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Introducing Author Carole Llewellyn

Carole LlewellynToday, over on Showcase, I intoduce a little about fellow ThornBerry author Carole Llewellyn, who’s novel Megan is released today for the first time as an ebook. There’s even a small extract from this delightful historical romance set in Bristol and Wales. Read more…

Megan Final Cover 1

Looking Back at 2012

Well, here we are again, another full year at home since being made redundant two years ago. And what a difference a year has made.

That first year I achieved exceedingly little, spending most of my time feeling guilty and unsettled, uncertain and unsure what to do with my life, knowing I was too old to find a good job again and, thanks to the Government, my pension pushed back even further to when I’m 65, which I’m not, not yet, I’m still in my fifties, all be it late.

So what has happened during 2012? Lots. Mega lots. The year started with my husband having his hip replaced, a long 14-week recovery at home with me wearing my matron’s hat. He’s made a complete and full recovery – a new man! Then there was the birth of another great niece, little Evie, such a cheerful, cute little soul and an absolute delight to her parents and grandparents.

I suppose the biggest change has been that I have set up a small business, working from home dealing with books, editing and publishing and creating book covers. It keeps me busy, and although I’m not showing any profit yet, that will hopefully come in time. I don’t want it too big anyway; my days as the dynamic business woman are long gone – I’ve been down that route before in a past life and much prefer to keep things small. At least for the moment.

What didn’t help was the dreadful, bad blip, when we were defrauded out of almost £10,000 in a car buying scam. Oh, the police and fraud squad were very helpful and supportive but I will never get my money back, the fraud squad deeming it was too little a sum to warrant them spending further resources on. Still, once bitten… and we have moved on from it, can even laugh about it now, at how my husband had been so gullible, and at how I should have done all the checks I normally do before handing over money. What it did mean was that I couldn’t invest more in my new business, unable to do all the advertising I’d intended, but hey ho, that will rectify itself as the business progresses and grows, which it is doing. And more to the point, I’m loving every moment of it.

April saw the publication of my novel, Every Step of the Way, both in paperback and on Kindle, and a booksigning in our local Waterstones. Not sure I would do it again, though. I plan to see at least another published this year, if not two. They are written, complete, it’s now a matter of finding time to work on them, what with the business.

The Bridge (1)In June, I took part in the Loveahappyending.com Summer Audience held in Tetbury, where I hosted two writing workshops and held my first “public” art exhibition, selling two paintings (surprise!). Everyone who came enjoyed the day and hopefully another will be planned. I’ve not done a lot of paintings this year, time is in short supply but I’ve managed a few, including this one, completed over the Christmas break.

view from villaAugust saw me take my last villa holiday with my sisters and our mum, going to Corfu. Mum has decided she won’t come away again due to her age (87 coming up) and the fact that both my sisters have retired (well, one has, the other twin finishes in this July), so our finances will no longer stretch to the expense of hiring a private villa abroad, although us three sisters do hope we will get away again sometime, whether to a hotel or descend upon my brother and sister-in-law in Spain. Who knows? Of course, if we win the lottery, then it’s a different matter … (Hope, Pray, Beg). Of course, nothing can match the beautiful view we had from the villa this year at Kassiopi. Pure Bliss

The King (1)Of course, there was one thing that virtually dominated all of last year­ – that was the massive George’s First Steps campaign to raise funds to send my great nephew to America for a lifechanging operation to treat his cerebral palsy to get him walking. We succeeded, and some, the £55,000 needed surpassed to the sum of £80,000, enough to look after his needs for many years and to allow his parents time now to enjoy life doing normal things a family does now the worry and pressure has gone. The operation was sucessful and George is progressing daily. One highlight this Christmas was George being a king in his school’s nativity play. He loved every moment!

So, all in all, it’s been a good year. A wet one, yes, but a good one nonetheless. Quite how 2013 will pan out is anyone’s guess but I think it’s safe to say I have moved on from the woman I was back at the beginning of 2011.

Introducing Author Nina Milton

Nina 2I am delighted today to welcome over on ShowCase fellow ThornBerry author Nina Milton on this, the launch day of her novel Tough Luck. Nina is no stranger to writing for children. Not only does she hold an MA in creative writing, she works as a tutor and writer for the Open College of the Arts, is a prize-winning short story writer, and the author of several children’s books, including Sweet’n’Sour and Intergalactic Holiday.  …Click HERE to read full article…

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A Blast From the Past

I suppose I was fortunate to grow up always having a television in my life, and although it played a part in my home, it is the radio programmes of my childhood that I remember the most. It was always on, it seemed, and how many reading this now can remember listening to Radio Luxembourg on little transistor radios under the bedcovers? (“That’s Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M”.) I would also listen to I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, when I should have been sleeping. Sundays were filled with Family Favourites followed by the Billy Cotton Band Show, or Much Minding in the Marsh, The Navy Lark, the Goon Show and such. But it was Saturday morning radio that really remains in my head, for then Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac would be on …“Hello, children, everywhere.”

Children and adults could write in for requests to play the songs so beloved by us kids, songs and music you just don’t hear any more. They were fun, innocent sing-along tunes never to be forgotten such as:                   

Tubby the Tuba
Sparky and His Magic Piano
The Runaway Train
Nellie the Elephant
Peter and the Wolf
The Ugly Duckling
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Three Billy Goats Gruff
Three Little Fishes
Little White Bull
There’s A Hole In My Bucket
I’m A Pink Toothbrush
My Brother
Puff the Magic Dragon
On Top of Spaghetti
Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda
Beep Beep (The Bubblecar Song)
The Happy Wanderer
The Ugly Bug Ball
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Oh, I could go on and on, there are so many classics, so many wonderful childhood memories. How many do you remember and what song was your favourite? Did you used to listen to Uncle Mac? Did you ever write in for a request? I do think it’s such a shame there’s nothing similar for children on the radio nowadays.

If you’ve a moment or a mind to re-live a bit of the 1950s and 1960s, I’ve come across a brilliant website that is a marvellous radio and radio programmes of those times and great for doing a spot of research too! Called Whirligig, do check it out.

My Next Big Thing

Having been double-tagged recently for the Next Big Thing by Gilli Allan and Joanne Lambert, I couldn’t really refuse, so hang to your hats and settle down to read about what’s simmering on the back burner of creation for Kit Domino.

The game plan is I answer a stack of questions about what I’m currently working on and tag five other friends to take part. The questions are easy to deal with, what isn’t is the sad fact I haven’t got five friends left to tag (Billy No Mates Left, me!) as most, it seems, have been tagged already. But what the heck, I’ll do it anyway. If you want to take part in next week’s bundle feel free. Let me know and I’ll add you as an official tag. Of course, you can just go ahead and tell us about your next big thing anyway. So… here goes mine.

Ten Interview Questions: The Next Big Thing

What is the working title of your book?  I’m currently working on Whitestones. The book is finished and has been for some time but is in the process of being reworked and updated.

Where did the idea come from for the book? The story was inspired from hearing a particular piece of classical music  for the first time. I’m a great lover of classical music but this is not one of those frequently played on radio, but the sort of tune that once you’ve heard it, you can’t help falling in love with it. I came cross it by chance on a complication CD. I thought it so beautiful, so dreamy and romantic I had to use it, even to the point of obtaining the sheet music and teaching myself to play it on the piano, and so plays an integral part to the plot.

What genre does your book fall under? That’s a difficult one to answer. I would class it as a romantic mystery, but because it has paranormal elements it’s been classed (by others) as a paranormal.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? There are four central characters within Whitestones. Keria Knightly would be brilliant Penny, the lead heroine, alongside Anna Friel. The jury’s still out over the male roles but I would love Kevin Costner to play Harry, the lead male, failing that, Patrick Demsey, with George Cloney playing the professor.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A story of music and love that transcends the barriers of time.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? ThornBerry Publishing will be publishing the ebook, hopefully next year if I can pull my finger out.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Probably about 12 months. It’s had many rewrites already as it was first drafted many years ago, long before Every Step of the Way.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? There is a touch of Rebecca in the beginning, and think Nicholas Sparks and Barbara Erskine and you would be on the right track, but because Whitestones is cross-genre, and has a story line that is, I have been told by “those in the know”, quite different to anything else around, I can’t think of a single book I could compare it with.

Widden Hill House. Picture courtesy of David Harper

Who or What inspired you to write this book? There were two inspirations. The first, a large mansion in the Cotswolds near Chipping Sodbury where I lived once upon a time (pictured). The other, the fact that I’ve always been fascinated by the unexplained, paranormal events, ghosts and hauntings etc. It was whilst watching a series on TV some years ago that explored many of the locations around Britain that were reportedly haunted, I realised that many of these occurrences had a familiar theme. I began to question what was behind these stories, delving and digging deeper and reaching my own conclusions in seeking to find an explanation. This is explored in Whitestones. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Picture the scene: A lonely house overlooking the Severn valley on a stormy night during the wettest summer in recorded history, Penny alone inside. Cue music – making Penny think she’s left a radio on somewhere in the house. Okay, cut music. … I said CUT MUSIC! Oh, you have? Ah, now that really is a problem because Penny can still hear it. In her head, playing over and over again. Constantly playing, for days at a time, enough to drive her to the brink of insanity and headlong towards a breakdown. And so begins her and Harry’s journey to seek out the source and find answers. What they discover will astound them, and you.

Okay … now over to you.

(Read my recent interviews with Carol E Wyer   and Nicky Wells)

Fellow author at ThornBerry Publishing, Shirley Wright also talks about her Next Big Thing is too! Click here to read

Top Tips for Book Signings – A Light Hearted Look

Sunday saw me at my first (and only) book signing at my local Waterstones branch. I chose this one for two reasons: it’s in a humongous shopping mall that’s always busy, plenty of free parking and close to an intersection of two major motorways; and at the moment the store is promoting local authors and you don’t get much more local than me at only 10 minutes’ walk away! The staff were wonderful, so friendly and helpful but it took a great deal of courage for me to go in and ask if I could use the store for my debut! I like to learn something new each day and having gone through the experience, thought I would pass on my top tips, the do’s and the don’ts for book signings.

1) Don’t pick a day when major sporting events are on television. In my case, the Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix. The first couple of hours were busy, time flew by and books sold. Come 2 o’clock, the store was pretty much deserted.

2) Although very much out of our hands, try to pick a day that you know will be wet. The shopping malls and stores are always much busier at weekends when it’s raining. Or in my case, rain was forecast but they got it wrong again – the afternoon was bright and dry and mild.

3) Wait until all the furore over the latest current best seller has died down or else you won’t get so much as a glance. In my case, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy at discount was flying off the shelves, stacked at the entrance to the store, thus few ventured deeper into the bowels of the shop where my table was in the fiction section. I should have written a sex novel, even badly, and had a husband who was a PR manager. My book, Every Step of the Way, is set in West London in the locations where I grew up. Guess what? The author of Fifty Shades also comes from West London apparently. From my home town! Perhaps we know each other? I will have to find out… I wonder if her husband would be my PR manager too if I ask.

4) Don’t stagger in with extra copies of your book in case the store run out of stock. Be realistic. I didn’t and I was. I left my extra copies in the boot of the car, just in case some miracle might happen. It didn’t.

5) Do rally the troups, cajole, plead, beg and persuade, or in my case bribe with offers of a free lunch, family and friends to come into the store, preferably all at the same time. This creates a queue at your table and a crowd gathered around you. Great stuff – people are always curious and nosey and want to see what is going on, see what they are missing. Worked a treat. Thank you everyone who came in to say hello, take photos, buy the book. I love you dearly. Family – where the hell were you? Oh yes, I forgot. Most of  mine live 80 or more miles away, some even further afield, abroad. So, dear family in Spain. I am in need of a holiday and some sun. Can you arrange a book signing for me there? P…l…e…a…s…e…

6) Do contact your local paper in advance to tell them, particularly if they have previously covered you writing the book. They love a follow on story. … Except in my case. They didn’t and still haven’t returned my calls or emails. Shame on you.

7) Do approach people in the store with your book, it creates more sales and interest. Oh heck! When the manager told me this, I nearly fainted and backed out. You see, I’m a shy, nervous person who finds it exceedingly difficult to strike up a conversation with a stranger. My mum told me never to talk to strangers and it’s sort of inbred in me. The crowd around the table helped to spark interest. One or two did approach me later. The rest, I plucked up the courage and approached. “Hey, I love  your dress, where did you get it from?” “Are you here to buy anything specific or just browsing?” “Do you read historical fiction?” “Interested in the 1950s?” “Have you read this great book set in London and the West Country?” I felt like a shop assistant, particularly when someone approached me (smile, Kit, here comes another sale…) and asked if I worked there and could I tell them where they could find a book about some Russian or other. A teddy bear was thrown at my feet by a child in a pushchair. A friendly smile from me as I gracefully bent to retrieve and hand back the discarded toy, all the while thinking this is a good way to begin talking to the parent about my book. Well, it would have been if it had been a woman. “No sorry, love, I don’t do books. I’m here with the wife. She’s at the till buying Fifty Shades of Sex or whatever it is. I keep telling her she spends too much on books.” Oh well, foiled again.

8) Don’t drink copious amounts of tea or coffee or gin beforehand to calm the nerves else you’ll need to leave your table at frequent intervals and miss potential sales.  A swift coffee when I arrived and no food passed my lips all morning because I know what my body is like under stress. Too much detail? Okay, I’ll move on.

9) Don’t get your hair stylist to cut your hair a few days before the big day, particularly if they are zealous with the scissors. I looked like Ellie from Ice Age… still, I suppose I am that old. A bit of a relic, or is that wreck?

10) Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. It was a great experience, and as a writer, there was plenty to observe and note mentally. All good research material to use in a book one day. And you never know, I might one day be back there signing another new novel.

Simon Seahorse – A Fishy Tale

Rifling through my desk drawers the other day in search of an elusive document I needed, I came across a file I had totally forgotten about. Opening its green cover revealed a spiral bound collection of short stories I had written – from a cycling pig to the story behind an oil painting I owned – well over twenty years ago typed on my old Amstrad 9512 (what a great word processor that was!). I had filed them away because I thought these stories were all pretty much rubbish. Looking at them now with a seasoned and trained eye, I’ve come to the conclusion they actually weren’t half bad. One in particular brought back fond memories as it was written as a bedtime story for my granddaughter when she was about two years old. She always asked for it whenever she came to stay.

Called The Adventures of Simon Seahorse, at the time I’d intended to write a collection of stories about this little seahorse, each with a moral. I think having written the first, I came to the conclusion I wasn’t really a child’s story writer and was still trying to find my feet as a writer. This was long before I’d even begun to think of writing whole novels; short stories being a progression from the poetry I’d written.

Reading Simon Seahorse now I can see it is very much in the vain of Finding Nemo but I am glad I hadn’t thrown it away, grateful for advice given to me at a writing course in London to “Never, ever throw away anything you have written. Never delete or erase for it will always come in useful somewhere one day”. I don’t think Simon will ever turn out to be the great adventurer I’d hoped he would be but it was fun writing it at the time and reading it my granddaughter. I wonder if she remembers him?

I’ve included a short extract below and would be interested to hear your opinion of it and ask as I do of my paintings: Hang, slash or burn? Or in this case: Publish, hide away or shred?

THE ADVENTURE OF SIMON SEAHORSE

Simon Seahorse heaved a huge sigh. He was so bored! Every day it was always the same – nothing but eating to do. Now, eating all day was all very well, and yes, there were advantages, of course, but let’s be honest about it, eating all day, day after day, isn’t much fun, especially when it’s always the same – nothing but plankton and seaweed. It was plankton for breakfast, plankton for lunch, and guess what was for tea? Yes, plankton, followed by a nibble of seaweed for pudding.

Simon wanted to have some fun for a change. The trouble was all his brothers and sisters ever wanted to do was eat. All the other little seahorses wanted to do all day was eat. They didn’t want to play and swim and enjoy the ocean. It was all so boring obeying his parents’ orders, for they were the same each day, too!

“Now don’t forget, children,” his Mummy would say. “Eat up all you can so you will go big and strong like Daddy.” “Yes, Mummy, we will,” all the little seahorses would chant in chorus. “Eat up all your greens or your tails will never stay curly,” Daddy Seahorse would add. “We will.” “And don’t forget to keep well away from Garry the Grouper, or he’ll gobble you up for his supper.”

“Okay Mummy, we won’t forget,” all the little seahorses would reply. All except Simon, that is. He would just open and close his mouth, pretending to answer. He wasn’t frightened of Garry the Grouper. He’d never seen him but he’d heard all about the big fat black fish that patrolled the edge of the Sargasso Sea where they all lived. Mean old Garry wouldn’t catch him for breakfast, nor for lunch and especially not for supper.

So today, Simon decided he was going to have some fun instead. He swam alongside all his brothers and sisters, pretending to nibble at the little bits of plankton that drifted by on the current, darting in and out of the seaweed, and when he was sure they were not watching, and keeping one of his little eyes on his mummy and daddy, Simon slipped his tail off the long weed stem he was holding on to, and swam silently away from the group.

He swam and swam, wiggling his tiny pink body over towards the next patch of floating seaweed where he knew his one and only friend, Julie the Jellyfish, lived.

Mummy and Daddy Seahorse didn’t like him being friendly with jellyfish as jellyfish are well‑known to be rather fond of eating young, tender seahorses, or any other little fish for that matter.

But Julie was different. She, too, was bored with floating about all day just trailing her long tentacles in the water hoping to catch a fish or two for her dinner. She would drift over close to where Simon usually hung about, but instead of wanting to eat him, she only  wanted someone to talk to and play with.

Julie was delighted to see Simon swimming her way, although she was very surprised to see him alone today. Normally his parents wouldn’t let him out on his own for he was still very young, and the ocean was a very dangerous place for a little seahorse to be swimming about in all alone. There were lots of big nasty fish about, especially Garry the Grouper, who loved nothing better for breakfast than little lost seahorses, and there were lots of strong currents in the water that could sweep you away great distances so that you became lost, never to find your way back home again!

“Hello, Simon,” said Julie when he finally reached her.

“Hello, Julie,” Simon replied. “Will you play with me today? I’m so fed up with just eating. Let’s go and find some fun.”

“Oh let’s,” Julie said, shaking her long tentacles with excitement. “But are you sure? Does your Mummy and Daddy know where you are?”

“Of course they do,” Simon fibbed. “I’m almost grown up now. I can swim where ever I want to, as long as I’m home before dark!” He was so convincing that Julie believed him.

“All right,” she said. “What shall we do?”

The two friends decided they would swim out further along under the floating seaweed and see what they could find there. Neither of them had been that far before so it was going to be quite an adventure, so off they swam side by side.

As they went, they could see lots of other seahorses clinging onto the weeds by their curly tails and all were busy eating. They saw lots of other jellyfish too. Some small like Julie, others much, much bigger with long trailing tentacles that stretched for yards beneath them.

“You have to be very careful of those long tentacles,” Julie warned Simon. “They sting if you touch them and then they haul you in and gobble you up, so keep well away from them.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Julie, I’ll be careful,” Simon said. “Will your tentacles grow that long, and will you sting if I touch you?”

“I expect I will grow much, much bigger. As big as my Mummy and Daddy, I think. My tentacles already sting like theirs, but because I like you and you are my best friend, I will not sting you. Ever!”

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Don’t forget – you can catch up on my Slimming for George campaign here

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Cue Trumpets…

Listen up, everyone. I’ve glad tidings of great joy with a tale that proves sometimes, if you wait long enough, things really can have a happy ending. So cue trumpets …

It gives me great pleasure to announce that at long, long last my novel Every Step of the Way is finally being published and set for release 14 April. It’s turned into a double whammy as it’s being published not only as an ebook by one publisher, but also in paperback by another.

It’s taken many years and many false hopes and starts to reach this point and I had decided to self-publish as an ebook and be damned. Have made that decision, I then found ThornBerry Publishing. ThornBerry only publish in ebook form. They are a new UK publisher and my book will be the first they have produced. The guinea pig. But, hey, I don’t mind. They all have to start somewhere.

But the story doesn’t end there. Shortly before Christmas 2011, a fortuitous email crash landed in my inbox offering me the opportunity to have my book published as a paperback through an Arts Council funded scheme if I submitted it before February 2012. I looked into the matter and decided yes, that is what I’m going to do. To see my long-suffering baby in print, proper print, was a dream I thought I would never see some come true. ThornBerry Publishing raised no objection to this, so hey presto and cue the fanfare: Every Step of the Way will be launched in paperback form on an unsuspecting world this April, hopefully to coincide with the ebook launch.

Extract from Every Step of the Way

Terry raised Beth’s chin with his finger until he was looking directly into her eyes. “If your grandmother left that money for you and Mike, then your mother’s right not to use it. It couldn’t have been an easy decision for her to make, but I admire her for it. She has your interests and future at heart. That’s important. Look, let’s go grab a drink before the pubs shut, and see what we can come up with. There has to be some way to sort all this out.”

She fell into step with him as they turned their backs on the river. He surprised her a few steps later by pulling her round into his arms again.

“You could always marry me, you know. Solve all your problems.”

“Was that a proposal or another of your silly jokes? Because either way, it doesn’t help.”

“I mean it, Beth. I’m in love with you. We could run away to Gretna Green.”

She pushed him away. “Don’t be stupid! I’m far too young. And I hardly know you, Terry Gibbs. Plus, neither of us can afford to get married. And then there’s Mum to consider. I couldn’t leave her and—”

“I can wait, Beth, but… well, there’s nothing to stop us getting engaged, is there?”

“Yes. My dad, for one thing. He’d kill me.” She shrugged off his arms, half-laughing, half unsure if he was in all seriousness asking her to marry him.

He pulled her back to him, lowered his lips to hers and whispered, “Kill me, more like.”

END OF A YEAR

So, here we are at the end of another year. It’s gone too quick. It doesn’t seem real that I have been home from work for almost 12 months following redundancy, and what have I achieved in that time? Nothing and yet lots. A big family wedding, a successful Walk for George and George making great progress, and following in artistic footsteps, two lovely trips abroad, read some great books, editing and proofing work coming in.

Yet, as an author, it’s scary to think I haven’t written one word of a novel although I have spent many hours editing and checking several works. Back last January I started writing a new novel with plans to do a lot of research and visiting the places I use in the book, but none of that has happened. Not because I didn’t want to, but last Christmas after my husband’s car let us down very badly on Christmas Eve, leaving us stuck in the perishing cold and snow on the M4, we decided to trade both his and mine in for another as we don’t need two cars now I am at home all day.

But my time home hasn’t been idle. I began blogging. If nothing else it has kept me writing and now I am ready to pick up the novels again and ensure that 2012 is the year hopefully I am published and in print.

I also met the lovely Linn B Halton, and helped her get loveahappyending.com up and running and editing Kit’s Corner and through the group, have made lots of new friends and colleagues who share the same passion for writing and books.

And for the first time in eight years I was able to host the writing group I belong to (the Ivy Writers) at my home. We meet one evening a month in one another’s home. Whilst I was working and with my husband working late shifts it was impossible for me to host this. Instead of meeting of an evening, we were able to meet of an afternoon.

I had planned to paint more pictures with so much free time, but that hasn’t materialised either. But I have been able to sell several, one before the paint even had time to dry! I had been offered a place at an exhibition but had to decline as I could not get to the venue on the required dates to deliver and collect.

So, what will 2012 bring? A hard, difficult few months ahead, that’s for sure. In a fortnight’s time my husband goes into hospital for a hip replacement, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds as he has a spinal problem. The equipment needed at home to help in his rehabilitation and recuperation has been installed: the toilet seat has been raised and a frame around it so he can lower and raise himself properly.  I have to use this too and feel like a little schoolgirl again as my feet don’t touch the floor when sitting on this. His armchair has been raised on blocks, the walking sticks and knicker-puller-on tool, his gadget for pulling on his socks and a very long shoe horn delivered.  He won’t be able to drive for at least 8 weeks and it will be probably 3 months before he will be able to return to work.  So all in all, a good thing I am at home all day to help him. We will have lots of laughs and no doubt a few frayed tempers and tears, his and mine. But we will manage. And hopefully, once he is back in his workboots, out of pain and fit again, we will see our garden blossom even if it is me having to do all the backbreaking planting.

In 2012 I have the opportunity to exhibit art at two venues and, with many fingers crossed, will see my novel Every Step of the Way finally published. There’s a new birth imminent in the family which will bring much joy to all of us, a summer holiday already booked and no doubt a trip to Spain to visit my brother and his wife. And one or two other irons in the fire that need a bit of prodding to mould into what I know will be a great, happy and successful year. One I am looking forward to as I raise a glass to the midnight chimes and fireworks and say:

“HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS                                                AND WISH YOU ALL A SUCCESSFUL YEAR TOO!”

Wish I Were Here!

The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow … and wind and rain and hail and thunder and lightening. Yesterday, here where I live we’ve had the lot thrown at us. And that was just for starters! This morning, a light dusting of icing snow covers the rooftops and ground. The forecast this week is for more lousy winter weather to come. I hate the winter and the cold and wish I could escape it, just for the season, or better still, for good. Oh, what I’d give to be able to run away and hide away from it all. Given the opportunity (and the money) I would leave cold windy England and head to the sun.

So here’s where I would much rather be:

It’s a beautiful villa nestled right at the edge of the sea in Corfu, Greece.  I love the Greek islands and all things Greek. Sadly, I have to wait eight months before I will be there again. Meanwhile, there’s not a lot I can do but curl up by the fire, open a bottle of champagne, and read a book.

But not just any book! Today sees the launch of one I know is a cracker, and I’m not talking Christmas cracker here. I’m talking about REACHING FOR THE STARS, the new novel by writer Janice Horton. A fun read concerning a celebrity chef determined to throw it all away for the love of a woman. I’ve been lucky in being able to read this book prelaunch, in its raw state, before the ingredients were well mixed, left to rise, stirred with many emotions and seasoned with the lovely humour Ms Horton writes so well into her novels. And now, the book having been baked to perfection, I can read it in its mature, lovingly crafted state. And there’s no need to wait for it to cool before opening that first page.

So good luck, Janice Horton. This book deserves to take off with a bang and reach the zenith, if not in the stars, certainly in the book charts.

Buy Reaching for the Stars

Hints and Tips on Proofing and Editing

There has been much discussion between various authors and writing groups concerning the whys, wherefores and benefits of having work proofread and/or edited by a professional. This has been particularly prevalent between Indie writers who, for one reason or another, feel wronged and slighted if someone comments that their book is let down by typos and errors, as if this is the worst thing in the world to happen and makes them less of a professional author. It doesn’t. There is no shame in making a mistake. Even in mainstream publishing one or two typos do slip through. And let’s face it, even with the best will in the world, a good proofreader and copy editor is not infallible and can, and does, miss the odd thing. But what many independent authors fail to appreciate is that it isn’t just the annoying little typo that’s the problem.

Over the past couple of years I have read lots of books published independently; what is the problem in many of these is not spelling errors per se – it’s all the other bits and pieces that make up the whole reading experience that is often sadly lacking. By this, I mean the typesetting and formatting skills of bookmaking and the lack of the necessary writing skills needed to tell, and thus sell, a good story.

Many authors do not know how to format prose and dialogue, do not understand how dialogue should be set down and punctuated, they fail to use consistency in spellings, and many authors fall down completely in the use of capitalisation and paragraphs, apostrophe use, misplaced colons, when words should be italicised or not, when to use ellipses or not … the list goes on. And it is these things that annoy a reader far more than the odd little spelling mistake and typo. These are the things a good editor will highlight, things a good proofreader will correct. They are not the things your granny or best friend would even consider when checking your manuscript for you.

Yes, I know many will say that the odd typo or error doesn’t detract from a story for them, but there are a great deal more that say it does. Hence, the plethora of discussions and comments on Amazon or wherever about them.

Unless dialogue is set out correctly and tags used to good effect, it can be sometimes impossible to follow who is saying what to whom. Often a writer will think using he said/she said is adequate every time. But, used all the time, not only is this boring to read, it is taking so much away from the story when the words, the actual dialogue itself, should be making it clear who is speaking. The odd grammar mistake isn’t a problem for most readers, and I’m certainly no slave to perfect English grammar, after all, most of us don’t worry about correct grammar when speaking in everyday life.

Whilst it is appreciated that what is acceptable in one country is not in another, that there are various differences in acceptable grammar and spellings, I can only speak from a UK standpoint, and from my many years involved in typesetting, writing, proofing and copy editing and reading. I have thus set out at  Proofing Tips a few hints, tips and guidance on how a book should be set out. I’m not talking chapters, fonts and page numbers here, but the physical layout of words and punctuation that should be used, in order for your readers to have a much better experience of your work and lose themselves in your story, instead of being confused and thrown out by poor crafting.

The list will expand over time, in the hope that the standard of independent books is raised and the profile and credibility of Indie authors grows. And well it should, for there are a great many stories out there, huge numbers of excellent writers. Although independent publishing is slowly receiving the accolade it deserves, there is still a great deal of work to be done in. These are exciting times we live in through this changing world of publishing. Together, let’s make it the best it can be for future generations.

Click here to go to Proofing Tips page.

A Sense of Place

Location plays an important part in novels. It sets the scene, helps brings the story to life with realism, especially when actual places are used, places readers may know and can envisage. In each of my novels location has proved invaluable to creating atmosphere: London and the River Thames in Every Step of the Way and Queenie Queenie, a Cotswold Georgian mansion where I once lived in Whitestones, and the Greek island of Thassos in Where Two Worlds Collide. This last location, although a very real island, is one I have not visited yet but, being a lover of all things Greek and having over the last 12 years had the fortune to visit many Greek islands, a vivid imagination knows how that island must look. That and images and descriptions found on the Internet, of course.

So it did come as a great shock when recently holidaying on Corfu when I found myself staying in a beautiful bay on the east coast that exactly mirrored the bay and location I had created in Two Worlds. In this novel, a time slip, I describe a large villa built against a cliffside, spread over three levels. There is a swimming pool on the second terrace and rough stone steps flanked by blue morning glory, oleander and hibiscus bushes leading down to a narrow sandy beach in a shallow bay guarded by high headlands. A short walk along the beach on a rickety boardwalk takes my heroine to the nearby village, otherwise reached by a dusty dirt road over the cliff before descending to a scattering of houses and tavernas. I have no doubt innumerable bays and resorts around Greece mirror this but there was something else about Agios Gordios that made this extra weird.

In my book, there is a cave leading up through the cliff to an old village set way back in the hills. The entrance is hidden from view by a rock stack in which there is a huge wasps’ nest at the summit. Just as at Agios Gordios!

Imagine then my surprise at finding just such things at the hotel I stayed at. Built over several terraces, a swimming pool on the second, stone steps down to the beach, the village reached by a short walk along the beach, the high cliffs flanking the bay and that eerie monolith of rock hiding caves. Caves, I did not venture into, I hasten to add. Weird things happen there in my book that I didn’t want to happen to me.

As I watched the sunrise over the bay that very first morning, it was like a homecoming. The sense of déjà vu overwhelming as the cicadas ceased their singing and slunk back into the dank undergrowth and the birds trilled in the growing light, for I knew the place well. It was scary and yet comfortable all at the same time. My travelling companions were taken aback when I led them to the village by the long route through dusty paths between semi-derelict and bougainvillea-clad houses and guided them to familiar tavernas spread along the beach, knew what time the fishing boats came into the narrow jetty. How? Because I had written about it all, described each element.

Perhaps I had been there before, in a past life or in a dream. Whatever the reason, Agios Gordios will remain in my memory for a lifetime. It will have to as I have probably lost all my holiday photos thanks to a computer error. Hopefully the Greek Gods will look down kindly on me and restore them or else take my path back there some day so I can take some more whilst sampling one of the many cocktails served at Agios Gordios.

Proofreading Is More Than Just Checking Spelling!

My working career has always revolved around the written word in one form or another; from typing to running a wordprocessing agency, from typesetting manuscripts to proofing and editing all manner of books, legal and statutory documents and much more besides. Wearing a writer’s hat, I have attended countless writing seminars, courses, conferences, and a member of small and large writing groups and communities. I’ve done the jumping through hoops and agonised over that wretched synopsis, learned what is accepted practice and what is not. Thus, whenever I read a book, be it conventionally published or otherwise, I cringe at the errors in the proofing and editing spotted in an increasing number of these books.

“But it’s the story that counts!” is a retort I’ve heard so often it’s almost become a cliché. “Readers can forgive the odd typo, the odd spelling mistake, the missed punctuation.” Sorry, author, that is not the case. Most don’t, certainly not if errors are there in herds that leap out of the page at you. Mistakes do, will and can throw a reader right out of the story; that is their job – to make a reader not want to finish, never mind buy another of your books again. Is that what you really want? It’s not the odd little typo that’s the troublemaker; it’s the glaring howlers that shouldn’t have got through that irritate. Those misspelled or wrong words, the bad punctuation and inconsistencies that all should have been corrected long before a book was thrust into the hands of your paying readership. The poor formatting, the switched tenses and lazy grammar that poke you in the eye and confuse the brain. Even if a book is offered free of charge, a writer owes it the reader to present it in the best manner possible. Proofreading is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

When I hear or read comments such as, “Well, my mother/granny/friend proofed it” or, even more worrying, “I checked it myself”, I know I shall not bother to read the book. If you don’t care enough about your work then why should I as a reader? You see, it takes a trained, experienced eye to see the mistakes, to know the things to look out for. The Society of Editors and Proofreaders advocates you cannot proof your own work, not because they are touting for your business but because it is true. A given. Your brain doesn’t read what your eye sees. Your brain already knows your story, it wrote it and knows what should be there without seeing what actually is. Scientific fact. You might have the word spelt correctly but is it the right word? Have you placed too much reliance on computer spellcheckers and the next-to-useless grammar checker? These mechanical devices cannot and do not know the difference between plain and plane or bear and bare, breath and breathe, principle and principal. They do not know that forget-me-nots do not grow in England during September, that there’s a difference between mum as a noun and Mum as pronoun, or between having lead in your pencil or being led up the garden path. That you toe the line, not tow the line. I have no doubt there are errors in this text, which goes to show you cannot proof your own work and that proofreading is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

Grammar is another minefield. What is acceptable to one school of thought or continent may not be to another. Most authors write as they speak. That is good, it forms part of the author’s voice, brings stories and characters to life. Books written in the Queen’s English, all grammatically proper and correct, or presumed correct, can appear stuffy and, frankly, dull, especially when it is clear the writer has striven so hard to do it in this way. It doesn’t work. And who says you can’t start a sentence with And or But or Because? Who wrote the rule that you cannot split an infinitive? There are no such rules. Prose that switches tenses, uses superfluous adjectives and a never-ending stream of he said, she said, is boring, and unnecessary if the narrative is crafted skilfully. Proofing is a whole lot more than just checking the spelling.

When we speak, we use intonation of voice, eye contact, hand gestures, to convey our meanings. We don’t have commas and fullstops and quotation marks. When writing we need punctuation to perform this function, but used in the wrong place it can change complete meanings, make reading difficult. And if reading your text is difficult, it isn’t doing its job. A bear eats shoots and leaves is a whole lot different to A bear eats, shoots, and leaves. There was a theory that a comma means this is where you take a breath, a semi-colon a longer breath and a colon an even greater pause. Not correct. Too often, writers suffer with that common complaint known as comma diarrhoea – too many, too often, and in the most inappropriate places. And as for those rogue apostrophes …

This isn’t unique to self-published books. I’ve seen glaring errors from conventional publishing houses too, often due to being a sad marker of lean, economic times in publishing when the proofreader is often the first to be let go, leaving it up to the author to get it right or, at most, the editor. Editors do an excellent job, a hard job, and they are not infallible. Neither am I. I get it wrong sometimes. Even I get confused with compliment and complement occasionally. I was taught that anything to do with time you used the word past, as in past, present and future, and anything to do with movement was from the verb to pass, as in he walked passed the breadshop. A lesson I understand now to be wrong. Am I?

What really annoys is these so-called independent publishers who take your money, claiming to offer a full editing service, often charging extra for proofing, when in fact they don’t bother to do the job properly. Those that don’t seem to care about your work, they already have your money. A form of daylight robbery. The Kindle and ebooks and ipads etc are wonderful inventions allowing writers to reach a reading public they would never have touched through conventional methods, and it is time the big boys moved over, but if self-published authors want to be taken seriously, elevate themselves out of the “vanity” publishing mindset held by others, make reviewers and readers and people sit up and take notice, they owe it to readers to get it right.

Proofreading need not be expensive. It’s time consuming, yes, but oh so vital. Circumvent this important element of the writing process at your peril because proofreading is more than just checking the spelling.

Recommended reading: Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

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