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/

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

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Goatsmilk is good for you!

CONFESSIONS FROM CHUCKLING GOAT: How Kefir and Natural Remedies Saved my Husband's Life

The only thing we can truly be sure about is this moment. One day American radio talk show host, Shann Jones was pursuing a successful career as a news journalist and broadcaster in San Francisco, the next, aged 41 she'd fallen in love with a Welsh goat farmer. Well you would, wouldn't you?

From the city to the country, Shann soon adapted to sharing her life as Mrs Jones on Mr Jones's 25-acre goat farm in Wales. You couldn't write it could you?... But she did and this diary of Shann's life on the farm and all the challenges life consequently threw at her, forms the extraordinary, heart-warming story of what you can do when the chips are down.

How did it all come about?

While most people get a cat or three to keep them cheerful, Shann opted for a goat or herd. And how useful that was when their son Benji was hospitalised with a bronchial infection. For the raw goatsmilk cleared up his asthma in no time and his infection went. Not surprisingly, anyone with the initiative to collect a herd of pet goats for a hobby could only be expected to launch their own online business sooner or later. Now they sell healthy soaps, creams and probiotic kefir drinks made by hand on their farm.

Goats probiotic kefir heals superbugs

When husband, Richard caught a deadly superbug infection, Shann carried out extensive research on the Black Plague. She set to work on a combination of natural essential oils. Clinical laboratory trials have already proved that 'CG Oil' kills MRSA, e-coli and salmonella at a dilution of .05 per cent. Combined with Shann's homemade probiotic kefir, Richard's life was saved within two weeks, while doctors had already given up on him. Furthermore, the University of Cardiff and the Innovation Sector of the Welsh Assembly Government are working with the inimitable Joneses to develop further medical applications of antidote.

Latest developments

Recently, top London store Fortnum and Mason launched Chuckling Goat's Pro-Biotic Skin Care Range, followed by Tesco's Nutricentre, which sells all their products. On the farm, they produce raw goatsmilk and probiotic kefir, jojoba oil, macadamia oil, rice bran oil and healing essential oils. What began as a hobby and a few pet goats, is mushrooming into an entire industry and certainly a change of lifestyle for the family. 'We never asked for all these dramatic events to come our way,' said Shann. 'But it's amazing what you can come up with when the life of someone you love is at stake.'

Confessions from Chuckling Goat (pub. Chuckling Goat 2014. www.chucklinggoat.co.uk)

Shann's book is an inspiring read - it lurches from one crisis to the next like a well-structured novel, it's well-written and it certainly has emotional pull, like any good true life story. Another person might have given up but, as Shann says, it's amazing what love can do to you.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

So, What's Wrong With School? 125 reasons not to send your kids

According to Home Education UK, it is estimated that around 60,000 children in the UK are being home educated. That’s roughly about 0.6 per cent of the population. It’s perfectly legal and parents don’t have to be qualified teachers to educate their own children. They can teach what they like and they don’t need to follow the National Curriculum.

Manchester mother of two, Jessica Mwanzia taught her children at home . Now, aged 17 and 20, they are studying courses ranging from accountancy to film and enjoy karate, gardening and doing voluntary work.

'My son left school aged five,' she told me. 'The preceding two years were spent battling with two different schools in an unsuccessful attempt to get his needs met.’ Jessica believed her experiences to be unique and saw herself as a failed parent with a failed child. But as she became part of the home education community, she found other ways to raise and educate children. ‘By listening to many parents, I became shocked by the stories I heard of children’s school experiences. Some were truly horrific: bullying, violence, injustice and labelling seemed commonplace; boredom almost universal,’ she said.

She began collecting anecdotal information and news items and reading books that looked critically at the institution that shapes most of our lives. Jessica herself is highly qualified with a BSc, PGCE and an MEd. She trained to teach in the 1980s ‘when child-focus was already on the wane. Children seemed to be an obstacle to the delivery of a curriculum dictated from on high’.

The results of her research and her views on our education system today have resulted in ‘So, What’s Wrong With School?’ It’s quite a tome and written in a semi-academic style but it’s worth reading if you want to know more about the subject, especially if you’re a parent disillusioned with the current educational system and wanting to investigate alternatives.

Jessica argues that much that is learned in schools is outdated, useless and out of context. And she is concerned about what children learn about themselves when they are told they are failures. ‘The rigidity and limitations of the curriculum, getting more so by the day, limits what children can become,’ she says.

Her book looks at how school can separate children from their own needs and from each other through competition, age segregation and setting. ‘Isolating children from their parents and other adults, apart from teachers, gives children a skewed view of the world.’ She examines the culture of school and how it influences wider cultures worldwide. ‘Bullying, exclusions, injustice, dishonesty and blame-shifting are seen as the underbelly of the institution.’ Myths about children, reward and punishment and about the evidence underlying what happens in a school are questioned. She believes that schools are failing children through institutionalising and focussing on the needs of the corporate world, rather than on childrens’ needs.

Teachers are found wanting: ‘undermined, overwhelmed, sick and absent, the low morale of the teaching profession is seen to contribute to a more negative experience for the children in their charge.’

The chapter ‘Numbering Our Children’ looks at the impact of continual measurement. ‘The damaging effect of continually being tested, from toddlerhood through to the teenage years, is put in the context of the drive for more and more numbers to attach to children like tags in a sale, so they, their teachers and schools can be ranked.’

Adverse effects on children’s health looks at sick buildings, safety, exercise and food. Mental health ranges from stress and anxiety to the growing number of children on psychiatric drugs. ‘Some groups are particularly harmed by school,’ says Jessica, as she looks at the ramifications for boys, girls, for those who are gay, poor or from a minority group.

She looks at the impact on us financially, on the natural world, children and society at large. And if this sounds like a pretty bleak picture, with which not everyone may agree, she ends on a more positive note as she suggests the way forward, from home education and alternative schools to positive changes in mainstream schools.

‘So What’s Wrong with School?’ adopts an ideological and political slant to a topical subject. Jessica admits it may not be a comfortable read. ‘It’s certainly a challenge to what we’ve been led to believe.’ Parents and teachers, take note.

I’ve certainly noticed a steady decline in literacy standards and that’s not just from the children. On TV particularly, the standard of spelling on captioned material is appalling and I’m sick of hearing announcers saying ‘he was stood’ and ‘she was sat’; then there’s the pronounciation of droring for drawing and the misuse of adverbs such as literally when the meaning is clearly not literally or so obviously so that its use isn’t appropriate; or pacifically instead of specifically. I always thought the Pacific was an ocean. Primary school is the place to learn how to speak and spell English and for some, this obviously isn’t happening. ‘Draw Liners’ it said on a packet of drawer liners I spotted in a well-known department store last week. What many people don't realise is that words spelt differently mean different things, so yes, it is important to spell accurately or some unwary shoppers might end up buying draw liners for quite the wrong purpose. So maybe Jessica’s ideas aren’t that far-fetched.

And I dare you to find a spelling mistake in the above paragraph! (And beginning sentences with 'and' or 'but' is journalistic licence.)

You can buy a paperback copy of ‘So What’s Wrong With School? 125 Reasons not to send your kids by Jessica Mwanzia through this link:

www.lulu.com/commerce/index.php?fBuyContent=13639070 price £4.80
or direct from Jessica’s website: http://sowhatswrongwithschool.wordpress.com
Like on facebook www.facebook.com/SoWhatsWrongWithSchool
You can contact Jessica at jmwanzia@phonecoop.coop

Monday, 22 April 2013

Creative Writing Festival for aspiring writers planned for York

If you're an aspiring novelist hoping to get your book published commercially, the best place to be in September will be the University of York.

For three days, from 13 to 15 September, the campus will be brimming with book doctors, top agents, publishing legends, best-selling authors and other hopeful writers. This is all serious stuff and everyone will be doing their best to help you. It's the 2013 Festival of Writing, run by the Writers' Workshop team.

Previous festivals have resulted in publishing contracts and agent sign-ups, so it's worth giving it a go. What do you have to lose? You can have a one-to-one session with an agent or a book doctor if you send a copy of your novel in advance - they'll give you loads of tips and answer any questions you have. They all descend on York each year in the hopes of finding the next big author - that may be you.

You can book on to one of the mini courses or workshops on writing or publishing, led by industry pros, listen to keynote speeches by authors who have made it and listen to panel discussions by the experts. And the friendly atmosphere and positive support you will receive will make it worthwhile. Making contacts is all-important in this business and just chatting and exchanging contact details with other emerging writers will help you to keep in touch with writing buddies - writing is a lonely business and it's good to compare notes with people in the same position who can empathise.

Keynote address will be made by author Adele Parks, whose debut novel 'Playing Away' was published in 2000. She's had 11 novels published since then, all of them Times Top 10 Bestsellers. Her books have sold over two million copies and been translated into 25 languages.

Best-selling author Adele Parks

You can learn more about the Festival on http://vimeo.com/54084473 and http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/events.html

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Artists a feature of author's first novel

During the Second World War, London's National Gallery ran a Picture of the Month scheme, putting one masterpiece on public display each month to keep up morale and cultural interest during the city's dark years.

In the present, Claire and her Canadian husband, Rob, once so much in love, are drifting apart since the death of their unborn baby, six months earlier. When Rob's grandmother, Elizabeth dies in Canada, the couple receive a box of letters written to her by her cousin, Daisy who worked as a typist in Whitehall in 1942. Claire is fascinated by the correspondence, which describes Daisy's visits each month to see a painting at the National Gallery and she decides to follow in her footsteps, read a letter a month and search out each painting for herself. It's the only thing that makes her life bearable, for she blames Rob for their child's death. When he fails to turn up to meet her because of a business meeting, she is attacked by thugs and suffers a miscarriage without his support.

What Claire really wants is to be loved and although Rob does love her, she rejects him for letting her down, something he didn't do deliberately. She sets out to destroy him, instead of trying to move forwards, in fact she actually enjoys hurting him. After a while, Claire's attitude towards Rob and her constant introspection began to grate as I felt it had gone on for too long. He has also lost a child and now he is losing his wife. I wondered why Claire hadn't been having counselling to sort out her thoughts and feelings. I didn't feel that I wanted to root for her and instead, my sympathies lay with Rob, who displayed the patience of a saint. However, I did realise that without Claire's emotional inner turmoil, there would have been no story.

And the mood soon changes. She goes from despair to hope on seeing the paintings and learning how Daisy's life unfolds, in epistolary form. She can't help acknowledging the parallels between the two. When Claire meets art auctioneer, Dominic at the gallery and embarks on a monthly tryst with him, her life changes radically. She creates a fantasy life for herself in her obsession both for Dominic and Daisy's unfolding life in the letters and is soon in danger of losing everything that she cares about.

It's a well-written story, thought-provoking too, with some inventive twists and satisfactory closure - all ends happily. Through it, we learn something about the privations of war in England through Daisy's life and times. And if you like art history, the author has researched thoroughly and highlighted some wonderful paintings, with vivid descriptions and analyses, along with snippets about some of the artists, ranging from Titian to Renoir. You can actually view them if you scan the QR code at the start of each chapter with your Smart phone or download a free app if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone. You will be taken to each painting at the National Gallery, with information about the artists.

This is a worthy first novel for Camilla Macpherson, who is part-lawyer, part-author. She is a winner of the Promis Prize for short stories and has been shortlisted for several other writing awards. Her website is at:

'Pictures at an Exhibition' is published by  Arrow Books,2012.

Friday, 5 April 2013

'The Middlesteins' - and how overeating can affect your family

Whenever little Edie Herzen was out of sorts, especially when she hollered, her mother found the perfect antidote - food. 'Food was made of love and love was made of food and if it could stop a child from crying, then there was nothing wrong with that either.' As a result, Edie became known to the neighbours as 'just that fat child from (apartment) 6D...'

Quite why I read this book with an American accent twirling around my head, I have no idea, except that the length of the sentences probably dictated it. Is 16 lines long a record, I wonder? I could hear a New York Jewish torrent of words hurling themselves onto the pages, always with that singsong tone and nasal twang so beloved of the Jackie Masons and Bette Midlers of this world; hence the humour.

It's a funny book with a serious sub-text and author Jami Attenberg cleverly blends the two to prevent her tale becoming maudlin or, for some readers, too close for comfort. I first heard 'The Middlesteins' on 'Book at Bedtime' on BBC Radio 4 but as I missed a huge chunk of it, I decided to read it for myself.

Edie's father - '...at meals he ate and ate...' had justifiable reasons for doing so, having starved eight years before on his long journey from the Ukraine to Chicago, where the family now live. So no wonder that, as an adult, Edie now suffers from obesity in a big way and has associated, life-threatening health problems. At 59, she weighs over 300 pounds.

When Edie's husband, Richard Middlestein refuses to take any more and leaves her after 40 years, he is reviled by his children and grandchildren, cast out as a 'coward' and no longer included as a family member. Well, you would, wouldn't you? But is that cowardly, or is it brave? I felt sorry for this guy, who has spent most of his married life being bullied and picked on by his wife. Nobody seems to mind about that (except Richard). But why would anyone want to remain in a situation that makes them unhappy? And he's had no sex for a long time. My only surprise was that he hadn't left her earlier. Her health problem is of her own making. She is given every opportunity to save herself but she has no desire to do so and listens to nobody's advice. So why should her long-suffering husband be expected to hang around, taking more abuse when he could be doing something for himself for a change. There comes a time when we have to say 'enough' and begin thinking about ourselves. I think he did the right thing.

The importance of family is highlighted here. We see a coming together of a family that didn't seem that close at first, in an effort to help Edie, who after all loves eating and doesn't want to be helped. '...her heart and soul felt full when she felt full...' She relates a pack of crisps and a tub of onion dip to '...waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.'

Some cutting back and forth for back stories tends to confuse but it's worth pressing on, it's well written and thought-provoking; sad too, not only at the outcome but by the predicaments this middle-aged couple experience after the breakup of their marriage and family. Loneliness can be, well, lonely and dating on internet sites can be daunting after a certain age, so I'm told... And secretly, he would like Edie back but only if she loves him again. So he chases his past in an effort to capture something wonderful that he's lost. But he knows she will never love him again.

The children's own lives are threaded through the main theme with some credible characterisations. Daughter Robin, now 31, has had a mixed up childhood and son Benny smokes a lot of pot. His controlling, perfectionist wife, Rachelle (who lives on veg and tofu) becomes obsessed with his mother's eating habits and takes to stalking her, which is how we find out what Edie is up to and how she meets the new man in her life. By page 146, Benny is worrying about everyone and in particular, his balding pate. It touches on themes that are pertinent to us all. This is about everyday life in a dysfunctional family. Nobody conforms. Everyone is affected by Edie's situation, except possibly Edie. Granddaughter, Emily, nearly 13, meanwhile is filled with hate. She hates her mother and everything else and operates a Things That Suck list. Her twin, Josh is a bit of a wimp. Emily's attitude towards her grandfather is so disrespectful, you will root even more for him.

And every so often, Jami Attenberg throws in something so profound, out of the blue, that you have to stop and think about it. This is a great story and how inventive to highlight one of the biggest health issues of our time - obesity, the dangers of junk food and the problems of persuading people to eat more healthily - not to mention the destructive effect on the lives of the people around them that obsessions create.

Jami has written three books and contributed to the 'New York Times' and many other publications. She lives in New York. You can visit her website at jamiattenberg.com or follow her on Twitter @jamiattenberg

'The Middlesteins', by Jami Attenberg is published by Serpent's Tail (Profile Books) 2013.