Saffina Desforges

Website URL: http://www.saffinadesforges.com

04
Jan 2012
We were thrilled to find out today that 'Sugar & Spice' won a Red Adept Reviews indie award in the MYSTERY category for 2011. How cool is that? We have lots more exciting news regarding 'Sugar & Spice' to come shortly, plus the new indiebooksunited.com bookstore, as well as some brilliant opportunities for our fab writers at MWiDP, so watch this space! If the first few days of 2012 are anything to go by, it's going to be a great year! Happy New Year everyone! It is so far! ;-) Saffi
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30
Dec 2011
So, happy New Years Eve eve! ;-) By the way, that was a question? What IS on the way for 2012? Now, as I've said before, my co-writer, mystic Mark (Williams), is the one with the crystal ball, so you won't find much in the way of predictions here on this blog, more a review and reaction to what HAS happened, not what MIGHT. For all things digital publishing and spooky speculation, check Mark's blog out. MWi. But here, today, let me tell you what HAS happened in 2011 and what WILL happen in 2012.
  • We were the only TRUE indie writers to make #2 in the Amazon (UK) paid store and #1 in Thrillers with Sugar & Spice
  • We sold over 125,000 books in our first year of publication
  • We set up MWiDP and now have over 100 titles from 40 odd cool writers live on Amazon
  • We made #2 on Waterstones ebook chart
  • We turned down two of the biggest lit agents in the US
  • We accepted a French translation and publishing deal for Sugar & Spice from a forward-thinking publisher who listens
  • We teamed up with some awesome people (Miriam Joy, Charley Robson and Elizabeth Ann West. Jeroen ten Berge & Athanasios to name but a few) who we are hoping to do more brilliant things with in the next year!
  • We wrote and published 4 books
  • We built (with the help of the brilliant Kristen Lamb) a social platform across several blogs, twitter, Facebook and every other social networking tool imaginable, that now reaches and connects tens of thousands of people
  • We spent our lives in front of a computer (without which, none of the above would have been possible)
We did a lot of other things too. Occasionally slept, ate and saw friends and family, but not so much of that! ;-) It's been a blast. So, what's next?
  • We will release Rapunzel in the first part of 2012
  • We will release Saffina Desforges presents...Vols 2 & 3 in the first quarter of 2012
  • We will release the co-written St.Mallory's forever! in the first quarter of 2012
  • We will release the first book of The Chinatown Mysteries, co-written with Elizabeth Ann West in the summer of 2012
  • We will release Book One in our new dark, urban fantasy trilogy for Halloween 2012
  • We will release Beauty & the Beast (book 3) and Little Red Riding Hood (book 4) of The Rose Red crime thriller series
  • We will open our new indie world bookstore IBU (indiebooksunited.com) coming soon!
  • We will release Vols 4, 5 & 6 of Saffina Desforges presents...
  • We will continue to build and grow the MWiDP cloud sharing partnership
  • We will fall out and disagree A LOT (Mark and I, that is)
  • We might even sleep
Oh and in-between all that, we're gonna teach the world to read!
In our spare time, we were planning on finding a way to shut Justin Beiber up, but that's secondary! ;-) (I am also doing the Four Peaks challenge in May for charity and will be bugging you all to sponsor me. Details to come)
So, we're gonna be busy to say the least.
We are HUGELY excited about the next twelve months and we wave good bye to the last with fondness as far as our writing and publishing careers are concerned.
All that remains is to wish you and yours a Happy New Year and hope that 2012 is great for you. Oh and to ask you this:
Will you be coming along for the ride?
Saffi
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21
Dec 2011
It’s been one crazy year for the Saffina Desforges team. Last Christmas the brand was completely unknown. Two debut novelists (one a complete newbie, the other with background in TV and theatre, but that counts for little when writing a book) writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Their book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. We had hopes we might start moving with all the new Kindles in the UK market, but it was not to be. It wasn’t until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures! It seemed the gatekeepers were right. Time and again they had turned us away, sometimes with encouraging words, more often not. At best we were told it was a great book but no publisher would touch it due to the sensitive subject matter. In March, after endless months of rejection, we finally had an agent who seemed seriously interested, and took the book under exclusive consideration. Bear in mind the UK ebook market was still embryonic at this stage. Were there even enough people in the UK with e-readers to make ebooks viable? We doubted it. So the latest agent seemed the answer to our dreams. At the time we would probably have signed anything she sent to us without even looking at it.  But the agent was slow. Very slow.  She loved the synopsis and openings and asked for the full script for her in-house reader. The in-house reader loved it. A glowing report came back. The agent asked for a further read. Weeks became months. March became May. We became a lot more worldly-wise. When the final decision came, we realized just how crazy the old system was. The agent wanted us to take the ebook down so she could start touting to publishers. Three months earlier we would have done so. We were selling nothing. But this was three months later. The week we sent our first rejection letter to an agent was the week Sugar & Spice broke the 50,000 sales barrier in the tiny UK market, and was the second biggest selling ebook in the country, competing – and beating – names we used to idolize. Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier in late summer, and despite an Amazon glitch with the buying links that saw the book literally disappear from Amazon for almost a month, the book continues to sell well today, a year on. And we continued to send out rejection letters, to both agents and publishers. Not because we had suddenly become anti-agent or anti-trad publisher, but because what they offered would have been a backward step. When we hit #2 on Kindle UK with 50k sales the almighty Trident Media Group, one of the biggest agencies on the planet, came cold-calling.  Months earlier we couldn’t get an agent to give us the time of day. Now New York’s finest were coming to us! Could this be our big break in the American market? Sadly not. In fact their representative had not even read the book, and when they finally did she wanted so many changes (to a book that by now had sold 60,000 and was still topping the charts!) it would have been unrecognizable. And this just to get them to approach a publisher, let alone whatever changes the publisher might demand. When the Trident agent then told us we had to withhold release of our new Rose Red crime thriller series until after they had approved it – this without us ever having signed a contract with TMG – we realized this and many other agents were living in some fantasy past world where writers were nothing more than an irritation in their all-important lives. When writers had no other options. While all this was going on we were also being approached by overseas agents and publishers. We let slip the name of one Turkish agent in telephone conversation and the next day Trident – with whom we had no agreement whatsoever – had contacted them to tell them TMG were running the show. Six months on Trident have yet to tell the Turkish agency that TMG are not, and never have been, our representatives. Shame on you, Trident Media Group. Other agency and publisher offers followed, with contracts ranging from merely unreasonable to downright despicable. Then along came an offer from France that immediately captured our interest. For starters, they had actually read the book! Nothing can be more instructive about an agent’s or publisher’s interest in you than they never having read the book they seek to represent / publish. Yet here was a French publisher interested in the Sugar & Spice story, not the Amazon ranking. So we moved to the next stage, to discuss T&Cs. Here to stress how important it is for all writers to understand that the true value of any deal is not in how much you get out of it, but how much you lose in the detail. Sure, that glitzy NY agency spiel or the big-dollar advance offered may be tempting. But at what cost to your integrity and future freedom as a writer? Trident told us (from the very first phone conversation they were dictating terms like they owned us!) our projects list of future books was “just silly”. We could only write crime thrillers for “the next three years”. Our urban dark fantasy, trilogy? Not a chance. Our YA boarding school series, St. Mallory’s? Forget it. Our China Town chicklit mystery series? Go stand in the corner for using foul language. Chicklit doesn’t sell! As for non-fiction... Trident’s rep almost jumped down the phone and grabbed up by the neck to shake sense into us. And as we looked at other publishers’ and agents’ contracts it became clear many were downright predatory. Non-compete conditions. Exclusivity. World rights despite they having no interest in anything outside the US/UK market. Loss of editorial control. Ridiculous advances and then a timetable to publication that made us wonder if we’d live long enough to see the first edition. Almost every clause was one-sided, and not in favour of the author. So when we were approached by this publisher in France we were wary. We loved their enthusiasm and personal approach, but Trident, and many others before and since, have been enthusiastic and friendly, until the contract came up. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the contract. So we went through it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, exchanged questions, asked for revisions, made suggestions, and discussed the whole deal on equal terms. And when we were quite satisfied, we signed. As is standard in such contracts there is a confidentiality clause which prohibits us giving the fine detail. But we’ll try to be as open as possible about what we gained, and more importantly about what we didn’t lose. First off, these guys moved fast. Within a matter of weeks from first contact with this publisher we had negotiated terms, signed and received the advance. I know you’re all dying to know how much, but we’re not at liberty to discuss that, or the royalty rates. Suffice to say we entered into this contract having weighed up every pro and con carefully, and we are delighted with the outcome. The deal is for French language rights only. Yes, there’s now a Kindle France site sitting there, ripe for exploitation. So why not stay completely indie and go it alone we hear you cry? Well, Sugar & Spice is a 120,000 word novel. The translation costs alone are exorbitant. Would we ever recover the costs of translation? If it took off big-time like in the UK, perhaps, but the French e-reader market is tiny by comparison with the UK. That will change, but when? 2012? 2015? We have no effective way of marketing in France anyway, and certainly no time to do so. We pondered a percentage deal with a translator, like David Gaughran and Scott Nicholson have done, but it’s a huge amount of work and time to translate a novel of this length, then to see it only available as an ebook in a country where ebooks are so new, and with no effective marketing. Now our French publisher MA will translate for us, get us into print on Paris book shelves and into hypermarkets, train stations and bookshelves all over France (Mark is ecstatic at that – it’s his favourite European country!), not to mention on amazon.fr. And as MA is widely distributed by a HUGE press over there we can expect a marketing campaign that may not match James Patterson’s, but will certainly be better than we could do on our own. On top of that we got an advance which, when you consider the deal is for one language and has absolutely no limitations on us selling again and again elsewhere around the world, compares very favourably with what US and UK publishers are typically offering for world rights. And of course we’re not giving away 15% of the advance, or the royalties, to an agent who picked up the phone on our behalf. IP lawyers? No need. This was a straight-forward contract with no hidden clauses or ambiguous language. Royalty numbers? Again, we’re not at liberty to discuss details, but MA were open to negotiation and we settled on a figure that compares very favourably with what’s being offered elsewhere. Yes, we could theoretically get 70% from Amazon by going it alone. But that would be digital only. We have no way of getting into any other French ebook outlets, and we have sold precisely four English-language books in France since the Kindle store opened. Now we get to see our book in print in Paris and on Amazon Kindle and other French ebook sites professionally translated and marketed. The math was simple. Seventy percent of nothing, or a smaller percentage of a very real something. Throw into the ring the additional problems we’ve had recently with Amazon – where a glitch they admit was their fault just last month cost us literally thousands of sales with no hope of compensation – and it was really a no-brainer. We lose absolutely nothing, and gain in almost every way. We’ve already banked the advance, and the translation for the print and ebook version of Sugar & Spice in France is on-going, with Paraphilia expected to hit the French market mid-2012. Yes, that soon! Paraphilia? Just one more benefit of having a French outfit on board to sell in France. Sugar & Spice translates easily enough, of course, but the traditional British nursery rhyme it draws upon (“sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of” – a reference to the story line of the hunt for a child-killer obsessed with little girls) is pretty much unknown in France, so the title was meaningless and potentially misleading. Something that would never have occurred to us as outsiders. So are we still indie? Of course we are! We are very excited about our partnership for 2012 with this forward-thinking publisher and are currently also discussing other options with them. But we built our brand up from nothing, with no help from any trad publisher or agent, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to release all our books as indie ebooks first, written how we want them written with covers we choose, published to a timetable that suits us, and priced as we see fit, for maximum royalties. Oh, and without paying 15% to an agent for doing so. And once we’ve proven the market we can negotiate from strength if and when another agent or publisher comes up with an offer for partial rights to those books. Or indeed for Sugar & Spice itself, which is still open to offers from publishers and agents anywhere that doesn’t speak French! But don’t even think of trying it on with your boilerplate contract for rookie writers like so many have recently! Take a lesson from MA on mutual respect. We may not be selling in James Patterson’s numbers, but we think all writers, whatever their status, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. And we sure as hell think we’ve earned the right to some. Saffi & Mark
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21
Dec 2011
It’s been one crazy year for the Saffina Desforges team. Last Christmas the brand was completely unknown. Two debut novelists (one a complete newbie, the other with background in TV and theatre, but that counts for little when writing a book) writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Their book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. We had hopes we might start moving with all the new Kindles in the UK market, but it was not to be. It wasn’t until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures! It seemed the gatekeepers were right. Time and again they had turned us away, sometimes with encouraging words, more often not. At best we were told it was a great book but no publisher would touch it due to the sensitive subject matter. In March, after endless months of rejection, we finally had an agent who seemed seriously interested, and took the book under exclusive consideration. Bear in mind the UK ebook market was still embryonic at this stage. Were there even enough people in the UK with e-readers to make ebooks viable? We doubted it. So the latest agent seemed the answer to our dreams. At the time we would probably have signed anything she sent to us without even looking at it.  But the agent was slow. Very slow.  She loved the synopsis and openings and asked for the full script for her in-house reader. The in-house reader loved it. A glowing report came back. The agent asked for a further read. Weeks became months. March became May. We became a lot more worldly-wise. When the final decision came, we realized just how crazy the old system was. The agent wanted us to take the ebook down so she could start touting to publishers. Three months earlier we would have done so. We were selling nothing. But this was three months later. The week we sent our first rejection letter to an agent was the week Sugar & Spice broke the 50,000 sales barrier in the tiny UK market, and was the second biggest selling ebook in the country, competing – and beating – names we used to idolize. Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier in late summer, and despite an Amazon glitch with the buying links that saw the book literally disappear from Amazon for almost a month, the book continues to sell well today, a year on. And we continued to send out rejection letters, to both agents and publishers. Not because we had suddenly become anti-agent or anti-trad publisher, but because what they offered would have been a backward step. When we hit #2 on Kindle UK with 50k sales the almighty Trident Media Group, one of the biggest agencies on the planet, came cold-calling.  Months earlier we couldn’t get an agent to give us the time of day. Now New York’s finest were coming to us! Could this be our big break in the American market? Sadly not. In fact their representative had not even read the book, and when they finally did she wanted so many changes (to a book that by now had sold 60,000 and was still topping the charts!) it would have been unrecognizable. And this just to get them to approach a publisher, let alone whatever changes the publisher might demand. When the Trident agent then told us we had to withhold release of our new Rose Red crime thriller series until after they had approved it – this without us ever having signed a contract with TMG – we realized this and many other agents were living in some fantasy past world where writers were nothing more than an irritation in their all-important lives. When writers had no other options. While all this was going on we were also being approached by overseas agents and publishers. We let slip the name of one Turkish agent in telephone conversation and the next day Trident – with whom we had no agreement whatsoever – had contacted them to tell them TMG were running the show. Six months on Trident have yet to tell the Turkish agency that TMG are not, and never have been, our representatives. Shame on you, Trident Media Group. Other agency and publisher offers followed, with contracts ranging from merely unreasonable to downright despicable. Then along came an offer from France that immediately captured our interest. For starters, they had actually read the book! Nothing can be more instructive about an agent’s or publisher’s interest in you than they never having read the book they seek to represent / publish. Yet here was a French publisher interested in the Sugar & Spice story, not the Amazon ranking. So we moved to the next stage, to discuss T&Cs. Here to stress how important it is for all writers to understand that the true value of any deal is not in how much you get out of it, but how much you lose in the detail. Sure, that glitzy NY agency spiel or the big-dollar advance offered may be tempting. But at what cost to your integrity and future freedom as a writer? Trident told us (from the very first phone conversation they were dictating terms like they owned us!) our projects list of future books was “just silly”. We could only write crime thrillers for “the next three years”. Our urban dark fantasy, trilogy? Not a chance. Our YA boarding school series, St. Mallory’s? Forget it. Our China Town chicklit mystery series? Go stand in the corner for using foul language. Chicklit doesn’t sell! As for non-fiction... Trident’s rep almost jumped down the phone and grabbed up by the neck to shake sense into us. And as we looked at other publishers’ and agents’ contracts it became clear many were downright predatory. Non-compete conditions. Exclusivity. World rights despite they having no interest in anything outside the US/UK market. Loss of editorial control. Ridiculous advances and then a timetable to publication that made us wonder if we’d live long enough to see the first edition. Almost every clause was one-sided, and not in favour of the author. So when we were approached by this publisher in France we were wary. We loved their enthusiasm and personal approach, but Trident, and many others before and since, have been enthusiastic and friendly, until the contract came up. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the contract. So we went through it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, exchanged questions, asked for revisions, made suggestions, and discussed the whole deal on equal terms. And when we were quite satisfied, we signed. As is standard in such contracts there is a confidentiality clause which prohibits us giving the fine detail. But we’ll try to be as open as possible about what we gained, and more importantly about what we didn’t lose. First off, these guys moved fast. Within a matter of weeks from first contact with this publisher we had negotiated terms, signed and received the advance. I know you’re all dying to know how much, but we’re not at liberty to discuss that, or the royalty rates. Suffice to say we entered into this contract having weighed up every pro and con carefully, and we are delighted with the outcome. The deal is for French language rights only. Yes, there’s now a Kindle France site sitting there, ripe for exploitation. So why not stay completely indie and go it alone we hear you cry? Well, Sugar & Spice is a 120,000 word novel. The translation costs alone are exorbitant. Would we ever recover the costs of translation? If it took off big-time like in the UK, perhaps, but the French e-reader market is tiny by comparison with the UK. That will change, but when? 2012? 2015? We have no effective way of marketing in France anyway, and certainly no time to do so. We pondered a percentage deal with a translator, like David Gaughran and Scott Nicholson have done, but it’s a huge amount of work and time to translate a novel of this length, then to see it only available as an ebook in a country where ebooks are so new, and with no effective marketing. Now our French publisher MA will translate for us, get us into print on Paris book shelves and into hypermarkets, train stations and bookshelves all over France (Mark is ecstatic at that – it’s his favourite European country!), not to mention on amazon.fr. And as MA is widely distributed by a HUGE press over there we can expect a marketing campaign that may not match James Patterson’s, but will certainly be better than we could do on our own. On top of that we got an advance which, when you consider the deal is for one language and has absolutely no limitations on us selling again and again elsewhere around the world, compares very favourably with what US and UK publishers are typically offering for world rights. And of course we’re not giving away 15% of the advance, or the royalties, to an agent who picked up the phone on our behalf. IP lawyers? No need. This was a straight-forward contract with no hidden clauses or ambiguous language. Royalty numbers? Again, we’re not at liberty to discuss details, but MA were open to negotiation and we settled on a figure that compares very favourably with what’s being offered elsewhere. Yes, we could theoretically get 70% from Amazon by going it alone. But that would be digital only. We have no way of getting into any other French ebook outlets, and we have sold precisely four English-language books in France since the Kindle store opened. Now we get to see our book in print in Paris and on Amazon Kindle and other French ebook sites professionally translated and marketed. The math was simple. Seventy percent of nothing, or a smaller percentage of a very real something. Throw into the ring the additional problems we’ve had recently with Amazon – where a glitch they admit was their fault just last month cost us literally thousands of sales with no hope of compensation – and it was really a no-brainer. We lose absolutely nothing, and gain in almost every way. We’ve already banked the advance, and the translation for the print and ebook version of Sugar & Spice in France is on-going, with Paraphilia expected to hit the French market mid-2012. Yes, that soon! Paraphilia? Just one more benefit of having a French outfit on board to sell in France. Sugar & Spice translates easily enough, of course, but the traditional British nursery rhyme it draws upon (“sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of” – a reference to the story line of the hunt for a child-killer obsessed with little girls) is pretty much unknown in France, so the title was meaningless and potentially misleading. Something that would never have occurred to us as outsiders. So are we still indie? Of course we are! We are very excited about our partnership for 2012 with this forward-thinking publisher and are currently also discussing other options with them. But we built our brand up from nothing, with no help from any trad publisher or agent, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to release all our books as indie ebooks first, written how we want them written with covers we choose, published to a timetable that suits us, and priced as we see fit, for maximum royalties. Oh, and without paying 15% to an agent for doing so. And once we’ve proven the market we can negotiate from strength if and when another agent or publisher comes up with an offer for partial rights to those books. Or indeed for Sugar & Spice itself, which is still open to offers from publishers and agents anywhere that doesn’t speak French! But don’t even think of trying it on with your boilerplate contract for rookie writers like so many have recently! Take a lesson from MA on mutual respect. We may not be selling in James Patterson’s numbers, but we think all writers, whatever their status, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. And we sure as hell think we’ve earned the right to some. Saffi & Mark
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15
Dec 2011
Wow! What a year 2011 has been for digital publishing and the growth of the digital/ebook! I am not going to start sprouting stats and figures and predicting 2012/2013 growth (Mark does that here), we all know what possibilities 2012 will bring and can pretty much put money on the continued upward trend of digital outpacing paper. No, what I want to talk about is a bit more fun than that. As a writer, you often have little visions/images/scenes/films running in your head; you all know what I am talking about. We've all had that character sashaying their way into your imagination whilst in the middle of Tesco.  My co-writer, Mark, takes it one step further and has full-blown night visits (but that's a story for another day). Anyway, you get my drift. If you're a reader visiting this blog, then you may not know what I mean, but any fiction writer will tell you it's true. Stories kinda write themselves, characters have a way of introducing themselves to you when you least expect it and taking your book off in a completely different direction, that is why we never plan our novels. It's also why I LOVE writing. I have never had to sit down and think about a story, cool huh? But, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, Kindle Christmas. Now, it is no secret that most of our 125,000 plus ebook sales in our first year have been through Amazon (and mostly UK), approximately 85% at a rough guess, although we have started to sell very well on Waterstones UK ebook site and currently have two books in the Top 20, but let's face it, for us, this year, it's all about the 'zon. So we are very excited to see what happens over Christmas this year (it is really our first festive period of selling given that we only uploaded 'Sugar & Spice' at the end of November 2010 and didn't do any promotion) when an anticipated 12 million Kindles will find their way to new homes.  Awww, isn't she purdy? (of course it's a girl, she can do more than one thing at once!) ;-) I have contributed to those sales, I currently have one in my cupboard for my mum for Christmas and when I racked my brains to remember where I had put it the other day, that is when I had my funny little vision. All over the world, in drawers, attics, under beds, hidden in wardrobes, under trees and even in obscure places like behind the fridge, there are millions upon millions of baby Kindles just waiting to be set free! I can see them squealing and squirming in their little brown boxes, jigging about with excitement, counting down the days until some lucky wife, mother, father, brother, sister or the next door neighbours' cats' vet opens that package on Christmas morning! It'll be like a scene from Gremlins! As if they multiply when one person plugs them in, another one appears! Tee hee. Made me laugh. It also frightens the hell out of me! Will Amazon be prepared for the surge? Will their servers cope? What will happen to sales and the charts? Will there be a boom on other e-reader sites like Kobo etc? Who knows... I guess we'll have to wait and see, but one thing is for sure, the 'zon elves are hard at work as we speak and I hope Ole St Nic had the foresight to tie Amazon into a 'parts delivered' deal, cos when most people open their pressies on the 25th, you can bet your life there'll be a Kindle in there somewhere! Happy 'Kindle' Christmas to all of our readers and fellow writers and publishers. I wonder what we'll be saying this time next year! ;-) Saffi
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27
Nov 2011
  Yes, it's live! A cool collection of shorts from Tracy Marchini, Anne R Allen, Miriam Joy, Peter Salisbury, Misti Wolanski, Michael Yarwood, Debbie Bennett, Katrina Parker Williams, Pam Howes and of course, us! Er, actually, nope! We haven't got a story in this one, but watch out for Vol 2, where "Grime & punishment' will be making an appearance! Short story sex on a stick! (and no, there's no sex!) Amazon UK Amazon.com
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13
Nov 2011
Happy Sunday everyone! Hope you're all having a great weekend - soon be Christmas! ;-) Anyway, it's been a while since I posted on this blog as I have been busy with Halloween and the likes over at SM0D&L and trying to get MWiDP off the ground, as well as attempting to write and get on with the 'behind the scenes' stuff with Mark for our new digital bookstore, so please forgive me! But here I am and so too is a new-found friend and fellow Saffite, Ray the Rat. Ray and I have been conversing (virtually you understand) for some time now since he got in touch after reading Sugar & Spice and then Snow White. He has even helped out with answering a few police related questions for the books. He's a nice guy; he also used to be a Bobby. Yup, a real-life policeman. So, give that one of our vices is writing best-selling crime thrillers, I thought it might be nice to have Ray tell us about the real job of being a copper. We all know that we use a huge slice of artistic licence when writing fiction and have to rely on readers suspending belief for the duration, I mean, hey, that's what we do, right? Make things up. But we do try and make things believable, even if we stretch the boundaries sometimes, so I asked ray what it was really like being on the beat. He has often commented that he loves the banter in Snow White between the guys on Red's team and how he misses it, so I railroaded him into putting down some of his experiences for us. By his own admission, he isn't a writer and he asked me to edit what he sent me, but I decided against it. So, in his own words, unedited and un spell-checked, here's Ray:
Case stated Real Police work v the fictional police characters in books Being an avid reader of crime books there is no comparison to doing the real thing. Having completed 35 years in the police it’s had its ups and downs but now retired it’s the people you worked with you miss the most. I can relate to many coppers in books however what these fail to show is the hard work and dedication show by many who serve our community. Many officers work together in either squads or on a fixed shift pattern so it was always imperative that loyalty and trust was there amongst the group. I was lucky throughout my service that those I worked with were a great bunch of colleagues. Competition amongst these groups was always ongoing and had a lasting effect on how we achieved our work. For many officers work typically consists of routine tasks contrary to popular belief, paperwork consumes the majority of an officer’s day. It is imperative that records and reports of all incidents are maintained to a high standard to ensure that the end result is the right one. Having worked on a number of high profile cases the amount of papers these generate is totally unbelievable. In my early years as a detective I was lucky enough to work with a number of senior officers with years of experience who guided me through all the mechanics of the system although these days’ police tactics have evolved a lot quicker to meet criminal trends. Computer systems these days are highly technical and take onboard large quantities of data and assist in analyzing and profiling cases. One such piece of software is HOLMES 2 an investigation management system to assist law enforcement organisations in their management of the complex process of investigating serious crimes. It enables them to improve effectiveness and productivity in crime investigations, helping to solve crimes more quickly and improve detection rates.
In 1986, UK Police Forces started to employ the original Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (HOLMES) in all major incidents including serial murders, multi-million pound fraud cases and major disasters the system was updated in 1994 and is now used by all UK Police Forces.
In a typical major investigation, many documents, in the form of Statements, etc., are produced; all of these have to be carefully processed to ensure that vital clues are not overlooked. I only wished that we had the system in 1987 when I joined the extremely large squad of officers and police staff covering the Kings Cross underground fire, this enquiry found myself working on the case for approximately three years. There were thousands of statements, exhibits and had two enquires running alongside each other, one the cause of the fire and secondary the identification of all the bodies. In the last six months I had the erroneous tasks of identifying the last body, looking back now how I could have done with the HOLMES system the amount of paperwork was unreal. I even resorted to physic help without success however that’s another story. Eventually some years later with the advent of DNA and some more paper shifting one of my senior colleagues identified the body. One excellent crime book I have recently read is Fran Hiatt’s 24hours from Tulse Hill, very compelling but just how can one Detective Superintendent, a crippled Detective Sergeant on loan from the Metropolitan Police, and a Detective Constable solve a number of murders without a full major incident room and the use of the Holmes 2. Of course the reason being it’s only a story and one can only use so many words, to include all the mundane procedures in the case would only leave the reader bored. Books must tell an intriguing story for its reader and therefore must be exciting and easy to read. TV serials and films are similar in that they try to cram in an entire case from scene discovery to investigation to interviews to suspect development to interrogation to arrest to charge to pre-trial negotiations to trial to verdict in the space of forty minutes. Even uncompressed, you can still tell that people are wearing the same clothes between events that should be separated by weeks; the season doesn't change throughout the course of the process, and so on. Even painfully simple cases generally take weeks to months to dispose of. Murders and other serious crime will take years to clear. At the end of any successful major crime case the it’s the whole team of police staff who should be congratulated on their performance and this includes the senior officers, detectives, uniform officers, analysts, intelligence officers, surveillance officers, police civilian staff, and  CPS staff. Most factual accounts focus on exciting police activities like captures, shoot outs, and car chases while largely ignoring the mundane and routine or social work functions. Even documentaries are edited to contain the most interesting police encounters. The news media also focuses on the issue of police misconduct. This is not difficult to explain given the news media's self-proclaimed watchdog function, the fact that police have considerable discretion and are permitted to use weapons, and that police misconduct is a violation of public trust. Crime is ideal for illustrating moral issues. Because we live in a society where the fear of crime is more prevalent than crime itself, that’s why novels, television and films on criminal activity are so popular. The storyline in Sugar and Spice where the local sex offender Thomas Bristow is arrested by the Met Police and makes confessions under extreme conditions is a bit farfetched for me. Yes, perhaps many years ago but the introduction of PACE (The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the PACE codes of practice provide the core framework of police powers and safeguards around stop and search, arrest, detention, investigation, identification and interviewing detainees) and CCTV in custody areas would not allow this type of practise. Yes we’ve had bent coppers in the force but with all the technology around these days it would be almost impossible to get away with it. Yes we strive to get a conviction but even today too many villains still get away. I suppose many authors use a real person as a character in their books but they find ways to enhance the character so by the time this person is finished you would probably hardly recognise them. Most books invariably use murder as a crime the one for which there is no possible reparation for the victim and expiation for the perpetrator. So what does a police officer do? Much time is spent responding to calls and patrolling. Some officers are also asked to do community policing. This is where an officer stays within a certain jurisdiction and builds relationships with individuals. The role of a police officer is extremely important in today’s complex society where crime comes in forms ranging from minor disturbances involving out of control teenagers, to highly organised crime rings. At the most basic level, officers on street constitute a visual deterrent to opportunist criminals and provide a rapid response and support unit to victims of an actual crime or incident. Some officers are trained in both traditional, time honoured and state of the art technical detection techniques in order to uncover the perpetrators of complex; planned crimes. In dealing with criminals the role carries with it a high risk of danger. Specialist training, working in teams and both defensive equipment such as incapacitate spray, and protective vests help minimise the danger of personal injury but do not eliminate it, likewise nor do the extendable baton, speed cuffs and a secure personal radio. A Police Officer's daily responsibilities are varied and may change each day along with the situations encountered. In a normal day a Police Officer may have to perform any of the following duties: Meeting and conversing with local residents and small business owners, making enquiries into crimes, responding to emergency 999 calls, interviewing suspected criminals and witnesses to crime, providing emotional support to victims of crime, conducting searches for missing persons, giving evidence against criminals in court, providing security at accident sites such as fires and car crashes, providing extra security at large gatherings such as concerts, football matches and public celebrations, visiting the local community to educate vulnerable citizens about crime prevention, filling out reports, dealing with drunk, disorderly or violent offenders, arresting suspects and escorting them to the local police station for interview. So what qualifications do we need: - No official qualifications are required to begin training as a Police Officer and each police force takes care of its own recruitment procedures. However you must: Be a UK citizen; be over the age of 18, pass background and security checks, declare any previous convictions, have a good standard of physical fitness and vision. To be accepted onto the Police training programme you must first pass an aptitude test which focuses on areas such as decision making ability and communication skills. There is also a psychometric, a health and a fitness test. The first two years as a Police Officer are spent training on the IPLDP (Initial Police Learning and Development Programme). This involves learning on the job as well as working towards an NVQ Level 3 in Policing with the requirement to attain a NVQ Level 4 in Policing around the end of the two year training period. Over the years you develop the job skills i.e. dealing with the public, victims of crime and dangerous or potentially dangerous situations and people, requires a range of skills and abilities. The personal requirements of a Police Officer would include: Strong communication skills, the ability to empathise with or direct a conversation, the ability to keep a cool head in volatile or threatening situations, bravery in the face of danger but not headstrong stupidity, ability to make decisions quickly and prioritise when under pressure, discipline and the ability to follow orders and give them, good manners when dealing with the public, a sense of humour and a sense of dignity, an honest nature and a  strong desire to help other people before oneself. So to sum up real police work is phenomenally boring. You’re doing tremendous amounts of work to make tiny little breakthroughs. The crime writer on the other hand concentrates on the breakthrough moments, rather than all the boring, grinding work that goes on before these moments. All the writer and reader what’s to know particularly at a murder scene is who is there, who’s in charge, how many people are there, what happens first and then next, where does the body go next all the type of things that make the story real. Not that officers are taking statements, doing a reconstruction of the events, doing house to house enquires, ensuring the family of the victims are being given support and the hundred and one things going on back at the police station. Writers are there to tell a story and offer the reader a good piece of entertainment. That’s probably why all detectives are shown as being divorced because it is the reality, having drink problems because of the nature of the work i.e.  Working long hours, seeing some of the nasty things we have to deal with and having to deal with loads of stress. I suppose at the end of the day it makes the detective in what every rank more interesting. The sweat and frustration, and the blind loyalty inside the service and the social difficulties outside it, the occasional successes the ever present problem of public relations all combine to give an in depth view of the police at work. At the end of the day an author is similar in one way to a copper they both carry a notebook one to create a storyline or two, the other to record the factual evidence of an event or incident. All criminals are caught by taking statements not by reading books. Making a case which will stand up in court and persuading the CPS to take to court and then securing a conviction. In true life it’s about identifying and charging the suspect, securing that conviction. It’s a few hundred statements, a few hours interrogating the suspect complying with Pace, then going to court having your own character torn to pieces by defending counsel and a fifty-fifty chance of success. One last thought: the final piece of the jigsaw, the court case, this can be terrifying as the case can be won or lost at this last stage. Hardly any book I’ve read goes into this procedure most are complete when the arrest is made or in some cases the major suspect dies. Luckily I learnt my court procedure’s in the early days before the Crown Prosecution Service came into existence. My very first week as a probationary constable aged 19years, there I was standing on the steps leading up to court number one with my very first arrest, a young man I nicked for ABH (Actual bodily harm) plus numerous other officers with their prisoner’s, drunks, prostitutes, and all the low lifers who treaded the London streets. It was a real and frightening encounter but I managed to get through it and learnt many lessons of how to deal with the whole court experience. Something which the copper of day cannot do as the CPS now deals with cases and some officers can be out of their probation when they first go to court. One tip if you ever have to give evidence in court try to answer either yes or no, once you start to expand your answer, counsel will start digging into you.
Thanks Ray! Great to hear from a 'proper copper'. So, that's it for today, I'm all 'police procedural'd' out. Time I beat it, you know, cop for a fast exit, make like a Swastika and leave a Saffi-shaped hole in the wall, get the flock outta here! ;-) S'laters. Saffi
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04
Nov 2011
Ok, so strictly speaking, it was the SIXTH of November - so sue me! A year ago this weekend, I was preparing to go to a bonfire party  and celebrate the famous Gun Powder plot and Guido Fawkes' failed attempt at  blowing up the Houses of Parliament (as is our strange British tradition) with friends and family, armed with fireworks. Ok, nothing out of the ordinary there eh? Dead right. Another ordinary Bonfire night weekend. What I did the next day however, changed my life. You all know the story, so I won't bore you with the details, but 12 months ago this weekend, we released 'Sugar & Spice'. It's fair to say that the first three months of it being live on Amazon were about as exciting as a dud Catherine Wheel, a wet sparkler or a rocket with no fuse (you get the picture , right?), but what happened after that, lit a fire up under our asses! We went on to hit the #2 spot on the UK Amazon Kindle Paid chart 3 times and spent just under 200 days in the top 100, selling almost 75,000 copies in the space of 5 months. To this day, we'll never know what would have happened if we hadn't made the mistake of messing with categories and therefore the unfathomable algorithms of 'Zon (a nod to Shea there) and if KDP hadn't stuck our book in the invisible e-wilderness for two days, but hey, we live and learn. I have done radio and newspaper interviews; locally and nationally, spoken to reporters from Sunday magazines, had photo shoots, worked with the local college, given hundreds of blog interviews, answered questions, written guest posts and spent 99% of my life glued to a computer. We have created a web-site, six blogs,  three twitter accounts, four Facebook pages and joined hundreds, yes, hundreds of writer/author/readers groups online. We have re-written 'Sugar & Spice' for the American market, published the first of the Rose Red crime series 'Snow White' and are working on the second, 'Rapunzel'. We have started a young adult boarding school project called 'St. Mallory's Forever', begun work on the first book in a chick-lit mystery series 'The ChinaTown Mysteries', resurrected the first book of the dark urban fantasy series, 'Equilibrium: First blood' and completed half of that, and have sketched out books 3, 4 and 5 of Rose Red. Oh, and we turned down representation from two of the biggest literary agencies in New York. When we weren't doing that or sleeping, we founded a Digital press for the 21st Century to help other authors and writers from across the pond to get their books noticed called MWiDP (markwiliamsinternationaldigitalpublishing). In the first month of it going live, we now have 65 titles live on Amazon from 30 odd authors. Within the next few weeks before Christmas, we will be launching our new digital bookstore, MWiebooks (more on that soon), releasing the first anthology of short stories under the 'Saffina Desforges presents...' banner and publishing the second in the Rose Red series. 2012 will see the launch of many other projects (and books!) but most notably, SDTW2R. Saffina Desforges teaches the world 2 read is a fabulous concept. Mark will be explaining more about that in the coming months. So, as you can see, it's been a busy year. As is stands today, 12 months after dipping our virginal toes in the shark-infested waters of 'indie publishing' we can state this:
  • It's been hard
  • It isn't easy
  • You'd be mad to attempt it
  • We need a brain transplant - each
  • Our lives have changed forever
  • We've loved every minute of it!
We can also tell you this:
  • Sugar & Spice has sold over 100,000 copies and is STILL in the top 400 books on Amazon UK and #3 in Waterstones and selling thousands a month
  • Snow White has only been out 10 weeks and is also selling thousands (and is currently number 9 in Waterstones)
  • We did it all without an agent
  • We can't believe any of the above has actually happened!
It's been the most exciting year of my life (and the greatest and hardest in some respects, personally) and I cannot believe what we have achieved in such a short space of time. Who knows what the next twelve months will bring? One thing is for sure though, life will never be the same again! ;-)
Happy Bonfire night/fireworks night/Guy Fawkes night/Friday/Weekend/birthday/Bar mitzvah/anniversary whatever day, stay safe and remember, remember: Guy Fawkes may not have succeeded in his plot, but there were still fireworks!
Light that fuse... ;-)
Saffi
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27
Oct 2011
Well, sometimes, life never ceases to amaze me. Here I was, after having spent all day online, promoting our authors in our new digi-publishing venture (MWiDP), blogging, checking the charts, writing about Halloween on my sister blog etc etc, looking at the news... you know, generally being a writer in the 21st century, and I see this article on the Daily Telegraph site: Article Wow. This was the man (and I use the term loosely) that inspired our best-seller Sugar & Spice. This is the monstrous serial killer that caused my writing partner, Mark, so many sleepless nights. Cost him two years of his life whilst he researched him, robbed the families of three precious girls their futures. He actually doesn't deserve our time and thoughts. He has been found guilty of a FOURTH murder.
Robert Black now ranks among Britain's most prolific serial killers. Scotland-born Black had denied murdering Jennifer Cardy in August 1981. The nine-year-old disappeared after leaving her home at Balinderry in County Antrim to cycle the short distance to a friend's house. The discovery of her red bicycle sparked a six-day search.
If you've read 'Sugar & Spice', you'll already see the similarities. Although our story is very far removed from these heinous crimes, the murders were what inspired the book that has now sold over 100,000 copies. But, there's a difference: Our book is fiction. Purely an idea from something real. This guy, well, he crossed the line. In fact, the reporter today called him a "lost cause of humanity" We have been slated in some areas for how close to the mark 'Sugar & Spice' is and had numerous communications from police offers and social workers not liking how they were portrayed in the book. Let me tell you now, make no mistake; the research came from first-hand experience. If only things had been done differently at the time? Anyway, I am not here to talk about that, I am here to marvel at the forensic science that has enabled this monster to be convicted yet again. A till recipe. Sheesh. I think they said nine and a half years that the parents of that little girl have had to wait for a verdict. Jennifer Cardy, today was about you and your family and the girls and families of the other victims, not him. I know it will be of little comfort that he (no longer afforded a name, as he isn't of this world) is convicted of one more crime, but please take heart that the nation and the world are with you. And they're pleased. Pleased that this monster is no longer free to walk the streets. Sorry that he wasn't stopped. This blog is for you, Jennifer Cardy and the others, not him. May you RIP. xxx As for him: "He killed childhood as much as he killed children." Let's hope not...
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Saffina Desforges is an international best-seller writer.

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