Friday, 23 February 2018

Story of a Novel: Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

It’s no secret that Ghost Town had one of the longest gestations in literary history. But what inspired me to write it and why did it take me so long to finish it?

The ruined cathedral of St Michael's - Coventry's symbol of reconciliation

Back in 1981, I was a post-graduate student at the University of Warwick. I could not help but be aware, through that spring and summer, that tensions were building between local skinheads and the then relatively new British Asian community. There was an undercurrent of violence in the air and a sense that something was about to boil over.

Years later, I had an idea for a story that seemed to fit perfectly with this background. As I began my research, I uncovered a story that was both darker and more shocking than what I remembered – but also profoundly hopeful. A story which – while still talked about in Coventry – itself is virtually unknown outside the city.

What I had remembered simply as ‘rising tensions’ had in fact included firebomb attacks, an assault on a young girl as she minded her family’s shop, and two racially motivated murders – one of a young student and one of a doctor. The murder of the student galvanised the Asian community in to action. A series of protest marches were held – the last and biggest of which was met by a phalanx of skinheads giving Nazi salutes in the middle of the town centre, backed by senior members of Far Right groups like the National Front and the British Movement. Fights broke out between skinheads and Asian youths that were broken up by a charge of mounted police. And always in the shadows, grey men from Far Right, fanning the flames of hatred.

Audio Extract from Ghost Town, describing the day a protest march exploded into violence

A collections of photographs from the Coventry Telegraph showing the real life protest march in May 1981

Members of the Specials and the Selecter outide the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry in 2014

This was a time when Coventry identified with Two Tone and Ska the way Liverpool identified with the Beatles. Bands like The Specials  and the Selector had been writing music with an explicitly anti-racist message. So when the band heard what had happened, the Specials' immediate response was to organise a Concert for Racial Harmony.

Photographs from The Specials' Concert for Racial Harmony 

Although everyone feared that would became a flash point for further violence, it didn’t. Within a couple of weeks, riots had kicked off in cities across the UK, starting in Southall. But Coventry remained one of the few major cities the riots never reached. It was as if the city paused, took stock and listened to its own conscience. The Specials and the other bands at the Concert for Racial Harmony bore witness to a different kind of future.


My first draft came relatively fast. Allowing for the fact I was working and bringing up two small children, a year wasn’t a bad effort. I had the bones of a story not a million miles from the final plot of Ghost Town. But I knew some of it was built on pretty shaky ground.

In autumn 2001, I took myself back up to Coventry and immersed myself in the archive of the Coventry Evening Telegraph. That was when I finally understood the enormity of what had happened in the city in the spring and summer of 1981.

Part of Coventry's 'Concrete Jungle'

The next draft of Ghost Town came very slowly. I became passionate about telling the story of what happened in Coventry that summer. I was soaking up a lot of research, reading books, trawling the internet, understanding a lot of things I hadn’t understood before. The story was fleshing out, but something wasn’t right. My female lead no longer fitted the book. So I took the drastic decision to rip her out and look for a new lead.

That was when, luckily or unluckily, depending on your point of view, I lost my job. I had a year unemployed and I spent it feverishly finishing Ghost Town, with its new female lead. By the time I started work again, I had a completed manuscript.

I proofread it, parcelled up a few chapters, and started sending it round to agents. According to my records, I had an encouraging number of people asking for the full MS. But that was all. I got busy with my new job, and the manuscript languished – until I discovered online critique groups.

Hugely excited, I posted a few chapters. The initial response was scathing, to say the least. I felt like giving up. I remember telling someone that, if I had to rewrite this book one more time, I thought my ears would bleed. “Then let them bleed,” they said, “if that’s what it takes.”

Finally, I started to find people who seemed to ‘get’ my story. They were critical, sometimes harshly so. But their criticism was constructive. One of the most painful things was that, chapter after chapter, I was told that my new female lead, the one for whom I had ripped the whole book apart, was ‘cold’ and ‘unsympathetic’. I can’t tell you how many tears I shed, until at last I reached a point where people started to connect with her.

And well, there were a few more iterations after that. Some savage cutting of an overly long manuscript, courtesy of the sharp editing scalpel of Amanda Hodgkinson. A wonderfully sensitive reader, Sudha Buchar, helped me avoid more than one pitfall with the British Asian characters in the book. Finally, the MS went through the hands of a copy editor and proof reader. And Ghost Town was published with Triskele Books, with the gorgeous cover designed by Jane Dixon Smith.

And that is how a series of events that made a deep impression on me back in the summer of 1981 found their way onto the page in November 2013.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Marketing A Book - Ten Ways to Learn How

At Triskele Books, we've spent a lot of time and money on learning how to market our books. And as a collective, we share everything we learn with each other. So today, we're sharing with you. Here are ten of the books, sites, resources and courses that we've found most useful.

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl
A great place to start, especially if the word marketing brings you out in a rash. Solid, helpful advice and a wise approach to the author-marketing mindset.

Let's Get Visible by David Gaughran
The partner volume to Let's Get Digital (also recommended), Gaughran understands the workings of the Kindle store better than most and offers practical, clear advice on how to use it.

Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
This is a broader look at building a career from your writing, with a focus on craft as well as marketing.

How To Market a Book by Joanna Penn
Distilling her own experience and advice into one book, which is easy to read and useful for authors at every stage of the publishing process, Joanna is an inspiration.

How To Get Your Self Published Book Into Bookstores by Debbie Young
IN her typically approachable and friendly style, ALLi Publications Manager Debbie Young covers all the angles and some you hadn't even considered.


Mark Dawson's Self Publishing Formula
Mark and his team offer lots of free advice via podcasts and resource books, plus some powerful paid courses that have transformed many writers' careers.

Dave Chesson's Free AMS Ads Course
Very useful 5-day course aimed at digging into the nuts and bolts of Amazon Marketing Services.

Your First 10K Readers by Nick Stephenson
All kinds of helpful advice with a particular focus on growing a mailing list, Nick's blog and videos are an essential part of any author's marketing toolbox.

Anne R Allen's blog with Ruth Harris.
The pair are focused largely on craft, but have some excellent and easily digestible tips on marketing and self promotion.

Jane Friedman is always at the cutting edge of changes in the publishing world and offers weekly updates and insights into what's afoot. A must read.

Friday, 9 February 2018

What Are You Reading (2) ... and is it romantic?

By Gillian Hamer

So, February is the month of love. Ho-hum. Or so we are told. But in the spirit of all things romantic, in the second of our What Are You Reading articles we touch on love stories in all their guises.

In the hope of discovering a few more masterpieces, or at least adding to our ‘to be read’ pile, Triskele members share our current reads with you - and ask for your latest hot reads in exchange. Please join in the discussion and let's spread the word about some of the great books out there - whether classics or latest finds.

FEBRUARY - What are you reading?


The Lost Son of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

Not a romance in the true sense of the word, but plenty of love features in this true and tragic story of an unmarried mother whose son was forcibly adopted (stolen and sold) from Ireland in the mid-1950s.
The story follows firstly her atrocious experience with the nuns in the Irish convent, then the son's life adopted life in the USA, where he becomes a high-level Republican worker for Pres Reagan. His search for his mother and her search for him expose the crimes of the Catholic Church concerning forced adoptions. This books certainly pulled on my heartstrings far more than a classic tale of romance.


The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory.

The title says it all and the cover is very pink ... It follows Elizabeth I as she finally ascends the English throne, with many pushing for her marriage to secure the future of England. Her eye is on Robert Dudley, but as always, everyone at court is jostling for power and there are enemies in every corner.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Again, not a traditional romance, but there is love in there, mostly of the 'unrequited', 'unexpected' and 'search for unconditional' varieties. This is a cleverly written novel from the perspective of a character who sees the world through very different eyes than most, and survives each day the only way she knows how ... because no one has ever shown Eleanor Oliphant how to live rather than simply survive. When the layers of her life are slowly revealed, the reader is dragged through every emotion possible.
Romance? Possibly not. But Valentines is probably a good time to read it to help you appreciate the good things in life.


Mythos by Stephen Fry.

Mythos is a retelling of some Greek myths by Stephen Fry and it is most definitely romantic.
Fry’s urbane tones shine through as he tells legendary tales of passion and drama, and reveals all kinds of quite interesting facts in his footnotes.
Entertaining, educational and filled with genuine love for a good story.


Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Sofia Khan is a totally recognisable, flawed, modern young woman. She wears skinny jeans, smokes, swears, has issues with deadlines and agonises about getting fat while scoffing muffins and lemon puffs. So far, so Bridget Jones. On the other hand, she wears a hijab, doesn’t drink alcohol, prays five times a day and has no intention of having sex before marriage. And Sofia and her friends have to deal with things Bridget could never have imagined - from Muslim speed dating, to deciding whether it’s okay to become a polygamous second wife. As for emotional blackmail, Muslim aunties take it to new heights.

But Sofia Khan has something BJD never quite achieved – a sense of real heart. Do not expect this to end with Sofia ripping off her hijab and going on a binge. Nor with her settling down to be a ‘traditional’ submissive wife. This is about how you can be modern, independent, strong-minded – and still a faithful Muslim. Something most Muslim women have always known; Malik is just letting the rest of us in on the secret.