If Goethe had had to prepare supper

I’m just back from a cycling holiday along the banks of the Danube from Passau, near the German/Austrian border, to Vienna, in Austria. The weather was excellent. I didn’t get saddle-sore, thanks to several pairs of padded shorts. And although my leg muscles were exhausted by the end of day two, I got a second-wind and finished the trip without too many aches.Emerenz Meier

However, the point of this blog post is to highlight a memorial to the authoress, Emerenz Meier, on the river bank in Passau. The written work of this lady suffered due to the pressures on her to earn a living and keep house. She laments this in a poem reproduced on the memorial. It reads:

If Goethe had had to prepare supper, salt the dumplings;
If Schiller had had to wash the dishes;
If Heine had had to mend what he had torn, to clean the rooms, kill the bugs –
Oh, the menfolk, none of them would have become great poets.

Most of us have moaned, at some time or another, about the way chores and working for a living take up too much time. Time which could otherwise be used for productive writing. Today, equality of the sexes means fitting in the housework is no longer a uniquely female problem. But Emerenz Meier was born in 1874, died in 1928 and was married twice, so I’m guessing neither husband was particularly domesticated.

So next time domestic drudgery is getting in the way of creativity, be glad that we have washing machines, vacuum cleaners and many other labour saving devices: Emerenz would have been doing everything the hard way. And we don’t usually have to kill too many bugs!

The memorial was erected by Soroptimist International Club Passau, an organisation of professional women.

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How to Structure a Novel

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to get started on a new novel. My usual strategy is to create a quick list of scenes that get me from beginning to end and then I start writing.
BUT, invariably, as I get to know the characters and the story-line better, I go off plan. My narrative goes around the houses and there’s a lot of wasted time and much re-writing. This time I want to avoid all that. So, I’ve been using a couple of resources to help me create a proper story structure and character arcs before I get too deep into the writing.

The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method was pioneered by Randy Ingermanson and was recommended to me by children’s author Lorraine Hellier.
This method dictates that the writer should start with the simplest premise possible and gradually expand to create plot and character details. For example, step one is ‘Write a one sentence summary of the story’. Step two is ‘Expand to a one paragraph summary.’ By following all six steps, the writer ends up with character bibles, a four-page synopsis and a scene list. The Reedsy website explains how to use The Snowflake Method in an easy to follow way. In addition, there are lots of useful resources on Reedsy such as character and story structure templates to download, which I found useful.

5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out

At time of writing this is a free e-book by KM Weiland. It’s short and easy to read. Most of us will be familiar with the three-act structure but this book provides more plot points on which to hang the story. For example it talks about pinch points which are small turning points between the main plot points.
I found the book very useful.

If you’re looking for more reading on the subject of novel structure, have a look at the five recommendations in this blog post by Rachel McCollin.

Finally, if you’ve got a tried and tested plotting/structure technique, please add it in the comments below!

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Selling Secondhand Books Online

Where do you stand on disposing of secondhand books? Any that I have in perfect condition I usually donate to our cash-strapped libraries because that helps both the library and the author (PLR). The others go to charity shops.webuybooks.co.uk

Recently I tried something different: WeBuyBooks.co.uk

Simply type an ISBN into the website and you get a monetary offer for the book. It’s not a lot, often just a few pence and the site won’t accept every title. But I found the process of keying in the numbers to get a valuation addictive. They buy DVDs and CDs too. Once you have a collection of goods with a total value of £5 or more there is the facility to print a label giving free postage to WeBuyBooks via the parcel people Hermes. It took a lot of books to reach £5 and then there was the job of parceling up and taking them to my nearest Hermes collection point (or they can collect from you).

A couple of days later I had an email from WeBuyBooks to say my parcel had been received and then, two days later, another to say the payment for my books had been deposited in my bank account.

Was it worth it?

Financially, probably not. My books were mostly novels and didn’t fall into the site’s most sought after categories i.e. cookbooks, travel guides and text books. A charity shop may have netted more for the books than I received.

More broadly, yes it was worth it. I got carried away with wanting to know what my books were worth and sorted through a lot! Many of the books refused by WeBuyBooks I then took to the charity shop anyway. And my mind feels clearer now more clutter is gone. So it was a win-win result!

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Three Free Competitions

I’ve got three competitions for you today. Two are short fiction and one is a giveaway on Twitter.

First up is the Writers’ HQ Flash Quarterly Competition. It’s an open theme, 500 words limit and, as the name suggests, it runs every quarter. The next closing date is 30th June. First prize is
12 months Writers’ HQ membership plus 3 free writers’ retreats (cash value £450). Second prize is 6 months Writers’ HQ membership and 3 free retreats (cash value £270). Third prize is
3 months Writers’ HQ membership and 3 free retreats (cash value £180). The writing retreats are 10 am to 4 pm in various UK cities. Writers’ HQ membership gives several benefits.
Make sure you read the full rules before entering.

The second competition is the Reedsy Short Story Contest which runs every week and has a $50 prize. The story must be written to fit one of a selection of weekly prompts and should be between 1,000 and 3,000 words long. In order to get the prompts each week (which can be used as general inspiration and ideas – you don’t have to enter the competition) you need to sign up for the contest email (sign up form should be on the right of the screen).

Finally, if you have a Twitter account, you can enter a giveaway for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners. Public Speaking for Absolute BeginnersSimply, go to my Twitter Account, read the pinned Tweet (i.e. the first one visible), follow me (if you don’t already) and retweet that pinned tweet. You can also find me by searching for @sallyjenkinsuk. But be quick; the competition ends at midnight tomorrow (4th May 2019).

 

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Using HTML in Amazon Book Descriptions

This is a post for those of you who have self-published on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or are planning to do so.

KDP requires a Product Description for each book. This is the equivalent of the blurb on the back of a traditional book and it is very important in selling the book. These short paragraphs help readers decide whether or not to buy the book. Therefore the product description must be set out in an easy to read format. This is not as straightforward as it sounds because Amazon doesn’t provide any formatting options within the box where the the product description is keyed i.e. it’s not possible to use bold or italics or bullet points. This means the product descriptions of many self-published books appear flat and uninteresting.

But there is a way to slip formatting into the product description and thus make it more attractive. HTML can be used. HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language and is the standard markup language for web pages. DO NOT GLAZE OVER OR RUN AWAY! This is simpler than it sounds.

For example, to make the word ‘thriller’ appear in bold in a product description, use <b> and </b> immediately before and after ‘thriller’.

And, to make the word ‘scare’ appear in italics, use <i> and </i> immediately before and after ‘scare’.

Put ‘A <b>thriller</b> guaranteed to <i>scare</i>.’ in the product description box and it will appear as ‘A thriller guaranteed to scare.’ on the Amazon page.

It’s also possible to use HTML to underline, create lists and give other text effects. This page lists the HTML acceptable in the product description.

To complicate matters, when publishing in paperback through KDP, the product description has a tendency to lose the line breaks. Use <br> to manually indicate where the line breaks should go and use <br> <br> to create a blank line between paragraphs.

Why not experiment with HTML to liven up your book descriptions?

 

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Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners

I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners

Who should buy this book?

  • Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
  • Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
  • Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
  • Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
  • Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.

As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!

But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.

I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.

Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is available on Kindle and in paperback.

 

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Save a Life – Learn to Use a Defibrillator

A defibrillator has been installed in my area and I went to a session run by Community Heartbeat on how to use it. A patient’s survival rate following a cardiac arrest is much improved by the use of a defibrillator rather than just CPR (from around 7% to 28% if I remember correctly) so it’s great that increasing numbers of these machines are appearing in public spaces.

Use of Defibrillator

If Someone Collapses Follow These Instructions

The important takeaways from the session were:

  • Unless you hit them over the head with it, you can’t hurt anyone with a defibrillator – the machines are programmed to only deliver a shock when/if one is needed.
  • A defibrillator applies a current of electricity to the heart to stop it and thus allow it to reconfigure automatically. Our instructor said it was a little bit like rebooting a laptop when the screen has locked up.
  • The defibrillator gives audible instructions on what you are required to do.
  • When you dial 999 you will be told where the nearest defibrillator is and the code number to access it
  • If the nearest defibrillator is too far away and you are alone, you will be talked through performing CPR only. If you are not alone, one person will start CPR whilst the other fetches the defibrillator.
  • When the defibrillator arrives, one person should continue with CPR while the other sets everything up.
  • There are scissors and a razor in the defibrillator pack. This allows you to cut the patient’s clothing (including the bra on a woman) in order to bare the chest. The razor is for shaving a square of skin on a hairy chest. The pads through which the shock is delivered won’t stick to very hairy skin.
  • CPR must be continued in between allowing the defibrillator to monitor and possibly shock the patient. Give 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute followed by two breaths. You will need to press hard with two hands on an adult patient and you may break one of their ribs. I would prefer someone to break my rib but save my life rather than leave me to die with ribs intact.
  • The defibrillator will tell you when to stop touching the patient so that the machine can monitor the heart.
  • Do not stop CPR when you see the ambulance. The paramedics will always say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.” This is because they need a minute to set up and therefore need you to keep going just a little longer.
  • You may or may not find out what eventually happens to the patient. Do not be disheartened if he dies. It does not mean you did anything wrong – look again at the survival percentages at the top of this post.

Every life is precious and deserves saving. Don’t walk by on the other side because you’re afraid of getting involved.

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