About Me

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I read, write, edit, publish, craft and home educate. My debut novel Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase was published by Hodder in 2014. My second novel, A Life Between Us, was published in 2017. My third, The Road to California, was published in 2018, under my Louise Walters Books imprint. I live in Northamptonshire. My website can be found at louisewaltersbooks.co.uk

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Fallible Justice launched!

On Wednesday 7th November we held the book launch party for Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso. Around 60 people attended and the atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and excited!

We were hosted by The Inn on the Park in St Albans, who did a great job. No hitches at all, and the staff on duty for the evening were helpful and efficient.

We had a cake, and what a stunner, created by Laura's friend Julie Green. Guests thought at first that it was a pile of hardbacks!

This is a cake, honestly!

We had a pop-up bookstall, and my clever and supportive husband ran that for me. We organised a card reader and a receipt machine and sold a total of 35 copies on the night. Amazing amount when you consider many of the guests had already bought a copy from my website bookshop. I thought if I sold 20 copies I'd be chuffed, so 35 was fab.

We had wine; and home made sausage rolls and vegetarian rolls, which smelled delicious while cooking. I didn't get one, but I did sneak home some slices of cake to share with my kids.

There were speeches - not a bad feat for a couple of introverts! The atmosphere was so friendly my nerves melted away as soon as I started talking. Then it was over to Laura who read beautifully from Fallible Justice. A friend of Laura's in Australia asked me to read out a message from him as a surprise for Laura. I practiced at home but it was too emotional and on the night I felt myself welling up, so my husband Ian stepped in and read it for me. (Blame the menopausal hormones!) It was a beautiful message and I don't think it was only Laura and me with damp eyes...

One of the best things was meeting so many of my "team". Jennie Rawlings who designs LWB covers; Alison Jack who is my go-to copy editor; Leigh Forbes was designs and typesets the interiors of my books; and another of my authors, Dominic Brownlow. It was so good to meet all these people and we had such a great time nattering that we decided we need another social. Soon! Watch this space...

L to R: Jennie Rawlings (covers), Dominic Brownlow (author), Leigh Forbes (interiors), Laura Laakso (author), Louise Walters (publisher), Alison Jack (copy editor)

Laura's mum was there too, all the way from Finland, and I think she was perhaps the proudest person in the room.

All in all it was a fantastic night. My first LWB book launch, and not my last I'm sure.

Writing and publishing a book is the best excuse for a knees-up. Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Fear of Flying and Other Things

Once again it's been too long since I last blogged! So long in fact I wonder if anybody will read this. No? Good. Then I can write honestly. Write (and dance) like no one is watching...

This year I've faced two of my biggest fears. I'm a deeply fearful person. It doesn't do any harm to admit that. I admire fearless people and I wish I was one, but I'm not.

In September I ran a workshop at the Festival of Writing in York, organised by Jericho Writers. It was my second time, as I first did this in 2017. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I've never been a fan of public speaking. School put me off for ever when we were forced to stand in front of a class and do a "presentation". For me that meant mumbling for a few minutes, feeling sick, deeply embarrassed and very hot. Fast forward thirty-five years and the feelings remain. Only this time, I admonished myself, I'm a GROWN UP and grown ups get on with it. So I did. My presentation was OK. Technical hitches beforehand threw me a little, and I didn't know how to turn up the volume on my film clips. (I discovered after the presentation that the volume knob was right in front of me.) One of my clips was the wrong one. But the presentation was OK, mostly, and I had good feedback from some of the people who sat through it! 

Also in September I finally faced a truly lifelong fear. I flew in an aeroplane for the first time. At the age of 50. Yes, FIFTY. Five-Oh. I know. I feel that too.

Over the years I had convinced myself I would never get on a plane. Then one day, back in the summer, a friend emailed me and asked if I fancied a trip to Lisbon. For free. For eight days, with our kids. Well, it was an amazing offer and too good to refuse. As the holiday grew nearer my head swam with all the dark possibilities. All the shit that could go down (mostly the kids and me, in a plane). But we rocked up at the airport, waved goodbye to my dear husband, and we boarded our flight. They were excited; just a little scared. I was terrified. 100%. I wanted to run away. I couldn't show my fear, so I smiled broadly and acted all like I was totally cool with it, and told the kids it would be fine. We got on the damn thing and then the engines fired up, we were speeding along the runway and then... up. Up in the air. It was incredible.

Belem, Lisbon, September 2018

OK, I didn't enjoy flying, much. But I did it, and now it's off my UN-FACED FEARS list. I feel bolder, braver, more confident and like a proper grown up. 

With one week to go until my first author's first novel is officially published, I'm feeling the fear again. The thing is, the fears feel the same as the fear of public speaking and fear of flying: what if I make a fool of myself? What if my wonderful author has put her faith in me as a publisher and I let her down? What if the book crashes and burns? What if I run out of cash (that really is the biggest fear of them all!) What if... what if what??

My cousin died of cancer a couple of years ago, at the age of forty-four. From that day I've vowed to LIVE what's left of my life. I'm pretty sure the public speaking, and the flying, and of course the publishing are "symptoms" of my new attitude to life. Fear has its place but I can no longer allow it to rule me, stifle me, and stop me from seeing and doing wonderful things.

LWB books

So, a week before publication, I wish Laura Laakso all the success she deserves. and boy does she deserve it. She's ten times the writer I will ever be, and then some.

Now, I'm off to write my introductory speech for the launch party. No sweat!


Thursday, 7 June 2018

"Cor, Louise, you swallowed a dictionary?"

I've been hearing a lot about working class writers recently. The term "working class" is broadly situated under the "diversity" banner. And that's fine; working class "voices" should be heard. But I wonder what exactly is meant by "working class"? And what precisely is a "working class" story? I've been pondering all this for some time, following the posts and comments online of writers like Kit de Waal and Kerry Hudson, fabulous writers both.

I'm working class. I was brought up with few aspirations; very little money; I rarely had new things, even at Christmas and on my birthday. Yet I lived in an old, detached house in a village (in fact, two houses in two villages; we moved when I was ten) in Oxfordshire: generally regarded as a pretty posh part of the world. But our house was damp, had no central heating, it was furnished with second-hand, tatty furniture. It was bought by my parents in the days when one wage could just about buy you a village property. My mum was a SAHM (stay at home mum -  most mums were in the 70s, as I recall) and we didn't exactly eat like kings. Mum had about three dishes in her repertoire, and a lot of white bread and marmite. We had no mod cons as they were called then - no dishwasher, no tumble drier, no washing machine. My clothes were bought in village jumble sales and I will never forget the humiliation when a fellow pupil at my village school recognised "her" pink dungarees. I denied they were hers, of course. But she knew and she gave me a hard time. She was working class too.

The one thing we did have, either from jumble sales or the library, was BOOKS. These were the saving grace of my childhood. I read a lot, and I read about characters who were nothing like me - I devoured stories about boarding schools; posh kids' school hols adventures; stuck-up orphans; middle class American families; upper class Victorian ghosts; I dreamed I was IN these stories. I wanted to be Katy Carr's sister; Joey Bettany's best friend; Anne's fellow girly friend, because George was too hopelessly boyish. I think it's often, but not always, a myth that people want to see "themselves" "represented" in books. I didn't. I wanted to escape, and imagine a different life for myself.

As a child, my reading made me a bit precocious, at least by my family's standards. I was asked by wider family members, more than once, "You swallowed a dictionary?" and I think, in many ways, that's precisely what I did. I lost myself in books, in the worlds created by authors. From a young age I wanted to be an author, but it would take me many years to admit that even to myself, let alone get on and become one (my first novel was published when I was forty-six).

My characters rarely live the impoverished life I once had. I've written about lonely middle class women; a reluctant aristocrat; a wealthy American play boy; I do tend to go for hard working women who "make something of themselves". But I think I write, always, through my working class filter. It's much, much easier for a poor person to imagine what it's like to be rich than for a rich person to imagine what it's like to be poor.

To be a working class writer is in many ways to feel like a fish out of water. A trip down to London to meet up with my publisher cost me a fortune; the publisher's offices were stuffed full of (very nice) people who I guessed didn't attend their local comprehensive, but who instead went to the kind of  schools I once upon a time read and dreamed about. I often felt guarded in these meetings; unreasonably shy; even embarrassed by myself. What would have been useful is to find somebody else in the room noticing me; recognising and acknowledging me; understanding my background. Even better, it would have been great for me to recognise them. I pretended to be middle class, to fit in, because I felt like the only working class person in the room. Possibly I wasn't, but it felt like it.

It's great that some publishers are now accepting new recruits without degrees (I finally got mine via the Open University when I was forty-two). But I think other changes could make publishing a less alien, even threatening, environment for working class people: more older staff, more BAME staff, more accents, and perhaps controversially, more male editors and agents. How about offices based in other cities - Manchester? Newcastle? Birmingham? Glasgow? Such changes can't happen overnight, of course. And I hope agents and publishers don't attempt to ghetto-ize working class writers, insisting on stories only about council estates; drug abuse; single mums; all the cliched "working class" trappings. To do that would be to pay lip service, to reduce working class writers and their stories to token gestures. Box ticking.

I don't try to act posh anymore, because I'm not. You can take the girl out of the working class but you can't take the working class out of the girl. I'm not loaded (I'm a writer for heaven's sake!) but I'm proud of what I've achieved and I think my background eventually served me well and helped me to grow into the reader, writer, editor, publisher and business woman I've become. In common with other working class folks I can spot pretentious bullshit at fifty paces. That really is a useful skill! And of course, some habits never die: I still frequent libraries and I still buy second hand clothes. Just not pink dungarees...

Thursday, 22 February 2018

What's it really like to be a new publisher? Six months and counting...

This is my first post of 2018, which is rather remiss! My aim was to publish a post every couple of weeks... but like everybody else, I'm busy. So this is a bit of a catch up, and a chance for me to relate some of my recent publishing adventures.

Well, so far, so good. Louise Walters Books (LWB) has been officially up and running now since September, almost six months, and in that time I've signed two authors. They are Laura Laakso and Helen Kitson, and I couldn't be happier with my choices. They are both talented writers with something to say, and I am thoroughly enjoying working with them. Both Laura and Helen submitted their work to me via my submissions e-mail, so they are "slush pile" authors, although both have a track record - Helen has written poetry and Laura has had success in short story competitions. I'm a little in awe of their talent to tell you the truth; and it's a little scary being their publisher. I want to get it right. Mixed in with the pride and excitement is the fear of getting it wrong, and letting them down. That's one of the reasons I've given their books a long lead in time: I want to edit carefully! And do all the other tasks to the best of my ability, without rushing.

So, what's it really like being a publisher? Firstly, it's fun. I love it! I love being my own boss, running my own business, and deciding which projects to take on. Secondly, it's hard work. I must spend an hour (at least) a day on admin, banking, paperwork, record-keeping... all the "boring" bits. But it's OK, it's literally what I've signed up to, and to be honest, I quite enjoy doing the mundane stuff. I have to learn every single aspect of being a publisher (and business owner), and that includes all the dull tasks as well as the more glamorous ones.

So, what's exciting? Well, having Netflix's appointed literary scout contact me on the day I announced I was publishing Laura's Fallible Justice set me all aflutter! It's a thrill when a scout gets in touch and I've now had a few contact me about Laura and Helen. Fingers are duly crossed...!

The "quieter" things are also fun: inputting my books' details onto Nielsen so they "exist" in the book trade; allocating ISBN numbers; briefing my cover designer (I work with the wonderful Jennie Rawlings at Serifim). Preparing Advanced Information sheets and Press Releases allows me to use my creativity in a slightly different way. And with my project management head on, I've worked out quite detailed publishing schedules so my authors have an idea of what will happen, and when. I intend keeping my authors informed every step of the way.

One of my early decisions was not to bother with hardbacks. They're expensive to produce and they don't exactly sell like hot cakes. If any of my books do very well, I will think about bringing out limited edition hardbacks, for the keen beans. Other than that, no hardbacks for LWB. Let's be honest, hardbacks can be irritating, and the wait for the paperback release can be months. Authors want and need sales. Paperbacks and e-books sell.

I'm self-distributing for now (no real choice in this as I'm too small for a distributor to be interested yet) and this is an eye opener. It also means I can keep tabs, to a degree, on every book I sell. I printed 200 copies of The Road to California and I know where every single one of them has gone so far. None of those cheap offers are popping up on my Amazon listing, which is A Good Thing. In due course there will be second hand offers, and that's fine, I've no problem with second hand sales. But I hope to avoid the cheap "New" offers which undermine legitimate sales. I get my trade orders (from wholesalers Gardners, and Bertrams) and although I don't know which retailers the books get sent on to, I do know they are likely to be bookshops or libraries. I accept Amazon orders directly from Amazon, so again I can account for those copies. Learning how distribution works is invaluable and I'm happy to keep doing it until it begins to take up my whole day (and house). Then I'll try to persuade a distributor to take me on! 

 My mini warehouse in the corner of my office!

I love contacting bookshops and libraries, and I've had some wonderful responses from some of them. I love arranging promos such as those offered by Bookbub and Gransnet; and organising my own giveaways. Promo is fun, but also serious work, as it's of the utmost importance to make potential readers aware that a book exists. For me it's all about visibility, and simple things such as car stickers can be very effective.

I've recently published The Road to California, and I've loved being in complete control of this project and seeing it through from beginning to end. It's been a practice run really, as I decided last year I needed to make all my rookie errors on my own book to avoid making them on my authors' books. Now that The Road to California is out, I feel I've learned an awful lot and I've surprised myself with the new skills I've gained. I still have oodles to learn, but I reckon I've made a good start. I even enjoy working with the behemoth that is Amazon! Their discount is harsh (60%, no negotiation) and that hits a smaller publisher hard, as I have to pay carriage costs too, to get my books to their depots. My print runs are small, so I don't make a profit on any print books I sell through Amazon. But I do fare better with e-books, which are my lifeline. Without e-books I wouldn't be able to function as a publisher. And, despite everything, Amazon are stocking and selling my books on a level playing field with everybody else's books, and there's a lot to be said for that. So there'll be no Amazon-bashing here! (Not today anyway!)

So what's next? I'm venturing into audiobooks, and currently organising those for my two self-published titles A Life Between Us and The Road to California. I'm doing this via ACX (Audible) and currently accepting auditions, which is fascinating. Again, this is a dry run before I organise Laura and Helen's audiobooks. With the added bonus that all three of my published novels will be available in audio. Result!

I'm looking hard for a third author to kick off LWB. I like trios! I have a submission on my Kindle right now which I'm giving a great deal of time and consideration to. I have in my head a "vision" of LWB's brand, and the kind of book I want to publish. But, just as with writing, the "vision" mutates somewhat! Right now I'm building my list, and looking for well written novels and novellas. Genre is less important. A year ago if somebody had told me I would be publishing a paranormal detective novel as my first book, I simply wouldn't have believed them. But here I am doing just that, and I couldn't be more delighted. I've also learned something about the kind of publisher I want to be: I'm not going to look for a novel to "fit" into a mould of my own making. I want to publish good books for their own sake, even if they don't particularly fit into any mould. I like a misfit. That's the kind of story I want to read, and publish. I think there is an appetite for this kind of book and I know people are writing them.

Do send me your stuff. I may be new, I may be tiny, but I'm enthusiastic, I don't give a fig about what's currently "hot" in publishing (it will probably be cold by the time I bring it out!) and I am looking to forge trusting, long term partnerships with my authors. And not to mention readers, without whom there is no publishing. I'd love readers to get on board to read, enjoy and spread the word about my books. That's at the heart of everything I'm doing.

PS, I am still squeezing in a little time for my own writing: I recently entered a short story into the BBC National Short Story Award. Well, why not?!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

2017 round up

Can't believe it's this time of year already! I try to do a round up every December, it's interesting to look back on my reading year and I know I love having a nose at other people's reading lists... Here's mine!

I read forty books this year (10 December 2016 to date). Not a very impressive total, but I did also read my own forthcoming novel about four times (edits, not being big-headed!); two complete novels that were submitted to Louise Walters Books; and a dozen novels I critiqued this year via The Writers' Workshop. So fifty-four novels (excluding my own) in total. I won't list them all but my favourite was this one (I read it twice):

 Mothering Sunday

Of the forty books I read as books or ebooks, 32 were by women and 8 by men. Thirty-three were novels; six were non-fiction; and one was a short story collection. Three were self-published, and to the authors' credit, all were of a high standard in all regards and you wouldn't have "known" they were self-published. That shouldn't really surprise anybody... but I'm afraid it still does. This one was great: 

Letters to Eloise

I discovered a new writer this year (new to me!): Vita Sackville-West. I read All Passion Spent and thought it brilliant. I think I'll read it again, so it's a keeper. 

All Passion Spent

I read quite a few on Netgalley, and I have to say, none of them really, truly excited me. I enjoyed some of them, and I had positive things to say about them. But I do believe mainstream publishing is becoming more homogenised; more risk averse. A lot of writing styles seemed very "samey". Competent writing... but not really taking flight, like the best writing does. Nothing I read via Netgalley startled me, or thrilled me, or made me want to read it again. I'll keep searching in 2018. 

I did try to read more books from small presses this year. This one was excellent, and deserves so much more attention than it has received. Published by Sandstone Press (and currently only a quid in Kindle. Just saying!):

Wait For Me, Jack

I did have a couple of DNFs, but I won't list them here. Both were high-profile novels, but neither did it for me. I hate not finishing a book, but turning 50 this year has really made me take stock of how short life is. There are many fantastic books I will never get to; so I am letting go of DNF guilt from now on out... 

That's pretty much it! I loved the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, Born to Run (it was very long, although well written, as you would expect). Other highlights were a re-read, after many years, of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; and I loved Sealskin by Su Bristow (Orenda Books), which was beautiful.

Looking forward to 2018 and reading lots of great books.

PS, I received this beautiful homemade reading lamp from my daughter and her boyfriend for my 50th birthday. I love it so much. They should go into business, don't you think?

Merry Christmas! X

Monday, 11 December 2017

Objectivity, objectivity, objectivity - how (not) to react to a critique

Earlier this year I started critiquing novels with The Writers' Workshop. I was looking for work to help fund my publishing venture; I have a bit of experience, having written three novels of my own, and I enjoy volunteering with The Womentoring Project, where I have so far mentored four female writers. Two of them have gone on to find agents and book deals and I'm proud of them and proud I was able to help, even in a small way.

I love editing, critiquing and mentoring. I believe it has all helped me to become a better writer. When you see the same issues cropping up novel after novel - often (but not limited to) structure, plot, pacing and characterisation - I know to look out for these same issues in my own stories and make sure I work doubly hard on these aspects. It is, unfortunately, easy to write badly; and incredibly hard to write well.

Editorial reports are tough and constructive. The Writers' Workshop makes that clear on their website. There is no point in having our work critiqued if honesty isn't applied. If we want to be told how wonderful our work is, we can show it to our mum, our other half, our best friend, our kids. No. Maybe not our kids. They really do tell it like it is don't they?!

I've had great responses so far from the dozen or so writers whose work I've critiqued. Yes, there has been disappointment, and that's understandable. I've had all three of my own novels critiqued and it does take a dash of courage to go through that process. It isn't the best feeling in the world to be told that the story you spent weeks, months or even years working on isn't yet up to scratch. This is where the whole process can go horribly wrong, as I recently found out. So here are my top tips for seeking and receiving a critique. Hope they help...

1. First of all, a critique is not an ego massage. It may sound harsh, but when I'm working on your novel, I don't give a damn about your ego. I don't know you. All I am doing is assessing the project before me. It's an entirely objective process. Very few writers receive a glowing editorial report. There WILL be issues in your work; and those issues WILL be pointed out. Expect this. It's what you are paying for. If I'm mindful of your ego, the risk is I won't be as frank and honest as I need to be when assessing your manuscript. Which, in the end, is detrimental, and will not help you as a writer.

2. Don't respond to your critique immediately. Even if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Especially if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Put the report away. Simmer down. Look at it again in a few days, or weeks. Look at what has actually been advised: which often isn't what you initially think has been advised. It can take time for the report to sink in, to percolate and eventually make sense.

3. Be objective about your own work. Impossible, I hear you cry. No, it's not. It's difficult, but we must apply objectivity to our own work if we are to improve it. Fall out of love with your story. Stop being so damned proud of yourself (temporarily). Plenty of people write, plenty of people write badly. The first draft or even second draft head-rush MUST give way to cool, calm, calculated objectivity. It's one of the few things that separates a professional from an amateur.

4. Not every editor will "get" exactly what you are trying to do with your story. Sometimes it's not easy to see what the writer is trying to achieve, I'm afraid. Often I think the writer herself doesn't know. But if an editor tells you your novel suffers from lack of pace, it suffers from lack of pace. That's an objective assessment and you would be wise to heed it. Lack of pace is an issue I have seen in almost all the novels I have critiqued. Let that sink in. Pace is hard. It has nothing whatsoever to do with genre. The editor isn't suggesting you should be writing a thriller (but if you are writing a thriller, lack of pace is definitely a problem). The editor is merely suggesting you need to create readability, that great gift a talented author gives to readers: the urge to keep turning pages. That's all. That is pace. It's one of the most helpful pieces of advice you will receive.

3. Develop a thick skin. It's the best thing you can do for your work once that first draft is down. My ability to be objective about my own work, to "let it go", has stood me, I believe, in good stead. One star reviews no longer upset me. I can't afford to let them, so I've learned to shrug them off. Sometimes I even manage to laugh them off. (One or two of them are particularly memorable.) And let me tell you, a one star review is worse than a tough critique. A one star review is almost never constructive, thoughtful or sincere.

5. Finally, don't immediately send a rude email back to the person who spent hours working on your novel. That's definitely not professional. And whatever you do, don't email a second time with a string of insults and accusations. It's unlikely to make you feel better; it certainly won't make your story any better. But the report might. As writers we must develop the ability to take lots of things on the chin: rejection, bad reviews, poor sales. Most writers deal with this stuff throughout their careers. Receiving a thoughtful, detailed editorial report is actually one of the more positive writing experiences around. I promise!

I love helping people improve their writing, and I can't wait for the day when one of my critiquees becomes a published author. In the meantime, I will continue to provide honest, tough, constructive and (of course) objective criticism and feedback. It's what I'm paid to give, and it's what the writer pays to receive. Writing and publishing is tough, and we need all the help we can get.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How I found my first author (hint: enter writing competitions!)

It's been so long since I posted but I have an excuse: I've signed my first author for Louise Walters Books. She is Laura Laakso and we have signed a one book deal for her debut novel, Fallible Justice; which is the first story in Laura's paranormal detective series Wilde Investigations.

Laura and her dogs

I first became of Laura's work while reading for the 2017 Retreat West First Chapter Competition. Amanda Saint, who runs Retreat West asked me if I would help her read, and I jumped at the chance. She duly sent the stories through to me, and I started to read through them (I wrote a blog post about it here). 

I was bowled over by one of the chapters in particular (well, actually two of them were spectacular) but I was also confused by it. Was it brilliant or was it bo****ks? I just couldn't tell. So I asked Amanda this very question and she said it was brilliant. So we put it through to the long list. Then we put it through to the short list. Then it was picked as one of two runners up in the competition. By this time identities of the authors were revealed and two things struck me: I rather wistfully thought how great it would be to get a submission like Fallible Justice for the imprint I was then forming; and what a brilliant writer's name: Laura Laakso. It's a writerly name if ever I heard one.   

Fast forward a few months: My imprint was up and running, my boiler-plate contract drafted (that took hours of my life, I can tell you) and I was receiving submissions. One day a submission from Laura appeared in my inbox. I was thrilled but didn't want to get too excited. I read the submission and decided it wasn't right for me. So I turned it down, while asking to see the whole of Fallible Justice instead. Laura sent that through to me, I got it onto my Kindle before you could say #amwriting and I read it. Then I read it again, just to be sure. When I offered to publish it, I did point out to Laura that she could (should!) consider trying the agent-bigger publisher route. I feel her work is more than good enough to warrant attention from bigger players. Laura surprised and thrilled me by saying she preferred to work with a smaller outfit. 

The Society of Authors vetted our author agreement, and then Laura and I signed it early in November. I still can't believe I'm working with such a talented author from the very beginning of my publishing adventure. And I really can't wait to publish Laura's work. She deserves to garner an army of loyal fans and I will work my socks off to make that happen. It's going to be an exciting year. 

Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso will be published by Louise Walters Books on 8th November 2018, in paperback and e-book.