Saturday, 6 February 2016

Littlewich Ways Launch - by Debbie Bennett

Back in September, I blogged abut the community radio play project I'm involved in - Littlewich Ways. On Friday we had our "official" launch party in the local pub, accompanied by a big-screen production (yes, I know it's radio, but bear with me ...), much alcohol and nibbles.

You can see the results here on our very own Youtube channel, set up by yours truly. Or via our blog page/website at Or just click below...

It's been nearly two years in the making. When you think that at the start, few of us had any idea what we were doing, I think we've come a long way. We're not professional scriptwriters, actors and technicians. All of us have day jobs and do this purely for fun.

When we decided to use Youtube to host our efforts, we realised we'd need something visual. Youtube is a visual medium and we needed a picture, or pictures, on-screen while the audio track was playing. So we decided to add a single picture per scene, to add a visual "clue" to the setting as well as something to look at. Finding pictures wasn't easy - a single image per scene that would repeat for every scene in the same setting. We debated what types of house each of our fictional families would live in and did most of our own photography, then added a sponge filter to everything to attempt to tie it all together somehow. My daughter had the brainwave of using some drone footage taken by a neighbour last summer and put it together as an opening sequence (the white house is ours!). And I had a very steep learning curve in getting to grips with Adobe Premiere Pro to grasp the basics of overlaying and editing sound and image files.

So we're nearly thirty (roughly 15-minute) episodes in, with two out there and live. We're about to start recording episodes 3 and 4. We've covered the sublime to the ridiculous with everything in-between.

And they still haven't let me kill anybody.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Shipping Forecast by Sandra Horn

I may have mentioned before that I’m a sad nut about the sounds of words. They can make me shiver, dance, laugh with sheer joy – and none more so than those issued by the Met Office at regular intervals throughout my life.
I, a total landlubber, have loved listening to the Shipping Forecast ever since I can remember, and long before I had a clue about what it meant. It was like a mysterious poem. First, the quietly authoritative, beautifully modulated voice: Attention all shipping! I was stilled by that. Then the anticipation of the thrilling litany of names: Dogger, Fisher, German Bight (Bite? Whaa!), Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Ross... Oh, Heligoland! There were no Utsires then and I remember the irritation when I first heard the interlopers. Where had THEY come from, blast it? Funny-sounding, and how on earth do you spell them? And Finisterre (lovely!) becoming Fitzroy (not lovely at all). How dare anyone change my poem? 

It doesn’t end with the names, of course; there’s more: Westerly backing southwesterly 3 or 4. Rain later. Good. I didn’t understand the numbers – didn’t know about the Beaufort Scale and wind speed until years later.  I didn’t know that the ‘good’ at the end was visibility, and puzzled over why it could follow wintry or thundery showers. Why were they ‘good’? My total ignorance, then, about what I was hearing, did nothing to diminish the pleasure of listening to it. It was, and is, a joy.

I now know that I’m not alone – far from it! Thanks to Peter Collyer’s remarkable illustrated book,’Rain Later, Good: painting the shipping forecast’, I find that there are people like me all over the place listening in on the land, sometimes far from the sea. It has been mentioned in poems by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. It has been set to music by Cecelia MacDowell. It has been chosen on Desert Island Discs! It was featured in the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games as part of the hand-over to London, and in the opening ceremony of the 2012 games in London. 

It is, of course, read beautifully. Three minutes, at dictation speed. This is achieved by leaving out unnecessary qualifying words like ‘weather’, ‘wind’, visibility’, so that the essential information can be given at a speed permitting comprehension and note-taking if need be.  What a contrast to the weather forecasts on the telly! Too much information to take in, gabbled frantically by people with rictus (why grin?) and no poetry at all. Yuk.   Just think if it could be modelled on the Shipping Forecast instead: Southwest, southerly, 2 or 3, showers, moderate; southeast...central, northeast, etc. I’d listen to that! I’d probably even remember it after it had finished, unlike now.  BBC and Met Office, please take note. Use the Power of Words and spaces!
And here they are:
Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties,
Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger,
Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames,
Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth,
Biscay, Trafalgar, Finisterre (poetic licence),
Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea,
Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides,
Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes,
South East Iceland.

Rain later Good: painting the shipping forecast, by Peter Collyer, Bloomsbury, 2013. Wonderful 
pictures too!

Sea pictures by Niall Horn 

The Stormteller ebook - no Shipping Forecast in this story - weather changes are predicted by a piece of mysterious wood!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

How long should it take to write a novel? - Alice Jolly

How long should it take to write a novel? Well, that's a silly question, really, isn't it? Because everyone knows there is no 'should' in it. It takes as long as it takes. But despite all of that, I have recently had cause to consider this question.

What as writers do we generally expect? Is the equation always 'time spent equals quality of book.' Is it ever possible to work on a book for too long? Does a writer spend the same time on each book?

Ten years ago, I certainly thought that I had an answer to that last question. I had written three novels by then and each had taken about four years. So I thought - ok, so that's my process and probably that won't change much now. It would be better if I could work quicker but I can't. (One book had missed a publisher's deadline by two years).

But then the next novel took eight years - or maybe even more. I'm too embarrassed really to put an exact figure on it. Then came a memoir which probably took eighteen months but I don't really include that because (let's face it) writing a memoir is a doddle compared to writing a novel. You just write down what happened next in your life. So how complicated can that be?

Now I am writing a new novel and it is coming together at terrifying speed. Of course, I should just be pleased about this. But as a writer, I always need to have something to worry about. So now I am worrying about the fact that, given how quickly this book seems to be happening, it can't be any good.

Uuuum? I think it does happen sometimes that a novelist finds that a book just drops off the end of the pen with no real difficulty at all. And if that is currently what is happening to me, then I really must not complain.

But as a general rule - and I'm sure others will vehemently disagree - I do think that 'time spent equals quality of book.' I read far too many novels at the moment which are not much more than first drafts. And I also know that most of the books I really love took the writer years to write. Even if I don't know that as a fact, I can feel it in the writing.

Finally, as writers we ask a great deal of readers. We want them to pay a fair sum for the book and then we expect them to spend two or three days of their lives dedicated to our work.

Personally, if I am going to make this commitment, then I expect the writer to have spent many long hours making that book absolutely as good as it can be. Because, after all, I could have used that time to read a better book. I can't get those hours back again.

I'm With the Groundhog - Umberto Tosi

I might still be trapped in a Groundhog Day loop as you read this post on February 3, but at least I will have gotten out a message. Lately, I keep rewriting the same passages over and over, only to find myself back at the beginning like a monk on an M.C. Escher staircase. My inamorata says I'm probably rushing the process. By her – and any other sane person's – reckoning, I've only been at this particular work for a few months, but I'm convinced it has been years, maybe eons. She reminds me that I've complained about being looped before. Maybe it's a nice way to tell me I'm loopy, but it kind of makes my point. “It happens with my paintings too,” she says. “You'll break through. You always do.” I'm not so sure. You never know what's going to work until it does.

The late Harold Ramis who produced and directed Groundhog Day, was all over the place about how many years Phil Connors, the hapless cynical weatherman played by Bill Murray, spent reliving February 2 in Punxsutawney, PA. He once said 10,000 years and other estimates have ranged from ten to thirty-three. It takes a lot of practice for a mere mortal to play piano with style and become real mensch as Murray's character eventually does – also to write compellingly. The film has been hailed as a spiritual metaphor by Buddhists, Jews, Christians and atheists – and, of course, representing the stages of creative process. “I get it everywhere,” Ramis said, “but the movie is what it is, a movie.”

Ramis was a Chicago boy, as are Danny Rubin who wrote the original screenplay and Bill Murray. The trio had interwoven histories with the Windy City's legendary improvisational theater and sketch comedy groups founded by Paul Sills, including Second City and the Story Theater. Ramis went to Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School a few blocks from where I live in Rogers Park on the North Side. An Abbott and Costello Who's-On-First routine pops into my head whenever I walk by it, and I wonder if it did the budding the comedic genius, being as he was of my generation.
“What school do you go to?”
“Hayt school.”
“Yes, well, I did too, but I mean, where do you go to school?”
“I mean, what's the name of the school where you go...”
… And so forth.

Ramis, Gilda Radner, John Belushi
with the old Second City.
funny, but not yet famous.
My longtime friend and San Francisco improvisational theater coach and jazz musician Doug Kassel came up with that same Chicago crowd – as a young performer under Sills and the godmother of improvisation herself, Viola Spolin. Doug remembers Ramis in “the first SC hippie cast with John Belushi, the Murray Brothers, Joe Flaherty, Gilda Radner and Eugenie Ross-Leming. This was just before Ramis and Flaherty joined SCTV in Canada” with Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Andrea Martin, Rick Moranis and others. “It's hard to stand out when you're surrounded by people like that, but I think that he (Ramis) thought of himself as a writer rather than as a comedian.”

Danny Rubin, now a Harvard professor living in Brookine, Massachusetts near where I was born, says it took him only four days to write the first draft of Groundhog Day's original screenplay and about 10 days more to refine it. However, it took him three years to formulate the concept, characters, locale, storyline and other specifics needed to start the actual writing. Rubin has authored a delightful e-book on the process – How to Write Groundhog Day. It's part tutorial and part breezy inside story about the screenplay's inception, development and production, which he breaks into: “Pre-Hog,” “Hog” and “Post-Hog”. It's only available as an e-book, he says “because paper doesn't do hypertext.” The e-book includes an early draft of the actual screenplay with hypertext annotations and author comments. With finger-touches, the reader gets notes on the evolution of pickup scenes between Phil and Rita, why they chose Sonny & Cher's “I Got You, Babe,” as Phil's endlessly annoying 6 a.m. clock-radio wakeup number, reminding Phil he doesn't got Rita, or anybody.

The revision process went on right through filming in Woodstock, Illinois, a town 50 miles north of Chicago that was made to stand in for the real Punxsutaney, PA, which was deemed too rural. Ramis revised Rubin's script once Columbia bought the rights, tailoring it more to the comedic talents of Bill Murray, with whom Ramis had made Ghostbusters I and II and Meatballs. Murray – said to have been going through personal troubles at the time – wanted something darker than their previous hit comedies. He argued with Ramis so much that the two had to use Rubin as their intermediary. Their friendship damaged, Ramis and Murray quit speaking to each other for more than twenty years until just before Ramis' death of a vascular autoimmune disorder at age 69 in February, 2014.

Every writer of note who opines on the writing, counsels patience and persistence, and especially, remembering that the writing part is only one stage of the process, more often a means to greater ideas than it is an end in itself. An actor mouthing a snappy comeback on screen can make a character and the screenwriter to invented it look like geniuses, said Rubin in a 1999 essay, Time Thinking. But that one line might take weeks, months or even years to find, he adds. “Writing allows me to be a kind of time bank. I can store up thousands of potential moments until just the right one is called for. That's when I make a time withdrawal.”

Makes sense to me. I was pretty self-satisfied that it took me a scant eight months to write the 500-plus pages of Ophelia Rising. That is, until I remembered that I had spent years modeling and researching the idea for a novel re-imagining Shakespeare's fair maid. Writing is a time loop, and the writer, like Phil Collins, can get even more stuck trying to find a quick way out instead of letting the solution come to him or her. Sometimes it doesn't even help to remind myself of that – only to keep going. There's one catch that addes urgency, however: unlike Phil Collins, we mortal writers don't have an unlimited number of Groundhog Days to get it right. That can be a curse, or a blessing that helps us get things done.

Umberto Tosi is author of Ophelia Rising, Milagro on 34th Street and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review, where he is a contributing editor.  
He studied improvisational theater and played onstage with three groups in Northern California, where he was editor of San Francisco magazines and wrote extensively for newspapers and periodicals nationally.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Pictures? You can, with Canva - Mari Biella

One of the worst things about being a self-published author is that you have to do everything. I mean bleedin’ everything, including all those clever, specialised things that normal people can’t even understand. You either have to learn to do them yourself, or pay through the nose to get someone else to do them for you.

Nowhere is this problem more sticky than when you’re dealing with pictures, as you frequently are. You may be in the business of arranging words on the page or screen, but we live in a visual world and sooner or later you have to worry about images, too. Book covers, for example: unless you’re a graphic artist as well as a writer, these are probably best left to people who have at least a vague notion of what they’re doing. And what about blogs, websites, Facebook pages, and so on? They must come complete with images! Nice, fancy images that will hold people’s wandering eyes and reel them in!

A blank screen is exactly what you don't want. Image credit: Petr Kratochvil |

Actually, finding attractive images is relatively easy, and not necessarily expensive either. But actually using them can be tricky. How do you create a blog header or a Facebook cover? Until very recently, I didn’t have a clue.

Then I found out about a little thing called Canva.

Canva is very good news indeed. It’s free to join, and you can log in with Facebook, which spares you the trouble of having to memorise yet another password. Moreover – and a few requisite hours of turning the air blue notwithstanding – it’s actually quite easy to use. (Bear in mind that I am the kind of technologically-challenged simpleton who couldn’t use Photoshop because it made my poor brain hurt.) Not even Luddites like me need fear Canva, though. Canva is almost foolproof, or at least would be if fools weren’t so incredibly ingenious.

You only need take a quick look at Canva’s main page to see what you can do. Social media posts, presentations, infographics, business cards, Facebook covers and ads, postcards! Even eBook and album covers, no less! Many of the designs are free, too. Others you have to pay for, but they’re not expensive. They even have photos that you can use, and many of them are free too.

As if to prove how incredibly easy it is, even I have used it with a certain degree of success. This is the email header I prepared for the AE newsletter:

And here’s my Facebook cover:

And my blog title:

All of which no doubt look pretty basic to the trained eye, but which to me are nothing short of miraculous.

So there you go – something so user-friendly that even I can handle it, and largely free to boot! Who says you get nothing for nothing in this world, eh? 

Monday, 1 February 2016


Perhaps you’d like to guess which novel this is? ‘Great premise, appallingly written. The plot is replete with unexplained co-incidences and impossibilities…. Tedious, lacking any credible plot-line, immature and over-written in the extreme.’ Mary Shelley, eat your (or some random corpse’s) heart out! Yes, this is an extract from a one-star review of Frankenstein.
'appallingly written...tedious'

I’ve blogged before about the brilliant and hilarious reviews people are leaving, such that creative Amazon reviews are becoming a genre of their own. Check out the Mr Men books, Bic’s pens ‘for her’banana slicers, etc for some all-star gems, if you've not already enjoyed them.
Now, to make us all feel better, let us enjoy the one-star review – in all its nasty glory – always more enjoyable when dumped on some other writer’s self-esteem. It was some enjoyable facebook posts by renowned actor, director and author Fidelis Morgan (check her website out here) which set me off finding these, so my thanks to her.

Here are some more. ‘I love the story of Oliver Twist and thought it great to download for free but it was written in Victorian english and was difficult to follow or enjoy.’ Why oh why did Dickens write in Victorian ‘english’, the fool? Think of the success he might have had! Doh!
Oops, Dickens messed up with this one!
This one is headed ‘I have given this book more stars than it deserves’, ie one. ‘I will not go into the storyline because I do not want to bore you. Basically these old fashioned girls that nobody cares about act stupidly about foppish gentlemen. All the characters are shallow, pathetic and materialist. This is an out of touch womans' book for the naive.’ Sense and Sensibility, just another mistake in Austen’s long flop of a career.
'shallow, pathetic and materialist' another flop for Jane A!
‘Disappointed with this. Very boring, nothing happens. Cannot understand why it is so popular.’ There are quite a few similar ones for Little Women. But Lord of the Flies fares no better: ‘without doubt, the most dull, sleep-inducing and boring novel I have ever read in my entire life.’

Here’s Wuthering Heights, through the jaundice-coloured but literate specs of one 'R Asplin': ‘Oh for heaven's sake Bronte, give over…. Jeez Louise, is there anything remotely likeable or identifiable in the gruelling, wind swept, dark brooding heavy-browed, heavy booted stomping, yelling, bickering, cursing, beatings and rain-lashed untimely sickly deaths of this 356 page "gothic" drear-fest…. Didn't care, wasn't remotely interested. Bugger off out of my window-oh-woah-woah Cathy, you're letting the draft in.’ I do kind of know what they mean… sorry Catherine Czerkawska!
Heathcliff is still sobbing about this one star review...
And for fairness, though I’m deeply grateful for the mostly good reviews my books have garnered on Amazon, here are a couple of stinkers. On Lydia Bennet’s Blog: ‘I did not like this book at all’, typical Brit understatement, while over the Pond, I got ‘Maybe I'm just too old to appreciate this, so I asked my friend's teen daughter to read a few chapters and tell me what she thought…”Dated and pretty lame", was her response. Yeah, that says it.’ Dated as in set in the Regency? Dated as in the modern slang had dated by several years after it was written? Still, Lydia Bennet would give just such a review to any book other than her own.
Dissed on both sides of the Atlantic! Result!
And this one, for my faithful first crime novel The Rotting Spot, which I felt was a rite of passage as it’s in the characteristic tone of the troll: ‘I can't believe this book has so many good reviews, the relationship between the two main characters is childish, and the stereotyping pathetic. Avoid unless you are desperate there are so many other books to read.’ Yay, the desperate demographic is mine, all mine!
Desperation fodder. Thank you, I'm here all week!

Oh well, at least I’m in good company. Do you have a fave one-star to share?

Find out more about my various projects and productions on (books, art installations etc)
Some of my thirteen books are now on Kindle UK US, iBooks UK USKoboNook and more, on all platforms worldwide.
Follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws or find me on facebook 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Where is the Line Between Reality and Imagination? Guest Post by MA Demers

While writing my first novel, Baby Jane, which is set in Vancouver, Canada, I wanted to restrict my main male protagonist to a single detective, Dylan Lewis. In Vancouver, though, homicide detectives work in pairs, and thus I contrived to have Dylan’s partner, Tom Farrow, off on holiday for the whole book. So you can imagine my surprise when, only 48 pages in, I found my imaginary medical examiner asking Dylan, “When’s Tom back?” “Sunday,” Dylan replies.


Tom Farrow did indeed return on Sunday, and became one of my favourite characters in the book.  Question is, why did he come back, and uninvited no less? Was it just my creative subconscious realizing I needed another foil for Dylan? Or was this something more intriguing: that Tom existed in another, perhaps parallel, universe, and I had merely tapped into his existence?

Many moons ago, in university, I studied comparative religions and was intrigued to learn that the monotone beat of shamanic drumming induces the brain to produce theta brainwaves, which are the same brainwaves our brains produce when we dream. “Ecstatic” religions, such as that of North American Natives, teach us that when we dream we enter the spirit world, or, more precisely, that we connect with our soul that lives in both the spirit and the mundane worlds, and as such keeps us connected to the rest of the universe, that is, to Creation. Our dreams are therefore messages from the spirit world, from both guardians and foes, or are events we experience in this parallel dimension.

(In Western medicine many psychologists suggest their patients keep a dream diary in order to analyze and understand their problems better; in Native medicine, rather than passively wait for messages from dreams, shamans — also known as medicine men/women — use the shamanic drum to enter into a controlled dream state where they can communicate directly with the spirits to gather information and help the patient.)

If dreaming, then, is really us connecting to another dimension, then is this also what imagination is? After all, what is imagination if not a form of controlled dreaming? And if so, what, then, is a “product of my imagination”? Are my stories and characters manufactured by me, the writer, or am I merely a stenographer for the universe?

I decided to explore this theme in my latest novel, The Point Between, in which a famous mystery writer is murdered only to meet in the afterlife the lead detective of her novels. Marcus Mantova claims authorship of the now dead Lily Harrington’s stories, and his assertions send her into a crisis: what, if any, talent had she then possessed? And if none, then why her? As Lily ponders in the book, “she must have had some aptitude for the job … you certainly don’t hire a mechanic to perform brain surgery, or vice versa.” So is Marcus really the author of her books, or is she the author and he merely her muse?

Ironically, while I was writing the novel the experience I had with Baby Jane repeated itself. The Point Between was supposed to be centered around Lily and Marcus, but a woman named Penelope Winters inserted herself into the story. Like Tom Farrow, Penelope arrived fully formed, her looks and personality both clear as a bell. When she first popped into my head, I thought it would be fun if she, too, had been a character in Lily’s novels, but Penelope was having none of that:

“I’m a dead Whatcom County homicide detective.”

“But wouldn’t it be cool if you were Marcus’s great love from early in the series? You know, the one who got away and so now he’s a womanizing narcissist who can never love again, like Vesper and James Bond?”

“No. I am Marcus’s ex, but I’m a dead Whatcom County homicide detective.”

“Huh. Okay, then.”

And thus I found myself in the rather bizarre situation of experiencing the very experience I was writing about even as I was writing it:

“[Penelope] had appeared uninvited, like some of the characters in Lily’s novels who seemed to write themselves into the narrative, leaving her wondering where they had come from, what far recess of her mind had conjured up the apparition. Or the way a minor character, written in to bridge a gap or maybe create a red herring, would then take on a life of their own and become central to the plot. It was always a spooky feeling when such events occurred, and each time they did Lily would assign responsibility to her muse, yet this muse never had a name or even a face, was nothing more than a mechanism to explain the inexplicable.”

So the next time you’re reading a novel and imagining yourself in the story, or imagining the hero or heroine as a real person in your own life, ask yourself what if? What if he or she is real? What if your alleged fantasy life is actually taking place — but in another dimension? Would that make your dreams more real? More possible?

And while you’re reading a book, consider this: is it possible someone somewhere else is reading — or writing — about you?

About M. A. Demers

M. A. Demers is a writer, editor and self-publishing consultant with a diverse clientele as far away as Australia and Columbia. In 2011 she self-published her first novel, Baby Jane, followed by The Global Indie Author: Your Guide to the World of Self-Publishing, now in its third edition, and the concise To Kindle in Ten Steps: The Easy Way to Format, Create and Self-Publish an eBook on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The Point Between is her second novel. She lives near Vancouver, Canada.

About Baby Jane
There’s more to good and evil than meets the eye...
When human remains are found in her pre-war fixer-upper in an east Vancouver neighbourhood, Claire Dawson’s grand plans to fix the house—and her life—take a disturbing turn. Suspicious there might exist a relationship between the discovery and her own tragic past, Claire insinuates herself into the investigation, unknowingly placing herself in harm’s way and Homicide’s Detective Dylan Lewis in an impossible conflict of interest. And when Dylan’s grandmother, a Coast Salish medicine woman, wades into the mystery, challenging the demon whose earthly form is behind the murder, the three find themselves embroiled in a high-stakes battle where lines are blurred and worlds collide—but souls are ultimately freed.

About The Point Between
It’s hard to tell fact from fiction, especially when you’re a ghost …
Bestselling mystery novelist Lily Harrington has been found hanging in her home in the tiny, oddball haven of Point Roberts, Washington, and all signs point to suicide. Worried the truth will be buried with her, Lily teams up with Marcus Mantova, the sexy detective of her novels, to influence the investigation and catch her killer. Yet no sooner has Lily come to terms with the existence of Marcus, the womanizing egomaniac she had thought a product of her imagination, than dead Whatcom County detective Penelope Winters also worms her way onto the case. Lies, frauds, and competing agendas take Lily on a roller-coaster ride over heaven and earth until, at last, she discovers the truth and another chance at life.