Friday, 24 March 2017

Roads less taken, Jo Carroll

I'm home from Malawi, and have begun the process of teasing stories out of the scribbles in my notebooks. For there are stories - of generous, welcoming people who spend three rainy months of the year working their socks off to grow food, and the rest of the time eking out whatever they have grown. There are stories of people starting schools under trees. There are stories of people trying to provide health care with no running water. There are stories off illegal logging and people trying to plant new trees. There are stories of aid agencies, with their baseline studies and conferences. There are stories of lions and hippos and fish eagles.

So you can see why I might be struggling to shape this into some sort of coherence that can hold together in a narrative. Bear with me, I'll get there.

Meanwhile, I think these three pictures illustrate something of my dilemmas.

This is the M1, previously known as the Great North Road. It is the main road north from Lilongwe, the capital. It's much busier further south. Well, if a gaggle of bicycles and a couple of minibuses can be called busy. But who wouldn't want to drive up here to see what you might find?

Or walk along this wooden walkway to see what you might by hiding? But there's a lake nearby, so best keep your eyes open for snakes and crocodiles.

And this path? Has this been made by people? Or animals? It's surely tempting to stroll down here,  binoculars in hand, to look for bulbuls and louries. But be careful: there are jaguars and hyenas here.

Every path has its excitements and its pitfalls. A bit like my stories.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

No Laughing Matter by Lev Butts

I generally try to stay out of politics on this blog as much as possible. I do enough ranting and raving on my private Facebook page that, to be fair, if the current administration was actually enforcing a pogrom on political dissidents, I'd already be calling dibs on the top bunk of a FEMA camp/artist "colony."

To be fair, the medical care there is top notch, I hear.
We even get first dibs on experimental treatments.
However, after last week's release of Trump's budget proposal, especially it's elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, I feel like I need to speak up.

It's not even that I am surprised a conservative president wants to cut resources for these two programs, as far as I can tell, every conservative president since the programs were enacted fifty years ago has wanted to restrict their funding out of some kind of belief that supporting the arts does not add much to the country's benefit. I would point out, however, that the word "much" still allows some benefit, possibly why even the staunchest fiscal conservative has not gone quite so far as to completely eliminate the programs. However, the assumption of the current administration is that these programs have no value whatsoever, one supporter, Brian Darling, a former aide to Senator Rand Paul, has gone so far call them "waste." Others, such as Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, have said that arts endowments "sound great" but aren't "helping anybody."

Pictured: four types of waste, apparently.
And that is where I draw the line. Now I could write an entire blog equating this desire to eliminate our country's two most important cultural endowments with the long history of censorship, but honestly, that has been done to death, and more importantly, when you start calling folks you don't agree with fascists and dictators, it becomes hard to make others see real fascists and dictators when they arise. Besides when we consider things like the NEA Four and Piss Christ, it's hard not to argue that sometimes we artists bring it on ourselves.

Here's the NEA Four because I'm not giving you a picture of Piss Christ
(you'll have to Google that one).
What I do want to point out, though, are a couple of ways that these programs do help lots of people, beyond simply giving artists money to create work of debatable value.

Strengthening Communities

The NEA and the NEH offer grants to local arts projects all over the country. I'm not talking about just big cities like New York and Los Angeles, but little podunk towns like Newnan, GA, where the local amateur theater company uses grant money to help fund acting summer camps for local children, pay some of the production costs for shows. These programs are important to these smaller communities because they allow people who cannot afford to go to a Broadway show, or even a show in their own nearby metropolises, to experience live theater, a tradition that is literally as old as civilization itself.

Museums are also funded by grants from these endowments. Again, losing funding to the MOMA in New York may not spell the end of Manhattan arts. There are plenty of rich donors lining up to help cover the operating costs of big city museums. However, in small towns, many learning museums, that is museums with hands-on activities designed as specific educational experiences for children, would almost certainly go under.

Many summer and after school programs designed to bring arts, theater, and literature, to schoolchildren will be lost.

Sure defunding arts programs doesn't mean that the arts will disappear, but it does mean that many lower income folks, especially children, will lose what little access to cultural literacy they have. The arts will be something for rich people only.

Helping Veterans

The NEH specifically funds projects that help raise awareness of veterans issues and help veterans cope with the stresses of civilian life.  Their Standing Together initiative seeks "to promote understanding of the military experience and to support returning veterans" by awarding grants to projects that "explore war and its aftermath, promote discussion of the experience of military service, and support returning veterans and their families."

In addition to funding documentaries that explore war and its aftermath, such as Ken Burns' The Civil War, this initiative funds more hands-on activities for veterans such as the Talking Service Project  and YouStories which use literature and drama to help returning veterans, their families, and their communities deal with the problems associated with returning home from a war zone.

They also fund The Warrior Scholar Project, which helps veterans transition from soldiers to college students by developing "the analytical reading, writing, and discussion skills critical to academic success while also learning about challenges to expect on campus." The Literature and Medicine program is designed to help Veterans Affairs staff better understand the needs of their charges. The Military History Workshop helps develop digital humanities in the field of military history.

I frankly find it ironic that the proposed budget seeks to expand our military (which is already funded as much as the combined military funding of next eight industrial nations), while effectively ending these programs designed specifically to help our returning military personnel.

All of these programs that help communities, children and veterans will be severely crippled if not outright killed if the NEA and the NEH are destroyed. Fortunately, all hope is not lost. The new budget is simply a proposal. Congress has to approve or replace it, so at first glance this seems an empty hope: Both houses of Congress are controlled by the conservative party, which has always spearheaded the move to defund the arts. However, there are some conservative lawmakers who are apparently ready to fight these cuts. Let's hope they can recruit enough of their colleagues to at least throw the arts a pittance (starving artists are still better than dead ones, I guess).

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On being a CLANGER, Ali Bacon tries out a new method of work-life balance

Not too long after my last grumble about combining writing and staying sane,  I came across a newspaper  article which I thought provided a useful model for day-to-day living, one that sounded sensible, achievable, and isn’t attached to one particular philosophy (or perish the thought, product).

The main tenets of this are: Connect, Learn, be Active, take Notice, Give back – with the handy acronym of CLANG. Even better, if you add Eat Well, Relax and Sleep it becomes CLANGERS. What’s not to like about that?
I’ve since found the same ideas on a number of NHS websites so it looks like a well-known combination. But how easy is it to put into practice? On a recent Friday (which for me starts with an exercise class so A is taken care of) I decided to see how many I could manage.  

It's good to talk - face to face
C is for Connect with people.
Well you could say that connection online is all to easy and although it can prevent loneliness it can have other bad effects. And so after my Friday morning Zumba Gold, rather than take to Facebook, I invited a few of the regulars to join me for coffee in the on-site cafe. We learned each others names and some of our interests. Nice! Although some weeks we are all too busy (hmm, retired people, really?) it is becoming something of a regular thing. A definite success.

L is for Learn
I spend a lot of time doing historical research which I really enjoy, but in a sense that’s routine learning. That day I went home and set up a Mailchimp account, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages, and got started on learning how to use it. I have to say I fell at an early hurdle but I did achieve a brief moment of fulfilment at tackling something new (to be honest the kind of thing I used to get paid for, but it was still a novelty!) and I felt better for it.

A is for be Active was covered at Zumba and since I also do golf, dancing, and pilates regularly, I feel I am covered.

Look up, you never know what you might see!
T is for Take Notice – but there are some mornings, afternoons or whole days when I feel desk-bound. That day we had a burst of spring sun and so I went out to see what was growing in the garden. There were weeds aplenty, but  I always feel better for even 5 minutes spent with my plants, or if the sun is out sitting with a cup of coffee and taking in the view of next door’s greenery.

G is for Give back
The previous week, I’d noticed a letter in the local paper from a charity asking for host families for children from the area around Chernobyl, many of whom are still crippled, economically and physically, by the past. 
I had done nothing about it but I hadn’t thrown the paper away. Instead of thinking what a nice thing that would be to do, I rang up. Gulp!
Doing a good turn for a neighbour might have been easier, but think of all that Learning!

Something else to learn
Eat, Relax, Sleep well
Even the last three of my clangers needed thinking about. I have become a very lazy cook but I got my act together and made a chicken pie from scratch. Sadly the pastry got a bit soggy (but I quite like soggy pastry). Then, since Friday night is Mr B’s night out, I put my feet up in front of Only Connect and decided my work was done.

My verdict on being a CLANGER? All in all a pretty good day. 

Only one problem of course – no time at all left for writing!

Ali Bacon writes contemporary and historical fiction. 

You can learn more about her here.

And her books are on Amazon

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Wonders of the World - Katherine Roberts

When they wanted to impress in ancient times, people built pyramids, or planted fantastic gardens that hung from the sky. Later explorers made notes of the best places for their countrymen to visit and, well, wonder at. The Greeks ended up with a list of seven, which we now know as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and tourism was born.

You can visit all these sites today, but you'll either find ruins or - in some cases - nothing at all. So when I needed covers for the ebooks of my Seven Fabulous Wonders series based on the original Greek list, I painted the ancient Wonders as I imagine they might have looked in their full glory.

The Great Pyramid of Giza - the first pyramid to be built at Giza in Egypt, and the biggest.

Great Pyramid at Giza, showing the second pyramid being built.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or maybe the Walls of Babylon - the list makers could not agree, so they settled for hanging the gardens from the walls in most of the pictures... possibly an ancient version of a green wall?

Walls of Babylon, plus some trailing plants and a dragon.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus - not as big as the pyramids, but a bit closer to home.
Temple of Artemis with resident gryphon.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus - ditto, and for a tomb it was a new concept decorated by a lot of impressive statues. The name had a certain ring to it, too, meaning that rich enough people who died after old King Maussollos wanted mausoleums, too.

King Maussollos enjoying his Mausoleum.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia - sadly for Zeus, nobody worships him as king of the gods any more. But we do, at least, remember the Olympic Games.

Goddess Nike, standing in the palm of Zeus Olympia ready to receive the sacred flame.

The Colossus of Rhodes - you had to be quick to see this one, since it stood for just 56 years before being flattened by an earthquake. But, as with Zeus, how many people worship Helios the sun god these days, anyway?

Colossus of Rhodes - or part of it, after the earthquake.

The Pharos of Alexandria - rather impressive for a lighthouse, but it's light was the real wonder, kept burning night and day to guide ships safely into Alexandria's harbour.
Chariot racing at Alexandria, with the Pharos light in the background.

You might have noticed the odd mythical creature in the above paintings. That's because my Seven Fabulous Wonders series (originally published by HarperCollins between 2001 and 2007) contained a hefty dose of gods and monsters to bring these stories alive for young readers. To see more about these books and the original covers at Goodreads - click here.

Of course, we now realize the world is rather bigger than the Mediterranean countries, so over the years people have compiled newer lists of Wonders that follow the same pattern - big, cutting-edge architecture, preferably something amazing that will draw in the tourists... let's not forget why the Ancient Greeks started these lists in the first place! According to wikipedia, the latest list of Modern Wonders, compiled by public vote between 2000 to 2007, is:

The Great Wall of China - ancient enough to have been around when the Greeks were compiling their lists, only they never got as far as China.

Great Wall of China by Severin.stalder

Petra, Jordan - the famous rose city in the desert, with its impressive gateway set into the rock.

Petra by Berthold Werner

The Colosseum of Rome
- the Romans were into building in a big way, especially if it involved gladiatorial games, though in hindsight their roads were probably a more useful contribution to society.

Colosseum by Diliff

Chichen Itza, Mexico
- another kind of pyramid, but much later than the ones at Giza. This one has steps so you can climb it to make gory sacrifices at the top.

Chichen Itza
by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen -

Machu Picchu in Peru - involves a climb of a different sort, which my dad decided to do when he turned 80 (he survived!).

Machu Picchu
by Pedro Szekely -

Taj Mahal, India - one of the most beautiful buildings on the 21st century list, which, like the Mausoleum, was built to house a tomb.

 Taj Mahal by Dhirad

Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Brazil - more appropriate in this century than Zeus or Helios.

Christ the Redeemer by Chensiyuan

And, given honorary status on this modern list...

The Great Pyramid of Giza - yes, the same one the Egyptians built more than 4,500 years ago, though these days without its dazzling limestone render and gold crown and surrounded by copycats.

Pyramids at Giza by Ricardo Liberato

Which brings us full circle and feels rather like republishing old books that have gone out of print - which is, of course, the whole point of this 'wonderful' history lesson.

If you missed them the first time around, or need a new copy for a gift, you can now order a hot-off-the-press brand new paperback copy of Book 1 The Great Pyramid Robbery with cover artwork by me as above... which should at least make these new editions highly collectible after my death.


The other six matching print-on-demand paperbacks are on their way, and all seven titles are also available as ebooks. You can find more details and all the links on the Seven Fabulous Wonders page of my website.

Interestingly, the closest the UK came to having a Wonder on the modern list was Stonehenge - one of the 21st century finalists, and also one of the most ancient of the nominated sites. I wonder what the Greeks would have thought of it, if they had made it to our island a few thousand years earlier? Maybe my Seven Fabulous Wonders series would have included a book called The Stonehenge Sacrifice? Hmm, now that's given me an idea...

Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction with a focus on legend/myth for young readers, and historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name Katherine A Roberts.

Find out more at

Picture credits:
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World paintings copyright (c) Katherine Roberts.
Photos of the modern wonders CC (Creative Commons) individual photographers as above,

Monday, 20 March 2017

In memoriam and in gratitude by Sandra Horn

The announcement of the death of poet Derek Walcott reminded me how much I love and have been influenced by his amazing epic poem Omeros.  The influence is of a particular kind; when I was writing picture book texts my brain would get scrambled if I was reading certain texts at the same time, and I couldn’t then get the rhythms right. I had a day job then, which involved reading a lot of academic stuff. Fine for its purpose, but too lumpy and unrhythmic (I hope that’s a word) for me with my other hat on. After a day of scientific papers I couldn’t free my head up from the downbeat factual style and write poetically. It was like having an earworm. I needed to read something else to re-set my brain and fire my imagination again, and Omeros did that to perfection. 

Omeros is set on Walcott’s home island of St Lucia. In its seven books, Walcott interweaves modern St Lucian versions of characters from Homer’s Iliad with autobiographical material and the history of the island, its long African-rooted past and more recent colonial epoch. It is rich in metaphor.  Some of the stories have a dream-like quality. The pain of exile runs through it. Perhaps above all it is a love-song to St Lucia and its people.   
It isn’t the content, the words, so much as the music they make that settled my head back into its right mode for writing. There are twelve syllables to a line, but they don’t follow a metrical construction, and the rhyming scheme in the three-line stanzas is irregular. These traits give the writing a great sense of freedom; it is like speech and almost like singing. 

Consider these elegiac fragments:
‘Life is so fragile. It trembles like the aspens.
All its shadows are seasonal, including pain.’
‘It was a cape that I knew, tree-bent and breezy,
no wanderer could have chosen a better grave.

If this was where it ended, the end was easy –
to give back the borrowed breath the joy that it gave,
with the sea exulting, the wind so wild with love.’

I marked them, and several other favourite lines, with torn-up scraps of paper twenty years or so ago. They still move and delight me. I realised when I heard the news of Walcott’s death that I hadn’t looked at the book for a long while, so this morning I have treated myself to dipping through the pages (over 300 in my edition) and reliving the joy I have always found in them. I hope he rests in peace, knowing that his life’s work was most brilliantly well done.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Six Day Eventing by Jan Edwards

The cliched image of a starving author is of a shy and tortured creature huddled in a freezing garret dressed in tattered, dusty overcoat and fingerless gloves, scribbling furiously with a tattered quill pen by guttering candle light...
Well... okay. Maybe we aren't starving, though when you consider how advances have vanished in recent years it’s a fair bet most of us can’t afford to be without a day job; and maybe that overcoat is a favourite ancient woolly jumper; and maybe its not so much tattered as well-washed and the garret is your centrally heated back bedroom...  But the general theory is sound – isn’t it?
Writing is acknowledged to be a lonely occupation even by the most gregarious among us.  A great many of the writers of my acquaintance are shy flowers, at least when it comes to presenting their babies to the general public for inspection. It is a hard thing to proffer the words that you have sweated buckets to produce.
Social media does mean we can chat as we write, though most of us will recognise that unless you are incredibly disciplined it can be more curse than blessing. You only need look at the twitter and facebook feeds of most writers to see that most spend an inordinate amount of time ‘networking’
Writing gurus will advocate the need for platform building and networking across as many sites as you can possibly manage. Yet we all know that there comes a point where you spend more time building a following than writing something worth following.
Prevarication and displacement activity has never been easier!
That is the online activity and though networking online is important there is nothing quite like meeting and writers face to face. Having someone approach you, book in hand, and shyly ask for a signature is one of the most satisfying moments for almost any author.
I am not different in wanting to get away from the keyboard to speak with real people in real places and now that winter has (mostly) passed the events calendar is beginning fill up rapidly.
It set me thinking about the many ways we do interact with both fellow fictioneers and our readership.  On my Facebook invites list for this week:
  • Tuesday - the quarterly 6X6 writers cafe. (I and my co-organiser Misha had already spent weeks selecting the readers and promoting this one - but I was on my own for the event as Misha was away in Bristol as an official delegate for a national arts event.)
  • Wednesday is my regular weekly Renegade Writers' group.
  • Thursday - crime-writers' workshop given by Anne Zaroudi at the Quad in Derby.
  • Friday was another fiction cafe - this time as a reader – Cafe 16 is part of Cheadle's annual arts festival.
  • Saturday - Derby Quad  where crime  and horror writers Paul Finch and Paul Kane  were discussing their new work and in particular Paul Kane's new collection titled Nailbiters.
One week containing book launches, readings, workshops, writing groups and festivals - and these are just some of the ways we get out of our garrets and into the literary maelstrom.
At the risk of cliche - these things are like buses and after a winter of near hibernation it just so happened that they all came along at once, which is shame as health issues dictate there are only so many things I can cram into seven days without crashing and burning!
Social media has made the world far more accessible – allowing us to connect with the world. And one never easier to search out those events. From March to December there are literary festivals and conferences in every county that you can attend, with your box of books tucked under one arm, with new ones springing up ever year.

Yes it is hard to find your audience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun while you are doing it.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

London Book Fair by Tara Lyons

Chatting with indie authors M.A. Comley and LJ Ross
This week welcomed another first for me as an author: I attended the London Book Fair (LBF) on Wednesday 15 March. The night before, and for reasons I wasn't sure of, I found myself nervous and apprehensive and excited. Over the years, I've read so many blog posts, status updates and articles from authors who'd attended the event, and it always seemed like the LBF was a big deal.

Well, I can tell you, 'big' is the operative word when describing LBF. It's actually so vast, I found it all rather overwhelming. There are rows and rows of stands and promotions and people deep in conversations. I wasn't sure which direction to take. Luckily, you are given a handy pocket map and directory upon arrival... but there's still a lot of ground to cover. 

You are surrounded by a world of books and all the people that work with them - publishers, authors, promoters, agents, editors and journalists (and that's just a small list, so you get my point). The Authors HQ and Writer's Block can be found in one of the many halls - with children's publishing and Harry's Bar - and this is where I found myself continually drawn to. Here, I found authors I had met before, friendly team members from Kindle Direct Publishing, seminars/discussions on a range of topics and a cup of hot tea.  

However, looking back on my one day experience, I wonder if I missed something? Strolling around the huge venue, I found myself thinking: 'what's everyone talking about?' Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they were talking books, but the conversations taking place at tables at these stands looked in-depth, and perhaps even pre-arranged. I didn't feel as though I was there to myself, as I've self-published and signed with a publishing company last year, which left me unsure what I should be asking the various publishing houses and book sellers. Is it about chit-chatting and sharing thoughts? Or, is there something higher on the agenda that, like I said, perhaps I missed? 

Also, since Wednesday, many readers have showed their interest in attending LBF. Now, while there are many authors pounding the walkways, free books and seminars on offer, are these really aimed at readers? I'm not sure I would have benefitted if I attended pre-publishing my books. Are you a reader who has visited the LBF? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

I'm hoping next year, with more of an idea of what to expect, I'll be armed with experience and ready to go. But, if you're a seasoned LBF attendee, please share your experience with me, it would be great to know how I can get the most out of it. 

Tara is a crime/psychological thriller author from London, UK. Turning 30 in 2015 propelled her to fulfil her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In the Shadows is Tara's debut solo novel published in March 2016. She co-wrote The Caller and Web of Deceit: A DI Sally Parker novella with New York Times bestselling author, M.A Comley. In August 2016 Tara signed a two-book contract with Bloodhound Books. The second book in the DI Hamilton series, No Safe Home, was published in January 2017. When she's not writing, Tara can be found at a local Wacky Warehouse stuck in the ball-pit with her young, energetic son. 
Find out more about the author and follow her writing journey on social media:

Friday, 17 March 2017

Never Throw Anything Away, by Elizabeth Kay

In the olden days (when I started writing) paper accumulated like snowdrifts on shelves, in corners, on table-tops and work surfaces. Those of us who went to college had no office training whatsoever, and filing was something you did to your nails. Typing up handwritten copy was time-consuming and fraught with mistakes which had to be Tippexed over, as none of us could touch-type. Everything had to be carbon copied, and manuscripts frequently got mislaid or completely lost. It’s so different now. You can save draft after draft (as long as you remember to name them correctly) and the storage capacity of a home computer or laptop exceeds any amount of shelving that Ikea can fit into a home office. You can change the name of a character throughout a book with just a few key-strokes. And you should hang on to all these drafts, as cyberspace is searchable and flicking through page after page after page to find that one paragraph is a thing of the past. So why should you turn into a virtual hoarder?
            There are basically two reasons. The first is that longer the piece, the more likely you are to want to change something, or reinstate something you discarded. A character you decided was redundant may turn out to be just the person you need after all. That scene halfway up the mountain with the mist closing in may come in useful as Rodney reminisces about his past and why he’s scared of heights and can’t rescue the hero who is trapped halfway up a skyscraper on a narrow ledge. The description of stalactites – of which you were so proud – may turn up in a painting on a Helen’s wall, and Angelina’s Alsatian may evolve into the wolf that terrorises a Russian village. These are the small things you shouldn’t throw away.
            The second category is much broader, and more important, and is about ideas rather than a specific piece of writing. We all occasionally – some of us frequently – have ideas that rocket along for a bit, and then fizzle out. There may seem to be absolutely nothing to do with them other than to throw them away – don’t. Their use may be years away, or it may never come at all, but when it does it can revolutionise another piece  of work.  In April 1950 Raymond Chandler published an essay called The Simple Art of Murder in which he discussed the need for continual action in flagging plots. What he said was: When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. A random element such as this can kick-start a failing narrative, and that may be the case with your plot that didn’t go anywhere. It can go like the clappers in a totally new environment.
            I spent several years trying to write an adult book about the alleged abuses of the pharmaceutical industry in the third world at that time. I researched it as thoroughly as I could, and tried to use lucid dreaming as a vehicle. It was a total no-go, as other people’s dreams are usually of interest only to themselves, and dreamscapes are not like real life at all. They lack background. You can’t turn around and see what’s behind you, and a lot of sensory impressions simply aren’t there. And underlying all this is the knowledge that however dramatic the action, it isn’t really happening. Your protagonist is asleep. I dropped the idea with some reluctance, and got going on something else. In fact, I all but forgot about it for several years.
            I started writing The Divide when I was going through a bad patch. I tried to write a gritty kitchen sink drama, reflecting what was going on in my own life, but it just made me feel worse. I realised that what I needed was a bit of total escapism, and fantasy was ideal. As this was a cold-blooded decision I started off by picturing the most magical setting I had ever visited, and this was the cloud forest in Monteverde in Costa Rica. The highest point in the national park there is the continental divide, where the water either goes into the Pacific or the Atlantic, depending on which side of the ridge the raindrop lands. This looked like a good place to start, and as I wanted a pseudo-scientific reason for my hero, Felix, to cross into another world, I hit on the idea of him straddling the divide so that by sheer chance the tug of both oceans was absolutely equal, which shot him off into another dimension altogether. It then occurred to me that because the continental divide is marked out on the ground, everyone who visited it straddled it at some point. I needed a pause, so I chose the length of a heartbeat. But unless Felix’s heart stopped beating, he would never remain equally divided so he had to die, and then be resuscitated by the shock of the experience. This then meant he needed to have a terminal condition, which was why he and his parents had gone on the holiday of a lifetime, as it was likely to be Felix’s last.
            Hooray! I’d got him there, and I could people this world with all my favourite mythical beasts. I liked the concept of a mirror world, so I made all our mythical beasts their real ones, and all our real creatures their mythical ones. Hence, the moment Felix turns up in this world he is a mythical being, and before long someone decides to make capital out of this. I had science itself as a myth, and magic as the operative force. And lo and behold, Felix suddenly had two quests. How was he going to get back home, and was there a magical cure for his condition?
I didn’t want my baddies to be part of some mysterious dark force – my target was multinationals. I suddenly realised that at last I had a vehicle for the topic I had been trying to write for years. My antagonist became Snakeweed, a pixie who is attempting to create the first multinational in this unspoiled world by buying up all the spells and potions from villagers, and selling them on – untested – at inflated prices.
I never would have believed that this most serious of subjects would find a home in a children’s book, but it did. Don’t throw anything away. You never know what might happen…

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Networking for Authors by Wendy H. Jones

London Book Fair 2017

It's been a frenetic week for me as an author and it will continue to be busy for another four days at least. In less than two weeks I will have been at two conferences and the London Book Fair. The conferences are

  • Association of Christian Writers 
  • Scottish Association of Writers
I was fortunate to be on a panel at the ACW Conference and will be running a workshop at the SAW Conference.

Attending conferences is a major part of an author's life and includes networking with other authors and industry experts. For the purposes of this post I will concentrate on The London Book Fair. 

This is a yearly event which takes place in March/April each year in Olympia, London. There are stands run by industry experts such as agents, publishers, booksellers and marketing services. This was my first time at LBF and it can be overwhelming. On first walking through the door you are faed with a vast hall packed with representatives from organisations both national and international. An unsuspecting author might wonder how they can possibly make sense out of this, far less network and meet the right people.

Here are my top tips for making sense of LBF and getting the most from your visit

  1. Use the LBF App. This is your one stop shop for all things LBF related
  2. Decide in advance who you would like to chat with and arrange a meeting with them
  3. Decide which presentations you would like to attend. Get these in your calendar
  4. Chat to everyone you meet. Find out why they are at LBF. This is not so you can pitch them whilst they are eating their lunch, but out of genuine interest. 
  5. Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
  6. Arrange to meet up with people you have only met virtually. 
  7. Make the most of it but don't exhaust yourself.
  8. Remember to take your business cards. Yep, your right, I forgot mine. 
  9. Enjoy yourself. It's not all about work, it's also fun.
  10. Find author HQ and writers block early on. 
  11. Make the most of the seminars. These are chock full of useful information. 
I hope you've enjoyed this wee trip to LBF. Seriously, as a writer I found it invaluable. Take a look at next year and get it in your diary.

About the Author


Wendy H. Jones is the author of the best selling DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series of crime novels set in Dundee. Killer's Crew, the fifth booking the series was released in November, 2016. Dagger's Curse, the first book in her Fergus and Flora, Young Adult Mystery series was released on 10th September, 2016.  She also has one non fiction book, Power Packed Book Marketing: Sell More Books.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A severe bout of man flu By Jan Needle

It is I,  Leclerc!
I don’t want to pull rank on Dennis, that would be ungentlemanly. [Dennis Hamley's blog didn't go up yesterday because, we're sorry to hear, Dennis is not well. - Ed] I caught a bug in the Antipodes myself once, and it crocked me up for weeks, so commiserations. But I’m still doing my blog today – in fact I’m writing it yesterday afternoon, so to speak – only eighteen hours or so out of hospital. I’m even going to put a pic up to show you’all what a hero I am.

The problem is that my ‘procedure’ as they call it in doctor-land took a lot longer than I expected and left me a lot groggier. I had a good blog in mind, but it required an active brain, and the general anaesthetic didn’t reckon much on that. What’s more I couldn’t sleep much, because they’d drilled down into my nose and sinuses and I had to ‘sleep’ sitting up.

With a sort of sanitary towel from the good old days tied up underneath me snozzle to catch the blood. If the computer will let me, I’ll show you that too. But the telecom man’s here as well, coincidentally, so I might even have to go to me local pub to use their free broadband.

No, he’s finished. I’ve now got perfect broadband for the first time in months, and no telephones. It was the phones wot dun it, apparently – should’ve been binned in the last millennium. So, as the fault was inside the house, it’ll cost me a hundred and thirty five quid. Good old BT.

What's that bloody thing under my nose?
Where was I? (Oooh the pain, the pain). The blog I’d planned is scrap, so it’ll have to be this one. A sort of cautionary tale for writers. Karen Bush pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that I hadn’t done her a story for th’anthology, so I had a think. Somewhere, I knew, I had an outline that I’d written for Collins some time ago.

They’d approached me for a tale to go in a school type compendium, and I worked up what I thought was a cracker. So I sent off a two page outline, and they said it was just the job. Just one thing, though – could I write it up so that they could circulate it round the target schools? And chose the ones they liked the best! Then there might be a fee involved!

Now at the time, I’d done lots and lots of plays and stories for Collins Educational, and I told them quite forcefully that I was not interested in speculative writing. At which they asked if they could send the summary out to see what the kiddies thought, and then get back to me. Far be it from me to swear in educational circles, but I politely told them NO!!!!!

Now, with Karen in mind last week, I dug it out and had a look. No longer with education in mind, and certainly not Collins. And I thought it would make a pretty decent tale, if not suitable for kiddiwinks, having developed in certain historical-type ways. 

So I wrote it up. And a couple of hours ago, when the Broadband man had gone, I sent it off to Ms Bush.

It’s called Something Different. And I hope she bloody likes it!

I want me mum
Weird, though, isn’t it? They approached me and asked for a story, then decided they’d put out a general call and buy the one they liked the best, and not even offer me a new typewriter ribbon for me trouble. (Not that my Mac uses ribbons, but how were they to know that?)

So there you are. Instead of a highly polished blog, you’ve got this. But you’ve got to be kind to me, because my eyes are sore and streaming, my nose is leaking blood, and I’ve got another ‘procedure’ in the morning which means I shouldn’t have a pint tonight.

Well sod ’em, I will. And if I die it’ll serve them damn well right.

Oh, the pain, the pain. (Or did I say that already?)

Get well soon, Dennis.
[And get well soon, Jan. Heroism you've shown here, heroism. But has this blog been hit by the Bad Luck Ray or something? - Ed]