Congratulations, everyone! We made it through January.
In the UK, the end of January is the deadline to submit tax returns (and to pay any tax due) so for many people January is just not a happy time. If you’re one who has been suffering with officialdom, I can assure you that this email offers tax-free distraction.
There are a good number of new members of the readers’ group for whom this will be their first edition of Simon Says. Welcome to all. Simon Says is my monthly communiqué where I chat about my books and some other topics that I think you might find interesting.
Interesting how? Well, let’s get started and you can see for yourself.
Diplomatic Baggage, the second Leathan Wilkey novel, was published in October last year. At the time it was exclusive to Amazon but now it is available widely, so you can now get it in whichever store suits you:
I hope by now you’ve loaded my introductory library onto your reading device of choice.
If you’re missing any of the books, get them here:
Sharing the Introductory Library
If you’ve been around for a while you’ll have heard me say this before, but as there has been an influx of new members to the readers’ group, I’m going to repeat myself.
My introductory library is intended to do exactly what its name suggests: to introduce my books to new readers. If you have any family or friends who you think may enjoy these books (or any of my other books), then please forward this email to them so they can download the books.
And if you’re a family member or a friend who has received this email, I hope you enjoy your reading! Please also join my readers’ group. When you join, I’ll send you this monthly communiqué, Simon Says, which will tell you about my books and any special offers, as well as giving you extracts and a few other pieces I think you may find interesting.
The Camera, the third full length novel in the Leathan Wilkey series, has entered the final stages of production.
The book is written and edited, and is now going through final production process—proof reading, typesetting, more proofing, and getting the cover sorted. And yeah…that cover… I like to show the cover at the earliest opportunity, but there isn’t one yet. Instead, there’s a picture of a houseboat on la Seine. You’ll understand the connection once you read the book.
While the last details are still being finalized, chapter one is finished. You can read it at the end of this communiqué (but it won’t explain the houseboat).
And if you’re not up to date with the current Leathan books, then hurry up and finish reading them!
- Leathan #1: Clementina
- Leathan #2: Diplomatic Baggage
- The free Leathan novella: Bag Man, which you can download along with the other books in my introductory library by following the links earlier in this email.
The Hero Fails
I had an interesting question the other day (thanks, Bill) and also some kinds words (really appreciated, Bill!). The question prompted a wider thought.
I should start with a warning that there are some spoilers here, so if you haven’t read my books, in particular if you haven’t read Bag Man, you might want to skip this section.
Bill’s question was whether the conclusion of Bag Man was the end of the story. Implicit in the question was whether the ending was a set-up for another book. If you haven’t read Bag Man—and despite my earlier warning, you’re still reading this piece—the book finishes abruptly with Leathan failing to recover a kidnapped child.
The short answer to Bill’s question is the ending is the end. There is no part two. We simply don’t know what happens to the kid. And as the author, I don’t know what happened to the kid.
This isn’t laziness on my part. This is intentional.
Keeping the Reader Engaged
The ending to Bag Man is intentional because as an author I have an ongoing challenge—to keep the reader entertained and engaged.
If the reader knows what’s going to happen, then the story will get pretty dull pretty quickly. Indeed, if the reader knows how the story is going to end, then there’s little incentive to continue reading.
Often the big question in a novel is whether the protagonist survives. With Leathan Wilkey there’s a series, so every reader implicitly knows that Leathan is going to survive. It’s kinda obvious… And if the reader knows (1) Leathan survives and (2) Leathan always wins, then something of the tension of any book is lost.
The Protagonist Must Always Fail
As an author and a storyteller, I want to make sure the conclusion of any book is not obvious. One way to be “not obvious” is to have the protagonist fail.
But if the reader knows that the protagonist is going to fail, then that robs the story of any real intrigue. Always losing is just as dull as always winning.
Beyond the simple requirements of keeping the reader guessing, a protagonist must always fail somewhere. Any human who doesn’t make mistakes is simply not believable. Any human who doesn’t face up to their mistakes and try to right their own wrongs isn’t worthy of the reader’s respect.
So the protagonist needs to be flawed and those flaws need to lead to failure. However…
The Protagonist Must Always Win
The protagonist cannot be a bumbling idiot and nothing more than a bumbling idiot who always fails. Winning or losing should be equal possibilities for the protagonist.
For the protagonist to be interesting for the reader, they must be smart and must—through their actions—command respect. A character who is smart and who commands respect is going to get things right from time to time, and fundamentally, that is what the reader wants—an engaging character overcoming adversity.
The Internal Story and the External Story
There’s another aspect to winning and losing—the internal and the external story.
The external story is the more obvious of the two—it is the story that is being told. In Bag Man, the external story is the search for a kidnapped child.
The internal story is the story that is happening behind the scenes. You can often think of the internal story as the emotional story for a character. With Bag Man the internal story is more about Leathan’s relationships and his motivations for seeking out the kid. In this example, the internal story isn’t the story that gets told—it’s the half of the story that gets understood.
Winning and Losing
With the notion of an internal and an external story, there’s much more scope for winning and losing. Instead of binary win/lose choice, there are four basic options:
- external win/internal win
- external win/internal loss
- external loss/internal win
- external loss/internal loss
Having a range of more options and more ways to win and lose means that the final outcome is much harder for the reader to predict. It also means that—as an author—I can tell a more nuanced story.
I like stories with a win/loss outcome. You’ll find it happens to a greater extent in many of my books including Bag Man:
- Leathan’s external story was the recovery of the kid. Here, clearly, he failed.
- Leathan’s internal story was around uncovering the truth of the kidnapping and deciding the correct response. Here he largely succeeded.
So Leathan both won and lost, but in my opinion (and you may disagree) the loss cancels out (and more) any joy in his win.
Indeed, I would go further and say that the fact that he won on the internal story—the fact that he was right, and therefore potentially could have reached the kid if he had been less cautious—makes the loss burn that much hotter for Leathan. Hence at the end of the story we see him going to get drunk in an attempt to blank out his failure from his mind.
The Alternate to Amazon
Amazon dominates. You’ve probably noticed.
But if you’re looking for ebooks, Amazon is not the only choice. In terms of global players, there are three main alternatives:
I’d like to make the suggestion that if you’re queasy about buying from Amazon you take a look at Kobo.
Kobo has been around for a while.
It is a Canadian company (although now owned by the Japanese company Rakuten) and for a while, the company was the route to sell ebooks in Canada. However, it has been slowly picking up business as others companies have pulled out, so for instance:
- When Sony pulled out of the ebook market, they transferred their business to Kobo.
- In the UK, Waterstones ebook business transferred to Kobo.
- Also in the UK, Barnes & Noble’s nook business which first transferred to Sainsbury’s has now transferred to Kobo (along with the other pieces of Sainsbury’s book efforts).
- In Germany, the engine powering the Tolino brand is Kobo.
- Most recently, in South Africa, Exclusive Books has “partnered” with Kobo which in effect means that the ebook customers have transferred to Kobo.
This is not the full extent of Kobo’s business, but I hope it gives you some idea of the breadth of the company’s scope.
One significant aspect of this global expansion is that books are now often priced in local currencies so prices won’t fluctuate as the local currency shifts against the dollar. I can’t guarantee this, but there is the possibility.
Using Kobo is comparatively simple. You need an account and you need a reading device.
An account is straightforward—Kobo want to know who you are and want a method to charge you. And if you’re one of the people who was with a previous vendor (such as Sony, Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, B&N, or Executive Books) your account may already be there.
Then you need a reading device. The simplest option here is to load a Kobo app onto the phone or tablet that you already own. Kobo make apps for most devices including for Android (Samsung and similar phones), Apple (iPhone and iPad), Blackberry, and you can also read on your computer (Mac or Windows).
In addition, Kobo offer a range of eink devices (think of these as being the Kobo equivalent of the Kindle and you’ll be getting close). While there is the option to buy dedicated hardware, you probably don’t need to—your existing phone or tablet will probably be sufficient; you just need to get hold of the Kobo app.
Once You’re Set Up
Once you’re set up, you can get reading.
If you haven’t looked around the Kobo store, you can always start by checking out this author (and yes, I do realize that some of the covers need to be updated).
Jealousy and Envy
Aren’t they just the same thing?
That’s what someone asked me a few days ago. In short, no, they’re not the same. The two concepts—the two underlying emotions—are very different notions.
The simpler concept is envy.
If one person A has something that person B covets, then person B feels envy. The emotion of person B wanting what person A has, is envy.
And that something may be tangible, for instance money, or a more subjective notion such as looks, talent, or a relationship.
Jealousy is a different concept and it relates to the fear of losing.
So for instance, a child may jealously guard a toy. A business may jealously protect its reputation.
In short, there’s a third party in the mix, and that third party’s presence creates the feeling of jealousy. So in the case of the child jealously guarding its toy, the first person is the child, the second party is the toy, and the feelings of jealousy arise when a third party—maybe another child, maybe an adult—put that child’s control of the toy at risk.
A boy may be jealous of his girlfriend when that girlfriend is receiving attention from another male—especially if the boy is envious of that other male. In this instance, you can have envy and jealousy at the same time, but differing feelings are directed toward different subjects (envy to the other boy, jealousy to the girl).
Now, of course, language is an ever changing thing, and words shift in meaning and different situations give rise to varying emotions and conflicts requiring different descriptions and different shading. But I’m a simple person and most of the time when people say “jealousy”, they really mean envy.
And to Close
That’s it for this month.
I’ll be back in March. Until then, please feel free to share this communiqué with your friends and if you’ve got any questions or you want me to talk about anything, just hit the reply button.
I’ll stop now and leave you to read the first chapter of The Camera. Enjoy!
All the best
The Camera: Chapter One
Anaïs had left a message.
I called back and made the arrangements: “Leave the café at 11:00, turn south; when you’re on the way give me a call, and I’ll tell you where we’re meeting.”
“You’re not going to make me wear a disguise and jump between trains, are you, Leathan?”
“No,” I said. “Just walk so I’m sure that you’re not being followed.”
“That could take hours.”
“It’ll take a few minutes. You walk—I’ll check.”
She grumbled a bit but agreed.
I checked the time again. 11:01 AM. Technically, she was late, but she did have a café to run—a business she had worked hard to establish—so I understood. That was why I had suggested the quiet period before the lunchtime rush.
I sat, up from the café, on the low wall marking the edge of the sidewalk, letting the May sunlight warm me. To my right, seven stories of white-painted buildings acting as a reflector to focus the sun on the street. On the other side was Gare de l’Est, or more accurately, the thirty train platforms of the station shielded by metal roofs stretching away from me like a perfectly flat gray field with nothing to shade me from the sun.
In 1883, Gare de l’Est had been the departure point for the first Orient Express bound for Istanbul. Now, with the romance of steam a long distant memory, the station was just another of the huge transportation hubs moving people into and out of Paris, and Anaïs Moreau had set up her business around the corner to take a small slice from the passing foot traffic.
At 11:05, she stepped out of the café before turning back to talk to someone inside. She was pointing—not pointing aggressively; Anaïs Moreau spoke with her hands. You didn’t need to listen to her words—all emotion was conveyed through physical gestures, whether by shoulder movements, tilts of the head, subtle shifts in her eyes, or hand gestures. All was there; all was on display.
And now she was displaying nervousness. She was leaving her baby—her café—in someone else’s hands. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the other person, but there was certainly separation anxiety on her part.
A man came to the door. Younger and taller than her. Slim, dark-haired, and with a neatly trimmed beard. He lifted a hand and put it on her shoulder, tilting his head to the side. The bearded guy seemed to know that she was distracted and wouldn’t hear words—she needed someone who spoke in gestures to be reassured.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I knew from looking. “You’re sure you’ll be alright?”
“You’ve got my number.”
“I’ll only be ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes or ten hours, I’ll be here.”
“You’re really sure?”
“I’m sure. Now go.”
Finally Anaïs turned, heading away from me, a large suede bag hanging from her right shoulder. She dug into the bag, slowing her pace, and pulled out a phone, which she put to her ear. The phone in my pocket rang. “Hi,” she said. “I’m on my way.”
I wasn’t going to tell her that I already knew. “Keep going south. I’ll call you in a minute,” I said and hung up. I stood, feeling the blood rush back to my ass as it left the cold stone.
Anaïs continued walking, reaching the end of the vehicle access in the street. She stepped around the low fence and walked to the top of the steps. For some reason, Rue d’Alsace—where Anaïs’ café was located—was on two levels joined by a staircase between the two. Pedestrians could make the journey, but vehicles could not.
I looked, but I couldn’t see anyone following her. I couldn’t see anyone paying attention—there was no one waiting, no one watching from a window, no one coming the other way. The street was empty apart from me and Anaïs Moreau. She took the stairs on the left. I watched as she disappeared from my sight, a step at a time.
Then I ran.
This was why I didn’t keep the phone open—I didn’t want her to hear me panting as I ran. I ducked down the first right, sprinting until I reached Rue du Fauberg Saint-Denis, which ran parallel to Rue d’Alsace and the train lines.
Where Rue d’Alsace is a quiet, white-painted street with little traffic, largely due to the stairway, which militates against vehicles, this end of Rue du Fauberg Saint-Denis is its ugly cousin. It’s rammed with traffic—angry drivers who just want to be somewhere else, now. There are far more businesses, but nothing as genteel as a pleasant café where you can sit and watch the world go by. There are phone stores to get stolen phones unlocked, money changers, barbers, electrical stores, and of course, since it’s Paris, pharmacies.
Above the street level there are hotels and private residences. And while the architectural standards laid down by Baron Haussmann in the mid-1800s largely prevail with a few exceptions, clearly no one was paying attention when the edict was passed about color consistency: The buildings are white, gray, brown, dirt-encrusted, peach, and cream.
There were also lots of people on the street, which made running more of a dangerous pursuit—for my fellow pedestrians, not me. I jogged down the slope to where the road met Rue du 8 Mai 1945 and turned left, pulling out my phone. I slowed as I called the last number, trying to steady my breath.
“When you get to the end of the street, turn left and follow Rue du 8 Mai 1945 across the front of Gare de l’Est,” I said.
“What did you say?”
The corner I had just turned marked a transition. I had come from a street largely filled by Parisians to join a wider street where the traffic was primarily intended to service tourists and other visitors to the city. As I had jogged down the hill, there had been cars, vans, and scooters. By contrast, Rue du 8 Mai 1945, the street named to commemorate the surrender of Nazi Germany and mark the day of victory in Europe, was crammed full with coaches. Coaches with no hint of irony, moving large numbers of humanity across Europe in a way that the Nazis could only have dreamed of. And in the few areas of blacktop that weren’t filled with low-rumbling coaches spewing out black diesel fumes, taxis attempted to thread their way along the street.
“Turn left in front of the station,” I said in a louder voice.
“I’m nearly there.”
I made it to where Rue d’Alsace met Rue du 8 Mai 1945 and hung back, letting the tide of tourists give me some cover. About fifty yards ahead I caught sight of Anaïs: short, slim, white T-shirt, her hair cut in an elfin-like style. Her pace had picked up—she was walking with speed, making her way through the herd of tourists milling on the sidewalks. While there were more people, no one seemed to be following her.
She reached the junction and turned left without pause. The large suede bag was firmly over her right shoulder and her phone was clamped to her left ear. “Where now?” she asked as she disappeared from my view.
I paused for a moment or two, looking to see if anyone else was concerned by her disappearance. No one seemed to notice that she had gone.
“Keep going,” I said. “Stay in front of the front of the station; when you get to the road coming down the other side, bear left and cross. Go into Jardin Villemin by the top entrance, and I’ll meet you by the kids’ play area.”
“Okay,” she said. I hung up.
She was headed left, so I headed right. She was going to the northeast entrance. I would enter by the south so I could see anyone behind her. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Anaïs; I did, but people can always be put under pressure—they’ll do the wrong thing to protect themselves and those they love.
I didn’t want to be understanding—I wanted to stay alive.