Close, but no cigar.

Best seller charts 3

Writer’s diary: 29.11.2013

Good job we’ve got a ‘special’ day off work today. I’ve got so much to do: extended blog-post to write (no groaning at the back), third draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File to work on and a CV to dust off and make impressive, attention-grabbing things up for.

Let’s start with the bad news – I’m looking for a new place of work. I hate looking for jobs. I hate CVs. I hate applying. I hate interviews. I hate rejection. I hate starting somewhere new. But it’s got to be done. Every self-respecting professional has a line in the sand over which they will not cross when it comes to work. Well, I do anyway. I’m self-respecting. I’ve been shuffling towards my line for four years and this week I looked down to find it under the steel toe caps of my crowd control boots. (Did I mention I’m a primary school teacher?)

What’s this got to do with my writing diary? I hear myself ask. I would think that certain implications are obvious. However, there is one very big one that isn’t. I find it a little exciting to contemplate. I’ll save it for another blog-post when I’m surer of things and I’ve run out of stuff to write about.

(Interlude. One of my definitions for being a writer of fiction is that one can take the smallest crumb of an idea and be swept up with it in a matter of seconds until it has snowballed into a plot outline for a story. Example: Just as I typed the full-stop of the previous paragraph my imagination swooped on the suggestion of something, like a hawk falls on a small mammal. I couldn’t stop my imagination gambolling about with it for a bit (I know hawks don’t gambol – that’s lambs) and before I knew where I was I had a plot-line for a story that I would like the time to write – if I can’t find another job, I might have to. Here it is in a nutshell: man loses job, man has some savings, man lies to wife that he has new job, man goes out to ‘work’ every day, every week man gives ‘wages’ to wife for housekeeping and bills. [Wife would not like it if he were not working. Sometimes it’s just easier to lie to wives. That’s my experience of marriage anyway. Might have something to do with the reason I’m on my third.] Man isn’t going to work. Man wants to write – man doesn’t want to lie on his deathbed regretting that he never had a proper concentrated go when he has faith in his ability and some small success from self-publishing his stories. Man goes to cafe everyday to write. [So far this is just a summing up next year’s plan if you hadn’t guessed. And don’t worry on my account, she doesn’t read this.] Man overhears something in cafe. A crime to be committed. A heist. Big money involved. Cash. He sees an opportunity to rob the robbers. He follows them. He watches them. He waits for them to pull off their dirty deed and then…can I just remind readers about the law surrounding intellectual copyright and yes, I’ve seen LS&TSB. And don’t think I’m going to be giving away my twist.)

My good news this week is that I have a comprehensive draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File finished. I’ve gone through it a couple of times and I’m happy that it’s all there. Now I just need to get ‘jiggy’ with it!

I feel a weight of expectation for this book that I haven’t felt with writing any of the others. The first three R&Ms were all written before I took the decision to self-publish and be damned. I had no idea if they would be read or how they would be received. I just put them out there. Now I know, and I believe that readers who have stuck with the series will want to try the next. There will be expectation and I feel it. I have to hope that I can live up to it.

This book has had two working titles, neither of which I was very happy about. The first, Money Talks lost its relevance as the story I initially had in mind turned out to be not the story my imagination wanted to run with. The second Hair of the Dog was too long and I couldn’t see how I could get the cover image trademark feature of this series (one of the letters of the title substituted by something relevant to the story) into the typography. Last night was one of those sleepless ones. Probably something to do with my impending work situation or it could have been the disturbance that my two year old son causes my sleep patterns because he insists on sleeping in the bed with us and lying across my head to get comfortable. (It’s either that or he screams the apartment building down.) I hope he grows out of this before he becomes a teenager. During my small hours wakefulness I decided to kick around a few ideas for a new title and finally something occurred to me that is a) relevant to the story b) something that I can fit in that trademark feature I was on about and c) longer than anything else I’ve come up with (oh well, as Meatloaf crooned) New title: Matters of Life & Death. I’ll give it a couple of weeks before I commission the cover art. Make sure I still like it.

Finally this week. It was with some surprise that I noticed on Amazon that Dirty Business and Loose Ends were both in the top five of an Amazon chart. I’m not lying. See screen shot above. One of my great ambitions as an author was almost achieved – I almost made best-seller status. They are still hanging around up there but I can’t see them displacing the big guys. Perhaps I shouldn’t get too carried away by the achievement of almost being a chart-topper. After all, the chart: Kindle store > Books > Crime, Thriller, Mystery > Thrillers > Assassinations, is the fiction equivalent of the non-fiction chart: Kindle Store > Books > Cookery > Meals on a Budget  > Vegetarian > Ethnic Minority Cuisine > Gluten Free. Still, it was a bit of a buzz for a while. It would have been something, if not for my CV as a teacher, then for my headstone in the graveyard: RIP Oliver Tidy – Best-selling novelist. Somewhere for the legions of heart-broken fans of the R&M Files and the Acer Sansom novels to flock to and pay homage. Maybe lean a red rose against or sob their way through a short reading beside.

Right, talking of CVs…

Prime Time!


Writer’s diary: stardate: 21.11.2013.

Every now and again I write an entry in my writer’s diary that might interest someone other than me. Even more rarely I write a blog post that might be of interest to other writers hawking their output on Amazon or thinking about it. This could be one of them.

A little while ago I enrolled all of my books in Amazon’s KDP Select Programme. I noticed that other canny self-publishers with several books to their names had all of theirs available in this way. Working on the twin principles of, if-it’s-good-enough-for-him-it’s-good-enough-for-me and there must be something in it, I belly-flopped in.

As part of this initiative paid up, card carrying members of Amazon’s Kindle Owners’ Lending Library have the opportunity to borrow books for free. The monetary benefit to the author is that every recorded download entitles one to a share of the monthly global fund! I’ve seen others complaining that this big Amazon incentive is not as potentially profitable as one might think. (By the time the global fund of maybe a million dollars or thereabouts is split between a few hundred thousand downloads of a few hundred thousand author’s books the dividend per book is not worth much.) But still, as an indie-desperado I’ll try any gimmick that might raise the profile and readership numbers of my books. Even giving away my books for free.

This month I scrutinized my Amazon royalty payment schedule a little closer than normal and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve had a few downloads of my books through the Prime programme. When I sell one of my 77p books through Amazon in the normal way I receive 25p profit. According to my remittance advice for last month, every time a Kindle Owners’ Lending Library member downloaded one of these same books I received £1.56 – six times what I get for a normal sale. That was a surprise.

It made me think of the people I’ve seen moaning about the money involved. Probably they are the writers who are selling their books for a few quid each in the normal way and therefore making a few quid per download. £1.56 would seem rubbish to them. But to me, every download is another can of Special Brew. Cheers!

Debut Dagger 2014

Writer’s diary: stardate: 15.11.2013


This week I received an email from the Crime Writers Association (CWA). My reaction was something approaching a cocktail of excitement and smugness. At last, finally, they’ve come to their senses. They realise their error. The recognition overdue to the Romney and Marsh Files has arrived like the good old second post. (Why does that memory make me tearfully nostalgic?)

So, I made myself a tea in my finest bone china, shrugged on my Noel Coward replica smoking jacket – something I got cheap on ebay some time ago for just such an event – fitted a tailor-made to my ivory cigarette holder and clicked open.

Debut Dagger Now Open

Welcome to the CWA Debut Dagger

For fifteen years the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents.

The 2014 competition is open from Friday 1st November 2013 until Friday 31st January 2014. The Debut Dagger is open to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially. The first prize is £700 and is kindly sponsored by Orion. Short listed authors receive a professional assessment of their entry.

Winning the Debut Dagger doesn’t guarantee you’ll get published but it does mean your work will be seen by leading agents and top editors who have signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.

Over the period of entry we will be sending out regular emails with updates and writing tips. But we also have a new Facebook Group “The Debuts” where members of the CWA are on hand to answer your questions. We will also be sharing more tips.


An advertisement.

I stubbed out my cigarette in the Earl Grey threw my jacket into the corner of the room, crossed my arms and brooded.

Let’s get something clear: this IS a sour grapes post so I don’t need anyone telling me that. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough to get noticed in last year’s competition so I don’t need anyone to tell me that either. This post will be dripping with unprofessional jealousy, tainted by the scorn of the overlooked, infected with bitterness at the slight of the Crime Writers Association. Think thirteenth fairy in Sleeping Beauty. And double it.

Last year I entered my three books in the R&M Files in the Debut Dagger 2013. And I am not embarrassed to admit that I had high hopes for at least one of them making the short list. (All of them actually. I dreamed about being the first author to have more than one title singled out for special mentions rather than end up in the CWA office toilets as emergency bog paper.) I really did. Not one of them did.

I took it badly. I still am.

I had entered three books at £25 a throw – that’s £75. A fool and his money and all that – and invested more hope than was probably decent or healthy.

I won’t be entering again. And this is why.

I so wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than it is. But I haven’t found the time to do the necessary homework and because the 2014 competition is here my hand is forced. I’ve run out of time. Where I don’t have the information to back up a point I’ll do what I did for my university degree dissertation – I’ll make it up with an uneducated guess. (Come to think of it, it was probably the great marks I received for my largely invented essays at uni that encouraged me to try my hand at writing fiction for money.)

I wanted to investigate things like exactly how many people who have been on the short lists of recent years actually go on to get picked up by agents and subsequently published.(This is the dazzling diamond encrusted carrot that the CWA allude to without actually guaranteeing in the spiel for suckers like me.) I had a bit of a scoot about the Internet on that but could find very few names who had made short lists of recent years and now had traditionally published books to their name.

I did do some background. In June I contacted the CWA with the following questions:


I am preparing to write an on-line article about the CWA Debut Dagger competition for a leading crime and thriller website that has asked me for a contribution (that’s actually true). 

Would you be able to supply answers to the following questions? 

1) How many entries were received for 2013’s competition? 

2) How many readers do you have sifting through the entries? 

3) What number, or percentage, approximately, of entries were not considered for reasons to do with breach of entry rules and guidelines? (Any general details here would be very helpful.) 

4) When the closing date is reached, what is the process and time-scale involved for entries received, up until the short-list is announced? 

5) It is well-known that some entries go on to be picked up by literary agents and then find publishers. How do literary agents become aware of manuscripts that they might be interested in? 

6) How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? 

If you are able to assist me with the answers to all or any of these questions I would be most grateful. If you have anything else regarding the Début Dagger competition to share that you think readers and prospective entrants would find useful, or just be interested to learn, please don’t hesitate to mention it. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Kind regards 

Oliver Tidy

I was particularly interested in the answers to questions 1 & 6.

According to the responses I received from a most helpful and friendly lady at the CWA there were four hundred and fifty six (456) entries for the 2013 Debut Dagger. If not an avalanche of entries, certainly a decent slush-pile. (Maybe that could be the collective noun for entries in a writing competition – a slush pile of entries.)

In response to question six – How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? – the following response was provided:

This goes on administration for the awards which, as I am sure you can imagine, is very labour intensive. As a non profit all of the CWA’s monies go towards our mission.’

There is one cash prize for the Debut Dagger. It is £700. But no one is entering for the money. Everyone’s there for that diamond encrusted carrot. I think that the least the CWA could do would be to provide every fee paying entrant with a set of cardboard cut-out donkey ears.

£25 x 456 = £11400

Take the £700 prize money away from that and you are left with £10700. £10700 for the administration of the awards. £10700 for the administration of the awards. (I know I’m repeating myself.)

It strikes me that the CWA Debut Dagger, as much as anything, is simply a fund raising initiative. A net of hope and vanity that shoals of berks like me swim into dreaming of fame and fortune and our very own tame literary agent. The lure of getting one’s work in front of agents and publishers who allegedly make up the judging panel (after the slush pile has been vetted by ordinary mortals) blinded me to what I see now as the reality – that the Debut Dagger preys on the hopes and dreams of the deluded (like myself) who think that for £25 it’s got to be worth a shot. You’ve got to be in it to win it! Sound familiar? Same shit different toilet.

On the Internet I saw some pictures of this year’s dagger awards ceremony – the one I wasn’t at. It felt like looking through the window at a party I hadn’t been invited to but should have been. Lots of people were wining and dining and laughing and joking and looking all dressed up and happy. As I mentally pulled up the collar of my coat, shoved my hands deep into my pockets and bent my head to walk off into the chilly night, alone, I vowed that never again would I fall for something like that.

Taking it personally


Writer’s Diary: Stardate: 08.11.2013

An unfunny thing happened on the way to the…classroom yesterday. I was a few minutes early for the first lesson in my ‘day of death’ and as I passed by the computer lab I noticed that there was no one using the computer that works. (The ‘day of death’ is eight straight hours and a lunch duty. When I say lunch duty I mean I have to sit with the last class that I teach before lunch and break bread with them. I shouldn’t name them. Individually they are mostly edible. But the class ‘dines’ in the geographical centre of the dinning hall. (Yes, I know how to spell dining.) Because of the central location I usually end up leaving the experience with blood trickling out of both ears and children’s dinners spattering my shirt. Nice it isn’t.) But I digress.

I thought I’d take a quick peek at my emails before going into battle. I poked the hamster with my biro and after a bit of hamster grumbling it began to trot in its wheel. Power. I logged on. Really great and friendly and email from a gentleman who has been making his way through the Romney and Marsh Files. He’d finished the third and seemed to have enjoyed it. Fantastic.

Take a quick peek at Amazon while I’m there. Oh, a new comment on Joint Enterprise. I wonder if that was him, too. No. It was a one star comment from a reader who was clearly unimpressed with the reading experience. It’s the first one star comment on that particular title I’ve received. And it goes like this:

‘Having read ‘Making A Killing’ I was really looking forward to this, but it quickly descended into a blank featureless read. The plot was feeble, and there was no sense of suspense at all. I kept reading expecting it to pick up pace, but it faded into oblivion. I’ll not be buying any more of this author, unless I need a cure for insomnia.’

That set the tone for the day. Joint Enterprise is many things but it is not a one star book. Yes, the direction that I took this book in has disappointed a couple of readers who had enjoyed the previous books. I accept that. But this? No.

I’ve had three one star comments for one of my other books, Rope Enough, and of course as the author they are not nice to receive. (Unless  you are a creative type you cannot truly empathise with how it feels to have your work rubbished. I really don’t mean to come across as condescending.) But so far I have always managed to understand them. I try to understand them. I want to understand them. If I can understand them the dismay at receiving them is dissipated. One way of doing this is to see what comments the readers have left on other book purchases on Amazon.

Of the three I had already received for Rope Enough one didn’t like the sex. (OK I can deal with that. Still a bit harsh. There wasn’t much of it.) One has never left another comment on anything (still) so it’s probably someone I was married to or a member of my family. And one reader took exception to the rape theme. She was quite scathing. It was clear that she found the subject matter entirely distasteful and by her own admission wouldn’t have downloaded the book if she had known that rape featured as a theme. I understand. Understanding helps. It doesn’t make it all right but it helps.

So, to this new comment. I looked over other comments the reader in question has left. He has left a few of the negative two and one star variety. He expresses himself well. He writes well. Clearly, he is not an idiot and IMHO you’d have to be an idiot or vindictive to give Joint Enterprise one star and leave the remarks that he did. So he must have taken exception to something in the book. A part of the story upset him, perhaps. (I’m just looking for ways to try to understand this shredding of my book without actually asking him. He doesn’t appear to respond to comments, so I’m left to work it out.) And walking to school today I think I did. It hit me why he responded in the way he did. I think that he took exception to something that I made light of. It’s related to a purchase that he made. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I have made sense of it and that’s good enough for me. What was it? I’m not saying. It’s very personal. I could be wrong. But right now that doesn’t matter. I’ve found a way to deal with it. I’ve moved on.

The White Cliffs of Dover


Writer’s blog: Stardate: 01.11.2013

As anyone who has ever been interfered with by the Scouts knows, ‘Be Prepared’ is the motto of the movement founded by the late great Baden-Powell. (Incidentally, has anyone else seen that Internet rumour that BP was the great, great, grandfather of Jimmy Savile? I wonder if there is any truth in it.) ‘Be Prepared’ is a motto that has stood me in good stead throughout my life. Like the time it looked like gran was going to come and live with us – and share my room. Being prepared put a stop to that.

Being prepared is all about forward thinking. I like to look forward with my writing. (My wife calls it day-dreaming. Her faith in my purpose is so painfully underwhelming.) This week I have been looking forward, preparing for the day I am playing ennie, meenie, mynie, mo with the offers of television companies for the rights to serialise the Romney and Marsh Files on the haunted fish tank.

All TV detective series need a good theme tune – something instantly recognisable, suggestive, evocative. The theme tune to ‘Morse’ springs to mind as one of the most memorable. Quite inspired.

(Give yourself a pat on the back if you know what’s coming.)

Not a lot of people know that as well as fancying myself as a bit of an author I also harbour delusions about my musical ability. I write songs and I play guitar. Before my son learnt to cry to indicate his displeasure I would play and sing to him. These days, my crooning and strumming episodes have become useful for clearing the flat of all those who are able-bodied enough to do so. My two year old only has to hear the metallic catch released on my guitar case two rooms away to start howling for the park in a sort of – and oddly appropriate – Pavlov’s dogs reaction. (Mostly, when they leave I don’t play anyway. It’s just nice to have the place to myself.)

This week I’ve put my song-writing ‘skills’ to what I believe is excellent use. I’ve written the theme tune to the forthcoming television series of the Romney and Marsh Files. It will be a contractual obligation of any production company interested in televising the books that my song is used. I am being prepared.

I had to think long and hard to find something that would provide an immediate association for listeners, something that would very quickly suggest images, ideas and links with Dover – the setting for the books – and the particular representation of it that I have chosen to present.

The result is something of a ‘pasty’ – a new term of my own devising (I am indeed truly creative) that I am gifting to the English language (add altruistic to my plus column for this week). ‘Pasty’ suggests a creative offering somewhere between a pastiche and a parody.

I am confident that readers across generations with the necessary cultural background will find the basis for the lyrics instantly recognisable and that they will then be unable to resist forming those crucial images and associations I was on about. (A word to the wise: the tune that accompanies my lyrics is not the one you’re going to want to fit the lyrics to. I believe that would be copyright infringement and therefore actionable in law.)

Romney and Marsh Song

There’ll be no bluebirds over
The grey cliffs of Dover
Not today, nor tomorrow
They took fright and flew.

So forget what you heard
From that hopeful old bird
And resign yourself to
A bluebirdless view.

The love and the laughter
And peace ever after
That was forecast to last
In a world that was freed

Didn’t wash on these shores
Where we’re fighting old wars
Against hate, crime and prejudice
Anger and greed.

So the next time you’re over
In dark, dirty Dover
Spare a thought for the police
At crime’s chalk face.

Think of Romney and Marsh
Mostly fair sometimes harsh
They’re a crime fighting duo
Not a flat windswept place.

Of course, the lyrics are only half the deal. The tune that goes with them is in the key of A minor and goes like this:

dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,
Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,
Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,
Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.
(Rpt. X 3)

For those who will feel moved to trawl the Internet looking for the original lyrics to ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ I have copied and pasted them below. And I have to say what sentimental rubbish I find them to be. I think it’s safe to say it was the accompanying melody that made this ditty the success it was – that and a world war, of course.

(There’ll be bluebirds over) The White Cliffs of Dover

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away
I still can hear them say
Bombs up…
But when the dawn comes up
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
When the world is free
The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again
(After reading the previous
four lines I had to check
that I hadn’t been duped
into reading a piss-take)
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see
There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Just you wait and see… 

We’re still waiting, Gracie.