Thursday, 25 November 2010

Because you’re worth it? What an author REALLY earns...

Since the Great Horse stories are obviously boring people to death, I have decided to blog about money this week for a change. Last weekend, the Guardian magazine carried an interesting article on typical earnings for various professions. My author (who is permanently panicking about the state of her bank balance) was glued to it! Here they are in ascending order of earning power:

Cleaner: £5,000
Alternative Therapist: £5,000
Waiter: £9,000
Small Shop Owner: £9,600 - £12,000
Milkman: £15,000
Architect: £25,000
Cartographer: £20,000 + 1% of sales
Canon (church): £22,000 + rent-free vicarage
Mechanic: £23,400
Pub Landlady: £25,000
Landscape Gardener: £28,000
Police Constable: £28,000
Oxfam Head of PR: £40,000
Psychotherapist: £40,000
Pharmacist: £40,157
Speech Therapist: £40,050
GP: £51,000
Dentist (private practice): £57,500
Criminal Barrister: up to £60,000
Member of Parliament: £65,738
Reality TV Director: £67,000
Airline Pilot: £120,000
Journalist: between £180,000 and £200,000
Banker: £170,000 + annual bonus of £400,000

Notably, there were no authors in the Guardian article. Why not? Aren’t people curious enough? Couldn’t they find an author willing to tell them? Or does the (rather high-earning, in the Muse's opinion) journalist make up for it?

These are the Muse’s theories:
(1) Authors’ earnings vary widely, so to take any single author and ask how much they earn would be misleading as a glimpse of the profession as a whole.

(2) If you ask a particular author what they earned last year, and what they earned ten years ago, the two figures are likely to be wildly different. An author’s earnings can only really be calculated as an average over the course of their career, and taking a snapshot in a single year is likely to be misleading.

(3) Authors do not like to embarrass their publisher or themselves by giving exact details of their advance or royalty deal, which can give rise to such vagueness in interviews as “four figure advance” (a typical advance for a children’s book is between £1,000 and £9,000), which can interpreted as “four zeroes” by the interviewer and erroneously reported as anywhere between £10,000 and £90,000 according to how well the author is seen to be doing at the time!

(4) The Guardian didn’t need to interview an author, since everybody knows authors are all millionaires like JK Rowling.

All right, if they had interviewed JK Rowling, she would probably appear at the end of the list, some way after the Banker. But what about normal authors who haven’t had a Hollywood film deal for seven books or written a runaway best-seller? What can you realistically expect to earn over the course of your career if you have average success, win an award or two, collect a handful of foreign language translations, and have the occasional brief flirt with a best-seller list?

Well, my author has done all those things, and she has now been doing her author accounts for 13 years, which is long enough to give a fair spread of her earnings. So I prodded her with my glittery horn and asked her to spill the beans. She can’t give details of contracts or advances here because she obviously has to respect her confidentiality clauses, but since she's self-employed there’s nothing to stop her making public her annual earnings, so you can compare these to the figures listed above.

If you're considering a career as an author, and wondering if you'll ever earn enough to pay off your student loan, the Muse has put all Katherine's numbers into a calculator and crunched them up. Taking an average over the 12 years since she signed her first book contract, my author's net earnings (after deducting expenses such as computer, paper, postage, and agent's commission) work out at £12,432 per year. On the Guardian scale, this puts her somewhere between the Waiter and the Small Shop Owner, earning more than the Cleaner and the Alternative Therapist, but slightly less than the Milkman.

Not so bad, you might think, except remember these are not regular earnings coming in each month, and there is no telling what - if anything - she might earn next year, or in ten years time. Over this 12-year period, Katherine's annual income has varied widely between a “feeling quite rich” £34,200 (in 2002) and “feeling desperately poor” £1,060 (in 2009, mainly due to not selling any of her new work after "I am the Great Horse"). This means if you're hoping to make a long term living as an author, it’s always a good idea to do some careful financial planning, however well things seem to be going at the time!

Finally, just to prove how misleading those million dollar deals you read about in the press can be, the Daily Mail interviewed Katherine shortly after she’d signed her seven-book contract with HarperCollins. When they asked her how much it was worth, she said it was a “five figure advance” (for seven books), which was reported as £100,000... A hundred thousand?!!! That's six figures, not five, and a long way off the (lowish) five figures she actually got for her seven book series, which worked out as a fairly average four-figure advance per book. She actually earned £12,600 that year, pretty much the average of her earnings spread across her career so far. It's a bit like airbrushing photos of celebrities to make them seem thinner and younger and prettier – only in reverse, because an author seems more glamorous when they are earning more money, and books tend to sell better when an author seems glamorous. And it must have worked, too, because after being featured in the Daily Mail "The Great Pyramid Robbery" sold enough copies to pay royalties of almost double its original advance before sadly going out of print last year.

Of course, this is just Katherine's earnings so far, and she has not yet written her best-selling Hollywood multi-deal series (she's got me hard at work on that right now). You might well earn more than my author. Your Muse might be more of a ninja vampire than an enchanted unicorn. You might write a book that everybody goes mad for, a Da Vinci Code or a Twilight, maybe. You might secure a major advance from a big publisher who will then do all they can to catapult your work into the best-seller lists. You might get that film deal you were dreaming of and be wined and dined in Disneyland…. there’s no upper limit on an author’s salary, so you MIGHT.

But remember there’s no lower limit either, and no such thing as a minimum wage for the self-employed. So between you and me, if you are seeking a career with guaranteed riches and a nice fat bonus to buy your Christmas presents, the Muse thinks you’re probably better off being a Banker…. only don't tell my author, or she might get ideas!

So is Katherine “worth it”? Answers in the comments, please.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Great Horse Stories - Petasios' Story

Chestnut stallion
Rider: Hephaestion

Hi there! My name’s Petasios, and I was meant to be Alexander’s warhorse. The royal horsemaster picked me out himself and paid good money for me – well, it was the king’s money, but I think that’s all right since he was buying me for the prince. He ordered the grooms to give me the best stable and polish my coat until it shone fiery red like the rising sun. I got the best oats with herbs and honey, and the best of care. The only bad part was when the horsemaster took it upon himself to train me personally. He’s the sort of rider who expects immediate obedience. As long as you behave yourself, everything’s fine, but if you don’t… look out.

Anyway, I’m a well-bred horse and not one to pick a fight, so we got along well enough until the day Bucephalas saw me practising my battle leaps on the riding ground. He was being led out by his groom, Charmeia. She’s a girl-filly and not very big, so it was a bit much to expect her to hold on to Bucephalas when he leapt the fence and came galloping straight for me with his ears pinned flat to his head and his mouth open wide. He’s huge, and judging by his battle scars he'd won a lot more fights than me. So I whipped round double quick and got out of his way. It’s the only sensible thing to do when your opponent is twice your size and twice as angry. Trouble was, I forgot the horsemaster was on my back at the time. He didn’t turn quite as quickly as I did, and fell off in front of all the king's men.

Oh, was there trouble! The grooms sniggered behind his back because none of them liked him very much. He couldn’t take it out on me, because I was going to be Alexander’s special horse, so he took it out on poor Charm instead. Bucephalas gave me an evil squeal and dominated my dung pile on the way out. That’s a bit humiliating if you’re a stallion, but at least I got back to my stable alive. I knew I should apologise to Bucephalas, because it’s always a good idea to be friends with the dominant stallion in your herd, but he was out the back in the mule stable, so I couldn’t. I didn’t see Bucephalas again until Alexander returned from school and our grooms rushed around in a frenzy to prepare the best horses for him and his friends to ride into battle.

I got a special grooming and they dressed me up in a fancy purple cloth with tassels. It was the finest cloth I’d ever worn. I felt a horse and a half, I can tell you, when the horsemaster led me out to meet my rider. But Alexander took one look at me and said I was too small. He needed a proper mount to thrash the Maedi rebels. His rejection rather took the spring out of my step, I’ll admit, though I was a bit relieved too. Groom gossip said Alexander liked to lead from the front, which meant his horse would be the first to face the enemy spears. That takes a special sort of bravery, and I knew just the horse for it.

Even as Alexander spoke, there was a scuffle over at the gate and Bucephalas, wearing a scruffy cloth, pranced across the riding ground dragging his groom after him. The horsemaster tried to lead me forward, but Alexander got angry and told him he didn’t have a job any more. Bucephalas went down on one knee to let the prince mount. Then the pair of them were up and showing off their battle skills, while Alexander’s friends cheered them on. I got a bit worried they’d leave me behind, so I danced about and whinnied to remind them I didn't have a rider yet. The horsemaster jerked my rein. But Alexander’s friend Hephaestion, who didn’t have a mount yet, put a gentle hand on my nose. “Don’t worry, Petasios,” he said. “I think you’re beautiful. How would you like to carry me?”

At first I was a bit nervous. Hephaestion wanted to ride me at Alexander’s side, and Bucephalas made it clear he didn’t like any other horse’s nose in front of his, especially mine. But I soon worked out he couldn’t see much on his left side, so that’s where I stationed myself. It wasn’t such a bad place to be. While the other horses nipped and squealed at each other behind us, none of them bothered me or Bucephalas. Soon we soon reached the hills, and the Maedi came out to meet us on their scruffy little ponies in full battle cry, and there was no more time to think about nipping or squealing. Bucephalas charged them at once, kicking dust in our faces. Hephaestion muttered a prayer, and we all followed with our riders yelling like maniacs to cover their fear.

I might not have Bucephalas’s size, but I dodged those enemy javelins better than anyone, while Hephaestion wrapped his long legs around my fancy cloth and let me get on with it. I saw a Maedi warrior throw a spear at Bucephalas’s blind side and squealed to warn him. He leapt out of the way just in time. The spear only scratched his flank, while Hephaestion tackled the enemy warrior and knocked him off his pony. The fight was soon over. While the surviving Maedi surrendered to Alexander, Hephaestion patted my foamy neck and whispered, “Well done, Petasios. We just saved his life back there – not that he’ll ever notice, the crazy fool.”

I didn’t think Bucephalas had noticed, either. But on the way home, he turned his great head towards me and blew thanks down his nostrils. It sent all the hairs shivering along my mane. Hephaestion smiled as Alexander leant across to grip his shoulder. “That showed them, didn’t it my friend?” he said with a delighted laugh. “We’re going to make a great army!”

Army was a bit of an exaggeration, since there were only nine of us in those days plus a handful of scruffy scouts. But Alexander had ambitions.

When we got back, the horsemaster had gone and I lost my fine stall to Bucephalas. But Hephaestion told the grooms to put me into the one opposite, which was nearly as good, and meant I could send my new friend whinnies across the passage. He snorted at me in return but he didn’t squeal, so I think he must have been pleased. That was how I survived my first meeting with the Great Horse. From that day on, I became Bucephalas’s left eye and looked after him in battle, just as Hephaestion looked after Alexander, until we fought our last battle at the edge of the world. But that's another story.

Petasios spoke to Katherine Roberts.

The Muse is still waiting for your stories! If nobody sends me any, Katherine will have to write them all, which will be a bit boring. So wake up your muses, introduce them to Bucephalas's herd, and send what they say to the unicorn. It doesn't have to be long. Maybe you can even teach them how to tweet... though with horses, it would have to be called a whinny...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Great Horse Stories - Aura's Story by Katherine Roberts

Dapple grey mare
Rider: Demetrius

My name’s Aura, and everyone notices me. It's a grey thing. I’ve carried queens and princes. I even once almost carried Prince Alexander, only Bucephalas got there first. Just as well, really. Can you honestly see the Persian army running away from me? I don’t even nip people from behind when I’m in season, like some mares I know… mentioning no names, Harpinna! I believe in doing my best for every rider, prince or slave. So the night before our big battle against the Persian army, when the moon went out and all the other horses were scared, I stood quietly for the dark-skinned man who fumbled with my bridle. His hands trembled as he untied me. I could smell the fear in his sweat. “Please,” he kept sobbing. “Please don’t buck me off, little mare.”

He obviously didn’t know me very well. I must admit I was a little surprised when he led me out of the horse lines and scrambled on my bare back. But we horses can see well enough in the dark, even without a moon, so I carried him safely between the stakes Alexander had ordered planted around our camp to keep the Persians out. As we passed between them, Bucephalas neighed after me from the stallion lines. But I had not come into season, so I didn’t go to him. Then the moon came back out, and everyone started running and shouting. My rider twisted his hands in my mane and dug his heels into my ribs. His fear smell sharpened as if we were going into battle and I knew he wanted me to gallop. The plain of Gaugamela stretched smooth and silver before me, so I did.

Soon we came to another camp, much bigger than ours with a proper fence around it and many nervous guards. The gate opened when they saw us approaching. Thousands of Persian horses, fidgety because of what had happened to the moon, neighed to me. Their humans were running about in a panic, too, wailing about demons. I thought they would spear my rider. But then they recognized him and dragged him off to a big pavilion, leaving me standing in the middle of a strange herd. Fortunately, the grey thing worked again. Before the other horses could bite me, a groom caught my rein and led me to a water trough. “Well, aren’t you a pretty one?” he said as I drank. “We’ll be able to breed from you, once we’ve sent young Alexander and his barbarian friends packing. Maybe you’ll give us a white foal to replace our sacred horse of the sun we lost at Issus.” And the next thing I knew I was tethered firmly to King Darius’ royal horse line.

I wouldn’t have minded a foal, though Bucephalas had already made it clear he wanted to be its father. So I ate the hay the groom gave me and dozed, hoping someone would take me back in the morning. When the Persian king emerged from his pavilion, however, everyone started wailing again. It seemed their queen had died in Alexander’s camp, which was why her slave had stolen me to bring the news. The Persians wept all day, and that night their priests held prayers to their god with much smoke and fire. The next morning, the king got into his chariot, his men mounted their thousands of horses, and the whole huge herd went out on to the plain to fight Alexander.

Scenting my friends on the hot, dry wind and hearing their faint screams and whinnies, I danced about at the end of my tether. The man who had stolen me came to stroke my sweaty neck. “Shh, little mare,” he said. “It’ll be all right. No one will hurt you, I promise.” But he was only a slave so he could not keep his promise.

Late that afternoon, men and horses started limping back to camp covered in dust and blood. Then a chariot came out of the shimmering heat, surrounded by dusty, blood-splattered riders. It swerved to a halt, and a man staggered out the back and dragged off his turban. I didn’t recognize him at first, but everyone rushed up to offer him wine and food and fresh robes, so I knew it must be the Persian king. He stared around his camp in a daze. Then he saw me and pointed. The grey thing again.

The slave put a bridle and cloth on me. I thought he was going to take me back to my herd at last. But he crouched on all fours so the king could step from his back on to mine. King Darius wrenched my head round to the east, and the strange horses pressed close on all sides. The sun was going down over the plain behind us, turning the dust red. When I tried to see if my friends were coming, my rider held out his hand for a whip and brought it down hard across my quarters.

No one had ever whipped me before, and it hurt. So I sprang half out of my skin, and the other horses – some of them a bit lame – had a job to keep up. We galloped flat out, our shadows stretching long in front of us. The Persian king was not a good rider. He kept jerking at my mouth when I missed a stride, and if I slowed down to catch my breath he used the whip instead of his heels and voice like Demetrius would have done. I suppose I could have thrown him off during that first mad charge. But I’ve never thrown a rider in my life, the other horses jostled me, and soon I needed all my energy just to keep galloping.

Just when I thought I’d drop dead in mid-gallop, a town loomed ahead, ghostly in the moonlight. We cantered through an arch into a courtyard, our hooves striking sparks in the dark. There was a fountain in the middle and the sweet smell of water. Thankfully, the king slid off me and stepped on the back of another slave to mount another horse. Fresh horses were brought for his men, and then they all clattered off again into the night. I rested my chin on the fountain, too tired even to drink. Eventually a groom came to take my reins. He led me into a dirty stable, took off my bridle and cloth, threw me an armful of hay and left me in the dark. I was glad he didn’t try to groom me, because I hurt all over. I lay down on my side in the stale dung and closed my eyes.

That could have been the end of my story. But as I lay there, exhausted, the Persian god appeared in a blaze of white light. He stroked me, and my pains eased. "You did well, little mare," he said. "You will be rewarded." And he sent me a lovely dream in which Bucephalas and I galloped in a green pasture, where we made a foal together. I thought I had died and gone to paradise. Then I heard Bucephalas calling to me in his big voice… AURA! AURA! AURA!… and woke up.

I lifted my head to see sun streaming through the stable doors. Every muscle had gone stiff. My leg had swollen like a pillar. But it was Bucephalas! And I could smell more of my friends in the courtyard. Hades’ rider Iolaus stamped down the passage, muttering to himself. He frowned at me, then put a halter on me and led me out into the sunshine. Bucephalas pricked his ears and whinnied in sympathy. My rider Demetrius came running to hug me. “Oh, my poor mare! What have those nasty Persians done to you?” He touched my whip cuts, and I couldn’t help a snort of pain.

A lot of humans and horses got hurt in that battle. But the Persian god kept his promise. When Alexander and the others left, Bucephalas and I got to stay behind in the stables at Gaugamela for a holiday. It wasn’t quite the green pasture of my dream, but it was peaceful and sunny and the food was good. And later, after I’d come into season, we made a foal together on that dusty plain... but that’s another story!

Got a story or poem about one of the horses in Bucephalas’ herd? Send it to the unicorn (see this post for details).

Monday, 8 November 2010

Great Horse Stories – short story challenge

Bucephalas is very headstrong and Katherine had a hard job controlling him, which is why “I am the Great Horse” runs to 500 pages. But he is not the only horse in the book! Inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the Muse thinks it’s only fair to give the other horses in Bucephalas’ herd a chance to tell their own stories. He is therefore launching his very own MuWRiMo (Muse Writing Month) for those of you who don't have the time to write a whole novel.

Your challenge is to choose a horse from the list below and send in a story or poem and/or artwork inspired by that horse’s character. For example, you could write about their life as a foal… imagine what it would be like to ride them yourself… bring your favourite horse into the modern world… or retell one of Alexander’s battles straight from the horse’s mouth... it’s up to you! The Muse will add authors’ names to the list below as horses are chosen and post the stories between now and 21st December (which is National Short Story Day in the UK), so keep checking this post to see which ones are still free. Katherine will write the first one to start you off.

Meet the herd…

AURA – grey mare, Bucephalas’ favourite. Rider: Demetrius.
Katherine Roberts
PETASIOS – chestnut stallion, rider: Hephaestion.
Katherine Roberts
HARPINNA – red speckled mare, rider: Ptolemy.

BOREALIS – brown stallion, rider: Leonnatus.

APOLLO – palomino stallion, rather vain, rider: Perdiccas.

PSYLLA – dark bay mare, rider: Hector (died at River Granicus).

XANTHUS – golden stallion, Bucephalas’ rival, riders: Craterus, Alexander.
HADES – dark bay stallion, rider: Iolaus.

ZEPHYR – dun mare, rider: Philotas, General Parmenio’s son.

ARION – grey stallion, reserve for injured horses.

ELECTRA – black filly, Psylla’s foal by Bucephalas, rider: Demetrius.

HOPLITE – black speckled colt, Harpinna’s foal by Bucephalas.

INDUS – black colt, Aura’s foal by Bucephalas, born in India.

ZOROASTER – white gelding, sacred Persian horse of the sun.
Catdownunder (see comments!)
CASPIA – chestnut filly, who lies down when she smells elephants. Rider: Prince Ochus.

If you want to try getting into your chosen horse’s head, here is the Horse-Human dictionary Bucephalas used in his book:

Dominating – Liberating (according to Alexander!)
Dominating (other horse’s) dung – Showing them you're boss
Girl-filly – Girl
Herd – Gang / army / cavalry troop
Make a foal - Strictly censored!
Man-colt - Boy
Mutual grooming - You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours
Squeal - Threat / yell
Squealing match - Argument / yelling match

Send your poems, stories (maximum 1500 words) or artwork to the Unicorn.
Please send text as a Word .doc file and artwork as a .jpg file.
There is no age limit or payment, and you keep copyright.

Most of all, have fun… the Muse looks forward to sharing your creativity on this blog!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Great Horse 14 – Finally, a book trailer!

The final post in this series must go to fan Jaguar Jedi, who has created this fabulous book trailer on YouTube to tell Bucephalas’ story:


Along with other horse footage, this trailer uses promotional clips from Oliver Stone’s film “Alexander”, which came out at the end of 2004, just after I had delivered the manuscript of "I am the Great Horse" to my publisher. Already a fan, I drove 20 miles to see it on the big screen. I was eager to experience Bucephalas’ battles close-up, but also a bit anxious in case I had got something glaringly wrong. In the event, I needn’t have worried. Although the film concentrates more on the human characters than the horses, everything seemed just right, especially Alexander’s stormy character.

I was fascinated by how the film cuts back and forth through his life in the way of a literary type of novel, whereas my book tells the story in linear form that might have made a more obvious film script... which proves there are no hard rules to writing books or making films! I later bought the DVD with the director’s cut, where Oliver Stone explains his decisions for using the flashback structure, and re-cuts his own film to make it even better.

This is what Jaguar Jedi has to say about making the trailer:

I'm a big history lover and so this was super fun to do. But - it was difficult to pull off the history aspect as well as tell the story through a 3+ min video. Most trailers tend to be all heavy and dramatic, but I wanted to stick to the style of the book (and Bucephalus) and make it adventurous, spirited, and bouyantly rousing. After all, the book is from the view of a proud warhorse! It was very important to keep that invigorating spirit.

It was tough to cast certain people. For example, my brother and I felt that the Queen of the Amazons should be dark-skinned. However, I couldn't think of anyone fitting the "warrior queen", so at last I used Keira Knightley as Guinevere in "King Arthur". Ironically, we both agreed that we'd love Alun Armstrong as the Horsemaster, and that footage was from "Little Dorrit". If you've read the book you may remember the dog that adopted herself into the groom's camp, Perita. The German Shepard from "Gladiator" plays her.

But hardest of all was the main female, Charmeia. I could literally not think of anyone to play her. Not being able to think of anyone held me off this video for a year. Then, somehow, I came up with the idea of "One Night with the King", having seen it in theaters years ago. For young Charmeia (training and exercising Bucephalus for Alexander) I used the character Sharbat from "Zafir". (Who also dresses up as a boy, incidentally.) The footage for Tydeos, Charmeia's friend groom, is also from "One Night with the King".

And I guess the narrator dude is Old Ptolemy, LOL. The audio at the beginning is from "The Black Stallion".

Through editing I was able to make it look like there were scenes taken from a movie and put into a trailer in the latter half, while the first concentrates on Bucephalus' point of view. From Pella, Thebes, Granicus, Halicarnassus, Gaugemela, the Hindu Kush and India, there's such an epic vastness about the world that Alexander the Great conquered. I *really* wanted to show him cutting the Gordian Knot, with the thunder and lightening and Bucephalus rearing up, but LOL, there's only so much an editor can do.

And yes, Derek Jacobi is in there. Because I love him, and he's awesome.☺

I know the titles are not accurate Greek. It was the font I downloaded, and while it looks nice to non-Greek speakers, it's not real Greek at all. Also, as a Persian horse, Zoroaster would really be an Arabian, not an Iberian as shown. But the footage was too good to pass up... a white horse about to be captured

(For a full list of music and films used in this trailer and a copyright disclaimer, see Jaguar Jedi's comments on You Tube.)

So how do you follow that? Well, Katherine says she can’t until her US publisher produces the paperback so she can do a book giveaway (Muse: please, Scholastic, pleaaassse...) But she will put the complete Great Horse series of posts on her website so people can download them and read them in their proper order.

Meanwhile, the Muse has a cunning plan of his own! Now that you’ve met some of them, I think the other horses in Bucephalas’ herd should have a chance to tell their stories… and since these are not written yet, I am going to be challenging readers of this blog to help me tell them. See next post for details.



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