Thursday 1 May 2014

An Irish writer's lament

For many Northern Irish novelists the 1990's were particularly lean years. The country was in the news so often some wag labelled 'Northern Ireland' the two most boring words in the language.

Literary agents didn't want to know. Many agencies included No IRA Stories in their Submission Guidelines. And who could blame them when the real thing, not fiction, dominated newspaper headlines and TV newscasts?

Lean times indeed.

At the time I was engaged in writing what I believed to be the great Irish novel. Sadly, London agents I queried took a different view. I was not prepared to pay someone to publish my masterpiece and so it was abandoned, but not forgotten. I got on with my life ...

Times changed.

I discovered the internet, only ten years or so behind everybody else. The same with mobile phones. With a sense of near disbelief I read about self-publishing. You mean, I could actually bring out my novels in both print and e-book formats myself? No more long hours agonizing over query letters and synopses. No more long waits for rejection letters This was progress. Progress, too, in my home country. Peace had come to 'Norn Iron' and with it the emergence of much new writing talent. Men and women who had lived through tough times, heard the gunfire and bombs, the sometimes horrific reports. They had a well of experience to draw on.

And suddenly publishers and agents opened their arms in welcome.

Me? In the past year I've published four novels and a few short stories. I'm happy. And I've saved the best for last. Currently I'm polishing the cast-aside-but-not-forgotten masterpiece. Some sections surprise me. After so long, it's like reading a stranger's work.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday 12 March 2014

Hat Girl

Young Adult Short Story


Camac Johnson

Juliette has health problems as a child. Her French-born mother insists on her wearing a hat to school and during all outdoor activities. Other girls tease Juliette, calling her Hat Girl and Mad Hatter.

Her mother's love of fashion and the arts rubs off on Juliette. When the time comes for her to decide on her future, she chooses to study fashion design, much to her mother's delight. Now in robust health, she works hard and graduates at the top of her class.

Then comes a wonderful surprise. Juliette's mother has used her French connections to secure a job for her daughter at a Paris haute couture house. Juliette is ecstatic.

However, despite Juliette's proficiency in the French language, colleagues see her as an outsider. They question her qualifications and treat her as an underling. She is miserable and wonders what happened to the bright future everyone predicted. The owner can offer her no comfort and Juliette decides to quit.

She takes leave and returns to England. Her parents will be the first to know. But before she can break the news, Juliette has an unpleasant encounter with her chief tormentor from her hat-wearing years. This leads to a change of heart. She will stay at her job and fight for recognition.

Back in Paris, it’s crisis time at the fashion house. An important buyer has rejected their winter range designs. Juliette’s boss informs everyone that they have two days to save their jobs. As the deadline approaches, Juliette is the only one lacking fresh ideas. Her colleagues are openly scornful. She knows she’ll be first to face the sack.

Then, with time running out, she finds inspiration from her own experiences. That night she works late …

Sunday 2 March 2014

Klipspringer Hill

Camac Johnson

Children's novel - illustrated. (Age group 7+)

Remember Finding Nemo? Children and adults alike were enthralled by its colourful undersea world and unforgettable characters.  

Now comes another exciting tale of a small creature on an epic journey in search of a lost loved one. The setting is the vast Kalahari region of Southern Africa, and the main character is a small snake. 

His dad is missing . . .
Little Squirt is determined to find him.

The young egg-eater snake must cross the wild Kalahari to reach the Chicken Farm. Danger lurks everywhere. Along the way he forges new friendships and avoids foes.

But there's no avoiding Rooster at the farm. Injured in the big bully's sneak attack, Little Squirt is captured by humans. Pain turns to joy when he is reunited with his dad, Bold Hunter.

The young snake dreams of escape and taking revenge on Rooster. But his dad has become fat and lazy in captivity. If they are ever to see friends and loved ones again on Klipspringer Hill, it's Little Squirt who must take command.

Turn the pages and feel the sun's heat, hear the lion's roar, smell the burning savannah. Aardvark, ostrich, lizard, springhare, lynx and vulture, are characters that will stay in the memory long after you finish reading. 

Monday 24 February 2014



A short story

Ex-London band member Gaines is down on his luck, broke and labelled a loser by his former partner.

Then comes a moment of enlightenment. A way to make easy money. A chance to claw his way out of the hole. For it to work he needs a partner in crime. He turns to Blanche. Blanche operates on the wrong side of the law: she steals from department stores and is rumoured to drug and rob businessmen in hotel rooms.

The plan is to fleece a high-class prostitute and her clients.

Part one - subduing the hooker and her maid - goes without a hitch. Gaines and Blanche are in control of the Mayfair flat. Next, Blanche takes over the maid's role, leading punters into a carefully laid trap. Soon tied and gagged bodies are strewn across the bedroom floor. The swag bag is bulging. Gaines, broke for so long, cannot resist pocketing more than his agreed share when his partner's back is turned.

Blanche is suspicious and she's not the type to let him get away with it. No way. But first a more serious problem needs their attention. The hooker's irate Albanian pimp is on the phone firing questions and issuing threats.

Time to vanish - but before Gaines and Blanche can get away the pimp and his armed minder are at the door...

The ending will send a chill down your spine.

Friday 3 January 2014

KDP formatting - those troublesome first-line-of-a-chapter indents

Got through the formatting minefield and successfully published your story on CreateSpace? Congratulations!

But the job is only half done. Most authors want an e-book version of their work. What could be simpler? Just click the buttons and follow the steps from CS to Kindle Direct Publishing. The hard work is already done. Right? It's time to uncork the bubbly and celebrate.

Whoa, hold your horses! Don't make the mistake of thinking that because all the kinks were ironed out of the print version, KDP will automatically format as you want it.

Every page must be checked - just as you did after uploading your file to CS.

Having recently published three novels on KDP, I can point to two issues that require careful attention.
  • Dialogue that ends in a dash (-) or three dots ( . . .).  After uploading to KDP you may find places where the three dots are split, with only two on one line and the third carried over to the next line. Or a sentence ending in a dash could have the words on one line and the dash appearing on the next line with only the speech mark (") for company.
  • First-line-of-chapter indent. You've followed the steps from CS to KDP and are reviewing the content on the on-screen previewer when you notice the first line of each chapter is indented. First line after section breaks too. Huh? This didn't happen with the CS print version, so what's gone wrong? Through reading community threads I learned that KDP indent every paragraph. So it's up to you to amend those first liners.
Corrections must be made to your original file stored in your desktop or laptop.

Fixing the dash and dot issues is simple - just a matter of altering the wording of the offending sentences to change their length. The best way of correcting the indents, I read, is to highlight the paragraph. Then go to 'paragraph' at the top of the Word page and click Special, then from the box 'first line'. Next at By type in 0.01 and then click OK. This command overrules the KDP default. Repeat for each chapter's first paragraph and each section break.

Then upload to KDP - and re-check.

It worked for me.

Monday 30 December 2013

Hemingway Quest

Two obsessions: one shares his home, the other draws him to Cuba.

Kyle, a London bookseller, has women problems. There's Mallika, his flirtatious, married Asian flatmate, and Janice his ex - now a bitter, emotional wreck. Kyle's Hemingway obsession draws him to Cuba. There he encounters a shocking truth about his own family, and enjoys a fling with a troubled tourist. After her partner falls to his death, Kyle is stunned to find himself suspected of murder.

Shaken, he arrives home where Mallika now treats him as a low-caste pariah. Is she serious or playing another of her teasing games?

Following a business meeting with an American entrepreneur, Kyle's future looks bright. But trouble is brewing. Mallika receives unwelcome attention from within her family - a man who holds a grudge against Kyle. Janice, too, is out for revenge.

Allegations and blood flow as, once again, Kyle fights to clear his name. 

Available from Amazon:

Saturday 4 May 2013

Paris writers of the 1920s

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce - and artists of the calibre of Picasso and Miro. Expatriates all. What was it that made that era special? And why Paris?

For me it began with The Old Man and the Sea, my favourite novel. I loved it so much I looked at the writer behind it. Although raised continents apart, there were similarities between Ernest Hemingway's upbringing and mine. We both loved to fish and spend time outdoors. In Nick Adams - hero of the early Hemingway short stories - I recognized a kindred spirit.

My reading taught me about Hemingway's family, school, home neighbourhood, war injuries, career and marriages - his whole life. I was hooked. But let's look at Paris, the city he loved best. Like him, I knew what it took to adapt to a new country. There was something about the struggling but confident young writer that held me enthralled. What was it that turned him from novice to world-renowned author in a few short years? I trawled for facts and the more I learned the more hooked I became.

In Paris he met Scott Fitzgerald who offered writing advice and steered him towards Charles Scribner's Sons in NYC and the firm's famous editor Maxwell Perkins. The relationship with Fitzgerald soured as did almost all of Hemingway's literary friendships. Fitzgerald became a new source of interest to me: his and Zelda's marriage difficulties, his career's sharp decline. EH claimed Zelda was jealous of her husband's fame and crazy to boot. She was to end up in an institution.

James Joyce was the living writer EH most respected. In recent years Joyce has attained deity-like status in Ireland, although he had few good words to say about it during his lifetime. I had known a girl from Trieste and was fascinated to read of Joyce's time there, and of his speaking Italian when out and about in Paris.

Back then, life was very different to what we know today. To hear news of acquaintances or rivals you visited certain cafes or called in at Sylvia Beach's bookshop, Shakespeare and Co. Gertrude Stein, American writer and art collector, was a good source of knowledge about painters. Hemingway would go on to own artwork by both Picasso and Miro.

The US dollar went a long way in 1920s Europe - a continent not yet recovered from the ravages of war. Paris was beautiful, lively and cosmopolitan, different in every way to the staidness of prohibition-era America. Expatriates came and enjoyed it's gifts; and the skiing in Austria and Switzerland, the beaches of the Riviera and the magic of Spain.

EH's years in France are brilliantly captured by Paula McLain in her best-selling novel The Paris Wife.