Friday, 28 October 2011


Just for once, a wee personal blog to thank everyone for understanding and patience when I suddenly went as blind as a bloody bat a couple of months ago.

My first cataract surgery (a doddle) went A-1 this week and now I have one eye (almost) back on the job. Its twin will join the team during the first week of December. Right now, the two Celtic green orbs are at war and I see double after more than ten minutes or so in front of a screen. Please bear with me a tiny while longer.

Meantime, authors especially, don’t blame your individual BeWrite Books editor or Tony on tech and design for delays. They’re as on-the-ball as ever. Hold ups are all my fault because I must take a close look at all, post-edit, author-editor corrected manuscripts as the supposed ‘fresh eye’ before we go to print and ebook-live. Surprising what such a third eye – detached from the initial and often extended editorial process – can spot and correct in the nick of time.

And for a couple of months now that eye's been on wildcat strike.

Promised pre-Christmas releases will be produced. Cross my eyes, they will.

What sets BeWrite Books above even the Big Six – let alone the self-publisher – is attention to fine detail. I don’t need to ask those authors we work with whether they’d prefer a slight delay in publication to slap-dash results. We don’t have slap-dash authors. They scream their preference from the rooftops ... quality -- title by quality title. Manuscripts can be in nit-picking edit for a year or more. BeWrite Books does not do slap-dash.

All on the BeWrite Books team agreed that my temporary blindness would not threaten that ethic. As a minnow in a sea of shark- mediocre- and trash-infested slush, it's our saving grace. You'll never know how much I need to thank Tony, Hugh and Sam for making the decision to hold rather than rush and risk flaws.

Just for fun, let me tell you about this rare galloping cataract hitch I suddenly encountered. It really does have its up-side.

I can identify to the very night when I first realised something was wrong. A full moon had just risen and was flashing its signal across the Mediterranean Sea to my wee terrace a couple of hundred yards above. But I didn’t see the usual dappled grey dish ... I saw a ‘moonburst’ – a pyrotechnic display of exploding silver lights, enhanced by haloes of vividly coloured rings.

Sure that this was a unique cosmic event, I called out Skovia and roused all the neighbours. They saw nothing unusual. Even with binoculars and the special glasses we'd saved from the last solar eclipse.

From there in, things got even more psychedelic.

As my sight quickly faded, day by day and, noticeably, hour by hour, lights became my world. Wonderful lights. The glint from a wine glass, a candle flame, a sparkle from Skovia’s bracelet or engagement ring; all became starbursts of fabulous colour. I couldn’t see the glass, the candle or Skovia. I only saw the shining of them. What a thrill!

For the first time, I doubted John Lennon’s claim that his Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds title was an innocent coincidence and that the song’s initials didn’t imply that marmalade skies and kaleidoscope eyes were the result of a tab of acid that tends to dilate the pupils and cause visual hallucination. Skovia had kaleidoscope eyes and I saw marmalade skies -- and I don't do drugs heavier than a decent Highland malt or pure Virginia tobacco in my meerschaum pipes. Maybe with a dash of Perique from St James' Parish where it's exclusively grown.

I traveled in early morning darkness to surgery this week. The long, long motorway, the deep tunnels to Nice with their white, red, blue, yellow signs, the tail lights of vehicles ahead and headlights of those whizzing by in the opposite direction provided an ongoing firework display I’d never believed could happen this side of heaven. Fireworks blaze and fade. But these explosions didn't burn out and dim; as long as I looked, they existed.

Even the utterly painless and speedy wee operation (which I’d dreaded, because I have a thing about eyes) presented a cubist surrealism and colour beyond my dreams.

It’s famously said that what doesn’t kill you strengthens you. I think that’s crap. Tell it to an armless and legless victim of a war or a car crash. Becoming housebound as I lost the ability to walk this past decade didn't exactly broaden my own horizons. It did encourage more hours at the desk, though.

But some seemingly daunting experiences like my last can – if you’ll pardon the expression – give you a new insight on the world around us. I saw things I wasn’t meant to see in the regular course of nature. This weird 'ailment' opened my eyes and my mind to the utter poetry of our surroundings.

For a while there, I lost the words, folks.


But I saw the light.

When I next look, your words will shine all the brighter. I’ll see the glisten of every facet of a phrase. A sentence could become a constellation.

I always prided myself on being a head above the herd in this crazy word game, but maybe I’ll be a better editor for being blind-sided by life butting in when I least expected it.

Happy weekend. Neil

Monday, 10 October 2011


Kurt Vonnegut famously said: ‘Science is magic that works.’

But what about the spells that make that magic ... the Science Fiction that works?

Only two blogs ago, we pointed out that Captain James T Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise was using cell phones, tablet computers – and even ebook-reading devices – on his Star Trek voyages when Steve Jobs was still in short pants.

The ‘fazer’ stun guns with various power settings, used by Capt Jim and his crew, were not the pre-cursors of today’s notoriously ubiquitous Tasers, as is often thought. The Taser is actually an acronym and a tribute to the author who dreamed up the possibility: Thomas A Swifts Electric Rifle exactly a century ago, and sixty years before scientist Jack Cover made Tom Swift’s idea a reality, never forgetting the visionary author who’d inspired his work.

Less than thirty years before man landed on the moon, a scientist was ridiculed in the US congress when he suggested he could build a rocket that would soar through the earth’s atmosphere.

Science fiction was loudly predicting space travel in the 1800s. Cyrano de Bergerac – he of the re-entry capsule-sized nose – wrote his Voyage to the Moon in 1654 ... more than three centuries before Neil Armstrong took his ‘one small step’ and planted the first human boot-print in the dust of the lunar surface. Folks of the time (they hadn’t even invented flared trousers) thought Cyrano was a loony. But, as it turned out, he could see even farther than his own impressive nose.

We’re surrounded by the gadgets of Science Fiction alchemy that foreshadowed the magic of science that works.

The evidence is in our homes, in our pockets and wallets, in our hospitals and schools, in our offices and factories, flying over our heads (Leonardo Da Vinci even designed the helicopter way before folks in the early 20th Century still thought hot air balloons were pretty nifty), and their dreams have been driving down our streets as long as anyone alive today can remember. For some of us, it’s actually implanted in our bodies.

Cloning is a reality, our interplanetary probes are already sending back signals from distances that can only be measured conveniently in terms of the speed of light, Cern in Switzerland has conquered the mysteries of anti-matter and recently discovered particles that travel at speeds beyond that of light itself. Multiverses and time travel are seriously studied by those with brains the size of planets, like Marvin, Douglas Adams’ paranoid android. Even artificial life itself, ain’t so artificial any more. Could be that our universe is a Matrix-style computer simulation, scientists now posit ... as did the old comic book’s mad Brainiac.

On the dark-side, Sci Fi also foresaw doomsday bombs, death rays, guided missiles, man-made global catastrophe, world warfare and lethal pandemics ... not to mention the kind of plastic surgery that turned Michael Jackson’s face into a pretty close match for Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein creation back in 1823.

You’re reading this on a computer – a machine foretold by Sci Fi writers generations ago. And if you’re planning a video call to your old aunt half a world away this afternoon, spare a warm thought for evil Emperor Ming in the Flash Gordon comic strip and early kids’ cinema and TV series. And, of course, for NASA’s good old Voyager space probe that, like ET, never fails to phone home from mind-boggling billions of miles away.

And – through the imagination of author and poet Sam Smith – BeWrite Books beat ’em to it again with Sam’s superb The End of Science Fiction.

The backdrop to the book is that, contrary to scientific consensus, our universe's expansion is gaining pace. When it begins to contract, it will do so at an ever-accelerating rate that could leave us with less than a week’s warning of the end of everything in the cosmos; a Big Crunch that would then become another in ye gods only know how many Big Bangs that continually – billions of years apart – start the whole process over again from scratch.

This month, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a three-man team of US-born egg-heads for proving that good ol’ Sam was right. They discovered that the universe IS expanding at an accelerating pace, just as Sam had predicted. And that had taken them by surprise.

Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess presented findings that overturned the conventional idea that the expansion was slowing 13.7 billion years after the Big Bang. It will reach a point where the universe will start to implode. Must have been another terrible surprise to them.

Hate to say 'we told you so,' Nobel Committee, but Sam’s The End of Science Fiction shows we did. And once again fiction was one giant leap ahead of Science Fact!

Sam said: ‘The Nobel winners reckon that, so long as we keep looking we will have billions of years’ warning in that the doppler effect will shift the light coming our way into the red spectrum. But this is from the team who initially presumed they were going to measure the rate of the universe’s slowing expansion and who instead found it to be accelerating, as per my hypothesis, couldn’t explain the acceleration and so came up with the theory of ‘dark matter’ playing games with gravity.

‘We don’t fully understand yet the effects of gravity, the team admits. So why not, as in The End of Science Fiction, where I outguessed them with an ever-accelerating rate of expansion, as the universe implodes, star systems impacting with star systems, won’t the ever-increasing mass increase the effects of gravity and pull the universe’s contents, faster and faster, back to another Big Bang? Snap!

‘My book rests its case.’

The current cover image on The End of Science Fiction is the first picture to show two galaxies in collision and dying in a cosmic firework display, light years away from Planet Earth. It’s eye-witness proof of scientific theory that these things do happen. Worlds do end. And so will universes. The photograph was taken by the wonderful Hubble orbiting space telescope and was reproduced by kind permission of NASA to BeWrite Books editor Neil Marr.

Of the imploding universe – Sam’s fictional hunch, the scientists’ later factual discovery – the Nobel Committee said: ‘It’s an enigma, perhaps the greatest in physics today.’

Perlmutter, 52, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley, will receive half the $1.5 million prize. The other half will go to Schmidt, 44, at the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia, and Riess, 41, an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

‘One of the truly great discoveries in the history of science, and one whose implications are not fully understood,’ said Paul Steinhardt, a physics professor at Princeton University.

Sam? Well Sam Smith (of a certain age that makes these Johnny-come-lately scientists mere whippersnappers) wasn’t mentioned at the prize-giving ceremony in Stockholm or in the acres of news print that followed worldwide. Rude of them, we feel. What to do to honour Sam?

Tony’s just wrapping up the six-monthly BeWrite Books royalties payments and tells me there ain’t likely to be $1.5 million left in the kitty as a bonus. So the best we can do is award Sam the not-so-ignoble ‘BeWrite Bobel Prize for Beating the Boffins at Their Own Game’, and a new cover and re-release of The End of Science Fiction. Another triumph of fiction over science.

Author Sam Smith
And the first half dozen readers of this blog (or anywhere else it’s circulated) to drop me an email (email BB) will get a free copy … in the spirit of the age, in ebook format of choice rather than old-fashioned print. After all, during his star date period, only Captain Jean-Luc Picard reads printed books; and he thinks of them as quaint curios of a bygone age, like his penny whistle, the riding crop he uses on the holodeck, trying (and embarrassingly failing) to smoke a cigarette as a Raymond Chandler-style private eye from the 1950s.

Of course, Sam’s an author and poet (spurring the efforts science is a a mere sideline to him), so his Bobel Prize-Winning fast-stretching, fast-imploding hypothesis – what he once described to me as the ‘Elastic Band Effect’ – is merely the cosmic drama against which the very human drama of The End of Science Fiction is set. Here’s my original back cover text.


No matter how important your job … would YOU turn up for work
knowing that you and every living being on the planet will be dead before pay day?

A beautiful young woman is brutally murdered – just as governments around the world announce that the universe will end in five days’ time.

The planet Earth’s seven billion human beings deal with their impending extinction in seven billion different ways.

But amid global chaos, dedicated detective Herbie Watkins stays on the case, determined to discover the killer against a merciless clock that’s ticking away his own final hours.

Is he insanely obsessed, or is he the last sane man in the history of the human race?

Sam Smith weaves a unique cop story of a unique cop against a unique backdrop in a unique page-turner of a book.

No count-down novel, no disaster book, no police saga has ever been written to thrill the reader and plumb the depths of the human soul as does The End of Science Fiction. It is the last word in SF and crime.

You will read this book and over again, asking new and challenging questions of yourself and formulating new answers every time you re-open this outstanding work from the pen of an author who demands one-sitting novel reading.

You can read more about the book, download a free extract and see more about Sam Smith HERE.

Have fun folks. I’ve read EOSF a dozen times and never tire of it. Yup, it’s one of those rare books that always hold pride of place on your shelf – virtual or otherwise.

Best wishes. Neil, Tony, Sam, Hugh et al at BB

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


BB Offers Publishers and Agents Ebook Production And Distribution ... Fast!
Imprint LIMITROPHE PUBLISHING Launched This Week

BeWrite Books this week launched Limitrophe Publishing to offer full digital production to other publishers, agencies and foreign-rights management organizations on a no-fees basis.

The new imprint is the result of over a decade’s careful industry monitoring and the past two years of heavy investment in state-of-the-art technology, retained specialist services and the creation of a worldwide independent distribution base. Only a tiny fraction of this new capacity can be used by BeWrite Books itself.

Partner publishers with large current catalogs and back-lists, agencies with out-of-print titles and foreign rights holders seeking to release English language ebook editions of their works will usually receive seventy percent return on sales after third-party discount/commission. Ebooks sold from a soon-to-open, stand-alone, Limitrophe Publishing eBookstore will be subject to zero retail commission.

BeWrite Books Technical and Design Director Tony Szmuk said, ‘As our technical and distribution side developed in leaps and bounds, we realized that BeWrite Books – which, with its small editorial team, can effectively release only a dozen to fifteen exclusive new titles a year – had grown too big for its boots. We can use only an incredibly small percentage of current capacity for BB itself. And there is still much room for that capacity to increase according to demand.

‘So we got to work structuring Limitrophe Publishing. We offer a no-fees and high-royalty arrangement to houses of repute and established agencies that might not yet be fully geared-up to meet the huge new demand for digital reading – especially to those that must cope with large live catalogs and back-lists. And we will process their books perfectly and quickly. The service will not be open to self-publishing operations.

‘We have no doubt that many may view Limitrophe Publishing as a kind of stop-gap answer to a pressing need, so flexible contracts will be short term, contain inbuilt quality guarantees, and there will be unchallenged termination when a house feels ready to take back the digital reins on any or all of its titles. At that stage, we will freely offer what assistance we can.

‘Rather than bombard prospective clients, willy-nilly, with lengthy material, we will send a detailed proposal strictly by request or ask those interested to visit our new website, where the proposal is broken into sections of specific interest and all contact email addresses are listed.'

Limitrophe Publishing Editorial Director, Neil Marr, added, 'We've signed a core team of professionally qualified and highly experienced sub-contracted copy-editors to stand in when a house's own editorial resources are too stretched to handle final proof-reading of material before publication.

'And we've adapted the old wartime expression PDQ as an informal motto ... "Perfect Darned Quick".'

The following from etymologist Michael Quinion at


A young guest in the ancient and renowned Lexicophilia Club, who ought to know better, buttonholes the oldest member in seclusion of the James Murray Memorial Library.
‘Limitrophe? That looks foreign.’
‘Your perspicacity astounds me. It was introduced from French by English members of the diplomatic corps in the eighteenth century, when – as you may know – French was the language of diplomacy.’
‘So what did French diplomats mean by it?’
‘Situated on the frontier; bordering another country. As a noun, border-land.’
‘And where did the French get it?’
‘From Latin “limitrophus”, lands set apart for the support of troops on the frontier.’
‘I don't have any Latin. It’s all Greek to me.’
‘Astonishing. You’re actually half right. The second part is indeed Greek (“trophos”, supporting) but the first is from Latin “limes”, a limit or boundary.’
‘That’s enough etymology, thanks.’

‘Within these walls, young man, we can never have too much etymology.’

‘I’ve never seen it before.’
‘Why am I not surprised? But your observation is accidentally perspicacious. Unlike French, where it’s often to be encountered, it has always been rare in English.’

‘Examples please.’
‘Pass me Sir James Rennell Rodd’s Social and Diplomatic Memories, if you’d be so kind. Thank you. Grand man. First-class diplomat. Got his KCMG for sorting out that nasty Fashoda business in Africa in 1899.

‘Here we are: “Countries limitrophe with Germany, such as Belgium, Holland, and perhaps Denmark”.

‘And I can quote from a work by another diplomatist, Sir Charles Eliot. In his Hinduism and Buddhism – it appeared in 1921 in three volumes, absolutely splendid stuff, his life’s work, you know – he wrote: “In the reign of Mithridates the Parthian Empire was limitrophe with India and possibly his authority extended beyond the Indus”.’
‘These are very old.’
‘Not as old as all that, young man. But I take your point. It has always been rather a scarce word and it seems to have fallen even further out of favour during the past century.’
‘So nobody uses it these days?’
‘It’s still to be found if you would take the trouble to look. For example, “This belt of sovereign states is the Great Limitrophe: a kind of buffer zone separating Russia from the true centers of both European and Asian civilization”. That’s from Russia in Search of Itself, by James H Billington, published in 2004.

‘And here’s another, from 2008: “This stretch of international boundary, which the Colorado River forms, is known as the limitrophe”. That’s in Ecosystem-based Management in the Colorado River Delta, whatever that means, by Karen Hae-Myung Hyun.’
‘Why don’t we just say “border-land” or “bordering”?’
‘We would then lose an elegant word with which we can illuminate our discussions of political and economic geography.’
‘Show off your obscure learning, you mean?’
‘Impertinent whippersnapper! Enough! Away with you!’

And that’s all, folks.
Neil, Tony et al