Archive for category Lifestyle

Life Coaching Benefits

Earlier this year I was feeling despondent about my writing. Over the previous three years I’d had the excitement of securing an agent, working with her on two books and then the subsequent deep disappointment when none of her submissions to the big publishers were successful. The whole act of writing seemed a fool’s game: the short story market was shrinking, publishers preferred to invest in well-known names to guarantee book sales and, during lockdown, everyone seemed to have become a writer. I was on the verge of giving up. Then, on social media, I discovered trainee life coach, Elizabeth Scott. I explained that I was at a crossroads in my writing career and didn’t know how to move forward or whether to give up completely. Elizabeth offered me three virtual coaching sessions.

Did the sessions work?

Elizabeth Scott Life Coach

Elizabeth Scott

Yes. Elizabeth didn’t offer direct advice on what to do. She didn’t give her opinion on whether I should stop writing and do something more rewarding and less frustrating instead. She didn’t judge whether I was any good at writing.
Instead, she encouraged me to think in a different way. For example, she asked me to draw a circle and put into it the different aspects of my life: work, family, writing, exercise etc. Then she asked what I would like to remove or decrease in that circle and what I wanted to spend more time on. I found that I couldn’t get rid of writing and said that, in a perfect world, I would like to spend more time writing. We talked about NaNoWriMo because in the past that has triggered a burst of enthusiasm for writing. But starting a new novel, after all the disappointments, didn’t appeal. I mentioned the possibility, instead, of drafting one short story a day during November – as long as I had a list of thirty ideas before November 1st. But still I wasn’t sure I wanted to go ahead.
“How will you feel if you don’t take on this challenge?” Elizabeth asked.
“Disappointed in myself for just drifting.”
“How will you feel if you do the challenge?”
“Pleased with myself.”
I had my answer. We agreed that I would begin to find ideas and report back to Elizabeth at our next session. Knowing that I had to report back acted as a great incentive for me and I generated thirty ideas. At the next session I mentioned to Elizabeth that I now needed to find the discipline to force myself to sit down and write these stories.
“‘Discipline’ and ‘force’ are harsh words,” she said. “Try using the word ‘habit’ instead.”
She was right. Saying that I now needed to make writing a habit sounded much more achievable.

Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes, experienced in navigating life’s obstacles, (plus a change in semantics) can send us off with fresh confidence and positivity.

Elizabeth is now a fully qualified life coach, helping people to set and achieve their goals. If there are changes that you’d like to make in your life (writing-related or not), see her website for the offer of a free twenty-minute exploratory chat.

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Book Reviewing Opportunities

If you like reading new books by indie authors this could be the opportunity for you:
Reedsy Discovery is recruiting reviewers. The main Reedsy website is full of resources and freelance services aimed at helping writers at all stages of their journey to publication. Reedsy Discovery is an offshoot of this and is designed to spotlight the gems of the indie publishing world. The reviewers on Reedsy Discovery help to identify these gems. Reviewers are unpaid but they do have the opportunity to monetise their reading by accepting tips from people who find their reviews useful.
Interested? Visit the Reedsy website to find out more and to apply.

If you fancy finding out what it’s like to be a competition judge, The Highland Book Prize, uses keen

West Highland Way

The Scottish Highlands

readers from the general public as initial readers. Readers provide a report and scores for each of the books they read and these are then used to compile the longlist for the Prize. Reading for the longlist takes place between July and September each year and has just finished for 2022. However, you can apply now to be on the panel next year. I have now been involved in this for three years and previously blogged about the experience.

Finally, if you enjoy blogging, tweeting and generally shouting about the books you’ve read, NetGalley might be the site for you.  Publishers and authors distribute digital review copies and audiobooks to the NetGalley community, and in exchange, members provide reviews, star ratings, social media posts etc. Some publishers on NetGalley will vet reviewers before releasing ARCs (Advance Review Copies) but others are happy for their books to be read more widely. Register online to be a NetGalley reviewer.

Note: In all three cases above, the books are supplied in digital format, i.e. not paper books.

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What I Did on My Holidays

You don’t have the slightest interest in what I, or anyone else, did on their holidays but please bear with me – there is a literary slant to what I have to say, plus it saves me having to write a book, which I did in 2013 and 2021.

Big Water of Fleet Viaduct

Big Water of Fleet Viaduct

This year we drove from the Midlands to Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. En route we stopped for coffee in Sedbergh: England’s Official Book Town. Sedbergh is a small place where many of the independent shops have added the sale of secondhand books to their wares. The big attraction for me was Westwood Books which has a stock of over 70,000 titles – antiquarian, secondhand, and some new books. I was tempted by a copy of The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley which has been strongly recommended by my sister-in-law. But it’s a very thick book and I have a long TBR list, so I resisted the urge.

On arrival in Kirkcudbright we discovered that Dumfries and Galloway has its own literary connections. It was the setting for The 39 Steps by John Buchan and the viaduct in the photo was used in one of the film versions of the story. And Five Red Herrings, a murder mystery by Dorothy L Sayers, is set in Kirkcudbright itself and the 4-part serial is available on YouTube.

What did we actually do on holiday? Walking, a guided tour plus afternoon tea at Buittle Castle (both were excellent), walking, Raymond Briggs retrospective exhibition at Kirkcudbright Art Galleries, walking, Kirkcudbright Annual Tattoo (marching bands and a stunt motor cyclist!), walking and Kirkcudbright Art Tour.

Kirkcudbright Tattoo

Kirkcudbright Tattoo

Well done – you made it to the end of my holiday essay!

Finally, you might be interested in this crime writing short story competition. It closes 23rd January 2023 but there’s a reduced early bird entrance fee of only £3 if you enter before 1st December 2022.

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Keeping On, Keeping On

“Keeping On, Keeping On,” said Alan Bennett. But I’m wondering whether that is always the right thing to do? Should there come a point when it’s best to draw a line in the sand, say, “I tried my best”, and then move onto something else?

I’m going through a dry patch in my writing. You may remember me telling you that I had a second book on submission with my agent and was keeping my fingers crossed. As with the earlier novel, this one also failed to find a home with one of the big publishers. I suggested trying both books with the smaller, digital first publishers. My agent felt unable to add much to this process and therefore we agreed that I would proceed down this route un-agented. I have submitted to several places but, as of this moment, nothing has come of it.
I’ve put a lot of work into getting so near, but yet so far. People tell me that I did well to get taken on by one of the best agents in the country. I understand that and I learned a lot from the process. But it’s still very difficult to get re-enthused about starting all over again on another novel that might also never see the light of day.
I’ve considered returning to short stories and have managed to write two. One’s gone off to a competition and the other one is waiting for a final edit before I try it with The People’s Friend. However, the short story market has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, so I’m not feeling optimistic.
And, at the moment, the article pitches seem to be landing on deaf ears after a good run of successes.

On a more positive note, I am two weeks into a free Zoom novel-writing course run by Jacci Turner. She’s running the course in the US at 10 am, which is a convenient 6 pm BST but there is an Australian in the cohort joining from a darkened house at 2:30 am! I’m hoping this course might re-ignite my passion and enthusiasm.

But in the meantime I’d love to hear your opinion/advice:
Should I continue ‘keeping on, keeping on’ as a writer or call it a day and find something else? How do you cope with dry patches like this?

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The Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle

Poetry Pharmacy Bishop's CastleOn holiday in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, I discovered the Poetry Pharmacy run by Deborah Alma. It’s part cafe, part poetry bookshop, part events space and part therapy; the latter via an appointment with the Poetry Pharmacist.

We’d been walking as part of the Bishop’s Castle Walking Festival and needed coffee and cake when we found the Pharmacy. It doesn’t do the usual lattes, cappuccinos etc. Instead the waitress recommended one of the different coffee blends and then delivered a glass flask of black coffee plus a jug of warm, frothy milk on the side. Similarly, she recommended a tea blend for my husband. We sat for a long time in the quiet, peaceful space, leafing through poetry books and magazines which centred around the calmer side of life. Afterwards, I treated myself to a copy of The Emergency Poet edited by Deborah – and, unusually, the book was cheaper in the Pharmacy than on Amazon. It’s a volume full of poems designed to destress and improve the reader’s state of mind. I will be sharing some of the poems with my Shared Reading Group soon.

Still on the subject of poetry, I’ve come across three competitions open for entries:

The Winchester Poetry Prize for poems on any subject and in any form or style. First prize is £1,000. Entry fee is £5. Closing date is 31 July 2022. The judge is Jo Bell, whom I recently had the pleasure of interviewing about her role in compiling the book On this Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time for an article in The People’s Friend magazine.

The Writers Bureau Platinum Jubilee Poetry Competition. This is FREE to enter but you need to be quick: closing date is 31st May 2022. The prize is publication on The Writers Bureau’s website and a course or place on a Zoom workshop of the winner’s choice.

Ironbridge Poetry Competition 2022. This competition welcomes poems on any and every subject. First prize is £300 and the closing date is 31 July 2022. The judge is Simon Fletcher, who is widely-published as a poet and lives in Shropshire. He’s also the manager of Offa’s Press.

Poetry Pharmacy Menu

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In Praise of the Electronic Calendar

Towards the end of 2021 I bought my usual paper calendar and started to jot down the skeleton of my commitments for 2022. In October 2021 I’d started a new part-time job as a library assistant which requires me to work alternate Saturdays. Also in 2021 I became a co-leader of a Shared Reading group – my turn comes around every other Thursday.In Praise of Electronic Calendars
I couldn’t be bothered to go through the whole calendar and work out the dates of both of these two-weekly engagements. Then, my husband, who was working away during the week and didn’t have sight of the joint paper calendar, began putting dates into his phone so he had them to hand.
That was my light bulb moment! I stepped forth into the convenience of the electronic calendar and wondered why I’d been a dinosaur for so long.
It was easy to download the Calendar app and I discovered it was possible to set up single events for the library job and Shared Reading and then tell the calendar to schedule the events fortnightly going forward. What a time saver!
I discovered it was possible to make my calendar visible to my husband and vice versa – so we can see if there are any clashes with dates.
I discovered it was possible to set up an event and send an email invite to someone else.
If I’m out and someone suggests a date for our next meeting, it’s easy to check the calendar on my phone and see when I’m free – no more waiting until I’m home to look at the joint paper calendar hanging on the wall.
So far I’ve come across only two disadvantages to the electronic calendar. Firstly, I can’t simply glance at the wall as I walk past to see what’s happening over the next week – I have to remember to check my phone (but you can elect to get e-reminders of events in advance). Secondly, I have a vague fear of the servers belonging to the calendar provider crashing and burning – and taking the whole of my life with them. But the same could’ve happened to the paper calendar hanging in my hall.
Like everyone else, my work life has long been governed by an electronic calendar on the office laptop. It’s just taken me a very long time to make my personal life easier by embracing the calendar on my phone!
I’m using Google Calendar but other electronic calendars are available – as I’m sure you know because you’re probably light years ahead of me in your use of them. Please let me know that I’m not the only one who’s taken so long to embrace technology!

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Still Waiting for News

Slo-cooker marmalade

Last November I mentioned my novel was out on submission. It still is. Off it went to seven publishers and the responses have dribbled back. So far there have been four rejections and three publishers still to hear from. For many of us ‘getting an agent’ is the pinnacle for which we aim and we assume that after we’ve achieved that, everything will fall into place and we will become successful, traditionally published authors. Be warned: that is not always the case! However, hope springs eternal …

In the meantime I’m finding it hard to focus on a brand new novel and my ability to write short stories seems to have gone AWOL. So I’m keeping my writing brain in gear by producing short articles for The People’s Friend and the Mirthy website. Obviously this is not as glamorous as having a novel published but at least I’m no longer writing on spec and am getting paid for my words.

I am also considering doing Alison May’s ‘Re-ignite Your Creativity and Find Your Voice’ online course in order to kick the fiction part of my brain back into gear. But first I need to find some space between the day jobs and my other commitments …

In other news, we’ve been making marmalade in our house.

My husband and I do this every year and it takes hours of simmering the peel and filling the kitchen with steam. This year we used the slo-cooker to cook the peel overnight and it made things a lot easier, quicker and kept the windows free of condensation. The recipe is here – a bit late for this year’s Seville oranges but, if you’re a marmalade love, save it for next year.

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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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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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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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