Archive for category Non-fiction

Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson

If you want to learn the art of writing humour based on everyday life, this is the book to read.Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

It’s also the first book by Bill Bryson that I’ve ever read. It came into my hands not through choice but because members of the library reading group that I coordinate requested something by Bill Bryson.

Notes from a Big Country is a collection of Bill’s columns about life in America that appeared in the Mail on Sunday‘s Night & Day Magazine in the late 90s. Despite being twenty years old the topics addressed are still interesting today, things such as the death penalty, Americans driving everywhere instead of walking, the devastating effect of a skunk spraying in your home, the history of diners (they came in prefabricated kits on the back of lorries) and how low key Christmas is in the US compared to here.

Bill Bryson has a wonderful turn of phrase and this quote made me smile in particular: My father, who like all dads sometimes seemed to be practising for a world’s most boring man competition.

I read the book straight through from start to finish because of our looming reading group meeting but I would advise others to dip in and out so that each column can be savoured like a favourite chocolate.

I had another American connection this week when I was congratulated on Twitter for my article in the Washington Post.  Unfortunately I had to be honest and admit to never having written for the Washington Post and explain that the article was probably written by my doppelganger, the US sports writer Sally Jenkins.  This is the second time I’ve been mistaken for my more famous counterpart. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who wanted help with their autobiography following ‘my’ success ghosting Lance Armstong’s It’s Not About the Bike. Perhaps one day the US Sally Jenkins will be mistaken for me!

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The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps and Helping Your Business Win

If (like me) you work in IT Operations for a largish organisation then you’ll find this novel interesting. If you don’t then you probably won’t.The Phoenix Project

A lot of IT Operations work is fire-fighting. Things go wrong, the users of the software that’s failed jump up and down and shout, then (hopefully) IT Operations fix the problem and everything goes back to the status quo. The things that go wrong are classified according to their impact on the business. For example a ‘P1’ might be a major failing in the software that allows customers to place orders on the internet – no orders means no profit for the business and this issue would receive the highest priority. In contrast a bug found on a little-used report would receive the lowest priority, perhaps ‘P5’.

The Phoenix Project opens with Bill (who is newly promoted) facing a ‘P1’ issue in the payroll software. He has to find a way of making sure people still get paid and thus avert a labour force walk-out. The stress that Bill is under leaps from the page and, if you’ve ever had to sort out major software problems as part of your job, your heart will increase, you will start sweating and you will empathise fervently with what Bill’s going through.

But the clever thing about The Phoenix Project is that it’s a novel-cum-textbook, so readers learn something too. It is written by three advocates of the DevOps movement (if you’re not in IT don’t worry about that term) and takes the reader on a journey with Bill as he improves the IT landscape for his organisation. It explains the thought processes and practice behind encouraging software developers to work more closely with IT operations colleagues in order to streamline the implementation and testing of new programs.

WARNING: This book should not be taken on holiday or read at bedtime because it will increase not decrease your stress levels.

To 99.9% of you this book will sound deadly boring. But it is a bestseller in its genre. At the time of writing it is #4,052 in the whole UK  Paid Kindle Store, out of the four million plus Kindle e-books available. I’m not aware of any marketing for this book – it seems to be all word of mouth from colleague to colleague.

We’re always told to write what we know and to utilise our everyday experiences and working lives. But I’ve always shied away from stories set in computer departments (apart from one Christmas story published by My Weekly last year) because most people would find them tedious. However, The Phoenix Project shows that, with some clever thinking, it is possible to turn the mundane into a successful book.
I wish I’d thought of it first!

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Travel Writing Competition

Steve Hanson from Senior Travel Expert has been in touch to tell me about their ‘Off the Beaten Track’ travel writing competition. It’s free to enter and has a prize of £100. Books hanging in a cafe in Madrid

Entries should be “about a fascinating, relatively unknown place near to where you live or that you came across by chance when travelling around, or it may be a totally fictional place”. The winner should “persuade readers of the Senior Travel Expert website that the place you describe is somewhere they would very much like to visit”. The closing date is September 30th 2016.

Often when you’re on holiday the things you stumble across by chance turn out to be the most interesting. I’m just back from a holiday in Madrid and Barcelona.  One evening we sat in the window of a cafe in Madrid and above me was hung a display of books (see picture on the right). The next day we spotted a grand building that turned out to be The Society of Authors building – which I think is something like ALCS but please correct me if I’m wrong.

And remember, you don’t have to travel to enter this competition – your destination can be purely fictional.

Spanish Society of Authors

Sociedad General de Autores de Espana

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January Sale!

Hands up if you got any of the following for Christmas:

Kindle
Tablet
Smartphone
Amazon Gift Card?

Or do you already own any of the above?

I can see you all madly waving your arms in the air and I guess you’re all itching to download a bargain book. So, from now until Sunday 3rd January 2016, A Writer on Writing and House Guests are both only 99p each (or 99c if you’re in the US).

A Writer on Writing
A writer who earns money from his work is not merely a wordsmith. A Writer On WritingA profitable writer knows how to manage his time, produce ideas from a blank mind and create a web presence, plus many more things besides.
A Writer on Writing will introduce you to these and a range of other skills useful to anyone hoping to make cash from their words.

 

House Guests
A cornucopia of contemporary short stories about modern life. House Guests and Other StoriesEnjoy a plethora of twist endings, some humour plus a tiny bit of romance. There’s also a special guest story by prize-winning author and writing tutor, Iain Pattison! So make yourself a coffee, grab a sweet treat, put your feet up and indulge.

 

Happy reading and very best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2016!

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Nottingham Writers’ Club National Short Story Competition 2016

Nottingham Writers’ Club have just launched their 2016 National Short Story Competition.

The theme is ‘Fire’ and to get you started the Club has brainstormed a few ideas. Do any of the following inspire you to get writing?

Bonfire, house fire, barbeque, candle flames, fireworks, firing a gun, canon fire, lightning, brush fire, wood burning stove, coal fire, garden fire, firing someone from work, rockets, St Elmo’s fire, execution by firing squad, burning crop fields, smoke signals, brazier, fire pit, roasting chestnuts on an open fire, volcanic eruption, gas explosion, dynamite, cowboy shoot out, food smoker, sauna, assassination …

I’m sure there’s loads more ‘Fire’ related things to be written about. Grab a pen and paper and have a think.

The important thing to remember about this competition is that its purpose is to encourage new and less experienced writers. So entrants must not have earned £300 or more from short story writing in 2015. If you fit that category then this is a competition worth entering because you won’t have to compete with the ‘professionals’.

There will be three main prizes – £200, £100 and £50 – plus five runners up prizes and all entrants will receive a few lines of feedback on their story. The entry fee is £5 and there is a limit of 2,000 words.

Novelist and short story writer, Patsy Collins will be judging the competition. Coincidentally, her latest book, Firestarter, involves a hunky fireman… Firestarter by Patsy Collins

The competition opens for submissions of entries on 1st February 2016, with the last day for receipt being 29th February 2016. (But don’t wait until February to start thinking about your story!)

 

If writing non-fiction is more up your street, you may find Alex Gazzola’s new e-book, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, useful. Alex, a writing tutor and journalist, takes you through 50 of the key errors new and aspiring writers may be making – and guides you towards putting them right. Worth a read if you want to write and sell magazine or newspaper articles. Mistakes Writers Make

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Travel Writing Competition

I’m just back from a holiday walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

Sally Jenkins in Dales

We covered about 100 miles in a week and it was typically British. We saw sheep, cows, rabbits, moles (dead), enjoyed cooked breakfasts in hospitable B&Bs and made a bee-line for tea and cake in any cafes we passed. There was also some British rain.

So, it was rather appropriate that on my return I found an email from Steve Hanson of seniortravelexpert.com announcing their latest travel writing competition. The theme is ‘Travel and Water’.

Steve says, “The theme ‘Travel and Water’ is deliberately wide and we accept fictional as well as factual entries. In our last writing competition – ‘City, Town or Village’ – one of the winning entries was fictional and one of the runners-up was a poem. It is free-to-enter, has a prize of £100, maximum 750 words and closing date December 31st, 2015.”

Ten runners-up will each receive a firstwriter.com voucher worth £10, allowing them to take out a free subscription to firstwriter.com, providing access to details of hundreds of publishers, literary agents, writing competitions and magazines.

So what are you waiting for? Most holidays involve travel and water in one form another. All the competition details are here. Get writing!

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Walk the Cleveland Way – Accommodation, Attractions and Advice

Regular readers of this blog will know that I enjoy walking, especially long walks. Walk the Cleveland WayGetting outside in the fresh air for the day is a great way to unwind and a complete contrast to sitting in front of the computer all day (which I do for my ‘day’ job, as well as when I’m writing).

In August 2013, my husband and I walked the 109 mile Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire over ten days. It’s a fabulous route because the first half meanders over the deserted moors where you’re lucky to even find even a solitary tea shop but, in contrast, the second half is along the coast through bustling resorts like Whitby and Scarborough. This path is also great for beginners because the signposting is excellent – so you are unlikely to get lost (but a map is always advisable, just in case …).

I may like the fresh air but I’m definitely not a backpacker. We stayed in comfortable guest houses and small hotels and had our luggage transported. So we carried only day-sacks and our suitcases were waiting when we arrived at the next overnight stop. All we had to do was hop in the shower and wash away the weariness of the day before changing for our evening meal. And there was always a great cooked breakfast to look forward to the next morning …

Being a writer, I carried a notebook for the 10 days we were walking and I jotted down everything about our trip, from details of the English Heritage properties we found along the route to the tea shops providing good cakes and the display of knitting we found on Saltburn pier. It seemed a waste to keep all this information to myself – it’s all stuff we would have found useful when deciding if this was a holiday we would enjoy and would have helped us in the planning too.

So, I typed it all up into a coherent format, used one of the photos from our trip as the basis for the cover and published it on Kindle.

It’s now available for you to gaze at in awe, ‘look inside’, borrow for free (if you’re in Amazon Prime or  Kindle Unlimited) or even purchase. Simply click here.

If you fancy returning from holiday with a clear head, feeling fit and strong (despite eating many cakes and cooked breakfasts!) then I recommend the Cleveland Way to you.

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