Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Monday, 29 June 2015

Strawberry Jam Books promote good values for children

Children's reading: entertainment, enlightenment and education

Guest author Hilary Hawkes began writing books and poems when she was only 8 years old. She was 19 when a magazine published 12 of her short stories. Her 'Strawberry Jam' books are for pre-school to age 12 readers. The series includes a project called 'The Friendship Adventure', which highlights 'awareness of differences, disabilities, uniqueness in everyone to stories that link to fun activities and games'.

Hilary has a degree in publishing and English, together with qualifications in nursery and pre-school teaching. 'Little Chestnuts Pre-school' uses fun stories, games and rhymes 'to enhance alphabet knowledge, thinking and pre-literacy skills'. She's written non-fiction books about Aspberger's Syndrome, Autism and Pre-School Choices.

Here, she writes about how she sees the purpose of children's books, not just for their entertainment value but for educating and enlightening the minds of young children, to make them more aware of the need for kindness, compassion and acceptance of the differences among peoples in today's world.

Strawberry Jam Books

by Hilary Hawkes

Authors (and especially children’s authors) have been known to claim that creating books is one of the best jobs in the world! And book lovers, whatever age, know that reading is one of the most pleasurable and beneficial pastimes. “The more you read the more things you know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go” said Dr Seuss. And “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only once” warns George Martin!
I’ve always loved the idea of children’s stories that don’t just entertain (or help with literacy skills) but that are on a bit of a secret mission too: Stories that spread the values of kindness, inclusion or understanding or that are gateways for children to explore things going on in their lives or that help them feel nurtured and valued.

Stories can  be used to help children understand that people and people’s lives are all different or that differences in likes, abilities, physical and cultural or racial differences are good things and not reasons to fear or exclude or bully. 

Difference is good too!

One of my really favourite quotes is this one from the well-known and much loved author AA Milne “The things that make me different are the things that make me”. How important it is to help children realise that their own uniqueness and individuality are things to nurture, value and celebrate – and that this is true for everyone. Difference is not only good but needed too.
I also believe there is such a thing as ‘story therapy’! And by this I mean stories written with the specific aim of nurturing, encouraging, comforting or directing so that they become a gateway for the reader or listener to feel and understand their own emotions or find answers or solutions to difficulties that may be going on in real life.

Strawberry Jam's aims

My aim with Strawberry Jam Books is to create exactly those type of ‘on a secret mission’ stories, from picture book stories that nurture self-worth, caring or friendship; to story-themed projects for schools or children’s groups to stories that are intended to be shared by an adult and child together that help children deal with emotional upheavals.
A lot of authors, parents and teachers prefer children’s books to steer away from what they see as “issues” – thinking stories should be just fun and an escape from real life. Actually, I think children’s stories should always be fun and entertaining and, as fiction, an escape from real life. But I also believe that children’s books have always had the extra purpose of influencing and expanding the minds of young readers or listeners. Stories are unobtrusive and non-threatening and when the natural influence that they have is enhanced they offer children so much more that can add benefit and richness to their minds and lives.
Hilary's website can be found at: www.hilaryhawkes.co.uk/ It contains a link to the Strawberry Jam books. She can be contacted at: hilarymayhawkes@hotmail.co.uk

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Fun in store for young bookworms

Budleigh Salterton hosts 7th Annual Literary Festival

Always interested in bookfests but this is a special sort that sounds loads of fun. It's being planned for September in Budleigh Salterton, which is where? On the Jurassic Coast in East Devon and it sounds so picturesque, I can just imagine the Famous Five frolicking on the beaches and looking for smugglers.

Big names appearing

Now in its 7th year, this year's festival promises both adults and youngsters an impressive lineup of  events and authors for children, not to mention a host of big names in the writing world that will surely appeal to grownups. Man Booker Prizewinner Ben Okri, actress, comedian and writer Helen Lederer, writer and radio presenter Xinran and award-winning author Sarah Waters will all be appearing.

New York Times journalist and Sunday Times bestselling author, Liza Klaussman, enjoying much success for her debut novel 'Tigers in Red Weather', will discuss her latest book 'Villa America'. Of special interest to lovers of Scott Fitzgerald's work, the book is set on on the French Riviera in the 1920s and focuses on Gerald and Sara Murphy who inspired Fitzgerald's novel 'Tender is the Night' and their distinguished guests, such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso.

Hilary Mantel

The Festival's Honorary President, double Man Booker Prize winner and author of 'Wolf Hall', Dame Hilary Mantel DBE, will be in discussion at two events and Andrew Graham, son of Winston Graham, author of the 'Poldark' series, will appear with members of the cast and crew from the BBC TV adaptation.

What about the children?

But what about the children?  Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of the 'Mog' series and 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea, will celebrate her impressive 45-year career when she discusses her book 'Creatures', which details her life's work.

 Judith Kerr


If your child is a follower of the  'Diary for a Wimpy Kid' series, by Jeff Kinney, they're in luck for  Alastair Watson will host a range of fun activities including a draw-along session and the Wimp Wars! quiz.

St Peter's Primary School in Budleigh Salterton are hosting another interactive event based around the bestselling picture series, 'The Dinosaur That Pooped', written by pop stars Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter from McBusted. Included will be everything from dinosaur impressions to video clips of the book's creators. If you buy a book then and there, you can have it stamped by Dino himself.

Devon-based children's author Amy Sparkes will host a 'Writing for Children Workshop' at the Playhouse after award nominations for some of her books, including 'Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo', shortlisted for The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Amy will give audiences a glimpse of what goes on in a writer's mind, from creating characters to crafting stories and lots of other things.

Tickets will be on sale from July but admission for 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' and 'The Dinosaur That Pooped' is available for local school pupils only. More info from www.budlitfest.org.uk/ Follow on Twitter @BudLitFest or Like their Facebook page, facebook.com/BudleighSaltertonLiteraryFestival.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Scared of motorway driving? Join the club!

How to Overcome Fear of Driving: The Road to Driving Confidence

Life coach Joanne Mallon gave up driving for seven years when she became driving phobic. Having overcome her fears, Joanne decided to share her experience with the millions of other people who are afraid of driving or, like myself, phobic about motorways, whether driving or not.

As someone on the verge of attempting recovery but not sure whether I really care about cutting out motorways from my otherwise confident life behind a steering wheel, I found Joanne's book very helpful in at least putting driving refresher lessons on my To Do list, while I vacillate back and forth.

What fascinated me most was the sort of advice that could apply to any aspect of one's life, driver or not. Joanne must be a very good life coach, for after reading her book and a day with The Speakmans (look them up on Google: they cured me of chocoholia) I was certainly healed of inertia. I haven't ventured onto the motorway yet but I've hired a cleaner, shopped online, tried to hire a gardener (they tend not to turn up but I'll keep trying), taken my bedlinen and all my ironing to the laundry shop, found a car valet and begun a home detox. And made lots of lists.

Practical exercises

I found the practical exercises especially useful. Written from the viewpoint of a life coach, they added value to the text and personalised the content. Joanne covers why we become phobic, the cause and how it can be overcome. It includes lots of tips for things to do while driving, to help recovery and what to do if a panic attack tries to take over.

Case histories

Case histories are always helpful too. Fear of driving can be a lonely thing - people don't always like to admit to having it but it's one of the most common phobias therapists are faced with nowadays and it makes no difference whether you're male or female. Motorways weren't built when I learnt to drive so my driving test didn't include how to tackle them. I just drove up and down them without fear or favour until one day, several decades after my 18th birthday, after driving on the hard shoulder of a snow-covered motorway for several miles without knowing it and aquaplaning ungracefully onto an exit, I gradually began to avoid them until I cut them out altogether.

I also developed raging anxiety about places I'd never been to before, whether by car or public transport. After all, travelling by train cut out the energy needed to drive somewhere new but it had the added dimension of worrying about getting the right one and arriving on time, finding a taxi at the other end and getting back home again; so that doesn't altogether alleviate the anxiety about travelling to pastures new but it does cut out the terror of parking in high-rise or underground car parks, at night.

On one panic-stricken journey to a new venue, a profound thought suddenly occurred to me: nobody gets lost forever. (I stopped and asked the way and a wonderful woman pulled out an iPhone, which produced a map in an instant.) Almost tempted to get one but I got over that quite quickly.

Anyone for SatNav?

One piece of advice was to emerge into the 21st century and 'Get a SatNav'! This, for someone who doesn't even own an iPhone, an iPad or a Kindle was a big leap for aging womankind. Great - I bought a Tom Tom only to find no instructions inside. Lots of people said 'give it here, I'll show you how it works'. What they actually did was have great fun putting in my home details and several destinations I was heading for but not actually teaching me how to do it myself, leaving me more perplexed and anxious than before. I tried it on a nearby suburb I knew well but it insisted on sending me straight on to a busy motorway, while I insisted on going via the A-roads. Morona, who lives inside the contraption and guides me, sounded more anxious than I was when I ignored everything she said so that she had to keep changing direction and shouting 'Turn round, turn round' at me. (Sounded remarkably like my mother.) I'm sure it will be a boon eventually but for now Morona is nestling contentedly like a baby kangaroo in a nice pouch I've bought for her.

Am I alone or are there other autophobes out there?

Joanne has researched the subject thoroughly, not only drawing on her own experience of driving panic and overcoming it but advice from experts and cured motorphobes who tell their own stories. We tend to think we're alone with this phenomenon but we're not. A Spanish survey in 2011 revealed that 8.5 million people in Spain (33 per cent of people with a driving licence) say they are scared of driving in some circumstances: bad weather, heavy traffic, night driving and new journeys. And 1.5 million Spaniards (6 per cent of drivers) were afraid to drive at all. They included twice as many women as men, mainly those aged over 40; men were aged 60 and over and it was often related to health issues.

So if you want to know what all those people have in common with you, to learn about motorway phobias, how to deal with driving-related stress, regaining your confidence, dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, the kind of therapies you might try and other people's success stories in overcoming their fear, this is the book for you. There's also a good list of useful contacts and other resources. The one on my To Do list is Ride Drive - www.driving-phobia.co.uk

Part of the sales of Joanne's book are donated to charity. It's published by Nell James Publishers.  Joanne's website is www.joannemallon.com  You can email her at info@joannemallon.com/ Twitter @joannemallon. She has a new book out soon called 'Social Media for Writers' - watch this space for review shortly.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The woman who talks with animals

Heart to Heart

What an amazing story animal communicator Pea Horsley tells. I read her book in one sitting and now have eye strain from sitting up most of the night. It was worth it though. If you love animals, you'll love this heart-warming story about how Pea developed her psychic ability and trained with the top animal communicators to become one of the greatest herself.

If you fancy training to do this kind of work, you'll be hard pressed to get on one of her courses for they get booked up faster than you can say 'woof'. I know because I've tried. Having lived with two cats for 18 and 22 years respectively, I know how easy it is to fall in love with an animal who loves you back unconditionally. There is an element of cupboard love with cats I admit but I came to the conclusion long ago that mine were here to watch over me and for me to learn from them. When 18-year-old Daisy lay dying, my friend Jean (who trained in animal communication and gives Reiki to animals at a local sanctuary) sent me out of the room while she 'talked' to her and gave her some healing. Daisy told Jean she wanted me to stop being so soppy and woman up; what she really needed was support and comfort before she transitioned. I was amazed to hear this because it was true and I was no use to her in an over-emotional state.

The book is a treasure chest of amazing stories of lost pets found, animal troubles resolved and a world we're told anybody can enter if we open up our minds to it. In Pea's words, 'It can be a step towards a world where animals are seen as equals and treated with respect.' It begins by developing your natural intuition.

How did she get started?

Pea's own background was in theatre where she worked as company stage manager at London's Comedy Theatre. She had worked in theatre for 15 years and had always adored cats, until Morgan of questionable beagle extraction and a sad demeanour came into her life. When she heard the Mayhew Animal Home were holding an animal communication workshop she jumped at the chance it might give her to get to know Morgan better. And that's how it all began.

Not only can she communicate with cats and dogs, but any animals from horses to tortoises to goldfish. Often her work begins with photos, where she can get an impression of their characters and moods. Then she can ask questions and relay the animal's answers to their guardians (as the 'owners' are called) so they can find out where the pet may be trapped or lost; or tell them about any illnesses they may have and what food they prefer to eat. It's all very well doing as the vet says and pushing dry food down your pet's mouth when all they really crave is a nice piece of plaice.

'Heart to Heart' is Pea's book about her work. It  is published by HarperElement, an imprint of Harper Collins. Details of this, her workshops and her other book, 'The Animal Communicator's Guide Through Life, Loss and Love'  can be found at www.animalthoughts.com

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Keeping Black Writers in Their Ethnic Places

African American writer Leonce Gaiter, proud Harvard Alum, is a prolific contributor to publications including the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Washington Post and the Huffington Post. His latest novel, 'In the Company of Educated Men', is a literary thriller with socio-economic, class and racial themes.

Leonce's articles often revolve around race issues and class inequality. I am delighted to welcome him as my guest blogger.

A Writer's Racialization and Keeping Black Writers in Their Ethnic Places

by Leonce Gaiter


I am black and in my latest novel, all the main characters are white.  I wrote the seeds of this book around 25 years ago, and at that time, the book’s racial makeup didn’t concern me.  It’s not as if white worlds were ever foreign; I’ve spent my entire life in them – in school, in church, through media, socially, and professionally.  In fact, any not-completely-insular black man or woman would be infinitely more qualified to write white characters than the average white person is to write black ones. Yet, you see plenty of the latter and little of the former.

Yes, decades ago, the racial aspect of writing white characters didn’t register. But back then, I hadn’t had dealings with the publishing industry.  

My previous novels portrayed black principals and almost all-white supporting casts.  They received admiration from publishing houses, but few takers.  Publishers told me that they could not see a route to commercial success for my books. I soon learned what that meant.

There remains in publishing a very Jim Crow notion of what black authors should write.  We are supposed to write about “The Black Experience.”  But we’re supposed to write about “The Black Experience” in ways the majority finds comfortable and familiar.  That means we can write about slavery and the civil rights movement; we can write protest fiction of one sort or another; we can write victimized characters who take the world’s abuse and turn it self-destructively inward.  These are the roles in which the mainstream is comfortable seeing us.
And black writers know this.  That’s why self-censorship enters the picture.  We know what kind of books will gain mainstream acceptance, and we know what kinds of books will receive the polite publishing industry ‘no thank you’ regardless of merit.

Partly due to the boundaries mainstream publishing erects around black letters, I wrote a book with white principal characters. Then I discovered a writer who had done the same over 50 years ago, and his example shows how little has changed when it comes to African-Americans and American mainstream publishing.

I learned about Frank Yerby from Troy Johnson of the African-American Literature Book Club (aalbc.com).  I contacted Troy about marketing my new white-charactered book to his mainly black audience. Troy mentioned how rare it is for black writers to ‘write white’ and mentioned Yerby as a one who had done so starting back in the 40s, and whose reputation suffered for it.  Per the New George Encyclopedia:

“Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African American characters in his books. Thus, ironically, while Yerby held the distinction of being the first best-selling black novelist, he also became one of the most disparaged for his lack of racial consciousness.”

Yerby had written a novel about Southern racial injustice, but publishers rejected it.  It seems that subsequent to that, Yerby turned to white protagonists. 

Further research led me to an essay on Yerby by A.J. Aronstein [ http://www.bookslut.com/past_perfect/2012_05_018921.php  ] in Bookslut. In it, Aronstein discusses Yerby’s first and breakthrough novel, “The Foxes of Yarrow.”
“For the last forty years, defenders of Yerby have attempted to justify the fact that he wrote romance novels, suggesting that he dodged confrontations with racial issues in order to publish on his own terms. According to these readings, the value of Yerby's work arises mainly from his rejection of expectations imposed upon his generation of African-American writers. But a reading of The Foxes of Harrow presents an opportunity for rethinking Yerby's handling of racial themes, and suggests that we should reconsider the importance of his work among mid-century African-American writers like Wright, Hurston, and Ellison.”

Kudos to Aronstein for working to resurrect a writer he finds underrated; however, it’s interesting that the grounds on which he attempts to resurrect him are the very well-worn fields of the African-American race novel—a soil Yerby spent a great deal of his career purposefully sidestepping.  Discussing his indifference toward typical racial themes in a 1981 interview, Yerby called the ‘race novel’ “an artistic dead end,” from which he said, “I’m glad to have escaped.”  Nonetheless, Aronstein insists in stuffing him into a category the author himself minimized.  It’s as if Aronstein knows that publishing only admits black writers through a particular back door, so that’s the one through which he tries to slip Yerby.

Aronstein wrote, “Yerby did write romance novels. But genre snobbery risks brushing aside his significant accomplishments in the publishing industry, and ignores the way race actually operates in his books.”

Aronstein rests Yerby’s literary significance on his incorporation of race into his novels, as if that is the only standard by which a black author could or should be judged.  Perhaps, like Wilkie Collins or Marion Zimmer Bradley, he produced a genre masterpiece that deserves in-print status through eternity. But Yerby is black, so that cannot be the basis for his reconsideration.  He has to be made ‘a credit to his race’ instead. Yerby escaped the American publishing ghetto in the 50s and fled to Spain.  Little has changed since he felt compelled to do so.  He is still being ordered to sit in the black section. 

When it comes to depictions of African-Americans, the publishing industry lags far behind a medium like television, which depicts a far more expansive range of diverse ethnic characters. In addition, publishing seems desperate to keep ethnic writers neatly sealed in their racial Zip Lock bags.
There’s an old story of the racist white opera diva discussing Leontyne Price.  When asked what roles Price should sing, the diva replied, “Bess.  Just Bess.” 

It seems publishing learned a lot from her.

Details of 'In the Company of Educated Men' can be found on http://bit.ly/ZyqSuN
Leonce's latest article in the Huffington Post is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonce-gaiter
Other book links:
Amazon http://amzn.to/1v411Kj
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1Eq5da0
Apple: http://bit.ly/1CyF3jo

Friday, 27 March 2015

Can we ever forgive those who do us the greatest wrong?

Letters To My Daughter's Killer

Cath Staincliffe

Novelist Cath Staincliffe poses this question in her heart-wrenching study on a mother's search for understanding, written in epistolary form as letters to her daughter, Lizzie's murderer. In them she pours out her anguish as she reveals the devastating effect the crime has had on her, her family and friends four years earlier. It's a story of the life sentences the families of victims serve because of the actions of others who either don't care or don't think about the ramifications of their crimes.

Cath Staincliffe never ceases to amaze me. As the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye mysteries set in Manchester, the creator and scriptwriter of the Blue Murder ITV series and the novels based on the Scott & Bailey TV detective series, her stories are full of action, twists and turns and unexpected outcomes at the end of her well-plotted work.

But reading Cath's standalone psychological novels, with their true-to-life moral dilemmas, one could be forgiven for thinking they're written by another author, for the style, themes and language are so completely different. They're full of emotional pull; thought-provoking with characters who leap out of the pages; credible situations that could happen to any of us; superbly written and loaded with fine detail that give her books a more literary feel.

Letters to My Daughter's Killer was selected for the Crime Thriller Bookclub on ITV3 and given the thumbs up by a panel of well-known authors. Nobody puts it better than crime writer, Val McDermid when she says: 'It's always exciting to see a writer get better and better and Cath Staincliffe is doing just that.'


Ruth Sutton lives in Manchester. In her first letter to her daughter's murderer, she reveals immediately her passionate hatred for him; nothing can change that. Written in first person, Ruth gradually unfolds the story that she needs to get out of her head.  The passing years have increased her desire for vengeance, for it is killing her inside. She needs to move away from it before she is also destroyed.

The strength of her hatred is revealed on the first page. She asks for no replies, she just wants him to read her letters but what she does want is some answers. The man has lied and denied the crime and she needs to know how her daughter died and why, so she is going to face him with the destruction he has ravaged for his victim's mother.

Ruth works at the local library in a south Manchester suburb. One evening in September 2009, she is alone at home with Milky the cat. She has been divorced for two years from husband Tony.  Her daughter Lizzie's husband Jack phones to say Lizzie has been killed. Nothing will ever be the same.

Her letters describe how it felt being told and witnessing the crime scene when it was too late. Cath gets right to the heart of how any mother might feel in such a situation, the emotions she might go through - shock, disbelief, horror, questions, grief, memories and reality. Ruth tries to imagine how the murderer would have been feeling having committed the crime. Any more would be a spoiler, so I recommend reading this book, along with any of Cath's other standalone novels.

Letters To My Daughter's Killer is published by C&R Crime, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2014.

Cath's website gives details of all her books and scripts: www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A man is not a financial plan!

The Wealthy Woman: a woman's guide to achieving financial security

Mary Waring's advice for a secure financial future, aimed at women, makes sound sense. For those women who don't mind being kept by someone else, this book may still prove helpful. I'm sure that lifestyle has its advantages and drawbacks but I've always preferred to earn my own crust, rather than having to ask someone else for money. But like many other women, I haven't a clue when it comes to saving for the future. That's where independence can fall down.

There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be a wealthy woman and Mary knows how to do this. She's the founder of Wealth for Women, and an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser) and she specialises in divorce settlement for her female clients.  She's one of a handful of UK advisers to qualify as a Chartered Financial Planner and a Chartered Accountant; she's been voted the only top-rated IFA specialising in financial advice for women going through divorce on VouchedFor.co.uk and was shortlisted as Chartered Financial Planner of 2014 from 4,299 other planners in the country.

Mary maintains that too many women stick their heads in the sand and ignore financial planning. 'Or rely on a man to sort it for them,' she says. Her catchphrase, not surprisingly, is 'A man is not a financial plan'.

Mary's book gives an insight into the knowledge she's gained from over 25 years of study and work in the finance industry. And it's aimed at divorcees in particular. Britain has the highest divorce rate in the European Union with 42 per cent of marriages ending bottom up. 'Many women going through divorce don't know how to cope with their finances. This book will help them,' she says.

So what's in it? It's full of good advice that's useful to any woman from their 20s to 40s. Too late for me then! But I did pick up some good tips nevertheless. She begins by looking at our competing priorities at different decades of our lives. And she understands well that at the end of the month we don't have enough money left to save anything. First, we have to do something to improve our financial situation.

How will your spending from your 20s to 40s impact on your future lifestyle? What will you have to live on when you're older and retire? Early planning is key. And if you don't take this action, don't carry on spending wilfully and think things will all work out fine in the end.

On the practical level, Mary explains how to calculate our net worth - what we own minus what we owe. Then we can see clearly what improvements we make as time goes on. So this is about goal-setting.

How much do you pay back to get rid of any debts you have from credit cards, mortgages, loans and overdrafts? Paying back means in total over the life of the debt, not how much you pay each month. The more you pay, the sooner your debts will be done with and the less interest you will be charged. You might get a shock about this.

Saving, however little you can afford, can mount up. 'Keep on keeping on and you'll see a difference,' says Mary. Ever tried working out how much you spend each month? Mary advises on money in and money out - your cash flow. Small changes in spending or income can make a difference eventually. 'Don't worry - I'm not going to suggest you increase your working hours. This is all about working smarter, not harder.' Information about pensions and ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) is also included and how they can help improve your finances.

But remember, all this is a long-term plan. It isn't going to make you rich overnight. And it isn't all caviar and champagne! Things can go wrong, so Mary takes this into account and shows how you can deal with it.

'The subject of money raises a huge number of different emotions,' says Mary. 'Many women love and enjoy it, while others fear it. It's not money itself that's important, it's what you do with it that counts. It's easy to be wealthy just as it's easy to be poor. There's very little difference in the way you can become either. You're in a position where you can improve your wealth. Whatever your dreams and aspirations around money, there is nothing to stop you moving towards those dreams.'

Mary's book costs £12.99. It's published by Wealth for Women Publishing and available from http://amzn.to/1jh21Bn

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Literacy and libraries for children

Hope for children's reading and libraries


The UK government chose World Book Day on 5 March 2015 to fund a new programme to the tune of £100,000 that will go some way to raising literacy in primary schools.

I think most people are becoming aware that the standard of literacy in secondary schools (and not just from the children) has deteriorated and that school leavers applying for jobs leave a great deal to be desired in the literacy stakes. This can, of course, prevent them from being accepted by companies and organisations whose window to their publics reflects on their reputation and public image. We've all spotted those spelling and punctuation mistakes in adverts and whoever employs the subtitlers on TV should most certainly have gone to Specsavers before doing so.

Literacy skills need to be learned at primary level though and if children haven't learned the difference between 'should have' and 'should of' by then, it's probably too late by the time they reach secondary school.

School Reform Minister, Nick Gibb expressed the need for 'exposure of pupils to great literature and to instil the habit of regular reading.' And by that I assume he isn't talking about surfing the internet. Mooted are book clubs and promoting library membership in primary schools. Poetry recitation is to be introduced at an early age. But tough for Bookstart Northern Ireland whose funding will be completely cut. Brooktrust, who runs that scheme in conjunction with Bookstart, are looking for alternative funding so that they can continue.

The Society of Authors welcomes the Government's proposed measures but is concerned about the state of local libraries, so many of which have suffered cutbacks and closures. Libraries are obviously going to be the main access to literature for youngsters, so encouraging them to arrange library membership isn't going to be as easy as it sounds.

The Society believes all schools should have their own libraries and are lobbying 'to make them statutory in all state-funded schools, with sufficient books available for all children and a nominated library specialist among staff.'

Chief Executive Nicola Solomon commented, 'We welcome the government's aims to increase access to reading materials and hope they will both deliver and go further. Requiring that every school has a well-maintained, curated library service would ensure that every child in Britain, wherever they live and whatever their background, has access to a full range of reading materials, in both digital and physical forms.'

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Nina Milton on crime writing

'The Shaman Mysteries': a trilogy in the making

Crime writing is consistently one of the most popular genres in the best-seller lists. On 30 June the Crime Writers Association will be celebrating their annual Dagger Awards in London to honour their choice of the best crime writers.

I've never written a crime story myself but I've edited and appraised lots of them. In fact, I'd just  finished editing a novel for a well-known crime writer when I was verbally and physically assaulted by an angry woman in a vegetarian café where I live in Didsbury, Manchester and I'm now trying to sleuth out her identity. Author, blogger and tutor, Nina Milton was a fellow creative writing tutor for the Open College of the Arts when I worked for them and she's an experienced crime writer, so I decided to find out how her mind works when she's creating her crime novels, as I now have my personal, terrifying experience as the seed of an idea for a plot.

Nina Milton's 'Shaman Mysteries'

Here, she tells us about her latest novels, why she loves crime writing and where writers find their inspiration.

Nina is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. As a writer herself, she encourages other writers and would-be writers in her blog Kitchen Table Writers and teaches and assesses creative writing at degree standard for the Open College of the Arts.

Nina signs one of her books at Foyles


Where did it all begin?

When I was five, my infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden read a story to the class. It might have been the fable 'The Mouse and the Lion' but I can't really remember. Then she asked the class to write a story. It was a lightning bolt for my five-year-old self; the books I loved were actually written by real human beings. Before that, I believed they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation - from then on I was scribbling down stories all the time and by the time I was an adult, I was writing short stories for magazines and children's books. But now, I am concentrating on crime thrillers.

I do love writing crime. I love the mystery aspect, trying to puzzle the reader while keeping them on the edge of their seat. I stay awake at night, trying to sort out all the permutations of each novel. I'm not sure I value that as much as the actual writing, though...the creating of strong characters, for instance, or the creation of a lyrical 'voice' for the narrative but perhaps I should.

A revelation has been writing a series; in my 'Shaman Mystery' series, the characters have become entirely real to me. I've had such fun writing my shaman 'sleuth', Sabbie Dare. She's like a younger sister to me now.

'In The Moors'

'In the Moors' was the first of the 'Shaman Mysteries' published by Midnight Ink last year and available as a paperback, ebook and on Kindle in both the UK and the US.
The idea for my 'Shaman Mysteries' and 'In the Moors' in particular, came to me when Sabbie Dare swam right into my head and spoke directly to me - sort of - 'hi, Nina, I'm Sabbie. I'm 28 and I'm a Shaman, which means I walk in the spirit world to help my Shamanic clients. I love my job but sometimes very strange people come into my therapy room...'
Sabbie gains the strength to get through life with her pagan beliefs but still struggles over the memories of her difficult childhood, which left her as a very angry, young teenager. But she has an open heart and is adept at inviting trouble into her life.

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions' continues to follow Sabbie's adventures as she runs a therapeutic Shamanic business in Bridgwater. She's still seeing Rey Buckley, the maverick cop she sparked with in book one. And she's still as cockeyed and gutsy as she was in the first book, even though, yet again, her investigations hurtle her towards a dark and menacing place.
In 'Unraveled Visions', a gypsy is looking for her missing sister and a neighbour is terrified of her husband. As always she has a hard time keeping away from danger. As she says in 'In the Moors', 'I'm the sort of person who has to poke their finger into all the holes marked "Do Not Insert".

Walking in your Imagination

Like most writers, I'm fascinated by the way ideas, characters and entire scenes drop into a writing place in our heads, which becomes increasingly real to us. Characters seem to appear from nowhere or from a muse, as the ancients would have it. They have conversations in houses that don't exist or stand gazing out from headlands, the salt spray on their lips, while the writer is actually under the shower.

I call it 'walking in your imagination', because you can travel to any place or time or the mind of any character you choose. In this slower state of thinking, you naturally enter the relaxed, twilight world where vivid imagery flashes into the mind's eye and we become receptive to information. To create this sort of trance state, hypnotists use a swaying crystal, therapists use a soothing voice and Shamans use the beat of a drum - Sabbie Dare uses a drum to enter her otherworld.

Walking helps

Writers, on the other hand, mostly use their legs. As far apart chronologically as Dickens and Drabble, writers are known to swear by the afternoon walk, disappearing after lunch to walk in the woods, allowing the beat of their stride and the beauty of the surroundings to let their minds drop into the world of story.

In my experience, it doesn't much matter where you walk (although scenery can be inspirational in the most surprising ways), but it's important to walk alone. I have beautiful Ceredigion countryside to walk through and I use that a lot when I'm creating new stories. Once the characters are talking to me, I start serious plotting, making charts and lists and timelines and investigating possibilities. I also spend time plotting carefully. I don't dry up nowadays half as often as I used to.

'The Shaman Mystery' series will continue to have a dark, atmospheric edge. The third book in the series is due out at the end of 2015 and its title and cover will be revealed very soon. Sabbie has a mysterious past herself, which she's only just beginning to unravel, a theme that links the trilogy.

How to find out more

Nina's blog, Kitchen Table Writers can be viewed at http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
Her page on Amazon:


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Call for drama scripts

Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum

What seems like many moons ago now, I submitted one of my scripts to what was the Rocliffe Forum, a group of scriptwriting professionals who chose three of the best received and showcased them above a pub at the Angel, Islington in London.

I was lucky to be chosen as one of the three and the advice from the room and the joy of hearing the lines in the hands of professionals and receiving their feedback was so invaluable, that the play was eventually improved and recorded. Although 'A Bench in the Park' languished for a year being mislaid and re-mislaid at the BBC, before reaching the top of the pecking order, where it received a swifter rejection than its original trajectory had been, it was never returned. Hosiprog Productions and the Essex Players picked it up and recorded it for hospital radios in the UK and the USA.


Since then, Rocliffe has become the Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum and the team have discovered several promising new playwrights. The first of their searches for TV drama scripts this year has already opened but if you're thinking of submitting a script, you need to get it in before the final date - 28 February.

You need to send a ten page extract of either a TV screenplay or an episode from an original series on any subject or genre and it must reflect the diversity in society. You can see a list of deadlines for future submissions on the website.

Many of last year's winners have been signed by agents and have had major broadcast commissions and dramatisations for radio accepted. Winner of one of the Writing for Children calls with his script 'The Things', John Hickman posts on their site on his writing journey and how he got to where he is.

'Rocliffe Notes'

The Forum's scriptwriter's guide, 'Rocliffe Notes',  has been on the Amazon Best Seller List for the last two months. Richard Eyre says it's 'a really useful guide to getting on', while Jim Sheridan called it 'brilliant'.

Scriptwriting feedback

If your script isn't ready for submission yet, Rocliffe runs a script report service where you can receive professional advice and feedback.

You can find out more at www.rocliffe.com or Facebook: BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Importance of good writing and career prospects

Grammarly survey highlights the importance of good writing

Who says spelling, punctuation and grammar aren't important any more? Words spelt differently mean different things. Punctuation is how we make sense of our sentences. And we need to be able to speak and write our own language properly. Grammarly, which claims to be the world's most accurate grammar checker, recently conducted a survey of 400 freelancers to find out what impact writing skills have on a person's career opportunities.

Here, my guest blogger, Nikolas Baron, from Grammarly's marketing team in San Francisco, says that they aim to raise awareness of the importance of good writing. 'Good writing is not only foundational to good communication but it can also unlock knowledge, job opportunities and access to education.'

Nikolas's job entails talking to writers, bloggers, teachers and others about how they use Grammarly's online proofreading application to improve their writing. Below, he writes about common errors and gives his take on how to avoid them.

Nik Baron
The Most Common Errors and How to Avoid Them

Terri Bruce, the author of a fantasy novel series, just took her publisher to court.  She complained that the publisher had introduced hundreds of unapproved revisions. According to Terri, these revisions were errors. These errors, she said, made her look like “an illiterate git.”  Terri won her case. The publisher halted the books’ publication and returned the rights to the author. The judge served this verdict because he agreed that the book in the debated form could have damaged the author’s reputation.  In particular, Terri counted 260 alleged errors in her novel. Fortunately, the average new author does not have to worry about such extraordinary experiences.  There nonetheless exist some general missteps committed by almost every newbie. Follow these tips to avoid making these common errors

Make Sure One Plus One Equals Two

As you develop your plot, perhaps you will allow the characters to lead the story.  While you write, the story may make twists and turns.  When you finish, are you as shocked at the surprise ending as your readers will be? This method yields rich, character-driven stories. Unfortunately, the process often generates loose ends and plot flaws irritate readers. This problem should be avoided because you want readers to discuss your novel with others.  However, you do not want the discussion to center around the holes that you left in the plot.  Have a friend review your novel to make sure that the plot is consistent throughout the novel.  What should you do if the facts do not add up?  It is imperative to rewrite.   Supplement the plot with the details that are necessary to make the events of the novel as logical as possible.

Put some flesh on those bones!

Let me share with you something I once heard about romance plots:  Romance novels work because the reader falls in love with the character.   The readers must see why the love interest is worthy of attention and pursuit. In any novel, the character needs to show a fully-developed personality.  Go beyond describing the physical appearance of your character.  Describe the experiences that shape his or her emotions and hopes.  Ensure that the reactions that he or she expresses towards the events that transpire are in keeping with the characteristics that you have described. The reader will not cheer when a poorly developed character overcomes obstacles.  The villains will become boring.  The supporting characters will seem frivolous and forgettable.  I found two great online resources to address this issue.  Check out Character Questionnaires from Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the online classes hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Do not sound like “an illiterate git”!

I sympathized with Terri Bruce when I read an article about her experience.  The strongest attraction, however, was to the quote that I have used twice in this piece.  Even now, I laugh a little inside at the phrase “illiterate git.”   Words are extremely provocative.  With a few words, you can make yourself seem ridiculous or worthy of acclaim.  Hire a developmental copy editor who will help you eliminate grammatical errors and arrange the story in a manner that flows well.  If you cannot afford a professional copy editor, use an online proofreading service. Each time that you make a revision, check the document again for errors. After publication, critics will comment on the quality of the writing.  It would be a shame if grammar flaws ruined your reputation as an author.

Imagine that you are going to go for a drive.  Your friend tells you to watch out for the huge puddle in the middle of Main Street.  He informs you that it is deceptively deep, and you could wreck your tire if you drive through it.  I am that friend!  I have seen hundreds of manuscripts in my work at Grammarly.  I have researched some pitfalls associated with new authors that you would do well to avoid.  I have only scratched the surface in this article.  There are many more challenges that you can overcome with some foresight.  I recommend the article, “Seven Self-Publishing Mistakes that Can Sabotage Your Book”.  Happy Writing!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Mslexia competitions for women writers


Here's some news for women writers looking for a chance to air their work. Women's writers' magazine, Mslexia has thrown down the gauntlet with a short story competition and lots of other opportunities for you to get into print.

Entrants have until 16 March to get their short story entries in for the Women's Short Story Competition 2015. You're allowed a maximum of 2,200 words on any theme and if you win, you'll scoop £2,000. Your story will be judged by novelist, short story writer and essayist, Alison MacLeod.
The winner will also receive a week's writing retreat at Ty Newydd Writers' Centre and a day with a Virago editor. Prizes for 2nd and 3rd winning entries are £500 and £250 respectively with three other finalists winning £100 each. All the winning entries will be published in the June 2015 issue of the magazine. Enter online at www.mslexia.co.uk/shortstory

Mslexia likes to encourage new writers, so also included are 11 regular open submission slots.

Monologue is for scriptwriters - submit 200 words on any topic in a single character's voice. The editor is currently on the lookout for monologues in the voice of a 'zombie'. I'm sure you've all met lots of those. The deadline for that is 13 April.

Poets can send their take on Four Lines that Rhyme; fans of social media can submit A Week of Tweets about their writing and/or life or apply for a three-month residency on the Mslexia Blog.

If you're good at writing descriptions, Pen Portrait invites you to convey a character in second or third person in no more than 200 words. The deadline is 13 April and the theme is a pen portrait of a 'headmistress'. I remember mine from my junior school in Prestwich, Manchester bringing down her cane with a swish onto my extremely tiny and sensitive pianist's hand. Hard to believe nowadays but that might be a good entry. I must away and get to work...

For contributors' guidelines, payment details and regular updates, visit www.mslexia.co.uk/submit, email postbag@mslexia.co.uk or phone 0191 204 8860. Good luck!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Better Late Than Never for Emily Barr's 'The First Wife'

The First Wife 

Emily Barr's 10th novel scored a hit with me, although she sent me her book in May 2011 and I've only just got round to reviewing it. In the meantime, I'd read it twice, enjoyed it both times, wrestled with a new computer, had a car crash, whiplash, euthanized my wonderful 22-year-old  ginger tom Harry, been hospitalised and came out more damaged than I went in, lost my sister, my partner and went into withdrawal after coming off some medication too fast on the doctor's instructions. I think that's all, apart from the resulting adrenal exhaustion, and not that I'm making excuses for not reviewing Emily's lovely novel (not to mention the rest on the pile) but I'm amazed that so many people are still following my blog.

So a big thank you to followers and to celebrate, I've chosen Emily's novel to get me back in harness.

Eccentric background

Eight-year-old Lily Button goes to live with her eccentric grandparents in a Cornish village cottage. She takes care of them as they age but when they die, Lily, now aged 20 inherits their £300,000 house and sets out to experience life.

She lodges with a family, which is a bit of a squash but after the sale of Lily's cottage, she is left with huge debts and penniless. She sleeps in the garden shed until CAB help her sort out her finances. She intends to go to university but begins her new life as a cleaner.

Lily ends up cleaning the house of Harry and Sarah Summer, a house 'in need of a clean'. She gradually forms an attachment to Harry, who acted in a TV soap opera for five years until, aged 30, he married, moved to Cornwall and returned to his job as a lawyer. Lily falls in love with the three-storey, five-bedroomed house and decides to read law at uni once she's acquired two A-levels.

It was easy to follow this protagonist's journey for she has a strong spirit and is rarely fazed out with the deal that fate has dealt her, despite her vulnerability and innocence. I had no problems rooting for her but I did have a problem putting the book down.

Mature writing

Emily has a mature writing style, which flows well and draws you in so you feel you are an observer in her 'scenes'. Her descriptions are full of fine detail and her characters are three-dimensional and original.

She develops a strong sense of place in Cornwall with the sea and the gulls, never clichéd and you can smell the ozone, for she writes with her senses. The plot moves forwards constantly, it's full of action and 'showing', flowing and maintaining reader attention. She isn't one of those authors who start with a bang and finish with a flourish but get hopelessly lost in the middle with nothing happening. It's one thing to have a great idea but another to have the creative ability to fill a novel with intrigue and action. Emily Barr does it with no effort.

Sub-plot weaves its way through

There's a sub-plot going on in New Zealand when Jack Baker, en route to a ski lodge to fix a hot tub, hits a sheep in his truck and injures his ribs. We dip back and forth from New Zealand to Cornwall, while Jack is ever moving towards Lily and we switch between her first person narrative and the author's point of view in Queenstown. This could have been pretty tricky but Emily handles it well and the story never lacks clarity.

It would be unfair to reveal more of this intriguing plot. It contains more fascinating characters, twists and turns and reversals, leading to Lily vacillating like crazy with her trust in Harry and a flavour of Daphne du Maurier between its covers. All I will say is that 'the first wife' in question is Sarah Summer.

Later work

Emily has been busy while I've been skiving and her following books are 'Stranded', another intriguing read, set in Malaysia and 'The Sleeper', set in Cornwall.

On 26 April, she's running a workshop in writing great dialogue at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and on 1-3 May, she's running a writing workshop in Falmouth, Cornwall.

You can learn more about Emily and her books at www.emilybarr.com/  'The First Wife' is published by Headline Review. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014



The final lineup of writers and others who have written books has been set for Guildford's 25th festival, which runs from 12-19 October this year.

If you're a fan of the TV series 'Downton Abbey', the new series gets under way in September and Jessica Fellowes will be at the Festival to talk about her latest book 'A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey', alongside the Countess of Carnarvon, current Chatelaine of the real Downton, Highclere Castle, who will entertain readers with true stories from its intriguing past.

Mslexia magazine founder Debbie Taylor leads a workshop for aspiring women writers and journalist Simon Heffer gives an A to Z of avoidable errors in English, which should be interesting.

Women's fiction featured at Guildford

A day of special events includes talks by publisher Toby Faber, Bloomsbury Group expert Frank Woodgate and a screening of the film 'The Invisible Woman' with questions and answers led by Stewart McKinnon, CEO of Headline Films who produced the film.

'Over the past 25 years, Guildford Book Festival has grown to become the premier literary event in the south of England,' says Jim Parks, festival creative director. 'This year, we look forward to bringing the very best of national and local literary talent to the town for the benefit of all readers.'

For more info and a lineup of the impressive names due to participate, log on to www.guildfordbookfestival.co.uk/ Twitter: @gfordbookfest or facebook.com/guildfordbookfestival


Thursday, 24 July 2014

'Murder Squad' crime writers


If you enjoy a good murder mystery and are spoilt for choice as you browse the bookshops, here's news of some of the north's top crime writers, the 'Murder Squad'.

Kate Ellis's 18th mystery

Kate Ellis brought out the paperback of her 18th Wesley Peterson mystery, The Shroud Maker in June to coincide with National Crime Reading Month. After that she sped off to Devon to host a murder mystery evening at Kingsbridge Library and do some more research, as her crime series is set in south Devon. You can read her guest blog - The Confessions of a Mystery Addict - on The Writing Desk's blog, http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/guest-post-confessions-of-mystery.html
And for more details of Kate's work, visit her website on www.kateellis.co.uk

Margaret Murphy aka A D Garrett

 Everyone Lies by A D Garrett

Margaret defines Everyone Lies as a forensic thriller, which is faster-paced than her usual work. She wrote this under the pen name of A D Garrett in collaboration with forensic scientist Dave Barclay and it's had great succes in the UK and USA so far. Its sequel, Believe No One was launched in July in Heswall. The book is set in the USA where Margaret and Dave did much of their research and you can read her journal of their trip and the fascinating people and places involved with crime investigation that they visited at http://www.adgarrett.com/blog/

Ann Cleeves launches new Vera  exploits

Silent Voices

The paperback of Ann's famous detective Vera Stanhope's latest exploits was due out this month, followed by Thin Air in September. In the meantime, Ann, like her fellow murder squaddies, has been racing around the country making personal appearances at bookshops and libraries.. In March, at the Royal Television Society Awards dinner, the TV series Vera won an award for the best drama. Ann says she enjoys watching as a viewer and is naturally delighted that the series is so popular, although she isn't involved in it. But Vera is her creation, so we must give her some credit for it. Read more about the Vera books at http://www.anncleeves.com/vera/index.html

Martin Edwards works on his 7th Lake District novel


Martin is currently working on his 7th Lake District novel. The 6th - The Frozen Shroud - is now out in paperback. His publisher, Allison & Busby have also launched Take My Breath Away as an e-book. Martin is also known for his short stories and Bloomsbury Reader plan an e-book of his award-winning story, Acknowledgments, which won the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Prize. Martin's wife Helena was also on the shortlist with her first fiction success, If Anything Happens to Me. Follow Martin's work at http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/

Chris Simms re-launches DI Spicer as e-books


As the publishing rights to Chris's DI Spicer series has reverted to him, he intends to release them all as e-books one every few weeks, starting with Killing the Beasts. This novel won the Shots Magazine Crime Novel of the Year and it kicked off the series. In the autumn, the 7th book, Sleeping Dogs is to be released. Find out more at www.facebook.com/AuthorChrisSimms

Cath Staincliffe shortlisted for Short Story Dagger Award

deadly pleasures

Cath's short story, Night Nurse from the Deadly Pleasures anthology won a place in the shortlist for the Short Story Dagger Award. John Harvey won with Fedora from the same anthology. Look out for her third novel Ruthless in the Scott and Bailey series, due out in the autumn and her new standalone book, Letters to my Daughter's Killers, which is getting great reviews. Cath has been researching her next novel in China and she even managed an international bookshop event in Chengdu between visits.

To book any of the Murder Squad writers for events, contact bookings@murdersquad.co.uk and to know more about them and their work, try www.murdersquad.co.uk

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Budding writers head for York Writing Fest

Lady writer


Are you a budding writer? Do you want to meet your future literary agent? Then make it your business to head over to the University of York in September for a weekend of writing workshops - over 30 in total - at this year's 5th annual Festival of Writing. So if you've written a book, get your ticket now, polish up your manuscript and prepare to be interviewed and workshopped till you drop.

Professional course leaders will take you through all the aspects of writing you need to know, including publishing and finding agents. Learning as much as you can about how publishers work and what they're looking for is one of the best moves you can make. 

Mini courses and workshops

Allie Spencer's mini course tells you how to Workshop a Novel in a Day if you're in a hurry, or if you're aiming to self-publish your work, David Gaughran's Self-Publishing Masterclass might be for you. Among the longer workshops Madeleine Milburn's Stunning Cover Letters is always a worthwhile topic and Harry Bingham's 'The Accidental Funny' sounds like it might be a good laugh; Jeremy Sheldon workshops on plot problems, Andrew Wille shows and tells, Alan Durant tells you how to know your reader when writing for children and young adults, Debi Alper gets inside characters' heads and Julie Cohen will tell you how to find your novel's theme.

Workshops include just about every topic you can think of and many different genres of writing, all held over a weekend. You can meet literary agents here and even get Book Doctor feedback from professional authors and former commissioning editors. Not only that but just meeting other writers and networking may not only spark off new writing buddies but it's amazing how much good info you can pick up from other writers. Writers have been  signed up by agents and publishers many times at previous festivals here, so maybe this year is your time...and agents and publishers are always looking for the next big thing.

How to book

The Festival is residential so accommodation and meals are included in the price, which runs from £535, which includes a mini-course, gala dinner and two nights' accommodation, to £175 for a Sunday day ticket if you prefer. And for an extra £45, weekenders can get an extra one-to-one session from an expert. The Festival runs from 12-14 September and you can log on to the website for more information and bookings: http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/getting-published-event.html

Monday, 14 July 2014

Impulse Witness Imprint Welcomes New Writers


Last year, HarperCollins Publishers launched a new Impulse imprint called Witness, devoted to thrillers, mysteries and stories of suspense.

British novelist, Frances Fyfield's 'Gold Digger' is the first Witness title to make its print debut in trade paperback. It's a difficult genre to pinpoint but its themes include family jealousy, greed and hatred.

'Gold Digger' may well win accolades from the author's followers but I found it an odd read. The subject of his children's enmity - Thomas Porteus, aged 70 - dies on page 1, leaving behind his grieving much younger second wife Di Quigley, aged 27 so, although we never get to know him, we are told a lot about him.

Good start

One dark and stormy night ten years earlier, oddball Di, who smokes cigars, (an author's device to make characters more interesting, like an eyepatch or a limp), breaks into the Porteus mansion with intent to rob. 'She had the morals of a guttersnipe, the eyes of a magpie and intelligence as fierce as fire...' She knows the house well, was brought up in a dysfunctional family in the area, went to parties there, belongs to a gang and is known as Mad Di. When she tries to rescue him, Porteus, bound up in a chair, urges her to get out before the police catch her but she gets caught anyway. In prison, she educates herself in art appreciation and carries on a correspondence with the victim, an art collector.

This early part of the novel gets straight to the point without any meandering and is compelling stuff, full of intrigue and no wasted words, promising a jolly good read. I was hooked. Fyfield creates a strong sense of creepiness in this creaking old mansion with its cellars and wall-loads of priceless paintings. And these are what his children are after, having been cut out of his estate when their mother left him for a wealthier man and poisoned their minds against their father. They aim to steal and sell what they can grab, while one psycho daughter plans Di's elimination. But a diabolical plan to discredit them in the act has been set up by Porteous himself, aided by his art dealer, Saul and Di.

Exposition and characterisations
After that, the plot freezes while the local hairdresser and a gossipy client discuss Di's nefarious background, which, given that Di has grown up in this place somewhere by the sea, must have been common knowledge to the entire population for many years. Delia, the gossip, having done her job for the sake of the readers, disappears under the dryer.

Several characters, some quite major to the plot hover on the sidelines like crabs in the sand without taking centre stage and 'showing' readers what they're made of, so lack three-dimensionality, for example Di's wicked father who skulks about in the vicinity without actually putting in an appearance. We are 'told' how dangerous he is but we never actually see him behaving dangerously. He remains a shadowy figure who never develops. A wayward young girl Peg, moves in after Di picks her up on a train but quite what she is doing there became the major mystery of the novel for me. As she wears Di's clothes as part of her rehabilitation, I anticipated this as a bit of seeding for one of the children to mistake her for Di, setting about her with a cudgel but no such luck. Thomas's young grandson, Patrick runs away from home to visit the big house, as a show of solidarity, leaving me with more questions than answers. 

Thomas's ex-wife Christina, said to have fallen off a cross-channel ferry and drowned, left him when he was but a struggling schoolteacher taking the children with her. After he'd made his fortune from his inventions, Christina tried to make a comeback, which failed. But now, having had seeds of bitterness and hatred sown into their heads all their lives, they want his money. Only Di stands in their way. They are a nasty bunch of people.

More action needed
The opportunity for an action-packed thriller is all there but it didn't happen for me. Very little action took place until the end and even then I wasn't engaged. I found the protagonist unattractive as a character and couldn't root for her, it lacked emotional pull and I was confused about some of the plot and characters. I had no trouble with the actual writing, which is sound. But much of the narrative consists of back story or introspection, dealt with throughout in chunks of either expository dialogue, 'telling' characters what they must already know or inner dialogue, both of which froze the plot. Plenty of action in its place would have driven the plot forwards and 'shown' characters coming to life on the page and propelling the plot forwards and this was the crucial missing element. The art history lecture given by Saul was also a plot-stopper. And the constant barrage of f... and c... words from Jones, the dodgy ex-policeman, may well be a device to show character but it certainly became an irritant after a while and he soon lost my vote.

Chance for new writers

Impulse's Witness digital publishing imprint editors are interested in looking at material from new writers, as well as international bestselling authors and writers can submit their writing by checking submission guidelines on http://wmmorrow.hc.com/witnessimpulse/welcomenote