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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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Does it Feel Good?

Over coffee and cake the other day, my publicity agent (aka best friend Jane) asked me what it felt like to finally be a published writer. “Not a lot different,” I told her. “A bit like having a birthday really. First, there’s the initial excitement over the fuss being made about you, the congratulations and hugs and kisses, the sense of relief that you’ve reached another milestone in one piece, then that deflated feeling when everyone’s left and you realise inside, you are the same person, just a day older.” But afterwards, giving the question further thought, I realised I do feel different, and began to analyse why.

Every Step of the Way had been ten years in the making. From the initial seeds of an idea to eventually seeing it on Amazon and physically in someone’s hands. It took about a year to write, the first three chapters in about three weeks but then came a period of intensive research when I learned so much fascinating stuff about the era the book is set in – the 1950s – to the extent the research overtook any writing. But I was on a deadline, a perceived one, of my own making, until in September 2004, it was finished. Or so I thought. During the ensuing years, having gone through many false starts and hopes and squashed dreams, an award ceremony, agent, editor, proofreaders, the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, being told there’s no market for sagas, turned down by publishers, and everything else betwixt and between, it needed many rewrites and more edits, to the extent I was so sick of the sight of my characters, I wanted to drown them all in the River Thames never to see daylight again.

So you can perhaps understand the feeling I had that, after all this time, I was glad to see the end of it. Any excitement I had hoped to feel now it was out in the big wide world hadn’t materialised. What I felt was liberation because at long last, I was free. The book had reached maturity, guided and fed, pruned and nurtured every step of the way (pun intended!). The strings were at last cut, time to either flounder or be a runaway success (hope, hope, hope). But in its wake it had left nothing but self doubt. Not over the novel itself but whether it could have been better written for I knew that, if I wrote the story now, I would write it another way. This is due to the fact that in the last ten years I, too have matured as a writer, learnt the many lessons needed to write a good book. I now know the various pitfalls and how the market works.

So, Jane, in answer to your question: It feels different – because I am different to the person who wrote it all those years ago. I feel proud – because all the mishaps and ups and downs experienced in the intervening years have helped to shape it into the creature it has grown into. I am also proud of myself in that I didn’t let the dream go, I didn’t kill it, I didn’t give up on it. I feel elated at the prospect of seeing more people hold my book in their hands and knowing many have already downloaded it onto their Ereaders. And more importantly, I feel excited by the prospect of going through the pains of doing it all over again with the next. Hopefully that one won’t take another ten years to appear.

In short.  It feels good!

Read extract from Every Step of the Way

Available on Kindle through ThornBerry Publishing via Amazon and as a paperback through FeedaRead and Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com, Waterstones Barnes & Noble

Have you got your ticket to our Summer Audience? See what it’s about at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApKgIG68jFY

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.”

The Hippy Hippy Shake

So, here we are into February already. A full 12 months of not having to the do the 9-to-5, and loving it. But what has 2012 brought already? Well, apart from the cold setting in now, quite a bit to the Domino household.

I’ve become a Great Auntie again. My niece, whose baby shower I attended at the beginning of the year, gave birth to a beautiful little girl – Evie Faith. I am so looking forward to my first cuddle.

Talking of the cold, New Year’s Day was greeted by the first of this year’s crocus in bloom on the front lawn. A few days later, several clumps of snowdrops appeared and now all along my drive is a sea of flowers which, with the sun on them, open out brightening the day and putting smiles on passers-by faces. The hellebores are about to open too, only today after last night’s heavy frost, they are hanging limp and forlorn. But they will pick up again. I hope.

I’ve managed to complete a few paintings over the weekends  For one, I tried something different to landscapes this time. I think Pink Flowers it came out rather well. 



I’m close to completing the final edits of one of my novels, ready to be published soon. It is actually quite scary after all this time to be on the brink again. Like being on the edge of a precipice – will I fly or will I fall? But then, that’s me … always nervous, always shy.

There has been one other major event in my household in January. On the 12th, my husband underwent a hip replacement operation. He’s doing okay now, but we did have a few “difficult” days whilst he was in hospital and shortly after he eventually came home. I won’t bore you with all the details as I don’t want this to be a moan, suffice to say one ward care assistant is no longer employed at our local hospital thanks to her lack of due diligence and neglect of care.

Today he managed to walk to our doctors and back on his own with the aid of only one walking stick instead of two, and yesterday was able to make us both a coffee and carry it through to me. He still needs a lot of help with washing and dressing and getting into bed, and still eating a lot of painkillers, but it is early days. Thankfully, he has been fitted with a ceramic hip joint, not a metal one like there’s been all the fuss about lately; you may have heard.  This because he is still relatively young, still working and very fit. (Time now to look away if you are squeamish!)

He did rather grin widely when he saw on the medical form he collected today what our GP had written beside Likely Date Fit For Work Again: June 2012. The smile soon fell away when I reminded him he doesn’t get sick leave pay from his company, only SSP. Apart from which, I know him only too well. Come March he will be itching to get out and do some gardening, and by then he will also be missing his job and friends at work. I’ll give it until April. You can’t keep a good man down for long!

Click here for my latest batch of household hints and tips.

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

To Italic or Not to Italic?

“Italics: a style of printing type chiefly used to indicate emphasis or a foreign word.”                                           (definition from Collins English Dictionary, 2010)

Many authors are confused when it comes to using italic in their writing, but within publishing the conventions are fairly simple, and the above definition sums it up very neatly. Follow this and you won’t go far wrong.

So, what should be put into italic? Basically, relatively little. There is no rule at all that says you have to use italics for anything. When we speak, the intonation and body language we use illustrates the emphasis we put on any one word or phrase, often by that annoying habit of people wagging their index fingers as if being a quotation mark. In writing, we have to use other means. In handwriting unless you were a calligrapher, the method used was either a different coloured ink or underlining. This has developed into the internationally accepted standard of italic font as used by the printing industry. In typesetting, a word underscored means “put into italic”.

Text that is interspersed constantly with normal and italic fonts is hard on the eye. The best guide is to only put into italic a word that you want put emphasis on, to enable the reader to fully understand and engage in the meaning. For example: “You will do it” and “You will do it” each have a different meaning. The first, a soft, supportive statement; the second, an imperative order.

A word on underlining. Do not use this in novels or reference books, especially when self-publishing. With the narrow spacing between lines, underscoring makes reading tiresome and difficult, and in ebooks it highlights a word for other means. Do not use underline and bold together, and definitely a big no no is Italic, underline and bold. NO NO This is out and out overkill!

Apart from highlighting a word for emphasis, we also put into italic any foreign word or phrase borrowed from another language and has not yet become part of everyday English language usage, particularly French and Latin. For example, terminus a quo would be in italic; status quo, not italic – the former an uncommon phrase, the latter now part of everyday English. But the writer doesn’t necessarily know what is still a foreign word or what has now become an accepted word in English. This is where having a comprehensive, up-to-date dictionary is worth the cost. Ones such as the Collins English Dictionary or the OED will list words with their correct italic/capitalisation format. 

What does cause confusion is where foreign food and drink are concerned. You wouldn’t expect to see quiche or spaghetti bolognaise or linguine in italic, however coq au vin and Coquilles St Jacques would be. Likewise, you would have a glass of burgundy or perhaps you’d prefer the Cote du Rhone. None of these words would look or be wrong if they were in normal font. It’s a matter of choice or editorial preference or house style. What is important is to be consistent. If you put a word in italic, ensure every time you use that word in your book it is in italic.

Most publishing houses have their own rules and guidelines on this matter, and if writing for one of them, obtain a copy of the in‑house style sheet. Newspapers also have their own convention.

What about when citing songs, books, film or play titles, newspapers and magazines, painting titles? The modern convention is for these to be in normal font but there is nothing wrong in putting into italic if you must or if the house style dictates. What they shouldn’t be in is quotation marks. Quotation marks are for dialogue and quotes; that’s what they’re there for, that’s their job. If you decide to put titles into italic, that’s fine too. Nothing wrong in doing so. An accepted convention, even in the press industry, is to italicise the names of newspapers, journals and books, but even that convention is slowly eroding and everything kept in normal font. The main factor in all is consistency throughout the document, the only rule here being, if you use italic for a newspaper title, use it for any book or magazine title, too, within that book. Note: the word “the” does not go in italic nor should it be capitalised: the Guardian, the Sunday Observer. (More on capitalisation in a later blog.) However, if a book title is published as “The War of the Worlds”, then “the” should be set to italic too.

Punctuation with italic: any punctuation that follows an italicised word/s or should be in normal font. With quotation marks, if the whole sentence or quote is in italic, it is acceptable for the opening and closing quote marks to be italic although it is now common for normal font quotation marks to be used and only the actual quoted words in italic. Again, this is a matter of preference.

Location and place names, names of shops and venues, pop groups etc, brand names, pub names, should be in normal font. Names of ships, trains, TV and radio shows are acceptable in italics.

But the use of italic doesn’t end here. You can put whole paragraphs or sections into italic if you want to show something by way of illustration or to make it stand out from the rest, ie a letter or a quotation, or different sections, if perhaps writing from, say, two different viewpoints or timeframes, such as in a timeslip novel. Any sections in italic should begin on a new line, and any word/s that would normally be emphasised in italic within that paragraph or section, put to normal font. You could even write the whole book in italic if that is your want, reversing the font switch.

So really there are only two things to consider: 1) use for emphasis only and for foreign words, 2) be consistent in whichever choice you make within a document.

Jump to Proofing and Editing Tips

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.

Fruit Cake and A Good Book – A Wonderful Combination!

As promised, I have included my recipe for fruitcake. Or Easy Peasy Fruitcake, as I call it. As it is just that: so easy peasy to make, keeps wonderfully, and is my husband’s favourite. The reason I like this recipe is that it is easily adaptable to what’s in the storecupboard, weights don’t have to be too precise, the ingredients can and be chopped and changed to suit, it makes a fabulous Christmas cake and doesn’t call for any fancy equipment or culinary skills to make. So … aprons and wooden spoons at the ready, here we go! Click this link to take you to the recipe!

And what goes well with a slice of cake especially on a chilly, wet afternoon? Yes, tea or coffee, that’s obvious. But what about a good book? Last week saw the release of one I know is a brilliant read:  Tricia Jones’s seventh novel Bull At The Gate, a contemporary romance with a hint of the paranormal.

Alexander “Bull” McKinley’s reputation as a hard-nosed businessman is tested when an old Fairy Gate and local superstition stand in the way of a lucrative development contract. But then, he hadn’t had to deal with a woman like Dee Ashman before. A woman who detests those who put profit before people, and she’s damned if an arrogant, insensitive and, okay, wildly attractive capitalist is going to destroy the symbolic heart of the village and break her beloved grandmother’s heart.

Available from Wild Rose Press and Amazon

 

A Few of My Favourite Things

  • Dawn, my favourite time of day. I live in the middle of a housing estate stuck between the junction of two motorways. Close by is an airfield, a large shopping mall and a railway, so you can understand why it’s not exactly quiet around here. Except for early mornings when all is calm, all is peaceful. I love to sit, preferably outside, and watch the sky lighten in all its ever-changing hues of blues and pinks, the play of light and shadows, and enjoy a feeling of anticipation of what the day will bring. Coupled with this, another of my favourite things — birds.
  • The dawn chorus is part of my enjoyment of dawn, but I also like to hear the birds singing at any time of day. I even have a CD I play frequently to feed what is a passionate need to hear them around me. If it wasn’t for the pesky pigeons and magpies that we have an overpopulation of here, where I live would be perfect. The birds like my garden and many of our native garden species can be found flittering and feeding and bathing here almost every day. Whenever I am out, no matter where or what country, I always take time out to watch the birds but can categorically say I am not a twitcher despite my binoculars saying to the contrary.
  • My garden, plants and other animals. My garden is my sanctuary, a small piece of tranquillity in an otherwise noisy, chaotic world. Here my husband and I grow and enjoy all manner of flowers and thrill at everything that mother nature decides to send to visit including the birds, butterflies, toads, frogs, slow-worms, lizards, field mice, hedgehogs.
  • Holidays abroad to warm locations. For many years now I’ve been fortunate enough to spend my holidays with just my two sisters and our mum. I live some way from them so our annual migration to the sun gives us precious time together. We chill out, read, do as we please, eat and drink what we please, go where we please and enjoy each other’s company without the tantrums of men or children. I never got on with my sisters when we all lived at home, always fighting and arguing. They are twins and five years older than me. Not a big difference now but that’s a huge ravine when you’re young. Next year will see our last holiday together. Mum is 86 next March, travelling getting too much for her, and with my sisters retired and my being recently redundant we will not be able to afford to do it again.
  • Greece and all things Greek. Of all the places abroad I have visited, from Barbados, Austria, Germany and Spain, through to holidays with my sisters, it is always to Greece we return. Each island is unique in its own way. I love the food and the people, the culture, the history and the climate. Especially the climate. I just love the sun although I am not a sun worshipper — you’ll never see me with tan. If I could choose one place in the world to retire to, it would be to a Greek island. And it’s back to Greece again next year for our last girls’ holiday.
  • Music. All types but especially classical and especially Andre Bocelli. What I wouldn’t give to see him live. His voice sends a shiver down my spine. I grew up with music, especially German folk songs and bands, I taught myself to play piano, my first husband was a DJ, and music is always playing at home when driving, be it ELO or Eric Clapton, Ralph McTell to George Michel, Bocelli to Rachmaninov, music is my world.

Each one of the above has been included in one way or another in my books: classical music is a central theme of Whitestones, along with a garden where the heroine seeks solace. In Every Step of the Way, the music of the 1950s features prominently. Sisters in a villa on a Greek island and happenings at dawn are elements running through When Two Worlds Collide. When I’m writing novels I like to bring some of my favourite things into the narrative; the premise being “write about what you know”. Hopefully, the things that please me, will please my readers, too.

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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A Serious Case of Writer’s Block

Is there such a thing, or is this a term used by writers who know they want to write, know they must write, but are frightened to put pen to paper or put fingers to the keyboard? We all go through a phase when nothing seems to come into our heads, and the mind and page remain blank.

Writing is a habit, one is easily broken by distractions of life and home cutting in. You set yourself tasks, allot your precious “writing time” into your busy schedule yet nothing spills out. Or you reach a point in your current WIP, often in the middle when the plot and story sag, or in my case droop, and you don’t know how to move it forward. It’s happened on numerous occasions, particular when I haven’t been able to work on one of my books for a long time. Artists also experience this self-same thing so, obviously, it must be some electrical brain impulse thingy hard at work blocking the brain stems from creativity. So what can we do to get the right synapses working again?

In the many years I’ve been writing I’ve developed a few  ploys to jump-start the creative juices so thought I would share them with you. They may not work for you, but in all cases, it doesn’t matter what you write, it can all be totally incomprehensible and probably end up being deleted but at least you are writing, and writing is all about habit. Or you may find, as I have, that magic scene you were searching for comes alive. The missing part to get from B to C materialises. Or you find you really need a new dress to wear to next week’s party.

1)      Put on some music. Your favourite CD. Music is mood enhancing. Music retrieves memories. Both of these can inspire. Not working? Then write about the actual words you are listening to. Write down the lyrics. Write your own lyrics to the melody. They might not make sense, but somewhere there will be the prompt, that little spark that turns on the word gush.

2)     Turn everything off, open the window and just listen. Listen to the sounds in the street, those around you. Can you hear bird song? Traffic noise? People talking? Something else? Write a few sentences about what you can hear. Now, what can you see? Again, write it down. Next, smell the air. Is it sweet, damp, of mown grass, or full of  bbq fumes? Imagine what’s going on and write it down.

3)     Open the wardrobe door. Look at your clothes. Pick out your favourite outfit or dress or pair of shoes. Imagine the place where you would most like to wear it. What you would like to happen. Whom you would like to meet whilst in that sexy little red number? Imagine your heroine in the outfit. Would it suit her? Would it be her style? If not, what would she like to wear, and why.

4)      Too cold, wet or windy to have the window open? Then what can you hear indoors? In your writing room. A clock ticking? The hard drive on your computer whirring? What memories have you of clocks? Computers? The neighbours arguing? The kid across the road battling hell out of his new drum kit? Can you recall a funny instance concerning any or all of the things you can hear? Write it down. Create a scene. Unblock the mind.

5)      Turn on Google Images. Type in where you would most like to be in the world. Look at the photos that come up and then imagine yourself there. What would you be wearing? Why are you there? Are you meeting someone?

6)      Write the last scene of your novel and work backwards to where the lull in the middle is.

7)      Take a book from your library, preferably one you haven’t yet read, more preferable, one you are liable not to read. Write the second-to-last paragraph out. Then, using this as an opening gambit, write what happens next. Or, if you prefer, write a scene leading up to this final paragraph.

8)      Open any page in today’s newspaper. Pick one article or one leader. Write your own slant on it.

I bet you haven’t got writers’ block now. I bet your thought processes are flying quicker than you can type after just one of these exercises. I hope I’ve given you a few ideas that will work for you. Do tell me about it or of any tricks you have to fire up the imagination.