Saturday, 20 May 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Ian Wilfred

The PINK SOFA is delighted, chuffed and generally over the moon to welcome writer and all-round good egg Ian Wilfred to the Writing Attic. Ian is a total sweetie. If ever there was a thoroughly nice person who deserves all the lovely things in the world, it is he. (And not just because he arrived bringing coffee and a selection of delicious Norfolk delicacies!)

Ian describes himself on Twitter as: ''a 50+ fella that writes female fiction - new book March 2017 - Love my books, garden, westie, husband and Norfolk beaches not necessary in that order.'' So of course the PINK SOFA wanted to know all about the new book, and how Ian felt to be a twice-published author!

''Thank you very much for inviting me onto the pink sofa. As you know my new book The Little Terrace Of Friendships has been out over a month now, and I have talked about it on a few blogs and don't want to repeat myself.

I thought today I would share with you the excitement of my publishing day, but first I must say what an enjoyable time I had getting my book out into the world. Working with Rebecca Emin was so enjoyable: so many laughs and that's just in emails to and fro. The book came out in March, but I had not told anyone, family, friends, or work colleagues, apart from my other half, and to be honest that's the way I was going to keep it. I had ordered a couple of copies of the paperback as a surprise for my sister and step daughter. I wanted it to be very low key as when my first book came out, I told everyone and there was a lot of pressure on me

My publishing day started at 5am on the old Twitter. I could not get over how many people tweeted mentions of it throughout the day. I felt so overwhelmed with the kindness. When the other half was up he asked how things were going, and I said if it got into the top 500 holiday chart and the top 5000 romantic comedy chart on Amazon, I would be over the moon. I kept telling him how it was doing, and we spent the day giggling as at four o'clock in the afternoon it was top 20 holiday reads and 190 romantic comedy. But the biggest shock was when it got into the top 2000 Kindle chart. This was insane ~ way way past anything I could have ever hoped for! We went off and celebrated with fish and chips, sitting looking out to sea on the beautiful Norfolk coast. The perfect end to a funny, strange day 

Moving on a few weeks: the excitement hasn't really died down. The book is doing far better than I could ever have dreamed it would, and I've started telling friends and family about it. I will never make anything near a living from my books and I will be doing the day job way past my retirement age, but earning money from writing was never the aim. I just love writing creating my characters, bringing them to life. Also I have so much pleasure chatting on Twitter to such lovely authors, bloggers and readers. I look at The Little Terrace of Friendships as the icing on my cake. I live five minutes walk from the beach, which I go on every morning with the dog before I settle down to a bit of writing and Twitter, and then in the afternoon I go off to work. I'm so very blessed

As for the future, there will be book three out. This time it's set on the stunning Norfolk coast, and the main character is another strong female! Thank you again for having me on the PINK SOFA: it been so lovely talking to you about one of the happiest days I've ever had my publishing day for The Little Terrace of Friendships.''


The Little Terrace of Friendships:
Putting Right the Past:

Twitter: @Ianwilfred39

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Ankles, eMacs and other disasters

They say disasters never come singly. Whoever 'they' are and if you know who 'they' are, please can you give me their names and addresses so I can go round and complain.

All is not currently well at Hedges Towers. Four weeks and two days ago, as I was walking through St Albans to collect the grandchildren, my right ankle gave way suddenly, pitching me into the middle of the street. Not the first time it has done this, unreliable body-part that it is, but by far the most agonising.

Such was the pain coupled with the shock, that I just stayed where I ended up and howled. A car edged slowly round me without stopping. I howled some more. Finally, a nice young woman approached, asked if I was OK (clearly not) and suggested it might be a good idea if I got out of the road.

It appears from the subsequent X-ray that I have torn a ligament. Over a month on and I still can't see my ankle bone and there are interesting blue areas in unexpected places. Oh yes, I hear you chorus, now you'll have lots of time to write the next book. Lucky you, wish I could bust a ligament. Ah but you see, gentle reader, you are reckoning without the 'never coming singly' rule.

My beloved eMac has died. For the computer experts reading this: something has overheated/melted/ buggered/come unattached and I can't access the Hard Disc Drive. For the rest of you: 13k words of the next book are currently stuck inside a dead computer.

A frustrating evening has just been spent in the company of Brian the Super-Techie, a special cable and his reserve Apple Mac trying to access my files. We turned the computer on and off many times. We held down C keys, P keys and T keys. I said F rather a lot.

We ran a diagnostic CD: everything was OK apparently, just not OK enough to let me get at it. We watched an interesting video about taking an eMac apart to extract the HDD. There was a bit where the bloke on the video said : 'Uh-oh, you really want to be very careful if you do this, as it could all explode'  which was a tad worrying.

Trying-to-be-helpful people have said: 'Surely you could just re-write the first part of the book?' Or 'You could always carry on from where you got up to.' Oh, if it were only that easy!

 Last night I dreamed I was trying to remove the hard drive from my 2CV. Makes a change from Manderley, I suppose....

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Pink Sofa meets writer Amanda James

The PINK SOFA is always delighted to welcome back guests, especially when they bring scones. Therefore it is delighted to host Amanda James, who comes armed with bakery goods and a new book. She's visiting the Writer's  Attic to share what inspires her lovely novels. (With added scones, and Cornish clotted cream of course ...)

Inspiration comes from many places ... and sometimes out of the blue Cornish sky!
''Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today, Carol. I thought I’d talk to you today about inspiration. I am often asked where my inspiration comes from when writing and the answer is not straightforward. There is no one place or thing, it comes from anywhere and sometimes I’m not too sure where my ideas pop up from.

As you know my first book with Choc Lit was A Stitch in Time which I adored writing and it only took me six weeks for the first draft. I have never written one as fast before or since, but the ideas just flowed. I feel most comfortable with the suspense/mystery genre however, as those are the kinds of books I enjoy reading the most. Though I guess really, even though it is time travel, A Stitch in Time is full of suspense and mystery and I was so pleased to be able to return to the characters to see what they had been up to when I wrote my sequel Cross Stitch.

Anyway, I digress. I was inspired by the novels of suspense authors, Dean Koontz in particular. He has sold over 450 million books yet still had the time to answer my letters in his own hand. He encouraged me to keep writing! As a reader, I love to try and figure out what is going to happen, what the secret is or who done it etc. He often has a romantic element in his stories and so do I. Koontz often has a paranormal angle also and I enjoy writing those too. I like reading straight suspense novels, but the added excitement and freedom to go ‘outside the box’ which is afforded by the paranormal is very liberating as both a reader and writer.

Certain people inspire me to keep going when the going gets tough too. There are many, but one in particular sticks in my mind. Korczak Ziowalski was a sculptor who decided to dedicate his life to carving a memorial to Crazy Horse the great Sioux leader. The sculpture is actually made from a mountain in South Dakota! It is as yet unfinished and being continued by his family after Korczak’s death more than twenty years ago. He started it all by himself in 1948 with a tent, an old Jeep, $174, and a dream. His motto was , ‘Never forget your dreams.’ I added ‘never give’ up to that. I was lucky enough to visit the memorial and found it an enriching and life-affirming experience. His remarkable story can be found here :

I often get the whole story from a title. I can’t actually put finger to keyboard if I don’t have one. I think of a title, something catchy or familiar like ‘a stitch in time’ for example, and then I build the story around that. Somewhere Beyond the Sea was a combination of being by the sea, Doc Martin and the need for a catchy title. The old Bobby Darin song was perfect. Sometimes I really don’t know where I get ideas from. They just kind of pop up. The inspiration for Summer in Tintagel came from a walk along the cliff tops. As I stood on the edge looking onto the rocks I thought how easy it would be to step off and end it all ... if a person was so inclined. I’m not, in case you were wondering! Then it kind of came to me from there. I visited Tintagel Castle a few weeks later and thought that it was the perfect setting for a novel – full of history and mystery.

My new novel, Behind the Lie has lots of secrets, mystery, and suspense and set in London, but mostly on Crantock, the idyllic Cornish beach about twenty minutes from my house.
One day I was walking on the beach as I often do and looked up at a beach house. It was the kind of house that I tend to drool over from time to time, as although I can see the ocean from where I live, it is five-miles distant! It’s the white square one with all the big windows.

My imagination began to make up the person that lived in the house, and Holly West, my main character waved at me from the window. Well, she didn’t really, but you know what I mean.... Also the lonely rugged coast helped me to visualise Holly and all her problems and I knew I needed to help her solve them. I am also in love with the sea. My dream from being very small was to move to Cornwall particularly the north coast and I am overjoyed to have realised it. Just the sight and smell of the sea lifts my spirits and inspires me.''

Book Blurb Holly West has turned her life around. She’s found a successful and loving husband in Simon and is expecting twins. She is definitely a woman who has taken back control of her future.
Until she gives birth, only for one twin to survive. Holly can’t let it go.
Holly’s world is in a tailspin and suddenly she can’t trust herself or anyone else. No one believes her, not her husband or her best friend. Because she thinks she knows the truth…her son is still alive and she won’t stop until she finds him.

Mandy's books
Summer in Tintagel (Urbane Publications July 2016)
Cross Stitch (Choc Lit December 2014)
Somewhere Beyond the Sea ( Choc Lit April 2014)
Dancing in the Rain (Choc Lit March 2014)
A Stitch in Time (Choc Lit) -
Righteous Exposure (Crooked Cat) -


Author links 


Twitter  @akjames61

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Eyebrows & Other Annoying Stuff

The older I get (nearly 67 now!) the more I am baffled by the world and its wiles. Here are some of the things currently baffling me. Feel free to add your own.

1. Eyebrows 
One of my A level students has recently had her eyebrows 'enhanced', by whatever process this happens. She now has what looks like 2 furry caterpillars crawling across her face just above her eyes in a Frida Khalo sort of way.  It makes her face look all 'eyebrow' and I find myself addressing the whole lesson to them by default. I have noticed that a lot of the assistants in Space NK are similarly eyebrow-enhanced. And people I pass in the street,

My eyebrows have been slowly shrinking for years and now consist of a pathetic straggle of greying hair that I attempt to corral into some sort of arch with an eyebrow pencil. The right hand one always resembles a switchback as I can't draw with my left hand.

It is a sad truism that the older one gets, the more one needs some sort of facial enhancement before leaving the house. Failure to use make-up results in people asking if you are feeling OK. Or crossing the street. Or both. Too much makeup, and the elderly face resembles a cake left out in the rain: overfilled cracks and hollows, damp and patchy areas and, if one has unwisely applied rouge, what I call the Refugee from Clown Class look. 
One has to find the balance between crone and casual. It is not an easy thing to achieve, believe me. What amazes me is the amount of stuff I am supposed to put on my face in order to look as if I haven't actually put on any makeup. Cleanser (can't use soap any more apparently.Too drying), followed by toner, followed by serum, followed by moisturizer, followed by sunscreen, followed by colour corrector, followed by contour cream, followed by insanity.
There are a whole range of products just for making up one's mouth! If I religiously followed the 'correct' procedures, I'd probably never get out of the house pre-lunch.

3. Fashion 
I read the 'Style' sections of the Sunday Papers with a sense of growing dread. Not only is there nothing I'd ever want to wear, it is all at eye-watering prices. A small bracelet that looks like it's been made of paperclips: £2000. Seriously? Does anybody buy this stuff, let alone wear it? And I DO resent the 'drape it on some willowy older model and then we can claim it's a universal look' thing.

Last week, the Sunday Times Style featured a pair of gold hoop earrings at a price that might buy you a small terraced house in Doncaster. And chip your front teeth every time you suddenly turned your head. As for jeans ~ don't get me started. Mind you, women of my age are not supposed to wear jeans in the first place. Or any place. Not even the retro-sixties ones that are now back in fashion, and that we wore in the real sixties. Step away from your youth, sister. It no longer belongs to you!

So here I am, a castaway on a small unreconstructed island, watching the ship of style sailing away into the distance. I am browless, fashion-free and improperly made-up. Do I care? Ah, well, that's another story!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Brexit ~ Tudor Style

Queen Elizabeth 1: the Ermine Portrait

On 29th of March, Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's ambassador to the EU, entered the Europa building in Brussels carrying Prime Minister Theresa May's Article 50 letter, signifying the beginning of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. A momentous event with unseen consequences for every citizen of the United (so far) Kingdom.

 But it was not the first time that an exchange of diplomatic correspondence had far reaching consequences. On May 24th 1570, some time between 2 and 3 in the morning, John Felton, a wealthy Catholic, pinned a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull, 'Regnans in Excelsis', excommunicating Queen Elizabeth 1, to the gates of the Bishop of London's Palace, situated close to St Paul's cathedral.
A Papal bull with the 'bulla'
The Queen was served with this religious 'Brexit'  for ''usurping Supreme Control of the Church in England''. She was described as Elizabeth, pretended queen and daughter of iniquity”, and was in effect, publicly branded a heretic. The fallout was immediate: the whole country was cut off from doing any trade or business with Catholic Europe. At that time Philip 11 of Spain controlled most of trade in the Low Countries, especially in Antwerp, where 70% of the country's woolen cloth was traded. As a result there was a sudden and complete collapse of the most important of England's exports.

It became a matter of extreme urgency for the country to find new trading partners as quickly as possible. Elizabeth decided to send emissaries to Persia, North Africa and Turkey. These were Muslim countries, and were 'forbidden' territories in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It was therefore not only an act of desperation, but a sub-textual two-fingered reply to the Papal Bull.

As a result of the Queen's actions, great trading companies like the Turkey Company, the Muscovy Company and the Levant Company were formed. They traded in metals: lead and tin, taken from sacked Catholic churches and sold for the production of arms, which were in turn used against the Catholic church and its forces by the Islamic world. 
Spanish galleon

The other form of trade, far more questionable, was that of pillage and plunder. Spanish treasure ships were regularly targeted by the English fleet under Francis Drake, who was commissioned by Elizabeth in 1572 to act as a privateer targeting Spanish ports and raiding Spanish ships. The cargoes were looted and brought back to England to add to the Treasury. In one raid alone in 1573, Drake's men took 15 tons of silver ingots and about 100,000 pounds of silver coins. A fortune in contemporary terms.
Francis Drake

It is tempting to see the reign of Elizabeth 1 as a Golden Age, but that would be wrong. The loss of trade with Europe was considerable and was never compensated for by the long distances and astronomical costs of opening up new markets. The collapse of the woolen cloth industry and the rural economy that supported it meant that large parts of the agricultural population were reduced to starvation. 

It wasn't until James I came to the throne in 1603, uniting the two countries of England and Scotland, that any sort of economic stability was restored through his policy of deliberate re-engagement with the European continent. And although the situation in 1570 cannot be compared to that of today, the past still offers a salutary lesson for citizens of the UK as we stand upon the threshold of a second Brexit.

(Thanks to BBC Radio 4: The Long View presented by Jonathan Freedland, for inspiration)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer and world traveller Jo Carroll

The PINK SOFA has played host to writer and world traveller Jo Carroll many times. It is always inspired by her tales of her travels and especially inspired by the exotic snacks she brings with her. Now Jo has a new book out, and this time, it's historical fiction, so obviously, another visit was called for. Sit back, tuck into some freshly baked soda bread, and enjoy the latest episode in Carroll's Literary Travels!

''Many thanks for inviting me back to your comfy pink sofa, Carol, and for some interesting questions. I’ve done my best with them.

Why did you decide to write a novel, when you’re known as a travel writer? My immediate response is – why not? After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If I ended with nothing but twaddle, I could simply delete it. So, after a lot of faffing about, I gave it a go. And once I’d started, I couldn’t stop.

Why this novel? What drew you to historical fiction? Ten years ago, when I was in New Zealand, I retreated into a museum in Hokitika to get out of the cold, and I found the vignette of Barbara Weldon. She left Ireland in the mid nineteenth century and made her way to this bleak corner of the world. Why? I’d chosen to go there, on a plane that whisked me across the world; I could leave as easily if I chose to. But how had she travelled? I knew so little about her, but she rang travelling bells for me, and I couldn’t let her story go.

I googled her when I got home, but found very little. Still she intrigued me. And so, in the absence of facts, I decided to make them up. She needed a story, and I wanted to give her one. The decision to publish now was prompted partly by an editor, but more by the current attention given to immigrants and immigration. I am horrified by the lack of compassion showed by so many towards people who have suffered so much.

On one level this is the story of a displaced women over 150 years ago. But the challenges she faced, and her dependence on the kindness of strangers, has terrible echoes in the trauma of so many refugees today. I know just how much research is involved in writing about the nineteenth century.

How did you approach the research? I loved the research. I have an academic background, and so was unfazed by the piles of books and hours of reading and organising information. At one point there was a risk I’d carry on researching forever and never quite manage to shape all that reading into a novel. But this involved more than reading and googling. I spent time in Antrim, finding her farmhouse; and time in Liverpool, where very little is left from the squalor that housed the Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century.

What next? Another novel? Or back to the travel? I’ve just come back from Malawi, and so my first task is to unpick my diaries and find the story behind them. And then … who knows? I’ve loved writing fiction, and have the seed of an idea, but haven’t made a firm decision yet to let that idea come out to play to see what happens. Watch this space!! "

Buy Jo's book here:

Read her blog:
Follow her on Twitter: @jomcarroll

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Mobile Madness

And so to the continuing saga of one Grumpy Old Writer versus the vagaries modern life. You remember the passport debacle, don't you? And the bank one?

Last week, after Storm Doris had passed over Hedges Towers, I noticed that the uStupidphone was only letting me make 'emergency calls'. This was worrying because a week before, while driving with BH to Aldi, I'd been rung by the police, completely out of the blue. Bit of a shock. Apparently they'd had a 999 call from my phone, presumably to alert them to the fact that it was being kidnapped and taken to Luton.

I was able to reassure the kind policewoman that I was OK and I had not, in fact, called them, but it was slightly disconcerting all the same. Anyway, I wandered into the office, where BH was dickering about on the laptop, and showed him the screen. And of course his phone was working perfectly. So I decided to get the bus & take it to the EE shop.

With hindsight, I think my mistake might have been trying to sort it myself while on the bus. Yes. Because by the time I walked through the EE door I'd managed to lock myself out of my own phone which was quite an achievement, given that it cost under £10 and has a level of complexity so low you couldn't limbo under it. All of which goes to show that nothing is so idiot-proof that it can't be broken in the hands of a real expert in idiocy.

Eventually after a certain amount of button pressing and sighing, the 12 year old in the blue overall behind the EE Tech Support desk told me I had to contact EE itself and ask for the PUK code .. whatever that was. Returning on the bus, I was still locked out of my own phone which might for all I knew, be covertly contacting the Home Office and arranging for me to be deported.

Luckily once he'd stopped eye-rolling, BH kindly rang the EE people for me and they coughed up the code, which he inputted as my elderly arthritic fingers are notoriously unreliable and we only had 3 goes before the whole ghastly lockout cycle would begin again. Then another EE man checked our post code and said that the damage had been caused by Doris knocking out their phone mast and they would, in the light of my total incompetence (implied), send me reassuring updates by text.

Which they did and over the next few hours, I had four texts reassuring me that my phone was now working perfectly, which it clearly was as I was getting the reassuring texts. Isn't it great when things ...just ... work? Even if it is probably only temporarily.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Ten Ways I’m Just Crazy Enough to Be an Indie Author by @saraheboucher

Sarah E. Boucher is a lover of fairy stories, romance, anything BBC and Marvel, and really, really cute shoes. On weekdays she wears respectable shoes and serves as Miss Boucher, the Queen of Kindergarten. On school holidays she writes stories about romance and adventure. And wears impractical super cute shoes.

Sarah is a graduate of Brigham Young University. She lives and works in northern Utah. Midnight Sisters is her second novel.

''I recently made the switch from traditional to indie publishing and I’m just enough of a nutso to love it. Therefore for your entertainment, I present:

Ten Ways I’m Just Crazy Enough to Be an Indie Author

10) I gave myself roller skates for my 30-somethingth birthday. Yep, I hit up cheap skate nights where the oldest people on the floor are teenagers trying to look cool. And me.

9) I love BLING. Because with the right tiara and sparkly sparkly shoes, a woman can rule the world. (Even in her pajamas.)

8) I’ve spent the better part of 15 years taming ankle-biters. I magically transformed hundreds of preschoolers into fully functioning first graders who can read, write, and tie their shoes. Probably.

7) I’m a grown adult who adores fairy tales and princes and princesses. They make for great bedtimes stories, sweeties!

6) I heart books. You might lose an eye or a finger if you get between me and whatever I’m reading.

5) Somehow I survived growing up with five brothers. I’m a lovely mix of tomboy and girlie girl and I can still howl with the best of them! Howwwooooooo!

4) Shoes make me happy. When I moved into my condo, my mom said I couldn’t buy any more shoes because I’d filled the shelf. Challenge accepted, mama! Ooh! Are those on sale?

3) My brother once told me he wouldn’t go to funny movies with me because my loud laughter and/or snorting is creepy. Guess what, bro? No. One Cares. Mwahahahaha! Snoooort!

2) While I’m commuting to work, I get a lot of weird looks. Not only do I sing at the top of my lungs, but I also do elaborate choreography. All I have to say to those people is You’re welcome.

1) I’m a small town girl. While I’ve never accidentally dated one of my cousins, I do wave at strangers, flirt with babies, and flash my dimples at anyone and everyone. (Because dimples mean I don’t have to talk to you but you’ll still find me adorable.)

If I do all of those things without feeling ashamed, surely I can tackle formatting my own books, managing blog tours, giveaways, convincing shop owners to host events and whatnot, right? If cranky five-year-olds or opinionated brothers can’t get in my way, editors, publishers, or people who write crappy reviews can’t either.

Because no matter what negative nonsense comes my way, I can stand my ground and keep my smile pasted in place. (And I’ll probably be wearing fabulous shoes while I do it!)
That kind of down-to-earth confidence reaches people in real life and on social media. Which is fortunate, because I’m a grown woman. And I write fairy tales. ''

Blurb for Midnight Sisters:

The words rattled around Jonas’s head. What was the punishment again? Death? Dismemberment? Jonas, the newest addition to the gardening staff, couldn’t recall the exact penalty for breaking the rule. What does it matter anyway? He would never dream of meddling with the Earl of Bromhurst’s haughty daughters.

Until he comes face to face with Lady Ariela, the eldest of the Master’s daughters.
Her elusive smile and open manner cause him to question his convictions. In no time, he’s drawn into Lady Ariela’s world of mystery and intrigue, a world where she and her sisters will do anything—including leaving twelve empty beds at midnight—to escape their father’s strict rules.

Only Jonas can uncover the truth and save them from their father’s wrath and their own folly, if he is willing to risk everything he’s ever worked for.

Book links:
Midnight Sisters is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

Visit Sarah at or connect with her on Twitter @saraheboucher   

Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Letter to my Granddaughter, Age 3

Dear Avalyn Grace

Today, Friday 24th of February marks your 3rd birthday. You've had a letter from me every year of your life (this is the one I wrote when you were 6 months old) and you have been the inspiration for a whole series of blog posts describing our rather eccentric adventures together. So here's another letter from me to you.

The biggest change in your world right now ~ well, in all our worlds, is that you have a gorgeous little baby brother who worships you unquestioningly and unconditionally. Make the most of it because as soon as he starts walking, you're in for trouble!

Other changes: we've migrated from the Purple Buggy with a Mind of Its Own to a second hand collapsible buggy with dodgy brakes, which always go at roundabouts when we're travelling to my house, skeetering you across the bus at high speed and sending me into a panic. You find it terribly funny.

You are also a fully paid-up member of the Accessorize Club. You have a box of tiaras, crowns, necklaces and headbands. Yes, You Must Be Mad has tried to bring you up in a pinkless gender-neutral environment, but you have managed to tunnel your way out. Now each one of our adventures begins with a selection of appropriate bling to accompany it. I have to confess to being slightly envious: I'd secretly love to wander round Sainsburys in a tiara and sparkly boots, though I remind myself that I may yet come to it in my dotage.

For your birthday, you are going to the zoo ~ which you are looking forward to huguely as it has a soft play area with a gigantic slide. Animals? Well yes, there will be some animals obviously, but let's get our priorities right. There will also be a party in your house at some future date when the 'hand/foot & mouth' virus that I, in my ignorance, thought only occurred in cattle, has run its course.

As we approach our third year together, I look back and see how much you have taught me: your ability to live in the now; to find amazement and fun in mundane and ordinary things. Your life may be very circumscribed in one sense, but it is crammed with wonder, joy and delight because that is how you choose to experience it.

Happy Birthday, my special girl. You have inspired and entertained us all ever since you arrived in this world. Long may you continue to do so. As for the thought that your next birthday marks the end of our carefree adventures together, and the start of your schooldays ~ well, we're not going to think about it, are we?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Don't Give Up The Day Job!

I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. Yep, I know that sounds heretical, but from a writer's point of view ( especially a self-published one like me) bookshops are the reason we are bottom of the financial food chain, even though WE are the reason they exist in the first place. It is unfair and I am miffed about it.

Bookshops do not have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 48% discount. This means that for them to stay in business, publishers in turn offer writers such measly returns on books (10% - if you are lucky, and that's on the discounted figure) that it just isn't worth bothering. The growth of ebooks is as much the greed of bookshops as it is the development of technology ~ they signed up to the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement, allowing them to discount titles and then discovered Amazon/supermarkets beat them to it.

I was recently in a blog discussion about small publishers and royalties, and one of the participants (Dr Teika Bellamy: @MothersMilkBks) helpfully provided the following breakdown of costs:

On a £10 RRP (please note, these are approximate figures)

50% retailer (£5)
10% distributor (£1)
10% author (£1)
20% printer (£2)
10% publisher (£1) ← That 10% needs to cover things like ISBN costs, advertising, free books that are sent off to reviewers (and postage and packaging), illustrator’s costs, editing, proofreading, typesetting and all the various running costs of the business (including salaries if employers are paid).  
Based upon this, the writer at the bottom of the pile ends up with so little for all their years of hard graft that they might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. And most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous/hyped authors' because I can't get beyond page 9, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. Now it has reinstated it, but they don't take my Victorian Detective books as I am self-published on Amazon and Bertrams & Gardiners (the 2 big suppliers) won't look twice at me.

More evidence of discrimination. Even though the quality of Createspace books rivals many other publishers' stock (and they frequently resort to using POD companies anyway). Same policy with WH Smith. Same with most independent bookshops. Same with their suppliers ~ same suppliers.

I am lucky in that a local gift shop takes my books (at a slight discount) and sells them like hot cakes as I am not in competition with shelves and shelves of other titles. Now I am, let's face it, at the latter end of my career. And most of my sales now come from Ebooks.

But for a writer just starting out, full of expectation and hope, I'd have to say: Be realistic. Love what you do, be proud of your end product, but don't give up the day job. As a fellow writer remarked: 'unless you sell gazillions of copies, writing books is mostly for pleasure, or a little income to subsidise what else you have.'

Is it worth it then? Yes ~ a hundred times yes, as long as your definition of 'worth' is not measured in pounds and pence

Saturday, 11 February 2017


'If I write it, they will read it' ~ thinks many a fledgling author with a quiet smile.
Oh no they won't!
It is estimated that a new author on Amazon may sell as little as 50 copies of their book in a year. 95% of writers earn less than £5k. The 'top earners' are a teeny tiny % of the market, and usually get there on the back of a publicity department. But you don't have one, do you? Nor do I. So where to dive in?

Writing a book and getting it published, by whatever conduit you use, is only the start. To get any sales, you have to make people aware of your masterpiece. In this blog, I'm exploring some of the portals I use to promote my work ~ if I don't mention something, it's because I don't specifically use it for book promotion. Feel free to expound on how useful you find it in the comments section, because unless we are all out there, loud and proud, nobody will notice

1. Pre-Publication: At least three months before you are ready to gift the reading public with your masterpiece, it is good to offer it to a few REPUTABLE book blogger sites to read. I say 'reputable' because you want an honest opinion. One of the best sites is Rosie Amber @rosieamber1  Getting your manuscript to them early means that you will have a few (hopefully good) reviews up as soon as your book is published. And yes, I can vouch for their integrity : a reviewer posted a less than enthusiastic review of one of my YA ebooks. I am sure there are other book bloggers out there. Maybe people could identify them in the comments section.

2. Twitter::  I make Twitter my main platform. Most of my sales come from Twitter  eg:

I have been looking at your books on Amazon and all look great, will buy two of your favorites. Select please.

 I also encourage readers to post pictures of the actual book (and then they get a surprise signature sent to them in the post)
It's next on my 'to read' pile 🙂
And practically all sales come from me chatting, posting stuff etc or people recommending the books to other readers. In other words, I'm a friend first, an online character second, and a writer selling books third.

2a Twitter Hashtags: I use #histfic or #Victorian and #historicalfiction. This places my book alongside the others in the same genre and makes it easier for readers to find them. Your genre will have a #. Or there are general ones #bookboost @IARTG ... check other people's promo posts and you pick them up quickly. You can also follow readers via the authors especially if they have the magic words Avid Reader in their bio. Don't send them promos though. If you want to see some Twitter book promos, check out @TerryTyler4 or @paul_cude (or even me) for ideas.

Make sure you RETWEET other writers and say a general or personal thank-you when people retweet you.

 3. Press Releases: The local press are (usually) delighted to receive a press release, a publicity pic and a free copy to review.

3a. Press Releases: Anywhere your book is set will be delighted also.

3. Local Radio: Contact them via Twitter, phone them up, arrange to do a studio interview. Listen, I sound like a 15 year old mainlining helium, but I still do it.

4. National Press: Will be interested if you have a brilliant backstory, particularly if it involves abuse, or hardship. Also if you earned shedloads of advance shekels or you are very very photogenic. I haven't cracked this one yet. Maybe you will. Also if your partner/family member is 'famous'. However I was told by the wife of someone well known in public life that this could be a two-edged sword as the press can jump on you if said famous person is not liked.
Bernie Steadman in W H Smiths

5. Literary Festivals: Everybody's doing it. Local library will have contacts of yours. Organisers have a Twitter site. Get in touch. I did the first St Albans Literary Festival two years ago and last year. I ran a workshop on how to get published ... ooh, and I had some books on a side-table.

6. Signings: Local bookshop is worth approaching (see pic). Make sure you are professional in your set-up and your conduct ~ do not hassle people to buy your books.

Harpenden Writers, 27th Jan 2017
7.Talks: WI ~ you have to audition and be approved, but it's worth it. They pass you round like a sweetie. Local book clubs/writers' groups are also worth contacting. Library should hold the list. If you write YA or children's fiction, schools are always keen to have a visiting writer. Make sure you get paid ~ the Society of Authors has recommended fees. WI expects you to donate 10% of any book sales to their group.

8. Blogging: Worth a whole post on its own. Maybe I'll write one. Sufficient to say that blogs are great for writing interesting posts around your book. I have blogged on Sex, Food, Child cruelty, Poisons .. did I mention Sex? Some people arrange Blog Tours to publicize their book. I host other writers and write posts for other blogs. It's getting your name out there, building your profile and being part of the writing community.

Writing Magazine
9. Writing Magazine (@WritingMagazine) : The 'bible' for any writer. It has comps, helpful articles, lists of publishers/magazines that are open for submissions, everything you need to stay in touch with fellow writers etc. It also has a Membership Spot where you can happily plug your new novel. I always do them a small write-up. Worth the subscription (which you can claim as legitimate expenses against tax). You can also use their own marketplace to promote your book FREE!

10. Local Shops:: If you are a small published/self published writer with books, it is well nigh impossible to get them into the big bookshops. This is because they get 45% discounts from established publishers and usually only deal with 2 or 3 suppliers. But other shops like gift shops, & craft shops may well be happy to negotiate a better rate. I get a kick from seeing my books in a local shop window (see pic at top of piece). I've never had that happen at Waterstones!

Finally -  if you have published actual books, make sure you are registered for PLR ~ Public Lending Rights: that's the money paid by libraries every time your book is borrowed. You can register here. Every little helps.

What I do not do, and nor should you, is inundate followers, friends on Facebook, or total strangers with 'buy my book' promos 24/7. If you want to read one of my books, great. If not, hey. And I won't be constantly checking my sales figures or Amazon and informing you every hour of the day. That way madness lies. And somehow I have to find time to get on with the next book, (which is the other GREAT way to generate sales), so that IF you bought, read and enjoyed Diamonds & Dust and its three successors, there will be another book in the pipeline for you to read very soon.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Importance of Publicity 1

Excitement is building at Hedges Towers. Reviews of Diamonds & Dust on Amazon UK have just broken the magic 90 in number. This has never happened before in all my years of being published, so is very gratifying. Even more so, as those of you who are aware of the back story know, because I parted company with my agent over it, as she had told me that there was no market for this type of 'Present-tense historical stuff ' book, so she was not going to bother sending it out to publishers; comments that resulted in my almost losing heart and deciding to give up writing altogether. Take whatever lesson you wish to learn from this.

So, apart from sorting out the party fairy lights and discovering they don't work because one of the bulbs has blown, ordering in crates of prosecco and wrapping crepe paper streamers round the PINK SOFA who has been in launch mode since the series started, I am now wondering whether the villa in Tuscany and the black Maserati I promised OH might be a tad nearer. Meanwhile, because complacency isn't in my vocabulary, I crack on with the publicity machine.

Publicity has become vitally important in today's frenetic book market. In the 1950s when I was growing up, there seemed no need for authors to get involved in marketing their books. Nobody was interested in them. I could have passed Ruby Ferguson, Primrose Cummings, A Stephen Tring, Pamela Brown or Don Stanford in the street and not recognised them. Now if you publish a book, unless you are happy just to have achieved publication, and content that only your immediate family, and close friends will buy it, you HAVE to put yourself out there.

There are some myths still going round about publicity. The first says that mainstream published writers don't have to do much if any publicity, as they have marketing wonks to do it instead. Wrong. My own experience, based on OUP and Usborne, my two previous publishers, is that at my level of importance, publicity wonks will send your book out for review, feature you in the publisher's catalogue, and produce press releases, but that's pretty well it. The rest you sort yourself, unless you are a 'famous or favoured writer' - of which more anon. Sometimes, they don't even do that - one year, I was told by OUP that they were going to spend the entire marketing budget on a couple of well known children's writers who brought in more money than a mid-lister like me. Seriously.

The bottom line is always money. If you don't sell enough books, and make sufficient money, big publishers will drop you. Actually, most publishers of whatever size will drop you - so those authors I recently came across on Facebook moaning that ''they can't do publicity, it isn't ''them'' and why doesn't X (their small publisher) do it all for them like big publishers do'' really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The other myth is that 'popular' mainstream authors get taken on lovely trips and outings to promote their books. Hollow laughter. I recently caught up with one such writer, just back from the US. It was a nightmare. Meetings with publishers, followed by book talks, followed by signings, followed by working dinners, followed by total exhaustion. And one of the famous OUP writers I mentioned earlier didn't get to write a thing for two years, had a nervous breakdown, and had to force herself to inch back into writing again. So there you are. Myths well and truly busted. Next week, I shall explore some of the publicity portals available and how to use them without annoying people too excessively.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Holocaust (Greek: sacrifice by fire)

 Results for:  Last / Maiden Name = Flatauer        First Name = Alma        Place = Berlin
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of murdered Jews from Germany    murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany Page of Testimony                                   murdered
Flatauer 1889 Berlin, Germany List of deportation from Berlin                murdered
Flatauer 1889 Osnabrueck, Germany Page of Testimony                          murdered

We live in a 'post fact' (or as I prefer to call it, downright lies) era. In this Holocaust Memorial time,  the internet is ablaze with Holocaust deniers, claiming that the massacre of Jews, gypsies, disabled people and gays under the Nazis did NOT happen.

The survivors of Hitler's 'Final Solution' are gradually dying. Those that are left, frail but undaunted, spend their last few days having to tell their harrowing stories over and over again, as the stinking sewage of denial washes through social media. When they are gone, who will bear the torch?

As many of you know, I am the daughter of German Jewish refugees, and post the fiasco that was Brexit, I have applied for restored citizenship, so that my descendants will never have their 'citizen of the world' status wrenched from them, as mine was by the alt-right German government. At the head of this piece is the visual proof, taken from German documentation, of the 'fate' of my paternal grandmother. 

But this is my mother's story, not mine: she was born in Berlin and as the anti-Jewish laws started coming into force, she was in her early twenties. She had to leave university, where she was studying art & design, and went to work for one of the many Jewish organisation that had started getting Jewish families out of Germany as they could see what was going to happen in the future.

UK Daily Mail pre-WW2 headline
She helped organise Kindertransports and her refugee organisation supplied the papers and documents needed for adults to leave. These organisations also helped make the situation of German Jews very public and were hated as a result. Eventually, Hitler decided to close the borders. The last train was scheduled to leave Berlin on December 7th, 1941.

The way my mother always told it: she sent her own parents to the UK where, as the Daily Mail article shows, the identical 'anti-semitic/illegal immigrant' rhetoric was alive and well then, as now, but she felt it her duty to stay in Berlin and help out to the end.

So it wasn't until the last day that she packed her suitcase and headed for the station. The queue stretched for yards. She stood in line, wondering whether she was too late. Then the German police started going down the line, checking passports and documents. Time ticked on. Finally they reached her, and roughly demanded her papers.

My mother handed them over. A brief scrutiny. A consultation. A list was checked. Then she was beckoned out of the line and ordered to go with them. Her heart sank. Was she about to be refused exit? Was she going to be imprisoned? Tortured? Deported to a work camp?  She followed the police .... along the platform ... past the waiting crowd ... straight to the barrier where the train was waiting.

A curt command and the barrier was raised. She was pushed onto the platform. The barrier was closed. Still not quite believing what had just happened, she took her place on the last train and came eventually to the UK, where she met and married my father, also a refugee. Nine years later, I was born in the UK.

My father's family refused to leave Germany, believing, as so many EU citizens, migrants and refugees believe today, that civilized people would never try to deny them their human rights. They perished at Auschwitz. I am the bearer of their story. If you read a tweet, or an article, or a book by someone denying that Hitler and his military machine ruthlessly and systematically exploited, tortured, and murdered eleven million human beings whose only 'crime' was that they were not ''them'', then remember this: the people who ignore their mistakes are destined to repeat them. Over and over again.
Some 2016 UK Brexit headlines