Archive for category Non-fiction
I rarely read memoir or autobiography but the title ‘Diary of a Lollipop Lady‘ jumped out from the library shelf. The subtitle is, ‘Memories of a Crossing Patrol in the 1960s’ and it is exactly what it says on the tin.
Hazel Wheeler spent 1966 as a lollipop lady in Yorkshire. She has two young daughters, her husband is working all hours and the debt collectors are after them. Back then it was unusual for mothers to do paid work but being a lollipop lady fits with school hours and the family needs the money. Hazel kept a diary during her twelve months in the job, noting down stories about her regular ‘customers’, the extremes of weather and the interesting things she witnesses.
What I liked most about this book were the odd comments Hazel dropped in about her ambitions to write for a living. Like many of us, she was an avid writer of letters to magazines. She records how she went into Smiths to leaf through the latest issues and see if anything of hers had been published. When it was, she celebrated the one guinea payment or the tea caddy from Peoples’ Friend (I think that prize is still going!). Her children are encouraged to enter writing competitions – with success. The book ends on a positive note, with an acceptance for Hazel from the BBC in January 1967 for a feature to be used on the ‘Home this Afternoon’ programme. Her fee is 10 guineas – more than three times what she earns in a week on the crossing.
After finishing the book I Googled ‘Hazel Wheeler’ and was sad to discover she’d died in 2009, not long after the book came out. Her obituary charts her diary-keeping and her publication history. Other volumes of her diaries provided material for ‘Living on Tick‘ and ‘Huddersfield at War‘.
I’m sure Hazel would be pleased to know that her books are still being read after her death – something for us all to aim for.
When I was young one of my ambitions was to own a secondhand bookshop. It was an ambition that was never fulfilled but I do still love to wander around shelves full of pre-loved books.
Shaun Bythell owns Scotland’s biggest secondhand bookshop and for a year he kept a diary of life in that shop. The diary was published in book form, The Diary of a Bookseller, a couple of years ago and it makes interesting reading for anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on behind the mountains of paperbacks and collectables.
There are comments on the customers (especially those who spend hours reading by the bookshop fire and then don’t buy anything), the staff (who have a tendency to the eccentric), the people who are selling their lifelong book collections and the way online ordering works in the secondhand industry. Sunny summer days are busy but in winter the takings are meagre.
Two particularly interesting points from the book are worth highlighting. Why not join the shop’s Random Book Club? For £59 a year you will be sent a surprise book every month. Might make a great present for someone who loves to try different genres?
And, if like me, you’ve ever wanted to run your own secondhand bookshop, here is the holiday for you:
Stay in the apartment above another secondhand bookshop, The Open Book, and you get to manage the bookshop (with help from volunteers) during your stay. But you need to plan ahead – the holiday is very popular and booked a couple of years into the future. Get on the waiting list via the Open Book Facebook page or book the apartment via AirBnb.
It’s often said that public speaking is people’s number one fear. Many of us would rather adopt a tarantula, stroke a python, walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon or be enclosed in the tiniest of spaces than speak in front of an audience. I know, I’ve been there.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, can be managed. The nerves will never completely go, but that’s a good thing. A little bit of anxiety ensures proper preparation beforehand and a dose of adrenaline improves the performance.
Writers who can face an audience (even if they are quavering inside!) are at a big advantage. Think of the growing number of literary festivals that take place throughout the year, up and down the country, showcasing authors and their books. Think of the opportunities offered by libraries for local authors to make themselves known to local readers. Think of the critique possibilities available at writing groups, classes and residential courses to those brave enough to read their work aloud.
Writers are often stereo-typed as introverted loners, hunched alone over a laptop. We can do a lot of networking and promotion online via Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media, but nothing beats getting out into the real world, meeting real people and sharing our work.
2019 is drawing to a close. Start preparing now to make 2020 the year you crack glossophobia and take your writing and author talk to the audience it deserves.
To help you on your way Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners on Kindle is reduced to 99p for the next seven days, until 4th December. For less than half the price of a coffee you can learn how to:
- Construct an interesting talk
- Manage nerves
- Build audience rapport
- Manage speaking engagements
- … and much more
If you prefer a ‘real’ book, the paperback of Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is only £5.49.
Whichever version you prefer, I’d love to know how you get on!
Back in 2011 I wrote a post about Women Only Writing Competitions. At the time they seemed to be a ‘thing’.
Recently two men have independently stumbled across that old post whilst searching for ‘men only’ writing competitions and each left a comment indicating that they don’t think it necessary to have such discriminatory entry requirements. And I agree with them – surely it’s the standard of writing that’s important and not the sex of the writer. Women have come a long way since the days of writers such as the Bronte sisters, who had to hide behind male pseudonyms. I feel we can now compete on equal terms.
Since 2011 other forms of restricted entry have emerged, for example asking for entries only from the LGBT community or from minority ethnic groups or from writers of limited financial means or from particular age groups. I assume that these entry restrictions are imposed because the competition organisers are either looking for stories from these particular viewpoints or the prize is a bursary aimed at those in need or it’s been found that writers from these groups are reluctant to enter open writing competitions. These are all valid reasons for using specific competitions to encourage writing in particular groups.
However, I hope that in the future all writers will feel comfortable entering all competitions, confident that their stories will be judged without prejudice. Meaning that in the future competition organisers (or publishers) might specify if a particular character/story type is required rather than the type of author required. Of course bursaries for those on a limited income should continue to be awarded to those talented writers in the most financial need.
In the meantime here are a few ‘restricted’ competitions, lifted from the pages of this month’s Writing Magazine:
The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing – for unpublished writers who consider themselves under-represented in nature writing, through gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or any other circumstance. Closes 10th September 2019.
The Mo Siewcharran Prize – for unpublished UK novelists from a BAME background. Be quick! Closes 29th July 2019 (but will run annually).
Mslexia Fiction and Poetry Competitions – open to women only. Close various dates in September 2019.
Passager Books are seeking submissions of poetry, memoir and short fiction from writers over 50. Closes 15th September 2019.
I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years.
Who should buy this book?
- Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
- Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
- Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
- Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
- Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.
As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!
But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.
I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.
Sunday November 11th 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War 1. There will be many events to mark this important occasion and to thank those who lost their lives for us. These include 10,000 people marching past the Cenotaph in London (ballot applications to be part of the march close 12th August) and mass church bell ringing across the nation.
Poets are also playing their part in the 100 days leading up to the centenary of the Armistice. Every day a 100-word piece of writing, known as a centena, will be published by the Imperial War Museum. In each piece, the first three words are repeated at the end, as the conclusion. Each centena will focus on an individual who lived during the First World War and the impact the war had on that person. The aim is to look at people from every part of society. Katie Childs from the museum told the Sunday Times, “By releasing a centena each day, I hope that we are able to demonstrate the very different experiences of the First World War, and the impact it had on people and places long beyond the Armistice.”
The first centena was published on Sunday 5th August and was written by Angus Grundy from the perspective of Leopold Lojka. Lojka was driving the car carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he was assassinated. Ferdinand’s murder led to the First World War. The second centena is by Therese Kieran and is about a Belgian embroider who spent the War in Ireland. I find today’s centena by Miranda Dickinson particularly moving. It’s about a bride married during her new husband’s 48 hour leave from the army. He returns to the front line and she goes to pose for a wedding photograph alone.
These pieces of writing are a fitting memorial to those who lived through such turbulent times and perhaps they’ll inspire some of us to get creative before November 11th 2018.
The next Senior Travel Expert writing competition is now open for entries.
The competition calls for original travel articles on the theme ‘Heritage’ up to 750 words in length. Historical, cultural and natural heritage are all included under this theme.
Unusually for an article writing competition, entertaining fictional entries are also allowed. Entry is free.
The author of the best entry will receive £100 cash. Ten runners-up will each receive £10 Amazon UK Vouchers. The winning entry and runner-up entries will be published on the Senior Travel Expert website. Closing date is October 31st.
When writing your entry don’t forget that the Senior Travel Expert website is aimed at travellers aged 55 and over. And, as always, make sure you read the full terms and conditions.
When I was offered an ARC of Everybody Works in Sales by Niraj Kapur I immediately said, “Yes, please!”
The reason? As writers, I feel we are each increasingly having to be our own salesman. We might be marketing our self-published books, pitching an article to an editor, writing an agent covering letter or polishing up our website. So, I hoped Everybody Works in Sales might reveal to me the secret formula of selling books, short stories and articles.
Of course it didn’t because deep down we all know there is no secret formula to sales. But the book did teach me what the mindset of a salesman should be – and it isn’t SELL! SELL! SELL!
The three main points I took away from Everybody Works in Sales were:
- Don’t try to constantly sell ‘at’ people willy-nilly (e.g. frequent ‘buy my books’ tweeting). Instead take the time to build relationships – with magazine editors, book shops, social media followers etc.
- Nothing succeeds like hard work.
- Treat your customers/readers/editors/followers as you would like to be treated.
Two quotations from the book which are worth pondering:
- Care for people and ask for nothing immediately in return.
- You can always go further in a group than by yourself – maybe that’s why we writers like to collect together and share experiences?
But this book has more to offer than these simple lessons. There are many inspirational quotations and advice on making progress in a corporate career. The book follows the career of its author, Niraj Kapur, the bad bits as well as the good bits. He’s had some tough times in his working life and his experiences might help you if you’re trying to climb the greasy pole in sales or management.
In places the book’s language is unpolished and reflects the way I imagine Niraj would speak. It is conversational rather than textbook and allows the author’s background and personality to come through. It’s as though Niraj is in the room with you.
Everybody Works in Sales is an easy read that shares inspirational thoughts for leading a better life in the workplace, building relationships with potential customers and networking.
About Everybody Works in Sales
We all work in sales. If you work for somebody, you earn a living by selling their product or service. If you are self-employed, you earn a living by selling your product or service.
When you buy from Amazon, they always recommended other products similar to the ones you are purchasing or have already purchased – that’s selling. When you download a song, movie or TV show from iTunes, they always recommend more similar products. That’s selling.
When you register for most websites, they sell their products or services to you through a regular email.
When you attend an exhibition at the NEC, London ExCel, Olympia, Manchester or even a local market, everyone is trying to sell you their product.
We all work in sales, yet few people know how to sell. Until now.
Containing 27 valuable lessons, plus 17 interviews with experts, Everybody Works in Sales combines unique storytelling and personal development to ensure you have the tools you need to do better in your career.
Available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.
About Niraj Kapur
Award-winning executive, Niraj Kapur, has worked in corporate London for 23 years. From small businesses to a national newspaper to FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, he’s experienced it all and shares his insight, knowledge, big wins and horrible failures.
Niraj has also had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, kids’ shows on Channel 5’s Milkshake and CBBC. His movie, Naachle London, was released in select cinemas across the UK.
He’s working on his next book while advising companies and coaching individuals on how to improve their sales.
Follow Niraj on Twitter: @Nirajwriter or find him on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/nkapur.
Find out what other bloggers think about Everybody Works in Sales by following the rest of blog tour:
If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?
The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:
- In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
- Select ‘Proofing’.
- Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
- Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.
Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.
The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.
Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.
How easy to read (and active!) is your work?
I’ve been busy novelling for the last eight months or so and haven’t had time for competitions. However, a couple have popped into my inbox lately and, since I can’t use them, I thought I’d share them with you lovely people. Fingers crossed, one (or more) of you might have what it takes to be a winner!
Travel Writing Competition run by Travel for Seniors
This is free to enter and offers a first prize of £100 plus internet publication. They want 750 words on the theme ‘Travel for Seniors’ and the closing date is 31st July 2017. Entries can be fact or fiction.
Details are on the Senior Travel Expert website.
The Fiction Desk Newcomer Prize for Short Stories
This is aimed at ‘new and emerging writers who haven’t already been published by us, and have yet to publish a novel or full-length collection of short stories on paper‘. There is an entry fee of £8 and a first prize of £500 and second prize of £250. Closing date is 31st May 2017. Full details are on the Fiction Desk website.