Comma-nd Performance
Getting through the door in the wall

Sex in the news, and other historical moments

A bit of a round-up post today.

Fancy going to bed with a good e-book? You may remember that a couple of years ago I had a story in an anthology of erotic short stories, In Bed With... along with writers like Fay Weldon, Ali Smith and Stella Duffy. The conceit of the collection is that we're all writing under pseudonyms, and in Writing Sex and Ringing Tills I blogged about why so many writers find writing sex difficult, and why some of us therefore find it extra-interesting. Today's news is that it's just come out as an e-book.  That means you can get your hands on it NOW, and read it on the bus without anyone knowing why you've got that dreamy look in your eye ... but it's also an interesting demonstration of one way in which e-books are changing the game.

Erotica is one of the biggest gainers from the e-book revolution, working hand in hand with the social media, as proved by a certain book which lists a good many shades of a colour between black and white. But what the launch of the e-book of In Bed With... also shows is how the e-book has the potential to find new customers for a book which has been out for a while. And this is one of several reasons that I refuse to regard the e-book as the end of the world as we know it; it could be the beginning of a new life for many books.

This week is Independent Booksellers Week, and you can follow what's going on with the hashtag #IBW12 on Twitter. Use it or lose it, as they say: good independent booksellers provide a much wider and more interesting range than your local Tesco can manage, beyond the boundaries of the well-known and well-marketed, They know huge amounts to help match customers to books, and support their local authors with reading groups, events and signings. I'm blessed with five excellent independent booksellers within walking distance, but not everyone is so lucky, so you can imagine my delight when a writer friend pointed me to Hive, where you can buy everything you'd get in a huge indie bookshop - p-books, e-books, stationery, CDs and DVDs  - while actually supporting the indie bookshops themselves. You can even have your parcel delivered to your local indie, if you think you might not be in when it comes: a much nicer place to pick it up than the Saturday-morning queue at the sorting office, I'd suggest.

The York Festival of Writing is 7th-9th September, at the University of York, and it has the usual packed programme of mini-courses, workshops, one-to-ones, books, brief and not-so-brief encounters with agents and editors, plus ducks, drinks, dinners and more ducks; I blogged about last year's Festival here. This year I'm teaching a four-hour Historical Fiction Masterclass, one-hour workshops on The Writers' Voices and Taming Your Novel, and one-to-one Book Doctor slots.

The Historical Novel Society Conference is 28th-30th September, in central London, and I'm doing a session which should be fascinating: exploring the results of a survey of what readers like/dislike/think about historical fiction. The conference has grown over the years into a really big event, and the line-up of speakers and workshops is excellent, including Bernard Cornwell, Lindsay Davies, Elizabeth Chadwick and dozens of others; publishers and agents will also be there, there's a bookstall and signing-sessions (for all the authors taking part) as well as hundreds of readers, writers and writers-in-the-making.

From October I shall be one of two Royal Literary Fund Fellows at Goldsmiths, along with playwright Annie Caulfield. The RLF scheme was set up in 1999 with the aim of helping "established professional writers of literary merit", by paying them to support academic writing at all levels in universities and higher education colleges. The competition for Fellowships is fierce, and each of us spends two days a week on campus, with another half-day of admin built in. I'm looking forward to this enormously, because I'm fascinated by how writing works far beyond the edges of the business of writing fiction. I also believe passionately that learning to write better isn't just a good idea if you want to convey your ideas and conclusions and arguments about history, physics, sociology, drama, art or whatever; it's a fundamental part of learning to think better. And it's fundamental whoever you are, from the most boggled fresher whose fought his way onto a degree course via an access course after missing out on education first time round, to the brightest PhD student with a glittering career ahead as a public intellectual, if only she could learn to write in a way which made sense to anyone except herself.

It's also a small, perhaps selfish, joy to be involved with the RLF Fellowships, because it's a scheme which has been set up to help professional writers. When you're freelance, you spend your whole working life trying find out what an institution or funding body or publisher or reader wants, and then explaining how you can give them what they want (or what they don't yet know they want, of course). You're always thinking, planning, talking, pitching and working in terms of how you can help them. What help you might need is irrelevant to them. It's very like being a parent of small children, in other words: the traffic is essentially one-way. That's fine. I'd still rather have this job than any other in the world.

But it's very, very lovely to know that there's one organisation - the Royal Literary Fund -  which says the opposite: "We're here to help you - yes, you freelance writers ... because writers need help too." It reminds me of Deborah Dooley's philosophy at Retreats for You, where she also gives care that all of us need someone else to give us, every once in a while. In Deb's case that care is cooking, laundry, space, peace and friendship. In the RLF's case it's a brilliantly-thought-out scheme which pays us to work but also respects our individual professional skills and our own writing-time. And there are many, many good books which have been written because an RLF fellowship provided the financial space to write them.

And finally, I'm very excited that I'll be teaching a workshop in Zürich, as the guest of WriteCon Zürich 2012 on the 26th-28th October. With a whole-day workshop for experienced writers to plan, a dinner on the Saturday night, and a panel-session on the Sunday, all in an ancient city I've never visited, I'm really looking forward to it.

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