The freelance employees

Sometimes legislation introduced with good intent has unforeseen consequences. California’s AB5 law restricts the use of contractors, aiming to give workers greater protection and make big companies pay more tax. Some writers and journalists have complained because technically they are now classed as employees, with an exemption that allows 35 articles per year. The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Association have filed lawsuits, claiming that AB5 is unconstitutional. Legal challenges have also been raised by Uber and the California Truckers Association.

AB5 puts into law a California Supreme Court ruling which held that most workers should be classed as employees. Status has long been a difficult legal issue, with disputes about the tax position of taxi drivers pre-dating the rise of the gig economy. Writers who do not normally feature in the debate have suddenly been dragged in along with musicians and artists.

AB5 makes no real distinction between a freelancer who simultaneously solicits work from different places and a Uber driver who gets their work from a single source. As other legislators consider how best to classify workers, they need to accept that status is often defined by independence.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.

Getting the title right

This week I submitted a story, deciding to change the title at the last minute. This often happens. Sometimes it’s because of a change in direction but, more often, it’s about creating attention. Editors are inundated with manuscripts. Faced with one that has a bland, unoriginal title and one that sounds different they’re more likely to pick the later. If they’re persuaded to publish then you have to convince the readers.

Good covers used to attract buyers. Today an online list is often the starting point. I wanted to call my book about the Jack the Ripper suspects Mad, Bad and Innocent. Including Jack the Ripper in the title configured it for search engines. My PhD with the academic title of Cultural Connotations of the Man-Eating Wolf became Howls of Imagination, to appeal to a non-academic audience.

What makes a good title? As usual there’s no one answer. It has to sound intriguing and it has to be relevant for the people you want to publish and read your work.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.

Supporting women in horror

This month is the eleventh annual women in horror month, an international grassroots initiative that encourages people to learn about and showcase the work of women in the horror industry. The genre began in literature, arguably with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first published in 1818. Last year Frankenstein was listed by the BBC as one of 100 top inspiring novels. Forty-four other books by women made that list. An early reviewer of Frankenstein dismissed it, because of the writer’s gender. Today many female writers still encounter discrimination.

In last week’s blog I spoke about film makers not taking risks. Horror films usually cost less to make, so provide opportunities to blood new talent on both sides of the camera. Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are among the directors who launched their career in this genre. Challenge yourself to name three famous female directors.

Hopefully initatives like women in horror will continue to thrive and help create an environment where everyone is judged solely on the merits of their work.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.

The blockbuster and the intellectual

This week I had two different cinema experiences. I watched the second instalment of the Jumanji franchise in a local cinema, one of many daily showings. Jojo Rabbit had none, forcing me to travel to a smaller venue. Mainstream films, like television, now focus on satisfying existing demand, rather than taking risks with bold new scripts and ideas. This is an understandable commercial decision based on the assumption that audiences want more of the same.

Watching JoJo Rabbit with ample leg room and a beer, I can recommend the Elizabeth Picture Theatre in Brisbane, I found a better script than Jumanji with fewer unnecessary scenes. Jumanji was mindless escapism for the masses. Joko Rabbit provided intellectual stimulation and was often disturbing. There are similarities between the two movies. Both have themes of friendship and love. Both overdose on comedy at the expense of drama.

Some reviewers of Jojo Rabbit have complained about its comic depictions of the Nazis and of Hitler as an imaginary friend. I laughed at the television series Allo Allo, knowing that it was not intended to be taken seriously. Jojo Rabbit is a serious story, with executions and children handling weapons. It uses comic stereotypes to highlight and mock ideas about gender and race which were not unique to that time and place. The technique didn’t work for me, but it made me think. Unlike Jumanji.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of theJack the Ripper suspects.


Plan your New Year resolutions

Many of us make resolutions at the start of a New Year but fail to keep them.

You stand a better chance of realising an aspiration if you work out exactly what you want and how to achieve it. I use a technique called 5W + H, which can be adapted to most situations. The letters stand for Who, What, Why, Where, When and How. Begin with a statement reflecting each one.

Who is not just about you. Clarify what support you need from others and who is affected by the change.

What clarifies the change in a sentence.

Why states the reason for the change. Clarifying that might result in a different solution.

Where might be a physical place or the impacted aspect of your life such as home, work or social environment.

When is a deadline or series of deadlines, depending on how complex the change is.

How is a plan, listing the steps you need to take.

Hopefully this will help you keep your resolution in 2020.

Happy New Year.

A Year in Fiction

Most of my fiction reading in 2019 came from a box of old paperbacks, written by Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton and various others. It was probably a mistake to binge read one author at a time, as you get used to their style and start to predict plot developments. Pick of the bunch was Koontz’s Odd Thomas, the first in a series that hasn’t quite lived up to the standard of the original.

This year also saw the release of the final two novelisations from the original series of Doctor Who, albeit in hardback. When the paperback versions come out in a few months many collections that began in the 1970s will finally be complete. Sadly, the prolific Terrance Dicks, responsible for so many of those books passed away. The announcement of more novels from the revised series ensures that his legacy continues.

I contributed three short stories to magazines during the year and am most proud of the Halloween Horror anthology. My favourite story was Erin Cashier’s “Fifteen Minutes from Now,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jan/Feb edition.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.



A Year in Non-Fiction

This year I’ve been a bit disappointed in the quality of my reading material. Usually I’m able to pick out one or two good fiction and non-fiction books to recommend. Obviously, this is subjective and personal tastes differ. I’ll talk about non-fiction here and fiction next week.

I found the three big new books with a connection to Jack the Ripper, unsatisfactorily for different reasons. The Five relied on an aggressive, and unpleasant marketing technique for the unnecessary and flawed argument that some of the Ripper victims were not prostitutes. Drew Gray and Andrew Wise failed to make a convincing case against the chosen suspect or prove the connection with the Thames Torso murders. H Division Crime Club’s book on the suspects didn’t add anything new for me.

For me it was older books that stood out. I reread the memoirs of Benjamin Leeson, a fascinating account of policing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Man from the Train puts forward the intriguing possibility that a serial killer killed multiple families in America between 1898 and 1912.

I would recommend that anyone with an interest in nineteenth century history takes out a free subscription to Ripperologist, which enjoyed another good year with some interesting and well-researched articles. Also special mention to RipperCast for publishing recordings from the East End Conference and Whitechapel Society talks.

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, best known for his study of the Jack the Ripper suspects.