thepenalcolony U.K. novelist Richard Herley, whose book The Stone Arrow won a regional novel award called the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, is offering initially free downloads of Arrow, The Flint Lord, The Earth Goddess, The Penal Colony, The Tide Mill and a collection of all the books. Parents should see age ratings for Penal and other works.

I took a quick trip to Amazon and found that, yes, Herley has his share of fans among those who know of him, and he has drawn some nice reviews in publications such as Library Journal. His novel Penal Colony inspired the movie No Escape, known in some markets as “Escape from Absolom.”

You can also catch up with his “free to copy” works—in .epub, Mobipocket/Kindle, PDF and Sony formats—via Feedbooks. There’s no hitch other than his reasonable request to happy readers to pay him as if the books were shareware. The charge for these CC-licensed titles is “between $1.70 and $2.50, according to length.”

Encouraging Richard to go on writing

“In this way,” Richard writes, “you will encourage me to go on producing work you like. I hope that you will also feel a personal interest in the book concerned and a connection with its author.

“As far as I know, I am one of the first mainstream writers to adopt this publishing model. It somewhat recalls an earlier age, when the arts were supported by patronage and subscription; in operation it is indistinguishable from the modern model of shareware.

“I believe this is a better way of funding authorship: the conventional model is inefficient, bad for authors and new writing, and unduly expensive for readers.”

Your thoughts

So, gang, read the books and share your impressions of them. Meanwhile what do you think of his business model? Will it succeed? Robert Nagle would probably be optimistic. I myself am wishing Richard the best of luck but am not so sure—I’d prefer that Robert be right. When John Scalzi used the shareware model in 1999 with the funny and deftly done Agent to the Stars, he earned $4,000 over five years. Ideally that sum would be bigger today. But remember, Agent is an extraordinary book within its genre.

Good luck, Richard! I hope the shareware approach boosts your career and leads to a huge Herley revival and some nice contracts with p-publishers. Yes, under the mainstream model, it is tough for writers, and I’m delighted to see shareware-type experiments continuing despite my concerns.

Related: Richard Herley’s bio and his blog, where he reflects on his experiment’s early results: “One especially courteous gentleman even paid twice for the same book, with separate fees for The Stone Arrow and The Pagans.” He also proposes an authors’ cooperative to host books for downloading, and makes clear his opposition to DRM, which I myself consider both a commercial and literary toxin for books.

Excerpt: Here’s the start of The Penal Colony.

Routledge became conscious. A foul taste was on his tongue; he felt nauseous, drug-sick, and at first he thought he was emerging not from sleep, but from anaesthesia. It followed that he must be in hospital, in pyjamas, but his skin and limbs returned a contrary sensation. He was fully and heavily clad; and hospitals smelled of disinfectant, while this place smelled of damp wood, and stone, and salt air, and an unpleasant acridity which he could not quite recognize.

Then he remembered a recent fragment of dream. He must after all have been asleep: was he dreaming still?

Above him, dimly illuminated, as if by a single candle some distance away, he could make out the form of a low ceiling, crudely made of rough laths and bundles of rushes. The quality of his sight was unmistakably real. This was no dream.

He had been placed on a low bed or pallet, on a mattress made of dried heather or bracken. He became aware that he was completely helpless: he had been zipped into a tightly fitting sleeping-bag and his wrists felt as if they had been bound together.

At that moment he understood where he was and what must have happened to him. The preceding days in the workroom, supper last night, had given no inkling of this; there had been no unusual taste in his food. Each day had followed the same routine, the routine that had been established from the morning of his induction over six months before. During those days he had foolishly begun to feel safe, to imagine, somehow, that he was not after all to be placed in Category Z.