From Writer to Editor–my journey

Today I’m over on WriteRightEditing.co.uk talking about my experience of being edited and how (and why) I chose to become an editor.
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New Year Update

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Photo courtesy of matthew_hull at https://morguefile.com/p/171780

Happy New Year everyone! Yes, I know we’re now into the third week of January but my year has gotten off to a slow start due to my extended winter holiday visiting family in the States. Still, I’m determined to make 2018 a success. This year I hope to make reviewing a regular feature of my blog again, release a new (modest length) book and re-release The Forest King’s Daughter. This is in addition to expanding some of my editorial offerings over at kendraolsoneditorial.com (more on that later!).

What is this about re-releasing The Forest King’s Daughter? Well, for regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that my debut novel came out back in 2015. When it was released I was studying for my MLitt in Creative Writing and had very little time to devote to marketing. Getting my blog and Twitter account up and running felt like a huge success in its own right. I wasn’t fully prepared for my book release and didn’t really understand how to promote it.

Fast forward a couple of years and I have a blog with several hundred followers, I’m a member of some supportive book groups on Facebook and have additional contacts who (theoretically) might be interested in the book. But I didn’t want to just start talking about the same things again and posting the same images around, so I thought “why not change the cover? It could be fun.” And it was.

I consulted with Les of German Creative over on Fiverr to come up with a beautiful cover I felt reflected the story and genre in an effective way. I was really pleased with what she did as her design grew organically out of my ideas while simultaneously being totally new and creative.

I’ll be revealing my brand new cover here next Monday the 29th January at 7am, UK time. And, to celebrate, I’ll be hosting a competition via Rafflecopter. All you’ll need to do is to come up with one word to describe the cover and, if that word is on my secret list, you’ll receive a free copy of The Forest King’s Daughter! In the event that no one chooses a secret word from my list a winner will be chosen at random. The competition will run from 29th January for one week. I’ll then announce the winner on my blog and Facebook page the following day. Good luck, and thanks for reading!

About The Forest King’s Daughter:

The year is 1886 and Swedish teenager, Ingrid Andersdotter, is about to face a series of life-changing events. When Ingrid forgets to close the barn door one freezing cold night, there will be dire consequences for her family. To make matters worse, her attraction to the new school teacher leads to ostracism and shame. Ingrid’s strong opinions and the pressure of the powerful village church to conform to ideas she doesn’t believe in put her at odds with her traditional community.

Her only option is to leave her home and family. But is she brave enough to make an ocean crossing to a strange new land on her own, leaving everything she knows far behind? And will she find the freedom she dreams of if she takes such a risk?

Told through the lens of a Swedish fairy tale, this epic coming-of-age story, is both a page-turning personal account of one feisty young woman’s determination to seek a better life, and the tale of many single women who emigrated from Sweden to America in the 19th century.

The Forest King’s Daughter is available to purchase from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

The Battle of the Birds: Guest Post and Cover Reveal by Virginia King

Today I’m welcoming Virginia King to talk about how she chose the title and cover for her latest book. So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Virginia.

Many authors say that in the process of creating a book, the writing is the easy part. It’s choosing titles and covers where the real work begins.

Title Torture

I was writing a collection of stories re-imagined from the folktales that inspired the modern prequel to my mystery series, Laying Ghosts.

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A strange message. A deserted beach house. A shocking incident from the past …

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the chilling events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

The folktales form a standalone collection but also a companion to Laying Ghosts. I was going through the usual torture of choosing a title when my mystery author friend Ellen Seltz offered to help. She asked for details of the stories in the collection. One involves the 250-year-old murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’. Ellen found a phrase in the following stanza from the original ballad:

He pierced her body till the blood it did flow,

Then into the grave her body did throw.

He covered her body, then home he did run,

Leaving none but birds her death to mourn.

Ellen suggested None but Birds for the title of the collection and I was thrilled. It had the right amount of mystery and suspense, while hinting at the dark themes in the stories. But because the collection is a companion to Laying Ghosts, I settled on a variation that gives both titles a similar word pattern: Leaving Birds.

Yay, I had my title. Hurdle one vaulted – with panache. Next came the cover. That should be easy given I had my subject on a plate: birds. Then followed the battle of the birds!

Photos or Illustrations?

Covers guide readers to the genre of the book. All the books in my Selkie Moon Series contain mystical clues inspired by folklore, but the mysteries are modern so the covers are a compilation of photographic elements to reflect this. Leaving Birds is not strictly part of the series and it’s a mix of traditional and modern stories, more closely linked to folklore. Should I use an illustrative style of cover so that the reader would recognise the ‘folktale’ genre?

Conducting a Cover Poll

To get other opinions, I polled the subscribers to my Myth Mystery & Mayhem newsletter. Showing them the following two stock images, I asked: Do you prefer a photographic or illustrative cover for Leaving Birds, a folktale companion for Laying Ghosts? These images are samples of two different styles of cover, not the final cover. The theme of the collection is the loneliness of death, and the cover will be black and white.

Bird Cover Concepts

How Readers Voted

The almost 100 votes were 65/35 in favour of the photographic image. Then I worried that the pop of red had skewed the vote. If I’d removed it from the illustrative cover, the samples would have been more equal. But the red had an unexpected role to play.

Photographic voters liked:

  • Herons, because they’re regal and mystical
  • The drama of the spooky mood
  • The sense of eeriness and mystery
  • Imagining a great black bird surveying a graveyard
  • The single bird and lack of colour being barren and solitary like death
  • Crows, because they’re linked to death

Illustrative voters liked:

  • Hummingbirds!
  • The pop of red against the stark background
  • The colourful bird suggesting a ray of hope in the loneliness
  • The bird’s wings suggesting a soul soaring away
  • The handwriting feeling personal, dated and creepy
  • The celebration of a life departed instead of the gloominess of death

Taking Care with Stock Images

The two concepts are both stock images which could be used as they are. But Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer says that a good cover is not just a stock image with titles added. It is the compilation of images and graphic effects that create a design. Also, if you use a stock image as it is, you’re likely to see it on other covers.

Playing with Cover Concepts

Taking into account the mood of the folktale collection and the feedback from readers, I briefed my cover designer. We tried a different photo of a lonely bird – a seagull on a chimney – as well as the original heron image. And we blended some handwriting into the background like the illustrative sample.

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As much as I loved the lonely seagull in the stock photo, when I saw it as a cover it just didn’t evoke the powerful mood created by the hunched heron. The handwriting also didn’t fit as well with the gull. The battle of the birds was over. We had a winner. And although I was committed to a black and white cover as a companion to Laying Ghosts, I asked my designer to try out some red on the handwriting – for that pop of colour some of my readers had liked in the illustrative sample.

Cover Reveal: Leaving Birds

Here’s the final cover of Leaving Birds, a standalone collection of creepy folktales with adult themes, and a companion to the modern ghost story Laying Ghosts.

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Leaving Birds contains:

  • ‘The Woman with Hair of Gold’ – retold from a Russian folktale
  • ‘Peig’s Place’ – a modern ghost story re-imagined from an Irish folktale
  • ‘Polly’s Folly’ – the possibly true events behind the murder ballad ‘Pretty Polly’
  • ‘Serendipity Rules’ – the newspaper report that inspired the plot of Laying Ghosts

If you like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of books and how they’re written, Leaving Birds also contains insights into how each story inspired the writing of Laying Ghosts.

Laying Ghosts is available:

Leaving Birds is available:

Follow Virginia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/selkiemoonmysteries

Virginia King FB Nomad Portrait

 

In the Selkie Moon Mystery Series, Virginia King gets to explore far-flung places full of secrets where Selkie delves into psychological clues tangled up in the local mythology.

Before Selkie Moon invaded her life, Virginia was a teacher, an unemployed ex-teacher, the author of over 50 children’s books, an audio-book producer, a workshop presenter and a prize-winning publisher. These days she lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her husband, where she disappears each day into Selkie Moon’s latest mystery. Bliss.

 

 

The Flower Angel, by Katrina Hart

This post is dedicated to Katrina’s lovely nan, Jean, who sadly passed away yesterday. Jean was an avid reader and a quiet encourager of writers everywhere, but especially of Katrina’s writing, and also my own. 

Today I’m featuring Katrina Hart’s latest novella The Flower Angel.

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The Flower Angel is an imaginatively written contemporary romance which also features elements of fantasy. Here’s a brief description of the story:

The Flower Angel: Two strangers. One past. Can the Flower Angel help Lara and Chris find love? Lara and Chris are strangers when they meet at Forget-Me-Not-Inn, the place where lost and lonely souls come to find love. Drawn to one another from the start, Chris soon realises that they have a traumatic secret in common – something that Lara will find challenging to forgive… Will the Flower Angel be able to work her magic and help Lara and Chris find true love together? Anything’s possible at Forget-Me-Not- Inn.

But I thought that, rather than tell you my thoughts on the story, I’d let you read a little of it for yourself. So, without further ado, here’s an excerpt:

One Year Later…

Chris swung his bag over his head and waved to his friends who’d insisted, a week ago now, that he take up their offer of a weekend at Forget-Me-Not Inn. They’d told him its secret: that all who entered fell in love with their soulmate, destined to find forever love. Of course he’d not believed either of his friends as they’d followed him about his bar reading the brochure out loud. He’d thought it most likely seemed that way because couples took romantic nights there together or something.

He knew his friends were only being kind and believed he should relax and stop working every hour at his country club. They never stopped reminding him that he should get back to looking for love after his break up with a girl who’d never really loved him in the first place, no matter how much he loved her. In truth he’d been hoping that every moment he was working he’d heal from the dreams that consumed his sleeping hours. The night the accident happened not only left him broken hearted, but with a tortured soul and many questions he might never have answers to.

He turned to face the huge stone inn and started walking through the tall grass towards the building with stained glass windows and flowers around the door. As he got closer he noticed that all the flowers were blue and open in the sunshine. A flash of those flowers landing on the chest of the young woman he’d crashed into a year ago had him clutching his chest struggling to breathe.

Katrina Hart has also kindly agreed to answer a couple of my questions about the story and the writing of the novella.

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Welcome, Katrina!

Thank you for having me on your blog Kendra.

Firstly, where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Well, The Flower Angel started after I completed Love in Little Snow, my first novella. I was inspired to write my new novella by the publisher who had published my first one (Love in Little Snow). However, while writing the story of Chris and Lara, I found that I was also inspired by my boyfriend–those feelings of new love and the idea of two people colliding in a life changing way. Also how one moment can impact on a huge part of one’s life be it in a good way or not.   

I’ve always been fascinated by angels ever since I was around seven. I think they watch over us when we need it most, in a spiritual way. But also there are people in life who try to help each other and bring love and peace into each other’s lives. They kinda remind me of earth’s angels, a bit like Sally and George at Forget-Me -Not Inn.

Where did you get the idea for a flower angel? I love this idea.

I’ve always loved the idea of angels and believed in them ever since I was around seven, because at that age I believed one flew into my window and she transformed into my mum’s nan who died that night. I didn’t actually know that my mum’s Nan had died until I told my mum about the experience. But ever since then I believed that angels watch over us from just out of our eyes’ view, unless they choose to let us see them of course.

So, when writing The Flower Angel I imagined all kinds of angels and that’s how The Flower Angel came about.

How have you found the publishing process? I understand that the novella was initially going to be produced by a publisher who unexpectedly stopped trading.

I’ve found the publishing process very interesting. It was exciting working on the cover with the cover designer and then having the book formatted for both Kindle and paperback. I think it was a great experience getting to grips with how the whole publishing process works and it’s possibly something authors should consider trying at least once, to get to see how it all builds up and turns into the finished book.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about this story or the writing of it?

The Flower Angel is a mixture of a moment that changed two people’s lives and their inner strength to try again.

Thanks so much for sharing your lovely novella with us and for answering my questions. Best of luck with The Flower Angel and with all of your writing!

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The Flower Angel is available as an ebook and a paperback. You can obtain the paperback from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flower-Angel-Katrina-Hart/dp/1540629341/

The ebook is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flower-Angel-Katrna-Hart-ebook/dp/B01N579TF6/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Flower-Angel-Katrna-Hart-ebook/dp/B01N579TF6/

To check out more of Katrina’s novels and novellas, visit her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Katrina-Hart/e/B013KPPUGK/

You can catch up with Katrina by visiting her blog: https://katrinamarie25.wordpress.com/

Checking out her website where you can also read her short stories: http://katrina134.wixsite.com/muses/books

Follow her on Twitter:@KatrinaHart2015

Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Katrina-Hart-1785712648319624/

 

Something Rhymed Literary Salons

Over the last month I’ve been attending a series of literary salons in Central London examining the problem of gender inequality in the literary world and attempting to come up with practical, positive solutions. The salons were run by the talented and generous Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa of Something Rhymed, a blog celebrating female literary friendship. As gender inequality is a topic which I think many female writers are interested in, I thought I’d type up my notes from the salons and share them with you.

Emma and Emily brought together an impressive array of panellists for the salons, including women writers and academics, literary editors, critics, performance poets, reviewers, presenters, and the founder of a literary events company committed to diversity in the arts. Regarding the lack of male panellists (Michael Caines of the Times Literary Supplement was the only man on any of the panels), Emma said that they had tried very hard to get male panellists—they initially sought to have equal gender representation–but did not receive much interest. This is not to say that men did not attend the salons, because they did—indeed, it seemed to me that each salon brought more men who were intrigued and motivated by the discussion; one of them was the talented Leslie Tate, who has written up his observations on the first two salons on his blog:  http://leslietate.com/2016/05/2093/.

The starting point for the discussions was the VIDA count, which has consistently shown a striking imbalance amongst the rates of publication for male and female writers at the major literary publications. For those who don’t know, VIDA is an organisation representing women in the literary arts which seeks to examine, publicise and address gender (and other) imbalances in the literary world.

 

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Salon One: VIDA Count

Michael Caines spoke about unequal representation for female reviewers. Caines speculated that one of the reasons women are poorly represented is due to editors already having a ready pool of tried and tested male journalists at their disposal. He said that we don’t just need more female fiction reviewers but more female reviewers across all categories–women tend to be given the “lighter” stuff whereas men are given more serious subjects, such as politics.

BBC presenter and writer, Harriett Gilbert spoke of her experience, saying that literary editors are far more likely to be women—hers are nearly all female. However, they still tend to choose books by male writers. Her theory is that while women are happy to read books by men and immerse themselves in the male experience, the reverse is not true (this is something that several panellists commented upon over the course of the salons). She believes the problem has far deeper roots than the publishing industry, going all the way back to childhood. After all, it’s easier for a girl to be a tomboy than for a boy to be the reverse. She thinks this is why JK Rowling disguised her sex when writing the Harry Potter books, so that boys could safely walk around with her books. Because of this situation editors need to ferret out the women writers, and women writers should be proactive in seeking reviewing roles. However, alternatives to traditional media should also be considered as publishers are now seeking a variety of publicity and print media is on its way out.

Maggie Gee (prolific writer and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature) advised young writers to do what they’re interested in and go where they wish—all writers are earning less these days. She recalled Virginia Woolf’s envy of Katherine Mansfield which Gee put down to there being so few opportunities available for women at the time thus making them direct competitors. Gee encouraged women writers to be supportive of one another. During the discussion she spoke to the value of smaller, independent publishing houses who could take risks with more interesting work.

The ever inspiring performance poet and author, Salena Godden, said she is wary of labels and that a writer must only concern themselves with bettering the work they wrote yesterday.  She read from a poignant essay she wrote for the forbookssake website to promote the Women in Print campaign by Unbound. She also encouraged women writers to put themselves out there and enter competitions and submit their work without the constant expectation of being rejected.

I believe that if we do not start publishing more women, we only pass on half of our inheritance, half of our heritage, half of the story. If we only hear from the great white shark, we miss all the other diverse voices and fish in the sea.” –Salena Godden, ForBooksSake

During the discussion, the Books Editor for Mslexia, Danuta Kean, stated that we live in a society where 40% of the population is comprised of ethnic minorities, however this is not represented in literature and publishing. She said that it was up to publishing representatives to change the situation.

 

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Salon Two:  So-called Women’s Issues

The second salon analysed why books about women and so-called women’s issues are so often devalued by the literary establishment. Why is it that the experiences, and perspectives, of women are seen as less than that of men? Is this because women have, traditionally, written about the home and family whereas men, as per their historical life roles, have explored, experienced and thus written about the wider world? Why is one experience seen as valid and not the other? Is this the reason for devaluing women’s literature, or is there another reason?

The journalist and literary critic, Arifa Akbar (formerly of The Independent) said that while the idea of women’s fiction is a helpful category, it is also a trap. It means you can be pushed to the side-lines easier. Margaret Atwood suddenly becomes women’s fiction. When women read men’s writing we universalise it, but the reverse doesn’t happen. Conversely, the domestic novel is only domestic when a woman writes it, not when Philip Roth or Karl Ove Knausgård write it. She said that editors need to be very aware and give equal space to women writers—she was unsure if these editors were indeed conscious of not doing so—and that women writers have a duty to make them mindful of this.

Bestselling historical fiction author, Karen Maitland, attended an all-girls school yet the only female novelist they read was Jane Austen, and she wrote about husband-hunting! Karen said that she became interested in historical fiction because of the beguinages (the medieval cities of women). She said that at historical fiction conferences, male authors are often given more credit than female authors when it comes to what are seen as male fields (weaponry etc). She was unsure if it worked the other way around. She also related an experience she’d had in a bookstore recently where the (male) bookstore owner had actually separated all the books by the gender of the writer (even those writers who used gender neutral pseudonyms) in order to ensure (one would presume) that his male customers did not “accidentally” buy a book written by a woman! Karen wondered if the advent of ebooks might actually change men’s buying habits as the book cover isn’t visible.

Booker Prize shortlisted novelist, Michèle Roberts, reminded us that women invented the novel. But most of our institutions – education, the law, the media etc. – have been dominated by men. She thought that the younger generation of men was changing, but that these changes need to be carried out in a wider cultural arena for there to be changes in the literary world.  She said that having a women’s writing group is one of the things which has kept her going as it offers close critical reading and support.

Sarah LeFanu, former senior editor at The Women’s Press, said the issue of gender disparity in publishing has been depoliticised. Nowadays if you complain about it you’re seen as whinging. But the issue remains as political as it ever was. As an example of this she cited last year’s Penguin anthology of short stories, which featured 18 women writers and 30 men! She was concerned that women don’t take up all the space available to them—particularly in this day and age when publishers are so risk averse. She said good writing does not have a gender bias. She also encouraged participants to write about these issues and to talk about why the books they enjoy aren’t being read and reviewed more widely.

 

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Salon Three: Genuine Change

The final salon aimed to come up with solutions, not only in regards to gender disparity but also in regards to ethnicity, class, ability and sexuality. As one speaker put it, our literature should represent our society as a whole, and all the diversity within it.

Varaidzo, arts and culture editor at gal-dem (an online magazine produced by women of colour), said she’s been quite critical as to the lack of scope in the British publishing industry. But, in some ways, she’s on the opposite side of the panel as her own journey was relatively easy. She attributed this to her growing up during the time of the internet and being able to navigate that space and talk to the people she wanted to fairly easily. Regarding the topic of education and children’s books, she noted that very few children’s authors manage to transcend gender—the boys go out and do things while the girls are introspective.

Orange Prize shortlisted novelist, Jill Dawson said the issue is as much about sexuality, class etc as it is about gender. She said that working class women need more literary role models (currently the women represented in mainstream publishing are mostly from the Oxbridge educated class). As a young woman, she read a lot of African-American women as their writing spoke to her in a way Martin Amis’s writing did not. What interested her was that they had a unique vernacular and voice. They too were struggling (Maya Angelou for example), and their words continued to influence Jill when she became a young, single mother. She encouraged people to think about who and what they’re reading as changing our reading habits and reading more widely is one way of changing the literary landscape.

Former Booker Prize judge and Costa Award shortlisted novelist, Louise Doughty spoke to the benefits of the internet age being that publications can be crowdfunded, there is online publishing, websites etc. For example, VIDA came out of the work of one person. The opportunities for writers now are small but multiple, and while not all ventures will be successful, some will be. While publishers are desperate for new voices, at the same time their (conservative minded) sales and marketing teams are at their backs. These people can only go on what is already selling and are therefore always chasing last year’s successes and unwilling to take risks on new voices.

Melanie Abrahams, the founder of Renaissance One, a literary event company committed to diversity in the arts, said that while there may be a lot of noise made about a title online, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a lot of sales. Traditional publishing has changed very little over the years and the internet doesn’t affect that. She claimed to know a lot of writers who are successful and don’t use social media at all. (I have to admit that this surprised me as I thought even big name writers were expected to use social media these days.)

During the discussion, an audience member who was a professor at both Goldsmiths and New York University spoke to the fact that she was able to choose her own readings for her students at NYU, but at Goldsmiths she had to teach a pre-devised syllabus. The Art of the Novel course, for instance, included only one or two female authors.(Hearing this I felt grateful that my reading list for my MLitt at University of Glasgow was mostly women and, during the second semester, our professor hand-picked a selection of novels which she thought would be of most use to us, having by then gotten to know our writing tastes and styles.)

The issue of prizes came up a few times during the salons. In the first salon, Michael Caines wondered if the judging committees of literary awards should be assessed for gender parity. This was an issue which Maggie Gee and Michèle Roberts spoke of as well, recounting how they’d had to argue to get female novelists shortlisted when judging major literary awards.

 

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While I’m still relatively new to the literary scene, I found the salons enlightening, thoughtful and very accessible–a delightful surprise as they could easily have turned out to be somewhat cliquish and depressing. In fact, the organisers did such a wonderful job of creating a welcoming, friendly and supportive atmosphere that I stayed until the end—and am very glad I did as I had lots of lovely conversations afterwards.

Reflecting on my own experience, I have to admit that I’ve perhaps read more men than women in the past, but in the last few years this has changed dramatically. These days nearly all of the books I read are by women—not because I’ve made a conscious decision to read more women writers, but simply because I’m lucky enough to benefit from many female literary friendships and I’m interested in getting to know the work of these authors and the work of the writers they enjoy. This is not to say that I’ve stopped enjoying the work of male writers—not at all—but perhaps the circles I move in as an author with a small, independent publisher means that I’m more likely to discover the work of female authors.

What do you think? Are you a woman writer, or do you work in publishing? If so, what has your experience been? Regardless, do you have an idea for accelerating change? I’d love to hear so please leave a comment below.

 

Review of The Lockerbie Writers’ Anthology

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Edited by Kerrie McKinnel and Godfrey Newham and published by Kerrie McKinnel on behalf of Lockerbie Writers.’ Foreword by Bryan Armstrong, Editor of Annandale Herald/DnG Media. All illustrations by Lewanna Stewart.

An ambitious and diverse collection of short stories and poems from a talented group of writers based in Annandale and Eskdale (South-West Scotland, for international readers). The group is formed of members Frank MacGregor, Kerrie McKinnel, Steph Newham, Richard Sharp, Kath J. Rennie, Paula Nicolson, Angela Haigh, Chris Openshaw, Godfrey Newham and Pat MacKay. The anthology is divided into six sections:

Life, Love and Loss in South-West Scotland

In ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ by Frank MacGregor, retiree and recent widower, Andy Johnston, rediscovers the joys of friendship by trying something new. Similarly, in ‘Pulling the Wishbone,’ by fellow MLitt-er, Kerrie McKinnel, lifelong neighbours, Betsy and Ada, decide to spend Christmas together. But will it be what each hopes for?

Ghosts and the Supernatural

A local fisherman continues his time-honoured tradition of throwing a coin into the river prior to commencing fishing, in Richard Price’s ‘An Overpaid Fare.’ Surely a few pence is a small price to pay for a good day’s catch, he reasons. Or is it?

Pat Mackay provides a humorous and clever take on the traditional haunted house story in ‘A Ghost Story.’

Historical Connections

Steph Newham vividly describes the final journey of a dying Australian woman in ‘Moss Wall.’

Modern Fairy Tales

‘The Dragon of Annandale’ by Paula Nicolson is imaginative and accomplished in its mythologizing.

Nature

The atmosphere of spring is perfectly captured by award-winning poet, Kath J. Rennie in her poem, ‘The Shepherd and his Flock.’

Mark takes his beloved fiancé, Ali, on a scenic detour when she comes to visit him from afar (they’re in a long distance relationship). But when he parks at the local police station, Ali isn’t quite sure what to expect, in ‘A Sight to Behold’ by Angela Haigh.

Chris Openshaw’s poem, ‘Autumn,’ beautifully evokes the colour of the season and its possibilities of renewal.

On Writing

Steph Newham muses on the trouble her characters give her in ‘The Problem with Characters’ while Richard Sharp reflects on what to write for the next meeting in ‘The Drive Home.’

This collection brought Annandale and Eskdale to life for me, and is no doubt a huge achievement for the group. There is something for everyone here, from the lover of mysteries to those who prefer nature poems. And it’s beautifully illustrated too, by local artist, Lewanna Stewart. I enjoyed discovering the work of these up-and-coming authors, and look forward to reading more of their work in future.

You can buy a copy of the Lockerbie Writers’ Anthology: Stories and Poems from Annandale and Eskdale from Amazon for £6.99 for the paperback, or £4.99 for the Kindle version: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lockerbie-Writers-Anthology-Stories-Annandale/dp/1530333245/  Visit their blog: https://lockerbiewritersanthology.wordpress.com/  Like their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lockerbiewritersanthology/  Or, follow them on Twitter: @LockerbieWriter

If you’re lucky enough to live in the area, you might even consider attending their launch event in honour of World Book Night, this coming Thursday the 21st April at Lockerbie Library, where you can relax and chat to group members over a cup of tea, as well as hear short readings of their work. For more information on their upcoming events, visit: https://lockerbiewritersanthology.wordpress.com/upcoming-events-and-meetings/

 

Happy publication anniversary to, well, me! A reflection on my journey to publication.

Just over one year ago, my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, was published by Pilrig Press. The publication of the novel was a tremendous achievement for me. Prior to sending the manuscript to them, I’d done the rounds of numerous literary agents and was just starting to think about making changes to the story when a friend recommended I try small publisher, Pilrig Press. After sending through my initial query letter, synopsis and opening chapters, I quickly received a response: the publisher enjoyed what he read and wanted to see the full manuscript. To say that I was elated would be an understatement. I quickly read through the manuscript again (just in case I had somehow introduced a typo when opening the document for the umpteenth time), attached it and pressed ‘send’. This happened in summer 2014, and prior to this I’d spent almost four months sending the manuscript out and receiving rejections (at the time it had never occurred to me to self-publish).

I then waited several weeks before sending a gentle follow up email. I held my breath, expecting yet another rejection. But, soon after, I received a reply to say the publisher was interested in obtaining the novel and would be sending me a contract. I read their email several times over, unable to believe what I was reading—had my novel really just been accepted for publication? It had. I broke into a series of loud cheers, shouts and hurrahs, thereby amusing my neighbours and baffling my cats. I’d done it! My novel would be published! Woo hoo, three cheers for me (and even more cheers for Pilrig Press for agreeing to take it on). This was in November 2014.

Of course, once the novel was accepted, there was still work to do. For one, I needed to set up my author platform—something I’d been putting off doing as the prospect intimidated me. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy reading online, but the vastness of the internet and my near-phobia of technology didn’t help matters. I decided to start with a blog, as that made the most sense to me—I knew people who had blogs and enjoyed them, and a blog would surely be the best place to showcase my work as it would be my space alone. So, after doing a bit of research (which included invaluable reference to the lovely Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard’s ever-helpful blogs, which were recommended by Marianne Wheelaghan), I decided on a free WordPress site. After several days of trial and error and much online research, I managed to have the site up and running–possibly an even bigger achievement than my novel 😉 .

Next on the list was Twitter—ugh. My only knowledge of Twitter was through the much-publicised News International scandal. To me, it seemed like something gossipy journalists and celebrities used, nothing a writer should ever have to go near. But, after much discussion and advice from writing friends, especially Ruth Hunt, I gave it a go. How else would I let anyone know about my amazing blog posts? 😉

And, you know what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was kind of fun. I got to ‘meet’ and chat with other writers, and I found out about all sorts of amazing literary goings-on as well as discovering new authors, and books, and book blogs. I tweeted my blog posts–and got retweeted! And I retweeted and shared others’ content in return. Of course, this all took a bit of time, and I quickly discovered just how much time–but that didn’t stop it from being a useful tool (not so much for selling books as for networking with other writers, for more on this, read: http://www.smallbluedog.com/why-emerging-authors-need-twitter.html ).

And then the big day came—publication. Of course, having a small publisher means there are no publication day parties (thrown by the publisher anyway). Still, the hubby and I had a drink or two to celebrate, and, perhaps, a chocolate brownie (or two). On the day of the launch, I did an author interview with Ruth Hunt on her blog, The Single Feather,  to help promote the novel.

So, what have I learned from my publication process?  Well, for one, that it takes time to find the right publisher and then to prepare a manuscript for publication. This is something that can’t–and certainly shouldn’t–be rushed. Also, I’ve learned to try to be more understanding of the potential benefits of technology, which includes the innovative ability to meet people from all over the world without ever leaving the comfort of my own living room. But, most importantly, if I could do it over again, I would have gotten started building my platform much sooner. I think if I had, it may have helped me to better promote my novel in the run up to publication. Having a book published is only the beginning. You still have to market it, and the better understanding you have of this and the less shy you are about telling others about the wonderful book you’ve written, the easier it will be (who’d have thought that things like Amazon categories, metadata or how many friends you have on Facebook could influence how many copies of a book are sold?).

I remember attending a literary event last year in which one of the panellists likened publishing to entering a giant funnel. Once you’ve published your novel, you come through the end of one, small(ish) funnel only to enter a second, much larger one, through which very few authors ever emerge. My advice to unpublished novelists: persevere but be realistic in your expectations. Celebrate every small victory, because you’ve worked hard for it, but then move on and write the next novel, not only because research shows that novelists with more than one book sell better (http://annerallen.com/2015/03/how-do-i-sell-my-book-6-tips-for-new.html ) but primarily because writing is what writers do (or what they should be doing anyway). Also, be eternally grateful for your friends and those who’ve supported you along the way, be it by helping with research, reading and commenting on your drafts, retweeting your blog posts, or even giving you the space and time you need to write. I know I am. Because, without them, novels can’t be written, let alone published and promoted through social media.

Are you a published novelist? If so, what was your experience of being published? And, if you’re not yet published, what do you expect from it?

The Moth Catcher screening and Q and A with Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethlyn

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On Thursday evening I was very lucky to be able to attend a screening and Q and A of one of Ann Cleeves latest Vera Stanhope mysteries, The Moth Catcher. I was invited to the event by Islington Libraries as I’m a member of one of their reading groups (yet another benefit of library membership!). For just a £6 entry fee I got entry to a Victorian Grade II listed hotel (The Courthouse Hotel in Soho, London), a free signed copy of the book, entry to the reception, a free drink and–wait, I’m not done yet–access to the film screening and Q and A. They even threw in some popcorn just to top it off! Tremendous value, especially when you consider that a drink alone in certain parts of London might cost you the best part of that.

Anyway, need I say that it was well worth it? Vera is one of my all-time favourite shows, on a par with Krister Henriksson’s Wallander, and I am notoriously picky when it comes to TV programmes. It was so much fun to see which of the actors I–or I should say, we, for I took the hubby along to this one–recognised at the reception. I was planning on trying to interview Ann Cleeves at the event but, alas, she was quite busy talking with other adoring members of the public and I simply did not get up the courage. Maybe next time. 🙂

After the reception we were treated to a private screening of episode three, The Moth Catcher, in the new series 6. I won’t say much about it here except that if you are following the series you won’t be disappointed. This is yet another atmospheric, socially insightful and gripping instalment in this very enjoyable series.

After the credits rolled, Ann Cleeves, Brenda Blethlyn (Vera), Jon Morrison (Kenny Lockhart) and Kenny Doughty (DS Aiden Healy), as well as the director, Jamie Childs, answered a few questions which were asked on behalf of the audience. It was very strange having gone from being absorbed in the show to having the actors there in front of us. 🙂

Brenda Blethlyn is much smaller than Vera, and, of course, far more stylish. The Vera in Cleeves’ stories is much bigger than Brenda Blethlyn (both taller and wider). As they couldn’t make Brenda taller, they decided to make her wider by adding layers of waist-length clothing. Brenda Blethlyn said that she thinks viewers can relate to Vera because she’s ordinary, like someone you might see at the bus stop and never know that they were a high ranking detective. Indeed, this is one of my favourite things about her character.

According to Ann Cleeves, the series would never have been made if it weren’t for her first Vera novel, The Crow Trap, being discovered by producer Elaine Collins in an Oxfam charity shop in North London (a huge stroke of luck for Cleeves as Collins was searching for a new story to make into a series, and a counter to the argument that having your novel sold in a charity shop is a negative experience for the author).

Jamie Childs who is originally from the area, talked about what an honour it has been for him to film in the North East as this is something he’s always wanted to do. He said that he grew up in Durham in the same colliery village where Billy Elliot was filmed and used to fish in the area with his granddad.

Ann Cleeves said that a knock-on effect of the show is that it has brought jobs to the North East again. There are now official Vera tours which sell in 130 countries, and tourism to the area is increasing. From what I’ve seen on the show, this looks like one of the most beautiful parts of the country and it’s somewhere I hope to visit before too long.

When Ann Cleeves was asked what advice she would give her young self that she would also give to a young writer now, she said that young writers should just keep writing. She said you have no idea if any of these things will happen to you, and if they do, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with luck.

I found her advice to be both humble and inspiring, as indeed she was.

I look forward to reading my beautiful signed copy of The Moth Catcher!

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You can catch up with Vera via the ITV player: http://www.itv.com/hub/vera/1a7314a0023

Get your copy from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00UXKJ0XA Or, your local library.

Catch up with Ann Cleeves via her website: http://www.anncleeves.com/

Follow her on Twitter: @AnnCleeves

Interview with Miles Salter: Writer, Musician and Storyteller

KIPPA MATTHEWS - COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Welcome, Miles! Thanks for coming by to talk with us today about your work, especially your latest novel, Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure. Those who follow this blog will remember reading my review of Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure.  For those who haven’t, you can read my review here: https://kendraolson.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/review-of-howl-a-small-and-heavy-adventure-by-miles-salter/

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Firstly, how did the story come about?

About six years ago, I was at home one day and I had this little moment of inspiration. What if I could write an updated version of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a modern flavour? That was the start. It was very much influenced by some of Roald Dahl’s writing. I wanted to write a book for kids that they would love. The book I would have loved when I was ten years old. But it took six years to finish it, mainly because I kept changing it as it went along. The wolf became a werewolf and the ‘Grandma’ character changed into Mrs Winters, the mysterious old lady in the story. I must have written  60,000 words but the final thing is only about 30,000 words. I am pleased with it, though, and I think I’ve kept to the spirit of that initial idea – a fun story with a frisson of something scary. The reaction from kids has been fantastic, so far – it really works as a kids book, which is great.

Have you always enjoyed writing or is writing something you came to as an adult?

I’ve always enjoyed it, but in a strange way, the better you get at writing, the harder it is, because you become much more self-critical as time goes by. I still enjoy it but writing a long project is a kind of work. You have to be very self-disciplined to make a long piece of writing hold together. It’s much harder than it looks. Apparently Fred Astaire once said of dancing:  ‘If you don’t make it look easy, you’re not trying hard enough.’ (Or words to that effect.) And that is exactly right – to make it seem casual, you have to work really hard!

What inspires you?

All kinds of things. Friends. Good conversation. Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Van Morrison. Great writing. Funny stuff – old comedy things like The Young Ones or Monty Python. Tintin. Sacred places. The outdoors. A walk in the woods. Train journeys. Sunsets. Films. Poetry. At the moment I’m listening to a CD of Dylan Thomas reading his work from the 1950s. It’s on when I’m in the car and it’s fantastic.

I understand that you do a lot of work with schools. Could you tell us a little about this? Did your experience of working with children in a school environment help you with the writing of Howl?

I’d been doing creative workshops in schools for a few years, and kids kept asking me what books I had written. I’d written two books of poetry and a book for Young Adults, so I was really keen to write a book for the 8-10 age group. I’m doing quite a few schools things this year so I’ll tell them about the new book. When I asked children why they liked a particular book they often said ‘Because it’s funny’ so humour was really important to writing ‘Howl’ – it had to be as funny as I could make it.  So yes, the work in schools was a big help.

You’ve also written a series of picture books called Zip and Pop, as part of a medical research project with Queen Mary University in London. Could you tell us a little about how you became involved in this project and the purpose of it?

A friend of mine sent me a link to a job advertisement. Queen Mary University in London were looking for a writer and researcher. It was an unusual project. They wanted to research children’s bedtime routines, and I had to write some children’s stories that would encourage kids to brush their teeth. So as a team, we came up with these fun stories involving two frogs called Zip and Pop, and they had various adventures. They were always brushing their teeth. I was pleased with how the books came out. And I made some new friends – Sai Pathmanathan, the researcher, became a friend, as did Olivia Boutrou (the illustrator) and Niall Sweeney, the designer. Niall had a wicked sense of humour, we had these hilarious conversations about what diet the frogs should be on. The books were circulated in schools in London, where the research took place. I have a few copies of the books at home. The books haven’t been made available to the wider public. We also made a DVD with animations on it.  

In what ways does writing for children differ from writing for adults?

Writing for adults you can do much more in the way of characters’ lives, atmosphere etc. With children, you have to be more direct. Children aren’t so interested in ambiguity.

What are the greatest challenges in writing for a young audience?

There was a superb article written by Michelle Paver, the children’s writer, which appeared in The Writer’s Handbook in 2011. Michelle wrote about how hard it is to write for children because young readers won’t tolerate getting bored. You can get away with stuff for adults that you can’t with children. Before Howl was published, one publisher suggested we take out nearly 10,000 words. It was hard to take, but I think in the end it made it stronger. Waste nothing. Cut, cut, cut. The same is true of poetry and journalism. Know what you want to say, and say it. Roald Dahl’s work is impressive here – he keeps it pithy, and he’s always in control of the material. The story must skip along when you are writing for children.

Your website states that you are a ‘writer, musician and storyteller’. Do you see these roles as going together? How does music enter into it?

I’m lucky that I get to do lots of things around communication. I do often think that I should do one thing very well, rather than several things, but I enjoy the variety. I adore music, and play gigs with friends when I can. When I was younger I wanted to be Bruce Springsteen but the job was already taken! Yes they do go together. I take the guitar with me when I go into schools, and sometimes do gigs with poetry and music.

Could you tell us a little about some of your other books?

My first book was ‘A Song For Nicky Moon’ which was self published in 2010. It was shortlisted for The Times / Chicken House Children’s Writing Award in 2010. Only 100 copies were pressed and it’s not currently available. I’ve written two books of poetry – The Border in 2011 and Animals in 2013 – both with Valley Press. Howl is my most recent book.    

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’ve just started working on a follow up to Howl, as people are already asking me when the next book is coming! Also I’ve been working on a book for Young Adults, but it’s not ready yet. I’m hoping to finish it in 2016…everything takes an age!

Do you have any advice for budding children’s writers? Or indeed, children who would like to learn to write?

It’s not complicated. You only have to do two things: read a lot and write a lot. Immerse yourself in books. Read all the time, and lots of different things – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, journalism, short stories. Everything! And write as much as you can. It could take a long time to become a decent writer, so be willing to keep going, and keep going, and keep going! Start young! The younger the better. So many writers were bookworms as kids, or at least they were interested in books. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to come and speak with us about your work. Best of luck with Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure, and with all of your projects!

Kendra, thanks so much, it’s been great!

Howl is available from Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Howl-Small-Heavy-Adventure/dp/0993300014/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1452701413&sr=8-1&keywords=Howl+Salter

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0993300014

Visit Miles’s website http://www.miles-salter.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @MilesWrites

 

 

 

Happy Holidays, and thank you!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! With Christmas just around the corner, this will be my final post of the year. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of my readers for reading/following me. It’s been great getting to know you, and sharing writerly/readerly news and views.

2015 was quite an eventful year for me. In March my first novel, The Forest King’s Daughter , was published by Pilrig Press.  In July, I began writing book reviews for Lothian Life Magazine . In October, I helped to short-list a joint writing competition run by Lothian Life and writingclasses.co.uk (for those who may have missed it, the winners were announced last Thursday and the winning stories are now published: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2015/12/writing-home-short-story-winners/). Then, just a few weeks ago, I received my MLitt degree in Creative Writing from The University of Glasgow.

Whew, that feels like a lot! Of course, none of it would have been possible without the help of so many good writing friends, professors and classmates (you know who you are 😉 ). So, thank you!

One of the most difficult things for me this year was figuring out ways in which to promote my novel, which ultimately meant conquering my fear and distrust of social media. I couldn’t have done this without the help and  support of friends and fellow bloggers (such as Ruth Hunt, Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard, among others) who readily gave me advice on taking the plunge and starting a Twitter and Facebook account. And, ultimately, it has paid off in more ways than one. Besides being a useful promotional tool, I’ve made new friends and connections via social media as well as discovering some great new books and authors whom I would never have known existed otherwise. It also helped put me in touch with some amazing bloggers who helped promote my novel, such as Alison Drew who ran a #BookBoost for my novel in October, Adrian Doyle of Englanti Editing who featured my novel and an excerpt on their website at the start of November, and others who gave of their time to interview me and offer me a guest post on their blogs. Thank you all!

And a special thank you for those who have read my novel, and reviewed it. (For those who may have read the novel but not reviewed it, could I give you a nudge and request that you consider doing so? A review need only be a few words about why you liked a book, or didn’t. Reviews are essential for authors).

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a great start to 2016!

A Christmas Chickadee