The Prancing Jacana

November 9, 2018

The Prancing Jacana by Steven John Halasz is (for me at any rate) what Graham Greene liked to call “an entertainment”:  it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has an intriguing thriller-style plot that ticks along at a nice pace, but it’s also written with a literary sensibility and manages to deal with some serious issues along the way.

Caroline Parker, a best-selling American author of crime fiction, has set her latest novel in Senegal – where it has just been banned, having offended the conservative muslim community there because its lead character is a gay detective (oh, and for good measure, his sister has also helped an imam’s daughter to get an abortion).  Initially, the ban seems like a good way of generating additional publicity for the book – so somewhat naively, Caroline accepts an invitation to travel to Senegal to do a radio interview there.  She also hopes it will be a nice break for her slightly neurotic husband, Robert, an author of children’s books who is currently wrestling with writer’s block over his latest work, “Mouse and Snake” (Robert’s publishers are adamant that Snake has to eat Mouse because, well, that’s what snakes do and, as he is sternly admonished by his commissioning editor,  “these days….we do not lie to children”).

Unbeknownst to Caroline, she has attracted the interest of not only the US government, which is looking to use her as "bait” in a trap – but also a group of hackers intent on thwarting what the government is up to.  So it probably won’t come as too much of a surprise that her interview in Dakar doesn’t go entirely according to plan – but things don’t go entirely according to plan for the US government either.  Meanwhile, Robert, who is far from comfortable in foreign climes, finds himself having to enlist the help of the group of hackers who are also on Caroline’s trail.  There is even a Senegalese police captain who also happens to be gay.  Anyway, once the plot had got going, I found it pretty hard to put down.

As I say, the novel doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are many moments of wry humour.  But it also raises some serious issues about Western engagement with developing countries (or “shitholes” as the current Leader of the Free World is, sadly, wont to call them).  I suppose the key question it poses is whether the West has any business at all meddling in countries like Senegal.  I’m not convinced that it’s tenable to answer that question with a straight “no”, because then you are effectively just shrugging your shoulders in response to appalling terrorist atrocities like the hostage beheading depicted at the start of the novel.  On the other hand, depending how it’s done, Western engagement is quite capable of making a bad situation worse – as we saw in Iraq.  So it needs to be done judiciously, with a high degree of sensitivity and respect for the country concerned and a desire to improve people's lives there (not just to make the world safer for Westerners).  

But what I liked about the novel was that it doesn’t duck the complexities of all this.  For example, you could argue that Caroline’s use of Senegal as the setting for her novel is primarily a way of dressing up tired old crime fiction tropes in new and exciting clothing to titillate Western readers – and that she should have been more sensitive to the likely reaction in Senegal itself.  But does this justify her ordeal?  Hardly.  And how will countries like Senegal ever come to terms with issues like homosexuality if even a fictional depiction of it is considered totally off limits?  So I was pleased to see the gay Senegalese police captain sneaking off with a copy of her banned book at the end (I should add that this isn’t much of a plot spoiler – you will note that I haven’t told you what happens to any of the other characters). 

At the time of writing, The Prancing Jacana was available free of charge from Smashwords (but this can sometimes change). 

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Self-publishing: a review of Amazon KDP

October 3, 2018

So, I have finally got around to putting my novel up on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - having previously only made it available on sites that would let me offer it for free (such as Smashwords).   I am hoping I can persuade Amazon to make it free for at least some of the time by pointing out that they are being undersold by numerous other sites, where it is free.  

But if I can't, I guess there is still some benefit of having it up there for people who prefer the convenience of ...
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Micro-reviews (August 2018)

August 29, 2018
The Speed of Sound, The Bees and The Three Body Problem

The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby has had an unusual career – he had some success in the eighties as a solo artist, a film music composer and a producer of other artists (e.g. Prefab Sprout and – rather less successfully, as he freely admits - Joni Mitchell).  But he became increasingly disillusioned with the music industry and switched to being a tech entrepreneur, eventually coming up with the software that enabled mobi...

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Micro-reviews (June 2018)

June 22, 2018

Station Eleven
, The 7th Function of Language and Night Heron

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The central premise of this novel is not especially new – a virus wipes out most of human race and civilization as we know it collapses. However, the approach is a bit different from most treatments of this scenario.  These tend to focus on either the event itself and its immediate aftermath, or a point in time when it’s become something of a dim and distant memory and a new post-apocalyptic ...

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Publishing: the hedge fund approach

June 3, 2018

A hedge fund (De Montfort Capital) is offering new writers a salary of £24K a year and support to develop their careers.  Part of me thinks this approach to publishing is quite laudable - but part of me thinks it's slightly mad.  The bits I liked were the upfront commitment, the 50% royalty on sales and the support  - which is a striking contrast to most publishers, whose usual model involves a paltry royalty rate, limited help with editing, promotion etc and only committing themselves once ...
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Obooko revamped

May 28, 2018

Free ebooks platform Obooko has just undergone a (much delayed) revamp, with a much cleaner look and some improvements to the way you can browse/filter titles.  My experience with Obooko has been good in terms of the upload process etc, but less so in terms of downloads (click here for more details, including tips on how to create different types of ebook files for uploading to Obooko).  I've been on there since 2013 but my downloads remain stuck in the low hundreds - although others have don...
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Micro-reviews (May 2018)

May 14, 2018
Theory of Bastards, Munich and The People's House

I've tended to write longish reviews on this blog and I'll probably carry on with that for some books - especially self-published ones.  But I thought I'd have a go at doing some shorter reviews alongside these.  Let's see if I manage to keep it up.  At any rate, it's got to be better than just feeding star ratings into the hungry maw of Big Data (aka Goodreads/Amazon in this case).  Here goes:

Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman

Set a few year...

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Bad Faith by Jesse Tandler

April 30, 2018

We seem to be living through an age that puts an unhealthy premium on “authenticity”.  Politicians who are said to have this characteristic are excused any number of glaring faults - just look at Donald Trump or, closer to home, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and (at the opposite end of the spectrum) Jeremy Corbyn. They can say or do things that would be career-ending for other politicians – but they are tolerated, even praised for this, because they are regarded as being “true to themse...

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Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart

March 12, 2018

"Me Blackberry Fool, You Apple Tart" by Amelia Slocombe is chick lit, which is not usually my genre of choice - but it caught my eye because one of the characters is a lawyer in a London law firm, which happens to be what I do for a living too.  I have also made a bit of a thing of trying to be a bit more open-minded when it comes to books which I have a tendency to dismiss as "not my thing", especially when it comes to free fiction by self-published authors (as in this case).

Having said that...
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To Kill the President: a (non) review

January 14, 2018

Just finished "To Kill the President" by Sam Bourne.  It wasn't bad - and although we never meet the President, I'm fairly sure I know who the author had in mind.  But who cares what I thought about it?  Here's what the Leader of the Free World made of it (allegedly), when it was drawn to his attention:

@realDonaldTrump tweeted:

Sam Bourne is a total loser and hater who made up a story to write this really boring and untruthful novel. More FAKE NEWS!

@realDonaldTrump tweeted:

Great reporting from...

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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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