Friday, 28 February 2014

The Books I Read in February

'The Hermit of Eyton Forest' by Ellis Peters
This was one of the Brother Cadfael books that was not made into an episode of the television series, thus it was a new story to me.  It follows very much the style of the rest of the series of books.  In this case featuring a boy and two men seeking to escape from something.  One is a rather fey craftsman, Brand, who despite Peters's descriptions falls in love with the daughter of a steward of a landed estate, though he is being hunted by his former overlord.  Another is the eponymous hermit and I will not spoil the story by revealing what his background is.  The third is a boy being compelled by grandmother to marry so that his inheritance is linked to that of another family, much for her game.  The grandmother comes over as malicious but credible and you certainly feel for the boy who at 12 has no interest in marriage, especially having been raised in the monastery.  As with a number of stories in the series, this one features the politics of the Great Anarchy and how it impinges on the region around Shrewsbury.  I liked the portrayal of a number of the characters, the boy and the grandmother and the prospective fiancee were all good.  Brand and to some degree the hermit, I found less credible.  I found there was a little too much chasing around Eyton Forest, though the flight of the boy back to the sanctuary of the monastery was gripping.  Somehow though with elements of interest, I did not feel this one was as well woven as some of the others, perhaps due to the wider geographic spread than usual.

Enemy at the Gates' by William Craig
The edition of this book was strangely packaged.  From the outside it looks like a book of the movie of the same name, 'Enemy at the Gates' (2001) with the movie poster showing two of the lead actors, Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes.  The movie was reasonably good, featuring a true story of a German and a Russian sniper who went up against each other in the ruins of Stalingrad.  Rachel Weisz was badly miscast, looking, unlike Law and Fiennes, too well-fed for the role, but Bob Hoskins played a stand-out part portraying as Nikita Khrushchev.  Beyond this cover you find that in fact there is a history book, first published in 1973 about the Battle of Stalingrad.  As noted two months ago with 'Death's Men', this book really benefited from being written in the 1970s when many people from the incident were still alive.  As with Winter's book, Craig provides the story as a mosaic made up of the experiences of people who were there, many of whom he had interviewed.  This can make the text rather jerky as he leaps from one to another especially in the faster moving phases of the battle.  At times his language is overly dramatic and this jars, I put it down to him being an American author.  It is a very grim story and the discussion of cannibalism near the end is a hard section to get through.  It is a confusing story to tell and the aggregation of these different perspectives does not always improve clarity but one thing that can certainly be said about this book is that it gets across the essence, even the sensation of what the experience of participating in this conflict was like.  I do not think I could stomach reading another book on the battle, but this one might be an interesting counterbalance to Anthony Beevor's 'Stalingrad' (1998).

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Writer's Blues: Now the Bank Will Not Accept My Royalty Cheques

One reason for the neglect of this blog has been the fact that I have been busy writing 'what if?' history books in an effort to spread the word about this aspect of history but also to make some money.  Back in September 2012 when I first started doing this, I noted that whilst it was easy to receive royalties from Amazon for books you sold in most countries, for those sold in the USA it was a lot harder:  The US government takes 30% of any royalties earned in the USA unless you are a US tax payer.  Unlike with sales in other countries, Amazon makes it harder still, by having a threshold of US$100 before it will pay the royalties.  For other countries, until late last year there was a threshold of around €10 before they made a payment, which meant that for some countries months and months could go by before you received the small crumbs of cash.  That limit has been taken off and you get paid whatever you have earned, even if it is equivalent to 30p.

Once I topped the US$100 mark a cheque (or 'check' as the Americans call it) was sent to me in US$, though in fact it just said 'dollars' and nothing bar Amazon's address showed that it was US$ and not Canadian, Australian or Hong Kong dollars instead.  I then had to take this to my bank, pay a £6 fee and wait six weeks while it was 'negotiated'.  By the end of the process I was lucky if I got 65% of what I had originally earned in the USA and am still liable to further tax unless I register as a US as well as a UK taxpayer.  This was very frustrating given that the USA has always been my largest market.  The situation has now got worse.  My bank, the Nationwide Building Society has started refusing cheques below US$250 and indeed returned one I had submitted to them last month and I believed was being processed.  I have contacted Amazon to see if they will hold on to my US payments until they exceed US$250 after the royalty deduction, but knowing them, they will simply ignore this and plough on saying their way is the only acceptable one.  This leaves me accumulating cheques with which I can do nothing so the 70% remaining from my sales will now go to Amazon.  It seems incredible that Amazon sticks to one way of paying these royalties and a non-electronic way which is quickly fading from usage certainly in the UK.  This week I wrote the first cheque I had written since January 2013.

I am at a loss what to do.  Cheques expire after six months and I am left trying to find a bank which can cash these cheques.  It seems ridiculous that I have to open an account at a different back just to get to my money.  There is never any point in asking Amazon to do anything and as I have noted before, despite their global reach their focus is simply on US writers with the rest of us largely being inconvenient and stupid in not understanding the 'proper way' these things should be done.  However, the many thousands of us are now earning Amazon a lot more money that we were doing before, simply because they stubbornly adhere to their self-made rules, but I guess that is the way they like it.

P.P. 01/03/2014
Surprisingly Amazon responded to my query and told me how I could alter the cheque payment to an electronic payment so money from US sales now comes the same way as for the other countries.  Why this is not the default as it is for all the other countries, I have no idea.  However, fortunately it has resolved my difficulty.  I did find that HSBC will take foreign cheques of less than US$250 so paid the outstanding cheque into an old account I had there, fortunately.  They charge £6 per transaction just like Nationwide.