Archive for category Books

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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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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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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Lockdown Reading

This article was written for the Mirthy website but I have permission to reproduce it here.

A positive aspect of lockdown has been the increased time available for reading. I’ve got through a wide range of novels but, until recently, avoided anything that focused on pandemics or lockdown. For me, fiction is a means of escaping ordinary life and day-to-day problems. However, this self-imposed rule was broken when Lockdown by Peter May was chosen as the monthly read by my book group and I spotted publicity for Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde. These two very different books transported me out of my lockdown situation because the challenges facing the characters were so very different to my own.

Lockdown by Peter May
The Story
Lockdown takes place over 24 hours in a London locked down by a bird flu, H5N1, pandemic. This flu has a mortality rate of more than sixty percent and London is at the epicentre. This fictional lockdown is far more rigorously imposed than our own COVID regulations. There is a night-time curfew, checkpoints, soldiers carrying guns and special clearance needed to drive in certain areas. Against this backdrop, a bag of bones is discovered, the bones of a murdered child. D.I. Jack MacNeil is put on the case but MacNeil is working his last shift before leaving the Metropolitan Police. The case and the injustices this child went through consume the detective and the race is on to solve the murder before he leaves the force. Lockdown by Peter May
The Background
Before writing the novel, May already had an interest in pandemics following his research into the Spanish Flu for an earlier book, Snakehead. Then, in 2005, he started investigating the possibility of a bird flu pandemic and how it might spread and engulf the population. Armed with the science and a crime, May wrote Lockdown in only six weeks but it failed to find a publisher. Editors thought May’s portrayal of London under lockdown was unrealistic and could never happen. Fast forward to 2020. May dusted off his old manuscript, which had suddenly become very topical, and the book was published.
My Verdict
This is a fast-moving thriller which hooks the reader on page one and keeps him enthralled until the end. Like most fictional detectives, MacNeil has personal problems that get worse as the story races along. He breaks the rules, performs heroic deeds and goes far beyond the call of duty, given that this is his last shift with the force. The final sentence of the book is poignant – so don’t be tempted to read the last page first (yes, there are people who do that!)

Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde
The Story
Just the Two of Us takes place in the first few weeks of the March 2020 UK lockdown. Julie and Michael have been married for thirty-four years. They sleep in separate bedrooms, they live separate lives and their children have left home. The disintegration in their relationship is so bad that Julie has consulted a solicitor and has the divorce papers ready to hand to Michael. Then Boris Johnson announces the national lockdown. Julie and Michael can’t escape one another. It doesn’t seem the right time to rock the boat and Julie is left in limbo. Unable to leave the house and forced to meet eyes across the dinner table every night, things begin to change but is it possible for them to rekindle their relationship or do they have to find another way forward?

Just the Two of Us by Jo WildeThe Background
Jo Wilde is an established author, writing historical novels under the name Joanna Courtney and contemporary fiction as Anna Stuart. Unusually, Jo’s publisher came up with the idea for Just the Two of Us and presented Jo with outlines of the characters and the main plot points. Jo liked the idea and with lockdown kicking in hard was happy to devote herself to the writing. That actual writing took only four weeks followed by a further two weeks of editorial input. Usually it then takes eighteen months before a book appears on the shelves but, because of the topical nature, the whole process was accelerated and Just the Two of Us came out in July 2020.
When asked about the writing, Jo said, “It was pretty hectic but gave me the perfect excuse to make my teenage kids (two of whom had just had GCSEs and A-levels cancelled and one of whom had sadly had to come home from a ski season working in Canada, so all were at loose ends) do all the housework and cleaning. I holed myself up in my office and wrote and I really enjoyed it!”

My Verdict
This is an easy-to-read story about relationships, families and empty nests. It captures perfectly how things can disintegrate when there is a lack of communication between two people and no time in hectic lives to talk things through. The story is set in the early part of the first lockdown but uses a lot of flashbacks to earlier points in Julie and Michael’s marriage. The reader slowly pieces together how the relationship disintegrated, why Julie is carrying secret guilt over her mother’s death and how Michael feels about working away. But, unlike some books, there is never any confusion over what is current and what is flashback.
As a woman of a certain age, I could empathise with many of Julie’s feelings.

Although initially wary, I enjoyed both Lockdown and Just the Two of Us. I was worried that I might find them too much of a mirror to the lockdown world we find ourselves in, and thus depressing. But because the characters’ situations were fundamentally different to my own, I was still able to escape into the fiction without being constantly reminded of face masks, hand sanitiser and the two metre rule!

 

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Highland Book Prize Longlist Announced

We couldn’t go on holiday this year but I spent the latter part of the summer travelling the length and breadth of the Scottish Highlands. In books.

I was a reader for the longlist of the Highland Book Prize.

The Highland Book Prize is an annual book prize that celebrates the talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands. It is open to fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
In 2020 there were 52 entries, which were initially reviewed by a panel of 145 volunteer readers, comprising both industry professionals and avid readers. Our opinions and comments were then aggregated to build a longlist of thirteen books.

The longlist will be read by a panel of experts who will draw up the shortlist. The final winner will be announced in May 2021 and will receive £1000 and a place on a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor.

Reading for the longlist was a great experience. I was sent a mix of fiction, memoir, non-fiction and poetry. Some of it challenged me and other stuff was more along the lines of my usual reading matter. I learned a lot about the people, landscape and nature of the Highlands. I’m hoping to be on the panel again next year. If you’d like to take part as well, applications to be a reader in 2021 are now open.

On another subject entirely, if you are struggling to find the time or space to write, you might be interested in this post, which I wrote for Lightbox Originals

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Valuable First Editions

Have you got a rare and valuable first edition sitting on your bookshelf? Would you like one?

I recently came across an article on LoveMoney.com detailing the phenomenal sums achieved by the first editions of some books. Remember, when these books were first bought, the purchaser was often taking a gamble on an unknown author, simply hoping to find a good read and having no thought to what the book might be worth in the future.

Here are some examples to check for on your shelves:

A first edition of Bridget Jones’ Diary can fetch up to £303 or £500 if signed.

A signed US first edition of The Talented Mr Ripley can be worth up to £7,678.

First editions of either Animal Farm or 1984 by George Orwell can sell for £10,000.

A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was saved from a skip by a teacher helping to clear out a school library. It sold for £33,000.

The Abe Books website has a useful article about identifying first editions. It’s not straightforward because different publishers use different identification methods. As a starting point, the publisher may state the words ‘first edition’ or ‘first printing’ on the copyright page. Alternatively, look at the number line – that’s a line of numbers on the copyright page. If a one is present then it’s usually a first edition. Sometimes booksellers are able to identify a first edition by a printing error that was later rectified.

It’s not too late to start your collection of first editions or gift one to somebody else. I have some copies of psychological thriller, The Promise available for only £6.99, including second class postage within the UK. These books can be signed, personalised with a special message or left pristine. An excellent present for yourself or someone you can’t get to see at the moment. For more details or to order, please email sallysjenkins@btinternet.com.

Disclaimer: There is no guarantee that your copy of The Promise will rise in value, just as there is no guarantee that your lottery ticket will win the jackpot.

What Amazon reviewers say about The Promise:

“… there is something about the way that Sally Jenkins writes that draws me in and keeps me wanting to read more.” – Whiskas’ Mum.

“I was particularly surprised to find out much sympathy I felt for Tina, she is a very well written character.” – Theda.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures! How far would you go to protect yourself!!” – dash fan

The Promise by Sally Jenkins

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A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan by Susie Kearley

Susie Kearley is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for Practical Poultry, Weekly News, and Caravan magazine. Susie KearleyShe’s taken advantage of the extra time gifted by lockdown to publish A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan on Kindle. The e-book is full of detail and illustrated with colour pictures of the sights, people and animals she met along the way.

I was pleased when Susie agreed to answer my questions about how she put the book together and about the tour itself. Here’s what she told me:

The level of detail in the book must have necessitated keeping a holiday journal. What form did this take?
I took an A4 lined pad and wrote about my day every evening in the caravan. I’d hoped to sell it as a series of articles to Caravan magazine, but hadn’t got a commission at that time. I persuaded the editor to take the series when I got back, but it took him six years to publish them all, which is why I wasn’t in a position to publish the collection as an e-book until 2020. And then some updating had to be done!
When I returned from our Grand Tour of Scotland in 2014, with a bulging notepad, it took two days to get it typed up on my desktop computer. I had a bit of help from Dragon Naturally Speaking (dictation software), and resolved to getting a laptop, so going forward, I could type drafts straight onto a computer while travelling.

I was pleased to see you’ve included photos in the book. I’ve never formatted an e-book containing pictures. What are the main points to be aware of when doing this?
If the images are too big, KDP will throw up error messages about the file size. You’ll need to use low-resolution images to avoid this. If you post the original image files onto Facebook, a small image is created, which you can then download and use in a Kindle e-book without getting error messages.

A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom CaravanThe photos are a mix of those taken by you and some sourced from organisations such as English Heritage. How do you go about securing photos from such bodies?
I emailed the press office at English Heritage to ask if they had photos of Carlisle Castle, and got the rest from the Scottish Tourist Board and from www.visitbritainimages.com. Visit Britain has a great range of photos available for editorial use, for promoting Britain, free of charge.

Were you able to get multiple benefit from the holiday by writing magazine articles as well as producing this book?
Yes, writing about the experience means you have to pay attention, so you take in more information and remember more details! The holiday and my detailed drafts written as we travelled, obviously led to a series of articles in Caravan magazine, and some of the experiences were used in other travel pieces too. Publishing as an e-book seemed like a natural progression, especially as I have more time on my hands during lockdown.

The caravan looks very small! Was there any friction with two of you living so closely together?
Not much. We get on very well and we have an understanding that if one of us is standing up, the other must sit down, because there isn’t room for two people to stand up and move around at the same time! The only problem is that my husband has lively nightmares, which usually involve him being chased by monsters. Sometimes he lashes out. This isn’t great when you’re sharing a small double bed in a tiny caravan!

Do you have a top tip for caravan holidays?
I’m not sure I do. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. We prefer quiet sites with nice views and a natural feel, perhaps a lake, but some people like big sites with lots of entertainment. We tend to avoid those!

Do you have a top travel writing tip?
You don’t need to travel to far flung places write travel articles. I’ve written articles about my home town, local heroes, and local National Trust properties, without having to leave my home county.

A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan is available on Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. Essential reading for caravanners, would-be travel writers, lovers of Scotland and the generally curious!

Keep up with Susie, her travels and her writing on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susiekearley and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/susie.kearley.writer

Castle in Scotland

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Reading: Solitary or Social?

Reading is a solitary pastime. We sit alone, in silence, our mind in another world and ‘do not disturb’ exuding from our concentrated expression. Reading is a hobby not easily shared with others.

Wrong!

Reading is becoming an increasingly sociable activity. Books connect people, both online, in the virtual world and in real, face-to-face society. Don’t miss out by reading in a bubble, try some of the following:

  • Join a traditional book group. Most groups read one book a month and meet to discuss their opinions (depending on the group there may be coffee, wine or cake …) I’ve mentioned before that I run a book group at my local library and the library or bookshop is a good place to start if you’re looking for a group. Alternatively, start your own. A friend of mine formed a group with her neighbours and they take it in turns to host the meeting.
  • Join a Shared Reading group. I’ve written before about these groups connected to The Reader charity. There is no ‘homework’ reading. It is all aloud during the (usually weekly) meeting.

    Book Fest Sutton Coldfield Library

    Bookfest Sutton Coldfield Library

  • A couple of weeks ago I was a volunteer at Bookfest in my local library. It was a festival of children’s books with lots of author events and activities. I was one of three people on the front desk answering questions and directing people to events. It was fun to be with like-minded book lovers making an event happen that would be too expensive to stage without volunteers.
  • Search out a Facebook group that discusses books. A few to get you going:
    Imogen Clark’s Book Café – Imogen is a best-selling author
    The Book Club – a large and busy group with occasional ‘real-life’ meet ups
    Romantic Fiction Book Club – run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association
    If you can recommend any others, please add them in the comments at the bottom of this post.
  • Review your favourite books online. This could be on Amazon, Good Reads or NetGalley (where you can request advance e-book copies of new novels to review). Or start your own book blog and get social in the virtual world, interacting with readers and writers.
  • Start a book exchange at work, church or wherever groups of people meet. See if you can encourage non-readers to try a novel. What greater gift can you give someone than the love of books?

Reading and the love of books can be as solitary or as social as you choose. Whichever way you do it – happy reading!

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Writing a Novella: My Experience by Cath Barton

It’s a privilege to introduce you to Cath Barton, a prize-winning writer of novellas. Cath has agreed to share her experience of novella writing and I hope it will encourage anyone looking for a publisher for a novella length work. Over to Cath:

Cath Barton

Credit: Toril Brancher

I never wanted to write a novel. As a writer I found pleasure – and some small success – in writing short stories and flash fiction. I would have happily carried on along this path, but at the first meeting of a local writing group in 2015 one of my fellow writers unexpectedly threw down this challenge – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I saw my hand going up! The truth is I relish a challenge, and a target too, so I looked for a novella competition and aimed for that.

My starting point for my novella The Plankton Collector was a flash I had written as an exercise about a boy whose brother had died. The boy was at his bedroom window, watching his mother visiting the brother’s grave in the churchyard just below their garden. That gave me the centre of my story – a family’s grief – and a location – a house in the middle of England. To that I added the mysterious character of the Plankton Collector, who visits each member of the family in different guises and helps them. I saw a clip on TV about the Victorians collecting plankton, those tiny shells which have housed the creatures who are the base of all life. Quite how my story evolved I can’t tell you –  not because I don’t want to but because it’s as mysterious to me as the Plankton Collector himself!

When I’d completed the story I sent it off to the competition – and got nowhere. I looked around for other opportunities and found very few. Disheartened, I put the story aside. Nearly two years later I heard about another novella prize. It was in Wales, where I live, so, without any great optimism, I decided to give it a try. To my great surprise and delight I won! The prize was an advance on publication, which was wonderful. But the best thing about that win was the affirmation and the impetus it gave me to continue writing.The Plankton Collector

I had experimented before I won that competition with writing a novella-in-flash – a collection of short pieces which can all stand alone but together form a whole. I didn’t really know how to do that and, unsurprisingly, my effort didn’t get anywhere. But when I saw another publisher looking for novellas last year I sent her the first few thousand words. She was keen to see more and that has led to me completing and signing a contract for publication of my novella In the Sweep of the Bay.

Will there be a third novella? Possibly. And now I have given myself a new challenge, yes, you’ve guessed it – to write a novel!

 

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, which is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint.

Her second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020.

Read more about Cath’s writing on her website here and follow her on Twitter @CathBarton1

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