is not at stake and the costs are low, but in times of crisis, it is courage not loyalty that will determine character.

Courage deserves mention because it is through this virtue that the most solid friendships are forged and through its force that human bonds truly shine.

In times of war, it is courage, not loyalty, that will see you hide and save the lives of your endangered friends, and extend a hand to those strangers who are similarly oppressed.

In the advent of a great injustice, it is courage that will allow you to put yourself in unfavorable light to stand up for a friend - often, at the risk of your life and your job.

It is courage that will allow you to give your all, when you know, deep down, you possess nothing yourself and are at risk of becoming destitute.

It is courage that will see you sever ties with, confront, or refuse to engage those who have imperiled or hurt those you love.

It is courage that prompts you to speak up and make a fool of yourself for the sake of defending a loved one.

Through your acts of courage, you are making a public choice for all to see. This position is often difficult and places you under a vulnerable light - it is this which is the true test of loyalty.

And so I put it to you, what use is loyalty, or even, what use is believing in your friend, or having the same convictions as your friend without the courage to go with it?

For lack of courageous saviors, people have ended up in concentration camps, alone or dead.

Courage is highly compatible with the idea that humans can only truly be friends with a few people. Not hundreds. Not thousands. You might think your sociability and your affability serves you well and that you can befriend more than a hundred souls but if you are to be a loyal friend, remember that you cannot please everyone.

Because when you are forced to make a choice, when you are dislodged from your fence and courageously stand by those you are loyal to, you will no doubt be forced to leave others behind.

And that, in itself, takes courage.