Archive for category Books

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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The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees was outside my comfort zone – it was a book group choice. The Bees by Laline Paull

The novel is set inside a beehive and all the characters are bees. Flora 717 is the heroine. She was born into the lowest class of bee – the sanitation workers who are responsible for cleaning the hive and disposing of the dead. However, Flora is no ordinary sanitation worker and she shows a fierce bravery in protecting the hive, foraging for food and defeating invasions. She feels a great loyalty to the hive and its occupants but she also breaks the most sacred law of the hive …

Laline Paull is an extremely talented writer. Her descriptive prose made me feel like I was inside the hive with thousands of bees. She made me root for the underdog, Flora 717. And I wanted to find out what happened in the end (it wasn’t exactly what I guessed!). I learned a lot about bees and the impact our modern lifestyle is having on them. My only grumble about the book is that I found it hard to pick out the other individual characters amongst all the bees. The bees have generic names and, to me, it wasn’t always clear, for example, which Sister Sage bee had done what.

Laline’s inspiration for the novel came via a beekeeper friend. On her website, Laline says, “I knew I had a book when I found out about the laying worker, that one in ten thousand sterile female bees, who suddenly, and for no known reason, start forming eggs in their bodies and become fertile – the sole role of the queen of the colony.” Laline also has some encouragement for other writers, “Don’t give up. I wrote The Bees age 48, in complete obscurity. It can happen.”

So, would I recommend The Bees? Yes, if you want to broaden your outlook and experience some good writing. No, if you like human characters with whom you can identify.
I agree with Tracy Chevalier who said, “A rich, strange book, utterly convincing in its portrayal of the mindset of a bee and a hive.”

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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

I know that at least one of my followers has read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon but the rest of you may have an opinion on it too.The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon I read it in a hurry this week – it was due back at the library and couldn’t be renewed due to another reservation, which shows how popular it is.

The story takes place over the famous hot summer of 1976 with flashbacks to 1967. It focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the repercussions this has on the rest of the people in the street. Much of it is from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old girl.

It took me a while to settle into the book because I was trying to read it too quickly. The pace very much reflects the languor of summer days that are too hot and school holidays that stretch forever into the future. The book needs to be read at this pace to appreciate the tiny details of daily life 40 years ago. The story is the slow peeling of secrets from the streets inhabitants – people aren’t always what they seem. I lived through that summer and, like 10-year-old Grace, collected Whimsies – little pottery animals that cost 10p. There’s lots of this exquisite minutiae and description in the book and don’t read it when hungry because a lot of biscuits are eaten too!
My only (very tiny) gripe is the brief mention of a bouncy castle – I don’t remember those being around as I grew up.

As a writer, this book has made me realise it’s the well-placed tiny detail that makes a reader believe in the story and want to stay in that imaginary world for just a little longer …
If, like me, your work tends to lack description, read The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and watch how the reader really can’t escape the heat of the sun and the watchful eyes of the neighbours.

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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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Two New Books for Writers

By now the initial excitement of New Year’s resolutions will have passed and keeping up that writing habit may have become a bit of a slog again. But do not despair – as always, your fellow writers are here to help and re-enthuse you.the-business-of-writing-by-simon-whaley

Simon Whaley is on a mission to make us all become more businesslike about our writing. If we treat our writing seriously and as a source of income, then our family and friends will adopt that attitude too – essential if you want to turn that ‘nice little hobby’ into a publishing empire! Simon’s blog about The Business of Writing is full of useful tips and many of you will recognise Simon’s name from his regular (and wise) column in Writing Magazine. He’s gathered together many of those articles into a handy e-book, also called The Business of Writing. It covers things like tax, record keeping, legalities, pseudonyms and much more, plus there are lots of tips and advice from writers across the genres.

start-a-creative-writing-class-by-helen-yendallTeaching writing is one way that many authors top up their income but the thought of getting a class up and running can be daunting. Helen Yendall has years of experience as a writing tutor and she’s just published an e-book sharing the knowledge that she’s built up – Start a Creative Writing Class: How to set up, run and teach a successful class. The book focuses on the nuts and bolts of setting up a writing class for adults, covering everything from finding a venue and arranging insurance, to marketing the class and giving feedback. There’s also plenty of advice on dealing with students and ideas of what (and how) to teach. It contains 100 x 5 minute writing exercises plus icebreaker ideas to get the class warmed-up and ready to learn.

 

So let 2017 be the year you fulfill your ambitions and take your writing more seriously – with the help of Simon and Helen.

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The Famous Five are 75!

Five years ago, in 2012, I wrote about Enid Blyton’s Famous Five turning 70.  Five on a Treasure IslandIt was one of my most popular posts.

In May of this year, that gang of four children and a dog will turn 75. The anniversary of the first publication of Five on a Treasure Island is being celebrated as part of Visit England’s Year of Literary Heroes 2017.
To mark the occasion the Royal Horticultural Society is creating four ‘Five Go on a Garden Adventure’ trails, one in each of their gardens: Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall, Wisley and Rosemoor. All four gardens will also hold a picnic party on 11th August to celebrate Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday.

A series of new paperback books will be released in May to coincide with the anniversary. These have new covers, an example of one of these can be seen on the Bookseller’s website. Have a look and tell me what you think. I’m not keen but I guess today’s children wouldn’t be impressed by the ‘old-fashioned’ original covers. I much prefer the one I’ve used to illustrate this post.

However, I do fancy that picnic – especially if there’s lashings of ginger beer plus plenty of ice cream (didn’t Julian always buy an ice cream for Timmy the dog?) and then we can relax on a bed of springy heather and keep watch for the smugglers on Kirrin Island …

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