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Growing Up with Enid Blyton

We can all pinpoint particular books or authors that got us reading as a child. For my daughters it was Harry Potter and Jacqueline Wilson.

For me it was Enid Blyton. Her books offered children a different series for whatever age they were at. My ‘ladder’ of Enid Blyton series was:

Mr Pinkwhistle
Mr Pinkwhistle is half brownie and half person, and he has the ability to make himself invisible at will. He’s always helping people in trouble and this often leads to funny situations. There is a moral to the stories – people who do bad things always get punished. For example a brother and sister have pet rabbits and neglect them. Mr Pinkwhistle sets the rabbits free to enjoy the grass and the children lose their pets (if I remember correctly!).

The Magic Faraway Tree
The Faraway Tree is a huge tree that reaches up to the clouds. Each day there is a different land to be found above the clouds e.g. the land of spells, the land of toys, the rocking land (the land tips up and sideways and you keep falling over). A group of children discover the tree and have various adventures in the different lands.
What really captured my imagination was the the slippery slip – a helter skelter that runs down the middle of the tree.
There are lots of amazing characters who live in the tree, such as Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot (the children have to dodge her water as she empties down the tree).

The Famous Five
Four children and Timmy the dog have amazing adventures which involve camping on deserted islands, tracking down jewel thieves and more. I wanted to belong to this group of children. The eldest, Julian, was like the big brother I would have loved to have had. George (real name Georgina) was the brave tomboy I’d like to have been. Timmy was the pet dog I never had. And I longed to camp out on a bed of springy heather and drink lashings of ginger beer (although I had no idea as a child what ginger beer was!).

In the 1990s potentially offensive language was removed from the Famous Five, with words like ‘queer’ and ‘golliwog’ removed. In 2010 things went a step further. An attempt was made by the publisher Hachette to modernise the Famous Five. Old fashioned words were swapped to their modern day equivalents. For example ‘frocks’ was changed to ‘dresses’, ‘mother and father’ to ‘mum and dad’ and the expression ‘Golly!’ was removed. The children wore jeans instead of shorts. I’m glad to say that the 2010 the changes were deemed a mistake and were reversed in 2016.
Can you imagine if they’d gone further with their ‘modernisation’ and given the children mobile phones and tablets!

Malory Towers
This is a series of six books set in a girls’ boarding school. The books follow Darrell Rivers from the first term in her first year to the last term in her last year. School life is full of midnight feasts and playing tricks on the teachers, with no parents getting in the way. Memorable characters were the unpopular, malicious Gwendoline Mary, little Mary Lou and Darrell’s best friend Sally. French teacher Mam’zelle Dupont was often the butt of the girls’ tricks.
Apparently the school is based on the boarding school, Benenden School, that Blyton’s daughter attended, during its wartime relocation to the Cornish seaside. And Darrell’s name is taken from Enid’s second husband – Kenneth Darrell Waters.
This series’ continued popularity with modern youngsters was recognised in 2009, when Pamela Cox wrote another 6 books in the series, they continued where Blyton had left off but focused on Darrell’s younger sister, Felicity, who joined the school when Darrell was in the 4th form.

Do you have a ‘ladder’ of Enid Blyton books? Or did you grow up with something different?

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Head Count by Judith Cutler

I’ve written before about Judith Cutler, known as Birmingham’s queen of cosy crime. She has a knack of creating feisty female lead characters and also a prolific output. Judith knows her fan base well and how to please them, which she does time and time again. Her books are very readable and so I was pleased to hear about her latest novel, Head Count. This is the second in a series of novels featuring Jane Cowan, a primary school head teacher. 

In Head Count, Jane Cowan gets mixed up in the horrors of people smuggling, in particular children arriving in the UK alone and having to fend for themselves. It is cosy crime with a realistic and very topical sharp edge. As a writer I found the structure of this book very interesting. Generally, crime fiction begins with a body on page one and then the hunt is on to find the killer. In Head Count, Judith Cutler takes a different tack. The story starts with Jane being knocked off her bike and into a hedge. She’s not badly hurt and an elderly couple help her back on her feet – but when Jane later goes to their house to thank them with flowers, the couple have disappeared into thin air. From that point on the mysterious happenings come thick and fast – no local builder will touch the renovations needed to Jane’s house, a village do-gooder constantly interferes with Jane’s school and two small boys with no English keep turning up at the school’s breakfast club.
If you want to find out how to create a layered mystery rather than a traditional whodunnit, Head Count is worth a read.

Head Count is authentic and well-researched. As well as being a head teacher, Jane Cowan is also a cricket umpire and match descriptions and after match socialising events in the novel feel real. Jane Cowan also has friends in the police and I’m guessing that Judith Cutler does as well – the police involvement in the book appears true to life, in particular there’s a clever piece of advice included in the narrative about how to make a 999 on a mobile phone when you are in the process of being kidnapped and can’t speak out loud to the operator. It’s worth reading the book just for this advice – it might save your life one day!

Judith Cutler is not afraid to tackle topical and controversial  issues but she does so in an empathetic and accessible way. If you like your cosy crime to be relevant to today’s society, rather than 1930s golden age, Judith Cutler is an author to watch out for and Head Count is a good place to start.

Now I’m off to catch up with the first book in the Jane Cowan series, Head Start.

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Mick Arnold – A Man in a Woman’s World

The USP for Mick Arnold’s debut festive novel is his gender.  The Season for Love is a Christmas romance and, unusually for a romance author, Mick is a man. I asked Mick how he came to be interested in writing love stories.

A mere four years ago, you could have described me as a typical male reader. I was (and always will be) a voracious reader of all things Terry Pratchett and general science-fiction. If you’d given me a romance novel to read, I’d probably have used it to prop open a door. Certainly, I’d never given thought to putting pen to paper or, nowadays, pop open my laptop. 
Then my lady wife persuaded me to read ‘The Christmas Factor’ by Annie Sanders. The next day, I opened my laptop and from who knows where, started to type, and type, and twelve hours later, I was finally persuaded to stop writing. So was born my first attempt at a novel and yes, it was a romance. ‘Flirty Something’ was born and remains unpublished. Not surprising really, as being my first attempt, the writing is poor, though I’d like to revisit it as the story is good (I like to think).
From somewhere, I heard about the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme and decided to join the multitudes clicking away at the ‘Send’ button at silly-o’clock in the morning, attempting to join. I got lucky when someone decided not to take up their position. Did I know what I was letting myself in for? Of course not, but it was the start of the most wonderful, unexpected ride of my life (apart from my marriage, of course)!
At no point I can remember, had I considered writing a book, let alone trying to get published. Yet, suddenly, I found I’d thrown myself into this new goal; and in a world dominated by the fairer sex. This latter was of no great surprise. What was, was the way in which I found myself welcomed into what can still be, a world every bit as alien as any created by Ridley Scott. I now know more about Jimmy Choos, Louboutin and Burberry than I would admit to any other red-blooded male. Such is the life I’ve chosen to enter.
I’ve never been happier to have made this accidental choice though and as I come towards the day each author dreams of, the release of their debut novel, I couldn’t have wished for a more supportive bunch of people to have shared this journey with. It’s still a little intimidating when I’m surrounded by all these talented ladies, not helped by being a naturally shy person, but I can’t imagine a more supportive group of people who make me welcome into what is and will always be perceived as a genre dominated by women.
Albeit, a little diluted by my good self now.

About The Season for Love
Believing she was responsible for the death of her husband, Chrissie Stewart retreats from all those who love her. A chance meeting with mysterious stranger, single-parent Josh Morgan and his bewitching young daughter Lizzy, breathe new life into her and gradually, she feels able to start to let go of the memory of her lost love. Unexpected links are revealed between the two families that strengthen the growing bonds she feels to this man and with the encouragement of her best friend Annie, herself hiding a hidden conflict from Chrissie, she battles with her demons to believe in her ability to trust and love again. Everything comes to a head on Christmas Day; which all goes to show that this is truly The Season for Love

The Season for Love is available from Amazon US , Amazon UK , Barnes & Noble, Bookstrand , Smashwords , Kobo US and Kobo UK

About Mick Arnold
Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England, and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Air Force, before putting down roots, and realising how much he missed the travel. This, he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and writing a regular post at the http://www.NovelKicks.co.uk blog site.
He’s the proud keeper of a cat bent on world domination, is mad on the music of the Beach Boys and enjoys the theatre and humouring his Manchester United supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/mick859
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MWArnoldAuthor/

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How To Organise a Book Launch

William the Hedgehog Boy

Robert A. Brown at the launch of William the Hedgehog Boy

A few weeks ago in my local library I overheard a conversation at the desk. A gentleman was introducing himself as an author with a new book coming out and asking if the library would display a poster advertising the launch event. With my ears flapping, I pounced on the poor man before he could see the triumphant glint in my eye and escape. The result of that meeting is this blog post giving you Robert A. Brown‘s ten top tips for organising a book launch. Robert is a children’s author but his tips make sound sense for the rest of us as well.

  1. Set a realistic budget for your launch.
  2. Invest in some promotional materials, e.g. business cards, postcards, flyers of various sizes, pull up banner, book marks. These make a statement and look professional. But remember your budget – promotional materials may help sales but they won’t guarantee them.
  3. Choose a suitable date to hold the launch. Don’t rely on the publisher’s date for printing, as there is often slippage. Make sure your books will definitely be available to sell and sign.
  4. Consider what type of event to hold, e.g. daytime or evening, formal as in a bookshop or library, less formal, as in a café or a room in a pub/restaurant. Do you want to attract passing trade or is it invitation only?
  5. Decide what refreshments will be available if any and find out what the costs will be.
  6. Select a price point for your book, offering attendees an enticing discount compared to bookshop and internet prices. Have appropriate change ready in a float.
  7. Publicise the launch event. Approach shops, libraries, relatives, friends and media with publicity material and flyers and, of course, your book. Build up a social media presence.
  8. Recruit friends and family to help during the event, e.g. serving refreshments, selling the books and taking money, taking photos for future publicity, a master of ceremonies (to meet, greet and direct people) etc.
  9. How will you manage questions from the audience? Will people raise their hands or do you want questions written down on postcards and collected by another of your helpers? Pre-plan answers to the most common questions e.g. Where do you get your ideas from? How long does it take to write a book? Be prepared for the unusual, Robert was asked, ‘What is a hedgehog’s favourite tipple?’!
  10. ON THE DAY: You will be busy! You will be signing books, posing for photos, responding in the Q&A, giving a reading and delivering a brief speech including list of thanks.

Remember to enjoy your day – you have worked hard to get there!

Robert A. Brown is the author of the children’s and young adults’ book William the Hedgehog Boy.  The story is inspired by the work of Michael Morpurgo and Dick King Smith. It will be enjoyed by readers aged 9-11 with an interest in wildlife.

 

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Oppression by Dianne Noble

When Dianne Noble contacted me and said her third novel was about to be published, I was shocked – this was Dianne’s third book in fifteen months. Surely nobody can be that prolific?! So I asked Dianne to explain herself and this is what she told me:

I suppose it might appear prolific, three books out in fifteen months, Outcast first followed by A Hundred Hands and now Oppression which was published today, June 14th 2017, and is available for 99p for a very limited time. Oppression by Dianne Noble
But it’s not as prolific as it appears! I doubt anyone could turn out writing of any quality at such speed. The painful truth is that the first two had been written for a few years. I’d been doing voluntary work in India, teaching street children to speak English, and when I came home again had the idea that the journal I’d kept would be a good basis for a novel. Unhappily, agents and publishers thought differently and after Outcast had been rejected 32 times I stopped submitting, sat back and licked my wounds.
After nursing my bruised ego for several months, I decided to write another book, A Hundred Hands, also based in India, but with a different story line. I joined two writing groups and took my work in, chapter by chapter, week after week. Their critique was merciless and within a short time I felt tempted to abandon the whole idea. Whatever had made me think I could write? However, the stubborn part of me persevered and bit by bit every chapter was re-written, every word checked and evaluated, until I had a complete manuscript. I trawled The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to find agents or publishers who 1) dealt in contemporary women’s fiction and 2) accept unsolicited manuscripts. They were very thin on the ground!
It took Conville & Walsh 17 days to refuse me and Curtis Brown 5 weeks. Some took months to respond, others never answered at all. It’s hard to describe how demoralising it is when everyone says no. You wonder if you’re totally deluded thinking you can write, and your skin seems to get thinner rather than thicker. 
When I received an email from Tirgearr Publishing my heart sank. I was at rock bottom and really couldn’t take another rejection. But it wasn’t! It was an acceptance and a contract. I don’t know how many times I read it, totally disbelieving that somewhere, someone (apart from me) thought I could write.
So when Outcast was accepted, A Hundred Hands already existed in draft form and Oppression then took around a year to write – not as prolific as it might first appear!

Dianne supplied me with an advance review copy of Oppression and it is well worth reading. It is a story of women fighting circumstance, men and religion in Yorkshire and Egypt. Dianne is brilliant at settings – sights, sounds, smells and dialogue are all authentic and her characters will have you rooting for them. Don’t miss the 99p offer!

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Self-Publishing for Charity

A client recently asked me to format an ebook that he intended to publish for charity. Then a writer friend of mine announced she’d published a short story anthology with the royalties going to a good cause. In turn, this reminded me of a book I’d bought in aid of charity at the beginning of last year.  It seems that writers are a generous breed and so I had a word with each these three writers to see what they personally had got out of the project and how their chosen charities had helped publicise the book.

Speak the English the English Speak is Colin Grey’s first venture in self-publishing and I think he’ll be the first to admit that it was a steep learning curve! Speak the English the English SpeakThe book contains the meaning and history behind 500 essential English idioms. The information will be useful for students and teachers of English as a foreign language as well as native English speakers who want to know more about phrases in everyday usage. For example, I didn’t know the origin of the expression, ‘Fill your boots‘, Colin’s book tells me that in the past, fighting forces’ alcohol was rationed and delivery was measured in long leather tubs that looked like riding boots.
Colin has chosen to give his royalties to the Maiastra charity, which helps young musicians. The charity has helped him publicise the book by mentioning it in their email newsletter which goes out to all supporters. I asked Colin what he, personally, got out of the project, “It’s fun! It gives me an interest and is a small achievement – something I never expected I would ever do.”

 

Paws for Thought

Sharon Boothroyd, of Ryecorn Digital Publishing, has produced a short story anthology, Paws for Thought, in aid of her local branch of the RSPCA. “Our project had to be passed by the RSPCA committee first, so it was an anxious wait for us, but they said yes and we were thrilled,” says Sharon. “Personal benefits to us are that it showcases our abilities and those of the terrific writers we’ve included in the ebook.”
The RSPCA gave the book a mention on their homepage and also allowed their logo to be used on the book cover. Sharon chose the RSPCA as their charity beneficiary because it was where her tabby cat, Buster, was adopted from. “The RSPCA are great to work with and if this book goes well, there might be a ‘Paws for Thought 2’ later.”

 

 

In 2016, proofreader Helen Baggott, wrote about her personal experience of breast cancer in Swimming With the Tide. Breast cancer experienceAll royalties from the book go to the Macmillan charity.
Helen is the only one of our charity publishers to produce a paperback version of the book as well as an ebook.
“I did the paperback,” she said, “because there was no extra cost involved  and I have friends who don’t use Kindles. I felt it was important that they could buy the book. Also, I wanted to give some people copies and paperbacks seemed a better way of doing that. Although Macmillan didn’t help with the promotion they did send some items that I could include inside the paperback copies that I sent out. These could be used as bookmarks.”

 

All the above writers should be applauded for using their talents for the good of others. Each one has also derived personal satisfaction from their project and probably learned something that will help them on their future publishing journey. I wish them well in their fundraising efforts.
If you’ve published something for charity, please give it a shout-out in the comments section below.

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Benefits of Writing Competitions

At the end of January Morton S. Gray celebrated the publication, by Choc Lit, of her first novel, The Girl on the Beach. The Girl on the Beach by Morton S GrayMorton’s success was the result of dogged perseverance and the culmination of a series of competition successes. Not surprisingly, she is now a great advocate of writing competitions and she’s here today to tell us how they helped her on the road to success:

Innocently entering a writing competition caused me to take my writing seriously! In 2006, a friend started a fledgling publishing business (sadly no longer trading) and she held a short story writing competition to raise the profile of the company. I entered, primarily to support her, and unbelievably won with my story “Human Nature versus the Spirit Guide”.
It was a wake-up call for me. I’d had a baby and not been well for a couple of years, so I was looking for a new direction. The competition win made me look at writing as a serious option for the future and it was relatively easy to combine with a small child still taking naps in the afternoon. I started to take courses to learn to polish my work. I entered several competitions and began to get shortlisted.

In 2008, I entered a Mills and Boon novel competition, the forerunner of their SYTYCW competitions. I quickly decided I wasn’t a Mills and Boon writer, as it is a particular way of writing and much harder than people might think to keep the focus on the main protagonists throughout a novel. However, the competition introduced me to several people with whom I’m still in contact.

Competitions give you a framework within which to work. They give you the discipline of a deadline and a word count. Not as many people enter these competitions as you may imagine, especially the smaller local ones. I’ve been involved in running a local competition and I was surprised not only by the relatively few number of entries, but by the fact that sixty percent of the entries were essentially the same story. Tip – think around the set theme for a while and don’t go for the obvious. Your entry will stand out if it is different.

Morton S. Gray

Morton S. Gray

I continued to get shortlisted for flash fiction, poetry, short story and novel competitions. In 2013, I came second in the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference competition for the first chapter of a novel and that resulted in an appearance on the Tammy Gooding show at BBC Hereford and Worcester Radio. All good experience. Later that year, I shortlisted in the New Talent Award at the then Festival of Romance, with another first chapter. I met a different group of writers, many of whom I’m still in contact with in real life and online.

These encouraging signs for my writing kept me going. It is easy to get despondent when writing, as it can be a very solitary occupation. Don’t spend your life thinking no one will want to read your work, imagining that it’s rubbish, not up to scratch, not worthy of anything but the bin. Been there, done that! Keep going, keep writing and get your work out to competitions, send it to magazines, publishers, agents. Writing is a constant learning process and is generally about persistence. You need an imaginative spark, yes, but you also need to be willing to check your work over time and again to make it the best it can be. What is the point of a manuscript in a drawer?

I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme and made sure I submitted a novel for critique every year. I also made a promise to myself to take part in the annual novel writing challenge NaNoWriMo and I’ve managed seven years running to write 50,000 words in November. One of these novels, when edited and passed through the RNA NWS critique service, I sent off to the Search for a Star competition run by a publisher I’d admired for many years, Choc Lit and I won! My debut novel, The Girl on the Beach was published on 24 January 2017.

I suppose the messages here are keep writing, learn your craft, polish your work and get it out into the world. My novel could so easily still be in that drawer under the bed. Competitions are a way of assessing how you are progressing, hopefully you’ll meet friends along the way and who knows, you might win a publishing contract like me.

I love Morton’s encouraging message and I love the blurb for The Girl on the Beach – the novel is now sitting on my Kindle hankering to be read. I think it might tempt some of you too:

When Ellie Golden meets Harry Dixon, she can’t help but feel she recognises him from somewhere. But when she finally realises who he is, she can’t believe it – because the man she met on the beach all those years before wasn’t called Harry Dixon. And, what’s more, that man is dead.
For a woman trying to outrun her troubled past and protect her son, Harry’s presence is deeply unsettling – and even more disconcerting than coming face to face with a dead man, is the fact that Harry seems to have no recollection of ever having met Ellie before. At least that’s what he says …
But perhaps Harry isn’t the person Ellie should be worried about. Because there’s a far more dangerous figure from the past lurking just outside of the new life she has built for herself, biding his time, just waiting to strike.

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