Does Comets need an “ADULT” label?

cometsMy third novel, Comets, was published as an eBook and has been for sale on Amazon since the middle of last year. A few days ago it also became available here on Smashwords.

One of the requirements for listing on Smashwords is that if the book is intended for adult readers it must have an ADULT label at the point of sale. While I can see what they’re getting at, unfortunately the term “adult”, when used to describe a book or a film, carries the implication of explicitly erotic content. Comets does address sexual issues in the lives of its protagonists in what I hope is a tasteful way. What happens sexually between some of the characters in the course of the novel is essential to the plot, especially as it is set in the 1830s when social norms were clearly different to what they are now. In the same breath I should add that the scientific and religious views expressed by some of the characters are also essential to the plot; they were controversial then, and remain so in some circles even in the 21st century.

So should Comets have an ADULT label? When I wrote the novel I intended it to be read by adults rather than children or young teenagers. But I doubt whether older teenagers, approaching school-leaving age, would find anything in the book particularly shocking or unheard of.

Perhaps the ADULT label will lose me some potential readers – and perhaps it will gain me some! If there is anyone out there who has read the book and would care to express an opinion, I would be glad to hear from you. Click here to contact me and let me know what you think.

Clive

Featured on Author Quiz website

Clive was interviewed about his work on the Author Quiz website on 26 October 2013.  There were some interesting questions and answers.

Author Quiz interviews Clive Algar…

What is it you love most about writing?
I love the infinite scope for creating new worlds.  As a writer of mainly historical fiction (19th and early 20th century) I enjoy placing fictional characters among real historical characters to create events that could have happened.  I love the blank page waiting for me to fill it.

Where did the inspiration for your first novel, Journeys to the End of the World, come from?
Journeys is set in three different eras, but takes place largely during, and just after, World War 1.  I have had a fascination with the “Great War” since I was a child, as my late father fought on the Western Front, was mentioned in dispatches, was gassed in the trenches and saw things he could not bear to tell me about.  As I heard little about the war from him I read a great deal about it and, when the time came to write my first novel, I was drawn irresistibly to some aspect of the “Great War”.  The aspect I chose was “shell shock”, but I also related it to its unnamed equivalent a century earlier, and to post-traumatic stress disorder a century later.

If your book Comets were made into a movie and you were asked for input into the sound track, are there any songs that would work especially well for any particular scene?
I’m really glad to be asked this question but I’m not going to answer it exactly as asked.  For some reason there was a piece of classical music that kept coming into my head while I was writing Comets.  It was something I had heard on the car radio – “Canon in D”, by Pachelbel – which I found deeply moving, so I played it from time to time after that, sometimes when I was writing, and for me it became the theme music for Comets.  The music is a lot older than the 1830s setting of the novel, but it is something that my protagonist Isabelle might well have heard on one of the rare occasions when she could have attended an orchestral performance.  And the wistful, bitter-sweet melody of “Canon in D” to my mind mirrors the years of Isabelle’s life portrayed in my book.

If you could invite one character from your novels to a dinner party, who would it be and why?
I would like to invite Emma, the main character from Flowers in the Sand.  I would make it a small dinner party because I would want to have plenty of opportunity to talk with her – there is so much I want to know about her life after the end of the book.  Anyone who has read Flowers in the Sand will know that Emma had a really difficult time in the novel.  She longed for children but was unable to have any of her own;  her husband died in an accident and she was left to fend for herself in a desolate mining town with war closing in;  she had to make extremely difficult moral choices.  Eventually she saw a chance for happiness – and that is where I left her at the end of the book!  There is a hint, in an epilogue which takes the form of a letter ten years later, but I would love to know what happened during those missing years.  I am fond of Emma, I’m sorry I made her life so difficult, and I hope I would feel better about her if she came to dinner and we could talk about it.

How do you see the publishing industry changing during the next few years?
I don’t know a great deal about the publishing industry, but the trend away from printed books towards eBooks is so obvious now that it seems undeniable.  I am ambivalent about eBooks – I love the feel of a well-bound book in my hands, and even its smell.  And I would rather walk in the mountains with a real book in my rucksack, and sit leaning against a rock reading it, than carry my iPad with me for that purpose.  On the other hand, on long-haul flights my iPad would come into its own, with twenty books loaded, taking up hardly any space in my luggage.   As an author, eBooks are creating new opportunities for me, so I embrace the future while lovingly running my hands over the spines of the “real” books in my home library.

What are some of your favourite quotes from reviews that you’ve received?
Reviews of my first novel, Journeys, gave me a lot of pleasure, largely because this was the first time anyone had publicly said anything about my writing.  Some of the reviewers said things that I wouldn’t have thought of saying, and others said things I had hoped someone would say.
Here are extracts from my five favourite reviews of Journeys – they were mainly written by professional book critics and published in the books pages of newspapers:

“Spell-binding … A riveting read … serious and austere … an honest, authentic novel.” - Phil Murray, The Cape Times.

“A haunting work that traces the patterns of violence, survival and the often guilty-feeling process of healing.  The characters … are drawn with a delicate and subtle hand …   This lovely book is engrossing and will leave the reader thinking.” - Amanda Yesilbas, Historical Novels Review Online.

“Algar examines the effects of violence on individuals, both victims and perpetrators … [his] purpose is to look at issues of forgiveness and atonement … a thoughtful novel that brings together strands of our social matrix and carries it in a good story.” - Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian.

“Clive Algar writes well …   Although technically a historical novel, the book’s themes and preoccupations reach beyond the period piece.” - Anthony Stidolph, The Witness.

“Ambitious and well-researched, containing a wealth of fascinating material … there is much here of real value.” - Michiel Heyns, novelist and award-winning literary critic.

What other book would you regard it the biggest compliment to have your own work compared to, and why?
Given this opportunity, I might as well aim high!  My favourite novel is “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak, so if anyone said my work reminded them of that, I would die happy.  “Doctor Zhivago” is a great novel because it captures the spirit of an era so beautifully and so profoundly, while remaining an easy book to read.  When I read it I hear great chords of music in my head.

I have similar feelings about “The Leopard” by Giuseppe de Lampedusa, but I don’t want to seem greedy.

I am not seriously suggesting that anyone would compare my work with either of these sublime novels – I’m just indulging in a bit of fantasy!

. . . . . . . .

Thanks for your comments, Clive, and good luck with your writing.

If you’d like to see the interview on the Author Quiz site, please click this link.

‘Comets’: was Isabelle an early feminist?

A reader has asked me whether I see Isabelle Forster, the main character in Comets, as an early feminist.

Her wish to escape some of the constraints of 19th century upper middle-class society by becoming a teacher, and her desire to be recognised not for her physical attributes but for her lively mind, hardly qualify as feminism, even in the context of the 1830s. There must have been countless women, in the Cape Colony and elsewhere, who shared these views. Marriage and motherhood were in most cases the only acceptable path genteel girls were allowed to follow. My reference to the excessive tightening of Isabelle’s stays before her mother took her to visit the establishments of the upper merchants, is intended to symbolize the constraints on her young life. “Men of that class were known to admire the hour-glass figure, not the more natural shapes that occurred on girls of the lower orders.”

I don’t want to give away the story to those who have not yet read Comets, but I think that, if Isabelle is to be considered an early feminist, this might be based on something that develops later in the novel. It dawns on Catharine, the newly-emancipated slave woman who has been observing Isabelle closely, that “it was possible for a woman to have power even if it was exercised so subtly that men might not be aware of it”.

Catharine notices that “men had manifest power – even slave men had power within their own spheres – but some women who knew how to weave their intelligence with their instincts had power too”. And Catharine tries to look within herself for similar resources.

Ultimately, however, Catharine “could not help admiring her mistress’s ability to venture with apparent impunity into a province more usually populated by men”. What does she mean? And is this the aspect of the story the reader had in mind when she raised the question of feminism? But maybe feminism doesn’t come into the story at all! I’m afraid you’re going to have to read Comets and make up your own mind – and then I’d love to have your opinion. Click here to drop me a line.

Clive