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NetGalley delivers the goods in Geoffrey McGeachin’s Blackwattle Creek

I have a confession to make: I have discovered http://www.NetGalley.com. Why I would decide to review soon-to-be-released novels, what with all of the editing I’m doing, looking after a one-year-old, and trying to establish two new web-based businesses, is beyond me. But I have, and my first NetGalley offering did not disappoint. Perhaps I need to be committed. If that is the case, please let it be any other asylum than Blackwattle Creek, the chilling setting for the first of my NetGalley reviews, which you can check out below…

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Blackwattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin, newly released by Penguin Group Australia

Title: Blackwattle Creek
Author: Geoffrey McGeachin
Publisher: Penguin Group Australia, May 2012
Get it at: Penguin, Amazon
Rating: *****

“One lie is all you need. One lie that you know is a lie, aye, that’s all you need to start everything on a path to unravelling.” —Charlie Berlin, Blackwattle Creek

When former bomber pilot and POW Charlie Berlin takes a much-needed vacation from his role as a detective sergeant in 1950s Melbourne, just after the ’56 Olympics, the last thing he needs is another case to solve. But when he grants his long-suffering wife and redeemer, Rebecca, a favour and interviews an elderly friend, who alerts him to body parts going missing at a funeral home, that is exactly what he gets—and more! When a colleague who helps him dig out evidence is beaten to a bloody pulp, witnesses are threatened, and a thug attempts to set fire to his house, Berlin’s investigations lead him to Blackwattle Creek, a former insane asylum where it seems the lunatics are now firmly in charge.

I had been wanting to read some of McGeachin’s work since he won the 2011 Ned Kelly Award for Crime Writing for The Diggers Rest Hotel—which also features this charming and distinctly Australian copper—and I was not disappointed. McGeachin has created a credible, likeable character in Charlie Berlin: a family man and all round sentimental bloke who has put the alcoholic, guilt-ridden, angry, self-abusive lifestyle (so stereotypical to crime novels) behind him (well, mostly!). The result is a gripping crime novel that is as much about suburban and family life in Australia in that decade as it is about the sinister politics and policies of the Cold War, which lead to the mystery’s chilling culmination.

McGeachin’s characters are commendably well-drawn, particularly charmingly erratic Hungarian immigrant Lazlo Horvay, and patient, decidedly non-Stepford Rebecca (who has a career as well as a vibrant wit and sex drive, even if she can bake a mean steak and kidney pie). While the mystery is embroiling, McGeachin also effectively conjures up nostalgic scenes of milk bars and jumping jacks, bodgies and widgies, bags of lollies, tombola marbles, fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, and sturdy, prized Studebakers—all in a Melbourne that seems more like a sprawling suburb than the modern metropolis it is today. It’s a Melbourne where people say, “You’ll do it because I’m a policeman, sunshine, and because I say so,” or “Thank you, squire.” And it is all the richer for that trip down memory lane. Of course, juxtaposing the cozy, almost parochial setting, is one of the gravest abuses of government and military power ever known. Together these elements combine to make Blackwattle Creek as touching as it is terrifying.

If I have one criticism, it is that sometimes the relationship between Berlin and Rebecca seems a little overwrought. In saying that, who couldn’t fall a little in love with a character who shivers whenever his wife touches him, indulges in the occasional “afternoon delight”, or concedes that his wife looks good in trousers, despite the prohibitive fashion of the age (shock horror)? I now plan to revisit Berlin’s life and find out more about how he and Rebecca met in The Diggers Rest Hotel, and I will keep an eye out for future installments in Charlie Berlin’s very interesting life. Five stars!

In the interests of full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book for Kindle from NetGalley.com

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Promotion and other evils

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Cage Life has had a facelift

Promotion is a funny thing, isn’t it? So time consuming. So draining. And yet, so very necessary for indie authors. I tallied up my total sales last night from the time I first put Cage Life out there on display as a kind of e-publishing experiment. With three books for sale, less than a year after my “experiment,” I have managed to place more than 29,000 books in the hands of readers. To be fair, the vast majority of those (easily 90%) were giveaways, with Growth having always been free and both Cage Life and Hey, Little Sister enjoying good free runs (either as part of Select or pre-select in the FREE boom days).

While that may look like a lot of books, my earnings have been less spectacular, hovering at just over $120. Part of that is because of the freebies, part is that I priced at $0.99 for a long time before I decided to trial a higher price, and part of it is that I’m far from selling the number I would like to be shifting each month. Had I released a novel by now, I might see more of an upswing in sales. It is difficult, I think, to sustain interest in short stories, poetry and children’s books, and the only solution is to ensure I take more time out for me to write. But … I have been countering that with consoling myself that if even one percent of those readers return when I next publish a book, that will be 290 readers I might not have attracted before. I’ve also changed Cage Life’s cover a little in an effort to boost sales, and have been busily sending off more review requests. As a result, I’ve received some wonderful reviews this week (which couldn’t have come at a better time, as health issues have made it a tiring, long and emotional week for me). The lovely mother and daughter team over at Parent’s Little Black Book of Books have reviewed both Cage Life and Hey, Little Sister for me and have given both five-stars, which was a fabulous surprise. You can see the review for my children’s book here, and if you write for kids, young adults or adults, I highly advise you to contact Loretta or Karen, who are both extremely quick and professional.

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It’s been a tough week, but 5-star reviews for Hey, Little Sister have helped put a smile on my face.

To counter my own little promotional dilemmas, I’ve also been hard at work compiling information for the free review sites ebook (which keeps getting pushed back but should now be a goer for June) and also the Indie Review Tracker Website, which is under production with a web guru at present. It should make it much easier for everyone to find reviewers, relevant forums and facebook pages, advertisement space, indie service providers and a whole lot more … yes, it just keeps getting bigger and better, and I just keep getting tireder and tireder. No matter, it will be well worth it when it comes out and I really hope others see it as a valuable tool that reduces their promotional time and “takes the puzzle out of promoting.” I’m currently looking for authors willing to guest post about their promotional experiences, so if you’re a strong blogger and you have great advice for authors, email me on karinwork@hotmail.com with “Indie Review Tracker Guest Blog” in the title.

The question is: would I have it any other way? The past ten months have been among my busiest ever (not least due to motherhood), and I’ve written more work for me and been more proactive at promoting my books than ever before. I’ve given a lot of thought this past month to what I aim to achieve with self-publishing. It started out as an experiment, and to be honest it still feels like one some days. Sometimes it feels incredible. Sometimes it feels like the goalposts are constantly shifting. Sometimes it feels like a crapshoot. A recent survey I wrote for indies discussing promotion, which you can go and complete here if you like, currently shows that of the more than 100 respondents 86% were either Extremely Satisfied or Moderately Satisfied that they self-published. (Note: All results of the survey will be published on the Indie Review Tracker site as soon as it goes live.) At present, I fall within the Moderately Satisfied crew. I know there is more I can to do to push my level up to Extremely Satisfied (more guest blogging, for instance, paid advertising, and more blogging in general, forging stronger connections, being involved in more indie community initiatives, and writing more books!) and that my promotional efforts will win out in the end, and if they don’t, I also know that books that ten months ago were available only on my computer hard-drive, now grace the libraries of 29,000 ebook readers … and surely that is worth something. 🙂

 

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