Victorian murder, digital books

As readers will know, I’m a book-obsessive. I’m also pretty hot on bookshops, happily shelling out for the pleasure of a browse among the stacks of paper, breathing in that scent of combined wisdom and mildew that inhabits any half-decent book trader. Use them or lose them, as One Book On the Shelf rightly observes.

So it’s with some embarrassment that I admit to being on first-name terms with Amazon, that bookstore-devouring monolith. But – hear me out! – it does offer a route to books that I’d be unlikely to pick up browsing the shelves. It’s one of the oddities of modern life that digital culture enables those of us with one foot in the past to find each other.

Over on Twitter, I’ve become a fan of Lee Jackson, keeper of The Cat’s Meat Shop blog, and curator of all obscure knowledge about Victorian London. His blog is a delightful lucky-dip of photos, facts, mini-essays and mind-boggling extracts from contemporary sources. (A recent favourite being a guide to office etiquette, 1909, deploring the existence of ‘slangy girls’ who ‘prink’ in the office.)

No-one who follows Lee Jackson can miss his, um, diligent approach to publicising his publications on Twitter. Which is why, on unexpectedly becoming the curator of an i-Pad, his Victorian murder mystery, The Diary of a Murder, was one of my first digital down-loads via Amazon’s Kindle app. It’s a romp of a book, rich with period detail and rooted firmly in place and time. He takes us unfailingly through the streets of Islington, the City, and into the East End, in his story of a hapless Victorian clerk struggling with ne’er-do-well father, overbearing mother-in-law and delicate ‘wifey’.

It would be criminal to even hint at the decently-unexpected ending, which had me checking back through the pages to make sure he hadn’t ‘cheated’. It was, though, an unexpected pleasure, an introduction to an author I’d probably never have discovered without Twitter, digital readers and the like.

Now that I’ve completed the first draft of my own novel, I’m contemplating my publication options while working on the first edit. Carol Blake, agent and author of From Pitch to Publication, warned against electronic self-publishing in her talk at the Soho Literary Festival. In the latest issue of Mslexia, one author exults in the control that ‘doing it herself’ gave her.

So should I take the plunge and publish myself, or go down the conventional route? I’ve yet to decide. And anyway, there’s an awful lot more editing to do yet. Any advice welcome!


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