Writing as a Team (or The Importance of a Weapons Cabinet)

Most of us write alone but occasionally successful writing partnerships come to the fore. James Patterson regularly co-authors novels and his latest partners have included Bill Clinton and Dolly Parton. C. L. Raven are identical twins who write horror stories together. Good Omens was written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Madeleine Purslow and her brother, Robin, recently published The Field of Reeds: In Shadows (Children of Bastet Book 1).
Today Madeleine and Robin have kindly agreed to spill the beans on the sometimes vicious experience of writing with a sibling.

So, co-authoring a novel. How does that work? Hmmm, let me introduce you to the weapons cabinet…
Picture, if you will, an antique cabinet in the corner of the room, ornate and a bit dusty. Now, open the doors. They protest a little, they groan, they could do with a spot of oil. Inside though… now, that’s unexpected, every kind of weapon you can think of, softly shining in the half-light. The weapons are all in perfect order and ready for use at a moment’s notice.
Got it? Great, hold that thought, we’ll come back to it in a minute. Small Maddie Guest Blog Photo
So, writing is a solitary thing, isn’t it? You take yourself away from other human beings for hours on end. Go deep inside your own head and stay there.
Stephen King said, writing is actually a form of telepathy. You take words, images, emotions and transfer them from one mind to another. Well, if that works between a writer and a reader, there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t work between two writers.
Well, perhaps not absolutely no reason…
Unless you really, get on well with your potential co-author, don’t even think about it. It has been said, that the best way to break up a friendship, is for two people to go on holiday together. I have a better one, try writing together.
If you are writing with someone else and you are both convinced that you have just come up with the best possible way to express what you are trying to say, who’s words do you use?
That’s where the weapons cabinet comes in…
You have to fight it out. Maybe with twin swords? Or, sneaky, ninja, throwing stars? Even a ball point pen can be lethal in the right hands…
Eventually, a compromise, the best of both worlds. Two brains really can be better than one. They had better be brains that genuinely like each other though. Whatever wounds you inflict in the heat of battle, you have to be able to live with afterwards.
So, what about the nuts and bolts? Well, it starts with huge brain storming sessions, lots of notes and a lot of laughing. You build the world, the shared playground and agree on a writing style.
Then, it may be that we take a chapter each, go away and write it. Or, if we are really unsure about how a chapter should go, then we both write the same chapter and ‘swap papers,’ like doing a test at school. Then we… Did you hear the creak, as the weapons cabinet doors opened?
Boundaries are also important, recognising who does what best. If you know your co-author is better at dialogue, or spooky atmospheres, or has a real feel for a particular character, then, you do what serves the story. After a trip to the weapons cabinet, obviously.
So, there you are. This blog has been brought to you after a short but vicious fight, by the gestalt brain that is Madrob, or possibly Robeleine. We have to decide which. Excuse us for a moment, we are just going to the weapons cabinet…

About The Field of Reeds: In Shadows (Children of Bastet Book 1):

Smallest Maddie Field of Reeds in Shadows 5 x 8 book one

When Priah, Captain of Cats, began her night patrol, everything was as it had always been. The sleeping streets of ancient Bubastis were quiet, dark and still.
Then it came… death came… sorcery came.
Before dawn, Priah’s life would be forever changed…
In Bubastis, the holy city of the cat Goddess Bastet, a secret enemy stalks the streets after dark, killing indiscriminately. As this seemingly unstoppable foe spreads terror, it falls to Captain of Cats, Priah to halt it in its tracks. She embarks on a quest to do just that, with the help of the newly arrived stranger cat, The Alexandrian. Together, their journey will lead them through magic and dangers and ultimately beyond life itself.
The Field of Reeds: In Shadows, is set in a fantastical world inspired by ancient Egypt, a stylized version of every cat’s original homeland. Here, cats have a hierarchy. They tell heroic tales of “the days of the beginning.” They communicate with and live alongside humans, in a secretive parallel existence, as advisers, spies and allies.
This is the first book in an epic fantasy series, that takes the ‘talking animal,’ genre to a very different place. A place full of heart and heroism, extraordinary things extraordinary deeds and extraordinary characters.
Death stalks the dark streets of Bubastis and they are the only hope of salvation…

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An Update on Me

What’s been going on in my writing life recently?

At the end of June I completed the second round of agent edits on my current WIP and submitted the manuscript again. Over the last few weeks I’ve been biting my nails while I wait to hear if more work is needed or whether the novel has reached the standard for submission to publishers. You may remember that a previous manuscript went out to publishers a couple of years ago but failed to sell.

While I wait for the verdict I’ve found it difficult to get back into fiction (a new novel or short stories), so I’ve been doing bits and pieces of non-fiction writing.

I’ve taken the opportunity to update Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners. The book was first published back in 2014 and has consistently been one of my best-sellers. Every year or so, I’ve re-read it and made changes/additions/deletions to reflect the ever changing landscape of self-publishing on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format. It contains lots of useful information if you’re thinking of self-publishing for the first time.

I’ve also written a few articles for The People’s Friend. The hardest part of this (like any writing, I think) is generating ideas that are appropriate to the readership and haven’t already been covered in the magazine before. The magazine holds weekly editorial meetings and so I usually get a ‘yes’ or, more likely, a ‘no’ on ideas quickly. The downside is it’s no longer possible to earn any ALCS money on articles or short stories published in the magazine.

In June I had my first post-lockdown holiday. My husband and I walked the first five stages of the Cost to Coast. We started at St Bees and finished at Kirkby Stephen five days later. Physically it was much more difficult than we’d envisaged but great to finally get away. I took notes along the way and am currently turning those notes into a short e-book. It will be partly a personal experience narrative and partly resources for those planning to do the walk themselves. If you enjoy walking (or are just nosy about what other people get up to on their holidays) watch this space!

Finally I’ve recently got into the crime novels of Jane Harper. Jane was born in the UK but now lives in Australia. Her novels are set in the Australian outback which gives them quite a different feel to more urban murder stories. I started with The Lost Man and am now half-way through The Dry. In 2014 a short story submitted by Jane was included in the Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition. This inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously. Big things from little acorns grow!

Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners

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Improve Amazon KDP Keywords

If you’ve published on Kindle or in paperback via Amazon KDP, you’ll be familiar with the concept of keywords. The purpose of these keywords is to make your book more discoverable in Amazon searches. But deciding which seven keywords or phrases (a keyword can be a short phrase rather than a single word) to use is difficult, especially for works of fiction.

A few days ago I watched an online presentation organised by the the Alliance of Independent Authors, featuring Darren Hardy who is the UK Author and Editorial Programmes Manager at Amazon KDP. He was talking about how to increase book sales via KDP and he gave some useful tips about keywords:

  • Keep them generic but relevant
  • Don’t use punctuation or ‘stop’ words. A ‘stop’ word is something like ‘also’, ‘and’ or ‘because’. These words are skipped over by the automated search logic.
  • Don’t waste words by repeating words already in the book’s title or subtitle.
  • Avoid using things like, ‘brand new’, ‘amazing’, ‘free’ etc.
  • Do not use the names of other authors or the titles of other books.
  • Include synonyms or alternative spellings of words. Readers may use these in their searches.
  • Include the setting of your book.
  • Include character types, e.g. ‘single dad’.
  • Include character roles, e.g. ‘strong female’.
  • Include plot themes, e.g. ‘coming of age’ or ‘forgiveness’.
  • Include the story tone, e.g. ‘feel good’ or ‘dystopian’.

Darren also mentioned the importance of category selection in making a book more discoverable. I’ve previously written about Amazon categories in this post.

If you’d like to generate more sales for a book, it’s well worth reviewing your keywords and categories to see if they can be improved.

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Sexting – Considerations for (Mainly) Girls in a Highly Sexualised World

Sexting is the sending of a sexual message, photo or video to someone else. It’s not something I usually talk about on this blog. However, it was suggested to me when I discussed the possibility of a guest post with Arnie Witkin to launch his new book It’s Not A Big Thing in Life.


Arnie’s book began as a series of writings for his grandchildren and he gave an early draft to a friend’s granddaughter who was starting university. It had such a positive effect on her that she believed it should be for grandchildren the world over and their parents and grandparents. Hence the eventual publication of It’s Not A Big Thing in Life. The book is full of life advice for those starting out in the world and for those of us already in it! Arnie’s book would make a great present to slip in a student’s backpack to be read and absorbed as needed.

And now for Arnie’s advice on how to handle sexting:

If it hasn’t already happened you will be subjected to requests to send nude pictures or videos of yourself

How will you respond to the challenge of sexting?

If someone you don’t know or have recently met asks you to sext him, consider the simplest possible response. ‘No.’ No discussion.

However, if you are in a relationship, albeit for a short time, and you are tempted, consider that you are totally responsible for yourself. Know that, whatever the state of your current relationship or feelings, these are most likely to change. If a man is scorned, he may well publish those pictures on the internet. So before you completely expose yourself take responsibility for the consequences. I would suggest that you only do it if you are in a loving and trusting relationship, but even then you may want to hide your face. There is no place for naivety.

What if you don’t want to do it? You may feel that if you don’t oblige then you will be excluded. This is more complicated because that has to do with self-esteem and the desire for acceptance.

This is a great opportunity to grow up, assert yourself and build self-esteem. Trust your feelings. If you don’t want to do it then you shouldn’t. If you are ‘dumped’ I can assure you that the person wasn’t worth having, no matter how attractive he may seem. In fact usually the opposite of exclusion happens. Strong people who resist the pressure are admired for it.

Consider taking a firm but non-judgmental approach. ‘I am not happy to send naked pictures of myself.’ If he asks again or ‘why’, simply repeat it. It probably doesn’t pay to take a moralistic or indignant approach. ‘I like you and want to continue the relationship, but please don’t ask me that.’

If he says, ‘If you loved me you would do it’ you most definitely should consider leaving the relationship. ‘If you loved me you would….’ is one of the most selfish and controlling statements there is. It is said purely for the gratification of the person and doesn’t care about your feelings. A good riposte is ‘If you loved me you wouldn’t ask me to do what I don’t want to do.’ If you do succumb and remain in the relationship he will control you until you stand up to him. You may as well do the standing up at the earliest possible opportunity.

Another ploy could be to tell you that everybody is doing it and that you are immature. This is similar to ‘If you loved me…’ You could say, ‘If I wanted my life judged I’d go to a more competent authority.’ Peer group pressure is the greatest pressure in the world. Resisting it is hugely character building. You will be proud of yourself.

If you find the request offensive it is well to remember that offense can be given, but it doesn’t have to be taken. You can decide what you allow to offend you or not. A turd on the side of the road is offensive, but you don’t have to step in it.

Whatever you feel, this is the real world. You can’t stop the sexual pressure, but with focus you can decide on your attitude and response.

You have the power. Don’t surrender it.

It’s Not A Big Thing in Life by Arnie Witkin is available in both paperback and e-book format and has some great reviews. It’s worth a look if you know any young adults or would like a bit of advice yourself on living a better life.

And there’s more information about Arnie on his website.

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A Facelift for The Promise

The rights for psychological thriller, The Promise, have reverted from the original publisher back to me.

To celebrate, the Kindle version now has a shiny new cover and new, lower, price point. I’m also delighted to say, the e-book is available on Kobo for the very first time and, fingers crossed, it will qualify for one of Kobo’s Mystery & Thriller promotions soon.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible to carry the reviews across from the old version of the book. But they are currently still available against the secondhand hand editions of the original paperback.

I haven’t yet had time to sort out a new paperback version of the book – that is a project for the coming months.

“Jenkins spins a web of intrigue” – Judith Cutler

Olivia has recurring nightmares about the murder of a man which took place when she was a teenager.
Petty criminal Tina is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
With the clock ticking, Tina needs money and a wife for her younger brother, Wayne.
The discovery of a forgotten letter from an ex-cellmate puts Tina on the trail of Olivia – with devastating consequences.

The Promise is a psychological thriller set in north Birmingham, UK.

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Stories Competition

Here is a free to enter competition which is completely relaxed about the format and genre of entries.

The Evening Standard in association with Netflix is running a ‘What’s Your Story’ Competition as part of their Stories Festival which takes place in September 2021.

Entries can be written (up to 1,000 words) or recorded as a video (up to 2-minutes in length).
The story can be about childhood, life or from your imagination but must be original and from a previously unpublished writer. The entry can be written as a short story, poem, screen/theatre play or can even be sung.
The competition closes on 30 June 2021 at 11.59 AM

The prizes sound pretty good. According to the competition website:
The winners will receive a suite of prizes to support them in their journey into the industry. Including workshop sessions with either leading screenwriters or editors, publication of winning stories on standard.co.uk, and VIP access to the festival. The winning pieces will be performed as part of the Stories Festival by well-known writers.

As usual don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions before entering and Good Luck! This sounds like a great opportunity for someone just starting their writing journey.

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Shared Reading in Sutton Coldfield

Earlier this year I did a 3 day Zoom training course in order to become a volunteer Reader Leader for the charity The Reader.

That training has now come to fruition and my own fortnightly Shared Reading in Sutton Coldfield Group started on Zoom last week. We hope to move to face-to-face meetings in Sutton Coldfield library as soon as restrictions allow (my fingers are tightly crossed!).

The participants in a Shared Reading Group have no homework – all the reading is done aloud during the meeting (as the leader I do have the homework of choosing and preparing the texts). The reading usually comprises a short story and poem and the two texts may share a theme. We take a pause at relevant points in the story and discuss what has been read, hypothesize about what might happen next and pick out any parts of the text which strike a chord with us or that we don’t fully understand. The poem will be read aloud a couple of times before we start to drill down into its possible meaning. It’s not an English Literature lesson (I have no relevant qualifications!) and there are no right or wrong answers: everyone’s opinion is valuable and valid because we all take different things from the text. The things that we take away might educate the way we live our lives.
And participation in the group is free!

For our first meeting we read The Bet by Anton Chekhov as our story. It tells about a bet between two men – if one can live in solitary confinement for fifteen years he will be paid two million dollars by the other. During the reading we discussed who might win the bet, the way the ‘prisoner’ spent his time and what effect the isolation had on him. You’ll have to read the story to discover the outcome of the bet!

We followed this up by reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne and talked about whether we are all valuable to society.

I’m excited to be getting this group started!

There’s more information about how Shared Reading can help depression, loneliness or simply bring like-minded people together on The Reader website. There’s more about the Sutton Coldfield group on the Folio website.

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Write a New Chapter for Alice in Wonderland

The Lewis Carroll Society is launching a writing competition to commemorate 150 years of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ and to celebrate the creativity of Lewis Carroll. The award is part of the bequest from Ellis S Hillman who was the first President of the Lewis Carroll Society in 1969.

The challenge is to write a ‘missing’ chapter for either Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or for Through the Looking-Glass. The chapter can introduce new characters or re-use existing characters. It can create new scenarios or follow from an existing scenario.

The competition is free to enter and offers a prize of £100 in each of three different age groups (including adults).

The closing date is 3rd July 2021 which coincides with Alice’s Day in Oxford.

Full competition details can be found on the Lewis Carroll Society website.

So, scoot down the nearest rabbit hole, take tea with the Mad Hatter and let your imagination take flight!

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Tipsy Apple Cake

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

The above quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway although there is no proof that he ever said it or that he ever wrote under the influence. I can see the benefit in allowing alcohol to chase away inhibition (and the voice of our inner self-editor) while getting the first draft down on paper but I’ve never tried working that way. Maybe some of you have?

Following wise advice from my agent, I am currently trying to edit my current work-in-progress into shape. It’s not easy and sometimes cake is required. Cake with a kick is even more welcome. I found Tipsy Apple Cake hit the right spot and here’s the recipe if you want to have a go.

130g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
65g butter/margarine
100g sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 tablespoons alcohol (I used whisky)
2 eating apples cut into small cubes

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C and grease/line a 23 cm cake tin.
  2. Mix flour and baking powder.
  3. Use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, combining thoroughly.
  4. Add the vanilla essence and alcohol and mix.
  5. Add half the flour and mix on a low speed. Add the other half of the flour, again using low speed until just combined.
  6. Fold the apple cubes into the mixture.
  7. Tip into prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake for around 40 minutes until the cake is golden.
  8. Enjoy!

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Get Your Book into More Categories on Amazon

Amazon KDP only allows the selection of two categories at the time of publishing a book and it can be difficult to decide which two categories are most important. For example, with Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners, I toyed with, ‘Speaking and Speech Writing’, ‘Communication’, ‘Assertiveness’ and ‘Practical & Motivational Self-Help’ amongst others.Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners
But there is a way to get a book into up to ten categories after publication.

There are two main advantages to a book being in more categories:
• Increased exposure on Amazon. The more categories a book is in, the more people will see it.
• An increased chance of the book gaining one of those coveted little orange ‘bestseller’ badges for a particular category. Some categories are small and therefore the number of sales required to win this badge will be correspondingly fewer.

Before we start, an explanation about categories:
The categories available for selection during the KDP publishing process do not exactly match the categories seen by buyers on Amazon and these categories seen on Amazon can differ between countries and between book formats (e-book, paperback etc.) The categories available during KDP publication are based on the Book Industry Standards and Communications Code. The categories you select are used, along with your keywords, to place the book in Amazon’s own categories. It is Amazon’s own categories that we are interested in for the purpose of this exercise not the BISAC ones.


The steps required to access more Amazon categories are listed below:

  1. Decide on the most appropriate Amazon categories for the book. 
    Go to https://www.amazon.co.uk/ and on the search bar change ‘All’ to ‘Kindle Store’. Click on the Search icon.
    On the left side of the page click “Kindle eBooks” under “Kindle Store” (which is beneath the Department heading). 
    Scroll down a little and the available categories will now be available on the left, beginning with Arts & Photography.
    Click on a category to view subcategories. Choose the most suitable ones and make a list of category paths. As an example here are the first three entries in my list for Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners:
    1. Kindle Store/Kindle eBooks/Education & Reference/Words, Language and Grammar/Public Speaking & Speech Writing
    2. Kindle Store/Kindle eBooks/Education & Reference/Words, Language & Grammar/Speech & Pronunciation
    3. Kindle Store/Kindle eBooks/Education & Reference/Words, Language & Grammar/Communication

  2. When the list is complete: Within your KDP Bookshelf, click the Help tab at the top of the screen. On the next screen, scroll down and click ‘Contact Us’ on the left-hand side of the screen. On the next screen, click ‘Amazon Product Page & Expanded Distribution’ and then select ‘Update Amazon Categories’. You will be presented with a form to fill in with your selected categories, book format, ASIN/ISBN and market place. Press submit.

  3. When your request has been actioned, you will receive a confirmation email and this comes from a real person! The first time I did this I wasn’t explicit enough about the categories and was asked to confirm exactly what I wanted, so pay attention to detail.

  4. It will be necessary to repeat the above exercise for other territories/book formats as you wish. However, for the time being I’ve concentrated my efforts on my UK e-books because that’s my greatest market share.

Do let me know if broadening Amazon categories results in better sales for you. Fingers crossed!

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