It’s March and we’re 20% of the way through the year. Eek! I’d better hurry up and get started.
Introducing Simon Says
There have been many new people joining the readers’ group this month. Welcome all! It’s great to have you here.
For the new readers this will be your first edition of Simon Says, so perhaps I should start with a bit of explanation to let you know what you can expect.
What Is Simon Says?
In short, Simon Says is my monthly communiqué to my readers’ group. It’s my chance to say “hi” and to tell you what I’ve been up to.
Oh yeah…it’s also my chance to talk about my books. You can be sure that I’ll always talk about my books :–) Instead of sending out marketing emails when a new book is published, I mention my books here. Usually I talk about the newer books, but I also like to mention some of my older publications from time to time.
I don’t just point at books. Simon Says is also a good place for extracts and I’ll often include a chapter from a forthcoming book or maybe a piece I’m working on that I think may interest you.
But Simon Says is more than an email just to remind you about my books.
Inside My Head
Simon Says is also the place where I talk about what I’m thinking (or rather, the place where I give an edited and polished version of some of the matters I have been pondering).
Sometimes I talk about how I came to write a book or what gave me inspiration. For instance, in January I talked about the origin of one of the scenes in Bag Man.
I’ll often talk about the issues I am wresting with as I write my books. In December I talked about the kernel of an idea that I need before I can begin to understand the story I’m trying to write. And last month I talked about the necessity of having a flawed protagonist who will fail, and fail often.
Other times I’ll talk about books or movies, or even put forward some reasons to forgive Don Cheadle (in case you didn’t know why Don Cheadle needed forgiveness).
Many of these topics started with a question from a reader or a conversation I had, so if there’s anything you want to know or you’d like me to talk about, just hit the reply button and tell me.
Boniface Box Set
I don’t mention this book enough.
The Boniface Box Set is a collection of the first three Boniface novels in one volume for one great low price.
When the author he is representing is murdered, Boniface realizes the job demands more than he expected. And when the man he is talking with is shot, Boniface runs.
The first Boniface knows about the dead body in the next room is when he is arrested for murder.
When his client’s wife disappears, Boniface uncovers the secret she has been keeping from her husband.
And just in case you’re wondering, there is more Boniface in the pipeline. The next Boniface novel—which has the working title Recently Widowed—is scheduled for completion later this year, so now’s your chance to get up to date with the series.
You can get the Boniface Box Set here:
The Camera, The Cover
Last month I mentioned the next Leathan Wilkey novel, The Camera. The book now has a cover.
There will be more details about the book in next month’s edition of Simon Says. While you’re waiting, be sure to read the first chapter which was included with last month’s edition.
Madeleine McCann: 10 Years Later
Madeleine Beth McCann was born 12 May 2003 and disappeared on the evening of 3 May 2007 in Praia da Luz, Portugal.
It’s approaching ten years since the nearly-four-year-old disappeared while on a family holiday, and the facts in that first sentence are still pretty much all we can be certain about. Yet somehow, despite there being so few facts—or maybe because there are so few facts—ten years after she was last seen, the disappearance of Madeleine is perhaps the mystery of our time.
And it is probably a mark of how embedded this case has become in the public consciousness that I don’t need to explain the background. Of all the children who have disappeared in the last ten years, you know Madeleine’s name.
When something happens, a question we all tend to ask is: who did it? However, for Madeleine McCann, the question is not who, but rather what? What happened on that night.
There are many theories about who is guilty—there is a whole cottage industry that spends much of its time speculating—but the larger questions is rarely asked: guilty of what? For there to be guilt, there first needs to be a crime, and so far—in connection with the child’s disappearance—there’s little firm evidence that a crime was committed.
There’s simply the absence of a child who was present a few hours earlier. That absence may imply a crime, but it’s not evidence of a crime.
The Few Facts
While we don’t know how Madeleine disappeared, there are some facts from that evening that can be verified by people other than Madeleine’s parents:
- Madeleine was last seen at 6 PM when her mother picked her up from the Kids’ Club run by the resort at which the family were staying.
- At 8:30 PM the parents left the apartment to join their friends in a nearby tapas restaurant.
- At 10 PM, the mother went to check on the children and found Madeleine missing. Madeleine’s two siblings, both two-years-old at the time, were still present.
- At 10:10 PM, the parents asked for the police to be called.
- At 10:30 PM, the resort activated its missing child protocol.
- At 11:10 PM, the first gendarme arrived at the resort.
There is no corroboration, but the parents say:
- The three children (Madeleine and her two siblings) were put to bed at 7 PM.
- The three children shared a room (it was a two bedroom apartment).
- The three children were left alone in the apartment when the parents went to dinner.
So What Actually Happened?
In truth, no one knows what happened to Madeleine between 6 PM and 10 PM on the evening of 3 May 2007. But excluding alien abduction, there are three—and only three—possible options.
These three options are not equally possible or equally probable. All I’m setting out here is the options.
option #1: Madeleine’s parents are responsible for her disappearance
The first possibility is that the parents were responsible for the child’s disappearance.
Statistically, children that come to harm are usually harmed/killed by their parents, a close family member, or a parent’s new partner. That statistic doesn’t imply guilt in this case, but is does give the first logical line of enquiry.
The parents were the people (or at least the mother was the person) to last see the child before her disappearance. Ironically, the parents’ line of defence against claims that they are responsible for the child’s disappearance is that, in effect, they were not responsible for the child when she disappeared (because they had left the three children alone in the apartment).
And as an aside, if the parents were responsible for the child’s disappearance, that does not of necessity mean that the child has come to harm.
option #2: Madeleine walked away from the apartment
The second option is perhaps the most simple and in some ways the most plausible option: Madeleine woke and went looking for her parents.
According to the parents, Madeleine and her siblings were left unattended in the apartment and the main door at the back of the apartment was left unlocked. Assuming this to be true, it is therefore plausible that Madeleine awoke and left the apartment to look for her parents. The streets were largely deserted and as anyone who has ever spent time with a four-year-old will know, they can cover a lot of ground, very quickly.
Having wandered, what happened next? There are several possibilities, but perhaps the most obvious is that she found the Atlantic Ocean (which was a few hundred yards away).
option #3: Madeleine was abducted
The third option is the version of events put forward by her parents: Madeleine was abducted from the apartment.
This is clearly a possible option. The apartment was left unlocked, so a kidnapper could have easily entered and left. But, apart from the missing child, there is little evidence to support the suggestion that Madeleine’s disappearance was a kidnapping.
It may seem very simplistic to boil down ten years to three alternatives, but there are no other possibilities: Madeleine disappeared in one of these three broad scenarios.
Last month I talked about Kobo, an ebook seller you may not have heard about but which—in the ebook market—is one of the larger players not called Amazon.
As an aside, in that piece I made a mistake—the South African bookshop is called Exclusive Books.
I know many readers have a preference for paper books—and as far as is within my control, I will always ensure that my books are available in both formats so the reader can then choose whatever they prefer. But there are good reasons to consider electronic books.
And if you like paper, perhaps I can interest you in going electronic for your fiction reading.
Let’s start with the really selfish angle. eBooks are better financially for authors.
And not just authors—ebooks are financially better for publishers and (except when publishers are trying to gouge readers for cash) better for readers.
The reasons here are quite simple. On one side you have an electronic file (an ebook) and on the other side there is a physical product. Between publication and reading there are many expenses for the physical product which are simply not present for ebooks.
- Printing books costs. Each print run costs. There is paper, there is ink, there is the cost of the printing presses, and there is labor. And, of course, the printer has to make a profit.
- Printed books then have to be shipped (often literally shipped—printing in China is not uncommon) from the printer to the publisher’s warehouse and then the publisher (or their distribution service) send the books to bookstores. All the shipping and freight companies charge. Warehousing books also costs.
- Once a book reaches a bookstore—after the costs of the publisher, the printer, the warehousing, and the shippers been met—then you’ve got the cost of the store itself. Each store has to pay its rent, taxes, and staff costs (wages, health, social, pension, and so on). And naturally, the bookstore also needs to make a profit.
- But the expense doesn’t stop there. Paper books are sold on a sale or return basis, so a book can sit on the shelves for several months and then be returned by the store for a full refund from the publisher. Yet more shipping costs…and often, the returned book is in a poor condition (having been on the shelves) so it is then is only good for pulping.
Be under no illusion, this whole process is highly inefficient (that’s part of the reason why Amazon can sell paper books so cheaply) and that inefficiency is paid for by the reader.
In financial terms, by taking out the inefficiency (in other words, by going from print to electronic), authors can make more money and readers pay less. So, in short, if you want to support authors financially, then electronic is the way to go.
But there are other reasons to consider ebooks.
Some people like paper…I get that, but electronic reading has many advantages that are not available with printed books.
- Print books need to have legible typography. But what might be legible for one person with good eyesight may be far too small for a reader with poor eyesight. And on the flip, what might be fine for one person may be crazy huge and uncomfortable to read for another.
- As well as the size of the text, ebooks allow a choice of font. To an extent this is a matter of taste and comfort, but the option to change font can be helpful for people with dyslexia.
- Staying with people with disabilities, for some people ereading devices (such as the Kindle or an iPad) can be easier to handle than paper books. These devices are (generally) smaller and lighter (but you can choose larger/smaller devices to suit your grip), and there is less necessity for fine motor control—you just tap to change page. In addition, it can be easier to place an ereader on a stand where a paper book needs to be held in place. Even if you don’t have any disabilities, choosing a smaller/lighter device that does not need to be held open at a page can provide a superior holding/reading experience.
- Perhaps the biggest advantage of ereaders is that you can load (literally) thousands of books onto a device. You can then carry a whole library with you and it will weigh less than a paperback.
- Another advantage of ebooks is that—with the rise of mobile phones—you can always have your book with you. Sure, your phone may not be the best reading device—but they’re very good and make books and reading ubiquitous. The page reached can then be automagically synchronized back from your phone to your reading device, so you don’t need to worry about a bookmark.
That said, there are some books that are just better in paper format. For instance, you might not want to have an electronic device in the kitchen to view a cookery book and a photography book may not show the images at the right quality (particularly on an eink screen).
There are other practical aspects that make ebooks compelling.
With ebooks, there is a much wider range of titles available than can ever be accessible in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. That entire range of books is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can be delivered anywhere there is an internet connection at the click of a button. There’s no waiting and nothing to get lost in the mail. And if your reading device dies/gets lost/gets stolen, you can always download your books again.
Ebooks also make “free” a real option. As you will know, I make my introductory library available for free. This option would be prohibitively expensive if I had to pay to get those books printed and distributed. Beyond that, it’s possible to make meaningful length samples readily available so readers can try before they buy.
There are (obviously) downsides to ebooks. For a start, you need a reading device (if you don’t want to use a phone or other device you already own). Potentially this means buying and bringing yet another device into your life, and then this new device will need to be charged. And that’s before we talk about the whole notion of setting up these things…
Passing ebooks between family and friends is a different proposition when compared with paper books. There are some options to share ebooks between members of the same household (Amazon offer something here), but you do lose some ability to pass books to others.
Perhaps the biggest change is more cultural. Ebooks are—in part—leading to a change in the nature of book stores. There is something of a push/pull going on here—it is financially impractical for bookstores to stock niche books and ebooks are introducing many new niches everyday. At the same time, the cost of doing business for bookstores is rising meaning they need to focus on more commercial products (which often have a celebrity’s name on the cover).
The other main change is one of consolidation. Currently there are only four global players in the ebook market. This is unlikely to change.
Time to Reconsider?
eBooks are not without their downsides. And if you don’t like ebooks, then there’s little I can say that will convince you. However, if you’re still a paper book lover, I envy the amount of space you have in your home and hope you might consider ebooks.
There comes a time when someone is probably shouting: “That’s enough for one month, Simon.”
Please come and say “hi” on Facebook or hit reply if you’ve got any questions. And if you think any of your family or friends might enjoy this communiqué or may appreciate my introductory library, please forward this email.
I’ll be back in a month. Until then, enjoy your reading.
All the best